Section 6



Section 6


Yathreb or Medina

It remains to conclude this sketch by a notice of YATHREB or MEDINA.

Aboriginal and Jewish settlers

According to Arab legend, the whole of this part of Arabia belonged originally to the Amalekites, in whom we recognize the Abrahamic races of other than Israelitish descent; but it was invaded by the Jews, and Yathreb (so called after the Amalekite chief), passed, like Kheibar and other neighbouring places, into their hands. Wild tales, borrowed from the Jewish Scriptures or Tradition, profess to explain the cause of the Jewish invasion; the times of Moses, of Joshua, of Samuel, and of David, are various writers adopted with equal assurance and equal probability.

The student of history may be content with a more modern date. The inroads of Nebuchadnezzar, and his sack of Jerusalem; the attack of Pompey sixty-four years before the Christian era, with that of Titus seventy years after it; and the bloody retribution inflicted upon the Jews by Hadrian, 136 A.D., are some of the later causes which we know dispersed the Jews, and drove large numbers into Arabia1. Such fugitive Jews were the Nadhir, the Coraitza, and the Caynocaa, who, finding Yathreb to be peopled by a weak race of Codhatite and other Bedouin tribes, incapable of offering much resistance, settled there and built for themselves large and fortified houses2.

Settlement of the Aws and Rhazraj at Medina, A.D. 300

About the year 300 A.D., a party of wandering emigrants, the Azdite clans of AWS and KHAZARAJ3, arrived at Yathreb, and were admitted by alliance to share in the territory. At first week and inferior to the Jews, they began at length to grow in strength and numbers; and as they encroached upon the rich fields and date plantations of the Jews, disputes and enmity sprang up between them. The new comers, headed by MALIK son of Ajlan, chief of the Khazraj, sought and obtained succour from their Syrian brethren, the Bani Ghasaan; and having craftily enticed the principal Jewish chiefs into an enclosed tent, massacred them in cold blood4.

They treacherously supplant the Jews; close of 5th century

The simple Jews, again beguiled into security by a treacherous peace, attended a feast given by their unprincipled foes; and there a second butchery took place, in which they lost the whole of their chief men. Thus, about the close of the fifth century, the Bani Aws and Khazraj became masters of Yathreb, and ejected the Jews from such of their lands as they chose.

Abu Karib lays siege to Medina end of 5th or beginning of 6th century

It was shortly after these events that Yathreb was unexpectedly attacked by a prince called Abu Karib; but whether to punish the Aws and Khazraj for their attack upon the Jews, or for what other cause, is not very apparent5. The invader sent for the four chief personages of the Bani Aws6 ; and they, expecting to be invested with the command of Yathreb, repaired forthwith to his camp at Ohod7, where three were put to death. The fourth escaped to his defenced house, and there defied the efforts of the treacherous prince. This was OHAIHA, who became chief of the Bani Awn, as Malik was of the Bani Khazraj. Abu Karib prosecuted his attack, destroyed the date plantations, and brought his archery to bear upon the fortified houses8, in which the stumps of the arrows then shot were visible in the early days of Islam. At last, falling sick, or despairing of success, he made peace with the Aws and Khazraj, and departed. As he left, he made river the provisions and baggage of his camp to a woman who bad supplied him with sweet water from Yathreb: she thus became the richest female in her tribe, and (which seems almost incredible) survived until the rise of Islam9.

Enmity between the Aws and Khazraj; beginning of 6th century

The Bani Aws and Khazraj, thus established in power, did not long remain on terms of mutual amity. The fifth century had hardly expired, when disputes arose on the relative dignity of Ohaiha and Malik, and on the amount of blood-line to be paid for the murder of an adherent of the latter.

Conciliation, 520-525 A.D.

Battles were fought, and for twenty or thirty years a constant enmity prevailed10. At last the father (according to some the grandfather) of Hassan the poet, being elected umpire, decided in favour of the Awsites, though himself a Kharrajite; and, to prevent farther dispute, paid the disputed portion of the fine11.

Hostilities again break out 538 A.D.

