Trying to summarize the life and legacy of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in this short guide will not do him justice. We hope to dedicate a future guide entirely to him.
However, we will try give you a short peek into his life by focusing on the major phases throughout his biography. This will include the phase of his life before he became a Prophet, the 13 years he spent in Makkah, the 10 years he spent in Madinah, and the end of his life.
Life Before Prophethood
Muhammad (peace be upon him) was born during the year 570 according to the Gregorian calendar in the city of Makkah. He was an orphan as his father passed away before he was born.
When he was six years old he embarked on a journey with his mother Aminah to a different city called Madinah to visit his maternal uncles. On their way back to Makkah his mother passed away in a city known as al-Abwaa. Both of his parents were gone before his 7th birthday.
Soon afterwards his grandfather Abd al-Muttalib became his guardian. However, just a few short years later his grandfather also passed away when Muhammad (peace be upon him) was eight years old.
Before reaching the age of 10 his mother, father, and grandfather were no longer in his life. He was deprived of parental love at a very young age.
After their passing Muhammad (peace be upon him) was raised by his paternal uncle, Abu Talib. His uncle was a respected community leader in Makkah. Abu Talib became his new guardian, treated him with care, compassion, and helped him grow into a fine young man.
As Muhammad (peace be upon him) was growing into a young adult the community started to take notice of him. He built a good reputation for himself as he would tend sheep for the people of Makkah, safeguard their possessions, speak the truth, be reserved in his demeanor, and use sound judgement.
Well before prophethood he was the best of his people in character and in attitude. He was known for being generous, patient, truthful, and sincere. The people of Makkah admired his noble character and gave him the title al-Ameen (the trustworthy).
He later found employment with a successful merchant in Makkah by the name of Khadija. She had a reputation for being a savvy businessperson. He became one of Khadija’s agents and would travel on behalf of her to do business in Syria. Khadija was very impressed with his good character, honesty, and sincerity.
Khadija would eventually take an interest in him, and not long after the two would get married. Muhammad (peace be upon him) married Khadija at the age of 25.
Being Chosen as a Prophet of Allah
Muhammad (peace be upon him) received his first revelation while in a cave called Hira on the outskirts of Makkah. This cave was a place where he used to go to regularly for spiritual retreats and to perform worship. One day during one of his retreats in the year 610, at the time he was 40 years old, the angel Jibreel (Gabriel) suddenly appeared before him.
The angel came to him and asked him to read. The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied, “I do not know how to read.” The Prophet (peace be upon him) added, “The angel caught me (forcefully) and pressed me so hard that I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read and I replied, ‘I do not know how to read.’ Thereupon he caught me again and pressed me a second time till I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read but again I replied, ‘I do not know how to read (or what shall I read)?’ Thereupon he caught me for the third time and pressed me, and then released me and said,
Read! In the Name of your Lord Who has created (all that exists). He has created man from a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood). Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous
Qur'an Chapter 96, Verses 1-3
This event was the beginning of revelation, and it was also the moment Muhammad (peace be upon him) became a Prophet of Allah.
Muhammad (peace be upon him) left the cave and hurried home. His heart was pounding in fear of what he just experienced. He immediately went to his wife Khadija and explained what happened to him in the cave of Hira saying “I feared for myself”. After hearing this she calmed him down and said:
“By Allah, Allah will never forsake you, for you uphold the ties of kinship, help the weak, honour your guests, give in charity and help when someone is stricken with calamity.”
Khadija would become the first person to accept Islam.
Not long afterwards Khadija took Muhammad (peace be upon him) to go see her cousin Waraqah ibn Nawfal who was a Christian. When Waraqah was told the news of the incident in the cave of Hira he gave Muhammad an explanation. Waraqah told him that the angel he met was the same angel who Allah had sent to Musa (Moses) with revelation. Muhammad had now become a Prophet of Allah and like the Prophets of the past, it was his duty to guide the people to the truth. Waraqah told Muhammad to be patient because some of the people of Makkah would deny the message of Islam and persecute him.
