Continued from “Czar of Medina”
It was not long before Muhammad in Medina had his eye on Mecca, and in the Battle of Badr, the Quraysh in disarray threw open its gates for him. Though the Musalmans to this day gloat over Muhammad’s so-called victory in that battle of Islamic destiny, it is another matter that the Quraysh fought half-heartedly. Nevertheless, what distinguishes the battle that is celebrated in the Islamic folklore is the unshakable belief that Allah, at the behest of Muhammad, had sent in warrior angels to assist the outnumbered Musalmans.
“When ye sought help of your Lord and He answered you (saying): I will help you with a thousand of the angels, rank on rank.”
“When thy lord inspired the angels, (saying:) I am with you. So make those who believe stand firm. I will throw fear into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Then smite the necks and smite of them each other.”
Notwithstanding the euphoric feeling of the Musalmans about the angels of war, Muhammad, the military genius that he was, had commented to some of his companions after the Battle of Badr thus: “I know that men of the sons of Hashim and others have been brought out despite themselves, without any will to fight us.” Proving him right, the angels of war failed to attack Abu Jahl and his band that fought on with unabated ferocity till they all died in the battle even as other nobles deserted the cause and fled the battlefield with their folks.
Be that as it may, in the annals of the Arab legend there was a battle extraordinary in ‘the Year of the Elephant’, entirely fought by birds to save the precincts of Kabah the then Temple of the Hubal. That was not far down the Arab memory lane as it happened in the reign of Abd al Muttalib, the grandfather of Muhammad. That fascinating episode is described by Martin Lings thus:
“At that time the Yemen was under the rule of Abyssinia, and an Abyssinian named Abrahah was vice-regent. He built a magnificent cathedral in Sana, hoping thereby to make it supersede Mecca as the great place of pilgrimage for all Arabia. He had marble brought to it from one of the derelict palaces of the Queen of Sheba, and he set up crosses in it of gold and of silver, and pulpits of ivory and ebony, and he wrote to his master, the Negus: ‘I have built thee a church, O King, the like of which was never built for any king before thee; and I shall not rest until I have diverted unto it the pilgrimage of the Arabs’. Nor did he make any secret of his intention, and great was the anger of the tribes throughout Hijaz and Najd. Finally a man of Kinanah, a tribe akin to Quraysh, went to Sana for the deliberate purpose of defiling the church, which he did one night and then returned safely to his people.
When Abrahah heard of this he vowed that in revenge he would raze the Ka’bah to the ground; and having made his preparations he set off for Mecca with a large army, in the van of which he placed an elephant. Some of the Arab tribes north of Sana attempted to bar his way, but the Abyssinians put them to flight and captured their leader, Nufayl of the tribe of Khath’am. By way of ransom for his life, he offered to act as guide.
When the army reached Ta’if, the men of Thaqif came out to meet them, afraid that Abrahah might destroy their temple of al-Lat in mistake for the Ka‘bah. They hastened to point out to him that he had not yet reached his goal, and they offered him a guide for the remainder of his march. Although he already had Nufayl, he accepted their offer, but the man died on the way, about two miles from Mecca, at a place called Mughammis, and they buried him. Afterwards the Arabs took to stoning his grave, and the people who live there still stone it to this day.
Abrahah halted at Mughammis, and sent on a detachment of horse to the outskirts of Mecca. They took what they could on the way, and sent back their plunder to Abrahah, including two hundred camels which were the property of Abd al-Muttalib. Quraysh and other neighbouring tribes held a council of war, and decided that it was useless to try to resist the enemy. Meanwhile Abrahah sent a messenger to Mecca, bidding him to ask for the chief man there. He was to tell him they had not come to fight but only to destroy the temple, and if he wished to avoid all bloodshed he must come to the Abyssinian camp.
There had been no official chief of Quraysh since the time when their privileges and responsibilities had been divided between the houses of “Abd ad-Dar and Abdu Manaf. But most people had their opinion as to which of the chiefs of the clans was in fact if not by right the leading man of Mecca, and on this occasion the messenger was directed to the house of Abd al-Muttalib who, together with one of his sons, went back with the messenger to the camp. When Abrahah saw him he was so impressed by his appearance that he rose from his royal seat to greet him and then sat beside him on the carpet, telling his interpreter to enquire if he had a favour to ask.
