The Prophet Muhammad was the ‘abd (slave/servant/worshiper) and rasool (Messenger/Apostle) of Allah, the Lord of the Universe. He is the last Prophet in a line beginning with Adam including Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus and many others in between. He is the most beloved of all creation to over a billion Muslims on earth today. Many educated non-Muslims who’ve lent themselves to objective study have also recognize his tremendous virtues and the great positive impact of his message in the world today. He holds the dearest seat in the hearts of those that continue to follow his teachings because of his awe-inspiring sacrifices to spread the Message.
Before presenting a brief biography of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, describing his character, and discussing the authenticity of reports on him and his overall calling, it is necessary to give a brief historical preamble to his mission. Here is a brief story of the history of humanity, as Islam teaches it, to put into context.
Creation Story in Islam
The Prophet Muhammad said, “There was Allah, and there was nothing before Him. He created the Pen and told it to write. The Pen asked what shall I write? Allah said: everything that will happen until the Day of Resurrection.“1)Some theologians, like ibn Taymiyyah, believe that Allah never “started” creating, but was always creating, and that this statement is contextual to our universe and existence, and that Allah created other things and potential universes before this.
Like the Bible, the Quran tells of the creation of the celestial bodies as well as the stages of earth’s creation in various parts of the Quran, although with some differences from the biblical account.
“And We surely created the Heavens and the earth and all that is in between them in six days, and no fatigue touched Us.” [50:38]
The Quran says that there are seven heavens, and Allah’s throne is above the seventh. The lowest heaven is the one containing all the stars of our universe. So Allah does not dwell in our universe, but is far far beyond it, while His Knowledge is everywhere. Allah created angels from light, and then jinn, before creating humans.
“And the jinn, We created aforetime from the smokeless flame of fire. And (remember) when your Lord said to the angels: ‘I am going to create a man (Adam) from dried clay of altered mud. So, when I have fashioned him completely and breathed into him from My spirit, then fall down, all, prostrating yourselves to him.’” [15:27-29]
“And when your Lord said to the angels: ‘Verily, I am going to place (mankind) generations after generations on earth.’ They said: ‘Will You place therein those who will make mischief and shed blood, – while we glorify You with praises and thanks and sanctify You?’ He said: ‘I know that which you do not know.’” [2:30]
Allah informed the angels that He was going to create humans and place them upon earth to multiply. This was decreed even before Adam disobeyed Him so that he is sent down to earth eventually. Then, the angels were aware that Allah loves to be worshipped. Hence, Allah willed that they would ask Him, “Are you going to create a people who will forget You, follow their lusts, and violate everything which you command that they abstain from—whilst we love, fear, obey and worship You constantly?” Then, Allah responded by saying, “I know that which you do not know.” Famous medieval scholar ibn Katheer paraphrased, “I know that the benefit of creating this type of creature outweighs the harm that you mentioned, that which you have no knowledge of. I will create among them Prophets and send Messengers. I will also create among them truthful, martyrs, righteous believers, worshipers, the modest, the pious, the scholars who implement their knowledge, humble people and those who love Allah and follow His Messengers.” And there would continue to be a group upon the Truth, patiently inviting to that and enduring the harms of the rest until the last of them.
“And (remember) when We said to the angels: ‘Prostrate yourselves to Adam.’ They prostrated themselves except Iblees (Satan). He said: ‘Shall I prostrate myself to one whom You created from clay?’ He said: ‘Do you see this one whom You have honored above me, if You give me respite (keep me alive) to the Day of Resurrection, I will surely seize and mislead his offspring all but a few!’ (Allah) said: ‘Go, and whosoever of them follows you, surely, Hell will be the recompense of you all, an ample recompense. And befool them gradually those whom you can among them with your voice; make assaults on them with your cavalry and your infantry, share with them wealth and children, and make promises to them.’ But Satan promises them nothing but deceit. Verily, My true worshipers – you have no authority over them. And All-Sufficient is your Lord as a Guardian.” [17:61-65]
“And Allah cursed him, and he said: ‘I will take an appointed portion of your slaves. Verily, I will mislead them, and surely, I will arouse in them false desires; and certainly, I will order them to slit the ears of cattle, and indeed I will order them to change the nature created by Allah.’ And whoever takes Shaitaan as a confidant instead of Allah, has surely suffered a manifest loss. He makes promises to them, and arouses in them false desires; and Shaitaan’s promises are nothing but deceptions. The dwelling of such people is Hell, and they will not find from it any way of escape.” [4:118-121]
Allah exiled Iblees from His exalted gathering of angels and let Adam and Eve dwell in Paradise, which, according to the Quran, was not on earth.
