Editor's note: This is a brief but fascinating biography of prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaih-e-wasallum) from Qur'anic sources alone. Published in 2009, 'Essential Message Of Islam' By Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah Syed is a seminal work about which Distinguished Islamic scholar and Professor of Law, UCLA Law School. Prof. Khaled Abou El Fadl, wrote: " Indeed this book manages to translate the Muslim vision or the way that Islam heals the ailments of humanity in the current age and every age. Readers who wish to learn the theological and moral dogma of Islam will find this book indispensable."
For me, this chapter telling the story of the Prophet from Qur'anic sources alone, without using ahadees and other usual sources with debatable credibility. Classical biography of the prophet Muhammad (may God’s blessing and peace and be upon him) is based on the manuscript of Ibn Ishaq (d. 151 ah/ 768 ce) compiled about 125 years after the prophet’s death and published by Ibn Hisham (d. 218/834) around the close of the second century of Islam. This work is based on the oral accounts that were in circulation during that era and were inevitably embellished by fanciful speculations and gross exaggerations down the generations to project the prophet as a legendary figure. As a result its accuracy as a historical record is questionable.
The Qur'an, however, is preserved verbatim since the prophet’s era down the generations by an unbroken chain of huffaz. As the huffaz in the prophet’s era were the first hand witnesses to what they memorized, the text they preserved over time is as good as eye witness account of the events of the prophet’s era. In other words, the authenticity of Qur'anic records is above debate.
In this chapter, Muhammad Yunus and Ashfaque ullah Syed have attempted to construct a summary account of the prophetic mission by connecting Qur'anic verses with the major events of the prophetic mission as recorded in the annals of history. Hence their work offers a fist hand account of the key events of the prophetic mission and is free from the conjectures, embellishments and imageries that characterize the classical biography.
A doctrine of taqlid (blind conformity with the works of past scholars) and absence of any textual scrutiny or scientific investigation of ancient works, and the exclusion of the Qur'an from any historical research had delayed any attempt at Qur'an-focused exercise as the present work represents. It should be closely read by all those who want to know the noble character of the prophet, his trials and tribulations and the truly defensive nature of the battles he fought. --- Editor
3. MUHAMMAD AND THE PROPHETIC MISSION
By Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah Syed
(Published exclusively on New Age Islam with Permission of the authors and publishers)
5 April 2015
The Qur’an is almost silent about Muhammad’s personal life: it does not name, nor bear any information about his parents, wives, offspring, friends or acquaintances, though it leaves the following record about his early life:
“Did He not find you (O Muhammad) an orphan and give shelter (93:6)? And He found you wandering, and gave guidance (7). And He found you needy, and gave sufficiency” (93:8).
On the other hand, the Qur’an is replete with comments on the immediate circumstances of the Prophet - but its commentaries are of very general nature - often oblique and fleeting, and barring exceptions, there is no mention of any names of characters, places, events, numerical figures or sequence of events that go with an historical record. Accordingly, it is not possible to construct the Prophet’s biography in the historical lines from the Qur’anic allusions alone. Partly for this reason and partly for the reverential remoteness of the Qur’an, its references have not been probed in a focused manner, and are quoted only sparingly in classical biographic reports.
The details as we find today in the Prophet’s biographic literature are largely based on the works of Ibn Hisham (d. 218/834), al-Waqidi (d. 206/822) and Ibn Sa‘d (d. 230/845). However, these works were characterized by the historical constructions of the era, and “are far from being certain historical fact.”1 Thus, the classical works on the Prophet’s biography contain materials that can be misleading, incorrect and even legendary, notably, reference to Satanic verses, miraculous powers of the Prophet, exaggerated accounts of the Prophet’s actions against some of his most treacherous enemies – to cite some examples (Encl.1).
This work attempts to piece together a crystallized account of the Prophetic mission (610-632) by drawing primarily on the Qur’anic allusions (rendered or paraphrased in italics). As discussed earlier (Ch. 1.6) and conceded by Maxime Rodinson, a distinguished modern biographer of the Prophet, the Qur’an “does provide a firm basis of undoubted authenticity,”1 and hence this exercise is expected to produce a far more accurate assessment of the major events of the Prophetic mission than the classical biography. The work, however, draws on the classical sources to provide the historical context that is essential to fill personal information and names of important figures and places, not furnished by the Qur’an. It has also received valuable inputs from Abou El Fadl, one the most distinguished scholars of Islam of our era.
The classical sources tell us that Muhammad was born in Mecca (570), a posthumous child, who lost his mother at age 6, his next guardian - his grandfather at 9. He was then reared and protected by his uncle, Abu Talib, the chief of the Hashim clan, who were the custodians of the Ka‘ba and belonged to the powerful Quraysh tribe.2 We are also told that at about age 25, Muhammad married Khadija, a widow, about 40 years old, who had already been married twice and had several children. She bore him six children: four daughters and two sons, of whom only the daughters survived. Muhammad led a stable and harmonious family life, and did not arouse any particular interest of the community until he experienced the first revelation (632).
Muhammad’s wife, Khadija, and his cousin ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib, then a minor who lived in Muhammad’s household were the first to believe in him. Muhammad’s friend Abu Bakr and ‘Uthman Ibn ‘Affan, a brilliant young man of the Umayyad tribe, also readily acknowledged the truth of the revelation as the word reached them. Thus in its nascent stage, Islam recruited three of its Caliphs (Abu Bakr, Uthman and Ali) some two to three decades before the responsibility of governing the young Islamic nation was thrust on them (610 onwards). The egalitarian message of the revelation had particular appeal for the poor and the slaves and many of them converted to the new faith. However, the bulk of the community took Muhammad for a joke: they laughed at his followers, winking at each other as they passed by and made fun of them as they reached home.3
As the revelation progressed, it increasingly challenged idol worship and prevalent social and moral norms. This deeply hurt the sentiments of community leaders, who grew increasingly angry with Muhammad and bitterly resentful of the converts. They called Muhammad an impostor, a madman,4 and an insane poet,5 and ridiculed the Qur’anic revelation.6 They also found the revelation strange and unbelievable,7 andcondemned it as the legends of the ancients.8
While the pace of conversion was slow, its social impact was alarming. By joining Muhammad’s creed, the converts broke their clan loyalty - their tacit covenant of love and fellowship with all clan members. Therefore, in the eye of the community, they became traitors and the Quraysh leaders put enormous pressure on their families to revoke marriages or engagements with them. Thus, the revelation was destroying the love and affection in the families and the peace and harmony in the community. The Quraysh leaders also feared that Muhammad’s claims could bring disgrace to them during the annual fair, when the delegates of pagan tribes from all over Arabia came to Mecca for pilgrimage and trading and brought rich presents for them. Therefore, they had to isolate Muhammad and keep others from joining his camp. They now questioned why Muhammad could not show any miracles,9 and why the Qur'an was not revealed to a man of importance from the two cities10 - for Muhammad was neither wealthy nor powerful. They also declared that other people coached him or dictated to him morning and evening.11 Furthermore, they argued that Muhammad had the power to separate a person from all his loved ones – his father, his mother, his spouse, his brothers and sisters and all the rest in the clan, and therefore he must be a deceitful liar and a great sorcerer. Accordingly they charged him with forging lies and witchcraft,12 forging lies against God, forgery and making up tales,13 witchcraft,14 obvious witchcraft that was bewildering,15 and of being bewitched or possessed by a Jinn.16
As the revelation consistently challenged the prevalent social and economic norms, it became amply clear that its egalitarian message was tailored to do away with tribalism and remove the privileged class altogether. All this was extremely disturbing, and the community leaders watched the situation with growing alarm. The prevalent clan ties and fear of revenge prevented them from taking to violence, but theyhoped for a misfortune to befall him any time,17 while they captured and persecuted those converts who were weak and helpless.18
Around the fifth year of his mission (615), the Prophet asked his followers to take refuge in Abyssinia - a neighboring country with a flourishing Christian Arab civilization. When the Quraysh leaders approached the king of Abyssinia to return the refugees, the Muslim delegate recited the Qur’anic passage on the miraculous birth of Jesus, Son of Mary.19 The King was deeply touched and allowed them to stay on. This only made the Quraysh more hostile.
