Tuesday, May 29, 2012

TIP: The Beginning Of His Mission (2/2)

In PartOne, we have narrated that, after much thought no doubt, Muhammad had decided to keep his mission secret, so that he would be able to establish a foundation without attracting unwarranted attention and opposition from the people in Makkah. 

He turned to his family members and closest friends.  They in turn recruited many others until his followers numbered about forty or so after a few months or a year of spreading Islam quietly and in secrecy.

Now, one often gets the impression that Muhammad’s early followers are among the weak and the poor.  This, however, is not quite the case.  There are no doubt the weak and the poor among his followers, but they were not in the majority.  The majority of his early followers were the youth, people who were much younger than himself. 

It is also to be noted that the Prophet did not make deliberate efforts to gain followers from the lower strata of the society.  No doubt many of his early followers such as Bilal bin Rabah, Ammar bin Yassir, Abdullah bin Mas’ud and Khabbab bin Aratt belonged to this strata, but with the exception of Abdullah bin Mas’ud, they became Muslims mostly through the effort of his followers.

That said, whenever the opportunity comes knocking, Muhammad does not leave it unattended.  This is clearly the case with Abdullah bin Mas’ud. 

One day, in one of their outings, Muhammad and Abu Bakar became thirsty and they happened to come across a flock of sheep tended by a young man.  He asked the young shepherd whether he can milk one of the sheep so that they can quench their thirst and filled their hunger as well.

“I cannot.  These sheep belong to their owner.  I am only responsible to look after them,” the young shepherd answered.

Instead of being disappointed, the Prophet was actually impressed with the young man trustworthiness.  A man like this would be handy for his mission.  So he tested the young shepherd further.

“Surely your employer would not know that one of his sheep has been milked.”  The Prophet said.

“He doesn’t, but I do.”  The young shepherd replied simply.  The Prophet was impressed even further.  Most narrations stop there, but there are other narrations, perhaps less authentic, indicating that the Prophet said: “But if I milk the maiden sheep that has not yet mated, then your employer would lose nothing, would he not?”

“Yes, but the maiden sheep doesn’t have milk in her fodder.”  The young man replied.

“We will see.  Give me one.”  Said the Prophet.

The young shepherd caught one of the maiden sheep and handed her to him.  The Prophet supplicated to God, and when he touched the maiden sheep’s fodder, it grew bigger and swollen with milk.  This was one of the Prophet’s few miracles.  Muhammad the Prophet then milked her and both of them drank from it.  As soon as the Prophet finished milking her, the fodder returned to its normal state.

It was the young shepherd’s turn to be impressed.

That young man was none other than Abdullah bin Mas’ud, who, after that event, quickly went looking for the Prophet and declared his faith.  It is to be noted that Abdullah bin Mas’ud had heard of the new religion being preached among the Quraysh society, but he never paid attention to it, being busy with his work tending the flock of his master outside of the city of Makkah.  After that event, he became curious.

This story leading to Abdullah bin Mas’ud’s conversion serves to illustrate the point that when the opportunity knocks, the Prophet would not let it go away without “capitalizing” on it.  Abdullah bin Mas’ud belonged to the weak and the poor, for he was only a shepherd to one of Quraysh chieftains, Uqbah bin Muayt, but he had some quality which would come handy to the mission.
That said, Abdullah bin Mas’ud’s case is not exactly special.  Other followers of Muhammad who belonged to the same class as Ibnu Mas’ud, as he is generally called, were also people like him.  They were all trustworthy and people of great forbearance.  All of them persevered and remained with the faith regardless of the trials and temptations.  Ibnu Mas’ud was special only in the sense that the Prophet made a deliberate moved to “convert” him.

At this point, one may ask: Why didn’t the Prophet make deliberate effort to convert the weak and the poor?  Are they not easier targets, like the youth?

To answer this question, we have to remember that the Prophet did not bring social or political revolution, although his movement is revolutionary, and has changed the social and political landscapes not only in Arabia, but the whole world as well.  His movement was not a class, a racial or economic struggle. 

He did not incite the lower caste against the noble class, as was the case with the French Revolution.  He did not incite the poor proletariat against the rich bourgeois, as was the case with the Communist Revolution.  He did not incite one race or clan against the other, as were the cases with many revolutions in the modern day Africa.

His mission was simply to call people to worship the One True God, and to prefer the life in the Hereafter over the life in this world.  If the mission succeeds, of course the life in this world would be better as well, but it would not necessarily be in the material, class or racial sense. 

