Prophet Muhammad's Biography

Prophet Muhammad's Biography

 

Muhammad was born into a well-to-do family settled in the northern Arabian town of Mecca in the year 570. Muhammad's father, Abdullah, had died almost six months before he was born and the young boy was brought up by his paternal grandfather Abd al-Muttalib, of the Banu Hashim clan of the Quraish tribe. At the age of six, Muhammad lost his mother Amina and at the age of eight his grandfather Abd al-Muttalib, who had become his guardian, also died. Muhammad now came under the care of his uncle Abu Talib, the new leader of the Hashim clan of the Quraish tribe, the most powerful in Mecca.

Mecca LocationMecca was a thriving commercial center, due in great part to a stone temple called the Kaaba, that was originally built by Abraham and Ishmael wherin to worship the one God, which had become desecrated and where the pre-Islamic Arabs wrongfully housed many different cult figures (idols). Merchants from different tribes would visit Mecca during the pilgrimage season, when all inter-tribal warfare was forbidden and they could trade in safety. While still in his teens, Muhammad began accompanying his uncle on trading journeys to Syria. He thus became well-travelled and knowledgeable as to foreign ways.

Muhammad became a merchant. One of his employers was Khadijah, a forty-year-old widow. She was impressed with Muhammad's character and intelligence, and proposed to him in the year 595. Muhammad consented to the marriage, which by all accounts was a happy one. Ibn Ishaq records that Khadijah bore Muhammad five children: one son and four daughters. All of Khadija's children were born before Muhammad received his first revelation. His son Qasim died at the age of two. The four daughters are said to be Zainab, Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthum, and Fatima.

Muhammad was of a deeply religious nature, and had long detested the decadence of his society. It became his habit to meditate from time to time in the Cave of Hira near the summit of Jabal al-Nur, the 'Mountain of Light' near Makkah. At the age of 40, while engaged in a meditative retreat, Muhammad received his first revelation from God through the Angel Gabriel. These revelations, which continued for the next twenty-three years, until his death, are known as the Quran.

Muhammad’s wife Khadijah and her Christian cousin Waraqah ibn Nawfal were the first to believe Muhammad was a prophet. They were soon followed by his ten-year-old cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib, Abu Bakr, one of Muhammad's close friends, and Zaid bin Haarith, his adopted son.

Around 613, Muhammad began to spread his message amongst the people. Most of those who heard his message ignored it. A few mocked him. Others believed and joined him.

 

Rejection

As the ranks of Muhammad's followers swelled, he became a threat to the local tribes and the rulers of Mecca. Their wealth, after all, rested on the Kaaba, the focal point of Meccan religious life. If they threw out their idols, as Muhammad preached, there would be no more pilgrims, no more trade, and no more wealth. Muhammad’s denunciation of the Meccan traditional religion was especially offensive to his own tribe, the Quraysh, as they were the guardians of the Ka'aba. Muhammad and his followers were persecuted. Some of them fled to the Ethiopian Kingdom of Aksum and founded a small colony there under the protection of the Christian Ethiopian king (called Al-Negashi, or "The King").

Several suras and parts of suras are said to date from this time, and reflect its circumstances: see for example al-Masadd, al-Humaza, parts of Maryam and al-Anbiya, al-Kafirun, and Abasa.

In 619, both Muhammad's wife Khadijah and his uncle Abu Talib died; it was known as aamul hazn ("the year of sorrows.") Muhammad's own clan withdrew their protection of him. Muslims patiently endured persecution: ostracism, an economic embargo and consequent poverty and hunger, even beatings and death threats.

 

Isra and Miraj

Some time in 620, Muhammad told his followers that he had experienced the Isra and Miraj, a miraculous journey said to have been accomplished in one night along with Angel Gabriel. In the first part of the journey, the Isra, he is said to have travelled from Mecca to the furthest mosque. In the second part, the Miraj, Muhammad is said to have toured Heaven and Hell, and spoken with earlier prophets, such as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.

Muslims believe that the Jerusalem mosque on the Temple Mount known as the Masjid al-Aqsa or furthest mosque, is the site from which Muhammad ascended to Heaven.

