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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Muhammad: The Prophet

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On 12 Rabi` al-Awwal 570 a baby boy was born in Mecca. He was to become one of the greatest men and to Muslims the very last messenger sent by Allah.

His father Abdullah died before his birth. When only eight days old, he was handed to a Bedouin wet-nurse to be brought up by her in the healthy atmosphere of the desert. At the age of five, Muhammad returned to the care of his mother, Aminah, but she died a year later. Muhammad then went to his paternal grandfather, Abdul Muttalib, the chief of Banu Hashim who gave him loving care. He died when Muhammad was eight, and the boy was then brought up by his uncle Abu Talib, who was to prove his shield and protection when some 30 years later his preaching brought upon him the enmity of the people of Mecca. Abu Talib was a merchant of modest means, and when Muhammad grew up, he assisted him in his business.

At age 12, he accompanied his uncle in a merchant’s caravan to Syria. His uncle desired something better for him and obtained him employment with a rich widow, Khadijah. Thus Muhammad found himself at the age of 25 in charge of a caravan conveying merchandise to Syria. On his return, Khadijah was so pleased with his successful management of her business, and was so attracted by the nobility of his character that she sent her sister to offer the young man her hand. Muhammad had felt drawn to Khadijah, and so matters were soon arranged and, though Khadijah was 15 years his senior, their 26 years of married life were singularly happy.

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Muhammad continued to work as a merchant. His fairness further enhanced his reputation as Al-Amin (The Trustworthy). In 605, a dispute arose during the reconstruction of the Ka`bah, which threatened to plunge the different clans of the Quraish tribe into war, but the sagacious arbitration of Muhammad saved the situation and settled the dispute to everyone’s satisfaction. He continued to take an ever-increasing interest in public affairs and to exert himself in the service of the poor, the helpless and the weak. Many were the slaves who owed their freedom to Muhammad, and many were the widows and orphans who lived on his generosity. Whenever the iniquities of his people oppressed him, Muhammad retired to the solitude of a cave in Mount Hira – outside Mecca. There his soul tried to peer into the mysteries of creation, of life and death, of good and evil, to find order out of chaos. Solitude became a passion with him, and every year he would retire to the cave for the whole month of Ramadan, to mediate.

It was on one of these occasions, when he was 40, that Muhammad received the Call. One night, while lying absorbed in his thoughts in the solitude of the cave, Muhammad was commanded by a mighty voice to go forth and preach. Twice the voice called and twice he ignored the call. The voice called for the third time and revealed to him the first verses from the Qur’an. Alarmed by the experience, Muhammad rose trembling, and hastened home to seek rest and solace for his troubled mind and tortured soul in Khadijah’s tender care, and she calmed and comforted him. When he had recovered sufficiently, he sought the solitude of the hills to soothe his anguish of mind when the angel of Allah appeared to him and recalled him to his duty to mankind. Awe-stricken, he hurried back to his house and asked Khadijah to wrap him in warm garments. She did her best to reassure him, saying that his conduct through life had been such that Allah would not let a harmful spirit come to him. She later consulted her kinsman, an old man who knew the scriptures of the Jews and the Christians. He declared that the heavenly message that had come to Moses of old had now come to Muhammad, and that he was chosen as a Prophet of Allah. The very thought of being chosen out of all mankind with such a mission profoundly disturbed Muhammad’s humble and devout mind. Khadijah was the first to accept the truth of his mission, and then he communicated his experience to his cousin Ali, his adopted son Zaid, and his intimate friend Abu Bakr. These persons, who knew him best and had lived and worked with him and noted all his movements and the sincerity of his character, became his first converts.

The Prophet began by preaching his mission secretly first among his intimate friends, then among the members of his own tribe and thereafter publicly in the city and suburbs. Standing alone, he proclaimed the glory of Allah, publicly denounced the idolatry of his people and their evil ways, and called them to Allah and the better life. The Quraish tribe were the guardians of the Ka`bah, the holy place to which all Arabs made pilgrimage, and it was a source of great prestige and profit to their city, Mecca. They were, therefore, seriously alarmed and became actively hostile towards Muhammad, who was now publicly preaching against the worship of the idols in the Ka`bah. During the season of the pilgrimage, men were posted on all the roads to warn the tribes against the madman who was preaching against their gods. The early converts of Muhammad, who were mostly humble folk, were subjected to great oppression. And in spite of his rank, Muhammad himself would have been killed if the Quraish had not been deterred by the fear of blood vengeance from his powerful clan.

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The persecution increased as Muhammad’s  converts grew in number and influence. The fury of the people of Mecca knew no bounds. Muhammad, the respected citizen of rank and high descent, “Al-Amin” of his people, was henceforth subjected to insults, to personal violence, and to the bitterest persecution, and his converts were most relentlessly oppressed, persecuted and tortured. Deeply grieved at the sad plight of his followers, Muhammad advised them in the fifth year of his mission to leave the country and seek refuge from the persecution of the idolators among the Christian people of Abyssinia (Ethiopia). Muhammad and a few stalwart followers remained in Mecca and suffered untold misery and oppression, but still their number continued to increase. In their exasperation, the Quraish outlawed Muhammad and asked his clan to forgo their right of avenging his blood. Though unbelievers and participators in the persecution, the proud clansmen refused and the people of Mecca thereupon boycotted them.

After three years, the ban was lifted. Banu Hashim and Banu Al-Muttalib were now free to follow their vocations, but opposition to Muhammad became ever more relentless. A year later, Muhammad lost his uncle and protector, the noble Abu Talib, and his beloved wife, Khadijah, in whose love and devotion he had found comfort, solace and encouragement. The death of Abu Talib removed the last check on the Meccans violence. Muhammad was now defenceless and in continual peril of his life. Persecution grew ever fiercer, and Muhammad sought refuge in the neighbouring city of Taif, where he was met with great hostility and barely escaped with his life. But a turning point in his career was at hand. Muhammad made several converts in a party of pilgrims from the prosperous city of Yathrib.

After the Pilgrimage, the men of Yathrib returned to their city with a Muslim teacher, and in the following year, at the time of Pilgrimage, 73 Muslims from Yathrib came to Mecca to vow allegiance to the Prophet and invited him to go to their city. Muhammad took council with his Meccan followers, and it was decided that they should immigrate to Yathrib. They left gradually and unobtrusively, Muhammad remaining to the last. Their departure was soon discovered by the Quraish, who decided to slay Muhammad before he too escaped, for although they hated the idea of his preaching in their midst, they dreaded still more the spread of his influence if he escaped from Mecca. They, therefore, cast lots and chose 40 men, one from each clan, who took a solemn vow to kill Muhammad. They were to strike simultaneously so that the murder could not be avenged by blood feud on any one clan. But on the night they were to kill him, Muhammad left Mecca with Abu Bakr. Eluding his pursuers over a long distance of desert and rocks, he reached Yathrib, thereafter known as Madina. This event is called the Hijrah, or emigration. It marks the greatest turning point in the history of Muhammad’s mission, and the Muslim calendar is named after it. Muhammad was now free to preach and his followers increased rapidly. The Muslims could now worship freely and live according to the laws of Allah.

It was during this period, with the Prophet now the head of a nascent Islamic State, that most of the Qur’anic verses regarding the rules of society were revealed. But the people of Mecca were not going to allow Muhammad’s movement to take root in Madina. They organised three great expeditions against the city, but all were beaten back. Eventually the Meccans and Muslims concluded a treaty to maintain peace between them and to observe neutrality in their conflicts with third parties. Profiting by the peace, the Prophet launched an intensive programme for the propagation of Islam. A few weeks later the Prophet sent letters to several kings including the Byzantine and Persian emperors inviting them to Islam. The king of Abyssinia and the ruler of Bahrain accepted Islam while the Byzantine emperor, Heraclius, acknowledged Muhammad’s prophethood without actually accepting Islam. It was not until the eighth year after the Hijra that the Muslims were able to put an end to this war by gaining a bloodless victory over Mecca when the Mecca violated the terms of their treaty. The people of Mecca, who had relentlessly oppressed Muhammad and his followers for 21 years, expected dire vengeance, but in the hour of their defeat they were treated with the greatest magnanimity. “Go, you are free!” were the words with which Muhammad gave them general amnesty. The Prophet removed all the idols in and around the Ka`bah, saying, “And say: Truth hath come and falsehood hath vanished away. Lo! falsehood is ever bound to vanish.”(Al-Israa: 81). Also, the Muslim call to prayer was heard in this ancient sanctuary. The Surrender of Mecca was followed by the submission of the surrounding tribes and the acknowledgement of Muhammad’s spiritual and temporal leadership over the whole of Arabia.

During the ninth year of the Hijra, delegations came from all parts of Arabia to swear allegiance to the Prophet and to hear the Qur’an. Islam now spread by leaps and bounds, and the peoples of the Arabian Peninsula and the southern regions of Iraq and Palestine had voluntarily embraced Islam. In the tenth year, Muhammad went to Mecca as a pilgrim, and he felt it was for the last time because the revelation he received there included the verse, ” […]This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you […]” (Al-Maaidah: 3) On his return to Madina, he fell ill. It lasted for 15 days, but he continued to lead the prayers until three days before his death, when he deputed Abu Bakr. At early dawn on the last day of his earthly life, Muhammad came out from his room beside the mosque and joined the public prayers, but later in the day he died. The end came peacefully; murmuring of pardon and the company of the righteous in Paradise. He died at age of 63, on Wednesday, 12 Rabi` al-Awwal 11 (AH).

By the time his mission had ended, the Prophet was blessed with several hundred thousand followers. Thousands prayed with him at the mosque and listened to his sermons. Hundreds of sincere Muslims found every opportunity to be with him following the five daily prayers and at other times. They sought his advice for their everyday problems and listened attentively to the interpretation and application of revealed verses to their situation. They followed the message of the Qur’an and the Messenger of Allah with utmost sincerity and supported him with everything they had. After his death, they faithfully carried the message of Islam. Today, there are a over a billion Muslims and Islam is the fastest growing religion. At the last population census, at least 95 per cent of all Gambians professed to be Muslims.

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