ANG 160 Fall 2005
(by Camile Bolduc)
Founder of Islam
Mohammed is considered by Muslims to be the last prophet sent to men by
Allah (God). Among non-Muslims, he is referred to as the founder of Islam, which
some may like to call the “world's fastest growing faith”. The Qu'ran contains
the verses that Mohammed claimed he had been told to learn and recite by the
Angel Gabriel during encounters which extended over a 23-year period. Muhammad
is a fascinating figure, and his role in the Islamic world is complex, since he
simultaneously and successfully acted as a religious, political and military
leader for his people. He was chiefly responsible for the unification of Arabia.
His philosophy was one of tolerance, and the word Islam itself could be
translated as something close to “peace”. Like Christianity and Judaism,
Islam is a religion that commands monotheism and anticipates a day of judgment
Mohammed was born around 570 in Mecca and died in 632 in Medina, both in
current Saudi Arabia. Mecca was an important commercial centre in those years,
and Muhammad was born in a fairly rich family of merchants. He lost both of his
parents at an early age and was
raised by his uncle Abu Talib, whom he accompanied on trading journeys. He thus
became well aware of other cultures. Muhammad had not received any heritage from
his parents and when he was 25, he became rich marrying his then employer
Khadijah, a rich forty-year-old widow and merchant. They had a daughter, Fatimah,
the only child to survive Mohammad.
Mohammad grew dissappointed in the materialist society in which he lived.
He felt the value of money was over-accentuated and the community values were
forgotten. There was a temple in Mecca called Kaaba where many idols were
displayed. Pilgrims came to worship those idols, which brought money and
opportunities for commerce to the city. Mohammad resented that. He started
mingling with Jews and Christians, who lived in small groups within the city,
and learning about the Bible. Inspired by that, he began to retire to a cave on
the outskirts of the city where he meditated and prayed to God. There he had, in
610, his first vision of the Angel Gabriel. According to his revelation, he had
been chosen as the Prophet of Islam, the last prophet sent to men by God.
Mohammed told his wife about it, and soon his family and friends became his
first followers. In 613, he began preaching publicly. He was becoming a threat
to the rulers of the city because he denunciated polytheism. If people clung to
his beliefs, Mecca would lose a big part of its commercial activities since
there would be no more pilgrimages to Kaaba. Mohammed's group of followers
continued to grow until, in 622, it became dangerous for them to stay in Mecca;
there had been several attempts to kill Mohammed. They migrated to Medina.
Arabia was at the time divided into tribes, and the fact that many left their
clans to follow Mohammed to Medina showed that for the first time, loyalty to
something bigger, to Islam, brought people together. When Mohammed came to
Medina, a civil war was going on between two tribes. He resolved the conflict by
inviting them to convert to Islam and forbidding killing among Muslims. Because
Jews resisted Islam, Mohammed created the Constitution of Medina, which
allowed Jewish communities to exist in the new Islamic State; they could keep
their religion if they accepted to pay tribute. It is interesting to note that,
at the same time, Christians were much more hostile to outsider religions than
Muslims proved to be.
Although the Muslims had moved away from Mecca, they continued to have
grievance with the Meccans, who took possession of everything they had left in
the city. War was declared between the two cities. In 624, Mohammed and some 300
warriors failed at raiding a Meccan caravan. As a result, Mecca sent an army of
800 men against Medina. Mohammed and his army, though they were less than half
as numerous as the Meccans, won the battle easily. This was seen by Muslims as a
sign of divine providence and as a proof that Mohammed was an authentic prophet.
After the event, almost every resident of Medina converted to Islam.
In 627, another important battle called the “Battle of the Trench”
took place. Mohammed had his men dig a trench around Medina, a technique that
was little known of Medinans and in the Arab world, and so they successfully
defended the city from the attack. After that episode, a local Jewish tribe, the
Banu Qurayza, were accused of having allied with the ennemy in this
battle. Mohammed ordered the massacre of all adult men, and women and children
were kept as slaves. He has been highly criticized for that. Some people have
inferred that the wars he conducted went beyond self-defense and showed a desire
for power. However, Muslim sympathizers say he was always fair and humane in his
In 628, Mohammed decided to go to Mecca as a pilgrim. Meccans prevented
him from entering the city. They promised to cease all warfare, but said he
could not make a pilgrimage until the following year. The agreement did not last
and war broke out again in 630. Mohammed defeated Mecca with an army of 10,000
men. Meccans submitted pacifically and most of them converted to Islam after
Mohammed promised them amnesty. Mohammed destroyed all the idols in the temple
of Kaaba and it became a Muslim place of prayer.
After Mecca came under Mohammed, he did not try to support his rule with
official legislations; he instead relied on good relationships and treaties of
peace and mutual help with the different tribes around. However, despite the
absence of a formal government for them, it is clear that Muslims were now the
dominant force in Arabia, and all states and groups eventually submitted to
Mohammed. He was sixty-three when he died on Monday 8, June 632, in Medina.
What is certain is that with Mohammed's successors, whether direct
descendants or not, Islam continued to grow as a social and political force.
Arabia was now fully united, and in the decades that followed Mohammed's reign,
the countries surrounding it and most of North Africa converted to Islam as well.
Nowadays, it is sad to see that, although Islam represents on fifth of the world
population, many people still make poorly-informed judgments on the intentions
of its members.
Susan Douglass. AppleSeeds. Peterborough: Nov 2003.Vol.6, Iss. 3;
Rodinson, Maxime. Mahomet (571?-632).Encyclopedia Universalis. http://www.universalis-edu.com/corpus2.php?napp=9540&nref=L111371,