(Mecca 570 or 571 AD- Madina 632) The founder of Islam; the receiver and transmitter of what Muslims believe is God's message to humankind, as recorded in the Koran, the principal religious text for Muslims.
The Maqsurah covering the grave of Muhammad, Madina, Saudi Arabia.
Muhammad praying at the Ka'ba. Ottoman miniature, possibly 16th century.
Twelver Shi'i artistic representation of Muhammad.
Muhammad has no religious importance in Christianity and Judaism, and is considered not to be a prophet by adherents of these two religions, while Muhammad is considered a prophet or central divine figure in later religions, mainly those partly or fully derived from Islam: Baha'i and Alevism.
There exists an idea among most Muslim communities of a prohibition against representing Muhammad, see Muslim iconoclasm.
A majority of modern Muslims consider Muhammad as an infallible human being, as the absolute ideal of anyone. Any form of criticism of Muhammad is by most Muslims considered as criticism of Islam and God. The old term "Mohammedanism" has been abandoned from the claim that Muhammad is not revered in Islam; modern Islam, however, reveres Muhammad to an extent that the old term is not incorrect.
The sources available to us on Muhammad are all by Muslim authors and written in Arabic. They are principally in the form of the hadiths, the traditions, which are systematical efforts of choosing between reliable and not so reliable stories of Muhammad's life.
Bits and pieces of Muhammad's life is also recorded in the Koran. Little is known from other sources. The hadith collections are a product of efforts from the scholars working from about 100 years after Muhammad's death. But the material they work with, the unsystematic stories called siras, was part of a very accurate and living oral tradition among the Arabs.
The compilations where built on historical criticism not very unlike what is the method in modern historical criticism. The oldest compilation of siras (not hadiths) is the one of Ibn Ishaq (d. Baghdad 768).
The material is extensive, and the presentation of Muhammad in the early texts is straightforward: Different versions of stories are presented, and Muhammad himself is presented as a human being with both good and bad sides (the latter have been used by opponents of Islam to present Muhammad as a false prophet, but this is a misunderstanding as Islam clearly desist from presenting him as anything but a normal human being).
Except from certain passages, the material bears few traces of being legendary (which would equal false), and was first told by people who knew Muhammad as a man, and told to people of the same epoch and cultural environment.
Hence, there are very good reasons for us to treat the material on Muhammad's life as historical sources, and even more, as good historical sources. Sadly, many Western historians have earlier undervalued the quality of these sources, but more respect is paid by scientists of our time.
Muhammad as a normal man (570-610)
Muhammad's birth is said to have been in the "year of the Elephant", which one believes is pointing to the invasion from Yemen, where an elephant was brought along in order to smash the Ka'ba, en event which is dated to 570 CE. The setting of this date may well be much wrong; as Muhammad's recorded age at certain times has been used as the main source for the estimation.
Muhammad's family belonged to the clan of Hashim, a branch of the Quraysh tribe. While the Quraysh were dominating Mecca, the Hashimis had little but religious prestige connected to the pagan shrine Ka'ba.
Muhammad's father Abdallah died before the birth of his son, and his mother Amina when he was 6. Muhammad was put in the care of his grandfather Abd al-Muttalib for 2 years, and after that with his uncle Abu Talib, until he reached mature age.
Muhammad is by Muslim theologians not believed to have received any education, and in young age he started to work with the caravans. It was while working as a trader, that Muhammad came to know the widow (and divorcee) Khadija, who was the owner of a caravan company where Muhammad was employed. At the age of 25 Muhammad married her, she at the age of 40. Even if Khadija had children from both of her former marriages, she got 7 children with Muhammad.
Khadija died in 619, and soon Muhammad remarried. Unlike what had been the case with his marriage to Khadija, he now chose to have several wives, up to 9 according to the many sources.
He married some of these wives from political reasons, in order to knot closer relations with powerful people in the society, and some from compassion: widows without economic support. But in some rare instances, the sources tell us that Muhammad did provoke the death of husbands of wives he wanted to marry.
The first revelation (610)
Muhammad received his first revelation in 610, on the mountain of Hira outside Mecca. The revelation came in a time when Muhammad searched for solitude.
Muhammad received the first fraction of the Koran from the angel Gabriel, and experienced first great pain, and feared that he was going to die. Muhammad was ordered to recite (though the Arabic word 'iqra' more often is understood as 'read', but Muhammad is considered illiterate by Muslim theologians). The first fraction Muhammad received is believed to be found as the beginning of sura 96:
Koran sura 96: Congealed Blood
1Recite in the name of your Lord, who created,
2created mankind from clots of blood,
3recite, and your Lord will be the bountiful,
4he who have taught by the pen,
5taught mankind what was not known.
After this first revelation, no new came for a period. Then after a waiting period they came back, and continued for the rest of Muhammad's life.
The revelations changed styles during the 22 years of revelations, from more poetic in the beginning to more prosaic later, and in the content, it changed from warnings on what was to come to mankind from God if man didn't turn in direction of God's will, to regulations on behavior and rules for the society.
These changes came parallel to changes in the position of Islam in the society. In the beginning when only a small group of people were Muslims, the need for spreading the message was prevailing. Later, from the time when Muhammad moved to Madina, and got a leading position in the town, the need for rules for a society was the more important.
