Right from the start, things were different in Medina. Mohammed already had a number of followers there. Once his followers from Mecca joined him, he had a sizeable group. Included in these were some of Mecca’s fiercest warriors.
Importantly, unlike the Meccans, the clans of Medina were already deeply divided amongst themselves. Because the Muslims were prepared to stick together, Mohammed became the most powerful man in Medina. The Medinan clans also gave him the power to mediate disputes believing that he would be a good, neutral arbitrator.
Mohammed soon set about consolidating this power. He built a Mosque and a compound nearby for himself, his followers and his growing number of wives. He wrote a charter which was to be the basis for the law of Medina. This law was based on two different sets of rules. One set of rules would apply to the Muslims and a different set of rules would apply to the Kaffirs (non-Muslims). These rules became known as Sharia Law.
Mohammed divided the world into the Muslims, who believed in him and the Kaffirs, who did not. Now this division was set down in law and became the basis of the Islamic religion.
All Muslims were henceforth to be members of a nation known as the Ummah. They were bound to help all other Muslims, especially in conflicts with Kaffirs.
A Muslim should not kill another Muslim, nor help a Kaffir against a Muslim. Muslims were sworn to avenge violence against other Muslims but Kaffirs should never fight against Muslims. Jews who were allied with the Muslims were to be treated fairly.
If they went to war with the Muslims they would help pay for the war. They were also obliged to come to the aid of Muslims who were attacked. Mohammed was to be the final judge of all disputes and disagreements. The world was now divided into two halves. Dar al Islam (the land of Islam) which would be ruled by Sharia Law and Dar al Harb (the land of war) which was the rest of the planet. This division is still a key component of Islam today.
This new legal code turned non-Muslims into distinctly second-class citizens. Many of the Arabs converted to Islam to avoid this discrimination and because of pressure applied to them. They did not truly believe however. Mohammed referred to these pretend Muslims as “hypocrites”. Mohammed was now so powerful in Medina that no Arab would openly criticize him.
From here on in this story becomes much more shocking. For the sake of authenticity I will be quoting frequently from Islam’s Holy Books. Before I start doing this however I would like to give a better understanding of how they work and how they fit together.
These books can be considered as a Trilogy, consisting of The Sira, (Sirat Rasul Allah by Ibn Ishaq) the hadith and The Koran. The Sira makes up the bulk of what you are reading. It is a straightforward biography and needs little explanation. If a quote comes from The Sira, it will be preceded by the letter I and then a number. This relates to margin numbers in the original text.
A hadith is a short story or “tradition”. These are usually about a paragraph long. They are usually related by a companion of Mohammed, about something he did or said. Confusingly, a collection of hadith is called…. a hadith.
These stories come to us via a number of re-tellings, a little like Chinese whispers. Many of the compilers were not rigorous in verifying these stories. They produced compilations of hadith which are considered unreliable or “weak”.
There are two collections of hadith which are considered to stand head and shoulders above the others. These are the hadith of Al-Bukhari and of Abu Al-Husayn Muslim. These two collections are often referred to as “sahih” (e.g. sahih Bukhari) which in Arabic means “authentic”. Any quotes I use will come from these two “canonical” hadith although there are four others which are considered “reliable”.
Islamic scholars often trawl through the collections of weaker hadith. They search for extra information about Mohammed’s life which is not included in the stronger and better known hadith. However, anything which contradicts Bukhari or Muslim would not be considered to be correct. The idea that “greater” Jihad means “to struggle to improve oneself” comes from a weak collection of hadith.
In one sense the Koran is the most important of the three sets of books. It makes up only around 18% of Islamic doctrine and rather less if you take out the mountain of repetition it contains. Importantly however, it is considered to be the verbatim word of God, his last message to his faithful followers and utterly perfect in every way.
To give yet another example of how seriously Muslims take this, Persian rug makers who produce incredibly beautiful and intricate silk and wool rugs, always put a tiny fault in each one, (although you or I would almost certainly never find it). This is because they believe that only the Koran is perfect and therefore nothing else should be.
To reinforce this incredible importance, I will be highlighting any quotes which come from the Koran.
The Koran is not like the Bible which can be easily understood simply by reading it. Firstly, it is not written in chronological order. The surahs (chapters) are arranged by length from longest to shortest (except for the first). This is believed to make it easier to memorize.
On its own, this would probably be confusing enough. To make things even more confusing however, earlier verses are cancelled out, or “abrogated” by later ones.
The Koran was claimed by Mohammed, to be the verbatim Word of God. It soon became clear to people however, that different parts of the Koran contradicted each other. When questioned about this, Allah sent down a new verse:
2:106 Whatever of Our revelations we repeal or cause to be forgotten, we will replace with something superior or comparable. Do you not know that Allah has power over all things? Do you not know that Allah reigns sovereign over the heavens and earth and besides him you have no protector or helper?
In fact, as many as 225 verses of the Koran are abrogated (cancelled) by later verses.
The Koran is not written in chronological order. Since later verses cancel earlier ones, it is therefore impossible to understand its meaning without knowing the order in which it was written. To do this it must be read in conjunction with the other Islamic sacred texts, The Sira and the hadith.
There is another barrier to understanding the Koran. Muslim scholars insist that its meaning cannot be translated into another language. This claim is of course ridiculous. The Koran has been translated many times and all these translations give quite similar meanings. The Koran is written in poetic form which makes it easier to memorise. When translated into another language the poetry is lost, but the meaning remains.
Only a minority of Muslims speak Arabic. Very few of those who do would clearly understand the ancient, thirteen hundred year old Arabic of the Koran. This makes a study of the Koran difficult, even for Muslims. For Kaffirs, (non-Muslims) it is even harder. Until recently, The Koran and other Islamic holy books, had never been arranged to give a clear and concise meaning. This made it impossible for a layman to understand them.
It may be tempting to dismiss these facts as the quirks of a religion which is still fundamentally similar to our own. It is also true that the Catholic Church once refused to allow the Bible to be translated out of ancient Latin. However, once we manage to get past these barriers and find the real message of Islam, the reason soon becomes clear.
Mohammed claimed that the Koran was God's final word. He insisted that it contains everything anyone would ever need to know. It is however, quite limited in its scope. It is the most revered of the Islamic holy books. In terms of understanding Islam however, it is actually the least important.
In fact, of the much vaunted “five pillars of Islam,” there is not enough information in the Koran to perform even one of these “pillars”. What the Koran does tell us repeatedly however, is that to be a true Muslim you must follow the example of Mohamed which is contained in The Sira and the hadith (the “Sunnah” of Mohammed).
(To read the next chapter, click on the link below)