Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Muhammad and Islam: Stories not told before, Part 10

Part 9 <<<

The Capture of Mecca

Muslims by this time had reached a stage where consecutive victories in their battles had given them absolute confidence, both in themselves and in their leader. They now felt absolutely confident in facing any enemy, who dared to challenge Muhammad’s authority. He, on his part, felt no qualm in subduing any opponent, either by force of arms or by the sheer quality of his deceptive diplomacy. He, therefore, turned his attention to Mecca, his native city, from which he had so ignominiously escaped some eight years ago, and decided to take it over in order to restore it to the worship of one true Allah as well as to make it a rallying point of his religion.

Although he was prepared to implement his decision without delay, but a term of the treaty of Hudaybiyya that he had concluded two years ago with the Meccan Pagans proved to be an impediment. It provided for peace between the contracting parties for ten years. He began, therefore, to look for an opportunity that would help him achieve his goal ‘without violating the treaty.’ And the opportunity came his way, rather too quickly.

One of the clauses of the treaty authorized both Muhammad and the Meccan Quraish to sign treaties with any tribe that desired to join them for whatever reason. Such treaties, when concluded, meant that the tribes concerned became parties to the ten-year truce. On this basis, the Quraish had made a treaty with the tribe of Kinana, while Muhammad had done the same with the tribe of Khuzza.

It so happened that a man of Bani Kinana killed a man of the tribe of Khuzza in fulfillment of an old blood feud that had existed between them for quite some time. As its consequence, sporadic clashes took place between the parties in which, the Quraishites were alleged to have aided their ally, the tribe of Bani Kinana. It was the actions of the Quraish and Kinana which are claimed to have led Muhammad to conquer Mecca ‘in order to punish, in particular, the Quraish people for their alleged violation of the treaty.’

We believe that the charge levied against the Quraish and the tribe of Bani Kinana was spurious: it might have been concocted in order to support the Muslim claim that it was the Quraish and their ally, and not Muhammad, who had violated the terms of the treaty, forcing him to retaliate against them, and to capture Mecca. At least, Abu Sofian’s helpless approach to him at this time and the ignominious treatment that he received from Muhammad supports our contention.

At any rate, Muhammad decided to take action against the tribe of Quraish and to take over Mecca to rid of the nuisance that the Quraish people had been creating ever since he begun his mission of preaching Islam in this city.

The Quraishites by this time learned of the developments, relative to their welfare, that were taking place in Medina and decided to send Abu Sofian there to explain away the truth of the matter to Muhammad who, in the meantime, had become the emissary’s son-in-law. Abu Sofian, accordingly, went to his house and wished to see his daughter, Umm Habiba, through whom he thought he could motivate his son-in-law to resolve the issue peacefully. He had come to the person he despised most for the reason that the welfare of the Meccans was very dear to his heart. Snubbed by his daughter, Abu Sofian went to Muhammad directly, but he refused to talk to him. He felt humiliated, yet he continued his efforts. Finding no easy way to present his case to Muhammad, he sought the intercession of Abu Baker, Ali and Omar. But all of them rebuked him and refused to help. Eventually, conceding defeat, he mounted his camel and trekked back to Mecca with a heavy heart.

Scarcely had Abu Sofian left Medina when Muhammad issued orders for all to prepare to march on Mecca. He also summoned his allies from all quarters to join him in the foray. He had all routes leading to Mecca blocked to prevent any information on his impending march from being carried to the Meccans.

Hence Muhammad departed for Mecca in 630 A.D. with ten thousand men at his command. They reached the valley near the sacred city and pitched tents in the darkness of night to avoid detection by the Meccans. Abu Sofian somehow came to know about the arrival of Muhammad and his forces and began trying to reach him at his campsite. A scouting party, however, seized him and delivered him to the Muslim army’s Commander-in-chief. Seeing his inveterate enemy within his reach, Muhammad felt immensely delighted, but he set Sofian free when he embraced Islam and acknowledged him as the Prophet of Allah and the savior of his people.

