Muhammad (570-630 CE) عليه الصلاة والسلام
  • Brief Life-history-The Background-The Place

    A rough illustration of the position of various tribes, clans and places during the time of Prophet
    A rough illustration of the position of various tribes, clans and places during the time of Prophet

    All parts of the arid land of the Arabian Peninsula have always remained populated, even if thinly, and even if by nomads who have moved with their cattle in search of sparsely spread weeds and bushes. At the time of the Prophet, on whom be peace, Makkah happened to be the largest town. It was the religious, economic, and political center of the region, controlled by the Quraysh, by far the largest and most powerful of the tribes. These were idol worshippers and custodians of the House of God- the Ka`ba - built about 4200 years ago by the great monotheist, iconoclast and Prophet, Ibrahim (Abraham), on whom be peace. The House, however, contained, at the time of Muhammad’s appearance, some 360 idols and attracted devotees from all parts of the land in yearly pilgrimage. The pilgrimage itself was a corrupt form of the one originally instituted by Ibrahim. Close by was the hill station, Ta’if. About 500 km up in the north was Yethrib and, at the same distance or little more down south, lay Najran that were two other noteworthy settlements in the western flank. The eastern flank had its own little independent Omani kingdom. The rest of the country was occupied by semi-nomadic tribes - many a score of them - who zealously guarded their territory and exacted toll from passing trade caravans. Deep in the deserts lived the raw Bedouins who depended on dates and camels and took to raid and plunder when continuous droughts deprived them of the two.

    The People

    The Makkans and those living in the surrounding areas were idol-worshippers. Yethrib had a large Jewish population, living there perhaps since before Christ waiting for the last Prophet and the Messiah to appear, as prophesied in their Scriptures. They controlled commerce and agriculture mainly date and vegetable farms. The entire gold market was in their hands. After the Quraysh, they were the next most powerful in trade, and, therefore, culturally the most influential. The pagan Arabs who lived in Yethrib were largely farm laborers employed by the Jews. The Jews had also a settling in Khayber, a town some 200 km north of Yethrib, and in Tayma’, further north. The rest of the eastern flank was pagan - except for two tribes in the north of Hejaz that were Christian. Down in the south of Makkah, Najran was almost wholly Christian. It is said that they were in sufficient numbers to be able to raise an army of 100,000 troops at short notice.

    The eastern flank of the peninsula was also pagan. But the north - bordering the Roman Empire - was under considerable Christian influence. Yemen had a mixed population of Jews, Christians, and idol worshippers - each having successfully ruled the country at one time or the other. Across the sea was Habasha (Abyssinia), a Christian Kingdom. Egypt, Palestine and Syria were under Roman rule with perhaps half the population favorably inclined towards the religion of their masters. Iraq was divided between Romans and Persians. The latter were fire worshippers and the second of the two super-powers of the time.

    The Quraysh of Makkah lived almost entirely by trade. During the pilgrimage season, fairs were held outside Makkah where the tribesmen sold their wares to which the Quraysh added their own and, in winters, carried them to Syrian and Palestinian markets. In summer, they traveled down to the Yemen to buy spices and Indian goods downloaded on its harbors, and carried them to the northern regions, from where they were re-exported to various parts of the Roman Empire. While returning, the Quraysh brought back cereals, cloth, arms and tools. Almost everyone of the Makkan region contributed his share of money, goods or efforts. At times the caravans could be as large as a thousand camels. Others of the regions either worked on small farms or became links in the long chain of the age-old spice, perfume and desert wares trade, between the Indian sub continent and Africa on the one side, and all parts of the Occident on the other, via Yemen, Hejaz, Palestine and Syria. Spices also reached Persia by the same ancient route.

     

    Political

    Politically, the country was disunited to the last man. Not only in the deserts, to which the Bedouins clung for freedom, even in the towns no government of any sort could hold the strongly individualistic Arabs together. They detested all authority, claimed equality to all men and respected only those tested in qualities of manliness, generosity, courage, magnanimity and uprightness, or, to use one comprehensive word in Arabic: muru’ah. Those who possessed these qualities became the shuyukh (singular: sheikh) who led the tribes by virtue of quality, rather than authority.

    The Quraysh of Makkah commanded respect for the same reasons. In addition, they were of noble stock, noble breeding and noble carriage. Moreover, they were the guardians of the House of God who fed and housed the pilgrims generously every year. But the authority of the Quraysh over the rest did not extend beyond settling minor disputes. All others were settled by the sword. Wars between the tribes were long and ferocious, for, the sense of honor and the energy to prop it were strong and inexhaustible.

    The Jews too, who lived a separate organized life in their walled settlings, freely fought each other, or on the side of this or that Arab clan. It was a world where chaos and anarchy reigned supreme.

