Muhammad (Arabic: محمد, also Arabic transliterated Mohammad, Mohammed, Muhammed, and sometimes Mahomet, following the Latin or Turkish), is the founder of Islam-the world's second largest religion.1
According to traditional Muslim biographers, Muhammad was born c. 570 C.E. in Mecca (Makkah) and died June 8, 632 in Medina (Madinah). Both Mecca and Medina are cities in the Hejaz region of present day Saudi Arabia. He was a merchant in Mecca when, in 610 C.E. at about the age of 40, while meditating in a cave, Muhammad experienced a vision from the angel Gabriel, who commanded him to memorize and recite the verses subsequently collected as the Qur'an. Gabriel told him that God (Allah in Arabic) had chosen him as the last of the prophets to mankind. He began publicly preaching a strict monotheism and predicting a Qiyamah (Day of Judgement) for sinners and idol-worshippers, such as his tribe and neighbors in Mecca. For this was persecuted and ostracized by the Meccan establishment, who depended on income from pilgrims to its polytheistic shrine, the Kaaba. In 622 Muhammad accepted an invitation from believers in the city of Yathrib, where he became the leader of the first avowedly Muslim community (Yathrib ever after become known as Medina-al-Naby, City of the Prophet, or Medina for short). This journey is known as the Hijra, or migration; the event marked the beginning of the Islamic calendar. War between Mecca and Medina followed, in which Muhammad and his followers were eventually victorious. The military organization honed in this struggle was then set to conquering the other pagan tribes of Arabia. By the time of Muhammad's death, he had unified Arabia and launched a few expeditions to the north, towards Syria and Palestine.
Under Muhammad's immediate successors the Islamic empire expanded into Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, North Africa, and Spain. Although there were many battles against the pagans, some of whom became Muslim, the primary method by which Islam as a faith spread around much of the globe was commercial contact between Muslims and non-Muslims, and missionary activity. Islamic rule, on the other hand, was extended by conquest. Many people did not convert but lived as subject of Islamic rule, although as time passed the majority did embrace Islam. As Muhammad taught the unity of all aspects of life, a whole civilization developed from his teaching, with its own art, literature, philosophy, science and theology, but also governmental and legal systems.
Muhammad's legacy lives on in the minds and hearts of billions of Muslims throughout the world, for whom he represents the best model of human conduct. Non-Muslim opinion on Muhammad has often been less favorable-however, few disagree that his life must be numbered among one of the most influential and significant ever lived, as one of the greatest and geographically widespread civilizations in the world owes its existence to him. Islam, as a religio-cultural-social-political system or way of life, represents God's ideal or will for billions of people. This way of life stresses that all life must be lived in harmony with God, holds all aspects of life-sacred and secular-in balance and encourages people to live as if God sees everything they do. Islam teaches the equality of all people and anticipates that day when the whole world will be obedient to God, when peace (salam, from which the word islam is derived) will exist in the vertical (between all people and God) and in the horizontal (among all people) and when the earth, given humanity as a trust from God, will be properly valued and respected. Above all, Muhammad taught that without inner piety, external displays of devotion are worthless. From the point of view of those who see God's hand within history, Muhammad's life cannot be understood in other than positive terms.The name "Muhammad" written in Arabic calligraphy as a form of devotion. Many Muslims believe that Islam prohibits art depicting humans or animals; much Islamic art is decorative calligraphy or arabesque.
Sources for Muhammad's Life
The sources available to us for information about Muhammad are the Qur'an, sira biographies, and the hadith (sayings and deeds of Muhammad) collections. Technically hadith refers to a single saying (the plural is ahadith) but in English it is customary to use the singular. While the Qur'an is not a biography of Muhammad, it does provide some information about his life; on the other hand, knowledge of Muhammad's life provides Muslims with the 'situation of revelation' (Asbab al-nuzul, or reasons of revelation) without which understanding the Qur'an becomes problematical. Zakaria (1991) suggests that “it is impossible for even Muslims, let alone non-Muslims, to understand the Qur'an without an acquaintance with the circumstances in which each revelation descended on Muhammad” (tanzir, or descent, is used to describe the 'sending down' of the Qur'an, together with the term wahy, or revelation). The Qur'an does refer to incidents in Muhammad's life, including both public and private circumstances, so it does contain information about him.
