History of Islam/Early Islam
The early history of Islam properly begins with Muhammad, an Arabian religious and political leader, who Muslims believe to be the last prophet of Allah (God). In Islamic historiography it is stated that Muhammad is a descendent of Ishmael, a son of Abraham.
Muhammad was born in 570 CE in the city of Mecca. As his father, Abdullah ibn Abdul-Muttalib, died shortly after marriage, his grandfather ‘Abd al-Muttalib became his guardian. ‘Abd al-Muttalib was the respected head of the clan of Hashim and the tribe of Quraysh, to which his clan belonged. With the Quraysh being the biggest and most influential tribe in Mecca, ‘Abd al-Muttalib was seen as the master of all of Mecca. The Quraysh had a special status in Mecca because they used to be in charge of the sacred Ka’ba. The Qur’an tells us that this holy edifice was built by Prophets Abraham and his son Ishmael:
(And when Abraham and Ishmael were raising the foundations of the House [Abraham prayed]: “Our Lord! Accept from us; surely You are the Hearing, the Knowing (2.127). Our Lord! Make us Muslims and raise from our offspring a nation of Muslims. Show us our ways of worship, and relent toward us. Surely, Your are the Relenting, the Merciful”) (2.128).
This means that the Ka’ba was built around 1900 BCE, which is when Abraham is thought to have lived. The Ka’ba maintained its venerable status as the destination of pilgrimage in the eyes of the pilgrims and the Arab population of the Arabian Peninsula down the centuries. ‘Abd al-Muttalib was personally in charge of the Ka’ba.
The Prophet was only about five to six years old when he lost his mother. Orphan Muhammad then lost his grandfather and custodian ‘Abd al-Muttalib at the age of eight. Now one of ‘Abd al-Muttalib’s sons, Abu Talib, became the guardian of his orphan nephew. Though respected by the clan of Hashim and the people of Mecca in general, Abu Talib did not possess the high status and influence of his father. Had he been more fortunate financially, he might have aspired to acquire that special leadership status.
When Muhammad was twenty five years old, he was hired by a woman called Khadija to take her merchandise to Syria. Khadija, a widow fifteen years Muhammad’s senior, later proposed marriage to him, which he agreed to. They lived together for almost a quarter of a century, until the death of Khadija about eight or nine years after the revelation of the Qur’an.
It is interesting to note that Muhammad did not marry any other woman during Khadija’s life, despite the fact that polygamy was common practice in that society.
But after her death he took a number of wives. The exact number is not certain but it is believed that he had nine wives in all.
Muhammad was deeply interested in matters beyond this mundane life. He used to frequent a cave that became known as “Hira‘” on the Mountain of “Noor” (light) for contemplation. The cave itself, which survived the times, gives a very vivid image of Muhammad’s spiritual inclinations. Resting on the top of one of the mountains north of Mecca, the cave is completely isolated from the rest of the world. In fact, it is not easy to find at all even if one knew it existed. Once inside the cave, it is a total isolation. Nothing can be seen other than the clear, beautiful sky above and the many surrounding mountains. Very little of this world can be seen or heard from inside the cave. The inhabitant of that cave was obviously interested in things beyond this world and its material riches.
It was in that cave in 610 CE, i.e. at the age of forty, that Prophet Muhammad received from Allah the first verses of the Qur’an. Then and there, history changed.
The Qur’an continued to be revealed in fragments to Prophet Muhammad over the following twenty two years. The last words of the Book were revealed to the Prophet shortly before his death in 632 CE.
In the first two to three years after the revelation, the Prophet preached Islam secretly to individuals whom he trusted. When he started calling people to Islam publicly, the new religion gradually attracted more people but, not surprisingly, also increasing hostility from the idol worshipping population of Mecca. The Prophet was subjected to harassment and abuse. However, armed with patience, resilience, and determination, and protected by his uncle Abu Talib and the clan of Hashim, the Prophet was able to carry on preaching the new faith to people.
Converts to Islam, some of whom were slaves, had to suffer all kinds of persecution, including brutal torture and murder, at the hands of the enemies of the new religion in Mecca. In 614 CE, the Prophet had to instruct a group of Muslims to escape the persecution to Abyssinia and seek the protection of its just Christian king. The Quraysh then sent a delegation to the king, carrying precious gifts, to secure the extradition of the Muslim refugees. The king, however, rejected the bribe and let the Muslims stay in Abyssinia.
