Syed Ameer Ali.

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

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people, and to join with him in purity of heart in offering up
prayers to the All-Merciful. Not only was she the first to
believe in him and his divine message, but in the struggle which
was to follow she was his true consoler ; and " God," says
tradition, " comforted him through her when he returned to
her, for she roused him up again and made his burden more
light to him, assuring him of her own faith in him, and repre-
senting to him the futility^ of men's babble."

In the beginning Mohammed opened his soul only to those
who were attached to him, and tried to wean them from the
gross practices of their forefathers. After Khadija, Ali was
the next disciple. 2 Often did the Prophet go into the depths
of the solitary desert around Mecca, with his wife and young
cousin, that they might together offer up their heartfelt thanks
to the God of all nations for His manifold blessings. Once
they were surprised in the attitude of prayer by Abu Talib,
the father of Ali. And he said to Mohammed, " son of my
brother, what is this religion that thou art following ? " "It
is the religion of God, of His angels, of His prophets, and of
our ancestor Abraham," answered the Prophet. " God has
sent me to His servants to direct them towards the truth ;
and thou, O my uncle, art the most worthy of all. It is meet
that I should thus call upon thee, and it is meet that thou
shouldst accept the truth and help in spreading it." " Son of
my brother," replied Abu Talib, in the true spirit of the sturdy
old Semite, " I cannot abjure the religion of my fathers ; but
by the Supreme God, whilst I am alive none shall dare to injure

1 Koran, sura lxxiv.

2 Ibn-Hisham, p. 155 ; al-Halabi, Insdn.ul-'Uyun, vol. i. p. 285.


thee." Then turning towards Ali, his son, the venerable
patriarch inquired what religion was his. ' ' O father, ' ' answered
Ali, " I believe in God and His Prophet, and go with him."
" Well, my son," said Abu Talib, " he will not call thee to
aught save what is good, wherefore thou art free to cleave
unto him." 1

Soon after Zaid, the son of Harith, who notwithstanding his
freedom had cast in his lot with Mohammed, became a convert
to the new faith. He was followed by a leading member of
the Koreishite community of the name of Abdullah, son of
Abu Kuhafa, who afterwards became famous in history as
Abu Bakr. 2 A member of the important family of Taym
ibni-Murra, a wealthy merchant, a man of clear, calm judgment,
at the same time energetic, prudent, honest, and amiable, he
enjoyed great consideration among his compatriots. He was
but two years younger than the Prophet, and his unhesitating
adoption of the new faith was of great moral effect. Five
notables followed in his footsteps, among them Osman, son of
Affan, of the family of Ommeyya, who afterwards became the
third caliph ; Abdur Rahman, son of 'Auf ; Sa'd, son of Abi
Wakkas, afterwards the conqueror of Persia ; Zubair, son of
Awwam and nephew of Khadija, presented themselves before
the Prophet and accepted Islam at his hands. Several prose-
lytes also came from the humbler walks of life. It is a noble
feature in the history of the Prophet of Arabia, and one which
strongly attests the sincerity of his character, the purity of
his teachings and the intensity of his faith and trust in God,
that his nearest relations, his wife, his beloved cousin, and
intimate friends, were most thoroughly imbued with the truth
of his Mission and convinced of his inspiration. Those who
knew him best, closest relations and dearest friends, people
who lived with him and noted all his movements, were his
sincere and most devoted followers. If these men and women,
noble, intelligent, and certainly not less ' educated than the
fishermen of Galilee, had perceived the slightest sign of

x The above is a praraphrase of the account given by Ibn Hisham, pp. 159,
160 ; and Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. pp. 42, 43.

2 Desvergers in a note (p. 108) mentions that before his conversion to Islam,
he was called Abd ul-Kaaba, " servant of the Kaaba."


earthliness, deception, or want of faith in the Teacher himself,
Mohammed's hopes of moral regeneration and social reform
would all have been crumbled to dust in a moment. They
braved for him persecution and dangers ; they bore up against
physical tortures and mental agony, caused by social excom-
munication, even unto death. Would this have been so had
they perceived the least backsliding in their master ? But
even had these people not believed in Mohammed with such
earnest faith and trust, it would furnish no reason for doubting
the greatness of his work or the depth of his sincerity. For the
influence of Jesus himself was least among his nearest relations.
His brothers never believed in him, 1 and they even went so
far as once to endeavour to obtain possession of his person,
believing him to be out of his mind. 2 Even his immediate
disciples were not firm in their convictions. 3

Perhaps this unsteadiness may have arisen from weakness
of character, or it may have resulted, as Milman thinks, 4 from
the varying tone of Jesus himself ; but the fact is undeniable. 5
The intense faith and conviction on the part of the immediate
followers of Mohammed is the noblest testimony to his sincerity
and his utter self-absorption in his appointed task.

