The Return To Mecca Essay, Research Paper
Early Western Civilization The Return to Mecca, Muhammad and the Beginnings of Islam Muhammad, whose full name was Abu al-Qasim Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn’Abd al-Muttalib ibn Hashim, was born in Mecca around 570 AD after thedeath of his father, ‘Abd Allah. Muhammad was at first under the careof his paternal grandfather, ‘Abd al-Muttalib. Because the climate ofMecca was considered to be unhealthful, he was given as an infant to awet nurse from a nomadic tribe and spent some time in the desert. Atsix, he lost his mother, Aminah of the clan of Zuhra, and at eight hisgrandfather. Though his grandfather had been head of the prestigiousHashem clan and was prominent in Mecca politics, he was probably not theleading man in Mecca as some sources suggest. Muhammad came under thecare of the new head of the clan, his uncle Abu Talib, and is reputed tohave accompanied him on trading journeys to Syria. About 595, on such ajourney, he was in charge of the merchandise of a rich woman, Khadijahof the clan of Asad, and so impressed her that she offered marriage.She is said to have been about 40, but she bore Muhammad at least twosons, who died young, and four daughters. The best known daughter wasFatimah, the wife of Muhammad’s cousin ‘Ali who is regarded asMuhammad’s divinely ordained successor by the Shi’ah branch of Islam.Until Khadijah’s death in 619, Muhammad took no other wife. Themarriage was a turning point in Muhammad’s life. By Arab custom, minorsdid not inherit, and therefore Muhammad had no share in the property ofhis father or grandfather. However, by his marriage he obtainedsufficient capital to engage in mercantile activity on a scalecommensurate with his abilities.Muhammad appears to have been of a reflective turn of mind and is saidto have adopted the habit of occasionally spending nights in a hill cavenear Mecca. The poverty and misfortunes of his early life doubtlessmade him aware of tensions in Meccan society. Mecca, inhabited by thetribe of Quraysh to which the Hashim clan belonged, was a mercantilecenter formed around a sanctuary, the Ka bah, which assured the safetyof those who came to trade at the fairs. In the later 6th century therewas extensive trade by camel caravan between the Yemen and theMediterranean region (Gaza and Damascus), bringing goods from India andEthiopia to the Mediterranean. The great merchants of Mecca hadobtained monopoly control of this trade. Mecca was thus prosperous, butmost of the wealth was in a few hands. Tribal solidarity was breakingup and merchants pursued individual interests and disregarded theirtraditional duties to the unfortunate. About 610, as he reflected onsuch matters, Muhammad had a vision of a majestic being (lateridentified with the angel Gabriel) and heard a voice saying to him, “Youare the Messenger of God. ” This marked the beginning of his career asmessenger of Allah, or Prophet. From this time, at frequent intervalsuntil his death, he received “revelations”; that is, verbal messagesthat he believed came directly from God. Sometimes these were kept inmemory by Muhammad and his followers, and sometimes they were writtendown. About 650 they were collected and written in the Qur`an (orKoran, the sacred scriptures of Islam), in the form that has endured.Muslims believe the Qur`an is divine revelation, written in the words ofGod himself. Muhammad is said to have been perturbed after the vision and firstrevelation but was reassured by his wife, Khadijah. In his laterexperiences of receiving messages, there was normally no vision.Occasionally, there were physical concomitants, such as perspiring on acold day, giving rise to the suggestion, now agreed to be unwarranted,that he was an epileptic. Sometimes he heard a noise like a bell butapparently never a voice. The essence of such an experience was that hefound a verbal message in his heart; that is, in his conscious mind.With the help of Khadijah s Christian cousin Waraqah, he came tointerpret these messages as identical with those sent by God throughother prophets to Jews, Christians, and others. He also came to believethat by the first great vision, and by the receipt of the messages, hewas commissioned to communicate them to his fellow citizens and otherArabs. Along with proclaiming the messages he received, Muhammad musthave offered explanations and expositions of them in his own words, asis evident in the large body of prophetic traditions that the communityhas preserved. Soon he gathered some sympathetic friends who accepted his claim to bea prophet and joined him in common worship and prayers. Theseculminated in an act of prostration in which