SUMMARY OF MUHAMMADS LIFE AND PROPHETIC CAREER
INTRODUCTION [ 1 ]
Muhammad earned the undeniable place in history as one of the most influential and world-changing men of civilization. Not only was Muhammad the founder of one of the world’s greatest religion (i.e. Islam), he was also an incredible statesman who founded a new society. Among the men in history, he is of the few that truly demands our attention and examination. All of us have something to learn from Muhammad, that is undeniable. However, if we follow things to their logical conclusion, we shall also see that Muhammad claims concerning his own identity have consequences that affect even our very souls. As a statesman, Muhammad lends himself to objective observation and conjecture on regular historiographical terms, but as a prophet, Muhammad drives us to peer into our subjective spiritual nature. From an Islamic perspective, he is a messenger from the one God, Allah, a ‘warner’ first to the Arabs then to the whole of humankind.
Compared to most founders of religions, we have an incredibly large amount of material to work with.
Firstly, we have his own testimony, the Qur’an. Al-Qur’an stands as the inerrant, unadulterated Word of Allah in Islamic dogma; however, it was spoken by Muhammad after he received from the Angel Gabriel. Therefore, the Qur’an includes extremely relevant insights and commentary to Muhammad’s perception of his respective historical situation.
Secondly, there are the collection of Muhammad’s sayings and deeds called the ahadith and sunnah. In contrast to the Qur’an, they are not considered to be the literal Word of Allah. Nevertheless, the carry extreme authority as literature, second only to the Qur’an.
The best and most authentic collection is considered to be Sahih Bukhari. Bukhari (full name Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin Ismail bin Ibrahim bin al-Mughira al-Ja'fai) was quit stringent in his collection of these sayings, checking for their accuracy and harmony with the Qur’an. Bukhari compiled his collection in sixteen years and ended up with 2,500+ when finished [not including repetitions].
The second most authoritative collection of hadith is Sahih Muslim. Muslim (full name Abul Husain Muslim bin al-Hajjaj al-Nisapuri) was student of Bukhari and traveled far and wide to gather his collection (e.g. Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Egypt). It is said that out of 300,000 hadith that he examined, only 4,000 were admitted into his collection.
Other authentic hadith outside these collections do exist, but these are indeed the most authoritative and respected.
Thirdly, there are the sirah (i.e. traditional biographies). I will be using the earliest by Ibn Ishaq which was edited by Ibn Hisham.
Muhammad’s life can most easily be divided into 4 major sections. They are:
As such, this will be my perceptible observation in make a short, concise overview of his life. In each of these sections, I will at times examine different events in detail that I think are extremely relevant to understanding Muhammad and/or assessing his character.
AN ORPHAN BECOMES A MAN: BEFORE THE CALL
Mecca proves to be the focus of our story. Before the advent of Islam, Mecca held no place of importance or great fame in the world. The Ka’aba [meaning ‘cube’] attracted most of the attention in the city; it was a shrine in the center of the city that contained hundreds of idols. Pilgrimages were made there by all tribes of Arabia; thus, it became both the religious and commercial center of Arabia. Muhammad was born from the tribe which controlled Mecca, the Quraysh. He was born (570 A.D.) into the sub-tribe Banu Hashim to a man named ‘Abdullah’ who died while his wife, ‘Amina’, was still pregnant. After his father died, he and his mother were taken into the care of his grandfather, ‘Abdul Muttalib’, until he also died. Six years after his birth, Amina, his mother, died, and he was left with uncle, ‘Abu Talib’. As one can clearly see, Muhammad seemed to be born a tragedy, cursed rather than blessed before he was born, yet even these hardships would have key roles in shaping his character.
Abu Talib gave Muhammad the task of grazing the camels, a solitary and lonely job. ‘Ali Dashti writes with great insight about this time in Muhammad’s life:
For a sensitive and intelligent child, the experience of several years in this occupation must, in the Persian phrase, have been "as bitter as chewing terebinth twigs" he would naturally ask himself why he had come into the world as a fatherless orphan and had so soon lost the young mother to whom alone he could turn for love and caresses. He would wonder too why blind fate had taken away his strong generous grandfather and sent him for refuge to his uncle’s house. His uncle was a good and kind man, but had a large family and could not afford to give him the care which his cousins and other children of the same rank received. His other uncles, such as ‘Abbas and Abu Lahab, lived comfortably and ignored him. Thoughts such as these must have rankled his mind during the long years of sorrow and hardship. (Ali Dashti, 23 Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Muhammad, p. 11)
Thus, Muhammad was predisposed to being dissatisfied with the surroundings he had to bear. This would in turn lead him to be critical of social structures around him. As Dashti states,
Misfortune embitters a person, especially when he is left to himself with nothing to distract him. It my may safely be conjectured that in the course of time this child’s thought turned to the social system and found in it some of the sources of his unhappiness. (Ali Dashti, 23 Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Muhammad, p. 11)
This would naturally lead Muhammad to seek another mode of viewing the world, perhaps a Christian or Jewish view?
