D. S. (David Samuel) Margoliouth.

Mohammed and the rise of Islam online

. (page 21 of 32)
Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthMohammed and the rise of Islam → online text (page 21 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

defeat had begun to fade away. Its purpose is in
part to convey an answer and a menace to those per-
sons who had found fault with the Prophet's strategy,
and who, pointing to the disaster, were trying to
dissuade the people of Medinah from further expedi-
tions. As might be expected, the Prophet throws
the blame for the defeat on every one but himself :
he calls attention to his own mild and lenient charac-
ter, to the blessing which his presence was to his fol-
lowers : he finds the reason for the defeat now in the
disobedience to his commands, now in the eagerness
of the Moslems for plunder, and now in the purpose
of God, who would " know " which were believers
and which hypocrites: an explanation which has

Progress and a Setback 305

given the theologians much trouble. Nevertheless
the divine advice to the Prophet " to take counsel of
them in future " implies that he had committed an
error in failing to take it on this occasion. The rest
of the matter is commonplace consolation, such as
might well be employed by a brave man after a
defeat ; recognition of the vicissitudes and uncer-
tainty of war, of that fate which cannot be avoided,
so that no man by staying at home can outwit death,
which will come at its time no matter where its vic-
tim be found ; repetition of some of the common-
places of religion, which tries to assure the believers
that death is better than life, that the martyrs of the
holy war are not dead, but alive, enjoying happiness
rendered incomplete only by the absence of the
brethren who have not yet joined them ; eloquent
praise of those whom no danger deterred, and whose
ardour no discouragement cooled when told to renew
the fight the day after defeat.

Besides this harangue many poems are produced
by the biographer, of which the battle of Uhud
is supposed to have been the occasion, and of which
the authors were either the court poets of Medinah,
or persons who had taken part in the fray. The
genuineness of most of those verses is questionable :
but if they give us any correct account of the im-
pression which the battle left on the minds of con-
temporaries, it would appear that the death of
Hamzah was the calamity therein which overshad-
owed everything else. The poems ascribed to the
Medinese are little more than dirges on Hamzah :
and even the Meccans boast of this more than of

306 Mohammed

any other event in the battle. According to the
tradition the Prophet took some pains to conceal
this disaster from Hamzah's sister, Safiyyah, but
found, when he communicated it to her, that she
bore it bravely. Sa'd, son of Mu'adh, compelled the
Medinese women to forego weeping over their own
dead in order to weep for Hamzah ; and the custom
remained among them when any death occurred in a
family, of weeping for Hamzah before they mourned
their own dead.* The Koran makes no allusion to
it, and though Mohammed is supposed to have felt it
deeply, his power had now reached a point when the
loss of one strong arm mattered little: his newly
learned tactics were also destined to render indi-
vidual prowess of less consequence than it had been
to the handfuls who fought his first battles. The
mutilation of Hamzah's corpse f at first caused him
to indulge in passionate threats of reprisals when he
got the chance : but he presently saw the impro-
priety of imitating,the barbarity, and is said to have
urged his followers in repeated discourses to abstain
from the mutilation of the dead : and we are told
that these acts had not had the authorisation of the
Meccan generals but were due to the fury of the
women. Hamzah, valuable as was his arm in battle,
is scarcely one of the prominent figures on the earlier
stage of Islam : reliance could be placed on his
strength and courage when a hard blow was to be

* Ibn Sa'd, iii., 4.

f Hind, daughter of 'Utbah, bit his liver. According to Sir S.
Baker, IsmaHlia, ii.,, 354, this practice is maintained by some tribes
in the belief that the liver acts as a charm.

Progress and a Setback 307

struck, but the Prophet seems to have placed no
confidence in his brains: and his abuse of Ali, and
even Mohammed, when in his cups, was probably not
forgotten. The death of the husband of Omar's
daughter Hafsah gave the Prophet the chance of
allying himself with this faithful follower ; Omar
offered his daughter to Abu Bakr and Othman, but
these persons preferred leaving her to the Prophet.
She was a woman of violent temper who had often
to be put down.

The great bulk of the losses fell, however, not on
the Refugees but on the people of Medinah : if the
lists given be accurate, only four of the former per-
ished, but over sixty of the latter. At the com-
mencement of the conflict, Abu Sufyan is said
(perhaps through Abu 'Amir) to have requested the
Helpers to stand aside, and leave the Kuraish to
fight out their dispute between themselves: but this
proposition was indignantly repudiated. Probably
the heavy loss undergone by the people of Medinah
only consolidated their attachment and loyalty to
the Prophet : the grumbling of a few malcontents
was scarcely heard amid the acclamation of those
who declared that so long as the Prophet was safe
the death of all their nearest and dearest was of no
consequence. Had the Prophet himself lost heart,
the effect would have been different : but he had the
strength of mind and of will to throw the blame of
the defeat entirely on the action of his subordinates,
and also to take advantage of the retirement of the
enemy to claim a moral victory. The wounds which
he had sustained did not trouble him for more than



a month : and his appearance in the Mosque, leaning
on the arms of his comrades, and, with the wounds
still showing, delivering messages so warlike and so
encouraging as the third Surah, was not without
theatrical effect. The persons who at such times
see the real situation are at a disadvantage. Men
were not impressed but shocked, when told that the
promise of Paradise was illusory, and that under the
Prophet's rule blood was shed in rivers where pre-
viously it had been shed in rills. The defeat of
Uhud did not shake the faith of a single proselyte:
and even from the first it was probably penal to
speak of it as anything but a victory.



WHAT feelings were excited in Arabia by the
news of the Kurashite success we are not
told directly: but the next event recorded*
is the treacherous capture of some of Mohammed's
followers by two tribes (called 'Adal and Karah) who
sent to the Prophet for missionaries to come and ex-
plain to them the principles of Islam. Their purpose
was to get possession of the person of 'Asim, son of
Thabit, for whose head a reward of a hundred camels
had been offered by the mother of men slain by him
at Uhud. Mohammed, not often caught napping,
sent a party of six, of whom 'Asim was one, who
were betrayed into the hands of the tribe Hudhail,
famous for their lays. The Hudhail meant to sell
them to the Meccans, whether in exchange for prison-
ers of their own tribe or for gold : but three of them
died fighting, and one died attempting to escape.
Two (Khubaib and Zaid, son of al-Dathinnah) were
taken to Meccah and there sold, and given to the
families of men who had fallen at Uhud, to be slain.

Safar a.h. 4 ; identified with July-August, A.D. 625.

310 Mohammed

They were crucified, cursing their captors: and the
Caliph Mu'awiyah,* first of the Umayyads, after-
wards recorded how his father had made him lie on
his side at the execution, that the curses might slip
off him : so hard was it for them to distinguish word
from weapon.

With the followers of a sect who, as has been
seen, practised treachery whenever it was deemed
advisable, we cannot sympathise when they suffer
from a similar crime: but the event is of interest as
showing how deep an impression Uhud left on the
mind of the neighbours ; and we can reproduce in
thought the gibes with which Mohammed's former
boasts of heavenly aid were now recollected. Mo-
hammed had recourse to the expedient which had
already been so useful in dealing with refractory
Jews. He sent an assassin to murder the Hudhalite
chief, Sufyan, son of Khalid : the chief was with the
women of his family, mounted on camels, seeking a
summer residence for them. The assassin came on
him unawares and left the women weeping.f

Another assassin, *Amr, son of Umayyah, was
sent on a more promising project — to murder Abu
Sufyan at Meccah. 'Amr was a Meccan, thoroughly
familiar with Meccan ways, and he was given as a
companion a native of Medinah. The story of his
exploit is preserved by Tabari, and vividly depicts
the character of the desperadoes whom Mohammed
had in his service. His pious companion wished
before attacking Abu Sufyan to perform his devo-

* Aghani, iv., 40. Ibn Duraid, 262, with some errors.
\Diyarbekri, i., 507.

The Destruction of the Jews 3 1 1

tions at the Ka'bah, and by the time this ceremony
was over the Meccans were seated in groups outside
their houses. 'Amr, son of Umayyah, was recognised
and pursued : but he was familiar with modes of es-
caping justice, and found his way to a cave outside
Meccah, — not, we suppose, the same in which his mas-
ter had hidden : a Meccan pursuer discovered the cave
and was transfixed by 'Amr before he could indicate
the assassin's whereabouts to his fellows. When, after
a day or two, pursuit had slackened, he made an at-
tempt to carry off the cross on which Khubaib had
been impaled. Disturbed in this bold attempt he
found the road to Medinah, and skulked for a time in
another cave, where he succeeded in murdering an-
other man of Meccah ; and meeting two more emissa-
ries from Meccah he killed one and forced the other to
render himself prisoner. Meanwhile he had provided
for the safety of his companion, who reached Medinah
before him : whither he presently arrived himself,
bringing his prisoner, to earn the warm praise of
the Prophet.* Besides despatching assassins, Mo-
hammed thought it desirable to make a display of
force, hearing news that other tribes were em-
boldened by the Kurashite success to try a fall with
him. Against the Banu Asad, who were thought to
be doing this, a troop of 150 was sent, which, how-
ever, encountered no resistance, and had to be satis-
fied with raiding camels on a moderate scale.

The success of the Hudhail in entrapping Moslems
encouraged another chief to try the same plan. A
demand for missionaries to Nejd was made by Abu

* Tabari, i., 1441.

3 1 2 Mohammed

Bara 'Amir, son of Malik, chief of the Banu 'Amir.
The Prophet after some hesitation sent a company of
seventy, consisting of devotees, whose studies in the
Koran had earned for them the name of the Readers.
" They used, at nightfall, to go to a teacher in Me-
dinah, and spend the night in study : when morning
broke, the strong ones would gather wood and draw
water, while those who were better off would buy a
sheep, dress it, and leave it hanging in the Prophet's
Precincts." * Seventy — if the number be correctly
given — was a large force, if intended for preaching :
but not too large if fighting also was intended. At
the well of Ma'unah, not far from Medinah, they
were attacked by 'Amir, son of Tufail, chief of the
great tribe Sulaim : Abu Bara's promise of protection
could not be carried out, though he and his tribe
took no part in the assault. The seventy theologians
were slaughtered all but to a man : only one escaped,
having been left for dead. 'Amr, son of Umayyah,
figures on this occasion also : he was with the bag-
gage of the expedition, and was also taken by the
enemy, but let go because of some plausible pretext
that he had alleged, though with his forelock shorn.
On his way homewards he found two of the Banu
'Amir, whom he waylaid and slew. But this act
turned out to have been an unnecessary display of
zeal since the Banu 'Amir had ostensibly broken no
contract: and Mohammed had to pay blood-money
for them.

The death of the seventy emissaries is said to
have shocked Mohammed more than the disaster of

* Musnad, iii. , 137.

The Destruction of the Jews 3 1 3

Uhud ; for thirty, or, according to others, forty
mornings he cursed its authors, and he even pub-
lished a divine message dealing with the affair which,
for some reason, was not afterwards incorporated in
the Koran.* With a cause like his, discredit such as
results from a series of failures was likely to have
serious consequences ; and the cross of martyrdom,
so eagerly desired by some, was by no means coveted
by others. Hence the pathetic message which came
from the murdered men in Paradise, stating that
they had met their God, and been satisfied with each
other, may have been found unwelcome after this
second disaster.

It is a sign of the Prophet's being alarmed that he
undertook to pay the blood-money and return the
plunder taken from the two 'Amirites whom the de-
sperado 'Amr had slain. And for this he went to
demand assistance from the Jewish tribe Nadir — to
the end of his life he would always apply to the
Jews when he wanted money. That the Jews were
more and more elated by each disaster that he un-
derwent is attested and is easily credible ; we shall
never know whether Mohammed's visit to them on
this occasion was the first step in a preconceived
plot or turned to account by an after-thought.
Moreover, the death of the Nadirite Ka'b, son of
Al-Ashraf, if indeed it did not take place about this
time (which there is some ground for thinking), is not
likely to have been forgotten by either party ; the
request, therefore, from Mohammed for help in pay-
ing blood-money might well have seemed impudent

* Diyarbekri % i., 510.

3 1 4 Mohammed

to a tribe who had a right to demand it of him.
Still the reception given him was favourable ; but a
voice from heaven informed him that his hosts had
bethought them of taking advantage of his weak-
ness, and that one of them, 'Amr, son of Jihash, was
mounting the roof, with the view of throwing a
stone on the Prophet's head. We know not, having
no Jewish account of the matter, whether this bold
design was really contemplated ; but since the
Prophet had a fixed idea that the Jews always
wanted to murder him — an idea which owed its ori-
gin to the accusation of "killing the Prophets"
launched against them by the Founder of Christ-
ianity — he may have sincerely believed such an
attempt was meditated. He therefore rushed back
to Medinah, asserting that he was escaping from a
treacherous assault, and summoned his followers to
besiege the Banu Nadir. The followers were quite
ready. Of the fighting ability of the Jews, and of
the energy of their partisans in Medinah, they had
ample experience ; there was not the least chance of
any resistance to an energetic attack. One account
indeed informs us that Mohammed sent a messen-
ger offering them eight days in which to remove
their possessions, and that this proposal would have
been accepted immediately had not the unfortunate
Abdallah Ibn Ubayy urgently advised them to re-
sist, and promised them assistance in the event of
their doing so. The Banu Kuraizah, to whom an
appeal was made on behalf of their brethren, flatly
refused to break with Mohammed. This act of cow-
ardice prepares us to feel less sympathy with them

The Destruction of the Jews 3 1 5

for the fate that afterwards befell them. The fort-
resses occupied by the Nadir were probably no worse
than the others at Medinah ; and legend, if not his-
tory, recorded how the fortresses of Yathrib had
held out against the great Yemenite King Tubba'
and forced him to raise a siege.*

Experience shows that the most inexpugnable and
best provisioned fortresses are useless unless there
are men inside them. Abdallah Ibn Ubayy had
good grounds for believing that the Jewish forts
were easily able to resist an attack, and that the de-
fenders were well supplied. Let the Jews (he rea-
soned) weary Mohammed by successful defence for
some months at least, and meanwhile he could
marshal his concealed forces, and attack Mohammed
from the rear or flank. With Abdallah the tradition
mentions certain other Hypocrites, who, however,
are to us merely names. Apparently they all shared
the peculiarity of the Jews — readiness to do anything
rather than fight. From Meccah, too, an expedition
might erelong be expected. Huyayy, the chief of
the Banu Nadir, was persuaded by those fair pro-
mises, and prepared to defend his lands. But the
forts, defended by cowards (who, moreover, were
divided amongst themselves) f and attacked by dis-
ciplined soldiers, proved themselves untenable. The
pride of the Nadirites was a sort of date so clear
that the stone could be seen through the pulp.
Mohammed cut or burnt those date trees, and the
heart of the Nadirites melted. In vain did they

* Aghani, xiii., 120.
f Surah lix., 14,

3 1 6 Mohammed

remonstrate that such wanton destruction of property
was in contradiction to the precepts of the Koran and
of the law which the Koran professed to confirm;
the Prophet's notions on these matters were elastic.
After three weeks' resistance the Nadirites offered to
capitulate, on condition of being allowed to go away
unmolested, taking with them such property (except
armour) as their camels could carry. Some of the
Moslems assisted them in dismantling their houses.
There were only two renegades who retained their
lands. The rest marched away with all the honours
of war. The Prophet's victory was bloodless, giving
him the right to dispose of the whole of the plunder.*
The "leader " inserted in the Koran f on the sub-
ject of the expedition charges the Nadirites only
with resistance to the Prophet ; possibly by the time
it was " revealed " he had discovered that his former
suspicion was groundless. The purpose of the revela-
tion apparently is to justify the proceeding whereby
the land of the Nadirites was exclusively assigned to
the Refugees. But the author cannot refrain from
sarcasms on both the Jews and the Hypocrites. He
compares the latter to the Tempter, who urged man
to rebel against God, and when he rebelled, washed
his hands of him. They might promise to share any
danger or disaster which befell the Jews, but they
would never fulfil their promise. Their fear of the
Moslems was greater than their fear of God. There
was no unity among them, each person having a de-
sign or object of his own. In fact, he sums up, they

* RabV /, H.s. 4 ; identified with August-September, a.d. 625.
f Surah lix.

The Destruction of the Jews 3 1 7

have no understanding. This revelation also con-
tained an ex post facto justification of the destruction
of the palm-trees. It had all been done in ac-
cordance with the command of God.

The poets whose commemorative verses are
cited by the biographers connect the banishment
of the Nadirites with the murder of Ka'b, son
of Al-Ashraf, which indeed can scarcely have failed
to elicit some remonstrance, and even threats of
vengeance. The Prophet seems to suggest that
the fortresses of the Nadirites were rendered
indefensible by some sort of surprise — God came
upon them whence they expected not. What-/
ever was the exact series of events, Mohammed had
proved himself equal to dealing with internal ad-
versaries, notwithstanding his failure in external

The banishment of the Banu Nadir put some valu-
able cards into the Prophet's hand. In the first
place permanent provision was made for the Refu-
gees, who had no longer any occasion for depend-
ence on the Helpers' charity, which is likely to have
become less enthusiastic as the years passed. Indeed
this accession of property seems to have enabled the
tide of charity to turn, and a few of the needy but
faithful Medinese got some of the plunder. On the
other hand the feebleness, irresolution, and incom-
petence of the hostile party had once more been
demonstrated. They heartily wished for Moham-
med's destruction: but this motive was as nothing
compared with their anxiety for their own skins. To
break openly with the Prophet undoubtedly meant

3 1 8 Mohammed

danger, for AH, Omar, and the others would die
hard, and at the price of many lives. But the
Prophet taunted them with folly in not perceiving
that by allowing him to cut off his enemies, party
by party, they were making certain a doom which
union and energy might still avert. Abdallah, son
of Ubayy, has left no memoirs in vindication of his
conduct, but his energetic action on behalf of the
Banu Kainuka makes it possible that he played the
part of a Demosthenes, or of Cicero after Caesar's
death : of the man who vainly endeavours to inspire
courage and confidence into the half-hearted.

The banishment of the Banu Nadir was followed
by a futile attempt to finish the battle of Uhud. We
are told that, on parting from Mohammed, Abu Suf-
yan there made an appointment to renew hostilities
the next year at Badr, but that for some reason or
another the appointment was not kept. It is most
likely that Abu Sufyan found that he had sadly over-
estimated the blow which he had dealt the Prophet's
power at Uhud ; that he committed the mistake, so
often made, of confusing victory with conquest.
When therefore he found that he had in no way
weakened the Prophet's hold on his followers, and
that by plunder and expatriation of internal enemies
the Prophet had in the interval considerably strength-
ened his position, he was not anxious for the return
match. One account tells us that he endeavoured to
make the Prophet break the engagement by sending
to Medinah a spy, hired to circulate false rumours
of the strength of the Meccans, which Mohammed,
having himself practised the same stratagem sue-

The Destruction of the Jews 3 1 9

cessfully the previous year, correctly interpreted as a
sign of weakness. When this failed Abu Sufyan ap-
pears to have made an abortive expedition to Badr,
whence he almost immediately returned, on the
ground that the season was unsuitable. The army
that he brought was sarcastically termed by the Mos-
lems the " water-gruel army," it is said, because Abu
Sufyan withdrew it owing to the scarcity of the ma-
terials requisite for that dish. This explanation of
the gibe seems far-fetched, and its real origin was
probably forgotten. Mohammed brought an army
of fifteen hundred men (with ten horses) to the
rendezvous, and the size and equipment of this force
proving to the Meccans that the Moslem cause had
scarcely been injured by the affair of Uhud, spread
something like consternation in Meccah. * We are
surprised to learn that the annual fair took place
at the intended battle-field, and that the Moslems,
though unable on this occasion to carry on the com-
merce of war, carried on with profit that of peace. \
The successes which we have just recorded seem
to have given the Prophet leisure to attend to his do-
mestic affairs, and at the same time to test the en-
durance of his followers. One of the abuses which
Mohammed had abolished was marriage with a
father's wife — a usage which seems to have prevailed
before his mission, when the father's wives were in-
herited by the son with his other possessions. Now,
as we have seen, Mohammed had many years before
adopted Zaid, son of Harithah, and the old system

* Wakidi, ( W.\ 168.

\Dhu"l-Ka!dah, a.h. 4 ; identified with April-May, A.D. 626.

320 Mohammed

knew of no difference between an adopted son and a
real son.* Zaid had been married first to a freed-
woman, and afterwards to a cousin of the Prophet's
own, named Zainab, daughter of Jahsh. For some
reason or other the Prophet desired to add this lady
to his own harem, or at any rate to bring her under
his influence; his motive is not known, but it may
have been admiration for her piety, which was cele-
brated. She at one time went to the length of hang-
ing cords between the pillars of the Mosque to
support herself on during prayer,f an act which, if
prior to her marriage with the Prophet, rather implies
that she wished to attract his attention. From the
account of the matter in the Koran it appears that
Zaid became aware that the Prophet wanted his
wife, and thought it wisest to yield his rights with-
out further delay. It also appears that the Prophet
was unwilling to take advantage of Zaid's complais-
ance, but found it to be the best course; and, in-
deed, Zainab refused to assent to this step without
a special revelation, J which speedily was produced.
Zaid, therefore, divorced Zainab, who was married

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthMohammed and the rise of Islam → online text (page 21 of 32)