MUHAMMAD AND THE MECCANS
The Prophet had kept his mission concealed for three years after he received the first revelations. The Muslim brotherhood had functioned as a secret society. Ibn Ishãq gives a list of persons who had joined.1 “The advantage of the darkness for the first few years was great. The darkness saved it from being crushed at the outset. Ridicule and contempt could be more easily endured when some hundred persons were involved, than if the Prophet had been compelled to endure them by himself. It saved him, too, from the character of the eccentric sage (such as Waraqa and others had borne), investing him from his first public appearance with that of the leader of a party; it gave the Prophet time to secure over a reasonable number of people that influence which he could exercise to a reasonable degree.”2
People in Mecca had, however, sensed that something was afoot. From the first, Muslims had been directed by Allãh to offer prayers in congregation. They could not do it inside the city so long as they were an underground organisation. “When the apostle’s companions prayed,” reports Ibn Ishãq, “they went to the glens so that people could not see them praying, and while Sa‘d b. Abû Waqqãs was with a number of the prophet’s companions in one of the glens of Mecca, a band of polytheists came upon them while they were praying and rudely interrupted them. They blamed them for what they were doing until they came to blows, and it was on that occasion that Sa‘d smote a polytheist with the jawbone of a camel and wounded him. That was the first blood to be shed in Islam.”3 No reprisals from the pagan side are reported.
Some more incidents of a similar king happened and the offenders went unpunished. The pagans were not organised in an ideologically oriented group, secret or open, to be able to meet the challenge promptly and effectively. As it happens in every pluralistic society faced with an aggressive and determined minority, the Meccan majority showed only surprise and pain at what was happening. This state of helplessness displayed by the majority helped the Muslims to acquire contempt for it; some faint-hearted pagans chose to go over fast to what looked like the winning side. So the secret society felt sufficiently self-confident to come out in the open. “People began to accept Islam, both men and women, in large numbers until the fame of it spread throughout Mecca, and it began to be talked about. Then God commanded His apostle to declare the truth of what he had received and make known His commandments to men and call them to Him. Three years elapsed from the time the apostle concealed his state until God commanded him to publish his religion, according to information which has reached me. Then God said, ‘Proclaim what you have been ordered and turn aside from the polytheists.”’4
The “religion” proclaimed was very simple-the end of the world is near at hand; on the Last Day the dead will be raised and judged; those who had believed in Allãh as the only god and in Muhammad as the last Prophet will enter paradise for an everlasting life of the rarest pleasures; those who ascribed partners to Allãh or denied Muhammad’s prophethood or did both will be thrown into blazing hell-fire and subjected to ever more terrible torments without end or relief. It was made quite clear at the very outset that belief in Allãh as the only God was not enough; it had to he accompanied by the belief that Muhammad was the only mediator through whom Allãh’s mercy could be sought or obtained.
There were, of course, some novel ways of worshipping Allãh and leading a pious life. What startled the Meccans, however, was the polemics which accompanied the publicity of Islam. “To avow Islam meant to renounce publicly the national worship, to ridicule, and if possible to break down idols, and unabashedly to use the new salutation and to celebrate the new-fangled rites. For it must be remembered that Islam was in its nature polemical. Its Allah was not satisfied with worship, unless similar honour was paid to no other name; and his worship also was intolerant of idols, and of all rites not instituted by himself… Mohammed and Abu Bakr were planning an attack on the national religion, that cult which every Meccan proudly remembered had within their memory been defended by a miracle from the Abyssinian invaders and in their myths had often thus triumphed before. The gods they worshipped were, Mohammed and Abu Bakr asserted, no gods. For their worship these innovators would substitute that of the Jews whose power in South Arabia had recently been overthrown, and of the Christians with whose defeat the national spirit of Arabia had just awakened.”5
The pagan response was slow in crystallizing. The first thing which the pagans did was to lead several delegations to Abû Tãlib, Muhammad’s uncle and guardian. They told him that his nephew had “cursed our gods, insulted our religion, mocked our way of life and accused our forefathers of error”, and requested him to restrain the revolutionary. Abû Tãlib was conciliatory and tried to persuade Muhammad to go slow. “Do not put on me a burden greater than I can bear”, he said to his nephew. But the Prophet “continued on his way, publishing God’s religion and calling men therein.”6 His uncle was in no position to stop him. “Perhaps Abu Talib and his numerous family could not afford to abandon their wealthy relative; and, indeed, had Mohammed not had some power over his uncle, it is unlikely that the latter would have submitted to the inconvenience which his nephew’s mission brought on him.”7
