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Back to index     23 Years: Study of Mohammad’s Prophetic Career
Chapter I: Mohammed
Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6  

23 Years: A Study of Mohammad’s Prophetic Career
Chapter I: Mohammed

Ali Dashti
December 12, 2008

If we put Islam under the microscope, we will notice that the history of Islam is nothing but a history of power struggle for the power hungry to establish a monarchy or an empire. Islam was never the goal but it was always a tool!
(Ali Dashti)

Index of Contents
About the Translation to English (Translator's Note)

Chapter I: Mohammed
Problem of Prophethood
After His Appointment

Chapter II: Religion of Islam
The Setting
Miracle of Quran
Mohammad’s Humanity

Chapter III: Politics
The Emigration
The Change in Mohammad’s Personality
The Establishment of a Sound Economy
The Advance to Power
Prophethood and Rulership
Women in Islam
Women and the Prophet

Chapter IV: Metaphysics
God in Quran
Genies and Magic
Cosmogony and Chronology

Chapter V: After Mohammad
The Succession
The Quest for Booty

Chapter VI: Summary
The Summary

About the Translation to English (Translator's Note)

A mutual friend introduced me to Ali Dashti when I was staying in Tehran in the spring of 1975. I well remember his upright bearing and fine physique at a ripe age and the perspicacity {quick in noticing, understanding or judging things accurately} and wit of his conversation. It seemed likely that he would have several more years of vigorous and useful life ahead.

He presented a copy of Bist O Seh Sal (Twenty Three Years) to me and requested me to translate it but not to talk about it and not to publish the translation until after his death. He repeated these requests when I met him again at Tehran in September 1977, and when he telephoned and wrote to me from London during a short journey to Paris and London which he made in June 1978. I lost touch with him after the revolution, but remained bound by my promises to fulfil his requests.

I have tried to produce a readable translation while remaining faithful to Ali Dashti's text. In some places I have abbreviated slightly, and in others I have inserted explanations. In chapter VI have changed the positions of paragraphs obviously printed in wrong order in the Persian original. I found a small number of misprinted or erroneous dates and names, and have checked and corrected them. I have incorporated Ali Dashti's few footnotes into the text and added notes of my own to provide identifications and explanations which may be helpful to non-specialist readers.

Ali Dashti quotes passages from the Qur’an in the original Arabic, which would be understood by many of his readers, and then gives Persian renderings which are more often explanatory paraphrases than literal translations. I have translated the Qur’anic passages as literally as possible into modern English after consideration of Ali Dashti's renderings and English, French, and German versions. I preferred not to quote from the widely used English versions of Arthur J. Arberry and Marmaduke Pickthall because their strict literalism and archaic English often make comprehension difficult. Systems of Qur’anic verse-numbering differ, and I have not followed Ali Dashti in this respect, but have used the system of Gustav Flügel.

Although this is a translation of a Persian book, the subject matter requires a transliteration system reproducing Arabic rather than Persian pronunciations of names and words. The chosen system dispenses with diacritical points, which have to be used for identification of Arabic consonants, but distinguishes between long and short vowels as follows: long a (as in father), short a (like the vowel of cut rather than cat), long u (as in peruse), short o (like the vowel of put rather than pot), long i (as in prestige), short e (like the vowel of sit rather than set). The diphthongs are spelt ay and aw (though sometimes the former is pronounced as in my rather than may and the latter as in now or know rather than gnaw).

The guttural is transcribed as ' and the glottal stop as '; elision is indicated by '. Unless separated by a hyphen (e.g. s-h in Es-haq), th represents the initial consonant of thing, kh the final consonant of loch, dh the initial consonant of this, sh the consonant of shoe, and gh a consonant similar to the French r grasseye. In constructs with the Arabic article, the Arabic nominative case is used (e.g. Abdollah, not Abdallah). The article when preceding the socalled "sun letters" is transliterated as it is pronounced (e.g. Abd or-Rahman, not Abd oJ-Rahman as it is spelt).

Apologies are offered to Arabists and others accustomed to spellings such as Ibn Abbas instead of Ebn Abbas. Conventional English spellings, such as Islam, Iraq, are retained. Arabic names which have the definite article (e.g. ol-Madina, ot-Ta'ef, oJ-Basra, oJ-Hasan, ol-Hosayn) are, for convenience, given without it (e.g. Madina, Hosayn). The abbreviation b. stands for the Arabic ebn or ben (son of) and bent (daughter of). Banu (sons of) means tribe or clan.

Dates are given with the hejri lunar year preceding the Gregorian solar year (e.g. 10/632).
Below are some explanations of technical terms in the text:

Sura: Chapter of the Qur’an. The chapters are divided into verses which are called aya. Both words occur in the Qur’an, where sura appears to mean scripture (e.g. in sura 2, verse 21) and aya means sign (of God's existence, power, or bounty).

Companions (sahaba): early converts and other close associates of the Prophet Mohammad.
hejra: the emigration of the Prophet Mohammad and a number of Meccan converts to Madina in September 622. The Islamic era is called the hejri era, but its starting point is 16 July 622.

Mohajerun (emigrants): the Meccan converts who accompanied or followed the Prophet Mohammad to Madina.

Ansar (supporters): the members of the Madinan Khazraj and Aws tribes whose leaders invited Mohammad to Madina and who supported him there.

Hadith (news): reports of the Prophet Mohammad's sayings and actions attributed to his companions, his wives, men who knew or saw him, and men who knew his companions. The Shi'ite Islamic . Hadith, also called Akhbar (reports), includes sayings and examples of the Emams. The Hadith supplemented the Qur’an as a source of Islamic law and theology, and was written down in the 9th and following centuries in massive compilations which are thought by modern scholars to include material absorbed from many Eastern sources.

Sanna (custom): the custom of the Prophet Mohammad, as recorded in the Hadith, and of Moslems generally in the early centuries of Islam.

Sonnites: Moslems who believe that, after the Qur’an, the sonna and the consensus of the community are authoritative in religious and legal matters.

Caliph (Khalifa): Successor of Mohammad in his role as head of the Islamic state.

Emam (Leader): head of the Islamic religious community.

Shi'ites: Moslems who believe that the Prophet Mohammad designated Ali to be the next Emam and head of the state, and that only Emams descended from Ali, and each likewise designated by his predecessor, can give authoritative guidance. Shi'ite sects differed over the line of succession of the Emams and over matters of doctrine. The Twelver Shi'ites, who are the majority in Iran and numerous in Iraq, believe that the Twelfth Emam disappeared in 939 and that since then authoritative guidance is given by the most learned and pious 'olama acting as the Emam's representatives.

'olama (plural), 'alem (singular): scholars of the Islamic religion who fulfil the function of clergy and used also to act as lawyers.

Readers wishing to pursue the study of subjects treated in this book can find bibliographical guidance in the Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., Leiden, 1960- (up to Ma in 1984); the Encyclopaedia Iranica, New York, 1982- (up to Al in 1984); D. Grimwood-Jones,D. Hopwood,andJ. D. Pearson,ed.,Arabic- XVll

Islamic Bibliography, Hassocks, Sussex/Atlantic Highland, New Jersey, 1977; L. P. Elwell Sutton, ed., Bibliographical Guide to Iran, Hassocks, Sussex/Totowa, New Jersey, 1983; J. D. Pearson, ed., Index Islamicus (articles in periodicals etc. since 1906),Cambridge, 1958.

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Chapter I: Mohammed
Problem of Prophethood
After His Appointment

Chapter I: Mohammad


I search for the way, but not the way to the Ka'ba and the temple.
For I see in the former a troop of idolaters and in the latter a band of self-worshippers.
(Moulavi Jalal e-Din Rumi)

At Mecca in 570 Amena b. Wahb gave birth to a child named Mohammad. His father Abdollah had died before he opened his eyes, and he lost his mother when he was five years old. A little later his influential and generous grandfather Abd ol-Mottaleb b. Hashem, who had been his sole protector and sustainer, also passed away. Thereafter this child, who had several quite wealthy paternal uncles, was brought up by the poorest but bravest of them, Abu Taleb. Ahead lay an astonishing career, perhaps unique in the world's record of self-mademen who have created history.

Thousands of books have been written about this extraordinary man's life, about the events of "the twenty three years of his mission, about everything that he did and said. Scholars and researchers actually have at their disposal more information about him than about any of the great men of history before him. Yet we still lack an objective and rationally acceptable book presenting a portrait of him unclouded by preconceptions, suppositions, and fanaticisms; or if such a book has been written, I have not seen it.
Moslems, as wellas others, have disregarded the historical facts. They have continually striven to turn this man into an imaginary superhuman being, a sort of God in human clothes, and have generally ignored the ample evidence of his humanity. They have been ready to set aside the law of cause and effect, which governs real life, and to present their fantasies as miracles.

