Story of Mohammed - Edith Holland

Mohammed as a Lawgiver

Medinah had been in a very disturbed state for many years; there were so many rival parties that it was impossible to establish a settled government, and the feuds and jealousies between the two chief tribes, the Aus and the Khazraj, were always threatening to plunge the city into war. But now that so many of the members of these tribes had sworn allegiance to Mohammed, their old quarrels were almost forgotten, and if any dispute arose, it was referred to the Prophet's decision. Thus it came to pass that, besides directing his followers in religious matters, Mohammed came to act as their judge and lawgiver. .Owing to the unsettled state of Medinah, it required both wisdom and firmness to administer justice, but Mohammed was equal to the task; and when, as time went on, he showed himself to possess all the qualities of a statesman, his power increased, and he was obeyed by his followers as though he had been a king.

A great many Jews had settled in Medinah when they had been driven from their own country by foreign invaders. They dwelt chiefly in the suburbs of the city, where they owned several fortresses and strongholds. Being very rich, they had, at times, attained great power, and oppressed their fellow-citizens, while frequent disputes had arisen between the Jewish and Arab tribes.

When Mohammed first came to Medinah he did his best to win over the Jews, and persuade them to recognize him as a Prophet. For he believed in the Jewish scriptures, and looked upon himself as one who followed in the footsteps of the prophets of old, in preaching the worship of the True God, and denouncing idolatry. Mohammed spoke of the Jews as the "People of the Book," meaning that they possessed in their scriptures the word of God, unlike the pagan Arabs, who had no written revelations. The same title was given to the Christians, and Mohammed deeply reverenced the name of Christ, and regarded him as the greatest of the prophets who had gone before him.

Several of the institutions of the early days of Islam were taken from the Jewish religion. When the Jews prayed they turned towards Jerusalem, and for the first few months after his arrival in Medinah the Prophet followed their example. Later on he changed the direction of prayer, and bade his followers turn towards the Kaabah of Meccah, the ancient shrine of Arabia, rendered doubly sacred by its association with the Patriarch Abraham. For Abraham, so we are told by the Arab historians, rebuilt the holy Kaabah with the help of his son Ishmael. In the earliest mosques there was a large block of stone to mark the direction of Meccah, so that the Faithful might know which way to turn their faces when they prayed. In later years the direction of prayer, or the Kiblah, was shown by a niche in the wall. Every mosque contains such a niche or recess, often beautifully decorated, and inlaid with precious stones. At the present day there are millions of pious Moslems who turn, at the hour of prayer, towards the spot they hold to be the most sacred on earth—the ancient Kaabah of Meccah.

When the Moslems first settled in Medinah they were ordered to observe the Fast of the Atonement, but the following year the Prophet instituted the Fast of Ramadan in place of the Jewish Fast. Mohammed did his best to conciliate the Jews, and not long after his arrival in Medinah he made a treaty with them. In this charter it was laid down that the Jews should be considered as one people with the Believers. They were, however, given full liberty to practise their own religion. "The Jews will profess their religion, the Moslems theirs." If Medinah should be threatened by an enemy, the two parties must combine in the defence of the city. No one was to join the Kuraysh or their allies, for the men of Medinah were bound together against all enemies of the State. For a time the Jews remained on friendly terms with Mohammed, but they grew jealous of the increasing power of the Moslems, and in the end came to be some of the Prophet's bitterest enemies. There was yet a third party in Medinah, consisting of those who wished to be on the winning side, who, as we say, ran with the hare and hunted with the hounds. These men had not the courage to throw in their lot with the Moslems, yet they dared not oppose them; holding, therefore, a middle course, they sometimes sided with the Prophet, and sometimes plotted against him. Mohammed had a great contempt for the Hypocrites, as these half-hearted men came to be called; he denounces them in the Koran when he says, that those who profess a religion with their lips, but deny it in their hearts, shall suffer in the lowest hell. There were thus three distinct parties in Medinah, consisting of the Moslems, the Jews, and the Hypocrites, and it must often have been very difficult to keep the peace between them.

During the first two years of Mohammed's residence in Medinah he made many of the regulations which are still observed by his followers. These are laid down in the chapters of the Koran, which were written at this time. You must not suppose that the Koran was written as a complete book. From the day that he beheld the vision of the angel on Mount Hira, almost to the day of his death, Mohammed continued writing or dictating his book, bit by bit, as occasion required. The contents of the Koran are very varied; some of the chapters are short, prophetic utterances, full of beauty and poetry, while others contain long explanations of the duties of the Believers and their relations towards each other. Writing materials were not common in Arabia in the seventh century, and the chapters of the Koran were often written on palm leaves, strips of leather, shoulder blades of sheep, in fact, on anything that came to hand. The chapters were not arranged in any regular order until after the Prophet's death.

I have mentioned the Fast of Ramadan. Ramadan is the name of the ninth month of the Arabian year, and the Prophet ordained that during this month his followers were to fast, neither eating nor drinking, from early dawn to sunset. Some say that Ramadan was observed as a fasting month by the ancient Arabs; this is quite likely, as Mohammed preserved many of the old customs of his countrymen which were not in any way connected with idolatry. The months of the Arabian year are lunar months, that is to say, they correspond with the changes of the moon, and a year composed of twelve lunar months is shorter than our solar year. Therefore the Arabian New Year does not always fall during the same season, like our New Year's Day, and in course of time those months which are regarded as summer months will become winter months, and vice versa. When Ramadan falls in the summer, it comes very hard on the inhabitants of hot countries like India, for during the whole of the day no drop of water may pass the lips of the pious Moslem.

