A Brief Biography of Prophet Muhammad: The Meccan Period

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(part 1 of 2) Description:  The early life of Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon him. Objectives: ·          To ...

(part 1 of 2)

Description: The early life of Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon him.
Objectives:
·        To understand the influences in Prophet Muhammad’s early life.
·        To understand the political situation at the time.
·        To realise and ponder the difficulties suffered by the first Muslims.
Arabic Terms:
·         Kabah - The cube-shaped structure located in the city of Mecca.  It serves as a focal point towards which all Muslims face when praying.
Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon him, is the man loved by the world’s more than 1.5 billion Muslims.  He is also respected by those of other faiths and beliefs.  Throughout history and around the world non-Muslims have shown great respect and honour to Prophet Muhammad and he is considered influential in both religious and secular matters.  It was to Prophet Muhammad that Allah revealed the Quran and Muslims are urged to imitate his behaviour and moral standards.  This is because Prophet Muhammad’s life was the Quran.   He understood it, loved it and he lived his life based on its standards.  When Muslims declare their faith in Allah, they also declare their belief that Muhammad is His slave and messenger.   
Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon him, is beloved by many, his behaviour is studied and emulated, but who exactly is this man?  Where did he come from, where and when was he born, what exactly makes him a man esteemed above other men.  Allah calls him a mercy to humankind thus it is wise for us to know as much as possible about this man.  In this and the following lesson we will briefly discuss Prophet Muhammad’s life and times.  The life of Prophet Muhammad can be divided into two distinct periods, the Meccan period and the Madinan period.

The Meccan Period

Prophet Muhammad was born in 570 CE (Common Era) in the city of Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula, part of modern day Saudi Arabia.  His father, Abdullah had died shortly after his marriage to Aminah daughter of Wahb, thus Muhammad’s guardianship fell to his grandfather Abdul-Muttalib who was the respected and well liked leader of both the clan of Hashim and the influential tribe of the Quraish.
As was the custom in those days, after birth Muhammad was entrusted to a wet nurse named Halima from the nomadic tribe of Sa'd ibn Bakr.  Thus he spent his early years in the hill country, learning the Bedouin ways and the pure Arabic language.  When Muhammad was five or six his mother took him to Yathrib, an oasis town north of Mecca, to stay with relatives and visit his father's grave there.  On the return journey, Amina became ill and died.  At this point Muhammad was returned to Mecca and placed under the sole care and protection of his grandfather Abdul-Muttalib.  In his grandfather’s care, Muhammad began to learn the rudiments of statecraft. 
Mecca was Arabia's most important pilgrimage centre and Abdul-Muttalib its most respected leader.  Abdul-Muttalib respected and honoured treaties and displayed the finest of morals.  He loved the poor and fed them in times of famine; he helped the pilgrims and restrained wrongdoers.  Muhammad learned at an early age that good manners and morals were possible even in a time and place where the strong trampled upon the weak, and the widow and the orphan were quite helpless. 
When Muhammad was eight years old his grandfather also died leaving him in the care of his uncle Abu Talib.  Abu Talib went on to protect, serve, defend and honour Muhammad through the testing times of Prophethood and until the day he died.  It was under his tutelage that Muhammad grew up to become a fine young man known for his excellent manners and honesty.  Muhammad was referred to as as-Sadiq (The Truthful One) and al-Amin (The Trustworthy One). 
As a youngster Muhammad used to accompany his uncle on his business trips to Syria.  He thus learned the art of buying, selling and trading, and hence by the age of 25 he was skilled in these matters.  He was often hired by people to trade for them with the great caravans and cities.  It was at this time that Muhammad was hired by the Meccan business woman Khadijah. 
Khadijah recognised and admired Muhammad’s irreproachable character and skills and proposed marriage to him even though she was approximately 15 years older than he.  Muhammad accepted and they lived together for almost twenty five years, until the death of Khadijah, may Allah be pleased with her, about 8-9 years after the revelation of the Quran.  During this time, although it was permissible, Muhammad did not marry any other wives.  Their life together is a beautiful love story that produced six children, two sons and four daughters.
Muhammad had always been a man inclined to think deeply and contemplate the wonders of the universe.  At around the age of forty he began to frequent a cave on the outskirts of Mecca known as Hira.  It was in this cave, in the year 610 CE, that the first verses of the Quran were revealed to Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon him..   The Quran in its entirety would continue to be revealed over the next 23 years, in different places and in different ways.
Over the next two to three years after the first revelation, Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon him, taught Islam secretly to those he trusted.  However, when he started calling to Islam publicly the hostility from the idol worshippers increased and Prophet Muhammad and his followers were subjected to abuse and harassment.  The Quraish tribe were the guardians of the Kabah, the holy house to which all Arabs made pilgrimage, and it was a source of great prestige and profit, therefore they became openly aggressive and Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon him, himself would have been killed except that his Uncle Abu Talib’s position and rank made it all but impossible.
Nevertheless plans were made to eradicate this so called scourge and the followers of Islam were harassed, tortured and murdered.  This period of persecution culminated in three years of social and economic sanctions resulting in severe deprivation and deaths from starvation.  Approximately one year after the imposition of sanctions Khadijah, may Allah be pleased with her, died.  Also in that year, that was to become known as the year of sorrow, Abu Talib died, leaving the Meccans free to plot and plan to exterminate the Muslims.  In response to their dire situation Prophet Muhammad sent a group of the Muslims to Abyssinia to seek the protection of the just Christian king, Negus.
Persecution in Mecca grew ever fiercer, and Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon him, sought protection in the neighbouring city of Taif.  Here he was met with great and open hostility and escaped beaten and bloody.  However a turning point was at hand for in that year several people accepted Islam from the city of Yathrib and Prophet Muhammad met with them.
Having converted to Islam, the leaders of Yathrib made a secret pledge to protect the Prophet should the disbelievers try to kill him.  Thus began the slow migration to Yathrib.  Prophet Muhammad instructed his followers to leave Mecca individually or in small groups.  This was very disturbing news for the Quraish, and they decided there was no other option but to  kill Prophet Muhammad and put a stop to the changes taking place once and for all.
We will continue this brief biography in lesson 2, The Madinan Period, where we will discover that divine intervention thwarts the murderous plan and the city of Yathrib soon becomes known as al-Madina an-Nabawiyah (the Prophet’s city), or Madina.

