Saturday, March 31, 2012

Main Battles Before the Conquest of Makkah

There had been many conflicts and skirmishes  between the Muslims in Madinah and their counterparts in Makkah before the Makkans finally capitulated in the year 8 AH (630 CE).  The confrontations that can be considered real battles, however, were only three.

The first was the aborted raid that turned into a full scale war, known as the Battle of Badar.  The second was the retaliatory war, known as the Battle of Uhud.  And the last one was the abortive war of annihilation, known as the Battle of Ahzab a.k.a the Battle of the Trench.

The Battle of Badar occurred in the second year After Hijrah (AH).  It was not meant to be a war.  Both sides did not plan for it.  It occurred by "chance," or more appropriately, by Providence, decided by God.

After the Muslims migrated from Makkah to Madinah, they left all their belongings in Makkah.  Many of them wanted to carry their belongings with them, but were forced to leave behind.  When they arrived in Madinah, they were practically left with nothing. 

The brotherhood between the Migrants (the Muslims who came from Makkah, or muhajirun) and the Helpers (the Muslims in Madinah, or the ansar) that the Prophet established as soon as he arrived in Madinah was not only brotherhood in faith, but also brotherhood in blood.  The Migrants could not survive without the help from their Madinan brothers.

The Helpers, on their part, had lived to the name given to them in every sense of the word.  They practically gave everything they had and regarded their new brothers as family members. 

One of them, Saad bin Rabi', a wealthy Helper who was made the brother of Abdul Rahman bin Auf, went extra mile by proposing to divorce one of his wives and gave her to Abdul Rahman.  He also proposed to divide his wealth into two portions, giving half to the latter. 

On his part, Abdul Rahman politely turned down the proposals and asked instead to be shown the market, where he started trading.  He was a wealthy trader before the migration but had to leave all his belongings in Makkah and started from the scratch.  He became well to do not long afterwards.

Whatever the Migrants condition prior to the migration, they were poor and needed to be helped when they arrived in Madinah.  Since they were forced to leave on account of their religion, and their properties confiscated, it was within their right to take these back.  Permission to fight this injustice, and to regain what had been confiscated, had been given in the Quran.  For that reason, quite a number of raids on Makkan caravans were undertaken but were mostly unsuccessful.

On the second year AH, the news had reached the Prophet and his companions that Abu Sufyan was leading large trade caravan from Syria.  The goods used for the trading were mostly those confiscated from the Muslims who left them in Makkah.  The Prophet decided to retake what had been forcibly taken.

Thus, with 312 of his companions, making altogether 313 armed men, they proceeded to raid this heavily guarded caravan.  Though it was heavily guarded, it was only a trade caravan, not an army.   The armed men guarding the goods were said to number only forty.  The number was large enough to protect the goods from the bandits, but the Prophet and his band were no bandit.  They came with large number, because they were bent on seizing what were essentially theirs.

But Abu Sufyan was a cautious leader.  His intuition told him that the caravan was exposed to the raid by the Madinans, for such attempts had been tried before.  So he sent spies and they came back telling him that a raided party had been organized by Muhammad and his companions.

Losing no time, Abu Sufyan dispatched messengers to Makkah, invoking them to save the trading caravan.  In the meantime, he changed the normal route, running away from the raiding party.  Also losing no time, Abu Jahal in Makkah quickly assembled an army of 1,000 men to save the caravan.

The news of the Makkan army approaching reached the Prophet, for he too sent spies, so they aborted the pursuit.  When Abu Sufyan came to know that the raid had been aborted, and the caravan was safe from the raiding party, he sent messengers to the Makkan army to go back.

Many in the Makkan army wanted to go back, since they did not come for war.  In fact, two clans went home, namely the Zuhrah clan, the clan of the Prophet's mother, Aminah, and the Adi clan, the clan of Umar Al Khattab.  Some section of Hashim clan, the clan of the Prophet, also went home.  Most however stayed upon the persuasion and taunting of Abu Jahal.

On his part, the Prophet himself did not want the war.  He came for different reason.  His raiding party was fully armed, but only lightly, for they did not go out of Madinah to engage in a full scale war.

In addition, the majority of the members in his raiding party was the Helpers.  It was agreed in the Madinah Constitution that the Helpers would fight and protect the Islamic society in Madinah if the city is attacked.  But this was not Madinah.  They were at a place called Badar.

The Prophet knew that the Makkans were bent on war, but he was not sure whether the Helpers would agree to it.  It was within their right to refuse to fight, for it was not part of the agreement.  So he asked what they thought of it.

One of their leaders, Sa'd Abu Ubadah, made his famous reply:  If you order us to plunge our horses into the sea, we would do so.

So it was decided that if the Makkans wanted war, then war it was.  As we know, the Muslims were victorious in this war.  Seventy of the Makkans died, and an equal number was taken captives.  On the Muslims side, there was only fourteen martyrs.

That was the background to the Battle of Badar.  It was not meant to be a war in the first place.  It was merely a raiding party that turned into full scale war.

The Battle of Uhud, on the other hand, was meant to be a war in every sense of the word.  After their defeat at Badar, the Makkans were consumed with anger and wanted revenge.  No one wanted it more than Hind binti Utbah, the wife of Abu Sufyan, for his father, his brother, and his uncle, died in the one to one duel with the Muslims. 

Hind wanted three men killed: the Prophet, Ali and Hamzah.   If she could not have the three, then one of them, especially Hamzah, would suffice, for it was Hamzah who finished off his father and his uncle.  Ali, on the other hand, had finished off his brother, Walid bin Utbah.  As for her desire to have Muhammad killed, that's because he was the leader.

With the army of 3,000 strong, they went to Madinah and the battle took place at Uhud, the vicinity of Madinah.  The Muslims were victorious in the beginning, but due to their error in judgement, the archers had disobeyed the Prophet's prior instruction and left their position, resulting in the reverse.

As the Muslims ran helter-skelter and the Prophet himself was injured, Abu Sufyan declared the victory and went home.  They came only for revenge, not to annihilate the Muslims completely.   His wife, Hind, had also satiated her revenge by splitting open the chest of Hamzah, who was killed by her slave, Wahsy, and ate the liver.  She spat it out, though, unable to swallow it.  In any case, the job was done.

The Muslims, on their part, had regrouped and waited if there would be another battle, but there was none.  The Makkans had gone home.

When some of his companions asked Abu Sufyan to resume the battle so that the Muslims would be dealt with for good, he replied that they were ill prepared for that.  The Makkans alone could not annihilate the Muslims.  They needed the help of their allies to do that.

They set out to do just that.  For the next two years, the Makkans went out scouting for support throughout Arabia.  Every tribe hostile to the Muslims was approached.  The mission was to annihilate the Muslims in Madinah for good.  They managed to assemble an army of 10,000 strong, the largest army ever seen in Arabia.  They also managed to make a secret deal with the only remaining Jewish tribe in Madinah.

It is for this reason that the next battle is called the Battle of Ahzab, or the Battle of Confederacy.  The plan was for the Makkans and his Arabian allies to attack from the outside, and the Jews would attack from within.

The news that 10,000 army was marching to destroy them completely had alarmed the Muslims.  It was not just the number that alarmed them.  It was their intention.  What was more alarming was that the remaining Jewish tribe in the Madinah was also in the pact. 