Time in Makkah
The Prophet (peace be upon him) stayed in Makkah for 13 years calling to monotheism: worshiping Allah alone without any partner. He started to call people to the religion in secret with a small group of people.
This group of people were very close to him which included relatives from within Quraysh, the clan the Prophet’s family is from. He later started to call large groups of people to embrace Islam, believe in one God, and believe in him as a Prophet.
Only a small number of Muslims believed in his message in the early years of Prophethood and those who believed were prosecuted by the people of Makkah. Some were tortured and others were killed. Many of the people who were plotting to harm the Muslims included members from within the Quraysh.
To help keep the Muslims away from further prosecution Muhammad (peace be upon him) later commanded some of the Muslims to migrate to Abyssinia (modern day Eritrea and the northern half of Ethiopia). The King of Abyssinia allowed the migrant Muslims to stay within his lands where they were safe from being harmed.
In the year 619 the Prophet’s uncle Abu Talib passed away. This was a significant loss for Muhammad (peace be upon him) because this man had raised him after the death of his parents. He was also a widely respected community leader who defended the Prophet from the persecution of the Quraysh. Now that his protector Abu Talib was no longer around the persecution in Makkah increased and intensified.
That same year his beloved wife Khadija passed away as well. This year in the Prophet’s life became known as the Year of Sorrow because of the losses of two beloved people.
Despite the hatred shown from some of the people of Makkah during those 13 years, the number of Muslims increased and Islam was growing. Allah continued to send Jibreel to reveal more verses of the Quran to Muhammad (peace be upon him). The Prophet would then teach these verses to the early Muslims.
At the end of those 13 years it was time for Muhammad (peace be upon him) to leave Makkah and find a new home for the Muslims.
Migrating from Makkah to Madinah (Hijrah)
The Companions of Muhammad (peace be upon him), the early Muslims, were commanded to migrate to the city of Madinah. Some were prevented and were not able to migrate and others migrated in groups. All that was left of the Muslims in Makkah was the Prophet himself and two of his companions: his close friend Abu Bakr and his cousin Ali.
The Quraysh plotted to kill Muhammad (peace be upon him) after realizing his Companions had migrated to Madinah. The Quraysh feared he would migrate as well and the religion of Islam would spread to other parts of the world. Muhammad (peace be upon him) was informed by angel Jibreel about the murder plot. With this critical piece of information he made a plan with his two companions to leave the city of Makkah safely.
The night before leaving Makkah to migrate to Madinah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) slept at Abu Bakr’s house instead of his own home. He also told his cousin Ali to sleep in his bed that same night and trick the Quraysh into thinking that he was unaware of the murder plot.
When nightfall arrived a few members from the Quraysh lied in wait outside the house of the Prophet (peace be upon him), waiting for him to come out so they could kill him. Their plot was foiled when they realized that Muhammad was already gone. They were caught off-guard and the person they wished to kill had escaped.
Allah had saved Muhammad from the wicked plot of these people and revealed these verses:
And (remember) when the disbelievers plotted against you (O Muhammad) to imprison you, or to kill you, or to get you out (from your home, i.e. Makkah); they were plotting and Allah too was plotting; and Allah is the Best of those who plot
Qur'an - Chapter 8, Verse 30
Soon afterwards the Prophet (peace be upon him) and Abu Bakr used this opportunity to leave Makkah and make their way to Madinah. Ali would follow suit and make his way to the new city shortly thereafter. This major event in Islamic history became known as the Hijrah and also marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar.
Time in Madinah
There were many Muslims already living in Madinah before the migration occurred. During the Prophet’s arrival to the city the Muslims who lived there were very joyful. Many were proclaiming “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) out of happiness. Men, women, and children were coming out of their homes to meet him.
When he first arrived at the city he built the first mosque in the history of Islam at a town called Quba, located on the outskirts of Madinah. He also built a second mosque within Madinah.
At the time the Muslims would always face Jerusalem when they performed their prayers. Soon afterwards the direction of prayer was changed to Makkah, the city the Muslims had migrated from where the Holy Ka’ba (Sacred House) is located.
