Saturday, May 29, 2010

Trials Of Islam

(Article first published as Trials of Islam (Part Two) on Blogcritics)

In discussing the trials of Islam one has to keep in mind the conditions
of Arabia: its hot and dusty climate; its people (the Arabs, who lived a somewhat senseless life at that time); its business center, which was Mecca, and which not only invited traders to its bosom but offered 360 idols to the Arabs as well as worshippers of other denominations; the Kaabah (black-clothed building) which till today still serves as a centre for Muslim pilgrims all over the world. These, plus the fact that Muhammed (pbuh) was an Arab himself, all played a vital role in the spread of Islam.

We have mentioned previously that the Arabs were not a very sociable kind of people. We spoke of the way they believed that woman had no standing in the community and as such could be used and abused at will by their husbands. We learnt from history that these Arabs also believed that a female baby brought bad luck to the family and as such had to be buried alive to reverse the evil that had befallen them!

One can then imagine the mammoth task that awaited Muhammed (pbuh) in his quest to bring the Message of the One God to these people. One can but feel sympathy for him as he wrestled with his own inner turmoil in trying to understand what was happening to him (i.e. encountering the Archangel Gabriel in the cave on the 'Mountain of Light' and being told to read) and not to yield to the jeers and ridicule that was being heaped upon him regularly by not only the inhabitants of Mecca, but his own family!

In the beginning we find that the first converts to Islam were the Prophet's wife, Khadija; his cousin Ali, son of Abu Talib, his uncle; Zaid bin Thabit, a freed slave, who stayed with the Prophet (pbuh); and Abu Bakr, Muhammed's (pbuh) close friend.

Initially, the Qureish tribe, being the Prophet's (pbuh) fiercest criticisers, were not overly concerned about the Prophet's (pbuh) ministries. In fact, they found it rather amusing that the early converts were people of not very high standing in the community. Apart from Muhammed's (pbuh) wife Khadija and Abu Bakr, his close friend, who also happened to be quite wealthy, the other converts who followed were either slaves or beggars, not to mention Ali, his cousin, who was only ten years old at that time!

We think of Bilal, a black, Abbyssinian slave, who became Muslim and preached Islam to all that he came in contact with. We think of the beggar woman who stopped begging and devoted her life in prayer to Allah. The Qureishites, being the masters of many a slave, would find great merriment in taunting these converts to Islam. They would demand that these slaves bring proof of the god that they believed in; proof tantamount to that of the idols, whom they called the 'Sons and Daughters of Allah'.

However, Islam did not stop there. Muhammed (pbuh) began to preach the religion openly in Mecca then! No more were there the secret gatherings at his or one of his followers' houses. No more were there the hidden or veiled meanings to his ministries. Islam was out! Islam was on the move!

Qureish was not taking this for a joke anymore. They began by seriously addressing those under their command and those in their employ. They even ferreted out those from amongst their own families who had converted to Islam and laid down their law: either you stopped your foolishness of believing in the One God of Muhammed (pbuh) and come back to us or bear the brunt of our wrath!

History tells us that Bilal was placed in the hot desert sun with a huge rock on his chest for refusing to denounce Allah, the One God. A woman, one of the members of the Qureish tribes' mother, was speared to death by her own son for declining to forsake her belief in Allah! And strangely enough, through all these trials, Islam marched on!

Then there was Abu Lahab, the Prophet's (pbuh) uncle, whose favorite pastime it was to proclaim Muhammed (pbuh) a madman to everyone he met on the streets and even brought his wife along to place thorn bushes in the path of Muhammed (pbuh).

Islam now stood at a count of 40 men and women altogether. Qureish then decided that to nip this madness in the bud once and for all, they would banish Muhammed and his followers to a valley where no one would be allowed to have any contact with them, nor to trade or have any kind of dealings with them— like the modern-day sanctions, only worse, because the Muslims couldn't come into the city to buy foodstuffs or emergency supplies.

For two years this trial continued, until it was discovered that the parchment the injunction had been written on had been destroyed by white ants, even though it had been closely guarded, and the ban was lifted.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Message of Islam[Islam The Straight Path[Islamic Teachings[Quran.

(Article first published as Trials of Islam on Blogcritics).
We have previously discussed the mysterious way in which Islam started and the Prophet Muhammed's(pbuh) role in its manifestation. We have also discussed Arabia with its diverse communities of Jews, Christians, Zoarastrians, Coptics, as well as Pagans, whose habit it was to perform the circumambulation around the Kaabah (black-clothed building in the center of Mecca) naked!

