لا إله إلا الله ، وأن محمدا رسول الله.( There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.)

~Sunni Shahada


 The Arab World Before Islam

Before we delve into the religion of Islam itself, let’s look at Arab life before it’s inception. In the 5th and 6th centuries the Arab people were a fractured community of tribes populating modern day Saudi Arabia.  Mostly farmers and merchants they had no organized religion. They had their own pantheon of gods but had no mythical backstory for them or reasons why they did what they did. No elaborate ceremonies or rituals. They didn’t really have time for religion. Most hours of the day were spent trying not to die. Results varied.

The Arab tribes developed  a code referred to as muruwah. Muruwah fulfilled many of the functions of religion. It required a man to be obedient to his overlord or sayyid. It promoted tribe over individual and vested everyone with ensuring the success of the tribe. Emphasis was placed on the health and comfort of the elderly and the young. The patriarchs and future of the tribes. It emphasized generosity and charity and frowned on material possession and personal wealth.  It could be called socialist or communist but it worked for their way of life. Life expectancy wasn’t very high to begin with and weakening your tribe meant it would be even shorter.

Another part of muruwah was the blood feud. In those days it was pretty easy to get away with murder. Simply kill and fade into the anonymity of your tribe. No tribe would readily give up one of their own. So a blood feud was enacted. If a member of  a tribe commits murder and cannot be apprehended, another member of the tribe will be chosen to die for them. Harsh, but it accomplished  a few things. Life was exchanged for life so no tribe would become stronger than the other. It also put a major emphasis on policing your own tribe. If someone killed and ran, you could very well be the one who dies for him. This resulted in some very bloody games of “Red Rover”. It was also a self repeating cycle of violence that no tribe could escape from.

The Bedouin tribes of Najd and Hijaz, the predominant tribes in the area, were constantly at war with each other. But even then there was a sense of an Arab community created by the muruwah. Arab leaders and delegations would meet every year for a poetry competition. I shit you not. A kind of Arab Olympic Games for nerds. The tribes were competing for resources in the area but still held a respect for their shared heritage. The battles carried on though. The Arab tribes were mostly nomadic and while territorial disputes didn’t occur very often there was still the constant struggle for resources.

Surrounding the Bedouin tribes were various Arab kingdoms all manipulated and controlled by the Sassanid Empire, the last pre-Islamic Persian empire. The Sassanid Empire set on almost equal footing with the Roman Empire in Western Asia and often took territory away from them. This led to an almost constant state of war between the two powers. Like Rome, the Sessanid’s spent much of their time fighting neighboring kingdoms and hostile tribes. Yemen, an ally to the Sessanids, controlled the Bedouin tribes in Arabia. In the late 5th century the Quraysh take control of Mecca from Yemen. Under their stewardship the city became a center of trade on the Arabian peninsula.

By the end of the 6th century many tribes had moved into the major settlements, including Mecca and Medina.   Some scholars argue that northwestern Arabia was the actual center of trade and Mecca and Medina were minor cities economically. Regardless, tradition dictates that Mecca is the birthplace of the founder of Islam.

Ancient Mecca

The Birth of Islam


By the early 7th century Mecca was a flourishing metropolis. many, many tribes had become insanely rich. Natural merchants, the Bedouin tribes controlling Mecca were quickly putting aside their conflicts in the pursuit of more and more wealth. On the outside it appeared that the Arab people were finally united and working together to become rich and powerful. Mecca was  an extremely important religious city, even before the time of the Prophet. Mecca contains the Kaaba, the most holy place in Islam.


The official history of the Kaaba is not very in depth before the time of the prophet. The Kaaba is a mosque built around the most sacred artifact in the Islamic religion,الحجر الأسود  (The Black Stone).

World's largest mood ring.


It is several fragments of unusual stone held together on a plate like structure, embedded in concrete, and lined in silver. I say unusual only because people still debate exactly what it is. One leading theory is that the Black Stone is a chunk of earth turned glass form the tremendous heat of a meteorite explosion. That one sounds the coolest so let’s go with that. Tradition dictates that the stone was placed there by Abraham, the busiest man in religion. Who has time to found 3 different religions? Anyways, dedicating sites with stones is a tradition found throughout the Old Testament. Abraham built the original shrine for the rock. It was destroyed and rebuilt many times before the coming of the Prophet, and the rock was even stolen and relocated on several occasions.