It was around this time that ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, the most gifted and talented among the Quraysh youth and a fierce opponent of the Prophet publicly announced his conversion (616). The Quraysh knew something had to be done. They imposed a social and economic boycott (616-617) on the Hashim clan to isolate Muhammad and his followers from the rest of the community and force them into starvation. But it ran against the tradition of Arab hospitality and also affected the followers of the diverse clans and tribes who had joined the Prophet’s faith, and as such, was eventually lifted.
(The Quraysh) then tried to induce the Prophet to forging what they wanted, attributed to God.20 This aggrieved the Prophet but the revelation reminded him that it was not he but the message of God that they were repudiating.21 The revelation reminded him that messengers had been rejected before him, but they endured until God’s help came to them, and declared that there can be no alteration in the Words of God.22
The ninth year of the revelation (619) is referred to as ‘the year of sadness.’ Muhammad’s wife Khadija, as well as his uncle and guardian, Abu Talib died within a few days of one another. His new guardian, Abu Lahab, was skeptical of his mission, and treated Muhammad as the black sheep of the family, while his wife was openly hostile to him, as the Qur’an attests, though obliquely.23 Muhammad was thus left at the mercy of his opponents, with virtually no one to protect him. His Prophetic mission had almost stalled with barely over a hundred converts, while the whole of Meccan society had turned against him and his followers.
Unwavering in his faith in God, Muhammad traveled to Taif, a nearby town to seek new audience. The people of Taif however rejected his claims and rebuked him and he was forced to travel back to Mecca.
It was around this time that the Prophet had a vision that he was transported from the Sacred Mosque (Ka‘bah) to the Furthest Mosque (in Jerusalem),24 from where he ascended the heaven, passed through each of the seven heavens and finally encountered the Presence of God. In Islamic traditions, the experience is described in graphic details – though in many versions, and is commemorated as al-mi‘raj.25
The revelation attested that God had ordained this vision as a test to the people26 so as to choose the most pious and the strongest believers among them. Accordingly, a number of his followers whose faiths were weak became suspicious of Muhammad and indeed left the Islamic faith, but the majority of the Muslims remained steadfast and believed in the Prophet while his close companion Abu Bakr most emphatically endorsed the truth of his vision. The Quraysh and the Prophet’s enemies, however, grew even more skeptic of him: they thought, having failed to perform any miracles, he was feigning a vision.
Muhammad now turned his attention to the visitors from Medina who came during the annual fair, when nomadic tribes from all over the peninsula congregated to Mecca for pilgrimage (hajj, which was later adopted in Islam). First he met with a small group, who appeared quite sympathetic. In the subsequent years he met bigger delegates, and eventually concluded a treaty with them - known as the Treaty of ‘Aqaba. According to the terms of this treaty, the Medinite Muslims were to provide shelter, sustenance and protection within Medina, and were described as ansars, traditionally rendered as ‘Supporters’, and the Meccan Muslims in their midst were to enjoy the status of muhajirin (i.e. Emigrants, who had permanently left their homeland for a new abode).
The Prophet’s Meccan enemies were so infuriated at this new development that they conspired to confine him (to his home) or kill him or exile him.27 Meanwhile small batches of Meccan converts slipped away, and made migration (hijra) to Medina. Finally, when practically all the converts had departed, the Prophet left Mecca secretly (July, 622), in the face of grave danger. His enemies pursued him. He took shelter in an obscure cave along with his companion (Abu Bakr, not named in the Qur’an) when God sent divine peace (sakinah) upon him and strengthened him with forces invisible.28 (The revelation also) assured him that God would surely bring him back to the destination.29
An enthusiastic Muslim community that had already flourished in Medina received the Prophet as its long awaited leader. His presence created an immense excitement and heightened religious zeal in the community and more and more people showed interest in the new faith and entered Islam. The Prophet now made a comprehensive peace and common defense treaty with the diverse tribes of Medina – Jewish as well as pagans. As history unfolded, the treaty virtually established the Prophet as the civil and political leader and chief judge of the mixed community of Medina – a political victory of immeasurable proportions that has confused many eminent scholars.30
At this stage, the Jews were supportive of the Prophet as the revelation acknowledged them as believers (mu’minun), referred to them as the People of the Book (ahl al-kitab), and the Muslims faced Jerusalem, their spiritual center, during prayers. Some of the Medinite converts, however, wavered in faith.31 They pretended to believe but in their hearts mocked at the new faith.32 (Referred to as) the hypocrites(munafiqun) (at a later stage of the revelation),33 they opposed the Prophet34 and unknowingly created disorder in the society.35
The Prophet’s followers so far had been a purely religious or spiritual community, but in their present situation fighting had become unavoidable if they had to survive in their new habitat. The tribal mores permitted an aggrieved tribe to make a sporting raid (ghazu) on its adversary and seize goods to recover the losses inflicted by them. So, on one occasion a small band (some eight in number) of Emigrant Muslims conducted a ghazu on a caravan of a Meccan tribe and the encounter overlapped the traditional sacred months (the first, seventh, eleventh and twelfth months of lunar calendar).36 This was a serious matter, but soon the revelation declares that more serious in God’s sight was to block the way to the path of God, denying God, preventing access to the Sacred mosque and driving away its people.37 (Within a year of their migration), the revelation grants the Emigrant Muslims permission to fight as they had been oppressed and expelled from their homes unjustly merely because they said, ‘Our Lord is God alone.’38 In the subsequent years, in the aftermath of offensives from their Meccan foes, the revelation endorses fighting,39 and finally prescribes fighting and gives a clear mandate and convincing rationale to fight those who attacked them, allowing them to fight back if attacked in the traditional sacred months.40
Meanwhile, the Quraysh were greatly alarmed at Muhammad’s turn of fortune and waited for an opportunity to get rid of him. Hearing reports that Muhammad had left Medina with his followers to attack their trading caravan returning with goods from Syria past Medina, they sent a powerful army to eliminate them once and for all. The stage was set for the first major battle in Islam.
The commander of the Quraysh army (Abu Jahl, not named in the Qur’an) was boastful and took the expedition as an easy way to fame.41 (The Prophet meanwhile had) summoned his people to accompany him (on a mission), but some were averse to it (not knowing the destination).42 Many of his companions hoped that they were heading for the unarmed one (the Meccan trading caravan).43 They camped at one end of the valley of Badr, while the Meccan army approached from the other end, and their trading caravan passed close by unnoticed as God had willed.44
(Just before the battle) the Prophet had a dream in which he saw the Meccans small in number. Had the Prophet seen their full strength, (and disclosed it), many of his followers would have been disheartened and would have disputed over the matter.45 As the truth became clear to the Muslims (that they had to fight against the powerful Quraysh army), they were struck with horror,46 without realizing that it was God’s scheme to verify the truth of His Words and to cut the root of the pagans.43 The hypocrites and those weak in faith thought that their faith had deluded them.47
The Muslims prayed for God’s help, and were inspired with the hope that God will help them with one thousand angels, one after another.48 God had ordained this hope in their hearts merely to reassure them,49while God covered them with drowsiness as security from the divine and showered rains to refresh them with it, to drive from them the defilement of Satan, and to strengthen their hearts and make their feet steady.50 Furthermore, God inspired them through the angels that He was with them and He cast terror into the hearts of their pagan enemies.51
As the Muslims met the Meccan army, God made this army seem trifling in their eyes, just as He made the Muslims appear to be of little concern to the Meccans.52 (The revelation) commanded the Prophet to inspire his followers and assured them that if they persevered patiently, they would overcome the attackers, even if they were twice or ten times as many.53
The revelation urged the Muslims to stand firm and remember God a lot when facing the army,54 and exhorted them to obey God and His Prophet, and to avoid rifts, lest they lose courage and spirit, and to remain patient,55 and not to retreat during the battle except as a strategic move, or to regroup.56
(As the battle began) the devil who had assured them (the attackers) of success turned around and absolved himself of all his responsibilities and stood in terror of God.57 (So, the Muslims won a decisive victory) and took many captives,58 and the Prophet is asked to tell them (the captives) that if God recognizes any good in their hearts, God will give them better than what was taken from them.59 (The revelation tells the Quraysh), if they wanted a judgment it was before them, and warns them to desist from any further attack and declares that their army, however large, will avail them nothing.60 To console the Muslims at the loss of their next of kin and relatives who were among the attackers, (the revelation declares that) God had ordained the killing to test the believers, and to thwart the evil design of the pagans.61 As for the spoils that were collected from the battlefield, (the revelation prescribed) a fifth share for God and the Messenger, and the rest for relatives, orphans, and the needy and the traveler. 62
The Muslims’ victory at Badr coincided with the Christian Byzantines’ victories against their powerful conquerors, the Persians, realizing a Qur’anic twin prophecy, made many years previously.63 This must have strengthened the faith of the believers and put terror into the hearts of the Quraysh.
