Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Muhammad and Islam: Stories not told before, Part 5

Part 4 <<<


First Muslim Flight

We have reached in our narrative the fifth year of Muhammad’s mission. From time to time, he did face the Pagans’ opposition to his preaching, but they had never succeeded in completely shutting him off. In spite of enjoying an almost unrestricted freedom to engage himself in his proselytizing activities, Muhammad, it seems, had not been able to secure more than sixty to seventy converts over such a long period of time.

At this stage, we wish to digress from our narrative, and visualize the kind of stressful days Muhammad must have been passing through, after being in his mission for five devastating years, in the religiously charged atmosphere of Mecca.

As we have mentioned earlier in this presentation, it was Khudeija, who, along with her cousin, had commissioned Muhammad to found in Mecca a religion that was intended to establish the unity of Allah. He had undertaken the mission not only for his wife’s sake, but also for his own reasons, which we have stated earlier, after being assured that she was going to put her entire wealth at his disposal, to be expended by him in any manner and for any purpose he deemed worthy of their cause.

For five years, Muhammad lived on his wife’s wealth. He also used it to feed most of the new Muslims, many among whom were slaves and downtrodden. A good part of her wealth also had to be used as bribes for those Pagans who were inclined towards Islam, but refrained from converting to it. In short, he used his wife’s bequeathed wealth for all the purposes he considered necessary for achieving what he had dedicated himself to five years ago.

But when his resources were almost exhausted, with him taking no part in trade activities for a long time to recoup his wife’s expended wealth, he began to feel the crunch that invariably follows such a situation. He, therefore, began to search for the ways through which he could reduce the pressure on his depleting coffer.

To understand what Muhammad might have been thinking to ease pressure over his depleting resource, we need to consider certain conditions that were prevailing in the Arabian society at that period of time. We have mentioned that Muhammad had initially launched his movement to force the Pagans to worship a lone Allah. It was followed by his attack on the rich merchants of Mecca because of the reason that they prided in their wealth and refused to share their privileges with the poor, orphan and the needy. Though the latter issue had won him some support from the common folks, yet he could not have neglected the crippling effect that it had produced on the lives of the very people he had intended to help.

It was in the background of this situation that Muhammad had, at one stage, come up with a reconciliatory plan, aimed at appeasing his opponents. Not fully realizing the implication of what he was going to tell them, he announced that he accepted the divinity of the “Lord of the House,” whom the Pagans worshipped in the form of a statue, which they had installed in the Ka’aba. He followed this concession by permitting his followers to worship the idols of al-Lat, al-Uzza and al-Manat together with other idols of the Pagans. The Pagans were elated, thinking that their days of polemics and hardship were over. But their happiness did not last long, and they realized it very soon. To the Muslims, the last concession is known as “Gharaniq.” According to one Muslim writer, it had taken place in Mecca in late 5th or early 6th year of his preaching.[1]

Muhammad was forced to adopt reconciliatory policies with a specific purpose; it being to ease the difficulties of the poorer section of the Meccan population so that he could continue to enjoy their support. He, however, withdraw the concession, claiming it to have been a Satanic act, when he realized that by authorizing the Pagans to worship their idols, he had retracted his stand on the issue of absolute monotheism, thus jeopardizing the divinity of his prophethood. To extract himself from the faux pas, he put the blame on Satan, who, he said, had put the words of the declaration in his mouth, despite him having had obtained full protection from Allah against the devil’s influence on him. The reversal of his later policy did not bode well with the Pagans, and they were infuriated. Considering Muhammad’s retraction as an act of betrayal, they decided to oppose his religion more vigorously. Had Muhammad not enjoyed his Uncle Abu Talib’s protection, they might have caused him even bodily harm.

The fiasco, and the atmosphere of distrust created by the abrogation of his compromising announcements notwithstanding, we must praise Muhammad’s sense of pragmatism, which he had always exhibited in all of his difficult times. To a great extent, this quality of his was responsible for making him, in the long run, a hugely successful man and the ruler of his land.

Encouraged by his pragmatism, he decided to send a delegation of the neo-Muslims to Abyssinia in 615 A.D., probably, with the following objectives in his mind:

In the last five years, his achievement in Mecca was dismal. In the same period, he saw the Pagan opposition to his cause growing. He also saw his resources disappearing, with no recourse being available to him to replenish them. Although Abu Talib’s protection had shielded him from his opponents, but he saw many of his followers, who had no social status or protection, undergoing physical torture at the hands of their masters. Moreover, he, too, had failed to provide gainful employment to those who had forsaken their jobs, and became his disciples. Consequently, he sensed a suppressed disaffection taking hold of his followers. He, therefore, needed to divert their attention to a different direction. He also needed to take steps not only to invigorate his followers’ faith in his leadership, but also to contain his opponents’ hostility to his cause.