Then there was the Prophet's(pbuh) dilemma and distress at the way the Arabs were conducting their lives- abusing their women-folk, among other things, even burying their female babies alive for fear of bringing bad luck to the household! This was something he spoke out against fiercely! Something that brought him in serious disrepute with the clansmen of Mecca.

We discussed the Prophet's seclusion in the Cave of Hira on the Mountain of light- his pondering over his existence amongst all this senselessness and the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel- delivering the Divine Commands from Allah to him, and how this affected him personally.

All through our previous discourses one questioned had remained prevalent and poignant; the question of how he became so successful in bringing over the Message of Islam- the Message of the One God, not only to the Arabs, but to the whole world! How was it possible that he could manage to convince a people whose habit it was to believe in idols and base their lives upon appeasing these stone objects (even offering human sacrifices to them)! The Prophet(pbuh) was not schooled in any way. He couldn't even spell his own name!

Strange enough though, some of these Arabs, especially the affluent ones, knew that the idols could do nothing for them, but because Mecca was an important trading center, and people came from far and wide- not only to do business, but to worship their idols as well, it played an important part in the Meccans' aversion to Muhammed's(pbuh) preachings. There were 360 idols in and around the holy Kaabah!

History tells us (as we have mentioned before) that there were many individuals and intellectuals through the ages, who tried to get people to believe in them and their ideals by bribing the ordinary masses with promises of money, comforts, or whatever it was they had at their disposal. Some were so powerful that they even managed to get their followers to believe that they were God themselves! (Think of Pharoah and his arrogance for one). And when these things failed, they resorted to wars and persecutions that caused indescribable pain and suffering that to this day still lives on in the minds of those whose forefathers were subjected to this terrible inhumanity!

Muhammed(pbuh) was not learned in any way, as history tells us. There is no record whatsoever that he attended any formal institution where education was offered. In fact, Allah Almighty, Himself, alludes to this fact in the Holy Quran: Muhammed(pbuh) being the "Unlettered Prophet." So how did he manage to speak to his people and get them to listen to him, and (most importantly) get them to accept what he told them?

But let us look at how he started his mission; let us look at that particular day when he summoned his cousin, Ali, son of Abu Talib, (the Prophet's(pbuh) uncle) to deliver a message to the tribe of Qureish (one of the most influential tribes in Arabia). They were to meet the Prophet(pbuh) at the foot of a hill that was just outside Mecca.

On that day, not only the tribesman of Qureish came but many of the other tribes, such as the tribe of Banu Hashim, of which the Prophet(pbuh) himself was a member, and people from the Banu Qurayzah. Everybody was curious to know what Muhammed(pbuh) wanted to say.

The Prophet(pbuh) was already on top of the hill when the crowd came. It was hot and some were shuffling around, wiping sweat from their brows as a murmur arose from them. Some were wondering aloud what this was all about. Muhammed(pbuh) surveyed them silently.

"O People..." The Prophet began at length and let his eyes roam over the crowd. He saw Abu Lahab, his uncle, standing in the front and he said out loud. "If I were to tell you that an army is marching towards you behind this hill, would you believe me?"

They all stared at him confused and he repeated the question- louder! "If I were to tell you that an army is coming behind this hill to attack you, would you believe me?"

This time they didn't hesitate. "Yes!" They answered in unison, smiling at one another, even though they couldn't understand where this was all leading to.

Muhammed(pbuh) looked at them. "Why?" And there was a strange look on his face.

"Because you are Al-Ameen!" Someone shouted loudly.(Al-Ameen means 'The Trustworthy').

"You wouldn't dare lie to us!" Another one joked. They all laughed.

The Prophet(pbuh) held up his hands. "Then I tell you now that there is only One God, Allah. And I am the Messenger of God!

For a second time they stared at him confused, but this time there was no mistaking what he had said. An uneasy silence followed.

Abu Lahab, the Prophet's(pbuh) uncle, stepped forward. "Are we to believe this mad man?" He turned towards the others. "Are we to accept that this...this..." He lifted his hands in the air. "That this is the Messenger of Allah?" He gave a loud burst of laughter. The others all joined in, feeling somewhat relieved.

"Hey, Muhammed..." Someone called out from the crowd. "Who told you that you are the Messenger of Allah? Surely, Allah wouldn't choose someone like you? You cannot even read nor write!" There was great merriment now.

"And besides," another one guffawed, "If you are truly the Messenger of Allah, then a lowly person like myself would only bring great peril to myself and my household by speaking to a Messenger of God! But if you are not, then why should I speak to you?"

This seemed to make a lot of sense to the others and one by one they turned away.

Abu Lahab, on the other hand was not finished with his nephew yet. "Be off with you!" He shouted and pelted the Prophet(pbuh) with stones. "I've always thought that there was something seriously wrong with. Now I know I'm right!"

