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, Muslims 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 beside Allah and he speaks with the authority of Allah. Since all of this is true, we are wise to learn who this person was and how he lived his life.
Fortunately it is possible to know a lot about the life of Mohammad. Contrary to the belief of many non-Muslims, the Koran is not the only "holy book" of Islam. Islam is based on three types of books. The Koran is the most well-known of the three but it actually only provides only about fourteen percent of the Islamic doctrinal content. The second type of document is the "sira". A sira documents the life events of Mohammad. The third type of document is the hadith. The hadith provide brief stories that provide insight into the mind and motivation of Mohammad in various circumstances. There are multiple siras and hadith. While there is apparently no single sira or hadith that is deemed by all Muslims to be totally accurate and complete some have a great deal more credibility than others. A study of all three types of document can provide the scholar with a lot of information about the life of Mohammad.
Mohammad was born into the Quraysh tribe and lived most of his life in Mecca. His father, whose name was Abdullah (which means "Slave of Allah"), died before Mohammad was born. His mother died when he was five years old so Mohammad went to live with his grandfather. His grandfather died when Mohammad was eight years old so Mohammad went to live with his uncle Abu Talib who was a prominent and influential person in the Quraysh tribe.
When he grew up, Mohammad took a job as a trading agent for a widow named Khadija who was a distant relative. He was successful in his trading ventures on her behalf and eventually married Khadija and had six children with her.
At the age of 40 Mohammed began to claim that he had heard voices and had visions. Initially he professed misgivings about the source of these events but eventually he claimed that he was receiving visits from the angel Gabriel who was providing Mohammad with messages from God. He began to claim that he was building on the religion of Israel and that he was the final and most important or authoritative prophet of Israel.
Mohammad began preaching his new-found religion to the people of Mecca. Initially, and throughout the time that Mohammad remained in Mecca, he often called himself "a mere warner" whose task was to preach the message that all people must submit to Islam or face severe punishment by Allah. Mohammad drew heavily on the Jewish holy books for material and he referred to Noah, Moses, Jonah and many other people that are mentioned in the Torah but he gave all the stories a different twist. Typically the story would portray the Torah character as giving a similar message to that which Mohammad was preaching - submission to Allah and Islam.
Mohammad remained in Mecca for several years and attempted to spread his new religion there but after 13 years he had only convinced about 150 people to follow him. Additionally, he was facing increasing opposition and rejection by the Meccan people throughout that period. It seems probable from what is written in the Hadith and Sira, that without the protection of Abu Talib, Mohammad might have been killed by those opposing him in Mecca. Finally, after being approached by a delegation of Arabs from a different Arab tribe in Medina, Mohammad decided to move his base of operations there.
In Medina the tone and focus of Mohammad's revelations from Allah soon became significantly more violent and more political. In Mecca, Mohammad had mostly been preaching a religion. In Medina Mohammad's Islam became much more than a religion. It became a political movement, a legal system and an all-encompassing way of life. Mohammad lived in Medina for about ten years. About a year after the move to Medina was accomplished, the military phase of the birth of Islam began. He began to plan and execute raids and attacks on caravans and other targets. In doing so he accumulated both wealth and power. One fifth of the booty that was stolen in the Islamic raids was given to Mohammad. In Mecca, his relations with both Christians and Jews, if not cordial, had been at least respectful. However as time progressed and the Christians and Jews continued to show themselves to be unwilling to accept Mohammad's claims that he was the final and most important Jewish prophet, Mohammad's tone soon became more belligerent toward them.
In the years following the move to Medina, Mohammad became increasingly powerful. His military efforts were much more effective than his missionary efforts had been and, by the time of his death in 632 AD Islam controlled the entire Arabian Peninsula and it is said that there was nobody alive in Arabia that still resisted him.
In summary, it is apparent that the rise of Islam as a religion was much less successful than was the military success of the new political movement that Mohammad built.
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.
- The Life of Mohammad