Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Hijri Calendar: Practicality Over Dogmatism (2/2)

In Part 1, we have argued that the Character of early Muslims is encapsulated by actions, not by idle talks.  Practicality takes precedent over dogmatism. 

Before we illustrate this idea in the light of Hijrah, some definitions would be handy at this stage.

Dogma, defined as a set of principles, did play a big role in the lives of early Muslims.  But dogmatism, defined as rigid adherence to “one correct view,” did not.  The Prophet and his Companions embraced practicality, but not pragmatism as encapsulates in the Machiavellian’s famous dictum: “the end justifies the means.” 

The decision to go with the event of Hijrah, to mark the beginning of Islamic Era, was driven by the spirit of concrete action over intellectual speculation, and of practicality over dogmatism.  It was the same spirit that drew them out of the desert to become the conquerors of the world.  In short, it was Hijrah, not any other events, that captures the essence of this very spirit.   

Thus, when Muhammad the Prophet, upon him be peace, met the dead end with the leaders of Quraysh, having no hope that they would listen to him, he went looking for other alternative to establish his “base.” 

Now, we know that Muhammad did not choose to be the Prophet, and was in fact bewildered when the first Revelation hit him, but he knew what his job entails.  Being the last Prophet, he had no choice but to succeed.  He does not have the luxury of waiting for 300 years before his mission is to be the force to be reckoned with, as Christianity was.  He would have died before that, and many things can happen within three centuries, as attested by the history of Christianity.

When his tribe, Bani Hashim, was boycotted because the tribe members protected him—though the majority of them were not yet Muslims at that time—it gave clear signal that any wish of making Islam supreme in Makkah, or of establishing Islamic way of life there, was effectively closed.  This took place around the seventh year of his Prophethood.  Muhammad therefore had no choice but to search for other “base.” 

The majority of his companions were already migrated to Ethiopia, but that faraway land only accorded protection to his followers as refugees.  Christianity was deeply ingrained there.  The Muslims who lived in Ethiopia can escape persecution from their own people in Makkah, but they could not grow as a sovereign nation. 

Thus, after the boycott was lifted, the Prophet went to Taif, hoping that the people of Thaqif (the tribe living in Taif) would accept his calling.   But the Thaqif treated him worse that the Quraysh did.  Not only that their elders insulted him, but to add salt to the wound, they asked their children to throw stones at the Prophet.  This story is well known. 

Dejected, but never a quitter, the Prophet went searching for other fertile grounds.  Every Hajj season, he approached every tribe he could meet to call them to Islam, and to look for the possibility of establishing his base with them.  In most cases, however, he didn’t have much opportunity to have meaningful discussions with them, because these tribes had been forewarned about a “madman” who can work magic on people’s mind.  They were told to be careful and not to listen to him.  His own uncle, Abu Lahab, made it his business to follow the Prophet every time the latter went to meet these tribes, and told them not to listen to his “deranged” nephew.

All his efforts had been fruitless until he met a group of people from the town of Yathrib (later renamed Madinah when the Prophet migrated there).   Thrice he met the people from this town, each with different group.  The first and the second meetings were not quite successful, but the third meeting, which was unplanned and took place at al Aqabah during the Hajj season, bore fruit. 

In that meeting, the Prophet bounced into six men and asked: “Who are you?”

“We are members of the Khazraj,” they replied.

Knowing a little bit about the people in Yathrib, the Prophet asked: “You are from the allies of the Jews?”

“Yes,” they replied.

Sensing the opportunity, the Prophet said: “Will you not sit down so that I can speak with you.”   They agreed.

From that unplanned meeting, the Prophet found a fertile ground with these people.  Sensing that these men were familiar with his message, on account that they were neighbours to the Jews, he seized the opportunity to present Islam to them.   

It so happened that the Arabs in Yathrib were divided into two main factions: the Tribe of Aus and the Tribe of Khazraj.  One cannot accept the leadership of the other, and always at the loggerhead with one another.  It also happened that there were three Jewish tribes in Yathrib, whose role, among others, was to perpetuate the enmity between the Aus and the Khazraj.  When the Aus clashed with the Khazraj, their Jewish allies would side with one against the other.  In fact, during the chanced meeting between the Prophet and these six men from Yathrib, the Aus and the Khazraj were still nursing the aftermath of the bloody clash known as Bu’aath war. 

Occasionally, the Jews too clashed with the Arabs.   In fact, for years the Jews in Yathrib had been threatening the Arabs, saying that a Prophet in Arabia was about to appear and that, when he did appear, the Jews would follow him and would, with his help, destroy the Aus and Khazraj tribes.  Thus, after the Prophet presented Islam to them, they said to one another, “O people, by Allah, you know that he is indeed the Prophet that the Jews threatened you about, so do not let them beat you to him.”

It was from this chanced meeting that Islam experienced the reversal in fortune, for the better, that is.  All six became Muslims, and when they went back to their town, they invited others to Islam.  They had been successful.  Many joined the fold of Islam, including from the tribe of Aus.   About a year later, the Muslims from Yathrib came back to Makkah for Hajj season.  This time, they selected 12 men to be their representatives, to meet the Prophet and to take the pledge of obedience, also in al Aqabah.  In Seerah, this is known as the First Pledge of Aqabah.

