Muhammad Prophet of God

Muhammad Prophet of God - Muhammad, Prophet of God

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Unformatted text preview: Muhammad, Prophet of God °I°ItI°I°IEI°IIEIiiIILIJI-I-Illfllifil‘ ° * 9IEI°rlv1£IVI°I°I°I$I~=I=1<Iu JOHN L. Esrosrro John L. Esposito was born in 1940- in Brooklyn, New York, and was educated at St. John’s University (M.A.), the University of Pennsyl- vania, the Middle East Center for Arab Studies (Lebanon), and Tern- ple University (Ph.D.). He has since taught or lectured at a number of schools both in the United States and abroad, including the Can. ter for the Study of World Religions (Harvard), St. Anthony‘s Col- lege (Oxford), Tel Aviv University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Haifa University, American University of Cairo, Kuwait University, and still others. At present, he is Professor and Director, Center for Muslim—Christian Understanding: HistOry and Intema- tional Affairs, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, George- town University, and serves as president of the American Council for Study of Islamic Literature. Esposito is the author of Women in Muslim Family law and Islam and Politics; the editor of Islam in Asia, Voices of Resurgent Islam, Is- lam and Development; and the coeditor of Islam in Transition. In a concluding passage to Islam: The Straight Path, from which the following selection is also taken, Esposito noted that "one-fifth of the world’s population testifies to the dynamism of Islam and the continued commitment of Muslims to follow 'the straight path, the way of God, to whom belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth’ (4252—53)." History, legend, and Muslim belief portray Muhammad as a remarkable man and prophet. While we know a good deal about Muhammad's life after his "call" to be God’s messenger, historical records tell us little about Muhammad's early yearsprior to becoming a prophet at the age of forty in 610 C.E. The Quran has served as a major source for information regarding the life of the Prophet. In addition, Prephetic traditions (reports about what Muhammad said and did) and biographies give us a picture of his meaning and significance in early Is- lam as do Islamc calligraphy and art, where the names of Allah and Muham- mad often occur side by side--God and His Prophet. Muhammad serves both as God's human instrument in bearing His revelation and as the model or ideal whom all believers should emulate. Thus, understanding Muhairunad and his From Islam: The Straight Path by John L. Esposito. Copyright 0 1988 by Oxford Uni- versity Press, Inc. Reprinted by permission. 400 Muhammad, Prophet of God ' I V 401 ‘ Islamic communi is crucial for an appreciation of the de— Sign): Islam as well astiontemporary Muslim belief and practice. Muhammad ibn Abdullah (the son of Abd Allah) was born in 570 CE. Tcil'a- dition tells us that he was orphaned at a. young age. His father wlals ahtra e: who died before Muhammad was born; his mother, Amma, died w _enMe was only six years old. As a young man, Muhammad was employed inb :cvcan thriving caravan trade. The city was at the crossroads of-trade routes Ie eea the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. Central Arabia was emerging zlsed major commercial power, sitting astride important trade routes that exte; be. _ from Africa across the Middle East to China and Malaysia. -M1;illal:nmdd w came a steward or business manager for the caravans of a we t y 1:“ fig“ , Khadija, whom he subsequently married. Tradition tells us that at t It: i Muhammad was twenty-five years old and Khadila was-forty: tdegtree teen years of marriage, they enjoyed a very close relationship an f :4 uha - sons (who died in infancy) and four daughters. The most famous o edf urnt'lh mad’s surviving children was Fatima, who would marry Ali, the reivgrla o caliph of Sunni Islam and the first legitimate Imam (leader) of Shii s m. .- Mecca was a prosperous center of trade and commerce. 