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403
MAHOMET

alteration. The purity of the Arabic also appears to have been very questionable; for several expressions appear to be Ethiopic rather than Arabic, and the person whom the Meccans had in mind is likely to have been an Abyssinian Christian, since the Christian technicalities of the Koran are mainly derived from the Ethiopic Gospels and Acts. On one occasion when some questions suggested by learned foreigners had been propounded to the Prophet he required a fortnight's delay before the revelation which solved them came; the matter contained in his reply was certainly such as required research. His sources of information seem at all times to have been legendary rather than canonical; and the community which seemed to his opponents to agree best with his views was that of the Sabians or Mandaeans (qq.v.).

It has been suggested that Mahomet first threatened the Meccans with temporal punishment, and only when this threat failed to take effect resorted to the terrors of the Day of Judgment and the tortures of Hell; it seems however a mistake to distinguish between the two. These threats provided the Prophet with his most powerful sermons. The boasts of incomparable eloquence which the Koran contains are evidence that his oratorical power was effective with his audiences, since the more successful among the Arabic poets talk of their compositions somewhat in the same way. These discourses certainly led to occasional conversions, perhaps more frequently among women than men.

The diplomatic war seems to have been due to the Prophet's increasing success, which led to serious persecution of Mahomet's less influential followers,The Exiles in Axum though, as has been seen, no blood could be shed in Mecca. Abū Ṭālib, moreover, prevented him from being exiled, though he probably had to endure many personal insults. Something however had to be done for the persecuted Moslems, and (perhaps at the suggestion of his Abyssinian helper) Mahomet endeavoured to find a refuge for them in the realm of Axum. Abyssinia was doubtless connected in every Meccan mind with the “Expedition of the Elephant”; and such an alliance secured by Mahomet was a menace to the existence of the Meccan community. A deputation was therefore sent by the Meccan leaders to demand extradition of the exiles; and as chief of this expedition the future conqueror of Egypt, 'Amr b. al-'Āṣ (see 'Amr ibn el-Ass), first figures in history. To frustrate his efforts Mahomet sent his cousin Ja'far armed with an exposition of the Prophet's beliefs and doctrines afterwards embodied in the Koran as the Sura of Mary (No. XIX.; though with the addition of some anti-Christian matter). The original document contained an account of the Nativity of Christ with various miracles not known to either the canonical or even the apocryphal gospels which have been preserved, but which would be found edifying rather than unorthodox by a church one of whose most popular books is The Miracles of the Virgin Mary. To this there were added certain notices of Old Testament prophets. The Abyssinian king and his ecclesiastical advisers took the side of Mahomet and his followers, whom they appear to have regarded as persecuted Christians; and an attempt made probably by the astute 'Amr to embroil them with the Abyssinians on the difficult question of the Natures of Christ failed completely. There seems reason for thinking that the Abyssinian king contemplated bringing back the exiles by force, but was diverted from this purpose by frontier wars; meanwhile they were safely harboured, though they seem to have suffered from extreme poverty. The want of an Abyssinian chronicle for this period is a serious disadvantage for the study of Islamic origins. The sequel shows that regular correspondence went on between the exiles and those who remained in Mecca, whence the former were retained within the fold of Islam, with occasional though rare apostasies to Christianity.

Mahomet's diplomatic victory roused the Meccan leaders to fury, and they decided on the most vigorous measures to which they could rise; Abū Ṭālib, Mahomet's protector, and the clan which acknowledged him as sheikh, including the Prophet and his family, were blockaded in the quarter which they occupied; as in other sanctuaries, though blood might not be shed, a culprit might be starved to death. That this did not occur, though the siege appears to have lasted some months at least, was due to the weak good nature of the Meccans, but doubtless also to the fact that there were enlisted on Mahomet's side many men of great physical strength and courage (as their subsequent careers proved), who could with impunity defy the Meccan embargo. After a time however the besieged found the situation intolerable, and any assistance which they might have expected from the king of Axum failed to come. The course adopted by Mahomet was retractation of those of his utterances which had most offended the Meccans, involving something like a return to paganism. A revelation came acknowledging the effectiveness of the Meccan goddesses as well as Allah, and the Meccans raised the siege. News of the reconciliation reached the Abyssinian exiles and they proceeded to return.

By the time they reached the Arabian coast the dispute had recommenced. The revelation was discovered to be a fabrication of the Devil, who, it appears, regularly interpolates in prophetic revelations; such at least is the apology preserved in the Koran, whence the fabricated verses have been expunged. Since our knowledge of this episode (regarded as the most disgraceful in the Prophet's career) is fragmentary, we can only guess that the Prophet's hand had once more been forced by the more earnest of his followers, for whom any compromise with paganism was impossible. The exiles went back to Abyssinia; and about this time both Abū Ṭālib and Khadīja died, leaving the Prophet unprotected.

He fled to the neighbouring oasis of Ṭāif, where wealthy Meccans had possessions, and where the goddess al-'Uzza was worshipped with special zeal—where she is said still to exist in the form of a block of stone. He had but little success there in proselytizing, and indeed had to cease preaching; but he opened negotiations with various Meccan magnates for a promise of protection in case of his return. This was at last obtained with difficulty from one Moṭ'im b. 'Adi. It would appear that his efforts were now confined to preaching to the strangers who assembled at or near Mecca for the ceremonies connected with the feasts. He received in consequence some invitations to come and expound his views away from Mecca, but had to wait some time before one came of a sort which he could wisely accept.

The situation which led to Mahomet's Flight (hijra, anglicized incorrectly hejira, q.v.) was singularly favourable to Mahomet's enterprise, and utilized by him with extraordinary caution and skill.The Flight to Yathrib. At the palm plantation called Yathrib, afterwards known as al-Medina, Medina, “the City” (i.e. of the Prophet), there were various tribes, the two most important, called Aus and Khazraj, being pagan, and engaged in an internecine feud, while under their protection there were certain Jewish tribes, whose names have come down to us as Qainuqā, Naḍīr and Quraiẓa—implying that the Israelites, as might be expected, imitated the totem nomenclature of their neighbours. The memory of these Israelites is exclusively preserved by the Moslem records; the main stream of Jewish history flowed elsewhere. In the series of combats between the Aus and Khazraj the former had generally been worsted; the Jews, as usual, had avoided taking any active part in the fray. Finally, owing to an act of gross perfidy, they were compelled to fight in aid of the Aus; and in the so-called battle of Bu'āth the Aus aided by the Jews had won a victory, doubtless attributed to the God of the Jews. As has been seen, the divine name employed by Mahomet (Raḥmān) was one familiar to the Jews; and the Yathribites who visited Mecca at feast-time were naturally attracted by a professed representative of al-Raḥmān. The first Yathribite converts appear to have been Khazrajites, and one As'ad, son of Zurarah, is the most prominent figure. Their idea may have been in the first place to secure the aid of the Israelitish Deity in their next battle with the Aus, and indeed the primary object of their visit to Mecca is said to have been to request assistance for their war. For this the plan was substituted of inviting the Prophet to come to Mecca as dictator, to heal the feud and restore order, a procedure to which Greek antiquity offers parallels. The new converts were told to carry on secret propaganda in Yathrib with this end in view. At the next feast