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Old Thursday, April 29, 2010
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Arrow Life of Muhammad (S.A.W.S.)

For the occidental reader there are grave difficulties in attaining a
balanced understanding of the historical role of Muhammad. The most
serious of these is that the dominant conception of religion as a private
and individual matter leads men to expect that a religious leader will be a
certain kind of man; and it is disconcerting to find that Muhammad does
not conform to this expectation. He was undoubtedly a religious leader;
but for him religion was the total response of his personality to the total
situation in which he found himself. He was responding not merely to
what the occidental would call the religious and intellectual aspects of
the situation, but also to the economic, social and political pressures to
which contemporary Mecca was subject. Because he was great as a
leader his influence was important in all these spheres, and it is impossible
for any occidental to distinguish within his achievement between what is
religious and what is non-religious or secular.
Another difficulty is that some occidental readers are still not completely
free from the prejudices inherited from their medieval ancestors.
In the bitterness of the Crusades and other wars against the Saracens,
they came to regard the Muslims, and in particular Muhammad, as the
incarnation of all that was evil, and the continuing effect of the propaganda
of that period has not yet been completely removed from occidental
thinking about Islam. It is still much commoner to find good
spoken about Buddhism than about Islam.
There are also some of the difficulties usually attendant on the historical
study of remote periods. Thus it is not easy to find the kernel of
fact in the legends about Muhammad's birth, childhood, and early
manhood. For his public career there is indeed the Qur'an, which is
universally accepted as a contemporary record; but it is silent on many
points about which the historian would like information, and such
historical material as it has is not always easy to date or interpret.
Despite these difficulties, however, some progress is being made towards
a more adequate appreciation of Muhammad and his career.1
1 A fuller exposition of the view of Muhammad presented here will be found in the
author's Muhammad Prophet and Statesman (London, Oxford University Press, 1961). Detailed
references are in Muhammad at Mecca and Muhammad at Medina (Oxford, Clarendon Press,
1953. I956)-
About A.D. 610 a citizen of Mecca, then aged about forty, began to tell
relatives and acquaintances of certain experiences which had come to him.
Some three years later he began to speak more publicly. A number of his
fellow-citizens were attracted by his words, and professed themselves
his followers in the way of life he was teaching. For a time a successful
movement seemed to be developing, but eventually opposition and
hostility made their appearance. What was the nature of the movement
and of Muhammad's teaching in this early period before opposition was
provoked ?
The religious movement may be said to have begun with two visions
experienced by Muhammad and briefly described in Sura 5 3 of the Qur'an,
verses 1-18. There are also Traditions1 which appear to refer to the
visions, but have not the same authority as the Qur'an. At first
Muhammad may have interpreted these experiences as visions of God
himself, but he later regarded the wonderful being he had seen as an
angel from God. As a result of the visions, Muhammad came to a deep
conviction that he had been specially commissioned as the 'messenger
of God' (rasiil Allah). In the later stages of Muhammad's career, this
came to be interpreted as some kind of agent on behalf of God, but to
begin with the 'messenger' was simply the carrier of a message.
Either in the course of the visions or shortly afterwards, Muhammad
began to receive 'messages' or 'revelations' from God. Sometimes he
may have heard the words being spoken to him, but for the most part he
seems simply to have 'found them in his heart'. Whatever the precise
'manner of revelation'—and several different 'manners' were listed by
Muslim scholars—the important point is that the message was not the
product of Muhammad's conscious mind. He believed that he could
easily distinguish between his own thinking and these revelations. His
sincerity in this belief must be accepted by the modern historian, for this
alone makes credible the development of a great religion. The further
question, however, whether the messages came from Muhammad's
unconscious, or the collective unconscious functioning in him, or from
some divine source, is beyond the competence of the historian.
The messages which thus came to Muhammad from beyond his
conscious mind were at first fairly short, and consisted of short verses
1 Arabic singular, Haditb: a technical term for anecdotes about Muhammad, at first transmitted
ending in a common rhyme or assonance. They were committed to
memory by Muhammad and his followers, and recited as part of their
common worship. Muhammad continued to receive the messages at
intervals until his death. In his closing years the revelations tended to be
longer, to have much longer verses and to deal with the affairs of the
community of Muslims at Medina. All, or at least many, of the revelations
were probably written down during Muhammad's lifetime by his
secretaries. The whole collection of 'revealed' material was given its
definitive form by a body of scholars working under the instructions of
the Caliph 'Uthman (23-35/644-56), and this is the Qur'an as we now
have it. There is no detailed agreement about the dates at which the
various passages were revealed, and each sura or 'chapter' may contain
passages from different dates. It is generally held, however, that most
of the short suras towards the end of the Qur'an are early, and in other
respects there is a rough agreement about dating.
If now we examine the passages generally regarded as belonging to the
earliest period, especially those where no hostility or opposition to
Muhammad is implied or asserted, we find that their contents may be
summarized under five heads.
(1) God1 is good and all-powerful. Various natural phenomena are
described and asserted to be signs of God's goodness and power, since
they contribute to the maintenance and well-being of mankind. The
development of a human being from an embryo is regarded as specially
(2) God will bring all men back to himself on the Last Day for
judgment, and will then assign them for eternity either to heaven (the
Garden) or hell (the Fire). In some of the early passages this is spoken of
as a judgment on the individual, but in somewhat later passages whole
communities seem to be judged together.
(3) In the world thus created by God and controlled by Him in the
present, man's appropriate attitude is to be grateful to Him and to
worship Him. Worship is essentially an acknowledgment of God's
might and majesty, and of man's relative weakness and lack of power.
(4) God also expects man to be generous with his wealth and not
niggardly. This is one of the chief points to be considered in the
judgment. In particular the rich are expected to take steps to help the
poor and unfortunate.
1 It is appropriate to use the word 'God' rather than the transliteration 'Allah'. For one
thing it cannot be denied that Islam is an offshoot of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and for
another the Christian Arabs of today have no other word for' God' than Allah.
(5) Muhammad has a special vocation as a 'messenger' from God to
his own people and as a 'warner' to them about judgment and punishment.
The message of the Qur'an, both in this early form and in its later
developments, has sometimes been regarded by Christian and Jewish
scholars as a pale reflection of some points in the teaching of the Old and
New Testaments. To emphasize such dependence, however, even if
there were more justification for the assertions than there is, diverts
attention from a proper understanding of the beginnings of the Islamic
religion in its historical context. In a sense we can say that the ideas of
the early passages of the Qur'an were accepted by Muhammad and his
followers because they thought they were true; but this does not explain
why certain ideas were selected for emphasis. When a modern scholar
looks at the relation of these ideas to the historical situation in Mecca in
the years from 610 onwards, he sees that they are specially appropriate
and relevant. They are, in fact, dealing with the religious aspect of the
contemporary economic, social, and political tensions, and are capable
of guiding and directing at all levels men's response to these tensions.
