The Prophet Muhammad's Story

The prophet Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570 AD as Ubu’l Kassim, a member of the powerful Quraish tribe. Because his father, Abdullah, died before he was born, and his mother, Amina, died when he was only six, he was mostly raised by his uncle, Abu Talib, a camel driver.

Forging across oceans of desert to faraway places like Syria and Egypt with the trading caravans was a regular part of Muhammad’s life growing up. It would prove important for him personally and was, certainly, key in the birth of Islam in terms of monotheistic ideology and Abrahamic pedigree.

These caravan journeys also brought Muhammad to his first wife, Khadijah (he would eventually have 12 more, including the seven-year-old Aisha). Khadijah was a wealthy widow 15 years his senior. Her wealth gave him the freedom to stop working and instead pursue his religious ideology, as he meditated on faith, God, and the meaning of life.

He came to the conclusion that there was only one God, not the many of his people, and was deeply troubled by their idol worship. Then in 610, he began having visions, with no idea whether these were angelic or demonic in origin. But Khadijah urged him to submit to the visions and hear the words of the messenger ... supposed to be the archangel Gabriel.

Ground Zero: The Hijra

This submission to what he saw as a divine force would characterize the religion that resulted from it all: Islam ... submission to the will of Allah.

His first converts were his wife Khadijah and a young cousin named Ali. But there wasn’t a large following in the early years, and the main thing that protected Muhammad from persecution was the influence of Khadijah and his uncle, Abu Talib, until they died in 620.

But understand — his new faith wasn’t a popular thing in Mecca. Not only was the prophet Muhammad's supposed supremacy of vision not enthusiastically received by other “People of the Book” (Jews and Christians) ... members of his own Quraish tribe rejected outright the notion that he was a prophet and pressured him to leave. So two years after his protectors’ deaths, he did leave — and quickly, hiding in caves along the way to avoid assassination. This rapid exit in 622 is known as the Hijra (or Hegira) — the ground zero mark for the Muslim calendar.

Theocrat and Desert Raider

In the coming years, Muhammad gained power as leader of the theocratic government he instituted in Yathrib (later known as Medina). He also gained money and refilled the city treasury by raiding caravans on pilgrimage to Mecca.

As Jews in Yathrib continued to shake off attempts to convert them, enmity between the two groups increased. This animosity has been such that many Muslims will even deny the reality of the Holocaust, claiming it is a fabrication, no matter how many pictures are shown. So while the Quran speaks in friendly terms of the Dimi (People of the Book) in some instances, in others there is open hostility and condemnation.

When Muhammad died in 632, he left behind him an Arabia that had largely embraced Islam ... and an uncertain succession.

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