Among the rules made by the Prophet was that forbidding the use of wine. The idolatrous Arabs often indulged freely in wine, and it was on the occasion of one of the Moslems coming to prayers when he was not sober that Mohammed forbade his followers to drink any intoxicating liquor whatsoever. All games of chance, such as are played with cards or dice, were also forbidden; neither were the Moslems allowed to lend money on usury.

A great point was made of personal cleanliness; certain washings were ordered to be performed before each of the daily prayers, and for this reason you will always see a tank of water in the courtyard of a mosque. In the desert it is allowable to use and, instead of water, for cleansing purposes. When a Moslem is about to pray he spreads out a small rug on which to kneel, for not only his person, but everything he touches during the performance of prayer must be clean and spotless. The cleansing of the teeth is also mentioned in the Koran as a necessary duty, and every Moslem must be provided with a tooth-stick.

Of all the duties of a Moslem, alms-giving is one of the most important. True charity is attained, said the Prophet, when a man gives away his favourite possession. Some devout men, as for instance, Abu Bakr, gave away almost all they had.

During the first six months following the emigration to Medinah the Prophet and his followers had been undisturbed by any fears of attack on the part of their old enemies, the Kuraysh. But these peaceful conditions were not destined to last long. The Kuraysh had dealings with the Jews of Medinah, and the latter, though they had entered into treaty with the Prophet, supplied his enemies with information as to the numbers and strength of the Moslems. About this time the Meccans began to send armed escorts with their Syrian caravans. The Prophet, on his part, gradually assumed a more warlike attitude towards his old oppressors. In the early days of his preaching he had enjoined his followers to bear the reproaches of their enemies with meekness and patience, but, as time went on and persecutions increased, a spirit of resistance began to show itself. Even before leaving Meccah, Mohammed had announced in the Koran that permission was granted the Moslems to take up arms against the unbelievers for their unjust persecutions, and for turning the people out of their houses for no other reason than because they said, Our Lord is God.

When we condemn the Prophet for using the sword in defence of his cause, we must remember the circumstances in which he was placed. Born of a race of warriors, his forefathers had, for many generations, been accustomed to look to the sword as a means of guarding their rights. There was no settled government in Arabia, and the tribes usually took the law into their own hands, so that most disputes were finally settled by the sword. We must also bear in mind that it was on account of the cruel persecutions of the Kuraysh that the Refugees were living as exiles in a strange city, suffering poverty and hardships, their homes having been broken up. One can scarcely wonder, therefore, that Mohammed, finding himself surrounded by an ever-increasing band of followers, ready to obey him even to laying down their lives, should have made use of the means of punishing his enemies. The time had come for the fulfilment of the threats pronounced against the Kuraysh that vengeance would overtake them for their obstinate refusal to listen to the Prophet's warnings, and for their oppression of the true Believers.

"It was about seven months after his arrival in Medinah that Mohammed despatched his first expedition against the Meccans. A small band, consisting of thirty Refugees, set out under the leadership of Hamzah, the Prophet's uncle, to waylay a caravan returning from Syria. This caravan, in the charge of Mohammed's enemy, Abu Jahl, was guarded by three hundred men of the Kuraysh. In the end, however, no fighting took place, as a Bedouin chief, who was friendly to both sides, interposed, and persuaded the parties to part peacefully. Not long after, several more expeditions were undertaken, three of them being led by Mohammed himself; but either they were wrongly timed and the hostile parties never met, or the caravans were too strongly guarded to be attacked. At last, however, blood was spilt, a man of the Kuraysh was killed, while two others were carried to Medinah as prisoners. These were afterwards ransomed, but one of them chose to remain at Medinah and became a convert to Islam.

After this affair, the Moslems and the people of Meccah seem to have agreed that their differences could only be settled by the sword. It was about this time that the Prophet told his followers that it was their duty to fight against the idolaters as the enemies of God.

Although we believe that religion should teach us peace, and not war, yet we cannot but admire the zeal of these early Moslems, who were ready to give their lives, their property and all they had, in the cause of their faith. Compared with their enemies, they were but a handful of men, yet Mohammed confidently told them that victory would be theirs, and that those who fell in the cause of God would be rewarded in Paradise.

At first the Believers fought for their very existence, for, beset on all sides by treachery, if they had not shown a bold front, they must have been overpowered by their enemies, who so greatly outnumbered them. Afterward war was directed against the unbelievers, that idolatry might be rooted out, and the worship of the True God be established on the earth. And, indeed, idolatry and Islam could scarcely have existed side by side, for what had they in common? With Judaism and Christianity Islam has many points of agreement, but none with the worshippers of idols. The following verses of the Koran were written at about this time: "Fight for the religion of God against those who fight against you, but transgress not by attacking them first." "Fight, therefore, until there be no temptation to idolatry, and the religion be God's alone. And if they leave off then let there be no hostility, except against the oppressors." "War is ordained for you, even though it be burdensome to you."

However mistaken he may have been, Mohammed was firmly convinced that the Believers were commanded, like the Israelites of old, to take up arms against the idolaters, and to subdue those who refused to acknowledge the True God.