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Today's encore selection -- from Fields of Blood by Karen Armstrong. The founding of Islam by Muhammad came at a time when the newfound wealth of Arabs in Mecca had led them to ignore the plight of the poor. Muhammad's message was a reminder to his fellow merchants to take responsibility for one another and feed the destitute, even when they were hungry themselves. It was only later that this message was subsumed into a maelstrom of war:
"In 610, the year that saw the outbreak of the Persian-Byzantine war, a merchant from Mecca in the Arabian Hejaz experienced a dramatic revelation during the sacred month of Ramadan. For some years, Muhammad ibn Abdullah had made an annual retreat on Mount Hira, just outside the city. There he fasted, performed spiritual exercises, and gave alms to the poor while he meditated deeply on the problems of his people, the tribe of Quraysh. Only a few generations earlier, their ancestors had been living a desperate life in the intractable deserts of northern Arabia. Now they were rich beyond their wildest dreams, and since farming was virtually impossible in this arid land, their wealth had been entirely created by commerce. For centuries the local nomads (badawin) had scratched out a meagre living by herding sheep and breeding horses and camels, but during the sixth century, they had invented a saddle that enabled camels to carry heavier loads than before. As a result, merchants from India, East Africa, Yemen, and Bahrain began to take their caravans through the Arabian steppes to Byzantium and Syria, using the Bedouin to guide them from one watering hole to another. Mecca had become a station for these caravans, and the Quraysh started their own trade missions to Syria and Yemen, while the Bedouin exchanged goods in an annual circuit of regular suqs ('markets') around Arabia.
16th Century painting from a Turkish manuscript depicts a scene from the time of Muhammad. Members of the powerful Quraysh tribe in Mecca debate the impact of the growth of Islam in Medina, the nearby city where Muhammad led his converts.