Lecture 04: Revelations, Hegira, Movement
Course: Introduction to Islam
Lecture: Revelations, Hegira, Movement
III. Revelations to Muhammad
A. “The Night of Power and Excellence”
Let’s move now to what is known as the Night of Power and Excellence, which is found in the Qur’an. Mohammed, according to tradition, is a very religious, spiritual-oriented person, in a very broad sense of the word. According to their tradition, he frequently goes into the hills around Mecca for prayer, fasting, and meditation.
There was a month during the caravan trades that they had agreed upon certain months when you would not raid. The ninth month was the one of the agreed-upon months where they had reached treaties that said: On this month, there would be no raiding allowed. It’s like “honor among thieves” kind of thing. It’s really important because, as you’ll see later, Mohammed feels very, very betrayed by the Jews at certain point in his career and we’ll look at this later. It’s all based on treaties, if you have any interest in treaties.
In the Arab world, a treaty means a lot, and these treaties would be agreed upon in certain – and there have been tremendous studies on this – how they agreed and the way their governing was done. They didn’t actually have a dictatorship, but they didn’t have democracy either – they had something in between. It’s been a very fascinating thing: they basically get together as a clan and the leader would say to the clan, “What do you think? What’s your opinion on it, what should we do?” and it would be an almost remarkably democratic environment where people would say “well we oughta do this or that” and everyone had their voice. But at some point, the thing will be closed and the leader will decide: We will do this. Once he said that, that’s it. They were now bound to do it that way. So, it’s this interesting combination of democracy and essentially a tribal chief/autocracy-type thing.
These treaties were very, very important, and the month of Ramadan, which as you know – to this day – is the very important month for Muslims today. It’s because of what happened on this month. It’s important to recognize historically that Ramadan is already a sacred month for Arabs before Mohammed was even born. Ramadan was a month for prayer and fasting. Today, of course, this is the month of fasting for Muslims. This is already a month of fasting, Mohammed was in the caves, fasting, when he received his first words of the Qur’an. According to the Qur’an, we are told the Qur’an was revealed to Mohammed. Read Sura 2, Ayah 185:
“In the month of Ramadan, the Qur’an was revealed. A book of guidance with proofs [By the way, that’s the Arabic word for “ayah”. This word that we have for “verses”: surahs and ayahs– with, literally, signs] and signposts of guidance, distinguishing right from wrong. Therefore, whoever of you is present in that month, let him fast…”
1. Surah 96
This is actually the origin of the fast in Islam because the Qur’an is revealed during Ramadan. There is some dispute about what sura in the Qur’an represents the first revelation of the Qur’an. It is generally called The Night of Power and Excellence. That is supposedly the night in which Gabriel appears to Mohammed, and Gabriel gives Mohammed the first revelation of the Qur’an. The earliest Qur’an is, many believe, occurs in Sura 96, if you’ll turn there. (I told you to make sure you bring your Qur’ans with you because it’s so important to look at these passages.) This is believed by many Muslims – there’s actually, like everything else I imagine, some disagreement among Muslim communities on this point, but I would say the vast majority believes that this passage – the first two ayahs here is the earliest revelation of the Qur’an:
“Recite in the name of your Lord who created man from clots of blood. Recite ‘the Lord is the most bountiful one.’”
This is what the word Qur’an means, to recite. There is a connection between the word “Qur’an” and the word “recite”. This is what is claimed to be a very, very early sura. It is believed that this occurred on either the 23rd, 25th, or 27th night of Ramadan, toward the end of that month. Different sects of Islam will celebrate different times.
2. Surah 74
The other very early one, this is very important is found in Sura 74 Ayah 1: “You that are wrapped up in your vestment arise and give warning.” This is also cited as, as some believe, the earliest of the surahs, where he basically commands Mohammed – the “you” here refers to Mohammed, who is wrapped up in vestments – “arise and giving warning”. In other words, give warning to the pagan tribes of Arabia. This is like Mohammed call to ministry or apostleship; is kind of the way this is interpreted. So, Mohammed begins to receive revelations, according to the Qur’an (Sura 76 Ayah 23). Some Muslims dispute this point, but you point it out in the Qur’an and they’ll eventually be happy.
The Qur’an was not given in one night. It was not given in one click-of-the-mouse download attachment, to Gabriel’s document. The Qur’an teaches it was done gradually. This is why we have pre-Meccan, Medinan, Meccan surahs. If you look at 76, it’s actually Ayah 23 – though your Qur’an may not show it closely:
“We have made known to you the Qur’an by gradual revelation.”
B. Response to revelations
That is the text in the Qur’an which shows, what in fact is true, that the Qur’an came over a period of time. From the time Mohammed first received a revelation in 610AD until the year 632, during that entire period the Qur’an is revealed. You’ll notice on the back of this handout, on the terms, there are several dates that are very important. You should know now 570AD is his birth, 610AD the first revelation, 632AD is the death of Mohammed, and he receives revelations all the way until the time of his death. The Qur’an is actually done over a period of 22 years, that Mohammed receives the revelations. That is important: it’s a gradual revelation.