About Mohammad's life up to 610, when he reached the age of forty, nothing of any importance is recorded. In the accounts of the period, and even in the biographies of the Prophet, there are no reports of anything remarkable or out of the ordinary. Yet by the end of the 3rd/9th century the great historian and Qur’an-commentator Tabaril in his exegesis of verse 21 of sura 2 (ol-Baqara), could insert an unsubstantiated statement about the Prophet's birth which shows how prone the people were in those days to create and repeat impossible myths, and how even a historian could not stick to history. The verse says, "If you are in doubt over what We have sent down to Our servant, bring a sura like it, and call your witnesses, other than God, if you are truthful!" The statement which Tabari adds to his explanation of the verse is as follows: "Before the Prophet's appointment, a rumor had spread in Mecca that a messenger from God with the name Mohammad would appear and that the east and the west of the world would fall under his sway. At that time forty women in Mecca were with child, and every one of them, after giving birth, named her son Mohammad in case he might be the expected messenger.”

The fatuity of this statement is too obvious for comment.

Nobody in Mecca could have heard such a rumor or foreseen the appearance of a prophet named Mohammad. Mohammad's protector and guardian Abu Taleb, who died without embracing Islam, must certainly have heard nothing and seen nothing. Mohammad himself did not know before his appointment that he was going to be a prophet, as verse 17 of sura 10 (Yunos) eloquently attests: "Had God so willed, I should not have recited it to you, and He would not have made it known to you. I dwelt among you for a lifetime before it." There were no registration statistics at Mecca to show that in the year 570 only forty women gave birth and that all without exception named their sons Mohammad. Did Mohammad in his childhood have forty playmates of the same age and name?

The historian Waqedi2 tells a different sort of story about the Prophet's birth: "As soon as he came out of his mother's womb, he said 'God is great'. At one month he crawled, at two months he stood, at three months he walked, at four months he ran, and at nine months he shot arrows." It is noteworthy that Mirza Jani Kashani (d. 1268/1852) makes a similar statement about Sayyed Ali Mohammad Shirazi, the founder of Babism, in his book Noqlal ol-Kaf,3 which the Baha'is tried to suppress. According to this, as soon as Sayyed Ali was born he uttered the words "Sovereignty belongs to God."

If such extraordinary things as Waqedi relates had occurred, surely they would have become known to all the people of Mecca, and surely those people, who worshipped stone idols, would have bowed down to Mohammad instead.

This story is an example of myth-making and history fabrication by Moslems. Conversely, certain Western Christian writers were moved by religious bias to describe Mohammad as a liar, impostor, adventurer, power-seeker, and lecher. Neither group was capable of objective study of the facts.

The reason for this is that ideologies, whether political, religious, or sectarian, prevent men and women from using their brains and thinking clearly. Subjects thus become veiled by preconceived notions of good and evil. Inculcated {to fix beliefs or ideas in someone's mind, especially by repeating them often, Implant} love or hatred and fanaticism or prejudice envelop the person who is being discussed in a fog of unreal imagination.

Without question the Prophet Mohammad is an outstanding figure. Among the qualities which distinguished him from his fellow men were sharpness of mind, profoundity of thought, and impatience with the illusions and superstitions prevalent in his time. Most important of all were the extraordinary will-power and energy which carried him into single combat with evil. In fervent words he warned the people against dishonesty and immorality, reprehended wickedness, untruthfulness, and selfishness, stood up for the deprived and needy lower class, rebuked his compatriots for worshipping stone idols instead of the one great God, and ridiculed the uselessness of the idols. Naturally those who enjoyed prestige and held positions of strength in the Meccan community took no notice of his words. Acceptance would have required abandonment of customs and beliefs which had been rooted for centuries and, like all inherited ideologies, were supposed to have absolute and incontestable validity.

What most offended the Meccanchiefs was the fact that this call for overthrow of the traditional social structure came from a man of lower status than themselves. Although he was of the same tribe, the Qoraysh, he was not of the same rank, being an orphan whom an uncle had compassionately housed and reared. After a childhood spent in tending the camels of his uncle and his neighbours, he had at a quite young age entered the service of a wealthy woman, Khadija, and begun to gain some esteem. Such a man, seen hitherto as an ordinary Qorayshite tribesman lacking any kind of distinction, suddenly claimed authority to teach and lead on the ground that God had appointed him to be a prophet.

The attitude and mentality of the chiefs is illustrated by a reported remark of Walid b.ol-Moghiril, who was head of the Makhzum clan of the Qoraysh tribe in the early years of Mohammad's mission and died sometime before 615: "When the Qoraysh have a chief like me and the Banu Tamim one like Orwa b. Mas'ud, how can Mohammad claim to be a prophet?" There is a reference to this crude notion in verses 30 and 31 of sura 43 (oz-Zokhrof): "And they said, 'If only this Qur’an had been sent down to some great man of the two towns (i.e. Meccaand Ta'ef)!' Is it they who apportion your Lord's mercy? It is We who have apportioned their sustenance among them in the life of the lower world." The Makhzum clan had been gaining ground in Meccan affairs.

The powerful Abd Manaf clan of the Qoraysh had split into smaller clans called after Abd Manaf's sons; among these were the clan of Hashem, into which Mohammad was born, and the wealthy clan of Abd Shams and the latter's son Omayya. The clan mentality is expressed in the reported words of Abu Jahl4 the next head of the clan of Makhzum, to Akhnas b. Shariq, a head of another clan: "We were rivals with the Banu Abd Manaffor the ascendancy, and we have caught up with them. So one of them has come out with a claim to be a prophet. This is how the Banu Abd Manaf hope to regain the upper hand over us." These and other reports enable us to understand the thinking of the Qoraysh chiefs and their reaction to Mohammad's preaching.

They took a negative view because they did not believe either in the existence of one God or in the divine appointment of a man from their own people to teach and guide them. Their objection, several times quoted in the Qur’an (e.g. in suras 6; verse 8; 11, verse 15;25, verse 8) was that if a god had wished to guide them, he would not have appointed a man of their own people to do so, but would have sent an angel to them. The reply, also given in the Qur’an (sura 17, verse 97), is that if the angels lived on earth, a prophet from among their people would likewise be sent to them.

Significantly the Meccan chiefs paid no attention to the basic issue. They never listened to Mohammad's teaching with any willingness to ascertain its truth and assess its compatibility with reason and the good of the community.

In any community, however wicked or immoral, there are a few clear thinking and well-meaning persons ready to accept words of truth, no matter from whose mouth they may come. Among the men of influence in Meccan society, Abu Bakr must be counted the first to have acknowledged Mohammad's teachings as true. Following his example some other Qorayshite notables, such as Abd of-Rahman b. Awf, Othman b. Afffm, Zobayr b. ol-Awwam, Talha b. Obaydollah, and Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas, embraced Islam.

In any community there is also a group which has not shared in the good fortune of the wealthy group and naturally forms the poor and discontented class. At Mecca members of both groups rallied to Mohammad and joined in praise of him and his ideas. Conflict between the two groups was bound to arise in the Meccan situation.

The wealthy, who enjoyed the support of the majority of the people, were proud of their wealth and their money. The minority supporting Mohammad were convinced of the rightness of their cause, and in order to propagate it, they ascribed special faculties and merits to their leader. The tendency to do this was kept within reasonable bounds during his lifetime but continually gathered strength after his death. Popular imagination soon dehumanized him and endowed him with the qualities of a son of God, cause of creation, controller of the universe.

To show how most of these fantasies came into being and proliferated, an important example will be discussed. The evidence in this case is clear and incontrovertible. For Moslems the Qur’an is the conclusive proof. Verse 1of sura 17 (ol-Esra), which is one of the Meccan suras, was the source of the belief that the Prophet made a night journey to heaven. The words of the verse, however, are simple and rationally explicable: "Exalted is He who carried His servant by night from the Mosque of the Sanctuary to the Furthest Mosque, whose precincts We have blessed, so that We might show him some of Our signs. He is (all-)hearing, (all-)seeing." The words may certainly be taken to mean a spiritual journey. Other instances of spiritual journey by visionary thinkers are known.

In Moslem minds, however, this simple verse is overlaid with wondrous and rationally unacceptable myths. Here it will suffice to quote the relatively temperate account given in the Tafsir ol-Jalalayn, which is one of the trust worthiest Qur’an-commentaries because the learned Egyptians Jalal od-Din ol-Mahalli, who began it, and Jalal od-Din os-Soyuti (848/1445-910/1505), who finished it, were virtually free from sectarian prejudice, their only concern being to explain the meanings of the verses and in some cases the occasions of the revelations. Even so, in their exegesis {an explanation or critical interpretation of a text}of verse 1 of sura 17, they put unsubstantiated words into the Prophet Mohammad's mouth. Was their purpose to explain the meaning and the occasion of the revelation of the verse, or to summarize the stories about it circulating among Moslems? In any case, they cite no evidence that the Prophet ever said such things. The authors of the Hadith compilations took great pains to check the transmission of sayings ascribed to the Prophet, though this does not necessarily prove the reliability of the transmitters.