A Brief Biography of Prophet Muhammad (part 2 of 2): The Madinan Period

Description: Building an Islamic nation.
Objectives:
·       To understand how the first Islamic state was established. 
Arabic Terms:
·       Hajj - A pilgrimage to Mecca where the pilgrim performs a set of rituals.  The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, which every adult Muslim must undertake at least once in their life if they can afford it and are physically able.
·       Umrah - A pilgrimage to the Holy House of Allah in the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.   Often referred to as the lesser pilgrimage.  It can be performed at any time of the year.
·       Hijrah - the act of migration from one place to another.  In Islam, the Hijrah refers to the Muslims migrating from Mecca to Medina and also marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar.
·       Muhajiroon - those who migrate.  More specifically and usually it refers to those who migrated from Mecca to Medina.
·       Ansar - helpers.  The people of Medina who opened their homes, lives and city to Prophet Muhammad and his followers from Mecca.
BiographyofProphetMuhammad2.jpgThe city of Yathrib, more than 200 miles north of Mecca was in need of a strong leader, and a delegation from Yathrib invited Prophet Muhammad to settle with them.  In return, they pledged to worship Allah alone, obey Muhammad and defend him and his followers to the death. With this, Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon him, made plans to escape to Yathrib.
The Muslims left in small groups or individually and the Meccans realised the futility of trying to stop them all.  They decided to put their plan to kill Prophet Muhammad into action.  The tribes agreed to act as one and assassinate the Prophet while he was sleeping.  In that way no one person or clan could be blamed thus sparking off a war of vengeance. 
The plan was sabotaged by divine intervention; Allah informed His Prophet of the danger and ordered him to secretly leave Mecca and head to the city of Yathrib.  Prophet Muhammad,  may the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon him, and his close friend Abu Bakr left Mecca under the cover of darkness and sought refuge in a cave.  Their flight to Medina is an eventful and inspiring story that will be covered in detail in future lessons, God Willing.  The city of Yathrib was soon to become known as Medina – the city of light, or the illuminated city.  Possibly in recognition of the light the Islamic nation would bring to the world. 
When Prophet Muhammad and Abu Bakr finally reached the city of Yathrib there was great celebration.  This journey is known as the Hijrah and marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar.   Many of the inhabitants of Yathrib had already converted to Islam and Prophet Muhammad paired the men of Medina with men who had travelled from Mecca in a bond of brotherhood.  This was a perfect example of the great Islamic code, recognising every Muslim as one’s own brother or sister, being put into practice.  Whatever the Muslims of Medina had, they shared it happily with the immigrants, the people of Mecca.
During the second year of the Hijrah, Prophet Muhammad drew up the document known as the Constitution of Medina.  It defined the relationships between the various groups in the first Islamic community by integrating tribal groups and various social and economic classes.  It was a document imbued with the Islamic concepts of social justice and religious tolerance.  In that same year the direction of daily prayers, was changed by divine order from Jerusalem to Mecca, thus marking Islam as a monotheistic religion quite distinct from Judaism and Christianity.
A few Medinan families and some prominent figures held back, but gradually all the Arabs of Medina embraced Islam.  Nevertheless, tribal and religious divisions remained.  As Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon him, integrated the new Islamic community (the Muhajiroon and the Ansar) the enmity between Medina’s Jewish community and the newly founded Islamic order grew, so too did the enmity between the Meccans and the Muslims.  However Prophet Muhammad did not want to march against either group until permission from Allah was granted.
