Learning history is much emphasised in our religious tradition. The gravity of this emphasis can be seen in how we draw our tradition from the time of Prophet s.a.w. up till the present.
Apart from it being a book of guidance and other thematic subjects, the Quran itself revealed stories from past communities. Allah s.w.t. says in the Quran:
لَقَدْ كَانَ فِى قَصَصِهِمْ عِبْرَةٌۭ لِّأُو۟لِى ٱلْأَلْبَـٰبِ ۗ مَا كَانَ حَدِيثًۭا يُفْتَرَىٰ وَلَـٰكِن تَصْدِيقَ ٱلَّذِى بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ وَتَفْصِيلَ كُلِّ شَىْءٍۢ وَهُدًۭى وَرَحْمَةًۭ لِّقَوْمٍۢ يُؤْمِنُونَ
“In their stories, there is truly a lesson for people of reason. This message cannot be a fabrication, rather (it is) a confirmation of previous revelation, a detailed explanation of all things, a guide, and a mercy for people of faith.”
(Surah Yusuf, 12:111)
The verse informs us of the objective behind the revelation of these stories as lessons and guidance for the believers. Therefore, learning and reflecting on history allows us to understand better and equip us with the tools to prepare for the future.
Here are 14 heavily searched questions on Islamic History from Google:
The months within the calendar were present during the time of the Prophet s.a.w. In fact, they were already around during the pre-Islamic time too. These 12 months were later acknowledged in the Quran:
إِنَّ عِدَّةَ الشُّهُورِ عِندَ اللَّهِ اثْنَا عَشَرَ شَهْرًا فِي كِتَابِ اللَّهِ يَوْمَ خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ مِنْهَا أَرْبَعَةٌ حُرُمٌ
“Indeed, the number of months ordained by Allah is twelve—in Allah’s Record since the day He created the heavens and the earth—of which four are sacred.”
(Surah At-Tawbah, 9:36)
Therefore, we use them to indicate our religious events and rites such as fasting in Ramadan and performing Hajj in Zulhijjah.
However, the year, at that point of time, was defined by a momentous event that happened in that particular year. For example, the year where Makkah was attacked by the Elephant Troops was known as the Year of the Elephant.
The Islamic Calendar that we know now was first officially introduced and officially used during the time of the Caliph Sayyiduna Umar Ibn Al-Khattab r.a. The calendar begins from the year of Hijrah or the Migration from Makkah to Madinah. Therefore, it is called the Hijri calendar.
The companions put a lot of thought into how to develop a proper calendar to date their events. The decision made was not random but is full of significance that shapes the hopeful mind of a believer. To know more about the story, read here.
The first to accept Islam is the Prophet’s closest confidant, ummul mukminin (Mother of Believers), Sayyidatina Khadijah r.a. She was the first to believe in him s.a.w. Upon receiving the first revelation, Rasulullah s.a.w. was trembling when he got home, and it was Khadijah r.a. that calmed him down.
She then continued to stand beside the Prophet s.a.w in one of the Prophet’s toughest days, his early journey of Prophethood in the face of a hostile community that not only rejected his message but oppressed his followers.
Besides Sayyidatina Khadijah r.a, our tradition also mentioned other pioneers of Islam, which includes Sayyidina Abu Bakar As-Siddiq, Sayyidina Ali Ibn Abi Talib and Sayyidna Zayd Ibn Harithah r.a. They too continued to stand by the Prophet s.a.w.
It is firstly important to note that the Quran was not revealed to the Prophet s.a.w. as a complete book on a single occasion. The Quranic verses were gradually revealed one by one or in sets/groups over 23 years. The first revelation, which was the first 5 verses of Surah Al-’Alaq, took place in the Cave of Hira’, in Mount Jabal Nur.
