Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Muhammad and Islam: Stories not told before, Part 4

Part 3 <<<<

First Revelation

Muhammad continued the process of his learning for a long time; some say, without substantiation, for fifteen years. Then suddenly one night in the month of Ramadhan, in the year 610 A. D., when Muhammad was forty years of age, he declared that he received revelations from Allah, and that He appointed him his last Prophet (Nabi) for the people of Mecca.

The age forty has a great significance for the Muslims. Muhammad declared that, upon reaching this age, they should pray to Allah and thank Him for the favors He bestowed on them and their parents and also that they should start from this age doing good works that will please Him. He required the Muslims to be kind to their parents, for the reason that their mothers bear them with much pain, and with much pain do they bring them to the world. He also required them to be kind and thankful to their parents;[1] He did not, however, call upon them to love their parents for what they do to them after they were born.

One Muslim school of thought reports that Muhammad had told his wife, Khudeija, that while he was in the cavern, angel Gabriel appeared to him “in a dazzling human form”[2] and ordered him to “recite in the name of thy Lord.”[3] Later on, he told the Muslims that all angels can fly, each of them having at least a pair of wings,[4]except for Gabriel, who is said to have six hundred of them.[5]

At a later date, Muhammad repudiated his aforesaid statement by stating the following in the Quran:

“Say: Whoever is an enemy to Gabriel - - - for he brings down the (revelation) to thy heart by Allah’s will, a confirmation of what went before, and guidance and glad tidings for those who believe, -”[6]

The above statement clearly implies that what the Quran contains are the words that were imparted to Muhammad by angel Gabriel through his heart and also that this angel never appeared to him in person. Accordingly, we may safely conclude that what we read in the Quran are Muhammad’s own words, which he used for describing the inspirations the angel, at Allah’s command, put in his heart, or should we say, in his mind.

The mode of revelation notwithstanding, Muhammad, similar to the ancient Hebrew prophets before him - who were often reluctant to utter the words of Allah - and protesting that he was unschooled, refused to comply with Gabriel’s order.[7] A storied hadith attributed to his youngest wife, Aisha, recounts that Gabriel pressed Muhammad’s chest against his own three times[8] in order to make him follow his order. Instantly, he felt his understanding illumined with celestial light and he read the first five verses of the Sura or chapter, al-Iqraa,[9] written on a banner that he saw hanging at the edge of the nearest sky to the earth. When he finished the perusal, the heavenly Messenger announced, “Oh, Muhammad, of a verity, thou art the Prophet of Allah! and I am his angel Gabriel!”

After the incident, we are told, Muhammad was much horrified to think that he might have become a mere disrespectable kahin, whom people consulted, if one of their camels went missing. A Jinni, one of the spirits who were thought to haunt the deserts and who could be capricious and lead people into error, supposedly possessed a kahin. Poets also believed that their personal Jinn possessed them. Thus Hasan ibn Thabit, a poet of Medina who later became a Muslim and Muhammad’s personal poet-laureate, is reported to have said that when he received his poetic vocation, his personal Jinn appeared to him and, throwing him to the ground, forced the inspired words from his mouth.

This was the only form of inspiration that Muhammad was familiar with, and the thought that he might have become a majnoon --Jinni-possessed - filled him with despair that he no longer wished to live.[10] His wife, Khudeija, reportedly talked him out of his suicidal intention.

It was at a much later stage that Allah told Muhammad that He had deputed him not only as a Prophet for men, He had also given him the responsibility to convert the errant Jinns[11] to the righteous path of Islam, a task that Allah certified Muhammad to have fulfilled to His fullest satisfaction.

The Muslim belief that Muhammad had a physical encounter with angel Gabriel is more of a myth than a fact. It was concocted by the later day Muslims in order to boost his credentials as a Prophet. Not only many cynical people disbelief it, even many Muslim scholars discount this alleged involvement of the angel with Muhammad as being nothing but an imaginative falsehood of some of the zealots of the Islamic faith.