In the 7th century the Quraysh had a simple shrine surrounding the Black Stone dotted by various offerings. Without the threat of major crime in their city, Mecca blossomed and became a major trade route on the Silk Road and a major player in the lucrative spice trade. Into this environment was born Muhammad ibn `Abdullah, the last prophet. Muhammad’s family was not particularly wealthy but did quite well as merchants in the city. His mother died at an early age and he was raised by his uncle,   Abu Talib.  Talib, like most in the city loved the new found prosperity in Mecca. However, an economic downturn almost bankrupted him if not for Muhammad reaching out to other family for help.

This may have been the first step toward Muhammad’s disillusionment with Meccan society. He was happy that his people were finally had enough to eat, a place to raise families. Only a few generations earlier they were eking out  a meager existence on the Arabian steppes.  But he saw the problems with current Arab culture. When they were on the steppes they cared for one another. Protected the young and elderly and fought for what was best for the tribe as a whole. All these things were being replaced by an individualism fueled by greed. Every year, during Ramadan, Muhammad and his family would retreat to the mountains outside Mecca to meditate and pray to the gods. A tradition shared by many Arabs. During this time Muhammad would reflect on his people, where they were, where they are, and most importantly, where they were headed. he didn’t like it.  Already tempers flared over money and royalties. Competition for the market had driven a wedge into a tribe that use to be one.

The Arab people were adopting anew religion, the religion of money. He felt a spiritual rebirth was the only thing that could save his people. But how? Muhammad’s thoughts turned to the current Arabian religion and the Kaaba. Muhammad’s people worshiped a wide assortment of gods, but chief among them was آل لاه (al-Lah), meaning “the GOD”.  And then it dawned on him, could al-Lah be the one GOD of Judaism and Christianity?

Mount Hira. Where Muhammad pondered the future of his people.

Muhammad’s idea was not unique though. Many Arabs believed the same.  Abraham had dedicated a great shrine to GOD in the area and that could very well be the Kaaba. In the year 610, during his annual pilgrimage to the caves of Mount Hira, Muhammad received a message from GOD delivered by the archangel, Gabriel.  Muhammad knew this was the way. he knew his people would be saved by a prophet from al-Lah. He never ever expected to be that prophet. Most Arabs were aware that they had no prophets sent to them.  No Moses or Jesus. They believed the Kaaba was dedicated to that same GOD yet he sent no prophet to favor them. Many did not care but many more felt a kind of “spiritual inferiority”.

Muhammad thought a prophet would come from the outside to cleanse the city and the Arab people. But here he was preparing to receive  a decree from al-Lah.  And Gabriel spoke, “Iqra!”, meaning recite. The first words spoken from GOD in Arabic.  Muhammad bristled. He told Gabriel he was no “kahin”, or soothsayer/reciter. This was the same reaction of Biblical prophets when called upon to spread GOD’s word. Fear and inadequacy would probably be the reaction to any message from GOD.  Especially if you are chosen to deliver it. But Gabriel did not relent. Again he commanded Muhammad to recite what eh was about to say. Muhammad complied and the archangel Gabriel delivered this message:


يقرأ في اسم الرزاق خاصتك، والذي خلق الإنسان من خلية الجرثومية. يقرأ، لخاصتك الرزاق هو الأكرم، واحد الذي يدرس استخدام القلم. علمه ما لم يعلم.

“Recite in the name of thy Sustainer, who created man out of a germ cell. Recite, for thy Sustainer is the Most Bountiful, One who has taught the use of the pen. Taught him what he did not know.”

