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(by Camile Bolduc)

Mohammed, Founder of Islam


Mohammed is considered by Muslims to be the last prophet sent to men by Allah (God). Among non-Muslims, he is referred to as the founder of Islam, which some may like to call the “world's fastest growing faith”. The Qu'ran contains the verses that Mohammed claimed he had been told to learn and recite by the Angel Gabriel during encounters which extended over a 23-year period. Muhammad is a fascinating figure, and his role in the Islamic world is complex, since he simultaneously and successfully acted as a religious, political and military leader for his people. He was chiefly responsible for the unification of Arabia. His philosophy was one of tolerance, and the word Islam itself could be translated as something close to “peace”. Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam is a religion that commands monotheism and anticipates a day of judgment for sinners.


Mohammed was born around 570 in Mecca and died in 632 in Medina, both in current Saudi Arabia. Mecca was an important commercial centre in those years, and Muhammad was born in a fairly rich family of merchants. He lost both of his parents at an  early age and was raised by his uncle Abu Talib, whom he accompanied on trading journeys. He thus became well aware of other cultures. Muhammad had not received any heritage from his parents and when he was 25, he became rich marrying his then employer Khadijah, a rich forty-year-old widow and merchant. They had a daughter, Fatimah, the only child to survive Mohammad.


Mohammad grew dissappointed in the materialist society in which he lived. He felt the value of money was over-accentuated and the community values were forgotten. There was a temple in Mecca called Kaaba where many idols were displayed. Pilgrims came to worship those idols, which brought money and opportunities for commerce to the city. Mohammad resented that. He started mingling with Jews and Christians, who lived in small groups within the city, and learning about the Bible. Inspired by that, he began to retire to a cave on the outskirts of the city where he meditated and prayed to God. There he had, in 610, his first vision of the Angel Gabriel. According to his revelation, he had been chosen as the Prophet of Islam, the last prophet sent to men by God. Mohammed told his wife about it, and soon his family and friends became his first followers. In 613, he began preaching publicly. He was becoming a threat to the rulers of the city because he denunciated polytheism. If people clung to his beliefs, Mecca would lose a big part of its commercial activities since there would be no more pilgrimages to Kaaba. Mohammed's group of followers continued to grow until, in 622, it became dangerous for them to stay in Mecca; there had been several attempts to kill Mohammed. They migrated to Medina. Arabia was at the time divided into tribes, and the fact that many left their clans to follow Mohammed to Medina showed that for the first time, loyalty to something bigger, to Islam, brought people together. When Mohammed came to Medina, a civil war was going on between two tribes. He resolved the conflict by inviting them to convert to Islam and forbidding killing among Muslims. Because Jews resisted Islam, Mohammed created the Constitution of Medina, which allowed Jewish communities to exist in the new Islamic State; they could keep their religion if they accepted to pay tribute. It is interesting to note that, at the same time, Christians were much more hostile to outsider religions than Muslims proved to be.


Although the Muslims had moved away from Mecca, they continued to have grievance with the Meccans, who took possession of everything they had left in the city. War was declared between the two cities. In 624, Mohammed and some 300 warriors failed at raiding a Meccan caravan. As a result, Mecca sent an army of 800 men against Medina. Mohammed and his army, though they were less than half as numerous as the Meccans, won the battle easily. This was seen by Muslims as a sign of divine providence and as a proof that Mohammed was an authentic prophet. After the event, almost every resident of Medina converted to Islam.


In 627, another important battle called the “Battle of the Trench” took place. Mohammed had his men dig a trench around Medina, a technique that was little known of Medinans and in the Arab world, and so they successfully defended the city from the attack. After that episode, a local Jewish tribe, the Banu Qurayza, were accused of having allied with the ennemy in this battle. Mohammed ordered the massacre of all adult men, and women and children were kept as slaves. He has been highly criticized for that. Some people have inferred that the wars he conducted went beyond self-defense and showed a desire for power. However, Muslim sympathizers say he was always fair and humane in his wars.


In 628, Mohammed decided to go to Mecca as a pilgrim. Meccans prevented him from entering the city. They promised to cease all warfare, but said he could not make a pilgrimage until the following year. The agreement did not last and war broke out again in 630. Mohammed defeated Mecca with an army of 10,000 men. Meccans submitted pacifically and most of them converted to Islam after Mohammed promised them amnesty. Mohammed destroyed all the idols in the temple of Kaaba and it became a Muslim place of prayer.


After Mecca came under Mohammed, he did not try to support his rule with official legislations; he instead relied on good relationships and treaties of peace and mutual help with the different tribes around. However, despite the absence of a formal government for them, it is clear that Muslims were now the dominant force in Arabia, and all states and groups eventually submitted to Mohammed. He was sixty-three when he died on Monday 8, June 632, in Medina.


What is certain is that with Mohammed's successors, whether direct descendants or not, Islam continued to grow as a social and political force. Arabia was now fully united, and in the decades that followed Mohammed's reign, the countries surrounding it and most of North Africa converted to Islam as well. Nowadays, it is sad to see that, although Islam represents on fifth of the world population, many people still make poorly-informed judgments on the intentions of its members.


Susan Douglass. AppleSeeds. Peterborough: Nov 2003.Vol.6, Iss. 3;  pg. 3


Rodinson, Maxime. Mahomet (571?-632).Encyclopedia Universalis., 2005.


Wkipedia., 2005.