Friday, 8 July 2011

jama masjid history

The peoples of Arabia were predominately polytheistic, and Mecca was the place of their most important sanctuary, the Ka’ba (see below).  Its ancient origins are unknown but, since all accessible deities were represented there, it was a place of annual pilgrimage for all tribes. At one time there were said to have been as many as three hundred and sixty idols in and around the Ka’ba. This, too, was under the control of the Quraysh, who wisely established a non-violent zone that was Haram (sacred, forbidden), radiating for twenty miles around the sanctuary, and made Mecca a place where any tribe could enter without fear and where they were free to practice both religion and commerce.

The Ka’ba in 1910
The Ka’ba was the most important holy place in Arabia even in pre-Islamic times; it contained hundreds of idols representing Arabian tribal gods and other religious figures, including Abraham, Jesus and Mary. It is a massive cube believed to have been built by the Prophet Abraham and dedicated to al-Lah (The God who was the same God worshipped by the Jews and Christians); it stands in the centre of the Sanctuary in the heart of Mecca. Embedded in the Ka’ba’s granite matrix is the famous Black Stone, which tradition says was originally cast down from Heaven as a sign for Adam......

The Zam-Zam holy well is nearby and is believed to have quenched the thirst of Hagar and her child in the wilderness. (Genesis 21:19). Arabs from all over the peninsula made an annual pilgrimage to Mecca, performing traditional rites over a period of several days. Mohammad eventually destroyed all the idols in and around the Ka’ba, and re-dedicated it to the One God, Allah, and the annual pilgrimage became the Hajj, the rite and duty of all Believers.

The historian Ibn Ishaq tells of a reconstruction of the Ka’ba when Mohammad was a boy. A quarrel broke out between the Meccan clans as to which clan should set the Black Stone in place. The solution was to ask the first person who entered the Sanctuary from outside to be the judge. The young Mohammad was the first to do so. He put the stone on to a heavy cloth and had all the clan elders take part of the cloth to raise it and thus share in the task equally.

Mohammad at the Ka’ba from an Ottoman
(Turkish) epic about the life of Mohammad,
completed around 1388, Illustration
by NakkaÅŸ Osman.
Like other pre-Axial societies, pre-Islamic Arab beliefs involved a pantheon of accessible deities with whom people could communicate. They also believed in darh or fate which probably helped them adapt to the high mortality rate. Above all of the lesser Gods was the one remote God, al-Lah – the God who was the same God worshipped by the Jews and Christians. He was beyond the reach of ordinary people. Lesser deities were represented in the Ka’ba and in shrines to their individual honor scattered throughout the peninsula. These gods would be prayed to for rain, children, health and the like and would intercede on their behalf to Allah – the God in times of dire need.

This pre-Islamic attitude towards religion provided a framework that was open to ideas and interpretations. The Sasanian presence in the Arabian Peninsula had brought with it the influence of Zoroastrianism, in which Ahura Mazda and Ahriman, the Gods of Light and Darkness, were in constant battle for the souls of humanity. Jewish presence in the area dates possibly from as early as the Babylonian Exile in 597 BCE and certainly from the time of the Great Revolt in AD 70, almost six centuries before Mohammad. Scholars note that a symbiotic relationship existed between the two peoples: Jews were Arabized and Arabic speaking and over the centuries Arabs had absorbed Jewish beliefs and practices. There were Jewish merchants and Jewish Bedouin, farmers, poets and warriors. What today is the center of Islam, the Ka’ba in Mecca, has ancient Semitic roots: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and others were associated with it long before the rise of Islam.  Both Jews and Arabs were believed to be descendants of Abraham, an idol of whom could be viewed inside the pre-Islamic Ka’ba.

Since their earliest times Christian groups were established in Syria and Mesopotamia. In AD 313, the Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal and it became accepted as the imperial religion by Rome. The First Council of Nicaea in AD 325, declared Christ to be both fully God and fully man and established belief in the Trinity which represented God as three in one: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Those who disagreed with this new orthodox position, Nestorians, Gnostics, and Arians for example, were excommunicated and declared heretics. Many fled from persecution, beyond the reach of the Byzantine Empire into the Persian and Arab worlds. Theirs was a proselytizing faith and as they spread throughout the Peninsula a number of tribes were converted. The Ghassanids, who wintered on the border of Byzantium, became the largest early Christian tribal community, the Nabateans another, and by the sixth century the Yemenite city of Najran was a center of Arab Christianity.

