One of the Gnostic Saints listed in The Gnostic Mass
Muhammad (also spelled "Mohammad", "Mohammed"; and formerly Mahomet in imitation of the Latin spelling; محمد in Arabic) is revered by Muslims as the prophet of Islam. According to his traditional Muslim biographies (called sirah in Arabic), he was born circa 570 in Mecca (or "Makkah") and died June 8, 632 in Medina (Madinah). His full name was Abu al-Qasim Muhammad Ibn Abd Allah Ibn Abd al-Muttalib Ibn Hashim (Ibn meaning "son of" and Abu meaning "father of"). Muslims consider Muhammad the last prophet of the Abrahamic religions. He also unified certain Arabian tribes, which enabled the Arab conquests which established the later Islamic empires.
Muslim culture holds Muhammad in great reverence. After mentioning or writing his name, or that of any other prophet such as Jesus or Moses, a Muslim will often add "peace be upon him" or sallalahu aleyhi wasallam (صلى الله عليه و سلم: alternatively abbreviated as "PBUH" or as "SAW"). Different groups of Muslims have differing usages in this regard, so for example Shia Muslims only use the phrase for Muhammad himself and not for other prophets, and add a sub-phrase to it, making it sallalahu alayhi wa ahlihi wasallam generalizing the blessing to "him and his family".
Born (possibly on April 20, 570) after his father Abd Allah had died, Muhammad came into the equivalent of a middle-class family. He first came under the care of his paternal grandfather Abd al-Muttalib, a former leader of the prestigious Hashim clan (which formed part of the tribe of Quraysh). Because the climate of Mecca had a reputation for unhealthiness, Muhammad's family gave him as an infant to a wet nurse Haleemah from a nomadic tribe, and he spent some time in the desert. (This practice occurred commonly among the Makkan middle and upper classes.) At the age of six Muhammad lost his mother Amina, and at the age of eight his grandfather Abd al-Muttalib. Muhammad now came under care of his uncle Abu Talib, the new leader of the Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe - the most powerful in Mecca.
Mecca comprised a desert city-state whose main distinction lay in the Ka'aba, reputedly built by Abraham, the traditional forefather of the Arabs and Jews. Most of Makka's inhabitants worshipped idols. Though the city had no natural resources of its own, it functioned as a commercial centre, visited by many foreign traders. By all accounts Muhammad played a very active role in the civic life of his city. His uncle Zubair founded the order of chivalry known as the Hilf al-fudul, which assisted the oppressed of the city, local inhabitants and foreign visitors. Muhammad participated as an enthusiastic member.
Muhammad assisted in resolving disputes, and became known as Al-Ameen ("the trustworthy") because of his spotless reputation in all his dealings. Most notably when the Ka'aba became damaged in a flood, and the Makkan leaders all wanted the honour of fixing the rebuilt sacred Black Stone in place, Muhammad, as the judge chosen to solve the problem, proposed spreading a white sheet on the ground, placing the Black Stone in the middle, and asking the tribal leaders to carry it to its site by holding the corners of the sheet. Muhammad himself then fixed the stone in its place.
As a teenager Muhammad began accompanying his uncle on trading journeys to Syria. He thus became well-travelled and familiar with many foreign ways.
About 595, on a trading journey, Muhammad met Khadijah, a rich widow then 40 years old. The young Muhammad (then 25) so impressed Khadijah that she offered him marriage. The marriage proved an important turning point in Muhammad's life. By Arab custom minors did not inherit, so Muhammad had received no inheritance from either his father or his grandfather, but by his marriage he obtained a large fortune. The sira records that Khadija bore Muhammad six children. Both Khadijah and Muhammad's uncle Abu Talib died in 619; it was known as "the year of mourning." Although Muhammad had no children with his later wives he did have a son with his Coptic slave girl Mary (Maryam). This son, called Ibrahim, died in infancy.
Muhammad married approximately ten more women in his later years, all of them widows, except for Aisha. Several of these women were made widows and taken as booty by Muhammad and his followers during raids.
One of the most prominent of his wives was Aisha, (عائشة); some hadiths say she was six years old at the time of their betrothal, and reportedly nine years old when the marriage was consummated.
His Egyptian slave-girl, Maryam, may also have been given her freedom and become one of his wives. The early Muslim biographies are not clear as to whether she lived with him as a free wife or as an enslaved concubine.
