Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Muhammad and Islam: Stories not told before, Part 6

Part 5 <<<

Flight to Medina

The oasis of Yathrib, now called ‘al-Medina,’ i.e. ‘the City of the Prophet,’ is located some two hundred and fifty miles north of Mecca on the ancient caravan route that connected Mecca with Syria. In old times, Meccan Arabs used to travel to this distant land to sell what they had in their land and to buy from it all of the essential commodities they needed to support their bare existence.

The settlements of Yathrib differed fundamentally from the township of Mecca. The latter possessed only a few shallow wells in a dry watercourse; the water was frequently insufficient even for drinking purpose. It possessed no vegetation, and agriculture was impossible. This little settlement, enclosed by bare, rocky mountains, shimmered beneath a scorching sun. There was nothing in Mecca to live on; its people earned their bread by serving the pilgrims, who came to Mecca to pay homage to their idol gods. Others were compelled to seek their livelihood elsewhere, by trade to the Yemen, Egypt, Syria and Persia. Mecca was the base, from which all caravans set out on their long journeys, and to which they returned with precious commodities, including foodstuff, which they procured in those distant lands.

The economic condition of Yathrib was entirely different. An ample supply of water and a wide valley between the mountains gave full scope to agriculture. The whole valley was pleasantly verdant with crops with well-planted gardens of date palms.

The inhabitants of the Yathrib oasis lived principally on agriculture, and on a limited number of domestic animals. The population maintained its tribal character. Each tribe owned its own area of cultivation, in the center of which they had built their own fortified villages. The valley, therefore, appeared green and refreshing to eyes, dotted here and there with small villages, a serene scene that easily put to rest the minds of the tired and the restless in no time.

In the era we are writing about, five small tribes inhabited Yathrib, with the members of each tribe being, perhaps, very small. Three of those tribes, known as Bani Qaynuqa, Bani Nadir and Bani Quraiza, professed Jewish faith. No record exists to tell us whether those people were the descendents of the tribe of Judah from Jerusalem, or whether they were ethnically Arabs, who had been converted to Judaism, as were the Jews of the Yemen, a long time ago.

Those Jews outwardly resembled the Arabs and spoke Arabic like their other contemporaries. Practicing a relatively enlightened religion, the judaistic tribes worked as artisans in various crafts and were much richer than their Pagan neighbors. They were also moneylenders, a business with which they are identified even today.

The Jewish tribes had schools, where rabbis gave lessons on Torah and other Jewish scriptures. Presumably all or nearly all of their men were able to read and write. Those Jews also believed and preached the coming of a redeemer in a very foreseeable future. They were, as such, mentally prepared to welcome him, when he appeared in their midst.

The other tribes of the Yathrib were the Aus and the Khazraj, who practiced the popular paganism of Arabia. As required by their religion, they sent a selected number of worshippers every year on pilgrimage to Ka’aba - the shrine of idols in Mecca.

The Aus and Khazraj tribes were generally poor. Most of them were employed by the Jews. They also borrowed money from them and remained heavily indebted to them. It is said that only one set of bridal clothing and ornaments existed in the whole oasis. When a Pagan girl was to be married, the necessary finery had to be rented from a Jew. Because of their economic affluence and superiority, the Jews were not much liked by their poor Pagan debtors. Despite their dislike of them, most poor Pagans had no other way, but to remain under their influence and control. On account of their economic power, Muhammad, after living among them for some time, also developed a severe dislike for them. The extent of his animosity toward the Jews is fully described in the Quran.

Possibly in 616 A.D., a member of the Aus tribe gave his protection to a Bedouin, who was then visiting the oasis. In retaliation, a member of the Khazraj tribe paid a Jew to smack the face of the Bedouin. His protector took steps to defend his protégé and killed the Jew who had, in the meantime, struck the Bedouin. The Khazrajites, failing to nab the Jew’s killer, killed, instead, another man of the Ausite; thus giving birth to a bloody feud that was destined to last for as long as it was necessary for both the tribes to avenge the deaths. Consequently, a series of battles took place between the Aus and Khazraj tribes, the latest culminating in the victory of the Aus over its enemy after a long period of time.

Because of the circumstances described, life in Yathrib continued to be precarious, for all the warring tribes lived quite close to each other. In the battles that ensued between the Aus and Khazraj, the chief of the latter tribe, Abdullah ibn Ubayy, held moderate views and a peaceful temperament. He not only had refused to take part in the feud; he also used all his efforts to end the fratricidal strife between the warring factions. Of him, we shall learn more as our narrative progresses.

A distant away from Yathrib, Muhammad, deprived of the benefaction of his wife Khudeija and the protection of his uncle Abu Talib, was finding his fortunes in his native land, dwindling to the bottom. He was finding himself increasingly constrained in all aspects of his life. He was feeling frustrated with the pace of conversion among the Meccan infidels, a reality that convinced him that most of the Pagans were never going to accept his religion. The debacle of Taif reminded him how difficult it would be for him to walk into a city, to seek help and shelter.

Deciding that to continue his mission with the Meccans would bear him no fruits, he discontinued his preaching in Mecca. Instead, he started paying attention, for quite a while, to those nomadic tribesmen and strangers who visited Mecca on pilgrimage or on trade. Eventually, this diversion also proved to be unsatisfactory, for, in spite of his best efforts, he had failed to elicit sufficient positive responses from those pilgrims whom he approached for quite some time. He was in a dilemma, knowing not what would be the result of his next step. The more he thought about his predicament, the more constrained he felt. After a lot of thoughts, he concluded that he needed to find a place whose inhabitants would be willing to receive him as an honored guest and bestow on him the privileges that would allow him to propagate his faith without any fear or obstruction. Abyssinia, in this context, was out of question, because it was a pre-dominantly Christian country. He aspired for a different place. In order to let his desire come true, he decided to wait.

It was, perhaps, in the year 620 A.D. that Muhammad noticed the arrival of some pilgrims from Yathrib and took the opportunity to engage them in a conversation. A group of seven or eight persons belonging to both the tribes of Aus and Khazraj was impressed by what he told them about the Oneness of Allah and the futility of paganism. The Khazrajites thought he was the same Messiah whom the Jews of Yathrib were expecting, while others considered the possibility of using him as a mediator or peacemaker in their volatile oasis. Both groups of those people were, however, of the identical view that they should use the man and his abilities to further their neglected causes. They returned to Yathrib, exploring and debating all the possibilities.

The following year, a group of twelve men, including those of the previous year, came back to Mecca to perform their hajj. Muhammad met them in a little valley of the mountains and read them some of the verses he told them he had received from Allah. All the twelve Yathribis declared themselves convinced, and made a final profession of faith. Since the converts were the most influential among the members of an otherwise powerful tribe, Muhammad sought their protection and proposed to accompany them on their return. The converts informed him of the deadly feud that was then existing in their city, and asked him to defer his arrival in Yathrib to a time that would suite him and his hosts. They, however, suggested that he send a man along with them to instruct and strengthen the faith of those Yathribis who, under their influence, had converted to Islam a year ago. Muhammad agreed and sent Musab ibn Omar, one of the most learned and able of his disciples, not only to teach the neo-Muslims the tenets of Islam, but also to propagate it among other Yathribis, who practiced Paganism, Judaism and Christianity. In this way, the seed of Islam began to sprout in Yathrib and its neighborhoods.

Musab ibn Omar often faced threats to his life, yet he persisted in his preaching. His tenacity paid off and he succeeded in converting some of the city’s important inhabitants. Among them were Saad ibn Maad, a chief of the Ausites, and Osaid ibn Hedheir, a man of great authority. During this period of time, some Muslims of Mecca, driven out by the pagan harassment and hunger, also arrived and took refuge in Yathrib. They joined Musab and helped him in taking the propaganda of Islam to the footsteps of other inhabitants of the city. Some of its inhabitants saw their economic emancipation in Islam and felt inclined to embrace its doctrines for their own good. Thus, in a short period of two years, those people succeeded in bringing to Islam a good number of the Pagans, a feat that Muhammad had failed to achieve in thirteen years of his preaching in Mecca.

Muhammad as well as those who had promised him sanctuary had been keeping a watchful eye on the changing situation of the city. When they felt confident of giving him shelter, more than seventy of them, led by Musab ibn Omar, accompanied the hajj delegation to Mecca in the holy month of 622 A.D. for the purpose of inviting him to take up his residence in Yathrib.

To keep the matter confidential, the emissaries from Yathrib arranged a midnight meeting with Muhammad in the company of his uncle al-Abbas. They met them on the hill of Aqaba, where they pledged to support Muhammad upon his migration to their city. This pledge is known as the pledge of Aqaba or the “pledge of women” because it involved a promise of loyalty, but no obligation to fight.

Other terms of the pledge included a promise on the part of the Yathribis to abjure idolatry and to worship the one true Allah, openly and fearlessly. To safeguard himself, Muhammad exacted unflinching obedience in weal or woe; and for those of the disciples who might accompany him, protection. All terms decided, he committed himself to take up residence in their midst and to remain with them, to be friends of their friends, and the enemy of their enemies. “But, should we perish in your cause,” they asked, “what will be our reward?” “Paradise!” Muhammad assured them.

After concluding the agreement as aforesaid, the emissaries placed their hands in the hands of Muhammad and swore to abide by the compact. He then singled out twelve persons from among them and designated them as his apostles; following, we suppose, the example of Jesus Christ. But as the allegiance was being sworn, they heard a voice coming from the summit of the hill, which not only denounced them as apostates; it also threatened them with punishment. In the darkness and the solitude of the night, the voice appeared awesome to the emissaries and they blanched. “It is the voice of the fiend Iblis,” said Muhammad scornfully. “He is the foe of Allah: fear him not.”

In reality, it was the voice of a Quraishite spy; for, the very next morning, the Quraish exhibited a knowledge of what had transpired between Muhammad and the Yathribis emissaries during the night and threatened the new confederates with great harshness as they departed from the city. The holiness of the month restrained the Quraishites from becoming violent; otherwise the Yathribis would have suffered great harm to their persons.

