Muhammad (570–632 C.E.)
Muhammad (570–632 C.E.)
MUHAMMAD (570–632 c.e.)
Abu al-Qasim Muhammad ibn (henceforth b. meaning the son of ) ˓Abdullah b. ˓Abd al-Muttalib, of the clan of Hashim, of the tribe of Quraysh, is acknowledged by more than one billion Muslims as the last messenger of God. It was through him that the Qur˒anic passages, which his followers believe present the word of God, had been revealed to guide the nascent community through its predicaments. The religion that Muhammad preached is called Islam, meaning submission to God; its creed asserts that there is but one God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.
The Life of Muhammad
Recognized before his prophethood as al-Amin (the trustworthy), the Prophet of Islam is largely known to us through the lore of the early Muslim community from oral traditions (hadiths) that were later written down. Though not always in agreement, these traditions come together to tell us about an Arab who was born around the end of the sixth century in the oasis of Mecca, a sanctuary town built around a cubical "house of God," the Ka˓ba. He was nursed in his infancy by Halima, a Bedouin woman of the Banu Sa˓d, as was customary among the Quraysh. Muhammad lost his mother, Amina bint (henceforth bt. meaning daughter of) Wahb, a few years after he was reunited with her at the age of six. He was then cared for by his grandfather ˓Abd al-Muttalib and, then by his uncle Abu Talib, who granted him protection and stood by him in troubled times. Interestingly, Abu Talib never converted to Islam.
It was Abu Talib who introduced Muhammad to the camel-caravan trade, which became his occupation. This, in turn, led him to employment by a wealthy widow Khadija bt. Khuwaylid, who, though older than him, was impressed by his personality and subsequently married him. She bore him two sons who died in infancy, and four daughters: Zaynab, Ruqayya, Fatima (who alone survived her father), and Umm Kulthum.
Around age forty (610 c.e.), increasingly troubled by the social conditions of his fellow Meccans, Muhammad began to make regular trips to Mount Hira˒ for prayer and meditation. On one such occasion, he claimed the angel Gabriel came to him with words written upon a banner of brocade. "Recite!" commanded the angel, and Muhammad, feeling an enormous pressure upon his chest, finally pronounced the words:
Recite in the name of the Lord who created
Man from blood coagulated.
Recite! Thy Lord is wondrous kind
Who by the pen has taught mankind
Things they knew not. (96)
When Muhammad awoke from this vision, the words seemed to be etched in his heart and he feared he was possessed. For a brief moment he contemplated suicide, but then a voice came to him from the skies, hailing him as the apostle of God. Returning home, Muhammad informed Khadija of what had happened. With the help of her Christian cousin, Waraqa b. Nawfal, who interpreted Muhammad's vision as a spiritual experience, Khadija persuaded Muhammad to have faith in himself.
At first Muhammad communicated his message only to those very close to him: Khadija; his young cousin, ˓Ali b. Abi Talib; his adopted son, Zayd; and Abu Bakr b. Abi Quhafa, a merchant and friend. They are believed to have been the first Muslims. A few years later, Muhammad took his message to the people of Mecca informing them of a life after death and of a just and fair God who would reward humans according to their deeds in this world. ˓Umar b. al-Khattab and ˓Uthman b. ˓Affan were two important Meccans who accepted his teachings at this time, though generally it was the less well-to-do youth who were attracted to his call. Most Meccans, however, resented the deprecation of their gods, the gods of their forefathers, and the rejection of their beliefs by the youth that Muhammad's teachings encouraged. Moreover, the Meccans depended on the income derived from worship at the Ka˓ba and feared that Muhammad would destroy the numerous idols that brought the pilgrims there. They opposed Muhammad, and made plans to kill him. Muhammad knew he had to leave Mecca when, in approximately 619 c.e., Abu Talib and Khadija passed away within a year of each other and there was no one left who was willing to grant him the protection and moral support he required.
Meanwhile, the people of Yathrib, unable to reconcile their differences and learning of Muhammad's fair and honest ways, decided to invite him to live among them as their judge and arbitrator. Muhammad immediately seized the opportunity to leave Mecca, and after sending his followers ahead, secretly followed them with Abu Bakr as his companion. This event, known as the hijra, is believed to have taken place in 622 c.e., a date that was later adopted as the beginning of the Muslim calendar. For Muslims, it marks the dawn of the "Age of Islam," as distinct from pre-Islamic times, which were termed the "Age of Ignorance," or jahiliyya. Muhammad now asserted leadership over a community based, not on tribal ties, but on its shared faith in One God. Jews, too, were included in this community. Soon, Yathrib came to be known as Medinat al-nabi (the city of the Prophet) or Medina. The Meccans who emigrated with Muhammad became known as Muhajirun, and the Medinans who welcomed and helped them as the Ansar.
Muhammad was encouraged in his immigration to Medina by the presence of Jews, who, he hoped, as monotheists would approve of his teachings. Even before arriving in Medina, Muhammad explained that he too worshipped the God of Moses and Jesus, and turned to face Jerusalem in prayer. Such was his reverence for Jerusalem that he had a mystical experience that had led him there. When the Jews of Medina rejected his teachings, however, Muhammad decided to distinguish his community from theirs, and changed the direction of prayer towards the Meccan Ka˓ba. Then he fought a series of battles against the Meccans and as well as the Medinan Jews, until finally Islam was secure in Medina.
At the same time, Muhammad established Medina as his home. He married as many as fourteen wives, and Muhammad's situation was more complex than the number suggests. Among his wives were ˓A˒isha, daughter of Abu Bakr, the only virgin he ever married; Hafsa, the widowed daughter of ˓Umar (an early Meccan companion); and Zaynab, bt. Jahsh, a divorcee, previously married to his adopted son, Zayd. Tradition also mentions a concubine, Maria the copt, who bore him a son who died in infancy. It is worth noting that while the Qur˒an permits four wives to every man—provided he treats them all equally—it also informs us that the Prophet was permitted more wives because of his special circumstances. Yet, we are told that Muhammad asked ˓Ali, husband to his daughter, Fatima, to refrain from taking a second wife. Polygamy had complex meaning and was not established as a pattern based on the Prophet's example.
Muhammad decided to venture back to Mecca on pilgrimage to the Ka˓ba, which he believed had originally been consecrated by Abraham. At first, Meccan resistance led Muhammad to secure a peace treaty at al-Hudaybiyya (628 c.e.) for a period of ten years. By the terms of this treaty Muhammad agreed to let the Meccans trade freely, while the Meccans consented to let him make the lesser pilgrimage to Mecca (˒umrah) in the following year. The peace enabled Muhammad to conquer the Jewish fortresses of Khaybar and to conclude a treaty whereby the surrendering Jews handed over all their property in exchange for their lives. They were permitted to continue farming the land in return for half of their produce. The Qur˒anic verse 9:29 corroborates Muhammad's decision; it commands that monotheist ahl al-kitab (people of the book) be permitted to practice their faith in Islamic lands, on payment of a poll tax.
The following year, Muhammad, learning that Bedouin allies of the Meccans had attacked some of his followers, determined to lead an army against Mecca. Because the Jews were no longer available as allies, the Meccans decided to surrender, and Abu Sufyan, the Qurayshi leader of the Meccans, and his wife Hind, finally acknowledged that Muhammad was God's prophet. A few weeks later, when several tribes led by the Hawazin decided to challenge Muhammad at Hunayn, the newly converted Meccans joined with Muhammad to defeat them.
Around 632 c.e., Muhammad, having established his authority over the Arabian Peninsula, made the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, circumambulating the Ka˓ba, and established the ritual according to which Muslims to this day perform the hajj. It is recognized as the Farewell Pilgrimage. Muhammad died a few days later in Medina, in the house of ˓A˒isha, where he was buried. Muslims suffered a great loss when Muhammad died. Their deep love and gratitude are reflected in the blessings (tasliya) they ask God to shower upon him whenever they mention his name.
Religious and Political Influence of Muhammad
The religion that Muhammad taught was called Islam, meaning submission to God. Asserting that "there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His prophet," it commanded that every believer pray five times daily; fast during the month of Ramadan; contribute an annual tithe, or zakat, for the benefit of the poor; and, if possible, make the hajj pilgrimage at least once in a lifetime. Mindful of the ethical purpose of monotheism, it also denied believers the addictive pleasures of alcohol and gambling that had such disastrous effects on family life. Traditions also convey Muhammad's respect for the ease of the larger community. For example, he wore perfume when he went to the mosque and refrained from taking garlic before attending a gathering.
Muhammad preached that Islam was the original religion brought by Moses and Jesus, but that it had become corrupted by the people. He taught that Jews should recognize Jesus as a prophet, and that Christians should understand that Jesus was neither God, nor His son but, rather, a prophet. Nevertheless, Muhammad held that all monotheists must be permitted to practice their faith, as long as they paid a tax in acknowledgment of Islam's political dominance. The activism of Islam that was demonstrated by Muhammad in both words and deeds requires a careful investigation as to when aggression might be justified. Importantly, the justification for holy war (often identified with jihad, which means to strive), is usually understood to be defensive. The Qur˒anic declaration, "There is no compulsion in religion" (2:256) suggests an attitude of tolerance.
By acknowledging God's unique otherness, Muhammad claimed that all humankind, of whatever race, ethnicity, tribe, or color was equal before the Lord, and that each would be judged justly according to his or her deeds at the end of time. While slavery and concubinage were recognized, it was recommended that such persons be set free. Nevertheless, women were not considered equal to men. This is exemplified through the Qur˒anic requirement that the testimony of two women is required to challenge that of one man (2:282). Just as troubling is the permission given to men to reprimand their wives, affirming their dominance.
Islam's paternalistic attitude towards women is an issue of contention, particularly in the context of today's feminism. Nevertheless, the consideration granted by Islam to women, in the context of seventh century Arabia, was significant: Islam permitted women to keep control of their property even after marriage and inheritance rights were granted to wives, daughters, mothers, and aunts. Women were not only given a say in their marriages, but their sexual needs and desires were acknowledged. It is perhaps surprising to find listed among the inadequacies of men, for instance, the act of having intercourse with one's wife "before talking to her and gaining her intimacy, and satisfying his need from her before she satisfied her need from him" (Daylami, Musnad al-firdaws).
Muhammad's influence on subsequent religious and political life was significant. He had brought monotheism to the Arab world. Both Judaism and Christianity had already visited the Arabian Peninsula, but neither had ever quite captured it. Neither the Old nor the New Testament was in Arabic, nor had they yet been translated into Arabic. Moreover, Orthodox, Byzantine Christianity rejected the Arab Monophysites and Nestorians as heretics, and as for Judaism, there is no evidence of any communication between the rabbinical schools and the Jews of Arabia.
In contrast, the Qur˒an brought by Muhammad was in Arabic; it delivered a message that the people of the region could understand, through a prophet who was one of them. It united the fractious tribes of Arabia, providing them with the political will to go far beyond their boundaries, to travel into North Africa and Spain in the west, and through Syria, Iraq, Persia, and into India, in the east. In a sense, Muhammad had provided the Arabs with inspiration for the making of an Arab empire, within which, for several centuries, Jews, Christians, and Muslims would make Arab culture their own.
There was, however, a problem. The Prophet had never overtly proclaimed his heir. There were two choices. One possibility was Muhammad's young cousin, ˓Ali, roughly thirty years of age, who had lived with the Prophet ever since ˓Ali's father, Abu Talib, had fallen into financial difficulties. ˓Ali had fought bravely at the Prophet's side and, as husband to Fatima, was also father to Muhammad's beloved grandsons, Hasan and Husayn. Significantly, Muhammad chose ˓Ali to pronounce the Qur˒an verses of Bara˒a, at the conclusion of the pilgrimage in 631 c.e., which put an end to polytheist pilgrimages to the Ka˓ba. Unfortunately, ˓Ali, who had spent most of his adult years in Medina, had little recognition from the Meccan Quraysh.