“Then Satan whispered suggestions to them both in order to uncover that which was hidden from them of their private parts; he said: ‘Your Lord did not forbid you this tree except that you should become angels or become of the immortals.’ And he swore by Allah to them both, ‘Verily, I am one of the sincere well-wishers for you two.’ So he misled them with deception. Then when they tasted of the tree, that which was hidden from them of their shame (private parts) became known to them and they began to cover themselves with the leaves of Paradise. And their Lord called out to them: ‘Did I not forbid you that tree and tell you: Verily, Satan is an open enemy to you?’ They said: ‘Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If You forgive us not, and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be of the losers.’ (Allah) said: ‘Get down, one of you as enemy to the other. On earth will be a dwelling place for you and an enjoyment for a time.’ He said: ‘Therein you shall live, and therein you shall die, and from it you shall be brought out (resurrected).’” [7:20-25]
Abdullah ibn Abbaas, the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin, said that every time Eve gave birth, she would have twins, a boy and a girl, and they would marry the twins of one birth to the twins of a different birth.2)It is generally assumed that when Abdullah Ibn Abbaas tells stories of the past, that he either learned this from the Prophet himself, or that he learned it from Jews that accepted Islam. So while it may be true that Abdullah ibn Abbaas in fact said it, it may not necessarily have come from an Islamically infallible source before him, since no one has ever claimed that any Muslim other than the Prophet received revelation the way he did.
Prophets and Messengers
And after numerous centuries passed, the descendants of Adam began to deviate. This is when several righteous people had passed away. In remembrance of their good works, statues were built in their honor, to remind the people of their good actions. Shortly thereafter, the people were misled into taking those statues as objects of worship. The first Messenger was then inspired among them as a warner,
“And indeed We sent Noah to his people saying, ‘I have come to you as a plain warner. That you worship none but Allah; surely, I fear for you the torment of a painful Day.’” [11:25-26]
For hundreds of years, Prophet Noah ﷺ called his people to single out their worship for One God, but he only amassed a handful of followers. He invoked Allah that the disbelievers be destroyed without any offspring. It was then that the famous flood took place.
“Verily, when the water rose beyond its limits, We carried you (mankind) in the floating vessel. That We might make it an admonition for you and that it might be retained by the retaining ears.” [69:11-12]
And to this day, most of mankind has heard this story, and it has been mentioned in the texts of numerous religions. The few people that were on the ark spread out in various directions, multiplying anew. Those families became tribes which became communities which founded cities and turned into civilizations. Whenever any would degrade themselves by turning to idol worship, ill social practices, or spread corruption on earth, a messenger would be sent to them. This was to save us from our own selves.
“And Messengers We have mentioned to you before, and Messengers We have not mentioned to you.” [4:164]
After Prophet Nuh ﷺ, the Quran mentions some prophets that had been present in the Arabian peninsula named Hud, Saalih, Lot and Shu’aib.
“And verily, We have sent among every community a Messenger: ‘Worship Allah, and avoid Taghut (all false deities, i.e. do not worship anything besides Allah).’ Then of them were some whom Allah guided and of them were some upon whom the straying was justified. So travel through the land and see what was the end of those who denied.” [16:36]
Allah also inspired Prophet Abraham of Babylon, who emigrated to Levant, and Allah made prophets of two of his children, Ismaa’eel, the older, and Ishaq. Isaac and Sarah settled in Palestine while Ishmael settled around what is known today as Mecca. The Quran also mentions that all future prophethood would ultimately be from the offspring of Ibrahim. The story of Joseph, son of Jacob, son of Isaac also is given an entire chapter of the Quran to relate his story, and how the sons of Jacob came to Egypt.
