“My story starts in the same way as the two told before me, but steers off in a different direction. For you see, there is no God, but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God. We believe that god did in fact appear to other people, for example: Moses and Jesus. But the people didn’t properly obey him and went astray, Muhammad was his final prophet.
Muhammad was born in Mecca almost six hundred years after the death of Jesus. His parents died and he fell under the protection of his uncle, the chief of his clan.
I will give you a short summary of Islam:
At that time, the Arabs inhabited Mecca and were separated into warring clans. They believed and worshipped idols. At the center of their region was the Kaaba. According to the Qur’an, the Kaaba is believed to have been built, or rebuilt, first by angels, then by Adam and Eve, and finally by Abraham and Ishmael. Abraham placed a black sacred stone, brought to him by an angel, inside of this temple.
By the time of Muhammad, the Kaaba was already considered a sacred place by the Arab people. The Kaaba was used as a sanctuary where idols for worshipping where kept. Around the Kaaba, the warring clans would put their differences and quarrels aside and a place of truce was created where they could trade without fear for their lives.
As a young man, Muhammad showed great talent in trade, so he became a caravan trader. He had a knack for learning and spent a great deal of time talking with different sages: Arab, Christian and Jewish. He found great interest in spiritual questions. At the age of forty, Muhammad received revelations from God on Mount Hira. You can imagine how this man felt, very freaked out, being a seemingly normal person and to be chosen by God to spread His word. His wife and a couple of other people helped him overcome his trepidations and he became a prophet.
One of the main ideas of Islam is that there is one and only God. To the ruling Arabs of the area it seemed absurd and threatening. This meant that there would be no more tribal divisions and there all people are equal. On the other hand, it was very appealing to some of the people, especially ones that were poor and without tribal protection, since The Quran puts great emphasis on taking care of the less fortunate. Muhammed began to gather a following, who called themselves Muslims (One who submits to God). The Muslims started to write down God’s message in what they called the Quran. It is important for Muslims not to make God into a thing, to no turn him into anything tangible, so god was always described in a very abstract way.
If I were to tell you a story, a story about… say a … Baobab: I would say that it is an enormous, tree like plant, with branches stemming from the very top on which green leaves appear. If you were to stand near this tree you would be humbled by its shadow alone. Through this basic description you would be able to paint a picture in your mind of this tree and rationally decide if you find this tree fascinating and if you even want to ever see this tree.
The point of the Quran is to not paint a picture of God. To not trivializes Him into base human ideas and emotion. The Quran makes a point of very elusively describing God. So, that it would be impossible to paint a clear picture of God in your mind, turning him into an idol, even if just in your mind. God is everywhere and everything, but there is only one of him. That is why there is no physical images of God and very little of Muhammed. The Quran itself is made into a piece of art to be celebrated.
Another idea is the idea of the afterlife. The idea that you would arrive in paradise after you die. This was very hard to believe for some of tribal people. So, opposition began to grow and everything was done in their power to kick Muhammad out of Mecca. Muhammed and his followers then left Mecca, in a journey that was called “Hijra” to the town of Yathrib (later renamed Medina). This marks the year one in the Muslim calendar.
With Muhammad, Medina was brought together under Islam. In Medina, the rituals of worship developed. When praying, the Muslims would face towards the Kaaba, the shrine of Abraham.
The Meccans then attacked Medina. Muhammad’s troops retaliated. For three years, they fought. More and more tribes joined Muhammed and finally they got the upper hand. Mecca fell to Muhammad. He showed mercy to the people of Mecca. When his fighters arrived at the Kaaba they circled it seven times and when Muhammed raised his staff, the idols in the temple crumbled. Two years after, Muhammad died.
The people were divided in choosing a new leader. The Shias believed that Muhammad designated Ali ibn Abi Talib as his successor. The Sunni believed that Muhammad did not appoint a successor and that Abu Bakr was the correct Caliph, or leader.
From there, Islam began to expand. In two hundred years, the Islamic empire expanded on a massive scale. Egypt, the Persian Sasanian empire, Morocco and parts of the byzantine empire were under Muslim control.
The Muslims expanded on the conquered people’s infrastructure. In Jerusalem, the Muslims built the “Dome of the rock.” A mosque which is said to contain the rock on which Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac. It was built on the site of Herod’s Temple, the second Jewish temple which was destroyed by the romans.
With such a vast empire under their control, the Muslim people would embark at least once in their lifetime on a journey to Mecca called the Hajj. The Hajj was done once a year which opened an opportunity for trade of goods and ideas.
The Hajj is one of the pillars of Islam, of which there are five: Shahada (There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet), Salat (Prayer 3 times a day), Sawm (Month-long fast), Zakat (Rich give money to the poor), and the Hajj.
