Mohammed, 570-632 A.D.
A great number of people in Asia and Africa and much of those in Turkey in Europe profess the Mohammedan (Mo-ham'-me-dan) religion. They are called Mohammedans, Mussulmans (Mus'-sul-mans) or Moslems; and the proper name for their religion is "Islam," which means obedience, or submission.
The founder of this religion was a man named Mohammed (Mo-ham'-med), or Mahomet (Ma-hom'-et). He was born in the year 570, in Mecca, a city of Arabia. His parents were poor people, though, it is said, they were descended from Arabian princes. They died when Mohammed was a child, and his uncle, a kind-hearted man named AbuTalib (A'-bu-Ta-lib'), took him home and brought him up.
When the boy grew old enough he took care of his uncle's sheep and camels. Sometimes he went on journeys with his uncle to different parts of Arabia, to help him in his business as a trader. On these journeys Mohammed used to ride on a camel, and he soon became a skillful camel-driver.
Mohammed was very faithful and honest in all his work. He always spoke the truth and never broke a promise. "I have given my promise," he would say, "and I must keep it." He became so well known in Mecca for being truthful and trustworthy that people gave him the name of El Amin, which means "the truthful."
At this time he was only sixteen years of age; but the rich traders had so much confidence in him that they gave him important business to attend to, and trusted him with large sums of money. He often went with caravans to a port on the shore of the Red Sea, sixty-five miles from Mecca, and sold there the goods carried by the camels. Then he guided the long line of camels back to Mecca, and faithfully paid over to the owners of the goods the money he had received.
Mohammed had no school education. He could neither read nor write. But he was not ignorant. He knew well how to do the work intrusted to him, and was a first-rate man of business.
One day, when Mohammed was about twenty-five years old, he was walking through the bazaar or market-place, of Mecca when he met the chief camel-driver of a wealthy woman named Khadijah (Kha-di'-jah). This woman was a widow, who was carrying on the business left her by her husband. As soon as the camel-driver saw Mohammed he stopped him and said:
"My mistress wishes to see you before noon. I think she intends to engage you to take charge of her caravans."
Mohammed waited to hear no more. As quickly as possible he went to the house of Khadijah; for he was well pleased at the thought of being employed in so important a service. The widow received him in a very friendly way. She said:
"I have heard much of you among the traders. They say that though you are so young you are a good caravan manager and can be trusted. Are you willing to take charge of my caravans and give your whole time and service to me?"
Mohammed was delighted.
"I accept your offer," said he, "and I shall do all I can to serve and please you."
Khadijah then engaged him as the manager of her business; and he served her well and faithfully. She thought a great deal of him, and he was much attracted to her, and soon they came to love one another and were married.
As he was now the husband of a rich woman he did not need to work very hard. He still continued to attend to his wife's business; but he did not make so many journeys as before. He spent much of his time in thinking about religion. He learned all that he could about Judaism and Christianity; but he was not satisfied with either of them.
At that time most of the people of Arabia worshiped idols. Very few of them were Christians.
Mohammed was very earnest and serious. In a cave on Mount Hira, near Mecca, he spent several weeks every year in prayer and religious meditation. He declared that, while praying in his cave, he often had visions of God and heaven. He said that many times the angel Gabriel appeared to him and revealed to him the religion which he afterwards taught his followers. As he himself could not write, he committed to memory all that the angel told him, and had it written in a book. This book is called the "Koran," which means, like our own word Bible, the "Book." The Koran is the Bible of Mohammedans.
When Mohammed returned home after the angel had first spoken to him, he told his wife of what he had seen and heard. She at once believed and so became a convert to the new religion. She fell upon her knees at the feet of her husband and cried out:
"There is but one God. Mohammed is God's prophet."
Mohammed then told the story to other members of his family. Some of them believed and became his first followers. Soon afterwards he began to preach to the people. He spoke in the market and other public places. Most of those who heard him laughed at what he told them; but some poor people and a few slaves believed him and adopted the new religion. Others said he was a dreamer and a fool.
Mohammed, however, paid no heed to the insults he received. He went on telling about the appearance of Gabriel and preaching the doctrines which he said the angel had ordered him to teach the people.
Often while speaking in public Mohammed had what he called a "vision of heavenly things." At such times his face grew pale as death, his eyes became red and staring, he spoke in a loud voice, and his body trembled violently. Then he would tell what he had seen in his vision.
After a time the number of his followers began to increase. People came from distant parts of Arabia and from neighboring countries to hear him. One day six of the chief men of Medina (Me-di'-na), one of the largest cities of Arabia, listened earnestly to his preaching and were converted. When they returned home they talked of the new religion to their fellow-citizens, and a great many of them became believers.