William Montgomery Watt - Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman (1961)

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CONTENTS

I

THE

GIFTED

ORPHAN

i

The

rivalryof thegreatpowers 3

Life inacommercialcentre 7

II

THE

CALL

TO

PROPHETHOOD

13

'Riseandwarn* 13

The

earliestmessageof theQur'an 21

The

firstMuslims 33

The

influenceofJudaism and Christianity 38

The

socialrelevanceof the

new

religious ideas 4$

III

OPPOSITION

AND

REJECTION

55

Inthehouseofal-Arqam 56

The

incidentofthe 'satanic verses* 59

The

migrationtoAbyssinia 64

The

intellectualargument 69

The

boycott of theclanof

Hashim

73

The

betrayal by

Abu-Lahab

78

IV

THE

EMIGRATION

TO

MEDINA

82

The

appealfromthe

Medinans

82

The

troublesof

Medina

83

The

Hijrah 89

The

first

months

hi

Medina

93

V

THE

PROVOCATION OF

THE MECCANS

102

The

firstexpeditions orrazzias 102

The

firstbloodshed 109

The

breakwith theJews 112

The

battleofBadr 119

The

significanceofBadr 124

VI

THE

FAILURE

OF

THE MECCAN

RIPOSTE

127 Consolidationat

Medina

;the expulsion ofQaynuqa* 127

The

expeditions of 624 after Badr;

Meccan

preparations 132

(6)

The

aftermathof

Uhud

I44

The

secondexpulsionofJews

148

Reformsofmarriageandinheritance 151

The

expeditions of626 i5o

The

siegeofMedina

"

166

The-executionoftheJewsofQurayzah

171

VII

THE WINNING

OF

THE MECCANS

176

New

horizons 176

The

expeditionandtreatyof al-tludaybiyah 182

The

conquestofKhaybar 188

Increasing strength 194

Mecca

in decline 197

The

submissionof

Mecca

203

The

battleof

Hunayn

207

The

consolidation of victory 209

VIII

RULER

IN

ARABIA

212

The

positionafter

Hunayn

212

The

eclipseof Persiaanditsconsequences 215

The

drivetothenorth 218

The

extentof

Muhammad's

power 222

The

lastmonths 226

IX

ASSESSMENT

229

Appearance andmanner 229

The

allegedmoralfailures 231

The

foundations of greatness 236

Was

Muhammad

aprophet? 237

NOTES

ON THE

SOURCES

241

NOTE ON

BIBLIOGRAPHY

242

INDEX

246

LIST

OF

MAPS

Pre-IslamicArabia (showingtrade routes) 11

(7)

I

THE

GIFTED

ORPHAN

Under

the blazing

sun

of a

summer

day

in Syria towards theyear600acaravan of

Arab merchants

with loaded camels

was

moving

slowlysouthwards.

They

had

come from

Mecca,

some

forty days*

march

tothe south,with Arabian

frankin-cense,Indianspices

and

silks,

and

other luxury goods.

They

had

soldorbartered these Inthe marketsofSyria,

presum-ably in

Damascus

;

and

now,

ladenwith other wares, they

were

settingoutfor

home.

Near

Bostra

on

the flank of the Jebel-ed-Druze they passed the cell of a Christian hermit, the

monk

Bahlra.

Most

of the

men

inthe caravan

had

frequently passed the

cell,

but

the

monk

had

paid

no

attention tothem.

This

day,

however,

he

invited

them

toafeast.

They

leftthe youngest

member

oftheparty tokeep

an

eye

on

the camels

and

the

loads,

and went

to

be

the

monk's

guests.

The monk

was

not

content, however.

He

wanted

the

whole

partywithout

ex-ception.

There

was

inhiscella

book

of ancientlore,

handed

down

to

him by

previous hermits

who

had

lived there.

Aided

by

the

knowledge he had

gained

from

this

book he

had

become

supernaturallyawarethatthere

was

a personage

ofgreat importance in this caravan.

He

had

seen a cloud

and

a tree protecting

him

from

the glaring

sun

;

and he

wanted

to

know

whether

this person

had

also the other

signs

mentioned

in his

book which

would

mark him

out as

agreatprophet.

At

the

monk's

insistence the

Arabs

agreed that the

boy

leftwith the camels shouldalso

come

tothefeast.

The monk

wanted

to

know

allabout him.

He

questioned the uncle in

whose

chargethe

boy

was,

and

then

he

had

a longtalkwith

the

boy

himself.

He

looked at the boy's

back

and

saw

a

(8)

ofprophethood.

Now

he

was

sure.

As

he

bade

them

fare-well,

he

said to the uncle,

*

Go

back

home

with

your nephew,

and

keep

an

eye

on

him

; ifthe

Jews

see

him

and

get to

know

what

I

know

about him, they will certainly

do

him

harm, for

he

isgoingto

be

a very big man'.

The

boy

was

Muhammad.

This

isonlya story, ofcourse. It is based

on

primitive

ideas. It isthe kindof story

one

expects to find

among

people

who

look

upon

allwriting as akin tomagic.

Yet

itis

signifi-cantbecauseitexpresses apopular

Muslim

view

of

Muham-mad.

He

was

a

man who

had been

marked

out

from

his

early youth, even

from

before his birth,

by

supernatural

signs

and

qualities.

In

contrastto this are

some

European

views of

Muham-mad.

r

fhe

worst

was

in medieval times

when

his

name,

corrupted to

*

Mahound

f

,

was

regarded as a

name

of the

devil.

This

is notso strangeas appears atfirst sight.

We

have

to

remember

that in thefirstrush ofexpansion of the

Arabs

after

Muhammad's

death they wrested

from

Christian

control the lands in

which

Christianity

had been born

Syria

and

Egypt.

From

the eighth century

onwards

the

Muslims were

attacking

Christendom

alongitssouthern

and

south-eastern borders.

Was

it strange that it should say

alltheevilpossibleaboutthis

enemy

and

the

enemy

leader?