The Sira: Biographical Literature
The earliest surviving biographies are the Life of the Apostle of God, by Ibn Ishaq (d. 768) (see Guillaume 1955), edited by Ibn Hisham (d. 833); and al-Waqidi's (d. 822) biography (sira) of Muhammad. Ibn Ishaq wrote his biography some 120 to 130 years after Muhammad's death. The third source, the hadith collections, like the Qur'an, are not a biography per se. In the Sunni belief, they are the accounts of the words and actions of Muhammad and his companions. In the Shi'a belief, they are the accounts of the words and actions of Muhammad, of the Household of the Prophet (Ahl al-Bayt) and their companions, the sahabah (see below). Lings (1983) gives us a modern sira, based on the above.
The Hadith Literature
Six collections of hadith are recognized by most Sunni as especially trustworthy: those by Bukhari (d. 870), Muslim Ibn al-Hajjaj (d. 875) (referred to above by Cook and Crone), Tirmidhi (d. 892), Nasa'i (d. 915), Ibn Majah (d. 885), and Abu Da'ud (d. 888). Together these are called the "six books" (al-kutub al-sitta). Shi'a use the above but also have their own collections, which include sayings of the Imams (male descendants of Muhammad); the collections of al-Kulayni (d. 940), Ibn Babuya (d. 991), and Al Tusi (d. 1058) who authored two collections (making four) have special status.
Many Muslims believe that the whole of Bukhari is authentic, although even in that collection the various hadith are given different categories depending on the reliability of their transmitter, ranging from the highest, sahih, to the lowest, da'îf (weak). Rules concerning hadith include that all transmitters (the isnad, or chain of transmission must trace back to a close companion of Muhammad) must be pious, their content (matn) must not contradict the Qur'an or what was commonly accepted to have been Muhammad's opinion, any penalty prescribed must not be disproportionate to the offense or crime involved, and they must not depict Muhammad as predicting the future or performing miracles. With reference to the latter, many hadith do depict Muhammad predicting the future and performing miracles (see Bennett 1998, 49-54). On the latter point, several Qur'anic verses, such as Q29:50 and Q2:23 suggest that Muhammad did not perform miracles, since the Qur'an alone was the only confirmation needed of the genuineness of his mission. However, Q13:38 can be understood to imply that Muhammad could perform miracles "by Allah's leave."
Critical scholarship regarding the sources for Muhammad's life
Muslim and non-Muslim scholars alike agree that there are many inauthentic traditions concerning the life of Muhammad in the hadith collections. Muslims have always been free to question the authenticity of hadith, even of those contained in the above-mentioned collections. A very small minority called the “Quran Alone Muslims” considers all hadith as unreliable.
Non-Muslim scholars, though, are much more skeptical about the reliability of hadith literature. Joseph Schacht, John Wansbrough, Michael Cook, Patricia Crone, and others argue that by the time the oral traditions were being collected, the Muslim community had fractured into rival schools of thought. Each sect and school had its own sometimes-conflicting traditions of what Muhammad and his companions had done and said. Traditions multiplied. While later Muslim compilers of the hadith collections made strenuous efforts to weed out what they felt were spurious stories, and traditionalists rely on their efforts; the skeptics feel that the question must be revisited, using modern methods.
Schacht (1964) argued that in the years after Muhammad's death, competing factions invented hadith to justify their own claims and also to accuse anyone who disagreed with their views of illegitimacy, even apostasy or heresy. However from an Islamic standpoint, Muhammad M al-Azami (1996) has systematically repudiated Schacht's scholarship of the hadith. Sir William Muir (1894) believed that “pious fraud” and “perverted tradition” was the “chief instrument employed to accomplish” different parties' goals, thus “traditions were colored, distorted and fabricated.” He believed that the tendency was to idealize Muhammad by surrounding him with mystique and by attributing miracles and futuristic predictions to him, hence material that reflects less favorably on Muhammad (his supposed moral failings) was more likely to be authentic. Bennett (1998) suggested that the issue is not whether Muslims attributed Muhammad with mystique but whether he deserved this reverence or not, thus:
Admitting that 'myths' were created, I am interested in why. Was it to surround Muhammad with a mystique he neither had nor deserved, or was it to depict metaphorically (and in the idiom of the day) a mystique he really had? If the former, we may impute insincerity to the compilers; if the latter, this seems to be an inappropriate judgment, however far fetched, by today's standards, the myths seem to be. (54)
Material on miracles surrounding Muhammad's birth may be examples of back-projection, although scholars have pointed out similarity between this material and stories associated with the births of other religious teachers and founders including Jesus and the Buddha.
