This is the second post in the series Reading Koran. Chapter 2 of Bill Warner’s Abriged Koran, again, is mainly devoted to providing context in which Koran was revealed and uses a verse from Koran as an epigraph only, this is not the verse first revealed to Muhammad.
early life CHAPTER 2
3:131 Obey Allah and His messenger so
that you may receive mercy.
When Mohammed was eight years old, his grandfather died. He was then taken in by Abu Talib, his uncle. His uncle took him on a trading trip to Syria, which was a very different place from Mecca. Syria was a sophisticated country that was Christian and very much a part of the cosmopolitan culture of the Mediterranean. It was Syrian Christians who gave the Arabs their alphabet. When Mohammed was a child there had never been a book written in Arabic. Only poems and business correspondence were written in Arabic.
Mohammed was grown when he was hired by the wealthy widow and a distant cousin Khadija to act as her agent in trading with Syria. Mohammed had a reputation of good character and good business sense. Trading from Mecca to Syria was risky business because it took skill to manage a caravan and then to make the best deal in Syria. He managed Khadija’s affairs well, and she returned a good profit on the trading. Khadija was a widow and well known among the Quraysh tribe. Sometime after hiring Mohammed as her business agent, she proposed marriage to him. They married and had six children. Their two sons died in childhood, and the four daughters lived to adulthood.
MONOTHEISM IN ARABIA
The Arabs referred to monotheism as Hanifiya and to those who were monotheists as Hanifs. By far the strongest strain of monotheism was represented by the Jews. After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans due to the Zealot’s rebellion, Jews dispersed throughout the Middle East, so there was a strong presence of Jews in Arabia. There were a few Christians who were local Arabs, in fact, Mohammed’s wife had a cousin who was a Christian. But the type of Christianity in the area of Mecca was unorthodox with a Trinity of God, Jesus and Mary.
Jews and Christians were called the People of the Book. Since there was no book yet published in Arabic, this distinction was a strong one. The sources of the Arabic religions were found in oral tradition and custom. The Meccans were aware of the Jewish Abrahamic myths, and though Mecca was a long way from Syria where Abraham dwelt, the Meccans claimed that Abraham and Ishmael had built the Kabah in ancient times.
Even though there was a pull towards monotheism, it mixed with ancient Arabic tribal religions in a society that had a tolerance for different religious beliefs. In one clan, families would differ in the deities they included in their worship. These included deities that were brought into the home through marriage outside of the clan and a belief of spirits, or jinns, that could influence lives in good or bad ways.
One monotheist, Zayd, abandoned all religion and created his own monotheistic religion, making his own prayers and rituals. They were a fusion of Judaism theology and tribal rituals, including use of the Kabah for a prayer focus and prostrations. He said that Abraham prayed facing in a sacred direction and condemned and publicly attacked his tribal members for their religion. The one god was to be feared, heaven was a garden, and infidels would burn in Hell. He condemned any form of worship of a god except the one god, and people submitted to the un-named one god. Much of his poetry used the same language as the Koran did. He referenced his worship to the Jewish patriarchs as they were pure in their worship. Mohammed recognized him as a precursor.