Story of Mohammed - Edith Holland

The City of the Prophet

The city in which Mohammed took refuge was formerly known as Yathrib, but when the Prophet honoured this city by making it his home, it received a new name—Medinah al-Nabi, the City of the Prophet, or shortly, Medinah which means, in Arabic, The City. So in future we will make use of the new name.

As soon as it became known that the Prophet was staying at Kuba, many of the inhabitants of Medinah went out to welcome him and invite him to enter their city. It was on Friday morning, four days after his arrival, that Mohammed mounted his camel, Al-Kaswa, and passed along the shady palm groves toward his new home. Many of the chiefs of Medinah had come out to escort him, and large crowds had collected to see the new Prophet about whom so much had been heard. The people of the East wear bright and beautiful colours—deep blues and orange and flaming crimson—so a crowd has a very different appearance from one you may see in a Western town, where so many people are dressed in black or grey. Some of the chiefs wore armour, which glittered in the sunlight, and the procession had a very festive appearance, more like the escort of a conqueror than an exile.

About midday, the hour of prayer, the procession halted, and Mohammed led the prayers and preached to the assembled people. On the spot where this happened there is now a mosque, which is known as the "Friday Mosque." Friday was chosen, later on, as the day to be specially set apart for the service of God, like the Christian Sunday.

As Mohammed entered Medinah, he was beset on all sides by the invitations of the Faithful, pressing him to alight and enter their houses. Some of the people seized Al-Kaswa's bridle, so anxious were they to give the Prophet a home and a resting-place. But Mohammed, perhaps fearing to create jealousies by favouring one more than another, said: "The camel shall decide, let her go free," and leaving the rein loose on Al-Kaswa's neck, he allowed her to take her own course. Presently she turned towards the eastern part of the town, and came into an open space; here she knelt down, stretched her neck out on the ground and refused to go further. Mohammed, accepting the sign, dismounted. "This is the place, if the Lord please!" he exclaimed. On the spot where Al-Kaswa knelt now stands the pulpit of the Prophet's mosque. But in the days of which we are speaking this piece of ground was rough and neglected. Part of it had once been used as a burying-place, and it was over-grown with thorn bushes and covered with rubbish. It belonged to two brothers, from whom Mohammed bought it as a site for the mosque he intended to build.

Soon after his arrival in Medinah, Mohammed was joined by his wife; Sauda, and his two youngest daughters, Fatimah and Umm Kulthum. They travelled from Meccah with Abu Bakr's family, and the Kuraysh had allowed them to leave the city unmolested. The Prophet's second daughter, Rukayyah, who had been one of the emigrants to Abyssinia, was already in Medinah, with her husband Othman.

The first great task to be undertaken was the building of the house of prayer or mosque, and in this work all the Moslems joined. There were many exiles from Meccah, who had fled from the persecutions of the Kuraysh; these were known as the Muhajirin or Refugees, while the citizens of Medinah, who were converts, were called Ansars, or Helpers. But as these Arabic words may be hard to remember, we will use the English ones—Refugees and Helpers. All these now joined together to assist in the work of building. The ground was leveled and the thorn bushes and rubbish cleared away; the few palm trees which grew on one side of the enclosure were cut down and their trunks used as pillars to support the roof of the mosque, which was thatched with palm leaves. The walls were made of rough stone and unbaked bricks. It was a very simple building—in later years it was enlarged and beautified, and at the present day a magnificent mosque covers the spot where Mohammed put up the first humble house of prayer, where he spent the later years of his life, and where he died and was buried.

As the labourers worked they sang a chant—sad and monotonous, as Eastern tunes usually sound to Western ears. The words they sang were these:

"O Lord there is no happiness but in Paradise,

Then have mercy on the Helpers and the Refugees!"

Mohammed joined in the chant, while he worked with his own hands. In six or seven months the mosque was finished, and Islam now possessed a house of prayer where all the Faithful could assemble in peace. Little did the builders of this first mosque realize how in a few hundred years the domes and minarets of Islam would be seen in every land of the East, and even on the far-off shores of the Atlantic! When we enter the splendid mosques of India or Constantinople, with pavements of marble or mosaic, and walls inwrought with precious stones, we are reminded of the earnest faith of those early builders, who, with mud bricks and rough pieces of unhewn stone, raised the walls of the first Moslem house of prayer. There was no ornament or decoration about the Prophet's mosque; it was in much later years that the beautiful geometrical patterns which we call Arabesques came into use. These take the place of paintings; never, in any mosque, will you see pictures or images, for the Prophet forbade his followers to make graven images or the likeness of anything in heaven or earth.