    As an individual, the Arab was a man of strong and discernible traits. He was not the simple type that could be characterized and placed into a slot. Yet, he was not hocus pocus, or, shadowy and secretive. He was someone whom you might have cause to approve or detest, but whom you knew for sure, and whose behavior you could fairly and accurately predict. He was perhaps so different because he was not attached to the earth, people, and norms. Almost always he was on his own, free and unrestrained, moving about, and hence not the stereotype, artificially mass-produced, kind that those cultures produce which use humans as tools for building up a nation for the prosperity of a few. Tags and labels therefore, would not fit him as each individual had to be measured individually and judged separately. He was self-confident, honest, straightforward and quick of intellect. Yet, he was a man of decision who stood firm until his destruction.

    The quality that stood out most in him was his pride. He was proud of being what he was! He was proud of being an Arab, who could survive the harsh Arabian climate. He was proud of being subject to none. Further, he could speak Arabic: the language in which he could express himself so precisely and accurately; the language of nuances; the language of sense and sound and not merely meaning; the language that gave the desert aristocrats the means to express his keen perception.

    He was courageous and detested weakness. He was truthful as well as true to his word. Honoring the guest was his religion. But he drank heavily, and, when he was not trading, fighting, or saying erotic poetry, he was gambling. When he was sober, he was rational. He worshipped idols alright. But if it was a lean period, and the idols were made of dates, he ate them up without remorse. And, although he had a deep sense of honor, which would not tolerate even a minor insult, it would not come in his way of losing his wife and children in gambling. It was because of his sense of honor, taken to perverse ends, that he buried his female child alive from fear of poverty or the shame of giving her away when she grew up, to another man’s pleasure. Sex was easy and copiously indulged in. Although he was a born aristocrat, he could drink wine in the skull of his enemy, whom he could fight over a dispute involving the lineage of a horse. Intemperance was his another trait, so that what he did, he took to extremes. Nevertheless, it should not be imagined that complete chaos ruled his society. There were individuals and families that rose far above the common lot, and could be measured by the highest standards set by any other culture and society.

    Surely, if the political, economic and social conditions were as ideally harsh for the new Prophet as one wishing to put his abilities to test could imagine, the raw material of human beings given to him was another, and harsher test, of his abilities.

    Early Life

    An Uncommon Assembly
    Impressed by the Prophet’s sincerity and integrity, the previously twice married, but even now much sought after lady khadijah, offered to marry him. He was then 25 and she 40.

    Born posthumously in a Quraysh family, to parents `Abdullah and Aminah in Makkah in 570 CE, Muhammad led a simple life. He spent his boyhood as a shepherd and took to trade in manhood, carrying people’s goods to Syria and other Middle Eastern places and sharing the profits. His fair dealings earned him the appellate: Al Amin (the trustworthy). Reports of his honesty also reached a wealthy widow, khadijah who entrusted her business to him. Impressed by his sincerity and integrity, this previously twice married, but even now much sought after lady, offered to marry him. He was then 25 and she 40. The age difference between husband and wife was as uncommon a feature then, as it is now, but it was thought that he, following the social practice of the time, will marry younger women later. But he did not take another wife until khadijah’s death twenty-five years later. The two led a very happy life together. She gave him two sons who died in infancy and four daughters who grew to adulthood.

    First Revelation

    Historical research shows that at no time of his life Muhammad worshipped idols nor did he take part in religious practices, rituals or festivities. Yet he was neither an iconoclast, nor an outspoken critic of the deities. He just ignored them. However, with advancing age, he gradually took to retreats in caves where he lived alone for short periods meditating upon his life and times, and to seek a new level of seriousness, wisdom and ethical goodness.

    It was during such a retreat in a cave called Hira, three miles off Makkah, at the ripe age of 40 that the angel Jibril (Gabriel) appeared before him and said: “Read!” Muhammad was unlettered, so he said, “I cannot read!” The angel again commanded him to read, and Muhammad repeated his answer. After the third time, the angel hugged him powerfully, almost squeezing him, and then pronounced the first revelation of God (The Qur'an, Chapter 96, Verse 1-5). It said:

    Read: In the name of thy Lord who created. Created Man of a blood clot.
    Read: And thy Lord is the Most Gracious,
    Who taught by the pen,
    Taught Man what he knew not.

    The angel departed, leaving Muhammad in fear, doubt and anxiety. He was unable to clearly make out what it meant. He descended and went home hurriedly. There, he related the incident to khadijah expressing his apprehensions. By now, khadijah had lived with him for fifteen years. She knew him well enough. She said: “Be not afraid. God will not waste you away. You help the widow, support the orphan and assist the wayfarer.”

