Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Takbir of Eid: Between Cultural Norm, Bida’ah and Lesson Lost

One of the MUST DO for the Muslims during the Eid  (Festival) is to pronounce Takbir loudly. 

Takbir is the glorification of God, reciting the words “Allahu Akbar,” meaning “Allah is Greatest,” loudly.  During the Eid, either al Fitri (after fasting month) or al Adha (during Pilgrimage), the Takbir takes the longer version, with many verses added to this basic Allahu Akbar.

When the Prophet and his companions went to war, they shouted the basic Takbir before the battle started.  The way they shouted it was sanguine, drowning the battlefield with energy and force.

The way the elongated Takbir is recited in Malaysia and the rest of the world during the Eid, however, has a melancholic effect. It can shed tears especially to those who do not, or cannot, celebrate the Eid with their loved ones. 

I find this particularly curious and fascinating.  What makes it fascinating is that some of the wordings of the Takbir are supposed to be choleric or at least sanguine. 

For instance, some of the verses recited are:
There is no deity other than Allah, who has fulfilled His promise, given victory to His servant, and dignity to His soldiers, and Who has defeated the confederates single handed.

This particular Takbir was proclaimed loudly for the first time after the Battle of Ahzab (Battle of Confederates), which took place in 5 AH.   It was also recited loudly by the Prophet and his companions when they entered Makkah for their first Umrah (Little Pilgrimage) in 7 AH, and during the conquest of Makkah in 8 AH.

In the above three occasions, this Takbir was to glorify Allah who had made good of His promise to help the Muslims in their struggle against the disbelievers.  Since it signifies victory and therefore “good times,” these verses are also recited when the Muslims are celebrating joyous moments, such as the Eid al Fitri and Eid al Adha.

But why it has changed from a sanguine to a melancholic mood is probably due to the differences in the occasions.  The first is to celebrate victory at the brink of annihilation, and the second is to celebrate the reunion as well as saying good bye to the Ramadan.

In the first occasion, it was the cry of joy after the whole Islamic community were saved from the brink of annihilation.   This was the aftermath of the Battle of Ahzab.

The Battle of Ahzab was the third major war engaged by the Muslims with their archenemies, the Quraysh.  The first was the Battle of Badr, of which the Muslims were victorious.  The second was the Battle of Uhud, where the Quraysh took revenge for their loss in Badr.

The Battle of Ahzab (or Battle of Confederacy) was so called because the Quraysh had formed an alliance with the Arab and Jewish tribes for the sole purpose of annihilating the Muslims, once and for all.  This took place in 5 AH.  By then, the Muslims were already too powerful for the Quraysh to eliminate them, all by themselves.  The Quraysh therefore needed the support from their allies who were also the enemies of Islam.  Forming the alliance among the Arabs and the Jews, the Quraysh had raised 10,000 strong armies to crush the Islamic community in Madinah.

Knowing the intent of the enemies, and their sheer size which had not been seen in Arabia, the Prophet and his companions quickly formed a defensive strategy which had not been heard of by the Arabs.  They dug a ditch as a defence.  Thus the war is also known as the Battle of the Ditch (Khandaq).  The suggestion, of course, was not made by the Arabs, because this strategy was unfamiliar to them.  It was made by Salman the Persian, one of the companions.

The ditch can protect the Muslims in Madinah from the enemies on the outside, but their situation was not safe.  They had enemies from within, the Jewish tribe of Quraithah.  The Muslims and this Jewish tribe had a peace agreement between them, but soon the Quraithah were persuaded by their Jewish allies residing in Khaybar to betray the agreement. 

The plan was for the Quraithah to attack from within the city of Madinah.  The Muslims, thus busy with the enemies from within, would not be able to defend their ditch and the enemies from the outside would cross over to finish them off.  To top it all, there were hypocrites among the Muslims, who were interested to see the Muslims perished.  The situation was life threatening, to put it mildly. 

