Muhammad’s adult life during which he developed and formed his spiritual principles is broken down into two distinct periods: The Meccan Period, and the Medinan Period. The Meccan Period lasted thirteen years. The Medinan Period was only ten years in duration, ending in his death.
During his time in Mecca, he was given to various religious experiences, all of which centered on a personal crisis of spirituality that consumed him in wondering whether his life had any real purpose, coupled with the reality and certainty of death. Because of Muhammad’s embrace of certain beliefs that ran counter to the long-established beliefs of local tribes in the Mecca area, he ran afoul of some very powerful leaders. Seeing that he was no longer accepted as an honored spiritual leader, he left for Medina, joined by a few family members and a couple of friends who believed in his messages from Allah, recorded in what is today the Qur’an (Koran – the Islamic holy book).
In the oasis of Medina he and his small band ran into further persecution, finding it necessary to defend themselves continuously. The erstwhile peace-loving Muhammad found himself having to take up arms against his enemies. As a result, he received yet another teaching from Allah, which is found in the Qur’an 2:217, “They will question you concerning the holy month (Ramadan), and fighting in it. Say ‘Fighting in it is a heinous thing, but to bar people from God’s way, to disbelieve in Him and the Holy Mosque and to expel its people from it – that is more heinous in God’s sight; and persecution is more heinous than fighting’” (PBS – Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet).
Because of this constant striving against those who opposed Islam, Muhammad attempted to place warfare in some perspective. It came down to the meaning and purpose of jihad. There are two primary meanings in the word jihad. First – there is the moral striving to do what is right. This is focused more on an inner struggle of the soul. Consider this the individual attempt at self-improvement. Muhammad called this the “greater” jihad. Second – there is the political, social, and military struggle to do what is right within society for the betterment of man. This Muhammad called the “lesser” jihad.
As Muhammad was learning, those tribes and people groups around him were not the slightest bit interested in his evolving belief system. The followers of Muhammad were aggressive to the point of being considered a threat to any society. The Muslims at that time, under the generalship of Muhammad, were fighting for their very existence. Feeling put upon, Muhammad increasingly developed a more militant attitude in his dealings with those who opposed him. Sadly, this same attitude seems to have pervaded Islam throughout their history.
The perception among non-Muslims today is that the “lesser” jihad, as Muhammad described it, has proven to be the method of conversion most easily used because it plays to mans more basic nature of enforcing his will on others. Muslims see themselves literally at war with any and all non-Muslims. “Once aroused, Arab hostility will vent itself indiscriminately on any and all outsiders.” There is an attitude expressed in an old Muslim-Arab tradition: “al-kufru millatun wahida” – “Unbelief [or rather, the realm of the unbelievers] is one nation”; that is to say, just as all Muslims (and, within them, all the Arabs) constitute one nation, at least in theory, so do the unbelievers.” (The Arab Mind, Raphael Patai, Scribners, 1983, p162).
Muhammad unleashed a fire-storm of terror when he took up arms against non-Muslims. For the last fourteen hundred years the world has been forced to deal with this wanton violence. Only today with the advances in technology and weaponry the militant Muslims who believe they are acting on behalf of their prophet, Muhammad, are bringing fear and destruction upon the rest of the world.
How will this end?