Meanwhile, Islam was having an impact on Meccan society which was even more painful for a people wedded to the solidarity of family and clan. Every family from which a member or members had converted to the new creed was under severe strain. Sons were not only becoming rude to their parents but also pouring contempt on the elders’ way of life and worship. Brothers were becoming estranged. Marriages in which one of the partners had converted, were breaking up fast. As al-Walîd b. al-Mughîra, a man of standing in Mecca, observed, Muhammad looked like “a sorcerer who has brought a message by which he separates a man from his father, or from his brother, or from his wife, or from his family.”8
“The view prevalent at Meccah concerning Mohammad appears to have been that he was mad-under the influence of a Jinn, one of the beings who were supposed to speak through poets and sorcerers. That this charge stung Mohammed to the quick may be inferred from the virulence with which he rejects it, and the invective with which he attacks the ‘bastard’ who had uttered it. He charges the author of the outrage with being unable to write and with being over head and ears in debt and threatens to brand him on his ‘proboscis.’”9 Allãh thundered on his prophet’s behalf: “You are not a mad man… And you will see and they will see, which of you is the demented. Therefore obey not you the rejecters, who would have you compromise, that they may compromise: Neither obey you each feeble oath-monger, detractor, spreader abroad of slanders, hinderer, of the good, an aggressor, malefactor, greedy therewithal, intrusive. We shall brand him on the nose.”10
This loss of temper on Allãh’s part, however, served only to confirm the Meccans in their suspicion. Another incident gave strength to it. One day some Meccans were assembled in the precincts of the Ka‘ba when Muhammad also happened to come by. The Meccans made some remarks within his hearing. Muhammad hit back, “By him who holds my life in His hand, I bring you slaughter.”11 The Meccans were stunned. They concluded that something had happened to Muhammad who had been known earlier as a man of even temper. Muhammad had claimed that an angel came to him often with Allãh’s revelations. The Meccans became sure that he was being visited by some malevolent Spirit.
The Meccans sent ‘Utba b. Rabî‘a, one of their chiefs, to Muhammad. Among other offers made by ‘Utba to Muhammad, one was that of providing medical relief. ‘Utba said, “If this ghost which comes to you, which you see, is such that you cannot get rid of him, we will find a physician for you, and exhaust our means in getting you cured, for often a spirit gets possession of a man until he can be cured of it.”12 The Prophet remained calm, explained his mission to ‘Utba, and recited some Qur’ãn. ‘Utba came back convinced that Muhammad was quite sane and advised the Meccans to leave him alone. “If (other) Arabs kill him, others will have rid you of him,” he said.13 The Meccans, however, did not agree with him. They decided to launch an offensive against the Prophet. Their patience had come to an end.
The questions which the Meccans posed and the observations they made are scattered over many chapters of Qur’ãn. We have collected and sorted them out with reference to subject and logical sequence. “The objections recorded and ostensibly answered in the Koran appear to have been directed against every part and feature of the new system; against Mohammed personally, against his notion of prophecy, against his style, his statements, his doctrines. It is impossible to suggest any chronological scheme for them.”14
The manner in which the debate is recorded in the Qur’ãn is somewhat strange. The Meccans must have said what they said, to Muhammad and his Muslims directly, or among themselves. But the answers come invariably from Allãh in the form of revelations. It appears as if Allãh thought it hazardous to depend upon the credibility or the capacity of his prophet to meet the challenge. “The debate with which the earlier years were filled was conducted in a variety of ways. Occasionally the Prophet himself condescended to enter the arena, and confront his antagonists: he was indeed a powerful preacher and ‘when he talked of the Day of Judgment his cheeks blazed, and his voice rose, and his manner was fiery’; apparently, however, he was not a ready debater, and was worsted when he tried the plan. Moreover, his temper in debate was not easily controlled, and he was apt to give violent and insulting answers to questioners. He therefore received divine instruction not to take part in open debate, to evade the question and if questioned by the unbelievers, retire.”15
Cynics may say that the Prophet was using Allãh as an alibi. Whatever be the truth, Allãh’s intervention helped in preserving some very significant pagan statements, as we shall see. The biographers of the Prophet do indicate that a debate took place during his mission at Mecca. But their reports on the subject are one-sided, apart from being sketchy.