1. Muhammad’s response
Mohammed essentially begins to share his revelations. He is obviously met with a lot of rejection because the Qur’an itself teaches in Sura 81:19-25 (a lot of this information is reproduced strictly from the Qur’an), that he specifically has Allah responding to his critics who claim he’s a madman. There is definitely evidence that Mohammed was widely challenged. However, we’re told that when he received this revelation, he immediately crushed his father’s idols, and he regularly began to retire into the hills to receive revelations.
I’m not sure if you are aware of the Jewish revelation – it’s not a revelation, it’s in the Midrash [Tanhuma] – regarding the tradition of Abraham when he received the knowledge of Yahweh. According to Jewish tradition, which is recounted in the Qur’an, that when Abraham was a young man and when he received the revelation of the One True God, he goes down – according to Jewish tradition, Abraham was an idol-maker – and so Abraham goes down into the downstairs area and he finds all these idols everywhere. He takes a club and he destroys all of the idols except for one. Then he puts the club in the hand of the biggest idol, and then he goes to sleep. Well his father is furious and wakes him up and asks Abraham, “Why did you destroy all these idols?” and he says, “Why do you think I did it?” “Who else would have done it?” “Look at who’s holding the club”, and there’s this idol there with this club. And of course, it was used to show that obviously, even Abraham’s father didn’t believe these idols had power, they couldn’t even destroy other idols. This is an old Jewish story that was told, and this was recounted in the Qur’an.
Mohammed’s own life – see, they’re very careful with either hagiography or remarkable coincidence – Mohammed’s life parallels the same thing. He had a revelation of monotheism, his father was from the Qur’aish tribe, they were the ones who protected the idols. They were involved in idol trade. Mohammed destroys the idols, and begins to proclaim the One True God. In a sense, there is a probably deliberate, but if not, at least a remarkable parallel between Abraham and Mohammed at that point. If you recall, also, in the book of Acts in 19:25 and following, you have the story of Demetrius, who is extremely upset at how the preaching of the Gospel will affect the idol trade in Ephesus. He gets together all the craftsmen and silversmiths and he basically says, “Hey, we have a good income in this business. We can’t allow this doctrine that says no idols at all to exist.” Therefore, they make a plot against the apostle Paul.
What you find is that even though Mohammed is from the Qur’aish tribe, the Qur’aish tribe opposed Mohammed vehemently because they get their living from the idol trade. They are the guardians of the Kaaba, which contains the 360 images. Therefore, there is tremendous opposition to Mohammed in his early days, and they claim he wasn’t being a true Arab. They claim he was spending too much time with foreigners. Again, a sure indication that he was spending time with Jewish or hermits and other groups.
They claim that he was not a true Arab, which is remarkable because it seems like this is the same kind of thing that we encounter today in many circles. “Oh, you’re not being a good Arab, a good Muslim if you hear the Gospel preached”, or Indians will say, “You’re not a true Indian if you talk to Christians”. So, Mohammed did convert his wife and his uncle Abu Talib, and others close to him, but essentially he had a good bit of opposition from the Arabs.
This is a time when Mohammed, like a good Arab, he has to make alliances. This is absolutely critical to understand how Arabs think. Mohammed realizes that he cannot sustain this without good allies. He naturally has potential allies among the Hanifs, and many believe that Hanifs readily came to his cause so what little core he has are probably Hanifs who are adopting Islam, that won’t be a problem. But there’s not enough of them; that’s a very small community. He realizes he needs to do a better job, so if you look at this map of the world, you’ll see that there is Arabia, and Mohammed crosses over the Red Sea into what is, today, Eritrea and Ethiopia.
2. Response of Mecca and beyond
As you know, Ethiopia is a very ancient Christian community – one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. By the 7th century, there’s a strong Christian community in Ethiopia. At the time, it was called Abyssinia, but it’s what we today call Eritrea and parts of Ethiopia. He crosses over and he wants to form an alliance with the community there, the Christians there. Now this shows that Mohammed still sees, very much, his revelation in continuity with Jewish and Christian revelation. He has seen that the Jews have a book, the Christians have a book of revelation, the Jews have a monotheistic vision, and the Christians have a monotheistic vision (even though they’re obviously confused about Christ, but essentially it is a monotheistic religion).
He is trying to form alliances – well he knows that Christians have a very high view of Christ, and so if you look at your Qur’an and you look at the 19th sura: what is the title of the 19th surah? It’s called “Mary.” This, of course, is a reference to Mary, the mother of Jesus. He is aware that not only Mary, but also Jesus and Mary, are very important to Christians. So, it’s in this sura that one finds probably one of the most positive recitations about Jesus because it is at this point that Mohammed uses this particular text. Of course, according to tradition, it was actually spoken (not by Mohammed, but) by Abu Talib, his uncle. Nevertheless, Mohammed and his uncle made a plea to the Christian king of Abyssinia whose name is Negus. This king, Negus, is often believed as one of the first Christian kings in the world.
