a document was shown in which a man of San‘a in Yemen acknowledged that he had borrowed from ‘Abd al-Moṭṭalib 1000 silver dirhems of the Hudaida standard, and Allāh with the two “angels” (probably a euphemism for the goddesses Al-lāt and al-‘Uzzā) served as witness; it is difficult to see why such a document should have been forged. The name Hāshim (for ‘Abd al-Moṭṭalib's father) may or may not be historical; here, as in the ascending line throughout, we have subjects without predicates. The name of ‘Abd al-Moṭṭalib's son, who was Mahomet's father, is given as ‘Abdallāh; the correctness of this has been questioned, because “Servant of Allah” would seem to be too appropriate, and the name was often given by the Prophet to converts as a substitute for some pagan appelation. This, however, is hypercritical, as the name of the father could not easily be altered, when relatives abounded, and it would seem that at one time the Prophet made no theological use of the name Allah, for which he intended to subsitute Raḥmān. The name of his mother is given as Āminah, and with this one of his own titles, Amīn, agrees; although the Arabs do not appear to bring the two into connexion. Her father's name is given as Wahb, and she is brought into relation with a Medinese tribe called the Banū ‘Adī b. al-Najjār, to whom she is said to have brought her son in his early infancy. The circumstances may have been suggested by his later connexion with that place; yet in what seems a historical narrative her grave is mentioned as known to be Abwa, midway between the two cities, whence this early bond between the Prophet and his future home may have really existed.
His own name is given in the Koran in the forms Aḥmad and the familiar Muḥammad; in contemporary poetry we also find the form Maḥmūd. Similar variation between derivatives from the same root is found in proper names which occur in early poetry; the meaning of all would be “the praised,” if the root be given its Arabic signification—“the desired” if interpreted from the Hebrew.
The form Muḥammad (ordinarily transliterated Mohammed; Mahomet, Mehmet &c., represent the Turkish pronunciation) is found in a pre-Islamic inscription, and appears to have been fairly common in Arabia. In Hag. ii. 7 a derivative of the Hebrew equivalent root occurs in the prophecy “and the desired of all nations shall come,” and this passage has suggested the idea that the name may have been taken by the Prophet as the equivalent of “Messiah,” while the Moslems themselves find its equivalent in the Paraclete of the Fourth Gospel, though this identification requires more ingenuity. His kunyah (i.e. the Arab title of respect, in which a man is called after his son) is Abu'l-Qāsim; other names by which he is called are titles of honour, e.g. Muṣṭafā “chosen.” (see further the genealogical table, ad fin.
In the Koran, Allah says that He found the Prophet an orphan, poor and astray; it is possible that all the expressions Early Life.should be understood figuratively, like the “poor, naked, blind” of Christian hymns; the Arabs, however, take them literally, and Mahomet is said to have been a posthumous child, whose mother died a few months or years after his birth, and who was brought up first by his grandfather, and then by his uncle Abū Ṭālib, one of the poorer members of the family; in the controversy between the Alid and Abbasid pretenders of the 2nd century of Islam the Abbasid Manṣūr claims that his ancestor fed the ancestor of ‘Ali, i.e. Abū Ṭālib, otherwise he would have had to beg. There was evidently an apparent inconsistency between Mahomet's being a poor orphan and the favourite grandchild of the eminent and wealthy ‘Abd al-Moṭṭalib; and it was solved in this way. There was a tradition that in his early years he was sent into the desert to acquire the habits and the language of the Bedouins; and this seems to have been attested by the Prophet himself. In a tribal fight he is said to have acted as armour-bearer to one of his uncles, Zubair. There seems no doubt that he often accompanied Meccan caravans to the countries with which the Meccans had trade relations; such especially were Syria and south Arabia, and perhaps Egypt and Mesopotamia. It is conceivable that he may have visited Abyssinia by sea. For though accurate knowledge is nowhere to be found in the Koran, it exhibits a large amount of miscellaneous information, such as a trader might well pick up. His career as a caravan-conductor appears to have terminated with his marriage to Khadīja, daughter of Khuwailid, represented by the tradition as a wealthy widow, fiteen years his senior and forty years of age at the time of the union. As she became the mother of a numerous family, a special rule was discovered by Moslem physiologists extending the child-bearing period of Korashite women beyond that of others. Since it is claimed for Mahomet that he first gave Arab women the right to inherit property, the difficulty noticed is not the only one connected with this marriage; and Robertson Smith has called attention to some others, unconnected with this theory of “marriage and kinship in early Arabia.” After his marriage Mahomet appears to have been partner in a shop in Mecca; where he apparently sold agricultural produce. His style is strongly marked by phrases and metaphors drawn from trade, though as a statesman he never displayed any financial ability.
Writing in the monumental script of South Arabia had been known for centuries in the peninsula; and shortly before the rise Education.of Islam a cursive script—the parent of the ordinary Arabic character—had been started in the Christian state of Hira, with which the beginnings of modern Arabic literature are connected. A modification of this had been introduced into Mecca, and was probably used for contracts and similar documents. The word ummī, literally “popular” or “plebeian” (according to one etymology), applied to Mahomet in the Koran, is said to mean “one who can neither read nor write,” and the most generally accepted view is that he could do neither, a supposition which enters into the doctrine of the miraculous nature of the Koran. According to another interpretation the word means “Meccan,” i.e. native of the “Mother of the Villages” (Umm al-Qura); and the most probable theory is that he could do both, but unskilfully. Indeed on one historic occasion he erased certain words in a document; and where in the Koran he rebuts the charge of “taking notes,” he does not employ obvious retort that he could not write, but gives a far less convincing answer. For poetry, which seems to have been cultivated in Arabia long before his time, he possessed no ear; but we have little reason for supposing that either writing or versification had yet entered into Arabian education. The former would be acquired by those who needed it, the latter was regarded as a natural gift. There is reason for thinking the language of the Koran incorrect and ungrammatical in parts, but as it afterwards became the ultimate standard of classical Arabic, this point is not easy to prove. On the whole then his early life seems to have been such as was normal in the case of a man belonging to one of the more important families in a community which had not long been started on a career of prosperity.
Of the organization of that community we unfortunately know very little, though we hear of a council-chamber, and, as Social System.has been seen, of an age-qualification for admission to it. It is, however, certain that the theory of decision by the majority was absolutely unknown to Mahomet's second successor, whence we learn little from this tradition (even if it be authentic) of the mode whereby the tribes who together formed the Meccan population managed their common concerns, whether commercial or political. The form of government seems to have been a rudimentary oligarchy, directed by some masterful individual; before the Flight we read of various prominent personages, after the Flight and the battle of Badr (a.h. 2) one chieftain, Abū Sofiān (see Caliphate, ad init.), appears to take the lead whether in war or in policy. It would seem, however, that the right of independent action belonged to the individual tribes, even to the extent of refusing to take part in a campaign. For the settlement of ordinary disputes recourse was had (it appears) rather to soothsayers, near or distant, than to any regularly constituted authority or tribunal. On the other hand we are furnished with a list of officials who were concerned with different parts of the festal performances and the ordinary worship. Of these we may mention the Custodian of the Ka‘ba, and the official whose duty was siqāyah (“watering”), said to mean furnishing the pilgrims with water,