    Subsequently, she took him to an old man, Waraqah, who had given up idol- worship, adopted Christianity and had gained considerable knowledge of the Scriptures. After hearing Muhammad, he assured him that the angel was none other than the one who had brought revelations to Moses. He bid Muhammad to stay firm and warned him that one day he would be exiled by his people. Then revelations began to come regularly.

    The General Call

    The theme of these early revelations was: Give up idol-worship, serve one God alone, be just, honest and chaste. Give alms to the poor, the orphan, the slave and the wayfarer. Give up vile practices such as burying alive of the female offspring, oppression of women, slaves and the weak, slandering chaste women, killing innocent people and eating of the carrion; and be warned that all people shall be resurrected on an appointed day when scales will be set up, each man’s deeds weighed and the virtuous rewarded with Paradise and the wicked punished with everlasting Fire.

    The Response

    The first to accept Muhammad’s call were: khadijah, Abu Bakr, his childhood friend, `Ali, his cousin, and Zayd, his slave. Gradually, the drops became a trickle and would have been followed by mass conversions but for the Quraysh who rose up in alarm and took to active opposition. Their religion, culture, social system, political power, and the economic advantages that they drew from the old system, seemed to be threatened. They stretched their arms of repression with full might.

    Persecution

    Chained and Dragged
    The early followers of the Prophet were laid on hot, burning sands and had rocks placed on their chests promising them relief only if they repudiated the religion of Islam. Some were rolled in mattresses and choked with smoke. Others were chained and dragged around in the streets of Makkah. None abandoned his new faith.

    They tried to dissuade the Prophet from preaching his religion by offering him the choicest of maids in marriage, a large amount of wealth and, most important of all, permanent leadership of the Quraysh: in other words, kingship of Arabia. When he refused, they put pressure on his clan to abandon him in order that they could do away with him without fear of retaliation. The weak, the slaves and those not supported by a tribe became easy targets of persecution. On hot Arabian afternoons, they were laid on burning sands and had rocks placed on their chests promising them relief only if they repudiated the new religion. Some were rolled in mattresses and choked with smoke. Others were chained and dragged around in the streets. The Prophet himself was spared such harsh treatment, because of the strength of his clan but minor methods of ridicule were nastily applied. He was also prevented from successful preaching by jeers, clapping, and other forms of parody that accompanied him wherever he went.

    The Boycott

    The Quraysh, however, failed to win back a single convert or halt the conversions completely. They decided, therefore, to implement a complete social boycott and isolate Muhammad and his clan, the Banu Hashim. The Makkan tribes signed a treaty by which the Banu Hashim were to be blockaded in a valley. They were not allowed to come out or take part in trade or social activities. Marital ties were broken and future marriages blocked. They could not even purchase food. The Prophet and his clan were soon reduced to chewing leather and eating grass, and would have met with death through starvation had not some kind-hearted Makkans begun to smuggle in small amounts of food. The boycott lasted three years, but failed to break Muhammad or his followers. It was, at last, lifted through the clemency of a few sympathizers among the Quraysh. Persecution, however, continued in various forms with the result that to accept Islam meant reckless defiance of a ruthless populace.

    Migration

    Muhammad's Daughter among the First
    The first batch of emigrants consisted of the Prophet’s son-in law-and daughter: `Uthman and Ruqayyah.

    With the opposition of the Quraysh unrelenting, the Prophet allowed his followers to migrate to other countries. Around 200 migrated to Abyssinia (today’s Ethiopia). The Prophet’s son-in-law and daughter - Uthman and Ruqayyah – were there in the first batch. The Quraysh sent a delegation to Najashi, the ruler of that country, to get them. When Negus, the Christian King, asked the Muslims to explain their presence in his country, one of them, Ja`far ibn Abi Talib, a cousin of the Prophet, spoke in the following manner:

    “O King, we were an uncivilized people, worshipping idols, eating carrion, committing abominations, breaking natural ties, treating guests badly, and our strong devouring the weak. Thus we were until God sent us an apostle whose lineage, truth, trustworthiness, and clemency we know. He summoned us to acknowledge God’s unity and to worship Him and to renounce the stones and images, which we and our fathers formerly worshipped. He commanded us to speak the truth, be faithful to our engagements, mindful of the ties of kinship and kind hospitality, and to refrain from crimes and bloodshed. He forbade us to commit abominations and to speak lies, and to devour the property of orphans, to vilify chaste women. He commanded us to worship God alone and not to associate anything with Him, and he gave us orders about prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. We confessed his truth and believed in him, and we followed him in what he had brought from God, and we worshipped God alone without associating aught with Him. We treated as forbidden what he forbade, and as lawful what he declared lawful. Thereupon, our people attacked us, treated us harshly and seduced us from our faith to try to make us go back to the worship of idols instead of the worship of God, and to regard as lawful the evil deeds we once committed. So when they got the better of us, treated us unjustly and circumscribed our lives, and came between us and our religion, we came to your country, having chosen you above all others. Here, we have been happy in your protection, and we hope that we shall not be treated unjustly while we are with you.” (Tr. by Alfred Guillaume).

