Last time the stage was set to explore the life of Mohammad. We learned two things. First, there is no really reliable source or sources of information about him. What follows is what is universally accepted by Muslim scholars. This is by no means exhaustive, since we are confining ourselves to why ISIS is so bloody in its actions, regarding even other Muslims not of their sectarian persuasion as heretics. Second, all Muslims, regardless of which sect to which they belong, regard Mohammad as the perfect man and blueprint for their own lives.
Mohammad was born in or about 570 AD, in what is now Mecca, 45 miles from the Red Sea on the Arabian Peninsula. Mecca was a minor trading center, origin point and pass through point for caravans carrying goods such as leather, cloth from wool, goat, and camel hair, livestock, and perhaps, figs.
Arabia at that time was not a unified state. It was peopled by various nomadic and semi-nomadic Bedouin tribes, along with a greater number of town and village residents who settled in and around locations where rainfall or other water sources could guarantee some success at farming. They and the tribes lived in a continual state of give-and-take. Tribes would raid or trade, depending on individual relationships with the various towns and each other.
By this time the Peninsula was the only area of the Near East that had not become dominated by the monotheism of the Jews, or the Christians of the Byzantine Empire, or even the Zoroastrianism of the Persians with whom some of the caravans traded. Mohammad became known as an hanif (pious one). This was someone whose neighbors gave him the term because that person had come to accept the ethical monotheism of the Jews and Christians, but did not actually join either community.
As did many hanif, Mohammad periodically retired to a cave to pray and meditate. His chosen time was the month of Ramadan, the time of the annual pagan pilgrimage to the Ka’bah. At that time he would seclude himself in a cave on Mount Hira. It was during one of these times, about 610AD, that the dreams and visions began. In the first one, Mohammad was commanded to read the writing on a brocaded blanket. Claiming confusion, he was admonished to read, three times, during which the angel pressed him, that is physically grabbed him and choked him. Fearing death, Mohammad finally read, and later claimed the next day that what he had read was now written on his heart.
It is from this point that the results of Mohammad’s supposed visions begin to go haywire. Mohammad’s first conversions were his then first, and at the time only, wife, Khadijah, and her cousin Waraqa, along with another cousin. They were followed by the couple’s two adopted sons and the four daughters. Then came three more cousins and one of their wives, Mohammad’s own aunt, his nurse as a child, his freed slave Umm Ayman, and his oldest friend, Abu Bakr. Bakr brought in five young men, all caravan merchants like him, and two of his freed slaves. Twenty-two in all, all close family and friends. Shortly after that, the number of converts reached seventy, most of them men under thirty. This latter group were people from among the richest families in Mecca.
Due to his insistence that Allah was the only deity Mohammad and his followers fled Mecca for Medina, 250 miles to the north. Mohammad had been invited to live there so he could arbitrate the bloody feuds between the clans in and around Medina. These clans also included three powerful Jewish clans. Mohammad was duly installed, and remained a resident of Medina for the rest of his days, eventually taking eleven wives and two concubines over the course of time, despite a revelation that the number of wives should be limited to no more than four (Sura 4, verse 3).
The seventy or so people who followed Mohammad to Medina did not prosper. So he organized them to rob caravans. He was painfully and repeatedly unsuccessful at first, so he kept trying, especially targeting caravans to and from his old hometown, Mecca. Eventually, he and his band became successful, at the cost of lives, goods, and sums of ransom money.
Even in Medina, where Mohammad was valued for his position as an arbitrator, he had been the object of some disbelief for his new religion, and therefore the object of some ridicule by the local poets/entertainers. Three poets in particular, were victims of his desire for revenge. Two were men, one an old man, another a woman. In all cases, Mohammad complained to his close followers of the burden of their verses. The woman was murdered first, while she slept, holding her infant. The old man was killed in his sleep. The second man was lured from his home, beheaded, and his head delivered to Mohammad as proof the deed had been done.
Nor did Mohammad’s hostility simply target individuals. Evidence suggests that he had gone to the Jews and Christians expecting to be received as their next prophet, but both groups failed to accept his status as such because his pronouncements conflicted with both the Old and New Testaments. Here are some examples. Surah 3, verse 71 claims that both groups knowingly conceal the truth by perverting Scripture. Surah 4, verse171 warns both not to exaggerate their religion or say anything about Allah but the truth, claiming Christ was just another messenger of Allah. Surah 5, verse 15 tells both that Mohammad has come to explain what they hid in their Scripture and that he is willing to forgive much. Surah 5, 18 is quite plain, “The Jews and Christians say: we are sons of Allah and his loved ones. Say: Why then does He chastise you for your sins?” Verse 33 threatens death, mutilation and exile, followed by worse after death. Surah 9, verse 73 tells Mohammad to fight with both, to be harsh. Their ultimate end is in hell.
Jews suffered first, in part because they were the oldest residents of Medina and controlled most of the fertile land in the area as well as dominating the skilled crafts, such as jewelers and goldsmiths. The final straw for those three clans of Arab converts to Judaism who lived in Medina came when they refused to participate with Mohammad in the Battle of Badr. So in the same month when the second poet was murdered, Mohammad went after the weakest of the three Jewish clans. He besieged them in their fortified tower. When they surrendered at last, he would have had them all killed. But his followers convinced him to let the Jews leave if they left behind all they owned. Mohammad took a 20% cut.
Mohammad went after the second clan of converts with similar results. But when he went after the third tribe, matters took a much different course. Mohammad besieged the last Jewish clan, the Banu Qurayza. This time his bloodlust was not satisfied until all the men of the tribe, between 600 to 900 men, were lined up beside huge trenches and beheaded. The women and children were sold as slaves, except the woman he took as a concubine. Scholars, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, do not doubt that the fate of the tribe was completely in Mohammad’s hands. He could have spared them if he wished, but his claim of being merciful did not hold up. It was genocide, plain and simple.
There is a lot more that could be detailed with references, but now is not the time. Suffice to say that Mohammad laid the blueprint. It was built upon by one of his successors, Umar, the second after Mohammad. Umar came up with the concept of Jizya, a special tax for non-believers which was supposed to guarantee their safety, under certain degrading conditions. The non-Muslim has no say in the conditions regarding that tax, who sets it, its amount, frequency of payment, or what constitutes an acceptable form of payment. Nor is the Jizya ever levied on a Muslim.
But the final words are really Mohammad’s. “If we so willed, we could have brought every soul its true guidance, but the word from me will come true: I will fill Hell with demons and men altogether.” Surah 32: 13