Abu Sofian, now a Muslim, obtained favorable terms from Muhammad for the people of Mecca. One term provided that none were to be hurt should they remain quietly in their homes or take refuge in the house of Abu Sofian. Returning to Mecca, Abu Sofian assembled his people and told them of the massiveness of Muhammad’s army that had assembled at their doorsteps, not only to take over their city, but also to annihilate its entire population. He also told them about his covenant with Muhammad and asked them either to stay indoors or to take refuge in his house. His words had the desired effect on the people, and the majority of them agreed to witness the entry of their conqueror into the city without offering any resistance.

The following morning at sunrise, Muhammad approached the sacred grounds, seated on his camel and reciting verses from his compositions. With reverence he rode to the holy shrine of Ka’aba, circling it seven times. The Ka’aba still housed all the pagan idols and deities within and without its four walls.

Next, Muhammad ordered the doors of the shrine opened and proceeded to destroy all the idols and deities around which he had circumambulated with veneration a whole ago. All the idols and deities were thrown out and destroyed, nevertheless. The shrine’s inside walls, covered with pictures of other pagan deities, also displayed the icon of the Virgin Mary with the child Jesus and a painting of an old man, thought to be Abraham who, Muhammad believed, was the originator of Islam. Placing only these two images under his protection, he ordered Othman, his son-in-law, to destroy all the others.

While Muhammad was busy destroying the idols of Mecca, Khalid proceeded to Nakhla to demolish the temple of al-Uzza, which was one of the three eminent shrines of paganism in Arabia. At the news of his approach, the guardian of the temple hung his sword on the statue of the goddess and called upon her to defend herself from the wrath of her would-be destroyer. When Khalid razed the temple and its idol to the ground, he saw a black woman, entirely naked, with long and wildly flowing hair, emerging from the debris of the ruins. He instantly recognized the figure to be of al-Uzza herself; and drawing out his sword, he cut her into pieces!

Muhammad, after destroying the pagan idols, declared the shrine of Ka’aba purified: a suitable object of pilgrimage that is to be revered so long as the religion of Islam should continue to motivate its adherents to perform all of its rites. It is, in fact, a liturgy that he unashamedly borrowed from the Jews, and the Pagans, in order to give Islam an appearance of completeness in respect to its varied dogmas, which every Muslim must follow in his or her daily life.

After the conquest of Mecca, Muhammad directed his military commanders to various destinations to spread his religion, at the point of sword, if necessary. While the campaign of proselytization was being pursued, some tribes of mountains united together to check the expanding power of Islam and of its founder, which was threatening their existence. Placing the general command of the united force in the hands of one of their own, the chiefs of the component tribes agreed to assemble at the valley of Autas, between Hunein and Taif, to launch their attack on the Muslims. In order to ensure their adhesion to the cause, the participating members of the troops were asked to bring along their women, children and cattle to the site of assembly. Four thousand of them came as directed, their number and belongings crowding the camp. Unwittingly, the Bedouins turned their camps into a tempting target of the predatory soldiers of Islam.

As in the past, Muhammad learned about the preparation of the tribes and decided to storm them with his force of approximately twelve thousand men, who were ever willing to perform any task as long as it offered them booty, or in the event of death, Paradise.

Mounting his favorite white mule, Duldul, given him by Muquaqis, the ruler of Alexandria, Muhammad led his forces into the mountains. While moving forward to the enemy camp, he came to a deep valley in the confines of Hunein. As the Muslim forces were pouring into the valley, men from the opposing forces suddenly sprang out from the hills on both sides and charged down on the unsuspecting Muslim forces.

Struck with a sudden panic, Muslims turned and fled. When all seemed lost, al Abbas - Muhammad’s uncle - known to have strong lungs, put up a shout that echoed through the narrow valley. Hearing his voice, the fugitives rallied and immersed themselves into a bloody battle. The three-to-one superiority that the Muslim forces were enjoying soon began to have its effect, when the Pagans were first brought to a halt and then driven back; finally they broke and fled. The chiefs of the fleeing troops and some of their accomplices took shelter in the city of Taif, while others retreated to their camps in the valley of Autas.

Muslims won the battle because, as the Quran says, Allah had helped them with his invisible soldiers, without whom they could not have achieved their victory.