The style in which the pagan questions are posed and Allãh’s answers stated in the Qur’ãn is stereotyped. The points the Meccans made are preceded by the phrase, “They say”, and Allãh’s rejoinders by the phrase, “Say”. Allãh looks like a prompter guiding from the wings an actor on the stage. Quite often, the debate is reported as having taken place between some earlier prophet and his people. It is obvious, however, that the participants meant are Muhammad and his pagan contemporaries, “More often then the controversy was conducted as it is… in election times, when different speakers address different meetings. The points are recorded and reported by members of the audience to the antagonists; who then proceed if they deem it worth while, in some manner to reply.”16
To start with, the Meccans felt amused that a man like Muhammad, who was distinguished neither by birth nor breeding, should strut around proclaiming himself a prophet. Muhammad’s followers also came from classes and occupations which were not very respectable according to Meccan standards. Allãh reports: “When they see you (O Muhammad) they treat you as a jest saying: Is he (the man) whom Allãh has sent as a messenger? He would have led us far away from our gods if we had not been staunch to them… Has he invented a lie concerning Allãh or is there some madness in him? …Shall we forsake our gods for a mad poet? …Or one of the gods has possessed you in an evil way… Shall we put faith in you when the lowest (people) follow you? …We see you but mortal (man) like us, and we see not that any save the most abject among us follow you, without reflection. We behold in you no merit above us-nay, we deem you liars… We are surely better than this fellow who can hardly make (his meaning) clear… We do not understand much of what you say, and we see you weak among us… We are more (than you) in wealth, and in children… Why are not angels sent down unto us, and why do we not see our Lord? …If you cease not, you will soon be the outcast.”17
Allãh keeps mum about his Prophet’s birth and breeding. About the Prophet’s followers he says that their past is not relevant after they have come to the true faith. He assures the Meccans that Muhammad is neither mad, nor a poet, nor possessed. He laments that the Meccans think too highly of themselves and are proud and scornful. He assures Muhammad that the time is fast approaching when it will be found out who is really mad, and that the disbelievers shall stand humbled.
Muhammad’s and his followers’ low birth and lack of breeding may sound a merit in our own times when an inverted snobbery, which prizes them above everything else, has been made fashionable by Marxism and allied ideologies; one has to hide one’s high birth and breeding these days in order to pass muster. To the Meccans of the seventh century as to their contemporary societies, however, Muhammad’s bio-data disqualified him, at least as a messenger from Allãh. Biographers of the prophet would not have taken the pains they took, and invented fables in order to invest Muhammad with a distinguished pedigree, had not his background been seen by them as a distinct disadvantage to his claims and career. Margoliouth has cited several early Muslim sources to conclude that Muhammad’s grandfather, ‘Abd al-MuTTalib, was a manumitted slave who made his living by means which were not considered honourable in Mecca at that time, namely, lending money and providing water and food to the pilgrims for a consideration.18 In any case, there is no escape from the evidence provided by the Qur’ãn that Muhammad himself felt deeply hurt by the jibes hurled at him by the Meccans and sought consolation from Allãh. It appears that he himself shared the standards or prejudices of his age.
Another point which provided amusement to the Meccans was the Prophet’s incapacity to perform miracles. He had himself invited the trouble by producing revelations in which the preceding prophets, particularly Moses and Jesus, had exhibited supernatural powers. Allãh reports: “They say: This is only a mortal like you who would make himself superior to you… He is only a man in whom there is a madness. So watch him for a while… This is only a mortal like you who eats whereof you eat, and drinks of what you drink… If you were to obey a mortal like yourselves, you surely will be losers… What ails the messenger of Allãh that he eats and walks in the markets? …You are but mortals like us who would fain turn us away from what our fathers used to worship… shall mere mortals guide us? …You are but a mortal man like us. RaHmãn has naught revealed to you but a lie… Is this other than a mortal man? Will you then succumb to magic when you see it? …So bring some token if you are of the truthful… If only some portent were sent down upon him from his Lord … If only he would bring us a miracle from the Lord… Why are no portents sent down upon him? …Why then have armlets of gold not been set upon him, or angles sent along with him? …We shall not put faith in you till you cause a spring to gush forth from the earth for us, or you have a garden of date-palms and grapes and cause rivers to gush forth therein abundantly, or you cause the heavens to fall peacemeal as you have pretended, or bring Allãh and the angels as warrant, or you have a house of gold, or you ascend into heaven, and even then we will put no faith in your ascension till you bring down a book that we can read… Or why is not treasure thrown down unto him or why has he not a paradise from whence to eat? …You are following but a man bewitched…”19
Allãh assures the Meccans: “Your comrade errs not, nor is deceived… Surely he beheld him (the angel) on the horizon. Nor is he avid of the unseen…” He commands the Prophet: “Say: You are a warner only… Say: I am naught save a mortal messenger… Portents are with Allãh and I am a warner only… Allãh is able to send down a portent. But most of them known not…” He reminds Muhammed that the Meccans are not likely to believe even if a miracle is shown to them. “The hour drew nigh and the moon was rent in twain. And if they behold a portent, they turn away and say: Prolonged illusion.”20 According to some commentators on the Qur’ãn, this revelation refers to an actual miracle performed by the Prophet. One night the moon had split into two and Mount Hara was seen standing between the two parts. But the Meccans dismissed it as an illusion. Other commentators, however, say that this refers to a future event when the Last Day will be near at hand.
The Meccan stood firm by their gods; their faith in the gods was not at all shaken by Muhammad’s attacks. Allãh reports: “When it was said unto them, There is no God save Allãh, they were scornful, and said: Shall we forsake our gods for a mad poet?… And they marvel that a warner from among themselves has come. They say: This is a wizard, a charlatan. Makes he the gods One God? This is an astounding thing… The chiefs among them go about exhorting: Go and be staunch by your gods. This is a thing designed (against) you. We have not heard this earlier in our religion. This is naught but an invention. Has a Reminder been revealed unto him alone among us?… Why not Allãh speak to us, or some sign come to us?… Had Allãh willed we would not have ascribed (unto him) partners, neither our forefathers… Had Allãh willed we would not have worshipped aught beside Him, we and our forefathers, nor forbidden aught commanded from Him… We worship them only that they may bring us near unto Allãh… He has invented a lie about Allãh…”21
Some of their observations were addressed to Muhammad, though reported by Allãh: “Enough for us is that wherein we found our forefathers. Have you come to us that we serve Allãh alone and foresake what our fathers worshipped? Do you ask us not to worship what our forefathers worshipped? We are in grave doubt concerning that to which you call us… Does your way of prayer command you that we should forsake that which our forefathers worshipped ?… We found our forefathers following a religion, and we are guided by their footprints. In what you bring we are disbelievers… O Wizard! Entreat your Lord by the pact he has made with you, so that we may walk aright…”22
The Meccans were in no mood to accept the name which Muhammad wanted to foist on Allãh: “When they see you, they but choose you out of mockery: Is this (the man) who makes mockery of our gods? And they would deny all mention of the RaHmãn… And when they are asked to adore RaHmãn, they say: What is RaHmãn? Are we to adore whatever you bid us? And it increases aversion in them… And when the son of Mary is quoted as an example, behold! the folk laugh out, and say: Are our gods better, or is he?… They call our revelations false with strong denial… And when the Qur’ãn is recited unto them, they do not prostrate themselves.”23
But, as Muhammad persisted in reviling their gods, the Meccans decided to hit back. They met him and said: “Muhammad, you will either stop cursing our gods, or we will curse your Allãh.” They had understood finally that the Allãh whose will Muhammad was revealing was not the Allãh they worshipped. Allãh of the Qur’ãn felt concerned at this new turn and revealed, “Had Allãh willed, they would not have been idolatrous. We have not set you as a keeper over them, nor are you responsible for them. Revile not those unto whom they pray beside Allah lest they wrongfully revile Allah through ignorance.”24 Ibn Ishãq observes: “I have been told that the apostle refrained from cursing their gods, and began to call them to Allãh.”25
The Meccans, however, were not at all impressed by the revelations produced by the Prophet; they did not accept his claim that he received them from some higher source. They thought that he was inventing them himself. Allãh reports: “They say: This is naught else than the speech of a mortal man… This is naught else than an invented lie… Nay, say they, (these are but) muddled dreams, he has but invented it; nay, he is but a poet… And when our revelations are recited unto them, they say: We have heard. If we wish we can speak the like of this. This is naught but fables of the men of old…”26
Muhammad threw a challenge to the Meccans. Allãh prompted him: “Say: Then bring a sûrah like unto it, and call (for help) all you can besides Allãh if you are truthful.”27 The challenge was accepted by al-NaDr b. Hãrith, a Meccan chief, who said: “I can tell a better story than he… In what respect is Muhammad a better story-teller?”28 He told several stories in verses which were like verses of the Qur’ãn. Muhammad felt outraged and never forgave al-NaDr. “The effect of the criticism must have been very damaging; for when the Prophet at the battle of Badr got the man into his power, he executed him at once while he allowed the others to be ransomed.”29 Ibn Ishãq confirms that when the apostle was at al-Safrã’ on his way back from Badr. “al-NaDr was killed by ‘Alî…”30 But while the Prophet was still in Mecca, Allãh thought it wise to pacify the pagans. He revealed: “It is not a poet’s speech… nor diviner’s speech. And if he had invented false sayings, we assuredly had taken him by the right hand, and severed his life-artery, and not one of you could have held us off from him.”31
The more knowledgeable among the Meccans suspected that Muhammad was only repeating what he had learnt from the People of the Book, Jews and Christians. Allãh reports: “They say: And we know well that only a man teaches him… This is naught but a lie that he has invented and other folk have helped him so that they produced a slander and a lie… Fables of men of old which he has written down so that they are dictated to him morn and evening… One taught (by others), a mad man…”32
There were several stories current in Mecca regarding the particular person or persons who coached Muhammad in biblical lore which, they said, was all that came out in the Qur’ãn. “One account says it was Jabar, a Greek servant to Amer Ebn al Hadrami, who could read and write well; another, that they were Jabar and Yesar, two slaves who followed the trade of sword cutlers at Mecca, and used to read the pentateuch and gospel and had often Mohammed as their auditor, when he passed that way. Another tells us it was Aîsh, or Yãsîh, a domestic of al Haweiteb Ebn Abd al ‘Uzzã, who was a man of some learning, and had embraced Mohammedanism. Another supposes it was Kais, a Christian, whose house Muhammad frequented; another, that it was Addãs, a servant of Otba Ebn Rabia…”33
