Islamic History: 570 - 595


The Birth of Muhammad(saws)

The Prophet Muhammad was born in Makkah of the Hashim clan, belonging to the tribe of Quraish. His mother, Amina, was the daughter of Wahb, and his father was Abdullah, who died before his birth. He came under the care of his paternal grandfather Adbul Muttalib, who was about seventy years old. At the age of six, he lost his mother. After the death of his grandfather, when Muhammad was eight years old, he was entrusted to his uncle, Abu talib, who had become the new head of the clan, and grew up in his home.

The Byzantine and Persian Empires Bordering Arabia

After the death of Emperor Theodosius I in 395, the Roman Empire was partitioned into western and eastern halves between his sons Honorius and Arcadius respectively. In 476, however, the western Roman Empire collapsed, abandoning Britain, Gaul, Spain and part of Italy to the barbarians. In contrast, the eastern half of the empire, comprising the wealthier and more civilized provinces of Greece, Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor, was not only able to sustain the loss of the West but had flourished independently since then. The Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empirehad its capital at Byzantium(Constantinople). The other Great Power was Persia, and the boundary between the two ran from the Caucasus to the Upper Euphrates(roughly coinciding with the present border seperating Turkey and Syria from Persia and Iraq), leaving the ArabianPeninsula, which was mostly tractlessdesertat the time, is the largest in the world having an area of about one million square miles. The capital of the Persian Empire was at the ancient city of Ctesiphon(known as Medain in Arabic) on the Tigris, some twenty miles southeast of the site where the city of Baghdad was later to be founded in 762.

The Byzantine Empire was founded on Roman law and adminstration, Greek Language and civilization and Christain religion and moral values. The Church playeda powerful role but it also became a weakening factor in the Empire because of the dogmatic conflict of Christology within it. Greek became the official language of theRoman Empire during the reign of Emperor Heraclius(r.610-41); Christainity was made the state religion by Emperor Theodosius I(r. 379-95). Constantine I(r. 306-37), the first Christain Roman Emperor, had, of course, already paved the way for a Christain State by a number of important stepssuch as the Edict of Milan in 313, declaring Sunday as a day of rest in 321, presiding over the ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325, and founding of Constantinople(formerly Byzantium) in 330 as a "Christain City" and his permanent capital. But, contrary to a common belief, he did not make Christainity the religion of the Empire, which was done later by Theodosius I. Constantine himself was baptized shortly before his death.

Makkah, Center of Caravan Trade Route

There had been a long struggle for territory between the two mighty and rival empires, the Byzantine and Persian or Sasanid(Zoroastrian), as a result of which the overland trade routes through Persia had been broken. An alternative route, though not a direct one, had been found through Arabia for trade between the East and the Mediterranean. A part of this route was by sea to the Yemen port Adan and a part overland to Damascus and Gaza, via Makkah, along the west coast of the peninsula. There was extensive caravan trade between Yemen and the markets of Syria, and Makkah, which was a staging post, became a prosperous commercial center and the metropolis of Arabia. It also had a pagan shrine and sanctuary called Ka'aba, which was famous throughout Arabia and assured the safety of those who came to buy and sell at the trade fairs held there. It attracted a large number of pilgrims to perform idolatrous rites. In this way, the shrine, situated a few steps away from the famous spring Zamzam, played an important role in the economic and commercial life of Makkah which was run by a small group of rich merchants.

Geography and Chief Clans of Makkah

Makkah itself stood in a narrow, barren valley, surrounded by steep, bare hills. Its food supply came from the fertile fields of Taif, a town forty miles to the southeast. Water was also scarce, its main source of supply being the Zamzam, although there were other wells located outside the town. The free air of the open desert was thought healthier than the suffocating heat of this dusty and congested little town. It was, therefore, a widespread custom for people to give their children to be suckled by women of the neighboring tribes in the desert. Muhammad thus spent his early childhood in the care of a woman of the Sa'd tribe outside Makkah, after which he returned to his mother, but she died within a year, leaving him an orphan.

Makkah was inhabited mainly by the tribe of Quraish, which consisted of, among others, two prominent clans - the Hashim, headed by Abdul Muttalib, and the Umayya. The Hashim clan was entrusted with the duties related to the maintenance of the Ka'aba and the management of the Pilgrimage, while the Umayya clan had hereditary leadership in war. It was in the exercise of this last right that Abu Sufyan(ra), leader of the Umayya clan, had overall command of the Makkan forces against the Muslims in later battles. Both clans were engaged in trade, the Umayya clan much more so than the Hashim.

