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Sunday, 18 November 2007



In 610, on the seventeenth night of Ramadan, a 40 year merchant Muhammad-ibn-Abdulla from the city of Mecca in the Hejaz province of Arabia, who was in a cave on mount Hira for a spiritual retreat with his family, suddenly found himself engulfed by numinous presence of an angel.

'Iqra!' (Recite) commanded the angel. His face became pallor with fright. But he refused thinking that the angel had mistaken him for a 'Kahin'-the reciters of Arabia.

'I am not a Kahin', said Muhammad. Angel embraced Muhammad tightly till he gasped for breath. The angel repeated 'Iqra!' Muhammad refused again and Angel further tightened his embrace. Just when Muhammad felt that he had reached his endurance he found words pouring out of his mouth:

'Recite in the name of thy Lord who created

He created man from a clot of blood

recite and thy Lord is most bountiful,

He who hath taught by the Pen

taught man what he knew not.'

And with these words came the first revelation by the God. Muhammad still terrified of the happening ran atop to jump himself to death found angel on the mountain top, who inhibited him from doing so. Muhammad later identified him as angel Gabriel.

Muhammad was the messenger of God, the chosen one – The prophet whom Arabs were awaiting. God had revealed himself to Arabs via Muhammad. The revelation would continue for next twenty three years till Muhammad was alive. The compilation of these revelations would become 'Al-Quran' (The Recitation), the holy book of Islam, the religion which Muhammad was going to emanate.

That night, the event that would change the course of world had happened. The event was unexpected for Muhammad but not for people of Arabia who were waiting in anticipation that God would soon send them a Prophet and a Book which would make them at par with the Christians and Jews the 'Ahl-kitabees' (followers of the book) .

The Land of the Prophet

In 6th century, Arabian Peninsula was sandwiched between two mighty empires, The Byzantine in the west and the Persian (Sassanid Kingdom) in the east. Both the empires were involved in an internecine rivalry to control southern Arabia, the present day Yemen. Yemen was a fertile land because of regular monsoons but the rest of Arabia was an intractable land. People in these parts of Arabia were Bedouins living in tents. There life was harsh and living conditions very primitive. It was a god less region. Though some tribes of Jews and Christian traders were known to have dwelled in these area (particularly Yathrib , the present day Madina).

The two empires fought for fertile land of Southern Arabia but it would be the desert of Arabia where the sapling of Islam would be planted the tree from which spread around the world.

In 525, Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia), which was a client state of Byzantine Empire attacked Yemen. Yemen sought help from Persians who were happy to oblige. In Abyssinia, Monophysitism which was a heretical from of Christianity wherein followers believe that Christ has only one divine nature was the official religion. The Zoroastrian kingdom of Persia favored the Jews. Abyssinia conquered Yemen and made Monophysitism as official religion.

In 570 King Khusrau of Persia invaded Yemen and conquered it back. This time Nestorianism which was another form of heretical Christianity which believed that Jesus exists as two being one as man and another as son of God was made the official religion by Persia. So the Arabs who were surrounded by deviant form of Christianity and Judaism grew suspicious of both the religion. The Arabs felt themselves inferior to both the religion as they thought that God has been unfair to them by not giving them a prophet and the holy book which both Christians and the Jews had.

Jahiliyah – The Age of Ignorance

Life was a matter of subsistence for Arabs. The nomads lived in harsh terrains with meager means of survival. To fight the hardship they lived in close knit tribes called 'Qaum' (people). The 'Qaum' was paramount for every Bedouin who had absolute loyalty towards its tribe and every other tribe related with its own. To evolve the communal spirit within the tribe Arabs evolved an ideology called 'Muruwah' (something similar to Machoism) which was a set of tribal laws. Though 'Muruwah' was just some set of tribal rules for the Arabs and at times brutal yet it acted as a quasi religion and helped tribes function according to the need.

The two main drivers for a tribe were 'Vendetta against rival tribe' and 'Gazzu'. If a tribesman got killed by other tribe then it is the duty of tribe to revenge the killing. Hence it was a never ending vicious cycle. The tribes were in constant fight with each other. 'Gazzu' or raid was another form of preoccupation of tribes. One tribe would raid and loot the property of another tribe. 'Gazzu' was the means of survival for tribes.

Gradually some tribes involved themselves in trade and settled in cities. One such tribe was 'Quraysh' in which Muhammad was born. 'Muruwah' which worked well for tribal system failed against the new lifestyle of settled Arabs. Arabs felt disoriented and confused because of their new found wealth. A new Ideology was needed to guide them.

Though Arabs had no religion they had their pantheon of deities. There were shrines dedicated to these deities. The most important shrine was the Ka'aba which was situated near the spring of ZamZam. According to legend of Jews of Arabia, Abraham has left his wife Hagar and his son Ishmael in the valley of Mecca, where God has taken care of them revealing the scared spring of ZamZam when the child was dying of thirst. Later Abraham had visited Ishmael and together Father and son had built the Ka'abah. This box like shrine has a black stone embedded in its eastern corner. At the time of Muhammad Ka'abah was officially dedicated to God Hubal. There were other gods such as Al-Lah, Al-Lat, Al-Uzzaj, Manat etc who had their shrine but Al-lah was considered as the highest god by the Arabs.

Birth of a the Prophet

According to a legend, Abd-Al-Muttalib and his son Abdullah were walking through the street when suddenly a woman came and invited Abdullah to her bed. Abdullah said that he is on his way to his marriage and couldn't accept her invitation. A day later after consummating his marriage with Aamina-bint-Wahab Abdullah returned to oblige the woman but she refused. She said that yesterday Abdullah had a divine glow on his face which boded that he will become father of a prophet but today the glow has gone which meant that some other woman has got blessing to become prophet's mother. In 570, on 12 Rabi'u al-awwal a child was born to Abdulla and Aamina. He was named Muhammad. Forty years later, on the seventeenth night of Ramadan, in the cave of mount Hira near the city of Mecca, Muhammad would have an excruciating divine experience when God would reveal to Muhammad.

To be Continued...


Imagician said...

I got stuck at the word "machoism" and even Google couldn't ferret it out. Surely, you don't mean masochism. Can you please elaborate on the 'Muruwah' custom?

pilot-pooja said...

Merry Christmas Prashant!!