The Prophet was confident that his companions would be able to stave off the alliance forces outside of Madinah, because the ditch was too deep and too wide for them to cross safely.  Whenever the alliance forces tried to cross it, they would be showered with arrows, which forced them to retreat.  But if the Jews of Quraithah were to attack them from behind, their defence would be split, and the alliance forces would be able to take this advantage by crossing the ditch in large numbers. 

Knowing that they could not afford the betrayal from the Quraithah tribe, the Prophet sent four of his companions led by Sa’ad bin Mu’ath, calling on them to maintain their peaceful relations and to confirm their alliance with the Prophet.  The Quraithah abused them instead. 

The situation was deeply distressing.  The Muslims were in dire straits.  Food was beginning to run out.  They were approaching starvation.  There were large forces beyond the ditch, always trying to cross over.   Within the city, the Jews were getting ready for the imminent attack.  The Muslims were running back and forth, trying to protect themselves.  When they stationed themselves at the ditch, they feared the Jews would attack from behind.  Thus they went to the Jewish fortress for the rear defence.  Over there, their minds were not at peace either, fearing that the defence at the ditch was too thin to counter the alliance forces, forever trying to cross over.

In this distressing state, many of them had already entertained the thought that the end of Islam is near.  Some began to wonder whether Allah’s support is for real.  A few started to doubt Allah’s promise that He would make them victorious.  They feared worse than the fear of death itself.  It was at this moment that the help of Allah came.

The first help came in the form of a man.  A certain man, whose name is Nu’aim bin Massoud, hailed from the tribe of Ghatafan, the main ally of the Quraysh.  Nu’aim had secretly become Muslim, but neither his tribe, nor his Jewish allies among the Quraithah, knew it.  He quietly came to the Prophet and offered his help. 

Receiving him as God’s send, the Prophet praised Allah and asked Nu’aim to devise some kind of trick, for war is a deception.   Nu’aim knew both the leaders of Quraithah and the leaders of the Alliance well.  Together, they plotted the strategy to break the trust between the Jews and the Alliance (the seerah seems to suggest that Nu’aim’s rue was entirely his own, but it is possible that the Prophet was also involved in the planning).

Having formulated the strategy,   Nu’aim first went to the chiefs of Quraithah.  They received him well, for he was their good friend.  Nu’aim said that they are in a worse state.  The allied forces are in a better situation.  They come to annihilate the Muslims, no doubt, but if they fail in their mission, they can always go back to their lands.  But the Quraithah could not afford such an eventuality, because if the allied forces go back, the Muslims would surely slaughter them en masse.  Hence, if they were to help the allied forces, the latter must show their commitment.

“What would you suggest?” They asked.

“Take some of their leaders as hostages.  That way you would be absolutely certain that they will fight with you until Muhammad is defeated."

The Quraithah took the bait, for they saw the logic behind Nu’aim’s argument.  Having succeeded in putting some doubt in the minds of the Jews, Nu’aim went to the allied forces.

He told them that he has some information which might be useful, but asked them to sworn to secrecy if he were to deliver that information.  They agreed.  He told the leaders of the Alliance that the Jews had regretted their decision to betray Muhammad and the Muslims.  The Jews, Nu’aim said, had sent their delegates to Muhammad, and asked whether Muhammad would be satisfied if the Jews were to deliver a few of the nobility among the Alliance, so that Muhammad can have them killed.   Muhammad agreed that such a gesture would be sufficient for the Jews to atone their betrayal.

“If the Jews ask you to send them some of your people to stay with them as a guarantee that you will not abandon them, do not send them a single person.”  Nu’aim said.

There was no way to ascertain the truth of what Nu’aim said, except to put it to test.  So, the leaders of the Alliance sent a few delegates to the Jewish tribe of Quraithah, asking them to initiate the attack on the Muslims, so that the Alliance could cross over and finish the Muslims off.

This request happened to be made on Saturday, the Sabbath day for the Jews.  The tribe of Quraithah was not about to break their Sabbath, so they told the Alliance’s delegates that the request could not have come at the worst time.

“That aside,” said the leader of the Jews, “we want you to leave some of your leaders as our hostages to signify that you are serious about eliminating the Muslims.”

