Peter's Science and Religion Pages

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Science & Religion


Not being an Islamic scholar, major sources are "The World's Religions", Lion Publications 1982 and "A Reader on Classical Islam" F.E.Peters, Princeton University Press 1994.


Muhammad received revelations which asserted that

•Allah is the only God
•He is merciful and all-powerful in controlling the course of events
•He expects people to be in submission (islam) to him and be (among other things) generous with their wealth
•On the last day, all people will be resurrected and then assigned to heaven or hell on the basis of their actions.

The earliest biography of Muhammad was The Life of the Messenger of God written by Ibn Ishaq (died 767 ACE).
It only survives through a condensed version edited by Ibn Hisham (died 833 ACE).

Muhammad was, according to this tradition, born in Mecca in "the year of the Elephant" i.e. about 570 ACE. Mecca was at a time a prosperous centre of trade and polytheistic religion. Pilgrimages to Mecca were an important source of revenue. His parents died when he was young and he was looked after first by a grandfather and then by an uncle. At 25 he led the caravans of Khadija (a successful business woman). He was so successful at this that she offered to marry him. He did and became rich, respected and influential. However he was increasingly restless and withdrew into solitude, spending time on the Hira Mountain.

In 610 ACE, when he was about 40 years old, his first revelation came.


Ibn Ishaq writes, that Wahb ibn Kaysar told him, that Ubayd ibn Umayr said, that Muhammad said:
"[Gabriel] came to me while I was asleep, with a coverlet of brocade on which there was some writing, and
said, 'Recite!'I said 'What shall I recite?'
He pressed me against it so hard that I thought I would die; then he let me go
said 'Recite!' I said 'What shall I recite?'
He again pressed me against it so hard that I thought I would die; then he let me go
said 'Recite!' I said 'What shall I recite?'
He pressed me a third time against it so hard that I thought I would die
said 'Recite!' I said 'What then shall I recite?'
and I said this only to deliver myself from him, lest he do the same again. He said
(These are the opening lines of what was later numbered as the 96th Sura of the Qur'an.)

'Recite in the name of your Lord who created,
Who created man from a clot of blood.
Read! For your Lord is most bountiful
Who taught by the pen,
Taught men what they didn't know.'"

"... I awoke from my sleep and it was as though these words were written on my heart
... When I was midway on the mountain, I heard a voice saying, 'Muhammad, you are the Apostle of God and I am Gabriel.' I raised my head toward heaven to see and there was Gabriel in the form of a man
... I began to turn my face away from him, but whatever region of the sky I looked towards, I saw him as before."

Khadija believed him and encouraged him. His cousin Ali was the first male to believe. After 3 years and a number of visions Muhammad started preaching openly in Mecca.

In 622 ACE opposition forced him to leave and go to Yathrib (later renamed, "the city [Medina] of the prophet"). There his religion became a political and religious power with Muhammad as the political and religious head.

In 630 ACE, he enlisted nomadic Arab tribes and captured Mecca. He rode on a camel straight to the centre of pilgrimage, the Ka’ba (or "cube") and announced the end of idolatry. Mecca was cleared of images and pagan symbols.

In 632 ACE, he led a train of pilgrims to the Ka’ba and said "I have completed my mission. I have left you with the Book of Allah and clear commandments. If you keep them you will never go wrong." He died in the same year (allegedly poisoned).

The five pillars of Islam are:

•The shahada (confession of faith). "I bear witness that there is no god but God; I bear witness that Muhammad is the Apostle of God"
•The salat (prayers). Five times a day facing Mecca
•The zakat (charity for the poor). 2.5% of your cash balance
•The feast of Ramadan. Total abstinence from food and drink through the daylight hours for the whole of the month
•The Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). Go to Mecca in the twelfth month, walk around the Ka’ba. Run seven times between two small hills. Draw water from the well of Hagar. Go to Mount Arafat and stand from midday to sunset in meditation. Stop at Mazdalifa and gather pebbles. These are thrown at three pillars in the neighbouring town of Mina to recall Abraham resisting temptation. Return to Mecca.

Shari'a law, "the way to a watering hole" i.e. the way to life, has four main sources.

•The Qur’an, which was spoken by Gabriel e.g. English translation by Yusufali
•The sunna, which is what Muhammad said, did or permitted, e.g. Suhih Bukhari.
•The ijma, which is a consensus of community or scholars.
•The qiyas, which are deductions from the three above.

Traditionally, the written collection of the Qur'an began either with:

Abu Bakr (632 - 634 ACE) who asked Zayd ibn Thabit to collect the Qur'an from various written sources and people's memory then write them on "leaves" (Arabic suhuf) because many who had known the Qur'an by heart were killed at the Battle of Yamama (633 ACE). The "leaves" ended up with Hafsa the daughter of the 2nd Caliph Umar (634 - 644 ACE).


'Uthman (644 - 656 ACE) who asked Zayd ibn Thabit to settle differences in the "metropolitan codices" of Mecca, Medina, Damascus, Kufa and Basra. The Medina codex was carefully revised and compared to the "leaves" and then sent out so that the other codices could be destroyed.

Differences also arose because early Arabic texts do not have the "dots" to distinguish between consonants e.g. to distinguish a "b" from a "t" or "th" etc.

The vowel signs were also not initially written.

Ibn Mujahid (circa 935 ACE) settled the consonants of the text from the Medina codex and limited the variations in the vowels so that there were 7 systems each through 2 transmitters to end up with 14 official versions.


The Atlantic Monthly reports that during the 1972 restoration of the Great Mosque of Sana'a, in Yemen, a number of ancient damaged Arabic books and individual pages were found. Qadhi Isma'il al-Akwa' who was then the president of the Yemeni Antiquities Authority invited the German Government to fund a restoration project.

In 1981 ACE, Gerd-R. Puin (a specialist in Arabic calligraphy and Qur'anic paleography) from Saarland University, Germany examined them. He concluded that they are Qur'ans and Qur'anic fragments which date back to the seventh and eighth centuries ACE. As they have significant divergences from the standard Qur'anic tradition, what they are, or are not, needs to be clarified.


Calendar Note:

MuHarram 1, 1 A.H. (Anno Hegirae) corresponds to July 16, 622 ACE so,

26/2/2001 ACE is 2/Thul hijjah/1421 AH




Contact: Peter Eyland