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Back to index   23 Years: Muhammad’s Prophetic Career
Chapter II: Religion of Islam
 

23 Years: A Study of Muhammad’s Prophetic Career
Chapter II: Religion of Islam

Professor Ali Dashti
1st Edition: December 12, 2008
2nd Edition: September 11, 2017


Muhammad’s Jihad against the Non Muslims and the Civilized World declared


Professor Ali Dashti

Chapter II: Religion of Islam
The Setting
Miracles
Miracle of Quran
Muhammad’s Humanity

Chapter II: Religion of Islam

The Setting 

Religion in a meaningful sense has never taken firm root among the Bedouin Arabs, who even today show little interest in spiritual and metaphysical matters. Living in an inhospitable land, they were poor and had no stable social institutions apart from a few customs and inhibitions. In temperament they were volatile, being quickly moved, for example, to ecstasy or rage by a verse of poetry; self-centred and vain, being always eager to boast about their idiosyncrasies, including their weak points and even their crimes and cruelties; and so ignorant that they were easy prey to illusion and superstition, being ready to see a demon lurking under every stone or tree. The aridity of their land had debarred them from agriculture, which was the basis of human civilization. According to one of their sayings, a cow's tail symbolized disgrace and a horse's forehead glory. Their only aim in life was to satisfy their immediate physical needs, and their only reason for praying to idols was desire for help in the pursuit of that aim. Aggression was normal and acceptable, provided of course that the other side was not well armed or prepared for self-defence. Often an act of violence was extolled and made the subject of a heroic poem. In cases of abduction of another man's wife, the Bedouin poets lacked any sense of chivalry; they had no scruples about disclosing her secrets, describing her embarrassment, and assessing her looks.


Muhammad tortures Kinana the leader of Nadir Jews of Khaybar

In the minds of these people, a god was an artificial and conventional being. They did not believe in a god's objective and independent existence. To compete with a tribe possessing a famous idol, they would invent and venerate another idol for their own benefit. The Ka'ba was an important idol-temple, much visited by Bedouin tribesmen and greatly respected as a holy place.


Muhammad rapes Safiyah the Jew after murdering her husband

For this reason Abd od-Dar b. Hoday b of the Johayna tribe urged his people to build an equally fine temple in the Hawra district so that the Bedouin might be drawn to it instead of the Ka'ba. When his people rejected the proposal as too ambitious and risky, they were derided in a satirical poem preserved in the Tankis ol-Asnam23 of Hesham b. Mohammad ol-Kalbi {The Book of Idols} (ca.120/737-204/819 or 206/821), a reliable early work which vividly portrays the religious ideas of the pagan Arabs. Some stories from it are quoted below as examples of their mentality; "When Abraha (the Christian ruler of the Yemen after the Abyssinian conquest in the middle of the 6th century) had built a church called the Qelis of stone and expensive timber at San'a, he swore not to relax his grip on the Arabs until they abandoned the Ka'ba and visited this church instead. So an Arab chief sent some men one night to defile the Qelis with dirt and excrement." "The son of a murdered man wanted to avenge his father, but first went to consult an idol called Dhu'l-Khalasa. By means of divining arrows he asked whether he should track down his father's killer or not. The prognostic was negative, which meant that Dhu’l-Khalasa advised against this course. The Arab then turned his back on Dhu'l-Khalasa, saying 'If your father had been murdered like mine, you would never have forbidden me to avenge my father.' In the words of a pre-Islamic poet, 'If you had been wronged like me, O Dhu'l-Khalasa, if your old man was in the grave like mine, you would not forbid killing enemies by stealth." 24 While other primitive peoples venerated the sun and moon and stars, the Bedouin Arabs were obsessed with stones and had a custom of circumambulating them. At every halt on a journey across the desert, an Arab traveller's first action was to find four stones; he would put the nicest one on the ground and walk around it, and then use the three others as supports for his cooking pot.  Sacrificial slaughter of sheep, goats, and camels had to be done in front of a stone and in such a way that the blood would stain the stone red.

It has already been said that the ancient Arabs were not serious in their idolatry, but merely ignorant and credulous. In this connection another story from the Tankis ol-Asnam is worth quoting; "An Arab took his camels to an idol called Sa'd to get them blessed. The camels shied away from the stone, which was stained red with the blood of sacrificed animals. This annoyed the Arab so much that he threw a pebble at the idol's head, shouting 'May you be deprived of the blessing of the people's praise!' The incident is recalled in these verses: 25

'We came to Sa'd to collect our fortunes.
But Sa'd dissipated them. So we shall have nothing to do with Sa'd.
Is not Sa'd just a stone on a rise in the ground?
He cannot be asked to lead astray or to guide aright.'”

A similar impression of the Bedouin character emerges from study of the events of the first years of the Prophet's career at Madina. The tribes of the neighbouring districts were drawn to the Moslems by fear or by hope of booty, but shied away or switched to the other side whenever the Moslems suffered a reverse such as the defeat at Mount Ohod. Mohammad was well aware of their mentality and ways. The subject frequently comes up in Qur’anic verses and above all in sura 9 (ol-Tawba), which is chronologically the last sura of the Qur’an and may be regarded as the Prophet's testament: "The Bedouin Arabs are the most stubborn in unbelief and hypocrisy, and the most likely to ignore the limits of what God has revealed to His Apostle" (verse 98). For this reason they were wishing that God "might have revealed it to some non-Arab" (sura 26, osh-Sho'ara, verse 198). At least in the greater part of Arabia, superstition was endemic and prayers were addressed to idols for help in meeting normal and casual needs.

This was not the case in the Hejaz, however, or at least not at Mecca and Yathreb (known after the heira as Madina). The inhabitants of those two towns, particularly Yathreb, had been influenced by the beliefs of Jews and Christians. The word Allah, meaning The God, was in use among them. They considered themselves to be descendants of Abraham, and were more or less acquainted with the legends of the Children of Israel and stories of the Old Testament. The story of Adam and Satan was generally known to them. They believed in the existence of angels and imagined them to be daughters - a fallacy to which the Qur’an several times alludes, e.g. sura 53 (on-Nairn), verse 21: "Do you have males (i.e. sons) and does He have females?" Furthermore these town-dwellers had adopted several Jewish practices such as circumcision, ritual ablution, avoidance of menstruating women, and observance of a rest-day, for which they chose Friday instead of Saturday. . .

Thus in the Hejaz the preaching of Islam was not wholly novel or alien to the social environment. Not only were there some clear-thinking individuals who shunned idolatry; the idolaters themselves had begun to see glimmers of light. This also is mentioned several times in the Qur’an, e.g. in sura 43 (oz'-Zokhrof), verse 87: "And if you ask them who created them, they say Allah" in sura 29 (ol-Ankabut), verse 61: "And if you ask them who created the heavens and the earth and subdued the sun and the moon, they say Allah."
The Qorayshite polytheists saw their idols as symbols of forces and as means of approach to the deity. This concept is mentioned in sura 39 (oz-Zomar), verse 4: "And those who choose friends other than Him say, 'We only worship them so that they may bring us nearer to Allah.'"

Nevertheless Islam did not prosper at Mecca. After thirteen years of the Prophet Mohammad's preaching, and after the revelation of the wonderful Meccan suras, so little success was achieved that the number of the converts in the town is generally reckoned at no more than one hundred. Mohammad's constant struggle during every day and night of those thirteen years failed to break the tenacious resistance of the Qorayshites. Among those whom he won over to Islam were a few men of substance such as Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman, Hamza b. Abd ol-Mottaleb, Abd or-Rahman b. Awf, and Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas. The rest were mostly either from the lower class or not wealthy, and therefore had no prestige and influence in Meccan society.

Waraqa b. Nawfal, who did not formally become a Moslem but always supported Mohammad, advised him to win over Abu Bakr because Abu Bakr was a highly respected man whose acceptance of the faith would help to advance the cause. It was because of Abu Bakr's conversion that Othman b. Affan, Abd or-Rahman b. Awf, Talha b. Obaydollah, Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas, and Zopayrb. ol-Awwam became Moslems. .
In the preaching of Islam an essential factor was the Prophet Mohammad's perseverance, which in itself is evidence of his fidelity to his lofty aim. He was never deflected by inducements, threats, taunts, or persecutions of his un-influential followers. At the same time Mohammad was resourceful and ready to use all available means. In the fifth year of his mission he sent one of his followers to Abyssinia in the hope that the Christian king of that country would make some move to help a man who had revolted against idolatry. This alarmed the Qoraysh chiefs, who sent a delegation to the Negus in the hope of persuading him to ignore the Moslem emigrants and hand them over as undesirables and rebels.
In the early phase of the preaching of Islam, the Qorayshites probably felt little concern and were content to do no more than scoff at Mohammad and his claim. They called him a madman, a poet, a ranter, a fortune-teller, a man possessed by genies or in league with Satan. As time went on, however, Mohammad's persistence and his success in winning over some respected notables began to make them anxious. The reasons for the gradual exacerbation of Qorayshite hostility to the Prophet are clear.

Quite correctly the Qoraysh chiefs reckoned that if the Prophet's cause won success, their own livelihood would be undermined. The Ka'ba was the pilgrimage centre of the Bedouin tribes, drawing thousands every year. It had made Mecca the meeting place of Arab poets and orators, and had given it an annual fair and a bazaar frequented by people from all over Arabia. The livelihood of the Meccans and the prestige of the Qoraysh chiefs depended on this coming and going. The Bedouin came to visit the Ka'ba, which was an idol-temple. If the new religion required destruction of the idols, they would not come any more.

Fifteen years later, when Islam had triumphed, the Moslems of Mecca were similarly anxious about their livelihood. Qur’anic verses, revealed to the Prophet after his conquest of the town in 8/630, expressly debarred polytheists from the Ka'ba. The anxiety was allayed by the revelation of verse 28 of sura 9 (ol-Tawba): "If you fear impoverishment, God will enrich you from His bounty," i.e. will compensate you for the loss of business.

When the Qoraysh chiefs observed Mohammad's persistence in his preaching, and above all became better aware of the danger which it posed, they proceeded to more positive steps. They first approached the now elderly Abu Taleb, whose advice would in their reckoning be likely to influence his nephew. They asked him to make Mohammad stop preaching, and promised in return to appoint Mohammad to a post at the Ka'ba. After Abu Taleb's failure to dissuade his nephew from preaching, almost all the Qoraysh chiefs decided to boycott the Banu Hashem. For some time members of the Hashemite clan suffered great hardship from {P# 37} the ban on business with them, until finally certain individuals, moved by Arab feelings of honour, helped them out of their predicament.

After this affair, and especially after Abu Taleb's death, no hope of silencing Mohammad remained. The Qoraysh chiefs then resolved on drastic action. Three possible courses lay open: to imprison him, to exile him, or to kill him. From their discussion of these alternatives they concluded that killing Mohammad would be the wisest course provided that the hands of all should be stained with his blood and that no particular clan should be exposed to Hashemite vengeance. This plan was conceived in the twelfth or thirteenth year of Mohammad's mission. It prompted his decision to leave Mecca and emigrate to Madina.

Miracles

Many Iranians have been reared on a diet of myth and are ready to believe that any emamzada 26 {local saints, usually scions of Mohammad or Ali} of however doubtful ancestry, can at every moment perform a miracle. If they were to read the Qur’an, they would be surprised to find no report of a miracle in it at all.
They would learn from twenty or more Qur’anic passages that whenever the Prophet Mohammad was asked by doubters to perform a miracle, he either stayed silent or said that he would not do so because he was a human being like any other, with no function except to communicate, to be a "bringer of good news and an admonisher." The most explicit of these passages is in sura 17 (ol-Esra), verses 92-95:

"And they have said, 'We shall not believe you until you make a spring gush from the earth for us, or have a garden of palms and vines and make rivers gush from the midst of it, or cause the sky to drop on us in pieces as you claim (will happen), or bring God and the angels as a guarantee, or have a house adorned with gold, or ascend to heaven; and we shall not believe in your ascension until you bring down a written document for us to read.' Say (to them), 'Glory be to my Lord! Am I anything but a human, a messenger?' "

In the next two verses (96 and 97), surprise at the demands of these doubters is expressed:

"And the only thing that stopped the people from believing, when the guidance came to them, was that they said, 'Has God sent a human as a messenger?' Say (to them), {P# 38} 'If there were angels walking safely on the earth, We would send an angel from heaven down to them as a messenger.'"

These two verses are entirely intelligible and logical. From among the people a man who could see and think more clearly had come forth and begun to show them the absurdity and folly of their superstitious beliefs and dissuade them from cruel and harmful customs. The soundness and lucidity of his advice are beyond question. The reason for the growth of opposition to him is also plain. Most of the people were strongly attached to habits of thought and behaviour, however stupid, which had been inculcated into them since childhood. The same phenomenon is all too apparent in the supposedly rational and enlightened twentieth century. All the more intelligible is the reluctance of the people in that distant age to follow a man bent on upsetting their ancestral ways. When he claimed to speak on God's behalf, it was only natural that they should demand proof, because he himself had acknowledged various miracles of past prophets, repeating statements of followers of various religions about their prophets. There is a Persian saying to the effect that praise of another's ability implies one's own inability. The Qorayshites thought that if Mohammad's turn had come, he too ought to perform a visible miracle. They were not willing to obey an equal. For this reason they were asking (sura 25, ol-Forqan, verses 8 and 9), "'What is the matter with this apostle that he eats meals and walks through the bazaars? Why has not an angel been sent down to him to be a warner with him? Why is no treasure being thrown to him, or why does not he have a garden from which to eat?' And the wrongdoers have said, 'You are only following a man who has been touched by sorcery.'"

The Prophet Mohammad did not reply to these demands and carping criticisms. In the face of all the clamour for a miracle, he remained silent. A little later there is a reference to one of the reproaches when God assures him (in verse 22 of the same sura 25), "Every apostle whom We sent before you ate meals and walked through bazaars." The theme recurs in sura 15 (ol-Hejr), verses 6 and 7: "And they said, 'O man to whom the reminder (i.e. scripture) has been sent down, you are possessed by a genie (i.e. mad)! Why do you bring us no angels, if you are speaking the truth?'" Likewise in sura 21 (ol-Anbiya), verses 3 and 5, "The wrongdoers have whispered to each other, 'Is this man anything but a human being like you? Are you going to succumb to sorcery {P# 39}with your eyes open?'" . . . "Or rather they have said, 'Odds and ends of dreams. No, he has fabricated it. He is a poet. Let him bring us a sign, like the men of old who were sent as messengers!'"

A sufficient answer was given to them by verses 7 and 8 of sura 21, in which God tells Mohammad, "Before you, We only sent men whom We were inspiring." The word used for men means humans, not angels. Then Mohammad is instructed to advise the people, "Ask the possessors of the reminder, if you do not know!" Again on the subject of previous prophets, he is informed, "We did not give them bodies that do not eat. And they were not immortal. "

Altogether more than twenty five passages in the Meccan suras refute the argument that Mohammad, if a prophet, ought to perform a miracle and ought not to be a human. Mohammad's response was either silence or assertion of his humanity. Although he received inspiration from God, he was a mortal man like any other. One clear statement of this fact comes in sura 10 (Yunos), verse 21: "And they say, 'If only a sign from his Lord had been sent down to him.' Say (to them), 'The unseen belongs to God alone. So wait! I am one of those waiting with you.'" Like the rest of the people, he had no knowledge of God's inscrutable purposes. In sura 13 (or-Ra'd), verse 8, the question about Mohammad's prophethood is answered with the statement that his only function is to transmit God's commands, while the question about the lack of a miraculous sign is not specifically answered: "The unbelievers say. 'Why has not a sign from his Lord been sent down to him?'" (God tells Mohammad), "You are only a warner, and every nation has a guide.”27 The words imply, however, that performing miracles is not one of the Prophet's functions.

Another passage in answer to the same argument of the polytheists repeats that the Prophet is a warner and that God alone performs miracles, but goes on to present the revelation of the Qur'an as a miracle. In verse 49 of sura 29 (ol-'Ankabut), Mohammad is instructed to answer the question "Why have no signs (i.e. miracles) from his Lord been sent down to him?" with the words "Signs belong to God alone, and I am only a plain warner;" but in verse 50 God asks, "Is not it enough for them that We have sent the book down to you to be recited to them? In it are a mercy and a reminder to a people who believe." In sura 67 (ol-Molk), verse 25, the polytheists ask, "When will this promised (resurrection) be, if you are speaking the truth?" and the Prophet is instructed, in {P# 40} verse 26, to reply, "The knowledge belongs to God. I am only a plain warner." In sura 79 (on-Naze'at), verses 42-44, again on the subject of the resurrection day, the denial of prophetic knowledge is even more explicit: "They ask you about the hour, the time when the anchor will be dropped. What competence have you to speak of it? To your Lord belongs the final (hour) of it. You are only the warner to those who are afraid of it."

The persistence of the polytheists in demanding miracles, and their sworn promises that in the event of one they would believe, gradually engendered hopes in the minds of the Moslems and even in the depths of Mohammad's inner soul that God might send a miraculous confirmation of Mohammad's prophethood which would awe every objector into belief. The matter was resolved by the revelation of verses 109-111 of sura 6 (o/-An'am): "And they swore solemn oaths to God that if you would bring them a sign, they would believe in it. Say (to them), 'Signs are from God alone.' And how are you to know that, if any came, they would not believe?" God then tells the Prophet, "We shall confuse their hearts and eyes, as (when) they disbelieved in it in the first place, and leave them to wander blindly in their waywardness. Even if We sent angels down to them and let the dead speak to them and assembled everything against them, right in front, they would not believe unless God so willed. But most of them are ignorant." These three verses require analysis and study.

(1) The polytheists had sworn that if any of the miracles which they were demanding of the Prophet should occur, they would then believe; and God had commanded the Prophet to reply that miracles were not in his power but only in God's. This clear affirmation of the inability of any human being, even a prophet, to take supernatural action means that the laws of nature are immutable and that actions or phenomena contrary to those laws are impossible. Fire, for example, can never lose its capacity to burn.

(2) The Prophet asked himself how he was to know that, in the event of a future miracle, the polytheists would not believe? This question prompts a counter-question: can it be taken for certain that if a miracle had already occurred, the polytheists would have believed? In view of the human tendency to marvel at an abnormal deed and to admire its doer, they would of course have been likely to submit. The Qur’an-commentators, however, attribute the non-occurrence of a miracle to God's foreknowledge that the polytheists would never believe. {P# 41}

(3) God states that He would confuse (i.e. misguide) the hearts and eyes of the polytheists because they had disbelieved in signs which He had previously sent down. This statement prompts the question whether Almighty God really causes mischief by depriving people of ability to see the truth. If He does, what can be expected of mankind, and what use is there in sending prophets to mankind? It is not clear, however, what earlier signs are meant.

They might be acts of earlier prophets or acts of the Prophet Mohammad. About the earlier prophets, little is known for certain. About the Prophet Mohammad, the Qur’an attests that he always answered the demands for a miracle with the assertion that he was only a bringer of good news and a warner. Perhaps the statement that previous signs had been disbelieved refers to the verses of the Qur’an; but if so, it was not a sufficient answer, because the polytheists were refusing to believe in the divine revelation of those verses to Mohammad unless he brought a proof similar to the proofs brought by Jesus, Moses, Saleh, and other prophets whose miracles are cited in the Qur’an itself.

(4) In the last verse of the passage, God states that the polytheists would not believe even if angels were sent to them and dead men came to life and spoke to them. They had been asking Mohammad to prove his case by bringing angels from heaven to earth or by resurrecting a dead man as Jesus had done, and Mohammad had been hoping for some such occurrence. Then God told him that even so they would not believe.

(5) Such being the case, certain questions arise. If these people's future unbelief and persistence in polytheism had already been preordained, what useful purpose had been served by God's appointment of a man to preach to them and guide them a right? Can a useless action be attributed to God who is wise, omniscient, and infallible? Formalists, who reject the application of reason to religious questions, interpret the statement as an ultimatum or test intended to make humans aware that they are wicked and deserve punishment in the next life. This interpretation, however, is inconsistent with the immediately following words "unless God so willed" in the same verse 111. The inescapable conclusion is these people were not going to believe because God did not wish them to believe, and this is confirmed by the clear statement "We shall confuse their hearts and eyes" in verse 110. Earlier in the same sura 6 it is stated, in verse 107, that "If God had so willed, they would not have been polytheists." God must therefore have willed that {P# 42} they should be polytheists. Surely Almighty God's humble creatures cannot change His will. Not even Mohammad could dissuade from polytheism those whose polytheism was caused by God's will. The idolaters in question were not to blame. Why, then, were they threatened with punishment after death? If the divine will is the prerequisite of a people's religious belief, equity and logic indicate that the same divine will is concerned with the people's guidance and felicity. In that case there would be no need for appointments of prophets, demands for miracles, and apologies for absence of miracles.

