Introduction to Muhammad

Muhammad belongs to the most influential people in history. He is the founder of Islam and for Muslims he is the last and final prophet of Allah, also called seal of the prophets (an-khatim al-anbiya). The messages he has received by revelation have been collected in the Qur’an, the holy book of the Muslims.

Birth and early life

Muhammad was born in 570 A.D. in Mecca, a city with a large commercial center in Arabia (now Saudi Arabia). His father was Abdullah and Amina his mother. His family belonged to the Hashim family of the Quarish tribe in Arabia. His father died already before he was born. At the age of six, Muhammad became an orphan, when his mother died. He was raised by his grandfather Abd al-Muttalib, who died when Muhammad was eight years old. His uncle, Abu Talib took over the care for him, the leader of the Hashim family. He started to work as a shepherd at his early age. As a child he did not join any school, but he was highly intelligent. As a teener, Muhammad went with his uncle on business trips to Syria to get experience in commercial services. On his trips he met Jews and Christians. He called them “The People of the Book”.

Marriage with Khadjia

When he was 25 years old he started working for the 35-year-old rich widow Khadija. After he returned from a business trip to Syria, Muhammad accepted Khadija’s offer to marry her. Muhammad got married to Khadija and they had children. The two sons, Qasim and Abd-Allah died at young age. The daughters were Zainab, Requaya, Fatimah and Om Kolthoom. His wife Khadija helped Muhammad to grow as a professional businessman. During the fifteen years they were together, they had a happy marriage for both.

Spiritual leadership

Muhammad did spiritual exercises in his thirties. He made regular visits to a cave in Mount Hira, on the outskirts of Mecca to pray. It were periodically silent times at night for prayer. At the age of 40, he started to receive messages by revelation. The first revelations are now in Qur’an 96:1 “Recite in the name of your Lord who created”. Those revelations didn’t come without being informed, because he had already discovered much knowledge from Jews and Christians. Muhammad felt attracted with the God-seekers (hanif), who had the desire to a pure faith in the one God of Abraham. First impression of Muhammad was that he was possessed by a an evil spirit (jinn). His wife Khadija was a great source of comfort and encouragement for him. After about three years Muhammad received new revelations and again he felt uncertain about it. He described the revelation of the messages as a bell: "Sometimes it is (revealed) like the ringing of a bell, this form of Inspiration is the hardest of all and then this state passes ' off after I have grasped what is inspired.” [1]. However he was able to overcome the difficulties of his experiences and started to preach the revealed messages. First to his family, later also people in public. According to traditional Islam, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and he was commanded as a prophet to proclaim the message of Allah. The set of revelations he had received during 23 years, were compiled in the Qur'an. It became the holy book of Islam. It was in Muhammad’s time not a written book, but memorized by people. Muhammad made sometimes a mistake with the messages. One time he added two new verses to the Qur’an, the “cranes”, “high maidens” or “Satanic” verses about three Meccan goddesses, the daughters of Allah. Muhammad deleted the verses the next day, because he recognized that it was idol worship, like the verses came from the devil himself. He started preaching that Allah is one and the surrender to Allah against the Arab pagan religion. It was not until 612 that Muhammad began to preach. He got converts: his wife Khadija, his cousin Ali whom he had adopted, and his friend Abu Bakr. Muhammad did not want to establish a new religion, but to be a prophet to the Arabs to worship the one supreme God and to warn against paganism, immorality and materialism. His converts were called Muslims. Most of them were young and had not a high position in society. The powerful people in Mecca opposed the messages of the self-appointed prophet. It was against their belief in the power of many gods and goddesses. The pagan worship center Kaaba in Mecca was also important for the income of the business men in Mecca, because it was visited by many pilgrims [2]. In the first three years of his ministry, Muhammad had about 40 followers. Muhammad's preaching threatened the way of life in Mecca. The leaders of Mecca feared that Muhammad would seize power and started to work against him. This troubled the Muslims. Because of the persecution they left for Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in 615. The Muslims founded a small colony under the protection of the Christian Ethiopian emperor. As member of his Hashim family, Muhammad was protected against violence. However other families started a boycott against his Hashim family and demanded to stop with the protection of Muhammad. Therefore he could only preach during the holy pilgrimage months in which no violence between Arabs was tolerated. Muhammad lost his wife and unbelieving protector and uncle, Abu Talib in 619. After a few months he married Sawda , a widow of one of the Muslims. She was living with him. It was the first wife in a growing collection because, Muhammad, although at the age older than fifty, married several more women. The new leader of the Hashim family was against the protection for Muhammad. After that, he didn’t feel safe any more and was looking for another place to stay. Muhammad tried to find protection in the city Ta'if, but the people rejected his religion and he was forced to return to Mecca. It were years of struggle, defeats, doubts and depressions. Traditional Islam states that Muhammad underwent in 620 the Isra and Mi’raj, a miraculous journey with the angel Gabriel from Mecca to the "the farthest mosque."

