ISLAM: Basis - Past - Present - Future


Part 1:

Prophet Mohammed's Struggle for a Better Life for All


by Manfred Davidmann

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Contents

Overview
Introduction
Arab Life and Living at the Time of Mohammed
Mohammed's Struggle
Sequence of Events
Findings

Relevant Current and Associated Works

References {..}

Relevant Subject Index Pages and Site Overview



Overview

The aim of this report is to assemble an objective picture of what took place at that time and of its background, looking in some detail at how the Koran was compiled so as to show what Mohammed taught in the name of God (Allah), and how this was recorded.

What we have is the Koran and traditions collected many years after the death of the Prophet. However, some uncertainty remains and so we are here embarking on a journey of exploration which will take us through the accumulated dust of many centuries to what Mohammed actually taught, to the revealed word of Allah, of God.

The report consists of seven consecutive free-standing parts. The seven parts follow each other in an intended sequence in which each is aiding and contributing to understanding the following part. The parts are:

1     Prophet Mohammed's Struggle for a Better Life for All
             
       

The information brought together in Part 1 relates primarily to Mohammed's struggle for recognition of his mission and message and is limited to this. Knowing about, and understanding, Mohammed's struggle is of vital importance if one wishes to understand what Mohammed taught, the Koran and Muslim belief and practice.

Throughout his whole life as Prophet he struggled against the powerful Meccan ruling elite, against the Meccan family which dominated Mecca, the Quraysh. They first opposed and then persecuted him and his followers for ten years, following which he fought them for ten years till he won and then he died.

So we need to know just what Mohammed taught which upset the elite so thoroughly and persistently, which caused him and his followers to be so harshly opposed and so actively persecuted.

         
2     Text, Language, Dialect and Interpretation of the Koran
         
       

The first step towards understanding the intent and substance of God's (Allah's) revelations as expressed by Mohammed's teachings, is to gain knowledge about the then developing Arabic written language, that is to understand how recorded letters and symbols were used to state the meaning of words, and about the dialects of the time.

Such knowledge and understanding is particularly important when considering how the Koran was assembled and what scholars and clerics have done and are doing when they are 'interpreting' the text of the Koran.

         
3     The Divine Right to Rule
         
       

Following Parts 1 and 2 we are here looking at the struggle for power and control over the Muslim community which took place after Mohammed died and seeing how Muslim belief and practice evolved in the two hundred years under the caliphs.

These events and struggles formed Sunnism and Shiism, shaped the Koran and Muslim belief and practice, underlie today's conflicts and confrontations within Islam.

         
4     Compiling the Koran: Hadiths (Traditions) State the Underlying Reality
         
       

Hadiths (traditions) tell that Zaid bin Thabit compiled the Koran and that Caliph Uthman later had an official version prepared.

The arabic text of these hadiths recorded the underlying reality. They state that on the one hand we have the word of benevolent Allah as taught by Mohammed that people (believers) should have a good life of high quality in this life, but that on the other hand is the ruling elite's opposing viewpoint that people should be obedient and serve willingly without questioning their condition.

         
5     Uthman's Rearrangement of the Chronological (as revealed) Koran's Chapters
         
        The important chapters (suras) singled out by 'abbreviated letters' show how the chronological (as revealed) sequence was changed. The effect of the changes on the record of Mohammed's preaching and teaching is described and followed by a discussion of the doctrines of 'Abrogation' and of 'Consensus' in relation to Mohammed's teachings.
         
6     Prophet Mohammed's Word of Allah and the Voice of the Ruling Elite
         
       

Mohammed's social teachings are stated from Koran chapters (suras) singled out by 'Abbreviated Letters', statements of revelation from compassionate and caring Allah. It seems that some self-seeking doctrines were added later by the ruling elite of that time.

The content of the corresponding compassionate and benevolent teachings are described as are the Koran's stated rewards for following them and the consequences of ignoring or opposing them.

         
7     Muslims and Jews
         
       

Includes a comprehensive summary table of the struggles of the Muslims while Mohammed was alive, primarily against the Meccan ruling elite but also including their conflicts with the Jewish Medinan clans.

The unexpected but convincing conclusions are directly relevant to understanding present tensions and conflicts within Islam.

     
See    
     
1   Prophet Mohammed's Struggle for a Better Life for All
     
2   Text, Language, Dialect and Interpretation of the Koran
     
3   The Divine Right to Rule
     
4   Compiling the Koran: Hadiths (Traditions) State the Underlying Reality
     
5   Uthman's Rearrangement of the Chronological (as revealed) Koran's Chapters
     
6   Prophet Mohammed's Word of Allah and the Voice of the Ruling Elite
     
7   Muslims and Jews



Introduction

The aim of this series of reports is to assemble an objective picture of what took place and of its background, looking in some detail at how the Koran was compiled so as to show what Mohammed actually taught and how this was recorded.

