THE CHOSEN CITY
Medina, city of exile and despairing beginnings, destined to achieve glory by difficult ways, only to be eclipsed finally by its mightier neighbour and mistress, became, rather by chance than by design, the scene of Mahomet’s struggles for temporal power and his ruthless wielding of the sword for God and Islam. The city lies north-east of Mecca, on the opposite side of the mountain spur that skirts the eastern boundary. Always weakly peopled, it remained from immemorial time an arena of strife, for it was on the borderland, the boundary of several tribes, and was far enough north for the outer waves of Syrian disturbances to fling their varying tides upon its shores—a meagre city, always fiercely at civil warfare, impotent, unfertile.
In the dark days of Judaea’s humiliation at the hands of Titus, two Jewish tribes, the Kainukua and the Koreitza, outcast and desolate, even as they had been warned in their time of dominion, lighted upon Medina in desperate search for a dwelling-place and a respite from persecution, and forthwith took possession of the little hill-girt town. They settled there, driving out or conciliating the former inhabitants, until in the fourth century their tenuous prosperity was disturbed by the inroads of two Bedouin tribes, the Beni Aus and the Beni Khazraj. The desert was wide, and these tribes were familiar with its manifold opportunities and devious ways. Against such a foe, who swooped down suddenly upon the city, plundered and then escaped into the limitless unknown, the Jews had no chance of reprisal.
Before long the Beni Aus and Khazraj had subjugated the Jewish communities, and their dominion in Medina was only weakened by their devastating quarrels among themselves. The city therefore offered a peculiar opening for the teaching of Islam within it. Its religious life indeed was varied and chaotic. Jews, Arabian idolaters, immigrants from Christian Syria, torn by schisms, thronged its public places, and this confusion of faiths sharpened the religious and debating instincts of its people. The ground was thus broken up for the reception of the new creed of one God and of his messenger, who had already divided Mecca into believers and heretics, and who was spoken of in the city with that awe that attaches itself to distant marvels.
Intercourse with Mecca was chiefly carried on at the time of the yearly Pilgrimage; the Greater Pilgrimage, only undertaken during Dzul Hijj, corresponding then to our March, and in Dzul Hijj, 620, came a band of strangers over the hills, along the toilsome caravan route to the Kaaba, the goal of their intentions, the shrine of all their prayers. They performed all the necessary ceremonies at Mecca, and were proceeding to Mina, a small valley just east of Mecca, for the completion of their sacred duties, when they were accosted by Mahomet.