Muhammad (محمد in Arabic) (Also: Mohammad, Mohammed; the spelling Mahomet is no longer used) was born circa 570 in Makkah and died June 8, 632 in Medina. His full name was Abu al-Qasim Muhammad Ibn Abd Allah Ibn Abd al-Muttalib Ibn Hashim. He was the last prophet of the religion of Islam and a unifier of some Arabian tribes.
A Muslim often says "peace be upon him/her" (alternatively translated as "May God bless him/her and grant him/her peace") or "sallalahu aleyhi wasallam" (ﷺ - abbreviated as PBUH or SAW) after mentioning or writing Muhammad's or any other prophet's name.
Muhammad was born to the equivalent of a middle-class family. He was known as Al-Ameen, "the trustworthy" because of his spotless reputation in all his dealings. Islamic history records that Muhammad was illiterate, though some scholars argue that Muhammad is likely to have received some form of education, and point to his successful career as a merchant. When he grew up, he traveled with many caravans as an administrator whose responsibility was to see that the caravan arrived safely and with all goods intact. He did this throughout most of his working life. In 610 CE, Muhammad (now aged 40) reported that while he was sitting in a cave in the hills outside Makkah mediating, the angel Gabriel gave him a message from God. He was commanded to memorize all of his visions. Islamic historiography holds that since he was illiterate he could not write them down. He did so, and after reluctantly revealing his experiences to his wife Khadijah, he began to gain followers by the force and quality of the words he recited. By 615 CE, he had developed a large following in Makkah.
His basic message was one of belief in one God, respect for morality above and beyond tribal links, and prayer. As the ranks of his followers swelled, he became a threat to the local tribes, especially the Quraysh his own tribe whose responsibility it was to look after the Kaba, which at this time was home to the several thousand 'idols' that people 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. Eventually there was an assassination attempt. He was forced to flee Makkah in 622; this is known as the Hijrah, and it is the date that marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar.
Muhammad went to Medina (at that time known as "Yathrib") where he was invited to become arbiter between the two rivaling tribes of Medina, the Aws and Khasraj. He declared a welfare state, collected taxes for the needy, organised town defences against numerous raiding parties from Makkah and beyond, and entered numerous trade agreements. He built mosques, and established a religious culture based on respect for other religions and their freedom to practice (the town also was home to a number of Christians and Jews). He is credited with creating the first Constitution.
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, with the peace and prosperity it brought spread by trade. The Bedouin became keenly interested in this new religion; they saw its potential to bring peace and plenty to their wandering tribes, and after much negotiation they became allies with Muhammad and after much contact with the town and Muslims they gradually converted. At this stage the revelations that had been coming to Muhammad were almost complete, and he was told that he was to return to Makkah and reclaim the Kaba. With negotiation and assent of the elders of the Quraysh he made an unarmed pilgrimage to the Kaba. This continued for a while but then the agreement broke down, and war was declared. But there was no bloodshed. In 630 CE, 20 years after being forced to flee, Muhammad marched with an army of 10,000 followers back to Makkah, and the Makkans surrendered without a fight. He became a religious and political leader of the city. He destroyed all the idols in the Kaba, and gave a general amnesty to all his enemies in the town.
The Quran was probably written down during his lifetime. The Quran states that Muhammad recited the entire Quran during his farewell pilgrimage to Makkah in 632, implying that it had an established order if not actually redacted onto parchment/paper.
Important dates and locations
around Muhammad's life
Muhammad was born after his father Abd Allah had died. April 20, 570 is sometimes given as his birthdate. He was first placed under the care of his paternal grandfather Abd al-Muttalib who was a former leader of the prestigious Hashim clan (which was part of the tribe to Quraysh). Because the climate of Makkah was considered unhealthy Muhammad was given as an infant to a wet nurse from a nomadic tribe and spent some time in the desert. (This was a common practice among the Makkan middle and upper class.) When he was 6 Muhammad's mother Amina died and when he was 8 his grandfather Abd al-Muttalib also died. 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 Makkah.
Makkah was a desert city-state whose main distinction was the Kaaba, reputedly built by Abraham, the traditional patriarch of the Jews. Most of Makka's inhabitants were idol worshippers. It was a commercial centre with no natural resources of its own, visited by many foreign traders.
As a teenager Muhammad began accompanying his uncle on trading journeys to Syria. He was thus well travelled and familiar with many foreign ways.
