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Useful Notes / The Prophet Muhammad

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Muhammad receiving his first revelation from the angel Gabriel. Painting in Jami' al-Tawarikh, 1300 C.E.
(Peace Be Upon Him.)

Muhammad ibn Abdullah. The final Prophet of Islam, as appearing or referenced in literature or the arts.

The main sources on the life of Muhammad are the sira (prophetic biographies) and the hadith (sayings of Muhammad). The Qur'an, in contrast, contains little information on Muhammad and his life.

According to his biographies, Muhammad was the only child of Abdullah ibn Abd al-Muttalib and Aminah bint Wahb, the former of whom died before he was born. As per Arab custom at the time, he lived with a wet nurse for two years, during which the first proof of his prophethood manifested. Muhammad lost his mother at six years old and grandfather Abd al-Muttalib ibn Hashim, who took him in after Aminah's death, at eight years old. His subsequent years growing up were spent with his paternal uncle, Abu Talib ibn Abd al-Muttalib.

Abu Talib was chief of Banu Hashim, one of the many clans that formed the Quraysh tribe of Mecca, and conducted frequent trips abroad. One day, when he brought Muhammad to one of these trips, the two met a Christian priest, who prophesied about Muhammad's prophethood. As he grew older, Muhammad worked as a trader on behalf of merchants and became well-known for his honesty. One of the merchants employing him was a successful businesswoman named Khadijah bint Khuwaylid. Impressed by his conduct, Khadijah proposed to Muhammad and was accepted. Muhammad was monogamously married to Khadijah until her death, and she gave birth to the prophet's only child to produce a lineage that survives to this day, Fatimah.

Muhammad received the first confirmation of his prophethood, as well as the first message from God, at the age of 40. While he was spending a night at Jabal al-Nour, a hill outside Mecca, the angel Gabriel descended to him and delivered the first five verses of the Qur'an. Khadijah was the first person to believe his words, followed by Ali ibn Abu Talib, his cousin. Gabriel would continue to deliver other verses of the Qur'an until Muhammad's death 23 years later, in time to serve the needs of the people, places, and times.

With the words of God at hand, Muhammad began preaching to the people of Mecca, confirming his status as the last of the prophets, decrying their corruption and idolatry, and stressed that only belief in God and doing good deeds in His name would give them peace in life and death. A few believed his words, but most were either ambivalent or hostile, regarding them as affront to their pagan faith. Politically, Muhammad was protected by Abu Talib (though he would remain pagan until his death), while Khadijah provided his finances. As a result, when the two died within the same year, opposition to the prophet became more and more pronounced. He and his followers had previously emigrated in search of safety to Abyssinia, but returned to Mecca a few years afterward. When the threat of Muhammad's life was at stake, he and his followers emigrated again, this time to Yathrib, a city several hundred of kilometers north of Mecca.

Yathrib was a mixed pagan Arab-Jewish city, and there was some opposition regarding Muhammad settling there. However, the environment was nowhere as hostile as in Mecca, so Muhammad and his followers established the first organized Muslim community there, giving Yathrib its current name, the City of Light (al-Madinah al-Munawwarah, or Medina for short). The community grew stronger throughout the years and turned into a military and political force to be reckoned with. With this force, the Muslims gradually conquered Arabia and eventually succeeded in taking Mecca. The conquest was done by persuasion, treaties, and warfare as a last resort when the treaty was violated. Ten years after the migration to Medina, the Seal of the Prophets preached his last sermon atop Mount Arafat before dying several months later. By his death, the Muslims had conquered all of Arabia.

Having had a huge impact on the history and cultural development of the world, Muhammad is one of the most interesting Historical Domain Characters to use in works. However, portraying Muhammad is often considered controversial, and thus portrayals of him tend to be about these controversies rather than about Muhammad himself. There are four such portrayal problems:

  1. Religious Taboos: Islam is very divided on portrayals in general and the prophet in particular. Some consider it haram (forbidden for believers) to portray (to make sculptures or drawings of) any person at all, while others are okay with portraying any person, and yet others make an exception for Muhammad in one direction or the other.
  2. Freedom of Speech Issues: Most of the Western world have enshrined laws that say anyone can be joked about, and anyone can be criticized, and the concept of "blasphemy" as a criminal charge no longer applies. In parts of the Muslim world, blasphemy is very real, and very punishable.
  3. Cultural Bullying Issues: Members of one group joking about something important to another group (in this case Muhammad to Muslims) can be perceived as offensive, even when the jokes are intended to be harmless.
  4. Hate-Speech Issues: The long, two-way history of hate-speech and violence by non-Muslims against Muslims, and by Muslims against non-Muslims, can make such portrayals very touchy for either side.

