§ 2. The Arabs and Arabia
Mohammed, Prophet, Time, Mecca, Bakr, Medina
The Arabs are a Semitic people, belonging to the same great ethnologic family with the Babylonians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, Hebrews, Ethiopians, and Carthaginians. It is a race which has given to civilized man his literature and his religion; for the alphabet came from the Phoenicians, and the Bible from the Jews. In Hannibal, it produced perhaps the greatest military genius the world has seen; and the Tyrian merchants, circumnavigating Africa, discovering Great Britain, and trading with India, ten centuries before Christ, had no equals on the ocean until the time of the Portuguese discoveries, twenty-five centuries after. The Arabs alone, of the seven Semitic families, remained undistinguished and unknown till the days of Mohammed. Their claim of being descended from Abraham is confirmed by the unerring evidence of language. The Arabic roots are, nine tenths of them, identical with the Hebrew; and a similarity of grammatical forms shows a plain glossological relation. But while the Jews have a history from the days of Abraham, the Arabs had none till Mohammed. During twenty centuries these nomads wandered to and fro, engaged in mutual wars, verifying the prediction (Gen. xvi. 12) concerning Ishmael: "He will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him." Wherever such wandering races exist, whether in Arabia, Turkistan, or Equatorial Africa, "darkness covers the earth, and gross darkness the people." The earth has no geography, and the people no history. During all this long period, from the time of Abraham to that of Mohammed, the Arabs were not a nation, but only a multitude of tribes, either stationary or wandering. But of these two the nomad or Bedouin is the true type of the race as it exists in Northern Arabia. The Arab of the South is in many respects different,—in language, in manners, and in character,—confirming the old opinion of a double origin. But the Northern Arab in his tent has remained unchanged since the days of the Bible. Proud of his pure blood, of his freedom, of his tribe, and of his ancient customs, he desires no change. He is, in Asia, what the North American Indian is upon the western continent. As the Indian's, his chief virtues are courage in war, cunning, wild justice, hospitality, and fortitude. He is, however, of a better race,—more reflective, more religious, and with a thirst for knowledge. The pure air and the simple food of the Arabian plains keep him in perfect health; and the necessity of constant watchfulness against his foes, from whom he has no defence of rock, forest, or fortification, quickens his perceptive faculties. But the Arab has also a sense of spiritual things, which appears to have a root in his organization. The Arabs say: "The children of Shem are prophets, the children of Japhet are kings, and the children of Ham are slaves." Having no temples, no priesthood, no religious forms, their religion is less formal and more instinctive, like that of children. The Koran says: "Every child is born into the religion of nature; its parents make it a Jew, a Christian, or a Magian." But when Mohammed came, the religion of the Arabs was a jumble of monotheism and polytheism,—Judaism, Christianity, idolatry, and fetichism. At one time there had been a powerful and intolerant Jewish kingdom in one region. In Yemen, at another period, the king of Abyssinia had established Christianity. But neither Judaism nor Christianity had ever been able to conquer the peninsula; and at the end of the sixth century idolatry was the most prevailing form of worship.
At this time Mohammed appeared, and in a few years united in one faith all the warring tribes of Arabia; consolidated them into a single nation, and then wielded their mighty and enthusiastic forces against Syria, Persia, and North Africa, triumphant wherever they moved. He, certainly, if ever man possessed it, had the rare gift of natural empire. To him, more than to any other of whom history makes mention, was given
§ 3. Early Life of Mohammed, to the Hegira
But it was not as a soldier or ambitious conqueror that Mohammed began his career. The first forty years of his life were passed in the quiet pursuits of trade, or taking care of the property of Khadîjah. Serious, thoughtful, devout, he made friends of all about him. His youth was unstained by vice, and his honorable character early obtained for him the title, given him by common consent, of Al Amîn, "the faithful." At one time he tended sheep and goats on the hills near Mecca. At Medina, after he became distinguished he referred to this, saying, "Pick me the blackest of those berries; they are such as I used to gather when I fed the flocks at Mecca. Verily, no prophet has been raised up who has not performed the work of a shepherd." When twenty-five years of age, he entered into the service of Khadîjah, a rich widow, as her agent, to take charge of her merchandise and to sell it at Damascus. When the caravan returned, and his adventure had proved successful, Khadîjah, then forty years old, became interested in the young man; she was wise, virtuous, and attractive; they were married, and, till her death, Mohammed was a kind and loving husband. Khadîjah sympathized with her husband in his religious tendencies, and was his first convert. His habit was to retire to a cave on Mount Hira to pray and to meditate. Sadness came over him in view of the evils in the world. One of the Suras of the Koran, supposed to belong to this period, is as follows:—