Muhammad stayed in the valley, dispatching some of his lieutenants with a strong force to take over the enemy’s camps. After a fierce fighting, the Muslims won. The capture of the camps furnished the victors with great booty, consisting - as the Arabian writers say - of twenty four thousand camels, forty thousand sheep, four thousand ounces of silver, and six thousand captives, most of them young females.

At this period in time, some of the Muslim soldiers became concerned with a moral question that pricked their conscience, even though they had the reputation of committing lewdness at whim. They asked Muhammad how they could have sex with those captive women, who were already married and had their husbands in confinement elsewhere, without committing the sin of adultery!

Muhammad had no instant answer. As he had been doing all along in his difficult moments, he produced some time later a declaration, in the name of Allah, the contents of which squelched their moral scruples. It forbade Muslims from having sex with free married women, but permitted, nay, encouraged them to indulge in the act with those women, who become captives of the wars. This decree from Allah was good at the time it came down; it remains valid even now for the Muslims to enslave the women of their enemies and to have sex with them without any moral qualm.

The moral issue thus solved and the safekeeping of captives and booty ensured, Muhammad set out in pursuit of the fugitive chiefs, who had taken shelter in the city of Taif. The sight of the city instantly brought to his memory the insult with which its people had once humiliated and expelled him from it. He felt himself overtaken by the sentiment of vengeance, which forced him to storm the city, but its strong protective walls prevented him from easily achieving his goal. The defenders of the city put up a strong resistance to Muhammad’s fierce attack in which he used, for the first time, catapults, devised by the genius Salman al Farsi. When the fierce Islamic forces failed to flush out the beleaguered Pagans from within the walls, Muhammad decided to lay siege to the city.

To compel the besieged enemy to surrender, Muhammad laid waste their fields, orchards, and vineyards. At the same time, he declared freedom to all the slaves, who would desert the city. His efforts, however, bore him no fruit and he was disappointed.

The siege, nonetheless, continued for twenty days, during which Muhammad spent most of his time in prayers and between the tents of his two wives to whom it had fallen by lot to accompany him on the present campaign. His prayers, however, failed to induce intervention from the Gardens and, in spite of his all efforts; he could not take over Taif through force.

Muhammad’s patience finally ran out and he broke the siege, promising his troops to renew his efforts at a future date. Journeying to the place called Jirana, where the spoils and the captives from his previous expedition had been deposited; he distributed the spoils and the captives among his soldiers, retaining one fifth for him and Allah. Dictated, however, by political expediency, Muhammad restored his share of the booty subsequently to its original owners.

From the camp at Jirana, Muhammad rode into Mecca and again performed his lesser pilgrimage. This accomplished, he returned to Medina, leaving the affairs of Mecca in the hands of his appointed governor.

Muhammad remained in Medina for seven months, during which time he witnessed the death of his daughter Zainab and the birth of a son, named Ibrahim, from his Coptic slave-girl, Maria Qibtia. He had placed high hopes in this child, but to his dismay, the infant died when he was fifteen months old.

From the time of his flight to Medina in 622 A.D. until his death in 632 A.D., Muhammad is said to have launched thirty-eight expeditions and raids against the Jews and the Pagans, twenty-seven of them he personally led. The raids undertaken by him, together with the capture of Mecca, spread his fame - either as a Prophet or a conqueror - to the outermost parts of Arabia. Consequently, envoys from distant tribes began to pour into Medina, some acknowledging him as a Prophet and embracing Islam, others submitting to him as a temporal sovereign and agreeing to pay him tribute in lieu of converting themselves to his faith.

While the proselytization was continuing at a rapid pace and tribe after tribe of the Arabs was pledging their allegiance to Muhammad, the defiant fugitives, who had taken shelter behind the walls of Taif, persisted in their worship of the idol of al-Lat. Though safe within the walls, but the Pagans found themselves gradually driven into confinement and isolation by the Muslims. Ultimately, they found themselves compelled to send their ambassadors to Muhammad, entreating him for a pact of peace. He was delighted by their approach, but because of the resentment he harbored against the people of Taif, he declined to give them any concession and insisted on their unqualified submission and conversion. Finding themselves completely at his mercy, they bowed down to his demands, and willy-nilly embraced Islam in order to save themselves from certain death and destruction.

