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hammed avoided that thorny matter till it became
politic for him to quarrel with Christians. The part
which is likely to have been read before the King is
an innocent reproduction of statements current in
Christian books, with some touches from the Proph-
et's fancy ; the story that Christ spoke in the cradle
is likely to have been known in Abyssinia, and, even
if heard for the first time, would have given no of-
fence. We cannot well believe that Ja'far translated
this Surah, which derives so much of its beauty from
the rhyme, into another language ; hence we fancy
the Abyssinian audience must have been able to
guess at the meaning of a tale in a dialect so closely
allied to their own.

When Moslems began to persecute Christians,
they were doubtless taunted with the memory of
this timely help, whereby the early community had
been saved from destruction. Fictions were then
excogitated showing how the Negus had been, not a
Christian, but a follower of Islam. On the analogy
of similar scenes we should suppose that the envoys
of Mohammed urged the Negus to take an active
part in suppressing paganism, reminding him of the
Abyssinian rule in South Arabia, a fact which gave
him some sort of title to the country ; and that the

1 6 2 Mo ha mmed

idea of regaining this ancient possession was what led
him to favour the Meccan insurgents.

An important event, the conversion of Omar, is
placed about the time of the first secession.* This
man was some ten years the Prophet's junior, a
famous horseman and of herculean strength ; like
Hamzah he was addicted to wine ; in his youth he
had suffered from extreme povertyf; like the rest of
the Meccans he was engaged in trade, and had a
Bedouin's cunning. J He tried in his trading expe-
ditions to evade the tax on gold exacted by the
Ghassanides, by making a camel swallow the money,
and afterwards slaughtering the camel and recover-
ing the coins. The Ghassanide official let himself be
cheated once this way, but a second time he was able
to detect the camel that had been tampered with,
and outwitted Omar. Omar's camel had to disgorge
the money, and its master to satisfy himself with
threats of vengeance. Like St. Paul, to whom he has
been compared, he persecuted the religion of which
he afterwards became a champion. Mohammed,
with his unfailing skill in judging men, eagerly de-
sired to have this man among his supporters ; and
though our authorities are silent concerning the
steps which he took to obtain this end, the facts that
Omar was converted after his sister, and that the
sister was married to the son of a monotheist, supply
materials for reconstruction of the process. A story

* Dhu'l-Hijjah of the year 6 of the Mission. Ibn Sa'd, iii., 193.
f Baihaki, Mahasin, 301.
\Isabah, ii., 21. Verses by him are occasionally quoted. Ibn
Duraid, 225.

History of the Meccan Period 163

was circulated that the husband's father had died
searching for that faith which Mohammed was
authorised to preach. '■]) Of Omar's conversion a va-
riety of accounts are given, several agreeing in that
they ascribe it to the charm of the Koran. The most
popular make him embrace Islam at the house of his
sister Fatimah (or Ramlah), wife of Sa'id, son of
Zaid, both of them secret proselytes. Khabbab, son
of Al-Aratt, was reading a Surah (No. xx.) at their
house, when they were surprised by the entry of
Omar. The scripture-reader fled precipitately, leav-
ing the roll with Fatimah, who tried in vain to hide
it ; Omar demanding it, and being refused, wounded
his sister with his sword. The sight of the blood
made him penitent ; he begged humbly to see the
roll, which was granted him, if he washed before
touching it. He read a portion of the Surah and
asked to be taken to Mohammed, to make his con-
fession of faith. The scripture-reader, hearing this,
emerged from his hiding-place, and escorted Omar to
the Prophet. Hamzah, who was hiding with the
Prophet, undertook to kill Omar if he meant mis-
chief, but he came as a proselyte and was warmly
welcomed. He proceeded at once to communicate
the intelligence of his conversion to the amateur
town-crier, and visited Abu Jahl, the inveterate
enemy of Islam, who thanked him for the informa-
tion by shutting the door in his face.

The Moslems could now come out of their places
of concealment, and even pray openly in the pre-
cincts. Such was the fear which his strength
inspired. " If Satan were to meet Omar," said

1 64 Mohammed

Mohammed, "he would get out of Omar's way."*
Yet we have no record of any occasion on which
Omar displayed remarkable courage, though many
examples are at hand of his cruelty and bloodthirsti-
ness; at the battle of Hunain he ran away, f and
on another occasion owed his life to the good nature
of an enemy.

