Friday, September 12, 2014

A Prophet Like Unto Thee...

I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put My Words in his mouth;
And he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.
[Deuteronomy 18:18]

The Hijra is arguably one of the most important events in the life of Muhammad marking a new beginning for the Muslim community. In fact, its significance is so notable within Islamic history that the Muslim calendar marks down its first year from this event onward.

The Hijra, meaning "the migration," referring to the journey of the Prophet alongside his close companion, Abu Bakr, from the city of Mecca to Yathrib, later to be renamed Madinatun Nabi, which translates to "the City of the Prophet," later abbreviated simply to Medina, meaning "the City," took place during the thirteenth year of Hazrat Muhammad's Prophethood in 622 CE.

Muhammad received his First Revelation from the Archangel Gabriel in the year 610 CE while meditating inside a cave near Mount Hira at the age of forty, a profound phenomenon of overwhelmingly epic proportions.

The Message was simple: the ancestral tradition of pagan idol worship prevalent in Mecca was a mistake for God was One. Muhammad was tasked to preach this dogma of pristine monotheism. Unfortunately for him, Banu Quraysh, the leading tribe of the Arabian Peninsula did not welcome this new exclusive doctrine favorably. And so began the persecution of Muhammad.

The next thirteen years of the life of Muhammad was one marred with torture and oppression. His first followers were his beloved Khadijah, his cousin Ali ibn Abu Talib, his best friend Abu Bakr and his adopted son Zayd.

Muhammad began publicly preaching the message of monotheism around the year 613. Meccans weren't pleased. As Muhammad gained followers who abandoned worship of the primordial idols of the Quraysh in exchange of devotion to the One True God of Abraham, the Meccans grew increasingly agitated towards the new religion.

In fear that the faith of Muhammad would soon usurp their power over the people, the high priests and leaders of the Quraysh tribe approached Muhammad to broker a deal with him. They pleaded with him to abandon preaching the Message of Allah and in return they would offer him admission to the elite echelons of merchants, kingship over the Qurayshi sub-clans and the most beautiful women of the Arab peninsula as his wives. Muhammad refused.

The pains that Muhammad and the early Muslims had to endure were manifold. Muhammad's neighbors used to fling guts of cattle and feces through his windows and the pots he hung out to dry after washing on a regular basis. On one occasion, Abu Jahl wagered a bet to see who among his companions would be willing to dump the intestines of camels on the shoulders of the Prophet while he was in prostration for prayer. 'Uqba ibn Abi Mu'ayt executed the heinous task. On another occasion, the accursed one stomped onto the neck of Muhammad while he was in prayer until his eyeballs almost bulged out of his sockets. Abu Bakr intervened to save the Prophet.

Sumaiya binte Khayyat, the first martyr of Islam, was a slave of Abu Jahl. After she and her family members converted to Islam, Abu Jahl used to take them out to the desert at midday and expose them to the heat of the sun threatening them to either apostatize from Islam or die. They never relented, proclaiming the Oneness of God until the very end. Eventually, Abu Jahl snatched the life of Hazrat Sumaiya by driving a spear up her womb.

Bilal ibn Rabah, an Ethiopian slave who had accepted Islam, was forced to lay on his back in the desert and a heavy rock was placed upon his chest whereupon he was pressured to renounce belief in the God of Abraham for the idols of Arabia: Laat, Manat and Uzza. This continued until Abu Bakr bought Bilal off and freed him.

It is important to note here that most of the early followers, nearly all of them, were either slaves of the rich Meccan rulers who were staunch polytheists or subordinates under-ranking them in power and position. The scenario was that of the upper class polytheists such as Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab reigning over and oppressing the working class monotheists such as Ammar ibn Yasir, Zaneerah ar-Rumiyah and Lubaynah. Sounds familiar?

Generations after the prosperity of Joseph, the Israelite people of Egypt found themselves in captivity and slavehood under the Pharaoh Ramses, an evil tyrant and a pagan. The devotees of the One God of Abraham, monotheistic in the concept's purest form, enslaved at the hands of polytheists by the Nile, worshipers of the sun, moon and stars. Such was the plight of the followers of Yahweh, a trial of pain and humiliation, with no sliver of mercy at sight.