When

we

consider

what

was

said

and

believed about the

Kaiser

and

Hitlerinrecent times, notto

mention

Napoleon,

it is not surprising that medieval

Europeans

thought that

theirenemies derivedtheir

power from

the fountainheadof

aU

evil. Tilings

were

not

improved

when

the

Western

Europeans,

who

lived simply

and

roughly,

saw

the great

homy

and

refinement of the

Muslim

rulers of Spain.

Medieval Christian ideas about Islam

were

little better

than war-propaganda.

At

theirworst they

were

so palpably

(9)

THE

GIFTED

ORPHAN

3

were

encouragedto think thatthe

Muslims were

cruel

and

bestial savages;

and when,

in the contacts of war, they

found

among them

not a

few

*

very parfit gentle knights

'

they tendedtolose faithintheircause.

So from

the twelfth

century

onwards

scholars laboured to correct the crudest

errors.

Yet

something of the bitterness of the medieval

attitude has continued in

Europe

till the present day,

and

theresourcesof

modern

scholarshiphave noteradicatedit.

How

are

we

thentoattaintoa

sound view

of

Muhammad's

personality? If

he

was

neither a messenger

from

God

nor

(as a scholarly English

dean

called

him

in 1697) an old

lecher,

what was he

? It isnot an easyquestionto answer.

It involvesnot only

judgements

about facts,

but

also

theo-logical

and

moral judgements.

Most

of this

book

will

be

concerned withpresentingthefactsoil

which

these ultimate

judgements must be

basedifthey aretohave

any

claim to general acceptance.

THE

RIVALRY OF

THE

GREAT POWERS

The

story of the

monk

Bahlra,

though

essentiallyalegend,

depicts truly thekind of

world

in

which

Muhammad

lived.

He

was born

in

Mecca, and

spent

most

of the first fifty

yearsofhislifethere.

The

Meccans

were

traders,

and

sent

caravans to Syria.

^Muhammad

must

have joined such a

caravan

on

at least a

few

occasions,

and

may

well have

travelledsometimesinthe

company

ofhisuncle.

Here

isa

fact of great significance.

Mecca

was

a little

town

in the

deserts or steppes near the west coast of Arabia,

but

it

was by no

means

isolated

from

thegreatempiresofthe day!

A

casual reading of the sources

might

suggest that Islam

grew

out of the petty bickerings inthis little

town

;

but

a

more

careful study

shows

Jthat the

whole

of Arabia

had

become

entangledinthe

meshes

of thepolitics ofthe great

(10)

ORPHAN

One

of these great

powers

was

the Byzantine empire

When

the

Meccan

traders tooktheir

goods

to

Damascus

o Gaza, they

had

entered the Byzantine domains.

This empir

is also

known

as the

Roman

empire

or Eastern

Romaj

empire. It

was

the

remnant

ofthe

Roman

empire

ofclassica

times.

The

westernpart

had been

overrun

by

barbariansii

the fifth century

and

had

ceasedto exist.

But

the easten

part,withitscapital at

Constantinople,

had

maintaineditsel:

and

in the sixth century

had

even

won

back

parts of the

western empire

from

theirbarbarianrulers.

In

the year 6oc the

Byzantine empire included Asia

Minor,

Syria, Egypl

and

south-eastern

Europe

up

to the

Danube.

It also

con-trolled the Mediterranean islands

and

some

parts of Italy,

and had

a slenderhold

on

the coast of

North

Africa.

The

Byzantine empire

had

a great rival, the Persian

empire

under

theSasaniddynasty.

This was

ruled

from

the

richlands ofIraq,

and

stretched

from

there to Afghanistan

and

theriverOxus.

These

were

the

two

great

powers

ofthe

dayso far asArabia

was

concerned.

In

the second halfof

the sixth centurytheir rivalry led to a seriesof wars, with

onlybrief intervalsofpeace.

The

climaxif

we may

antici-pate a little

came

in the later years of

Muhammad's

life.

The

Persians defeatedthe Byzantines,

conquered

Syria

and

Egypt,

and

in

614

entered Jerusalem

and

took

away

the

True

Cross.

The

Byzantine

emperor

kboured

patientlyto retrieve

the situation.

Aided

by

dynastic quarrels in the Persian

royal family, he

was

completely successful.

In

628 the

Persians

had

tosueforpeace.

They

evacuated the Byzantine

provincesthey

had

occupied,

and

in

630

the

Holy Rood

was

restored to Jerusalem.

This

long-continued

struggle of the giants

had

its

reper-cussions in Arabia.

The

Persians

had

a sphere ofinfluence

in the Persian

Gulf and

along the southcoastof Arabia. All

(11)

THE

GIFTED

ORPHAN

5

dependent on

Persiain

one

way

or another. Oftenone of the

local factions

would

be maintained in

power

by

Persian

support.

From

at least the fourth centurythe Persians

had

some

influence in the

Yemen.

About

570 they sent a

sea-borne invadingforce to

occupy

theregion,

and

subsequently

triedto developtrade

from

the

Yemen

to*Iraq

by

the

over-landroute.

The

interest ofthe

Roman

world

in the trade routes of

westernArabiais

shown

by

alargeexpeditionin

24

B.C., but

this

was

unsuccessful, indeed disastrous.

About

356

we

hearof theByzantine

emperor

sendinga Christianbishopto

the

Yemen

to counteract Persian influence

by

spreading

Christianity.

The

Byzantines

were

so impressed

by

the

importanceofthispart ofArabiathatabout 521 the

emperor

encouraged

and

approved of an Abyssinian occupationofthe

Yemen

despite thereligious

and

political differences

between

theAbyssinians

and

the Byzantines.

The

latter called their

form

of Christianity

Orthodoxy and

regarded the

Abyssin-ians as

Monophysite

heretics; but theypreferred friendly

heretics to Persians or Persian proteges. Byzantine policy

had

asetback

when

theAbyssinians were driven out

by

the

Persians about 570.

A

little later perhaps about 590

we

findtheByzantinestryingtogain controlof

Mecca by

bring-ingapro-Byzantinefaction to

power

there; butthe

Meccans,

though

more

friendly tothe Byzantines thantothe Persians,

had

no

desire for this kind ofsubordination to

one

of the

greatpowers,

and

the

would-be

princeling

was

forced toflee.

