Edward Gibbon describes the Arabs before Islam in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as “…the human brute without sense is poorly distinguished from the rest of the animal”. From this abject barbarism, an unlettered person elevated them, as in the words of Thomas Carlyle:
“…into Torch-bearers of Light And Learning. To the Arab nation it was a birth from darkness into light. Arabia first became alive by means of it. A poor shepherd people, roaming unnoticed in its deserts since the creation of the world. See, the unnoticed becomes world notable, the small has grown world-great. Within one century afterwards Arabia was at Granada on one hand and at Delhi on the other. Glancing in valour and splendour, and the light of genius, Arabia shines over a great section of the world…”
So, Who was this Unlettered Person who single-handedly transformed barbarians and savages, who worshipped 360 Idols around the Ka’abah, into civillized people who worship the only One True God?
The Birth of Muhammad
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was born in Makkah on Monday the 12th of the month of “Rabi-ul-Awwal”, “The Year of the Elephant” (“A’am al-Feel” in Arabic) which corresponds roughly to April 20, 571 A.D. The reason it was given this name was because it was the year when Abraha Al-Ashram, the local governor of the Ethiopian protectorate of al-Yemen, mounted his elephant and lead his army in an attempt to storm Makkah and destroy the Kaabah.
Muhammad’s father’s name was Abdullah and his mother’s name was Amina, the daughter of Wahab. His full name was Muhammad the son of Abdullah the son of `Abd al-Muttalib the son of Hashim the son of Abdul Manaf the son of Qushai the son of Kilab the son of Murrah the son of Kaab the son of Luai the son of Ghalib the son of Fihir the son of Malik the son of Al-Nadhar the son of Knana the son of Khuzaima the son of Mdraka the son of Ilias the son of Mudir the son of Nizar the son of Ma’ad the son of Adnan. The ancestry of Adnan goes back to Kedar the son of Ishmael, the son of Prophet Abraham(P). Muhammad’s grandfather, Abdul Muttalib, was the leader of the tribe of Quraish, the noblest of the tribes of the region and his mother was a woman of prominent nobility and ancestry in the same tribe.
His father, Abdullah, died several weeks before his birth in Yathrib (Medinah) where he went to visit his father’s maternal relatives. His mother died while on the return journey from Medinah at a place called Abwa when he was six years old. He was raised by his paternal grandfather `Abd al-Muttalib (Shaybah) until the age of eight, and after his grandfather’s death by Abu Talib, his paternal uncle. ‘Abd al Muttalib’s mother, Salma, was a native of Medinah and he was born and raised as a young boy in Medinah before his uncle Muttalib brought him to Makkah to succeed him. Many years before Muhammad’s birth, ‘Abd al Muttalib had established himself as an influential leader of the Arab tribe “Quraish” in Makkah and took care of the Holy sanctuary “Ka’abah”. Makkah was a city-state well connected to the caravan routes to Syria and Egypt in the north and northwest and Yemen in the south. Muhammad was a descendant of Prophet Ismail through the lineage of his second son Kedar.
Ka’abah is the first house of worship built on earth for the worship of Allah, the One True God. It was re-built (raised from the existing foundation) by the Prophets Ibrahim (Abraham) and Ismail (Ishmael), peace be upon them. Allah is the proper name of the One True God, creator and sustainer of the universe, who does not have a partner or associate, and He did not beget nor was He begotten. Unlike the word “god”, the word Allah does not have a plural or gender.
Muhammad’s(P) mother Amina died when he was six years old and was followed shortly thereafter by his grandfather Abdul Muttalib when he was eight years old. At this point, he went to live with his uncle Abu Talib and his three cousins Ali, Jaafar, and Akeel. Under the guardianship of Abu Talib, Muhammad began to earn a living as a businessman and a trader. As he grew up he earned a reputation for honesty, fairness, humbleness, and integrity. At the age of twelve, he accompanied Abu Talib with a merchant caravan as far as Bostra in Syria. Muhammad was popularly known as ‘al-Ameen’ for his unimpeachable character by the Makkans and visitors alike. The title al-Ameen means the Honest, the Reliable and the Trustworthy, and it signified the highest standard of moral and public life.
Upon hearing of Muhammad’s impressive credentials, Khadijah, a rich merchant widow, asked Muhammad to take some merchandise for trade to Syria. Soon after this trip when he was twenty-five, Khadijah proposed marriage to Muhammad through a relative. Muhammad accepted the proposal. At that time, Khadijah was twice widowed and forty years old. Khadijah r.a and Muhammad were the parents of six children – four daughters and two sons. His first son Qasim died at the age of two. He was nicknamed “Abul Qasim”, meaning the father of Qasim. His second son Abdullah died in infancy. Abdullah was also called affectionately as “Tayyab” and “Tahir” because he was born after Muhammad’s prophethood. The four daughters were: Zainab, Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthum, and Fatimah.
The Holy Sanctuary Ka’abah was now filled with three hundred sixty idols. The original, pristine message of Prophet Ibrahim(P) was lost, and it was mixed with superstitions and traditions of pilgrims and visitors from distant places, who were used to idol worship and myths. In every generation, a small group of men and women detested the pollution of Ka’abah and kept pure their practice of the religion taught by Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail. They used to spend some of their time away from this polluted environment in retreats to nearby hills. The ascetic hanifs were known to retreat there for solitary reflection and meditation. Muhammad practiced this for some timeby retreating to Mt. Hira,which is extremely rocky with almost inaccessible slopes.; however, on one of these occasions he would be changed forever.