Having decided that it would be fatal to meet this army outside of Madinah, they decided to encamp in the city, protecting themselves by digging a trench encircling Madinah.  The only place not dug was the mountainous terrain, impassable by the army.  That is why the battle is also known as the Battle of the Trench.

The Makkans with their allies had prepared everything they could to achieve their mission.  But as soon as they arrived at Madinah, they were surprised to see the trench.  They were not prepared for this, for it was unknown to the Arabs.  Of course it was unknown, for the stratagem was suggested by Salman the Persian.  Thus about all they could do was laying siege to the city.

There had been some skirmishes here and there, attempted by a few horsemen, but all were soon chased by the Madinans.  The entire army could not cross the trench, so they just shot arrows from the distance.   The Confederate were waiting for the Jewish tribe, the tribe of Qurayzah, to work their magic from within, but they had been neutralized by the magical trick played by one Nuaym bin Masud, the recent convert.  He was the leader of one of the confederate tribes who had concealed his faith.

After laying siege for 27 days, and losing hope that the Jews would make the move as planned, the desert storm hit the Confederate.  Finding themselves in dire straits, they aborted the siege and went home.  What they did not know was that the situation in the Muslims camp was worse.

The Muslims were practically starving to death for they had ran out of food supply, and they were always in fear that the Jews would suddenly attack them from behind, and in the ensuing mayhem, their protection along the trench would be compromised and thus enabled the Confederate to gallop at them from outside.  Allah decided to end the dire straits experienced by the Muslims by sending the storm that wrecked the Confederate army.

If the Battle of Badar started with the aborted raid, the Battle of the Trench was an abortive war.  The Confederate had come to annihilate the Muslims in Madinah for good, but the real battle was aborted because the Muslims had used the stratagem unknown to the Arabs at that time.

This abortive war was a good omen to the Muslims.  It signified the portent for things to come.  The fortune of the event was about to be reversed.  If others did not see it at that time, the Prophet did see it very clearly, for in his characteristic remark, he said: "From now on, they don't come to us.  We go to them."

True to his prophetic words, three years later Muhammad went with 10,000 of his army to conquer Makkah.

Three years earlier, the Makkans had brought their allies with 10,000 strong army to annihilate the Muslims for good, but instead went home empty handed.   Three years later, Muhammad brought similar number of army and conquered Makkah without bloodshed.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Seerah Muhammad: The Number Game

Muhammad the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, performed his work as a prophet for 23 years.  Measured by the number of his followers, his achievement may be divided into three stages.

For the first ten years, he got only chicken feed.  His total followers numbered only about 100 people, including children who were born into the family already converted. 

About half of this (or around 50 or so) was converted in the first year of his prophetic mission.  About two third of the other half (or around 35 or so) was converted in the next two years.  Afterward it trickled down only to a handful.  In the last three years of this phase, from the year eight to the year ten, there was hardly any conversion.

For the next ten years, however, he got substantial number of followers.  By the end of the second stage, he managed to bring an army of 10,000 strong to conquer his hometown Makkah.  The total number of his followers by then must have been double or triple the number of that army.  Or at least 200 times more than the first stage.

While the number of his followers increased substantially in the second ten year period, at least half of these conversions took place in the last two years of this period.  More precisely, after the Hudaibiyah Treaty, which took place in 6 AH. 

As for third stage, i.e., the last three years of his Prophethood, the number of his followers was impressive.  In the farewell pilgrimage alone, it was said that about 100,000 people attended.  Before he died, he managed to raise an army of 30,000 strong without much difficulty. 

By the time he died, practically the whole Arabian Peninsula was converted.  We might place the number of his followers by the time he died in the region of half a million, or perhaps more.

Another interesting phenomenon may also be observed.

In the first stage, he personally worked hard to gain conversion.  In the second stage, it was his followers who secured most of the conversions.  In the last stage, it was the people who came to him asking to enter into the fold of Islam.  In other word, when he exerted the maximum effort, he got the least; but when he practically did nothing as far as his personal effort for conversion is concerned, he got the most.

If we ponder about this pattern, it seems to fit with our employment career, or the business endeavor.  A senior colleague of mine once observes that when we start working, we are paid less than the hours we put to our work.  After many years of working, we are paid with handsome salary by fooling around in the meeting room.

Likewise, when we start our business, we put extraordinary hours but the revenue generated rarely exceeds the money spent.  After many years of working, the money keeps coming while we stroll along leisurely at the golf course.

There is one last observation to be made. 

As soon as the Prophet died, more than half of the Arabia revolted against the fledgling Islamic State headed by his successor, Abu Bakar.  Only three regions were free from rebellion: Madinah, Makkah and Taif. 

If number is the criterion for success, then the fledgling Islamic State would have vanished from the face of the earth.  But with the help of the leading companions, the Islamic State grew stronger than ever before, as soon as after Abu Bakar routed the rebellion for good a year and a half later.

Three distinctive groups made up the core of Abu Bakar’s forces against the rebellion. 

The first were the core companions who suffered numerous persecutions.  They were those who became Muslims in the first stage. 

The second were the Helpers, the people of Madinah, who helped transformed the fate of Muhammad’s mission.  If hitherto the Muslims were the weakest group, with the Helpers, they became the equal to their enemies.  Most of them became Muslims in the early part of the second stage.

The third were the persecutors turned ardent Muslims. They were the Quraysh who, in the first stage of the Prophetic mission, were the enemies of Islam.  Most of them became Muslims in the later part of the second stage, especially after the conquest of Makkah. 

Many heart wrenching stories are narrated about the fate of the early Muslims, especially those who became Muslims in the first stage.  With the benefit of hindsight, these persecutions are nothing but the process of making them men of steel.  If they had any other interest than the pleasure of Allah, they would not have been able to go through all those physical, emotional, social and economic tortures.  After going through all those extreme difficulties, they were ready to conquer the world.

And conquer the world they did, not long after their leader died. 

Thus, in terms of number, the Prophet may have gained “chicken feed” in the first stage of his Prophetic mission, but these were men and women of steel.  Not just any steel, but the steel that does not melt at any temperature.  In the third stage of his Prophetic mission, however, he got mostly “chickens,” though the number is surely impressive.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Side Less Painted On Abu Bakar

When the name Abu Bakar is mentioned, we generally have the following picture about him: extremely pious, softhearted, given to crying when reciting Quran, generous, dislike confrontation, rather taciturn by nature, and one whose depth of faith is bottomless.  

He was all of that, no doubt.  

Some Western writers add unsavory line to that, namely, blind faith. Abu Bakar is made to look as if he does not have a mind of his own. If the Prophet never does it, then it is an innovation  (bid'ah) to him, and therefore cannot be done.  

He was none of that, of course.  

Generally speaking, when we talk about extreme piety and deep faith, the name Abu Bakar will always come to the fore. But when we talk about farsightedness, astute statesmanship, wisdom, persuasiveness, shrewdness, courage, and valiance, rarely would the name Abu Bakar be mentioned.  

For instance, farsightedness and astute statesmanship are associated with Umar; wisdom and depth of understanding with Ali; intelligence and scholarly with Ibnu Abbas; courage and valiance with Khalid Al Walid; cunning and shrewdness with Amr Al Aas.  

No doubt all those mentioned are worthy of the above attributes, because they were. But that the name Abu Bakar is not associated with those attributes is indeed a travesty to justice.  