A strong sense of brotherhood between the migrants from Makkah (known as the Muhajiroon) and the residents of Madinah (known as the Ansar) was established by the Prophet (peace be upon him). He also set up treaties with different communities including the Jews and the tribes already living in Madinah.
During his 10 years in Madinah the Prophet (peace be upon him) continued to spread the message of Islam and thousands of people embraced the faith throughout Arabia.
Naturally his enemies in Makkah and elsewhere didn’t sit idly by. The Muslims faced many important battles over the coming years such as the Battle of Badr, the Battle of Uhud, the Battle of the Trenches where the city of Madinah was under siege, and other battles which will not be covered in this beginner’s guide.
One of the most significant events during this time in the Prophet’s life was the Conquest of Makkah. After living in Madinah for 8 years, the Muslims who migrated from their home were finally able to return. Even though the citizens of Makkah were the same people who oppressed the Prophet for many years, Muhammad (peace be upon him) entered into the city with no intention of harming anyone.
Many of the people of Makkah who wronged the Muslims in the past were expecting a slaughter against them. It was only natural for the oppressed to exact revenge against the oppressor.
But Muhammad (peace be upon him) was a human being with the best character. When he entered into the city he made his way to the Ka’ba to remove all of the idols which represented their false gods. Upon doing so he addressed the residents of Makkah and said:
“O Quraish, what do you think that I am about to do with you?”
They replied, “All good (i.e. kindness and pity). You are a noble brother and the son of a noble brother.”
Then the Prophet (peace be upon him) forgave them all saying:
“I say to you as Yusuf (Joseph) said to his brothers, ‘No blame will there be upon you today.’ Go, you are the free ones.”
With Makkah under control, Islam was able to grow even more until most of Arabia had accepted the faith. This good news also meant that it was time for the Prophet (peace be upon him) to perform a deed he was not able to do before: perform the pilgrimage (hajj).
Farewell Pilgrimage and the Final Sermon
The Prophet (peace be upon him) performed Hajj in the 10th year after hijrah (migration to Madinah), and called the people to perform Hajj with him as well.
At the end of the pilgrimage he gathered the attention of the people on the plains of Arafah, an area of land located east of Makkah.
He used this opportunity to deliver his final sermon to the people:
“O People, lend me an attentive ear, for I know not whether after this year, I shall ever be amongst you again. Therefore listen to what I am saying to you very carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today.
O People, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. Remember that you will indeed meet your Lord, and that He will indeed reckon your deeds.
Allah has forbidden you to take usury (interest), therefore all interest obligation shall henceforth be waived. Your capital, however, is yours to keep. You will neither inflict nor suffer any inequity. Allah has Judged that there shall be no interest and that all the interest due to Abbas ibn ‘Abd’al Muttalib (the Prophet’s uncle) shall henceforth be waived.
Beware of Satan, for the safety of your religion. He has lost all hope that he will ever be able to lead you astray in big things, so beware of following him in small things.
O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah’s trust and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with any one of whom you do not approve, as well as never to be unchaste.
O People, listen to me in earnest, worship Allah, perform your five daily prayers, fast during the month of Ramadan, and give your wealth in Zakat. Perform Hajj if you can afford to.
All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.
Know that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.
Remember, one day you will appear before Allah and answer your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone. O People, no Prophet or Messenger will come after me and no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O People, and understand the words which I convey to you. I leave behind me two things, the Quran and my example, the Sunnah and if you follow these you will never go astray.
All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness, O Allah, that I have conveyed your message to your people”.Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
During that moment Allah revealed the following verse in the Quran:
This day I have perfected your religion for you, and completed My favour upon you, and have chosen Islam as religion for youQur'an - Chapter 5, Verse 3
The revelation came to an end and Islam was now a complete way of life for all mankind. The life mission of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was fulfilled.
He passed away at the age of 63 in the 11th year of the Islamic calendar
His Companions and future generations of Muslims continued to spread the religion to the four corners of the globe. It is because of the Prophet’s legacy and the dedication of previous generations of Muslims that Islam is still preserved and practiced today.
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