Week 4: Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Challenge from Across the Sea

In the year 570 AD in the city of Mecca was born a religious leader who would change the world: Muhammed (570 to 632). Muhammed led a new religious empire that spread all across the Middle East during the seventh century AD.  This new force exploded across the Mediterranean and challenged the new Christian Italy.  Islamic navies sailed up the rivers of Italy and attacked hundreds of Italian communities including Rome itself (800’s).  As a result of these new Islamic invasions, the seventh and eighth centuries became one of the most violent and destructive periods in all of Italian history.  Some historians consider that it was this period from 650 AD on that witnesses the real end of Classical Rome and ushers in the Dark Ages.

“Muhammed unified Arabia into a single religious polity under Islam. Believed by Muslims to be a messenger and prophet of God, Muhammad is considered by Muslims as the last prophet sent by God to mankind. While non-Muslims regard Muhammad as the founder of Islam, Muslims consider him to have restored the unaltered original monotheistic faith of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets” (Wikipedia)

Islam is the monotheistic religion articulated by the Qur’an, a text considered by its adherents to be the verbatim word of God, and by the teachings and normative example (called the Sunnah and composed of Hadith) of Muhammad, considered by them to be the last prophet of God. An adherent of Islam is called a Muslim. Muslims believe that God is one and incomparable and the purpose of existence is to worship God. Muslims also believe that Islam is the complete and universal version of a primordial faith that was revealed at many times and places before, including through Abraham, Moses and Jesus, whom they consider prophets. They maintain that previous messages and revelations have been partially changed or corrupted over time, but consider the Qur’an to be both the unaltered and the final revelation of God. Religious concepts and practices include the five pillars of Islam, which are basic concepts and obligatory acts of worship, and following Islamic law, which touches on virtually every aspect of life and society, providing guidance on multifarious topics from banking and welfare, to warfare and the environment.  The majority of Muslims are Sunni, being over 75-90% of all Muslims. The second largest sect, Shia, makes up 10-20%. About 13% of Muslims live in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, 25% in South Asia, 20% in the Middle East, 2% in Central Asia, 4% in the remaining South East Asian countries, and 15% in Sub-saharan Africa. Sizable communities are also found in China and Russia, and parts of Europe. With over 1.5 billion followers or over 22% of earth’s population as of 2009, Islam is the second-largest and one of the fastest-growing religions in the world. (from Wikipedia)


This is the best one-volume introduction to Islam.

Bernard Ellis Lewis,

Islam: The Religion and the People,

Pearson Prentice Hall; 1 edition (August 29, 2008),

ISBN 0132230852

Praise for Bernard Lewis:

"For newcomers to the subject, Bernard Lewis is the man." TIME Magazine

“The doyen of Middle Eastern studies."  The New York Times

“No one writes about Muslim history with greater authority, or intelligence, or literary charm.”  British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper.