Universality of Islam

15The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 Islam, according to its two principal sources, the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet(sa) is intended for the whole mankind and unlike its predecessor it is not subject to any limitations of race and time. But orientalists in general, excepting some like Noeldeke, Goldziher and T. W. Arnold reject it and insist that the Holy Prophet(sa) had in his mind only the Arab nation. They profess that his followers imbibing this idea from Christianity framed it on Islam (Encyclopaedia of Islam vol. III 1936, p.733). More than a century has gone by when orientalists like Muir took this stand. Some recent orientalists also maintain the same position, for instance, Montgomery Watt, whose books Muhammad at Mecca and Muhammad at Medina appeared as late as 1956, denounces this dimension of Islam even more forcibly than Muir. An endeavour has been made here to make a fresh critical appraisal of the whole subject. Hostile criticism has the potential to shake the faith of not-so-well informed Muslims in the viability of Islam. Those not well-grounded in its essentials require instruction in the facts of their faith. The realisation of the prime object of Islam in the unification of the whole mankind into one brother- hood presupposes disabusing non- Muslim friends of the mis- conceptions created by hostile crit- icism enabling them to appreciate it in its true perspective. Sir William Muir’s Bias M u i r, in his Life of Mahomet (1878. p.60) asserts that the Holy Prophet(sa) ‘was ordained a prophet with a commission to the people of Arabia’ – But he does not quote any tradition although the Holy Prophet’s(SA) precepts and practices on every aspect of Islam have come down to us. A refutation of hostile criticism by orientalists on the Universality of Islam by Nuruddin Muneer 16 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 Contrary to what Muir asserts, with such confidence, there is a tradition, conveniently ignored by him, in which the Holy Prophet(sa) unequivocally claims to be a universal Redeemer. Enumerating five distinctions relating to himself he is reported to have said: ‘While prophets before me were commissioned to their particular people, I have been sent to the whole of mankind.’ (Bukhari) Muir touches upon this subject again in his history of Caliphate. But here also he gives no proof and bases his opinion on an incident which happened in the caliphate of Hadhrat Umar(ra). After their great victory at the battle of Qadsiyyah, Muslim armies had again routed the Persian hosts at Jalaula. The Muslim Commander Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas wanted to advance and pursue the Persian forces on the run, but Hadhrat Umar(ra) did not let him. Muir says that the permission was declined, for ‘the conviction of a worldwide mission of Islam was yet in embryo and the obligation to enforce its claim by a universal crusade had not yet dawned upon the nation.’ (Annals of Early Caliphate, 1883, p.189) This, if accepted, would signify that the Holy Prophet(sa) as well as his great lieutenant, Hadhrat Umar(ra) were both unaware of the real scope of Islam and it was sometime after the conquest of Persia that the nation suddenly discovered its true destiny. Universality in the Holy Qur’an The fact is that the universality of Islam has been clearly spelt out in the Qur’an and it would be absurd to suppose that the meaning of the relevant verses (see below) was not known to the Holy Prophet(sa), who had received them as revelation nor to Hadhrat Umar ( r a ), his close companion and himself an ardent student of the Qur’an. We repro- duce below some of the relevant verses. And we have not sent thee but as a Mercy for all peoples. (21:108) Say, O mankind, truly I am a messenger to you all (7:159) 17 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 And we have not sent thee but as a bearer of glad tidings and a warner for all mankind; but most men know not. (34:29) Blessed is He who has sent down Al-Furqan to His servant that he may be a warner to all the world (25:2) Rodwell admits that these four chapters were revealed in Makkah. It means that very early in his ministry the Holy Prophet(sa), had been ordained as a universal M e s s e n g e r. In the face of this chronological evidence Muir’s allegation is wholly untenable. It is patent from the above verses that the Holy Prophet(sa) fully knew the scope of his mission. The words all peoples, you all, a l l mankind, all the worlds can in no way be construed to mean anything else. It is noteworthy in this context that both Rodwell and Sale have translated these verses to cover the whole of mankind. Sale’s footnote in explanation of verse 7:158 states: ‘that is, to all mankind in general and not to one particular nation as the former prophets were sent’ (Sale’s translation. Frederick Wane, London. p. 160). Encyclopaedia of Islam’s Poor Knowledge The writer of the article ‘Muhammad’ in the Encyclopaedia of Islam however differs on this issue and asserts that such verses do not mean what they apparently say. The article alleges: ‘It is very doubtful if Muhammad ever thought at all of his religion as a universal religion of the world. The passages in the Meccan Surahs which can be quoted in favour of this theory are limited by their context.’ (Vol. III. E.J. Brill Leiden, 1936, p. 733) The context is there. Anybody can refer to it and verify for himself the truth of the matter. There is not a single verse before or after these verses in the whole of the Qur’an, which limits their scope or is in any way averse to the universality of Islam. In fact there is no possibility of such a contingency. The Qur’an is without any contradiction (4:83). The article goes on to say: 18 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 ‘The decisive consideration, however, is that Muhammad at the “height of” his power never demanded from Jews or Christians that they should adopt Islam but was content with a political subjugation and the payment of tribute. . . The idea of a great missionary enterprise arose later under the influence of Christian traditions, notably of the miracle of Pentecost.’ The writer is obviously confusing free conversion with political subjugation. It is true that, as king and sovereign, the Holy Prophet(sa) never forced anyone, may he be a Jew or a Christian or a follower of any other religion, to adopt Islam. But as a prophet of God he invited the whole of mankind to join Islam of their own free will, very early in his ministry at Makkah. The verses, which have already been quoted, illustrate this point beyond any doubt. The Holy Qur’ a n expressly calls upon Jews and Christians to join Islam and threatens them with dire consequences if they do not heed the Divine call: O people of the Book (Jews and Christians)! believe in what we have now sent down, fulfilling that which is with you before we destroy some of your leaders or turn them on their backs or curse them as we cursed the people of the Sabbath. And the decree of Allah is bound to be fulfilled (4:48) In response to the call in Madinah Abdullah Bin Salaam, a learned Jew and a leader of the Madinite Jewry, joined Islam with his entire household. He exhorted his community also to do the same. Many other Jews entered the fold of Islam. For instance, Thalaba b. Sa’ya, Usayd b. Sa’ya. Asad b. Ubayd, etc. (Ibn Ishaq’s S i r a t Rasul Allah . translated by A. Guillaume p.19). 262). Similarly, Christians like Salman( r a ) t h e Persian and Suhayb(ra) the Rumi and many others embraced Islam. Moreover, when the Holy Qur’an explicitly proclaimed that Islam will come to prevail over all other faiths, Judaism and Christianity are not exceptions. He it is Who has sent His Messenger with the guidance 19 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 and religion of truth that He may cause it to prevail over all religions, however much those who associate partners with Allah may dislike it. (61:10) All faiths in the above verse obviously mean ‘all followers of all faiths’. This covers the whole of mankind. The verse quoted above, alone, is sufficient to establish that the Holy Prophet( s a ) was fully aware of the worldwide mission of Islam. Christian orientalists, certainly of the old school, deny it, as they are theologically prejudiced. Orientalists of the new school do the same with slightly different vocabulary. The Holy Qur’an, though not acknowledged by orientalists as the word of God, is frankly conceded as the genuine and unaltered composition of the Holy Prophet(sa). Muir says: ‘We may upon the strongest presumption affirm that every verse in the Qur’an is the genuine and unaltered composition of Mahomet himself and conclude with in least a close approximation to the verdict of Von Hammer: that we hold the Quran as surely Mahomet’s word as the Mohammadans hold it to be the word of God.’ (Life. p.563) As, according to this avowal, the Holy Qur’an portrays the concep- tions and views of the Holy Prophet, the verses quoted above, which clearly attribute universality to Islam, would conclusively prove that it was intended to serve the whole of mankind. Universality in Traditions of the Holy Prophet(sa) The Holy Prophet’s(sa) practice also shows that he was fully conversant with the meaning and intention of his mission. The letters he wrote to the potentates outside the borders of Arabia are a visible proof. He wrote to Roman and Iranian Emperors to the Negus, the ruler of Abyssinia, and to Mukawqis the Governor Of Egypt, etc. In these letters he called upon them to join Islam and to worship only One God. Had his mission been confined to Arabia why should he have addressed non-Arab people? He wrote these letters on his return from Hudaibiyyah where he had 20 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 negotiated a ten-year truce with the Makkans. He had also sent similar epistles to many Arab chiefs at that period but we are not concerned with these in connection with our subject matter. Orientalists in general dub his letters to non-Arab potentates as apocryphal. By another clause of the treaty the Arab tribes were left free to forge alliance either with the Holy Prophet(sa) or with the Makkans, whomsoever they liked. This brought the Islamic Republic of Madinah politically at par with that of the Makkans. The clause was decidedly a major gain for Islam, for by virtue of it the Holy Prophet(sa) drew a great many Arab tribes to him. As the treaty ended the war between the Makkans and the Holy Prophet( s a ), he now preached Islam more extensively. The astounding success, which he achieved in this field, is apparent from the fact that two years hence, when he conquered Makkah in 8 AH, he had with him 10,000 Companions. While in the previous period of about nineteen years he had rallied some l,200 persons in all. This was the size of the force that defended Madinah in the Battle of the Ditch or, if the count of children and women who participated in digging the trench were included, the total number would come to 3,000 at the most. In these two years, besides enlisting the allegiance of numerous Arab tribes, the Holy Prophet(sa) invited some leaders of the non-Arab world also to Islam. This was to implement the Q u r’anic injunctions to preach Islam to the whole of mankind (7:159; 5:68). As his companions told him that kings and monarchs did not receive any dispatches unless they were attested by a seal, he had a seal made of silver, engraved with the words ‘Muhammad Rasul Ullah’ (Muhammad, Messenger of Allah) and sealed his letters with it. These letters which the Holy Prophet(sa) addressed immediately after the truce of Hudaibiyyah were dispatched early in 7 AH (Ibn Sa’d) Letter to Heraclius The text of the letter to Heraclius the Roman emperor, is as follows: ‘In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful. From Muhammad, the servant 21 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 of Allah and His Messenger, to Heraclius, the chief of Rome. Peace be on him who follows the Guidance. After this I call you to Islam. Accept it and you will be saved. Embrace Islam and God will reward you twofold. If you turn away from the offer of Islam then on you be the sins of your people. And, O people of the Book, come to a word which is equal between us and you, that we worship none but Allah, associate naught with Him and forsaking Him take not any one from among us as God. If they (people of the Book) turn away tell them, beware, we are Muslims.’ (Bukhari Zurqani) This letter to Heraclius was entrusted to Dihya b. Khalifa al- Kalabi, a sagacious and devoted disciple of the Holy Prophet(sa) who had already travelled to Syria and was quite familiar with it. The Holy Prophet(sa) further directed him to convey his letter to the emperor through the latter’s governor at Bosra, Harith b. Ali Shimr. The narrative, as contained in al- Bukhari, continues to say that Heraclius received this letter when he was celebrating his victory over the Persians at Jerusalem. He considered it in his court and under his orders Abu Sufyan and his associates were also presented to him. They happened at that time to be in Syria on a trade mission. Abu Sufyan as yet had not joined Islam. The story goes on that the letter was read in court and the emperor binding Abu Sufyan to speak the truth, asked him some questions about the Holy Prophet(sa). These were about his ancestry; his integrity and character; his teachings; the condition of his followers; whether they were increasing or decreasing; whether they apostated or not and about his