About this time he began to have his visions of angels, especially of Gabriel. He saw a light, and heard a voice, and had sentences like the above put into his mind. These communications were accompanied by strong convulsions (epilepsy, says Weil), in which he would fall to the ground and foam at the mouth. Sprenger considers it to have been a form of hysteria, with a mental origin, perhaps accompanied with catalepsy. The prophet himself said: "Inspiration descends on me in two ways. Sometimes Gabriel cometh and communicateth the revelation, as one man to another. This is easy. But sometimes it is as the ringing of a bell, which rends me in pieces, and grievously afflicts me." One day, when Abu Bakr and Omar sat in the Mosque at Medina, Mohammed came suddenly upon them, lifting up his beard and looking at it; and Abu Bakr said, "Ah thou, for whom I would sacrifice father and mother; white hairs are hastening upon thee!" "Yes," said the prophet, "Hûd" (Sura 11) "and its sisters have hastened my white hairs." "And who," asked Abu Bakr, "are its sisters?" "The Inevitable" (Sura 56) "and the Striking" (Sura 101), replied Mohammed. These three are called the "terrific Suras."
But these last Suras came later than the period now referred to. At this time his visions and revelations possessed him; he did not possess nor control them. In later years the spirit of the prophet was more subject to the prophet. But the Koran is an unintelligible book unless we can connect it with the biography of its writer. All the incidents of his life took shape in some revelation. A separate revelation was given to encourage or to rebuke him; and in his later years the too subservient inspiration came to appease the jealousy of his wives when a new one was added to their number. But, however it may have been afterward, in the beginning his visions were as much a surprise to him as to others. A careful distribution of the Suras, according to the events which befell him, would make the Koran the best biography of the prophet. As we said of David and his Psalms, so it may be said of Mohammed, that his life hangs suspended in these hymns, as in votive pictures, each the record of some grave experience.
Now, it is impossible to read the detailed accounts of this part of the life of Mohammed, and have any doubt of his profound sincerity. His earliest converts were his bosom-friends and the people of his household, who were intimately acquainted with his private life. Nor does a man easily begin an ambitious course of deception at the age of forty; having lived till that time as a quiet, peaceful, and unobtrusive citizen, what was he to gain by this career? Long years passed before he could make more than a handful of converts. During these weary years he was the object of contumely and hatred to the ruling tribe in Mecca. His life was hardly safe from them. Nothing could be more hopeless than his position during the first twelve years of his public preaching. Only a strong conviction of the reality of his mission could have supported him through this long period of failure, loneliness, and contempt. During all these years the wildest imagination could not have pictured the success which was to come. Here is a Sura in which he finds comfort in God and his promises.—
In this Sura, Mohammed refers to the fact of the death of his mother, Amina, in his seventh year, his father having died a few months before. He visited her tomb many years after, and lifted up his voice and wept. In reply to the questions of his companions, he said: "This is the grave of my mother; the Lord hath permitted me to visit it, and I asked leave to pray for her, and it was not granted. So I called my mother to remembrance, and the tender memory of her overcame me, and I wept." The child had been taken by his grandfather, Abd al Mut-talib, then eighty years old, who treated him with the greatest indulgence. At his death, shortly after, Mohammed was adopted by his uncle, Abu Tâlib, the chief of the tribe. Abu Tâlib brought him up like his own son, making him sleep by his bed, eat by his side, and go with him wherever he went. And when Mohammed, assuming his inspired position, declared himself a prophet, his uncle, then aged and universally respected, protected him from his enemies, though Abu himself never accepted his teaching. Mohammed therefore had good reason to bless the Providence which had provided such protectors for his orphaned infancy.
