An Exposition of the conspiratorial role of the believing hypocrites and nomadic Arabs against the Prophet’s mission and its pernicious historical and present day fallout
By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
November 28, 2013
Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009
The essay pieces together relevant Qur’anic verses (paraphrased in green print) to bring across the treacherous and conspiratorial role of the hypocrites and some nomadic Arab tribes from among the Prophet’s followers to foil his mission. The narrative so evolved also shows that the Qur’an hurls the epithet of ‘Kufr’ (denial of self evident or irrefutable proposition) probably on more occasions to a faction of the Prophet’s followers than the Jews and Christians of the era as commonly held. It also shows that the Qur’an does not single out the polytheists as Rijz (abominable, 9:28) – it ascribes it to the hypocrites as well (9:95). It also demonstrates the largely defensive character of the Prophet’s mission, and connects some of the sensitive verses of the Qur’an often cited as examples of its condemnation of pagans and Jews to its right audience.
The object of this exercise is to dig deep into the roots of the conflicts that, in historical perspective, led to petrifaction of Islam’s message , and its intellectual mortification and political decline, and, in recent decades, are manifesting, in enduring political crisis, sectarian violence, takfirism (hurling rubric of kafir or infidel on other Muslims and all non-Muslims) and growing anarchy and fundamentalism in the Muslim world and Islamic societies. Besides, in today’s globalized world with Muslims and non-Muslims living side by side in most countries, petrifaction of Islamic message adversely affects the relative performance of the Muslims, interfaith and inter-personal relations, widens civilisational gap, and under harsh political realities of the era, feeds radicalization and lends religious legitimacy to politically driven and motivated terror. Hence, this exercise is worthy of serious attention and healthy debate.
Let the readers not be daunted by its length for it gives a wide and transparent window into the Qur’an by listing, partly or paraphrased, close to a hundred of its verses relating to its interaction with its existential opponents, in an integrated and reader friendly manner.
Summary Introduction to the Prophetic Mission and Its Opposition by Internal Agents
Muhammad (PBUH), the Prophet of Islam preached in his native town, Mecca, for the first 12 years (610-622) of his prophetic mission (610-632). In the tribal society of the era, he was bitterly opposed by his clan, the Quraysh, gained only about a hundred converts in close to twelve years, and was forced to migrate to Medina (622), some 150 miles away (a week’s journey) under perilous circumstances. A small community of Medinite converts warmly welcomed him and elected him as their leader. His faith appealed to the people of Medina, conversion picked up, his popularity grew, and soon he was elected the chief arbiter or civil head of the mixed Medinite community that comprised native pagan and Jewish tribes and the growing Muslim Umma (community). However, a faction of Medinite converts grew envious of him. They were led by Abdullah Ibn Ubayy, a prominent chief of the prosperous Khazraj tribe and virtually the temporal head of Medina before the Prophet’s arrival. These people were opportunists and entered Islam with political motives - they pretended to believe but in their hearts mocked at the new faith (2:8, 2:14) and unknowingly created disorder in the society (2:11/12). As the revelation progressed and the Prophet became increasingly powerful, the opportunist Muslims, later referred to as the hypocrites (63:1), became increasingly conspiratorial and created immense difficulties to the Prophet until their leader’s death barely an year before the Prophet’s demise (632).
To set the stage for this narrative, it is necessary to give a heads up on the major events of the Medinite period (622-632) that bring across the vicious role of the hypocrites and the believing nomadic Arabs against the Prophetic mission.
The Hardening Attitudes of the Hypocrites
The battle of Badr (624) marked a turning point in the attitude of the hypocrites towards the Prophet. Their attitude only hardened with the unfolding of major events, notably, the battle of Uhud (625), the Trench War (the Battle of confederates) (627), the unarmed Pilgrimage (628) and finally the Tabuk expedition (631).
The battle of Badr saw a small motley band of the Prophet’s companions defeating a vastly superior, well trained and proud Quraysh army. The battle of Uhud took place in the plains and slopes of Mount Uhud some three miles from Medina when the Quraysh sent a powerful army to avenge their humiliating defeat at Badr. The Trunch war saw a confederation of armies from all major tribes hostile to Muhammad laying a prolonged and strangulating siege to Medina and lifting the siege and returning after a severe storm blew away their tents and provisions. The unarmed pilgrimage was purely a spiritual mission. The Tabuk expedition aimed at encountering the greatest military power of the era, the Romans (Byzantines) as the Qur’an had previously predicted and was strategically a defensive move to deter the mighty Romans from attacking the fledgling and divided Muslim community after the Prophet’s imminent death. Militarily doomed to failure, the mission was inconclusive and the Prophet died soon after his return. We now delve into the Qur’an to bring across the role of the hypocrites and the nomadic Arabs and to expose the true face of the internal enemies of the Prophet.