For three weary long years he laboured quietly to wean his
people from the worship of idols. But polytheism was deeply
rooted among them ; the ancient cult offered attractions, which
the new Faith in its purity, did not possess. The Koreish
had vested interests in the old worship ; and their prestige was
involved in its maintenance. Mohammed had thus to contend,
not only with the heathenism of his city sanctified by ages of
observance and belief but also with the opposition of the
oligarchy which ruled its destinies, and with whom like the
generality of their people, superstition was allied to great
scepticism. With these forces fighting against him, little
wonder that the life and death-struggle of the three years drew

1 John vii. 5. 2 Mark iii. 21.

3 And these were the men whom Jesus called " his mother and brethren,"
in preference to his own mother and brothers, Matt. xii. 45-48 ; Mark iii. 32, 33.

4 Milman, History of Christianity, vol. i. pp. 254, 255.

4 Sir W. Muir admits this in the most positive terms (vol. ii. p. 274) ;
he says, " the apostles fled at the first sound of danger."


only thirty followers. But the heart of the great Teacher
never failed. Steadfast in his trust in the Almighty Master
whose behests he was carrying out, he held on. Hitherto he
had preached quietly and unobtrusively. His compatriots
had looked askance at him, had begun to doubt the sanity of
al-Amin, thought him crazed or " possessed," but had not
interfered with his isolated exhortations. He now determined
to appeal publicly to the Koreish to abandon their idolatry.
With this object he convened an assembly on the hill of Safa,
and there spoke to them of the enormities of their crimes in
the sight of the Lord, their folly in offering adoration to carved
idols. He warned them of the fate that had overtaken the
races which had passed unheeded the words of the preachers
of bygone days, and invited them to abjure their old impious
worship, and adopt the faith of love and truth and purity.
But the mockers mocked his words, laughed at the enthusiasm
of young Ali, and departed with taunts and scoffs on their
lips, and fear in their hearts at the spirit of revolution which
had risen in their midst. Having thus failed to induce the
Koreish to listen to the warnings of Heaven, he turned his
attention to the strangers visiting the city for trade or pilgrim-
age. To them he endeavoured to convey God's words. But
here again his efforts were frustrated by the Koreish. When
the pilgrims began to arrive on the environs of the city, the
Koreishites posted themselves on the different routes and
warned the strangers against holding any communication with
Mohammed, whom they represented as a dangerous magician.
This machination led, however, to a result little expected by
the Meccans. As the pilgrims and traders dispersed to their
distant homes, they carried with them the news of the advent
of the strange, enthusiastic preacher, who, at the risk of his
own life, was calling aloud to the nations of Arabia to give up
the worship of their fathers.

If the Koreish were under the impression that Mohammed
would be abandoned by his own kith and kin, they were soon
undeceived by a scathing denunciation hurled at them by
Abu Talib. The old patriarch, who had refused, with char-
acteristic persistency, to abandon his ancient creed, or to adopt
the new faith rebelled at the injustice and intolerance of his


compatriots towards the reformer, and with true desert chivalry
he deplored, in a poem which lies embalmed in history, the
enormities of the Koreish towards one who was the benefactor
of the orphan and the widow — al-Amin, who never failed in
word or deed ; and declared that the children of Hashim and
of Muttalib would defend the innocent with their lives. About
the same time an Yathribite chief wrote to the Koreish of
Mecca, and, holding up the examples of bygone ages, exhorted
them not to embroil themselves with civil dissensions and
warfare. He advised them to give a hearing to the new
preacher : " An honourable man has adopted a certain religion,
why persecute him ? for it is only the Lord of the Heaven who
can read the heart of man ! " His counsel had some effect,
and occasioned a change of tactics among the Koreish. For
a time accordingly, calumnies and vilifications, exasperating
contumelies and petty outrages were substituted for open
and violent persecution. The hostile Koreish stopped the
Prophet from offering his prayers at the Kaaba ; they pursued
him wherever he went ; they covered him and his disciples
with dirt and filth when engaged in their devotions. They
incited the children and the bad characters of the town to follow
and insult him. They scattered thorns in the places which
he frequented for devotion and meditation. In this act of
refined cruelty the lead was always taken by Umm ul-Jamil,
the wife of Abu Lahab, one of Mohammed's uncles. She was
the most inveterate of his persecutors. Every place which he
or his disciples frequented for devotion she covered with thorns.
This exasperating conduct brought down upon her the designa-
tion of being " the bearer of faggots " (hammdlat ul-hatab)
[to hell].