The alternative was Muhammad's dear friend and father-in-law, Abu Bakr, roughly two years his junior, whom Muhammad had sought to lead the prayers during his last illness. The tradition of Ghadir Khumm, cited in the Musnad of Sunni scholar Ibn Hanbal, has the Prophet declare, "Of whomsoever I am lord, then ˓Ali is also his lord." The Shi˓ites claim that this indicates Muhammad's appointment of ˓Ali as his successor. The Sunnis insist, however, that it was merely the Prophet's way of reconciling ˓Ali, who was extremely unpopular at the time, with the community.
At Muhammad's death (632 c.e.), Abu Bakr, with the support of ˓Umar, went forward to be selected as successor to the Prophet (khalifat rasul Allah). The appointment had political ramifications and family ties were rejected as a basis for succession. The precedent that the caliph should be a companion of the Prophet, of the tribe of the Quraysh, and approved by them, was established at that time. Thus, Abu Bakr appointed ˓Umar as his successor, and ˓Umar designated a group of twelve to select one among themselves as his successor.
More serious, however, was Abu Bakr's insistence that Muhammad had stated that he left no heirs and his rejection of Fatima's claims to her father's property. The act effectively isolated Fatima and led her husband, ˓Ali, to refuse his consent to Abu Bakr's authority until after Fatima' death six months later. This is probably what led to the formation of the Shi˓at˓Ali , the partisans of ˓Ali, a significant minority who asserted that Abu Bakr's leadership was illegitimate. It was the cause of a rent so deep in the Muslim community that even today mediation between the two communities is difficult.
The Denominations of Islam and Their Images of Muhammad
On the basis of Muhammad's teachings, three broad denominations emerged after his death. The largest group call themselves the ahl al-sunnah wa al-jama˓a (also called "Sunni"). They accept the legitimacy of the succession from the Prophet as it developed historically and thus believe in the legitimacy of the prophetic legacy, as preserved by those who succeeded him, as a source for knowing God. The common Sunni position that has evolved regarding Muhammad is that prophets are free from the sins that provoke repugnance and error in the transmission of divine revelation. (Prophets are considered to be susceptible to error in matters unrelated to revelation, however.) Most Sunnis believe that Muhammad did not appoint a successor before his death and they do not give recognition to a priesthood. An imam, for the Sunni, may be a political leader, but he is generally someone who merely leads the community in prayer. The position of Abu Bakr as successor to Muhammad was, importantly, not vested with religious authority.
For the Shi˓ites, Muhammad's position came to be closely linked to that of ˓Ali. According to the Imami Shi˓ites of Iran, for instance, "Two thousand years before creation, Muhammad and ˓Ali were one light before God." ˓Ali is significant not only as successor to the Prophet, but also as the one from whom the Shi˓ite imams, who provide religious guidance to the community, descend. The imams alone can interpret the Qur˒an with any degree of certitude. Moreover, special powers of infallibility, sinlessness, and wisdom are believed to have been inherited from, or granted by, God to ˓Ali and the imams who succeeded him. Importantly, the Shi˓ite traditions usually rely only on the words or actions of one of their imams (Momen, 1985, p. 173).
Finally, the Sufis, or mystics, claim that God is an intimate presence in all of His creation. While Sufism is not incompatible with being either Sunni or Shi˓ite, the mindset of the Sufi is quite different—more tolerant, and less legalistic. Sufis believe that humans have an innate knowledge of God within and that the Divine may be experienced through jihad (spiritual striving), such as meditation or by the ritual repetition of God's names and attributes (dhikr). One who has achieved this goal is known as wali-Allah (friend of God), and through him or her the ordinary believer might hope to negotiate with God. This has led to prayers of intercession at the graves of significant Sufis, including the Prophet, an activity that is condemned by non-Sufis as polytheistic. Like the Sunnis, the Sufis acknowledge the caliphates of the Rashidun (the Rightly Guided), i.e., Abu Bakr, ˓Umar, ˓Uthman, and ˓Ali. The first three of these were rejected and even cursed by the Imami Shi˓ites. But like the Shi˓ites, the Sufis believe that the Qur˒an has both an exoteric and an esoteric message.