Instead of being overjoyed by this revelation, Muhammad was greatly distressed. He was a common kahin. A babbling idiot who people consulted if their camel went missing. He feared this because kahin are said to be possessed by jinn, spirits who inhabit the land around them. Muhammad despised kahins. Spiritual frauds who dealt in useless mumbo jumbo and the like. He thought he could possibly be possessed by spirits and actually considered killing himself. In his own words he said he decided to fling himself from the top of the mountain but, before he jumped, Gabriel appeared to him again to assure him that he was not possessed but a messenger of GOD. It kept him from jumping but did little to comfort him. Gabriel appeared enormous, straddling the horizon. Every direction Muhammad looked, he saw him.

He fled the mountain running back to this wife. He burst through the door screaming “Cover me! Cover me!”, begging her to shield him from the holy presence. After he calmed down, he relayed his story to his wife and asked her if he was “majnun”, jinn possessed. She assured him that no one as kind and considerate as Muhammad could ever be possessed. He shared his money, invited strangers with no shelter to sleep in his house, brought smiles to children, and assisted his elders in all things.  That is why GOD had chosen him. Needing more instruction he next visited his cousin, Waraka ibn Nawfal. Waraka was a Christian and Muhammad was interested in his opinion on what just occurred. Waraka assured Muhammad that he had indeed received a vision from the GOD of Moses and the prophets. I should note that Shi’a tradition dictates that Muhammad didn’t freak out at all. i find that hard to believe. Moses was a pretty hardcore dude and that guy freaked right the fuck out when GOD came to him.

Anyways, Muhammad withdrew for 3 years to meditate on these visions. By the time he returned to Gabriel he was ready to be the prophet of Al-Lah.

The Qur’an

Qu’ran means “he recited” or”the reciting”. That is what it is and how it came about. Unlike the Torah, which Moses received basically in one day, the Qur’an was recited to Muhammad over  a period of 23 years. Line by line, bit by bit. It is one of the greatest pieces of literature in the history of the world. Muhammad took care to distinguish the Qur’an from the Arab poetry used by the kahins. It has a beauty to it’s verse and form not found in any other religious document. The poetic nature of it was not accidental. Muhammad said he often struggled to understand the revelations spoken to him by Gabriel. He attempted to communicate this awesome vision in words his people would understand. Gabriel preached patience to him and reassured him he would be able to find the words.

The Qur’an is also not afraid to go third person and is referred to many times within the text. A constant reminder that you are not reading a book but the almighty word of GOD as given to the prophet Muhammad. Muhammad would receive these messages, commit them to memory, and  recite it to others who also memorized it. Some scholars believe that this is because Muhammad was illiterate. Which could have very well been true. Most of the Quraysh in Mecca were illiterate.  But just because Muhammad could not write the words down at the time does not mean he couldn’t divine their meaning and relate them to others.

Muhammad did not feel he was bringing a new religion to the Arab people or the world. He very rarely ventured far from Mecca and the surrounding cities. He believed he was simply reminding people of things they already knew. Traditions and beliefs they had all but abandoned and were now being brought back by al-Lah. The early verses of the Qur’an are exceedingly positive and constantly remind the Arab people of what al-Lah has brought to them. Like this section from a  sura found close to the beginning of the Qur’an:

واذا انت يرت ليطلب منهم : من الذي خلق السماوات والأرض ، وحدت من الشمس والقمر (لعملهم عين)؟ كانوا يقولون : الله. فكيف هم أعرضوا؟ مكث الله واسعة لتوفير يشاء من عباده، وذلك لضيق منهم (وسوف). لو! الله يدرك كل شيء. واذا انت يرت ليطلب منهم : من أسباب الماء ينزل من السماء، وبذلك إحياء الأرض بعد موتها؟ انهم حقا يقول : الله.

And if thou wert to ask them: Who created the heavens and the earth, and constrained the sun and the moon (to their appointed work)? they would say: Allah. How then are they turned away? Allah maketh the provision wide for whom He will of His bondmen, and straiteneth it for whom (He will). Lo! Allah is Aware of all things. And if thou wert to ask them: Who causeth water to come down from the sky, and therewith reviveth the earth after its death? they verily would say: Allah.  

