2/15/12 - muhammad, the founding prophet of islam

In today's excerpt - Muhammad (570 - 632 AD), the prophet of Islam, pointed the way to the one God of his faith - Allah. Muhammad preached submission - which is what the word Islam means - to Allah in return for salvation:

"Muhammad's father died before he was born and his mother died when he was just six. But he was adopted by his uncle, who took him on trading trips to Bosra in Syria. There he was taught about Christianity by a monk, studied the Jewish and Christian scriptures, coming to venerate Jerusalem as one of the noblest of sanctuaries. In his twenties, a wealthy widow named Khadija, much older than he, employed him to manage her caravan trading and then married him. They lived in Mecca, the home of the Kaaba and its black stone, the sanctuary of a pagan god. The city thrived on the pilgrims attracted by this cult and by caravan trading. ...

"Muhammad, described as handsome with curly hair and beard, possessed both an all-conquering geniality—it was said that when he shook someone's hand he never liked to be the one to let go first—and a charismatic spirituality. He was admired for his integrity and intelligence as his warriors later put it, 'He was the best among us'— and he was known as al-Amin, the Reliable. ...

"Outside Mecca was the Cave of Hira where Muhammad liked to meditate. In 610 AD, according to tradition, the Archangel Gabriel visited him there with his first revelation from the one God who had chosen him to be his Messenger and Prophet. When the Prophet received God's revelations, his face was said to become flushed, he fell silent, his body lying limp on the ground, sweat poured down his face; he was engulfed by humming sounds and visions—and then he would recite his poetical, divine revelations. Initially he was terrified by this, but Khadija believed in his vocation and he started to preach.

"In this rough military society where every boy and man bore arms, the literary tradition was not written but consisted of a rich spoken poetry that celebrated the deeds of honourable warriors, passionate lov­ers, fearless hunters. The Prophet was to harness this poetical tradition: his 114 sura-chapters-were initially recited before they were collated into the Koran, "The Recitation," a compendium of exquisite poetry, sacred obscurity, clear instruction and bewildering contradiction. ...

"Unlike Jesus, he just called himself the Messenger or Apostle of God, claiming no magical powers. Indeed the Isra—Night Journey—and the Miraj—Ascension— were his only miraculous exploits. ... The Prophet's early followers, the Emigrants and Helpers, formed his entourage—but he also welcomed former enemies and talented opportunists with equal enthusiasm. Meanwhile, Muslim tradition recounts his personal life: he had many wives—Aisha, daughter of his ally Abu Bakr was his favourite—and took numerous concubines, including beautiful Jewesses and Christians; and he had children, most importantly a daughter named Fatima."


Simon Sebag Montefiore


Jerusalem: The Biography


Random House


Copyright 2011 by Simon Sebag Montefiore


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