Biographical Literature and the Changing Image of Muhammad
During his lifetime, Muhammad probably did not exaggerate the significance of his person. Certainly, he claimed to be a prophet, indeed, he claimed to be the last of the prophets of God: Khatam al-anbiya˒. But there was a fear that his followers might deify him. Thus, theologians emphasized that Muhammad was but a man and that his only miracle was the Qur˒an. To establish the miraculous nature of this achievement the Qur˒anic description of Muhammad as "ummi" (7:157; 7:158; 62:2) was explained by exegetes as meaning that he was illiterate. Moreover, the fallibility of the Prophet is suggested by the Qur˒anic verses that insinuate that he had faltered, as when he turned away from the blind man (80). Another example cited to show his fallibility is more controversial and comes from the tradition narrated by al-Tabari. According to this tradition, Muhammad agreed, for just a brief moment, to acknowledge the goddesses of the Meccans, al-Manat, al-Lat, and al-˓Uzza, as subordinate deities.
There is also the tradition that recalls ˓Umar's words denying that Muhammad had died, although he was immediately corrected by Abu Bakr. Many early traditions convey the miraculous happenings that punctuated the Prophet's life. Although the Qur˒an points to Muhammad's fallibility, it also includes signs that God interfered on his behalf quite readily. Incidents supporting this view include the splitting of the moon (54:1), the journey to the farthest place of prayer (17:1), and Muhammad's victory at Badr (3:123–24). The very act of being selected prophet can be viewed as a miracle.
As time passed, veneration for the Prophet gradually increased. This is reflected in the several steps taken by those in authority to preserve his memory. During the reign of ˓Uthman (r. 644–656 c.e.), the Qur˒an was compiled; during the reign of ˓Umar II (r. 717–720 c.e.) traditions (hadiths) concerning the Prophet and the early Muslim community, which had thus far been communicated orally, were also written down and compiled. By the time of al-Shafi˓i (d. 820 c.e.), the practices of the Prophet (conveyed by traditions) were being considered as significant a source as the Qur˒an for the making of Islamic law.
While private collections of traditions from and about the Prophet were probably made during his lifetime, many appear to have been put together according to subject rather than chronology. With the rise of the Abbasids (750 c.e.), who encouraged polemical exchanges with Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, the Muslims had become acutely aware of the lacuna that existed in the recorded life of their prophet. Al-Mansur (r. 755–775 c.e.) therefore commanded Ibn Ishaq (d. c. 773 c.e.) to establish a biography of the Prophet, which in the recension of Ibn Hisham (d. 833 c.e.), under the title Sirat rasul Allah, is the only version that is extant in its entirety today. Ibn Ishaq compiled a narrative that informs us of the life of Muhammad as it unfolded, from his birth until his death. He soon became the most recognized biographer of the Prophet throughout the empire. Selecting traditions that would endorse a prophetic career, Ibn Ishaq shaped a narrative that presented Muhammad as the last and best of Qur˒anic prophets. Placing Muhammad's birth in the Year of the Elephant (570 c.e.) the compiler affirmed his early life in sixth century Arabia. Intertwining moments of revelation throughout the Prophet's career, Ibn Ishaq endorses the community's view that it was through Muhammad alone that the Qur˒an was revealed. According to Ibn Ishaq, an important aspect of his prophetic personality was his performance of miracles.
Ibn Ishaq had to take political factors into consideration as well. Al-Mansur, who was of the Sunni denomination, had come to power through a revolution. He therefore desired legitimation of his authority among Muslims, for whom association with the family of the Prophet was required, but also among the numerous Jews and Christians whose One God, the Muslims claimed, had chosen Muhammad as His last prophet. Ibn Ishaq tackled the problem by presenting al-˓Abbas, the eponym of the Abbasids and an uncle of Muhammad, as one for whom the Prophet had a deep affection and by including hagiographic traditions on Muhammad that paralleled the representation of prophets and patriarchs in the Bible.
