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All Eyes Turn to Mecca

Rise of Islam – 600 > 800

   

            Growing up in America in the late twentieth century, my generation learned little about Muslims.  Sure, we heard about some conflicts over oil in the Middle East  We knew about a few athletes who had changed their names (basketball great Lou Alcindor became Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Cassius Clay is better known to the world as Muhammad Ali).  And when Disney’s Aladdin came out, we thought maybe those people “over there” once lived in palaces and had a thing for carpets and lamps.  But if you’d asked the 18-year-old version of me to tell you the difference between Iraq and Iran or even which countries had the most Muslims in the world (Indonesia #1, India#2), I would have drawn a complete blank.

            Then 9/11 hit and no one could ever again claim to not have an opinion about Muslims.  And because for the majority of Americans, 9/11 was the first time they were introduced to Muslims, this attack became their immediate, and only, connection.  The math seemed simple.  Terrorists had attacked America.  The terrorists were all Muslim.  Muslims therefore must be terrorists.  In addition to this flawed little bit of deductive reasoning, Americans also then sucked in stories of how these terrorists believed in this thing called a “jihad” where each of them automatically went to paradise if they died killing infidels. So, again, using some flawed logic, Islam must be a religion of killing.  This was what many of us believed.  This was what we were being shown, and most of us never ventured to explore the topic any further.

            In the decade since, some have attempted to move beyond these initial perceptions and find out more about the fastest growing religion in the world, a religion that claims more than 1.5 billion adherents, a religion that, by the end of the 21st century, will pass Christianity as the most practiced religion on the planet.  We’ve learned that to claim all Muslims are terrorists is as asinine as claiming all Christians are members of the KKK.  We’ve learned that to claim all Muslims share the views of Osama bin Laden is akin to claiming all Christians shared the views of Adolph Hitler 

            But conflict and misunderstanding still plague Christian-Muslim relations, threatening to pull the two cultures apart.  Before these severed relations can be repaired, it would help if the world knew the stories of Islam’s early days as well as they know the stories of Jesus Christ as a baby in a manger, walking with his twelve disciples and dying on the cross for the world’s sins.

            To understand Muslims, the starting points are always one man and one place.  Muhammad and Mecca.  In the sixth century AD, while Europe was settling into the Dark Ages where it would remain for centuries, in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, a new faith sprung from...