The historicity of the biographical material about Muhammad presented in the summary above is less contested than legal material of the hadith. However, Cook and Crone doubt the chronology of Muhammad's life as presented in the Sira, which they regard as a post-638 fabrication-a heilgeschichte invented after the conquest of Jerusalem to lend religious sanction to Arab territorial expansion. Many non-Muslim scholars think that 570 C.E. as Muhammad's birth is a back-projection to make him 40 years old when he received his first revelation, emphasizing the parallel with Moses (Bennett 1998, 18). Most think that 622 C.E. for the hijrah is a safe date. Other dates and the sequence of some events are also contested.
Muhammad's life according to Sira
According to tradition, Muhammad traced his genealogy back as far as Adnan, whom the northern Arabs believed to be their common ancestor. Adnan in turn is said to be a descendant of Ismail (Ishmael), son of Ibrahim (Abraham) though the exact genealogy is disputed. Muhammad's genealogy up to Adnan is as follows:
Muhammad ibn Abd Allah ibn Abd al-Muttalib (Shaiba) ibn Hashim (Amr) ibn Abd Manaf (al-Mughira) ibn Qusai (Zaid) ibn Kilab ibn Murra ibn Ka'b ibn Lu'ay ibn Ghalib ibn Fahr (Quraysh) ibn Malik ibn an-Nadr (Qais) ibn Kinana ibn Khuzaimah ibn Mudrikah (Amir) ibn Ilyas ibn Mudar ibn Nizar ibn Ma'ad ibn Adnan.2
His nickname was Abul-Qasim, "father of Qasim," after his short-lived first son.
Muhammad was born into a well-to-do family settled in the northern Arabian town of Mecca. Some calculate his birth date as April 20, 570 (Shi'a Muslims believe it to be April 26), and some as 571; tradition places it in the Year of the Elephant. Muhammad's father, Abd Allah ibn Abd al-Muttalib, had died before he was born, and the young boy was brought up by his paternal grandfather Abd al-Muttalib, of the tribe of Quraysh (or Quraish). Tradition says that as an infant, he was placed with a Bedouin wet nurse, Halima, as desert life was believed to be safer and healthier for children. At the age of six, Muhammad lost his mother Amina, and at the age of eight his grandfather Abd al-Muttalib. Muhammad now came under care of his uncle Abu Talib, the new leader of the Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe, the most powerful in Mecca.
Mecca was a thriving commercial center, due in great part to a stone temple called the Ka'bah that housed many different idols, possibly numbering 365. Merchants from different tribes would visit Mecca during the pilgrimage season, when all inter-tribal warfare was forbidden and they could trade in safety.
As a teenager, Muhammad began accompanying his uncle on trading journeys to Syria. He thus became well-traveled and gained some knowledge of life beyond Mecca. He earned a reputation for honesty and the nickname, al-amin (“the trustworthy”). During the rebuilding of the Ka'bah after a flood (some sources say fire), a fight almost broke out over whom would have the honor of putting the Black Stone back in its place. Abu Umayyah, Makkah's oldest man, suggested that the first man to enter the gate of the mosque the next morning would decide the matter. That man was Muhammad. The Makkans were ecstatic. “This is the trustworthy one (al-amin),” they shouted in a chorus, “this is Muhammad.”
He came to them and they asked him to decide on the matter.
Muhammad proposed a solution that all agreed to-putting the Black Stone on a cloak, the elders of each of the clans held on to one edge of the cloak and carried the stone to its place. The Prophet then picked up the stone and placed it on the wall of the Ka'ba. The precise date of this incident is not known.
One of Muhammad's employers was Khadijah, a rich widow then 40 years old. The young 25-year-old Muhammad so impressed Khadijah that she offered him marriage in the year 595 C.E. He became a wealthy man through this marriage. By Arab custom minors did not inherit, so Muhammad had received no inheritance from either his father or his grandfather.
Ibn Ishaq records that Khadijah bore Muhammad five children, one son and four daughters. All of Khadija's children were born before Muhammad started preaching about Islam. His son Qasim died at the age of two. The four daughters are said to be Zainab bint Muhammad, Ruqayyah bint Muhammad, Umm Kulthum bint Muhammad, and Fatima Zahra.