Having seen the People of the Book from close quarters, the Meccans found it difficult to believe that divine knowledge had been sent to the Jews and the Christians long ago, and that they themselves were deprived of it till the advent of Muhammad. Allãh proceeds: “They say: The Scripture was revealed only to two sets of people before us, and we in sooth were not aware of what they read… If the Scripture had been revealed unto us, we surely would have been better guided than are they… Two magics which support each other… In both we are disbelievers… If it had been any good they would not have been before us in attaining it… This is an ancient lie.”34
It had also been noticed that Muhammad produced revelations according to his convenience in the debate. Allãh complained: “And when we put a revelation in place of (another), they say: You are but inventing… Why is not the Qur’ãn revealed unto him all at one.”35 Allãh had himself revealed that the Qur’ãn was being read out from a “well guarded tablet” preserved in the highest heaven. Why was it then being doled out in bits and pieces? The Meccans suspected that the Prophet was inventing verses as occasion demanded.
The incident which confirmed their suspicion was that of the so-called Satanic Verses. Tabarî has recorded: “When the apostle saw that his people turned their backs on him and he was pained by their estrangement from what he brought them from God he longed that there should come to him from God a message that would reconcile his people to him… Then God sent down, ‘Have ye thought of Al-Lãt and al-‘Uzzã and Manãt the third, the other, these are the exalted Gharãnîq whose intercession is approved.’” The Meccans felt happy and thought that the strife was over, now that Muhammad had endorsed their Goddesses. But Muhammad had to face his own followers who felt betrayed. The verses were withdrawn soon after and replaced by another revelation. “So God annulled what Satan had suggested and God established His verses.”36
So the Meccans turned down the Qur’ãn totally and finally. Allãh reports: “Their chieftains said: We surely see you in foolishness and we deem you of the liars… It is all one to us whether you preach or are not of those who preach… Our hearts are protected from that unto which you (Muhammad) call us, and in our ears there is deafness, and between us and you there is a veil… They say (to their people): Heed not this Qur’ãn, and drown the hearing of it.”37
Having reaffirmed their Gods and rejected Muhammad’s prophethood as well as revelations, the Meccans made fun of the Last Day (Yaumu’l Ãkhir) which is described by Allah variously as Day of Resurrection (Yaumu’l Qiyamah), Day of Separation (Yaumu’l FaSl), Day of Reckoning (Yaumu’l Hisãb), Day of Awakening (Yaumu’l Ba’l), Day of Judgment (Yaumu’l Dîn), Day of Encompassing (Yaumu’l MuHit) or simply as The Hour (As-Sa’ah).38 “For Muhammad, a revivalist preacher seeking to strike terror in his hearers, the doctrines of resurrection and of the judgment were of the first importance, and the Qur’ãn, in consequence, is full of references to them.”39 on this day, the dead are to be raised, judged, and sent to eternal heaven if they were believers, and to an eternal hell if they were unbelievers. The pagan Arabs, on the other hand, believed in survival of the human personality after death. In the absence of positive evidence it is difficult to give details of their doctrine. But if we go by what the Sabaeans believed, they stood for transmigration of souls.40 So “the notion of the reconstruction of the decayed body seemed to them in the highest degree absurd, and Mohammed’s promise of heavenly spouses occasioned mirth.”41
Allãh reports: “They say: Shall we show you a man who will tell you (that) when you have become dispersed in death, with the most complete dispersal, still even then, you will be created anew. Has he invented a lie concerning Allãh or is there in him a madness?… This is a strange thing: When we are dead and have become dust like our forefathers, shall we verily be brought back? We were promised this forsooth, we and our forefathers. This is naught but fables of the men of old. Bring back our fathers if you speak the truth… When we are lost in the earth, how can we then be recreated?… Shall we really be restored to our first state: Even after we are crumbled bones? Then that will be a vain proceeding… There is naught but our life of this world; we die and we live, and naught destroys us save Time… We deem it but a conjecture, and are by no means convinced… And they swear by Allãh their most binding oaths (that) Allãh will not raise him who dies…”42
Allãh’s rejoinder is also recorded in the Qur’ãn: “We know what the earth takes, and with us is a recording Book… Thinks man we shall not assemble his bones. We are able to restore his very finger… Surely it will need but one Shout, and they will be awakened… Those of old and those of later times, will all be brought together to the tryst of an appointed day. Then you the deniers, you will eat of a tree called Zaqqum, and will fill your bellies therewith and thereon you will drink of boiling water, drinking as the camel drinks. This will be their welcome on the Day of Judgment…”43
The Meccans, however, were not cowed down by these threats. They challenged Muhammad to hurry up and bring down the doom upon them. Allãh reports: “They say: You have disputed with us and multiplied disputation with us. Now bring down upon us that wherewith you threaten us, if you are truthful… O Allãh! if this be indeed the truth from you, rain down stones on us or bring us some painful doom… Our Lord! Hasten us for our fate before the Day of Reckoning… They ask you of the Hour: When will it come to port?… When will the promise be fulfilled, if you are truthful? When is the Day of Judgment?… They say: The hour will never come to us…”44 The Meccans threw this challenge again and again if the Qur’ãn is to be believed.
