Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
Taken from Introduction to Islam by Muhammad Hamidullah (Centre Culturel Islamique, Paris, 1969), with some changes to make it more readable. The changes are marked by pairs of brackets like around this paragraph. Dr. Hamidullah's present address is: 9 Beaver Court, Wilkes Barre PA, 18702, USA.]
IN the annals of men, individuals have not been lacking who conspicuously devoted their lives to the socio-religious reform of their connected peoples. We find them in every epoch and in all lands. In India, there lived those who transmitted to the world the Vedas, and there was also the great Gautama Buddha; China had its Confucius; the Avesta was produced in Iran. Babylonia gave to the world one of the greatest reformers, the Prophet Abraham (not to speak of such of his ancestors as Enoch and Noah about whom we have very scanty information). The Jewish people may rightly be proud of a long series of reformers: Moses, Samuel, David, Solomon, and Jesus among others.
2. Two points are to note: Firstly these reformers claimed in general to be the bearers each of a Divine mission, and they left behind them sacred books incorporating codes of life for the guidance of their peoples. Secondly there followed fratricidal wars, and massacres and genocides became the order of the day, causing more or less a complete loss of these Divine messages. As to the books of Abraham, we know them only by the name; and as for the books of Moses, records tell us how they were repeatedly destroyed and only partly restored.
Concept of God:
3. If one should judge from the relics of the past already brought to light of the homo sapiens, one finds that man has always been conscious of the existence of a Supreme Being, the Master and Creator of all. Methods and approaches may have differed, but the people of every epoch have left proofs of their attempts to obey God. Communication with the Omnipresent yet invisible God has also been recognised as possible in connection with a small fraction of men with noble and exalted spirits. Whether this communication assumed the nature of an incarnation of the Divinity or simply resolved itself into a medium of reception of Divine messages (through inspiration or revelation), the purpose in each case was the guidance of the people. It was but natural that the interpretations and explanations of certain systems should have proved more vital and convincing than others.
3/a. Every system of metaphysical thought develops its own terminology. In the course of time terms acquire a significance hardly contained in the word and translations fall short of their purpose. Yet there is no other method to make people of one group understand the thoughts of another. Non-Muslim readers in particular are requested to bear in mind this aspect which is a real yet unavoidable handicap.
4. By the end of the 6th century, after the birth of Jesus Christ, men had already made great progress in diverse walks of life. At that time there were some religions which openly proclaimed that they were reserved for definite races and groups of men only, of course they bore no remedy for the ills of humanity at large. There were also a few which claimed universality, but declared that the salvation of man lay in the renunciation of the world. These were the religions for the elite, and catered for an extremely limited number of men. We need not speak of regions where there existed no religion at all, where atheism and materialism reigned supreme, where the thought was solely of occupying one self with one's own pleasures, without any regard or consideration for the rights of others.
5. A perusal of the map of the major hemisphere (from the point of view of the proportion of land to sea), shows the Arabian Peninsula lying at the confluence of the three great continents of Asia, Africa and Europe. At the time in question. this extensive Arabian subcontinent composed mostly of desert areas was inhabited by people of settled habitations as well as nomads. Often it was found that members of the same tribe were divided into these two groups, and that they preserved a relationship although following different modes of life. The means of subsistence in Arabia were meagre. The desert had its handicaps, and trade caravans were features of greater importance than either agriculture or industry. This entailed much travel, and men had to proceed beyond the peninsula to Syria, Egypt, Abyssinia, Iraq, Sind, India and other lands.
6. We do not know much about the Libyanites of Central Arabia, but Yemen was rightly called Arabia Felix. Having once been the seat of the flourishing civilizations of Sheba and Ma'in even before the foundation of the city of Rome had been laid, and having later snatched from the Byzantians and Persians several provinces, greater Yemen which had passed through the hey-day of its existence, was however at this time broken up into innumerable principalities, and even occupied in part by foreign invaders. The Sassanians of Iran, who had penetrated into Yemen had already obtained possession of Eastern Arabia. There was politico-social chaos at the capital (Mada'in = Ctesiphon), and this found reflection in all her territories. Northern Arabia had succumbed to Byzantine influences, and was faced with its own particular problems. Only Central Arabia remained immune from the demoralising effects of foreign occupation.
