Read this article to learn about the life, new economic system and the early caliphs of Prophet Mohammed of Arab.
Life of Prophet Mohammed:
Prophet Mohammed was born in a Hashemite family. His father, grand-father and great-grandfather, were Abdulla, Motalleb and Hashem, respectively.
Hashem’s father was called Abdul Manat (i.e. worshipper of Manat), which clearly shows that the ancestors of Mohammed had been idol worshippers no more than five generations before the birth of Mohammed.
Hashem’s brother, Abdul Shams, belonged to the Kurish family, which had a place of honour among the priests of Kaba.
Prophet Mohammed was born in 570 A. D. His father died while he was in his mother’s womb and he was brought up by his grandfather, Abdul Motalleb. As was the practice in all respectable families of Arabia, he was looked after by a Bedouin nurse. The people who lived in Mecca and Medina were settled town-dwellers, but there were then, as now, many nomadic tribes in Arabia.
To live the life of a nomad and to be brought up in a tent was probably considered the best way to develop the spirit of courage and enterprise. Mohammed is said to have remained illiterate all his life. This is difficult to believe, because for years he was in charge of caravans that went to foreign lands carrying merchandise belonging to a wealthy lady of Arabia, Khedija, who later became his wife.
The Arabs were mostly idol worshippers at that time, but a large number of Christians and Jews, whose religion forbade idol worship also lived in towns like Mecca and Medina, as well as in other places which Mohammed visited. Coming into contact with Jewish and Christian scholars he lost faith in idol worship.
After his marriage with Khedija he became a wealthy man. When he reached the age of forty he declared himself a prophet. But throughout his life he had a great respect for Christianity and Judaism. His aim was not merely religious. He wanted to unite the scattered Arab tribes and forge them into a powerful force.
He felt that, for this, it was necessary to give them a faith that would unite and inspire them as well as remove their weaknesses. Christianity and Judaism could not fulfil this mission and so he became the founder of the new faith of Islam.
The main slogan of Mohammed was directed against idolatry. This naturally met with resistance from the priests of Kaba, who had a vested interest in idol worship. Prophet Mohammed was soon able to rally the youth of the Hashem family round him – his nephews Ali and others became his devoted followers. But in spite of the support of his family the threat to his life became serious and in 622, at the age of 52 he was obliged to flee to Medina.
The ancient name of Medina: was Yasrib, but after it had become the seat of the prophet Nabi its name was changed to Medinatunnabi (i. e. city of the prophet). The grave of the prophet is also in Medina. Although the idols of Mecca were later destroyed by Prophet Mohammed the sacred Black Stone was held in such veneration by the Arabs that not even Prophet Mohammed dared touch it and till today it is kissed by the Muslims who go for pilgrimage to Mecca.
The last ten years of his stay in Medina were not only important from the point of view of the development of the Islamic faith, but for the political and military prowess of Prophet Mohammed that was then revealed and as a result of which, in the course of three-quarters of a century, a vast empire came into being which extended from the banks of the Indus to Spain and from the Sir Darya to the Nile.
New Economic System:
Apart from cattle-breeding and pasture, the income from predatory raids was considered a legitimate source of revenue by the nomads of this period. By prohibiting such earnings Mohammed struck a blow not only at an ancient practice but at the root of their economic system. While prohibiting this practice, he introduced a system by which the loot obtained from the conquest of foreign lands was to be distributed in the proportions of one fifth to the state treasury, the balance being divided equally among the victorious soldiers.
This was an astute device to give an economic incentive not only to the youth of Arabia but to all who joined the army in a campaign of conquest. The income derived from the fifth share enabled the central administration to meet its expenses, while the equal division of the spoils among the soldiers laid the basis for Islamic brotherhood and equality.
While this hew concept furnished a powerful incentive to join the army, the promise of ample rewards in heaven added a life of eternal bliss for those who died in battle. All these imparted a death-defying courage to the soldiers of the Arab armies which created havoc in the world.
Although the practice of distributing the spoils of war was adopted by Darius, Alexander and Chandragupta, they did not go as far in this direction as Mohammed. In their case the spoils were not evenly divided among all the soldiers. Moreover, for the first time, Islam made the oppressed people of the conquered territory partners of the spoils. The regimes of those who faced the Arab armies were based on feudal exploitation and slavery and although the Arabs did not make any basic alteration in that structure, they spread the message of equality and brotherhood.
The simplicity of Arab tribal life impressed the common people of the land they conquered so much that the Arabs came to be looked upon as their liberators. They thus acted as a progressive force replacing the old philosophy by a new one. It is true that the new forms did not preclude type practice of slavery, but slavery was common at that time throughout the civilised world.
The Early Caliphs:
While Prophet Mohammed had been no more than a religious reformer in Mecca, in Medina he had to play the combined role of military commander, political leader and Economic administrator. By the time he died in 632, most of the Arab tribes had accepted Islam.
Prophet Mohammed was not particularly opposed to the monarchical form of Government. The fame of the Iranian and Roman Emperors had reached his ears and during his travels as a trader he had visited these countries. He therefore invited them to accept Islam and propagate it in their empires.
In Arabia, simplicity and democracy were so much a part of the tribal administration that Prophet Mohammed himself could not but be affected by them and even after he had become the ruler of Western Arabia he continued to lead a simple life.
Prophet Mohammed’s contribution to the development of Arabia was the unification of all the scattered Arab-speaking tribes engaged in internecine strife into one homogenous wellknit whole, but when the Arab Empire had spread from the Indus to Spain it was obviously not possible to introduce a tribal form of Government over peoples speaking different tongues and living under a politically advanced administrative system.