The peace thus secured continued for a long series of years. But in 583 A.D., hostilities again broke out. The ostensible cause was the murder of a Khazrajite, or of a Jew under Khazrajite protection. For some time the discord was confined to clubs and lampoons12. In process of time it became more serious. The Bard Khazraj defeated their opponents, slew one of their chiefs Suweid ibn Samit 13 and expelled an Awsite tribe from the city. Bloody encounters ensued. Each party looked for succour to the Jews, but they declared for neither; and the Khazrajites, to secure their neutrality, took forty of their children as hostages. Instigated by a rare barbarity, some of the Khazraj chiefs murdered their hostages14, and thus decided the Jews of the Coreitza and Nadhir tribes, to side at once with the Bani Aws, and to receive with open arms their expelled tribe. Both sides now prepared vigorously for a decisive battle. The Bani Aws sought for aid from the Coreish at Mecca, who declined to war against the Khazrajites15 ; but they gained reinforcements from two Ghassanite tribes, from the Mozeina16, and from their Jewish allies the Coreitra and Nadhir. The Bani Khazraj were supported by the Joheina17, a Codhaite tribe, the Bani Ashja, a branch of the Ghatafan, and by the Jewish stock of Caynocaa.

The battle of Boath, A.D. 616

In the year 615 A.D.18 these forces were marshalled against each other, and there was fought the memorable action of Boath19. At first the Awsites, struck with terror, fled towards the valley of Oraidh20. Their chief Hodheir al Ketaib, in indignation and despair, pierced himself and fell21. At this sight the Bani Aws, impelled by shame, returned to the charge and fought with such determination that they dispersed the Khazraj and their allies with great slaughter; and refrained from the carnage only when checked by their cry for mercy. They burned down their date plantations, and were with difficulty restrained from razing to the ground their fortified houses.

Continued ill feeling till the arrival or Mahomet

The Khazraj were humbled and enfeebled, but not reconciled. No open engagement after this occurred; but numerous assassinations from time to time gave token of the existing ill-blood. Wearied with the dissensions, both parties were about to choose


Abdallah ibn Obey, the most distinguished of the Bani Khazraj, as their chief or king, when the advent of Mahomet produced an unexpected change in the social relations of Medina.

Position of the Peninsula with reference to the advent of Mahomet

The survey which we have thus taken of the peninsula and its border states, will aid us in forming a judgment of the relations in which Arabia stood towards her coming Prophet.

Subdivision and independence of Arab tribe, a formidable obstacle to union

The first peculiarity which attracts attention is the subdivision of the Arabs into innumerable independent bodies, all governed by the same code of honour and morals, exhibiting the same manners, speaking for the most part the same language, but possessed of no cohesive principle; restless, and generally at war amongst themselves; and, even where united by blood or by interest, ever ready on the most insignificant cause to separate and abandon themselves to an implacable hostility. Thus the retrospect of Arabian history exhibits, like a kaleidoscope, an ever varying scene of atomic combination and repulsion, such as had hitherto rendered abortive every attempt at a general union. The Kinda Government, though backed by the powerful dynasty of Yemen, fell to pieces after a brief duration; and neither the Himyar sovereigns, nor after them the court of him, could effect more than the casual recognition of a general feudal supremacy. The freedom of Arabia from foreign conquest was owing not only to the difficulties of its parched and pathless wilds, but to the endless array of isolated clans, and the absence of any head or chief power which might be made the object of subjugation. The problem had yet to be determined, by what force these tribes could be subdued, or drawn to one common ceatre; and it was solved by Mahomet, who struck out a political system of his own, universally acceptable because derived from elements common to all Arabia; vigorous, because based upon the energy of a new religious life; rapidly and irrepressibly expansive, because borne forward by the inducements, irresistible to an Arab, of endless war and plunder.

Small prospect of religious reform

The prospects of Ante-Mahometan Arabia were as unfavourable to the hope of religious reform as of political union or national regeneration. The foundation of Arab faith was a deep-rooted idolatry, which for centuries had stood proof, with no palpable symptom of decay, against zealous evangelization from Egypt and Syria.

Christianity neutralized by Judaism

Several causes increased the insensibility of Arabia to the Gospel. A broad margin of hostile Judaism neutralized upon the northern frontier the efforts of Christian propagandism, and afforded shelter to the paganism of the centre or the Peninsula. The connexions of the Jews extended far into the interior, and were supported towards the south by the powerful Jewish settlement in Yemen, which was long protected by the Abyssinian government, and at times even sought to proselytize the tribes of Arabia.