One year later, the Quraysh imposed economic and social sanctions on the Prophet, his followers, and his clan. As a result, the Muslims withdrew to a mountain in Mecca. The sanctions lasted about three years before collapsing in 618/619 CE without achieving their goals.
Soon afterward, the Prophet lost his wife Khadija. Matters got worse quickly with the death of his uncle and protector. Prophet Muhammad started to suffer more from the disbelievers’ relentless attempts to uproot Islam and destroy its followers. During the pilgrimage season in 622 CE, Muhammad met in Mecca with a number of chiefs from the city of Yathrib, where he had previously sent some Muslims to settle in. Having converted to Islam, the chiefs made a secret pledge to protect the Prophet should the Quraysh try to kill him.
However, the Quraysh learned about the agreement, so the people from Yathrib had to return quickly to their city. Sensing that the danger to Muslims has increased, Muhammad instructed them to immigrate individually or in small groups to Yathrib. The Qurayshites tried to prevent Muslims from fleeing Mecca to Yathrib, but the converts continued to sneak out gradually.
The continuing immigration of Muslims to Yathrib where they had allies was already very bad news for the Qurayshites. This could yet worsen were Muhammad also to move to that city. They decided that they had no other option but to kill him.
The various clans of the tribe of Quraysh agreed to act as one and assassinate the Prophet while asleep. The idea behind acting collectively was that no one party could be blamed for the killing and become embroiled in a war of vengeance with the clan of Hashim.
The assassination plan, however, was sabotaged by divine intervention. The night the murder was planned to take place, Allah informed His Prophet of the danger and ordered him to secretly leave Mecca and head to the city of Yathrib. The latter became known as “al-Madina al-Munawwara” (the illuminated city), or “al-Madina” for brief, after the arrival of the Prophet.
This famous event, known as the “Hijra ” (immigration), occurred in 622 CE, about twelve years after the revelation of the first verses of the Qur’an. This flight was destined to have far-reaching consequences in establishing the Islamic community, strengthening the position of Islam, and spreading its message.
The Prophet lived in al-Madina for about ten years. By the time of his departure from this world in 632 CE, Islam had become well established as the religion of the Arabian Peninsula and had made inroads in neighboring regions; Muslims had become a major force to be reckoned with in the area.
Was always a very close Companion of the Prophet, he knew him better than any other man. He knew how honest and upright the Prophet was. Such knowledge of the Prophet made Abu Bakr be the first man to follow the Message of Prophet Muhammad. He was indeed the first adult male to accept Islam.
The Prophet told Abu Bakr what had happened at Hira Cave, he told him that Allah had revealed to him and made him His Messenger. When Abu Bakr heard this from the Prophet , he did not stop to think, he at once became a Muslim. He submitted to Islam with such determination that once the Prophet himself remarked, "I called people to Islam, everybody thought over it, at least for a while, but this was not the case with Abu Bakr, the moment I put Islam before him, he accepted it without any hesitation." He was titled as-Siddiq by the Prophet because his faith was too strong to be shaken by anything.
In fact, Abu Bakr was more than a great believer, as soon as he became a Muslim, he immediately began to preach Islam to others. Among those who accepted Abu Bakr's invitation to Islam were 'Uthman, Az-Zubayr, Talhah, 'Abdur-Rahman ibn Awf, Sa'ad ibn Waqqas and others who later became component's of the prophet themselves.
Abu Bakr's love of the Prophet was so great that he was willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of protecting and comforting the Prophet saw. Such love and sacrifice were demonstrated when one day the Prophet was saying his prayers in the Ka'bah, while some of the chiefs of Makkah were sitting in the court yard of the Ka'bah. Seeing the Prophet praying, 'Uqbah ibn Abi Mu'it took a long piece of cloth and put it around the Prophet's neck and twisted it hard in an attempt to strangle the Prophet to death. At that moment Abu Bakr happened to pass by from a distance, he saw 'Uqbah trying to strangle the Prophet to death. Immediately Abu Bakr ran to the help of the Prophet, he pushed 'Uqbah aside and took the cloth from around the Prophet's neck. Thereupon the enemies of Islam came down upon Abu Bakr and beat him unmercifully, although Abu Bakr with faith like a rock did not care for his own suffering, he was glad that he was able to save the Prophet of Allah, even at the risk of his own life.