A cursory look at him will indicate that he does not only possess superlative "religious" character, but superb "worldly" character as well.  

To begin with, he was a wealthy man, an astute merchant who can generate wealth with relative ease. If he was not intelligent, he would not have succeeded in the business world. But this is often overlooked. 

It was his generosity that is known, as repeatedly mentioned in the incidence of the Campaign of Tabuk. He gave all his wealth to this Campaign. When the Prophet asked what he left for his family, he simply answered: Allah and His Messenger.  

What is rarely explained in the above incidence is that the Prophet would not have allowed anyone else to do the same thing as Abu Bakar had done because of two main reasons. One, the Prophet knew that wealth meant nothing to Abu Bakar. Two, and more importantly, Abu Bakar was a resourceful man, who can recoup what he had spent with relative ease.  

Secondly, Abu Bakar is painted as a softhearted man who will cry when reciting the Quran. No doubt that is true, for the Quran touches him like it touches no one else. But he never lacked the required firmness and decisiveness to be a great leader. Even the decidedly strong headed man like Umar attested to these qualities.  

For instance, when the Prophet died, a group of Helpers (Ansars) were having a meeting at the Hall of Sa'd bin Ubadah, selecting him to be the new leader. Sensing the potential danger, Abu Bakar, Umar and Abu Ubaydah bin Jarrah quickly went there to save the situation.  The trio quickly engaged in a debate with this group of Ansars.  

While the Ansars presented their case, Umar rehearsed the rebuttal in his head which he liked very much. He wanted to be the spokesman for the Migrants (Muhajirin) instead of Abu Bakar, fearing that Abu Bakar would come down too hard on their Ansar brothers. But before Umar managed to say anything, Abu Bakar told him to keep quiet. Instead, Abu Bakar said everything that Umar wanted to say, in a better way in fact.  

This incidence shows that Abu Bakar was not only a superb debater capable of formulating persuasive argument, but he was also decisive, strong hearted and extremely firm. 

As earlier mentioned, Umar was afraid that Abu Bakar might come down too strongly on their opponents. A testimony from a strong headed man like Umar about Abu Bakar's strong character requires no further comment on anyone's part.  

Thirdly, one of the first things that Abu Bakar did upon assuming the caliphate was dispatching Usamah bin Zayd's army to confront the Romans at the frontiers.  Practically all companions opposed that decision, but Abu Bakar did not budge even an inch. 

Common explanation given to the above incidence is Abu Bakar’s fanaticism to the Prophet’s sunnah.  The decision to march was given by the Prophet before he died.  And it was this decision that Abu Bakar followed, although all signs indicated that it was not a wise move.  

But those who attribute Abu Bakar’s decision to his fanaticism to the sunnah of the Prophet is missing the whole point.  It shows how little they know about Abu Bakar as the strategist.  

Let’s give some background to the event for the benefit of those who are less familiar with the incidence.  

Before the Prophet died, he had instructed an army under Usamah bin Zayd to march to the Roman frontiers.  The Romans and their satraps had been terrorizing the Muslims in the frontiers.  They had killed the emissary sent by the Prophet to them.  The Prophet decided that such errant behaviors cannot be tolerated.   The Romans and their satraps at the border must be taught a lesson.  

But as soon as the Prophet died, the majority of the Arab tribes who had only recently become Muslims revolted in rebellion.  They refused to recognize the central authority in Madinah.  

Accessing the situation, the companions thought that it was better to defend Madinah from the internal enemies.  Only three cities were saved from rebellion: Madinah, Makkah and Taif  The Muslims who had remained steadfast in their Islam had become the minority in the Arabia.  The news about the imminent attack on Madinah troubled the fledgling Islamic State who had just lost their leader, Muhammad the Prophet.  

So the companions suggested that the march to the Roman frontiers should be delayed.  But Abu Bakar wanted none of that.  He ordered Usamah’s army consisted of 30,000 companions to proceed. 

But before they marched, they had another second thought.  Without these 30,000 strong soldiers, they thought that Madinah would fall to the rebellious enemies in no time.  None, however, was brave enough to face the new caliph whose mind had been set.  So they appointed Umar to be their spokesman to talk sense with Abu Bakar.  

Before Umar managed to make any headway, Abu Bakar shouted at him: "You too, Umar, of all people?"  

"I am only a messenger to the wish of the people." The much feared Umar replied meekly.  

"The Prophet had made his decision before he died and we had agreed to it.  I am not about to be the one to change it all too soon. The army must march quickly. There is no time to waste."  Said the supposedly softhearted leader firmly.  

Marching to the Roman frontiers they did, leaving a few leading companions who were supposed to march as well to defend the city and to strategize the interim measure.  Among those left behind were Umar, Ali and Al Zubayr.  

Unfortunately, this incidence has earned Abu Bakar the title of being fanatic to the Prophet's sunnah.  His farsightedness and strategic mind are rarely highlighted.  

The fact is that Abu Bakar understood the wisdom and the farsightedness of the Prophet, for he himself was farsighted.  He was well informed about the situation and the danger posed by the rebels.  The majority had turned away from Islam and started to challenge the central authority, but each tribe tried to gain supremacy for themselves.  There was general rebellion, but they were not united.  

By marching to the Roman frontiers without delay, it would not only give the impression that the fledgling Islamic State was strong, but would also make the rebels second guessing as to what was going on.  If Abu Bakar was brazen enough to send an army to face the Romans, then the rebels would have to reassess their position.  Crushing the central authority would not be as easy as they had thought.  

The strategy worked out perfectly.  Whatever plans the rebels may have had on attacking Madinah were delayed.  By the time they increased their readiness, they received the news that Usamah's army had been victorious in their mission. By then, their morale and optimism had been trickled down. They started to fear the central authority under the new caliph. With that, half of the battle had been won.  

As soon as Usamah's army came back to Madinah, Abu Bakar formed eleven battalions and attacked the offending apostates from every direction. One by one the rebel group was crushed.  

This is not the picture of a softhearted leader. Yes, Abu Bakar cried a lot in front of Allah, when he recited Quran. But he had no qualm about telling Umar to keep quiet, or to shout at him when the occasion requires. As we know, Umar feared no one but was feared by everyone.  Well, Abu Bakar did not fear him, you see.  

It is also not a picture of fanaticism to the Prophet's sunnah for the sake of following the sunnah. He followed the Prophet's decision because he understood the wisdom behind it. He was brave enough to take the risk. He was farsighted enough to see that if things are planned and strategized carefully, and implemented decisively, half of the war is won even before the battle begins. 

We can cite more examples, but the above should suffice to correct the picture less painted on the great companion, Abu Bakar As Siddiq.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Khalid Al Walid, The Drawn Sword of Allah (2/2)

In Part 1, we have revised the analysis sketched about Khalid.  He was not dismissed because of lavish handout to his followers, as my friend painted, but because Umar did not want him to be revered excessively by the people. 

His misery after being dismissed was not due to the little stipend received, which was below his standard to live comfortably, having been born into an aristocratic family, as A.I. Akram seemed to suggest.  It was because he was stripped of what he was: a born general meant to lead the war and lived an active, not a passive life.

It would not be too wrong to postulate that a man like Khalid was specially chosen by God himself to appear at the age his service was most wanted.  If Islam did not burst into the scene, Khalid would have been a nobody.  If Khalid did not lead the war, first against the apostasy, then against the Persians and the Romans, Islam would perhaps not spread as fast it did.  The twain were meant for each other.