Founding of Islam
Muhammad had a reflective turn of mind and routinely spent nights in a cave near Mecca in meditation and thought. Around the year 610, while meditating, Muhammad reportedly had a vision of the angel Gabriel and heard a voice saying to him "You are the Messenger of God." (From this time until his death, Muhammad reportedly received frequent revelations. Sometimes while receiving these messages, traditions note, Muhammad would sweat and enter a trance state). This vision of Gabriel disturbed Muhammad, but his wife Khadijah reassured him. Around 613 CE Muhammad began preaching in public. By proclaiming his message publicly Muhammad gained followers, including the sons and brothers of the richest men in Mecca. The religion he preached became known as Islam (submission to the Will of God). Both the Qur'an and Muhammad's sayings indicate that Muhammad from an early stage viewed Islam as a universal religion and not merely restricted to the Arab community.
As the ranks of his followers swelled, he became a threat to the local tribes, especially the Quraysh, his own tribe, which had the responsibility of looking after the Kaba, which at this time housed the several thousand idols that Arabs at that time worshipped as gods.
As Muhammad preached against this pantheon, he became deeply unpopular with the rulers, and his followers suffered from repeated attacks to person and property. Tradition holds that some Makkans launched vigorous and brutal attempts to persecute the new Muslims: forcing them to lie on burning sand, placing huge boulders on their chests, and pouring red-hot iron over them. Many died, but none renounced their faith. This persecution did not initially target Muhammad himself: his family simply had too much influence. This environment became intolerable, and Muhammad advised some of his followers to go to Abyssinia.
The Makkans tried to tempt Muhammad to give up his mission by offering him political power. As Muhammad's following grew, opponents made attempts to get him to disband or modify his religion. They offered him a large share in trade, and marriage with some of wealthiest families, but he rejected all such offers. Makkans ultimately demanded that Abu Talib hand over his nephew for execution. When he refused, the opposition brought commercial pressure against Muhammad's tribe and his supporters. Eventually an assassination attempt took place. After the death of his uncle and of Khadija, Muhammad's own clan withdrew their protection of him. He suffered abuse, stoning, and pelting with thorns and rubbish. However, no attempt succeeded in taking his life.
In 622, after increased persecution of his followers and the decision was made to assassinate him, Muhammad and his Meccan followers left Mecca for Medina, where he had gained many converts. This Hijrah or emigration (traditionally translated into English as "flight") marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar. The Medinans apparently hoped that Muhammad would unite them and prevent incidents such as the 618 Medinan civil war in which many had lost their lives. A document known as the Constitution of Medina (circa 622-623) established a confederation between Muhammad's Makkan followers and the neighboring Arab clans of Mecca. Madinah and its suburbs, after the ratification of this treaty, turned into a coalition state, with Madinah proper as capital and Muhammad as ‘president’; authorities lay mainly in the hand of the Muslims, and consequently it was a real capital of Islam. To expand the zone of peace and security the Prophet started to enter into similar treaties with other tribes living around ‘his state’.
The quraish in response to the escape of Muhammad to Medina formed an alliance with other polytheist tribes in Makkah to harass those Muslims in Medina and in Makkah, they also threatened the death of any Muslim returning to their homeland. In Medina with the muslims under alert, a few emigrant Muslim Makkans, set out on military attacks against Makkan caravans on their way to Syria, thus striking at the Makkan economy. About the same time Muhammad changed the direction of the Qibla from Jerusalem to Mecca. In March of 624 Muhammad led about 300 men in a military expedition on a Makkan caravan led by Abu Sufyan, the head of the Umayyah clan. The caravan managed to escape but Abu Jahl (the head of the Makhzum clan), who had previously opposed Muhammad and organized a boycott against Muhammad's Hashim clan, had command of a supporting force of around 800 men and wanted to teach Muhammad a lesson.
On March 15, 624 near a place called Battle of Badr, the two forces clashed. Though outnumbered 800 to 300 in the battle, the Muslims met with success, killing at least 45 Makkans, including Abu Jahl, and taking 70 prisoners for ransom; whereas only 14 Muslims died. One of the prisoners taken was Al Nadr Ibn al Harith, who had previously insulted him. Muhammad ordered a follower to strike off Nadr's head in his presence. Before being killed Al Nadr Ibn al Harith cried "O Prophet, who will look after my children if I should die?" Mohammad spat out "Hellfire" as the sword cut through his neck. To the Muslims this appeared as a divine vindication of Muhammad's prophethood, and he and all the Muslims rejoiced greatly. Following this victory, the victors expelled the local Jewish clan, the banu Quainuqa, which had a few minor skirmishes before the next major battle in Uhud. Virtually all the remaining Medinans converted and Muhammad became de facto ruler of the city.
