Rageh Omaar presents a series charting the life of The Prophet Muhammad. Omaar assesses key events in Muhammad's life including the eight-year war with the Meccan tribes.
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1,400 years ago, a man born here in Mecca, in Saudi Arabia,
changed the course of world history.
If you had to rate the top people in the history of the world as leaders,
the name of Muhammad would be in the top three.
Here we have a man who began a mission. He gave light to the world.
For one and a half billion Muslims, he is the last and greatest
of that long line of prophets who've brought the word of God to humanity.
He was not just a spiritual genius
but he also had political gifts of a very high order.
He laid the foundations for a religion, Islam,
that after his death developed a culture and civilisation that spread
around the world and inspired some of the most beautiful architecture.
But today, Islam is at the very heart
of the conflict that defines our world,
and Muhammad's name
is associated with some of the most appalling acts of terrorism
the world has ever seen.
Osama Bin Laden and others who have committed acts of Jihad terrorism,
consistently invoke the Qur'an
and Muhammad's example to justify what they are doing.
Obedience to one true God, Allah, and follow in the footsteps
of the final Prophet and messenger, Muhammad.
Outside of the Islamic world
almost nothing is known about Muhammad,
whereas for Muslims he is the ultimate role model
and his life is known in every detail.
So who was he? What was his message?
And why are so many people, Muslims and non-Muslims,
divided over his legacy?
In this groundbreaking series, I will explore
the many complexities of his life story...
about the Revelations he is said to have received from God,
about his many wives, about his relations with
the Jews of Arabia, about his use of war and peace
and about the laws that he enacted when he set up his own state.
I want to examine his life and times and understand
how they still affect today's world,
and whether they are a force for good or evil.
I want to uncover the real Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam,
peace be upon him.
Muhammad was born in Mecca in the year 570
into the ruling tribe of the city, the Quraysh.
At the age of 40, according to Muslim tradition,
he received a blinding revelation from God, the first of many
that would change not just his life, but the history of the world.
This is THE defining moment in Muhammad's life.
And today, for the one and a half billion people
all around the world who follow him,
completely accepting his revelation
defines what it means to be a Muslim.
Muhammad's Revelations would become the Sacred Text of Islam
the Qur'an literally 'the recitation'.
The Orthodox Muslim position is that it is God himself
who was the author of the Qur'an
and Muhammad was just the person to whom it was first revealed.
When he started preaching, Muhammad had quickly attracted
a small band of followers, but they were now under threat of death
from the rulers of Mecca who controlled the Ka'aba,
a shrine that housed the many Gods of Arabia.
They feared that Muhammad's message that there was only one true God,
would destroy the importance of the Ka'aba
and in turn lead to Mecca's economic and political ruin.
By 620, Muhammad had also just lost two of his greatest supporters,
his loyal wife of 25 years, Khadija,
and his clan protector, his uncle Abu Talib.
He had reached one of the lowest points of his life.
But it was at this moment that he had another extraordinary
spiritual experience that would transform his life.
According to Muslim tradition, one night,
after falling asleep at the Ka'aba in Mecca,
Muhammad was transported on a metaphysical journey to a place
hundreds of miles north,
a city that is also holy to Christians and Jews - Jerusalem.
What would become known as Muhammad's Night Journey
would establish Jerusalem in Muslim eyes as a sacred city,
a place of devotion and pilgrimage, second only to Mecca and Medina.
It's one of the main reasons why today,
Jerusalem is at the heart of the Middle Eastern conflict.
The conflict between Israeli and the Palestinians is a struggle
between two peoples over the same piece of land.
But why is it that this issue
has become such a defining cause across the Muslim world,
and why is it that the call for the liberation of Jerusalem,
a city 800 miles from Muhammad's birth place,
has become such a rallying cry for so many Muslims?
-Jerusalem is very important to Muslims
because it represents
a part of our creed and faith.
The first event was the Night Journey
and Ascension to Heaven -
when God sent Muhammad to his night journey
from Mecca to Jerusalem
and ascended him from Jerusalem to the heavens.
According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad is awoken during the night
by the Angel Gabriel who lifts him up onto a winged horse
called al-Buraq, and he is then miraculously
transported across the desert to Jerusalem.
And it's from this point that Muhammad begins
one of the most powerful
and extraordinary experiences of his life.
He's taken on a journey were he meets all the past prophets
from Abraham to Moses and even Jesus,
and he prays with all of the prophets.
He is then offered water, wine or milk to drink
and he chooses milk,
in order to signify the middle path he is trying to steer through life.
And then, a celestial ladder appears and Muhammad begins
a mystical ascent through the seven heavens where he is eventually
taken to the heavenly throne itself and is spoken to by God himself.
To modern, rational ears, it's an incredible story,
but for Muslims, it is one of the most important events
in Muhammad's life. Whether it can be seen
as a literal physical journey or a spiritual experience,
has divided believers and non-believers alike.
-This was a miracle.
and the miracle is part of the faith.
It does not have any scientific explanation
and it is against what is normal.
