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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Founder of Islam and of the Mohammedan empire; born at Mecca between 569 and 571 of the common era; died June, 632, at Medina. Mohammed was a posthumous child and lost his mother when he was six years old. He then came under the guardianship of his grandfather 'Abd al-Muṭṭalib, who at his death, two years later, left the boy to the care of his son Abu Ṭalib, Mohammed's uncle. The early years of Mohammed's life were spent among the Banu Sa'd, Bedouins of the desert, it being the custom at Mecca to send a child away from home to be nursed. From the stories told of these early years it would appear that even then he showed symptoms of epilepsy which greatly alarmed his nurse. It has been stated that the boy was once taken on a caravan journey to Syria, and that he there came in contact with Jews and Christians. But he could very easily have become acquainted with both at Mecca; hence this theory is not necessary to explain his knowledge of Jewish and Christian beliefs. When Mohammed was twenty-five years old Abu Ṭalib obtained for him an opportunity to travel with a caravan in the service of Ḥadijah, a wealthy widow of the Ḳuraish, who offered Mohammed her hand on his return from the expedition. Six children were the fruit of this union, the four daughters surviving their father. Ḥadijah, although fifteen years his senior, was, as long as she lived, Mohammed's faithful friend and sympathizer.
Mohammed's religious activity began with the fortieth year of his life. The Islamic tradition assigns as the beginning of this new career a sudden marvelous illumination through God. The Koran, however, the most authentic document of Islam, whose beginnings are probably contemporaneous with Mohammed's first sermons, speaks of this revelation on the "fateful night" rather vaguely in a passage of the later Meccan period, while the earlier passages give the impression that Mohammed himself had somewhat hazy ideas on the first stages of the revelation which culminated in his occasional intercourse with God, through the mediation of various spiritual beings. Small wonder that his pagan countrymen took him to be a "kahin," e., one of those Arab soothsayers who, claiming higher inspiration, uttered rimed oracles similar to those found in the earliest suras. Historical investigations, however, show that Mohammed must not be classed with those pagan seers, but with a sect of monotheistic visionaries of whose probable existence in southern Arabia, on the borderland between Judaism and Christianity, some notice has come down in the fragment of an inscription recently published in "W. Z. K. M." (1896, pp. 285 et seq.). This fragment ascribes to God the attribute of vouchsafing "revelation" (?) and "glad tidings" ("bashr," e., "gospel" or "gift of preaching"), meaning probably the occasional visionary illumination of the believer. As the same inscription contains other religious concepts and expressions which parallel those in the Koran, Mohammed may well be associated with this religious tendency. The name of this South-Arabian sect is not known; but the "Ḥanifs" of the Islamic tradition belonged probably to them, being a body of monotheistic ascetics who lived according to the "religion of Abraham" and who bitterly inveighed against the immoral practises of paganism.
The First Moslems.
Islam in its earliest form certainly did not go far beyond the tenets of these men. Mohammed condemns idolatry by emphasizing the existence of a single powerful God, who has created and who maintains heaven and earth: but he condemns still more emphatically the vices born of idolatry, namely, covetousness, greed, and injustice to one's neighbor; and he recommends prayer and the giving of alms as a means of purifying the spirit and of being justified at the divine judgment. This gospel includes nothing that was not contained in Judaism or in Christianity, nor anything of what constituted the fundamental difference between the two. Islam, however, did not undertake to bridge the gulf between them. Mohammed's teaching, on the contrary, was at first expressly directed against the Arab pagans only; and even in the later Meccan period it refers to its consonance with the doctrines of the "men of the revelation," e., Jews and Christians. Nothing is more erroneous than to assume that the watchword of the later Islam, "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is His prophet," was characteristic of the very beginning of the religious movement inaugurated by Mohammed: not the belief in dogmas, but the recognition of ethical obligations, was the object of his mission to his countrymen. That meant that the Arab prophet strove to gain in every believer an ally to help him to wage war upon the corruptions of the day. Mohammed's political astuteness, which was a signal characteristic of his Medina period, is apparent even in the organization of the first community. Its members were mostly poor but intellectually eminent Ḳuraish like Ali, Abu Bakr, Zubair, 'Abd al-Raḥman ibn 'Auf, Sa'd ibn Abi Waḳḳaṣ, Othman, and others. They, being in the execution of their religious duties under Mohammed's personal