It was not for sports that the Prophet gave him the title the Drawn Sword of Allah.

In this part, we shall analyze, in passing, what was really going on between Umar and Khalid.

Prior to Khalid's death, Umar realized his mistake and wanted to reinstitute Khalid into the service, but the latter died somewhat prematurely, at the age of 50 according to most accounts. The news of Khalid's death broke the heart of the people in Madinah and the womenfolk wailed.

Now, wailing for the dead was forbidden by the Prophet and Umar was about to whip those women who wailed. But before he took that action, Umar was seized by grief himself, seeing the wailing women, not only among the Makhzom clan where Khalid belonged, but other women as well, including his daughter Hafsah, the widow of the Prophet, one of the Mothers of Believers.

So, instead of whipping them, he said: "Let the women of the Banu Makhzom say what they will about Abu Sulaiman (Khalid), for they do not lie. Let the weepers weep over the likes of Abu Sulaiman."

After Khalid was long gone, one day in the company of his companions, someone mentioned about Khalid, and Umar said: "By God, he was Islam's shield against the enemies, his heart was pure from every animosity". Ali, who was there, reportedly said: "Then why did you dismiss him from military services?" Umar replied flatly: "I was wrong".

Yes, Umar admitted that he was wrong.

That of course did not make Umar any less great, for he was not an angel, free from making mistake. For instance, he also dismissed Abu Hurairah from governorship of Bahrain upon finding that the latter had become quite rich while in the service. He asked Abu Hurairah where the latter got his wealth from, to which Abu Hurairah replied from horse breeding and gifts he received while in the office.

Umar whipped Abu Hurairah, stripped him of his governorship and asked the latter to return all his wealth to the baitul mal (literally the house of wealth, but more appropriately the state treasury). Abu Hurairah did as told. When Umar wanted to reappoint him as the governor, Abu Hurairah refused. When asked why, he simply replied: "So that my honor would not be besmirched, my wealth taken and my back beaten."

Furthermore, according to one of the famous contemporary authors, Hussein Haykal, on Umar's deathbed, among the names he mentioned would have been chosen as his successors, was Khalid. The strict, highly principled and scrupulous man like Umar would not have chosen someone whom he thought unfit for the office of the caliphate.

As we know, Umar was austere, strict, and stern, but he was a just leader. He did not lack the warmth and compassion, especially to the poor and the weaklings. He was feared, but not hated. His close companions would often complain that he was too strict, especially at the beginning of his caliphate, but they all respected him highly, because if he was strict with others, he was more so with himself. He did not ask others what he himself was not willing to do.

But to his family members, he went an extra mile in his strictness. None of his close family members was appointed to important position, although many of them were more than qualified. He practised what may be called "reversed cronyism."  If one happened to be his family member, or a close relative, then he would be the least favored by Umar.

Khalid happened to be his cousin. Al Walid, the father of Khalid, was the brother of Umar's mother. Those who viewed Khalid as Umar's rival, including A.I. Akram, was missing the point. Khalid never aspired to be the caliph. He simply wanted to do what he did best, as a military general.

Umar too did not aspire to be the caliph. When Abu Bakar felt that his time was ending, he had asked all leading companions about the idea of making Umar his successor. They all agreed that Umar was the best man for the job.

When Abu Bakar called Umar and made known of his intention, Umar flatly turned down the offer. The stern Umar, however, could not match the mild but decisive Abu Bakar. His choice, which had been decided upon the consultation with leading companions, was non-negotiable, and Abu Bakar was in no mood for negotiation, so he asked Umar to take the sword hanging on the wall and brought it to him.

"What do you need it for?" Umar asked.

"So that I can kill you for disobeying my order." Said Abu Bakar in all seriousness, and continued, "you had forced me to take this job and put me into all the trouble, but when my time is over, you refuse to shoulder similar responsibility."

And that settled it. Umar got the job he did not want.

Knowing the character of both men, there was no place for rivalry between the two. Each tried to do his best within his own capacity. One as a caliph, and the other as a general.

The only fault between the two was that they were cousins. That relationship would have been a plus point for others, but Umar was unlike any other. Neither was Khalid.

It took a while for Khalid to appreciate what his cousin had done to him.  Though he harbored no hard feeling towards his cousin, he was greatly disappointed with the latter's decision.  After much thought thereafter, for he had all the time in the world to think, since he no longer led an active life at the battlefield, Khalid came to realize that his cousin had to do what he had to do.

On his deathbed, he bequeathed all his properties and his family to the care of Umar, his cousin.  That should be enough to measure the kind of man Khalid was.

On his part, the day when the news of the Khalid's death reached him, Umar was so grief stricken that he muttered a word: "Have women ever stopped mourning for anyone like Khalid?"

Well, he too was mourning like those women, except that he did it quietly.  Mourning quietly, as we know, is more melancholic than mourning in public, openly.  That should tell how he felt about his cousin. 

These are the things we need to understand when we talk about the leading companions, especially those of Khalid and Umar's stature.  As the Prophet said, the leading companions are like stars guiding our path in this world.   Our views about them, therefore, have to be worthy of their merit.

I rest my case.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Khalid Al Walid, The Drawn Sword of Allah (1/2)

A good friend of mine texted me that he had commented on my piece, the Ten Promised Paradise, and wanted to see whether I have anything to say about it. 

Seeing what he wrote, I quickly called him and asked where he got his sources.  He told me he got it from "Sword of Allah" written by A.I. Akram, an ex-general of Pakistani army.

His source does not appear to be the problem, but my friend might have misperceived a thing or two.  Other than some passages here and there which appear presumptuous, mostly from the author's own narration and analysis, the book treats the subject rather fairly.   In any case, Akram's expertise is in warfare, not in literary critic, historical analysis, or the science of tradition (ilm hadith). 

For the sake of brevity, I shall not reproduce what my friend wrote.  If you like, you can check it yourself at the link above, or here.   Thanks to him, however, I have an excuse to write briefly about the celebrated general Khalid Al Walid, the Drawn Sword of Allah.

The first thing to note about Khalid is that he was a great general who never lost the battle, but he was not a saint.  He was not a hafiz (one who memorizes Quran) like Ibnu Masud, nor a scholar like Ibnu Abbas, nor a zahid  (one who leads austere life, living like a pauper) like Abu Dzar or Abu Darda, nor a saint warrior like Abu Ubaydah Ibnu Jarrah. 

He enjoyed lawful comfort, good food, good clothes.  But these are not forbidden and were likewise enjoyed by many great companions, including Uthman Affan, Abdul Rahman Auf, Sa'd Abi Waqqas and many others.

He was born an aristocrat, being the son of the wealthy man, Al Walid, the leader of Makhzom clan.  But he did not live like an aristocrat after his conversion to Islam.  His aristocracy background was not a minus point.  Muhammad the Prophet too was born an aristocrat, and was raised by Abdul Muttalib, and then by Abu Talib, both the aristocrats of Hashim clan. 

Khalid was rather lavish in his spending on his soldiers, but he did not go beyond what was within his right.  He wanted his soldiers to be motivated, not only by the promise of Paradise, but also by what was lawful by those taking part in jihad.  He couldn't be faulted for that, for the Prophet himself did the same at times. 

