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MUHAMMAD (continued)

      In after years, Muhammad said of His wife Khadijih, "When I was poor, she enriched me; when all the world abandoned me, she comforted me; when they treated me as a liar, she believed in me." (Dermenghem, op. cit., 44). An account relates that in the early stage of the Revelation, when Muhammad was still in anguish at the phenomenon, He asked Khadijih to wrap Him in His robe, as a kind of protection, whereupon Gabriel appeared before Him and said, "O Thou, enwrapped in thy mantle! Arise and warn, and glorify Thy Lord!" (Qur'an 74:1-3 ).

      After the surih of The Brightness, which brought Him consolation and told Him: "Thy Lord hath not forsaken Thee...." He felt confident of His prophetic mission. The Faithful Spirit taught Him to pray, perform ablutions, stand and kneel in worship. One day as He and Khadijih were praying together young 'Ali entered the room. He saw them bowing down before empty space. He said, "What are you doing? Before whom are you bowing down?" Muhammad said, "Before God, Whose Prophet I am." 'Ali accepted the Faith, and in future he was called "Him whose face was never sullied," because he was so young when he became a believer that he had never worshipped an idol.

      When three years had passed, Muhammad was commanded to preach in public, and withdraw from the idolaters; the Qur'an reads: "Profess publicly then what Thou hast been bidden, and withdraw from those who join gods to God." (15:94). He invited His kinsmen, the leaders of Mecca, had a sheep cooked with milk, and after they had eaten He freely told them what had happened, ending, "Never before has an Arab bestowed on his people what I now bring you . . . Who will act as my brother and helper ? " There was icy silence. Abu Lahab, one of the uncles, shrugged his shoulders. Then young 'Ali cried out, "I will help you, Prophet of God!" And they all laughed, and the meeting broke up. (Cf. Dermenghem, op. cit., 73-74).

      Muhammad preached, and the Meccans scoffed. They asked Him to perform miracles: turn the hills to gold, make a book fall from heaven, show them Gabriel, bring a well of pure water, prophesy the approaching price of goods: "Cannot your God disclose which articles will rise in price?" Muhammad would answer, "I am only a man like you." (Qur'an 18:110). "It is revealed to me that your God is one God: go straight then to Him, and implore His pardon. And woe to those who join gods with God." (Qur'an 41:5). The Qur'an tells us: "But most of them withdraw and hearken not: And they say, 'Our hearts are under shelter from Thy teachings, and in our ears is a deafness, and between us and Thee there is a veil." (Qur'an 41:3-4). They spoke much as the materialists of our own day; the Qur'an states, "And they say, 'There is only this our present life: we die and we live, and nought but time destroyeth us.' " (Qur'an 45:23). An idolater who owed money to a Muslim told him he would pay him back in the next world . . . And Muhammad warned them: "The likeness for those who take to themselves patrons other than God is the likeness of the spider who buildeth her a house: But verily, frailest of all houses surely is the house of the spider," (Qur'an 29:40).

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      Besides insisting that there was only one God, and telling them to follow righteousness as they would be called to account in the next world, Muhammad spoke to them repeatedly about the coming of "The Hour" and the "Meeting with God." Once He held up two fingers and said that He and The Hour were as close as the two fingers. The Qur'an states: "Aye, they have treated the coming of 'the Hour' as a lie. But a flaming fire have we got ready for those who treat the coming of the Hour as a lie." (25:12). Sometimes He called it "The Inevitable": the chapter of this name in the Qur'an begins: "When the day that must come shall have come suddenly, None shall treat that sudden coming as a lie: Day that shall abase! Day that shall exalt!" Sometimes He called it "The Blow" or "The Striking": this chapter begins: "The striking What is the striking? And what shall make Thee to understand how terrible the striking will be ? On that day men shall be like moths scattered abroad, and the mountains shall become like carded wool . . ." (Surihs 56 and 101). It was the great Day of God that He warned them of--our day; to understand the Qur'an here it is essential to study the Iqan. In the surih of The Daybreak, He told them: "and thy Lord shall come, and the angels rank by rank . . ." (Surih 89).

