The Birth of Islam
Born in Mecca, and western Arabia, Mohammed, the last in line of Judeo-Christian prophets, received his first revelation in 610. Muslims believe that the word of God was revealed to him by Arch Angel Gabriel in Arabic, who said "Recite in the name of thy Lord". These revelations were subsequently collected and codified as the Qur’an oral recitation in Arabic, the Muslim holy book. As a source of Muslim faith and practice, the Qur’an describes the relationship between an Almighty and all-knowing God and his creations. The Qur’an also maintains that all individuals are responsible for their actions, for they will be judged by God and it provides proper guidelines for proper behavior within the framework of a just and equitable society.
At this time, Mecca was a prosperous city whose wealth and influence was based on the caravan trade and on the Ka’ba, a shrine and a place of pilgrimage housing the pagan deities then being worshiped by the Arabs. Mohammed's message, heralding a new socioreligious order was based on one allegiance to one God Allah and was unpopular among the leaders of Mecca. They forced Mohammed and his followers to emigrate north to the oasis town Yathrib or Medina. This occurred in 622, the year of the Hijra, or emigration. This marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar. In Medina, Mohammed continued to attract followers, and within a few years, Mecca had also largely embraced Islam. Upon his return to Mecca, one of the prophets first acts was to cleanse the Ka’ba of its idols and rededicate the shrine to Allah.
Although Mohammed died in 632, his followers, led by a series of four caliphs or khalifa or successor, known as the Rightly Guided, continue to spread the message of Islam. Under their command, the Arab armies carried the new faith and leadership from the Arabian Peninsula to the shores of the Mediterranean and to the eastern reaches of Iran. The Arabs conquered Syria, Palestine and Egypt from the Byzantine Empire, while Iraq and Iran, the heart of the Sasanian Empire, succumbed to their forces. In these lands, Islam fostered the development of a religious, political, cultural Commonwealth and the creation of a global empire.
While the full formation of a distinctive Islamic artistic language took several centuries, the seeds were sown during the prophets time. It is through writing that the Qur’an is transmitted, the Arabic script was first transformed and beautified in order that it might be worthy of divine revelation. Thus, calligraphy started to gain prominence, becoming essential also to Islamic ornament. In architecture, following the hijra, Mohammed's house in Medina developed into a center for the Muslim community and became the prototype for the mosque, the Muslim sanctuary for God. The early structure known as the hypostyle mosque, included a columned hall oriented toward Mecca and an adjacent courtyard surrounded by a colonnade. The call to prayer was given from a rooftop, later the minaret was developed for this purpose. The essential elements of the mosque or a minbar or pulpit for the Friday sermon and a mihrab or prayer niche set in the wall oriented toward Mecca.