The Shi'a say that Muhammad had only the one daughter, Fatima, and that the other daughters were either children of Khadijah by her previous marriage, or children of her sister.
|Timeline of Muhammad|
|Important dates and locations in the life of Muhammad|
|c. 570||Possible birth (April 20): Mecca|
|570||End of ancient South Arabian high culture|
|570||Unsuccessful Abyssinian attack on Mecca|
|c. 583||Takes trading journeys to Syria|
|c. 595||Meets and marries Khadijah|
|610||First reports of Qur'anic revelation: Mecca|
|c. 610||Appears as Prophet of Islam: Mecca|
|c. 613||Begins public preaching: Mecca|
|c. 614||Begins to gather following: Mecca|
|c. 615||Emigration of Muslims to Abyssinia|
|616||Banu Hashim clan boycott begins|
|c. 618||Medinan Civil War: Medina|
|619||Banu Hashim clan boycott ends|
|c. 620||Isra (night journey) and Miraj (ascent)|
|c. 620||Converts tribes to Islam: Medina|
|622||Emigrates to Medina (Hijra)|
|622||Takes leadership of Medina (Yathrib)|
|c. 622||Preaches against Ka'aba pantheon: Mecca|
|622||Meccans attack Muhammad|
|c. 622||Confederation of Muslims and other clans|
|c. 623||Constitution of Medina|
|624||Battle of Badr - Muslims defeat Meccans|
|625||Battle of Uhud|
|c. 625||Expulsion of Banu Nadir tribe|
|626||Attacks Dumat al-Jandal: Syria|
|c. 627||Opponents' unsuccessful siege: Medina|
|627||Battle of the Trench|
|627||Destruction of the Banu Qurayza tribe|
|c. 627||Bani Kalb subjugation: Dumat al-Jandal|
|c. 627||Unites Islam: Medina|
|628||Treaty of Hudaybiyya|
|c. 628||Gains access to Mecca shrine Ka'ba|
|628||Conquest of the Battle of Khaybar oasis|
|629||First hajj pilgrimage|
|629||Attack on Byzantine Empire fails: Battle of Mu'ta|
|630||Attacks and captures Mecca without bloodshed|
|c. 630||Battle of Hunayn|
|c. 630||Siege of al-Ta'if|
|630||Establishes rule by divine law (nomocracy): Mecca|
|c. 631||Subjugates Arabian Peninsula tribes|
|c. 632||Attacks the Ghassanids: Tabuk|
|632||Farewell hajj pilgrimage|
|632||Dies (June 8): Medina|
|c. 632||Tribal rebellions throughout Arabia|
|c. 632||Abu Bakr (caliph) re-imposes rule by divine law|
The first revelations
Muhammad routinely spent nights in a cave (Hira) near Mecca in meditation and thought. Muslims believe that around the year 610, while meditating, Muhammad had a vision of the angel Gabriel and heard a voice saying to him (in rough translation): "Read in the name of your Lord the Creator. He created man from something that clings. Read, and your Lord is the Most Honored. He taught man with the pen; taught him all that he knew not" (See surat Al-Alaq, Q96). Muslims stress that Muhammad had never taken part in idol worship (just as Abraham kept himself apart from idolatry in Ur; see Q6:79). This experience took place on what became known as the "Night of Power and Excellence," (the night worth a thousand months, Q97:1-5) in the month of Ramadan (the month of the fast). It was his unhappiness with the ethics and religious practices of his peers that compelled him to seek spiritual retreat in the cave.
The first vision of Gabriel disturbed Muhammad, but Khadijah reassured him that it was a true vision and became his first follower. She is said to have consulted her relative, Warakah, renowned for his knowledge of scripture (Christian scripture), who was also convinced that God was choosing Muhammad as a Prophet. She was soon followed by Muhammad's ten-year-old cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib, and Abu Bakr, whom Sunnis assert to have been Muhammad's closest friend. Some sources reverse the order of their conversion.
Muhammad's experience of revelation
Until his death, Muhammad received frequent revelations, although there was a relatively long gap after the first revelation. This silence worried him, until he received surat ad-Dhuha, whose words provided comfort and reassurance. The hadith tell us more about how Muhammad experienced revelation. Often, he saw Gabriel. Sometimes, revelation was preceded by what sounded like the ringing of a bell. The words seemed as if they were burnt into his heart, and he had no choice but to proclaim them. Even on bitterly cold nights, the experience left him dripping with sweat. Tradition says that before Muhammad died, Gabriel recited the whole of the Qur'an again to ensure that no content was lost and that all the verses were correctly remembered. He often wrapped himself in his cloak during the experience of receiving revelation.