Psuedo combination with Judaical legend strengthened the idolatry of Arabia

But worse than this, the idolatry of Mecca had formed a compromise with Judaism and had admitted enough of its semi-scriptural legends, and perhaps of its tenets also, to steel the national mind against the appeal of Christianity. Idolatry, simple and naked, is comparatively powerless against the attacks of reason and the Gospel; but, joined and aided by some measure of truth, it can maintain its ground against the most urgent efforts of human persuasion. To advance the authority of Abraham for the worship of the Kaaba, and vaunt his precious legacy of divinely inculcated rites, would be a triumphant reply to the invitations either of Judaism or of Christianity. Moreover, the Christianity of the seventh century was itself decrepit and corrupt. It was disabled by contending schisms, and had substituted the puerilities of a debasing superstition, for the pure and expansive faith of the early ages. What could be hoped under these circumstances from such an agent?

Unsettled frontier to the North unfavourable to the progress of Christianity

The state of Northern Arabia, long the battle-field of Persia and the Empire, was peculiarly unfavourable to Christian effort. Alternately swept by the armies of the Chosroes and of Constantinople, of Hira and of the Ghassanides, the Syrian frontier presented little opportunity for the advance of peaceful Christianity.

Habits of the Arabs opposed to Christianity

The vagrant habits of the Nomads themselves eluded the stedfast importunity of Missionary endeavour; while their haughty temper and revengeful code equally refused submission to the humble and forgiving precepts of Christian morality. Not that a nominal adhesion to Christianity, as to any other religion, might not be obtained without participation iii its spirit or subjection to its moral requirements; but such a formal submission could have resulted alone from the political supremacy of a Christian power, not from the spiritual suasion of a religious agency. Let us enquire then what political inducements bore upon Arabia from without.

Political influence of Christianity from without

To the North, we find that Egypt and Syria, representing the Roman Empire, exercised at the best but a remote and foreign influence upon Arabian affairs; and even that limited influence was at this period continually neutralized by the victories and antagonism of Persia.

1. From the North

The weight of Constantinople, if ever brought to bear directly upon the affairs of Arabia, was but lightly and transiently felt22. The kingdom of Ghassan, upon the borders of Syria, was indeed at once Arab and Christian, but it yielded to Hira the palm of supremacy, and never exercised any important bearing on the affairs and policy of Central Arabia.

From the North-east

If we turn to the North-east, we observe, it is true, that the prospects of Christianity had improved by the conversion of the Court at Hira with many of its subordinate tribes; and the influence of Hira permeated Arabia. But Hira itself was the vassal of Persia; and its native dynasty, lately fallen, had been replaced by a Satrap from the Court of Persia, a strong opponent of Christianity. The relations of Pagan Persia with the Arabs were through the channel of Hira, uninterrupted, intimate, effective, and entirely counter-balanced those of the Christian West.

From the South

To the South, Christianity had suffered an important loss. The prestige of a Monarchy-though it was but an Abyssinian one-was gone; and in its room there also had arisen a Persian Satrapy, under the shadow of which the ancient Himyar idolatry, and once royal Judaism, flourished apace23.

From the East

On the East there was indeed the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia, but it was divided from Arabia by the Red Sea; and the negro race, even if brought into closer contact, could never have exercised much influence upon the Arab mind.

The Peninsula presented no prospect of any hopeful change

Thus the Star of Christianity was not in the ascendant: nay, in some respects it was declining. There was no hope of a change from the aid of political supremacy, apart from such aid, the presence of an influential Judaism, and almost universal submission to the national idolatry, rendered the conversion of Arabia a doubtful and a distant prospect. During the youth of Mahomet, the aspect of the Peninsula was strongly conservative; perhaps it was never at any period more hopeless.

The writer questions the position that Arabia was prepared for a change

It is a ready failing of the human mind, after the occurrence of an event, to conclude that the event could not in any other way have occurred.

