Islam began with the first man, Adam, when he submitted himself to God. Therefore, the word “Islam” simply means Submission to God. The word also means Peace; and so, as the name of the Religion of God, it implies the peace that we can attain by submitting to God.
All the Prophets of God, from Adam the first Prophet to Muhammad (peace be upon him) the Last Prophet, preached Islam, which is the Religion Allah has destined for mankind. Therefore, the right name of the Religion of Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be on them all) as well as of hundreds of other prophets of God (whose names we do not know) is Islam. But the followers of the earlier prophets have used other names for their respective religions and so we have the name Judaism (after the tribe of Judah) for the religion of Moses, and Christianity (after Jesus Christ) for the religion of Jesus. Only the followers of Muhammad (peace be upon him) use the right name for the religion of God. For this reason, the word ‘Islam’ today is used practically for the religion taught by Muhammad (peace be upon him) alone.
The Merchant of Makkah
Muhammad (peace be upon him) was born in a noble family of the Quraysh Tribe of Makkah, in the Hijaz region of the present Saudi Arabia in 570 C.E. He started preaching the Religion of Islam to his people when he was 40 years old. From his early youth, he had earned the name “Al- Ameen” or the Trustworthy One from his people. He had been a shepherd, and later a merchant in the service of a rich lady of Makkah called Khadija. When he was 25 years old, he married Khadija, a widow of 40 years.
The Hermit of Hira
When Muhammad (peace be upon him) was forty, he developed a habit of withdrawing to the solitude of a cave in Mount Hira which was close to the city of Makkah. He used to spend hours, sometimes days on end, meditating in the cave. Once, while he was in the cave an imposing figure suddenly appeared before him and asked him to read a scroll held before him. He was terribly frightened by this sudden appearance, and when the figure asked him to read again, he stammered saying that he had not learned how to read. But the figure, who was Gabriel, the Angel of God, told him: “Read in the name of the Lord Who created; created man from a thing that clings. Read, for your Lord is the Most Generous; and He has taught by the Pen; taught man what he knew not…” (Holy Qur’an 96:1-5)
These were the first revealed verses of the Qur’an; and thus started the revelation of the Last Testament of God for man. Since the revelation of this verse, the Prophet’s hibernation in the Cave of Hira came to an end. From then on, he was not to rest; for he had been chosen by God to be His Last Messenger on earth.
The Caller of ‘One God, One Humanity, One Religion’
From the beginning of his prophetic mission, Muhammad (peace be upon him) was met with terrible opposition from the people around. Because his Message was ‘One God, One Humanity and One Religion for Man’, it was clearly against the many gods of Arabia, against the tribal values of those people and against all their superstitions. Indeed Muhammad (peace be upon him) stood against their polytheism, their treatment of women as worthless chattels, their tradition of never-ending feuds, their economy based on slavery and exploitation, and so on and so forth. For this reason, the leaders of Makkah had no doubt that if they wanted to continue as before, the Religion of Muhammad (peace be on him) should not be permitted to take root in Arabia. So they tried all kinds of ploy to dissuade him from his mission.
Temptations, Trials, Threats
When all the stratagems of the Quraysh failed, they started using threats followed by physical violence. But they found that all these had no effect on Muhammad (peace be on him); and so they boycotted him and his followers from every kind of trade and transaction, so much so that they had to go without proper food and drink for many weeks. Muhammad (peace be on him) showed no sign of withdrawing from his mission. An ordinary man would have fallen victim to the enticements they offered, if not to their murderous schemes. But this shepherd of Makkah stood up to all oppositions and temptations like a rock sustaining all the shocks, and nothing could divert him from the course that he had taken nor shake his determination. With the help of God he brushed aside all the temptations and threats that were in his way.
The early years of Islamic preaching in Makkah were the most terrible years for Muhammad (peace be on him) and the few Muslims he was able to gather around him. Again and again they were tested and taxed; but Muhammad (peace be on him) was not to be deterred from his mission in the least.
When some of his followers found the persecution at the hands of the leaders of Makkah unbearable, the Prophet asked them to migrate to Abyssinia where he said they would get asylum. So under the leadership of Ja’afer ibn Abi Talib, about 80 families sought refuge in Abyssinia, which was at that time ruled by a Christian king.
The City of the Prophet
Soon the fame of Muhammad (peace be on him) spread far and wide and a group of people came from Yathrib, a city some 250 miles to the north of Makkah. The delegates who came from Yathrib met the Prophet at a place called Aqaba and there they entered into a contract with the Prophet. When the persecutions in Makkah increased and life there became unbearable for the Muslims, the people of Yathrib invited the Prophet and his companions to migrate to Yathrib, and they accepted their invitation. This emigration from Makkah to Yathrib is called the Hijra. It took place in 622 C.E. The new Muslim era, also called Hijra, begins from this year.