From the train of thought in these and other verses it can be inferred that the Prophet's initial response to the demands of the polytheists for a miracle had been tolerant and evasive. This is certainly the impression given by sura 81 (ol-Takwir), which with its melodiously rhythmic rhymed prose is one of the most expressive and poetic of the Meccan suras and a shining example of prophetic eloquence. The Prophet manifestly avoids a direct reply to the polytheists and, instead, presents his own claim in vivid and fervent language, speaking of course on behalf of God. After eighteen invocations in the first eighteen verses, the polytheists, who had spoken of Mohammad's utterances as fabrications of a fortune-teller or illusions of an epileptic, are addressed as follows: "They are the words of an honoured messenger (the angel Gabriel) who has power, is poised beside the Lord of the Throne, must be obeyed, moreover is trustworthy. And your comrade is not possessed by a genie. He saw him (Gabriel) on the clear horizon. He does not withhold (messages from) the unseen. They are not words of a Satan who ought to be stoned" (verses 19-25).

The great majority of the Meccans wanted a miracle from Mohammad before they would think of becoming Moslems, and God referred to this fact when He said that they would not believe even if He sent down angels or let the dead speak to them: Ten or twelve years later, when the sword of Mohammad and his followers began to gleam, they professed the faith and "entered God's religion in troops" (sura 110, on-Nasr, verse 2). Abu Sofyan, one of Mohammad's most stubbornt opponents and a participant in several battles against the Moslems, embraced Islam in the year 9/631.

After Mohammad's conquest of Mecca at the head of several thousand men, Abbas b. Abd ol-Mottaleb led Abu Sofyan to the presence of the Prophet, who exclaimed, "Woe on you! Surely you now understand that there are no gods except the One {P# 43} All-knowing Provider!" "Yes," answered Abu Sofyan, "I am gradually moving toward that belief." Then the Prophet asked, "Do you still deny that Mohammad is God's apostle?" Abu Sofyan muttered, "I need to think more about that point." Abbas said to him, "You had better become a Moslem straightaway, Abu Sofyan! Otherwise the Prophet will order them to behead you here and now." So in desperation Abu Sofyan professed Islam in the midst of the encamped Moslem warriors. On the advice of Abbas b. Abd ol-Mottaleb, the Prophet reassured Abu Sofyan by ordering that his house should be a place of asylum as safe as the Ka'ba. "Whoever enters his house," the Prophet said, "shall be safe." Later in the same year, when the Moslems defeated the Hawazen tribe and captured a vast amount of booty, the Prophet conciliated Abu Sofyan and other leaders of the Qoraysh with such princely gifts that the chiefs of the Ansar (the Prophet's Madinan supporters) made loud complaints. Another instance is the conversion of Wahshi, who after killing Hamza b. Abd ol-Mottaleb at the battle of Ohod in 3/625 had mutilated his body. The Prophet had been so angered that he had vowed to avenge his beloved and courageous uncle; but when Wahshi was brought to the Prophet's presence and made a profession of Islam, the Prophet accepted it.

Manifestly the motive for such conversions was fear. Nevertheless the Prophet let them pass.

The foregoing comments on the three verses in sura 6 are not mere conjectures or hypotheses; they are substantiated by other Qur’anic passages which show that Mohammad experienced a mood of uncertainty when no sign from God came to confirm his mission. The most explicit passage is in sura 10 (Yunos), verses 94 and 95: "And if you are in doubt concerning what We have sent down to you, ask those who have been reciting the book (i.e. scripture) before you! The truth has come to you from your Lord. So do not be one of the doubters! Do not be one of those who call God's signs (i.e. revelations) lies! You would then be one of the losers." To explain these verses, there is no need to visualize a scene where they were recited for the purpose of convincing doubters or waverers by disclosing that the Prophet had felt similar doubt until God removed it. A much more likely explanation is that the two verses are the voice of Mohammad's own conscience or inner mind speaking to him at the time when he lost hope of a miracle.

Other verses as well as these convey similar meanings. From {P# 44} several passages in the Meccan suras it can be seen that Mohammad underwent a sort of inner spiritual crisis. In sura 11 (Hud), verse 15, a note of reproach in God's words to him is discernible: "So perhaps you are neglecting some of the things that are revealed to you, and (are feeling) heart-sore about it, because they say, 'If only a treasure had been sent down to him or an angel had come with him.' You are nothing but a warner." In other words, whatever the people might say, his sole function was to preach.

In verse 35 of sura 6, Mohammad incurs a different rebuke: "And if their recalcitrance weighs heavily on you, then, if you could search for a tunnel into the earth or a ladder up to heaven and come back to them with a sign! Whereas if God had so willed, He would have gathered them onto the right path. So do not be one of the ignorant!"

In another context, the same concern reappears in sura 4 (on-Nesa), verse 152, where the subject is the attitude of the possessors of scripture. It seems that the Jews also had demanded a miracle from Mohammad and that the verse was revealed to placate them. "The possessors of scripture ask you to bring a book down from heaven for them. They asked Moses for more than that, for they said, 'Show us God in the open!' So the thunderbolt caught them because of their wickedness. Then they turned to the calf, (even) after the proofs had come to them. We pardoned them for that, and gave Moses a clear authority."

In verse 61 of sura 17 (ol-Esra), the absence of miracles is explained as follows: "Nothing has prevented Us from sending signs except that the people of old called them lies. We gave the she-camel to (the people of) Thamud as a visible (sign), and they wronged her. Whereas (now) We only send signs to frighten." According to the comment on this verse in the Tafsir ol-Jalalayn, the prophet Saleh was sent to the ancient Arab tribe of Thamud, and they did not believe. God then performed on Saleh's behalf the miracle of causing a live she-camel to issue from a rock; but the Thamudites killed the she-camel and persisted in their disbelief, and God punished them for it by causing a thunderbolt to destroy them. If God had performed a miracle on Mohammad's behalf and the people had similarly persisted in their disbelief, they also would deserve destruction; but God wished to give them a respite pending the completion of Mohammad's task.

The next verse (sura 17, 62) is interesting and thought-provoking: "And when we told you that your Lord surrounds (i.e. {P# 45} controls) the people and devised the vision (i.e. of the night journey) which we showed to you, (it was) only as a trial for the people, and likewise the accursed tree in the Qur’an. We frighten them, but it only hardens them in great waywardness." The implication of the opening words is that since God controls the people, Mohammad should not be afraid but should speak out.

The vision was manifested to test the people, because they had scoffed at Mohammad, and a number had renounced Islam after he had told them about it. The three Qur’anic mentions of the accursed zaqqum tree (in verses 60, 43, and 52 of suras 37,44, and 56) were also intended to frighten and test the people, but had in fact made them even more wayward; the Arabs had begun to ask mockingly how a tree could grow in hell fire.

Ultimately the discourse moved away from the manifestation of miracles and passed to the threat of hell, as for example inverse 60 of the same sura 17: "There is no town that we shall not destroy before the resurrection day, or severely punish." It is certainly strange that God, who is just and merciful and declares in verse 13 of sura 32 "If We had so willed, we would have given every soul its guidance", should nevertheless threaten those whom He chose not to guide with destruction in this life and severe punishment after death. Instead of such severity, would not a miracle have been better? All the people would then have embraced Islam, and much warfare and bloodshed would have been averted.

A different explanation of the lack of a miracle is given in sura 6 (ol-An'am), verse 37: "And they have said, 'Why has no sign from His Lord been sent down to him?' Say (to them), 'God is able to send down a sign.' But most of them do not know." Do the contents of this verse have rational consistency and logical sequence? The deniers were clamouring for a miracle and were told that God is able to cause miracles. But God's ability to do so was not in question; it was because they acknowledged this ability that they were making their demand. God, being omnipotent, ought to have caused a miracle, but no miracle had occurred. According to the verse, most of them did not know.

What was it that they did not know? They must have known that God is omnipotent; otherwise they would not have demanded a miracle. The relevance of the reply to the people's demand is obscure. The explanation given in the Tafsir ol-Jalalayn is that "most demanders of miracles do not know that they will deserve destruction if a miracle occurs and they still disbelieve." {P# 46} This prompts two questions.

Firstly, why should miracle demanders disbelieve after the occurrence of a miracle? Secondly, is it desirable that stupid and obstinate persons, who even after the occurrence of a miracle persist in disbelief, should be destroyed? Was the destruction of the forty eight pagan Meccans slain at the battle of Badr a loss to the world, or was it not?

Miracle of Quran

It was noted in the preceding section that the Prophet Mohammad's attitude to the demand for a visible miracle was negative and that his reply to the polytheists was that he only brought good news and warnings.

Altogether different was his attitude to the Qur’an. When the polytheists said that it was being invented by him or put into his mouth by other men, they were answered with a challenge (sura 11, Bud, verse 16): "Or do they say 'He has fabricated it'? Say (to them) 'Then bring ten suras like it, fabricated ones, and appeal to anyone you can, apart from God, if you are honest!'" Another allegation was that the Qur’an consisted of old fables. And when Our signs (i.e. Qur’anic verses) are recited to them, they say, 'We have already heard (such things). If we wished, we could say (things) like this. These are only fables of the ancients'" (sura 8, ai-Antal, verse 31). According to the biographers, the man who said this was Nadr b. ol-Hareth, who was later taken prisoner at the battle of Badr and beheaded on the Prophet's order by Ali b. Abi Taleb. The reply came in verse 90 of sura 17(al-Esra): "Say, 'If humans and genies were to combine to bring the like of this Qur’an, they would not bring anything like it, however much they might support each other.' "

Mohammad saw the Qur’an as the warrant of his prophethood. Moslem scholars are unanimous in regarding the Qur’an as Mohammad's miracle. There has been much debate, however, on the question whether the Qur’an is miraculous in respect of its eloquence or of its subject-matter, or of both. In general the Moslem scholars consider it to be miraculous in both respects. This opinion clearly stems from zealous faith rather than impartial study.

Non-Moslem scholars have found numerous grounds for questioning the intelligibility and eloquence of the Qur’an, and {P# 47} Moslem scholars have concurred in so far as they have found that the Qur’an needs interpretation. A chapter in Soyuti's Ketab ol-Etqan28 is devoted to this subject. Not only the misarrangement of the contents in the Othmanic recension but also the language of the Qur’an presents difficulties.

Among the Moslem scholars of the early period, before bigotry and hyperbole prevailed, were some such as Ebrahim on- Nazzam29 who openly acknowledged that the arrangement and syntax of the Qur’an are not miraculous and that work of equal or greater value could be produced by other God-fearing persons. He then argued that the Qur’an is miraculous because it predicted the future, not in the oracular way of the fortune-tellers but with correct prescience of events which actually occurred. These opinions, as quoted by Ebn or-Ravandi 30 were taken as the pretext for the condemnation of on-Nazzam by the heresiologist Abd ol-Qaher ol-Baghdadi (d. 429/1037) in his Ketab ol-farq bayna’l-feraq (book on differences between sects). According to o1- Baghdadi, the theses of on-Nazzam conflict with the clear statement in verse 90 of sura 17 that the Qur’an is forever inimitable, even by humans and genies acting in combination.

Pupils and later admirers of on-Nazzam, such an Ebn Hazm31 and ol-Khayyat,32 wrote in his defence, and several other leading exponents of the Mo'tazelite school shared his opinion. They saw no conflict between the theses of on-Nazzam and the statements in the Qur’an. One of their arguments is that the Qur’an is miraculous because God deprived the Prophet Mohammad's contemporaries of ability to produce the like of it; in other times and places the production of phrases resembling Qur’anic verses is possible and indeed easy.

It is widely held that the blind Syrian poet Abu'l-Ala ol-Ma'arri (368/979-450/1058) wrote his Ketab ol-fosul wa’ l-ghayat, of which a part survives, in imitation of the Qur’an.

The Qur’an contains sentences which are incomplete and not fully intelligible without the aid of commentaries; foreign words, unfamiliar Arabic words, and words used with other than the normal meaning; adjectives and verbs inflected without observance of the concords of gender and number; illogically and un grammatically applied pronouns which sometimes have no referent; and predicates which in rhymed passages are often remote from the subjects. These and other such aberrations in the language have given scope to critics who deny the Qur’an's {P# 48} eloquence. The problem also occupied the minds of devout Moslems. It forced the commentators to search for explanations and was probably one of the causes of disagreement over readings.

For example, in the first verse of sura 74, "O you who are clad in a cloak," the accepted reading of the word for "clad in a cloak" is moddather, but there was a widespread opinion that it should be motadathther; likewise in the first verse of sura 73, "O you who are wrapped in garments," the reading mozzamel prevailed over motazammel.

In verse 160 of sura4 (on-Nesa), "But those among them who are well-grounded in knowledge, the believers. . . . . . , and the performers of the prayer, and the payers of the alms tax," the word for "performers" is in the accusative case, whereas it ought to be in the nominative case like the words for "well-grounded", "believers", and "payers". In verse 9 of sura 49 (ol-Hojorat), "If two parties of believers have started to fight each other, make peace between them", the verb meaning "have started to fight" is in the plural, whereas it ought to be in the dual like its subject "two parties".

Verse 172 of sura 2 (ol-Baqara), which replies to Jewish protests against the change of the direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Mecca, is beautifully and impressively worded but contains a lexical difficulty: "Righteousness (berr) is not that you turn your faces to the east and the west, but righteousness (berr) is he who believes in God and the Last Day. . . . . . " The explanation given in the Tafsir ol-Jalalayn is that the word berr in the second part of the sentence means "possessor of righteousness". The great early grammarian Mohammad b. Yazid ol-Mobarrad (d. ca. 285/898) had timidly suggested that the word should be read as barr, which is an acceptable variant of barr meaning "righteous (man)", but he had been accused of irreverence and reviled.

In verse 66 of sura 20 (Taka), where Pharaoh's people say of Moses and his brother Aaron "These two are sorcerers", the word for "these two" (hadhane) is in the nominative case, whereas it ought to be in the accusative case (hadhayne) because it comes after an introductory particle of emphasis. Othman and A'esha are reported to have read the word as kadhayne. The comment of a Moslem scholar illustrates the fanaticism and intellectual ossification of later times: "Since in the unanimous opinion of the Moslems the pages bound in this volume and caned the Qur’an are God's word, and since there can be no error in God's word, the {P# 49}report that Othman and A'esha read hadhayne instead of hddhane is wicked and false." The Tafsir ol-Jalalayn more temperately pretends that the dual suffix may be tine in all three cases and does not have to be ayne in the accusative and genitive. Yet the great early Qur’an scholar and philologist Abu Amr b. ol-Ala (d. ca.154/770) read hadhayne, as Othman and A'esha had done.

A humane and salutary injunction in verse 33 of sura 24 (on-Nur) shows that a cruel and immoral abuse was practiced at that time: "Do not coerce your slave-girls into fornication, when they desire chastity, so that you may gain something extra in the life in this world! And when someone coerces them, God, after their coercion, is forgiving and merciful." Obviously the verse prohibits the vile practice of slave-owners who prostituted female slaves and pocketed the proceeds, and no less obviously the words "God, after their coercion, is forgiving and merciful" mean that God pardons slave-girls for having unwillingly committed fornication.

The outward form of the words, however, is such that they can be taken to mean that God is forgiving and compassionate to men who prostitute their female slaves. The sentence is vague and does not adequately express the humane intention.

The views on the Qur’an held by Ebrahim on-Nazzam have already been mentioned, and it must be added that they were not his alone, but were also held by other scholars of the Mo'tazelite school such as Hesham b. Amr ol-Fuwati (d. ca. 218/833) and Abbad b. Solayman (d. ca. 250/864). All were devout believers. They saw no inconsistency between their views and sincere faith.

The great and penetrating Arab thinker Abu'I-AIa ol-Ma'arri considered some of his own writings to be on a par with the Qur’an.

To sum up, more than one hundred Qur’anic aberrations from the normal rules and structure of Arabic have been noted. Needless to say, the commentators strove to find explanations and justifications of these irregularities. Among them was the great commentator and philologist Mahmud oz-Zamakhshari (467/1075-538/1144), of whom a Moorish author wrote: "This grammar-obsessed pedant has committed a shocking error. Our task is not to make the readings conform to Arabic grammar, but to take the whole of the Qur’an as it is and make Arabic grammar conform to the Qur’an."

Up to a point this argument is justifiable. A nation's great speakers and writers respect the rules of its language in so far as they avoid modes of expression which are not generally understood {P# 50} and popularly accepted, though they may occasionally find themselves obliged to take liberties. Among the pre-Islamic Arabs, rhetoric and poetry were well developed and grammatical conventions were already established. The Qur’an, being in the belief of Moslems superior to all previous products of the rhetorical genius, must contain the fewest irregularities.

Yet the Moorish author's censure of Zamakhshari is open to criticism on the ground that it reverses the usual argument. This is that the Qur’an is God's word because it has a sublime eloquence which no human being can match, and that the man who uttered it was therefore a prophet. The Moorish author maintained that the Qur’an is faultless because it is God's word and that the problem of the grammatical errors in it must be solved by changing the rules of Arabic grammar. In other words, while most Moslems answer deniers by citing the Qur’an's eloquence as proof of Mohammad's prophethood, the Moorish author, having taken the Qur’an's divine origin and Mohammad's prophethood for granted, held all discussion of the Qur’an's wording and contents to be inadmissible.

At the same time the Qur’an is indeed unique and wonderful.

There was no precedent for it in the earlier literature of the ancient Arabs. In the Meccan suras we find fervently spiritual and movingly poetic passages, which attest Mohammad's gifts of thought and speech and give some idea of his power to persuade.

A good example is sura S3 (on-Najm), if we remove from it verse 33 which is Madinan and must for some unknown reason have been inserted into it by the caliph Othman and his editors. With a graphic eloquence reminiscent of the Song of Solomon, but without mention of joys such as dalliance with maidens of Jerusalem whose breasts are as white as the goats on Mount Gilead, this sura jubilantly asserts Mohammad's apostleship and explains the nature of his prophetic illumination and visions. Although the assonance, rhythm, and beauty of the Arabic cannot be reproduced in another language, perhaps the following translation of the first eighteen verses will give some inkling of the ardour of Mohammad's visionary soul:

"By the star when it sets,
your comrade is not lost, not astray.
and he does not speak at will.
It is nothing but revelation being revealed,
made known to him by one mighty in power,33 {P# 51}
possessing great strength. He stood poised,
while on the highest horizon.
Then he approached and hovered,
He was the length of two bows away, or nearer,
and he revealed to his servant that which he revealed.
The heart did not falsify that which he saw.
Will you people dispute with him that which he saw?
And he saw him another time
beside the Lote tree at the far end,
near which is the garden of refuge,
when the Lote tree was covered with that which covers.
(His) eye did not shift, did not wander.
He saw some of the great signs of his Lord."

Various counsels to the people follow, and in verses 30 and 31 God addresses Mohammad: "So part company with those who have ceased to remember us and who care only for the present life! That is the range of their knowledge. Your Lord knows well who have strayed from His path and who have found the right way," There is a report that Omm Jomayyel, the wife of Mohammad's uncle Abu Lahab, went to the Prophet one day and said to him sarcastically, "We hope that your Satan has left you," This was during the interruption of the revelation, when Mohammad was so disappointed and distressed that he thought of throwing himself over a cliff. The incident is thought to have been the occasion of the revelation of the very melodious sura93 (od-Doha):

"By the morning,
and by the night when it is still,
your Lord has not forsaken you, nor taken a dislike to you.
The ending will be happier for you than the beginning.
Your Lord will give to you, and you will be gladdened.
Did He not find you orphaned and shelter you,
find you astray and guide you,
find you dependent and make you self-supporting?
So, as for orphans, do not oppress them,
as for beggars, do not spurn them,
and as for your Lord's bounty, speak about it!"

In all fairness the Qur’an is a wonder. Its short suras of the Meccan period are charged with expressive force and persuasive power. Its style has no precedent in the Arabic language, Its effusion from the tongue of an illiterate man with no education, let {P# 52} alone literary training, is a phenomenon which, in this respect, can justifiably be described as a miracle.

Some scholars have denied that the Prophet Mohammad was illiterate, arguing that the word ommi did not mean "illiterate" but meant "gentile" with reference to the pagan, non-Jewish and non-Christian Arabs. The word is used with this meaning in sura 62 (ol-Jom'a), verse 2, "It is He who appointed a prophet from among the gentiles," and in several more Qur’anic passages (2, 73; 3, 19 and 69; 7, 156 and 158).

