Apparently this all started changing as a few tribes settled. The Quraysh for example as they became "keeper of the keys" in Mecca (I remember this from Reza Aslan's book) and started gaining wealth due to their caravan and pilgrimage businesses. The merchants started gaining more wealth and in the process generosity was sacrificed, the divide between rich and poor became pronounced, pleasure became the new religion and people started abandoning the traditional Arab fatalism for a notion that perhaps security could be found -- in stuff! Thus in these first seventy-three pages, I've concluded capitalism contributed to Islam's founding!
The Hanifs (those seeking to go back to the "pure religion" of Abraham) came along but "had little impact on their contemporaries, because they were chiefly concerned with their own personal salvation." Armstrong said they didn't seek to reform society or change people's morals. Instead they "simply withdrew from the mainstream." I noted this heartfelt quote attributed to the Hanif Zayd as he stood near the Kabah, "'Oh Allah!' he cried, 'If I knew how you wished to be worshipped, I would so worship you, but I do not know.'" (pg. 45)
Armstrong mentions Muhammad's first followers - generally young people, freedmen, slaves, women, the 'weak' - and how they were disenchanted with the market-driven direction their society had taken. She notes Muhammad knew this could be no mere social reform, but inward reform - it had to be a spiritual solution!
On page 53 Armstrong mentions for some, Muhammad was the "long-awaited Arab prophet" and I wondered about this. Did the Arabs truly anticipate Allah sending a prophet to them? Armstrong notes that Allah was a God worshiped already in the region, but unlike the Muslim Allah, he was distant. The pagan Arabs relied on three goddesses, those mentioned in the 'satanic verses', Al-Lat, Al-Uzza and Manat, to intercede for them because Allah couldn't really be bothered directly by the people.
|The goddesses who interceded to Allah on behalf of the pre-Islamic Arabians|
Speaking of the Satanic verses Armstrong mentions how they were revealed during a time Muhammad was really sad about the growing division his message brought between him and the people he loved who would not accept his message from God. She tells how Muhammad said these verses and the pagans were joyful that their three interceding goddesses were now sharing "divine honors with Allah." Of course Muhammad never meant for this conclusion to be reached and he was duly scolded by Gabriel who revealed corrective verses which when spoken to the pagans were "a slap in the face that not only eliminated the gharaniq [the three goddesses] but insulted the revered ancestors." (pg. 72)
Apparently this new corrected version also made it clear that "all the previous prophets had made similar 'satantic' mistakes." Armstrong continues, "It was a struggle to make sense of the revelations and all too easy to confuse the deeper current inspiration with a more superficial idea of one's own."
Don't you think many people have done this very thing? They have gotten into their minds what ideas they want promoted then they go to the Scripture to twist meanings, take things out of context or cherry pick in order to support their own agendas? For instance Armstrong notes that the Quran speaks of God also in feminine terms and may be one reason so many women initially converted to Islam. But how often do we read blogs today and read articles and hear news reports about women in Islam suffering from highly man-centered interpretations? How often are women taught they were created merely to serve their husbands good food, keep tidy homes, satisfy their husbands' sexual needs and fantasies while also incubating and nurturing his precious children?
Also how can the Quran be the direct word of God when it includes "satanic verses"? Shouldn't it have a disclaimer that most of these words are from Allah, but there might be a few thoughts from the jinn that got in there by accident?
Those are things that cross my mind anyway. How concerned are you that someone else's (a jinn, a man who wanted to keep women down) thoughts made it into the Quran?
More notes from this book to come including some thoughts on the kafirun and jahiliyyah according to Armstrong.