Abu Bakr with the wealth he had, also had a major role in freeing some of the Muslim slaves, who were barbarically tortured by their heartless masters to give up the faith and return to their masters' beliefs. The heartless monsters tried all kinds of torture: they made them lie all naked on the burning desert sand, putting big stones on their chest, as well as other kinds of torture. Here Abu Bakr's wealth came to the rescue, as he bought the poor helpless slaves from their inhuman masters and set them free, Bilal al-Habashi, the slave of 'Umayyah ibn Khalaf, was among those who were set free by Abu Bakr. Bilal became afterwards the mu'adhin at the Prophet's mosque.
Migration to Madinah
Islam was growing rapidly in Makkah, the enemies of Islam were getting frustrated by this rapid growth. The chiefs of Makkah found that it is necessary for them to get rid of the Prophet before Islam can cause a real threat to them, so they planned to kill the Prophet. Allah revealed to his Prophet the intentions of the non-believers and ordered him to migrate to Madinah. So the Prophet quickly went to Abu Bakr's house who was among the few that were left in Makkah with the majority of Muslims having already migrated to Madinah.
The Prophet informed Abu Bakr that he was commanded to migrate to Madinah that night and that he has chosen him to have the honor of joining him on his migration. Abu Bakr's heart was full of joy, "I have been looking forward to this day for months," he exclaimed.
The Makkans were so eager to find the Prophet they were searching for him like mad hounds. Once they came to the mouth of the cave, Abu Bakr grew pale with fright, he feared not for himself, but for the life of the Prophet. However, the Prophet remained calm and said to Abu Bakr, "do not fear, certainly Allah is with us". Such words quickly calmed down Abu Bakr and brought back tranquility to his heart.
Participation in Battles
Abu Bakr, being the closest of Companions to the Prophet, took part in all the battles that Prophet Muhammad had fought.
At 'Uhud and Hunayn, some members of the Muslim army showed signs of weakness, however, Abu Bakr's faith never wavered, he always stood like a rock by the side of the Prophet.
Abu Bakr's faith and determination to raise the banner of Islam were so great that at Badr, one of his sons, who had not yet embraced Islam was fighting among the enemies, Abu Bakr was so eager to find his son in the battle that he was searching for him amongst the enemies in order to slay him.
Abu Bakr's great love of the Prophet was demonstrated when peace talks at Hudaibiya were held. During the negotiations, the spokesman of Quraysh was touching the beard of the Prophet every now and then. Abu Bakr's love for the Prophet was so great that he could bear no more, he took out his sword and looked angrily at the man saying, " ... if that hand touches the beard of the Prophet again, it will not be allowed to go back."
Tabuk was the last expedition of the Holy Prophet. He was keen to make it a great success, he therefore asked people to help the expedition with whatever they could. This brought the best out of Abu Bakr who beat all records as he took all his money and household articles and heaped them at the Prophet's feet.
"Have you left anything for your children?" asked the Prophet. Abu Bakr then responded with great faith "Allah and his Messenger are enough for them." Companions standing around were stunned they realized that whatever they do they could not outdo Abu Bakr in the field of service to Islam.
The Successor of the Prophet
The Prophet Mohammed appointed Abu Bakr as his agent to lead the Hajj in place of him in the ninth year of Hijra.
The Prophet led the prayers himself ever since he arrived to Madinah. During his last illness, the Prophet could no longer lead the prayers, he was too weak to go to the mosque, he therefore had to choose someone to fill such high position after him. Abu Bakr was also the one who was honored to be chosen by the Prophet for such a task.
When the news of the Prophet's death came out, many Muslims were confused and stunned. 'Umar himself was so overcome with emotions that he drew his sword and declared, "If anyone says that the Messenger of Allah is dead, I will cut off his head."
