Muhammad, prophet and founder of Islam

Muhammad, prophet and founder of Islam

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The one in the West we call Mohammed, also known as Mohammed or Muhammad, was a warlord originally from the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the prophet and founder of Islam. According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad received several divine revelations during his life; it is these revelations which have been transcribed and which make up the Koran. When he died on June 8, 632, this both mysterious and extraordinary character left behind not only a family, a people, but also a religion and a state in construction.

Muhammad, Prophet of Islam

The one who became the founder of the Muslim religion was born around 570, in the tribe of Qoraysh, in Mecca. Fatherless, he was raised by his grandfather. During his youth, he accompanied his uncle Abu Tâlib in the caravan trade, then at the age of twenty he participated in the wars between the Qoraysh and other tribes of the Arabian Peninsula. Likewise, he is gaining more and more importance in the organization of the cult of the Ka'ba, which his tribe is supposed to supervise and protect.

It would be in 610 that for the first time the Archangel Gabriel would have appeared to him; terrorized, Muhammad would have taken refuge with his wife Khadîja who then became the first "convert". Eventually, he finally agreed to preach what is becoming a new religion, in Mecca itself. Very quickly, many followers joined him, which began to worry the city authorities. In 622, the companions of the Prophet and Muhammad himself must leave Mecca for Yathrib, which will become Medina: it is the Hegira, year 0 of the Muslim calendar.

Warlord and Head of State

The Prophet is well received in Medina, as much by the new converts to Islam as by the Jewish tribes, important in the city. He undertakes to reorganize it and then opposes the interests of Jews and other groups. Muhammad must impose himself by force. However, he continues to preach the word as the Messenger of Allah.

At the same time, the Meccans are worried about its growing influence: it is open warfare. This is marked first by two battles: that of Badr (624), which sees the victory of the Muslims; and that of Uhud the following year, when the Meccans won.

Nevertheless, the war continued for several more years, with a siege of Medina and an attempt by Muhammad to make a pilgrimage to his hometown. Finally, it was through negotiation that the Prophet obtained the surrender of Mecca in 632.

The death of Muhammad and the consequences

The Prophet is organizing what looks like a real state, but it is not yet. He undertakes the unification of the peninsula behind the banner of Islam, and prohibits any murder between Muslims; he is thinking of expanding beyond the confines of Saudi Arabia. But the disease takes him, and he dies in Medina on June 8, 632.

His companions and followers are then faced with a problem: the Prophet has not appointed a successor! The Muslim community (umma) is helpless and threatens to break down. A lively debate is then conducted, and it is ultimately the compromise that wins: Abu Bakr is chosen as the successor of the Prophet (caliph). However, tensions are only postponed and start again with the death of the first caliph, while Islam is expanding. In 634, it was ‘Umar who was chosen, but it was especially with his two successors, Uthman and‘ Ali that the quarrels would intensify, leading to what Muslims called fitna. These quarrels will be decisive throughout the history of Islam, until today.

The death of Muhammad is therefore not only the death of the Prophet of Islam, but the beginning of the turbulent history of what has become the Muslim Empire, beyond religion itself.

To read

- The biography still of reference despite the date of its first edition (1968) is that of Maxime Rodinson, Mohammed, Points Seuil, 1994.

We can also read

- Hugh Kennedy, The Prophet and the age of the Caliphates, Longman, 1986, very valuable for everything from the beginnings of Islam, and even a little before, up to the Fatimids.

- Hichem Djaït, The Great Discord: Religion and Politics in Early Islam, Gallimard, 2007. This very pleasant work to read thanks to a literary and lively style focuses on the decisive period following the death of the Prophet and the quarrels of succession that we have mentioned.

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