7. In this limited area of Central Arabia, the existence of
the triangle of Mecca-Ta'if-Madinah seemed something providential. Mecca,
desertic, deprived of water and the amenities of agriculture in physical
features represented Africa and the burning Sahara. Scarcely fifty miles from
there, Ta'if presented a picture of Europe and its frost. Madinah in the North
was not less fertile than even the most temperate of Asiatic countries like
Syria. If climate has any influence on human character, this triangle standing
in the middle of the major hemisphere was, more than any other region of the
earth, a miniature reproduction of the entire world. And here was born a
descendant of the Babylonian Abraham, and the Egyptian Hagar, Muhammad the
Prophet of Islam, a Meccan by origin and yet with stock related, both to
Madinah and Ta'if.
8. From the point of view of religion, Arabia was
idolatrous; only a few individuals had embraced religions like Christianity,
Mazdaism, etc. The Meccans did possess the notion of the One God, but they
believed also that idols had the power to intercede with Him. Curiously enough,
they did not believe in the Resurrection and Afterlife. They had preserved the
rite of the pilgrimage to the House of the One God, the Ka'bah, an institution
set up under divine inspiration by their ancestor Abraham, yet the two thousand
years that separated them from Abraham had caused to degenerate this pilgrimage
into the spectacle of a commercial fair and an occasion of senseless idolatry
which far from producing any good, only served to ruin their individual
behaviour, both social and spiritual.
9. In spite of the comparative poverty in natural
resources, Mecca was the most developed of the three points of the triangle. Of
the three, Mecca alone had a city-state, governed by a council of ten
hereditary chiefs who enjoyed a clear division of power. (There was a minister
of foreign relations, a minister guardian of the temple, a minister of oracles,
a minister guardian of offerings to the temple, one to determine the torts and
the damages payable, another in charge of the municipal council or parliament
to enforce the decisions of the ministries. There were also ministers in charge
of military affairs like custodianship of the flag, leadership of the cavalry
etc.). As well reputed caravan-leaders, the Meccans were able to obtain
permission from neighbouring empires like Iran, Byzantium and Abyssinia - and
to enter into agreements with the tribes that lined the routes traversed by the
caravans - to visit their countries and transact import and export business.
They also provided escorts to foreigners when they passed through their country
as well as the territory of allied tribes, in Arabia (cf. Ibn Habib, Muhabbar).
Although not interested much in the preservation of ideas and records in
writing, they passionately cultivated arts and letters like poetry, oratory
discourses and folk tales. Women were generally well treated, they enjoyed the
privilege of possessing property in their own right, they gave their consent to
marriage contracts, in which they could even add the condition of reserving
their right to divorce their husbands. They could remarry when widowed or
divorced. Burying girls alive did exist in certain classes, but that was rare.
21. The Prophet began by preaching his mission secretly first among his intimate friends, then among the members of his own tribe and thereafter publicly in the city and suburbs. He insisted on the belief in One Transcendent God, in Resurrection and the Last Judgement. He invited men to charity and beneficence. He took necessary steps to preserve through writing the revelations he was receiving, and ordered his adherents also to learn them by heart. This continued all through his life, since the Quran was not revealed all at once, but in fragments as occasions arose.
22. The number of his adherents increased gradually, but with the denunciation of paganism, the opposition also grew intenser on the part of those who were firmly attached to their ancestral beliefs. This opposition degenerated in the course of time into physical torture of the Prophet and of those who had embraced his religion. These were stretched on burning sands, cauterized with red hot iron and imprisoned with chains on their feet. Some of them died of the effects of torture, but none would renounce his religion. In despair, the Prophet Muhammad advised his companions to quit their native town and take refuge abroad, in Abyssinia, "where governs a just ruler, in whose realm nobody is oppressed" (Ibn Hisham). Dozens of Muslims profited by his advice, though not all. These secret flights led to further persecution of those who remained behind.
23. The Prophet Muhammad [was instructed to call this]
religion "Islam," i.e. submission to the will of God. Its distinctive
features are two: A harmonius equilibrium between the temporal and the
spiritual (the body and the soul), permitting a full enjoyment of all the good that
God has created, (Quran 7:32), enjoining at the same time on everybody duties
towards God, such as worship, fasting, charity, etc. Islam was to be the
religion of the masses and not merely of the elect. A universality of the call
- all the believers becoming brothers and equals without any distinction of
class or race or tongue. The only superiority which it recognizes is a personal
one, based on the greater fear of God and greater piety (Quran 49:13).