Background sections are based on, derived and taken from the work of others, experts in their own fields. On the whole, scholars and experts confirm and complement each other and what they say fits together into a consistent meaningful whole. Background sections give the overview so necessary for understanding what took place and why it took place, for understanding present belief and practice, so as to understand and see the significance of the new fundamental knowledge presented in these reports for the first time.


But there are authors who do not state underlying first-hand sources and this makes it difficult to assess the validity and reliability of their statements. Hence one would like to see a systematic evaluation and validation of underlying first-hand sources to obtain a clearer picture of the validity and significance of component parts and of the actual pattern of events.


If we wish to know what the Prophet Mohammed taught in the name of God (Allah), then what we have is the Koran and also Traditions collected many years after the death of the Prophet. However, some uncertainty remains about what Mohammed actually recited. So we are here embarking on a journey of exploration which will take us through the accumulated dust of many centuries to what Mohammed actually taught, to the revealed word of Allah, of God.

Mohammed was born about 570 in Mecca, and we start our journey by looking at what life was like for Arabs at that time.


Arab Life and Living at the Time of Mohammed

Here we see how Arabs lived and how they regulated their behaviour, and this enables one to understand what happened to Muslim belief and practice after the death of Mohammed, and the social provisions of the Koran.

Arabs were mainly nomads living in the central and northern Arabian peninsula. Some of them had settled around the oases.
Desert life was exceedingly harsh. The nomads lived off the camel, drinking its milk and very occasionally eating its meat. The other staple food was dates. ... this society was poor and unsophisticated, barely touched by civilization. {2}
There was no written code of laws, life was harsh and a continuous struggle for survival.

Survival depended on loyalty to one's kin, that is to one's family or clan (group of families) or tribe. Individual crimes were restrained by the fear of lasting vengeance {2}. As Montgomery Watt describes it, on behalf of a kinsman almost anything was permitted, "there was no wrong in killing someone not a member of one's tribe or of an allied tribe, though it would be unwise to do so if the victim's tribe was strong" {4}.

The whole family, clan or tribe, that is all members, were held responsible for the acts of any one of them. Fear of vengeance, of retribution, ('life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth ... burning for burning, wound for wound') helped to create such security as there was. And survival depended on the solidarity and strength of the tribe. {2}


But no such restraints applied to communal acts of violence.

Inter-tribal disputes might be settled by an arbiter considered to be an authority on tribal customs, there were raids and reprisals aimed at driving off the opponents' camels. Women and children captured in tribal warfare who were not ransomed became tribal slaves and could be bought and sold. {2}

A defeated tribe's males could be slaughtered even after surrendering, their women and children enslaved, their possessions distributed among the victors. With loot (material and human) apparently the key objective of intertribal skirmishes and warfare.

The tribes were constantly at war with each other, except for four months of truce every year. {5}


Apart from those who were full members of the tribe by descent, there would be others attached to it such as slaves. There were also 'clients' of the tribe who had asked for the sheikh's temporary protection, for example while pasturing their flocks on his land. {2}


Mohammed is born into this kind of society of illiterate desert Arabs. But it is a society which greatly honours poets and later on in life he recites what God has revealed to him with the command to recite, to teach, the word of God to his fellow Arabs.

So next we take a quick look at the life of Mohammed and then at what happened shortly after he died, dealing with relevant matters in more detail later on.


Mohammed's Struggle

What you see here is information about Mohammed's life, largely taken from the work of well-known scholars and academics which confirm and complement each other (see 'References').

The information brought together here relates primarily to Mohammed's struggle for recognition of his mission and message and is limited to this. Knowing about, and understanding, Mohammed's struggle is of vital importance if one wishes to understand what Mohammed taught, the Koran and Muslim belief and practice.


Sequence of Events


570-613

We do not know just when Mohammed was born but it seems to be generally accepted that he was born in Mecca about the year 570, the son of Abdullah of the Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe. Little is known with certainty about his early life. His family was poor but he married a wealthy widow called Khadija when he was about twenty-five years old. When about forty years old God's words began to be revealed to him. He confided in Khadija who encouraged him. Being about forty-two years old, he began to preach in short passages of rhyming prose. Khadija became the first convert. {2}


613-622

At first Mohammed preached only to a small circle of friends and relatives and soon established a small community of converts. His message to the Meccans was that they should abandon all forms of idolatry and devote themselves to following the edicts of the one all-seeing and almighty but compassionate God, that it was necessary for people to be humble and grateful towards God and to worship Him, and the obligation of generosity and respect for the rights of the poor and the defenceless. {3}

The chief religious rite instituted in Mecca was the 'salat', or ritual prayer. Morning and evening are the times spoken of. {1}

The giving of alms (or zakat) was an obligation on all believers. Zakat is to be employed for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer it. (It came to be regarded as a form of state income tax in the Koran.) {1, 2}


Mecca was dominated by the Quraysh tribe. The leading members of its clans formed an assembly known as a 'mala', which did not however have any legislative or executive powers. {2}

Preaching the obligation of generosity and respect for the rights of the poor and the defenceless, soon aroused the opposition of the Meccan elite.