they touched the groundwith their foreheads in acknowledgment of God s majesty; still acardinal act in Islamic worship. In about 613 Muhammad began preachingpublicly, and he and his followers spent their days together in thehouse of a young man named al-Arqam. It is probable that they sometimesworshipped together in the Ka bah, a sanctuary of the Arab pagans. The people of Mecca at the time worshipped many gods, but few believedthat man was dependent on supernatural powers. The merchants thoughtmost things could be accomplished by wealth and by human planning. Somemen regarded Allah as a “high god” who stood above lesser deities.Allah, the Arabic word for God, is used by Christian Arabs as well as byMuslims. The earliest passages of the Qur`an revealed to Muhammademphasize the goodness and power of God, as seen in nature and in theprosperity of the Meccans, and call on the Meccans to be grateful and toworship “the Lord of the Ka bah,” who is thus identified with God.Gratitude is to be expressed in generosity with one s wealth andavoidance of niggardliness. As a sanction, men are warned that theywill appear before God on the Last Day to be judged according to theirdeeds and assigned to heaven or hell. By proclaiming this message publicly, Muhammad gained followers, saidto be 39, before he entered the house of al-Arqam. The names of 70followers are known prior to the appearance of opposition to the newreligion, and there were probably more. Most were young men under 30when they joined Muhammad. They included sons and brothers of therichest men in Mecca, though they might be described as persons excludedfrom the most lucrative forms of commerce. A handful of Muhammad searly followers were spoken of as “weak,” which merely means that theywere not of the tribe of Quraysh and so not effectively protected by anyclan. The new religion was eventually called Islam, meaning “surrender(to the will of God)”, and its adherents were called Muslims, meaning”those who have surrendered”, though the Qur`an speaks of them primarilyas “the believers. ” Although Muhammad s preaching was basically religious, there wasimplicit in it a critique of the conduct and attitudes of the richmerchants of Mecca. Attempts were made to get him to soften hiscriticism by offering him a fuller share in trade and a marriagealliance with one of the wealthiest families, but he decisively rejectedsuch offers. In about 615, more active opposition appeared. Points inthe message of the Qur`an were questioned, such as the assertion thatmen would be resurrected before the Judgment. Commercial pressure wasbrought to bear on Muhammad s supporters, and in some families there wasmild persecution of junior members who followed him. It is sometimessuggested that the main reason for opposition was the merchants fearthat the new religion would destroy the recognition of the Ka bah as asanctuary, but this is unlikely. Certainly, attacks on idols appearedin the Qur`an, and Islam began to be characterized by the insistencethat “there is no god but God” (Allah). Despite this, no attack wasmade on the Ka bah, and the idols mentioned had their chief shrineselsewhere. A leader of the opposition arose in the person of Abu Jahl who probablyfelt that Muhammad, despite his claim to be “only a warner” of Judgmentto come, was building a position of authority that might one day makehim politically supreme in Mecca. This fear arose from the observationthat Arabs deeply respected the kind of wisdom or knowledge thatMuhammad clearly had. In about 616, Abu Jahl organized a boycott of theclan of Hashim by the chief clans of Mecca, allegedly because the clancontinued to protect Muhammad and did not curb his preaching; but, sincefew of the clan were Muslims, other issues may have been involved.After three years the boycott lost momentum, perhaps because some of theparticipants found they were harming their own economic interests. Both Muhammad s wife, Khadijah, and his uncle Abu Talib died in about619. Another uncle, Abu Lahab, succeeded as head of the clan ofHashim. He was closer to the richest merchants, and at theirinstigation, he withdrew the protection of the clan from Muhammad. Thismeant that Muhammad could easily be attacked and therefore could nolonger propagate his religion in Mecca. He left for the neighboringtown of at-Ta`if, but the inhabitants were insufficiently prepared toreceive his message, and he failed to find support. Having secured theprotection of the head of another clan, he returned to Mecca. In 620,Muhammad began negotiations with clans in Medina, leading to hisemigration, or hijrah, there in 622. It is difficult to assess the nature and extent of the persecution ofthe