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The Story of the Prophetic Mission of Muhammad (Pbuh) In the Qu’ran (Part 4): The Medinian Period


By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam

28 March, 2015

The General Principles

Let us begin with a discussion on the unqualified rules of conduct that may be taken as general principles applicable at all times and irrespective of context, which not only Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) adhered to all through his Prophetic mission, but every Messenger of God that preceded him and indeed God Himself.

Surah Al-Kafirun / The Disbelievers is the 18th Surah in chronological order and is one of the earliest MeccanSurahs.

(109:1) Say : O ye that reject Faith (Al-Kafirun)!

(2) I worship not that which ye worship,

(3) Nor will ye worship that which I worship.

(4) And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship,

(5) Nor will ye worship that which I worship.

(6) To you be your Way, and to me mine.

The Surah is a unilateral declaration of peace and a clear intention to leave alone the peaceful Kafirun (rejecters of faith) to their way if they left the Muslims to their way. The public preaching of the message commenced in 613 CE. From part 1 of this article, we know that active and even violent opposition to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had started right from the beginning of the prophetic mission. It is to these Kafirun that the Surah is addressed and not to the Mushrikin or the polytheists. This is another proof that Mushrik and Kafir are not synonyms. Otherwise, after saying “To you be your Way, and to me mine” very early during the Prophetic mission, there was nothing more left to do if the Kafirun meant the Mushrikin (polytheists). .

It is here that the Stories of Prophet Yusuf and Yunus (pbut) become relevant. Prophet Yusuf spent a lifetime in Egypt and preceded Moses (pbuh). Apparently, when Moses was sent to the Pharaoh, there were not many believers in Egypt except the “Children of Israel” who were enslaved and brought to Egypt. It can therefore be surmised that not many Egyptians believed after the mission of Yusuf (pbuh) but none opposed him either. The rejecters were peaceful rejecters and therefore there was no punishment from Allah.

In the case of Prophet Yunus (pbuh), there was stiff opposition to begin with and Prophet Yunus left in anger without the permission from Allah for which he was punished. He returned to his people and everyone (some hundred thousand) believed. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is also cautioned to not become impatient like Yunus but to persist with patience.

In the case of both these Prophets, there was no punishment from Allah on their people. The people of Mecca could therefore choose to be like the people of Yusuf and peacefully reject or like the people of Yunus and believe or like the people of Noah, Hud, Salih, Shoaib, Lut and Moses and violently oppose and suffer the inevitable consequences.

The following verses are from the Medinian period when Muhammad (pbuh) had become a political leader and in a position to wage war and yet there is an unqualified declaration that there cannot be compulsion in religion.

Surah Al- Baqara, Medinian Chronological order 87

(2:256) Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.

2:272. It is not required of thee (O Messenger), to set them on the right path, but Allah sets on the right path whom He pleaseth.

Al-Mumtahina, Medinian Chronological order 91

(60:8) Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly (taburruhum) and justly (tuqsitu) with them: for Allah loveth those who are just. (9) Allah only forbids you, with regard to those who fight you for (your) Faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support (others) in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protection). It is such as turn to them (in these circumstances), that do wrong.

Al-Maeda, Medinian Chronological order 112

(5:2)…. let not the hatred of some people in (once) shutting you out of the Sacred Mosque lead you to transgression (and hostility on your part). Help ye one another in righteousness and piety, but help ye not one another in sin and rancour: fear Allah: for Allah is strict in punishment.

(5:8) O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.

The underlying principles of secular justice and freedom of conscience and religion, in the verses cited above, are the eternal principles of Islam. And as the Quran says, Islam was the religion of all the prophets.

In my 4 part article “Who is a Kafir in the Quran?” I have brought out that the Quran deals with:

1. The secular, the worldly or the temporal dimension and

2. The Spiritual dimension

What is purely the Spiritual Dimension is outside the pail of both punishment in this world and coercive interference. The Quran prescribes no punishment for the “Rejecters of Faith” as long as they are peaceful. No punishment in this world is prescribed in the Quran for blasphemy unless accompanied by inciting violence, enmity, strife or causing public disorder. The punishment then is not for blasphemy but for the crimes in the temporal dimension. Apostasy is also not punishable in this world unless accompanied by treason. It is treason that is punishable and not apostasy. This rule has however been perverted to equate apostasy with treason where apostasy itself implies treason. This is a clear perversion of the message of the Quran.

Persecution of the Muslims

Part 1 of the article covered active opposition to Muhammad’s mission which started right at the beginning. Among the Muslims were those like the Prophet himself, Abu Bakr, Ali, and Umar with powerful tribal connections who could not be harmed with impunity without attracting tribal revenge. There were many other poor and weak Muslims without such connections who became the target of physical torture and persecution and at least one person was killed by tearing apart the body by tying each leg to a camel and driving them in different directions. It was in these circumstances that the following verse was revealed in Meccan Surah An-Nahl:

16:106 Anyone who, after accepting faith in Allah, utters Unbelief, - except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in Faith - but such as open their breast to Unbelief, on them is Wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful Penalty.

Persecution of Muslims by the Quaraish in Mecca intensified and in 615 CE a group of Muslims left for Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia) and sought asylum on the advice of the Prophet. A second group comprising a little over a hundred people emigrated in 616 CE 

In the year 617, the Quraysh under the leadership of Abu Jahl, banished the Muslims and their supporters to a dry valley and refused to trade with them. Muhammad’s uncle, Abu Talib, lost his business and the Muslims nearly starved. Abu Bakr, once a wealthy trader, lost everything. In 619, Muhammad’s wife Khadijah died, and then Muhammad also lost his protector and uncle , Abu Talib in 620.

In 621 CE about 75 persons from Medina took the two Pledges of al-Aqaba, accepting Islam and pledging to protect Muhammad from all danger.

Migration to Medina

The Muslims were offered asylum in a city north of Makkah called Yathrib (later, Madinah). The migration of the Muslims to Yathrib, in 622, is called the Hijrah. Hearing of a joint plot by all the tribes of Mecca to kill Muhammad, he and Abu Bakr escaped to Madinah together in the night, and received a joyful reception by the leaders of that town who willingly adopted Islam. The migration is referred to in an early Medinian Surah Al-Anfal verse 8:30, and also a late Medinian Surah Taubah verse 9:40 below:

(8:30) Remember how the Unbelievers plotted against thee, to keep thee in bonds, or slay thee, or get thee out (of thy home). They plot and plan, and Allah too plans; but the best of planners is Allah.

(9:40) If ye help not (your leader), (it is no matter): for Allah did indeed help him, when the Unbelievers drove him out: he had no more than one companion; they two were in the cave, and he said to his companion, "Have no fear, for Allah is with us": then Allah sent down His peace upon him, and strengthened him with forces which ye saw not, and humbled to the depths the word of the Unbelievers. But the word of Allah is exalted to the heights: for Allah is Exalted in might, Wise.

Muhammad established a mutual defense and cooperation pact among the tribes of Madinah, with himself as the leader of the city. This document was called the "Constitution of Madinah." Muhammad paired immigrants from Makkah with the Muslims from Madinah in a relationship of brotherhood.

Unfolding Of Allah’s Judgment Repeatedly Warned

The permission to fight was given in the Medinian Surah Al-Hajj verse 39 and the justification for it in verse 40. That the nature of this fighting was to assume the punishment meted out to the people of Noah, Hud (Ad), Salih (Thamud), Lut, Shoaib (Madyan), Abraham and Moses of which the Meccans were repeatedly warned in 32 of the MeccanSurahs is clearly indicated. Even then, verse 60 puts a limit on retaliation for the wrongs of the Meccans “to no greater extent than the injury he received”. 

(39) To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged;- and verily, Allah is most powerful for their aid;-

(40) (They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right,- (for no cause) except that they say, "our Lord is Allah". Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid his (cause);- for verily Allah is full of Strength, Exalted in Might, (able to enforce His Will).