      In later life, as Muhammad was entering the mosque, a disciple said, "Ah, Thou for Whom I would sacrifice father and mother, white hairs are hastening upon Thee!" And the Prophet raised up His beard with His hand and gazed at it; and the disciple's eyes filled with tears. "Yes," said Muhammad, "(the surih of) Hud and its sisters have hastened my white hairs." They asked what He meant by its "sisters," and He replied "'The Inevitable,' and 'The Blow.'" (Rodwell, Qur'an, 225-226 n.).

      The Meccans did not know what to make of Him. For a time they mocked Him: "Here cometh the son of 'Abdu'llah with his news from heaven." (Dozy, op. cit., 15). Then, as He continued to warn them, and to denounce their gods, and as He made some converts, they tried to bribe Him: "If thou wishest to acquire riches . . . we will collect a fortune larger than is possessed by any of us; if thou desirest honors . . . we shall make thee our chief . . ." (Ameer-'Ali, The Spirit of Islam, 98). He answered, "Do ye indeed disbelieve in Him . . . do ye assign Him peers? The Lord of the worlds is He!."[1] They appealed to His uncle and protector, the head of His clan, and this uncle begged Him to desist from teaching, as He was bringing ruin on Himself and His family. He answered, "Were the sun to come down on my right hand and the moon on my left, and the choice were offered me of abandoning my mission until God himself should reveal it, or perishing in the achievement of it, I would not abandon it." (T.W. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, 13-14). The Quraysh stopped Him from praying in the Ka'bih, they pursued Him, they covered Him and His disciples with filth when they were praying, they incited children and the rabble to follow and mock them, a woman strewed thorns where He would walk. Baha'u'llah says: "How abundant the thorns and briars which they have strewn over His path! . . . Such sore accusations they brought against Him that in recounting them God forbiddeth the ink to flow . . . or the page to bear them . . . For this reason did Muhammad cry out: 'No Prophet of God hath suffered such harm as I have suffered.'" (Iqan, 108-109).

      He sent many of His disciples to safety in Abyssinia (615), where there was a pious Christian king. The king asked why they had fled, and they answered, "O King, we were plunged . . . in ignorance and barbarism; we adored idols, we lived in unchastity; we ate dead bodies, and we spoke abominations . . . when God raised among us a man . . . he called us to the unity of God . . . to fly vices, and . . . abstain from evil . . . For this reason our people have risen against us . . ."(Ameer-'Ali, op. cit., 100) . To kill Muhammad would have meant a civil war, and so the Meccans tortured His poor disciples instead. Balal, the Ethiopian, they exposed,

  1. Qur'an 41:8.

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day after day, to the desert sun, stretched out with a rock on his breast. They told him he must renounce Muhammad or die, and he answered, "There is only one God, only one God." He lived to become the first muezzin.[2]

      Baha'u'llah says of him, "Consider how Balal, the Ethiopian, unlettered though he was, ascended into the heaven of faith and certitude . . ." (Gleanings, 83).[3] Muhammad called him "the first fruits of Abyssinia," just as He called another early disciple "the first fruits of Greece." It is important to remember that Islam is a universal religion, meant for the whole world--not in any sense a restricted or local faith.

      The Meccans said, "Know this, O Muhammad, we shall never cease to stop thee from preaching till either thou or we perish." (Ameer Ali, op. cit., 107).

      For three years (617-619) they blockaded Him and His kinsmen in a remote quarter of the town and forbade the other towns-people to have any dealings with them whatever.[4] Then Khadijih died (December 619) and five weeks later, Muhammad's uncle and protector. Since His own people refused Him, He then went to another city--Ta'if, a beautiful place about seventy miles distant, where fruit trees grew--but the people stoned Him away. It was when He returned to Mecca that He had the vision of the Night Journey (Mi'raj, i.e., Ascent), when He rose in spirit through the seven heavens to the throne of God. Surih 17 of the Qur'an is called the Night Journey; in the Iqan Baha'u'llah refers to Muhammad as the ''Lord of the Mi'raj" and says that the mirror of the heart must be purified to understand its mystery (187).