supervision, soon grew to be so dependent upon him that their tribal consciousness—the strongest instinct in the social life of the ancient Arabs—was gradually superseded by the consciousness of being Moslems, the community thus developing into a small state with Mohammed as its chief. Hence in time sharp conflicts arose between the powerful Meccans, the sheiks of the leading families, and Mohammed. For years they had suffered him as a harmless dreamer, a soothsayer, a magician, and even as one possessed of demons; then, when his prediction in regard to the imminent judgment of God remained unfulfilled, they had mocked him; but when the community grew—eveneminent personages like Ḥamzah swearing by Islam—they grew hostile and began to persecute him and his adherents, their action culminating in the ostracism of Mohammed's family, the Banu Hashim. Restricted in his missionary activity, and separated from a large part of the faithful who had sought refuge in Christian Abyssinia, the prophet lost heart. His preaching, in so far as its nature can be gathered from the Koran, was filled with references to the persecutions to which the earlier messengers of God had been subjected, and to their final rescue by Him; and it emphasized "raḥmah"—e., mercy shown to the good, and long-suffering to the wicked—as being God's chief attribute. Various dogmatic-theosophic discussions were added, among them being the first protests against the Christian doctrine of the son of God. The teachings of Islam, which at first had been merely a body of precepts, developed more and more into a regular system which reflected in its chief tenets the later Judaism.
The Hegira (622).
When the leading families of Mecca revoked the ban pronounced against the Banu Hashim, which had been maintained for nearly three years, they might well have believed that Mohammed's political importance at Mecca was destroyed. The prophet himself perceived, especially after the death of his protector Abu Ṭalib and of his (Mohammed's) wife Ḥadijah, that his native city was not the proper place in which to carry out his communal ideas; and he cast about for a locality better adapted to his purposes. After various unsuccessful attempts to find a following among neighboring tribes, he happened to meet, during the annual festival of the temple at Mecca, six people from Yathrib (Medina); the Arab inhabitants of this city had come into close contact with monotheistic ideas through their long sojourn among the Jewish tribes which had been the original masters of the city, as well as with several Christian families. These men, being related to Mohammed on his mother's side, took up the cause of the prophet, and were so active in its behalf among their people that after two years seventy-five believers of Medina went to Mecca during the festival and proclaimed in the so-called "'aḳabah," or war assembly, the official reception of Mohammed and his adherents at Mecca into the community of Yathrib. The consequence was that within a short time all the Moslems removed to Medina; and the prophet himself, as the last one, closed the first period of Islam by his hasty departure, as in flight ("Hegira"; Sept., 622).
Mohammed's entry into Medina marks the beginning of an almost continuous external development of Islam, which as a religion, it is true, lost in depth and moral content, and crystallized into dogmatic formulas, but as a political entity achieved increasing success through the eminent political ability of the prophet himself. The Arab inhabitants of Medina, the tribes of Aus and Khazraj, all joined the religion of the prophet within two years from the Hegira. Political differences, however, arose between them, especially after Mohammed had reserved for himself exclusively the office of judge; and these differences led to the formation of a moderate party of opposition, the Munafij, or weak believers, who often, and without detriment to his cause, restrained the prophet's impetuosity. But the propaganda came to a halt among the numerous Jews living in the city and the surrounding country, who were partly under the protection of the ruling Arab tribes, the Banu 'Auf, Al-Ḥarith, Al-Najjar, Sa'idah, Jusham, Al-Aus, Tha'labah, and partly belonged to such large and powerful Jewish tribes as the Banu Ḳuraiẓa, Al-Naḍir, Ḳainuḳa'. In the first year of the Hegira Mohammed was apparently on friendly terms with them, not yet recognizing their religion to be different from his; indeed, they were included in a treaty which he made with the inhabitants of Medina shortly after his arrival among them. The prophet and his adherents borrowed from these Jews many ritual customs, as, for instance, the regularity and formality of public prayers, fasting—which later on, following the Christian example, was extended to a whole month—the more important of the dietary laws, and the "ḳiblah" (direction in which one turns during prayer) toward Jerusalem, which was subsequently changed to the ḳiblah toward Mecca. But the longer Mohammed studied the Jews the more clearly he perceived that there were irreconcilable differences between their religion and his, especially when the belief in his prophetic mission became the criterion of a true Moslem.