Those who died as martyrs in the battle would be blessed with Paradise, but those who remained alive should not be denied of what were lawful to them.   A great leader knows how to motivate and to reward his followers. 

But Khalid was also a man who had his own mind.  Upon being cautioned by Abu Bakar that he should not spend on his soldiers except by the latter's command, he wrote back to Abu Bakar: "Either you leave me to do my job, or you will do it yourself." 

Abu Bakar acquiesed to that.  After all, Khalid's lavish spending on his soldiers was based on Abu Bakar and Umar's standard.  It is chicken feet according to our standard.  Our current leaders tend to spend lavishly in every sense of the word, and often illegitimately, on their supporters. 

But Umar, due to his strictness and austerity, wanted none of that.  So he dismissed Khalid twice.  First was as soon as he took over the caliphate from Abu Bakar.  This was not a dismissal, but of demotion, putting Khalid under the command of Abu Ubaydah Ibnu Jarrah.  Khalid continued to be field commander, and Abu Ubaydah always consulted him for important warfare strategies. 

The second was a total dismissal.  This was what our friend alluded to in his comment.  The charge was his lavish spending on his soldiers, especially on the poet Ash'ath. 

It was an unwise move on the part of Khalid.  His oversight so to speak.  To spend on soldiers was one thing, but on a poet was a different matter altogether.  Yet, Khalid did not do it illegitimately, for he spent it with his own money, not out of public treasury. 

Since it was his own money, which he secured through lawful means, mostly through the spoils of war, many companions challenged the fairness of Umar's decision.  On his part, Umar had to defend himself when challenged by the companions on his sacking of Khalid.

This is what Umar said and I quote it directly from the book written by A.I. Akram:
"I have not dismissed Khalid because of my anger or because of any dishonesty on his part, but because people glorified him and were misled.  I feared that people would rely on him.  I want them to know that it is Allah who does all things; and there should be no mischief in the land." (pg. 536)
The author went on saying that by this admission, Umar had unwittingly paid Khalid "the highest compliment that any general could hope to earn: that his men regarded him as a god!"

My friend must have overlooked the right quotation and must have written based on his misperception.

Interestingly, Khalid himself did not challenge Umar's decision, other than saying that the latter had not been kind to him.  He accepted the decision gracefully, although deep in his heart, it was nothing but a death sentence.  What good would a born general be if he is not allowed to fight in war. 

The decision had rendered him a useless man, because he was not good at anything else.  He was not a merchant who can occupy his time with trade, nor a scholar who can disseminate knowledge and take pleasure being alone, lost in thoughts.  He was a born soldier.  He was born to lead soldiers in war.  Take that from him, the meaning of his life is lost.

Bidding farewell to his troops, he said: "The Amirul Mukminin appointed me as the Governor in Syria until things started to become smooth and sweet, then he dismissed me."

A man stood up and said: "Be patient, O' Commander, for it is the time for fitnah."

If you need translation, that is a suggestion for mutiny, for rebellion.  But Khalid merely replied: "So long as the son of Al Khattab is alive, there is no room for fitnah." 

If you need another translation, that reply is akin to the famous saying of Michael Corleone in Mario Puzo's The Godfather: "It is nothing personal, only business." 

The only difference is that, when Michael started to say it, then somebody is about to be killed.  In the case of Khalid, however, it means it was within Umar's right as the Caliph of the day to dismiss his subordinate on whatever ground he saw fit. 

What he had with Umar was professional difference.  He would not want to serve under Umar if he could not do it his way.  But, if due to the differences, Umar dismissed him, he was not the one to challenge the decision either.  It was nothing personal, only business, for Khalid continued to respect Umar, and so was Umar about Khalid. 

That was the quintessential Khalid.  He was always a man of his own mind. 

As for what my friend wrote, about Khalid being struck with the plague after coming back from Madinah, after registering his displeasure to the caliph, that was a misreading from some passages in the book by Akram.  Khalid did not get afflicted with the plague, because Madinah was not afflicted with one.  The plague was at Amawas, in Palestine. 

Abu Ubaydah was afflicted with that plague, along with many Khalid's children and his soldiers who served the army there.   He lost his beloved children and soldiers because of the plague, while he himself was free from it, for he was not there when the plague struck. 

As for Khalid not being able to do much with little stipend given to him, that was the opinion of the author, A.I. Akram.  Other writers, such as Hussein Haykal and Ali Muhammad Shallabi, did not put it that way.  Khalid was no longer a governor or a general.  He did not need too much money because he needed only to spend on himself and his family.

If one cares to know what Umar really felt about Khalid, let's see what happens a few years later. 

That we shall cover in Part 2.

End of Part 1

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Timeline Of Leading Prophets

One my readers wondered whether I was shooting in the dark when I wrote that 4,000 years ago Makkah was unpopulated.  He, or perhaps she, went on saying that it would be nice to have timeline on the various prophets since Adam.

Well, I was not shooting in the dark, and as promised, here is the brief timeline.

Broadly speaking, we can divide the timeline of the prophets into four categories: (1) prehistoric, (2) ancient, (3) middle age, and (4) modern.

The prophets from Adam to Noah are prehistoric.  Any attempt to put dates on them would be superfluous.  Scholars put the time of Adam creation somewhere between 10,000 to 20,000 years ago.  As you can see, the gap is huge.  Modern scholars tend to put the date much earlier.  None of these is accurate.

In case you are interested, one Internet source estimates the date of Adam creation at 3760 BC.  That means not even 6,000 years ago.  The evolutionists would definitely disagree.  We don't need to agree with that estimate either, although we don't have to go with the evolutionists.

While at it, let's have some fun.  Adam was created 5772 years ago.  He lived for 930 years.  Enoch (Prophet Idris) was born in 3138 BC, or 622 years after Adam was created.  It means that when Enoch was born, Adam was still alive.

Noah was born in 2704 BC, or 126 years after Adam died.  In 2204 BC, he started to construct the ark, and one hundred years later, the great flood occurred.  Noah was 600 years old when the Flood occurred.

Noah lived for 950 years, which made him the longest living prophet.  But he did not live the longest.  It was his grandfather, Methusaleh, who was the longest living person.  Methusaleh lived for 969 years.

In case you are interested, here is the link for the above information which make for good reading but are not historically accurate.

While those information may not be accurate historically, there is one point worth noting.  The prehistoric people lived very long.  The evolution theory, however, says that early people's lifespan was very short, somewhere around 40 years or so. 

Quran says that Noah tarried the earth for 1,000 years minus 50, meaning 950 years, which agrees with Biblical account.  As a Muslim, I would rather go with the Quran, not evolution theory, as you should too. 

That said, those dating games should be used with caution.  About all we can say is that the early human beings lived very long, but when exactly Adam was created or when the Great Flood took place, these we leave to Allah. 

From Hud to Joseph, we can categorize them as ancient prophets.  Not much is known about Hud and Saleh as far as their times were concerned, but many sources are available about Abraham.  Most sources indicate that Abraham flourished about 4,000 years ago. 

According to Sultan Ghalib Al-Qu'aiti in his book "The Holy Cities, The Pilgrimage and The World of Islam," a 692 page compendium on Makkah and Madinah, tracing the history of these cities from the earliest traditions till 1925, Abraham was born around 2000 BC.  He said it was agreed by most computations (pg. 8).