And so the trials of Islam began.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

After the harrowing experience with the Archangel Gabriel, in the Cave of Hira, and Waraqah bin Nawfal's shocking revelations, Muhammed(pbuh)found himself at the mercy of his own inner turmoil. He wasn't sure if what he had seen had been an illusion or whether it was just because he had been spending so much time alone in the Cave. Why was everything such a mystery? And why was this happening to him? Was he busy losing his mind?

Khadija, his wife, kept on reassuring him that he was not going insane and on occasions consulted with her cousin, Waraqah bin Nawfal, who told her that Muhammed(pbuh) just had to be patient, that the same God who had spoken to Moses, would also speak to him and that he was the true Prophet of Islam. God's way was a mystery, he had said, not always easy to understand.

But Muhammed(pbuh)took little solace in these assurances. He continued visiting the Cave of Hira on Jabal Nur(Mountain of Light), hoping to see Gabriel again- hoping to find an answer to this terrible nightmare that was refusing to let go of him. Night after night, week after week, he persevered, till the weeks turned into months and the months into years, and, when nearly three years had passed we find him, one day, climbing past the Cave of Hira.

"By Allah!" he mutters to himself as he pulls himself onto a ledge. "I shall not abhor anyone more than a madman and a poet! I shall end my life and be free from the accusing eyes of those who respected and loved me. I shall finally be free from my torment!" He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. He prepares to jump.

"O Muhammed!" A loud booming voice suddenly calls out and stops him in his tracks. "You are the Messenger of God and I am Gabriel!"

Muhammed(pbuh) looks up and sees the same 'Figure' he had seen in the Cave of Hira,staring down at him from the heavens- only this time he was unbelievably big!

Muhammed(pbuh) blinks and looks the other way. Again he hears that unimaginable voice. "O Muhammed! You are the Messenger of Allah and I am Gabriel!"

The Prophet(pbuh) shifts his gaze from one side to the other, but wherever he looks the Archangel is there!

He breaks down and cries bitterly- his body heaving as despairing thoughts of insanity wracks through his mind. Why oh why was this happening to him? Couldn't he just end it there and then?

To understand Muhammed(pbuh)diffidence and dilemma though, one has to backtrack and look at the set up of the different Arab tribes frequenting the Kaabah(Black-clothed building in the centre of the Harram- prayer area in Mecca). There were the idol worshippers, the Pagan Arabs, who performed the circumambulation around the Kaabah-naked! and the Hunafa who were known to be believers in the natural world as opposed to those believing in the 'Supernatural'.

These Hunafa(meaning those who turn away from idolatry), and, of which Muhammed{pbuh)became a member of, did not form a community. They, however, believed in the One God that Abraham and Ishmael believed in and they were looking at ways and means of reviving the monotheism of the 'True Belief'. They still called the Kaabah, 'The House of Allah' and Soothsayers, mad men, sorcerers and even poets(at that time)did not form part of their fraternity- mainly because these believed in dabbling in the 'Unnatural' and 'Spirits'- mostly evil!

So it stands to reason that Muhammed(pbuh), being taxed with the almost 'inhuman' task of telling, not only the Arabs, but the whole world! that there was only One God Allah, and that he, Muhammed(pbuh)was the Messenger of Allah, was way beyond his imagination!

Strange enough, it was after this appearance of the Archangel Gabriel in the sky that things started happening very fast. It was then that Muhammed(pbuh) was commanded to 'Arise' and Call to the People and bring them unto the True Belief. After three traumatic years!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mystery of Islam(Part Two)|Islam-The Straight Path|Islamic Teachings|Quran Guidance

We have previously discussed the mysterious way in which Islam started and the Prophet Muhammed's (pbuh) role in its manifestation. We have also very briefly touched on the Prophet's (pbuh) personal life,i.e. his marriage to Khadija and the type of person he was. But to continue the story one needs to understand the conditions of Arabia, particularly Mecca, at that time. We need to delve into the living conditions as well as the mindset of the Arabs, those living in and around the precincts of the Kaabah and look at the way they conducted their lives. (The Kaabah is the famous black-clothed building, standing in the middle of the Harram - Prayer area in Mecca - purported to have been built by Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael).

These Arabs, we find, have very strange beliefs indeed! Beliefs that could only have been perpetrated in a land where there was no law! They thought nothing of chasing their wives away if these ones disobeyed them, or refused to share her favours with a friend who came to visit and stayed over at the husband's request. A son whose father-in-law passed away would inherit his mother-in-law to use as he deemed fit. Female babies were buried alive for fear of bringing bad luck to the household!
There were 360 idols in and around the Kaabah — one for each day. The Arabs believed these were the sons and daughters of Allah and had to be deified as such, especially Al-Lat and Al-Uzza, whom they paid special reverence to.