The Quraysh now made massive preparations, collaborated with the nomadic tribes hostile to Muhammad and sent a combined army, which camped at the plane facing Mount Uhud, a few miles from Medina. The second major battle against the Muslims was soon to begin.
(The revelation had meanwhile urged the Muslims) to prepare against their attackers with whatever arms and cavalry they could muster, and to avert fighting if their enemies were inclined toward peace.64
Since the enemies were very powerful, the leaders of the community were keen to avert fighting. They argued that the invaders might eventually withdraw without a fight as was customary after a siege - as desert conditions were too harsh for sustaining any siege for long.
(The revelation commanded Muhammad) to urge the believers to fight without compelling anyone,65 (and reminded the believers) that at Badr also they were weak and helpless,66 and inspired them with God’s promise of sending down three thousand angels,67 and declared that if they stood firm and dutiful in the face of a sudden attack, God would assist them with five thousand angels, swooping down.68 (As in the battle of Badr),49 God had made this (promise) only to set their hearts at peace,69 and thus to enable them to overthrow their enemies and repulse their attack.70
On way to the battleground a faction of Muslims (led by Ibn Ubayy)71 withdrew saying, if they knew how to fight, they would have followed the Prophet.72 They also divulged matters of secrecy or alarm to others, instead of informing the matter to the Prophet and those with authority.73
(On the day of the encounter), the Prophet left early in the morning to put his people at battle stations.74 Initially, the Muslims made decisive gains, when some of the fighters weakened: they argued over the order and disobeyed after God showed them what they loved of this world (victory/booty).75 They ran off, paying attention to no one and ignoring the Prophet calling them from behind. (The attackers struck back in full force and thus) God repaid them (the Muslims) with affliction upon affliction so that they would not sorrow over what slipped away from them.76 Two of their factions almost lost hope.77 (The revelation urged the defenders) not to despair or grieve78 (and consoled them that) if they were wounded, their enemies had also sustained injuries, (and reminded them that) these were the days of changing fortune to which God subjects humankind to know which of them truly believe,79 that He may purge those who believe and destroy the unbelievers.80
Finally, the Prophet was struck unconscious and word spread that he was killed. The attackers took the rumor on face value and left the field in glory and pride. The survivors were traumatized, and lay wounded and lifeless in the field, struck with grief at the loss of some 62 of their men.
God sent down a sense of security – an inner peace over a group of them (who were firm in faith) while others who had been anxious about themselves, were assailed with the thoughts of pagan ignorance. They said, ‘if we had any say in the matter our men would not have been killed.’81 Those, who had stayed back said of their brethren: ‘Had they obeyed us, they would not have been killed.’82 (The revelation reminds them that) Muhammad was merely a messenger, other messengers had passed away before him, (and asks,) if he died or was killed would they turn on their heels? 83
Soon after the initial confusion of the battle, the Prophet planned a chase of the Quraysh army on their way to Mecca. (The revelation promised) the wounded followers of the Prophet who responded to his call: those among them who did good and remained heedful (wattaqu), a splendid reward 84 and exhorted them not to let up in pursuit,85 which however ended without any engagement, as they could not catch up with the Quraysh army.
The defeat at Uhud was very frustrating to the hypocrites (Ibn Ubayy and his followers). They used their faith as a cover to lead others away from Muhammad.86 They were charming in looks, deceitful in speech and commanded profound self-confidence,87 and turned away from the believers in arrogance.88 They discouraged the people of Medina [Supporters] from spending anything for the Meccan Muslims [Emigrants] in order to force them out of Medina,89 and looked forward to the expulsion of the humble ones (Muhammad and the Emigrants) after their return to Medina.90
Some of them pretended obedience in public, but schemed against the Prophet by night,91 and befriended the disbelievers.92 The Prophet’s followers were, however, in two minds about these hypocrites.93 (The revelation commands them) not to argue on their behalf,94 and asks the Prophet not to plead on their behalf.95
It was due to mercy from God that the Prophet was mild to the dissenters (who harbored doubts against him during the Uhud battle and defied him).96 (Later, the revelation reassures them that) no prophet could be false to his trust (by giving his own decision in God’s name).97
There were three native Jewish tribes: the Qaynuqas, the Nadirs and the Qurayzahs. They lived in their respective settlements: the Qaynuqas in the heart of Medina, side by side with the Muslims and the pagans; the Nadirs, a few miles away; and the Qurayzahs in the outskirts of Medina. They had adopted Arab culture, spoke an Arabic dialect, and except for their Judaic faith, formed an integral part of the multi-tribal society of Medina, then an extended oasis, rather than a town in the modern sense.
While the Jews were a closed community and lacked unified leadership, the Muslims were a growing community (because of conversions) and were completely united under the supreme leadership of the Prophet. This was disturbing to the Jews, and they remained suspicious of the Prophet’s ultimate motive. However, one day their suspicion turned into a great shock. During a prayer, the revelation commanded a change in the direction of prayer (from Jerusalem to the Ka‘bah),98 signally a separate religious identity for the Muslims. Since the revelation had described the Ka‘bah, as the first House of worship built by Abraham,99 the new prayer direction (qiblah) virtually appointed the Muslims as the true representatives or spiritual successors of the Prophet Abraham, the forebear of Moses, their Prophet, the first Patriarch of all Jewish people, and the archetype of pure monotheism. From their perspective, Muhammad had hijacked their spiritual heritage and laid the foundation of an independent Semitic faith that could claim greater genuineness and purity than their own. Not many months later, they got the news of Muhammad’s victory at Badr. They were shattered.
Shocked and confused at the sudden change of qiblah towards a direction (Ka‘ba) they identified with paganism at this stage,98 the Muslims, by and large, failed to realize what went through the hearts and minds of their Jewish brethren. The revelation, however, brings the truth across. The Muslims loved them, but they did not love the Muslims, and they wouldn’t have done so even if the Muslims believed in the whole of their scripture. When they met the Muslims, they would pretend to believe but when they were alone, they bit their fingertips at them (the Muslims) in rage. Moreover, if any good befell the Muslims it grieved them; but if something bad happened to them, they rejoiced at it.100 Thus they loved what distressed the Muslims, spoke maliciously against them, and what their breasts concealed was even worse.101 However, malice alone could avail nothing. The Jews had to do something before it was too late.
The Qaynuqas reacted by refusing to accept the Prophet’s arbitration in a local dispute, defying the treaty they had made with him upon his arrival.
(The revelation asked Muhammad) to break off relations with treacherous people, and inflict crushing defeat in war to those of their allies who repeatedly broke their treaty.102 The Qaynuqas were made to surrender, and were allowed to leave Medina.