Probably the above story is in the main true.
Novelists sometimes employ similar motives ; an im-
petuous but chivalrous man finds that he has rushed
into an ungentlemanly act, and in his extreme desire
to atone loses command of his will. The shock
which Omar experienced at having wounded his sis-
ter made him anxious to do anything which would
atone for it; the most obvious course being to ex-
press admiration for the Koran and become a Mos-
lem, he hastens to adopt that ; he is admitted into
the society, and becomes its most fanatical member.
Moreover, to this sister he appears to have been fondly
attached ; when, as children, they looked after their
mother's camel in the desert, Omar used when it
grew hot to throw his garment over his sister and
tend the beast, exposed without any covering to the
sunshine. % This explains the difficulty that Omar's
conduct on other occasions displays no trace of
chivalry. He was a wife-beater § ; he went to the
length of scourging some women for weeping over
the death of one of Mohammed's daughters | ; and

* Muslim, ii., 234.

\ Wakidi ( W .), 361.

% Baihaki, Mahasin, 301.

%Musnad, iii., 328.

\ Ibid., i., 237, etc. Cf. Goldziher, M. 5., i., 253.

History of the Meccan Period 165

at other times interfered with women's concerns in a
manner which displays a nature of extreme coarse-
ness. It must further be added in explanation of his
conversion that he belonged to a humble clan, and
had therefore something to gain by the equality
which Islam promised. Years after, when Caliph,
he took a delight in humiliating the aristocrat Abu
Sufyan, thanking God that through Islam a member
of his humble family could command one of the
illustrious Abd Manaf.* Mohammed, who with the
view of breaking the family and tribal ties instituted
brotherhoods between pairs of his followers, coupled
Omar with his principal adherent, Abu Bakrf; and
in spite of the difference of their dispositions we hear
of only one serious quarrel between them. % Where
they agreed the Prophet regularly took their advice. §
The tradition regularly represents Omar as recom-
mending violence where Abu Bakr is for gentle meas-
ures ; Mohammed did not often take his advice in
such cases, yet made him one of the innermost cabi-
net ; the formula, " I, Abu Bakr, and Omar," was
constantly on his lips. || When the Prophet adopted
his suggestions he ordinarily professed to have ar-
rived at them independently. This process by no
means weakened Omar's confidence, whose belief
was only shaken when the Prophet allowed his rights
as Messenger of Allah to be curtailed. When the

*Azraki, 448.
f Ishak, 934.
\ Musnad, iv., 6.
§ Ibid.,\v. % 227.
I Muslim, ii., 232.

1 66 Mohammed

Prophet, having declined to wear silk himself, on one
occasion offered a silken robe to Omar, the latter
burst into tears. *

If the Kuraish were indignant before these devel-
opments their fury now rose many degrees. The
envoys whom they had despatched to Abyssinia re-
turned with the news that their presents had been
refused by the lord of Axum, who had trusted Mo-
hammed's followers rather than them ; they knew
all about Mohammed and his antecedents, and their
opinion had no effect with the Negus ; the starveling
Refugees had greater weight than they. The affront
involved assuredly made the Meccan aristocrats feel
sore. But what was more important, Abyssinian as-
sistance must have reminded every Meccan of their
invasion of Arabia, and the misconduct which led to
the heroic efforts of Saif, son of Dhu Yazan, to eject
them. The return of their presents to the Meccan
envoys looked like a declaration of war ; as such
we find this act regarded in negotiations between
the Wahhabis and Ibrahim Pasha, recorded by Pal-
grave, f What more likely than that the anticipa-
tion of Mohammed would be fulfilled, and an army
be sent to abolish the Meccan rites, and with them
the Meccan commerce? There is little reason for
doubting that the founder of Islam, in sending his
followers to Axum, designed some such denouement.
A few years afterwards he readily allied himself with
another city — it is said — with the express object of
fighting all the world in the cause of his religion.

* Muslim, ii., 153.
f Travels, ii., 51.

History of the Meccan Period 167

The reason why this fear was not realised is sug-
gested by Umm Salamah. Shortly after the arrival
of the Refugees the Negus was involved in a frontier
war : with whom, she does not record ; but the his-
tory of Abyssinia suggests many possibilities. The
Refugees awaited with the extremest anxiety the re-
sult of the battle, which would be likely to influence
their fate. It turned out (she says) favourably for
the Negus; but is likely to have put the Meccan
business out of his head.

The story of the conversion of Omar represents
him as endeavouring to find Mohammed, armed with
a sword for the purpose of freeing Meccah from the
impostor. This trait is probably borrowed from the
Omar of later days, who was accustomed to solve
every knot with that weapon. The fear of a blood-
feud between the Meccan families acted like an im-
passable barrier, keeping that expedient out of the
Meccans' reach. The time was not ripe for their
bracing themselves to contemplate such a thing, and
even when it came their clumsiness and timidity ren-
dered the attempt abortive. There was, however, a
process, known to pagan Arabs no less than Christians,
which they could attempt without violating their
consciences. This was excommunication, depriving
the culprit's family of the jus connubii and//*.? com-
mercii : a purpose for which special confederacies
were established. * Rolls would seem to have been
in common use at this time in Meccah : a solemn
league and covenant was made, written on a roll,
and suspended in the Ka'bah, by which the heads

+ Goldziher y M. S., i., 65.

1 68 Mohammed

of the Meccan households pledged themselves to
exclude the Banu Hashim and the Banu '1-Muttalib
from these rights, until, we may presume, Moham-
med was declared outlawed, and handed up to venge-
ance. The scribe was himself a member of the
Hashim clan ; but it apparently was open to mem-
bers of the clan to forswear their clanship, and so
escape the ban. Abu Lahab, the Prophet's uncle,
was one of those who took advantage of this
option ; and he is perhaps cursed in the Koran in
consequence ; Mohammed's cousin, Abu Sufyan,
son of Al-Harith, was another.* The whole Hash-
imite clan, with these exceptions, congregated in
Abu Talib's ravine, where they probably lived on
Khadijah's resources. The ravine was capable of
holding as many as four thousand persons and could
be defended against attacks, f Like other prisoners,
the Hashimites could obtain food, but at famine
prices. The careless generosity of the Meccans and
their vacillating wills did much to render the block-
ade ineffective. One Mut'im, son of 'Adi, rendered
such services that Mohammed afterwards would
have made him a present of all the prisoners of
Badr. Hisham, son of 'Amr, who was remotely
connected with the Hashimites, used to send beasts
laden with provisions into the ravine. % There were
other persons, some of whom, like Sahl, son of
Wahb, afterwards professed to have been secret con-
verts, to whom the " Scroll " was distasteful, and

* Wakidi ( W.\ 328.

\ Chronicles of Meccah* ii., 31.

\ Ishak, 247.

History of the Meccan Period 1 69

who endeavoured to get it cancelled. Meanwhile
the Moslems then no more than at any other time
believed in the doctrine of turning the other cheek.
One of the Prophet's cousins, Tulaib, son of 'Umair,
actually wounded Abu Lahab, and being captured
by the Kuraish would have been dispatched, but
that Abu Lahab, generous as usual, protected him. *
Abu Jahl also is said to have been battered in an
encounter with sorrfe of Mohammed's friends. \

The duration of the ban is given as two or three
years. The number of persons who were affected by
it is not exactly known, but it is certain that it must
have been very considerable : a sufficient number to
render a feud a serious matter. One of those affected
was the Prophet's uncle Abbas, whose son Abdallah,
born during the ban, became eminent among the
fathers of the Mohammedan Church.

The period of the ban is artistically filled by the
biographers with notices of Koranic controversies ;
but it is probable that the controversy belonged to
an earlier period, and that the war of deeds was
after rather than simultaneous with the war of
words. The Abyssinian card was one of enormous
value — not so valuable as that of Medinah after-
wards proved to be, yet capable of being played
with great effect. All the argumentation of the
Koran, which indeed few in Meccah could under-
stand,^: was far outweighed by the testimonial of the
great man. The Negus believed Mohammed was a

* Isabah after Baladhuri*
\ Tabari, i., 1 190.
\ Surah xi., 93.

1 70 Mohanimed

prophet ; that fact could now be flaunted in adver-
tisements, and the Meccans who probably saw in
this testimonial merely a desire on the part of the
Abyssinians to interfere with their affairs, found that
Mohammed from being vexatious had become dan-
gerous. He had, in fact, by the Negus's patronage
of the cause become a political power ; a person
hated, indeed, but feared rather than despised.
Meanwhile Mohammed's resources were being se-
verely strained, and he probably had to bear many a
reproach from the clansmen whom he had so seriously
compromised ; but developments from Abyssinia
were worth awaiting, and the result of the Abyssin-
ian campaign was probably watched for in Meccah
with considerable anxiety.

