10. Who Was Muhammad (PBUH)?

“O you who have believed, believe in Allah (God) and His Messenger (Muhammad PBUH) and the Book that He sent down upon His Messenger and the Scripture which He sent down before. And whoever disbelieves in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day has certainly gone far astray.” (Quran 4:136)


Muhammad (PBUH), the final prophet of Islam, is widely considered one of the most influential men in history. Today, nearly a quarter of the world’s population follows the message he delivered.

10 Muhammad saw the final messenger of Allah

But despite Muhammad (PBUH)’s lasting influence, many misconceptions continue to surround his persona and teachings.

This brief introduction summarises Muhammad’s (PBUH) life and highlights what esteemed non-Muslim scholars and writers have said about him.

We’ve split this page into four sections. Muhammad (PBUH)…

  • As ‘The Man.’
  • A ‘Prophet’
  • The ‘Legacy’ he left behind.
  • The views of non-Muslims intellectuals concerning his (PBUH) achievements.

Muhammad (PBUH): The Man

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Muhammad (PBUH) was born in 570 C.E. in Mecca. He was orphaned at a young age; his father died before his birth and his mother six years later.

Muhammad (PBUH)’s grandfather, and then his uncle, took care of him for the remainder of his youth. As a result, no single figure moulded Muhammad (PBUH)’s beliefs and outlook on life from an early age.

As a young boy, he worked as a shepherd. This was significant, as he stated much later when asked by Jabir (RDA) that “…there was no prophet who was not a shepherd” (Bukhari).

Later Muhammad (PBUH) adopted the renowned Arab occupation of trading and was widely respected for his integrity, trustworthiness and sincerity.

But despite his intelligence, he could neither read or write and nor was he skilled in composing poetry, a hallmark of Arab society. Therefore, the claim that Muhammad (PBUH) authored the Quran is unfounded. To this effect, God declares in the Quran:

“Your companion (Muhammad (PBUH) has not strayed; he is not deluded; he does not speak from his own desire. It is not but a revelation revealed (unto him).”
(Quran 53: 2-4)

Prior to prophethood, Muhammad (PBUH) was highly regarded for his superior character and exceptional manners, earning him the title of the ‘Truthful One.’ Meccans entrusted him with their possessions for safekeeping and he was often asked to mediate in disputes as an impartial judge.

At the same time, Muhammad (PBUH) detested the polytheistic Arab customs and did not participate in idolatry.

He was also deeply bothered by the many social evils in Arabia, such as the ill treatment of women, widespread alcoholism, constant warfare and the subjugation of the poor. He often escaped the atmosphere of Mecca to a cave outside of the city and isolated himself for days in meditation.

Although Muhammad (PBUH)’s pre-prophetic life was highly reputable, it does not indicate that he was poised to make any significant worldly impact. But these life experiences and the development of his character were God’s way of preparing Muhammad (PBUH) for the monumental task ahead.

Muhammad (PBUH): The Prophet

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One night, in the year 610 C.E., God sent the Angel Gabriel with revelation to Muhammad (PBUH). This was one of the most significant events in human history and marked the beginning of his prophethood and transformed his life.

As the prophet of God receiving divine inspiration, his endeavours were now devoted to leading humanity back to the worship of God alone. He led an earnest life based on the most sublime values, initiating tremendous changes in Arabia and beyond.

Whereas earlier he removed himself from the social and spiritual corruption in Mecca, he now proactively worked to reform it. Muhammad (PBUH) called his fellow Meccans to cease their worship of idols and to affirm the Oneness of God. He also invited them to live a life of righteousness and piety.

10 15 Muhammad saw is mercy to mankind

He warned them of an afterlife where they will be held accountable for their earthly deeds and also gave joyful news of paradise to those who believed and lived a God-conscious life.

Like previous prophets, Muhammad (PBUH)’s message was rejected by many of his people. They insisted on maintaining the religious and social customs of their ancestors.

The elite mocked Muhammad (PBUH), accusing him of deceit and madness – the same man whom they had freely trusted and honoured before. Only a few initially believed in him, particularly the poor and disadvantaged, who were attracted to his message due to its emphasis on equality and justice.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his small group of followers endured persecution for 13 years in Mecca and were eventually forced to leave and migrate to Medina, a city whose people eagerly welcomed them.

Here, Muhammad (PBUH) established the very first Islamic society, which eliminated the spiritual and social problems rampant in the Arabian Peninsula.

Freedom of religion was instituted in Medina, women were honoured and respected as equals, racial discrimination was practically eliminated, tribal warfare was replaced with unity of brotherhood, and usury and alcohol were completely forbidden.

By the end of his life in 622 C.E, the powerful teachings of Islam had overcome even its most ardent enemies. Convinced by the truth of Muhammad (PBUH)’s message and inspired by the purity of his character, the entire Arabian Peninsula had embraced Islam.

Muhammad (PBUH): The Legacy

Did you know that all the prophets pbut all worshipped the same God and followed the same religion Islam

In the century following Muhammad (PBUH)’s death, Islam expanded in all directions, absorbing the Persian and Byzantine Empires to the North, and reaching as far as Spain in the West, and extending its borders to include parts of India and China to the East.

This rapid spread of Islam and its call towards the worship of One God and peace, in such a short period of time, has caused many to marvel at how a man with a sublime character and simple message, could produce such an astonishing impact on the world.