The distance from both empires enabled beliefs in the Arab Peninsula to evolve and flourish independently, especially in Mecca. According to Fred M. Donner, Professor of Near Eastern History at the University of Chicago, by the sixth century paganism was receding in the face of the gradual spread of monotheism. Hanifism arose in Mecca and spread throughout the Hijaz. Its members “turned away from” idolatry, seeking to follow the original monotheism of Abraham, before the establishment of either Judaism or Christianity. The Prophet Abraham, who is traditionally believed to have built the Ka’ba, is the ancestor of the Arabs, according to the Old Testament, and the ancestor of the Muslim believers through his faith, according to the Qur’an.

The Hanifs regularly spent some of their time away from the polytheist environment and made retreats to nearby hills to pray, as did Mohammad. One such hill was Hira’ the location where Mohammad would receive his first revelation from the Archangel Gabriel (Jibreel).  Hanifs worshipped only the one God, who required commitment to a moral code: believers had to strive to be morally upright, mindful of an afterlife when one’s choices would be judged.

There is a tradition that tells of a meeting between one of the four founding Hanifs, Zayd, and the young Mohammad.  Whether that took place or not, there is little doubt that Mohammad would have been aware of Hanifism since his youth and would have heard Hanif preachers in Mecca. The Qur’an has several entries that mention Hanif, for example: 22:31 Be hanif in religion towards Allah, and never assigning partners to Him: if anyone assigns partners to Allah, it is as if he had fallen from heaven and been snatched up by birds, or the wind had thrown him into a distant place.

The History of Mohammad

The name Mohammad in traditional Thuluth calligraphy
by the hand of Hattat Aziz Efendi
Less than one hundred years after Mohammad’s death in 632 the first Muslim historians began to write about his life. These were Muhammad ibn Ishaq (d. 767), Muhammad ibn ‘Umar al-Waqidi (d. c. 820); Muhammad ibn Sa’d (d. 845); and Abu Jarir at-Tabari (d. 923). These scholars reconstructed their narrative from oral traditions and early documents, and through their effort we know more about Mohammad than we do any other Prophet.

Nevertheless we need to keep in mind that the stories of Mohammad’s life were written to satisfy contemporary norms and included miraculous and legendary stories that might be misinterpreted today. As we have noted with the stories surrounding the Axial Sages, the Old Testament and the Gospels, such accounts are not to be taken literally. According to Reza Aslan they “function as prophetic topos: a conventional literacy theme that can be found in most mythologies. Like the infancy narratives in the Gospels, these stories are not intended to relate historical events, but to elucidate the mystery of the prophetic experience. They answer the questions: What does it mean to be a prophet? … It is not important whether the stories describing the childhood of Muhammad, Jesus or David are true. What is important is what these stories say about our prophets, our messiahs, our kings: that theirs is a holy and eternal vocation, established by God from the moment of creation.” (No god but God, The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, Reza Aslan.)

Not much is known about his early childhood, but according to tradition Mohammad was born in Mecca in 570, the year known as the year of the Elephant, in which Mecca was miraculously saved (see below). He was a Quraysh from the clan of Hashim. Many stories surround his childhood and birth, which was announced in a tale similar to the Christian story of Mary: Mohammad’s mother, a widow named Amina, one day heard a voice say to her: “You carry in your womb the lord of this people, and when he is born, say: ‘I place him beneath the protection of the One, from the evil of every envious person’, then name him Muhammad.”

The Year of the Elephant
Tradition tells that Abraha, the Abyssinian Christian ruler of Yemen, attacked Mecca with a herd of elephants imported from Africa. Abraha’s goal was to destroy the Ka’ba and make the Christian church at Sana’ the new religious center of the Arab world. The terrified Quraysh had never seen an elephant, much less a whole herd, so they ran to the mountains to escape, leaving the Ka’ba with no defense. But just as it was about to be attacked, the sky went dark as a flock of birds, each carrying a stone in its beak, rained down on the invading army which was forced to retreat.

Mohammad was orphaned at the age of six when his mother died, and went to live with his grandfather Abd-Al-Muttalib, who was in charge of providing the water of the Zam-Zam to pilgrims.  But by the time he was eight years old, his grandfather, too, had died and Mohammad was taken in by his Uncle Abu Talib and employed in his successful caravan business, so he was saved from a life of slavery or indebtedness experienced by so many orphans at the time. In a story that resembles that of Samuel in the Old Testament and others of that genre, it was on a trading expedition to Syria, when Mohammad was only nine years old, that a Christian monk named Bahira recognized him as “the Messenger of the Lord of the Worlds.”

At twenty-five, when Mohammad was still unmarried and dependent on his uncle, he met a very distant cousin, Khadija, a beautiful widow, then probably in her late thirties. Khadija was unusual for a woman of her time, she was a respected member of Meccan society and a very successful businesswoman in her own right. In spite of his tenuous social circumstances, according to Ibn Hisham, Mohammad had a reputation for “truthfulness, reliability, and nobility of character,” and Khadija entrusted him to take a caravan of goods to Syria and sell it. When he returned home with more profits than she anticipated, she proposed marriage to him and he accepted, thus acquiring status and entry into Meccan society. Although polygamy was the norm at the time, Mohammad and Khadija were in a monogamous marriage for twenty-five years until her death. They had six children.

As an orphan himself, Mohammad would have been aware of just how easy it was to fall outside Mecca’s religio-economic system. With his marriage and his businesses doing well, he now had access to the prosperous life. He saw firsthand that although the leading families of the Quraysh believed in the one God, this belief was not relevant to their lives; they had forgotten that everything depended upon Him.  Now that they were rich, they adhered to the very worst aspects of murawah and had thrown away the best: they were arrogant, reckless, niggardly and egotistical; they had become self-centered, no longer believing in anything but riches and took no responsibility for people outside their immediate, elite circle.

The cave Hira in the mountain Jabal al-Nour where,
according to Muslim belief, Mohammad received his
first revelation.
Mohammad saw the decline in traditional values as a threat to the very existence of his tribe. But he was sure that social reform had to be based on a new spiritual foundation for it to actually take effect. As a trader, Mohammad came in frequent contact with Jews and Christians and would have been familiar with stories from both the Old Testament and the Gospels. According to the scholar Ikbal Ali Shah, Mohammad made “an exhaustive study of other religions.”  He was aware that his own people, although they believed in al-Lah, lacked a sacred book of their own.  â€œThe people of the Book” had codified Laws that were both religious and social, governing their behavior from dawn to dusk. His own people had no such thing and because of this their lives were in chaos, many were suffering and destitute, and the whole tribe was in danger of extinction.

Before the revelations, he had no idea that his destiny would be to implement these vital changes. He was from a minor clan, the Hashim, and scholars point out that, in common with other prophets before him, he initially wanted nothing to do with what was happening to him and was extremely upset, so much so that without Khadija’s intervention “Mohammad might have gone through with his plan to end it all, and history would have turned out quite differently.” (Reza Aslan)

He was prone to spending long hours in retirement in meditation. He would provide himself with simple food and water, and then head directly for the hills and ravines in the neighborhood of Mecca, particularly to the cave named Hira in the Mount An-Nur two miles away from the city, a place also visited by the hanifs. According to the historian Tabari, there he would perform devotions and distribute alms to the poor who visited him.

God’s words were spoken directly to Mohammad just as they had been to the Old Testament Prophets before him. Because it is the language of sacred texts, Hebrew was often considered sacred. In post-biblical times, it was referred to as lashon ha-kodesh, the holy language. And like biblical Hebrew, the Arabic of the Qur’an (Recitation) is also considered sacred because it is the language through which Mohammad received God’s revelations. Both were addressed to a predominately oral society. They were meant to be read aloud, recited, and their sounds are an essential part of their sense.

Both Hebrew and Arabic have multiple resonances of words that have the same trilateral root which affect the listener on multiple levels. The English language can only provide a sense of this on a far, far simpler level, in certain phrases such as: “looking through the pane” where the pane of glass also can bring up the idea of physical or emotional pain.

One day, when he was about forty years old, Mohammad was alone in the cave when suddenly a man in a white dress appeared to him. Mohammad himself described what happened:

“Then he took me and squeezed me vehemently and then let me go and repeated the order ‘Recite.’ ‘I cannot recite' said I, and once again he squeezed me and let me go till I was exhausted. Then he said, ‘Recite.' I said, ‘I cannot recite.’ He squeezed me for a third time and then let me go and said:

‘Recite in the name of your lord who created –
From an embryo created the human.

