Muhammad (born ca. 570 C.E. in Mecca, Arabia; died there in 632 C.E.) is known in history for receiving the messages that comprise the Qur'an and for founding Islam. Both his life and his teachings serve as essential guides of behavior to Muslims and Muslim practices, which punctuate the daily life of the individual and the community with observances significant to the religious and spiritual development of children. These practices include in particular the fivefold daily prayers, charity, fasting, and religious festivals. While it is perhaps too much to claim that Muhammad taught overall equality between men and women, he did grant to women full human dignity, and advocated and displayed kind treatment for children, including orphans.
THE LIFE OF MUHAMMAD
According to tradition, Muhammad was born after the death of his father into a family of the Hashemite clan of the Quraysh tribe in Mecca, that is, into the tribe responsible for the care of the traditional Black Stone and its shelter the Ka'bah, the site of annual pilgrimages. He went to live first with his grandfather, who died when Muhammad was about 8, or 2 years after his mother died. The orphan was then reared by an uncle, a caravan driver. Muhammad was hired as a young man as an advisor and assistant to a widow named Khadijah, whom he married at the age of 25. He traveled on her behalf, encountering along the way Jews and Christians who influenced his religious thinking. He and Khadijah produced two sons who died in infancy and four daughters, only one of whom outlived him.
Becoming dissatisfied with the polytheism of his culture, he began seeking one God. In a dream or trance one night, he saw the angel Gabriel, who gave him the first of Allah's messages. These revelations continued, and soon Khadijah converted to his new way of thinking. He began his public career by going to the Ka'bah and reciting his messages. He first convert outside his family was Abu Bakr, a businessman. Since Muhammad's messages were fiercely monotheistic, the Prophet was not well received. He preached for a decade gaining a few other converts, but ultimately (in 622 C.E.) he had to flee from the leaders of the city to Medina, whose leading citizens had invited him to come as their political leader.
Revelations continued during his 8 years in Medina, but his relations with the city of Mecca deteriorated, culminating in armed conflict. Mecca capitulated, and Muhammad became its ruler as well. He died unexpectedly at the peak of his power in 632 C.E. without having named a successor. Sunni Muslims accept Abu Bakr as his successor, while Shiites accept Muhammad's kinsman Ali, son of the uncle who reared him, as successor.
Muhammad's life became the model for Muslim piety. (Sura 33:21, presumably not by Muhammad, reads: "Verily, in the messenger of Allah you have a good example for anyone who looks to Allah and the final judgment.") Hence, traditions (Hadith) about him developed to flesh out the lifestyle of a good Muslim. For example, in his home life, Muhammad was said to have acted as the servant of family members and servants, setting an example for his own children. Another tradition claimed that he was affectionate toward children, and a blessing he authored praised the man of modest means and a father of children as a champion of Allah, provided that he exercised restraint in dealing with his wife and children and laughed in their company.
TYPICAL MIDDLE EASTERN FAMILY PATTERNS
Middle Eastern culture emphasizes the importance of the family, which traditionally exhibited six basic features. First, families have tended to be extended, that is, headed by an older man who managed the common property; the extended family consisted of his wife, unmarried daughters, and his sons, daughtersin- law, and their children. In such a family, children would be taught and disciplined by all adults in the extended family. Second, families were patrilineal, tracing children's ancestry through the men only. Third, families also tended to be patrilocal-when possible, new families headed by sons lived with or near their fathers. Fourth, families were also patriarchal- fathers were heads of nuclear families, just as the oldest man headed the entire extended family. Fifth, families were endogamous, exhibiting a strong preference for marrying cousins (the father's brother's children) or occasionally half-siblings. The Qur'an limits marriage to other Muslims or people of the book (i.e., the Bible). Some interpreters have argued that perhaps non-Muslims who were virgins were acceptable. With both parents Muslim, the home would be the place where children would receive their primary religious instruction. Finally, Middle Eastern families have occasionally been polygamous. Muhammad allowed marrying as many as four wives, but required equal treatment of them all. (This practice has been defended recently on the grounds that some secondary wives were widows, who might have had no other means of support except prostitution.)
Modern life, of course, makes following some of these practices difficult, but Muslim families remain close knit and patriarchal. Polygamy, in particular, is frowned upon, but not forbidden, and the pilgrimage to Mecca is but a dim hope for many. Still, the Muslim home remains the primary locus for the religious and spiritual development of children.
THE TEACHINGS OF MUHAMMAD
Muhammad's teachings may be divided for convenience into two categories: theological and behavioral. Muhammad's theology, influenced by the Bible, was monotheistic, offering a stark contrast to the polytheism of many of his contemporary Arabs.