In the sphere of economics, which is fundamental in that it deals with
the things that are necessary for human survival, the important feature of
the age was that Mecca had won control of the caravan trade up the west
coast of Arabia from the Yemen in the south to Damascus and Gaza in
the north. Southwards, the trade-routes continued into Ethiopia and
by the use of the monsoons to India. Northwards, the eastern Roman
empire or Byzantine empire was eager for the products of the Orient.
Perhaps the struggle between the Byzantines and the Persians had
diverted trade from the Persian Gulf to western Arabia. Certainly by 61 o
the trade through Mecca had become very lucrative, the chief entrepreneurs
had become wealthy merchants, and most of the town shared in
the prosperity. This dominant position of Mecca had not been attained
without unscrupulous dealings to discourage merchants from the
Yemen coming to Mecca, while rivals in the neighbouring town of
Ta'if had been forced to submit to Mecca after defeat in battle. By 610
the people of Mecca were gaining their livelihood almost exclusively
through this mercantile economy.
The social tensions present in Mecca about 610 appear to have been
mainly due to the conflict between the attitudes fostered by the new
mercantile economy and the residual attitudes derived from the previous
nomadic economy. Commerce encouraged the acceptance of material
values and an individualistic spirit. The great merchant naturally
thought chiefly about making the largest possible profit for himself.
The capital on which his operations had originally been based had often
been the common property of the clan; but he conveniently forgot this.
He associated with other merchants whom he regarded as useful business
partners, rather than with members of his clan whose business acumen
might be inferior. From the Qur'an it appears that the great merchants,
who were often also heads of clans, were no longer willing to use their
wealth to help the poor and unfortunate among their fellow-clansmen.
This indicates a breaking up of the tribal solidarity which had been a
prominent feature of nomadic society. Nomadic conceptions of honour
hardly applied in the circumstances of commercial life, and so these
merchants could be niggardly and selfish without being exposed to
To this state of affairs the Qur'anic call to generosity and care for the
unfortunate was directly relevant. Nomadic attitudes based on the lex
talionis were still sufficiently strong to ensure the preservation of public
order, that is, the avoidance of homicide, bodily injury, and theft. The
more serious moral problem was thus the care of the unfortunate who
for some reason or other were unable to share in the general prosperity.
Not merely did the Qur'an urge men to show care and concern for the
needy, but in its teaching about the Last Day it asserted the existence of a
sanction applicable to men as individuals in matters where their selfishness
was no longer restrained by nomadic ideas of dishonour.
The teaching of the Qur'an is not so obviously relevant to the internal
politics of Mecca. The tensions here were due to the growth of commerce.
There is no trace of a distinction between aristocrats and
plebeians such as is found elsewhere. Those referred to as 'weak' were
not plebeians but persons without effective protection from a clan.
Nearly all the inhabitants of Mecca belonged to the tribe of Quraysh,
and acknowledged a common ancestry. The tribe was divided into clans
which varied in importance, partly according to numbers, and partly
according to the degree of success or failure in commercial ventures.
The leading men of the more powerful clans were great merchants who
had gained a monopolistic hold over some aspects of the trade of Mecca.
Muhammad's clan, that of Hashim, had failed to maintain a place among
the leaders, but had become head of a league of less strong clans which
opposed the monopolists. Because Qur'anic teaching was directed
against the monopolists or great merchants, the clan of Hashim, though
mostly not approving of Muhammad's religion, was willing for several
years to give him full support against the great merchants who were
hostile to his movement.
In the external politics of Mecca the dominant fact was the titanic
struggle between the Byzantine and Persian empires which had already
lasted for nearly half a century when Muhammad began to preach.
Meccan trade dictated a policy of neutrality, for it connected the Persianheld
Yemen in the south with Byzantine Syria in the north, and had also
links with 'Iraq, the effective centre of the Persian empire, and with
Ethiopia, friendly to the Byzantines. The Byzantines and Ethiopians
were definitely Christian; the Persian empire was officially Zoroastrian,
but it seems also to have given some support to Judaism, while there was
a strong element of Nestorian Christianity, which was bitterly hostile to
the forms of Christianity prevailing in the Byzantine and Ethiopian
empires. Thus it would have been difficult for the Meccans to maintain
political neutrality, had they adopted any of these forms of monotheism.
The Qur'an offered the Arabs a monotheism comparable to Judaism and
Christianity but without their political ties. This may be described as the
external political relevance of Muhammad's claim to be the messenger of
One may also speak of a specifically religious aspect in the malaise of
Mecca about 610. Material prosperity had led to an excessive valuation
of wealth and power and to a belief that human planning could achieve
almost anything. The great merchants were chiefly affected, but similar
attitudes were found among those who were dependent on them or who
tried to copy them. Against this the Qur'an insisted on the omnipotence
of God and his punishment of evildoers, including wealthy men
who refuse to help the needy; this punishment might be either in this
world, or in the life to come, or in both. The nomadic Arabs had believed
that human planning was overruled not by a deity but by the operation
of an impersonal Time or Fate; but the Qur'an combated any residue of
this belief among its hearers by insisting that God was not only allpowerful
but also good and merciful. All the people of Mecca were
called on to worship God, the Lord of their Ka'ba or sanctuary, in
gratitude to him for their prosperity (Sura 106). This was essentially a
call to acknowledge that human life was determined by a power which
was fundamentally benevolent.
Since the teaching of the earlier passages of the Qur'an was thus
relevant to the situation in Mecca about 610, it is not surprising to find
that those who accepted this teaching and professed themselves followers
of Muhammad were men who had been affected in particular ways by
that situation. Three groups may be distinguished among the early
Muslims. Firstly, there were younger brothers and sons of the great
merchants themselves; secondly, there were more important men from
clans which had fallen out of the first rank or failed to attain it; and
thirdly, there were a few reckoned 'weak'—mostly foreigners who had
not found any clan willing to give them effective protection. No doubt
all these men followed Muhammad because they thought the teaching of
the Qur'an was true. When we look at the facts as external observers,
however, we note that all three groups had suffered in some way from
the selfishness and unscrupulous dealing of the great merchants, and had
therefore presumably seen in the ideas of the Qur'an a possible way out
of their tensions and troubles. Muhammad himself as a posthumous
child, unable by Arab custom to receive any of his father's property, and
yet aware of his great administrative ability, must have been specially
conscious of the unenviable position of those excluded from the inner
circle of great merchants. Muhammad must have experienced great
hardship until, when he was twenty-five, a wealthy woman, Khadlja,
first employed him as steward of her merchandise and then married him.
After his marriage he was in comfortable circumstances, but the memory
of the early years of hardship doubtless remained with him.

Despite the initial successes of Muhammad's religious movement it did
not gain the support of any of the great merchants. Two reasons may be
suggested for their coolness and subsequent hostility. They may have
felt that Muhammad was criticizing business practices which they
deemed essential to the successful conduct of commercial operations,
and more generally may have resented the Qur'anic attitude to the
values by which they lived. In the second place they may have felt that
Muhammad's claim to receive messages from God would make
ordinary people think he had a superior wisdom, so that, should he ever
aspire to become ruler of Mecca, he would have much popular support.
