Islam and jihad
4) Who was Muhammad?
part 1: from birth to the Hijrah
who still have a shred of faith in your hearts, have you forgotten that
to kill infidels and the enemies of Islam is a deed that has a reward
above no other...
you aware that the model for us all, the Prophet Muhammad and the four
rightful caliphs, undertook to murder infidels as one of their primary
activities, and that the Prophet waged jihad operations 77 times in
the first 10 years as head of the Muslim community in Medina?"
The Saudi government
"called on everyone to realize that terrorism has no religion or nationality",
said a cabinet statement carried by the official SPA news agency. It
"warned against hurling charges of terrorism and fascism at Muslims without
regard to the spotless history of Islamic civilization", the statement
was born to the privileged Quraysh
tribe in Mecca in the latter portion of the sixth century. The year 570
is usually cited, but only in retrospect. The early Arabs had no fixed calendar
but chose 570 as Muhammad's birth because that was the honored "Year
of the Elephant." This was when the Abyssinians attacked Mecca with
a herd of elephants, but it was believed the attackers were driven back
thanks to the special intervention of Allah.
believe that when Muhammad was born, assorted miracles accompanied his arrival.
Al-Tabari writes that Muhammad's mother, a young woman poor but pure in
heart, was visited by an angel who told her she would conceive a son, and
that she should name him Muhammad for he would be the "Lord of his
belief is that it was revealed to a holy man that a new prophet was coming.
He was led to a caravan where he would be able to find that prophet among
the men there and bless him. After reviewing them, the holy man asked if
he had really been shown all their young men. They replied no, there was
still the youngest boy who was humbly left to watch over the baggage. He
was called in and, upon seeing the young Muhammad, the holy man proclaimed
him "Messenger of the Lord of the Worlds."
these miracles seem familiar, they should. They are near-accounts of Mary,
mother of Jesus, from the New Testament, and the anointing of David from
the Old Testament. Skirting the obvious question and assuming factual equivalency,
Muslim writer/apologist Reza Aslan tellingly redirects:
It is not important
whether the stories describing the childhood of Muhammad, Jesus, or David
are true. What is important is what these stories say about our prophets,
our messiahs, our kings: that theirs is a holy and eternal vocation, established
by God from the moment of creation.
By the age
of six, both Muhammad's parents had died and custody of him passed to his
grandfather, Abd al-Muttalib. After his grandfather's death, he passed
to his uncle and influential Quraysh member Abu Talib.
age 25, Muhammad married a wealthy widow fifteen years his senior, Khadijah;
supposedly in a selfless effort to protect her from unscrupulous men who
sought "to get their hands on her money" (No god but God,
Reza Aslan, p. 33). Her highly successful merchant business afforded them
uncommon wealth and ease for that period. This was fifteen years before
the well-to-do young husband would begin having visions and seizures, and
hearing voices that would lead to his discovery that he was God's greatest
one account, Muhammad's initial vision came deep in a cave in the year 610.
There he had secluded himself to consider the words of a Christian evangelist
he had heard from Northern Yemen concerning Judgment Day. By another account,
he entered the dark mountain cave to meditate on how to reconcile his renowned
generosity to the poor with his elite status as a Quraysh. Either
way, it's said he heard a voice out of the blackness demanding, "Recite!"
asked, "What shall I recite?", but the reply kept coming back
simply, "Recite!" He seized up with physical agony and anguish
until he thought the unseen force was going to kill him. But as words came
to him, his agony eventually gave way to peaceful assurance that his words
were not just his words, but the words of Allah, and he, Muhammad, Allah's
newfound beliefs stressed that Allah was "a good god", and was
"the most merciful" and "the most generous". Stressing
Allah's goodness and fairness, Muhammad began preaching against what the
Meccans well knew to be their financial and religious oppression at the
hands of the city's highest authorities. Muhammad exorted throughout the
city how unfair it was that one small group of elitists controlled access
to all the idols of the Ka'ba, and that they charged religious-minded people
such exorbitantly high fees to worship there.
three years of this preaching, Muhammad succeeded only in aggravating the
Meccan authorities, not at rallying the oppressed masses to his side.
absent from his recitations for those first three years were condemnations
of false gods, multiple gods, or idols of the Ka'ba. This changed in 613
when its said the revelation came down that there was only one god - Allah.
It was at this point that Muhammad's preaching switched emphasis to the
oneness of Allah and to the exclusive authority of himself, Muhammad, as
Allah's special messenger. These two points from now on would remain Islam's
core creed (the shahadah) - the first of the "five pillars of
chief concerns of Muhammad's preaching now turned to warning people of Judgment
Day, encouraging them to look after one another, and urging them to provide
for the poor. He also sought to provide people with a set of instructions
which had to be obeyed in order to get into heaven. These
requirements Muhammad would incrementally dictate to his followers as they
came to him throughout his life. It would be many years after his death
before Abu Bakr and others would compile in writing all the requirements
they could remember him saying.
on the person of Jesus
the person of Jesus, Muhammad held him to be a messiah...BUT this needs
qualification. Muhammad's interpretation of the Old Testament's promised
Messiah were along the lines of an ancient Jewish two-messiah
theory. See the link for details, but basically Muhammad thought
Jesus to be the messiah-priest prophecied in the Old Testament to suffer
and die; and held himself to be the other messiah-king prophecied to conquer
the world and be seated in power in heaven at the right hand of God.
whatever reason, Muhammad failed to discern the identity
of the Messiah. Perhaps the source of Muhammad's recitations was
insufficiently versed in Jesus' teachings or the Old Testament prophets
to know they had not spoken of two messiahs who would each come once, but
one Messiah - the Lord Jesus himself - who would come twice.
also held Jesus to be a prophet, though one lesser than himself. (A statue
of Jesus was one of the 360 idols stored in the Ka'ba, and reportedly one
of the few that remain to this day.)
