When Muhammad reached Medina he was aware of the political repercus­sions his first actions could have; so he did not choose a house to lodge in but let his camel move freely until it knelt of its own accord at a date-drying field adjoining the house of two young men who had lost their parents and could be considered poor. Muhammad had his house and mosque built on this spot and moved into it 11 months after his arrival in Medina.

6.1 Muhammad’s initial position in Medina

The two pledges of `Aqaba did not make Muhammad king of Medina. The Medinans were bound to fight on his behalf, but politically he was the head only of the Emigrants (muhâjirűn) and was the arbiter in settling the disputes of the Medinans. He was accepted as a prophet, but for the Medinans this could mean no more than that he had religious experiences like so many other men, and could preach or warn about the worship of God and morality. Yet he was given a free hand to settle the problems of Medina, and used every opportunity to extend his authority.

Almost immediately Muhammad made a treaty, some­times called the “Constitution of Medina”, establishing peace between the Medinan factions and outlining the rights and duties of all, including the Jews (in 1:501-4).[1] He arranged for the support of the Emigrants by pairing each with a Medinan host. At the same time he organized times for prayer, adding the midday prayer (Q 2:238), and appointed Bilâl, the freed black slave of Abű-Bakr, to make the adhân or call to prayer.

Although the two Pledges of `Aqaba bound the Medinans to accept Muhammad as a prophet, an exception seems to have been made for the Jews in the treaty made on Muhammad’s arrival in Medina. They “are one community with the believers, while they have their religion and the Muslims have theirs” (1:503). Yet events indicate that Muhammad expected the Jews to combine their own religion with recognition of him as a prophet. In any case, Muhammad came to see that his prophetic role and political position were so intertwined and fused that any challenge to his claim to be a prophet under­mined his overall authority in Medina.

A crisis developed because in fact Muhammad was not totally or whole­heartedly accepted by all in Medina. Some Arabs could not reconcile themselves to the new order and left Medina for Mecca. One of these was Abű-`Âmir ibn-Sayfî, who “had been a hermit in pagan days and had worn a coarse hair garment and was called ‘the monk’” He asked Muhammad what religion he had brought, and was told “the anîfiyya, the religion of Abraham”. “That is what I follow,” he replied. Muhammad told him, “You do not.” He insisted, “But I do! You, Muhammad, have introduced into the anîfiyya things which do not belong to it.” Muhammad answered, “I have not. I have brought it pure and white.” Abű-`Âmir then said, “My God let the liar die a lonely, homeless fugitive!” Muhammad agreed and, Ibn-Ishâq adds, was proven right because Abű-`Âmir died in exile. (1:584-6)

Other Medinans unwillingly accepted Islam as the only way of adapting to their new circumstances. “When Islam became the public religion the people agreed upon, these were compelled to pretend to be Muslims to avoid being killed, but they held a different view in private” (1:513). These were called the Hypo­crites (munâfiqűn), and are the subject of Qur’ân sűra 63 and many other Qur’ânic passages. Their leader was `Abdallâh ibn-Ubayy, one of the most prominent men in Medina. It took Muhammad four years of political manoeuvering to bring the Hypocrites under control.

One accusation against the Hypocrites was that their “sympathy was with the Jews because they considered the Prophet a liar and strove against Islam” (1:513). Much space in the Qur’ân is devoted to the problem of the Jews, particularly the first 100 verses of sűra 2. Hostility was first sparked by various forms of mockery the Jews displayed towards Muhammad’s pretensions. He warned them of the anger of God because of alleged injustices and other sins, but their greatest crime in his eyes was their refusal to accept him as a prophet. Their hostile activities seemed only a minor threat, such as the widely accepted tradition that a Jewish rabbi through sorcery made Muhammad sexually impotent for a year (1:515 & note), or their later alleged treacherous connivance with the Meccans which gave Muhammad the opportunity to expel or execute the most hostile Jews. Muhammad was far less afraid of the physical threat the Jews posed than of the influence of their mouths on the Medinan Muslims whom he was molding into a single party with a single ideology. This explains his extreme anger at a whis­pered conversation the Jews and some Hypocrites were having one day in the mosque, and he had them dragged out (1:528).

6.2 Muhammad appeals to the Jews and is rebuffed

At first Muhammad had hopes of winning the Jews. Friday was chosen as a day of common prayer because, it seems, it coincided with the gathering of the people for market in preparation for the sabbath.[2] The qibla for prayer, which was not well defined in Mecca, was definitely towards Jerusalem at the beginning of the Medinan period. The Muslims were also permitted to eat food prepared by Jews, and the main, but not all, Jewish dietary prohibitions also applied to Muslims, such as the eating of pork. These external similarities with Judaism cultivated at the beginning of the Medinan period hint at a view that the two religions were parallel.