It is known as the First Pledge of Aqabah, although it was the second meeting at the same place, because in the first meeting, there was no pledge (not to be confused with the first two meetings with the people of Yathrib which bore no fruit).  In the first meeting, the Prophet simply invited them to Islam and they accepted it.  In the second meeting, they officially appointed 12 men among their clan leaders to be the delegates, two of which were from the tribe of Aus. 

In this meeting, they requested the Prophet to send someone to teach them the details of Islam and to lead the Muslims in prayer.  The Prophet sent Mus’ab bin Umayr, a companion who had memorized most of the Quran which was revealed at that point.  Other than teaching Islam and Quran, and leading the Muslims there in prayer, as well as inviting others to join Islam, Mus’ab was to be the eyes and the ears for the Prophet, with respect to the possibility of establishing the Islamic base in Yathrib.

They came back again next year, also during the Hajj season.  This time, they selected 72 delegates to take the Second Pledge, two of them were women.  They also invited the Prophet to officially join them as their leader, as well as welcome other Muslims to their town. 

Traditions tell us that the Prophet’s uncle, Abbas, who was not yet a Muslim at the time, had accompanied the Prophet in the Second Pledge.  Communications had been made prior to this meeting, and Mus’ab had relayed their desire to invite the Prophet to their town, as their supreme leader.  And the Prophet had been looking forward to the idea, believing that the Muslims can start a new era in Yathrib.   After all, that was what he had been searching all along.

Now, Abbas did not accompany his nephew the Prophet for the safety of the latter during the meeting, but for the safety of his nephew if indeed he joined them in their town.  He wanted to make sure that the Muslims in Yathrib understood what their invitation means.  He told them in no uncertain terms that, what his nephew brought, had caused the Arabs to turn against him.  By inviting him to their town, it means that they had declared war with other Arab tribes.  If they still insisted on having him within their midst, then they would have to protect him, against all hostile tribes, as they would their wives and children.  In short, they would have to die and sacrifice everything for him.

“If you are not willing to do all that,” Abbas concluded, “then let him stay with us.  At least we can protect him from harm.”

“But if we do all that,” one of their spokesmen said, “what do we get in return?”

“Paradise,” the Prophet answered.

One by one the 72 delegates gave their pledge of obedience and loyalty to the Prophet.  Wasting no time, the Prophet quickly sent the Muslims, in batches, to Yathrib, before he finally migrated there with his bosom companion, Abu Bakar.

The story of their migration and their sacrifice is well known.  The story of the Prophet’s migration, as well as the extreme precaution he took because the Quraysh were chasing him with their swords, is also well known.  We need not relate it here.

All that is left to say is that, with that migration, the New Era had begun.  The Muslims could, by then, chart their own destiny and live a life as a sovereignty nation.   There were, no doubt, problems from within and from without.  The Jews had been thorns in the flesh.  Abdullah bin Ubay, who was about to be crowned a king by the Khazraj before the migration took place, became very sore that the coronation never took place.  Unable to fight against the Prophet man to man, he led his loyal followers to embrace the religion outwardly, but remained enemies from within, causing many harms and dangers to the Islamic State.  

As for the threats from the outside, suffice to say that the Islamic community in Yathrib (by then known as Madinah) never lost their vigilant.  Conflicts, clashes and wars had always been their standard features.

But the Islamic State thrived, the Islamic community prospered, and the Islamic Way of Life was practiced fully.  Soon they became the equal to their archenemy, the Makkans, and not long afterward, the Masters of Arabia.

In spite of that “chanced meeting,” all this did not happen by chance, nor by clinging to dogmatism, but by careful planning and by being practical.  No doubt God’s Will was with them, but God would not make it happen if the Prophet and his companions did not work for it.  That “chanced meeting” only took place because the Prophet had been deliberately looking for the opportunity. 

Seizing the opportunity, he approached it slowly and patiently, but methodically.  He did not rush the people of Yathrib into the matter.  In the first meeting, he only presented the message of Islam to them, without putting any conditions to it.  He did not even ask them to adhere strictly to the idea of not associating any gods beside Allah, though this is the core of Islamic belief.  He also did not send any of his companions to teach them how to live as Muslims.  He simply wanted them to be comfortable with the idea of the “new religion,” without being dogmatic about it.

By the time the second meeting took place, the number of Muslims was growing in Yathrib, and they started to feel comfortable with the simple message of Islam.  So he took the pledge from them not to associate anything with Allah, and to avoid from indulging in some activities, considered repulsive in Islam, such as stealing, fornication, killing their children, and telling lies.  The “mild” content of this First Pledge of Aqabah led it to be known later as the “Pledge of Women.”  As they were beginning to feel comfortable with the idea and the simple message of Islam, the Prophet sent his learned companion to teach them the Islamic way of life. 

By the third meeting, they were ready, nay eager, to make him their supreme leader, and were willing to die for him, so he took the Second Pledge of Aqabah, which later to be known also as the “Pledge of War.”

In all these episodes, the Prophet was being practical, not dogmatic, in his approach.

This side of the story is never told in the official celebration of Ma’al Hijrah.  We celebrate the event of Hijrah, but its spirit is lost, except superficially, which is a pity.

The End.

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