A great number of people in Asia and Africa and much of those in
Turkey in Europe profess the Mohammedan (Mo-ham'-me-dan) religion.
They are called Mohammedans, Mussulmans (Mus'-sul-mans) or Moslems;
and the proper name for their religion is "Islam," which means
obedience, or submission.
The founder of this religion was a man named Mohammed (Mo-ham'-med),
or Mahomet (Ma-hom'-et). He was born in the year 570, in Mecca, a
city of Arabia. His parents were poor people, though, it is said,
they were descended from Arabian princes. They died when Mohammed
was a child, and his uncle, a kind-hearted man named AbuTalib
(A'-bu-Ta-lïb'), took him home and brought him up.
When the boy grew old enough he took care of his uncle's sheep and
camels. Sometimes he went on journeys with his uncle to different
parts of Arabia, to help him in his business as a trader. On these
journeys Mohammed used to ride on a camel, and he soon became a
Mohammed was very faithful and honest in all his work. He always
spoke the truth and never broke a promise. "I have given my
promise," he would say, "and I must keep it." He became so well
known in Mecca for being truthful and trustworthy that people gave
him the name of El Amin, which means "the truthful."
At this time he was only sixteen years of age; but the rich traders
had so much confidence in him that they gave him important business
to attend to, and trusted him with large sums of money. He often
went with caravans to a port on the shore of the Red Sea, sixty-five
miles from Mecca, and sold there the goods carried by the camels.
Then he guided the long line of camels back to Mecca, and faithfully
paid over to the owners of the goods the money he had received.
Mohammed had no school education. He could neither read nor write.
But he was not ignorant. He knew well how to do the work intrusted
to him, and was a first-rate man of business.
One day, when Mohammed was about twenty-five years old, he was
walking through the bazaar or market-place, of Mecca when he met the
chief camel-driver of a wealthy woman named Khadijah (Kha-dï'-jah).
This woman was a widow, who was carrying on the business left her
by her husband. As soon as the camel-driver saw Mohammed he stopped
him and said:
"My mistress wishes to see you before noon. I think she intends
to engage you to take charge of her caravans."
Mohammed waited to hear no more. As quickly as possible he went
to the house of Khadijah; for he was well pleased at the thought
of being employed in so important a service. The widow received
him in a very friendly way. She said:
"I have heard much of you among the traders. They say that though
you are so young you are a good caravan manager and can be trusted.
Are you willing to take charge of my caravans and give your whole
time and service to me?"
Mohammed was delighted.
"I accept your offer," said he, "and I shall do all I can to serve
and please you."
Khadijah then engaged him as the manager of her business; and he
served her well and faithfully. She thought a great deal of him,
and he was much attracted to her, and soon they came to love one
another and were married.
As he was now the husband of a rich woman he did not need to work
very hard. He still continued to attend to his wife's business;
but he did not make so many journeys as before. He spent much of
his time in thinking about religion. He learned all that he could
about Judaism and Christianity; but he was not satisfied with either
At that time most of the people of Arabia worshiped idols. Very
few of them were Christians.
Mohammed was very earnest and serious. In a cave on Mount Hira,
near Mecca, he spent several weeks every year in prayer and religious
meditation. He declared that, while praying in his cave, he often
had visions of God and heaven. He said that many times the angel
Gabriel appeared to him and revealed to him the religion which he
afterwards taught his followers. As he himself could not write,
he committed to memory all that the angel told him, and had it
written in a book. This book is called the "Koran," which means,
like our own word Bible, the "Book." The Koran is the Bible of
When Mohammed returned home after the angel had first spoken to
him, he told his wife of what he had seen and heard. She at once
believed and so became a convert to the new religion. She fell
upon her knees at the feet of her husband and cried out:
"There is but one God. Mohammed is God's prophet."
Mohammed then told the story to other members of his family. Some
of them believed and became his first followers. Soon afterwards
he began to preach to the people. He spoke in the market and
other public places. Most of those who heard him laughed at what
he told them; but some poor people and a few slaves believed him
and adopted the new religion. Others said he was a dreamer and a
Mohammed, however, paid no heed to the insults he received. He
went on telling about the appearance of Gabriel and preaching the
doctrines which he said the angel had ordered him to teach the
Often while speaking in public Mohammed had what he called a "vision
of heavenly things." At such times his face grew pale as death,
his eyes became red and staring, he spoke in a loud voice, and his
body trembled violently. Then he would tell what he had seen in
After a time the number of his followers began to increase. People
came from distant parts of Arabia and from neighboring countries
to hear him. One day six of the chief men of Medina (Me-dï'-na),
one of the largest cities of Arabia, listened earnestly to his
preaching and were converted. When they returned home they talked
of the new religion to their fellow-citizens, and a great many of
them became believers.