The authors of the Tafsir ol-Jalalayndo not mention any source at all. This suggests that perhaps they did not believe the story which they were telling. According to it, the Prophet said: "That night Gabriel came, bringing a quadruped bigger than a donkey and smaller than a mule, with outward-facing hoofs on its feet. I mounted it and rode to the House of the Sanctuary. I tied Boraq's (the animal's) bridle on the ring on which prophets usually tied it. In the Furthest Mosque I lowered my head to the ground three times in prayer. When I came out, Gabriel brought two vessels to me, one filled with milk and one filled with wine. I chose the one filled with milk, and Gabriel approved my choice. Then we flew to the first heaven. At the gate of the first heaven a guard asked, 'Who is it?' Gabriel answered, 'It is Gabriel.' The guard asked, 'Who is with you?' Gabriel answered, 'Mohammad.' The guard asked, 'Has he been summoned?' Gabriel said, 'Yes.' Then the guard opened the gate of the heaven.  Adam came to meet me and said, 'You are welcome.' [In like manner Mohammad traverses the seven heavens and in each of them is greeted by a prophet]. In the seventh heaven I saw Abraham reclining in the populous abode into which seventy thousand angels go every day and out of which none ever come.  Next Gabriel took me to the last lote tree5 whose leaves were as big as elephant's ears and whose fruits were like. . . . . . Then a revelation came ordering me to pray fifty times every day and night. On my way back, the Prophet Moses said to me, 'Fifty prayers are too many. Ask the Lord to reduce them!' So 1went back to God and asked for a reduction. The Lord granted a reduction to forty prayers. This time Moses said, 'I have tested the matter in my own community. The people cannot pray forty times every day and night. ' I went back to God again..." (P#  6} [In short, the Prophet went on haggling until God reduced the number of the daily prayers to five.]

This statement about the Prophet's night journey in the Tafsir ol-Jalalayn is pale beside the extravaganzas of Tabari's Tafsir (Qur’an-commentary) and the writings of Abu Bakr Atiq Nishapur. Islamic portrayals of the night journey turn it into fables like the adventures of the {Persian} folklore hero Amir Arslan. Even the Prophet's modern and generally rational biographer, Mohammad Hosayn Haykal 6 while denying that the night journey was a bodily ascension, presents the mythical account in a modified form taken from a book by Emile Dermenghem 7.

To anyone acquainted with the Qur’an, which reflects the events and experiences of Mohammad's prophetic career, it is obvious that the Prophet did not say such things and that these childish fables are figments of the imaginations of simple-minded people who conceived of the divine order as a replica of the court of their own king or ruler. For in the same sura 17, whose first verse gave rise to the myth, the Prophet is told in verse 95 how to answer those who demanded a miracle from him: "Say 'Glory to my Lord! Am I other than a human, a messenger?'" Verse 50 of sura 42 (osh- Shawra) states clearly that "it would not be (vouchsafed) to a human that God should speak to him, except through revelation." When revelations were being sent down to the Prophet, there was no need that he should go up to the heavens. Even on the assumption of such a need, why should a winged or air-borne quadruped have been provided? Was the Furthest Mosque on the route to the heavens? Does God, who is omnipotent, have any need for prayers from His worshippers? Why had not the guards of the heavens been forewarned of the Prophet's journey? Credulous minds relate cause to effect without reference to reality. The Prophet needs a mount because he is going on a long journey; therefore the mount, while resembling a mule, has to possess some sort of wings to enable it to fly like a pigeon. God wants to dazzle Mohammad with His Majesty and therefore commands Gabriel to show Mohammad the wonders of the heavens. Like a mighty king who orders his officials to collect higher taxes to meet the state's expenses, and whose finance minister warns against impoverishment of the subjects through over-taxation, the Lord demands prayers from the worshippers and His Prophet pleads that fifty prayers are too many.

Mohammad's greatness is unquestionable. He was one of the (P#  7} most outstanding men of genius who have appeared in human history. If the social and political circumstances of his time are taken into account, he has no equal among the initiators of major historical change. Men such as Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, Cyrus, Chengiz Khan, or Timur do not bear comparison with him. They all had the support of the armed forces and public opinion of their peoples, whereas Mohammad made his way into history with empty hands and in a hostile society.

Perhaps Lenin can be rated the most potent man of the present century and compared with Mohammad. For nearly twenty years (1904-1924), with tireless energy and resourcefulness and with stubborn fidelity to his principles, he thought, wrote, kept remote control over revolutionary activities, and never relaxed, until he established the first communist state in the physically and socially unfavourable environment of Russia. He certainly overcame huge internal and external obstacles. On the other hand, a revolutionary movement had been developing in Russia for half a century before him, and hundreds of thousands of revolutionaries and malcontents were ready to support him. Another striking difference is that he always lived in poverty or self-chosen austerity.

It is natural and normal that legends about great men should arise after their deaths. After a time their weak points are forgotten and only their strong points are remembered and passed on. The lives of many thinkers and artists were by no means morally irreproachable, but their works survive and are admired. We do not know how Nasir od-Din Tusi 8 managed to become a minister to the Mongol conqueror Hulagu Khan 9 but even if his expedients were immoral, his scientific writings have made him an honoured son of Iran. No wonder, then, that after the death of a great spiritual leader imaginations should get to work and endow him with a profusion of virtues and merits. The trouble is that this process does not stay within reasonable limits but becomes vulgarized, commercialized, and absurd.

The Prophet Mohammad's birth took place in the normal way and with no immediate consequences, just like the births of millions of other infants; but the craze for miracles made people invent and believe fables about it, for instance that as soon as he was born the arch at Ctesiphon 10 cracked and the fires in the fire-temples of Fars {Pars} went out. Even if such events occurred at that time, how could they be effects of the Prophet's birth and how could they be warnings from God? Reason, observation, and mathematics require effects to have causes. All the world's phenomena, whether physical, social, or political, have causes. Sometimes these seem obvious; sunshine gives warmth and light, fire burns if not obstructed, water flows downward unless it can be pumped upward. Sometimes they are not obvious and have only been discovered through long effort, such as the causes of thunder and lightning or diseases and cures.

Between the birth of a child at Mecca and the extinction of temple-fires in Iran, no relation of cause and effect is possible. If a crack appeared in the arch at Ctesiphon, it must have been due to subsidence. The miracle-mongers of a later age described these events as divine warnings, meaning that God wished to tell the inhabitants of Ctesiphon, and in particular the king of Iran, about an impending cataclysm, and to let the guardians of the fire temples of Fars {Pars} know about the advent of a man who would overthrow fire-veneration. Yet how could the Iranian king or the Zoroastrian priests have recognised the cracking of the arch and extinction of the fires as indications of the birth of a child who was only to begin his religious mission forty years later? Why should God, who is wise and understanding, have wanted the Iranians to take heed of Islam forty years before Mohammad was appointed to preach it? All that is known about the situation in pre-Islamic Arabia confirms the Qur’anic statement that Mohammad himself had no premonition of his future prophethood. If God had wished to signal the extraordinary importance of Mohammad's birth, why did He give no sign to the Meccans? In His omnipotence He could have caused the Ka'ba's roof to fall and its idols to topple, which would have been a stronger warning to the Qorayshites than the extinction of fires in faraway temples. In any case, why was not the Prophet's appointment accompanied by a miracle which would have convinced all the Qorayshites and spared God's chosen messenger from thirteen years of enmity and persecution? Why was not a light kindled in the heart of King Khosraw Parviz 11 I to guide him to the true faith and dissuade him from tearing up the Prophet's letter? The Iranians would then have been guided by their king's example, and they would have become Moslems without having to suffer defeat at the battles of Qadesiya and Nehavand.

Many years ago, I read the Vie de Jesus of the great French writer Ernest Renan (1823-92), who has painted a realistic and vivid portrait of the Messiah with masterly skill. Sometime later, I came across another book, entitled Son of Man, whose painstaking German author, Emil Ludwig, claimed that it is as factual as any book on the subject can be when reliable historical documentation is so scarce.
In the present short work, I do not attempt to give a full account of twenty three of the sixty three years of the Prophet Mohammad's life. Without false modesty, I do not see myself as possessing Ernest Renan's talent and sensitivity or Emil Ludwig's patience and capacity for research, all of which qualities would be needed in plenty for adequate portrayal of a man whose spiritual and moral strength changed the course of human history.

My purpose in this short work is to sketch an outline and to dispel a phantom. The shape of the book evolved in my mind from study of the Qur’an and reflection on the genesis of Islam. To be more precise and candid, I admit that part of the impulse to write it came to me from a psychological theory or rather observation. This is that belief can blunt human reason and common sense. As we all know, ideas which have been inculcated into a person's mind in childhood remain in the background of his or her thinking. Consequently he or she will want to make facts conform with inculcated ideas which have no rational validity.

