II. The Teachings of Muhammad
Around the year AD 570 Muhammad, the founding prophet of Islam, was born in Mecca, at the time the central city of the Arabian Peninsula. Some 40 years later Muhammad started preaching a new religion, Islam, which constituted a marked break from existing moral and social codes in Arabia. The new religion of Islam taught that there was one God, and that Muhammad was the last and most important in a series of prophets and messengers. Through his messengers God had sent various codes, or systems of laws for living, culminating in the Qur’an (Koran), the holy book of Islam. These messengers were mortal men, and they included among many others Moses, the Hebrew prophet and lawgiver, and Jesus, whom Christians believe to be the son of God rather than a prophet.
Islam also taught that the Christian Bible (which includes the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament and an additional 27 books referred to as the New Testament), and the Qur’an were all holy books. According to the Qur’an, the two earlier Scriptures had been altered over time from their original forms given by God, while the Qur’an would remain perfect, preserved by God from such distortion. In addition to distinguishing itself from the Hebrew and Christian traditions, the new religion taught that the God of Islam had provided humanity with the means to know good from evil, through the prophets and the Qur’an. Therefore, on the Day of Judgment people will be held accountable for their actions.
Muhammad’s teachings met with severe and hostile opposition, and in the year 622 he left Mecca and sought refuge in the city of Yathrib, as a number of his followers had already done. Upon Muhammad’s arrival, the name Yathrib was changed to Medina (meaning “the city”). The date of Muhammad’s immigration was later set as the beginning of the 12-month lunar Islamic calendar.