Mumin Salih

Poor Mohammed, or was he?

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).

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