Neither the Persians nor the Byzantines tried to control the Arabian

nomads

directly.

With

the available

arms and

means

of

communication

it

was

a task

beyond

thestrength even of a great empire.

The

method

both empires

em-ployed

was

tosupport aprince

on

theborders

between

the

Desert

and

the

Sown

and

to see that

he

was

strong

enough

to prevent the

nomads

from

raiding the settled lands.

The

(12)

6

Persiansthus supported the princely dynasty of the

Lakh-mids,

some

of

whose

followers

were nomads, though

they themselveslived in the

town

of al-Hirah neartheEuphrates.

Similarly the Byzantines, at least

from

529, supported the

Ghassanid

princes

who

dominated

the region east of the

Jordan and

of

Damascus.

Besides this extension into

much

of Arabia of political

spheres ofinfluence there

was

aculturalorreligious

penetra-tion*

The

Ghassanids

had

long

been

Christians,

and

towards

600

the

Lakhmid

king

became

aChristian.

With

the

encour-agement

ofthe great

powers and

alsoapart

from

it Christian-ity

had been

spreading

among

the

nomadic

tribes.

By

Muhammad's

time there

were

Christians in

many

of the

tribes,

and

some

tribes or sections of tribes

were

largely

Christian. Just

how

adequate their grasp of Christianity

was, however, it isimpossible to say.

What

isclear isthat

there

was

aconnexion

between

religion

and

politics.

Of

the

forms

of Christianity

Orthodoxy and Monophysitism

were

associatedwithapro-Byzantineattitude inpolitics,sincethe Byzantine

emperor was Orthodox

while the Ghassanids

and

the Abyssinians were Monophysites.

On

theother

hand

the Nestorian (morecorrectlyEast Syrian)

form

of Christianity

had been

expelled

from

the Byzantine empire but

had

won

many

adherentsin'Iraq,

and was

therefore naturally

associ-ated with a pro-Persian policy.

There was

also a certain

amount

of

Judaism

in Arabia.

Some

of the

Jews were

doubtless

men

of

Hebrew

stock

who

had

fled

from

persecu-tion, butothers

must have been Arabs

who

had

accepted the

Jewishfaith.

For

reasons that arenotaltogetherobvious perhaps it

was

the

common

opposition to pro-Byzantine

Christians the

Jews were

mostlypro-Persian.

The

Meccan

merchants

may

not

have

had

a full under-standing ofthis political environment in

which

they lived.

(13)

THE

GIFTED

ORPHAN

7

they

must

thereforehave

been aware

ofthe

main

featuresof

the situation.

They

were

certainly aware of the rivalry of

the Persians

and

Byzantines,

and

of the understanding

be-tween

the latter

and

the Abyssinians;

and

the connexions

between

religion

and

politics cannot have escaped their

notice. Thisisan importantpoint tokeep in

mind

intrying

to understandthe careerof

Muhammad*

LIFE IN

A

COMMERCIAL

CENTRE

Muhammad

issaid tohave

been born

in the

Year

ofthe Elephant. This

was

the yearin

which

theAbyssinianprince

or viceroy of the

Yemen

marched

as far as

Mecca

with a

large

army

which

included an elephant. Scholars have

hithertobeeninclined to date the

Year

oftheElephant about

570,butrecent discoveries in

South

Arabiasuggest that the

Persians overthrew the Abyssinian regime in the

Yemen

aboutthis date,

and

the expedition

may

thereforehave

been

a year or

two

earlier. Certainly in the

Mecca

in

which

Muhammad

grew

up

the merchants

were

adjusting

them-selves to the

new

situation brought about

by

the Persian

occupation of the

Yemen,

and were

apparently profiling

from

it.

Muhammad's

father 'Abd-AIIah

had

died before he

was

born,

and

Muhammad

had

for guardian his grandfather

'Abd-al-Muttalib, the

head

ofthe clan of

Hashim.

He

doubt-lessspent

most

of his early yearswith hismother,

who

be-longedto anotherclan; but, following the

custom

of

many

of the

Meccan

families,shesent

him away

for ayearor

two

from

insalubrious

Mecca

tothe

hard

buthealthylifeofthe

desert,

where he was

looked after

by

a wet-nurse

from

a

bedouintribe.

When Muhammad

was

six his

mother

died,

and he was

directly

under

the care ofhis grandfatheruntil

he

alsodied

two

yearslater.

He

then passedintothe charge

(14)

Thj& lot of

an orphan

In sixth-century

Mecca

was

not a

happy

one. In the old

nomadic

way

oflifeit

had been

under-stoodthat the

head

of a clan orfamily

had

a certain

respon-sibility for the

weaker members.

But

at

Mecca

in a

mad

scramble for

more

wealth every

man

was

looking after his

own

interests

and

disregardingthe responsibilitiesformerly

recognized.

Muhammad's

guardians

saw

that

he

did not

starve to death,

but

it

was

difficult for

them

to

do

more

for

him,especially as thefortunesof theclan of

Hashim seem

to

have

been

decliningatthistime.

An

orphan, with

no

able-bodied

man

to give special attention to hisinterests,

had

a

poor

start inacommercial career;

and

that

was

reallythe

onlycareer

open

to him.

By

travellingto Syria with

Abu-Talib

Muhammad

gained

some

experience, but without

capitalthere

were few

opportunitiesofusingthisexperience.

Not

much

is

known

of

Mecca

during

Muhammad's

youth

and

early

manhood.

The

available material isfragmentary,

and

it is difficult to separate the history in it

from

legend.

Yet

it gives us a picture of a city

whose

commerce was

expanding and

whose power

and

prestige

were

growing. Shortly before 590

two

events occurred with

which

Muhammad

was

connected in a

minor

way.ijQtoe

was

a

series ofbattles,

known

as the

Wicked War,

and

at

one

or

more

of these

Muhammad

was

present

accompanying

his

uncles,

though he

isnotsaidto

have

taken

an

active part in

the fighting.