Muslims in Mecca. There was little physical violence, and that wasusually within the family. Muhammad suffered from minor annoyances,such as having filth deposited outside his door. The persecution issaid to have led to the emigration of some of the Muslims to Ethiopiaabout 615, but they may have been seeking opportunities for trade ormilitary support for Muhammad. Some remained until 628, long afterMuhammad was established in Medina. Whatever the nature of thepersecution, the Muslims were very bitter about it. In the summer of 621, 12 men from Medina, visiting Mecca for the annualpilgrimage to the Ka bah (still a pagan shrine), secretly professedthemselves Muslims to Muhammad and went back to make propaganda for himat Medina. At the pilgrimage in June 622 a representative party of 75persons from Medina, including two women, not merely professed Islam,but also took an oath to defend Muhammad as they would their own kin.These are known as the two Pledges of al- Aqaba. Muhammad nowencouraged his faithful Meccan followers to make their way to Medina insmall groups. The Meccans are said to have plotted to kill Muhammadbefore he could leave. With his chief lieutenant, he slipped awayunperceived, used unfrequented paths, and reached Medina safely onSeptember 24, 622. This is the celebrated hijrah, which may be rendered”emigration,” though the basic meaning is the severing of kinship ties.It is the traditional starting point of Islamic history. The IslamicEra (AH or Anno Hegirae) begins on the first day of the Arabic year inwhich the hijrah took place; July 16, 622, in the Western calendar. Medina was different from Mecca. It was an oasis in which date palmsflourished and cereals could be grown. Agriculture had been developedby several Jewish clans, who had settled among the original Arabs, andthey still had the best lands. Later Arab immigrants belonging to thetribes of al- Aws and al- Khazraj, however, were in a strongerposition. The effective units among the Arabs were eight or more clans,but nearly all of these had become involved in serious feuds. Much
blood had been shed in a battle in about 618, and peace was not fullyrestored. In inviting Muhammad to Medina, many of the Arabs thereprobably hoped that he would act as an arbiter among the opposingparties. Their contact with the Jews may have prepared them for amessianic religious leader, who would deliver them from oppression andestablish a kingdom in which justice prevailed. A document has been preserved known as the Constitution of Medina. Inits present form, it is a combination of at least two earlier documentsand was probably compiled later than 627, but its main provisions arealmost certainly those originally agreed upon between Muhammad and theMuslims of Medina. In form the document creates a confederation ontraditional Arab lines among nine groups; eight Arab clans and theemigrants from Mecca. Muhammad is given no special position ofauthority except that the preamble speaks of the agreement as madebetween “Muhammad the prophet” and the Muslims now resident in Medina,and it is stated that serious disputes are to be referred to him. Forat least five years, Muhammad had no direct authority over members ofother clans, but, in the closing years of his life, the prestige of hismilitary successes gave him almost autocratic power. The revelations hereceived at Medina frequently contained legal rules for the community ofMuslims, but they dealt with political questions only rarely. The first 18 months at Medina were spent in settling down. Muhammadwas given a piece of land and had a house built, which eventually heldapartments grouped around a central courtyard for each of his wives.The Muslims often joined Muhammad at prayers in his home, which, afterhis death, became the mosque of Medina. The emigrants (muhajirun, themen from Mecca) were at first guests of brother Muslims in Medina, butMuhammad cannot have contemplated this situation continuingindefinitely. A few emigrants carried on trade in the local market runby a Jewish clan. Others, with the approval of Muhammad, set out innormal Arab fashion on razzias (ghazawat, “raids”) in the hope ofintercepting Meccan caravans passing near Medina on their way to Syria.Muhammad himself led three such razzias in 623. They all failed,probably because traitors betrayed the Muslim movements to the enemy.At last, in January 624, a small band of men was sent eastward withsealed orders telling them to proceed to Nakhlah, near Mecca, and attacka caravan from Yemen. This they did successfully, and in doing so theyviolated pagan ideas of sanctity thereby making the Meccans aware of theseriousness of the threat from Muhammad. About