Islam is a class-less religion.  The only criterion that differentiates one against the other is piety.  Islam does not promise any material, social or political reward to its adherents.  In fact, to the early converts, they could lose all these. 

For that reason, Islam at its impetus appealed only to those who did not care for the material or worldly comfort.  And where this is concerned, it matters little whether one is rich or poor. 

We would be mistaken if we think that the poor do not care about material comfort.  The fact is that the poor care for the material and worldly comforts as much as the rich.  They just don’t have these comforts due to their poverty.  And whatever little they have, they don’t want to lose these.

It is for these reasons that, contrary to the popular opinion, the majority of early followers of Muhammad were not really from the weak and the poor.  Most of them were the youth, and the majority of these youth came from noble families.  Only the poor who did not care for the reward in this world joined him.  The majority of the poor in Makkah, whose life depended on their masters, and dreaded to lose whatever little they had, remained with the religion of their masters.

As earlier said, at its impetus, one can lose everything by being Muslim.  The Prophet understood this from the beginning.  Thus, only those with pure heart and steely determination would want to join the fold of Islam.  It is this type of people whom the Prophet targeted in the beginning of his mission.  As the hearts of the youth tend to be purer since they are not yet tainted with the trappings and temptations of the world, naturally these became the majority of the Prophet’s early followers.

As for the weak and the poor, they tend to follow the strong and the rich.  The weak and the poor, therefore, would not make good followers, unless their hearts are pure and they are people of steely determination.  It is for this reason that the Prophet did not make deliberate effort to convert the weak and the poor in the beginning of his mission, unless they have the required quality, because he knew that this group would eventually join Islam once the mission succeed. 

To recap, once the Prophet understood that he had been chosen to be the Last Prophet to carry out the final mission of prophethood, he quickly laid the ground work intelligently and wisely. 

He knew he would be opposed by his people.  He knew he could not achieve his mission without a strong base of supporters.  And he knew that the influential leaders among the Quraysh would oppose him.  Having perceived all these, he decided that the best way to go about his mission was to keep it secret as long as he could. 

Furthermore, knowing that his mission would be fought tooth and nail by the Quraysh, he went looking for the right people to be his supporters, people of pure and steely hearts, people who would withstand all kinds of oppressions and persecutions. 

By keeping the faith secret, he did not attract unwarranted attention.  This had enabled him to teach and train his supporters on the new religion: what it means, what it takes, and the kind of sacrifices that would come from it.  He convinced them that this new faith is the Way of the Truth.  Despite the hardship his followers would have to go through, he promised them nothing from this world.  Their reward would be in the Hereafter, the everlasting and great reward.

This went on for the good three years without much distraction.  By then, these youth of pure hearts and steely determination were filled with the right faith, and they were able to withstand whatever oppositions that came to their path.  And that was exactly what happened.  As we know from the seerah, the period of secrecy is followed by the period of severe persecution.

Fanciful at it may sound, the fate of his mission would have been different, and would have fared much worse, if he decided from the beginning to make his mission known to everyone.  He would have been alone facing all the oppositions and persecutions, and the faith would probably not have much chance to succeed.  Since he was able to establish a strong base of supporters, afforded by the brilliant strategy he adopted, the fledgling Islamic community that he established was able to withstand all sorts of persecutions thrown to them shortly thereafter.

Of course the guidance from Allah made all these possible, but for those who ponder, the hand of an intelligent man is also at work. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

TIP: The Beginning Of His Mission (1/2)

For the sake of brevity, from now on, I shall call this series TIP, stands for Muhammad The Intelligent Prophet, with his name omitted.

To proceed, when Muhammad received the confirmation from the Archangel Gabriel about his status, as we have mentioned in The Apprehension of His Mission, his heart was then at peace.  The words of Waraqa, that it was the Archangel Gabriel who came to him, not some kind of demon, were thereby confirmed.

He no longer feared being possessed, or had gone crazy, but in fact chosen by Allah to be His messenger.

The first fear being erased, it is easy to imagine that Muhammad must have been consumed with Waraqa’s additional words—that his people would turn him out.  In the modern lingo, he has been Mr. Nice Guy all along.  With the new mission entrusted to him, he would be labeled as Mr. Bad Guy in no time.  Needless to say, this prophesy from Waraqa must have made him felt a little uneasy, to put it mildly.

The prospect of being rejected and turned out by his people probably did not bother him that much.  A bigger issue in his mind was how to make his mission successful. 

In this regards, it is safe to assume that as soon as Muhammad was certain about his role, he was also made known by Gabriel of his status as the Seal of Prophets.  By implication, the fate of God’s religion lies in his hand. 