When the Muhajiroon migrated from Mecca to Madina, many of them were forced to abandon their homes and their properties were confiscated.  The chiefs of Mecca used the confiscated money in trade and business.  In 624 CE, Muslims came to know of a trade caravan belonging to the Meccan chiefs which would pass through a trade route close to Madina.  Prophet Muhammad called upon the Muslims  to take the caravan in return for their wealth that was confiscated in Mecca.   This led to a decisive battle at a place called Badr where an army of 1000 Meccans fought against an ill-equipped and a much smaller force of 313 Muslims.  The Battle of Badr was a very significant event in Islamic history.  The Muslims achieved a remarkable victory; however nine of the Prophet’s closest companions were killed.  Although seemingly an insignificant attack in a faraway desert, the battle changed world history.
The Meccans however, did not give up their quest to destroy the Islamic community and  in 625 CE they dispatched an army of 3,000 men; this force met the Muslims near the Uhud Mountain close to Medina.  The Muslims had some success early in the engagement, but during the battle many of Prophet Muhammad’s followers fled thinking that the Prophet had fallen.  This turned out to be untrue, although wounded, Prophet Muhammad was protected and led to safety, however a number of eminent Muslims lost their lives in the Battle of Uhud. 
The Jews of Medina, who had been banished to the town of Khaybar after Uhud, urged the Quraish to continue the battle against the Medinan community.  An army of 10,000 men marched on Medina but were thwarted by the ditch the Muslims dug around the city.  Unable to cross the ditch, the Meccan army laid siege to the city without success.  The invading army gradually began to disperse, leaving the Muslims victorious in the Battle of the Ditch.
In 628 CE, when the Islamic community had become more established, Prophet Muhammad led a large entourage and many animals meant for sacrifice, to Mecca intending to perform Umrah.  Since a contingent of Meccans blocked his way to Mecca, he camped at a place called Al-Ḥudaybiyah and sent a companion to discuss a peaceful visit.  Whilst waiting for the outcome of negotiations Prophet Muhammad assembled his followers and had them swear an oath of allegiance to follow him under all conditions unto death.  The companion returned with a party of Meccan leaders and a compromise and a ten year truce was established, later to be known as the Treaty of Hudaybiyah. 
This treaty recognized the Muslims as a new force in Arabia and gave them freedom to move unharmed throughout Arabia.  The Meccans breached the treaty one year later but by then the balance of power had shifted.  In early 630, the Muslims marched on Mecca and were joined by tribe after tribe along the way.  They entered Mecca without bloodshed and recriminations.  Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon him, forgave the wrongs committed against the Muslim society and the Meccans, began to join the Islamic nation.  This became known as the Conquest of Mecca.
In 632 CE, Prophet Muhammad made his first and only Islamic Hajj.  At this time, on his journey to Mecca he gave his celebrated Farewell Sermon and the last verses of the Quran were revealed, thus completing the sacred book.  “…on this day have I perfected for you your religion and fulfilled My favour unto you, and chosen Islam for you as your religion…” (Quran5:3).  Later in that year Prophet Muhammad suffered from a high fever, and passed away in 632 CE.  His death shocked the fledgling Islamic nation and his grief stricken family and friends buried their beloved Prophet in the home of his wife Aisha, may God be pleased with her.
Within one hundred years of his death, Prophet Muhammad’s legacy, the establishment of a new religion and a new order, spread from the Atlantic to the China Sea and from France to India.  Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon him, was a reformer, a politician, a military leader, a lawgiver, and a revolutionary.  This humble, kind and tolerant man brought about a social revolution and established a religion that today has more than 1.5 billion followers.

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