Introduction | Islamic Decorative Arts | Islamic Architecture | Bibliography

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The Prophet Mohammed, without face shown. 16th century paintingMohammed is believed by Muslims to be the prophet of Allah. He was born in Mecca, and lived from about 570 to 632. In 622, he and his followers migrated to Medina. This is called the hijra. This literally means withdrawal. The most important historical significance of this is that this marks year one of the Islamic calendar. This calendar is used by Muslims to know when to celebrate festivals and holidays important to their culture such as Ramadan.
Muslims follow the religion Islam. This word literally means submission, as it is a principal belief to completely give oneself to God, or Allah.
Though throughout history Christians, Jews and Muslims have not always been peaceful with each other, these religions share many similarities. Christians and Jews are called by Muslims "people of the book" because they also believe in one god (monotheism), believe in some of the same prophets, have a belief in afterlife and similar creation beliefs. This grants them a degree of respect in Islamic culture, though Muslims do believe that Christians and Jews have wrong or partially wrong beliefs. These disagreements come from some important differences, such as very different views on Jesus, different views on the afterlife, and very different traditions. And though Muslims have some respect for the other Abrahamic religions, Christians believe Muslims to have wholly false beliefs. As for non-abrahamic religions, or pagan ones, Muslims were more accepting of them than Christians were. This is not to say that it was completely accepting, just moreso than Christians.
Within 12 years, the Arabian peninsula was converted to Islam and after 100 years, the Atlantic to China was Muslim. This was due to extensive military conquests.
After Mohammed's death, not only did Islam spread extensively, but a very important split took place. The new leader of the Muslim faith, Abu Bakr, was elected from a small group of important Muslims. Sunni Muslims believe that this was the correct choice. Shia Muslims, on the other hand, feel that the position should have either stayed within Mohammed's family, been appointed by him or appointed by Allah. Thus, they believe the right man for the job would have been Mohammed's cousin, Ali. Though this split is more political than religious, these two groups have faced conflicts. In modern times, it continues to be an issue with about 85% of Muslims being Sunni and about 15% Shia. An excellent example of this conflict's modern relevance is Pakistan. Since the 1980's, there have been varying degrees of violence plaging the area.