Muhammad was born into the most powerful tribe of Mecca, Arabia, the Quarish, in 570 A.D. The Quarish was one of Mecca's widely revered polytheistic cults who received their power from being very successful merchants. There were many trade routes intersecting Mecca, giving the Quarish control of trade along the west coast of Arabia, north to Syria, and south to Yemen. Muhammad was hired by Khadija, a wealthy widow, to help insure safe passage of her caravan to Syria, they later married and this elevated Muhammad's status in Meccan Society.
Muhammad's First Revelation
At about the age of 40, Muhammad began having visions and hearing cryptic voices. In a quest for understanding, he saught out solitude at Mount Hira on the outskirts of Mecca to meditate. One night during what is today known as the holiday of Ramadan, the Archangel Gabriel, eho also came to Mary to tell her of God's plan for her to carry his son, appeared to Muhammad and ordered him to;
"Recite in the name of thy lord who created, Created man from a clot; Recite in the name of thy lord, Who taught by the pen, Taught man what he knew not."
Muhammad's migration from Mecca to Medina in 622 became known as The Hijara. Medina initially named Yathrib, was an oasis nearly destroyed by clan wars but was offered to Muhammad and his people after being forced out of Mecca. This marked the start of the Muslim era and marks year one of the Muslim Calendar.
Medina to Mecca
Muhammad lived in Medina for 10 years, where he continued to receive his devine revelations, before returning to Mecca. Muhammad continued to convert people to his faith and attempted to bring the Jews to his cause. Directing his people to worship towards Jerusalem. His attempts were unsuccessful and he redirected his followers to pray towards Kaaba, his native town in Mecca. Medina became wealthy through raides and warfare which lead them to their attraction to the rich caravans of the Quarish of Mecca. A truce was negotiated allowing Muhammad and his followers, to return to Mecca. The Meccan's and Muhammad and his followers lived peacfully until the murder of on of his followers incited him to attack the city, who soon surrendered.
Shi'A and Sunni sects
Following Muhammad's death, two sects of Islam formed do to a dispute about who would lead the Muslim community. The Shi'a was formed of people who believed Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law should have succeeded him. The Sunni believed that the succesor should be chosen from his most trusted, companions of which three were selected. They became known as the Rightly Guided Caliphs who were later succeded by Ali as the fourth Caliph.
The Five Pillars of islam
The Five Pillars are the five religious duties a Muslim must carry out during their lifetime. They are: Shahada, Salat, Zakat, Sawm, and Hajj.
Shahada is the daily confession of faith,
"There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah"
Salat is Muslim prayer. They are to pray five times a day at dawn, midday, afternoon, sunset, and evening.
Zakat is paying the Alms tax. Muhammad taught the Muslims to help the the less fortunate.
Sawm is fasting that occurs during the month of Ramadan where all adult Muslims are required to abstain from food, drinking, and sexual intercourse between dawn and sunset. This is to remind them that their spiritual needs are greater than their physical needs.
Hajj is the great pilgrimage to Mecca, the holy city of Islam, that Muslims are expected to make at least once in their lifetime during the last month of the Islamic year.
The Qur'an is a collection of the revelations revealed to Muhammad from Gabriel. During Muhammad's life his followers memorized and recited his revelations and upon his death decided to put them together in a book. As the Qur'an is written in Arabic and so the Muslims only consider the Arabic version to be the true word of Allah.
Today Islam is the second largest religion in the world and is growing more rapidly than any other religion in the world, expected to equal christianity by 2050. It makes up 1/4 of the world's population. The most populous of the Muslim countries are Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India. It still holds its same beliefs in Muhammad and the holy Qur'an, and Mecca remains to be its Holy city.