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Summary of "A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad" by Ayman Ibrahim

Purchase this work here: A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad

Part 1: Muhammad’s History

1. Who Was Muhammad? Muhammad was the founder of Islam who was born in Mecca in 570 and died in Medina in 632. It is claimed that Muhammad is a descendant of Ishmael, the son of Abraham, and that he received the revelation of the Quran from the Angel Gabriel when he was in a cave at Mt. Hira.

Islam: devotion to and submission to Allah

Muslims: the followers of Islam; those subject to Allah.

2. What Are the Major Muslim Sources for Muhammad’s Life? The hadith, maghazi, sira, futuh, and tarikh are the primary works that are used by Muslim's to study and understand Muhammad’s life. There is neither a single source nor any eyewitness testimonies from the time that Muhammad lived to document Muhammad’s life. 8

Sira: Muhammad’s biography.

3. What Do Scholars Say about the Reliability and Accuracy of Early Muslim Sources? The reliability of Muslim sources for the Muhammad’s biography is questionable at best. Most scholars argue that the biographies of Muhammad are forgeries that were written to support political or religious agendas—especially those of caliphal power. 15 While there is virtually zero written material from the first two centuries of Islam, some scholars believe that a kernel of truth does reside within the biographies of Muhammad. 18

4. What Is So Unique about Muhammad’s Birth Year? In 570, a Christian army led by Abraha riding on an elephant came to wage war against Mecca. The elephant, however, refused to move forward against the shrine. Abraha’s army was forced to return home when Allah ordered birds to pour pebbles on Abraha’s army. Muslims claim that other miracles accompanied Muhammad birth and made way for the birth of Islam's prophet.

5. What Is Significant about Muhammad’s Genealogy? Despite the lack of supporting evidence, a connection to significant patriarchs—Abraham being of utmost significance—was needed as a symbol for the Muslim community. Thus, it was significant that Muhammad be connected to Ishmael, a prophet of Allah and the son of one of the most revered prophets, Abraham. While largely disputed, it is also claimed that Allah told Abraham and Ishmael to travel all the way to Mecca to build the Ka’ba. The genealogical connection between Muhammad and Ishmael, however, is tenuous at best—even among many classical Muslim historical authorities—and an outright fabrication at worst.

6. What Do Muslims Believe about Muhammad’s Attributes? Muslims believe that Muhammad is the final and chief among all of the prophets and the greatest example of humanity. He possessed unequaled integrity and fulfilled Allah’s laws perfectly. 33 Muslims believe that Muhammad was kind, patient, just, sought equality, was unmatched in humility, was generous to the poor, friendly, charitable, and cheerful, that he smiled at everyone and was particularly kind to children, freed and then was generous to his slaves, was always considerate, merciful, and courageous. 31 However, there are three different versions of Muhammad that Ibrahim articulates: one based on tradition, one based on Muslim memory, and the modern Muhammad who seeks peace, reconciliation, tolerance.

"Even when he took his son’s wife, it was not out of lust but due to a revelation of Allah." 32

7. Was Muhammad a Real Historical Figure? Yes, Muhammad was a real historical figure. However, as noted in the previous chapter, the historical (actual) Muhammad is significantly different from the legendary Muhammad and the traditional portrayal of Muhammad. The Muhammad who is popular in cultural Islam—the legendary Muhammad—is associated with supernatural tales and legends and is thus often venerated to the point of being worshipped. 36 The traditional Muhammad is the Muhammad of the Quran and Muslim traditions who is revered and honored. 36 The historical Muhammad can be understood through contemporary documents that were written about him by non-Muslims in his region. The historical Muhammad is known in these documents as a shepherd, trader, monotheist proclaimer, false prophet, lawgiver, conquest initiator, and king. 39

8. What Do We Know about Mecca, Muhammad’s Birthplace? Because it contains the Ka’ba, Mecca is the most sacred place of Islamic worship. Historians question the significance attributed to Mecca from Muslim traditions for many reasons: Mecca does not appear on 6th and 7th century maps; it would have been out of the way for trade routes; the desert environment would not have been suitable for planting fruit, olives, and trees). Most scholars believe that Muhammad’s career would have taken place closer to the Mediterranean rather than in Mecca.

