Few people in all of history ever have an influence so far reaching that the course of nations are changed. Jesus is one, and Muhammad is another. Muhammad, who lived in the 6th and 7th centuries in the Middle East, claimed to have received revelations from God and it is from these revelations that Islam was founded. For Muslims, Muhammad is the final prophet of Allah who supersedes all other prophets and who alone delivered the final and perfect word of God. Whether or not you believe this, Muhammad is still an important figure in human history.
Muhammad (full name is Muhammad Ibn Abdullah) was born in 570 in Mecca which is now located in Saudi Arabia. Mecca was then the cultural and religious center of Arabia. The area had no central government and was full of semi-warring tribes with numerous, competing, polytheistic religions. At the heart of Mecca was the Ka'aba (cube in Arabic), a shrine about 60 feet, by 60 feet, by 60 feet, containing hundreds of idols. The Ka'aba was believed to have been built by Abraham and his son Ishmael on the same spot as the first shrine to God built by Adam. On the eastern corner of the Ka'aba is the Black stone called in Arabic, Hajar al Aswad. The Black Stone is probably a meteorite. Anyway, the Ka'aba was also known as the House of Allah where Allah was recognized as the supreme deity, but was worshipped along with other deities.
Muhammad is born
Muhammad was born to his mother Amina, into the Quraish, the then ruling tribe of Mecca. Up to the age of eight, he was raised by his grandfather Abdul Muttalib because Abdallah, his father, died in Yathrib a few weeks before Muhammad was born. Amina, his mother, died when he was six. After the death of his grandfather, his uncle Abu Talib then assumed responsibility for raising Muhammad. Abu Talib was a businessman involved in trade so it is likely that Muhammad went with him on business trips and encountered both Jews, 280 miles to the north in Madina, and Christians also to the north and to the south in Nejran. His encounters with Jews and Christians seem to be reflected in the Qur'an in passages that refer to "The People of the Book" (3:64, 71, 187; 5:59). The term "People of the Book" is a reference to Jews and Christians who had received God's word through the prophets before Muhammad.
At 25 years old, Muhammad was hired to manage the business of a wealthy widow named Khadija who was 15 years older than he. He went to Syria and traded there successfully. Apparently this impressed Khadija. She ended up proposing to Muhammad later and in 595 they were married. They had two sons and four daughters: Zaynab, Ruqaiyah, Fatima and Umm Kulthum. Muhammad and Khakija were married for 25 years until Khadija died at the age of 65 during the month of Ramadan, well after the start of Islam.
Around 35 years of age, Muhammad assumed the habit of going outside of Mecca to Mt. Hira for meditation and contemplation. There was a cave where he often went for solitude. It was during one of these times of meditation that Muhammad said an angelic being appeared to him. This disturbed Muhammad (Qur'an 81:19-29) and he told his wife Khadija that he thought he had been visited by an evil Jinn. Jinn are supposed to be living beings like people, but not angels, who were created from fire and are invisible, yet dwell on the earth. A short time later, in the year 610 (believed to be the 26th of Ramadan), while in a cave on Mt. Hirah, Muhammad said that the angel Gabriel appeared to him and commanded him to recite (96:1-19). This recitation became the Qur'an. In these encounters with the angel Gabriel, sometimes he would see the angel, other times he would only hear him, and at others he only heard the sound of a bell through which the words of the angel came.
Muhammad could neither read nor write so he was instructed to memorize the words given to him by Gabriel. This complete recitation which Muhammad received over a 23 year period, ending in 632, the year of his death, is known as the Qur'an. Initially, Muhammad doubted that he was being called by Allah to be a prophet. Others, including his wife and a cousin, counseled him by saying that Allah would only be truthful to him and would not allow him to be deceived. Muhammad became convinced and even wrote in the Qur'an, "Say: Whoever is an enemy to Gabriel-for he brings down the (revelation) to thy heart by Allah's will, a confirmation of what went before, and guidance and glad tidings for those who believe," (2:97).
Islam takes root
It became the mission of Muhammad to proclaim the truth of Islam, given to him by Allah, through the angel Gabriel. Muhammad called the people of his area to repent from their idol worship, to do good, and to serve the one and true God, Allah. He taught that man is God's slave and it is his duty to submit to God and obey him. He said that the Day of Judgment was coming and that a man's works will be weighed on that day. Those whose good deeds outweigh their bad may, by Allah's grace, be saved and enter Paradise which is full of sensual pleasures. The unsaved go to hell. His first converts were his wife, Khadija, his cousin Ali, and his adopted son Zaid ibn Haritha. Soon afterwards, Abu Bakr also believed. In his first three years of proclaiming Islam, he had 40 converts.
