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The Life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
An Overview

Michael Hart wrote in his book, The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, “My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels.”

Indeed the unlettered Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace), who lived in the desert of Arabia, has had the greatest impact on humanity. The following is a brief account of the Life of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) was born in Mecca, Arabia, 570 years after Christ. He was a descendant of Abraham and Ishmael (peace be upon them). His father died before his birth, and his mother died when he was six years old. He then lived with his grandfather, who died when Muhammad was eight years old.

Muhammad’s grandfather was the leader of Quraish, the leading tribe of Mecca. The Quraish were in charge of the sacred house known as Kaba. Kaba was a structure built by Abraham and Ishmael as a symbol of God’s Oneness and dedicated to His worship—a place where believers would gather from around the world to celebrate God’s praise. Today more than two million people visit Kaba during the annual pilgrimage known as the Hajj, and millions more visit it throughout the year.

After the passing of Abraham and Ishmael (upon them be peace), people gradually began worshipping idols. By the time of Prophet Muhammad’s birth, there were some 360 idols placed in Kaba. With the advent of idolatry also came rampant crime and oppression. Drinking, gambling, fornication and adultery were common. There were designated areas where men and women, married and unmarried, would go to sleep together. When a woman had a baby out of wedlock, she would compare the baby’s features to those of the men she had slept with and give the baby to the one it resembled most. Some families were so ashamed of having daughters that they buried their baby girls alive. In order to cope with the emotional trauma of such family instability and social disorder, drinking became common. Arabs fought and killed each other over the slightest matters. This was the society into which Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was born.

After the death of his grandfather, eight-year-old Muhammad lived with his poor, but highly respected uncle. Young Muhammad helped him by herding sheep. Muhammad (upon him be peace) soon became known for his honesty and good character. People called him Al-Ameen, which means trustworthy and truthful.

At the age of twenty-five he had an opportunity to conduct business for a wealthy widow, named Khadijah. She was so impressed by his character that she proposed marriage to him. Although she was forty, he accepted her proposal, and they lived for the next fifteen years in a comfortable and blissful marriage.

Until the age of forty, Muhammad lived a quiet life. However, one night, in the month of Ramadan, while he was meditating in a cave, Angel Gabriel appeared to him with the command, “Read in the Name of Your Lord.” Muhammad was illiterate, so he replied that he couldn’t read. But eventually he repeated the words after Gabriel, “Read in the Name of Your Lord, Who created man, out of a clinging clot: Read! And your Lord is Most Bountiful, He Who taught [the use of] the pen, Taught man that which he knew not.” (Qur’an 96:1-5) This was the beginning of twenty-three years of revelation from The Merciful Allah that became the Qur’an. The word Qur’an means reading and recitation.

When Muhammad proclaimed the message, people laughed at him. They wondered why God had chosen him instead of much wealthier and more powerful leaders of Mecca. But God chooses whomsoever He wills to convey His message! They attacked him and the early Muslims physically and verbally. At one point, due to the severity of the persecution, a group of Muslims migrated to Abyssinia (known today as Ethiopia). Abyssinia was ruled by Negus, a just Christian king. At his court, facing extradition to Mecca, they explained to the Christian King why they had left the religion of their forefathers and embraced Islam:

“O King! We were plunged in the depth of ignorance and barbarism; we adored idols, we lived in unchastity, we ate the dead flesh, and we spoke abominations; we disregarded every feeling of humanity, and the duties of hospitality and neighborhood were neglected; we knew no law but that of the strong, when God raised among us a man, of whose birth, truthfulness, honesty, and purity we were aware; and he called to the oneness of God, and taught us not to associate anything with Him. He forbade us the worship of idols; and he enjoined us to speak the truth, to be faithful to our trusts, to be merciful and to regard the rights of the neighbors and kith and kin; he forbade us to speak evil of women, or to eat the substance of orphans; he ordered us to avoid vices, and to abstain from evil; to offer prayers, to render alms, and to observe fast.

“We have believed in him, we have accepted his teachings and his injunctions to worship God, and not to associate anything with Him, and we have allowed what He has allowed, and prohibited what He has prohibited. For this reason, our people have risen against us, have persecuted us in order to make us forsake the worship of God and return to the worship of idols and other abominations. They have tortured and injured us, until, finding no safety among them, we have come to your country, and hope you will protect us from oppression.”