This war began

with a quarrel

between

two

nomadic

chiefs,

one

of

whom

was

convoying

acaravan

from

'

Iraq throughtheterritoryofthe otherto agreat

twenty-day

fairheld annuallyat*Ukaz, notfar

from Mecca.

The

second

feltslighted,

and

ambushed

and

killedthefirst. Before long

the

Meccans and

theirallies

were

involved

on

the side ofthe

aggressor,

and

the

group

oftribes

known

as

Hawazin

on

the

other. After

some

defeatsthe

Meccans

were

victorious,

and

(15)

enter-THE

GIFTED

ORPHAN

9

prises at the expense of their rivals.

They

gained

some

measure

ofcontroloverthe fairof

'Ukaz

and

even over the neighbouring

town

ofat-Ta'if.

The

latter

had

hitherto

been

acommercialrivalof

Mecca, and

more

inclined to

work

along

with thePersians.

This

success doubtless

had

repercussions

on

therelations

ofthe various

groups

in

Mecca.

It

was

apparently shortly

afterwardsthat

one

ofthe chief

Meccan

merchants refused

to

pay

adebttoatrader

from

the

Yemen who

had come

to

Mecca.

There seems

tohave

been

some

question of principle

involvedhere,

though

not that of

commercial

integrity. It

was

probably a deliberate attempt to stop the

Yemenite

merchants coming

to

Mecca

and

sharinginthetradeatthe

Meccan

end

; thatis,they

were

toberestrictedtothe

hand-lingofthe trade inthe

Yemen,

while theorganizationof the

caravans

was

to

be

entirely in the

hands

of the

Meccans.

There

was

avigorousreaction

from

a certain sectionofthe

Meccans.

They

formed an

alliance ofclans

which

we may

calltheJ^agueM,th,,yirtiioiis,

though

other explanationsof

the

name

are given.

Muhammad

was

presentatthe

meeting

at

which

the

League

was

formed,

and

even in later life

approved

ofit. It

aimed

atupholding

commercial

integrity,

but

beyond

thisit

was

probablyinterested inpreventing the

exclusion of

Yemenite merchants from

the^

Meccan

market,

and

the clans

which

formed

it

seem

to have

been

those

which were

themselvesincapableof sending caravansto the

Yemen,

or

which had

specialized in trade

between

Mecca

and

Syria.

Itisunfortunatethat

we

do

not

know

more

ofthe

League

of theVirtuous, since it

seems

to

have

played

an

important

part in the life of

Mecca, and

in large part to have

been

directed against the

men

and

thepoliciesto

which

Muham-mad

later

found

himself opposed. In particular his clan of

(16)

Virtuous. Apart

from

religious questions the political atti-tudeof

Hashim

and

the clans iaalliancewithit

would make

them

tendtosupport

Muhammad.

Despitethe divisionswithin

Mecca

revealed

by

this

inci-dent

common

commercial interests preserved a

measure

of

unity.

There was

nothing

comparable

tothebitterfighting

which

rent asunder the

community

of

Medina

in the years

before

Muhammad

settledthere in 622.

The

Meccans

were

famous

for the quality of

Mm,

which

is a combination of maturity

and

self-control,

and

contrasts withthe usual

hot-blooded rashness

and

impetuosity of the Arab. In other

words

they

were

able to

smother

their feelings

where

these

would

have

harmed

theirmaterial interests.

In this worldofunscrupulous business

men,

how

was

a poor orphan,

however

gifted, to

make

his

way

?

The

one

possibility

was

tofinda rich

woman

to

marry

him,so that

he

could,asitwere, enter intoabusiness partnershipwithher.

The

exact position of

women

in

Mecca

atthistimeisobscure.

Inthecommercialfever

and

socialturmoilofthetimes, there

were

at leasta few

who

had

managed

to

win independence

and

property, so thatthey

were

able to trade

on

their

own

account* Divorce

was

frequentin

Mecca, and

that,together

with the

numerous

chances of early death for the

men,

brought it about that a

woman

might

have three or four husbandsin succession.

This

must

have

made

iteasier for

the talented

woman

toasserther independence.

Muhammad

probably setaboutlooking for

something

of this sort.

There

is a list of

women

whose

marriage with

Muhammad

was

talked about,

and

among

these is

one

who

was

probablyolder thanhe,

and whose

marriage with

him

may

have been thought of before

he

marriedatall1 Ifthis

1

Thiswas Puba'ahbint-*Amir; cf. Ibn-Sa'd,viii. 109f. ; F. Wusten-feld,Mekka(Leipzig, 1858),i. 508; etc. Herthirdhusband had been

(17)

THE

GIFTED

ORPHAN

II *~~'*~'Princlp$lroutes fgjRHeight3000Ft. andover 100 200 300Miles

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(18)

was

so, nothing

came

of it. Instead he married Khadijah,

another

woman

with property

and

independence,

who

had

already

had two

husbands. Before

marrying

him

she tested

him by

sending

him

asher agentin a caravanto Syria.

He

accomplishedhis

commission

successfully,

and

she

proposed

marriageto him.

Muhammad

was

twenty-five atthetime,

so themarriage

must

have

been

about595.

Khadijah

issaid

to have

been

about forty, but this is

perhaps only a

round

figure,

and

she

may

have

been

somewhat

younger

since she

bore

Muhammad

several children, probably four girls

and

two

boys, of

whom

the latterdiedininfancy.

This

marriage

meant

a great deal to

Muhammad.

For one

thing it gave

him

an

opportunity of exercising his gifts in

the

main form

ofactivity

open

toa

Meccan

commerce.

He

and

Khadijah

had

sufficient capitaltoenable

them

toengage

in profitable enterprises.

We

do

not hear of

him

going to

Syriaagain,but

he

may

wellhave

done

so.

But

the marriage

also played a part in his spiritual development.

Khadijah

had

a cousin,

Waraqah,

who

had

become

a Christian,

and

who

issaidtohave supported

Muhammad

inhis beliefthat

he was

receiving revelations similar to thoseofthe

Jews and

the Christians. It

was

to

Khadfjah

too that

Muhammad

turned

when

in

moments

of desolation

he

doubted

his

com-missiontobea prophet.