Tropes found in works that deal with the Prophet Muhammad:

  • All-Loving Hero: He holds no grudges or hatred against anyone, and is willing to forgive his enemies who tortured him badly and eager to help them whenever they're in trouble.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: And back again. During the Isra' ("night journey") and Mi'raj ("ascension to heaven") event, Muhammad traveled to the highest heaven to meet with God.
  • Best Friends-in-Law: Some of Muhammad's wives were relatives of his companions. Aisha, his third wife, was the daughter of Abu Bakr, Muhammad's closest friend and the one who led the community after his death. Hafsa, his fourth wife, was the daughter of Umar, who succeeded Abu Bakr as caliph. Ramla, his sixth wife, was member of the Umayyad clan that established the world's first dynastic caliphate. Muhammad's daughter, Fatimah, also married his first cousin and the first man to accept Islam, Ali.
  • Blood Brothers: Muslims are considered brothers (or sisters) in Islam.
  • The Chosen One: Islam considers Muhammad the final prophet.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The battle of Badr was one-sided.
  • Deface of the Moon: A miracle attributed to the prophet is the splitting of the moon, mentioned in QS 54:1-2.
  • Doves Mean Peace: It is widely believed that pigeons assisted The Prophet Muhammad in distracting his enemies outside the cave of Thaw'r in the great Hijira. Due to a pair of them (alongside a spider weaving its cobwebs) laying their eggs and building a nest, Muhammad's enemies believed that he couldn't actually be in that cave (even though he was in there), which likely saved him.
  • The Exile: Twice.
    • In 613, Muhammad and his companions escaped Mecca, because his teachings had angered hardliners who did not like the message he was preaching and threatened to kill him. They ended up going to Abyssinia (Ethiopia), a Christian kingdom in East Africa, where they were welcomed by the king to practice their religion and wait until the political furor in Mecca die down so they could return back.
    • In 622, Muhammad escaped Mecca again for much of the same reasons, settling in Yathrib, a mixed Arab-Jewish city to the north of Mecca. The Muslim community was basically formed in Yathrib, later renamed al-Madinah al-Munawwarah (the city of light) or simply Medina, hence the date of the migration became the starting point of the Muslim calendar.
  • Famous Ancestor: In contrast to most other Abrahamic prophets, Muhammad's bloodline can be traced quite unproblematically. His sons died during their infancy, but he had a daughter named Fatimah who married his first cousin Ali. There are still a lot of descendants of the two of them around to the present day.
  • The Faceless: Due to some hadiths that seem critical of visual art depicting people and animals in general, his face is sometimes covered with a veil in Muslim art, or he's symbolically represented with a flame. Some art from before around 1500 does show his face though, as seen in the page image. Some argue there is nothing problematic about depicting him or any other human or angel, and that only depicting God is forbidden.
  • A God I Am Not: Muhammad stated that he was a mortal human and that he never wanted to be worshipped as a God or a Demigod. This is why he and other prophets are not visually depicted in mainstream Islam. He also stated that he wasn't the best of all when a Muslim said that he was superior to everyone.
  • Good Shepherd: As a young man, the prophet was trusted many times to guard flocks of sheep, because he always took good care of them. This earned him the epithet al-Amin, meaning "the reliable one".
  • Heroic BSoD: When Muhammad was shown the true form of Gabriel during the first revelation, he was struck with so much fear he went back home and asked Khadijah to cover with him a cloak, leading God to reveal the surah Al-Muddathir ("the Cloaked One").
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: Muhammad regarded Jesus as a prophet of God, a wise teacher of morality, the Messiah and a holy man. He dismissed the idea that Jesus was God or son of God as Unwanted False Faith that didn't pop up until after Jesus died. Today, Islam still regard Jesus as second in holiness only to Muhammad himself.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: According to legends, Muhammad owned a female cat named Muizza. Once when he saw her sleep on top of his cloak, rather than waking her up, he cut the cloak so the cat would not be disturbed. The Prophet's treatment of his cat influenced a great deal of the Muslim world's general acceptance of cats into their lives.
  • Kissing Cousins: Zaynab bint Jahsh, Muhammad's seventh wife, was his first cousin. Some of his other wives might also be more distantly related to him (Khadijah for instance was his third cousin once removed through his father and fourth cousin through his mother). Cousin marriage is widely practice by Arabs before and after Islam and is not forbidden in the Qur'an.