Among the earliest converts of Mohammed, after Khadîjah, were his two adopted children, Ali and Zeid. Ali was the son of his guardian, Abu Tâlib, who had become poor, and found it hard to support his family. Mohammed, "prompted by his usual kindness and consideration," says Mr. Muir, went to his rich uncle Abbas, and proposed that each of them should adopt one of Abu Tâlib's children, which was done. His other adopted son, Zeid, belonged to a Syrian tribe, and had been taken captive by marauders, sold into slavery, and given to Khadîjah, who presented him to her husband. After a while the father of Zeid heard where he was, and coming to Mecca offered a large sum as ransom for his son. Mohammed had become very fond of Zeid, but he called him, and gave him his choice to go or stay. Zeid said, "I will not leave thee; thou art in the place to me of father and mother." Then Mohammed took him to the Kaaba, and touching the Black Stone said, "Bear witness, all here! Zeid is my son. I shall be his heir, and he mine." So the father returned home contented, and Zeid was henceforth known as "Zeid ibn Mohammed,"—Zeid, the son of Mohammed.
It is reported that when Ali was about thirteen years old Mohammed was one day praying with him in one of the retired glens near Mecca, whither they had gone to avoid the ridicule of their opponents. Abu Tâlib, passing by, said, "My nephew! what is this new faith I see thee following?" "O my uncle," replied Mohammed, "it is the religion of God, his angels and prophets, the religion of Abraham. The Lord hath sent me as his apostle; and thou, uncle, art most worthy to be invited to believe." Abu Tâlib replied, "I am not able, my nephew, to separate from the customs of my forefathers, but I swear that while I live no one shall trouble thee." Then he said to Ali, "My son, he will not invite thee to anything which is not good; wherefore thou art free to cleave to him."
Another early and important convert was Abu Bakr, father of Mohammed's favorite wife, Ayesha, and afterward the prophet's successor. Ayesha said she "could not remember the time when both her parents were not true believers." Of Abu Bakr, the prophet said, "I never invited any to the faith who did not show hesitation, except Abu Bakr. When I proposed Islam to him he at once accepted it." He was thoughtful, calm, tender, and firm. He is still known as "Al Sadîch," the true one. Another of his titles is "the Second of the Two,"—from having been the only companion of Mohammed in his flight from Mecca. Hassan, the poet of Medina, thus says of him:—
Abu Bakr was at this time a successful merchant, and possessed some forty thousand dirhems. But he spent most of it in purchasing and giving freedom to Moslem slaves, who were persecuted by their masters for their religion. He was an influential man among the Koreish. This powerful tribe, the rulers of Mecca, who from the first treated Mohammed with contempt, gradually became violent persecutors of him and his followers. Their main wrath fell on the unprotected slaves, whom they exposed to the scorching sun, and who, in their intolerable thirst, would sometimes recant, and acknowledge the idols. Some of them remained firm, and afterward showed with triumph their scars. Mohammed, Abu Bakr, Ali, and all who were connected with powerful families, were for a long time safe. For the principal protection in such a disorganized society was the principle that each tribe must defend every one of its members, at all hazards. Of course, Mohammed was very desirous to gain over members of the great families, but he felt bound to take equal pains with the poor and helpless, as appears from the following anecdote: "The prophet was engaged in deep converse with the chief Walîd, for he greatly desired his conversion. Then a blind man passed that way, and asked to hear the Koran. But Mohammed was displeased with the interruption, and turned from him roughly." But he was afterward grieved to think he had slighted one whom God had perhaps chosen, and had paid court to a reprobate. So his remorse took the form of a divine message and embodied itself as follows:—
Mohammed did not encourage his followers to martyrdom. On the contrary, he allowed them to dissemble to save themselves. He found one of his disciples sobbing bitterly because he had been compelled by ill-treatment to abuse his master and worship the idols. "But how dost thou find thy heart?" said the prophet. "Steadfast in the faith," said he. "Then," answered Mohammed, "if they repeat their cruelty, thou mayest repeat thy words." He also had himself an hour of vacillation. Tired of the severe and seemingly hopeless struggle with the Koreish, and seeing no way of overcoming their bitter hostility, he bethought himself of the method of compromise, more than seven centuries before America was discovered. He had been preaching Islam five years, and had only forty or fifty converts. Those among them who had no protectors he had advised to fly to the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia. "Yonder," said he, pointing to the west, "lies a land wherein no one is wronged. Go there and remain until the Lord shall open a way for you." Some fifteen or twenty had gone, and met with a kind reception. This was the first "Hegira," and showed the strength of faith in these exiles, who gave up their country rather than Islam. But they heard, before long, that the Koreish had been converted by Mohammed, and they returned to Mecca. The facts were these.