observance of his compacts with his enemies, etc. Abu Sufyan answered correctly fearing that if he lied his associates would belie him. He could get no chance, as he afterwards confessed, to speak deprecatingly of the Holy Prophet(sa), and of the moral and spiritual revolution which he had wrought among his followers. The emperor was very much impressed. This illuminating dialogue between Heraclius and Abu Sufyan is 22 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 contained in full in Bukhari and can be seen there advantageously. However, this much is certain from the nature of the questions he put to Abu Sufyan and his subsequent remarks upon his answers that Heraclius was seriously seeking the truth about the Holy Prophet’s(sa) claim and had in his heart become convinced of it. His object in conducting this dialogue before his courtiers was obviously to win them over to his viewpoint and he tried his utmost to convert them. But this was not to be. The narrative continues, that on hearing the answers, the emperor testifying to the truth of the Holy Prophet(sa) told his courtiers that shortly this prophet would occupy the Holy Land and that had it been possible for him he would have gone to him and sought blessings by washing his feet. Upon this, the story concludes that his courtiers began to shout their dissent and Abu Sufyan and his companions were driven out of the court. Questioning the Sources of traditions This episode is reported by Ibn Abbas to whom it was related by Abu Sufyan b. Harb, a prominent Makkan chief, with whom the above dialogue had taken place and who was an eyewitness to the whole aff a i r. He is known for his enmity towards Islam in which he persisted up to the submission of Makkah when he also joined the new faith. Previously he had commanded the large Makkan army that fought the believers at Uhud and also which besieged Madinah entailing the Battle of the Ditch. Obviously, he enjoyed a position of importance in the Makkan society and his version of contemporary events cannot be rejected without assigning some cogent reason. M o r e o v e r, he was an enemy of the Holy Prophet(sa) at the time when Heraclius questioned him and as such he had no inclination to exalt him in any way. His evidence, in the circumstances being against his own inclinations, deserves to be admitted as authentic. This criterion is implicitly accepted by Muir, when he asserts that any statement given in his disparagement by any of the Holy Prophet’s( s a ) friends and com-panions carries a good ground of credibility (Life p.599). However, the criterion devised by Muir is extremely unfair and 23 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 betrays his own prejudice for calumniating the Holy Prophet(sa) on the least possible ground. A companion may be a h y p o c r i t e , mentally deficient and bereft of discriminating power, yet accord- ing to Muir, his words in abasement of the Holy Prophet(sa), have the force of an unchal- lengeable truth. Ibn Abbas is a fully reliable transmitter of the Prophet’s traditions. From an early age he had ample opportunity to benefit from his company. He is also, in the words of Montgomery Wa t t (Encyclopaedia of Islam 1971, vol. I. p 40): ‘Considered one of the greatest scholars if not the greatest of the first generation of Muslims.’ The fact that tradionists and historians like al-Bukhari, Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Sa’d and Tabari, well known for their probity and i n t e g r i t y, have all included this story in their collections leaves no doubt regarding its reliability. All these sources are taken as highly reliable by orientalists inimical to I s l a m . There is no occasion for doubting the authenticity of this story, or of the conclusion to which it leads, i.e. the Holy Prophet(sa) conceived of Islam as a universal religion. However, orientalists like Muir and Montgomery Watt reject this point altogether. Montgomery Watt’s Claims Montgomery Watt, perhaps the latest exponent of this view, is very vehement in its denial. He sug- gests, quite arbitrarily, that if ever these letters were written, the purpose was to negotiate a neutrality pact with the princes and not to invite them to Islam. This is sheer high handedness and a plain example of upholding his pre- conceived notions at the cost of history. We will find more instance of such statements in the two following passages taken from his book Muhammad at Medina. He says: ‘The suggestion of some Muslim sources, though not the earliest, that he (the Holy Prophet) conceived of Islam as a universal religion and summoned the Byzantine and Persian emperors and other lesser Potentates to accept it, is almost certainly false. Islam indeed from its beginning was potentially a universal religion 24 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 and it is not fortuitous that with the expansion of the Islamic State it became in fact a universal religion. But it is barely credible that a wise statesman like Muhammad should have made this precise appeal at this precise stage in his career and examination shows that the reports of the embassies to the various sovereigns are full of incon- sistencies. The critical discussions of European scholars have shown that, while the story cannot be taken as it stands, there is a kernel of truth in it. According to the story Muhammad’s envoys were favourably received and given presents, apart from the one to the Persian emperor. But this is incredible if the message was a summons to become a Muslim and accept Muhammad as religious leader; we cannot conceive of a Roman emperor or a Negus of Abyssinia responding to such a message. But if we admit that the persons named actually carried some message from Muhammad to their respective destinations (though probably at different dates) and were well received, it is not impossible that the contents of the letters have been somewhat altered in the course of transmission. This may be either because the details were not known to the messenger (who is the presumptive source of infor- m ation), or because later developments made the message seem trivial and unworthy of a great prophet. On this hypothesis we might suppose that, while Muhammad may have made some reference to his religions beliefs, the real point was political. Perhaps he proposed a neutrality pact. Perhaps he was merely anxious to prevent the Meccans getting foreign help and to counteract the effects of the biased accounts they gave of their relations with him. It would have been most inappropriate for Muhammad at this period to summon these powerful rulers to accept Islam. But after the siege of Medina he was sufficiently important to have some rudimentary diplo-matic contacts with them and that is presumably the truth of the 25 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 m a t t e r.’ (Muhammad at Medina Oxford. 1956 pp.41- 42) Expressing the same idea in another passage under the title ‘Muhammad’s letters to princes’, he says: The position has been adopted that the material collected by Ibn Sa’d in volume 1/2 pp. 15- 86 is in general to be regarded as authentic. An exception must be made, however, of the story with which the collection opens, that in May 628 (1/7) on his return from al-Hudaibiyyah. Muhammad sent his messengers to the rulers of the surrounding countries sum- moning them to accept Islam. This story cannot be accepted as it stands. Muhammad was a wise and far-seeing statesman and he did not “lose his head” after the measure of success he obtained at al-Hudaibiyyah. To appeal to these princes at this period to accept Islam would have done more harm than good. Moreover, close exami- nation shows that the sending of some of the envoys was prior to al-Hudaibiyyah. The mission of Dihya to Bosra must have been in the summer of 627, since he was plundered by Judham on his return and a punitive expedition was sent against them about October 627 (vi/6). The two slave girls brought back by the envoy to the Mukawqis appear to have been in Medina soon after January 627 (viii/5), since Muhammad presented one of them to Hassan bin Thabit at the conclusion of the affair of the lie. Further, it is possible to discern a theological motive for the alteration of the stories. Ibn Ishaq makes Muhammad himself refer to the sending out of the apostles by Jesus, and with this connects the gift of languages at Pentecost. This appears to be intended to substantiate the claim that Muhammad was a prophet to all nations and not simply to the Arabs.’ An analysis of the two above- quoted extensive passages will reveal that despite some alleged inconsistencies in the reports about these letters, Montgomery Wa t t admits their factual possibility. But 26 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 then immediately he tries to nullify whatever he has conceded. He asserts that if ever these letters were written, the object was not to call the princes to Islam but to negotiate with them a neutrality pact or to dissuade them from helping the Makkans against the Holy Prophet(sa). He insists on this point with all the emphasis he can command. Montgomery Watt’s treatment of Ibn Sa’d is paradoxical. He holds him reliable and unreliable at the same time. He has depended mostly upon him for his materials but rejected the story of the Holy Prophet’s(sa) envoys to the princes, though Ibn Sa’d has opened his collection with it. The reasons set forth by him for this exclusion are here examined in detail. Arguments Rejecting Montgomery Watt’s Inference The first argument adduced by Montgomery Watt in support of his stand is no argument at all. He says that wisdom and states- manship, in the circumstances in which the Holy Prophet( s a ) w a s then placed, required that he should not invite the princes to Islam and, as he was a wise statesman, so he did not write the letter attributed to him. The first premise is certainly false and so is the inference drawn from it. The whole exercise is without the least bit of logic in it. The clause brought in to rationalise the first premise sadly falls short of its object, because it is not a statement of fact but purely a matter of opinion. It can equally be stressed that the time after al-Hudaibiyyah, when the Holy Prophet( s a ) had gained a spectacular victory over his enemies was the most appropriate time for inviting the princes to Islam. So in agreement with the dictates of wise statesmanship and at the first opportunity when he could free himself from the mundane involvements in which the Makkans had entangled him, he promptly attended to his Divine and supreme mission, i.e. to call the whole of mankind, including non-Arab races, to Islam and thus to unite the whole humanity into one brotherhood (vide Qur’an 21:108; 7:59; 34:29; 25:2). So, if he invited at that particular moment the leaders of the non-Arab world to Islam it was natural for him and quite consistent 27 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 with the pattern of his personality. In fact, whatever the Holy Prophet did at various junctures in his life was most appropriate to the requirements of wisdom and completely in consonance with the compulsion of his Divine Mission. The text of the letters which has come down to us clearly aims at calling the princes to Islam. The sources, al-Bukhari and Ibn Sa’d, etc., which have reproduced them are reliable in the eyes of orientalists also. However, Montgomery Watt says that the text has been altered in the course of transmission. He has no proof to support this assumption. Had he shown that the text in an earlier edition of the source book diff e r e d from what was given in its later edition, as is the case with some biblical stories, that would have carried some weight. But he bases his assertion merely on speculation, which he calls by the name of ‘tendential shaping’. This term means that as the Holy Prophet( s a ) had omitted to proclaim himself a universal teacher, his followers had developed a ‘tendency’ to present him as such and motivated by this tendency they ‘shaped’ the text of the letters to suit their purpose. H o w e v e r, this argument cannot hold. Montgomery Watt forg e t s that the Holy Qur’an very early in his ministry at Makkah proclaimed the Holy Prophet(sa) as a universal teacher (vide 21:108; 7:159; 34:29; 25:2). When this concept is clearly spelt out in the Makkan Surahs, the transmitters of hadith must have fully known it. At least lbn Abbas, who is one of the greatest scholars of those times and who transmitted the hadith contained in Bukhari, cannot be imagined to have been ignorant of the Qur’anic intention. What was then the need to tamper with the text of the letters, and what motive did subscribe to it? Bias or Fact The point at the back of all this contention is that, according to the Bible, Jesus (as) never claimed to be a universal teacher and confessed frankly to be a Prophet for the sons of Israel only. So, the orientalists who come of padre families are theologically interested in denying a greater status to the Holy Prophet(sa) also. They do so under the garb of ‘scientific research’ while trying to pass off their prejudice as objective fact. The New Testament says: 28 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 ‘These twelve Jesus sent forth and commanded them saying: Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter you not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ (Matthew 10:5, 6) ‘But he (Jesus) answered and said: I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ (Ibid. 15:24) And Jesus said unto them: Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me