Muhammad must have had his first contacts with Jews and Christians during his travels to Syria with Abu Talib [his uncle]. The monotheistic faith of these peoples must have been a great contrast for Muhammad to observe being that he was raised in a polytheistic culture. Perhaps conversations with Jews and Christians strengthened his doubts about the usefulness of idol worship. There amongst the camels he would most likely ponder these ideas. Dashti dramatizes this experience:
After several years of the same routine, a new experience made a deep mark Muhammad’s mind. . . . There [Syria] he saw a different and brighter world with no signs of the ignorance, superstition, and rudeness prevalent among the Meccans. The people whom he met were politer, the social atmosphere was happier, and the accepted customs were of a higher order. These observations must have added to the turmoil in his inner soul. It was probably there that he first perceived how primitive and rough and superstitious his own people were; perhaps there also that he began to wish that they might have a better ordered, less superstitious, and more human society. It is not known for certain whether he first came into contact with follower of monotheistic religions on this journey, and it would seem that he was then too young to learn anything from such contacts; but the experience must have made and impression on his perceptive uneasy mind, and perhaps moved him to make another journey. Some of the transmitted reports state that on the second journey he was no longer too young and that he eagerly listened to religious informants. (Ali Dashti, 23 Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Muhammad, p. 11)
This experience is similar to Jesus’ experience in the temple (cf. Luke 2:22-40). Muhammad’s inclination towards monotheism is said to be strengthened by hanif—an Arabian monotheist who was neither a Jew nor a Christian — in a tradition of Ibn Ishaq that is not found in Ibn Hisham’s recension. This hanif is said to have taught Muhammad the uselessness of the surrounding polytheism. The Qur’an reflects these periods of thoughts that surfaced in later life, "Will they not regard the camels, how they are created? And the heaven how it is raised? And the hills how they are set up? And the earth, how it is spread?" Sura 88:17-20.
Muhammad was known for being trustworthy. This virtue attracted his first wife, Khadijah, to Muhammad who assigned him to her mercantile affairs when he was twenty-five years old. Khadijah said to Muhammad,
O son of my uncle, I like you because of our relationship [his management of her business] and your high reputation among your people, your trustworthiness and good character and truthfulness. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasullah, p. 82)
All evidence points to the fact that the marriage was indeed a happy one. She bore him two sons (but they died while babies) and four daughters. It is worth noting that while she was alive he practiced monogamy, but 25 years later, after her death, he became polyandrous in his marriage practices.
There is one more major event that took place before the Iqra (i.e. calling to prophethood). When a storm badly destroyed the Ka’aba, the Quraysh took effort to rebuild it. However, when the time for the reinstatement of the black stone (al-hajaru ‘l-aswad in arabic) bloodshed seemed immanent because the sub-tribes were disputing who over who should do the sacred task. The problem came to solution by the suggestion that the next person to enter the gates would be given the privilege to restore it.
The first person to enter through the gate of Banu Shaybah was the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him. When they saw him they said "This is al-Amin (the Trusted). We agree to what we have decided". Then they informed him of the affair thereupon the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, took his mantle and spread it on the earth, then he put the black stone on it. He then said, "Let a person from every quarter of the Quraysh come . . . Let every one of you hold a corner of the cloth. Then all of them raised it and the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, put it in its place with his own hand. (Ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir; vol. 1 p. 166)
This, of course, must have had an incredible effect on Muhammad’s perception of himself. This event may have began (if it had not already begun) his thought process of desiring to be a prophet of Allah and infusing his identity with the concept.
THE PROPHET AWAKES: FROM IQRA TO THE HIJRA
The first revelation from Allah, via Gabriel, to Muhammad occurred on Mt. Hira. Mt. Hira is extremely rocky with almost inaccessible slopes. The ascetic hanifs were known to retreat there for solitary reflection and meditation. Muhammad practiced this for some time; however, on one of these occasions he would be changed forever. While sleeping he had an unique experience. This hadith narrates:
There came to him the angel and said: Recite, to which he replied: I am not lettered. He took hold of me (the Apostle said) and pressed me, till I was hard pressed; thereafter he let me off and said: Recite. I said, I am not lettered. He then again took hold of me and pressed me for the second time till I was hard pressed and then let me off and said: Recite, to which I replied: I am not lettered. He took hold of me and pressed me for a third time, till I was hard pressed and then let me go and said: Recite in the name of your Lord Who created, created man from a clot of blood. Recite. And your most bountiful Lord is He Who taught the use of the pen, taught man what he knew not. (Sahih Muslim; vol. 1, p. 97)
The event disturbed Muhammad deeply:
. . . Allah’s Apostle said, "I was in seclusion in the cave of Hira, and after I completed the limited period of my seclusion, I came down and heard a voice me. I looked to my right, but saw nothing. Then I looked up and saw something. So I went to Khadija and told her to rap me up and pour cold water on me. So they wrapped me up and poured could water on me". (Sahih Bukhari; vol. 6, pp. 417-418)
From all the sources, this was not a time of great pride or glory for Muhammad. Instead, he was deeply terrified while speaking to Khadijah. Khadijah comforted him and assured him that Allah would never allow a good man such as he to receive anything but a true revelation. A cousin, Waraqa ibn Nawfal (known for being a hater of Meccan idolatry), supported Muhammad and proposed that he had been visited by al-Namus al-Akbar [the great angel] which persuaded Muhammad that he had truly been commissioned by Allah.
The question naturally arises on whether or not this event has any truth. Being that Muhammad is reported by all men to be trustworthy, there is no real reason to doubt his testimony:
Quraysh used to call the Apostle of God before revelation came to him "the trustworthy one". (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasullah, p. 86)
However, Dashti asserts, "There is nothing supernatural in ‘A’esha’s account. Everything in it is reconcilable with the general finding of psychology" (23 Years, p. 25). Indeed, Buddhist monks have been observed having intense hallucinations during meditations. Dashti gives his hypothesis,
A strong wish can make its object appear real and concrete. Formed in nearly thirty years of meditation, strengthened by contacts with follower of the scriptural religions [Judaism and Christianity], and super-charged by ascetic retreats to Mount Hera, Mohammad’s wish acquired the shape of a vision or, in mystic terminology, an illumination. In personified form, a call for action ran out from the depths of his subconscious mind. Fear of taking action weighed down so heavily upon him as to cause prostration and fainting. No other explanation of the angel’s pressing him until he became powerless in conceivable. The angel personified the aspiration long latent in the depths of his inner being. (Ali Dashti, 23 Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Muhammad, p. 25)
The following three years Muhammad struggled to come to terms with the nature of his call; thus, he did not immediate start public preaching in Mecca. He shared his message with close friends and family. Among his first converts were Khadijah, Abu Bakr and Ali (these two are later to become Caliphs).
When Muhammad finally took his message to the streets of Mecca, he was met with ridicule and scorn from the Quraysh. Such ideas as the Resurrection and the Day of Judgment were bizarre to them. Despite Muhammad’s famed trustworthiness, few believed his testimony. The prophethood of Muhammad was dangerous to the social and religious construction of Mecca. Muhammad’s claims raised many objections from the Quraysh:
Was he [Muhammad] to be their leader? Were their gods and goddesses to be dishounoured by him without a defiant respone? Was Mecca to cease to be the centre of the pagan worship of Arabia? What would the effect be on their thriving commercial trade with the deputations who came to worship at the Ka’aba? (John Gilchrist, Muhammad and the Religion of Islam, p. 17)
However, it is interesting to note that it was not that the Meccans did not worship Allah at all. Rather, Muhammad’s objection concerned what is know in Islam as shirk—or associating partners with Allah. Three goddesses that the Quryash considered to be intercessors to Allah are mentioned in the Qur’an:
Have ye seen Lat, and Uzza, and another, the third, Manat? What! For you the male sex and for Him the female? Behold, such would be indeed a division most unfair! Sura 53:19-22
The verse points out the irony in that Allah has daughters only, something considered a reproach, while men among the Meccans had sons. Even the Christians and Jews were accussed of shirk. Christians were condemned for worshipping Mary and Jesus as gods (cf. Sura 5:114ff), but the Jews were strangely accused of considering Ezra (Uzair) the Son of God (cf. Sura 9:30), something unsubtantiated by Jewish history.
Another objection the Quraysh had to Muhammad’s preaching was his assertion that Allah was another name for ar-Rahman of the Jews. We find this principle in the Qur’an:
Say:"Call upon Allah, or call upon Rahman: by whatever name he call upon Him, (it is well): for to Him belong the Most Beautiful Names". Sura 17:110
D. S. Margoliouth explains the situation:
From some texts and traditions we should gather that the Meccan objection was not to the glorification of Allah, but to the identification of their familiar deity with him whom the Jews called Rahman (The Merciful), title applied to pagan deities also. (Mohammed and the Rise of Islam, p. 143)
Thus, Muhammad when proclaiming his message immediately emphasized his connection to the Jewish belief system — a system he hopes shall support and accept him.
Muhammad even met persecution within the sub-tribe of his family, the Banu Hashim. The main opponents of Muhammad among the Banu Hisham were his uncles Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab. Ibn Ishaq tells of Abu Jahl’s harsh persection:
It was that evil man Abu Jahl who stirred up the Meccans against them [the Muslims]. When he heard that a man had become a Muslim, if he was a man of social importance and had relations to defend him, he reprimanded him and poured scorn on him, saying, ‘You have forsaken the religion of your father who was better than you. We will declare you a blockhead and brand you as a fool, and destroy your reputation.’ If he was a merchant he said, ‘We will boycott your goods and reduce you to beggary.’ If he was a person of no social importance, he beat him and incited people against him. (Sirat Rasullah, p. 145)
Abu Lahab, Muhammad’s greatest enemy, even has an entire sura in the Qur’an dedicated to his reproach and damnation:
May the hands of Abu-Lahab perish! May he himself perish! Nothing shall his wealth and gains avail him. He shall be burnt in a flaming fire, and his wife, laden with firewood, shall have a rope of fibre around her neck! Sura 111
It makes one wonder whether or not these hostilities had been present before his calling to prophethood. Nonetheless, Abu Talib (the uncle who raised Muhammad) protected Muhammad from suffering any physical harm. However, verbal ridicule was quite frequently recieved by Muhammad. His enemies denounced him as a kahin—a sort of disreputable magician, a soothsayer or madman. Muhammad denied being a kahin vehemently:
Therefore give warning. By the grace of God, you are neither soothsayer nor madman. Do they say: ‘He is but a poet: we are waiting for some misfortune to befall him’? Say: ‘Wait if you will; I too am waiting.’ Does their reason prompt them to say this? Or is it merely that they are wicked men? Do they say: ‘He has invented it [i.e. the Qur’an] himself’? Inded they have no faith. Let them produce a scripture like it, if what they say be true! Sura 52:29-34
Persecution began to increase so horribly that Muhammad had to allow some Muslims to migrate to Abyssinia (Ethiopia). Soon after this misfortune, Muhammad got a break. Two key converts were made. The first was Hamza, his uncle, who was a courageous fighter. Second was Umar ibn al-Khattab (he was later the second Caliph). Umar had been known to be a fervent persecutor of Muslims, and when his sister converted to Islam, he beat her severly. Overwhelmed with remorse after seeing bleeding, he pleaded with her to recite some of the Qur’an to him. She oblidged, and he rushed to Muhammad, pledging his unwavering allegience. Once again public worship was made possible—at least until the band on the Banu Hashim by the Quraysh. The ban was put on the sub-tribe until they handed over Muhamamd to the give them free reign in dealing with him. Abu Talib’s quarters was besieged and shut up for a total of three years. Near the end of the three years, pressure from Meccans to end the siege due to its intense cruelty (the children could be heard crying from the streets) lead the Quraysh lift the ban.
Things got worse for Muhammad. Soon after the ban, both Khadijah and Abu Talib died bringing an end to much of protection back home. Converts stopped increasing and Muhammad began to despair—he needed to reach outside the bounds of Mecca.
