Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims Home Links Articles Authors About Us Feedback Leaving Islam Library Contact us
23 Oct, 2006
The holy month of
Ramadan of the Islamic lunar calendar starts today. Muslims,
throughout this month, will observe a dawn-to-dusk fast by
abstaining from all kind of food, drink and even smoking.
The month-long fasting culminates in the celebration of what is called Eid on the first day of the following month. Eid is a day of great feasting and fun.
The fasting of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid are the two most important religious events in the life of Muslims. Here is an account for the curious and uninitiated readers find out the origin and significance of these two major Muslim rituals.
Muhammad, the noble Prophet of Islam, was born in the Arabian city of Mecca in 570 AD in a community of Koreish, who were mainly pagan and devoted to the worshipping of idols.
Mecca also housed the most sacred temple of Arabia, called the Ka'ba, which allegedly housed 360 idols and was the center for worship and pilgrimage for people of many beliefs in the entire Arabian Peninsula.
The Prophet of Islam, had lost both his parents by the age of five and grew up as an orphan under the the care of his grandfather Abd al-Muttalib, and later his uncle Abu Taleb. Like all people of the city, young Muhammad followed the religious customs prevalent there until adulthood.
Muhammad married Khadija
Muhammad got married to a merchant lady, named Khadija, at the age of 25. Khadija is known to have been influenced by Judeo-Christian messages because of her cousin Nofal, who was a Christian and is said to have translated a few chapters of the Bible into Arabic.
Although Muhammad had come into contact with Judaic and Christian theology and customs from the business trips to Syria with his uncle and from Christian and Jewish monks' sermons in nearby fairs, marriage with Khadija brought him into close personal contact with monotheistic religious thoughts.
Soon after his marriage to Khadija, Prophet Muhammad stopped worshipping idols and started retiring to a nearby cave in the mount of Hira for meditation, sometimes in the company of his wife and her male cousin Nofal.
Muhammad receives revelations from Allah and begins preaching
In 609 CE, at the age of 40, Prophet Muhammad claimed to have received revelations from God. His claim was readily affirmed by his wife Khadija and her cousin Nofal. Yet Nofal did not convert to Islam during the few more years he lived, and died a Christian.
Following his claim to Prophethood, Muhammad started preaching his new religion, initially secretly amongst close relatives, family members and friends.
In about two to three years, he had about 15-20 converts. Then he started preaching openly. From the beginning his messages started denigrating the centuries-old indigenous religion of idol-worship.
He called himself and followers of his creed the righteous and those who rejected it were liars, wrong-doers, inventor of falsehood and he consigned the idolaters to the eternal fire of hell. Some of the initial verses read as follows:
"Then will he be of those who believe, and enjoin patience, (constancy, and self-restraint), and enjoin deeds of kindness and compassion. Such are the Companions of the Right Hand (of God). But those who reject Our Signs, they are the (unhappy) Companions of the Left Hand. On them will be Fire vaulted over (all round)." [Quran 90: 17-20]
"Those who believe not in the Signs of Allah,- Allah will not guide them, and theirs will be a grievous Penalty. It is those who believe not in the Signs of Allah, that forge falsehood: it is they who lie!" [Quran: 16.104-105]
Despite expressing his message of revelations in such strict
language, the idolater pagans of Mecca never protested or
The citizens converted to his religion freely. During the first five years of his preaching, he could master about 50 or so converts. They never faced any persecution from their family and other citizens, except in the cases of a few slaves, belonging to the pagan masters, who had converted.
Islamic scholar and historian Al-Zuhri records:
"The unbelievers of the Qureish tribe did not oppose what he (Muhammad) said. If he passed the place where they sat together, they pointed to him and said: 'This young man of the tribe of Abd al-Muttalib proclaims a message from heaven'" [1, 2]
In another case, Muhammad's uncle and protector, Abu Talib,
one day while passing by a place found his son Ali (later the
Prophet's son-in-law and 4th caliph in Islam) praying with the
When he inquired his son what they were doing, the Prophet replied, "he was following the teaching revealed to him by God" and invited Abu Talib to join his creed as well.
According to Prophet's wife Aisha, the old man replied that he could not give up the faith of his fathers, nor could he join in devotions which required "placing his backside above his head" (prostration while praying). 
