Muhammad, in full Abū al-Qāsim Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib ibn Hāshim was the founder of the religion of Islam, accepted by Muslims throughout the world as the last of the prophets of God.
Muhammad was the most-reviled figure in the history of the West from the 7th century until quite recent times. Because Muhammad is one of the most influential figures in history, his life, deeds, and thoughts have been debated by followers and opponents over the centuries, which makes a biography of him difficult to write.
Birth of Prophet Muhammad.
According to traditional Islamic sources, Muhammad was born in Mecca in “the Year of the Elephant,” which corresponds to the year ad 570, the date modern Western scholars cite as at least his approximate birth date and his birthday is usually celebrated by Muslims in the month of Rabi' al-awwal. He belonged to the Banu Hashim clan, one of the prominent families of Mecca.
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, Halimah bint Abi Dhuayb, and her husband. At the age of six, Muhammad lost his biological mother Amina to illness and he became fully orphaned. For the next two years, he was under the guardianship of his paternal grandfather Abd al-Muttalib, of the Banu Hashim clan, but when Muhammad was eight, his grandfather also died. He then came under the care of his uncle Abu Talib, the new leader of Banu Hashim.
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. Islamic tradition states that when Muhammad was either nine or twelve while accompanying the Meccans' caravan to Syria, he met a Christian monk or hermit named Bahira who is said to have foreseen Muhammed's career as a prophet of God.
Marriage and Reputation.
When he was 25 years old, Muhammad received a marriage proposal from a wealthy Meccan woman, Khadījah bint al-Khuwaylid, whose affairs he was conducting. Despite the fact that she was 15 years older than he, Muhammad accepted the proposal, and he did not take another wife until after her death (though polygyny was permitted and common). She bore him two sons, both of whom died young. It is from the first son, Qāsim, that one of the names of the Prophet, Abūʾ al-Qāsim (“the Father of Qāsim”), derives. She also bore him four daughters, Zaynab, Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthūm, and Fāṭimah. The youngest, Fāṭimah, who is called the second Mary, had the greatest impact on history of all his children.
By age 35, Muhammad had become a very respected figure in Mecca and had taken ʿAlī into his household. When he was asked, according to Islamic tradition, to arbitrate a dispute concerning which tribe should place the holy black stone in the corner of the newly built Kaʿbah, Muhammad resolved the conflict by putting his cloak on the ground with the stone in the middle and having a representative of each tribe lift a corner of it until the stone reached the appropriate height to be set in the wall.
Beginning of Prophethood ad Quran.
His reputation stemmed, in part, from his deep religiosity and attention to prayer. He often would leave the city and retire to the desert for prayer and meditation. Moreover, before the advent of his prophecy, he received visions that he described as being like “the breaking of the light of dawn.” It was during one of these periods of retreat, when he was 40 years old and meditating in a cave called al-Ḥirāʾ in the Mountain of Light (Jabal al-Nūr) near Mecca, that Muhammad experienced the presence of the archangel Gabriel and the process of the Qurʾānic revelation began.
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.
—Quran, sura 96 (Al-Alaq), ayat 1-5
Early days as a Prophet.
Muhammad first preached his message to the members of his family, then to a few friends, and finally, three years after the advent of the revelation, to the public at large. The first to accept Muhammad’s call to become Muslims were Khadījah; ʿAlī; Zayd ibn al-Ḥārith, who was like a son to the Prophet; and Abū Bakr, a venerable member of the Meccan community who was a close friend of the Prophet. This small group was the centre from which Islam grew in ever-wider circles. Besides his family and friends, a number of prominent Meccans embraced Islam. However, most influential figures and families rejected his call, especially those prominent in trade.
Even within his family there were skeptics. Although Muhammad gained the support of many of the Banū Hāshim, his uncle Abū Lahab, a major leader of the Quraysh, remained adamantly opposed to Islam and Muhammad’s mission. These naysayers feared that the new religion, based on the oneness of God and unequivocally opposed to idolatry, would destroy the favoured position of the Kaʿbah as the centre of the religious cults of various Arab tribes and hence jeopardize the commerce that accompanied the pilgrimage to Mecca to worship idols kept in or on the Kaʿbah.
Opposition from Family and Tribes.