Recite your lord is all-giving
Who taught by the pen
Taught the human what he did not know before

The human being is a tyrant
He thinks his possessions make him secure
To your lord is the return of everything’   Qur’an: 96:1-8

Mohammad was terrified and unable to understand what had happened to him. Had he gone mad or become one of the Kahins, the ecstatic poets whom he despised? What had happened?  He staggered down the mountain and sought Khadija, crying “Wrap me up! Wrap me up!” Khadija covered him in a cloak and held him and when he was calmer, questioned him. He told her what he had experienced and that he feared he had gone mad, but Khadija had no doubt that his revelation was authentic, “This cannot be my dear, God would not treat you thus. You are known to be truthful and a bearer of the burdens of others. You give to the poor, you feed guests, you work against injustice.”
(The Life of Muhammad, I. Ishaq, translated by A. Guillaume pg.106)

But Mohammad was inconsolable, so Khadija went to the only person she could think might be able to verify the nature of what had happened, her cousin Waraqa. Waraqa had been one of the founding four Hanifs but was currently a practicing Christian. He was familiar with the Scriptures and recognized Mohammad’s experience for what it was. “If this be true, Khadija, there has come to him the great divinity who came to Moses aforetime, and lo, he is the Prophet of this people.” (Mohammad: A Prophet of our Time, Karen Armstrong)

Some scholars doubt that Mohammad would have been the successful businessman he was, had he been unable to read and write the correspondence and documentation relating to his own business. He may have been able to read both Arabic and the Aramaic in common use by the Jewish community at the time. They suggest that the epithet the Qur’an uses for Mohammad: “an-nabi al-ummi” traditionally meaning “the unlettered Prophet,” might instead mean “The Prophet for the unlettered,” in other words, for the people without a holy book.  â€œWe did not give [the Arabs] any previous books to study, nor sent them any previous Warners before you.”  (The Qur’an 34:44).

Nevertheless, the revelations that Mohammad received were in words remote from his world: he was not known to have composed any poetry and had no special rhetorical gifts. From the first revelation, the Surahs (chapters) of the Qur’an would deal with matters of belief, law, politics, ritual, spirituality and personal conduct, cosmology, and economics in what Karen Armstrong describes as an “entirely new literary form.” The Qur’an itself states, “If you are in doubt of what We have revealed to Our messenger, then produce one chapter like it. Call upon all your helpers, besides God, if you are truthful.” (The Qur’an 2.23) No one was able to do this.

The seven verses of Al-Fatiha, the first surah
of the Qur'an.

The first audiences of the Qur’an were not unsophisticated linguists; these people were passionate about composing both poetry and prose; they excelled in oratory, diction and eloquence. The Arabic language was their pride and joy and they vied with each other in their ability to be fluent and eloquent speakers at competitive events for poetry and oration. Their stories told of their adventures and their valor in warfare, of their amorous exploits and extolled the virtues of their women. Like the ancient Greeks and other oral societies of old, they committed thousands of tales and poems to memory which were passed down by oral tradition from generation to generation. Their pride in their mastery of the Arabic language knew no bounds: they referred to all non-Arabs as “Ajums” (people suffering from a speech impediment.)

After the first revelation there was a gap of two years in which Mohammad received no revelations, and he quite naturally would have doubted the veracity of the first one. After all, he was not from a distinguished clan, not a miracle worker, and not an impressive figure in the eyes of the Quraysh; what was he doing receiving the word of God? Was his arrogance even worse than their own?

Then a second vision occurred, this time revealing that those who experience the care of God have a duty to others “… one who asks for help – do not turn him away;” (The Qur’an 93.10) and Mohammad was clearly instructed to proclaim God’s message to the Quraysh: “And the grace of your lord – proclaim!” (The Qur’an 93.11) Thus Mohammad became a Messenger whose duty it was to remind his people of what they had forgotten in both religious and social terms.

The prophet received revelations for 23 years until his death in 632.

The Messenger
Mohammad never thought nor claimed to be inventing a new religion. He never sought power nor took advantage of his situation or status:

 â€œI am nothing but a warner and a herald of glad tidings unto people who will believe.” (The Qur’an 7:188)
 â€œThere shall be no coercion in matters of faith.” (The Qur’an 2.256),
and again,
“But if they turn away from thee, O Prophet, remember that thy only duty is a clear delivery of the message entrusted to thee.” (The Qur’an 16.82)

From the second revelation until his death he maintained a singleness of purpose as a Messenger of God to convey and carry out His wishes. He was tasked to restore the original monotheistic faith of Adam, Abraham and other prophets whose messages had become misinterpreted or corrupted over time. His revelations confirmed that the God of the “People of the Book” was the one and only Allah, God of all humanity, and that people should honor Him and only Him in life and deed. The Qur’an says (42.13):  â€œ[God] has established for you the same religion enjoined on Noah, on Abraham, on Moses, and on Jesus.”