The Nadirs watched the expulsion of the Qaynuqas with consternation and waited for their chance to act. Uhud gave them the opportunity: the Muslims had suffered heavy casualties and were demoralized. The hypocrites had turned against Muhammad. So, they broke their ties with him, and made an alliance with the Meccans; and to please them, declared that the idol worshippers were more rightly guided than the Muslims.103
Meanwhile, an assassination plot leaked out, and the Prophet demanded their expulsion from the oasis for breaking their treaty, and finally on their refusal to comply, laid siege on their settlement. The Nadirs counted on the hypocrites for their pledged support, but they never turned up.104 (Finally, as a prelude to an attack) Muhammad ordered his men to cut their palm trees down.105 The Nadirs surrendered without a battle, and were allowed to depart in full dignity and complete safety with as much of their possessions as their camels could carry. However, the Muslims made material gains in terms of what was left by the people of the settlement (the Nadirs), without having to drive horses or camels for it. (The revelation reserved) it for God and His Messenger, relatives, orphans, the needy and the traveler, so that it didn’t circulate among the rich in their midst.106
With time, it became clear to both the Quraysh and the Jews that either they had to destroy Muhammad and his followers, or the reverse might happen. So they had no option but to go for an all-out war.
They [the Quraysh] formed a military confederation with the powerful Jewish tribe of Khaybar (a settlement some 85 miles from Medina) and the nomadic tribes opposed to the Prophet. Their armies approachedMedina in a coordinated manner, while the powerful Qurayzah (Jews) of Medina stood by to strike or let the invaders attack the Muslims from the rear. It was almost check and mate in a war game. Muhammad consulted the matter with the community and upon the suggestion of a Persian convert, Sulman Farassi, got a deep trench dug around the town to keep the invaders at bay as he was in no position to face them. The attackers were soon to arrive.
They came on them, waves upon waves. (As the Muslims watched them from distance,) their eyes dimmed and their hearts rose up to their throats and they imagined (weird) thoughts about God.107 This was a moment of trial for the believers as they were shaken by a most violent shock.108 (On the other hand) the hypocrites and those with sickness in their hearts said what God and the Prophet of God had promised was mere illusion.109 A party of them said to others to go back as it was no (safe) place for them, and a party of them sought the Prophet’s permission saying that their homes were exposed, though they were not exposed and they only wanted to flee.110 But had the enemy entered (the city) from the sides and asked them to dissent and join a civil war, they would have readily done so,111 despite their oaths of allegiance.112
The siege lasted for a month, and it was only the Qur’anic exhortations and the Prophet’s exemplary leadership that kept the Muslims from surrendering.113 But finally God repulsed the pagans in their rage by a severe storm114 and forces invisible.115 By this time the attackers had run short of provisions, and more importantly, their tents and riggings were blown away by the storm. So they departed in a hurry, and the Muslims were spared a crushing defeat and virtual annihilation. God then brought down from their fortifications those People of the Book (the Qurayzah) who had backed the attackers and cast terror into their hearts: some of them were slain, some were taken captive116 and their lands and houses and goods were seized.117
In the sixth year of hijra, the Prophet had a dream in which he saw himself and his followers entering the Sacred Mosque (the Ka‘bah) in complete security, heads shaved (or hair cut short) and without fear,118and he declared his intention to perform the pilgrimage. The nomadic Arabs who were weak in faith preferred to stay back,119 as they thought the Prophet and the believers would never be able to return to their families.120
The Prophet set off for pilgrimage with some one thousand of his followers, all in pilgrim garb, not geared for any combat. The Quraysh sent a cavalry squadron under the command of Khalid Ibn al-Walid, a veteran of the battle of Uhud and Trench, to intercept the caravan. The pilgrims made a detour and camped at Hudaybiyah, some nine miles from Mecca; and a powerful Quraysh army camped nearby threatening them with total destruction, as they had not come with any preparations for war. The pilgrims waited in gnawing uncertainty - tormented, agonized and utterly confused about the dire predicament their faith had brought them to, when God sent divine peace (sakinah) down into their hearts to add faith to their faith.121 Inter-tribal rivalry and politics helped the pilgrims, and one of the nomadic tribes (The Khuza‘a) brought in provisions for the pilgrims and tried to mediate with the Quraysh on their behalf. Since uncertainty loomed large despite some exchange of envoys, the Prophet sought an oath of allegiance from his increasingly anxious followers. God was pleased with them (Muhammad’s followers) when they swore allegiance to him under the tree for He knew what was in their hearts, and He sent divine peace (sakinah) down on them and rewarded them with a way out,122 and soon a peace treaty was signed.
The Meccans dictated the terms of the treaty in a high-handed manner. It undermined the position of Muhammad as the Prophet of God, and was offensive and humiliating to the Muslims and seemingly to the sole advantage of the Quraysh.123 The Prophet’s companions were quite perplexed, though they remained unwavering in their faith, and in their allegiance to the Prophet. However, soon the Qur’an declares:
Indeed, We have (now) given you (O Muhammad!) a clear opening.124 God has promised you an abundance of gains that you will take, and He has expedited this for you, and it was God who held back the hands of your enemies from you as a sign for the believers.125 Even if the pagans fight you, they will turn their backs and will not be able to find any protector or any helper.126 This reassures the believers and their confusion was over.
As the revelation had declared, the Hudaybiyah treaty allowed for increased interaction between the Muslims and the nomadic tribes who were now free to form alliance with the Quraysh or the Prophet as they chose. This promoted conversion, and within one year of signing of the treaty, the Muslims had grown sufficiently in number to contain their perennial foes, the Meccans. Besides, the clauses of the treaty that were apparently unfavorable to the Muslims, worked in their favor and promoted conversion instead of restricting it.127
The Hudaybiyah treaty was no great reassurance to the Prophet. He knew well that the Jews and the members of the confederates hostile to him could reunite and wage yet another invasion. Meanwhile the revelation continued to warn the Prophet that the Jews came to him in disbelief and left in disbelief,128 listened to lies and distorted his words from their context by listening to others.129
The Jews had signed the treaty, mainly as a ploy to conspire against the Prophet. Accordingly, soon after signing the treaty they began organizing a large number of Arab tribes, hostile to the Prophet, to launch a surprise attack against Medina. As the Prophet got clear evidence of correspondence going back and forth between the Jews of Khyber and the Arab tribes, he decided to launch a campaign against Khaybar. The revelation had barred him from taking with him those Arab volunteers who had stayed back during the pilgrimage;130 he therefore set off for Khaybar with a small group (reportedly some 600) of only those devout followers who had accompanied him in the pilgrimage. The Jews of Khaybar had a strong and well-trained army, their fortified settlements were considered impregnable, and it was their last opportunity to destroy Muhammad. Thus, in military terms, Muhammad was courting disaster. However, after a series of encounters and sieges, the Jews surrendered. The Prophet concluded a peace treaty with them granting full liberties and military protection against a levy that was no different from what they paid to their old Bedouin protectors.
In the year 629, his ninth year in Medina, the Prophet performed the pilgrimage (though not in the hajj season) in accordance with the terms of the Hudaybiyah treaty. Soon after this pilgrimage, the two great Quraysh stalwarts, Khalid Ibn al-Walid, and 'Amr Ibn al-'As, who had fought against him at Badr and Uhud, entered the faith.
Muhammad now envisioned integrating his own people – the Quraysh, whom he loved,131 but could not bring to his faith.132 He was treaty bound not to interfere with the Meccans, and waited for an opportunity to realize his vision. This came about when the Quraysh took up arms against one of the Meccan tribes who had treaty alliance with him for defending them when attacked. The Prophet set off for Mecca with all his men, all armed for battle if needed.
(As the Muslims began to enter the city), the most fanatic among the Quraysh tried to resist when God sent divine peace (sakinah) upon His Messenger and on the believers, and imposed on them the Word of restraint (taqawa), as they were entitled to it and worthy of it.133
God withheld the hands of the Meccans from the Muslims and the hands of the Muslims from the Meccans.134 Had it not been so, the Muslims would have trampled on those believing men and believing women (among the Meccans) they were not aware of (as those Meccans had secretly become Muslims), and thus guilt and stigma would have befallen them unawares. Had the (Meccan) Muslims been separated out, God would surely have punished the disbelievers among them (the Meccans).135.
