Disclaimer: This is a summarized version of Muhammad’s life just to get a general idea of who Muhammad is. Notice all the adversities and opposition that Muhammad had to overcome to spread the message of Islam.
Muhammad (570-632 AD) is the last of many prophets who preceded him, including Adam, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jesus Christ --All whom preached the common message of worshiping one God (Allah).
Muhammad was born in 570 AD in the city of Mecca. Muhammad’s father died before he was born, and his mother Aminah died when he was 6 years old. Muhammad was born as a member of the umbrella tribe of Quraish under the clan of Hashim. He was raised by his uncle Abu Talib who was the leader of Hashim clan. Other uncles were Abu Lahab and Abu Jahl who have significance in Muhammad’s journey (more on this below). Muhammad was known in Mecca for his integrity while working as a merchant, to the extent that his nickname was “Al-Sadiq Al-Amin” (The truthful and trustworthy).
Prophethood: Muhammad has spent a great deal of time in solitude praying to God in a cave called “Hira” located in the mountain of Noor (Light), near Mecca. One day in 610 AD, when Muhammad was 40 years old, angel Gabriel came down to him with the first part of the Quran (the literal word of Allah sent to Muhammad and humanity as a whole). Gabriel taught Muhammad the opening verses of Surah 96 of the Quran: “Recite in the name of your Lord who creates / creates man from a clot! / Recite for your lord is most generous….” Muhammad was extremely frightened, so he ran down the mountain in terror. The voice called after him, "O Muhammad, you are the messenger of God, and I am the angel Gabriel." Muhammad arrived home to Khadija. She calmed him down then took him to Waraqa who was a Christian convert. Waraqa asked Muhammad about what he saw. When he told him, Waraqa said, “That is the same angel whom Allah sent to the Prophet Moses. Should I live till you receive the Divine Message, I will support you strongly.”
Muhammad started spreading the message among his family and close friends secretly for three years in Mecca, where the worship of Allah there has become dominated by polytheism and idolatry. Muhammad continued to receive Quranic revelations by Allah through Gabriel. Then he began preaching openly but met ferocious adversities and rejection from the Meccans (They wrongfully adopted the practice of worshiping man-made idols, and rejected the idea that Muhammad was a messenger of Allah). They rejected the notion that the Quran is the word of Allah, and accused Muhammad of being a magician or a poet (the Quran is a linguistic miracle —Linguistically, it is far too advanced for any human being to write and Muhammad did not even learn to read or write).
Hardships in Mecca: Abu Lahab and Abu Jahl were Muhammad’s uncles. They were also two prominent and influential men in Mecca who rejected Muhammad’s message and were his worst enemies. They showed the highest level of brutality, hostility and enmity towards their nephew Muhammad and his message, while Abu Talib who raised Muhammad, protected and backed him. They did this out of arrogance and resentment that the chosen prophet was not one of their own descendants. Once, Quraish tribe leaders threatened to break between Abu Talib’s clan Hashim, and the rest of Quraish tribes. This distressed Abu Talib who was aware of the high cost this would have on them. Abu Talib told Muhammad: "Spare me and yourself and don’t put a burden on me that I can’t bear". Muhammad thought that his uncle would let him down and would no longer support and protect him, so he replied: "O uncle! I swear by Allah, if they put the SUN IN MY RIGHT HAND AND THE MOON IN MY LEFT HAND on the condition that I abandon this message until Allah has made me victorious, or I perish therein, I would not abandon it."(1)
Disbelievers went to all lengths from torturing Muslims to several attempts to kill their nephew Muhammad himself. Once, Muhammad was kneeling in his prayer near Kaaba (House of God, where Muslims face during their prayers. Abu Jahl threw a sheep's uterus mixed with blood and excrement over Muhammad’s back while he was praying. (2)
Muhammad was met with much resistance from the Meccans over the first 13 year of his prophethood, although he did manage to gather a few converts, they were only estimated to be less than 100 over the course of those 13 years! Over the years, Muhammad tried to spread his message to the trading caravans that visited Mecca, but his enemies prevented him by first warning the caravan leaders about Muhammad upon entering Mecca and accusing him of sorcery and insanity. However, Muhammad managed to deliver the message of Islam to the people of Yathrib (currently named Madinah).
Hijra (Immigration): When his uncle Abu Talib died in 619 AD (same year Muhammad’s wife Khadija died), and Abu Talib’s leadership position in the clan was taken by Abu Lahab, and Muhammad was completely vulnerable to hostility. At this point, Muhammad’s position in Mecca became futile and the persecution became unbearable. So, he and his (about 70) followers immigrated to Yathrib (Medina), located 280 miles north Mecca, in 622 AD. He had been invited to assume a leadership role in Medina by city leaders to adjudicate disputes between Arab and Jewish clans from which the city suffered.
Muhammad's Hijra from Mecca marks the beginning of a new stage for the advancement of Islam. For the first time in Arabia members of a community were bound together by a common believe of recognizing the one true God, Allah, and not by the ties of clan or tribe. Years later, the importance of the date of the immigration was recognized as such and was used as the foundation of the Hijri Calendar, that is still commonly used today in the Muslim world.
Between 624 and 628, the Muslims were involved in a series of battles for their survival. In the final major confrontation, The Battle of the Trench and Siege of Medina, Muhammad and his followers prevailed, and a treaty was signed. The treaty was broken by the Meccan allies a year later. By now, Muhammad had plenty of forces and the balance of power had shifted away from the Meccan leaders to him. In 630, the Muslim army marched into Mecca, taking the city with minimum casualties. Muhammad gave amnesty to many of the Meccan leaders who had opposed him and pardoned many others. Most of the Meccan population converted to Islam. (many for political motives). Muhammad and his followers then proceeded to destroy all the statues of pagan gods in and around the Kaaba. (3)
Muhammad was able to unite the Arabs under the banner of Islam, and his message expanded and was the bedrock of an empire that was inherited by his successors. His empire then spread beyond the borders of Arabia, and teachings of Islam also spread through conquest at first then through trade and missionary work.
Death: By the time of his death in 632 AD, Muhammad was the most powerful political leader in the whole of Arabia. Most of the tribes had converted to Islam, although most of these conversions had political motivation rather than spiritual. Muhammad died in his own house with his youngest wife, Aisha, by his side. Some say that he was poisoned, which is debatable, and difficult to prove either way.
Conclusion: Muhammad was a man of exceptional vision and administrative talent who also commanded armies in battle with incredible skill and charisma without any prior experience. He endured a great deal of hardship to spread his message, which he must have believed was the truth given to him by God, especially since forsaking his path would have meant rewards beyond his wildest dreams, as the Meccans had promised early on when they were trying to silence him.
As was the norm of his time, Muhammad married multiple women, after the death of his first wife. These marriages were mostly meant to cement tribal alliances, and Muhammad treated his wives with utmost respect and love. Polygamy may seem unsuitable in the modern era, but we cannot object to people living according to the norms of their time. Muhammad, though he had no surviving sons (which was considered necessary for one to be remembered and for which he was severely mocked in his time) has nevertheless not been forgotten. Muhammad’s name remains to this day one of the most popular Muslim names worldwide, and his message has reached an unprecedented number of believers.
2. To read more about assassination attempts (click here).
3. As written by Biography.com Editors, published in Biography.com
4. As written by Syed Muhammad Khan, published in ancient.eu