We believe it because it is said in the Qur'an
and in the honourable quotes of the Prophet.
I think very deeply that it was a spiritual journey
and the meaning of it is in fact that he went to Jerusalem
and then he went very close to the one God, the creator.
This is actually the shrine inside the rock which is covered by
the famous gold dome Mosque known as the Dome of the Rock.
And it's exactly from this point where the Prophet Muhammad
is said to have gone on his night journey.
Now for some people, it was and is, a literal physical journey
in which the Prophet Muhammad travelled,
in the blink of an eye, from Mecca,
800 miles away, all the way here to Jerusalem, but for other people
the Night Journey is actually symbolic, it's a spiritual journey,
in which the Prophet's soul enters a new realm of divine revelation.
It was highly important, symbolically,
because in this night journey, the Prophet Muhammad leads
Moses, Abraham, Noah, Jesus, Jacob, all the prophets, he leads them
in prayer and God speaks with Muhammad. And in this discourse,
God orders upon the Prophet and upon all the Muslims
the single most important action
that a Muslim has to perform - the five daily prayers.
You look for it in the Qur'an
and you find three little mentions,
but the whole story about the Prophet going, flying on al-Buraq,
going to meet the previous prophets, going to Jerusalem, being given
instructions about the five daily prayers,
all of this journey to heaven, journey to the glimpse
of the edge of the uttermost throne of God
has all been added on later to build up this sort of wonderful,
cosmological gift to the Islamic world, but it's not in the Qur'an.
The history of religion is embellishment and interpretation.
How many times should it be in the Qur'an?
That it is in the Qur'an is what is significant.
Muhammad's Night Journey to Jerusalem
and his Ascension to Heaven when he meets all the past prophets
dating back to Abraham, so familiar to Jews and Christians,
is a crucial moment in his life.
For Muslims, it is a confirmation,
an acceptance by these other prophets,
and even God himself, that Muhammad is the last in the long line of men
who have brought the word of God to humanity, and that Islam
and its followers were also a part of the ancient Abrahamic tradition.
It was also an indication that Muhammad was now prepared to leave
his tribal past behind him and bring his message to the wider world.
The Prophet's Night Journey goes away from tribalism,
it finishes not with the tribe but with an embrace of humanity
and an abandonment
of the tribal spirit and a reaching out to others.
That's the theological meaning
of what's happening.
Because of what happened just behind me,
Jerusalem is considered by Muslims
to be the third holiest shrine in Islam, after Mecca and Medina.
And because this city continues to be under Israeli control,
that's why Jerusalem continues to be such a potent symbol
for Muslims around the world.
Muhammad's Night Journey was a seminal moment.
It marked the ending of one period of his life
and the beginning of another.
He was about to begin a new and even more dangerously radical phase
of his mission in which he would abandon his tribal life completely.
Rather than trying to defeat the Quraysh in Mecca,
he would leave the city and start again somewhere else.
One day, in a place here, which used to be a small oasis,
Muhammad met a group of men from the town of Yathrib,
which is about 15 days' camel ride to the north.
The men told Muhammad about the warfare and the constant feuding
that affected their community. Muhammad listened to them
and for his part, he told them about his mission about the unity of God,
about the importance of living a virtuous live
and of the rewards of Heaven.
Now importantly, the men sat
and were even excited by what Muhammad had to say.
And this was important, because it was completely different to
the reaction that Muhammad was used to getting in Mecca.
The meeting ended with the six men from Yathrib converting to Islam
and agreeing to meet Muhammad once again.
Conditions had now got so bad in Mecca for Muhammad,
he felt that he had no choice
but to get his followers to do the unthinkable,
to abandon the city of their birth for Yathrib and an uncertain future
in a place where they would live without any clan protection.
The community in Yathrib
was made up of a number of different tribes,
some of them were pagan, the Aws and Khazraj, some of them were Jewish.
There were three main Jewish tribes.
And there was a lot of disagreement in fact
in Yathrib between the communities about how they wanted to do things,
there was sort of a lot of jostling for power and prestige
and they felt that they needed a mediator.
And they had heard about Muhammad who at that time was a preacher in Mecca,
growing reputation in that part of the peninsula and perceived in him
someone who could perhaps mediate in their disputes
and be a sort of neutral arbiter
and come and help them resolve the problems within Yathrib.
It wasn't till the following year that an even bigger delegation
came all the way from Yathrib
seeking out another meeting with the Prophet Muhammad. And this time
they held it under cover of darkness and in secret,
and it led to a unity between the two,
between the Prophet Muhammad and the community in Yathrib,
"I am of you and you are of me," Muhammad said.
Now this agreement, it's important to bear in mind,
was something really new, something that was a radical departure
because it wasn't based on clan alliances,
on family or on tribal allegiances.
It was based on something far more universal
that went way beyond kinship.
It is an act of extraordinary daring,
audacity and genius in a sense.
In Arabia at this time it was absolutely unheard of
to leave your tribe, your blood group, permanently,
and take up permanent residence with another.
