In 6th century C.E. Arabia, the majority of people were pagans. They lived in tribes, each with its own leader. Some were agriculture and cattle farmers, others were merchants and traders, while others raided tribes for booty as a means of survival.
It was into this society, in 570 CE, that Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be upon him and his family) was born within the tribe of Quraysh, in the city of Mecca. When his parents died, his grandfather looked after him.
When his grandfather died, his uncle, Abu Talib cared for him. While growing up, Prophet Mohammad became known as “Muhammad the truthful, the trustworthy” (assadiq, al-amin).
Early into his adulthood, Muhammad worked for a successful widow, Khadijah, who was so impressed with his honesty that she asked him to marry her. The Prophet was twenty-five, and they remained in a monogamous marriage until Khadijah’s death twenty-five years later.
Often, Prophet Muhammad would take a respite from the bustle of Makkah by traveling to a cave for periods of reflection. During one such time, when Muhammad was forty years old, he heard the voice of an angel named Jibrail giving him a command:
“Recite in the Name of your Lord who creates, creates man from a clot. Recite! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful, who taught the use of the pen, taught humankind that which they knew not” (96: 1-5)
Prophet Muhammad repeated the words until he had memorized them. The Prophet rushed home and told his experience to his wife, Khadijah, who comforted and reassured him. Khadijah and the Prophet’s young cousin, Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (A) were the first people to understand and accept that Allah had chosen “the truthful, the trustworthy” to deliver Allah’s final guidance. Prophet Muhammad continued to receive revelations for over twenty years.
As time passed, it became clear to the ever increasing number of people that Prophet Muhammad was indeed the Messenger of Allah. The least receptive people were the powerful Makkans who trafficked in idols and slaves. They benefited mostly from idol worshiping and pilgrim trade. The Makkans treated Prophet Muhammad with derision. Despite this, Prophet Muhammad continued to deliver the revelations of Allah’s mercy and justice, which were welcomed by the poor and oppressed.
The Makkans were becoming more and more intolerant of Prophet Muhammad and felt threatened by the messages he was advocating, such as the oneness of Allah. With the increasing number of converts to Islam within the region, Prophet Muhammad was becoming a serious threat. In an attempt to dissuade the expansion of Islam, Quraysh exiled the Prophet, his family, and followers from Makkah. Quraysh then sanctioned an economic blockade on trade and association with the Muslims.
For three years, the Muslims were sheltered in the valley of Abu Talib, near Makkah. In conditions of hardship and hunger, the Muslims often faced the ration of one date a day; and at times, two shared the date. Yet, because of the Muslim’s tenacious faith, the siege ended unsuccessfully.
Shortly after the siege ended, the Prophet was once again faced with tribulation. The two most
influential and dearest people to the Prophet died; his uncle, Abu Talib and his beloved wife, Khadijah.
Overwhelmed by grief, the Prophet declared that year as “a year of sadness.” No longer being protected and supported by his uncle, the Prophet, became more vulnerable to the escalating pressure by Quraysh.
Leaders from the distant town of Yathrib secretly invited the Prophet and his followers to settle in their hometown and preach the word of Islam. Before migrating to Medina in 622 CE, the Prophet narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Makkah. The migration from Makkah to Madina became known as the Hijrah, which is also the starting point of the Muslim calendar.
Prophet Muhammad was received with excitement and jubilation in Madina, where he became head of what was to become the first Islamic state. Throughout the first ten years in Madina, Muslims witnessed several occasions that were to become milestones in the history of Islam. The primary task was building the mosque in Madina. The Prophet himself participated in building the mosque of which also housed the Prophet’s home.
Companions of the Prophet built their homes in close proximately to the mosque to be near the Prophet. It was necessary that the Prophet create a center where its members could assemble. The mosque was not only a place of worship, but also a center of social, political, and educational services.
The unity of brotherhood was introduced. There were two major tribes in Madina: Muhajreen and Ansar. The Ansar were divided into two groups: Aws and Khazraj; they fought for 120 years. Under a common purpose [Islam], the Prophet appeased the animosity that existed among the tribes by forming them as brethren of one another. “Now you should become brothers in faith, by pairs,” the Prophet said to his followers. By this method, the Prophet insured the political and spiritual nature of his nation. Today, the unity of brotherhood continues to remain a tremendous act of equality among Muslims. Islam is the foundation on which all races, nationalities, cultures, socioeconomic levels, and genders can be united by religious kinship.