There were groups in Mecca who realized the potential problem of Mohammed forming an alliance outside of Arabia with Christian kings. A group of Meccans went over to bribe King Negus to say, “Do not form an alliance with Mohammed and Abu Talib and this upstart group; form one with us.” So there was a lot of pressure on, because Negus, being a Christian, would not accept a bribe and therefore it was only based on the merits of the case. In a sense, this is Mohammed’s opportunity to put his best foot forward, in terms of Christianity. This particular sura is Mohammed explaining essentially a pro-Christian rhetoric on the Qur’an. It is true that there are things he says that definitely disturb us, he will say in this sura that Jesus was born of a virgin, that Mary was a virgin.
It’s also interesting how Mohammed weaves in what he thinks are Gospel accounts that we now know, from our point of view, that these are pseudo-Apocryphal accounts. For example, he has Jesus speaking from the crib. You know the passage in the Apocrypha where Jesus takes clay and he makes a bird from it, and the bird flies away? Mohammed recounts these stories right along the line with everything else. Again, it helps you see that Mohammed’s knowledge of Christianity is extremely diverse with a lot of oral tradition here and no textual guidance. So, you have Jesus without sin, you have all kinds of things here that are quite amazing in these verses, though he also does cite the traditional Muslim line that Allah can have no partner and no son.
Negus is not going to be bribed, and eventually Negus is essentially very positive toward the Muslims and there is a potential alliance here, though he’s not quite ready to completely accept. He wants to check Mohammed out, as well as some other contacts that he has on the peninsula. Certainly, this is a potential thing. But meanwhile, things are getting very, very tense in Arabia. Mohammed cannot wait any longer because he’s about to be defeated militarily in Mecca.
Finally, there is a huge breakthrough that happens up in the other twin city in Arabia, the city which is today called Medina, but in those days, it was called Yathrib. Yathrib is the northern of the two towns. You have Yathrib and you have Mecca. Mecca is where the Kaaba is, this is Mohammed’s base, this is where he’s born, where the revelations occur, but he can no longer stay in Mecca; the Qur’aish tribe is too powerful. Meanwhile, Yathrib has actually gone through tremendous problems in their own tribal structure, they’re under a lot of pressure. Mohammed is preaching a doctrine that says the one true God, Allah, will unite all the tribes of Arabia: “We can be a great force in the world”.
Mohammed has this vision for a united Arabia. Well the one thing Arabia was not, was united. This was a very divided, sectarian, with very sketchy truces and all the raiding going on and all that. So Yathrib has two things going for it, it has a large Jewish community, which are pre-disposed to monotheism, and therefore they are going to be happier with a monotheistic Arab. There was a growing Hanif movement, less polytheism. And then you have these divisive tribes that really have been worn down, and they essentially say, “If we unite together, we can out-do Mecca, in terms of trade. We can work together, and maybe Mohammed can help us out.” There is a desire to essentially create an alliance between Mohammed and the tribes of Yathrib. So they, during the same time that Mohammed is talking to Christians, they agree to give him a safe passage and to protect him in Yathrib.
IV. Hegira (Arabic, Hijra)
A. Flight /Exodus to Yathrib (Medina) - July 16, 622
This, of course, becomes the tremendous, what is to this day called, the birth of the Muslim year, the birth of Muslim civilization, everything. This is what they call the Hegira. This is a very important term; this refers to the flight, or the exodus. Again, the parallels are here: you have this exodus out of Mecca to the promised land of Medina. The city Yathrib is renamed Medina, as it is to this day. The word medina means “City of the Prophet”. This is basically celebrating the fact that Mohammed is going to come and reunite and restore the importance of Abraham.
B. Muhammad’s reception to “Medina” - Jews/Arabs
The Jews were happy because here is an indigenous prophet from Arabia who is saying “Abraham is so important. Abraham is the most important man in history.” They like that. He is saying there is only one God. They like that. He’s saying that idols are a corruption; idols should be destroyed. They love that. He accepts the Ten Commandments. Seven of the Ten Commandments appear in the Qur’an. At least there’s a core, especially the first one: “There shall be no other gods before me, no graven image.” That’s very important to Jews. Mohammed is saying, “I agree with this.” He’s preaching this. He even calls the Jews the People of the Book: allah kitab. This makes the Jews very, very happy. The Jews suffered under the idolatrous, pagans of Arabia. They had suffered under all the infighting. Mohammed is arguing for a larger community, and I think the Jews as well had a very positive perception that this could be a good thing. This all goes horribly sour later on, but at this point, it’s all considered a very, very positive thing.