After the death of the Prophet, quarrels broke out amongst his followers. The Hashemites considered it to be their prerogative to be his successors or Caliphs, but the Hashemites were not the only ones among his important followers. Of the four Caliphs who came after Prophet Mohammed and who to some extent maintained the democratic tribal form of administration the first was Abu Bakar – a non-Hashemite.
1. Abu Dakar (632-642):
He was the father of one of Mohammed’s wives and was already very old when he was selected by the Mussulmans to be their Caliph. It was during his reign that the Arab general, Khalid, defeated the Roman army and seized Damascus and it was thus that the Arabs for the first time gained an opportunity of ruling over a part of an empire that had advanced under the Romans.
It was from this time that luxury began to replace Arab simplicity. During the time of Abu Bakar, not only Syria but Palestine came under Arab administration. In 639 there was a clash between the Arab and Iranian forces. The Iranians were defeated and their ruler Yazdgard III fled, just as a thousand years earlier Darius III had fled being pursued by the armies of Alexander. He first went to Sistan, then to Khurasan and later to Merv.
In Merv the Turkish Khan himself came forward to arrest the Iranian king out of fear of the Arabs. Yazdgard tried to hide in a water mill but the millowner seized the jewels on his person, killed him and threw his corpse into the running stream. At this time the people of Merv were not Turks but Iranians, and, coming to know of the treachery of the millowner, they tore him to pieces.
As a result of frequent clashes with the Arabs the strength of the Iranians was declining, so ultimately they were no match for the fierce Arab armies. Such downfall was the inevitable result of their political system. In Iran, as in India, a handful of priests and feudal Lords were supreme, while everyone else was looked upon as an outcast.
The consequence was that the oppressed peoples of the land were attracted by the equality and brotherhood as preached by Islam. Thus the highly-civilised but effete Iranians succumbed to the Arabs whom they had hitherto looked down as being uncivilised.
2. Omar (642-644):
Omar was the second Caliph of the Mussulmans. He too was Mohammed’s father-in-law. He had contributed much towards spreading the Islamic faith and Arab rule. So he was chosen to become Caliph in preference to Ali the nephew and son-in-law of Mohammed. By this time Islam had grown from a religious sect into a powerful, all-conquering military organisation. Among the earlier Arabs the death of a single person had served to kindle an entity that kept the fire of internal strife smouldering for centuries.
This lust of the Arabs for blood was canalized by Islam into a new direction—to the conquest and plunder of wealthy foreign countries. In their capital city of Medina, slaves from Iran, Turkey and Rome, were to be seen in large numbers. Some of these slaves became converts to Islam, but even then they were not given equal rights with the Arabs, for the latter were not willing to free their slaves so easily. Most of the slaves were culturally far superior to their masters, but they had to endure the cruelty and insult of their masters in silence.
Many stories are told of the simple life and sense of justice of Omar during the two years of his caliphate, but the justice that was meted out was only for the Arabs and not for outsiders or even the Mussulmans of the conquered territories.
The injustice against the conquered peoples resulted the murder of Omar Caliph by an Iranian slave. This had serious repurcussions among the Arabs. Though they obviously could not kill the entire Iranian race, they resolved to wipe out the Zorastrian religion from Iran and in this they were to a large extent successful.
3. Osman (644-652):
To avenge the murder of Omar, the new Caliph Osman announced that the general who should succeed in marching into Khurasan would be awarded with the governorship of the province.
Mvavia, the chief of the Umeyya family, was appointed administrator of Syria, which was ruled according to Roman Law. Mvavia realised that it was not possible to impose the tribal system of administration there and he also had sufficient intelligence to understand that the Syrians could not be turned into Bedouins.
He therefore contented himself with securing their allegiance to the Arab Caliph and the Islamic faith. But those who had been accustomed to the simplicity of early Islam as established by the Prophet did not like the feudal trappings of Mvavia. Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet in particular, was not willing to tolerate this state of affairs and so enmity flared up between him and Mvavia.
In 639, the Iranians were defeated in the battle of Nahabund, but they could not be completely subdued. During the rule of Osman not only Khurasan, but the entire Turkish Kingdom was attacked by the Arabs. Osman himself amassed a vast fortune, with the result that discontent began to grow among the Arabs and he was ultimately murdered.
4. Ali (652-661):
After waiting long for twenty-four years Ali became the Caliph. According to the Shiyas he was the only legitimate one to succeed as Caliph. Ali was a great favourite of the prophet who, having no son of his own, loved him very much. His period as Caliph was spent in continuous strife with Mvavia, who also belonged to a powerful Arab family. As a result of Mvavia’s conspiracy, Hasan, elder son of Ali, was poisoned by his own wife, while his younger son, Hussain, died of thirst in the deserts of Karbala.
Hussain and Hasan, as the grandsons of the Prophet Mohammed, were looked upon with great respect by the people of Arabia. That is why their death is mourned by Mussulmans during the “Moharram-” days every year.
Ali lost his life in one of his many battles, but it is not clear where he died. There are many places which claim the honour of having seen the last of him. In Khurasan there is a place called Turbate Haidri, which is claimed to be the site of his grave. In Afghanistan there is a Mazhar Sharif, which is also held in veneration as his burial place.
In the Khyber Pass, there is an Ali Musjid, where he is reported to have prayed for the last time before he fell in the battle against the infidels. By the time of his death, Arab rule had firmly established itself in Central Asia.