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Quran Introduction Part II

Quran Introduction Part II

In the first year of his reign at Yathrib the Prophet made a solemn treaty with the Jewish tribes, which secured to them equal rights of citizenship and full religious liberty in return for their support of the new state. But their idea of a Prophet was one who would give them dominion not one who made the Jews who followed him as brothers of every Arab who might happen to believe as they did. When they found that they could not use the prophet for their own ends, they tried to shake his faith in his Mission and to seduce his followers; behaviour in which they were encouraged secretly by some professing Muslims who considered they had reason to resent the Prophet’s coming, since it robbed them of their local influence. In the Madinah surahs there is frequent mention of these Jews and hypocrites.


Till then the Qiblah ( the place toward which the Muslims turn their faces in prayer) had been Jerusalem. The Jews imagined that the choice implied a leaning toward Judaism and that the Prophet stood in need of their instruction. He received command to change the Qiblah from Jerusalem to the Ka’bah at Mecca. The whole first part of surah II relates to this Jewish controversy.


The Prophet’s first concern as a ruler was to establish public worship and lay down the constitution of the state; but he did not forget that Qureysh had sworn to make an end of his religion, nor that he had received command to fight against them till they ceased from prosecution. After he had been twelve months in Yathrib several small expeditions went out, led either by the Prophet himself or some other of the fugitives from Mecca, for the purpose of reconnoitring and of dissuading other tribes from siding with Qureysh. These are generally represented as warlike but, considering their weakness and the fact that they did not result in fighting, they can hardly have been that, though it is certain that they went out ready to resist attack. It is noteworthy that in those expeditions only fugitives from Mecca were employed, never natives of Yathrib; the reason being (if we accept Ibn Khaldun’s theory, and there is no other explanation) that the command to wage war has been revealed to the Prophet at Mecca after the Yathrib men had sworn their oath of allegiance at Al-Aqabah, and in their absence. Their oath foresaw fighting in mere defence, not fighting in the field. Blood was shed and booty taken in only one of those early expeditions, and then it was against the Prophet’s orders. One purpose of those expeditions may have been to accustom the Meccan Muslims to go out in warlike trim. For thirteen years they had been strict pacifists, and it is clear, from several passages of the Quran that many of them, including, it may be, the Prophet himself, hated the idea of fighting even in self defence and had to be inured to it.


In the second year of the Hijrah the Meccan merchant’s caravan was returning from Syria as usual by a road which passed not far from Yathrib. As its leader Abu Sufyan approached the territory of Yathrib he heard of the Prophet’s design to capture the caravan. At once he sent a camel rider on to Mecca, who arrived in a worn out state and shouted frantically from the valley to Qureysh to hasten to the rescue unless they wished to lose both wealth and honour. A force a thousand strong was soon on its way to Yathrib; less, it would seem, with the hope of saving the caravan than with the idea of punishing the raiders, since the Prophet might have taken the caravan before the relief force started from Mecca. Did the Prophet ever intend to raid the caravan? In Ibn Hsihim, in the account of the Tabuk expedition, it is stated that the Prophet on that one occasion did not hide his real objective as had been his custom in other campaigns. The caravan was the pretext in the campaign of Badr, the real objective was the Meccan army. He had received command to fight his persecutors, and promise of victory; he was prepared to venture against any odds, as was well seen at Badr. But the Muslims, disinclined and ill equipped for war, would have been despaired if they had known from the first that they were to face a well armed force three times their number.


The army of Qureysh had advanced more than half to Yathrib before the Prophet set out. All three parties – the army of Qureysh, the Muslim army and the caravan – were heading for the water of Badr. Abu Sufyan, the leader of the caravan, heard from one of his scouts that the Muslims were near the water, and turned back to the coast plain. And the Muslims met the army of Qureysh by the water of Badr. Before the battle the Prophet was prepared still further to increase the odds against him. He gave leave to all the Ansar (natives of Yathrib) to return to their homes unreproaced, since their oath did not include the duty of fighting in the field; but the Ansar were only hurt by the suggestion that they could possibly desert him in a time of danger. The battle went at first against the Muslims, but ended in a signal victory for them.


The victory of Badr gave the Prophet new prestige among the Arab tribes; but henceforth there was the feud of blood between Qureysh and the Islamic State in addition to the old religious hatred. Those passages of the Qur’an which refer to the battle of Badr give warning of much greater struggles yet to come.


