Story of Mohammed - Edith Holland

The Pledge of the Tree

There was little rest for the Moslems during the year following the siege of Medinah. Although no important battle with the Meccans took place, we hear of numerous encounters with hostile tribes and bands of plunderers, some of whom ventured into the very outskirts of Medinah, driving off large numbers of camels. True words had the Prophet spoken when he said, "War is ordained for you, even though it be burdensome unto you." The believer in Islam must be ready to give his life for the cause, should it be required of him. Though in some cases the Prophet was severe in punishing the enemies of the Faith, there are many instances recorded of his mercy and forgiveness, and of the spirit of humanity which he tried to instill into that nation of warriors. On one occasion when despatching an expedition against a Bedouin tribe, he addressed the commander of the force in these words: "In no case shalt thou use deceit, nor shalt thou kill any child." Mohammed invariably ordered his commanders to spare the weak, and the women and children, and not to destroy the houses of the inhabitants of a conquered town. He gave a charter to the Christians, in which he undertook to protect their churches and monasteries, and granted them full liberty to practise their religion.

It was now six years since the Prophet and his followers had beheld their native city. Notwithstanding all they had suffered at the hands of their countrymen, Meccah was still dear to the hearts of the Moslems, and there were many who longed to revisit their old home. It happened about this time that Mohammed had a dream. He was in Meccah, amid the scenes of his youth and early manhood. Again he saw the familiar streets, the overshadowing heights of Mount Abu Kubais, and in the midst of the city the dark square form of the ancient temple of Arabia—the holy Kaabah. Mohammed saw himself with a large company of his disciples performing the rites of pilgrimage, and when he awoke a great yearning for the fulfilment of his dream filled the Prophet's heart. Surely, he thought, the unbelievers would not refuse the Moslems permission to visit the holy shrine if they came unarmed as pilgrims. Many of his followers were of one mind with the Prophet, and anxious to make the attempt to visit Meccah.

You must know that the practice of making the pilgrimage to Meccah dates back to very early times. The Arabs say that Abraham instituted some of the ceremonies of pilgrimage in the days when the Kaabah was the temple of the True God; and the tribes from all parts of Arabia still continued to visit the national shrine after it had become the dwelling-place of idols. When a pilgrim enters the sacred territory of Meccah he must wear a particular dress. The "ihram," or pilgrim's dress, consists of two straight pieces of cotton cloth, one of which is wrapped round the lower part of the body, and the other thrown over the left shoulder and knotted at the right side, thus leaving the right arm and shoulder bare. The pilgrim must have his head shaved, and no turban or other head-covering is allowed. This dress is still worn by the pilgrims of the present day.

It was during one of the sacred months that Mohammed, having put on the pilgrim's dress, mounted his camel, Al-Kaswa, and rode towards his native city. He was followed by about fifteen hundred Moslems, who brought with them the camels intended for sacrifice, which they decorated with garlands. The last ceremony of the pilgrimage is a sacrifice, in remembrance of Abraham's sacrifice of the ram, which he offered up in the place of his son.

The Kuraysh, hearing of Mohammed's approach, and not believing in his peaceful intentions, sent out an armed force to meet him.

Khalid, at the head of two hundred horsemen, galloped on in advance, ready to bar the way to the pilgrims. The Moslems were not equipped for fighting, so when Mohammed heard of these warlike preparations from one of his scouts, he turned off the main road, and followed a track leading across a rough and rocky country, to Hudaibiyah, a place about eight miles from Meccah.

The Moslems had not long halted at Hudaibiyah when they saw a cloud of dust in the direction of the Holy City, and a party of horsemen approached. The Kuraysh had sent the chief of one of the tribes to question Mohammed as to his intentions; the Prophet replied that he had not come prepared for war, and only begged permission to visit the holy Kaabah and perform the rites of pilgrimage. So the chief departed to deliver this message to the Kuraysh. But they were not satisfied, and presently sent another messenger to say that the people of Meccah were greatly excited and quite determined that Mohammed should not enter their city. Discussions continued, and messengers travelled backwards and forwards trying to arrange some agreement between the two parties. One of these envoys, in describing his interview with Mohammed to the leaders of the Kuraysh, said that, though he had been at the court of the Roman Emperor in Constantinople, and had seen the Kings of Persia and Abyssinia surrounded by pomp and magnificence, yet never had he seen a sovereign receive such reverence and obedience from his subjects as this Prophet received from his devoted followers.