Whatever thoughts may have been most prominent in the minds of
particular men, the great merchants as a whole certainly came to be
opposed to Muhammad. They tried to come to some arrangement
with him; if he would abandon his preaching, he would be admitted into
the inner circle of merchants, and his position there established by an
advantageous marriage; but Muhammad would have none of this. They
tried to get the clan of Hashim to bring pressure to bear on him to stop
preaching; but honour, perhaps combined with interest in opposing
monopolies, led the chief of the clan, his uncle Abu Talib, to continue to
give him support. Even when the whole clan of Hashim was subjected
to a kind of boycott, it went on supporting Muhammad.
The hostility between Muhammad and the great merchants became an
open breach after the incident of the' satanic verses'. This incident is so
strange that it cannot be sheer invention, though the motives alleged
may have been altered by the story-tellers. The Qur'an (22. 5 2/1) implies
that on at least one occasion ' Satan had interposed' something in the
revelation Muhammad received, and this probably refers to the incident
to be described. The story is that, while Muhammad was hoping for
some accommodation with the great merchants, he received a revelation
mentioning the goddesses al-Lat, al-'Uzza, and Manat (53. 19, 20 as now
found), but continuing with other two (or three) verses sanctioning
intercession to these deities. At some later date Muhammad received a
further revelation abrogating the latter verses, but retaining the names
of the goddesses, and saying it was unfair that God should have only
daughters while human beings had sons.
It is impossible that any later Muslim could have depicted Muhammad
as thus appearing to tolerate polytheism. The deities mentioned were
specially connected with shrines at Ta'if and two other spots in the region
of Mecca. The Arabic phrase' daughters of God' {bandt Allah), which is
sometimes used, expressed only an abstract relationship and means
something like ' divine or semi-divine beings'; there is no suggestion of
families of gods and goddesses as in Greek mythology. Presumably
Muhammad, in accepting worship at these shrines on the basis of the
'satanic verses', thought of it as addressed to some kind of angelic
being subordinate to God. He may not originally have regarded the
permission to worship at these shrines as a compromise; but in the
course of time he must have come to realize that toleration of such worship
was bound to jeopardize the important aspects of his teaching, and
make his n?.w religion indistinguishable from paganism.
After the revelation abrogating the 'satanic verses' the breach
between Muhammad and the great merchants was an open one. It seems
unlikely that the merchants themselves had any profound belief in the
old pagan religion, but they were prepared to make use of its remaining
influence over the common people, for example, by carrying images of
al-Lat and al-'Uzza into battle against the Muslims at Uhud. The
Qur'an, on the other hand, vigorously attacks polytheism; sometimes it
allows a supernatural reality short of divinity to the beings worshipped
but holds that they will repudiate their worshippers, while at other times
it asserts that they are merely names to which no reality corresponds.
From this time onwards the insistence that God is one and unique is
characteristic of Islam.
From the refutations in the Qur'an we can also learn some of the
arguments used by the opponents to discredit Muhammad. They
thought that in pointing to mouldering bodies they had a good argument
against resurrection and judgment; but the Qur'an counters by emphasizing
that it is God who creates man in the first place 'when he is
nothing', and that it is no more difficult to restore life to what is left of
his body. The opponents also made attacks on Muhammad personally:
he was too unimportant a person to be a messenger from God; his
alleged revelations were communicated to him by a human assistant; his
teaching was an innovation and a departure from ancestral custom—and
this latter was a very serious fault in Arab eyes. Sometimes the Qur'an
denied the charges outright. In a sense, however, its more general reply
was in its frequent references to former prophets, biblical and other.
These stories and allusions helped to create the image of a noble spiritual
ancestry for Muhammad and the Muslims.
In addition to the verbal criticisms, there was a certain amount of
physical persecution. The extent of this is difficult to determine.
Because of the lex talionis and the clan system there was little that even
the most powerful man could do against a member of another clan, so
long as the latter's clan was ready to protect him. Sharp business practices,
of course, were outside the purview of the lex talionis; and the great
merchants doubtless brought about the commercial ruin of any merchant
who openly supported Muhammad. They had also much power within
the clan, and some young relatives of the leading merchants suffered
considerably at their hands. The 'weak' persons without clan protection
were most vulnerable, and there are stories of the hardships they
underwent. Muhammad himself, at least until about 619, was protected
by his clan, and only met with minor insults, such as having garbage
dumped at his door. At a comparatively early date a number of
Muhammad's followers are said to have gone to Abyssinia to avoid
persecution; but since some of these stayed on until 628 they may have
had other motives.
The situation changed for the worse about 619 with the death of
Abu Talib, Muhammad's uncle and chief of the clan of Hashim. He was
succeeded as chief of the clan by another uncle, Abu Lahab, who was
prospering commercially, and had close business relationships with some
of the great merchants. These induced Abu Lahab to get Muhammad
to admit that his grandfather as a pagan was in hell; and Abu Lahab
seems to have made this disrespect towards a former chief of the clan
the ground for denying full clan protection. The sources tend to pass
over this feature, which later members of Hashim would regard as
disgraceful, but it is implicit in other statements in the sources.
Presumably at first Abu Lahab merely threatened to withdraw
protection from Muhammad if he went on preaching his religion. We
hear of Muhammad making approaches to various nomadic tribes,
and then visiting the town of Ta'if in hopes, it would seem, of
finding a base there. This visit was a disastrous failure, and on his
return Muhammad was unable to enter Mecca until he found the chief
of another clan willing to give him protection. The outlook for
Muhammad and the Muslims was extremely gloomy when, at the
Pilgrimage in the summer of 620, he met six men from Medina (Yathrib)
who began to discuss the possibility of his going there.
Medina is a fertile oasis, somewhat more than two hundred miles north
of Mecca. The inhabitants were mainly pagan Arabs, but there were
also a number of Jews. The Jews probably differed little racially and
culturally from their Arab neighbours, and were only marked off by
religion. They seem to have pioneered the agricultural development of
the oasis, and for a time had been dominant politically, but now were
declining in power. The Jews were divided into three major clans and
some minor groups; eight large clans are distinguished among the
Arabs, but some of these had important subdivisions.
For nearly a hundred years before 620 there had been fighting in the
oasis. At first it had been between single clans; then clans had joined
together in ever larger groups. The Jewish clans combined with the
others, and were sometimes on opposing sides. Finally, about 618,
there had been a great battle at a spot called Bu'ath, in which nearly all
the clans of the oasis had been involved. In this battle there had been
heavy slaughter, and, though the fighting had ceased, there had been no
agreement about the resulting claims for blood, or blood-money. It was
becoming obvious that the conception of the blood-feud and the lex
talionis, though useful for maintaining a degree of public order in desert
conditions, were unworkable in the confined space of an oasis unless
there was one man with authority to adjudicate in disputed cases. One
of the most powerful men in the oasis, 'Abd Allah b. Ubayy, had along
with his clan remained neutral at Bu'ath, presumably in the hope of
becoming such an adjudicator acceptable to all. It was said that, but for
the arrival of Muhammad, he would have become prince of Medina.
