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An Outline of the Life of Muhammad


1. Muhammad's Triumph at Mecca.

The Treaty of Hudaybiyah did not make Muhammad and the Quraysh allies. The conquest of Mecca was still the foremost of Muhammad's objectives and the Quraysh, who till now had always taken the fight to him at Medina, knew full well that the Hijrah was the catalyst for an ultimate onslaught on the city. They were under no misapprehensions about this.

We have already seen how closely related the Hijrah was to the active policy of jihad which immediately followed it and it comes as no surprise to find the inevitable conquest being pursued two years after the truce. A small provocation by the Banu Bakr, a tribe allied to the Quraysh, on the Banu Khaza'ah, allied to Muhammad, was all he needed to declare the treaty broken. Abu Sufyan, aware that the balances were now tilted well in Muhammad's favour, went to Medina to restore the treaty but Muhammad refused to accommodate him and he returned to Mecca empty-handed.

Assembling an army ten thousand strong, Muhammad immediately marched on Mecca. On the way he was met by his uncle al-Abbas who now gave in his allegiance and declared himself a Muslim. Muhammad camped just outside the city and encouraged his army to light as many fires as possible so as to strike dismay into the hapless Meccans. Abu Sufyan then came out to investigate reports of the advance and met al-Abbas on the way. He was escorted to Muhammad's tent where he was challenged by his now ascendant foe to become a Muslim. "Has the time not come", Muhammad said, "to declare that there is no god but Allah and that I am his messenger?" "Of the Lordship of Allah I have no doubt", he replied, "but I am as yet hesitant about your claim to be his emissary". Al-Abbas then promptly rebuked him, telling him this was no time for hesitancy, and that he was likely to lose his head if he persisted in his unbelief while standing helpless before Muhammad. The Qurayshite leader tactfully overcame his hesitancy and declared his allegiance. Somewhat to the disgust of the Muslims from Medina who were anticipating a fruitful battle and who murmured that Muhammad had become overawed by his love for his own city, he nonetheless boldly declared:

One cannot help wondering whether there was not some plan in this incident. Was the peaceful submission of Mecca dependent purely upon a chance meeting between Abu Sufyan and al-Abbas and the timely conversion of these two men? As Muir has observed, "there are symptoms of a previous understanding between Mahomet and Abu Sofian" (The Life of Mahomet, p. 392). It is possible that Abu Sufyan had intimated his allegiance when visiting Medina. This personal deputation by the prime enemy of Muhammad would perhaps have been an unlikely venture by one still committed to his downfall. One writer says:

On the other hand there is evidence that Abu Sufyan was somewhat encouraged at the prospect of Muhammad's defeat by the Hawazin a few weeks later and his offspring were no champions of the faith. His son Mu'awiya, the first Umayyad caliph, though always professing the faith, set himself against many of Muhammad's kinsmen and companions and his grandson Yazid became the scourge of the Muslims and was responsible for the death of Hussain, one of Muhammad's own grandsons. Another Muslim writer describes the Meccan leader in far less favourable terms as "the notorious Abu Sufian, the son of Harb, the father of the well-known Mu'awiyah, the Judas Iscariot of Islam" (Ali, The Spirit of Islam, p. 105).

Apart from some resistance in the southern quarter of the city stimulated by some of Muhammad's bitterest opponents among whom were Suhail and Abu Jahl's son Ikrima, Mecca capitulated peacefully. Muhammad advanced on the Ka'aba and had its idols and paintings immediately destroyed. As soon as the shrine was purified of these excesses, Bilal, his first muazzin, called the people to prayer. A general amnesty was declared and the people soon warmed to their kinsman who had spared them and confirmed the sanctity of their shrine. For once and for all, Mecca had been won to Islam. Although Muhammad's charitable attitude towards his own people can be contrasted with his recent destruction of the Banu Quraydhah he must be credited for his generosity at this moment in his life when those who had actively opposed him for so long were now at his mercy.

2. The Proscription of a few Prominent Enemies.

Not everyone benefited from the amnesty. A dozen leading opponents were proscribed though only a few were eventually executed. Two were apostates from Islam, one was a poetess who had particularly irked Muhammad with her satires, and the last was one of two Meccans who had assaulted Muhammad's daughter Zaynab as she fled Mecca for Medina. The others escaped either by hiding themselves or by seeking pardon. One case is of particular interest.