In fact in the following year, an army of three thousand came from Mecca to destroy Yathrib. The Prophet’s first idea was merely to defend the city, a plan of which Abdullah ibn Ubeyy, the leaser of “Hypocrites” (or lukewarm Muslims), strongly approved. But the men who had fought at Badr and believed that god would help them against any odds thought it a shame that they should linger behind walls. The Prophet approving of their faith and zeal, gave way to them, and set out with an army of one thousand men towards Mt. Uhud, where the enemy were encamped. Abdullah ibn Ubeyy was much offended by the change of plan. He thought it unlikely that the Prophet really meant to give battle in conditions so adverse to Muslims, and was unwilling to take part in a mere demonstration designed to flatter the fanatical extremists. So he withdrew with his men, a fourth of the army.


Despite the heavy odds, the battle of Mt. Uhud would have been an even greater victory than that at Badr for the Muslims but for the disobedience of a band of fifty archers whom the Prophet set to guard a pass against the enemy cavalry. Seeing their comrades victorious, these men left their post, fearing to lose their share of the spoils. The cavalry of Qureysh rode through the gap and fell on the exultant Muslims. The Prophet himself was wounded and the cry arose that he was slain, till someone recognised him and shouted that he was still living to which the Muslims rallied. Gathering round the Prophet, they retreated, leaving many dead on the hillside.


On the following day the Prophet again sallied forth with what remained of the army, that Qureysh might hear that he was in the field and so might perhaps be deterred from attacking the city. The stratagem succeeded, thanks to the behaviour of a friendly Bedawi, who met the Muslims and conversed with them and afterwards met the army of Qureysh. Questioned by Abu Sufyan, he said that Muhammad was in the field, stronger than ever, and thirsting for revenge for yesterday’s affair. On that information, Abu Sufyan decided to return to Mecca.


The reverse which they had suffered on Mt. Uhud lowered the prestige of the Muslims with the Arab tribes and also with the Jews of Yathrib. Tribes which had inclined towards the Muslims now inclined towards Qureysh. The Prophet’s followers were attacked and murdered when they went abroad in little companies. Khubeyb, one of his envoys, were captured by a desert tribe and sold to Qureysh, who tortured him to death in Mecca publicly. And the Jews, despite their treaty, now hardly concealed their hostility. They even went so far in flattery of Quraysh as to declare the religion of the pagan Arabs superior to Al-Islam. The Prophet was obliged to take punitive action against some of them. The tribe of Bani Nadir were besieged in their strong towers, subdued and forced to emigrate. The Hypocrites had sympathised with the Jews and secretly egged them on.


In the fifth years of the Hijrah the idolaters made a great effort to destroy Al-Islam in the War of the Clans or War of the Trench, as it is variously called; when Qureysh with all their clans and the great desert tribe of Ghatafan with all their clans, an army of ten thousand men road against Al-Madinah (Yathrib). The Prophet (by the advice of Salman the Persian, it is said) caused a deep trench to be dug before the city, and himself led the work of digging it. The army of the clans was stopped by the trench, a novelty in Arab warfare. It seemed impassable for the cavalry, which formed their strength. They camped in sight of it and daily showered their arrows on its defenders. While the Muslims were awaiting the assault, news came that Bani Qureyzah, a Jewish tribe of Yahtrib, which had till then been loyal, had gone over to the enemy. The case seemed desperate. But the delay caused by the trench had damped the ardour of the clans, and one who was secretly a Muslim managed to sow distrust between Qureysh and their Jewish allies, so that both hesitated to act. Then came a bitter wind from the sea, which blew for three days and nights so terribly that not a tent could be kept standing, not a fire lighted, not a pot boiled. The tribesmen were in utter misery. At length, one night the leader of Qureysh decided that the torment could be borne no longer and gave the order to retire. When Ghatafan awoke the next morning they found Qureysh had gone and they took up their baggage and retreated.


On the day of the return from the trench the Prophet ordered war on the treacherous Bani Qureyzah, who, conscious of their guilt, had already taken to their towers of refuge. After a siege of nearly a month they had to surrender unconditionally. They only begged that they might be judged by a member of the Arab tribe of which they were adherents. The Prophet granted their request. But the judge, upon whose favour they had counted, condemned their men to death, and their women and children to slavery.


Early in the sixth year of the Hijrah the Prophet led a campaign against the Bani’l-Mustaliq, a tribe who were preparing to attack the Muslims. It was during the return from that campaign that Ayeshah, his young wife, was left behind and brought back to camp by a young soldier, an incident which gave rise to the scandal denounced in Surah XXIV. It was on this campaign also that Abdullah Ibn Ubbey, the “Hypocrite” chief said; “When we return to the city the mightier will soon expel the weaker” at sight of a quarrel between Muhajrin (immigrants form Mecca) and Ansar (natives of Yathrib.)


In the same year the Prophet had a vision in which he found himself entering the holy place at Mecca unopposed; therefore he determined to attempt the pilgrimage. Besides a number of Muslims from Yathrib (which we shall henceforth call Al-Madinah) he called upon the friendly Arabs, whose numbers had increased since the miraculous (as it was considered) discomfiture of the clans, to accompany him, but most of them did not respond. Attired as pilgrims, and taking with them the customary offerings, a company of fourteen hundred journeyed to Mecca. As they drew near the holy valley they were met by a friend from the city, who warned the Prophet that Qureysh had put on their leopard skins (the badge of valour) and had sworn to prevent, his entering the sanctuary; the cavalry was on the road before him. On that, the Prophet ordered a detour through mountain gorges and the Muslims were tired out when they came down at last into the valley of Mecca and encamped at a spot called Al-Hudeybiyah; from whence he tried to open negotiations with Qureysh, explaining that he came only as a pilgrim. The first messenger he sent towards the city was maltreated and his camel hamstrung. He returned without delivering his message. Qureysh on their side sent an envoy who was threatening in tone, and very arrogant. Another of their envoys was too familiar and had to be reminded sternly of the respect due to the Prophet. It was he who, on his return to the city, said; “I have seen Caeser and Chosroes in their pomp, but never have I seen a man honoured as Muhammad is honoured by his comrades.”


The Prophet sought some messenger who would impose respect. Uthman was finally chosen because of his kinship, with the powerful Umayyad family. While the Muslims were awaiting his return the news came that he had been murdered. It was then that the Prophet sitting under a tree in Al-Hudeybiyah, took an oath from all his comrades that they would stand or fall together. After a while, however, it became known that Uthman had not been murdered. A troop which came out from the city to molest the Muslims in their camp were captured before they could do any hurt and brought before the Prophet, who forgave them on their promise to renounce hostility. Then proper envoys came from Qureysh. After some negotiation, truce of Al-Hudebiyah was signed. For ten years there were to be no hostilities between the parties. The Prophet was to return to Al-Madinah without visiting the Ka-bah, but in the following year he might perform the pilgrimage with his comrades, Qureysh promised to evacuate Mecca for three days to allow of his doing so. Deserters from Qureysh to the Muslims during period of the truce were to be returned; not so deserters from the Muslims to the Qureysh. Any tribe or clan who wished to share in the treaty as allies of the Prophet might do so, and any tribe or clan who wished to share in the treaty as allies of Qureysh might do so.


There was dismay among the Muslim at these terms. They asked one another; “where is the victory that we were promised?” It was during the return journey from Al-Hudeybiyah that the surah entitled “Victory” was revealed. This truce proved, in fact, to be the greatest victory that the Muslims had till then achieved. War had been a barrier between them and the idolater, but now both parties met and talked together, and the new religion spread more rapidly. In the two years which elapsed between the signing of the truce and the fall of Mecca the number of converts was greater than the total number of all previous converts. The Prophet travelled to Al-Hudebiyah with 1,000 men. Two years later, when the Meccans broke the truce, he marched against them with an army of 10,000.


In the seventh year of the Hijrah the Prophet led a campaign against Khaybar, the stronghold of the Jewish tribes in North Arabia, which had become a hornet’s nest of his enemies. The forts of Kheybar were reduced one by one, and the Jews of Kheybar became thenceforth tenants of the Muslims until the expulsion of the Jews from Arabia in the Caliphate of Umar. On the day when the last fort surrendered, Ja’far son of Abu Talib, the Prophets first cousin arrived with all who remained of the Muslims, who had fled to Abyssinia to escape from persecution in the early days. They had been absent from Arabia fifteen years, it was at Khaybar that a Jewess prepared for the Prophet poisoned meat, of which he only tasted a morsel without swallowing it, then warned his comrades that it was poisoned. One Muslim, who had already swallowed a mouthful, died immediately, and the Prophet himself from the mere taste of it, derived the illness which eventually caused his death. The woman who cooked the meat was brought before him. When she said she had done it on account of humiliation of her people, he forgave her.