Earlier prophets can “fail” in their missions, because other prophets would be sent thereafter.  In his case, being the last Messenger, no more prophet would be sent.  Failure, therefore, was not an option.  God of course would guide him, but the success of the mission must be accomplished through human work, and that human was none other than himself.  The weight of this realization must have burdened his mind heavily.

Knowing that not only his mission would be opposed, but his person as well, Muhammad decided that, for a start, the best approach would be to keep the new faith secret from his people.  He would only reveal it to those close to him, those he trusted.  He needed to establish strong foundation by recruiting people whom he thought would be congenial to the idea of the new faith.  And he must do it quietly so that it would not attract the attention or opposition from the people at large.

His first targets were his household members—his wife Khadija, his adopted son Zayd, his cousin under his care Ali—and his closest friend Abu Bakar.  Except for Ali, who was a minor of ten years old, all of these accepted his mission right away.

As for his wife Khadija, she was the one who comforted him when he was under the terrified and confused state, and brought him to see her cousin, Waraqa.  So you can say that she was sold without Muhammad doing the selling.

Zayd bin Haritha, a man in mid or late twenties at that time, was Muhammad’s adopted son.  When he was about ten, or early teenager, he was taken captive.  Khadija’s nephew, Hakim bin Hizam, bought Zayd and gave him to his auntie as a slave.  Khadija gave the young boy to her husband as a present, and the Prophet adopted him as a son he never had, for all his sons had died young. 

Perhaps it would not be a waste of space to narrate that Zayd’s father went looking for his son for many years, since the boy was taken captive by the bandits.  When he found out that his son was in Makkah, Haritha and his brother went to buy the freedom for the boy, so that Zayd can be brought back to the family. 

When the real father of Zayd, Haritha, met his adopted father, Muhammad, the latter (Muhammad) was thrown in a bind.  He felt sorry for Haritha, but he also loved the fine young boy, who was by then in his late teenage years.  To resolve the conflict, he decided to let the boy choose for himself: either to stay with his adopted father, or to go back to his real father.  And he told Haritha that if Zayd chose his real father, he would release him willingly, for free.

That made Haritha a very happy man, for he was sure that Zayd would choose him.  After all, he had been a good father to his son.

Zayd himself was caught in a bind.  He loved his father and his family back home, but the way Muhammad had been treating him had erased all the pain of separation from his real family.  With a teary eyes, Zayd said: “Of all people, I loved you the most, father.  But I cannot bear the separation from my adopted father, Abu Qasim.  I have to choose him over you.” 

For those uninitiated, Abu Qasim is the name Muhammad was called, meaning, the Father of Qasim.  Qasim being his son who died very young.  Among the Arabs, it is impolite to call a grown up by his real name.  As a mark of respect, they are called by their kunyah, or nick name, generally as father of eldest son. 

Sometimes, however, they are called by what is closely associated with them.  For instance, Abu Bakar (or more properly Abu Bakr), is not the Father of a person called Bakr, for Bakr is not a person, but rather a young camel.  Abu Bakar is so named because he is the expert in camel.   Abu Hurairah, for instance, means the Father of Cat, because he loved cats so much. 

Back to Zayd story, his father was shocked at first with his son’s decision.  Soon thereafter, a strange feeling of sadness mixed with happiness overcame him.  If his son chose Muhammad over his own father whom he loved, then this person must be very special.  Hugging his son for the last time, he went back to his hometown feeling that his son is in a good hand.

As for Muhammad, although he sympathized with the plight of Haritha, the real father of Zayd, the decision made by Zayd filled him with joy.  Full of emotion, he took the hand of his adopted son and went to Kaabah.  At the top of his voice, he shouted: “O people, know that this is my son whom I love. He is of me, and I am of him.  He inherits from me, and I inherit from him.”

In case you are wondering what Muhammad was doing, that was the Arab’s way of adopting a child.  That effectively made Zayd his son, because Zayd is of him, and he is of Zayd.  If he dies, Zayd will inherit from him like a real son; and if Zayd dies before him, he will inherit whatever belongs to Zayd.

From thereon, Zayd was known as Zayd bin Muhammad.  When Islam came, he was known by that name, until the ruling dictates that the adopted son must be referred to the real father.  He was henceforth Zayd bin Haritha again, and it is by this name that Zayd is known in the seerah literatures.

It would not be out of place to point out here that Muhammad had handled the delicate matter brilliantly.  Not only that Haritha went home satisfied, knowing that his son is in a good hand, even better that what he can give to Zayd, but Muhammad was also able to “retain” what he did not want to lose.  