the same time, there was a change in Muhammad s general policy inimportant respects. One aspect was the “break with Jews”; instead ofmaking concessions to the Jews in the hope of gaining recognition of hisprophethood, he asserted the specifically Arabian character of theIslamic religion. Hitherto the Muslims had faced Jerusalem in prayer,but a revelation now bade them face Mecca. Perhaps because of thischange some Muslims of Medina were readier to support Muhammad. InMarch 624 he was able to lead about 315 men on a razzia to attack awealthy Meccan caravan returning from Syria. The caravan, led by AbuSufyan, the head of the Umayyah clan, eluded the Muslims by deviousroutes and forced marches. Abu Jahl, the head of the Makhzum clan,however, leading a supporting force of perhaps 800 men, wanted to teachMuhammad a lesson and did not withdraw. On March 15, 624, near a placecalled Badr, the two forces found themselves in a situation, perhapscontrived by Muhammad, from which neither could withdraw withoutdisgrace. In the ensuing battle, at least 45 Meccans were killed,including Abu Jahl and other leading men, and nearly 70 taken prisonerwhile only 14 Muslims died. To Muhammad this appeared to be a divinevindication of his prophethood, and he and all the Muslims were greatlyelated. In the flush of victory, some persons in Medina who had satirizedMuhammad in verse were assassinated, perhaps with his connivance. Healso made a minor disturbance an excuse for expelling the Jewish clan,which ran the market. This weakened his most serious opponent there,the “hypocrite” (munafiq), or nominal Muslim, Abd Allah ibn Ubayy, whowas allied with the local Jews. The remaining waverers among the Arabsprobably became Muslims about this time. Thus the victory of Badrgreatly strengthened Muhammad. At the same time he was using marriagerelationships to bring greater cohesion to the emigrants. Of hisdaughters, Fatimah was married to Ali (later fourth caliph, or leaderof the Islamic community) and Umm Kulthum to Uthman (third caliph). Hehimself was already married to A`ishah, daughter of Abu Bakr (firstcaliph), and was now espoused also to Hafsah, daughter of Umar (secondcaliph), whose previous husband was one of the Muslims killed at Badr. In the same year, Muhammad led larger Muslim forces on razzias againsthostile nomadic tribes and had some success. Presumably, he realizedthat the Meccans were bound to try to avenge their defeat. Indeed, AbuSufyan was energetically mobilizing Meccan power. On March 21, 625, heentered the oasis of Medina with 3,000 men. One of the features ofMedina was a large number of small forts that were impregnable to Arabweapons and tactics. Muhammad would have preferred the Muslims toretire to these; but those whose cereal crops were being laid wastepersuaded him to go out to fight. By a night march with 1,000 men, hereached the hill of Uhud on the further side of the Meccan camp. On themorning of March 23, the Meccan infantry attacked and was repulsed withconsiderable loss. As the Muslims pursued, the Meccan cavalry launcheda flank attack after the archers guarding the Muslim left had abandonedtheir position. The Muslims were thrown into confusion. Some made fora fort and were cut down, but Muhammad and the bulk of his force managedto gain the lower slopes of Uhud, where they were safe from thecavalry. The Meccans, because of their losses, were unable to presshome their advantages and without delay set out for home, while Muhammadthe next day made a show of pursuing. The battle produced neither aclear victor nor loser. In Badr and Uhud together, the Meccans hadkilled about as many men as they had lost; but they had boasted thatthey would make the Muslims pay several times over, and they had notshown the degree of superiority appropriate to their leading position inArabia. Muhammad, though he had lost above 70 men, realized that thiswas a military reverse, not a defeat, but the confidence of the Muslimsand perhaps his own had been struck a serious blow. If the victory ofBadr was a sign of God s support, did Uhud indicate that he hadabandoned the Muslims? Muhammad s faith soon overcame any momentarydoubts, and he was gradually able to restore the confidence of hisfollowers. For two years after Uhud, both sides prepared for a decisiveencounter. In the razzias Muhammad led or sanctioned, he seems to haveaimed at extending his own alliances and at preventing others fromjoining the Meccans. In at least two cases, a small party of Muslimswas tricked or ambushed, and most of their lives were lost. In April627, Abu Sufyan led a great confederacy of 10,000 men against Medina.On this occasion Muhammad had ordered the crops to be