Muhammad’s greatest achievement was the creation of the “umma”, the unified Muslim community, and his greatest failures were a political agenda founded on violence and the provision of a backward-looking social code, according to Peter Cotterell in his book Muhammad: The Man Who Transformed Arabia. The book attempts to tell the story of the life of Muhammad as a remarkable man, without either canonising him or belittling him.
Muhammad was born in or around the year 570 in Mecca. His father died before he was born and his mother died when he was just six, leaving Muhammad to be cared for by his grandfather and then his uncle, Abu Talib. He received no formal education, but in the year 610 started receiving revelations in a cave near Mecca, and these revelations were subsequently written down and gathered together as the Qur’an.
Divisions grew between people who rejected Muhammad’s message and those who accepted his message to become Muslims, and this led to persecution and a migration of Muslims from Mecca to Yathrib (subsequently called Medina) in 622. The strength of the Muslims grew, and in 630 they returned and conquered Mecca. Muhammad died just two years later, having united most of Arabia into a Muslim community.
The book describes each of the stages of Muhammad’s life, the creation of the Qur’an, the foundational principles of Islam, and the reliability of various different Islamic sources. Although the author has an academic background, the book is fairly short and written in an accessible style for a non-academic audience. As such it provides an excellent remedy to the ignorance that most Westerners have concerning the origins of Islam.