The alleged fabrication of the revelation centres on Surah 23.12-14. In the Tafsir-i-Husaini, Vol. 2, p. 80 (quoted in Sell, The Historical Development of the Qur'an, p. 150-151) we are told that when the description of the creation of man in these verses was ended, this same Abdullah, recording the verses as Muhammad's amanuensis, exclaimed fatabaarakallahu-ahsanul-khaaliqlin - "Blessed be Allah, the best of Creators". Muhammad promptly told him to record his ejaculation in the passage as part of the revelation. Abdullah forsook Islam, claiming that if Muhammad was inspired, so was he! (The words are duly recorded at the end of Surah 23.14).

It is hardly surprising that Muhammad sought his demise. The unfortunate renegade had one source of hope, however. He was the foster-brother of Uthman, later to become the third caliph. Uthman hid him at first and, when the atmosphere at Mecca had subsided after the conquest, brought him to Muhammad and pleaded for clemency. It was only after some time had lapsed, while all sat in tense silence, that Muhammad duly pardoned the offender.

Throughout his course Muhammad was always very sensitive to anyone who challenged his claim to be receiving his revelations from above. (One of the two prisoners executed at Badr had ventured in earlier years to produce passages emulating the Qur'anic text). He was clearly unwilling to spare Abdullah and patiently waited for one of his companions to strike his neck. They obviously did not read his mind and, when they rebuked him for not giving them some sign of his intention, he gave a strange answer.

The ethics of the prophet of Islam are not always easy to evaluate. He obviously thought little of the destruction of those who irked him by undermining his claim to prophethood but deemed it highly offensive to achieve this by giving any sign of his intention!

3. From the Conquest to the Death of Muhammad.

Shortly after the triumph at Mecca the surrounding Bedouin of the Hawazin tribe expressed their alarm at Muhammad's growing influence and launched a major offensive at the valley of Hunain against his army. After initial reverses the Muslim army won the day. Virtually all the booty was awarded to Meccan warriors who had become Muslims only a few weeks earlier, and that only because of the conquest of their city.

Muhammad promptly asked his companions from Medina whether they would rather have him or camels and sheep. He duly placated them, promising to return with them to Medina after giving the booty as gifts to those whose hearts were but recently "reconciled to Islam".

One really wonders how true faith can be bred in a people firstly by force of conquest and secondly, very soon afterwards, by material inducements. Muhammad is alleged to have told his companions "I have made use of the pelf of this world to gain the love of the people that they may become Muslims" (Sarwar, Muhammad the Holy Prophet, p. 321). There is nothing wrong in principle with the generous bestowal of a gift to gain the heart of a man (Luke 16.9), but it does seem to be a very questionable way of cementing faith in God - especially when most religions teach that the desire for possessions is irreconcilable with a true desire for spiritual riches. Jesus despised any form of ulterior or double-motive in those who flocked to him and, knowing what was in the hearts of all men, would not trust himself to those whose faith could only be obtained through the bestowal of one or other form of material benefit (John 2.24-25, 6.26). Another Muslim writer also has the prophet of Islam say:

The Son of man, who constantly warned against an abundance of possessions and who told his disciples not to lay up treasures on earth, but rather to sell them and to give alms so as to provide themselves with treasures in heaven which do not pass away (Luke 12.33), would never have considered that the faith of his followers could be won in such a way.

In the remaining days of Muhammad's life deputations from all over Arabia came to declare their allegiance to him and shortly before his death almost the whole Arabian Peninsula had adopted Islam. The last stronghold of idolatry to capitulate was at-Ta'if. Home of the goddess al-Lat, the city withstood a siege by Muhammad shortly after the battle of Hunain. Soon afterwards, however, one of its inhabitants who was a Muslim, Urwa ibn Mas'ud, sought to win his kinsmen to Islam, but they murdered him and in so doing invited on themselves a final and more thorough onslaught. A deputation to Medina, expressing a willingness to capitulate if a few years grace could be given to the city, was rejected out of hand. Muhammad insisted on the destruction of the idol and the immediate observance of the daily prayers.

They were spared the ignominy of destroying their idol. Muhammad wisely ordered Abu Sufyan and al-Mughira, two recent converts from Mecca who were friends of the tribe settled in the city, to raze the great image to the ground. It duly fell but not without being lamented by the women of the city.

In 632 AD a short illness ended Muhammad's life. He was buried in the chamber of Ayishah, his favourite wife. After a short dispute concerning his successor, Abu Bakr, who had led the prayers during his illness, was elected caliph. During his short two-year reign he put down attempted revolts in the peninsula by Bedouin tribes seeking to throw off the yolk of Islam. Umar followed him and before his death Islam had spread to Iraq and Syria. Within a hundred years it had gone out as far as India in the east and Spain in the west. Today it is predominant in the Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia, and other parts of Asia. Its adherents number about eight hundred million throughout the world.

Muhammad and The Religion of Islam: Table of Contents

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