MUHAMMAD & ISLAM: Stories not told before.
By Mohammad Asghar
PART - 8
Having settled down in Madina, Muhammad, first of all, decided to erect a mosque. He selected a site shaded by date trees for this purpose. He chose this location because he is said to have been guided there by his camel. In order to build the mosque, he had the buried bodies removed, and the trees, standing on the site, cut down. Because the climate of Madina itself was mild hot and rain infrequent, Muhammad decided to build his mosque on the pattern of the dwellings, then existing in the city from the time the Arabs learned to live in homes.
When completed, the mosque turned out to be a simple structure, suited to the religion that Muhammad preached then in Mecca, and to the scanty and precarious means of its votaries. Its walls were built of mud daubed on to wattle; the trunks of the recently felled palm trees served as pillars to support the roof, which was made of their branches, and thatched with their leaves. It had three openings: one to the south, where the Qibla (the direction faced by Muslims while saying their prayers) was afterward established; another called the gate of Gabriel (through which the angel entered the mosque without being seen by human eyes); and third the gate of Mercy. A part of the mosque was set aside for the habitation of those of his disciples who had no home of their own.
Next to the mosque Muhammad built his living quarters, using the same materials with which he fashioned the mosque itself. Since timber was not available to the Arabs at the time, no cabins of Muhammad's Quarter had any doors. They merely had strips of sacking hung up to screen their entrance. In those cabins, once lived, at least, nine of Muhammad's wives, and an unknown number of slave girls.
This mosque is known as Masjidul Nabi (the Mosque of the Prophet) because Muhammad himself had founded and built it, and also for the reason that in its grounds are buried his remains. After the mosque was constructed, Muhammad found himself at a loss for some time, not knowing how he should summon his followers to the mosque to perform their prayers: whether with the sound of trumpets as among the Jews, or by lighting fires, which was a very difficult task, on higher grounds, or by the beating of timbrels. While in the midst of this perplexity, Abdullah - - the son of Zaid - - a freed slave whose wife Muhammad would snatch away later, came to his rescue by suggesting a form of words to be cried aloud, which he declared he was given in a dream.
Muhammad adopted it instantly, and thus is given the origin of the summons, which, to this day, is heard from the lofty minarets of mosques throughout the world, calling Muslims to the place of worship, five times a day. The summons begins with the words: "Allah is great! Allah is great! There is no allah but Allah." At dawn an exhortation is added to the end: "Prayer is better than sleep!" Muslims the world over call this "Azaan."
Belal Habshi, a freed black slave who is reputed to have a resonant voice, was the first to be given the responsibility of crying aloud the words of Azaan every day, a duty he is eulogized even now for having performed well till the last day of his life.
Muhammad, at first, conducted everything in this mosque with great simplicity. At night, it was lighted by fire, ignited in raw and green trunks and leaves of a special tree that could be found only in the Arabian Peninsula. Since materials to preserve fire did not exist at the time, Arabs started flames by rubbing two stones together, a process that was invented by human beings during the so-called Stone- Age.
Muhammad stood on the ground of the mosque and preached, leaning with his back against the trunk of one of the date trees, which served as pillars. Later on, he had a pulpit erected at the top of three steps in order to be elevated above the congregation. Traditions have it that when he first ascended the pulpit, the dead date-tree gave out a groan; whereupon, Muhammad gave it the option either to be transplanted to a garden, again to flourish, or to be transferred to Paradise, there to yield fruit in the afterlife to true believers. The date-tree, it is said, wisely chose the latter, in consequence whereof it remained buried under the pulpit, awaiting resurrection on the Day of Judgment.
During the period immediately following his arrival in Madina, Muhammad's conduct, behavior and preaching were sober, peaceful and benign. With the passage of time and increase in his political strength, however, his manner seems to have become harsh, threatening and belligerent. Impressed by his earlier mien, some of the Christians of the city had promptly enrolled themselves among his followers. They were perhaps members of those Christian sects who held to the human nature of Jesus Christ and found nothing repugnant in the doctrines of Islam. In the religion of Islam, Jesus is highly venerated and believed to be one of the greatest among 124,000 to 240,000 prophets God is said to have sent to earth from the time of Adam to the time of Muhammad - - the latter being the last and the greatest of them all.
