The founder of the Islamic Muslim religion, Muhammad was also known as 'the messenger of God' and 'the Prophet'. His teachings inspired the Arabic peoples to conquer the Mediterranean world for God. The word 'Islam' means 'submission' (to the will of Allah). Muhammad was born a member of the Kurish tribe in Mecca in AD 570. As an infant, he was given to a Bedouin foster-mother and his real mother, Amina, died when he was six years old; his father, Abdullah, had died before he was born. As a young boy he tended sheep and goats and was brought up first by his grandfather and then by his uncle, Abu Talib. When he grew up, he managed a trade caravan for his uncle and in 595 married Khadija, a rich widow 15 years his senior. She was very important to him, supporting him in his work and later becoming a convert to the Islamic faith.
The 15 years following Muhammad's marriage were spent in quiet routine in Mecca and he spent an increasing amount of time meditating in a cave at the foot of Mt Hira, north of the city. In 610, a vision came to him through the archangel Gabriel and called him a messenger of God. The revelations that came to him over the next 22 years of his life make up the text of the Koran, the sacred book of the Islamic religion. ('Koran' means 'reading' or 'recitation'.) It is not arranged chronologically but according to the length of each chapter or revelation, the longest being the first. Muhammad called his people to abandon their lives of sin and worship one God. The first converts to his teachings were his wife, family and friends. Muslim beliefs spread only slowly through Mecca and there were many bitter opponents.
In 622, Muhammad was forced to leave Mecca because of persecution and he fled northwards to the city of Medina. This event is known as the Hegira (departure), and Muslim calendars are dated from the year in which it took place. In Medina, he formed an Islamic community; the Arabs welcomed the Prophet but the Jews and Christians of Medina remained faithful to their own religions. From Medina, Muhammad extended his influence by conquest and conversion. In 624, the Muslims attacked the city of Badr, which was on the caravan route to Mecca. The Meccans were defeated and this victory lifted the Muslim belief into prominence in the Arabic world. They believed that God had delegated them to fight and kill His enemies and the victory at Badr showed how effective violence could be against the non-believer. Islam slowly extended through the Bedouin tribes of the desert, moving northwards towards Jerusalem. The Muslims were living a poor life in Medina and they longed to return to Mecca.
A pilgrimage to Mecca in 629 helped to convince the citizens of Mecca of the veneration that the followers of Muhammad held for him and in 620 Mecca was peacefully captured by Muhammad and his followers. Throughout this period of exile, Muhammad had continued to teach and encourage belief in God as it was revealed to him. His teachings contained frequent references to the structure of society and laws that would enable people to live in harmony, practicing the correct rituals of their religion. These teachings contrasted with the earlier simple hymns of praise to God. In 623, he went on his last pilgrimage from Medina to Mecca and back again. In June of that year, he died and was buried at Medina. After his death, Islam rapidly spread throughout the Arabic world.
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