MOHAMMED BANISHED TO MEDINA
Muhammad_at_Badr Mohammed's monotheistic teachings angered the pagan Meccans, particularly the priests and businessmen that had a stake in the wealth generated by the Kaaba. As Mohammed attracted the interest of important Meccans some of his idol-worshiping opponents offered him bribes, and promised to make him a king.
When Mohammed turned them down his opponents organized boycotts against Muslim businesses and egged on crowds to jeer Mohammed whenever he walked down the street. The boycott lasted for two years. Muslims may have had difficulty getting enough to eat. There was also intense persecution. Non-Muslims were forbidden to marry Muslims. Muslim slaves were tied up and allowed to burn to death in the hot desert sun.
After an assassination plot was foiled at the last minute, Mohammed left for Yathrib, a small oasis 200 miles north of Mecca. This event, known as the hijira , took place in 622, the beginning of the Muslim era and the Islamic calendar. The oasis later became known as Madina-al-Nabi, the City of the Prophet, or Medina for short. In Mohammed’s time it was a collection of agricultural villages inhabited by Arabs and Jews.
The 70 families that followed Mohammed to Medina became known as Mubajirun (those who made the hijira ). During their journey they stayed off the main tracks and caravan routes to avoid trouble and were welcomed by the people of Medina, many of whom were Jews and Muslim converts that hoped Mohammed would bring an end to tribal feuding and violence that plagued the oasis. Within his Mecca-based tribe Mohammed was regarded as a traitor for abandoning the tribe and tribal leaders vowed to kill him
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Mohammed in Medina
Masjid Nabavi in Medina Mohammed was 52 when he arrived in Medina, which a relatively small settlement was occupied mainly by Arab traders, Bedouins and farmers. He stayed there for eight years before returning to Mecca and died and was buried there.
After Mohammed arrived in Medina, he said Allah would use his camel to chose the best spot to set to set up his camp and a place to pray. The camel knelt before a small barn. This barn became the world's first mosque. It was likely made of palm logs and mud brick and had fiber roofing. A stone marked the direction of prayer. The pulpit used by Mohammed to preach was fashioned from a tree trunk. Muslims gathered in the courtyard to discuss community matters. All mosque built afterwards were based on this humble structure.
Mohammed lived with his wives in huts around the first mosque. His revelations continued but they were of a more practical and pragmatic nature than those before. This became the parts of the Koran that defined how Muslims conduct their prayers, business, marriage, wars and other aspects of life.
During his stay in Medina, Mohammed attracted a large number of Jewish and Bedouin followers. He became Medina's ruler and military leader. It was considered quite revolutionary that he could build an alliance of tribes outside his own. Over time he built a strong army. His supporters in Medina are known as Ansar . The descendants of Ansar and Muhajirun are greatly honored by Muslims today.
Mohammed Rejected by Jews and Christians in Medina
Mohammed Before the Battle of Badr Mohammed made a number of overtures to Jews and Christians to win their support. To win points with the Jews he told his followers to observe a 24-hour fast called Yom Kippur and said god in his “prescience,” chose “the children of Israel...above all people.” As for Christians, Mohammed told them that although he didn’t embrace Jesus as a savior like they did he did believe Jesus was “the Messiah...the Messenger of God, and His Word...a Spirit from Him.”
But Mohammed seems to have ultimately been rejected by Jews and Christians. In one passage from the Koran he laments: “O Believers! Take not the Jews or Christians as friends, The are but one another’s friends.” Some have argued that one of the biggest disappointments of Mohammed’s life was the fact that the Jewish tribes of Medina did not accept him as a Prophet.
Mohammed initially asked the faithful to their prayers towards Jerusalem but after the Jews of Medina rejected his teachings he told his followers to pray towards Mecca. This decision and the one to have Mecca as a major pilgrimage center also may have been influenced by his desire to keep the pilgrimage trade in his hometown of Mecca and thus help merchants and trades people there.
Mohammed, the Caravan Raider
Mohammed was an able military leader. He and his followers regularly defended Medina against attacks and regularly raided the rich Mecca-bound caravans and moved against hostile tribes, seizing booty and exacting tribute.
Caravan raiding was not necessarily regarded as a crime in Arabia. It was viewed as a kind of sport and means of redistributing wealth. There were strict rules as to whom you could and couldn’t raid. Great care was taken to steal booty and livestock without harming anyone for the killing of people could trigger a nasty blood feud that could last for generations.
Mohammed himself participated in the raids, including one during the holy month of Rajab when fighting was prohibited. He was wounded on at least one occasion.
Mohammed stint as a caravan raider occurred after he organized his followers into a political community. Hostilities continued for seven years. During that time the Jewish tribes of Medina became opponents and bedouin tribes from Western and Central Arabia gradually were incorporated into the Mohammed community.
According to Muslim tradition, Mohammed expelled the tribes of Jews from Medina—and killed adult males in his tribe, which he suspected of collaborating with the Meccans in a battle against Medina.
