By Syed Manzoor Alam, New Age Islam
August 26, 2013
Now in this final article I will discuss the third category of attack on the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The first was outright lies, number two is distorted truths and number three, and this is perhaps the most difficult, is attacking the cultural norms of the time. This focuses on attacking the societal values that might have been acceptable at that time but are not acceptable in the 21st century.
One of the main reasons why this category is the most difficult is that the average human is not an expert in sociology, history, ethics etc. He merely thinks that his present civilization is the correct civilization or it is the correct society, with the right cultural norms and values. And these people don’t realise that cultural norms and values change from time to time and place to place. The values of post-Victorian England are radically different from the values of present century England. The sexual mores of America, say 200 years ago is radically different from the sexual mores of the 21st century.
These things change. So the 7th century Arabia had its own issues which were considered permissible by Muslims and non-Muslims back then. The most classic example is slavery. The Quran no doubt gave a lot of rulings on slavery but it did not totally ban it (By the way this is an issue in itself, which requires more space, but to be very brief, the Quran in successive stages banned alcohol, similarly the Quran was successively speaking for the freedom of slaves). It banned alcohol; it banned gambling. The Quran however did not banish slavery totally.
Now in my humble opinion the word ‘slavery’ in the English language cannot be used in the positive sentence, and the Arabic concept of ‘Riqah’, of servitude (of slavery) is radically different from the Western concept of slavery. And so I believe we are fighting a losing battle if we go into this. This was something that happened in the past. This is not a necessary condition.
Another issue is the issue of Aisha, which is very famous on the internet and other anti-Islamic books. There are also other evidences which say that Aisha was not 9 but probably 18 or 19 at the time of consummation. Whatever it is, even if she was 9 we have to see these things from the historicism perspective. This means that we should not see things from the glass of the present times and way of thinking; but to think about things from the period which you wish to study. That is you cannot compare present system i.e., the 21st century of societal way of marriage, rather you learn things about how the system of marriage was at that time, 7th century.
The fact that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) married Aisha (May Allah be please with her) at the age of 9, none of the enemies of the Prophet criticised him on this. Abu Jahal, Abu Talib, and other enemies of Islam never found this problematic and never criticised the Prophet on this, but yes, on other things like he was a liar, he was a poet etc he was criticised by them. It was culturally acceptable back then.
Just like 400-500 years ago, it was absolutely acceptable for a 13-14 year old girl to get married. Juliet in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Shakespeare, is only 14 years old in the play (Romeo is 15). This is in Shakespeare’s time. In our times this is simply a taboo, it is not culturally acceptable.
So this is definitely a difficult issue. They are attacking the cultural value. The person who is attacking needs to understand that culture changes and that it is not static and should not be compared with the cultural values of the present time and many people don’t understand this.
These are the three main tactics used by the critics to attack the Prophet. And they use the combination of all three tactics, which makes it quite difficult for any average knowing Muslim to defend it. A story is invented; bits of fabrication, with bits of distorted truths, bits of cultural values are added and then presented.
Let us look at one example of this: The story of Zaynab bint Jahsh (May Allah be pleased with her) and the Prophet’s marriage to Zainab. She was the cousin of the Prophet and she was married to Zayd and he was the adopted son of the Prophet and his name became Zayd Ibn Muhammad and Zainab became the daughter in law of the Prophet. The critic’s version is full of flavours. They all agree that the version of events goes as follows:
The Prophet allegedly fell in love with Zainab, he went to visit her in her house and when she opened the door, she was wearing clothes that she would typically wear when she is sleeping and the Prophet saw her beauty and was impressed by that and fell in love with her and when Zayd heard about this then he divorced his wife so that the Prophet could marry Zainab. And Allah “conveniently” revealed verses that talk about adopted children are not real children and you can marry their wives.
The problem with this sequence of events is that it is presented as an undisputed fact from within the Islamic tradition, as if this is the only version of events. Yet the fact of the matter is that this version is only one version of the story, as the critics love to call it- the “Love story” version.
There are other versions that exist in classical and medieval texts which are generally considered more acceptable and more authentic. In fact in Bukhari, Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Seerah Ibn Ishaq, all of the standard references present a very different picture. This is the hypocrisy of the critics: that they pounce on the most sensational story and ignore all the other versions, which are more authentic and not even tell you that the other versions exist. The Tafsir of Abd ar-Razzaq in 211 A.H, the Tafsir of Ibn Abi Hatem in 327 A.H, the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir presents a totally different picture. The earliest Seerah written, the Seerah of Ibn Ishaq, the earliest Hadith books written like Bukhari; all of these books give a radically different story.
The story there is that the Prophet (pbut) was informed by Allah that eventually Zainab will be his wife and Zayd and Zainab began having arguments and dispute; Zayd did not want to remain married to Zainab. So Zayd came to the Prophet wanting a divorce and the Prophet felt awkward because he knew that when that divorce takes place and the Iddah is over Zainab would become his wife and he, himself did not like marrying a supposed daughter-in-law. So he told Zayd “Fear Allah and don’t divorce her”. In fact, the Prophet was embarrassed of marrying a supposed daughter in law; he was not in love with her. He wanted to stall it. Then Allah revealed a verse in Surah Ahzab ‘that why you (O Muhammad) are scared of the people? It is more befitting that you fear’ Allah (33:37)
There is, actually no love story in authentic and other sources. But where does it exist. It exists in a Tafsir known as Tafsir Muqatil Ibn Sulayman. And he, by unanimous consensus is not a scholar, he is not a historian. He is a story teller. So the critics ignore the authentic books and go to the one, which is totally obscure and pick out selectively and not even mention that there are other versions of the story as well.
Let me also give another example in brief (there are other examples as well). It is the issue of ‘The Satanic Verses’ (not Rushdie’s book). Firstly even the name ‘Satanic Verses’ is a western invention, it is not found in the Islamic sources. The name in the Islamic sources is ‘Gharaniq’, ‘the story of the birds’ and Sir William Muir, a famous Scottish Orientalist, was the first person to give the name ‘Satanic Verses’ and he popularised it and it is now considered a fact in non-Muslim circles (who have read from anti-Islamic sources) and if you dare deny this “fact” you are then considered to be an overzealous Muslim.
This story is not found in any of the famous books of Hadiths; it is not found in any of the reputable sources of our history. It is found in obscure works but because of repeated propaganda, it has become a “fact” for them.
In conclusion I wish to say that all the righteous servants of God are ridiculed, all the Messengers of God have been mocked. It is psychologically gratifying for those who reject the message, to reject it based upon rejecting the messenger, rather than on rejecting the message. When you cannot attack the message, you begin to attack the messenger. It is something which is intellectually easy and psychologically helpful.
Secondly the general rule of the Quran is that we respond to such attacks with kindness, intelligence and piety. As the Quran says “reason with them and argue with them in the ways that are best and most gracious”. If we cannot respond with nobility then my advice is not to respond punitively. The Quran says that when the foolish comes and tries to argue, say “peace”.
After hearing all these attacks on our Prophet, our heart boils with anger, but we have to overcome it. Was not the Prophet offended by these things, as the Quran say “We know that when you hear these things your heart gets constricted, but praise your Lord and prostrate to Him; and worship Allah until death comes to you.”
Academically defending the Prophet is just one way of the many ways of defending him. There are many other and better ways. The best way is through simple and sincere action. Through nobility, humility and sincerity in our actions we will be able to defend him. This is the best way, in my humble opinion. By following him in as many aspects of life as possible we will show the critics that our beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was nothing but “a mercy to all the worlds and to all creatures”.