Story of Mohammed - Edith Holland




The Pledge

Ten years had passed since Mohammed had been ordered to "Arise and Preach!" To the best of his power he had striven to obey what he believed to be his Lord's commands; but he had met with insults, ridicule, and such opposition as would have deterred any man not possessing a firm belief in the righteousness of his cause. This period of waiting is the most wonderful part of Mohammed's whole career; he had nothing to support him but his own faith in his cause, yet even when his prospects were darkest he never for a moment doubted that God would help him to accomplish the task He had given him. The extraordinary grit and endurance of Mohammed's nature were put to the utmost test during this time of trial and disappointment. There could have been no thought of worldly ambition in his mind, for Mohammed was a rich man, a member of the ruling tribe, and might have risen to a high position in the administration of his native town. He chose, however, to pursue a course which brought on him the enmity of the most powerful of the Meccan chiefs.

After Abu Talib's death the Prophet's opponents became bolder, and offered him such insults as they would not have dared during the Chief's lifetime. The people jeered at him and pelted him with dirt as he passed through the streets. When one of the Prophet's daughters wept to see her father so ill-used, he comforted her, saying, "Weep not, for truly the Lord will be thy father's helper." Life at Meccah became intolerable for Mohammed, and despairing of making any impression on his own countrymen, he began to think of planting the faith in some other place.

Mohammed in Mecca

MOHAMMED PELTED AND JEERED AT IN THE STREETS.


Eastward of Meccah, and distant about seventy miles, there is a city called Taif; might not the people of Taif be persuaded of the Truth, even though the Meccans refused to hear the Prophet who had been sent to them! It was scarcely a fortnight after Abu Talib's death that Mohammed set out to walk to Taif. He was accompanied by Zaid, whom I have mentioned as an adopted son of the Prophet, and one of the earliest converts to Islam. Mohammed left Meccah with a heavy heart. All his hopes and all his happiness seemed to be buried in his native city; those who had been closely bound to him by ties of affection and gratitude lay in their graves, while the hopes which had arisen in his heart of becoming the saviour of his people had been defeated. How long it seemed since he had wandered in the solitudes of Mount Hira, questioning his own soul, until convinced of his mission to preach! How he had laboured and striven to establish his cause, disregarding ease and wealth, and, when disheartened, supported by Khadijah's ready sympathy. The labours of those ten years seemed to have borne little fruit, when now, at the age of fifty, Mohammed was leaving his native town secretly, on foot, and all but a fugitive!

The first forty miles of the road from Meccah to Taif lie along barren and rocky valleys; great boulders are strewn along the path, and it is a long and weary climb to the heights of Mount Korah. Looking backward, the prospect is desolate in the extreme, but, where the road descends on the other side of the mountain chain, a very different picture meets the eye. Several streams flow from the summit of Mount Korah, fertilizing the lower ground, and here large sycamores, springing up between the granite rocks, give a pleasant shade, while figs, vines, apricots, peaches and pomegranates grow in abundance. What a contrast to the stony deserts round Meccah, and how must the weary spirits of the travellers have been refreshed by such a scene!

On arriving at Taif Mohammed went in search of the chief men of the place, and explained to them the mission on which he had come to their city. But he soon discovered that his hopes of persuading the men of Taif to support his cause were utterly vain.

There was at Taif a famous idol, Al-Lat; it was a large stone figure in the shape of a woman, and was covered with precious stones. This idol was supposed to be mysteriously inspired with life, and was regarded with great awe by the people of Taif. When they discovered the purpose of Mohammed's visit, they turned on him with fury, refusing to hear him speak, and finally drove him from their city by pelting him with stones. Both Zaid and the Prophet received severe wounds, and were forced to retreat, the mob pursuing them for about three miles across the sandy plain. Weary and dispirited, the fugitives rested in an orchard near some gardens which happened to belong to some of the Kuraysh. For several of the rich men of that tribe owned houses and gardens near Taif, which they used as summer resorts. It so happened that two of these men had seen the Prophet's wretched plight, and, having compassion on him, they sent him a dish of grapes by a Christian slave, who was much struck by Mohammed's noble resignation under the humiliating treatment he had just received.

