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  • Michael L. Smith

The Life of Muhammad


Introduction

In approximately 570 A.D, a child was born whose life completely transformed the way billions of people worship Allah today. The name of the child was Muhammad. Ironically, Muhammad name is translated praised in English. “Little did those who named the child realize that he was destined to influence the world as few other individuals have, and would indeed be praised by untold millions of people for centuries to come.” [1] Muhammad was raised during a period when most people living in Arabia was pagan. It was a time in which the culture was conducive for Muhammad teaching. This research paper examines how he rose to power and used his influence to transform Arab culture to create the second largest religion in world today.

The Islamic Prophet was born after the death of his father and soon after his mother passed away as well. After the death of his parents, Muhammad went to live with his grandfather but he also died shortly after he arrived. Filled with compassion, Muhammad uncle, Abu Talib brought Muhammad into his home and raised him as one of his own. The Islamic prophet was adopted by a powerful and influential tribe named Quraysh.

The Ka ̔aba, the most important building located in the center of Islam’s most sacred mosque, was built by the Quraysh tribe. “The Quraysh believed that Allah had three daughters, who could be called on to intercede with him. There were sanctuaries used by several tribes, of which the most important was Mecca, a pilgrimage site that, according to tradition, had been founded centuries earlier by Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Isma’il (Ishmael). It included a building known as the Ka ̔aba, which is said to have housed 3,000 idols and had a black stone set in the wall at one corner that was believed to have come from heaven.” [2]

The Origin of Islam

At the age of twenty-five, Muhammad went to work for a very wealthy woman named Khadija and soon after, he married her. “Financial security came when Khadija, a wealth widow engaged in the caravan trade, made him her agent and then married him. The marriage was a happy one and produced several children. He did not take a second wife while she lived though he took a number later.” [3] After Muhammad married Khadija, he started practicing disciplines which would become known as the Islamic faith. “From what we know of the history of Muhammad, it seems clear that he was a sincere seeker for God.” [4]

In addition, his social status changed. His newly found wealth made him powerful and influential among the elites of Mecca. The time he spent with the influential leaders of Mecca allowed Muhammad to gain knowledge of their religious practices and political undertakings. It was during this time that Muhammad started questioning the religious practices of Mecca. Nevertheless, he still went to Ka ̔aba with his family but the Islamic prophet was now starting to question worshipping idols and other pagan practices.

This began Muhammad’s quest to discover the truth. “He now had leisure and money for travel. Did it not occur to him that he could go to Nejran or Syria or Ethiopia to inquire from learned Christians what their Scriptures taught about God? It seems that Muhammad never made a serious effort to learn what was written in the Scriptures, which he knew were in the hands of Jews and Christians and which he later attested to as being true. The accounts which came to him of the contents of the Bible were evidently from people who were unable or unwilling to give him correct information. As a result, to the end of his life Muhammad never learned what the true gospel is.” [5]

Muhammad spiritual journey changed dramatically. “It is said that Muhammad and other seekers for God used to go from time to time to a cave three miles from Mecca to meditate and worship. One night in the month of Ramadan, about the year 610, when Muhammad was forty years of age, he and his family were at this cave. According to tradition, the angel Gabriel (Jibril) came to Muhammad as he slept and commanded him to recite. The command was twice repeated, and Muhammad asked what he was to recite. The angel replied, “recite in the name of the Lord, who created man from clots of blood” (Sura 96:1-2 RODWELL). When he awoke Muhammad was in great doubt as to what this experience meant. Was it the jinn, the creatures who inspired the soothsayers, or was it from Allah? Muhammad had heard from the Jews of the prophets whom Allah had sent to the people of Israel. But no prophet had ever been sent to the Arabs. Could this be a message from Allah that he was to be a prophet and apostle to his own people?” [6]

The Islamic prophet was perplexed about his encounter with the angel so he traveled home and discussed it with his wife. Khadija told her husband she suspected it to be a call from Allah selecting Muhammad to be a prophet. This was an exciting revelation for Muhammad, therefore he agreed with his wife and anxiously anticipated hearing from the angel Gabriel what Allah had instructed him to do next. However, two years passed before he saw Gabriel again or receive any additional instructions from Allah which caused him to become greatly despondent and those close to him feared he might even commit suicide.

