Koran, SURA 102
With 1.2 billion Muslims, Islam is the second largest religion in the world. The three largest Muslim population centers are Indonesia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. None of these have a large Arab population. Most Muslims are not Arabs; only about 15 to 20 percent of Muslims are Arab. Compared to the total Muslim population, the terrorist groups are small, but they dominate the headlines. Because of them, many see Islam through a distorted lens. It is unfortunate but understandable.
Muslims are not limited to the Near East or Asia. In Europe, the native population is aging and declining, and governments fear that in time, there may not be enough workers to sustain the economy. To solve the problem, immigration has been facilitated. Germany is home to three million Muslims, mostly Turks. They make up 5.7 percent of the total population. In France it is estimated that five to ten percent profess Islam, mostly people from North Africa. Statistics are unreliable, but there are probably between four to five million Muslims in France, where they outnumber Protestants. In Holland, six percent of the population follows Islam (mostly Indonesians and Moluccans).over one million out of 15.5 million people. There are perhaps five million Muslims in the United States, mostly in California, New York, and Illinois. The fact that there are approximately 1,500 mosques in the United States means Islam cannot be ignored.
Professor Samuel Huntington of Harvard University speaks of religion as “a central defining characteristic of civilizations.” He stresses that the great religions are the foundations on which civilization rests, pointing out that “in the modern world religion is central, perhaps the central force that motivates and mobilizes people.”1 Since Christianity and Islam are the two major religions of the world, he fears that clashes may come from the interaction of Western arrogance and Islamic intolerance. It is perhaps an unduly pessimistic outlook, but he is not alone in his evaluation.
In January 2006, President Chirac of France spoke of new threats and specifically mentioned a “confrontation of civilizations.” 2 Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania University, writes that by and large, U.S. foreign policy has ignored the power of religious motivation and points to Iran and Iraq as the latest examples of this failure to understand deep-seated convictions nourished by faith.3 Perhaps the people involved in foreign policy do not have strong religious convictions and therefore fail to understand this type of motivation? Maybe it is due to a deepseated conviction regarding the separation of church and state? Jenkins believes that out of the world’s 25 largest nations, 20 will be predominantly or entirely Christian or Muslim in about 50 years. According to him, “the fundamental question here is whether Islam and Christianity can co-exist.” He believes that across history “there is no question that the threat of intolerance and persecution chiefly comes from the Islamic side of the equation” and states without hesitation that if Muslims insist that their faith demands the establishment of Islamic states, a collision is unavoidable.4 Unfortunately this is exactly the position of many jihadist movements today, including terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida.
Islamic rule does not automatically exclude religious tolerance. Suleiman the Magnificent (1529.1566) at the height of the Ottoman Empire and Akbar the Great (1556.1605) of the Mogul Empire are shining examples of religious tolerance.
A clash of ideology is one thing, but to envision armed conflict as the only or ultimate solution is an extraordinary viewpoint. According to Daniel Pipes, former instructor at the University of Chicago and Harvard University, “there is nothing inherently antagonistic between the faith of Islam and good American citizenship”5 (emphasis added).
It is essential to gain a better understanding of the great world civilizations and religions, especially of Islam, given its worldwide importance. Jenkins laments the “parochialism of Western public opinion.”6 With increasing instant international communication and global trade so much a part of our world today, a parochial attitude is irresponsible. As Toynbee put it, given the “annihilation of distance” by modern technology, local or regional problems have now become worldwide problems.7
In a genuine desire to improve mutual understanding, key personalities have encouraged interfaith dialogue. This is undoubtedly useful.within certain limits. All too often the agenda is determined in the West and the “dialogue” is more in the nature of a monologue. Clever labels hide profound differences and disagreements are papered over for the sake of harmony. The temptation is to ignore serious disagreements and to find compatibility where there is little or none. It is better to recognize the differences and maintain mutual respect.
In an effort to build bridges of understanding, the Roman Catholic Church has taken a new look at Islam. In 1964 the Second Vatican Council issued a carefully crafted document affirming that “the Church looks with esteem upon Muslims. They adore one God, living and enduring, merciful and all-powerful, Maker of heaven and earth and Speaker to men.” God’s “will of salvation also embraces those who recognize God as Creator, especially Muslims who confess the faith of Abraham and worship one God with us, the Merciful, who judges men in the Last Judgment.”8 This is a remarkable statement coming from a body that, in the past, professed that outside of the Roman Catholic Church there is no salvation.
