Life and Teachings of Prophet Muhammad
LIFE AND TEACHINGS OF PROPHET MUHAMMAD
Books on seerah (life of the prophet) exist in great numbers. These are no doubt valuable books in their own right. However, one aspect of Seerah still remains to be highlighted.
And that is, the relevance of seerah in the modern world. It is a subject which, despite its great importance, has yet to be treated with sufficient thoroughness.
The books written on the subject of seerah give extensive coverage to miracles, wars and victories. Emphasis on these matters appeals to the conventional mind, but it has no appeal for modern man.
These things do not address his mind. The modern man thinks in terms of science and not in terms of miracles.
He thinks in terms of peace and not in terms of war. He is more interested in solutions to human, social and economic problems, rather than descriptions of political and military conquests.
A thing becomes understandable to the modern man only when it is presented within the framework of reason rather than beliefs.
I have planned my book keeping in view this most urgent, present day requirement.
I want to present a book which is not just a repetition of the books already written, but one whose aim would be to fulfil modern intellectual requirements, focusing on the relevance of the Prophet of Islam in contemporary global context.
Another important thing which is lacking in most of the books of Seerah is that they do not underscore the peaceful method followed by the Prophet.
A deep study of Seerah tells us that the Prophet invariably adopted the peaceful method unilaterally.
He thus succeeded in bringing about a bloodless revolution in Arabia. Unfortunately, this aspect of Seerah has not been highlighted in existing biographies of the Prophet.
In present times, owing to certain global concerns, the propensity to study Islam has greatly increased. All over the world, curiosity has been aroused as to what exactly is meant by Islam.
What is urgently needed, therefore, is an objective, in-depth study of Islam—one which presents Islam as it actually is, uncompromisingly and without bias.
It is in order to meet this need—in particular, to show how Islam can meet the challenge of violence—that I have undertaken the venture of presenting Islam as it is in the light of Prophet’s life and teachings. Farida Khanam
Arabia before Islam
With an area of 1,20,000 square miles the land of Arabia is the largest peninsula in the world. It has the Red Sea to the West, the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Adan to the south-east and the rivers Euphrates and Tigris and the Persian Gulf to the north-east.
It thus occupies a unique position.
It is situated in Asia, yet only the narrow Red Sea divides it from Africa and by just passing through the Suez Canal, one reaches the Mediterranean Sea and Europe. It is thus at the centre of three continents, yet it is apart from all of them.
Arabia being a very hot and dry country, one third of it is desert.
It is strange that a land surrounded by water on three sides, and with only a narrow strip of land to the north, has practically no river of its own, except for small streams here and there, which soon dry up in the hot desert.
Rain too is scarce. The rains come in torrents in spring, but the water does not stay. It is lost in the sand as quickly as it comes.
There being no dependable rainy reason, which is necessary for agriculture, this vast land, about a thousand kilometres wide and about the same in length, is neither fertile nor cultivable.
Yemen, the original home of the Semites, is the only exception, in that it is fertile and enjoys a rainy season.
Besides this, the rest of the peninsula consists of barren valleys and deserts. Due to the lack of vegetation, life here can be only that of the desert.
The camel, the only means of transportation is indispensible, for a desert life demands continuous movement.
The desert dwellers must continually go in search of pastures, which are scarce and thin, and soon cropped bare.
The pastures turn green around spring, watered by springs which form in the wake of occasional rainfalls. In such an infertile country where no agriculture has ever been possible, the only produce is dates.
In the context of this civilization, Yemen has always been very developed in terms of agriculture.
Showing great intelligence the Yemenis invented ways of saving rain water from running down to the sea so that artificial irrigation could be carried out. Morever, they built the famous dam of Maarib by changing the natural course of the water.
This water is gathered in a 400 meter wide valley between two mountains by constructing a dam with gates at the narrowest point in the valley.
Then this water is divided into many streams and spread over a wide area of plains. It is almost like the Nile in the dam area in Upper Egypt.
In this way they have contrived to have a controlled distribution of their water. The fertility of their land has gone on increasing and the people of Yemen have become very prosperous.
When Hajira’s infant son started crying for water she ran desperately between the hills of Safa and Marwah in search of water. She ran seven times when finally she discovered a spring of water gushing from the ground by the side of her son.
It was this spring which is known as Zamzam. Makkah is founded at this spring spot of Zamzam.
Both Makkah and Madinah were, and still are, islands in a sea of desert. These towns were initially inhabited by the descendants of the nomads, who still retained many of the desert born habits of their ancestors.
Situated in a valley, Makkah is one of the oldest cities in the world. It is a desert, with no vegetation, no date-palms.
There are some fertile spots in the desert, which are called oases. There are also springs of water here and there, although grass and palm trees grow.
These springs of water are scattered all over the desert. Large as well as small clans settle around the oases.
Makkah since ancient times was an important centre for the caravans coming from the south with valuable merchandise.
They brought gold, precious stones and spices from Africa to Yemen. From here it was taken to the markets of Syria, Egypt and many other places on the backs of camels.
The merchants travelled in caravans for the sake of safety. For in those days caravans were an easy target. Since these caravans passed through vast stretches of uninhabited deserts, it was easy for plunderers to rob them of all their merchandise.
At Makkah agriculture not being possible, the city thrived on commerce. Makkah became an important trading centre because of the Sanctuary – the Kabah, to visit which people came from places far and near.
Its geographical position was very good from the point of view of trade, it being situated at the crossroads of the routes from Yemen to Syria and Abyssinia to Arabia. So the nomads came to Makkah from all sides.
By the 6th century, Arab traders had become very influential and controlled the trade from Yemen to Syria.
Taif was also an important commercial centre but Makkah was more important because of the Kabah.
So Makkah became a religious as well as a financial centre. By the time the Prophet conquered Makkah, we find many influential traders who were adept at doing business with different parts of the world.
Although Yemen was the most advanced province in the Arabian Peninsula because of its water resources and sound administration, Makkah being a religious centre wielded greater influence on this account.
Makkah, a focal point of pilgrimage dating back to the origin of Arab history, owed its status to the Kabah, which had been built by Ibrahim and Ismail.
Everyone observed its holy months for religious reasons as well as on account of the special position it enjoyed with regard to trade, being the capital of the peninsula.
The Arabs of the North are considered Arab al mustaribah, “Arabized Arabs.”
The Qahtanis of the South are considered Arab al Mutaarribah, or tribes resulting from mixing with the Arab al Aribah, original, or true Arabs. From the Qahtanis descend the Arabs of ancient South Arabia, or “Himyarite” Kingdoms.
The completely “true Arabs”, descendants of Aram, son of Shem, son of Noah, are called the Arab al baidah, “the lost Arabs”, their identity having been submerged in that of other peoples.
The progeny of Ismail were known as Mustariba, or naturalised Arabs, and they greatly multiplied. They were divided into many tribes and clans.
The Quraysh, the largest tribe, descending from the Kinanah and Ismail, had several clans.
They were settled in Makkah by an ancestor of renown called Qusayy, who displaced the previous inhabitants, the Khuzaah.
The clans who lived in the vicinity of the Kabah were considered most honourable. These were called Quraysh al Bitah (the Quraysh of the Hollow).
The location of Makkah on important caravan routes across the Peninsula, and the prestige of the Kabah in the age of Ignorance (Jahiliyyah) gave it great advantages as a trading city.
This is why the Quraysh became one of the richest and most powerful tribes.
This, together with their descent from the Kinanah and Ismail, gave them claims to an aristocratic pre- eminence.
The Prophet Muhammad was of the Banu Hashim clan of the Quraysh, who lived in the vicinity of the Kabah and enjoyed great honour and prestige in Arabia. These clans were divided into families.
Besides these Arabs there were also Christian and Jews who lived in Arabia. A large number of their population lived in Madinah.
In Arabia there are two different geographical types of soil markedly different from one another – the oasis and the desert.
The inhabitants of Arabia naturally fall into two main groups: nomadic and settled people.
The city dwellers settled in one place and lived on cultivation because they knew how to till the land and grow corn.
They engaged in commerce not only within their own country, but also abroad. But the Bedouins, being nomads, disliked the idea of a settled life and wandered from place to place with their families and belongings.
Prof. Hitti in his book the History of the Arabs, writes: “The Bedouin is no gypsy roaming aimlessly for the sake of roaming. He represents the best adaptation of human life to desert conditions.” (p. 23)
They lived in tents and possessed goats, camels and horses. They were continually on the move in search of pastures and when they halted temporarily they lived in tents or camps.
They engaged for economic reasons in horse-breeding, hunting, camel raising, etc. They thought that these were the only occupations worthy of a man.
They disliked agriculture, trade and commerce. In the desert the basic unit of life is not the state but the tribe.
The Bedouins attach the greatest importance to total freedom for the individual as well as the tribe, but this was not the case with the city- dwellers. They attached importance not only to freedom but also to peace,
security and prosperity. Another feature of tribal life, is the belief in absolute equality. All the members of the tribe are treated equally.
This is because of the influence of the desert, with the freedom of its vast limitless expanses.
If they had any injustice forced upon them, which they could not bear or confront, they left behind their pasture and moved on to another place where there would be no injustice—only freedom and equality. In times of conflict, they depended upon the sword.
It was considered as a prerequisite for the individual to be able to defend himself and his tribe.
The nomadic life is based upon stockbreeding, especially the breeding of camels.
There is some rain in the winter season and then some vegetation comes up in the low-lying areas. These areas become a paradise for camels, as they provide the best pasture, but with the coming of summer the pasture vanishes.
Then the nomads move on in search of other green areas in order to feed themselves as well as their camels. Then there are some wells, which provide water for the camels.
The milk of the camels is the diet of the nomads along with dates, which are obtained from the oases. Cereals are not easily available. Only the rich can afford them. The oases that are found in Madinah are near the mountains. So there the date crop is grown.
And in Taif, which has very fertile soil, cereals are grown. Madinah has the largest of the oases.
Ibrahim was the first to teach them the worship of one God.
The Arabs followed the religion of Ibrahim for some generations, but their later generations tended to deviate from the straight path shown to them by Ibrahim and became idolators.
At the time of the birth of the Prophet, the whole of Arabia had taken to idolatry.
Some of the tribes worshipped stars and planets, some stone idols, and, thus the Kabah, which had been built for the worship of God became a centre of idolatry.
It housed 360 idols, one for each day of the year. Hubal was the most honoured. Carved in red stone, it held seven arrows in its hand. Among the Arabs lots were drawn to decide all important matters.