Then after approximately two years, Muhammad began receiving more revelations from Allah. Some of them came from encounters with Gabriel, while other times he heard someone speaking to him and sometimes he heard what he interpreted was the sound of a bell. “Sometimes the message came in a dream, and at other times it came in his thoughts. When revelation came to him, his whole frame would become agitated and perspiration would pour down his face. He would often fall to the ground and foam at the mouth. The words always came to him in Arabic, and Muhammad spoke the words that he received, and they were written down by people who heard them from Muhammad’s lips. It is generally supposed by Muslims that Muhammad was himself illiterate. After his death these messages were collected and incorporated in the Qur’an, which means “recitation.” [7]

The purpose of the revelations to the Islamic prophet was to reveal Allah as the only real God and to distinguish him from the pagan gods in Mecca so that all the descendants of Ishmael would worship Allah and Allah alone. As a result, Muhammad began teaching and preaching about the revelations he had received. The inhabitants of Mecca rejected the prophet at first. “When Muhammad made claim that he was a prophet sent by God, there were a few people who at once believed him. They were his wife Khadija; a young cousin Ali, who was a member of his family later to become his son-in-law; and his adopted son Zaid. Then an honorable merchant, later known as Abu Bakr, who was not a relative, professed faith in Muhammad.” [8]

The Islamic Apostle was not received warmly by the Arab community. Neither was his newly formed religion received by the masses. As a matter of fact, Muhammad was thought to be demon possessed and even labeled a false prophet. Some Islamic scholars who studied the life of the prophet believe Muhammad might have been epileptic due to all the seizures he was experiencing and visible foam that appeared around his mouth in the course of him receiving his revelations. “This opinion has not gained traction among Islamic scholars since no major religion in the world has ever formed by someone who suffered from seizures.” [9]

As stated earlier, Muhammad’s revelations were verbalized to his disciples who were present and they wrote them down on anything they had present with them at the time. Their records were used to compile what would eventually become the Qur’an, Islam most sacred book. “The message of Islam is intertwined with its messenger. Allegiance to one more than implies allegiance to the other; it is often defined by it. What makes this surprising is that the same is not the case for Allah. Muslims who question Allah are usually tolerated by other Muslims, but questioning Muhammad is grounds for excommunication, or worse.” [10]

The revelations Muhammad received became foundational doctrines of the Islamic faith. “The first messages spoke of Allah’s goodness and power but did not ban the worship of other deities. This ban came shortly, however and provoked increasing opposition from the Meccan leaders.” [11] Abu Jahl, a sworn enemy of Muhammad and prominent leader in Mecca, opposed Muhammad because he and others profited from the pagan culture. They did not want Muhammad to gain power and influence over the culture because he could turn them away from worshipping their pagan gods. Abu Jahl gathered together an opposition force to persecute the disciples of Muhammad which caused the Islamic prophet the spend large sums of his fortune to as payments to rescue his disciples. The Hashimites, were the only alliance that offered Muhammad protection. All the other groups of people which lived in Mecca were unsympathetic to Muhammad and his disciples.

When Muhammad began preaching about the resurrection; “They accused him of sorcery and fraud. As Muhammad began to attack the gods in the Ka ̔aba, saying they were not gods, the men of Mecca became increasingly angry and began to persecute his little band of a hundred followers. They could not do anything to Muhammad, because he was protected by his uncle Abu Talib. The persecution became so severe that Muhammad sent eighty of his followers to Ethiopia, a Christian country.” [12] Had it not been for the security Muhammad received from uncle, Abu Talib who was a prominent figure among the Hashimites, the Islamic Apostle would never have been allowed to preach in the open to the masses.

Muhammad did not understand why the leaders in Mecca rejected his message. He thought every Arab would embrace him and received his message about the one true God. “During these years Muhammad was engaged in building up his community of people bound together not by blood ties, as in Arab society, but by faith in Allah and his Apostle. Their basic belief, which later became their Creed (Shahada), was “There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Apostle (Prophet) of Allah. Those who submitted in faith to Allah and his Apostle were known as Muslims, since in Arabic Muslim means “one who submits.” From the same Arabic root comes Islam, which means “submission.” This became the name by which the movement was known.” [13]

The Deaths of Abu Talib and Khadija

As Muhammad ministry began to gain influence he had to do so without two of his most trusted companions. “In the tenth year of his mission (AD 620) Muhammad suffered two great losses. His uncle Abu Talib died, the kind man who had helped him and protected him since his childhood, although he never became a Muslim. Also, Khadija, his faithful and able wife, died.”[14] Khadija was Muhammad most faithful supporter and the first convert of the Islamic faith. She was fifteen years older than the Apostle. Muhammad was faithful to Khadija but after she died, he saw her death as an opportunity to bring more women into his life. “After a few months Muhammad sought comfort by marrying the widow of one of his followers. He also married Aisha, the seven-year-old daughter of his friend Abu Bakr, whom he took to his abode three years later. She became his favorite wife.” [15] Muhammad didn’t see any problem with him marrying so many women because a man with his power and influence should not have to live in accordance to the general laws of man. This guiding principle became a foundational principle of the Islamic faith for years to come, even to this very day.

The Night Journey (Lailat al-Miraj)

After Khadija’s death, the Islamic prophet left Mecca and traveled northward along with his disciples. “Being unable to make further progress in Mecca, Muhammad saw no alternative but to transfer his mission to a more favorable location. He decided to go to Yathrib, a city 280 miles north of Mecca, which after his gong there, became known as Medina, the city of the Prophet. The people of Yathrib were more open-minded than were the keepers of the Ka ̔aba, and about half the inhabitants of that region were Jews. The pagan Arabs looked up to the Jews for their superior culture and wealth but resented their economic success. It is said that in 621 Muhammad met twelve men from Yathrib who had come to Mecca for the annual pilgrimage and converted to Islam. They made more coverts in their city; and at the pilgrimage a year later, seventy-two men and two women from Yathrib met Muhammad and swore allegiance to him, promising to defend him with their lives. He also promised to fight for them.

From this alliance we see the nature of the society which Muhammad wanted to establish. As the time of departure to Yathrib approached, Muhammad had a vision, which must have cheered him as he contemplated his thirteen years of unsuccessful effort to win the people of his native city to his side. Muhammad saw himself carried from Mecca to Jerusalem, the city that he and his followers faced in their worship as did the Jews. From Jerusalem he was carried up into heaven, where he talked with apostles and prophets of the past, and he was attested and honored by them.” [16] As soon as Muhammad arrived in Medina he began to use his influence in the political arena and judge land disputes that was dividing the people. Muhammad rendered his judgements based on religious laws. This would give him a platform to build his Islamic teachings upon. The inhabitants of Medina thought he was a clever man and very prudent judge. While in Medina, the Islamic prophet served as a judge and established the brotherhood of Muslims.

Muhammad also drafted the first constitution for Medina. He was very influential within the city and understood how to use his influences to bring about a social, political and of course religious revolution. Immediately after Muhammad wrote the constitution, he began to observe a difference in the citizens of Medina mindset. Suddenly the people became law abiding citizens so Muhammad thought it would be good to return to Mecca because he thought Islam could have an impact there too. Muhammad spent a lot of time thinking of ways he could lay seize to Mecca and force the Islamic religion on them. He devised a plan to strike Mecca with an overwhelming force to capture the city and subjugate its citizens. After numerous unsuccessful attempts, he drew weary of attacking the city so he decided to make a covenant with them instead.

The covenant lasted approximately ten years but was abolished a year later because Muhammad and a few of his disciples unsuccessfully tried to gain entrance into the city to observe the living conditions of the people. The citizens of Mecca got angry and declared war on Muhammad and his Muslim disciples because they broke the covenant. “Though it had been agreed that there would be no more wars for ten years, Muhammad was convinced that he must now conquer Mecca in order to make his control of Arabia complete. And so, as soon as he returned to Medina from the Lesser Pilgrimage, he raised an army of ten thousand men and started back to Mecca. When he reached the city, Abu Sufyan, the leader of the Quraysh and one of Muhammad’s bitterest foes, realized that further resistance was useless, came out to meet the conqueror, and became a Muslim. The army entered the city unopposed. Muhammad went to the Ka ̔aba and ordered that the images be brought out and destroyed. He took over the rule of the very city he had fled eight years before. He declared a general amnesty to the people of Mecca, with the exception of a few individuals who were executed for certain crimes. Mecca now became the center of Islam, with Muhammad as its supreme ruler. It was indeed a day of triumph and great joy for Muhammad and his followers.” [17] From that point forward, Mecca became known as an Islamic city. “The courage and faith of Muhammad during these years of comparative failure in Mecca, and his assurance of final victory, are indeed worthy of praise. Would that he had thus endured in the service of Jesus Christ.” [18]

Soon after Muhammad captured Mecca, he became sick. He knew his time was coming to an end so he used his remaining years eradicating the Ka ̔aba of all its idols and teaching his disciples what they should do after his departure. When Muhammad became too sick to lead worship, he selected Abu Bakr to lead the congregation in his stead. This led many of Muhammad followers to believe the Apostle had selected Abu Bakr to be the leader of the Islamic faith after his death. Not too long after this, Muhammad died in the bosom of his wife Aisha, the daughter of Abu Bakr. “It is said that a grave was dug in that very place and in it the Prophet of Arabia was buried. Later a mosque, called the Prophet’s Mosque, was built, and he grave became a place of pilgrimage.” [19]