None of the above addresses the issue of Muslim fundamentalism or movements such as al-Qaida. Does Muslim fundamentalism present the true face of Islam? How and where did Islam develop? Are there points of contact with Christianity? What exactly do Muslims believe, and what do we really know about Muhammed?
THE SETTING IN WHICH ISLAM BEGAN
In the days of Muhammed, the Arabian Peninsula lay at the margin of the civilized world. It was largely ignored because of the extreme climate, the arid desert, and the frequent tribal raids. From time to time a few caravans loaded with spices crossed Arabia - sometimes these were comprised of more than 1,000 camels. Arabia was in decline; chaos prevailed. Small client states at the edge of the peninsula depended on the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Rome), Persia (Iran), or Abyssinia (Ethiopia). The occasional ship reached the coastal cities of Aden or Jeddah. Centuries later, Arabia was still ignored. Ibn Battuta (1304-c. 1368), a tireless Arabian traveler, was one of the few who crossed the peninsula. The Chinese Admiral Cheng Ho (1371-1435) reached the coast of Arabia on his seventh sea voyage. Central Arabia was closed to foreigners, but Niebuhr (1733-1815), a German explorer, visited a small corner of the Arabian Peninsula, mostly Yemen. The Swiss orientalist Burckhardt (1784-1817) managed to visit Mecca in disguise. The British contribution came from Burton (1821-1890), another secret visitor to Mecca.
At the time Muhammed came upon the scene, the small buffer states at the edge of Arabia had been eliminated in the seesaw battles between the two empires of Byzantium or Eastern Rome and Persia. As the major regional powers exhausted each other through endless wars, Mecca grew in importance as a caravan and pilgrim center. The city was on one of the trade routes between India and the Mediterranean, and commerce was thriving. Mecca even became an export center for Arabian products such as frankincense and myrrh, a gum resin. Finally, because of the sacred black stone, the Kaaba, pilgrims flocked to Mecca from all quarters of Arabia.
It is important to take a closer look at the people who lived in Arabia in the days of Muhammed.
Jews played an important role in the life of Muhammed. Several Jewish tribes lived in Yathrib (Medina) and the surrounding area. In Yemen a Jew seized the throne, proclaimed himself independent of Christian Abyssinia (Ethiopia), and called himself King Dhu Nuwas. He tried to impose Judaism on the people and attacked Najran, an important Christian center. Aretes and his 340 Christian companions were killed. This provoked retaliation from Abyssinia. King Ellesbaas (a.d. 552) launched a successful military campaign. Later Persia took control of the area (a.d. 575) till the Muslim conquest.
The peninsula was home to the small Christian center of Najran. Isolated Nestorian Christians* were scattered across the Arabian Peninsula.
Most interesting are the Hanifim (searchers after God), Arabian monotheists who firmly rejected idol worship. For that matter, even idolaters had a sense of a supreme God. As the Koran put it, “If you ask them who it is that has created the heavens and the earth and subjected the sun and the moon, they will say: ‘Allah’ (God). How then can they turn away from Him?”9 and worship idols alongside of Allah. The supreme God was known as Allah. Muhammed’s father was called Abdullah, incorporating the word Allah, or God, in his name. Muhammed complained of the pagans who, “when they embark they pray to Allah with all fervor; but when He brings them safe to land, they serve other gods besides Him.”10 The influence of both Jews and Hanifi m on the general population was significant.
The idolaters worshipped ancestors and local clan and tribal deities who were thought to reside in sacred stones. The center of this stone worship was the black stone in Mecca, the Kaaba, an important pilgrimage center to this day. A few idols commanded broader allegiance throughout Arabia.especially Venus, the morning star.
