Point of departure: A question that must be answered
a) Question (from South India): One of our contacts comes from a city in South-India. She works as a professor in a government aided liberal arts college for women, which belongs to a Muslim organization. More than 85% of the girls there are Muslim students. Through our contact there we came to know that in their college there are three Muslim lady professors, who are interested to learn about the word of God in the Tawrat and the Injil. Now they are perplexed and they brought the following question to our contact: "Did Islam start with Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael, or did Islam start with the Arabs?" The Muslim professors need proof as to which of these two options is true. Our contact is expecting an answer from us. Can you help us answer her? Yours gratefully, P.
b) Answer: This question from South India about the origin of Islam was passed on to a number of people, who know the Arabs and Islam well. The answer you are going to read brings together contributions by these servants of the Lord from different countries of the Arab World: from Morocco (Casablanca), from Egypt (Cairo), from Yemen (San'a'), from Saudi Arabia (Mecca), from Palestine (Bethlehem) and from Lebanon (Beirut). Today they live in Asia, Africa, Europe and America. Here is their answer:
It would be ideal if we could directly discuss this question with the early followers of Muhammad and with the early descendants of Abraham. This of course is not possible, because they have long passed away. Therefore, we have to consult the written information from and about these people available to us today to try to answer this question about whether Islam was started by Abraham or by the Arabs. Depending on which source you consult, you will of course get a different answer. This is why the question about the origin of Islam is a problem in the first place. Even within present-time Islam you get different answers, because of the nature of the earliest texts of Islam. As we go along, we will present and discuss different sources about Abraham and his earliest descendants as well as about Muhammad and his earliest followers.
Superficially this question about the origin of Islam seems to be simple: Islam was started either by Abraham long before the time of Muhammad or by the Arabs at the time of Muhammad. But if you look at the details you will discover that this question is more complicated than can be expected. To be able to properly answer the question whether Abraham or the Arabs started Islam, we will deal with each one of the four elements of this question and approach it from five different directions:
- What is ISLAM?
- Where did ABRAHAM live?
- Did ABRAHAM visit Mecca?
- Who were the ARABS that started Islam?
- Can Islam be STARTED?
Let us look at each one of these questions separately to see the role it plays in the question posed by the lady professors in South India.