The Qur’anic Testimony on the Conspiratorial Role of the Internal Enemies of Islam during Critical Moments of the Prophetic Mission
The Battle of Badr (624)
As the Prophet set forth (on a mission) at the order of his Lord in the cause of the truth, some (of his followers) were averse to it (not knowing the destination) (8:5). God promised them that one of the two hosts will be theirs, while they hoped to encounter the unarmed one (the Quraysh trading caravan on way back to Mecca, rich with merchandise) (8:7). (Meanwhile,) a Quraysh army set off boastfully taking the expedition as an easy way to fame (8:47). The Prophet’s followers camped at one end of the valley (of Badr), while the Quraysh army approached from the other end, and their trading caravan passed close by unnoticed as God had willed (8:42).
(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 (8:43). As the truth became clear to the Muslims (that they had to fight against the powerful Quraysh army), they were struck with horror (8:6), without realizing that it was God’s scheme to verify the truth of His Words and to cut off the roots of the pagans (8:7). The hypocrites and those weak in faith thought that their faith had deluded them (8:49).
However, (as the battle began) the devil who had assured the attackers of success turned around, and absolved himself of all his responsibilities and stood in terror of God (8:48). (So, the Muslims won a decisive victory) and took many captives (8:67). 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 (8:19).
The victory at Badr established the hitherto little known and derided Muhammad as an emerging political power. This greatly alarmed the hypocrites and they launched a campaign to marginalize him and dismiss his prophetic claims. When asked to come to what God revealed and to the Prophet, they turned their faces in aversion (4:61). The Qur’an warns that God will not forgive nor guide those who embrace faith, then deny it and yet again come to believe and then become more stubborn in their denial (4:137) and took the pagans (kafirin) as their friends in preference to the believers (4:139), and warns the hypocrites of severe punishments (4:138). They now openly denied (yakfur) and ridiculed the revelation (4:140), and waited to see the Prophet’s downfall. (In the minor skirmishes that followed) if the Prophet succeeded, the hypocrites readily claimed their allegiance to him but if the pagans had good luck, they secretly claimed to be on their side (4:141). They tried to deceive God; when they stood for prayer, they stood lazily for others to see them (4:142). Some of them pretended obedience to the Prophet in public, but schemed against him by night (4:81). The Prophet’s followers were, however, in two minds about these hypocrites (4:88). (The revelation commands them) not to argue or plead on their behalf (4:105, 4:107) and declares that the hypocrites will be in the lowest depth of the Fire and will never find for them any helper (4:145).
The Uhud Battle
(The revelation commanded Muhammad) to urge the believers to fight without compelling anyone (4:84). (On way to the battleground) a faction of Muslims who were given to hypocrisy (Abdullah Ibn Ubayy and his clansmen) withdrew saying (to the Prophet), if they knew how to fight, they would have followed him (3:167). They also divulged matters of secrecy or alarm to others, instead of informing the matter to the Prophet and those with authority (4:83).
(On the day of the encounter), the Prophet left early in the morning to put his people at battle stations (3:121). (Before the battle started), two of the clans (Banu Salamah and Banu Harithah) almost lost hope (overwhelmed by the military superiority of the Meccan army) (3:122).
(As encounter began), the Muslims made decisive gains, when some of the defenders weakened: they argued over (the Prophet’s) order and disobeyed after God showed them what they loved of this world (victory/booty) (3:152). They fled, paying attention to no one and ignoring the Prophet calling them from behind. (The attackers struck back in full force and thus) God repaid the Muslims with affliction upon affliction so that they would not sorrow over what slipped away from them (3:153). (The revelation urged the defenders) not to despair or grieve (3:139) (and consoled them that) if they were wounded, their enemies had also sustained injuries. (It reminded them that) these were the days of changing fortune to which God subjects humankind to know which of them truly believe (3:140), that He may purge those who truly believe and destroy the fake believers (Kafireen, 3:141).
Finally, the Prophet was struck unconscious and word spread that he was killed. The attackers took the rumour 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 (the hypocrites) 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 (3:154). Those, who had stayed back, said of their brethren: ‘Had they obeyed us, they would not have been killed (3:168). (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? (3:144).
