Messenger Muhammad’s Biography
If one were to close one’s eyes and imagine oneself in the world of 1400 years ago, one would find that it was a world completely different from ours. How few and far between the opportunities for the exchange of ideas! How limited and undeveloped were the means of communication! How meager was man’s knowledge! How narrow his outlook! How enveloped was he in superstition and wild ideas!
In that benighted era, there was a territory where darkness lay even heavier than elsewhere. The neighboring countries of Persia, Byzantium and Egypt possessed a glimmer of civilization and a faint light of learning. But Arabia stood isolated, cut off by vast tracks of desert.
Arab traders traveling great distances, which took them months, carried their wares to and from these countries, but they had little chance to find out anything about them. In their own country, they did not have a single educational institution or library. Although they did posses a highly developed language capable of expressing the finest shades of human thought in a remarkable manner, a study of the remnants of their literature reveals how limited was their knowledge, how saturated were their minds with superstitions, how barbarous and ferocious were their thoughts and customs, and how decadent were their moral standards.
It was a country without a government. Each tribe considered itself to be an independent sovereign unit. There was no law except the law of the strongest. Whatever notions they had of morals, culture and civilization were primitive in the extreme. They could hardly discriminate between pure and impure, lawful and unlawful.
As regards their religious beliefs, they suffered from the same evils, which were playing havoc with the rest of the world. They worshipped stones, trees, idols, stars and spirits; in short, everything conceivable except God. They knew nothing about the teachings of the Messengers of the old.
The Savior is born
“There is no deity but God, and Muhammad is his Messenger.”
In such a dark age and in such benighted country a man is born. His parents die when he is very young and a few years later the sad demise of his grandfather occurs. Consequently, he is deprived even of that scant training and upbringing which an Arab child of his time could get. In his boyhood he tends flocks of sheep and goats in the company of Bedouin boys. When of age, he takes to commerce. All his associations and all his dealings are with the Arabs alone, whose condition has just been described.
He is completely illiterate and unschooled. He never gets the chance to sit in the company of learned men, for such men were non-existing in Arabia. He does have a few opportunities to go out of his country, but those journeys are confined to Syria and are nothing more than the usual business trips undertaken by the Arab trade caravans. These journeys cannot have given him those conceptions and principles of religion, ethics, culture and civilization: they were non-existing in the world of those days. And they cannot have created that sublime and perfect human character which was nowhere to be found in those days.
Diamond in the rough
This noble man is totally different from the people among whom he is born and passes his youth and early manhood and attains finally his full stature. Even his worst opponents never accuse him of telling a lie. The entire nation calls him ‘Al-Amin’ (the Truthful and the Trustworthy). Even his opponents deposit their valuable belongings with him for safe custody.
He is the embodiment of modesty in the mids of a society which immodest to the core. His people were uncouth, uncultured and unclean, but he personifies the highest culture and most refined aesthetic outlook.
Surrounded on all sides by cruelty, he himself has a hearth overflowing with the milk of human kindness. He helps orphans and widows. He is hospitable to travelers. He harms no one; rather, he suffers hardship for others’ sakes. Brought up in an idolatrous race, he regards nothing in the heavens and the earth worth worshipping except the One True God. He does not bow before any created thing and does not partake of the offerings made to idols, even in his childhood.
The first revelation
Muhammad, when he retired to the Cave of Hira from time to time, used to ponder over the basic questions about the man, the universe, its Creator, and man’s relationship to Him. To God, the only Supreme and Powerful One, Muhammad directed his meditation and his worship.
One night in the month of Ramadhan -‘The Night of Power and Excellence’ when he, then in fortieth year, was meditating in the Cave of Hira over the ultimate realities, he heard a mighty voice twice ordering him: ‘Read’. He was frightened and overawed, and finally he answered the voice, saying, ‘I cannot read.’ But the order was repeated until at last Muhammad tremblingly asked, ‘What shall I read?’ The voice came:
Read, in the name of your Lord Who created, created man from a clot. Read, for your Lord is Most Bountiful, He Who taught (the use of) pen-taught man that which he knew not.’(96:1-5)
This was the first revelation of the Holy Book, brought by the Angel Gabriel. Messenger Muhammad , shaking with fear, immediately rushed home and told his wife Khadijah what had happened. She lovingly reassured him, saying that it could not have been anything harmful to him, for as he was an upright man God would protect him. A little later Khadijah was the first person to embrace his call.
Shortly after this first revelation, God revealed to Muhammad, through the Angel Gabriel, that he was chosen to spread God’s message and to show misled humanity the right path. He now quietly began his mission, preaching the Oneness of God, the path submission to Him, the folly of idolatry, and the inevitable coming of the Day of Judgment.
The Holy Book declares the Oneness of God in these words:
‘Say: God is One, Unique; God, the Source (of everything); He has not fathered anything nor is He fathered; And there is nothing comparable to Him.’(112)
This message, though simple and basic, was the greatest possible challenge and treat to the idol-worshippers of Mecca. They did not wish to change their ways of living and they were afraid of losing their power if idolatry was given up, so they began to insult and humiliate the Messenger in the most cruel and persistent manner. But nothing can really harm one who is protected by God.
Teaching and opposition
The Messenger Muhammad patiently and quietly started teaching to friends and family members. This period of teaching lasted for three years, and the total number of people who embraced the new religion during this time was less than thirty. Among them were Khadijah (Messenger’s wife), ‘Ali (Messenger’s cousin and ward), Zaid (a slave freed by Messenger , as slavery and equality cannot go hand in hand), Abu Bakr, ‘Uthman and Talha (Messenger’s close friends and life-long companions).