Nevertheless, on the basis of both evidence and tradition, there is general agreement that the Prophet could not write, though perhaps in later life he could read a few words. In addition to explicit reports, there are two Qur’anic references to the matter: in sura 29 (ol-Ankabut), verse 47, "Before it, you did not recite from any book or write it down with your right hand;" and more clearly in sura 25 (ol-Forqan), verse 6, "And they say, 'Fables of the ancients which he caused to be written down. They were being dictated for him in the morning and the evening.'" The words indicate awareness of the polytheists that Mohammad could not read and write.

For those who consider the Qur’an to be a miracle because of its contents, the difficulty is rather that it contains nothing new in the sense of ideas not already expressed by others. All the moral precepts of the Qur’an are self-evident and generally acknowledged.

The stories in it are taken in identical or slightly modified forms from the lore of the Jews and Christians, whose rabbis and monks Mohammad had met and consulted on his journeys to Syria, and from memories conserved by descendants of the peoples of Ad and Thamud.

This fact does not, on a balanced assessment, detract from the Prophet Mohammad's greatness. An illiterate, uneducated member of a superstitious, immoral, and vituperative community, with no law e~cept force and cruelty to hold it together, boldly arose to combat evil and idolatry and to propagate higher values through constant citation of the past experiences of other communities.

His initiative is in itself proof of his innate genius and of his spiritual strength, moral conscience, and humane feeling. Hearing the words from this illiterate man's tongue in sura 80 (Abasa) is like hearing the throb of his anxious heart. This very musical and intensely spiritual sura can no more be translated than a poem of Hafez.34 What follows is a very imperfect rendering of verses 16-33: 53}

"Let mankind perish! They are so ungrateful.
From what does He create them?
From a seed that He creates and shapes.
Then He smooths their way,
then He makes them die and be buried,
then, when He so wills, He will make them rise again.
No! They have not done what He bade them.
Let mankind look at their food!
We poured down water,
then broke up the ground,
and made grain grow on it,
and vines, and reeds,
and olive trees, and date-palms,
and lush gardens,
and fruit, and herbage,
as provision for you and your livestock.
But when the trumpet-call comes. . . "

With such beautiful and wonderfully spiritual sermons, Mohammad strove to guide his people to a better way.

In the field of moral teachings, however, the Qur’an cannot be considered miraculous. Mohammad reiterated principles which mankind had already conceived in earlier centuries and many places. Confucius, Buddha, Zoroaster, Socrates, Moses, and Jesus had said similar things.

The Qur’an also contains laws and ordinances which Mohammad, as Islam's legislator, enacted. It must always be borne in mind that most of the Qur’anic laws and ordinances were formulated in response to random incidents and petitions from aggrieved persons. That is why there are some inconsistencies in them and why there are abrogating and abrogated ordinances. Nor should it be forgotten that Islamic jurisprudence is the product of long effort by Moslem scholars and was formulated during the first three centuries of the Islamic era. The Qur’anic laws are brief and were insufficient for the needs of the huge Moslem community which came into being in the century and a half after the Prophet's lifetime.

Fasting came to Islam from Judaism through the channel of the pre- Islamic Arab practice of a fast on the tenth day of the month of Moharram, which was known as the day of Ashura and corresponded to the Jewish Yom Kippur. After the Prophet Mohammad's emigration to Madina and the change of the prayer-direction from {P# 54} Jerusalem to Mecca, the duration of the fast was lengthened from one to ten days, namely the first ten days of Moharram; and after the final breach between the Moslems and the Jews, the whole month of Ramadan was reserved for fasting.

Prayer is found in all religions, the utterance of appeals and praises to a deity being an essential component of every religious way of life. In Islam, prayer is the first duty of a Moslem and is performed in a peculiarly Islamic manner which became established through force of custom; there are no detailed instructions on the subject in the Qur’an.

During the thirteen years of the Prophet Mohammad's mission at Mecca and the first year and a half of his mission at Madina, the Moslems prayed in the same direction as the Jews, namely facing toward the "Furthest Mosque" (i.e. temple site) at Jerusalem.

Through the institution of the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, several national customs of the Arabs are known to have been endorsed and perpetuated. All the ceremonies of the hajj (pilgrimage in the month of Dhu'l-Hejja) and the 'amra (supererogatory or lesser pilgrimage), such as the wearing of a seamless white robe, the kissing or touching of the black stone, the running between Sata and Marwa, the halt at Aratat, and the pebble-throwing (symbolic stoning of the Satan), had been practiced in the pre- Islamic period and were retained with only a few modifications.

The pagan Arabs, while circumambulating the Ka'ba, used to call out to Lat, Ozza, Manat, or any other idol that their tribe revered, "Here I am at your service (labbayka), O Manat!" or whichever. Under Islam, the call to an idol was replaced by the call to God (Allahomma), and the formula became labbayka Allahomma labbayka! The pagan Arabs had banned hunting in the month of the pilgrimage, but the Prophet maintained this ban only in the days of pilgrimage when the pilgrims are in the state of consecration (ehram). The pagan Arabs had sometimes circumambulated the Ka'ba in the nude; Islam forbade this and required the wearing of seamless robes. The pagan Arabs had an inhibition against eating the meat of sacrificed animals; the Prophet made this permissible.

It is known that after the conquest of Mecca and the toppling of the idols of the Qoraysh, the Moslems refrained from running between Sata and Marwa because in the old days each of those hills had been the site of a stone idol, and the motive of the pagan pilgrims in running between them had been to win good fortune {P# 55} (baraka ) by kissing or touching those idols. The Prophet Mohammad, however, received a revelation (sura2, ol-Baqara, verse 153), which not only sanctioned the running between Safaand Marwa but also declared those hills to be God's waymarks.

Abu’I-Fath Mohammad Shahrestani (479/1086-548/1153) writes in his valuable book on religions and sects (ol-melal wa'nnehal) that many of the duties and rites of Islam are continuations of practices which the pagan Arabs had adopted from the Jews.

Already in pre-Islamic times, marriage to the mother, daughter, or father's wife was prohibited and marriage to two sisters was disapproved. Ablutions after defilements and after contact with a human corpse, rinsing the mouth, sniffing water up the nostrils, anointing the hair of the head, using the toothpick, washing after defecation, plucking out the hair of the armpits and shaving the pubic hair, circumcision, and amputation of the right hands of thieves were all practiced by the Arabs before Islam and had mostly come to them from the Jews.

Among the duties of Moslems are two which are peculiar to Islamic law, namely service in holy war (jehad) and payment of alms-tax (zakat). The reason why no comparable obligations are imposed in any other legal system is that other legislators did not have the same purpose as Mohammad. His purpose was to organize a state. No state can be organized and maintained without an army and without financial means.

The peculiar and unprecedented Islamic law of holy war must be regarded as a product of Mohammad's far-seeing and realistic mind. When the spiritual message of the beautiful Meccan suras proved ineffective, the only remedy that he could find was the sword.

Maintenance of a combat-ready army, in which everyman fit to fight must serve, is expensive. Booty and property seizure can be useful and may spur soldiers to fight, bUt a more secure and permanent source of income is necessary. This is provided in Islamic law by the aIms-tax.

Mohammad's constructive thinking always had the new community's circumstances and needs in view. All his steps were meant to promote its good. Among them was the prohibition of intoxicants, another peculiarly Islamic law which was enacted primarily in consideration of local social conditions. The Arabs being a hot-blooded, excitable, and undisciplined people, mischief and disorder often occurred when they indulged in alcoholic 56} drinks, which were in demand and available. The prohibition was enacted in three stages: First, by verse 216 of sura 2 (ol-Baqara): "They are asking you about strong drink and casting lots with arrows. Say, 'In them are great sin and also benefits for the people. The sin in them is greater than the benefit.'" Next, by verse 46 of sura 4 (on-Nesa), which was revealed on the occasion of a man's coming to the prayer at Madina in a drunken state: “O believers, do not come near the prayer while you are drunk!" Finally, by verses 92 and 93 of sura 5 (ol-Ma'eda), in which the prohibition is made absolute: "O believers, strong drink, casting lots with arrows, images, and divining arrows are foul things, among the works of the Satan. So keep away from them! Then, perhaps, you will become more prosperous" (verse 92).

Both in verse 216 of sura 2 and in verse 92 of sura 5, drinking of intoxicants is linked with gambling; and in the last passage erection of images and divination by means of arrows, which was thought to procure the help of the idols, are also banned. In the following verse 93, strong drink and gambling are the subject, and the reason for their prohibition, which was probably revealed after a nasty incident, is explained as follows: "The Satan only wants to sow enmity and hatred among you through strong drink and casting lots with arrows, and to distract you from remembrance of God and from prayer. So will you be abstainers?" This verse lends substance to the view that liquor-drinking and gambling often caused strife and disorder among the Arabs.

In regard to polygamy, divorce, adultery, fornication, sodomy, and many other matters, the Qur’anic commandments are either modifications of Jewish laws or reforms of previous Arab practices.
These observations do not alter the fact that the Qur’an is a miracle - not a miracle befogged by centuries of myth and only credible to feeble minds, but one that is living and meaningful.

Neither the Qur’an's eloquence nor its moral and legal precepts are miraculous. The Qor'an is miraculous because it enabled Mohammad, single-handedly and despite poverty and illiteracy, to overcome his people's resistance and found a lasting religion; because it moved wild men to obedience and imposed its bringer's will on them.

Mohammad expressed pride in the Qur’an, taking it to be the {P# 57} warrant of his prophethood because it was revelation from God and he was the medium of its transmission.

The Arabic word wahy, which is usually translated into English as revelation or inspiration, occurs more than sixty times in the Qur’an, in most contexts with the basic meaning of putting something into a person's mind, and in some contexts with the connotation of a fleeting hint. For this reason the Prophet was anxious, after each revelation, that a scribe should write it down forthwith. There are references to his haste in the Qur’an, for example in verse 113 of sura 20 (TaM), "Do not hurry with the Qur’an before its revelation to you is completed!", and in verses 16-19 of sura 75 (ol-Qiyama), "Do not quicken yourtongue with it to hurry with it! For Us is the collection of it and the recitation of it. When We have recited it, follow the recitation of it! Moreover for Us is the wording of it."