Sanctions are imposed against Muhammad and the converts
At a later time, Mecca citizens' annoyance at Muhammad's creed, which was hateful, insulting and demeaning towards their religion and ancestors, was recorded by another Islamic scholar and historian Baihaki in his book, Proof of Prophecy, as a recollection of a Muslim, named Amru ibn al-Aas, of Muhammad's time:
"I was once present when the chief among the idolaters assembled at the Ka'ba. They were discussing about Allah's apostles (Muhammad) and said: 'Nether have we had to tolerate from anyone what we have had to from this man. He slanders our fathers, criticizes our religion, divides our people, and blasphemes our gods. Such grievous things have we tolerated from this man.'"
Hearing this discussion, the Prophet, who happened to be nearby, said: "Men of Qureish! I will repay you for this with interest." 
Such events led the Qureish and other citizens of the city to impose sanctions against Muhammad and his community in 617 AD.
Abu Talib, his protector and uncle stood by him, and his family was also included. They were excommunicated from contacts and trades with other members of the city. This period brought hardship to Muhammad and his supporters and yet, he remained steadfast in his belief and continued his preaching in his usual style and language. The sanction was withdrawn after two years in 619 AD.
Muslims go to Medina
During this time, Muhammad's religion became stagnant as the idolaters of Mecca remained steadfast in their rejection of his faith.
About this time, Muhammad attempted to preach his creed to a group of citizens from Medina, who came to Mecca for pilgrimage and made a few converts. After returning to Medina, these converts were able to draw many other citizens to Muhammad's new creed.
Soon afterwards, the Prophet started sending his converts to Medina secretly in small batches. Finally, he himself with a handful of male and a few female were left behind. One day, he disappeared with his closest friend Abu Bekr. It is alleged that the Mecca Qureish were pursuing him to kill him and he ran away to save his life.
However, his another closest convert Ali and Abu Bakr's family were left behind. They faced no intimidation, threats, persecution or even questioning and they left for Medina a few days later. Muslims completed emigration to Medina in June 622 CE. 
The Prophet adopts a number of Jewish rituals
During these first 13 years of Islam in Mecca, there was no fasting ritual prescribed by God or Muhammad for the Muslims.
After arriving at Medina, a Jewish strong-hold, in June 622 CE, the Prophet adopted a number of rituals of the Jews including fasting of Ashor, circumcision and praying towards Jerusalem as did the Jews.
When the Prophet asked the Jews about their reason for fasting, the Jews said, "it was in memory of Prophet Moses' escape from the hands of the Pharaoh and latter's destruction in the Red sea."
Thereupon, Allah's apostle said to the Muslim converts: "We have greater rights in Moses than they (Jews)." So he fasted like the Jews and commanded the Muslim followers to so.
God also revealed more and more verses affirming the Jewish and Christian scriptures during the first 1.5 years in Medina. New verses also demanded that the Jews accept God's apostle, Muhammad, as their new Prophet, who was predicted to come in their holy book (Torah/Old Testament).
The Jews allegedly found many inconsistencies in the apostle's revelations. His ancestral lineage was also not in accordance with the lineage of the new Jewish Prophet to come, as predicted in the Torah.
Hence, they stubbornly stayed away from his religion with few exceptions. The polytheists of Medina, however, accepted his creed in greater number.
Instead of accepting Islam, the Jews started pointing out various inconsistencies, inaccuracies and logical fallacies in Islamic revelations in their gossips and poetry, which badly angered the merciful Prophet.
Now he started proscribing all the Jewish customs he had adopted and ordered assassinations of those critics and poets who mocked his creed. Seeing no hope of drawing the Jews and Christians to the path of Islam, the Muslim God also decided to part ways with them as follows:
"And the Jews will not be pleased with you, nor the Christians until you follow their religion. Say: Surely Allah's guidance, that is the (true) guidance. And if you follow their desires after the knowledge that has come to you, you shall have no guardian from Allah, nor any helper" [Quran 2:120].
The first Ramadan and Eid
About this time in late 623 CE, the Prophet proscribed the earlier adopted Jewish religious customs. The fasting of Ashor was replaced with the month-long fasting of Ramadan. This is how fasting during Ramadan became part of Islamic rituals.
On arrival in Medina, the Prophet and his disciples took six to seven months to build a house for the Prophet and his wives and a mosque adjoining it.
