Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Chapter Two

The Biography:
The Life of Muhammad



For a long time Muhammad had searched for the real purposes of life as he sat in the cave on Mount Hira. He thought seriously about the pagan practices of his countrymen and wondered about the divine realities beyond the world that he could see around him. Suddenly, one day, he had a strange experience that interrupted all his meditations and was destined to change his life forever. He saw a supernatural being in a vision in the sky above him, standing on the horizon, with one foot above the other. He turned this way and that to get away from the unexpected apparition before him but, whichever way he turned, there was the being before him. The celestial vision overwhelmed him and the being spoke to him. What then happened is recorded in the following narrative:

There came to him the angel and said: recite, to which he replied: I am not lettered. He took hold of me (the Apostle said) and pressed me, till I was hard pressed; thereafter he left me off and said: Recite. I said, I am not lettered. He then again took hold of me and pressed me for the second time till I was hard pressed and then let me off and said: Recite, to which I replied: I am not lettered. He took hold of me and pressed me for the third time, till I was hard pressed and then let me go and said: Recite in the name of your Lord Who created, created man from a clot of blood. Recite, and your most bountiful Lord is He Who taught the use of the pen, taught man what he knew not. (Sahih Muslim, Vol.1, p.97)

Many years later the Qur'an identified this being who appeared to Muhammad as Jibril, the Angel Gabriel who had also appeared at the birth of Jesus to Joseph and Mary (Surah 2:97). This initial experience was to herald the beginning of a prophetic conviction that was to dominate Muhammad's personal course for years to come. He believed the angel had commissioned him as a prophet of Allah to convey the revelation of God's word to his people of which the short passage he had just received was to become the first portion to be revealed. It now forms the first five verses of Surah 96 in the Qur'an and for the next twenty-three years similar revelations were to be received which were to eventually become the book all Muslims revere as God's Word, namely al-Qur'an.

Muhammad was initially unconvinced by the vision and feared he had been visited by one of the jinn, demonic creatures which he had learnt inspired the poets who went before him until they became mentally twisted and possessed. Was he now to fall prey to their spells as well? His loyal wife Khadija comforted him, assuring him that his lord Allah would never desert him. Yet it took some years before he received another similar communication. Some three years later the vision occurred again:

Allah's Apostle said, ‘I was in seclusion in the cave of Hira, and after I completed the limited period of my seclusion, I came down and heard a voice calling me. I looked to my right, but saw nothing. Then I looked up and saw something. So I went to Khadija and told her to wrap me up and pour cold water on me. So they wrapped me up and poured cold water on me’. Then was revealed ‘O you, wrapped up! Arise and Warn’. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.6, p.417-418)

Muhammad had been sweating profusely after this second vision and Khadija gave him a blanket to relieve his fever. He was to receive no more visions like these but for the rest of his life similar communications were to continue in various forms and the Qur'an text was to grow in size and content. The first portion of this second vision now forms the first few verses of Surah 74. In a similar passage received shortly afterwards Allah comforts him by assuring him that he was ever near him notwithstanding any apparent delay in the communication of further revelations: "By the glorious morning light and by the night when it is still, your Guardian-Lord has not forsaken you, nor is He displeased. And truly the hereafter will be better for you than the present" (Surah 93:1-4).

From this time Muhammad entered the city of Mecca regularly to publicly proclaim that Allah alone was Lord and that the Arabs should turn from their idols and acknowledge Him alone. The Quraysh, however, were unconvinced that the ordinary local town-dweller they had known so well could be a messenger from God and they were even more incensed at his onslaught on their whole heritage and the implications this held for the future of their commercial trade with the other Arab tribes who regarded Mecca as the core of their traditional religious customs. It was not long before a confrontation ensued and Muhammad found himself severely opposed and gradually persecuted.


The very early passages in the Qur'an called on the new prophet to command the people to forsake idol-worship, to prepare for the Day of Reckoning, to choose between heaven and hell and to receive him as a prophet. Despite general rejection of his preaching his cousin `Ali and his adopted son Zaid ibn Haritha accepted his message and became his initial followers. The first outsider to do so was a prominent merchant named Abu Bakr who, upon Muhammad's death, was to become his first successor. He had always known Muhammad to be an upright and truthful man and believed his message was indeed ordained from above. He soon brought in a number of the Quraysh to Muhammad's side and after a while the community of early followers was established. They would meet together regularly and listened intently to their new prophet's teachings, in particular the passages that were to form part of the Qur'an. At this time it was common practice simply to learn these portions off by heart and not much attention was given to writing down the text.

Persecution increased as the new mission grew, however, and two prominent men of the Quraysh being Abu Lahab, one of Muhammad's uncles, and Abu Jahl began to stir up the masses to pass scorn upon him. The protection of Abu Talib, however, prevented any actual injury to the prophet and most of the opposition took the form of ridicule and abuse. One of Muhammad's earliest companions, `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud, narrates an incident which typifies the kind of opposition he endured. While Muhammad was engaged in prayer with a number of friends behind him, Abu Jahl took the opportunity to revile him.

Abu Jahl said, referring to the she-camel that had been slaughtered the previous day: Who will rise to fetch the foetus of the she-camel of so and so, and place it between the shoulders of Muhammad when he goes down in prostration? The one most accursed among the people got up, brought the foetus and, when the Prophet (may peace be upon him) went down in prostration, placed it between his shoulders. Then they laughed at him and some of them leaned upon the others with laughter. (Sahih Muslim, Vol.3, p.986)

Muhammad's daughter Fatima removed the foetus and he himself promptly invoked imprecations on them in the name of Allah. Abu Lahab is denounced by name in the Qur'an and, together with his wife who used to place thorns in Muhammad's path, is assured that the burning flames of hellfire are to consume him (Surah 111:1-5). Nonetheless persecution increased and a black follower from Abyssinia named Bilal was particularly severely treated by his master. He encouraged Muhammad, however, persuading him that the people of his country were God-fearing Christians and that his reception would be far better there. Muhammad accordingly sent as many of his companions as he could across to Abyssinia.

The Quraysh charged that many of the passages he was reciting were already familiar to them and were merely ancient folklore that he was pretending were divine in origin. They said, "This is nothing but a lie which he has forged and others have helped him with it"...and they say, "Fables of the ancients which he has caused to be written, and they are dictated to him morning and evening" (Surah 25:4-5). They asked why no riches had been sent to him if he were indeed a messenger of Allah (25:8), and why the whole Qur'an was not revealed to him at once (25:32). No real charge was brought against his teachings, however, and most of the opposition he faced in those early days took the form of mockery only.

He had some notable successes, however, in particular the conversions of his uncle Hamzah and a prominent Meccan leader `Umar ibn al-Khattab. Although only two years older than Muhammad Hamzah was a powerful man and, although he initially rejected his nephew's mission, he swore allegiance to it when he heard of the insults he was receiving from Abu Jahl (Hamzah actually struck him violently with a bow on hearing of such treatment when he returned from a hunting expedition).

`Umar was also given to forceful treatment of people he opposed. He was a strong opponent of Muhammad's cause and one day, while speaking out boldly against him, he was challenged by a friend Nu`aym ibn `Abdullah who teased him, asking how he could be so determined to destroy Muhammad's mission when his own house was divided against him. In fury he learnt that his sister Fatima and her husband Sa`id ibn Zayd had become the prophet's followers as well. He stormed into their house without knocking and heard a portion of the Qur'an being recited. He lost his temper and struck them both but, when he saw blood flowing from his sister's face, he relented and when he had calmed down he asked to hear a recitation of the Qur'an for himself. They brought out the manuscript from which they had been reading and, after reading it, he immediately sought for Muhammad and, finding him, fell at his feet and declared his allegiance.

