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Books about Muhammad

Biography: Muhammad

Muhammad was born in Mecca about A.D. 570 into the Quraish tribe. Because his father died before he was born and his mother passed away when he was six, the lad was raised by a grandmother and then by an uncle. As a young man he worked in the caravans of Khadija, a rich widow whom he later married, though she was twenty years his senior. Although Muslims may be married only to four wives, Muhammad himself did not abide by this limit, having ten wives and additional concubines. One of his favorites was A'isha, who came to Muhammad when she was but nine, bringing her toys with her. Muhammad received a special revelation (Qur'an 33:37) to justify his marriage to the beautiful Zainab, the wife of his adopted son Zaid. In spite of these many unions, the prophet never had a full-grown son, a fact which affected the struggles for the caliphate (or succession).

After Muhammad received his initial revelation when he was about forty years old, he began preaching an uncompromising monotheism, which so infuriated the pagan Meccans that they made him flee to Medina in the famous Hijra of A.D. 622. After the Jews of Medina rejected his overtures, he changed the qibla, or direction of prayer, to face Mecca rather than Jerusalem. Muhammad's forces battled various opponents and killed many, including hundreds of Jews. The Prophet, who did not fight in person, showed mercy to captives after the capture of Mecca.

The Qur'an does not claim that Muhammad performed any miracles. But traditions ascribe numerous wonders to him: "Butter, a part of which Muhammad had eaten, increased continually." "A tree moved from its place of its own accord and shaded Muhammad while he slept." "A wolf spoke and converted a Jew." According to Francesco Gabrielli, "His character appeared to later tradition and piety as the sum of all the moral virtues…by dint of adding to the genuine testimonies of the Prophet's life and character the fantansies [sic] of apologetics."(13)

The five pillars of Islam are (1) the Shahada, or creed, which affirms, "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet," (2) Salat, prayer, five times a day facing Mecca, (3) Zakat, or alms, (4) fasting during Ramadhan, the ninth lunar month, which involves a strict abstinence from both food and drink during daylight, and (5) for those who can perform it, the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. When in Mecca the pilgrim must make a circuit around the Kaaba building and kiss the black meteorite stone enclosed in its walls.

Since the followers of Muhammad do not worship him, they should not be called "Mohammadens." They should be called "Muslims," from the word "Islam," which connotes their submission to Allah.

In 632 Muhammad became ill with violent headaches and a fever. Before he died the prophet exhorted the Arabs to remain united, proclaimed the duties of married couples and abolished usury and the blood feud. When he announced that if he owed anything to anyone that person could claim it, a hush fell on the crowd. One man came forward to claim a few coins. Muhammad finally succumbed and was buried in the house of his wife A'isha, who had nursed him during his last days. The prophet's tomb at Medina is, after Mecca, the site most venerated by Muslims.



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