Continued from "Coming of the Christ"
“This son of yours will be a wild one -
free and untamed as a wild ass!
He will be against everyone,
and everyone will feel the same towards him.”
- The Genesis
This prophecy of Gabriel, the Archangel of the Lord, revealed to Hagar, the surrogate wife of Abraham, was about Ishmael, their son, still in her womb then. In time, as their foolhardiness earned them the wrath of Sarah, the spouse of Abraham, the maid and her son were banished into the wilderness of Beersheba.
Preoccupied as it was with Isaac, the second son of Abraham, born to Sarah later, and the Hebrews his descendants, ‘The Torah’ just mentions about Ishmael becoming an expert archer, and in the passing refers to his marriage with an Egyptian girl. And that was all there to Ishmael in the Book, as thereafter it chose not to record his life and times for the posterity.
Thus, there would have been no more to the tale of Ishmael, if not for the advent of Muhammad, his most illustrious descendant. And as the world knows, it was Muhammad who founded Islam, some six hundred years after Jesus, the peach Isaac’s progeny that ushered in the Christianity. Nevertheless, the Quran, the Script of Islam, too doesn’t contain any reference to the saga of Ishmael in so far as the said prophecy is concerned.
However, going by the strife in Muhammad’s life and the stance the Musalmans are wont to take in the name of the faith he founded, one might wonder at the truism of this telling prophecy with regard to Ishmael’s progeny. Whether it was owing to divine design or human aberration, and/or both, the acrimony between the Musalmans and their kafirs seems to have come to stay. In a way, the Semitic schism could be attributed to the will of ‘the God’ after all.
It’s a wonder why did ‘the God’ ordain Abraham to beget Ishmael through his surrogate wife Hagar, even as He enabled him to sire Isaac later through Sarah, his old, though, wedded wife! But now the moot point is whether in this age and time, driven by information technology, won’t be a change of the Semitic order be in order? And the imperative for man is to find out an agreeable detour from the centuries old vexatious route laid in the Semitic religious tracks.
As was seen, it invariably is the case with all the so-called revealed religions that the persona of its prophet tends to shape the course of its propagation. Besides, the sublimity of Jesus as a preacher and the divinity associated with his miracles, in The Gospel there is no reference to his proclivities as a person. After all, the apostles of Jesus who came to script The Gospel would have been in the know of the messiah as man, and all that goes with being human.
And yet, they could have thought it fit to exclude the mundane of the Christ from the scripture of the Gospel, lest human vulgarity should equate the divinity of the God with the frailties of His Son. In spite of this thoughtful omission by his apostles, yet, from time to time, the Christian world gets embroiled in controversies involving the speculation about Jesus’ personal life, the Davinci Code being the latest.
On the contrary, weaving the divine with the mundane in Islam, the proclivities Muhammad captured in the hadith and sunna came to be corollaries of the Quran. Since it’s in the nature of the believers to equate the mission of the Messiah with the message of ‘the God’, in time, the life of Muhammad became the symbol of Islam. After all, Muhammad shaped Islam all by himself, aided though by the Quran, and didn’t commission any to regulate his religion, as did the Christ.
But, seen in the context of the religion he founded, and Allah’s mandate to fulfill his ambition, the course the Christ adopted would not have served Muhammad’s cause. In essence, Jesus was a preacher of the Christian values more than the founder of the Christianity. But, Muhammad had assumed the role, not just of reciting the word of ‘the God’ to the willing through the Quran, but of setting the rules for Islamic practice and propagation, of course, as dictated by the circumstances of his life and times.
It is thus, while the Christian ethos is shaped by the preaching of Jesus that led to his crucifixion, the Islamic creed is a product of the conduct of Muhammad that gained him the Kabah. Hence, one cannot possibly appreciate the mind of a Musalman without understanding the psyche of Muhammad, shaped by the trials and tribulations he encountered in propagating the faith he had founded. An attempt is made here towards this end that owes the content, and at times the text even, wherever quoted, of “Muhammad – his life based on the earliest sources”, the remarkable biography by Martin Lings published by Inner Traditions International, USA.
It is said in the Quran, as ordained by ‘the God’, Abraham and Ishmael built the sanctorum of Kabah near the well of Zamzam in Mecca. And the history tells us that their descendents, the tribe of Khuzaah, by installing its idol had turned it into the house of Hubal. After a prolonged tussle for its possession, the guardianship of Kabah changed hands from Khuzaah to Quraysh, one of the powerful Arab tribes of Abrahamic descent. That was in the 4th century A.D, and the Quraysh were still in control of Kabah when destiny brought Muhammad into its ranks.