Finally Mohammed sent his son-in-law Othman into Meccah to try and arrange matters with the elders of the Kuraysh. The Moslems waited impatiently to hear the result of Othman's mission; but when three days had passed and he did not return, grave anxiety was felt for his safety. Suddenly a report was spread that Othman had been murdered in Meccah. Mohammed, greatly fearing treachery, gathered his people round him, calling on them to stand by him to avenge the death of Othman if the report should prove true. All were eager to give their services. Mohammed was standing in the shade of an acacia tree, and every pilgrim came to him in turn, striking his hand on that of the Prophet as a pledge that he would stand by him to the death. The "Pledge of the Tree" was ever after remembered by Mohammed as a proof of the devotion of his followers.

Othman, however, returned safely, and though he had not succeeded in his mission, he had persuaded the Kuraysh to try and make a treaty of peace with Mohammed, and so end the state of war, which was beginning to tell heavily on both sides. A chief called Suhail was sent out to arrange the terms of the treaty. It was then agreed that war between the Moslems and the Meccans should cease for ten years. The desert tribes were to be free to ally themselves with either side. The Moslems were to depart without entering Meccah, but permission was given them to make the pilgrimage to the Kaabah during the following year, and to remain in Meccah for three days, during which time all the inhabitants would leave the city and camp in the neighbourhood. These terms having been approved by both parties, Ali was summoned to write out the treaty at the Prophet's dictation. The witnesses, among whom were Abu Bakr, Omar and Othman, then signed their names below. A copy of this important document was made for the Kuraysh to keep, and the Prophet took the original with him to Medinah.

So ended the expedition to Hudaibiyah. Mohammed considered that he had scored a victory in the advantages gained by the terms of the treaty, but the Moslems were disappointed in their hopes of visiting their native town that year.

In the autumn following the events just related Mohammed took a very important step. Six messengers were despatched from Medinah on the same day, each one bearing a letter from the Prophet to one of the chief rulers of the world. Of these letters one was addressed to Heraclius, the Roman Emperor (at that time in Syria), one to the King of Persia, and the others to the Roman Governor of Egypt, the King of Abyssinia, and the governors of the provinces of Ghassan and Yemama. Mohammed, the Apostle of God, invited the nations of the earth to join Islam and share in its privileges. The blessings of peace would fall on those who followed his guidance. And those who refused must acknowledge the supremacy of God's Prophet by paying tribute.

Such mighty rulers as the Roman Emperor and the King of Persia must have been surprised, and perhaps amused, at the pretensions of this obscure chief of desert tribes, for so they would have regarded Mohammed. They never dreamed that before ninety years had passed these desert tribes would have become masters of Syria, Persia, and Egypt, their conquests extending along the coast of North Africa to the Straits of Gibraltar. It was the Arabs who gave Gibraltar its name, calling it Jebel-al-Tarik, or the Mount of Tarik, after the general who crossed the straits and founded the Moslem dominion in Spain. So Gibraltar bears to this day the name of one of the conquering chiefs of Islam. But we are very much anticipating events, and at the time of our story the kingdom of the Moslems only comprised the city of Medinah with some of the surrounding country.

It is unlikely that any scheme of foreign conquest could have occupied the Prophet's mind, for he had no means of carrying through any such plan. Up to this time the Moslems had barely been able to hold their own, and had but lately been besieged in their city by the allied armies of the Meccans and most of the tribes of Arabia. It seems clear, then, that the Prophet's aim in addressing the great rulers of the earth was the establishment of the religion he believed to be the true one. Not only Arabia, but the whole world should share in the blessings of Islam. Mohammed probably little dreamed to what distant lands the Faith would be carried so short a time after his death.

The Jewish tribes were still bitterly opposed to the Moslems and continually plotting against them. About a hundred miles north of Medinah lay the village of Khaibar; it was situated on the edge of a fertile oasis and strongly fortified. The Jews inhabiting this district had been suspected of planning attacks on Medinah, so, to defeat their schemes, the Prophet marched on Khaibar, and besieged its forts. The campaign lasted about two months. The Jews fought bravely in defence of their fortresses, and at one time the siege was nearly abandoned for want of provisions. Ali was on this occasion standard-bearer, and was presented with a new banner, the famous Black Eagle, which had been made out of a mantle belonging to Ayesha, the Prophet's wife. He distinguished himself by many brave deeds, and wonderful stories are told of his prodigious strength. Once when he had lost his shield Ali tore down part of a doorway and used the large piece of timber as a shield.

Though the Jews held out well for a time, they were at last overpowered, and one by one the garrisons of the different forts surrendered. The rich vale of Khaibar was added to the territory of the Moslems, but the Jews were allowed to remain in possession of their lands on condition of paying a yearly tribute.

While at Khaibar the Prophet narrowly escaped being poisoned. A dish of roast kid was placed before him by a Jewess, and as soon as he had swallowed the first mouthful he suspected that the meat was poisoned. One of his companions who had eaten more of the dish died in a very short time, and Mohammed never quite got over the effects of the poison to the end of his life.