Professor Fazlur Rahman is one of the prominent Muslim scholars, who repudiated the alleged affair without any hesitation. He maintains that Muhammad did not encounter Gabriel in the flesh and that the contents of the Quran are the result of his internal mystical experience, generated in his heart by Allah’s inspiration[12] “in a state of vision or quasi-dream.” Muhammad himself, Rahman continues, had characterized the state in which he received his revelations by saying, “Then I woke up,” implying clearly that Muhammad had received his first and all other subsequent revelations in dreams. In this connection, Rahman states, “This idea of the externality of the angel and the Revelation has become so ingrained in the general Muslim mind that the real picture is anathema to it,” emphasizing, at the same time, the fact that “a religion cannot lie on purely spiritualized dogmas and {that} reification is necessary even if only to serve the purpose of a vessel for the spirit.”[13]

Rahman’s position differs somewhat from a hadith attributed to Hadhrat Zubair. Muhammad is reported to have told him that while he was in the cave of Hira, he heard a voice calling him by name and declaring him the Prophet of Allah. He searched all around but found no one. He then looked up and saw an angel floating in the space that exists between the earth and the sky.[14]

Convulsing with extreme fear, and his heart throbbing,[15] Muhammad ran home. His wife Khudeija tended him and wrapped him up in a mantle. After a while, angel Gabriel appeared at his home and commanded him to “arise and deliver thy warning, O thou wrapped up!” According to this hadith, Surah or chapter al-Muddaththir[16] was the first Surah that was revealed to Muhammad and not Surah al-Iqraa,[17] as believed by the majority of the Muslims.

The majority of Muhammad’s biographers do not agree with the above hadith. Instead, they maintain he received all of his revelations from Allah, either in dream or during the seizures he often suffered from in his life.

During the painful episodes of seizures, Muhammad heard bells ringing in his ears and pearl-sized drops of perspiration trickled from his body even during the winter.[18] When fully recovered, he narrated the contents of the vision.

Those observations of Muhammad’s behavior are indicative of the fact that he suffered from epilepsy or schizophrenia, two medical conditions that were a mystery to the people of his time. Dr. Gustav Weil, in a note to Muhammad der Prophet, discussed the question of Muhammad being subject to attacks of epilepsy, a physical condition, which has generally been represented as a slander, concocted by his enemies, as well as by the Christian writers. His ailment appears, however, to have been asserted by some of the oldest Muslim biographers, now labeled as “hired biographers” by some modern Muslim writers;[19] it having been established as being a genuine assertion on the authority of other writers, who were contemporaneous to their time.

He would be seized, they said, with violent trembling followed by a kind of swoon or, more accurately, convulsion, during which perspiration would stream from his forehead in the coldest weather; he would lie with his eyes closed, foaming at the mouth, and bellowing like a young camel. Aisha, one of his wives, and Zaid, one of his disciples, are among the persons cited as testifying to this effect. They regarded the seizures at such times as being under the influence of a revelation. He is believed to have similar attacks, however, in Mecca before he became a Prophet, and at a time when Allah was not supposed to give him any revelation.[20]

Unaware of Muhammad’s medical condition, Khudeija feared that he was possessed by an evil Jinn’s spirits, and wanted to solicit the aid of a conjuror to exorcise them, but Muhammad forbade her. He did not like anyone to see him during those paroxysms.

The epileptic attacks did not always precede his visions. Harith ibn Hashem, it is narrated, once asked him in what manner he received his revelations. “Often,” Muhammad replied, “the angel appears to me in a human form, and speaks to me. Sometimes, I hear sounds like the tinkling of a bell, but see nothing.”

When the invisible angel has departed, I am possessed of what he has revealed.” Some of his revelations, he professed, reached him directly from Allah, others in dreams; for the dreams of prophets, he used to say, are revelations.

The Preaching

After Muhammad came home with the news that Allah made him a Prophet, it was his wife, Khudeija, who not only comforted him in his fear, but she also feigned to have believed in what he had told her - thereby becoming the first person to convert to the faith of Islam. To accelerate the success of her husband’s mission, she even phrased the words of the Kalima Tayyaba, by invoking which, a non-Muslim instantly becomes a Muslim.[21]

The Kalima, coined by Khudeija, reads: La Ilaha-ill-Allah, Muhammad-ur-Rasul-Allah, meaning: There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger.

Waraqa ibn Nofal, her aged cousin, also played his pre-arranged role. Using his scholarly authority, he declared that what his surrogate was claiming was not only true, he was, moreover, the same prophet whose impending arrival was foretold by other religious scriptures, thereby ensuring Muhammad’s success. His support of Muhammad notwithstanding, Waraqa never accepted Islam and died a Christian.

Following Khudeija, others who converted to Islam were: 1. Ali ibn Abu Talib. He was a ten-year old cousin of Muhammad who lived under his care and who, later on, married his daughter Fatima. 2. Zaid ibn Harith, a young freed slave whom Muhammad, for some time, had adopted as his son and came to be known as Abu Zaid, father of Zaid. 3. Abdullah Atik ibn Abu Kahafa, who is universally known as Abu Baker, “the father of the virgin she-camel,” a title that was presumably given to him after he let a 50-plus year-old Muhammad marry his six year-old infant daughter. He was one of Muhammad’s closest friends. 4. Abdu Amr, son of Awf, a distant kinsman of Muhammad’s mother, Amina, and 5. Abu Ubaydah, son of al-Jarrah, who belonged to the clan of Bani al-Harith.