Besides the Quran there are also supplementary texts. One of which is the Hadith, it is a book of reports about the Prophet. Some are from good sources, some not so much. There is difference in belief within the Muslim community on which reports are to be treated as scripture and which not.
From Spain to India ideas would travel, in the center of which was Baghdad. In Baghdad, scholars from all over the world would gather and discuss ideas.
This is where you started to gain traction isn’t it?” Mr. M. Slim pointed to the man, who was intently listening to the story. “This was where, collectively, people would study science and innovations. This was where the Arabic number system came out of. This was the house of wisdom”
“I was very young then, this was a long time ago,” said the man.
“The need for science came from the need for bureaucracy, which came from the need to govern such a vast empire. Jews, Christians and Muslims came together in Baghdad to expand their knowledge of the world. There the works of the ancient world were deciphered and translated. The Muslims had no problem with science and found no contradiction between it and their beliefs.
Unlike you guys,” Mr. M Slim pointed at Mr. Kr. Stan.“Then, came the crusades.” He again points towards Mr. Kr. Stan, who shrugs and plants his gaze into his book, to avoid further discussion on the topic.
“The crusades, nine of them, were very unpleasant for my people. Pope Urban II ordered a military expedition to conquer Jerusalem. It was successful and very bloody. I do not want to dwell greatly on this topic.
After the crusades came the Mongols. These guys were nuts, they invaded and largely defeated the empire, but then quickly converted to Islam themselves. They continued to rule those lands for a while…
Looks like we are almost out of time.” Mr. M. Slim looks at his machine then continues. “This was my story, but just like the two stories before mine, there is no end yet, and there will not be one for a long time. We are old, we have made many mistakes, but I believe that all three of us have contributed a great deal of beauty and enlightenment to the world. It would not be the same without us.
There are people in the world though, who listen to our story and interpret it the way that works for their benefit, to feed their greed and desire. They corrupt and deform our words and stories to justify their own evil doings.”
“But our stories do not come from greed or desire. They come from love and understanding.” Chimed in Mr. Kr. Stan.
“They come from learning and yearning to understand where we come from and where we belong,” Said Mr. J. Fish softly. “These stories come from the infinite search to reconnect with “God”. Which really is a need to reconnect with people, with each other.”
“No matter what you believe in, we come from the same place. We are all humans and this is all our one long story. So, to you I say:
Do not allow for this story to end. Continue this beautiful poem of Men. Mr. J. Fish, Mr. Kr. Stan, and myself are here so that you can learn from us. Learn from our horrible mistakes, and not repeat them. At the same time, keep yourself in check and remember to be humble so that you overestimate your abilities. Remember, no matter how great you might appear to yourself, nothing is indestructible.” Mr. M. Slim was interrupted by a beeping sound.
“Beep. Beep. Beep.” A pleasantly robotic female voice bellowed from the machines, “Cycle complete. Please remove all articles from the washing machine. Then proceed to the exit. Don’t forget to tip.”
Without a glance at their respective washing machines the three old men stood up and proceeded towards the exit sign. Which shone with such brilliance, as if lighting the way for them.
“But wait a second!” Yelled the fourth man. He had completely transformed. The young man was no longer there, he now looked like an old grey sage. “What about me. I have been there from the beginning. I have been there since you first started to use tools to build your temples, since the first blade that you used to hunt and fill your bellies and I was there when you used fire to cook. I was there from the beginning. Was it not to you, that people turned when they could not explain me. Why are you so worried about me now? Why are we so greatly divided when we are looking for the same thing? Has not the understanding of science made our world a better and more marvellous place to live in?”
“You just feel and look old, but you are young at heart, Mister… I will just call you, Scientia, by your old Latin name. You see, you still have a lot to learn and understand. There is still an infinite universe for you to explore. You will see things differently many times over, before you stumble upon the final truth.” Replied Mr. J. Fish.
“Do not remember us with contempt. Remember us for the good we did. Remember that with us, your roots lay.” Said Mr. Kr. Stan.
“And remember to keep an open mind… Ha ha ha.” Mr. M. Slim, said this barely able to keep his face straight. All three then burst out laughing as if it was the funniest thing they have ever heard.
Mr. Scientia smiled. Suddenly, his face seemed to regain some of its youthful glow and his grey hair did not seem grey at all anymore. “Wait, but what about your laundry. Won’t you take it with you when you leave.”
“Why would we?” Asked Mr. M. Slim.
“It’s already clean!” exclaimed Mr. Kr. Stan.
“We have no need for it anymore,” said Mr. J. Fish.
With that, the three men turned away from Mr. Scientia and headed for the door. Down the elevator, into the coffee shop and out onto the crowded street. Disappearing into the melting pot of people on the busy street, indistinguishable just like everybody else.