Muhammad was very keen to reconcile his message to his own people and took no comfort from persecution or their rejection of his call. He was a pragmatic man throughout his life and sincerely wanted to get them on to his side. He found a way of doing so but one which was to cost him his credibility for a while.


At about this time Muhammad was one day sitting among the pagan Quraysh near the Ka`aba and stood up and drew near to them. They then drew near to him and he recited the first part of what is now Surah 53 of the Qur'an until he came to the words "Have you considered al-Lat and al-`Uzza and another, the third, Manat?" (Surah 53:19-20) whereupon he uttered the words "These are the exalted cranes (gharaniq) whose intercession is to be hoped for". He went on reciting the whole Surah and when he fell down in prostration, all the bystanders did the same. They were pleased with his utterance as it was basically a repetition of a pagan chorus which expressed the local belief that these three goddesses, Al-Lat, Al-'Uzza and Manat, were daughters of Allah and would intercede with them. They were likened to cranes which fly at a great height. They told Muhammad they accepted that Allah gives life and causes death and provides for all things and that this side of his teaching was no problem to them. Furthermore, as he had now spoken excellently of their goddesses, there was no further cause for division between them.

Muhammad had sought a point where he could be reconciled to them but, as he reflected on the incident, he realised he had in fact compromised the very core of his message, namely the absolute unity of Allah as the only God, and that evening Jibril is said to have to come to him and told him to recite what he had read out that day. When he came to the passage about the intercessors, the Angel told him he had not revealed these words but they had been interjected by Satan. Muhammad was alarmed but he was comforted by the assurance that Satan was always trying to intercept God's revelations and was given the correct text of the verse which today reads, in place of the intercessory clause, "What! For you the male sex and for Him the female? This would be a most unfair division. These are nothing but names which you and your fathers have devised for which Allah has sent down no authority" (Surah 53:21-23). When Muhammad publicly corrected himself shortly afterwards, the hostility of the Quraysh grew ever stronger.

Muslim writers find this story unpalatable and every effort is made to discount its authenticity. There are a number of reasons why it is probably true in its essentials, however, in particular the fact that it is recorded in all the early biographies of Muhammad. It appears in the Sirat works of Al-Waqidi and Ibn Sa`d (Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol.1, p.237) and was also recorded by at-Tabari who stated that he got his information from Ibn Ishaq, the most famous of the biographers. The text does not appear in the later recension of Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasulullah done by Ibn Hisham which is the only surviving record of his work but the redactor himself openly stated that he had deliberately expunged material he thought to be detrimental to Muhammad and this passage was almost certainly part of that material. It is known that the Muslims who had fled to Abyssinia returned to Mecca on hearing that Muhammad and the Quraysh had resolved their differences and that the latter had become Muslims, a fact Ibn Hisham admits (Sirat Rasulullah, p.167), but there is no explanation for this other than the story of the Satanic verses as we have it. On returning and finding things not so, the Muslims had to hastily depart for Abyssinia again.

Recently an ancient manuscript was discovered in the Qarawiyin Mosque at Fez in Morocco titled Kitab al-Maghazi (Book of the Campaigns) which contains lectures given by Ibn Ishaq and the story is included in it. Two other facts strengthen the argument for the authenticity of the narrative. The Qur'an states in one place:

And we have sent before you no messenger or prophet but, as he recited, Satan suggested his own recitation. But Allah abolishes what Satan suggests and Allah continues his revelations, and Allah is Knowing, Wise. Surah 22:52

The great Muslim commentator on the Qur'an, Zamakhshari, openly interpreted this verse as referring to the occasion when Satan had substituted something in accordance with Muhammad's own wishes and at-Tabari plainly stated that this verse was revealed to Muhammad immediately after his lapse. In another passage in the Qur'an the prophet is told that his enemies had wanted to distract him from God's revelations by substituting in his name something else which, had he fallen for it, would have made him their friend, but God strengthened him and stopped him from inclining to their wishes (Surah 17:73-74). On this occasion we find Ibn Sa`d openly stating that these verses, too, were revealed to Muhammad immediately after the incident of the Satanic verses (op.cit., p.237). A tradition from al-Bukhari, the most renowned of the early Hadith scribes, also supports the story:

Narrated Ibn Abbas: The Prophet performed a prostration when he finished reciting Surat an-Najm, and all the Muslims and pagans and Jinns and human beings prostrated along with him. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.6, p.363)

The Surah referred to is the same Surah 53 and, had Muhammad not somehow recited something which appealed to the Quraysh (the text as it is in the Qur'an today is decidedly hostile towards their pagan beliefs about the three goddesses), it is hard to see how the unanimous spirit of devotion was achieved. In his narrative Ibn Sa`d states that when they all prostrated, "Al-Walid ibn al-Mughirah, who was an old man and could not prostrate, took a handful of dust to his forehead and prostrated on it" (op.cit., p.237). This is hardly the sort of irrelevant information that a forger would care to include but is just the sort of exceptional conduct that an eye-witness would notice. There is enough evidence to suggest that the whole story must be true to some extent.

The whole event gives an insight into what had probably been a deep longing on Muhammad's part that his people should respond to his message. When he saw that the means he had used to bring this about had in fact required a compromise of his essential message, he risked even greater opposition to be true to his convictions. Never again did he give way to any inclination to question the absolute unity of Allah and to this extent he emerges from the whole affair with some credit.


The exiles of Muhammad's followers to Abyssinia were signs of the extent of persecution that the early Muslims were suffering in Arabia. It is interesting to find the emerging prophet sending his companions to a Christian country and the reception they received indicates that Muhammad was not at that time regarded as an enemy to Christianity. His attitude also shows that he too was quite magnanimous towards the Christian faith at this time. He described the country as one where a king ruled without injustice and a land of truthfulness and it was seen as the best place of refuge until the heat of persecution should abate.

When the Quraysh at Mecca heard of the emigration to Abyssinia they sent a delegation to the Negus (the king) carrying precious gifts in order to persuade him to extradite the Muslims under his care. The two leading envoys of the Quraysh, `Amr ibn al-`As and `Abdullah ibn Abu Rabi`ah, addressed the king, exhorting him to return the band of apostates from the traditions of their own forefathers so that they might be judged by their own people. He immediately called for the group of exiles and asked them what their religious beliefs were, in particular as they seemed to be different to any other known religion of the time.

Ja`far ibn Abu Talib replied that they had been a people steeped in ignorance and pagan idolatry with no stable system of government or social laws to moralise their behaviour. Then God sent among them a prophet from among their own people whose integrity was well-known to all. He had summoned them to abandon the lifeless images they had formerly been devoted to and to worship of Allah alone. The Negus then asked them to read something from the Qur'an as it then stood and, being aware of his Christian faith, they read him the passage from Surah 19:29-33 which described certain incidents pertaining to the birth of Jesus. On hearing it the king said he found no fault in it and the patriarchs of the local churches also expressed surprise at the passage (which, interestingly enough, has no Biblical parallel, describing as it does a miracle where Jesus is said to have spoken from his cradle while still an infant).

The Quraysh then charged that there was a darker side to the story and that Muhammad often spoke of Jesus in negative terms. When the Muslims were again permitted to speak, Ja`far stated that there was really no difference between Christian and Muslim beliefs about the son of Mary. He carefully avoided any mention of Muhammad's denial of the basic Christian belief in Jesus as the Son of God and said rather that their prophet preached only that Jesus is the servant of God (`abdullah) and his Spirit (wa ruhun minhu) and a prophet (wa rasulullah) and his Word (wa kalimatuhu) which he sent to Mary, the innocent virgin (cf. Surah 4:171 where most of these titles appear).

The king then drew a line on the ground, saying that the difference between their respective faiths was no wider than it and he continued to give them sanctuary. Many of them did not return to Arabia until after Muhammad's emigration to Medina. Meanwhile persecution intensified at home. Finding no way to dispose of the menace of Muhammad and his preaching, the Quraysh decided on a total boycott of the whole quarter in the city occupied by the Banu Hashim. Though Abu Talib and most of the other tribe members were not committed to Muhammad, they nevertheless felt themselves bound by Arab tradition and customary tribal loyalties to defend him. This frustrated the Quraysh so they ordered a blockade of their quarter, posting the notice inside the Ka`aba.

For three years the sanctions against the Banu Hashim continued but they proved ineffective even though those held up in the area were severely deprived of food and sustenance. Some of the Quraysh became disturbed at the growing anguish of their fellow-men and two of them, Hisham ibn `Amr and Zuhayr ibn Muttalib, decided to revoke the pact. The others, led by Muhammad's great enemy Abu Jahl, opposed them but when they discovered that termites had eaten away the notice in the Ka`aba, leaving only the words "In thy name, O Allah", they all agreed to revoke it. Not that this alleviated hostility between the Muslims and the rest of the Quraysh but Muhammad did find at last that he had some freedom to move about again. By this time, though, he had exhausted his hope that they would ever be converted by peaceful means and he began to look elsewhere for support and success, especially when his protector Abu Talib and his devoted wife Khadija died at much the same time.


At-Ta`if was a settlement about sixty miles south-east of Mecca where the Thaqif tribe had a great shrine built to the honour of the pagan goddess Al-Lat. Nonetheless Muhammad set out for the village, hoping that the response to his message here would be more favourable than that in Mecca. His first step was to call on the chiefs of the people and he summoned them to the worship of Allah alone and to submission to his will as revealed through the divine message of the Qur'an. They boldly rejected him, however, and sent him away.

One of them swore that he would tear up the covering of the Ka`ba if God had sent him. The other said, "Could not God have found someone better than you to send?" The third said "By God, don't let me ever speak to you. If you are an apostle from God as you say you are, you are far too important for me to reply to, and if you are lying against God, it is not right that I should speak to you". (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.192)

Muhammad realised he would get no response from the rest of the people and he appealed to the chiefs to keep his visit to them secret, fearing that if the Quraysh at Mecca heard of his misfortune, they would be all the more emboldened against him. They gave him no quarter, however, and sent young louts and slaves to ridicule and pelt him with stones as he fled the village.

Islamic tradition states that the trip was not altogether futile as a young Christian slave named `Addas is said to have solaced him on his way back to Mecca and to have converted to the Muslim faith after a short discussion with him. Further on, when he reached Nakhlah, it is said that a number of the Jinns from Nasibin heard him praying that night and reciting the Qur'an and seven of them were immediately converted and went back to their own community to warn them of the coming judgment. As mentioned earlier, the jinn are believed to be invisible spirits made of fire, some of whom are thoroughly demonic while others are benevolent and Muslim at heart. The Qur'an apparently alludes to this in the following verse which Ibn Ishaq states refers specifically to the incident:

Say: It has been revealed to me that a company of Jinns have responded, they said, ‘We have truly heard a wonderful recital’. Surah 72:1

Another passage is also said by Ibn Ishaq to refer to this incident and here it is said that after the Jinns had quietly listened to the recitation of the Qur'an, they summoned their people to believe in God who would forgive them their faults and save them from wrath (Surah 46:29-32). All this was unknown to Muhammad, however, and he returned unsuccessful to Mecca. At this stage his whole mission reached its lowest point. After some ten years of patient preaching the results were meagre and there appeared to be little hope of any change in the hearts of the pagan Arabs. Nonetheless he remained steadfast in his purpose, committing himself anew to Allah who had protected him all the way thusfar and without whom there was no power, light or guidance. His fortunes, however, were about to change and shortly after his return to Mecca he searched for new communities to preach to and this time his hopes were to be realised.





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Shortly before his departure from Mecca Muhammad claimed to have had a wonderful journey one night when angels accompanied him from Mecca to Jerusalem and from there to the very throne of heaven itself.




Not long after the unsuccessful visit to at-Ta`if the annual major pilgrimage to Mecca came round and Muhammad met with a delegation from Yathrib made up of prominent members of the Khazraj tribe. These men had apparently been warned by the Jews in the city that it would not be long before a prophet would arise who would destroy all who opposed him. The Jews had threatened the Arabs that this prophet would arise from among their own numbers but, when the delegation had a chance to hear Muhammad preach his own message, they were convinced that he was the prophet whose coming had been foretold. Seeking to anticipate the Jews they swore their allegiance to him and returned to Yathrib, proclaiming that they had met with the new prophet to whom all the peoples of the city, both Aus and Khazraj, should commit themselves as his followers and disciples.

A year passed uneventfully but the delegation from the Khazraj at Yathrib had spread the message of the new prophet among their fellow citizens and twelve of them met with Muhammad during the next major pilgrimage. They told him of their successes in Yathrib and committed themselves to an oath to follow him and defend him with their lives. The oath became known as the First Pledge of `Aqabah, being named after the area outside Mecca where it took place. It was also known as the "Pledge of the Women" because they also undertook to observe the ordinances laid down in the Qur'an on believing women who sought to take the oath of fealty (Surah 60:12). One of the delegation from Yathrib put the substance of the oath in his own words, indicating their total commitment to the Prophet's cause which now became known as al-Islam, "the submission" to God and to his Prophet:

There were twelve of us and we pledged ourselves to the prophet after the manner of women of women and that was before war was enjoined, the undertaking being that we should associate nothing with God; we should not steal; we should not commit fornication; nor kill our offspring; we should not slander our neighbours; we should not disobey him in what was right; if we fulfilled this paradise would be ours; if we committed any of those sins it was for God to punish or forgive us as he pleased. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p. 199)

Muhammad was greatly encouraged by the response at Yathrib and he sent his companion Mus`ab ibn `Umayr to teach them the precepts of the growing revelation of the Qur'an and the fundamentals of Islam. When they reached the city they spread his teachings and the number of converts from both the Aus and the Khazraj multiplied considerably. In due course Mus`ab returned to Mecca and informed Muhammad of the growing strength of the Muslims in the city. He accordingly began to seriously think of emigrating from Mecca where opposition was as strenuous as it had ever been.

When the great annual pilgrimage came round again some seventy Muslims from Yathrib met with him again in the same region secretly and they took the second pledge of `Aqabah. On this occasion they pledged themselves to be his followers, to observe the commandments of Allah as revealed in the Qur'an, and to guard his life with their own lives. In return he pledged to leave Mecca and become their leader in Yathrib, henceforth to be known as Medina, the Prophet's city. Al Bara` ibn Ma`rur, the leader of the delegation who had converted to Islam a year earlier, confirmed their pledge to Muhammad in these words:

We have listened to what you have said: Had there been some other idea in our mind we would have expressed it. We mean to fulfil (our promises) and want truth, and we are ready to sacrifice our lives for the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him. (Ibn Sa`d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol.1, p.257)

The group had hoped that no one knew what was transpiring between them but someone from the Quraysh heard of their covenant and reported it early the next day to the leaders of the tribe. They immediately contacted the group of the Khazraj who had come down to Mecca for the pilgrimage and accused them of treacherously entering into a covenant with Muhammad against them. The majority of the Khazraj, however, knew nothing of the pact and they denied the charge. Before the Quraysh could gain any definite information of what exactly had taken place the fair was over and the Khazraj, including the contingent of Muhammad's followers, returned to Medina.