Relation to Jews.
The Jews, on their side, could not let pass unchallenged the way in which the Koran appropriated Biblical accounts and personages; for instance, its making Abraham an Arab and the founder of the Ka'bah at Mecca. The prophet, who looked upon every evident correction of his gospel as an attack upon his own reputation, brooked no contradiction, and unhesitatingly threw down the gauntlet to the Jews. Numerous passages in the Koran show how he gradually went from slight thrusts to malicious vituperations and brutal attacks on the customs and beliefs of the Jews. When they justified themselves by referring to the Bible, Mohammed, who had taken nothing therefrom at first hand, accused them of intentionally concealing its true meaning or of entirely misunderstanding it, and taunted them with being "asses who carry books" (sura 62:5). The increasing bitterness of this vituperation, which was similarly directed against the less numerous Christians of Medina, indicated that in time Mohammed would not hesitate to proceed to actual hostilities. The outbreak of the latter was deferred by the fact that the hatred of the prophet was turned more forcibly in another direction, namely, against the people of Mecca, whose earlier refusal of Islam and whose attitude toward the community appeared to him at Medina as a personal insult which constituted a sufficient cause for war. The Koran, in order to lead its adherents to the belief that side by side with the humane precepts of religion were others commanding religious war ("jihad"), even to the extent of destroying human life, had to incorporate a number of passages enjoining with increasing emphasis the faithful to take up the sword for their faith. The earlier of these passages enunciated only the right of defensive action, but later ones emphasized the duty of taking the offensiveagainst unbelievers—e., in the first place, the people of Mecca—until they should accept the new faith or be annihilated. The prophet's policy, steadily pursuing one object, and hesitating at no means to achieve it, soon actualized this new doctrine.
Mohammed's first attacks upon the Meccans were of a predatory nature, made upon the caravans, which, as all classes had a financial interest in them, were the very life of the city. The early expeditions were of comparatively little importance; and the battle of Badr in the second year of the Hegira was the first encounter of really great moment. In this battle the Moslems were successful and killed nearly fifty of the Ḳuraish, besides taking prisoners. This battle was of supreme importance in the history of Islam. The prophet had preached the doctrine that war against the unbelievers was a religious duty; and now he could claim that God was on his side. His power was consolidated; the faith of the wavering was strengthened; and his opponents were terrified. The die was cast; Islam was to be a religion of conquest with the sword. After the battle of Badr, Mohammed dared to manifest his hostility to the Jews openly. A Jewess, named ASMA, who had written satirical verses on the battle of Badr, was assassinated, by command of Mohammed, as she lay in bed with her child at the breast. The murderer was publicly commended the next day by the prophet. A few weeks later Abu 'Afak, a Jewish poet whose verses had similarly offended, was likewise murdered. It is said that Mohammed had expressed a desire to be rid of him. These were single instances. The prophet soon found a pretext for attacking in a body the Banu Ḳainuḳa', one of the three influential Jewish tribes at Medina. They were besieged in their stronghold for fifteen days, and finally surrendered. Mohammed was prevented from putting them all to death only by the insistent pleading in their behalf of Abdallah b. Ubai, the influential leader of the opposition whom Mohammed did not dare offend. Instead, the whole tribe was banished, and its goods were confiscated. The prophet was thus enabled to give material benefits to his followers.
Death to Jewish Poets.