The Call to Prophethood
Muhammad was forty when, during his one of many retreats to Mount Hira for meditation during the month of Ramadan, he received the first revelation from the Archangel Jibril (Gabriel). On the night of 17 Ramadhan, corresponding with 6 August 610 CE, Gabriel visited him at one of his meditations at Hira’. On this first appearance, Gabriel said to Muhammad: “Iqraa”, meaning Read or Recite. Muhammad replied, “I cannot read,” as he had not received any formal education and did not know how to read or write. The Angel Gabriel then embraced him until he reached the limit of his endurance and after releasing said: “Iqraa.” Muhammad’s answer was the same as before. Gabriel repeated the embrace for the third time, asked him to repeat after him and said:
“Recite in the name of your Lord who created! He created man from that which clings. Recite; and thy Lord is most Bountiful, He who has taught by the pen, taught man what he knew not.”
These revelations are the first five verses of Sura’ (Chapter) 96 of the Qur’an. Thus it was in the year 610 CE the revelation began. This hadith narrates:
“There came to him the angel and said: Recite, to which he replied: I am not lettered. He took hold of me (the Apostle said) and pressed me, till I was hard pressed; thereafter he let me off and said: Recite. I said, I am not lettered. He then again took hold of me and pressed me for the second time till I was hard pressed and then let me off and said: Recite, to which I replied: I am not lettered. He took hold of me and pressed me for a third time, till I was hard pressed and then let me go and said: Recite in the name of your Lord Who created, created man from a clot of blood. Recite. And your most bountiful Lord is He Who taught the use of the pen, taught man what he knew not.” (Sahih Muslim; vol. 1, p. 97)
The event disturbed Muhammad deeply. He was terrified by the whole experience of the revelation and fled the cave of Mt. Hira [Qur’an 81:19-29]. When he reached his home, tired and frightened, he asked his wife: “cover me, cover me”, in a blanket. After his awe had somewhat abated, his wife Khadijah asked him about the reason of his great anxiety and fear. She then assured him by saying: “Allah (The One God) will not let you down because you are kind to relatives, you speak only the truth, you help the poor, the orphan and the needy, and you are an honest man.”
In another hadith:
“Allah’s Apostle said, “I was in seclusion in the cave of Hira, and after I completed the limited period of my seclusion, I cam down and heard a voice me. I looked to my right, but saw nothing. Then I looked up and saw something. So I went to Khadija and told her to wrap me up and pour cold water on me. So they wrapped me up and poured could water on me.” (Sahih Bukhari; vol. 6, pp. 417-418)
Khadijah then consulted with her cousin Warraqa, a Christian, who was an old, saintly man possessing knowledge of previous revelations and scriptures. When Waraqqa heard what had happened he shouted with excitement: “Quddusun! Quddusun! (Holy! Holy!) and by Him, in whose hands is the life of Waraqa, if you have told me the truth, O Khadijah, he (Muhammad) have been visited by al-Namus al-Akbar (the Archangel Gabriel) who used to visit Moses. Say to him: be brave and resolute”. Khadijah hurried back with the reassuring message and the glad tidings of Waraqa which Muhammad received with great relief and satisfaction. The Prophet then gave himself up to a long and restful sleep. When he woke up, Khadijah told him more about her visit to Waraqa. Eventually Muhammad went to meet him. Waraqqa told him: “By Him in whose hands my soul rests, you are the prophet of this nation, and the one who visited you is none other than the namus who visited Moses. Verily, your people shall call you a liar, abuse you, expel you, and wage war against you.”
When Muhammad(P) heard these words he was bewildered, for he knew of his noble standing with his people, their great respect and admiration for him, and how they called him “The Truthful, the Trustworthy,” so he asked Warraqa: “Will they expel me?” Warraqa replied “Yes! Never has there come a man before you with similar to that which you have come with except his people fought him and waged war against him. If I were to live to that day, I shall stand by you and assist you mightily.” However, Warraqa died shortly thereafter.
Khadijah(R) accepted the revelation as truth and was the first person to accept Islam. She supported her husband in every hardship, most notably during the three-year “boycott” of the Prophet’s clan by the pagan Quraishy. Khadijah owns virtues uncommon among the women of the pagan Arabs, for this reason she was called At-Tahirah. She has a sharp mind, ambitious and likes to help those in need.
Among all the wives of the Prophet(P), her ancestry is the closest to that of the Prophet(P) himself:
- Muhammad bin Abdullah bin `Abd al-Muthalib bin Hasyim bin Abdul Manaf bin Qushai
Khadijah binti Khuwailid bin Asad bin Abdul `Uzza bin Qushai
She died at the age of sixty-five in the month of Ramadan soon after the lifting of the boycott in 620 A.D.
The Angel Gabriel visited the Prophet as commanded by Allah revealing Ayat (meaning signs, loosely referred to as verses) in Arabic over a period of twenty-three years. The revelations that he received were sometimes a few verses, a part of a chapter or the whole chapter. Some revelations came down in response to an inquiry by the non-believers. The revealed verses were recorded on a variety of available materials (leather, palm leaves, bark, shoulder bones of animals), memorized as soon as they were revealed, and were recited in daily prayers by Muslims (Qur’an, 80:13-16). Angel Gabriel taught the order and arrangement of verses, and the Prophet instructed his several scribes to record verses in that order (Qur’an, 75:16-19 and 41:41-42). Once a year, the Prophet used to recite all the verses revealed to him up to that time to Gabriel to authenticate the accuracy of recitation and the order of verses (Qur’an, 175:106). All the revealed verses (over a period of 23 years and ending in 632 CE) were compiled in the book known as Qur?an. The name Qur’an appears in the revealed verses. The Qur’an does not contain even a word from the Prophet. The Qur’an speaks in the first person, i.e., Allah’s commandments to His creation. Gabriel also visited the Prophet throughout his mission informing and teaching him of events and strategy as needed to help in the completion of the prophetic mission. The Prophet’s sayings, actions, and approvals are recorded separately in collections known as Ahadith.