Amidst all these trials Mohammed never wavered. Full of
the intensest confidence in his Mission, he worked steadily on.
Several times he was in imminent danger of his life at the
hands of the Koreish. On one occasion he disarmed their
murderous fury by his gentle and calm self-control. But
persecution only added to the strength of the new faith. " The
blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church," is a truth not
confined to one creed. The violence of the Koreish towards
Mohammed, their burning and bitter intolerance, led to the


conversion of the redoubtable Hamza, the youngest son of
Abd ul-Muttalib. This intrepid warrior, brave, generous, and
true, whose doughty sword was held in dread by all the Koreish,
about this time came to the Prophet, adopted his faith, and
became thenceforth a devoted adherent of Islam, and finally
laid down his life in the cause.

Amidst all this persecution Mohammed never ceased calling
to the nation so wedded to iniquity to abandon their evil ways
and abominations. He threw his heart and soul into his
preachings. He told them in burning words that seared
into the hearts of the listeners, the punishment which had
alighted on the tribes of 'Ad and Thamud who had heeded not
the warnings of God's messengers, of the outpouring of Heaven's
wrath at the iniquities of Noah's people. He adjured them
by the wonderful sights of nature, by the noon-day brightness,
by the night when she spreadeth her veil, by the day when
it appeareth in glory, to listen to the warning before a like
destruction came upon them. He told them of the day of
reckoning, when the deeds done by man in this world shall be
weighed before the Eternal Judge, when the children who had
been buried alive shall be asked for what crime they had been
put to death, and when heaven and earth shall be folded up
and none be near but God. He spoke to them of the rewards
and punishments of the Hereafter, describing to his material-
istic people the joys of Paradise and the pains of hell " with
all the glow of Eastern imagery." He told them what the
unbelievers were like — " They are like unto one who kindleth
a fire, and when it hath thrown its light on all around him,
God taketh away the light and leaveth him in darkness and they
cannot see."

" Deaf, dumb, blind, therefore they shall not retrace their

" They are like those who, when there cometh a storm-cloud
of heaven big with darkness, thunder, and lightning, thrust
their fingers into their ears because of the thunder-clap for
fear of death. God is round about the infidels."

" The lightning almost snatcheth away their eyes ; so oft
as it gleameth on them, they walk on in it ; but when darkness
closeth upon them, they stop ; and if God pleased, of their


ears and of their eyes would He surely deprive them : verily
God is Almighty." *

"As to the infidels, their works are like the Sardb on the
plain, 2 which the thirsty [traveller] thinketh to be water, and
then when he cometh thereto, he findeth it [to be] nothing ;
but he findeth God round about him, and He will fully pay
him his account ; for swift in taking an account is God."

" Or, as the darkness over a deep sea, billows riding upon
billows below, and clouds above ; one darkness over another
darkness ; when a man stretcheth forth his hand he is far
from seeing it ; he to whom God doth not grant light, no light
at all hath he." 3

The people were awestruck, and conversions grew frequent.

The Koreish were now thoroughly alarmed ; Mohammed's
preaching betokened a serious revolutionary movement.
Their power and prestige were at stake. They were the
custodians of the idols whom Mohammed threatened with
destruction ; they were the ministers of the worship which
Mohammed denounced — their very existence depended upon
their maintaining the old institutions intact. If his predictions
were fulfilled, they would have to efface themselves as a nation
pre-eminent among the nationalities of Arabia. The new
preacher's tone was intensely democratic ; in the sight of his
Lord all human beings were equal. This levelling of old
distinctions was contrary to all their traditions. They would
have none of it, for it boded no good to their exclusive privileges.
Urgent measures were needed to stifle the movement before
it gained further strength.

They accordingly decided upon an organised system of
persecution. In order, however, not to violate their laws of
vendetta, each family took upon itself the task of strangling
the new religion within its own circle. Each household tortured
its own members, or clients, or slaves, who were supposed to
have attached themselves to the new faith. Mohammed,
owing to the protection of Abu Talib and his kinsmen, Abu
Bakr and a few others, who were either distinguished by their
rank or possessed some influential friend or protector among
the Koreish, were, for the time, exempt from immediate

1 Sura ii. 2 i.e. the mirage of the desert. 3 Sura xxiv. 39, 40.


violence. The others were thrown into prison, starved, and
then beaten with sticks. The hill of Ramdha and the place
called Batha became thus the scenes of cruel tortures. 1 The
men or women whom the Koreish found abandoning the
worship of the idol-gods, were exposed to the burning heat
of the desert on the scorching sand, where, when reduced to
the last extremity by thirst, they were offered the alternative
of adoring the idols or death. Some recanted only to profess
Islam once more when released from their torments ; but the
majority held firmly to their faith. Such a one was Bilal,
the first Muezzin, of Islam. His master, Ommeyya, son of
Khalaf, conducted him each day to Batha when the heat of
the sun was at its greatest, and there exposed him bare-backed
with his face to the burning sun, and placed on his chest a
large block of stone with the words, " There shalt thou
remain until thou art dead or thou hast abjured Islam."
As he lay half -stifled under his heavy weight, dying with
thirst, he would only answer, " Ahadun, ahadun," " one
[God], one." This lasted for days, until the poor sufferer was
reduced to the verge of death, when he was ransomed by Abu
Bakr, who had in like manner purchased the liberty of six
other slaves. They killed with excruciating torments Yasar
and Samiya his wife ; they inflicted fearful tortures on 'Ammar
their son. Mohammed was often an eye-witness to the
sufferings of his disciples — sufferings borne with patience and
fortitude as became martyrs in the cause of truth. And
these were not the only martyrs in the early history of Islam. 2
Like the Pharisees tempting Jesus, the Koreish came to
Mohammed with temptations of worldly honour and aggrand-
isement, to draw him from the path of duty. One day, says
the chronicler, he was sitting in the Kaaba, at a little distance
from an assembly of the antagonistic chiefs, when one of them,
'Otba, son of Rab'ia, a man of moderate views came to him

1 Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. p. 50 ; Ibn-Hisham, pp. 205-209.

2 E.g. Khobaib bin 'Adi, who, being perfidiously sold to the Koreish, was
by them put to death in a cruel manner by mutilation and cutting off his
flesh piece-meal. In the midst of his tortures, being asked whether he did
not wish Mohammed in his place, answered, " / would not wish to be with my
family, my substance, and my children on condition that Mohammed was only
to be pricked with a thorn."


and said, " O son of my brother, thou art distinguished by thy
qualities and thy descent. Now thou hast sown division
among our people, and cast dissension in our families ; thou
denouncest our gods and goddesses ; thou dost tax our
ancestors with impiety. We have a proposition to make to
thee ; think well if it will not suit thee to accept it." " Speak,
O father of Walid," * said the Prophet, " I listen, O son of my
brother." Commenced 'Otba : " If thou wishest to acquire
riches by this affair, we will collect a fortune larger than is
possessed by any of us ; if thou desirest honours and dignity,'
we shall make thee our chief, and shall not 4o a thing without
thee ; if thou desirest dominion, we shall make thee our king ;
and if the spirit (demon) which possesses thee cannot be over-
powered, we will bring thee doctors and give them riches till
they cure thee." And when he had done, " Hast thou finished,
O father of Walid ? " asked the Prophet. " Yes," replied he.
" Then listen to me." " I listen," he said. " In the name of
the most merciful God," commenced the Warner, " this is a
revelation from the most Merciful : a book, the verses whereof
are distinctly explained, an Arabic Koran, for the instruction
of people who understand ; bearing good tidings, and denounc-
ing threats : but the greater part of them turn aside, and
hearken not thereto. And they say, ' Our hearts are veiled
from the doctrine to which thou invitest us ; and there is a
deafness in our ears, and a curtain between us and thee :
wherefore act thou as thou shalt think fit ; for we shall act
according to our own sentiments.' Say ' verily I am only a
man like you. It is revealed unto me that your God is one
God : wherefore direct your way straight unto Him ; and ask
pardon of Him for what is past.' And woe be to the idolaters,
who give not the appointed alms, and believe not in the life
to come ! 2 But as to those who believe and work righteous-
ness, they shall receive an everlasting reward." 3 When the
Prophet finished this recitation, he said to 'Otba, " Thou

1 Walid being a son of 'Otba. It was usual, and is so even now, among the
Arabs to call a man as the father of so-and-so, instead of using his own name,
as a mark of consideration.

