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March 12, 1993 - Image 48

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-03-12

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he man who would
change the face of
the world and
establish what is
now the world's
fastest-growing religion
was born with little fan-
His name was Muham-
mad, and he was born in
570 C.E. in Mecca. He
was raised by his uncle,
Abu Talib. At 25, he
married Khadija, a
widow 15 years his
When he was 40,
Muhammad announced
that God had directed
him to serve as his
prophet and deliver the
message of monotheism
to Arabic-speaking peo-
ples. He would be the
last of God's prophets,
following in the path of
Abraham, Moses and
More than 1,300 years
later, the Muslim popu-
lation of the world is 950
million. Followers live in
more than 150 countries,
everywhere from the
United States to Spain to
Islam also has been
the source of repeated
calls for violence against
Jews and Israel.
"It is the fate of the
Jews to be slaughtered
by our hands," reads the
covenant of Hamas, a
"resistance" movement
which, like other funda-
mentalist Islamic
groups, is finding greater
and greater support in



the Middle East. "No
Jew is innocent. All Jews
must be killed. Israel
will exist until it is
destroyed by Islam."
uhammad's rela-
tionship with the
Jews was often cor-
dial, but basically
strained from the start.
After declaring himself
God's prophet, Muham-
mad settled with the
Jewish community of
Yathrib in Medina,
Arabia (about 270 miles
north of Mecca). He
already had amassed a
large following, and he
believed the Jews would
be quick to join him.
In an effort to court
the Jews to Islam,
Muhammad at first took
on Jewish religious ritu-
als like daily prayer, and
established a fast, based
on Yom Kippur, called
Ashura. He placed
restrictions on what one
could eat (pork is forbid-
den to Muslims) and

directed followers to face
toward Jerusalem while
reciting certain prayers.
But the Jews showed
little interest in convert-
ing. Instead of becoming
Muhammad's followers,
they turned into "his bit-
terest enemies," says
Alford Welch, Michigan
State University profes-
sor of religious studies,

"Being anti-Zionist
doesn't mean you
are anti-Jewish."
— Imam Elahi

who teaches courses on
both Judaism and Islam.
Muhammad was
engaged in constant mili-
tary battle with the citi-
zens of Medina. Jews
sided against Muham-
Mad, reportedly even
becoming involved in a
plot to assassinate him.
Muhammad, as his

power increased, took
vengeance. First, he
expelled Jews from
Medina. Then a
judge ordered that all
Jewish women and chil-
dren be sold as slaves.
As he abandoned hope
of converting the Jews,
Muhammad dropped the
religious traditions he
had borrowed from
Judaism, "reorienting
Islam to ancient Arabian
rituals," Professor Welch
says. For example,
rather than facing
Jerusalem during certain
parts of prayer, Muslims
were directed to turn
toward Mecca. Abraham
was described as a true
Muslim, not a Jew, as
was Moses. Ashura was
replaced by the month-
long Fast of Ramadan.
Followers continued to
spread Muhammad's
message after his death.
Non-believers often were
presented with the

choice: convert or get
out. Jews opted for the
latter, moving from the
Arabian peninsula to
Syria, Mesopotamia and
Palestine. But soon, the
Muslims were there, too.
By the 9th century, the
majority of Jews were
living under Arab rule.
Because they were
monotheists, the Jews
held the dubious privi-
lege of being dhimmi, lit-
erally "client" — which
means they weren't com-
pletely stripped of their
wealth, but still obligat-
ed to pay heavy taxes for
"protection" from the
larger group, the
This "Golden Age of
Muslim Civilization"
lasted through the 15th
century, when both
Muslims and Jews were
expelled from Spain,
England, France and
Portugal. Islam would
find a stronghold in the
Middle East, while most



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