harvested and atrench to be dug to defend the main part of the oasis from the Meccancavalry. For a fortnight the confederates besieged the Muslims.Attempts to cross the trench failed, and fodder for the horses wasscarce, while Muhammad s agents among the attackers fomented potentialdissensions. Then, after a night of wind and rain the great army meltedaway. The Meccans had exerted their utmost might and had failed todislodge Muhammad, whose position was now greatly strengthened. For more than two years now there had been opposition to Muhammad inMedina, chiefly from Abd Allah ibn Ubayy and other so-called hypocriteswho had abandoned Muhammad at Uhud and who together had fostereddisaffection. Shortly before the siege Muhammad had a showdown with Abd Allah ibn Ubayy, who had joined in spreading slanders aboutMuhammad s wife A`ishah. This confrontation revealed that Abd Allahhad little support in Medina, and he became reconciled to Muhammad.After the siege of Medina, Muhammad attacked the Jewish clan ofQurayzah, which had probably been intriguing against him. When theysurrendered, the men were all executed and the women and children soldas slaves. Muhammad s farsightedness as a statesman is manifest in the policies henext adopted. He might have continued to crush the Meccans, and heindeed put economic pressure on them; but his main aim was to gain theirwilling adherence to Islam. He had already realized that, insofar asthe Arabs became Muslims, it would be necessary to direct outward theenergies expended on razzias against one another. There could be noquestion of Muslims raiding Muslims. It is noteworthy that his largestrazzias, apart from the expeditions against the Meccans, were along theroute to Syria followed by the Arab armies after his death. Hedoubtless realized that the administrative skill of the Meccan merchantswould be required for any expansion of his embryonic state. In a dream, Muhammad saw himself performing the annual pilgrimage toMecca, and in March 628 he set out to do so, driving sacrificialanimals. He was disappointed because no more than 1,600 men wouldaccompany him. The Meccans were determined to prevent the Muslims fromentering their town, so Muhammad halted at al-Hudaybiyah, on the edge ofthe sacred territory of Mecca. After some critical days, the Meccansmade a treaty with Muhammad. Hostilities were to cease, and the Muslimswere to be allowed to make the pilgrimage to Mecca in 629. The orderlywithdrawal showed how completely Muhammad controlled his followers.Partly to reward this orderly conduct, Muhammad two months later led thesame force against the Jewish oasis of Khaybar, north of Medina. Aftera siege, it submitted, but the Jews were allowed to remain on conditionof sending half of the date harvest to Medina. Throughout 628 and 629,Muhammad s power was growing. The success led more men to becomeMuslims, for the religious attraction of Islam was apparentlysupplemented by material motives. Meanwhile, Mecca was in decline. Several leading men had emigrated toMedina and become Muslims. New leaders had taken over from Abu Sufyanbut had accomplished little, although the treaty with Muhammad hadremoved his pressure on their caravans. Shortly after the treaty,Muhammad had married Umm Habibah, a daughter of Abu Sufyan, and a widowwhose Muslim husband had died in Ethiopia. This led to an understandingwith Abu Sufyan, who began to work for the peaceful surrender of Mecca.It was probably when he was in Mecca for the pilgrimage in March 629that Muhammad became reconciled with another uncle, al- Abbas, andmarried his uncle s sister-in-law Maymunah. An attack by Meccan allies in about November 629 upon allies ofMuhammad led to the Muhammad s denunciation of the treaty ofal-Hudaybiyah. After secret preparations he marched on Mecca in January630 with 10,000 men. Abu Sufyan and other leading Meccans went out tomeet him and formally submitted, so Muhammad promised a generalamnesty. When he entered Mecca there was virtually no resistance. TwoMuslims and 28 of the enemy were killed. A number of people werespecifically excluded from the amnesty, but some were later pardoned.Thus Muhammad, who had left Mecca as a persecuted prophet, not merelyentered it again in triumph but also gained the allegiance of most ofthe Meccans. Though he did not insist on their becoming Muslims, manysoon did so. Muhammad spent 15 to 20 days in Mecca settling various matters ofadministration. Idols were destroyed in the Ka bah and in some smallshrines in the neighborhood. To relieve the poorest among hisfollowers, he demanded loans from some of the wealthy Meccans. When hemarched east to meet a new threat, 2,000 Meccans went with him.