Islam 101- Who Is Muhammad? (PBUH) Part 1 Of 2
Muhammad (PBUH) is, without a doubt, the most controversial figure in world history. No other personality throughout time has conjured up such overpowering emotion from the masses. On the Muslim side he is absolutely the most venerated and beloved man ever, a mercy sent to the entire world from God and the final prophet to all of mankind. The western view, however, has been anything but philanthropic. Rather, there has been a continuous "smear campaign" raged against this man from the very onset of the revelations and throughout the Middle Ages, perhaps most notably in the times of the Crusades. Accusations abound, some saying he copied the Bible, some saying he had hallucinations in the throws of an epileptic fit, and still others claiming that he was receiving false revelations from Satan himself.
So who was this man who today has more than 1.6 billion followers? Who was this man that Michael Hart named as the "most influential person in history" in his 1978 book, The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History? What is it about him that continues to inspire so many people today in the west and afar, causing Islam to be the fastest growing religion in the world? Why is Muhammad the most common name in the world today?
Of course the answer is too broad to attempt in this short article, but perhaps we can have a brief introduction to this great prophet of God. His name was Muhammad ibn Abd Allah ibn Abd al-Muttalib, which means Muhammad the son of Abd Allah the son of Abd al-Muttalib. He was born into the tribe of Quraysh and the family of Banu Hashim in Mecca around 570 CE, to a family standard that could be described as "upper middle class." His father died before he was born and his mother died when he was around six years old. The young orphan was then sent to live with his paternal grandfather, Abd al-Muttalib. When he was just eight years old, his grandfather also died and Muhammad (PBUH) was cared for by his uncle, Abu Talib, who continued to support and protect him for the next 40 years.
Mecca was a thriving commercial center and the home of the Ka'aba which is believed to have been built by Abraham and his son Ishmael. Even in that era of pre-Islam the Ka'aba was a holy site of pilgrimage for all of Arabia, but at that time it was filled with idols that were thought to be intermediaries between the worshipper and Allah. In pre-Islamic Arabia Allah was recognized as the Supreme Being, but the paganism and idolatry had corrupted the true religion that was originally brought to the Arabs by Ishmael.
It is known that Muhammad (PBUH) never partook in idol worshipping and was greatly disturbed by it. He was known to retreat for weeks at a time to a cave where he would pray to God alone and ask for guidance. At some point in his late teens he began to accompany his uncle to Syria with the trading caravans, giving him the knowledge to become a successful merchant. Among the people of Mecca he was nicknamed "Al-Amin" which means "The Trustworthy" due to his honesty and integrity displayed in every aspect of his life. This reputation attracted a 40 year old widow named Khadija who proposed marriage to Muhammad (PBUH) while he was in his mid twenties. They were happily married for more than twenty years and had 6 children together, however his sons died in their early childhood.
So, Muhammad (PBUH) was well-loved and respected by his family and friends before the revelations of the Qur'an began. The most famous incident in his life before Islam was his arbitration between four major clans in Mecca that were near taking up arms against each other. There had been a flash flood that destroyed part of the Ka'aba and each of the four major tribes were helping to rebuild the holy structure. The last stone to be placed was the black stone of the corner and each of the tribes wanted the honor of putting the stone back in its place. They decided that the next person who walked through the doors of the mosque would decide which tribe would have the honor of replacing the black stone. When they saw Muhammad (PBUH) walk in they were overjoyed, for here came Al-Amin, and they were confident he would find a just solution. Muhammad's solution was to place the black stone on a cloak and have one member of each of the four clans hold a corner to lift it up, and Muhammad (PBUH) himself put the stone in place. Everyone was happy with this solution and fighting was averted.
During the month of Ramadan in the year 610 CE, Muhammad (PBUH) had retreated to a cave on Mount Hira outside of Mecca for fasting, prayer and contemplation. It was here that the angel Gabriel first descended from Heaven and told the prophet to "Recite in the name of your Lord who created!" which was the first revelation of the Qur'an. The word Qur'an itself means recitation, or something to be recited. Muhammad (PBUH) was terrified of the experience and was afraid he was going crazy. He returned to his wife, Khadija, and told her what had happened. Khadija was the first person to accept Islam; she told him that she believed that he was a prophet of God and that he was not crazy or sick.
After the first revelation, three years passed before the angel Gabriel returned to Muhammad (PBUH) with more of the Qur'an. During those three years he spent his time in prayer and religious practice. He had not started openly preaching yet, the only other people who knew of Islam and followed him were his wife, his young cousin Ali who was only 10, his adopted son Zaid and his best friend Abu Bakr.
In the year 613 Muhammad (PBUH) started to speak out in public, calling people to give up the worship of idols and worship only Allah, the one true God. At first the Meccans only thought he was a nuisance, they laughed at him and said his only followers were an old lady, a slave and a little boy. But, as he continued to preach the number of followers grew. The entire economy of Mecca was based on the idols housed inside the Ka'aba, so when Muhammad (PBUH) started to preach against the idol worshipping he was threatening the finances of the leaders of Quraysh. They offered Muhammad (PBUH) all the money, stature and women in Mecca if he would stop preaching, but he said that he preached for God and needed nothing from the materials of this world. They began to physically torture the Muslims and tried to get them to denounce Islam and they brutally murdered many more. Muhammad (PBUH) was protected from physical harm by his uncle Abu Talib who stood by his nephew's side his entire life, but never converted to Islam.
The other clans of Quraysh implemented a trade embargo on the clan of Banu Hashim, Muhammad's clan. The embargo lasted for three years and many of the clan starved to death. Khadija, weakened by starvation, died during this time as did his beloved uncle and sole protector, Abu Talib. That was the year 619 CE, "the year of sorrows."
It was evident that the Muslims would have to seek a new place to establish themselves. The prophet asked many different tribes for their protection when they came for pilgrimage to Mecca, but found none. It began to look hopeless and Muhammad despaired that the religion would die with all the Muslims. Then, a miracle happened. In the town of Yathrib, now Medina an-Nabi, there had been fighting amongst the Arabs and the Jews for many years. The leaders of the tribes came to Muhammad (PBUH) because they knew his reputation as a trustworthy man and peaceful arbitrator. They asked that he come to Yathrib, with all of his followers, where they would have sanctity in exchange for his arbitrating between the tribes. Muhammad (PBUH) agreed and the Muslims emigrated to Yathrib in 622, this even is known as the hijra and it marks year 0 of the Muslim calendar.