His

marriage with

Khadijah

isthus

agreatturning-point in hislife.

So

long as

Khadijah

lived

he

took

no

other wives.

Of

the fifteen years that follow practically nothing is

known.

Muhammad

issaid to

have

acquired areputation for

uprightness,

and

to

have been

known

as

*

thetrusty

one

'.

He

was

able to betroth his daughters to

some

moderately

important

men, though

all

were

somehow

related tohimself

orto Khadijah.

As

partner,at least for

some

enterprises,

he

had

a

nephew

of

Khadyah's

second husband.1

Thus

he had

1

CL

(19)

THE

GIFTED

ORPHAN

13 a modestly prosperouscareer.

Yet he

feltthat hisgifts

were

not being

used

tothefull.

He

had

atalentforadministration that

would

have enabled

him

tohandle thebiggest operations

thencarriedoutin

Mecca,

butthe greatmerchants excluded

him

from

their inner circle.

His

own

dissatisfaction

made

him

more

aware

of the unsatisfactory aspects of life in

Mecca.

In

these*

hidden

years'

he

must

have

brooded

over

such

matters. Eventually

what

had

been maturing

in the

(20)

THE

CALL

TO PROPHETHOOD

1

RISE

AND

WARN

*

!Itisaxiomatic that the

new

religious

movement

ofIslam

must

somehow

or otherhaverisen outofthe conditions in

Mecca

in

Muhammad's

timel

A

new

religioncannot

come

into being withoutasufficientmotive. In the experience of

Muhammad

and

his early followers there

must

have

been

some

need which was

satisfied

by

the practices

and

doctrines

of the

embryonic

religion.

What

precisely the

unsatisfac-tory conditions or the needs

were

is a point

on

which

opposite views

may

be

held. Before discussingit letus see

what were

the events surrounding the call to

prophethood

and what was

the earliestmessageofthe Qur'an.

IMuhammad's

concern for the troubles of

Mecca

at this

period

made him

seek solitude^

On

one

ofthebarren rocky

hillsinthe

neighbourhood

there

was

a cave

where he

some-times

went

for severalnightsatatiinetobealone

and

topray

and

meditate.

During

thesesolitary vigils

he began

to

have

strange experiences. First ofallthere

were

vivid

dreams

or

visions.

Two

in particular stood out as being of special

significance.

We

know

something oftheir content, forthey

are described inthe

Qur'an

(53. 1-18; cf. Si. 15-25)-

In

thefirstvision thereappearedto

him

aglorious

Being

stand-ing erect high

up

in the sky near the horizon; then this

strong

and mighty

One

moved

down

towards

him

until

he

was

only

two

bow-shotsor.less

from

him,

and

communicated

to

Mm

a revelation, that is,

some

passage of the Qur'an.

The

secondvision

was

ofthe

same

glorious Being,

but

this

time

he was

besidealote-treenear a garden

and

thelote-tree

was

coveredin

some

strange

and

wonderful way.

This

must

be

an

authenticaccount of

Muhammad's

(21)

THE CALL TO

PROPHETHOOD

15

him

when

he

lookedbade. It

was

his

supreme

justification for thinking that

he

was

*

the

messenger

of

God

*.

The

visions are

mentioned

inthe

Qur'an

toconfirm theassertion

that the passages

which

Muhammad

is

making

public

and

which he

claims to

be

revelations

from God,

indeed

have

objectivevalidity,

and

arenotdelusions or deliberate

inven-tions.

They

must

also have

meant

much

to

Muhammad

himself.

When

things

were

not goingwellwith

him

and he

took apessimistic

view

ofthe future,

he

remembered

these

visions

and renewed

hisfaithin his divinecommission.

To

begin with hethoughtthatthegloriousBeing

was

God

Himself. Later

he

may

have

thoughtthat it

was

a superior

kindof angel calledthe Spirit. Finally

he

identifieditwith

theangel Gabriel.

The

change

ofinterpretationisprobably

due

to

Muhammad's

having

become

aware of the Jewish

teachingthat

God

cannot

be

seen.

The

precise interpretation

of thevisions,however, does not matter;[whatisimportant

isthe support thesegaveto

Muhammad's

beliefin himself

as a

man

who

had been

given a special

commission

by

God.

Stories are also told of

how

Muhammad,

in

moods

of

despair,

would

go

walking over the rockyhills

and

thinkof

flinginghimself

down

from

aprecipitous crag,

and

how

he

would

then see

an

angel

who

reminded

him,

*

Thou

artthe

Messenger

of

God

*. Ifthereis

some

truth in thesestories,

then

Muhammad

must have

distinguishedsuch appearances

from

the

two

visions.

yThe

visions

were

the primary

experi-encein

which

a divine act

made

him

aware

ofhis

prophet-hood,

but

the other experiences

were

at

most

secondary, perhaps supernaturally caused, butstill only

rememberings

of the

primary

experience^

In

trying to understand the career of

Muhammad

this

primary

experience

must

never

be

forgotten.

Muhammad

(22)

the apparently insuperable obstacles

which

confronted him.

Yet

he

neveraltogether lostthe conviction that

he

had been

called

by

God

and

givena

special

work

to

do

in his

day and

generation.

This

conviction sustained

him

in the face of

opposition, mockery,

calumny

and

persecution;

and

when

success

came

tohim,itdidnot turnhis head, but only

deep-ened

his beliefthat

God who

had

called

him

was

also

working

for

him

inhistoricalevents.

Involved in the conception of

Muhammad's

special

mission

was

the receiving of*

revelations'ormessages

from

God.

One

such

message was

included in the first vision.

For

over twentyyears, untilthe

end

ofhislife,

Muhammad

continuedto receive

such

revelations at frequent intervals.

He

and

his followers

memorized

them,

and

they

were

re-peatedintheritualworship orprayer

which he

introduced.

