Continued from "War of Words"
Hijra changed it all – the aptitude of the Prophet, the content of the Quran, the character of the faith, and above all, the destiny of Islam. Had Muhammad, revealing the Quran, confined himself to Mecca, or had he continued with his meditation at Hira, probably, he would have ended up being the Bahira of Kabah. But, even as the rejection of the Quraysh steeled his will, the conversion of the Yathribs into Islam cemented his belief in himself. In the end, the Hijra with the accompanied submission of the Helpers turned the Prophet of Mecca into the Czar of Medina. However, it was in the Battle of Badr that he discovered his unique skills of man-management, which kindled his ambition to conquer Arabia. And that changed the destiny of Islam as well as the harmony of the world.
If in Mecca, it was the promise of the ‘Hereafter’ that attracted the faithful into the Islamic fold, in Medina, it was the spoils of war and the prospect of Paradise, which swelled the ranks of the Musalmans. It may be noted that it was Muhammad who led by example in looting the Jewish settlements of the oases, one after the other. In the process, wittingly or unwittingly, its prophet gave Islam plunder as its legacy. Much after his death, as the Musalmans ran over the nations of the world, loot became the single source of Arab income.
However, it was also Muhammad who had set the trend by providing for his faithful with the spoils of war. As can be expected, living out of ransom and plunder wouldn’t have shaped a work-culture amongst his faithful, and the nations of the West Asia, to this day, suffer from the lack of it. Thus, Muhammad’s statecraft, based on parasitism, proved to be the economic nemesis of the Islamic world in the long run. And the Quran too played its part by deprecating the life ‘here’ and extolling the one in ‘Hereafter’.
The politico-religious ascendancy that Medina afforded Muhammad enabled him to deal with the Jews, the Christians and the idolaters, read the Meccans, rather aggressively. The Medina revelations of the Quran provide ample testimony to the changed realities in Muhammad’s political life and the altered goalposts of his religious ambition. Likewise, the socio-military consolidation that he could bring about in Medina finds reflection in his arbitrariness in dealing with his detractors. However, after pushing the Jewish settlers into Muslim subjugation, it’s as though ‘the God’ left the Quran to Muhammad’s care. After all, by then Jehovah was avenged well and true.
For his part, blessed with capable men to protect the faith he founded, Muhammad began to address himself to the administration of Medina, however, with an eye on Mecca. Living a frugal life, in spite of his one-fifth share of the ever-rising war booty, he was wont to tend the poor and the needy amongst the Helpers. However, in time, with his politico-religious consolidation well underway, Muhammad turned his attention to the possibilities of life ‘here’ itself. Though by then, he had Sawadh and Ayesha, both of whom he married after Khadijah’s demise, maybe driven by the desire for an heir to take over the mantle from him, or pushed by the dictates of his passion, and/or both, he began seeking more and more women to cohabit.
While Quran obliged him by waiving the four women ceiling for him, power, the magnet that draws women to men, fetched him nine more wives, not to speak of the slave girls that came with the spoils of war. After all, there was the divine sanction in place for the Semitic Prophets to keep the female slaves all for themselves. That might make the skeptics wonder whether these prophets of yore were but tribal heads who donned the religious garb to pursue their own agendas for better effect. Notwithstanding his fondness for women, Ayesha remained his favorite till the very end, though he was enamored of Mariyah, towards the end of his chequered life.
Those who won’t vouch for Islam, in particular the Christians, tend to debunk Muhammad for his ways of the flesh, and by extension the faith he founded as well. To be fair to Muhammad, he never claimed himself to be a saint. Instead, he had all along maintained that he was, after all, human. Besides, while the culture of his tribe sanctioned polygamy, the proclivities of the war widows warranted it; and thus to measure the libido of the Arabic prophet on the Christian scale of missionary celibacy would indeed be erroneous.
His personal philosophy concerning the pleasures of life is best illustrated in his own words when one of his followers wanted to seek his permission to become an ascetic.
“Hast though not in me an example,” said Muhammad, “And I go into women, I eat meat, and I fast, and I break my fast. He is not of my people who maketh men eunuchs or maketh himself an eunuch. For verily thine eyes have their rights over thee. And thy body hath its rights. As thy family have their rights, so pray, and sleep and fast, and breakfast.”