Muhammad’s faithful followers were deeply distressed and puzzled if God had forsaken him. They were extremely concerned how the hypocrites (Ibn Ubayy and his clansmen and supporters) in Medina were going to receive Muhammad when he returned. A rumour spread in the Prophet’s camp that a host has gathered against them (at Medina), so they have to be wary. But this only increased their faith (3:173), and they returned home by the grace and blessings of God, untouched by harm (3:174).
They [hypocrites] were charming in looks, deceitful in speech, commanded profound self-confidence (63:4), and turned away from the believers in arrogance (63:5). They discouraged the people of Medina from spending anything for the Meccan Muslims [Emigrants] in order to force them out of Medina (63:7), and looked forward to the expulsion of the humble ones (Muhammad and the Emigrants) after their return to Medina (63:8). However, upon his return to Medina, they came to Muhammad to bear witness that he was a Messenger of God, but they were liars (63:1), and used their faith as a cover to lead others away from the right path. They thus acted in an evil way (63:2) – first embracing faith and then denying it. It was as if their hearts were sealed and they were unable to think logically (63:3). It warns the Prophet that if the hypocrites and those who spread false rumours did not stop, God will incite him against them and they will not be his neighbours for long – they will be arrested wherever they are found and put to death (33:60/61). It was, however, due to mercy from God that the Prophet was mild to the dissenters (the hypocrites, who harboured doubts against him during the Uhud battle and defied him). This prevented them from deserting the Prophet (3:159).
Battle of Confederates (627)
The attackers 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 (33:10). This was a moment of trial for the believers as they were shaken by a most violent shock (33:11). The hypocrites and those with sickness in their hearts said what God and the Prophet of God had promised was mere illusion (33:12). 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 (33:13). 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 (33:14), despite their oaths of allegiance (33:15). Thus, they broke the trust (Amanah) that is placed exclusively on humankind (3:72). Accordingly, God pronounces his curse upon the hypocrites, men and women and the Meccan pagans, men and women (33:73).
The Unarmed Pilgrimage Mission (628)
In the sixth year of Hijra (migration) the Prophet declared his intention to lead an unarmed caravan to Mecca for pilgrimage. The nomadic Arabs who were weak in faith preferred to stay back (48:11), as they thought the Prophet and the believers would never be able to return to their families (48:12). The mission turned out to be extremely risky as the Meccans blocked their entry into their town and stationed a powerful cavalry squadron facing the plains of Hudaibiyyah where the Prophet’s company had camped. Following an ordeal that tested the nerves of his followers, the Prophet’s company made its way back to Medina, unhurt. The Qur’an warned the nomadic Arabs who had not participated in the pilgrimage that they shall be summoned (to fight) against a nation of great might (48:16).
Tabuk Expedition (631)
Undertaken a year after the peaceful integration of Mecca (630), the mission marked the fulfillment of the just referred Qur’anic prediction (48:16). If there were immediate gains and a convenient trip, they (the hypocrites) would have followed the Prophet, but (they knew) the journey was going to be too long, (about 350 miles) strenuous and dangerous. They swore their inability to go forth with the expedition, though God knew they were liars (9:42, 9:45). They swore by God that they supported the expedition, but in truth, they were in such mortal fear (9:56) that if only they could find any place of refuge, a cave or a crevice, they would have resorted to it (9:57). They swore to God, only to please the Prophet, but it was more proper for them to please God and His Messenger (by going forth with the Prophet) (9:62). They also feared in case any verse was revealed disclosing what was in their breast (9:64). Had they any intention to go forth, they would have made some preparations for it, but God was averse to their being sent (9:46). (God knew,) had they gone out with them, they would have scurried about among the believers seeking to stir up sedition and some of the believers might have listened to them (9:47).
The hypocrites requested the Prophet not to put them to such a hard test (9:49). They ridiculed the Prophet in their hearts, privately joked about him (9:64), and tried to stir up discord and upset matters for him (9:48). They blamed and ridiculed the believers for their voluntary donations to the Prophet, and criticized those without any means for rendering physical services (9:79) and some of the hypocrites aimed at something that was beyond their reach (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) in the military unfriendly desert terrain. So the hypocrites must have questioned the Prophet’s sanity, and planned to finish him off.
Hypocrites in post Tabuk Medina
The hypocrites who stayed back were glad to have opposed the Prophet and boasted that they did not like to go forth in the heat (9:81). Against opposition from the community and denial (Kufr) (of the Prophet’s mission), they built a mosque rivalling the mosque of the Prophet, as a rallying point for those opposed to the Prophet, but they now swore that they had good intentions (9:107). The revelation refers to this mosque as a building founded on the brink of a crumbling bank of eroded earth, tumbling into the fire of hell (9:109) – a building that could never cease to be a source of doubt in their hearts until their hearts were detached (9:110). It forbids the believers to stand in it, and declares that it was more fitting that they should stand in the first mosque that the Prophet had founded on Taqwa (God consciousness/ moral uprightness) (9:108).