(41) (They are) those who, if We establish them in the land, establish regular prayer and give regular charity, enjoin the right and forbid wrong: with Allah rests the end (and decision) of (all) affairs.

(42) If they treat thy (mission) as false, so did the peoples before them (with their prophets),- the People of Noah, and ´Ad and Thamud;

(43) Those of Abraham and Lut;

(44) And the Companions of the Madyan People; and Moses was rejected (in the same way). But I granted respite to the Unbelievers, and (only) after that did I punish them: but how (terrible) was my rejection (of them)!

(45) How many populations have We destroyed, which were given to wrong-doing? They tumbled down on their roofs. And how many wells are lying idle and neglected, and castles lofty and well-built?

(46) Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts (and minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts which are in their breasts.

(47) Yet they ask thee to hasten on the Punishment! But Allah will not fail in His Promise. Verily a Day in the sight of thy Lord is like a thousand years of your reckoning.

(48) And to how many populations did I give respite, which were given to wrong-doing? in the end I punished them. To me is the destination (of all).

(49) Say: "O men! I am (sent) to you only to give a Clear Warning:

(50) "Those who believe and work righteousness, for them is forgiveness and a sustenance most generous.

(51) "But those who strive against Our Signs, to frustrate them,- they will be Companions of the Fire."…….

(58) Those who leave their homes in the cause of Allah, and are then slain or die,- On them will Allah bestow verily a goodly Provision: Truly Allah is He Who bestows the best provision.

(59) Verily He will admit them to a place with which they shall be well pleased: for Allah is All-Knowing, Most Forbearing.

(60) That (is so). And if one has retaliated to no greater extent than the injury he received, and is again set upon inordinately, Allah will help him: for Allah is One that blots out (sins) and forgives (again and again).

It is important to note that only a leader with a territory in his control can protect his people and it is only such a leader who can wage war and defend his people. Muhammad (pbuh) was not given the permission to fight in Mecca simply because he was not such a leader in Mecca. All the verses to fight apply only to the Muslims who were with the Prophet in Medina and not to those who stayed behind in Mecca since the Prophet could not protect them.

Battle of Badr

The first battle between the Muslims from Madinah and the Quraysh from Makkah took place at Badr in 624 C.E. The Muslim army of about 300 routed the Makkan army of more than a thousand fighters and took many of them prisoners, according to historical accounts. Several of the leaders of the Unfaith were killed in battle including Abu Jahl, Walidibn al-Mughirah  and Abu Lahab the three chief tormentors of the Muslims mentioned directly or indirectly in the earliest MeccanSurahs covered in part 1. Abu Lahab did not take part in the battle but died a week later from a wound inflicted by a woman in a dispute about the battle! UmayyahibnKhalafibnSafwan who had owned the slave  Bilal and tortured him for converting to Islam, Uqbaibn Abu Mu'ayt one of the principal adversaries of Islam, UtbahibnRabi'ah one of the prominent Leaders of Quraish, and WalidibnUtbah  were also killed. The number of Meccans killed were 70 and another 70 were taken prisoner but ransomed, number of Muslims killed were 14 and none of those killed were among the commanders.

The following are verses from Surah Al-Anfaal

(32) Remember how they said: "O Allah if this is indeed the Truth from Thee, rain down on us a shower of stones form the sky, or send us a grievous penalty."

(33) But Allah was not going to send them a penalty whilst thou wast amongst them; nor was He going to send it whilst they could ask for pardon.

(34) But what plea have they that Allah should not punish them, when they keep out (men) from the sacred Mosque - and they are not its guardians? No men can be its guardians except the righteous; but most of them do not understand.

(35) Their prayer at the House (of Allah) is nothing but whistling and clapping of hands: (Its only answer can be), "Taste ye the penalty because ye blasphemed."

(36) The Unbelievers spend their wealth to hinder (man) from the path of Allah, and so will they continue to spend; but in the end they will have (only) regrets and sighs; at length they will be overcome: and the Unbelievers will be gathered together to Hell;-

(37) In order that Allah may separate the impure from the pure, put the impure, one on another, heap them together, and cast them into Hell. They will be the ones to have lost.

