Muhammad began his ministry at the age of 40, when, he claimed,
the archangel Gabriel appeared to him in a vision. Muhammad told only his
family and close friends about this and about all the other succeeding
visions. After four years he had converted at least 40 people to his views,
and he then began to preach openly in his native city of Mecca. Ridiculed
by the Meccans, he went in 622 to Medina. It is from this event, the Hegira
that the Islamic calendar is dated. At Medina, Muhammad soon held both
temporal and spiritual authority, having been recognized as a lawgiver and
prophet. Arab and Jewish opposition to him in Medina was crushed, and
war was undertaken against Mecca. Increasingly, Arab tribes declared their
allegiance to him, and Mecca surrendered in 630. At his death in 632
Muhammad was the leader of an Arab state growing rapidly in power.
Muhammad's central teachings were the goodness, omnipotence, and
unity of God and the need for generosity and justice in human livelihood.
Important elements from Judaism and Christianity were incorporated into
the emergent religion, but it was rooted in the pre-Islamic Arabic tradition;
such central institutions as the pilgrimage and the Ka'ba shrine were
absorbed, in modified form, from Arabic paganism. Muhammad, in
reforming the pre-Islamic Arabic tradition, also confirmed it.
The Islamic view of society is theocratic in the sense that the goal of
all Muslims is "God's rule on earth." This does not, however, imply clerical
rule, although religious authorities have had considerable political influence
in some Muslim societies. Islamic social philosophy is based on the belief
that all the circles of life (spiritual, social, political, and economic) form an
unbreakable unity that must be thoroughly intertwine with Islamic values.
This ideal informs such concepts as "Islamic...