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 was an enthusiastic member. He assisted in some dispute resolution, most notably when the Ka'aba caught fire and burned to the ground, and the Makkan leaders all wanted the honour of fixing the sacred Black Stone in place when it was rebuilt. Muhammad was the judge chosen to solve the problem; His solution was to spread a white sheet on the ground, place the Black Stone in the middle, and ask 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.
About 595 on a trading journey he meet Khadijah a rich widow then 40 years old. Khadijah was so impressed by the young Muhammad (then 25) that she offered him marriage. The marriage was an important turning point in Muhammad's life. By Arab custom minors did not inherit so Muhammad had received no inheritance from either father or grandfather but by his marriage he obtained a large fortune. The sira records that Khadija bore Muhammad 6 children. Muhammad had no children with his later wives, the reasons are unclear.
From last third of Muhammad's life, he began to regard himself as a prophet. He gathered sympathetic friends who accepted his claim to be a prophet and joined him in common worship and prayers.
Founding of Islam
Muhammad was of a reflective turn of mind and routinely spent nights in a cave near Makkah in mediation and thought. About 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 frequently received revelations. Sometimes while receiving these messages Muhammad would sweat and enter a trance state.) Muhammad was disturbed by this vision of Gabriel but was reassured by his wife Khadijah. Around 613 CE Muhammad began preaching publicly. By proclaiming this message publicly Muhammad gained followers that included the sons and brothers of the richest men in Makkah. The religion he preached came to be known as Islam. Both the Quran and Muhammads sayings indicate that Muhammad from an early stage viewed Islam as an universal religion and not merely restricted to the arab community.
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, pour red-hot iron over them. Many died but none renounced their new faith. Muhammad himself was not the target of this oppression since his family was simply too powerful. However the environment became intolerable, and Muhammad advised 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 attempts were made to get him to disband or modify his religion. He was offered 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 to be killed. When he refused, commercial pressure was brought against Muhammad's tribe and his supporters. After the death of his uncle and of Khadija, Muhammad's own clan withdrew their protection of him. He was abused, stoned, thorns and rubbish were thrown on him. However, no serious attempt was made on his life.
In 622 Muhammad and his Meccan followers left Mecca for Medina where he had gained many converts. The Medinans apparently hoped that Muhammad would united them and prevent instances such as the 618 Medinan Civil War in which many lives had been lost. A document known as the Constitution of Medina (circa 622-623) established a confederation between Muhammad's Makkan follower and the 8 Arab clans of Makkah. Muhammad was referred to as "the Prophet" but was not given any political authority.
In Medina a few emigrant Muslim Makkans, with the approval of Muhammad, set out in normal Arab fashion on razzias ("raids") hoping to loot Makkah on their way to Syria. About the same time Muhammad changed the direction of the Qibla from Jerusalem to Makkah. In March of 624 Muhammad led about 300 men on a razzia to attack a Makkan caravan that was 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, was leading a supporting force of around 800 men and wanted to teach Muhammad a lesson.
On March 15, 624 near a place called Badr, the two forces clashed. Despite being outnumbered 800 to 300 in the battle the Muslims were successful: at least 45 Makkans including Abu Jahl were killed and 70 were taken prisoner whereas only 14 Muslims died. To the Muslims this appeared to be a divine vindication of his Muhammad's prophethood and he and all the Muslims were greatly elated. Following this victory Medinans who had satirized Muhammad were assassinated and a hostile Jewish clan was expelled. Virtually all the remaining Medinans were converted and Muhammad became de facto ruler.
Several important marriage alliances were also made. Of Muhammad's daughters Fatima was married to Ali (later fourth caliph) and Umm Kulthum to Uthman (the third caliph). Muhammad already married to Aisha daughter of Abu Bakr (first caliph) and was now married also to Hafsah daughter of Umar (second caliph). On March 21, 625 Abu Sufyan hoping for revenge entered the Medina with 3,000 men. On the morning of March 23 battle began. The battle produced no obvious winner or looser, though the Makkans claim victory. For two years after 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 were obliged to participate in the fighting to protect the city of Medina as they had agreed to in the Medina Charter. The jewish tribe of Banu Qurayza did not participate in the fighting and 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, they were later referred to as the hypocrites (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 been massacred if Abu Sufyan had been successful. Islam would have ceased to exist.
To the traitors inside Medina it must have come as a surprise when the 10,000 men strong force of Abu Sufyan was unable to cross a trench that was dug around Medina under the order of Muhammad, as had been suggested to him by the Persian scribe Salman e-Farsi. 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 which had been intriguing against them. They were given the oppurtunity to chose Muhammad as an arbitrator, but instead the Banu Qurayza chose Saad ibn Muadh, the leader of their former allies, the Aus.