in the regeneration when the son of man shall sit in the throne of his Glory, ye shall also sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’ (ibid. 19:28) Harm Theory’s Imposing Edifice Now let us look into the ‘harm’ theory on which Montgomery Watt has built his seemingly imposing edifice. He says that the Holy Prophet(sa) did not call the princes to Islam, as such a step would have entailed great harm to him. This harm theory is wholly the product of his imagination otherwise, if seen objectively, there was no such possibility. When we consider the case of Heraclius in this context we find that there was not a whit of any danger in inviting him to Islam. He was not an uncouth and uncultured barbarian. Gibbon praises his ‘wisdom’, ‘intrepidity’ and ‘magnanimous sentiments’ and, in the words of the Encyclopaedia B r i t a n n i c a, he possessed ‘deep Christian faith’. It goes without saying then that he must be familiar with the Christian traditions regarding the coming of prophets and the deliverance of Divine messages by them, and the biblical prophecies concerning the advent of a mighty prophet after Jesus(as). In view of the frame of mind which these factors must have engendered in Heraclius, who can apprehend that he would fly into a passionate rage on such an innocent invitation and hasten to harm the Holy Prophet ( s a )? The most he would feel inclined to do would be to investigate, which he did as already explained. Even if there was a danger of harm as Montgomery Watt insists, we cannot imagine that the Holy 29 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 Prophet(sa) would have neglected his duty. According to the Holy Q u r’an (5:68), deliverance of Divine message was his supreme obligation and come what may he was to fulfil it. His conduct at Makkah and Taif shows that he did his duty even when his life was in peril. If Montgomery Watt’s theory is correct, then Moses(as) should not have pressed the Pharaoh to release the Israelites from his cruel bondage for it imperilled his life and the life of his community. S i m i l a r l y, Jesus Christ( a s ) s h o u l d not have denounced the Jews of his time because as a sequel to it he suffered grievously at their hands and was saved only by a miracle. Polite Treatment of Ambassadors Montgomery Watt expresses great surprise at the reported polite treatment by Heraclius, Mukawqis and Negus of the Holy Prophet’s ambassadors. He says, had the Holy Prophet ( s a ) called them to Islam it is incredible and incon- ceivable that they would have responded so gently. The answer is that it is a fact of history that cannot be set aside by anyone’s predilections against it. We can only say that though they were sovereigns yet they were not devoid of good manners. After all, the call was a message of love and peace to them and they did not find in it anything offensive to their sensibilities. So if they treated the embassies with consideration there is nothing anomalous in it. History of Revelation Questioned An objection raised against the validity of these letters is that they contain inconsistencies. For instance, it is alleged by some orientalists that the verse of the Holy Qur’an included in the epistle sent to Heraclius, calling the people of the Book to a word which is equal between them and the believers, was revealed to the Holy Prophet(sa) in 9 AH when a Christian deputation from Najran visited him. The letter to Heraclius was written in the end of 6 AH or the beginning of 7 AH. So the argument goes that if the letter had been genuine, the verse could not have formed part of it. This is not a new objection. Reputed commentators and historians have refuted it in Fath 30 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 a l – B a r i, Tafsir Ibn Kathir a n d Z u rq a n i, etc. The fact is that revelation did not come to the P r o p h e t( s a ) all at once. It came piecemeal and at different times. Sometimes a verse would be revealed to him twice on diff e r e n t dates; sometimes a phrase which he had uttered in some context would subsequently descend upon him as revelation. There is a consensus of Muslim commentators upon this point and orientalists also recognise it. For instance, in his commentary on the Qur’an, Rev. E. M. Wherry, following Noeldeke, has assigned d i fferent dates to revelation’1 o f d i fferent verses of chapter Al- Maida (vide E. M. Wherry, A c o m p rehensive commentary on the K o r a n, vol. II, p.11 9 ) For instance, This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed my favour upon you and have chosen for you Islam as religion (5:4) the last verse to be revealed to the Holy Prophet( s a ), descended upon him on the momentous occasion of the farewell pilgrimage, eighty-two days prior to his demise while the rest of the chapter had been received by him long before. This shows that verses of the one and the same surah would come to him in some cases on quite different dates. So it is possible that the Holy P r o p h e t( s a ) had used this phrase in his letter to Heraclius and subsequently it came to him as revelation or the verse was revealed to him twice, once immediately after Hijra and for the second time when the deputation of Najran Christians visited him. In either case the objection does not stand. Montgomery Watt has said that some envoys, for instance to Bosra, were dispatched prior to al- Hudaibiyyah. Authentic sources like Bukhari, Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Sa’d categorically place the dispatch of missions to Heraclius, Negus, Khusro Perwez and Mukawqis after al-Hudaibiyyah. Dihya went to Bosra previously also, but privately. Possibly his earlier acquaintance with Heraclius led the Holy Prophet( s a ), after Hudaibiyyah, to entrust him with his epistle to the emperor. Further, these authorities declare unani- mously that the object of these missions was to call the princes to Islam and on this count there is absolutely no dissent. 31 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 Margoliouth’s Confusion Before we consider the remaining letters it seems proper to review some remarks about it by Margoliouth. He admits its receipt by Heraclius and quotes Greek authorities as well (Muralt, Essai de Chronologie Byzantine; Drapeyon L’empereur Heraclius. Paris. 1869). He says: Arabic and Greek writers agree in making 628 the year in which M u h a m m a d ’s letter reached Heraclius. ( M a rg o l i o u t h Muhammad and the Rise of I s l a m , G. P. Putnam’s Sons, London. 1905. p.365) Then he makes a confusing insinuation. Traditionists like Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Sa’d, al-Bukhari agree that it was Abu Sufyan bin Harb who appeared in the court of Heraclius and answered his questions regarding the Holy Prophet. But Margoliouth says it was Abu Sufyan bin al-Harith. For proof, he adds remarks that do not lend any support to his contention, as Abu Sufyan bin Harb was also a near kinsman of the Holy Prophet(sa). ‘In the story (Wakidi W–329, n), Abu Sufyan is represented as a near relation of Muhammad which does not suit the more famous Abu Sufyan so well.’ S i m i l a r l y, he denies that Abu Sufyan had answered Heraclius’ questions in the latter’s court, not on any historical evidence, but merely on his own preconceived notions. He says: ‘Had he (Abu Sufyan) really been summoned, he could scarcely have lost the opportunity of endeavouring to obtain help for M e c c a against the dangerous exile; of pointing out the menace to the neighbouring provinces which was contained in the rise of Moslem Power.’ (Ibid., p.366) Margoliouth, however, forgets, that by the time Heraclius received this letter much water had flowed under the bridge and the Makkans had become thoroughly disillusioned about their power to undermine Islam. The battles of Badr, Uhud and the Ditch had opened their eyes and warned them of the 32 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 writing on the wall. They also knew that they had miserably failed to enlist the sympathies of the Negus against Muslim refugees. In the circumstances it was quite sensible for Abu Sufyan to abstain from entangling himself in any fruitless venture. Moreover, he was also a near relation of the Holy Prophet(sa) and his heart must have softened by that time towards his unique countryman. The Holy Prophet(sa) sent a similar dispatch to a vassal of the Roman emperor, al-Harith bin Ali Shimr, the Prince of the Bani Ghassan or Harith VII, as Muir identifies him in his Life, p.384. When Shuja bin Wahab al-Asadi presented the Holy Prophet’s( s a ) letter to him, Harith threw it away in anger and threatened to storm Madinah. Heraclius, however, did not permit him to do so and called him instead to Jerusalem for celebrating his victory over the Persians (Zurqani, Vol. III. p.357). Referring to this incident, Muir remarks, ‘But Heraclius, regarding the ominous voice beneath his notice, forbade the expedition’ (Life, p. 384). He does not tell us on what evidence he has attributed these sentiments to Heraclius. On the contrary, according to the report contained in Bukhari, he had become so enamoured of the Holy Prophet(sa) that he longed to wash his feet for blessings. His conduct indicates that he forbade the expedition out of love for the Holy P r o p h e t( s a ). Muir is so used to depicting everything concerning the Holy Prophet(sa) in dark colour that it seems he is not writing a biography but an indictment. Similar is the case, more or less, with Margoliouth, another detrac- tor of the Holy Prophet(sa). Letter to Khusro Perwez A similar and slightly augmented dispatch was sent to Khusro Perwez, Emperor of Persia, who, on being apprised of its contents, tore it to pieces and grossly mistreated its bearer, Abdullah bin Hudhafa al-Sahmi (Ibn Ishaq; Tabari; Khamis and Zurqani). When the Holy Prophet(sa) was told of the emperor’s obnoxious reaction, he is reported to have exclaimed. ‘May God smash them into pieces’ (Bukhari). Besides rending the letter to shreds, 33 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 the impetuous Kisra directed Badhan, his governor at Yemen to apprehend the Holy Prophet(sa). The two agents deputed for this purpose reached Madinah and urged him to accompany them to the king of kings, or to face his wrath. The Holy Prophet( s a ) smiled at their m a s t e r’s impudence and asked them to wait for his answer till the morning. The next morning he gave them his answer. ‘Apprise your chief (governor of Yemen) that my God (the All-Powerful Allah) has killed your god (Kisra) last night.’ Returning to the governor, the emissaries acquainted him with the Holy Prophet’s(sa) response. After some days he received a dispatch from Sheeruya (Siroes) intimating that he had killed his cruel father and installed himself as the new Kisra. He further forbade him from arraigning the Holy Prophet( s a ). Badhan was so impressed by the turn of events that he embraced Islam forthwith and so did a large number of his subjects (Ibn Ishaq: Tabari, Vol. III, pp. 1572-1574). The point regarding the fate of Kisra in this narrative is very significant. Original sources like Ibn Ishaq agree that the Holy Prophet’s(sa) prediction about this murder was based on Divine revel- ation and as such constituted a proof of his Divine mission. But Muir and Margoliouth, actuated by a desire to deny him the gift of prophecy, try to give it a fantastic touch. Muir says: ‘At the time they (the emissaries of Badhan) arrived at Medina, tidings had reached the prophet of the deposition and death of the Persian monarch. When the dispatch, therefore, was read before him, he smiled at its contents, and summoned the ambassadors to embrace Islam. He then apprised them of the murder of Khusro and accession of his son; “Go,” said he, “inform your master of this and require him to tender his submission to the prophet of God”’ (Ibid. p. 395) Taking his cue from Muir, Margoliouth chimes in with him. He says: ‘ N o w, that Muhammad had many secret agencies for obtaining intelligence speedily 34 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 cannot be doubted.’ (Ibid. p. 368) By this mischievous suggestion, Margoliouth wants us to believe that early in the seventh century AD the Holy Prophet( s a ) h a d equipped his agents with the most sophisticated instruments of communication, perhaps more sensitive than what we have now at the end of the twentieth century. Otherwise how could the news of the patricide committed by Siroes be flashed to him across expansive deserts the same night in which it had occurred? When we consider that Siroes himself took many days to convey the news to Badhan the absurdity of Marg o l i o u t h ’s insinuation becomes all the more evident. There is absolutely no evidence to show that the facts of Khusro Perwez had been communicated to him by some external means and in the absence of any such indication there is no reason to deny that the event was revealed to the Holy Prophet(sa) by the All-Knowing God. Letter to Negus The Holy Prophet’s( s a ) letter to Najashi (Negus), the king of Abyssinia, inviting him to Islam was carried to him by Amr b. Umayyah ad-Damri. The king was not a stranger to the Holy Prophet(sa), whom he had obliged some eleven years prior to the receipt of this epistle. He had granted asylum to his followers, fleeing to him from their Makkan tormentors and also firmly refused their persecutors who had subsequently come to him demanding their extradition. The following is the text of the letter which the Holy Prophet (sa) wrote to him. It will be observed that it is warmer and more elaborate than the letters