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Religion

Religion of Peace

Thomas Paine
Deism versus Islam

Mohammed in Medina: 622-30

(p 239-45) The Age of Faith by Will Durant 1950

The city hitherto called Yathrib, later renamed Medinat al-Nabi or "City of the Prophet," was situated on the western edge of the central Arabian plateau. Compared with Mecca it was a climatic Eden, with hundreds of gardens, palm groves, and farms. As Mohammed rode into the town one group after another called to him, "Alight here, 0 Prophet! Abide with us!"

And with Arab persistence some caught the halter of his camel to detain him. "The choice lies with the camel; let him advance freely" the advice quieted jealousy, and hallowed his new residence as chosen by God. Where his camel stopped, Mohammed built a mosque and two adjoining homes, one for Sauda, one for Aisha; later he added new apartments as he took new wives.

In leaving Mecca he had snapped many kinship ties; now he tried to replace bonds of blood with those of religious brotherhood in a theocratic state. To mitigate the jealousy already rampant between the Refugees (Muhajirin) from Mecca and the Helpers (Ansar) or converts in Medina, he coupled each member of the one group with a member of the other in adoptive brotherhood, and called both groups to worship in sacred union in the mosque. In the first ceremony held there he mounted the pulpit and cried in a loud voice, "Allah is most great!" The assembly burst forth in the same proclamation.

Then, still standing with his back to the congregation, he bowed in prayer. He descended the pulpit backward, and at its foot he prostrated himself thrice, while continuing to pray. In these prostrations were symbolized that submission of the soul to Allah which gave to the new faith its name Islam "to surrender," "to make peace" and to its adherents the kindred name of Musijinin or Moslems" the surrendering ones," "those who have made their peace with God."

Turning then to the assembly, Mohammed bade it observe this ritual to the end of time; and to this day it is the form of prayer that Moslems follow, whether at the mosque, or traveling in the desert, or in alien lands. A sermon completed the ceremony, often announcing, in Mohammed's case, a new revelation, and directing the actions and policies of the week.

For the authority of the Prophet was creating a civic rule for Medina; and more and more he was compelled to address his time and inspirations to the practical problems of social organization, daily morals, even to intertribal diplomacy and war. As in Judaism, no distinction was made between secular and religious affairs; all alike came under religious jurisdiction; he was both Caesar and Christ. But not all Medinites accepted his authority.

A majority of the Arabs stood aside as "the Disaffected," viewed the new creed and its ritual skeptically, and wondered whether Mohammed was destroying their traditions and liberties, and involving them in war. Most of the Medina Jews clung to their own faith, and continued to trade with the Meccan Quraish. Mohammed drew up with these Jews a subtle concordant:

The Jews who attach themselves to our commonwealth shall be protected from all insults and vexations; they shall have an equal right with our own people to our assistance and good offices; they...shall form with the A'loslcms one composite nation; they shall practice their religion as freely as the Moslems...They shall join the Moslems in defending Yathrib against all enemies. All future disputes between those who accept this charter shall be referred, under God, to the Prophet.

All the Jewish tribes of Medina and the surrounding country soon accepted this agreement: the Banu-Nadhir, the Banu-Kuraiza, and the Banu- Kainuka.... The immigration of two hundred Meccan families created a food shortage in Medina. Mohammed solved the problem as starving people do - by taking food where it could be had. In commissioning his lieutenants to raid the caravans that passed Medina, he was adopting the morals of most Arab tribes in his time.

When the raids succeeded, four fifths of the spoils went to the raiders, one fifth to the Prophet for religious and charitable uses; the share of a slain raider went to his widow, and he himself at once entered paradise. So encouraged, raids and raiders multiplied, while the merchants of Mecca, whose economic life depended on the security of the caravans, plotted revenge.

One raid scandalized Medina as well as Mecca, for it took place - and killed a man - on the last day of Rajab, one of the sacred months when Arab morality laid a moratorium on violence. In 623 Mohammed himself organized a band of 300-armed men to waylay a rich caravan coming from Syria to Mecca. Abu Sufyan, who commanded the caravan, got wind of the plan, changed his route, and sent to Mecca for help. The Quraish came 900 strong.

The miniature armies met at the Wadi Bedr, twenty miles south of Medina. If Mohammed had been defeated his career might have ended there and then. He personally led his men to victory, ascribed it to Allah as a miracle confirming his leadership, and returned to Medina with rich booty and many prisoners (January, 624).

Some of these, who had been especially active in the persecution at Mecca, were put to death; the rest were freed for lucrative ransoms. But Abu Sufyan survived, and promised revenge. "Weep not for your slain," he told mourning relatives in Mecca, "and let no bard bewail their fate. Haply the turn may come, and ye may obtain vengeance. As for me, I will touch no oil, neither approach my wife, until I shall have gone forth again to fight Mohammed."

Strengthened by victory, Mohammed used the customary morality of war. Asma, a Medinese poetess, having attacked him in her rhymes, Omeir, a blind Moslem, made his way into her room, and plunged his sword so fervently into the sleeping woman's breast that it affixed her to the couch. In the mosque the next morning Mohammed asked Omeir, "Hast thou slain Asma?" "Yes," answered Omeir, "is there cause for apprehension?" "None," said the Prophet, "a couple of goats will hardly knock their heads together for it."

Afak, a centenarian convert to Judaism, composed a satire on the Prophet, and was slain as he slept in his courtyard. A third Medinese poet, Kab ibn al-Ashraf, son of a Jewess, abandoned Islam when Mohammed turned against the Jews; he wrote verses prodding the Quraish to avenge their defeat, and enraged the Moslems by addressing love sonnets to their wives in premature troubadour style. "Who will ease me of this man?" asked Mohammed. That evening the poet's severed head was laid at the Prophet's feet. In the Moslem view these executions were a legitimate defense against treason; Mohammed was the head of a state, and had full authority to condemn.

The Jews of Medina no longer liked this warlike faith, which had once seemed so flatteringly kindred to their own. They laughed at Mohammed's interpretations of their Scriptures, and his claim to be the Messiah promised by their prophets. He retaliated with revelations in which Allah charged the Jews with corrupting the Scriptures, killing the prophets, and rejecting the Messiah. Originally he had made Jerusalem the qibla - the point toward which Moslems should turn in prayer; in 624 he changed this to Mecca and the Kaaba.

The Jews accused him of returning to idolatry. About this time a Moslem girl visited the market of the Banu-Kainuka Jews in Medina; as she sat in a goldsmiths shop a mischievous Jew pinned her skirt behind her to her upper dress. When she arose she cried out in shame at her exposure. A Moslem slew the offending Jew, whose brothers then slew the Moslem. Mohammed marshaled his followers, blockaded the Banu-Kainuka Jews in their quarter for fifteen days, accepted their surrender, and bade them, 700 in number, depart from Medina, and leave all their possessions behind.

We must admire the restraint of Abu Sufyan, who, after his unnatural vow, waited a year before going forth to battle Mohammed again. Early in 625 he led an army of 3000 men to the hill of Ohod, three miles north of Medina. Fifteen women, including Abu Sufyan's wives, accompanied the army, and stirred it to fervor with wild songs of sorrow and revenge.

Mohammed could muster only a thousand warriors. The Moslems were routed; Mohammed fought bravely, received many wounds, and was carried half unconscious from the field. Abu Sufyan's chief wife Hind, whose father, uncle, and brother had been slain at Bedr, chewed the liver of the fallen Hamza - who had slain her father - and made anklets and bracelets for herself from Hamza's skin and nails.

Thinking Mohammed safely dead, Abu Sufyan returned in triumph to Mecca. Six months later the Prophet was sufficiently recovered to attack the Banu-Nadhir Jews, charging them with helping the Quraish and plotting against his life. After three weeks siege they were allowed to emigrate, each family taking with it as much as a camel could carry. Mohammed appropriated some of their rich date orchards for the support of his household, and distributed the remainder among the Refugees.38 He considered himself at war with Mecca, and felt justified in removing hostile groups from his flanks.

In 626 Abu Sufyan and the Quraish resumed the offensive, this time with 10,000 men, and with material aid from the Banu-Kuraiza Jews. Unable to meet such a force in battle, Mohammed defended Medina by having a trench dug around it. The Quraish laid siege for twenty days; then, disheartened by wind and rain, they returned to their homes. Mohammed at once led 3000 men against the Banu-Kuraiza Jews. On surrendering, they were given a choice of Islam or death. They chose death. Their 6oo fighting men were slain and buried in the market place of Medina; their women and children were sold into slavery.

The Prophet had by this time become an able general. During his ten years in Medina he planned sixty-five campaigns and raids, and personally led twenty-seven. But he was also a diplomat, and knew when war should be continued by means of peace. He shared the longings of the Refugees to see their Meccan homes and families, and of both Refugees and Helpers to visit the Kaaba that had in their youth been the hearth of their piety. As the first apostles thought of Christianity as a form and reform of Judaism, so the Moslems thought of Mohammedanism as a change and development of the ancient Meccan ritual.

In 628 Mohammed sent the Quraish an offer of peace, pledging the safety of their caravans in return for permission to fulfill the rites of the annual pilgrimage. The Quraish replied that a year of peace must precede this consent. Mohammed shocked his followers by agreeing; a ten years truce was signed; and the Prophet consoled his raiders by attacking and plundering the Khaibar Jews in their settlement six days journey northeast of Medina.

The Jews defended themselves as well as they could; ninety- three of them died in the attempt; the rest at last surrendered. They were allowed to remain and cultivate the soil, but on condition of yielding all of their property, and half their future produce, to the conqueror. All the survivors were spared except Kinana, their chieftain, and his cousin, who were beheaded for hiding some of their wealth. Mohammed as an added wife took Safiya, a seventeen-year-old Jewish damsel, betrothed to Kinana.

In 629 the Medina Moslems, to the number of 2000, entered Mecca peacefully; and while the Quraish, to avoid mutual irritations, retired to the hills, Mohammed and his followers made seven circuits of the Kaaba. The Prophet touched the Black Stone reverently with his staff, but led the Moslems in shouting; "There is no god but Allah alone!"

Meccans were impressed by the orderly behavior and patriotic piety of the exiles; several influential Quraish, including the future generals Khalid and Amr, adopted the new faith; and some tribes in the neighboring desert offered Mohammed the pledge of their belief for the support of his arms. When he returned to Medina he calculated that he was now strong enough to take Mecca by force.

The ten years truce had eight years to run; but Mohammed alleged that a tribe allied with the Quraish had attacked a Moslem tribe, and thereby voided the truce (630). He gathered 10,000 men, and marched to Mecca.

Abu Sufyan, perceiving the strength of Mohammed's forces, allowed him to enter unopposed. Mohammed responded handsomely by declaring a general amnesty for all but two or three of his enemies. He destroyed the idols in and around the Kaaba, but spared the Black Stone, and sanctioned the kissing of it. He proclaimed Mecca the Holy City of Islam, and decreed that no unbeliever should ever be allowed to set foot on its sacred soil. The Quraish abandoned direct opposition; and the buffeted preacher who had fled from Mecca eight years before was now master of all its life.

Excerpts from Will Durant's The Age of Faith Pages 162-186 Pub. 1950

 

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