Question: "Who was Muhammad?"
Answer: Muhammad, or Mohammed, is the founder of Islam and is considered a prophet by Muslims and Baha’is. In fact, in order to convert to Islam, one only has to say, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet [or messenger].”
Muhammad (c. AD 570—632) was from Mecca, a city near the Red Sea in what is now Saudi Arabia. An orphan from childhood, Muhammad was raised by an uncle, a man named Abu Talib, and became a merchant. Muhammad was a religious man, often going on retreats to the mountains where he would pray. During one of these retreats, he reported being visited by the angel Gabriel, who supposedly gave Muhammad a revelation from Allah, the Muslim name for God. Muhammad reported having several other revelations from Allah as well, and Muslims regard him as Allah’s last and greatest prophet to mankind.
Muhammad proclaimed that “God is One,” that is, there is no Trinity and Jesus was simply another prophet, along with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and, of course, Muhammad himself. He also taught that complete surrender (the word islam means “surrender” or “total submission”) is the only way to please Allah. Muslims credit Muhammad with restoring the “true” religion of Islam to a world that had corrupted it.
Early on in his endeavors, Muhammad did not win many followers; many of the Meccan tribes were hostile to him and opposed his message. Muhammad moved north to the city of Medina for protection. After eight years of conflict with the Meccan tribes, Muhammad gathered 10,000 converts, took up arms, and marched against Mecca. He and his followers took over Mecca and destroyed all the pagan idols there. There was very little bloodshed or resistance from Mecca, and the city fell to Muhammad relatively easily.
From Mecca, Muhammad and his followers set out to destroy all the other pagan temples in western Arabia, and they succeeded. The rest of Muhammad’s life was given to the promotion and growth of Islam throughout the Arabic world. Sometimes Muhammad used his great wealth (from plundering) to bribe people into Islam. Other times, he used terrorism and conquest. Muslims swept through the Arabian Peninsula, conquering tribe after tribe. When approaching a city, Muhammad would offer terms of peace: accept Islam, the only true religion, and submit to Muhammad, and all would be well. If a city rejected these terms, Muhammad’s forces would proceed to sack the city. According to Abdullah ibn Umar, a companion of Muhammad, “Allah’s Apostle [Muhammad] said: ‘I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshiped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle, and offer the prayers perfectly and give the obligatory charity, so if they perform all that, then they save their lives and property from me’” (Bukhari: vol. 1, bk. 2, no. 24).
Muhammad claimed to have continued to receive revelations from Allah until his death, and Muhammad’s revelations were compiled after his death and canonized into what is now called the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book. Other respected writings in Islam include the Hadith, which is a collection of teachings, deeds, and sayings of Muhammad; and the Tafsir, which is a commentary of sorts on the Qur’an.
Because of the content of Muhammad’s revelations, in particular the denial of God’s triune nature, the teaching that salvation must be earned by works, and the denial of the deity of Jesus Christ, Christians regard Muhammad’s revelations as false, coming from a source other than the One True God. Indeed, the differences between the God of the Bible and the Allah of Islam are too great to consider them the same deity, despite Muhammad’s proclamations that his revelations came from the God of Adam, Abraham, Jesus, et al. Allah’s “mercy” is dependent upon the right actions of his followers. The God of the Bible, in contrast, has always given His followers the promise of forgiveness dependent on His grace through faith, rather than on the ability of men (Genesis 15:6; Exodus 34:6–9; Psalm 130:3).