Muḥammad[n 1] (Arabic: محمد; c. 570 CE – 8 June 632 CE), is the central figure of Islam and widely regarded as its founder. He is known to Muslims as the "Holy Prophet", almost all of whom[n 2] consider him to be the last prophetsent by God to mankind[n 3] to restore Islam, which they believe to be the unaltered original monotheistic faith ofAdam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. He united Arabia into a single Muslim polity and ensured that his teachings, practices, and the Quran, which Muslims believe was revealed to him by God, formed the basis of Islamic religious belief.
Born approximately in 570 CE in the Arabian city of Mecca, Muhammad was orphaned at an early age; he was raised under the care of his paternal uncle Abu Talib. After his childhood Muhammad primarily worked as a merchant. Occasionally, he would retreat to a cave named Hira in the mountains for several nights of seclusion and prayer; later, at age 40, he reported being visited by Gabriel in the cave and received his first revelation from God. Three years after this event Muhammad started preaching these revelations publicly, proclaiming that "God is One", that complete "surrender" (lit. islām) to him is the only way (dīn)[n 4] acceptable to God, and that he was a prophet and messenger of God, similar to the other prophets in Islam.
Muhammad gained few early followers, and met hostility from some Meccan tribes. To escape persecution, Muhammad sent some followers to Abyssinia before he and his followers migrated from Mecca to Medina (then known as Yathrib) in the year 622. This event, the Hijra, marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar, also known as the Hijri Calendar. In Medina, Muhammad united the tribes under the Constitution of Medina. In December 629, after eight years of intermittent conflict with Meccan tribes, Muhammad gathered an army of 10,000 Muslim converts andmarched on the city of Mecca. The attack went largely uncontested and Muhammad seized the city with little bloodshed. He destroyed 360 pagan idols at the Kaaba. In 632, a few months after returning from the Farewell Pilgrimage, Muhammad fell ill and died. Before his death, most of the Arabian Peninsula had converted to Islam.
The revelations (each known as Ayah, lit. "Sign [of God]"), which Muhammad reported receiving until his death, form the verses of the Quran, regarded by Muslims as the "Word of God" and around which the religion is based. Besides the Quran, Muhammad's teachings and practices (sunnah), found in the Hadith and sira literature, are also upheld by Muslims and used as sources of Islamic law (see Sharia).
The Arabian Peninsula was largely arid and volcanic, making agriculture difficult except near oases or springs. The landscape was dotted with towns and cities; two of the most prominent being Mecca and Medina. Medina was a large flourishing agricultural settlement, while Mecca was an important financial center for many surrounding tribes. Communal life was essential for survival in the desert conditions, supporting indigenous tribes against the harsh environment and lifestyle. Tribal grouping was encouraged with unity being based on blood relations. Indigenous Arabs were either nomadic or sedentary, the former constantly travelling from one place to another seeking water and pasture for their flocks, while the latter settled and focused on trade and agriculture. Nomadic survival also depended on raiding caravans or oases; nomads did not view this as a crime.
Byzantine and Sassanian empires dominated the pre-Islamic Middle East region. The Roman-Persian Wars between the two had devastated the region, making the empires unpopular amongst local tribes. Politically Arabia at the time was divided between two tribal confederations, the Banu Qais, loosely allied with Byzantium and who were originally powerful in Northern and Western Arabia, and the Banu Kalb, who had originally come from Yemen, and were loosely allied with Sassanid Persia.
In pre-Islamic Arabia, gods or goddesses were viewed as protectors of individual tribes, their spirits being associated with sacred trees, stones, springs and wells. As well as being the site of an annual pilgrimage, the Kaaba shrine in Mecca housed 360 idols of tribal patron deities. Three goddesses were associated with Allah as his daughters: Allāt, Manāt and al-‘Uzzá. Monotheistic communities existed in Arabia, including Christians and Jews. Hanifs – native pre-Islamic Arabs who "professed a rigid monotheism" – are also sometimes listed alongside Jews and Christians in pre-Islamic Arabia, although their historicity is disputed among scholars. According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad himself was a Hanif and one of the descendants ofIshmael, son of Abraham.