The hypocrites made excuses to the Prophet, but the revelation informed the Prophet about them and asked them to make no excuses (9:94). They swore by God to the Prophet to spare them (any punishment), and the revelation asked the Prophet to spare them as they were an abomination (rijz) for whom the hell was a more fitting abode (9:95). They swear to you hoping that pleadings might soften you but God does not approve of a deviant people (Fasiqin) (9:96). Some nomadic Arabs came to the Prophet in Medina with excuses seeking exemption; others, who belied God and the Prophet, remained at home (9:90). The nomadic Arabs were harshly reproved to being most stubborn in unbelief (kufr) and hypocrisy (nifaq) (9:97). They took whatever they spent as a fine and waited for some misfortune to befall the Prophet (9:98).
It warns the Prophet that there were hypocrites all around him and among the nomadic Arabs who had grown bold in hypocrisy (Nifaq); he was not aware of them but God knew them (9:101). The Qur’an therefore adopts a stern tone against them.
It declares that the hypocrites’ men and women were of the same kind. They enjoined the evil, and forbade the good, and held back their hands (from giving to the needy). They were oblivious of God and God was oblivious of them, and without doubt, they were the deviants (Fasiqun) (9:67). It declares that God had promised for them as well as the unbelievers (Kuffar), the fire of hell and that was enough for them, and God had cursed them and a lasting punishment was in store for them (9:68). It reminded them that almost every year they were tested; yet they declined to repent (9:126). It commands the Prophet to continue his struggle against those persistent in denying his mission (Kuffar) and the hypocrites and to be firm with them (9:73).
It asks the Prophet to tell the hypocrites who volunteered to take part in any ensuing expedition that they would not go out with him as they refused the first time (when the Prophet embarked on his mission). It forbids the Prophet to pray over any of them who had died, nor to stand by his grave (9:84). As the Prophet may still have prayed for all his followers, including the hypocrites, the revelation sounds him off that even if he sought forgiveness for them seventy times, God will never forgive them (9:80).
The Qur’anic warnings had a strong impact on the hypocrites. They were also utterly demoralized and devastated. Despite all their efforts, private conferences, conspiracies and double cross spanning at least five years (Uhud to Tabuk expeditions), the Prophet gained converts, popularity and power year over year, survived the most perilous trials of his mission, and triumphed against all odds. Some of them acknowledged their faults and tried to redeem themselves by doing good deeds. The revelation declares that God may turn to them in mercy (9:102) and asks the Prophet to accept donations (Sadaqa) from their wealth (that he had refused for some time) to purify them and pray on their behalf (9:103).
Around this time, Abdullah Ibn Ubbay, their (hypocrites’) leader, fell ill and died, and so their movement lost momentum and direction. There are reports that Ibn Ubbay had repented to the Prophet, and upon his request, the Prophet had prayed for him and at his funeral. When the Prophet’s companions reminded him of the verse 9:84 (shown in bold above) he is reported to have said that he would pray for his forgiveness for more than seventy times (9:80).
In sum, as a spin off to the theme of this exercise, it is worth noting that Muhammad never tried, let alone punish any suspected hypocrite or believing nomadic Arab for their unremitting conspiracy and treachery in the conclusive phase of the revelation, when his mission stood at a tipping edge risking total annihilation any moment. Furthermore, the Qur’an’s extensive coverage of the machinations and intrigues of the hypocrites and the believing nomadic Arabs demonstrates that the ‘insiders’, - the Muslims themselves who had joined the faith merely for gains, were far greater and enduring enemies of his mission than its external foes, the pagans and Jews.