Muhammad had to wriggle out of the situation. Allãh reports: “Say: Knowledge thereof is with my Lord. He alone will manifest it at the proper time… It comes not to you save unawares… But Allãh will not punish them while you (Muhammad) are with them… For every nation there is an appointed time… It is (only) then when it has befallen that you will believe… And it is in the Scriptures of the men of old. Is it not a portent for them that the doctors of the Children of Israel know it? …You are but a warner sent unto them… So withdraw from them and await (the event)…”45
“Thus then the years of the debate rolled on; in which parties increased in vehemence and antagonism, and in which the successful polemics of the Meccans on the new religion were met by ridicule and refutation of the religious notions current among the pagans. As has been said, the Meccan side is known only from the statements of the adversary, whose acquaintance with the Meccan religion may not have been very deep…”46
The poet Abû Qays b. al-Aslat whose pseudonym was Sayfî summed up the pagan position as follows:
Lord of mankind, serious things have happened.
It may be noted that the Lord of the pagans is the Lord of mankind, and not the Lord of Muslims alone.
Muhammad’s mission at Mecca had failed. Commenting on the last phase of the Meccan Sûras, F. Buhl says: “It is the weakest part of the Qur’ãn, in which Muhammad’s imagination became exhausted, and he was content with tiresome repetitions of his earlier ideas and especially with the tales of the prophets. The form becomes discursive, and more prosaic… The passages belonging to it show clearly that Muhammad would have become intellectually bankrupt if the migration to Medina had not aroused him to a new effort…”48
This is not the place to go into what the Prophet did after migration to Medina; the story has been documented in detail by the biographers of the Prophet-surprise raids on trade caravans and tribal settlements; the use of plunder thus obtained for recruiting an ever-growing army of desperados; assassinations of opponents ordered, and blessed when successful; expropriation, expulsion and massacre of Jews who had lived for long in Medina; attack on and enslavement of Jews settled in Khybar; sale of women and children, captured in raids, for buying horses and arms; conquest of Mecca and the rest of Arabia by show as well as use of overwhelming force; and winning over to his fold, by means of bribes, the tricksters and the treacherous in every Arab tribe. He organised no less than eighty-six expeditions, twenty-six of which he led himself. He was getting ready to invade neighbouring lands when he died all of a sudden. What interests us in the present context are the revelations he produced vis-a-vis those who worship Gods other than his Allãh.
Believers were prohibited from contracting marriage relations with the idolaters;49 they were forbidden to pray for the idolaters, even if the latter were their parents or kinsmen of the first degree.50 Immediately after the conquest of Mecca, the Ka‘ba which had been a pagan temple for ages past was placed out of bounds for the pagans; it was converted into a place of Muslim worship as we shall see. Allãh revised the history of Arabia in order to justify the usurpation. He revealed, “Say: Allãh speaks truth… The first sanctuary appointed for mankind was that at Becca… And (remember) when we prepared for Abraham the place of the (holy) House saying, Ascribe you nothing as partners unto Me, and purify my house for those who make the round (thereof) and those who stand and those who bow and make prostrations… It is not for the idolaters to tend Allãh’s sanctuaries, bearing witness against themselves of disbelief… The idolaters only are unclean. So let them not near the Place of Inviolable worship after this year…”51
A permanent jihãd (holy war) was pronounced on the idolaters: “Those who believe do battle for the cause of Allãh; and those who disbelieve do battle for the cause of idols. So fight the minions of the devil… Slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them (captive) and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush…”52
Going back to the debate at Mecca, it is obvious that in those days Allãh was keeping a diary of all that happened in the pagan metropolis between the Muslims on the one hand and the pagans on the other. It is difficult to believe that he recorded only that which the pagans said and ignored altogether that which they did to the Muslims. If this inference is correct, certain conclusions follow.
