Biography of Mohammed

MOHAMMED (Arab. "the Praised"), the name taken at a later period by the founder of Islam. He was originally called Halabi. He was born about the year 570, A.D., at Mecca, and was the son of Abdallah, of the family of Hashini; and of Amina, of the family of Zuhra, both of the powerful tribe of Koreish, but of a side branch only, and therefore of little or no importance. His father, a poor merchant, died either before or shortly after Mohammed's birth. When six years old he also lost his mother. His grandfather, Abd-Al-Mutallib, adopted the boy; and when, two years later, he too died, Mohammed's uncle, Abu Talib, though poor himself, took him into his house, and remained his best friend and protector throughout his whole life. The accounts which have survived of the time of his youth are of too legendary a nature to deserve credit; certain, however, it seems to be, that he at first gained a scanty livelihood by tending the flocks of the Meccans, and that he once or twice accompanied his uncle on his journeys to Southern Arabia and Syria. In his 25th year he entered the service of a rich widow named Chadidja, likewise descended from the Koreish, and accompanied her caravans to the fairs. Up to that time his circumstances were poor. Suddenly his fortune changed. The wealthy, but much older and twice widowed Chadidja offered him her hand which he accepted. Mohammed continued his merchant trade at Mecca, but without much energy, spending most of his time in solitary contemplation. He was 40 years of age when he is said to have received the first divine communication in the solitude of the mountain Hira, near Mecca. He said that Gabriel appeared to him, and in the name of God commanded him to "read" - that is, to preach the true religion, and to spread it abroad by committing it to writing. The writings are contained in the "Koran." Waraka, one of his wife's relatives, who had embraced Judaism, spoke to him of the Jewish doctrine, and told him the story of the patriarchs of Israel.

The fundamental doctrine of the Koran is contained in the two articles of belief: "There is no God but Allah; and Mohammed is his prophet." The Islamic doctrine of God's nature and attributes coincides with the Christian, insofar as he is by both taught to be the Creator of all things in heaven and earth, who rules and preserves all things, without beginning, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and full of mercy. But it differs in that Jesus is only a prophet and apostle, although his birth is said to be due to a miraculous, divine operation.

His first revelation he communicated to no one it would appear, except to Chadidja, his daughters, his stepson Ali, his favorite slave Zaid, and to his friend, the prudent and honest Abu Beker. In the fourth year of his mission, however, he made forty proselytes, chiefly slaves and people from the lower ranks; and now first some verses were revealed to him, commanding him to come forward publicly as a preacher, and to defy the scorn of the unbelievers. The Meccans did not object to his doings; they considered him a common "poet" or "soothsayer," who, moreover, was not in his right senses, or simply a liar. Gradually, however, as the number of his converts increased, they began to pay more and more attention to his proceedings; and finally, fearing mostly for the sacredness of Mecca, which the new doctrine might abolish, thus depriving them of their chief glory, and the ample revenues of the pilgrimages, they rose in fierce opposition against the new prophet and his adherents who dared "to call their ancient gods idols, and their ancestors fools." At last it became necessary that he should be put beyond the reach of his persecutors, and Abu Talib hid him in a fortified castle of his own in the country. Mohammed now conceived the plan to seek refuge in the friendly city of Medina, and about 622 (ten, thirteen or fifteen years - according to the different traditions - after his first assuming the sacred office) he fled thither, about one hundred families of his faithfull having preceeded him some time before, accompanied by Abu Bekr, and reached, not without danger, the town, called thence "City of the Prophet" by way of eminence; and from this flight or rather from the next month of the Arabic year, dates the Muslim Era (Hegira). Now everything was changed to the advantage of the prophet and his religion; and if formerly the incidents of his life are shrouded in comparative obscurity, they are from this date, known often to their most insignificant details. Formerly a despised "madman or imposter," he now assumed at once the position of highest judge, law-giver, and ruler of the city and two most powerful tribes. The most important act in the first year of the Hegira, was his permission to go to war with the enemies of Islam in the name of God - a kind of manifesto chiefly directed against the Meccans. A battle, the first, between 314 Muslims and about 600 Meccans, was fought at Badr, in the second year of the Hegira; the former gained the victory and made many prisoners. A large number of adventurers now flocked to Mohammed's colors, and his power increased so rapidly that in the sixth year of the Hegira he was able to proclaim a public pilgrimage to Mecca. His missionaries at this time began to carry his doctrines abroad, to Chosroes, to Heraclius, to the King of Abyssinia, the Viceroy of Egypt, and the chiefs of several Arabic provinces. Some received the new gospel; but Chosru Parvis, the King of Persia, and Amru, the Ghassanide, rejected his proposals with scorn, and the latter had the messenger executed. This was the cause of the first war between the Christians and the Moslems, in which the latter were beaten with great loss by Amru. The Meccans, now thought the long desired moment of revenge at hand, and broke the peace by committing several acts of violence against the Chuzaites, the allies of Mohammed. The latter, however, marched at the head of 10,000 men against Mecca, before its inhabitants had had time to prepare for the siege, took it, and was publicly recognized by them as chief and prophet. With this the victory of the new religion was secured in Arabia.

Towards the close of the 10th year of the Hegira he undertook, at the head of at least 40,000 Muslims, his last solemn pilgrimage to Mecca, and there (on the Mount Arafat) instructed them in all the important laws and ordinances, chiefly of the pilgrimage; and the ceremonies observed by him on that occasion were fixed for all time. He again solemnly exhorted his believers to righteousness and piety, and chiefly recommended them to protect the weak, the poor, and the women, and to abstain from usury.

Returned from Mecca, he occupied himself again with the carrying out of his expedition against Syria, but fell dangerously ill very soon after his return, and died about noon of Monday the 12th of the third month, in the year 11 of the Hegira (8th of June 632).

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