It is reasonable to assume that Jewish Christians were also represented in Arabia. Some scholars are reasonably sure on this point, because the picture of Jesus presented in the Koran echoes the beliefs of some Jewish-Christian sects that stood outside of the orthodox Christian framework. They accepted Christ’s teaching and thought of him as the Messiah, but denied his deity. This includes the Ebionites (the poor), who maintained that Jesus was merely a man, a prophet of God. Other Jewish Christians were called Nazarites. They accepted Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, and held his teachings to be superior to those of Moses, but also insisted that Christian Jews should observe elements of the Jewish law, such as the Sabbath and circumcision. In the Koran, Christians are called Nazarites. Further afi eld were the Elchasaites with a mixture of Jewish, Christian, and Gnostic elements. They held the law in high regard (except for the sacrifi ces), thought of Jesus as the Messiah, added astrology and magic to the mix, and believed that Adam went through a series of incarnations that eventually culminated in Jesus. We can’t be certain how much contact Muhammed had either directly or indirectly with Jewish Christians, but contact with the Ebionites might have been a source of Muhammed’s knowledge about Jesus.
THE LIFE OF MUHAMMED
A brief chronological overview of Muhammed’s life may be helpful:
570 Birth of Muhammed
595 Marriage to Kadija 25
610 The call 40
613 Public sermons 43
617 Muslims leave for Ethiopia 45
619 Death of Kadija 49
621 Agreement with Medina 51
622 Hegira 52*
624 Battle of Badr 54
Expulsion of the Qainuqa, a Jewish tribe
625 Battle of Uhud 55
Expulsion of the Nadir, a Jewish tribe
626 Marriage to Zainab 56
627 Massacre of the Quraiza, a Jewish tribe 57
628 Treaty of Hudaybiya 58
629 Battle of Muta 59
630 Conquest of Mecca 60
630 Last marriage 60
632 Death 62
*Muslim chronology begins with the Hegira, the year a.d. 622.
MUHAMMED’S EARLY YEARS
Muhammed was born in Mecca, a city ruled by the Quraysh tribe. Each tribe consisted of several clans. The Umayyad clan was the most important of the Quraysh tribe. They played an important role in the history of Islam. The Quraysh controlled the Kaaba, a sanctuary that housed 360 idols. It was a magnet for all the tribes of Arabia. Pilgrims were a common sight in Mecca. The ancient pagan pilgrimage featured many of the elements that were incorporated into the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage.
Muhammed was born into a lesser clan of the Quraysh tribe, the Banu Hashim or Hashemite clan. Thanks to Muhammed, this clan has gained enormous prestige. The roots of the royal family of Jordan go back to the Hashemite clan, and the official name of the country is the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Muhammed came into the world in a.d. 570. His father died before he was born, and he was orphaned at age six when his mother, Amina, died. The Koran recalls the event. “Did He [God] not find you an orphan and give you shelter?”11 His grandfather, Ahmed ben-Mottalib, already 76 years old, accepted the responsibility of educating the boy. When he died, Muhammed ended up in the care of his uncle, Abu Talib. It is possible that when Muhammed was 12, he accompanied his uncle to Syria, where he may have met a Christian monk, Bahira. Exact facts about the life of Muhammed are difficult to ascertain. Ibn Ishaq, who died about a.d. 768, produced the earliest biography of Muhammed. Unfortunately, his work survived only through quotes from later historians. Buchari (810-870) created a major work regarding Muhammed, and finally there was the effort of Tabari (838-923), which, unfortunately, is incomplete. All three historians lived at least 100 years after the death of Muhammed, and in spite of their sincere efforts, it is difficult to know what information can be accepted as authentic.
Muhammed worked for a wealthy widow, Kadija, and led her caravans across the desert. He obtained an excellent reputation for integrity and truthfulness and was called al Ameen, the Trustworthy. Muslim scholars unanimously agree that Muhammed could neither read nor write and conclude that the creation of the Koran is the one and only great miracle performed by Muhammed. At first sight it seems that the Koran confirms this when it speaks of the “unlettered prophet,”12 but the exact meaning of the Arabic word is uncertain and several other meanings have been suggested. Arberry translates this phrase “prophet of the common folk.” This text is not decisive and fails to settle the issue. Could Muhammed function properly, especially as caravan leader, without at least a rudimentary knowledge of reading, writing, and arithmetic? It is difficult to be certain, and it would seem that it hardly matters, except that for Muslims it is an article of faith. For Muslims, the Koran is a miracle because Muhammed was illiterate.
It was almost unavoidable that Muhammed, in the course of his travels, would encounter Jews, Christians (Nestorians), and Hanifim. No doubt he heard biblical stories from them that were later incorporated into the Koran. To what degree these stories accurately reflect the Scriptures and how much was due to traditional lore is another question. In several instances the details recorded in the Koran are in perfect agreement with the Talmud (but not with the Bible), the collection of Jewish laws. It points to contacts with Jews.