(38) Say to the Unbelievers (kafaru), if (now) they desist (from hindering man from the path of Allah) their past would be forgiven them; but if they persist, the punishment of those before them is already (a matter of warning for them).

(39) And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily Allah doth see all that they do.

(40) If they refuse, be sure that Allah is your Protector - the best to protect and the best to help.

Verse 33 says that the penalty could come to the Unbelievers only after the Believers had left the place (Mecca) and not while they were in their midst. The penalty in the form of a shower of stones from the sky was not sent even after the Believers had migrated because the door to pardon was still open to them. However, they were without a plea to save themselves from punishment for they kept men out from the Sacred Mosque. However, if they desisted from hindering men from the path of Allah, the past would be forgiven them.

Verse 8:38 is proof, that the battle (Badr) was to end the kufr of persecution and oppression of the Muslims and not for putting an end to the kufr of belief by forcing the Meccans to accept Islam. If the Meccans had heeded and given up practicing oppression against those who were accepting Islam, and allowing the Muslims to worship in the sacred mosque, there would have been no more fighting after this verse was revealed and peaceful propagation of Islam would have recommenced.

Battle of Uhud

A year after the Battle of Badr, the Makkans sent an army to take revenge for their defeat which would have once again resulted in the rout of the Meccans but for the Muslim archers leaving their post for the spoils of war thinking that the war was won. This battle was called the battle of Uhud. With many losses on both sides, the two sides withdrew in a stalemate with the Muslims suffering casualties of about 70 including Hamza a commander and uncle of the Prophet. The Meccans lost only about 40 people. The reverse suffered taught the Muslims many important lessons. There may not have been this battle if the Muslims had more thoroughly routed their enemy in the first battle of Badr. The losing army continues fighting well after the result of the battle becomes apparent. The Muslim army, keen to take prisoners for ransom rather than focus on annihilating the enemy, took it easy and preferred taking a prisoner for ransom rather than killing him while the battle was still on. It is here that the verse that says that the enemy in battle must be struck to kill or incapacitate him makes sense. A thorough rout in the battle of Badr could have demoralized the Meccans to such an extent, that they may then have preferred to make peace, end hostilities, allow the Muslims to return to Mecca and peacefully propagate Islam and worship in the sacred Mosque without hindrance. This would have avoided further loss of lives. While many of the “Chiefs of Unfaith” were killed in the battle of Badr, Abu Sufiyan survived and lived to lead them in the war of Uhud and the battle of the Trench.

Battle of the Trench

The third major battle between the Quraysh and the Muslims was the Battle of the Trench in 628 CE, in which the Quraysh and their allies besieged Madinah. The BaniQurayzah, a Jewish tribe in Madinah, sided with Quraysh and broke their treaty with the Muslims. When the Makkans finally left amid storms and the desertion of their allies, the Muslims turned to attack the BaniQurayzah for siding with the attack against Madinah.

The very fact that the Muslims, 6 years after migrating to Medina, could be besieged in their own city, speaks about their numerical inferiority versus the Meccan pagans. In the face of such numerical inferiority, and the high probability of their defeat, the hypocrites among the Muslims were ready to desert and the allies among the Jews ready to switch sides. For a besieged party to come out on top must be an extremely rare event in the history of warfare.

The Battle is described in the Quran in Surah Al-Ahzaab / The Clans, Medinian, Chronological order 90

(33:9) O ye who believe! Remember the Grace of Allah, (bestowed) on you, when there came down on you hosts (to overwhelm you): But We sent against them a hurricane and forces that ye saw not: but Allah sees (clearly) all that ye do.

(10) Behold! they came on you from above you and from below you, and behold, the eyes became dim and the hearts gaped up to the throats, and ye imagined various (vain) thoughts about Allah!

(11) In that situation were the Believers tried: they were shaken as by a tremendous shaking.