2 Whilst hospitality was regarded as a great virtue, charity was considered
a weakness among the Arabs ; and a future life, an old woman's fable.

3 Koran, Sura xli.


hast heard, now take the course which seemeth best to
thee." '

Profoundly afflicted by the sufferings of his disciples, whose
position, as time went on, became more and more unbearable,
he advised them to seek a refuge in the neighbouring Christian
kingdom of Abyssinia, where ruled a pious sovereign, till God
in His mercy wrought a change in the feelings of the Koreish.
He had heard of the righteousness of this Christian king,
of his tolerance and hospitality, and was certain of a welcome
for his followers.

Some immediately availed themselves of the advice, and
sailed, to the number of fifteen, to the hospitable shores of the
Negus (Najashi). This is called the first Exile (muhdjarat)
in the history of Islam, and occurred in the fifth year of
Mohammed's Mission (615 A.c). These emigrants were soon
joined by many more of their fellow-sufferers and labourers
in the cause of truth, until their number amounted to eighty-
three men and eighteen women. 2 But the untiring hostility
of the Koreish pursued them even here. They were furious
at the escape of their victims, and sent deputies to the king to
demand the delivery of these refugees that they might be put
to death. They stated the chief charges against the poor
fugitives to be the abjuration of their old religion, and the
adoption of a new one. The Negus sent for the exiles, and
inquired of them whether what their enemies had stated was
true. " What is this religion for which you have abandoned
your former faith," asked the king, " and adopted neither
mine nor that of any other people ? " Ja'far, son of Abu
Talib, and brother of Ali, acting as spokesman for the fugitives,
spoke thus : " O king, we were plunged in the depth of ignor-
ance and barbarism ; we adored idols, we lived in unchastity ;
we ate dead bodies, and we spoke abominations ; we disre-
garded every feeling of humanity, and the duties of hospitality
and neighbourhood ; we knew no law but that of the strong,
when God raised among us a man, of whose birth, truthfulness,
honesty, and purity we were aware ; and he called us to the
unity of God, and taught us not to associate anything with

1 Ibn-Hisham, pp. 185, 186.

2 Ibn-Hisham, p. 208 et seq. ; Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. p. 58 ; Abulfeda, p. 20.


Him ; * he forbade us the worship of idols ; and enjoined us
to speak the truth, to be faithful to our trusts, to be merciful,
and to regard the rights of neighbours ; he forbade us to speak
evil of women, or to eat the substance of orphans ; he ordered
us to fly from vices, and to abstain from evil ; to offer prayers,
to render alms, to observe the fast. We have believed in him,
we have accepted his teachings and his injunctions to worship
God, and not to associate anything with Him. For this
reason our people have risen against us, have persecuted us
in order to make us forego the worship of God and return to
the worship of idols of wood and stone and other abominations.
They have tortured us and injured us, until finding no safety
among them, we have come to thy country, and hope thou
wilt protect us from their oppression." 2

The demands of the Koreish were scouted by the king, and
the deputies returned in confusion to Mecca.

Whilst the disciples of Mohammed were seeking safety in
other lands from the persecution of their enemies, he himself
stood bravely at his post, and amidst every insult and outrage
pursued his mission. Again they came to him with promises
of honour and riches, to seduce him from his duty ; the reply
was as before, full of life, full of faith : "I am neither desirous
of riches nor ambitious of dignity nor of dominion ; I am sent
by God, who has ordained me to announce glad tidings unto
you. I give you the words of my Lord ; I admonish you.
If you accept the message I bring you, God will be favourable
to you both in this world and in the next ; if you reject my
admonitions, I shall be patient, and leave God to judge between
you and me." They mocked him, scoffed at him, tried by
insidious questions to expose the fallacy of his teachings. 3

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 9 of 55)