Contact with the Jews had familiarized the Arabs of Medina with the
conception of an inspired religious leader, perhaps even with the
expectation of a Messiah. Thus among the six men who met Muhammad
in 620 there would be a degree of readiness to accept his claims at the
religious level. At the same time they could not but be aware that a
neutral outsider to Medina like Muhammad, with authority based on
religious claims, would be in a better position to act as impartial arbiter
than any inhabitant of Medina. The six were so impressed by
Muhammad that at the Pilgrimage of 621 five of them came back to
Mecca with seven others to have further discussions with Muhammad.
The twelve represented the most important clans, and expressed their
readiness to accept Muhammad as prophet and to avoid certain sins.
This is known as the First Pledge of al-'Aqaba.
Muhammad must have been delighted, but after his failure at Ta'if
he proceeded with care and circumspection. He sent an agent to Medina,
ostensibly to instruct the people of Medina in his religion, but presumably
also to observe at first hand the internal politics of the community.
Things went well, however, and at the Pilgrimage of June 622 seventyfive
persons came to Mecca, and not merely repeated the former promise,
but also pledged themselves to fight on behalf of Muhammad. This was
the Second Pledge of al-'Aqaba or the Pledge of War. Relying on this
support from Medina, Muhammad began to encourage his followers in
Mecca to emigrate, and they set out in small parties, possibly unnoticed
by the great merchants of Mecca. By September about seventy had
reached Medina and been given hospitality by Muhammad's supporters
there. None willing to make the journey remained in Mecca apart from
Muhammad, Abu Bakr, his chief adviser, and 'All, his cousin and son-inlaw,
together with their families.
One need not believe all the stories which have grown round
Muhammad's own emigration, or Hijra—the word means primarily a
severing of relationships. His opponents may tardily have realized what
was afoot. It is likely, however, that he was still safe so long as he
remained in Mecca and kept quiet. The danger would be during the
course of the journey, after he had abandoned whatever protection he had
in Mecca by leaving the town, and before he reached Medina and the
protection pledged to him there. He therefore slipped away by night,
leaving 'All sleeping on his bed. Along with Abu Bakr he hid for three
days in a cave near Mecca. Then, after the Meccan pursuers had wearied,
the two of them with a servant and a camel-man made their way by
little-used routes to Medina. After about nine days' travelling they
reached the outskirts of the oasis of Medina on 24 September 622. This
is the Hijra which is the basis of Islamic chronology, but reckoning
commences with the first day of the Arab year in which the emigration
took place, viz. 16 July 622.
A document, sometimes called the Constitution of Medina, has been
preserved in the earliest life of Muhammad. In the form in which we have
it, this document seems to be conflated from two or more separate
documents, and to be not earlier than the year 5/627. Yet presumably
there was some such agreement when Muhammad went to Medina, and
this is doubtless reflected in the present form of the document. In
essentials the Constitution establishes a kind of alliance or federation
between nine different groups, eight clans from Medina and the 'clan'
of Emigrants {Muhdjiriin) from the Quraysh of Mecca. It is presupposed
that all these groups have accepted Muhammad as the messenger of God.
Some non-Muslim groups, Jews or pagans, have a subordinate place in
the federation as allies of the main participants. Apart from having his
religious claims recognized, Muhammad simply functions as head of one
of the nine groups and has no special power or authority, except that
disputes endangering the peace of the oasis are to be referred to him.
He was thus far from being ruler of the new polity set up at Medina.
The occidental conception of a religious leader would suggest that,
when Muhammad and his Meccan followers went to Medina, they
would settle down to earn their living by honest hard work as lawabiding
citizens. A consideration of how Muhammad might have
expected his followers to gain a livelihood indicates that he had very
different ones. The oasis had numerous palm-trees and grew some cereal
crops, and there was still some land capable of being made fertile; but it
seems most unlikely that Muhammad expected his followers to become
agriculturalists. He cannot have intended that they should permanently
depend on the hospitality of the Muslims of Medina. Such skill as they
had was chiefly in commerce, but, if they organized long-distance
caravans to Syria, they were bound to come into conflict with the
Meccans. It is hard to resist the conclusion that, perhaps even before the
Hijra, Muhammad realized that fighting against the Meccans was
inevitable. He may not have said much about this, however, to the
Muslims of Medina.
The assumption that Muhammad deliberately moved towards open
hostility with the Meccans explains what became a feature of the
Medinan period of his career, viz. the sending out of expeditions. The
raid or razzia (Ar. gba^wa, etc., pi. magha^i) was a normal occupation of
the nomadic Arab male, indeed almost a kind of sport. A common aim
was the carrying off of the sheep or camels of rival groups. Severe
fighting was usually avoided, for the favourite tactic was to pounce
unexpectedly on an isolated party of herdsmen with force so overwhelming
that resistance was pointless. After some six months in
Medina, Muhammad began to send out razzias with the special aim of
intercepting and capturing Meccan caravans on the way to or from Syria.
None of the first expeditions was successful in this primary aim, but they
managed to establish friendly relations between the Muslims and
nomadic tribes already in alliance with some of the clans of Medina. The
reason for the failures was probably that Muhammad's opponents in
Medina alerted the Meccans.
Eventually about Rajab 2/January 624 Muhammad sent out an
expedition of a dozen men or less with sealed orders; in this way there
was no chance of their destination being betrayed to the enemy. They
set off eastwards, and only opened their orders after a day's march. To
the dismay of one or two of them, they found that they were expected to
go south to the neighbourhood of Mecca and intercept a caravan
approaching Mecca from the Yemen. The most likely version of what
subsequently happened is that the party of Muslims, pretending to be
pilgrims, fraternized with the four guards of the caravan they hoped to
attack. This was easy because they were still in the sacred month, when
bloodshed was forbidden; but it became apparent that the caravan would
enter the sacred territory of Mecca before the end of the month, and the
would-be attackers were therefore in a dilemma—unless they gave up
their plan, they must violate either the sacred month or the sacred territory.
They decided to act during the sacred month, and quickly over-
powered the guards, killing one and taking two prisoners. They seem to
have had no difficulty in reaching Medina with the captured caravan and
the prisoners.
Muhammad appeared to be surprised at some of the reactions in
Medina to this event. There was delight among the Emigrants and
some of the Muslims of Medina at this first success after a run of failures.
Others, however, expressed dismay at the profanation of the sacred
month, and Muhammad is said to have hesitated before acknowledging
the raid by accepting a fifth of the booty (which came to be recognized as
the appropriate share for him). Doubtless the dismay was due not so
much to the breaking of the taboo on bloodshed (which was really pagan,
though later ascribed to God by the Qur'an), as to the dangers from the
Meccans seeking blood-revenge. A revelation was received (2. 217/4) to
the effect that, while fighting in the sacred month was sinful, the persecution
of the Muslims by the pagan Meccans had been even more sinful.