One day, when the chief citizens were sitting near the Kaaba, Mohammed came, and began to recite in their hearing one of the Suras of the Koran. In this Sura three of the goddesses worshipped by the Koreish were mentioned. When he came to their names he added two lines in which he conceded that their intercession might avail with God. The Koreish were so delighted at this acknowledgment of their deities, that when he added another line calling on them to worship Allah, they all prostrated themselves on the ground and adored God. Then they rose, and expressed their satisfaction, and agreed to be his followers, and receive Islam, with this slight alteration, that their goddesses and favorite idols were to be respected. Mohammed went home and began to be unhappy in his mind. The compromise, it seems, lasted long enough for the Abyssinian exiles to hear of it and to come home. But at last the prophet recovered himself, and took back his concession. The verse of the Sura was cancelled, and another inserted, declaring that these goddesses were only names, invented by the idolaters. Ever after, the intercession of idols was condemned with scorn. But Mohammed records his lapse thus in the seventeenth Sura of the Koran:—
"And truly, they were near tempting thee from what we taught thee, that thou shouldst invent a different revelation; and then they would have inclined unto thee.
And if we had not strengthened thee, verily thou hadst inclined to them a little.
Then thou shouldst not have found against us any helper."
After this, naturally, the persecution became hotter than ever. A second body of exiles went to Abyssinia. Had not the venerable Abu Tâlib protected Mohammed, his life might have been lost. As it was, the persecutors threatened the old man with deadly enmity unless he gave up Mohammed. But Abu Tâlib, though agreeing with them in their religion, and worshipping their gods, refused to surrender his nephew to them. Once, when Mohammed had disappeared, and his uncle suspected that the Koreish had seized him, he armed a party of Hâshimite youths with dirks, and went to the Kaaba, to the Koreish. But on the way he heard that Mohammed was found. Then, in the presence of the Koreish, he told his young men to draw their dirks, and said, "By the Lord! had ye killed him, not one of you had remained alive." This boldness cowed their violence for a time. But as the unpopularity of Mohammed increased, he and all his party were obliged to take refuge with the Hâshimites in a secluded quarter of the city belonging to Abu Tâlib. The conversion of Omar about this time only increased their rage. They formed an alliance against the Hâshimites, agreeing that they would neither buy nor sell, marry, nor have any dealings with them. This oath was committed to writing, sealed, and hung up in the Kaaba. For two or three years the Hâshimites remained shut up in their fortress, and often deprived of the necessaries of life. Their friends would sometimes secretly supply them with provisions; but the cries of the hungry children would often be heard by those outside. They were blockaded in their intrenchments. But many of the chief people in Mecca began to be moved by pity, and at last it was suggested to Abu Tâlib that the bond hung up in the Kaaba had been eaten by the ants, so as to be no longer valid. This being found to be the case, it was decided that the league was at an end, and the Hâshimites returned to their homes. But other misfortunes were in store for Mohammed. The good Abu Tâlib soon died, and, not long after, Khadîjah. His protector gone, what could Mohammed do? He left the city, and went with only Zeid for a companion on a mission to Tâyif, sixty or seventy miles east of Mecca, in hopes of converting the inhabitants. Who can think of the prophet, in this lonely journey, without sympathy? He was going to preach the doctrine of One God to idolaters. But he made no impression on them, and, as he left the town, was followed by a mob, hooting, and pelting him with stones. At last they left him, and in the shadow of some trees he betook himself to prayer. His words have been preserved, it is believed by the Moslems, and are as follows: "O Lord! I make my complaint unto thee of the feebleness of my strength, and the weakness of my plans. I am insignificant in the sight of men. O thou most merciful! Lord of the weak! Thou art my Lord! Do not abandon me. Leave me not a prey to these strangers, nor to my foes. If thou art not offended, I am safe. I seek refuge in the light of thy countenance, by which all darkness is dispersed, and peace comes. There is no power, no help, but in thee." In that hour of prayer, the faith of Mohammed was the same as that of Luther praying for protection against the Pope. It was a part of the universal religion of human nature. Certainly this man was no impostor. A man, going alone to summon an idolatrous city to repentance, must at least have believed in his own doctrine.
But the hour of success was at hand. No amount of error, no bitterness of prejudice, no vested interest in falsehood, can resist the determined conviction of a single soul. Only believe a truth strongly enough to hold it through good report and ill report, and at last the great world of half-believers comes round to you. And usually the success comes suddenly at last, after weary years of disappointment. The great tree, which seems so solid and firm, has been secretly decaying within, and is hollow at heart; at last it falls in a moment, filling the forest with the echoes of its ruin. The dam, which seems strong enough to resist a torrent, has been slowly undermined by a thousand minute rills of water; at last it is suddenly swept away, and opens a yawning breach for the tumbling cataract. And almost as suddenly came the triumph of Mohammed.
