Muhammad (pbuh) was an unlettered but wise and well-respected man who was born in Makkah in the year 570 C.E., at a time when Christianity was not yet fully established in Europe. His first years were marked by the deaths of his parents. His father (Abdullah) passed away before his birth, and his mother passed away when he was aged 6. His uncle, Abu Talib, from the respected tribe of Quraysh, raised him.
As Muhammad (pbuh) grew up, he became known for his truthfulness, generosity and sincerity, so that he was sought after for his ability to arbitrate in disputes. His reputation and personal qualities also led to his marriage, at the age of twenty-five, to Khadijah, a widow whom he had assisted in business.
Thenceforth, he became an important and trusted citizen of Makkah. Historians describe him as calm and meditative.
Muhammad (pbuh) never felt fully content to be part of a society whose values he considered to be devoid of true religious significance. It became his habit to retreat from time to time to the cave of Hira, to meditate near the summit of Jabal al-Nur, the “Mountain of Light”, near Makkah.
At the age of 40, while engaged in one such meditative retreat, Muhammad (pbuh) received his first revelation from Allah through the Angel Gabriel. This revelation, which continued for twenty-three years, is known as the Qur’an, the faithful recording of the entire revelation of Allah.
The first revelation read: “Recite: In the name of your Lord Who created man from a clot (of blood). Recite: Your Lord is Most Noble, Who taught by the pen, taught man what he did not know.” [96:1-5]
It was this reality that he gradually and steadily came to learn and believe, until he fully realised that it is the truth. The first revert was Khadijah, whose support and companionship provided necessary reassurance and strength. He also won the support of some of his relatives and friends.
The basic themes of the early message included the oneness and majesty of Allah; the futility of idol worship; final judgment, the necessity of faith, and compassion and morality in human affairs. All these themes represented an attack on the crass materialism and idolatry prevalent in Makkah at the time. So when he began to proclaim the message to others the Makkans rejected him.
He and his small group of followers suffered bitter persecution, which grew so fierce that in the year 622 C.E., Allah gave them the command to emigrate. This event, the Hijrah (migration), in which they left Makkah for the city of Madinah, some 260 miles to the north, marked the beginning of a new era and thus the beginning of the Muslim calendar. During his suffering, Muhammad (pbuh) drew comfort from the knowledge revealed to him about other prophets, such as Ibraheem (Abraham), Yuusuf (Joseph), and Musa (Moses), each of whom had also been persecuted and tested.
After several years and establishing a truce with the Makkans, the Prophet (pbuh) and his followers were able to return to Makkah, where they forgave their enemies and established Islam definitively. By the time the Prophet (pbuh) died, at the age of 63, the greater part of Arabia had accepted Islam.
Within a century of his death, Islam had spread as far west as Spain and as far east as China. It was clear that the message was not limited to Arabs; it was for the whole of humanity. The Prophet’s (pbuh) sayings (Hadith), are also believed to be revelation.
The number of sayings collected by his followers and scholars is about 100,000. Some typical examples of his sayings are as follows:
“Show mercy to those on earth, the One in the Heavens will show mercy to you.” [Tirmidhi]
“He who is not merciful to our young and who shows no respect to our elderly is not one of us.” [Tirmidhi]
“To pursue knowledge is obligatory on every believing man and woman.” [Ibn Majah]
“Removing a harmful thing from the road is charity.” [Bukhari, Muslim]
“Those who do not show tenderness and love cannot expect to have tenderness shown to them.” [Bukhari]
“Adore Allah as though you see Him; even if you do not see Him, He nonetheless sees you.” [Bukhari, Muslim]
Although Muhammad (pbuh) is deeply loved, revered and emulated by Muslims as God’s final messenger, he is not an object of worship.