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The life of Muhammed



In the present confrontation between the West and Islam, it is imperative that we learn more about Islam. An earlier posting summarized the life of Muhammad according to The Encyclopedia of Islam. This posting is a summary of a life of him written for children.. This is what Islamic children are taught, It varies from the historical record described in the previous posting. We invite your comments and criticisms. Later we will compare the two versions of the life of Muhammad and judge its impact on the mindset of contemporary Muslims, especially Arabs.

The Life of the Prophet Muhammad (570-632) provides an interesting account for those if us not familiar with the version taught to Muslim children. Here are a few disjointed notes. Abraham in Ur was condemned to be burned to death because he worshiped Allah and not the local idols. Amazingly, the fire did not affect him, but he left town and went on his long pilgrimage. The Ka'bah of Mecca was built to honor a black stone which had fallen from heaven to earth. An angel brought it from a nearby hill [it is presumably a meteorite, and the cult of it is primitive stone worship, which is incompatible with Islam]. 'Abd al.Muttalib needed help to dig a well. He promised Allah to sacrifice one of his ten sons in return for help. An old woman told him a life was worth ten camels, which should be sacrificed instead Finally 130 camels were killed, and there was enough food for the whole city. [Āre camels divided into those to be used as beasts of burden and those killed for meat? The slaughter of 130 camels might leave the people short of transport.]

Mecca was an important trading center half way between Palestine and Yemen, which was conquered by an Abyssinian named Abrahah. He decided to destroy the Ka'bah, which was attracting pėlgrims from Yemen. When he approached Mecca, he stole the camels of Ābd al Mutalib, who went out and demanded them back. Abrahah tried to enter Mecca, but his elephant refused to move and insisted on going back to Yemen. A flock of birds appeared and each dropped three poisonous stones on the invading army, which retreated back to Yemen. For this reason, 57 0 AD is known as "the year of the elephant". In that year Muhammad was born. A bright star announced the event. The name means "the praised one". His grandfather 'Abd al Mutalib said he had chosen the name because he wanted him to be praised by Allah in heaven and by men on earth.` Muhammad's father had died.

According to custom, he was given to a poor Bedouin woman to raise in the desert [Why did the mothers accept this custom?]. Muhammad returned to his mother in Mecca when he was three years old. Later, he always he recalled with joy his life in the desert. His mother died when he was six, leaving him an orphan. He went to live with his grandfather. He went with a caravan to Roman Syria. A monk, seeing a white cloud over his head, realized that he was the prophet who would follow Jesus. [How can a prophet follow Jesus?].

He went on a trading expedition to Syria for a wealthy widow named Khadijah. She was so pleased that she proposed to him and they got married. They had two boys (both died) and four daughters. all of whom survived. . He lived as a merchant in Mecca and took part in the rebuilding of the Ka'bah, There was a fight over who should place the black stone in its place. Muhammad solved the problem. During Ramadan he went to live in a cave on Mount Hira. The Archangel Gabriel appeared to him and ordered him to read, but he said he could not, so Gabriel embraced him. From that day on, Gabriel frequently visited him and the words he spoke to Muhammad were later written down by scribes. He and his wife began confiding the angel's words to a few close friends.

The section "The Troubles Begin" tells that, when Muhammad began to preach, his uncle Abu Lahab shouted "May you perish! Did you call us here to tell us this?" Allah then sent this message "The Power of Abu Lahab will perish, and he will perish. His wealth and gains will not save him. He shall roast at a flaming fire. And his wife, the carrier of firewood, will have upon her neck a rope of palm fiber" [Muhammad clearly did not like heckling. Is this the origin of that odd expression "he cried uncle"?]. Then Abu Jahl insulted the prophet. Another uncle named Hamzah struck Abu Jahl is the face with his bow, and Abu Jahl became a devoted follower of Muhammad. Five years after Gabriel appeared to Muhammad. a large group of his followers, including the children of prominent families, fled secretly across the Red Sea to Abyssinia. It was the first hijrah. The leaders of Mecca sent envoys to persuade the King of Abyssinia to send them back, but the king, who was a Christian, refused.

The Year of Sorrow was marked by the deaths of Muhammad's wife and of his uncle and protector Abu Talib. Because of the hostility in Mecca, Muhammad walked the seventy kilometers to Taif, hoping to find support there, He was stoned, but he made one convert to Islam, a Christian slave from the Assyrian town of Nineveh. Muhammad said it was the town where the prophet Jonah had preached,. Since he too was a prophet, Mahammad called Jonah brother.