With the stated objectives in mind, Muhammad began to explore all the possibilities in right earnest that would help him stabilize his position. While carrying on with his explorations, he came to know a lot about Abyssinia. He learned that a Christian king ruled it, and that he was tolerant of other religions. He also learned that the Negus, the name of the Abyssinian king, harbored an ambition on Mecca, and that he was not in favor of the Persians spreading their net of influence over this citadel of Pagan worship.

In the final analysis, Abyssinia appeared to Muhammad to be a perfect country of choice to which he decided to turn for help. Accordingly, he prepared and dispatched a delegation of his followers to its king. It consisted of eleven members, including Ruqayyah, his daughter. Uthman, her husband, was made its leader.

We assume that Muhammad had charged the leader of the delegation to achieve the following objectives:

1. Muhammad was aware that the Abyssinians were eager to regain their lost dominion of Arabia; and also that to help their Byzantium allies who had just suffered a serious defeat at the hands of the Persians, they were willing to listen to any ideas, the implementation of which was likely to divert their enemy’s attention from their future conquests. Capitalizing on the Abyssinians’ focus, the delegation was to convince the Negus to attack Mecca and to take over its administration. Other members of the delegation had instructions to narrate, in Negus’ court, horrible stories of how their Pagan masters were not only physically torturing them, but also how they were starving them to death. Being convinced, should the Negus take over Mecca, he was to choose Muhammad to become its ruler. His ascension to power would have helped him in achieving all his objectives easily, and in a short period of time.

2. Should the Negus refuse to do what Muhammad wished him to do, the leader and his wife were to return to Mecca, leaving behind the rest of his delegation members in Abyssinia. The “refugees” were expected to find jobs among the people who were tolerant towards the people of other religions. This latter scheme had a two-fold purpose: their staying back in Abyssinia not only would have made them beyond the reach of their masters, it would also have freed Muhammad from a small but an important responsibility, which required him to meet the demands of their livelihood.

3. Those of the delegation members, who had some mercantile background, were to explore the likelihood of developing aggressive business connections with the Abyssinians, which, if materialized, would have in the end undermined the monopolistic position of the Pagan niggards.

4. The continuous presence of Muhammad’s disciples in Abyssinia would have created a base for Muhammad himself. Should he ever feel unsafe in Mecca, he could easily have gone over to Abyssinia and live safely among his disciples. From there, he could plot and try to take over Mecca at an opportune time.

The Meccans suspected what Muhammad wished to achieve by sending a group of his followers to Abyssinia. As a result, the Meccans had his mission followed by a mission of their own. It was charged with the responsibility of countering the Muslim allegations against them and to have them expelled by the Negus.

After hearing both the parties, the Negus declined the Muslim request of invading Mecca, but allowed them to live in his country. The Pagans were happy with his decision.

Contrary to what we have stated above, most Muslim writers maintain that the Muslims had migrated to Abyssinia only to escape from the persecution of their enemies. This, though, is partly true, but it is not the whole truth. In support of our hypothesis, we submit the following:

At the time we are talking about here, there was no police or law enforcing agencies in the whole of the Arabian Peninsula. But the lack of those agencies, however, did not mean that the nomads and the sedentary Arabs had no rules to govern certain aspects of their lives. In fact, they did have rules, which regulated their conducts.

The Arabs had, over a long period of time, developed a system of protection, which a tribe or clan provided to its members. Without having protection, it was impossible for anyone to survive in the harsh environments of the desert. This particular system of protection had made it dangerous for a man to lay his hands on a member of another tribe or clan. If any member of a clan attacked a member of another clan, the victim’s clan exacted vengeance or a blood-wit from the clan of the offending person. This system worked well for the Arabs and it helped them keep incidences of death through violence under control. It was this clan protection, which his uncle Abu Talib had made use of, to protect Muhammad from the Pagans’ physical assault. When his uncle died, Muhammad had to obtain the protection of Mutim ibn Adi, the chief of the Nofal clan of Quraish. Without his protection, it would have been very difficult for Muhammad to live among the Pagans of Mecca.

Uthman ibn Affan, who headed the Muslim delegation to Abyssinia, had, and enjoyed, the full protection of his clan. It was on account of this fact that he was never manhandled or assaulted by his enemies. Moreover, it is claimed that he had an independent source of income that supported him and his family members. When he faced no threat to his life, and had a secured means of livelihood at his disposal, what had made him and his wife to migrate to Abyssinia must not be a very difficult matter for us to understand. And our understanding is: Muhammad chose Uthman and his wife to represent him before the Negus of Abyssinia, and to try to achieve those tasks, which we have mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs of this presentation.

