Separated from one of two Muslim holy cities for the better part of a decade, the Prophet Muhammad launched an assault on the Quraysh holders of Mecca on January 11, 630. Bolstered by a decisive victory, Islam would soon control the Arabian Peninsula and advance into Africa and the rest of the Middle East.
Two years before, in 628, Muhammad and his followers approached Mecca seeking to worship at the Kaaba, the most important site in the infant religion. Once a resident of the city, Muhammad was forced to flee in 622 after being persecuted and threatened with assassination. In the intervening time, battles at Badr and Medina gave the Muslim vital confidence in their military prowess. Standing outside the walls, the 1,400 who made the trek held only a few weapons, taking a posture of peace.
When a representative of the Meccan government arrived, he and Muhammad negotiated a settlement set to commence the following year. According to the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, Muslims arriving for Islam’s key holy pilgrimages would be allowed to reach the Kaaba unmolested. In addition, nearby tribes would be given the option of joining with the Muslims or Quraysh, forming strict protection alliances for both sides. When Muhammad and his adherents came back the next year, they were duly given the right to pass into and out of Mecca. A tenuous peace between the opposing groups lasted just one more year.
While making a second pilgrimage, nomadic Khuza’a tribesmen — friends of the Muslims — were killed by members of the Quraysh-backed Banu Bakr clan. Angry but composed, Muhammad sent word to opposition leadership of three options: pay the victim’s families, disconnect with Banu Bakr or nullify the treaty. With no clear cut answer from the Quraysh ruler Abu Sufyan ibn Harb, Muhammad mounted an army.
Leading a force of 10,000 surrounding Mecca on January 11, 630, the time for action for the Muslims was at hand. The night before, Abu Sufyan converted to Islam, giving Muhammad the opportunity to designate a safe house for non-combatants. Evenly distributed in four groups at strategic points around the city, Muhammad’s men followed the command to hold out until the Quraysh attacked.
Seizing on the initiative and the division of the opposition — facing an assault from each direction was impossible for the Quraysh to counter — the Muslim forces soon controlled all of Mecca. Grateful to once again be able to stroll the streets of his birthplace free from worry, Muhammad headed to the Kaaba to strip it of the Quraysh monuments erected after he and his followers left eight years before.
The citizens of Mecca, fearing retribution, awaited the worst. In accepting their surrender, Muhammad declared them free to live as they had, establishing an example of tolerance and graciousness Islam strives for to this day. Having secured the religion’s two holiest landmarks, Medina and Mecca, Muhammad was once again free to preach. Within a century, Islam would reach Africa and stretch further to the north and west from the Arabian Peninsula, even gaining a foothold in Spain and Portugal.
Also On This Day:
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1922 – Insulin is used to treat diabetes for the first time
1935 – Amelia Earhart becomes the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to California
1949 – Network broadcasting begins when KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania connects United States programming between the East Coast and Midwest
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