He finally decided to go to al-Ta’if, a nearby oasis, and call on the poeple there to accept him as Prophet. The venture proved naive. Muhammad was ridiculed and driven out. He also tried to find support among bedouin, but again met no success. . . By 619 Muhammad understood that to protect himself and his followers, to overcome the resistance of the Quraysh, and to gain a hearing from Arabians beyond the small circles spontaneously attracted to him, some kind of political base was neccessary. (Ira M. Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies, p. 26)
Though a failure, the effort is indeed admirable. Despite persecution, Muhammad encouraged himself to keep going:
There is something lofty and heroic in this journey of Mahomet to Tayif; a solitary man, despised and rejected by his own people, going boldly forth in the name of God, like Jonah to Nineveh, and summoning an idolatrous city to repent and support his mission. It sheds a strong light on the intensity of his belief in the divin origin of his calling. (Sir William Muir, The Life of Mahomet, p. 109)
Soon after the event at al-Ta’if, Muhammad met six men from Yathrib (i.e. Medina). They commended his message as from Allah and promised to proclaim it when the returned to their city. A year later, they met again. Muslims know the occasion as the pledge of al-‘Aqaba—the pledge to defend Muhammad. A participant narrates:
‘I was present at the first ‘Aqaba. There were twelve of us and we pledged ourselves to the Prophet after the manner of women [i.e. without bloodshed] and that was before war was enjoined, the undertaking being that we should associate nothing with God; we should not steal; we should not commit fornication; nor kill our offspring; we should not slander our neighbours; we should not disobey him in what was right; if we fulfilled this paradise would be ours; if we committed any of those sins it was for God to punish or forgive as he pleased [cf. Sura 60:12].’ (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasullah, p. 199)
After this, Muhammad sent a close companion named Musab, to teachthem the Qur’an. The spread of the new faith in the city was extremely swift, and the following year, Musab returned with seventy men and took the second pledge of ‘Aqaba lead by al-Bara. Al-Bara is reported to have said,
We have listened to what you have said: had there been some otehr ideas in our mind would have expressed it. We mean to fulfill (our promises) and want truth, and we are ready to sacrifice our lives for the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him. (Ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir; vol. 1, p. 257)
The people of Yathrib just what Muhammad needed, and similarly, Muhammad was exactly what the people of Yathrib needed also. Ira M. Lapidus explains,
Medina was an agricultural oasis. Like Mecca it was inhabited by various clans and not by a single tribe, but unlike Mecca, it was a settlement racked by bitter and even anarchic feuding between the leading tribal groups—the Aws and the Khazraj. Prolonged feuding threatened the safety of men in the fields and called into quesion Medina’s very existnece. Unlike the bedouins, Medinans had to live as neighbors and could not move from place to place.
Moreover, like Mecca, Medina was undergoing social changes that rendered the underlying bedouin form of kinship soceity obsolete. Agricultural rather than pastoral needs governed the economy of Medina. Its social life came increasingly to be governed by proximity in space rather than by kinship. Also, Medina had a large Jewish population, which may have made the populace as a whole more sympathetic to monotheism. (A History of Islamic Societies, pp. 26-27)
Apparently, we have two factors before us. First, the intense tribal wars that threatened to destroy Medina’s structure which caused need for a social reform. Second, due to the familarity of the area with Judaic monotheism, Muhammad’s Tauhid [Doctrine of Allah’s Oneness] would not seem altogether bizarre. Muhammad’s leadership as prophet of a new brotherhood of Muslim was exactly what was needed to unite the tribes under one purpose. Soon, many Muslims began to leave Mecca—quietly heading for Medina.
When the Quraysh came to a realization of what was actually happenning, they had a great cause to be alarmed. An annoying, critical prophet no longer posed any threat, but the potential of Muhammad becoming a hostile ruler of a city north Mecca carried with it newly unwanted and dangerous consequences. A plot, therefore, soon came to fruition to kill Muhammad. When all the Muslims were gone from Mecca save Muhammad, Abu Bakr , and Ali, the Quraysh sought to take advantage of his vulnerability. Leaving Ali in his bed, Muhammad and Abu Bakr fled and hid in a cave on Mount Thaur, south of Mecca. The Qur’an comments on the event:
Allah did indeed help him when the unbelievers drove him out: he had no more than one companion:—they two were in the Cave, and he said to his companion, "Have no fear for Allah is with us". Sura 9:40
Abu Bakr recounts the event himself,
"I was in the company of the Prophet in the cave, and on seeing the traces of the pagans, I said, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! If one of them should lift up his foot, he will se us’. He said, ‘What do you think of two, the third of whom is Allah." (Sahih al-Bukhari; vol. 6, p. 148)
Around these two accounts, a famous Muslim fable arose about this event of Muhamad and Abu Bakr hiding in the cave:
A spider span a cobweb, some parts of which covered others [which covered the entrance to the cave]. The Quraysh made a frantic serch for the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him. They even came to the entrance of the cave, but someone among them said, Verily, spiders haunt this place from before the birth of Muhammad; and they returned. (Ibn S’ad, Kitab al-Taqabat al- Kabir; vol. 1, p. 265)
Though this event is assumed to be true by most Muslims, it is most likely a later fabricated legend. This story is adapted from a Jewish fable:
It is oberservable that the Jews have a like tradition concerning David, when he fled from Saul into the cave; and the Targum paraphrases these words of the second vers of Pslam lvii, which was composed on the occasion of that deliverance: "I will pray before the most high God, that performeth all things for me, in this manner; I will pray before the most high God who called a spider to weave a web for my sake in the mouth of the cave". (George Sale, Preliminary Discourse to the Koran, p. 54)
Thus, Islam was established as a religion and the Hijrah took place on June 20, 622 A.D. E. The Hijrah is to the Islamic calender as the birth of Christ is to Christianity. Undeniably, the Hijrah stands the most dramatic event in Muslim history—for Muslims it is not just a mere change of place. Hijrah briths the religion of Islam into the world, symbollic of the eventual transition of the entire world from the pagan world to the Muslim World.
