Introduction The book you are about to read is an English translation of the Scripture that Prophet Muhammad said was revealed to him by God, word for word, in the Arabic language. This Scripture is still in existence and hundreds of thousands of Muslims the world over, including non-Arabic speakers, have it preserved in their memories, just as they have been preserving it for the past fourteen centuries. This book is the Quran.
This book is not only still with us in its original form, but the life of the man to whom it was revealed is also recorded in authentic historical records so meticulously that some of the Westerners who studied his life have described him as being .the only historical figure among founders of religions''.
Muhammad was a Prophet chosen by God to be the recipient of a divine message. He was entrusted with the task of conveying this message to the people around him, and through them, to all people throughout the world. As a Prophet and Messenger of God to His servants, Muhammad was not something new; he was merely the last in a long chain of Prophets and Messengers. Many were those upon whom God bestowed the honor of being the recipients of His message, who He appointed to be examples of righteousness for the rest of humanity. The Quran mentions a number of these Prophets, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus.
The core message they all brought was the same: Islam, submission to God by worshipping none but Him. Every one of them was charged with conveying this message as well with showing the people of their time how to live by it. Being the last of these Prophets, Muhammad was to be God's final and therefore universal Messenger.
How do we know whether someone is an imposter or a true Prophet? This is indeed a very vital question requiring serious thought. It is clear that there is no way for us to decide this issue except by examining the character as well as the message of the person who makes such a claim. We naturally start by ascertaining the historical authenticity of the records that describe the life and teachings of the claimant. Next we must examine the character of the person who made the claim especially regarding his truthfulness. Finally we need to look carefully into the message which he claimed to have received from God:
Does it contain any factual falsehoods or contradictions?
How far is it comprehensive?
To what extent is it consistent with the attributes which we know God must have?
And so forth.
One might ask .why we should take the trouble?''
The answer is clear. If we are believers in God, we will know that He is a Merciful and Wise Lord, because it is He Who has given us our lives and is providing for all of our needs. Being our Creator, He knows that we have spiritual needs as well. As believers in Him, we need to know how to lead a life that is in agreement with that belief and pleasing to Him. We need to know how to worship Him, and on what principles to establish our relationships with one another: whether political, social, economic, or otherwise. This leads us to the conclusion that the Merciful and Wise God who provided us with all of our material needs will not neglect to provide us
with our spiritual needs as well. We must also conclude that such guidance from Him can only come as a message from Him and that there must be such a message somewhere in the world, a message that must be available to all who seek it. Here is the book that Muslims claim contains that message, and the following is a sketch of the life of the Messenger who brought it.
Muhammad was born in Mecca, Arabia. His mother, Aminah, was the daughter of Wahb son of Abd Manaf of the Zuhrah family. His father, Abdullah, was the son of Abdul-Muttalib. His genealogy has been traced back in roughly forty generations to the noble house of Ishmael, the son of Abraham. Muhammad's father had died before his birth, and his mother died when he was about six years old, making him an orphan. In accordance with the tradition of the noble families of Mecca, he was cared for in his infancy by a foster mother in a remote village. He lived with his foster mother, Halimah, for a few years, during which, he was taken to Mecca several times to visit his mother. After the death of his mother, he was placed under the custody of his grandfather, Abdul- Muttalib. When the grandfather died, he came under the care of his uncle, Abu Talib. During this time, he used to tend sheep around Mecca and accompany his uncle on trade journeys to Syria.
From the time of his youth, he believed firmly in the oneness of God. He lived a very simple life and hated vanity and pride. He was compassionate to the poor, widows and orphans and shared their sufferings by helping them. He avoided all immoral acts, which were commonplace among young people, such as gambling, drinking, and vulgarity. He was known as As-Siddiq (the truthful) and Al-Amin (the trust- worthy) . He was always trusted to be a mediator between conflicting parties in his homeland , Mecca .
When he was about 25 years old, his uncle urged him to work with the caravan that belonged to a wealthy widow named Khadijah. He accepted this and undertook the journey to Syria. He conducted business with such prudence and sense of duty that he returned with a larger profit than usual. Khadijah was so impressed by the honest and attractive personality of Muhammad that she offered to marry him, an offer which Muhammad accepted. Their marriage was a happy one. They had children. Khadijah remained his only wife until she died at the age of 51.