The Quraysh were nonetheless deeply disturbed to learn that Muhammad had finally succeeded in attracting a significant number of followers from another city and they took counsel among themselves to put an end to his mission once and for all before it gained further ground. For the first time they planned to kill him while he at the same time gave serious consideration to leaving the city. The struggle between them had finally reached a climax and a new era was about to dawn, one which would have lasting historical consequences.


In anticipation of his own move to Medina, Muhammad sent small bands of his followers ahead of him. He ordered them to leave in a series of insignificant groups of only two or three at a time so that the Quraysh would not be unduly alarmed. After a while it became obvious what was happening but the people of Mecca were uncertain whether Muhammad himself intended to leave. They had twice previously observed him sending out his followers to Abyssinia without leaving the area himself and so they made no concrete plans to intercept him but secretly plotted to kill him at an opportune time.

In the end only Muhammad, Abu Bakr and a few other Muslims were left in the city. When he finally was persuaded that Allah was commanding him to go to Medina, he called Abu Bakr and told him to have two beasts ready for both of them to leave at an appointed time. On the actual night Muhammad arranged with his nephew `Ali to sleep in his bed in his stead and, although the Quraysh were carefully watching his house, they suspected nothing when they saw someone lying in the bed every time they looked in to see if Muhammad was still there. In the meantime Muhammad escaped with Abu Bakr to Mount Thaur which is south of the city, a clever move to mislead the Quraysh who immediately began searching for him north of the city once they discovered that he had eluded them. The two men hid in a cave and remained there two days until they were persuaded that the search for them was over.

In the cave Muhammad prayed continuously for deliverance while Abu Bakr kept a lookout for pursuers. In time some of the young men of the Quraysh reached the cave and began to look around it for any signs that the two men might have been there. Abu Bakr was greatly afraid that they would be discovered by the Quraysh but Muhammad encouraged him to remain steadfast. When Abu Bakr complained that there were only two of them against so many unbelievers, Muhammad replied that they were not two but three and that Allah would be their protector. The Qur'an records the exact words he used:

Allah did indeed help him when the Unbelievers drove him out: he had no more than one companion, they were only two in the cave, but he said to his companion, "Have no fear for Allah is with us". Surah 9:40

This was perhaps the greatest moment of trial of Muhammad's conviction that he was called as a prophet to lead his own people to the faith of the one God, Allah, and to a lifestyle of submission to his will. It is to his credit that he maintained his faith in such trying circumstances and in spite of the years of almost unrelenting opposition from his own people. Abu Bakr recorded the moment in these words:

"I was in the company of the Prophet in the cave, and on seeing the traces of the pagans, I said, ‘O Allah's Apostle! If one of them should lift up his foot, he will see us’. He said, ‘What do you think of two, the third of whom is Allah?’" (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.6, p.148)

Both of them then left the cave and escaped by the way of the Red Sea to Medina and `Ali soon followed. The Quraysh continued to search widely for them and one of them actually came upon Muhammad and Abu Bakr north of Medina but, although he was in a position to physically assail them both, he was overawed by Muhammad's presence and returned to Mecca by himself. The flight, known in Islam as al-Hijrah, ("the Emigration"), became the turning-point of his mission and the actual year from which the inception of Islam is dated. It was the year 622 AD and from the actual date of the Hijrah, the 22nd June, the Islamic calendar begins and continues so to this day. (It is a lunar calendar, however, and is about ten days shorter than the solar calendar of 365 days).

Islamic legend has invested the incident with a marvellous story about a spider which spun a web in front of the cave to deceive the Quraysh into thinking that no one had entered the cave for some time, while a pigeon is also said to have laid its eggs there to confirm the illusion. The event is recorded in these words:

A spider spun a cobweb, some parts of which covered others. The Quraysh made a frantic search for the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him. They even came to the entrance of the cave, but someone among them said, Verily spiders haunt this place from before the birth of Muhammad; and they returned. (Ibn Sa`d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol.1, p.265)

The legend is probably derived from Jewish folklore, however, for it is said that when David fled from Saul into the mouth of the cave in which he likewise hid from his pursuers, he too prayed to God to call a spider to weave a web for his sake in the mouth of the cave. It is certain, nonetheless, that Muhammad did conceal himself and Abu Bakr in the cave and that, although the Quraysh came right up to it, the two men were not discovered and they proceeded safely on their journey.


A large crowd was eagerly expecting Muhammad's arrival in Medina. Before entering the town he spent some time in Quba` just south of it with Abu Bakr and some of the leaders of the Aus and Khazraj. Here he built his first actual place of prayer and a mosque on the site to this day proudly claims to be the first mosque built in Islamic history.

On arrival at Medina the crowds gathered around him and many of his new companions begged him to stay with them. He declined and said he would leave it to the camel he was riding to choose his residence. It stopped in the area of the Banu al-Najjar. He learned from Mu`adh ibn `Afra that the land belonged to Sahl and Suhayl, the sons of `Amr, and he urged Muhammad to build his own mosque (al-masjid) there and to erect his living quarters alongside it. He duly obliged and his mosque, today greatly enlarged into possibly the biggest religious building in the world, still stands on the site. Muhammad himself is buried with its precincts.

The small band of loyal followers who had emigrated with Muhammad to Medina were regarded with great respect in Medina and they became known as al-muhajirun, "the emigrants", while the new group of disciples in the city were known as al-ansar, "the helpers". Together the two groups formed the nucleus of the new society of Muslims known as the ummah, the "community" of believers. There were a number of disaffected people in the city from both the Aus and Khazraj, however, and although they outwardly swore allegiance to Islam, their hearts were not with the Prophet. They were led by one `Abdullah ibn Ubayy and gave Muhammad much trouble in the coming years. The Qur'an calls them al-munafiqun, "the Hypocrites", and reproaches them very strongly:

Of the people there are some who say: "We believe in Allah and the Last Day", but they do not believe; in vain they would deceive Allah and the believers but they only deceive themselves without knowing it. In their hearts is a disease and Allah has increased their disease and a serious penalty they incur because of their falsehood. Surah 2:8-10

Opposition from the Jews was destined to be more intense, however, as Muhammad sought to entrench Islam in his new domain.





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Muhammad meets Moses in Paradise. Note that the halo envelopes Muhammad's entire frame but only surrounds the head of Moses.



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Noah and Idris greet the Prophet on his journey. The identity of Idris, mentioned only twice in the Qur'an, cannot be determined from the Bible.




The climate of Medina is tropical and humid in contrast with the dry climate of Mecca. The Muslims settled in well but some of them struggled to adapt to the atmosphere. Muhammad, however, soon grew to love the city and deeply appreciated its willingness to receive him as its leader at such a crucial time in his mission. He told its inhabitants that Allah would not fail to drive out anyone who tried to harm them, that it had its own way of driving out evil people and that Dajjal, the Islamic equivalent of the Antichrist, would not be able to enter it. The intensity of his affection for the city can be discerned in other statements he made about it, such as this one:

"I have declared sacred the territory between the two lava plains of Medina, so its trees should not be cut down, or its game killed"; and he also said "Medina is best for them if they knew. No one leaves it through dislike of it without Allah putting in it someone better than he in place of him; and no one will stay there in spite of its hardships and distress without my being an intercessor or witness on behalf of him on the Day of Resurrection". (Sahih Muslim, Vol.2, p.686)

In the early days the Muslims did not find things going their own way in Medina and many of them had to endure considerable poverty. Muhammad, however, adapted well to the limited supply of provisions and possessions and for the rest of his life he lived very simply, relying only on the basic necessities of life for his welfare. Shortly before leaving Mecca he had married his second wife, Sauda, and very soon after his arrival he took Ayishah, the daughter of Abu Bakr, as another wife even though she was still very much a child. He was to take many more wives in the next ten years although Ayishah was to be the only one who had never been married before. Muhammad had no apartment of his own but took turns in visiting each of the apartments he had built for his wives which were all adjacent to each other.

