A Concise Biography of the Prophet Muhammad
In an epoch of widespread cultural dilapidation and ruin, there arose from the sandy wastes of Arabia a community of men and women who bore the banner of a nascent religion that would go on to inspire an efflorescence in the very fields which are the peak expressions of civilization, amongst which are to be numbered mathematics, science, philosophy and literature. As the Well of Zamzam gushes forth from below the barren landscape upon which Mecca lies, linking the ummah of today with that of centuries hence in the common nourishment they have derived from it -- and thereby serving as a most fitting symbol for the spontaneous surge of grace that has its source in Allah --, so did the revivifying message of the Prophet Muhammad burst forth no less miraculously onto the world-historical scene from depths no less fathomless than Allah Himself. Though domiciling upon and making a living from what the light of the Sun reveals to us through our faculty of vision, it is urged upon the Muslim to cultivate in him or herself a ceaseless cognizance of the unitary transcendental wellspring from which the seen has proceeded and which alone provides the nourishment for which he or she as a spiritual being yearns. This precept, which, being most fundamental to Islam, was the gist of the timeless message that was promulgated by Muhammad nearly 14 centuries ago, is one to which the inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula were not readily receptive. The epic of the Prophet’s life is largely the story of how the soteriological message of a sublime receptivity took root in a land where its opposite, the assertiveness of jahilliyah, had been the rule. As such, Muhammad embodied not only the principles contained in the message which issued from his lips, but the force necessary to rouse the Arabs of the 7th century from their collective moral and spiritual myopia. In approaching the biography of the Prophet in the subtlety of such a light, we gain insight into his life not under the aspect of an individual personality struggling against the institutionalized ignorance of his day and age, but rather as the spontaneous focusing of the dynamics of spiritual evolution that can be understood only as being of a trans-individual nature.
The man whose tactical genius and inspired message would go on to dramatically alter the religious landscape of the world was born in the year 570 during the month of Rabi’ al-Awwal. By birth a member of the Banū Hāshim, a prominent clan of the economically ascendant tribe of Quraysh, Muhammad grew up in the heart of the mercantile dynamism that was radically altering Bedouin culture and forms of social organization, both of which were foundationed upon a nomadic way of life. Though not without its positive consequences, the onset of a sedentary lifestyle amongst the Quraysh was marred by both a continuity of the haughtiness and irascibility associated with the nomadic lifestyle of the Bedouins and by a keenly felt tension between the social imperatives corresponding to such a lifestyle and the motive-forces which inform a society that places premiums on the private accumulation of wealth and the aggrandizement of personal influence. Owing to the pervasive moral and spiritual disorientation that attended the rise of a mercantilist ethos amongst the Quraysh, there were a number of individuals, mostly those who were not alien to the abuses which a society premised on private material aggrandizement engenders, who were already receptive to the influx of vitality that would come in the form of a series of messages relayed to the Prophet by divine agency.
Alone in a cave on Mount Hira’ in the month of Ramadan in the year 610, Muhammad, who had made it a point to visit the desolate location on a yearly basis in order to perform devotions free of distraction, was seized by a presence both terrible and wondrous. “Recite!” commanded the presence, which Muhammad would later...
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