Syed Ameer Ali.

The spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm online

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must have received from the Master himself, who, indeed, as Renan says,
could not have been, in these respects, intellectually different from the people
of his age ; Vie de Jesus, 3rd ed. 1867, p. 267.


Note to Chapter IV

The story of Mohammed's inhuman reply to the appeal of
'Okba, son of Abu Mu'ait, when he was being led forward to
execution, is utterly false ; it is said that on 'Okba's asking,
" Who will take care of my little children ? " Mohammed
answered, " Hell fire." This story is so preposterous in itself,
so opposed to Mohammed's true character (one of whose
noblest traits was his love for children, and who always in-
culcated love and protection of orphans as an absolute duty,
and an act most acceptable to God), that it is hardly necessary
to search for its true origin. Christian writers, however, seem
to gloat over it, and hence it becomes needful to examine how
the story arose.

It originated most probably from the sobriquet of Sibyat
un-N&r (children of fire), applied to the children of 'Okba.
'Okba himself belonged to the tribe of 'Ajlan, 1 a branch of
which inhabited certain valleys near Safra, and were known by
the name of Bani un-Nar (children or descendants of fire) . The
sobriquet was probably derived from this circumstance ; and
the story of Mohammed's reply from the nickname.

Another story of Mohammed's having bitterly apostrophised
the dead of the idolaters on their burial is, to say the least,
distorted. Tabari thus narrates the circumstances which have
given rise to this calumny : " The Prophet placed himself
by the side of the large grave or pit which had been prepared
for the corpses ; and as the bodies were lowered, the names
were called out, and Mohammed then uttered these words,
' You, my kindred, you accused me of lying, when others
believed in me ; you drove me from my home, when others
received me ; what destiny has been yours ! Alas ! all that
God threatened is fulfilled.' " These words, which were
palpably meant to express pity, have been distorted to imply

^ghani, according to C. de Perceval, vol. iii. p. 79.



2 A.H.^624 A.C.

SUCCESS is always one of the greatest criterions of truth.
Even in the early days of Christianity, the good
Pharisee said, " Let them alone ; if these men be false,
they will come to nought, or else you yourselves shall perish."
If Constantine had not seen, or fancied he had
seen, the notable cross in the heavens ; if he
had not marched to success under its auspices ; if it had not
led him on to victory and to the throne — we can hardly conceive
what would have been the fate of Christianity. What the
victory of Badr was for Islam, the victory of the Milvian
Bridge was for Christianity. 1 It thenceforth ruled from the
throne of the Caesars.

For the Moslems the victory of Badr was indeed most
auspicious. It was not surprising that they, like the Israelites
or Christians of yore, saw the hand of Providence in their
success over the idolaters. Had the Moslems failed, we can
imagine what their fate would have been — a universal massacre.
Whilst Mohammed was engaged in this expedition, he lost

1 The Christians themselves look upon the defeat of Maxentius by Con-
stantine (312 a.c.) as the greatest triumph of their faith. The chapter of
Gibbon, vol. iii. chap, xx., mingled satire and history, shows how the success
of Christianity dates from that event.


one of his favourite daughters, Rukaiya, married to Osman,
who had only recently returned from the Abyssinian exile.
But the desire for revenge with which the idolaters were
burning allowed him no time to indulge in domestic sorrow.
As soon as all the Koreishite prisoners had returned home, Abu
Sufian issued forth from Mecca with two hundred horsemen,
vowing solemnly never to return until he had avenged himself
on Mohammed and his followers. Scouring the country to
within a few miles of Medina, he came down with a fell swoop
on the unprepared Moslems, slaying the people, and ravaging
date-groves which furnished the staple food of the Arabs.
The Meccans had provided themselves with bags of " sawik " 1
for the foray. As soon, however, as the Moslems sallied forth
from Medina to avenge the murders, the Meccans turned bridle
and fled, dropping the bags in order to lighten their beasts :
whence this affair was derisively called by the Moslems, Ghazwat
us-sawik, " the battle of the meal-bags." 2

It was on this occasion that an incident happened to the
Prophet, which has been exceedingly well told
by Washington Irving. Mohammed was sleep- J^ t ApriuJT
ing one day alone at the foot of a tree, at a
distance from his camp, when he was awakened by a noise,
and beheld Durthur, a hostile warrior, standing over him with
a drawn sword. " O Mohammed," cried he, " who is there
now to save thee ? " " God ! " replied the Prophet. The wild
Bedouin was suddenly awed, and dropped his sword, which
was instantly seized upon by Mohammed. Brandishing the
weapon, he exclaimed in turn, " Who is there now to save thee,
O Durthur ? " " Alas, no one ! " replied the soldier. " Then
learn from me to be merciful." So saying, he returned the
sword. The Arab's heart was overcome ; and in after years
he proved one of the staunchest adherents of the Prophet. 3

1 Sawik is the old and modern Arabic name for a dish of green grain, toasted,
pounded, mixed with dates or sugar, and eaten on journeys when it is found
difficult to cook.

2 The place where the affair took place bears now the name of Suwayka — a
few hours' journey to the south-west of Medina.

3 The last month of this year was marked by the death of Osman, son
of Mahzun, and the marriage of Ali, son of Abu Talib, to Fatima, Mohammed's

Osman was one of the earliest believers, and he was the first of the


But this skirmish, between the idolaters and the Moslems,
like others which followed, proved only a prelude to the great
drama that was about to be enacted.

The idolaters were burning for revenge. They made formid-
able preparations for another war upon the

3 a.h. =26th Moslems. Their emissaries succeeded in ob-
Aprii 625 a.c. taining the assistance of the tribes of Tihama
and Kinana, and their united forces soon
amounted to three thousand well-equipped soldiers (of whom
seven hundred were mailed warriors), animated with but one
desire, that of revenge. This army was as formidable to the
petty tribes of Arabia as the multitudinous hordes of Xerxes
to the Grecian States.

Marching under the command of the relentless Abu Sufian,
and meeting with no opposition from any side, they took up a
well-chosen position to the north-east of Medina, where only
the hill of Ohod and a valley separated them from the devoted
city. From this safe vantage-ground they ravaged the fields
and fruit groves of the Medinites.

Forced by the enthusiasm of his followers, and by their fury
at the destruction of their property, Mohammed marched out
of Medina with a thousand men. The ill-concealed enmity of
the Jews led to the defection of Abdullah ibn-Ubayy, the leader
of the Munafikin (the Disaffected), with three hundred of his
followers. This desertion reduced the strength of Mohammed's
small force to seven hundred men, who only possessed two
horses amongst them. But still this gallant band marched
steadily forward. Advancing quietly through groves of fruit
trees, they soon gained the hill of Ohod. They passed the
night in the defile, and in the morning, after offering prayers as
they stood to arms, they debouched into the plain. Mohammed
now took up his position immediately under the hill. 1 Posting

Muhajirin who died at Medina, and was interred at Baki, a suburb of Medina,
where lie buried a number of illustrious and saintly people, whose tombs are
up to the present day venerated by the Moslems.

Ali had been betrothed to Fatima several days before the expedition to
Badr, but the marriage was only celebrated three months later, Ali being in
his twenty-first, and Fatima in her fifteenth year.

1 Burton thus describes the spot : " This spot, so celebrated in the annals
of El Islam, is a shelving strip of land, close to the southern base of Mount
Ohod. The army of the infidels advanced from the fiumara in crescent shape,


a few archers on a height behind the troops, he gave them
strict injunctions not to abandon their place whatever happened
but to harass the cavalry of the enemy and protect the flanks
of the Moslems. The idolaters, confident in their numbers,
marched down into the plain with their idols in the centre of
their army, and the wives of the chiefs chanting their war-
songs and beating their timbrels. 1 The first violent onslaught
of the Koreish was bravely repulsed by the Moslems, led by
Hamza, who, taking advantage of the confusion of the enemy,
dashed into the midst of the Koreishites, dealing havoc on all
sides. Victory had almost declared for the Moslems, when the
archers, forgetting the injunctions of the Prophet, and seeing
the enemy in flight, dispersed in search of plunder. 2 And what
happened in later days at Tours happened at Ohod. Khalid
bin Walid, one of the Koreish, at once perceived their error,
and rallying his horse, fell on the rear of the Moslems. 3 The
infantry of the Koreish also turned, and the Moslem troops, taken
both in rear and front, had to renew the battle at fearful odds.
Some of the bravest chiefs in the Moslem army fell fighting.
The intrepid Hamza, with several others, was killed ; Ali, who
had chivalrously answered the first call of defiance (Rajz) of the
idolaters, 4 and Omar and Abu Bakr were severely wounded.