The bulk of the Qur’ãn covers the Meccan period in the life of the Prophet. We do not find in any of the chapters even the hint of any physical method used by the Meccans towards Muhammad or his Muslims. The only violence we come across is in the language of Allãh who frets and fumes and threatens the Meccans with dire consequences, all too frequently and for no other reason than that the Meccans refuse to accept what is written in the scriptures of the Jews and the Christians, and stick to their own ancient religion. What credence, then, can be placed in the stories, sold by the biographers of Muhammad, that while the Prophet argued his case with patience and in a reasoned manner, his opponents did not know how to meet the challenge and resorted to physical methods? We find no evidence for these stories in the only contemporary source available to us, namely, the Qur’ãn.
On the contrary, the biographers provide several broad hints of violence threatened or committed by the zealots of Islam in the streets of Mecca. For instance, when ‘Umar became a Muslim, he went to the Ka‘ba and proclaimed to his fellow citizens, “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the apostle of Allah! Whoever of you moves, I shall cut off his head with my bright scimitar, and shall send him to the Mansion of destruction.”53 Margoliouth observes: “The persons whose accession to Islam was most welcomed were men of physical strength, and much actual fighting must have taken place at Meccah before the Flight; else the readiness with which the Moslems after the Flight could produce from their number tried champions would be inexplicable. A tried champion must have been tried somewhere…”54 We do not expect Allãh to find place for these Muslim doings in his diary. We also know his defence for slurring over the misdeeds of his minions. It is the same as that of every Marxist historian-Comrade! I am a partisan. I have no use for bloody bourgois objectivity.” All that we are saying is that we cannot help suspecting the stories which say that the Muslims were on the receiving end. They look very much like the products of Islamic martyrology.
Martyrs have been the stock-in-trade of prophetic creeds down the ages. Long before the prophet of Islam was born, the annalists of Judaism and Christianity had perfected the art of making the agressor look like the victim of aggression, and vice versa. The Bible was the master-piece produced by this art. The biographers of the Prophet had only to borrow the art and practise it in the new context. The art continued to flourish in Christian and Muslim countries till the eighteenth century when it was rejected in the modern West and a new discipline of history-writing emerged. It was, however, revived in Soviet Russia under Stalin and had a fresh lease of life. Now Russia has also rejected it with repugnance. The only land in which it is being practised at present and on some scale is India. The Stalinist historians who were placed in positions of power in the regime of Jawaharlal Nehru and his Minister of “Education”, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, have been practising this art with considerable self-confidence. They are of course nowhere near the masters of yester years. It is seldom that apes acquire the looks of those they imitate. But they do create confusion till they are identified and exposed.
Another conclusion follows from Allãh’s silence over any mundane motives on the part of the Meccans when they stand up for their Gods. Allãh accused them of ignorance, obstinacy, temptations from Satan and the rest, but never of greed for the rich revenues brought in by pilgrims to the Ka‘ba. It needs an investigation as to when and by whom this base motive was attributed to the Meccans for explaining their devotion to their religion. Allãh for sure had no part in spreading the canard. Whatever its origin, this much is certain that it must have acquired respectability with the spread of Marxism. By now it has become the most fashionable way of explaining the quarrel between Muhammad and his kinsmen. Marxists as well non-Marxists mouth it with equal conviction. Nearer home, the same mind has spread a similar canard about the Brahmins. We are told that the Brahmins proclaim and practise their “puerile priestcraft” not because they believe in any part of it but because it brings them mundane privileges and material profits. Those who have studied the history of Brahmins and are familiar with the depths of their spiritual traditions, and therefore dismiss the lies spread about them by Christian missionaries and Marxist mullahs, can very well judge the worth of the canard spread about the Meccans.
The motives of the converts to Islam were, however, not in doubt from the very first. “Of any moralising or demoralising effect which Mohammed’s teaching had upon his followers, we cannot speak with precision. When he was at the head of the robber community it is probable that the demoralising influence began to be felt; it was then that men who had never broken an oath learnt that they might evade their obligations, and that men to whom the blood of their clansmen had been as their own began to shed it with impunity in the cause of God; and that lying and treachery in the cause of Islam received divine approval, hesitation to perjure oneself in that cause being reprehended as a weakness. It was then, too, that Moslems became distinguished by the obscenity of their language. It was then, too, that the coveting of goods and wives (possessed by Unbelievers) was avowed without discouragement from the Prophet… On the other hand, there is no evidence that the Moslems were either in personal or altruistic morality better than the pagans…”55
The war which
Allãh of the Qur’ãn had declared on pagan Gods was aimed
at ensuring a moral holiday for his followers. The ancient religion of
Arabia which centred round those Gods had established certain moral standards
and social conventions which kept the beast in man under restraint. The
destruction of temples where the Gods were worshipped gave a clear signal
that the beast had been unleashed.
