The Koran

By Islam

The Life of Muhammad

According to the Islamic sources, 7th Century Mecca was a thriving mercantile centre, involved in the lucrative Western Arabian transit trade in luxuries such as slaves and spices. Tradition relates that Muhammad was born in Mecca around the year 570. As a youth he travelled with the trading caravans from Mecca to Syria, and at the age of twenty five he married Khadijah, a wealthy widow fifteen years his senior. He appears to have come under the influence of a group of spiritual fundamentalists, known as "hanifs" who, impressed by Jewish and Christian monotheism, had rejected idolatry for an ascetic religion of their own. Muhammad received his first revelation (traditionally recognised as verse 96) around the year 610, whilst in solitary prayer and meditation, as was his custom.

For the next 10-15 years Muhammad remained in Mecca, receiving episodic revelation. A small group of converts to his prophesy gathered, and a simple ritual and morality developed. Initially, whilst maintaining that Allah was the supreme God, Muhammad also allowed that certain pagan Arabic goddesses were minor deities, serving Allah. The verses referring to these goddesses have become known as the 'Satanic Verses'. The verse 22:52 describes how Satan is wont to attempt to mislead God's prophets with false revelations. Under direction from God, Muhammad soon remedied his error, and moved onto hardline monotheism. His attacks on the local pagan gods offended the Meccans, and in 622 Muhammad was forced to flee, with his small following, to nearby Medina. This event is known as the Hijra, and was to be a turning point in Muhammad's career. Medina, formerly known as Yathrib, was a rich oasis town, which suffered recurrent civil strife as it lacked an effective central authority.

Muhammad was seen as a positive element, as the conspicuous socio- economic content of his teaching could unite the town in Islam, and solve its domestic problems. Muhammad declared the existence of the Ummah, (the brotherhood of Muslims) and the conditions that were to regulate it, as directed by God. Political and social order were created and sustained, and henceforth all authority, both religious and temporal, was based on the Ummah. At the head of the Ummah, Muhammad strove to consolidate his power both within and without of the Ummah. He preached the importance of Jihad, or holy war, which must be continually waged against unbelievers until God's cause prevails, "The Believers fight in the way of God, the unbelievers in the way of idols; so fight the friends of Satan!"(K. 4:78) Opponents were successfully defeated within Medina; Muhammad's attention was then turned towards securing control of the Hijaz, the area of Western Arabia, in which Medina and Mecca lay. The Meccans were subdued following the Battle of Badr in 624, and by the time of the Prophet's death in 632, most of Arabia had submitted to the will of God and the authority of the Ummah.