A small number of Christians who lived in Medina, but did not convert to Islam, showed no hostility to the new faith, considering it far better than the old idolatry living with which they had grown disenchanted over a long period of time. They had also grown weary of the dissension and schisms at the time, seemingly an integral part of Christian orthodoxy, which had weakened their enthusiasm toward their religion, and disposed them to be easily influenced by the new doctrines, that were then being propounded by Muhammad.
The situation with the Jews was different. They lived in Madina and its vicinity and were divided into rich and powerful families. Many of them showed no sign of favorable disposition to the doctrines propagated by Muhammad and his disciples. Anxious to woo them over to his side, he modeled many of his doctrines on the dogmas of the Jewish faith and observed many of their religious requirements, such as giving alms and observing fasts. He allowed those small number of Jews who embraced Islam to continue with the observation of their Sabbath on Saturday, and following the Mosaic laws, he even ordered his followers to circumcise their new born male offspring, a practice that is followed by Muslims even today. As Muhammad had given the later concession to the Jews out of his political expediency, but without telling his followers about it, this obligatory ritual of the Islamic faith failed to find a place in the bosom of the Quran.
In spite of his best efforts, Muhammad failed to bring the majority of the obstinate Jews to his fold. Out of necessity, he made covenants of peace with some; with others he kept on pleading to accept him as their promised Messiah or Prophet with the hope that his persistent efforts will, one day, bring him the desired result. Those were the best strategies, under the described circumstances, that Muhammad could adopt for buying time, which he needed to strengthen his position in the territories of his future domainion.
It was the custom of the different religions of the East to have a Qibla, or a sacred point, toward which their followers turned their faces at the time of performing their prayers. The Sabeans, referred to in the Quran, faced toward the North Star; Persians, the fire-worshipping Zoroastrians, faced the East, it being the place of the rising sun; and the Jews turned toward their holy city of Jerusalem. Muslims, before their migration to Madina, faced the Ka'aba on the pattern of their pagan foes. But as the political necessity in Madina dictated Muhammad to show his deference to the Jewish faith for reasons stated before, he made Jerusalem his Qibla toward which all of his followers he commanded to turn their faces at the time of saying their prayers. Ibn Ishaq, one of Muhammad's earlier biographers, states that at one time, he had required his followers to face Syria in their prayers. This was because of the reason that he had developed a mysterious reverence to that country, presuming that it was that country which had given shelter to patriarch Abraham after he was compelled, like himself, to leave his birth place of Chaldea.
On one front, Muhammad felt pleased with the state of his affairs in Madina. Here he was making proselytes almost daily, whereas he was hardly able to convert one hundred of the Meccan pagans to his faith over a period of about thirteen missionary years that he had spent there. But, on another, he faced a problem of different magnitude: starvation, sickness and discontentment had begun to arise among his fugitive followers from Mecca, whose faithfulness, obedience and adherence were crucial to him and to his cause. In spite of those fugitives being given all supportive encouragements by their Ansar hosts, they still faced starvation for want of food. They also did not have any money to buy them from the market. On top of it, the milder climate of their adopted city, to which they were not accustomed, made their lives difficult. Many suffered from fevers, and in their sickness and loneliness they longed for the loved ones whom they had left behind in Mecca at the time of their flight from there.
The gravity of the situation required Muhammad to take an immediate action. He, therefore, established a bond of brotherhood between fifty-four of the immigrants and a like number of the Ansars from Madina. Two person thus linked together were pledged to stand by each other in trials and triumphs - - a tie which knit their interests more firmly than that of the kindred. They were to be heirs to each other in preference to their blood relations. This concept of convenience not only gave the immigrants new homes, and close links with their new friends and allies, it also allowed them to take over some of their wives in order to mitigate their sexual sufferings. To alleviate their financial difficulties, Muhammad had to wait for opportunities to present themselves at some appropriate time, but not in a distant future.
The stated relationship, one of Muhammad's expediencies, underwent a reversal when it created a problem for himself. In regard to marriages, he permitted later an adopted father, professing Islam, to marry the divorced wife of his adopted son. This practice the 'ignorant' pagans abhorred. Admonishing them for detesting such marriages, Muhammad told them that such unions of two sexes were justified in his eyes for the reason that these marriages do not involve two persons related to each other through blood. On the other hand, he, through the Quran, denied inheritance to the adopted sons and daughters for lack of a blood relationship between them and their adopted parents.
While Muhammad continued with the conversion of the idolatrous pagans of Aus and Khazraj at a rapid pace together with plotting of means to provide relief to his financially stifled followers from Mecca, his personality as a peaceful and patient preacher of Mecca underwent a complete change. He now began to treat himself as an executive leader of his growing community. His peaceful ambience changed to that of a powerful political figure, which prompted him to involve himself in politics and to take over the administration and justice system of Madina. At this time, he also took steps to teach his followers various manners that they needed to observe while dealing with him and his family members.
The uncompromising Jewish community of the city was an additional but important factor that Muhammad wanted to deal with an iron hand. It was the habit of the Madinese Arabs to spend long hours every day sitting in Jewish quarters, discussing various topics and issues, which also included matters related to religions. The Jews believed that their religion was a superior one and that the pagans practiced an inferior faith. They, therefore, were in the habit of taunting their visitors whenever they had an opportunity to do so. The pagans, compelled by their financial and social conditions, tolerated them silently without protest. The Jewish rabbis, on their own part, prided themselves on the elevated positions they held, among their fellow co-religionists, on account of their religious eruditions. They, too, treated the heathens contemptuously due to their supposedly inferior beliefs and practices.
Having been used to an elevated way of life, the Jewish rabbis treated Muhammad in the say way in which they treated their pagan neighbors. They thought he was simply an upstart in the realm of religions and that they could get away with anything they did to harass him. They, therefore, took immense pleasure in cross-examining Muhammad on the subject of the Old Testament stories, which he was fond of quoting, though haphazardly, in his sermons.
One of the questions the rabbis asked Muhammad related to the plagues with which Moses supposedly afflicted the Egyptians before his exodus from their country. Very often, they asked him deliberate questions with a view to revealing his ignorance and making him look like a fool. They ridiculed him on his religious doctrines, too. They also rejected his claim that he was the same Messiah, whose impending arrival was foretold in their Scriptures, pointing out that he was not a descendent of David; hence, they reasoned, the question of his being the Messiah could not even be contemplated. Muhammad strongly resented the rabbis' ignominious questions, as well as their contemptuous attitude that they exhibited towards him at every opportune occasion. In contrast to the pagans' helplessness, many scuffles are believed to have taken place between the Jews and the Muslims, following interrogations that his tormentors subjected Muhammad to, every now and then.
His ignorance and plagiarism notwithstanding, Muhammad continued to win over the pagans as his followers, a success that was naturally unwelcome to Abdullah Ibn Ubay who harbored animosity towards him for the reason we have already mentioned earlier. Nevertheless, he was a wise and prudent man and was careful to conceal his pique. Before long, he, too, declared himself a convert but continued to remain the leader of those Arabs who secretly sneered at Muhammad's teachings, complaining of the confusion and danger which the coming of the Muslims had brought to Madina.
Muhammad, on his part, did not remain ignorant of those false Muslims' intentions, for spies were quick to bring him information (which he called revelations), which informed him of the ill designs those hypocritical people allegedly held against him. However, the shrewd and matured tactician that he was, Muhammad continued to co-exist with them for the time being without ever revealing his own designs and ambitions.