These mentions of the Prophet Mohammad's haste allude to the mental state which the receipt of revelation induced in him. The light which shone in his soul on these occasions was not a normal experience. According to a statement by Abu Sa'id ol-Khodri (a Madinan supporter of Mohammad and a source of many reports) quoted in the Sahih (Hadith compilation) of Moslem b. ol-Hajjaj (d. 261/875), the Prophet used to request: "Do not write down anything that I say except the Qur’an! If anyone has written down words of mine other than the text of the Qur’an, let him erase them!" The important and remarkable point is that the Prophet Mohammad fell into an abnormal state when an inspiration came to him. An intense inner exertion seems to have been required. In the Sahih of Bokhari, a statement by the Prophet's wife A'esha is quoted: "The Prophet was asked by Hareth b. Hesham, 'What are the inspirations like?' He answered, 'The strongest of them are like the sound of a bell which rings in my mind after being silent.
Sometimes an angel appears in human form and disappears as soon as I grasp the subject. ", A'esha added, "During inspirations sweat poured from his brow, even on cold days." In confirmation of A'esha's statement, Bokhari quotes Safwan b. Ba'li (whose father accepted Islam after the Moslem conquest of Mecca) as saying: "Ba'li wished to observe the Prophet during an inspiration.”

One day a man wearing a perfumed cloak inquired of the Prophet whether he would be in the state of consecration necessary for performance of the 'amra (lesser pilgrimage) if he wore that {P# 58} cloak. A state of inspiration came over the Prophet. Omar signalled to Ba'li to come in. Ba'li went in and saw the Prophet looking like someone asleep, snoring, and with his blessed complexion flushed. After a while the Prophet came out of that state and summoned the inquirer. He told him to rinse the perfume out of his cloak three times and then consecrate himself for the 'amra in the same way as for the hajj."

Muhammad’s Humanity

The prophets were ordinary commoners. Otherwise, in Your bounty, You would have poured the elixir onto the copper of their being.
(Moulavi Jalal e-Din Rumi)

All the early scholars of Islam acknowledged that the Prophet Mohammad was an ordinary human being except in respect of his spiritual distinction. This fact is attested by verse 110 of sura 18 (ol-Kahf): "I am only a human like you. It is being revealed to me that your God is One God."

None of the Sonnite scholars considered perfect knowledge and sinlessness to be essential attributes of the Prophet Mohammad. They saw his prophethood as a special gift from God in the sense that God selects for the prophetic task a man who is gifted with human qualities such as knowledge and virtue in an extraordinarily high degree, or rather who becomes gifted with such extraordinary qualities at the time of his appointment to guide the people.

The Sunnite scholars thought that we place our faith in a person because we believe him to be the bearer of revelation. They did not argue that we know a person to be a prophet because God has set him on a higher plane of knowledge and morals. Their opinion is based on several Qur’anic verses, e.g. sura 42 (osh-Sho'wra), verse 52: "And in this way We have revealed a spirit to you through Our command. You did not know what the book (i.e. the Qur’an) and the faith are. But We have made it a light by which We guide those among Our servants whom We so will." The same point is implied in the preceding verse, and very clearly and vividly conveyed in verse 50 of sura 6 (ol-An'am), which is a reply to those who had asked the Prophet for a miracle: "Say (to them), 'I do not tell you {P# 59} that I possess God's treasures. I do not know the unseen. I do not tell you that I am an angel. I only follow what is revealed to me.'" In sura 7 (o/-A'raf), verse 188, Mohammad is instructed, "Say (to them), 'I get no profit for myself, nor loss, except what God wills. If I knew the unseen, I would have gained much advantage and would not have been touched by adversity. I am only a warner and bringer of good news to folk who believe. " This verse also is a reply to the polytheists, who had been asking why Mohammad did not engage in trade and make big profits if his claimed communications with the unseen world were true.

The Qur’anic verses on this subject are explicit and clear, and the Hadith and the contents of the reliable biographies confirm that the Prophet Mohammad never laid claim to either sinlessness or knowledge of unseen things. He was well aware of his human frailties, and he openly and frankly admitted them. According to a well attested Hadith, he had this to say about an attempt by some polytheists to fluster him with irrelevant questions: "What do these folk expect from me? I am one of God's servants. I only know what God has taught me." Mohammad's truthfulness and honesty are made admirably clear in verses I-II of sura 80 (Abasa), which are manifestly a divine rebuke to him:

"He frowned and turned away
when the blind man came to him.
How can you know? Perhaps he will become pure (in heart),
or will remember, and the remembrance will benefit him.
But the man who claims to have no need (of God's help),
to him you pay attention.
It will not be your fault if he does not become pure.
But the man who comes to you, running (with great effort)
and fearing (God),
You disregard him.
Never again! This is a reminder."

The Prophet had formed a very human ambition to convert some rich and powerful men to Islam. Perhaps it was a justifiable aim, because the polytheists had boastfully asked, "Which of the two parties has the higher standing, carries the more weight in a discussion?" (sura 19, Maryam, verse 74). In any case, Mohammad's wish to win over some notables was only natural. One day {P# 60} when he was in conversation with a member of this class and doubtless engrossed in the effort to persuade, a blind man named Abdolah b. Omm Maktum, who had embraced Islam, approached him and said, "Teach me some of what God has taught you!" The Prophet paid no heed to the blind man's request and went home. Then this noble sura was sent down to the Prophet, manifestly as a rebuke to him. Afterwards, whenever he met Abdollah b. Omm Maktum, he gave a warm welcome to the man for whose sake God had reprimanded him.

In sura 40 (ol-Ghafer, also called ol-Mo'men), verse 57, the Prophet is bidden, "Be patient! God's promise is true. Pray for forgiveness of your sin, and praise your Lord in the evening and the early morning!" This verse attributes sinfulness to Mohammad by commanding him to pray for forgiveness of his sin. The belief in the Prophet's absolute infallibility held by Moslems of later times is therefore in direct conflict with the text of the Qur’an.

The theme recurs in a variant form in the first three verses of sura 94 (ol-Ensherah): "Have not We cheered your heart and relieved you of your burden, which weighed (so heavily) on your back?" The word wezr (burden) is replaced by dhanb (sin) in the first two verses of sura 48 (ol-Fath): "We have given you a clear victory so that God may forgive your earlier and later sin, and bestow the fullness of His bounty on you, and guide you onto a right path."

Taken together, these explicit and incontrovertible Qur’anic passages prove that the Prophet Mohammad, far from claiming the infallibility and superhuman rank later attributed to him by others, knew himself to be prone to sin. For anyone willing to study and to think, this greatly enhances Mohammad's spiritual stature.
In matters such as religious and political beliefs and social customs, which lack the certainty of mathematics and the relative demonstrability of the natural sciences, human beings are always disinclined to use their rational faculty. Instead, they first acquire a belief and then rack their brains for arguments with which to support it. The 'olama of Islam were no exception to this rule. In their zealous devotion, they began with belief in the Prophet's infallibility and then, in the hope of proving it, tried to explain away clear Qur’anic statements.

The eager sophistry of the Qur’an-commentators in this matter brings to mind a story about Sahl Tustari (a renowned early Sufi {P# 61} preacher from Shushtar in Khuzestan, d. 273/886). One of his disciples came and told him, "The people say that you can walk on water." Sahl answered, "Go and ask the muezzin! He is an honest man." The disciple went and asked the muezzin, who answered, "I do not know whether or not Saw can walk on water. But I do know that when he walked up to the pool one day to perform the ritual ablutions, he fell in and would have drowned if I had not pulled him out." One aspect of this matter, which no unbiased seeker of the truth can deny, is the abundance of the documentary evidence.

Goldziher36 considered that the Hadith compilations and the early biographies of Mohammad depict the founder of Islam with a precision and clarity not to be found in the historical documentation of the other world religions, and that without exception they show him to have possessed human frailties.

In these sources, no attempt to dehumanize Mohammad is made; on the contrary, he is placed on a par with the believers and those around him. For instance, it is related that in the war of the trench at Madina in 5/627 he dug in the same way as everyone else on the Moslem side did. On the subject of life's pleasures, he is quoted as saying, "I am fond of three things in your world: scent, women, and above all prayer." Some of the Prophet's reported doings were scarcely consistent with asceticism and world renunciation.

Notwithstanding the testimonies of the Qur’an, the Hadith, and the biographies, Mohammad was quickly dehumanized. The process began as soon as he passed from the scene. On the day after his death, ‘Omar (or perhaps another leading companion) threatened with drawn sword in hand to cut the throat of anyone who said that Mohammad was dead, and Abu Bakr protested, quoting the Qur’anic words "You are mortal and they are mortal" (sura 39, oz-Zomar, verse 31). How right Abu Bakr was! The greater the distance in time and space from the Prophet's death in 11/632 and from Madina, the more the Moslems let their imaginations run loose. They exaggerated and rhapsodized so much that they forgot two premises which are stated in the five daily prayers as well as in many Qur’anic verses, namely that Mohammad was God's servant and God's messenger. Instead, they turned him into the ultimate cause of the creation, saying "But for you, the universe would not have been created." One zealous writer, Shaykh Najm od-Din Daya (d. 654/1256), went so 62} far as to assert in his book Mersad al-Ebad that the omnipotent Creator, who could make all things exist by uttering the single word "be", first had to bring the light of Mohammad into existence and then, after casting a glance at the light and thereby causing the light to sweat with embarrassment, was able to create the souls of the prophets and angels from the sweat beads.

Mohammad Abdollah os-Samman, a modern Egyptian biographer of the Prophet, has written:

Mohammad, like the other prophets, was human. His birth, life, and death were like those of other human beings. His prophethood did not place him apart from mankind. Like everyone else, he could be angered, pleased, saddened, and gladdened. He was once so annoyed with Aswad b. Abd ol-Mottaleb b. Asad that he cursed him, saying 'May God blind him and make his son an orphan!'" Mohammad Ezzat Darwaza, a modern Palestinian author, has written a book on the Prophet's life in which he takes care not to express opinions of his own unless they are supported by Qur’anic evidence. His sincere devotion to the Prophet and to Islam shines in every page of this impressive two-volume work. He regretfully concludes that the Moslem exaggerators (ghalat), among whom he mentions Qastallani (851/1448-923/1517),37 went completely astray and indulged in fantasies for which he (Darwaza) could find no basis in the Qur’an or the authentic Hadiths and early reports.