More than the personal character, it is the public posturing of this singular man, who rules the minds of millions of Musalmans to this day, which is worth examining. That the Musalmans, most of whom were converts from varied cultures and from far off lands, should treat every word of his as the Gospel Truth, and take his prescriptions, based on medieval injunctions, as divine sanctions indeed make the faith of Islam but a creed of Muhammadanism! To the perennial hurt of the Musalmans, and paradoxically at that, all the while waging war against idolatry, he forever encouraged his followers to worship his persona, and revere his personal affects. Why the inimical effect of this is there for all to see in the Islam of the day.
Above all, this account of an ambassador of Quraysh reveals it all: “O people, I have been sent as envoy unto kings – unto Caesar and Chosroes and the Negus – and I have not seen a king whose men so honour him as the companions of Muhammad honour Muhammad. If he commandeth aught, they almost outstrip his word in fulfilling it; when he performeth his ablution, they well might fight for the water thereof; when he speaketh, their voices are hushed in his presence; nor will they look him full in the face, but lower their eyes in reverence for him.”
It’s as though Muhammad had put the fear of ‘the God’ in his followers so that they come to revere him, His messenger.
Continued to "Angels of War"
My view of Islam is that postdating Christianity by several centuries, it was infused with borrowed Jewish and Christian ideas; most evidently, from Judaism, the cult of monotheism, and from Christianity, the notion of this life’s reward or punishment in an after-life. It is clear from the life of Mohammed, as a man of his times, that Judaism and Christianity had become culturally set in a manner that excluded so-called Arabia; Mohammed brought monotheism and the culture it engendered of authority from one divine source as stipulated in the Koran to the Arab people. The agent of transmission was named as the biblical angel Gabriel; Ishmael, the son of Abraham by Hagar, was ancestor to Mohammed. For Islam to be such a roaring success, it was evidently providential.
To Christianity, Islam was less a rival religion as a judgment: it showed up what Christianity had become. The two religions were equal in the form of their tenure and practice. Both depended on earthly power to endure, and that in distinct empires. If Islam was in error to Christian judgment, primarily in the denial of the divinity of Christ, this was a secondary matter to the equal form of the religions: both territorial, both preoccupied with 'this life', even as a preparation for the next; and both equally vindicated in continuity; the passing of time consolidating each tradition, internal divisions and all.
What we have today, in the main, are parallel traditional belief systems, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc., each vindicated by an enduring tradition, which is a form of arguing validity for each one to itself. But we live in a scientific age that has accumulated its own tradition over centuries, that has actually objectified perception to an extent that has shaken the foundations of religious tradition, and made its own conversion of minds to regard as illusion anything to do with God and the invisible as influencing human destiny. Man is the master of his own destiny: science provides the solutions to all his problems. Ironically, the scientific age is context to the most fantastic illusions from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to ‘Star Wars’ to ‘Harry Potter’ that grip the public interest in the manner of a substitute belief but with only immediate sensational experience as its reward. It seems man’s imagination provides the trip of a lifetime: death is the end.
The relatively recent association of Islam in the west with fanaticism and terrorism and abuse of human rights, the general disregard for human life, has given the religion, focused on Mohammed, its founder, a bad name in the modern day democratic community of nations. Christianity also had its age of the Inquisition and persecution using fire and sword. We are aware that, like Christianity, to its believers, Islam is still vital and necessary; who see it as the only way of life pleasing to the one God. Oddly enough, the sensibility we display towards the excesses of Islam is a democratic one, not specifically Christian. In this day and age, science has refined our lives and tastes to mutual respect for each other’s rights. We love order and personal freedom, we value human achievement, we work for a better future. Islam and Christianity are both viewed with mistrust because of their inflexible codes with a historical legacy. Better the standards of democracy that respects individual choice – to marry or cohabit, to be straight or gay, to be a woman and succeed, to be handicapped and yet be a sportsman. Democracy and its values is for this life. You jump out of bed and go to bed without saying a prayer, but in anticipation of events and things to do, to work with others for a better future. Even the charity Christian Aid has adjusted the biblical belief in its maxim, ‘We believe in life before death’.
The upshot is that unless one can revert to a belief in God that somehow integrates science as a manifestation God’s providence - and many religions do just that, but in terms of faith, not hard-nosed evidence – unless one creates a new perception of the very thing we call reality that today is defined by the perception of science – one cannot break through the impasse. When one does break through, then the perception of reality, including the nature of God, is the key, healing all the divisions in religious beliefs by informing them, with science, in one vision of what is.