Perhaps no religion has laid greater stress on the duty of prayer than Islam. "Be constant at prayer," said the Prophet, "for prayer preserveth a man from crimes . . . and the remembering of God is surely a most important duty." Mohammed enjoined his followers to pray live trines a day. 1. Before sunrise. 2. When the sun has begun to decline. 3. In the afternoon. 4. A little after sunset. 5. At night fall. These are the regular hours of prayer to be observed by all good Moslems, but many follow the example of their Prophet, and pray at other times as well. For it is written, "Celebrate the praises of thy Lord what time thou risest, and in the night and at the fading of the stars."

After a time the question arose as to the way in which the Faithful should be summoned to prayer. The Jews blew trumpets before their synagogues, the early Christians used wooden mallets which were struck on sounding boards of wood or iron, but neither of these methods was adopted. After some discussion it was decided that the hours of prayer should be announced by a crier, or muezzin, which is the Arabic for crier. The first muezzin of Islam was Bilal the Abyssinian slave, who had so bravely endured the persecutions of the Kuraysh. Bilal had a very powerful voice, which fitted him well for the post of muezzin. Taking his stand on the roof of a high house near the mosque, he called the Faithful to prayer in the following words: "God is great, there is no god but the Lord. Mohammed is the Apostle of God. Come unto prayer, come unto salvation. God is great, there is no god but the Lord!" Before the early morning prayer he added, "Prayer is better than sleep."

When you visit Eastern countries you will notice the tall slender towers which are attached to almost every mosque. These are called minarets. This name is derived from an Arabic word meaning lighthouse, as the form of these towers was copied from that of the ancient lighthouse of Alexandria. Inside the minaret is a staircase leading up to a small gallery which has openings to the north, south, east and west. It is here that the muezzin stands to announce the hours of prayer. The sound of the slow, monotonous chant is heard from a great distance as he calls the Faithful to prayer in the very same words as those used by Bilal in the earliest days of Islam.

It is not necessary that a man should always enter a mosque to pray—prayers may be said anywhere. Thus, you may often see a Moslem praying in the street, in the desert, in a railway station, or in any place where he may happen to be at the time appointed for prayer.

When the mosque of Medinah was finished, Mohammed built two houses, or huts, adjoining its eastern wall and opening into the courtyard. These huts, built of mud bricks, were for the Prophet's wife, Sauda, and for the bride he was about to marry. It has always been the custom among Eastern nations (as it was among the Jews) for a man to have more than one wife. Mohammed's new bride, Ayesha, the daughter of Abu Bakr, waste very beautiful. She was also witty and amusing in her conversation, and though but a child at the time of her marriage, she completely won the Prophet's affections, and remained his favourite wife to the end of his days. So young was Ayesha when she became the Prophet's wife that he used sometimes to amuse her by running races with her. Their wedding was celebrated in most simple style, the marriage feast consisting of milk. Indeed, the Prophet's household was always simple and frugal; even when he had attained to great power he never lived in a palace surrounded by pomp and splendour. He mended his own shoes and clothes, milked his goats, and often helped his wives with their household work. The Prophet's bed was a leather mattress, stuffed with palm leaves, which was laid on the floor, and his food was usually dates and barley bread, and sometimes milk and honey were added as a luxury. He gave so generously to the poor that he had little Taft for his own needs. Ayesha, speaking of this time in after years, said that the Prophet's family were often without a fire to cook by, and seldom tasted meat unless it was sent by friends.

During the early days of their residence in Medinah the Refugees suffered many hardships. They were miserably poor, for, having forsaken their homes and occupations in Meccah, they found it hard to make a living. Abu Bakr, once a great merchant, sold clothes in the bazaar. Othman, the Prophet's son-in-law, became a fruit seller, and all tried their best to earn sufficient for their daily needs. The Helpers did what they could for their poorer brethren; they would often, seeing his face pinched with hunger, invite the Prophet to a meal, or send him a present of food. But Mohammed always shared any food that was given him with the "people of the Shed," as the poorest of the Refugees were called, who had no other shelter than a shed in the courtyard of the mosque.