In the ensuing days, the Meccans came in groups to the Prophet to embrace the new faith,136 and the revelation reminded the Prophet to glorify God and seek forgiveness (and thus to remain humble).137
Shocked at the massive conversion of the Quraysh, the Hawazins, a powerful tribe proud of Arab paganism, sent a strong army (630) to retake the Ka‘ba: it ambushed the advancing Muslim army at the valley of Hunayn.
The numerical superiority of the Muslims that delighted them came to no benefit, and the earth, spacious though it was, narrowed on them and they were forced to retreat.138 God sent divine peace (sakinah) upon the Prophet and on his followers and forces invisible and thus helped them to defeat the pagans.139 With this victory and continued entry of diverse nomadic tribes into Islam, the Muslims emerged as the most powerful community (ummah) within the outreaching borders of Arabia. But the Prophet had a formidable task ahead of him.
In the aftermath of the pilgrimage (628), or probably, the Khaybar expedition (629), the Qur’an had predicted a potential military encounter against a people of great might.140 This had yet to be realized.
At this moment in history, the neighboring Byzantine Empire posed a serious threat. They had decisively defeated their mighty adversary, the Persians in successive major battles in the preceding years,63 and now threatened the very survival of the Muslims under the Prophet, or after his demise. The Prophet knew that he must lead an expedition up north to the frontiers of Byzantium to realize the Qur’anic prophesy, and he asked his followers to make preparations for it. If there were immediate gains and a convenient trip, they would have followed the Prophet, but the destination was too far for them (about 350 miles).141Accordingly, the hypocrites ridiculed the Prophet in their hearts,142 privately joked about him,143 and tried to stir up discord and upset matters for him.144 Many of the Prophet’s followers preferred to stay back,145 and some of them requested him not to put them to such a hard test.146
Some Bedouin Arabs came to the Prophet (who was based in Medina) with excuses seeking exemption while others, who belied God and the Prophet, remained at home.147 The hearts of some of the believers nearly swerved, while three persons among the devout believers stayed back,148 and some of the hypocrites aimed at something that was beyond their reach.149
Eventually the Prophet’s company set off on this dangerous mission, and halted at Tabuk, about 250 miles from Medina.
Muhammad stayed there for ten days, made pacts with local rulers and important Jewish settlements and returned. This expedition demonstrated the Prophet’s faith and conviction in his mission for there could be no military or political justification of this highly risky venture.
The Muslims had never fought against an imperial army and had no supply lines to sustain an attack and were thus poised to a crushing defeat, and in case of a rout, total annihilation. The Byzantines on the other hand had just reestablished their military supremacy in the region, having defeated their powerful enemy, the Persians in many successive battles in the preceding years.63 The fact that they did not challenge the ‘nomad Arabs’ as they must have thought of them, stationed at a day’s march for their cavalry, speaks of the awe the Prophet must have evoked in the heart of the mightiest empire of the era.
The Prophet’s safe return from his long and perilous journey to Tabuk, in sequel to his uninterrupted successes in the preceding years veritably crowned him as the king of the whole of Arabia.
Meanwhile the truth of the Qur’anic revelation was becoming increasingly clear as its seemingly unrelated passages were falling in place (Ch. 1.3). This created a great excitement all over the country and delegates came to Medina from far away places to see the Prophet, to listen to the Qur’an, and to swear allegiance to the new faith. However, since there was no compulsion in religion, many nomadic tribes preferred idol worship, and remained hostile to Muhammad.
The Pilgrimages (631, 632)
As the Muslims were now settled in Mecca, the revelation adopted the yearly pilgrimage (hajj) as part of Islamic rite. They took part in their first pilgrimage - the great hajj as the Qur’an calls,150 with great enthusiasm, jubilation and religious fervor. The Prophet, however, could not attend it and sent Abu Bakr to represent him.
As the Prophet’s mission was nearing its end, urgent measures were needed to establish Islam as an historical reality, lest its powerful enemies could destroy it soon after the Prophet’s death. (Therefore, the Qur’an) gives an ultimatum of four months151 to all the hostile pagans who were breaking their treaty obligations.152 As to those with whom the Muslims had a treaty, they were given time until the treaty term expired,153 while those who sought peace were granted security and safe passage to a place of security (i.e. their tribal homelands).154 (The revelation further declared) that the pagans were spiritually unclean and were not permitted to approach the Sacred mosque after that year, and (since this meant loss of trade and gifts from the pilgrims), the Muslims were assured that God would enrich them from His bounty, if He wills.155
In the tenth year of hijra, the Prophet went to Mecca to perform the hajj. Meanwhile the Qur’an had declared its own completion (5:3/Ch. 1.2), and the Prophet died soon after his return from Mecca. This Hajj is remembered as the Farewell pilgrimage.
Throughout the Meccan period, Muhammad not only bore the wrath of the Quraysh but also lived under an immense burden of uncertainty lest the mystery of revelation might cease to recur. Therefore, the Qur’an devotes two early passages (including the 98th Sura) to console and reassure him:
“By the morning bright (93:1), and the night when it is still (2), your Lord (O Muhammad) has not abandoned you, nor is He displeased (3). And what comes later will be better for you than what came before (4), and soon your Lord will grant you, and you will be pleased” (93:5).
“Didn’t We expand your chest for you (94:1), and removed your burden from you (2) which weighed heavily on your back (3), and raised your reputation for you (4)? (Remember,) relief comes with distress (5). Indeed relief comes with distress (6). So when you are free, remain steady (7) and turn towards your lord with longing” (94:8).
(The Qur’an attests that) Muhammad was indeed God’s messenger on a straight path156 - a witness, a herald and a warner, 157 inviting others to God by divine leave - an illuminating lamp.158 (It declares that) the Prophet had neither strayed, nor was he misguided and did not say (anything) of his own whim, but was inspired with a revelation, taught by the mighty one (the Angel of revelation).159 (It affirms that the Prophet) did not know the unseen, nor was he an angel, but he simply followed the revelation,160 and it was not up to him to change the wordings of the revelation in any way.161 It proclaims that God sent the Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth, to distinguish it from all religions, however the pagans detested this.162
The Qur’an consoles the Prophet in his grief,163 and anguish,164 and (asks him) not to stretch his eyes to what God bestowed on others,165 nor to feel depressed by their plots,166 nor to be unsettled by them.167 (It exhorts him) not to let his enemies obstruct him from the messages of God after it had been revealed to him,168 and to endure patiently what they say. (It asks him) to avoid them in a graceful avoidance,169 to ignore their insults and to trust in God,170 and to seek refuge in Him,171 and assures him that God was enough for him against those who ridiculed him.172 (It declares that Muhammad) was not a poet,173 nor possessed by a Jinn,174 neither was he a fortuneteller,175 nor insane;176 but he was endowed with rank and power before the Lord of the Throne,177 and was destined for an unending reward178 and that soon he would see and his enemies would see,179 which of them was demented.180
(The Qur’an asks its immediate audience) why they shouldn’t probe the revelation (lit., speech) lest what came to them hadn’t come to their ancient ancestors, and why have they not recognized the messenger of God and thus disavowed him?181 When one sign (revelation) replaced another and the Quraysh charged Muhammad with forgery, the Qur’an declares that only God knows (the scheme of the) revelation.182 (It exhorts the Prophet) to give the call, to be upright as he was commanded, not to follow their (his enemies’) whims, to believe in any scripture God revealed and to treat them all justly.183 (It, however, cautions him) that those who inherited the earlier revelations are themselves in doubt about the integrity of their scriptures and disturbed about it,184 and declares that the Gospel and the Torah foretold the coming of the Prophet and his broader role.185 Last, but not least, the Qur’an refutes any notion of an outsider coaching the Prophet on the ground that the Qur’an was in pure and clear Arabic whereas the tongue of the one they alleged was foreign.186
The Qur’an accords the Prophet the highest status in the community and declares that the Prophet had a greater claim on the believers than they had on each other, and his wives were their mothers.187 It prescribes etiquette for addressing him, conversing with him, entering his private quarters and observing normal courtesies, and forbids marriage with his wives after his death (33:53, 49:2-5).