Islam Advances

The death of Muhammad prompt his followers to elect someone to lead the Islamic community and to continue teaching the disciplines of the Muslim faith. The man they elected to lead them was Muhammad father-in-law, Abu Bakr. The new leader of the Islamic faith was Muhammad first convert outside of his family and would eventually become his most loyal disciple. Muhammad did not “officially” choose Abu Bakr before he died but most Muslims agreed he would be the best man to lead the Islamic faith. A large group of influential men gathered together after the death of the Islamic prophet and selected Abu Bakr as Muhammad replacement without his cousin Ali being present. Even though Abu Bakr was the most likely choice to replace Muhammad and his appointment was accepted without much debate or disagreement, selecting him without seeking the approval of Muhammad’s family was not a wise decision and it caused deep division within the Islamic faith. One of the initial statements Abu Bakr made to the Islamic community was “Obey me so long as I obey Allah and His Messenger.” [20] Abu Bakr became Islam first caliph; “(vicegerent [or representative of Allah]). Three others followed, all assassinated by other Muslims.” [21]

Abu Bakr protected Muslim beliefs in many different ways including jihad. He protected sharia law, the law of Islam. Abu Bakr also had many military victories. He defended Medina from various Arab groups during his reign as caliph. “He ruled for only two years (632-634) but during this time the rest of Arabia was brought into the Islamic fold. He also dealt successfully with two or three copycat prophetic movements that had risen in Arabia and successfully fought certain tribes that refused to pay zakah (at this time a tax paid to the leader of the umma) after Muhammad’s death since they viewed their allegiance as being to Muhammad personally, not to his successor. Abu Bakr considered this to be ridda, or apostacy, and compelled them to pay. In doing so he averted threats that could have disintegrated the umma right at the start. Abu Bakr designated as his successor ‘Umar, who ruled from 634-644. He is remembered by most Muslims as quite a strict and upright leader (some stories make him stricter than Muhammad). During his caliphate Muslim armies conquered Syria, Egypt and Iraq and move into Iran.” [22]

It's more than likely that Muhammad never envisioned the scope and impact Islam would ultimately have on the world. “Muhammad never claimed to be deity or anything more than a man, yet his religion is the second largest religion in the world. He was very smart, very patient, and very ruthless. Muhammad, is viewed as the living example of the perfect Muslim.” [23] The Islamic Prophet had many disciples that followed him until the day he died and after his death they followed his successors. “Arabs feel that Allah has appointed the guardians of the purity of Islam.” [24]

Bibliography

Ghattas, Raouf and Carol B. Ghattas . A Christian Guide to the Qur’an: “Building Bridges in Muslim Evangelism. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2009.

Peterson, Daniel C., Muhammad, the Prophet of God,Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2007.

Qureshi, Nabeel, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014.

Richardson, Don, Secrets of the Koran, Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1984.

Shepard, William E., Introducing Islam, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge Publications, 2014.

Swartley, Keith W., Encountering the world of Islam, Littleton, CO: BottomLine Media, 2014.

[1] Keith W. Swartley, Encountering the world of Islam (Littleton, CO: BottomLine Media, 2014), 16.

[2] William E. Shepard, Introducing Islam (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge Publications, 2014), 33.

[3] Ibid. 34.

[4] Keith W. Swartley, Encountering the world of Islam (Littleton, CO: BottomLine Media, 2014), 19.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid. 19

[7] Ibid. 20.

[8] Ibid. 22.

[9] Daniel C. Peterson, Muhammad, the Prophet of God, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2007), 53

[10] Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 208.

[11] William E. Shepard, Introducing Islam (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge Publications, 2014), 35.

[12] Keith W. Swartley, Encountering the world of Islam (Littleton, CO: BottomLine Media, 2014), 22.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid. 31.

[18] Ibid. 26.

[19]. Ibid. 33

[20] William E. Shepard, Introducing Islam (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge Publications, 2014), 39.

[21] Keith W. Swartley, Encountering the world of Islam (Littleton, CO: BottomLine Media, 2014), 33.

[22] William E. Shepard, Introducing Islam (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge Publications, 2014), 39.

[23] Raouf Ghattas and Carol B. Ghattas, A Christian Guide to the Qur’an: “Building Bridges in Muslim Evangelism (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2009), 10.

[24] Phil Parashall, Bridges to Islam, A Christian Perspective on Folk Islam (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 3.


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