His companions from Mecca, the muhajirun, and the recently converted Muslims of Medina, the ansar, soon developed a spirit of brotherhood and the old tribal loyalties of Arabia were dispensed with as a new loyalty arose, the absolute loyalty of a Muslim to the community of Muslims. Up to fifty of the emigrants were taken in by the citizens of Medina as their brothers and were accordingly entitled to inherit from them. The traditional balances in Arabian society were radically shifted as strangers from different tribes welcomed each other as brethren while disowning former family relatives as enemies of Allah.

Other traditions were soon to be violated. At the same time, however, instead of completely abandoning the customs of his forefathers, Muhammad concentrated his attention on Mecca. For a while the Muslims had faced Jerusalem, the site of the original Jewish temple known in Islam as baitul-muqaddas, "the holy house", but now a command came to turn around and change the qiblah, the direction of prayer, to the masjidul-haram, "the sacred mosque" at Mecca:

Now We shall turn you to a qiblah that will please you. Turn your face in the direction of the sacred mosque: wherever you are, turn your faces in that direction. Surah 2:144

Although the Ka`aba was still a pagan shrine at that time the call to face it in prayer was justified by a Qur'anic verse which teaches that it was originally built by Abraham and his son Ishmael and that it had only later become a focal-point of Arabian idolatry:

We covenanted with Abraham and Isma'il, that they should sanctify My House for those who circle around it, or use it as a retreat, or bow, or prostrate themselves ... And remember how Abraham and Isma'il raised the foundation of the House: "Our Lord! Accept this from us, for you are the All-Hearing, All-Knowing". Surah 2:125,127

The Muslims soon eyed the regular caravan traffic passing from Mecca towards northern settlements and, as Medina lay right across the path of this trade route, it was not long before Muhammad sent out raiding parties to intercept them. The initial excursions proved fruitless but, during the second year of Muhammad's rule in Medina, he sent out `Abdullah ibn Jahsh with seven others to Nakhlah, a resting-place between Mecca and at-Ta`if. Two of them turned back but the remaining six came across a small group of four Quraysh returning to Mecca.

It was Rajab, one of the four holy months in Arabia, during which all hostilities were traditionally suspended, another custom about to be violated by the Muslims. When the Quraysh saw the men from Medina in the customary pilgrim dress and with their heads shaved, they were not alarmed and continued on their way. The six attacked them, however, and killed one of them while succeeding in capturing two others. Only one escaped. Nomadic Arabs had been raiding caravans for centuries so the event was not reproachable in itself, but in Arab eyes the attack on unarmed travellers in a sacred month was a cause of great offence.

Muhammad was not unaware of the gravity of the situation and at first refused the one-fifth of the booty which his followers offered him. In fact the whole of Medina was shocked by what had happened but a verse from the Qur'an, coming just at this time, justified the raid:

They will ask you about fighting in the sacred month. Say: "Fighting therein is serious, but it is more serious in the sight of Allah to prevent access to the path of Allah, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and to drive out its members". Surah 2:217

The incident set a precedent for the Muslims who had thusfar avoided all forms of physical conflict with the Quraysh. Muhammad, with the event justified as the lesser of two evils, then took his one-fifth of the booty for investment and distribution to the needy while awarding the rest to the raiding band, ransoming the prisoners at the same time. The apparent shift in conduct from a persecuted prophet bearing up patiently in the face of abuse to a warrior bent on plundering and violence is perhaps misleading. It appears that one of the very purposes of the emigration to Medina was to strengthen the Muslim position so that, whereas they found themselves unable to counter opposition in Mecca, they were now better equipped to confront them from Medina. This verse shows how much this sentiment had become the focus of the struggle:

Those who believed and those who were exiled and fought in the path of Allah have the hope in the mercy of Allah, and Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most-Merciful. Surah 2:218

In the original text "those who were exiled and fought" are defined as wallathiina haajaruu wa jaahadu. The link between the words hajaru and jahadu appears to be quite deliberate. Those who were "exiled" are also those who "fought" in the path of Allah. From this time on all Muslims, whose initial community was centred on the believers in Medina, were bound to fight in the way of Allah against all who came against them.

It was not long, however, before a major confrontation was to take place between the Muslims and the Quraysh. Once a year a major caravan set out for Syria from Mecca. Muhammad was informed of its pending return and he planned to capture it. At its head was one of the leading descendants of Umayya, Abu Sufyan, and when he was warned of Muhammad's plans, he immediately sent a messenger on ahead of him to call for help from Mecca while hastening on at the same time himself with the whole party. He managed to outstrip the army of about three hundred Muslims which had joined Muhammad in tracking the caravan down but the Meccan army, which had come out to protect it, came face-to-face with the Muslims at a place called Badr near the Red Sea.


The Muslims were outnumbered at least two-to-one but were told by Muhammad that Allah had promised them either the caravan or the army as a prize of war. Buoyed on by the news the Muslims joined battle and, after some of them had won individual contests with the Quraysh, the rest stormed into the fight and, despite being outnumbered, prevailed and put the Quraysh to flight. In the event only fourteen Muslims lost their lives but about seventy of the Quraysh perished, among them some of their leaders including Muhammad's great enemy Abu Jahl. The battle may seem to be of small proportions when compared with other major contests in history, but its significance and value for the growing Muslim community was immense. The vulnerability of the Muslims was finally discounted and their esteem in Medina grew considerably.

One explanation for the Muslims' victory was their willingness to engage members of their own tribe and families in contrast with the hesitancy of the Quraysh, following Arab customs, to fight and kill their own relatives. The policy of Muhammad, namely to engage only the most hostile of their leaders and kill them rather than the general throng, also upset the leadership of the Meccans in the battle, though Muhammad tried to avoid direct conflict with members of the Banu Hashim in appreciation of their protection and support during the years of the boycott in Mecca.

The Muslims had to decide what to do with their captives. A verse from the Qur'an came, stating that it was not right for a prophet to imprison people or tyrannize the land (Surah 8:67), and so most of them were either ransomed or set free unconditionally. Two of them were executed, however, both for challenging Muhammad's prophethood. `Uqbah ibn Abu Mu`ayt had composed satirical verses about him while An-Nadr ibn al-Harith had claimed that his rhymes about Persian customs and history were as good as those in the Qur'an. On other occasions Muhammad had people executed or sought their demise for composing verses said to be as divine as those he was transmitting from the Qur'an and it appears that he was particularly sensitive to any challenge to his proclamation that his Qur'an was inimitable.

The defeat at Badr was greeted with total dismay in Mecca, however, and the people swore not to rest until they had avenged those who had been killed in the battle. A year later a much larger army under Abu Sufyan set out from the city to confront the Muslims. They encamped on the plain below the hill of Uhud to the north of Medina while Muhammad advised his warriors to remain within the city where it would be much easier for them to defend themselves. They were still motivated by the belief that Allah had helped them to win the battle at Badr and, when some of the younger men sought to go out and again take the fight to the Quraysh, Muhammad was obliged to go out with them. `Abdullah ibn Ubayy persuaded a number of them to withdraw, however, and when they finally came to Uhud they found themselves greatly outnumbered. In the circumstances Muhammad advised them not to take the battle to the enemy but to let the Quraysh come at them at first.