Most

of

them

were

probablywritten

down

during

Muham-mad's

lifetime, but writing materials

were

scarce in

Mecca

and

Medina, and one

ofthetraditionalaccountsisthatafter

Muhammad's

death

one

of hissecretaries

found

passagesof

itwritten

on

pieces ofpaper, stones,palm-leaves,

shoulder-blades,ribs

and

bitsofleather.

This

soundslikean attempt

to exaggerate the simplicity oflifein

Muhammad's

day,

and

need

not

be

taken tooseriously. It

seems

likelythat toagreat

extent the surahs orchapters ofthe

Qur'an were

giventheir

present

form

by

Muhammad

himself; butthefinal

*

collec-tion'ofallthe passages of revelation

and

theassignmentof

their present order in the

Qur'an

took place shortly after

650

orabout twentyyearsafter

Muhammad's

death.

Tte

Qur'an,as

we

now

haveitinour hands, either in the

originalArabic orinan Englishtranslation,isthus the

body

of the revelations received

by

Muhammad,

In form

God

is

the speaker, addressing

Muhammad

or the

Muslims

or

(23)

THE

CALL TO

PROPHETHQOD

IJ

The

earlier passages often contain

commands

to

Muham-mad. For

Muslim

tradition the

Qur'an

isthus the

Word

or

Speech

of

God, and

Muhammad

himself

must

also

have

regardedit in thisway.

Moreover he

must have been

per-fectly sincere inthis belief.

He

must

have been

convinced

that

he

was

ableto distinguish

between

his

own

thoughts

and

the messages that

came

to

him

from

*

outsidehimself.

To

carry

on

inthefaceofpersecution

and

hostility

would

have

been

impossiblefor

him

unless

he

was

fully persuadedthat

God

had

sent

him

;

and

the receiving of revelations

was

included in his divine mission.

Had

he

known

that these

revelations

were

his

own

ideas, the

whole

basis

would

have

been

cut

away

from

hisreligious

movement.

To

saythat

Muhammad

was

sincere does not

imply

that

he

was

correct in hisbeliefs.

A

man

may

be

sincerebut

mis-taken.

The

modern

Westerner

has

no

difficultyin

showing

how

Muhammad

may

have

been

mistaken.

What

seems

to

a

man

to

come

from

*outsidehimselfJ

may

actually

come

from

hisunconscious. This, ofcourse, isnotafinalsolution

of the problem. It explainsthe

form

of

Muhammad's

ex-periences, as it does that of the experiences of the

Old

Testament

prophets

who

proclaimed, *

Thus

saith the

Lord, . . . *

; but it does not explain the content ofthese

experiences.

This

isa

more

complex

question, about

which

I shall say

something

in the concluding chapter.

Without

settlingit, howeverjitispossible to takethe

Qur'an

asa

body

ofideas

and

to study thesignificanceofthese ideas in their

social

and

historicalcontext.

Muhammad's

beliefthatUierevelations

came

to

him

from

God

would

not prevent

him

rearranging the material

and

otherwise

emending

it

by

omission or addition.

There

are

references in the

Qur'an

to

God

making

him

forget

some

passages,

and

aclosestudy of thetext

makes

italmostcertain

(24)

course,

would

not

be

of

Muhammad's

composition.

Pre-sumably he had

some

way

of *

listening

'

for revelations

where he

thought they

were

needed,

and

would

only

emend

the text if

he

received

an emending

revelation. Islamic

orthodoxy has always recognizedthat

some

passages ofthe

Qur'ancontaining rules for the

Muslims

were

abrogated

by

laterpassages, sothattheoriginalrulesceasedto

be

binding.

The

story of the

*

satanic verses'(inthenextchapter)is

an

instance of the

emendation

of

what

had been

publicly

pro-claimedas arevelation.

Inthefirstof the

two

visions

Muhammad

had

receiveda

revelation

from

the glorious Being, but this

was

not the

normal

manner

in

which he

received revelations. In

many

cases it is probable that

he

simply

found

the

words

in his

heart(thatis,his

mind)

in

some

mysteriousway, withouthis

imagining that

he

heard anything.

This seems

to

be

what

was

originally

meant

by

l

revelation* (wahy).

A

Qur'anic

passage (42.50),

which

refers to this, also mentions

God

speakingto a

man

*

from behind

aveil*. If this applies to

/Muhammad's

own

experience, it

would

imply

that

he

Imaginativelyheard something withoutimaginatively seeing

anything"; but perhapstheprimaryreferenceisto

Moses

at the burning

bush

(cf. Qur'an, "20.9ff,).

The

same

passage

also speaks of

God

sending a messenger to a

man.

This

could

be

a description of the first vision as

Muhammad

latterly interpretedit

;

but

it has

commonly

been

held

by

Muslims

that

many

revelations

were

broughtto

Muhammad

by

the angel Gabriel,

and

it

may

be

that in his closingyears

the receiving of

a

revelation

was

normally

accompanied

by

an

imaginative pictureof theangel.

Oa

some

occasionsat leastthere

were

physical

accompani-ments.

He

would be

gripped

by

a

feelingofpain,

and

in his

earsthere

would be

a noise likethereverberationof

a

belL

(25)

THE CALL TO

PROPHETHOOD

19

pearlsofsweat

on

hisforeheadas the revelation descended

upon

him.

Such

accounts led

some

Western

critics to

suggest that

he

had

epilepsy, butthere are

no

real

grounds

for

such

a view. Epilepsy leads to physical

and

mental

degeneration,

and

there are

no

signs of that in

Muhammad

;

on

thecontrary

he was

clearlyinfullpossession ofhis

facul-tiesto the very

end

of hislife.

These

physical

accompani-ments

ofreligiousexperiences are ofinteresttothereligious

psychologist,

but

they can never either prove or disprove

thetruthofthe content oftheexperiences.

This

isamatter

for theology,

and

will

be

discussed intheconclusion.

It is

worth

noticingthat, even

from

the

Muslim

pointof

view, according to

which

the

Qur'an

is entirely

from

God

and

is unaffected

by

passing through

Muhammad's

con-sciousnessyftheQur'anisevidencefortheoutlookof

Muham-mad

and

tHeMuslims*.

