Mohammed as Conqueror
SHAKESPEARE: Richard II.
T HE year which marked Mohammed's triumphant entry into Medina is known in the Mohammedan world as the Hegira, and counts as the Year One in their calendar—the year from which all others are reckoned. For the first time the faith of Islam was preached openly, and the claim of Mohammed to be merely one of the "prophets" gave place to a demand for acknowledgment as the chief of all, a demand calculated to arouse the antagonism of all other existing forms of religion. The other important development of his teaching at this time was that all faithful Moslems—the followers of the Prophet—must entirely abstain from the use of intoxicating drink.
Moreover, though at first Mohammed (possibly to please the Jews in Medina) had commanded that at the hour of prayer every Moslem should turn his face towards Jerusalem, in course of time, when he began to see the impossibility of uniting the Jewish believers with those of Islam, he suddenly, after the usual prostration, turned towards the Temple at Mecca. From that moment down to the present day the Moslem, wherever he is, follows this example at the fivefold hour of prayer.
At Medina, Mohammed married the young girl Ayesha, and, as permitted by the Moslem faith, soon brought other wives to the simply built house by the mosque which he and his converts were building just outside the city. Yet, though a man of fifty-three, the Prophet by no means intended to pass the rest of his life in ease and domestic comfort. He had been forced by violence to flee from Mecca. He now conceived it his duty to make himself master of his native city by means of the sword.
The sons of the desert are born fighters, and whether his motive was to enforce the Moslem faith at the peril of the sword, or merely to assert his personal rights, the fact remains that he had no difficulty whatever in rallying to his standard a small though most enthusiastic army.
An attempt to seize a rich caravan belonging to a merchant of Mecca was the signal for battle. The forces of Mecca, hastily gathered, went out against the Moslem host, and, after hard fighting, were dispersed. There was joy in Medina when the "swift dromedary " of the Prophet appeared at the house of prayer and the news was made known; but in Mecca was bitter hatred and woe, fifty expressed in the grim words of the wife of the slain leader of the caravan: "Not till ye again wage war against Mohammed and his fellows shall tears flow from my eyes! If tears would wash away grief, I would now weep, even as ye; but with me it is not so!"
From that time Mohammed gave up all pretence of winnig converts by peaceable methods; henceforth he was to live and die a man of the sword Deterioration of character was a more or less natural outcome of this change. It may have been necessary to invent visions in order to convince the ignorant people of Medina that their victory was due, not to their own strength, but to the aid of the angels of Allah, who would always fight upon their side; but we cannot say the same of the applause, given openly by Mohammed in the mosque, to the cold-blooded murderer of a woman who had composed some verses throwing doubt upon the right of the Prophet to glory in the death of the men of his own tribe. Nor was this the only instance of revenge and cruelty. It was but too clear that Mohammed, from a calm and peaceful prophet, had been transformed into a warlike chieftain, bent on subduing all others to his will. When Mecca declared battle, he went out to the field, clad in full armour, sword in hand. At first all went well with the Moslems. Then Mohammed was struck in the mouth and cheek, and a cry went up, "The Prophet is slain! Where is now the promise of Allah?" Their cry was drowned in the triumphant shouts of the men of Mecca, "War hath its revenge; Allah is for us—not for you!"
The day was lost; and it needed all the Prophet's ingenuity to account for it satisfactorily to those whom he had so often assured of the certain protection of Allah. From that time possibly dates the belief of the Moslems that he who dies in battle against the unbeliever is so certain of the joys of Paradise that it is the survivor rather than the slain who should be pitied.
Meantime, before the contest with Mecca could be finally settled, Mohammed undertook to crush, once for all, the Jewish power in Arabia. It seems strange that there should have been such hostility between Jews and Moslems, seeing that both claimed the God of Abraham as the object of their worship; but this was now lost sight of in view of the natural refusal of the former to acknowledge Mohammed as the chief of all prophets, and his sacred book, the Koran, as superior to their "Book of the Law," the Old Testament. By dint of persecuting those who dwelt within the walls of Medina, and of besieging their cities elsewhere, Mohammed compelled the Jews to migrate to Syria, leaving their abandoned lands and cities to him. The event finds special mention in the Koran.
"Allah it is who drove out the People of the Book, (the Jews), who believed not, to join the former exiles. Ye thought not they would go forth; verily, they thought that their fortresses would defend them against Allah; but Allah came upon them from a quarter unexpected and covered their hearts with dread."
Soon after this event, Ali, his faithful nephew, was still more closely united with Mohammed by his marriage with Fatima, the Prophet's daughter; and thus he of whom Mohammed was wont to say, " I am the city of wisdom, but Ali is its door," was joined to one of the " four perfect women " spoken of by the Prophet.