    In the meanwhile, the Prophet was looking for a tribe that would protect him and allow him to preach among the masses. It was necessary at this juncture because he lost - in the 11th year after the revelations began to come - both his wife, khadijah, and uncle Abu Talib. khadijah was a source of moral support to him, while Abu Talib had, as the leader of his clan, all along shielded him from the Quraysh. The new leader of the clan was Abu Lahab, an uncle of the Prophet, but who was dead opposed to Islam. The Prophet, therefore, went to Ta’if, a table land and summer resort about 80 km from Makkah, and appealed to its leaders. But they refused to talk to him. The Prophet requested them to keep their opinions to themselves and let him preach among the masses. But they refused. Instead, they incited the urchins of the town to chase him out. They stoned him and abused him. When he sat down exhausted, they pulled him up again and forced him to walk, until he found sanctuary in an orchard owned by two brothers `Utbah ibn Rabi`ah, and Shaybah ibn Rabi`ah. He took some rest there and wiped his wounds. The intensity of pain he felt at being stoned out of town is well-reflected in the prayer he addressed to God there:

    God! I complain to Thee of my weaknesses, want of means, and lowliness before the people. God! Thou, the Most Merciful, Thou art the Lord of the weak, and Thou art my Lord. God! Whom do You consign me to? To one afar who will abuse me? Or to an enemy whom You have given power over me? But if You are not angry with Me, it does not matter to me.”

    He returned from Ta’if hurt and disappointed.His re-entry into Makkah depended on a clan taking him into protection. Without it, his life was under threat. He presented himself to a number of people. But, against the tradition and against Arab sense of chivalry, they refused.

    For a moment it looked as if he would not be able to enter Makkah at all. Finally, a man known as al Mut`im ibn `Adiyy agreed to take him into his protection. He girt his sword, and accompanied by his sons similarly armed, went to the Ka`ba and announced his protection. But the ban against the Prophet preaching within the town remained in force. However, it did not apply to preaching outside of Makkah. A Makkan, none the less, accompanied him wherever he went to distract attention and prevent anyone from listening to him.

    Pledges at `Aqabah

    Muhammad will cast a Spell
    When the Prophet went about during pilgrimage season and at other times calling out: “People! Say there is no god save One God, and you will succeed,” an accompanying Makkan would shout out: “People! Do not listen to this man. He will cast a spell on you.”

    One place where he could preach freely was Mina. It was at a distance of 5-6 km from Makkah. Here pilgrims gathered every year to spend a couple of nights after the rites of Hajj. Most of those whom the Prophet addressed refused to listen: of course, under the pressure and threats of the Quraysh. When he called out: “People! Say there is no god save One God, and you will succeed,” a Makkan would shout out: “People! Do not listen to this man. He will cast a spell on you.” He approached several tribes: Banu `Aamir, Ghassan, Banu Fuzara, Banu Murrah, Banu Hanifa, Banu Salim, Banu `Abbas, Banu Nasr, Tha`laba ibn `Ukaba, Kinda, Kalb, Banu Harith ibn Ka`b, Banu `Udhra, Qays ibn al Khatim, Abul Hasir, Anas ibn Rafi` etc., to name some. It gives us some idea of the strenuous nature of the Prophet’s task.



    Quranic Verse
    An early calligraphic work depicting Qur'anic verses which say, "When they were told, 'There is no deity save (one) God,' they waxed proud and said, 'Are we going to abandon our deities for a crazy poet?' Rather, he has brought the Truth and the Messengers have testified."

    When he presented his message to a tribe called Banu `Aamir ibn Sa`sa`ah, one of the men called Bayharah ibn Firas remarked: “By God, if I can win this young Qurayshi, I can overcome the rest of the Arabs.” Then he asked Muhammad, “Supposing we were to give you our pledge and protect you, and you emerge successful, will the leadership be conferred upon us?” Prophet told him, “This is for God to decide. He confers leadership upon whom He will.” Bayharah said: “Are we to offer our necks to the swords of the Arabs and non-Arabs, and when you emerge successful, leadership goes to others? We are in no need of such a deal.”