Muhammad's perspective of Jesus as evidenced in Muslim texts was drawn from
the uninspired apocryphal writings, from the Jewish two-messiah theory,
and from select verses in the New Testament; hardly recognizable to Christians
then or now, especially in regard to the real purpose of the Old Testament,
the meaning of the Law, and the purpose and significance of Christ's coming
and death on the cross
(as no less explained by Christ himself!).
quranic statements attributed to Muhammad's early years in Mecca tend to
speak of Jesus' followers with tolerance, as though to encourage Islam's
followers to 'be patient with them, they'll come around.' The same tolerance
is even extended to Jews - in the early sayings.
of the Book"
sometimes referred to Christians and Jews as "People
of the Book". This is not in reference (or reverence) to the Bible
or Torah, but to a book believed to exist in heaven - the Umm al-Kitab
or "Mother of Books."
believed that from the Umm al-Kitab, the first third was revealed to the
Jews (the Old Testament essentially); the second third was revealed to the
Christians (the New Testament and the apocryphal writings), and the last
third was being revealed to himself via the words that came into his mind.
Muhammad believed they all taught the same, singular story of mankind.
are, of course, major differences of theology between the Judeo-Christian
texts and Muhammad's revelations, as he was at least partly aware. He explained
these as corruptions which must have crept into the Torah and Bible. In
spite of this, in his early sayings Muhammad is described as holding Jews
and Christians to be his spiritual cousins. In connection with this belief
comes one of Muhammad's most pluralistic statements (Qur'an 5:69):
...Anyone who believes
in God and the Last Days, and who does good deeds, will have nothing to
fear or regret.
NOTE: Several times now, I have made reference to Muhammad's "early
sayings." I make a point of this distinction because Islam makes a
special point of this distinction.
is accepted within Islamic theology that Muhammad made contradictory remarks
and that those are reflected in contradictory verses in the Qur'an and other
texts. Islam reconciles this by reasoning that Muhammad's latter recitations
from Allah always abrogate
or negate his previous statements and doctrines to the contrary.
what Islam does not reconcile, not uniformly, is when each of Muhammad's
statements were made. Their texts are arranged topically, not chronologically.
This partly explains the problem faced by Muslims today, forced to choose
between Muhammad's conflicting directions. They're instructed to follow
those which were given last - whichever half one might argue those to be.
effects of this dilemma are on the news every day - whether Islam means
peace or war, or whether Muslims are to be tolerant of others or are to
persecute and kill them. At root these all stem from the disagreement over
"What did Muhammad say last?" This is fully discussed in a separate
chapter, but know for now that the focal point in time after which
Allah's commands took a new and violent direction was when Muhammad's own
clan threatened him with death in Mecca and he took flight to Yathrib (Medina).
Mecca to Yathrib
619, local Arab tolerance of Mohammed's claim of divine exclusivity was
reaching a breaking point, as was the exhausted patience of his own Quraysh
clan. The Quraysh were most concerned about Muhammad as a financial competitor.
Muhammad's monotheism preached that pilgrims' dollars should not be given
to the Quraysh to visit the Ka'ba anymore, but should instead be directed
to Allah alone whose earthly accountant was Muhammad alone. This was cash
out of their pockets.
leadership had thus far tolerated Muhammad's preaching, thanks largely to
the restraining influence of Muhammad' uncle Abu Talib. But by this date,
Muhammad's wife Khadijah had died, as had his uncle. Uncle Talib's death
opened the door for the clan to elect a new sheikh - someone not as disposed
as Muhammad's uncle to protecting a public enemy of the tribe. Indeed upon
election, that new sheikh formally withdrew the clan's protection of Muhammad.
In 622, this along with death threats from the Quraysh would drive both
Muhammad and his group (the Muhajirun) out of Mecca. (Qur'an 10:2,
34:43, 68:2, 81:22-23...)
number of Muhammad's followers in Mecca at this time had only numbered between
75 to 200, even after a decade of developing and spreading his beliefs.
Muhammad's sayings suggest he was hurt that so few fellow former pagans
failed to grasp the reality of his divine appointment over them.
Bedouin tradition, it was terribly dishonoring to be cast out by one's own
clan. And Quraysh threats of death should Muhammad ever return would never
be rescinded. It was only at the invitation of another clan, the Khazraj
clan, that he and his Muhajirun were able to find refuge. Suffering the
loss of their formerly prestigious life, as well as of all that had to be
left behind, the Muhajirun quietly escaped Mecca for the Jewish and Arabic
farming community around the city of Yathrib. Muhammad fled last and separately
under cover of darkness. In little time, Yathrib would become better known
as Medinat an-Nabi, or Medina for short, meaning the "city of
epic flight from Mecca to Medina that would both change Muhammad's ministry
and change Islam radically and forever is still commemorated by Muslims
today as the Hijrah.
Who was Muhammad? - part 2