S. 29:61-63


Most Arabs took their belief in al-Lah less than seriously. They still viewed themselves as the center of the universe and totally independent, self sufficient beings. The Qur’an tells them that everything they are and everything they will be is by the graces of al-Lah. These Arabs could be considered atheists. Originally, atheists were not people who didn’t believe in GOD. Belief in GOD was pretty much universal. An atheist was someone who was “ungrateful” to GOD. Someone who dismissed his holy providence or possibly held beliefs that didn’t exactly jive with local tradition. Muhammad felt his effort was to re-instill  faith in al-Lah and help his people become spiritually whole.   Just as he had no plans to be a prophet, he had no plans to found anything like a theocracy. But once you set the ball in motion you may never be able to stop it.

Muhammad had little contact with the religions of Christianity and Judaism. Few Christians lived in the city and though they had freedom to practice their religion,  they had little leeway as far as teaching. The Meccan elders were traditionalists and clung to their pagan gods, not taking challenges lightly. This became  a problem as Muhammad’s message spread through the city. The efficiency of Muhammad’s conversion of Arabs to Islam was quite astounding. Judaism took several hundred years to really take hold in the Jewish community and Muhammad was creating the change in a matter of decades. And it was this mass exodus from pagan religions to Islam that gave it the strength to survive. The main key to this conversion was the Qur’an itself. It is a wholly different kind of religious document than the Gospels and even the Torah. Though the Torah is a good example of the effect the Qur’an had on Arabs.

When many Jews read the Torah they will often recite aloud the first words of certain verses as these are the word of GOD and they want to voice it in all it’s clarity and be absorbed in it. It’s why we see them rocking back and forth as they read. It is a wave that washes over them and a pure spiritual experience. Not the mechanical recitation you witness in many Christian churches. Jesus was the word of GOD for Christians. The book detailing his deeds is not so much important as the man himself. For Jews and Muslims, the Torah and Qur’an are the word of GOD.  Written for them, in their language. And this hurts translations. To really, REALLY appreciate these texts you must read them in their native language. So much is lost in translation.

When the Qur’an is recited in Arabic it takes on a poetic quality that touches the soul, like any great poetic work would.  It is art. High art. And a unique kind of poetry, different even than the type used in Arabia during the time of the prophet. It’s divine inspiration. However you want to look at it. Like any modern day poet who suddenly has an epiphany and conveys it in a language that leaves us in awe with it’s deep simplicity. This is what converted so many early on. The words touched them on a level they couldn’t explain, and drew them in. Muhammad preached generosity, charity, and safeguarding the community as  a whole. He demanded alms from the  rich on a regular basis and a disdain for the pursuit of immense personal wealth. Today, what Muhammad preached in Mecca could be called socialism. Just like Jesus. And this is no coincidence either.  It’s an age of empires and constantly changing world dynamics. Millions are lost in the shuffle and resigned to lives of poverty and squalor. All it takes is one charismatic man to stand up and call bullshit on the whole thing and  a revolution is born.

The Hajj and Diplomacy in Medina

619 was a particularly rough year for Muhammad. His uncle, and clan leader, Abu Talib passed away and a vehement opponent of Muhammad took his place. Not too long after, Muhammad’s wife  Khadijah passed away as well. Muhammad was 25 and Khadija was 40 when they had married. They were married for 25 years. Some of the happiest of Muhammad’s life. He leaned very much on her for her wisdom and guidance. He had lost his best friend and his most ardent supporter in Khadijah. The old guard in Mecca  continued to harass converts to Muhammad’s religion, who were now referred to as Muslims. Twice a day Muhammad and his followers would bow down in prayer. This irritated many of the religious leaders in Mecca who felt they were emulating slaves. They felt Muhammad was insulting his own people. But Muhammad was preaching Islam, submission. Giving yourself to GOD fully.

Many Muslims were fearing violence. A mass exodus of Muslims from Mecca began that year til almost all his followers were gone. By 622, Muhammad was under almost constant threat. Unable to find protection in the city he decided to leave Mecca for Medina. Tribal leaders in Medina had already reached out to him before to come in and mediate disputes in the city so h eleft Mecca behind.  This journey is known as the Hijra, lasting 26 days. Muslims today honor this journey with the Hajj or “pilgrimage”. It is the first day of the Islamic calendar and a journey all Muslims endeavor to take. After purification ceremonies and changing into simple white sheets meant to show unity, the pilgrims reach Mecca and begin the Tawaf. Pilgrims circle the Kaaba seven times in a counterclockwise motion. Again a sign of unity in worship of the one true GOD. This is followed by several days of ceremonies and rituals commemorating events in the life of Abraham  and the journey of Muhammad. It is a rite of passage for all Muslims but it actually predates the prophet. Pilgrims had been visiting the Kaaba for centuries before Muhammad’s time. Even many Jews made the pilgrimage as a spiritual journey to honor Abraham


In Medina Muhammad found a divided city. Almost immediately weaker tribes in the city sought to unite with him and use his influence to keep away larger tribes. There was also distrust of the Meccan emigrants who had preceded Muhammad. So there was some work to do. Muhammad decided to take up the role of peace broker and brought the various tribal leaders to the table. Out of these meetings  came the Constitution of Medina.  Muhammad basically drew up a charter governing the rights of all Muslims and non-Muslims in the city. He created an ummah or community out of tribes with different religious and social beliefs.  Considering where the city was headed before he arrived it is quite a miraculous accomplishment. It also didn’t hurt that Muhammad had acquired a sizable following and was now the de facto leader of the city.


The constitution had a socialist, forward thinking structure much like the one Muhammad had preached in Mecca. It was still a religious document in that religious ties took precedent over family and tribal ties but the latter two were still respected and given some authority. It declared Medina a sanctuary city where no violence could take place and defined particular rights for women including access to the highest levels of social status. Much like Jesus, Muhammad did not turn away women from his congregation or his vision for society.  Something most Christians and Jews were very much against. But Muhammad left them space to worship and practice their religion their way. Muslims and non-Muslims both had equal status and non-Muslims were in no way expected to participate in Muslim holy wars. They would however be required to help defend the ummah  against any enemies.  All parties willingly accepted the terms and the first “Muslim community” was born. It would be a blueprint for the future growth of their empire.

War With The Arabs

Back in Mecca the government seized all the property and possessions o the emigrants who had followed Muhammad and did not allow anyone to reclaim them. This kinda pissed some people off so they started raiding Meccan caravans for whatever they could get. This was, of course, an act of war. Muhammad recited verses from the Qur’an giving Muslims the choice to go to war against perceived aggressors. This is similar to the Biblical accounts of Joshua seeking judgement from GOD before beginning the campaign to capture Canaan. It’s better to know that GOD is behind your cause. It is no surprise that Qur’anic verses begin to talk a lot about war and the sharing of spoils during this time. In the Old Testament YHWH becomes a war god when the Jews begin their conquests. This is the same god of the Muslims, the god of Abraham. Of course he will have opinions on war and it’s aftermath.

In March of 624, Muhammad led 300 soldiers out to capture a Meccan caravan. The caravan manages to elude the ambush and Muhammad is confronted by a convoy of troops from Mecca. With no choice but to confront them head on, the Battle of Badr begins. Outnumbered 3 to 1, the Muslim warriors put up a hell of a fight and the Meccan force retreats in defeat. The remaining soldiers are  taken prisoner and either ransomed for wealth or eventually set free. Muhammad had won his first military battle and strengthened his position in Medina. Any opposition that remained to his leadership quickly vanished. Muhammad forged alliances with Bedouin tribes surrounding Medina to add extra support and expelled tribes from Medina complicit in fueling hostilities between them and Mecca.   This was not the end of it though. Mecca was now committed to completely wiping out  Muhammad and his Muslim congregation. Whether Muhammad wanted full war with Mecca or not is debatable. Regardless, war was upon him. Mecca refused to relent to the emigrants demands for their property and vowed total war in response to the raids on their caravans.

Muhammad was presented with 2 options.

Option 1: Remain in Medina and use it a s a stronghold to draw the enemy in to fight on our terms. But many Muslism had a big problem with this. Meccan forces were destroying Median crops and farms  and cowering in their city while the Meccans destroyed everything would cause them to lose prestige and important allies. Which led to option 2.

Option 2: Leave the city and face Mecca in open c0mbat. Though outnumbered, the Muslim army had already repelled a superior force once and were confident they could do it again. It was the younger generation proposing this method and Muhammad greatly sough their influence.

Muhammad eventually relented and went with option 2.  In march of 625 Muhammad led a force of 1,000 soldiers out to meet the Meccan contingent in combat.  Again they were outnumbered around 3 to 1 but there were no great victories this time.  Muhammad had placed archers all around the slopes overlooking the battlefield. Under no circumstances were they to move. If Muhammad advanced, they remained. If Muhammad retreated, they remained. Only under his direct order were they to move. The battle began pretty well. Muslim forces quickly swept through the Meccan ranks and gained a quick advantage. At one point the Meccan line was forced to pull back and Muhammad pursued. This is where things went wrong. Most of the archers on the hill immediately left their posts to loot the former front line. Muhammad had explicitly told them not to do this. They would get their share AFTER the battle was won. The Meccan forces quickly took advantage of this and their cavalry swept up the slopes and finished off the remaining archers. From there they advanced directly on Muhammad’s rear flank.

Muhammad’s advantage was gone.  Confusion reigned as Meccan cavalry cut down almost 100 Muslim soldiers before a full retreat began. The Meccan force had Muhammad broken and retreated but for some reason they did not pursue.  This is  a blunder repeated all throughout history. The objective, 9 times out of 10, is to crush the opposing army and either capture or kill it’s leadership. Mecca had accomplished neither and they returned to the city claiming total victory. When the Muslim army returned to Medina, Muhammad quoted verses from the Qur’an stating that they had lost do to a lack of full belief but also as  a test of their resolve.    Again this mirrors Old Testament judgements from GOD on Israel which is quite astounding since Muhammad most likely had never heard these accounts.

Over the next few years Muhammad spent his time trying to prevent Mecca from forming a strong coalition from the surrounding tribes. he knew an invasion from Mecca was only a matter of time.  His efforts to prevent the formation of a powerful Meccan coalition were unsuccessful but he did manage to add quite a few numbers to his own army.  His army could not match the Meccans in open combat so he had to prepare for the inevitable siege. Muhammad was able to pick up a few very good defensive ideas from various converts to his cause. One was from a Persian defect who had knowledge of earthworks unknown in Arabia at the time.  In every area around Medina open to cavalry attack the Muslims dug huge trenches to halt their horses from advancing.

It proved to be quite successful. The Meccan army had never seen anything like it before. They could not advance past the trenches and the rest of Median was flanked by high unassailable mountain. the seige of Medina began in March 627. It lasted roughly 4 weeks. Unable to push a sizable force past the Muslim defenses, the Meccan army simply gave up and left. Muhammad had defeated Mecca while barely putting up an offense. Mecca lost much face in the Arab world and trade with kingdoms in Syria and surrounding areas dried up. After the siege of Medina Muhammad began expeditions to take care of those who had sided with Mecca.    Muhammad moved against the Banu Qurayza, Jewish tribes to the north and quickly captured their stronghold.  After this came the question of how to deal with them. Muhammad allowed one of their own to confer judgment on them.  He quoted the punishment laid out in the Torah. Kill the men and enslave the women and children.

And so it was done. But why didn’t Muhammad cast his judgment? There is the school of thought that maybe Muhammad couldn’t do it. Before this he did not really keep prisoners and he certainly didn’t kill them. But many saw this as  a sign of weakness. he may have passed on judging these men so as not to have the burden of their death. Regardless, Muhammad had to accept that this would be reality in war. So Muhammad sought peace.

