The purpose of this paper is to give a synopsis of the life history and work of Muhammad, son of Abdullah, the prophet of Islam. It will also seek to address the persecutions he underwent at the hands of his own clan. Muhammad was and remains one of the most influential people the world has ever seen. He was a mortal, illiterate man who has changed world history and left an indelible mark on the history books. He was the last of the prophets and one of the few with scriptures. The scripture (Qur’an) is one of the most read and revered books on the face of the earth. His work has over one billion followers worldwide comprising people from all races, social status, sex and age. He acknowledged every prophet before him and discriminated against none (Qur’an 2:285). He was a human rights champion. In this paper Quraysh and/or Mecca will mostly refer to unbelievers in Islamic monotheism at the time of Muhammad.
MUHAMMAD: – BIRTH and CHILDHOOD
Muhammad the son of Abdullah and the grandson of Abdul Muttalib (leader of the Quraysh tribe and custodian of al-Ka’aba) is the prophet of the Islamic religion. Muhammad was born in Mecca in the year 570 c.e. which is also known as the Year of the Elephant. This is the year that Abrahah, the king of Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia) sent a powerful force to destroy al-Ka’aba because he viewed al-Ka’aba as a rival since it was attracting more pilgrims than his newly constructed temple in Yemen. According to history, on approaching Mecca the lead elephant of Abrahah’s convoy refused to enter the city. Then birds filled the skies stoning the army with pebbles so much so that they had to retreat in defeat. Muhammad was a descendant of Abraham through his son Ishmael. His father Abdullah died few months before Muhammad’s birth.
His mother Aminah sent him the countryside to be nursed and nurtured as was the custom in Arabia. It’s believed that the children learn the qualities of self-discipline, nobility, and freedom better in the countryside than in the urban areas. It also gave them the opportunities to be speakers of eloquent Arabic spoken by the Bedouin. Aminah did not have much money to pay for the care so most of the caregivers would not take Muhammad until she met Halimah a poor Bedouin woman who became Muhammad’s nurse.
One day while playing with his child peers, two angels appeared to him in human form, laid him down, opened his chest and purified his heart. For fear of what might have happened next, Halimah and her husband Harith returned Muhammad to his mother. (Britannica) Aminah died when Muhammad was only six years old. His grandfather (Abdul Muttalib) took custody of him, then two years later Abdul Muttalib fell sick and suspected he may not survive the illness, so he asked his son Abu Talib to take charge of Muhammad. Abdul Muttalib had many sons some of whom were richer than Abu Talib but he was the kindest and most respectable among his brothers. Abu Talib treated him very well and respectfully.
ADOLESCENT to MARRIAGE
At a young age he joined Abu Talib’s caravan to Syria. On this Syrian trip a Christian monk (Bahira) saw the signs of prophethood on him, invited him and his uncle to dine with him. He saw the prophet seal on his back and told Abu Talib to protect him from the Jews and Christians because might kill him if they realize his was the foretold prophet to come after Jesus (Qur’an 61:6) And [mention] when Jesus, the son of Mary, said, “O children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of Allah to you confirming what came before me of the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Ahmad.” But when he came to them with clear evidences, they said, “This is obvious magic.” Muhammad was said to be a young man of unusual physical beauty and generosity of character.
He was revered in Mecca due to his sense of fairness and justice that people often went to him for arbitration, hence the title al-Amin (the Trusted One). His uncle Abu Talib recommended him to Khadija to work on her caravan. He did so well that Khadija retained his service and made him the head of her caravan and proposed marriage to him through her friend. They got married when Muhammad was twenty five years old and Khadija who was forty years old. During marriage they had two sons and four daughters.