Migration from Mecca to Medina

Summer 621, a group of pilgrims from Yathrib (now Medina), visited the Kaaba. The messages of Muhammad were told to them. Next year, a group of 75 people accepted Muhammad’s message and invited him to come to Medina. Muhammad concluded that his mission to Mecca had no success. The opposition in Mecca became so intense that Muhammad decided to flee to Medina in June 622. The Meccan leaders tried to kill him, but he escaped with 150 followers and arrived in Medina, more than 400 km north of Mecca, on 24 September 622. The flight of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina is what was called Hijira. This moment is the beginning of the Hijri calendar, the calendar of Islam. It means that 16 July 622 is Day 1 of Year 1. The religious situation in Medina was different, compared with that in Mecca. There were several Jewish tribes in that area and the openness for only one God was better than in Mecca. Although it was a wealthy city because of prosperous agriculture, there had been bloody fights between tribes. Muhammad was able to unite the local tribes. This became known as the Constitution of Medina. Muhammad’s leadership skills and personality enabled him to attract other strong leaders to create the religion of Islam and a powerful Muslim community [3]. But now Muhammad was no longer only a religious person, he became also a politician. Instead of only preaching, he was now also able to force the people to realize his ideas. Muhammad was open to the Jews and tried to win the Jews and the direction of prayer was to Jerusalem, but when the Jews didn’t want to recognize him as a prophet he changed the prayer direction to Mecca. When Muhammad’s power was rising, he lost a lot of his noble moral behavior in Mecca.

War between Medina and Mecca

Muhammad allowed the attack of Meccan business caravans. In January 624 the first fight started when a Meccan caravan worker was killed, the caravan was plundered by the Muslims and the property was brought to Medina. It was against the law of the pagan Arab religion and also against Muhammad’s Qur’an. Not long after that event, he also became a military leader. Muhammad declared war on Mecca. There were eight years of periodical fighting with Meccan tribes. While Muhammad was able to strengthen his position, he became also more violent. Early Jewish tribes were commanded to leave Medina, but later he commanded to kill around six hundred men of the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe in 627, woman were and children were sold to slavery. The Muslims did not agree with Muhammad when he decided to do the felling of palm trees of the enemy, because it was against pagan Arab law and against God’s law.

Return to Mecca

Muhammad occupied the city of Mecca in 630. He abolished the worship of idol, changed the practices of the Kaaba temple to Allah, witnessed the conversion to Islam of almost the whole Meccan population and then returned to Medina. After Muhammad’s victory in Mecca, he was able to establish Islam in the region of Hijaz (today the Western province of Saudi Arabia) and re-established the pilgrimage to Mecca. Many other tribes in the Arabian peninsula converted to Islam. Jews and Christians in Muslim territories could continue to practice their religion, but had to pay extra tax. Muhammad was able to bring many different tribes under Islam.

Contacts with Christians

Muhammad had meetings with Christians. He had a cousin, Waraqah ibn Nawfal, who had converted to Christianity. Waraqah read the Bible and learned from the Torah and Gospel. One day fourteen Christian leaders from Yemen visited Muhammad in his mosque and discussed with him about Jesus. The Christians were allowed to do Christian prayers in his mosque. Muhammad said: “let them pray!” [4]. Muhammad had also received a revelation about Jesus the Messiah: “Allah's Apostle said, "Today I saw myself in a dream near the Ka'ba. I saw a whitish brown man, the handsomest of all brown men you might ever see. He had the most beautiful Limma (hair hanging down to the earlobes) you might ever see. He had combed it and it was dripping water; and he was performing the Tawaf around the Kaba leaning on two men or on the shoulders of two men. l asked, "Who is this?" It was said. "Messiah, the son of Mary." Suddenly I saw a curly-haired man, blind in the right eye which looked like a protruding out grape. I asked, "Who is this?" It was said, "He is Masiah Ad-Dajjal."” [5]. There is some evidence that Muhammad was thinking about Jesus Christ as his Savior. The Qur’an is telling us about his thoughts on this subject, but also that he refused (Qur'an 83:17).

Muhammad’s last years

In March 632 he went to Mecca as a pilgrim at Mount Arafat, called the “Pilgrimage of Farewell”. He preached to a great number of Muslims. Muhammad warned in this sermon the Muslims not to go back to practices before Islam. A few months later he had serious health problems and suffered for several days with fever and became weak. He died when he was 61 years old on 8 June 632.