The ordering of the elements of the revelation as it is collected in the Koran, is not chronological to their disclosure to Muhammad, and elements from early times are often arranged together with later elements.
How the revelations came to Muhammad is described in the hadiths:
Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 1
2 As told by Aisha (the mother of the faithful believers):
Al-Harith bin Hisham asked God's Apostle "O God's Apostle! How is the Divine Inspiration revealed to you?" God's Apostle replied, "Sometimes it is (revealed) like the ringing of a bell, this form of Inspiration is the hardest of all and then this state passes ' off after I have grasped what is inspired. Sometimes the Angel comes in the form of a man and talks to me and I grasp whatever he says." 'Aisha added: Verily I saw the Prophet being inspired Divinely on a very cold day and noticed the Sweat dropping from his forehead (as the Inspiration was over).
Coversions and resistance (610-619)
The first person to be converted to Islam, was a woman, Khadija, Muhammad's wife. Khadija was all through the 9-10 years from the first revelation to her death, a very important support and protection for her husband, especially economically, but she appears to have had little importance beyond this.
Muhammad also enjoyed the protection of his uncle and earlier guardian, Abu Talib. But Abu Talib and Khadija both died in 619, and from this time on, Muhammad's position was under strong threat.
The process of converting was slow in the early years, and Muhammad was strongly opposed by other Meccans who accused him of little respect for the religion of the forefathers. This religion had some resemblance with Islam, but was polytheistic.
One important story, rejected by many Muslims even if our sources are purely Muslim, is the one of the "Satanic verses". Muhammad once added one aya where three former Meccan goddesses, Al-Lat, Al-'Uzza and Manat were mentioned as intermediaries.
Koran sura 53: The Star
19Have you though of Al-Lat and Al-'Uzza,
20and Manat, the third of the?
21These are intermediaries exalted whose intercession is to be hoped for.
22Such as they do not forget
The ayats 21-22 are not in our present Koran, where this text now is found:
21Is it the male for you, and female for him?
22That would have been a crooked division!
There are 2 interpretations of this, and while many Muslim scholars doubt the sources they do not totally reject that there is something to the story. Many scholars, often Western ones, believe that the first version was an attempt, a successful one, to entice the Meccans to join Islam by opening up for polytheism. Others believe that the first version of the verses were given to Muhammad by Satan, and it is from this the name "Satanic verses" come. This last interpretation is common among Muslims.
No matter how one interprets this, all scholars seem to agree that the difficult conditions of the first few Muslims are reflected in this story.
The Hijra (622)
For full treatment: Hijra
A large part of Muhammad's followers had to seek refuge in Abyssinia in 615, due to the resistance among the Meccans to the message of Muhammad. The resistance continued, and was so fierce, that Muhammad had to escape in 622 to Yathrib, 300 km north of Mecca on September 20 (=6. Rabi' al-Awwal). There are no accounts telling us on which day Muhammad and his flock escaped Mecca itself. About 15 years later, this year was fixed as the first year of Muslim era (meaning that the date of escape is not the first day of the Muslim era, but the arrival to Yathrib).
Muhammad is believed to have been invited to Yathrib, as a hakim, a judge, and here he could establish the first Muslim community, and Muhammad served as the head of the leaders of the other communities of Yathrib. Soon after, Yathrib started to be called madinatu r-rasūl, 'the city of the messenger', or in short Madina.
Madina and the rise to power (622-630)
Many of the inhabitants of Yathrib converted to Islam, but among the large Jewish community that lived here, only few converted. A large part of the converts are called hypocrites, by the first Muslim sources.
After only two years, Muhammad's relationship with the Jews had begun to deteriorate, and the remaining Jewish believers treated cruelly by Muhammad. The Banu Qaynuqa were first out, and forced to move to Transjordania, Banu Nadir were driven into exile either in Khaybar or Syria (as seen in Koran 59:2-4). But it would be the Banu Qurayza who paid the highest price, after having cooperated with Muhammad's enemies. Muhammad revenged this by having all 700 males executed and women and children sold as slaves.
Muhammad enforced his position in the region, and in particular in Yathrib, through successful military campaigns, like the one at Badr in 624, and the defensive Battle of Uhud (where the Muslims faced a slight defeat) in 625 and the Battle of the Trench in 627.
Neighbouring tribes started to enter into agreements with Muhammad, and in 628, after Muhammad tried to perform the pilgrimage, hajj he concluded a treaty with the Meccans, that allowed the Muslims to enter Mecca the following year for its performance. In 630 Muhammad managed to take control over Mecca without any resistance. A general amnesty was granted to all Qurayshis, Muhammad's former enemies, even if they did not convert to Islam.
Ruler of Hijaz and the Muslims (630-632)
This increased Muhammad's importance even more, and in 632 he was able to perform the hajj. Soon after his return to Madina, he died in the presence of his favourite wife, 'A'isha and her father, Abu Bakr.
Muhammad was buried in his own house, which had already served as a mosque for some years. The mosque still lies there, and is counted as the second most important mosque in Islam, and Madina the second most holy city.
Muhammad is equally considered a manifestation of God in Baha'i and Babism, two religions that has grown out of Islam. Both of these religions revere Muhammad highly, but has their focus on the later revelations of Bab and Baha'ullah, both of the 19th century.