Once again they seized the initiative and despite the odds began to drive the Quraysh back. The Muslim archers defending their rearguard on the hill, however, broke ranks and Khalid ibn Walid, seeing the opportunity to attack them from behind, led his cavalry around the back of the hill and came on them by surprise. The Muslims were thrown into complete disarray. Hamzah, Muhammad's uncle, was killed and Hind, Abu Sufyan's wife, disembowelled him and ate his liver in fulfilment of a vow taken just after Badr. Muhammad himself was seriously injured in the struggle and some of the Quraysh thought they had killed him. This might explain their reluctance to press home their advantage when the Muslims were in retreat. Instead, satisfied that they had avenged their losses at Badr (this time the Muslims lost seventy-four men while only twenty Quraysh were killed), they challenged the Muslims to meet them again at Badr the following year. The contest never took place although a small Muslim contingent went out as a gesture of their preparedness to meet them again. The defeat at Uhud, nevertheless, had ominous implications for the Muslims. If Allah had secured the victory at Badr, why had they lost this contest?

A revelation from the Qur'an soon helped Muhammad to silence murmurings among his companions. They were blamed for failing to take the advice of their prophet and for seeking to share in the booty rather than seeking the rewards of the hereafter:

Behold! You were climbing up the high ground without even looking aside at any one while the Apostle behind you was calling you back. So Allah opposed you with great distress to teach you not to grieve for what you had missed and for all that had befallen you. And Allah is well aware of all that you do. Surah 3:153

After the Battle of Badr Muhammad had released Abu `Azzah, one of the many prisoners he had held, because he had pleaded with him for the five children he had left at home. He was set free on condition that he did not again engage the Muslims in battle. When he was taken captive after the Battle of Uhud he again pleaded for mercy but he was beheaded after Muhammad had said to him:

Verily a believer is not stung twice from the same hole. You will not return to Makkah to declare, rubbing your cheeks, that you had befooled Muhammad twice. (Ibn Sa`d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol.2, p.51)

The raiding of caravans carried on and Muhammad's influence continued to grow so that the Quraysh soon regretted that they had not dealt with him once and for all at Uhud. A year later they gathered a great army of their own men with contingents from tribes allied to them. Eventually ten thousand warriors, known as the Confederates, marched on Medina to finally annihilate the Muslim menace.


The Muslims were greatly disturbed when they learned of the size of the army that was marching on Medina. They had not forgotten their losses at the Battle of Uhud and the onslaught of a new force three times the size of the last one filled them with fear and foreboding. Nonetheless they had learnt one very important lesson at Uhud – to defend Medina from within its own walls and not to go out into the open.

A Persian convert to Islam, Salman al-Farisi, suggested the building of a trench around the exposed parts of the city. Most of Medina was protected by natural obstacles such as hills and mountains but there were a few exposed areas. This was a novel idea, one completely unknown to the Arabs but a tactic he had learnt in Persia. The Muslims wisely took his advice and managed to dig the trench in time. The Quraysh and their allies were confounded by this new method of defensive warfare and accused the Muslims of cowardice and of an innovation not previously known in the chivalrous warfare to which they were accustomed. If this seems strange it is worth noting that, as Islam developed, it too became resistant to any form of bid'ah, "innovation", which might change its basic character and practices.

The Quraysh camped in the plain called Rumah while their allies set their camps nearby. It soon became obvious to Abu Sufyan that the city could not be taken by storm and so they settled in for a siege. The elements, however, greatly distressed the Confederate force. It was very cold and they had no protection in their small tents from the howling winds and threatening storms. Nonetheless, when the Banu Quraydhah, a Jewish quarter on the edge of the city, forged an alliance against the Muslims they became extremely concerned that their enemies might gain access there to the city and the Qur'an shows how fearful they were:

Behold they came on you from above and below you and your eyes became dim and your hearts gaped up to your throats and you imagined various things about Allah. In that situation the believers were tested, they were shaken by a tremendous shaking. Surah 33:10-11

The threat was very real but, by a subtle subterfuge, the Muslims succeeded in sowing doubts among the Confederate forces about their loyalty to one another. Then one night a raging wind and rainstorm ripped up many of their tents and their willingness to continue the siege abated. When some of the allied forces began to withdraw the Quraysh too decided to give up the fight and they soon left the area. The Muslims were greatly relieved and gave praise to Allah for their deliverance. In fact the Meccan opposition to Muhammad was by now exhausted. The Quraysh had rallied their greatest possible force to destroy him once and for all and yet had returned home without a fight. It was time for the tide to turn and from here on the Muslims took the offensive.

Muhammad settled on an ingenious way of getting into Mecca. A year after the siege he led one-and-a-half thousand Muslims in pilgrimage dress to perform the annual pilgrimage. They carried no weaponry except the traditional handknife. When the Quraysh heard of their advance they were greatly disturbed as it was one of the holy months and their customs forbade them to attack the Muslims. So they met the Muslims just outside Mecca at a valley called Hudaybiyah. A small deputation went out to discover Muhammad's real intentions while the rest prepared to defend the city. Led by one Suhail ibn `Amr they took `Uthman and a small Muslim contingent into Mecca and, when they failed to return in good time, the Muslims prepared to defend themselves. Under a tree they took a solemn oath to protect Muhammad with their lives. Nonetheless `Uthman duly returned and told Muhammad they were not allowed to enter Mecca on this occasion but could return the following year when the citizens would vacate the city for three days. Muhammad accepted the terms much to the dismay of his companions. `Umar objected to the whole affair by arguing that the Muslims had been commanded to subdue and overcome pagans and should not humiliate themselves by negotiating with them on equal terms.

`Umar b. Khattab came, approached the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) and said: Messenger of Allah, are we not fighting for the truth and they for falsehood? He replied: By all means. He asked: Are not those killed from our side in Paradise and those killed from their side in the Fire? He replied: Yes. He said: Then why should we put a blot on our religion and return while Allah has not decided the issue between them and ourselves? He said: Son of Khattab, I am the Messenger of Allah. Allah will never ruin me. `Umar went away but he could not contain himself with rage. (Sahih Muslim, Vol.3, p.980)

In fact the treaty was hardly equitable as Muhammad seems to have conceded to terms humiliating to the Muslims. One of its conditions was that, if anyone from the Quraysh should become a Muslim, he was to be returned to Mecca but, if a Muslim wished to renege from Islam, the Quraysh were not obliged to reciprocate. The reaction of the Muslims is clear from this brief account:

When Suhail bin `Amr agreed to the treaty, one of the things he stipulated was that the Prophet should return to them anyone coming from their side, even if he was a Muslim, and would not interfere between them and that person. The Muslims did not like this condition and were disgusted with it. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.3, p.547)

Their anger grew even more when Muhammad acquiesced in the demands of Suhail that the treaty should not begin with the traditional Muslim invocation Bismillahir-Rahmanir-Rahim ("In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful") but rather with the introduction which the Quraysh preferred, namely Bi'ismika Allahumma ("In thy Name, O Allah"). Muhammad made yet another concession when, after first signing the treaty as Muhammadur-Rasulullah ("Muhammad the Messenger of Allah") he agreed to strike it out and replace it with Muhammad ibn `Abdullah ("Muhammad son of `Abdullah").