(You can watch a rendition of this event from the movie The Message, in which Anthony Quinn played the Prophet’s uncle, at:

Eventually, after thirteen years of preaching and persecution in Mecca, Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) received an invitation from the people of Yathrib, a city located north of Mecca, to migrate and live there with his companions. The people of Yathirb had heard for many years from the Jews in their city about a Prophet coming, and when they heard of Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) they hurried to accept his message and to become Muslims. Once the Prophet, peace be upon him, migrated to Yathrib, the name of the city was changed to Madinah un-Nabi, The City of The Prophet. In Madinah he established a mosque and created a commonwealth with various factions and tribes to bring about unity.

Now that the Muslims were an independent entity, they were able to practice their religion freely and live every aspect of their lives based on divine guidance. However, the people of Mecca were worried that this independence would endanger their interests. A battle took place in the second year after the migration—300 ill-equipped Muslims fought against 1,000 well-equipped pagans and won. Several other conflicts took place, but only six years after the initial battle, the Prophet conquered Mecca as the head of an army of 10,000 and granted complete amnesty to those who had persecuted and killed Muslims for so many years. He destroyed all the idols in the Kaba and dedicated it once more to God’s worship alone.

Regarding this incident, Karen Armstrong wrote in Muhammad, “By conquering Mecca, Muhammad had vindicated his prophetic claim. But this conquest had been achieved without bloodshed and Muhammad’s peaceful policy paid off. Within a few years paganism was quite dead in Mecca and some of Muhammad’s most committed enemies like Ikrimah and Suhayl became devout and fervent Muslims.”

Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) and his message had a profound impact. The entire Arabian society was changed from warring tribes into people united in worship of God. This society was transformed from one where adultery, drunkenness, gambling, robbery, racism, and oppression were rampant into a society united under the worship of God Almighty, one that encouraged its members to involve themselves in righteous actions and forbade evil ones. 

By the time of the death of the Prophet, peace be upon him, almost the entire of Arabia had accepted Islam. Eventually Islam spread as far as China and Southern Europe.

What was the social impact of Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace)? In this regards renowned British historian Arnold Toynbee remarked in his Civilization on Trial, “The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue. . . . This Islamic spirit [of submission to divine guidance] may be expected to manifest itself in many practical ways, and one of these manifestations might be liberation from alcohol, which was inspired by religious conviction and which was therefore able to accomplish what could never be enforced by the external sanction of an alien law. . . . Here then in the foreground of the future we can remark two valuable influences which Islam may exert upon the cosmopolitan proletariat of the Western society. . . .”

How did Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) accomplished all this without any education in psychology, sociology, or counseling?

French poet Lamartine wrote in Histoire de La Turquie, “Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational dogmas, of a religion without images, the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire, that is Muhammad. If greatness of purpose, smallness of means and astounding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history with Muhammad?”

Many historians, such as Montgomery Watt, Karen Armstrong, and Annie Besant, have attested to this fact. Yet, as Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) said throughout his mission, he was only a man conveying the revelations given to him by God.

I think it is clear that Muhammad was more than a reformer or philosopher. He brought about real change and peace and impacted the world. Thus, I believe a serious study of his life and accomplishments is something to consider, especially his claim of receiving revelations from God.

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Here are some sayings of Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace):

"Let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day either speak good or keep silent, and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his neighbor, and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his guest."

"Allah has written down the good deeds and the bad ones." Then he explained it [by saying that]:" He who has intended a good deed and has not done it, Allah writes it down with Himself as a full good deed, but if he has intended it and has done it, Allah writes it down with Himself as from ten good deeds to seven hundred times, or many times over. But if he has intended a bad deed and has not done it, Allah writes it down with Himself as a full good deed, but if he has intended it and has done it, Allah writes it down as one bad deed."

Allah the Almighty has said: "O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as its."

A man asked the prophet : "Counsel me". He said: " Do not become angry". The man repeated [his request] several times, and he said: "Do not become angry ".

"Fear Allah wherever you are, and follow up a bad deed with a good one and it will wipe it out, and behave well towards people."

"..Be mindful of Allah, you will find Him before you. Get to know Allah in prosperity and He will know you in adversity. Know that what has passed you by was not going to befall you; and that what has befallen you was not going to pass you by. And know that victory comes with patience, relief with affliction, and ease with hardship."

"Each person's every joint must perform a charity every day the sun comes up: to act justly between two people is a charity; to help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it is a charity: a good word is a charity, every step you take to prayers is a charity and removing a harmful thing from the road is a charity."

"Righteousness is good morality, and wrongdoing is that which wavers in your soul and which you dislike people finding out about."

A man came to the prophet and said: "O Messenger of Allah, direct me to an act which, if I do it, [will cause] Allah to love me and people to love me." He said: "Renounce the world and Allah will love you, and renounce what people possess and people will love you."