MUHAMMAD AT MEDINA: THE PROPHET BECOMES A STATESMAN
It is undeniable in examining the life of Muhammad in Medina that a definite change takes place. The question remains, however, whether or not this was because of his change in roles or an actual change in his personality. Dashti comments on the prophet’s change,
Mohammad was devout and free from the vices of his time. He pictured the end of the world and the day of judgement as near at hand. With his thoughts fixed on the hereafter, he impolored his Meccan compatriots to revere the Lord of the Universe, and condemned violence, injustice, hedonism, and neglect of the poor. Like Jesus, he was full of compassion. After the move to Madina, however, he became a relentless warrior, intent on spreading his religion by the sword, and a scheming founder of a state. A Messiah was transformed into a David. A man who had lived for more than twenty years with one wife became inordinately fond of women. (Ali Dashti, 23 Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Muhammad, p. 97)
I shall withold any more critical comments for this section; however, I shall take the cause up as we journey through the Medinan years of the prophet Muhammad.
Muhammad’s appearance in Medina birthed a political group made of a conglemerate of the tribes called the umma—a term still used to refer to the entire community of Muslims. All were to be united for one purpose, to protect Medina and the Prophet. Some opposition did arise. Those who oppossed though generally acknowledged his leader despite thier discontent:
Such otward conformity, cloaking an opposition ill-concealed, was more dangerious than open animostiy. The class soon became peculiarly obnoxious to Mahomet; he established through his adherent a close and searching watch over bother their words and actions; and in due time followed up his espionage by acts which struck dismay into the hearts of the disaffected. (Sir William Muir, The Life of Mahomet, p. 176)
The leader of this group was Adullah ibn Ubayy who was greatly distrusted by the Muslims. Muhammad himself was very apprehensive of his character. Such Medinans were consider munafiqun (i.e. hypocrites). The Qur’an condemns these people:
When the hypocrites come unto thee (O Muhammad), they say: We bear wtiness that thou art indeed Allah’s messenger. And Allah knoweth that thou art indeed His messenger, and Allah beareth witness that the Hypocrites are speaking falsely. They make their faith a pretext so that they may turn (men) from the Way of Allah. Verily evil is that which they are wont to do. . .They are the enemy, so beware of them. Allah confound them! How they are perverted! Sura 63:1-2;4
Soon, raids on tribes began in order to consolidate Muhammad’s powers. Islam gradually transformed from a purely spiritual mission of a humble prophet into a political organization dependent on booty from raids and zakat tax. At first, only Meccan expatriates raided the small caravans. Muhammad in 624, probably because of lust for booty, used his power to pull together both exiled Meccans and Medinan supporters to attack an important Meccan caravan. Abu Sufyan, the caravan’s leader, rushed home trying to prevent to the raid sending and army of a thousand men from Mecca to defend the caravan. The Battle of Badr is the name of the conflict and holds a place of hight importance in Islamic history:
No event in the history of Islam was more of importance than this battle: the Koran rightly calls it the Day of Deliverance, the day before which the Moslems were weak, after which they were strong. Its value to Mohammed itself it is difficult to overrate; he possibly regarded it himself as a miracle, and when he declared it one, most of his neighbours accepted the statement without hesitation. (D. S. Margoliouth, Mohammed and the Rise of Islam, p. 269)
Muhammad decimated his enemies at the battle. Important Meccan leadership was lost—among them was his bitter enemy Abu Jahl.
Me of B. Makhzum assert that Ibn Mas’ud used to say: He said to me,’You have climbed high, you little shepherd.’ Then I cut off his head and brought it to the apostle saying, ‘This is the head of the enemy of God, Abu Jahl.’ He said, ‘By God than Whom there is no other, is it?’ (This used to be his oath.) ‘Yes,’ I said, and I threw his head before the apostle and he gave thanks to God. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasullah, p. 304)
The battle obviously signaled divine favor to all the Muslims who followed Muhammad and strengthened their dedication to them. The loss at the Battle of Badr also led to the defection of bedouin tribeds that protected many Meccan caravan lines. Mecca lost her major trade routes to the north.
When the Battle of Badr was one, Muhammd took prisoners. It seems as if he was exceedingly cruel to many of them—some were executed. One such man was named ‘Uqba:
When the apostle ordered him to be killed ‘Uqba said, ‘But who will look after my children, O Muhammad?’ ‘Hell’, he said, and ‘Asim ben Thabit ben Abu’l-Aqlah al-Ansari killed him according to what Abu ‘Ubayda ben Muhammad ben ‘Ammar ben Yasir told me. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasullah, p. 308)
Another man who supposedly accussed Muhammad of preaching fables in Mecca is named among those who are captured. He was killed by ‘Ali (cf. Ibn Ishaq, p. 304). Apparently, the Prophet had troube deciding what to do with the prisoners of war that he captured:
After the Battle of Badr, the Prophet was uncertain what to do with the prisoners whom the Moslems had captured. Should he release them in return for ransoms which would be useful as payment for the warriors of Islam? Should he keep them as slaves? Or should he intern them? His realistic and far-sighted companion ‘Omar . . .advised that they should be killed. In ‘Omar’s reckoning, realse of the prisoners for ransoms would be unwise because they would rejoin the enemy and fight more bitterly, while enslavement or internment would invovle too much expense on guarding because of the risk of their escape; but killing them would cow the tribes and enhance Islam’s military prestige. (Ali Dashti, 23 Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Muhammad, p. 97)
The decision in immortalized in the Qur’an,
It is not for any Prophet to have captives until he hath made slaughter in the land. Ye desire the lure of this world and Allah desireth (for you) the Herefater, and Allah is Mighty, Wise. Sura 8:67
Thus, Muhammad begins to either demonstrate a new character or one that has been all along only now finding an outlet. One is forced to wonder, "Is this truly the humble persecuted prophet of Mecca?"
