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The Arabian "Prophet" was born at the city of Mecca, some time during the sixth century, but the precise year has, after much discussion, still been left in doubt. Hottinger says, A.D. 571, Reiske, A.D. 572, and Gagnier, A.D. 578. His lineage has also been the subject of great altercation, one party exalting him above most of his countrymen, while the other degraded him to the lowest rank--particularly contemporary Christian writers, who were desirous of rendering him an object of contempt; and in the same degree that the Christians felt themselves called upon to degrade the Arabian prophet, so did the Mahometans think themselves compelled to exalt him. Mahomet successfully vindicated for himself a high lineage among his countrymen; the tribe of Koreish, to which he belonged, laying claim to Ishmael as their progenitor, and this claim, arising from the vanity of the tribe, was eagerly laid hold of and supported by his votaries.
By the assistance of his uncle he became soon after the factor of a rich trading widow in his native city. The animosity of his enemies has degraded the confidential agent into a driver of camels. It has been confidently and constantly asserted that he was a menial servant in the household of his mistress, Cadijah; while, in truth, he was employed to carry on her mercantile transactions, and to superintend her affairs. In this situation of factor, his conduct and integrity gained him the affections of his mistress. Cadijah was not, in the eyes of her people, degraded by an alliance with the grandson of their prince; and in her own estimation, by bestowing her hand and fortune upon Mahomet, she gained a young, handsome, and affectionate husband. Twenty years of constancy, of kind and respectful attention, on the part of Mahomet, fully justified her choice. It may, indeed, be imagined, and we confess the supposition bears the appearance of some plausibility, that the affection of Cadijah was not uninfluenced by the handsome person and insinuating eloquence of her youthful suitor. And we cannot refuse our applause to the conduct of Mahomet, who, whatever might have been her motives, never afterward forgot the benefits he had received from his benefactress, never made her repent having so bestowed her affection, or grieve at having placed her fortune and her person at his absolute disposal. Cadijah, at the time of her marriage, was forty; Mahomet, twenty-five years of age. Till the age of sixty-four years, when she died, did Cadijah enjoy the undivided affection of her husband; "in a country where polygamy was allowed, the pride or tenderness of the venerable matron was never insulted by the society of a rival. After her death he placed her in the rank of the four perfect women: with the sister of Moses, the mother of Jesus, and Fatima, the best beloved of his daughters. 'Was she not old?' said Ayesha, with the insolence of a blooming beauty; 'has not Allah given you a better in her place?' 'No, by Allah!' said Mahomet, with an effusion of honest gratitude, 'there never can be a better! She believed in me, when men despised me: she relieved my wants when I was poor and persecuted by the world.'"
Commerce now occupied his attention, and till the age of forty nothing remarkable happened in the life of the future prophet. His marriage with Cadijah raised him to an equality with the first citizens of Mecca, gave an importance to his opinions, and, combined with the power of his family, probably rendered it impossible to punish or interrupt the first steps he made toward the propagation of his new religion. When relieved from the pressure of indigence, his mind seems almost immediately to have been turned toward religious meditation. The result of this meditation was an opinion exceedingly unfavorable to the religion of his countrymen. The first statement of this conviction was met rather by ridicule than anger, being considered the fantasy of a dreaming enthusiast, who was little to be dreaded, and unworthy of opposition. We are told that he retired to a cave in Mount Hara, near Mecca, where, as he assured his first proselyte, his wife, he regularly received the visits of the angel Gabriel. This tale his wife believed, or affected to believe. The next on the list of true believers were Zeid, the servant of the prophet, and Ali, the son of his uncle, Abu Taleb. The impetuous youth, disdaining his two predecessors in the true faith, proudly styled himself the first of believers. The next and most important convert was Abu Bekr, a powerful citizen of Mecca, by whose influence a number of persons possessing great authority were induced to profess the religion of Islam. Three years were spent in the arduous task of converting six of these men. They were afterward his chief companions, and with a few others, were the only proselytes to the new religion before it became publicly known.
The apostle, who was at first derided, came at length to be feared. The people flocked to hear his doctrines, and as they retired, wondering and believing, general consternation reigned among the governors of Mecca. Frightened by his growing influence, they imprudently endeavored to arrest the evil by punishing the offender. For some time, however, the power of Abu Taleb, the prophet's uncle, defended him against these hostile attacks, which served, by manifesting the alarm and hatred of the nobles, to increase Mahomet's fame and importance. Persecution gave him strength by bringing him before the public. Once known, he gained sympathizing listeners among the benevolent, because a persecuted man; and blindly believing votaries among the ignorant and fearful, because a bold and vehement declaimer against wickedness, as well as an eloquent describer of the horrible torments attached to unbelief. In the seventh year of his mission, the heads of the tribe of Koreish made a solemn league one with another, engaging themselves to have no commerce or connection with the families of Hashem and Al Motalleb. While Abu Taleb lived the league was of no avail; the power of the uncle defended the nephew against the designs of his enemies. At length, at the end of the seventh year, Abu Taleb died; and a few days after his death Mahomet was left a widower, by the decease of Cadijah. In his affliction he termed this fatal year the year of mourning.
The unprotected prophet was now completely exposed to the attacks of his enemies. His only safety was in flight, and had not the city of Medina been friendly to his cause, the religion of Islam would have been crushed in the bud. The fame of Mahomet, however, had extended far beyond the walls of his native town. Distance, by shrouding him in mystery, increased his influence. While he was scorned and derided at Mecca, he was worshipped at Medina. A secret deputation from the city of Medina waited on the apostle, and an alliance was entered into "during two secret and nocturnal interviews, on a hill in the suburbs of Mecca." Seventy-three men and two women having professed the faith of Islam, as well as some yet unbelievers, met the prophet and proffered him assistance. "What recompense," said they, "have we to expect, should we fall in your defence?" "Paradise," exclaimed the confident apostle. They promised him fidelity and allegiance.
From a fugitive Mahomet became a monarch; no sooner had he arrived at Medina than he found himself at the head of an army devoted to his person, obedient to his will, and blind believers in his holy office. The fugitives from Mecca and the auxiliaries of Medina (the two parties into which Mahomet's followers were now divided) gathered round their chief, and with friendly emulation vied with each other in obedience and in valor. To prevent all jealousy between the brethren, Mahomet wisely gave each one a friend and companion from the rival band; each fugitive had for his brother one of the auxiliaries. Their fraternity was continued in peace and in war, and during the life of the prophet their union was undisturbed by the voice of discord.
The commands of the prophet were followed to the letter. The first warlike attempt of the believers was, nevertheless, unsuccessful. Mahomet having learned that a caravan, the property of the hostile Koreish, was on its way from Syria to Mecca, despatched his uncle Hamza, with a party of thirty horse, to capture it. Hamza, however, discovering the caravan to be guarded by 300 men, desisted from his hostile enterprise, and returned without the expected booty. On the plain of Beder, Mahomet, at the head of his troops, effaced the shame of this failure. A rich caravan, proceeding to Mecca, and guarded by Abu Sofian, with between thirty and forty men, occasioned the contest. The spies of Mahomet informed him that this rich and apparently easy prey was within his grasp. He advanced with a few followers in pursuit of it; but before he could overtake the unprotected band, Abu Sofian had sent for a reinforcement from Mecca. A troop consisting of 950 men, among whom were the chief persons of that city, instantly obeyed the summons. Mahomet was posted between the caravan and the coming succor, being able to oppose to this formidable force no more than 313 soldiers, mounted for the most part on camels; some few (according to some authors, not more than two) being mounted on horses.