This was followed by a general acknowledgment of the raid to Nakhla,
as it was called, together with readiness to accept the consequences.
Muhammad may well have foreseen that many of the Muslims of
Medina would hesitate before deliberately incurring the active hostility
of the Meccans, but he must have judged that the time was now opportune
to go ahead with his plans, and gently to push his more reluctant,
and perhaps nominal, followers into full support of his policy. About
the same time other important decisions were made. Up to this point it
was probably only Meccan Emigrants who had taken part in the razzias
from Medina; but about this time one of the leading men of Medina,
Sa'd b. Mu'adh (reckoned head of the group of clans constituting the
'tribe' of the Aws), decided to support Muhammad to the extent of
taking part in razzias. It was doubtless this decision by Sa'd which made
it possible for Muhammad to contemplate more active operations against
the Meccans, and notably the raid which led to the battle of Badr.
About the same time another change in policy was made. Before he
went to Medina and during the early months there Muhammad had
shown himself anxious to be accepted as a prophet by the Jews of
Medina. From the first, it would seem, he had regarded the message he
had to convey to the Arabs as identical with that brought to the Jews by
Moses and to the Christians by Jesus; and he naturally supposed that the
Jews of Medina would welcome him gladly and recognize him as a
prophet, at least to the Arabs. Many of the Jews, however, had close
links with 'Abd Allah b. Ubayy, the potential prince of Medina, and may
have hoped to increase their influence if he became ruler. Besides that,
Jews would normally be unwilling to admit that a non-Jew could be a
prophet. So instead of welcoming Muhammad to Medina, they began to
criticize. Since they were able to say, for example, that some passages in
the Qur'an contradicted their own ancient scriptures, they were in a
position to make some men doubt whether Muhammad was a prophet
receiving messages from God; and such doubts threatened Muhammad's
whole religious movement.
The Qur'an met these intellectual criticisms by developing the conception
of the religion of Abraham. While the knowledge of Abraham
came from the Old Testament and material based on that, Abraham
could be regarded as the ancestor of the Arabs through Ishmael. It was
also an undeniable fact that he was not a Jew or a Christian, since the
Jews are either to be taken as the followers of Moses or as the descendants
of Abraham's grandson, Jacob. At the same time Abraham had stood
for the worship of God alone. The Qur'an therefore claimed that it was
restoring the pure monotheism of Abraham which had been corrupted
in various, not clearly specified, ways by Jews and Christians.
On 15 Safar 2/11 February 624 an event is said to have taken place
which symbolized the Muslims' break with the Jews. Muhammad was
conducting the prayers or worship in a place of prayer belonging to the
clan of Salima. They began all facing Jerusalem as had been customary;
and this itself was a mark of Muhammad's desire to be accepted by the
Jews. As they prayed, however, he received a revelation bidding him
take Mecca as his qibla, that is, face in the direction of Mecca; and he and
those praying with him at once turned round. This break with the Jews
meant that from this time onwards no attempt was made to win them by
the acceptance of Jewish practices. On the contrary, Islam was now
developed as a separate religion, superior to Judaism and Christianity,
and specially connected with the Arabs and Mecca. What appears to be
chiefly a religious decision probably also had political aspects. It seems
to be closely bound up with the decision to rely on the support of Sa'd
b. Mu'adh and dispense with that of'Abd Allah b. Ubayy; the latter was
in alliance with some of the Jewish clans, whereas there are traces of
anti-Jewish feelings among some of the associates of Sa'd.
The Meccans must have been infuriated at the capture of their caravan
almost from under their noses, as it were. The prestige and honour of
Mecca required a clear demonstration that such things could not be
done with impunity. The various changes of policy at Medina in the two
months after the expedition of Nakhla amounted to a reaffirmation of
what was implicit in that razzia, namely, a throwing down of the
gauntlet to the Meccans. In consequence it is not surprising that
Muhammad and the Muslims stepped up the scale of their operations.
About a month after the change of qibla, it became known that a
large and rich Meccan caravan was to pass near Medina on its return
from Gaza. There were said to be a thousand camels and merchandise
worth 50,000 dinars. Muhammad decided on a razzia to intercept this
caravan, and with the help of Sa'd b. Mu'adh was able to collect a force of
about 320 men, of whom just over a quarter were Emigrants and nearly
three-quarters Muslims of Medina, who came to be known as Ansdr, or
Helpers. The raiding party set out in good time, some five days before
the caravan was due to pass Badr, the point at which its route lay closest
to Medina. The leader of the caravan, Abu Sufyan, however, was aware
of the threat, and by forced marches and a slight change of route eluded
the Muslims. Meanwhile a force of perhaps 900 men had been collected
in Mecca and had marched north to protect the caravan.
According to the usual Arab ideas, a force of 300 men would never
have thought of attacking a force of 900; it would have tried to avoid the
superior force, yet without giving the impression of running away from
it; and in normal circumstances even the 900 might not have felt their
superiority sufficiently overwhelming to justify an attack on 300. The
Meccan commander, Abu Jahl, however, was bent on teaching a lesson
to the impudent upstarts in Medina, and did not immediately return
home on hearing that the caravan was safe. Muhammad, for his part,
having got the Ansdr to come so far, may have wanted to see them more
fully committed, and Sa'd b. Mu'adh may have acquiesced in this. What
is certain is that both forces found themselves in a position from which
honour made it impossible to withdraw without fighting. The Muslims
had occupied the wells of Badr and, when they learnt of the proximity of
the enemy, stopped up all the wells except the one nearest the enemy.
The Meccans, hidden for a time behind a hill, would have been disgraced
if they had not made an effort to get water. So on 19 Ramadan 2/15 March
624 a battle took place.
Little can be said about the course of the battle except that it began
with single combats. The result was complete victory for the Muslims.
Some fifty or more of the Meccans were killed, and nearly seventy taken
prisoner. The dead included Abu Jahl and at least a dozen of the leading
men of Mecca, whose administrative and commercial skills could hardly
be replaced. The Muslims, on the other hand, had only fourteen dead.
The chief reason for the victory was doubtless the greater confidence of
the Muslims as a result of their religious faith, though it has been
suggested that the agriculturalists of Medina were physically stronger
than the townsmen of Mecca. There was much booty, which was
divided equally among the participants, but the ransoms accepted for
most of the prisoners usually went to the individual captor.
The significance of Badr is both political and religious. Politically, it
made it clear that Muhammad was a serious threat to Mecca. Meccan
prestige was greatly diminished by the defeat even though the numbers
involved in the battle had been relatively small. The potential threat to
Meccan commerce was also considerable. Thus the Meccans were
bound to exert all their strength to destroy Muhammad, or at the very
least to drive him out of Medina. On the political level, then, the events
of the next few years may be understood as the Meccan effort to meet the
challenge from Muhammad to their very existence as a commercial state.