In Mecca, meanwhile, Muhammad continued the propagation of his faith and kept on trying to win converts. The Pagans took all peaceful steps to deter him from propagating his anti-pagan faith, but they failed to achieve their objective. Frustrated, they passed a decree banishing him, and all those who embraced his faith, from the streets of Mecca. Sensing the ferocity of the impending storm, Muhammad took refuge in the house of a disciple named Orkham. His house was situated on the hill of Safa. This hill was renowned in Arabian tradition as being the place at which Adam and his wife - Quranic reference to Eve, who is not mentioned in it by name - lived together, having previously been reunited at the plains of Arafat after their long solitary wandering all about the earth, following their expulsion from the Garden i.e. Heaven. It was, likewise, connected in tradition with the story of Hagar, Abraham’s concubine, and her illegitimate son Ishmael.

Muhammad remained in his sanctuary for a month, continuing his revelations and trying to draw converts to him. Eventually, the Quraishites caught hold of his whereabouts.

He had an uncle by the name of Amru ibn Hashim. The Quraishites had given him the name of Abu ‘Ihoem, or Father of Wisdom, on account of his sagacity. The Muslims had changed it to Abu Jahl, Father of Folly, due to his opposition to his nephew, and Islam. The later appellation has remained stuck till these days to his name, who is seldom mentioned by zealous Muslims without the ejaculation, “May he be accursed of Allah!” This uncle sought him out, heaved insults on him in vituperative language, and even tried reportedly to physically maltreat him. His outrage was reported to Hamza, another uncle of Muhammad, as he was returning from his hunting trip. He was at that time not a Muslim, but was pledge-bound to protect his nephew.

Marching, with his bow in his hand, to the place where Abu Jahl was vaunting his recent triumph to some of the Quraishites, Hamza dealt him a blow that inflicted a grievous wound on his head. After some altercation that followed the attack, Hamza declared that he had right then become a Muslim and took the oath of adhesion to Muhammad instantaneously, thus greatly boosting the morale, and the mission, of his estranged nephew.

Abu Jahl’s self-prestige and esteem injured, he vowed to avenge the perpetrator. He had a nephew by the name of Omar ibn al Khattab. He was twenty-six years of age, having a gigantic stature, a prodigious strength, and a great courage. He was reportedly so tall that even when seated, he dwarfed those who remained standing. Reputed to have been a heavy drinker, he was also known to beat his wife habitually. Instigated by his uncle Abu Jahl, this fierce man pledged to penetrate Muhammad’s hideout and to inflict harm on him or on Hamza to avenge the injury the latter had inflicted upon Abu Jahl.

On his way to Orkham’s house, in which Hamza along with Muhammad was lodged, he met a Quraishite, to whom he disclosed his design. The Quraishite was a secret convert to Islam and sought to turn him away from his violent errand. He told him to check if anyone from his own family was guilty of heresy, before he went and harmed Muhammad or his uncle. Taken aback, he wanted to know who among his family members had renounced his ancestral religion. The informant gave Omar the names of his sister Amina and her husband Said.

Omar changed his course and hastened to his sister’s dwelling. Entering it abruptly, it is said, he found his sister and her husband reading the Quran. Said attempted to conceal it, but his confusion convinced Omar of the truth of the accusation and heightened his fury. In his rage, he struck Said to the ground, placed his foot upon his chest, and would have plunged his sword into his heart had his sister not interposed. In his anger, he gave her a blow, which had her face bathed in blood. “Enemy of Allah!” sobbed Amina; “dost thou strike me thus for believing in the only true Allah? In spite of thee and thy violence, I will preserve the true faith. “Yes,” she added with fervor, “there is no allah but Allah, and Muhammad is His Prophet; and now, Omar, finish thy work!”

Omar paused and took his foot away from Said’s chest. “Show me the writing,” said he. When the parchment containing the twentieth Sura or chapter of the Quran was given to him, he read it, and it sank into his heart. Moved greatly, especially by the parts, which dealt with resurrection and judgment, he decided to embrace the religion of Islam without any further delay.

Omar rushed to Orkham’s house and, seeing Muhammad, expressed his desire to become a Muslim. Muhammad greeted him warmly and conducted him in the Muslim profession of faith; i.e. the invocation of Kalima Tayyaba, recitation of which completes one’s induction into the faith of Islam.

Omar was not content until his conversion was publicly announced. At his request, Muhammad accompanied him instantly to the Ka’aba, to perform openly the rites of Islam. Omar walked on the left hand and Hamza on the right to protect him from injury or insult. It is said that about forty disciples accompanied the procession.