'Yet it a fstoci ety in which traditional tribal ways were strained by Mecca s transrtion a semi—Bedouin to a commercial, urban society. This process was accompanie - by serious economic and social cleavages. Muhammad, who had bececarrlije :Eu; cessful member of Meccan society, was apparently profoundly affect y e. g changes. He enjoyed great respect for his judgment and trustworthiness, meow;- reflected by his nickname al-Amin, the trusted one. rectitu e was W on plemented by a reflective nature that led him to retreat regularly to:l a c: on“ Mt. Hire, a few miles north of Mecca. Here, in long periods of solitu e, e 1.3: in- templated his life and the ills of his society, seeking greater fiafllflg and the sight. Here, at the age of forty during the month of Ramadan, u amma. ht Mus- caravan leader became Muhammad the messenger of God. On thfe nig f mm lims call “The Night of Power and Excellence," he received the us grim; i); revelations from God. A heavenly intermediary, later identifiedg at; the mid the angel Gabriel, commanded, "Recite." Muhammad respond hi htemd nothing to recite. The angel persisted twice more, and each tiinlel a t ga Pi. and bewildered Muhammad pleaded that he did not know w at o s y. nally, the words came to him. ' ' ed man out of a germ- Recrte in the name of your Lord who has created, Creat cell. Recite for your Lord is the Most Generous One Who has taught by the pen, Taught man what he did not know! With this revelation, Muhammad joined that group of indiViduals :30? Semitic faiths acknowledge as divinely inspired messengers or prophet? 0 ct) Muhammad continued to receive divine revelations over a penodft)t M53311 two years (610-32). These messages were finally collected and wri en in the Quran ("The Recitation"), Islam’s sacred scripture. ‘02 Islam ' Mu51irn tradition reports that Muhammad reacted to his “call” much the same as the Hebrew prophets. He was both frightened and reluctant. Fright- ened by the unknown—for surely he did not expect such an experience. Re. luctant, at first, because he feared he was possessed and that» others would use such grounds and dismiss his claims as inspired by spirits, or firms. Despon- dent and confused, Muhammad set out to kill himself but was stopped when he again heard the voice say, “0 Muhammad! You are the messenger of God and lam Gabriel.” This message was reinforced by his wife, Khadija, who re- assured him that he was neither mad nor possessed; the messenger was from God and not a demon. Interestingly, according to Muslim tradition a Christ- ian played an important role as well. One of those whom Khadija and Muham- mad tumed to for advice was her Christian cousin, Waraqa ibn Qusayy. When he heard of Muhammad’s experience, Waraqa reassured him: Surely, by Him in whose hand is Waraqa’s soul, thou art the prophet of this peOple. There hath come unto thee the greatest Namus (angel or Gabriel) who came unto Moses. Like the Hebrew prophets, Thou wilt be called a liar, and they will use the despitefully and cast thee out and fight against thee.l For just such reasons, Muhammad, like many of the prophets before him, was initially reluctant to preach God's message. His fears would be realized. The first ten years of Muhammad’s preaching Were difficult, marked by Meccan resistance and rejection. While there was a trickle of converts, opposi- tion to Muhammad was formidable. For the powerful and prosperous Meccan oligarchy, the monotheistic message of this would-be reformer, with its con- demnation of the socioeconomic inequities of Meccan life, constituted a direct challenge not only to traditional polytheistic religion but also to the power and prestige of the establishment, threatening their economic, social, and political interests. The Prophet denounced false contracts, usury, and the neglect and exploitation of orphans and widows. He defended the rights of the poor and the oppressed, asserting that the rich had an obligation to the poor and dis- possessed. This sense of social commitment and responsibility was institu- tionalized in the form of religious tithes or taxes on wealth and agricultural lands. Like Amos and Jeremiah before him, Muhammad was a "warner" from God who admonished his hearers to repent and obey God, for the final judg- ment was near: Say: "0 men, I am only for you a warner.” Those who believe, and do deeds of righteousness—theirs shall be forgiveness and generous provision. And those who strive