Several important marriage alliances also occurred. Of Muhammad's daughters, Fatima married Ali (later fourth caliph) and Umm Kulthum married Uthman (the third caliph). Muhammad himself, already married to Aisha (whom Muhammad married at the age of 6 and consummated at the age of 9) daughter of Abu Bakr (first caliph) now also married Hafsah daughter of Umar (second caliph). On March 21, 625 Abu Sufyan, hoping for revenge, entered Medina with 3,000 men. On the morning of March 23 fighting began. The battle produced no obvious winner or loser, though the Makkans claim victory. For two years after the Battle of Uhud both sides prepared for a decisive encounter.
In April 627 Abu Sufyan led a great confederacy of 10,000 men against Medina. The Jews of Medina had agreed in the Medina Charter to participate in the protection of Medina; however, the Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayza did not participate in the fighting. Instead, they made an agreement with Abu Sufyan to attack the Muslims from the rear after he had entered the city. Some people among the Muslims also had made such an agreement under the leadership of Abd Allah ibn Ubayy: later accounts refer to them as "those that profess beliefs and opinions that one does not hold" (or "one who pretends to be pious", munafiqun).
Between the strong forces of Abu Sufyan and the forces of Banu Qurayza - which would consist of all their men of fighting age - and the forces of the munafiqun the Muslims would have faced a massacre if Abu Sufyan had triumphed. Islam might have ceased to exist.
To the traitors inside Medina it must have come as a surprise when the 10,000-strong force of Abu Sufyan failed to cross a trench dug around Medina by order of Muhammad, as the Persian scribe Salman e-Farsi had suggested to him. After the retreat of Abu Sufyan and his forces, the Muslims directed their attention towards the groups that had committed treason to the Charter of Medina. The munafiqun quickly crumbled, and their leader Abd Allah ibn Ubayy pledged allegiance to Muhammad. The Muslims then besieged the Banu Qurayza, who had plotted against them. They had the opportunity of choosing Muhammad as an arbitrator, but instead the Banu Qurayza chose Saad ibn Muadh, the leader of their former allies, the Aus.
Saad had suffered a deadly wound in the battle against Abu Sufyan's forces and he ordered the execution of the active forces of the tribe, which would consist of all their grown men. He permitted the non-combatant women and children to live as enslaved captives, as was the tradition of the time. Later commentators have claimed that the punishment of the Banu Qurayza was according to the dictates of the Hebrew Bible on warfare; however, the original sirah sources do not mention this.
By 627 CE Muhammad had united Medina under Islam with protected privileges for the Jews and Christians who lived there. Word of the new religion spread. The Bedouin, after a period of battles and negotiations, became allied with Muhammad and accepted his religion. Also, after much contact with the town and with Muslims, some gradually converted. At this stage the reported revelations that had visited Muhammad had almost reached completion. He returned to Mecca and to reclaim the Kaaba.
Muhammad put economic pressure on the citizens of Mecca; but aimed primarily to gain their willing adherence to Islam. In March 628 he set out to perform a pilgrimage in Mecca, with 1,600 men accompanying him. The Makkans however halted Muhammad on the edge of their territory at al-Hudaybiyah. After some days the Makkans made a treaty with Muhammad. With negotiation and assent of the elders of the Quraysh he made an unarmed pilgrimage to the Kaaba. Hostilities would cease and the Muslims would have permission to make a pilgrimage to Mecca in the following year. Muhammad's marriage to Habiba, daughter of Abu Sufyan (Muhammad's former enemy) further cemented the treaty.
After a period, though, the agreement broke down, and war broke out. In November 629, however, allies of the Makkans attacked an ally of Muhammad, leading Muhammad to denounce the treaty of al-Hudaybiyah. After secret planning, Muhammad marched on Mecca in January 630 with 10,000 men. But no bloodshed occurred. Abu Sufyan and other leading Makkans formally submitted. Muhammad promised a general amnesty (with some people specifically excluded). When he entered Mecca, 20 years after having to flee, virtually no resistance occurred. Though he did not insist on their becoming Muslims, most Makkans converted. In Mecca, Muhammad destroyed the idols in the Kaaba and various small shrines.