However, God refused to forsake His people, soon bestowing among them a Deliverer of Liberation, Moses, son of Jochebed and Amram. Moses was raised by the Pharaoh's household, in an ironic twist of fate, as God had willed it, and upon reaching his prime landed himself in hot water as a scuffle between a Hebrew and an Egyptian resulted in an accidental murder forcing Moses to be deemed a fugitive escaping to Midian and save his scalp.

As the persecution of the Israelite nation continued under the iron fist of Ramses, Moses settled down with Zipporah, daughter of Jethro, where he recuperated and soon after received the Command from God to free His people from the hands of the Pharaoh.

Afraid and hesitant, Moses returned to Egypt nonetheless. And, with the assistance of his brother, Aaron, succeeded in freeing the Hebrews after a Curse of Ten Plagues and a Sign from Adonai Elohim that literally split the Red Sea.

Following the liberation, in what we now know as the Exodus, Moses brought the Children of Israel to the foot of Mount Sinai where they rested in the Shade of God and God laid down the Law: Divine Commandments through which His Chosen One would govern His Nation.

Following the persecution at the hands of the Meccans, the time eventually came that they raised the ante and plotted to assassinate the Prophet Muhammad. Of this conspiracy, Muhammad was informed about by Gabriel. As the people lay in wait for the ambush the night the plan was to be executed, however, Muhammad miraculously averted the eyes of all watching and escaped, fleeing for Medina.

The journey was made in parts and took an entirety of thirty days. Upon reaching Medina, then known as Yathrib, he gratuitously welcomed and soon was crowned the chief of the city arbitrating disputes and forming a community there. Before his arrival, Yathrib was a campsite for merchants with dispersed autonomous tribes scattered all over the land. The advent of Muhammad changed the scenario.

When Muhammad reached the town, the two largest tribes there were the 'Aws and the Khazraj. They were fierce rivals but the Prophet mediated them into being allies of one another. He united the two tribes along with the rest others as a singular Muslim community soon to be joined by the Muslims of Mecca arriving into the city which was then rechristened Madinatun Nabi, "the City of the Prophet."

It is here that we see the change in the nature of Quranic Revelation. Whereas the earlier chapters revealed dealt with strengthening the faith of the persecuted believers in Mecca and consoling them with the Promise of Reward in the Afterlife along with the Warning of Enduring Torment for the persecutors, the Medinan Revelations focused on delivering the Law through which Muhammad was to govern the newly established Islamic State.

The Muslims have gone from slaves in bondage under the rulers of the tribes in Mecca to being full-fledged citizens of their nation ruled under their own Law with Muhammad as the Lawgiver and God as the Legislator. Following this, Muhammad and his successors, the Rashidun Caliphate, led conquests against the pagan tribes in the area expanding the reach of Allah's Message throughout the land taking over the regions of Khaybar, Ghatafan, Murrah, Sulaym, Hawaizin, Makkah, Bilad ash-Sham, al-Masr, Bayn an-Nahrayn, Maghreb, Kibris, Hayastan and Iran.

This is in many ways similar to the story of Moses who, along with his people, after suffering persecution at the hands of the idolater Pharaoh Ramses, escaped from Egypt, traveled across the Red Sea and formed a community of believers by Sinai to be ruled by the Law revealed by God atop the Mountain of HaShem, following which began the Conquest of Canaan led by Moses, aided by Aaron, and, then, his successor, Joshua, reigning over the lands of Heshbon, Bashan, Jericho, Ai, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, Eglon, Gezer, Debir, Geder, Horma, Arad, Adul′lam, Libnah, Makke′dah, Bethel, Tap′pu-ah, Hepher, Aphek, Lashar′on, Madon, Ach′shaph, Hazor, Shim′ron-me′ron, Kedesh, Ta′anach, Megid′do, Jok′ne-am, Na′phath-dor, Goi′im and Tirzah.

The travail at Egypt can be compared to the tribulation at Mecca for the community of Muhammad. The Exodus across the waters can be compared to the Hijrah and the settling down at the foot of Mount Horeb with the Revelation of the Commandments can be compared to the assembling of a legislated Islamic society with refined rules and regulations in Medina. On an end note, Moses is the most mentioned Prophet in the Quran.

— Fahim Ferdous Promi

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