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Oh look, a depiction of Muhammad.
Party Like It's 632
Icon islam.svg
Turning towards Mecca
The idea that God speaks to some illiterate merchant warlord in Arabia, and he’s able to write this down perfectly, and it contains the answers to all human-... Don't waste my time — it’s bullshit!
Christopher Hitchens[1]
That Muhammad could predict certain events does not prove that he was a prophet: he may have been able to guess successfully, but this does not mean that he had real knowledge of the future. And certainly the fact that he was able to recount events from the past does not prove that he was a prophet, because he could have read about those events in the Bible and, if he was illiterate, he could still have had the Old Testament read to him.
Abu 'Isa al-Warraq, 9th-century Arab skeptic scholar [2]

Muhammad, Mohammed or Mahomet (various spellings are used in English for the Arabic محمد‎‎) (circa 570-632 CE) was an Arabian merchant, warlord and possible child rapist who is regarded by Muslims as the final prophet of Allah (God). He preached the creed of Islam, and was preceded in the "mission" of bringing God's word to mankind by such "divine" or imaginary figures as Moses and Jesus.

Muslims do not consider him "divine", but "divinely inspired". Apparently the Angel Gabriel (Jibreel) dictated the Qur'an (Koran) to him in classical Arabic.

He is also known for his lack of facial features,[note 1] mostly due to a relatively recent Sunni rule that any depictions of the Prophet are considered blasphemous, whether they portray him positively or negatively. A movie based on his life got around this by shooting it from his point of view. In 2005, cartoons in a Danish newspaper, depicting Muhammad and linking him with militant Islamist extremist violence and terrorism, provoked international outcry from the Muslim community.

Muhammad is mentioned a scant 4 times by name in the Qur'an, and most of what we know about him comes from the SiratWikipedia's W.svg and Hadith 'literature'.

While the historicity of MuhammadWikipedia's W.svg is debated, there is general consensus among historians that he was a real person. Whether the historical Muhammad's life and personality matches the depiction in the Qur'an and Hadiths is much less certain (if knowable at all), as even the earliest records of his life (and earliest examples of the complete Quran) were written well after his death.[3] There are no extant primary or secondary sources from his lifetime. Much as the lack of historical evidence for Jesus has led a vocal minority in the historical community to question his very existence, doubts about the actual existence of Muhammad has its advocates amongst legitimate (non-crank) historians. Richard Carrier has pointed out that Muhammad's historicity is a valid historical question because: Muhammad is hardly mentioned in the Qur'an, the lack of contemporary sources and the literature that does exist about his life contains many historical inconsistencies and events not recorded anywhere else. Carrier concludes "No literature about Muhammad, that adds information not in the Quran, appears to have been written (or if written, none survives) until a century or more after his purported death, a situation in fact worse than for Jesus"[4].

Birth and early life[edit]

Muhammad was born and lived in Mecca from c. 570-622 CE. Competing theories argue he may have been born earlier, perhaps 568 or 569. His father, Abdullah, died six months before he was born. Islamic sources claim he was sent to live with his foster mother, Halimah bint Abi Dhuayb, while an infant. Western scholars reject this. He became a full orphan at six when his mother, Amina, died. Abd al-Muttalib, his paternal grandfather, became his guardian until he died when Muhammad was eight.

When he entered his teens, Muhammad spent much of his time accompanying his uncle, Abu Talib, on trading journeys to Syria. Somewhat ironically, a Christian monk named Behira met the young Muhammad while the boy was on one of these trips and, it is said, foresaw his role as a prophet.[citation needed]

His later adolescence is a source of speculation; it is known that he was widely regarded for his fair and impartial behavior when involved in disputes, and gained a reputation for smooth mediation in potentially volatile situations.[citation needed]

A turn for the surreal[edit]

Muhammad at some point developed a habit of spending several weeks each year meditating in a cave on Mount Hira near Mecca. During one of his visits to Mecca, around 610, he was apparently visited by the Archangel Gabriel and told to recite the following verses:

Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created — Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood: Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful, — He Who taught (the use of) the pen, — Taught man that which he knew not. (Qur'an 96:1-5)