Muhammad was born amidst a polytheistic society. He was saddened and sickened by the corrupt society that surrounded him. He often went to the cave of Hira in a mountain near Mecca, which would later be known as Jabal An-Nur (the Mountain of Light). There he would meditate and ponder over the prevailing darkness brought about by ignorance. There he would often remain deep in thought, in communion with the unseen yet All-Pervading God of the universe.
One night, while he was meditating in the cave, the angel Gabriel came to him. The angel aroused him and his mighty voice reverberated in his ears. Muhammad was perplexed and did not know what to do. He was asked to read. He replied: .I cannot read!'' The angel repeated his command three times, demanding Muhammad to read, but each time he replied that he could not read. Finally the angel said:
“Read: In the name of your Lord Who creates, creates man from a clot. Read: And your Lord is the Most Bounteous, Who teaches by means of the pen, teaches man that which he knew not.” (Quran 96:1-5) This was the first revelation received by Muhammad. He was 40 years old at that time. The revelations continued to come to him from time to time over a period of 23 years. This series of revelations was arranged according to the divine guidance given to Prophet Muhammad, and later collected in the form of a book. This book is the Quran (the Recitation). Most of its verses have clear meanings. Some verses are interpreted in conjunction with other verses and some others were interpreted by the Prophet himself through his words, actions, and tacit approvals which together are known as his Sunnah (Tradition).
The Quran and the Sunnah together constitute the guidance and way of life for those who submit their lives to God. People who follow this guidance and way of life are guaranteed by God to be saved in this world and the Hereafter.
When the Prophet called the people to the way of God, few heeded his call. Most of those who did were either members of his family or from the lowest
ranks of society. Among them were Khadijah, Ali, Zaid and Bilal. When he intensified his mission by publicly announcing the religion he preached, he won more followers, but at the same time had to face many challenges from the nobles and leaders whofound their position being threatened and jeopardized. They stood together - under the pretext of defending the religion of their ancestors - to fight the new religion.
The morale of the few people who embraced Islam was heightened when some prominent members of Meccan society joined the religion. Most notable among them were Uthman bin Affan, Zubair bin Al- Awwam, Abdur-Rahman bin Awf, Talhah bin Ubaidullah, Sad bin Abi Waqqas, Arqam bin Abi Arqam, Ubaidullah, Saeed bin Zaid, Amr bin Nufail, Fatimah (the wife of Nufail), Asma bint Abu Bakr, Abdullah bin Masud, Jafar bin Abi Talib and many others.
Before this group accepted Islam, there had been Abu Bakr, the first among his earliest followers who impressed the Prophet considerably. The Prophet said about him: “I never invited anyone to the faith who did not display some hesitation in embracing it, except Abu Bakr. When I had offered him Islam, he showed no hesitation at all in accepting it.”
As the result of the opposition of the Meccan disbelievers, Muslims were subjected to severe torture, persecution, isolation and boycotts. The Prophet had to be patient and had to look for a means to protect the Muslims. He asked Negus, the King of Ethiopia, to allow the Muslims to emigrate to his country. Negus welcomed the Muslim emigrants in his territory and refused to hand them over to the disbelieving rulers of Mecca.
Near the end of the time known to historians as the Meccan period, the Prophet lost two people who were very dear to him. They were his beloved uncle, Abu Talib, and his faithful and loving wife, Khadijah. After their deaths, the Meccans felt free to impose what they wanted on the Prophet and his followers. To most, Makkah was the Kabah (the Sacred Mosque), which was built by Prophet Abraham centuries before as a place of worship. But in the course of time, the place had been converted by the disbelievers into a place of idolatry. People added many traditions of their own. They used to visit this place for a few months during the year for pilgrimage.
They came from all parts of Arabia, representing various prominent tribes. The pilgrimage, in spite of its religious bearing, constituted for the Arabs a yearly festival where people would meet and indulge in their cultural activities. The Prophet took this opportunity to spread Islam.