  • Last of His Kind: Muhammad made it clear that he was the last of the Prophets, and that Allah would send no more prophets after him.
  • The Lost Lenore: The year Muhammad lost his first wife, Khadijah, is known as the "Year of Sorrow". This was the same year he lost his uncle, Abu Talib, who had been a father figure in his life, so the grief was double. Considering that Muhammad only began marrying more than one woman after she died and that their daughter Fatimah was the only one who produced a lineage, some Muslims (notably Shiites) consider Khadijah to be special in some way.
  • Mrs. Robinson: When they married, Khadijah was 40 and Muhammad was 25. She was also the pursuer, being the one who proposed to him.
  • Nephewism: Muhammad's father, Abdullah, died before he was born, while his mother, Aminah, died when he was six years old. He was taken in by his grandfather, Abdul Muttalib, but he died just two years later. As a result, Muhammad grew to adulthood under his uncle, Abu Talib.
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: Initially, Meccans were violently opposed to Muhammad's teachings, considering them a defilement of their religion, forcing the Muslims to leave the city at least two times and engaging in bloody wars against them. Nowadays, of course, Meccans have wholeheartedly accepted Islam.
  • Nice Guy: He was a kind-hearted and forgiving prophet who was fond of helping people in need and even prayed to Allah to give hidayath (religious guidance) to his enemies.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Muhammad outlived all of his children save Fatimah, who only outlived him for several months. Fatimah was also the only one whose kids had children of their own, meaning those who claim themselves as Muhammad's descendants trace their lineage through her.
  • Parental Abandonment: Muhammad lost both of his parents at an early age. He never forgot his roots after he came to the realization as a prophet, making orphans one of the prioritized targets for Muslims to give alms to. The rule permitting polygamy was originally instituted so men could prevent orphans from growing up without a father.
  • Polyamory: Indisputably, Muhammad married a total of eleven wives in his life (there were two more non-Muslim women whom he might have married to manumit them, but not all agree on this). He was monogamously married to his first wife, Khadijah, for 25 years, but after her death he began to keep more than one wife at a time. There were many interwoven reasons causing this. Some of his wives (Aisha, Hafsa) were relatives of his companions, so marrying them would strengthen their relationship. Others (Sawda, Zaynab bint Khuzayma, Hind) were widowed by the continual state of warfare in Arab society back then, so Muhammad married them to provide an income to them and their children. The Qur'an (4:3) only allows Muslim men a limit of four wives to keep at the same time and only if they can provide equally for all of them, with Muhammad's case being deemed a special dispensation.
  • Significant Birth Date:
    • The prophet was born during the Year of the Elephant, so named because Mecca at the time withstood a failed invasion by Christian Yemenis who wanted to demolish the Kaaba, then a pagan pilgrimage site. The Christians, who arrived by elephants, saw their army being routed when the elephants refused to enter the city.
    • Some circles of the Muslim community developed a tradition of celebrating the prophet's birthdate, which fell on 12 Rabi al-Awwal. Others frown upon this, as they view it as a modern innovation (bid'ah) and being too close for comfort to Christmas.
  • Spell My Name with an S: Due to different transliterations from the Arabic to the Latin alphabet, his name occurs as Muhammad, Mohammad, Muhammed, Mohamed, Mohammed, Mohamad, Muhamed, Muhammet or Muhamet. Historically, the somewhat garbled Mahomet(us) was also used in the Christian world and is still pretty common in French. The name of the demon Baphomet from European folklore is also a corruption of the prophet's name.
  • Succession Crisis: The Muslim community (Ummah) was only united during Muhammad's lifetime. Disputes over succession began immediately after his death, as a minority believed that Muhammad entrusted succession within family, while the rest believed that the matters had to be decided by consensus. This eventually spiraled into the first Muslim civil war, with the assassination of Husayn ibn Ali, the prophet's grandson, representing the point of no return in the break between traditionalists (Sunni) and the party of Ali (Shi'a).
  • True Companions: The Sahabah or Companions of the Prophet.
  • Undying Loyalty: He was very loyal to Allah and will obey the latter's command without any question.
  • Uptown Girl: Muhammad's marriage to Khadijah was this, as he was a poor orphan who worked in menial jobs while she was a wealthy businesswoman.

