Muhammad was born in Mecca to the Hashim branch of the major Qureish tribe. He was raised in a poor household by his grandfather and as a young man married Khadija, a wealthy widow who was also a successful businesswoman. Working with Khadija, Muhammad earned a reputation for honesty.
The couple had one daughter, Fatima, who married Ali. While Khadija lived, Muhammad remained monogamous, although polygamy was the usual practice throughout Arabia. After Khadija’s death, Muhammad married a number of times. In keeping with customs throughout the world, these marriages were often made to cement tribal, religious, and political alliances or to give widows protection and support. However, Muhammad’s marriage to A’isha, the daughter of Abu Bakr, an early Muslim convert, was by all accounts an alliance of love.
As Muhammad became increasingly religious he began to meditate; in 610, he received the first revelations from Allah (God) transmitted through the angel Gabriel on Mount Hira. In one vision or dream he even traveled on a winged beast, Buruq, to Jerusalem, which was to become the third holy city in Islam after Mecca and Medina. The revelations would ultimately be set down in the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book. The new religion was known as Islam or submission to God. Within a year, Muhammad began to preach the word of Allah and converted Khadija, Ali, his freed slave servant Zaid, and his uncle Abu Talib. The new converts were known as Muslims, or those who surrender or submit to the will of God. They followed the Five Pillars of Islam as the articles of faith.
As the fl edgling Muslim community grew, the wealthy merchant families in Mecca, especially the Umayyads, grew alarmed that the new religion might threaten the lucrative pilgrimage trade from those visiting the holy Ka’aba, a rock in Mecca that Arabian tribal peoples had venerated for centuries. Subsequently they began to persecute Muslim believers and even jailed Muhammad for a time. Some of the new believers fled to the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia), where as other monotheists they were warmly received. Fearing increased persecution or even death, Muhammad accepted an invitation from the people of Yathrib, later known as Medina, to settle in that city. In 622 the Muslim community migrated or made a hijrah to Medina. The Muslim lunar calendar begins with that date. The Meccans swore revenge but were badly defeated by the Muslims at the Battle of Badr in 624. Although the 286 Muhammad, the prophet Muslims lost a following confrontation, ably led by the prophet Muhammad, they ultimately triumphed and returned to Mecca with Muhammad as the acknowledged new leader of most of Arabia.
Muhammad died in 632 in the city of his birth. Muhammad had no sons who lived to adulthood and left no instructions as to who should lead the Muslim community after his death. Following the Prophet’s death, the community gathered and in a remarkably open and democratic fashion chose, by consensus, Abu Bakr to be their new caliph or representative.