Among those interested in his call, were some delegations from the town of Yathrib (later to be known as Madinah) in the north of Arabia. They met secretly with the Prophet and a few Muslims from Makkah in a village called Aqabah. After becoming Muslims, they took an oath of allegiance to protect
Islam, the Prophet, and the Meccan Muslims. The following year, the group of Muslims from Yathrib came again to Makkah. They met with the Prophet at the same place where they previously met. This time, Abbas bin Abdul-Muttalib, the Prophet's uncle who was himself not a Muslim yet, was present at the meeting. They invited the Prophet and the Muslims from Mecca to emigrate to Yathrib.
They promised to treat them as true brothers and sisters. A long discussion ensued between the Muslims of Yathrib and the Prophet's uncle to make sure that they really wanted to welcome the Meccan Muslims into their own homes. The Prophet agreed, in the end, to emmigrated to this new land. Upon coming to know that the Muslims had planned to leave Mecca, the Meccan disbelievers tried to stop the emigration; however, the first group had already migrated to Yathrib. The Meccans feared that the movement to Yathrib would give the Muslims a new base from which to spread the message. Within two months, nearly all Muslims from Mecca, except the Prophet, Abu Bakr, Ali and a few helpless people, had emmigrated. The Meccans then decided to kill the Prophet. They made a plan for this purpose, but God – as He says in the Quran – had made another plan over theirs. With various tactics and good planning, the Prophet finally arrived peacefully in Yathrib, which was later known as Madinatur-Rasul (The City of the Prophet)
A New Era
In Madinah, the Prophet was able to work freely for the spread of Islam. The followers of Islam increased day after day. But the threat from Mecca continued relentlessly. A few physical confrontations with the Meccans ensued. Sometimes the battles were won by the Muslims and sometimes by the Meccans. The Prophet also engaged in battles with the Byzantine and Persian powers that were jeopardizing the existence of Islam from the north and the east. Confrontation with the Meccans stopped for a while after the treaty of Hudaibiyah had been signed between the Muslims and the Meccans. During the Madinian period, the Muslims also established treaties with the Jews of Madinah and the tribes around the city. The Jews broke the treaty, which led to their expulsion from the Arabian Peninsula.
In Madinah, the Prophet succeeded in establishing Islam as a way of life in the fullest sense. He was not only giving guidance on purely religious matters such as prayers, almsgiving, fasting and pilgrimage, but was also providing the Muslims with guidance and legislation concerning their social, economic and political lives.
Emissiaries entertained in Madinah
It was in Madinah that the Prophet received envoys and emissaries from different tribes and nations. They came to ask him about various matters, to engage in dialogue, to negotiate, and for a number of other reasons. Among the emissaries was an envoy representing the Christian community in Najran (South Arabia). The Prophet welcomed them, entertained them as honoured guests, and even allowed them to conduct their religious service in his city. It was a good occasion to share each other's views on matters of religion. Some members of the envoy were deeply impressed by the treatment they received from the Muslims, thus leading them to embrace Islam.
Liberation of Makkah
The treaty of Hudaibiyah gave the Muslims a good opportunity to exemplify Islam to the fullest in their personal conduct and in their relations with other peoples and communities. But the peace did not endure for long, on account of the attitude of the Meccan tribal chiefs who soon broke the treaty. The Prophet marched very quietly to Mecca in the 8th year after his emigration to Madinah. The Meccans gave no resistance and the whole city surrendered to the Prophet. He announced a general amnesty for all his enemies and treated the citizens of the city with generosity. A verse of the Quran was revealed on the occasion:
“When God's succor and the triumph comes. And you see people entering the religion of God in troops. Then hymn the praises of your Lord, and seek forgiveness of Him. Lo! He is ever ready to show mercy.” (Quran 110:1-3) After the liberation of Mecca, all the remaining hostile tribes in Arabia began to realize the reality of the Islamic faith. People had seen the noble teachings of Islam in action, a living example of forgiveness, tolerance, justice, fairness, stead- fastness, and other noble qualities, all exemplified by the Prophet and his Companions. This had left an impression upon the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people who became Muslims.
