Most westerners are abysmally ignorant of the life of Muhammad. They therefore accept everything that Muslims say at face value, for they have no other choice. Here is a thumbnail sketch of the life of Muhammad. It’s by no means complete, just sort of a skeleton for the curious reader to use as a springboard for his or her own exploration into the most successful cult in world history.
Everything We know about Islam and the life of Muhammad comes from Islamic sources. There are simply no other sources that say a word about Muhammad during his lifetime. The first mentions of Islam from western sources is Theophanes, who only wrote about the Islamic conquests starting in the invasion of Syria in 634.
My take, in a nutshell, is that Muhammad was a deeply troubled person, with a history of abuse as a child, and some deep mental problems, including, but not limited to epilepsy, paranoid schizophrenia and acromegaly. This is the general consensus of psycho pathologists who have studied the physical descriptions of Muhammad, his seizures and his general behavior. He set himself up as the voice of Allah shortly after he started experiencing auditory hallucinations, which were frequently associated with painful epileptic seizures. He gathered a cult following of a dozen or so from the usual fringe elements of society who seem to be attracted to that sort of thing. In this way he was no different from David Koresh, Jim Jones, Charles Manson. . . etc etc. The local townsfolk in Mecca tolerated his eccentricities because he had a couple of powerful patrons in his wife and his uncle. Still, he was something of a laughingstock in the town and the butt of considerable low grade abuse, sometimes physically. When this happened, he would call down the fires of hell with Allah’s authority on them, which just increased the abuse he received. The townsfolk of Mecca were understandably concerned about their relatives who had subscribed to his cult, just like any parent or family member would be today. After the death of his first wife, Muhammad incensed the community by taking multiple wives, particularly his favorite Aisha, who by her own account was betrothed to him at the age of 6 and deflowered at the age of 9 (He was 53).
The basis of Muhammad’s prophecy was half-remembered scripture and apocryphal writings that Muhammad had heard when he was a caravan manager to Syria. He was intensely spiritual, and hung on every word he could get about Judaism and Christianity. Unfortunately, he was illiterate, and had no way of discerning canon from apocrypha, and never received a foundation in scriptural history or theology, so his understanding of the stories he heard lacked context and meaning. In his “revelation” he freely mixed Judeo-Christian beliefs with pagan Arab legends and beliefs.
All of the passages from the Quran you commonly hear today from Muslim apologists concerning the rights of women, tolerance towards other religions, etc came from this period in Mecca. Muhammad was a very nice man who only wanted you to believe him, and the only tool he had at hand was persuasion. Unfortunately, what they don’t tell you is that once he gained temporal power, Allah rescinded most of those nice passages, and replaced them with harsher, totalitarian teachings. The Quran directly contradicts itself on most all of these issues, and Islamic tradition holds that the later revelations supersede and abrogate the earlier ones. He was even asked about this, and Allah responded that he could replace his teachings at will. This is a real problem for Islam, since all Islamic teaching derives from the point source of Muhammad over a very short period of time.
When his wife and uncle passed away, so did his protected status, and a lynch mob was organized. Muhammad saw it coming and evacuated Mecca for Medina, where he had been invited by the Jewish tribes there who were curious about this prophet who seemed to be prophesying according to their own tradition (His fascination with Judeo-Christianity manifested itself with long recitals of half-baked stories mashed together from the Judeo-Christian scriptures).
Muhammad had a short-lived period as a rock star in Medina, and was accepted by the underclass Ansari Arab tribe because he seemed a political lever to increase their status among the higher class Jewish tribes that lived there and worked the date orchards. The Jews quickly rejected him as a prophet, because his ramblings didn’t correlate with their written scripture. They began to demand payment on the loans they had extended him (Leading to the Quranic injunction against usury).
Muhammad put together a ragtag raiding band and sought to raid the yearly caravan returning from Syria to Mecca to supply the Hajj during Ramadan (The Hajj and Ramadan were polytheistic Arab traditions that long predated Muhammad, and they were the principle source of income for the very poor community of Mecca). Mecca got wind and sent an interdiction force to intercept him. Muhammad missed the caravan, but engage the Meccan militia in his first military engagement and defeated them, taking prisoners. This military success emboldened him, and he and his Ansari marauders began a full-time pastime of raiding surrounding Arab settlements for plunder. Word got around, and his legend grew, and attracted followers because the credulous Arabs felt that his successes spoke for his legitimacy. There’s a number of Hadith that suggest that bribery was a common way for him to ensure faithfulness.
The Jews of Medina fared poorly, and he one by one picked off the tribes of Medina, appropriating their land and industries, and either forcing the Jews to leave, or selling them into slavery. Had the Jews banded together and stood firm, this never would have happened, but they remained balkanized by tribal ties, and were divided and conquered by Muhammad. The largest tribe lasted the longest, but the Banu Qarayza were eventually exterminated, their men and boys slaughtered in an all day orgy of beheading, and their women and children sold into slavery.
Long story short, Muhammad gathered together an army of 10,000 Bedouins as a result of his successful campaigns of Banditry, and marched on Mecca, which surrendered without a fight. Muhammad moved in with a list of public enemies, who he had executed. The remaining years of his life were spent consolidating the rest of the Arabian peninsula and enhancing his power and prestige (remember, he got a cut of 20% or all booty, most of which then went to bribing his followers for their loyalty).
When he died, Islam splintered and most of his followers left. His closest followers fought over who would succeed him. Abu Bakr won the title of Caliph and waged a civil war across Arabia to return the apostates to the fold by force. Shortly after that he invaded Persia and Syria. The Sassanid and Byzantine empires were exhausted from a war they had just fought over Syria in 627, and were in no shape financially or militarily to repel an invasion of horse and camel mounted barbarians. Islam spread through offering three choices: Accept Islam, Pay the infidel’s Jizhya tax, or die.
Muhammad’s teaching were incoherent and often situational. His child bride Aisha observed that Allah seemed to bend over backwards to accommodate Muhammad. Allah commanded that Muhammad’s adopted son divorce his wife, because she was very beautiful and Muhammad wanted to marry her. Muhammad endorsed and practiced codified rape among his female captives, in some cases raping his new wives before the bodies of their fathers and husbands were even cold. Islamic tradition has it that these women enjoyed this very much. The requirement of needed four witnesses to convict a rape comes from his favorite Aisha having been found in a compromising situation and Muhammad didn’t want to condemn her by his own laws, so Allah required there be four witnesses (there were only three). This condemned untold future generations of women to suffer rapes without justice, because of an impossibly high standard needed to convict.
Muhammad was a thief, a liar, a murderer, a torturer, an adulterer, a pedophile and a megalomaniac. A thoroughly dangerous and despicable man. I’ve touched on the high points in his career, whole volumes are filled with his petty cruelty, his sick sense of humor, and the literal atrocities that he commanded and endorsed. From a Christian’s perspective, many of the Islamic teachings are Satanic, and the well-read Christian will have no problem identifying Allah as the Prince of Lies from the Bible. I was once told that it was in bad taste to compare Muhammad to Hitler. I tend to agree, it’s an injustice to Hitler.