Today, there is a lot of confusion and fear about Islam. Muhammad feels rather mysterious to many people. This is what we are going to look at today. Muslims believe that Muhammad was the final prophet of God to come to earth. His lineage can be traced back to Ishmael, the first born son of Abraham. God gave Abraham permission to have a child with his concubine, Hagar. He later had a son with his wife, Sarah and he was named Issac. Muslims believe that Muhammad’s teachings came after Moses and Jesus.
Muhammad was born in Mecca circa 570 CE. At that time, Mecca was a bustling, thriving city, centered around a temple called the Kaaba where idolatry was practiced. Muhammad’s father died before he was born. I don’t know anything about his mother. He did travel around Arabia with his uncle, who was a merchant. As he grew up he followed in his uncle’s trade.
When Muhammad was around forty years old, he gained a reputation for being reflective and contemplative. He went to the cave of al-Hira, near Mecca,and he had a vision. In his vision, he was visited by the angel Gabriel, who spoke to him and commanded him to memorize and recite verses which later became the Quran. Gabriel visited him for the next twenty-three years, and Muhammad began to teach Gabriel’s teachings. Though Muhammad was illiterate, he used the spoken word to spread the angel Gabriel’s teachings to all he came across. He freely gave an oral recitation of the revelations to anyone who was interested.
A central tenet of Muhammad’s teachings was monotheism. Judaism and Christianity are the other monotheistic religions. When Muhammad began to teach about one God, or monotheism, it angered the leaders of Mecca, as their town thrived on the buying and selling of idols for the temple of Kaaba. Eventually, Muhammad and his followers were forced to flee to the city of Medina. In Medina, Islam quickly became the religion of the majority of the people. However, rather than banish the non-believers, Muhammad allowed them to pay a tax to continue to worship their old gods and to follow their own practices.
As Medina’s power increased, the city of Mecca became suspicious. Tensions between the two cities worsened and eventually the two cities fought a war. Muhammad and the people of Medina were outnumbered, however they were the victors of the war. Muhammad then went ahead fighting all of the Arabs until he was able to unite all of them under his new religion Islam. He did not fight to convert, from what I have read; rather to unite the tribes, and found that Islam was a unifying force, something his new people could all respond to.
Muhammad died in Medina in 632 at the age of 63. According to oral tradition, at the time of Muhammad’s death, the angel Gabriel once again appeared before him. Gabriel took Muhammad on his horse from Mecca to Jerusalem. There, Muhammad met with Abraham, Moses and Jesus, the main prophets of Judaism and Christianity. Muhammad then rode the angel’s horse into heaven, achieving his final resting place. This final ascension occurred from the Temple Mount, now the third holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. All three of the monotheistic religions share many of the same holy sites and shrines, such as the Temple Mount.
The question of who Muhammad chose to be his successor is a controversial subject. It has led to a schism to form among Muslims. To this day they are divided into Sunni and Shiites. This division effects not only their religious life but also their political one also. Sunni Muslims chose abu Bakr as their religious leader, their caliph. Shiites, on the other hand, claim that Muhammad appointed Ali, his son in law, as the next caliph, and that Abu Bakr rose to power only by overthrowing him.