As Reza Aslan notes, it is not surprising that: “There are striking similarities between the Christian and Qur’anic description of the Apocalypse, the Last Judgment, and the paradise awaiting those who have been saved.” But he points out that “These similarities do not contradict the Muslim belief that the Qur’an was divinely revealed, but they do indicate that the Quaranic vision of the Last Days may have been revealed to the pagan Arabs through a set of symbols and metaphors with which they were already familiar, thanks in some part to the wide spread of Christianity in the region.” (No god but God, The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, Reza Aslan.)

Qur’an manuscript from the 7th century CE, written
on vellum in the Hijazi script.
Just as the first followers of Jesus did not consider themselves members of a new religion, neither did the initial “believers” close to Mohammad.  The group included former pagans, Jews and Christians: monotheists who saw themselves as people trying to live in accordance with God’s rules and law. According to Fred Donner: “Mohammed built a movement of devout spiritualists from many faiths who shared a few core beliefs: God was one, the end of the world was near, and the truly religious had to live exemplary lives rather than merely pay lip service to God’s laws. It was almost a century after Mohammed founded his “community of believers” and launched the great Islamic conquest that his followers started to define their beliefs as a distinct religious faith.” (Muhammad and the Believers, Fred Donner.)

Mohammad was a gentle and contemplative man, he had no real status within the Quraysh and was not of the stature that the Arab world would expect for a Prophet. As Karen Armstrong and others have noted, he was not a violent man but faced a violent, barbaric, corrupt, greedy and contemptuous world that he understood would destroy itself unless it changed. “Muhammad literally sweated with the effort to bring peace to war-torn Arabia. He realized that Arabia was at a turning point and that the old way of thinking would no longer suffice, so he wore himself out in the creative effort to evolve an entirely new solution.”

Those close to Mohammad were the first to believe in his revelations. Ali, who was taken in by Mohammad when his father, Abu Talib, was in financial distress, was the first; then Zayd, who remained at his side, although he had been a Syrian slave until he was given his freedom by Mohammad; the merchant Abu Bakr was the third to join the believers. He had a reputation for kindness and honesty and once he joined Mohammad others who knew him did the same.

The Messenger’s immediate goal was to bring the message of Allah to his own tribe, and many of the revelations were extremely difficult for the Quraysh to adopt. Not only had they to reject all their idols but their conduct had to change entirely. For example, submission to Allah included that a believer should pray five times a day and: “Touch your head to the earth!” (The Qur’an 96), not exactly a posture that the arrogant Quraysh would find easy to accept!

The Hijra
Then in 619 CE, described by early biographers as Mohammad’s “year of sadness,” both his wife Khadija, the closest and most intimate companion of his life, and Abu Talib, his protector and the chief of the Hashim clan, died.  He was not only devastated but found himself in an extremely precarious situation. According to Reza Aslan “The results were immediate. Muhammad was openly abused on the streets of Mecca. He could no longer preach or pray in public. When he tried to do so, one person poured dirt over his head, and another threw a sheep’s uterus at him.”

After his first revelation, Khadija’s elderly cousin Waraqa had warned Mohammad that his task would not be easy and that the Quraysh would eventually expel him from Mecca. Mohammad had been dismayed at hearing this then, but almost seven years later, it looked inevitable. His message was dividing the families of Mecca, appealing above all to the young. The Believers were in essence removing themselves from the traditions of the tribe. Because Mohammad and his followers were seen to be undermining the rituals and values upon which the Quraysh religious and economic foundation depended, a devastating boycott was put upon the whole tribe of Hashim to try to starve the Believers out of Mecca.

The first four verses (ayat) of Al-Alaq, the 96th chapter
(surah) of the Qur’an.
He and his followers now had to take steps unheard of in the Arab world: they had to leave their city, their tribe, their clan, family ties and possessions and go off into the desert. The Hijra, as the migration from Mecca to an area called Yathrib (later Medina) is known, took place at night and was a clandestine operation. Sons and daughters left their family homes for a week-long journey through the barren wilderness. The old man Waraqa’s warning had proved correct.

Upon arrival Mohammad allowed his camel to select a place for the first masjid (place for prostration in prayer to Allah, which would later become a mosque) so as not to give any preference to anyone’s choice. This small group of about 70 Believers became the first of a new kind of community (Ummah), one whose establishment was commemorated many years later by a uniquely Muslim calendar. That year, 622 AD, became known as the year 1 AH (After Hijra) and at that time the oasis of Yathrib then became celebrated as Medinat an-Nabi, “The City of the Prophet” – Medina.