At Medina and in its neighborhood there had long been numerous and powerful tribes of Jewish proselytes. In their conflicts with the idolaters, they had often predicted the speedy coming of a prophet like Moses. The Jewish influence was great at Medina, and that of the idolaters was divided by bitter quarrels. Now it must be remembered that at this time Mohammed taught a kind of modified Judaism. He came to revive the religion of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He continually referred to the Old Testament and the Talmud for authority. He was a prophet and inspired, but not to teach anything new. He was to restore the universal religion which God had taught to man in the beginning,—the religion of all true patriarchs and prophets. Its essential doctrine was the unity of God, and his supremacy and providence. Its one duty was Islam, or submission to the Divine will. Its worship was prayer and almsgiving. At this time he did not make belief in himself the main point; it was to profess the unity of God, and to submit wholly to God. So that the semi-Judaized pilgrims from Medina to Mecca were quite prepared to accept his teachings. Mohammed, at the time of the pilgrimage, met with many of them, and they promised to become his disciples. The pledge they took was as follows: "We will not worship any but the one God; we will not steal, nor commit adultery, nor kill our children (female): we will not slander at all, nor disobey the prophet in anything that is right." This was afterward called the "Pledge of Women," because it did not require them to fight for Islam. This faith spread rapidly among the idolaters at Medina,—much more so than the Jewish system. The Jews required too much of their proselytes; they insisted on their becoming Jews. They demanded a change of all their previous customs. But Mohammed only asked for submission.
About this time Mohammed had his famous dream or vision, in which he was carried by Gabriel on a winged steed to Jerusalem, to meet all the prophets of God and be welcomed by them to their number, and then to the seventh heaven into the presence of God. It was so vivid that he deemed it a reality, and maintained that he had been to Jerusalem and to heaven. This, and the Koran itself, were the only miracles he ever claimed.
The Medina Moslems having entered into a second pledge, to receive Mohammed and his friends, and to protect them, the prophet gave orders to his followers to leave Mecca secretly in small parties, and repair to Medina. As the stout sea-captain remains the last on a sinking vessel, Mohammed stayed quietly at Mecca till all the others had gone. Only Abu Bakr's family and his own remained. The rest of the believers, to the number of about two hundred, had disappeared.
The Koreish, amazed at these events, knew not what to do. Why had the Moslems gone? and why had Mohammed remained? How dared he to stay, unprotected, in their midst? They might kill him;—but then his tribe would take a bloody vengeance on his murderers. At last they proposed to seize him, and that a number of men, one from each tribe and family, should at the same moment drive their dirks into him. Or perhaps it might be better to send an assassin to waylay him on his way to Medina. While they were discussing these alternatives, news was brought to them that Mohammed also had disappeared, and Abu Bakr with him. They immediately went to their houses. In that of Mohammed they found the young Ali, who, being asked where his father was, replied, "I do not know. I am not his keeper. Did you not order him to go from the city? I suppose he is gone." Getting no more information at the house of Abu Bakr, they sent out parties of armed men, mounted on swift horses and camels, to search the whole route to Medina, and bring the fugitives back. After a few days the pursuers returned, saying that there were no signs of any persons having gone in that direction. If they had gone that way they would certainly have overtaken them.
Meantime where were the fugitives? Instead of going north to Medina, they had hidden in a cave on a mountain, about five or six miles to the south of Mecca. Here they remained concealed three days and nights, in imminent danger from their pursuers, who once, it is said, came to the mouth of the cave, but, seeing spiders' webs spun across the opening, concluded no one could have gone in recently. There was a crevice in the roof through which the morning light entered, and Abu Bakr said, "If one of them were to look down, he would see us." "Think not so, Abu Bakr," said the prophet. "We are two, but God is in the midst, a third."
The next day, satisfied that the heat of the pursuit had abated, they took the camels which had privately been brought to them from the city by the son of Abu Bakr, and set off for Medina, leaving Mecca on the right. By the calculations of M. Caussin de Perceval, it was on the 20th of June, A.D. 622.
|Written By James Freeman Clarke|
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