The story about Amina and Said reading the Quran from a parchment is a later-day concoction. In fact, during the time Muhammad was preaching Islam, the Arabs did not know that parchment, or papyrus, existed even in Egypt, where the Egyptians are known to have extensively used it for preserving their writings.

Muslims got the encouragement to fabricate the parchment’s story from two verses of the Quran.[2] Through one of them, Muhammad had hypothesized that even if he had the Quran written on a parchment, which the Pagans could see and touch, even then they would not only have denied its divine nature, they would also have rejected it as being “nothing but the obvious magic.” Through the second statement, he alluded to the “Scriptures penned down on unrolled parchment.”

Unable to substantiate the content of the statements, one of the Muslim scholars has tried to explain it by claiming, “Qirtas, in the Apostle’s life, could only mean “parchment,” which was commonly used as writing materials in Western Asia from the 2nd century B.C. The word was derived from the Greek, Charles (cf. Latin, “Charla”). Paper, as we know it, made from rags, was used by the Arabs after the conquest of Samarqand in 751 A. D. The Chinese had used it by the 2nd century B.C. The Arabs introduced it into Europe; it was used in Greece in the 11th and 12th century, and in Spain through Sicily in the 12th century. The Papyrus, made from an Egyptian reed, was used in Egypt as early as 2,500 B.C. It gave place to paper in Egypt in the 10th century.[3]

Because we hold the scholar’s erudition in high esteem, we expected that instead of giving us the paper’s history, he would have told us how the Arabs had come to possess parchment, when they did not have the plant known as reed, and also, why did they write down Allah’s revelations on skin, leaves and bones etc., if they had, according to him, access to this writing material?

The truth, perhaps, lies somewhere else. We suspect that Muhammad had seen the use of parchment in Syria during his business trips to that country, and impressed with its usefulness, he mentioned it to the Pagans in a passing remark. Or perhaps, the compilers of the Quran inserted the word “parchment” in the verses, when it was being given its final shape in 933 A.D., with the help of learned ibn-Mujahid.[4]

Or perhaps, the word “parchment” found its place in the Quran due to the following reason: Damascus in Syria was a modern city, and its populace highly literate, when Abu Bakr conquered it in 634 A. D. The Syrians were believed to have been among the first, who invented the Arabic alphabets. The narrator of the verse must have visited Damascus and seen the use of parchment there. While narrating to the ascribe what Muhammad was supposed to have told his disciples about the Pagan’s attitude towards his revelations, he must have added the word “parchment” to the verse without realizing the fact that at the time Muhammad had made the statement, parchment was not in use among the Pagans of Mecca.

Hamza and Omar’s conversion to the new faith proved to be a milestone in the early history of Islam; for now Muhammad had the physical and moral support of two of the Quraishites’ bravest and most powerful men. This also enabled him to go about his preaching more confidently than ever before. Omar’s conversion to Islam is said to have caused so much of exasperation among the Quraish that Abu Talib, Muhammad’s uncle, was forced to conclude that the Pagans might make an attempt on his nephew’s life, either by deception or through open violence. Therefore, the old man urged him and some of his disciples to withdraw to a house, belonging to him, in the neighborhood of the city.

The protection thus given to Muhammad and his followers by Abu Talib, the head of the Hashimites, and by others of his line although differing from him in faith, drew on them the wrath of the rival branch of the Quraishites. This produced a schism that enmeshed the entire tribe. Abu Sofian, the head of the rival branch, availed himself of Muhammad’s heresies to throw discredit, not merely upon such of his kindred as had embraced his faith, but also upon the whole line of Hashim which - though dissenting from his doctrines - had protected him through mere clannish feelings. Abu Sofian did not oppose Muhammad and his uncle Abu Talib only out of personal hatred or religious scruples, but also because of a family feud that related to the guardianship of the Ka’aba.

Ban Imposed on the Muslims

The custodianship of the Ka’aba, which generated the life-supporting revenues for its custodians and others affiliated with its functions, had rested in the hands of the Hashimite clan for a long period of time. To perpetuate the practice, Abu Talib was desirous of transferring to his own line the honors of being the custodian of the Ka’aba, thus dismaying Abu Sofian and others who were interested in assuming the honors themselves. The last measure of Abu Talib, in providing Muhammad with a safe haven, was seized upon by Abu Sofian and his adherents as a pretext for imposing a general ban on their rival line.