Britannica Concise Encyclopaedia, Gale Encyclopaedia Of Biography and many others also give the same period.  But the link above, calculated based on Bible, estimates the date of Abraham's birth at 1812 BC. 

Since Bible is quite notorious for historical error, I would tend to think that year 2000 BC, thereabout, is more accurate. 

This ancient period ended with Joseph who lived around 3,600-3,700 years ago, thereabout.

The third period, middle age (not to be confused with European Middle Ages), started with Moses and ended with Jonah (Prophet Yunus).   Moses lived around 3,300-3,400 years ago, while Jonah lived around 2,700 years ago.  In this category we have Prophet Job (Nabi Ayyub) who was said to live around 2,500-2,600 years ago, according to Biblical account.  His name, however, comes before Moses according to Islamic placement of the 25 prophets.

In this category as well, we have King David and King Solomon (Propeht Dawood and Sulaiman).  Since they were also kings, in addition to being prophets, their dates are well known and agreed upon by most scholars.  David was born around 1040 BC and died in 970 BC.  Solomon was born around 1000 BC and died in 930 BC.  In other word, they lived around 3,000 years ago.

The modern prophets started with Zechariah (Prophet Zakariya) and ended with Muhammad.

Zechariah was born around 100 BC while John the Baptist (Prophet Yahya) was born a few years before the Christian Era.  Jesus marked the Christian Era, being born about 2,000 years ago, a few years after the birth of John the Baptist.  It is interesting to note that the actual date of birth of Jesus was not known.  Most place it around 4 BC although it should have been 1 AD.

Muhammad was born in 570 AD, according to most accounts, and died in 632 AD.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Makkah: The Unlikely Beginning

Last year, the number of Muslims visiting Makkah for Hajj was around four million.  About a decade ago, it was half of that.  Three decades ago, about one million.  

Four thousand years ago, none.   

Yes, 4,000 years ago, the place was not yet populated, nor visited, although the legend said that it was the first site populated by people on the face of the earth, because it was where Adam and his wife, Eve, used to live. 

The legend may or may not be true, but it is a historical fact that about 4,000 years ago, Makkah was a barren valley unpopulated by people.  If God did not “personally” choose the place, perhaps it will never be populated.  Left to mankind own device, they would not have chosen that site to be their homes.  The climate was harsh.  It had no source of water.  Rain only came once in a while.  There was hardly any vegetation.  The soil was infertile. 

Yet, nowadays, it was the site most visited on earth; if not annually, then at least for a few weeks.  One week every year, millions of people will throng there for pilgrimage.  

One of the rites that the pilgrims cannot miss is the circumambulation (tawaf) of a cube-like structure, the Kaabah. 

Four thousand years ago, when Allah asked Abraham (Prophet Ibrahim) to construct the Kaabah, he wondered what it was for.   When told that it was for people to visit and perform tawaf, Abraham wondered who would have come to a place like that. 

“Your job is to build the Kaabah.  Leave the rest to me,” God said.  

You see, Abraham was not wholly unjustified for wondering who would have come to a place like that.  Makkah was probably one of the most unfriendly places on earth.  But God works in a mysterious way.  Since its founding, Makkah had never been devoid of visitors, only that nowadays they come in millions. 

The legend tells us that Abraham left his second wife, Hagar, and his toddler son, Ishmael, at Makkah at the instigation of his first wife, Sarah, who was jealous of her bondmaid Hagar for giving her husband the son he always wanted, while she herself couldn’t, on account of her infertility.  

But that was only a legend.  The truth was that it was God who ordered Abraham to send the twain there.  

True, Sarah had wanted both Hagar and her son to be out her sight, but that would have sufficed if the two were sent a few miles away from her.  That way, she did not have to see the dotting attention given by her husband to her rival and the son.  Sarah was not a monster, but a dutiful wife of a great prophet, and would later on become a mother of a great prophet as well.  After all, it was her idea in the first place that Abraham took her bondmaid, Hagar, to be his second wife, so that Abraham could have a son he always wanted with her.  

Abraham, on his part, was not a heartless man.  He understood his first wife predicament.  No woman would want to share her husband.  In her case, it was worse.  Her rival could give her husband a son he always wanted, but she herself could not.  That amplified her jealousy if not self pity.  

But, for Abraham to leave his second wife and his son a thousand miles away, at a place without people, without source of water and without vegetation, was definitely not his style.  He was a loving husband and a doting father, not some kind of monster who would abandon his wife and a son like that.  

As the tradition goes, when he left Hagar and his young son at Makkah, with little provision, Hagar shouted, “Why are you abandoning us here?”  Abraham did not turn his face, but proceeded with teary eyes. 

Hagar continued shouting, twice and three times.  Abraham continued walking, crying.  At last, Hagar asked: “Did Allah ask you to do it?” 

By then, Abraham was able to turn his face, and nodded.  His eyes were wet.  On her part, Hagar said: “Then He would not have abandoned us.”  

The tradition narrates the story without putting emotion to it.  If we were to rewrite the event, it would have been heart wrecking.  Here was a loving husband and a doting father, leaving his wife and a son whom he had always wanted in a place most unfriendly on the face of the earth.  He could see that such abandonment is equal to execution, for without the source of water, without vegetation and without people, the twain would have died in a matter of days.  

But that was only one of the tests he had to go through.  What came later was more unthinkable.  

When Ishmael came of age (baligh), Abraham faced another test.  He was given a vision whereby he slaughtered Ishmael, his only son.  After the first vision, he did not make the move, not wanting to believe that it was an order from God.  After the vision came three times, he knew he had no choice.  

One can imagine the kind of predicament he was facing.  Here was a man who had all along been preaching the Unity of God without much success in terms of the number of followers.  He had been praying to God that he be given an issue who would take over his work.  When he finally was given a son, his only son at that time, he was ordered to slaughter him.   

Only a few years back he had to abandon them at one of the harshest places on earth.  But the situation then was different.  Abraham knew God would not abandon them.  And the twain did survive the ordeal.  

Now the situation appeared to be far worse.  Years ago, it was only abandonment.  Now he had to do the “killing.”  Of course to slaughter has no other meaning than to put his son to death. The feeling must have been terrible, to say the least.   How could he explain to Hagar and Ishmael that he had been ordered to carry out the unthinkable?  

But because he is Abraham, he proceeded to carry out the order, after explaining to the wife and the son, who had steadfastly accepted the order in forbearance.  The rest we know what happened.  

Finally, years later, the order came for him to construct the Kaabah, with the help of Ishmael.  This time, he could carry out the order with relative ease.  

With relative ease we say because the job entailed only hard labor.  This back breaking job was easy as compared to having to abandon his beloved wife and son, or to slaughter his only son at that time.  At most, he only wondered why on earth people would come to visit a place like that.  

As we have earlier mentioned, God works in a mysterious way.  Should Abraham come back to Makkah nowadays, he would have been pleasantly surprised.  From the most unlikely beginning, the place is now the most visited religious shrine on the face of the earth.  

When God decides to do something, the reason is not always apparent in the beginning, as we have seen in Divine Intervention.  But for those who have faith like Abraham and many others, God’s mysterious design always works perfectly.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Divine Intervention In Human Creation

When God wanted to create mankind, the angels inquired as to why He wanted to make a creature that will do mischief on earth.  In His characteristic way, Allah simply replied: I know what you know not. 

Also in their characteristic way, the angels did not inquire any further. 