The Scheming Of the Internal Enemies of Islam in the Early Centuries of Islam
The transformation of Islam from a democratic Caliphate to a dynastic rule (663 AD), barely three decades after the Prophet’s death, saw resurgence of reactionary forces. The new rulers abhorred the social, moral and ethical paradigms of the Qur’an as these conflicted with their political ambitions and their craving for wealth, power, glory, lavish Haram life and distinctive privileges. Thus, since early centuries of Islam, the dynastic rulers manipulated and even coerced the Ulema to obfuscate the egalitarian, humanistic, gender neutral and pluralistic message of the Qur’an. “According to a number of sources, Imam Abu Hanifa was imprisoned by Caliph al-Mansur (754 – 775) for defying him in religion. Imam Malik ibn Anas, the founder of another school of law was also flogged during his rule” . Before long, the door to any critical scholarship of the Qur’an was closed by a ruling that “Any Qur’anic verse which contradicts the opinions of ‘our masters’ will be construed as having been abrogated, or the rule of preference will be applied thereto. It is better that the verse is interpreted in such a way that it conforms to their opinion” . A Hadith also came in circulation: “one who discusses about the Book of God, (the Qur'an) makes a mistake, even if he is correct” . This ushered Islam into a phase that saw the subversion of the Qur’anic message, with the Hadith and juristic sciences dominating Islamic scholarship and thoughts and orthodoxy playing the role of the hypocrites and nomadic Arab followers of Islam bent on obscuring the Qur’anic message. This phase continued down the centuries, offering an easy path to the followers of Islam, especially its ruling elite, with consequent decline and degeneration. Any detail or even synopsis on the rocky downhill course of Islam over this long period will be technical, exhaustive, academic, and retrogressive to the extreme for this focused exercise. So, we fast forward to this era.
The Pernicious Role of the Modern Counterparts of Islam’s Internal Enemies
The orthodox Ulema across the Islamic sects insist on interpreting the Qur’anic message in light of the secondary sources of Islam, notably, the Hadith and the Classical Sharia Law. But as these disciplines evolved under the influence and patronage of the dynastic rulers who represented the reactionary forces of Islam, the orthodox Ulema today are playing the role of, or at least to the tune of those reactionary forces that have over time brought about the petrifaction of its message. Accordingly, in the name of Islam, they are preaching its petrified version .
Islam is a universal, gender neutral, peaceful, progressive, intellectually effervescent, socially liberal, educationally fervent, intellect driven, democratic and pluralistic religion. But the version of Islam that is being preached round the clock in poplar TV Channels and by countless Ulema and Imams in numerous madrasas around the world is exclusivist, misogynic, violence prone, intellectually frozen, socially repressive and regimented, educationally backward, scientifically retrograde, totalitarian and monolithic. This virtually stifles the advancement of Islamic societies, blocks any reform and reduces Islam to an atavistic cult – the civilisational sediment of a petrified world religion , paving the way for yet another form of colonization. Its appropriation of terror as proclaimed by its fanatic ideologues puts into question the integrity of all peace loving Muslims.
More dangerously, its militant outfits draw inspiration from their ideological mentors, notably Ibn-e-Taimiya and his followers as well as some verses of the Qur’an and Hadith accounts in stark denial of historical relativism thereby associating Islam with terrorism. Hence, the present version of theology-dominated Islam must be resisted.
The truth is, all major religions have, for all practical purposes, leapfrogged the theological phase of their faiths and are now focusing on the core and universal message intrinsic to their faiths as required by the today’s globalised high paced world. But the Muslims are tenaciously clinging to their theological roots and turning a blind eye to the core, universal and humanistic trajectories of their faith, which fortunately for them, is preserved in the Qur’an. It is therefore high time for the Muslims to focus on the universal dimensions of their faith and shift their theological disciplines to the margins of their religious thoughts. This calls for taking fresh insights into the Qur’anic message in a manner that precludes all historical influences, reactionary manipulations and privileges intellect (Aql) and rational thought (Fiqh) over the opinions of the past scholars as those were inevitably informed by the historical realities and civilisational paradigms of their era. Islamic scholarship must take this task on board, though works have been initiated in this line .
Finally, a parting message is due to the Muslim intellectual front of the modern counterparts of the hypocrites and believing nomadic Arabs, intense in Kufr, of the Prophet’s era. They must understand, it is too late in history to dislodge Islam from its spiritual bastion. As there is no compulsion in religion all those sceptical of the divinity of the Qur’an must feel free to exit Islam, rather than create division and disorder within its ranks or conspire against it with the non-Muslims bent on trivializing the Qur’an and maligning the Prophet. No wonder the Qur’an referred to them as Rijz (abomination) (9:95) like the pagan Arabs (9:28), and the Prophet readily agreed to exempt them from taking part in both the Uhud battle (3:167) and Tabuk expedition (9:47).
1. The twin growing menace: Petrifaction and Radicalization in Islam and Islamophobia – Are they interconnected? How best they can be diffused? An SOS to the Muslim Intelligentsia, Leadership and Ulema!
3. Ahmad Hussain, Doctrine of Ijma in Islam, New Delhi, 1992, p.16
4. Sanan Abu Daud, Urdu translation by Wahiduz Zaman, Vol.3, Acc. 253, p. 118.
5. Muhammad Yunus and Ashfaque Ullah Syed, Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009, p. 364.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.