Abū al-Qāsim Muhammad ibn Abd Allāh ibn Abd al-Muttalib ibn Hāshim (Arabic: محمد بن عبد الله بن عبد المطلب ) (c. 570 – c. 8 June 632), also transliterated as Muhammad (Arabic: محمد), was a religious, political, and military leader from Mecca who unified Arabia into a single religious polity under Islam. It was extremely difficult to know how to classify him on this website because he was not a mystic, and although he had a touch of genius, in the same way that Winston Churchill had a touch of genius, he was without the ‘madness’ that is found in the true genius, or the 'Black dog' days Churchill described. So I have classified him under the heading of religious.
Born in the Arabian city of Mecca, he was orphaned at an early age and brought up under the care of his uncle Abu Talib. He later worked mostly as a merchant, as well as a shepherd, and was first married by age 25. At age 40, he received his first revelation. Three years after this event, Muhammad started preaching these revelations publicly.
Muhammad gained few followers early on, and was met with hostility from some Meccan tribes; he and his followers were treated harshly. To escape persecution, he and his followers in Mecca migrated to Medina (then known as Yathrib) in the year 622. This event, the Hijra, marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar.
In Medina, Muhammad united the tribes under the Constitution of Medina. After eight years of fighting with the Meccan tribes, his followers, who by then had grown to 10,000, took control of Mecca. He destroyed the ‘pagan idols’ in the city and then sent his followers out to destroy all of the remaining temples in Eastern Arabia. In 632, a few months after returning to Medina from The Farewell Pilgrimage, Muhammad fell ill and died. By the time of his death, most of the Arabian Peninsula had converted to Islam, and he had united Arabia under a single Muslim religious polity. [Note the similarities with Constantine and Christianity. ] The revelations, which Muhammad reported receiving until his death, form the verses of the Qu'ran, around which the religion is based.
Now I want to turn to what I regard is a wonderful description of what happened in more detail. The writer Paul Brunton was a mystic and had considerable respect for Islam.
Paul Brunto - A Search in Secret Egypt
The Sign of the Crescent hangs over the Near and Middle and Far-East; while lately some of its rays have spread rapidly over the most distant parts of Africa. Yet the strength of the religion of Islam is not to be measured by the number of its adherents, but by the ardent devotion which each of those adherents gives to it. We, in the West, usually like to insert the qualifying adjective "fanatical" before the word Muhammedan, and, if we are not altogether right, we are also not altogether wrong. Here are people who hold to the tenets of their religion with a fervour that we have lost.
Let us begin at the beginning. A man once knelt in a rocky cave on the rugged slopes of Mount Hira, in Arabia, and prayed to the Almighty that the pure, undefiled faith of the first patriarchs might once again be made known to his people, who were sunk in the grossest idol-worship, in a superstitious materialism which they mistook for religion.That man was Muhammed.
He was of middle height, with long flowing hair, a pale face, which had just a touch of colour in the cheeks; both brow and mouth were wide, and the nose somewhat prominent. His dress was simpler than his position in life called for. He had been a merchant and had made a name in many towns for perfect integrity, fair dealing and absolute reliability. He had taken merchandise in the camel caravans as far off as Syria. Year after year his long line of plodding camels had made their way with measured steps across undulating, tawny sand-dunes and over rocky gorges, carrying great loads of goods which the black-turbaned caravan leader would sell in distant markets.
At night, while his men lay sleeping, Muhammed would wander off by himself and sit for a while on the soft desert floor to reflect upon the mysteries of life and the nature of God. And the stars thew their silver rays upon his solitary upturned face, bathing it in their own mystery, and marked him for their own child of destiny.
After his marriage to the widow Khadjia, he developed more and more a habit of profound meditation upon the gravest topics of human existence. It was thus that he became so grievously aware of the shortcomings of the crude religion of his time, and of its inability to satisfy the deepest instincts of his fellow-men. At last he turned to his favourite retreat, a lonely cave on Mount Hira, near the city of Mecca - and there spent an entire night lifting his heart until dawn in piteous prayer to the Infinite, not asking selfishly for personal illumination alone, but also on behalf of his people.
Prayer passed after a time into entranced vision, and vision into transformation, and transformation into conscious communion .... Veil after veil was rent asunder. Strange paradox - that he should find luminous Truth inside that gloomy cave!
And a Voice came unto him and said: "Thou art the Man. Thou art the Prophet of Allah!"
Henceforth, the merchant, Muhammed, accepted the mantle which had been proffered him, deserted his bales of merchandise, and became the new Sayer of the Word, that Word whose echo would rumble over three continents within one century.