“Unlike Jesus or the Buddha, who seem to have been purely spiritual leaders with no temporal responsibilities whatever, Mohammad found himself now head of state,” author Karen Armstrong points out. “Having transferred the Muslim families from Mecca to Medina, he now had to make sure they could survive there.” Establishing the community in Yadith was not going to be easy and Mohammad and his Believers were pushed into conflict with the Quraysh, when desperation forced some believers to send out a ghazu raid to disrupt and loot Quraysh caravans. Unfortunately, this occured during the sacred month, so it galvanized the Quraysh and resulted in the Battle of Badr in 624 CE. A thousand Quraysh, some on horseback, met the smaller Muslim group, but the latter although poorly equipped, were highly motivated and won.

Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, at sunset.

Prisoners of War
The Prophet instructed that Prisoners of War should be treated as if they were family members.
He favored freedom after restitution.
Those who could not pay monetary restitution were asked to teach ten individuals to read and write.
According to Cherif Bassiouni of DePaul University (Chicago, IL) this is the first time in recorded history that POWs were treated humanely as a policy.

The Quraysh attacked at the Battle of Uhud two years later. This resulted in approximately seventy of the 700 believers killed and those taken prisoner by the Quraysh were tortured and mutilated. In the fifth year after the Hijra a third major confrontation occurred, The Battle of Khandq (The Trench). This time the believers took the advice of a Persian and dug a trench along the side of the city most vulnerable to attack. The episode resulted in a victory for the Muslims without a battle actually being fought. The Quraysh, who had never encountered such a situation in battle, were unable to cross it and eventually turned back, defeated.

The community of Believers expanded rapidly since anyone from any culture, race or tribe could join the Ummah by simply declaring: “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is God’s Messenger.” As head of the Ummah, Muhammad undertook the protection of every member. Here there were no class distinctions; the value of one man was not higher than another’s. Mohammad urged against the traditional tribal Law of Retribution towards forgiveness: “The retribution for an injury is an equal injury, but those who forgive the injury and make reconciliation will be rewarded by God” (The Qur’an 42:40).

Usury was forbidden and taxes were replaced by a tithe called Zakat whereby everyone gave according to his means to provide care for the less fortunate: “True piety does not consist in turning your faces towards the East or the West – but truly pious is he who believes in God, and the Last Day; and the angels, and revelation, and the prophets; and spends his substance – however much he himself may cherish it - upon his kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage; and is constant in prayer, and renders the purifying dues; and [the truly pious are] they who keep their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and hardship and in time of peril: it is they that have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of God.” (The Qur’an 2:177)

Women’s rights and privileges were foremost in Mohammad’s struggle for social and economic egalitarianism. Here are some of the areas addressed:

The Qur’an (in 33.35) emphasizes the equality of the sexes in the eyes of God in all but physical strength, which men should use to provide for women.
Mohammad said: “Women are the twin-halves of men.”
He changed the laws of inheritance so that women could inherit and maintain their own wealth and their husband’s in the event of his death.
Women could now keep their marriage dowries as their own personal property, even if they became divorced.
For the first time he gave women the right to divorce their husbands if they feared cruelty or ill-treatment. (4:128).
For the first time he limited the number of wives a man could have. He accepted that men should be able to have up to four wives, with one proviso: “only if you can treat them all equally” (The Qur’an 4:3).
He did not allow women to have more than one husband. The scholar Reza Aslan describes this step as one that was necessary to ensure the survival of the community at Yathrib, which, after war with the Quraysh, resulted in hundreds of widows and orphans who needed to be provided for and protected.
The tradition of women wearing a veil was borrowed from the upper classes of Iranian and Syrian women and used by Mohammad’s wives as an identifier and for their protection. Though modesty was required of all believers, during the Prophet’s lifetime only his wives wore a veil (Hijab).
As Leila Ahmed and others have observed, nowhere in the Qur’an is the term Hijab applied to any other women.....