The mission of Prophet Muhammad(P) was to restore the worship of the One True God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, as taught by Prophet Abraham and all Prophets of God, and to demonstrate and complete the laws of moral, ethical, legal, and social conduct and all other matters of significance for the humanity at large.
The first few people who followed this message were: his cousin Ali, his servant Zayd ibn Harithah, his friend Abu Bakr and his wife and daughters. They accepted Islam by testifying that:
“There is no Deity (worthy of worship) except Allah (The One True God) and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”
In the first three years of his mission forty people (men and women) accepted Islam. This small group comprised of youth as well as older people from a wide range of economic and social background. The first people to believe in Muhammad(P) were his closest of kin and some of his close friends. Among them were his wife Khadijah, his cousin Ali ibn Abi-Talib(K), his close friend Abu Bakr As-Siddiq(R), and his adopted son Zaid ibn Haritha, as well as many of the poor and weak such as Bilal the Ethiopian, and Abdullah ibn Masood, among others. Some of those who accepted Muhammad’s call were nobles and leaders in the tribe of Quraish, such as Uthman ibn Affan, Abdulrahman ibn `Auf, Saad ibn Abi-Waqqash, and Talha ibn Ubaidallah and many others. They were called “As Saabiquunal awwaluun”, which means “Those who were the first who revert to Islam”.
Sir William Muir, the author of “The Life of Mahomet” writes that:
“It is strongly corroborative of Mahomet’s sincerity that the earliest converts to Islam were not only of upright character, but his own bossom friends and people of his household who, intimately acquainted with his private life, could not fail otherwise to have detected those discrepencies which ever more or less exist between the professions of the hypocritical deceiver abroad and his actions at home.”
Declaration of Prophethood in Public
Muhammad’s call to Islam continued in secret for a period of three years at which point the following verse was revealed to him:
“Therefore expound openly that which you are commanded, and be heedless of those who associate partners with God.” (Qur’an, 15:94)
Upon receiving this command, Muhammad(P) climbed to the top of the hill of Al-Safa and shouted at the top of his lungs: “Ya sabaha!” This call was well known to be a call of dire distress and impending peril. It was usually reserved to warn of a siege by a hostile army. Immediately the citizens clamored around him to learn what alarming news he had to reveal to them. When they had assembled around him he proclaimed:
“O children of Abdul-Muttalib, O children of Fihr, O children of Kaab, if I were to warn you that at the bottom of this hill are horses [of war] about to attack you, would you believe me?”
The people replied: “Yes!”
Then Muhammad said: “Then [be notified that] I am a warner, before me is a terrible punishment.”
Everyone fell silent and did not know what to say until one of the nobles, Muhammad’s uncle Abu Lahab, blurted out: “Damn you the rest of the day! Is this why you assembled us?”
From that day forward, Muhammad(P) called to Islam openly and without fear. With time, more and more people began to accept this call and became Muslims. Most of them, however, were of the poor, the weak, and the destitute of Quraish. In the beginning, the nobles did not pay him much heed until they learned that he was deriding their idols. This is when their animosity and their campaign of retribution began.
At first, the nobles tried to convince Muhammad’s followers that he was a lunatic or a magician. However, when this method did not succeed, the Quraish began to persecute Muslims by beating, torture and boycott of their businesses. Those who were weak, poor or slaves were publicly tortured. Those of them who had no clan to protect them were subjected to the worst of this torture. Many were whipped, stoned, beaten, starved and burned. The nobles took great pains to come up with new and innovative ways to torture them. Among these was the method employed by Umayya against his slave Bilal the Ethiopian. He would take him out to the desert at the hottest time of day, lay him on his back under the scorching sun, then order that a large boulder be rolled onto his stomach. All the while Bilal remained resolute, repeating: “[God is] one, [God is] one.”
At the same time, the tribe of Makhzoom would take the family of Yasir, the father the mother and the son, out to the desert during the midday heat and torture them severely. While this was going on, Muhammad(P) would pass by them and say: “Have patience family of Yasir. Your appointment is with heaven.” Khabbab ibn Al-Art narrated that: “They used to take me out, light a fire, and then roast me over it. A man then came and placed his foot on my chest extinguishing the fire with my back.”
