Misconceptions about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad are far too common in today’s world, but learning about the religion and its teachings can help mend divides between communities.
The recent rise of Islamophobia in the West is an unfortunate reminder that many misconceptions and stereotypes surround Islam, Muslims, and the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).
With 1.8 billion followers across the globe, Islam is an Abrahamic religion centered around the belief in God (Allah) and his prophets. Islam’s holy text, the Quran, calls on Muslims to follow God’s rules and seek peace—fitting, given that the name of the religion means “peace” in Arabic.
Despite this core tenant of peace, Islam is often linked to wars, hate, and terrorism due to media misrepresentation, ignorance, and harmful stereotypes.
Islamophobia is sometimes a response to the horrific acts extremists such as ISIS have carried out in the name of Islam. But extremists do not represent the entire religion, and the overwhelming majority of Muslims strongly reject terrorism, hate, and discrimination.
Racism is also a factor in the prevalence of Islamophobia and the harmful stereotypes of Muslims and Islam. Muslims around the world suffer from both overt and concealed racism, which does not always receive as much attention as other forms of discrimination.
Racist and Islamophobic people often justify their discrimination with freedom of speech. However, freedom of speech is not an invitation to attack others’ existence.
The best way to avoid discriminating against others is to learn more about their principles. In light of Mawlid, the prophet’s birthday, beginning on October 29, here are nine interesting facts about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that you might not know about.
The prophet was an orphan at six years old
The founder of Islam and God’s last prophet, Abu Al Qasim Muhammad Ibn Abd Allah, was born in Mecca, modern-day Saudi Arabia, around 570 AD in rabi’ al awaal, the third month of the Islamic calendar.
According to Islamic traditions, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was born into a noble family from descendants of Ibrahim, or Abraham in the Jewish and Christian traditions. The prophet, however, lost both parents.
His father Abd Allah Ibn Abd al Muttalib passed away six months before his birth, and his mother Aminah bint Wahb died when he was six years old.
The prophet was raised by his grandfather Abdul Muttalib and his uncle Abu Talib, a merchant to whom he was very close. He accompanied Abu Talib on his trading journeys.
The prophet was considered trustworthy, faithful, and honest
At a young age, the prophet worked as a shepherd, tending to the herd his uncle owned. Muhammad gained trading experience from accompanying his uncle on many trading journeys, and in time he conducted many businesses. Many praised him for his honesty and commitments, for he never lied or cheated and always kept his promises.
He quickly became known across the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea as a trustworthy, honest, and faithful merchant.
His growing reputation later attracted a wealthy businesswoman, Khadija, who was 15 years older than him. She offered him work and later proposed marriage. She became his first wife and the first person to believe in his prophecy.
Khadija, one of the strongest women who defied stereotypes
Khadija was born into a wealthy family as the daughter of a successful merchant in the Quraysh tribe of Mecca who taught her everything about trading. After her father’s death, and in a male-dominant field, Khadija took over the family business known for its success and fair dealing.
Khadija was married twice before Muhammad (PBUH); both marriages left her widowed with children that she chose to care for and support alone, despite the many marriage proposals she received.
The independent businesswoman did not marry Muhammad (PBUH) for his finances or looks, but for love, his wisdom, and smart ways in dealing with business. Khadija was also 40 years old when she married him, 15 years his senior.
During their happy and monogamous marriage, Muhammad (PBUH) received his first revelation from God in 610 AD in the cave Hira during his meditation and prayers.
Khadija took care of the prophet and comforted him after he came back distressed. She was the first person to accept Muhammad (PBUH) as the prophet and Islam as her religion, which is why she is known as the “Mother of Islam.”
The prophet refused bribes to quit his preaching
When the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) first started delivering verses of the Quran to his tribe, he faced rejection and mockery. Only a few people believed in his prophecy, including his relatives and Khadija, who supported him and always encouraged him to spread Islam.
When the Quran verses first condemned idol worship and polytheism, Mecca’s merchant leaders considered the messages as a threat to their long-standing beliefs and their economy, which relied on pilgrimages to Mecca every year for idol worship.
The Quraysh merchant leader who guarded the Kaaba, the religious center of Mecca, attempted to persuade the prophet to abandon his preaching by offering him higher positions in the inner circle of merchants and an advantageous marriage, but Muhammad (PBUH) refused.
Muslims were tortured to give up their faith
When the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his followers refused to give up their faith, the Quraysh and other tribes persecuted them for diverging from Mecca’s traditional ways, torturing them and subjecting them to near-famine conditions.