Although Muhammad had his first revelation when he was around forty years of age (610 c.e.), we are told that even at his birth there were signs of his prophetic mission. Muhammad is said to have had the "seal" of prophethood on his back, and to have been followed by clouds that sheltered him from the burning sun. Indicating Muhammad's place in the larger scheme of monotheism, Ibn Ishaq establishes Muhammad's connection to the family of Abraham through Abraham's son, Isma˓il, and demonstrates similarities between the families of Abraham and Muhammad. Thus, ˓Abd al-Muttalib (Muhammad's grandfather), like Abraham before him, was released from his vow (made when he faced opposition from the Quraysh to his reclaiming of the well named Zamzam) to sacrifice his son. Instead he sacrificed several camels. Muhammad, like Jacob, "dreamed" he ascended a ladder (mi˓raj) to the heavens where he met with God. Like the biblical prophets, Muhammad also performed miracles such turning a handful of dates into a quantity sufficient to feed several companions and healing the foot of one and the eye of another.
One of Ibn Ishaq's significant contributions is the information concerning a "Constitution of Medina," according to which the Muslims of Mecca and Medina, along with their Jewish allies in Medina, agreed to support Muhammad and help him against the Meccan polytheists who opposed him. When the Jews broke their agreement, Muhammad not only fought the Meccans, but also considerably reduced the Jewish presence in Medina. The tale regarding the Jews of the Banu Qurayza, whose adult men were executed after their surrender (while their wives and children were sold into slavery), is notorious in this regard. For Ibn Ishaq, the narrative follows the biblical pattern establishing God's destruction of those who oppose His prophets.
Ibn Ishaq is careful, however. Much of the information on miraculous occurrences is qualified by phrases such as "it is alleged," or "God only knows." In the case of Muhammad's miraculous journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, Ibn Ishaq directs the reader to a tradition from ˓A˒isha in which it was said that only Muhammad's spirit had journeyed to "the distant place of prayer." With the passage of time, however, these miracles were revisited without such caution, as in the compilations of al-Tabari (d. 923 c.e.) and Ibn Kathir (d. 1387 c.e.), which indicated an increasing veneration of the Prophet.
A growing devotion could also be seen in the activity of the Muslims. Around 780 c.e. for instance, Kahyzuran, the Queen of al-Mahdi (775–785 c.e.), consecrated the birthplace of Muhammad as a mosque. A few years later Qur˒anic scholar al-Naqqas (d. 962 c.e.) mentioned it as a place where a personal prayer of request would be satisfactorily answered by noon each Monday. (Monday was the day of the week on which the Prophet is supposed to have been born, received the first revelation, and emigrated to Medina.) The tomb of the Prophet was visited with similar intent. It compared with the Sufi practice of prayer at tombs of saints or "friends of God," who were solicited for such benefits as a recovery from illness or the birth of a son. Muhammad's role as intercessor was clearly seen to be an active one.
The timely protest of Ibn Taymiyya, who recognized in such negotiations a contamination of monotheism, was followed several centuries later by the more radical approach of Muhammad b. ˓Abd al-Wahhab (d. 1791), who feared a "regression into unbelief." His cause was taken up by Sa˓ud b. ˓Abd al-˓Aziz. Such activity did not affect the rest of the Muslim world (Egypt, India, Turkey, and the like). In those places, Sufi practices and the celebration of the maulid continue to take place to this day. The oil revenues that accrued in Saudi Arabia in the twentieth century have, however, enabled the export of Wahhabism to the developing world, gradually eroding the latter's more Sufi-istic heritage.
Biographical literature on Muhammad in the twentieth century has been more concerned with issues of science and modernization. The representations of Muhammad by three biographers who belong to different nations and generations—Haykal (1888–1956) an Egyptian journalist; Dashti (1896–1982) an Iranian engineer; and Mernissi (b. 1940) a Moroccan sociologist—exemplify a variety of appreciations of the Prophet's life.