So one can imagine the dilemma Muhammed (pbuh) must have found himself in as his purpose on earth intensified. One can but only marvel at Allah's Mysterious Plan in introducing Islam to the world, through the medium of the Prophet (pbuh) who, we learn through history, had no schooling at all! No education whatsoever! Allah Almighty, Himself, alludes to this fact in the Holy Quran.
Muhammed (pbuh) had no knowledge of politics, or law, or governance for that matter. He couldn't even spell his own name. So why was he so successful then? What made him succeed where others miserably failed? Was this also part of the mystery?

But let us take up the story where we have left off in the previous chapter. Let us follow Muhammed (pbuh) as he makes his way down the mountain of 'Light', sobbing involuntarily as the full impact of what he had just experienced overpowers him.He stumbles over a loose rock and nearly loses his balance. He grips his chest as the sobs issue forth uncontrollably and he sits down in the pathway staring through his tears at the ground. How he wished Khadija could have been here with him now. She would have known what to do.
The moon had by now nearly completed its sojourn through the heavens and Muhammed (pbuh) knew it was nearing daybreak. He struggles up from the ground and staggers on, his chest burning.
He reached his house just as the first rays of dawn painted the eastern sky. There was a donkey cart moving down the street and he starts to hammer on the door. He hears Khadija calling out from inside and he breathes a sigh of relief.
"Who is it?"
Muhammed (pbuh) didn't answer immediately and he hears her calling out again. "Who is there?"
"It's me, Muhammed."
"Muhammed?" (pbuh) She seemed puzzled but opened the door. "Muhammed!" (pbuh) Her mouth opened wide, and all sleep disappeared from her eyes. "Muhammed! (pbuh) Muhammed! (pbuh)"
Muhammed (pbuh) nearly fell into her arms.
"Oh my word! Muhammed! (pbuh) What happened to you?"
Muhammed (pbuh) didn't answer. He started to shiver intensely. Khadija took him to their bedroom. "Come! Come lie down! You must rest!" And she helped him onto the bed.
"Dear! Dear! Dear! Who did this to you?"
Muhammed (pbuh) kept on shivering as Khadija placed a blanket over him. He still couldn't speak. Khadija wondered if he wasn't coming down with a fever perhaps. His face looked so red and he was sweating profusely!
"Let me get you another blanket." She stared at him anxiously. "You are burning up, Muhammed! (pbuh) Dear, oh Dear! Did someone rob you?" She placed the blanket on top of the other one. "I've told you so many to be careful at night, but you don't listen! Did you see his face?"
"No!" said Muhammed in a croaking voice and placed his hand on her arm. "I'm not sick, Khadija. It's just that I've seen something very mysterious and very frightening, indeed!"
"What?" She sat down on the bed next to him. "What did you see?"
He told her and he cried as he relived once again the unbelievable events of the night, especially the immensely powerful grip of the Archangel Gabriel when he had commanded him to read. He was sure the 'figure' had said his name was Gabriel!

"And he knew your name?" Khadija listened open-mouthed, stroking his hand. "Did you see his face?"
"No!" Muhammed (pbuh) said almost abruptly. "I couldn't see his face. But he called me by my name as if he knew me a long time!"
Khadija didn't comment. She was thinking of her cousin Waraqah bin Nawfal and she knew what she was going to do. Waraqah was well-versed in the scriptures and he had always told her, on numerous occasions, that there was something strange about Muhammed (pbuh). Muhammed (pbuh), to him, seemed to be of another world.
The sun was coming out by now and Khadija left the house, leaving their daughter, Fatima, by the Prophet's (pbuh) side. She hastened towards the other side of town where she knew Waraqah never left his house before noon. Waraqah spent most of his life studying the Scriptures.
Muhammed (pbuh) loved Fatima a lot. She was the only surviving child he had with Khadija (the other two had died in infancy) and she resembled him in many ways. Fatima was very fair with raven-black hair. And now as he smiled at her, he was glad that he had her as his daughter.
The Prophet (pbuh) tried to sleep, but he kept on hearing the booming voice of the Archangel Gabriel and he began to read to himself the verses that the Angel had forced him to read. He repeated these verses over and over till he eventually fell asleep. There was a troubled look on his face.
Khadija returned later that day with the news that Muhammed (pbuh) was the Prophet of Islam. Waraqah had been adamant that according to the Scriptures there would come a Prophet, after the Prophet Jesus and his name shall be Achmat- Achmat, Muhammed, Mustapha (pbuh)!

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