Besides their struggle with poverty, the Refugees had another severe trial to undergo, for they were seriously affected by the change of climate, and suffered from violent attacks of fever. The valley of Meccah is hot and sultry, while Medinah, standing on the edge of a high tableland, is exposed to bitter east winds and storms. Rainy weather prevails during half the year, and the outskirts of the city are often flooded. The winters are intensely cold, and Mohammed once declared that "he who patiently endures the cold of Medinah and the heat of Meccah merits a reward in Paradise." No wonder that the Refugees should have felt the great change of climate; at one time there were so many who were suffering from the effects of fever that Mohammed was almost the only one able to stand up during the prayers. It speaks well for the Prophet's sincerity that his followers were willing to undergo such hardships, for no man could have inspired so strong a faith in others who was not himself a firm believer in the cause he preached.

Every Friday there was a special service in the mosque, and many came to hear the Prophet's weekly sermon. Let us try to picture one of these early gatherings of Islam. People of various races and creeds are seen in the rough building thatched with palm leaves; for besides the Refugees and Helpers, who have sworn allegiance to their faith, there are Jews, moved by curiosity to hear the "new Prophet" whose teaching so disturbed the peace of Meccah; also black Abyssinians, Persians from Irak, and perhaps a few Christian Arabs from Syria and Palestine. Above the din of the city streets is heard Bilal's far-reaching cry, "Allah hu Akbar—God is great. There is no god but the Lord. Come unto prayer, come unto salvation." When all have assembled, the Prophet enters with the salutation common among Moslems, "Peace be with you." During the prayers he stands with his back to the people facing Meccah; and his followers, standing behind him in rows, repeat the prayers, kneeling and bowing themselves to the ground, in exact imitation of their Prophet.

Before the pulpit was made Mohammed used to stand leaning against a post while he preached the sermon. Some of his sermons have been handed down by tradition; there is one on charity, which contains the following parable: "When God created the earth, he placed mountains on it to make it firm. And the angels asked, 'O God, is there anything in Thy creation stronger than mountains?' God replied, 'Yes, iron is stronger than mountains, for it breaks them!' 'And is there anything stronger than iron?' 'Yes, fire is stronger than iron, for it melts it!' 'Is there anything in Thy creation stronger than fire?' 'Yes, water, for it quenches fire.' 'Is there anything stronger than water?' 'Yes, wind, for it overcomes water, and puts it in motion.' 'O our Sustainer,' said the angels, 'is there anything in Thy creation stronger than wind?' And God answered, 'Yes, a good man giving alms, if he give with his right hand, and conceal it from his left, for he overcomes all things!'"

By charity Mohammed understood all good actions towards one's fellow creatures, such as helping the blind, removing stones and thorns from the road, giving water to the thirsty; in fact, any kind act. Kindness of speech was also insisted on; when Mohammed was once asked by a new convert for some special rule as a guide to conduct, he replied, "Speak evil of no man." "From that time," said the convert, "I never abused anyone, whether freeman or slave." But the Prophet did not only teach charity towards one's fellow-creatures, he regarded kindness to animals as an important duty, for they are, as we read in the Koran, "a people like unto yourselves." Camels and other beasts of burden were not to be ill-used. "Fear God in respect of animals," said the Prophet; "ride them when they are fit to be ridden, and get off them when they are tired." One day a man brought him some young birds which he had caught in a wood, while their mother had fluttered round in despair at being robbed of her young. Mohammed told the man to take the birds back to the place where he had found them, and to let their mother be with them. In speaking of the kind treatment of animals Mohammed once told a story about a woman who found a dog nearly dying of thirst near a well. She had been a wicked woman, but she had compassion on the poor dog, and taking of her boot, she tied it to the end of her garment, and let it down the well to get water for the dog. For this act of kindness, said the Prophet, the woman's sins were forgiven.

It seems a wonderful thing that Mohammed, born of a fierce and warlike race, a people given to many cruel practices, should have had so much regard for compassion. He thanked God who had put it into men's hearts to be compassionate to one another, for what a terrible world it would be, said the Prophet, if men had no compassion in their hearts. Of all qualities he regarded compassion as the most God-like, and every chapter of the Koran, except one, begins with this invocation, "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful."