The Prophet's Biography - nabi muhammad 16

The Prophet's Biography - nabi muhammad


Physical and Geographical Conditions

At the time the Prophet (r) migrated to Yathrib, the city was divided into distinct sections inhabited by the Arabs and the Jews, with a separate district allocated to each clan. Each division consisted of the residential quarters and the soil used for agricultural purposes while in another part they used to have their strongholds or fortress-like structures. (Al-Yahud fi Balad il-‘Arab, p. 116)

They had fifty-nine such strongholds in Madinah. Dr. Israel Welphenson writes about these strongholds:

“The fortresses were of great importance in Yathrib for the people belonging to a clan took shelter in them during raids by the enemy. They afforded protection to the women and children who retreated to them in times of clashes and forays while the men went out to engage with the enemy. These strongholds were also utilized as warehouses for the storage of food-grains and fruits as the enemy could easily pilfer them if left in the open places. Goods and arms were also kept in such citadels and caravans carrying the merchandise used to stop near them for the markets were usually held along the doors of these fortifications. The same bulwarks also housed the synagogues and educational institutions known as Midras. The costly and valuable goods which were stored in the fortresses show that the religious scriptures were also kept in them.” Jewish leaders and chieftains used to assemble in these fortresses for consultations or for taking decisions on important issues which were usually sealed by taking an oath on the scripture” (Al-Yahud fi Balad il-‘Arab, pp. 116-117)

Defining the word Utum, as these fortresses were called, Dr. Welphenson writes: “The term connotes, in Hebrew, to shut out or to obstruct. When it is used in connection with a wall it denotes such windows as are shut down from outside can be opened from inside. The word is also reflective of a defensive wall or rampart and with that, it is safe to presume that Utum was the name given by the Jews to their fortresses. They had shutters which could be closed from the outer side and opened from the inner side.”

Yathrib was, thus, a cluster of such strongholds or fortified suburbs which had taken the shape of a town because of their proximity. The Qur’an also hints to this peculiar feature of the city in these words:

“That which Allah giveth as spoil unto His messenger from the people of the township.” [Qur'an 59:7]

Again, another reference of Madinah signifies the same peculiarity.
“They will not fight against you in a body save in fortified villages or from walls." [Qur'an 59:14]

Lava plains occupy a place of special importance in the physical geography of Madinah. These plains, formed by the matter flowing from a volcano which cools into rocks of burnt basalt of dark brown and black color and of irregular shape and size, stretch out far and wide and cannot be traversed either by foot or even on horses or camels. Two of these lava plains are more extensive; one is to the east and is known as Harrat Waqim, while the other lies in the west and is called Harrat Wabarah.

Majduddin Firozabadi writes in the Al-Maghanim al-Matabata fi Ma’alim Ut-Tabbah that there are several lava plains surrounding Medinah. The two lava plains of the east and west have virtually made the city a fortified refuge that can be attacked only from the north (where ditches were dug on the occasion of the battle of the trenches). On the southern side, the oases thickets and clumped date-palm groves as well as inter-tied houses of the densely populated area defend the city against incursion by an enemy. The strategic location of Madinah was one of the factors responsible for its selection as the émigré’s new home.

Harrata Waqim, which is located east of the city and is arrayed with numerous verdant oases, was more populous than Harrata Wabarah. When the Prophet (r) emigrated to Yathrib, the more influential Jewish tribes, like, Banu an-Nadir and Banu Quraydha, were living in Harrata Waqim along with some of the important clans of Aus, such as, Banu ‘Abdul Ash’hal, Banu Haritha and Banu Mu’awiya. The eastern lava plain was thus named Waqim because of a locality which boasts of the same name in the district occupied by Bani ‘Abdul Ash’hal.


Religious and Social Conditions

By and large, the inhabitants of Madinah followed the Quraysh whom they held to be the guardians of the Holy sanctuary and the matrix of their religious creed as well as social ethics. Pagan like other Arabs, the population of Madinah was, by and large, devotees of the same idols as worshipped by the inhabitants of Hijaz and of Makkah in particular in addition to a few regional or tribal deities considered to be the personal or private gods of these clans. Thus, Manat was the oldest and the most popular deity of the populace of Madinah that the Aus and Khazraj honored as the co-partner of God. The idol was set up on the seashore, between Makkah and Madinah, at Mushallal near Qudayd. Al-Lat was the favorite god of the people of Ta’if while the Qurayshites revered al-Uzza as their national deity. It was so because the people of every place had a particular patron-god to which they used to get emotionally attached. If anybody in Madinah had a wooden replica of an idol, he normally called it Manat, as was the idol kept in his house by ‘Amr b. Jamuh, the chief of Bani Salama in Madinah, a practice that he had cherished before his conversion to Islam.

Ahmad b. Hanbal has related a tradition from ‘Urwa, on the authority of ‘Aisha, which says that: “The Ansaar used to cry labbaik (Lit. At Your service) to Manat and worship it near Mushallal before accepting Islam. And anyone who performed pilgrimage in its (Manat) name did not consider it lawful to round the mounts of Safa and Marwa. When the people once inquired from the Prophet (r): "O Messenger of Allah, we felt some hesitation during the pagan past in going round Safa and Marwah"; God sent down the revelation:

"Lo! As-Safa and al-Marwah are amongst the indications of Allah.” [Qur'an 2:158]


However, we are not aware of any other idol in Madinah equally glamorized as al-Lat, Manat, al-Uzza and Hubal or venerated like them, nor was there any idol set up in Madinah which was paid a visit by the people from other tribes. Madinah does not appear to be bristling with idols, unlike Makkah where one used to set up an idol in every house and the vendors offered them for the sake of the pilgrims. Makkah was, all in all, the prototype and symbol of idolatry in Arabia whereas Madinah simply trailed behind in such respect.

In Madinah, the people used to have two days devoted to games alone. When the Prophet (r) came to Madinah, he said to them, “God has substituted something better for you, the day of sacrifice and the day of breaking the fast." (Bulugh al-‘Arab)

Certain commentators of the Traditions hold the view that the two festivals celebrated by the people of Madinah were Nawroz and Mehrjan, which they had perhaps inherited from the Persians. (Saheehain)

Aus and Khazraj descended from a lineage whose nobility was acknowledged even by the Quraysh. Ansaars were descendants of Banu Qahtan belonging to the southern stock of ‘Arab ‘Arbah, with whom the Quraysh had marital affinity. Hashim b. ‘Abdu Manaf had married Salama bint ‘Amr b. Zayd of the Banu Adiy b. al-Najjaar, which was a clan of Khazraj. Nevertheless, the Quraysh considered their own ancestry to be nobler than those of the Arab clans of Medinah. On the day of the battle of Badr, when ‘Utba, Shayba, and Walid b. Rabi’a came forward and challenged the Muslims for a single combat, some youths of the Ansaar stepped forth to face them. The Qurayshite warriors, however, asked who they were and on coming to know that they belonged to the Ansaar, replied, “We have nothing to do with you.” Then one of them called out, “Muhammad, send forth some of your own rank and blood to face us.” Thereupon the Prophet (r) ordered, “Advance, O ‘Ubayda b. Al-Harith; “O Hamza; Advance, O ‘Ali. When the three were already up at them and had already told their names, the Qurayshite said: “Yes, these are noble and our peers." (Ibn Hisham, Vol. p. 625)

The self-conceited Quraysh used to look down upon farming, the occupation employed by the Ansaar owing to the physical features of their city. We find a commensurate display of similar egotism with what Abu Jahl said when he was slain by two Ansaar lads who were sons of ‘Afra. Abu Jahl said to ‘Abdullah b. Mas’ud although he was nearing his end, “Would that somebody else than a cultivator had slain me!”


Economical and Cultural Conditions

Madinah was a veritable oasis. The soil was conducive to systematic cultivation and hence, its population was given over to farming and gardening. The main produce of the city consisted of grapes and dates, of which there were numerous groves, trellised and untrellised. Two or more palm-trees occasionally grew out of a single root. (See Qur’an 141 and 13:4)

Cereals and vegetables of different varieties were cultivated in the farms but the date palm remained the chief item on the menu of the people, especially in times of drought, for the fruit could be stored for sale or exchanged with other necessities. The date palm was the queen of Arabian trees, the source of prosperity concerning the people of Madinah, providing them with solid food and fodder for the camels. Its stems, barks and leaves were also utilized in the construction of houses and manufacture of other goods for daily use.

Countless varieties of date palm were grown in Madinah where the people had, through experience and experimentation, developed methods to improve the quality and production of dates. Among these was the distinction made between the male pollens and female pistils of date palms and the fertilization of ovules which was known as Tabir.

Madinah was a leading agricultural center, it had also a flourishing mercantile business though not of the same magnitude as that of Makkah. The barren, rocky valley of Makkah allowed no other occupation save to set out with merchandise caravans regularly during the summer and winter season for their source of livelihood.

Certain industrial pursuits were restricted to the Jews of Madinah. They had probably brought the expertise to Madinah from Yemen as, for instance, Banu Qaynuqaa practiced the trade of goldsmithy. Wealthier than other tribes occupying Madinah, the houses of the Jews were flushed with money and abounded in gold and silver. (Al-Yahud fi Balad il-‘Arab, p. 128)

The soil of Madinah is excessively fertile because of the volcanic matter that made possible the surrounding lava plains. The town stands at the lower part of the valley where water courses running from the higher altitudes irrigated the agricultural lands and date-palm plantations. A verdant wadi well supplied with water and laden with gardens and vineyards, then known as ‘Aqiq, was the pleasure spot of Madinah’s residents. There were many wells scattered all over the town whereby almost every garden had one by which it was irrigated, for underground water was found to be in excess.