..حتَّى فَجِئَهُ الحَقُّ وهو في غَارِ حِرَاءٍ، فَجَاءَهُ المَلَكُ فِيهِ، فَقالَ: اقْرَأْ، فَقالَ له النبيُّ صَلَّى اللهُ عليه وسلَّمَ: فَقُلتُ: ما أنَا بقَارِئٍ، فأخَذَنِي فَغَطَّنِي حتَّى بَلَغَ مِنِّي الجَهْدُ، ثُمَّ أرْسَلَنِي فَقالَ: اقْرَأْ، فَقُلتُ: ما أنَا بقَارِئٍ، فأخَذَنِي فَغَطَّنِي الثَّانِيَةَ حتَّى بَلَغَ مِنِّي الجَهْدُ، ثُمَّ أرْسَلَنِي فَقالَ: اقْرَأْ، فَقُلتُ: ما أنَا بقَارِئٍ، فأخَذَنِي فَغَطَّنِي الثَّالِثَةَ حتَّى بَلَغَ مِنِّي الجَهْدُ، ثُمَّ أرْسَلَنِي فَقالَ: (اقْرَأْ باسْمِ رَبِّكَ الذي خَلَقَ) - حتَّى بَلَغَ - (عَلَّمَ الإنْسَانَ ما لَمْ يَعْلَمْ)
“..till suddenly the Truth descended upon him while he was in the cave of Hira. The angel came to him and asked him to read. The Prophet replied, "I do not know how to read." (The Prophet added), "The angel held me (strongly) and pressed me so hard that I felt drained. He then released me and again asked me to read, and I replied, "I do not know how to read," whereupon he held me again and pressed me a second time till I was drained. He then released me and asked me again to read, but again I replied, "I do not know how to read (or, what shall I read?)." Thereupon he held me for the third time and pressed me and then released me and said, "Read: In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (everything). Has created man from a clot. Read and Your Lord is Most Generous. (He) who taught by (means of) the pen. (He) taught humanity what they knew not"
The event of the first revelation is now known as the night of Nuzulul-Quran (Night of the first revelation). Scholars differ in terms of its date. Most scholars view that it was revealed on a Monday in the month of Ramadan, as seen in the hadith:
“He was then asked about fasting on Monday, whereupon he said: It was the day on which I was born. on which I was commissioned with prophethood or revelation was sent to me”
Not to be confused, the Quran as a whole was transferred from Luh Mahfuz (the preserved tablet) to Bayt al-Izzah (the lowest heaven) and this took place on Laylatul Qadar (Night of Decree/Glory)
إِنَّآ أَنزَلْنَـٰهُ فِى لَيْلَةِ ٱلْقَدْرِ
“Indeed, (it is) We (Who) sent this (Quran) down on the Night of Glory”
(Surah Al-Qadr, 97:1)
As the Quran was revealed to the Prophet s.a.w. gradually in stages, it was initially transmitted through the oral tradition. The Prophet s.a.w. would pass it to his companions and they would memorise it by heart before transmitting it to others. Oral communication was the primary means of transmission in the Arabian society of that time. In other words, the Quran was not yet gathered in a single Mushaf (book) as we know today.
Some companions, such as Zayd Ibn Thabit r.a, were also designated to write the verses when the revelation came with whatever material they have.
A year after the Prophet’s passing, many Muslims especially the Huffaz (those who memorised the Quran) were killed on the battlefield. Sayyidina Umar r.a. expressed his concern over the fallen companions who had memorised the Quran. He was worried that with a lesser number of huffaz who are still alive.
As such, Sayyidina Umar r.a. suggested to Sayyidina Abu Bakr r.a. who was the caliph at that time, to collect and compile the verses of the Quran. Sayyidina Abu Bakr r.a. was hesitant at the initial stage as this was not done or instructed by Rasulullah s.a.w, but he later became convinced that it was necessary for preserving the Quranic text for later generations.
The Caliph later gathered a group of scribers led by Sayyidina Zayd Ibn Thabit r.a. to manage this pivotal task. Sayyidina Zayd Ibn Thabit r.a. was one of the companions who were tasked by the Prophet to write the revelations even during the Prophet’s time. An unpopular method compared to the oral tradition. However, these writings were not compiled yet in one particular place, nor was it organised with chapters in the orderly manner we see today.
Thus, during the time of Caliph Abu Bakr r.a, the Quran was first gathered and compiled in a single copy. This copy was later revised, organised in a specific order and with its letters redrawn during the time of Caliph Uthman r.a.
It is important to note that the order of the words and chapters of the Quran was also based upon revelation marked by the Prophet s.a.w. The scribes did not compile based upon their rationale. Therefore, we believe that the Quran is the Word of God, tawqifi (verbatim). In that manner, it was not a Book written by anyone.
The first attempt of modern aviation is often attributed to the Wright brothers (1903). However, about a thousand years before them, a Muslim polymath, Abbas Ibn Firnas already attempted to fly in the year 852, as recorded by the Algerian historian Al-Maqari.
Although Abbas only managed to successfully glide briefly from a mountain in the year 872, it was a significant mark in human history.
Abbas Ibn Firnas was from Andalusia, modern-day Spain. His contributions are more than just pushing the human will to fly but also on devising a water clock and other notable inventions.
There are various theories on the spread of Islam to this region. Historians believe that Islam gradually came to this region during the period around the 9th to 10th century, or even earlier.