But the people of Mecca, Mohammed's own home, were nearly all opposed
to him. They would not believe what he preached, and they called
him an impostor. The people of the tribe to which he himself
belonged were the most bitter against him. They even threatened
to put him to death as an enemy of the gods.
About this time Mohammed's uncle and wife died, and he had
then hardly any friends in Mecca. He therefore resolved to leave
that city and go to Medina. Numbers of the people there believed
his doctrines and wished him to come and live among them. So he
secretly left his native town and fled from his enemies. With a
few faithful companions he made his escape to Medina.
It was in the year of our Lord 622 that Mohammed fled from Mecca.
This event is very important in Mohammedan history. It is called
"the flight of the prophet," or "the Hejira (Hej'-i-ra)," a word
which means FLIGHT. The Hejira is the beginning of the Mohammedan
era; and so in all countries where the rulers and people are
Mohammedans, the years are counted from the Hejira instead of from
the birth of Christ.
On his arrival in Medina the people received Mohammed with great
rejoicing. He lived there the remainder of his life. A splendid
church was built for him in Medina. It was called a mosque, and
all Mohammedan churches, or places of worship, are called by this
name. It means a place for prostration or prayer.
Mohammed thought that it was right to spread his religion by force,
and to make war on "unbelievers", as he called all people who did
not accept his teaching. He therefore got together an army and
fought battles and unbelievers. He gained many victories. He
marched against Mecca with an army of ten thousand men, and the
city surrendered with little resistance. The people then joined
his religion and destroyed their idols. Before very long all the
inhabitants of Arabia and many of the people of the neighboring
countries became Mohammedans.
Mohammed died in Medina in the year of our Lord 632, or year 11
of the Hejira. He was buried in the mosque in which he had held
religious services for so many years; and Medina has ever since
been honored, because it contains the tomb of the Prophet. It is
believed by his followers that the body still lies in the coffin
in the same state as when it was first buried. There is also a
story that the coffin of Mohammed rests somewhere between heaven
and earth, suspended in the air. But this fable was invented by
enemies to bring ridicule on the prophet and his religion.
The tomb of Mohammed is visited every year by people from all
Mohammedan countries. Mecca, the birthplace of the prophet, is also
visited by vast numbers of pilgrims. Every Mussulman is bound by
his religion to make a visit or pilgrimage to Mecca at least once
in his life. Whenever a Mussulman prays, no matter in what part
of the world he may be, he turns his face towards Mecca, as if he
were always thinking of going there.
Good Mohammedans pray five times every day, and there is a church
officer called a muezzin (mu-ez'-zin), who gives them notice of
the hour for prayer. This he does by going on the platform, or
balcony, of the minaret, or tower, of the mosque and chanting in
a loud voice such words as these:
"Come to prayer, come to prayer. There is no god but God. He
giveth life, and he dieth not. I praise his perfection. God is
In Mecca there is a mosque called the Great Mosque. It is a large
enclosure in the form of a quadrangle, or square, which can hold
35,000 persons. It is enclosed by arcades with pillars of marble
and granite, and has nineteen gates, each with a minaret or pointed
tower above it.
Within this enclosure is a famous building called the "Kaaba
(Ka'-a-ba)," or cube. It is nearly a cube in shape. It its wall,
at one corner, is the celebrated "Black Stone." Moslems regard
this stone with the greatest reverence. They say that it came
down from heaven. It is said to have been once white, but has
become dark from being wept upon and touched by so many millions
of pilgrims. It really is reddish-brown in color.
Before the time of Mohammed the Kaaba was a pagan temple; but when
he took possession of Mecca he made the old temple the centre of
worship for his own religion.
After Mohammed died a person was appointed to be his successor as
head of the Moslem church. He was called the caliph, a word which
means SUCCESSOR; and this title has been borne ever since by the
religious chief of the Mohammedans. In modern times the sultans
or rulers of Turkey have been commonly regarded as the caliphs.
Arab scholars, however, say that really the sherif (she-rïf'),
i.e., the governor of Mecca, is entitled by the Koran to hold this