As Muhammad was already convinced that the early stage of his mission was going to be perilous, he planned to take his initial steps in secrecy. He apprehended hostility on every side: from his immediate kindred, the Quraishites of the line of Hashim whose power and prosperity Muhammad identified not only with idolatry, but also with their greed and selfishness, and still more from the rival line of Abd Shams, who were ever ready to dispossess the Hashemites of the guardianship of Ka’aba, which generated great amounts of revenue for its keepers. Abu Sofian, son of Harb and a grandson of Omaya, as well as the great-grandson of Abd Shams, headed the later group of the rivals. He was an able and ambitious man; said to have great wealth and influence over the people of Mecca. For Muhammad, he proved, for some time, a redoubtable opponent.

Accordingly, Muhammad began propagating his new religion slowly, and discreetly, insomuch that for the first three years the number of his converts did not exceed forty; those, for the most part, being young persons, strangers, and the downtrodden slaves. Contrary to Muhammad’s apprehension, the Pagans did not turn violent against him; rather, they tolerated his anti-idol campaign with great magnanimity. They took offence and reacted mildly only when he spoke disparagingly of their gods, a fact that is supported by the Quran. It does not tell us that the Pagans had ever subjected Muhammad to any physical abuse, even after he had committed a serious crime by abusing their deities.

For his followers, Muhammad introduced the three daily prayers, which he borrowed from the old pagan rites. Fearing ridicule from the Pagans to the manner in which he wanted his followers to perform their prayer, he held his prayer congregation in private, either in the house of one of the initiated, or in a cave near the city of Mecca. His secrecy, however, did not, for long, protect him from the Pagans’ discovery.

The Pagans discovered Muhammad’s secret gatherings; in one of them, a rabble broke out and a scuffle ensued. In it, Saad, a Muslim, wounded one of the Pagan opponents of his faith. This feat earned him the first place among all the Muslims, who shed blood in the cause of Islam. The discovery of his meeting place and the consequential solicitude to which he found himself subjected, sapped Muhammad’s spirits and increased the perturbation of his mind. He looked worn out and haggard, with abstraction having overtaken his hitherto mental sharpness. His associates noticed his altered mien and dreaded an attack of illness; his Pagan distracters scoffingly accused him of mental hallucination and rejected his call to embrace his faith.

Abu Bakr and Uthman - two converts to Islam - enjoyed strong protection from their clans. As a result of this, they never faced any violence from the Pagans, despite the fact that they accompanied Muhammad on every trip he made to preach his religion. Even the young Ali was neither harassed nor treated harshly either by the children of his age, or by his elders for having become a Muslim at a tender age.

The small community of the Meccan Christians maintained a position of neutrality, being confident that since Muhammad was married to one of their women, who wielded considerable influence over him, he would not harm them, if he won his struggle, nor would his opponents cause them any trouble, should they be able to defeat him, for the reason that they were never a cause of concern for their overwhelmingly large neighbors. They were absolutely right. Muhammad never appeared to them as a threat; rather, he not only declared them to be in love with the Muslims,[22] he also provided them with protection by declaring them to be Muslims.[23]

After brooding silently over the problem his campaign faced for some time and, on being prodded by Khudeija and Waraqa, Muhammad threw off all his reserves, and displaying greater enthusiasm, began to go about openly proclaiming his doctrines, and presenting himself as a prophet, sent by Allah, to put an end to idolatry as well as to mitigate the rigors of the Jewish and Christian laws. The hills of Safa and Marwa, sanctified by the traditions of Hagar and Ishmael, became his preaching grounds, and the Mount of Hira his sanctuary, where he retired when overtaken by the Pagans’ tortuous interrogations, only to return from it, after preparing himself with new arguments and pronouncements, which he always tried to pass off as being “revelations from Allah.”

Unimpressed, the Pagans continued to ridicule him for assuming an apostolic character. Those who had seen him as a boy about the streets of Mecca, and afterwards, occupied in all ordinary concerns of life, felt greatly hurt by his insulting remarks on their ancestral religion as well as on their intellect, which he considered to be inferior to that of his own. They also resented his insolent attitude towards those who mattered in the Meccan society, but whom he deemed to be his enemy. Furthermore, he belittled them by claiming that only he knew all that that existed in heaven. Additionally, to add salt to injury, he created an atmosphere of enmity in Mecca, which separated a son from his parents, and a brother from his siblings. As if not satisfied with the extent of havoc that he had already wrought upon their blood relationship, he was depriving them of their livelihood as well by creating turmoil, which, in its own turn, was discouraging people from visiting Mecca, either on trade or on pilgrimage.

