From Merchant to Messenger

The Prophet Muhammad's struggle for legitimacy as revealed in the Koran

Overarching Narratives

From Merchant to MessengerIn summer, the Quraysh caravans travelled north to Syria and Palestine to trade because it was cooler and in winter, to southern climes such as Yemen (“The journey of the winter and summer,” Revelations 106:2). Allah took credit for the rise of the Quraysh from a scattered tribe living hand to mouth into the dominant tribe of Mecca (Revelation 106:4); for that He expected them to worship Him, “the Lord of this House,” i.e., the Ka’ba, even during their travels.


106 Quraysh

In the Name of Allah,

the Compassionate, the Merciful

106:1 For Quraysh’s customary journey,

106:2 The journey of the winter and summer,

106:3 Let them worship the Lord of this House,

106:4 Who has fed them when they were hungry and secured them against fear.

The Koran contains two overarching complementary narratives. The first is all about Allah’s frustrations with other gods and those who worship them or associate them with His Omnipotence, such as Christians with their concept of the Trinity (see Getting to Know Allah:Allah vs. Alleged Associates,” Boreal Books). The second is Muhammad’s struggle to convince his Meccan kin, the Quraysh, that the angel Gabriel had informed him that he had been personally chosen by the one-and-only God to be His ultimate emissary to mankind. Unless they listened to what he had to say without dismissing it as nonsense, they were doomed. The Meccans thought this was a ruse concocted by their kin to get himself made absolute ruler of the ten tribes that co-operatively governed the city—the dignitaries in the following revelation:

38:6 And the dignitaries among them went forth saying: “Go on and be steadfast regarding your gods. This is indeed a matter premeditated (Muhammad [wants] to subjugate us and rule us as his subjects, Moududi).

Not so, said God. Muhammad is asking you to be My servants, not his.

3:79 It is not given to any mortal that Allah should give him the Book, the judgement and the Prophethood and then he should say to the people: “Be servants to me, rather than to Allah”; but rather: “Be learned men, by virtue of what you used to teach of the Book and what you used to study.”

The same goes for My angels and the prophets, e.g., Jesus, whom I have sent before.

3:80 Nor would he enjoin you to take angels and the Prophets as lords. Would he enjoin you to be unbelievers after you have become Muslims?

In 622, the Meccans had had enough of Muhammad denigrating, in his newfound god’s name, their gods and goddesses and those of their ancestors.

2:170 When it is said to them: “Follow what Allah has revealed”, they say: “We would rather follow that which we found our fathers doing.” What, even though their fathers understood nothing and were not rightly guided!

5:104 And if they are told: “Come now to what Allah has revealed and to the Messenger”, they reply: “Sufficient unto us what we found our forefathers doing”, even if their forefathers knew nothing and were not rightly guided!

31:21 If it is said to them: “Follow what Allah has sent down”, they say: “Rather, we will follow what we found our fathers doing.” It is as though Satan was summoning them to the punishment of Hell.

They decided to do away with him. Having gotten wind of their intentions, Muhammad prudently—along with his closest collaborator, Abu Bakr—removed himself to the oasis city of Medina 210 miles (338 kilometers) as the crow flies north of Mecca, later to be joined by his followers.

Muhammad would eventually have his way with his detractors when he returned to Mecca in 630 A.D. at the head of an army of believers as the Prophet Muhammad. From Merchant to Messenger is not about this military take-over of Mecca, and shortly thereafter, the entire Arabian Peninsula (that is the subject matter of Jihad in the Koran, Boreal Books) or the forced conversions that followed, but about how the budding prophet tried to cajole his kin and fellow citizens of Mecca into accepting him as a legitimate legate of the Almighty, and therefore deserving of their unwavering, unquestioning obedience. Muhammad’s appeals were almost always laced with threats of a horrible punishment, if they did not do as they were told, from the god for whom he claimed to speak. These threats would lead to possibly the first linking of Islam with terrorism.

50:45 We know better what they say and you are not a tyrant terrorizing them. So, remind, by the Qur’an, him who fears My Warning.

In the hadiths:

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Allah's Apostle said, "I have been sent with the shortest expressions bearing the widest meanings, and I have been made victorious with terror.”

Bukhari 52.220