As the persecuted early Muslims began conglomerating outside of Mecca to smaller surrounding Medina’s, which is a word for city, they began to culturally influence society and political life. There were also many significant battles where Muslims were often outnumbered three to one, yet they were victorious time and time again. Growing from the first three hundred army to ten thousand soldiers, Muslims began to conquer surrounding areas and this is how Islam spread across the North of Africa, into Spain of Southern Europe, and up to Pakistan in the east. It is for this reason perhaps that Islam is understood by many westerners as a militant religion. But one must understand its origins in the context of that historical time which helped to spread its ideology.
Muslims recognize the Christian Jesus as a prophet, but not as the son of God, just as the Jews. The difference between the Quran and Bible, apart from content and language, is that even though both books are considered to be inspired by God, in the Quran, Mohammad is the only author or interpreter, whereas the Bible has multiple authors and interpreters. In principle, Islam values correlate with most religions in that living a moral life, being good and charitable to others and surrendering one’s self to God are the key pillars. In fact, Islam actually means ‘surrender.’
It has customary, traditional rituals, just as Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity of which the most important are the following. Praying five times a day and at a mosque at dawn and sunset, while facing Mecca in the east. During this, one is shoe-less and has previously cleansed their feet before taking position, head down on an individual carpet or yoga like mat. Just as Christian Catholics dip their fingers in water, and conduct hail Mary gestures on the forehead and body. Or take communion with a sip of wine from a goblet and a piece of bread, to honour Christ’s blood and body. Each religion has its cultural sacraments.
We can also though critique Islamic overall logic as we can do with Christianity and Buddhism, because although the religion advocates peace and surrender to a one God and embracing humanity as one, there are also many more highly charged military verses in the Quran than the bible. This finds its root in how Islam grew and spread taking its historical place on the world stage. We could and should ask, why do some Muslims read the Quran and become suicide bombers and others not?
Whilst no religious book is perfect, it is unfortunately, human interpretations tainted with bias, who in their own subjective interpretations, undertake to perform acts of violence because of their belief. Westerners blame some of those highly questionable verses, in ancient texts such as the Quran. But the Bible also has provocative verses and how would a biased person against other religions takes a verse such as “those who are not with us are against us.” Modern day suicide bombers, take things literally and use out of context verses, implementing them in the contemporary world to conduct and support their narrow-minded views by killing innocent people in the name of an old religion. This I do not believe is what any God or Mohammad would have advocated. It is certainly also not what the majority of peace-loving Muslims believe either. It is unfortunate therefore, that a small group of radical fundamentalists, taint their own people with a reputation that they do not deserve.
After Mohammad died, Islam continued to grow and spread. The successors of Mohammad conquered many of the ancient Empire cities such as Byzantium, Anatolia, and Persian areas over a period of thirty years. This empire formation was a nomadic movement and political cultural change, where local ruling families and urban populations converted to Islam. Some scholars liken it to the crusades or Spanish inquisition where Islam forced people to convert or die. However, although force was sometimes used, conversion of many was voluntary. Spiritual motives and the birth of the Islam Golden Age, incorporated gifted global scholars from India, China and Europe to Baghdad, which became the new center of learning, similar to how democracy and philosophy had grown in ancient Hellenic Greece.
The new empires the Muslims won over, meant the inheritance of much infrastructure, architecture and culture which Islam maintained, adding to knowledge, using that particularly of the Indians and Chinese. Baghdad was a cosmopolitan collection of Jewish, Christian and Arabic intellectuals from 900 to 1200 AD who made significant new contributions to mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, medicine and geography. Many Greek and Sanskrit texts were translated to Arabic, the father of algebra is named after his Arabic name and there was a movement to the Indian decimal system which is why we probably do not use roman numerals. There were cultural changes in science and the Arab, Khayyam, a Poet, mathematician and philosopher investigated Pascal’s triangle, five hundred years before Pascal!
To understand this powerful bridge in the extension of human knowledge through science and art, one could liken the golden age of Islam to a kind of Middle East renaissance. This is perfectly captured in the poem of Khayyam, which F. Scott Fitzgerald, a famous American novelist and short story author translated to: “And that inverted bowl, which we call the sky, where under crawling cooped we live and die, lift not thy hands to it for help, for it rolls impotently on, as thou or I.”