24. When a large number of the Meccan Muslims migrated to
Abyssinia, the leaders of paganism sent an ultimatum to the tribe of the
Prophet, demanding that he should be excommunicated and outlawed and delivered
to the pagans for being put to death. Every member of the tribe, Muslim and
non-Muslim rejected the demand. (cf. Ibn Hisham). Thereupon the city decided on
a complete boycott of the tribe: Nobody was to talk to them or have commercial
or matrimonial relations with them. The group of Arab tribes called Ahabish,
inhabiting the suburbs, who were allies of the Meccans, also joined in the
boycott, causing stark misery among the innocent victims consisting of
children, men and women, the old and the sick and the feeble. Some of them
succumbed yet nobody would hand over the Prophet to his persecutors. An uncle
of the Prophet, Abu Lahab, however left his tribesmen and participated in the
boycott along with the pagans. After three dire years, during which the victims
were obliged to devour even crushed hides, four or five non-Muslims, more
humane than the rest and belonging to different clans proclaimed publicly their
denunciation of the unjust boycott. At the same time, the document promulgating
the pact of boycott which had been hung in the temple, was found, as Muhammad
had predicted, eaten by white ants, that spared nothing but the words God and
Muhammad. The boycott was lifted, yet owing to the privations that were
undergone the wife and Abu Talib, the chief of the tribe and uncle of the
Prophet died soon after. Another uncle of the Prophet, Abu-Lahab, who was an
inveterate enemy of Islam, now succeeded to the headship of the tribe. (cf. lbn
25. It was at thIs time that the Prophet Muhammad was granted the mi'raj (ascension): He saw in a vision that he was received on heaven by God, and was witness of the marvels of the celestial regions. Returning, he brought for his community, as a Divine gift, the [ritual prayer of Islam, the salaat], which constitutes a sort of communion between man and God. It may be recalled that in the last part of Muslim service of worship, the faithful employ as a symbol of their being in the very presence of God, not concrete objects as others do at the time of communion, but the very words of greeting exchanged between the Prophet Muhammad and God on the occasion of the former's mi'raj: "The blessed and pure greetings for God! - Peace be with thee, O Prophet, as well as the mercy and blessing of God! - Peace be with us and with all the [righteous] servants of God!" The Christian term "communion" implies participation in the Divinity. Finding it pretentious, Muslims use the term "ascension" towards God and reception in His presence, God remaining God and man remaining man and no confusion between the twain.
26. The news of this celestial meeting led to an increase
in the hostility of the pagans of Mecca; and the Prophet was obliged to quit
his native town in search of an asylum elsewhere. He went to his maternal
uncles in Ta'if, but returned immediately to Mecca, as the wicked people of
that town chased the Prophet out of their city by pelting stones on him and
Migration to Madinah:
27. The annual pilgrimage of the Ka'bah brought to Mecca
people from all parts of Arabia. The Prophet Muhammad tried to persuade one
tribe after another to afford him shelter and allow him to carry on his mission
of reform. The contingents of fifteen tribes, whom he approached in succession,
refused to do so more or less brutally, but he did not despair. Finally he met
half a dozen inhabitants of Madinah who being neighbour of the Jews and the
Christians, had some notion of prophets and Divine messages. They knew also
that these "people of the Books" were awaiting the arrival of a
prophet - a last comforter. So these Madinans decided not to lose the
opportunity of obtaining an advance over others, and forthwith embraced Islam,
promising further to provide additional adherents and necessary help from
Madinah. The following year a dozen new Madinans took the oath of allegiance to
him and requested him to provide with a missionary teacher. The work of the
missionary, Mus'ab, proved very successful and he led a contingent of
seventy-three new converts to Mecca, at the time of the pilgrimage. These
invited the Prophet and his Meccan companions to migrate to their town, and
promised to shelter the Prophet and to treat him and his companions as their
own kith and kin. Secretly and in small groups, the greater part of the Muslims
emigrated to Madinah. Upon this the pagans of Mecca not only confiscated the
property of the evacuees, but devised a plot to assassinate the Prophet. It
became now impossible for him to remain at home. It is worthy of mention, that
in spite of their hostility to his mission, the pagans had unbounded confidence
in his probity, so much so that many of them used to deposit their savings with
him. The Prophet Muhammad now entrusted all these deposits to 'Ali, a cousin of
his, with instructions to return in due course to the rightful owners. He then
left the town secretly in the company of his faithful friend, Abu-Bakr. After
several adventures, they succeeded in reaching Madinah in safety. This happened
in 622, whence starts the Hijrah calendar
Reorganization of the Community:
28. For the better rehabilitation of the displaced immigrants, the Prophet created a fraternization between them and an equal number of well-to-do Madinans. The families of each pair of the contractual brothers worked together to earn their livelihood, and aided one another in the business of life.
