Muhammad is the greatest prophet to all in the Muslim world. He grew up in poverty without any parents to become the founder of the Islam religion. He faced terrible and good times through his spreading of the new monotheistic religion but left the world successful with many followers. Muhammad or Mohomet, the founder of Islam, is believed to have been born in 571. This date is not known to be accurate but came about from the knowledge the prophet was born during the reign of Khusro Ano Sharwan and is most commonly accepted.
Muhammad was born in the great city of trade and religion, Mecca, also called Makkah. At the time of his birth, Mecca was a great trade center where caravans of merchants and pilgrims flocked. Many came to worship the ka’ba along with its idols of the several Meccan deities and the black stone which they believed was given to Adam by the Archangel Gabriel. Others traveled to the valley to trade animal products for weapons, dates, grain, spices, jewels, ivory, silk, and perfumes. Muhammad was born an only child, into the Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe through his father, Abdallah. Abdallah chose Muhammad’s mother, Amina, after being rejected by another woman. He died shortly after his son’s birth while on a business trip to Medina on his way home from Gaza.
There in not much else known about Muhammad’s childhood. Many records are simply legends and stories. Others are part of a record made one hundred twenty five years after his death. The stories tell how he was raised and brought up-in poverty.
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The nurse Halima of the Banu sa’d clan and his mother, Amina, until she died raised the prophet. The legend of the nurse’s origin with Muhammad is that she came into his tent when he was young and he mistook her for his mother. He laid out his cloak for her and she sat down on it. After the death of Amina, Muhammad’s grandfather, ‘Abd al-Muttalib (80 years old at the time), took him in. However, he died two years later. His uncle, Abu Talib, took him in. Abu Talib was a travelling merchant and the brother of Muhammad’s father Muhammad traveled in caravans with his uncle, being exposed greatly to Judaism and Christianity. He saw many cathedrals, churches, and homes of bishops and priests. One of Muhammad’s greatest influences of Christianity is believed to be a monk named Bahira. He met the monk in the Christian town of Bostra. Bahira was greatly skilled and knew much about Christianity. He welcomed the merchants of the caravan in, fed them, and held a party. Before they left, Bahira told Muhammad’s uncle to keep him away from the Jew’s, a statement Muhammad would remember and be inspired by all of his life. Muhammad remained unmarried for a while.
He once asked his uncle for permission to marry his cousin, Umm tani, was granted it for marriage among cousins was common, but was rejected. Eventually, Muhammad was in charge of the business affairs of a woman named Khadija bint Khuwaylid, a wealthy owner of several caravans. When Muhammad was twenty-five, the forty-year-old Khadija proposed marriage to him. With the persuasion of a friend, Nafisa bint Munya, Khadija earned his acceptance of the proposal: “Kadija sent me to Muhammad to sound out his feelings after he came back from Syria with his caravan. I said to him: ‘Muhammad, is there any reason why you should not marry?’ He told me: ‘I possess nothing to marry on.’ I answered him: And suppose there was someone with enough for two? And suppose you were summoned to beauty, wealth, and to a position of honour and ease, would you not accept?’ ‘Who is the woman?’ ‘Khadija.’ ‘What must I do?’ ‘I will attend to all.’ ‘And I too will do my part.’ ” In addition to the difference in age, she was a widow: married twice, and had children. Before Khadija’s death in 619, they had several children.
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“She bore him three sons, all of whom died in childhood, and four daughters.” Muhammad remarried soon after Khadija’s death, as was custom to most men, to a widow named Sawda. Sawda was also not a young woman and was getting fat when Muhammad married her, but she was a good housewife and took care of the children well. This is the reason why Muhammad married her. From the exposure to Christianity and Judaism on his travels with the caravans, Muhammad knew much about the two monotheistic religions and began to have visions and hear voices of God and angels. “One day, he heard Allah say to him: Your Lord has not taken leave of you, nor despised you? Did he not find you an orphan and give [you] shelter? He found you erring and guided you. He found you poor and enriched you.” One day Khadija gave Muhammad a slave who was bought in Syria and was part of the tribe Kalb (strong Christian believers) as a present. As a reaction to the revelations, Muhammad showed mercy toward the slave. He freed him and adopted him as a son. Muhammad began to retreat to a cave in the hill of Hira to think about the revelations and other things he heard about Allah from Christians.
During these periods, which sometimes lasted several nights, he read scriptures and prayed to God. Muhammad’s first actual message came in a clear voice in a vision of what is identified through Muslim belief to be the archangel Gabriel: “The voice said three words in Arabic which were to shake the world: ” ‘I was standing,’ Muhammad is reported to have said, ‘but I fell on my knees and dragged myself along while the upper part of my chest was trembling. I went in to Khadija and said, “Cover me, cover me!” until the terror had left me.’ ” Muhammad didn’t understand the revelations at first and even considered committing suicide, but he began to understand them more as time passed. Several other visions, voices, and the idea of the actual presence with him helped him realize his true destiny. He also heard God himself proclaim the truth of the visions and voices.
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The prophet had feelings of worry and terror when the visions stopped for a while but was reassured when he was forced by the “Mighty Being” to recite what God had made of him and done for him. The 26th or 27th of the Muslim month Ramadan in the year AD610 is accepted as the date of this revelation. The Muslims believe that on this night every year some will see a mysterious light from the heavens and be granted three wishes. Muhammad again began to doubt and wonder so Khadija sent him to her cousin, Waraqa ibn Nawfal, who was also seeking God and knew much about the Christian and Jewish scriptures. Waraqa told Muhammad that he would have enemies that would drive him out of his home one day. The revelations continued and became painful and agonizing causing Muhammad to sweat and become unconscious at times. They told him things to do and how to let the inspiration take its course. In AD613 Muhammad began sharing his visions and ideas with family and friends. He preached about the one God whom all should obey, the equality of all people, sharing of wealth, and the doing of good deeds. Khadija and Muhammad’s other family were his first followers. Many people opposed Muhammad’s ideas and were afraid that people would not come to Mecca if they heard about the new monotheistic beliefs.
They feared losing the present trade and wealth and persecuted Muhammad along with his followers. Muhammad was under pressure. He had connections in Medina: his father died and was buried there; his mother had died on her way back from Medina. So, once he had gained many followers of the new Islam, Muhammad began to send families to Medina in small groups. He stayed in Mecca to spread his ideas and gain as many followers as possible. “He proclaimed these ideas to his fellow citizens; some, he found, welcomed them because they answered to needs which were profoundly felt by them.” The people who followed Muhammad were looking to escape from an oppressive and unjust society. The people were dedicated to forming their own community, laws, and society and were seeing their dreams begin to come to reality when they moved to another city.
Muhammad finally left with a guide and Mus’ab ibn ‘Umayr, one of his best followers. He hid in a small cave in Mount Thawr until a search for him was given up and then continued the ten-day journey. The journey to Medina in AD622, the hijra, marks the first year and the founding of Islam. As Muhammad continued to receive revelations and ideas, the religion of Islam was becoming more and more closely related to Judaism. The Muslims, for example, had to pray three times a day facing Mecca as the Jews did. Because of these relations between the two, the Jews of Medina were considering giving Muhammad a chance but eventually turned against him. The Jews gathered at mosques to laugh at the Muslims’ ideas. Others, however, supported the prophet and taught him. A small amount of the Jews taught him about the scriptures and the Jewish prophets. They also showed him the differences between Judaism and Christianity-differences Muhammad had never realized. Muhammad also learned about the close ties between the ancestors of the Arabs and the Jews. Muhammad was also a skilled politician and leader. In January 624 he realized the Jews would not change their views of Islam and issued the Medina Compact, declaring four major issues: 1) The religion of Allah was its own and independent group 2) True loyalty was to God rather than the tribe 3) Muhammad, as the lawgiver and leader, would settle all disputes 4) Muslims should face Mecca, not Jerusalem, when they prayed Muhammad’s also extended protection to Jews and Christians who accepted his political authority. Muhammad continued to be a successful leader and he and his people eventually became a state, respected by outsiders. In 632 he began preparing an expedition to Mecca. He was able to get many people from allied tribes to accompany him and left with 10,000 soldiers on the 10th of Ramadan of the 8th Muslim year (Jan 1, 630).
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Followers continued to join him on his journey also.
As the Muslims got closer to Mecca, the people in the city began to worry and sent Abu Sufyan to the Muslim camp. While in the camp, Abu Sufyan converted to Islam and returned with the news that none would be hurt if they welcomed Muhammad peacefully. On January 11, 630 Muhammad entered the empty streets of Mecca. Everyone had hid from the Muslims. Muhammad went to the ka’ba and said, “Allah akbar!” (Allah is greatest!) as he placed his hand on the black stone. He destroyed all idols in the ka’ba and nearby sanctuaries except for those of Abraham, Jesus, and the Virgin Mary. He then invited all to pay homage and swear obedience to him as the Messenger of Allah. The prophet proclaimed an amnesty for the past offenses of most people. There were about ten people whom he could not forgive. These few had mocked him with songs and verses. Over the following two years, Muhammad sent small expeditions into the surrounding country and withstood attacks from tribes who still opposed him. Two years after his return to Mecca, Muhammad became ill, suffering of a fever and severe headaches. The symptoms only became worse leading to illness and fainting fits. The prophet could not rise from bed or even lead prayers.
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On June 8, 632 Muhammad felt much better and was able to get up. He even attended prayers. But, once he began to rest again, he became worse than before. He was now becoming delirious and growing weaker. Muhammad died in the arms of his wife, ‘A’isha, one night. “In a little while she felt his head get heavier and looked at him. He raised his eyes and, staring fixedly at the roof, uttered a few words. She thought she heard him say: ‘The highest Companion?’ and knew that Gabriel had appeared to him. Then she saw that he was dead.” The death of their leader came as a shock to the entire Muslim community. It caused much confusion among them. His followers knew he would die but did not expect it this soon. They quickly named Abu Bakr Muhammad’s successor that same night and he led the funeral procession. The prophet was laid to rest that night. “The body was hastily washed, wrapped in three cloaks and placed in the bottom of the hole, and earth was shoveled over it. That was the end for ever of Muhammad ibn ‘Abdallah, the Quray*censored*e.” “Muhammad was a man of exceptional genius. When he died in 632, he had managed to bring nearly all the tribes of Arabia into a new united community, or ummab.” Through his childhood of poverty, several supporting wives, oppression, and illness, Muhammad gained thousands of followers. Everything he knew and did is credited to his influences, whether they be his parents, strangers, or revelations and with this knowledge, he acquired one of the greatest accomplishments anyone could. He was able to convince people of new beliefs and started the religion Islam.
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Mounir Farah and Andrea Berens Karls, World History; The Human Experience, Ohio: Merrill Publishing Company, 1985. Maxime Rodinson, Muhammad, New York: Pantheon Books, 1971. Karen Armstrong, A History of God, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993. Desmond Stewart, Early Islam, New York: The Incorporated, 1967