I just finished a book about Mohammed and after reading the Koran and several books on Islam, things made a lot more sense. Here are a few things I picked up from my most recent foray into the Religion of Peace. I'm doing this from memory in a hotel room, so I apologize if I've got a few details backwards.
- The Koran, a book Moslems claim always existed in the mind of Allah, was revealed to Mohammed in bits and pieces throughout his life by the archangel Gabriel. In this, it reminded me of the Mormons whose scriptures were revealed to a single person in a secret way.
- Muslims claim that Mohammed's coming was foretold by both Christian and Jewish writings. That blew me away. I'd never heard that before in my life and in fact, the book's author says there are no such references. Not surprising as Mohammed arrives in the year 600, a couple of centuries after the Church Fathers had settled on the Nicene Creed and were moving on to other things. By 600, the Church was pretty solid, theologically. They weren't waiting for another prophet.
- The claim of Christian and Jewish prophecies anticipating Mohammed reminded me of the North Korean legends about Kim Jung Il and the rest of their dear leaders.
- Mohammed's first phase of evangelization was to preach to the polytheist Arabs in Mecca. This was modestly successful at best, gathering only a small number of followers.
- He then moved on to Medina and tried to preach to the Jews there. That didn't work so well, either.
- Things began to improve for Mohammed and his followers when he turned to caravan raiding and war.
- Recall that all the while these things are going on, new pieces of the Koran are being revealed to him. As someone pointed out in the comments on an earlier blog post, if two sections of the Koran contradict each other, you take the later one as correct. In concert with what Mohammed was doing at the time, the later ones are the ones that validate violence.
- As Mohammed and the boys conquered territory in the Arabian peninsula and beyond, he established rules for governing non-believers which carry on today - taxes, conversion and so forth.
- Taxing non-believers turned out to be quite the money maker.
- Something that struck me was how imperial Islam was. As they conquered territory, they offered the residents the choice of conversion or punitive taxes. Conversion was relatively straightforward, so only the devout of other religions paid the tax. Everyone else converted. Had the Nazis employed this strategy, we'd probably all be goose-stepping around today.
- Conversion is a one-way door. If you convert away from Islam, you are to be killed.
- Mohammed did not perform any miracles. Early in his career, prior to the wars, he claimed to have been taken into the 7 heavens by a winged horse. The locals thought it was all nonsense and demanded he perform miracles. He claimed to have spoken with Allah who said, "If I perform the miracles and they still do not believe, I will destroy them out of wrath." Not wanting the unbelievers to be killed, Mohammed chose not to perform miracles and claimed the Koran was miracle enough.
I think I'll leave it at that without any further commentary.