On the religious side, again, the victory of Badr appeared to Muhammad
and the Muslims as God's vindication of their cause after all the hardships
they had undergone, and as a proof of the truth of Muhammad's mission.
After the battle of Badr, Muhammad doubtless realized that the
Meccans would prosecute the war against him more vigorously, and did
what he could to consolidate his position in Medina. There were three
political assassinations of persons who had used their poetical gifts in
the war of ideas against him, and, while he may not have encouraged or
even connived at these acts, he did not in any way punish the perpetrators.
A few weeks after Badr he took advantage of a quarrel
between Muslims and some Jews of the clan of Qaynuqa' to besiege the
clan in their forts or keeps. After fifteen days, when their ally 'Abd
Allah b. Ubayy had proved unable to help them, they surrendered and
were expelled from Medina. They had been armourers and goldsmiths,
besides conducting a local market; the Emigrants probably took over
the market activities, while the arms and metal-working tools which
they had to leave behind would benefit all the Muslims. The incident as
a whole is in line with the new complex of policies associated with the
'break with the Jews'.
At Mecca everyone had been stunned at the magnitude of the loss of
life. Abu Sufyan, who had commanded the caravan, took the lead in
rallying the spirits of the Meccans and setting about the repair of the
damage. Ten weeks after Badr he led 200 men in a ra2zia into the
Medinan oasis—a typical nomadic Arab gesture—but after burning a
couple of houses retired before Muhammad could intercept him. To
avoid dissipating Meccan energies, Abu Sufyan allowed no caravans to
go to Syria; and one which attempted to reach Iraq in Jumada II 3/
November 624 was captured by the Muslims. Nevertheless by March 625
Abu Sufyan had collected a force of 3,000 'infantry' with a camel each,
and 200 cavalry, and set out for Medina. They reached Medina in ten
days, and entered the oasis from the north-west, camping with the hill of
Uhud a little to the north, and the main settlements rather farther to the
Muhammad was forced to fight, rather against his will, by the fact that
the Meccan horses were eating or trampling down some of the cereal
crops near the camp. By a night march, he was able to take up a strong
position on the lower slopes of the hill of Uhud. At the last moment
'Abd Allah b. Ubayy and his followers withdrew, leaving Muhammad
with only about 700 men. The battle began on the morning of 7
Shawwal 3/23 March 625. The main Meccan force advanced on the
Muslims, but was soon thrown back in disorder. Meanwhile, however,
the Meccan cavalry (commanded by Khalid b. al-Walid) took advantage
of some disarray among the advancing Muslims to launch a flank attack.
One party of Muslims tried to reach the nearest forts to the south, but
was mostly cut down. Muhammad, though he received a wound, was
able to withdraw most of his men to their original position on Uhud,
where they were safe from the cavalry. Perhaps to the surprise of the
Muslims, the Meccans now slowly collected their forces, and marched
away along the road to Mecca.
The battle of Uhud has sometimes been presented by occidental
scholars as a serious defeat for the Muslims. This is certainly not so. It is
indeed true that some seventy-five Muslims had been killed as against
twenty-seven Meccans; but this barely gave the Meccans a life for a life
when the losses at Badr are added, whereas they had boasted they would
make the Muslims pay several times over. More important, they had
completely failed in their strategic aim of destroying Muhammad. That
they withdrew when they did was an admission of weakness. For
Muhammad, then, though the loss of life was serious, the military result
was not altogether unsatisfactory; the supremacy of his infantry had been
clearly demonstrated. For him and the Muslims, however, the battle
had also a religious aspect. They had regarded the victory of Badr as
given to them by God in sign of his approval; and they had come to
think of themselves as, with God's help, virtually invincible. The
question for the Muslims was: had their view of Badr been correct, and
was God really supporting them, for, if he were, how could he allow them
to suffer such a misfortune ?
The religious problem was solved by a revelation (3.15 2/45 f.) blaming
the reverse on the Muslims' disobedience and desire for booty. In other
ways Muhammad went on steadily consolidating his strength. Razzias
in various directions made the nomads realize that Muhammad could
not be trifled with, though two small expeditions ended in disaster
through treachery or an ambush. Some of the razzias brought in booty,
and this attracted other nomads to become followers of Muhammad and
share in the razzias. In Rabi' I 4/August 625 a second Jewish clan was
expelled, al-Nadir, which owned numerous palm-trees. While these
events were taking place a new Islamic conception of the family was
developing. To provide for the widows made by Uhud, Muslim men
were encouraged to take up to four wives. This appears to have replaced
not monogamy, but various marital arrangements based on matrilineal
kinship, and often involving polyandry. Thus in various ways the
strength of Muhammad and his community grew in the two years
following Uhud.
These two years had been spent by the Meccans in preparations for a
supreme effort to destroy the Muslims. Abu Sufyan had no longer an
undisputed position of command, and some dissension among the leaders
did not help their war effort. Nevertheless, by arming as many as
possible of themselves and their immediate confederates, and by using
various inducements to interest nomadic tribes in the expedition, they
managed to collect from 7,000 to 10,000 men, including 600 cavalry. To
meet this large force, Muhammad had only about 3,000 men and no
more than a dozen or two horses. His infantry would no doubt be more
than a match for the opponents, but their cavalry was a serious threat.
To counter it he employed a device said to have been suggested by a
Persian convert, namely, the digging of a trench, or khandaq, across the
open part of the north side of the oasis—the other sides were protected by
lava flows. Muhammad also saw to it that the cereal crops in the region
to the north of the trench were harvested in good time.
The Meccans and their confederates reached Medina on 8 Dhu'l-
Qa'da 5/31 March 627, and began what was in effect a siege. The trench
proved an effective barrier to the Meccan cavalry. A few managed to
cross, but the defenders were able to concentrate in sufficient numbers to
thrust them back with loss. A siege was outside the normal tradition of
Arab fighting, and the men soon became restive. Intrigues between the
different groups, skilfully fomented by Muhammad's agents, lowered
morale further, and, when the weather became exceptionally cold and
there was a severe storm of wind, the vast confederacy faded away
overnight. The siege had lasted about a fortnight. The remaining large
Jewish group in Medina, the clan of Quray?a, had been overtly correct in
its behaviour during the siege, but had almost certainly been in contact
with the enemy, and would have attacked Muhammad in the rear had
there been an opportunity. As soon as the Meccans had departed,
Muhammad attacked this clan in their forts. When they eventually
surrendered, the men were all killed, and the women and children sold.
In Arab eyes this was not barbarous but a mark of strength, since it
showed that the Muslims were not afraid of blood reprisals.
The failure of the siege was a great victory for Muhammad. The
Meccans had committed all their resources to this effort to dislodge or
destroy him, and there was no more they could do. Their prestige was
gone, and their trade with Syria virtually ruined by the Muslim attacks.
Some began to wonder whether they might not have a brighter future as
followers of Muhammad and his religion.
Long before the siege of Medina, Muhammad may have pondered future
possibilities. After the siege these could be discerned more clearly, and
he must have begun to take the decisions which shaped the future course
of his own career, and indeed of the Muslim community after his death.
