When Did Islam Religion Start? The Origins and Foundations of Islam

Islam is one of the world’s major religions, with over 1.9 billion followers worldwide. It is a monotheistic faith centered around belief in the one God (Allah) and following the example of the final prophet, Muhammad.

The origins of Islam date back to the early 7th century CE in the Arabian Peninsula. In this article, we will explore the history behind the founding of Islam and examine key events and figures that were pivotal to the rise of this new religion.

The Life of Muhammad and the Early Days of Islam

The Islamic faith begins with the life and teachings of Muhammad ibn Abdullah, who was born around 570 CE in the city of Mecca in Arabia. Mecca at this time was an important religious pilgrimage site, home to the Kaaba shrine which housed idols and religious artifacts worshipped by different Arab tribes.

Muhammad was born into the influential Quraysh tribe but was orphaned at a young age and raised by his uncle. During his youth, Muhammad would often spend time in meditation and reflection in the mountains near Mecca. According to Islamic tradition, it was during one of these retreats in 610 CE that Muhammad received his first revelation from the angel Gabriel while meditating in the Cave of Hira.

This encounter with Gabriel marks the founding moment of Islam. Muhammad continued to receive revelations from Gabriel over the next few years, which were eventually compiled to form the Quran, the holy book of Islam. Early converts to Islam included members of Muhammad’s family and close friends.

In 613 CE, Muhammad began publicly preaching the new faith in Mecca, calling for an end to idolatry and polytheism and proclaiming the oneness of God (Allah in Arabic). However, his monotheistic message was met with resistance from Meccan leaders, who saw it as a threat to the pagan shrines that attracted pilgrims – and revenue – to the city.

As opposition in Mecca grew, Muhammad and his early followers faced persecution for their beliefs. In 622 CE, Muhammad migrated with his supporters to the nearby city of Yathrib, later renamed Medina. This event, known as the Hijra, marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar.

In Medina, Muhammad established the first Islamic state, with the Constitution of Medina formalizing roles and rights within this new community. The fledgling religion continued to gain followers in Medina and Muhammad began launching raids against Meccan caravans. Tensions escalated and in 624 CE the Battle of Badr, the first major conflict between Mecca and Medina, resulted in a decisive victory for the Muslims.

The Spread of Islam Under Muhammad’s Leadership

In the aftermath of Badr, the Islamic community in Medina continued to grow in strength and numbers. Skirmishes and battles between Mecca and Medina continued over the next few years. Meanwhile, Muhammad consolidated his authority as both a political and religious leader.

In 628 CE, Muhammad and his followers made a pilgrimage back to Mecca where they negotiated a treaty with Meccan leaders. This Hudaybiyyah Pact allowed Muhammad greater access to Mecca and created a 10 year peace between the two cities.

Two years later in 630 CE, when allies of Mecca violated the pact, Muhammad marched on the city with an army said to number 10,000 and captured it with little resistance. With Mecca under his control, Muhammad destroyed the idols in the Kaaba shrine and rededicated it as an Islamic house of worship.

In the next two years before his death in 632 CE, Muhammad continued expanding Muslim rule over the Arabian Peninsula through a series of alliances and military campaigns. By the time of his death, Muhammad had unified Arabia under Islam and laid the foundations for one of the largest empires in history.

The Rashidun Caliphate and Early Expansion

After Muhammad’s death, his father-in-law Abu Bakr became the first Caliph, or successor to lead the Muslim community. He oversaw the Ridda Wars against Arab tribes who rebelled following Muhammad’s death. Abu Bakr also began the military campaigns beyond Arabia that would fuel the rapid expansion of Islam.

Under the Rashidun Caliphate, comprising the first four Caliphs after Muhammad, the Islamic empire dramatically expanded its territory. The Rashidun army conquered the Persian empire and large areas of the Byzantine empire including Syria, Palestine, Egypt and North Africa.

Some key events during the rule of the Rashidun Caliphate:

  • 634-644 CE – Muslim armies capture Syria, Iraq, Persia and Egypt under Caliph Umar.
  • 637 CE – Battle of Qadisiyyah leads to Muslim conquest of Persia.
  • 638 CE – Muslims conquer Jerusalem.
  • 641 CE – Egypt falls to Muslim forces.
  • 644 CE – Assassination of Caliph Umar by a Persian prisoner. Uthman succeeds him as Caliph.

The rapid conquests of the Rashidun Caliphate in just a few decades after Muhammad’s death helped spread Islam far beyond Arabia. These early expansions were critical to the growth of Islam into a major world religion.

