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Muhammad's Early Life

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Text Preview The !rst Islamic century began in 622 of the Common Era with the hijra (Hegira), Muh.ammad’s ‘emigration’ from Mecca to the town of Yathrib, which lies about 275 miles to the north. As we shall see, the event was a turning point in Muh.ammad’s life: delivered from the pagan opposition of the city of his birth, he was free to preach, teach and lead in Yathrib so successfully that he remained there until his death in 632. In time it would even come to be called ‘the Prophet’s city’ or ‘the city’ (Medina) tout court. The hijra thus marked a new beginning for Muh.ammad and his followers. It also illustrates a striking feature of Islamic history. For Muh.ammad’s decision to leave Mecca was in purpose both deeply religious and deeply political.

On the one hand, he and those who believed in his prophecy were escaping polytheist intolerance towards his uncompromising monotheism. They were making their way to a town where, as the Qurpan seems to show, Muh.ammad’s ideas about God, man, this World and the Next, would evolve and sharpen, in part because he came into contact with the town’s Jews, and in part because as Muslim numbers grew, so, too, did their demands upon him. Far more than in hostile Mecca, it was in Muh.ammad’s experience in Medina, as it is re"ected in the Qurpan (the great bulk of which was apparently revealed there) and Prophetic tradition, that so much of Islamic belief and law came to be anchored. At the same time, the emigration to Yathrib was not merely religious; for Muh.ammad and his contemporaries lived in a pocket of western Arabia where institutionalised forms of governance were as underdeveloped as ties of real, imagined and adopted kinship were strong. (Even in the very di#erent settled culture of South Arabia, kingship was relatively weak.1) In a society where social di#erentiation was relatively modest, it was as kinsmen (or confederates and the like) that the tribesmen married, shared and wor shipped idols, herded, raided, defended and... Show More

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