The two sons both died young and only Fatimah among the daughters grew up to have children of her own. At age thirty five, Muhammad took his cousin Ali who was five at the time into his household and raised him. He later gave his daughter Fatima to Ali in marriage and it was through this matrimony that his progeny came. (Britannica) All these time although an illiterate, he was not satisfied with the spiritual lives of the Meccans. He started retreating to the mountains for meditation. He has seen, heard, and dreamed of miraculous things and beings. He maintained in his mind that there must be a supernatural being somewhere who is responsible for all these creatures. (CARM)
CALL to PROPHETHOOD
Muhammad continued his daily retreat in the cave on the mountain. One day, generally believed to be the night of power (Laila tul Qadr) in Ramadan at age forty in the year 610 c.e. while in the cave on mount Hira, the archangel Gabriel appeared to him in human form and asked him to recite. Muhammad told the angel that he did not know how to read but Gabriel insisted he recite the name of thy Lord (Qur’an 96:1-5) “Read! In the name of your Lord (Cherisher and Sustainer), He who created — created man, out of a leech-like clot: Read! And your Lord is Most Bountiful. He who taught (the use of) the Pen, taught man that which he knew not.” The appearance of Gabriel to Muhammad confirmed his call to prophethood which also marked the beginning of Islam, and added another important chapter to Arab and world history.
Among the first converts to Islam were his beloved wife Khadija, Ali his cousin and later son-in-law, and his friend Abu Bakr. The words that Gabriel taught him became the first verses (Ayat) of the scriptures (Koran) which later developed to one hundred and fourteen chapters arranged from the longest to the shortest except the opening chapter (al-Fatiha) which is short. The Qur’an was revealed in a period of twenty three years (610-632 c.e), the first thirteen years in Mecca and last ten in Medina.
Although not arranged in chronological order, the shorter chapters are the early revelations. The Qur’an is one of the most revered and read books on earth today. It is the most sacred book for the Muslims; they believe it is God’s own words (the original copy in heaven) and that Muhammad is the last of the prophets hence the other title the “Seal.” In this case Muhammad and the Qur’an are both completely beyond criticism (reprimand) in the Islamic world. The Muslims will go any length to defend both regardless of the consequences. (Britannica)
EARLY DAYS of ISLAM and PERSECUTIONS
For the first three years Islam had about forty followers (Muslims). Muhammad and the Muslims faced a lot of persecutions at the hands of Mecca pagans, who viewed the new faith as a threat to their polytheistic lives, and the religions of their forefathers. He was still preaching in private even after three years. He preached a lot about kindness to the poor and the weak (women and children), equality of races, equality of men and women before God. Muslims started gaining ground slowly but surely. Since Mecca frequently had visitors, the elders feared that the new faith might quickly spread if strangers started accepting it, so they had to hatch a plan to stop the spread. They continue to defend their religion but offered little new to the challenge Islam brought to them. Abu Lahab (Muhammad’s uncle) and Abu Sufyan gathered eloquent poets from the tribes and started a propaganda war.
The poets coined choice phrases and recited well-crafted verses to ridicule Muhammad and call into doubt the veracity of his beliefs. Muslim converts with poetic skill began to construct rebuttals and soon there were dueling poets all over the city. People began approaching the once highly respected Muhammad in the streets shoving and asking him to perform miracles (predict market prices, turn mountains into gold, make angels appear, and etc.) like the earlier prophets did. Many Qur’an verses came down to him to answer the many challenges he faced and those that question the authenticity of the Qur’an. Muhammad frequently reminded them that he was just a mortal man and the Qur’an was his miracle. Another thing that puzzled the opponents was that Muhammad was not a poet, and his sudden eloquence and verbosity was inexplicable. The Meccans admitted to the fact that Qur’anic verses were nice to listen to and its contents were impassioned and appealing.
Some clan elders began sitting outside Muhammad’s window at night to hear him reciting his beautiful verses. They enjoyed the verses and knew that those verses could not have come from even the best poet let alone an illiterate man. This continued until they shamed each other into stopping because that will mean they are encouraging Muhammad and admitting that he was on the right path. (Emerick Yahiya) He continued (Qur’an 7:194-198) speaking against asking idols for help even though the idols could not see, hear, speak, or protect themselves. These Qur’anic verses made idol worship look foolish. These assertions did not settle well with the Quraysh, so they approached Abu Talib (head of the Banu Hasim) and asked him to stop Muhammad or relinquish his protection of him so they could take care of him because he attacks their religion which was Abu Talib’s too. Abu Talib knew that to take care of him meant they wanted kill Muhammad.