Unification of Arabia
After the hijrah Muhammad began to establish alliances with nomadic tribes. At first these probably consisted of non-aggression pacts, but as his strength grew he insisted that the prospective allied tribe should become Muslim. While in Mecca, Muhammad received word of a large concentration of hostile tribes and he set out to confront them. A battle took place at Hunayn in which the enemy was defeated. Some now viewed Muhammad as the strongest man in Arabia, and most tribes sent delegations to Medina seeking alliance. Before his death, rebellions occurred in one or two parts of Arabia but the Islamic state had sufficient strength to deal with this.
Muhammad went to Medina (at that time known as "Yathrib") where he was invited to become arbiter between the two rival tribes of Medina (the Aws and Khasraj). He set up a welfare state, collected taxes for the needy, organised town defences against numerous raiding parties from Mecca and beyond, and entered numerous trade agreements. Muhammad built mosques, and established a religious culture based on respect for other religions and their freedom to practise (the town also housed a number of Christians and Jews). Muhammad allegedly drew up the first constitution.
Demise and afterwards
Shortly prior to his death Muhammad delivered a famous final admonition to his followers known as the Prophet's Final Sermon. His death in June 632 at Medina, at the age of 63, provoked a major crisis among his followers. Indeed this dispute eventually led to the division of the Islam between the Shia and Sunni sects. The Shia believe that the prophet introduced Ali ibn Abu Talib as his successor, in a public sermon in his last haj in a place called Ghadir Khom, while the Sunni dispute this.
His effect on the course of history
Muhammad's basic message emphasised belief in one God, respect for a certain kind of morality above and beyond tribal links, and prayer. Islamic history records Muhammad as illiterate, though some scholars argue that Muhammad probably received some form of education, and point to his successful career as a merchant. When he grew up, he travelled with many caravans as an administrator, with the task of ensuring that the caravan arrived safely and with all goods intact. He did this throughout most of his working life.
The Quran is held by some scholars (and by Muslims) to have taken written form during Muhammad's lifetime. Some other scholars, employing source criticism, contest this belief. The Quran itself claims that Muhammad recited the entire Quran during his farewell pilgrimage to Mecca in 632, implying that it already had an established order if not actually redacted onto parchment/paper.
In politics, Muhammad was founder of an Islamic state which his successors would extend to encompass areas from the Atlantic to the Indus River. Some non-Muslims have criticized the methods used to establish this state, sometimes alleging that some of Muhammad's acts were war crimes by modern standards. Muslims would strongly contest this claim.
The many major intellectual advances which would be made by Muslims in the following centuries are often credited to the influence of the creed he spread, and in particular to his reported injunctions to seek knowledge "from the cradle to the grave" and "even as far as China". The effort to understand his life better was a major factor in the development in the Muslim world of a science of history, and of isnad and sunnah. This led ultimately to the legal practice of fiqh.
Although he exercised and exercises an influence both political and historical, the most lasting legacy of Muhammad arguably remains his role as the prophet of Islam. He himself is said to have carefully separated his role as prophet from that as a political leader, and Muslims make a clear distinction between the Quran and his sayings (Ahadith) or actions (sira). His failings he credited to himself, and his achievements to Allah. He consistently discouraged anyone from seeing him as divine. The distinction was expressed by Abu Bakr, his life-long companion, addressing the crowd outside the mosque in Medina immediately after Muhammad's death:
- "O people, verily, whosoever worshipped Muhammad know that Muhammad is dead. But whosoever worshipped God, know that God is alive".
A hadith attributed to Muhammad himself has him saying:
- "When a person dies, his deeds come to an end, except in respect of three matters which he leaves behind: a continuing charity, knowledge from which benefit could be derived and righteous offspring who pray for him".
In summary, Muhammad established the religion of Islam, practiced by circa one billion people today, and the first Islamic state, whose successors, whether unified or fractious, have had a major historical impact. For this reason, many have seen him as one of the most influential people in history.
- Al-Haramain Foundation, Biography of the Prophet Muhammad, Riyadh.
- University of Southern California's About the Prophet Muhammad
- Life of prophet Muhammad : The story of the Prophet Muhammad from his birth to his death
- Swords of the Prophet Muhammad
- A critical review of Islam and Mohammad from the Christianity Point Of View
Large portions of this text was originally taken from: Wikipedia. (2004). Muhammad. Retrieved Sept. 24, 2004.
- This page was originally sourced from Thelemapedia. Retrieved May 2009.