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Poor Mohammed, or was he?

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Mohammed was neither poor nor simplistic

Mohammed is portrayed, by Muslims as well as many non Muslims, as a poor man who dedicated his life to deliver Allah’s message to mankind. He is usually associated with a simplistic life style that lacks the lavishness enjoyed by the rich and famous of his time. In the minds of Muslims, Mohammed’s image is that of a determined messenger of Allah who was not deterred by the hardship and the persecution he suffered at the hands of the Meccan Arabs. (1) 

Such representation of Mohammed as savour, who had no material ambitions or earthy desires and achieved no personal gains, fits well in the image of the ‘perfect hero’, which Muslims aim to paint for him. Mohammed’s early childhood as an orphan, who lost his father before he was born and lost his mother at the age six, provided the Muslims with a convenient readymade foundation on which they built their desired image of their hero.

Such image of Mohammed’s life style is one of Islam’s strange ironies because it is believed despite the evidence to the contrary. Such claim about a simplistic Mohammed is a clever mental illusion that distracts the mind from seeing the obvious and works well even on people who are critical of Mohammed. The secret of the success of this mental trick lies in the different perception of luxury in the seventh century Arabia. People have different tastes and priorities in life; what is considered to have a high value by some people may have no value at all to others. The Arabs’ in general were not keen on appearances and the other manifestations of high class or royalty. Managing wealth depends on personal taste, culture and the available resources, all of which were poorly developed in Arabia compared to the other nations of the time like the Romans and the Persians. 

The Arabs have always been loyal to their tradition, which explains why Islam is shaped to agree with those traditions. Even today, departing from the local traditions is considered a serious social offence that most modern Arabs try to avoid. In the seventh century Arabia, it was considered a social duty for the chief of the tribe to open his house to all, a tradition that is still alive in many Arab societies today. Such a tradition was considered as a sign of generosity and an indication of distinction and social prominence. In the seventh century, it was traditionally unacceptable for the wealthy Arabs, who were normally eminent figures in their tribes, to be segregated from the rest of their societies by guards or palace walls.

Arabic literature is rich in examples that emphasise that tradition. I am not sure if it is still the case, but it was customary for the rulers in the Gulf States to offer coffee in their lounges, called diwan, to ordinary people, who seize the opportunity to hand their complaints, or requests for help, directly to the rulers. In addition to the cultural reason, there were other reasons for the lack of palaces, and other manifestations of luxury, in Arabia. The Arabs, in the seventh century, did not have the technology or the resources to build spectacular palaces on the scale known in Persia or Syria. A simple tent was a practical and simple answer to the hot desert climate. Those who visit the Gulf States may be surprised to see that the wealthy Arabs still use tents which they erect next to their palaces. Gaddafi’s tent is a living reminder, not just of the Libyan leader’s eccentricity, but also of that old desert tradition.

It is true that Mohammed did not own spectacular palaces, but neither did any other wealthy leader in Arabia. In the absence of accurate indicators of capital such as bank accounts, Mohammed’s wealth has to be gauged using the suitable measures of the time. In other words, we have to look at his assets in the form of properties, as well as his other possessions. This article is not designed to provide an estimate of Mohammed’s wealth, but it sheds some light on only some of his assets and refutes the claims that he was poor or had a simplistic life style. As usual, our sources are the authentic Islamic history sources; it is either that the Islamic history is completely wrong (and Islam is a big lie) or that Mohammed was a corrupt ‘millionaire’ (and also Islam is a big lie). 

Mohammed in Mecca- a ‘millionaire’ aged 25
We learn from sira (Mohammed’s biography) that Mohammed was trained to be a merchant by his uncle Abu Talib, with whom he travelled to Syria. Mecca was the most affluent city and the undisputed cultural and trade centre of Arabia. As a young man, Mohammed had his own business as a merchant and did so well that he could afford to offer financial help to Abu Talib by raising one of his children, Ali, in his own house. At an early age, Mohammed was selected by Khadija, the wealthiest woman in Mecca, to manage her business. Obviously she paid him well and treated him well as evidenced by the fact that she offered him to marry her when he was still twenty five years of age.

With such wealth at his disposal, Mohammed became one of the most prosperous men in Arabia when he was only twenty five years of age. Khadija died a few years later leaving all her possessions to him. These are all historical facts about Mohammed’s life that were never disputed by Muslims before. It is clear that throughout all his adult life in Mecca, Mohammed was a rich man.

Mohammed in Yathrib- a leader
Mohammed emigrated to Yathrib (present day Medina) in 622 AD and established his Islamic state. Inevitably, the relocation to Yathrib was associated with extra spending and a period of instability, but Mohammed had a long time to plan and prepare for that historic move. However, Mohammed did feel the financial crunch in Yathrib not so much for him personally but more for his group of immigrants, known as ‘almuhajiroon’. Unlike Mecca, the economy of Yathrib was not based on trade but on farming and simple crafts.

As a leader of a united group of men, Mohammed had the means, and the opportunity, to establish some form of business to secure a reasonable income, but he opted to earn his money the easy way- piracy, which he called jihad. After scoring initial swift gains by raiding trading caravans and the neighbouring tribes, the taste of easy money flavoured by his victims’ blood was too good to Mohammed to give up, and too addictive that he eventually made it a lifelong career.

In general, a man is considered poor when he is unable to live without financial help from the others. A person who can afford to own a reasonable house and provides the means of reasonable living standards to his family is generally considered to be comfortable. Rich people are those who own more assets than they need. By any standard, a man who owns many houses with servants and slaves must be a wealthy man.