29. Further he thought that the development of the man as a whole would be better achieved if he co-ordinated religion and politics as two constituent parts of one whole. To this end he invited the representatives of the Muslims as well as the non-Muslim inhabitants of the region: Arabs, Jews, Christians and others, and suggested the establishment of a City-State in Madinah. With their assent, he endowed the city with a written constitution - the first of its kind in the world - in which he defined the duties and rights both of the citizens and the head of the State - the Prophet Muhammad was unanimously hailed as such - and abolished the customary private justice. The administration of justice became henceforward the concern of the central organisation of the community of the citizens. The document laid down principles of defence and foreign policy: it organized a system of social insurance, called ma'aqil, in cases of too heavy obligations. It recognized that the Prophet Muhammad would have the final word in all differences, and that there was no limit to his power of legislation. It recognized also explicitly liberty of religion, particularly for the Jews, to whom the constitutional act afforded equality with Muslims in all that concerned life in this world (cf. infra n. 303).
30. Muhammad journeyed several times with a view to win the
neighbouring tribes and to conclude with them treaties of alliance and mutual
help. With their help, he decided to bring to bear economic pressure on the
Meccan pagans, who had confiscated the property of the Muslim evacuees and also
caused innumerable damage. Obstruction in the way of the Meccan caravans and
their passage through the Madinan region exasperated the pagans, and a bloody
struggle ensued. 31. In the concern for the material interests of the community,
the spiritual aspect was never neglected. Hardly a year had passed after the
migration to Madinah, when the most rigorous of spiritual disciplines, the
fasting for the whole month of Ramadan every year, was imposed on every adult
Muslim, man and woman
Struggle against intolerance and unbelief:
32. Not content with the expulsion of the Muslim compatriots, the Meccans sent an ultimatum to the Madinans, demanding the surrender or at least the expulsion of Muhammad and his companions but evidently all such efforts proved in vain. A few months later, in the year 2 H., they sent a powerful army against the Prophet, who opposed them at Badr; and the pagans thrice as numerous as the Muslims, were routed. After a year of preparation, the Meccans again invaded Madinah to avenge the defeat of Badr. They were now four times as numerous as the Muslims. After a bloody encounter at Uhud, the enemy retired, the issue being indecisive. The mercenaries in the Meccan army did not want to take too much risk, or endanger their safety.
33. In thc meanwhile the Jewish citizens of Madinah began to foment trouble. About the time of the victory of Badr, one of their leaders, Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf, proceeded to Mecca to give assurance of his alliance with the pagans, and to incite them to a war of revenge. After the battle of Uhud, the tribe of the same chieftain plotted to assassinate the Prophet by throwing on him a mill-stone from above a tower, when he had gone to visit their locality. In spite of all this, the only demand the Prophet made of the men of this tribe was to quit the Madinan region, taking with them all their properties, after selling their immovables and recovering their debts from the Muslims. The clemency thus extended had an effect contrary to what was hoped. The exiled not only contacted the Meccans, but also the tribes of the North, South and East of Madinah, mobilized military aid, and planned from Khaibar an invasion of Madinah, with forces four times more numerous than those employed at Uhud. The Muslims prepared for a siege, and dug a ditch to defend themselves against this hardest of all trials. Although the defection of the Jews still remaining inside Madinah at a later stage upset all strategy, yet with a sagacious diplomacy, the Prophet succeeded in breaking up the alliance, and the different enemy groups retired one after the other.
34. Alcoholic drinks, gambling and games of chance were at
this time declared forbidden for the Muslims.
35. The Prophet tried once more to reconcile the Meccans and proceeded to Mecca. The barring of the route of their Northern caravans had ruined their economy. The Prophet promised them transit security, extradition of their fugitives and the fulfillment of every condition they desired, agreeing even to return to Madinah without accomplishing the pilgrimage of the Ka'bah. Thereupon the two contracting parties promised at Hudaibiyah in the suburbs of Mecca, not only the maintenance of peace, but also the observance of neutrality in their conflicts with third parties.
36. Profiting by the peace, the Prophet launched an intensive programme for the propagation of his religion. He addressed missionary letters to the foreign rulers of Byzantium, Iran, Abyssinia and other lands. The Byzantine autocrat priest - Daughter of the Arabs - embraced Islam, but for this, was lynched by the Christian mob; the prefect of Ma'an (Palestine) suffered the same fate, and was decapitated and crucified by order of the emperor. A Muslim ambassador was assassinated in Syria-Palestine; and instead of punishing the culprit, the emperor Heraclius rushed with his armies to protect him against the punitive expedition sent by the Prophet (battle of Mu'tah).