By this time, Muhammad had become a sovereign of nearly all of Arabia, joining the former warring tribes together in the bond of Islam. His apostolic role gave him absolute authority and a formidable power that flourished unchecked in the inhospitable atmosphere of the desert. He exercised complete control over the minds and bodies of the people, who converted to his faith, seducing them to his following by the prospect of booty in this world and by the promise of Garden (Paradise) in the world hereafter. Had Muhammad not assumed the role of a prophet, and not promised people the bliss of the next world, he would neither have succeeded in the mission that he had set for himself, nor would he have earned for him a place in history for doing what he was able to do in the name, and on behalf, of Allah.

With various allurements that he offered to his followers, Muhammad was able to raise, by this time, such a level of ecstasy in them where they could be engaged in any struggle that would engender power to him by any means - be it through conversion or subjugation of his adversaries through the use of force. Thus prepared, he issued orders, perhaps in October of 630 A.D, to assemble a force for an expedition to the Byzantine frontier. But, in spite of the people’s absolute royalty to him, his call this time to take up arms failed to evoke much enthusiasm in his warriors, for they still remembered the havoc that they had faced in the battle of Muta.

Another reason for their malingering was the heat of the summer; at this time, the earth became parched and the springs and brooks dried up. Yet another factor that prevented the people from responding to Muhammad’s call was the date-harvesting time, which would arrive when they were gone on their campaign. This they could not do, for dates were their staple food and they needed to stay home to gather and store them at the proper time.

Abdullah ibn Ubayy, who still remained Muhammad’s covert foe, and who had vowed to seize every opportunity to counteract his plans, it is alleged, artfully planted all those objections, in the people’s mind. He is also believed to have urged the people not to take part in his war efforts by putting forward myriad causes to which they responded favorably, resulting in a series of setbacks to Muhammad’s call to arms.

As it had been his wont, Muhammad resorted to revelation and produced one, which told the unwilling people of Medina of the fierceness of the fire of Hell where they would be burning, if they avoided taking part in the raid on the pretext of the summer heat. The revelation had its desired effect, and many of the Muslims responded to his call by delivering to him large sums of money and other valuables, in lieu of their own participation, to enable him to finance his expedition against the Greeks.

Abdullah’s alleged intrigues notwithstanding, Muhammad succeeded in gathering an army of ten thousand horsemen and twenty thousand foot soldiers, both from Medina and the settlements of the desert, to march on a momentous mission. Appointing Ali the caretaker of Medina, he left the city with his army and pitched camp at the Farewell Pass, a defile just north of Medina, where expeditions traditionally assembled before setting out for Syria. Abdullah, followed by his adherents, accompanied Muhammad’s convoy, but set up his tent at some distance in the rear of his army. When Muhammad marched forward in the morning, Abdullah first lagged behind and then led his troops back to Medina.

Undeterred by Abdullah’s defection, the Muslim expeditionary army continued the journey toward its destination, braving all difficulties of the desert and the discomforts caused by the extreme heat. At last the stolid convoy reached Tabuk, a small town within the confines of the Roman Empire, about half way between Medina and Damascus. Here, the Commander-in-Chief ordered a halt. He pitched his tent near a fountain, and after refreshing himself, he dispatched his lieutenants to various principalities either to enforce Islam or to exact tribute. Some of the princes either acknowledged the divinity of Muhammad’s mission or submitted to his temporal dominion. Those who dared to defy were forced into his obedience.

When the army was bringing some neighboring territories into his subjection, Muhammad received intelligence on the preparedness of a massive Greek force and its assembly at the border to confront his forces. The report disheartened his troops, forcing him to return to Medina without realizing his ardent desire.

Soon after Muhammad’s return to Medina, Abdullah ibn Ubayy, his long time enemy and “the Chief of the Hypocrites” as Muhammad called him, fell sick and died. Muhammad followed his dead body to the grave and prayed to Allah for the forgiveness of his sins. On being remonstrated by Omar for praying for a hypocrite, Muhammad had Allah telling him:

“It does not matter, if you pray for a hypocrite or not. If you pray all day and all night, and the man is a hypocrite, God knows it and will not forgive him.”