In the end, just like years earlier, Zayd had chosen his adopted father over his real father without reservation, years later, when Muhammad was appointed as a Prophet, Zayd accepted the faith without reservation.

The third person, Abu Bakar bin Abi Quhafah, a man a few years younger that Muhammad, was the latter’s bosom friend.  He was a wealthy merchant, a man of high standing in the society, a mild tempered and a very likeable person, and considered to be the most knowledgeable person in the history of the Arabs at that time.  He too accepted the new faith without reservation.

Many sources say that Ali was the first person to accept Islam.  The Shiah put it without reservation.  The truth is that he was the first boy to have accepted Islam, and unlike the first three, he appeared to take a bit of his time before accepting it.

From the sources that come to us, it appeared that Muhammad did not approach him directly, on account of his young age.  Rather, Ali found out about it indirectly.  The Prophet was praying with his wife, and Ali, who lived under the same roof, saw what they were doing and asked the Prophet what was that about.  The young Ali was wondering because that was not the way his people, the Quraysh, worshipped.

The Prophet explained to the young boy and asked whether he would want to join the fold of Islam.  Ali told the prophet that since he was a minor, being only ten years old at that time, he would want to ask permission from his father, Abu Talib.  The young Ali went back to his father house for that purpose, but half way through, he made a U-Turn. 

“I did not ask the permission from Abu Talib to be born,” Ali thought, “why should I ask his permission in order to believe in the True God.”

He went back to Muhammad’s house and declared his faith.

Lest one thought that Ali ever had any reservation about accepting the new faith, this is definitely not the case.  He was a minor, and under the responsibility of his father.  It was only proper that he asked his father’s permission.  But the intelligent and wise young boy quickly realized that the True God has more right than his father in this matter.

These are the first four to become Muslims.  Khadija is credited with being the first woman to become Muslim; Abu Bakar the first free man; Zayd the first freed slave; and Ali the first boy.  Other than these four, it should be mentioned that the Prophet’s four daughters, Zaynab, Ruqayyah, Ummi Kalthom, and Fatima, are among the earliest to follow the faith brought by their father.

Abu Bakar proved to be a good “investment.”  In no time he brought five more in the fold of Islam.  They are Uthman bin Affan, Zubayr bin Awwam, Abdul Rahman bin Auf, Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas and Talha bin Ubaydullah.

After that, many more came to the fold of Islam, including Abu Ubaydah bin al Jarrah, Saeed bin Zayd, Jaafar bin Abu Talib, Bilal bin Rabah, Ammar bin Yassir, and many others.  In a matter of months, it is said that about forty men and women had accepted the new faith.  They belonged to all strata in the society, from the high standing nobleman in the society such as Abu Bakar and Uthman, to the slaves like Bilal and Ammar. 

End of Part One

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Muhammad The Intelligent Prophet: The Apprehension of His Mission

When the Archangel Gabriel (Jibril) visited Muhammad the first time in the Cave of Hira, he did not know what had happened.  Awfully confused and terrified, he rushed back to his house.  Shaken, he asked his wife to wrap a blanket over him.  His facial expression was like someone who had just seen a ghost, a terrible ghost we may add. 
After he managed to compose himself, he said: “What is wrong with me.”

His loving wife asked him to relate what had happened.  When he had finished relating the "terrifying" experience, he said: “I fear that something may happen to me.”

His wife Khadija did not know any better what had struck his beloved husband.  But as someone who knew her husband inside out, she remained composed and said:  “Never! But have the glad tidings, for by Allah, Allah will never disgrace you as you keep good reactions with your Kith and kin, speak the truth, help the poor and the destitute, serve your guest generously and assist the deserving, calamity-afflicted ones.”

To find out what had happened, she brought her husband to see her cousin, Waraqa bin Nawfal.  We have related the story of Waraqa in our series, The Story of Four Hunafa

After listening to the story, Waraqa said, "This is the same Namus (i.e., Gabriel) whom Allah had sent to Moses. I wish I were young and could live up to the time when your people would turn you out."

Surprised at the answer, Muhammad asked, "Will they turn me out?"

Waraqa replied in the affirmative and said: "Never did a man come with something similar to what you have brought but was treated with hostility. If I should remain alive till the day when you will be turned out then I would support you strongly."