Once the house was completed and Muslims firmly rooted in Medina, the Prophet now turned his attention to avenge the Meccans' rejection of his new faith. He sought to attack the Mecca trade caravans passing through nearby routes to Syria, the major trade routes for life-sustaining trades for the Mecca people.
But his Medina converts were unwilling to support his violent acts. However, Allah quickly revealed a verse commanding them to fight even if they do not like it:
"Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not". [Quran 2.216]
With this command from God, the Prophet sent a band of Muslims
to attack a Mecca caravan in February 623 for the first time,
seven months after his arrival in Medina.
After several failed attempts, the first success came during November-December, 623 at Nakhla. The Prophet sent a band of Muslim raiders under the command of Abdullah ibn Jahash to advance to Nakhla with a letter to be opened only after arriving at the destination.
When Abdullah opened the letter upon arrival at Nakhal, it read: "Go forward to Nakhla, in the name of the Lord, and with his blessings! and when thou hast arrived at the valley of Nakhla, lie there in wait for the caravans of Mecca." [Prophet‚™s biography by Ibn Hisham, p423]
It was the period of Orma (lesser pilgrimage) to Ka'ba, and not to alarm the approaching caravan, the Muslim raiders shaved their head to give the impression that they were returning from the pilgrimage and could not be hostile.
Once the caravan came with the reach, the Muslims fell upon it. One Mecca caravan attendee was killed; two were captured while another was able to flee. Muslim raiders returned to Medina with the rich caravan of booty and the prisoners.
However, it was the last day of Rajab ‚ a sacred period in the Arabian custom on which fighting and violence were prohibited. This breach of centuries-old sacred custom, which was devoutly respected by the people of Arabia, created a great dissatisfaction amongst the citizens of Medina including the Muslim converts.
It put the Prophet into big trouble and he initially tried to distance himself from the blood-bath. Abdullah and other co-raiders were heartbroken at this. However, Allah quickly revealed a verse to justify this bloodshed during prohibited month:
They ask thee concerning fighting in the Prohibited Month. Say: 'Fighting therein is a grave (offence); but graver is it in the sight of Allah to prevent access to the path of Allah, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its members.' Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter. Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith if they can. And if any of you Turn back from their faith and die in unbelief, their works will bear no fruit in this life and in the Hereafter; they will be companions of the Fire and will abide therein [Quran 2:217].
It should be noted of how honestly and exactly God has noted
the behavior of the Mecca idolaters in this verse: "but
graver is it in the sight of Allah to prevent access to the path
of Allah, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque,
and drive out its members."
However, with this command, the fighting, killing and the capture of booty during the traditionally forbidden month were made lawful for the Muslims. The Prophet also ordained Abdullah with the title, 'Amir-ul-Muminin' (Commander of the Faithful). This bloodbath was also very meaningful for the Islamic faith in that this was the first raid which brought them booty (wealth) of which, the Prophet kept a fifth as his share and the remainder was distributed amongst the raiders. The two prisoners were exchanged for ransoms.
Also about this time, the Prophet disbanded the fasting of Jewish Ashor and introduced Ramadan as the Fasting month for the Muslims. In January 624, during the first Fasting month of Ramadan, Mecca leader Abu Sufian was returning from Syria with another huge caravan.
The Prophet sent two spies to gather information about the returning caravan and according to the intelligence received, the Prophet assembled an army of Muslims under his own command and set forth for attacking the caravan.
However, news of this plan of attack reached Abu Sufian and he sent forth a messenger to Mecca for sending a reinforcement to rescue the caravan. Nearly 1000 Meccan men set off to rescue the caravan in which majority of the Mecca families had their shares. [Prophet's biography by At-Tabari, i. 1281; Ibn Hisham, p427]
Abu Sufian with other attendees of the caravan took a safer route and hastened forwards escaping the Muslims' attack. When Abu Sufian reached home safely, the Meccan rescue army had already been on the way. The news of safe return of the caravan reached the advancing army, thereupon some expressed unwillingness to go forth. Other pressed on to go forward to avenge the killing and capture of their kinsmen and the caravan just two months earlier at Nakhla. [see above]
The Prophet had arrived at Bedr not knowing that the caravan had escaped taking a safe route. About this time, the intelligence of the Mecca rescue army's advance reached the Prophet. He was delighted thinking that the caravan was approaching and took position at a vantage location occupying the water-wells.
