Muhammad’s Life, Battles, and Death
This is the third in a series of posts about Islam. For more articles in this series, click on the links at the end of this article.
Due to his preaching of reforms, Muhammad was seen as a threat to Mecca’s wealthy rulers. But he was spared reprisals thanks to his wealthy uncle, Abu Talib. However, the year 619 A.D. became known as the year of sorrow during which Muhammad lost both his uncle and his wife, Khadijah. Without his uncle’s protection, he got exposed to more persecution until he eventually fled Mecca.
He continued his pious life, and in the year 621, he experienced the “miraculous night journey,” which was composed of two parts:
The Isra was presumably a journey on a flying donkey from Mecca to Jerusalem, to the farthest mosque (Al-Aqsa; later established in 705) which is the Temple Mount mosque today in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The Mi’raj was presumably a journey from Jerusalem with Gabriel to the seven levels of heaven, where he encountered several prophets, one on each level: Adam, John the Baptist and Jesus, Joseph, Idris, Aaron, Moses, Abraham. He finally conversed with Allah who it is said commanded him to pray 50 times per day, but upon his return to earth, he met Moses who suggested bargaining to bring them down. After a series of back and forth, Allah decreased the number to 5 prayers per day, which he would reward tenfold.
Many Muslims believe that this truly happened. Others consider it a vision or out of body experience. The journey serves to confirm to Muslims that Muhammad was a prophet because he had met other prophets and possibly Allah himself.
Hijra and the Beginning of a Muslim State
In 622, Muhammad received a delegation from the city of Yathrib (about 185 miles north of Mecca) which invited him to be the leader of the Muslims there. At the same time, leaders in Mecca were planning to assassinate him, but his cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib foiled the plot. So, in September 622 he went to Yathrib. This is known as the Hijra which begins the Muslim calendar. Hijra is as important to Muslims as the Exodus is to the Jews. Yathrib was thus renamed Madinat Al Nabi (City of the Prophet), known thereafter as Medina.
Mohammad instituted a constitution which was an alliance between the tribes, some of which were Jews who accepted him as judge. This was the first Muslim state with protections and allowances for non-Muslim monotheists, the “people of the Book.” Muslims in Medina and Mecca constituted the first Muslim nation (umma), a concept that persists today and unites Muslims of the world in a community, a concept similar to the universal church of God.
Muhammad took a total of 13 wives:
His first was Khadijah who had influenced him toward monotheism.
One of his wives was Aisha, who was 10-years-old when they married, while Muhammad was around 53. She was the daughter of Abu Bakr (a companion of Muhammad, his first male convert outside of his family, and the first khalifa) and she was betrothed to him when she was between ages 5 and 6. She was his favorite wife.
Another wife was Zeinab. She had been his cousin and daughter in law, the wife of his adopted son. This was not acceptable. Although his son later divorced her, it was still not acceptable. According to the Quran, Muhammad received a special revelation from Allah allowing him to marry her.
Conflicts and Battles
There were conflicts between Muslims and pagan Meccans, and Muhammad began to lead his followers in raids. He became a military leader, the first among many later Muslim leaders. In 624, his first battle (The Battle of Badr) was a raid on a Quraish caravan. He and 300 men defeated a thousand. He declared that angels from Allah helped in the victory.
In 625, the second battle (Uhud) took place and was a shameful defeat. Then Muhammad received a revelation stating that the defeat took place because the men were more interested in spoils of war than in honoring Allah.
In 627, the third battle (Battle of the Trench) took place and lasted 30 days. During this time, Meccans and other Arab tribes and Jews besieged Medina. Muhammad and his people resisted until the siege ended and the Meccans departed. He was betrayed by one of the Jewish tribes (Banu Qurayza) so he ordered all the men of the tribe, between 400-900 men, to be beheaded.
In 628, Muhammad went to Mecca and arranged for a ten year truce during which he was allowed to perform annual pilgrimages to the Kaaba. Pilgrimage had been practiced by pagans, and Muhammad desired to Islamize it. The treaty did not last, and it is unclear what made Muhammad decide that the Meccans violated the treaty, so in 630, Mohammad and his army of 10,000 men marched to Mecca and conquered it without much resistance as the Meccans surrendered and embraced Islam, installing a Muslim government. Mecca thus became the second Islamic city. Muhammad destroyed all the pagan idols in Mecca and thus purified it as he had desired.
Between 630-632, Muhammad and his troops defeated all the other tribes in the Arabian Peninsula and subdued them. The message was submit or face consequences: pagans had to become Muslims; Jews and Christians did not have to convert, but had to submit to the rule and pay a tax (jizyah).
Finally, in 632, Muhammad carried his final pilgrimage to Mecca. He fell ill and returned to Medina where he died on June 8, 632. Many believe he was poisoned. He was buried in Medina. Since he had no living sons and he had not left directives on succession, there was tumult. The division between Sunni and Shia Muslims would be the result.
For more articles in this series on Islam, click on the links below: