Mecca, the city near the Red Sea, became prosperous through trade. As in ancient Sumer and well into modern times. Prosperity ushered in an inequity between its citizens made up of richer merchant families who held authority over the city and the poorer people who lived on the fringes of Mecca. In 610 AD, a successful Arab merchant named Mohammed ibn Abdallah went inside the Hira cave located north of the city of Mecca to pray and came out a transformed man. On the 17th day of the month of Ramadan, Mohammed woke up to a presence that squeezed him until he felt completely overpowered and unable to breathe. The presence spoke the first scriptures of the Quran and years later, he used the experience to get rid of the inequity in Meccan society and transform the Arab world. This eventually led him to flee Mecca in 622 AD according to the Bible Timeline with World History.
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Mohammed was so shaken after this experience and he kept it to himself for the first two years. He gradually told his wife Khadija, then her cousin, the Christian named Waraqa ibn Nawfal. His two new confidantes convinced him that the presence was sent by God himself, and encouraged him to preach to his closest friends and family members in 612 AD. Khadija was often credited as the first Muslim convert and other people soon followed. Such as Mohammed’s friend Abu Bakr (who later became his father-in-law), his cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib (later son-in-law), and one of the members of the prominent Umayyad family, Uthman ibn Affan. The rest of the Umayyad family, however, resisted and did not convert until 627 AD.
Many people beyond Mohammed’s immediate family and friends soon converted to this new religion, such as people who were dismayed with the inequity in Mecca and the women from the poorer clans of the Quraysh. There was nothing new to Mohammed’s initial message. Its basic doctrines (creation, heaven and hell, last judgment) drew from or were similar to other religions in the Near East, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism. He also addressed the injustice and the wide gap between the rich and the poor that plagued Meccan society at that time. The movement was eventually called Islam (‘to surrender’) and Mohammed issued five tenets (pillars) the new believers should live by, including the declaration of faith (Shahada), ritual prayer (Salat), charity (Zakat), ritual fasting (Sawm) especially during the month of Ramadan, and pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). The new believers of Islam were called Muslims. They were required to nurture a sense of community (ummah) that went beyond family relations and tribes.
This new movement for equity and community did not seem to sit well with the rich men of Mecca. They were comfortable with their elevated status, as well as the profit from the pilgrims who worshiped the pagan gods at Kaaba. Mohammed himself was careful not to directly oppose the influential people of Mecca. He allowed the Muslims to follow some traditions, such as the worship of pagan gods at Kaaba. They also respected the Christians and Jews who lived in the city. Mohammed allowed the Muslims to face the holy city of Jerusalem during prayers. As he gained many followers, however, the suspicion and jealousy of the authorities who felt that their interests were threatened by Mohammed’s new movement also grew. The opposition against Islam in its early days in Mecca was led by three men: Suhayl ibn Amir, Abu al-Hakam, and Abu Sufyan.
This intensified as months passed. One of the people who led this was a prominent Quraysh clan leader named Amr ibn Hisham. He forbade other members of the Quraysh tribe to marry Muslims and prevented merchants from selling them food. Mohammed’s wife, Khadija, died during the worst of the persecution years and her death was followed by the passing of Mohammed’s uncle and guardian, Abu Talib. The loss of his protector meant that it was open season for anyone who wanted to kill Mohammed and from the start. It was clear to him that the leaders of Mecca did not want him in their city. It was time to leave Mecca.
Picture By Adiput (talk) – I (Adiput (talk)) created this work entirely by myself using Olympus., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10708144
Armstrong, Karen. Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992.
Esposito, John L. The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Rodinson, Maxime. Muhammad: Prophet of Islam. London: I.B. Tauris, 2002.
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