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Muhammad the Prophet lived from 570 to 632 CE.
direct descendant of Abraham, the "Friend of God," through his son
Ishmael, the ancestor of the Arabic people, Muhammad was born to a family of the Quraish, the noblest tribe of Arabia. The Quraish were the hereditary custodians of the Ka'ba, the ancient Cube shrine in Mecca believed to have originally been built by Abraham himself.
The lifetime of Muhammad was an era of momentous events throughout the ancient world. China was unified for the first time in centuries, establishing the foundation for the magnificent Tang dynasty. Under Tang Chinese tutelage, Korea was also unified under the powerful Silla kingdom, the new nations of Tibet and
Nanchao were founded by ancient peoples in Central Asia, and the first constitution of Japan was promulgated. In India, the great Buddhist king Harsha briefly revived the Gupta empire, while to the west, the Persian empire extended its conquests all the way to Egypt and Asia Minor. Persia was thus also embroiled in conflict with the Byzantine empire, which was itself wrenched by internal unrest and revolt.
Even though Muhammad was born to a noble house, he was an orphan and grew up in poverty. In his early years he worked as a shepherd, then later joined the merchant caravans to greater Syria. He was married at the age of twenty-five to a lady named Khadija. Muhammad had managed some commercial affairs for Khadija,
and it was she who proposed marriage, through the appropriate social channels,
because of her admiration for his honesty and noble character.
Muhammad hesitated to marry Khadija at first because of his own lack of material means.
Eventually the union did take place, and Khadija remained Muhammad's only wife for the rest of her life. She bore him a daughter, Fatima, who later married
'Ali, the Lion of God, one of the Prophet's earliest and most valiant companions.
Muhammad's call to prophecy did not come until he was forty years old, already a mature man with a distinguished reputation in the community. Popularly known by the epithets The True and The Trustworthy, Muhammad was not only an exemplary member of society, but also a profoundly spiritual individual who regularly took to contemplative retreat in a mountain cave outside the city.
It was during such a retreat that revelation first came to him, through the archangel Gabriel, who embraced the Prophet in a powerful grip and told him,
"Recite! Recite in the name of your Lord, Who created: Who created humankind from a clot of blood. Recite, for your Lord is most generous, Who taught by the Pen, taught humankind what it did not know" (96:1–5).
Far from becoming inflated by such an experience, Muhammad doubted himself. Rushing back to his wife, he told her he feared he was going mad, or else becoming a poet. She brought the Prophet to a cousin of hers, who was a Christian. This man confirmed that the revelation vouchsafed to Muhammad was from the same source as the messages conveyed by Moses and Jesus. He also assured Muhammad that as a prophet he would be opposed and ostracized when he made the revelation public, as had indeed happened to so many prophets in history.
As revelations progressed, the magnetism of the message drew people to the new religion of al-Islam, "Surrender to the Will of God." While one of the subsequent historical effects of Islam was to reunite the long-isolated
Arabic people with the rest of the world, the original Islamic community surrounding Muhammad already included people of African, Byzantine, and Persian origins as well as native Arabs. The new community accepted people of all classes, free or slave, uniting them in a common belief in the oneness of reality.
For the first three years, the teaching had been carried out in private, but eventually Muhammad was instructed to take the message public. As had been predicted by the Christian Arab who originally recognized the message as
Prophetic, for many years Muhammad and the other Muslims were severely persecuted, until they finally emigrated from Mecca to Medina.
Muslims fought back against oppression, outnumbered and outgunned though they were. Eventually, after inflicting many indignities and hardships on the
Muslims, the opposition gave up, unable to break the will of the growing community of believers. Ten years after his emigration, shortly before his death, Muhammad led a group of tens of thousands of pilgrims peacefully into
Mecca for the greater pilgrimage (
Muhammad viewed the religion of Islam as the completion of the Prophetic tradition beginning with Adam and continued by Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. This idea is expounded both in the Qur'an, the revealed Book of Islam, and in the Hadith,
or traditional accounts of the Prophet's sayings and actions.
Qur'an and the Hadith are the two main literary sources for Islam. Naturally,
the Qur'an is considered preeminent as a revelation from God. The Hadith also include some extra-Qur'anic revelations from God (in the "Sacred
Hadith") but mostly recount the words and deeds of the Prophet himself,
which are called the "Noble Hadith." The Hadith is the basis of
Sunna, or Prophetic Custom, which clarifies the teaching of the Qur'an in practical matters of inward and outward conduct.
This volume presents two hundred and twenty-four authentic accounts of the Prophet
Muhammad, revealing both his profound worldly wisdom and his lofty spiritual vision. Most of the selections are taken from Bukhariy's authoritative
a few from Nawawi's popular
I have departed from the traditional method of arrangement of these sources,
however, which groups accounts in categories to facilitate scholarly research.
To avoid blunting the palate of the ordinary reader by this approach, I have
"scattered" the accounts to provide a variety of intermingled impressions, adding my own title to each anecdote to accent a salient image or idea.
Authentic accounts of the Prophet reveal him as a pragmatic man, down to earth yet brilliantly spiritual, stern in matters of right yet compassionate and clement,
rich in dignity yet extremely modest and humble; a poignant storyteller gifted with a keen sense of humor, a manly and valorous warrior who was most kind and gentle with women and children; a diligent worker, a conscientious family man,
a good neighbor, a just king.
Wisdom of the Prophet
Prophet said, "Do not enter the dwelling places of those who wronged themselves unless you do so weeping, lest the same thing happen to you as happened to them."
Fasting and Prayer
Prophet said, "The fast most loved by God is the fast of David, who would fast for one day and break his fast for one day. And the prayer most loved by
God is the prayer of David, who would sleep half the night, then get up and pray for a third of the night, then sleep for a sixth of the night."
Admission to Paradise
Prophet said, "Whoever testifies that there is no god but God, the One,
with no partner, and that Muhammad is a servant and messenger of God, and that
Jesus is a servant and messenger of God, a word from God bestowed on Mary, a spirit from God, and that Paradise is true and Hell is true, will be admitted by God into Paradise whatever works he has done."