And from Jacob’s offspring, hundreds of years later, the story of Moses is given the most mention in the Quran, and how with God’s Help, he brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt and ultimately to the Palestine/Israel region. Jacob’s progeny were then ruled by judges and prophets until they requested a king be made for them so that they could fight their enemies. In the line of kings, David and Solomon appear and some of their story is told. The Bible then says that the Children of Israel split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judea, after the reign of King Sulaiman. The ten tribes present in Israel, the northern kingdom, were conquered by the Assyrians, enslaved, and their story is lost. The temple of Solomon in Judea was destroyed when the remaining Jews were conquered by the Babylonians, and driven to Iraq. They were finally allowed to return to Palestine when the Persians conquered the Babylonians. Eventually, the Romans ruled Palestine, much of North Africa and Greater Syria. It was during this Roman rule that Prophet Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary, who had been in the care of Zakariyya, the father of John “the Baptist”. With Jesus, the line of prophethood among the Children of Israel ended. In no more than a century after the time of Jesus’ dwelling on earth, due to revolt, the Romans suppressed the Jews, slaughtering great numbers of them, destroying much of the second temple they built, and banning the Jews from their kingdom. After this point, the Jews spread about the earth in groups, fleeing the Romans, looking for peace and hoping for the messiah, in their diaspora.
The chief of the messengers, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, confirmed all of this about the other prophets. The prophets prior to him were also made to foretell him, and although an important subject, is far too demanding for this introductory article.
A brief tour of the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
Muhammad ibn (son of) Abdullah ibn Abdul-Muttalib ibn Haashim al-Qurashee3)Referring to the tribe of Quraish (or Koresh as it is known in English), and Quraish was the name of one of the descendants of Ismaa’eel, and came to be the head of a large powerful tribe. was born in circa 570 CE in Mecca, a mountain valley just off the east coast of the Red Sea in what is now western Saudi Arabia, part of a region known as al-hijaaz among Arabs. The year he was born was known as the “year of the elephant”. It was named so for the elephants used by Yemeni/Ethiopian Christian commander, Abraha, that year, in attempt to destroy the Ka’bah which was originally built by Prophet Ibrahim and his son Isma’il. The Ka’bah in Mecca has always been symbolic to all Arabs, and they frequently made pilgrimage to it and revered the Quraish for maintaining it. Its symbolic value led Mecca to be the great trade hub of Arabia.
“Verily, the first House (of worship) appointed for mankind was that at Bakkah (Makkah), full of blessing, and a guidance for all people of the world. In it are great signs, the Maqaam (standing place) of Abraham; whosoever entered it attained security.” [3:96-97]
However, one of the leaders of Mecca, long before Muhammad’s time, traveled to a distant land, found idol worshipers, liked what he saw and brought idols to Mecca and ultimately persuaded his countrymen to worship them instead of Allah, with the claim that they were intercessors between their sinful selves and their holy unapproachable God, so they claimed.
“And when My slaves ask you (O Muhammad) about Me, then answer them, I am indeed near (to them by My Knowledge). I respond to the invocations of the supplicant when he calls on Me. So let them obey Me and believe in Me that they may be led aright.” [2:186]
Thus, idol worship began to spread among the descendants of Ismaa’eel and the entire Arab peoples since they all looked to the Meccans as role models and traveled back and forth to Mecca often.
NOTE: To aid the inexperienced reader who may be confused by Arabic names, I have emboldened the most important names to remember.
But during this period, Abrahah, a leader of Yemen, receiving aid from the king of Ethiopia, wanted to divert trade to Yemen, so he built a replica of the Ka’bah. Instead of glorifying it, one “pilgrim” came and defecated in its sanctuary. Abrahah then decided to lead an expedition to Mecca to destroy the original Ka’bah. Abraha’s forces, on their way to the holy house were destroyed when birds miraculously came from the sea pelting his army with rocks. The event is described in the Quran when Allah recalls His favors to the Quraish tribe, encouraging them to accept Islam. This event is also mentioned by ancient Yemeni historians.