In The Life of Muhammad, Haykal's concern is to combat nineteenth-century western critics of Islam who portray the Prophet sometimes as an epileptic and at others as a fraud. Haykal insists that the Qur˒an is God's word, not Muhammad's, and justifies his belief by claiming that Muhammad was illiterate. Asserting that the Prophet performed no miracles, he explains Muhammad's journey to Jerusalem, and from there to the heavens, as an experience of the mind rather than the body. As for the story concerning the "satanic verses," Haykal rejects it, explaining that Muhammad was, as a prophet of God, "infallible," and therefore not prone to such error.
Regarding the Prophet's marriages, Haykal is apologetic and unrealistic. He insists that these were not inspired by love but, rather, required by political and social circumstances. Muhammad's marriage to Zaynab, who was previously married to Zayd, his adopted son, is justified on the grounds that the marriage was conducted to make the point that an "adopted" son is not a blood relative, and to establish an inclusive approach to divorcees. More interesting is Haykal's rejection of polygamy on the basis of Qur˒an (4:123), which requires that a man treat all his wives with equality. For Haykal this was impossible and clearly meant that monogamy is what the Qur˒an advocates.
For Dashti, Muhammad is inexorably human. To him, the Qur˒an is Muhammad's creation. His interpretation of the satanic verses and his weakness for women are simply the marks of human frailty. According to Dashti, Muhammad's relations with his wives are a private concern, and should not be included in an evaluation of his leadership. Moreover, the battles of Medina against the polytheists and Jews were necessary, for Islam would not have emerged as it did from Medina if Muhammad had remained the visionary that he was in Mecca. The portrait Dashti paints of Muhammad in Twenty Three Years is one of an extraordinary man concerned for his fellow men.
According to Fatima Mernissi, "being a prophet means pushing people to the utmost, toward an ideal society." In The Veil and the Male Elite she recognizes that the Prophet, despite his endeavors, held back from granting women equality with men by recommending that women hide their sexuality when going out into the streets and by giving husbands authority over them. These decrees are explained, however, as the consequence of the warring milieu and the chauvinistic attitude of the Prophet's companions.
Displaying a keen understanding of hadith criticism, Mernissi examines the misogynistic opinions reflected in the Sahih of al-Bukhari, and explains that these were not the opinions of the Prophet, but of al-Bukhari. According to Mernissi, the Prophet, despite his "weakness," respected women and consulted them in moments of crisis.
Finally, it is important to recognize that Muhammad is not merely the quest of believers, but of historians as well. In this regard a word of caution must be offered concerning the nature of the sources. The hijra (Muslim calendar) was established only during the caliphate of ˓Umar b. al-Khattab (r. 634–644 c.e.). Before the hijra, events in Arab life were remembered in relation to more significant happenings of the recent past, such as raids and battles or through the mnemonic of numbers. Traditions in biographical literature that provide a chronology and sequence to the events that constitute the life of Muhammad are therefore suspect. Moreover the Qur˒an, which is not compiled in the sequence in which it was revealed, mentions Muhammad only four times. It gives no information regarding his place of birth or death or the names of his parents, wives, and children. As for archeological remains, the Ka˓ba and the Mosque of Medina were completely rebuilt within a hundred years of the Prophet's death; and, tragically, all buildings consecrated to the memory of the Prophet in Mecca were destroyed by Sa˓ud b. ˓Abd al-˓Aziz (r. 1803–1814).
Scholarship has moved on, nevertheless. Where once the challenge had been to query the divine authorship of the Qur˒an, today it has shifted to a recognition of its various threads that apparently indicate a composite structure. Where once the Qur˒an seemed to be the inspiration of Muhammad, it is now believed by some to have been the inspiration for Muhammad. Many centuries ago, the bewildered believer came to terms with Muhammad's death by emphasizing his faith in God. This could well be his response even today. Perhaps more documentation will come to light in the future.
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