Major world maps from the sixth and seventh centuries do not include it. If the city was as famous as Muslim traditions claim, how was it overlooked on maps while other, less important cities in Arabia often appeared? No map shows Mecca until the late ninth century. 45

What we read about Mecca in the traditions is unsupported by contemporary independent evidence. As for Mecca’s location as given by Muslim traditions, it is at best a mistaken place or, at worst, a doctrinally driven myth. 47

9. What Is the Black Stone in the Ka’ba? While the Quran never mentions it, the stone in the Ka’ba is an object of veneration among Muslims who ascribe to it supernatural powers—some even claiming that it abolishes one sins—and claim that this stone was white but became black because of sin. Five years prior to the revelation from Gabriel, Muhammad took this black stone and put it in its position within the Ka’ba, where it has remained for the past fourteen centuries. 49

Hajj: touching the black stone is central to this religious pilgrimage.

10. What Do We Know about Muhammad’s Wives and Their Roles in Islam? Excluding his concubines, Muslim tradition tells us that Muhammad had eleven wives. He was first married to Khadija, who supported Muhammad during the period of revelation for fifteen years and was also one of his most significant wives. Notably, Muhammad also married Aisha when she was six or seven and consummated the marriage when she was nine, married a Jew, Safiyya, and a Christian, Maria, and his son’s wife, Zaynab, after abolishing her marriage with Zayd and repudiating him as a son. Muslim tradition insists that Muhammad had unmatched sexual abilities to fulfill his obligations to each of his many wives. Because of this, adoption is not permitted in Islam. 56

11. Was Muhammad Always a Monotheist? Many Muslims believe that Muhammad was devoted to Allah at birth and guided by Allah and his angels from a young age to protect him from all evil and error. However, the satanic verses incident in the Quran chapter 53 that was documented by fifty early source Muslim reports would seem to indicate that Muhammad was not infallible.

Isma: infallibility and immunity from sin, fault, and error.

12. What Is Muhammad’s Night Journey to Jerusalem and Heaven? Muhammad’s night journey is the story of Muhammad and Gabriel riding on a winged donkey from Mecca to Jerusalem and then to heaven. Despite the Quran’s claim that Muhammad’s only miracle was the Quran itself and any other miracles were a sign of the weaknesses of polytheists and unbelievers who couldn’t believe in Allah without miracles, many Muslims claim that this night journey was Muhammad’s greatest miracle. 70

13. Why Did Muhammad Strike a Peace Treaty with the Jews? If, according to tradition, Muhammad struck a peace treaty, the Sahifa, with the Jews, he did so strategically for political reasons. The treaty was a pact of cooperation between his people and the Jews of Medina. While Muslims esteem this document as a political, social, and economic achievement of Islam, the reliability of this treaty is questionable as the Sahafi is not mentioned in any other surviving document from Muhammad’s time.

The Sahifa and its presumed call for mutual coexistence and religious freedom appear to be in dissonance with explicit statements from the Quran and the hadiths. 77

14. Why Did Muhammad Raid the Pagans of Mecca? The vast majority of Muslims today believe that Muhammad raided the pagans of Mecca to gain political dominion and wealth. However, some argue—without corroborating evidence—that these 27 military campaigns against Arab Pagan tribes, Jewish communities, and some Christian groups were waged as proselytism campaigns.

15. Was There Ever a Truce between Muslims and Meccans? The Treaty of Hudaybiyya reduced the hostility that had existed for six years between the Meccans and the Muslims. It also provided time, power, and the resources that were needed for the Muslim community to fortify itself in Medina. While ten years of peace between the two parties was agreed upon, two years following the signing of the treaty, Muhammad accused the Meccans of breaking the treaty and thus launched a victorious conquest of Mecca. This allowed Muhammad to become the sole ruler of West Arabia. 85

Da’wa: the act of calling people to Islam.

