A biologist has said that we are immersed in the habits of our era, like
the glands in their fluids. We are creatures, to a great extent, of our
environment. But there is one Being Who is not the product of His
environment. This is the holy Personage Who appears among us as the
Manifestation of God. He is outside of and free of custom, tradition,
environment. It is only by following Him that we too are released from
the ways of our ancestors and can start a new way. He is reality--truth-
-and the truth makes us free.
The materialist says man is the product of his times. Therefore the
materialist cannot account for the Prophet of God. All of a sudden, in
Arabia, there rises an Arab Who is not like the Arabs. He summons the
people to go against custom. He smashes their idols. Think of the effect
on them: something they had been taught to worship, toppling down,
broken in pieces. Today, we too are told to smash idols--the idols of
men's own imaginings. 'Abdu'l-Baha says that those other idols at least
had a mineral existence, while mankind's present idols are but fancies,
and not even mineral. (Some Answered Questions, 171).
Our standard for appraising Muhammad is the Baha'i Teachings. Much
of the material about Muhammad is written either by Muslims who have
repeated unfounded traditions about Him, or by hostile Occidentals. We
are still victims of centuries of propaganda against Him. Dante, for
instance, placed Muhammad and the Imam 'Ali in the eighth circle,
ninth pouch, of the Inferno. The Middle Ages called Him "Mahound,"
a word influenced by the English "hound." Today--and I am sure it is in
a measure due to fifty-five years of continuous Baha'i teaching--the
Protestant Church in North America is actually telling people to study
Islam and other Faiths. A Collier's Magazine article reaching millions of
readers, featured a clergyman talking to a veteran, and saying that all
religions are one and that the veteran should study them all; the article
specifically included Islam. (Collier's, December, 1947). However, I felt
sorry for the poor veteran because, without the light of the Baha'i
Teachings, he would find the study of Islam--or of any previous religion-
-a bewildering business.
To study Islam we need new books. We need a re-evaluation by future
Baha'i scholars, of all the available data, in the light of Baha'u'llah's
Teachings. The Guardian told a pilgrim that the Baha'is must vindicate
Islam in the West; we must convert people, not to its institutions, now
abrogated by the Bab and Baha'u'llah, but to its truth as a further step
in Divine Revelation, following Christianity. We can appreciate our own
Faith better if we are familiar with Islam. The Guardian refers to Islam
as "the source and background" of our Faith (Advent of Divine Justice);
he says we need "a sound knowledge of the history and tenets of Islam"
and must devote special attention to the investigation of those
institutions and circumstances that are directly connected with the origin
and birth of their (the Baha'i) Faith, with the station claimed by its
Forerunner, and with the laws revealed by its Author." (Idem). There is
an interesting point of similarity between us and the Muslims in that
both our sacred writings and those of Islam are authentic, while scholars
do not accept the authenticity of all the Gospel text. It is also of note
that the New Testament mentions Peter as the successor but gives no
specific laws as to marriage, pilgrimage, fasting and the like; the Qur'an,
on the other hand, contains a great body of laws but is silent as to the
successorship; while in the Baha'i Teachings, we have, specifically
established, both the laws and the successorship.
"Islam" does not derive from Muhammad's name. The word, from the
Arabic root "salima," is variously translated as surrender to God's Will,
and as obedience, peace and salvation, A Muslim is one who follows
Islam; who has surrendered himself to God, is obedient, has attained
Islam in the beginning is a story of two cities--Mecca and Yathrib, later
called Medina. Medina was a rich oasis. It was an agricultural
community; many of its clans were Jews and they cultivated the extensive
palm groves. Medina suffered from malarial fever and sometimes its
ponds and wells were henna-colored from the droppings of the herds so
that even the camels sickened of the water. The other city was Mecca.
