Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka
Trade with the regions to the north brought the Arabs into contact with Judaism and Christianity. Moreover, there were settled communities of Christians and Jews in the peninsula, and Arabic-speaking Jewish tribes. As a result, the Arabs were familiar with these two religions, and Muhammad's closely-related teachings. Teaching that Islam is the climax of monotheistic faith, Muhammad reached out to both Jews and Christians, seeking alliances and hoping to win converts to his message of social and religious reform.
Muslims and Christians enjoyed debate and dialogue, particularly over theological issues, and Muhammad invited Christians to pray in his mosque. Initially Muhammad and his followers followed the Jewish Arabs by facing Jerusalem for prayer, but shortly after arriving in Medina, Muhammad received a revelation instructing the Muslims to face Mecca when praying. This simple change served to distinguish Islam from Judaism, despite the strong affinities between the two.
1. Was Islam a “new” religion? Why or why not?
2. How did Allah compare to other gods in the time of Islam’s origin?
3. What is the Kaaba?
4. Why were the Quraysh the first to hear Muhammad’s message? Why did they resist?
5. Describe the relationship between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Is interfaith dialogue possible?