Even learned scholars, with rare exceptions, are burdened with this handicap and inhibited room using their common sense; or if they use it, they only do so when it corroborates their inculcated ideas. Mankind is gifted with faculties of perception and ratiocination which make solution of scientific problems possible, but in matters of religious and political beliefs ready to trample on the - evidence of reason and even of the senses.


Information about the Prophet Mohammad's childhood is scarce.  He was a fatherless and motherless orphan living in the house of his paternal uncle, Abu Taleb, a man who had a kind heart but little material wealth. In order that he might be occupied and help to pay for his keep, he was given the task of taking came1Sowned by Abu Taleb and others into the plain to graze. He thus spent his days in the grim desert outside Mecca all alone.

For a sensitive and intelligent child, the experience of several years in this occupation must, in the Persian phrase, have been "as bitter as chewing terebinth twigs {a small tree of the cashew family yielding turpentine}". He would naturally ask himself why he had come into the world as a fatherless orphan and had so soon lost the young mother to whom alone he could turn for love and caresses. He would wonder too why blind fate had taken away his strong and generous grandfather and sent him for refuge to his uncle's house. His uncle was a good and kind man, but had a large family and could not afford to give him the care which his cousins and other children of the same rank received. His other uncles, such as Abbas and Abu Lahab, lived comfortably and ignored him. Thoughts such as these must have rankled in his mind during long years of sorrow and hardship.

In the monotonous solitude of the arid plain, where the camels strained their necks in search of a thorn or a blade of grass among the stones, what else was there to do but grieve and muse? Misfortune embitters a person and makes him conscious of suffer­ing, especially when he is left to himself with nothing to distract him. It may safely be conjectured that in the course of time this child's thoughts turned to the social system and found in it some of the sources of his unhappiness. The reason why the other boys of his rank and age led pleasant lives was that their fathers had charge of the Ka'ba. They supplied water, bread, and other requisites to the pilgrims who came to Mecca for the annual ceremonies at the Ka'ba, and they made big profits by selling goods which they imported from Syria dearly and buying produce from pilgrims cheaply. These businesses were the source of their children's well being.

Why did so many tribes sustain the wealth and power of the Qoraysh by coming to the Ka'ba? The reason was that the Ka'ba housed famous idols and contained a black stone which the Arabs held sacred. They thought that walking around the Ka'ba would bring happiness and salvation and that running between the nearby hills of Safa and Marwa, on the tops of which two more idols had been placed, was necessary to make prayers effective. Each group of pilgrims had to shout its entreaties to its idol while circumambulating the Ka'ba and running from Sara to Marwa.

Mohammad's keen eye and intelligence must have prompted him, at the age of eleven or twelve, to start wondering whether any force lay concealed in the black stone and any action could proceed from the lifeless statues. His doubts may well have arisen from a personal experience. It is by no means improbable that in his sorrow and spiritual anguish he had hopefully addressed fervent pleas to the idols and obtained no result. This hypothesis is supported by verses in two suras which poured from his mouth thirty years later: "Have no more to do with the filth!" (i.e. the idols; sura 74, al-Modl£ather, verse 5), and "Did not He find you astray and guide you?" (sura 93, od-Doha,verse 7).

The Qorayshite leaders themselves could scarcely be unaware of the facts. They lived beside the temple and could see that the stone objects did not move or emit grace or grant mercy. The silence of the Qorayshites and their worship of Lat, Manat, and Ozza could only be due to self-interest: There is a Persian saying that the holiness of a saint depends on the guardian of his tomb. If the Qorayshite leaders lost the guardianship of the Ka'ba, their income from it would cease and their flourishing trade with Syria would decline because no more Bedouin pilgrims; to whom they could sell dearly and from whom they could buy cheaply, would come to Mecca.

The stirrings in Mohammad's visionary soul must have arisen during the long days which he spent in frightening solitude watching the camels search for their meagre fare in the sun scorched desert. The approach of sunset, when he would round up the camels and take them to the town, must have brought him back to reality. He had to call them, hustle them, and stop them from straying, in order to return them safe and sound to their owners for the night.

In the darkness of the night the stirrings would give way to visions, and in the morning sunshine they would recommence when he was back in the monotonous desert. Little by little they took shape in the depths of his inner mind.

An introvert personality, prone to musing and dreaming un-distracted by clatter and deprived of normal pleasures, would become more introverted with the passage of every year spent alone in the desert. Then, suddenly, a ghost might appear or a splashing of waves on an unknown sea might be heard.

After several years in the same routine, a new experience made a deep mark on Mohammad's mind. At the age of eleven he accompanied his uncle Abu Taleb on a journey to Syria. There he saw a different and brighter world with no signs of the ignorance, superstition, and rudeness prevalent among the Meccans. The people whom he met were politer, the social atmosphere was happier, and the accepted customs were of a higher order. These observations must have added to the turmoil in his inner soul. It was probably there that he first perceived how primitive and rough and superstitious his own people were; perhaps there also that he began to wish that they might have a better ordered, less superstitious, and more humane society. It is not known for certain whether he first came into contact with followers of monotheistic religions on this journey, and it would seem that he was then too young to learn anything from such contacts; but the experience must have made an impression on his perceptive and uneasy mind, and perhaps moved him to make another journey. Some of the transmitted reports state that on the second journey he was no longer too young and that he eagerly listened to religious informants.

It is not difficult to understand why so little is known about the Prophet Mohammad's childhood and youth. There was nothing important in the life of an orphan brought up under the guardianship of an uncle. Nobody took enough notice to have any recollection of him as he was at that time. Most of what has been written here is only conjecture based on the theory that the solitude and monotony of daily camel-tending in a desert would make a child introspective, imaginative, and visionary.

It is possible that many of the Qur’anic verses which at a later time were to flow from his anguished lips echo his youthful musings and impressions of nature and its creation. For instance: "Do they never consider the camels, how they were created? And the sky, how it was raised? And the mountains, how they were erected? And the earth, how it was spread out?" (sura 88, ol-Ghashiya, verses 17-20).

Study of the Meccan suras gives glimpses into the vision-filled soul of a person remote from life's material blessings and given to communion with himself and with nature. These suras also express indignation at the boasting of vain men such as Abu Lahab 12 and Abu'I-Ashadd. 13 .

In later times, when the success of Mohammad's preaching had exalted his prestige, believers turned to the fertile fields of their imaginations and invented fables such as those which are found in Tabari's and Waqedi's works and were cited in the previous chapter. .

Another point which needs consideration, though it will not be discussed in detail here, is that the Moslem writers depict conditions in the Hejaz, and particularly at Mecca before the Prophet Mohammad's mission, as darker than they really were. According to most accounts, the Arabs of that time lived in an utter darkness of barbarity and idolatry, and no glimmer of higher thinking and religious belief had appeared. This exaggeration was probably motivated by desire to emphasize the change wrought by the Prophet's rise and teaching. A number of modern scholars in the Arab countries, however, such as Ali Jawad, Abdollah Samman, Taha Hosayn, 14 Mohammad Hosayn Haykal, Mohammad Ezzat Darwaza, and Professor Haddad, have concluded that the Hejaz in the sixth century possessed a measure of civilization and incipient theism by no means so negligible as is commonly supposed. From the researches of these scholars and from various indications and reports in the early sources, it may be taken for certain that a reaction against idolatry had begun in the Hejaz in the second half of the sixth century.

To some extent this reaction was due to the presence of Jewish tribes, particularly at Yathreb, and of Christians from Syria who made journeys to the Hejaz, and to some extent it was the work of thinking men known by the name hanif. The following statement is taken from the biography of the Prophet by Ebn Hesham: 15 "One day the Qorayshites assembled in a palm grove near Ta'ef to celebrate the festival of Ozza, the chief goddess of the Banu Thaqif. Four of them withdrew and said to each other, 'These people are on the wrong track. They have lost the religion of our ancestor Abraham.' Then they cried out to the people, 'Choose a different religion from this! Why do you walk around a stone which neither sees nor hears and can neither help you nor harm you?' These four men were Waraqa b. Nawfal, Qbaydollah b. Jahsh, Othman b. ol-Howayreth, and Zayd b. Amr. From then onward they called themselves hanif and came out in favour of the religion of Abraham. The last-named of the four uttered these words in prayer: 'Here I am, in truth, in truth, in worship and humility. I take refuge where Abraham took refuge. I was aloof from You. I deserve whatever may befall me.' Then he knelt and lowered his head to the ground."

While there can be no doubt that ignorance and superstition prevailed in most of Arabia and idolatry was practiced by the great majority, monotheism was not a novelty and was well understood in the Hejaz, particularly at Madina and in the north where Jewish and Christian tribes resided. Before Mohammad, poets had appeared in various parts of Arabia and warned against idolatry in their preachings; some of them are mentioned in the Qur’an, namely Hud among the people of Ad, Saleh among the people of Thamud, and Sho'ayb in Medyan. In the Arabic sources there are mentions of preachers named Hanzala b. Safwan, Khaled b. Senan, Amer b. Zareb ol.Adwani, and Abdollah ol-Qoda'i. Also mentioned is an eloquent poet and orator, Qass b. Sa'eda ol-Iyadi, who in the annual poetry recitations at the fair at Okaz near Mecca, and even at the Ka'ba, appealed to the people in fervent verses and sermons to renounce idolatry. Omayya b. Abi's-Salt, a contemporary of Mohammad and a member of the Thaqif tribe at Ta'ef, was a particularly renowned hanif and advocate of monotheism.