What are the non-Muslim intellectual views in regards to Muhammad (PBUH) and what he achieved?

When comparing his life before and after becoming a messenger, it becomes clear that God enabled Muhammad (PBUH) to attain this stature and renown through his prophethood.

Yet some individuals allege that Muhammad (PBUH) was not a true messenger of God but a sham. This reflects a poor understanding of his teachings, personality and life achievements.

Many non-Muslim intellectuals throughout history have attested to the impossibility of this view:

10 w-montgomery-watt2The British historian, Dr. Montgomery Watt (1953) addresses this perspective in his writing and states that in regards to Muhammad:

“His readiness to undergo persecutions for his beliefs, the high moral character of the men who believed in him and looked up to him as leader, and the greatness of his ultimate achievement all argue his fundamental integrity. To suppose Muhammad an impostor raises more problems than it solves. Moreover, none of the great figures of history is so poorly appreciated in the West as Muhammad.”

Whilst describing the character of Muhammad (PBUH) in his book Life of Mohammed, the famous American intellectual, Washington Irving (1849), wrote: 

“In his private dealings, he was just. He treated friends and strangers, the rich and poor, the powerful and weak, with equity, and was beloved by the common people for the affability with which he received them, and listened to their complaints… In the time of his greatest power he maintained the same simplicity of manners and appearance as in the days of his adversity… He was displeased if, on entering a room, any unusual testimonials of respect were shown to him.”

Reverend Reginal Bosworth Smith also explored the character and behaviour of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and declared that:

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 “He was Caesar and Pope in one; but he was Pope without Pope’s pretensions, Caesar without the legions of Caesar: without a standing army, without a bodyguard, without a palace, without a fixed revenue; if ever any man had the right to say that he ruled by the right divine, it was Mohammed, for he had all the power without its instruments and without its supports. He cared not for the dressings of power. The simplicity of his private life was in keeping with his public life.” (Reverend Reginald Bosworth Smith, 1874)

10 mahatma-gandi2Mahatma Gandhi (1924), a champion of peace himself in modern times, said about his experience of studying the life of Muhammad (PBUH) that:

“I wanted to know the best of the life of one who holds today an undisputed sway over the hearts of millions of mankind… I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet, the scrupulous regard for pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission. These and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every obstacle.”

The French historian, Alphonse de Lamartine (1854), said in regards to the achievements of Muhammad (PBUH) that:

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“If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astounding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history with Muhammad?”

Wolfgang Goethe, one of the greatest European poets, wrote about the prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH) and explained that:

“He is a prophet and not a poet and therefore his Koran is to be seen as Divine Law and not as a book of a human being, made for education or entertainment.”

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Similar admiration was expressed by British intellectual and women’s rights activist, Annie Besant (1932):

“It is impossible for anyone who studies the life and character of the great Prophet of Arabia, who knows how he taught and how he lived, to feel anything but reverence for that mighty Prophet, one of the great messengers of the Supreme.”

Sir George Bernard Shaw (1936) states in regards to  Muhammad (PBUH) that:

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“He must be called the Saviour of Humanity. I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world, he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it much needed peace and happiness.”

Muhammad (PBUH) was the final prophet in a long line of messengers sent by God, which included Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus (PBUT).

Like previous prophets, Muhammad (PBUH) called people towards the belief in the One God and taught them to be just and merciful. His life and teachings have been meticulously documented by thousands of historical sources dating back to his companions.

Michael M. Hart (1978), a Jewish-American historian, placed Muhammad (PBUH) first in his book The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History. According to Hart:

10 Michael M Hart

“He was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels… It is this unparalleled combination of secular and religious influence which I feel entitles Muhammad to be considered the most influential single figure in human history.”

Muhammad (PBUH) was one of the most important men in human history; his impact on the world continues to be felt strongly today. Reflecting on his remarkable life and amazing accomplishments leads to an inevitable question:

Was Muhammad (PBUH) simply an extraordinary person or did his greatness result from his being a genuine prophet of God?

In Islam, Muhammad (PBUH) is the final prophet in a long line of prophets (PBUT) who were all sent by the same God to remind people about Him as their Creator and Maker.

God refers to this in the Quran and states:

“O you who have believed, believe in Allah (God) and His Messenger (Muhammad PBUH) and the Book that He sent down upon His Messenger and the Scripture which He sent down before. And whoever disbelieves in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day has certainly gone far astray.” (Quran 4:136)

Muslims accept and firmly believe in this.


  • Bernard-Shaw, G. (1936) The Genuine Islam, Singapore, Vol. 1, No. 8, 1936
  • Besant, A. (1932) The Life and Teachings of Muhammad, Madras, p.4
  • Bosworth Smith, R. (1874) Mohammed and Mohammedanism, London.
  • Gandhi, M (1924) Young India Journal, India.
  • Hart, M. H. (1978) The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, New York, Hart Publishing Company, Inc., 1978, p. 33.
  • Irving, W. Ed by Getchell, C (Ed of 1849 – ed edition 18 May 1993) Life of Mohammed, U.S, Ipswich Press.
  • Lamartine, A. D. (1854) Histoire de la Turquie, Paris, 1854 Vol 11, pp. 276-77.
  • Von Goethe, J.W. Noten und Abhandlungen zum Weststlichen Dvan, WA I, 7, 32
  • Watt, W. M. (1953) Muhammad at Mecca, Oxford, Oxford University Press.