Remembering the promise he made to his father to protect Muhammad he politely told the clan elders that he would continue to extend his clan’s protection to Muhammad. Muhammad was preaching that slaves were equal to their masters at a time when slavery was at its height in Arabia. This alarmed the Quraysh leaders which prompted them to reason with Abu Talib for the second time, they took along an able-bodied young man (Umarah) to be Abu Talib’s adopted son in exchange for Muhammad. Abu Talib strongly rejected the offer. Meanwhile Muhammad continued his preaching and people continue converting to Islam. (Emerick Yahiya) The Quraysh elders tried a third time to reason with Abu Talib only this with an ultimatum and that was “Stop Muhammad or we will fight him and you.”
Abu Talib did not want to cause trouble for his clan, called Muhammad to a private meeting and said to him “Save me and save yourself.” Muhammad politely responded his uncle by saying “Uncle by Allah, if they put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left and ordered me to give up this cause, I would never do it until either Allah has vindicated me or I perish in the attempt.” When the response was conveyed to the clan leaders, they ordered redoubling of efforts to persecute Muslims. Abu Talib assured him of his unflinching support no matter what he preached and called the Banu Hashim and Banu Abdul Muttalib clans to swear to an oath to protect Muhammad.
The Quraysh then sent Utbah, a conciliatory Arab leader to Muhammad asking him to stop preaching his religion or at least make accommodation for idol worshipping, then the Meccans would compensate him whatever he wished. Muhammad recited Chapter 32 of the Qur’an, which outlines the truth of monotheism, Allah’s purpose for creation, and the way He chooses prophets to convey His message of salvation. Utbah was convinced that Muhammad was not crazy and that he should be left alone. Persecution of Muslims then increased to an alarming rate. Muslims were tortured, starved, left to die in hot desert sands, and even murdered.
MIGRATION to MEDINA (HIJRA)
Due to the persistent persecutions from the people of Mecca, Muhammad accepted the invitation from Yathrib (modern day Medina) to be the head of the city and arbitrator for the warring factions. He could also have freedom to practice and preach about his faith. He migrated to in the year 622 c.e. with his family and some followers. When he was leaving his house Muhammad recited (Qur’an 36:9) “We have covered them so they cannot see,” he slipped out passing unnoticed by the men assigned to kill him. He left his cousin Ali to sleep in his house. Upon arrival at Yathrib, he and his companions were welcomed with loud cry of delight; a chorus of girls sang a welcome song for them. From that day Yathrib was renamed Medina (city of the prophet). The migration is known as Hijra which also marked the beginning of the Islamic calendar. (CARM) Islam started growing rapidly as a dominant political force in Medina and Muhammad assumed the role of a de facto head of state.
Both men and women (including but not limited to Safiya bint Abdul Muttalib, Asma bint Abu Bakr, and Fatima bint Muhammad) played important roles as activists and teachers to make a homeland for Islamic monotheism a reality. Many women began to vigorously support the new movement, for Islam presented a great leap forward in both women’s rights and status. Islam was now going through radical changes. The changes included opposition to idolatry, improving personal morality, establishing personal relationship with God, and regulations for public and social life. The Qur’an laid new rules for the conduct of business and commerce, the compulsory 2.5% welfare tax (Zakat) from annual savings to be given for the benefit of the poor and needy. Fasting (abstinence from worldly pleasure during daylight) in the month of Ramadan was established.
The five daily prayers were now held in congregation in the mosque. (Mission Islam) With the arrival of Sawdah and marriage to Aisha, Muhammad started to establish a stable household in Medina. Sawdah was a widow of ********* and one of the early converts to Islam. She got married to Muhammad after the demise of Khadija. She was said to be a very kind and humorous woman. Aisha may have been twelve years or so at the time. She lived in her own apartment by the mosque and spent her leisure entertaining visitors and walking the streets of Medina. Aisha was a quick learner and soon became a sought-after teacher on Islamic issues as the years progressed. Sawdah also had her own apartment and did not encroach upon Aisha’s domain. She took the inexperienced Aisha under her wing and guided her in her role as a wife. (Inter-Islam)
WARS against DISBELIEVERS
Muhammad and his followers fought many wars against Islam’s foes from Mecca, Jews and the tribes. The first of the great wars was the “Battle of Badr.” The Muslims were outnumbered by Meccans almost three to one. The Meccan army was headed by Abu Jahl a staunch enemy of Islam and the person of Muhammad. The Meccans lost their camp and its wealth and supplies, and about fifty men including Abu Jahl and many other leaders who died in the war. The Muslims took about seventy Meccans prisoner. The Muslims had fourteen casualties. Muhammad announced that Allah’s help allowed them to win (Qur’an 8:9 and 8:17). While the Muslims continued to celebrate their win in Medina, the Meccans were humiliated by the Battle of Badr at home and wanted to revenge. This will mean a change of events for the Muslims (Qur’an 3:140) “If a wound hath touched you, be sure a similar wound hath touched the others. Such days (of varying fortunes) We give to men and men by turns: that Allah may know those that believe, and that He may take to Himself from your ranks Martyr-witnesses (to Truth).