    The Prophet was not so unlucky with the pilgrims coming from Yethrib. The first year, six men came into the fold of Islam but kept the matter secret. The second year, another twelve gave the pledge. These were of the Aws and Khazraj, two large tribes of Yethrib. They had often heard from the Jews that a Prophet was soon to appear with whose help they (the Jews) will annihilate their enemies. These men of Aws and Khazraj, therefore, once convinced, hastened to embrace Islam before the Jews would.

    The second year’s pledge at `Aqabah in Mina later came to be known as ‘The Pledge of Women’ because it did not demand armed defense of Islam. One of the participants `Ubadah ibn Samit relates: “We gave allegiance to the Apostle that we will associate none with God, not steal, not commit fornication, not kill our offspring, not slander our neighbor, not disobey him in what was right. If we fulfilled this, Paradise would be ours; but if we committed any of these sins, we could be punished in this world in which case it would serve as expiation. If the sin was concealed until the Day of Resurrection then it would be for God to decide whether to punish or to purify.”

    The next year, another 70 men and two courageous women secretly converged at a hide -out in small bands at `Aqabah, in Mina, in the small hours of the night. This time, they gave their pledge to defend the Prophet if he decided to emigrate to Yethrib. When one of those present, Al `Abbas ibn `Ubadah ibn Nadlah, warned them that by offering the Prophet a sanctuary among themselves, they were inviting the reds and the blacks to wars against them, their leader, Al Bara’ said: “By Him who sent you with the truth, we shall protect you as we protect our women. We give our allegiance and we are men of war possessing arms which have been passed on from father to son.” They asked him what they would get in return. The Prophet promised them Paradise. They said, “Stretch forth your hand.” When he did that, they pledged their word.

    Although kept secret, the news of their conversion could not be hidden from the Quraysh for long. They were already uneasy about Muslim migration to Yethrib. They began to get the inkling that Muhammad might follow them. A series of consultations took place between their leaders and finally it was decided that in the darkness of night a group of people representing all the clans should bring down their swords jointly on Muhammad so that the responsibility of the murder would not fall upon any single clan leading to blood feuds.

    A Bedouin's Description
    “(Muhammad) was of chaste appearance, bright-faced, proportionately built: neither the stomach bulging out nor the hair falling. Comely face, elegant structure; eyes black, tresses long and thick; deep-toned voice, long and glistening neck, sparkling pupils, thin (and grafted) brows, black curled hair; dignified when quiet and graceful when speaking; of medium height - so as not to look mean to the eyes glancing down, nor too tall for the rising gaze to detest.”

    The Prophet received the news about the plot to murder him, probably through revelation, and the same night he left for Yethrib with Abu Bakr and a pagan guide. The Quraysh found `Ali sleeping in his place and sent scouts all across the country with 100 camels as the price for his head. But the Prophet went down south, instead of north, and hid in a cave for three days. Then, as the search for him cooled down, though it did not end, he emerged and taking a new route and traveling waywardly reached Yethrib safe and sound. After his arrival, the town came to be known as Madinatu an-Nabiyy (the city of the Prophet) or simply Madinah.

    A Bedouin woman, who saw him during his brief stop-over at her place in the company of Abu Bakr and a guide, while they were heading towards Madinah during their Hijrah journey, described him to her husband in the following words: "He was of chaste appearance, bright-faced, proportionately built: neither the stomach bulging out nor the hair falling. Comely face, elegant structure; eyes black, tresses long and thick; deep-toned voice, long and glistening neck, sparkling pupils, thin (and grafted) brows, black curled hair; dignified when quiet and graceful when speaking; of medium height - so as not to look mean to the eyes glancing down, nor too tall for the rising gaze to detest."

    The Madinan Climate

    The Hijrah (migration) was a major turn in the history of Islam. The Islamic calendar dates from this year (H = After Hijrah) which took place thirteen years after the revelations began. He was 53 years old when he entered Madinah: a no mean figure by the standards of the time. Few lived beyond that age. For all intent and purposes he was past the prime of life, and in that part of the age, when a man likes to withdraw to an easy chair and brood over the past, who would like to make a fresh start at this age? With the umbrella of defense provided to him by the Madinans, the chapter of pain, sufferings and tribulations seemed to have ended, and he should have quietly accepted a life of retirement. Muslims too felt free to move about, attend to commerce and business, and follow their faith without fear of persecution or insult. However, things were not to be so, neither for the Prophet nor for them, as we shall see presently.

