History of Mohammed and the Qur'an
Mohammedís early life in the Arabian Peninsula is a story of tragedy and struggle. He was born around AD 570. His father, Abd-Allah, died before he was born. Allah was a part of his fatherís name because that was the name of the primary deity of his clan. Amina, Mohammedís mother, followed an old Arab custom of giving the infant to a Bedouin woman to be nursed for a significant period of time. When he was six years old, his mother died. To be an orphan in sixth century Mecca was a sad situation. Abu-Talib, the head of the impoverished Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe and Mohammedís uncle, was given charge of the boy. He grew up in the midst of violent conflicts between individuals and tribes.
Marriage Marred by Death
One of the ways a person in Mohammedís position could gain wealth and power would be to marry well. A forty-year-old businesswoman named Khadijah decided to marry the twenty-five-year-old Mohammed if he proved himself responsible by acting as her agent on a caravan to Syria. She had been married twice before. Until her death, Khadijah was Mohammedís only wife. They raised four daughters but their two sons died in infancy. In spite of his influential wife, Mohammed struggled to gain respect from the merchants in Mecca who excluded him from their inner circle. It is possible that this is one factor that led him to seek spiritual help.
Mohammed found the Arabian religious life more troubling than helpful. The Christians of the Roman and Byzantine empires dominated much of the world and had gained converts in Arabia. Even Khadijahís cousin, Waraqah, had become a Christian. There were also wealthy Jewish tribes in the Arabian Peninsula, yet the main religion of the country and the faith of Mohammedís tribe was idol worship.
Mecca was the center of this polytheistic religion of which Mohammed belonged. These pagans prayed by facing Mecca. They traveled to Mecca for annual pilgrimages. There they would enter an arena (Masjid) where they circled around an ancient stone building 45 feet high, 33 feet wide, and 50 feet long, called the Kaaba, which was filled with idols. A black stone could be seen from the outside of the Kaaba like a cornerstone. The stone or meteorite was kissed in veneration. About one mile away from the Kaaba, at the Wadi Mina, the pilgrims threw rocks at a pillar that represented the devil. They believed in a lunar month of fasting and giving alms to the poor.
When Mohammed seized control of Mecca, he destroyed all the idols inside the Kaaba, except the revered black stone. However, he preserved each of these pagan practices and today they remain a significant part of the Islamic monotheistic rituals. This certainly made conversion to Islam easier for the people of Mohammedís day. Many of todayís Muslims, though, have trouble following these rituals while still keeping pace with a highly technological society. The vast majority of Muslims also live far from Saudi Arabia where they must go for their pilgrimage, which becomes a great financial burden to them.
Mohammedís distressing situation culminated in reported spiritual experiences. For reasons of his own, Mohammed began to meditate in wilderness caves. He claimed that it was during one of these times that he was visited by a spiritual being which commanded him to recite a few sentences. Later, Mohammed believed he was being demon possessed and tried to kill himself but then again claimed to be rescued by another spiritual appearance, which assured him of his prophethood.
According to Muslim history, Mohammed continued to receive messages. He recited them to his followers who wrote them on any objects available such as rocks or bones. These messages came as Mohammed had episodes in which he would seem to have seizures. In the midst of these spells, Mohammed spoke as if Allah were speaking instead of him. He claimed that his spiritual guide, whom he later identified as the angel Gabriel, funneled messages through his poetic revelations. The Qur'an makes it clear that most Christians and Jews of that time believed this behavior to be either insanity or demonic. At first the sayings were short, but later in his life they became quite lengthy.
Decade of Rejection
The Qur'an has a certain poetic quality which Muslims believe is miraculously beautiful. Even so, the vast majority of Mohammedís contemporaries did not believe Mohammedís verses to be extraordinary since the Arabian Peninsula was famous for its many poets and mystic seers. This fact is attested to in the Qur'an itself.
Aside from the writing style, the content of the message was offensive to the idol worshipers of Mecca. Mohammed was reciting verses that announced that Allah was the one and only deity. His message condemned idol worship, upon which the Meccan economy relied.
As a result, Mohammed gained a very small following in the first ten years of his self-proclaimed prophethood. Even his tribe turned against him which was unheard of in an age when clan loyalty was the foundation of the culture.
When Mohammed sought to transfer his movement to a town called At-Taif the leaders ended the negotiations with such strong opposition that they encouraged the residents of the community to throw stones at Mohammed as he retreated.
The Meccans were plotting to take Mohammedís life so relocation to a different place was essential. Negotiations with the town of Medina went much better than those at At-Taif. Medina was a prosperous agricultural center that struggled with tribal friction. Some in Medina hoped that the presence of the Muslims would bring a spiritual sense of peace and Mohammed was invited to come as an arbitrator of disputes. Just before the Meccans tried to execute their plan to kill Mohammed, he and his small group of believers fled to Medina where his community of followers began to grow in influence and power. The first day of this move was July 1, AD 622. Muslims cite this date as the first day of the Islamic calendar.
