The Birth & Spread of Islam & the Five Pillars

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  • 0:02 Birth of Islam
  • 1:30 The Islamic Life
  • 3:18 A New Empire
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Muhammad was born in the year 570 AD. Within 100 years, a religion he founded reached from Spain to parts of Central Asia. This lesson tells that story, along with explaining the Five Pillars of Islam.

Birth of Islam

Around 570 AD, a man who would change history was born in a corner of the world that no one really seemed to care about. His name was Muhammad, and he was different. Unlike his neighbors, who were pleased to worship oddly-shaped rocks and pieces of gold, Muhammad sought truth from his religion. He was honest and a gifted businessman, but everyone thought it was a little weird that he went to a desert cave to think.

Then, one night around 612 AD, he heard a voice. 'RECITE,' the voice commanded. Muhammad didn't know what to do, but soon he found words that were not his coming forth from his lips. His visitor would turn out to be Gabriel, the messenger-angel from the same god of the Jews and Christians, and this new message would be the Qur'an, the holy text of a new religion, Islam. Needless to say, Muhammad's neighbors already thought he was a little strange, but for him to come back saying that he had received a revelation from God was outright crazy. Moreover, much of what this revelation contained would have been harmful to the corrupt merchants who ran his hometown of Mecca. As such, Muhammad and his followers fled to nearby Yathrib, which was soon renamed City of the Prophet, or for short, Medina.

The Islamic Life

Much of what upset the rich in Mecca was that this new revelation had so many rules. In the past, they just had to pray to an idol, one of those lumps of rock or gold kept in the Kabba, an old building in the middle of Mecca that had been there as long as anyone could remember. Now, however, Muhammad was saying that instead of idols, there was one god, the same god of Christianity and Judaism. To follow said God, there were five requirements, soon named the Five Pillars of Islam, that all should follow. People should publicly declare their belief that there is not god but God, and Muhammad is God's prophet; and they should be fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Additionally, they should pray five times a day so that they don't forget about God, and they should give charity to the poor. Finally, they should go on pilgrimage to Mecca, and walk around the Kabba. It turns out that the building had actually been built by Abraham, called Ibrahim in Arabic, and was one of the holiest sites on the planet.

These requirements, alongside many others from prohibitions on eating pork and drinking alcohol, to regulations on how to treat your ex-wife, form the Shariah, or the right path to worshiping God in Islam. Many times today, you hear Shariah and the emphasis is on harsh punishments, but for 7th century Arabia, these were actually quite humane. Shariah provided the legal framework for an Islamic society. Above all else, Muslims were equal in the eyes of the Shariah, although differences between men and women were apparent.

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