Those who follow Islam are called Muslims and the word Islam itself means "submission to God." According to Islam, God sent prophets like Jesus, Moses, and Abraham, who are all considered to have been Muslims, to teach humans to follow God's law.
The Origins of Islam
Before the Prophet Mohammad, Arab communities believed in multiple Gods while at the same time a unity of one God. The origins of Islam go back to the creation of the world and every prophet who came into this world was to be accepted as God's messenger. Muslims believe that revelations were made through all the prophets that entered the word, but that Muhammad made the final absolute revelation which marks the official rise of Islam in the 7th century AD.
Muhammad: The Last Prophet of Islam
Therefore, the last Prophet was Muhammad. He was born in 570 in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. One night in 610 as he was meditating in a cave on Mount Hira, the angel Jibreel appeared to him and Muhammad began reciting what he believed were the words of God. This occurred throughout his life. The words were eventually recorded into the Qu'ran and Muhammad began preaching God's words.
When Muhammad proclaimed the message that the people must believe in one God, many retaliated and planned to kill him. Because of terrible living conditions and isolation, Muhammad took his followers and migrated to Medina in 622 A.D. The journey is called the Hijra, or pilgrimage, and marks the Muslim New Year.
A few years later, Muhammad had an astonishing number of followers and began to spread his message at a faster rate. Muhammad returned to Mecca with over 10,000 followers and conquered the land after a bloodless battle. Muhammad's death in 632 A.D. was a catastrophic event for Muslims.
The Birth of Sunnis and Shi'as
Abu Bakr, a friend of Muhammad, became the first caliph after the death of the last prophet. Abu Bakr had to take control of a number of battles, but his death paved way for the succession of Umar and many other caliphs. During these times, there were many religious and political leadership disputes. Ali ibn Abi Talib, in particular, was a significant caliph whose followers become the Muslim group called Shi'a. Most of the Muslim community, however, accepted the three rulers before Ali and were then grouped together as the Sunnis.
Many see the growth of the Islamic civilization under the reign of the Abbasid Dynasty as the "Islamic Golden Age." The capital of this civilization was at the city of Baghdad and there were divisions among Islam belief systems. There were the believers of Sufism, Shi'ism and those who tried to bring in Greek principles. As Islam grew, so did opposition from Christian authors who portrayed Islam as the religion of the antichrist.
The Rule of Muslim Dynasties and Islamic Growth
Over the next several centuries, many invasions and battles took place along with many more conversions to Islam during the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Under the Timurid dynasty, which ruled from the 14th- to 16th century, Islam continued to grow and become more solidified as an official religion in different regions. The Safavid dynasty later took over Persia and Shi'a Islam became the official religion. From the 16th to 19th centuries, several dynasties took power, with the overthrowing of the Mughal dynasty by the British Empire. Wars caused man Muslims to migrate to various regions across the globe including India, Southeast Asia and the Americas. Muslims also migrated to Africa due to an increase in trade. The spread of Muslims into different parts of the world has ultimately helped strengthen Islam.