Islam: Religion, History, and Civilization

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 10/1/2009
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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The world's leading Islamicist offers a concise introduction to this rich and diverse tradition of 1.2 billion adherents. In this informative and clear introduction to the world of Islam, Seyyed Hossein Nasr explores the following topics in depth: bull;What Is Islam? bull;The Doctrines and Beliefs of Islam bull;Islamic Practices and Institutions bull;The History of Islam bull;Schools of Islamic Thought bull;Islam in the Contemporary World bull;Islam and Other Religions bull;The Spiritual and Religious Significance of Islam

Table of Contents

Introduction xi
Islam and the Islamic World
Islam as Religion
Doctrines and Beliefs of Islam
The Dimensions of Islam
Islamic Practices, Ethics, and Institutions
A Brief Journey Through Islamic History
Schools of Islamic Thought and Their History
Islam in the Contemporary World
Notes 187(2)
Recommended Reading 189(4)
Index 193


Religion, History, and Civilization

The Seal of the Prophets

Following Ishmael's line in Arabia, we come in the latter half of the sixth century a.d. to Muhammad, the prophet through whom Islam reached its definitive form, Muslims believe. There had been authentic prophets of God before him, but he was their culmination; hence he is called "The Seal of the Prophets." No valid prophets will follow him.

The world into which Muhammad was born is described by subsequent Muslims in a single word: ignorant. Life under the conditions of the desert had never been serene. People felt almost no obligation to anyone outside their tribes. Scarcity of material goods made brigandage a regional institution and the proof of virility. In the sixth century political deadlock and the collapse of the magistrate in the leading city of Mecca aggravated this generally chaotic situation. Drunken orgies were commonplace, and the gaming impulse uncontrolled. The prevailing religion watched from the sidelines, providing no check. Best described as an animistic polytheism, it peopled the sandy wastes with beastly sprites called jinn or demons. Fantastic personifications of desert terrors, they inspired neither exalted sentiments nor moral restraint. Conditions could hardly have been better calculated to produce a smoldering undercurrent, which erupted in sudden affrays and blood feuds, some of which extended for half a century. The times called for a deliverer.

He was born into the leading tribe of Mecca, the Koreish, in approximately a.d. 570, and was named Muhammad, "highly praised," which name has since been borne by more male children than any other in the world. His early life was cradled in tragedy, for his father died a few days before he was born, his mother when he was six, and his grandfather, who cared for him after his mother's death, when he was eight. Thereafter he was adopted into his uncle's home. Though the latter's declining fortunes forced the young orphan to work hard minding his uncle's flocks, he was warmly received by his new family. The angels of God, we are told, had opened Muhammad's heart and filled it with light.

The description epitomizes his early character as this comes down to us by tradition. Pure-hearted and beloved in his circle, he was, it is said, of sweet and gentle disposition. His bereavements having made him sensitive to human suffering in every form, he was always ready to help others, especially the poor and the weak. His sense of honor, duty, and fidelity won him, as he grew older, the high and enviable titles of "The True," "The Upright," "The Trustworthy One." Yet despite his concern for others, he remained removed from them in outlook and ways, isolated in a corrupt and degenerate society. As he grew from childhood to youth and from youth to manhood, the lawless strife of his contemporaries, the repeated outbursts of pointless quarrels among tribes frequenting the Meccan fairs, and the general immorality and cynicism of his day combined to produce in the prophet-to-be a reaction of horror and disgust. Silently, broodingly, his thoughts were turning inward.

Religion, History, and Civilization
. Copyright © by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Islam: Religion, History, and Civilization by Seyyed Hossein Nasr
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