This

isfor

two

reasons.

One

isthat

Muhammad

accepted the

Qur'an

astrue.

Even

if

he

didnot

originate the Qur'anic ideas, they

were

the ideas that

dominated and

moulded

histhoughts.

So

it isnot

inconsis-tent to speak ofthese ideas as

Muhammad's

and

yetatthe

same

timeto holdthat

he

was

sincere inregarding

them

as

coming from

outside himself.

The

second reasonisthatthe

Qur'an was

addressedto

Arabs

oftheearlyseventhcentury,

and

must

therefore

be

expressed not merelyin the Arabic

language,but in the thought-forms of the Arabs, except in

sofar asit

was making

criticisms.

Thus

itshould

be

possible,

by

studying

what

is implied in the Qur'an, to learn

some-thing of the intellectual

environment

of

Muhammad

and

theearliest

Muslims.

The

passage

which

is usuallyaccounted the first of the

whole*

Qur'an

to

be

revealed

may

be

rendered as

foEows

:

Recite,

Inthe

Name

of thyLord^

who

created

(26)

Recite,

Forthy

Lord

isbountiful,

Who

taught

by

the Pen,

Taught

man

what

he

knew

not. (96. 1-5)

In this, as in

most

ofthe otherearly passages, the lines are

short

and

rhythmic, closingwith

rhyme

orassonance.

(The

*

blood-clot'isareference tothe

embryo

inthe

womb.)

With

this

may

be compared

another passage

which

is

sometimes

heldto

have

been

thefirstto

be

revealed.

O

immantledone, Riseand

warn

;

Thy

Lord

magnify,

Thy

raimentpurify,

The

Wrath

flee.

Givenottogain more,

Forthy

Lord

endure.(74.1-7)

Later scholars tried to reconcile these

two

accounts

by

saying that the former

was

thefirstrevelation ofall, while

thesecond

was

thefirstaftera longgap.

This

seems

to

be

no

more

than a conjecture, however. Circumstances

had

alteredso

much

by

the

end

of

Muhammad's

lifethatpeople

had

forgotten

what

thefirst beginnings of Islam

were

like.

It

may

be

that

some

other passages of the

Qur'an were

earlierthaneitherof thesetwo. Perhaps

some

oftheearliest

have

been

omitted

from

the

Qur'an

as

we

have

it.

What may

besaidisthatthe

two

passages

quoted have

a

logical importance

and

alogical priority.

The

word

trans-lated *recite*

(iqra*)is

from

the

same

root as

*

Qur'an

',

and

the latter could

be

rendered as *recitation'. It apparently

comes, however,

from

theSyriac

word

qeryana,

and

that

was

applied to the scripture lesson

which was

'

read'

or *

re-cited*

by

Christians in publicworship.

Thus

the

command

(27)

THE

CALL TO

PR0PHETHOOD

21

instituted along the lines of that of the Syriac-speaking

Christians,

and

that instead oftheir lessons

from

the Bible

this revelation is to be*recited*.

When

other revelations

came

they

were

also recited,

and

the

word

*

Qur'an '

was

applied

both

to the separate revelations

and

also to the

whole

collection.

Thus

therevelation generallyaccepted as firstcertainlyhas alogical priority.

The

other revelation

quoted

is alsoimportant because it

contains the phrase

*

rise

and

warn

'. In the early years

Muhammad

defined his prophetic function in its social

aspect as being that of a

*

warner

V-

He

was

to

warn

the

Meccans

that they

must

ultimately face

God

the

Judge on

theLast Dajr^/Ininsisting

on

thispoint

he was

disclaiming

any

desire to have aposition of importance in the political

or

economic

lifeof

Mecca.

H

The command

to*rise

and

warn

'

thus logically

marks

the^beginning of his public activity,

since

warning

impliesthat there arepeople

who

haveto

be

warned.

For

a

man

in

remote

seventh-century

Mecca

thus to

believe that

he was

called

by

God

to

be

a prophet

was

some-thing stupendous. Itis not surprising that

Muhammad

is

reportedtohave

been

assailed

by

fears

and

doubts.

There

is evidenceforthisin the

Qur'an

aswell as inthenarrativesof

hislife,

though

It isnot certain at

what

period

he

received

theQtkr'Inic assurances that

God

had

notforsaken

Mm.

fPart ofhis fear

was

probably the old Semiticfearof the

divfrie as of

something

dangerous, of

which

there are

examples in the

Old

Testament^

He may

have put

on

a

mantle toprotect himself,

and

this

may

be

the reasonfor his

being describedas

*

imnaantled*. Itisalso possible,however,

thatthe mantle

may

have been

put

on

toinducerevelations.

Another form

of fear

would

be

fear of madness, that is,

according to the

Arab

Ideas ofthetime, of being possessed

(28)

his revelations in this way,

and he

must

sometimes

have

wondered

whether they

were

right.

The

chiefsource ofhis

doubt

and

bewilderment, however,

jpaust have been the stupendous character of the claim to

prophethoocf.y

Many

of the revelations of thelater

Meccan

period,

whetT

there

was

vehement

opposition to

him

in

Mecca, explain

how

this opposition does not disprove his

prophetic vocation, since previous prophets regularly

met

withopposition. Inthe early days,soonafterthefirst

revela-tion,

he

is said to have

been

encouraged to believe in his

vocation

by

hiswifeKhadijahand,

more

particularly,

by

her

cousin

Waraqah.

The

latter

had

become

a Christian

and

was

reputedtobefamiliar withtheBible.

At

thistime the

average Christian

Arab

probably

had no

direct

knowledge

of thescriptures.

Thus

the statementsabout

Waraqah

may

betrue,

and

yet hisknowledge

may

have

been

slight.

Never-theless, the testimonyofa Christian that the revelations to

Muhammad

were similar to .those formerly received

by

Moses

must

have greatly strengthened his belief in his

vocation.

Such

testimonyisalmostlogicallynecessary.