He wrote up a treaty to be presented to the Quraysh leadership in Mecca. It wasn’t without controversy. It called for a ten year peace and claimed Muhammad to be the messenger of GOD. This did not sit well with the Quraysh so it was changed. Muslims had major problems with a clause that stated Meccans could return home if they came to Medina but Muslims could be held in Mecca with out being returned. Even if Muhammad demanded it. Muhammad wanted peace though and pleaded with his congregation to accept it. So they did. And for 2 years the treaty stood. Muslims could now make the pilgrimage to Mecca. That helped make it the bitter pill a little easier to swallow for many of them. Mecca, apparently, didn’t like it when things were calm cause they took part in events that led to the end of the treaty.

Meccan forces and weapons were used to raid tribes loyal to Muhammad. When Muhammad became aware of this he sent a declaration to Mecca demanding one of three things.

1.)Blood money equal to the lives taken.

2.)Dissolve their alliances with the guilty parties

3.)Dissolve the treaty

Being the assholes they were, the Meccans chose number 3.  The last mistake they ever made. And someone realized it was  a mistake. An envoy was sent to Muhammad in the last hour to try and resolve the conflict and resume the treaty. It was too late. Muhammad was tired of Mecca’s duplicitous nature and decided to capture the holy city for the Muslims. This was not an easy decision though. He did not want to bring violence to Mecca. No one loved and respected what it stood for more than him. But what could he do? The current leadership has made it clear they will never fully accept them no matter how much Muhammad gives in return. Howe long before they take advantage of the treaty to once again assault Medina? Muhammad had made no move against their interests for 2 years, simply cleaning up and absorbing loose independent tribes in the area. The betrayal was the last straw for him.

In the year 630,Muhammad marched on Mecca.  It wasn’t much of  a battle. With a reported force of over 10,000 men, Muhammad easily captured the city with little bloodshed which I’m sure relieved him greatly. He had prepared to siege Mecca but was probably most pleased that the city gave up, relatively untouched. Once victorious Muhammad pardoned all past offenses, except  a handful of people openly mocking him.   But even most of them were eventually pardoned.  Like I said, Muhammad did not like keeping prisoners and liked killing them even less. Most converted to Islam and Muhammad had all pagan shrines at the Kaaba destroyed and a new Muslim shrine built. Muhammad himself installed the Black Stone in the center upon completion. The holy city was now under Muslim control and Muhammad could not be happier. Finally his people could worship without fear of harm.   And, of course, Jewish and Christian faiths were accepted openly. A far cry from the west who were, at the time, even hunting down people in their own faith.

Muhammad spent the next few years taking out tribes with their eyes on Mecca. Either absorbing them onto his own empire  or making sure they put in friendly leadership. During one particular battle, Muslims killed children for apparently no reason. Muhammad was incensed and immediately stated scripture condemning any such act.

Satisfied that he had safeguarded Mecca, Muhammad embarked on his first pilgrimage since reaching Medina. In the year 632 Muhammad began to tour a peaceful Arabia. His people were one and everywhere he went he saw brother helping brother, tribe helping tribe, all working for the glory of al-Lah. It was the communal structure he had sought to return to. On Mount Arafat, in the spring of that year, Muhammad delivered his “Farewell Sermon“. This was basically the epilogue of the Qur’an.  With his holy book completed and his people at peace, Muhammad passed away on June 8, 632 at the age of 63. Muhammad’s father in law, Abu Bakr, delivered the eulogy.

      “من كان يعبد محمدا، فليعلموا أن محمدا قد مات، ومن كان يعبد الله، فليعلموا أن الله هو على قيد الحياة ويموت أبدا”.

Whoever worshipped Muhammad, let them know that Muhammad is dead, and whoever worshipped Allah, let them know that Allah is alive and never dies.”


He was buried in his house in Medina, now the  Al-Masjid al-Nabawi(Prophet’s Mosque). When Muhammad passed away eh had turned  a collection of tribes with no connections into the first Muslim empire. He had united his people in the course of one decade and launched a religion that now boasts over  a billion members. His accomplishments were epic and entirely implausible. His legacy is a mess though. People claim he is a womanizer,a thief, and a war monger. He was none of these things. He was a product of his environment and actually managed to rise above it. Where his people went after his death is an entirely different story and one we will get into in my next post.