16. Did Muhammad Really Fight the Jews? Historical documentation provides several accounts of Muhammad and Muslim armies using different means to justify their attacks on Jewish neighbors. In one instance, a Jew lifted up a woman’s skirt was the excuse needed for Muslim’s to abolish their peace treaty and wage war against the Jews. In another instance, Muhammad instructed his followers to raid the tribe of Nadir after receiving a warning from Allah in heaven that the Jews were untrustworthy. 88

17. Did Muhammad Launch Raids against Christians? Muslim tradition asserts that Muhammad launched raids against Christian lands controlled by the Byzantine Empire between the years AH 8 and AH11. Because the military numbers of both Muslims and the Christian Byzantines seem exaggerated when compared with other historical accounts, there are questions as to the validity of these traditions.

18. Who Killed Muhammad? There are two prevailing yet competing theories that seek to explain Muhammad’s death. Sunni Muslims believe that Zaynab, a wicked Jewess, prepared a poisoned lamb for Muhammad as an act of retaliation for what he had done to her people. Three years after he was poisoned, he died a martyr. On the other hand, Shiites believe that two of Muhammad’s wives, Aisha and Hafsa, along with their fathers who would become Muhammad’s successors as caliphs, killed Muhammad. The Shiite claim is considered more plausible by scholars.

19. Did Muhammad Appoint a Successor? While Shiite Muslims from Medina believed that Ali had been appointed by Muhammad himself as his successor, it was Abu Bakr—the Sunni choice from Mecca—who became Muhammad's first successor on the same day that Muhammad himself died.

20. What Are Some of the Early Non-Muslim Views on Muhammad? Early Greek and Syriac sources refer to “the Arabs’ atrocities, “ and the “God-hating [Arabs] … whose leader is the devil.” The also document the military conquests of Muslims who ravaged regions that were predominately Christian, Jewish, and Samaritan. 110 Other sources describe Muhammad as an armed warlord, while others depict him as a caravan trader. Generally speaking, depictions of Muhammad by non-Muslim sources were not positive.

Part 2: Muhammad’s Message

21. What Was Muhammad’s Central Message? Muhammad’s central message was that of tawhid, the calling of people to believe and affirm that Allah is one and only one. Therefore, Muslims reject the Christian view of the Trinity as shirk. However, the Muslim view of the Trinity—as posited by the Quran—claims that the three persons of the Trinity are Allah, Mary, and Jesus.

Tawhid: to the belief and affirmation that Allah is one, and only one. 117

Shirk: the association of partners with the deity. 119

22. Who Is Muhammad’s Deity, Allah? Allah is the absolute and purest description of oneness, the creator of the heavens and the earth, and one who has no equals. 122 Among other attributes, Allah is generous, just, merciful, king, creator, almighty, powerful, kind, the forgiver, protector, holy, judge, generous, hearer, watcher, etc. Allah is known by Muslims by his many beautiful names.

23. What Is Muhammad’s Message about Jesus? Muhammad's stated that Jesus was (1) a prophet (messenger) but was not God nor a Savior, (2) highly esteemed but not crucified, and (3), although he performed miracles and knew the future, He was merely human. 128 Muhammad claimed that Jesus did not die but was rescued by Allah according to Muhammad. Muhammad also warned that Jesus would return as the last judge to rebuke Christians who did not accept Muhammad.

24. Where Is Muhammad Mentioned in the Bible? Despite the lack of any explicit reference to Muhammad or plausible evidence that any biblical text generally refers to Muhammad himself, Muslims contend that there are general references to Muhammad in the Bible. The verses that they claim reference Muhammad are Deuteronomy 18:15; 33:2, Genesis 25:13, Isaiah 42:11, 13, 17, and John 14:16-17. When these claims were documented as false, the claim of corruption of the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible emerged. 136 While many Muslims claim that the Bible was altered and thus had been corrupted, the Quran itself denies the corruption of the Bible on multiple occasions (Q 6:34; 10:94; 5:43-44; 5:46-47).