C. The Muslim Calendar
So, Mohammed flees, this is in the year 622AD, by our reckoning. As you know, Muslims will not count their calendar, obviously, according to our reckoning, which is based on “in the year of our Lord”. The Muslims of this day will reckon their calendar according to, rather than AD, as AH: after the Hegira. So this is the beginning of the Muslim calendar. It occurs when Mohammed flees Mecca. He flees to Medina and he begins the new community there.
In order to figure the Muslim year, by the way, it’s figured by the lunar year. This is very difficult. It’s not just taking 2001 and subtracting 622. You have to do that first, which would come to 1379. Then, you have to add to that, three extra years per century because you have to make up for the fact that a lunar year is shorter than a solar year. The lunar month is shorter than the solar month, so it comes out to an additional 42 years. This would be 1421AH. That would be how Muslims determine their time. They date their entire calendar, and their entire movement, back to, not the revelations from the hills around Mecca, but from the Hegira.
D. Why the Hegira Marks the Beginning of the Islamic era
1. Individual visions to corporate movement
Why does the Hegira mark the beginning of the Islamic era? I’ll mention briefly, three things. Prior to the Hegira, the Qur’anic revelation is still incomplete. The revelations to Mohammed are essentially disparate; there are a few straggling individuals and small little groups that believe that it is not a movement. After the Hegira, this becomes, almost overnight, a movement from a collection of private insights, however profound, however disturbing, whatever, into a movement. They often say that things go through three stages: a man (used generically, but a man or woman), a movement, and a monument. This is kind of an observation that some catalyst figure enters into a movement of some vibrancy and it solidifies into something that is merely a monument.
If that’s true, this is the point where we move to the movement stage. There are a lot of things that happen, people begin to join Mohammed. There are groups of people that the Qur’an mentions, that flee with Mohammed and support him. So, his numbers begin to swell. These are people that actually call themselves the muhajirs, these were people who were put out of their homes because of their confession of monotheism. There was a little bit of plundering going on and people leaving their homes. Those who were waiting in Medina to receive him were known as the ansar, and the ansar are those that are in Medina. So, when you collect the ansars with the muhajirs – and these are terms you do not need to know – but those are the classifications for those who flee with Mohammed, those who are waiting in Medina for Mohammed, and together, these create the genuine movement that can no longer be ignored. That is one reason why the Hegira is considered to be the catalyst moment.
2. Religious continuity to religious change
The second is, the Hegira marks a period where Mohammed begins – at least the early seeds of, what I call here, religious continuity to – religious change. Up until the Hegira, in other words, the pre-Medina surahs – the chapters in the Qur’an that pre-exist —that are all before the Hegira, they all stressing the continuity of the Islamic revelation with Judaism and Christianity, especially with Judaism. So there is this very nice continuity being emphasized in the writings. It would not be fair to say that completely stops at the Hegira, but the tide begins to turn. At this point, Mohammed begins to recognize more and more that his movement might be distinct from Judaism. This is like with Christianity, at what point do Christians recognize they’re no longer a sect of Judaism, that we’re now a separate movement? In a sense, this is a movement like, “Well these are just Hanifs, these are just Muslims that are accepting Jewish revelation, etc.” But then he began to make changes.
You have a number of changes that begin to occur in the Medina suras. For example, you have 12:28, distinct change in the Joseph story that are not according to the Biblical revelation. You have a remarkable passage in Sura 9:30, which no one knows the basis for this, where Mohammed asserts that Jews believe that Ezra is the son of God, the way Christians believe Jesus is the son of God. Where in the world Mohammed heard this, to my knowledge, there is no evidence of Jews believing this. So you begin to have Mohammed putting words into Jewish mouths, as it were, and changing stories. You have Abraham, for example in Sura 2:127, Abraham and Ishmael building the Kaaba, asking Allah to send a prophet proclaiming the truth to the people of Arabia. So he begins to chastise the Jews more in the text. He says in Sura 6:91, you have Mohammed declaring the Jews had distorted or suppressed the original revelation.
Now that’s very, very important because for the first time, you begin to see the emergence or, rather than the continuity theme which we find in the pre-Medinan suras, you have a theme which says that the Jews have corrupted the original text of what we call the Old Testament. So the Jews are going to say, “No, that’s not right.” Well at this point, it’s already been incorporated into these revelations in dictation theory, it cannot be abrogated. So Mohammed is saying, “Wait a minute, if your story says it’s Isaac, and I’m telling you it’s Ishmael, then I’m sorry, you’re wrong.” So you begin to see the Jews and the Muslims are starting to have conflict now because he is openly contradicting Jewish textual traditions in the Old Testament. This is important. It’s one thing to say Abraham is the father of faith and the father of monotheism, and we agree with that, but he begins to say that pure monotheism has been distorted and corrupted by Jews and by Christians. That’s another reason why the Hegira marks the movement of the Islamic era.