Battle of Badr
Mohammed and Violence
Mohammed and his raiders planned to raid the annual caravan from Damascus to Mecca, which included more than a thousand camels. Tipped off, the Meccans sent a reinforcements to defend the caravan. At the wells of Badr, near the Red Sea, there was a fierce battle. Mohammed said, "All those who die today will enter paradise!" Although they were outnumbered three to one, the story goes, Mohammed 's disciplined 300-man army routed the undisciplined Meccans. The Battle of Badr in 624 was a stunning victory for the Muslims. Bedouin fighters impressed by their courage joined them.
A year later at Mount Uhud near Medina, when the Meccans retaliated with the aim of not only defeating the Muslims but exterminating them. They almost succeeded. Many Muslims were killed. Mohammed nearly died. He was wounded in the face by a stone, then hit in his helmet with swords. Bleeding and unconscious, he was pulled from the battle fields by his companions. Muslims vented their anger at Jewish tribes in Medina, who were expelled for supporting the Meccans. By some accounts Muslims in Medina murdered 700 Jews.
Battle of Badr One of the reasons why fighting and jihad play such central roles ins the Koran and Islam is that much of Mohammed’s life took place at a time of tribal conflict and war. Once victory was secured, Mohammed devoted his attention building a peaceful coalition of tribes dedicated to nonviolence.
Mohammed Defeats the Meccans
In 627, around 3,000 Muslims routed the 10,000-man Meccan army in the Battle of the Trench, so called because the Muslims dug a great trench outside of Medina, which thwarted the Meccan cavalry charges. This was followed by a massacre of the Qurayzah Jewish tribes which had collaborated with the Meccans, an act that seems unnecessarily cruel in today’s terms but was well within the terms of what was regarded as acceptable in ancient Arab warfare.
The victory was a great boost for Mohammed and Islam. Arabs saw Mohammed as a star on the rise. They also saw that the gods of the Meccans didn’t help them and so maybe there was something to the one God religion pushed by Mohammed. New tribes and Meccan defectors joined the Muslim forces.
Mohammed followed up the victory over the Meccans by organizing a pilgrimage to Mecca. He was accompanied by about 1,000 unarmed followers. Mohammed believed the Meccans wouldn’t attack them and break Mecca’s status as a peaceful sanctuary. The Meccans did try to attack them but the Mohammed and his followers were able to elude them with the help of Bedouins. In 628, the Meccans were pressured by peaceful demonstrations to sign the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah. This opened the floodgate for new converts to embrace Islam.
Mohammed Returns to Mecca and Cleanses the Kaaba
Battle of Badr Mohammed returned to Mecca in A.D. 630, eight years after being exiled, accompanied by a large military force of perhaps 10,000 troops. Realizing that defeat would probably be their fate if they opposed the Muslims, Meccan leaders opened their gates to Mohammed, who entered the city without bloodshed or forcing anyone to convert to Islam.
Mohammed’s return to Mecca allowed him to fulfill a promise he made to Gabriel in A.D. 610 to cleanse the Kaaba of idols. Mohammed touched the black stone and circled the Kaaba seven times. He cleansed the Kaaba by smashing the idols and then dedicated the empty box to the worship of one God. One early Arabic source wrote the Kaaba contained paintings as well as statues and that Mohammed ordered them all destroyed except for a mural of Jesus and the Virgin Mary which were spared, some suggest, so as not to offend Muslim that had converted from Christianity.
Just as Muslims do today, Mohammed touched the Black Stone and circled the Kaaba seven times before he ordered all stone idols smashed. Afterwards the pagan Meccans were offered amnesty and one by one, the Koran says, they filed by Mohammed offering their submission before God.∞∞
Mohammed called for a cloak to spread on the ground at the base of the Kaaba and ordered the black stone to be placed on it. With a noble of each major tribe holding a corner, he ordered the cloak to be raised, He then took the black stone and placed in the spot it remains today. Meccans filed past the Kaaba and declared their allegiance to Allah. Many of pagan rites that revolved around the Kaaba and Mecca were linked to the stories of Abraham, Hagar and Ismail and presumably without much alteration they became Islam rites.
Mohammed and the Kaaba In some accounts Abraham built or rebuilt the Kaaba. The Koran states that as he and his son rebuilt the Kaaba walls they prayed: “My Lord, make this a City of Peace.” Mohammed wanted Muslims to constantly remind themselves of their line to Abraham. When his companions asked him how this should be achieved, Mohammed replied” Say: may the blessings of God be upon Mohammed and his progeny” and then say “ May the blessings of God be upon Abraham and his progeny.” This is now part of Muslims’ daily prayers.
Mohammed’s Last Years
Mohammed spent the last two years of his life living mostly in Medina but presiding over a theocracy in Mecca. He became both a political and religious leader of Arabia and spent his time preaching and consolidating his political power, and occasionally received a revelation or two. Mohammed urged previously-persecuted followers to practice their religion in peace.