Once again, however, we find religion and politics intermingled in a
way which it is difficult for an occidental to understand. Muhammad
thought of himself as a 'messenger of God' and as one sent specially to
the Arabs. Thus he had a religious motive for summoning men to
acknowledge God throughout Arabia. After the siege of Medina,
however, he had also great political power. Just before the siege 'Abd
Allah b. Ubayy and other opponents attacked him through an incident
which seemed to involve his wife 'A'isha (daughter of Abu Bakr) in
scandal, but when it came to a showdown it was evident that they were
now relatively weak. After the siege, for several years there is no
mention of any opposition in Medina. Thus Muhammad was head of
what was in some sense a state, even though it had an unusual form of
polity; and many nomads and townsmen doubtless attached themselves
to this state for 'political' or non-religious reasons, such as desire for
After the siege it was not unreasonable for Muhammad to expect that a
large proportion of the Arabs would accept his religion and become his
followers. He naturally assumed that his followers would live at peace
with one another; but, since much of the energy of the Arabs was
expended on razzias against other tribes, an alternative outlet for this
energy had to be found. This was already to hand in the conception of
the. jihad or 'holy war', which was basically a razzia, might include the
capturing of booty, but had to be against non-Muslims and came to an
end with the opponents' profession of Islam. In the new perspective
after the failure of the siege, it cannot have been too difficult to see that in
a few years' time there might be few non-Muslims left in Arabia, and
that therefore the jihad would have to be directed outside Arabia into
Iraq and Syria. It may also have been apparent to Muhammad that
large-scale operations would be involved, requiring men with administrative
abilities. The obvious source of such men was Mecca, where
there had been experience of large commercial undertakings.
Certainly from about the time of the siege, Muhammad's aim ceased to
be the destruction of the Meccans. He did all he could to avoid antagonizing
them further, and instead tried to win them to his side. He continued
to harry their trade with Syria, but made no preparations for a
direct assault on Mecca. He also strengthened himself by alliances with
various nomadic tribes. In Dhu'l-Qa'da 6/spring 628, presumably to
show his power to the Meccans and also his good will, and to test their
feeling, he decided to perform the Lesser Pilgrimage or 'Umra. He was
disappointed in the response of the nomadic allies, but was able to set out
with about 1,500 townsmen and animals for slaughter. The Meccans
stopped him, however, on the edge of the sacred territory of Mecca at a
spot called al-Hudaybiya. Here, after days of parleying, a treaty was
signed. The Muslims were not to be allowed to enter Mecca in this year,
but it would be evacuated for them for three days in the following year.
There were also provisions about allies and about minors adhering to
The mere signing of a treaty as an equal was a triumph for Muhammad.
His followers, who had perhaps been disappointed of booty, were led
on a successful expedition a month or two later against the Jews of the
oasis of Khaybar, and the capture of Khaybar may be said to have
inaugurated the Islamic empire in that the inhabitants were allowed to go
on cultivating their lands, provided they gave a proportion of the fruits
to the Muslims. In the following year, Muhammad and his followers
made the Pilgrimage as arranged, and no doubt impressed the Meccans
by their orderliness. The treaty, though superficially more favourable to
the Meccans, allowed the attraction of the Islamic religion and the
material inducements of the jihad to build up the strength of Muhammad's
When an incident between allies of the two sides strained relations to
breaking-point, Muhammad was ready to act effectively. Abu Sufyan,
probably relying on Muhammad's marriage to a daughter of his (herself
a Muslim and widow of a Muslim), headed a deputation to Medina
seeking some compromise over the incident, but Muhammad persuaded
him to work for the peaceful surrender of Mecca; this is not clear in the
sources because they are mostly biased against Abu Sufyan as the
ancestor of the Umayyad caliphs. Next, Muhammad with a measure of
secrecy quickly collected 10,000 men and set out for Mecca. The
Meccans were overawed. Abu Sufyan was able to lead out a deputation
to make a formal submission. Muhammad agreed that all who claimed
Abu Sufyan's protection, or closed their houses and remained indoors,
should be unmolested. His troops then entered Mecca in four columns,
of which only one met resistance; but that was soon overcome. Two
Muslims died, and twenty-eight on the Meccan side. Thus virtually
without bloodshed Muhammad entered his native town in triumph.
The date was about 20 Ramadan 8/11 January 630.
Muhammad remained in Mecca from two to three weeks, making
arrangements for the future administration of the town and the surrounding
region. Of a dozen or so persons specifically excluded from the
general amnesty, several were pardoned. Muhammad's treatment of
the Meccans as a whole was so generous that, when a new danger
threatening them all appeared in the east, 2,000 of them joined his army
as he marched out to deal with the situation.

The danger came from Hawazin, a group of tribes with which was
associated Thaqif, the tribe inhabiting Ta'if. It is not clear whether their
concentration at Hunayn, an unidentified spot east of Mecca, was aimed
primarily against the Muslims or against the Meccans, or whether the
leaders hoped to take advantage of the confusion after the expected
battle between the two. Whatever the motives of Hawazin, Muhammad
decided to oppose them. They were reputed to have 20,000 men against
his 12,000. The battle was hotly contested, and for a time a large part of
the Muslim army was in flight. Muhammad himself, however, and a
few seasoned veterans of the Emigrants and Helpers stood firm, and
soon the enemy was fleeing in disarray. Their women and children had
been stationed just behind the army, and all these were now captured by
the Muslims, as well as vast spoils. The Muslims attempted to besiege
the Thaqif in Ta'if, but, when it was seen that there would be no speedy
surrender, Muhammad called off the siege. The booty was then divided,
but Hawazin were given their women and children back in return for a
special payment.
The victory of Hunayn meant that, with the exception of tribes on the
frontiers of Syria and Iraq, there was no group of tribes in Arabia capable
of assembling a force sufficiently strong to meet Muhammad with any
prospect of success. In other words he was the strongest man in Arabia.
The Arabs have always admired strength, and there now took place
what may be described as a rush to climb on the band-waggon. Most of
the Arab tribes (with roughly the same exceptions as above) sent deputations
to Medina seeking alliance with Muhammad.
From an early date in the Medinan period, Muhammad had contracted
alliances of different kinds with nomadic tribes. At first some were
merely pacts of non-aggression, since Muhammad was in no position to
give effective help to tribes close to Mecca. As his strength grew,
however, he could both offer more, and also make greater demands in
return for the privilege of alliance with himself. In particular he came to
demand acceptance of Islam, that is, acknowledgment of his own
prophethood, performance of the prayer or worship, and payment of a
kind of tithe, the' legal alms' or %akdt. This was probably required of all
tribes entering into alliance after the treaty of al-Hudaybiya, and
certainly after the conquest of Mecca, though an exception may have
been made of some of the strong tribes in the north-east.