The vineyards and date plantations, enclosed by garden walls, were known as ha’yet. The wells had sweet and plentiful supply of water, which was channeled to the orchards by means of canals or through lift irrigation.

Barley was the main cereal produced in Madinah with wheat as the second one, but vegetables were grown in abundance. Transactions of different types were in vogue, some of which were retained by Islam while others were modified or forbidden altogether.

The coins in circulation at Makkah and Madinah were similar to that of the ones mentioned in the section covering Makkah. However, as the inhabitants of Madinah had to transact their business in food grains and fruits, they had more of their dealings with measures of capacity. These quantitative measures were Mudd, S’a, Faraq, ‘Araq and Wasaq. The measures of weight prevalent in Madinah were dirham, shihaq, danaq, qirat, naqwat ratl, qintar and auqiya.

Madinah had a fertile soil but it was not self-sufficient in food-grains that it had to import some of the foodstuffs required by it. Flour, clarified butter and honey were brought from Syria. At-Tirmidhi relates on the authority of Qatada b. N’uman that the staple diet of the people of Madinah consisted of dates and barley. But those who were rich used to purchase flour from the Syrian merchants for their own consumption while others had to contend with dates and barley. This report brings to light the culinary habits as well as the disparity in the standards of living of the well-to-do and the poorer sections of the society in Madinah existing before the migration of the Prophet (r).

In Madinah, the Jews constituted the affluent class while the Arab tribesman, like other naïve and guileless Bedouins, were not bothered about the future and did not even concern themselves on saving for the rainy days. Apart from that, generosity was in their blood, which manifested itself in selflessly spending for the entertainment of their guests. Naturally enough, they were very often forced to borrow money with interest from the Jews by pledging their personal property.

The livestock raised by the people consisted, for the most part, of camels, cows and ewes. Even then, the camels were also employed for irrigating the agricultural lands wherein they are finally called as Al-Ibil un-Nawadeh when used in such manner. Madinah had several pastures, of which the two, Dhoghabata and Ghaba, were more well-known. Residents of Madinah used to put their flocks for grazing on these pasturelands, while at the same time making such grazing grounds as their source of firewood. They reared horses as well, though not in the same scale as did the inhabitants of Makkah, for military operations. Banu Sulaym were distinguished for their horsemanship although they used to import their horses from other regions.

Madinah had a number of markets, the most important of which was the one conducted by Bani Qaynuqaa which consisted of silver and gold ornaments, clothes and other handiworks, cotton and silk fabrics. Varied carpets and curtains with decorative designs were normally available in this market. Similarly, there were shopkeepers who sold ambergris and quicksilver. (Al-Taratib al-Dariyah, Vol. IV, p. 258)

The social and cultural life of the common people in Madinah was, thanks to their elegant taste, fairly well advanced. Two-storied houses were common in the region, where some of these had even attached kitchen gardens. The people were used to drinking sweet water, which had to be often conducted from a distance. Cushions were used for sitting and the household utensils included bowls and drinking vessels made of stones and glasses. Lamps were manufactured in different designs. Bags and small baskets were used for carrying commodities of daily use as well as corn from the fields.

The residences of those who were affluent were well-decorated with various other types of furniture. The jewelry worn by the womenfolk included bracelets, armlets, wristlets, earring circlets, rings, and golden or gem necklaces.

Spinning and weaving were popular domestic endeavors from which women find solace with in their spare-time at Medinah. Sewing and dyeing of clothes, house-building, brick-laying and stone crafts were some of the manual arts already known to the city folks before the Prophet (r) emigrated there.


The Hijrah of the Prophet (r) and his companions from Makkah to Madinah was, in no wise, an emigration from a town to any hinterland known by the name of Yathrib but from one city to another. The new home of the émigrés was, at the same time different in many respects from the town they had left. For one, it was comparatively smaller than Makkah, but the society was more complex in comparison to the social life of Makkah. The Prophet (r) was therefore, expected to come across problems of a different scope and nature owing to the subscription of its populace to different religions offering various social codes and customs, not to forget its divergent cultural patterns. The Herculean task ahead of him was one of meeting the challenges of such a prevailing situation. By and large, only a Prophet could achieve such a feat. One who is commissioned and blest by God with wisdom, foresight, conviction and firmness of purpose and capacity to smother and blend the conflicting ideas and ideals into a new concept, one which could usher the dying humanity into a new brave and commendable world. And, above all, such arbiter or savior had to have a loveable personality. How very aptly has God set forth the services rendered by that benefactor of the human race?

“And (as for the believers) hath attuned their hearts. If You had spent all that is in the earth You couldst not have attuned their hearts, but Allah hath attuned them. Lo! He is Mighty, Wise.” [Qur'an Qur’an 8:63]

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Section : The Biography of the Prophet muhammad
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Date : 4/5/2010
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