As the a leader of Mecca Mohammed declared a general amnesty, liberalized slavery laws and "humanized the harsher elements of Arab tribal law." Order was established and civil disputes were settled by evoking the word of God. New converts from the outside were welcomed in Mecca and Medina and missionaries were sent to all parts of Arabia.
Within two years Islam had spread throughout the Arabian peninsula, uniting tribes that had previously been at each other’s throats for as long as anyone could remember. Two months before his death Mohammed led a great pilgrimage to Mecca accompanied by more than 120,000 men a women. His last sermon, on Mount Arafat, delivered just two weeks before his death, is remembered with the “Day of Standing,” the central event of the Hajj.
Night Journey Mohammed died on June 8, 632 at the age of 62 on the same day he was born with his head on the lap of his favorite wife Aisha after he had fallen ill with a fever during a trip in Medina. Before he died he delegated his day to day businesses to Abu Bakr. He was buried near the spot he died, in Aisha’s hut at the edge of a mosque.
Sura 17:1 in the Koran reads: “Glory be to Him who carried His servant at night from the Holy Mosque to the Further Mosque, the precincts of which have been blessed, that we might show might show him some signs." This brief account was later expanded into a mystical Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, in which the Prophet was miraculously transported from the Kaaba to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where he was welcomed by all the great prophets who preceded him. He then flew to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Ishmael) and then ascended to through the seven levels of heaven with the angle Gabriel as his escort.
In another version of the story, Mohammed was carried to heaven on Buraq, a fantastic creature that “was smaller than a mule and larger than an ass" and had a human face, often described as part horse, part woman and part peacock. On the way through heaven met Adam in the lowest heaven and Jesus in the forth heaven and he received advise from Moses, Aaron, Enoch, John the Baptist and is welcomed by Abraham in the seventh heaven before he is whisked into paradise for a meeting with God.
Mohammed makes a short visit to Hell On the day Mohammed took night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem to heaven, Muslims believe, Mohammed devised the custom of praying five times a day. Some Muslims believe the Prophet journey was a visionary experience not a real one. Some believe it was a real, physical trip. A rare painting of this event was painted by a Persian artist who left the prophet's face blank so there would be accusations of icon-worshiping.
In any case Mohammed’s tomb is in Medina, Saudi Arabia.
The Prophet's Mosque in Medina is where Mohammed is buried. The second most important Muslim site after Mecca and known in Arabic as Masjid ar-Rasul, it features towering minarets and is supported by arches of basalt and limestone with geometric designs. A high green dome marks Mohammed's tomb, which contains gold and silver grillwork around green-draped bier. On the red carpets believers pray and read Korans. It is forbidden to pray to Mohammed so the pilgrims that gather here direct their prayers to Allah.
The simple mosque that Mohammed built is a simple green-domed structure within the Prophet’s Mosque. The mosque complex also contains the grounds of Mohammed’s house. Mohammed said that the empty space between the house and mosque—an area of a few hundred square feet—is the garden of Paradise, the only earthy manifestation of heaven,
The Prophet's Mosqueis dominated by Egyptian-style neo-Ottoman Empire structures built in the 20th century. The Prophet's Pilgrims was renovated under the Ottoman Caliph Abd al-Majid in 1860 and enlarged by the Saudi government in 1955. In the 1980s and 90s, it was enlarged to ten times the Ottoman-era size to 165,000 square feet. A state-of the-art air conditioning system in another building is considered the largest of it kind in the world.
Honoring Mohammed as a Religious Figure
Mohammed in Paradise After his death Mohammed was not acclaimed a god but rather a perfect man, who should be emulated. Even while he was alive relics like his hair, swords and footprints were collected. With Buddha and Jesus these actions did not begin in earnest until after they died. After Mohammed died some sects called him a perfect sinless being and another called him a divine being that emanated from God's head and had existed since the beginning of time. ["World Religions" edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, Facts on File Publications, New York]
Mohammed claimed he was just an ordinary man and refuted any suggestion that he was divine or had divine powers. He admitted he was human and made errors just like everyone else and denied he had the ability to perform miracles. The sole miracle he was associated with was the Koran and that was God’s doing not his.
Despite his best efforts to prevent such a illusions, a number of miracles were attributed him: splitting the moon to confuse his Meccan adversaries and travel from Medina to Jerusalem to paradise in a single night. These, some scholars say, seem to fulfill a need to regard Mohammed as something more than just an ordinary man. See Miracles.
Depicting the prophet in art or drama is considered a form of sacrilege or blasphemy. When a film entitled Mohammed, Messenger of God was shown in Washington D.C. in March 1977, a group of American Hanafi Muslims, angered by the film, shot and killed one person and took dozens other hostage. Ironically the film was financed with Arab money and told the story of Mohammed without ever showing him.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Arab News, Jeddah; Islam, a Short History by Karen Armstrong; A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). Also articles in National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2011