He was fortunate enough to find his first disciple in his own wife, for a wife can do much to mar or make a man's life. The next man to whom he related his experience in the cave was Waraquah; an old bent and blind sage who warned him:
"Of a surety they will drive thee into exile, for never hath mortal man brought what thou bringest without falling a victim to bitterest persecution. Ah! If God deigned to lengthen my days until then, I would devote all my strength to helping thee triumph over thy enemies."
But the inspired prophet must always put up with the cross of loneliness and misunderstanding; there are compensations for him which are too invisible and too intangible to be comprehended by the masses. Every new religion must prepare to be stoned at its birth ....His friends and relatives formed the earliest group of converts. They met and prayed in a quiet house outside the city.
In Mecca itself the people were following their rite of primitive magic, attempting to propitiate the unseen powers of the psychic threshold, worshipping a multitude of fetishes.....For three years the gradually increasing group met and prayed in the utmost secrecy; for the appointed hour of public revelation, the date set by Destiny, had not yet come. And then the Voice spoke again to the Prophet, saying:
"Make known the command which hath been given thee."
Whereupon he did not hesitate to call a meeting of his people together and to warn them that if they did not fling away their ancestral caricature of religion and return to true worship, the wrath of Allah would fall upon them. They listened unconverted, and left in disgust.
But the fire was now ablaze within him and he went from place to place, preaching the message which had been entrusted to him. He dressed in coarse cloth and ate simply. He gave away almost everything he had to the poor. He even went among the three hundred and sixty-six idols of the holy shrine of the Kaaba itself to remonstrate with the idolators there present, as Jesus bravely went into the Temple to remonstrate with the money-changers. An angry mob attacked him, and one of his followers was slain in trying to protect him.
The prophet's cross can only be carried by one who believes all he has prophesied, down to the last letter of the last word.
The authorities, finding they could not muzzle this outspoken man, tried to bribe him with wealth and position. Muhammed's reply was to warn them more strongly still of the coming wrath of Allah.
Thenceforth he was openly persecuted and he advised a number of his followers to seek refuge in Abyssinia, which they did. The vengeance of the Meccan authorities pursued them even there, and the Black Emperor was asked to deliver up the fugitives. Instead of complying, he called for their spokesman, one Jafar, and asked: "What is this religion by reason of which you have separated from your people ?"
And Jafar told how they had been formerly leading a semi-savage life, worshipping idols, eating carrion, and oppressing the weak. Then came Muhammed as the Prophet of Allah, bidding them be truly spiritual, devoted towards the One alone, truthful, charitable and moral. He ended by reciting some passages from the Qu'ran, which caused the Emperor to remark:
"Go! for by God, I will not suffer them to get at you. Go to thy dwellings and live and worship in thine own way, and none shall interfere with you"
.........The Prophet secretly [made] his way across the desert to the city of Medina, where he had a great welcome and laid the foundation of the first mosque ever built. The day of his entry became the first day of the first year of the new Muslim calendar, the year 622 of the Christian calendar.
That was the turning point in Islam's fortunes.
The Meccans declared war upon the inhabitants of Medina.
A small force led by Muhammed left the latter town and encountered the enemy, completely defeating them. The victors marched on and fought a further battle, which ended indecisively. Still more battles occurred resulting in a strengthening of Muhammed's position. He sent envoys with letters to the King of Greece, the Emperor of Abyssinia, the King of Persia, and the King of Egypt, informing them of the Prophet's mission and message, and inviting them to embrace the religion of Islam.
Seven years after his flight from Mecca, Muhammed set out with his army to return to the city. Because he did not wish to shed blood unnecessarily, he made his followers pile their weapons eight miles away from the city and enter as peaceful men. They were permitted to make their visit and to leave again unmolested. But, not long after the Meccans assisted some tribesmen to massacre Muslims who sought sanctuary in their temple, and Muhammed was compelled to lead his army eastwards to Mecca once again. He took the city, broke up the stone images, peacefully converted the inhabitants, and set up his government there.
Islam now spread all over Arabia, bringing the wild tribes to sit at his feet and learn a higher faith. Muhammed gave his last address to his followers from the back of his camel on the hill of Arafa.
"I leave the book, the Qu'ran, for you," he told them, in his customary, slow, deliberate manner, "hold fast to it, or you shall go astray. For this is probably my last pilgrimage. Do not adopt your pre-Islamic habits and begin to rush at each other's throats after I go; for one day you will have to face Allah, who shall require you to answer for your sins." He reminded them that the Prophet was one like them, a man, though a messenger of Allah, and warned them not to worship mere graves.
On an afternoon soon after, he returned to the great unknown whence he had come; his last words being:
"There is now none so great a friend as He".
This happened in 632 of our era and in the 61st year of Muhammed's life.
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