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6th Century Arabia

3.3 6TH CENTURY ARABIA (Yusuf Khan Mokhan) Arabia is land of unparalled charm and beauty with its trackless deserts of sand dunes and mirages in the dazzling rays of a tropical sun. Its starry sky has excited the imagination of peots, travellers and mystics. It was in this land that the Holy Prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace, was born in the city of Mecca which is about 50 miles from the Red Sea. (Life of Muhammad .)• It was in the latter half of the sixth century, when the world was plunged in utter darkness that the Holy Prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace, was born. The then known world stood on the verge of destruction with chaos as the order of the day and pre-Islamic Arabia was no exception to this; rather it was in the lowest depths of abysmal darkness, infanaticide was rampant, debauchery was looked upon as chivalrous, drunkness was a common sight and all forms of evil were glorified’. J. H. Denison in his Emotions as the basis of civilisation wrote: In the fifth and sixth centuries, the civilised world stood on the verge of chaos… It seemed that the great civilisation which had taken four thousand years to construct was on the verge of disintegration, … Civilisation like a gigantic tree whose foliage had over-reached the world… stood tottering… rotted to the core… It was among the Arabs that the man was born who was to unite the whole known world of the East and’South, (pp 265-269) L. Dermenghem in his Life of Mahomet supports this view. He wrote, Muhammad appeared on the scene at one of the darkest periods in all history, (p 171) The religious attachment of 6th century Arabia was idolatory, though there were a sprinkiling of athiests, Sabaeen i.e. worshippers of heavenly bodies. Christians and Jews were also to be found, the centre of Christian activity was at Najran while the jews were concentrated in Khaibar and Yathrib, which later became famous as Medina. Inspite of these diversified religious concepts, there was also a group who sought to follow the religion of their forefather Abraham and they were known as Hanifs. 34 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS It may not be out of place were I to digress and state that Abraham had brought his son Ishmael to settle in Arabia. That Ishmael lived in Arabia is testified to by the Bible. In Genesis 25:13-15 is mentioned the names of the sons of Ishmael twelve in number. His second son Kedar and his ninth son Tema are associated with Arabia in Isaiah 21:13-17. Writing about 6th century Arabia, Sir William Muir had this to say: . After five centuries of Christian coverts… Judaism vastly more powerful, had exhibited spasmodic efforts at proselytism; but as an active converting agent, the Jewish faith was no’ longer operative. In fine, viewed in a religious aspect, the surface of Arabia had been now and then gently rippled by the feeble efforts of Christianity; the sterner influences of Judaism had been occasionally visible in a deeper and more troubled current; but the tide of indigenous idolatory and Ishmaeh’te superstition, settling strongly from every quarter toward Kaaba gave ample evidence that the faith and worship of Mecca held the Arab mind in rigorous and undisputed thraldom (Intro, ch. 2) The administration of their affairs tike their religious beliefs was also in a state of disarray. Sir William Muir had this to say The prospects of Arabia before the rise of Mohomet were as unfavourable to religious reform as they were to political union or national regeneration (Life of Mohomet Intro, ch. 2) Inspite of their religious and administrative divisions, the Arabs possessed a remarkable memory and were an eloquent people. The word Arab is ‘derived from Arab which means eloquent language distinguished for facility of expression. Their eloquence and memory found expression in their poetry. Every year a fair was held for poetical” competitions at Ukaz. In his book The Literary History of the Arabs, R. A. Nicholson, writing about the poetical ability of the Arabs, states that Hanunad said to Cah’ph Walid bin Yazid: I can recite to you, for each letter of the alphabet, one hundred long poems, without taking into account short pieces, and all that composed exclusively by poets before the promulgation of Islc^m. (p 132) It is no small wonder, therefore, that Allah chose the Arabic language and an Arab for His final dispensation and the preservation of His Word. 6TH CENTURY ARABIA. 35 The condition of tne world in general and Arabia in particular’is graphically described in the Holy Quran when it says Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of what men’s hands have wrought (30:42). This is the condition which is painted by all the historians, in so many words, about the 6th century. We have established before that the children of Abraham, through his son Ishmael had settled in Arabia and the genealogy of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him, has been traced directly to the great Patriarch Abraham. Before the birth of Muhammad, peace be on him, an Abyssinian army was on the verge of conquering Mecca but was totally annihilated by small-pox, reference of which is in the Holy Quran chapter 105. This occurred 53 days before Muhammad’s, peace be on him, birth. He was the posthumous child of Abdullah. His mother’s name was Amina. . . A few days after his birth, as was the-prevailing custom among the nobility of the Arabs, he was given to the care of a Bedouin wet-nurse whose name was Haleema. For two years he grew up under her care, after which she took him back to his mother, but due to an epidemic in Mecca he went back with Haleema for another three years. When he returned to his mother, she took him for a visit to Medina but on the return journey she died. At the age of six he was entrusted to the care of his grandfather Abdul Muttalib who expired two years later. At this stage Muhammad was placed under the care of his uncle Abu Talib. In his early youth he used to tend his uncle’s flocks. During the formative years of his life, Muhammad joined a society known as Hilful Fuzul, the aims and objectives of which were to help the poor and the needy, safeguard the rights of the oppressed and espouse the cause of justice. He was also launched into commercial enterprises and undertook expeditions to Yemen and Syria. His honesty and integrity earned him the title of Al-Ameen ‘The Trustworthy’. At the age of 25 he was married to Khadija — a wealthy widow who offered her hand to Muhammad, peace be on him, in marriage after she received very good reports about the conduct of Muhammad in the discharge of his duties. 