The Prophet and his companions were given a grand reception by the people of Yathrib, and from this emigration to the time of the Prophet’s death, Yathrib became his adopted city; and Yathrib was renamed ‘Madinathunnabi’ (the City of the Prophet), or Madinah for short.
Those people who migrated from Makkah to Madinah came to be known as Muhajirs (the Emigrants) and those people who received them, entertained them and shared with them all their comforts and conveniences came to be known as Ansar (Helpers). It was in Madinah that the Prophet gradually laid the foundation for an Islamic state. Many of the verses that were revealed to the Prophet in Madinah were concerned with the life of a community in its political, economic and administrative aspects. On the basis of these verses the Prophet was able to establish, a system of government much ahead of the times in its form and working.
Soon after the arrival of the Prophet and his companions at Madinah, the people of Makkah became anxious about the new power the Prophet had come into. They feared that this newfound position of the Prophet would encourage him to revenge on them. They wanted to forestall such an eventuality by destroying the Prophet and his new religion. To this end they gathered a large army and got ready for a war. Soon they got an opportunity for such a maneuver, and the result was the Battle of Badr. In this battle, the Muslim army, which consisted of only 313 persons and was poorly equipped, faced a fully prepared and powerful army three times its size. But Allah had decided to help the Muslims. In the pitched battle that ensued, the Muslim army routed the forces of Makkah.
A Battle between Truth and Falsehood
The Battle of Badr was a landmark in the history of Islam. There we find how a small party of believers inflicted a crushing defeat on a strong army three times its size, a feat logistically impossible. But it happened, because, as is clear from the Holy Qur’an (8: 5-19) God helped the believers with unseen forces; otherwise the forces of evil would have wiped out the small band of believers who upheld the Message of Truth from the face of the earth.
The Battle of Badr thus provided the Muslims full confidence that Islam, as promised by God was going to supersede all the false religions on earth however much the pagans detested it. Also, it gave the Prophet ample opportunity to show to the world how the prisoners of war should be treated in Islam. In those days of scarcity, the prisoners were given better food than what their captors ate. And for the first time in the history of the world, Muhammad (peace be on him) deviated from the norm to promise the prisoners freedom, if the lettered among them taught the illiterate Muslims reading and writing. The Prophet evinced a kindness and fairness unusual and unprecedented in those barbarous times, and it made such a profound impression on the vanquished enemies that it led many of them to become Muslims eventually.
After the Battle of Badr, the enemies of Islam were not idle. They wanted to take revenge on Muhammad (peace be on him), and consequently, the Prophet and his Companions had to fight a few more battles. But the believers, though a small and weak group in the physical and material sense, were strong in Faith and were ready to die if need be for the Cause of Islam.
A Conquest of Hearts
Meanwhile Islam was growing and in the tenth year of the Hijra or 630, C.E, the Prophet marched to Makkah with 10,000 followers. He met practically no opposition there. This was an occasion any other leader of the times would have chosen for revenge. But what did Muhammad (peace be on him) do?
Stanley Lane-Poole writes: “ The day of Muhammad’s greatest victory over his enemies was also the day of the grandest victory over himself. He freely forgave the Quraysh all the year of sorrow and cruel scorn with which they had afflicted him, and gave an amnesty to the whole population of Mecca……. No house was robbed, no woman insulted. One thing alone suffered destruction. Going to the Ka’abah, Muhammad stood before each of the three hundred and sixty idols, and pointed to them with his staff saying, ‘Truth has come, and falsehood has fled away!’ and at these words his attendants hewed them down and all the idols and household gods of Mecca and round about were destroyed.”
Thus Muhammad (peace be on him), the Last Prophet of God, purified the Ka’aba from the abomination of idols, as it had been the First House of God rebuilt by Prophet Abraham many generations before, for the worship of the One and Only God. People came forward in large numbers and embraced Islam; it was a conquest without any resistance, a conquest of the hearts of the people.
How the Light of Truth Dispels Darkness
After this, when the Prophet returned to Madinah, delegations came from different tribes and peoples of Arabia. They came to meet the Prophet and learn about Islam. Many of these people embraced Islam. Thus was the whole of Arabia gradually won over to Islam. But the mission of the Prophet was not only to Arabia: it was to the whole world. So, he sent his emissaries to different rulers of the world, particularly to the Persian and the Roman emperors. But the winning over of some of these peoples took place only after the Prophet’s time.
In the tenth year of the Hijra, the Prophet made his last pilgrimage to Makkah and delivered his farewell sermon to a congregation of about 120,000 Muslims. At the end of this sermon, he recited the revelation he received from God just then: “This day I have perfected your Religion for you and completed My favor to you, and have chosen Islam as the Religion.”
On hearing this, the Muslims wept, for they knew that the end of the Prophet’s life on earth must be near. It was so. Soon after, the Prophet fell ill, and died of fever in Madinah.
Thus, the Last Prophet of Allah left this world. His inspiring life recorded in the Hadith literature remains an ever-shining model to all people of all time.