Emperor of Arabia and Messenger of God
On about the year 570 A.D., great upheavals are said to have possessed Mother Earth and the Heavens the moment a son was born in Mecca to the widow of Abdul Muttalib, of the tribe Qureysh. It was as though the Earth and Heaven itself bore forth the Child, for the mother had no labour. It is said that the Tigris burst its bounds and overflowed the neighboring lands; the palace of Khosru, the King of Persia, shook on its foundations and its towers toppled to earth, as did all the idols in the world; and that same night, the sacred fire of Zoroaster, which had burned for a thousand years under careful guard, was extinguished and a celestial light illumined the surrounding country.
The new born child is said to have raised his eyes to heaven, exclaiming 'There is no God but God, and I am his Prophet!' And while Mohammed was still but a toddling babe, the Angel Gabriel is said to have come to him to purify his heart.
His years of childhood and youth were spent in the seclusion of the desert with the Bedouin nomads, in the care of his uncle Abu Talib, a merchant. From him, Mohammed learned of the many religions and philosophic traditions of ancient Arabia as they journeyed from one ancient and holy land to another.
As the years passed, Mohammed became successful in business, and at the age of twenty-six he fell deeply in love with, and married one of his employers, a wealthy widow nearly 15 years his senior. Her name was Khadijah, a woman of exceptional mentality and integrity. By his marriage, Mohammed was elevated from a position of comparative poverty to one of great wealth and power. But his manner remained so exemplary that he soon became known throughout Mecca as "the faithful and true."
These words, however, struck softly and continuously upon his conscience. "Faithful and true," but to whom, to what? His wife? His clients? His business? He was a humble man at heart, with little pride to swell with satisfaction, and he began to grow restless.
As holy a city as Mecca was even at that time, Mohammed could see the seeds of ignorance being sown and harvested in daily life. The possibility of his being "faithful and true" to God struck his conscience the hardest blow of all — but where was God to be found if not in Mecca? And who was God that he, Mohammed, should feel so much more love for his wife?
Instead of praying at the empty rituals of the temples, he would go to a secluded cave on Mount Hira to meditate. Year after year he would climb the desolate rocky slopes in the burning sun to call upon God to reveal anew the pure religion of Adam, that spiritual doctrine lost to mankind through the dissensions of religious sects. Even his wife Khadijah, in concern over his physical health, would accompany him in his weary vigil; but she too sensed the yearning of the soul for some greater meaning beyond their life together.
One night in his fortieth year, as he lay upon the floor of the cavern enveloped in his cloak, a great light burst upon him. Overcome with a sense of perfect peace and understanding, he lost consciousness. Then he heard a Voice command, "Recite!" Three times the Voice so instructed him and at last Mohammed pleaded "Alas! What can I recite?" And the Voice gave to him his first revelation…
"Recite: And thy Lord is the Most Bounteous, who teacheth by the pen, teacheth man that which he knew not. Nay, but verily man is rebellious that he thinketh himself independent! Lo! unto thy Lord is the return…but prostrate thyself, and draw near unto Allah."
(From Sura 96)
Suddenly, Mohammed awoke from his trance and, barely believing he was still alive, he staggered out of the cave. Standing before him was the shining likeness of a man. "0 Mohammed," the Angel said. "Thou art Allah's messenger, and I am Gabriel." In a clear and wonderful voice, Gabriel told Mohammed of those doctrines that he sought, and that he would return to him again with revelations for his people.
In awe and trembling, Mohammed stumbled down the mountain to Khadijah, fearing the vision to have been inspired by the same evil spirits who served those pagan magicians he so greatly despised. But Khadijah at once assured him that a man who led a virtuous life need have no fear of evil.
Mohammed was reassured, and he awaited Gabriel to return to him. But this was not to be, and Mohammed began to experience a loneliness and despair so great that, despite his love for Khadijah, he decided to end his life, so empty did he feel without God. He climbed the mountain again and, coming to the edge of a cliff, he paused to leap to his death.
Suddenly, between him and the edge was standing the Archangel Gabriel, more radiant than the sun, causing Mohammed to step back in amazement. "Mohammed!" he said, "Be again assured that, as Prophet of the Lord, you shall again be visited by He when the time is right, when the need of your people is there, and shall be given those revelations they require." Again, Mohammed joyfully stumbled down the mountain to his home.
And the revelations that came to him from that time on became the doctrines of the Koran. Without warning, he would often fall into a swoon while in the company of his wife and his closest companions, and dictate the suras of the Koran. Indeed, 'Koran' means simply 'readings.' However, they were not compiled into their present form until 23 years after his death, having been scattered far and wide over the country. This may account for some of the inconsistencies it contains which occasionally cloud the truly inspired work.
Khadijah became his first disciple, followed by members of the immediate family. Among the first of those to come to him from outside the family was Abu Bakr, Mohammed's closest and most faithful disciple who continued his master's work after his death. Quietly, but industriously, they expounded the doctrines among a close circle of friends for a time. But the enthusiasm of his disciples eventually forced Mohammed to publicly announce his Mission.
And then it was that the Prophet received from Gabriel the command to "arise and warn" the people, three years after his first vision. His preachings in Mecca suddenly grew very strong, scorning idolatry "in the face of the tremendous laws of day and night, of life and death, of growth and decay, which manifest the power of Allah, and attest His sovereignty." He denounced their gods and pagan rituals. "Mohammed," said some who were sly, "you have no chance in making yourself heard by these crude denouncements you make on your own. Rather, you place yourself in great peril. But we admire your effort, and will compromise with you. We will accept your religion if you accept our gods as Allah's intercessors. And more, we shall make you our king for your public spiritedness, and for your wisdom if you agree to our terms." Mohammed laughed. "How can you say I am on my own when Allah speaks through me? Rather, look to yourselves and your separation from Allah by your gods!" and he turned away from them.