One of the theories states that Islam was spread from India through the land. A king, by the name of Sultan Muhammad, came from Monghyr or Munger, northeastern India, was referred by the indigenous source, Hikayat Raja Pasai, to be the first ruler of Samudra-Pasai, located in the northern coast of Sumatra.
The Hikayat mentions that Sultan Muhammad was a Qurashi (an Arab descent of the same tribe of the Prophet s.a.w). Prof. Naquib Al-Attas affirms this fact by quoting earlier historians and explorers, Al-Biruni (d. 1048) and Al-Mas’udi (d. 956) who reported that there were more than 10,000 Arabs of Quraysh lineage who had settled and ruled in Multan as well as Monghyr in their time.
Islam was also known to have spread in Southeast Asia through the sea by the Arab traders. The Maritime Silk Road connected many regions like the Arabian peninsula, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and China together. These Muslim traders that come from the Arabian peninsula had to go through the Malaccan strait in order to reach the ports in China.
It is through their virtuous interactions with the locals and their prosperous economical status that attracted many to join their ranks in faith, not wars. The height of this heritage is often attributed to the 14th century Malacca where trade and knowledge blossomed and helped prospered other regions in Southeast Asia.
There is a dedicated chapter - called Surah An-Nisa’ - literally means Chapter on Women. Allah s.w.t. says at the beginning of the chapter:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالًا كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاءً
“O humanity! Be mindful of your Lord Who created you from a single soul, and from it, He created its mate, and through both, He spread countless men and women.”
(Surah An-Nisa’, 4:1)
There were also many stories of various women mentioned in the Quran although some were not named. Among the most famous chapters is Surah Maryam, a chapter dedicated to Sayyidatina Maryam a.s, the mother of Prophet Isa a.s. To know more about her and the lessons from her story, read here.
The Quran also paid tribute to amazing women in history, such as the wife of Firaun. She is known as Asiah as mentioned in a hadith. Her story demonstrates the power of a woman who stood by her conviction to truth and justice, even as she was facing a tyrannical husband who was an oppressive king. She adopted Prophet Musa a.s. and raised him well who subsequently led to the end of an oppressive regime and freed the people of Bani Israil.
Another beautiful story in the Quran is also the story of a female companion, Khawlah bint Tha’labah r.a, who disagreed with an unjust social custom and patriarchal authority in the pre-Islamic marital law of Arabian society, in 7th century Madinah. She went to Rasulllah s.a.w. to complain against unjust treatment by her husband known as zihar.
Rasulullah s.a.w did not receive any revelation to address her predicament at that point but he listened to her attentively. She then continued to pray to God for her predicament to be addressed. Allah The Most Hearing heard her and a revelation came to the Prophet s.a.w. The revelation attested to her argument and put a stop to the unjust practice. The answer to her predicament came in Surah Al-Mujadilah,
قَدۡ سَمِعَ اللّٰهُ قَوۡلَ الَّتِىۡ تُجَادِلُكَ فِىۡ زَوۡجِهَا وَ تَشۡتَكِىۡۤ اِلَى اللّٰهِ ۖ وَاللّٰهُ يَسۡمَعُ تَحَاوُرَكُمَا ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ سَمِيۡعٌ ۢ بَصِيۡرٌ
“Indeed, Allah has heard the argument of the woman who pleaded with you (O Prophet) concerning her husband, and appealed to Allah. Allah has heard your exchange. Surely Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.”
(Surah Al-Mujadilah, 58:1)
It was in the second year of the Hijrah that the Qibla was changed from Bait-ul Maqdis, also known as Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, to the Kaabah in Masjid-il Haram in Makkah which is the Qibla or direction of our prayer today.
This is in accordance with the verse:
قَدْ نَرَىٰ تَقَلُّبَ وَجْهِكَ فِي السَّمَاءِ ۖ فَلَنُوَلِّيَنَّكَ قِبْلَةً تَرْضَاهَا ۚ فَوَلِّ وَجْهَكَ شَطْرَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ ۚ وَحَيْثُ مَا كُنتُمْ فَوَلُّوا وُجُوهَكُمْ شَطْرَهُ
“Indeed, We see you (O Prophet) turning your face towards heaven. Now We will make you turn towards a direction (of prayer) that will please you. So turn your face towards the Sacred Mosque (Al-Masjid-ul-Harām)—wherever you are, turn your faces towards it.”
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:144)
The place where Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. received a revelation to shift the direction of prayer has now been turned into a masjid, Masjid Qiblatain in Madinah. If you perform your umrah and ziyarah, you may wish to visit this mosque. There is signage placed in the mosque today to indicate the old Qiblah as well.
