Islam came to Iraq by way of the Arabian Peninsula, where in A.D.610, Muhammad--a merchant of the Hashimite branch of the ruling Quraysh tribe in the Arabian town of Mecca--began to preach the first of a series of revelations granted him by God through the angel Gabriel. A fervent monotheist, Muhammad denounced the polytheism of his fellow Meccans. Because the town's economy was based in part on a thriving pilgrimage business to the shrine called the Kaaba and numerous other pagan religious sites in the area, his censure earned him the enmity of the town's leaders.
In A.D.622 Muhammad and a group of followers accepted an invitation to settle in the town of Yathrib, later known as Medina (the city), because it was the center of Muhammad's activities. The move, or hijra, known in the West as the hegira, marks the beginning of the Islamic era and of Islam as a force in history; the Muslim calendar begins in A.D.622. In Medina Muhammad continued to preach and eventually defeated his detractors in battle. He consolidated the temporal and the spiritual leadership in his person before his death in A.D.632.
After Muhammad's death, his followers compiled those of his words regarded as coming directly from God into the Quran, the holy scriptures of Islam. Others of his sayings and teachings, recalled by those who had known him, became the hadith. The precedent of Muhammad's personal behavior is called the sunna. Together they form a comprehensive guide to the spiritual, ethical, and social life of the orthodox Sunni Muslim.
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