Undismayed by this disparity of force, Mahomet determined to try the event of a battle, and risk his fortune and perhaps his life upon the contest. The troops were persuaded to engage the superior forces of the enemy, and for the present to abandon the tempting prize of Abu Sofian's rich caravan. Mahomet animated them by his prayers, and in the name of the Most High promised them certain victory. However assured he might have been of divine assistance, he was careful to let slip no human means of securing success. An entrenchment was made to cover the flanks of his troop, and a rivulet flowed past the spot he had chosen for his encampment, and furnished his army with a constant supply of water. When the enemy appeared, descending from the hills, Mahomet ordered his soldiers to the attack; but before the armies could engage, three combatants, Ali, Al Hareth, and Hamza, on the side of the Moslems, and three of the Koreish, joined in single conflict. The Moslem warriors were victorious, and thus gave to both armies a presage of the coming engagement. The prophet, with Abu Bekr, at the commencement of the battle, mounted a pulpit, fervently demanding of God the assistance of Gabriel and three thousand angels; but when his army appeared to waver, he started from his place of prayer, mounted a horse, and flinging a handful of dust into the air, exclaiming, "May their faces be confounded!" rushed upon the enemy. Fanaticism rendered his followers invincible; the numerous forces of the Koreish were unable to break the ranks or resist the furious attacks of his confiding soldiers. They fled, leaving seventy of their principal officers dead upon the field, and seventy prisoners in the hands of the enemy. Of the Moslems, only fourteen were slain. The names of the slaughtered warriors have been handed down to posterity, and enrolled among the list of pious martyrs whom the faithful Mussulman is taught to worship.
Space will not permit us to enumerate the various battles fought by Mahomet; according, however, to the computation of some authors, no less than twenty-seven expeditions were undertaken, in which he personally commanded, and in which nine pitched battles were fought. During the same period, he was besieged in Medina, by the implacable Koreish; but, by his own skill, and the bravery of his troops, he repelled all their attacks. In the sixth year of the Hegira, with 1,400 men, he meditated what he asserted to be a peaceful pilgrimage to the holy temple of Mecca. Entrance into the city being refused by the people, the prophet, in his anger, determined to force his way. At this critical juncture an ambassador was despatched from Mecca to demand a peace. The policy of Mahomet induced him to lay aside his determination of assaulting his native city, and to accept the peaceful offers of his countrymen. A truce of ten years was consequently concluded between the prophet and the Koreish.
Two years had hardly elapsed when Mahomet accused the people of Mecca of a breach of their engagement. When a man is really desirous of quarrelling, a pretext is never wanting. He was now strong, and his enemies were weak. His superstitious reverence for the city of his nativity, and for the temple it contained, served also to influence his determination for war. The time since the concluding of the truce had been skilfully employed in seducing the adherents of the Koreish, and converting to his religion the chief citizens of Mecca. With an army of 10,000 men he marched to besiege it, and no sooner did he appear before the walls than the city surrendered at discretion.
The religion of Mahomet may be considered now to have been permanently settled. The conquest of Mecca and of the Koreish was the signal for the submission of the rest of Arabia. The events of the prophet's after-life cease, therefore, to possess an interest for a Western reader. They were, for the most part, merely expeditions undertaken for the purpose of reducing the petty tribes who still resisted his authority, and were all of them eventually successful. The influence and religion of Mahomet continued rapidly to extend; his difficulties were over; and the hour of his prosperity has nothing to instruct or to amuse the general reader. Between the taking of Mecca and the period of his death, not more than three years elapsed. In that short period he had destroyed the idols of Arabia; had extended his conquests to the borders of the Greek and Persian empires; had rendered his name formidable to those once mighty kingdoms; had tried his arms against the undisciplined troops of the former, and defeated them in a desperate encounter at Muta. His throne was now firmly established, and an impetus given to the Arabian nations that in a few years induced them to invade, and enabled them to subdue, a great portion of the globe. India, Persia, the Greek Empire, the whole of Asia Minor, Egypt, Barbary, and Spain, were reduced by their victorious arms. The Muezzin was heard throughout an empire greater than Alexander's; and though the temporal power of his successors has now faded to a shadow, the religion which he founded still holds sway throughout all that empire, and is even endeavoring to extend itself. Although Mahomet did not live to see such mighty conquests, he laid the first foundations of this wide-spreading dominion, and established over the whole of Arabia, and some part of Syria, the religion he had proclaimed.
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