It has been over 1400 years since his physical existence, yet well over a billion people still revere the Prophet Muhammad today. It’s not just Muslims that hold a deep respect for this man, many non-Muslims who take the time out to study his life also develop respect too. A short examination of the history on Muhammad would reveal exactly why this phenomenal individual was, and is, adored by billions of people long after his passing.
There are many biographies on the Prophet Muhammad. So full of meaning and significance was his life that an encyclopaedia could be devoted to him alone. However we will go through a brief overview of the life of Muhammad to provide an introduction to those that have never come across him, as well as a refresher to those that are familiar.
Birth & Early Life
Muhammad was born in Mecca around the year 570 AD in one of the noble families of the time. His father, Abdullah, passed away before he was born. As was the custom during those days, infants were entrusted to a wet nurse from nomadic Bedouin tribes in a nearby desert. Muhammad was taken care of by a nurse named Halimah.
A strange event occurred during this period, where Muhammad was playing when Halimah’s son ran to her and told her that two white-clad men had taken hold of Muhammad onto the ground, opened up his chest and plunged their hands in it. This event was recounted by Muhammad who stated that two men split his chest, took out the heart, opened it to take out a black clot and threw it away. They then washed his heart and chest with snow.
When he was six years old, Muhammad’s mother Amina also passed away. His grandfather, Abd al-Muttalib took care of him and showed tremendous respect and love for him, but a couple of years later was also to pass away. Abd al-Muttalib’s son, and therefore Muhammad’s uncle, Abu Talib was to then take Muhammad into his care.
Earning a Living & Starting a Family
Muhammad was to become a shepherd to earn a living. After that he became a trader, whereupon he was bestowed with the title ‘Al-Amin’ meaning the Truthful or Trustworthy, due to the reputation of honesty and efficiency he built up.
Due to his talents and reputation, Muhammad was hired by one of the wealthiest traders at the time, a woman named Khadijah. She was so impressed by his character and behaviour that when Muhammad was 25 years old she married him, despite being 40 years old herself.
They had six children together: Qasim, Zaynab, Ruqayyah, Um Kulthum, Fatimah and Abdullah. The two boys, Qasim and Abdullah both died before they reached the age of two. Muhammad had been gifted a slave by the name of Zayd, whom he decided to free and adopt as his son. In order to help his uncle from financial difficulty, Muhammad took his uncle’s son named Ali, into his care also. Ali would later marry Muhammad’s daughter Fatima.
Receiving The First Revelation
By the time Muhammad was 35 he had built such a reputation that many thought he would undoubtedly become a great leader of the tribe. However he himself was not concerned too much about such public affairs, and instead preferred to often retreat in solitude in one of the cave’s in Mecca.
It was during one of these retreats in a cave in Mount Hira that Muhammad was visited by the angel Gabriel for the first time. Muhammad was 40 years old at the time. The angel ordered him to “Read” whilst firmly taking hold of him. Muhammad was not able to read or write, and said as much. However the command was repeated several times, until it was elaborated and became the first verse of revelation as follows:
Read in the name of your Lord, who created mankind out of a clinging clot. Read, and your Lord is most bountiful, He who taught by means of the pen, taught mankind that which they didn’t know.
Muhammad was extremely disturbed and frightened by this event that he went to his wife in great distress asking her to cover him. He expressed his fear and explained what happened to him to his wife. However his wife Khadijah was very re-assuring and calmed him down.
Khadijah sought the opinion of her cousin, Waraqah who was a Christian. After explaining what happened Waraqah exclaimed that these were signs that he had been waiting for and that Muhammad was a Prophet of God, and a Messenger to his people.
Waraqah also warned Muhammad that his people will turn him away, call him a liar, attack him and mistreat him. This shocked Muhammad, who at that time had been given a lofty reputation from those same people. But Waraqah continued by stating that no Prophet of God had come without being regarded and treated as an enemy.
The First Conversions and Going Public
Further revelations came slowly at first. But soon enough Muhammad began sharing the message he had been given. Initially only those who were close to him converted to Islam, including Khadijah, Ali, Zayd from his family, as well as his close friend and companion Abu Bakr who was a wealthy merchant.