It was well known in the Arabian peninsula that one does not attack or abuse members of a strong clan or tribe for fear that that tribe might seek retribution. Those who did not belong to such a tribe would enter into a pact of protection with a noble of a strong clan or tribe. In such a manner people would protect their families and wealth from the aggression of their neighbors. When Quraish first began its campaign of persecution of Muhammad(P) and his companions many of them sought protection by allying themselves with non-Muslims in this manner. For example, Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq(R) had allied himself with ibn Al-Daghnah, and Uthman ibn Madhgoon allied himself with Al-Waleed ibn al-Mugeerah. Muhammad(P) himself was under the protection of his uncle Abu Talib. This protection by no means protected them from all abuse, however, it did afford them a measure of protection against the severest torture or murder. It is worth mentioning though that both Abu Bakr(R) and Uthman(R) both felt such protection by non-Muslims inappropriate and later renounced that protection in favour of the protection of Allah Almighty. The Prophet Muhammad(P) even met persecution within the sub-tribe of his family, the Bani Hashim. The main opponents of Muhammad among the Bani Hisham were his uncles Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab. Ibn Ishaq tells of Abu Jahl’s harsh persection:
“It was that evil man Abu Jahl who stirred up the Meccans against them [the Muslims]. When he heard that a man had become a Muslim, if he was a man of social importance and had relations to defend him, he reprimanded him and poured scorn on him, saying, “You have forsaken the religion of your father who was better than you. We will declare you a blockhead and brand you as a fool, and destroy your reputation.” If he was a merchant he said, “We will boycott your goods and reduce you to beggary.” If he was a person of no social importance, he beat him and incited people against him.” (Sirat Rasullah, p. 145)
Because of the continuous and unrelenting persecution of Quraish towards the Muslims, it was next to impossible for any among them to publicly declare his acceptance of the faith much less call others to Islam.
One day the companions of Muhammad(P) gathered together and said to one another “By Allah, Quraish has yet to hear this Qur’an recited to them out loud, so who among you shall recite it to them?” Abdullah the son of Masood volunteered: “I shall do it.” They objected: “We are afraid that they might attack you, we want someone who has a strong tribe or clan to protect him if they decide to harm him.” Abdullah replied: “Let me be the one, God shall protect me.” At day break, Abdullah set out to their gathering place next to the Kaaba and in a loud voice he began to recite the Qur’an. He read:
“In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful. The Most Compassionate! [He] has taught the Qur’an. He created man. He taught him eloquent speech …” (Qur’an, 55:1-4)
As Abdullah continued to recite the Qur’an the nobles of Quraish asked one another “What is he saying?” Then one of them said “He is reading part of that which Muhammad has brought!” So they all sprang up and began to strike him about his face, all the while he continued to recite this chapter to them until he felt that they had heard enough.
The Quraishy, leaders of Makkah, took the Prophet’s preaching with hostility. The most hostile and closest to the prophet was his uncle, Abu Lahab and his wife. Initially, they and other leaders of Quraish tried to bribe him with money and power including an offer to make him king if he were to abandon his message. When this did not work, they tried to convince his uncle Abu Talib to accept the best young man of Makkah in place of Muhammad and to allow them to kill Muhammad. His uncle tried to persuade the Prophet to stop preaching but the Prophet said: “O uncle, if they were to put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left hand to stop me from preaching Islam, I would never stop. I will keep preaching until Allah makes Islam prevail or I die.”
The Muslims from well-to-do families were physically restrained in their homes with the condition that if they repent they will be allowed freedom of movement. The Prophet(P) was publicly ridiculed and humiliated including frequent throwing of filth on him in the street and while he prayed in the Ka?bah. In spite of great hardships and no apparent support, the message of Islam kept all Muslims firm in their belief. The Prophet(P) was asked by God to be patient and to preach the message of Qur?an. He advised Muslims to remain patient because he did not receive any revelation yet to retaliate against their persecutors.
When the persecution became unbearable for most Muslims, the Prophet(P) advised them in the fifth year of his mission (615 CE) to emigrate to Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia) where Ashabah (Negus, a Coptic Christian) was the ruler. Eighty people, not counting the small children, emigrated in small groups to avoid detection. No sooner had they left the Arabian coastline, the leaders of Quraish discovered their flight. They decided to not leave these Muslims in peace, and immediately sent two of their envoys to Negus to bring all of them back. However, Negus allowed them to stay under his protection after he investigated Muslim belief and heard the revelations about `Eesa and Maryam (peace be upon them both), which appears in Chapter 19, entitled Sura’ Maryam (Mary), of the Qur’an. The emigrants were allowed freedom of worship in Abyssinia.
The Quraish then made life even more difficult for the Prophet(P) by implementing total ban on contact with the Prophet’s family (Bani Hashim and Muttalib). The ban lasted for three years without the desired effect. Just before the ban was lifted, the Prophet was contacted by the leaders of Quraish to agree to a compromise under which they should all practice both religions (i.e., Islam and Idolatry). Upon hearing this, the Prophet recited a revelation (Qur’an, 109) he had just received and which ends with the words: “… For you your religion and for me mine.” The ban was lifted when leaders of Quraish discovered that their secret document on the terms of ban, which they had stored in Ka’bah, was eaten by worms and all that was left were the opening words “In Your Name, O Allah.” The effects of the three-year boycott left the Prophet with more personal sorrow when he lost his beloved wife Khadijah (ra) and uncle Abu Talib soon after the ban was lifted. This year is called “Aamul huzni” (the year of sadness).
After Khadijah’s death in 620 CE, the Prophet married a widowed Muslim woman, Saudah(R) who was fifty years old. She and her husband had emigrated to Abyssinia in the early years of persecution. After her husband died, she came back to Makkah and sought Prophet’s shelter. The Prophet, recognizing her sacrifices for Islam, extended his shelter by marrying her. Later in the same year, the Prophet upon receiving the divine command in a dream, after approval of Saudah, contracted marriage to A’ishah, the daughter of his dear companion Abu Bakar. She joined the Prophet in Medinah, completing the marriage contract. Saudah and `Aishah(R) were the only wives until he was fifty-six years old.