Tradition records at great length the persecution and ill-treatment of Muhammad and his followers. Sumayyah bint Khabbab, a slave of a prominent Meccan leader Abu Jahl, is famous as the first martyr of Islam, having been killed with a spear by her master when she refused to give up her faith. Bilal, another Muslim slave, was tortured by Umayyah ibn Khalaf who placed a heavy rock on his chest to force his conversion. Apart from insults, Muhammad was protected from physical harm as he belonged to the Banu Hashim clan.
In 617, the leaders of Makhzum and Banu Abd-Shams, two important Quraysh clans, declared a public boycott against Banu Hashim, their commercial rival, to pressure it into withdrawing its protection of Muhammad. The boycott lasted three years but eventually collapsed as it failed in its objective. During this, Muhammad was only able to preach during the holy pilgrimage months in which all hostilities between Arabs were suspended.
As Muhammad’s message spread, opposition to him grew and was led by ʿAmr ibn Hishām, dubbed Abū Jahl (“Father of Ignorance”) by the early Muslims. Abū Jahl even had some early converts tortured.
Meanwhile in Mecca, life for Muhammad and the early Muslims was becoming ever more difficult and dangerous as the result of extreme pressure exerted upon them by the Quraysh rulers of the city. Even the conversions of leaders of the Meccan community, such as ʿUmar al-Khaṭṭāb and ʿUthmān ibn ʿAffān, did not diminish the severe difficulties encountered by Muhammad in his later years in Mecca.
The year of Mourning.
In 619 Muhammad was greatly saddened by the death of two people who were especially close to him, Khadījah and his uncle Abū Ṭālib. Not only was Khadījah his devoted wife of 25 years and the mother of his children, but she was also his friend and counselor. Only after her death did Muhammad marry other women, mostly as a means of creating alliances with various families and tribes. The exception was the daughter of Abū Bakr, ʿĀʾishah, who was betrothed to the Prophet when she was very young and in whose arms he would die in Medina. Later in the year the death of Abū Ṭālib, Muhammad’s protector, created a much more difficult situation for him and for the young Islamic community in Mecca. These deaths, combined with Muhammad’s lack of success in propagating the message of Islam in the city of Ṭāʾif, severely tested his determination and resolve.
Isra and Mi'raj.
Islamic tradition relates that in 620, Muhammad experienced the Isra and Mi'raj, a miraculous journey said to have occurred with the angel Gabriel in one night. In the first part of the journey, the Isra, he is said to have travelled from Mecca on a winged steed (Buraq) to "the farthest mosque" (in Arabic: masjid al-aqsa), which Muslims usually identify with the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. In the second part, the Mi'raj, Muhammad is said to have toured heaven and hell, and spoken with earlier prophets, such as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Ibn Ishaq, author of the first biography of Muhammad, presents this event as a spiritual experience whereas later historians like Al-Tabari and Ibn Kathir present it as a physical journey.
Migration to Madina.
The Hijra is the migration of Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE. In September 622, warned of a plot to assassinate him, Muhammad secretly slipped out of Mecca, moving with his followers to Medina, 320 kilometres (200 mi) north of Mecca. The Hijra is celebrated annually on the first day of the Muslim year.
Muhammad instructed his followers to emigrate to Medina until virtually all his followers left Mecca. Being alarmed at the departure of Muslims, according to the tradition, the Meccans plotted to assassinate Muhammad. With the help of Ali, Muhammad fooled the Meccans who were watching him, and secretly slipped away from the town with Abu Bakr. By 622, Muhammad emigrated to Medina, a large agricultural oasis. Those who migrated from Mecca along with Muhammad became known as muhajirun.
Constitution of Medina.
Among the first things Muhammad did to settle down the longstanding grievances among the tribes of Medina was drafting a document known as the Constitution of Medina, "establishing a kind of alliance or federation" among the eight Medinan tribes and Muslim emigrants from Mecca, which specified the rights and duties of all citizens and the relationship of the different communities in Medina (including that of the Muslim community to other communities, specifically the Jews.
Battle of Badr.
In March 624, Muhammad led some three hundred warriors in a raid on a Meccan merchant caravan. The Muslims set an ambush for them at Badr. Aware of the plan, the Meccan caravan eluded the Muslims. Meanwhile, a force from Mecca was sent to protect the caravan, continuing forward to confront the Muslims upon hearing that the caravan was safe. The Battle of Badr began in March 624. Though outnumbered more than three to one, the Muslims won the battle, killing at least forty-five Meccans with only fourteen Muslims dead. They also succeeded in killing many Meccan leaders, including Abu Jahl.
Battle of Uhud.