      You would say this was the end of the story of Muhammad: He and a tiny group, shut away in the sand, alone on the planet, encircled by men so wild they buried children alive as a point of honor, who killed casually, and who--because His teachings meant the destruction of the national religion and the loss of their own wealth and power--had for thirteen long years been waiting to shed His blood. An enemy of His has written: "We search in vain through the pages of profane history for a parallel to the struggle in which for thirteen years the Prophet of Arabia, in face of discouragement and threats, rejection and persecution, retained thus his faith unwavering, preached repentance . . . he met insults, menace, and danger with a lofty and patient trust in the future." (Muir, op. cit., 518).

      It was now that the tide of history turned . . . The Guardian has said to a pilgrim that our Cause "is impelled forward through crises. The spread of the Cause precipitates crisis . . . and the solution of the crisis through the operation of the Cause facilitates the spread of the Cause." Baha'u'llah says, "I recognize, O Thou Who art my heart's desire, that were fire to be touched by water it would instantly be extinguished, whereas the Fire Thou didst kindle can never go out, though all the Seas of the earth be poured upon it." (Prayers and Meditations, 150). We who are believers are working with something unkillable .

      What happened in Islam was this: Muhammad had often preached to other tribes, people who would come to the Ka'bih or the great fairs. On such occasions, His uncle, the squint-eyed Abu Lahab (he and Zayd, Muhammad's adopted son, are the only two contemporaries named in the Qur'an) would follow.

  1. The Christians of the period used the clapper to call to prayer, the Jews, trumpets, the Zoroastrians, bonfires, says Dermenghem, 267.
  2. Baha'u'llah says, "The acts of his honor, Balal, the Ethiopian, were so acceptable in the sight of God that the 'sin' of his stuttering tongue excelled the 'shin' pronounced by all the world (Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 76).
  3. We should remember that, as R. L. Gulick points out in his Muhammad The Educator (ms. p. 21), "Tribal opinion was of supreme importance as a regulator of behavior. The worst punishment was expulsion from the tribe..."

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and cry: "He is an impostor who seeks to lead you away from the faith of your fathers!" And the visitors would laugh, saying, "Thine own kindred know thee best. Wherefore do they not believe?" But there were some men of Medina (Yathrib) who listened to Him. They were weary of the fighting between rival clans in their own city, and they asked Him to come and be their Chief. Muhammad sent His disciples on to Medina. It was the fateful year 622--the year of the Hijra (Emigration) from which the Muslim calendar was afterward reckoned.

      At this juncture the Meccans united to murder Muhammad. They arranged for members of all the clans to attack Him at once, so that the blood-guilt would not rest on any one of them. They waited outside His house, watching as He lay in His cloak on the bed, but when the dawn came, they saw it was not Muhammad there but 'Ali. Muhammad had escaped to Medina, which from this time on was called the City of the Prophet.

      Muhammad entered Medina in triumph; a shaykh put his turban on the end of a lance for a banner, and a parasol of palm branches was held over the Prophet's head, while the Helpers (Ansar), the Medina believers, surrounded--Him, brandishing swords and spears. He dismounted on the outskirts, and turned toward the Point of Adoration, Jerusalem (later Muhammad changed the Qiblih to Mecca; the Baha'i Qiblih is the Shrine of Baha'u'llah); He prayed, with all the multitude; then, the accounts say, He let His camel go free into the town, and where it knelt, a mosque was later erected. As He entered, He greeted all the people, even the children.

      So the Meccans were cheated of their prey. The despised outcast, the One they had called a crazed poet, a madman, a liar, was now the Head of a State. And now all Arabia rose against Medina; the Meccans rallied the tribes, including a "fifth column" within Medina itself. The battle was on, between idolatry and true worship, between Hobal and the Omnipotent Lord, between freedom and death.