Until then, hope you enjoyed this brief account of Muhammad and his life. I encourage everyone to read about and become more familiar with this man. He isn’t easily definable and not what you may have heard about.




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Arab leaders and delegations would meet every year for a poetry competition.

Thus the surah called, Ash-Shu’ara, The Poets. Also, the poetry was really derivative, I think Reza Aslan goes into this. A liberal reading (and given that Arabs still like poetry and only music is more frowned upon) is that it was referring to this tradition when they were totally being dissed in the Qur’an.

It was destroyed and rebuilt many times before the coming of the Prophet, and the rock was even stolen and relocated on several occasions.

The most infamous time, by the Qarmatians. No one ignored Bahrain then!

After he calmed down, he relayed his story to his wife and asked her if he was “majnun”, jinn possessed

It is indeed from the root for jinn, and also means mad. There’s a famous poem about star-crossed lovers in the Middle East called Leila wa Majnun. The girl is named Leila (night) and the boy who writes poetry for her, Majnun (mad – with love).


But just because Muhammad could not write the words down at the time does not mean he couldn’t divine their meaning and relate them to others.

There’s a radical theory that Khadija wrote the Qur’an (rather than even just transcribing it).

I should note that Shi’a tradition dictates that Muhammad didn’t freak out at all.

I’ll be able to explain this, as Muhammad was the proto-Imam (as in Shi‘i theology), and Imams are, quite frankly, perfect. Wait, I don’t need to explain it, I just kinda did.

Muhammad had little contact with the religions of Christianity and Judaism.

But, he may have joined Khadija on a few trips. Also, the Jewish traders in Arabia were known to them, as was their Christian friend you mentioned. I know we’re giving the Muslim history here, but I can’t help but to interject with some rationalist theories that are out there.

Muslims and non-Muslims both had equal status and non-Muslims were in no way expected to participate in Muslim holy wars. They would however be required to help defend the ummah against any enemies.

What modern Islamophobes call ‘dhimmitude’. Was is exploited and twisted upon conquered Peoples of the Book later? Absolutely. But considering the context from which it sprang, it was quite forward-thinking and generous.

Muhammad eventually relented and went with option 2.

In popular tradition (Sunni too, I’m pretty sure), relenting to Abu Bakr and ’Ali (known for his peculiar sword). But, we’ll get to ‘Ali and his ‘party’ later. 😉

a Persian defect who had knowledge of earthworks unknown in Arabia at the time.

Iranians love this part. On their 50,000 rial bank note they have a quote attributed to Muhammad (per Shi‘i ahadith I’d venture a guess), “if the science exists in this constellation, men from Persia will reach it.” (this accompanies an atom symbol – which of course means they want to blow up Israel.)

The farewell sermon from “The Message” – at this point in the movie I was so moved I wanted to be Muslim, except for the fact that I picked up my beer, thought of bacon and reconsidered. Nevertheless, I wish all Muslims would see this movie and emulate its Muhammad. But as important, I wish non-Muslims would see it, to at least understand the context of the war. Muhammad wanted to turn the other cheek, but had he had his way, there would be no Islam. Some might think this a good thing. But it is what it is. Don’t blame the Prophet for what much of Islam has become. Don’t blame the essence of Islam for those who claim to speak for it.

And yeah, the Qur’an speaking in the third person is a little confusing reading through it the first time around. Also, the ‘yea, for Allah knows all things’ becomes a little redundant, but this was clearly a book to be memorized and recited, after all – so it’s bound to be a little repetitive.


Oh you bastard, you had to write this while I was on vacay. I’ll have to save this for latah.

Totally sucks on justify right, no? Makes it hard to write Arabic and translation together.

Everyone: rent “The Message” with Anthony Quinn.


BTW, I have a primer on Shi`ism on my to-do list. So, dibs. 😉


Great article.
I have a few cyber-friends who are Muslim, which prompted me to read up a bit on Islam. I learned a bit more by reading this.

Haruko Haruhara

Very interesting and well-written. I wonder, like Jesus and Christianity, what he would think of Islam today?