Christains and Jews in Arabia

After Christainity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in 381,it began to penetrate Arabia, slowly, but still posing a challenge to Arabian paganism. However, in the succeeding centuries, the Byzantine Orthodox Church no longer remained a religious unit but was bitterly divided into mutually hostile groups differing in their intrepretation of the Incarnation. The Nestorian Christains were persecuted and driven out of the Roman Empire altogether in the middle of the fifth century. These Greek refugees were welcomed in Persia as victims of the Byzantines, whom the Persians regarded as their main enemies. The Nestorian conducted avigorous missionary campaign along the Euphrates and the northern part of the Persian Gulf andsuceeded in converting many Arabs in those regions. Even the last ruler ofthe Arab Lakhmid Dynasty, Numan III(r. c.580-605), who ruled the north-eastern periphery of Arabia, became a Nestorian Christain. On the north-western side, the Ghassan Arab, tribe living along the border with Syria, had also become Christain by the middle of the sixth century, but they professed Monophysite Christainity, which was condemned as heretical by the Orthodox Church and bitterly opposed by the Nestorians.

In fact, both the Persian and Byzantine Empires maintained the Arab satellite states of Lakhm and Ghassan respectively to protect their open southern flanks from Bedouin attacks.

The Lakhmids and the Ghassanids were recognized as clients by these governments around the years 300 and 500 respectively. These rival tribes not only provided buffer states for their respective paymasters, but also engaged themselves in endless desert warfare, carrying out raids against each other. Christain communities were also founded in Yemen and Najran. In addition to the Christains, there were many much older Jewish colonies in Arabia, founded mainly in Yemen and Khaybar. There were three clans in Makkah who professed the Jewish faith. Thus, while the tribes of the peninsula were still pagan and worshipped idols, Judaism and Christainity had already established a foothold inthe peninsula and penetrated some communities, particularly along the fringes of the desert.

An Abyssinian Attempt to Destroy the Ka'aba

Abraha, the Christain Abyssinian governor of Yemen, invaded Hijaz in 570 but retreated in disarray from a place a few miles from Makkah, abandoning the original aim of the expedition, which was to destroy the Ka'aba. Abraha himself died on returning to the Yemenite capital, Sana. Thus the Ka'aba was saved, which was regarded as the fulfillment of the prayer which its Keeper and Muhammed's grandfather, Abdul Muttalib, had made to God to defend His own House.*

It is the incident which is referred to in Sura 105(The Elephant) in the Quran, so-called because of an elephant being present in the Axumite army. The Arabs of Hijaz were greatly impressed, because they had never seen an elephant before. So much importance is given to this event that the year 570 is described as the "Year of the Elephant" in some Arab chronicles.

It is not possible to ascertain the exact date of the Prophet(saws)'s birth. He(saws) is said to have been born fifty-five days after Abraha's attack on Makkah and in the firieth year of the reign of Chosroes Anusharwan. The birth is also said have taken place in the year of the third breaking of the Marib dam, situated sixty miles east of Sana in Yemen and center of large irrigation system. From these and other information, the year of the Prophet(saws)'s birth is taken as 570 or 571


The Capture of Yemen by the Persians

The Abyssinians were expelled from Yemen by the Persians after fifty-two years of occupation, and Yemen came under Persian rule.


Exposure of Byzantine Border to Arabia

The ruling Prince of the Ghassan tribe, being a Monophysite Christain, was arrested and taken to Constantinople for alleged treason. The Byzantines withdrew their recognition of the Ghassan Dynasty, which had been living along the Syrian border and protecting it in reurn for a subsidy and other privileges. This left the tribe in defiance and the desert border exposed to Bedouin attacks from Arabia.


Muhammad(Saws)'s marriage to Khadija(ra)

At the age of twenty-five, Muhammad(saws) married Khadija, a forty-year-old wealthy widow, who was his only wife until her death in 619. This gave him financial security, enabling him to pursue his own inclinations, which included long periods of introspection in solitude and involvement in trade. They had two sons, who died in infancy, and four daughtersn named Zaynad(ra), Ruqayya(ra), Fatima(ra) and Umm Kulthum(ra). Of these, Ruqayya married Uthman ibn Affan(ra) and Fatima(ra) married the Prophet(saws)'s cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib(ra); Uthman and Ali later became the third(644-56) and fourth(656-61) Caliphs respectively. Muhammed(saws) was survived only by her marriage to Ali was of lasting importance, since the Prophet(saws)'s descendants from this line have been especially revered.