A tired and thirsty Meccan army arrived after a few days' journey through the desert and found all the water-wells occupied by the Muslims. The battle finally ensued on Friday, 17th of Ramadan, in which the Mecca army retreated after being heavily defeated. A Muslim army of 305 fighting men against nearly 1000-strong Mecca army, Muslims lost only 14 fighters whilst the Mecca enemies lost 49 lives and similar number were captured as prisoners.
As the dead-bodies of the slain Koreish were being unceremoniously thrown into a mass-grave, an indignant Prophet yelled over them: "Have ye now found true that which your Lord did promise to you. What my Lord promised to me, that have I verily found to be true. Woe unto these people! Ye have rejected me, your Prophet! Ye cast me forth, and others gave me refuge; ye fought against me, and others came to my help!"
One particular incidence of bravery in the battlefield of Bedr requires special mention. In the midst of the battle of Bedr, the Prophet was loudly spelling encouragement to his soldiers that: "Allah had promised paradise to those who die fighting in His cause."
At this time, Omeir Ibn Hubab, a lad of only 16 years, was wandering around eating dates on the side of the battle. Hearing this exhortations from the Prophet's mouth, he threw away the handful of dates.
"Is it these dates," he cried, "that hold me back from paradise? Verily, I will taste no more of them until I meet my Lord (in paradise)!" Whereupon, he picked up a sword and rushed on to the enemies only to be slain. The Prophet's biographies endow glowing tribute and praise on his bravery and list him as the first martyr in Islam.
A number of prisoners were cruelly put to death immediately afterwards at the battlefield and others were carried to Medina to be exchanged for ransom. However, disputes broke out over the distribution of the booty (horses, camel, weapons and other stuffs left behind by the Mecca enemies), to which Allah from heaven quickly responded by revealing the rules for distribution of spoils of war:
"And know that out of all the booty that ye may acquire (in war), a fifth share is assigned to Allah and his Messenger, and to near relatives, orphans, the needy, and the wayfarer, -- if ye do believe in Allah and in the revelation We sent down to Our servant on the Day of Testing, -- the Day of the meeting of the two forces. For Allah hath power over all things." [Quran 8.41]
Thereupon, the booty was distributed accordingly. The Prophet,
on top of his normal one-fifth share, took possession of the
camel of his sworn enemy, Abu Jahl, and his famous sword, known
as the "Dhu'l-Fikar" which the Prophet used in
all subsequent battles.
After the distribution of the booty, Muslims headed back to Medina. In a few days, the month of Ramadan ended and Muslims celebrated the first-ever Eid. The booty captured in Bedr must have had added to the feast and festive mood of Muslim's first-ever celebration of Eid.
Thus, the first Ramadan and the first Eid were very significant events that shaped the future of the great faith of Islam. The Muslims' success in this incredible war against a much larger opposition gave them confidence and a feeling that God was on their side to bring them success.
Indeed, the Prophet had proclaimed on the battlefield of Bedr to prop up his fighters that "20 angels of God were fighting the enemy with each Muslim soldier."
This stunning success, confidence and the belief that God was on their side to make them victorious, did inspire the numerous incredible battles and conquests Muslims fought so much so that they made significant inroads outside Arabia within a decade.
This victorious journey of Islam about the time of the first Ramadan and Eid now commands a stunning 1.5 billion faithful under its banner.
The Muslim Ummah has not forgotten the blessing of the eventful and glorious first Ramadan and Eid and the success that it gave the glorious religion of Islam; and they observe and celebrate these great religious events as steadfastly today as ever before.
 Quoted in Tor Andrae, Mohammed; The Man and His Faith (trs. Theophil Menzal), harper & Brother; NY (1960) p116
 Willium Muir, Life of Mahomet, Voice of India (1992), p63
 Glubb Jogn Bagot (Glubb Pasha) The Life and Times of Mohammad (1979), Hodder & Stoughton, London, p98.
 Baihaki quoted in Andrae , p125-126.
 Prophet‚™s Biography by Ibn Sa‚™ad, p152ff; Ibn Hisam, p317ff; At-Tabari, i.1225ff [Hit Counter]