Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Islam at Muhammad’s Death



Muhammad’s continuing success gradually impinged on the Quraysh in Mecca. Some defected and joined his community. His marriage to a Quraysh woman provided him with a useful go-between. In 628 he and his followers tried to make an Islamized hajj but were forestalled by the Meccans. At Al-Hudaybiyah, outside Mecca, Muhammad granted a 10-year truce on the condition that the Meccans would allow a Muslim pilgrimage the next year. Even at this point, however, Muhammad’s control over his followers had its limits; his more zealous followers agreed to the pact only after much persuasion. As in all instances of charismatic leadership, persisting loyalty was correlated with continuing success. In the next year the Meccans allowed a Muslim hajj; and in the next year, 630, the Muslims occupied Mecca without a struggle. Muhammad began to receive deputations from many parts of Arabia. By his death in 632 he was ruler of virtually all of it.

The Meccan Quraysh were allowed to become Muslims without shame. In fact, they quickly became assimilated to the actual muhajirun, even though they had not emigrated to Medina themselves. Ironically, in defeat they had accomplished much more than they would have had they achieved victory: the centralization of all of Arabia around their polity and their shrine, the Ka‘bah, which had been emptied of its idols to be filled with an infinitely greater invisible power.

Because intergroup conflict was banned to all members of the ummah on the basis of their shared loyalty to the emissary of a single higher authority, the limitations of the Meccan concept of haram, according to which the city quarterly became a safe haven, could be overcome. The broader solidarity that Muhammad had begun to build was stabilized only after his death, and this was achieved, paradoxically, by some of the same people who had initially opposed him. In the next two years one of his most significant legacies became apparent: the willingness and ability of his closest supporters to sustain the ideal and the reality of one Muslim community under one leader, even in the face of significant opposition. When Muhammad died, two vital sources of his authority ended—ongoing revelation and his unique ability to exemplify his messages on a daily basis. A leader capable of keeping revelation alive might have had the best chance of inheriting his movement, but no Muslim claimed messengership, nor had Muhammad unequivocally designated any other type of successor. The ansar, his early supporters in Medina, moved to elect their own leader, leaving the muhajirun to choose theirs, but a small number of muhajirun managed to impose one of their own over the whole. That man was Abu Bakr, one of Muhammad’s earliest followers and the father of his favourite wife, ‘A’ishah. The title Abu Bakr took, khalifah (caliph), meaning deputy or successor, echoed revealed references to those who assist major leaders and even God himself. To khalifah he appended rasul Allah, so that his authority was based on his assistance to Muhammad as messenger of God.


Islamic history / edited by Laura S. Etheredge. Britannica Educational Publishing
(a trademark of Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.): New York.

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