The time was now approaching for the fulfilment of the agreement in the Treaty of Peace, allowing the Moslems to visit Meccah. After seven long years the exiles were again to see their native place and worship at the holy shrine. Two thousand pilgrims left Medinah with the Prophet at their head. Some were mounted on camels and many went on foot; they were unarmed except for their sheathed swords, which all pilgrims were allowed to carry. As the procession approached Meccah, the inhabitants, according to their agreement, left the city and camped on the surrounding hills. So when the Moslems entered their old home it was silent and deserted as a city of the dead. No one was to be seen in the streets, the houses were closed and empty—no inquisitive eyes peeped through the small loophole windows to see who went by.

An Eastern town is usually a very noisy place, crowds of people fill the narrow streets to over-flowing; there are water-carriers with their large goatskin bags of water, sweetmeat and grain sellers uttering their own peculiar cries to call attention to their wares, beggars asking alms of the passers-by, children at play, and sometimes camels and donkeys carrying enormous loads of firewood will come pushing through the crowd, upsetting anything that comes in their way. Everywhere there is ceaseless movement and noise, and one is reminded of the restless life and constant buzz in a hive of bees. After the quiet of a Western country town, an Eastern city would strike you as a place of indescribable clamour and confusion.

How strange then for the pilgrims to enter a deserted city, the sound of their footsteps echoing in the empty spaces! Many of the Refugees must have passed by the houses in which they had lived years gone by, before they fled from persecution to join the Prophet at Medinah. One wonders what thoughts filled the mind of Mohammed as, mounted on Al-Kaswa, he rode into the Holy City at the head of two thousand devoted followers. How much had happened since he and Abu Bakr hid in the cave on Mount Thaur and stole silently away under cover of the darkness like hunted animals! Seven years of hard struggle had followed the Flight. Much had been accomplished, but there was still work to be done before idolatry would cease to exist and the worship of the True God be established.

As the pilgrims approached the Kaabah they called aloud the pilgrim cry, "Labbayk, Labbayk!" which means, "Here am I, at Thy service, O Lord!" Mohammed, still mounted on his camel, went seven times round the sacred building, touching the Black Stone with his staff as he passed. This circling of the Kaabah was a very ancient ceremony, practised by the pilgrims many years before the time of Mohammed. The next place of visitation was the little hill of Safa; seven times the pilgrims walked hurriedly between this hill and the hill of Marwah, in remembrance of Hagar, who, according to Arab tradition, had run distractedly between these two hills in search of water for her son Ishmael. To this day the same rite is practised by all pilgrims who visit Meccah. At every place of visitation prayers were offered up, and after the sacrifice of the victims the ceremonies ended.

The next day a strange scene took place. The Moslem call to prayer, "Allah hu Akbar," "God is great," sounded over the idolatrous city, as Bilal, standing on the roof of the Kaabah, summoned the Faithful to the midday prayers. In answer to the well-known call the Moslems assembled in the open space before the Holy Temple, and the Prophet led the prayers exactly as he was accustomed to do in the mosque at Medinah.

Thus was the True God again worshipped at the Kaabah, which had been for so long the temple of idolatry. Around the worshippers stood the strange figures of the three hundred and sixty idols of Meccah. Some were but rude masses of unhewn stone, one was in the form of a horse, another of an eagle, and among the chief was the giant figure of Hubal, holding in his hand the headless arrows.

The steep mount of Abu Kubais almost over-hangs the eastern side of Meccah, and its summit commands a fine view of the city and the Kaabah. Many of the Meccans were assembled on this mountain top, and looked down with curious eyes on the Moslem worshippers below. There must have been some who were impressed by what they saw, for several conversions followed Mohammed's departure from Meccah.

You will not have forgotten Khalid, the brave Meccan leader who defeated the Moslems at Uhud, and on many occasions distinguished himself by his reckless daring. Khalid could not bear the humiliation of seeing the Prophet enter Meccah, so he had left the city before the arrival of the pilgrims. But not long was he to continue hostile to the Faith of Islam. Khalid had a brother who had been converted soon after the battle of Badr, and it is supposed that he was influenced by his brother's persuasions. For, shortly after the Prophet's pilgrimage, Khalid set out to journey to Medinah, having resolved to make his submission to Islam and embrace the Faith he had opposed and persecuted. On the way he fell in with Amr, another renowned warrior, afterwards famous as the conqueror of Egypt. He too was travelling to the city of the Prophet to give allegiance to the new Faith. Another important convert was Othman, son of the Meccan standard-bearer who was killed at Uhud.