    Before the Prophet’s emigration, Madinah was a conglomeration of small localities or dwellings. It consisted mainly of five large tribes: two Arab, Aws and Khazraj, and three Jewish, Banu Qaynuqa`, Banu Nadir and Banu Qurayzah. These divided themselves again into families or clans and lived in small or large groups with sufficient empty or cultivated lands between them. Major Jewish clans lived in walled dwellings. Aws and Khazraj had been at war with each other since over a century and were quite exhausted of fighting. The Jewish tribes also took sides and quite often slit each other’s throats fighting for this or that party. They were, however, a dominant force. They had come to Arabia fleeing Christian persecutions and following the prediction that the last Prophet was to appear in the Hejaz.

    When the Prophet announced his office, they were taken by surprise and were beset with doubts. They were expecting a Prophet, but had not thought he would be an Arab. They had expected him to be Jewish, even if appearing in Arabia. They decided to wait for further developments. They demanded, even as they do today, a special and honored place among the family of man. What the Prophet was presenting fell far short of their requirements. Far from giving them the right to choose other’s religion, it was commonly known that the Prophet did not accept social superiority of a people over another on the basis of color, race or nation. In Islam, all were treated equal and as brothers unto each other. Only those who were God-fearing won honor and respect. Moreover, after initially facing Jerusalem in Prayers, the Prophet received orders through revelation to orient himself towards Ka`ba in Makkah. Just as Jerusalem had held back the Quraysh, Ka`ba held back the Jews. These were some reasons that turned Jews gradually from indifference to hypocrisy, to active opposition.

    A third element also grew up in Madinah. It was the hypocrites. These were largely a disaffected people with political ambitions. They were led by `Abdullah ibn Ubayy who, like the Quraysh in Makkah, could not tolerate the growth of Islam as another power in the region. But, unable to do anything about it, he and his followers outwardly professed Islam and waited to see who would emerge victorious: Islam or its adversaries. They numbered many hundreds and at the time of every crisis sided with the enemies of Islam.

    When the Prophet arrived in Madinah, almost the first thing he did after building a mosque was to institute brotherhood between the emigrants (muhajirun) and the Madinah Muslims then called Helpers (ansar). Every muhajir was made a brother unto an ansari. They were to share their homes, wealth and property. They even inherited each other until later commandments that abrogated all inheritance save by blood. In a world where people divided themselves into clans and tribes, with their loyalty only to their groups, in the right or wrong, and all not infrequently battling with each other over insignificant causes, this institution of brotherhood and its complete success was a remarkable achievement. For those who stared with wonder and disbelief, it was a warning too that their strife -torn structures will have little strength against the organizing and uniting power of Islam.

    Peace Treaties

    Response to Peace Proposals
    Upon arrival at Madinah, the Prophet worked out a series of peace-treaties. At Makkah the atmosphere of fear and discord was the singular reason for Islam’s poor growth. Time was now ripe for serious discussions, but, just as the Quraysh of Makkah, the Jews of Madinah also failed to respond positively.

    The next thing the Prophet did was to work out various peace treaties with surrounding tribes. The treaties, however, had not been worked out with mere political ends in view. They were meant to create an atmosphere of peace and trust conducive to proper presentation and understanding of Islam. At Makkah the atmosphere of fear and discord was the singular reason for Islam’s poor growth. Time was now ripe for serious discussions, although, as we shall see, just as the Quraysh of Makkah, the Jews of Madinah also failed to respond positively. They were led by people of small minds who could neither evaluate the truth that was dawning upon the land, nor were politically mature enough to assess the fast changing situation around them. It was particularly odd that the Jews, who were otherwise known for their shrewdness, acted stupidly on many occasions. They were always on the wrong step and in alliance with the losing party. Although it cannot be denied that the odds were against them: had they made peace with the Prophet and allowed their masses free mix up with the Muslims, surely they would have lost them to Islam. Like all outdated and corrupted religions, they held their masses more by blackening other religions than by brightening their own.

    During the same early Madinan years, a delegation of the Christians of Najran arrived in Madinah. They were led by three men, one of whom was a Bishop. They entered into discussions with the Prophet who offered them plain guidance against their complex beliefs that left them dissatisfied at their hearts. The Prophet told them to desist from their assertion that Jesus is the son of God and a third person of the Trinity. But they side tracked him into arguments that had no basis in reason or revelation. He told them at last: “Submit yourselves.” They said, “We have submitted.” He said, “You have not submitted, so submit.” They replied, “Indeed , we submitted before you.” He said, “You lie. Your assertion that God has a son; your worship of the cross and your partaking of pork hold you back from submission.”

    The truth is, few of the Jewish and Christian masses are aware that their religion has no historical or rational basis. The authors of the Old Testament are anonymous. The origins of the first five books of the Pentateuch (the Torah, supposed to have been revealed to Moses 1300 years before Christ) can only be traced, with great difficulty, so far back as between the ninth and fifth centuries before Jesus, and that those so called “original” documents have long perished. What are in their hands now are translations of translations. The common people are unaware that in the Bible there are defects “so many” and “so serious” (in the words of the foreword to the King James Version), that it has several times required revisions. They do not know that in the Holy Bible there are stupefying contradictions, pornography, erotic poetry, and even incest committed by the prophets in their state of drunkenness!