And Allah loveth not those that do wrong”. This leads to the Battle of Uhud. The Meccans used the proceeds from Abu Sufyan’s great caravan to procure weapons for next campaign against Muslims. They had three thousand well-armed fighters divided into three massive columns. The women’s group was led by Hind, Abu Sufyan’s wife who vowed not to mourn the deaths of her father, brother and uncles, and also promised not to sleep with her husband until she had her vengeance against the Muslims. Abu Sufyan trying to convince his wife of his own bravery also promised not to bathe until he defeated Muhammad. Many women decided to come along to encourage their husbands and fathers and watch the battle. Hind, Abu Sufyan’s wife stated “We will indeed accompany the army and no one can stand in our way or force us back into our homes, if the women were present at the Day of Badr soldiers running away would not have happened.”
At the head of each Meccan regiment were men who wanted to see Muhammad dead. Among them were Khalid ibn al-Walid famous Meccan cavalry general who wanted glory and accolades. Abu Sufyan and his brother-in-law Ikhrimah, the son of Abu Jahl were seeking blood to fight for glory. The women made it clear that if their men struck down the enemy they would be embraced and w0uld spread rugs for them. If you turn your backs we will avoid you and we will never come back to sleep with you. (pbs.org) The Prophet instructed fifty archers to protect the Muslims backs and not to move from their posts until they saw the Muslims entering the enemy camp, if the Muslims were being beaten they should still stay at their posts and avoid trying to help so that the enemy could not come behind them.
However, the archers left their posts allowing the enemy the chance to get behind them which caused the Muslims to be overwhelmed by the much larger enemy (Qur’an 8:27-28) “O you who have believed, do not betray Allah and the Messenger or betray your trusts while you know [the consequence]. But when he came to it, he was called, “Blessed is whoever is at the fire and whoever is around it. And exalted is Allah, Lord of the worlds.” The Prophet himself got struck by a thrown rock that knocked one of his teeth off and he fell to the ground. He was quickly surrounded by Muslims to protect him from the charging Meccans. The Prophet tried to get up but fell into a pit, Ali and another man lifted him out of the pit. The Muslims suffered about seventy casualties and many others were severely wounded, and the Meccans lost hundreds. However, the Muslims admitted defeat because of high number of casualties and wounded including the prophet with regard to the size of their army.
The Meccan women led by Hind enraged by their near defeat began to mutilate and deface the fallen Muslims. They cut off noses and ears and made them ornaments or necklaces moving over dead bodies like ghouls. Hind found Hamza’s dead body, ripped open his chest and chewed on his liver, fulfilling her vow. Hamza was Muhammad’s uncle and the one who killed Abu Jahl, the father of Hind. Hamza was killed by a slave whom Hind promised to set free if he killed Hamza. (Emerick Yahiya) After the battle of Uhud the Muslims position in Medina was precarious and the hypocrites capitalized on this situation to strengthen their position. Most of the tribes were now emboldened since they realize that the Muslims were not invincible. Many times, Muslims who were sent on missions got massacred and this brought about a lot of sadness among surviving compatriots. Muhammad explained the change in their fortunes as God’s way of testing their resolve and sincerity. (Qur’an 2:155-156).
The Jews who had signed treaties with the Prophet broke the terms of the treaties and they were exiled from Medina. The Jews incited other tribes and Mecca to go to war with Muslims to wipe out Islam. The tribes and Meccans made up an army of about ten thousand fighters to attack the Muslims. The Prophet and other Muslims dug a trench at the south entrance of the city to protect Medina from the menacingly large army attack, since the other side was Mount Uhud and the back was the Jewish fortresses.