which he wrote to some other rulers. ‘In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. From Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, to Najashi the king of Abyssinia. Peace on you. Next, I praise before you the one and the only God. None else is worthy of worship. He is the Sovereign; the Holy; the Source of Peace; the Bestower of Security and the Protector. I bear witness that Jesus, son of Mary, was a Messenger of God, who came in fulfillment of the promise made to Mary by Him. 35 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 I invite you to God, who is One, having no associate and I call upon you to join with me and to believe in the revelation which has descended upon me. Surely, I am a Messenger of Allah. I invite you and your armies to join the faith of the Almighty God. I have delivered to you the message of God in all sincerity and I trust you will respond to it in the same spirit. I have already sent to you a number of Muslims with my cousin Jaafar. Peace be on him who follows the guidance. (Ibn Sa’d; Zurqani Vol. III. pp. 343–344) When this letter reached the Negus he showed it great respect and answered as under: ‘In the name of Allah the Beneficent, The Merciful. To Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, from Najashi Ashima Peace and Mercy and blessings of Allah be upon you. O Messenger of Allah. None except Allah is worthy of worship. It is He Who has guided me to Islam. I have received your letter, O Messenger of Allah. By God, whatever you have written in it about Jesus I do not hold him even a whit greater than that. We have understood your call towards Truth, and I bear witness that you are a true Messenger of God, of whose coming tidings had been given in the previous scriptures also. So, through your cousin Jaafar, I offer my adhesion to you. Peace of Allah be on you, and His mercy and His blessings.’ (Ibn Sa’d; Zurqani Vol. III, pp. 344-345) This Najashi died in 9 AH, and the Holy Prophet(sa), when apprised of his demise, offered funeral prayers for him in Madinah. His successor, however, did not join Islam and stuck to Christianity. Shortly afterwards Muslim armies had to encounter the Persian and the Roman Empires which they defeated and brought completely under their sway. S u b s e q u e n t l y, for nearly a thousand years, Muslim generals conquered one country after another till they had subdued a very large portion of Asia, Africa and almost half of Europe. But throughout this magnificent career 36 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 of conquests they never violated the boundaries of Abyssinia. Tradition tells us that they left it intact in deference to the honour which the Negus had shown to the Holy Prophet’s(sa) letter and to the fact of his acceptance of Islam. This in itself constitutes a strong evidence of the exchange of letters between the Holy Prophet(sa) and the Negus. Had it not been for the d e e p regard which the Muslim commanders had come to cherish in their hearts on this account for the Negus they would have con- quered this tiny kingdom in no time at all as it was hemmed in on all sides by Muslim states. It also shows how magnanimously early Muslims responded to whatever good any nation did to them. Letter to Mukawqis The Holy Prophet’s( s a ) letter to Mukawqis, the governor of Egypt, delivered to him by Hatib bin Abi Baltas, was also well received. Its text is the same as the letter dispatched to Heraclius and need not be reproduced. According to Zurqani, Mukawqis discussed with Hatib many issues regarding the mission of the Holy Prophet(sa) and was favourably impressed by his a rguments. Unlike the Negus, however he did not join Islam but paid his respects to the Holy P r o p h e t( s a ) by arranging the safekeeping of his letter and by presenting to him two Copt ladies, some garments and a white mule. Acknowledging his letter he expressed his regard for the Holy Prophet(sa) in the following words: ‘In the name of Allah, the beneficent, the Merciful. To Muhammad bin Abdullah from Mukawqis, Chief of the Copts, Peace on you. Next I have read your letter and understood what you have mentioned therein and to what you have invited me thereby. I certainly knew that a prophet was yet to appear but I thought he will rise in Syria. I have duly honoured your ambassador and am sending to you two girls who command great respect among the Copts, a mantle and a mule for riding as presents to you.’ (Ibn Sa’d) Montgomery Watt has made an obscure observation (why, one can only guess!) in this regard also which needs clarification. He remarks that the ‘two slave girls 37 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 appear to have been in Madinah soon after January 627 (vi/6), since Muhammad presented one of them to Hassan bin Thabit at the conclusion of the affair of the lie.’ (Ibid. p.345) He does not offer any proof in support of this statement. As a matter of fact, original sources like Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Sa’d clearly affirm that the slave girls came from Egypt to Madinah in response to the Holy Prophet’s(sa) letter to Mukawqis dispatched to him after his return from al-Hudaibiyyah. In the circumstances it is incon- ceivable that they were present in Madinah at the conclusion of the affair of the lie which occurred long before. Montgomery Watt is definitely wrong in forming this opinion, as the effect could not take place prior to its cause. Relic of Letter discovered by Egyptologist As stated earlier on the authority of traditions, the letter to Mukawqis was safely preserved by him in original. For centuries it remained undiscovered. Then in 1852 it was found in a monastery at Akhmim by the French Egyptologist E. Barthelemy and put among the relics of the Holy Prophet(sa) in old Serial. Its facsimile was published in Hilal, Cairo, in November 1904 and also in Marg o l i o u t h ’s book Muhammad and the Rise of Islam where it bears the following caption: ‘Letter by the Prophet to the Mukawqis discovered by M. Etiene Barthelemy; believed by several scholars to be the actual document.’(p.366) Commenting on the genuineness of this find, Noeldeke, in the first edition of his Geschichte des Quran (1860, p. 40) remarks ‘there is nothing to doubt as regards the authenticity of the letter, whose text is to be found in so many of the best Arabic sources’2 However, the writer of the article ‘Muhammad’ in Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. III 1936, denounces it on paleographic grounds as a forgery. But his verdict cannot be taken seriously. As stated by M a rgoliouth, several scholars (including Noeldeke) have testified to its genuineness. Also p a l e o g r a p h y, in view of the researches made about it by modern scholars, can have no say in respect of Arabic scripts. Its hold as yet is confined to Greek and 38 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 Latin writings. Below we quote our authority. ‘In general, however, paleography embraces writings found principally on papyrus (vellum) and paper. To d a y, paleography is regarded as relating to Greek and Latin scripts with their derivatives, thus, as a rule, excluding Egyptian, Hebrew and Middle and Far Eastern scripts.’ (New Encyclopaedia Britannica vol. 13, 1973, under the article ‘Paleography’) So, when Arabic paleography in 1973 was yet unable to adjudge, how can a verdict pronounced on an Arabic script in 1936, when this science had not even formulated its rudiments, claim any cred- i b i l i t y ? F u r t h e r, as pointed out by Noeldeke, the text of the document is the same as contained in the Arabic source books. The seal it bears is also the same as is ascribed to the Holy Prophet(sa). Moreover, the possibility of its having been forged by some Muslim scholars is ruled out, as they had no motive for it. They knew full well that universality of Islam proclaimed by the Holy Qur’an and recorded by the collectors of traditions, needed no other proof. Reference to Past Prophets Alluding to a tradition contained in lbn Ishaq’s collection, Montgomery Watt draws some unwarranted conclusions. The tradition purports to say that when the Holy Prophet(sa) deputed some of his companions to carry his epistles to the princes he told them that Jesus had also sent his disciples similarly. Montgomery Watt’s comment on this incident is as follows: ‘It is possible to discern a theological motive for the alteration of the stories (i.e. about the letters under discussion). Ibn Ishaq makes Muhammad himself refer to the sending out of the apostles by Jesus and with this connects the gift of languages at Pentecost. This appears to be intended to substantiate the claim that Muhammad was a Prophet to all nations and not simply to the Arabs.’ 39 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 It is simply beyond comprehension how mere reference to a certain act of Jesus ( a s ) should make the occurrence of a similar act of the Holy Prophet(sa) doubtful. If this sort of reasoning is correct, then one can even deny the amnesty granted by him to the Makkans. For it can very well be pointed out that the Qur’an speaks of the incident of Joseph(as) pardoning his brothers (12:93) and then go on to assert that the traditions regarding the Holy Prophet’s(sa) amnesty on the fall of Makkah are all ‘an afterthought’ and a fabrication to show that he was as benign and merciful as Joseph(as) . It is feared that if this sort of logic comes in vogue then there would be left nothing for the compilation of the Holy Prophet’s biography, because most of his sublime deeds resemble those of biblical prophets. We reproduce below Ibn Ishaq’s tradition so that the reader may judge for himself whether there is any justification for Montgomery Watt’s comments. ‘Yazid b. Abu Habib Al-Misri told me that he found a document in which was a memorandum (T. the names) of those the apostles sent to the countries and kings of the Arabs and non-Arabs and what he said to his companions when he sent them. I sent it to Muhammad b. Shihab al-Zuhri ( T. with a trusty countryman of his) and he recognised it. It contained the statement that the apostle went out to his companions and said, “God has sent me as a mercy to all men, so take a message from me, God have mercy on you. Do not hang back from me as the disciples hung back from Jesus, son of Mary.” They asked how they had hung back. He said. “He called them to a task similar to that to which I have called you. Those who had to go a short journey were pleased and accepted. Those who had a long journey before them were displeased and refused to go, and Jesus complained of them to God (T. From that very night) every one of them was able to speak the language of the people to whom he was sent.’ (T. Jesus said, “This is a thing which God has determined that you should do, so go.”) 40 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 (T. Then the apostle divided his companions and sent Salit b. Amr b. Abdu Shamus b. Abdu Wudd, brother of B. ‘Amr b. Lu’ayy, to Haudha b. Ali, ruler of al-Yamama. Hatib b. Abu Balta’a to the Mukawqis, ruler of Alexandria, etc.’) (S i r a t Rasul Allah, translated by A. Guilliaume. p.653) Acceptance by non-Arabs Again, the admission of Hadhrat Bilal(ra), Hadhrat Suhayb Rumi(ra) and Hadhrat Salman(ra) into the fold of Islam is further evidence in this regard. Hadhrat Bilal( r a ) was an Abyssinian and Hadhrat Salman(ra) belonged to Persia. They had the honour of embracing Islam at the hands of the Holy Prophet(sa). Had the message of Islam been limited to Arabs only, why should the Holy Prophet(sa) have welcomed them? Besides receiving them cordially in Islam, the Holy Prophet(sa) referred to Hadhrat Bilal(ra) as the ‘first fruit of Abyssinia’ and to Hadhrat Suhayb(ra) as ‘first fruit of Greece’. This clearly indicates that he took his message to be universal and expected non-Arab nations to join Islam. This evidence is from the Makkan period of his life. The universality of Islam is further evident from its claim to perfection and finality (5:4 quoted above). Previous to the Holy Prophet of Islam(sa), prophets were raised on a national basis, with guidance suitable for a well-defined people and for a limited time only. The sequence of this progressive development culminated in the advent of the Holy Prophet(sa) who was given, in the shape of the Holy Qur’an, the most perfect and final Shariah (religious law) which was to endure forever and, as envisaged in 61:10 (quoted above), to gather all nations of the world into one brotherhood. This article is an edited version of one first printed in T h e Muslim Herald Jan. 1983 Vo l . 23:1 References 1 In the early days of Islam, the date of revelation was unim- portant. Chapters were later classified as of Makkan or Madinite period. This point has repeatedly been exploited by orientalists who disregard strong evidence with the sole 41 Universality of Islam The Review of Religions – Nov 2004 object of denying that the Holy Prophet(sa) may have foretold an event and that the verse must have been included after the event. 2. As quoted by Dr Hamidullah Khan, in his article on ‘Some Arabic inscriptions of Madinah of the early years of Hijrah’ in Islamic Culture, October 1939 issue. Advertise your business in The Review of Religions and see sales scale to new heights. Existing adverts can be placed and sponsorship on regular features is available in this longest running worldwide Muslim monthly magazine. Rates available on request from the Manager at: The Review of Religions 16 Gresssenhall Road London SW18 5QL

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment