The era of Islam began with...
The era of Islam began with the first visitation of the archangel Gabriel to Muhammad in a cave on Mount Hira near Mecca.* Unnerved by what he had seen and heard, Muhammad first wondered whether this visitation was from a ginn. He settled down when his wife assured him that the visitation was indeed from an angel sent from Allah.
Obedient to the visitation, Muhammad went to the Kaba altar and recounted from memory that which the spirit-being had told him to a listening crowd. Most rejected the message. And so it continued. Muhammad returned to the cave, heard more messages from this spirit-being, and repeated the messages to crowds gathered around the Kaba altar. With time, a small group of followers developed. This was the first Muslim community. They came, however, from the lower classes. Some we're even slaves. All who had power and influence stayed away from this new religion. Even Abu Talib, Muhammads beloved uncle, refused to convert to Islam.
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At first the Meccan leaders laughed off Muhammad and his messages. He was out of his mind, they said. Yet, with the passing of time, their attitudes changed. He began to get on their nerves. Not only did he declare that all their idolatrous forefathers we're burning in Hell, he warned that anyone who practiced idolatry around the Kaba altar will someday burn in Hell. People began to avoid the Kaba altar. The commercial interests associated with the Kaba cult began to fall off.
This was too much for the leaders of Mecca.
The peace and harmony that once characterized Mecca had been replaced with discord and threats of violence. As the two groups stared each other down, the question on everyone's mind was this: who would blink first? Muhammad did. He finally approached the Kaba altar and recited a new surah. In it, he declared that two of the goddesses worshipped at the Kaba altar we're goddesses indeed and intercessory prayers offered to them we're effective. Surprised, those who heard Muhammad's words rejoiced. Many bowed down in humble adoration and offered thanksgiving to their gods.
After he left the precinct of the altar, Muhammad realized what he had done. With those words spoken at the altar, he had undone his entire ministry. The next day he returned in humble repentance and corrected the surah. In the corrected version, the goddesses we're disregarded. This was the controversy
that would later be known as the Satanic Verseswords that Satan had tricked Muhammad in saying in the first recital of the surah.
The years passed and Muhammad refused to yield to the demands of the leaders of Mecca. With regularity, he recited one surah after another in the precinct of the Kaba altar. Many we're critical of the established religious practices of Mecca. It was only inevitable that the conflict between Muhammad and the leaders of Mecca would come to a head. The Meccan leaders organized a boycott against Muhammad, his small Muslim community, and the Bani Hashim (the small Meccan clan of which Muhammad was a member and which offered him protection). A document was drawn up that stated that (a) people we're prohibited from marrying anyone of the Bani Hadim, and (b) people we're prohibited from engaging in commerce with Muhammad, his Muslim followers, and the people of the Bani Hashim.
The boycott did not work. This is because it was not rigorously enforced. Since intermarriage between the clans had already taken place, the wives of the husbands clans we're still regarded as members of their original birth clans. Accordingly, the boycott did not specifically apply to them. They received supplies and then passed them on to the others. In addition, the boycott did not apply to the caravans passing through Mecca. And finally, many of the people of Mecca empathized with the plight of those being boycotted and secretly sent supplies to them in the dead of night.
Still, the boycott continued for two years. When they finally came to the conclusion that the boycott was not serving their purposes, the leaders of Mecca finally lifted it. Not only did the boycott not eradicate the Muslim problem from Mecca, it had resulted in the unintended effect of engendering sympathy for the Muslim cause throughout much of the Arabian Peninsula.
The leaders of Mecca now searched for a new strategy to deal with the Muslim problem in their city. As it turned out, a new strategy fell into their laps. Two unexpected events took place. First, Abu Talib, the leader one of the esteemed chieftains of Mecca, died. Following the death of Muhammad's parents, he raised Muhammad from early childhood and was, in many respects, the only father he ever knew. Second, hardly a month later, Muhammads wife Khadijah died.
Abu Talib and Khadijah had been Muhammads principal protectors since the inception of the Muslim religion. They had stood up to the leaders of Mecca and pleaded for patience and peace. And since they we're successful and respected business people who had brought much revenue into the city, the leaders of Mecca we're reluctant to ignore them. But now they we're dead.
Almost immediately, the persecution of the Muslim people intensified. Several of Muhammads close associates we're bound hand and foot, roped together, and left lying on the public highway. Pieces of putrefying offal we're thrown into Muhammads cooking pot by a passerby. A sheeps uterus, filthy with blood and excrement, was thrown at him while he was praying. People walked up to him and threw handfuls of dirt into his face. And so it went. Still, the Meccan leaders we're reluctant to physically harm or kill Muhammad since such an act could have resulted in a citywide war.
With few options and not knowing whether the leaders of Mecca we're planning his assassination, Muhammad traveled to Taif by camel, a city to the east of Mecca, seeking refuge and armed support. This was a desperate moveand he knew it. The people of Taif we're just as idolatrous as those in Mecca and would likely be disinclined to receive him favorably. Indeed, that is what happened.
Muhammad was told that he was not welcome and that he needed to return to Mecca. On his return trip, Muhammad encountered (or so he would later claim to say in two surahs) a company of ginns who listened and responded favorably to his Islamic message.** Curiously, they became Muslims. This encounter took place near the cave at Mount Hira where he allegedly first encountered the archangel Gabriel twelve years earlier.
Now back in Mecca, Muhammad continued to recite his surahs in the precinct of the Kaba altar. On several occasions, he included Jewish and Christian apocryphal literature in his surahs, with the intent of making the case that his Islamic religion was compatible with Judaism and Christianity rightly understood, he insisted. He also endorsed the longstanding practice of pilgrimages to the Kaba altar, though in a fashion that corresponded to the teachings in the surahs that he had been preaching. And finally, he briefly commented on his alleged miraculous Night Journey to Jerusalem and the Seventh Heaven, an event that he called the Isra and the Miraj.*** This was intended to offer the miraculous credentials of his ministry that the leaders of Mecca demanded of him.
Still, Muhammad felt threatened and feared for his life. In the early months of 622, he sent some of his Muslim converts as emigrants to the city of Yathrib (Medina). This was done in preparation of his own migration, which would shortly take place.
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