There is perhaps no historical figure whose legacy is more energetically contested today than that of Muhammad, the messenger and prophet of Islam. Born in the Arabian city of Mecca in A.D. 570, as a young man in his twenties he began to proclaim a message of renewal and unity among his people. Gathered in the Qur’an, his revelations announce that God (Allah) is one, and that there is a true Way (din) for his people to worship him as a community (ummah). It is the way of submission or surrender (Islam) to God. Muhammad called the Jews, the Christians, and the polytheists of his day to unite in the simple faith of Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus—all of whom recognized and worshipped one Lord through prayer, through fasting, and by caring for those in need. The revelations of the Qur’an repeatedly enjoin these basic acts of devotion upon all humanity and warn of the spiritual perils of unbelief and of living in a state of resistance to God and His righteous command (‘amr). A day of resurrection and judgement is promised in which those who have done good will see that good returned to them, and those who have done evil will suffer the consequences.
Muhammad’s message of one God beside whom there was no other was violently resisted by the powerful, polytheistic majority of Meccan society. He and his small band of followers were attacked from the outset and were finally forced to flee Mecca to save their lives. But Muhammad found new supporters while in exile and over time drew greater numbers to his movement such that he was finally able to overcome the Meccan opposition. He returned to his hometown, cleansed the Kaaba of its idols, dedicated it to the worship of the one God, and united all of the Arabian tribes under a resounding affirmation: “There is no god but God!”