Shortly after the migration, the Islamic religion turned to violence as a means of dealing with their enemies. Mohammed proclaimed verses that allowed Muslims to fight for Islam. They began by targeting the Meccans. The Muslims raided caravans in the name of Allah, which eventually led to formal battles between them and the armed forces of Mecca. The fighting expanded to include those who supported Mecca. The Muslims began to acquire riches in the way of spoils of war.
The Muslims were experiencing success. The fact that they were now a military force unified their ranks and increased their membership. The Muslimís influence over the tribes of Medina grew as their enemies began to fear them.
For example, there were three Jewish tribes in Medina. All three rejected Mohammed as a genuine prophet in the tradition of the Biblical prophets. This must have been a great disappointment to Mohammed as the Qur'an claims to be an extension of the Bible. There is no evidence that they took military action against the Muslims, but Mohammed attacked them one at a time. The first two, Banu Qaynuqah and Nadir, were forced into exile. The Islamic forces confiscated their homes, lands and rich orchards. The last remaining Jewish tribe in Medina was the Banu Qurayzah. Mohammedís forces surrounded the Banu Qurayzah. The siege was a success. Upon surrendering all of their weapons they received a sentence which was severe even for those times. The Muslims executed all the Jewish men, somewhere between 600 and 900, and their women and children became the slaves of their Muslim conquerors or were sold. Mohammed was in charge of distributing their riches. Mohammed also took one of their widows, Rayhana, whose husband had just been executed, to be his concubine.
The soldiers of Mecca met the Muslim forces in battles at Badr and Uhud. At the Battle of Uhud in AD 625, Mohammed himself was wounded in the head so severely that a mistaken cry went out that he was dead. The battle was a draw, but for the Muslims to have faced the Meccans and survived was, in a sense, some kind of victory.
Eventually, Muslim forces became strong enough that Mecca agreed to a peace treaty with Mohammed called the treaty of ďAl-HudaybiyahĒ in March AD 628. It was to have insured peace for ten years. The mistake the Meccans made in the treaty was to allow Mohammed the freedom to attack neighboring tribes who were not protected by the truce. Mohammed also allowed raids to continue on Meccan caravans by groups whom he claimed were not members of his forces. They were allegedly operating beyond Mohammedís control.
The Treaty was broken only two years after it was ratified. There are differing reasons for how the truce was ended, but the outcome is history. Mohammed claimed that the Al-Hudaybiyah Peace Treaty had been broken by the Meccans. His Islamic forces invaded and conquered Mecca in January AD 630.
Following Mohammedís death, the Islamic military victories in northern Africa, Europe and the Middle East certainly added to the spread of the religion as did international trade with Asian countries. The Muslimís use of violence against their enemies, as a part of their religious duty called ďjihadĒ or ďholy war,Ē is still widely practiced around the world into the new millennium for self-defense and to enhance Islamic power and influence. The question Muslims face is how and when jihad should be practiced.
Mohammed had tremendous wealth and power at the age of sixty. His rise to prominence in Medina and the Muslimís eventual victory over Mecca brought Mohammed into complete control over an expanding domain. He was revered as the voice of Allah. He controlled the fate and property of those who opposed Islam. Many Jewish and Christian communities were allowed some freedom of worship as long as they paid taxes to Mohammed, submitted to Islamic tyranny and stopped sharing their faith in order to evangelize others.
The respect given to him was so great that even to this day his opinions on rules for conduct, dress, daily habits and even beard style are held as examples to follow around the world. Mohammedís opinions and the history of his rise to power are recorded in writings called the ďhadithĒ. The Hadith is not one volume but rather a large number of texts compiled several hundred years after the time of Mohammed. The most respected of these is the collection called ďSahih Al-Bukhari.Ē It details the rules Mohammed gave for daily life, boasts of Mohammedís exploits and offers the faithful Muslim a guide for daily life.
For one who had to prove himself worthy to marry a wealthy widow, Mohammed now had numerous female relationships. Following the death of Khadijah, Mohammed had approximately sixteen wives plus slave girls who were captured in battle. Upon his death Mohammed had nine wives still living and two slave girls. Two of his more controversial marriages were to Ayisha and Zainab. Ayisha was wed to Mohammed when she was only six years old with the marriage being consummated when she was still playing with toys at the age of nine. At the time, Mohammed was fifty-three years old. Zainab was his adopted sonís ex-wife. Muslim history seems clear that Zainab was divorced because Mohammed desired his sonís bride.
Criticisms of Mohammedís behavior were often countered by Mohammedís proclamations of Qur'an verses. In this way, it was as if Allah defended Mohammedís conduct. Verses were also spoken by Mohammed to instruct his wives and the general public on how they must behave towards him. Muslims believe these commands and all of the verses spoken by Mohammed were collected in the text of the Qur'an.