The Jewish clans (e.g. the Banu Qaynuqa, Banu Nadhir, and Banu Quraytha) never accepted Muhammad as the Apostle of Allah—nor as a leader. This was unfortunate for Muhammad, for the Jews possessed much status and wealth in Medina. When he first arrived at Medina, he desired to include the Jews (and Christians for that matter) into the umma. He made many steps to do this, "Specific religoius practices such as an equivalent to the Jewish Day of Atonemnet and Jerusalem as the direction of prayer [called the Qibla, it was later changed to face the Ka’ab when the Jews rejected his message] should have been appealing to the Jews" (Lapidus, p. 28). However, the Jews proved to be quite annoying to Muhammad’s mission. They would often mock his version of their sacred history. A cursory reading of the Qur’an and the Bible will show many major discrepancies. An even closer reading will find much of the sources of Muhammad’s knowledge of sacred Judaic history to be polluted with rabbinic fables. W. Montegomery Watt explains the reason for Muhammad’s strong opposition to the Jews:
It was not that the Jews refused to recognise Muhammad as a prophet, nor even that they engaged in political intrigue against him, serious as such attitudes and actions were [such actions were taken, e. g. Ka’b bin al-Ashraf]. Much more serious was the Jewish atack on the ideational basis of Muhammad’s preaching. It had been claimed that the Qur’an was a message from God and thus inerrant; and it had also been claimed that there was a large measure of identity between the Qur’anic message from God and what was to be found in the previous scriptures. If the Jews, then, maintained there were errors and false statements in the Qur’an (because it disagreed with their Bible) and that it therefore could note be a message from God, they were threatening to destroy the foundations of Muhammad’s whole religious movement. (What is Islam?, p. 102)
Muhammad then began to develop himself as Prophet that not only proclaimed the message of the God of Abraham, but now, he became a restorer of that message. As Allah’s new Apostle, Muhammad bypassed the old Christian and Judaic scriptural legacies.
The BattLe of Badr brought more confidence to Muhammad and his followers; thus, they took new action in eliminating the Jewish opposition. In the marketplace, Muhammad used the defeat of the Meccans at Badr as an example and warning. The Jews responded defiantly to him with disdain:
They replied, ‘O Muhammad, you seem to think that we are your people. Do not decieve yourself because you encountered a people with no knowledge of war and got the better them; for by God if we fight you will find that we are real men!’ (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasullah, p. 363)
This provoked Muhammad the tribe was besiged. They surrendered and were exiled from Medina.
During this time, Muhammad had a Jewish man named Ka’b ben al-Ashraf killed. He belonged to the tribe of Banu Nadhir. Ka’b constantly voiced his opinion about Muhammad and made profane poems about Muslim women. Muhammad snapped when he heard that Ka’b went to Mecca and urged the Quraysh to keep fight—assuring them of his support. The prophet addressed his followers:
The apostle said—according to what ‘Abdullah ben al-Mughith ben Abu Burda told me— ‘Who will rid me of Ibnu’l-Ashraf?’ Muhammad ben Maslama [not the prophet] . . . said, ‘I will deal with him for you, O apostle of God, I will kill him.’ He said, ‘Do so if you can.’ So Muhammad ben Maslama returned and waited for three days without food or drink, apart from what was absolutey necessary. When the apostle was told of this he summoned him and asked him why he had given up eating and drinking. He replied that he had given him an undertaking and he did not know whether he could fulil it. The apostle said, ‘All that is incumbent upon you is that you should try.’ He said, ‘O apostle of God, we shall have to tell lies.’ He answered, ‘Say what you like, for you are free in the matter.’ (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasullah, p. 367; cf. Sahih Bukhari, vol. 5, #369)
Maslama traveled with companions to Ka’b’s house. When the arrived, they pretended to be friendly visitors taking a stroll. They got Ka’b to walk with them away from his house and killed him. This story raises doubts on the virtue of Muhammad. Remember how Muhammad was alsways considered trustworthy by those who knew him before he claimed prophethood? But what we have before us is a prophet of ‘truth’ sanctioning treacherous action! The murder of Ka’b seems to contradict his reputation that he was known for before he gained power. It was nothing less than treacherous. "Love your enemies" was indeed not a teaching of Muhammad.
Following these events, the Meccan attacked Medina in the Battle of Uhud. The Meccan army greatly outnumber Muhammad’s Medinan forces, but the battle was fought nevertheless. Abdullah ibn Ubay pleaded with the Medinans not to fight, but the thirst for similar glory fighting against the Quraysh as in the Battle of Badr overrode their reason. The Muslims were defeated badly. Hamza died and Muhammad was seriously injured—he was even rumored to have been killed. Despite the loss, the Quraysh withdrew for unknown reasons leaving Medina unharmed. The Battle of Uhud greatly contrasts the Battle of Badr:
This battle of Uhad has sometime been presented, even in Muslim sources, as a serious defeat for Muhammad, but this—at least from the military point of view—it certainly was not. The serious aspect was the religious or spiritual one. The victory of Badr had been taken as a sign that God was supporting them, and indeed fighting for them. The loss of life at Uhud, therefore, seemed to be an indication that God had deserted them, or that they had been mistaken in the inferences they had drawn from Badr. (W. Montegomery Watt, What is Islam?, p. 105)
As it would be expected, Muhammad blamed the loss on his followers due to their disobedience. The Qur’an gives the conditions:
Allah verily made good His promise unto you when ye routed them by His leave, until (the moment) when your courage failed you, and ye disagreed about the order and ye disobeyed, after He had show you that for which ye long [spoil from victory]. Some of you desired the world, and some of you desired the Hereafter. Therefore He made you flee from them, that He mgiht try you. Yet now He hath forgiven you. Allah is a Lord of Kindness to believers. Sura 3:152
Perhaps to raise moral, Muhammad set his focus on the Jewish tribe of Banu Nadhir—Ka’b ben al-Ashraf’s tribe. Apparently, a death threat was made on Muhammad:
. . .they [Jews from the Banu Nadhir] took counsel with one another apart, saying, ‘You will never get such a chance again. Who will go to the top of the house and drop a rock on him (T. so as to kill him) and rid us of him?’ . . .when they [companions of Muhammad] found him [Muhammad] they told them of the treachery which the Jews meditated against him. The apostle ordered them to prepare for war and to march against them. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasullah, p. 437)
The allies of the Banu Nadhir deserted, and the Muslims exiled them all. Some moved north to Khalibar while others went to kinsmen who lived in Syria.