After the departure of the Yathribis and soon after the expiration of the holy month, the Pagans revived their opposition of Muhammad and his religious doctrines with an increased vitality. Sensing a crisis at hand and himself being resolved to leave the city, he advised his adherents to leave Mecca and to proceed to Yathrib in order to avoid unproductive arguments and confrontation with their enemies. .

They heeded his advice and took to Yathrib. In a short time, the Pagans discovered that the whole Muslim colony of Mecca had disappeared, leaving its streets barren. The Yathribis, henceforth known as Ansars or Helpers, received the emigrants, whom they called Muhajirs, with love and sympathy and shared with them all things that they owned.

Some of the Ansars even gave away their additional wives to their brethren from Mecca in order to mitigate their sexual deprivation. Muhammad recognized his hosts’ spirit and great sacrifices. To compensate for what they had done for the Muhajirs, he gave the Ansars, upon his arrival in Yathrib, the assurance of receiving great rewards from him as well as from Allah.

By the time the aforesaid exodus of the Muslims took place, Abu Sofian had become the ruler of Mecca. When the disquieting news reached him, he summoned the elders of the city to a meeting to decide the course of action, which they must take to tackle a situation that was likely to be created against them by the mass migration of the Muslims to Yathrib. They recognized that the situation was grave and that they were likely to face serious challenges from them in the near future. They also realized that the fugitive Muslims were going to bind themselves into a strong community in Yathrib and that they would be doing anything and everything, to the detriment of the Meccans’ interests, to support their lives. These considerations led them to conclude that the Muslims, under Muhammad’s leadership, would intercept their caravans, which needed to pass through Yathrib while en route to, or returning, from Syria, not only to plunder them, but also to disrupt the trade that supported all of the Meccans’ lives. They, therefore, needed to take preventive measures to safeguard their lives and caravans.

The opinions of the elders remained divided. Finally, Abu Sofian declared that the only effectual check on the growing evil was to prevent Muhammad at any cost from leaving Mecca. Suggested preventive measures included his confinement, or death, if the first measure failed. To implement the decision, a representative from each Meccan tribe was selected with the understanding that should it become necessary, each one of them would plunge their swords into Muhammad’s body, if he resisted his arrest. This arrangement was necessary in order to avoid tribal vengeance that normally followed a death at the hand of a man from another tribe.

Someone, however, tipped off Muhammad on the decision that Abu Sofian and his council had made against him. He, therefore, decided to elude the Meccans with the help of his protégé Ali, before they could lay their hands on him.

The Pagan group charged with apprehending Muhammad arrived at the door of his house. Through a crevice, they saw him wrapped up in a mantle and sleeping in his bed. The would-be apprehenders paused at the door for a while and then rushed toward their target. The sleeper got up but, instead of Muhammad, it was Ali who was standing before them. Puzzled, they realized that Muhammad had escaped from his house before they could arrive. His escape enraged them so bad that the Quraishites felt no hesitation in declaring a reward of one hundred camels to anyone who brought him to them, dead or alive.

We hear diverse accounts of Muhammad’s mode of escape from the house after faithful Ali had wrapped himself up in the would-be victim’s mantle, and taken his place on the bed. A miraculous account has it that Muhammad opened the door of his house silently and by throwing a handful of dust in the air, he blinded all of them and then walked away through their ranks without them perceiving him. The erudite view on the episode, however, is that he clambered over the rear wall of the house with the help of a slave, who lent him his back to step upon, thereby enabling him to negotiate the height of the wall for his escape.

Having escaped apprehension or murder, Muhammad immediately went to the house of Abu Bakr to arrange an instant flight. They decided that they should take refuge in a cave of Mount Thor, about an hour’s distance from Mecca, and wait there until they could proceed safely to Yathrib. In the meantime, the children of Abu Bakr would secretly bring them food and water. In keeping with the decision, they left Mecca while it was dark and reached the foot of Mount Thor by daybreak. Hardly were they inside the cave when they heard the sound of a pursuit. Abu Bakr quacked with fear, but Muhammad pacified him with the assurance of unseen help coming to them from Allah.[1]

Here, a miracle is supposed to have taken place, which is dear to the hearts of all true believers. By the time, they believe, the pursuing Quraishites reached the mouth of the cavern; an acacia tree had sprung up before it. In its spreading branches, a pigeon weaved its nest and laid eggs. Over the mouth of the cave, a spider spread its web. When the pursuers saw those signs of undisturbed peace, they concluded that no one could have entered the cavern and they turned away from it in another direction in search of their fugitive. This, Muslims say, was a manner in which Allah saved the lives of Muhammad and his companion Abu Bakr from their enemies. In the like manner, they insist, Allah saves the life of all true believers!

In reality, the so-called miracle was conjured up by the later-day Muslims to bolster Muhammad’s credibility at the expense of his enemies. A man, who was about to emerge a deceiver and a murderer, could not possibly have the power to cause miracles, if they existed; it would, however, be a different matter if he used illusion to deceive his friends and victims in order to enhance his apostolic image.

The fugitives remained for three days undiscovered in the cave while Asama, one of the daughters of Abu Bakr, brought them food and water every day from her house. On the fourth day, they set out for Yathrib on camels brought to them by a servant of Abu Bakr. Their journey remained generally undisturbed till they reached Quba, about two miles from their final destination.

Quba was a favorite resort for the inhabitants of Medina, and a place to which they sent their sick and infirm, for the air here was pure and salubrious. On arrival here, al Qaswa - Muhammad’s camel - crouched on her knees and refused to go farther. He interpreted this as being a good omen and decided to halt there for some time before entering Yathrib. He remained at this place for four days, residing in the house of an Ausite named Kulthum ibn Hathem. Salman al Parsi, a renowned Persian would-be proselyte who, in later years, rose to power and great fame, joined Muhammad here.

Salman al-Parsi was a Persian, and professed the faith of Zoroastrianism. He was well versed with the doctrines of his religion. After Persia’s victory over the Romans, he traveled to Medina. Told of Muhammad’s impending arrival, he developed a curiosity to meet him before he returned to his homeland. In the first meeting, he impressed Muhammad, who asked him to stay on in Medina so that he could consult him on Zoroastrian faith and its principles. Hoping to earn fame and a better living for himself, he agreed, and after converting to Islam, spent the rest of his life in Medina.

While incorporating various Judaistic doctrines and dogmas into Islam, Muhammad consulted Salman to find out if his religion had anything that he could make part of his own new faith. Salman told him all about Zoroastrianism, including the details of a debate that had supposedly taken place in 6th B.C., between Zoroaster Spitama, the founder of Zoroastrianism, and King Kavi Vishtaspa, who ruled Bactria, and lived in Balkh, including the interrogation of Spitama by King and his court’s Wise Men, Priests and Magicians.

Salman narrated:

‘Declaring himself the Prophet of the One Wise Lord, Zoroaster asked the King to turn his heart from vain and evil idols towards the glory of the True and Wise and Eternal Lord.

“What sign have you to offer that your words are true?” the King asked.

“I teach the word of Truth against the word of Falsehood. If you or your wise men wish to question me, I shall answer and prove ways of Idol-worship to be wrong and shadowed with the darkness of night; and the way of the One Wise Lord, Ahura Mazda, to be good and bright as the light of the day,” answered the Prophet Zoroaster.

“Wise men, Priests, and Magicians!” the King addressed his men, “question this stranger on his teachings, and I shall sit in judgment and decide who is right and who is wrong!”

“If you find my words to be true,” said Zoroaster to the King, “promise that you will abandon the dark ways of Idol-worship and follow the shinning road of the Wise Lord.”

“I promise!” said the King.

Then the debate between Zoroaster and the King’s Wise Men, Priests and Magicians began.

“What is this new religion that you teach, and how is it different from the religion of your forefathers?” the Chief Priest asked Zoroaster angrily.

“I have come not to teach a new religion, but to improve the old,” Zoroaster replied. “What I teach is the Truth of the Creator, and therefore good. Your Idol-worship is not true, and therefore it is evil.”

“Do you mean that our gods, the Sun, the Fire, the Mountains, and the Stars are false gods?” the Chief Priest asked.

“No,” Zoroaster replied, “they are not false gods. They are not gods at all. If a man makes a house, would you call the house the man? Even so the sun, moon and mountains are not gods, but the works of the Creator.”

“Who is that Creator?” one of the magicians asked.

“Ahura Mazda, Lord of Wisdom, Supreme Ruler of the World!” Zoroaster replied.

“And you say that he created everything in the world?” one of the Wise Men asked.

“He created everything that is good in the world. For God is Good.”

“And who created the evil of the world?”

“Angra Manyu, the Evil Spirit, created all that is evil in the world,” replied Zoroaster.

“Then there is more than one god in the world!” the Chief Priest shouted triumphantly.

“Yes,” Zoroaster replied. “There are two Creators. In the beginning there were two spirits: one Good and one Evil. And the Good Spirit said to the Evil Spirit, ‘Your ways are not my ways, your thoughts are not my thoughts, your words are not my words, and your deeds are not my deeds. Let us separate!’ Then the Good Spirit created all the good in the world, and the Evil Spirit made all the evil in the world.”

“Then why do you say we should follow the Good Spirit? Why not follow the Evil Spirit who is just as great as the Good Spirit?” the Wise Man asked again.

“Because Good will win over Evil in the end.”

“How do you know that?” a magician asked.

“Because Evil has no foresight!” Zoroaster replied slowly. “The Wise Lord remembers the past and understands the future. But the Evil spirit does not know the past nor the future. Evil lives only for the profits of the present. That is why the Wise One will win the battle over Evil in the end.”

“And who created Man?” a wise men asked.

“Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, created man,” Zoroaster replied.

“You said that the Good Spirit can do only good and create only good things. Then how is it that Man, created by the Good Spirit, is following the ways of the Evil Spirit?

“That is because Man was created with the free will to choose between good and evil,” Zoroaster replied. “But all the thoughts a man thinks and all the words a man speaks and all the deeds a man does each day of his life are written down in the Book of life. The good thoughts, words and deeds are written down on one side, and the bad thoughts, words and deeds are written down on the other side. When a man dies his soul comes up to the Keeper of the Book of Life. If his good thoughts, words and deeds are greater than his evil thoughts, words and deeds, then the soul goes to Heaven. Otherwise the soul must go down to the tortures of Hell.”

“And will this go on forever?” the King asked.

“No, Your Majesty!” Zoroaster replied. “for the Day of Judgment is nigh.[2] And on that Day of Days the Wise Lord will triumph over the Evil Spirits. Good will triumph over Evil. Then all dead will come to life again. The good souls and the bad souls will be tried. Thy will pass through a flow of molten metal. To the good it will seem like passing through warm milk. But the evil will burn everlastingly. And then the God Lord will banish the Evil Spirit and keep them there forever. And on that Day of Days the good and happy world without evil will begin and last forever!”

All the men in the throne-room were silent, for they had never heard such strange words before. And the King asked the men:

“Have you no other questions to ask this man?”

“What ought one to do to follow the ways of the Wise Lord?” asked one wise man.

“Humata, Hakkata, Hvarshta! Good thoughts, good words, and good deeds!” This is the Way to the Wise Lord!”’[3]

Salman’s learned discourse brought back to Muhammad’s mind what he had learned from Waraqa ibn Nofal and Monk Adas before the commencement of his mission. Deeply impressed, he contemplated seriously on Zoroaster’s concepts of Free Will, Judgment Day and Resurrection et al. Finding them as effective tools for terrorizing the Pagans with the unknowns of the after life, he incorporated those concepts into what he claimed were the teachings from Allah, having come to him, through angel Gabriel, in the form of revelations. His plan yielded great results; the extreme fear of being punished on the Day of Judgment not only influenced the great majority of the polytheists to convert to Islam, its influence rules even today the minds of all the Muslims who, after reading the Quran, can be observed seeking, against those terrorizing threats, immediate refuge in the so-called almighty Allah’s kindness and generosity.

It is our considered opinion that had Muhammad not terrorized the gullible Pagans with the punishment of the world hereafter in order to wear their resistance down, he could not have achieved as much success as he did during his own lifetime, nor would our world have as many Muslims as it has today.

The Muslims of Mecca, who had arrived and taken refuge some time before in Yathrib, hearing that Muhammad was at Quba, came out to meet him there. The Ansars, who had made their compact with him in the preceding year, also came forward to greet him and to renew their pledge of fidelity.

Having obtained from his converts a confirmed report of the Yathribis’ favorable disposition towards him, Muhammad entered Yathrib on Friday, the twenty-second of September in the Christian era of 622. From the time Muhammad entered Yathrib, his disciples renamed it as Medinat al Nabi, the City of the Prophet, abbreviated to Medina, a name by which we shall refer to it in future.

On entering the city, and to his pleasant surprise, Muhammad found himself at the head of a powerful sect, composed partly of the seventy or so of his disciples who had fled Mecca before him and partly of the inhabitants of the place who were converted to Islam by Muhammad, as well as of the Meccan emigrants who had been living here for some time past. Most of the local proselytes belonged to the tribes of Ausites and Khazrajites. They were the descendents of two brothers, al Aus and al Khazraj. In spite of having the same blood flowing through their veins, those two tribes had disrupted Medina by their inveterate and mortal feuds, until the time they had became united in the bonds of their new faith.

With those tribes whose members had not yet converted to his faith, Muhammad made covenants of co-existence. Contrary to a general belief that a number of different elements had helped Muhammad to become the ruler of Medina, we are of the view that it was the unity of the two Pagan tribes, which he had brought about with the lures of Islam, and his political acumen that had helped him not only to make himself the ruler of his adoptive city in a short time, but also with other successes he achieved later in his lifetime. If he had failed in his effort to unite both the tribes under the banner of his leadership, we are sure, Muhammad would have found himself in the same situation he was in for thirteen years in Mecca. His failure in Medina would have strangled him, and Islam, for ever.

Prior to Muhammad’s migration to Medina, the tribe of Khazraj was very much under the sway of their chief Abdullah ibn Ubayy, whom we have briefly mentioned earlier. He was about to be crowned the king, when the arrival of Muhammad in Medina and the excitement caused by his doctrines shattered his dream of becoming a powerful ruler into pieces. He was badly hurt.

Whatever little we know of him now tells us that Abdullah was a stately person, possessing a graceful demeanor with a ready and eloquent tongue. He was a man who had many qualities of a good politician. He also knew how to disguise his displeasure and sentiments. In keeping with his political shrewdness, he exhibited the profession of a great friendship for Muhammad and attended many of his meetings along with many of his companions. Covertly, Muslims claim, Abdullah harbored a grudge against him on account of his ascension to power having been disrupted by the latter’s arrival in Medina. Still he maintained a pleasant relationship with his nemesis who, being captivated by his personal appearance, plausible conversation and his apparent deference to him, did not, at first, suspect any abnormality in their social intercourse.

But as time passed, and the frequency of their encounters increased, Muhammad is said to have found out that Abdullah was not only jealous of his popularity, he also cherished a secret animosity against him. He also found out that Abdullah’s companions were equally false in their pretended friendship towards him; hence he stamped them with the name of “The Hypocrites,” an appellation under which he delivered a whole Sura for the benefit of his followers. In spite of his supposedly dubious nature, however, Abdullah Ubayy is not known to have caused Muhammad any serious problems, the stories of his alleged betrayal notwithstanding.

After settling down in Medina, Muhammad decided to build a mosque. He selected a site shaded by date trees for this purpose. He chose this location because he is believed to have been guided there by his camel. In order to build the mosque, he had the buried dead bodies removed, and the trees, standing on the site, cut down. Because the climate of Medina 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 Bedouin Arabs had learned to live in homes.

When completed, the mosque turned out to be a simple structure, suited to the religion that Muhammad was preaching 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 tree 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 the 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. Since timber was not available to the Arabs at the time, the cabins of Muhammad’s Quarter had no doors. They merely had strips of animal hide, hung up to screen their entrance. In those open cabins, once lived, at least, nine of his wives, and an unknown number of his slave-girls.

This mosque is now 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 is 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 say their prayer: 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 Muhammad was struggling with 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 by Allah 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 now call it by the name of “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 the lamps of fire, which they created by using raw and green trunks and leaves of a tree that Allah had created, specially, for the people of the Arabian Peninsula. Since necessary materials or instruments for preserving fire did not exist at the time, they used this tree every time they needed a fire. After the death of Muhammad, this tree became extinct.

Muhammad stood on the ground of the mosque and preached, leaning with his back against the trunk of one of the date trees that served as pillars. Later on, he had a pulpit erected at the top of three steps in order to elevate himself above the congregation. Traditions have it that when he first ascended the pulpit, the dead date-tree gave out a groan; whereupon, he gave it the option either to be transplanted to a garden, again to flourish, or to be transferred to a Garden in the sky, there to yield fruit in the afterlife to feed the true believers. The date-tree, it is said, wisely chose the latter, in consequence whereof it remained buried under the pulpit, awaiting its reward on the Day of Judgment!

In the period immediately following his arrival in Medina, Muhammad’s conduct, behavior and preaching were sober, peaceful and benign. With the passage of time and the gradual increase in his political strength, however, his manner became 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 he is believed to be one of the greatest among 124,000 to 240,000 prophets Allah is said to have sent to earth from the time of Adam to the time before Muhammad - the latter being the last and the greatest of them all.

The small number of those Christians of Medina, who had not converted to Islam showed no hostility toward the new faith of Islam, considering it far better than idolatry with which they had grown disenchanted over a long period of time. They had also grown weary of the dissensions and schisms that had crept up in their lives; these having their root in the Christian orthodoxy, which 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 Medina 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 numbers of the Jews who had 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 adopted some of the Jewish traditions without Allah’s approval, these failed to appear in the pages of the Quran.

Despite his best efforts, Muhammad failed to bring the obstinate Jews to his fold. However, He did not give up; instead, he kept on pursuing them with his doctrines. It was the best strategy that he could have adopted at the early stage of his stay in Medina for buying time, which he needed to strengthen his position in order to show the Jews their right place on the planet of Allah and His obedient Servants. But as time went on, he began to realize that dealing with the Jews was not easy and that they had the ability to destroy him and his religion.

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 Medina, faced the Ka’aba on the pattern of their Pagan foes. But as the political necessity in Medina required Muhammad to show his deference to the Jewish faith for the reasons we have stated before, he made Jerusalem his Qibla and directed his followers to face it at the time of saying their prayer. Ibn Ishaq, one of Muhammad’s earliest biographers, states that at one time, he had required his followers to face Syria in their prayer. This was because of the reason that he had developed a mysterious reverence for that country, in the belief that it was the same country which had given shelter to patriarch Abraham after he was compelled to leave Chaldea – his birth place - by his enemies.

On one front, Muhammad felt pleased with the state of his affairs in Medina. Here, he was an honored guest, with a strong prospect of winning coverts to his religion. This contrasted his situation in Mecca, where he was able to convert only about one hundred Pagans to his faith over a long period of about thirteen missionary years. But, on another, he faced a serious problem of different magnitude: starvation, sickness and discontentment had begun to overtake his fugitive followers from Mecca, whose faithfulness, obedience and adherence were crucial to him and to his cause. In spite of receiving all possible supports from the Ansars, the fugitives from Mecca still faced starvation for want of food. They also did not have any money to buy their food 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 fever and other diseases, and in their sickness and loneliness they longed to see their loves ones whom they had left behind in Mecca at the time of their flight from there.