He made frequent journeys to Syria, where he spent much time in conversation with Christian monks and Jewish men of learning. It was there that he heard news of Mohammad's emergence. Although the two are said to have had a meeting, he did not become a Moslem. After his return to Ta'ef, he is reported to have told one of his friends, "I know more about the books and traditions of the other religions than Mohammad does. I also know the Aramaic and Hebrew languages. So I would have a better right to prophethood." According to Bokhari,16 Mohammad said that "Omayya b. Abi's-Salt came near to becoming a Moslem."

Poetry, especially the poetry of a nation in its youth, gives vivid pictures of feelings and customs. In the Arabic poetry of the pre-Islamic period, there are verses which might have been composed by a Moslem, such as these by Zohayr:17

Do not hide what is in your souls from God,
for however carefullyit may be hidden and concealed,
God will know it!
Either it will be adjourned, put into a book,
and stored for a day of reckoning, or it will come up soon and be requited.

Or these by Abdollah b. ol-Abras:

It is He whom the people long to worship,
for seekers of God will not be disappointed.
Through God all blessings are within reach;
to mention only a few of them is to urge to victory.
God has no partners, and He knows what hearts conceal.

The Prophet Mohammad is reported to have once quoted a verse by Labid: 18

Except through God,
all is vain,
all prosperity is bound to cease

It is noteworthy that these and some other pre-Islamic poets use the word Allah for God, and that several pagan Qorayshites, including Mohammad's father, were named Abdollah which means slave of God. This indicates that the word Allah was familiar to them, even though the idols were thought to be means of approach to God - a concept which is mentioned in the Qur’an (sura 10, verse 19).

Another pre-Islamic poet, Amr b. Fadl, flatly rejected the famous idols of the Arabs:

I have forsaken Lat and Ozza altogether.
Any man who is stalwart and constant will do likewise.
No longer shall I visit Ozza and her two daughters
or the two idols of the Banu Ghanm.
Nor shall I visit Hubal when, as often happens,
fortune is adverse; for my patience is slight.

The call to reject idolatry and worship the one great God was thus not without precedent. What was new was urgent insistence. Mohammad's miracle was that he unflinchingly faced all insults, harassments, and repulses, and never shrank from any step until he had imposed Islam on Arabia and brought the different Arab tribes under one flag.

The mentality of these tribes was in general still primitive, concerned only with visible and tangible things and unfamiliar with metaphysical ideas. Their only goal was immediate gain. They had no scruples about seizing the property of others and would stop at nothing in the pursuit of power. A good example of their way of thinking is the already quoted remark of Abu Jahl to Akhnas b. Shariq to the effect that Mohammad's prophethood was a ruse of the Banu Abd Manafto regain the ascendancy. The same view reappears in the wish of the Omayyad caliph Yazid b. Mo'awiya (60/680-64/683) that the men whom Mohammad had defeated at the battle of Badr (in 2/624) might have seen how the Omayyad troops had defeated the Banu Hashem and killed Hosayn b. Ali at the battle of Karbala (in 61/680). Yazid is reported to have said, in verse:

The Hashemites gambled for power,
but no word came, no revelation was sent down.

It would be wrong to end this chapter without mentioning that the modern Arab scholars disagree about the pre-Islamic poetry. Some of them doubt whether it is all genuinely pre-Islamic. In any case, there is ample evidence that signs of disillusionment with paganism and movement toward monotheism had appeared in the Hejaz during the sixth century.

Problem of Prophethood

In recent times numerous scholars have made detailed studies of the rise and spread of Islam, the meaning and arrangement of the Qur’an and the occasions of the revelation of its verses, and the origins and development of the Hadith. Valuable work has been accomplished by great Western scholars such as Theodor Noldeke, Ignaz Goldziher, Alfred von Kremer, Adam Mez, Regis Blachere, and others. They have examined the problems with microscopic precision and from a purely scientific viewpoint. Their writings show no trace of fanaticism or desire to disparage Islam. In their research they have used authentic and reliable Islamic sources.

There are also European writers who have let religious fanaticism dim their vision. They have described Mohammad as an adventurer and impostor and the Qur’an as his tool for winning power. If they had similarly criticized Moses and Jesus, their views might deserve consideration (though that would be beyond the scope of this book); but they presuppose that Moses and Jesus were appointed by God and that Mohammad was not. Their statements are not supported by any kind of rationally acceptable evidence.

In reply to holders of such views, it is best to begin by discussing the question of principle. They must in logic accept the principle of prophethood because their appraisals imply acceptance in one case and rejection in another.

Some profound thinkers such as Mohammad b. Zakariya ol-Razi19 and Abul-Ala ol-Ma'arri 20 rejected the principle of prophethood. They found the theological arguments for the general necessity of prophethood to be illogical and unconvincing.

While the theologians said that God in His grace appoints a person to warn His people against sin and wrongdoing, the rationalists argued that if God had been concerned about the virtue and harmony of His people, He would have created all of them sinless and good, in which case there would have been no need to send a prophet. The usual reply is that good and evil were not created by God, who is pure good, and that propensities for good and evil are inherent in human nature. We are then bound to ask who gives an individual his or her particular nature with its good and evil potentialities.

Human beings start life with natures determined by their parents at the moment of conception. Every new-born child comes into the world with certain physical characteristics and consequently with psychological and mental characteristics which depend on his or her physical constitution. Nobody can voluntarily determine his own brain power, nervous energy, and instincts any more than he can choose his eye colour, nose shape, heart pressure, stature, or bodily strengths such as eyesight. Some individuals are temperamentally calm and moderate, others are turbulent, stubborn, and prone to excess. Those with well-balanced personalities do not disturb the freedom and infringe the rights of others. Those with aggressive personalities often commit violence.

If it is said that prophets are sent to change people's natures, the question arises whether an ill-balanced personality can be transformed into a well-balanced one any more than a black skin into a white one. If this is possible, why has the history of the human race since its adoption of religion been so stained with violence, cruelty, and crime? We are bound to conclude that God's dispatch of prophets to mankind has not succeeded in making all men and women good and happy. An objective observer might remark that a safer way for God to achieve this aim would have been for Him to create all men and women good in the first place.

The theologians have a ready answer to this criticism. They say that life in the present world is a test, that good and evil must be authoritatively defined, and that the dispatch of a prophet is a sort of ultimatum notifying good-doers, who obey his commands, of future reward in heaven and wrong-doers, who disobey them, of future condign {deserved, appropriate} punishment .

The deniers of prophethood say that the notion of life as a test is crude and untenable. Why should God want to test His servants when He knows their secret thoughts better than they do themselves? Why should He want them to become aware of their wrong-doing? They do not think of themselves as wicked and do not see their actions as sins, because otherwise they would not commit them. They act in ways which conform with their natures and temperaments. If all individuals had identical natures, the fact that some obey and others disobey prophets would be inexplicable. In other words, all individuals would necessarily either obey or disobey if the good and evil propensities in their natures were uniformly distributed.

Aside from these general considerations, Moslem theologians ought not to forget the numerous Qur’anic verses which make human error and rectitude dependent on God's will. For example, "You do not guide those whom you like, but God guides those whom He wills" (sura 28, verse 56); "Those whom God leads astray have no guide" (sura 39, verse 24); "And if We had so willed, We would have given every soul its guidance" (sura 32, verse 13). The number of verses which state that guidance and error are from God alone is so large that it would be impossible to quote them all here.

These verses, and the inability of the prophets to change mankind radically, make nonsense of the efforts of the theologians to prove the general necessity of prophethood.

The basic fallacy in the reasoning of the theologians of Islam and the other religions lies in their concept of the creation. Their belief in the existence of prophets sent by the Creator and Sustainer of the universe depends on their belief in the Creator, and their belief in the Creator requires assumption that the universe is contingent and was created ex nihilo, in other words that the universe did not exist until the Creator brought it into existence. This assumption is not verifiable, How can we know that there was a time when no universe, no trace of being, existed? The hypothesis that the earth and solar system and the stars and nebulae did not always exist is tenable, but the assumption that their component elements once did not exist and then came into existence seems hardly reasonable.

It seems more reasonable to suppose the contrary, namely the pre-existence of the atoms from whose fusion the sun emerged, though we do not know for certain what factors caused the fusion and emergence. This hypothesis is supported by observations which show a continual process of stars emerging and becoming extinguished. Coming into being is accordingly not genesis of substance but change of form. In that case argument for the existence of a Creator becomes difficult.

Another problem which arises if we assume that the universe did not exist until it was created by Almighty God is the purpose of its creation. However much we exert and exalt our minds, we cannot find answers to the two questions: why did not the universe exist before, and why did God choose to create it? Pure reason is as powerless to solve these problems as it is to prove or disprove the existence of the Creator.

In this confusion, one thing seems certain to our earth-bound minds. We humans are not, or do not wish to be, in the same category as other terrestrial animals. Humans can think, and since the earliest remembered times they have supposed that there must be a person who started and controls the system and exerts favourable and unfavourable influences. This idea, whether prompted by reasoning or by pride in distinction from other animals, impelled humans to construct religions.

In all societies, from the most primitive to the most advanced, religious beliefs have arisen and remain strong. Among primitive peoples they are stained with superstition and illusion. Among advanced peoples they have acquired moral and social aspects under the influence of great thinkers, whose teachings eventually led those peoples to adopt more civilized and equitable ways of life.

These great men came forth in the roles of legislators, reformers, or philosophers, such as Hammurabi, Confucius, Buddha, Socrates, and Plato. Among the Semitic peoples they always came forth as prophets, that is to say as self-proclaimed spokesmen for God.

Moses walked up Mount Sinai, brought down tablets, and enacted laws to reform the ways of the Children of Israel. Jesus, finding the Jews in the grip of vanity and false piety, arose to teach better morals. He likened God to a loving father, and either spoke of himself as son of that celestial father or was so described by his disciples; another possibility is that the four Gospels distort or inflate what he said.

Six centuries later Mohammad arose in the Hejaz and appealed for reform. How did he differ from Moses and Jesus? Simple-minded believers make miraculous action the criterion of prophethood. Islamic writers therefore ascribed hundreds, indeed thousands, of miracles to Mohammad. More remarkable than this is the attitude of a modern Christian Arab scholar named Haddad. In his learned and well researched book The Qur’an and the Bible, he quotes numerous Qur’anic passages as evidence that no miracles were ever performed by Mohammad, and then naively states' that miracles are proofs of prophethood and that the miracles of Jesus and Moses prove that they were prophets. All the cited miracles fall into the category of unverifiable imaginings or hallucinations. If Jesus had really restored life to a dead human body, no one in the contemporary Jewish community would have hesitated to bow down to him and believe in him. If God had wanted all the people to believe in one of His servants and to benefit from that person's teachings, surely it would have been simpler and wiser for God to make all the people good, or to endow that person with power over the people's minds rather than with powers to resurrect the dead, stop the flow of rivers, prevent fire from burning, and the like.

The problem of prophethood must therefore be approached from another angle. It should be seen as a sort of mental and spiritual genius peculiar to an extraordinary individual.

Among military leaders there have been individuals such as Cyrus, Alexander, Caesar, Nader, and Napoleon who had a genius for planning and winning wars, though they had nothing to teach to their fellowmen. In the fields of science and art, men such as Aristotle, Ebn e Sina (Avicenna), Nasir od-Din Tusi, Edison, Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Beethoven, Homer, Ferdowsi, Abul-Ala o1-Ma'arri, Hafez, and hundreds of others have brightened the course of civilization with discoveries, inventions, and masterpieces of art and thought. Why should not a human being possess similar genius in the spiritual field? There are no rational grounds to preclude the emergence of individuals who in the depths of their minds conceive the idea of the Absolute Being and by force of meditation gradually attain a sort of discovery or revelation which moves them to teach and guide others.

A process of this kind had begun in Mohammad's mind during his childhood and had prompted Him to meet and talk with Christian monks and priests on his Syrian journey instead of spending all his time on commercial business. On his way back, through the lands of Medyan and the Ad and Thamud, he had heard the legends of the local people. In Mecca itself he had exchanged visits with followers of the scriptural religions. He had sat for hours in Jabr's shop near the hill of Marwa, and had been in constant touch with Khadija's cousin Waraqa b. Nawfal; who is said to have translated a part of the New Testament into Arabic. All these experiences are likely to have turned the ever-present disquiet in his inner mind into turmoil.

There is a reference in the Qur’an to Mohammad's long arid frequent talks with Jabr. The Qorayshites alleged that Mohammad had learned the words of the Qur’an from Jabr, who was a foreigner. The answer is given in verse 105 of sura 16 (on"'"Nahl): "And We know that they say, 'It is only a human who is teaching him.' The speech of the person at whom they hint is outlandish, whereas this is clear Arabic speech." The biographies of the Prophet mention several other followers of the scriptures and possessors of knowledge with whom he exchanged visits before the start of his mission, e.g. A'esh, the sage of the Howayteb tribe, Salman ol-Farsi, and Belal the Abyssinian. Abu Bakr also had discussions with him at that time and agreed with him.

From the accounts of Mohammad's appointment given in the biographies and certain Hadiths, and from the evidence of certain Qur’anic verses, arty thoughtful student can penetrate to the facts. All these sources indicate that a process of inner turmoil and absorption in an idea culminated in Mohammad's seeing an apparition, which was revealed in the first five verses of sura 96 (ol-Alaq): "Recite in the name of your Lord who created, created mankind from a clot of blood! Recite! And your Lord is bounteous, He who taught by the pen, taught mankind what they did not know."

The Prophet Mohammad at the time of his appointment was forty years old, of medium stature, with a pale complexion tending to redness, black hair, and black eyes. He seldom joked and laughed; and whenever he laughed he held his hand over his mouth. He walked with a heavy and unhurried tread, and never looked to one side or the other. Although it seems probable, on the evidence of certain passages, that he had taken part in some of his community's ritual ceremonies, he had never joined in the amusements of the Qorayshite youths or in any sort of frivolity. He had won a reputation, even among his adversaries, for honesty. Since his release from pecuniary worries through. his marriage to Khadija, he had devoted much time to spiritual matters. Like most of the hanifs, he regarded Abraham as the perfect model of devotion to God, and he of course loathed his own people's idolatry. In the opinion of Taha Hosayn, the majority of the Qoraysh chiefs had really ceased to believe in the idols of the Ka'ba, but were trying to maintain a show of respect because idolatry still prevailed among the Bedouin and the cult brought them financial and social advantages.

Mohammad was careful and deliberate in his use of words. He was shy, according to one source "shier than a young virgin." His eloquence was powerful and always free from tautology and prolixity. He had long hair covering almost half of his ears and he usually wore a white headdress. He usually sprinkled perfume on his hair and beard. He was temperamentally disposed to modesty and kindness. When he shook hands with someone, he never withdrew his own hand first. He personally mended his clothes and shoes. He mixed with subordinates and once accepted an invitation from a slave, with whom he sat on the ground and ate dates. When preaching he sometimes raised his voice, particularly when condemning evil deeds, and at such times his eyes reddened and his face flushed.

Another of Mohammad's qualities was courage. During battles he leaned on a bow and heartened the Moslems to fight. At times when fear of the enemy gripped the warriors of Islam, he walked to the fore and came closer to the enemy than anyone else. Despite this, he only once killed with his own hand, and that was when he parried an assault with a fatal blow.

The following are a few of his reported sayings:

"If a person associates with a wrongdoer whom he knows to be a wrongdoer, that person is not a Moslem."
"If a person fills his stomach when there is someone hungry nearby, that person is not a Moslem."
"Good morals are one half of religion."
"The best jehad (holy war) is to say a word of truth to a wrongdoer."
 "The strongest of you are those who control their anger."


Mount Hera is a rocky, arid height three miles north-east of Mecca. On its almost inaccessible slopes are some caves to which ascetic hanifs used to make their way for spells of retreat and solitary meditation.
Mohammad had been doing this for some time. A strong desire to get away from the din of life and be alone had often drawn him to the place. Sometimes he took a stock of food and did not come home until it was finished; sometimes he went in the early morning and came home in the evening.

One day, in the year 610, when Mohammad was due back in the evening, he did not come, and Khadija grew anxious and sent someone to search for him; but after a while Mohammad appeared in the doorway, trembling and looking pale. Then he said, "Wrap me up!" They did so. Later, when his strength returned and the agitation passed, he told Khadija about the experience which had brought him to this state.

The following account by A'esha {Ayesha} is quoted in the reliable Hadith collections of Bokhari, Moslem b. ol-Hajjaj, Abu Da'ud ot-Tayialesi, Ebn Abd ol-Barr, Nowayri, and Ebn Sayyed on-Nas, and in the Mosnad (Compilation) of the famous theologian Ahmad b. Hanbal (164/780-241/855):

"The start of the revelation was a holy vision as bright as daybreak which came to the Prophet. At sunset on a day which he had spent in the cave on Mount Hera, an angel appeared before him and said to him, 'Recite!' The Prophet answered, 'I cannot recite.’"2l According to this account, Mohammad described his experience to Khadija in these words:

"He (the angel) took me and pressed me down so hard that it took away my strength. When I revived, he again said 'Recite!' and I repeated 'I cannot recite.' He again pressed me down until I became powerless, and then released me and said, for the third time, 'Recite!' Again 1 repeated, 'I cannot.' Once more he pressed me down and released me. Then he said 'Recite in the name of your Lord who created, created mankind from a clot of blood! Recite! And your Lord is bounteous, He who taught by the pen, taught mankind what they did not know.' Then the angel vanished, and I revived again and walked home." Later Mohammad told Khadija that he had been in fear for his life. How should these words be interpreted? What had caused him to become so afraid? Had he supposed that he was losing his senses, that he had been touched by sorcery or stricken by an incurable sickness? Some such cause can be inferred from Khadija's consoling reply: "The Lord would never deprive you of His care when you are so honest, so good to the poor, so hospitable, so affectionate to your family, and so helpful to the afflicted."

After this conversation and Mohammad's recovery, Khadija went out of the house in haste to tell Waraqa b. Nawfal what had happened. Always a loather of the Meccan idolatry, Waraqa had long been urging Mohammad to shun Qorayshite follies and to practice spiritual meditations. He told Khadija, "Probably this event shows that God cares for him and has appointed him to guide his people."

There is nothing of the supernatural in A'esha's account. Everything in it is reconcilable with the general findings of psychology. 

A strong wish can make its object appear real and concrete. Formed in nearly thirty years of meditation, strengthened by contacts with followers of the scriptural religions, and supercharged by ascetic retreats to Mount Hera, Mohammad's wish acquired the shape of a vision or, in mystic terminology, an illumination. In personified form, a call for action rang out from the depths of his subconscious mind. Fear of taking action weighed so heavily on him as to cause prostration and fainting. No other explanation of the angel's pressing him until he became powerless is conceivable. The angel personified the aspiration long latent in the depths of his inner being.

This analysis, though hypothetical, is supported by another report, according to which Mohammad told Khadija: "While I was sleeping, he (the angel) brought to me a piece of brocade {heavy cloth with a raised design often of gold or silver threads}, in which there was a book, and said 'Recite!' I awoke, and a book seemed to have taken shape in my heart." The fatigue of a day of intense meditation sent him into a trance-like sleep in which his latent aspiration came to light, but the task daunted him.

In A'esha's account, the wording is as follows: "Then God's Apostle returned with his heart throbbing. He went to Khadija and said, 'Wrap me up!' They kept him wrapped up until the trembling ceased." His trembling had evidently been induced by extreme fear or anguish. This condition is known to occur in persons who lead a double life - an ordinary life combined with a shadowy, phantom-filled, and shoreless inner life.

After this event, Mohammad twice again went into retreat in the cave on Mount Hera; but now no vision came, no angel appeared, no voice rang out.

Was the whole experience no more than a dream and a delusion? Were the message of appointment to prophethood and the prediction of Waraqa b. Nawfal vain talk? From then onward corrosive doubt beset Mohammad's mind and so nearly prevailed that he more than once thought of suicide, of throwing himself over a cliff; but Waraqa and Khadija were always able to calm him and give him hope.

The length of the period in which Mohammad received no message and heard no voice from the unseen (in Islamic historical terminology, the interruption of the revelation) is given in different accounts as three days, three months, or three years. It lasted until sura 74 (ol-Moddather) came down. Then the revelation again ceased.

The cause of the interruption of the revelation is not difficult to find. After the vision or illumination, the burning thirst of his questing soul subsided. The manifestation of his long cherished inner wish quenched the flames. Naturally doubt and despair set in. Further meditation was necessary to rekindle the fire. Only then could the inner Mohammad hidden under his outwardly dormant self wake and stir again.

A'esha's factual account of the Prophet's appointment has been quoted above. Not much more than a century after his death, reports of a very different type were in circulation. By that time fancy had begun to intrude upon fact, and as the years advanced myth-making and miracle-mongering became more and more widespread and extravagant. Ebn Es-haq's biography of the Prophet, which survives in the recension {a critical revision of a text} of Ebn Hesham, has already been mentioned. Ebn Es-haq died in 150/767 and wrote sometime before that date. A few lines from the work will be quoted to give objective readers food for thought:

"In the days before the appointment, whenever Mohammad walked beyond the houses of Mecca to relieve nature's demands, and as soon as the houses disappeared behind the bends in the path, a voice saying 'Peace upon you, O Apostle of God!' rang out from every rock and tree that he passed. But when the Apostle looked to one side or the other, he did not see anybody. There were only rocks and trees around him." Rocks are of course inanimate, and trees do not have vocal cords with which to utter feelings and thoughts. The story is so repugnant to reason that many later theologians and writers on the life of the Prophet disbelieved it and maintained that the voices were voices of angels. It never occurred to their brains that the voice might have been the voice of Mohammad's own soul. Years of meditation and absorption in an idea naturally tend to concretize that idea. In a totally committed mind, the idea might well resound like a voice.

In any case, these theologians who, in their anxiety not to impugn Ebn Hesham's veracity, ascribed the voices to angels, failed to discern the obvious corollary of their assertion. If angels had greeted the Prophet, surely they would have greeted him publicly. In that case, all the people would have believed in him, and God's purpose of bringing the Arabs to Islam would have been fulfilled without any trouble. ::" Admittedly theologians in that phase of history could not be expected to recognise that the voice (if genuine) was the voice of Mohammad's own soul; but they might surely have given some thought to another question. If the Prophet had heard such a voice when he was out of the town and alone, how could anyone else have known about it? He did not talk about it himself; there is no authenticated and reliable Hadith on the subject. Clearly it was a figment of the imaginations of myth-makers and miracle-mongers.

Ebn Es-haq did not tell lies in the sense of deliberately concocting untruths. He must have heard the story from someone and have accepted it unquestioningly because it accorded with his own faith and feelings. He probably never asked his informant or himself whether any other people had heard the rocks and trees greet the Prophet or whether there was any evidence that the Prophet himself ever claimed to have heard them. The only recorded words of Mohammad about his appointment are in A'esha's account, which has been quoted above.

Human beings tend to be captive to their acquired beliefs and submissive to their bodily appetites and instincts. When this is the case, their rational faculty is dimmed. Instead of thinking clearly, they ignore facts which may dent their convictions or conflict with their wishes, and grasp at straws which give semblances of reality to their suppositions and hopes. This tendency has been the root cause of the spread of superstitions and illusions.

After his Appointment

The start of the preaching of Islam cannot be precisely dated, because the revelation was interrupted for an uncertain length of time after the notice of appointment given to Mohammad, when he was forty years old, in the first five verses of sura96. Moreover the preaching was for some time conducted in secret and among a restricted circle. The seven, or ten, suras next revealed aftrr.sura96 indicate that the preaching encountered derision and rejection and that Mohammad had moods of hesitancy and irresolution.'

Unfortunately the Qur’an was badly edited and its contents were very obtusely arranged. All students of the Qur’an wonder why the editors did not use the natural and logical method of ordering by date of revelation, as in Ali b. Abi Taleb's lost copy of the text. This would have made the contents more meaningful and given future generations a better understanding of the rise of Islam and the inspirations and thoughts of its founder.

The initiative in the matter of editing the Qur’an came from Omar. He went to see Abu Bakr after the latter had become caliph, and argued that the Qur’an ought to. Be collected and arranged because too many disagreements over wordings and readings had arisen. The matter was urgent because animals had devoured copies on palm-fronds belonging to some of the Prophet's companions slain, in battle at Yamama. Abu Bakr demurred on the ground that if editing had been necessary, the Prophet would have taken action during, his lifetime; but on Omar's insistence, Zayd b. Thabet, the last of the scribes who had written down the revelations, was summoned and instructed to collect the Qur’an. At a later date, when Omar had become caliph, Othman was put in charge of the work. He and his assistants ordered the suras according to their lengths and included many Meccan verses in Madinan suras and Madinan verses in Meccan suras. .

Study of thematic continuities, historical contexts and mentioned events has enabled Moslem and European scholars particularly Th. Nöldeke, to attempt to rearrange the contents of the Qur’an roughly in accordance with the meanings of the verses and the dates of revelation of the suras.22

In any case, the early Meccan suras tell a good deal about: the struggles of Islam in its first years. In sura 93 (od-Doha), after two invocations, come the words "Your Lord has not forsaken you, nor taken a dislike to you. The ending will be happier for you than the beginning. Your Lord will give to you, and you will be gladdened. Did not He find you orphaned and shelter you, find you astray and guide you, find you dependent make you self supporting?"  "What had happened that God should thus console and encourage Mohammad? Did this sura, with its third verse "Your Lord has not forsaken you, nor taken a dislike to you," come down at the end of the period of interruption of the revelation? That is how it is interpreted in the Tafsir ol-Jalalayn. If the interpretation is correct, sura 93 must be chronologically the second sura of the Qur’an, though it is generally assigned to the eleventh place. The wording of sura 93 suggests that it was sent down to Mohammad to console and encourage him in the face of rejection by adversaries. Likewise in the first two verses of the immediately following sura 94 (ol-Ensherah), which is reputed to be chronologically the twelfth, God asks, "Have not We cheered your heart and relieved you of your burden?" These and the remaining verses have virtually the same import as the preceding sura, and must likewise have been sent down to dispel Mohammad's anxiety and strengthen his resolve. From the objective viewpoint of psychology, the two suras may be interpreted as expressions of the will and hope in Mohammad's own inner mind.

After preaching Islam in secret and among a small circle for some time, Mohammad received a new command from God in verse 214 of sura 26 (osh-Sho'ara): "And warn your tribe, your nearest kin!" He summoned the Qoraysh chiefs to a meeting on the hill of Sara, and when all were assembled, besought them to embrace Islam. From their midst Abu Lahab stood up and shouted angrily, "Perish you, Mohammad! Did you invite us here for this?" The answer to Abu Lahab's challenge came in verse 1 of sura III (ol-Masad), in which the same Arabic word meaning "perish" appears: "Perish Abu Lahab's hands, and may he (himself) perish!" Abu Lahab was proud of his wealth and children. God said, "His wealth will not give him security, nor will the gains that he has made. He will roast in a flaming fire" (verses 2 and 3). Nor would his wife, Omm Jomayyel, who had strewn thorns in the Prophet's path, be left unpunished: "And his wife, the carrier of the firewood sticks, will have a rope of palm fiber on her neck."

Study of the events of the thirteen years after the appointment, and above all study of the Meccan suras, brings to light the epic of a man who stood alone against his tribe and stopped at nothing in his zeal to convince and overcome them. He even sent some of his followers to Abyssinia in quest of help from that country's ruler, the Negus. He never flinched before mockery and slander. When ol-As b. Wa'el derided the Prophet (after the death of his son Qasem) for having no heir, verse 3 of sura 108 (ol-Kawthar) came down: "It is your derider who is sterile."

During the pilgrimage season, whenever Mohammad approached the chiefs of tribes visiting the Ka'ba and invited them to embrace Islam, his influential uncle Abu Lahab used to follow him and say to them before his face, "This nephew of mine is mad. So take no notice of what he says!"

Sura 52 (ol-Tur), which is one of the most vivid and melodious Meccan suras, gives glimpses of Mohammad's disputation with his compatriots: "So remind (them)! By your Lord's grace, you are not a fortune-teller and are not mad. Or if they say, 'He is a poet, we shall wait and see what the uncertainty of fate has (in store) for him,' answer, 'Wait and see! I shall be one of those waiting with you (verses 29-31). "Or if they say, 'He has invented it' …let them bring a report like it if they are truthful'" (verses 33-34). Further examples of the disputation and of Mohammad's forcefulness in speech and argument are to be found in sura 20 (Taha).

Verses 5-9 of sura 25 (ol-Forqan) make clear what sort of accusation was hurled at Mohammad: "The unbelievers have said, 'This is only a lie which he fabricated and in which other people helped him.' They have committed wrong and falsehood. And they have said, 'It is fables of the ancients which he caused to be written down. They were being dictated for him in the morning and the evening.' Answer, 'It has been sent down by Him who knows the secret in heaven and on earth, and is forgiving and merciful.' And they have said, 'What is the matter with this apostle that he eats meals and walks through the bazaars? Why has not an angel been sent down to him to be a warner with him? Why is no treasure being thrown to him, or why does not he have a garden from which to eat?' And the wrongdoers have said, 'You are only following a man who has been touched by sorcery.'"

Many passages in the Meccan suras depict the contention and the charges against Mohammad. He was said to be a madman possessed by genies, a sorcerer, and an ally of Satan. The Qor'anic verses were said to be a sorcerer's incantations and spells. Sometimes it was said that his utterances must have been prompted by others because he did not know how to read and write. Milder critics said that he was a visionary obsessed with his wild dreams, or a poet expressing his dreams and notions in rhymed prose:
Also to be found among the Meccan suras are verses which diverge from the main theme of disputation. They indicate that moods of despair beset Mohammad and sometimes weakened his resolve. It can be inferred that the idea of conciliating his opponents came to him during such a mood. Perhaps in return for an offer of friendship he might reach some sort of compromise with the polytheists. Verses 75-77 of sura 17 (ol-Esra) refer to this idea:  "They nearly tempted you away from what We have revealed to you, (hoping) that you might fabricate other (ones) against Us. Then they would indeed have accepted you as a friend. And if We had not strengthened you, you might almost have inclined to them a little. In that case We would have made you taste double (punishment) in life and double (punishment) in death. You would not have found a helper against Us then."

These three verses require careful study. Was there really a time when Mohammad felt worn out by the stubborn opposition of the Qorayshites and therefore thought of compromise or at least hoped for fraternization? Perhaps... Human nature being what it is, such a reaction to difficulties and poor prospects would not be improbable. Furthermore certain Qur’an-commentators state that the occasion of the revelation of these verses was an incident - the affair of the cranes - which is reported in many of the biographies and stories of the Prophet.

According to these accounts, the Prophet one day recited sura 53 (on-Najm) to some Qorayshites at a place near the Ka'ba. This beautiful sura is a fine example of his spiritual fervour and persuasive force. While he was speaking about his mission and the truth of his claim, the messenger angel brought an inspiration down to him, and he then mentioned the famous idols of the Arabs, asking "Have you thought about Lat and Ozza? And Manat, the third one, the other one?" (sura 53, verses 19 and 20). The tone is almost contemptuous, implying that the idols are useless. After these verses came two more verses, which were excised from most of the early copies of the Qur’an because it was thought that Satan put them into the Prophet's mouth and that the Prophet regretted having uttered them: "Those are the cranes aloft. So their intercession may be hoped for." Then he knelt down. The Qorayshite listeners also knelt down after seeing Mohammad make this gesture of respect to the three goddesses and hearing him acknowledge their ability to intercede or mediate.

Believers in the Prophet's absolute infallibility deny the possibility of any occurrence inconsistent with that principle. They therefore treated the story as a fabrication and went so far as to excise the two sentences from the Qur’an. Nevertheless, the evidence given in well-attested reports and in the interpretations of certain commentators makes it likely that the incident occurred.

The two irreproachably pious authors of the Tafsir ol-Jalalayn consider it to have been the occasion of the revelation of verse 51 of sura 22 (ol-Hajj), which they interpret as a sort of divine consolation sent down to relieve the Prophet of the bitter remorse which he felt after his utterance of the two sentences. This verse reassures the Prophet as follows: "We never sent an apostle or prophet before you without Satan's casting something into his hope when he hoped. But God annuls what Satan casts. Then God confirms His signs. And God is (all-)knowing,(all-)wise." { And We did not send before you any messenger or prophet, but when he desired, the Satan made a suggestion respecting his desire; but God annuls that which the Satan casts, then does God establish His communications, and God is (all-)Knowing, (all-)Wise}

The Qur’an contains other passages with the same purport, and in several contexts makes it clear that the Prophet, was not infallible. Some of the early scholars of Islam considered the Prophet to have been infallible only in the announcement of .his prophetic mission. Given that the Prophet was not infallible, the incident, can be explained without difficulty. Mohammad, when feeling wearied by the stubbornness of the opposition, saw signs of a wish for tolerance and friendliness on the faces of his listeners and then said a few soothing words to them. They were pleased, and together with Mohammad they knelt down. Soon afterward, however, when the crowd had dispersed and the episode was over, a voice rang out in the depths of Mohammad's soul to warn him against such appeasement and to remind him that for more than thirty years he had believed in One God and deplored his people's degrading polytheism. Then verses 75-77 of sura 17 successively came down to him. Their content fully accords with this hypothetical interpretation. The only other conceivable hypothesis would be that the whole incident was staged, in other words that Mohammad wanted to give the pagan Qorayshites to understand that although he had been ready for conciliation and friendship, God had forbidden him. Since Mohammad had a reputation for truthfulness and honesty, such a hypothesis would scarcely be credible. {Dashti’s original text cites sura 17 verses 73-75 which is more appropriate, it is possible that the translator has made a mistake here: [Yusufali 17:73] And their purpose was to tempt thee away from that which We had revealed unto thee, to substitute in our name something quite different; (in that case), behold! they would certainly have made thee (their) friend! [Yusufali 17:74] And had We not given thee strength, thou wouldst nearly have inclined to them a little.[Yusufali 17:75] In that case We should have made thee taste an equal portion (of punishment) in this life, and an equal portion in death: and moreover thou wouldst have found none to help thee against Us! [Yusufali 17:76] Their purpose was to scare thee off the land, in order to expel thee; but in that case they would not have stayed (therein) after thee, except for a little while.[Yusufali 17:77] (This was Our) way with the messengers We sent before thee: thou wilt find no change in Our ways. Continued next page...

Chapter I: Mohammed
Chapter II: Religion of Islam
Chapter III: Politics
Chapter IV: Metaphysics
Chapter V: After Mohammad
Chapter VI: Summary
Back to Islam index
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