One contradiction in particular has caused a great deal of conflict between Muslims and ethnic Jews and is thought to have been and continues to be the cause of much bloodshed in the Middle East. According to the Hebrew Torah, God made a covenant with a man named Abraham. God promised Abraham a child through whom He would fulfill this covenant (“the child of promise,” Genesis 15) (n.d.). Abraham was at that time childless. His wife, Sarah, was barren. This of course made the promise very special to Abraham. But it would require nothing less than a miracle. Sarah, conscious of her condition and growing impatient decided to help God out. She offered her maidservant Hagar to Abraham with the hope that Hagar might conceive and bear the child of promise. Abraham agreed to take Hagar as his concubine. She conceived and bore Ishmael (Genesis 16) (n.d.). God allowed Ishmael to be born but Ishmael was not the child of promise God had in mind (Genesis 17) (n.d.). God promised a child through Sarah, not Hagar (Genesis 17-18) (n.d.), and in due time God fulfilled His promise. “And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him-whom Sarah bore to him-Isaac.” (Genesis 21:1-3) (n.d.) Isaac was the child of promise, according to Genesis. Isaac later begot Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the Messiah, Jesus Christ, eventually came into the world through the nation of Israel, fulfilling the covenant which God had made with Abraham. God also promised to give the land of Canaan (Palestine) to Isaac’s descendants, the land which Israel possesses today (Genesis 12:4-7; 13:12-18; 15:1-21; 17:1-22; 21:1-14; 25:19-26; 26:1-6; 35:9-12) (n.d.). The problem is that the Qur’an teaches that Ishmael was the child of promise, so Muslims believe that God’s covenant promises were meant for Ishmael’s descendants, not Isaac’s. Muhammad descended from Ishmael and so Muslims seek to lay claim to these covenant promises, namely the land of Palestine.
The spread of Islam can be largely accredited to the teachings of the prophet Muhammad, believed by Muslims to be the last in a long line of prophets that includes Moses and Jesus. Because Muhammad was the chosen recipient and messenger of the word of God through the divine revelations, Muslims from all walks of life strive to follow his example. After the holy Qur’an, the sayings of the Prophet (hadith) and descriptions of his way of life (sunna) are the most important Muslim texts.
Muhammad was born into the most powerful tribe in Mecca, the Quraish, around 570 A.D. Mecca was home to two widely venerated polytheistic cults whose gods were thought to protect its lucrative trade. After working for several years as a merchant, Muhammad was hired by Khadija, a wealthy widow, to ensure the safe passage of her caravans to Syria. They eventually married.
When he was roughly forty, Muhammad began having visions and hearing voices. Searching for clarity, he would sometimes meditate at Mount Hira, near Mecca. On one of these occasions, the Archangel Gabriel (Jibra’il in Arabic) appeared to him and instructed him to recite “in the name of [your] lord.” This was the first of many revelations that became the basis of the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam. These early revelations pointed to the existence of a single God, contradicting the polytheistic beliefs of the pre-Islamic Arabian Peninsula.
Initially overwhelmed by the significance of what was being revealed to him, Muhammad found unwavering support in his wife and slowly began to attract followers. His strong monotheistic message angered many of the Meccan merchants. They were afraid that trade, which they believed was protected by the pagan gods, would suffer. From that point forward, Muhammad was ostracized in Mecca. For a time, the influence and status of his wife protected him from persecution. After her death found himself, and his followers, vulnerable to the opposing forces.
Emigration became the only hope for Muhammad and his followers’ survival. In 622, they headed to Medina, another oasis town, where they were promised freedom to practice their religion. The move from Mecca to Medina is known as the hijra—the flight—and marks year 1 of the Islamic, or hijri, calendar.
In Medina, Muhammad continued to receive divine revelations and built an ever expanding community around the new faith. The conflict with the merchants continued, but after several years of violent clashes, Mecca surrendered. Muhammad and his followers soon returned and took over the city, destroying all its pagan idols and spreading their belief in one God, Allah.
One night, while the Prophet was sleeping, the Archangel Gabriel came and led him on a journey. Mounted on the heavenly steed Buraq, Muhammad traveled from the Ka’ba in Mecca to the “Farthest Mosque,” which Muslims believe to be the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. There he prayed with other prophets such as Moses, Abraham, and Jesus, and ascended to the skies, where he was led by Gabriel through Paradise and Hell, and finally came face to face with God. He then returned to earth to continue spreading the message of Islam. According to Islamic belief, Muhammad was the only person to see Heaven and Hell while still alive (K̲h̲ān̲, n.d.).
Islam in the United States and California
The Muslim population in the United States is demographically diverse, coming from various racial, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. American-Muslims are one the most racially diverse religious groups in the United States according to a 2009 Gallop poll, representing an estimated seventy-seven nations. According to the Pew Research Center 2011 Muslim American Survey, no single racial or ethnic group makes up more than 30% of the total population of the community.
The U.S. Census Bureau does not collect data on religious identification, which has resulted in a wide range of estimates for the population of Muslims in the U.S. Many institutions and organizations have given widely varying estimates of how many Muslims live in the U.S ranging from 1.8 million to 7 million. Based on data from the Pew Research Center’s 2011 survey along with U.S. Census data, Pew Research Center demographers estimate that there were roughly 2.75 million Muslims in the United States in 2011.
California is cited as having the largest Muslim community in the United States, an estimated 1% of the total population of the state. It is also estimated that a majority of the Muslim population resides in Southern California.
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