At 25 years of age, Muhammed married Kadija, the well-to-do widow for whom he had worked. She was 15 years older than him. They were married for 26 years, and throughout the marriage, Muhammed maintained a monogamous relationship. Kadija bore him three sons and four daughters. Although tradition has firmly established that Kadija was 40 at the time of her marriage, she seems rather old to have given birth to so many children. Unfortunately, all Muhammed’s sons died in infancy. In due time his daughters married. Thanks to his marriage to Kadija, Muhammed was at ease financially. The same text that recalls his orphaned childhood reads, “Did he [God] not find you poor and enrich you?”13 Perhaps Muhammed used his newfound leisure to meditate and ponder religious questions. Few people would doubt that he had a serious religious disposition. We are told that he often retired to a cave in Mount Hira. At age 40, in the month of Ramadan, on the “Night of Qadr” (Power),14 he heard a voice that he accepted as God’s revelation. It seems that the call, mediated by the angel Gabriel, came to Muhammed in his sleep (unless he was in a trance?). Three times he heard the angels say,
Recite in the name of your Lord,
who created - created man from clots of blood.
Recite! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One,
who by the pen has taught man what he did not know.15
Muhammed’s age at that time is indirectly confirmed when, speaking of his calling, he said, “A whole lifetime I dwelt among you before its coming.”16
Muhammed was extremely uncomfortable with his commission and even fearful of possession by a jinn, a supernatural being thought to influence humans. His wife reassured him and became the first believer in his prophetic mission. She got in touch with a cousin, Waraqa, a Bible-reading Christian who reassured Muhammed that he would be a prophet to his own people and that his call was legitimate. Muhammed was relieved and thus dismissed his fears.
Muhammed then adopted his cousin, Ali, who became a believer at age ten. He was followed by Zaid, a freedman who had been ransomed by Kadija and Muhammed. The next disciple was Abu Bakr, a prominent merchant who played a key role in the development of Islam and became the first caliph or successor to Muhammed. Abu Bakr involved a few other prominent people, who became Muhammed’s “companions” and later assumed a special role. At first there were very few converts, mostly poor people and slaves. Pagan opposition in Mecca was almost a foregone conclusion. The city was the commercial and religious center of pagan Arabia and the Quraysh tribal chiefs derived considerable income from the pilgrims. It was hardly the right moment to proclaim a strict monotheism, denounce idols, and threaten the prosperity of Mecca. The Kaaba, which had 360 idols, attracted a lot of business. Not that the idea of Allah, of a supreme God, was altogether new. The word Allah was already used to designate the highest God, but not necessarily to the exclusion of other deities. Allah may have been one of the tribal gods of the Quraysh and was perhaps fairly well known because the Quraysh were the guardians of the Kaaba and exercised considerable influence. It was the idea of excluding all other gods that was unacceptable.
As the number of followers increased, persecution intensified. Finally, in 717, it was decided that a group of believers should move to Abyssinia (Ethiopia) where the Negus, a Christian ruler, received them kindly. It is difficult to determine the exact number of believers who emigrated, but it probably involved 50 to 100 persons.
A greater calamity for Muhammed than the local persecution was the death of Kadija when Muhammed was 49, followed rapidly by the death of his uncle, Abu Talib, who had never embraced the new faith but felt an obligation to defend a member of his clan. Without his protection, Muhammed was at the mercy of his opponents. The new leader of the clan was another uncle of Muhammed, Abu-Lahab. The Koran has harsh words for Abu-Lahab: “May the hands of Abu-Lahab perish! May he himself perish! Nothing shall his wealth and gains avail him. He shall be burnt in flaming fire [a pun on the meaning of Abu-Lahab, father of flames], and his wife, laden with faggots, shall have a rope of fiber around her neck!”17
For Muhammed, life had become precarious. There was a plot to assassinate him. He decided to leave Mecca and find refuge in the mountainous area of Taif, southeast of Mecca. But he was not well received. Perhaps the people were fearful of the possibility of vengeance from those at Mecca. Muhammed was ridiculed and had no choice but to return to Mecca.