The army arrived but could not enter the city of Medina so they laid siege for three weeks. This was called the siege of Medina or Battle of the Trench. This was a difficult time for Muslims because their food supply was running out and their Jewish neighbors (Banu Qurayza) had cut the food supply. However, after about three weeks in the cold desert nights the army started feeling weary. One night a raging winter storm befell the army, and the weather was so harsh that they decided to leave. (Emerick Yahiya)
CONQUEST of MECCA and PASSING of the PROPHET
Despite all the troubles Muslims faced, Islam was steadily growing. In the year 628 c.e the Muslims and the Quraysh signed the treaty of Hudaybiyah, and the Muslims defeated the Jews at the battle of Khaybar. In the year 629 Muhammad led a lesser pilgrimage to Mecca and Khalid ibn Walid converted to Islam. In the year 630 c.e the prophet marched unto Mecca with over ten thousand followers. They faced very little resistance from the Meccans. The prophet and the Muslims destroyed and removed all the idols that filled al Ka’aba and established prayers in the place. Abu Sufyan the last strongest Quraysh leader converted to Islam. (Emerick Yahiya) In the year 632 c.e the prophet went to Mecca with over one hundred thousand followers to perform farewell pilgrimage (hajj). This was to be his last hajj and this was where gave the farewell sermon (address), which reads “O People, lend me an attentive ear, for I don’t know whether, after this year, I shall ever be amongst you again.
Therefore listen to what I am saying to you carefully and TAKE THIS WORDS TO THOSE WHO COULD NOT BE PRESENT HERE TODAY. O People, just as you regard this month, this day, and this city as Sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. Remember that you will indeed meet your LORD, and that HE will indeed reckon your deeds. ALLAH has forbidden you to take usury (Interest), therefore all interest obligation shall henceforth be waived… Beware of Satan, for your safety of your religion. He has lost all hope that he will ever be able to lead you astray in big things, so beware of following him in small things. O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have right over you. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness.
Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with any one of whom you do not approve, as well as never to commit adultery. O People, listen to me in earnest, worship ALLAH, say your five daily prayers (Salah), fast during the month of Ramadan, and give your wealth in Zakat. Perform Hajj if you can afford to. You know that every Muslim is the brother of another Muslim. YOU ARE ALL EQUAL. NOBODY HAS SUPERIORITY OVER OTHER EXCEPT BY PIETY AND GOOD ACTION. Remember, one day you will appear before ALLAH and answer for your deeds. So beware, do not astray from the path of righteousness after I am gone. O People, NO PROPHET OR APOSTLE WILL COME AFTER ME AND NO NEW FAITH WILL BE BORN.
Reason well, therefore, O People, and understand my words which I convey to you. I leave behind me two things, the QUR’AN and my example, the SUNNAH and if you follow these you will never go astray. All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. BE MY WITNESS O ALLAH THAT I HAVE CONVEYED YOUR MESSAGE TO YOUR PEOPLE.” After the prophet concluded his final sermons the following qur’anic (ayat) verse was revealed to him (Quran 5:3) “This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My Grace upon you, and have chosen Islam for you as your religion.” Muhammad died in the year 632 c.e. after a short illness two years after he conquered Mecca and destroyed the idols in al-Ka’aba. He was buried at Medina in the Mosque (Masjid Nabawi).
“There is no forcing anyone into this way of life. Truth stands clear in the from error” (Qur’an 2:256)
Gelvin James L, (2011) The Modern Middle East- A History, Oxford University Press, New York Emerick Yahiya, (2002) The Life and Work of Muhammad, Alpha Books, Indianapolis Britannica Online Encyclopaedia- Muhammad (The Prophet of Islam). Retrieved on September 23, 2012 www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/396226/Muhammad PBS-islam: Empire of Faith-Profiles-Muhammad. Retrieved on September 25, 2012 www.pbs.org/empires/islam/profilesMuhammad.html Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM). Retrieved on September 30, 2012 http://www.carm.org/muhammad Inter-Islam Home. Retrieved on October 12, 2012 www.inter-islam.org/Biographies Mission Islam. Retrieved on October 15, 2012 www.missionislam.com/knowledge/zakat.htm
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Topic: Development of Modern Middle East
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