3. New authority and basis for a unified Arab empire
Thirdly, and finally, the exodus of the Hegira marks the new authority, which is the basis for a unified Arab empire. Now you begin to find prior to this point the Arabs were essentially a very fractious group, a lot of infighting, a lot of rivalry. They were not united. These were Bedouin tribes that were more or less opposed to one another, especially eastern and western parts of Arabia. Now you begin to see links being made, or at least the possibility that the Qur’an can unite the Arab peoples, which eventually is what happens. The death of Mohammed has been 100 years of literally the explosion of Arab armies, and they create a whole Arab civilization that dominates the eastern world, and even all the way to the western world into Spain itself.
This is the beginning of that, of the possibility of trans-tribal union, or a pan-Arab unity. To this day, Muslims kind of play on this term, that Islam is a pan-Arab movement that will unite all Arabs all over the world, into this seamless garment that they call the ummah, which is the term for this. The term ummah means “community”. It’s a very important term in Islamic theology, the idea that all Muslims everywhere form this seamless garment of a single community. It’s a total myth, actually, but they talk in these terms as if it’s a non-divided group. Certainly in these early days, Islam will produce a unity among Arabs that is unheard of up to that point in history. By the way, one of you pointed out to me that in the Qur’an, a passage which does include the exodus from Pharaoh, so let me make that correction:
The initial part of the exodus is mentioned in the Qur’an, and the theology of the exodus is indeed omitted by Mohammed, he doesn’t really mention entering the Promised Land and all of that, but he does mention being driven out by Pharaoh. So that’s a correction we need to make in the notes from earlier.
V. The “Man” becomes a “Movement”
A. Consolidation of power and influence in Medina
Once Mohammed arrives in Medina, this is where the movement begins to consolidate. He becomes a major power broker in this new city of Yathrib. The Jews are very much a part of this because as they – he now for the first time has more serious and formal contact with Jews. In the passage, you have Old Testament stories that are being cited inaccurately, and there are problems with this.
In Sura 2:129, you have for example, that statement going back to Ayah 127 that says, “Abraham and Ishmael built the house.” The ‘house’ refers to the Kaaba. Abraham and Ishmael built the Kaaba and dedicated it, saying, “Accept this from us, Lord, You hear all and You know all.” Here’s Mohammed saying that Abraham came to southern Arabia and, with his son Ishmael, built the Kaaba. That’s not in the Old Testament, obviously. The Jews say that didn’t happen. So there is a big conflict here. Mohammed insists that it does happen. So you’re going to have these problems.
He has Abraham praying, “Lord [Yahweh], send forth to them an apostle of their own.” We have our apostles, our messengers, and prophets. The Christians have theirs, the Jews also – so the Muslims (Arabs) need their own. “Who will declare your revelation, instruct them in the Scriptures” [that’s interpreted to be the Qur’an] “and the wisdom [the Hadith] and purify them of sin. You are the Mighty, the Wise One. Who but a foolish man would renounce the faith of Abraham?” and he goes into this whole thing about Abraham. But if you read the passage, you can see that Mohammed tells them, “I am an extension of Abraham, but you have distorted it, you have changed it. It says in Ayah 135:
“Accept the Jewish or the Christian faith, and you shall be rightly guided. Saved [this is Allah to Mohammed] by no means, we believe in the faith of Abraham, the upright one. He was no idolator. We believe in Allah, and was revealed to us what was revealed to Abraham, to Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the tribes, to Moses, to Jesus, and other prophets by their Lord. We make no distinction among any of them, to Allah we have surrendered ourselves.”
So here he is saying, “I accept Jewish faith, or the faith of Abraham, but I’m not prepared to accept the Jewish revelation. I think you have it distorted.” He begins to differentiate, and he is again making more of a pan-monotheism that’s going to the same breath, Moses and Jesus. So you can see down in Ayah 140:
“Do you claim that Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the tribes were all Jews or Christians? Do you know better than Allah Himself? Who is more wicked than the man who hides the testimony which he receives from Allah?”
Again, he is saying here, “You have received your own revelation.” It isn’t a question of just becoming a Jew or becoming a Christian. There’s now a third alternative: you can become a Muslim. That’s what the word here means, “submit”, we are the ones who submitted, we are the Muslim, the submitted ones. So he is beginning to distinguish himself as a separate movement in this passage.
While we’re in the neighborhood, look at Sura 2:142. Now we’re talking about change in the Qur’an: here is one of the changes. We may be getting a little ahead of ourselves, but you probably already know that when Muslims pray, what direction do they face? They face – not only toward East – they face toward Mecca, specifically. Wherever they are, they orient toward Mecca. That is significant because, that direction of prayer, which we’ll look at later in the course, is called the kiblah. You’ll notice in Sura 2:142
“The foolish will ask what has made them change their kiblah?”
Do you see that in the text? What he is referring to there is the fact that the Muslims, when they first began to orient their prayer, guess what they prayed toward? Jerusalem. That’s what the Jews did, right? Daniel faced Jerusalem when he prayed. All of the prayers were toward Jerusalem, in the Jewish community. So Mohammed did the same thing. He copied Jewish practice. When he changes from facing Jerusalem, which is essentially west of them, as opposed to facing Mecca, which is largely east of them, then you have a distinct change in the direction of prayer.
All of this, he made the change officially in Sura 2:144, “We will make you turn towards a kiblah that will please you, turn towards the Holy Mosque.” Here for the first time, Mohammed directing his followers to turn toward the Kaaba, rather than toward Jerusalem. So, big changes are occurring in the way he relates to the other movements.
B. Battle of Badr (624)
Two big battles occur in the year 624 and 625 – I’m maintaining our own recount of the years because obviously the second year and third year of AH, After Hegira. But the first is the Battle of Badr and then the Battle of Uhud. These two battles are extremely important because not only historically these battles are important, but they have become metaphorical in Muslim discussion. Even Saddam Hussein makes reference to the Battle of Badr. These are very important battles; they take on great significance, theologically. So why don’t we look briefly at these two battles mean.
Mohammed has himself embedded into Medina. He wants to return to Mecca, this of course is the goal of the movement: is to return to Mecca and control the heart of the Arab empire. Mecca is the main city. This is where the Kaaba is; everything is oriented toward Mecca. He has to consolidate in order to control Mecca. The problem is, the Meccans realize this. They are extremely threatened by the power base growing in Medina. They engage in battles, they come up to Medina to engage Mohammed in battle and to hopefully defeat him on his own grounds.
There are two very famous battles: the first one is called The Battle of Badr, in 624AD, where Mohammed is met in battle with tremendous force led by, amazingly, Qur’aishian Meccans. These are his own tribal people coming to oppose Mohammed on the field of battle, led by Abu Jahl. The Meccans, by traditional numbers – according to the Qur’an, it says, twice the number – but traditionally Muslims say that Mohammed had 319 followers, which is often interpreted in all kinds of symbolic ways. But 319 followers, facing 1000 of the finest crack troops of the Qur’aish tribe. This is basically 3-to-1 facedown.
It’s very important, theologically, because here you have this superior army that is facing Mohammed. Mohammed is out-gunned, out-manned, everything, and yet, the Muslims rout the thousand Meccans, and they defeat them. This becomes the great symbol of the Mother of All Battles. This is referred to as the Mother of All Battles. Saddam Hussein was saying, some years ago now, that when he made his famous claim that “this will be the Mother of All Battles”. In his own discussion with his people, on television – even though he himself wasn’t a practicing Muslim – he suddenly became a practicing Muslim. He starts performing salat and all this stuff, but he became a devout Muslim in order to tie in – and you cannot fall for the fact that he understood the importance of Islamic history. He said, “fighting the West and overthrowing the Western powers will be our Battle of Badr, it will be the mother of all battles”, a clear historical reference point for Muslims, that we can defeat against innumerable odds.
The amazing thing is, after the whole thing was over with, from our point of view, he was defeated, right? But that wasn’t his point of view at all. Because if you look at his – he had several major enemies – he had George Bush, Sr., he had Margaret Thatcher, he had Francois Mitterrand, and Mikhail Gorbachev – his four major challengers. All four of them are now out of power. Guess where he is: he’s still in power. He says, “Hey, we won! All my opponents, Allah has deposed. All my opponents.” It happened quickly: Mitterrand had cancer (and died), Bush was kicked out of office by Clinton, you had Margaret Thatcher quickly went out of power when John Major came through, and now they have Tony Blair. So, he looks at it as, “Hey, I’m the only one still standing!” To him, he won. This is the thinking of the Battle of Badr. This is the kind of thing that this battle plays.
C. Battle of Uhud (625)
The second battle, the Battle of Uhud, was in 625, one year later, this happens near Medina. It’s a repeat of the earlier battle, in that it’s between the Meccan Qur’aish and the newly emerging Muslims. This time, though, they’re led by a different leadership, a guy named Abu Sufyan, and they’re now 3000 Meccans that come on the battlefield. In this battle, just the opposite result. The Muslims are divided, they have a very humiliating defeat, Mohammed himself is badly wounded, and this becomes the symbol of a great horrible defeat by the Muslims. This actually, I shouldn’t say it in negative terms because to this day, this Battle of Uhud is used and even in the Qur’an is used to symbolize the role of martyrdom. This becomes the seedbed that for the whole theology of martyrdom in Islamic thought. That there are times when Allah asks you to lay down your life for the greater cause. What he is saying is that Mohammed realized that blood must be spilt in this cause to be successful. Mohammed himself spilt blood on this battlefield, he himself was wounded, etc. Therefore, this becomes the archetype of martyrdom.
If you look at Sura 3, I’ll make a reference to this only because some of you may be reading this fairly soon, if not already. In this particular sura, you have –by the way, this is named “Imran” – do you know who Imran is? Father of someone in the Old Testament. Right, Imran is the father of Moses. This is referenced in the chapter, this is how it becomes the chapter, The Imran. This sura gives an account of both of the battles, so you might want to make note of that when you’re reading, to keep that in mind. He says about the Battle of Badr, particularly in Sura 3:13
“There was a sign for you in the two armies from the battlefield: one was fighting for the cause of Allah, the other a host of unbelievers. The faithful saw with their very eyes twice their own number, but Allah strengthens those and aids those who He will. Surely in that, there’s a lesson.”
You have in Sura 3 Ayah 102, supposedly the address that Mohammed gave his followers before the Battle of Uhud. He addresses them in, I think, Ayah 102, where he says:
“Believers, fear Allah as you rightly should, and when death comes, die true Muslims.”
Again, this is the martyrdom theme that comes out in the revelation and interprets this event. In Sura 3: 121, you actually begin to see there is some division in the Islamic community:
“Remember when you, [as Mohammed] left your people at an early hour to lead the faithful to the battle post. Allah heard all and knew all. Two of your battalions became fainthearted, but Allah was their protector.”
Again, he is discussing the possibility of division in the Muslim camp. There are several passages along the way that refer to these battles.
D. Triumphant return to Mecca in 630 A.D.
With these two battles behind him, Mohammed returns to Medina for five years. For five years, he consolidates his power – we’re covering a lot history here quickly but I’m trying to get this basic historical part over with; I’m more interested in the theological development. They dig a huge trench around the whole city of Medina, which of course is considerably smaller in those days than it is today. They have some other battles, one of which is called The Battle of the Trenches, or the Battle of the Ditch, the year 5AH (627AD). They are, again, fighting Qur’aishan tribes, but essentially, because of this ditch, they made Medina a fortress that could not be attacked. This gave them time to consolidate and to grow as a movement.
Meanwhile, he’s making treaties with certain tribes, they’re bringing more people into the movement, and finally, in the year 630AD, if you notice on the back of your sheet, this is another key date. You will want to have this locked in your mind. 630AD, this is 8AH, this is when Mohammed finally decides he is strong enough to take Mecca. You realize now, for all these years, he has had tremendous conflict with not only the Meccans in general, but particularly the Qur’aishan tribe. They have fought him and fought him and fought him, a lot of blood has been shed, difficulties happening. Mohammed has, by the way, this triangle has broken down during this period, he believed that Jews, because of all their bickering have broken this treaty that he had with Jews toward peace.
This is a very sad chapter in the history of the world, there are several battles where Mohammed slaughters many Jews – very tragic thing where you have a number of Medinan Jews that lose their life. Mohammed now has severed himself from the Jewish movement, but this Arab movement has really grown significantly. He comes back, there are no Jews marching in his army now, we’re talking about a purely Arab movement, now large enough that Mohammed believes he can maybe, with the luck of the Battle of Badr, be able to actually win Mecca. This is a bold move on his part because again, his numbers do not warrant this kind of attack on Mecca. He’s been defending Medina all this time, and they’ve been the attackers. Now he is going on the offensive move to actually attack the city of Mecca. He had – just to make sure that I’m not exposing myself to potential misunderstanding – he had actually been to Mecca on two occasions: 628AD and also in 630AD, before this event. He had been given safe passage into Mecca.
Again, these treaties were widely honored, and if he made an agreement to come in to peace, he could do that. He actually had some discussions with Meccans that were in favor of his cause. They regard him as miraculous, but you should be aware that he had some contact with Mecca prior to his return. But in the Muslim-telling of the story, he comes to Mecca preparing for a huge massive bloody battle, the mother of all battles, once again repeated. But instead, the city completely surrenders without resistance. There is no opposition to Mohammed in the year 630AD when he comes back into the city.
Mohammed takes this as a great sign from Allah, he grants immunity to all his former enemies, and Mohammed takes the city. He immediately goes to the Kaaba, which of course is the heart of the city, this is the very place where his own tribe had protected. He enters the Kaaba and he cleanses the temple – that’s the only way to put it. He goes through, takes out every idol, one by one, he destroys the idol publicly, he burns it, destroys it, he runs out all of the people that are involved in the idolatrous trade. He then circles the Kaaba seven times, which becomes significant for later Muslim practice – Muslims to this day still circle it seven times when they go to Mecca. And he paid homage to one particular object in the Kaaba, which of course is what? The Black Stone. The Black Stone is given homage because he knew from his early days growing up in Mecca that that stone was the stone the Hanifs said was the stone that represented Arab monotheism. It was the one link they believe the Arabs had – one physical link – between Abraham and the Arab peoples, was this stone. Therefore, Mohammed did not destroy that stone and he destroyed all the others.
This event becomes important spiritually because it is the official renunciation of idolatry by the Arabs, at least the followers of Islam. Culturally, this is the end of all this divided tribalism which, by the way the idol-worshippers lost that because they each had to get rid of their god – and now you have a much more united Arab movement beginning to happen.