It was blasphemy. The sacred tribe
was the most, the absolute value in Arabia,
and for him to leave it like that
and create a new kind of community, an 'Ummah',
a community based on ideology rather than relationship, was unheard of.
If the rulers of Mecca got wind of Muhammad's plans,
the consequences could be disastrous.
So Muhammad now had to get his followers out of the city
without alerting the Quraysh.
Over the next few months,
a few of Muhammad's companions left the city each night,
so as not to arouse any suspicions
until finally only a handful were left,
including his faithful companion
Abu Bakr, his young cousin Ali and Muhammad himself.
Meanwhile, the Quraysh themselves had been planning this time
to assassinate Muhammad himself.
The idea was that one member of each of Mecca's clans
would stab Muhammad at the same time,
making it impossible for Muhammad's own clan to revenge his death
as too many people would have been involved.
One night, the group surrounded his house
and believing they saw someone sleeping in Muhammad's bedroom,
the assassins with their daggers drawn rushed into his bedroom.
But instead they found his young cousin Ali asleep in his place.
Muhammad had fled.
He's a very canny man.
They were going to kill him, and this assassination plot
that he escaped from and goes on a wonderful journey with Abu Bakr.
The thing I like is that he made certain
that everybody paid their debts. They were leaving Mecca
but every debt had to be fulfilled,
there's an underlying Arabic code of honour feeding the division.
Along with Abu Bakr, Muhammad had slipped out of Mecca unnoticed.
He was now en route to his new home in Yathrib.
Even though Muhammad had fled,
the Meccans were really determined to pursue him
and within hours they were hot on his trail
and they chased him all the way through the punishing, steep climb
on the foothills of Mount Thawr.
But by the time they reached the top, there was no Muhammad
and there was none of his footprints.
Eventually the Meccans just had to give up
and go all the way back down to Mecca.
But all this while, unknown to them,
Muhammad and his companion, Abu Bakr,
had been hiding in a cave at the top of Mount Thawr.
And when the coast was clear,
they just simply continued on their journey towards Yathrib.
It was now 622 AD and Muhammad was in his early fifties.
He had grown up in Mecca as an orphan.
He had experienced some of the wider world
with his uncle on many caravan trading trips.
He been married and had a family.
He had received a series of divine revelations,
but had been rejected by his own tribe.
For over ten years, he and his small band of about 200 followers
had suffered extreme humiliation and persecution.
Finally, with people plotting to assassinate him,
he had fled his home, to a place completely unknown to him.
This event became known as the Hijrah,
literally a 'cutting off' from the past.
There was now no way back for Muhammad and his new movement.
He went as a preacher.
He didn't go as a conqueror, they said, "Come here
"and be our judge. We're not going to accept you as prophet of god,
"we'll accept you as a prophet. A revered man whose word we trust."
He didn't come with a conquering army,
he came as a refugee as an exile, as a dignified man of respect.
Muhammad was preaching Islam
in Mecca for 13 years.
He only had 150 followers, max.
He was a very good calculator, he knew
if he fought them from inside Mecca he was going to lose.
He left at the right time because he wanted to expand his message
and he went to the perfect location where he can actually hurt
the Mecca people and conquer Mecca from outside, not from inside.
The Hijrah, or migration from Mecca to Yathrib, is the turning point,
if you like, in Muhammad's life.
The Hijrah is so important in Muhammad's life
and the history of Islam itself, that the year in which it took place
is the starting point for the traditional Islamic calendar.
All Islamic religious festivals and events are still fixed
using this calendar,
dating back to the moment Muhammad left Mecca in 622 AD.
I think it's of great theological significance that this marks
the beginning of the Muslim era.
The Muslim era does not begin as the Christian era with the birth
of the Prophet but with the date of the Hijrah.
This break with the tribal spirit is being undertaken.
When Muhammad and his followers first came here,
what they found was nothing like the city of Mecca they had left.
Yathrib, as it was then known, was basically a large oasis,
a series of villages each village dominated by a different tribe.
It was a situation that inevitably led to
intense rivalries and conflicts.
Yathrib would later have its name changed in honour of Muhammad.
It became known as Madinah-tun-Nabi, The City Of The Prophet,
or Medina for short.
They arrived with nothing.
And they immediately had to integrate themselves
from being a great trading Meccan aristocracy,
to being poor, penniless, wearing the rags of their clothing
in a very, very wealthy oasis full of its own wealth hierarchies.
They ground corn, they wove mats and they fitted in.
When Muhammad came to Medina what kind of a place was Medina?
OK, Medina at that time was not a complete city,
it was what you call sub communities...
A collection of different tribes and communities?
Yes, the centre of Medina was where the Prophet
-and the main of al'Ansars.
-The people of Medina,
and then you have people in Quba,
you have people in Al-Qiblatain and then you have the Jew -
east of Medina - and also in the south of Medina, so you have tribes
but as a general they call it Medina.
Muhammad's new-found freedom allowed him to build his own mosque.
It became almost an extension of his own home.
Tell me about when the Prophet Muhammad
built his first mosque here in Medina.
