Muḥammad (Arabic: محمد‎‎; c. 570 CE – 8 June 632 CE) is the central figure of Islam and widely regarded as its founder by non-Muslims. He is known as the “Holy Prophet” to Muslims sent by GOD (Arabic: ALLAH) to mankind to restore the religion, believed by Muslims to be the unaltered original monotheistic faith of Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. He united Arabia into a single Muslim polity and ensured that his teachings, practices, and the Quran, formed the basis of Islamic religious belief.

Born approximately 570 CE in the Arabian city of Mecca, Muhammad was orphaned at an early age; he was raised under the care of his paternal uncle Abu Talib. Periodically, he would seclude himself in a mountain cave named Hira for several nights of prayer; later, at age 40, he reported being visited by Gabriel in the cave, where he stated he received his first revelation from GOD. Three years later Muhammad started preaching these revelations publicly, proclaiming that “GOD is One”, that complete “surrender”/”submission”(lit. islām) to him is the only way (dīn) acceptable to GOD, and that he was a prophet and messenger of GOD, similar to the other prophets in Islam.

Muhammad gained few early followers, and met hostility from some Meccan tribes. To escape persecution, Muhammad sent some followers to Abyssinia before he and his followers migrated from Mecca to Medina (then known as Yathrib) in the year 622. This event, the Hijra, marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar, also known as the Hijri Calendar. In Medina, Muhammad united the tribes under the Constitution of Medina. In December 629, after eight years of intermittent conflict with Meccan tribes, Muhammad gathered an army of 10,000 Muslim converts and marched on the city of Mecca. The attack went largely uncontested and Muhammad seized the city with little bloodshed. In 632, a few months after returning from the Farewell Pilgrimage, Muhammad fell ill and died. Before his death, most of the Arabian Peninsula had converted to Islam.

The revelations (each known as Ayah, lit. “Sign [of GOD]”), which Muhammad reported receiving until his death, form the verses of the Quran, regarded by Muslims as the “Word of GOD” and around which the religion is based. Besides the Quran, Muhammad’s teachings and practices (sunnah), found in the hadith and sira literature, are also upheld by Muslims and used as sources of Islamic law.


Miniature from Rashid-al-Din Hamadani’s Jami al-Tawarikh, c. 1315, illustrating the story of Muhammad’s role in re-setting the Black Stone in 605.

Names and appellations in the Quran

The name Muhammad (/mʊˈhæməd, ˈhɑːməd/) means “praiseworthy” and appears four times in the Quran. The Quran addresses Muhammad in the second person by various appellations; prophet, messenger, servant of GOD (‘abd), announcer (bashir)[Quran 2, 119], witness (shahid), [Quran 33, 45] bearer of good tidings (mubashshir), warner (nathir),[Quran 11, 2] reminder (mudhakkir),[Quran 88, 21] one who calls [unto GOD] (dā‘ī),[Quran 12, 108] light personified (noor)[Quran 5, 15], and the lightgiving lamp (siraj munir)[Quran 33, 46]. Muhammad is sometimes addressed by designations deriving from his state at the time of the address: thus he is referred to as the enwrapped (al-muzzammil) in Quran 73,1 and the shrouded (al-muddaththir) in Quran 74,1 In Sura Al-Ahzab 33,40 GOD singles out Muhammad as the “Seal of the Prophets”, or the last  prophet. The Quran also refers to Muhammad as Aḥmad “more praiseworthy” (Arabic: أحمد‎‎, Sura AsSaff 61,6)


The Quran is the central religious text of Islam. Muslims believe it represents the words of GOD revealed by the archangel Gabriel to Muhammad.

Although it mentions Muhammad directly only four times,[Quran 3, 144][Quran 33, 40][Quran 47, 2][Quran 48, 29] there are verses which can be interpreted as allusions to Muhammad’s life. The Quran, however, provides minimal assistance for Muhammad’s chronological biography; most Quranic verses do not provide significant historical context.

Pre-Islamic Arabia

The Arabian Peninsula was largely arid and volcanic, making agriculture difficult except near oases or springs. The landscape was dotted with towns and cities; two of the most prominent being Mecca and Medina. Medina was a large flourishing agricultural settlement, while Mecca was an important financial center for many surrounding tribes. Communal life was essential for survival in the desert conditions, supporting indigenous tribes against the harsh environment and lifestyle. Tribal grouping was encouraged with unity being based on blood relations. Indigenous Arabs were either nomadic or sedentary, the former constantly travelling from one place to another seeking water and pasture for their flocks, while the latter settled and focused on trade and agriculture. Nomadic survival also depended on raiding caravans or oases; nomads did not view this as a crime.

Byzantine and Sassanian empires dominated the pre-Islamic Middle East region. The Roman-Persian Wars between the two had devastated the region, making the empires unpopular amongst local tribes. Politically Arabia at the time was divided between two tribal confederations, the Banu Qais, loosely allied with Byzantium and who were originally powerful in Northern and Western Arabia, and the Banu Kalb, who had originally come from Yemen, and were loosely allied with Sassanid Persia.