What we know is that a compromise was pre-
sently arrived at : and the causes which led to the
compromise may be thus divined. After the Abys-
sinians' campaign had proved successful, it was im-
portant for the Meccans to persuade their fugitives
to come home, so that there might be no further
fear of an Abyssinian invasion. On the other hand,
the Prophet was probably aware that such an in-
vasion would be a doubtful advantage to himself,
since the Abyssinians would conquer, if at all, for
themselves. Let Mohammed make some reasonable
concession to Al-Lat and Al-'Uzza, and Allah's
Prophet would be recognised.

This was in effect what happened. The Prophet
produced a revelation in which Al-Lat, etc., were
raised from the position of " names invented by
your fathers for which Allah has given no authority"

History of the Meccan Period 1 7 1

to that of " intercessors whose intercession might be
hoped." The scene for its delivery seems to have
been carefully prepared. The inhabitants of Meccah
thronged the precincts ; the Prophet appeared, de-
livered his discourse, and paid his high compliment
to the goddesses whom he had previously treated so
cavalierly. He prostrated himself at the end of the
discourse, and the congregation prostrated them-
selves also. One whom the stiffness of old age
prevented from joining in the ceremony took soil
from the ground and applied it to his brow. The
news flew fast that Allah and the goddesses had be-
come friends — that the Kuraish had accepted Islam,
or that Mohammed had fallen back into paganism.
The ban on the Hashimites was withdrawn ; the
Abyssinian Refugees returned.

The compromise, which to us appears wise and
statesmanly, was regarded as the most discreditable
episode in the Prophet's career, and in the chief edi-
tion of his biography it is suppressed. In the edition
which preserves it Mohammed is represented as re-
turning to monotheism the same day.* The release
of the Hashimites from the ban is disconnected from
the compromise, and ascribed to the action of certain
individuals whose tender hearts were afflicted with
the thought of a Kurashite tribe perishing. They
therefore resolved to induce the Kurashites to de-
stroy the roll, which, it is then discovered, has al-
ready been destroyed by worms. The fact however
of the Abyssinian Refugees returning in consequence
of the compromise shows that it was an event of

* Tabari y i., 1 195.

172 Mohammed

more than momentary importance. It would be
utterly unlike Mohammed to make such a conces-
sion unless at least an equivalent was to be obtained.
Such an equivalent would doubtless be the removal
of the ban. The ascription of that step to the good
nature of certain persons we regard therefore as due
to the desire to bring the compromise into oblivion.
How came the ban to be withdrawn? was a natural
question. The most pious answer was that the
worms ate up the document on which it had been
inscribed — with due reverence for the name of God
which was at the head of it. To those who thought
this unlikely the good nature of certain Meccans fur-
nished a likelier reply. Our authorities give us a com-
bination of the two. Yet in ascribing to the pagans
such tenderness of feeling they appear to be right.

What it was that spoiled the satisfactory syncre-
tism which had restored concord is not known ; most
probably it was the fact that many of Mohammed's
followers were earnest. Indeed the long persecution
they had undergone had burned out the elements that
were not genuine metal. The trials which they had
faced had endeared the doctrine to which they were
due ; and those persons, accustomed to speak of Al-
Lat and Al-'Uzza with contempt and abhorrence,
refused to turn round so sharply and admit their
efficacy with God. It was not the only occasion on
which Mohammed discovered that his followers were
not all adventurers but some of them enthusiasts.
Men to whom he held out the prospect of worldly
goods replied at times that they did not need them*;

* Musnad, iv., 197.

History of the Meccan Period 1 73

converts who were told to profit from their con-
version by embezzling goods entrusted to them by
unbelievers declined to make theft their entry into
the new condition* ; men tried hard to get permis-
sion to become ascetics. f Mohammed, like others
who raise spirits, could not always control them.
The compromise threatened to mean a complete
victory for one side. Nor indeed are the Meccans
likely to have suppressed their delight at having
extorted such a concession.

Some one, therefore, an Abyssinian Refugee, or
perhaps Omar — whose faith at a later time was all
but wrecked by a tergiversation of the Prophet's, —
demanded that this concession should be withdrawn.
We were not there, as Mohammed would say, when
the discussion went on ; yet we know that disputes
rage no less fiercely because posterity forgets all
about them. Strong as was the Prophet's will, there
were times when he could be bent ; and having re-
signed himself to approving the Meccan polytheism,
he had now to resign himself to declaring that he
had made a mistake. As we have seen, the retrac-
tation of errors committed in the Koran was a fairly
familiar process. Allah was not proud. The com-
promising verses were erased from the Surah, and
an apology substituted. In this he declares that
whenever a prophet recites his oracles the devil is
quite sure to interpolate. God, however, revises
the proofs, and throws out the devil's interpolation.
The fruit of the long negotiations was thus lost ; the

* Ishak, 470.

f Musnad, i., 175, vi., 122.

1 74 Mohammed

Refugees for the most part returned to Abyssinia, few
of them having even entered Meccah. Thirty-three
who remained had to obtain patrons. The persons
who had procured the compromise were more
than ever embittered at Mohammed's slipperiness
and bad faith.

The strategy of the Meccan leaders had, how-
ever, averted a serious danger. The fugitives had
left Abyssinia, spreading the rumour of the conver-
sion of their enemies, a rumour which doubtless had
been magnified in their mouths, for exiles feed so
much on hopes. Abyssinian aid was, they declared,
no longer required to force their countrymen to re-
spect the Chosen of God. These persons coming back
after a month, and saying it was all a regrettable
mistake, cut rather a sorry figure ; nor dared they,
we fancy, tell the story of the devil's interpolation.
Hence the danger from Abyssinia had been averted.

The interval between the failure of the compro-
mise and the next events of importance is filled in*
by the biographer with miraculous tales or such as
are clearly inventions requisite for the interpretation
of passages in the Koran. Hard as it is to injure a
reputation, it is probable that Mohammed's conces-
sion and retractation had seriously injured his. The
grand scene in the precincts would be remembered
by the citizens of Meccah, and many a sarcasm be
bestowed on the Prophet who could not distinguish
the inspirations of Satan from those of God. Few
proselytes are likely to have been won at Meccah
from the time of the abrogation of the verses till
the exodus.

History of the Meccan Period 175

The next events of consequence are the deaths in
one year of Khadijah and Abu Talib : this is given
as year 10 of the Mission, and it is stated that the
events were after the blockade was over and the
Hashimites had issued from their ravine. Probably
the proximate cause of the death of both is to be
found in the agitation due to the scenes of which
we can only reproduce so faint an outline, and the
privation and annoyance which the blockade had
occasioned ; or more probably in the prospect of a
renewal of the same privations after they had stopped
for a time. Mohammed is said to have tried hard to
get the dying Abu Talib to pronounce the Islamic
confession, but unsuccessfully; whereas he could
assure Khadijah on her deathbed that she with three
other famous ladies — the Virgin Mary, Potiphar's
wife, and " Kulthum, Moses' sister" — would share
his chamber in Paradise ; and wishing her husband
P Peace and Offspring," the ordinary nuptial greet-
ing, she passed away. 4 *" Of Abu Talib the Prophet
appears to have spoken with very moderate affec-
tion ; his protection had doubtless been like the
brake, which, while it saves the vehicle from destruc-
tion, retards its pace. Moreover, with Mohammed
failure to recognise his Mission could not be atoned
for by any services, however great. Abu Talib there-
fore was doomed to hell ; the utmost that his
nephew could procure for him was that whereas
other evil-doers were in a lake of fire, he was to be
in a puddle, without, however, much alleviation of
the suffering involved. Ali, more fanatical than the

* Isabah,

1 76 Mohammed

Prophet, displayed some reluctance when ordered
to bury his father who had died in unbelief.*

Of Khadijah, on the other hand, Mohammed is
said to have spoken with affection and appreciation,
and in later years used regularly to treat with favour
women who had been recipients of Khadijah's
bounty, declaring faithfulness to be part of faith.f
He thereby roused the jealousy of one of her many
substitutes. For indeed the widower consoled him-
self within a month by marrying Saudah, daughter of
Zama'ah, whose brother strewed ashes on his head
when he heard of her betrothal % ; and ere long, by
engaging himself to the infant daughter of Abu
Bakr, Ayeshah, of whom more will be heard. A
child of seven, she was sent by her father with a
basket of dates to the Prophet, whose manner in-
spired her with alarm and aversion. § But this of
course strengthened the Prophet's resolve, though
she was already betrothed to the son of his patron
Mut'im, who, however, was not anxious for alliance
with a Moslem.

Mohammed's numerous marriages after Khadi-
jah's death have been attributed by many European
writers to gross passion, but they would seem to
have been mainly dictated by motives of a less
coarse kind. Several of his alliances were political
in character, the Prophet being anxious to bind his

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthMohammed and the rise of Islam → online text (page 12 of 32)