According to Islamic records, some of the prominent followers of Islam that suffered torture and death included Sumayyah Bint Khayat, the slave of a Meccan leader and one of the first members of the Islamic community. Her master killed her with a spear when she refused to give up her faith.
Bilal ibn Rabah was also a Muslim slave who suffered torture at the hands of Umayyah Ibn Khalaf, who placed a heavy rock on the man’s chest to force him to convert. Bilal refused and later became one of the most trusted companions of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The first Muslim community emerged in Yathrib (Medina)
Amid increased persecution, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his followers migrated from Mecca to Yathrib (Medina, modern-day Saudi Arabia), an oasis town where the prophet’s father Abd Allah was buried. The emigration in 622 AD marks the first year of the Islamic calendar.
Yathrib’s leaders sought the prophet at the time for his well-known wisdom to solve a vicious war that raged between several of the city’s tribes. The prophet acted as their mediator to bring an end to the war.
Settling in Yathrib, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gathered more acceptance and followers as he built the first Muslim community.
Islam accepts and respects other religions
Contrary to what many believe, Islam does not discriminate against any religion or race, nor does it call for forcible conversion.
The holy Quran states, “There is no compulsion in religion” in ayah (verse) 256 of Al-Baqara. Islamic scholars interpret the verse as meaning that Islam is clear and plain and no one should accept it under coercion.
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also viewed Christians and Jews as natural allies to Muslims, for the three religions share core teachings. After his migration to Medina, the prophet made an agreement with the local Jewish tribes that secured political equality and support for both Jews and Muslims.
According to Islamic records, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also allowed Christian priests to hold prayers in his mosques and told Muslims to treat them with respect and equality.
Islam condemns discrimination based on ethnicity, race
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) did not discriminate against other races, despite this being common amongst tribes in the region.
Wishing to end racism and discrimination, in his last sermon, the prophet declared: “A white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black over a white, except by piety and good action.”
Some of the prophet’s closest companions were Bilal Ibn Rabah, who was Abyssinian or East African, and Salman Farsi, who was Persian and a former Muslim slave.
Bilal was one of the most prominent and trusted companions of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) after he set him free from his former master. The prophet also chose Bilal to deliver the first call to prayer, or adhan, according to records.
Islam promotes sharing and charity
One of Islam’s five pillars, “zakat” is a mandatory charitable donation for Muslims. Every Muslim who is able must give 2.5% of their wealth to the benefit of the poor and needy.
Muslims often give zakat during the holy month of Ramadan. Contrary to many beliefs, Ramadan is not just about fasting. Muslims take the month to reflect and meditate, get in touch with their souls and come closer to God, refrain from negative deeds and thoughts, share with family and neighbors, and feed the poor.
In Islam Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also promoted “sadaqah,” which is voluntary donation and charity work. The Quran also encourages sadaqah to be discreet to promote the righteous moral acts of giving and sharing.
The prophet established rights for women
Islamophobic discourse often pushes the narrative that Muslim women are oppressed, abused, inferior, and unequal in Islam. However, such misconceptions could not be further from the truth.
Before Islam, parents in Arabia buried girls alive and men treated women as property until the Prophet Muhammad (PHUB) openly condemned inequality and honored women in society.
The prophet Muhammad (PHUB) made education an obligation in Islam for all Muslims, both men and women. One of the most prominent scholars in Islam was the prophet’s wife, Aisha. Many scholars would travel long journeys to learn from her.
Women in Islam also gave political opinions freely, participated in battles, and conducted businesses. One of the most successful businesswomen was Khadija, the prophet’s first wife, and Shaffa bin Abdullah, the supervisor of the bazaar in the Medina marketplace.
In Islam, women are free to choose whoever they want to marry and cannot be forced into marriage. They also have the right to seek a divorce if unsatisfied with the marriage and remarry as a widow or divorcee. Muslim women have the right to do whatever they wish with the money they personally own and are not obliged to spend any money on household needs unless they chose to.
In contrast, women in the West generally lacked the rights Muslim women enjoyed until the 19th century. In England, a woman’s property became her husband’s after marriage. Muslim women, on the other hand, were entitled to their assets. Another example is how most Muslim women keep their family names after marriage, while women in the West often take their husband’s last name.
Amid the hate and Islamophobia and the different misconceptions that run rampant in many societies, it can be easy to forget what Islam really represents and stands for.
Islam is a rich religion that offers, peace, connection, coexistence, love, forgiveness, charity, and equality amongst human beings, yet not many people realize this because of ignorance and preconceived discrimination.
Learning historical truths about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the timeless teachings of Islam can help communities grow in peace rather than in tension and hatred.