But it is not God's way to leave the matter hanging like that.  After Adam was created, He called upon the angels and asked them to name certain things.  Not knowing the answer, the angels merely replied: We know only what You told us.  Meaning, Allah hadn’t taught them those things.  Hence, there was no way they would be able to name those names. 

Then Adam was called and similar question was put to him.  He gave the answer to everyone’s satisfaction.

What were those things that Allah asked angels to name but they couldn’t answer, whereas Adam could? 

Well, those things being asked are not important, you see, which is why the Quran makes no mention of them.  The story was to show what Adam (read, mankind) could do, whereas the angels, lofty as they are, couldn’t. 

The essence of the story is to illustrate the special quality that makes mankind unique, the thing that qualifies him to be vicegerent (khalifah) on earth.

What is this unique quality?

To know the answer, we have to look at the story of Adam’s creation.  When Adam was created, he was created in God’s own “image” and Allah breathed His “soul” into Adam. 

Of course these God's "image" and His "soul" have nothing to do with what we generally understand regarding these two words, because Allah is unlike anything we know or imagine.  The moment we try to think of God and put an image to it, we know that such is not God. 

By God's "image" and "soul", we may understand them as God's attributes.  For example, God is the Creator, the Know-All, the Life Giver, etc.  It is these attributes that human beings are endowed with, which make them unique and hence capable of fulfilling their role as God's vicegerent on earth.

Of these attributes, the most important are the creative abilities: the ability to know, to imagine, to extrapolate and to make things.  These creative abilities are not merely intellect, because if intellect is what makes mankind unique, then mankind is not unique at all, for angels too have intellect. 

What makes mankind unique is the capacity to think with intellect, the desire and the ability to create, as well as the power to choose.  It is these qualities that give mankind the ability to progress.

Mankind is not endowed with great strength like an elephant, but he can move mountain with the help of the machines that he creates.  Neither can he run like a cheetah, but with the help of a car that he creates, he can beat cheetah anytime.  He cannot swim like a fish, but with a ship and a submarine, he can traverse the vast and deep oceans.  He cannot fly like a bird, but with an airplane that he creates, he moves faster in the air. 

Because of these creative abilities, he can lead the kind of lives that no other creature can.  He can traverse not only to the vast oceans, but also to the infinite space.  He can communicate thousands of miles away within second.  He can store vast amount of information in a tiny chip. 

With his creative abilities, he can tame the wild animals to be at his service, for transportation or labor, or for sports and entertainments;  he can revive the dead land to plant fruit or make a garden; he can harness the minerals in the earth's belly, or employ wind or wave in the air, or water in the river or lake, for their use.  In short, he can make everything on earth, below it, or above it, to serve him in whatever capacity he desires.

Needless to say, no other creature has that capability.

In this regard, even the lofty angels are limited in their capacity.  The angels can do only what they are created to do, and this hasn’t changed for ages.  For instance, the Angel of Death (Izrail), as the name suggests, can and will do only one thing, namely, taking life. 

Likewise with other angels, whose capacities are limited with what they are made in the first place.  Angels can do wonders, of course, but devoid of the creative ability that mankind has, they can and will only do one or two things they are made for.  The angel Raqib, for instance, only records the good deeds human beings do, while Atib will record the bad deeds.  The twain do not do anything else.

The animals, with their physical make up pretty much like human beings, can only do things based on their instincts, and that have not changed since they were created.  The lions still hunt the way they did since they were created.  The birds haven’t changed the design of their nests for ages.  And the donkeys are still as stupid as they have always been.

The animals only have instincts, not creative abilities like human beings. 

All these lead to one important point.  If truly human beings evolved from lower animals, one wonders how they acquire this creative ability without Divine intervention.  Divine intervention, however, has no place in Evolution Theory, because evolutionists believe not in God.

Which leads us to another important point.  Great maybe human beings are, for they are created in the best of stature, they would be turned into the lowest of the low, as Surah At Tin verse 4 and 5 attested, if they turn away from the purpose of their creation in the first place, which is to serve and submit to God's Will.  Or in short, to worship Him.

In this regard, the angels' concern has not be unjustified, for no other creatures have caused as much destructions as human beings had, and will continue to do.  After all, animals only kill for food, or for safety, but human beings often kill for glory or for greed, and sometimes for fun.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Legends of Great Flood: If Untrue, Why Every Culture Talks About Them

The Bible narrates the story of Great Flood engulfing the world during Prophet Noah.  It was a universal flood.  Only Noah, his family and whatever on the Ark were saved.  They repopulated the earth.  Thus, people nowadays are all descended from him.

The Quran has similar story.  But opinions vary as to whether this was a regional or global phenomenon.  

Modern scholars such as Harun Yahya seem to indicate that it was regional, since Quran mentions Noah was sent to his people.  If Noah was sent to his people, then by logic, there were other people not reached by Noah.  Scholars in the earlier times, such as Ibnu Katsir and Ibnu Tabari, seemed to suggest that it was universal, taking the tradition from Ibnu Abbas as their authority.  

If we go with the modern scholars, then only some of us are descended from Noah.  If we go with the earlier scholars, then all of us are the descendants of Noah and those in the Ark.

The evolution scientists, on the other hand, would not debate one way or another, because they treat the story of great deluge as mere legend.  Whether Noah or Adam, these are not our real ancestors.  We share our common ancestry in monkey, you see.  

If you ask me, I really don’t care whether the great deluge was regional or global.  Personally I am inclined to believe that it was regional, but affected all people on the face of the earth, on account that humans were not yet well spread at that time.  The correct answer lies only with Allah.  We can only speculate.

But one thing amuses me.  In the course of my research some years back on this subject, I came across what is known as The Legends of Great Flood. Apparently, in about all cultures, tribes and nations, they have stories of great deluge in one version or another.  

One author by the name H.S. Bellamy in Moons, Myths and Men, estimates that altogether there are over 500 flood legends worldwide.  These not only cover great nations like Chinese, Indians, Europeans, Arabs, Persians, and various Turkish tribes, but also obscure tribes in Africa, Asia, Pacific Islands, the two continents of Americas as well as Australia.

In fact, we have similar stories among tribes familiar only to us in our part of the world.

The Malays who are Muslims would go with the story in the Quran, but our aborigines such as Jakun apparently have their legend as well.

Their story goes something like this.  

The ground that we stand on is merely a skin.  Underneath is all water. Long ago, the god Pirman broke up this skin.  As a result, the whole world was flooded.  But Pirman had created a man and woman and placed them in a completely closed ship. All mankind are descended from that first pair.

The Mandayas, a tribe in the Philippines, also have their stories: A great flood once drowned all the world's inhabitants except one pregnant woman. She prayed that her child would be a boy, and it was. When he grew up, he wed his mother, and all Mandayas are descended from them.

The story that I find most interesting comes from Tibet. Long time ago, Tibet was almost totally inundated, until the god Gya took compassion on the survivors, drew off the waters through Bengal, and sent teachers to civilize the people, who until then had been little better than monkeys. Those people repopulated the land. 

Hundreds more stories of such nature can be found in the following link if you are curious.   

What I find amusing is this: all tribes or nations, be they obscure or great, seem to have a legend about the great deluge.   One common theme about all these stories is that those who were saved from this great deluge had repopulated the earth.  This leads to the possibility that we share common ancestry who had been affected by the great deluge.  Over times, of course, the stories had changed considerably, but the memory of the great flood remained.  

Earlier I said that the most interesting story seems to be the one from Tibet.  Why?  Because Tibet is located at the highest plane on earth.  If at one time it was inundated with flood, then the flood was certainly a big one.  I doubt, however, that the flood as mentioned in the Bible and the Quran took place there, but it is interesting to know that even the Tibetans had the memory of the Great Flood. 

In the Tibetan story, the most interesting part contains in the last line.  After the flood, the teachers came to teach them manners.  Hitherto, they had only been little better than monkeys.

Little better than monkeys?  One wonders where Darwin had his monkey theory from.  Not from Tibet I am sure.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Ten Promised Paradise, Or How Would You Like Your Cat Sliced (3/3)

In Part 1, we mentioned that differences are very much part of human nature and unity can be quite an intricate issue.  In Part2, we have talked briefly about the nine companions promised Paradise while they were still alive.  Those nine names were mentioned in the hadith narrated by Abu Dawood, though the hadith specifically mentioned the number was ten.

In this part, we shall mention the tenth companion and present our conclusion on the theme being discussed.

The name of the tenth person promised Paradise appeared in the hadith narrated by Tirmidhi.  The hadith reads as follows:
Abdul Rahman bin Auf said: The prophet (s) said: Abu Bakar in Paradise, Umar in Paradise, Uthman in Paradise, Ali in Paradise, Talha in Paradise, al- Zubair (bin al-'Awwam) in Paradise, AbdulRahman bin Auf in Paradise, Sa’d (bin Abi Waqqass) in Paradise, Saeed (bin Zayd), and abu Ubaydah bin al- Jarrah in Paradise." —Tirmidhi
The last name mentioned is none other than Abu Ubaydah bin Jarrah.  Who is he?

Abu Ubaydah is another well known leading companion.  In case you are less familiar with him, he was the one whom Umar chose to replace Khalid bin Al Walid as soon as Umar became the caliph.  As we know, Abu Bakar had appointed Khalid Al Walid as the leading general during his time, but as soon as Umar took over the leadership, he replaced Khalid with Abu Ubaydah.

About him, we need not mention much here.  He led the kind of lives led by Abu Bakar and Umar: extreme piety and extreme poverty.  In case you are interested in the little detail, he did not have front teeth.  Well, two of them were missing. 

Why?  Well, he was the one who took out the splintered iron from the Prophet’s armor which got stuck into the Prophet’s cheek during the Battle of Uhud.  This story is well known. 

After the reverse in the Battle of Uhud, as a result of the archers going against the Prophet’s instruction, which Khalid Al Walid took full advantage, he being the leader of the Quraysh cavalry at that time, the Prophet fell into a ravine and the ensuing mayhem had resulted in his cheek being stuck with two splinters of his mail armor.  Not wanting to hurt the Prophet, Abu Ubaydah took that splinters out using his teeth, losing two of them in the process.

Umar was also reported to have said that he would have appointed Abu Ubaydah as his successor should the latter is still alive, but Abu Ubaydah died before Umar was assassinated.  Umar chose him over Khalid because he was a more cautious man. 

Khalid had a thick warrior blood in his vein.  Left to him, he would want to expand the Islamic frontier as fast as he could, and in the process, may endanger many of the Muslim fighters.  Abu Ubaydah served as a balancing role.  Yet, in every difficult battle, it was to Khalid that Abu Ubaydah would rely for tactical move.

At this point, it may be worth mentioning that all these ten companions were the Prophet’s human shields, protecting the Prophet with their bodies when the Quraysh were going after the life of the Prophet in the Battle of Uhud.  They were promised the Paradise after that event.

Now that all those ten companions were mentioned, it is time to conclude our piece.

To recap, these ten companions of the Prophet had lived varied lives.  Some lived like a pauper, other lived in comfort.  Some are very poor, others are very rich.  They are best of friends to each other, but in another occasion, they fight each other to death.  Some are very strict in applying justice, others are more lenient.  Some refuse to favor their kin and close relatives in official appointments, others have no qualm about appointing their relatives to important positions.  But all are guaranteed Paradise even before they died. 

As also mentioned in Part 2, these ahadith (plural of hadith) imply that no matter what they did, we cannot say that they were wrong, irrespective whether the actions taken by them may have done a lot of damage to the Muslims. 

For instance, if we examine the war between Ali on one side, and Talha plus Zubyar on the other, we would see that the action taken by Talha and Zubayr had led to a bloody war.  Some said twenty thousand people had died in that war, although a more believable estimate put it only at ten thousand.  Well, ten or twenty thousand, the number is huge, and should have been avoided. 

The war between Ali and Muawiyah caused an even larger number of casualties.  We shall reserve this deeper examination for later entry.  The point to make here is that even when they appeared to make the wrong judgment, we cannot fault them for their mistake, because they had strong basis for their action. 

This leads us to a very important point here. 

Islam is only one, but its shades and hues are many.  The Straight Path is only one, but the way we can traverse this path is varied.  We should not hold that only our version of Islam is true, and all other versions are false.  The varied lives that these people traversed give us something to ponder, if we care to ponder, especially in the light of our proclivity to be divisive, of accusing others to be wrong or being misled, of saying we alone are in the side of the truth. 

As people say, there is more than one way to slice a cat.  And if I may add, so as to avoid being misconstrued by the above analysis: there is more than one way to slice a cat, so long as it is the right cat.  Thus, before we take a fight with our Muslim brothers or sisters over some issues, and start accusing them of being less Islamic, perhaps it is a good idea to remember that even the leading companions did not always agree with each others. 

Before we end, one final point should be made.

You may ask: since these leading companions who had been promised Paradise had led varied lives whereby some of them had taken the route that had brought tragedy to the Muslims, does it mean that it is acceptable for us to do the same, since they are the stars that guide our journey?

Now, if you make that kind of observation, then I must say that you have missed the whole point.  If guidance is what we are looking for, then it is another story that we have to be mindful about.  The story can be briefly narrated as follow.

After Ali was assassinated, his followers had appointed his son to be the new caliph, replacing his father.  Ali’s son, Al Hassan, had seen and participated in the bloody disputes his father had engaged both with the team of Aisha, Zubayr and Talha, as well as the team of Muawiyah.

By the time Al Hassan was made the new caliph, Zubayr and Talha were already dead, but Muawiyah still made the claim as the rival caliph.  Knowing the kind of person Muawiyah was, Al Hassan decided that suing for unity is better than suing for war. 

Against the wishes of his supporters, Al Hassan wrote the letter to Muawiyah stating that, among others, he would relinquish his claim to the Caliphate and pledge his allegiance to Muawiyah if the latter is willing to let the Ummah decide his successor after his term ended.  Muawiyah, on his part, did not desire war either, so, he agreed to the peace treaty.  For the next twenty years, the Islamic Empire was united under Muawiyah and expanded even further. 

Thus, if guidance on unity is what we are after, then it is the footstep of Al Hassan, the grandson of the Prophet, that we should follow.  He sacrificed his stake as a caliph, although by all accounts, he had more right to be the caliph than Muawiyah.

Such an action, however, is easier said than done.  To swallow our pride and to sacrifice our interest, even the little one, are extremely difficult for most people to do.  Al Hassan the grandson of the Prophet is indeed a rare breed. 
The End