They, accordingly, issued a decree, forbidding the rest of the tribe of Quraish from intermarrying or holding any intercourse, even commercial deals, with the Hashimites until they delivered up their kinsman, Muhammad, to be restrained from committing blasphemy against their ancestral gods and religion. This decree, which took place in the seventh year of what is called the mission of the Prophet, written on a rag, was hung up on the wall of Ka’aba. Muslims claim that the ban had caused great difficulty to Muhammad and his followers. We do not know how the proclaimers of the ban implemented the decree, when they had failed to nab Muhammad as he walked away, before their eyes, out of his door in front of which, they were assembled with the intention of taking away his life?

The short period of Muhammad’s banishment rolled into the annual season of pilgrimage, when pilgrims flocked to Mecca from all parts of Arabia to fulfill their religious obligations. During this sacred occasion, according to ancient law and its usage among the Arabs, all hostilities ceased, and warring tribes met in temporary peace to worship at the temple of Ka’aba. Utilizing the truce that this sacred occasion had provided him, Muhammad and his disciples ventured out of their shelter, and returned to the life of Mecca.

While at large, Muhammad made full use of the opportunity that the Pagan religious immunity afforded him. He mingled freely with the pilgrims - preaching, praying, propounding his doctrines, and proclaiming his revelations. In this way, he made many converts who, on their return to their destinations, carried with them the seeds of the new faith. The Meccan Pagans did not obstruct Muhammad in his mission, as they were bound to follow the sanctity of their religion. Muhammad, on the other hand, flaunted their religious dedication and violated the truce they expected him as well to honor. Instead, he went about unhindered, conspicuously propagating his faith among the visitors, who, it seems, had remained unaware of the volatile religious situation that was then obtaining in Mecca.

At end of the pilgrimage, Muhammad and his followers retuned to their safe haven. The Pagans are not known to have done anything either to prevent their return, or to cause them any harm. On the contrary, the Meccan Pagans, it seems, remained engaged with him, for a period of time, in endless arguments, which he followed with new revelations that denounced those who opposed him and his religion. The Quran, which contains, in Muhammad’s own words, the exaggerated details of all the events that had unfolded during twenty-three years of his apostolic mission, does not give us any indication that he was ever persecuted, in the real sense of the word, by his opponents. Nor, does it, for obvious reasons, have the details of how Muhammad must have treated his foes, especially in a situation where they were vehemently opposed to the spread of his religion among the Arabian masses.

Because the history of the time we are discussing here was tailored over a period of time after Muhammad’s death, to favor Muslims only, it is now impossible for us to know precisely the intrinsic beliefs of the idolaters. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the crudity of their statuary did not necessarily mean that they worshipped stones or trees, any more than the Christians worshipped plaster figures or painted canvasses depicting the saints. It reinforces our belief that the Pagans appreciated that the idols, and the Quran confirms it, were merely symbolic of spiritual beings in the same way in that Muslims now venerate the edifice of Ka’aba as being the House of Allah, although He is believed not to remain confined to any structure on earth.

Three years passed since Muhammad and some of his followers took refuge in the safe haven provided by his uncle Abu Talib. During this period, he must have remained the target of his opponents’ opprobrious language, but in spite of this, it seems, he continued to walk about the streets and sit, recite and argue in the public square, without ever having had to fear for his life.

In the meantime, the rag, which contained the ban imposed on Muslims, was partly destroyed and nothing of the decree remained except the initial words, “In thy name, Oh Almighty Allah,” the customary ancient formula with which the Pagans are said to have begun their writing. Muslims use this formula today with a change brought about to it by Muhammad to fit the doctrines of his religion.

Under the circumstances, the decree was deemed annulled, whereupon Muhammad and his band of disciples returned to Mecca, unopposed and unhurt.

Pious Muslims consider the mysterious destruction of the decree as another miracle wrought by Allah to help Muhammad against his enemies; unbelievers, on the other hand, contend that the mortal hands secretly defaced the document, which had become embarrassing to Abu Sofian due to its ineffectiveness.

To us, even the unbelievers’ claim on the defacement of the so-called document of ban does not make any sense, given the fact that the Pagans of the time were not capable of producing such a written document. They might have created a particular sign that signified a ban and posted it on the wall of the Ka’aba. When it became ineffective, they simply erased it with their hand.

In any event, Muhammad returned to Mecca and it coincided with the victories of the Persians over the Greeks, by which they conquered Syria and a part of Egypt. The idolatrous Quraishites exulted in the defeat of the Christian Greek, whose faith being opposed to the worship of idols; they associated it with the new faith of Islam. Muhammad, on the other hand, was disheartened by the Greeks’ defeat but, nevertheless, he replied to the Pagans’ taunts and exultation by producing the thirtieth Sura or chapter of the Quran, which opened with the following words:

“The Roman Empire has been defeated – in a land close by; but they (even) after, (this) defeat of theirs, will soon be victorious – within a few years.[5]

The Pagans verified the prediction and they found it to be true. Muslim theologians cite this as a proof that the Quran came down from Allah, and that Muhammad possessed the gift of prophecy. In reality, the whole prediction was no doubt on Muhammad’s part a shrewd guess into futurity, aided by the knowledge of the actual events taking place contemporaneously around the Arabian Peninsula. The politicians and statesmen of our time make these kinds of predictions almost on a daily basis, hence to claim what Muhammad had predicted about the Greeks as being a heavenly act, is nothing, but an aspersion on his political and statesman-like acumen.