It was a city of naked hills; it had regular, paved streets, fortified houses
and a town hall. A Negro poet of the time wrote that in Mecca there was
"not a blade of grass to rest the eye... no hunting...instead, only
merchants..." There were no trees, no gardens, only a few spiney
bushes. It was so hot that to torture a man they had only to lay him on
the ground. The black flagstones around the Ka'bih had to be sprinkled
for the ritual barefoot processions and they dried at once. Even the
waters of the ancient well of Zemzem--which tradition says bubbled up
from the sand, under the feet of Ishmael, when Hagar his mother had
set him down in the wilderness--were sometimes bitter. Other wells were
distant and unsafe. Mecca was a place of "suffocating heat, deathly
winds, clouds of flies." (Dermenenghem, op. cit., 23). In winter the town
was flooded; or buried in silt; the waters destroyed houses, floated
carrion around, spread epidemics. They say that once the Temple was
so deep in water that a pious man made his circumambulation, Seven
times around, by swimming.
The Meccans were merchants. Two great caravans left Mecca each
year, one to Yaman, the other to Syria. Ezekiel 27 tells us, as early as ca.
600 B.C., how Tyre was enriched by Arab merchants. A writer
comments: "The steppes of Central Asia and Arabia were the ocean of
the ancients, and companies of camels their fleets." (Muir, Wm., The
Life of Mohammad, xc). The great caravans included as many as 3,000
camels and 200 men. The whole town might invest in them; their coming
and leaving was the cause of wild excitement, and announced with the
beating of drums.
A writer calls the Arabs the first exploiters of international trade;
Mecca was a crossroads between the Orient and the Mediterranean
world. The Byzantines found indispensable the Arab caravans of jewels,
spices from India, silk from China, skins, metals, perfumes, gums, dates.
(Cf. Dermenghem, op. cit., 24-25).[1a]
After their journeys, the Arabs gambled and drank and speculated.
Streams of wine flowed in the great houses; we hear of a man who
owned two slave-girls celebrated for their voices, whom he called his two
cicadas. He got drunk, and gave another man a black eye; later he
repented, and presented the man with the two singers. (Ibid., 30).
Another Arab gambled himself away to a friend. There were constant
tribal wars, brawls and blood-feuds. The poets enjoyed prominence as
the journalists and historians of the time, ant held annual poetry
competitions; famed among the Arabs were the Seven Golden Odes,
poems written in letters of gold on Egyptian silk. A proverb says:
"Wisdom has lighted on three things: the hand of the Chinese, the brain
of the Frank, and the tongue of the Arab." "The Arabs prized above all
else, eloquence; an Arab prayed, "O God, preserve me from being
silenced in conversation." (Dozy, Reinhart, Spanish Islam, Duffield and
Co., N.Y., 1913, 6).
Cf. Dermenghem, Emile, Life of Mahomet, 22.
[a] In addition to
commerce and herding, the Arabs' "national industry" was the seizing of
booty. (Dermenghem, 175). Muhammad strictly regulated this, the bulk
going to charity and army upkeep.
of profligacy; an Arab poet comments, "Wealth cometh in the morning,
and ere the evening it hath departed." (Ibid., 5).
In Mecca, also called Becca, the leaders lived in the central, flat part
of the city, around the Ka'bih (i.e., in Batha); the commoners lived
surrounding this area, in the sloping streets; foreigners, slaves, and the
rabble lived on the outskirts. Beyond, in the desert, were the Bedawin,
tent-dwellers and nomads.
The most important thing in Mecca was the Ka'bih, or cube: the oblong
stone House which was a center of pilgrimage for all Arabia. The Arabs
were members of innumerable isolated clans, worshipping different
idols, but all would come and gather at the Ka'bih. It is a structure 55
feet long, 45 wide and something over 55 high. It has a covering of cloth,
which is renewed annually, and did even in Muhammad's day. Abraham
traditionally built the Ka'bih, its site being granted to Him and Ishmael
for a place of worship that would be monotheistic and universal (Qur'an
22:27). The Qur'an says of it: "The first temple that was founded for
mankind, was that in Becca, Blessed, and a guidance to human beings.