2 D.S. Margoliouth, op. cit., p. 112.
3 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., p. 118.
4 Ibid., p. 117. Allãh’s command can be read in Qur’ãn, 15.8-9, 94.
5 D.S. Margoliouth, op. cit., p. 118-19.
6 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit, p. 119.
7 D.S. Margoliouth, op. cit., p. 123. It may be mentioned that Muhammad was married to a rich woman, Khadîjah, and controlled her considerable wealth which he used for supporting his uncle’s family as well as in the service of the mission to which his wife also subscribed.
8 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit, p. 121.
9 D.S. Margoliouth, p. cit., p. 121.
10 Qur’ãn, 68.2, 5-6, 8-13.
11 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., p. 131.
12 Ibid., p. 132.
13 Ibid., p. 133.
14 D.S. Margoliouth, op., cit., p. 130.
15 Ibid., p. 127. Allãhs’ instruction to the Prophet can be read in Qur’ãn 6.67.
16 Ibid., pp. 127-28.
17 “Qur’ãn 25.41-42. 34.8; 37.36; 11.54; 26.111; 11.27; 43.52; 11.91; 34.35; 25.21; 26.167.
18 D. S. Margoliouth, op. cit., pp. 41-49.
19 Qur’ãn. 23.24,25,33,34; 2S.6; 14.10; 64.60; 36.15; 21.3; 26.154; 13.7; 20.133; 29.50-, 43.53; 17.90-93; 25.8. The Meccans (36.15) have a fling at RaHmãn, the name which the Prophet gave to Allãh quite frequently. They hated this name.
20 Ibid., 53.2; 81.23-24; 29.50; 13.7; 54.1-2.
21 Ibid., 37.35-36; 38.4-8; 2.183; 6.149; 39.3; 42.24.
22 Ibid., 5.104; 7.70; 11.62; 11.87; 43.22,24,49.
23 Ibid., 21.36; 25.60; 43.57-58; 78.28; 84.21.
24 Ibid., 6.108-109.
25 Ibn Ishãq, op, cit., p. 162.
26 Qur’ãn,74.25; 34.43 (also 11.13,35;32.3;34.43;46.8; 52.33); 21.5; 8.3l.,
27 Ibid., 10.38.
28 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., p. 136. See also p. 163.
29 D.S. Margoliouth, op. cit., p. 135.
30 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., p. 308.
31 Qur’ãn, 69, 41-42. 44-47.
32 Ibid., 16.103; 25.4-5; 44.14. The Meccan allegation goes to show that Muhammad was not an illiterate as is asserted even in the Qur’ãn (29.46,49).
33 George Sale, The Koran or Alcoran of Mohammed, London (n.d). p. 233, footnote 1.
34 Qur’ãn, 6.157-58; 28.48; 46.11.
35 Ibid., 16.101; 25.32;
36 Insert in Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., p. 165-66. Allah’s replacement of the “Satanic Verses” can be read in Qur’ãn. 53.19-17.
37 Qur’ãn, 7.66; 26.136; 41.5. 46.26.
38 Ibid., 2.79; 77.14; 40.28; 30.56; 1.3; 11.85.
39 First Encyclopaedia of Islam, op. cit., Vol. IV, p.1018.
40 Encyclopaedia Americana, New York, 19252, Vol. XXIV, p. 77.
41 D. S. Margoliouth, op, cit. p. 138.
42 Qur’ãn, 34.7-8; 50.2-3; 27.67-68; 44.36; 45.32; 32.10; 79.10-12, 45 24, 32; 16.38. The reference to the earlier promise points to the Jews who had been proclaiming for a long time that the forefathers of the Arabs will be raised again and judged.
43 Ibid., 50.4; 75.3-4; 79.13-14; 56.49-57.
44 Ibid., 11.22; 8.32; 48.16; 7.187; 10.48; 32.28; 51.13; 34.3.
45 Ibid., 188.8.131.52:10.49,51; 26.96-87; 79.45.
46 D. S. Margoliouth. op. cit., p. 141.
47 Ibn Ishãq, op. cit., p. 201.
48 First Encyclopaedia of Islam, op. cit., Volume IV, p. 1075.
49 Qur’ãn. 2.221.
50 Ibid., 9.113-14.
51 Ibid., 3.95-96; 22.26; 9.17,28. “Mecca” was also pronounced as “Becca” in olden times.
52 Ibid., 4.76, 9.5.
53 The Rauzat-us-Safa, or Garden of Purity by Muhammad bin Khavendshah bin Mahmud translated into English by E. Rehatsek, first published 1893, Delhi Reprint 1982, Vol. I, pt. II, p. 183.
54 D.S. Margoliouth, op. cit., p. 161.
D. S. Margoliouth, op. cit., p. 149.