Story of Mohammed - Edith Holland




The Submission of Taif

During the time that Mohammed was in Meccah he ordered the destruction of several shrines of idolatry in the neighbourhood. Khalid, with a party of armed men, overthrew the temple of a famous Meccan goddess in the valley of Nakhla, and other chiefs were sent out to destroy the idols of some of the tribes who had become Moslems. The people of Taif (the city in which Mohammed had once tried to plant the Faith) began to fear for their great image, Al-Lat, for which they had a special devotion. Determined to strike a blow for their ancient religion, they called all their allies to their help, and the combined forces assembled in great numbers near the valley of Hunain, between Meccah and Taif.

The Prophet had arrived in Meccah at the head of ten thousand men. To these were now added two thousand newly-converted Meccans, so the army which marched out to meet the men of Taif and their allies numbered twelve thousand. But this imposing army came very near to being defeated. The Thakifites (as the people of Taif were called) concealed themselves among the rough rocks overlooking a steep and narrow pass at the entrance to the valley of Hunain. Here they waited in silence until they saw the Moslems enter the pass, when they rushed headlong upon them, taking them completely by surprise. The suddenness of the attack in the uncertain light of dawn produced a panic among the Moslem troops, cramped in the narrow space between the steep walls of the mountain. They fled in disorder down the pass, and the camels, taking fright, were jammed across the narrow gorge. All was confusion and clamour, and few heeded the voice of the Prophet, calling on his men to rally. Among those who stood by him were Abbas, Ali, Omar and Abu Bakr. Abbas, who had a powerful voice, cried aloud, "Ye citizens of Medinah, ye men of the Pledge of the Tree!" This call, repeated again and again, reached the ears of the fugitives and brought to their minds the oath they had sworn, to defend the Prophet with their lives. A hundred of his devoted disciples fought their way to his side, others followed their example, and by degrees the whole army rallied and faced the enemy. The fighting was very severe, but in the end the Moslems triumphed; the men of Taif fled and were pursued with great slaughter. The whole of the enemy's camp, containing all the women and children, fell into the hands of the Moslems, who captured six thousand prisoners and much spoil, including twenty-four thousand camels and forty thousand sheep and goats. The prisoners and the spoil were sent to the valley of Ji'irranah to await distribution.

Meanwhile the Prophet led his army on to Taif, and laid siege to the city. It was very strongly fortified, and there was no lack of water and provisions within the walls. The defenders were skilled archers, and the showers of arrows, with which they assailed the Moslems, darkened the sky like clouds of locusts. When an attempt was made to undermine the walls the citizens flung down balls of red-hot iron from the battlements. Finding he could make no impression on the besieged city, Mohammed, as a last resource, ordered the beautiful vineyards surrounding the city of Taif to be cut down. But the inhabitants sent him such an earnest appeal to spare their vineyards, "for the sake of mercy and of God," that he relented, and stopped the work of destruction. The Moslems were encamped about a month before Taif, but the city showed no signs of surrender, so Mohammed withdrew his army and abandoned the siege.

From Taif the Moslems marched to the valley of Ji'irranah, where the prisoners and the spoil taken in the battle of Hunain had been sent. Some of the prisoners had known the Prophet when, as a child, he had lived in the tents of a wandering desert tribe, and among the women was one who claimed to be his foster-sister. Her name was Al-Shaima, or "the woman with a mark," for she had a mark on her shoulder which she declared had been made by Mohammed when he had once bitten her as she carried him on her hip. The Prophet recognized the little girl who had played with him and carried him about as a young child, and he talked affectionately to her of those early days. She was at once released and sent back to her kindred with a handsome present.

Seeing his kindness to his old playmate, the prisoners sent a petition to the Prophet, begging that they might be set free. "We have known thee as a little child," they said, "then as a noble youth and now that thou hast attained to such power and dignity be merciful to us." Mohammed could not resist this touching appeal, and generously consented to release all the prisoners.

The flocks and herds and various spoil were now distributed among the soldiers. Mohammed gave handsome presents to the chiefs of Meccah, some of whom received as many as a hundred camels apiece. So liberal was he to his old enemies that the men of Medinah felt themselves slighted, and said one to another, "He has joined his own people and has forsaken us." Mohammed was grieved when he heard of these murmurings among his faithful followers. "Ye Helpers," he said to them, "why are ye disturbed because I have sought to gain over the hearts of these men? Are ye not satisfied that they should have the flocks and herds, while ye have the Prophet of the Lord with you? I will never leave you—if all men were to go one way, and the men of Medinah another, I would follow the men of Medinah. The Lord bless them and their sons for ever." The people were touched at the words of the Prophet, and many wept, while they cried out with one voice, "We are well satisfied, O Prophet!" Soon after these events Mohammed, having appointed i governor over Meccah, led his army back to Medinah.