However, to bring about Muhammad’s birth on April 22, 571 A.D, fate had to play its part in preserving the life of Abd Allah of the Quraysh. It was thus, Mughirah, the chief of Makhzum, intervened to save Abd Allah in his youth from being sacrificed at the Kabah, i.e. to fulfill the vow of his father Abd-al-Muttalib. However, the amiable and handsome Abd Allah wasn’t destined to live long; and he died when his wife Aminah was carrying Muhammad, their only offspring.
Some weeks before Muhammad was born, his mother had a vision, and heard a voice say to her. “Thou carriest in thy womb the lord of this people; and when he is born say: ‘I place him beneath the protection of the One, from the evil of every envier’; then name him Muhammad.” Apart from this prophecy, what Muhammad had for inheritance were five camels, a small flock of sheep and goats, and one slave girl, too meagre to match the hollowed pedigree of the Quraysh.
When Muhammad was only six, he lost his mother as well, followed by his grandfather, two years later. And that virtually made him an orphan in the hallowed clan of Quraysh. However, his uncle, Abu Talib, took him under his caring wings, and his wife Fatimah tended Muhammad more than her own children. It could be for sentimental reasons that Muhammad could have named his fourth, and the favourite, daughter as Fatimah.
In time, Abu Talib tended his nephew into trade, and thus began to take him along to Syria on his business trips. But, when in Mecca, Muhammad was wont to occupy himself with archery in which he showed great skill. It was only time before Muhammad developed acumen for trading, and thus was able to fend for himself. At length, his honesty and integrity, in spite of his modest means, earned him the respect of the prosperous Meccans who bestowed upon him the title of Al Amin.
At length, when he saw the possibility of marriage, Muhammad approached his uncle Abu Talib for the hand of his daughter Fakhitah, nay Umm Hani, for whom he developed great affection. Supposedly by that time, there were many portents about Muhammad’s prophethood, about which Abu Talib cannot be but privy. Besides, Bahira the Monk at Bostra, in the very presence of Abu Talib, identified Muhammad, when still a boy, as the envisaged Prophet of the Scriptures. And yet, inexplicably, Abu Talib refused his daughter’s hand to his nephew whom he otherwise loved. Be that as it may, for then at least, it would have appeared to Muhammad that marriage was beyond his means.
Nonetheless, his personal integrity, business acumen and physical beauty, providentially pushed him into the matrimonial arms of Khadijah, a rich and twice widowed Meccan woman of forty, to all his twenty-five. Devoted as he was to his wife, and siring her children, Muhammad began to spend his life amiably in relative comfort. But then, all those who might have heard of the prophecies about his prophethood would have been dismayed. And Muhammad too didn’t seem to lose his sleep over the apparent failure of Bahira’s prophecy about his prophethood.
However, given Jehovah’s disenchantment with His Chosen People by then, He seems to have had other ideas. It must have been galling for ‘the God’ to see what the Jews had meted out to Jesus, His Son and the Messiah. And by their rejection of the Gospel, the Jews didn’t help their cause either for that could have made ‘the God’ truly angry. The irony that the religion of Jesus was usurped by the Gentiles, robbing its Semitic purity in the process, would have caused no less hurt to the jealous Jehovah.
Thus, the revengeful God of the Jews, whose temper His saintly Son helped soften up through his Christian mission, would have hardened His attitude towards the humans all again. It was in such a frame of mind that Jehovah would have remembered the long forgotten progeny of Abraham and Hagar, furthered by Ishmael, whom He allowed to languish for far too long in the sandy deserts of Arabia.
By then, however, the idolatrous sons of Ishmael had desecrated Abraham’s Kabah in whose precincts they installed a hundred statues for worship. And that no less offended the taste or sensitivity, and/or both of some of the Meccans, who as Hunafas, voiced their opposition to the idolatry of their brethren. In time, driven by the social appeal, or owing to his personal belief, Muhammad became a Hunafa himself.
Though the idolatrous sight of the progeny of Ishmael might have enraged Jehovah, soon He would have realized that their plight was of His own making. After all, didn’t He, by not sending a prophet to the Arabic stream of the Abrahamic progeny, fail them in the proper worship of ‘the God’? Thus, repentant at His own conduct, Jehovah should have deemed it fit to reveal the right path to the Arabs, albeit in the avatar of Allah. It was thus, ‘the God’ would have felt the need to have an Arab for His prophet to usher in the Quran, and would have on the lookout for a proper candidate.
Muhammad at Mount Hira.
Miniature from the Siyer-i Nebi, Turkish epic about the life of Muhammad, written by Mustafa, son of Yusuf of Erzurum. 16th century.
Topkapi Sarayi Museum Library, Istanbul, Turkey.