Muhammad was distressed by the voices, and contemplated suicide. Somewhat contradictory to this, Shia tradition claims Muhammad in fact welcomed the archangel and accepted his imminent work as prophet. Alford T. Welch, a professor of religious studies, claims these revelations were accompanied by mysterious seizures and spells of unconsciousness,[citation needed] causing some to speculate that Muhammad may have been an epileptic. This is corroborated by a tale of one of Muhammad's disciples coming to ask him advice on how to control his wife. According to the story, the disciple found Muhammad lying on a mat with marks from the mat on his side.[5]

Islamic scholars heavily disagree with this idea, despite that presumably an omnipotent god could reveal the True Word through epileptic seizures if he felt like it and so this in no way means Muhammad was not a prophet.

Preaching, persecution, and personality[edit]

Muhammad's wife Khadija was the first to believe he was a prophet. His close family followed her shortly after, including Ali ibn Abi Talib, his ten-year-old cousin, and his adopted son Zaid.

The Meccans opposed Muhammad's condemnation of their idolatry and polytheism. His public preaching drew criticism from the established order at that time, and his growing following became a threat to the local tribesmen and city leaders. He resisted all attempts by these men to coerce or bully him.

Muhammad is said to have claimed the existence of three Meccan goddesses, the daughters of Allah, about the same time some of his followers were emigrating to the Ethiopian Aksumite Empire. Conveniently, he later claimed the archangel Gabriel appeared and asked him to retract the declaration. The story is known as 'The Story of the Cranes' and is part of an early Hadith. The episode later came to be known as 'The Satanic Verses'. It has provoked much debate within the Islamic world.

The year of sorrow[edit]

Muhammad's wife and uncle both died in 619. Abu Talib was the leader of the Banu Hashim clan and Abu Lahab inherited the leadership. Abu Lahab was an enemy of Muhammad's and wasted little time in withdrawing Muhammad's clan protection. This left the prophet open to attacks from hostile Meccans, and, if killed, he would not be avenged. He struggled to find himself a new protector and was only able to re-enter Mecca with the help of Mut'im b. Adi and the Banu Newfal tribe.

Muhammad found allies in Yathrib (what would become Medina) and found converts to Islam in nearly all the Arab tribes which dwelt there, since they were already familiar with monotheism from the large Jewish community which existed at that time.

Miraculous journey[edit]

In 620, Muhammad claimed to have embarked on a spiritual voyage, aboard the flying human-faced donkey-thing Al-Burāq, with Gabriel in one night. During the first part, the Isra, he traveled the length and breadth of the Middle East, from Mecca to Jerusalem. In the Miraj, he is said to have toured Heaven and Hell and conversed with earlier prophets Abraham, Moses and Jesus. How is that for a "Big Rip" in the "Fabric of Reality"? It is also said that the Fabric of Time and Space was bent, and time itself was frozen.

Medina: peacemaker, emigrant, statesman, bandit, warlord[edit]

The twelve most important clans of Medina sent a delegation to ask Muhammad to mediate in the growing tribal conflicts occurring with more frequency and violence for the better part of the past century. They offered him and his followers protection in return for his aid. Muhammad instructed his supporters to leave Mecca and follow him to Yathrib. He himself fully settled into the area in about 622. The Meccans, seeing a great section of their economic strength weakening, plotted to assassinate Muhammad but were unsuccessful.

Muhammad drafted a 'Constitution of Medina' which specified the rights and duties of all citizens. Crucially, it dealt with the growing tension between Muslims and Jews, what he termed 'Peoples of the Book.' In effect, it was the first Islamic state.

The Meccans seized the property of the Muslims remaining in Mecca and left them with no source of income. In retaliation, the Muslims began launching raids against Meccan caravans. The aim was to deliberately spark an armed conflict between themselves and the Meccans. Conveniently (yes, again!), Muhammad had another 'revelation' and delivered Qur'anic verses allowing the use of arms against the enemies of Islam (the oft-quoted Qur'an 22:39-40). The Battle of Badr resulted in the deaths of at least 45 Meccans, who outnumbered the Muslims three-to-one. The growing Muslim religion saw this as a confirmation of their faith (oh, shit, we've been here before, haven't we?).

