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A slightly edited excerpt from Introduction to Islam by Muhammad Hamidullah
In the annals of men, individuals have not been lacking who conspicuously devoted their lives to the socio-religious reform of their connected peoples. We find them in every epoch and in all lands. In India, there lived those who transmitted to the world the Vedas, and there was also the great Gautama Buddha; China had its Confucius; the Avesta was produced in Iran. Babylon gave to the world one of the greatest reformers, the Prophet Abraham (not to mention those of his ancestors like Enoch and Noah of whom we have very scant information). The Jewish people may rightly be proud of a long series of reformers: Moses, Samuel, David, Solomon, and Jesus among others.
2. Two points are noteworthy: First these reformers claimed in general to be the bearers each of a Divine mission, and they left behind them sacred books incorporating codes of life for the guidance of their peoples. Second there followed fratricidal wars, and massacres and genocide became the order of the day, causing more or less a complete loss of these Divine messages. As to the books of Abraham, we know them only by the name; and as for the books of Moses, records tell us how they were repeatedly destroyed and only partly restored.
Concept of God
3. If one should judge from the relics of the past already brought to light of homo sapiens, one will find that man has always been conscious of the existence of a Supreme Being, Master and Creator of all. Methods and approaches may differ, but the people of every epoch have left proofs of their attempts to obey God. Communication with the Omnipresent yet invisible God has also been recognized as possible in connection with a small fraction of men with noble and exalted spirits. Whether this communication assumes the nature of an incarnation of the Divinity or simply resolves itself into a medium of reception of Divine messages (through inspiration or revelation), the purpose in each case is the guidance of the people. It is natural that the interpretations and explanations of certain systems should have proved more vital and convincing than others.
3/a. Every system of metaphysical thought develops its own terminology. In the course of time, terms acquire a significance hardly contained in the word and translations fall short of their purpose. Yet there is no other method to make people of one group understand the thoughts of another. Non-Muslim readers in particular are requested to bear in mind this aspect which is a real yet unavoidable handicap.
4. By the end of the 6th century, after the birth of Jesus Christ, men had already made great progress in diverse walks of life. At that time there were some religions which openly proclaimed that they were reserved for definite races and groups of men only, of course they bore no remedy for the ills of humanity at large. There were also a few which claimed universality, but declared that the salvation of man lay in the renunciation of the world. These were the religions for the elite, and catered to an extremely limited number of men. We need not speak of regions where no religion existed at all; where atheism and materialism reigned supreme; where one's thought was solely of occupying the self with one's own pleasures, without any regard or consideration for the rights of others.
5. A perusal of the map of the major hemisphere (from the point of view of the proportion of land to sea), shows the Arabian Peninsula lying at the confluence of the three great continents of Asia, Africa and Europe. At the time in question, this extensive Arabian subcontinent, composed mostly of desert areas, was inhabited by people of settled habitations as well as nomads. Often it was found that members of the same tribe were divided into these two groups, and that they preserved a relationship although following different modes of life. In Arabia, the means of subsistence were meagre. The desert had its handicaps, and trade caravans were of greater importance than either agriculture or industry. This entailed much travel, and men had to proceed beyond the peninsula to Syria, Egypt, Abyssinia, Iraq, Sind, India and other lands.
6. We do not know
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Hajj, Western Asia, Mecca, Red Sea, Muhammad, Taif, Medina, Saudi Arabia, Arabian Peninsula, Islam, Kaaba, Muhammad in Mecca
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