In time, the whole of Arabia had become the land of Islam. The Prophet intended to perform the pilgrimage. He announce d his intention to the Muslims in Madinah and the surrounding areas and asked them to join him. This was in fact the only pilgrimage performed by the Prophet during his lifetime. On this occasion, he taught those who were present with him and the whole world about the pilgrimage and the divine message that God had entrusted him to convey to all mankind.
At this last gathering with the people during the pilgrimage season, what would come to be known as his farewell pilgrimage, the Prophet Muhammad delivered a sermon at the valley of Arafat. This was about 81 or 82 days before his death. It contained the very fundamentals of Islam. Seated on his camel, he spoke with a clear tone and asked all those who heard his speech to convey it to those who were not present. Among what he said was the following:
“O people, lend me an attentive ear, for I know not whether, after this year, I shall ever be amongst you again. Therefore listen to what I am saying to you carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today.”
“O people, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. Remember that you will indeed meet your Lord, and that He will indeed reckon your deeds. God has forbidden you to take usury; therefore all interest obligations shall henceforth be waived. Beware of Satan for the safety of your religion. He has lost all hopes that he will be able to lead you astray in big things, so beware of following him in small things.”
“O people, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with anyone of whom you do not approve, as well as never to commit adultery.”
“O people, listen to me in earnest, worship God, offer your five daily prayers, fast during the month of Ramadan, and give your wealth in Zakat. Perform the pilgrimage if you can afford to. You know that every Muslim is the brother of every other Muslim. You are all equal. Nobody has superiority over the other except by piety and good deeds.”
“Remember, one day you will appear before God and answer for your deeds. So beware, do not go astray from the path of righteousness after my death.'' .O people, no Prophet or Messenger will come after me and no new faith will be born.”
“O people, understand my words that I conveyed to you. I leave behind me two things, the Quran and my example, the Sunnah, and if you follow these, you will never go astray.”
“All those who listen to me, should pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness O God that I have conveyed Your message to Your slaves.”
The importance of this sermon can be seen from the Prophet's perception that this occasion may be the last one like it during his lifetime. He felt that this was the right time to summarize the principles of Islam to his brothers and sisters. With the religion now conveyed to the people in its entirety, there was no need for humanity, and for the Muslims in particular, to look for an alternative way of life. By holding fast to the two things left behind by the Prophet (the Quran and the Sunnah) , a person will never go astray.
About two months after returning from his pilgrimage to Mecca, the Prophet became seriously ill. He was still able to perform his prayers in the mosque and give direction to the Companions. However, his health was deteriorating day by day. Near the end, he asked Abu Bakr to lead the prayers in the mosque. Every member of his family and every one of his Companions was worried about his health. It was on a Monday, in the 11th year after his emigration to Madinah, that the Prophet passed away at the age of sixty-three.
Many people did not want to believe that he had died; it was as if they had thought the Messenger of God would live forever. Abu Bakr, who had sensed since the farewell pilgrimage that the death of the Prophet was near, convinced the congregation that the Prophet had actually passed away. Abu Bakr said to the congregation that if they had been worshipping Muhammad, then Muhammad had died, and if they had been worshipping God, He lives forever. Then he recited from the Quran:
“Muhammad is but a Messenger, Messengers (the like of whom) have passed away before him. Will it be that when he dies or is slain, you will turn back on your heels?” (Quran 3:144) A Guidance to follow
Muhammad as a man had died, but as a Prophet, his legacy lives on in the form of the Quran and the Sunnah. He had stressed the urgent need to hold firmly to these two sources of guidance during his farewell sermon in the valley of Arafat . If people hold fast to them , they will never go astray. The teachings he left for us, if put into practice in their true spirit and proper way, will bring happiness to life in this world as well as in the life to come. In this sense, Islam is a worldly religion which considers first the worldly affairs of humanity, with the Hereafter merely a continuation of life. It is difficult to hold that man can be saved in the Hereafter without being saved in this world. To be saved in the Hereafter without being saved in this world is simply unthinkable. The sensible approach is to follow the way shown to us by Prophet Muhammad. When his wife, Aishah, was asked by a Companion about the Prophet's daily conduct, Aishah replied that the conduct of the Prophet was the Quran, which is the guidance from God and for which Muhammad was given authority by God to interpret. That is why his conduct was the most exemplary expression of human conduct.