Medina now enjoyed a few months of comparative quiet, disturbed only by a few unimportant marauding expeditions. The third year of the Hegira was marked by the assassination of a third Jewish poet, Ka'b b. al-Ashraf, who by his verses had stirred up the Ḳuraish at Mecca against Mohammed. The prophet prayed to be delivered from him; and there was no lack of men eager to execute his wishes. The circumstances attending the murder were particularly revolting. At about the same time a Jewish merchant, Abu Sanina by name, was murdered, and the Jews complained to Mohammed of such treacherous dealing. A new treaty was concluded with them, which, however, did not greatly allay their fears. Some months after these events (Jan., 625) occurred the battle of Uḥud, in which the Meccans took revenge for their defeat at Badr. Seventy-four Moslems were killed in the fight; Mohammed himself was badly wounded; and the prophet's prestige was seriously affected. The Jews were especially jubilant, declaring that if he had claimed Badr to be a mark of divine favor, Uḥud, by the same process of reasoning, must be a proof of disfavor. Various answers to these doubts and arguments may be found in the Koran, sura
Attacks the Banu al-Nadir.
Mohammed now needed some opportunity to recover his prestige and to make up for the disappointment of Uḥud. He found it the next year in an attack upon the BANU AL-NAḌIR, another of the influential Jewish tribes in the vicinity of Medina. A pretext was easily invented. Mohammed had visited the settlement of the tribe to discuss the amount of blood-money to be paid for the murder of two men by an ally of the Jews, when he suddenly left the gathering and went home. He is said by some to have declared that the angel Gabriel had revealed to him a plot of the Banu al-Naḍir to kill him as he sat among them. The latter were immediately informed that they must leave the vicinity. They refused to obey; and Mohammed attacked their stronghold. After a siege lasting more than a fortnight, and after their date-trees had been cut down—contrary to Arabian ethics of war—the Jewish tribe surrendered and was allowed to emigrate with all its possessions, on condition of leaving its arms behind (Sprenger, "Das Leben des Moḥammad," 3:162; "Allg. Zeit. des Jud." pp. 58, 92). The rich lands thus left vacant were distributed among the refugees who had fled with Mohammed from Mecca and who had hitherto been more or less of a burden on the hospitality of the people of Medina. The prophet was thus able both to satisfy his hatred against the Jews and materially to strengthen his position.
Destroys the Banu Ḳuraiẓa.
In the fifth year of the Hegira the Banu Ḳuraiẓa, the last Jewish tribe remaining in the neighborhood of Medina, were disposed of. Again the direct cause for attack was a matter of policy. The Ḳuraish of Mecca, whose caravans were constantly being harassed by the Moslems and by other disaffected tribes including the Jews, had formed the project of uniting their forces against Mohammed. The leader of this enterprise was the able and vigorous Abu Sufyan of Mecca. The allies encamped before Medina and engaged in what is known as "the battle of the trenches," so called from the manner in which Medina was protected from attack. The Moslems succeeded in keeping the Banu Ḳuraiẓa out of the fight by making them and the allies mutually suspicious, and the allies finally withdrew without having accomplished their purpose. The Moslems also were disappointed in having no plunder, so that Mohammed felt called upon to provide a diversion. The allies had scarcely departed, the Moslems had not yet laid down their arms, when the prophet claimed to have received a communication from Gabriel bidding him march instantly against the Banu Ḳuraiẓa. The last-named, who had no time to prepare for a long siege, retired to their castles, and surrendered after two weeks, trusting to escape as their kinsmen of the Banu Ḳainuẓa' and the Banu al-Naḍir had done. Their fate was left to the decision of Sa'ad b. Mu'adh, who, although of the tribe of Aus, the allies ofthe Ḳuraiẓa, felt bitter toward them on account of their supposed treachery toward the Moslems. He decided that all the men should be killed, the women and children sold as slaves, and the property divided among the army. The carnage began the next morning, and between 600 and 700 victims were beheaded beside the trenches in which they were to be buried. Mohammed refers to the siege of Medina and the massacre of the Jews in sura
Attacks Jews of Khaibar.