Despite the fact that Muhammad had torn apart all the fabrics of their social and religious lives, the Pagans are not known to have ever demonstrated any violence against his person. They never caused him any bodily harm. One of the retaliations they occasionally subjected him to was their sneer. Seeing him pass them, they used to exclaim, “Behold! The grandson of Abd al Mutallib, who pretends to know what is going on in heaven!” Some, who had witnessed his fits of mental excitement, called him insane; few others declared that he was possessed by a devil, and some accused him of practicing sorcery and magic. On a particular occasion, some Pagans are reported to have thrown on his body a bundle of dirt, which caused him no injury or pain. But when the Pagans failed, even after employing the above methods to prevent him from insulting their gods and religion, they did not turn violent against him; instead, they commissioned a poet to counter his moves with his poetic lampoons.

The poet engaged by the Pagans was none other than the youthful Amru ibn al-Aass. His mother was a prostitute - whom we have mentioned her earlier in our presentation - who practiced her profession in Mecca. She was a very beautiful woman, whose list of paramours included all the nobles of the city who existed in the tribe of Quraish. When she gave birth to Amru, all of her lovers laid their equal claim on the paternity of the child. As the newborn most resembled Aass, he received the designation of ibn al-Aass, the son of Aass.

Nature was very kind to the young man. He had all the qualities of a genius. At an early age, he became one of the most popular poets of Arabia. People distinguished him for the pungency of his satirical compositions, which he delivered with a captivating sweetness. He was a delight for his listeners, who paid close attention to what he had to say in his poems.

Pitted against Muhammad, Amru made great efforts in countering his proselytizing campaigns with lampoons and humorous madrigals. The captivating effect of his compositions, already imprinted on their minds, people not only circulated them widely, they also carried them to distant places. People’s involuntary action, though, proved to be a temporary setback for Muhammad, but, in the end, even Amru’s effusions failed to stop him from carrying out his proselytizing campaigns.

Those of the Pagans who had traits of neutrality in their character demanded of Muhammad to produce supernatural proofs in support of what he asserted. His reply may be gathered from his words in the Quran; it being evasive to the point that he did not hesitate to designate the Quran as being a miracle from Allah. Unsatisfied, they demanded palpable evidence, miracles addressed to the senses, that he should cause the dumb to speak, the deaf to hear, the blind to see, or the dead to rise. Muhammad, as usual, not only avoided those demands, he also denounced them for not believing in his utterances. At the same time, he threatened them with dire consequences from Allah, if they persisted in what he considered to be their unjustified demands.

Al Maalem, an Arabian writer, recorded that some of Muhammad’s disciples at one time joined with the Pagan multitude in their demand for miracles, and besought him to prove at once the divinity of his mission by turning the hill of Safa into gold. Being thus closely urged, he took to prayer; and after finishing it, assured his followers as well his opponents that the angel Gabriel had appeared to him, and informed him that should Allah grant his prayer and work the desired miracle, all those who disbelieved would be exterminated. In pity to the multitude, he implored Allah not to cause the miracle, thus permitting the hill of Safa to maintain its pristine state. He continued to insist that the Quran was his miracle and that beyond it; he had no power to perform additional miracles to satisfy their incredulity.

>>>> Part 5

[1] The Quran; 46:15.

[2] R.V. C. Bodley, op. cit. p. 56.

[3] The Quran; 96:1.

[4] The Quran; 35:1.

[5] Maulana Mufti Muhammad Shafi, Tafsir Ma’ariful Quran, p. 764.

[6] 2:97.

[7] Karen Armstrong, op. cit. p. 137.

[8] Martin Lings, op. cit. p. 43.

[9] The Quran; Sura 96.

[10] Karen Armstrong, op. cit. p. 137 ff.

[11] Washington Irving, op. cit. p. 71.

[12] The Quran; 4:163.

[13] Islam, p. 13.

[14] The Quran; 53:6-11, 81:23.

[15] According to Ali Dashti, this condition is known to occur in persons who lead a double life – an ordinary life combined with a shadowy, phantom-filled, and shoreless inner life.

[16] The Quran; Sura 74.

[17] The Quran; Sura 96.

[18] Martin Lings. op. cit. p. 245.

[19] Dr. Rafiq Zakaria, Muhammad & The Quran.

[20] Washington Irving, op. cit. pp.43-44.

[21] Khalid Latif Gauba, The Prophet of the Desert, p. 33.

[22] The Quran; 5:85.

[23] The Quran; 5:114.

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