Works that feature the Prophet Muhammad:

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    Comic Books 
  • The Cartoon History of the Universe features him in the chapters about Islam and the Middle East, but author Larry Gonick never shows him, explaining why before the chapter and lampshading it during ("Where is brother Muhammad?" "In this comic, permanently off-panel!")
  • Chick Tracts, being the Activist-Fundamentalist Antics kind of work that it is, goes straight into the Type 4 tradition. It portrays him as a brigand, thug, devil-worshiping liar, pedophile and so on... Just like it does with all other non-Christian character... except for those up for Easy Evangelism, of course.

    Comic Strips 
  • In one Carpe Diem strip, a psychologist lies stoned in his office. Stoned by rocks, not drugs. With faltering voice, he explain to a startled client that he was doing a Rorschach-test on his last client — who saw Muhammad, and thus felt obliged to stone him for showing the test.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Mohammad, Messenger of God, 1976 film about the origins of Islam. Out of respect for Muslim prohibition on actually depicting Muhammad, his presence is indicated by light organ music, and his actual interaction in the story only through point-of-view shots of the action, from his point of view, with no dialogue. Words attributed to him are repeated by others in the story, such as his uncle and his adopted son. This consideration didn't stop a Muslim extremist group from staging a hostage-taking/siege in Washington D.C. in 1977 under the mistaken belief that Anthony Quinn actually played Muhammad in the film — they threatened to blow up a D.C. building and its inhabitants unless (among other things) the film's opening was cancelled.
  • The 1971 version of Jesus Christ Superstar ends with Judas asking Jesus about his life up there in heaven maybe together with Muhammed and Buddha.

  • Jami' al-Tawarikh (literally Compendium of Chronicles but often referred to as The Universal History or History of the World), by Rashid al-Din, published in Tabriz, Persia, 1307 CE: One of the many islamic works that contain drawings of Muhammad. See page illustration above for one of them.
  • In The Jewel of Medina, he's portrayed as a wise leader and also as a model husband to his wives in general and the protagonist Aisha in particular.
  • The Divine Comedy stays within the tradition that was mandatory in Christian Europe back when it was written, portraying Muhammed as being tortured in Hell for preaching heresies and sowing discord (his son-in-law Ali is there for the same reason). Note that Saladin, the Muslim leader during the first Crusades, is only in the first circle as a virtuous pagan alongside Homer and Plato.
  • The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie has several dream sequences. One of them feature Muhammad as the protagonist, but in this version he's originally a prophet of polytheism before he changes his mind and becomes a prophet of monotheism instead. This portrayal is what led to the infamous fatwa by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 saying it was the duty of Muslims to kill him for blasphemy.
  • Max Frei's standalone novel My Ragnarök features his Author Avatar as the reincarnation of Ali ibn Abi Talib who assists the Back from the Dead Mohammed in facilitating the Last Judgment (in the name of Allah, of course). Along the way, the novel incorporates several other eschatological myths into it (hence the title).

  • Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten managed to mix all four portrayal problems into one big mess, by having a "draw the prophet" contest and publishing some quite racist contributions where Muhammad looked evil as well as grotesquely non-aryan. The issue was made much worse by two Danish imams (Islamic religious leaders) who started touring the Middle East showing not only the very worst of the drawings published in Jyllands-Posten but also fraudulently adding some even worse drawings and pretend that those had also been published in Jyllands-Posten. Violent worldwide Activist-Fundamentalist Antics ensued, including attacks on Danish embassies.
  • Part of the reason French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo was attacked was due to displaying Muhammad on the front page of one of their newspapers.

    Video Games 
  • Appears as a character in the controversial browser game Faith Fighter, with a meteor as a special move. The game has a "censured version", where the only difference is that Muhammed's face is censored.
  • While dead since the start of the game, in Crusader Kings 2 and 3, he can found (with a censored image) in the family trees of various characters and history files of the sunni and shia caliphates, complete with a set of "traits" about his character.


    Web Original 

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • In South Park, he's a member of a team of superheroes, with the power of pyrokenesis. Jesus and Buddha are on the same team. Portrayal Problem #1 is redefined into a superpower. In one episode, Tom Cruise is trying to steal this superpower, so that he can be immune from getting depicted by the tabloids. Later, people forgot about this earlier portrayal by South Park and much controversy arose when they announced they were going to portray him again. Islamic extremist death threats and Comedy Central censoring their episode followed. Ironically the "portrayal" turned out not to show Muhammed at all (he was inside a bear suit).
  • In Once Upon a Time... Man (Il était une fois... l'Homme, first series of the Il était une fois... edutainment franchise), during the segment about the rise of Islam, Muhammad is only ever represented from the back, his face never being seen.