A CRITICAL JUNCTURE
Greatly discouraged, it may have been at this critical moment that Muhammed briefly vacillated. This would explain the famous controversial “satanic verses” found in Sura 53:20. The text there mentions Al- Lat, Al-Uzza, and Manat, who were Arabian idols worshipped as daughters of God. Perhaps it was while Muhammed was under considerable pressure that he momentarily wavered and admitted the existence of other deities. As one Muslim scholar put it, “What wonder that a momentary thought crossed his mind to end the conflict by making a light concession to the bigotry of his enemies’it was his first and last concession. He recited a revelation to the Quraysh in which he spoke respectfully of the three moon-goddesses, and asserted that their intercession with God might be hoped for. His audience was overjoyed at the compromise, bowed down and worshipped the God of Muhammed’the whole city was reconciled to the double religion.”18
Muhammed could not remain untrue to himself. He retracted what he had said and admitted that the devil had tempted him.hence the title of “satanic verses.” But it is more than “a slight concession” for one to admit the existence of several deities, and the text has always been an embarrassment to Muslims.
Some Muslim traditionalists have a different explanation and allege that an idolater was present when Muhammed prayed - an idolater that tradition has converted into a devil - and he called out, “They are exalted damsels and their intercession with God may be hoped for.” These words were interjected (by the devil) to appear as if they were part of the prophet’s revelation, but when Muhammed heard what had happened, he immediately declared, “These are but empty names.” Some of these explanations are farfetched, and there is no reason to doubt that momentarily, Muhammed briefly yielded to the pressure of the Quraysh. Muhammed quickly recovered and added, “Is He [God] to have daughters and you sons? This is indeed an unfair distinction!” How can you attribute daughters to God - given the low opinion of the female sex in Arabia at that time - when you yourselves prefer sons?
This was not the only time Muhammed dealt with temptation; we find echoes of his struggles in the Koran. “They sought to entice you from Our revelations’. Indeed had We* not strengthened your faith you might have made some compromise with them.” And again, “Never have We sent a single prophet or apostle before you with whose wishes Satan did not tamper. But Allah abrogates the interjections of Satan and confirms His own revelations.”19 Perhaps this came to Muhammed after his temporary lapse and recognition of idols.
Some Meccans were ready to assassinate Muhammed, who, at one point, hid for three nights in a cave three miles from Mecca. He was accompanied by one loyal follower, Abu Bakr, and the incident is mentioned in Koran 9:40.
From time to time people from Yathrib (better known as Medina) came to Mecca as pilgrims. Because the city of Yathrib was home to several Jewish tribes, even idol worshippers had gained some knowledge of the Old Testament stories and were no strangers to the idea of monotheism. The people from Yathrib were therefore more inclined to listen to the monotheistic proclamations of Muhammed. Seventy- five men from Medina came to Mecca and pledged to defend Muhammed against all enemies. This was significant because once Muhammed accepted the proposal, he replaced tribal or clan loyalty with the support of people not connected by blood. It was the beginning of the umma, the believing community, replacing tribal structure. Muhammed saw the wisdom of exchanging the meager protection of his own clan for the strength of a larger community of believers. This would ultimately lead to his relocation in Medina.
One reason the people in Yathrib would call upon Muhammed to help sort out problems was his good reputation. Tribal disputes in the city could not be resolved, and delegates from Yathrib asked Muhammed to come and settle matters. Muhammed resolved to move his small community of believers from Mecca to Yathrib. Some 200 followers moved with him to Yathrib, which is now called Medina, the city of the prophet. Muhammed followed a bit later, accompanied only by Abu Bakr. It is true that he left a desperate situation behind, but the move, now known as the hegira, was not so much a flight as it was a migration. This momentous event took place on June 8 in a.d. 622, which became the starting point of the Islamic calendar.
With the move to Medina Muhammed entered a totally new and different phase of life. His prophetic role continued, and his proclamations based on ongoing revelations from Allah via Gabriel lasted from 610 to his death, a period of 22 years. In Medina he became the head of a community and mediated disputes between the muhagirun, or fellow-migrants, and the new converts in Medina. The burden of social organization and political leadership fell upon his shoulders.