In the same year the Prophet’s vision was fulfilled; he visited the holy place at Mecca unopposed. In accordance with the terms of the truce idolaters evacuated the city, and from the surrounding heights watched the procedure of the Muslims. At the end of the stipulated three days the chiefs of Qureysh sent word to remind the Prophet that time was up. He then withdrew, and the idolaters reoccupied he city.


In the eight year of the Hijrah, hearing the Byzantine emperor was gathering a force in Syria for the destruction of Al-Islam, the Prophet sent three thousand men to Syria under the command of his freedman Zeyd. The campaign was unsuccessful except that it impressed the Syrians with a notion of the reckless valour of the Muslims. The three thousand did not hesitate to join battle with a hundred thousand. When all three leaders appointed by the Prophet had been killed, the survivors obeyed Khalid ibn al-Walid, who, by his strategy and courage, managed to preserve a remnant and return with them to Al-Madinah.


In the same year the Qureysh broke the truce by attacking a tribe that was in alliance with the Prophet and massacring them even in the sanctuary at Mecca. Afterwards they were afraid because of what they had done. They sent Abu Sufyan to Al-Madinah to ask for the existing treaty to be renewed and its term to be prolonged. They hoped that he would arrive before the tidings of the massacre. But a messenger from the injured tribe had been before him, and his embassy was fruitless.


Then the Prophet summoned all the Muslims capable of bearing arms and marched to Mecca. Qureysh were overawed. Their cavalry put up a show of defence before the town, but were routed without bloodshed; and the prophet entered his native city as conqueror. The inhabitants expected vengeance for their past misdeeds. The Prophet proclaimed a general amnesty. Only a few known criminals were proscribed, and most of those were in the end forgiven. In their relief and surprise, the whole population of Mecca hastened to swear allegiance. The Prophet caused all the idols which were in the sanctuary to be destroyed saying; “Truth hath come; darkness has vanished away; and the Muslim call to prayer was heard in Mecca.


In the same year there was angry gathering of pagan tribes eager to regain the Ka’bah. The Prophet led twelve thousand men against them. At Huneyn, in the deep ravine, his troops were ambushed by the enemy and almost put to flight, it was with difficulty that they were rallied to the Prophet and his bodyguard of faithful comrades who alone stood firm. But the victory, when it came, was complete and the booty enormous, for many of the hostile tribes had brought out with them everything that they possessed.


The tribe of Thaqif were among the enemy at Huneyn. After that victory their city of Ta’if was besieged by Muslims, and finally reduced. Then the Prophet appointed a governor of Mecca, and himself returned to Al-Madinah to the bundless joy of the Ansar, who had feared lest, now that he had regained his native city, he might forsake them and make Mecca the capital.


In the ninth year of the Hijrah, hearing that an army was again being mustered in Syria, the Prophet called on all the Muslims to support him in a great campaign. The far distance, the hot season, the fact that it was harvest time and the prestige of the enemy caused many to excuse themselves and many more to stay behind without excuse. Those defaulters are denounced in the Qur’an. But the campaign ended peacefully. The army advanced to Tabuk, on the confines of Syria, and there learnt that the enemy had not yet gathered.


Although Mecca had been conquered and its people were now Muslims, the official order of the pilgrimage had been changed; the pagan Arabs performing it in their manner and the Muslims in their manner. It was only after the pilgrims’ caravan had left Al-Madinah in the ninth year of the Hijrah, when Al-Islam was dominant in North Arabia, that the Declaration of Immunity, as it is called, was revealed. The Prophet sent a copy of it by messenger to Abu Bakar, leader of the pilgrimage, with the instruction that Ali was to read it to the multitudes at Mecca. Its purport was that after that year Muslims only were to make the pilgrimage, exception being made for such of the idolaters as had a treaty with the Muslims and had never broken their treaty nor supported anyone against them. Such were to enjoy the privileges of their treaty for the term thereof, but when their treaty expired they would be as other idolaters. That proclamation marks the end of idol worship in Arabia.


The ninth year of the Hijrah is called the Year of Deputations, because from all parts of Arabia deputations came form Al-Madinah to swear allegiance to the Prophet and to hear the Qur’an. The Prophet had become, in fact, the emperor of Arabia, but his way of life remained as simple as before.