Muslims stayed in such state until Abu Bakr arrived and gave his famous address:
"O People! If anyone among you worshipped Muhammad, let him know that Muhammad is dead. But those who worshipped Allah, let them know that He lives and will never die. Let all of us recall the words of the Qur'an. It says:
(Muhammad is only a Messenger of Allah, there have been Messengers before him. What then, will you turn back from Islam if he dies or is killed?)
Suddenly Abu Bakr's words started to sink in, and in no time confusion was gone.
Having shrugged off the shocking news of the Prophet's death, Muslims realized that they need someone to fill the position of leadership amongst them.
The two main groups amongst Muslims were Muhajirun (refugees from Makkah), and Ansar (the people of Madinah). The Ansar gathered at the Thaqifah Bani Saydah their meeting place. Sa'ad ibn Abadah, the Ansar leader, suggested that the Caliph should be from amongst them. Although many refused saying that the Muhajirun in right have a better claim to Khilafah. When the news reached Abu Bakr, he quickly went to their gathering, fearing that confusion might spread once again, and said, "Both Muhajirun and Ansar have done great service to Islam. But the former were the first to accept Islam, they were always very close to the Messenger of Allah. So, O Ansar, let the Caliph be from amongst them." After a short discussion, the Ansar agreed that they should choose the Caliph from amongst the Muhajirun, being from the tribe of Quraysh and being the first to accept Islam.
Abu Bakr then asked people to choose between 'Umar ibn al-Khattab and Abu 'Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah. Hearing this, both men jumped to their feet and exclaimed "O Siddiq, how can that be? How can anyone else fill this position as long as you are among us? You are the top man amongst he Muhajirun. You were the Companion of the Prophet in the Thawr cave. You led prayers in his place, during his last illness. Prayer is the foremost thing in Islam. With all these qualifications you are the fittest person to be the successor of the Holy Prophet. Hold out your hand that we may pledge loyalty to you."
In the next day, Abu Bakr addressed the gathering of Muslims in the Prophet's mosque urging them to continue their path as true Muslims and to give him loyalty and support as long as he is obeying the Commands of Allah and His Messenger.
He was followed by Umar, Uthman ibn Affan and then Ali. These four are called the Rashidun caliphs which means The Righteous Caliphs. The word caliph means religious and spiritual leader. Under these caliphs Islam became one of the most important religions of the middle East. Administrative offices of the Muslim nation were established. Under Umar more then two thirds of the Eastern Roman Empire was conquered by the Muslims. Umar also started the Muslim calender.
The first civil war in Islam, also known as the First Fitna broke out in Islam during the rule of the fourth caliph Ali and lasted throughout his caliphate. The third caliph Uthman ibn Affan had been murdered by rebel Muslim groups who had political motives. After Ali took over, the most important problem he faced was that of punishing those responsible for murder. However many people felt that before accepting the position of the caliph, Ali should have focused his attention on finding and punishing the murderers. A group of people led by Muhammad's wife Aisha, her brothers in law Talhah and Zubair ibn al-Awam refused to recognize Ali's caliphate. They instead raised an army which met Ali's army at Basra in Iraq, originally for the purposes of negotiations. In the night, some fighting broke out, probably out of confusion or due to rebel groups who were involved in the infamous murder. This led to the Battle of Bassorah (also known as Battle of the Camel) in which Ali's party emerged victorious. Aisha was escorted back to Medina honorably after the battle by Ali.
This battle however did not entirely finish the tension in the Muslim empire. Ali was soon challenged by Muawiyah, the governor of the Muslim provinces of Syria. He too raised the issue of punishing Uthman's murderers and refused to acknowledge Ali as caliph until the issue had been solved. Muawiyah was a kinsman of Uthman and his army pledged to bring to justice the murderers and those who sheltered them. People who are sheltering the murderers was a reference to Ali and his followers. Accordingly, the two groups met and fought a battle, called the Battle of Siffin. This battle ended in a draw and so both groups decided on arbitration which also didn't lead to any concrete decision. Another group of Muslims, the Kharijites who had previously been with Ali, meanwhile rejected him because they felt that he was not following true Islam and conducting business over the caliphate as if it were his own property.
In the following years Ali's governors could not prevent his losing provinces to Muawiyah who increased his strength by further expanding his army. Ali had shifted the capital of the caliphate from Medina to Kufa in 656. He was killed by a Kharijite assassin in 661.