The Disappointment at Ta’if
After the death of his uncle Abu Talib, the Prophet(P) went to Ta’if (about 50 miles east, southeast of Makkah) in search of the protection of the tribe of Thaqeef and with the hope that they might accept his message. He presented his message to Ibn Abd-Yalayl ibn Abdu Kulal and the nobles of Al-Ta’if. They, however, met him with curses and abuse. They then roused the citizens and enflamed their passions against him till they stoned him out of their city and he fled from them into a farm belonging to Utba and Shaiba the sons of Rabeea. These two watched him from a distance as he sat below one of their grape arbors and supplicated to Allah.
Sir William Muir comments:
“There is something lofty and heroic in this journey of Mahomet to Tayif; a solitary man, despised and rejected by his own people, going boldly forth in the name of God, like Jonah to Nineveh, and summoning an idolatrous city to pepent and support his mission. It sheds a strong light on the intensity of his belief in the divin origin of his calling.”
When Muhammad(P) saw that the people of Ta’if had left him alone and returned to their daily lives, with a heavy heart he lifted his hands towards the heavens and prayed: “O my Lord, unto you I bewail my weakness, inability, and disregard of mankind towards me. O Most Merciful of the merciful, you are the Lord of the weak and my Lord. Unto whom shall you deliver me? Unto one who is distant and shall glower at me, or unto an enemy whom you have given authority over me? If you are not angry against me then I do not care [what befalls me], but your [gifts of] well being are more commodious for me. I seek refuge in the light of your face that has overcome all darkness, and through which all matters of this life and the hereafter have been established in justice, that your retribution should fall upon me, or your disdain should befall me. Unto you is [all] appeasement until you are appeased, and no one has power or ability except in You.”
As Utba and Shaiba watched Muhammad(P) they felt pity on him and sent to him their slave boy, Addas, to collect a bowl of grapes and take it to him. Addas collected the grapes and took them to Muhammad placing them in his hand. He then said: “Eat.” As Muhammad was about to eat he began with the words “In the name of Allah” (which all Muslims say before eating or drinking). Addas was a Christian and when he heard these words he said to Muhammad “Verily, these are not the words of the people of this land.” Muhammad asked him from which land he came and Addas replied “From `Ninwa’.” Muhammad said: “From the land of the pious man Jonah the son of Amittai.” Addas marveled: “And how do you know Jonah the son of Amittai?” Muhammad (pbuh) responded: “He is my brother. He was a messenger and I am a messenger.” Upon hearing these words Addas took to kissing the hands, head and feet of Muhammad.
When Urwa and Shaiba saw this they said to one another: “Verily, he has quite corrupted our slave boy.” When Addas returned to them they said to him: “Fie upon you Addas! Why did you kiss the man’s head, hands and feet?” Addas replied: “O masters, there is nothing in this earth better than this matter. He has told me of a matter which is only known to a messenger” They rebuked him saying: “Fie unto you Addas! Do not allow him to divert you from your religion. Your religion is far better than his!”
Muhammad(P) then departed and returned home practically overwhelmed with excessive sorrow. On his way home he stopped in Qarn ath-Tha’alib, as he looked up, he saw a cloud shadowing him and he saw the angel Gabriel in it. Angel Gabriel then addressed him saying: “Allah has heard what your people said to you, and how they have replied to you. Allah has sent the Angel of the Mountains to you so that you may order him to do whatever you wish to these people.” The Angel of the Mountains then called out greeting him and then said, “O Muhammad! Order what you wish. If you like, I shall cause al-Akhshabayn (two mountains surrounding Al-Taif) to fall upon them.” The Prophet (pbuh), replied “No, for I hope that there shall be among their children those who will worship Allah alone, and will worship none besides Him.” It was on the return journey from Ta’if that the verses from Sura’ Al Jinn (72) were revealed. It indicated that the Qur?an is a book of guidance to both the Jinns and Humankind.
The Event of al-Isra’ and al-Mi’raaj
Soon after the terrible disappointment at Ta’if, the Prophet(P) experienced the events of al-Isra’ and al-Mi’raaj , which happen on the night of 27 Rejab (621 CE). In the Al-Israa, Gabriel took the Prophet from the sacred Mosque near Kaabah to the furthest (al-Aqsa) mosque in Jerusalem in a very short time in the latter part of a night. Here, Prophet Muhammad met with previous Prophets (Abraham, Moses, Jesus and others) and he led them in prayer. After this, in Al-Miraaj, the Prophet was taken up to heavens to show the signs of God. It was on this journey that the five daily prayers were prescribed. He was then taken back to Kaa’bah, the whole experience lasting a few hours of a night. Upon hearing this, the people of Makkah mocked at him. However, when his specific description of Jerusalem, other things on the way, and the caravan that he saw on this journey including its expected arrival in Makkah turned out to be true, the ridicule of the non-believers stopped. The event of Israa and Miraaj is mentioned in the Qur’an – the first verse of Chapter 17 entitled Al-Isra’, “The Night Journey”.