Timeline of Key Events

Here is a timeline summary of some of the most significant events around the founding of Islam and its early growth under Muhammad’s leadership:

YearEvent
570 CEApproximate date of Muhammad’s birth in Mecca
610 CEMuhammad receives first Quranic revelation and founds Islam
613 CEMuhammad begins public preaching in Mecca
622 CEThe Hijra – Muhammad migrates to Medina, marking beginning of Islamic calendar
624 CEBattle of Badr – first major victory for Muslims over Mecca
628 CETreaty of Hudaybiyyah brings truce between Mecca and Medina
630 CEMuhammad conquers Mecca and cleanses the Kaaba shrine
632 CEDeath of Muhammad
634 CEStart of Rashidun Caliphate; Muslim conquests of Syria and Iraq begin
637 CEMuslims defeat Persia at Battle of Qadisiyyah
638 CEMuslim capture Jerusalem
641 CEEgypt falls to Muslim forces

This timeline shows the rapid rise and expansion of Islam within just a few decades, beginning with the prophethood of Muhammad in 610 CE through to the growth of the Rashidun Caliphate after his death in 632 CE. Some of the key events like the Hijra, Battle of Badr, conquest of Mecca and the early Muslim conquests marked major milestones in the history of Islam.

The Quran and Teachings of Muhammad

The sacred text of Islam is the Quran, which Muslims believe contains the direct words of God as revealed to the prophet Muhammad through the angel Gabriel over a period of around 23 years. The Quran lays out religious doctrines, practical guidance, stories of biblical prophets, and moral exhortations.

Key beliefs in the Quran include:

  • Affirmation of monotheism and condemnation of idolatry or polytheism
  • Allah as the one true God and supreme creator of the universe
  • Belief in angels, prophets, divine scriptures like the Torah and Gospel
  • Concepts of an afterlife with the Day of Judgment and eternal paradise or hellfire
  • Divine predestination and concept of God’s complete power over destiny
  • Duties like prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, charity and avoiding sin

In addition to the Quran, the Hadiths, collections of sayings and accounts of Muhammad’s life, form a major source of guidance for Muslims. The Hadiths detail practices and behaviors praised by Muhammad.

Major practices established in the Hadiths:

  • The Five Pillars of Islam – declaration of faith, prayer, charity, fasting, and pilgrimage
  • Prohibitions on consuming pork, alcohol, gambling, etc.
  • Rules for marriage, divorce, finance, diet, dress, societal norms
  • Penalties under Sharia law for certain crimes

The Quran and Hadiths provide a comprehensive framework for Islamic beliefs, morality, rituals, and social behavior for Muslims.

Contributions of Early Islamic Civilization

In the centuries following Muhammad’s death, Islamic civilization flourished under the Caliphates. Some major contributions of early Islamic society include:

  • Advances in science – Significant progress was made in fields like mathematics, astronomy, medicine, optics and chemistry. Islamic scholars preserved and expanded on Greek and Indian learning.
  • Preservation of knowledge – Libraries, mosques and centers of learning helped preserve texts from ancient civilizations that may have otherwise been lost. These served as foundations for the Renaissance.
  • Art and architecture – Unique Islamic styles developed in art, pottery, textiles and iconic buildings like mosques, mausoleums and forts across the empire.
  • Trade networks – Muslim trade networks spanned from the Atlantic coast to Pacific islands, spreading Islam through Southeast Asia.
  • Literature and poetry – Major contributions were made in areas like philosophy, history writing, and poetic traditions.
  • Advancements in law – The foundations of Islamic law and jurisprudence shaped legal thinking in Muslim territories and beyond.

Islamic civilization became a nexus of scholarly pursuit, artistic innovation, and spiritual devotion that had major lasting impacts on the world.

Conclusion

In the approximately 1400 years since the founding of Islam by the prophet Muhammad in the early 7th century CE, it has become one of the main world religions with nearly 2 billion followers. The origins of Islam can be traced to Muhammad’s revelations, recorded in the Quran, and his leadership that unified Arabia under a new monotheistic faith. Within just a few decades after Muhammad’s death, the Rashidun Caliphate had expanded Islamic rule well beyond Arabia through rapid military conquests.

Over the following centuries, an Islamic civilization rich in intellectual, artistic and spiritual contributions flourished under Caliphates and Sultanates. The history of early Islam, from the life of Muhammad through the expansion of the Caliphates, is key to understanding how this religion arose and spread from its birthplace in Arabia to become a global faith.

Frequently Asked Questions

When was Prophet Muhammad born and where?

Prophet Muhammad was born around 570 CE in the city of Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula.

What are the Five Pillars of Islam?

The Five Pillars of Islam are the core duties required of all Muslims:

  1. Shahada – Declaration of faith in the oneness of God and acceptance of Muhammad as God’s prophet
  2. Salat – 5 daily ritual prayers
  3. Zakat – Almsgiving and charity
  4. Sawm – Fasting during Ramadan
  5. Hajj – Pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in lifetime if able

What is the difference between Sunni and Shi’a Islam?

Sunnis and Shi’as split over disagreements about leadership succession after Prophet Muhammad’s death. Sunnis believe leadership should be democratically chosen. Shi’as believe only imams descended from Muhammad should rule. Around 85% of Muslims are Sunni while 15% are Shi’a.

Who first transcribed the verses of the Quran in written form?

The verses of the Quran were first compiled into written form under the third Caliph Uthman in the mid-600s, about 20 years after Muhammad’s death. Before this, the verses had primarily been passed down orally.

What two major empires did the early Muslims defeat?

The early Arab Muslim armies in the decades after Muhammad’s death defeated and conquered the neighboring Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire) and Persian Empire. This allowed them to take control of extensive territory in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.

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