According to tradition, Muhammad was unlettered. He is described as the al-nabiyy-al-ummiy (Q7:157; 62:2), which is usually understood to mean that he was illiterate. This safeguards the Qur'an's integrity for Muslims as completely divine, containing no human content. Non-Muslims, who often claim that Muhammad wrote the Qur'an, dispute this-but Muslims argue that even if Muhammad was not entirely illiterate, no human could have composed the Qur'an, which is a miracle of language and incomparable as a work in Arabic. Muslims often dislike calling the Qur'an a 'text,' since this compares it with human creations while it has no human author. S. H. Nasr (1994) compares the unletteredness of Muhammad with Mary's virginity:
The human vehicle of a Divine Message must be pure and untainted… If this word is in the form of flesh, the purity is symbolized by the virginity of the mother… if it is in the form of a book this purity is symbolized by the unlettered nature of the person who is chosen to announce this word (44).
Around 613, Muhammad began to spread his message amongst the people. Most of those who heard his message ignored it. A few mocked him, calling him a magician, a soothsayer, a poet (the Qur'an is rhymed prose but Muhammad always rejected the accusation that he was a poet). Some, however, believed-and joined his small following of companions (called the believers, al-mu'minum). Many of these supporters were from the poorest and most oppressed classes, although some were powerful and influential.
As the ranks of Muhammad's followers swelled, he became a threat to the local tribes and the rulers of the city. Their wealth rested on the Ka'bah, a sacred house of idols and the focal point of Meccan religious life. If they threw out their idols, as Muhammad preached, there would be no more pilgrims, no more trade, and no more wealth. Muhammad's denunciation of polytheism was especially offensive to his own tribe, the Quraysh, as they were the guardians of the Ka'bah. Muhammad and his followers were persecuted. Muhammad's enemies boycotted his supporters' businesses and sometimes attacked them in the streets. Poets denounced him. His own prestigious pedigree protected him from physical harm. Concerned for the safety of his small following, Muhammad sent a group to Abyssinia and founded a small colony there. The Christian ruler received them with courtesy.
Muhammad's message in Mecca
The one just God, Allah, whose existence Muhammad proclaimed was incomparable, could not be represented and, unlike the gods and goddesses surrounding the Ka'bah, Allah (God in Arabic, a masculine form) has neither partners nor offspring. The Arabs did revere Allah but thought him remote and aloof, while impersonal and arbitrary time (zaman) controlled human destiny.
As well as fearing that their income stream was under threat, the polytheists were also alarmed by the egalitarian message that Muhammad proclaimed. The nobility controlled justice, to their own advantage, and they had no desire to relinquish their elite privileges. Several suras (chapters) and parts of suras are said to date from this time, and reflect its circumstances: see for example al-Masadd, al-Humaza, parts of Maryam and Al-Anbiya, al-Kafirun, and Abasa.
It was during this period that the episode known as the "Satanic Verses" may have occurred. Some non-Muslims think that Muhammad was briefly tempted to relax his condemnation of Meccan polytheism and buy peace with his neighbors, but later recanted his words and repented (see Q53:19-22 and also Q22:52-3 which says that whenever Muhammad received revelation, Satan tried to substitute his words for the divine words. The incident is reported in only a few sources (see Guillaume 1955, 146-148), and Muslims disagree as to its authenticity.
In 619, both Muhammad's wife Khadijah and his uncle Abu Talib died. It was known as "the year of mourning." Muhammad's own clan withdrew their protection of him. Muslims patiently endured hunger and persecution. It was a bleak time.
Isra and MirajA sixteenth-century Persian miniature painting celebrating Muhammad's ascent into the Heavens, a journey known as the Miraj; Muhammad's face is veiled
About 620, Muhammad went on the Isra and Miraj (night journey and ascension), a two-part journey he took in one night. Isra is the Arabic word referring to what it regarded as Muhammad's miraculous night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, specifically, to the site of the Masjid al-Aqsa, the al-Aqsa Mosque. It is believed to have been followed by the Miraj, his ascension to heaven, where he toured heaven and hell, and spoke with Allah and earlier prophets (including Moses, Abraham and Jesus) and received the instruction that his followers should pray five times daily. Non-Muslims are skeptical about the authenticity of this event, while some Muslims suggest that it was a spiritual and not a physical experience (see Asad 1981, 187).3 Certainly, this experience gave Muhammad great encouragement and comfort at a critical period in his career.