The conflict with Mecca escalated into 'total war' at Muhammad's behest. The Battle of Uhud followed. The Muslims were defeated, with 75 killed (involving the most famous martyr in Islam, Hamza, Muhammad's uncle). The Meccans declared victory, marched home, and refused to acknowledge that they'd actually said they would wipe Muslims off the face of the Earth so, y'know, technically they'd lost.

Muhammad was facing growing unrest among his followers because of the defeat — if God was on their side, why had they lost? Was God bad at war? Not to worry — another revelation provided ample explanation (Qur'an 3:152). Enemies of Muhammad and, by association, Islam, were growing in number, and Muhammad ordered the assassination of a Jewish poet, Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf, who had sided with the Meccans, expelled the Banu Nadir from Medina around a year later, and managed to stop many budding alliances between his enemies.

The Siege of Medina, or Battle of the Trench, followed, and after this, an accusation of adultery was made against Aisha, that's right, the girl Mohammed married when she was nine grew up and was accused of liking a different man. Muhammad delivered yet another revelation clearing her of all wrongdoing. We see a pattern emerging here, methinks.


In 628, Muhammad negotiated a truce with the Meccans via emissaries from both sides traveling between Medina and Mecca. Muhammad meanwhile asked pilgrims to Mecca not to flee or reject his leadership, and had them take what became known as a 'Pledge of Acceptance.' The treaty, or Truce of Hudaybiyya, was projected to last at least ten years. The main points of the treaty included the cessation of hostilities; the deferral of Muhammad's pilgrimage to the following year; and an agreement to send back any Meccan who had gone to Medina without the permission of their protector. The terms of the truce dissatisfied many Muslims.

Later life[edit]

The Bakr clan, supplied with weapons by the Meccans, began raiding the Khuz'aah. The treaty had lasted just two years. Muhammad sent a message to Mecca with three choices for the Meccans, but asking them to accept only one of them. These were:

  • The Meccans paid blood money for those slain among the Khuza'ah tribe.
  • They sever all ties with the Banu Bakr
  • They declare the truce of Hudaybiyya null.

They, er, chose the third one. A poor choice, we must say. When the Meccans realized they had gotten in over their heads, they sent a peace emissary to Medina. Muhammad refused to accept the withdrawal of their decision. With ten thousand men, Muhammad took control of Mecca. Most Meccans converted to Islam and Muhammad destroyed all statues of Arabian gods in the Kaaba.

In 632, Muhammad made his first and only Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

After summarizing his teachings and philosophies, he fell ill, complaining of headaches and sickness. He died on Monday 8 June in 632 in Medina.


See the main article on this topic: Muhammad cartoons

Depicting Muhammad is a sensitive issue in Islam. Though not ruled out by the Quran, some hadiths rule that no living being should be depicted, and others prohibit depiction of Muslim prophets, including Jesus. To formally comply with this ban, some paintings leave off the face of the prophet. Generally, Sunni Muslims (the majority) believe that depictions of Muhammad are forbidden and blasphemous, and Shia Muslims believe they are permitted. The Sunni prohibition only arose between the 16th and the 17th century, and there is a great amount of Islamic art from earlier periods, as well as more modern Shiite art, which depicts Mohammad in full.[6]

Perceptions, controversies, and interpretations[edit]

Muhammad and his character, teachings and deeds have been interpreted in many different ways.

Jewish perception[edit]

During even his own lifetime, Jewish scholars often referred to Muhammad as ha-meshuggah, which means "madman" or "the possessed".[9][10][11]

Medieval Christianity[edit]

Dante's Inferno casts Mohammed as an inhabitant of Hell, reflecting his negative image in the Christian world at the time. Here, in one of William Blake's illustrations of Inferno, Mohammed is shown pulling his chest open which has been sliced by a devil to symbolize his role as a "schismatic" (one who brings religious division), because of the then-common belief that Islam was simply an offshoot of Christianity.