Mohammed was forming a movement, a super-tribe, which all who were deprived could join. The traditional Arab tribe, and loyalty, were based on family, on blood relationships, and thus limited in size. Hence opposition developed from the fear that in time Mohammed's movement might unseat the ruling family, their establishment, their tribe.


Opposition intensified when Mohammed began to attack traditional polytheism, possibly because his attacks may have been seen by the Meccan elite as a threat to the economically profitable cult of the Kaaba. Mohammed's opposition to the religion of their fathers enabled them to rouse public opinion against him so as to eliminate this threat to their power. {3}

Attacks upon the Meccan gods at length drew down persecution upon his followers {1}. Mockery and insults turned into persecution and in 615 Mohammed advised some of his followers to take refuge in the Christian country of Abyssinia. {3}

A number of his followers emigrated to Abyssinia. Mohammed and his supporters were protected by the danger of starting blood-feuds, but the situation was uncomfortable. {1}

Khadija died in year 619. Mohammed 'had been unswervingly faithful to her in her lifetime'. Following the death of Khadija, Mohammed thought first of moving to the hill town of Taif, forty miles from Mecca, for protection and as a base for his activities. But the people mocked and snubbed him. {2, 3}


Mohammed had now struggled to preach the word of God in this environment for roughly ten years. A small number believed, mostly of the poorer classes. The followers he drew were the rejected, the disadvantaged, the weak and the oppressed - slaves, women and minority tribes. {1, 5}


620-622

Medina was then an oasis 250 miles north of Mecca. The raids and reprisals, practised by Arabs in the desert, escalated into a struggle between two blocs of allied clans, Aws and most of the Khazraj. The struggle had culminated in the battle of Buath, in about 618, with heavy slaughter on both sides. In 620, during the pilgrimage season, a delegation from Medina, impressed by his personality and message, sought his help in mediating this simmering feud. In 621, the delegation returned and promised to accept Mohammed as a prophet, to obey him, and not to commit certain sins. In 622, pilgrims from nearly all the Arab clans of Medina renewed the pledge of the previous year with the added promise to fight on Mohammed's behalf.

The negotiations with the parties from Yathrib (Medina) led to agreement. Mohammed gave the signal for his Meccan followers to slip quietly away to Medina. Soon only Mohammed himself, Abu Bakr, Ali, and some of their families remained. {1}

Most of Mohammed's supporters had already gone to Medina when the Meccans became aware of what had transpired, and on September 622 (the first certain date of his career) Mohammed and his companions made their way to Medina and joined them. This year is known as the year of emigration (hijra). {1}


In Medina, Mohammed was the religious leader, the acknowledged head of the community (umma) of emigrants (muhajirun) which had federated with the eight major Medinan clans called the supporters (ansar). And he occupied a public position as arbiter or settler of disputes and vendettas. {1, 2}


622-623

The needs of the Muhajirun (the emigrants who had left Mecca and had come to Medina) were pressing. Needed were booty and supplies to sustain the impoverished Muslim community. Small expeditions began to molest the Meccan caravans. However, many of Mohammed's followers disliked this new attitude. Further difficulty was caused by an attack on a small caravan at Nakhlah at the beginning of Rajab II as it raised the question of fighting in the sacred months. {1, 2}


624 February

An ambitious attempt to intercept one of the chief Meccan caravans returning from Syria led to a battle at the wells of Badr, in which Mohammed's following of a little over 300 men defeated a Quraysh army of nearly 1000. But the booty had not been so great as had been expected, and difficulties arose as to the division of it. {1}


625 Mar {1}

A large Meccan force appeared before Medina in March 625. The feeling in the town was in favour of remaining on the defensive.

Mohammed ultimately decided to accept the Quraysh challenge. He marched out and took up his position at Uhud, a hill to the north of the town. On the way, however, a portion of his army broke off and returned to the town. He was defeated.

The Quraysh, having no quarrel with Medina, withdrew. Mohammed, recovering from a slight wound and rallying some of his forces, followed, and claimed a victory.

Muslim raiding was resumed.


627

The Meccans, finding their trade still being interfered with, formed a great coalition against Medina, which brought together a large force outside the town. Mohammed had prepared a trench for the defence of the town. This novelty in Arab warfare nonplussed the attackers. As they lay inactive, the unity of the coalition began to wear out, and a storm of wind and rain finally dispersed it. {1}


628 {1}

A year later Mohammed thought himself strong enough to force his way into Mecca. His Beduin allies, however, failed him.