Muhammed had high hopes that the three Jewish tribes in Medina would accept him as one more prophet in the long line of God’s messengers. He was severely disappointed by their refusal. The kiblah, the direction that the Muslim faces in prayer, was changed from Jerusalem to Mecca so that Muslims could face the Kaaba. Muhammed’s followers wondered about the sudden change, but the Koran reminds us that only
the foolish will ask: “What has made them turn away from their kiblah? “ Say: ‘The east and the west are Allah’s. He guides whom He will to the right path’. We decreed your former kiblah only in order that We might know the Apostle’s true adherents and those who were to disown him. It was indeed a hard test, but not to those whom Allah has guided’. We will make you turn toward a kiblah that will please you. Turn towards the Holy Mosque; wherever you be, face towards it.’ “20
The “Holy Mosque” is a reference to the Kaaba; at that time it was still a center of idolatry.
Once Muhammed had gained a dominant position in Medina, raids were organized. Perhaps this was an economic necessity. Most of those who had come from Mecca were poor and a burden on their fellow believers in Medina. Raids and the acquisition of booty were “normal procedures,” with the chief receiving 20 percent of the spoils. Nevertheless, one raid was roundly criticized. By common agreement and Bedouin tradition, every year all warfare stopped for a period of four months. But on the last day of the period of peace, the last day of the month of Rajab, Muhammed organized a raid. With 300 men he attacked a caravan moving from Syria to Mecca. The commander of the caravan heard about the projected attack, changed his route and sent to Mecca for help. The Quraysh sent 900 men to defeat the Muslims, but lost the battle. The upset victory under the personal leadership of Muhammed was a tremendous boost for the Muslim cause. Yet people raised questions about this breach of customary law, and Muhammed received a special revelation to deal with the issue. “They ask you about fighting in the sacred month. Say: ‘To fight in this month is a great offence; but to debar others from the path of Allah, to deny Him, and to expel His worshippers from the Holy Mosque, is far more grave in His sight. Idolatry is worse than carnage.’ “21 Muhammed justified the raid by observing that the Quraysh in Mecca did not allow Muslims to visit the Kaaba as pilgrims and that they refused to accept his message. According to Muhammed, in the light of the great transgressions of Mecca, the minor sins of the Muslims paled into insignificance. It is an interesting bit of reasoning, and a revelation was needed to calm the situation.
The victory consolidated the power of Muhammed, who could afford to allow a few executions to take place, especially of poets who had reviled him. A Muslim was sent secretly to assassinate Kab ibn al- Asraf, who, in his poems, had ridiculed Muhammed. It should be understood that these poets were the communicators of the day, taking the place of today’s daily paper or television news. Others who had been a thorn in the side of Muhammed were also killed. Some of the details are gruesome, but perhaps not historically accurate. Regardless of how the executions were carried out, Muhammed was the instigator. Nothing happened without his approval. According to Muslim scholars, Muhammed believed a swift and secret execution was the only way to deal with problem people. There was no police, no judicial tribunal to consider individual crimes. To arrest people openly would have provoked unnecessary bloodshed and led to clan warfare. The blood avengers would have started a long cycle of violence. Thus it was better to carry out such assignments secretly (which seems a poor justification for doing this).
Now that Muhammed had absolute control, he expelled the Qainuqa, one of the Jewish tribes in Medina. The background story is rather peculiar. A young girl from the country came to the Jewish market of the Qainuqa to sell milk and was grossly insulted by Jewish youths. A Muslim sided with the girl and, in the ensuing commotion, the Jewish instigator of the affair was killed. The Jews now rose as one man and killed the Muslim, and a free-for-all followed. Muhammed rushed to the spot and tried to calm everyone. As he saw it, the Jews had deliberately infringed upon the terms of a firm compact. Actually, Muhammed would never hesitate to break a treaty if he thought that the other party might violate it. He believed in preventive warfare, retaliation before the enemy moved. “If you fear treachery on the part of an ally, you may retaliate by breaking off your treaty with them. Allah does not love the treacherous.”22
The Qainuqa had the choice to accept Islam or leave Medina. They defied Muhammed and shut themselves up in their fortress. Within two weeks they surrendered and were expulsed. About 700 people were forced to leave their possessions behind, and the spoils fell to the victor.
After the lost Battle of Badr, Mecca was out for revenge, and the next year (625), the Battle of Uhud took place. The armies clashed a few miles outside of Medina. This time the Muslims were defeated and Muhammed was wounded.
A few months later Muhammed accused another Jewish tribe, the Nadir, of collusion with the enemy, the Quraysh of Mecca. The siege of the Jewish fortress lasted only a few weeks, but in the course of the attack Muhammed allowed palm trees to be cut down. It was another serious breach of Bedouin tradition. This action was justified when Muhammed received a revelation that “it was Allah who gave you leave to fell or spare their palm trees, so that He might humiliate the evildoers.” A reminder of the large booty immediately followed this text: “As for those spoils of theirs, which Allah has assigned to His apostle, you spurred neither horse nor camel to capture them.”23 The Jews capitulated and were allowed to emigrate, and the Muslims took over their properties.
In 626-627 the Meccans launched a major offensive, but 10,000 men were unable to pierce the trenches that had been dug to defend Medina, and the Meccans abandoned the effort to crush the Muslims. The last remaining Jewish tribe, the Quraiza, were now accused of giving aid to the enemy, or Mecca. Over a period of a few days 600 men of the tribe were slain and the women and children given to the conquerors as legitimate spoils of war. Muhammed received 20 percent of the booty and sold some of the women and children into captivity in exchange for horses and weapons. The Koran refers to these events: “Allah turned back the unbelievers [of Mecca] in their rage, and they went away empty-handed.” In reference to the Quraiza the Koran says that God “brought down from their stronghold those who had supported them [the Meccans] from among the People of the Book [the Jewish tribe] and cast terror into their hearts, so that some you slew and others you took captive. He made you masters of their land, their houses, and their goods.”24
It is difficult to evaluate these incidents because the documentation comes exclusively from Muslim sources, which, if at all biased, would be in favor of Islam. Some of the military actions can perhaps be explained. It is possible, for instance, that Muhammed considered the attack against the Quraiza a military necessity to prevent a possible alliance between the Jewish tribe and Mecca. The same may be alleged about attacks against the other Jewish tribes following the Battle of Uhud and the Trench War. Both threatened Muslim survival. The Jewish tribes were attacked not because of their Jewish faith, but because they were a foreign body in the midst of the Muslim community. It could perhaps be claimed that the slaughter of the Quraiza was customary. Muslim scholars insist that even the smallest betrayal might have tipped the balance in favor of Mecca against Muhammed. But even when all these mitigating circumstances are taken into consideration, one can hardly avoid the conclusion that Muhammed failed to rise above the ethical standards of his generation. The picture of Muhammed that emerges is not one of love and gentleness.
Muhammed finally suggested that peace should prevail with Mecca and that caravans should be able to pass by unmolested. In return he requested that his followers be allowed to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca.although at the time the Kaaba still housed hundreds of idols. The Meccans insisted on one year of peace before they were willing to sign the treaty; they wanted Muhammed to demonstrate serious intent. They finally came to terms, and Muhammed greatly surprised his followers when he agreed to a ten-year truce in the Treaty of Hudaybiya. The treaty compelled Muslims to surrender every idolater who came over to their cause without permission of their chief. Since women were not mentioned in the treaty, they were not returned. There was sharp disagreement among Muhammed’s followers regarding the very idea of a treaty with Meccan unbelievers as well as the specifics of the treaty. A revelation settled the matter. Muhammed proclaimed that “it was He [Allah] who made peace between you in the Valley of Mecca.”25 It was a diplomatic compromise. Mecca rejected Muhammed’s prophetic claim. The official treaty was with Muhammed, son of Abdullah, not with Muhammed the prophet.
Muhammed now turned his attention to attacks against the Jews of Khaibar, who lived northeast of Medina. After a vigorous defense and the death of almost 100 soldiers, the Jews surrendered. Except for the leaders, survivors were spared, but all property was forfeited. Muhammed took yet another wife, a woman who had been engaged to the dead leader. Safiya, the Jewess, was 17; Muhammed by this time was 58.
Shortly afterward, Muhammed dispatched envoys to neighboring rulers and invited them to embrace Islam. Delegations were sent to the emperor at Byzantium and to the Court of Persia, as well as to leaders of smaller countries and tribes. We are told that one of the ambassadors was illtreated at the court of a Ghassanide prince who was a feudal subject of the Byzantine emperor. The historic details are not crystal clear. Muslim authors claim that Sharabhil, chief of Muta, killed the Muslim envoy. Muslims held Byzantium responsible.