He found the land in the centre of Medina and he built this mosque.
But this mosque, the model that you have here,
is very different from the one that is in Medina now
which is one of the biggest and the grandest mosques in the world,
this is very simple.
Yeah, because at that time, try to imagine talking about 14 centuries
before, the building was very simple, about 55 metre by 35 metre,
but it was similar to the building around Medina which was built
by mud and also stones in foundation
and palm trees so they can cover part of the mosque
and they make an open area in the back of the mosque.
Now, that same mosque has been transformed into this,
one of the biggest in the world, able to hold
up to half a million worshippers at any one time.
Muhammad used his mosque like a community centre.
He not only preached here,
but also made it his office where he could settle disputes,
hold negotiations and have public debates.
Everyone was free to enter and speak with him -
Jews, Christians, non-believers, even slaves.
Above all, he and his followers could now come to the Mosque
and worship in relative peace.
But they faced one practical problem.
There was no effective means to tell people when it was time to pray.
According to tradition, one day, the Prophet Muhammad gathered
everyone here in the courtyard of his mosque where they wanted
to discuss how the faithful should be called to prayer.
Should it be like the Christians at the time using bells,
or the Jews who used a horn, or should it be something else
like using fire beacons?
Eventually after much discussion, it was decided that the new religion
of Islam should be proclaimed with the human voice itself.
CALL TO PRAYER IN TRANSLATION:
The man Muhammad picked
as the first person to announce the call for prayers
was a very symbolic choice. Bilal, a freed African slave who had endured
the most brutal persecution in Mecca.
In Muhammad's time,
slavery existed all over Arabia and although he never abolished it,
Muhammad and his companions did free slaves like Bilal.
Every day, Bilal would climb to the rooftop of the Mosque
and in a loud voice he would call the faithful to prayer.
This call to prayer has since become an integral part of Muslim life.
Although the words used are the same the world over,
each call has a distinctive sound, characteristic to its place.
The Mosque and its later distinctive tower or minaret
would become one of the most identifiable Islamic symbols.
A mosque is not just
a place of worship.
A mosque is a focal point of community,
it is a place where the transformative mission of Islam
must be put into practice by services for the needy,
services for the community,
services to help people to achieve the objectives of Islam,
it's a centre for education - that's what a mosque should be,
it's not what an awful lot of mosques are today,
and the other thing is that mosques have to be welcoming, open places
not just for Muslims, because the transformative mission,
the social objectives of Islam,
don't belong just to Muslims they are for everybody.
But Muhammad was now not only the Prophet of a new religion,
he was also effectively the political leader
of the community here in Medina,
and he fused these two roles right here
in the courtyard of his mosque where he spent most of his days.
Now, as his role grew, Muhammad decided that what he really needed
was an agreement that would not only formalise his role in Medina
but also his relationship with the various tribes.
It became known as the Constitution of Medina and is thought to be
one of the earliest written constitutions anywhere in the world.
This was the first attempt in Arabia to form a state
based not on tribal ties but mutual interest.
To do it, Muhammad had to win over
the trust of both the pagan and Jewish tribes
and make them work with each other
and with his newly arrived Muslim community.
Prince Hassan bin Talal of the Jordanian Royal Family
is an expert on the Constitution of Medina.
The constitution was necessary for the establishment
of a new diversity in Medina, that is to say
Muslims, Jews, Christians.
So it organised the relationship between Muslims, Jews and non-Muslims
on the basis of recognition of the importance of respecting the lives,
the properties, the places of worship
and in particular, ultimately,
respecting the relationship between the descendants of Abraham.
It regulated rights and obligations - in a sense it was a Magna Carta,
if you will, of the Muslims.
In the case of Medina, this was not a religious state.
On the contrary, it was a civil state
and the government and the people were subject to the rule of law,
which recognised their respective rights
and encouraged them to live together.
No complete copies of the original document have survived
and although a number of versions are found in early Muslim sources
written about a hundred years after Muhammad's death,
some historians doubt its very existence.
Was there a treaty of Medina?
We only know this from one set of sources, which had
their particular biases, their particular agendas.
There are some historians who are of the view that there wasn't
a constitution at all, there wasn't a treaty,
but this was something made up subsequently.
The historian's job in those circumstances
is extremely difficult.
According to the Muslim chroniclers,
there certainly was a treaty and there was a constitution.
Incidentally, if you look at the constitution
there is nothing in it that would surprise you
if you immersed yourself in the political sociology of that period.
It is absolutely unsurprising.
Thank you very much.
The Arabic used in it is archaic. There is every reason to assume
that this is a surviving document
from that period and it deals, essentially,
with exactly the sort of practical things that you would imagine.
What is going to be the position of Muhammad with regard to the tribes of Medina,
with regard to the property of the people of Medina and so on?
It's a very... it's not a blueprint for an empire.
'The Constitution of Medina is the earliest known model'
of governance in Islam and it clearly lays out the duties
and the rights of citizens,
as well as responsibilities of those that govern them.
For example, it clearly does away with
the whole customary practice of vengeance
and the practice of private justice, and establishes the rule of law.