with Abu Sufiyan, the general, and his idols in the centre. It is distant
about three miles from El Medinah in a northerly direction. All the visitor
sees is hard gravelly ground, covered with little heaps of various coloured
granite, red sandstone, and bits of porphyry, to denote the different places
where the martyrs fell and were buried. Seen from this point, there is some-
thing appalling in the look of the holy mountain. Its seared and jagged
flanks rise like masses of iron from the plain, and the crevice into which the
Moslem host retired, when the disobedience of the archers in hastening to
plunder enabled Khalid ben Walid to fall upon Mohammed's rear, is the
only break in the grim wall. Reeking with heat, its surface produces not
one green shrub or stunted tree ; not a bird or beast appeared upon its in-
hospitable sides, and the bright blue sky glaring above its bald and sullen
brow made it look only the more repulsive." — Burton's Pilgrimage to Mecca,
vol. ii. pp. 236, 237.

1 Extracts from their war-songs are given by Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. p. 118.
" Courage ! Ye sons of Abd ud-Dar ; courage ! defenders of women ! strike
home with the edges of your swords." Another runs thus : " We are daughters
of the Star of the Morn (Tarik) ; we tread softly on silken cushions (namdrik) ;
face the enemy boldly, and we shall press you in our arms ; fly, and we shall
shun you, shun you with disgust."

2 This disobedience is referred to in the Koran, sura iii. ver. 146.

3 Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. 119 ; al-Halabi, Insdn ul-'Uyuv, vol. ii. p. 239.

4 Tabari says that Talha, the standard-bearer of the idolaters, a man of
heroic bravery, placed himself before Ali, and brandishing his sabre, defied


The efforts of the idolaters were, however, principally directed
towards Mohammed, who, surrounded by a few disciples and
separated from the main body of his people, became now the
chief object of their assaults. His friends fell fast around him.
Though wounded and bleeding he did not forget their loving
hearts, and blessed the hand that tried to stanch the blood
which flowed from his forehead. 1 But rescue was nigh. The
brave warriors who under Ali had been fighting in the centre
with the energy of despair, succeeded in retreating to a point
on the hill, where they were secure from the attacks of the
enemy, but full of consternation at the loss, as they supposed,
of their great Master. Seeing, however, their brethren still
fighting in another part of the field, they rushed down into the
midst of the idolaters. Penetrating to the place where the
small group of Moslems yet defended the Prophet, and finding
that he still lived, they succeeded, after great exertions, in
retreating with him to the heights of Mount Ohod, where they
breathed again. Ali fetched water in his shield from the hollow
of a rock. With this he bathed Mohammed's face and wounds,
and with his companions offered up the mid-day prayers sitting.

The Koreish were too exhausted to follow up their advantage,
either by attacking Medina or driving the Moslems from the
heights of Ohod. They retreated from the Medinite territories
after barbarously mutilating their slain enemies. The wife of
Abu Sufian, Hind, the daughter of 'Otba, with the other
Koreishite women, showed the greatest ferocity in this savage
work of vengeance, tearing out the heart of Hamza, and making
bracelets and necklaces of the ears and noses of the dead.

The barbarities practised by the Koreish on the slain
created among the Moslems a feeling of bitter exasperation.
Even Mohammed was at first so moved by indignation as to

him, crying, " You Moslems say that our dead will go to hell, and yours to
heaven ; let me see whether I cannot send thee to heaven." Upon this Ali
replied, " Be it so ' " and they fought, and Talha was struck to the ground.
" Mercy, O son of my uncle," cried he. Ali replied, " Mercy be it ; thou dost
not deserve the fire." — Vol. iii. p. 25.

1 Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. p. 114, and Abulfeda, p. 44, mention the date of the
battle of Ohod as the 7th of Shawwal ; Tabari, vol. iii. p. 21, mentions the 8th ;
Ibn-Hisham, the 5th ; and several others the nth. C. de Perceval, however,
calculates the nth to have been the real date of the battle, as according to
all the chroniclers the day was a Saturday, and the nth of Shawwal (26th of
January) fell on a Saturday. — Hist, des Arabes, vol. iii. p. 96, note.


declare that the dead of the Koreish should in future be treated
in like manner. 1 But the gentleness of his nature conquered the
bitterness of his heart. " Bear wrong patiently," he preached ;
" verily, best it will be for the patiently enduring." 2 And
from that day the horrible practice of mutilation which pre-
vailed among all the nations of antiquity was inexorably
forbidden to the Moslems. 3

