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2. The Founding of the Community

The new leader of the Banū Hāshim, Muhammad's uncle Abū Lahab, was allied by marriage with the leaders of the Meccan oligarchy. Since Muhammad could no longer rely on the protection of his clan, his life and his mission were in danger. It was becoming clear that the chaotic nature of Arabian society demanded that his preaching take a political form, in order to be effective. He therefore began to look for a new base for his movement, with another tribe. He found it with the people of Medina (Yathrib), a sizable oasis to the North.


The Hijra (A.D. 622): When God wished to display His religion openly and to glorify His prophet and fulfill His promise to him . . . while he was offering himself to the Arab tribes (at the fairs) as was his wont, he met at al-‘Aqaba a number of the Khazraj (of Medina), whom God intended to benefit.

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‘Asim b. ‘Umar b. Qatāda told me on the authority of some of the shaykhs of his tribe that when the Apostle met them he learned by inquiry that they were of the Khazraj and allies of the Jews of Medina. He invited them to sit with him and expounded Islam and recited the Qur’ān to them. Now God had prepared the way for Islam in that they lived side by side with the Jews who were people of the scriptures and knowledge, while they themselves were polytheists and idolators. They had often raided them, and whenever bad feeling arose the Jews would say to them, "A prophet will be sent soon! His day is at hand. We shall follow him and kill you by his aid as ‘Ad and Iram perished." So when they heard the Apostle's message they said one to another: "This is the very prophet of whom the Jews warned us. Don't let them get to him before us!" Thereupon they accepted his teaching and became Muslims, saying: "We have left our people, for no tribe is so divided by hatred and rancor as they. Perhaps God will unite them through you. So let us go and invite them to this religion of yours; and if God unites them in it, then no man will be mightier than you!" Thus saying they returned to Medina as believers. . . . 11


The Apostle had not been given permission to fight or allowed to shed blood . . . he had simply been ordered to call men to God, endure insult, and forgive the ignorant. The Quraysh persecuted his followers, seducing some from their religion, and exiling others from their country. They had to choose whether to give up their religion, be maltreated at home, or to flee, some to Abyssinia, others to Medina.

When Quraysh became insolent toward God and rejected His gracious purpose, accused His prophet of lying, and ill-treated and exiled those who served Him and proclaimed His unity, believed in His prophet, and held fast to His religion, He gave permission to his Apostle to fight and to protect himself against those who wronged them and treated them badly. . . .

When God had given permission to fight, and this clan of the Anṡār had pledged their support to him in Islam, the Apostle commanded his companions . . . who were with him

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in Mecca to emigrate to Medina. . . . So they went out in companies and the Apostle stayed in Mecca waiting for his Lord's permission to leave Mecca and migrate to Medina. . . .

Except for Abū Bakr and ‘Alī, none of his supporters were left but those under restraint and those who had been forced to apostacise. . . .

When the Quraysh saw that the Apostle had a party and companions not of their tribe and outside their territory, and that his companions had migrated to join them, and knew that they had settled in a new home and had gained protectors, they feared that the Apostle might join them, since they knew that he had decided to fight them. So they assembled in their council chambers, the house of Qusayy b. Kilāb where all their important business was conducted, to take counsel what they should do in regard to the Apostle, for now they feared him. . . .

Thereupon Abū Jahl said that he had a plan which had not been suggested hitherto, namely that each clan should provide a young, powerful, well-born warrior . . . then each of these should strike a blow at him and kill him. Thus they would be relieved of him, and responsibility for his blood would lie on all of the clans. His clan could not fight them all and would have to accept the blood money, to which they would all contribute. . . . 12


Among the verses of the Qur’ān which God sent down about that day and what they had agreed on are: "And when the unbelievers plot to shut thee up or to kill thee or to drive thee out they plot, but God plots also, and God is the best of plotters." (Sūra 8:30)

Now Abū Bakr was a man of means and . . . he bought two camels and kept them tied up in his house supplying them with fodder in preparation for departure. . . .

When the Apostle decided to go he came to Abū Bakr and the two of them left by a window in the back of the latter's house and made for a cave on Thaur, a mountain below Mecca. Having entered, Abū Bakr ordered his son ‘Abdallah . . . to come to them by night with the day's news. He ordered ‘Amir b. Fuhayra, his freedman, to feed his flock by day and

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to bring to them in the evening in the cave. Asmā’ his daughter used to come by night with food to sustain them. . . .

When three days had passed, and men's interest waned, the man they had hired came with their camels and one of his own. Asmā’ came too with a bag of provisions, but finding she had forgotten a rope, she undid her girdle and used it to tie the bag to the saddle. Thus she got the name "She of the girdle." . . .

They rode off, and Abū Bakr carried his freedman ‘Amir behind him to act as a servant on the journey. . . . (In Medina, each of the clans) came to him and asked him to enjoy their wealth and protection, but he said, "Let the camel go her way," for she was under God's orders. . . . Finally she came to the home of the Band Mālik b. al-Najjār where she knelt at (what later became the door of his mosque) which was used at that time as a drying floor for dates and belonged to two orphans of that clan. When it knelt, the Prophet did not alight, and it rose and went a short distance, then . . . returned to the place where it had knelt at first and knelt there again. . . .

The Apostle alighted . . . when he asked to whom the date-store belonged, Mu‘adh b. ‘Afrā told him the owners were orphans in his care . . . and he could take it for a mosque and he would pay the young men for it.

The Apostle ordered that a mosque (and lodgings for his family) be built, and he joined in the work to encourage the Muhājirīn and the Anṡār. . . . (Emigrants and Medinans.) 13


The Muslim community was thus established. Significantly, it is this year--the Hijra and the founding of the community of the Believers--rather than the first revelation or the birth of the Prophet from which the Islamic calendar is dated.


When the Prophet was firmly established in Medina and his brethren the emigrants were gathered to him and the affairs of the helpers arranged, Islam became firmly established.

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[paragraph continues] Prayer was instituted, the alms-tax and fasting were prescribed, legal punishments were fixed, the forbidden and the permitted prescribed, and Islam took up its abode with them. . . .

The people gathered to him at the appointed times of prayer. . . . At first the Prophet thought of using a trumpet like that of the Jews who used it to summon to prayer. Afterwards he disliked the idea and ordered a clapper to be made . . . to be beaten when the Muslims should pray.

Meanwhile ‘Abdallah b. Zayd b. Tha‘laba b. ‘Abdu Rabbihi brother of Banū al-Ḥārith heard a voice in a dream, and came to the Apostle saying: "A phantom visited me in the night. There passed by me a man wearing two green garments carrying a clapper in his hand, and I asked him to sell it to me. When he asked me what I wanted it for I told him it was to summon people to prayer, whereupon he offered to show me a better way; it was to say thrice:

'Allāhu Akbar! [God is most great] Allāhu Akbar!
I bear witness that there is no god but God!
I bear witness that Muhammad is the Apostle of God!
Come to prayer! Come to prayer!
Come to salvation! 14 Come to salvation!
Allāhu Akbar
! Allāhu Akbar!
There is no god but God!"

When the Apostle was told of this he said that it was a true vision if God so willed it, and that he should go with Bilāl and communicate it to him so he might call to prayer thus, for Bilāl had the most penetrating voice. When Bilāl acted as the first muezzin ‘Umar . . . came to the Apostle dragging his cloak on the ground and saying that he had seen precisely the same vision. The Apostle said, "God be praised for that!"

I was told this tradition . . . on the authority of Muhammad b. ‘Abdallah b. Zayd b. Tha‘laba himself.

Muhammad b. Ja‘far b. Zubayr told me on the authority of ‘Urwa b. Zubayr of a woman of the Banū al-Najjār who said: "My house was the highest of those round the mosque, and Bilāl used to give the call from the top of it every day.

