Born in about 570 CE in the Arabian city of Mecca, Muhammad was a humble and deeply spiritual leader who unified Arabia into a single religious polity under Islam. He is believed by Muslims to be a messenger and prophet of God, and by most Muslims as the last prophet sent by God for mankind. Muslims consider him to be the restorer of an uncorrupted original monotheistic faith of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and other prophets.
Muslims believe that Islam is a faith that has always existed and that it was gradually revealed to humanity by a number of prophets, but the final and complete revelation of the faith was made through the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century CE.
His father, Abdullah, died almost six months before Muhammad was born. According to Islamic tradition, soon after Muhammad’s birth he was sent to live with a Bedouin family in the desert, as the desert life was considered healthier for infants.
Muhammad stayed with his foster-mother and her husband until he was two years old. At the age of six, Muhammad lost his biological mother to illness and he became fully orphaned. For the next two years, he was under the guardianship of his paternal grandfather but when Muhammad was eight, his grandfather also died.
Travels and marriage
He then came under the care of his uncle. While still in his teens, Muhammad accompanied his uncle on trading journeys to Syria gaining experience in commercial trade, the only career open to Muhammad as an orphan. Little is known of Muhammad during his later youth, and from the fragmentary information that is available, it is difficult to separate history from legend. It is known that he became a merchant and “was involved in trade between the Indian ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.”
Due to his upright character he acquired the nickname “al-Amin” meaning “faithful, trustworthy” and “al-Sadiq” meaning “truthful” and was sought out as an impartial arbitrator. At age 25, his reputation attracted a proposal in 595 from Khadijah, a 40-year-old widow who was 15 years older than he. Muhammad consented to the marriage, which by all accounts was a happy one.
Being in the habit of periodically retreating to a cave in the surrounding mountains for several nights of seclusion and prayer, he later reported that it was there, at age 40, that he received his first revelation from God.
Muhammad adopted the practice of praying alone for several weeks every year in a cave on Mount Hira near Mecca. During one of his visits to Mount Hira, one night the angel Gabriel appeared to him in the year 610 and commanded Muhammad to recite the following verses:
Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created-
Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood:
Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful,-
He Who taught (the use of) the pen,-
Taught man that which he knew not.
Muhammad began to recite these words which he came to believe were the words of God. After returning home, Muhammad was consoled and reassured by his wife and her Christian cousin. Upon receiving his first revelations, he was deeply distressed and resolved to commit suicide. He also feared that others would dismiss his claims as being possessed.
The initial revelation was followed by a pause of three years during which Muhammad further gave himself to prayers and spiritual practices. When the revelations resumed he was reassured and commanded to begin preaching: “Thy Guardian-Lord hath not forsaken thee, nor is He displeased”
The great migration (Hijrah)
Muhammad’s popularity was seen as threatening by the people in power in Mecca, and in September, 622 after being warned of a plot to assassinate him, Muhammad secretly slipped out of Mecca, moving with his followers from Mecca to Medina a large agricultural oasis 320 kilometres north of Mecca. This journey is called the Hijrah (migration) and the event was seen as so important for Islam that 622 is the year in which the Islamic calendar begins.
Conflict with Mecca
Following the emigration, the Meccans seized the properties of the Muslim emigrants in Mecca. Economically uprooted and with no available profession, the Muslim migrants turned to raiding Meccan caravans, initiating armed conflict with Mecca. Muhammad delivered Quranic verses permitting the Muslims to fight the Meccans.
On 11 February 624, Muhammad received a revelation from God that he should be facing Mecca rather than Jerusalem during prayer. As he adjusted himself, so did his companions praying with him, beginning the tradition of facing Mecca during prayer.
In the siege of Medina, the Meccans exerted their utmost strength towards the destruction of the Muslim community. Their failure resulted in a significant loss of prestige.
The return to Mecca
In 630, Muhammad had gained so may followers that he marched on Mecca with an enormous force, said to number more than ten thousand men. With minimal casualties, Muhammad took control of Mecca and declared an amnesty for past offences. Most Meccans converted to Islam and Muhammad subsequently had destroyed all the statues of Arabian gods and personally spared paintings and frescos of Mary and Jesus, but other traditions suggest that all pictures were erased.
From this time on he was generally accepted by the faithful as the true final Prophet of God.
A few months after the farewell pilgrimage, Muhammad fell ill and suffered for several days with a fever, head pain, and weakness. Muhammad continued to lead his community both spiritually and in earthly matters until his death on Monday, June 8, 632, in Medina, at the age of 63, in the house of his wife Aisha where he was buried.
The Quran is the central religious text of Islam and Muslims believe that it represents the words of God revealed to Muhammad through the archangel Gabriel. The Quran basically teaches what is right and wrong in the Muslim faith. It dictates the 5 pillars of Islam, it tells the stories of the various prophets throughout history (including Jesus), and offers explanations and insight into the Islamic faith. It is, for many -if not most- Muslims, the “rulebook” of life.
The Quran was intended to teach the path to a pious, peaceful and just life and the importance of good social conduct, prayer, the creation of mankind, the treatment of children and relations between husband and wife. The text addresses human fraternity and unity indicating that all mankind is one and rejects racial superiority, dissension and the infinite divisions of humankind into tribes, races, and groups on the basis of language, colour and regions.