Mahomet arose, and forthwith the Arabs were aroused to a new and a spiritual faith. hence the conclusion has been drawn that all Arabia was fermenting for the change; that all Arabia was prepared to adopt it; that the Arabs were on the very point of striking out for themselves the ready path to truth, which Mahomet anticipated, but anticipated only by a few years at most24. To us, calmly reviewing the past, every inference from pre-islamite history runs counter to such a deduction. After five centuries of Christian evangelization, we can point to but a sprinkling here and there of Christian converts ; - the Bani Harith of Najran; the Bani Hanifa of Yemama: some of the Bani Tay at Tayma; and hardly any more25.

It was obstinately fixed in the profession of idolatry

Judaism, vastly more powerful, had exhibited a spasmodic effort of proselytism under Dzu Nowas; but, as an active and converting agent, the Jewish Faith was no longer operative. In fine, viewed thus in a religious aspect, the surface of Arabia had been now and then gently rippled by the feeble efforts of Christianity; the sterner influences of Judaism had been occasionally visible in a deeper and more troubled current: but the tide of indigenous idolatry and of Ishmaelite superstition, setting from every quarter with an unbroken and unebbing surge towards the Kaaba, gave ample evidence that the faith and worship of Mecca held the Arab mind in a thraldom, rigorous and undisputed.

Still, large material for the religions enquire; ready prepared by Judaism and Christianity

Yet, even amongst a people thus enthralled, there existed elements which a master mind, seeking the regeneration of Arabia, might work upon. Christianity was well known; living examples of it there were amongst the native tribes; the New Testament was respected, if not reverenced, as a book that claimed to be divine; in most quarters it was easily accessible, and some of its facts and doctrines were admitted without dispute. The tenets of Judaism were even more notorious, and its legends, if not its sacred writings, were familiar throughout the Peninsula. The worship of Mecca was founded upon patriarehnl traditions believed to be common both to Christianity and Judaism. Here then was ground on which the spiritual fulcrum might be planted; here was a wide field already conceded by the enquirer, at least in close connection with the truth, inviting scrutiny and improvement. And, no doubt, many an Arab heart, before Mahomet, responded to the voice, casually heard it may be, of Christianity and or Judaism: many an honest Bedouin spirit confessed of the law that it was just and good: many an aspiring intellect, as the eye travelled over the bespangled expanse of heaven, concluded that the Universe was supported by one great being; and in time of need, many an earnest soul accepted with joy the Christian Sacrifice. Coss, Bishop of Najran, was not the first, nor perhaps the most eloquent and earnest, of Arab preachers, who sought to turn his fellows from the error of their ways, and reasoned with them of Righteousness, Truth, and the Judgment to come.

It was Mahomet who worked the material into shape

The MATERIAL for a great change was here. But it required to be wrought; and Mahomet was die WORKMAN. The fabric of Islam no more necessarily grew out of the state of Arabia, than a gorgeous texture grows from the slender meshes of silken filament; or the stately ship from unhewn timber of the forest; or the splendid palace from rude masses of quarried rock. Had Mahomet, stern to his early convictions, followed the leading of Jewish and Christian truth, and inculcated upon his fellows their simple doctrine, there would have been a "SAINT MAHOMET" - more likely perhaps a "MAHOMET THE MARYR" -laying the foundation stone of the Arabian Church. But then (so far as human probabilities and analogy indicate) Arabia would not, certainly in his day, have been convulsed to its centre, or even any considerable portions of it converted. He abandoned his early convictions; for the uncompromising severity of inflexible principle, he substituted the alluring designs of expediency and compromise; and then, with consummate skill, he devised a machinery, by the plastic power and adaptive energy of which, he gradually shaped the broken and disconnected masses of the Arab race into an harmonious whole, - a body politic endowed with life and vigour. To the Christian, he was as a Christian; -- to the Jew he became as a Jew -- to the Meccan idolator, as a reformed worshipper of the Kaaba. And thus, by unparalleled art, and a rare supremacy of mind, he persuaded the whole of Arabia, Pagan, Jew, and Christian, to follow his steps with docile submission26.

Such a process is that of the workman shaping his material. It is not that of the material shaping its own form, much less (as some would hold) moulding the workman himself. It was Mahomet that formed Islam: it was not Islam, or any pre-existing moslem spirit, that moulded Mahomet.

The Life of Mahomet, Volume I [Table of Contents]