Islam (in Arabic الإسلام) simply put is the monotheistic religion articulated in the Qur’an (“recitation” in Arabic, considered the verbatim word of Allah) and the Hadith (teachings of the Prophet Muhammad). Islam begins with the revelations of Allah to Muhammad in 622 in the city of Mecca (modern day Saudi Arabia), in the Arabian peninsula.
The word Islam means “submission to God.” Islam (verbal noun) comes from the triliteral root S-L-M and is derived from the Arabic verb ‘áslama (“to give up, to desert, to surrender [to God]). The Arabic word salaam (peace, in Arabic سلام) also comes from the the S-L-M root.
Practitioners of Islam are known as Muslims. They see themselves as Christians and Jews see themselves: descendants of Abraham, members, branches, of the same religious family. Muslims trace their roots back to Abraham through Ismail (Ishmail), Abraham’s son by Hagar. Muslims believe in prophets, not just the Prophet. Muslims accept prophets of the Hebrew Bible (including Abraham and Moses) and the New Testament (Jesus and John the Baptist). Similar to Christianity, Muslims believe in angels, heaven, hell and the Day of Judgment. Muslims acknowledge that God’s revelations were received by holy people prior to the Qur’an. They acknowledge the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels as important religious texts and the figures within them as important religious figures:
“We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Torah that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel in which is guidance and light, and confirmation of the Torah that had come before him, a guidance and an admonition to those who fear God.” (Qur’an 5:46)
Muslims consider Christians and Jews as “people of the book,” as a part of a community of believers who received revelations through prophets (scriptures or revealed texts). Just as Christians believe that the New Testament is the completion and fulfillment of the Old Testament, Muslims believe that the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad from God through the angel Gabriel so as to correct the human errors of Christianity and Judaism. To Muslims, Islam is not a new religion. They consider it the oldest religion. Muslims consider Islam to be the original and final revelation:
“He established for you the same religion as that which We have sent to you as inspiration through Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, namely that you should remain steadfast in religion and make no divisions within it.” (Qur’an 42:13)
John Esposito, when discussing the originations of Islam, phrases it best:
“The revelations Muhammad received led him to believe that Jews and Christians over time has distorted God’s original message to Moses and later to Jesus. Thus the Torah and the Gospels were seen by Muslims as a combination of original revelation and later human additions such as the elevation of Jesus from a prophet to the son of God. The revelations Muhammad received were calls to religious and social reform. They emphasized social justice (concern for the right of women, widows and orphans), corrected distortions to God’s revelations in Judaism and Christianity, and warned that many had strayed from the message of God and his prophets. They called upon all to return to what the Qur’an refers to as the straight path of Islam or the path of God, revealed one final time to Muhammad, the last or “seal” of the prophets.” (What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam, pp 8.)
This marks the basis of the Islamic faith, the foundational beliefs that define the origination of the faith and the role of Islam within the history of monotheistic religions. I will post separate entries about the Five Pillars of Islam, the Qur’an, and the role of Muhammad in Islam. But this will give you a base understanding of how and when Islam began.