During Muhammad’s time, Christians were commanded to follow Jesus’s words in the gospel (Q 5:47). This indicates that the Bible was trusted at that time. It could not have been corrupted later because not only—according to Muslims—does Allah protect it but also “it is historically attested that the Bible was completely canonized, taught, quoted, documented, and circulated in various known lands (including within the superpowers of the Roman and Persian Empires) long before the advent of Muhammad in the seventh century.” 135

25. Where Are Muhammad’s Sermons? Despite the claim that Muhammad preached on every Friday for over ten years, none of Muhammad’s sermons are documented today. Centuries after his death, Muslims gathered thousands of statements that Muhammad reportedly had made in hadiths. While Muslim scholars claim that many of Muhammad’s sermons are kept in these hadiths, this claim stands in direct contradiction to one hadith that stipulates that anything written down outside of the Quran by Muhammad should be effaced. Contradictions abound in these traditions about Muhammad’s sermons.

No one seems to have written down Muhammad’s sermons while he lived, but centuries after his death, in an apparent violation of his instruction, Muslims gathered thousands of statements, attributed them to Muhammad, and claimed them as authentic and sound. 139

Jumu’a: a gathering, assembling, or congregating of Muslims on Friday (whom many consider the holiest day of the week). 137

Khutba: formal public preaching of Islam.

26. What Did Muhammad Say about Loving One’s Neighbors? Muslims claim that Muhammad strengthened Muslim society by establishing kindness and cooperation as foundations for society. 141 It is reported that Muhammad said, “None amongst you believes (truly) until he loves for his brother—or he said ‘for his neighbor’—that which he loves for himself.” 142 Hurting one’s neighbor is thus against Muhammad’s command.

27. How Does Muhammad’s Tradition Treat Apostasy from Islam? Following Muhammad’s death, many Muslims’ abandoned Islam. Many hadiths are attributed to Muhammad that claim that anyone who abandoned Islam was an apostate and was to be killed. Such laws still exist in Muslim majority countries today.

There are contradictions between the hadiths and the Quran. While the Quran is preeminent in Muslim and hadiths are secondary, the more precise and explicit commands found within the hadiths are more often followed when contradictions exists with the Quran. Today, Muslims fall in two competing camps regarding these hadiths attributed to Muhammad. The first group, which contains the majority of Muslim, takes the hadiths literally. Groups like ISIS and Boko Haram are derived in many ways from this paradigm. The second group seeks to distance itself from these traditions by reinterpreting them or claiming that they were relevant historically but not today.

hadith: a saying, deed, or teaching, especially attributed to Muhammad. 184

28. What Do the Hadiths Say about Jihad? While many Muslims today want to distance the idea of holy war from Islam, the most trusted Muslim hadith traditions offer enormous rewards to those who wage war against non-Muslims. While the term jihad can refer to either devotion or sacrificial fighting, the term qital indisputably refers to the sacrificial fighting of Muslims for Allah’s cause.

29. Who Are the Hadith-Rejecters among Muslims? In 833, a group known as the Mu’tazilites questioned the reliability of hadith traditions and demanded rigorous scrutiny of how, where, and why the hadith traditions were documented. However, the traditionists, who composed the earliest manifestation of Sunnism, put an end to the questioning of the Mu’tazilites. However, many groups today—including those known as Quranists—reject the hadiths. Such groups view many of the hadiths as forgeries that were crafted for religious and political reasons. 159

30. Why Are the Hadith-Rejecters Growing in Number? Because many consider the hadiths to be indefensible and even embarrassing, hadith-rejectors are a growing trend among Muslims. While the number of hadith rejectors is growing, the hadith traditions stand firm among Muslims because most of what can be known about the practices and tenets of Islam comes from the hadiths rather than the Quran. 170 The list below—from the hadith collections that Sunni Muslims trusts most—provide a few examples of the nature of the sayings that are found within the hadiths as well as examples where the hadiths seem to directly contradict the Quran.