All mosques in Islam are considered sacred. However, there are 3 mosques that have a higher significance. They are as follows:
These three holy sites are mentioned in a hadith by the Prophet s.a.w which signifies its importance:
لاَ تُشَدُّ الرِّحَالُ إِلاَّ إِلَى ثَلاَثَةِ مَسَاجِدَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ، وَمَسْجِدِ الرَّسُولِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَمَسْجِدِ الأَقْصَى
“Do not set out on a journey except for three Mosques i.e. Al-Masjidil-Haram, the Mosque of Rasulullah s.a.w, and the Mosque of Al-Aqsa”
In fact, each of these mosques bears significant rewards for whoever performs acts of worship in them. These rewards are also mentioned in a hadith narrated by Imam At-Tabrani:
الصَّلَاة فِي الْمَسْجِد الْحَرَام بِمِائَة ألف صَلَاة وَالصَّلَاة فِي مَسْجِدي بِأَلف صَلَاة وَالصَّلَاة فِي بَيت الْمُقَدّس بِخَمْسِمِائَة صَلَاة
“A prayer in the Masjid al-Haram is akin to a hundred thousand prayers, a prayer in my mosque is akin to a thousand prayers, and a prayer in the Bayt al-Maqdis is akin to five hundred prayers”
The oldest existing registered mosque in Singapore is Masjid Omar Kampung Melaka. Built in the year 1820, the Masjid is still active. The mosque has been gazetted as a national monument.
Located at Keng Cheow Street near Singapore central business district, Masjid Omar Kampung Melaka was built by an Arab merchant and philanthropist, Syed Omar Aljunied.
The first mosque in the world according to our Islamic beliefs is the Al-Masjid-ul-Harām in Makkah. Its construction as the first mosque is recorded in the Quran:
إِنَّ أَوَّلَ بَيْتٍۢ وُضِعَ لِلنَّاسِ لَلَّذِى بِبَكَّةَ مُبَارَكًۭا وَهُدًۭى لِّلْعَـٰلَمِينَ
“Surely the first House (of worship) established for humanity is the one at Bakkah (Makkah)—a blessed sanctuary and a guide for (all) people.”
(Surah Ali-’Imran, 3:96)
The Quran also recorded accounts of how Prophet Ibrahim a.s. built the Kaabah with his son Prophet Ismail a.s. The companion Abu Zarr r.a. once asked the Prophet s.a.w.
قُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ: أَيُّ مَسْجِدٍ وُضِعَ فِي الْأَرْضِ أَوَّلُ ؟ قَالَ: الْمَسْجِدُ الْحَرَامُ قُلْتُ: ثُمَّ أَيٌّ ؟ قَالَ: الْمَسْجِدُ الْأَقْصَى قُلْتُ: كَمْ بَيْنَهُمَا ؟ قَالَ: أَرْبَعُونَ سَنَةً
“I said: O Rasulullah, which mosque was set up first on earth? He said: Al-Masjid al-Haram. I asked: Then which is next? He said: It was the Masjid al-Aqsa. I (again) asked: How long was the interval between both (mosque)? He replied: It was forty years”
The first mosque built during the time of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w, however, is the Quba Mosque located in the outskirts of the Madinah. The Mosque was first built by Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. during his Hijrah to Madinah from Makkah. It has its own set of merits. The Prophet s.a.w. said:
مَنْ تَطَهَّرَ فِي بَيْتِهِ ثُمَّ أَتَى مَسْجِدَ قُبَاء فَصَلَّى فِيهِ صَلَاةً، كَانَ لَهُ كَأَجْرِ عُمْرَةٍ
“Whoever purifies himself in his house, then comes to the Quba Mosque and offers a prayer therein, will have a reward like that of an Umrah”
(Sunan Ibn Majah)
This is especially relevant and encouraged when one is performing their Umrah or Hajj in the sacred lands. A trip to the Quba Mosque and prayer therein is equivalent to performing an Umrah itself. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. himself would make regular visits to the Quba Mosque:
كَانَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَأْتِي مَسْجِدَ قُبَاءٍ كُلَّ سَبْتٍ مَاشِيًا وَرَاكِبًا
“The Prophet s.a.w. used to go to the Quba Mosque every Saturday, (sometimes) walking and (sometimes) riding”
When the Prophet s.a.w. and his companions established a prosperous community in Madinah, they came to discuss methods on how to gather people for the congregational prayers. Some options were to use the Naqus (bell) or the horn. However, both options were not preferred.