This constitution, all the tribes of Medina they sign it together.
Including the Jews, including the pagans...
Including everyone, everyone.
They sign it to call what they call it Ummah...
Yeah, everyone is responsible for the protection of Medina,
and they are equal against the law.
They run a complete state with all its law.
For example, if any two Jews fight each other,
they will come to the Prophet
and he will judge them not according to Islamic law, to the Jews' law.
There is a complete court - everything is there as a state,
So he built what you call it a complete civilised state in Arabia.
The interesting thing about the constitution of Medina is that
it recognised that all these people,
pagan Arabs as well as the Muslims, the Ansar and the Muhajirun,
and the Christians in that city
were part of the same Ummah, of the same nation.
Nowadays, of course, Muslims often use the term Ummah to mean
the Muslim community, but that is not how it was used
in that very first constitution of an Islamic state.
So when people today say to me, "We would like to create
"an Islamic state here or there," I say to them,
"Will it be like the first one in Medina or not?
"And if not, why not?"
Although it survived throughout his lifetime,
after his death, Muhammad's Constitution of Medina
was first changed and, later,
completely discarded by later Muslim leaders.
This is one of the worst problems that we have today.
To me, the most important part of the example of the Prophet
and the message of the Qur'an is the acceptance of plurality,
the need for and the realisation that there are many faiths,
many ways and all capable of being a community, an Ummah, together.
I think Muslims marginalise this message.
I think they fail to hold it as the central principle of social existence
and by doing that, they actually defy the example of the Prophet.
Muhammad and his followers had arrived in Medina penniless.
And although they were now free of the daily persecution
they faced in Mecca, their enemies still sought to destroy them.
In tribal Arabia, vengeance was a very powerful motive.
The Muslims in Medina now faced a threat to their very existence.
The much more powerful Meccans, who had driven Muhammad out,
persecuted his followers by taking their property
and their very means of survival, were still plotting to destroy them.
Muhammad had to find a way over their enmity and fast.
Then, according to Muslim tradition,
Muhammad received a series of revelations
urging him and his followers to fight back
against those who had expelled them from their homes.
The exact interpretation of these verses
has remained highly controversial ever since.
Some have seen them as the validation for a "just war",
the occasional necessity to fight in self-defence,
whereas others have seen them as a justification for the killing
of anyone who doesn't accept Muhammad's message.
The revelation that is in the Qur'an in chapter 2, verse 191,
and again at 218, that persecution is worse than slaughter...
In other words, if the Quraysh are persecuting you, it's all right
for you to slaughter them,
which leads to a kind of elasticity of Islamic morality
without any absolute other than what is good for Islam is good
and any kind of moral principle otherwise can be set aside.
And so that as the basis of warfare
and also Muhammad's oft-repeated dictum, "war is deceit"
which is found in numerous Hadith,
it unfortunately lays the groundwork for a culture
that is often quite martial and belligerent
toward its neighbours and others.
The permission is only this, in the Qur'an -
you are under oppression,
the people are attacking you, you have the right to resist,
so this is why from the mainstream classical legal Islamic tradition,
it's the, you know, the defensive, what we call the defensive jihad,
which is - you are oppressed,
you can resist this oppression in the name of your rights.
So all the people and some of the Muslim groups
who are using these verse to say
"We can kill and this is a carte blanche for war," are wrong,
this is not what is said in the verse, the verse here
is they are attacking you, you have the right to resist
because at the end of the day, it's a question of survival.
Muhammad and his followers were engaged in a battle for survival.
He saw these revelations as justification to attack the Quraysh
where it hurt most -
their caravan trade with the outside world.
During March 624, the Prophet heard about an exceptionally large
Quraysh caravan returning from Syria back to Mecca.
He decided to capture the caravan in the desert.
For their part, the Quraysh had anticipated Muhammad might do this
and so diverted the caravan away from Medina
and instead, sent an army to intercept him.
The two sides met here, at a remote watering hole in the desert
And the two forces,
the force coming from Mecca and Muhammad's force coming from Medina,
meet up at the well of Badr.
There is a confrontation that probably only lasts a few hours,
between certainly less than 1,000 people,
probably 300 or 400 on Muhammad's side.
Possibly up to 900 on the Meccan side.
We're always told that the Meccans are more numerous than the Muslims,
but we've no real method of knowing
whether that's historical reality or not.
What was actually happening in the battle between
Mecca and Medina
in a sense, the Prophet in exile at Medina, was an ideological battle.
We think - we don't know for certain because it didn't happen -
we suspect that if the Meccans had won they would have
exterminated the heretics, as they saw them, the Muslims,
because they were too much of a threat.
The Meccans were defeated
and the threat to Medina was temporarily lifted.
Round one in this struggle for dominance
between Mecca and Medina went to Muhammad.
By modern standards, this was hardly a battle, more a skirmish.
But its significance was massive.
It was the first time that Muhammad
and his followers had gone to war in the name of God
and they were jubilant at this extraordinary victory
over the Quraysh.
Muhammad's reputation throughout Arabia was hugely improved.
But for the Quraysh, it spelt shame,
which could not be forgotten or forgiven.
This humiliation would have to be avenged.
It meant that Muhammad's prestige in Medina,
where he had just recently arrived, of course, shot up.
And also the booty
was extremely useful for rewarding his followers in Medina.
Having gifts to give and so on
made his position much, much stronger.
For Muhammad and his followers,
the victory at Badr had a deep religious meaning.
It was a vindication of the faith that had sustained him
and his followers for now nearly 14 years.
They saw it as God's approval for their new movement.
Ever since, Muslims have seen this early victory
as a divine deliverance, comparable to the Israelites' deliverance
from Egypt at the Red Sea.
One day, while he was praying, following this victory,
Muhammad received another revelation that would give him
and his followers a more distinct identity.
The revelation instructed him
to change the direction in which Muslims pray,
known as the Qibla.
Now, originally Muhammad and his followers,
just like the Jews and the Christians at that time,
prayed towards Jerusalem,
so that Qibla in this mosque here faces north towards Jerusalem.
But then according to tradition,
Muhammad turned the whole congregation around
and made them pray in that direction towards the Qibla facing Mecca.
And for that reason,
this mosque is known as the Mosque of the Two Qiblas.
Now this seemingly simple change was actually really quite profound
because it marked, first of all, the emergence of a new
and proud identity, that of the Muslims,
which was different, in how they prayed,
towards the Jews and the Christians.
It also means to this day that Muslims,
wherever they are in the world,
five times a day all pray in the same direction,
This change of the direction of prayer,
from Jerusalem to Mecca, is a curious moment
and some hostile commentators have seen the early element of Islam
as being too Judeaising
and, you know, drawn to the Holy Land, and Christianising about Islam
as being a revival movement that's going to purge
the Holy Land of all its problems
and create this sort of one unified faith,
but leaning very strongly on these previous traditions.
One could imagine
a process where as Islam wants to build
its distinct institutions, one of the other things it develops is,
of course, its own spiritual centre, Mecca.
And so one could imagine Mecca being consciously chosen as a way
of distinguishing this new faith from the ones that had gone before.
But not all the people of Medina welcomed this move
to create a more Muslim identity.
In particular, some of the more prominent Jewish tribes.
I can certainly envisage that the idea
that one should pray to anywhere other than Jerusalem
would have aroused enormous suspicion
amongst the Jewish tribes of the peninsula at that time.
The members of the Jewish tribes saw the new direction of prayer
as an act of defiance,
symbolic of their deteriorating relationship with Muhammad.
There is, as it were, a religious aspect to it and an economic aspect
that made relationships between the two very difficult.
The Jewish tribes were unable to accept Muhammad as the apostle of God
because that went against their scripture
and their tradition and so on.
So, there was a fundamental problem there.
But the other thing was just control of trade and resources.
There is a lot of struggle for the control of the economy,
if you like, the silver market and metalwork and things like that.
The newly arrived followers of Muhammad from Mecca were keen
to dominate the local economy.
The more powerful and successful Muhammad became,
the more his relations with the Jewish tribes worsened.
He expected their support in his conflict with Mecca
but they had lucrative commercial ties with the Quraysh in Mecca
which they were not about to give up
and so, according to Muslim tradition,
the Jewish tribes began to have secret meetings
with Muhammad's enemies.
Some of the pagan tribes that had converted to Islam also started
to resent Muhammad's success, and they too began to turn against him.
Muhammad now faced a dual threat from both inside
and outside his own ranks.
It wasn't long after the battle of Badr
that Muhammad began to encounter
his first serious problems with the Jewish tribes from Medina.
He learned of a series of secret meetings between the Jewish tribes
and his Quraysh enemies from Mecca.
Muhammad's fear was that if the Quraysh attacked,
the Jewish tribes may well swap sides wholesale
and help to crush him.
And thus he felt he had to act.
He surrounded one of the villages of the Jewish tribe south of Medina.
After a two week siege, they surrendered
and then they were banished en masse from Medina.
Part of the constitution that Medina had been a compact in which
people of different tribes and faiths could live together,
that the Jews had a right to live and function
within the society commercially,
to practise their faith, but what they owed the state was loyalty.
And what happens at a certain point is that the Jews,
not all of the Jews, but particular groups of Jews,
are seen as in effect committing treason, as aligning themselves
and making vulnerable the Medinan community,
allying themselves with the enemy.
The exact nature of the relationship between Muhammad
and the Jewish tribes is another controversial aspect of his life.
Most Muslim scholars regard the Constitution of Medina
as a formal treaty between the two
and that when some of the Jewish tribes met with Muhammad's enemies,
they broke that treaty. Others dispute this interpretation.
You speak about controversies or differences of opinion
about the treaty of Medina. Spell it out.
This is a dispute that I don't think historians can solve.
It's interesting that we don't really have
any reliable independent contemporary Jewish sources for this
so you can take the view that they entered into a treaty and broke it,
or you can take the view
that the treaty was a Muslim chronicler's invention,
in order to justify ex post facto what had happened.
There's a spark of realpolitik, of power politics,
by expelling these very wealthy communities
who had put themselves in each case in a treasonable situation.
On one level, the Prophet came with
a whole lot of penniless, migrant refugees
and certainly when the first Jewish clan who owned all this property,
owned all the valleys, when they had broken the pact
and negotiated outside, they made the whole point of him coming
to Medina was that he was going to be the chair
and stop all of this schism.
At that time, the acceptable punishment for treason was death.
So the fact that Muhammad
only banished this Jewish tribe from Medina
might suggest he was still hoping for
some kind of reconciliation with the others.
But relations between the two sides remained fraught.
Another event was to increase the tension even more.
Almost exactly a year after the Battle of Badr,
the Quraysh returned to Medina looking for vengeance
with a new army three times larger than Muhammad's.
This was no longer a tribal squabble,
but an all-out war of extermination.
Once again Muhammad decided to meet the Meccan forces outside the oasis
here at Mount Uhud.
But his forces were greatly depleted.
For one thing, the Jewish tribes decided not to fight
because it was the Sabbath.
And one of Muhammad's commanders deserted him,
taking 300 soldiers with him.
The Meccans, on the other hand,
were motivated by the desire for vengeance.
This time neither side was able to deliver a crushing blow
and the battle ended in a stalemate.
It was a hard-fought battle.
It was a draw, if you like, but the important thing
was that the Muslim community of Muhammad in Medina survived.
The crucial difference was that this time the Meccans
had some inside help. According to Muslim tradition,
some of the Jewish tribes in Medina
were now actively helping Muhammad's enemies.
The third and final battle took place in 627 AD,
five years after Muhammad had moved to Medina,
when the Quraysh returned
with a massive army of 10,000 warriors.
Muhammad could only muster a force of 3,000 and so this time
there was no question of him facing the Quraysh in open battle.
So he decided to fortify Medina against a siege.
Medina was relatively easy to defend
because it's surrounded by volcanic hills.
But its most vulnerable point was to the north
and so Muhammad adopted a very simple tactic -
he dug a huge trench and its effect on the Quraysh advance was dramatic.
This area of present-day modern Medina is where the so-called
Battle of the Trench took place. Over there
was the Meccan army and over there was the Muslim army
and the trench dividing the two forces.
The Meccan army was said to be so large that it covered an area
as far as the eye could see.
Thus began what must have been an incredibly strange standoff.
The Meccan army was absolutely unable to do anything.
They didn't have siege equipment in which to get over this trench
that Muhammad and his forces had built.
For his part, Muhammad was quite prepared to sit and wait
and allow the Meccans to get frustrated and leave.
Digging a trench meant that
the horses of the Meccans couldn't enter the city.
And it's been taken by Muslims through the centuries,
as a sign of Muhammad's astuteness in ordering, commanding
this different sort of defence which caught the Meccans off-guard,
it meant the strategies or tactics they were pursuing didn't work.
According to Muslim tradition,
after two weeks, the Meccans' supplies were starting to run out
so they asked their new secret ally, one of the Jewish tribes,
the Banu Quraiza, to attack the Muslim forces from within the city.
Whereas before, Jewish tribes had only traded with Muhammad's enemies
or refused to take up arms in support of Muhammad,
this time they were now on the verge of actually attacking him.
The Quraiza were inside Medina with Muhammad and the Muslims
and they had an accord
with Muhammad and the Muslims,
but after they had seen what had happened to the other two
Jewish tribes of Medina, the Nadir
and the Qaynuqa, they, understandably I think, reached out
to the Quraysh and offered to make an accord with them against Muhammad.
So you have these people,
part of the alliance of Medina,
siding with their most bitter enemy to finish off the Muslim community.
That was high treason because the Muslims, as the Qur'an tells us,
were shaken to the foundation
and thinking it was a loss - the end is nigh.
Muslim scholars claim that at the very least, the Banu Quraiza
betrayed Muhammad by negotiating with the Quraysh
and being on the brink of attacking the Muslim forces, even though
the Quraysh and their allies withdrew
before this attack could take place.
That's the traditional explanation. He was betrayed.
There is, by the way, no record of any actual attack of the Jews
against the Prophet or anything like that.
Now during this siege, the Quraiza lent weapons to the Prophet.
On the other hand, they probably also traded with the besiegers
because they were traders.
I think the Banu Quraiza probably did side with the Quraysh.
I think this would have been a natural thing for them to have done.
Jews are always looking for allies.
In the diaspora, a cornerstone of Jewish political theory
has been you meet and make friends with everyone
that you can meet and make friends with
and I think this would have been absolutely natural
for them to have done this.
If this plot had succeeded,
the Quraysh would have been able to enter Medina,
they would have slaughtered Muhammad and all of his followers
and his attempts to start this new religion would have come to a halt.
His reaction to this latest act of treachery would lead to
one of the most controversial incidents in his entire life.
Muhammad ordered his army
to surround the village of the Jewish tribe.