By 622, life in the small Muslim community of Mecca was becoming not only difficult, but also dangerous. Muslim traditions say that there were several attempts to assassinate Muhammad. Muhammad then resolved to emigrate to Medina, then known as Yathrib, a large agricultural oasis where there were a number of Muslim converts. By breaking the link with his own tribe, Muhammad demonstrated that tribal and family loyalties were insignificant compared to the bonds of Islam, a revolutionary idea in the tribal society of Arabia. This Hijra or emigration (traditionally translated into English as "flight") marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar. The Muslim calendar counts dates from the Hijra, which is why Muslim dates have the suffix A.H. (After Hijra). Only after the Hijrah were the believers called Muslims, the religion Islam (Q5:3) and the five daily prayers established. There has been some speculation whether the migration was voluntary or forced. Not all of Muhammad's followers fled, though those who stayed behind may have been compelled to remain by the Quraysh. Others belonged to split families (which had Muslim and non-Muslim members) and could not freely leave.
Muhammad came to Medina as a mediator, invited to resolve the feud between the Arab factions of Aws and Khazraj. He ultimately did so by absorbing both factions into his Muslim community, and forbidding bloodshed among Muslims. However, Medina was also home to a number of Jewish tribes (whether they were ethnically as well as religiously Jewish is an open question, as is the depth of their “Jewishness”). Muhammad had hoped that they would recognize him as a prophet, but they did not do so. Some academic historians suggest that Muhammad abandoned hope of recruiting Jews as allies or followers at this time, and thus the qibla, the Muslim direction of prayer, was changed from the site of the former Temple of Jerusalem to the Ka'bah in Mecca. Muhammad built a mosque, which also contained his living quarters and those of his wives. Later, he would teach, preach, receive diplomatic delegations and adjudicate disputes in the mosque, where he was also buried.
While at Mecca, the Qur'anic revelations had in the main preached justice, fair treatment of the poor, and worship of the one God and condemnation of idolatry. Now, more detailed legal content was revealed The Muslim community (ummah) was to be the best community (Q3:110) and Muslims were to be a people who forbid the wrong and invite goodness (Q3:104). The primacy of God's will over human will and the need to submit the whole of one's life to God are dominant themes. The unity (tawhid) of the ummah should reflect that of Allah, holding different qualities in balance- leisure, work and prayer, for example-in equal measure. Inner piety must accompany outward conformity to religious ritual. The created world is beloved of God; the sun, the moon, the trees and the hills praise God (Q22:18), thus Islam recognizes no absolute ownership of property and regards human domination of the planet as a sacred trust (amana). All is eventually to be returned to the true owner (Q23:115). The rich must care for the less fortunate, thus zakat (a tithe given to the disadvantaged) is one of a Muslim's obligations (fard, duties).
Muhammad and followers of other monotheistic faiths
Muhammad did not completely reject Judaism and Christianity, the two other monotheistic faiths that were known to the Arabs and which are referred to in the Qur'an; he said to have been sent by God in order to complete and perfect their teachings. He soon acquired a following by some and rejection and hatred by others in the region.
In contrast to the pagans who were given the stark choice to convert or be expelled, Jewish and Christian settlements within Muslim territories were tolerated and taxed. Muhammad drafted a document now known as the Constitution of Medina (c. 622-623), which laid out the terms on which the different factions, specifically the Jews, could exist within the new state. In this system, the Jews and other "Peoples of the Book" were allowed to keep their religions as long as they paid tribute. This system would come to typify Muslim relations with their non-believing subjects and that tradition was one reason for the stability of the later Muslim caliphate. In this, the Islamic empire was more tolerant than the other great powers of the area, the Byzantine and Sassanid empires, which were actively hostile to any religions or sects other than the state-sponsored religions (Orthodox Christianity and Zoroastrianism).
Although Islam supercedes or completes the earlier religions of Judaism and Christianity (see Q3:1-2), Muslims recognize a family relationship between all three Abrahamic faiths. Abraham is an important character in the Qur'an, which describes him as neither a Jew nor a Christian but a Muslim (see Q2:134). Christians and Jews are criticized for claiming that only they are saved (Q2:111) and for corrupting the originally pure messages they had received. Christians are wrong to make Jesus into God (or God's son) since he had pointed to God, not to himself (Q3:51). The category of protected minority (dhimmi) established by Muhammad was permitted to retain their faith in return for relinquishing arms and payment of a tax (Muhammad stipulated that they should not be taxed too heavily). Muhammad said that whoever harms a dhimmi, harmed him. On one occasion, when a Christian delegation from Najran visited him in Medina, he allowed them to pray in his own mosque, as there was no church available (see Guillaume 1955, 271).
Relations between Mecca and Medina rapidly worsened (see surat al-Baqara). Meccans confiscated all the pro