In the previous post I mentioned Bill Warner’s book Simple Koran – a reconstructed historical Koran where the verses are given in the order they were revealed, and provided with facts from prophet Muhammad’s life, giving the context necessary for understanding them. There’s another book, Abridged Koran, the only difference between them is that the numerous repetitive verses are omitted. By the way, without repetitions the Koran would be twice as thin. For example, the story of Moses and Pharaoh is repeated 39 times.
I am going to post small fragments from Abridged Koran, once a week, or maybe more often, so that we all could have access to the sources of what we are discussing. I’ll try making these fragments logically complete, but not too long. For example, this post will contain Chapter I. The verse serving as epigraph to the chapter is not the first one revealed to Muhammad, but it would be difficult to move further not knowing the context.
CHAPTER 1 IN THE BEGINNING
33:21 You have an excellent example in Allah’s Messenger
for those of you who put your hope in Allah and the
Last Day and who praise Allah continually.
Fourteen hundred years ago in Arabia, there was an orphan who became the first king of Arabia. Mohammed’s name would become the most common name in the world. He was to create an empire that would dwarf the Roman Empire, and he was to become the ideal pattern for all men and make the god of the Arabs the god of all. The smallest aspect of his behavior would be recorded in great detail and would set the pattern of life for billions of people over the millennia.
Mohammed’s father was called Abdullah, meaning slave of Allah. Allah was a high god of the many gods worshiped in the town of Mecca. His father died while his mother was pregnant. When he was five years old, his mother died and his grandfather took over his upbringing. Then Mohammed was orphaned for the third time when his grandfather died and his raising was assumed by his uncle, Abu Talib. All were of the Quraysh tribe.
These brief facts are the history known about his early childhood.
MOHAMMED’S TRIBE—THE QURAYSH
When Mohammed was born, there was no nation of Arabia, no Arabian king, no political unity. The society was tribal in nature and had the usual tribal aspects. A person was not an individual as much as he was a part of a tribe. Blood relations were everything, and when someone met someone outside the tribe, the first question was what is your tribe and your lineage? Your name gave a portion of your lineage. Without your tribe you were fair game and very weak. Squabbling and fighting amongst clans were common and were ruled by blood laws.
The Quraysh came to Mecca five generations before Mohammed under the leadership of Qusayy. Under Qusayy the rituals of worship at the Kabah [a stone temple] were established. The Quraysh became the priestly tribe of Mecca. They were the nobility of the town and held the ceremonial offices.
In addition to being religious leaders, the Quraysh were traders and business men. Religion and business came together in the form of the different religious pilgrimages and the accompanying business transactions.
Mohammed’s clan was the Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe. The Hashimite clan is active in politics today.
MECCA AS A RELIGIOUS CENTER
In Mecca there was a stone building in the shape of a cube called the Kabah. The Kabah was a religious site that contained many images of several tribal gods. We know of at least six other square stone houses called Kabahs that were in other towns in Arabia. However, Islam holds that the Kabah in Mecca was built by Abraham, the patriarch of the Jews.
The Kabah was the focus of religious rituals and a community center. Rituals established by Qusayy included prostrations, ritual prayers, and circling the Kabah while praying and drinking from the well called Zam Zam. Other rituals included throwing stones at pillars which symbolized the devil. Islam’s rituals come from the aboriginal Arabic religions.
Stones played an important part of the religions of Arabia. The Kabah was made of stone and had an important stone, the Black Stone, built into the corner of the Kabah. It was probably a meteorite and was a composite of several stones. It is small in size, roughly seven inches in diameter. This stone was touched only with the right hand and kissed by pilgrims. All of these native rituals were incorporated into Islam.
The god, Allah, seems to have been a male god of the moon and was probably the god of the Quraysh. Each tribe had its gods. There was not much organization of gods, unlike the Greeks or Romans. Mohammed’s father was named after Allah, but his other brothers were named after other Arabic gods.