    The Christians, on the other hand, are generally unaware that the New Testament (the four Gospels) attributed to the Apostles of Jesus, were actually composed by unknown men about 50 to 150 years after Jesus in a language that Jesus did not speak; that the present day four Gospels were chosen for canonization from dozens that were current 300 years after Christ; that the founder of Christianity was not Christ, who said “I am sent but for the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew, 15: 24), rather Saint Paul, who never saw Christ; that the word “Trinity” does not occur once in the Bible ; and that today’s “facts” of divinity and “sonship” of Jesus Christ were hotly contested by the earliest Christians and were finally incorporated into the Creedal Statement of the Church, despite protests by many learned followers of Christ, in the council of Nicaea in 325 CE.

    The discussions proved futile and the Christian delegation returned to Najran. The Bishop however, confided, to his son later that he felt this was the true Prophet. To the astonished son he explained that having received from Rome honors and subsidies for construction of Churches, he could not betray them. The son, however, traveled up to the Prophet, embraced Islam, as did the people of Najran themselves who sent another delegation to the Prophet in the ninth year after Hijrah to pledge Islam. On no occasion did a war take place between them and the Muslims.

    The State and its Antagonists

    Meanwhile, the style and nature of the Qur’anic revelations had changed. Laws concerning marriage, divorce, inheritance, crime, trade and commerce were revealed. Later, laws governing inter state relationships were dictated. The long awaited permission to retaliate force with force was also granted to the Muslims who had restrained themselves for thirteen long years. The revelation concerning jihad said:

    “(Permission to retaliate is, hereby, granted) to those on whom war has been imposed, for they have been wronged. And (let them not be impressed by the might of the enemy, for) Allah is Capable of helping them. (This permission is for) those who have been expelled from their homes, in defiance of right, (for no cause) except that they say: ‘Allah is our Lord.’ And, had it not been for Allah checking one set of people against another, surely, many monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques in which Allah’s Name is recited much would have been pulled down” (The Qur'an, 22: 39).

    Thus, we see that gradually Madinah grew into a well-organized state with the Prophet as its head. It was a new experiment in the long history of the anarchic Arabia and friend and foe alike watched the developments with interest. But not everyone viewed it as a healthy development. The Quraysh in Makkah and the Jews in Madinah could not let a powerful and vigorous state grow in their midst. The Quraysh decided to take the first step towards uprooting the new order. However, little did they realize that they were up against a genius, against whom they themselves were, despite all their sharp qualities, but punies. The Prophet broke them piece by piece, and destroyed them little by little, without any threat, without much violence and without his adversaries feeling any real decline in their power and influence. Every day that melted into the oblivion, the Quraysh lost some ground, but shrugged it off as a loss of useless stretch of desert. But, on a sudden, they found themselves at an abyss. Behind them was the Prophet, and ahead of them a steep fall. They had no choice but to turn back and accept him on their knees.

    However, presently, they confiscated the property of the Muslims that had left Makkah, and banned their entry into the city. This was against all prevalent laws and a severe blow to the emigrants. Some of them had brought from Makkah nothing but the clothes they had on. The Quraysh further let know the Madinans that if they would not throw the Prophet out, they would have to face the Makkan rage. They made it unsafe for the Muslims to move about in the country except in organized and armed bands. This had its effect on the economy of the Muslims. The generosity of the local Muslims notwithstanding, deep poverty set in.

    No Peace
    In reply to the efforts of the pagans to choke Islam, the Prophet began sending small bands to scout the area around Madinah, to give the impression that the new state was well-prepared, and to warn the Quraysh that if they would not come to terms with the Muslims, granting them freedom to preach in the tribes, and move about freely for trade and business, there was going to be no peace.

    In reply to their efforts to choke Islam, the Prophet began sending small bands of men to scout the area around Madinah, to give the impression, firstly, that the new state was well-prepared to defend itself, and secondly, to warn the Quraysh that if they would not come to terms with the Muslims, allowing them to visit Makkah, granting them freedom to preach in the tribes, and move about freely for trade and business, there was going to be no peace. These bands generally hovered around a passing trade caravan of the Quraysh, but avoided conflict. Since more than half the total trade of Makkah and Ta’if with Syria was through a route that went by Madinah, the Quraysh were alarmed; but not unduly. They were too large, powerful, and proud to be disturbed by this minor irritation. They decided to resort to force and started to raid Muslim area. One such raiding party managed to carry away some Madinan cattle. Thus, a state of war came to exist between the two and the Quraysh made no secret of their firm intention to destroy Islam and Muslims root and branch. They wrote letters to the Madinans to that effect. In such a situation it was only a question of time before violence would erupt.