Islam was quick to spread throughout the Middle East. Medieval Christian authors sought to examine and deal with this growth by studying Mohammed in detail.[12] Initially, Mohammed was considered by Christian scholars to be divinely inspired. However, they later concluded that he was a heretic, and his teachings by association were heretical.[13] The politics of power likely played a large role in this; Islam was gaining new converts rapidly, and the Church's power was threatened. The idea of Muhammad as a pseudo-Prophet was first forwarded over five hundred years ago by Johannes Damascus.[12]

Mohammed was often referred to as "MahoundWikipedia's W.svg" or "Mahoun", a portmanteau of "Mahomet" and "hound".

Child wife[edit]

Or: "Oh, Allah, I'm sick of writing about this and I hope it will go away," as the subject of Aisha is referred to by many Muslim scholars. According to the Sunni Hadith, Aisha was six years old when Muhammad claimed God told him they must be married, and Muhammad supposedly asked for her hand in marriage, and he consummated the marriage when the girl was a mere nine years of age. [14] This is disputed by many Muslim scholars; firstly because the Hadith was first transcribed over 200 years after Muhammad's death, making it an unreliable source, and because under Islamic law a woman cannot marry until she has reached sexual maturity. [15] If the age of Aisha is calculated based on the more detailed information known about her sister conclude that she could not have been less than ten years old at the time of her marriage and could not have been less than 15 years old at the time of consummation. [16]

The inherent problem with these "corrections"? They all but state that parts of the Hadith (and indirectly the Quran) are wrong, and contain exaggerations, embelishments, or other fabrications. If the age of Aisha is incorrect and was made up for political purposes, what else in the Hadith and Quran is a fabrication?

Daughter-in-law wife[edit]

Less known in the West than Aisha but more controversial was Mohammed's marriage to Zaynab bint Jahsh. Mohammed had owned a slave that he later adopted, Zayd, and Zayd had married a widow, Zaynab. Zaynab and Zayd would soon divorce, and Mohammed would marry Zaynab almost immediately after. There were two legal problems with this, though. First, in Arab culture adopted sons were for all intents and purposes full sons, so even if Zaynab and Zayd divorced, Zaynab was Mohammed's daughter in law. Second, Mohammed would later give a revelation to the people that men were only permitted 4 wives, yet Zaynab was his 5th living wife. Oh and much less severe but arguably third, Zaynab was Mohammed's first cousin on his mother's side, and while cousin marriage isn't strictly forbidden it typically took the form of the Father's Brother's Daughter and not the Mother's Sister's Daughter.

To solve this, Mohammed gave a revelation that full adoption didn't exist in Islam[17] and that men are permitted to marry their adopted sons' ex-wives[18]; Zayd was no longer known as Zayd ibn Mohammed but would be known as Zayd ibn Harithah, thus Zaynab was not his daughter in law. Second, he gave a revelation that the limit of four wives has the lone exception of, purely coincidentally, himself.[19]


Muhammad's view of women has been debated endlessly. From the Hadith, the teachings of Muhammad, is the Prophet's belief about the worth of a woman's testimony:

The Prophet said "Isn't the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?" The women said, "Yes." He said, "This is because of the deficiency of a woman's mind."
—The Hadith, Volume 3, Book 48, Number 826

However, Muhammad also worked for his first wife in a courier capacity, so we really don't know what to think vis-à-vis his views of their 'deficiencies.' Here is what he saw while on his miraculous journey with Gabriel:

Narrated 'Imran bin Husain: The Prophet said, "I looked at Paradise and found poor people forming the majority of its inhabitants; and I looked at Hell and saw that the majority of its inhabitants were women."
—The Hadith, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 464

Woah. We ain't touching that one with a ten foot barge pole.

But wait, we have to, dammit, we're RationalWiki! It's our (non-paid) job to inquire, to look deeper, to illuminate the cloudy depths of the collective unconscious. Okay, here's Muhammad's rationale behind women making up the majority of Hell's population:

The people asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is the reason for that?" He replied, "Because of their [women's] ungratefulness." It was said. "Do they disbelieve in Allah (are they ungrateful to Allah)?" He replied, "They are not thankful to their husbands and are ungrateful for the favors done to them. Even if you do good to one of them all your life, when she seems [sic] some harshness from you, she will say, "I have never seen any good from you.'"
—The Hadith, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 125

Yeah, our first choice was the correct one. Presumably his wife at least one of his wives was not forthcoming in bed at the time of that "revelation".