These zealots believed, without any justification, that God created mankind so that Mohammad might be born into the human race, and that Mohammad was therefore the cause of mankind's creation; they even maintained that the tablet, pen, throne, and stool, and the skies, earth, genies, humans, paradise, and hell, in short all things, were brought into existence through the light of Mohammad. They forgot the clear words of verse 124 of sura 6 (al-An'am): "God knows best where to place His message." They ignored Islam's fundamental principle that God alone determines the world of being.

The same enlightened Palestinian Moslem writer also notes that in several Qur’anic passages all the prophets are stated to have been ordinary mortals whom God appointed to guide mankind. In the words of verses7 and 8of sura21 (ol-Anbiya), "Before you We only sent men whom We were inspiring. Ask the possessors of the remembrance (i.e. Jews and Christians), if you do not know! We did not give them bodies that do not eat. And they were not immortal." The same point that prophets do not differ from the {P# 63} rest of mankind except in their selection by God to convey His messages is reiterated in the following passages which Mohammad Ezzat Darwaza quotes. "Say, 'Praise be to my Lord! Am I other than a human, a messenger?' And the only thing that prevented the people from believing when the guidance came to them was that they said, 'Has God sent a human as a messenger?'" (sura 17, ol-Esra, verses 95 and 96). "And they have said, 'What is the matter with this apostle that he eats meals and walks through the bazaars?'" (sura 25, ol-Forqan, verse 8). "We shall narrate the best of stories to you in Our revelation of this Qur’an to you, even though you were formerly one of the heedless" (sura 12, Yusof, verse 3). "We did not grant immortality to any human before you. So if you will die, are they immortal?" (sura 21, ol-Anbiya, verse 35). "And Mohammad is only a messenger. Messengers have come and gone before him" (sura 3, AIEmran, verse 138). "You did not know what the Book and the faith are" (sura 42, osh-Showra, verse 52). "Say (to them), 'I am not something new among the prophets. Nor do I know what will be done to me and to you. I only follow what is revealed to me, and I am only a clear warner" (sura 46, al-Ahqaf, verse 8).

Indications of Mohammad's humanity and of his human feelings and failings can be found in all the well attested reports. For several days after the raid on the well of Ma'una, when seventy Moslems were killed, he began the morning prayer with the words "O God, trample on the Modar!" (i.e. the North Arabian tribes). After the defeat in the battle of Mount Ohod, in which his uncle Hamza b. Abd ol-Mottaleb was killed, an Abyssinian named Wahshi cut off Hamza's nose and ears, and Abu Sofyan's wife Hend ripped open Hamza's stomach and chewed his liver. The sight of Hamza's mutilated body angered the Prophet so much that he shouted vindictively, "By God, I am going to mutilate fifty Qorayshites." This event and similar incidents illustrate the cruelty and malice of the ancient Arab mind.

The social environment was one in which even an aristocratic woman would rip a dead man's stomach, take and chew the liver, and throw it away when it did not taste nice. During the battle, Hend and several other women of the Qorayshite aristocracy went into the midst of the Meccan fighters to encourage them with feminine charms and promises.

There is a report in Ebn Hesham's biography of the Prophet38 that some men of the Bajila tribe who had fallen ill came to Madina {P# 64} and asked him to help them. He replied that drinking camel's milk would cure them, and sent them out of the town to his herdsman.

After drinking some camel's milk, they recovered. Then they killed the Prophet's herdsman, stuck thorns into his eyes, and made off with the camels. The Prophet was greatly angered by the news and immediately sent Korz b. Jaber in pursuit of them. After they had been caught, they were brought before the Prophet. He ordered that their hands and feet should be cut off and their eyes taken out, and this was done.

One of the Prophet's sayings quoted in Bokhari's Sahih is "I am a human, very prone to anger and sorrow,  just as all people become angry." Numerous reports confirm this.

Abu Rohm ol-Ghefari, a companion of the Prophet, related that once when he was riding beside the Prophet on a raid, his mount accidentally brought him so close to the Prophet that his thick club knocked the Prophet's shin and caused him pain. The Prophet glowered and struck Abu Rohm's foot with his whip. Abu Rohm, according to Bokhari's account, was very upset because he feared that a revelation about him and his misbehaviour might come down.

The Prophet, in the last months of his life, appointed Osama b. Zayd commander of the force which was to invade Syria. Not unnaturally the choice of a twenty-year-old youth to lead an army in which senior companions such as Abu Bakr were to serve evoked murmurs of discontent and disapproval, even among the Prophet's closest associates. On learning of these murmurs, the Prophet was so annoyed that he dragged himself from his sickbed to the mosque, and after conducting the prayer, he went up onto the pulpit and asked angrily, "What are these complaints about my appointment of Osama?" During the Prophet's terminal illness, Maymuna, one of his wives, prepared a medicine of which she had gained knowledge in Abyssinia, and it was poured into his mouth while he was unconscious. He suddenly awoke and shouted angrily, "Who did that?" They answered, "Maymuna prepared the medicine and got your uncle Abbas to pour it into your mouth." The Prophet then ordered that the medicine be poured into the mouths of all those present except Abbas. So even Maymuna, who was fasting, drank some of the medicine.

The Prophet Mohammad's psychological reactions and human emotions come to light in many reported incidents of the twenty three years, and especially the ten Madinan years, of his mission: {P# 65'} for example, in the affair of the lie concerning A'esha, in his self-imposed avoidance of Mariya the Copt, and in his haste to marry Zaynab and bring her to his house as soon as the waiting period after her divorce expired.

Yet despite the existence of all these testimonies and the absence of any Qur’anic attributions of supernatural power to Mohammad, as soon as he was dead, pious Moslem miracle-mongers began to say that he had performed all sorts of impossible marvels. The greater the distance in time and space, the more the mass of fiction grew, even though many of Islam's best scholars knew it to be incredible and considered it to be unworthy. A few examples will suffice.

Qadi 'Iyad (476/1088-544/1149), an Andalusian judge (qadi), theologian, poet, and genealogist, wrote a book in praise of the Prophet entitled Kelab osh-shefa be-ta'rif hoquq Mostafa. Contrary to what might be expected, the book is not about Mohammad's spiritual and moral strength and political skill. Its contents make the reader wonder how a learned and presumably not unintelligent man could ever have thought of writing such stuff about the Prophet. For example, on the purported authority of the Prophet's servant and prominent traditionalist Anas b. Malek39 Qadi 'Iyad credits the Prophet with a miraculous sexual potency which enabled him to have daily intercourse with all his eleven wives and reputedly equalled the potency of thirty ordinary men.  Again claiming the authority of Malek b. Anas, Qadi 'Iyad makes the Prophet say, "I have four superiorities over other men: generosity, courage, frequency of copulation, and frequency of balsh" (an Arabic word meaning to strike down an enemy). The last point conflicts with the evidence of the sources that Mohammad only once killed a man in battle. Even if the statement stemmed from Malek b. Anas, anyone with any sense would disbelieve it. The truth is that the Prophet never boasted about himself. In the Qur’an there are no mentions of his generosity and courage, but only the words "You have moral strength" in sura 68, ol-Qalam, verse 4. If Qadi 'Iyad had boasted about his own munificence and valour, there might conceivably have been some justification; but he had no right to put into another man's mouth dishonourable boasts about sexual prowess and about killing people, especially when that man was the Prophet who had never said any such things. While ignoring the facts, Qadi 'Iyad obviously voiced his own secret lusts and ambitions. In his feverish zeal {P# 66} to dehumanize Mohammad, he goes so far as to make the Prophet's urine and feces speak and to state that, in the opinion of certain 'olama, they were non-pollutant. To this he adds an idiotic story that Mohammad's maid-servant Omm Ayman drank his urine one day as a cure for dropsy, and that the Prophet then told her that in the rest of her life she would never again suffer from stomach ache. Most absurd of all is Qadi 'Iyad's assertion that when the Prophet went out of Mecca to relieve his bowels, the stones and trees walked up and formed a hedge around him so that he would not be seen. Any reader of this nonsense is bound to ask why Qadi 'Iyad's zeal to make Mohammad inhuman went no further. Would it not have been more sensible to say that the Prophet had no need to eat and excrete like other men? In that case there would have been nothing for walking stones and trees to conceal.

Such ravings are not peculiar to Qadi 'Iyad. Dozens of writers about the Prophet, such as the earlier mentioned Qastallani, have repeated hundreds of similar silly stories which can only expose Mohammad's unique personality to disparagement and ridicule. The Prophet has even been made to say, "God put me into Adam's loins when He created Adam, then into Noah's loins, and then into Abraham's loins. I remained in pure loins and wombs until I was born of my mother." This suggests that other humans suddenly came into existence from under bushes. Obviously every human has had the potentiality of existence before acquiring its reality through being conceived and born.

Again according to Qadi 'Iyad, whenever the Prophet passed a place, the stones and trees would walk up and say, "Peace be upon you, O Apostle of God!' Perhaps animals, being mobile and endowed with throat, larynx, and tongue, could have come and uttered a greeting; but how could inanimate objects, lacking brain, vision, and will, have recognised a prophet, let alone greeted him? Some will say that it was a miracle; but what answer have they to the question why no miracle occurred when the Qorayshite polytheists refused to believe without one? The sort of miracle that those Qorayshites demanded of Mohammad was relatively minor, only to make water flow from a rock or to turn a stone into gold. If stones uttered greetings to the Prophet, why did a stone strike him on the mouth and injure him at the battle of Mount Ohod? No doubt the miracle-mongers would answer that this particular stone was an infidel. {P# 67} In numerous books, by both Sonnite and Shi'ite authors, it is stated that the Prophet Mohammad had no shadow and could see behind himself as well as in front. Sha'rani40 (d. 972/1565) goes further and writes in his book Kashf ol-ghomma: "The Prophet could see in all four directions and perceive things at night just as well as in daytime. When he walked with a tall man, he looked taller, and when he was seated, his shoulders were higher than those of the other men." The writers of such stuff were too simple-minded to be able to measure the greatness of a man like Mohammad by any but outward, physical standards, and too obtuse to know that only spiritual, intellectual, and moral strength can give a person superiority over others. Even so, it is remarkable that none of the miracle-mongers asked why no miracle to help the Prophet's cause ever occurred. Nor did they ask why the Prophet could not read and write.

