The Life of Muhammad and the Birth of Islam

Early Years

Muhammad ibn Abd Allah, commonly known as Muhammad, was born in the city of Mecca in 570 CE. At the time, Mecca was a busy marketplace crowded with residents and nomads buying and selling goods. Not a great deal is known of Muhammad's early life. Both his mother and father were dead by the time he turned six. He was first cared for by his grandfather, but when he passed away, Muhammad's uncle, Abu Talib, adopted him. Abu Talib was the head of the Hashim clan, one of many clans making up separate Arabic tribes.
It is believed that as a young adult Muhammad worked as a camel driver. He traveled the Arabian Peninsula with his uncle, making contact with various cultures and religions, including Judaism and Christianity. Because idol worship had come to dominate Mecca, this contact was important. The Ka'bah itself housed many idols, including those representing the three main goddesses.
At the age of twenty-five, Muhammad was working for a widow named Khadijah who was a wealthy merchant. Though he was much younger, she admired his intelligence and maturity so much that she proposed to him. They married, and in the fifteen years which followed, Muhammad lived in affluence. He continued traveling, encountering different faiths and customs.

But riches did not satisfy Muhammad. In Mecca, powerful merchants controlled both the flow of goods and the religious life. As the gap between the rich and the poor widened, Muhammad began to question his life and the world around him.

Muhammad's Revelation
By the time he was forty, Muhammad had begun to spend time in solitude, preoccupied with the questions that troubled him. He spent some nights alone in a small cave near Mecca. During one such night, Muslims believe that the angel Gabriel appeared before him. Gabriel grabbed hold of Muhammad and ordered him to recite some words. He did so, and as he fled the cave in fear, he heard the angel say, "Oh, Muhammad, you are the messenger of God, and I am Gabriel.

Muhammad openly declared that there was only one God. He called on Meccans to reject their idols. Though monotheism was shared by Jews and Christians, its introduction into Mecca troubled the ruling class. As Muhammad's followers increased, so did the unease among his opposition.

Flight to Medina
Opposition to Muhammad increased. The ruling families insulted him and threatened violence. Soon Muhammad knew that he and his followers must leave Mecca. In 619 CE, they moved for a short while to Ta'if, a nearby town. But they were not allowed to stay, and so they returned to Mecca.
Things got worse for Muhammad when death claimed both his wife, Khadijah, and his uncle, Abu Talib. They had represented support and protection for the young Muslim community. However, it was also during this period, in 619 CE, that Muhammad was believed to have experienced his famous journey to heaven. With Gabriel guiding him, they journeyed first to a rock in Jerusalem, and from there Muhammad rode his faithful horse into heaven. It is claimed that he met other prophets, including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Finally, he stood in the presence of Allah.
The course of history changed in 620 CE when some pilgrims from the northern town of Medina came through Mecca. At the time, Medina was being torn apart by the violence of two rival tribes. The pilgrims were moved by Muhammad's teachings and hoped he might settle the raging dispute.
For the next two years, groups of people from Medina came to Mecca and converted to Islam. This inspired Muhammad, who instructed all Muslims to settle in Medina. In 622, Muhammad fled Mecca after hearing of a plot to assassinate him. Legend has it that he and a friend, Abu Bakr, hid in a cave. When his enemies rode by, a giant spider's web covered the mouth of the cave, and seeing the web, they assumed no one could have entered.
From there Muhammad and Abu Bakr traveled safely to Medina. This journey is known as the Hijrah, and it holds special significance to Muslims. Muhammad's arrival into Medina marked the birth of a united Islamic community. The Hijrah signifies the beginning of the Islamic calendar.
Life in Medina and the Growth of Islam
Muhammad arrived in Medina as the new leader, bearing tremendous responsibilities. While receiving communication from God and teaching his devotees, he had to protect Islam from opposition and find a peaceful solution to the local feuds. Though he was able to unite the feuding clans through his teachings (the Jewish and Muslims prayed together, for example), when Muhammad instructed his followers to pray towards Mecca instead of Jerusalem, tensions grew, and the groups separated completely. Violence erupted, ending in the expulsion of some Jewish tribes from Medina.
With his community established, Muhammad began raiding caravans bound for Mecca. These kinds of raids were not uncommon at the time, and they provided sustenance for the Muslims. This angered the Meccans, and a series of battles followed. Despite a few setbacks, the Muslims gained power and recognition. After destroying or converting his tribal enemies, Muhammad all but controlled the Arabian Peninsula.
Finally, in 629 CE, Mecca submitted to the Muslims. Muhammad entered the city and headed directly to the Ka'bah. After circling it seven times, he smashed the stone idols. He spoke of the oneness of God, or Allah, and proclaimed himself a prophet. From that moment until the present, the Ka'bah became the principal holy place for Muslims.
Muhammadís Last Years
By 630 CE, Islam was the dominant religion in Mecca. Muhammad then set out to conquer the Arabian Peninsula. Some tribes were easily converted while others were met by force. The crusade was successful, and Islam spread to the Arabian Sea to as far north as Syria.
In 632 CE, Muhammad made his last pilgrimage to Mecca. First, he ordered that only Muslims could worship at the Ka'bah. Then, he delivered his last sermon, asking for Islamic unity. He ended with his final revelation from God:
"The unbelievers have this day abandoned all hope of
vanquishing your religion. Have no fear of them: fear Me.
This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed
My favor to you. I have chosen Islam to be your faith."
(Koran 5.3)
On his way back from this pilgrimage, Muhammad fell ill. He died in Medina on June 8, 632 CE, at the age of sixty-one (the 12th day of Rabi I in the Islamic calendar). Although he had married two wives since the death of Khadijah, he had yet to father a son, leaving the question of successor in the hands of his followers.
The Spread of Islam During Muhammad's Lifetime