We do not know exactly the grand total of Mohammed’s wives but we know that at one stage he had nine of them. We also know that each of Mohammed’s wives had her own house, maids and slaves. Marriages were costly social activities especially when the bridegroom happened to be the leader of the community. When Mohammed successfully formulated the divine decree to marry Zaynab, he celebrated for a week; hundreds of goats were slaughtered to provide lavish meals for the residents of Medina. Throwing a party for a week, for the entire city, can hardly be called a simplistic life style; only the super rich can afford such extravagance. Mohammed could afford throwing many of such parties; he actually loved such lavish generosity that he made it sunna to his followers. (2)

He once told Abdul Rahman Ibn Auf: “make invitations, even if you cook only one goat”.  In Mohammed’s ‘simplistic’ life style, a party with only one cooked goat was a small party. Getting married has always been an expensive social event; Mohammed afforded marriage not once but many times. Marrying multiple wives was a sign wealth in Arabia, which is hardly surprising, and still so in our time. 

After establishing his Islamic state in Yathrib, Mohammed became the only man on earth to share with Allah his wealth. He cleverly released a verse (3) stating that one fifth of all war booties were to be assigned to Allah and his messenger; in real terms to Mohammed alone. That verse alone secured an enormous and regular income and effectively safeguarded Mohammed’s wealth throughout his life.

Some of Mohammed’s Assets: (4)
Wives: here are the names of one dozen of them, but he probably had many more.
Kadija, Sawda, Aysha, Hafsa, Zainab Al Hilalya, Aum Salma, Zainab Bintu Jahsh, Juwayryia, Safiya, Um Habiba, Maria, Maymuna.

Houses: Mohammed gave each of his wives a house, totally independent from the others. Each wife had her own maids and slaves, all paid for by ‘poor’ Mohammed.

Slaves: Mohammed preferred to sell his slaves, but he kept some of them including Maria and Rayhana. Other slaves included: Abu Rafi, Thawba, Abu Kabsha, Salih, Rabah, Yassar, Anasa, Tahman, Keysan, Marwan..

Servants/ personal assistants: Mohammed had a dozen of servants and personal assistants, each assigned to do a specific job. The following are the names of some them:
Anas Ibn Malik: a personal assistant for general purposes.
Ibn Massoud: looked after Mohammed’s sewaks ( used to clean the teeth) and shoes.
Ukba: looked after Mohammed’s mules
Abu Zar, Bilal and many others.

Personal guards: Mohammed employed a number of bodyguards; the following are the names of some of them: Saad Ibn Maaz, Ibn Salma, Al Zubair and Abbad Ibn Bashr.

Cattle: owning a horse in the past was like owning a top of the range luxury car. Mohammed owned not one but dozens of horses, mules and donkeys and had specialist people employed to look after them. He also owned herds of camels and goats. 

Lands: Mohammed owned the entire land of Khayber, where the tribe of Bani Al Nadeer used to live. The Jewish tribe was defeated; many of its men killed and women enslaved, the survivals were deported to outside Arabia. The tribe’s processions and the entire land were assigned to Mohammed. (5)
Mohammed also owned a large land outside Medina in a region called Fadak.

Conclusion

Mohammed became a wealthy man from a young age. His eccentric and complex personality was associated with matching eccentric desires on which he spent his wealth. He was not a refined man and never developed the taste for a refined life style. His mind was totally occupied with myths, religions and the supernatural. His dream and fascination was to be seen by his followers as a man with absolute divine authority, an obsession that he achieved once he seized power. Armed with his divine claims, Mohammed sought total obedience from his followers. The Muslims’ submission to Mohammed was voluntary but was driven by a state of fear, not from Mohammed but from Allah! The paradox is that although Mohammed was an authoritarian tyrant, he was neither feared nor hated by his followers- because it is all from Allah! 

Armed with his false divine claims, Mohammed successfully made it part of the faith that Muslims must love him more than they loved themselves. No king had ever managed to achieve such state of conformity from his subjects. Mohammed’s sick ego could only be satisfied by emphasising to his followers that he was the best man to walk on the earth. Through his false divine authority, Mohammed could ‘own’ any woman he desired, even if she was married. Mohammed’s sick desires exist only in sick minds, but any of those desires is well beyond the reach of the richest and most powerful men on earth.  Mohammed’s sick ego was better satisfied by watching his followers eating like him, drinking like him and dressing like him, which they still do today. Good Muslims can only like what Mohammed liked and hate what Mohammed hated.


References:

  1. The truth is that the Meccans demonstrated exemplary tolerance to Mohammed, see ‘Islamic Jihad, a legacy of forced conversion, imperialism and slavery’ pages 18-26 by M A Khan.
  2. Mohammed told Abdulrahman Ibn Auf, one of close sahaba: اولم ولو بشاة , meaning it is good to make a dinner invitation, even if he only cooks one goat. Reported by both Bukhari and Muslim.
  3. Q. 8:41  “And know that out of all the booty that ye may acquire (in war), a fifth share is assigned to Allah and to the Messenger ...”
  4. Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah: ‘  زاد المعاد في هدي خير العباد  zad al ma-aad fi hady kairil ibad’:
  5. According to hadith by Omar Ibn AlKhattab, reported by Al Tirmizi, Page/Number 1719 in the Arabic edition.

Last Updated on Monday, 21 December 2009 05:37  

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