The arrival of Islam in Arabia brought about a revolutionary change. The change affected all areas of life, from the most personal to the most public. Since then, the time before the arrival of Islam has been referred to by Muslims as "the time of jahiliyya" that is, "the time of ignorance". The arrival of Islam is seen by Muslims as being fundamentally progressive and a leap forwards in terms of knowledge and the attitude to learning.
Thus, knowledge and faith are seen in Islam as fundamentally in harmony, if not essentially part of one another. Belief and useful work are seen as a virtuous cycle which has the potential to bring profound progress. The arrival of Islam is a period familiar to practically all Muslims and the changes it brought act as an inspiration for the future, today as it always has done in the past.
This transformation is something that many have marvelled at. When Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) began preaching Islam, Durant notes,
`Arabia was a desert flotsam of idolatrous tribes; when he died it was a nation.'
Draper says that Mohammed of all men has exercised the greatest influence upon the human race.
Mohammed was forty when he received the revelation. The very first word and first phrases of it stressed the importance of learning as Davenport narrates:
`While passing the month of Ramadan, he lay wrapped in his mantle during the silent watches of the night, when he heard a voice calling him by name. Uncovering his head, there suddenly broke in upon him a flood of light of such intolerable splendour and intensity that he swooned away. On recovering his senses, an angel, in human form, approaching him, displayed to his view a silken cloth covered with writing:
`Read!,' said the angel.
`I know not how to read.'
`Read, in the name of thy Lord who createth,
Createth man from a clot.
Read and thy Lord is the Most Bounteous,
Who teacheth by the pen
Teacheth man that which he knew not.'
In spite of Mohammed's earnestness, his preaching met initially with only a little success. After four years, his disciples only numbered about seventy. The Meccans, in particular the tribe of Quraish, resented the Prophet's insistence on the destruction and removal of idols. The Quraish, Glubb notes, were proud of their temple. People from all over Arabia came to it as pilgrims and bought many commodities, which the Meccans imported. If, as the Prophet insisted, the idols were destroyed, both the prestige and the commerce of Mecca would suffer.
Fear of a blood feud deterred the Quraish from using violence upon Mohammed or his followers who were freemen, but they inflicted terrible pains on converted slaves. Strenuous efforts by the Quraish to destroy the new faith failed and led the leaders of Mecca to hold a council, at which it was decided to kill Mohammed. The latter, however, heard of their resolve, slipped out of his house and took refuge in that of Abu Bekr. As darkness fell, he left, in the company of Abu Bekr, for Yathreb on the 16 th of July 622. It was the beginning of the so-called 'Hijra', and the beginning of the Muslim calendar. Mohammed was welcomed in Yathreb. The citizens, in his honour, changed its name to madinat al-nabi (the city of the Prophet).
The new government founded in Medina had to fight for its survival and the following years witnessed a series of armed encounters between the armies of Islam and those of the Quraish. Eventually, sweeping victories led Muhammad back to the doors of Mecca, which he entered in 629 in triumph. After his entry into Mecca, Scott holds,
`with a magnanimity unequalled in the annals of war, a general amnesty was proclaimed and [none] but four persons, whose offences were considered unpardonable, suffered the penalty of death.'
Soon the entire Arabian peninsula came under the government of Muhammad.
Under this new government, the army was made up of Muslims, however, the Arabian Christians and Jews many of whom had fought the Muslims, were allowed to continue to practice their religion and indeed to have their own courts. They were given their full rights to trade and to own property. In compensation for not risking their lives and wealth in battle to defend the government, and due to their previous hostility to it they were required to pay a tax called the jizya to symbolize their acceptance of the government.
This freedom of religion defined one of the essential characteristics of Islamic civilisation. Winning hearts and minds cannot be achieved by force. The role of force is to establish the necessary freedom to live your life according to your conscience. Force should never be used to impose an opinion of right and wrong on another person. This freedom for the intellect was indeed the true enlightenment:
Let there be no compulsion in religion. So it is that true guidance stands out clear from error: whoever disbelieves in oppressors and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks. And God hears and knows all things. God is the Protector of those who have faith: from the depths of darkness He will lead them forth into light. Of those who reject faith their patrons are the oppressors: from light they will lead them forth into the depths of darkness.
Besides liberating people from superstition and servitude by destroying idols, Islam brought in changes and reforms, too diverse and too many to mention here. Just a couple of examples may illustrate this well. Firstly the condition of women was radically improved by restricting polygamy; placing restraints upon divorce; securing to widows immunity from destitution, and preventing female infanticide. Muhammad also managed to take great strides to eliminate racism. These two areas of women's rights and racism, which still plague societies around the world today, were focussed on when just before he died, the Prophet gave his last message at Mount Arafat, main extracts of which are:
`O People, lend me an attentive ear, for I don't know whether, after this year, I shall ever be amongst you again. Therefore listen to what I am saying to you very carefully and take these words to those who could not be here. O People, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as Sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. Remember you will indeed meet your Lord, and that He will indeed reckon your deeds. Allah has forbidden you to take usury (interest), therefore all interest obligations shall henceforth be waived. Your capital, however, is yours to keep. You will neither inflict nor suffer any inequity.
'Beware of Satan, for the safety of your religion. He has lost all hope that he will ever be able to lead you astray in big things, so beware of following him in small things. O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah's trust and with his permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with any one of whom you do not approve, as well as never be unchaste. O People, listen to me in earnest, worship Allah, say your five daily prayers (salah), fast during the month of Ramadan, and give your wealth in zakat. Perform hajj if you can afford to. All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.
'Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim, and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Remember, one day you will appear before Allah and answer for your deeds. So beware, do not go astray from the path of righteousness after I am gone. O People, no Prophet or Apostle will come after me and no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O People, and understand my words which I convey to you. I leave behind me two things, the Quran and my example, the Sunnah, and if you follow these you will never go astray. All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to all others and those to others again; and may# the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness O Allah, that I have conveyed your message to your people.'
 W. Durant: The Age of Faith, Simon and Shuster, New York, 1950. Chapter VIII; p.174.
 J.W. Draper: A History of the Intellectual Development of Europe; 2 vols., George Bell and Son, London, 1875. Vol. 1; p.329
 J. Davenport: An Apology; op cit; p. 15.
 J. Glubb: A Short History of the Arab Peoples; Hodder and Stoughton, 1969; op cit; p.32.
 J. Glubb: A Short History; op cit; p.33.
 S.P. Scott: History of the Moorish Empire in Europe, 3 vols.; J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia and London, 1904. Vol 1; p.90.
 S.P. Scott: History of the Moorish Empire; op cit; Vol 1; p.103.
# a more correct translation is "and those to whom is it conveyed may well understand my words better than those who conveyed it"
by: FSTC Limited, Fri 16 September, 2005