Abu al-Qasim Muhammad (briefly Prophet Muhammad) was a religious, political and military leader from Mecca who unified Arabia into a single religious polity under Islam. The name, Muhammad means praiseworthy. He is believed by Muslims as the last prophet sent by God (Allah) for mankind.
Birth and Early life
Muhammad was born in the Arabian city of Mecca in about 570 CE. His father, Abdullah died almost six months before Muhammad was born. According to some Islamic tradition, soon after Muhammad’s birth, he was sent to a Bedouin family in the desert, as it was considered healthier for infants. He stayed there with his foster-mother and her husband for two years.
He came back to his home, and at the age of six, he lost his own mother Amina and became fully orphaned. For the next two years, he was under the guardianship of his grandfather. When he was eight, his grandfather also died, and he came under the care of his uncle Abu Talib. While still in his teens, Muhammad accompanied his uncle on trading journeys to Syria.
During his later youth, he worked mostly as a merchant, as well as a shepherd. At the age of 25, he was first married to Khadijah, a 40-year-old widow, which by all accounts a happy one. Subsequently, he had 12 other wives. He lived in Mecca for roughly the first 52 years of his life. This period is generally divided into two phases, before and after declaring the prophecy.
Beginnings of the Quran
In the first phase, he was in the habit of periodically retreating to a cave on Mount Hira near Mecca for several nights of seclusion and prayer. He later reported that it was there, at age 40, he received his first revelation from God. During one of his visits to Mount Hira, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and commanded Muhammad to recite verses which would later be included in the Quran. Three years after this event, Muhammad started preaching these revelations publicly, proclaiming that ‘God is one’, that complete surrender’ to Him is the only way acceptable to God, and that he himself was a prophet and messenger of God. According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad’s wife Khadijah was the first to believe he was a prophet. But the opposition started when Muhammad delivered verses publicly condemning idol worship and the Meccan forefathers engaged in polytheism.
Isra and Miraj
Islamic tradition relates that in 620 CE, Muhammad experienced the Isra and Miraj, a miraculous journey with the angel Gabriel in one night. The oldest Muslim tradition identified the journey as one travelled through the heavens from the sacred enclosure at Mecca to the celestial prototype of the Kabba, but later tradition identified Muhammad’s journey as having been from Mecca to Jerusalem.
Hizra and establishment of a new polity
The Hijra is the migration of Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina in 622CE. This event, the Hijra marks the beginning of the Islamic Calendar, which is also known as the Hijri Calendar. In Medina, Muhammad united the tribes under the Constitution of Medina after eight years of fighting with the Meccan tribes and established a new polity.
Conquest of Mecca and Arabia
Soon after the conquest of Mecca, Muhammad defeated the Hawazin and Thaqif tribes in the battle of Hunayn in Arabia. In 632, at the end of the 10th year after the migration to Medina, Muhammad carried through his truly Islamic pilgrimage, thereby teaching his followers the rites of the annual great pilgrimage known as Haji. After completing the pilgrimage, Muhammad delivered a famous speech, known as The Farewell Sermon at Mount Arafat, east of Mecca. In this sermon, Muhammad advised his followers to abolish all old blood feuds and disputes based on the former tribal system and asked for the creation of the new Islamic community. Commenting on the vulnerability of women in society, Muhammad asked his male followers to “be good to women, for they are powerless captives in your households…”. He told them that they were entitled to discipline their wives, but should do so with kindness.
Farewell pilgrimage, death and tomb
A few months after returning to Medina from the Farewell Pilgrimage, Muhammad fell ill and suffered for several days with fever, head pain and weakness. He died on 8 June 632 CE in Medina at the age of 62 or 63; in the house of his wife Aisha. He was buried where he died. During the reign of the Umayyad Caliph 1, the Mosque of the Prophet was expanded to include the site of Muhammad’s tomb. By the time of his death, he had united Arabia into a single Muslim religious polity and most of the Arabian Peninsula had reverted to Islam.