The Community of Believers

Just as the first followers of Jesus did not think of themselves as part of a new religion, the original community around Mohammad did not either, but rather one akin to the Hanifs – they sought the pure form of monotheism and called themselves the “Believers” (mu’minum). Allah was the God of the Jews and the Christians. According to Prof. Donner, the Qur’an uses mu’minum to describe the early community around Mohammad far more frequently than it does the term Muslim. “A number of Qur’anic passages make it clear that the word mu’min and muslim, although evidently related and sometimes applied to one and the same person, cannot be synonyms. For example, Q 49:14states, ‘The Bedouins say: ’We Believe’ (aman-na). Say [to them]: ‘You do not Believe; but rather say, ‘we submit’ (aslam-na), for Belief has not yet entered your hearts.’” (Muhammad and the Believers) Here belief seems to mean something more advanced than “submission” (islam) which was perhaps a first step in the journey.
These Believers differentiated themselves from polytheism in all its forms. The one belief that there is only one God was crucial. Thus Christians who believed in the Trinity would be excluded: “Those who say that God is the third of three, disbelieve; there is no god but the one God …” (Q 5:73). Hence, for example, Christians from communities who had originally fled persecution in Byzantium for refusing to believe in the Trinity were certainly welcome, and we know that Jews were, too. Christians who followed the Gospels, Jews who obeyed the laws of the Torah and converts from paganism who obeyed the injunctions of the Qur’an would all be included. 
This ecumenical community was perhaps easier to achieve since the majority in the community would have been illiterate, and most likely only the most basic ideas were held between them. “It is fair to assume that most of the early Believers probably knew only the most basic and general religious ideas we today can find articulated in some detail in the Qur’an. That God was one, that the Last Day was a fearful reality to come (and perhaps to come soon), that one should live righteously and with much prayer, and that Muhammad was the man who, as God’s apostle or prophet, was guiding them in these beliefs.” (Muhammad and the Believers, Fred M. Donner).
Arabic calligraphy: There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.
The Islamic creed (Shahadah), written in Arabic. The 
Shahadah is the Muslim declaration of belief in the 
oneness of God and acceptance of Mohammad 
as God’s prophet. The Sunni declaration reads: There 
is no god but Allah, and Mohammad is his messenger.
Foremost the community strove to live a pious life. They saw this life as a preparation in a sense for the Last Day or Day of Judgment; it should be lived in obedience to God’s word as now laid out in the revelations of Mohammad. They believed that throughout man’s history God has from time to time revealed his intentions to a series of messengers or prophets of whom Mohammad was the last. Their steps towards inner purity included prayer, charity, fasting and pilgrimage. Distractions from the path of piety could include even family: “wealth and sons are the ornaments of the nearer life; but enduring works of righteousness are better before your Lord…” (Q 18:46), a passage that is somewhat reminiscent of a saying of Jesus from the Gospel of Thomas. In another passage the Qur’an appears to contradict it: “O you who Believe, do not forbid the good things that God has allowed you,” (Q 5:87) but the passage goes on to say: “nor go to extremes, for God does not love those who go to extremes.” Their piety was to be always with them as a source of balance and harmony, part of their everyday life. They were to be: “In the world, not of the world.”