against Our signs to avoid them—they shall be inhabitants of Hell (Qurun 22:49u50). Muhammad, Prophet of God 403 Muhammad's rejection of polytheism undermined the religiouELestig‘: of the Meccans (in particular, the Umayyad clan) 1:: kfepgstplfe tESMid;,able ' ' ' housed the tribal idols. It t ea en I reng‘ous Shrme that ' ' e and festival to this central that accrued from the annual pilgrimag- _ _ 2:211:15; of Arabian tribal religion. Thlsbp?ten:i1:l iconpgfiéozsy “[12:13:1- ' ' ' f Meccan tri a po 1ca au led wuh the undermnmg 0 ' hi d his insistence that all ’ ' to to hetic authority and leaders p an I u :3: :éliaelgrs bilolrjiged to a single universal community (umma) that tran scended tribal bonds. Creation of the Islamic Community ' ching God's mes- ars, Muhammad struggled in Mecca, prea - For abnd’St dSEeIYiftg a small band of faithful followers. Among the efargty saEtesavlr‘ei-eg Ali his cousin and son-indaw, and Abu Bakr, his futpiehazflzrand lfw and the first caliph, or successor of. the grophet. Eeésmuy diifjfimu. ' 1 d rotector, Abu Talib, in 61 GE. ma _ - l’vfldlzlcsafcfpjazrs‘itign escalated from derision and garbal ataasltsntgfiiggupgish ' ' from the mayya cution. The core of the opposmon came flex converting to mam at a ' . As we shall see, their descendants, even a d“ St: date, would continue to challengedthe fatimdry‘eoiftlfistr‘plpsivizmAsocgrtihgr ' ' ted in Mecca, Muhamma sen so . . I _ _— 21:: 0:91:33: Christian Abyssinia, for safety. The sfiuauofr; I ' sinvitedb adelegauon om I ‘ fi film:ng miles norlrh of Mecca, to serve as a chéetf V3312“:- tor or judge in a bitter feud between its Arab tribes. Muhaiti'unitlragi22 to Mad- dred of his followers quietly emigrated, from July to Ste/puimmn‘adls, fortunes ina This migration (hijra) marked a turrung point in 151 m tack on ponti- and a new stage in the history of the mmmneunt; Shiite at Medina. The ' ' c co - . cal form Wlth the establishment of I I as the be ‘ I g of the IS- ' ' ' f the hi 'ra is reflected in its adoption . gmmn d, llgn'lfccifidgr. Muslims chose to date their history from nertherfllfiurrjarpirg: 051: 1:12:31 nor his reception of the first revelation 610, but :01: the indiViduaL the Islamic community (umma). The community, ailmuc a was to be the vehicle for realizing God’s Will on ea . Muhammad at Medina amm ‘ ' lement God's governance ' ad had the opportumty to imp - _ _ I _ :fiyiistg‘l; he was now the prophet-head of a rehgiopohtical Commu ’ ’ ' ' ‘ Medina, subduing Mecca, . - {H b establishing his leadership in . ‘ 1 - ELK-cfgliilafix‘fg Muslim rule over the reminder of Arabia through dlp o matic and military means. 404 Islam Muhammad had come to Medina as the arbiter or judge for the entire com- munity, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. In addition, he was the leader of all the Muslims, the commander of the faithful, both those who had emigrated from Mecca (the muhajin'n, emigrants) and those raised in Medina (the ansar, helpers). While the majority of the Arab tribes came to embrace Islam, the Jew~ ish tribes (that is, those Arabs who had previously converted to Judaism) re- mained an important minority. Muhammad promulgated a charter, sometimes called the constitution of Medina, that set out the rights and duties of all citi- zens and the relationship of the Muslim Community (umma) to other commu- nities. Muslims constituted an umma whose primary identity and bond were no longer to be tribal ties but a common religious faith and commitment. Jews were recognized as a separate community allied to the Muslim umma, but with religious and cultural autonomy. As the Medinan state was taking shape, Muhammad also turned his at- tention to Mecca. Mecca was the religious, political, economic, and intellectual center of Arabia. Its importance was not diminished by its hostility to Muham- mad’s preaching. If anything, further revelations to Muhammad, which desig- nated Mecca as the direction (qibla) for prayer and the site for Muslim pil- grimage (hajj), increased its religious significance. Muslim religious fervor was matched by the power of Meccan tribal mores that branded the Muslims as se- cessionists and traitors. All the ingredients Were there for a formidable