After three years, God’s command came to teach openly. Messenger Muhammad then went up to the mount of Safa near Mecca and declared the Oneness of God, warning the Meccans of God’s judgement. He invited them to believe and to act on this belief by following God’s commandments and living righteous lives. This infuriated the Meccans, for such a message threatened to destroy all their power and all the interest they had vested in the idols of the House of God. They threatened him with dire consequences if he did not cease this open preaching. As if in answer to their threats, a few days later the Messenger went to the House of God and declared:
‘There is no deity but God, and Muhammad is his Messenger.’
The non-believers were more startled and disturbed. Threatening had failed, so now they tried to bribe him with riches, honor, women and even kingship. The Messenger’s simple answer to this was:
‘If they place the sun in my one hand and the moon on the other, even then I shall not desist from performing my sacred mission.’
Since both bribery and threats had failed, the non-believers now began the most cruel persecution of the Messenger and his followers, whose only ‘crime’ was that they believed in One God, avoided evil, practiced goodness, kindness, justice, love and brotherhood. Some of these believers were thrown on the burning desert sand in the heat of the sun and heavy stones were laid on their chests. Some were beaten so mercilessly that they died. It was daily custom of the Meccans to throw rubbish on him and they strewed thorns on his path. On one occasion when our beloved Messenger went to Taif, a nearby town, to preach the message of God, he was mercilessly attacked and stoned by the people. While suffering these tortures, Messenger Muhammad would say, ‘O God, show them the right path because they do not understand.’ Thus did he carry out his mission as the Bringer of peace and love to all mankind.
Ascension to Heavens
At this time God the Most High in the most beneficent and glorious manner honored the Holy Messenger. God showed him all that was in heaven and the universe in a vision. He met all the earlier Messengers and led them in prayer. He saw the Glory and the Light of God. This was the greatest favor that God could bestow upon any human being. The Messenger received forgiveness for sinners if they repent and do good. This most radiant vision, physical, as well as spiritual, is known as the Ascension, which means ‘having reached the highest point’, or as the ‘Vision of ascension‘. It gave strength to the Messenger at the darkest moment of his mission when he most needed it.
The first believers community in Medina
For five years the sufferings of the believers multiplied day by day. In spite of these trials, however, more persons joined them each day. Abu Talib, the Messenger’s uncle, and Khadijah, his beloved wife, his two greatest supporters, died. The Quraish, now finding Muhammad left without this support, increased their persecutions. By this time the people of the city of Medina, who used to visit Mecca each year, had heard of the Messenger’s message. Many of them embraced his teachings and they urged the Messenger to come to Medina, sincerely pledging to stand by him at the cost of their lives if necessary. It was in the thirteenth year after the Messenger received the message that the Quraish became desperate enough to decide to assassinate him and end his mission permanently. But God revealed their evil design to the Messenger, and he was able to escape unharmed.
When the Messenger and Abu Bakr arrived in Medina, they were welcomed with great joy by the believers, both the Medinites and the many emigrants from Mecca, who, prior to the Messenger’s departure, had slipped away to Medina.
In Medina the mission of the Messenger entered into its second and final phase, that of an organizer of a community based on the Divine law. While the revelations he received in Mecca were primarily concerned with the matters of faith, the revelations which were given to the Messenger at Medina cover a broad range dealing with all aspects of human conduct, pertaining to food and drink, marriage and family life, morals and manners, trade and commerce, peace and war, crime and punishment. The religion was a way of life for the individual and for the community, and every aspect of life is bound by its laws and practices.
While the community was welded together into a solid brotherhood by their common belief and the way of life, which it brought them, the opponents still threatened them. In addition, from time to time the Quraish brought their armies to fight them.
Although toward the end of his life the Messenger was the head of a large nation, still his way of life was extremely simple and austere. At times he and his household lacked even basic necessities. In all his words and deeds he was a living example of the teachings of divine decree, drawing men and fixing their hearts firmly on God through his teaching and his perfect upright life. We are fortunate that many of sayings and his actions have been recorded through his companions in the collections called hadith or the traditions of the Messenger to serve as a guide to us.
Re-entry into Mecca
The Messenger’s opponents, who had persecuted him and his followers relentlessly for so long, were now at his mercy, awaiting punishment. When the Messenger had humbly thanked God for the success which had been granted to his community, he who came with the Message of mercy and salvation to all the world told them:
‘No blame is on you this day. Go to your homes, for you are all free.’
‘ Even those who did not accept his teachings lived in peace, safety and protection, for the Holy Book clearly says, ‘There is no compulsion in the matter of faith’(2:257)
The last sermon, which the Messenger delivered on this occasion, was the fulfillment of his mission. He emphasized the Oneness of God, the sacredness of the Message, the coming of the Day of Judgment, respect for women and sanctity of life and property, saying, ‘Know that all believers are brothers to one another. You are one brotherhood. I have left with you that which, if you take hold of and follow, your affairs will not go wrong, namely, the Book of God and the Practice of His Messenger…’ The death of the Messenger The Messenger fell ill and, after rallying briefly, grew steadily worse, his strength failing rapidly. At noon on Monday, June 8, 632, while he was praying earnestly in a whisper, the spirit of the Last Messenger took flight to the ‘blessed Companionship on high.
‘…To God we belong, and to Him is our return.’ (2:156)