Muhammad

Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, is revered as the “seal of the prophets”. Muslims do not worship Muhammad; they believe that he was only a human messenger.

Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570 A.D. His tribe worshiped many deities and took care of many idols since Mecca was a place of pilgrimage.

He was an orphan who was raised by his uncle and trained to manage trade caravans. He was employed at age 25 by a widow named Khadija who was 15 years older than him. He later married Khadija in a Christian ceremony.

Muhammad was devoutly religious and often retreated to a cave to pray. One day in 610 A.D. when Muhammad was 40, he received a vision of an Angel commanding him to recite a message. Muhammad later proclaimed this message to be the words of Allah and it was codified into the Qur’an. However, Muhammad’s initial reaction was one of fear and confusion; he wondered if he had spoken to a demon and not an angel.

Khadija convinced Muhammad that he was a prophet of God and that his encounters with the angel were real. Soon, He began to preach against the worship of idols and proclaiming Allah as the only true God.

Only a few accepted the message of Muhammad and his tribe, the Quraish, relied on idol worship for their businesses which relied on pilgrimage. Muhammad’s followers were ostracized and some were tortured. Only 5 years after the message came to Muhammad, some of his followers fled to Abyssinia while Muhammad stayed in Mecca.

In 619, Khadija and the Uncle who raised him died and the persecution Muhammad and is followers faced intensified. On July 16, 622 Muhammad and his followers fled two hundred miles north to the city of Medina because of a plan to assassinate him. Medina welcomed Mohammad because leaders from various tribes sought his counsel. This flight from Mecca to Medina is known as the Hijra, the beginning of the Muslim Calendar.

Muhammad often mediated conflicts involving Arabs, Jews, and Muslims in Medina. He became governor and established two principles that are still basic to Islam today – Islam is the source of temporal and spiritual authority and religion is the source of loyalty among men rather than tribe.

Muhammad continued to receive vision in Medina until 622. The number of Muslims continued to increase until their ambition to expand by force became feasible. Muhammad proved to be an able military leader as he led his followers against “infidels” – those who rejected the prophet’s message.

8 years after fleeing from Mecca, Muhammad led an army of 10,000 men to surround the worship center of the city. He demanded the loyalty of every citizen and removed the idols from the city. He proclaimed that every Muslim was obligated to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. All forms of polytheism were forbidden, but the “people of the book”, Jews and Christians, were permitted to continue worshiping in their traditions.

Muhammad lived out the rest of his life in Medina, after conquering Mecca. He married at least 13 wives, among which was a Jewish wife, a Copic Christian wife,  and His favorite wife, ‘Aisha, whom he married when she was 9 years old.

Muhammad died in 632 A.D. of an illness after making his last pilgrimage to Mecca. Muhammad had no sons and so there was a dispute about who would lead the religion: Ali, his son-in-law and cousin who was his heir or Abu Bakr, who was chosen by a majority of the community. This question of secession resulted in the two major sects of Islam, Shi’ites and Sunnis.