Many of the people of Mecca now began to fear Mohammed's prestige and, honouring the tradition that blood could not be spilled within the holy city, they plotted his assassination elsewhere.
First, the idolaters of the Qureysh tribe went to Mohammed's uncle Abu Talib, a much respected merchant, offering him all he desired if he would sanction the killing, and great persecution for him and all Mohammed's followers if he did not. Abu simply replied "Whether you offer me the world of pleasure or the world of suffering, I already have all I desire which is neither of these."
Then on hearing of the conversion of their respected friend Omar (later to be called Caliph), the rest of the Qureysh were so mortified that they tried to ostracise the whole of Mohammed's family and following. This was taking place five years after his first vision. Eventually the Qureysh succeeded and, by legal decree, Mohammed and his disciples were banished from Mecca to a stronghold in the mountains.
After a while, Mohammed received a command that he must prepare to go to Yathrib some 200 miles away, and to send all his following in advance. He and Abu Bakr were to go at God's command a little later. At last the command was given — upon a night appointed for Mohammed's murder by the Qureysh. It was the 20th. June 622 A.D., remembered as the Hijrah or 'the Flight,' the begining of the Muslim era.
The slayers were already waiting outside his house when Mohammed silently emerged with Alm, and just as they made to fall upon him a blindness suddenly and inexplicably overwhelmed them. Mohammed and Abu fled under the cloak of night for many nights along unfrequented paths. Once, a search party came very close to the cavern where they were hiding and Abu became very frightened for their lives. "Fear not," assured Mohammed. "Allah is always with us!"
Meanwhile, in Yathrib the people had for weeks past been going every morning to the city boundary to watch for the Prophet's arrival, until the heat of the day eventually would drive them back to their duties. But at last, he was sighted on the shimmering skyline, at first like a mirage, then truly materialising with Abu by his side. Such was the joy of the people of Yathrib that they made him the ruler of the State. In return, he made a solemn treaty with the Jewish tribes, which secured for them equal rights of citizenship and full religious liberty.
Mohammed's devoted wife had died even before the flight from Mecca, as had their two sons in infancy. But Mohammed had already resigned himself fully to the will of God — although he always spoke softly of Khadijah ever after.
He later married the young daughter of Abu, his closest disciple. She was called A'isha, and she lovingly kept the spartan household where Mohammed, their four daughters and Abu lived in Yathrib.
After five years in Yathrib, Mohammed had a vision in which he found himself entering Mecca unopposed; therefore he determined to attempt the pilgrimage with a company of 1400 men. Indeed, a truce was eventually settled with the Qureysh whereby, every year for the following ten years, Mohammed and his devotees could enter the city on pilgrimage for three days. Needless to say, within three years the whole of Mecca had turned to his faith. After circling the sacred precincts of the Caaba seven times, he ordered the 360 images there to be hewn down, saying "Truth has come; darkness has vanished away!"
"To Allah belongeth the East and West; therefore, withersoever ye turn yourselves to pray, there is the face of Allah; for Allah is omnipresent and omniscient. They say, Allah hath begotten children: Allah forbid! To him belongeth whatever is in heaven, and on earth; all is possessed by Him, the Creator of heaven and earth; and when He decreeth a thing, He only saith unto it, Be, and it is." (2nd Sura)
To the north of Mecca lay the city of Kheybar, which was a hornet's nest of enemy Jewish tribes. Mohammed received a command to campaign against them and, sitting down to feast after the victory, a Jewish hostess served them with a meat dish. Blessing the food, the Prophet took the first morsel and before even swallowing it, he was stricken with the poison it contained. He was barely able to warn his followers before it was too late for those who had not already died instantly. Mohammed suffered a prolonged illness, which did not entirely incapacitate him, but to which he eventually succumbed. When the Jewess was brought before him, "Lord!," she wailed,. "it is on account of the humiliation of my people that I have done this deed, for we have suffered much through the ages." Mohammed forgave her. Mohammed personally attended to every detail of organization and legality, and he was accessible to every supplicant. In those ten years since fleeing from Mecca he had destroyed idolatry id Arabia; elevated women to a complete equality with men; stopped drunkenness and immorality; made all in love with faith, and gave all Arab tribes a thirst for true spiritual knowledge. All had to swear allegiance to him who had become, in fact, the emperor of Arabia.
He continued to live in Yathrib (Medina), and after ten years he made his last pilgrimage to Mecca. From Mount Arafat he preached to thousands gathered before him on the hillsides and finally he said "Have I not conveyed the message of the Koran?" And from that great multitude of men the shout went up "O Allah! Yes!" And the Prophet said, "0 Allah! Be Thou Witness!"
On his return to Yathrib he fell into a terminal illness and, after giving his last discourse strongly and clearly in the courtyard of the mosque, he was carried to his bed.
Feeling that death was upon him, Mohammed, his head held up in the arms of his young wife, had prayed, "0 Lord, I beseech Thee, assist me in the agonies of death."
Then, almost in a whisper he repeated three times, "Gabriel, come closer unto me."
Outside, Omar was telling the grief-stricken people in the court-yard that it was a crime to think that a Messenger from God could ever die, when Abu Bakr whispered in his ear
to stop and then turned to the crowd saying: "0 people! Lo! as for him who used to worship Mohammed,
Mohammed is dead. But for him who used to worship Allah, Allah is alive and dieth not." He then recited a verse of the Koran:
"Mohammed is but a messenger, messengers the like of whom have passed away before him. Will it be that, when he dieth or is slain, ye will turn back on your heels? He who turneth back doth no hurt to Allah, and Allah will reward the thankful."