The Prophet made the institution of matrimony easier. The gift in marriage (dower) was made moderate, and inter-marriages with other tribes became more accessible. Socioeconomic or ancestral descent was no longer a major factor in marriage. The establishment of marriage became a form of uniting, securing, and promoting Islam within various tribes and nations. Marriage not only symbolized the religious union of a man and a woman, but also, indirectly influenced and affected social and political ties. The Prophet said, “He who wishes to appear before Allah with a pure soul, should marry.”
The Prophet set the example of marriage with his own daughter, Sayyida Fatima az-Zahra(A). Although many companions had proposed marriage to Sayyida Fatima, they were aware that the marriage of Fatima was not going to be based on affluence, rank, or descent. The men knew that the person that resembled the Prophet in matters of truthfulness, spiritual merit, and moral excellence would be none other than Imam Ali. However, the Prophet (by direction of Allah) told the suitors that the marriage of Fatima would only occur by divine order.
When Imam Ali approached the Prophet to seek his blessings to marry his daughter, he was overcome with shyness. The Prophet encouraged him to speak. Ali proposed, but the Prophet did not answer him immediately. The Prophet then consulted Fatima, and she accepted. The marriage of Ali and Fatima was then solemnized with a symbolic marriage dower.
From the migration to Madina, the Prophet faced continual threats from Quraysh and the polytheists of Makkah, and the non-Muslims in Madina. Peace and security were paramount, yet attempts to keep peace within the region by the Prophet were futile. The opposition in Makkah mobilized its troops to demolish the newly established state in Madina.
Standing firm in the face of military aggression, the Prophet was compelled to defend Islam in what was called the “Battle of Badr.” The battle erupted only two years into the hijrah (migration), and although the Prophet’s army was far outnumbered, they triumphed. A story about the battle in the Quran reveals that Allah had sent an army of angels to assist the Muslims against the Makkans.
The Muslims’ success in the battle gave immense prestige to the infant Islamic community in Madina and dealt a major blow to the pride of the Makkans. The following year, the Makkans wanted to avenge their defeat. On a hill called Uhud, west of Madina, the second major battle was fought in what has become known as the “Battle of Uhud.” In the beginning of the battle, the Muslims showed signs of victory; however, the insubordination of some Muslim men caused the final setback in the battle in which many Muslims were injured and lost their lives. The Prophet himself was injured, and he lost his uncle, Hamza ibn Abd al-Muttalib. Although the Battle of Uhud was a set back for the Muslim community, they were able to remain in Madina. Yet, many other victorious battles of defense consolidated the Muslims; hence, Islam became an ever increasing spiritual and political force in Arabia which also paved the way to the conquest of Makkah.
In the ninth year of Hijrah (630CE), Prophet Muhammad and his followers entered Makkah after a peaceful surrender by the Makkans. The Prophet went directly to the Ka’bah. The Prophet began to perform the circumambulation (tawaf) around the Ka’bah and turned toward the three main idols that had been stationed above the entrance of the Ka’bah.
The Prophet Muhammad destroyed them while reciting, “And say, truth has arrived and falsehood has perished, for falsehood is bound to perish.” Subsequentially, hundreds of idols were destroyed inside and around the Ka’bah. The destruction of the idols symbolized the arrival and the proclamation of truth and the end to falsehood. Islam was now home. The Prophet then granted general amnesty to all the Makkans who had fought against him for twenty-two years. The Prophet addressed them with these words:
You have been my very and reasonable countrymen. You refuted my prophethood and turned me out of my home, and when I took refuge in a far-off place, you rose to fit against me. You killed my uncle and my best companions. However, in spite of all these crimes of yours, I forgive all of you and make you free, and declare that you may go after the pursuits of your life.
During the tenth year of hijrah, the Prophet performed the “Farewell Hajj.”40 On the day of Arafat, over 100,000 pilgrims were present when the Prophet commenced his sermon by saying:
“O People! Hear my words, for it possible that I may not meet you at this place in the future. O People! Your blood and property (honor and reputation) are forbidden toward one another till the day you meet Allah.
O People! Your women have rights upon you and you also have rights upon them. You should treat them with kindness and love, and you should provide them with a comfortable means in life.”
Quraysh: A major tribe in Mecca, of which the clan of Hashim was a part and to which Prophet Muhammad belonged.
Prophet’s Parents: Abdullah Ibn Abd al-Muttalib & Amina, daughter of Wahab.
Paternal Grandfather: Abd al-Muttalib Ibn Hashim.
Abu Talib: Paternal uncle of the Prophet, father of Imam Ali, one of the chiefs of Mecca and nobleman of Quraysh. He was famous for his generosity, bravery, and dedication in protecting his nephew, Prophet Muhammad. He had accepted Islam and supported the Prophet until the end of his life.