Let us now reflect on how Muhammad must have felt after becoming the virtual ruler of Medina. As would have been the case with most intelligent and ambitious men, he must have realized that his new status in Madina afforded him vast opportunities to compensate for the aggravated injury and insult that he had suffered meekly at the hands of his Meccan antagonists during the twelve years of his missionary works there. His impulses told him that he was no more a fugitive from Mecca; rather he now held command over a powerful army of men drawn from daily converts as well as of the fugitives, who flocked to him from Mecca, and of the proselytes from the tribes of the desert who were of resolute spirit, skilled in the use of arms, and fond of partisan warfare. His self-assessment assured him that he was now able to realize his desires with ease, and retaliate decisively against those who opposed him in his mission. To impose his authority over his followers as well as on the common folks, he assumed the role of a prophet, which he claimed, God had bestowed on him so that he could help the suffering masses of his land. To further his own agendas, he armed himself with a so-called divine command, which authorized him to use brute force, if necessary, to accomplish his ambition. At least such was the purport of the manifesto, which Muhammad is said to have issued at this epoch, thereby changing the whole tone and fortunes of his faith.
"Different prophets," he said, "have been sent by Allah to illustrate his different attributes: Moses his clemency and providence; Solomon his wisdom, majesty, and glory; Jesus Christ his righteousness, omniscience, and power - - his righteousness by purity of conduct; his omniscience by the knowledge he displayed of the secrets of all hearts; his power by the miracles he wrought. None of these attributes, however, have been sufficient to enforce conviction, and even the miracles of Moses and Jesus have been treated with disbelief. I, therefore, the last of the prophets, am sent with the sword! Let those who promulgate my faith enter into no argument nor discussion, but slay all who refuse obedience to the law. Whoever fights for the true faith, whether he fall or conquer, will assuredly receive a glorious reward." The sword," he added, "is the key of heaven and hell; all who draw it in the cause of the faith will be rewarded with temporal advantages; every drop shed of their blood, every peril and hardship endured by them, will be registered on high as more meritorious than even fasting or praying. If they fall in battle, their sins will, at once, be blotted out, and they will be transported to paradise, there to revel in eternal pleasures in the arms of black-eyed houris."
Considering the above allurements as being insufficient, Muhammad added to them the concept of predestination to be the part of his inciting doctrines. Every event, he stated, was predestined from eternity and could not be avoided. No man could die sooner or later than his allotted hour, and when it arrived it would make no difference whether the angels of death should find him in the comfort of his bed or amid the storm of battle; no person in this world could be hurt or be killed without God's permission and Will. Skeptics ask: If all those were true, should we then hold the imaginary Satan or the devil responsible for all evil acts that humans commit on a daily basis? This is a perplexing question that needs an answer from those who are able to read God's mind and his intentions as easily as a trained Radiologist of our time reads the x-rays.
The belligerent dogmas introduced by Muhammad were particularly acceptable to the Arabs, for those harmonized well with their habits, and encouraged their predatory propensities. Virtually pirates of the deserts, it was no wonder that when Muhammad promulgated the doctrines of the Religion of Sword, they rushed to his side to be accepted as his followers. Despite the fact that the number of his followers swelled overnight, yet he held back his authorization to launch violence against the unbelievers for a good length of time. Instead, he provided them with an opportunity to submit to his temporal authority and to pay him tributes. This was a shrewd decision. It enabled him to collect as many resources as were possible to feed and maintain his hungry converts, as well as to acquire the sinews of war that he knew he was going to need soon in order to make his mission successful. Very soon, however, Muhammad realized that the revenue he was collecting from the unbelievers in the form of tributes was insignificant compared to what he needed to feed and clothe his starving and half-naked followers. He, therefore, decided to launch raids on the Meccan caravans to meet his needs.
In the beginning, Muhammad launched three raids on the Meccan caravans; all headed by himself but without material result. The fourth he entrusted to Abdullah Ibn Jahsh, who he sent out with eight or ten resolute brigands on the road toward South Arabia. As it happened to be the holy month of Radhjab, a period considered sacred and thus free from violence and rapine, Abdullah had sealed orders from Muhammad, not to be opened until the third day of his mission. The orders were vaguely worded. Abdullah was required to reach the valley of Nakhla, between Mecca and Taif, where he was to watch for an expected caravan belonging to the Quraish of Mecca. "Perhaps," concluded the orders shrewdly, "thou mayest be able to bring us some tidings of it."