"The Night Journey and the Ascent to Heaven" describes how, while he slept, the Archangel Gabriel took him, mounted on an animal (?) to al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, where he met among others Abraham, Moses and Jesus. He was offered wine and milk. He chose milk. Then angels took him through the seven heavens.. Among the angels he saw was Malik, the keeper of hell who never smiles. He was given a view of hell and the terrible plight of those who suffer there. At last he reached the Lote Tree of the Uttermost, where no prophet had been before. There he received a revelation of what Muslims believe. Then he was taken into the light of the divine presence of Allah, and he was instructed that Muslims should pray fifty times a day. On his way back he saw Moses, who said he could reduce it from fifty to five.

The Treaty of Aqabah. Muhammad went to Aqabah to meet with two powerful tribal leaders. They converted to Islam, and then twelve important men went to Mecca to meet with him-.They made a treaty. Hostility to Muhammad continued. Allah had told him to forgive those who insulted him, but now he gave him permission to fight those who harmed him or his companions. The Devil in the form of a noble and handsome old man advised Muhammad's enemies how to kill him. Gabriel appeared and told him to leave Mecca. He and a group of followers left and arrived in Yathrib (Medina) on Monday, September 27, 622 AD. They built a mosque. The battle in the Valley of Badr is described as though it were between Muhammed's group and his pursuers from Mecca, not the Jews of the Valley. The battle took place on March 7, 623. The women beat drums and encouraged the men to be brave. The long description of the battle, in which Muihammad's men were victorious, ended with a proclamation that those who had died were martyrs and would go to heaven,

Then came the Battle of the Trench. The Jews of Medina had welcomed Muhammad,, but then, except for one tribe, they betrayed him. Another battle with the Meccans took place on March 24, 627, and the Muslims were victorious. By the Treaty of Hudaybiyah, it was agreed that fighting should stop for ten years, but the Muslims were dissatisfied with the conditions under which they would be allowed to visit Mecca. The number of Muslims grew as those who had fled to Abyssinia came to Medina. Muhammad was able to lead 2,000 pilgrims to Mecca.

"The Invitation" tells how the Roman Emperor Heraclius had a dream foretelling the defeat of his empire by a people with a different religion. In Syria he met with Abu Sufyan who knew the Prophet well. Muhamad sent a letter telling the Emperor that he would be spared if he accepted Islam. Fearing that the Romans would kill him if he accepted Islam, the Emperor sent the messenger to Bishop Qaghatir, who said Christians were expecting the prophet. The angry crowd killed the bishop. The Emperor returned to Byzantium, saying "Goodbye for the last time, land of Syria!" [Heraclius, born c574. ruled the Byzantine Empire from 610, when he came from Byzantine North Africa and deposed Phocas, until he died in 641. He crushed the Persians in a series of campaigns. However, beginning in 614, Muslim Arabs invaded Syria and Palestine. This is thus the origin of the present dispute over the territory].

Muhammad sent a message to the Chosroes Shah of Persia, who furiously tore it up. [{Now known as Khosri I, ruled Persia from 531 until his death in 579. A Sassanian, he conquered lands as far away as Yemen. He was also a great protector of learning. From the viewpoint of our history textbook project, it would be interesting to compare the Arab and the Persian versions of these events described here]. When Muhammad learned this, he said "May Allah tear his kingdom into little pieces". He sent a letter to the Christian king of Abyssinia, the Negus al-Ashram., who had learned about Islam from the Muslims who had taken refuge there. He replied that he was alreasdy a Muslim. Muhammad sent a messenger to Alexandria to meet the ruler of Egypt, who was a Coptic Christian, and to invite him to become a Muslim,but he refused."All was not lost, for a few years later Persia, Syria and Egypt all became Muslim countries".

The treaty of Hudaybiyah was broken by the Meccans, so Muhammad set out from Medina with an army of 10,000. Mecca surrendered. "The lesson of pride at the valley of Hunayn" describes Muhammed's campaign against Taif, whose inhabitants accepted Islam. "Tabuk--the test of faith" Heraclius decided to attack the Muslims, so Muhammad planned to confront the Roman army at Tabuk, some 500 km north of Medina. Some hypocrites in Medina, who pretended to be Muslima, said it was impossible to confront the Roman army. Despite this, Muhammad went with his army toTabuk Amazed that it had crossed the desert,the Roman army withdrew.

"The farewell pilgrimage" describes how most of Arabia was converted to Islam. Muhammad made his final pilgrimage to Mecca. For all these years Medina had been his home. In Mecca, he and the Muslims walked seven times around the Ka'bah, He mounted a camel and went up a hill, whence he addressed the Muslims. He declared that "Revenge, one of the oldest traditions in Arabia, is ended forever." Then they gathered on the plain of Mina, , where they stood before a huge rock and stoned it in memory of Abraham's meeting with the devil, who had told him not to sacrifice Ishmael.[It looks as though the devil tried to save Ishmael].

The prophet's death: Muhammad and his group then returned to Medina. He died on June 8, 632 and was buried there. His friend Abu Bakr took over the leadership [thus becoming the first caliph].

Ronald Hilton - 4/20/03


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