Islam, which originated on the Arabian peninsula in the seventh century, grew to become the third major monotheistic religion (along with Judaism and Christianity) in the West. Much like Christianity, Islam owed its origins to a single man and was extremely small and persecuted when it began. But the religion, and the armies that spread it, fanned out from the Arabian Peninsula and soon controlled most of the Near East and North Africa, and even some of Europe. Although Islam spread with the sword--Christianity was also spread by the sword--conversion to the religion itself was usually not undertaken at sword point. As Islam grew into a world religion, it simultaneously became part of a new world empire. As such, it is often not realized that Islam inherited much from its predecessors, the Ancient Roman and Greek worlds. (Christian Europe later in the Middle Ages also learned much from the Islamic community.)
Muhammad the founder of Islam was one of the world's great prophets and a great teacher of ethical behavior. (See the Prophet Muhammad's Last Sermon.) It was only relatively late in his life that he began his religious work.
Unfortunately, many people in the West today do not recognize Islam as a major component of Western civilization. Instead, the tendency is to view Islam as a religion of some distant desert people, but Islam is very much Western. Muhammad was a prophet, as Jesus of Nazareth, Moses and Isaiah had been. Muhammad claimed to put right a monotheistic faith gone wrong. Muhammad, in fact, recognized most of the work of the previous Hebrew prophets. In addition, Muslims came into contact with, and borrowed much from, the Greek intellectual and scientific heritage and from Rome's political history.
Please remember that the Qur'an is not the "Muslim bible." There is a distinction. According to Muslims, the Qur'an is the exact word of God, delivered through Muhammad and recorded in Arabic. The Holy Bible, however, is only the inspired word of men; it is not God's literal word. The Hadith are not part of the Qur'an, but are, instead, "traditions" associated with the life and teaching of Muhammad that shed light on the writings in the Qur'an. Most of the Hadith are short incidents from Muhammad's life that help to explain the purposes and ideas of the new religion.
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