Origin and Growth of Islam
Islam, literally meaning ‘submission’, took birth at Mecca in Arabia. The
location of Mecca at the intersection of busy commercial routes had made it
very affluent. Its commercial importance was almost doubled by the annual
pilgrimage to the cube-like sanctuary called ‘Kaba’.
Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was born to Abdullah and Amina, and
was brought up by his uncle Abu Talib. After marrying a widow called
Khadija, he started identifying himself with the downtrodden sections of
society. Muhammad was convinced that he was the messenger of Allah. His
wife and his cousin Ali became his earliest followers and soon some of his
friends also accepted him as the Prophet. But his teachings made most of the
wealthy Meccans his sworn enemies. Consequently Muhammad migrated to
Medina, arriving on September 24, 622.
Later his emigration was made the starting-point of the Muslim hijra
(immigration) era, when the date was changed to July 16, 622 to make it
compatible with the first day of the first month of the Muslim lunar calendar.
The immigrants were known as muhajirs. The other inhabitants of Medina,
who welcomed the immigrants were known as ansars or the helpers. By the
close of 630 Muhammad returned to Mecca with his followers. He died in
After the demise of Muhammad, the muhajirs and ansars of Medina,
believing that Muhammad had not appointed anyone as successor, elected
Abu Bakr as caliph or khalifa (successor). But other followers of the Prophet
and the members of the Prophet’s Hashimite clan, who believed that
Muhammad had nominated his cousin and son-in-law Ali as his heir, broke
away. While Ali’s supporters came to be known as Shias (partisans), the
former (followers of Abu Bakr) acquired the title of Sunnis in course of time.
Abu Bakr (632–34) nominated Umar al-Khattab (634–44) as his
successor, under whom the Byzantine territories of Syria, Palestine and Egypt
and the Sasanid countries of Iran and Iraq were annexed to the caliphate.
When Umar was assassinated by one of his Iranian slaves, Usman (644–56),
one of the Prophet’s senior companions, was elected caliph. The first six
years of Usman’s reign were peaceful but civil war broke out in the second
half. Subsequently, Ali (656–61) accepted the caliphate in order to save the