In pre-Islamic Arabia, gods or goddesses were viewed as protectors of individual tribes, their spirits being associated with sacred trees, stones, springs and wells. As well as being the site of an annual pilgrimage, the Kaaba shrine in Mecca housed 360 idols of tribal patron deities. Three goddesses were associated with Allah as his daughters: Allāt, Manāt and al-‘Uzzá. Monotheistic communities existed in Arabia, including Christians and Jews. Hanifs – native pre-Islamic Arabs who “professed a rigid monotheism” – are also sometimes listed alongside Jews and Christians in pre-Islamic Arabia, although their historicity is disputed among scholars. According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad himself was a Hanif and one of the descendants of Ishmael, son of Abraham.


Muhammad was born about the year 570 and his birthday is believed to be in the month of Rabi’ al-awwal. He belonged to the Banu Hashim clan, part of the Quraysh tribe, and was one of Mecca’s prominent families, although it appears less prosperous during Muhammad’s early lifetime. Tradition places the year of Muhammad’s birth as corresponding with the Year of the Elephant, which is named after the failed destruction of Mecca that year by the Abraha, Yemen’s king, who supplemented his army with elephants. Alternatively some 20th century scholars have suggested different years, such as 568 or 569.

Muhammads’ father, Abdullah, died almost six months before he was born. According to Islamic tradition, soon after birth he was sent to live with a Bedouin family in the desert, as desert life was considered healthier for infants; some western scholars reject this tradition’s historicity. Muhammad stayed with his foster-mother, Halimah bint Abi Dhuayb, and her husband until he was two years old. At the age of six, Muhammad lost his biological mother Amina to illness and became an orphan. For the next two years, he was under the guardianship of his paternal grandfather Abd al-Muttalib, of the Banu Hashim clan until his death; Muhammad was eight years old. He then came under the care of his uncle Abu Talib, the new leader of Banu Hashim.

In his teens, Muhammad accompanied his uncle on Syrian trading journeys to gain experience in commercial trade. Islamic tradition states that when Muhammad was either nine or twelve while accompanying the Meccans’ caravan to Syria, he met a Christian monk or hermit named Bahira who is said to have foreseen Muhammad’s career as a prophet of GOD.

Little is known of Muhammad during his later youth, available information is fragmented, causing difficulty to separate history from legend. It is known that he became a merchant and “was involved in trade between the Indian ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.” Due to his upright character he acquired the nickname “al-Amin” (Arabic: الامين), meaning “faithful, trustworthy” and “al-Sadiq” meaning “truthful” and was sought out as an impartial arbitrator. His reputation attracted a proposal in 595 from Khadijah, a 40-year-old widow. Muhammad consented to the marriage, which by all accounts was a happy one.

Several years later, according to a narration collected by historian Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad was involved with a well-known story about setting the Black Stone in place in the wall of the Kaaba in 605 CE. The Black Stone, a sacred object, was removed to facilitate renovations to the Kaaba. The Meccan leaders could not agree which clan should return the Black Stone to its place. They decided to ask the next man who comes through the gate to make that decision. That man was the 35-year-old Muhammad; this event happened five years before the first revelation by Gabriel to him. He asked for a cloth and laid the Black Stone in its center. The clan leaders held the corners of the cloth and together carried the Black Stone to the right spot, then Muhammad laid the stone, satisfying the honour of all.


A depiction of Muhammad receiving his first revelation from the angel Gabriel. From the manuscript Jami’ al-tawarikh by Rashid-al-Din Hamadani, 1307, Ilkhanate period.

Beginnings of the Quran

Muhammad began to pray alone in a cave named Hira on Mount Jabal al-Nour, near Mecca for several weeks every year. Islamic tradition holds that during one of his visits to that cave, in the year 610 the angel Gabriel appeared to him and commanded Muhammad to recite verses that would be included in the Quran. Consensus exists that the first Quranic words revealed were the beginning of Surah 96,1 Muhammad was deeply distressed upon receiving his first revelations. After returning home, Muhammad was consoled and reassured by Khadijah and her Christian cousin, Waraqah ibn Nawfal. Waraqah is variously described as an Ebionite priest (possibly of Mecca) or Nestorian. He also feared that others would dismiss his claims as being possessed. Shi’a tradition states Muhammad was not surprised or frightened at Gabriel’s appearance; rather he welcomed the angel, as if he was expected. The initial revelation was followed by a three-year pause (a period known as fatra) during which Muhammad felt depressed and further gave himself to prayers and spiritual practices. When the revelations resumed he was reassured and commanded to begin preaching: “Thy Guardian-Lord hath not forsaken thee, nor is He displeased.”

