MuhammadMuhammad was born about AD 570 in the city of Mecca, an importanttrading center in western Arabia.
He was a member of the Hashim clan of thepowerful Quraysh tribe. Because Muhammad’s father, Abd Allah, died before he wasborn and his mother, Amina, when he was 6 years old, he was placed in the careof his grandfather and, after 578, of his uncle Abu Talib, who succeeded as headof the Hashim clan. At the age of about 25, Muhammad entered the employ of arich widow, Khadijah, in her commercial enterprise.
They were married soon after.Two sons, both of whom died young, and four daughters were born. One of thedaughters, Fatima, acquired special prominence in later Islamic history becauseof her marriage to Muhammad’s cousin Ali.About 610, Muhammad, while in a cave on Mount Hira outside Mecca, had avision in which he was called on to preach the message entrusted to him by God.Further revelations came to him intermittently over the remaining years of hislife, and these revelations constitute the text of the Koran.At first inprivate and then publicly, Muhammad began to proclaim his message: that there isbut one God and that Muhammad is his messenger sent to warn people of theJudgment Day and to remind them of God’s goodness.The Meccans responded with hostility to Muhammad’s monotheism andiconoclasm.
As long as Abu Talib was alive Muhammad was protected by the Hashim,even though that clan was the object of a boycott by other Quraysh after 616.About 619, however, Abu Talib died, and the new clan leader was unwilling tocontinue the protective arrangement. At about the same time Muhammad lostanother staunch supporter, his wife Khadijah. In the face of persecution andcurtailed freedom to preach, Muhammad and about 70 followers reached thedecision to sever their ties of blood kinship in Mecca and to move to Medina, acity about 400 km (250 mi) to the north. This move, called the hegira, or hijra,took place in 622, the first year of the Muslim calendar.
In Medina an organized Muslim community gradually came into existenceunder Muhammad’s leadership. Attacks on caravans from Mecca led to war with theMeccans. Muhammad’s followers obtained victory at Badr but were defeated atUhud a year later.
In 627, however, they successfully defended Medina against asiege by 10,000 Meccans. Clashes with three Jewish clans in Medina occurred inthis same period. One of these clans, the Banu Qurayza, was accused of plottingagainst Muhammad during the siege of Medina; in retaliation all of the clan’smen were killed and the women and children sold into slavery. Two years later,in the oasis of Khaybar, a different fate befell another Jewish group. Afterdefeat they were allowed to remain there for the price of half their annualharvest of dates.Since AD 624, the Muslims of Medina had been facing Mecca during worship(earlier, they had apparently turned toward Jerusalem). Mecca was considered ofprimary importance to the Muslim community because of the presence there of theKaaba. This sanctuary was then a pagan shrine, but according to the Koran, ithad been built by Abraham and his son Ishmael and had therefore to bereintegrated in Muslim society.
An attempt to go on pilgrimage to Mecca in 628was unsuccessful, but at that time an arrangement was made allowing the Muslimsto make the pilgrimage the next year, on condition that all parties cease armedhostilities. Incidents in 629 ended the armistice, and in January 630, Muhammadand his men marched on Mecca. The Quraysh offer to surrender was accepted with apromise of general amnesty, and hardly any fighting occurred. Muhammad’sgenerosity to a city that had forced him out 8 years earlier is often quoted asan example of remarkable magnanimity.
In his final years Muhammad continued his political and militaryinvolvements, making arrangements with nomadic tribes ready to accept Islam andsending expeditions against hostile groups. A few months after a farewellpilgrimage to Mecca in March 632 he fell ill. Muhammad died on June 8, 632, inthe presence of his favorite wife, Aisha, whose father, Abu Bakr, became thefirst caliph.
God’s MessengerAccording to Muslim belief, God sent Muhammad as a messenger from amongthe Arabs, bringing a revelation in “clear Arabic” ; thus, as other peoples hadreceived their messengers, so the Arabs received theirs. As one who had lived “alifetime” among them before his calling, however, Muhammad was