Mohammed          Mohamet



Mecca, the Holy Ka'bah (Kaaba)

Mohammed (Mecca 570 or 571 AD- Medina 632) The central messenger and prophet in Islam; the receiver and transmitter of Gods message to mankind, as recorded in the Holy Koran, the principal religious text for Muslims. Mohammed has no religious importance in Christianity and Judaism, and is considered not to be a prophet by adherents of these two religions, while Mohammed's position in later religions, like Baha'i, resemble what is found in Islam.


    The sources available to us on Mohammed are written in Arabic. They are principally in the form of the "hadiths," the traditions, which are systematic efforts of choosing between good and not so good stories of Mohammed's life, often collected in the shape of "sīras" or "suras". Bits and pieces of Mohammed's life is also recorded in the Koran. Little is known from other sources. The suras and hadiths available are the result of work from about 100 years after Mohammed's death, but are a continuation of a very accurate and living oral tradition. The compilations where built on historical criticism not very unlike what is the method in modern historical criticism. The oldest compilation now available, are the ones of Ibn Ishaq (d. Baghdad 768).
The material is extensive, and the presentation of Mohammed in the early texts is straighforward: Different versions of stories are presented, and Mohammed himself is presented as a human being with both his good and his bad sides (the latter have been used by opponents of Islam to present Mohammed as a false prophet). Except from certain passages, the material bears few traces of being legendary and was first told by people who knew Mohammed as a man, and told to people of the same epoch and cultural environment. These are very good reasons for us to treat the material on Mohammed's life as historical sources, and even more, as good historical sources.

Mohammed before his Conversion (570-610)

Mohammed's birth is said to have been in the "year of the Elephant", which one believes is pointing to the invasion from Yemen, where an elephant was brought along in order to smash the Ka'ba, en event which is dated to 570 AD (where Mohammed's recorded age at certain times, have been used as the main source for the estimation). Mohammed's family belonged to the clan of Hashim, a branch of the Quraysh tribe. While the Quraysh was dominating Mecca, the Hashimis had little but religious prestige connected to the, at that time pagan, shrine of Ka'ba.

As Mohammed's father, Abdallah, died before the birth of his son, and his mother, Amina, when he was 6, Mohammed was in the care of his grandfather Abd al-Muttalib for two years, and then with his uncle Abu Talib, until he reached mature age. Muslim scholars do not believe Mohammed received any education, and in young age he started working with the caravans. It was while working as a trader, that Mohammed came to know the widow (and divorcee) Khadija, who was the owner of a caravan company where Mohammed was employed. At the age of 25 Mohammed married Khadija, then 40. Even if Khadija had children from both of her former marriages, she had 7 children with Mohammed. Khadija died in 619, and soon Mohammed remarried. Unlike in his marriage with Khadija, he chose to have several wives, 9 is reported. While some of these wives were ways of forging closer relations with powerful people in the society, and others were widows without economical support.  


Mohammed received his first revelation in 610, on the mountain of Hira outside Mecca. The revelation came in a time when Mohammed searched for solitude. Mohammed received the first fraction of the Holy Koran from the angel Gabriel, and experienced first great pain, and feared that he was going to die. Mohammed was ordered to recite (though the Arabic word 'iqra' more often is understood as 'read', but Mohammed is considered illiterate by Muslim scholars). The first fraction Mohammed received is believed to be the beginning of sura 96:

1Recite in the name of your Lord, who created,
2created mankind from clots of blood,
3recite, and your Lord will be the bountiful,
4he who have taught by the pen,
5taught mankind what was not known.

After this first revelation, no new revelations came for a period. Then they came back, and continued for the rest of Mohammed's life. The revelations changed the style during the 22 years of revelations, from more poetic in the beginning to more prosaic later, and in the content, it changed from warnings on what was to come to mankind from God if man didn't turn in direction of God's will, to regulations on behavior and rules for the society. These changes came parallel to changes in the position of Islam in the society. In the beginning when only a small group of people were Muslims, the need for spreading the message was prevailing. Later, from the time when Mohammed moved to Medina, and got a leading position in the town, the need for rules for a society was the more important. The ordering of the elements of the revelation, is not chronological to their disclosure to Mohammed, and elements from early times are often arranged together with later elements.


The first person to be converted to Islam, was a woman, Khadija, Mohammed's wife. What was the first, is disputed, as there are contradicting stories on this. Khadija was all through the 9-10 years from the first revelation to her death, a very important support and protection for her husband, especially economically, but she appears to have had little importance beyond this. Mohammed also enjoyed the protection of his uncle and earlier guardian, Abu Talib. But Abu Talib and Khadija both died in 619, and from this time on, Mohammed's position was under strong threat. The process of converting was slow in the early years, and he was strongly opposed by other Meccans, who accused him of little respect for the religion of the forefathers, which had some resemblance with Islam, but was a polytheistic religion.


A large part of Mohammed's followers had to seek refuge in Abyssinia in 615, due to the resistance in Mecca to the message of Mohammed. This resistance continued, and was so intense that Mohammed had to flee in 622, and arrived in Yathrib, 300 km north of Mecca, on September 20 (=6. Rabicu l-'awwal),- we have no account telling which day Mohammed and his flock escaped Mecca itself. About 15 years later this year was fixed as the first year of Muslim era (meaning that the date of escape is not the first day of the Muslim era). Mohammed is believed to have been invited to Yathrib, as a hakim, a judge, and here he could establish the first Muslim community, and Mohammed served as the head of the leaders of the other communities of Yathrib. Soon after, Yathrib started to be called Medinatu r-rasūl, 'the city of the messenger'.


Many of the inhabitants of Yathrib converted to Islam, but among the large Jewish community that lived here, only few converted. A large part of the converts are called hypocrites, by the first Muslim sources. After only two years, Mohammed's relationship with them had begun to deteriorate, and the remaining Jewish believers were later expelled, and some even executed, for co-operating with Mohammed's enemies. Mohammed enforced his position in the region, and in particular in Yathrib, through successful military campaigns, like the one at Badr in 624, and the defense battles in Uhud (where the Muslims endured a small defeat) in 625 and Ditsh in 627. Neighboring tribes started to enter into agreements with Mohammed, and in 628, after Mohammed tried to perform the pilgrimage, Hajj he concluded a treaty with the Meccans, that allowed the Muslims to enter Mecca the following year In 630 Mohammed managed to take control over Mecca without any resistance. A general amnesty was granted to all Qurayshis, Mohammed's former enemies, even if they did not convert to Islam.


This increased Mohammed's importance even more, and in 632 he was able to perform the hajj. Soon after his return to Medina, he died in the presence of his favorite wife, 'A'isha and her father Abu Bakr, and Mohammed was buried in his own house, which had already served as a mosque for some years. The mosque still lies there, and is counted as the second most important mosque in Islam, and Medina the second most holy city.