The Qur'an Becomes a Book
Shortly after Mohammedís death, his verses remained written on stones, bones, leather, and hidden in the memories of his followers. Years passed and most of those, who claimed to remember all of the Qur'an by heart, were killed in battle. Some of the items on which verses were written were damaged or lost. So with great urgency experts shared what they remembered and gathered the verses recorded by others to produce the first Qur'ans. They were copied and distributed throughout the Islamic communities.
Muslims today are committed to the idea that there was one original Qur'an which was compiled without any mistakes, omissions or additions. Yet, Islamic history shows that perhaps four to seven different versions of the Qur'an emerged. One of Mohammedís successors, Caliph Uthman, was shocked by this fact. He assigned a committee of three people to construct a standardized version of the Qur'an. Then Muslim leaders tried to burn all other versions of the Qur'an (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 6, p. 479).
The most respected Hadith records that even Uthmanís standardized copy had to be corrected. One of the committee members, Zaid, related how they realized that a verse was missing. They searched and found it with a man named Khuzaima-bin-Thabit al Ansari. Tradition says that the passage which was added to the standardized version is found in chapter thirty-three, verse twenty-three of the modern Qur'an (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 6, p. 479). Even with the addition of that passage, there are less reliable Islamic traditions which report that verses were left out of the Uthman standardized Qur'an. It was reported that Mohammed recited verses for the Qur'an that commanded stoning of adulterers (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p. 684). This teaching is not found in the Qur'an today.
The possibility of missing verses, which command stoning of adulterers, is supported by Islamic practice. From the very foundation of Islam, adulterers have always been stoned, yet Uthmanís standardized Qur'an demands that adulterers be whipped with one hundred lashes (24:2).
The vast majority of Muslims are strongly offended by scholars who suggest that the Qur'an was edited, changed or was in any way different from the original pronouncements of Allah through Mohammed. They believe that the burned Qur'ans had only minor differences and that the standard copy, blessed by Caliph Uthman, was made by devout followers of Mohammed who had memorized the verses with unerring perfection. They would reject the traditions that imply any deficiencies in the Qur'an as unreliable Islamic history. They revere the Qur'an as the perfect word of Allah and resist critical scholarly inquiry into imperfections in the text.
Attributes of the Qur'an
The physical characteristics of the Qur'an are interesting. It is a book that is somewhat shorter than the Christian New Testament. Its chapters were not arranged in the sequence that they were spoken, but by size with most of the largest chapters first and the shortest last. For this reason, it has no chronology of events or ideas. The Koran, published by Penguin Classics, attempts to correct this by rearranging the chapters according to when they might have been recited by Mohammed.
Following the train of thought within a chapter is a challenge. The subject within a chapter and even a verse may change to different topics with no transition. This is why a topical study, like the one in this book, is so important.
When Mohammed spoke the verses, he did not use the first person singular as in ďI say that you must believe.Ē He spoke as if he were relaying a message from Allah, transmitted by an angel, who was supposed to have spoken in the first person plural: ďWe created the world and we command the people to believe in you (Mohammed) as a prophet,Ē for example. Muslims do not believe that the use of ďweĒ for Allah is a contradiction of the oneness of Allah.
Mohammed spoke Arabic which is the language of the Qur'an. Even Muslims who do not understand the language are instructed to memorize the Qur'an in Arabic. They do this because they believe that the Qur'an stops being the true Qur'an when it is translated into another language losing the true meaning in the process.
Teachings of the Qur'an
A few themes repeat themselves often in the Qur'an. The foremost are the commands to believe in Allahís oneness as opposed to idolatry and Mohammedís validity as a prophet equal to Biblical prophets. In support of these beliefs, the Qur'an repeats the wonders of creation, the foolishness of idol worship, the terrors of Judgment Day and the alleged confirmation from the Bible.
The word ďallegedĒ is used in reference to the Qur'anís link with the Bible for a good reason. When the Jews and Christians of the time heard the Qur'anís references to the Bible, they recognized two problems. They found many strange tales being portrayed as Biblical stories. One example is King Solomon communicating with ants and birds. This was one reason Mohammed lacked the support he expected from the other monotheistic faiths. The second was that the theology of the Qur'an contradicted the Bible. The Qur'an claimed to agree with the Gospel of Jesus Christ while denying the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and salvation through the cross and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
To persuade readers to believe and obey the teachings of the Qur'an, several incentives are reiterated in the text. Earthly rewards are extended such as victory in battle and the spoils of war which come from fighting for the cause of Islam. After death, there are promises of sensual pleasures in the Gardens of Paradise contrasted with the many horrors of hell.
There are five basic pillars of Islam which Muslims highlight as being taught by the Qur'an and their sacred history books called the Hadith. They include the confession that Allah is one and Mohammed is a prophet (Kalima), prayer facing Mecca five times each day (Salat), alms giving (Zakat), a month of fasting during the daylight hours practiced annually (Ramadan), and a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a Muslimís life (Hajj).