36 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS The Divine Call came to him in his fortieth year and depicting the state of mind of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace, when in solitude he would ponder over the mystries of the universe, when he would reflect upon the state of his fellow-men, when he would retire to a cave in Mount Hira devoting himself in all earnestness in search of the One True God, when he would pray steadfastly for days on end with a longing soul to me6t his Creator and when becoming totally absorbed in his devotions, Thomas Carlyle in his ” Heroes and Her worhip” writes; The great mystery of existence, as I said, glared in upon him, with its terrors, with its splendours; no hearsay could hide that unspeakable fact ‘Here am I’, Such sincerity, as we named it has in very truth something of divine. The word of such a man is a voice from nature’s own heart. Men do and must listen to that and to nothing else- All else is wind in comparison. From of old, a thousand throughts, in his pilgrimings and wanderings, had been in this man: What am I? What is .this unfathomable thing I live in, which men call the universe? The grim rocks of Mount Hira, of Mount Sinai, the stern solitudes answered not. The great heavens rolling silent overhead, with its blue glancing stars, answered not. There was no answer. The man’s soul and what of God’s inspiration dwelled there, had to answer.’ (pp 63-64) Pringle Kennedy observed: ‘Muhammad was, to use a striking expression, was the man of the hour. In order to understand his wonderful success, one must study the conditions of his times… How, in a few years, aU this was changed, how, by 650 A.D. a great part of this world became a different world from what it had been before, is one of the remarkable chapters in human history… This wonderful change /olio wed, if it was not mainly caused by the life of one man, the Prophet of Mecca… Whatever the opinion one may have of this extraordinary man… there can be no difference as to the immensity of the effect which his life has had on the history of the world… even if this step were to come without Muhammad, it would have been indefinitely delayed. (Arabian Society at the time of Muhammad, pp 8-10, 18-21). This was the call’ which was to revolutionise the entire world and leave an indelible mark on the pages of the history of religions and on the minds of men throughout all the years which have followed. The concept which was initiated through this Divine Call was to have changed the destinies of man for all time to come. Through Muhammad, peace be on him, a new knowledge of religion was vouchsafed, a new raeaning to life has been demonstrated, and love, tolerance, 6TH CENTURY ARABIA 37 meaning to life has been demonstrated, and love, tolerance, fellow-feeling and all other attendant virtues became the hall-mark of his followers. His life was so richly lived that even those who have not accepted him, have been able to discover and appereciate glimpses of the ever-green and life-giving teachings which Allah has sent through him. The clarion call which he proclaimed was that God is One and that he, Muhammad, peace and blessings be on him, is God’s Messenger. This infuriated the pagan Arabs who had taken to the worship of idols and went to the extent of polluting the Kaba, which was the first House appointed by God for His worship, with idols one, for each day of the year. This brought them traffic and gain, since the Kaba, from time immemorial was the center of pilgrimage and idol-worshiping had taken a strong root. The first persons to have accepted his call were his wife Khadija, his cousin All, a freed slave Zaid and Abu Bakr his close friend. For three years after receiving the Divine Call, the preaching was conducted rather quietly and the number of his followers began to increase rapidly. After this rather quiet start, the Holy Prophet, on whom be peace, was commanded to preach publicly. Accordingly, he addressed his message about the Unity of God and his being the Messenger of God. Since this belief was threatening their very existence, the pagan Arabs started to mount pressure on Muhammad, on whom be peace, and his followers to renounce their cause and revert to Idol-worshipping. On one occasion, greatly exasperated they sent a delegation to the Prophet’s uncle and implored him to restrain Muhammad, on whom be peace, from preaching his message. They threatened Abu Talib with their combined opposition. Finding himself in this pitiable state, he sent for Muhammad, on whom be peace, and explained to him the situation. It was quite obvious that Abu Talib had wanted Muhammad, on whom be peace, to give up the Mission, but in a calm, serene yet majestic tone the Holy Prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace, answered with these memorable words: ‘My dear uncle, if they should place the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left, even then I shall not abandon the proclamation of the Unity of God. I shall set up the true faith upon the earth or perish in the attempt.” Profoundly impressed with his nephew’s high resolve and 38 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS determination, Abu Talib replied ‘Son of my brother, go thy way, none dare touch thee. I shall never forsake thee.’ Not being satisfied, they sent one of their chiefs, Utba by name, to entice the Holy Prophet, on whom be peace, and in the following words he addressed the Prophet ‘0 Muhammad, if you want to sit on the throne of Arabia, we shall elect you our monarch; if you want money, we shall give you no end to- it and if you desire the hand of a beautiful woman, we are ready to present you the most beautiful lady in the land”. But the Holy Prophet, on whom be peace, was far above any worldly temptations and in reply recited some verses of the Holy Quran proclaiming the Unity of God and his claim to be a true Messenger of God. The Meccans were alarmed at the prospects of trying to impede the progress of the new faith, so they went to physical. torment and ostracism. Many influential personalities were being converted and a great mass of following was joining the band-wagon. This in itself was a mortal threat to the existence of some Meccan chiefs since their source of livelihood was from the trade which emanated from the traffic of Idol-worshippers.” Seeing that these could not be of any help, they decided to exert more pressure to the degree that when the sufferings of the Muslims became unbearable, the Holy Prophet, on whom be peace, decided to send some of his followers to Abyssinia to take refuge. The Meccans in their quest to put an end to the new religion, sent a deputation to the King seeking the return of the refugees. The King summoned the refugees and querried them about their beliefs. Being satisfied that they were no threat to the state, he refused to hand them over and was convinced that the revelations of the Holy Prophet, on whom be peace, and that of Jesus sprang from the same fountain. The failure of the Abyssinian delegation mortified the Meccans. They then pledged themselves to boycott completely the family which defended the Holy Prophet, on whom be peace. Every kind of relationship was severed, even food and water were denied them. The Banu Hashim – the family who were defending the Holy Prophet, on whom be peace, were in desperate straits and they along with the Holy Prophet, on whom be peace, and his followers had to take refuge in the Vale of Abu Talib from where they could not escape for fear of their lives. They suffered starvation, personal indignities and humiliation of every kind. This continued for three long years, in the meantime the declaration of boycott which was hung on the walls of the Kaba had 6TH CENTURY ARABIA 39 declaration of boycott which was hung on the walls of the Kaba had been destroyed and the hearts of some of the enemies were placated. These new-found friends were bold enough to rescue the innocent sufferers from their woeful plight. With the boycott ended, the Holy Prophet, on whom be peace, and a companion went to Taif to invite the people there to Islam, but he faced the same fate of rejection there. The chiefs of Taif sent some youths after him. They stoned him mercilessly to the point of fainting and his body was lacerated and bleeding profusely. The Holy Prophet, on whom be peace, and his companion Zaid, took shelter in a garden belonging to two Meccans, who, after seeing their plight, sent some grapes with a slave who was an inhabitant of Nineveh. The message of Islam was conveyed to the slave and he readily accepted it. The slave’s name was Addas. Of this journey to Taif, Sir William Muir remarked: There is something lofty and heroic in this journey ofMohomet to Taif; a solitary man, despised and rejected by his own people, going boldly forth in the name of God, Rke Jonah to Nineveh, and summoning an idolatrous city to repent and support his mission. It sheds a strong light on the intensity of his belief in the divine origin of his calling. (Life ofMohomet p 109) Returning to Mecca, the Holy Prophet, on whom be peace, and his followers faced mounting persecution, the intensity of which exceeded the limits bearable by any human. At this juncture, having had assurance from some of the chiefs and people of Madina of his and his followers’ safety, he emigrated to that city with the vast majority of his followers. The importance of this memorable event of .migration, known as the Hijra, marks the reckoning of the Islamic Calendar. Every student of Islamic history knows only too well the enormities and persecution which the Holy Prophet, on whom “be peace, and bis followers suffered at the hands of an implacable enemy, the personal indignities which they endured were brutal and horrifying and decent humans shudder at the very mention of the ruthless torture to which they were subjected. After more than fourteen centuries, we shudder at the mere mention of those atrocities. The Holy Prophet, on whom be peace, and his companions bore all of these with equanimity, perseverance and with unflinching faith faced all the barbarous treatment which was meted out to them. Due to their high resolve and steadfastness, a glorious chapter in the history of humanity was 40 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS recorded and preserved. Much more could have been said on this vast subject but consideration of time and its availability are hazards in the way for an elaborate treatment, but suffice it with this humble presentation which had been a richly rewarding experience for me when researching it, as it opened new vistas of knowledge hitherto unknown to me. WA AKfflRU DAWANA ANIL HAMDO LJLLAHE RABBIL ALAMEEN. *********************************** QURAN ON SPIRITUAL EQUALITY I will suffer not the work of any worker from among you, whether male or female, to be lost. You are from one another. (3:196) But whoso does good works, whether male or female, and he or she is a believer, such shall enter heaven, and shall not be wronged even as much as the little hollow in the back of a date stone. (4:125) And whoso acts righteously, whether male or female and is a believer, We will surely grant him a pure life; and We will surely bestow on such their reward according to the best of their works. (16:98) Whoso does good, whether male or female, and is a believer – these will enter the garden; they will be provided therein without measure. (40:41) PROPAGATION OF VIRTUE Let there always be among you a body of men who should invite to goodness, and enjoin virtue and forbid evil. And it is they who shall prosper. (Quran 3:105)