There were now no more Jews in the vicinity of Medina, but those at Khaibar continued to annoy the prophet. Abu al-Ḥuḳaiḳ of the Banu al-Naḍir, who had settled at Khaibar, was suspected of inciting the Bedouins to plunder the Moslems. Accordingly five men of the Banu Khazraj were sent secretly and murdered him. Usair, who succeeded him as chief of Khaibar, was likewise assassinated at Mohammed's command. In the sixth year of the Hegira Mohammed made a treaty with the Ḳuraish, at Ḥudaibiyah, whither he had proceeded with some of his followers with the intention of making the pilgrimage to Mecca. The Ḳuraish objected to his entering the city, and this treaty was made instead. It provided for a cessation of hostilities for ten years. In the same year Mohammed sent embassies to the rulers of the six surrounding states inviting them to embrace Islam, but the King of Abyssinia was the only one who sent a favorable reply. In the next year the prophet attacked the Jews of Khaibar in order to reward with the rich plunder of that place the followers who had accompanied him to Ḥudaibiyah. The Jews were conquered after a brave resistance, and their leader, Kinanah, was killed. Mohammed married the chief's young wife on the battle-field; and a very rich booty fell into the hands of the Moslems. Some Jews were still left at Khaibar, but merely as tillers of the soil, and on condition of giving up one-half the produce. They remained until Omar banished all Jews from the country. The Jews of the Wadi alḲura, of Fadak, and of Taima were still left; but they surrendered before the end of the year. An attempt on the life of Mohammed was made at Khaibar by a Jewish woman named Zainab, who, in revenge for the death of her male relatives in battle, put poison in a dish prepared by her for the prophet. One of Mohammed's followers who par-took of the food died almost immediately afterward; but the prophet, who had eaten more sparingly, escaped. He, however, complained of the effects of the poison to the end of his life.
His Domestic Life.
During the twenty-five years of his union with Ḥadijah Mohammed had no other wife; but scarcely two months had elapsed after her death (619) when he married Sauda, the widow of Sakran, who, with her husband, had become an early convert to Islam and who was one of the emigrants to Abyssinia. At about the same time Mohammed contracted an engagement with 'A'ishah, the six-year-old daughter of Abu Bakr, and married her shortly after his arrival at Medina. 'A'ishah was the only one of his wives who had not been previously married; and she remained his favorite to the end. After his death she exercised great influence over the Moslems. In his married life, as well as in his religious life, a change seems to have come over Mohammed after his removal to Medina. In the space of ten years he took twelve or thirteen wives and had several concubines: even the faithful were scandalized, and the prophet had to resort to alleged special revelations from God to justify his conduct. Such was the case when he wished to marry Zainab, the wife of his adopted son Zaid. Two of his wives were Jewesses: one was the beautiful Riḥanah of the Banu Ḳuraiẓa, whom he married immediately after the massacre of her husband and other relatives; the other was Safya, the wife of Kinanah, whom, as stated above, Mohammed married on the battle-field of Khaibar. None of these wives bore him any children. Mohammed built little huts for his wives adjoining the mosque at Medina, each wife having her own apartment. At his death there were nine of these apartments, corresponding to the number of his wives living at that time. Mohammed's daughter Faṭimah, by Ḥadijah, married Ali and became the mother of Ḥasan and Ḥusain.
The last three years of Mohammed's life were marked by a steady increase of power. In the eighth year of the Hegira (630) he entered the city of Mecca as a conqueror, showing great forbearance toward his old enemies. This event decided his eventual supremacy over the whole of Arabia. Other conquests extended his authority to the Syrian frontier and as far south as Ṭa'if; and in the following years embassies poured in from the different parts of the peninsula bringing the submission of the various tribes. Mohammed's death occurred in the eleventh year of the Hegira, after he had been ill with a fever for over a week. He was buried where he died, in the apartment of 'A'ishah; and the spot is now a place of pilgrimage.
- Grimme, Mohammed;
- M. Hartmann, in Allg. Zeit. des Jud. 58:66-68,79-80,89-92,102-104;
- Ibn Hisham, Das Leben Mohammeds, ed. Wüstenfeld, Göttingen, 1858;
- W. Muir, The Life of Mahomet, London, 1877;
- A. Sprenger, Das Leben und die Lehre des Mohammad, Berlin, 1869.
- See also Islam; Koran.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Mahomet'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/m/mahomet.html. 1901.
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28