Though his continued preaching brought only a few converts, it did bring much opposition. The ruling tribe, the Quraish, tried to get Muhammad to stop his preaching by appealing to his uncle, Abu Talib. But, Muhammad adamantly refused to stop proclaiming the message he had received. Because Abu Talib was very influential in the Quraish, Muhammad's life was protected and he was able to continue his preaching -- which angered many people. The Quraish began to persecute the Muslims by beating them and boycotting their businesses. Often times, during public prayers, Muhammad was accosted and mocked. His followers were likewise treated poorly. But, Muhammad remained steadfast.
Because of the persecution, the Muslims moved to Abyssinia, Ethiopia today, and were protected by the Christian ruler there. After a time, he returned to Madina and continued his preaching. More converts joined his ranks and more idolaters sought to defeat him. This is because the message of Islam was socio-political. Islam covers belief, society, behavior, ethics, etc. This monotheistic belief system threatened the lucrative business that grew around the pilgrimages to the Ka'aba that so many Arabs enjoyed. The ruling tribe, the Quraish, soon found that within their reign a small band of believers, a small "country" unto themselves, was rising up. The ruling party became more and more concerned and feeling threatened by the Muslims, they became more hostile towards Muhammad.
In the year 620 Muhammad lost his beloved uncle Abu Talib (who never became a Muslim) and his wife Khadija. "After a few months Muhammad sought comfort by marrying the widow of one of the believers named Sawdah. He also later married Ayisha, the seven-year old daughter of his friend Abu Bakr, who he took into his home three years later."1 Also, According to Muslim historians, Muhammad had 12 wives when he died.
622 is a significant date for Muslims. It is known as the year of the Hijra, or Migration from Mecca to Yathrib (which later became Medina) where they established their first real Islamic community. The Muslim calendar begins its history from July 16, 622 the first day of the lunar year in which the Hegira took place.
In Medina, he preached about Allah and monotheism and urged all people to return to the true faith of Abraham. At that time in Medina, he would pray facing Jerusalem, as did the Jews who were very populous in that city. He preached about repentance, one God, and forgiveness of sins. His first sermon in Medina was on a Friday. Therefore, Islamic congregational worship occurs on Fridays.
Gradually, however, the Jews began to disapprove of him and his movement. He confronted them and told them they had misread the Scriptures. This estranged the Jews in the region and finally one day while praying, he suddenly changed direction and faced Mecca. He said the Ka'aba, in Mecca, was the true place of worship since it was built by Abraham. To this day, all Muslims are supposed to face Mecca when praying.
After two years in Medina, the Muslims were not fairing too well financially and that, combined with mild persecution, prompted a revelation to come to Muhammad permitting him to raid passing caravans. This he did and the Muslim financial problems were solved. Soon afterward, there was then a significant battle at Badr where Muhammad, with 350 men, defeated an army of 1,000 men. This boost gave confidence to the Muslims, encouraged more converts, and made the Quraish even more uneasy.
In the fifth year of the Hegira, the Quraish tried to destroy the Muslims but failed. By now the Muslims were too strong so the Quraish never again tried to defeat them. Muhammad then set his sights on Mecca. At one point in 628, Muhammad took 10,000 men and entered Mecca unchallenged. The leader of the Quraish converted to Islam.
From there, Muhammad's movement gained further momentum. In 631 two tribes joined Muhammad. They were the Hijaz and Najd. From this time on, many battles ensured. In 625 there was the Battle of Uhud. In 627, the Battle of the Trench. In 628 Muhammad signed a treaty with the Quraish tribe. In 630 Muhammad had conquered Mecca and he destroyed all the idols in Mecca.
In 632, Muhammad delivers his last sermon, later falls ill, and dies in the presence of his favorite wife, Aisha, and her father, Abu-Bakr. He was buried in Medina in his own house. His father in law, Abu-Bakr, then became Caliph, the religious leader of Islam.
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- 1. Miller, William M., A Christian's Response to Islam, Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, p. 23.
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