The polity which thus developed out of the 'city-state' of Medina
was, according to Arab ideas, a federation of tribes. This explains why
for over a century after Muhammad's death non-Arabs on becoming
Muslims had to be attached as ' clients' {mawalt) to an Arab tribe. The
polity had also a religious basis in that all the members of the constituent
tribes or clans were supposed to be Muslims; but for a long time this
religious basis seems to have been secondary in the actual functioning of
the polity.
It is impossible to say definitely how much of Arabia was under the
pax Islamica, as the system might be called. The sources report deputations
from most of the tribes, but some deputations may have represented
only a small section of a tribe. Where there were rival factions in a
tribe, one of them would try to steal a march on the other by gaining
Muhammad's support for itself. It seems probable that most of the
tribes in the Hijaz and Najd supported Muhammad in their entirety. On
the Persian Gulf and the south coast, a faction in each place was in alliance
with Muhammad, but this may have been less than half the population.
The tribes towards 'Iraq were in alliance with Muhammad, but may not
have been Muslims, while those on the Syrian frontier still professed
allegiance to the Byzantine empire.
The reason for the position on the east and south coasts was that in
the various towns there Persian influence had kept a pro-Persian faction
in power. About 614 Persia had overrun Syria, Egypt, and other parts
of the Byzantine empire, but Heraclius had fought back with grim
determination and recovered much ground. In February 6z8 the
Persian emperor died, and succession difficulties led in a few years to the
complete collapse of the Persian empire. As the need for support from
some other source became clear to these pro-Persian factions, they seem
to have turned to Muhammad and Islam.
Apart from this development of the polity, a feature of Muhammad's
last years is the reconnaissance and perhaps softening-up of the routes
for expansion beyond Arabia. From the numbers reported as taking part
in his earlier expeditions along the route to Syria, the high importance he
attached to the route may be inferred, though little is said about the
results of the expeditions. Along this route from Rajab to Ramadan
9/October to December 630, Muhammad led the greatest of all his
expeditions, the expedition of Tabuk, allegedly comprising 30,000 men
and 10,000 horses. This can only properly be understood as a preliminary
to the later conquests; and it is also significant that during the
expedition treaties were made with Jewish and Christian communities
which set the pattern for the later dbimml system of the Islamic empire.
What happened along the road to 'Iraq is not so clear. There were
strong tribes there, notably Bakr b. Wa'il and Taghlib, both partly
Christian, and both capable of sending large forces on raids into 'Iraq.
It seems probable that at first Muhammad had alliances with them on
equal terms, that is to say, without insisting that they should become
Muslims. This arrangement secured the presence of Muslims in the
advance into 'Iraq, and gave them an opening for expansion in this
direction, while the conception of the jihad transformed what would
have been tribal raids for booty into a war of conquest.
The continued presence in Arabia of opposition to the pax lslamica
is shown by the so-called 'wars of apostasy' (or ridda) which occupied
most of the caliphate of Abu Bakr. These had begun, however, before
Muhammad's death. Early in 632 or perhaps before that a man called
Musaylima had come forward in the largely Christian tribe of Hanlfa in
the centre of Arabia, claiming to be a prophet and to receive revelations
like Muhammad. About Dhu'l-Hijja 10/March 632 there was another
' prophet' in the Yemen, al-Aswad. The very fact that they claimed to be
prophets is a tribute to the soundness of Muhammad's method of
transcending the tribal system and dealing with contemporary
The last two and a half years of Muhammad's life were thus occupied
in dealing with the vast new problems created by his successes. There
were also difficulties in his family life, and great grief at the death of the
little son borne to him by his Coptic concubine, Mariya. In March 632
he led the Greater Pilgrimage or Hajj to Mecca, and thereby completed
the incorporation into Islam of a complex of pre-Islamic ceremonies.
From this time onwards he was in poor health. He ceased to attend to
business about the beginning of June, retired to 'A'isha's apartment, and
there died on 13 Rabl' 111 /8 June 63 2. Abu Bakr had been appointed to
lead the worship in Muhammad's absence, but otherwise there were no
arrangements for the succession. For a moment it looked as if the
Islamic state might break up, but vigorous action by 'Umar b. al-
Khattab led to the acceptance of Abu Bakr as khalifat Rasii/ Allah,
' successor (or, caliph) of the Messenger of God'.
In attempting to assess what Muhammad achieved, one must take into
account not only the events of his lifetime but also the contribution
made by these events to subsequent history, and indeed their continuing
influence at the present time. In particular one must consider the rapid
expansion of the Arab and Islamic state. From a wide historical perspective,
it is clear that this expansion was made possible by various
factors operative in the world of the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
Two were specially important: firstly, the power-vacuum following the
collapse of the Persian empire and the exhaustion of the Byzantine; and
secondly, the rising tide of feeling against Hellenism and the Byzantine
Greeks among the peoples of Syria, Egypt, and other provinces. These
factors made it certain that, once expansion had begun, it would rapidly
spread over a wide area. These two factors, however, even in conjunction
with the ever-present desire of the nomad for the comforts and
luxuries of the Sown, would not have produced the Arab empire but for
the unification of the Arabs achieved by Muhammad. Such unification
was in no sense inevitable. It only occurred because Muhammad had a
rare combination of gifts.
In the first place he had what might be termed the gifts of a seer. He
was aware of the deep religious roots of the social tensions and malaise at
Mecca, and he produced a set of ideas which, by placing the squabbles of
Mecca in a wider frame, made it possible to resolve them to some degree.
The ideas he proclaimed eventually gave him a position of leadership,
with an authority not based on tribal status but on' religion'. Because of
his position and the nature of his authority, clans and tribes which were
rivals in secular matters could all accept him as leader. This in turn
created a community whose members were all at peace with one another.
To prevent their warlike energies from disrupting the community the
conception of the jihad or 'Holy War' directed these energies outwards
against non-Muslims. Thus internal peace and external expansion were
complementary. Internal peace gave the Arabs the unified army and
unified command needed for effective expansion, while the expansion
was required in order to maintain internal peace.
In working out these ideas in actual events and institutions Muhammad
showed great gifts as a statesman. He had shrewd insight into the
important aspects of any situation, and concentrated on these. He knew
when men were ready to accept a decision if it was imposed on them with
the help of a little pressure from outside. Altogether he gradually
evolved a coherent set of policies, and built up viable institutions which
continued to function after his death.
Another gift was his great tact and charm in the handling of men, and
he was able to smooth over many difficulties among his followers.
Their trust in his judgment in itself removed many tensions. In his
choice of men for various tasks he showed much wisdom, being aware
of the capabilities of each and always ready with the word of encouragement
when needed.
All in all, the rapid Arab expansion, with the ensuing spread of Islam
and growth of Islamic culture, was the outcome of a complex of historical
factors; but the set of ideas and the body of men capable of
giving a unified direction to the expansion would not have existed but
for the unique combination of gifts in Muhammad himself.

ZUHAIB AHMED ODHO......... *******

Last edited by Andrew Dufresne; Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 09:40 PM. Reason: Share contact info through your profile only
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