In the west, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing of God be upon him), is mis-understood and only bought to our attention at times by mis-guided individuals or groups. From Satanic Verses and the Danish Cartoons to the actions of extremists, it is perhaps now more than ever we need to highlight his life and true character.
Founder Of Islam
The founder of Islam was Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him). Muslims believe him to be a Messenger of God commissioned to reform humankind and draw them to the worship of one God. The name Muhammad literally means ‘the one who is highly praised’.
Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) was born in Makkah in 570 AD. His father’s name was Abdullah and his mother’s name was Aminah. His father passed away before his birth and his mother also died when he was just 6 years old. He was left in the care of his grandfather, Abdul Muttalib following whose death, the duty to look after the child fell upon his paternal uncle, Abu Talib. To develop his personality it appears to be part of a divine plan for Muhammad (pbuh) to experience adversity and misfortune in his early life. Thus from an early age, everyone who knew Muhammad (pbuh) recognised his righteous and thoughtful ways.
He was exceptionally truthful to the extent that, as he grew up, he became known by Makkans as ‘Al-Siddique’ (truthful) and ‘Al-Amin’ (the trust worthy and honest).
At the age of about 25 a wealthy and noble lady Khadija (the widow of a rich merchant), employed young Muhammad (pbuh). She was greatly impressed by his integrity, loyalty, honesty and scrupulous business conduct and extended a proposal of marriage to him which was accepted. Although she was 15 years his senior, the marriage proved extremely successful. She bore them several children. She died during his lifetime and he always remembered her with great fondness and affection.
Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) would often go and pray in solitude. He would go high up in to a mountain in one of the caves called Hira. One night during the month of Ramadan when he was forty years of age the angel Gabriel appeared to him in the cave. The angel commanded him to “read.” The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) replied, “I cannot read.” The angel embraced Muhammad (pbuh) and insisted that he should recite after him. He, as directed by the angel Gabriel recited “Read, in the name of your Lord who created…..” This was the first experience of a divine revelation and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was deeply agitated. This revelation and the verse recited was the first of many verses revealed to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) which went on to form the Holy Quran. The verse revealed was placed as verse 2 of Chapter 96. The initial experience of revelation was so intense that shivering and fearing that he may not be able to properly discharge the enormous responsibility that God had assigned him, Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) rushed back and told Hadhrat Khadija (may God be pleased with her) about his experience. She, who had complete trust in him, reassured him saying,
“God is witness, He has not sent you to this world that you should fail and prove unworthy, that, He should then give you up. How can God do such a thing, while you are kind and considerate to your relations, help the poor and the forlorn and bear their burdens?”- You are restoring the virtues, which had disappeared from our country.”
Hadhrat Khadija (may God be pleased with her) took him to her elderly cousin Waraqa Bin Naufal, who was well versed in the Bible. When he heard what had transpired he replied,
“The angel who descended on Moses, I am sure, has descended on you,” and added, “I fear that your people will drive you away from your home. I wish I were younger and would be of help to you.”
In the beginning, Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) was instructed to convey the message to members of his immediate family and then to his tribe, the Quraish. A few months later, God commanded Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) to warn all the people of Makkah to desist from evil, and believe in and worship the one God. After having received these instructions, the Messenger, started calling people to the one true God and declared his prophet hood and mission. Hadhrat Khadija (may God be pleased with her) was the first to accept his call. His cousin Ali who was only about 11 years old, Zaid a freed slave and his close friend Abu Bakr too immediately accepted Islam. A few others like the Abyssinian slave Bilal, Yasir, his wife Sumayya and son Ammar also joined Islam.
A most cruel campaign of persecution ensued by those Makkans who opposed the new faith. They responded with hostility and left no stone unturned in persecuting him. The relatives of those who had become Muslims did all they could to force them to give up their belief in the one God. Many early Muslim men and women were tortured and killed. Slaves were dragged over burning sand and stones. Hadhrat Bilal (may God be pleased with him) in particular suffered great torture. He was made to lie on hot sand, with street boys dancing on his chest and repeatedly asked to give up his faith in the oneness of God and belief in His Messenger. On one occasion they put a rope around his neck and dragged him through the street of Makkah and his body bled but he went on saying “Ahad, Ahad” that He (God) is one, He (God) is one.