But! Maybe these double standards don't appear in the Qur'an, which is distinct from the Hadith in that it is supposedly Allah's final revelation. Let's have a look at Allah's view of some good man lovin':

If two men among you commit indecency [sodomy] punish them both. If they repent and mend their ways, let them be. Allah is forgiving and merciful.
Qur'an 4:16

Okay. And of a woman's sexual transgression:

If any one of your women is guilty of lewdness ... confine them until death claims them.
Qur'an 4:15

Then things get kind of confusing;

"O mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, his mate, and from this pair scattered (like seeds) countless men and women. Reverence Allah, through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and reverence the wombs (that bore you); for Allah ever watches over you."
Qur'an 4:1

So… respect moms?

"For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah's praise, for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward."
Qur'an 33:35

Wait, women do go to Paradise?

"The more civil and kind a Muslim is to his wife, the more perfect in faith he is."

These contradictions are mindboggling to some (although not anymore so than what's found in the Bible), although some can be explained by changes over time within the Qu'ran itself, or from the telephone game that are the hadiths.

Historical changes[edit]

Bringing up some of the more *ahem* dubious things said of women and the not-dubious does need a bit of context. He lived at a time when women were property. He changed that status giving them rights to their own body. He lived at a time when women could be killed by their father, their lover, or their son legally. Despite his claim about how to beat a wife (and the modern honor killings which are dubiously considered a strictly Islamic thing in the west despite being Older Than Jesus and having numerous fatwas against it[20]), Muhammad changed that view. Women were not allowed to be killed by their family for any reason. Though women only got ⅓ of a man's share in inheritances, prior to Mo's teaching they were not allowed any share. In fact they were lucky to be considered part of the share. So while he clearly did not see women as equal to men, he was the first in his culture to recognize that they are, in fact, people.


See the main article on this topic: Slavery

Rodney Stark writes: "|the fundamental problem facing Muslim theologians vis-à-vis the morality of slavery is that Muhammad bought, sold, captured, and owned slaves." Altogether, Muhammad owned approximately 50 slaves (16 were female, 34 were male), his adopted son Zayd was among their number. The girls/women were concubines or wet nurses.[21]

Medina and Jewish tribes[edit]

Muhammad is accused of manipulating the Jewish tribes for his own advantage and developing a nasty habit of literally stabbing them in the back when their usefulness was exhausted. Ibn Ishaq claims that Muhammad ordered the beheading of some 600-900 individuals who surrendered unconditionally after a siege that lasted several weeks. The surviving women and children were sold into slavery.[22] The Jews in turn were accused of violating their covenant with Muhammad.

External links[edit]


  1. As seen on many Islamic drawings, which leave off his face


  2. Hecht, Jennifer Michael (2003). Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson. Harper San Francisco. ISBN 0-06-009795-7.
  3. See: "The Socratic problem" in Socrates for a similar quandary.
  5. Some of the Prophet's Manners & Characteristics: 13. Asceticism in Worldly Affairs In: Muhammad: The Messenger of God (Written by: Abdul-Rahman al-Sheha, Translated by: Abdul-Rahman Murad)
  6. Mohammed Image Archive
  9. Norman A. Stillman (1979). The Jews of Arab lands: a history and source book. Jewish Publication Society. p. 236. ISBN 978-0-8276-0198-7. Retrieved 26 December 2011. 
  10. Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said's Orientalism By Ibn Warraq Page 255
  11. The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History page 21
  12. 12.0 12.1
  13. Stephen Hotz: "Mohammed and his teaching according to the accounts of the occidental authors from the late 11th to the middle of the 12th centuries: continuing and changing aspects, sources and tendencies."
  17. Sura 33:5
  18. Sura 33:37
  19. Sura 33:50-51
  21. Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery, p. 338, 2003, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-11436-6
  22. See the Wikipedia article on Banu Qurayza.