(12) And behold! The Hypocrites and those in whose hearts is a disease (even) say: "Allah and His Messenger promised us nothing but delusion!"

(13) Behold! A party among them said: "Ye men of Yathrib! ye cannot stand (the attack)! therefore go back!" And a band of them ask for leave of the Prophet, saying, "Truly our houses are bare and exposed," though they were not exposed they intended nothing but to run away.

(14) And if an entry had been effected to them from the sides of the (city), and they had been incited to sedition, they would certainly have brought it to pass, with none but a brief delay!

(15) And yet they had already covenanted with Allah not to turn their backs, and a covenant with Allah must (surely) be answered for.

(16) Say: "Running away will not profit you if ye are running away from death or slaughter; and even if (ye do escape), no more than a brief (respite) will ye be allowed to enjoy!"

(17) Say: "Who is it that can screen you from Allah if it be His wish to give you punishment or to give you Mercy?" Nor will they find for themselves, besides Allah, any protector or helper.

(18) Verily Allah knows those among you who keep back (men) and those who say to their brethren, "Come along to us", but come not to the fight except for just a little while.

(19) Covetous over you. Then when fear comes, thou wilt see them looking to thee, their eyes revolving, like (those of) one over whom hovers death: but when the fear is past, they will smite you with sharp tongues, covetous of goods. Such men have no faith, and so Allah has made their deeds of none effect: and that is easy for Allah.

(20) They think that the Confederates have not withdrawn; and if the Confederates should come (again), they would wish they were in the deserts (wandering) among the Bedouins, and seeking news about you (from a safe distance); and if they were in your midst, they would fight but little.

(21) Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who engages much in the Praise of Allah.

(22) When the Believers saw the Confederate forces, they said: "This is what Allah and his Messenger had promised us, and Allah and His Messenger told us what was true." And it only added to their faith and their zeal in obedience.

(23) Among the Believers are men who have been true to their covenant with Allah: of them some have completed their vow (to the extreme), and some (still) wait: but they have never changed (their determination) in the least:

(24) That Allah may reward the men of Truth for their Truth, and punish the Hypocrites if that be His Will, or turn to them in Mercy: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

(25) And Allah turned back the Unbelievers for (all) their fury: no advantage did they gain; and enough is Allah for the believers in their fight. And Allah is full of Strength, able to enforce His Will.

(26) And those of the People of the Book who aided them - Allah did take them down from their strongholds and cast terror into their hearts. (So that) some ye slew, and some ye made prisoners.

(27) And He made you heirs of their lands, their houses, and their goods, and of a land which ye had not frequented (before). And Allah has power over all things.

The leader of the Meccan army was Abu Sufiyan who withdrew after a siege of 27 days in which they suffered heavy losses and achieved little and natures unseasonal fury caused his army of over 10,000 great distress. This was a turning point and many tribes which had aligned with the Meccans changed their loyalties.

Treaty of Hudaybiyyah

After the Battle of the Trench, in 628, Muhammad (pbuh) decided to lead a pilgrimage to Makkah for the first time in 6 years after migration to Madina. The Muslims camped at Hudaybiyyah, just outside Makkah, where they were halted by Quraysh. The Makkans didn’t want to let the Muslims make the pilgrimage but entered into a peace treaty with Muhammad. The treaty at Hudaybiyyah called for ten years of peace between the Muslims and the Makkans, and allowed the Muslims to make their pilgrimage the following year. A peace treaty within a year of having been besieged is a telling account of the change in fortunes. The peace treaty by the Meccans was only because they knew that the Muslims were in a position to force their way into Mecca if they wished. Muhammad (pbuh) however only wanted to perform the pilgrimage in peace and agreed for the peace treaty and returned to Madina.

He performed Haj the following year.Muhammad asked Bilal ibnRabah, a former slave and among the earliest Muslims, to give the call to prayer from the top of the Ka’bah. This angered the Makkans, who were camped in the hills outside Makkah until the Muslims completed their pilgrimage. They couldn’t believe that a former slave stood on top of their sacred house.