Saad had been deadly wounded in the battle against Abu Sufyans forces and he invoked the rules of the Jews own scriptures the Torah, ordering the execution of the active forces of the tribe which would consist of all their grown men. The non-combatant women and children were allowed to live, though having no men to be supported by and the Muslim community not having the resources to support them, they were sold into captivity.
Muhammad put economic pressure on Makkah; but his main aim was to gain their willing adherence to Islam. In March 628 he set out to perform a pilgrimage in Makkah with 1,600 men accompanying him. The Makkans however halted Muhammad at al-Hudaybiyah on the edge of their territory. After some days the Makkans made a treaty with Muhammad. Hostilities were to cease and the Muslims were allowed to make a pilgrimage to Makkah in the following year. The treaty was further cemented by Muhammad's marriage to Habiba daughter of Abu Sufyan (Muhammad's former enemy). In November 629 however allies of the Makkans attacked an ally of Muhammad leading Muhammad to denounced of the treaty of al-Hudaybiyah. After secret planning Muhammad marched on Makkah in January 630 with 10,000 men. Abu Sufyan and other leading Makkans formally submitted. Muhammad promised a general amnesty with some people specifically excluded. When he entered Makkah there was virtually no resistance. Though he did not insist on their becoming Muslims most Makkans converted. In Makkah Muhammad destroyed the idols in the Kaaba and various small shrines.
Unification of Arabia
Ever since the hijrah Muhammad began alliances with nomadic tribes. At first these were probably nonaggression pacts but as his strength grew he made a condition that the allied tribe should become Muslim. While Muhammad was in Makkah he 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. Muhammad was now 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 was strong enough to deal with this.
Death and afterwards
Although he was ill for some time Muhammad had made no arrangement for his succession. Shortly prior to his death he delievered a quite famous final admonition to his followers known as the Prophet's Final Sermon . His death in June 632 at Medina, at 63, provoked a major crisis among his followers. Indeed this dispute eventually lead into the division of the Islam into Shia and Sunni sects.
Historically Muhammad's greatest contribution was as the first unifier of the Arab peoples. Following directly in his tradition of seeking knowledge with disciplined methods, Muslims revived and also challenged Greek philosophy (see early Muslim philosophy).
As a direct result, they also instituted what we now call the scientific method and formal citation (see ijtihad, isnad, sonah) and a science of history. All of this was reasonably a direct outcome of Muhammad's focus on truth, literacy, knowledge and documentation - and ethics as basis of education. This led ultimately to the legal practice of fiqh.
Despite some military and marital behaviour troubling to modern minds, any negative influences may be largely due to Muslims copying behaviors that Muhammad himself disavowed, often due to hadiths that are discredited by at least some sources. These impacts are certainly more difficult to assess. To what extent the current state of the Islamic World can be attributed to Muhammad as a person or leader is highly debatable, and probably even more absurd then blaming Napoleon for the current state of the European Union. One might say that Muhammad's influence was like that of Napoleon, Marx and Confucius in combination, and not be too far wrong.
Although his political and historical influence is and remains profound, the most lasting legacy of Muhammad is of course as the prophet of Islam. He was careful to separate his role as prophet from that as political leader - the Quran is not in any way to be confused with his own sayings (Ahadith) or actions (sira). His failings, as he himself said, were his own, and his achievements, he credited to God. He consistently discouraged anyone from seeing him as divine. In the words of Abu Bakr, his life-long companion, who addressed the crowd outside the mosque in Medina immediately after his death:
- "O people, verily, whosoever worshiped Muhammad know that Muhammad is dead. But whosoever worshipped God, know that God is alive."
- "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."
- for Muhammad as viewed by the Muslims - see Islam especially sira
- for Muhammad teachings - see Islam especially hadith
- list of Islamic terms in Arabic reflects Muhammad's overall influence
- Al-Haramain Foundation, Biography of Prophet Muhammad, Riyadh.
- University of Southern California's About the Prophet Muhammad
- Life of prophet Muhammad : The story of the Prophet Muhammad from his born to his death
- Swords of the Prophet Muhammad
- Martin Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on Earliest Sources, Inner Traditions International, Limited, 1987, trade paperback , 368 pages, ISBN 0892811706
- Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, Islamic Book Service, 1995, paperback, ISBN 1577311957, translation of an Arabic original