On his return to Medina the Prophet directed a small body
of the disciples to pursue the retreating enemy, and to impress
on them that the Moslems, though worsted in battle, were yet
unbroken in spirit, and too strong to be attacked again with
impunity. Abu Sufian, hearing of the pursuit, hastened back
to Mecca, having first murdered two Medinites whom he met
on his route. He, however, sent a message to the Prophet,
saying that he would soon return to exterminate him and his
people. The reply as before was full of trust and faith — " God
is enough for us, a good guardian is He ! " 4

The moral effect of this disastrous battle was at once visible
in the forays which the neighbouring nomads prepared to
make on the Medinite territories. Most of them, however,
were repressed by the energetic action of Mohammed, though
some of the hostile tribes succeeded in enticing Moslem
missionaries into their midst, under the pretence of embracing
Islam, and then massacred them. On one such occasion
seventy Moslems were treacherously murdered near a brook
called Bir-Ma'iina, within the territories of two tribes, the
Bani-'Amir and the Bani-Sulaim, chiefly through the instru-
mentality of the latter. One of the two survivors of the
slaughter escaped towards Medina. Meeting on the way two
unarmed Arabs belonging to the Bani-'Amir who were
travelling under a safe-conduct of the Prophet, and mistaking

1 Ibn-Hisham, p. 580 et seq. ; Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. pp. 1 15-126; Tabari,
vol. iii. p. 16 et seq. ; al-Halabi, Insdn ul-'Uyiin, vol. ii. p. 242.

2 Koran, sura xvii. ver. 127 ; Ibn-Hisham, pp. 584, 585 ; Zamakhshari
(the Kashshdf), Egypt, ed., p. 446.

3 The Jews used to burn their prisoners alive, and most barbarously
mutilate the slain. The Greeks, the Romans, and the Persians all practised
similar barbarities. Christianity effected no improvement in these frightful
customs, for as late as the sixteenth century we read of the most horrible

4 Ibn-Hisham, p. 590 ; Koran, sura iii. ver. 167.


them for enemies, he killed them. When Mohammed heard of
this he was deeply grieved. A wrong had been committed by
one of his followers, though under a mistake, and the relatives
of the men that were killed were entitled to redress. Accord-
ingly orders were issued for collecting the diyat (the W eh r geld)
from the Moslems and the people who had accepted the Charter. 1
The Jewish tribes of the Bani un-Nazir, the Kuraizha, and
others were bound equally with the Moslems to contribute
towards this payment. 2 Mohammed himself, accompanied by
a few disciples, proceeded to the Bani un-Nazir, and asked
from them their contribution. They seemingly agreed to the
demand, and requested him to wait awhile. Whilst sitting
with his back to the wall of a house, he observed sinister move-
ments amongst the inhabitants, which led him to divine their
intention of murdering him.

But to explain the hostility of the Jews we must trace back
the course of events. We have seen with what bitter animosity
they dogged Mohammed's footsteps from the moment of his
arrival at Medina. They tried to sow disaffection among his
people. They libelled him and his followers. They mis-
pronounced the words of the Koran so as to give them an
offensive meaning. But this was not all. By their superior
education and intelligence, by their union with the party of
the Munafikin (the Disaffected), and by the general unanimity
which prevailed among them (so different from the disunion
of the Arabs), the Jews formed a most dangerous element
within the federated State which had risen under the Teacher
of Islam. Among unadvanced nations poets occupy the
position and exercise the influence of the press in modern
times. 3 The Jewish poets by their superior culture naturally

1 See ante, pp. 58-59.

2 Ibn ul-Athir, vol. iii. p. 133 ; Tabari, vol. iv. p. 50. Muir and Sprenger
have strangely garbled this part of the affair. Sir W. Muir does not find
any authority for M. C. de Perceval's saying, that the Jews were bound by
treaty to contribute towards the Diyat. If he had referred to Tabari he would
have seen the following statement* "En suite il ordonna de reunir cette
somme, ou la repartissant sur la ville de Medine, et d'y faire contribuer egale-
ment les Juifs, tels que les Beni-Nadhir, les Koraizha et ceux de Fadak, qu'y
etaient obliges par le traite." — Zotenberg's transl. vol. iii. p. 50. So also
Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. p. 133.