The travellers now retraced their steps towards Meccah, but Mohammed dared not enter the city until he had been assured of the protection of one of the chiefs, for his position was more that of a hunted outlaw than a free citizen. While, therefore, Zaid went forward to arrange matters, Mohammed waited in the valley of Nakhla, midway between Meccah and Taif. Though there were a few houses in this valley, it was a wild and desolate spot, such a place as was believed by the Arabs to be haunted by Jinns, or spirits of fire. The Jinns were regarded as beings midway between men and angels; they were made of pure fire, while man was made of clay, but, like man, they could sin, and stood in need of salvation. When Mohammed rose during the night to pray and recite portions of the Koran, he believed himself surrounded by a great company of these spirits, who listened eagerly to his words. And the heart of the prophet was comforted in the thought that, though men refused to hear him, his message was understood by the spirits of fire.

After awhile Mohammed received word that one of the five chiefs who had declared the Ban at an end promised to protect him, and he therefore returned to Meccah. This Chief, who was of Mohammed's tribe, went, in full armour, to the Kaabah, mounted on his camel, and, in the presence of the leaders of the Kuraysh, pledged himself to protect the Prophet, and to avenge any injury that might be done to him. But notwithstanding this promise of protection, Mohammed enjoyed little security in his native town. The cause of Islam seemed wellnigh hopeless, and the Moslems remaining in Meccah (for many were still in Abyssinia) dared not practise their religion openly, as their enemies were too strong for them.

About this time Mohammed married a second wife, named Sauda, who was the widow of an Abyssinian emigrant. He was also betrothed to Ayesha, the daughter of his friend Abu Bakr, but, as she was still very young, the marriage did not take place till three years later.

When the prospects of Islam were at their darkest an incident occurred which inspired Mohammed with fresh hopes. It was during the time of the great pilgrimage that he fell into conversation with some pilgrims from Yathrib, a town, as you may remember, lying to the north of Meccah, and about 270 miles distant. It was to this town that Mohammed went with his mother when a young child. Several Jewish tribes were settled at Yathrib, so the Arabs who came in contact with them were familiar with a faith which taught the worship of One God, and condemned idolatry. They were therefore more inclined to look with favour on Mohammed's doctrines than were his own countrymen.

The fame of the Prophet who had so disturbed the peace of Meccah had been carried to Yathrib by the caravans that halted there on their way to Syria, so when the pilgrims met Mohammed in the Valley of Mina (close to Meccah) they were eager to hear what he had to say. Deeply impressed by the doctrine of the new faith, several professed themselves believers; but they told the Prophet that they could not invite him to come to their city, as, owing to constant feuds between the tribes, they would be unable to protect him. For Yathrib was at that time, in a state of unrest; the two chief tribes, the Aus and the Khazraj, were constantly at war with each other. The Jews sometimes took the side of the one, sometimes of the other, while the many jealousies between the rival tribes prevented their ever uniting under a single leader. In these circumstances Yathrib was not a place where the Prophet was likely to find a safe refuge, but the pilgrims promised to consult with their fellow-citizens, and they arranged to meet the Prophet the following year, at the time of Pilgrimage, to tell him how matters stood.

A year is a long time to wait for an event on which great issues depend, but in the East men are less impatient than we are, and Mohammed, who had already waited so many years, could well wait another, with fresh hopes to encourage him.

When the time of Pilgrimage came again, Mohammed went secretly to meet the men of Yathrib. It had been agreed that they should meet at a place called Al-Akabah in a narrow glen over-shadowed by high hills. Al-Akabah means The Steep, or the Mountain Road, and is situated to the north of Meccah, a little way off the caravan road to Yathrib.

How much depended on this interview! If the new converts should fail, a year would have been passed in vain expectations, and where could another refuge for the faith be found if the people of Yathrib should refuse to welcome the new doctrines! Then, however, Mohammed reached the appointed spot, he found twelve men of the Aus and the Khazraj tribes awaiting him. They reported well on the state of feeling towards Islam in Yathrib, and promised to do all in their power to spread the faith; it was agreed that they should meet the Prophet again the following year, at the same spot, to give an account of their progress.

Before the parties separated, the twelve men of Yathrib pledged their faith to Islam, solemnly promising to worship none but the one True God, to lead pure and virtuous lives, and obey the Prophet in all that was right. This was the First Pledge of Al-Akabah, or The Steep. It was afterwards called the "Women's Pledge," because there was no mention of fighting for the cause, and the profession of faith was the same as that made by women on joining Islam.

When we think of the great power of the Mohammedans in after years, it is interesting to call to mind this early profession of faith, made by the twelve devoted believers in the depths of a ravine where they were forced to hide for fear of discovery by their enemies.