Soon after Muhammad received a revelation to make the message public. He therefore started to convey the message to members of his clan whom he was linked to with kinship ties. It must be remembered of course that Muhammad was still at this time widely respected and regarded as an incredibly honest individual.
However, as soon as he started to make the call to Islam public, as was predicted he was met with great disdain, especially from his uncle Abu Lahab. He turned away immediately and launched a scathing attack together with other chiefs. Abu Lahab went on to become one of the fiercest opponents to Muhammad and his message.
On the other hand, there were still those that were starting to accept Islam in secret, with fewer still openly accepting it. The initial message of the Quran was based around the oneness of God, prayer, the status of the Quran and life after death.
As the message went more and more public, and as more and more people started to convert to Islam, the more hostility rose against Muhammad and the followers of Islam. Accusations were made against Muhammad that he was a sorcerer and a madman that had been bewitched. Muhammad faced many insults, deep resistance and utter humiliation from people who not too long ago held him in high esteem.
Moving to Abyssinia
The attacks got so out of hand that the weaker Muslims were physically beaten and ridiculed. Things got so out of hand and ugly that some in fact were killed for holding the beliefs of Islam. As it was no longer safe for the Muslims to remain in Mecca, it was decided that some of them should move to Abyssinia and find refuge under the protection of the Negus who was King.
The Negus was a Christian man, who had a reputation of being fair and respectful to his people. When the Muslims went to ask for refuge, they were followed by some of the Meccans, who tried to persuade the Negus not to allow refuge for the Muslims. However, after listening to the Muslims who explained what Islam was, and what Islam taught about Jesus, the son of Mary, i.e. that he was a Prophet of God also; the Negus decided to allow them to stay.
Back in Mecca things were only getting worse. More and more opposition was growing, and the violence was increasing. However a breakthrough came when one of the fiercest opponents of Islam, Umar ibn al-Khattab, converted to Islam.
Further Sorrow and Dejection
However, this was followed by arguably the toughest period of Muhammad’s life. After 25 years of marriage, Muhammad’s most reliable supporter and biggest companion in life, Khadijah, died. A few months later, Muhammad’s biggest protector in Mecca, his uncle Abu Talib also died. Therefore within a very short period, Muhammad lost his two biggest supporting pillars.
Due to this and because of the growing oppression in Mecca, Muhammad decided to seek support and protection for him and his people elsewhere. He went to a town called Taif, where he spoke to the leaders. Not only did they refuse him, they openly mocked and ridiculed him. The disdain was such that Muhammad was chased out of the city by people jeering him and children throwing stones at him as he passed.
Utterly dejected, Muhammad sought refuge in an orchard. There he was alone, and there he turned to his Lord and made a prayer that even today unleashes raw emotion from Muslims who hear it. Muhammad expressed his utter helplessness and weakness, but nevertheless reached out to God for help.
The owner of the orchard was watching all this, and so he send his slave Addas, a young Christian, to go to Muhammad and give him some grapes. When Addas gave the grapes, Muhammad said “I begin in the name of God” before eating. This surprised Addas and after a brief conversation, Addas converted to Islam after hearing things from Muhammad that no man but a Prophet could know.
The Night Journey
When Muhammad returned to Mecca, he was to undergo one of the most profound and mystical experiences in his life: the night journey.
Muhammad fell asleep near the Kaba when the angel Gabriel came to him, woke him up and took him to a white animal called al-Buraq. Al-Buraq took Muhammad to Jerusalem where he met other Prophets of days gone by, including Abraham and Moses, and led a group prayer.
After the prayer, Muhammad was raised by the angel Gabriel beyond space and time, and ascended through the heavens. On this journey he met more Prophets, before he reached the utmost boundary of all the heavens. Here he received further revelations and the injuction of the five daily prayers.
Muhammad then returned to Jerusalem and from there to Mecca. Scholars have long debated whether this Night Journey was physical or spiritual in nature; whilst many believe it was both. Essentially, the experience came at a time when both Muhammad and his people were struggling and in need of inspiration.
Back in Mecca, the situation did not get any better, and therefore Muhammad was given permission to emigrate to Medina, which is where we will continue the account in a future post.
If you have any questions or comments thus far we would love to hear from you, so please do drop a comment.