Sahih Bukhari narrates Muhammad describing his revelations as “sometimes it is (revealed) like the ringing of a bell”. Aisha reported, “I saw the Prophet being inspired Divinely on a very cold day and noticed the sweat dropping from his forehead (as the Inspiration was over)”. According to Welch these descriptions may be considered genuine, since they are unlikely to have been forged by later Muslims. Muhammad was confident that he could distinguish his own thoughts from these messages. According to the Quran, one of the main roles of Muhammad is to warn the unbelievers of their eschatological punishment (Quran 38,70, Quran 6,19). Occasionally the Quran did not explicitly refer to Judgment day but provided examples from the history of extinct communities and warns Muhammad’s contemporaries of similar calamities (Quran 41,13-16). Muhammad did not only warn those who rejected GOD’s revelation, but also dispensed good news for those who abandoned evil, listening to the divine words and serving GOD. Muhammad’s mission also involves preaching monotheism: The Quran commands Muhammad to proclaim and praise the name of his Lord and instructs him not to worship idols or associate other deities with GOD.

The key themes of the early Quranic verses included the responsibility of man towards his creator; the resurrection of the dead, God’s final judgment followed by vivid descriptions of the tortures in Hell and pleasures in Paradise, and the signs of ALLAH in all aspects of life. Religious duties required of the believers at this time were few: belief in GOD, asking for forgiveness of sins, offering frequent prayers, assisting others particularly those in need, rejecting cheating and the love of wealth (considered to be significant in the commercial life of Mecca), being chaste and not killing newborn girls.


According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad’s wife Khadija was the first to believe he was a prophet. She was followed by Muhammad’s ten-year-old cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib, close friend Abu Bakr, and adopted son Zaid. Around 613, Muhammad began to preach to the public (Quran 26, 214). Most Meccans ignored him and mocked him, though a few became his followers. There were three main groups of early converts to Islam: younger brothers and sons of great merchants; people who had fallen out of the first rank in their tribe or failed to attain it; and the weak, mostly unprotected foreigners.

According to Ibn Saad, opposition in Mecca started when Muhammad delivered verses that condemned idol worship and the polytheism practiced by the Meccan forefathers. However, the Quranic exegesis maintains that it began as Muhammad started public preaching. As his followers increased, Muhammad became a threat to the local tribes and rulers of the city, whose wealth rested upon the Ka’aba, the focal point of Meccan religious life that Muhammad threatened to overthrow. Muhammad’s denunciation of the Meccan traditional religion was especially offensive to his own tribe, the Quraysh, as they were the guardians of the Ka’aba. Powerful merchants attempted to convince Muhammad to abandon his preaching; he was offered admission to the inner circle of merchants, as well as an advantageous marriage. He refused both of these offers.

Tradition records at great length the persecution and ill-treatment towards Muhammad and his followers. Sumayyah bint Khabbab, a slave of a prominent Meccan leader Abu Jahl, is famous as the first martyr of Islam; killed with a spear by her master when she refused to give up her faith. Bilal, another Muslim slave, was tortured by Umayyah ibn Khalaf who placed a heavy rock on his chest to force his conversion.

In 615, some of Muhammad’s followers emigrated to the Ethiopian Aksumite Empire and founded a small colony under the protection of the Christian Ethiopian emperor Aṣḥama ibn Abjar. Ibn Sa’ad mentions two separate migrations. According to him, most of the Muslims returned to Mecca prior to Hijra, while a second group rejoined them in Medina. Ibn Hisham and Tabari, however, only talk about one migration to Ethiopia. These accounts agree that Meccan persecution played a major role in Muḥammad’s decision to suggest that a number of his followers seek refuge among the Christians in Abyssinia. According to the famous letter of ʿUrwa preserved in al-Tabari, the majority of Muslims returned to their native town as Islam gained strength and high ranking Meccans, such as Umar and Hamzah converted.

However, there is a completely different story on the reason why the Muslims returned from Ethiopia to Mecca. According to this account – initially mentioned by Al-Waqidi then rehashed by Ibn Sa’ad and Tabari, but not by Ibn Hisham and not by Ibn Ishaq – Muhammad, desperately hoping for an accommodation with his tribe, pronounced a verse acknowledging the existence of three Meccan goddesses considered to be the daughters of Allah. Muhammad retracted the verses the next day at the behest of Gabriel, claiming that the verses were whispered by the devil himself. Instead, a ridicule of these gods was offered. This episode known as “The Story of the Cranes” (translation: قصة الغرانيق, transliteration: Qissat al Gharaneeq) is also known as “Satanic Verses“. According to the story this led to a general reconciliation between Muḥammad and the Meccans, and the Abyssinia Muslims began to return home. When they arrived Gabriel had informed Muḥammad the two verses were not part of the revelation, but had been inserted by Satan. Notable scholars at the time argued against the historic authenticity of these verses and the story itself on various grounds. Later, the incident received some acceptance, though strong objections to it arose from the 10th century onwards, on theological grounds. The objections continued until rejection of these verses and the story itself eventually became the only acceptable orthodox Muslim position.

In 617, the leaders of Makhzum and Banu Abd-Shams, two important Quraysh clans, declared a public boycott against Banu Hashim, their commercial rival, to pressure it into withdrawing its protection of Muhammad. The boycott lasted three years but eventually collapsed as it failed in its objective. During this, Muhammad was only able to preach during the holy pilgrimage months in which all hostilities between Arabs was suspended.

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