Then the Apostle summoned `Ali and told him to write 'In the Name of Allah the Compassionate the Merciful'. Suhayl said "I do not recognise this; but write ‘In thy Name, O Allah’". The Apostle told him to write the latter and he did so. Then he said: "Write, ‘This is what Muhammad the Apostle of Allah has agreed with Suhayl ibn `Amr’". Suhayl said, "If I witnessed that you were Allah's apostle I would not have fought you. Write your own name and the name of your father". The Apostle said: "Write, ‘This is what Muhammad b. `Abdullah has agreed with Suhayl b. `Amr’". (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.504)

`Ali was also highly annoyed at the developments and if Muhammad had not enjoyed the unstinting devotion of his followers, he could have found himself facing a credibility crisis. When the Quraysh told Muhammad to strike out the reference to himself as the Messenger of Allah, he ordered `Ali to do so but he declared that, by Allah, he would not. Muhammad had to do so himself but, as so often happened at times where Muhammad needed justification of his acts, a revelation of the Qur'an came to silence the murmurers:

Truly we have granted you a clear victory so that God may forgive your past and future sins, grant you his blessings, and guide you into the straight path. Surah 48:1-2

There was in fact much to be gained from the outcome. For the first time the Quraysh had negotiated with Muhammad on equal terms and for the foreseeable future he could continue to expand without fear of attack from them. He had also succeeded in getting the Quraysh to allow him to visit Mecca for three days the next year, a concession which was to lead to the eventual demise of Meccan opposition to him. He was now free to canvass new allies and gained the allegiance of the tribe of Khuza`ah nearby. During the year other conquests strengthened his position and a year later he duly made the pilgrimage to Mecca.

The people were weary of the conflict that had gone on now for so many years and they observed the Muslims performing the traditional rites of pilgrimage with mixed feelings. While they offered no worship to the idols in and around the Ka'aba they nevertheless fully respected the shrine and the other holy places around it. The total devotion of the Muslims to Muhammad could not but impress them and, consciously or otherwise, their opposition to the Prophet dissipated as they saw his love for the city of his birth and his respect for the famous shrine inside it.

By this time Khalid ibn Walid, the great Meccan warrior, had converted to Islam and for a while Muhammad concentrated on fighting enemies to the north of Medina. He sent an expedition to Mu`tah, a town on the border of Syria, where his army came into contact with Byzantine forces for the first time. The Muslims were repulsed and Muhammad's adopted son Zaid ibn Haritha was killed in the battle along with a number of other prominent Muslims. Led by Khalid the force had to return to Medina.

The setback did not really affect his position at home, however, and he continued to consolidate his authority. By this time numerous tribes and bedouin nomads in the area were coming over to Islam and it was obvious that it would not be long before the whole of Arabia would convert to his cause. Mecca, however, remained the major obstacle and a minor skirmish at about this time finally gave Muhammad the pretext he needed to launch a fullscale onslaught on the city.





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The Angel Gabriel welcomes Muhammad in the company of a host of other angels to prepare him for his nocturnal ascent to heaven. The event is hardly alluded to in the Qur'an but is fully recorded in the Hadith.




The Treaty of Hudaybiyah did not make the Quraysh and the Muslims allies. Muhammad had for a long time determined to conquer Mecca for Islam and it was not long before a pretext arose to give him the opportunity he sought to march against it. Before his warriors had even returned from Mu`tah a confrontation took place between the Banu Khuza`ah, recently allied to Muhammad, and the Banu Bakr, a tribe allied to the Quraysh. While some of the Khuza`ah were camping near a well of theirs known as Watir, they were attacked by the Bakr with arms and equipment said to have been supplied by `Ikrimah ibn Abu Jahl, the son of Muhammad's great enemy, and other members of the Quraysh. When word of this reached him, Muhammad immediately summoned all the Muslims he could gather together from Medina and the region round about and prepared to march on Mecca.

Abu Sufyan, aware of the danger, went to Medina himself to attempt to reinstate the treaty but he was sent away empty-handed. A force ten thousand strong marched southwards out of Medina. By now al-`Abbas, Muhammad's uncle, had decided that the balances were totally tilted in the favour of his nephew and he went out to greet him and swore his allegiance to Islam. As the army approached Mecca Abu Sufyan again went out and this time, with al-`Abbas' assistance, gained a personal audience with Muhammad who asked him whether the time had not surely come for him to acknowledge his prophethood and the absolute unity of Allah who could not be associated with anyone. The Meccan leader replied that he had no problem with Allah as the only true God but that he still had some doubts about Muhammad's prophethood. Al-`Abbas told him this was no time for uncertainty and, seeing the futility of his position, he then likewise swore his allegiance to Islam on the condition that the city was spared if it gave in peacefully. The Muslim hordes, eager for a fight and the spoils of victory, were keenly offended when Muhammad indicated his acceptance as they had long wanted to avenge themselves on the Quraysh but the Prophet's prime aim was to win the hearts of the people and so he boldly declared:

"Who enters the house of Abu Sufyan will be safe, who lays down arms will be safe, who locks his door will be safe". (Sahih Muslim, Vol.3, p.977)

Apart from some resistance in the southern quarter of the city led by `Ikrimah and Suhail, the people capitulated peacefully and Muhammad duly entered the city and went first to the Ka`aba. He ordered all its idols destroyed. The Muslims gathered with great joy around the shrine and Bilal, Muhammad's convert from Abyssinia, mounted it and called the warriors to prayer. A general amnesty was declared and the people turned gratefully to Muhammad's side and embraced Islam. It was the moment of supreme victory in the Prophet's life and he savoured the opportunity to stand triumphant in the city which for so long had bitterly opposed him.

Not everyone benefitted from the amnesty, though. A number of the Quraysh were ordered to be put to death even if found clutching the cloth covering the Ka`aba. Only four were actually executed. Two had formerly been Muslims who were guilty of murder in Medina and had fled to Mecca as apostates from Islam, one was a slave woman who had abused Muhammad in her songs while the last was al-Huwayrith who had assaulted his daughter Zaynab as she left Mecca for Medina.

Those who escaped death had either fled the area or were pardoned by the Prophet. `Ikrimah was spared after his wife converted to Islam and besought Muhammad to forgive her husband. Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan who had chewed the liver of Hamzah at Uhud, was likewise spared as was 'Abdullah ibn Abu al-Sarh who had once converted to Islam and had actually transcribed portions of the Qur'an but had apostatised from Islam and returned to Mecca where he claimed he had falsified verses of the Qur'an without Muhammad even noticing.

Shortly after the conquest of Mecca the Khuza`ah tribe found one of the Hudhayl tribesmen who was still a pagan and they immediately killed him. Muhammad, however, was extremely angry at this and personally ensured that his bloodwit was paid to the tribe as recompense for his death. At the same time he charged the Muslims to highly respect Mecca as a city which Allah had declared holy on the day he made the heavens and the earth. No true believers were entitled to shed any blood in it, cut down its trees or otherwise desecrate it. He concluded by declaring his love for all the people of Mecca and told them he would never have left them if only they had accepted his message. With these words he won over its inhabitants and consecrated it as the holy city of Islam and the Muslim world.

Muhammad remained there fifteen days during which he set about organising ways of instructing the people in Islam. At the same time he sent out delegations to call those around the city to peacefully submit to Islam and to destroy their idols. Khalid ibn al-Walid first went to Nakhlah where the Banu Shayban offered no resistance to the destruction of their idol al-`Uzza. When he came to Jadhimah, however, the people there took up arms against him. While they debated among themselves as to whether they should submit or not Khalid took some of them and killed them as an example to he others. Once again Muhammad was dismayed at the news and he sent `Ali, his son-in-law, to compensate the tribe for their losses as he had done with the Hudhayl tribesmen. He was very keen to win over the loyalty of his own kinsmen by example rather than by force so that it would be genuine and lasting.