The Meccans were now anxious to avenge their defeat. To maintain their economic prosperity, the Meccans needed to restore their prestige, which had been lost at Badr. Thus, Muhammad led his force outside to the mountain of Uhud (where the Meccans had camped) and fought the Battle of Uhud on 23 March. Although the Muslim army had the best of the early encounters, indiscipline on the part of strategically placed archers led to a Muslim defeat, with 75 Muslims killed including Hamza, Muhammad's uncle and one of the best known martyrs in the Muslim tradition. The Meccans did not pursue the Muslims further, but marched back to Mecca declaring victory. This is probably because Muhammad was wounded and thought to be dead. When they knew this on their way back, they did not return back because of false information about new forces coming to his aid.
Pledge of Acceptance.
Negotiations commenced with emissaries going to and from Mecca. While these continued, rumors spread that one of the Muslim negotiators, Uthman bin al-Affan, had been killed by the Quraysh. Muhammad responded by calling upon the pilgrims to make a pledge not to flee (or to stick with Muhammad, whatever decision he made) if the situation descended into war with Mecca. This pledge became known as the "Pledge of Acceptance" (Arabic: بيعة الرضوان , bay'at al-ridhwān) or the "Pledge under the Tree". News of Uthman's safety, however, allowed for negotiations to continue, and a treaty scheduled to last ten years was eventually signed between the Muslims and Quraysh The main points of the treaty included the cessation of hostilities; the deferral of Muhammad's pilgrimage to the following year; and an agreement to send back any Meccan who had gone to Medina without the permission of their protector.
The Truce of Hudaybiyyah.
The truce of Hudaybiyyah had been enforced for two years. The tribe of Banu Khuza'a had good relations with Muhammad, whereas their enemies, the Banu Bakr, had an alliance with the Meccans. A clan of the Bakr made a night raid against the Khuza'a, killing a few of them. The Meccans helped the Banu Bakr with weapons and, according to some sources, a few Meccans also took part in the fighting. After this event, Muhammad sent a message to Mecca with three conditions, asking them to accept one of them. These were that either the Meccans paid blood money for those slain among the Khuza'ah tribe; or, that they should disavow themselves of the Banu Bakr; or, that they should declare the truce of Hudaybiyyah null.
The Meccans replied that they would accept only the last condition. However, soon they realized their mistake and sent Abu Sufyan to renew the Hudaybiyyah treaty, but now his request was declined by Muhammad.
Conquest of Mecca.
Muhammad began to prepare for a campaign. In 630, Muhammad marched on Mecca with an enormous force, said to number more than ten thousand men. With minimal casualties, Muhammad took control of Mecca. He declared an amnesty for past offences, except for ten men and women who were "guilty of murder or other offences or had sparked off the war and disrupted the peace". Some of these were later pardoned. Most Meccans converted to Islam and Muhammad subsequently had destroyed all the statues of Arabian gods in and around the Kaaba.
In 632, at the end of the tenth year after the migration to Medina, Muhammad carried through his first truly Islamic pilgrimage, thereby teaching his followers the rites of the annual Great Pilgrimage (Hajj). After completing the pilgrimage, Muhammad delivered a famous speech known as The Farewell Sermon, at Mount Arafat east of Mecca. In this sermon, Muhammad advised his followers not to follow certain pre-Islamic customs. He declared that an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. He abolished all old blood feuds and disputes based on the former tribal system and asked for all old pledges to be returned as implications of the creation of the new Islamic community. Commenting on the vulnerability of women in his society, Muhammed asked his male followers to “Be good to women; for they are powerless captives (awan) in your households. You took them in God’s trust, and legitimated your sexual relations with the Word of God, so come to your senses people, and hear my words ...” He told them that they were entitled to discipline their wives but should do so with kindness. He addressed the issue of inheritance by forbidding false claims of paternity or of a client relationship to the deceased, and forbade his followers to leave their wealth to a testamentary heir. He also upheld the sacredness of four lunar months in each year.
Passing away of Prophet Muhammad.
A few months after the farewell pilgrimage, Muhammad fell ill and suffered for several days with a fever, head pain, and weakness. He died on Monday, 8 June 632, in Medina, at the age of 63, in the house of his wife Aisha. With his head resting on Aisha's lap, he asked her to dispose of his last worldly goods (seven coins), then murmured his final words:
Rather, God on High and paradise.
He was buried where he died, in Aisha's house.