They held out for 25 days before surrendering.
He now faced a dilemma.
If he allowed them to go free, they could join the Quraysh in Mecca
and help them to crush him.
Rather than make the decision himself,
Muhammad agreed that an independent arbiter be appointed.
He allowed the Jewish tribal leaders to choose a respected local leader
to arbitrate and pronounce judgment.
It was the third time he was meeting some of the people
and saying, "I am now going to ask someone to judge you.
"Are you happy with this?"
And he asked Sa'd ibn Mu'adh to come and to decide.
He decided that the men should be killed and before this,
the Prophet said, "I am not going to judge. I am going to ask someone."
The point for us here is to acknowledge two things.
First, it happened that men were killed
but in a situation where he spared the life of the people
two times before and this was the last time
and say, "This is enough because you are continuing,
"even though we are sparing your life,
"to attack us, which was betraying us."
all the fighters amongst Banu Quraiza should be put to the sword
and the women and children should be taken as captives.
This is what happened.
They were executed.
This is the first holocaust against the Jews.
How can a prophet order a massacre of 800 men,
even if they tried to kill him?
He could have banished them or he could have moved.
It had nothing to do with the fact that they were Jews.
They could have been a Christian tribe or any other tribe.
It wasn't a holocaust,
it wasn't directed at the Jews because of their religion.
If that was the case, it would have set a precedent in Muslim history
and we would not have found the golden age of Jewish Enlightenment
taking place under the Muslims in Spain.
If this claim was true, then we would have found the position of Jews
throughout Islamic history would have been very, very different.
It's this incident, perhaps more than any other,
that has led many critics to brand Muhammad as a bloodthirsty tyrant
willing to use all violent means in order to maintain his rule.
And it's also seen as the origins for much of the hostility
in the Islamic world today towards Jews,
and certainly, judging by our own standards today,
it was an appalling act of brutality,
but we have to see it within the context of the time.
The fact that very few people were shocked by this act
is a stark reminder of the brutality of the age and society
in which Muhammad grew up.
I think that the massacre at that time
had an impact on the outlook of Islam towards the Jewish world.
I think over the centuries since then,
the Islamic world has, in a sense,
bought into a particular view of Jews.
Now having said that, I think there are other factors
that have influenced Islamic attitudes towards Jews
but I think that was certainly one of them.
I think it seared itself into the Muslim historical memory
and to that extent it has had an impact
that we feel down to this day.
In some parts of the Muslim world,
and Muslim communities in the West, a new anti-Semitism
has appeared that claims legitimacy from the Qur'an.
Its offensive rants are to most
Muslim and non-Muslim ears, completely abhorrent.
SPOKEN IN ARABIC:
All the people who are confusing
some of the historical events with taking a position against the Jews,
only because they are Jews, are not respecting the Islamic tradition.
This is unacceptable, this is racist this is anti-Semitism,
this is against our religion.
We can't at the same time say "ummah ahl al-Kitab"
that they are people of the book
and they are following the monotheistic tradition,
and at the same time have racist statements
just targeting the Jews while the Prophet when he arrived in Medina -
this is something which is very important for us -
when he started this Islamic society with the rules -
he spoke about "al-ummah al-islamia", the community,
and he said... (IN ARABIC) ..they are members of our Ummah.
Who? The Jews and the Christians. So how come he is saying this
and now we come with these statements that are completely unacceptable
from an Islamic viewpoint and we are confusing what a state
a government can do, for example in the Middle East,
with what the Jews are.
The Jews are our brothers and sisters in faith and humanity.
The legacy of Muhammad's treatment of the Jewish tribes in Medina
is still with us today.
But at the time, it saw him emerge
as the leader of a powerful new movement in Arabia
that was gaining in confidence. But would this be his only legacy?
He was now in his late fifties and for most of his life,
had had to face brutal persecution.
He'd been forced out of his home town
and was engaged in almost continual bloody conflict.
In particular, Muhammad had to resolve
this struggle for supremacy with the Meccans.
Would that end in yet more violence
or could he find a safer future for his followers?
In essence, would Muhammad be remembered as a leader
and warrior who conquered Arabia,
or as a Prophet with a wider message for the entire world?
In the next and final part,
Muhammad faces his enemies one more time and wins, but through peace.
And he outlines his legacy in a final sermon in Mecca.
The Prophet's final sermon sets the agenda for modern contemporary
It shows where we failed and it shows where we have to try to get to.
It sums up the transformative mission that was the life of the Prophet.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd.
E-mail [email protected]
In this second episode of The Life of Muhammad, presenter Rageh Omaar continues to chart the story of The Prophet Muhammad.
Drawing on the expertise and comment from some of the world's leading academics and commentators on Islam, Omaar assesses and shines a light on key events in Muhammad's life including the Night Journey to Jerusalem, his life threatening departure from Mecca, through to the establishment of the Constitution of Medina and the eight year war with the Meccan tribes.
In line with Islamic tradition the programme does not depict any images of the face of Muhammad, or feature any dramatic re-constructions of Muhammad's life.