 

Hijra

By 622, life in the small Muslim community of Mecca was becoming not only difficult, but dangerous. Muslim traditions say that there were several attempts to assassinate Muhammad. Muhammad then resolved to emigrate to Medina, then known as Yathrib, a large agricultural oasis where there were a number of Muslim converts. By breaking the link with his own tribe, Muhammad demonstrated that tribal and family loyalties were insignificant compared to the bonds of Islam, a revolutionary idea in the tribal society of Arabia. This Hijra or emigration marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar. The Muslim calendar counts dates from the Hijra, which is why Muslim dates have the suffix AH (After Hijra).

Muhammad came to Medina as a mediator, invited to resolve the feud between the Arab factions of Aws and Khazraj. He ultimately did so by absorbing both factions into his Muslim community, forbidding bloodshed among Muslims. However, Medina was also home to a number of Jewish tribes. Islamic tradition refers to the conversion to Islam of one of the leaders of the Jews named Ibn Salam. Muhammad had hoped that his conversion would be followed and that other Jews would also recognize him as a prophet, but they did not do so.

Some academic historians attribute the change of qibla, the Muslim direction of prayer, from the site of the former Temple in Jerusalem to the Kaaba in Mecca, which occurred during this period, to Muhammad's abandonment of hope of recruiting Jews as allies or followers. According to Muslims, the change of qibla was seen as a command from Allah both reflecting the independence of the Muslims as well as a test to discern those who truly followed the revelation and those who were simply opportunistic.

Muhammad and his followers are said to have negotiated an agreement with the other Medinans, a document now known as the Constitution of Medina, which laid out the terms on which the different factions, specifically the Jews and other "Peoples of the Book" could exist within the new Islamic State. This system would come to typify Muslim relations with their non-believing subjects.

 

War

Relations between Mecca and Medina rapidly worsened (see surat al-Baqara). Meccans confiscated all the property that the Muslims had left in Mecca. In Medina, Muhammad signed treaties of alliance and mutual help with neighboring tribes.

Muhammad turned to raiding caravans bound for Mecca. Caravan raiding (al-ghazw) was an old Arabian tradition; Muslims justified the raids by the Meccans' confiscation of the property they had left at Mecca and the state of war deemed to exist between the Meccans and the Muslims.

In March of 624, Muhammad led some 300 warriors in a raid on a Meccan merchant caravan. The Meccans successfully defended the caravan and then decided to teach the Medinans a lesson. They sent a small army against Medina. On March 15, 624 near a place called Badr, the Meccans and the Muslims clashed. Though outnumbered more than three times (1000 to 300) in the battle, the Muslims met with success, killing at least forty-five Meccans and taking seventy prisoners for ransom; only fourteen Muslims died. This marked the real beginning of Muslim military achievement.

 

Rule Consolidated

To his followers, the victory in Badr appeared as a divine authentication of Muhammad's prophethood. Following this victory, the victors expelled a local Jewish clan, the Banu Qainuqa, whom they believed to have broken a treaty by conspiring with the attacking Meccan forces. Muhammad and his followers were now a dominant force in the oasis.

After Khadija's death, Muhammad married again, to Aisha, the daughter of his friend Abu Bakr (who would later emerge as the first leader of the Muslims after Muhammad's death). In Medina, he married Hafsah, daughter of Umar (who would eventually become Abu Bakr's successor).

Muhammad's daughter Fatima married Ali, Muhammad's cousin. According to the Sunni, another daughter, Umm Kulthum, married Uthman. Each of these men, in later years, would emerge as successors to Muhammad and political leaders of the Muslims. Thus, all four of the first four caliphs were linked to Muhammad by marriage. Sunni Muslims regard these caliphs as the Rashidun, or Rightly Guided.

 

Continued Warfare

In 625 the Meccan general Abu Sufyan marched on Medina with 3,000 men. The ensuing Battle of Uhud took place on March 23, ending in a stalemate. The Meccans claimed victory, but they had lost too many men to pursue the Muslims into Medina.