The gravity of the situation required an immediate action. Muhammad, therefore, established a bond of brotherhood with fifty-four of the emigrants with the like number of the Ansars from Medina. Two persons thus linked together pledged to stand by each other in trials and triumphs - a tie which knit their interests more firmly than that of their kindred. They were to be heirs to each other in preference to their blood relations. This concept of brotherhood not only gave the emigrants 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, which their Ansar brothers could not solve due to their own constraints, Muhammad divided the emigrants into groups of beggars and employed them to collect alms (sadaqa) from the well-to-do Jews of Medina. At the end of the day, they deposited their collections with him, who in his capacity of an administrator, retained with him a good portion of their collections for his own upkeep, and distributed the residue among them.[4] They protested, but Allah defended him by turning their protest into a slander act against His Prophet.[5]

The stated relationship, one of Muhammad’s expediencies, underwent a reversal when it created a problem for himself. In regard to marriage, he permitted later an adopted father, professing Islam, to marry the divorced wife of his adopted son. The so-called ignorant Pagans abhorred this practice. Admonishing them for detesting it, Muhammad told them that such a marriage was justified in the eyes of Allah for the reason that it does not involve two persons related to each other through blood. He also denied, through the Quran, inheritance to the adopted sons and daughters on the same ground, as adoption in the eyes of Allah is not a pious act. We shall have more to say on these issues later in our commentary to the relevant verses of the Quran. .

Muhammad’s Peaceful Nature Undergoes a Dramatic Change

While Muhammad was continuously trying to convert the idolatrous Pagans of Aus and Khazraj to Islam together with plotting for means to provide relief to his financially stifled followers from Mecca, his personality as a peaceful and patient preacher from Mecca was also undergoing a gradual 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, prompting him to involve himself in politics together with aiming to take over the administration and justice system of Medina. At this time, he also took steps to teach his followers various manners, which they needed to observe while dealing or interacting with him and his family members. This greatly alarmed the Jewish community of the city.

Knowing that he would not succeed in his mission without completely winning the Jews over to his side, Muhammad initiated many actions, all of which were expected to turn them into his followers after allaying their fear of him.

It was the habit of the Medinese Pagans to spend long hours in Jewish quarters, discussing various topics and issues related to their religion and social matters. 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 local visitors whenever they had an opportunity to do so. Compelled by their financial and social conditions, the Pagans tolerated their excesses quietly and patiently.

The Jewish rabbis prided themselves on the elevated positions they held, among their fellow co-religionists, on account of their religious erudition. 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 same way in which they used to treat their Pagan neighbors. They thought he was simply an upstart in the realm of religions and that they could get away with anything they said or 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 had supposedly afflicted the Egyptians before his exodus from their country. Very often, they also 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.

The rabbis 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 their Messiah could not even be thought of. Muhammad strongly resented the rabbis’ ignominious questions, as well as their contemptuous attitude, which they exhibited towards him at every opportune occasion. His followers were not as tactful as he was, nor as docile as the Medinese Pagans; therefore, they deeply resented the rabbis’ attitude towards Muhammad and are said to have fought a number of fist-fights with their disciples for making objectionable remarks against him.

The continuous and persistent ridicule, jest, prank and insult of the rabbis and their disciples, coupled with the rigors of his mission, starvation and the lack of financial resources as well as his privately equating Judaism with prosperity severely stirred his mind and there came a moment when he was prepared to accept what the rabbis claimed were the true teaching of their religion and become a Jew along with his followers, if the Jews and their rabbis were willing to accord him a position of respect with an attractive financial package. The Jews failed to read his mind; instead, they continued to treat him in the manner of the past.

Disappointed by the lack of the Jews’ response to his expectation and also realizing the fact that Judaism did not consider a convert to it to be a true Jew, Muhammad found himself facing the worst crisis of his life. It was a worst crisis for him, for if he failed in his mission, neither will the Jews of Medina let him live in their midst, nor would he be able to return to Mecca, where he was sure to be hated, ostracized and deprived of the crucial tribal protection in retaliation of the damages he had caused to the Meccan society. Without a tribal protection, his survival would have become almost impossible.

He was in a fix from which, he needed to come out at any cost. But when he found no way out of it, he decided to stick to his mission and, acknowledging the threat he faced to his existence,[6] he began working aggressively and unethically to ensure his success.

His ignorance and plagiarism of Jewish beliefs notwithstanding, Muhammad soon found out that his efforts to convert the Medinese Pagans to Islam was gradually and steadily paying off - a success that was naturally unwelcome to Abdullah ibn Ubayy, who is said have harbored a deep animosity towards him for the reason we have already stated earlier. Nevertheless, being a wise and prudent man, he carefully concealed his pique and before long, he, too, declared himself a convert to Islam, 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 Medina and to its social and religious life.

Muhammad, on his part, did not remain ignorant of those false Muslims’ intentions, for spies[7] were quick to bring him information (he called it revelation), which informed him of the ill designs those hypocritical people allegedly held against him. However, the shrewd politician and the matured tactician that he was, Muhammad willy nilly opted to co-exist with them for the time being without giving any hint of his own future designs against them.

Let us now reflect on how Muhammad must have felt on the eve of becoming the virtual ruler of Medina. As would have been the case with the most intelligent and ambitious men, he realized the potentials his assumption of the highest office of Medina would afford him. It would fully compensate him for all the aggravation, emotional injuries and insults he had meekly suffered at the hands of his Meccan antagonists. His impulse told him that once he became the undisputed ruler of Medina, his position would enable him not only to exercise his control over a powerful army of men drawn from daily converts as well as of the fugitives, who had 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, it would also help him eliminate Judaism from the face of the city. His assessment of the situation assured him that his to-be-acquired position would also enable him to retaliate decisively against those who opposed him, and in his mission.