By now, the Meccans were deadset on putting an end to Muhammad and Medina. The Quraysh returned with ten-thousand men; however, Muhammad had been informed beforehand of their attack. To nullify their planned onslaught, Muhammad dug a trench on the northern side of Medina. In the end, "the Battle of the Ditch" turned out to be a stalemate. A severe storm and quarrels between the Quraysh and their allies caused them to withdraw. Though he did not conquer militarily in this battle, it proved to be a great profit to Muhammad. Mecca threw everything it had at him, yet he still stood as leader and prophet in Medina.
After the Battle of the Ditch, Muhammad committed one of his most despicable actions—the utter annihilation of the males of the Banu Qurayza. The Medinans under Muhammad’s leadership sieged them on account of their betrayal of the Muslims in the Battle of the Ditch. Twenty-five days after the siege, they surrendered and waited for exile like the previous two Jewish tribes (i.e. the Banu Qaynuqa and Banu Nadhir). An early biographer records the event:
The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, authorised Sa’d ibn Mu’adh to give a decision about them. He passed an order: He who is subjected to razors (i.e. the male) should be killed, women and children should be enslaved, and property should be distributed. Thereupon the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, said: You have decided in confirmation to the judgement of Allah, above the seven heavens. The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, returned on Thursday 7 Dhu al-Hijjah. Then he commanded them to be brought into al-Madinah where ditches were dug in the market. The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, sat with his Companions and they were brought in small groups. Their heads were struck off. They were between six-hundred and seven-hundred in number. (Ibn Sa’d, Kitab a-Taqabat al-Kabir; vol. 2, p. 93)
As would be expected, this event has been harshly criticized by Western writers:
On this occasion he [Muhammad] again revealed that lack of honesty and moral courage which was an unattractive trait in his character. (Tor Andrae, Mohammed: The Man and His Faith, p. 155)
But the indiscriminate slaughter of eight hundred men, and the subjugation of women and children of the whole tribe to slavery, cannot be recognised other than an act of monstrous cruelty . . . In short, the butchery of the Coreitza cast an indelible blot upon the life of Mahomet. (Sir William Muir, The Life of Mahomet, p.87)
However, it is worth menioning that a recent Muslim writer has denied the historical validity of this story. He says:
A detailed scrutiny indicates that the whole story of this massacre is of a very doubtful nature. (Barakat Ahmad, Muhammad and the Jews, p. 85)
The argument forms from observations of contradictions within the narratives and appeal to the character of Muhammad being above the action. However, W. Montegomery Watt assures us of its validity:
About the primary matters, the broad outline of events, there is practically no doubt. The B. Qurayzah were besieged and eventlually surrendered; their fate was decided by Sa’d; nearly all the men were executed; Muhammad did not disapprove. About all that, there is, pace Caetani, no controversy. Therefore Western Scholar of sirah must therefore beware of paying so much attention to debate to be traced in his sources that he forgets the solid core of undisputed fact. This solid core is probably more extensive than is usually recognized. ("The Condemnation of the Jews of the Banu Qurayzah, The Muslim World, vol. 42, p.171)
I would have to agree with D. S. Margoliouth’s opinion concerning the motivation behind Muhammad’s brutality towards the Jews:
Yet, doubtless, the Prophet’s ultimate determination to destroy the Jews was due to his secret recognition of their superior knowledge of matters which he claimed authority. (Mohammed and the Rise of Islam, p. 233)
In contrast to his conduct against the Jewish tribes, Muhammad slackened his pressure on the Meccans. He did not desire for Mecca to be destroyed; rather, he sought to make converts in the city. In 628 A.D., a large group of Muslims left for Hajj (i.e. a pilgrimage to the Ka’aba). Since this was once a pagan Arab practice, the Muslims proposed to adopt the ceremonies of pilgrimage, in modified form, as a part of Islam. They did this to show that Islam was an Arabian religion and would preserve the pilgrimage rites in which Mecca had so great a stake. For good reason, the Meccans were apprhensive about letting Muhammad into they city. They intercepted the group at the spring of Hudaybiyya. A truce was made there with no bloodshed. The treaty had 3 major parts:
As expected, many Muslims objected to the conditions of the treaty, among these were Abu Bakr and Umar.