Abdullah understood the meaning of those words and, accordingly, he decided to act upon the instruction. While in the valley of Nakhla, he saw the caravan, consisting of several camels laden with merchandise and conducted by four men. He sent after it one of his men, disguised as a pilgrim, to overtake it. The Quraishites, based on the conversation they had with the man, took him and his companions to be pilgrims, bound for Mecca. Moreover, it was the month of Radhjab, when, according to their ancestral practices, they could travel the deserts without fear of being plundered. But hardly had they come to a halt, when Abdullah and his band fell on them, killing one and taking two prisoners. The fourth escaped. The deceptive victors then returned to Madina with their prisoners and booty.
The entire city of Madina was scandalized at this breach of the holy month. Muhammad, finding himself in an indefensible position, pretended to be angry with Abdullah and, for some time, refused to accept his share of the loot. Acknowledging the vagueness of his instructions, he insisted that he had not commanded Abdullah to shed blood or to commit any violence during the holy month.
While the disgust, shared by the Quraish as well, persisted in Madina, Muhammad produced a revelation, purportedly from God, which read as under:
"They ask thee concerning fighting in the Prohibited Month. Say: Fighting therein is a grave (offence); but graver is it in the sight of God to prevent access to the path of God, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its members. Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter."
Thus legitimizing his murder and rapine, Muhammad accepted his portion of the booty. He released one of the prisoners on payment of ransom; the other embraced Islam.
During the period of seventeen or eighteen months that Muhammad lived in Madina, friction between him and the Jews reached a significant intensity and the covenants that he had concluded with them became ineffective. To signal the abandonment of his desire to co-habit with the Jews and to demonstrate his displeasure at them, he ordered his followers to face Mecca, instead of Jerusalem, while saying their prayers. He also discarded the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday and substituted it with Friday as the special day of the Muslim week.
During the same period of time, he laid down many tenets of the Muslim faith. Among those were the daily prayers, though it is not certain at what period of time those assumed their present form. Some scholars, supported by a number of Muhammad's statements, hold the view that there were only three daily prayers during Muhammad's lifetime. They, however, do not say when the number of those three daily prayers was increased to the present-day five prayers, and by whom.
The second duty laid upon the Muslims at this period in time was that of giving alms based on the practices of the Jews. The third tenet, declared simultaneously, was the fast of Ramadhan. Some authorities believe that Muhammad introduced fasting when he came to Madina in imitation of the Jewish fast of ten days. When, however, his relations with the Jewish tribes soured, he instituted a fast lasting the whole month of Ramadhan, intending it to look different from that of the Judaic observance.
THE BATTLE OF BADR
The city of Madina was situated at a strategic location, which afforded its inhabitants the ability to intercept caravans that traveled north on their way to Syria and south on their return to Mecca. In the autumn of 623 A.D., the annual caravan of the Quraishites traveled up the coast of the Red Sea, west of Madina, on its way to Syria. The caravan, consisting of one thousand camels said to be laden with Arabian merchandise, was under the command of Abu Sofian, one of Muhammad's sworn enemies. The Muslims failed in their attempt to intercept it.
The caravan, on its return journey to Mecca, left Damascus escorted by thirty horsemen in the month of Ramadhan, 624 A.D. Muhammad, on receiving information on the movement of the caravan, decided to seize it, no matter how, even though the month was a holy one for the Arabs who considered raids and plunders in this time of the year a great sin. He contemplated the operation because it had a considerable importance for him as well as for the Muslim community of Madina.
The caravan represented a large part of the annual income of all Meccans, for, although rich merchants owned much of it, almost everyone in the town had some share in this venture. By corollary, if the Muslims were able to capture it, the Meccans would become paupers, and the plunderers wealthy overnight, with their leader's war chest correspondingly strengthened.