“You who believe, don’t enter the Prophet’s (private) quarters unless you are given permission (to come) for a meal, (but) do not be (so early) as to wait around for its preparation. But when you are invited, then go in, and when you have taken (your) meal, then disperse, without (seeking) social conversation (hadith) that annoys (yu’dhi) the Prophet, and he feels embarrassed to ask you (to leave); but God is not shy to ask you what is right. And when you ask (his wives) for anything (you need), ask them from behind a screen. That will be purer for your hearts as well as their hearts. It is not proper for you to annoy God’s messenger, nor to marry his wives after him: that would be serious with God” (33:53).
“You who believe, do not raise your voices over the Prophet’s voice, and do not be loud (while speaking to) him the way you (speak) loudly to each other, lest your actions miscarry without your noticing it (49:2). Those who lower their voices in the presence of God’s messenger are those whose hearts God has tested for piety (taqwa); there is forgiveness for them and a great reward (3). Most of those who call out to you from outside (your) quarters do not use their reason (4). It would be better for them if they waited patiently until you came out to them, yet God is Most Forgiving and Merciful” (49:5).
This is a clear proof of the community’s love for the Prophet – they wanted to be around him all the time, and as the community of believers grew, the rush on the Prophet was enormous. This over-taxed the Prophet. God not only wished to protect the privacy of the Prophet but also to teach the community important social norms.
Muslim as well as non-Muslim scholars tend to devote their scholarship to the institutional history of the Prophet, but as for the persona of the Prophet, they segment it, idealize it or merely glance through it, and shelve it - as something abstract pertaining to the private and personal aspect of the Prophet’s life. However, it is imperative for Muslims to probe the persona of the Prophet as part of their fundamental religious obligation, as discussed later (Ch. 15).
One problem that is often faced in constructing the personality of the Prophet prior to the revelation from the illustrations of the Qur’an is its near silence on the matter as mentioned earlier. However, if we carefully study Qur’anic records, we can gain some clear insights into his personality.
First, we notice that the Quraysh brought numerous charges against the Prophet, such as those of fabricating the revelation, telling stories of the past, forging lies against God, and so on, but these were all centered around the revelation; they never ever questioned the integrity of his character. This clearly demonstrates that Muhammad must have been a person of impeccable moral character, who never gave himself to any form of vices – social, moral, political or ethical, indicating that he was a quiet and unobtrusive person, who never meddled in anyone’s affairs. Early reports also tell us that he was known as al-Amin (The faithful, the trustworthy) throughout Mecca before the revelation.
(The Qur’an declares that) unless God willed, the Prophet would not have recited the revelation to his audience, nor God would have taught it to them, (and it asks his audience to reflect on this) as the Prophet had lived with them for a lifetime before the revelation.188 This demonstrates that the Prophet had not displayed any literary or poetic genius, or any philosophical, psychological or theological insight prior to the revelation. This in turn indicates that the Prophet neither had any aptitude, nor grooming, nor ambition to found a faith or lead a faith community, let alone becoming the virtual ruler of the whole of Arabia towards the end of his life. His greatest gifts, apart from the power of revelation, were his noble personal qualities.
The Prophet was mild to his men even after their lapses in Uhud expedition.96 He readily excused others from taking part in Tabuk expedition.189 He offered food to uninvited guests, and cordially entertained them, even if they caused him annoyance, by staying on after the meal for socializing (33:53/3.15 above). The Prophet also displayed the most pristine form of generosity by praying for the forgiveness of his enemies.190 Accordingly, the Qur’an describes him as a noble messenger,191 endowed with a sublime character,192 faithful to his trust,193 and (a manifestation of God’s) mercy to believers,194 and to all humanity.195
Furthermore, the fact that the Prophet’s immediate company included the most eminent and learned men of the era - who were later to become caliphs, governors and generals - and that they all accepted his leadership as most humble and obedient followers clearly shows that there must have been something very extraordinary about the personality of the Prophet. According to early reports, the very presence of the Prophet had a compelling appeal, and his personality radiated some beautiful characteristics and aura (kiramat) that only those who were present in his company could perceive. As a result of these extraordinary virtues and characteristics, the Prophet developed a very special relationship with his companions that impressed all the contemporaneous observers and has perplexed his opponents ever since. This goes to explain why his companions would defy and sacrifice everything for the sake of the Prophet.
However, on a personal level, the Prophet was a mortal like others.196 He had no power to avert harm from himself, or to benefit himself, or to harm or guide others.197 Like most of fellow Meccans, he was unlettered,198 and could not read a book - for had it been so, the prattlers would have been skeptical.199 He was a messenger of God and his only mission was to convey (God’s message)200 with clarity;201 that he may deliver humanity out of darkness into Light.202
The revelation also prepared the Prophet for his Prophetic mission. It commanded him to pray through the late hours of night,203 and recite the Qur’an distinctively and attentively.204 It taught him practical compassion by commanding him to return evil with good,205 to sacrifice for others,206 and, by reproving him for frowning and turning away from a blind man, as he had intervened his conversation with some rich citizens (Quraysh leaders).207 (Last but not least, the revelation gave him) an unshakeable stability that prevented him from the prompting of his enemies to making some compromises.208
To sum up, let this write up shed light on the noble persona of the Prophet and reassure the readers in general that no matter what the propagandist literature contrives, Muhammad was indeed a noble man, even if he is not given the credit of being God’s messenger. As for the Muslims exposed to any unsympathetic account of the Prophet – they should take it in the spirit of the following Qur’anic pronouncements.
“Thus we made for every messenger an enemy - Satans from among men and jinn, some of them inspiring others with seductive talk (in order to) deceive (them), and had your Lord pleased, they would not have done it. Therefore, leave them and what they forge” (6:112).
“Thus we made for every messenger an enemy among the criminals - but enough is your Lord (O Muhammad,) as a Guide and Helper” (25:31).
Since propagandist literature abounds and pervades the globe, we have enclosed a brief review (Enc.4) on the historical background to the polemics that is being unremittingly kept alive to belittle and malign the Prophet of Islam. Since the Prophet took many wives after the death of Khadija (620) – his first wife, and there have been many speculations about his marriages, we have reviewed this in a separate write up (Enc. 2) to clarify the matter for all.
Modern scholars explain the major events of the Prophetic mission in purely material terms based on their interpretations of the Prophet’s motives and their construction of history. Maxime Rodinson attributes the Prophet’s successes to his possessing “a patient and tireless cunning in the manipulation of men through the knowledge of their interests and their passions.”209 Ironically, they all fail to realize that the Prophet could’nt possibly plan or foresee many of the extraordinary events of his mission, which were, so to say, set up in such a way that defies material explanation. The major events of his life as reviewed in this discourse are recapitulated below chronologically for the readers to reflect if Muhammad could, by any stretch of imagination, set them up.
610 Despite Muhammad’s humble background, he readily attracted to his faith such eminent men as Abu Bakr and Uthman who were later to be elected (632 and 634 respectively) as the Caliphs of Islam.
616 The voluntary conversion of Umar, the most gifted of the Quraysh youth and fiercest of Muhammad’s enemies, who later became the most outstanding Caliph of Islam and extended its realm across to the neighboring countries (Iraq, Persia, Syria and Egypt).
620 The Prophet claims to have a vision, that under the prevailing circumstances, was poised to increase the suspicion of the Meccans and to shake the confidence of his followers.26
620-621 The spontaneous spread of Islam in Medina through the ‘Aqaba visitors.