Instead of making the Prophet shadowless and taller by a head and shoulders than other men, would not they have done better to make him write down the Qur’an with his own blessed hand instead of hiring a Jewish scribe? Most remarkable of all is the fact that these miracle-mongers were Moslems who read the Qur’an and knew Arabic well enough to understand its meanings, but still remained captive to illusions directly conflicting with explicit Qur’anic texts and eager to present those illusions as established facts.
The Qur’anic verses which state that Mohammad was a human being with all the normal human instincts and emotions are perfectly clear and cannot be explained away. In verse 131 of the Meccan sura 20 (Taha), the Prophet is told: "Do not stretch your eyes (i.e. look enviously) at what We have given certain couples among them to enjoy - the flower of life in the lower world - so that We may test them thereby! Your Lord's provision is better and more enduring." Likewise in verse 88 of sura 15 (ol-Hejr), which is also Meccan: "Do not stretch your eyes at what We have given certain couples among them to enjoy! Do not grieve over them! And lower your wing (i.e. be meek) to the believers!" From the wording of these two verses it is obvious that some sort of envy had crept into Mohammad's soul. Perhaps he had been wishing that he might enjoy the advantages of possessing wealth and sons, as the chiefs of the Qoraysh did.

The great majority of the Prophet's opponents were wealthy men, naturally averse to change and anxious to silence any voice {P# 68} capable of upsetting their established position. It was equally natural that discontented groups should gather around Mohammad. In these circumstances the Prophet had felt depressed and had wished that he could win over some influential rich men. He had fixed his hopes for Islam on them. But God forbade him to pursue that course. This is made clear in verses 33 and 34 of sura 34 (Saba): "We have never sent a warner to a town without its wealthy men saying, 'We disbelieve in the message that you have been sent with.' They have said, 'We possess more property and more children. We are not in distress.'"

In sura 6 (ol-An'am), verse 52, the Prophet is addressed in words which cannot fail to impress the percipient reader: "Do not drive away those who appeal to their Lord in the morning and the evening, longing for His face! You are not liable for anything in their account, and they are not liable for anything in your account. If you drive them away, you will be one of the oppressors." The reproachful tone of the verse is very significant as evidence of the Prophet's human nature and human behaviour. The polytheists had been saying that they would not join Mohammad because his followers were men of no substance, and he had probably felt a temptation to appease the rich and even to despise his own poor flock. This supposition is supported by verses 27 and 28 of sura 18 (ol-Kahl): "Make yourself be more patient with those who appeal to their Lord in the morning and the evening, longing for His face! Do not avert your eyes from them, longing for adornment in worldly life! And do not obey anyone whose heart We have made neglectful of remembering Us, who pursues his own pleasures, whose way is extravagance! Say, 'The truth is from your Lord. Let those who so wish believe and those who so wish disbelieve!' We have prepared a fire for the oppressors." According to the To/sir ol-Jalalayn, the occasion of the revelation of this verse was the refusal of Oyayna b. Hesn (a tribal chief) and his men to accept Islam unless Mohammad would get rid of his impecunious {having very little or no money usually habitually} followers.

The same meaning of the Prophet's fallibility and therewith entirely normal humanity is very clearly conveyed in verses 75, 76, and 77 of sura 17 (ol-Esra). Although the accounts of the occasion of their revelation differ, all confirm the meaning of the text: "They nearly tempted you away from what We have revealed to you, (hoping) that you might fabricate other (ones) against Us.

Then they would indeed have accepted you as a friend. And if We {P# 69} had not strengthened you, you might almost have inclined to them a little. In that case We would have made you taste double (punishment) in life and double (punishment) in death. You would not have found a helper against Us then." According to some of the commentators, these verses were revealed after the Prophet's meeting with certain Qorayshites (mentioned above on p. 31) when he recited the Sural on-Najm and said the words, which he later rued, "They are the cranes aloft. So their intercession may be hoped for." {Satanic Verses} Abu Horayra41 and Qatada42 are reported to have said that the three verses were revealed after some negotiations between the Prophet Mohammad and the Qorayshite chiefs, who had demanded that he should recognise them as the masters, or at least cease to show disrespect for them, and had promised in return to leave him in peace, to enter into friendly relations with him, and to stop beating poor, homeless Moslems and throwing them out onto the sun-scorched rocks. Evidently the Prophet either yielded or softened to such an offer when it was first made, but changed his mind when the time for action came. Perhaps he was prompted to do so by his own inner soul, the same soul which had moved him to think about spiritual matters for so many years and then to start work on the eradication of polytheism and idolatry; for the proposed compromise would be likely to diminish or destroy the impact of his preaching. Perhaps he was told by devout, unbending believers such as Omar and by brave, militant believers such as Ali and Hamza that a compromise of whatever sort would be a blunder and a defeat. In any case, the words of these three verses prove that the Prophet Mohammad shared in the human characteristic of susceptibility to temptation.

This is confirmed in other Qur’anic passages. Among them are verses 94 and 95 of sura 10 (Yunos): "And if you are in doubt concerning what We have sent down to you, ask those who have been reciting the book (i.e. scripture) before you! The truth has come to you from your Lord. So do not be one of the doubters! Do not be one of those who have called God's signs lies! You would then be one of the losers." Again in sura 5 (al-Ma'eda), verse 71: "O Apostle, transmit what has been sent down to you from your Lord! If you do not, you will not have transmitted His message.

And God will protect you from the people." How ought these verses to be interpreted by a Moslem who believes in God and acknowledges the Qur’an to be God's word? What is the meaning of these stern admonitions to the Prophet? {P# 70}

Surely the only explanation can be that human weakness and frailty had begun to get the better of the Prophet. He must have been afraid of the people until God told him not to fear because he would be protected against molestation by the people. Certain Qorayshites, particularly Walid b. ol-Moghira, As b. Wa'el, Adi b. Qays,Aswad b. Abdol-Mottaleb, and Aswad b. Abd Yaghuth, had deeply distressed the Prophet with their mockery of him and his teachings. Perhaps, in the depths of his soul, he had begun to regret his mission and even to harbor thoughts of giving it up and leaving the people to their own devices. Otherwise he would surely not have received God's command in sura 15 (oI-Hejr), verses 94 and 95: "Say out loud what you have been ordered (to say), and keep away from the polytheists! We have given you sufficient (protection) against the mockers." Three closely following sentences in the same sura spell out the matter and confirm the suggested interpretation: "We know that your heart is grieved by what they say. Proclaim the praise of your Lord! Be one of those who bow down, and serve your Lord! Then the certainty will come to you." Some commentators have taken the word yaqin (here translated as certainty) to mean the inevitable destiny of death; their presumption of Mohammad's infallibility has obviously prevented them from acknowledging his vulnerability to doubt and led them to invent this and other interpretations at variance with Qur’anic wordings. The meaning of the three verses is perfectly clear; Mohammad was suffering from severe depression which made him have doubts, even about his own authenticity, but prayer and praise to God would restore his certainty, i.e. his confidence in his mission.

In sura 33 (oI-Ahzab), verse 1, Mohammad is expressly bidden: "Fear God, and do not obey the unbelievers and the hypocrites!" The Talsir oI-JalaIayn interprets the first verb as "continue to fear." Another commentary asserts that both commands, though addressed to the Prophet, are meant to be for them. whole Moslem community. The zeal of such commentators is greater than their accuracy, because in verse 2 of the same sura God commands the Prophet: "Stick to what is revealed to you from your Lord!" The two verses clearly indicate that Mohammad reacted to his disappointment in a natural, human way by wondering whether to submit to the demands of his adversaries, and that God sternly forbade him to do so; in more scientific language, he was suffering from exhaustion and depression, but was restrained from surrender and brought back to his course by his inner strength of will. {P#  71}

If this explanation is ruled out, the only other possibility would be that the Prophet wanted to make a show of appeasement by pretending willingness to relent and compromise over the demands of his adversaries, but God forbade him to do so. In view of Mohammad's political astuteness, such a hypothesis might be arguable, but in view of his truthfulness, single-mindedness, and moral strength, it would scarcely be probable. Mohammad believed in what he said; he believed that he was inspired by God.

To conclude this chapter it will be fitting to quote a story from the Cambridge Tafsir43 (an early Qur’an commentary in Persian) as an illustration of Moslem thinking in the first centuries of Islam and its remoteness from the facts of the time when the Qur’an was revealed. The story (on p. 295 of vol. 2 of the Tehran printed edition) is as follows: "After the revelation of the Sura on-Najm (sura 53, which opens with the words 'By the star when it sets'), Otaba b. Abi Lahab sent a message to the Prophet saying that he did not believe in the stars in the Qur’an. The Prophet took offence and cursed him, praying, 'O God, may one of Your beasts of prey overpower him!' Otaba  on hearing of it, was frightened. At that time he was travelling in a caravan. When the caravan stopped at Harran, Otaba lay down and slept in the midst of his friends. God sent a lion, which took Otaba from the midst of his friends and tore all his body but did not eat any of that accursed, unclean thing. So all the people knew that the lion had not taken him to eat him but to fulfil the Prophet's prayer." It never occurred to the fabricators of this story that the Prophet, instead of cursing Otaba, could have besought God to show mercy to him and convert him to Islam. Is not Islam faith in the Lord of the Worlds, the Compassionate, the Merciful?

At Madina, however, Islam was not only faith in God; it also became the basis of a new legal system and of an Arab state. Islam's rules and obligations were all laid down during Mohammad's stay at Madina in the last ten years of his prophetic career. The first step was the change of the direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Mecca.

One result of this step was that the Jews were thereafter separately taxed from the Moslems. Another was that the Arabs of Madina got rid of their inferiority complex and that the Bedouin Arabs began to acquire a sort of national fervor; for the Ka'ba, the idol-temple which the tribes had revered, was thereafter the house of Abraham and Ishmael, the ancestors of all the Arabs.

Likewise in the matter of fasting, the example of the Jews was {P# 72} discarded. First the fast was extended from the tenth day of the month of Moharram, which was the Jewish practice, to a number of days; later the whole month of  Ramadan was reserved for it.

The rules on marriage, divorce, menstruation, kindred and affinity, inheritance and polygamy, on penalties for fornication, adultery and theft, on retaliation, blood-money, and other criminal matters, and on civil matters such as defilements, food prohibitions, and circumcision, stemmed with some modifications mainly from Jewish law or pre-Islamic Arab custom and were all enacted at Madina. Other rules on civil and personal matters, though coloured by Jewish and pagan Arab ideas and practices, were unquestionably measures taken for adjustment of the social and commercial order. {P# 73} Continued next page

Chapter I: Muhammad
Chapter II: Religion of Islam
Chapter III: Politics
Chapter IV: Metaphysics
Chapter V: After Muhammad
Chapter VI: Summary
Back to Islam index
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