The Islamic declaration of faith is La illaha ill Allah, Muhammadur Rasooullah. This means There is no God except for God and Muhammad was the Messenger of God. Many people already believe in monotheism – that there is a single God that created and sustains the entire Universe. However, not as many people know who Muhammad was and how Muslims are so sure that he was the last prophet of God.
Muslims believe that God has sent down prophets and messengers to every single nation at every time in the world’s existence. Some of these prophets are mentioned by name in The Holy Qur’an and many are not. The ones that are mentioned by name often sound familiar to people who know a bit about Judaism or Christianity. This is because Islam shares a common history with these religions. These include Abraham, Moses, Noah, David and Jesus. These prophets and messengers have been repeating the same message again and again to their own people: that is, to worship One God alone and follow His Wisdom and Guidance. In Islam, we believe that this message has been corrupted over time or lost completely and, as a result, new messengers and prophets had to be sent to renew the message.
Muslims believe that Muhammad was sent to all of mankind (not just his nation) as the final messenger of God, meant to deliver the message of One God to all of us for the rest of time. His role in history was to reestablish faith in the singularity and unity of God and to reveal the Wisdom and Guidance of God through a manner of living, methods of worship and clearing up issues of faith. All of these pieces of knowledge are preserved in The Holy Qur’an and what Muslims refer to as The Sunnah. This translates to The Way and means how the Prophet Muhammad conducted himself in all affairs from prayer to marriage to brushing his teeth.
Muslims do not worship Muhammad or put him on an unnecessary pedestal. He is not an icon or an idol. In Islam, worship is for God alone and the teachings of Islam make it clear that Muhammad was merely a man with a message from above.
So now that we understand the message, what do we know about the man who delivered it?
Born as the son of Abdullah and Amina in Mecca in 570CE, Muhammad was a member of a noble family whose ancestors were among the Quraysh and Bani-Hashim clan in the region. His father died while Muhammad was in the womb, after which, his grandfather (Abdul-Muttalib) became his guardian. When Muhammad was born, it is narrated that a voice called out to Amina saying, ‘The best of mankind has been born so name him Muhammad,’ which was a very uncommon name at the time. When Muhammad turned 7 years old, his mother died and he was officially an orphan. After the death of his grandfather, a year later, he was entrusted to the care of his uncle Abu Talib.
Throughout his adolescence, Muhammad was known for being of excellent character and manners in his conduct and dealings, and came to be known by the nicknames of al-Saadiq (the truthful one) and al-Amin (the trustworthy one). He grew up under the care of his uncle, often traveling with him on business trips and learning everything he could about the merchant trade.
Having heard of his incredible reputation, a businesswoman in Mecca named Khadija decided to hire Muhammad to test out his skills in trade. When he returned with an incredible profit, she put him in charge of her business and eventually proposed marriage to him, despite their significant age difference and multiple marriage proposals she’d had from other suitors. At the age of 25, Muhammad married Khadija (then 40 years old) who bore him three children.
Prior to being singled out as a Prophet of God, Muhammad used to regularly spend much time in meditation and prayer of God in the Cave of Hira which is located in al-Noor Mountain near Mecca. It is on one such occasion, at the age of 40, that Muhammad experienced something completely different. According to the hadith narrations, on the 27th of Ramadan, the Divine Light of Revelation would be bestowed on the Prophet in that Cave. While there, the angel Jibreel came to him and commanded him to « Read » to which he replied that he could not as he was illiterate. Again, Jibreel commanded him and again he replied that he could not. Finally, Jibreel embraced him so tightly that he could scarcely breathe and when he let go, Muhammad was exhausted. Again, Jibreel commanded « Read » and he replied he could not. When Jibreel squeezed him again, and then recited « Read ! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists), has created man from a clot. Read ! And your Lord is the Most Generous. » (Quran 96:1-3) These words poured from Muhammad’s mouth and he raced back to his house, trembling in fear and shouting for Khadija to cover him. Immediately, when he explained to her what had happened, she soothed him.After she had consoled him and discovered the root of his anxiety, she reminded him that he had always been a good man, a man of charity, and that God would never lead him astray. Surely he was not a madman but one blessed.
Shortly thereafter, the couple approached Khadija’s cousin for his opinion on the experience. As a Christian convert, he reported that it appeared that Muhammad had been chosen as Moses had been chosen to receive the revelation of God. After this first experience of revelation, there was period of pause in which Muhammad became even more devout in his prayers and worship of God until news came once more for him to call others to the worship of God in true Islam.
The revelations of the Qur’an continued to come to Muhammad throughout a 23 year period and across many different life and political circumstances. From the flight to Abyssinia to the Hijrah to Medinah, across battles for power and internal fighting, Muhammad continued to receive the sacred word of God and it continued to be memorized and recorded by his followers and companions. From a shaky, secretive beginning, Islam would eventually go on to dominate the peninsula through the effective call of the Muslims and their successes.
After the triumph of the Muslims, the Prophet eventually received the revelation of the last surah in the Qur’an – Surah anNasr- which he quickly realized was an announcement of his approaching death. In the eleventh year since the Hijrah, the Prophet went to Uhud to pay homage to the martyrs the Muslims had lost in its famous battle, and when addressed the crowd, it seemed that he was bidding farewell to the dead as well as the living. Shortly thereafter, signs of illness began to manifest themselves in the Prophet, first as a headache, then a fever.
In the last week of his life, the Prophet stayed with his dear wife Aisha, his illness eventually taking serious hold and him suffering acute pain. Eventually, he could no longer lead the prayer and he sent for one of the Companions, Abu Bakr, to do so in his place. On the last day that he was alive, the Prophet lifted the curtain of Aisha’s room and peered into the mosque next to his house, smiling at the Muslims lined up for congregational prayer. When he was asked to come lead the prayer, he simply gestured for them to continue without him and drew down the curtain. He was not alive for the next prayer, and so the community of Muslims lost their Prophet but not his guidance or the Mercy of his Revelation. To this day, he is regarded by Muslims as the perfect man and loved dearly for his sacrifice and burden in carrying the Prophetic message.
In a hadith narration from Umm Ma’bad al-Khuza’iyah to her husband, she described the Prophet in the following way:
He was innocently bright and had a broad face. His manners were fine. Neither was his belly bulging out nor was his head deprived of hair. He had black attractive eyes finely arched by continuous eyebrows. His hair was glossy and black, inclined to curl, he wore it long. His voice was extremely commanding. His head was large, well-formed and set on a slender neck. His expression was reflective and thoughtful, composed and inspiring…. His expression was very sweet and distinct. His speech was well-set and free from the use of superfluous words, as if it were a chain of beads. His stature was neither too high nor too small to look odd… He was always surrounded by his Companions. Whenever he uttered something, the listeners would listen to him with attention and whenever he issued any command they competed with each other in carrying it out. He was a master and a commander. His utterances were marked by truth and sincerity, free from all kinds of falsehoods and lies.