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[paragraph continues] He would sit on the housetop waiting for the dawn; when he saw it, he would stretch out his arms and say, 'Oh God, I praise Thee and ask Thy help for Quraysh, that they may accept Thy religion.' I never knew him to omit those words for a single night." 15


While Muhammad had hoped that the Jews of Medina, as monotheists with a scripture, would recognize his prophetic claims, most of them opposed him with ridicule and rebellion. In this they were joined by the "Hypocrites" (munāfiqīn), those Medinans who had accepted him insincerely. In the ensuing struggles, most of the Jews were killed or banished. The direction of prayer for the Muslims was changed by revelation from Jerusalem to Mecca, and the Arabian character of Islam as the spiritual heir of Abraham, the monotheist ancestor of the Semites, was stressed in the revelations which continued to come.

Muhammad also began to lead his followers in raids on the caravans of the Quraysh of Mecca. By a skillful combination of military, economic and political pressure, he was able to secure the capitulation of the Quraysh in A.H. 8/A.D. 630, and in the end his native city came to his side as a willing partner.

The Ka‘ba was cleansed of its idols, and rededicated as the center of the Islamic world, the temple of Abraham and Ishmael.

Seeing this victory over the chief tribe of Arabia, most of the tribes sent deputations to Medina to submit to his authority. They were ordered to pay a tax (the zakāt) to Medina, and if they did not choose to accept Islam, to hinder in no way those of their members who became Muslims. Agents were sent to them from Medina to teach them the Qur’ān and the rites of religion, and to collect the taxes.

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Muhammad continued to live a simple and patriarchal existence at Medina. He could view his work with satisfaction. Everywhere the pagan cults were dying. His religion and his authority were unchallenged. The quarreling tribes had been united in one nation, the moral tone of the peninsula was unquestionably higher, and in Medina at least, where he ruled as beloved patriarch, judge, lawgiver, commander in chief and intercessor with God, his community was well established. The mission was accomplished--with a completeness of success given to few religious leaders.


The Death of the Prophet: ‘A’isha, the Prophet's wife, the daughter of Abū Bakr, said: "The Apostle returned from (prayers for the dead in) the cemetery to find me suffering from a severe headache, and I was saying, 'O, my head!' He said, 'Nay, ‘A’isha, O my head!' Then he said, 'Would it distress you if you should die before me so I might wrap you in your shroud and pray over you and bury you?' I said, Methinks I see you returning therefrom to my house and spending a bridal night in it with one of your wives!' He smiled at that, and then his pain overtook him. . . . He called his wives and asked their permission to be nursed in my house, and they agreed. . . ."

‘A’isha used to hear the Apostle say, "God never takes a prophet to Himself without giving him the choice." "The last word I heard the Apostle saying was, 'Nay, rather the Exalted Companion of paradise.' I said (to myself), 'Then by God, he is not choosing us!' And I knew it was as he used to tell us, that a prophet does not die without being given the choice. . . .

"The Apostle died in my bosom during my turn: I wronged none in regard to him. It was due to my ignorance and extreme youth that the Apostle died in my arms. Then I laid his head on a pillow, and got up beating my breast and slapping my face."

Sa‘īd b. al-Musayyib told me on the authority of Abū

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[paragraph continues] Hurayra: When the Apostle was dead ‘Umar got up and said, "Some of the disaffected will allege that the Apostle is dead, but by God he is not dead: he has gone to his Lord as Moses went and was hidden from his people for forty days, returning to them after it was said that he was dead. By God, the Apostle will return as Moses returned, and will cut off the hands and feet of those who allege that he is dead!"

When Abū Bakr heard this . . . he paid no attention but went into ‘A’isha's house to the Apostle who was lying covered by a mantle of Yamanī cloth. He uncovered his face and kissed him, saying, "Dearer than my father and my mother! You have tasted the death which God had decreed; a second death will never overtake you." Then he replaced the mantle and went out. ‘Umar was still speaking, and he said, "Gently, ‘Umar, be quiet." But ‘Umar went on talking. When Abū Bakr saw he would not be silent he went forward to the people, who came to him and left ‘Umar. Giving thanks and praise to God, he said: "O men, if anyone worships Muhammad, Muhammad is dead. If anyone worships God, God is alive, immortal!" Then he recited this verse: "Muhammad is nothing but an Apostle. Apostles have passed away before him. Can it be that if he were to die or be killed you would turn back on your heels? He who turns back does no harm to God, but God will reward the grateful." (Sūra 3:38)

‘Umar said, "By God, when I heard Abū Bakr recite these words, I was dumbfounded so that my legs would not bear me and I fell to the ground, knowing that the Apostle was indeed dead." 16


The Prophet's death in 632 was the first great crisis of the Muslim community. Neither the Qur’ān nor Muhammad had made any provision for a successor; indeed, he is quoted as saying, "Prophets have no heirs." Although he had contracted several marriages after Khadīja's death, his wives had borne him no children. His son Ibrahīm (Abraham) by his Egyptian concubine, Mary the Copt, had died in infancy.

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His closest relative was his cousin and son-in-law ‘Alī, who as the husband of Khadīja's daughter Fatima was father of Muhammad's grandchildren, Ḥasan and Ḥusayn. However, even the claims of a chieftain's sons to succeed him were not conclusive in Arabian society; still less the claim of a son-in-law. Also, ‘Alī was a young man in a patriarchal culture.

By traditional standards, the head of the Prophet's clan, his uncle ‘Abbās, would have had a strong claim, but ‘Abbās was a late convert and hence under a certain cloud.

As tribesmen of the Prophet, with a traditional hegemony in the Hijāz, the Quraysh felt they must not be dominated by another people. As his helpers, and the fighters of his battles, the people of his capital Medina felt they had the right to rule themselves.

The leader was dead, and his charisma had not been transferred. Many felt that the old tribal patterns should emerge again, and each tribe go its separate ways. . . . Years later, his friend, tribesman and early convert, ‘Umar ibn-al-Khaṭṭāb, made a solemn public statement on the events of the night of Muhammad's death.


‘Umar sat in the pulpit, and when the muezzins were silent he praised God as was fitting and said: "I am about to say to you today something which God has willed that I should say, and I do not know whether perhaps it is my last utterance. . . .

"I have heard that someone said, 'If ‘Umar were dead, I would hail so-and-so as ruler.' Let not a man deceive himself by saying that the acceptance of Abū Bakr was an unpremeditated affair which was ratified. Admittedly, it was that, but God averted the evil of it. There is none among you to whom people would devote themselves as they did to Abū Bakr. What happened was that when God took away His apostle, the Anṡār [Muslims of Medina] opposed us and gathered

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with their chiefs in the hall of the Banū-Sā‘ida; and ‘Alī and Zubayr and their companions withdrew from us (they had gathered at the death-bed) while the Muhājirīn gathered around Abū Bakr. (In the Prophet's mosque.)

"I told Abū Bakr that we should go to our brothers the Anṡār, so we went off to go to them, when two honest fellows met us and told us of the conclusion the people [the Anṡār] had come to. . . . I said, 'By God, we will go to them,' and we found them in the hall of the Banū-Sā‘ida. In the middle of them was a man wrapped up. In answer to my inquiries they said that he was Sa‘d b. ‘Ubāda and that he was ill. When we sat down their speaker pronounced the shahāda and praised God as was fitting, and then continued: 'We are God's Helpers and the squadron of Islam. You, O Muhājirīn, are a family of ours and a company of your people have come to settle here.' And lo, they were trying to cut us off from our origin and wrest authority from us.