As determined, Muhammad set out to intercept the caravan with three hundred and fourteen men: eighty-three emigrants, or exiles from Mecca: sixty-one Ausites, and one hundred and seventy Khazrajites. The entire Muslim force, it is said, had only two horses and seventy camels. The troop mounted them in rotation in order to make a rapid march, with minimal fatigue. They reached the valley watered by the brook of Badr, and lay in wait near the ford over which the caravan was expected to pass.
While yet a hundred miles south of Damascus, intelligence reached Abu Sofian that Muhammad, with a superior army, was waiting near Madina to ambush his caravan. He hastened, therefore, to dispatch a messenger to Mecca on a fast dromedary, calling upon the Quraishites to send out an armed force to meet and escort him past the danger zone of Madina. Hearing the news from the messenger, Abu Jahl sounded the alarm from the roof of the Ka'aba. Confusion and consternation took over Mecca, and people assembled around Abu Jahl to decide on the course of their action. Hinda, the wife of Abu Sofian, having a firm determination mingled with a fierce and intrepid nature, exhorted all of her relatives and all other warriors to arm themselves and hasten to assist her husband. In a short time, a Meccan force of about one thousand men, divided into cavalry and infantry, was on its way to Medina, under the command of Abu Jahl, who was then seventy years old, but still retained all the vigor and spirit of a youth.
While the rescue force was advancing fast to a point of rendezvous, Abu Sofian was approaching it from another direction. On nearing the anticipated range of danger, he preceded his caravan by a considerable distance, carefully scanning every track and footprint on the road. Eventually, he came upon the track of Muhammad's army, having been guided to it by the discarded stones of the dates, which his soldiers had eaten during their march. The kernels of the Madinese dates are easily distinguishable by their small size.
Abu Sofian instantly changed his course and passed along the coast of the Red Sea until he considered himself out of danger. He then sent an envoy to meet and advice the Quraishites that his caravan was safe and that they should return home.
The envoy encountered the Quraishites in full march. Learning that the caravan was safe, they halted and held a council to chart their next course of action. In the meantime, they dispatched a scout to spy upon the strength and condition of Muhammad's fighting men. The spy brought back word that they were about three hundred in strength and had not enough horses or camels to fight a winning battle. Learning of the statistics, many of the Meccans favored a battle to inflict a signal punishment on Muhammad and his followers in revenge for the slaying of their men at Nakhla. Another group was opposed to shedding blood of their kindred, even though Muhammad had sown seeds of discord by preaching a religion that separated son from father, brother from brother, accompanied by his attempts to seize their life-supporting caravans. Abu Jahl sided with the belligerents and the main body of the troops resumed its march once again. A considerable number of the forces, numbering about three to four hundred, which opposed engaging the Muslim army in a battle, turned back and returned to Mecca.
The Muslim force, in the meantime, continued its march to a point where it expected to meet its targeted caravan. After passing Safra, Muhammad called a halt. Here he received information that a strong contingent of the Quraishites had left Mecca to meet and escort the caravan. The informer, being unaware of the forces' whereabouts, could not pass on this vital piece of information to Muhammad, however. Under the circumstances, Muhammad convened a meeting and explained the situation to his men. Abu Bakr, Omar, and the emigrants declared their readiness to follow Muhammad, no matter in which direction he led them.
Muhammad was, however, uncertain about the current attitude of the Ansars. Although they had concluded the Pledge of Aqaba with him purely for defensive matters, it had not required them to support him on such matters as that of raiding a peaceful caravan en route to its destination. In an uncertain situation, he decided to address the Ansars in order to find out their position on his present attempt at seizing the Meccan caravan.
Muhammad's address over, Saad Ibn Muadh, one of the chiefs of the Aus stood up and gave him his unwavering pledge, to obey him in whatever task he might be asked to accomplish. Elated, he ordered his troops to march forward "in good courage, for God has promised us one of the two parties," meaning either the caravan, or the Quraish escort.
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