Image (c) Gettyimages.com
In a divine coincidence, by then, Muhammad turned forty, and his wife Khadijah, fifty-five. Though it was not uncommon for the Arabs of his era to go in for a fresh nuptial in such a situation, or opt for a concubine, and/or both, Muhammad chose to remain faithful to his loyal wife. Instead, he chose to embrace solitude in a cave of Mount Hira, not far from Mecca. Of course, by then, Muhammad had successfully arbitrated the contentious issue plaguing Meccans at that time. And that pertained to which of the tribes had the right to place the Black Stone back in its place in the rebuilt Kabah.
In the process, he could wrest the privilege of placing the sacred stone all by himself in its Holy place, i.e. after the tribal chiefs had lifted it on a clock. Surely, this episode would have soared Muhammad’s spirituality, nursed in the caves of Hira, straight to the heavens. And in that ‘the God’ could have discerned the charisma of a leader in Muhammad as well as the man management skills so apparent in him. Needless to say, it should have furthered Muhammad’s credentials for the job in the eyes of ‘the God’. With the choice thus made, the Lord God, entrusted His trusted Archangel Gabriel to recruit Muhammad for the post of the prophet for the Arabs.
It was then, in the month of Ramadan, as was his wont; Muhammad retreated to Mount Hira to meditate at his favourite jaunt. And it was the time the Lord’s Angel chose to anoint Muhammad as ‘the Messenger of the God’, a hitherto unknown title for a Jehovist prophet. Thus, when Muhammad was alone in the cave that night, Gabriel went upto him in the form of a man. The account of Muhammad of what followed is described by Martin Lings thus:
“The Angel said to him: “Recite!” and he said: “I am not a reciter,” whereupon, as he himself told it, “the Angel took me and whelmed me in his embrace until he had reached the limit of mine endurance. Then he released me and said: “Recite!” I said: ‘I am not a reciter,’ and again he took me and whelmed me in his embrace, and again when he had reached the limit of mine endurance he released me and said: ‘Recite!’, and again I said ‘I am not a reciter.’ Then a third time he whelmed me as before, then released me and said:
Recite in the name of thy Lord who created!
He createth man from a clot of blood.
Recite: and thy Lord is the Most Bountiful,
He who hath taught by the pen,
Taught man what he knew not.
He recited these words after the Angel, who thereupon left him; and he said; “It was as though the words were written on my heart.” But he feared that this might mean he had become a jinn-inspired poet or a man possessed, So he fled from the cave, and when he was halfway down the slope of the mountain he heard a voice above him saying: “O Muhammad, thou art the Messenger of God, and I am Gabriel.” He raised his eyes heavenwards and there was his visitant, still recognizable but now clearly an Angel, filling the whole horizon, and again he said: “O Muhammad, thou art the Messenger of God, and I am Gabriel.” The Prophet stood gazing at the Angel; then he turned away from him, but whichever way he looked the Angel was always there, astride the horizon, whether it was to the north, to the south, to the east or to the west.”
And the rest, as we know, is history. But, it should not be missed that Muhammad was unlettered, and Gabriel wanted him to ‘recite’ in the name of ‘He who hath taught by the pen’. Maybe, the Prophet’s positioning of Islam thus is indicative of Muhammad’s deprivation on that score. After all, man tends to miss his letters in spite of his social status while a man of letters holds his sway regardless of it. Anyway, from then on, from time-to-time, ‘the God’ began to reveal to Muhammad what He revealed before to Moses, and others, so that the Arabs who took to idolatrous ways for so long could be put on to the ‘straight path’.
Reciting the revelations he received, Muhammad soon made bold to proclaim that ‘there is no god but God’ and that he was ‘the Messenger of God’. And that scandalized the Quraysh and others in Mecca no end. But then, ‘the God’ is aware that “verily man is rebellious, that he thinketh himself independent.” What is more, ‘the God’ by then, might have realized that the regimen of material rewards for compliance, His covenant with the Jews, didn’t work as that only made them more covetous. So He seemingly thought it fit to devise a new world order for the Musalmans in the Quran
It was thus, ‘the God’ in His further revelations to Muhammad sought to deprecate the life right ‘here’ while stressing upon the rewards in the ‘Hereafter’. Some of these are excerpted in this book from Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall’s ‘The Message of the Holy Quran’, published by UBSPD, New Delhi.
“Let not the vicissitudes (of the success) of those who disbelieve, in the land, deceive thee (O Muhammad). It is but a brief comfort. And afterward their habitation will be hell, an ill abode.”
“Even as those before you were mightier than you in strength, and more affluent than you in wealth and children. They enjoyed their lot a while, so ye enjoy your lot awhile even as those before you did enjoy their lot a while. And ye prate even as they prated. Such are they whose works have perished in the world and the Hereafter, such are they who are the losers.”
“O ye who believe! What aileth you that when it is said unto you: Go forth in the way of Allah, ye are bowed down to the ground with heaviness. Take ye pleasure in the life of the world rather than in the Hereafter? The comfort of the life of the world is but little in the Hereafter,”
“Allah enlargeth livelihood for whom he will, and straiteneth (it for whom He will); and they rejoice in the life of the world, whereas the life of the world is but brief comfort as compared with the Hereafter.”