In April 627 Abu Sufyan led another strong force against Medina. But Muhammad had dug a trench around Medina and successfully defended the city in the Battle of the Trench.

Many of the Muslims believed that Abu Sufyan had been aided by sympathizers among the Medinans, the Jewish tribe of the Banu Qurayza. They attacked and defeated the Banu Qurayza.

Following the Muslim's victory at the Battle of the Trench, the Muslims were able, through conversion and conquest, to extend their rule to many of the neighboring cities and tribes.

 

The Conquest of Mecca

By 628, the Muslim position was strong enough that Muhammad decided to return to Mecca, this time as a pilgrim. In March of that year, he set out for Mecca, followed by 1,600 men. After some negotiation, a treaty was signed at the border town of al-Hudaybiyah. While Muhammad would not be allowed to finish his pilgrimage that year, hostilities would cease and the Muslims would have permission to make a pilgrimage to Mecca in the following year.

The agreement lasted only two years, however. Tribal allies of the Muslims and the Meccans clashed. The Muslims regarded this as a breach of the treaty. In 630, Muhammad marched on Mecca with an enormous force, said to number more than 10,000 men. After some scattered skirmishes, in which only twenty-four Meccans were killed, the Muslims seized Mecca. Muhammad promised a general amnesty to all but a few of the Meccans. Most Meccans converted to Islam, and Muhammad destroyed the idols in the Kaaba. and returned the Kaaba to its rightful position as a symbol to the worship of the One God. Henceforth the pilgrimage would be a Muslim pilgrimage and the shrine a Muslim shrine.


Unification of Arabia

Ka'baThe capitulation of Mecca and the defeat of an alliance of enemy tribes at Hunayn effectively brought the greater part of the Arabian peninsula under Muhammad's authority. This authority was not enforced by a regular government, however, as he chose instead to rule through personal relationships and tribal treaties. The Muslims were clearly the dominant force in Arabia, and most of the remaining tribes and states hastened to convert to Islam.

 

Muhammad’s Death

One day upon returning from a visit to a cemetery Muhammad became very ill. He suffered for several days with head pain and weakness. Muhammad finally succumbed to his malady around noon on Monday June 8, 632, in the city of Medina, at the age of sixty-three.

 

Timeline of Muhammad

Important dates and locations in the life of Muhammad

c. 569
Death of his father, `Abd Allah

c. 570
Possible date of birth, April 20: Mecca

570
Unsuccessful Abyssinian attack on Mecca

576
Mother dies

578
Grandfather dies

c. 583
Takes trading journeys to Syria

c. 595
Meets and marries Khadijah

610
First reports of Qur'anic revelation: Mecca

c. 610
Appears as Prophet of Islam: Mecca

c. 613
Begins spreading message of Islam publicly: Mecca

c. 614
Begins to gather following: Mecca

c. 615
Emigration of Muslims to Abyssinia

616
Banu Hashim clan boycott begins

c. 618
Medinan Civil War: Medina

619
Banu Hashim clan boycott ends

c. 620
Isra and Miraj

622
Emigrates to Medina (Hijra)

624
Battle of Badr Muslims defeat Meccans

625
Battle of Uhud

c. 625
Expulsion of Banu Nadir tribe

626
Attack on Dumat al-Jandal: Syria

628
Battle of the Trench

627
Destruction of the Banu Qurayza tribe

c. 627
Bani Kalb subjugation: Dumat al-Jandal

628
Treaty of Hudaybiyya

c. 628
Gains access to Mecca shrine Kaaba

628
Conquest of the Khaybar oasis

629
First hajj pilgrimage

629
Attack on Byzantine empire fails: Mu'ta

630
Attacks and bloodlessly captures Mecca

c. 630
Battle of Hunayn

c. 630
Siege of al-Ta'if

630
Establishes theocracy: Mecca

c. 631
Subjugates most of the Arabian peninsula

c. 632
Attacks the Ghassanids: Tabuk

632
Farewell hajj pilgrimage

632
Dies (June 8): Medina

 

For more information on the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh):

Source One
Source Two
Source Three