The story as we narrate above, taken from Sahih Bukhari Volume 9, Book 87, Number 111, continues:

But after a few days Waraqa died and the Divine Inspiration was also paused for a while and the Prophet became so sad as we have heard that he intended several times to throw himself from the tops of high mountains and every time he went up the top of a mountain in order to throw himself down, Gabriel would appear before him and say, "O Muhammad! You are indeed Allah's Apostle in truth" whereupon his heart would become quiet and he would calm down and would return home. 

Along the same domain, the famous Tabari narrated that, at the beginning of revelation, Muhammad the Prophet used to say:

"I have never abhorred anyone more than a poet or a mad man. I cannot stand looking at either of them. I will never tell anyone of Quraish of my Revelation. I will climb a mountain and throw myself down and die. That will relieve me. I went to do that but halfway up the mountain, I heard a voice from the sky saying ‘O Muhammad! You are the Messenger of Allah and I am Gabriel.’ I looked upwards and saw Gabriel in the form of a man putting his legs on the horizon. He said: ‘O Muhammad You are the Messenger of Allah and I am Gabriel.’ I stopped and looked at him. His sight distracted my attention from what I had intended to do. I stood in my place transfixed. I tried to shift my eyes away from him. He was in every direction I looked at. I stopped in my place without any movement until Khadijah sent someone to look for me. 

The enemies of Islam, especially among the Christians, have a field day over this story.  They posited that Muhammad had attempted suicide and therefore not fit to be a prophet.  To them, Muhammad was therefore no more than an impostor as foretold by Jesus.

Now, if you like to waste your time,  you may want to read what they write online, such as this one.

I personally don’t find it necessary to entertain the nonsense from the enemies of Islam.  But if you like, here is what one of our Muslim brothers responded to these nonsense.

The site given at the end of quotation attributed to Tabari is also useful for those who are interested in the issue.

Since the purpose of this series is to highlight some of the examples concerning the Prophet’s mandatory attributes, especially on his intelligence, as I have done in the previous two entries, it is from this angle that I would like to proceed.

As we know, Muhammad is known as al Ummi.  By that, it means that he is unlettered.  He is not illiterate as some people put it.  Unlettered simply means he cannot read and write, which is common to the Arabs during his time.  Illiterate, however, carries with it the connotation of being ignorant and uncultured.

Far from being ignorant and uncultured, Muhammad the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, is intelligent, wise, enlighten and highly cultured.  Even the enemies of Islam, or at least most of them, would vouch for that.  We need not say any further on this score.

As an intelligent, wise and enlighten individual, Muhammad comprehended the meaning of what had befallen on him in no time.  He was no doubt terrified and confused the first time the Archangel Gabriel came to him, but after the meeting with Waraqa, and upon contemplating the meaning of the event, understanding quickly dawn upon him.  With that understanding, came fear, especially since the second revelation did not come quickly.

Throughout his life thus far, he was known as al Amin, the Trustworthy.  People respected him highly.  No one talked ill of him.  But with the mission he was about to carry, people would fight him tooth and nail.  He would be accused as the trouble maker, the one who broke the ties among the community members.  He would be regarded as heretic, the one who tried to destroy what his community held dear.  He would be accused as a madman.

That prospect was not appealing for a man like him.  He did not like the kind of life his people were living, the idols they worshipped, the treatment of the elites upon the poor.  But Muhammad did not imagine himself to be the social reformer either.  Not until Archangel Gabriel came to him.  That realization gave him uneasy feeling, to put it very mildly. 

At the same time, after the first encounter with Gabriel, the revelation ceased to come, which compounded his uneasy feeling even further.  Waraqa had told him that he would be the much awaited Prophet, but the old cousin of Khadija died soon after.  He was beginning to believe what Waraqa had told him, but the second confirmation was not forthcoming.

The Archangel Gabriel had come to him, but other than asking him to recite a few verses, which says that Allah has created mankind from the blood clot, there was hardly anything else given to him.  Gabriel did not even tell him that he would be appointed as the Prophet.

What would his mission be?  How would he start it?  What shall he tell people?  What should he answer when they question him, or worse, accuse him of madness?  How should he react when they fight him tooth and nail?  These and many other troubling questions must have spun in his head.

As an intelligent, wise and enlighten man, he could see the trouble ahead.  How would he carry the monumental task if no guidance comes forth?

It was for this reason that he kept going to the same mountain, looking for confirmation.  He needed to feel reassured.  If ever he thought of throwing himself down the cliff, that would have been no more than a fleeting thought.  In a fleeting moment or two, he might have thought that such would be an easy way out.  By doing that, he would be rid of the great trouble laying ahead.

But a fleeting thought is not an indication of his weaknesses.  After all, like other human beings, Muhammad too is human, who will cry when overtaken by sadness, or angry when insulted, or feel the pain when beaten.

