Orphaned as a child, Muhammad spent several years among the Bedouins of the desert, developing a love for the rich Arabic language. As a young man, Muhammad traveled widely with the trade caravans before dedicating his life to Islam.
In 610 God revealed His word to Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel. In this way, Muhammad became the chosen bearer of the divine message and began proclaiming the oneness of God. The name of this new religion, Islam, means "submission to God" The followers of Islam are called Muslims, meaning "those who submit."
As more revelations enjoined him to proclaim the oneness of God universally, the Prophet Muhammad's following grew. God's message as conveyed through Muhammad was not, however, unanimously accepted in Makkah. Pagan worshippers threatened by the new monotheistic religion and merchants anxious to preserve the profitable pilgrimage trade intensified their opposition to the followers of Islam. To foil an assassination plot against him, Muhammad and a small group of his dedicated followers in 622 emigrated to the town of Yathrib, which was later named Madinat Al-Nabi, meaning 'City of the Prophet', and now known simply as Madinah. This, the Hijrah or emigration, dates the beginning of the Islamic calendar and the history of the Islamic community. Within the next few years, several battles took place between Muhammad's followers and the pagans of Makkah. The Prophet Muhammad unified the tribes so successfully that in 628 he and his followers reentered Makkah without bloodshed, destroying the idols in the Ka'abah, and the inhabitants of Makkah embraced Islam.
Less than 100 years from the advent of Islam, the Islamic Empire extended from Spain to areas of India and China. Islam made no distinction based on race, class, or background, and the Muslim world was considered a single worldwide community, the ummah.
Islamic rule thrived well into the 17th century, and while Europe was passing through the Middle Ages, the Islamic civilization made tremendous scientific, medical, literary and artistic advances that have had a lasting impact on the world.