In or about the year 570 the child who would be named
Muhammad and who would become the Prophet of one of the worldís great
religions, Islam, was born into a family belonging to a clan of Quraish, the
ruling tribe of Mecca, a city in the Hijaz region of northwestern Arabia.
Originally the site of the Kaabah, a shrine of ancient
origins, Mecca had, with the decline of southern Arabia, become an important
center of sixth-century trade with such powers as the Sassanians, Byzantines,
and Ethiopians.† As a result, the city was dominated by powerful merchant
families, among whom the men of Quraish were preeminent.
Muhammadís father, ďAbd Allah ibnĒ Abd al-Muttalib, died
before the boy was born; his mother, Aminah, died when he was six.† The orphan
was consigned to the care of his grandfather, the head of the clan of Hashim.† After
the death of his grandfather, Muhammad was raised by his uncle, Abu Talib.† As
was customary, the child Muhammad was sent to live for a year or two with a
Bedouin family.† This custom, followed until recently by noble families of Mecca, Medina, Taif, and other towns of the Hijaz, had important implications for Muhammad.†
In addition to enduring the hardships of desert life, he acquired a taste for
the rich language so loved by the Arabs, whose speech was their proudest art,
and also learned the patience and forbearance of the herdsmen, whose life of
solitude he first shared, and then came to understand and appreciate.
About the year 590, Muhammad, then in his twenties,
entered the service of a merchant widow named Khadijah as her factor, actively
engaged with trading caravans to the north.† Sometime later he married her, and
had two sons, neither of whom survived, and four daughters by her.
In his forties, he began to retire to meditate in a cave
on Mount Hira, just outside Mecca, where the first of the great events of Islam
took place.† One day, as he was sitting in the cave, he heard a voice, later
identified as that of the Angel Gabriel, which ordered him to:
ďRecite: In the name of thy Lord who created, Created man from
a clot of blood.Ē (Quran 96:1-2)
Three times Muhammad pleaded his inability to do so, but
each time the command was repeated.† Finally, Muhammad recited the words of
what are now the first five verses of the 96th chapter of the Quran - words
which proclaim God to be the Creator of man and the Source of all knowledge.
At first Muhammad divulged his experience only to his
wife and his immediate circle.† But, as more revelations enjoined him to
proclaim the oneness of God universally, his following grew, at first among the
poor and the slaves, but later, also among the most prominent men of Mecca.† The revelations he received at this time, and those he did later, are all
incorporated in the Quran, the Scripture of Islam.
Not everyone accepted Godís message transmitted through
Muhammad.† Even in his own clan, there were those who rejected his teachings,
and many merchants actively opposed the message.† The opposition, however,
merely served to sharpen Muhammadís sense of mission, and his understanding of
exactly how Islam differed from paganism.† The belief in the Oneness of God was
paramount in Islam; from this all else follows.† The verses of the Quran stress
Godís uniqueness, warn those who deny it of impending punishment, and proclaim
His unbounded compassion to those who submit to His will.† They affirm the Last
Judgment, when God, the Judge, will weigh in the balance the faith and works of
each man, rewarding the faithful and punishing the transgressor.† Because the
Quran rejected polytheism and emphasized manís moral responsibility, in
powerful images, it presented a grave challenge to the worldly Meccans.