In it are evident signs, even the standing-place of Abraham: and he who
entereth it is safe. And the pilgrimage to the temple, is a service due to
God from those who are able to journey thither." (Qur'an 3:90-91). The
Black Stone (Hajaru'l-Aswad) is set in the south-east corner of the
Ka'bih wall; it is semi-circular, about six inches in height and eight wide,
and reddish-black in color. We read in the Dawn-Breakers how the Bab,
having first circumambulated the Ka'bih and performed all the rites of
worship, stood before the Black Stone and declared His mission. The
territory around Mecca (Haram) was and still is sacred. Four months of
the year were months of general amnesty and truce, and it was then that
pilgrims made their journeys to Mecca and to the merchandise fairs.
In and around the Ka'bih in the time before Muhammad--the Days of
Ignorance (Jahiliyya)--were 360 idols, equalling the days of the year.
Their chief was Hobal, a bearded man made of red agate, with one hand
of gold, and dressed in multi-colored clothing. People consulted him
about marriage, where to dig a well, and other problems, using divining
arrows. We read of a poet who wished to avenge the murder of his
father, consulting one of the idols with three divining arrows
symbolizing "Proceed," "Abandon," "Delay." Three times he drew
"Abandon." He became furious, broke the arrows and threw them at the
idol, crying "Had it been thy father who was murdered, thou wouldst not
have forbidden me to avenge him." (Dozy, op. cit., 14. Also Lane-Poole,
Speeches and Table Talks.... cxiii.) Sometimes they would cheat the
idols, sacrificing a gazelle when they had promised a sheep. They did
acknowledge a vague supreme Deity, called Allah; but they joined
partners with Him, lesser deities called al ilahat--the goddesses;
Muhammad's teaching was La ilaha illa'llah--There is no ilah but Allah.
This reminds us of Acts 17:23: "Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship,
him declare I unto you." George Sale in his "Preliminary Discourse" tells
of one tribe who even worshipped a lump of dough, but he says they
treated it with more respect than some Christians do theirs, because they
would not eat it unless compelled to by famine.
Over Mecca and in charge of the Ka'bih ruled the Quraysh, a powerful
The Bedawin were scornful of both tillers of the soil and merchants.
"Ah," wrote a Bedawin poet, "if my camel could hear the tricks of the
trade, what a lot she could gain in Mecca by exchanging green grass for
dried grass!" (Dermenghem, op. cit., 31).
Arab tribe forming a sort of religious hierarchy, whose members enjoyed
such functions as distributing water and food to the pilgrims, taking
charge of the council hall, and raising the banner in war. Muhammad
was a member of this tribe--closely related to the oligarchy, His
grandfather ('Abdu'l-Muttallib) being the foremost chief of Mecca, and
His uncle and protector (Abu-Talib) a leader afterward. In tearing down
the Ka'bih gods Muhammad was--in their view--destroying His own
Mankind has always surrounded the birth of its Saviors with beautiful
stories. We know of the shepherds and angels on the night of the
Nativity. The Zoroastrians say that when Zoroaster was born even the
trees and rivers rejoiced, and a divine light shone around the house. On
the night Muhammad was born His mother (Aminih) saw light streaming
from Him, reaching up to the stars; the idols of the Ka'bih toppled over
and lay face downward; across the world, in all the fire temples of the
Magians, the fire died on the altars. (Tabari, II, 234-5). The year was
Muhammad was either posthumous or soon lost His father
('Abdu'llah). A shepherd's wife cared for Him in the mountains until He
was five; this was the custom. He tended sheep. At six, He lost His
mother. His grandfather took Him in; He used to sit by the old chieftain
on a rug spread out in the shade of the Ka'bih. At eight, He lost His
grandfather; His uncle then cared for Him. Muhammad was poor and
practised several trades: He tended herds, kept a little shop, went on
caravan expeditions and to the great fairs. He became known for the
purity of His life and they called Him al-Amin--the Trusted One.