Remembering what Nu’aim had told them, the delegates of the allied forces refused.  The Quraithah’s mere request suggested that Nu’aim had been telling the truth.  The Alliance’s refusal to fulfil the request, in turn, made the Jews believed that Nu’aim likewise had been right all along.  To the Jews, the allied forces were not all that determined to annihilate Muhammad and his companions.

With a deft of trickery through the work of Nu’aim, who had come out of nowhere, other than being sent by Allah, the impending disaster was averted.  The Jews were reluctant to make the move, and the allied forces could not penetrate the defence put by the Muslims.  Their mutual trust had been broken. 

As for Nu’aim, throughout this process, he did not go to the Muslims camp again, for that would arouse suspicion.  He joined the Prophet only after the war was over.

With no impending threat from the Jews, the Muslims were safe.  There were only skirmishes here and there.  No all out battle could be fought because the Alliance could not breach the defence put by the Muslims.

Soon after came the second help.  This time, it was the desert storm, which wrecked havoc the enemies’ tents.  Cold and running short of food supply, for the allied forces thought that the war would be a brief one, they abandoned the mission and went home.  Had they stayed a while longer, however, the Muslims would have met a different kind of disaster, for they too had run out of food supply and could die of starvation.

It was to celebrate this victory that they shouted these verses: “There is no deity other than Allah, who has fulfilled His promise, given victory to His servant, and dignity to His soldiers, and Who has defeated the confederates single handed.  No one was before Him, and no one remains after Him.”

These verses have become part of the standard text in the Takbir recited loudly and in unison during the Eid celebration.

We can imagine, however, that when the Prophet and his companions recited these verses for the first time, the mood was choleric or at least sanguine, not melancholic as it is recited nowadays.

That it is being recited in a melancholic tone is probably due to the different setting.  The Eid celebration is a joyous occasion, but it is not exactly a choleric or sanguine moment.  Ramadan is leaving.  There is a tinge of sadness in that, for the Muslims have to wait for another eleven months before Ramadan is to come again.  Or perhaps it is recited that way because it is more melodious. 

The Eid celebration is also an occasion for family reunion, where the family members all over the place will come back to their parents to celebrate together.  While the Takbir itself is not overly melancholic, the sound of it can shed tears to those who cannot make the journey back home, due to duty or other reasons.   Or to those who have recently lost the loved ones.  Or to those who have to go back to their in-laws, instead of their own parents (in Malaysia at least, this is often a thorny issue).

Since those lines were first recited after the Battle of Ahzab, which took place in 5 AH, while the first Eid al Fitri was celebrated in 2 AH, I suspected that the Prophet and his companions did not recite those lines during the Eid celebration of their times.  Out of curiosity, I browsed in the net, searching for the origin of the insertion of those lines in the Takbir recitation.

I couldn’t find what I was looking for.  But what I found was somewhat surprising.  It seems that Takbir in unison, as is the practice all over the world, has been banned in Saudi Arabia by their previous Grand Mufti, Ibn Baz.  The ground for the ban, as expected, is because it is a bida’ah (innovation).  The Takbir itself is not an innovation, but to recite it in unison, following an imam or someone leading the Takbir, is.

Quoting what they said authentic hadith, the Sunnah is to recite Takbir individually, while going to the mosque or place for prayer.  Once reaching the mosque, there appears to be a dispute whether Takbir should be continued or stopped, although the ruling is that it may be continued, but not in unison.  Given that the Prophet’s apartment is just a few steps away from the mosque, it is safe to assume that the Takbir is continued.

Furthermore, the Takbir as done during the Prophet and his companions appears to be quite short.  The lengthy part, recited only by the imam or the one leading the Takbir, appears to be a later insertion. 

I am amused by the fact that the cultural norm of reciting Takbir in unison should be an issue at all.  I would have thought that it might be a good idea to explain the origin, meaning and significance of the wordings of the Takbir. 

Perhaps, when we are drowned in the melancholic rhythm of the Takbir, the lesson is lost, and the bida’ah surfaces.

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