Not long after Muhammad had returned to Mecca, his uncle Abu Talib, as a result of his old age, was facing death. This man, though supported and protected him all along from his infidel enemies, had not converted himself to the new faith. Many a times, Muhammad implored him to accept Islam and to die as a Muslim, but he always put him off, pleading that he could neither give up his ancestral religion, nor could he join in the exercise which his religion required its adherents to undertake; i.e. the act of placing their “backside above their heads,” as the old man described the prostration, which he had seen his nephew undertaking while performing his prayer three times a day.

Muhammad approached Abu Talib once again on his deathbed and beseeched him for the last time to accept the religion of Islam. He declined and breathed his last as an infidel. Abu Lahab, his brother, succeeded him as the head of the clan of Bani Hashim.

Scarcely a few days had passed from the death of the venerable Abu Talib, when Khudeija, Muhammad’s dedicated banker and faithful wife, also took her leave from this world. This happened in 619 A.D., when she was sixty-five years old.

Though Khudeija was much older than Muhammad, and past her bloom when women are desirable in the East, and though he was known to have an amorous temperament, yet he is said to have remained completely faithful to her and avoided taking additional wives, in spite of the fact that the Arabian laws permitted him to do so. Pious Muslims point to this while highlighting his virtues. But an objective analysis of his relationship with Khudeija does not support the Muslim hypothesis.

It is true that so long as Khudeija had lived, Muhammad took no additional wives, but it was not purely out of his love for her: it was, rather, dictated by his circumstances.

He was fearful of his wife and avoided things that would have annoyed her. He must have realized that if he took another wife while Khudeija was still alive, she might react by depriving him of his livelihood. She might even have divulged the secrets that revolved around his prophethood and divine mission, thereby destroying him along with his ambition. Muhammad’s conduct after Khudeija’s death lends credence to our hypothesis: there is no record that tells us that he felt deeply sad at the death of his wife and that he ever mourned it in the manner of a bereaved husband.

Soon after Khudeija’s death, Muhammad sought to compensate himself by entering into multiple wedlocks, and taking a plurality of wives. He permitted, by his own law, four wives to each of his followers, but did not limit himself to that number, reasoning that a prophet, being gifted with enormous manly prowess and special privileges, was not bound to restrict himself to the same laws as were applicable to the ordinary mortals. Of his numerous marriages and wives, we shall speak later in a separate chapter.

Visit to Taif

Muhammad soon realized the importance of the irreparable loss that he sustained in the death of his uncle and protector, Abu Talib. After his death, he found no one who could check and react against the hostilities of his inveterate foes – Abu Sofian and Abu Jahl - who are alleged to have soon stirred up such a spirit of opposition that he deemed it unsafe to continue living in his native town. He was also, at that time, faced with serious financial crisis, for he had already expended all the resources of his deceased wife.

He set out, therefore, accompanied by his freed slave Zaid, immediately after the death of his uncle and wife, to seek refuge, and financial help, in Taif, a small walled town some seventy miles from Mecca, inhabited by Arabs of the tribe of Thakeef. It was one of the favored places of Arabia, situated among vineyards and gardens. Here grew peaches and plums, melons and pomegranates; figs, blue and green; and the palm trees with their clusters of green and golden fruit. So fresh were its pastures and fruitful its fields, contrasted with the sterility of the desserts, that the Arabs fabled it to have originally been a part of Syria, which had broken off and floated to its present site at the time of Noah’s deluge. To the Arabs, it was truly a Garden or Paradise.

Muhammad entered Taif hoping to procure some degree of protection on account of the influence that his uncle al-Abbas was supposed to have by virtue of his possessions there. But he was totally wrong in selecting Taif as a place of refuge; for it was a stronghold of idolatry and its inhabitants maintained in full force the worship of al-Lat, believing it to represent one of the three daughters of Allah.