There was a prominent and beautiful woman in Mecca, who had been
twice widowed and was now about forty. She was a merchant, and
Muhammad, as her agent, successfully conducted one of her caravans
to Syria. She had refused the leaders of Mecca but now fell in love with
her poor Kinsman, sixteen years her junior. Their marriage is one of the
true - love stories in history; until her death twenty-three years later,
Muhammad married no other, although polygamy was almost universally
practised. We read that there was a great wedding: some leather bottles
of precious grape wine; in the inner court under the torches, the bride's
slave girls danced and sang to the tambourines; a camel was slaughtered
on the door-step and its flesh divided among the poor...Muhammad and
Khadijih had several children; the sons all died; then she became the
mother of Fatimih, the holiest woman in Islam.
Muhammad was now a man of considerable means, but He did not
enter public life. The times were lawless, and except for serving the poor
He kept to Himself. He retired often to a high, cone-shaped mountain
north of Mecca, and stayed in a cave there. From Mt. Hira He could
look out east and south on other mountains, and elsewhere on bare,
blackened hills, grey hills, and white sandy valleys (Cf. Muir, op. cit., 38).
It was on this mountain that He first saw the Archangel, veiled in light,
on a throne of fire, and because of this greatly troubled and in deep
anguish, He went to Khadijih and she comforted Him. Ever since, Mt.
Hira has been called Jabal-i-Nur, the Mount of Light.
"The Year of the Elephant." The birth took place about 55 days
after the attack of Arabia; Caussin de Perceval calculates August 20. Cf.
Muir, op. cit., 5.
There was a man named Salman the Persian and he had spent many
years of his life traveling in search of a Prophet. He was born in a
Persian village and as a boy had tended the sacred fire. Then he left
Persia for Damascus, and went from one holy man to another--four in
all. Each one, dying, sent him on to the next one. As the fourth one died
he said to Salman "This is an age of Prophets. A Prophet will be sent."
In those days it was not safe to travel, because if you were caught they
sold you into slavery. When Salman was going toward Arabia they
caught him, and sold him to a Jew of Medina. Salman worked in the
palm groves; it was his job to take care of the camel that turned the
wheel which brought water up from the sub-soil for distribution into
irrigation trenches. One day Salman was up at the top of a palm tree,
and he heard his master speaking down below. His master was saying
that a man had arisen in Mecca who was calling himself a Prophet.
Salman began to tremble all over; he became so agitated that he almost
fell on his master's head. He slid down the tree, and his owner struck
him, saying, "What is it to you?"
Baha'u'llah tells us in the Iqan: "...when the hour draweth nigh on
which the Day-star of the heaven of justice shall be made manifest, and
the Ark of divine guidance shall sail upon the sea of glory, a star will
appear in the heaven, heralding unto its people the advent of that most
great light. In like manner, in the invisible heaven a star shall be made
manifest who, unto the peoples of the earth, shall act as a harbinger of
that true and exalted Morn (62)...Likewise, ere the beauty of
Muhammad was unveiled, the signs of the visible heaven were made
manifest. As to the signs of the invisible heaven, there appeared four
men who successively announced unto the people the joyful tidings of
the rise of that divine Luminary. Ruz-bih, later named Salman, was
honoured by being in their service. As the end of one of these
approached, he would send Ruz-bih unto the other, until the fourth
who, feeling his death to be nigh, addressed Ruz-bih saving: "O Ruz-
bih! when thou hast taken up my body and buried it, go to Hijaz for
there the Day-star of Muhammad will arise. Happy art thou, for thou
shalt behold His face!." (65).
"... there was, immediately before the preaching of Mohammad, a
general feeling that a change was at hand; a prophet was expected, and
women were anxiously hoping for male children, if so be they might
mother the Apostle of God; and the more thoughtful minds, tinged with
traditions of Judaism, were seeking for what they called the 'religion of
Abraham.' These men were 'Hanifs,' or 'incliners'...." Lane-Poole,
Speeches and Table Talks of the Prophet Mohammad, xxiv-xxv.