Despite such atrocities being inflicted upon them the Muslims remained resolute and their numbers began to grow slowly but surely. Muhammad’s (peace and blessings of God be upon him) attitude to those in need remained as compassionate as ever and showed no hint of decline because of the persecution. It is related that once an old lady with a heavy load on her back came into town. On seeing her state Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) immediately offered to help. The lady gratefully accepted but warned him not take her along those streets through which this man “Muhammad” may be passing. She explained that according to rumours he was a very dangerous magician and he corrupted the faith of others. Throughout the journey she kept muttering about him in this way while the Holy Prophet remained silent. It was only when she had reached her destination that Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) declared that the man she feared so much was in fact him. When asked why he did not tell her earlier, he replied that had he done this, he would not have the opportunity to serve the old lady. This impressed her so much that she replied,
“By God, your magic has worked. I accept your message and make my submission to Islam.”
Instances like these of compassion and care in an unyielding and intolerant society worked wonders and were instrumental in increasing the number of converts to the new faith.
As persecution grew unabated, migration increasingly became a real possibility. It was in the fifth year of Prophethood that the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) advised those of his followers who could afford it, to leave Makkah and migrate to Abyssinia. At the time the Christian King Negus ruled Abyssinia. The majority of Muslim men and women left Makkah and took refuge in Abyssinia. The Makkans followed them and asked the king to hand over the men and women to them. The King enquired from the Muslims why they had come to his country. Their spokesman, Jafar bin Abu Talib (may God be pleased with him) replied,
“We had no knowledge of good or evil. We worshipped idols and were unaware of the unity of God. God raised Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) as a prophet among us. He taught us to worship one God and guide us along the path of purity and righteousness. Because we affirm to worship the one eternal God, the Makkans started persecuting us. Hence we were compelled to leave our homes and take refuge in your country.”
After listening to both sides the king rejected the demands of the Makkans and allowed the Muslims to remain in the country.
Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) did not migrate to Abysinnia himself. Instead, he migrated a few years later to a town 200 miles away called Madinah. After the migration (Hijra) the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) became the ruler and master of the community of Madinah. Most had embraced Islam but a minority of non-Arab Jews, polytheists and the hypocrites did not. The Holy Prophet’s (peace and blessings of God be upon him) treatment of these communities was such that it provided an outstanding example of kindness and generosity, in a manner that did not compromise the principles of their faiths and ensured fair play. Not only did Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) himself respect the rights of the minorities to practice their religion but also instructed his followers to do the same.
Once Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) was in a meeting with his companions, when a funeral procession passed by. He suddenly stood up to pay respect to the cortège. The companions enquired why the Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) was paying his respects, after all this was the funeral of a Jewish woman. The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) replied,
“Was she not a human being?”
This demonstrated the need to render due respects to anyone and everyone irrespective of race or creed. His concern for the poor never deserted him during his time in Madinah. It is related that once a poor Muslim lady, who used to sweep and clean the Holy Prophet’s mosque in Madinah was not seen for several days. The Prophet (pbuh) enquired about her and was told that she had died a few days earlier. He was very upset and said,
“Why did you not inform me of her death? I would have led her funeral prayers. It appears you did not consider her worthy of prayers as she was poor. This is not my way, direct me to her grave.”
He went to her grave and prayed.
His enemies in Makkah were not satisfied even when he had migrated away from them. They sought to annihilate him and his mission and attacked the city that had given him refuge. Three main battles were fought including Badr (in the 2nd year after migration), Uhud (in the 3rd year after migration) and Khandaq (the Ditch) (in the 4th year after migration). In all the Muslims were very poorly armed compared with their persecutors but nevertheless, Muslims were saved from extermination. Then in 6 A.H. following the breach of a treaty, Muhammad (pbuh) marched into Makkah at the head of 10,000 followers. The victory was emphatic, and apart from a skirmish at one of the entry points, it is important to note that it was bloodless. With his persecutors at his mercy, Muhammad (peace and blessings of God) displayed the greatest acts of clemency ever witnessed in history. When asked how they wished to be treated, his once tormentors asked to be forgiven – and Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) did just that. Uttering the words attributed to the prophet Joseph (may God be pleased with him), La tasriba alaikamul yaum (No reproach shall lie on you this day), he forgave them. He lived for about another 5 years before passing away (632 AD) at the age of 63.
The above is just a brief insight into the life of the Prophet of Islam. For a more in-depth review of the Life of The Prophet Mohummad (pbuh), you may wish to read this article, Muhummad, The Excellent Exampler.