Khadijah: The first and most revered wife of the Prophet. She was the first female to embrace Islam. Khadijah bore the Prophet six children; two sons, Qasim and Abdullah; four daughters: Ruqawyah, Zaineb, Um-Kalthum, and Fatima. The male children died before the ordination of his prophethood. The daughters survived beyond the advent of their father’s prophethood. Khadijah was known for her noble traits and sincere dedication to the Prophet.
Prophet Muhammad once described Khadijah in the following statement: “I have not acquired a better wife after her, she believed in my prophethood at a time when people rejected it. She placed her wealth at my disposal when people deprived me of attaining it, and Allah gave me, only through her, children, and not from any other woman.”
Angel Jibrail is one of the four Archangels and is considered one of the greatest of all angels since he was the channel through which the Divine books and the Scriptures were revealed from God to the Prophets. The other three angels: Izrail, the angel of death; Israfil, the angel assigned to sound the trumpet on the Day of Resurrection; Mikail, who watches over places of worship.
The Blockade: An economic treaty was initiated by the grand counsel of Quraysh which entailed an endorsement and a pledge, until their deaths, by the community not to end the economic ban on the Muslims with the following criteria:
1. Every type of trade or business with the supporters of Muhammad shall be banned.
2. Association with Muhammad and his followers is strictly prohibited.
3. Not one person is entitled to establish matrimonial ties with Muslims.
4. Opponents of Muhammad should be supported in all circumstances.
Yathrib was a town approximately 350 miles north of Makkah. Yathrib was later renamed Madina, meaning the city of the Prophet.
The Islamic calendar began at the migration of the Prophet from Makkah to Madina, and it is based on the lunar cycles. Two important incidents occurred before the migration to Madina: the birth of the Prophet, during the Year of the Elephant 570CE, which symbolizes the year that King Abraha came to destroy the Ka’bah with a herd of elephants (See Quran c.105) and the ordination of Muhammad to prophethood. Islam, in its first thirteen years in Makkah, was constantly suppressed and its followers were tormented. The migration (hijrah) marked the turning point in liberating Islam and its followers. In addition, Madina provided a safe haven and an opportunity to establish the birth of the Islamic state. Quranic verses regarding rules of social, economic, political, and formal rituals were mostly introduced in Madina. Muslims consider the migration to Madina as an Islamic victory for freedom of religion.
Jubilation: The Prophet proceeded to Madina. When his camel descended at Thaniyatul Al-Wida and set its foot on the land of Yathrib, the people warmly welcomed and greeted the Prophet with jubilation. The mood surrounding this event is marked by a well-known lyric:
The moon rose from “Thaniyatul Al-Wida.” It is our
duty to be thankful for this blessing, till the day when
even one person on the face of the earth prays to
Allah and worships Him.
Muhajreen (Muslim immigrants from Makkah) and Ansar (the Helpers who received the Prophet in Madina) were the two major groups of Muslims in Madina.
Aws and Khazraj were major tribes within Ansar that lived and supported the Prophet in Madina.
The Ka’bah was first built by Prophet Adam. Later, Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael rebuilt the Ka’ba’s foundation. The Ka’bah is the center and direction of Muslim prayers.
The Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) Last Sermon
This sermon was delivered on the Ninth Day of Dhul Hijjah 10 A.H. in the ‘Uranah valley of Mount Arafat’ (in Mecca).
After praising, and thanking Allah he said:
“O People, lend me an attentive ear, for I know not whether after this year, I shall ever be amongst you again. Therefore listen to what I am saying to you very carefully and take these words to those who couldn’t be present here today.
O People, just as you regard this month, this day, 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. Your capital, however, is yours to keep. You will neither inflict nor suffer any inequity. Allah has Judged that there shall be no interest and that all the interest due to Abbas ibn ‘Abd’al Muttalib (Prophet’s uncle) shall henceforth be waived…
Beware of Satan, for the 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 rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah’s trust and with His permission. 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 be unchaste.
O People, listen to me in earnest, worship Allah, say your five daily prayers (Salat, fast during the month of Ramadan, and give your wealth in Zakat. Perform Hajj if you can afford to.
All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.
Remember, one day you will appear before ALLAH and answer your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.
O People, no Prophet or apostle will come after me, no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O People, and understand words which I convey to you. I leave behind me two things, the Quran and my tradition and my family, 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”.
PBS Documentary: Mohammad: Legacy of a Prophet
Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, by Karen Armstrong
Mohammad the Messenger of Islam, by Imam Mostafa Qazwini