Soon after the event of Isra’ and Mi’raaj, the time of the hajj, the Arab clans from the whole of Arabia came to Makkah. Among them were the men from Yathrib. The Prophet s.a.w expounded his Message to them and 6 of them became Muslims. They commend his message as from Allah and promised to proclaim it when the returned to their city. A year later, in the 12th year of the Prophethood of Muhammad(P), they met again in secret at Awabah. This is the place where they made a bai’at (pledge) on the fundamentals of Islam; that they will not take no other gods beside Allah, they would not steal, they will not commit adultery, they will not kill their children, they will not slander and they will not disobey the Prophet(P). This pledge is called Bai’atul Aqabatil Ula (The First Pledge of Aqabah) or is also known as Bai’atun Nisa. A participant narrates:
“I was present at the first `Aqaba. There were twelve of us and we pledged ourselves to the Prophet after the manner of women [i.e. without bloodshed] and that was before war was enjoined, the undertaking being that we hsould associate nothing with God; we should not steal; we should not commit fornication; nor kill our offspring; we should not slander our neighbours; we should not disobey him in what was right; if we fulfilled this paradise would be ours; if we committed any of those sins it was for God to punish or forgive as he pleased [cf. Sura 60:12].” (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasullah, p. 199)
After this, Muhammad sent a close companion named Mus’ab bin Umair, to teach them the Qur’an. The spread of the new faith in the city was extremely swift, and the following year, Mus’ab returned with 73 men and 2 women and took the second pledge of ‘Aqaba (Bai’atul `Aqabah Ats Tsaaniyah). A witness said:
“We have listened to what you have said: had there been some other ideas in our mind would have expressed it. We mean to fulfill (our promises) and want truth, and we are ready to sacrifice our lives for the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him.” (Ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir; vol. 1, p. 257)
In 622 CE, the leaders of the Quraish decided to kill the Prophet and they developed a plan in which one man was chosen from each of the Quraish tribes and they were to attack the Prophet(P) simultaneously. Gabriel informed the Prophet of the plan and instructed him to leave Makkah immediately. The Prophet, after making arrangements to return the properties entrusted to him by several non-believers, left with Abu Bakr in the night he was to be assassinated.
Muhammad(P) set out with Abu-Bakr towards Yathrib. When the two reached the cave of Thor at the edge of Makkah, Abu Bakr said: “Wait O messenger of Allah while I inspect it [for dangerous creatures].” Once he had inspected it he asked Muhammad(P) to enter. While they were inside the cave, the dispatchment of Quraish reached them.
As they walked about all around the cave Abu Bakr became terrified and said:
“O Messenger of Allah, if one of them were but to look beneath his feet he would see us.”
Muhammad(P) turned to him and said:
“O Abu Bakr, what shall you think of two [men] the third of whom is God? [through guidance and protection]” In this regard the following verses were later revealed:
“If you help him not [it matters not], for Allah helped him when those who disbelieved drove him forth, the second of two; when they two were in the cave, when he said unto his comrade: Grieve not. Verily! Allah is with us. Then Allah caused His peace of reassurance to descend upon him and supported him with troops you did not see, and made the word of those who disbelieved the nethermost, while Allah’s Word is the highest. For Allah is Exalted in Might, Wise.” (Qur’an, 9:40)
Muhammad(P) and Abu Bakr(R) remained inside the cave for three days while Abdullah the son of Abu Bakr brought them news of the plotting of Quraish. Abu Bakr’s daughter, Asma, would also bring them food every day. Ibn Sa’ad writes:
“A spider span a cobweb, some parts of which covered others [which covered the entrance to the cave]. The Quraysh made a frantic search for the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him. They even came to the entrance of the cave, but someone among them said, Verily, spiders haunt this place from before the birth of Muhammad; and they returned.”1
After three days, they took a guide by the name of Abdullah ibn Arqat and set out for Makkah. At times Abu Bakr would walk behind Muhammad(P) and at others he would walk in front of him. Finally, Muhammad(P) asked him about that and Abu-Bakr explained that at times he would fear that an attack would come at Muhammad from behind, so he would walk behind Muhammad(P) to protect him. At other times he would fear an attack from in front of them so he would walk in front of him for the same reason. When Quraishy realized that Muhammad had eluded them, they announced a reward of one hundred camels for anyone who would capture him and return him to them. Suraqa ibn Malik ibn Ju’ushum heard of this reward and set out in pursuit of Muhammad(P).
Suraqa was a skilled tracker and Muhammad(P) and Abu Bakr had spent three days in the cave before departing, eventually he caught up with them. However, as he began to close in on them his horse tripped and fell. He then got up and mounted his horse, and again it tripped and fell. When this happened a third time his horse began to sink into the ground and a strong wind began to blow. When Suraqa saw this he realized that he would not be allowed to capture them. So he called out to them: “I am Suraqa ibn Ju’ushum. Will you allow me to speak to you? By Allah, I promise not to harm you” They asked him what he wanted and he replied: “I want you to write a pact for me that shall be a sign between me and you.” Muhammad(P) commanded that this pact be written and Suraqa took it and left. As he departed, Muhammad said to him: “conceal our location” and they parted ways.
Suraqa never spoke to anyone about what had happened until many years later, after the Muslims captured Makkah. At that point, Suraqa returned to Muhammad(P) with the pact in his hand and embraced Islam. When Muhammad(P) drew near Al-Madinah, he came upon the city of Quba (two miles away from Al-Madinah). Ever since the beginning of the emigration of the Muslims to Al-Medina, the citizens of the city had been waiting with the utmost anticipation for his arrival. They had received word that he had left Makkah and was en route to them. Every day a party of them would go out to the outskirts of the city at daybreak and look for him, they would stay there waiting for him until the midday heat would force them indoors.