battle. Muhammad initiated a series of raids against Meccan caravans, threatening both the political authority and the economic power of the Quraysh. Several important battles ensued. In 624 at Badr, near Medina, Muslim forces, though greatly outnumbered, defeated the Meccan army. For Muslims, then and now, the Battle of Badr has special significance. It was the first and a most decisive victory for the forces of monothelsm over those of polytheism, for the army of God over the followers of ignorance and unbelief. God had sanctioned and as- sisted His soldiers (Quran 3:123, 8:42ft) in victory. Quranic witness to divine guidance and intervention made Badr a sacred symbol, and it was used throughout history, as evidenced most recently in the 1973 Egyptian-Israeli war, whose Egyptian code name was "Operation Badr.” The elation after Badr was dissipated when Muslims were defeated by the Meccans in the Battle of Uhud in 625, where Muhammad himself was wounded. Finally, in 627, frustrated by the growing strength of Muhammad, the Meccans mounted an all-out siege of Medina in order to once and for all crush their 0p- position. At the Battle of the "Ditch" (so named because the Muslims dug a trench to neutralize the Meccan cavalry), the Muslims held out so successfully against a coalition of Meccans and mercenary Bedouins that the coalition dis- integrated. The Meccans withdrew. The failure of the Quraysh enhanced Muhammad‘s prestige and leadership among the tribes of Arabia, placing him in the ascendant position. He had consolidated his leadership in Medina, ex- tended his influence over other tribal areas in the Hijaz, and asserted his in- dependence of the then dominant tribe in central Arabia. The balance of power had shifted. Muhammad would now initiate, and Mecca would respond. Muhammad, Prophet of God 405 struggle between Medina and Mecca highlights the . . - loyed both military and [meal emus of Muhammad. He emp I _ “lethOd andmpegns oftgen preferring the latter. Instead .of'seekmg to rout his diploma C nt’s Muhammad sought to gain submlssmn to God and His Meccan oppone I the‘Islamic community-state. A truce meSSenSel' by incorporating them wuhmrmit the Muslims to make their pil- ' 628 at Hudaybiyah to pe . I “infill: gecca the following year. In 629, Muhammad established Muslim ' ' ul d. gntrol over the Hijaz and led the pilgrimage to Mecca, as had been sched e mma aking the treaty, and the ‘ ha d accused the Quraysh of bre . - TMhifg‘lifisfirgaft/tll‘ihd on Mecca, ten thousand strong. The Meccans capitulated ' f uest, the Prophet instead ac- Eschewmg Vengeance and the pluntrslreiraph Wielding the sword toward 1 ent, ranting amnes (32:31:: Ziggies. gFor their part, the Meccans, CO'VGf‘tEd t0 15131“: 3‘?“th Muhammad’s leadership, and were incorporated Within thigmmzl-‘mfity over During the next two years, Muhammad eStabélsfhe‘tied mizmy At the . - ' re e ea - much of Arabia. The Bedouins who resistEd we “5 to come to terms With the same time, so many tribes in Arabia sent delesaho rlod as the - ‘ remembers this PE successor to the QmaYSh that Mmhfgrtg‘esd?rv)\:'hile many converted to Islam. year Of deputafions- Alliances were sent from Medina to teach the Quran and ' t. Re resentatives were i I 3:22:33: 3221 rituals of Islam, and to collect the taxes due Medina. In the sprmg f 632 Muhammad led the pilgrimage to Mecca, where the sixty-two-year—old loeader, preached his farewell sermon, exhortmg his followers. The final phase in the ' other Moslem, and that Know ye that every Moslem is a brother unto every y one of you, therefore, .Itisnotl ’timateforan ' H l: :1. e xgfizgefifdhm anything etfilfl belongs to his brother unless it is willififigly given him by that brother.2 ummarlze ' ' he ac— ‘ f the Islarruc community and t These words 5 be: $123111: When he died three months later 1i hm nt of the Proph igrjnulheSGSZf all Arabia was united under the banner of Islam. Y k: St. 2Ibn l-Iisham as quoted in Philip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs, 9th ed. (New or Martin's Press, 1966), p. 120. ...
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Muhammad Prophet of God - Muhammad, Prophet of God

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