A Camel Driver Becomes a Prophet
Many hundred years ago there lived in Mecca, a city of Arabia, an old couple who were poor, and who had a son named Mohammed. In spite of their poverty they were very proud, for they were descended from princes. One day the father of Mohammed said to him, "My son, though I am too poor to leave you any of the goods of the earth, I leave you that which is better. In your veins flows the blood of the princes of Arabia. Never forget it."
Soon after this the old man and his wife died, and Mohammed went to live with his uncle, a kind-hearted man named Abu Talib. The uncle was not rich, nor was he poor, and as many others of that day, made a living by trading in sheep and camels. So the boy learned to look after the sheep, and after awhile learned to ride the camels and to drive them through the streets of Mecca.
When he was fifteen or sixteen years of age his uncle took him on journeys to different parts of Arabia. On their journeys Mohammed had charge of a train of camels, and gave orders about loading and marching, resting and feeding. He soon became so skillful as a camel driver, that his uncle said, "Mohammed, you are the best driver in Mecca. I shall recommend you to my friends and they will send you on long and important missions."
Mohammed replied, "I shall always be faithful and honest in my work and words. When I give my promise, I shall abide by what I say."
And so it was. Mohammed became known in Mecca for always telling the truth and never breaking a promise. In fact, the people of that town gave him a name, Eli Amin, which means, "the true and faithful one." If they wanted to know the facts about any camel that was offered for sale they would send for Mohammed, and if he knew anything he would tell them and they believed him.
Now, much of the trade of Mecca was carried on by camels that went in caravans from town to town, and even to the sea coast, bearing on their backs the rich wares of the Arabians, to be loaded on ships and sent to the cities of Europe. Mohammed at sixteen years of age had charge of many of the caravans, rich in valuable goods and worth large sums of money.
The long lines of richly laden beasts would wind slowly over the desert, hill and valley, the drivers urging the camels forward and keeping a sharp lookout for robbers on the way. At night the caravan would draw up by a well, or spring, and the camels huddled on the ground, close together for warmth and protection. Mohammed always hid his wallet of money and his letters to the merchants, and slept very lightly for fear of marauders.
But nothing ever happened to him, and the traders always received a full return of their accounts from the faithful camel driver. One merchant would say to another, "Is Mohammed in charge of your caravan?" If the answer was yes, the one would remark, "Then you need have no fear. They will return safely, and every coin will be accounted for."
Mohammed was too poor to go to school, and too busy to get any kind of education. He could not read nor write, but he had a good memory and a fine mind for business. Whatever he once heard he could always repeat with accuracy, and remembered the details of every transaction.
Mohammed had reached twenty-five years of age when one day he was walking in the market place of Mecca, and the chief camel-driver of a wealthy woman approached him, saying that his mistress desired to speak with him. Mohammed hastened to the place where the woman lived and presented himself at her door. He was young and strong, with a fine face and a noble air.
The woman said to him, "The traders tell me you are a skillful driver of camels, and can be trusted with a caravan. I have much business between Mecca and the coast and I desire you to give me all of your time and your services."
Mohammed was delighted and immediately engaged himself to the wealthy woman. He was all the more pleased to do so because she was not only wealthy but lovely, and seemed to look with unusual favor upon the young man himself. Mohammed served his mistress well, while more and more responsibility was put upon him.
At last he was relieved of managing the camel train and was taken into the house and had much to do with the business affairs of his employer. The result is easily imagined. Mohammed and his mistress fell in love with each other.
One day Mohammed said to her, "Though I am poor and a camel driver yet I would have you know that in my veins is the noble blood of an Arabian prince. If you will marry me I shall make you a good and faithful husband."
His mistress smiled and took his hand, and so they were married.
Mohammed was ever faithful and religious, and being now the husband of a wife who was wealthy, he had sufficient time to devote himself to the contemplation of religious affairs. Of course, he still continued to attend to his wife's business, but he had much time to watch the priests, and to learn about the new religion of Christ which was beginning to spread all over the world.
Very few of the Arabians at that time were Christians. Nearly all of them worshipped idols and some of their practices were very barbarous indeed. Mohammed was not satisfied with the religion of Christ and he abhorred the worship of idols to which most of his people were bound.
He became more and more serious and felt the need of being alone. One day he said to his wife, "I shall go into Mt. Hira and there spend several weeks in prayer and meditation."
Accordingly he provided himself with food and repaired to the mountain and dwelt in a cave. All day long he sat quietly looking at Mecca and revolving in his mind the eternal facts of life and death. Many hours he spent upon his knees. One time as he prayed he felt the presence of the Angel Gabriel near him. The angel spoke to him long and earnestly and told him many things about the new religion which he was to teach his people.
Mohammed went to the mountain a number of times and prayed in the cave. Every time he went the angel came to him and told him more and more about the new religion, till at last Mohammed felt that the angel had told him enough to put into a book, whereupon the angel said, "Now go and deliver all this news to your people. Tell them that there is but one God and that Mohammed is His prophet."
Now you will remember that Mohammed could neither read nor write, but he had a good memory, so he told all these things to some learned men who wrote them in a book. The book was called the Koran. This book became the Bible of the Mohammedans and remains so to this day.
When Mohammed told his wife of the vision he had in the mountain, she fell upon her knees and said, "Truly there is but one God, and Mohammed is His prophet."
He then went into the market place and began to preach to the people. Many of them laughed him to scorn, especially when he reviled the idols that they long had revered. The leading men of Mecca said that he was a dreamer and spoke of foolish things. There were a few poor people and some slaves that believed what he said and accepted the new religion.
Mohammed went on preaching, regardless of the insults of the people. He spoke every day, saying that the Angel Gabriel had spoken to him, and then he would tell the people what they must do and what they must believe. Sometimes when he was speaking great crowds would press around him just as they always do around preachers who have a vision of heavenly things. In the vehemence of his oratory his face would grow pale and his body would tremble and his eyes would be fixed upon the skies. He would then tell the people that he saw a vision and that heavenly voices were speaking to him.
You can easily see the effect this had upon the multitude. His fame went all over Arabia and crowds came far and near to hear him preach. At last the chief people of Mecca began to be alarmed and annoyed at the stir that Mohammed was making. They said, "This street preacher is stirring up the people. He is preaching a strange doctrine and soon will upset all our faith. He is an impostor that must be rebuked."
So his enemies gathered secretly and resolved to put him to death, saying that he was an enemy of his country and should not be allowed to revile their gods as he was doing. He had other enemies in Mecca who told him that he must cease his preaching in the market place or be stoned to death. To this Mohammed replied, "If not in Mecca, then in some other place of the earth."
Accounts of his preaching had long since reached Medina, and the people there sent him word, "Come to Medina and preach to us here. What Mecca rejects, Medina will rejoice in."
Mohammed secretly left his native city and with a few faithful companions fled to Medina. The time of his flight from his native city was the turning point in the history of the Mohammedans. It is called the Hegira and is said to be the beginning of the Mohammedan Era. In fact, with the Mohammedans everything dates from the Hegira (A.D. 622), just as the Christians date everything from the Birth of Christ.
At Medina he was received with great demonstrations of joy. A great church, called a mosque, as all Mohammedan churches and places of worship are called, was built for him. In Medina he lived for the rest of his life and from this city the Mohammedan religion spread over Arabia.
It was the belief of the Mohammedan religion that it was right to make converts by the sword, that war on unbelievers was righteous and that those who died in the holy wars were especially favored in the world to come. Therefore, Mohammed, who was a warrior as well as a prophet, raised an army and fought many battles with unbelievers of Arabia. He marched against his native city. His followers surrounded the town and cried out, "We come in the name of Mohammed and demand you to abandon your idols and accept his faith. There is but one God and Mohammed is His prophet."
The people, more in fear than in conviction, opened the gates to Mohammed, and he and his army marched in. He then made all the people join his religion and destroy their old idols. It was not long before all Arabia and many other countries were converted to the Mohammedan religion, and they have remained so until the present day.
After a while Mohammed died and was buried in Medina, a town which has ever since been sacred to the Mohammedans. His followers believe that his body has never changed its appearance since he died, and the story is told that his coffin hangs somewhere between heaven and earth, being too sacred to rest upon earthly soil.
Mecca, however, is also a sacred city of the Mohammedans, because it is the birthplace of the prophet. Every year that city is visited by great crowds of pilgrims and every Mohammedan once in his life must make a pilgrimage to Mecca. It is required of all the followers of the prophet that they pray five times a day and each time they must kneel with their faces toward Mecca.
In all Mohammedan cities there is a mosque and on top of each mosque is a tower. At the hour of prayer there is an officer of the church, called a muezzin, who goes to the tower and in a loud and solemn voice calls the people to prayer. As soon as the call of the muezzin sounds over the city, everybody stops, no matter what he is doing, and kneels with his face toward Mecca and bows to the ground and says, "There is no God but our God, and there is but one God, and Mohammed is His prophet."