He remained in Taif for about a month, seeking in vain to convert its inhabitants to Islam, as well as monetary help from those he expected to help him. When he tried to preach his doctrines, his voice was muffled by ribald remarks. On many occasions, stones were thrown at him, which the faithful Zaid warded off. The popular fury became so violent as was enough to force him out of the city. Not satisfied with his withdrawal, insulting rabble of slaves even pursued him for some distance. Surprisingly, Allah gave Muhammad no revelation prior to his arrival, forewarning the hostility that he was destined to encounter during his futile visit to the city of Taif, nor did He come to rescue him from a volatile situation.

The visit to Taif may have proved disastrous for Muhammad insofar as his mission for conversion, protection and help was concerned, but in actuality the sight of the city had immensely benefited him. It enabled him to conceive the layout of the celestial Garden and to vividly describe it in the Quran, filled with all amenities he had seen in the city. He also had this Garden peopled with black-eyed virgin Hurs to be had as consorts by those Muslims who entered it after being judged by Allah on the Day of Resurrection, a licentious temptation that had induced many Pagans to embrace Islam, in spite of their opposition to it in the beginning. However, driven out so ignominiously from the place where he hoped to obtain refuge, Muhammad dared not return to Mecca, fearing persecution at the hands of his enemies. He, therefore, decided to remain in the desert until Zaid found him asylum with his friends in the city. In this extremity, he had one of those visions, which always seem to have appeared in his lonely and agitated moments.

He halted in a solitary place in the valley of Nakhla, which is situated between Mecca and Taif. Here, while he was reading verses from his compositions to overcome the feeling of loneliness, he was overheard by a passing group of spirits, known forever as Jinns to the Arabs. They are the beings supposedly to have been made of fire, some good, others evil, and liable to judgment on the Dooms Day together with men. They are invisible, and maintain residences at isolate places as well as within the proximity of human habitations. They have wives and produce children. They also had apostles, like the ones mankind had been having from Adam to the time of Muhammad. Pious Jinns shall be, or they might already have been, admitted into the Garden of Bliss where they would be enjoying all of its felicities at par with their human counterparts, while the evil ones shall be, or they might already have been, consigned to fire of Hell to burn forever. How the Jinns made of fire will get burned in the Hell is not known.

The group of the passing Jinns paused and listened to what Muhammad was reading. “Verily,” they said at its conclusions, “we have heard an admirable discourse, which directeth us unto the right institution; wherefore we believe therein.” Their confession to his religion consoled Muhammad, proving that though men might ridicule him and his doctrines, they were held in high reverence by the spiritual intelligence. At least, we may infer as much from what has been mentioned about the Jinns in the forty-sixth and seventy-second Suras of the Quran.

Inspired by the confession of the Pagan Jinns, Muhammad promptly declared himself to be the one, sent by Allah, to convert them, as well as the human race, to Islam. Interestingly, science and human logic do not recognize Jinns. Yet, believing in their existence is one of the major precepts of Islam!

Ascension to Seventh Garden

Muhammad, through the good offices of his freed slave Zaid, having been granted asylum by Mutim ibn Idi, chief of the Nofal clan of the Quraish, returned one evening to Mecca. The following day, Mutim with his sons and nephews went fully armed to the public square of the Ka’aba and announced that Muhammad was henceforth under their protection. Muhammad was delighted, but it seems that at this crucial juncture of his mission, he refrained from preaching and persuasively converting the members of the Quraish Pagans to his religion. Instead, he used his time and energy in attempts to convert those tribesmen who visited Mecca from time to time, as well as those nomads whom he was able to reach without being impeded by his enemies.

During this period when Muhammad was maintaining a low profile in Mecca, it is said, he, for an unexplained reason, was sleeping one night of the year 620 A.D., in the house of his cousin, Umm Hani. She was a widow whose husband had died when the couple was living in Abyssinia. In the dead of the night, angel Gabriel came to him and “spurred him with his foot.”[6] Thus awakened, he was instantly transported to Jerusalem by means of the “winged horse with a woman’s face and peacock’s tail,” called the Burraq. While there, Muhammad tied up the Burraq to a post and thence led all the prophets of the bygone days, including Adam, in a prayer at the holy temple known as the “Dome of the Rock.” Some Muslim commentators, however, say that the temple in question remained in ruins from the fortieth year of Christ’s ascension to the Garden till the time of Caliph Omar (634-44) who had restored it to its original shape during his reign. How Omar was able to retrieve the original design of the edifice, however, remains to us an unsolved enigma.

On the issue of morality, critics question the purpose of Muhammad’s presence, at the dead of the night, in the house of a lone and widowed woman, as well as Allah’s decision for inviting him to His Garden from the widow’s house, instead of his own.