When the new converts returned to Yathrib, Mohammed sent with them a young man named Musab, to teach them the doctrines of the Koran, and to lead them in their prayers. Musab, at one time known as the best-dressed man in Meccah, was a great grandson of Hashim, but his mother and her tribe were so bitterly opposed to the Prophet that his conversion to Islam was, at first, kept secret. When it became known, Musab was disowned by his mother and her family, and was forced to fly, with the first emigrants, to Abyssinia. On his return he appeared so changed by the hardships he had undergone that his mother had no longer the heart to upbraid him. Musab had but just returned from his exile when he was sent, as missionary, to Yathrib. In course of time other teachers were sent, and among them was Abdallah, the blind man of whom we have already heard.

In patience, and with a faith that never wavered, Mohammed awaited the next meeting with the men of Yathrib. He was encouraged, from time to time, by good accounts of the spread of the faith in the new city, for the band of believers was daily increasing. When the sacred month came round, Musab, who accompanied the Moslems to Meccah, sought out the Prophet to tell him the joyful news that a large company of the Faithful were waiting to meet him in the glen of Al-Akabah. The converts of Yathrib were now sufficiently numerous to invite the Prophet to come to their city and make it his home.

For fear of arousing the suspicions of the Kuraysh, it was arranged that the meeting in the glen should take place at midnight. The utmost secrecy was observed, and the Prophet was to be accompanied only by his uncle Abbas. Abbas was not, at this time, a believer, but, being anxious for his nephew's safety, he gave him his support on this occasion.

When night had descended, and the sounds of the city were hushed, the Moslems of Yathrib left their encampments, singly, or by twos and threes, so as not to attract attention, and crept cautiously along the stony valley towards the appointed place of meeting. The Prophet and his uncle were there before them, waiting in the dark shadow of the hill. \When all had assembled there were seventy-three men and two women, the twelve who had been present at the First Pledge of Akabah, the year before, being among the number.

Having enjoined silence, for fear of spies, Abbas now stood forward and addressed the assembly in a low voice. He besought the men of Yathrib to consider well before they invited his kinsman to their city, and not to deceive him by promising him protection unless they felt confident of being able to fulfil their promise; for his own clan, said Abbas, whether believers or no, would defend Mohammed from his enemies; "but," he added in conclusion, "if ye have counted the cost, and are resolved, so be it."

An aged chief of Yathrib, called Abu Bara, now came forward. "We are resolved," he said, "and will defend the Prophet with our lives."

Mohammed himself then addressed the assembly. Speaking of the blessings of Islam, he called upon all to join the cause and renounce idolatry. He would be content, he said, if the citizens of Yathrib would bind themselves to defend him and his followers as they would their own wives and children. This the "Seventy" were eager to do, and each man came forward in turn, and struck his hand on that of the Prophet in token of his oath; having repeated the words of the First Pledge, he bound himself, in addition, to defend the Prophet with his life.

One is filled with wonder at the enthusiasm inspired by Mohammed in the hearts of these early believers. Not by the promise of worldly gain, for the Moslems were, as yet, despised and oppressed, did the Prophet secure the devotion of those he converted to the faith of Islam; they must stake their all, and if they perished in the struggle, the joys of Paradise would be their reward.

The night was far advanced, and the assembly about to break up, when the silence was startled by a strange and piercing cry. Some said they were discovered by the spies of the Kuraysh, but Mohammed said it was the demon of Al-Akabah, the enemy of God, who sought to frustrate their schemes. Once again, at the battle of Uhud, were the Faithful to be scared by the voice of the Demon of Al-Akabah, crying, "Mohammed has fallen!"

Whatever was the explanation of that cry, it had the effect of hastily dispersing the assembly, and all hurried back to their several encampments as quickly as possible. Thus was achieved the Second or Great Pledge of Al-Akabah.

But in spite of all precautions, the Kuraysh got wind of the midnight meeting, and the following day, being the last of the Pilgrimage, they pursued the caravan returning to Yathrib; they only succeeded, however, in capturing one convert, whose hands they tied behind him, and they dragged him by his long hair back to Meccah. It required a good deal of courage to profess Mohammedanism in those early days, and the life of the convert was not one of ease and comfort.

After the Great Pledge of Al-Akabah the Kuraysh renewed their persecutions with so much severity that Mohammed advised all Moslems who could do so to fly to Yathrib.

Some were captured and imprisoned by the Kuraysh, but all who were free to go left the city. They locked up their houses and went quietly away, some of the streets being entirely deserted. For two months the emigration continued until none were left (except those who were imprisoned), but Mohammed and Abu Bakr with their families and Ali. These still remained—alone in the hostile city.