(570 - 632 e.v.)
Muhammad ibn Abdallah was born into the Bani Hashim branch of the powerful Quraysh tribe, which had historically ruled the pagan city of Mecca (Makkah). Mecca was an important city even in those days, pilgrims from all over Arabia made pilgrimage to Mecca to circumambulate the Kaaba and kiss the Black Stone, which was then consecrated to the moon-god Hubal. Mohammaed's father died before Mohammed was born. Mohammed was brought up first by his mother, Amina, then by his Grandfather, Abd al-Muttalib, later by his uncle, Abu Talib. Throughout his childhood he was attracted to the world of the spirit. He was drawn to solitary contemplation, and he often experienced visions.
At the age of thirty-five, Mohammed began taking retreats to a cave in Mount Hiraa, in the desert hills outside Mecca, to meditate in solitude. It was during one of these retreats that Mohammed received his Call. It was the year 610 e.v., one of the last ten nights of the month of Ramadan; and at that time, Ramadan occurred during the hottest part of the summer. He was sitting along in his cave in the darkness, wrapped in his shroud, when he was startled by a sound "like the reverberations of a bell." He realized that it was a voice, and the voice had exclaimed the word, "Iqraa!" ("Read!"). Mohammed falteringly replied that he could not read. The voice repeated its command. Mohammed protested that he did not know how to read, but the voice repeated its command a third time. Mohammed then asked what it was that he should read, and a luminous scroll, inscribed with letters of fire, appeared before him. He read the words, though he had never read before.
In further revelations, Mohammed's mission in life was clarified: he had been called upon to preach to the world the true Faith of the One God. At first he was reticent - he had doubts about the authenticity or source of his vision. But Khadija encouraged him, and soon his calling was confirmed by additional visions which revealed the terrible doom which lay in store for sinners and infidels. He began to preach to a small group of close associates. Khadija and Waraqa were his first disciples, then came his friend and business associate Abu Bakr, 'Ali, the son of Abu Talib, and Mohammed's slave Zayd ibn-Thabit.
Muslims do not consider Islam to be a new religion. Islam was intended to be a reform of the ancient religion of Abraham, of which Judaism and Christianity are branches. Islam confirms the truth of the Torah and the Gospels, but purports to clarify them, to correct a number of errors of interpretation, and to purify them from the accretions of rabbinical and priestly sophistries.
Mohammed could not read or write, but his followers recorded his teachings on the materials that were available. After his death, Abu Bakr commanded Zayd to gather together Mohammed's revealed teachings, recorded over a twenty-three year period from 609 e.v. to 632 e.v., into a single volume. This volume became the Qur'an, which constitutes the holy book of Islam. The Qur'an is organized into 114 Chapters in which each Chapter, called a Surah ('degree"), represents one (or more) of Mohammed's revelations; although they are not arranged in chronological order. 93 of the Surahs were received during the 13 years prior to the Hijra at Mecca; the remaining 21 were received later at Madinah.