  • The hadith commands the killing of those who won’t declare that there is no God but Allah while the Quran states that “there is no compulsion in religion” (Q 2:256).

  • The hadiths claim that Allah created the earth in seven days while the Quran stipulates that Allah did so in six days.

  • The hadiths claim that the Quran is incomplete, corrupt, and has been altered, whereas Muslims claim that the Quran is preserved from error.

  • The hadiths state that the punishment for adultery is death, while the Quran states that the punishment for adultery is a hundred lashes (Q 24:2). Another hadith states that there was a verse in the Quran about stoning the adulterer but that this verse was eaten by a sheep.

  • One hadith states that Muhammed instructed his followers to drink the milk and urine of his camels.

  • Several hadiths contradict the belief of Muslims who claim that Muhammad did not own slaves. One hadith states the Muhammad had intercourse with one of his female slaves.

  • As mentioned previously, the hadiths claim that Muhammad married Aisha when she was six or seven and consummated the marriage when she was nine. Recently, an eight-year-old girl from Yemen died on her wedding night after marrying a man that was five times her age.

Timeline of the Life of Muhammad

570: The Year of the Elephant and the defeat of Abraha by Allah’s army at Mecca

570: Muhammad’s birth

581: Muhammad travels with his uncle Abu Talib to Syria and meets Bahira, a Syrian monk who foretells his prophethood

595: Khadija proposes to Muhammad, and they marry

599: Khadija delivers Muhammad’s first child, a daughter, Zaynab

610: Muhammad receives the first revelation from Allah, through Gabriel

610: Waraqa, a Christian, confirms to Muhammad the divine revelation, emphasizing to him that he is the long-awaited prophet

610: Waraqa dies, and Muhammad’s inspiration pauses

610: Early propagation of Islam in secret

610: Ali and Abu Bakr accept Islam, becoming among the earliest converts

613: Public proclamation of Islam begins

613: Meccan persecution of Muslims begins

616: First hijra (emigration) to Ethiopia

619: Muhammad’s uncle Abu Talib dies

619: Khadija dies, and Muhammad calls this year “The Year of Sorrow”

619: Muhammad marries Sawda (she is almost fifty) 619: Muhammad is betrothed to Aisha (she is six or seven)

619: Satanic verses incident

620: Muhammad’s night journey to Jerusalem and his ascension to heaven

622: The hijra, Muhammad’s emigration from Mecca to Medina

622: Starting point of the Islamic Hijri lunar calendar

622: Muhammad consummates his marriage with Aisha (she is nine)

623: Muhammad launches first raid against the Meccans and their caravans

624: Battle of Badr, a major conflict in which Muhammad defeats the Meccans

624: Raid against the Jews of Qaynuqa

624: Muhammad orders the murder of the Jewish poet Ka’b, who insulted him

625: Battle of Uhud; Meccans are revenged and defeat the Muslims

625: Raid against the Jews of Nadir

626: Aisha is accused of adultery but declared innocent by Muhammad and Allah

627: Battle of the Trench, or of the Confederates

627: Raid against the Jews of Qurayza

628: Raid (or Treaty) of Hudaybiyya

628: Raids against the Jewish settlements at Khaybar and Fadak; Muslim victory

629: Conversion of Khalid ibn al-Walid and Amr ibn al-As, two shrewd Meccan commanders

629: Battle of Mu’ta, initiated by Muslims against the Byzantines and their allies from the Arab Christian Ghassanids

630: Conquest of Mecca; Muhammad declared victorious over most of Arabia

630: Battle of Hunayn, initiated by the Muslims against Arab pagans

630: Battle of Tabuk, initiated by Muhammad against the Byzantine Empire

630: Muhammad’s daughter Umm Kulthum dies

631: Muhammad’s son Ibrahim dies

632: Muhammad’s farewell pilgrimage and farewell sermon

632: Ghadir Khumm, the designation of Ali as Muhammad’s successor, according to Shiites

632: Muhammad dies

632: Abu Bakr appointed as Muhammad’s caliph, successor 632: Apostasy Wars begin, lasting for two years


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