Later, Abdullah Ibn Zayd r.a. witnessed in a dream, a man who showed him how to announce the Azan. Upon waking up, he went to Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. and shared about his dream. The Prophet s.a.w. acknowledged it and said:
إنَّها لرؤيا حقٍّ إن شاء اللهُ، فقُمْ مع بلالٍ فألْقِ عليه ما رأيتَ فليُؤذِّنْ به فإنَّه أندَى صوتاً منك
“It is a true dream (vision) God willing, proceed with Bilal and inform him what you saw and let him call it (the Azan), for he has a better voice than you”
The companion Umar Ibn Al-Khattab r.a. is reported to have also witnessed this experience in his dream. This is one of the many examples of how certain rulings or matters of the religion were materialised by the acknowledgement of the Prophet s.a.w.
The pinnacle of Islamic civilization in the past had witnessed the tremendous efforts of scientific inquiry undertaken by our scholars such as Ibn Sina, Al-Haytam and Al-Biruni. These scholars were guided by the light of revelation and their thirst for scientific discoveries.
The acquisition of knowledge is a much-emphasised notion in the religion, such that the Prophet s.a.w. mentioned in a hadith:
منْ سَلَكَ طَريقاً يَبْتَغِي فِيهِ علْماً سهَّل اللَّه لَه طَريقاً إِلَى الجنةِ
“Whoever takes a path upon which to obtain knowledge, Allah makes the path to Paradise easy for him”
Furthermore, the holistic understanding of the universe that is shaped by Allah’s wisdom and His cosmic laws is what further motivates Muslim scholars to undertake the path of observation and discovery. In other words, a thirst for scientific discoveries motivated by religious consciousness. Allah s.w.t. says in the Quran:
ٱلَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ ٱللَّهَ قِيَـٰمًۭا وَقُعُودًۭا وَعَلَىٰ جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِى خَلْقِ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَـٰذَا بَـٰطِلًۭا سُبْحَـٰنَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ ٱلنَّارِ
“(They are) those who remember Allah while standing, sitting, and lying on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth (and pray), “Our Lord! You have not created (all of) this without purpose. Glory be to You! Protect us from the torment of the Fire.”
(Surah Ali-’Imran, 3:191)
The sciences were also inherited from the knowledge heritage of other civilisations. Further discoveries and inventions were also notably made by Muslim scholars. For instance, in the field of Chemistry, Jabbir ibn Hayyan is known as the Father of Chemistry. In fact, the word ‘chemistry’ or ‘alchemy’ is derived from the Arabic word al-kimiyah. To know more about some of these notable scholars, read here.
The contribution of Muslim scholars had influenced the Renaissance of Europe, thus, laying the foundations of the sciences in the modern world today. There are many other scientific discoveries made by medieval Muslim scholars in various fields.
Today, we need to continue our pursuits of knowledge including scientific knowledge, and not by rejecting science and consider it less useful knowledge.
Early in the 9th century, the Abbasid caliphs adopted a deliberate approach to the cultural and intellectual growth of the empire. Having the empire stretched as far as the Atlantic to the Indus, the seventh Abbasid Caliph, Al-Ma’mun, was arguably the first in line to establish the House of Wisdom or Bayt al-Hikmah, an educational and academic institute that would gather manuscripts and the best scholars from all corners of the empire to learn from one another.
Through this centralised institution, many texts were introduced from ancient civilisations such as the Greek and the Indians, benefitting from the western and eastern traditions, subsequently inheriting their knowledge and advancing their scholarship further with guided Islamic principles. The result of these scholarships can be found in the works of scholars such as Ibn Sina (Averroes) and Al-Haytham (Alhazen).
Unfortunately, in 1258, the house of wisdom was destroyed along with its books during the siege of Baghdad. The book ‘Lost Islamic History’ notes:
“Its books were dumped into the Tigris River, the ink from hundreds of years of scholarship turning the river black. Thousands of works on math, science, geography, history, theology, and jurisprudence were lost forever.”
Only a fraction of the intellectual heritage survived. Today, some of this knowledge has been preserved and evolved in today's modern world. The discoveries and knowledge by past Muslim scholars and scientists are today inherited by Western civilization, particularly during the Renaissance period. The preservation of civilization necessitates a better understanding, sharing and recognition of our common heritage.
The current state of Muslims calls us to not only learn more about our beautiful religion but to also learn about our history and how these virtuous teachings and values were manifested in developing the world.
May Allah s.w.t. guide us in the path that pleases Him and grants us His mercy.
And Allah knows best.