But to suggest that he went to the mountain to really commit suicide is above him.  He is too honorable and too pure to do such a thing. 

If truly Allah has selected him to be the Prophet with the mission that he did not seem to fancy in the first place, then he wanted to be at least assured of that.  He has yet to know the detail of his mission, or how he should go about it, but he could see that it is going to be monumental.   Waraqa had told him, but he needed an assurance from the Archangel Gabriel himself.

Comprehending the enormity of his mission, Muhammad went looking for the guidance at the place where the first revelation came to him.

It is from this angle that the story of his first revelation, and the subsequent events occurred to him, has to be understood. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Muhammad The Intelligent Prophet: Four Mandatory Attributes

In the Introduction, we have mentioned that Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him, has many virtues, but four of them are singled out as mandatory.  These are siddiq (truthful), amanah (trustworthy), tabligh (deliver) and fathonah (intelligent).

These attributes, however, apply to all prophets and not just to Muhammad, for no prophet can be a liar, untrustworthy, hiding the message, or stupid. 

As for the first three attributes, it is folly to put a degree to these, saying for example that one prophet is more truthful than the other.  Truthfulness is not a matter that has hue and color.  One is either truthful, or is not. 

Likewise with trustworthiness and conveyance of the message.  One is either trustworthy, or is not; just like one either conveys the message, or does not.  But these two have their hues and colors.  One can be trusted on one thing and not another, and one can convey the message less fully or less intelligently than others.  In the case of the prophets, however, all of them are fully trustworthy, and all delivered the message as they are supposed to.

Intelligence, however, is a matter of degree.  Not all intelligent people are equally intelligent.  To borrow the lingo of George Orwell, we may say that all prophets are intelligent, but some prophets are more intelligent than others.

I would say that Prophet Muhammad has carried out his mission more intelligently as compared to all prophets before him, which lead to his resounding success not achieved by any other prophets.

This statement is perhaps a little heretical, for prophets cannot be compared that way.  After all, Muhammad, upon him be peace, is the Seal of the Prophets.  His success was ordained.  He cannot fail in his mission, or succeed only nominally, like some other prophets.  For, if Muhammad had failed to achieve what he has been destined to achieve, then the light of prophethood would fade, on account of he being the last Prophet.

That said, it is also true that if we do not venture to think less conventionally, then we would miss some of the findings that can only be found through that unconventional path.  After all, how can we find if we do not seek, as the popular Biblical saying goes.

Now, that Muhammad is truthful and trustworthy is well known.  Only the disbelievers or the orientalists would deny it.  He is even called al-Amin (the truthful and trustworthy) even before he assumes the office of prophethood. 

Muhammad the Prophet is not known to tell lies.  Even his archenemy, Abu Jahal, confirms this simple fact when the latter said:  “It is not that I accuse you of lying, but I have no faith in the religion that you bring.”

As for his trustworthiness, he is not known to break promises or to renegade agreements.  Even his enemies would feel at ease entering into an agreement with him, because they trust that Muhammad would fulfill his part of the bargain.  If they ask him to keep a secret, they know that their secrets are safe with Muhammad. 

The story of his migration to Madinah tells this fact amply.   All leading companions had migrated before the Prophet, except for Abu Bakar and Ali.  As for Abu Bakar, the Prophet wanted him to be his traveling companion.  As for Ali, he was tasked with two important duties. 

The first was to sleep in the Prophet’s bed the night the Prophet planned to leave, which happened to be the same night his enemies attempted to assassinate him.  Ali’s second duty was to return all the precious materials belonging to the Prophet’s enemies which were trusted under his care.  You see, even his enemies trusted him more with their belongings than the people of their kinds.

As for his conveyance of the message, delivering Islam to mankind, this too is amply narrated.  It goes without saying that if Muhammad does not deliver, there will be no Islam in this world.  It is a fact that Muhammad the Prophet does not only deliver, but deliver truthfully, intelligently, and in the manner exactly as it should be delivered, although at times, some of what he has to deliver are the direct hit on him.  There are many examples on this, but the often quoted one is Surah Abasa (Chapter 80).  

In this surah, Allah is chiding the Prophet for frowning and turning his face from the blind man who came to ask some questions while he was busy debating the leaders of Makkah, trying to persuade them to accept Islam.  When the blind man asked him question, the Prophet ignored him.  When he asked again, the Prophet frowned and turned his face away, because the blind man was disturbing him from doing his job. 