Muhammad’s apostolic office was to greatly supplement his military power, the use of which he would legitimize with the help of revelations from Allah. At least, such was the purport of the manifesto, which he is said to have made known at this epoch, thereby hoping to change the whole tone and fortunes of his faith.

“Different prophets,” he is reported to have 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.”

Muhammad was the last prophet, but not the last apostle. Therefore, many apostles might have already come after his death, and they may still be coming to the earth to help its inhabitants live their lives in accordance with its changed conditions and circumstances. Guru Nanak, the founder of Shikism, may have been an apostle. Mirza Gulam Ahmad of Qadian, the founder of Ahmadiyya Islam, another. The understanding of this Quranic truth by the Muslims will make them a better people and our world a safer place for all of us to live our lives in peace and harmony.

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 excite them further. 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 Allah’s permission and Will.

Skeptics ask: If all those were true, should we then hold Satan or the devil responsible for inciting the humans to the commission of evil acts, including murder? This is a perplexing question that needs an answer from those Muslims who are able to read Allah’s mind and His intentions as easily as a trained Radiologist of our time reads x-ray films.

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 in Medina the doctrines of the Religion of Sword, many of them rushed to his side to be accepted as his followers. Despite the fact that the number of his followers slowly swelled, yet he held back his authorization to launch violent acts 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 tribute.

This was a shrewd decision. It enabled him to collect as many resources as were possible for him 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 in comparison 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 month considered sacred by the Pagans and thus free from violence and rapine, Abdullah had sealed orders from Muhammad, not to be opened by him until the third day of his mission. The orders were vaguely worded. It required Abdullah to reach the valley of Nakhla, between Mecca and Taif, where he should expect to meet a caravan of the Quraish of Mecca. “Perhaps,” concluded the orders shrewdly, “thou mayest be able to bring us some tidings of it.”

On what material was the order written is not known to many historians. Some, however, surmise that it was written on a rock, which Abdullah always carried over his head and when it was time for him to read his order, he lowered it and then pursued its content.

Abdullah understood the meaning of those words and, accordingly, he intended to act upon them. 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 a holy month, 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 upon them, killing one and taking two prisoners. The fourth escaped. The deceptive victors then returned to Medina with their prisoners and Allah-given booty.

The entire city of Medina was scandalized at the 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 Medina, Muhammad produced a revelation, purportedly from Allah, reading:

“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.”[8]

Thus legitimizing his deed, 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 had lived in Medina, friction between him and the Jews reached a significant intensity. One of the reasons that had contributed to this situation was the Jews refusal to give alms to the Muslim beggars. To signal his displeasure at them and also to express his desire not to co-habit with them, he discarded the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday and substituted it with Friday as the special day of the Muslim week.

At this time, he also ordered his followers to face Mecca, instead of Jerusalem, at the time of saying their prayer. Scholars are not certain in which period of time Muslims’ obligatory prayer assumed its present form. They, however, agree that there were only three daily prayers in the lifetime of Muhammad. When their number was increased to five, and by whom, is not known to any scholar or historian of Islam.

During the same period of time, Muhammad also laid down many more tenets of Islam. One of them was the requirement of fasting. Because the Jews fasted in the lunar month of Ramadhan for ten days,[9] he also required his followers to fast for that number of days and on the same days on which the Jews kept their fast. He had done this with the intention of telling the Jews that the religion he was trying to found was not much different from the one they were practicing, but the Jews remained unconvinced. Frustrated, he changed the number of the days of the fast from ten to the whole month of Ramadhan in order to make the Muslim fast look different from that of the Jewish fast.

It was a strong signal for the Jews that had required them not only to change their policy and attitude towards Muhammad, but also to prepare themselves to face his growing power in the days to come. Believing that they were invincible, they took no notice of it – a failure that cost them many lives as well as the very religion they were so determined to save from destruction by Allah and His Apostle.

>>> Part 7

[1] The Quran; 9:40.

[2] Cf. The Quran; 54:1. Muhammad has stated the same thing in this verse.

[3] Joseph Gaer, How The Great Religions Began, pp. 219-223.

[4] Cf. The Quran; 9:60.

[5] Cf. The Quran; 9:58.

[6] Cf. The Quran; 13:37.

[7] Cf. The Quran; 61 & 78. Vide 57:8, Allah also spied on the people.

[8] The Quran; 2:217.

[9] Phillip K. Hitti, op. cit. p. 133.

If you like this essay: Stumble it   Stumble Upon Toolbar digg it reddit


  No Comments

Comments Notes: Keep comments short. Our system cannot separate paragraphs. Comments must be relevant to the topic of the article. Irrelevant comments, materials, adds of other websites, pasting external articles etc. are not allowed. We may ban the IP addresses of such nuisance posters.

Editor Note: Dear readers, we are opening the comments to auto-posting again as most of the recent comments have been in line with guidelines. It will reduce my workload. Please keep it that way.

Hit Counter