At least 5 times a day devout Muslims proclaim that "There is no god but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet". While no devout Muslim would ever say that Mohammad is a god, most Muslims revere and treat him like a god. In the eyes of a devout Muslim, Mohammad's word is absolute. His actions are above reproach. He is placed on a dais right up there beside Allah and he speaks with the authority of Allah.
Mohammad died almost 1400 years ago. As a result, many non-Muslims might wonder if his instruction and guidance has much effect on modern Islam. It absolutely does! It is as true today as it was during Mohammad’s lifetime that it is essentially impossible to be a Muslim if you do not acknowledge Mohammad as the prophet or messenger of Allah or if you openly disagree with his teachings and practices. It is true that many Muslims do not strictly follow all of his teachings. If they did there would be a lot more radical Islamists! But all Muslims are taught that Mohammad was the last and the greatest of the prophets. In fact, an essential element of the daily prayers of practicing Muslims is a declaration that Mohammad was the messenger or prophet of Allah. The ramifications of that declaration are huge! Since all of this is true, we are wise to learn who this person was and how he lived his life.
According to Islamic scripture, Mohammad was the son of Abdallah ibn Abdul Muttalib and Aminah Bint Wahb. He had a terribly traumatic childhood. His father died, a very young man, a few months before Mohammad was born. Mohammad’s mother died when he was about 6 years old. He then went to live with his grandfather who also died about 2 years later. He was then taken in by an uncle, Abu Talib with whom he lived until adulthood. Abu Talib was quite influential in Meccan society and provided support and protection to Mohammad and his followers, though he never converted to the new ideology. There seems to be little question that all of Mohammad’s guardians throughout his childhood were polytheists and some scholars suggest that some or all of them were deeply involved in the occult.
As a young man, Mohammad was a merchant. He was employed by Khadija, an older woman who was a wealthy widow. After a time, he married her. At about 40 years old, Mohammad began to report visions in which he claimed to have encountered the archangel Gabriel who caused him to recite verses from a heavenly book he called the Koran. Apparently, these verses were often delivered after Mohammad recovered from an epilepsy-like fit or seizure. Throughout the remainder of his life, Mohammad continued to deliver these verses which, decades later, were collated to become the currently-accepted Koran.
Initially Mohammad only delivered the verses of the Koran to close family and friends but later he began to preach his new monotheistic ideology publicly in Mecca. Initially, while he lived in Mecca and before he moved to Medina, he had little success in converting people to Islam. Some of his family, friends and acquaintances did convert, but not many. Mohammad was vigorous and vocal in condemning the worship of multiple gods. His intolerance of other religions and ideologies ensured that the Muslims soon began to encounter opposition, resistance and even persecution in Mecca. The members of the Arabic tribe in which he was born, the Quraysh, were offended and angered because the Muslims were attacking their ideologies. The Quraysh worshipped in and had control of the Kabah which was a cubic temple-like structure in Mecca. It is reported that 360 gods were worshipped in the Kabah and Mohammad was challenging the existence and worship of 359 of them - the single exception being Allah!
Apparently, the support of Mohammad’s uncle and protector was all that stood between the Muslims and some sort of open confrontation with the other Meccans. Shortly after Abu Talib died, the Muslims fled from Mecca to Medina where Mohammad was able to exercise much more power. This “Hejira” brings to mind the mass influx of Muslims into Europe and the Americas, though it is immensely smaller in scale. Similar events have occurred repeatedly since that time. We could and should learn from this and from what happened next in Medina.
Mohammad’s message, while he resided in Mecca, was mainly religious in nature. Modern people would probably find it hard-line but not overly objectionable. However, in Medina, with his newly acquired power, Mohammad proceeded to shift the focus of his teachings from mainly religious instructions to instructions about every aspect of life. He became a political leader in control of a physical territory. His message became far more aggressive and bellicose. He began a campaign of economic warfare by actively seeking out, attacking and robbing the trading caravans of the Meccan Qurayshi. Within a few years he and his followers had robbed, exiled, enslaved or killed all three Jewish tribes that had been living in Medina when the Muslims arrived there. The two Arab tribes that had been in Medina before the Muslim influx were also overpowered and absorbed into Islam. The followers that had accompanied him from Mecca combined with the two Arab tribes of Medina provided Mohammad with the nucleus of an army that gave him significant power. He now had both a ideology and a nation at his command.
Mohammad was not slow to put his new political power to use. There had been ongoing conflict between the Muslims and the Quraysh of Mecca. By conquering Medina from within and by creating alliances with other Arab tribes, Mohammad soon had enough military power to allow him to conquer Mecca and to go on from there to gain control of all of Arabia before he died at the age of about 62.
From this very brief outline we can clearly see several critical facts.
It may be an over-simplification to say it but there is little doubt in our mind that the success of Islam in the latter part of Mohammad's life was due to three significant factors:
There is a great deal more that can be learned about the life and lifestyle of Mohammad by searching the internet. See the selection of options below to explore various aspects of the story of Mohammad as told by Islamic scripture.
- The Character of Mohammad