From birth until receiving first revelations from God
It was during the year of this famous event that Muhammad was born and during his mother’s pregnancy that his father, Abdullah, died. As was custom for children of good families, Muhammad was breastfed outside of Mecca, among the Bedouins where he could hear a stronger dialect of Arabic and acquire a degree of resilience. His bedu caretakers and wet nurse noticed increased provision and blessings with his presence, and requested he stay with them longer. When he was about five years old, he was playing with children when the angel Gabriel came to him, wrestled him to the ground, and had his heart removed, washed, and returned after removing any portion of evil that resides in the heart. After this incident, his caretakers frightfully returned him to his mother, Amina.
Muhammad’s mother died just a year or two later during travel to Madinah where her family was originally from. Muhammad was then placed under the care of his grandfather, Abdul-Muttalib, the one who originally named Muhammad, until his death a couple years later. One of Abdul-Muttalib’s other sons, Abu Talib, a merchant, then took responsibility of Muhammad. It was under the care of his uncle Abu Talib that Muhammad travelled throughout Arabia trading and became a known face from Mecca and trustworthy businessman. Muhammad later worked and traded for a wealthy widow of Mecca, Khadeejah. After observing her new employee’s noble traits and personality, she proposed to him through his uncle. Muhammad, 25 then, married the older Khadeejah, and went on to have five or six children with her.
Muhammad kept away from the idol worship that was prevalent and followed Hanafiyya (Abrahamic tradition). The Meccans knew him as ” Al-Ameen” (the trust-keeper) while he had been a shepherd amongst them and safety deposit keeper, apart from his trading. At age 40 he began receiving dreams that would come true the very next day and enjoyed the seclusion of worshipping Allah alone in a nearby mountain cave on looking the ka’bah. On one of those sojourns he received the first Revelation, as the angel Gabriel embraced him strongly, commanding him to read while he kept answering that he was not a reader. He came home frightened to his wife for comfort and she assured him of his good conduct, character, and treatment of the poor and oppressed that Allah would not disgrace him. The first revelation given to him that night read:
“Recite! In the Name of your Lord Who has created. He created man from a clinging clot (in the womb). Recite! And your Lord is the Most Generous. Who has taught by the pen – taught man what he did not know.” [The Quran 96:1-5]
After time, revelations from the Quran, through the angel Gabriel, came more and more, instructing him to keep away from idols and to warn his family and those near to do the same. His wife took him to visit a relative who had become a Christian and studied some of the Christian books who confirmed that the being who visited him was the same that inspired former prophets, and that his message of pure monotheism was dangerous and would ultimately steer his tribe to expel him. Muhammad accepted his responsibility of prophethood and some close friends of his that knew his unwavering honesty and inspiring character embraced his religion.
“Verily, We have inspired you (O Muhammad) as We inspired Noah and the Prophets after him; We inspired Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and Al-Asbat [the twelve sons of Jacob], Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon, and to David We gave the Psalms.” (The Qur’an 4:163)
In various family gatherings, Muhammad would tell them about the message he was sent to give, and few would respond. After three years since the first revelation, he was commanded to preach the message openly, starting from his home town of Mecca.
“Say (O Muhammad): O mankind! Verily, I am sent to you all as the Messenger of Allah – to Whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. None has the right to be worshipped except Him. It is He Who gives life and decrees death. So believe in Allah and His Messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write who believes in Allah and His Words, and follow him so that you may be guided.’” [7:158]
The Prophet preaches openly, his followers endure great persecution
His countrymen at first did not take him seriously, suspecting he was delusional and had pity on him, until they saw Muhammad’s persistence and that in all other affairs, his faculty was brighter than ever, and his followers were men of repute, not gullible or freeloaders. He and the few who accepted his call were then ridiculed, tortured, murdered, and a social boycott was imposed against them which forced them into a valley to eat bugs and leaves. During this persecution, one of his companions said: we complained to the Messenger of Allah regarding the troubles inflicted upon us by the disbelievers while he was lying in the shade of the Ka’bah, having made a pillow of his cloak. We submitted, ‘Why do you not pray for our victory?’ He replied, ‘Among those people before you, a man would be seized and held in a pit dug for him in the ground and he would be sawed into two halves from his head, and his flesh torn away from his bones with an iron comb; but in spite of this, he would not wean away from his faith. I swear by Allah, Allah will bring this matter (Islam) to its consummation until a rider will travel from San’aa to Hadramaut fearing nothing except Allah, and except the wolf for his sheep, but you are in too much of a hurry.’