“A similitude of the Garden which those who keep their duty (to Allah) are promised: Therein are rivers of water unpolluted, and rivers of milk whereof the flavour changeth not, and rivers of wine delicious to the drinkers, and rivers of clear-run honey; therein for them is every kind of fruit, with pardon from their Lord. (Are those who enjoy all this) like those who are immortal in the Fire and are given boiling water to drink so that it teareth their bowels?”
“Naught is the life of the world save a pastime and a sport. Better far is the abode of the Hereafter for those who keep their duty (to Allah). Have ye then no sense?”
“Those who love the life of the world more than the Hereafter, and debar (men) from the way of Allah and would have it crooked: such are far astray.”
It is worth noting that ‘the God’ had ruled drinking a sin here, only to provide ‘rivers of wine delicious to the drinkers’ in the ‘Hereafter’. Maybe, it’s in the realms of Allah’s imponderables that while decrying the joys of life of here, He should have promised the believers earthly pleasures in the ‘Hereafter’! After all, won’t deprivation ‘here’ make the craving for the ‘Hereafter’ all the more intense in the believers? Be that as it may, it never seems to occur to the believers that with the body buried here, how one were to enjoy the joys of flesh the ‘Hereafter’ holds for him or her?
Well, ‘the God’ would have expected man viewing such diktats with skepticism, but then He must have banked on the “O ye believe” line of the Quran. After all, ‘the God’ could have reckoned that the ‘sense of belief’ insensibly undermines the faculty of reasoning. Oh God, contrast this with Krishna’s proposition to Arjuna at the end of his talk in Bhagavad-Gita – That thee heard of this wisdom/ For task on hand now apply mind.
However, it is in the Islamic virtue of deprivation ‘here’ lay the urge to savour life after death in ‘the Hereafter’. And that seemingly enhances the craving of the faithful for the Paradise, and helps them get glued to Islam in hope. Besides, Allah well knew that all this would come in handy to Muhammad in raising a band of jihadis to serve his cause in times to come.
Armed with Allah’s revelations, and possessed by the faith he preached, Muhammad set out to show the ‘straight path’ to the Meccans. Such is the force of habit, and the inertia of mind for change, that even a faith so well-crafted to cater to the psyche of poor, initially failed to make even the poorest of the Meccans flock into Muhammad’s fold. In the end, however, he could entice a few deprived poor into Islam that assured the comforts of ‘here’, and more, in the ‘Hereafter’ for them. Compounding his frustration on the Islamic front, the Meccan gentry looked at Muhammad with suspicion, and treated him with disdain.
Stung to the quick by the obstinacy of the idolaters, and pleased with Muhammad’s perseverance that was sustained by Khadijah’s faith in him, ‘the God’ gave him hope.
“Thy Lord hath not forsaken thee nor doth he hate thee,
And verily the latter portion will be better for thee than the former,
And verily thy lord will give unto thee so that thou wilt be content
Did he not find thee an orphan and protect (thee)?
Did he not find thee wandering and direct (thee)?
Did he not find thee destitute and enrich (thee)?”
At last, Muhammad’s patience paid, and Islam got a foothold in Medina, the then Yathrib, with some of the residents becoming Musalmans. In Mecca too, to the chagrin of the Quraysh, the new religion of Muhammad, with its handful of faithful, began to create a sensation. However, to avoid a schism amongst their clans, some leaders of the town came up with a compromise, which envisaged that one should be allowed to practice Islam and the religion of their fathers as well, if he so wills.
Even before Muhammad could weigh the options for a decision, an alarmed Allah sent in the message to him:
“Say: O disbelievers, I shall not worship that which ye worship, nor will ye worship that which I worship, nor have I worshipped that which ye worship, nor have ye worshipped that which I worship. For you your religion and for me mine.”
It would be interesting to speculate what could have been the outcome of the fusion of Islam and the Arabian idolatry, if we may call it so, had Muhammad agreed to merge them both. Of course, he would have successfully bargained for the control of the Kabah with Hubal and all. If not during his life time, which anyway was to last a decade or so from then on, but certainly after his death, Islam would have lost its way amidst the idols of Kabah. But, in the bargain, the progeny of Ishmael would have retained the magical name of Islam for their worship of Hubal. In the end, probably, Islam would have given way to the Christianity in the Roman era. More importantly, vexed with Muhammad for his lack of faith in His revelations, ‘the God’ would not have showed him the ‘straight path’ that unfolded later, and that would have been less of a discomfort to the surviving Musalmans. But then, the will of Allah or the ambition of Muhammad, and/ or both, didn’t let that fate befall Islam.
Continued to "War of Words"