The blind man did not realize it, because he was blind, but Allah did not consider the Prophet’s behaviour to be proper.  “As for he who thinks himself without need, to him you give attention,” Allah rebuked. “But as for he who came to you striving [for knowledge],” Allah added, “from him you are distracted.”  

This surah and many others are hitting the Prophet directly.  If he were to be less honourable, he could have “polished” these verses a little.  But no, the Prophet delivers what he is supposed to deliver exactly as it should, although he is the object of those criticisms.

To recap, the stories and narrations about his truthfulness, trustworthiness, and the fact that he always conveys the message exactly as he should, are amply illustrated.  All we need to do is to read the books, search the net, or listen to lectures.

His intelligent ways in approaching his mission, handling his supporters, treating his enemies, strategizing the wars, organizing expeditions, disseminating messages, solving problems, making decisions, organizing mass movement, managing complaints and grievances, responding to accusations or difficult questions, untying knotty dilemmas, etc., however, are less highlighted.

No doubt the examples for these are plentiful, but they are rarely highlighted from the angle of his intelligence.  As we have said in our earlier piece, Muhammad is always depicted as a virtuous man, but he is rarely depicted as someone who deals intelligently with everything that comes to him.

The much touted example in this regard is his brilliant solution during the rebuilding of Kaabah, which occurs about five years before he assumes the Office of Prophethood. 

As history tells us, Kaabah was badly damaged after a flood and the Quraysh decided to rebuild it.  The rebuilding required some demolition, and when Kaabah was demolished, they had to take out the much revered Black Stone (Hajar Aswad).  When the time came for putting back the Black Stone to its place, the Quraysh argued and fought among themselves.  Each clan started to invoke their superiority and wanted the honor of putting the Black Stone for their clan.  War almost broke out until a more sensible one among them suggested the matter to be decided by the first person entering the mosque the next morning.

It so happened that Muhammad was the first person to enter.  When the leaders of Quraysh saw Muhammad, who was not yet a prophet at that time, they exclaimed: “Here comes al-Amin.  We accept.”  Meaning, they will abide with whatever decision Muhammad would make.

They told him of their argument and asked him to decide the matter for them.  Right away the Prophet asked for the garment.  He spread it on the ground, put the Black Stone on it, and asked the head of each clan to carry the stone to the place where it belonged.  Finally, he put the Black Stone at the right place himself. Everyone was satisfied with his brilliant solution.  He not only preserved the honor of every clan, but also managed to avert the probable war among the clans of Quraysh. 

What he had shown is pure brilliant, a thorough understanding of the situation, comprehending its complexity.  And he had shown his intelligence in providing the solution satisfactory to all parties.  But other than this story, rarely are other stories narrated in light of his intelligence, or his intelligent ways in approaching or handling them.

In the subsequent installments, we shall narrate some stories alluding to this fact, insyaAllah.

Stay tune.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Muhammad The Intelligent Prophet: Introduction

The virtues of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him, are too numerous to mention.  Many chapters are required to enumerate them.  If we were to illustrate these with examples, then many volumes of books would be needed. 
The Quran testifies that he is of the exalted standard of moral conduct (68:4), and in him is excellent pattern to be followed by everyone (33:21).  Many more verses allude to this matter, but by taking the above two verses, and couple them with our knowledge about the kind of person he is, we have in our Prophet the example by which if we follow, we would not only be on the right path, but would also excel in everything we do. 
Combining these two verses together, we know that he not only does the right thing (as verse 68:4 suggests), but also does it right (as verse 33:21 suggests).  The modern management gurus talk about leadership and define a leader as someone who does the right thing, and they talk about management and define a manager as someone who does things right.  And they say people don’t often excel in both, but only in one. 

Muhammad, however, excels in both.  He not only provides leadership, but the management as well.  Even for a supposedly small matter, he does it well.

For instance, when he talks to others, he gives them full attention and in the manner most suited to their needs, aspiration or predisposition.  Thus, the noble would feel respected; the poor would feel cared; the youth would feel loved; the sick would feel consoled; and the needy would feel fulfilled.  Even the enemy would feel that he is being treated fairly and truthfully.

So good is his dealing with others that these people would feel that they are important to the Prophet, as if they are being singled out and given preferential treatment by their leader.  The story narrated by Amru bin al-Aas illustrates this point very aptly.

Now, for those less familiar with Amru al-Aas, a little background on him would probably come handy.   Amru is noted for being intelligent and cunning.  He is a competent leader and likes to be in the leadership position.  He is considered as one of the leading companions, but he is not among the early converts.  In fact, he is among the Prophet’s staunch enemies for the most part of the Prophet’s career.