The number of the campaigns which he led in person during the last years of his life is twenty seven, in nine of which there was hard fighting. The number of expeditions which he planned and sent out under other leaders is thirty eight. He personally controlled every detail of organisation, judged every case and was accessible to every suppliant. In those ten years he destroyed idolatry in Arabia; raised woman from the status of chattel to complete legal equality with man; effectually stopped the drunkenness and immorality which had till then disgraced the Arabs; made men to live with faith, sincerity and honest dealing; transformed tribes who has been for centuries content with ignorance into a people with the greatest thirst for knowledge; and for the first time in history made universal human brotherhood a fact and principle of common law. And his support and guide in all that work was the Qur’an.


In the tenth year of the Hijrah he went to Mecca as a pilgrim for the last time – his “pilgrimage of farewell”, it is called – when from Mt. Arafat he preached to an enormous throng of pilgrims. He reminded them of all the duties Al-Islam enjoined upon them, and that they would one day have to meet their Lord, who would judge each one of them according to his work. At the end of the discourse he asked; “Have I not conveyed the message?” And from that great multitude of men who a few months or years before had all been conscienceless idolaters, the shout went up; “O Allah! Yes!” The Prophet said; “O Allah! Be Thou witness!”


It was during the last pilgrimage that the Surah entitled “Succour” was revealed, which he received as an announcement of approaching death. Soon after his return to Al-Madinah he fell ill. The tidings of his illness caused dismay throughout Arabia and anguish to the folk of Al-Madinah , Mecca anf Ta’if, the hometowns. At early dawn on the last day of his earthly life he came out from his room beside the mosque at Al-Madinah and joined the public prayer, which Abu Bakr had been leading since his illness. And there was great relief among the people who supposed him well again. When, later in the day, the rumour grew that he was dead Umar threatened those who spread the rumour with dire punishment, declaring it a crime to think that the messenger of God could die. He was storming at the people in this strain Abu Bakr went to the chamber of his daughter Ayeshah, where the Prophet lay. Having ascertained the fact, and kissed the dead man’s forehead, he went back into the mosque. The people were still listening to Umar, who was saying that the rumour was a wicked lie, that the Prophet who was all in all to them could not be dead. Abu Bakr went up to Umar and tried to stop him with a whispered word. Then, finding he would pay no heed, Abu Bakr called to the people who, recognising his voice, left Umar and came crowding round him. He first gave praise to Allah and then said; “O People! Lo! As for him who used to worship Muhammad, Muhammad is dead. But as for him who used to worship Allah, Allah is alive and dieth not.”   He then recited the verse of the Qur’an;

“And Muhammad is but a messenger, messengers the like of whom have passed away before him. Will it be that, when he dieth or is slain, ye will turn back on your heels? He who turneth back doth no hurt to Allah, and Allah will reward the thankful”


“And” says the narrator, an eye witness, “it was as if the people had not known that such a verse has been revealed till Abu Bakr recited it”. And another witness tells how Umar used to say; “Directly I heard Abu Bakr recite that verse my feet were cut from beneath me and I fell to the ground, for I knew that Allah’s messenger was dead. May Allah bless and keep him!”


All the surahs of the Qur’an had been recorded in writing before the Prophet’s death and many Muslims had committed the whole Qur’an to memory. But the written surahs were dispersed among the people; and when, in a battle which took place during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr – that is to say, within two years of the Prophet’s death- a large number of those who knew the whole Qur’an by heart were killed, a collection of the whole Qur’an was made and put in writing. In the Caliphate of Uthman, all existing copies of surahs were called in, and an authoritative version, based on Abu Bakr’s collection and the testimony of those who had the whole Qur’an by heart, was compiled exactly in the present form and order, which is regarded as traditional and as the arrangement of the Prophet himself, the Caliph Uthman and his helpers being comrades of the Prophet and the most devout students of the revelation. The Qur’an has thus been carefully preserved.


The arrangement is not easy to understand. Revelations of various dates and on different subject are to be found together in surahs; some of the Madinah surahs, through the late revelation, are placed first and the very early Meccan surahs at the end. The inspiration of the Prophet progressed from inmost things to outward things, whereas most people find their way through outward things to things within.


There is another peculiarity which is disconcerting in translation though it proceeds from one of the beauties of the original, and is unavoidable without abolishing the verse division of great importance for reference. In Arabic the verses are divided according to the rhythm of the language. When a certain sound which marks the rhythm recurs there is a strong pause and the verse ends naturally, although the sentence may go on to the next verse or to several subsequent verses. That is of the spirit of the Arabic language; but attempts to reproduce such rhythm in English have the opposite effect to that produce by the Arabic. Here only the division is preserved, the verses being divided as in the Qur’an and numbered