As the conqueror of Meccah, Mohammed was acknowledged to be the chief ruler in Arabia, and many tribes, even in the most distant parts of the peninsula, sent deputations to make their submission. Envoys travelled from Yemen in the south, Oman on the Persian Gulf, from the borders of Syria and Persia, to make treaties with the great chief whose fame had already spread afar. For Mohammed had founded, not a religion only, but an empire; in uniting the scattered desert tribes by the ties of a common faith he made of them a nation, and laid the foundation of the great Saracen empire, which was to play so great a part in the world's history.

The envoys who came to Medinah were received in the courtyard of the mosque, which served as hall of audience, and was the place where all affairs of state were discussed. Though Mohammed had attained to so much power, he continued to live the simple life of an Arab. The humble row of dwellings which he had built for his wives along the eastern side of the mosque served him for a palace, while his crown was the turban worn by his ancestors. But though he had neither crown nor palace, no man was ever more a king in the hearts of his people. Omar, thinking that the Prophet should be royally adorned when receiving deputations, suggested that he should buy a silk robe to wear on these occasions, but Mohammed refused to make any change in his habits. The simplicity of the Prophet's mode of life is a great contrast to the luxury and splendour of some of the later Khalifs.

The greater number of the tribes of Arabia had now acknowledged the supremacy of Mohammed; some of these had been converted to Islam, and others had made treaties agreeing to pay tribute to the Apostle of God. So many deputations were sent to Medinah during the ninth year since the Flight, that this year came to be called the "Year of Deputations." The city of Taif was one of the few that still held aloof.

Shortly after Mohammed's return to Medinah, a chief of Taif, named Urwah, had come to visit the Prophet to inquire into the doctrines of Islam. He retuned to his city a Moslem, and determined to convince his countrymen of their error in persisting in the worship of idols. The people of Taif, obstinate as ever in their devotion to Al-Lat, fell upon Urwah and stoned him; and he died thanking God for the honour of martyrdom. Whether through remorse at having slain Urwah, or because they suffered from the opposition of neighbouring tribes, who were now all believers, the Thakifites decided to enter into an agreement with Mohammed. They therefore sent six of their chief men to Medinah to arrange a treaty. The Prophet had just returned from an expedition to Syria when the envoys from Taif arrived. Having heard rumours of a Roman invasion, Mohammed had led a large army to Tabuk, a town near the Syrian border; but the rumour proved to be false, and the army returned to Medinah, having suffered much through the heat and want of water. This was the last campaign undertaken by the Prophet.

The chiefs of Taif were kindly received by Mohammed, who pitched a tent for them just outside the mosque, and in the evenings, after supper, he used to go and sit with them to discuss their affairs. He was not long in convincing them of the truth of the doctrines of Islam; but though the six chiefs believed, the people of Taif, they said, would never consent to the destruction of their great idol. Mohammed replied that the worship of the True God could not exist side by side with the worship of idols, and that if the people of Taif wished to join his standard Al-Lat must be destroyed at once. The chiefs begged that the idol might at any rate remain standing for three years, during which time the people could be instructed in the new faith; but Mohammed would not consent to this. The chiefs then pleaded that two years might be allowed to pass before the destruction of the idol, but this request was also refused. "Then give us one year," they said; "six months—one month"; but Mohammed would make no compromise. Seeing that the Prophet was firmly resolved, the chiefs of Taif agreed, though unwillingly, to have the great idol destroyed without delay. They next begged that the Thakifites might be excused the five daily prayers and the frequent washings, for they feared the people would find these observances a burden. Mohammed said that there could be no true religion without prayer, and that the people of Taif must do as the other Moslems did. One more request the chiefs made before taking their departure, and that was that they should not be obliged to destroy the image with their own hands. So Abu Sufyan and Mughirah, a nephew of the martyr Urwah, were sent with them to overthrow the great goddess of Taif.

A strange scene took place on the return of the chiefs to their native city. Mughirah, carrying a pick-axe, and surrounded by a guard of armed men, made his way to the temple of the goddess. The people had assembled in great numbers, and the women uttered loud lamentations, fearing that some terrible catastrophe would follow the overthrow of Al-Lat. All held their breath in anxious suspense as the first stroke of the axe descended upon the figure of the goddess. Before long the image was hacked in pieces, and the people looked on the scattered fragments of the object of their worship.

Thus did Taif at length make her submission. This city had been one of the greatest strongholds of idolatry, and the people gave their allegiance to Islam unwillingly, and more from reasons of state than from religious motives. As time passed, however, the memory of the old gods faded, and "falsehood fled away; verily falsehood is a fleeting thing."