"When he had finished, I wanted to speak, for I had prepared a speech in my mind which pleased me much. I wanted to produce it before Abū Bakr and I was trying to soften a certain asperity of his, but Abū Bakr said, 'Gently, ‘Umar!' I did not like to anger him, and so he spoke. He was a man with more knowledge and dignity than I, and by God he did not omit a single word which I had thought of, and he uttered it in his inimitable way better than I could have done.

"He said: 'All the good that you have said about yourselves is deserved. But the Arabs will recognise authority only in this clan of Quraysh, they being the best of the Arabs in blood and country. I offer you one of these two men: accept which you please.' Thus saying he took hold of my hand and that of Abū ‘Ubayda b. al-Jarrāḥ who was sitting between us. Nothing he said displeased me more than that. By God, I would rather have come forward and have had my head struck off--if that were no sin--than rule over a people of whom Abū Bakr was one!

"One of the Anṡār said: 'I am the rubbing-post and the fruitful propped-up palm [i.e. a man to whom all come to solve their problems]. Let us have one ruler and you another, O Quraysh.' Altercation waxed hotter and voices were raised

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until when a complete breach was to be feared I said, 'Stretch out your hand, Abū Bakr.' He did so and I paid him homage; the Muhājirīn followed and then the Anṡār. In doing so, we jumped on Sa‘d b. ‘Ubāda [the man whom the Anṡār had been electing] and someone said that we had killed him. I said, 'God killed him!'"

Al-Zuhri told me on the authority of Anas b. Mālik: On the morrow of Abū Bakr's acceptance in the hall, he sat in the pulpit and ‘Umar got up and spoke before him, and after praising God as was meet he said: "Oh men, yesterday I said something [‘Umar had denied the death of the Prophet], which I do not find in God's Book, nor was it something the Apostle entrusted to me, but I thought that the Apostle would order our affairs until he was the last of us alive. God has left His Book with you, that by which He guided His apostle, and if you hold fast to that, God will guide you as He guided him. God has placed your affairs in the hands of the best one among you, the companion of the Apostle, 'The second of the two when they were in the cave' (Sūra 9:40) so arise and swear fealty to him." Thereupon the people swore fealty to Abū Bakr as a body after the pledge in the hall. 17


In sudden crisis, a decision of world-shaking significance had been reached. The Muslim community was to have one ruler, as Successor of the Prophet (Khalīfa: Caliph). Had each tribe elected its own leaders, the unity Muhammad had imposed on the quarrelsome Arabs would soon have been dissipated. Had the Muslims decided to be governed by a council of the leading Companions, Islamic government would have developed along oligarchic or republican lines; instead, it has historically tended to be characterized by one-man rule. It was then necessary to enforce the decision of Medina on the other tribes of the peninsula, who felt there was no reason to follow Abū Bakr. The majority of them refused to send the zakāt to Medina or obey, and some tribes turned to

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new prophets who claimed to have inherited the authority of Muhammad. It took two years of bitter warfare to re-establish the authority of Medina.

But it was a sulky obedience. To reunite the spirit of the community, Abū Bakr and ‘Umar, who succeeded him as Caliph, sent the people on foreign campaigns against the weakened Byzantine and Persian empires. The results surpassed the Caliphs' highest hopes; Persia, the Fertile Crescent and Egypt were conquered for Islam. The incredulous and grateful people of Muhammad gave thanks to God, as the followers of Moses had once before when Joshua led the Hebrew tribes from the deserts into southern Syria.


80:11 Ibid., pp. 197-198.

80:12 Ibid., pp. 212-222 (here abridged).

80:13 Ibid., pp. 223-228 (here abridged).

80:14 Falāh, usually translated as "salvation." Professor Guillaume suggests very plausibly that it is an Arabicization of the Syriac pulhānā, used by Aramaic Christians and Jews of the period for "divine service" worship.

80:15 Guillaume, op. cit., pp. 235-236.

80:16 Ibid., pp. 678-683.

80:17 Ibid., pp. 685-687.

Next: 3. Muhammad as Founder and Legislator