During the period of Ignorance (jahiliyyah), he is famous for his failed attempt to extradite the fugitives who fled Makkah, seeking political asylum in Ethiopia.  During the Battle of Uhud, he was commanding the Quraysh contingent, along with Khalid al-Walid, fighting against the Muslim army, of which the Quraysh won.

He becomes Muslim only after the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, before the conquest of Makkah.  This takes place after the Prophet assumes his ministry for almost 20 years.  He converted the same time with Khalid al-Walid.  These two famous figures, along with the less famous one, Uthman bin Talhah, had gone to Madinah, and the trio declared their faith in, and allegiance to, Islam.

Not being among the early converts, we would think that the Prophet would have treated him less congenially.   Such, however, is not the case.  The Prophet knows the kind of person Amru is, and he treats him the way Amru wants to be treated.

The Prophet knows that Amru is a competent leader and cherishes the opportunity to lead.  Thus, in one of the expeditions, known as Dhat as-Salasil, Amru was appointed as the leader, although in that expedition, there are more senior companions including Abu Bakar, Umar and Abu Ubaydah bin Jarrah.  As the leader of the expedition, Amru was to lead the prayers as well, though he was only recently acquainted with Islam.

As Amru himself narrated, the Prophet used to pay attention even to the worst man in the community with a view to win his heart.

"Towards me also," said Amru, "he used to pay much attention, addressing me more than he did others, wherefore I began to think that I was the best man in the community.”

So, under this impression, one day Amru asked the Prophet: "Am I superior or Umar?"

“Umar,” the Prophet answered simply. 

Feeling that the answer couldn’t be right, Amru asked again for confirmation.   Again the Prophet gave similar answer.  Later on, Amru thought that he should not have asked the Prophet such things.

In this short narration from Amru, at least two things come to the fore.   In his dealing with others, the Prophet would go extra mile making them feel that they are being treated in the manner that they are being favored or most loved by the Prophet.  Yet, at the same time, the Prophet would not shield from the truth and would state the matter as it is, without fear or favor.  In the process, he brings the best out of people without being hypocritical.

As we know, the companions of the Prophet are people of mixed pedigree.  Some are rich, others are poor.  Some like to be in the limelight, others prefer to stay in the background.  Some are noted for piety, others are noted for leadership.  Some are very intelligent, others are less endowed with cognitive capacity.  All of them, however, are people of virtue.  And all of them feel that they are being treated in the best manner possible by their leader.

Amru belongs to the group of the more intelligent companions.  In fact, he is considered as the most wily and most cunning of them all.  A person like Amru should have known better that being among the late comers, he would not be regarded as superior to the early comers, especially to a person of Umar’s stature. 

While Umar is not exactly among the earliest followers of Muhammad, since he becomes Muslim only by the fifth or the sixth year of Muhammad’s prophethood, Umar superiority among the companions are well known.  Yet, because the Prophet treats him so well and in the manner most congenial to his predisposition, Amru felt that he is being favored by the Prophet. 

One may raise the question that, by treating his companions like that, the Prophet gives false impression as to their worth.  There is perhaps some superficiality in the way Muhammad carries himself, or the way he deals with others. 

But nothing is further from the truth.  As the story narrated by Amru suggests, if there is any hint of superficiality in the Prophet, he would have given the answer in the affirmative.  He could have said: “Yes, of course.  But don’t tell Umar.  I don’t want to break his heart.”   Amru would have reveled in that knowledge, and would have gladly kept the matter to himself.

But no, the Prophet simply cannot tell the falsehood, even though that might have been quite harmless, and would have made Amru feels better.

In this short story, two of the four mandatory attributes of the Prophet come to the fore, namely intelligence and truthfulness.  As an intelligent person, the Prophet knows how to get the best out of his companions.  As for his truthfulness, this is well known.

As mentioned in the beginning of this entry, the Prophets have many virtues.  But of these many virtues, four are singled out as the mandatory attributes of the Prophet.  They are: (1) truthful (siddiq), (2) trustworthy (amanah), (3) deliver (tabligh) and (4) intelligent (fathonah).

The first three of these attributes are well known.  Our religious teachers and scholars always allude to these when they talk about Muhammad the Prophet and his teachings.  The last attribute, namely intelligence, however, is touched less frequently.  Our religious teachers always depict Muhammad as a virtuous man, but they do not often portray him as an intelligent person.

In our subsequent installments, we shall try to analyze the Prophet from the angle of these four mandatory attributes, with a particular focus on intelligence.

Stay tune.