After the Prophet’s Death

In the last years of his life Mohammad solidified his military and political situation.  Following the conquest of Mecca in 630 he no longer needed to make alliances with pagan communities in order for the community of Believers to survive and grow. Now tribes wanted to become allies, and could do so once they declared their belief in the one true and only God and contributed taxes as a token of their commitment. So the community grew in size and complexity, spreading from western Arabia as far as Yemen in the South, to the East and throughout much of northern Arabia as well.
The history of the collection and codification of the text of the Qur’an is confusing and contradictory. According to traditional scholars such as the late Sirdar Ikbal Ali Shah, Selections from the Koran, Mohammad related his revelations verbatim to Zayd or an available scribe. “The order in which the verses were to stand was arranged by the Prophet Mohamed himself, so that at the time of his demise the entire Koran was in complete written form.” The verses were memorized by the believers and collected into a single volume about six months after his death. Other sources suggest that the recitations were stored in the chest of the companions, and parts of it were written on the leathery sheets, white stones, palm’s sheets and ostrich bones.
Photo of an 11th century Koran
11th Century North African Qur’an in the British Museum.
Others disagree, and their researches indicate that Mohammad’s revelations were not gathered into the single source we know today as the Qur’an until after his death. One historical tradition holds that the prophet dictated some revelations to Zayd bin Thaabit and other scribes, while others were remembered and repeated by his closest followers who learned them by heart. Shortly after the Prophet died in 632, Arab tribes revolted against the State of Medina. After the bloody Battle of Yamamah in which a large number of those who had committed the Qur’an to memory perished, recording became a more urgent task. The Caliph Abu Bakr assigned the task to Zaid, who, it is said, collected the revelations “from pieces of papyrus, flat stones, palm leaves, shoulder blades and ribs of animals, pieces of leather and wooden boards, as well as from the hearts of men.”
It is possible that the documentation of Mohammad’s revelations may not at the time have been seen as the most important activity, because for them, as for many early monotheistic communities, time was running out: the Day of Judgment was approaching, so spreading the crucial tenet of salvation, “there is no God but God,” may well have been seen as their primary concern and duty. Within ten years of their Prophet’s death the Believers had spread their idea of monotheism to Syria, Iraq, Persia, and Egypt, moving over the next three decades into parts of Europe, North Africa and Central Asia.
The still prevalent idea of Islam being a religion of violence dates from the Middle Ages when the conflict between the West and East and invasions such as the Crusades produced vicious polemics against Islam.
Archaeological evidence challenges the view that Islam’s expansion was primarily by the sword: many churches, some still standing today, were built in lands whose occupation by Islamic activists pre-date their construction. Scholars point out that if Islam’s goal was to eradicate all other existing faiths in favor of forced submission to their own, these places of worship would have been destroyed. On the contrary, the evidence shows that in assuming control of towns and villages a peaceful approach of integration was the preferred method by which the Believers’ message was spread. Communities were adjured to live sufficiently righteous lives and accept the “oneness of God” and to pay taxes to the Umma.  Known to the Believers as the “people of the book” adherents to other monotheisms were allowed to maintain their own faith without fear of persecution.
Arabic Koran with Persian translation
Arabic Qur’an with Persian translation from the Ilkhanid Era.
By the time of the third Caliph Uthman (644 - 656) differences in reading the Qur’an in the many dialects of the Arabic language became troublesome, and he was urged to “save the Muslim ummah before they differ about the Qur’an.” Uthman asked a team of companions led by Zayd to collect and compare all available copies and oral versions of the revelations and to prepare a single, unified text. Copies were sent to the main provinces and people were told to burn earlier versions in order to eliminate variations or differences, though many, including key people, refused to do so.
The new young Believers and people in these new communities had no memory of the Prophet himself, so piety became routine and less personal and guidelines needed to be standardized and written down. Eventually about seventy-five to one hundred years after the Prophet’s death the community members started to identify themselves as a different religion. They became Muslims.
During the next few centuries, while Islam solidified as a religious and political entity, a vast body of exegetical and historical literature evolved to explain the Koran and the rise of Islam, the most important elements of which are sunna, or the body of Islamic social and legal custom; sira, or biographies of the Prophet; tafsir, or Koranic commentary and explication and the hadith, or the collected sayings and deeds of the Prophet Mohammad.
To decide which of the sayings and deeds were authentic hundreds of thousands of sayings and stories ascribed to the Prophet were gathered together. Scholars such as Imam Bokari, Ibn Rustam and Asim Ibn Ali spent decades investigating and testing texts for accuracy. Bokari reviewed over 600,000 entries, of which he selected as incontestably correct only 5,000. Those that were deemed by these scholars as authentic were collected and called Hadiths or Traditions. Like The Gospel of Thomas, some of the sayings of the Prophet give us insight into the man and his teaching. Here are some examples from an authoritative collection by Baghawi of Herat in modern Afghanistan, from his Mishkat Al-Masabih:
“Speak to everyone in accordance with his degree of understanding.”
“I order you to assist any oppressed person, whether he is a Moslem or not.”
“Do you think you love your Creator? Love your fellow-creature first.” 
“Those who are crooked, and those who are stingy, and those who like to recount their favors upon others cannot enter Paradise.”
"He is not a perfect believer, who goes to bed full and knows that his neighbor is hungry.”
“By the One who holds my soul in His hand, a man does not believe until he loves for his neighbor or brother what he loves for himself.”
“You ask me to curse unbelievers. But I was not sent to curse.”
“My back has been broken by ‘pious’ men.”
“Desire not the world, and God will love you. Desire not what others have, and they will love you.”
 “Do not ask for authority, for if you are given it as a result of asking you will be left to deal with it yourself; but if you are given it without asking, you will be helped in undertaking it.”
“Treat this world as I do, like a wayfarer; like a horseman who stops in the shade of a tree for a time, and then moves on.”
“Trust in God – but tie your camel first.”
“Die before your death.”
“The ink of the learned is holier than the blood of the martyr.”


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