Abd al-Muttalib replied that the army had taken two hundred of his camels and he asked that they should be returned to him. Abrahah was somewhat surprised at the request, and said that he was disappointed in him, that he should be thinking of his camels rather than his religion which they had now come to destroy. Abd al-Muttalib replied: “I am the lord of the camels, and the temple likewise hath a lord who will defend it.” “He cannot defend it against me,” said Abrahah. “We shall see,” said Abd al Muttalib. “But give me my camels.” And Abrahah gave orders for the camels to be returned.
Abd al Muttalib returned to Quraysh and advised them to withdraw to the hills above the town. Then he went with some of his family and others to the Sanctuary. They stood beside him, praying to God for His help against Abrahah and his army, and he himself took hold of the metal ring in the middle of the Ka’bah door and said: “O God, thy slave protecteth his house, Protect Thou Thy House!” having thus prayed, he went with the others to join the rest of Quraysh in the hills at points where they could see what took place in the valley below.
The next morning Abrahah made ready to march into the town, intending to destroy the Ka’bah and then return to Sana by the way they had come. The elephant, richly caparisoned, was led into the front of the army, which was already drawn up; and when the mighty animal reached his position his keeper Unays turned him the same way as the troops were turned, that is towards Mecca. But Nufayl, the reluctant guide, had marched most of the way in the van of the army with Unays, and had learned from him some of the words of command which the elephant understood; and while the head of Unays was turned to watch for the signal to advance,
Nufayl took hold of the great ear and conveyed into it a subdued but intense imperative to kneel. Thereupon, to the surprise and dismay of Abrahah and the troops, the elephant slowly and deliberately knelt himself down to the ground. Unays ordered him to rise, but Nufayl’s word had coincided with a command more powerful than that of any man, and the elephant would not move. They did everything they could to bring him to his feet; they even beat him about the head with iron bars and stuck iron hooks into his belly, but he remained like a rock. Then they tried the stratagem of making the whole army turnabout and march a few paces in the direction of the Yemen. He at once rose to his feet, turned round and followed them. Hopefully they turned round about again, and he also turned, but no sooner was he facing Mecca than again he knelt.
This was the clearest of portents not to move one step further forward, but Abrahah was blinded by his personal ambition for the sanctuary he had built and by his determination to destroy its great rival. If they had turned back then, perhaps they would all have escaped disaster. But suddenly it was too late: the western sky grew black, and a strange sound was heard; its volume increased as a great wave of darkness swept upon them from the direction of the sea, and the air above their heads, as high as they could see, was full of birds.
Survivors said that they flew with a flight like that of swifts, and each bird had three pebbles the size of dried peas, one in its beak and one between the claws of each foot. They swooped to and fro over the ranks, pelting as they swooped, and the pebbles were so hard and launched with such velocity that they pierced even coats of mail. Every stone found its mark and killed its man, for as soon as a body was struck its flesh began to rot, quickly in some cases, more gradually in others.
Not everyone was hit, and amongst those spared were Unays and the elephant, but all were terror-stricken. A few remained in the Hijaz and earned a livelihood by shepherding and other work. But the main part of the army returned in disorder to Sana: Many died by the wayside, and many others, Abrahah included, died soon after their return. As to Nufayl, he had slipped away from the army while all attention was concentrated on the elephant, and he made his way unscathed to the hills above Mecca.”
This miraculous incident, more fantastic than the one at the Battle of Badr, would illustrate the Arab penchant for the fanciful ‘birds of war’, much before the Quran gave them authenticity with its scriptural sanction. However, on the temporal plane, it is the profound statement of Abd al Muttalib – “I’m the lord of the camels, and the temple likewise hath a lord who will defend it.” – that rightly deserves the attention of the Musalmans of the day. Sadly though, for the Musalmans, and 'the others' as well, they fail to inculcate this 'truism of faith' in their religious ethos, which makes them believe that their billion-strong religion is threatened even if a woman of their ilk intends to marry a man of another sect, and thus become paranoid that it is their bounden duty to guard their faith by preventing its happening. Well, the penchant of the Musalmans to perceive that Islam is in Danger over issues trivial, not to speak of matters prophetical, is the bane of social harmony in this world..
Be that as it may, Allah didn’t send the angels of war to help Musalmans at the next turn in the Battle of Uhud, even though things became too hot for them against the Quraysh. However, in time, after a series of strategic compromises and winning maneuvres Muhammad could subdue the Quraysh to usurp the Kabah for Islam. But, the fighting birds of Hubal were nowhere to be seen over the skies of Mecca as Muhammad pulled down the idols from their pedestals. Nevertheless, Islam sans the fighting angels could still spread its wings under the shadow of the swords where Muhammad said Paradise is beneath.
Continued to "Privates of 'the God'"