622 The Medinite delegates offer at ‘Aqaba to provide shelter, sustenance and protection to the Prophet and the Emigrants, though they knew full well that the largely urban Emigrants would have no means of livelihood in the agricultural economy of Medina.
622 Muhammad’s success in secretly leaving Mecca eluding the Quraysh.
622 The Qur’an predicts an eventual homecoming of the Prophet.29
623 Muhammad’s success in establishing himself as virtually the civil and political head of Medina soon after his arrival from Mecca.30
624 An abrupt change in qiblah (direction of prayer) from Jerusalem to Ka‘ba that shocked the Prophet’s followers (as at that moment they identified Ka‘ba with Arab paganism),98 and bewildered the Jews (as this virtually amounted to the hijacking of their Abrahamic heritage.)
624 The Medinite Muslims’ unexpected victory at Badr against an overwhelmingly powerful army, which realized Qur’anic twin prophecies made many years previously about the victory of the Muslims and the Byzantines.62
625 The Medinite Muslims’ willingness to fight against the enormously superior Quraysh army at Uhud at great personal risk, though, like one of their factions (Ibn Ubayy and his followers), they could hold back as they were not treaty bound to protect Muhammad outside of Medina.71
625 The readiness of the mostly wounded Medinite Muslims’ from the Uhud battle to accompany the Prophet, himself wounded, to pursue the victorious Quraysh army on their way back to Mecca.85
625 The Medinite Muslims’ unwavering commitment to the Prophet in the aftermath of Uhud battle that was veritably imposed on them by the Prophet and had left some 62 of them dead and practically the rest of the combatants, wounded.84
627 The failure of the combined forces of the Quraysh and their allies to overpower Muhammad in his besieged position in the Battle of Confederates.114,115
627 Muhammad sets off for Mecca with his followers in pilgrim garb, unarmed for combat, to perform the pilgrimage at the Ka‘ba, risking annihilation at the hands of the Quraysh.
627 Despite seemingly humiliating and compromising terms of the Hudaybiyah treaty, the Qur’an describes it as a ‘clear opening’ (victory),124 and so it turns out as history unfolds.
628 The conversion to Islam of the two most brilliant military commanders of the Quraysh, Khalid and 'Amr, who had previously fought against Muhammad.
629 The assimilation of Mecca without the striking of a blow, that realized the Qur’anic prophesy of his eventual return to his destination.29
627 The Qur’anic prophesy on Tabuk expedition that was realized in 630.141
If we take the odds at a minimum of one in thousand against the above listed 19 extraordinary events to happen in the career of a person, the collective odds against the Prophetic mission (encompassing all these extraordinary events) stand at 100019 or 1057. While this may sound empirical, theoretical or even outlandish, we must at least consider the concluding remarks of Maxime Rodinson, a great scholar and historian of our era, openly skeptical of the revelation:210
“It is not belittling Muhammad to see him as a political figure – but to see him as no more than that would be a mutilation. And anyone who thus mutilates Muhammad is in fact mutilating himself in the domain of knowledge.”
2. Two of the Qur’an’s early Suras (105, 106), refer to the Quraysh as a tribe that sent trading caravans in winter (to the Yemen) and summer (to Syria), and allude to God’s decimating, for their security, troops with war elephants, with ‘flocks of birds’ pelting rock-hard clay (sijjil) upon them. The event is reported in the annals follows:
Around 570, Abrahah, the Christian viceroy of Yemen led a powerful army against Mecca to destroy the Ka‘ba, which, as the center of idol worship, attracted pilgrims from all over Arabia promoting trade and commerce in Mecca to the detriment of his country’s interest. He had war elephants leading his army to overwhelm the Quraysh who were not expected to have ever seen this creature. His army was however decimated as ‘decreed by God,’ such as by some natural calamity - probably outbreak of a deadly epidemic, caused by an airborne virus, allegorically referred to as birds pelting ‘rock-hard clay’ (sijjil). The wordsijjil, is among the evocative words of the Qur’an as mentioned earlier (Note 6/Preface).
3. 21:36, 25:41, 83:29-31.
4. 30:58, 44:14, 68:51. [The word mubtilun in 30:58 is rendered as ‘imposter’, and majnun in the other verses as ‘madman’]
6. 18:56, 26:6, 37:14, 45:9.
7. 38:5, 50:2.
8. 6:25, 23:83, 27:68, 46:17, 68:15, 83:13.
9. 6:37, 11:12, 13:7, 17:90-93, 21:5, 25:7/8, 29:50.
11. 25:5, 44:14.
12. 34:43, 38:4.
13. 11:13, 32:3, 38:7, 46:8.
14. 21:3, 43:30, 74:24.
15. 10:2, 37:15, 46:7.
16. 17:47, 23:70, 34:8.
18. 8:26, 85:10. The Qur’anic summary statements compress a history of persecution lasting over a decade, and therefore some illustration is needed to give the reader an idea of the plight of the early converts in Mecca.
Barring a small group of believers, the whole Meccan society had turned against the Prophet. The most bitter of his enemies was Abu al-Hakam, whom the Muslims renamed Abu Jahal (Father of ignorance). A leading member of the Quraysh, he headed the opposition against Muhammad, actively persecuted the converts belonging to the lower strata of the society, and persuaded his powerful allies to torture and brutalize their weaker converts. Thus, Umayyah, one of the clan chiefs would leave his Abyssinian slave Bilal in the desert in blazing sun with a heavy stone tied to his chest; his groaning echoed across the plain and could be heard in the neighboring districts. Abu Bakr however relieved him of suffering by buying his freedom from his master. Others were less fortunate. Yassir and Sumaiya could not endure the sufferings and died.
19. 19:16-21. The passage reads as follows: “(Thus is) Mary mentioned in the Book: When she withdrew from her family to a place in the East (19:16), and secluded herself from them, We sent her Our Spirit, and he appeared to her as a man in perfection (17). She said: ‘I seek refuge in the Benevolent against you, if you do heed (God).’ (18) He said: ‘I am only an emissary from your Lord, and bring you (the news of) a sinless son.’ (19) She said: ‘How can I have a son, when no man has touched me, and I have not been wayward?’ (20) He said: ‘So be it’: Your Lord says, 'that is easy for Me; and We shall appoint him as a Sign to humanity and a Mercy from Us.' Thus is the matter decreed" (19:21).
22. 6:34, 6:115, 18:27.
23. Sura 111. The opening verse of this Sura (111:1) spells disaster for Abi Lahab, an expression that literally means ‘one who flares up’. However, according to traditions, one of the Prophet’s uncles, ‘Abd al-‘Uzza was nicknamed Abu Lahab (lit., ‘One of glowing countenance’, because of his appearance). Tradition also tells us that Abu Lahab’s wife bitterly hated the Prophet, so much so that she threw filth on him and put thorns on his path. The Sura concludes with damnation of his wife (111:4/5) thus indicating that Abi Lahab (111:1) is no other than Abu Lahab.
25. al-mi‘raj: According to a popular version, the Prophet traveled on the back of a winged creature, Buraq, which bore him to the site of the ruined temple of Solomon (now the Dome of Rocks). There the Prophet led the greatest of the prophets in a congregation prayer, and then, mounted on his steed (Buraq), he ascended to the seventh heaven, passing each heaven one after another, meeting one or the other Prophet in each of them, and finally having an encounter with the Presence of God – all in a space of a few hours - Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, English translation by Ismail Ragi, 8th edition, Karachi 1989, p. 140.
30. Maxime Rodinson explains the most unexpected and inexplicable transformation of the Prophet’s status in Medina – within a space of a few months - from the spiritual head of a minority Muslim community to virtually the civil and political head of all its diverse communities, including some prosperous Jewish and prominent pagan tribes, in these unsubstantiated words: “It was to take all the wits and adroitness of Muhammad and his counsellors, further aided by circumstances and social forces, to turn this [the Prophet’s] moral authority into an effective practical power.” Muhammad, English translation, 2nd edition, London1996, p.155.
32. 2:8, 2:14.
36. Martin Lings (Abu Bakar Siraj al-Din), Muhammad, U.K. 1983, p. 136/137.
40. 2:216, 2:190-194.
42. 8:5. The Qur’anic record: some were averse to this expedition (of Badr), repudiates the traditional account that the Prophet planned to raid a Quraysh trading caravan returning home (Medina) with rich merchandize. Had this been the case, the Prophet’s followers would have been enthusiastic about the mission, rather than averse to it.
43. 8:7. This verse attests that the Prophet’s followers did not know where they were heading for.
62. 8:41. This is the only verse in the Qur’an that deals with the distribution of the ‘gains’ made in the war. There is one other verse 8:1, which specifically mentions about the spoils (of war) (anfal). However one of the most renowned and learned scholars of the era, Christopher Hitchens, connects the title of the 8th Sura (al-Anfal) with ‘Koranic justification’ ‘for the despoilment and destruction of non-believers’ – a remark that blatantly distorts the historical context of these two verses, and contradicts the message of the Qur’an on peaceful interfaith relations: god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Toronto 2007. p. 26.
63. Between 613 and 616, which fell in the Meccan period (610-622) the Persians defeated the Byzantines in a number of major battles, successively, and almost destroyed their Empire. This greatly disappointed the Prophet’s followers, who sympathized with the Byzantines, as they were Christians and believed in One God, while the Persians worshipped fire. At that moment, the Qur’an declared:
“The Romans have been defeated (30:2), in the nearby land, and after their defeat they will be victorious (30:3) within a few years: God’s is the command in the past and in the future - and on that day the believers will rejoice" (30:4).
True to this prediction, by 625/626, following a series of decisive victories, Emperor Heraclius drove the Persian army out of the furthest regions of his Empire, and the Muslims defeated the powerful Quraysh at Badr.
71. ‘Abdullah Ibn Ubayy was a prominent Medinite leader who would have been the head of all Medina had the Prophet not arrived: he embraced Islam for expediency, and waited to see how the movement grew.
98. 2:143: As this verse records, the change in qiblah was a great (shock) for the Muslims except those God had guided. The revelation had already endorsed the spiritual significance of Jerusalem in the Prophet’s vision (24 above) and the change in qiblah virtually meant turning away from the focal point of their faith, and facing towards a pantheon of idols that the Ka‘ba represented at that stage.
99. 3:96, 2:127.
116. 33:26. The classical biography of the Prophet suggests that some 800-900 Jews were slain for their betrayal. As argued in Enc. 1, this figure, in all probability, is highly inflated.
123. First, Muhammad was not mentioned in the document as God’s Prophet. Second, the pilgrims were required to return to Medina without performing the pilgrimage and were permitted to visit after one year from the treaty date. Finally, it called for the sending back of all new Meccan converts (as from the date of the treaty) joining the Prophet’s camp without the permission of their guardians, but did not impose a reciprocal condition on the Quraysh, who were thus not obliged to send back any apostate deserting the Prophet and returning to Mecca.
124. 48:1. The word fatah in this verse rendered as ‘opening’ also connotes ‘victory.’
127. True to the terms of the treaty the Prophet refused to accept the converts who fled Mecca in the aftermath of the treaty. So the new Meccan converts formed a parallel community of Muslims outside of Medina. Subsequently, some of the new Meccan converts stayed back in their native city secretly preaching Islam. The Meccans did not like this and in less than a year of signing the treaty, they unilaterally requested the Prophet to annul this clause, thus lifting a big hurdle from the path of Islam.
130. 48:11, 48:15.
148. 9:117/118. Some commentators connect the numerical reference (three) with three groups of believers, rather than three individuals - Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap. 9, Note 155.
149. 9:74. Classical commentators regard the expression, something beyond their reach, as an allusion to an attempt by a group of hypocrites to kill the Prophet on way to Tabuk. The imperial Byzantines army was massive in strength, well organized, well equipped and regularly drilled, had strong cavalry divisions and extensive combat experience, and did not risk any supply shortage as it stood on home ground. The Prophet’s army on the other hand consisted of an assemblage of warriors drawn from diverse Arab tribes on a relatively short notice, and was no match to the Byzantine army. Any military strategist of the era would have instantly predicted an utter defeat and annihilation for the Prophet’s army, attacking the mighty Byzantines - some 300 miles away from their own base (Medina). So the hypocrites must have questioned the Prophet’s sanity, and planned to finish him off.
155. 9:28. The expression masjid al-haram rendered as the ‘Sacred mosque’ literally means the Ka‘ba, including the adjacent pavement and the place where Abraham stood for prayer, as it stands to this day. However, the Qur’an also uses this expression in a broader sense to denote the sacred precincts (2:191, 17:1) - the region covering a couple of square miles, centered round the Ka‘ba, where the pilgrims must enter in pilgrim garb.
156. 36:3/4, 43:43.
157. 2:119, 5:19, 33:45, 34:28.
160. 6:50, 10:15.
161. 10:15, 69:44-46.
162. 9:33, 61:9.
164. 7:2, 15:97, 20:2.
166. 16:127, 27:70.
170. 26:217, 33:3, 33:48, 67:29.
171. 7:200, 41:36.
173. 36:69, 69:41.
174. 7:184, 34:46.
175. 52:29, 69:42.
176. 52:29, 68:2, 81:22.
185. The Qur’anic verse 61:6 quotes Jesus, heralding the arrival after him of ‘a messenger by the name Ahmad, most praise worthy’ whom it identifies with the Prophet Muhammad. Muslim scholarship claims that thisAhmed is the same messenger who is referred to as ‘helper’ or ‘comforter’ in the Gospel (John 14.16, 15.26, 16.7). They argue that the Aramic language, in which in all probability the original Gospel was revealed, has the word Mawhama for ‘Praise worthy,’ which translates into Greek as Periklytos, and claim that while translating from Greek into Latin the word Periklytos was corrupted to a similar sounding word Parakletosthat connotes ‘helper’ or ‘comforter,’ and that the corruption persisted while translating from Latin into English (around the 14th century CE), and thus the messenger referred to as ‘helper’ or ‘comforter’ in the Gospel is no other than the Prophet Muhammad. In yet another passage, the Qur’an declares:
“[God will confer His grace upon those who believe in His messages]* – those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet of whom they shall find written in the Torah and the Gospel that is with them – (the Prophet who shall) enjoin the good, forbid the evil, make lawful all good things and unlawful, all bad things; and shall lift from them their burdens and shackles that were upon them (before). Therefore, those who believe in him, honor him and help him, and follow the Light that is bestowed from on high through him – it is they who shall succeed” (7:157). *[The bracketed words draw on the preceding verse.]
188. 10:16, 42:52, 12:3.
190. 9:80/84/113. These verses demonstrate that the Prophet used to pray for the forgiveness of his enemies. In the verse 9:80 he is told that even if he prayed for them seventy times, God will not forgive them as they had rejected God and His Messenger.
196. 3:144, 18:110, 41:6.
197. 10:49, 72:21.
200. 5:99, 7:158,13:40, 42:48.
201. 5:92, 16:82, 24:54.
202. 14:1, 57:9.
209. Maxime Rodinson, Muhammad, English translation, 2nd edition, London 1996, p. 221.
210. Ibid., p.xviii.
The authors, MOHAMMED YUNUS, a graduate from IIT, India, and ASHFAQUE ULLAH SYED, a post graduate from Imperial College, UK, are both professional and retired Directors of multinational companies, who spent nearly 15 years to develop this book. They jointly published a booklet against terrorism, and have written many articles on Islam. Ashfaque also published a comprehensive anthology of Qur anic topics. They are currently exerting to fight against Islamophobia, and to pave the way for a regeneration of Islamic societies by promoting Islam as a religion that espouses, among others, advancement of universal knowledge, progress of civilization, empowerment of women, and harmonious inter-faith relations.
Published by Amana Publications, USA, 2009
Published exclusively on New Age Islam with permission