Umar jumped up and went to Abu Bakr saying, ‘Is he not God’s apostle, and are we not Muslims, and are they not polytheists?’ to which Abu Bakr agreed, and he went on: ‘Then why whould we agree to what is demeaning to our religion?’ (Ibn Ishaq, Sira Rasullah, p. 504)
At that time ‘Umar came (to the Prophet) and said, "Aren’t we on the right (path) and they (pagans) in the wrong? Won’t our killed person go to Paradise, and their in the Fire?" The Prophet replied, "Yes." Umar further said, "Then why should we let our religion be degraded and return before Allah has settled the matter between us?" (Sahih al-Bukhari; vol. 6, #367)
The treaty was a direct embarrasment to Muhammad because it defied his status as Allah’s Apostle; therefore, it mocked the validity of his message. Still, Muhammad assured his followers that it was a victory. When Umar questioned him, "On that ‘Umar asked, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! Was it (i.e. the Hudaibiya Treaty) a victory?’ Allah’s Apostle said, ‘Yes’" (Sahih al-Bukhari; vol. 4, #406). Ironically, this concept of a victory of ‘revealed’ on the groups way back to Medina (see Ibn Ishaq, p. 506; cf. Sura 48). Apparently, the victory had to do with keeping peace:
He (God) was wrought a near victory, the peace of al-Hudaybiyya. No previous victory in Islam was greater than this. Thre was nothing but battle when men met; but when there was an armistice and war was abolished and men met in safety and consulted together none talked about Islam intelligently without entering it. In those two years double as many or more than double as many entered Islam as ever before. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasullah, p. 507)
No doubt this passage refers to allegiance of the tribe of Khuza’a to Muhammad and also the besieging and subjugation of the strong Jewish fortress of Khaybar.
A year later, Muhammad visited Mecca for hajj. Meccan resistance was slowly fading—the people beheld this man give homage to the holy shrines and city of his birth. Khalid ibn Walid, the Meccan general who turned the tide for the Quraysh at the Battle of Uhud, converted to Islam along with some other leading men of Mecca. The conversion of the Meccans as a whole now became a possibility, something unimaginable before the Hijrah.
THE CONQUEST OF MECCA TO MUHAMMAD’S DEATH
Two years after the treaty of al-Hudaybiyya, Muhammad conquered Mecca [630 A.D.]. Not that the treaty of al-Hudaybiyya made Muhammad and the Quraysh allies, however. It was a dispute over two Meccan and Medinan tribes (the Banu Bakr, sided with the Quraysh, and the Banu Khuz’ah, allied with Muhammad) that brought an end to the truce.
Abu Sufyan, a Meccan leader, took the intiative to restore the treaty realizing that this may be the event that gave reason Muhammad to usurp Mecca. Realizing this himself, Muhammad refused to restore the treaty and assembled an army of ten-thousand men. When he arrived at Mecca, Muhammad camped outside the city to intmidate them. Abu Sufyan left the city to investigate the reports of the advance, but on his way, he met al-Abbas—a newly converted uncle of Muhammad. He convinced Abu Sufyan to convert to Islam in light of the threat to his life if he did not. Despite previous attempts to kill Sufyan (see Ibn Ishaq, p. 550), Muhammad declared,
Who enters the house of Abu Sufyan will be safe, who lays down arms will be safe, who locks his door will be safe. (Sahih Muslim; vol. 3, p. 977)
Thus, Muhammad rather smoothly conquered Mecca with little resistance. In the South, he met some resistance from some of his bitterest opponents (e.g. Suhail and Ikrima, Abu Jahl’s son).
Though Muhammad granted general amnesty towards the city, at least ten people were ordered to be killed worth mentioning.
Muhammad obviously viewed the conversion of Mecca to be of higher value than its destruction. Though quite revengeful, he preferred the admittance of his prophethood far above the shedding of blood.
Muhammad destroyed the all of the idols found in the Ka’aba and consecrated it for the use of Islam—making it the holiest shrine in the religion of Islam. Shortly after, the Hawazin bedouins attacked Muhammad’s army aggressively in the valley of Hunain. The Muslims won, and when the booty was collected, nearly all of it was given to the new Meccan converts:
When Allah gave his Apostle the war booty on the day of Humnain, he distrubuted that booty amongst those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Islam), but did not give anything to the Ansar. So they seemed to have felt angry and sad as they did get the same as the other people got. (Sahih Bukhari; vol. 5, p. 432)
This story contains a rather suspicious nature to it. The question naturually arise concerning the reasons for the Meccans converting:
The Prophet confessed with naive frankness that these presents were meant to confirm the new converts in their faith; as we have often seen, he never troubled himself about the motives which produced conviction. (D. S. Margoliouth, Mohammed and the Rise of Islam, p. 407)
This is indeed an odd aspect of Muhammad’s stance on converts to Islam. His seemingly aloofness to the heart of a conversion fades as he overtakes Mecca. Reasons behind this would be connected to his strong desire to see his home city brought under the rule of his prophethood. Whereas, in Medina, he often denounced the hypocrites who were not truly sincere to Islam (e.g. Abdullah ibn Ubayy).
Soon, deputations from all over Arabia came to pledge allegiance to Muhammad. Shortly before his death, the whole Arabian peninsula had made at least an outward proclamation of adherence to Islam. However, one last stronghold that existed was al-Ta’if—the home of the goddess al-Lat. After the battle in the valley of Humain, the city withstood a siege by Muhammad. Aftewards however, a man from the area named Urwa ibn Mas’ud preached Islam there but was martyred. This incited another more forceful attack which ended with the forced conversion of the entire city to Islam and the destruction of their beloved and cherished idol.
The year 632 A.D. brought about Muhammad’s demise at the hands of an illness. Abu Bakr became the first Caliph in succession of his rule. He ruled for only two years and was followed Umar. The beginning of an age of Arab conquests and Imperialism began. By the close of seventh century, Damascus, Caesarea, and Alexandria were all subservient to Islam. Today, Islam is spread mostly accross N. Africa, the Middle East, and Indonesia. In Europe and America, it is the fastest growing religion gaining many converts. Around the world there are an estimated 1,2 billion Muslims — second only to Christianity
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- -. What is Islam? London: Longman Group Ltd., 1979.
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