3 An example of the influence which poets and rhapsodists exercise among
unprogressed nations is afforded by one of the episodes connected with the


exercised a vast influence among the Medinites ; and this
influence was chiefly directed towards sowing sedition among
the Moslems, and widening the breach between them and the
opposing faction. The defeat of the idolaters at Badr was felt
as keenly by the Jews as by the Meccans. Immediately after
this battle a distinguished member of their race, calleoVKa'b,
the son of Ashraf, belonging to the tribe of Nazir, publicly
deploring the ill-success of the idolaters, proceeded towards
Mecca. Finding the people there plunged in grief, he spared
no exertion to revive their courage. By his satires against the
Prophet and his disciples, by his elegies on the Meccans who
had fallen at Badr, he succeeded in exciting the Koreish to that
frenzy of vengeance which found vent on the plains of Ohod.
Having attained his object, he returned to his home near
Medina in the canton of Nazir, where he continued to attack
Mohammed and the Musulmans in ironical and obscene verses,
not sparing even the women of the Believers, whom he addressed
in terms of the grossest character. His acts were openly
directed against the commonwealth of which he was a member.
He belonged to a tribe which had entered into the Compact 1
with the Moslems, and pledged itself for the internal as well as
the external safety of the State. Another Jew of the Nazir,
Abu Raf 'e Sallam, son of Abu'l Hukaik, was equally wild and
bitter against the Musulmans. He inhabited, with a fraction
of his tribe, the territories of Khaibar, four or five da}'s' journey
to the north-west of Medina. Detesting Mohammed and the
Musulmans, he made use of every endeavour to excite the
neighbouring Arab tribes, such as the Sulaim and the Ghatafan,
against them. It was impossible for the Musulman Common-
wealth to tolerate this open treachery on the part of those to

war of Ohod. Whilst preparing for this eventful campaign, the Koreish
requested a poet of the name of Abu 'Uzza to go round the tribes of the desert,
and excite them by his songs and poetry against the Moslems, and persuade
them to join the confederacy, formed under the auspices of the Meccans, for
the destruction of Mohammed and his followers This man had been taken
prisoner by the Moslems in the battle of Badr, but was released by the Prophet,
without ransom, on pledging himself never again to take up arms against the
Medinites. In spite of this, he was tempted to break his word, and went
round the tribes, rousing them to arms by his poetry ; and it is said he was
eminently successful in his work. After Ohod he was again taken prisoner
and executed by the Moslems; Ibn-Hisham, p. 591.

1 See ante, p. 58.


whom every consideration had been shown, with the object of
securing their neutrality, if not their support. The very
existence of the Moslem community was at stake ; and every
principle of safety required that these traitorous designs
should be quietly frustrated. The sentence of outlawry was
executed upon them by the Medinites themselves — in one
case by a member of the tribe of Aus, in the other by a

Christian controversialists have stigmatised these executions
as ' ' assassinations. ' ' And because a Moslem was sent secretly to
kill each of the criminals, in their prejudice against the Prophet,
they shut their eyes to the justice of the sentence, and the
necessity of a swift and secret execution. There existed then
no police court, no judicial tribunal, nor even a court-martial,
to take cognisance of individual crimes. In the absence of a
State executioner any individual might become the executioner
of the law. These men had broken their formal pact ; it was
impossible to arrest them in public, or execute the sentence in
the open before their clans, without causing unnecessary blood-
shed, and giving rise to the feud of blood, and everlasting
vendetta. The exigencies of the State required that whatever
should be done should be done swiftly and noiselessly upon
those whom public opinion had arraigned and condemned. 1
The existence of the republic, and the maintenance of peace
and order within the city, depended upon the prompt execution
of the sentence passed upon the culprits before they could rally
their clansmen round them.

The fate of these two traitors, and the expulsion of their

2 ah Shaw- brethren the Bani-Kainuka' from the Medinite
wal, February territories, had given rise to a bitter feeling of

24 AC ' animosity among the Nazir against the

Prophet. The circumstances connected with the banishment
of the Kainuka' require a brief notice. Whilst the other
Jewish tribes were chiefly agricultural, the Banu-Kainuka'
hardly possessed a single field or date plantation. They were

1 Our Christian historians forget that the " wise " Solon himself, for the
safety of his small city, made it obligatory on the Athenians to become
executioners of the law, by pursuing the factious, or taking one or two sides
in a public riot. They also forget that even the laws of Christian England
allow any person to pursue and kill " an outlaw."


for the most part artisans employed in handicraft of all kinds. 1
Seditious and unruly, always ready for a broil like their co-
religionists of Alexandria, the Banu-Kainuka* were also noted
for the extreme laxity of their morals. One day a young girl

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 13 of 55)