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17. Understanding Islam
SECTION ONE: UNDERSTANDING THE BEGINNINGS OF ISLAM
CHAPTER ONE: THE REGION BEFORE ISLAM

1.3. Christians


Christianity too had reached the Arabian Peninsula sometime in the 2 or 3 centuries following the crucifixion. In fact, there were Arabs present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:11), and it’s likely that they took the Gospel to Northern Arabia then, although it took a while longer for Christianity to spread further south. Certainly by the time Mohammed was born, there were several different Christian communities with differing beliefs scattered around the peninsula. Some were indigenous Arabs who occupied a high position in society (such as the tribe of wealthy traders in Najran to the south), but many Christians in Mohammed’s birthplace of Mecca and its surrounds were runaway slaves from Roman provinces, or captive slaves captured by Arab raids to the North (Persians, Jordanians, Romans and Greeks), in addition to a small number of individual Arab converts. Such was the spread across the region and through society of Christian groups and individuals that everyone including Mohammed would have come into contact with Christians and have at least a passing familiarity with their beliefs. It would have been common knowledge, then, that just as the Jewish people were eagerly awaiting the first coming of the Messiah, the Christians were waiting for the return of Jesus to take them to heaven. However, the range of Christian beliefs held was wide indeed with more than a sprinkling of heresy; we shall discuss the influence of these beliefs on the teachings of Mohammed in a later chapter. For now suffice it to say that they had a significant influence on pre-Islamic religious thought in society.

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