    Badr

    In the second year after Hijrah the Prophet learnt that a large Makkan trade caravan was on its way back from Syria under the command of Abu Sufyan. While preparations were underway in Madinah to attack the caravan in retaliation of the recent raid on Muslim cattle, Abu Sufyan, the caravan leader, got wind of the Madinan intentions through his agents and sent word to the Makkans about the possible Muslim ambush. This was just the signal the Quraysh were awaiting. They swiftly raised a prized volunteer corps of over 900 well-armed men with almost all able leaders and staunch enemies of Islam in its ranks and began to march towards Madinah.

    The Prophet had set out with about 300 companions, and received news of the Makkan force on his way. But he was not sure which of the two he would encounter first: the caravan, or the Makkan army. Nevertheless, he continued to march towards Makkah. Many Muslims were quite fearful because they knew that whether or not they encountered the caravan, they were sure to meet the Makkan army, facing which, they thought, would be calamitous since neither were they in sufficient numbers nor properly armed to meet an organized force of the sort advancing on them. The trade caravan in any case could not be encountered, for Abu Sufyan made his people travel two full nights and one whole day, allowing only a few hours of rest. He also changed the route leaving the Muslims much behind in vain pursuit.

    The Muslims, however, continued to march until they reached Badr, a watering place about 150 km from Madinah. By then they had learnt that Abu Sufyan’s caravan had escaped and that the Makkan army was advancing towards them. The Prophet knew that it would take the Makkans about a week to reach Badr. Inexplicably, he decided to advance to Badr, rather than retreat to the safe grounds of Madinah. The men under his command were, compared to the Makkans, in the ratio of 1:3. They were ill-fed and inadequately armed. How poorly armed they were can be judged from the fact that later when actual fighting began, they started by pelting stones at the enemy. Moreover, many of them had not given their pledge to fight and so the Prophet had to seek their consent before deciding to enter into the conflict. They had no beasts to escape in the event of a defeat. It is reported that they had but a solitary horse. The number of camels was 70, that is, a camel for every 4-5 persons, while the beast cannot take more than two at a time. Finally, it was enemy territory, the tribes around were either allies of the Makkans or hostile to Islam. Perhaps, the only way to explain the Prophet’s decision to meet the Quraysh at Badr was that he might have received instructions from on High. Otherwise, militarily, it was, perhaps, not the best thing to do.

    Last minute efforts at peace, when the Makkans had arrived, were foiled by an arch-enemy of Islam, Abu Jahal, and a tough battle ensued. Muslims emerged victorious. No less than 70 Makkans were slain, most of them the chiefs and renowned fighters, and as many captured to the loss of thirteen Muslims and none captured. Judging by statistics, it was a minor battle. But it proved to be a significant one. The result changed the history of nations and destinies of billions of people. Without exaggeration, the battle can be considered “the most important” of all battles and wars that human history has recorded in its annals.

    The Killing of Ka`b ibn al Ashraf

    In all, the Prophet either ordered, or gave his approval to, the killing of four of his enemies. The background story of each of them is different. We shall present the case of only one: Ka`b ibn al Ashraf, who was done away with after Badr.

    When the Prophet sent an advance party to Madinah to give them the happy news of victory at Badr, one of those who would not believe his ears was Ka`b ibn al Ashraf. He was a rich Jew who lived in his own strong fort. He was a poet too; and a powerful one. When he heard the news of the death of Makkan chiefs, he said: “By God, those were the noblest of Arabs. If the news is true, then it’s better to be dead than alive.” Then he went to Makkah and receiving the hospitality of one of their chiefs began to say poetry mourning the death of the Arab chiefs and inciting the Makkans to revenge.

    Now, the Arabs feared none as the poets. They occupied the same position in that society as modern day media. Caught on the wrong foot, and satirized by a poet, a man in those days did not have even the deserts to hide himself in shame, for a good piece of poetry reached every home, every tent, and every shepherd in the remotest of areas faster than the news of gold find. The poet could destroy a man more effectively than the sword could. Ka`b was a powerful poet and was saying poetry against Muslims. Hassan ibn Thabit, a Muslim poet, answered him with his own lampoons. Then a poetess entered the fray and Ka`b replied to her too. Finally, having cooled his anger a bit, and having succeeded in convincing the Makkans that their swords needed to be sharpened a little for the next encounter, which could not be delayed any further, he returne

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