Thus Muhammad claimed the title not merely of rasűl (“messenger” or “apostle”) but also that of nabî, which was the Hebrew term for a prophet. In the Qur’ân Muhammad is the only non-Jewish person to be given the title of nabî, if we discount the dubious identity of Idrîs.[3] Parallel to Jewish prophets, he is called an-nabî-al-ummî, meaning “the Gentile prophet” (7:157-8). Note that the word ummî is the adjectival form of umma, meaning “nation”; for a Jew the nations or Gentiles simply meant the non-Jews. Traditional Muslim exegesis, however, interprets ummî to mean “illiterate”, an interpretation aimed at heightening the miraculous character of the Qur’ân, but rejected by non-Muslim scholars. Other passages using the same word with the same consistent meaning are 2:78: “And among them [the Jews] there are Gentile [converts] who do not know Scripture except for bits”; 3:20: Tell those who have been given Scripture and the Gentiles to become Muslim”; 3:75: “This [cheating] is because they [the Jews] say, ‘We cannot be prosecuted with regard to the Gentiles’”; and 62:2: “He was raised up among the Gentiles as a Messenger of their own.”

The idea of a parallel religion, with its legitimacy deriving from Abraham via Ishmael and a series of Arab prophets, did not win the respect of the Jews. In spite of all the provisions made to smooth the way, very few Jews accepted Muhammad’s invitation to recognize him as a prophet. He then transformed his case, emphasizing the continuity of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in a single line, with Islam as the final dispensation and completion of earlier versions of revealed religion. He insisted that his coming was prophesied in the Torah, which not only described him but also mentioned his name (1:517 etc.). Muhammad added a qualification to this claim when writing to the Jews of Khaybar: “If you do not find that in your Scripture then there is no compulsion upon you” (1:545). This concession is isolated, because on every other occasion the Jews are accused of deliberate bad faith in rejecting or conceal­ing what their own Scripture says about Muhammad. Muhammad even asserted that by not recognizing him the Jews were breaking their covenant with God (1:534,547-8; cf. Q 2:40). The Jews replied, “No covenant was ever made with us about Muhammad”, and in reference to their reply came the Qur’ân verse: “When­ever they made a covenant, a party of them reject it” (Q 2:100; I.I. 1:547-8). Muhammad attacked the claims of Jews and Christians to uniqueness in their possession of Moses or Jesus by claiming Abraham for himself, who antedated Moses and Jesus and “was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but a hanîf” (Q 3:67; I.I. 1:549-555; compare Romans 4).

Muhammad’s best arguments did not convince the Jews. So we see in addition to accusations against them threats of eternal hell-fire in the next life; in this life, even though they may enjoy a certain immunity with regard to their lives and property as long as they are not actively hostile to the Muslims, the Muslims are warned against taking them as friends or allies (1:558, 568-9; cf. Q 3:118-19; 5:62). An end to the attempt to woo the Jews was marked by the change of the qibla for prayer from Jerusalem to Mecca at the beginning of the 17th month of Muhammad’s stay in Medina (1:550; Q 2:144).[4]

6.3 Family events

Important family events also marked Muhammad’s first year in Medina. In addition to his wife Sawda (n.2), in April 623 he took into his house `Â’isha (n.3), whom he had married a few years before, and began normal married life with her. The difference must have been great between a man of 53 and a girl of 9 who continued to play with her dolls, but such a marriage was not unusual or shocking in the Arabian society of his time. `Â’isha, perhaps damaged by premature sex, never bore children. Yet she matured to become the leading woman not only in Muhammad’s family circle, but also in Muslim political life for years after Muhammad’s death.

The other family event was the marriage, around August 623, of Muhammad’s daughter Fâtima to his cousin `Alî. This marriage, however, does not appear to have been finalized until a year of so later because of `Alî’s poverty. He did not earn much as a water carrier, and only after taking part in some of the raids on the Meccan caravans does he seem to have had enough wealth to pay the dower.

Historians, such as Ibn-Ishâq, are rather silent about Fâtima, probably because of their anti-Shî`ism. A little information is found in Sunnî traditions, but Shî`ite tradition creates a major legend around her. We hear from Sunnite tradition that Abű-Bakr and `Umar earlier asked for her hand, but Muhammad refused. She was about 20 at the time of her marriage, an unusually old age for the Arabs. Her marriage was marked by quarrels with `Alî (1:600), particularly when he wanted to take another wife; in this case Muhammad intervened to stop him. They were also quite poor, especially during the early years of their marriage, and Muhammad turned down her request for a slave-girl to help her, even though `Â’isha had many servants. This and other incidents led to strained relations between Fâtima and her step-mother. Fâtima was also used by `Â’isha’s co-wives to voice their protests to Muhammad over `Â’isha’s privileged position.

Fâtima had two children, al-Hasan and al-Husayn, and only through them did Muhammad have a lasting line of descendants. After the death of Muhammad Fâtima was vigorous in defending the claims of `Alî to be caliph and she quarreled with Abű-Bakr over the inheritance she claimed from her deceased father. Further involvement in political affairs was prevented by her own death about six months after her father’s.[5]

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[1] For a study of this document, see W.M. Watt, Muhammad at Medina, pp.221-228.

[2] Cf. S.D. Goitein, Studies in Islamic history and institutions (Leiden: Brill, 1968), pp. 111-125; W.M. Watt, Muhammdad at Medina, p. 198.

[3]Cf. Willem A. Bijlefeld, “A prophet and more than a prophet”, The Muslim World, 59 (1969), pp. 1 ff.

[4]See W.M. Watt, Muhammad at Medina, pp. 240ff. for more analysis of Muhammad’s intellectual combat with the Jews.

[5]Cf. Henri Lammens, Fâima et les filles de Mahomet (Rome: Pont. Bibl. Inst., 1912).