37. The pagans of Mecca hoping to profit by the Muslim difficulties, violated the terms of their treaty. Upon this, the Prophet himself led an army, ten thousand strong, and surprised Mecca which he occupied in a bloodless manner. As a benevolent conqueror, he caused the vanquished people to assemble, reminded them of their ill deeds, their religious persecution, unjust confiscation of the evacuee property, ceaseless invasions and senseless hostilities for twenty years continuously. He asked them: "Now what do you expect of me?" When everybody lowered his head with shame, the Prophet proclaimed: "May God pardon you; go in peace; there shall be no responsibility on you today; you are free!" He even renounced the claim for the Muslim property confiscated by the pagans. This produced a great psychological change of hearts instantaneously. When a Meccan chief advanced with a fulsome heart towards the Prophet, after hearing this general amnesty, in order to declare his acceptance of Islam, the Prophet told him: "And in my turn, I appoint you the governor of Mecca!" Without leaving a single soldier in the conquered city, the Prophet retired to Madinah. The Islamization of Mecca, which was accomplished in a few hours, was complete.
38. Immediately after the occupation of Mecca, the city of Ta'if mobilized to fight against the Prophet. With some difficulty the enemy was dispersed in the valley of Hunain, but the Muslims preferred to raise the siege of nearby Ta'if and use pacific means to break the resistance of this region. Less than a year later, a delegation from Ta'if came to Madinah offering submission. But it requested exemption from prayer, taxes and military service, and the continuance of the liberty to adultery and fornication and alcoholic drinks. It demanded even the conservation of the temple of the idol al-Lat at Ta'if. But Islam was not a materialist immoral movement; and soon the delegation itself felt ashamed of its demands regarding prayer, adultery and wine. The Prophet consented to concede exemption from payment of taxes and rendering of military service; and added: You need not demolish the temple with your own hands: we shall send agents from here to do the job, and if there should be any consequences, which you are afraid of on account of your superstitions, it will be they who would suffer. This act of the Prophet shows what concessions could be given to new converts. The conversion of the Ta'ifites was so whole hearted that in a short while, they themselves renounced the contracted exemptions, and we find the Prophet nominating a tax collector in their locality as in other Islamic regions.
39. In all these "wars," extending over a period of ten years, the non-Muslims lost on the battlefield only about 250 persons killed, and the Muslim losses were even less. With these few incisions, the whole continent of Arabia. with its million and more of square miles, was cured of the abscess of anarchy and immorality. During these ten years of disinterested struggle, all the peoples of the Arabian Peninsula and the southern regions of Iraq and Palestine had voluntarily embraced Islam. Some Christian, Jewish and Parsi groups remained attached to their creeds, and they were granted liberty of conscience as well as judicial and juridical autonomy.
40. In the year 10 H., when the Prophet went to Mecca for Hajj (pilgrimage), he met 140,000 Muslims there, who had come from different parts of Arabia to fulfil their religious obligation. He addressed to them his celebrated sermon, in which he gave a resume of his teachings: "Belief in One God without images or symbols, equality of all the Believers without distinction of race or class, the superiority of individuals being based solely on piety; sanctity of life, property and honour; abolition of interest, and of vendettas and private justice; better treatment of women; obligatory inheritance and distribution of the property of deceased persons among near relatives of both sexes, and removal of the possibility of the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few." The Quran and the conduct of the Prophet were to serve as the bases of law and a healthy criterion in every aspect of human life.
41. On his return to Madinah, he fell ill; and a few weeks later, when he breathed his last, he had the satisfaction that he had well accomplished the task which he had undertaken - to preach to the world the Divine message.
42. He bequeathed to posterity, a religion of pure monotheism; he created a well-disciplined State out of the existent chaos and gave peace in place of the war of everybody against everybody else; he established a harmonious equilibrium between the spiritual and the temporal, between the mosque and the citadel; he left a new system of law, which dispensed impartial justice, in which even the head of the State was as much a subject to it as any commoner, and in which religious tolerance was so great that non-Muslim inhabitants of Muslim countries equally enjoyed complete juridical, judicial and cultural autonomy. In the matter of the revenues of the State, the Quran fixed the principles of budgeting, and paid more thought to the poor than to anybody else. The revenues were declared to be in no wise the private property of the head of the State. Above all, the Prophet Muhammad set a noble example and fully practised all that he taught to others.
Please report any
broken links to
Copyright © 1988-2012 irfi.org. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer