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rior to that of father. At a late period in his
career a captive woman claimed to be his foster-
sister, and proved her claim to the Prophet's satis-
faction by showing where he had once bitten her in

♦The discussion of these names by Rosch, Z. D. M. G. y xlvi.,
432-440, leads to no results.

f It is worth noticing that the name of the Elephant brought by
Abrahat against the Ka'bah was Mahmud {Azraki, 96 ) Was the
Prophet thence supposed to have been born in the year called
after it ?

\ Baidawi on Surah liii., 50.

§ Zamakhshari, Ibid.


Early Life of Mohammed 5 1

the back. The foster-sister, however, refused an
offer to remain in the neighbourhood of her distin-
guished relation, whence we are perhaps to infer
that she was an impostor ; while from the proof
which she adduced of her identity, it would appear
that Mohammed acknowledged having been a pas-
sionate child. The family to whose charge he was
committed are all of them shadowy figures ; their
tribe is said to have been the Banu Sa'd, a branch
of the Hawazin, who encamped at no great distance
from Meccah.* The identification of Abu Kabshah
with the father of the family seems very clearly to
rest on a combination which may be sound, but
which is by no means certain. The patronymic f
Abu Kabshah would appear to have been fairly
common, and calling Mohammed Abu Kabshah's
son conveyed some sting ; but what the nature of
the insult was we cannot define with certainty.
Another woman to whom the honour of having
nursed Mohammed is ascribed was Thuwaibah, slave
of his uncle Abu Lahab.

It is said that Abd al-Muttalib died when his
grandson was eight years of age, leaving him to the
care of his uncle Abu Talib. Abu Talib probably
employed him in looking after the sheep and camels
which he kept at 'Uranah, near Mt. Arafat,:f just as
his son Ja'far was employed in looking after sheep at
Badr. § When Mohammed had attained to power and

♦According to Al-Bekri, at Hudaibiah, afterwards the scene of
some famous negotiations.

t " Father of so-and-so," not "son of so-and-so."

% Azraki, 71.

§ Wakidi ( W.), 73.



eminence he still used to tar his own camel,* and to
divert himself by branding the camels and sheep f
that were brought in as alms, in which business he
displayed some technical skill % ; and used to amaze
his followers by his familiarity with the details of
Bedouin life. In such societies as that of Meccah
the difference between the occupations of the grand
and the humble is at all times small, most of all in
the time of youth. Mohammed probably did much
the same as was done by his cousins and those of his
uncles who were near his age. There are some games
which Bedouin children play; certain weapons of
which they learn the use in early life. A legend §
shows us the youthful Prophet playing at " white
bone." A bone of " dazzling whiteness" is thrown
to a distance at night ; and the boy who finds it be-
comes leader. In another tradition || Mohammed
confesses that twice when he was feeding his flock,
he had left the care of the beasts to one of his com-
panions, in order that he might take part in the
revelries of the town ; on both occasions, if we are to
believe him, sleep fell on him miraculously before
he could so disgrace himself.

Mayeux would have it that the Bedouins still
attach vast importance to the study of eloquence, of
fluent and correct delivery; and Mohammed may
have had some early practice in this accomplish-

* Musnad, iii., 175.

f Ibid., iii, 254.

\ Isabah, i., 525.

%Alif-Ba, L, 322.

I Chronicles of Meccah, ii M 7.

Early Life of Mohammed . 53

ment, in which he afterwards excelled. The Arabs
who speculate on the subject observe that the Arab
eloquence is invariably improvisation * ; the elab-
orate preparation of a discourse which gives value to
European oratory is unknown to them.

Further, the love of horses which characterised
Mohammed at a later timef is likely to have been
imbibed in early youth. Many traditions record his
admiration for the Arab steed, and some of them are
likely to be authentic ; even when Prophet and sov-
ereign of Medinah he is said to have encouraged
and taken part in horse-racing.^; Not a few of the
Meccans possessed horses, as appears from the his-
tory of his campaigns; yet their employment seems
to have been confined to war; for travelling they
used the camel. The horse, however, is a favourite
subject for poetic descriptions, and pride in the
horse is characteristic of the Arab race. Dogs were
detested by the Prophet, and he was near giving
orders to extinguish the species.

If for the forty years of Mohammed's life which
elapsed before his " mission," we omit what is evi-
dently or most probably fabulous, it is surprising
how little remains to be narrated. There appears,
however, to be no ground for disputing the state-
ment that he acted as helper, supplying arrows to his
uncle Zubair, at a series of battles which took place
when he was in his teens. Those battles belonged
to wtat is known as the second Fijar war, waged

* Jahiz, Bayan.

f Afusnad, v., 27 ; Wakidi (W.), 402.

$ Afusnad, iii., 160 ; Wakidi {IV.), 184.

54 Mohammed

between the Kuraish with their allies, the Kinanah,
and the collection of tribes called Kais. The quar-
rel arose like most of these quarrels, from the chief
constituents of Arab life, the blood-feud and the
relation of patron and client. The King of Hirah
desired the protection of a central Arabian chieftain
for the goods which he was sending to the 'Ukaz
market. This was offered by a man named Al-
Barrad, who had been ejected from tribe after tribe
owing to his bad character, but whom the Kurashite
Harb, father of Mohammed's antagonist Abu Sufyan,
had undertaken to protect. The King perhaps wisely
preferred the guaranty of a chieftain, of the Kaisite
tribe Hawazin, named 'Urwah, whom Al-Barrad, out
of pique, waylaid and slew. But then he remembered
the troublesome fact that with the Hawazin his own
life would not count as the equivalent of their kins-
man's ; they would want not an outcast like himself,
but some eminent member of the tribe that had fool-
ishly taken him in.* It was suggested to Abdallah
Ibn Jud'an, an eminent Meccan, with whom the tribes
that came to the fair of 'Ukaz deposited their arms,
that he might seize those of the Hawazin, and so
render them harmless ; but he refused to take this
unfair advantage, and instead restored to all the
tribes their arms and bade the Kuraish return to
Meccah ; on the way thither they were attacked by
the Hawazin, who, after an uneventful battle, ar-
ranged to continue the fight the same time^i the
following year. For four years successively the
war, or rather the game, was renewed, with varying

* Kamil, ii. , 239 ; Frocks A, Blutracht,

Early Life of Mohammed 55

success ; at the fourth battle the Kuraish were vic-
torious, but a Kurashite woman who had married a
man of Kais was permitted to grant their lives to
any Kaisites who took refuge in her tent, which she
had enlarged on purpose; in the fifth year the
Kaisites got the better, and after that the warfare
dwindled down to occasional murders, when mem-
bers of the rival tribes met. Finally the parties
decided to count the slain and pay blood-money for
the surplus. The series of mock battles was dated
by the Arab archaeologists from the fact that Mo-
hammed took no part in the first, but witnessed
the remainder. It was naturally inferred that he
was prevented by youth from being present at the
first fight, and his own practice at a later time was to
allow no recruits younger than fifteen. If this rea-
soning be correct, the period covered by the war
would be 584-588 A.D. He himself dated one of
the fights as fought in his twentieth year.

It is not recorded (except indeed in a legend
which scarcely professes to be historical) that Mo-
hammed distinguished himself in any way during
these wars ; but when he came to rule a state him-
self we find that two of the lessons which they sug-
gest to the modern reader had impressed themselves
deeply upon his mind. One was the necessity of
settling affairs of blood by some expedient less
wasteful and more satisfactory than that which was
illustrated by the war of the Fijar ; and a second
was that war should be regarded not as a game
which might be played for an indefinite period,
but as a mode of obtaining decisive results. His

56 Mohammed

enemies arranged, when they were successful, to
continue the battle next year, but not he. Nor do
we find him imitating the conduct of the chivalrous
Abdallah, son of Jud'an, who furnished a vindictive
foe with weapons to be used against his friends.

The story of this war is of interest, since of those
who figured in it, many were fathers of men who be-
came prominent in the Prophet's time, and some
continued their activity into that period. Abdallah,
son of Jud'an, probably loomed in the eyes of the
youthful Prophet as a mighty figure. The legend
makes him fabulously wealthy, as having discovered
a mass of jewels hidden in a hill, with the aid
whereof he became chief of his tribe, and indeed
the leading man in Meccah, profuse in gifts and
lavish in hospitality*; late in life Mohammed could
recall banquets given by the great man, at which
verses in his praise were recited.f Harb, son of
Umayyah, who commanded on one of the days, %
was the father of the Meccan who opposed to Mo-
hammed the most dogged resistance. Al-Zubair,
the Prophet's uncle, who was at times in command,
appears on few occasions in history ; he is, however,
said to have been a poet, and to have practised hos-
pitality on a liberal scale to poets of other tribes ;
and on one occasion to have taken his nephew with
him on a journey into Yemen. A story (which we
have no means of checking) makes him venture to
dispute the patronage of Harb, father of Abu Sufyan,

*Goldziher, Z. D. M. G., xlvi., 7.

f Isabah, ii., 706.

\Kamilol Mubarrad, i., 187.

Early Life of Mohammed 57

when his own father, Abd al-Muttalib, was prepared
to respect it.*

There is no doubt that Mohammed often accom-
panied the Meccan caravans to their various de-
stinations. The leading men of Meccah were con-
stantly engaged in the conduct of these caravans, in
which, as has been seen, many military qualities
could be displayed. Their caravans regularly visited
Syria and Yemen, but occasionally Egypt, Abys-
sinia, and Persia provided them with markets ; the
last of these countries not being in regular com-
mercial relations with them.f The Christian king-
dom of Hirah was also said to be visited by Meccan
merchants; and one of the lovers of Hind, daughter
of 'Utbah, of whom more will be heard, is said to
have been a courtier of the King of Hirah, whose
assistance he could demand for matrimonial pro-
jects.^: In a tradition the Prophet speaks of the
white palaces of Hirah, seen by him (professedly)
from Medinah. The Koran shows him acquainted
with travelling by sea as well as by land ; he there
describes the motions of ships and the results of
storms with a realism which savours of experience.
He knows too of a sweet sea as well as of a salt sea ;
the former he calls Euphrates ; the two, he sup-
posed, were kept from combining by a dam. His
language about Egypt seems also to imply that he
had been there §; and there is reason for supposing

*Jahiz t Mahasin, 154. \ Isabah, iii., 379.

\Aghani, viii., 50. Probably an anachronism is involved.

§ Noldeke, Sketches, c. ii., shows that Mohammed was unaware that
<o rain falls in Egypt ; perhaps, however, the error is due to mo-
mentary forgetfulness.

58 Mohammed

him to have seen the Dead Sea. The rock-tombs of
Al-Hijr had deeply impressed his imagination before
he passed by them at the head of an army. He had
visited Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, and late in life
could well remember the names of many villages
there, as well as the local names of several varieties of
dates*; just as his attention had been struck by a
breed of tailless sheep in Yemen, f

That Mohammed on these journeys made ac-
quaintances who afterwards proved serviceable
seems likely, and indeed we know the names of
some of his foreign or provincial friends, though
ordinarily only the names. Khalid, son of Hawari,
is given as the name of an Abyssinian acquaintance;
the dialect of the father's name makes it likely that
this statement is correct. Iyad, son of Himar, of
the tribe Mujashi, is given as another.:):

To none of these journeys can we assign any date,
except that to which reference has already been
made, when he himself conducted an expedition to
Bostra. On all of them he would appear to have
picked up information. Sometimes this was gained
from visits to places, as to smelting works ; for
such a visit may well be inferred from his curious
comparison of the torrent, which carries away scum
and bears fertilising water, to the molten metal, of
which the slag is carried away, whereas the substance
of which utensils are made remains. But most of
his information was doubtless gathered from conver-

* Musnad, iv., 206.
\ Ibid., iv., 297.
% Ibn Duraid, 147.


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Early Life of Mohammed 59

sat ions (*.£•., at wine-shops) or from listening to story-
tellers. To any well-guarded caravan in Eastern
countries some strangers are sure to attach them-
selves, who are anxious to enjoy the security and
who in return will make themselves useful or agree-
able. Among such would doubtless be Jewish
dealers who traded in clothes* and other goods.
From intercourse with these persons the Prophet is
likely to have derived many an anecdote, and also
many an outlandish expression. Some of these
would figure in his conversation \ ; and his sacred
book afterwards contained a number of phrases
which even his intimate associates at Meccah did
not understand.^:

What is known as education he clearly had not re-
ceived. It is certain that he was not as a child
taught to read or write, though these arts were
known to many Meccans, as will appear from the
sequel ; their use in commerce was so great, as Mo-
hammed himself afterwards emphasised, that his
failing to learn them was probably due to the neglect
into which an orphan ordinarily falls. For the other
Arab fine art, poetry, he had absolutely no ear:
hence we may infer that the form of education which
consisted in learning by heart the tribal lays § was
also denied him. Yet even here his power of picking
up information did not altogether fail. The Tradi-
tion could name verses which had specially attracted

+ Goldziher, Z. D. M. G., xlvi., 185.

\ Kami/, i., 27.

\ Comm. on Surah xvi., 47.

§ Jahiz^ Bayan y i., 107.

60 Mohammed

the Prophet's fancy.* The language of the Koran
was thought by experts to bear a striking likeness to
that of the early poetry : and though for us it is diffi-
cult to pass an opinion on this point, seeing that the
early poetry is largely fabrication modelled on the
Koran, we may accept the opinion of the Arabs. Of
those lays which were recited on solemn or festive
occasions some verses then stuck in his memory and
provided the form of future revelations. Notwith-
standing this fact he had a sincere aversion for
poetry,f and an equally strong one for the only
other known form of literary composition^ — rhymed
prose. Perhaps he thus avenged himself for the want
of education which had rendered him unable to
handle either.

From intercourse with Arabian Jews and Christians
he derived a sort of biblical phraseology, § such as is
to be found in the works not only of Eastern Jews
and Christians, but even in the modern languages of
Europe. Of phrases like " tasting death," " to bring
from darkness to light," " to pervert the straight
way of God," " the trumpet shall be blown," " to roll
up the heavens as a scroll is rolled up," " they have
weights in their ears," " the new heavens and the
new earth," " the first and second death," " that
which eye hath not seen nor ear heard nor hath

* Jahiz, Mahasin, 186; Musnad, vi., 31.

f Goldziher \ M. S., i., 53., regards this as a theological aversion,
the poets being the chief exponents of pagan ideas. Surah xxxvi.,

\Musnad, iv., 245 ; Jahiz, Bayan, i., 112.

§ Preserved Smith suggests that many of these phrases may have
been merely Semitic.

Early Life of Mohammed 6 1

entered into the heart of man," "a camel entering
a needle's eye," " as far as the East is from the West,
so far hath he removed our sins from us" * — a biblical
scholar would have easily been able to tell the source :
Mohammed probably heard them in the conversation
of his pious friends and automatically adopted them.
To the last he appears to have adhered to the habit
of picking up information and then utilising it: he
heard casually from his girl-wife Ayeshah that a
Jewess had talked to her about the torment of the
grave; after this he introduced a prayer to be de-
livered therefrom into his ordinary devotion. Having
heard a Mary mentioned in the story of Moses and
another in the story of Jesus, it did not occur to him
to distinguish between them. Late in his career he
casually heard from a visitor to Najran that they
were separated by some thousands of years ; he did
not reject this information, but found a means of
reconciling it with his former statement.f When
at times some Jew or Christian testified publicly that
Mohammed had correctly reproduced the informa-
tion which he had picked up, it occasioned him the
keenest pleasure.^

Of the superstitions of the Arabs, which differ
slightly, if at all, from those of other races, he would
seem to have imbibed a fair share. To omens,
especially those connected with names, he attached
great importance. When a man was wanted to milk

* Musnad, vi., 57.

f Muslim^ ii . , 168 . There is a controversy on this subject; see Ed,
Sayous, J/sus-Christ d'aprh Mahomet, Paris, 1880, p. 36.
\ Muslim , ii. 380.


62 Mohammed

a camel, he disqualified one applicant after another,
till one offered whose name meant "long life."*
Whenever the name of a new adherent contained
anything ill-omened, it was his custom to alter it ;
if a convert was named Rough, he called him
Smooth. At the most important crisis in his career,
the preparation for the battle of Badr, and at other
times, f he was guided in his strategy by the names
of the places on the different routes. Just as
Bedouin tribes were guided in their migrations by
the instincts of their camels, so Mohammed, at
times, left the determination of his policy to the
conduct of the beast which he happened to be
riding. He was a firm believer in the evil eye, and
the possibility of averting it by means of charms ;
nor does he ever seem to have doubted the efficacy
of incantations. As such he at one time recom-
mended the Lord's Prayer — or as much as he knew
of it J ; when portions of his Koran had become
classical he approved of their being used for this
purpose ; and even claimed part of the fee when a
serpent's bite was healed by the aid of one of the
verses. § Belief in the Jinn, mysterious beings who
haunted the desert, was authorised by him, whether
he shared it himself or not. From some super-
stitions he emancipated himself in time. It is
recorded that when his followers wished to attribute

* fsabah, i., 655.
f WaHdi ( W.\ 266.

\Musnad, vi., 21. It was similarly used by Christians : y. M
Robertson, A Short History of Christianity, 125.
§ Musnad, ii., 183.

Early Life of Mohammed 63

an eclipse of the sun to the death of his son
Ibrahim, he assured them that eclipses were not
connected with the fortunes of any persons, however
important. Still he continued to regard eclipses as
events of a serious nature, for which a special form
of prayer was desirable.

Experience as a caravan-boy taught him the art
of scouting; the power of inferring from minute
signs and indications much about the whereabouts,
the numbers, and the equipments of the enemy,
perhaps not more than many of the caravan-leaders
knew, yet sufficient to stand him in good stead
when he became a captain of banditti. At times
secret ways of procuring information stood at his
command, the nature of which we can scarcely
divine. But nature, rather than experience, had en-
dowed him with one gift more to be envied than
any other: knowledge of mankind. His instinctive
judgment of men and people was rarely, we might
say never, wrong.

The personal appearance of the Prophet in mid-
dle life was recorded by many persons. According
to the ordinary tradition he was " of middle height,
bluish coloured, with hair that was neither straight
nor curly : with a large head, large eyes, heavy
eyelashes, a reddish tint in his eyes, thick-bearded,
broad-shouldered, with thick hands and feet " * ;
another description adds " with a large mouth, with
eyes horizontally long, and with little flesh on the
heels " f ; according to one account his hands were

+ Musnad, i., 89 ; Bokhari {K.), ii., 392.
f Muslim , ii., 217.

64 Mohammed

abnormally soft, which the palmists tell us signifies
" a natural tendency towards the miraculous." His
style of dress seems to have varied at different
times: his favourite costume being a striped dress
of Yemen make,* though sometimes he wore a
Syrian jubbah with narrow sleeves, f or a cloak (mirt)
of twisted black hair,;): or a red gown (Jiullati).% On
the day of the taking of Meccah he wore a black
turban. 1

What is recorded of his tastes and habits exhibits
ordinarily a high degree of refinement and delicacy.
He abhorred anything that produced an evil odour :
garlic and onions were described by him as evil
vegetables, ^[ and his loathing of anything that
tainted the breath was used as a lever by mem-
bers of his harem. When sovereign he found fault
with those whose hair was untidy, or whose clothes
were dirty,** being himself particular as to his ap-
pearance. He disliked yellow teeth, ft and almost
made the use of the toothpick a religious ordinance.

We know, from the Koran, J;); that Mohammed was
a young man of promise, and, indeed, should expect
that the astounding talents which he afterwards dis-
played would give evidence of themselves in youth.

* Hibrah. Muslim , ii., 154.

\ Musnad, i., 29.

%Ibid., vi., 162.

§ Bokhari (A".), ii., 392.

I Musnad, iii., 363.

% Ibid,, iv., 19.

** Ibid., iii., 356.

\\ Ibid., iii., 442.

%% Surah xi., 65.

Early Life of Mohammed 65

And of his ambition we have evidence in the comfort
which his notoriety afforded him at a time when
few things were going well with his project: u Have
we not expanded thy breast and exalted thy name?"
is the form which the divine consolation takes, when
the Prophet is in trouble. Expansion of the breast,
the organisation of life about a new centre, as P10-
fessor Starbuck expresses it, and celebrity, were then
things for which he yearned ; but his early promise
Jed to none of those fiascos in which the efforts of
persons who are anxious to distinguish themselves
are apt to result.

And how could Mohammed distinguish himself?
Like Beckwourth, doubtless, who, in every fight,
killed the rival chieftain, or at every assault was the
first to scale the wall ; so the battles of Fijar (and
others perhaps of which there is no record) gave Mo-
hammed the chance of proving himself the first man
of the Kuraish. At these battles his future antago-
nists, Abu Sufyan and his brother, had won the title
" The Lions." * Men, too, who played a rdle similar
to that of David were not wanting in Arabia. The
poet-king Imru'ulkais, being driven from home by his
father, had collected a number of outcasts round
him with whom he raided his neighbours. The
sequel shows that Mohammed was not born for that
sort of distinction. Care for his life and safety was
invariably his first consideration ; in the presence of
danger, indeed, he kept his head, and even fought, if
necessary, bravely. But he lacked the courage of
the man who, when a champion is called for, hurries

* Ibn Duraid % 103.

66 Mohammed

to be first. The four Fijar battles therefore brought
him no laurels.

The lads who were prepared to pass their lives in
camel-driving, or similar occupations, doubtless took
to themselves wives at seventeen or eighteen, and so
settled into a slough of poverty, whence they could
not, save by marvellous luck, emerge. Mohammed,
though not without his share of that passion of
which the Talmud rightly says nine parts have been
given to the Arabs, and only one to the rest of the

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthMohammed and the rise of Islam → online text (page 5 of 32)