Professing peaceable intentions he set out to perform the pilgrimage. He found his way blocked by Meccan forces and, halting at the borders of the 'haram', at 'Hudaibiyah', he entered into negotiations. The treaty made here was a disappointment to his followers, but really marked the end of Meccan supremacy.


629 Dec, 630 Jan {1, 2}

Meccan influence had been waning, and some leading Meccans had already joined Mohammed in Medina. A great expedition was now got together to overwhelm the town. Negotiations meanwhile took place, and Mecca was entered almost without fighting.

The Kaabah was cleansed from idols. Most of the townspeople accepted Islam and were kindly dealt with.


Deputations began to come in from other Arabian tribes. The conditions for their adherence were, the acceptance of Islam, the destruction of idols, and the payment of the 'zakat' or tax for the support of the Muslim community. {1}


632

In March, Mohammed led the pilgrimage, the hajj. On returning to Medina he fell ill and died after a few days, on June 8. {1}

He died leaving Abu Bakr to lead the prayers in his stead, but making no other provision for succession.


Findings

What matters is the overview, not the points of detail.

And the overview is quite unexpected and completely convincing. Almost the whole of Mohammed's life as Prophet (613-632) was spent struggling against the Meccan ruling elite which opposed the word of God.

Throughout his whole life as Prophet he struggled against the powerful Meccan family which dominated Mecca, against the Quraysh.

They first opposed and then persecuted him and his followers for 10 years, and then he fought them for another 10 years till he won and then he died.


So we need to know just what Mohammed taught which upset the elite so thoroughly and persistently. So what did Mohammed teach which caused him and his followers to be so harshly opposed and so actively persecuted?

It is this which I will be exploring in the other reports.



Relevant Current and Associated Works

Other relevant current and associated reports by Manfred Davidmann:
     
     
Title   Description
     
Prophet Mohammed's Struggle for a Better Life for All     Mohammed's struggle for recognition of his mission and message against the powerful Meccan ruling elite. They opposed and then persecuted him and his followers for ten years, following which he fought them for ten years till he won and then he died.
     
Text, Language, Dialect and Interpretation of the Koran   How the written Arabic language developed from the time of Mohammed and how the Koran was assembled. How recorded letters and symbols were used to state the meaning of words. Compares 'readings' and interpretations.
     
The Divine Right to Rule   The struggle for power and control over the Muslim community after Mohammed died and how Muslim belief and practice evolved under the caliphs. These events and struggles formed Sunnism and Shiism, shaped the Koran and Muslim belief and practice.
     
Compiling the Koran: Hadiths (Traditions) State the Underlying Reality   Zaid bin Thabit compiled the Koran, Caliph Uthman had an official version prepared. Mohammed taught that people (believers) should have a good life, the ruling elite considered that people should serve willingly.
     
Uthman's Rearrangement of the Chronological (as revealed) Koran's Chapters   Chapters (suras) marked by 'abbreviated letters' show how the sequence of the Koran's chapters was changed. The effects of the changes on the record of Mohammed's preaching and teaching are described as are the doctrines of 'Abrogation' and 'Consensus'.
     
Prophet Mohammed's Word of Allah and the Voice of the Ruling Elite   Mohammed's social teachings are stated from chapters (suras) singled out by 'Abbreviated Letters', statements of revelation from compassionate and caring Allah. It seems that some self-seeking doctrines were added later by the ruling elite of that time.
     
Muslims and Jews   Includes a comprehensive summary table of the struggles of the Muslims while Mohammed was alive, including their conflicts with the Jewish Medinan clans. The conclusions are directly relevant to understanding present tensions and conflicts within Islam.


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References

{1}   Introduction to the Qur'an
Richard Bell
Edinburgh University Press
1958
     
{2}   The Arabs
Peter Mansfield
Penguin Books
Third edition, 1992
     
{3}   Muhammad
Maxime Rodinson
Tauris Parke Paperbacks
1971, 2002
ISBN 1 86064 827 4
     
{4}   Islamic Philosophy and Theology: An extended Survey
W. Montgomery Watt
Edinburgh University Press
2nd Edition 1985, 1995
ISBN 0 7486 0749 8
     
{5}   Tune into the "new conscience of Islam"
Sophie Boukhari interviewing Abdou Filali-Ansari
Unesco Courier
November 2001



RELEVANT SUBJECT INDEX PAGES


Other Subjects; Other Publications


The Site Overview page has links to all individual Subject Index Pages which between them list the works by Manfred Davidmann which are available on the Internet, with short descriptions and links for downloading.

To see the Site Overview page, click Overview

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Copyright    ©    Manfred Davidmann    2003
All rights reserved worldwide.