To be fair, even at Mohammed’s death, the Arab tribes were not united behind Mohammed, and it was some time before all the Arabs really came on board. But certainly, the western part is beginning to be united. That’s significant. In fact, in the Qur’an itself, if you look at Sura 9:18, it actually describes this, where he cleanses the – this is applied to all the mosques:
“None should visit the mosques of Allah, except those who believe in Allah in the last day.”
Now the word mosque here, it does not mean “building”, it means “place of prostration”. He’s saying here the places of prostration to Allah are sacred. Only those who are Muslims, in other words, should visit the mosques. That’s what, to this day, if you’re in sensitive areas where Islam is very strong, they will not permit Christians to enter into the mosque. Obviously, certain ones, especially: The Grand Open Air Mosque in Mecca (which this refers to mainly here), you cannot visit that as an outsider. Only through secret intrigue have outsiders gone into that. There are other sacred holy mosques throughout the Muslim world where outsiders cannot come, based on this text here.
So, what he does is, he declares what’s called a harem – a harem is a purification of the city of Mecca, where all the idolaters are expelled and this becomes a sacred city. Basically, where only Muslims can set foot in the city. It’s very unlikely that we’ll be able to establish a mission outpost in Mecca. This is not a possibility because outsiders are simply not allowed. This, by the way, is important as well because other cities, as the Muslim world grows, they do the same thing.
The most famous one in Western literature is Timbuktu. Most of you grew up hearing stories and poetry about Timbuktu. Timbuktu is a city in West Africa, modern-day Mali, which was founded as a Muslim city. It was patterned after Mecca. The idea was, no non-Muslim will ever set foot in this city; this is a sacred city. No non-Muslims allowed, and the idea was that this city would have people falling down on their faces, day and night, five times a day, for all eternity, no idolatry or problems or whatever else. Westerners couldn’t go to Timbuktu, so you had this marvelous situation, even though their peak was Timbuktu (1400~1600), when the missionaries began to arrive in Africa, they couldn’t go to Timbuktu. So, you have a few examples of missionaries bringing stories back about this obscure place, Timbuktu, where nobody could go, nobody was allowed. You had one very famous sketch someone made overlooking a hill, a sketch of the city of Timbuktu, because nobody from the west could go there. It created kind of an allure in the west about Timbuktu.
That’s the way Mecca is, to this day. Outsiders aren’t allowed, and there’s allure to the whole place because of that, and it actually goes back to the Qur’an. Mohammed said, “Okay, we have the authority to set aside certain cities as sacred mosques, where outsiders cannot enter. Mecca becomes an Islamic stronghold and to this day, that mosque is the most important mosque in Islam. It’s called the Grand Mosque – this is a translation of it, I think we’ll stick with the translation – the Grand Open Air Mosque is the number one most in the world.
The second is known as the Prophet’s Mosque. This is one that occurs in Medina, and this is the first place where Mohammed went in the city of refuge, so it’s become very, very important. There’s another one called The Prophet’s Prayer Mosque, this is the third most important one in the world – all these are in Saudi Arabia – this is the first place where Mohammed performed the prayer facing the Kaaba. The famous prayer toward the Kaaba, this also is believed to be the first place he prayed after the Hejira, when he fled from Mecca. The fourth one – the reason I give you this list is so you’ll know where all this comes to – is the Dome of the Rock. They don’t call it that, but it’s what you recognize it as. The Dome of the Rock is the fourth most important mosque in the world. Now all three of these mosques are in modern-day Saudi Arabia, so therefore, the Dome of the Rock is the most important mosque outside of Saudi Arabia. It’s important – we’re a little ahead of ourselves to say why it’s important, but I’ll go ahead and mention it – the Dome of the Rock is important because one of the things that happens to Mohammed when he’s meditating on it and receiving the Qur’an, is that at one point he receives, what is called the Night Journeys.
By the way, there is a chapter in the Qur’an called the Night Journey. This is where Mohammed goes to sleep in Mecca, but during the night, he is transported on a winged white stallion all the way to Jerusalem. At Jerusalem, Mohammed ascends to heaven, where he receives revelations in the presence of Allah. Again, mediated through Gabriel, but nevertheless, he actually is brought up through the seven heavens and all that happens in the various stages. By the way, that’s where he receives the file full of prayer, and this all recorded, not in the Qur’an, but in the Hadith. But they believe that occurred on that spot, is where he ascended and descended, and therefore it is extremely sacred to the Muslims. This of course is the same place where Jews believe is the location of the temple, even earlier, the location of Mt Moriah, where Abraham sacrificed Isaac. All of this becomes extremely volatile, and you can appreciate even now a little bit of why this area is so volatile in the current conflict.
Those are some brief historical points along the way, I think that will give you a bit of a general guideline. I don’t intend to say a lot more about historical development until we have the death of Mohammed. Once Mohammed dies, we need to once again revisit the history and talk about some of the developments after his death. But at this point, we’re going to go back and now that we more or less have the Qur’an in hand as it were, we want to be able say: what does the Qur’an teach and what ways is it similar to or distinct from the Jewish revelation.