During the years he lived in Mecca, Muhammad was at peace with those of differing faiths, including the tribal beliefs which his father had espoused. This tribe had even been tasked with guarding the icon, Kaaba, a stone used for the worship of various pagan deities. Muhammad had married his wife, Khadija when he was twenty-five. When he was fifty his wife passed away. For twenty-five years he was married only to this one woman. Later he would have as many as eleven wives, including a nine-year-old.
About the time Muhammad was forty he had an encounter with the Angel Gabriel, who proceeded to inform him that he was to be the last and most authoritative prophet of Allah. Strangely, Muhammad at first believed that the visitation from Allah through the Angel Gabriel was not genuine. In point of fact, he thought he might well have been possessed by an evil spirit, or jinn. He even expressed these fears to Khadija. This is the account of that turning point in his life when he returned home to his wife: “Then Allah’s Apostle returned with the Inspiration and with his heart beating severely. Then he went to Khadija bint Khuwailid and said, ‘Cover me! Cover me!’ They covered him until his fear was over and after that he told her everything that had happened, and said, ‘I fear that something may happen to me.’ Khadija replied, ‘Never! By Allah, Allah will never disgrace you’” (Hadith 1.1.3).
For the next three years Muhammad heard nothing from Allah, fearing that he had displeased his god. He decided to go to his favorite place for refuge, Mount Hira, and see if he couldn’t force the issue once and for all. Was he Allah’s last and greatest prophet or not? He was so despondent that he even contemplated suicide by jumping from one of the mountain’s high cliffs. One Muslim biographer records that peace came to the prophet through the words of Allah. “By the forenoon, and by the night as it spreads its wings over the world in peace, your Lord has not forsaken you; nor is He displeased with you. Surely, the end shall be better for you than the beginning. Your Lord will soon give you of His bounty and you will be well pleased. Did he not find you an orphan and give you shelter? Did he not find you erring and guide you to the truth? . . . . The bounty of your Lord, always proclaim.”
Over the next several years Muhammad’s behavior became worrisome to many of his followers. At one point he claimed to speak to the dead, stating that they could hear him just as easily as his own disciples did. He even went to a cemetery in Baqi al Ghargad and prayed for the dead. Some Muslim scholars suggest that this is easily explained because Muhammad was psychic. An additional troubling event had to do with conflicting revelations from both Allah and Satan. Another peculiarity was when he authorized intercession to certain idols. This truly shocked his followers! The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, was when he actually changed some of the words he had received from Allah. Such abnormal actions caused many to stop following him.
Muhammad’s egregious behavior of changing the word of Allah is recorded by his scribe, “On a number of occasions [his scribe] had, with the prophet’s consent, changed the closing words of verses . . . Having observed a succession of changes of this type, Abdollah renounced Islam on the ground that the revelations, if from God, could not be changed at the prompting of a scribe such as himself." (Unveiling Islam: An Insider’s Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs, by Ergun Mahmet Caner, Emir Fethi Caner, and Richard Land).
Trouble was brewing for Muhammad when he attempted to argue against the residents of Mecca that Allah alone was God and not their idols that they worshipped. At first he was verbally assaulted for such outlandish views. Then Khadija died, which left him feeling vulnerable. Before he left Mecca out of fear for his life, he told the people he had been translated to heaven and had actually sat and talked with Moses and Jesus. This so upset the Meccans that they plotted to assassinate Muhammad.
Next week we will look at the events that cause Muhammad to become militant.