Before he founded Islam, Mohammad ibn Abdullah (570-632 CE) was a successful merchant from Mecca, in the heart of the Arabian peninsula, who had traveled about the eastern end of the Mediterranean since he was a teen-ager working for his uncle. By the time he received his first vision, at about the age of forty, Mohammad was thoroughly familiar with the teachings of Judaism and Christianity, the religions that predominated in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. In that introductory vision, the angel Gabriel told him that he had been chosen to be the last of God’s prophets on Earth—a line that included Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, among others—who would reveal to humankind the final and fullest expression of God’s will. Periodically, for the remainder of his life, Mohammad experienced visions of Gabriel, who dictated to him revelations that he memorized and recited to members of his inner circle. Written down by his followers, these revelations became the scripture of the new faith, the Quran. Since the Quran is the record of revelation to a single individual, it is a unitary, internally coherent document that is less open to diverse interpretations than the Bible, which reflects a dialogue among multiple authors with widely divergent points of view. It is difficult to quote the Quran against itself.
Representing the actual words of God’s heavenly messenger, the Quran is the most fundamental of the three tiers on which Muslim practice and ethics are built. When its application to a particular situation is clear, a Muslim need look no farther. The Quran must be obeyed.[i]