The Prophet later directed some of his companions to migrate to Abyssinia where there was a just Christian king. When those Muslims left Mecca, the Quraish tribe of Mecca sent a delegation to the Ethiopian king with numerous gifts and pleas to return their disobeying, family splitting, heretical brethren. The just king then listened to the speech of his asylum seekers who revealed that they had been persecuted for abandoning idol worship and the eating of impure meats and had been ridiculed and persecuted for practicing chastity, honesty and keeping family ties, praying and giving charity. In a desperate move to win the king’s favor, the ambassador from Mecca claimed that the Muslims slander Jesus. In response to this, the speaker on behalf of the Muslims, a son of Abu Talib, recited to the king a portion of the Quran chapter, Maryam, so that he could hear himself the beliefs of the Muslims and judge. The king wept upon this recital, confirmed what the Muslims declared, returned to the Quraish their gifts, and allowed that group of Muslims to live within his land freely and respectfully.
A position of strength
In the midst of the Muslims’ weakness in Mecca, the Prophet took the home of one of the companions as a teaching and meeting center, calling it Daar al-Arqam. The Muslims of this time had primarily been poor and weak, like Bilal the freed slave, or of good repute and wealth, like Abu Bakr and Uthman, but none known for strength, might and reverence, so the Muslims prayed to Allah that He guide men to Islam that would protect the Muslims and strengthen its reputation and force. After awaiting response to this invocation, one of the Prophet’s uncles, Hamzah, known throughout the town as a strong man of war, was angered by the ill treatment Abu Jahl, one of the town’s leaders and another man of battle, gave to Muhammad, so he slapped him and professed his Islam. Later after consideration, he realized Islam truly was best for him, and so he joined with the Prophet’s group. Similarly, a young but strong man named Umar ibn al-Khattaab, who used to receive delegations on behalf of the Quraish tribe plotted to kill the Prophet. But when he found several verses of the Quran written down, he read them (he was one of the dozen people of Mecca that could read) he began crying at the miraculous truth, simplicity, and divine perspective and grandeur of the verses and walked to Daar-al-Arqam and announced his Islam. Umar and Hamzah would then escort the rest of the Muslims to the sanctuary of the Ka’bah where they could pray without harassment.
Apart from the Prophet’s normal activities with his household, he would teach the believers their religion, the Quran, and relate to them as well as to the disbelievers whom he tried to invite, stories of the past peoples and their relationship with Allah.
The Prophet and his companion Abu Bakr would approach visitors during the annual pilgrimage but the Quraish would warn people beforehand to stuff their ears and not listen to “Muhammad’s magical poetry”. Several clans from Quraish also instituted a boycott against the Prophet’s tribe, Banu Hashim, forbidding any buying or selling with them as well as intermarriage. The boycott lasted over two years, and forced the Muslims to reside in a valley where their provisions were scarce. Many had to strap planks or rocks to their stomachs out of severe hunger.
Major losses, and the hope for a protective state
After the eleventh year since receiving Prophethood, Muhammad’s sole wife of 25 years, first believer and greatest supporter Khadeejah, passed away. His uncle, Abu Talib, who defended him from the harm of his countrymen but never embraced Islam, also died. The Prophet Muhammad, reeling from the loss of both his emotional and political support wings, and bearing a stalemate in his calling, as his followers were very few and the persecution reaching a new intensities, then chose to carry the Message to the nearby town of Ta’if to see if their tribe would accept. Villagers of Ta’if met his call to tawheed (true monotheism) with insults and stones.
Shortly after these incidents which marked the “year of sadness” for the prophet, Muhammad was blessed with a tremendous experience and journey, as a reward for his patience in calling to His Lord and a reassurance to rejuvenate his optimism. As Allah says what means,
“Glorified is He (Allah) Who took His slave (Muhammad) for a journey by night from Al-Masjid Al-Haraam (the grand sanctuary of Makkah where he was sleeping) to Al-Masjid Al-Aqsaa (a prayer place in Jerusalem), the neighborhood whereof We have blessed, in order that We might show him of Our Signs. Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer.” [17:1]
In this night, the Prophet Muhammad was whisked away from his home to lead the former prophets in prayer at the house of worship in Jerusalem, and then again transported to above Paradise to meet His Lord, who prescribed upon him and his followers that they should pray the formal prayer five times daily. This incident served as ammunition for the Quraish to further make fun of the Prophet and any of his followers that believed his account.