However

obscure

and

doubtful

many

ofthedetails are,it

is an indisputable fact of history that early inthe seventh

century

Muhammad

began preachingin

Mecca

and

claiming

tobea

prophet

The

year610

may

be

takenasa

rough

date forthefirst revelation,

and

the year 613 as the beginning

of his preachingtothepeopleof

Mecca

in general.

THE

EARLIEST

MESSAGE OF THE QUR'AN

For

our understanding of

Muhammad's

career it is

im-portant to

know

what

was

contained in hispreachinginthe

earliestdays. Unfortunatelythisisnotsuch a simple matter

as it mij^tt appear, since the Qur'an is not arranged in

chronological order. Various

European

scholars have tried

(29)

THE CALL

TO

PROPHETHOOD

23

chaptersor surahs

and

of the separate passages within each

surah, but there has

been

much

disagreement, especially

about the earliest of all.

The

two most

important

and

widely accepted of these attempts are those of

Theodor

Noldeke and

Ridnrd

Bell,

which

may

be

dated

i86o^and

1937-39 respectively.

As

afairly objective

method

of

dis-covering theearliest

message

of the

Qur'an

we may

look at

the contentsofthose passages

which

both

Noldeke and

Bell

regardasearly.

A

further refinement is possible, however. Already in

these early passages thereis

mention

ofopposition.

Now

it

would seem

to be necessarythat before apreacher can stir

up

opposition

he

must

have been

sayingsomethingto

which

hishearers objected.

What

he

preachedbeforetheopposition

appeared

must

therefore

be

theearliestmessage ofall, since it

was

this message, or part of it,

which produced

the

opposition. If, then,

we

are to determine, as objectively as

possible,theearliest

message

of the Qur'an,

we

shall restrict

ourselves to considering passages

which

fulfill

two

conditions:

(a)theyareregardedas early

by

both

Noldeke and

Bell; (b)

opposition to

Muhammad

is not

mentioned

or implied in

them.

The

passages

which

fulfilthese

two

conditions

would

appearto

be

thefollowing (accordingtothe older

European

numbering

of

Gustav

Fliigel):

96. 1-8 ; 74. i-io; 106;

90. i-ii ;

93;

86. i-io; 80. 1-32 (omitting23 ?); 87. 1-9, 14f; 84. 1-12; 88.

17-20;

51. 1-6; 52, parts; 55.

The

main themes

ofthese passagescan

be

classified

under

fiveheads.

(i) God'sgoodness

and

power.

The

most prominent theme

in the early passagesisthat of

God's

goodness

and

power.

This

isseen in

many

natural

phenomena, and

especially in

theformationof

human

beings.

The

passage

commonly

held

to

be

thefirstrevealedspeaks of

man's

creationor formation

(30)

24

references to the conception, birth

and

growth

of

human

beings.

Of

whatthing did

God

create (man)?

Of

adropof seed

He

createdandproportionedhim,

Then

made

easyhis

way

(from the

womb),

Then

caused

him

to die

and

beburied,

Then,

when

He

pleases, willraisehim.(80. 17-22)

Praisethe

name

ofthyLord, the

Most

High,

Who

createdandfashioned,

Who

proportioned

and

guided. (87. r-j)

Itis alsoinallthe

works

ofnature, however, that

God's

power

isto

be

seen.

Will they not consider the camels,

how

theyare created,

The

heaven,

how

it israised,

The

mountains,

how

theyarefixed,

The

earth,

how

itisspread? (88.17-20)

Above

allHis goodness isseenintheprovision

He

makes

for thesustenanceof

His

creation.

We

showeredthewaterinshowers,

Then

fissuredtheearth infissures,

And

causeto

grow

initgrain,

And

grapesandclover,

And

olivesandpalms,

And

orchardsdense,

And

fruitsandpasturage.(80.25-31)

God's

goodnessisalsoseenin particularcases.

Thus

the Quraysh,thepeopleof

Mecca,

are called

on

to

worship

God

because*

He

provisioned

them

againstfamine,

And

secured

them

against fear

*

(106. 3f.).

Muhammad

himself,

pre-sumably

ina

moment

of gloom,is

reminded

of

God's

special goodnesstohim.

(31)

THE CALL TO

PROPHETHOOD

25

Thy

Lord

has notabandoned theenorhated.

Better fortheethelastthan thefirst.

Thy

Lord

shalltruly givetheeand thoushaltbesatisfied.

Did

He

notfindtheean orphan and housethee?

Did

He

notfindthee erringandguide thee?

Did

henotfind thee needy andenrich thee? (93. 3-8)

In all this the darker side of life is not neglected.

God

causes

man

to die

and

be buried.

He

turnsthe green

her-bage oftheArabian springintotheblackeneddriftleft

behind

by

the torrent inthe

wadi

(87. 5).

Yet

thistransitorinessof

created existence serves to pointthe contrastwith the

per-manence

ofthe Creator.

Allthose

upon

(earth) pass

away

;

Eternal istheface of thy

Lord

ingloryand honour.

(55. 26 f.)

Itis contrary to

our

preconceivedideas ofIslamthatthis

theme

of

God's

goodness

and power

should

be

so

prominent

inthe earlypassages.

The

preconceptions rest

on

the later

developments ofIslamic

dogma,

when

the fact that

God

is

unique was emphasized and

idols

were

declared to

be

noth-ing. Inother

words

Muhammad's

original

message was

not

a criticismof paganism. Itappears to

be

directed topeople

who

already

had

a

vague

beliefin

God, and

to

aim

at

making

thisbeliefoftheirs

more

precise

by

callingattention to

par-ticular events

and

natural processes in

which God's

agency

was

to

be

seen.

The

vague monotheism

accepted

by

thoughtful

Meccans

of theday,

and presumably

atfirst

by

Muhammad,

allowed

them

toregardthe

Lord

of the

Ka'bah

(the shrineof

Mecca)

as identicalwith

God.

This

is

shown by

thepassageinthe

Qur'an which

calls

on

the

Meccans

to *worship the

Lord

of

this

House

'

(106. 3).

The

identificationofthe

Lord

of

the

Ka

c

Figure

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References

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