There was little time for Muhammad and the Muslims of Medina to enjoy the fruits of their success. Almost immediately they and the new converts in Mecca were forced to join together to defend themselves against a major onslaught by the Hawazin tribe located southeast of Mecca. These inhabitants from the nearby hills and valleys were alarmed at the capitulation of Mecca and, under the leadership of Malik ibn `Awf al-Nadri, they gathered together the Thaqif tribe with other local tribesmen and took everything they possessed with them in a do-or-die onslaught on the Muslims. Muhammad immediately sent his warriors out to meet them and, leading the army himself, they met their enemies at the valley of Hunayn. The same ten thousand Muslims from Medina who had conquered Mecca joined forces with two thousand Quraysh from Mecca under the leadership of Abu Sufyan. Outnumbering their opponents, they ventured confidently into battle and once again expected Allah to give them a convincing victory.

Malik, however, inspired his warriors to launch a surprise attack in the darkness just before dawn and the Muslims were thrown into total confusion. As some of them panicked and fled past Muhammad without even recognising him, others among the Quraysh whose commitment to Islam was still suspect wondered if this was not to be his day of defeat. This was to be yet another of those vital moments when Muhammad's whole authority over his followers was to be put to the test in adverse circumstances. He personally took charge, nonetheless, and despite the chaos managed to rally the Muslims with the help of al-`Abbas who called them to remember their covenants with him. Some three hundred gathered around the Prophet and repelled the Hawazin. They were joined by others until finally the tide turned and the Hawazin began to flee. In disarray they left behind all their possessions including thousands of camels, goats and much silver. The Qur'an celebrates the victory in these words:

Surely Allah has helped you on many occasions and on the Day of Hunayn. Indeed your great numbers elated you but they did not help you. The extent of the terrain constrained you and you turned back in retreat. But Allah sent down his peace on the Apostle and the believers, He sent forces which you did not see to repel the pagans and so punished the unfaithful. Surah 9:25-26

The ferocity of the attack troubled Muhammad and he determined that from that day onward no pagan should be allowed to enter Mecca lest the city be tempted to renege from Islam. Immediately after this the Qur'an goes on to say:

O you who believe! Truly the pagans are unclean so do not let them approach the Sacred Mosque after this year. Surah 9:28

To this day only Muslims are allowed to enter the city. Nonetheless the Muslims themselves were annoyed after the battle when they saw their Prophet distributing the booty very generously among the recent Meccan converts to Islam. They complained that they had fought faithfully alongside him for many years at great danger to themselves while the Quraysh had thusfar bitterly opposed him. Was there not an injustice in his preference of them at this time?

When Allah gave to his Apostle the war booty on the day of Hunain, he distributed that booty amongst those whose hearts had just been reconciled to Islam but he did not give anything to the Ansar. So they seemed to have felt angry and sad as they did not get the same as other people had got. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.5, p.432)

Muhammad replied that, while he had given the Meccans material possessions, he himself belonged to Medina and that he would return with them to the city and never leave it. He had given the booty away simply to confirm their trust in him. The Muslims accepted his explanation.

One stronghold still held out against the expansion of Islam. At-Ta`if, the settlement which had rejected Muhammad many years earlier, continued to oppose him and, as his warriors approached its fortifications, the defenders showered them with arrows. Finding no way to storm the walls, the Muslims set siege to the fortress and battered it with a catapult. The defenders responded by hurling burning shafts of hot iron. Eventually Muhammad set about burning their orchards and vineyards. A few of the men came out and responded to his call to submit peacefully but the rest of them resisted. Learning that they were well stocked with food and ammunition, Muhammad was forced to withdraw.

A convert to Islam, `Urwah ibn Mas`ud, was subsequently murdered by the Thaqif tribe at at-Ta`if when he tried to convert them to Islam. This time Muhammad planned an all-out onslaught on the settlement and they finally realised their time was up. They sent a delegation to him requesting a three-year period of grace but he refused and insisted on their conversion, the destruction of their idol al-Lat, and the observance of the Islamic prayers. They agreed to surrender and Muhammad wisely sent Abu Sufyan and al-Mughirah, who had just converted to Islam and were friendly with at-Ta`if's inhabitants, to destroy the idol. Many of the women wailed as it fell, the only recorded occasion where the destruction of an idol excited sympathy from its devotees.

Deputations came from all over Arabia to Medina to swear their allegiance to Muhammad and to embrace Islam. By his sixty-third year virtually the whole of the Peninsula had come under his rule. In his triumph he made one last visit to Mecca to perform the farewell pilgrimage in the company of thousands of Muslims whom he addressed:

O men, listen to my words. I do not know whether I shall ever meet you in this place again after this year. Your blood and your property are sacrosanct until you meet your Lord. All blood shed in the pagan period is to be left unavenged. Satan despairs of ever being worshipped in your land. Lay injunctions on women kindly, for they are prisoners with you having no control of their persons. You have taken them only as a trust from God. I have left with you something which if you will hold fast to it you will never fall into error, a plain indication, the kitab (book) of Allah and the sunnah (practice) of His prophet. Know that every Muslim is a Muslim's brother and that the Muslims are brethren. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.651)

At the same time the following verse from the Qur'an was revealed to declare to the Muslims that their Prophet's work was complete:

This day have the pagans given up all hope of overcoming your religion. Do not fear them but fear Me. This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed my favours toward you, and chosen as your religion al-Islam. Surah 5:4


With no threat from any quarter in Arabia Muhammad planned to avenge the Battle of Mu`tah. As he organised an army to set forth he suddenly became seriously ill. He had up to this time been in good health but now he was struck with a high fever and his nights were sleepless. He ventured out one night to the local cemetery in Medina and addressed all those buried there as blessed to be released from the cares of this world. He was accompanied by Abu Muwayhibah and on their return he told him that he had been offered the keys of this present life or a place in Paradise. When his companion asked if he could not have both he replied no, and answered that he had chosen Paradise and to meet with his Lord.

On his return his fever increased and his wives did all they could to relieve his pain and discomfort, pouring water over him continuously. He could no longer lead the prayers in the mosque and the many Muslims gathered in Medina became extremely anxious for his welfare. Slowly he relapsed into spells of unconsciousness. One day, appearing to recover, he went in to the mosque and, although very weak, led the prayers. The Muslims were overjoyed but, soon after his return to Ayishah's apartment, he relapsed again and, with his head on her lap and uttering faint cries of triumph and hope, he suddenly breathed his last.

When news of his death reached the congregation pandemonium broke out. On seeing it `Umar boldly proclaimed that Allah's prophet could never die and that he would summarily dismember anyone who falsely spread such a rumour. Abu Bakr came in, however, and after calming the crowd proclaimed: "Let anyone who worshipped Muhammad know that Muhammad is dead, but for him who worships Allah, let him know that Allah lives". He then quoted these words from the Qur'an:

Muhammad is no more than an apostle, many such apostles passed away before him. If he died or were slain, would you turn back on your heels? If any should turn back on his heels he will do no harm to Allah, but Allah will swiftly reward those who serve him with gratitude. Surah 3:144

The life of the great Prophet of Islam was over. He was buried in the chamber of his favourite wife Ayishah and his tomb forms part of the Great Mosque of Medina to this day. Not long after his death, however, Islam spread rapidly and within a century had conquered an empire as extensive as the Roman Empire had been in its prime.





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Knowing that his followers were outnumbered by the Quraysh Muhammad advises them not to venture out to meet their enemies in the open field but to remain securely within the city and await the coming onslaught.