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An Upside-Down History of the World [Japanese]
[Chapter 3] The Origins of Monotheism

Part 1: A Human Hypothesis
30 The Shias and the Sunnis—A Conflict in Focus

Long ago, in the form of the Koran, the prophet Muhammad imparted the sacred word unto humanity. It was a message from the one and only God, Allah, and it was the beginnings of a new religion.

Today, we call this system of beliefs by its original name, not by a term coined by non-Muslim cultures. Islam, you could say, all began with the Koran.

“The only true faith in God's sight is Islam.”

(The ‘Imrans, 3:19)


The word islam, however, did not first appear in the Koran as a word “coined by God.” A common word in ancient Arabia, the word is the noun form of the verb aslama, which means, in essence, “to wholeheartedly surrender to another that which one holds dear.”

Eventually, its meaning changed. The surrendered became man, and the acceptor, God. Islam, in a religious context, came to express a complete submission to God; all matters of the self were to be entrusted to God and his will. It was a message that became the fundamental religious existence of the religion known as Islam. (Toshihiko Izutsu. Isurāmu seitan [Tokyo: Chuokoron-shinsha, 2003])

Those who entrusted everything to God became known as Muslims.

Islam’s Next Leader

The word islam is the noun form of the verb aslama, which means, in essence, “to wholeheartedly surrender to another that which one holds dear.”

But Islam had yet to become a fully-fledged religion.

Muhammad needed a successor. Aside from Muhammad’s son, who would die young, only one daughter and one son-in-law could claim “the Prophet” as their father.

Luckily, for Muhammad, there was Abu Bakr (573-634), a distant relative. Abu Bakr was the first member of Muhammad’s family besides Khadijah to embrace Islam. A few years Muhammad’s junior, he was Muhammad’s trusted advisor and brave champion in battle. Before long, Abu Bakr would marry off his nine-year-old daughter, Aisha, to a fifty-six-year-old Muhammad. Suddenly the younger Abu Bakr was Muhammad’s father-in-law.

As Muhammad entered his twilight years, Aisha took the role of caretaker, and her father, Abu Bakr, took an oath of faith—it was the year 632, after Muhammad’s death, and Abu Bakr had just become the elected leader of the Islamic people (reigned 632-634). Khalifat rasul Allah ("successor of the messenger of God"), Islam’s new leader, the Caliph, was born.

It wasn’t long, however, that Abu Bakr was no longer. His death came just two years after Muhammad’s, leaving Muhammad’s dear friend and intrepid soldier Umar (lived ?-644, reigned 634-644) as the next Caliph. Umar’s daughter, Hafsa, also happened to be one of Muhammad’s wives.

Militarily gifted, Umar exploited Abu Bakr’s unified Arabian Peninsula to launch several military expeditions throughout the Middle East in what we know today as the modern Islamic countries of Syria, Iraq, and Egypt. But the region was no stranger to conflict, even then. It was a time when the Sassanid Dynasty of Persia (226-651) and the Byzantine Empire (330-1453), the successors to the Roman Empire, were battling for dominance. But the camps were also exhausted. Playing the two forces against each other, Umar and his Islamic army wiped out the squads one by one, transforming both Egypt and Syria into Islamic territories.