Muhammad(P) and Abu Bakr first arrived on Monday, 12th of Safar (the third lunar month). Muhammad was fifty three years old at the time. When they arrived the citizens had already returned home for the afternoon. The first person to see him called out at the top of his lungs announcing his arrival. Muhammad(P) and Abu Bakr were men of similar age. Most of the citizens of Al-Madinah had never seen Muhammad(P) in person, so they could not tell which one was him. When Abu Bakr realized this he stood over Muhammad(P) and shaded him with his coat whereupon the people recognized Muhammad(P).
It is estimated that about five hundred people greeted them on that day and the people clamored on the roof tops trying to get a glimpse of him and crying: “Which one is him? Which one is him?” while the children and the slaves filled the streets shouting “God is great! God’s messenger has come! God is great! Muhammad has arrived!”
The people then joined together in singing:
- <>The full moon [Muhammad] has risen upon us
From the direction of “Thaniyyat al-Wada’a”
And all thanks [to Allah] is incumbent upon us
So long as a caller calls to Allah
O you who were sent among us
You have come with a heeded command
You have brought favor upon the city
Welcome, O best of callers.
This event is known as the Hijra (migration) of the Prophet(P)and the Islamic calendar begins with this event. The people of Aus and Khazraj in Madinah greeted him with great enthusiasm in accordance with their made at Aqaba less than a year ago during the annual pilgrimage. One by one those Muslims (men and women) of Makkah who were not physically restrained, and who could make a secret exit, left for Medinah leaving behind their properties and homes.
To insure the peace and tranquility, the Prophet(P) proposed a treaty defining terms of conduct for all inhabitants of Madinah. It was ratified by all – Muslims, non-Muslim Arabs and Jews. After his emigration to Madinah, the enemies of Islam increased their assault from all sides. The Battles of Badr, Uhud and Allies (Trench) were fought near or around Madinah. In these battles until the year 627 A.D., the non-believers with encouragement from Jews and other Arabian tribes attacked the Prophet and Muslim community. The Muslims while defending their city and religion lost many men, which resulted in many widowed Muslim women and numerous orphaned children. In these circumstances, Prophet Muhammad married several women during fifty-sixth year up to the sixtieth year of his life. He did not contract any marriage in the last three years of his life, following the revelation limiting the number of wives up to a maximum of four. This is the first time in the history of revealed scriptures that a limit on the number of wives was imposed and the terms of conduct were specified. The Prophet was instructed not to divorce any of his wives after this revelation (Qur’an, 33:52). All of the ladies he took as wives were either widowed or divorced, except `Aishah.
The Prophet married Umm Salamah(R) in 626 A.D. Her husband had died of wounds inflicted in the Battle of Uhud (625 CE). When the Prophet(P) asked her for marriage, she replied: “O Messenger of God, I suffer from three shortcomings. I am a very jealous woman, and I am afraid this might cause me to do things that you dislike. Secondly, I am an old woman. Finally, I have many children.” The Prophet answered: “Regarding your jealousy, I pray to God to remove it from you. As for your age, we are similar in age. As for the children, your children are mine.” Thus it was that she agreed to marry the Prophet(P). The Prophet’s marriage contract with Ummul Habibah(R) was solemnized, by proxy, by Negus, King of Abyssinia, in 628 A.D.
Two of his wives, Juwayriah and Safiyyah, were prisoners of war. Both belonged to the family of the chief of their tribes and were set free by the Prophet; they then gladly accepted Islam and were pleased to become the Prophet’s wives. The Prophet’s marriages provided security to women who would have otherwise remained unmarried, unprotected, or felt humiliated. His marriages were also a means of transmitting important teachings of Islam. The Prophet’s wives, called the “Mothers of the Believers” (Qur’an, 33: 6 and the last part of verse 53) showed themselves as examples of proper Muslim womanhood. All his wives, especially ‘Aishah, transmitted many hadith (sayings, deeds and actions) from Prophet Muhammad(P).
The Treaty of Hudaybiyah and the Opening of Makkah
A year after the Battle of Allies (Trench), the Prophet and fifteen hundred of his companions left for Makkah to perform the annual pilgrimage (628 A.D.). They were barred from approaching the city at Hudaybiyah, where after some negotiations a treaty was signed allowing for them to come next year. This treaty, known as “Shulhul Hidaibiyah” (The Treaty of Hudaybiyah) facilitated exchange of ideas among the people of the whole region without interference. Many delegations from all regions of Arabia came to the Prophet(P) to investigate the teachings of Islam, and a large number of people accepted Islam within a couple of years. The Prophet(P) sent many of his companions (who memorized the Qur’an by heart) to new communities to instruct them about the practice of Islam. More than fifty of them were murdered by non-believers.
A few weeks after Hudaybiyah the Prophet(P) sent letters to several kings and rulers (including two superpowers — Byzantines and Persians) inviting them to Islam. Negus, the king of Abyssinia and the Ruler of Bahrain accepted Islam, and Emperor Heraclius acknowledged Muhammad’s Prophethood. Among rulers who accepted Islam but without any initiative from the Prophet was Chakrawati Farmas, a Hindu King of Malabar (located on the southwest coast of India). About two years later at the end of 629 A.D., the Quraish violated the terms of the Treaty of Hudaybiyah by helping Banu Bakr in the surprise attack on Bani Khuza?ah (Jews, and non-Muslim at that) who were allied with the Prophet. Some of Bani Khuzaah?s men escaped and took shelter in Makkah and they sought redress. However, the leaders of Quraish did nothing. They then sent a message to the Prophet(P) for help.