Muhammad’s statement, if true, carried in itself a hypocritical implication. He knew that Allah does not forgive a hypocrite, yet still he prayed for Abdullah’s salvation in the world hereafter. He intended his display of piety to act as an olive branch for those who knew that he was a ruthless person; hence his enactment of the prayer, especially, designed to soften their attitude towards him and his doctrines.

While Muhammad kept himself busy with the public as well as his domestic affairs, the sacred month of yearly pilgrimage knocked at the door. He sent, therefore, a large contingent of Medinese pilgrims to Mecca under the leadership of Abdullah Athek ibn Abu Qahafa, popularly known by the appellation of Abu Baker, to perform their hajj.

Soon after the departure of the delegation, Muhammad decided to announce an important message to the large congregation of the pilgrims at Ka’aba in order to ensure its wide circulation. Accordingly, he summoned Ali, his son-in-law, and asked him to hasten with all speed to Mecca, so as to reach there before the pilgrims departed upon completion of their hajj. Ali mounted the fastest dromedary and reached Mecca before the pilgrims could disperse. He stood up before the assembled multitude and read out the announcement, of which he was the bearer and through which Muhammad declared Islam, in all its vigor, to be the Religion of Sword.

According to the announcement, Muhammad would be free- after the expiration of a four-month period - of all responsibility toward the idolaters, who he would attack, kill and plunder whenever and wherever he and the Muslims met them. The ties of blood and friendship alike were to be discarded: the believers barred from holding communion with their nearest relatives and dearest friends unless the polytheists renounced idolatry. The announcement barred the unbelievers from treading the sacred grounds of Mecca, nor were they to enter the temple of Allah, a prohibition that continues to remain in force even to the present day.

When the returning pilgrims spread the news that Muhammad has declared war with the intention of killing all the polytheists, the remaining Pagan tribes became alarmed and began to throng the gates of Medina with the sole purpose of converting themselves to Islam. Envoys also started pouring in from distant tribes and potentates, some submitting to his apostolic mission, others to his temporal authority. To those tribes of the idolaters, who still remained outside Muhammad’s domain, he sent his captains to subdue them and to bring them to the fold of Islam or to make them agree to pay tribute. All of his gallant soldiers performed their duties, in a short time, to his and Allah’s entire satisfaction.

The Farwell Pilgrimage

His sway established over the whole of Arabia, Muhammad decided to perform his pilgrimage or hajj at the holy temple of Mecca; accordingly, he declared his wish to his followers. The announcement of his intention brought to Medina devotees from all parts of Arabia to follow him on his pious mission One day, some say on the 20th of February, 632 A.D., Muhammad, accompanied this time by his nine wives, set out for Mecca, surrounded by an immense crowd of faithful, some on foot and others mounted on camels, extended as far as eye could see in every direction. They journeyed some two hundred and fifty miles in the fervid heat of the desert, ultimately reaching the House of Allah to perform the antiquated rites, sans the idols of the past. As this was to be a model pilgrimage, Muhammad is believed to have observed rigorously all the ancient rites that his ancestors had perpetuated, including those, which he himself established. Because he was in a frail health, he performed the seven circuits around the Ka’aba and the concomitant journeys between the hills of Safa and Marwa, riding on the back of his favorite camel.

The rites of hajj completed, Muhammad sacrificed sixty-three camels with his own hand, one for each year of his age, and then shaved his head. The shorn locks were divided among his disciples, one of which found its way to the valleys of Kashmir in India, where it, as a sacred relic of the Prophet of Islam, is even today preserved in absolute reverence for the viewing of the present generation of the Muslims as well as for their posterity.

During his sojourn in Mecca, he preached frequently. In course of this activity, he is said to have laid down many doctrines of his faith, which he had neglected to mention earlier. He is also believed to have given numerous guidelines to his followers, many of which they failed to mention to the ascribes, when they were compiling the Quran. Consequently, Muslims observe many important rituals of their faith based not on the Quran, but on the practice that they themselves had come to know first hand, or which came to them from their parents or mentors.

His Farewell Pilgrimage over, Muhammad returned to Medina, never to see Mecca again.

>>> Part 11

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