The Makkans broke their treaty with the Muslims by attacking a tribe allied with the Muslims. Muhammad immediately marched on Makkah and took the city peacefully in 630 C.E.

The Final Judgment

This was the time for Allah to pronounce His judgment that was repeatedly warned in the MeccanSurahs. Here the rules of war do not apply but the Judgment of Allah at the end of the Prophetic mission. Allah had spared the Meccans destruction by an act of God when Muhammad (pbuh) was driven out of Mecca. A few of the remaining chiefs of Unfaith were executed after the conquest of Mecca.

Surah Taubah the second last Surah in chronological order was revealed after the conquest of Mecca. The war was mostly with the Meccans and their allies and the Meccans were all mushrikin. Notice when mushrik is used and when kafir is used in these verses.

Verses 9:1 and 9:2 declare amnesty of four months to all mushrikin but with a warning that the kafirun among them will be covered with shame at the end of the period.

9:3 and 9:4 announces dissolution of all treaties with the mushrikin except with those who never broke their treaty and warns the kafirun (not mushrikin) of a grievous penalty.

Verse 9:5 is a command to kill all mushrikin at the end of the four month period with the exception of:

1.         Those who never broke their treaty or never fought the Muslims

2.         Those who accept Islam offer prayers and pay zakat

3.         Those who seek asylum

If the command was to kill only the kafir, then the problem would have been how to identify them since there was no longer an enemy standing in battle. The verse identifies the non kafir among the mushrikin through the exceptions listed above. The rest of the verses are by way of justification and evidence of the kufr practiced by those who are to be killed which covers all the mushrikin except those who never broke their treaty with the Muslims or never fought against them or those who seek asylum. Asylum seekers are not defiant and therefore not kafir.

The following verses are proof that the cause for fighting is not for the kufr of faith or belief which is known only to Allah, but for the kufr of violating oaths and covenants, for having plotted to expel the Messenger, and for being the first to assault the Muslims :

(9:12) But if they violate their oaths after their covenant, and taunt you for your Faith,- fight ye the chiefs of Unfaith ( a-immat-al-kufri) : for their oaths are nothing to them: that thus they may be restrained.(13) Will ye not fight people who violated their oaths, plotted to expel the Messenger, and took the aggressive by being the first (to assault) you?

There is no command to kill for simple unbelief. The fact however is that once the Chiefs of Unfaith were removed from the scene, the rest of the people either accepted Islam or sought asylum and over a period accepted Islam as evidenced by the last Surah in chronological order viz, Surah An-Nasr / Divine Support

(110:1) When comes the Help of Allah, and Victory,

(2) And thou dost see the people enter Allah´s Religion in crowds,

(3) Celebrate the praises of thy Lord, and pray for His Forgiveness: For He is Oft-Returning (in Grace and Mercy).

Those “kafaru” who had actively opposed Islam, fought wars, broke their treaties and remained defiant even after the four month amnesty period were put to the sword. Their family consisting of wife and children also perished unless they had sought asylum and dissociated from their “kafir” husband/father.  Many of the women sought asylum even before the conquest of Mecca and were given asylum. This has always been the judgment of Allah that those who are saved are those who at least seek refuge and not follow the “kafaru”.  It is the Kafaru and those who follow them who perish whether it was Prophet Lut’s wife or Pharaoh, his chiefs and followers who pursued Moses and his people, or the people who disdained from embarking Noah’s ark and remained with the “kafaru” or those among the people of Thamud who did not dissociate from the people who killed the she-camel and go with Salih during the 3 days of respite provided. It may also be noted that many of the women of Mecca like the wife of Abu Lahab were active enemies of the Muslims and many of them accompanied their men to the battle of Uhud to encourage them and many of them who also left their “kafir” husbands and sought refuge with the Prophet even before the fall of Mecca.

Not a single person was killed for simple unbelief and the principle of “Let there be no compulsion in religion” and “To (peaceful rejecter of faith ) be his way and to me mine” was never violated.

Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent contributor to The author initially used a pseudonym "Observer" for this article.

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