Mohammed (ca. 570-632)Mohammed (ca. 570-632) - Also Muhammad. Founder of the Islamic faith, author of the Qur'an and uniter of the Arab people. Considered to be a messenger and prophet of God, Muslims regard him as the last true prophet and restorer of the one faith proclaimed by Abraham, Moses, Jesus and others in the Bible. He was born in Mecca about 570. His father died before he was born and his mother died when he was only six. So he was raised by his uncle, Abu Talib. Early in his life he worked mainly as a merchant and shepherd. When he was 25, he married his first wife, Khadijah. It was also about this time that he started to retreat into a cave on Mount Hira for days at a time, engaging in a spiritual quest. His people, the Arabs, were pagans who worshiped some 360 gods, and Mohammed was no exception. Mecca was home of the Ka'aba, which housed idols representing each of the Arab gods. But around the age of 40, on one of these retreats, Mohammed reportedly received his first revelation from God (Allah in Arabic). He was visited by God's angel, Gabriel, and charged with taking the message of the knowledge of God to his people. Gabriel revealed to Mohammed that his God was the same God of the Hebrews and Christians, but that their scriptures had become corrupted by evil influences and it was his job as God's appointed prophet to reintroduce God's message.

 

It was a message that did not go over well among the Arabs when he returned to Mecca and began to spread it. For one thing, in addition to being a religious center, the Ka'aba was also an economic center. And it had been controlled by various merchants who had a vested interest in keeping the idols in place. It was particularly awkward for the Quryash tribe to which Mohammed himself belonged because they were the keepers of Ka'aba. Members of the merchant class tried to buy him off in exchange to have him stop spreading his message. He refused. In these first days as a prophet, he was largely unsuccessful. His first converts were members of his own family. A few others also abandoned idol worship and accepted Mohammed's message, but the majority of the population rejected it, and around 622 drove him and his followers from Mecca. They fled to the city of Medina (known as Yathrib then), some 200 miles (322 km) to the north. The journey is now known as the Hijra and is remembered on the first day of the year on the Islamic calendar. Accompanying him was his father-in-law and close friend, Abū Bakr, who would succeed him as the first caliph. As a rival city of Mecca, one which did not have the Ka'aba, Medina was very accommodating to Mohammed, and much more receptive to his message of Allah. City officials appointed him as an arbitrator to settle disputes. There were eight major Arab clans in Medina as well as a sizable Jewish population, and conflicts between them was routine. Mohammed brought some stability to the city as arbiter which earned him the respect of Medinans.

 

Mohammed (ca. 570-632)But he went further than that. He actually united the residents by drafting a Constitution of Medina. This document referred to the people as a single community known as the Ummah, and now is considered the first Islamic state in history. As a new faith, Mohammed appears to have incorporated several Jewish customs, such as fasting, into this constitution. After this, conversion of the pagans to Islam began to accelerate. The first converts were the poorer classes who had the least influence. But then the chief of the Banu Aus tribe, Sa'd ibn Mua'dh, converted and Islam began to spread up the economic strata. However, as it grew, tensions began to develop. Initially, Mohammed viewed Jews and Christians (of which there was also a small community of in Medina) as natural allies of Muslims, as he considered all three faiths related. But, as God's prophet, he considered Judaism and Christianity corrupted by outside influences and expected their adherents to convert to Islam as well. Some did, but most did not. And so, many of Mohammed's followers resorted to coercing others into accepting the message of Allah. In addition, he never forgot the persecution he suffered in Mecca, and dreamed of avenging this humiliation. This led to the Battle of Badr in 624. Mohammed took a party of 330 armed followers to a well called Badr and intercepted a caravan train originating from Mecca (or perhaps traveling to). Though outnumbered three to one, his force overwhelmed them. The Battle of Badr is considered a seminal moment in the history of Islam. It convinced its followers that theirs was the true faith. They returned to Medina with a new sense of purpose, determined to end opposition once and for all. Two of the city's residents, Asma bint Marwan (a pagan woman) and Abu Άfak (an elderly man) wrote poems denigrating Islam. Mohammed promoted himself from arbiter to judge, and convicted the two of violating the Constitution of Medina. The judgement was execution.

 

Mohammed (ca. 570-632)From that point, opposition to Islam in the city ceased and Mohammed exercised total control. He had become political, military and religious leader of this now powerful movement. Meanwhile, Meccans were preparing a counter-attack after their loss at Badr. In 625, they marched on Medina. However, the Muslims learned of their approach and met them outside the city. They fought at Mt. Uhud. A fateful mistake by the Muslims cost them the battle and Mohammed himself was injured. They retreated back to Medina, and the Meccans probably could have pursued and finished them off, but didn't; apparently content in their victory. The rumor was that Mohammed had been killed and perhaps they thought his movement would collapse without him. However, though injured, he was still very much alive. The tiebreaker was the Battle of the Trench in 627. It earned its name from a massive ditch the Muslims dug around Medina to neutralize the Meccans superior numbers and cavalry advantage. They had learned a lesson from Uhud and determined that a defensive posture was more likely to succeed. After two weeks, the siege on the city was broken and the Meccans were soundly defeated. The most severe consequence of the battle was the fate of the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe of Medina. They had entered into negotiations to ally themselves with the Meccans. After the Meccans were defeated, retribution against the Qurayza was swift and brutal. All males of adolescent age and above were beheaded (about 700). The women became concubines of the Muslim men. And the children were enslaved. The defeat at the Battle of the Trench left the city of Mecca virtually defenseless, and Mohammed decided it was ripe for conquest. He assembled the largest Muslim force ever up to that time, about 10,000 soldiers. The night before the planned assault on the city, they camped nearby and Mohammed ordered each man to light a fire to make it appear as though the army was larger than it actually was. The next morning, the Muslim army marched into the city virtually unopposed, except for a small band of Quresh fighters, which was quickly dispatched. Mohammed, who had been driven out eight years earlier, now controlled Mecca.