It was now six years since Mohammed had left Mecca, during which time he had never ceased to yearn and plan for his triumphant return. The Kaaba, save for its idols, was sacred to him as the home of the worship of Allah, and his heart was bitter within him when he reflected that he and his followers had been so long forbidden the yearly pilgrimage thither. So he determined to put the temper of the Meccans to the test by making a pilgrimage, with a sufficient number of followers to resist any aggressive act of hostility. As they approached the sacred borders, the camel of Mohammed refused to go further. "The creature is obstinate and weary," said the Moslems. "Not so," answered Mohammed, "the hand of Allah restrains her. If the Meccans make any demand of me this day, I will grant it. Let the caravan halt." "There is no water here," they cried in dismay, "how shall we halt?" But Mohammed ordered that a dried-up well should be opened, and at once water bubbled up to the surface.
Still more surprised were the Moslems, all of whom were burning to fight, when they found the Prophet quietly accepting the terms offered by the men of Mecca, when they promised to permit future pilgrimages, though they would not allow him to enter the city on that occasion.
Once recognised by his own birthplace, Mohammed determined to bring about his most ambitious project, and to summon all the kingdoms of the earth to acknowledge Islam.
He even had a signet-ring engraved with the words "Mohammed, the Apostle of Allah," and, in a spirit of sublime self-confidence, sent it to the King of Persia, to the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, and to the rulers of Syria, Abyssinia, and Egypt. Nothing came of it, of course, and meantime the earlier desire of his heart had been gratified. The pilgrimage to Mecca had been undertaken in safety, and the Prophet had worshipped after the manner of Islam within the very walls of the sacred Kaaba.
That same year saw the Moslems on the march against the forces of Rome herself. One of the Prophet's envoys had been put to death by the Christian chieftain of a Syrian tribe, which was under Roman rule; and the little Moslem army at once set out from Medina to avenge him. Little did Mohammed know of the Roman military power when he sent forth his men with such high words of courage. The Moslem troops advanced, crying "Paradise! how fair is thy resting-place! Cold is the water there and sweet the shade! Rome! Rome! The hour of thy woe draweth nigh! When we close with her, we shall hurl her to the dust."
Instead of this, a discomfited rabble made their way back to Medina in hot haste, to be received with cries of "Oh, runaways! Do ye indeed flee before the enemy when fighting for Allah?"
Nor did the conquest of several wandering desert tribes soothe the wounded pride of the Prophet. He could only be consoled by his next project of making himself master of Mecca, the Holy City, itself. He was strong enough now to put ten thousand of his followers in the field, and with these, after a rapid and secret march, he encamped on the hills above the city, where his ten thousand twinkling watch-fires could strike terror into the hearts of the inhabitants. That night a chieftain of the men of Mecca, going forth in the darkness to reconnoitre the enemy, was captured and brought before the Prophet. Threatened with death, he agreed to embrace the faith of Islam, and was forthwith sent back to his city with this message:—
"Every Meccan who is found in thy dwelling; all who take refuge in the Kaaba; and whosoever shutteth the door of his own house upon his family, shall be safe: haste thee home!"
The army followed hard upon his heels, fearing treachery; but the new-made convert kept faith; and when they entered Mecca, it was like a city of the dead.
The first act of Mohammed was to destroy the idols in the Kaaba, and to sound the call for prayer from its summit. But except in the case of a few rebellious spirits, no blood was shed, and no cruelty shown to those who had once been his persecutors. The chiefs of the Meecans indeed came before him, fearing the worst; and of them he asked, "What can you expect at my hands?"
"Mercy, O generous brother," they answered.
"Be it so; ye are free!" was the Prophet's reply.
"Thus, after an exile of seven years, the fugitive missionary was enthroned as the Prince and Prophet of his native country."
In the years that followed his triumphant possession of Mecca, all the tribes and cities from the Euphrates to the head of the Red Sea submitted to Mohammed, who thus became the founder of a new empire as well as of a new religion. Many of these tribes were Christian, and to them the Prophet always showed the utmost kindness and toleration for their worship. As the enemies of the hated Jews they had a special claim on his favour; and it was no doubt to his own advantage to be on good terms with a religion destined to be the most powerful in the world.
During the last four years of his life the strength of the Prophet began to flag under the incessant demands made upon it. He was now over sixty years of age, and, just as he was proposing to undertake a new raid into Roman territory, he was attacked by a high fever. Recovering for a time, he appeared once more in the mosque at the time of prayer. Returning to his couch, his great and increasing weakness warned him that the end was near.
"O God, pardon my sins!" he faltered. "Yes— I come-among my fellow-citizens on high."
Thus he died, in the tenth year after the Hegira.