We believe that Muhammad had invented the story of Miraj to hide his presence in Umm Hani’s house. In spite of being a polytheistic society, the Meccans honored their dead, and refrained from doing things for some time that would cause distress to the departed souls. Having illicit sex was one of the forbidden things. Muhammad failed to live by that standard, and immediately after Khudeija’s death, he sought to satisfy his sexual needs by engaging himself, among others, with his widowed cousin, Umm Hani.

The following morning, his followers and others wanted to know about his whereabouts the night before. Not being in a position to disclose the fact that he had spent the night in the house of his paramour, he told the questioners that he had been on a trip of the celestial world. As no humans were involved, or took part, in the preparation of the trip, it effectively bared the questioner from demanding from him an eyewitness to prove his claim, thus masterfully extracting himself from an undoubtedly intractable quagmire, which, if he had not handled in this manner, it would have destroyed forever not only his reputation, but also his apostolic career.

The prayer over, angel Gabriel opened up Muhammad’s heart for the second time and, cleansing it of all sins that had accumulated in it from the time of the first cleansing performed when he was five years old, the angel replaced the heart back in his chest. Thereafter, a ladder was installed, connecting the site of the Dome with all the seven skies. He climbed them one after another. In course of his tour, Muhammad saw all the seven Gardens, as well as the Hell. He saw more women burning in its fire than men. Al- Aqsa, as the Dome is also called by the Muslims under the influence of a Quranic verse,[7] thus became one of the three holiest places of Islam, because, as they insist, Muhammad had ascended to the throne of Allah from its vicinity.

During his celestial visit, Muhammad is said to have had an audience with Allah, his host, and held a confidential parley with Him. In course of this audience, Muslim commentators say, Allah charged Muhammad and his followers with the mandate of saying prayers fifty times a day, which was subsequently reduced to five on Muhammad’s repeated representations. These five daily prayers eventually became a central part of the Islamic practice. The Quran, which is supposed to contain all the essential doctrines of the faith, however, does not specifically say that Muhammad had corporeally ascended to the Gardens, and spoke to Allah. This is because, some say, he withheld parts of the episode from his followers for personal reasons, thus giving the impression that the Quran, as a whole, contains only as much material as Muhammad, in his sole discretion, had chosen to divulge to his followers.

As far as the five daily prayers are concerned, the Quran does not explicitly mention these prayers, nor is there any hard evidence that Muhammad himself had prayed in his lifetime five times a day. Rather, what the Quran mentions, though not clearly, are three daily prayers: one to be said in the morning, the second in the evening and the third during the night. Neither are the specifics of prostration described; all that the Quran requires of the Muslims is a simple inflection, followed by prostration in their prayers. It also does not require them to recite anything during their prayers.

Furthermore, it has not called upon the Muslims to circumcise their male offspring. Muhammad himself had never gone through this procedure, nor is he known to have had any of his own sons circumcised. Despite these lacking, Muslims carry out this practice not for health reasons, but to please Allah and His Prophet.

As far as Muhammad’s physical Miraj or Ascension to the seven Gardens in the skies is concerned, many historians of repute dispute it. One of them is Professor Fazlur Rahman, who says that the “spiritual experiences of the Prophet were later woven by tradition, especially when an ‘orthodoxy’ began to take shape, into the doctrine of a single, physical, locomotive experience of the ‘Ascension’ of Muhammad to Heaven, and still later were supplied all the graphic details about the animal which was ridden by the Prophet during his ascension, about his sojourn in each of the seven heavens, and his parleys with the Prophets of bygone ages from Adam up to Jesus.” (Rahman has not mentioned prophet Idris, who is believed to have surreptitiously entered one of the seven Gardens; and took up residence in it by hoodwinking angel Gabriel, his best friend). He concludes by saying that “the doctrine of a locomotive Miraj or Ascension developed by the orthodox (chiefly on the pattern of the Ascension of Jesus) and backed by Hadith is no more than a historical fiction whose materials come from various sources.”

What Rahman really implies is that Muhammad had not physically ascended to the Gardens; that he did not have an audience with Allah and, consequently, the question of Allah imposing five daily prayers on his followers could not have arisen.

Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall, a respected scholar of Islam, appears to agree with Rahman’s position. Consequently, he has not mentioned anything in his works on the Quran[8] about the mysterious Miraj, this despite the fact that Muslims consider Muhammad’s putative journey to the Gardens to be an essential component of their faith.


>>> Part 6



[1] Dr. Majid Khan, The Holy Verses, pp. 32-37.

[2] The Quran; 6:7, 52:2-3.

[3] Abdullah Yusuf Ali. op. cit. vol.1, p. 290.

[4] Phillip K. Hitti, op. cit. p. 123.

[5] 30:2 & 3.

[6] Martin Lings, op. cit. p. 101.

[7] 17:1.

[8] The Meaning of the Glorious Koran

 
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