The Prophet(P), after confirming all the reports of the attack and subsequent events, marched to Makkah with an army consisting of three thousand Muslims of Medinah and Muslims from other Arab communities that joined him on the way totaling ten thousand Muslims. Before entering the city he sent word to citizens of Makkah that anyone who remained in his home, or in Abu Sufyan’s home, or in the Kaa’bah would be safe. “Who enters the house of Abu Sufyan will be safe, who lays down arms will be safe, who locks his door will be safe.” The army entered Makkah without fighting and the Prophet went directly to the Kaa’bah. He magnified Allah for the triumphant entry in the Holy city. The Prophet pointed at each idol with a stick he had in his hand and said, “Truth has come and Falsehood will neither start nor will it reappear.” (Qur’an, 17:81). And one by one the idols fell down. The Ka’bah was then cleansed by the removal of all three hundred sixty idols, and it was restored to its pristine status for the worship of One True God (as built by Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail).
The people of the city expected general slaughter in view of their persecution and torture of Muslims for the past twenty years. While standing by the Ka’abah, the Prophet(P) promised clemency for the Makkans, stating: “O Quraish, what do you think that I am about to do with you?” They replied, “Good. You are a noble brother, son of a noble brother.” The Prophet forgave them all, saying: “I will treat you as Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) treated his brothers. There is no reproach against you. Go to your homes, and you are all free.” The Prophet also declared: “Allah made Makkah holy the day He created heavens and earth, and it is the holy of holies until the Resurrection Day. It is not lawful for anyone who believes in Allah and the last day to shed blood therein, nor to cut down trees therein. It was not lawful to anyone before me and it will not be lawful to anyone after me.”
The people of Makkah then accepted Islam including the staunch enemies of the Prophet. A few of the staunchest enemies and military commanders had fled Makkah after his entry. However, when they received the Prophet’s assurance of no retaliation and no compulsion in religion, they came back and gradually the message of Islam won their hearts. Within a year (630 A.D.), almost all Arabia accepted Islam. Among the Prophet’s close companions were Muslims from such diverse background as Persia, Abyssinia, Syria and Rome. Several prominent Jewish Rabbis, Christian bishops and clergymen accepted Islam after discussions with the Prophet.
One night in March 630 A.D., Angel Gabriel visited the Prophet and addressed him as: “O’ father of Ibrahim.” A few hours later, the Prophet received the news of the birth of his son from his wife, Mariah and the Prophet named him Ibrahim. He was the only child born after the six children from Prophet?s first wife Khadijah. Ibrahim died when he was ten months old. On the day of Ibrahim’s death, there was an eclipse of the sun. When some people began to attribute it to the Prophet’s bereavement, he said: “The sun and the moon are two signs of the signs of God. Their light is not dimmed for any man’s death. If you see them eclipsed, you should pray until they be clear.”
The great change in Arabia alarmed the two superpowers, Byzantines (Romans) and Persians. Their Governors, particularly the Byzantines, reacted with threats to attack Medinah. Instead of waiting, the prophet sent a small army to defend the northmost border of Arabia. In the remaining life of the Prophet, all of the major battles were fought on the northern front. The Prophet did not have a standing army.Whenever he received a threat, he called the Muslims and discussed with them the situation and gathered volunteers to fight any aggression.
The Last Pilgrimage and His Passing
The Prophet(P) performed his first and last pilgrimage in 8 Zulhijjah 10AH, corresponding with 7 March 632 A.D. One hundred twenty-thousand men and women performed pilgrimage that year with him. The Prophet gave his last sermon and received the last revelation during this pilgrimage. Two months later, Prophet Muhammad(P) fell ill and after several days died on Monday, 12 Rabi al-Awwal, the eleventh year after Hijra (June 8, 632 A.D.) in Medinah. He is buried in the same place where he died.
Prophet Muhammad(P) lived a most simple, austere and modest life. He and his family used to go without cooked meal several days at a time, relying only on dates, dried bread and water. During the day he was the busiest man, as he performed his duties in many roles all at once as head of state, chief justice, commander-in-chief, arbitrator, instructor and family man. He was the most devoted man at night. He used to spend one- to two-thirds of every night in prayer and meditation. The Prophet’s possession consisted of mats, blankets, jugs and other simple things even when he was the virtual ruler of Arabia. He left nothing to be inherited except a white mule (a gift from Muqawqis), few ammunition and a piece of land that he had made a gift during his life time. Among his last words were: “We the community of Prophets are not inherited. Whatever we leave is for charity.”
At the end of his mission, the Prophet(P) was blessed with several hundred thousand followers (men and women) of Islam. Thousands prayed with him at the mosque and listened to his sermon. Hundreds of sincere Muslims would find every opportunity to be with him following five daily prayers and at other times. They used to seek his advice for their everyday problems, and listened attentively to the interpretation and application of revealed verses to their situation. They followed the message of the Qur’an and the Messenger of Allah with utmost sincerity, and supported him with every thing they had. The most excellent among them are Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman, Ali, Talha, Zubair, ‘Abdur Rahman ibn Auf, S’ad bin Abi Waqqas, S’ad bin Zaid, Abu ‘Ubeidah, Hasan, Hussain, and several dozen others. They faithfully carried the message of Islam after the Prophet, and within ninety years the light of Islam reached Spain, North Africa, the Caucasus, northwest China and India.
- Ibn S’ad, Kitab al-Taqabat al- Kabir; vol. 1, p. 265 [⤺]