Throughout all of this, the Prophet was labeled a madman, possessed, a sorcerer, a poet, a fame-seeker and a forger all because he spelled out for them that the religion of their forefathers was a fabrication and deviation from the original teachings of prophet Ibrahim. While he was praying and prostrating by the Ka’bah, one of the Meccan cheifs threw the entrails of a camel upon the Prophet’s back which his daughter, Fatimah, cleaned off of him. Another time, that man choked the Prophet intensely until his best friend, Abu Bakr, broke up and stood in the way of the assault. Such fierce opposition came because he invited people to recognize the Creator’s rights upon His creation, that they do not worship anyone except Him with their prayer, sacrifice, and devotion. He taught people that God was One, without any children, parents or equals; that God did not need anything but that everything we have is a gift from Him; we can only be grateful to Allah by invoking Him Alone and not praying to saints or idols as intercessors; whoever does that or relies upon “luck charms” or visits fortune tellers or follows astrology was doomed unless they repented.
“Say (O Muhammad): ‘I have been forbidden to worship those whom you invoke besides Allah.’ Say: ‘I will not follow your vain desires. If I did, I would go astray, and I would not be one of the rightly guided.’” [6:56]
His teachings influenced many of the poor and youthful to leave the religion of their forefathers, since they had no social standing to lose. The Meccans did not want his teachings to spread so they offered the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ kingship over their tribe (of 60,000), vast wealth and any of the town’s women if he stopped preaching Islam. They also offered to accept Islam on the condition that they were given special status over the poor Muslims. He refused their offers, so they conspired to kill him.
His readiness to undergo persecutions for his beliefs, the high moral character of the men who believed in him and looked up to him as leader, and the greatness of his ultimate achievement all argue his fundamental integrity. To suppose Muhammad an impostor raises more problems than it solves. Moreover, none of the great figures of history is so poorly appreciated in the West as Muhammad.”—W. Montgomery, Mohammad at Mecca, Oxford, 1953, p. 52.
During the time of the annual Arab pilgrimage to the Ka’bah, the Prophet would approach members of various tribes, calling them to Islam, but many of them would be warned beforehand by the leaders of Mecca not to listen to Muhammad, and those that did, simply scoffed at him. However, several members of the two Arab tribes of Madinah, the Aus and Khazraj tribes, accepted the call to Islam, and so the Prophet sent one of his companions, Mus’ab ibn Umair, with them back to Madinah to teach them more of the Quran and Islam and invite others to Islam. At this time, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ received a dream describing the land his followers would migrate to, so it was imminent that their lives would change. A year later, another group of about a dozen came from Madinah and gave their pledge to the prophet. Later on, a larger group of seventy new Muslim men and women from Medinah met the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ outside of Mecca in secrecy and swore their allegiance to him and agreed to shelter him and defend him.
Thus, after 13 years of persecution in Mecca, the Muslims began migrating to Madinah, a few at a time, until the Quraish of Mecca realized the Muslims were almost nowhere to be seen. It was then that they decided to continue with the plot to assassinate Muhammad.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Some theologians, like ibn Taymiyyah, believe that Allah never “started” creating, but was always creating, and that this statement is contextual to our universe and existence, and that Allah created other things and potential universes before this.|
|2.||↑||It is generally assumed that when Abdullah Ibn Abbaas tells stories of the past, that he either learned this from the Prophet himself, or that he learned it from Jews that accepted Islam. So while it may be true that Abdullah ibn Abbaas in fact said it, it may not necessarily have come from an Islamically infallible source before him, since no one has ever claimed that any Muslim other than the Prophet received revelation the way he did.|
|3.||↑||Referring to the tribe of Quraish (or Koresh as it is known in English), and Quraish was the name of one of the descendants of Ismaa’eel, and came to be the head of a large powerful tribe.|