Muhammad (peace be upon him) was an illiterate, but wise and well-respected man who was born in Makkah in the year 570 C.E., at a time when Christianity was not yet fully established in Europe. His first years were marked by the deaths of his parents. Since his father died before his birth, his uncle, Abu Talib, from the respected tribe of Quraysh, raised him. As Muhammad (pbuh) grew up, he became known for his truthfulness, generosity and sincerity, so that he was sought after for his ability to arbitrate in disputes. His reputation and personal qualities also led to his marriage, at the age of twenty-five, to Khadijah, a widow whom he had assisted in business. Thenceforth, he became an important and trusted citizen of Makkah. Historians describe him as calm and meditative.
Muhammad (pbuh) never felt fully content to be part of a society whose values he considered to be devoid of true religious significance. It became his habit to retreat from time to time to the cave of Hira, to meditate near the summit of Jabal al-Nur, the “Mountain of Light”, near Makkah.
At the age of 40, while engaged in one such meditative retreat, Muhammad (pbuh) received his first revelation from God, through the Angel Gabriel. This revelation, which continued for 23 years, is known as the Quran, the faithful recording of the entire revelation of God. The first revelation read: «“Recite: In the name of your Lord Who created man from a clot (of blood). Recite: Your Lord is Most Noble, Who taught by the pen, taught man what he did not know.”» [96:1-5]
The first convert to Islam was Khadijah, whose support and companionship provided necessary reassurance and strength for Muhammad. He also won the support of some of his relatives and friends. Three basic themes of the early message were the majesty of the one, unique God, the futility of idol worship, the threat of judgment, and the necessity of faith, compassion and morality in human affairs. All these themes represented an attack on the crass materialism and idolatry prevalent in Makkah at the time. So when he began to proclaim the message to others the Makkans rejected him. He and his small group of followers suffered bitter persecution, which grew so fierce that in the year 622 C.E., God gave them the command to emigrate. This event, the Hijrah (migration), in which they left Makkah for the city of Madinah, some 260 miles to the north, marked the beginning of a new era and thus the beginning of the Muslim calendar. During his suffering, Muhammad (pbuh) drew comfort from the knowledge revealed to him about other prophets, such as Abraham, Joseph, and Moses, each of whom had also been persecuted and tested.
After several years and some significant battles, the Prophet and his followers were able to return to Makkah, where they forgave their enemies and established Islam definitively. By the time the Prophet died, at the age of 63, the greater part of Arabia had accepted Islam, and within a century of his death, Islam had spread as far west as Spain and as far east as China. It was clear that the message was not limited to Arabs; it was for the whole of humanity.
The Prophet’s sayings (Hadith), are also believed to be revelation. The number of sayings collected by his followers and scholars is about 10,000. Some typical examples of his sayings are as follows:
““To pursue knowledge is obligatory on every believing (man and woman).”” [Ibn Majah]
““Removing a harmful thing from the road is charity.”” [Bukhari, Muslim]
““Those who do not show tenderness and love cannot expect to have tenderness shown to them.”” [Bukhari]
““Adore Allah (God) as though you see Him; even if you do not see Him, He nonetheless sees you.”” [Bukhari, Muslim]
Although Muhammad is deeply loved, revered and emulated by Muslims as God’s final messenger, he is not an object of worship.