      'Abdu'l-Baha says in Some Answered Questions: "If Christ himself had been placed in such circumstances . . . culminating in flight from his native land--if in spite of this these lawless tribes continued to pursue him, to slaughter the men, to pillage their property, and to capture their women and children, what would have been Christ's conduct with regard to them? If this oppression had fallen only upon himself he would have forgiven them . . . but if he had seen that these cruel and bloodthirsty murderers wished to kill, to pillage, and to injure all these oppressed ones . . . it is certain that he would have protected them, and would have resisted the tyrants . . . To free these tribes from their bloodthirstiness was the greatest kindness, and to restrain them was a true mercy." (24-25). "The military expeditions of Muhammad . . . were always defensive actions . . ." (22).[5]

      The Prophet of God now had ten more years to live. They were years of intense activity . . . At the Battle of Badr, the Meccans were put to flight. They rose again, 3,000 strong, and attacked Muhammad with His thousand men at the hill of Uhud, three miles from Medina. Muhammad did not love war, but He had no choice. He was so gentle and mild that His enemies called Him womanish. When He fell at Uhud, a disciple asked Him to curse the enemy; He answered, "I have not been sent as a curse to mankind, but as an inviter to good and as a mercy." (Maulana Muhammad 'Ali, Muhammad the Prophet, Ahmadiyya Anjuman-i-Isha `at-i-Islam, Lahore, India, 1924; 262). It was at Uhud that the idolatrous women marched to battle, beating their timbrels and singing: "We are the daughters of the morning star; soft are the carpets we

  1. Cf. Luke 22:36: "Then he (Jesus) said unto them. But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one."

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tread . . . our necks are adorned with pearls, and our tresses are perfumed with musk. The brave who confront the foe we will clasp to our bosoms, but the dastards who flee we will spurn--not for them our embraces!" It was here that these women mutilated the dead, and that Hind, notorious wife of Muhammad's chief enemy, Abu Sufyan, ripped out the liver of a Muslim hero and devoured it. It was this battle that the Muslims lost, because the archers who were holding the Meccan cavalry in check disobeyed Muhammad and left their positions to look for booty. Muhammad was wounded in the mouth and on the temple, and reported killed. 'Ali wept in despair when he saw Him, and brought water in his shield, saying, "Wash the blood from Thy face, O Apostle of God, that Thy men may know Thee . . ." (Chronique de Abou Djafar Mohammed- ben-Jarir Ben Yazid Tabari, tr. by M.H. Zotenberg, Paris, 1871; III, 33). Then `Ali raised up the Prophet's banner and rallied the defeated Muslims. The idolaters' victory was costly; they dispersed for a time but in 627 they came again, 10,000 strong, and besieged Medina. On the advice of Salman the Persian, a stratagem previously unknown in Arabia was now used: a trench was tug around the city. The Prophet Himself worked with the others at digging the trench. An account Says He "seized a pickaxe . . . and with it he struck a flint which had defied those who were digging; a spark came out of it, and he--peace be with him -- said 'In this spark I saw the cities of Chosrau (King of Persia.)' Then he struck another blow, and another spark came out; and he said 'In it I saw the cities of Caesar. Verily God will give them to my nation after me.'" ('Ali Tabari, The Book of Religion and Empire, tr. by A. Mingana, Manchester, University Press, 1922; 44). There was a fifteen day siege, but the trench saved Medina and a Storm put the enemy to flight. Islam had conquered.

      After the battle, Muhammad went to His daughter, Fatimih, "and she began to weep and to kiss his mouth; and he said to her: 'O Fatimih, why art thou weeping?' And she said 'O Apostle of God, I see thee shabby, weary, and clothed in worn out garments.' And he said 'O Fatimih, God has revealed to thy father that it is He who places dignity or lowliness in every house, be it of clay or of hair; and He has revealed to me that my lowliness will be (until it reaches where night has reached).' " (i.e., soon over). (Idem). Baha'is will remember the agony of the young 'Abdu'l-Baha on seeing His Father as He was brought out of the Black Pit (Siyah- Chal).

      The old blood-tie was now replaced throughout Arabia by a new, much wider loyalty. For the first time, hundreds of hostile Arab tribes were now united under one banner--Islam. Muhammad took Mecca (630), making an entry so peaceful as to be unparalleled in history, and telling the Meccans:--"I say to you what my brother Joseph said to his brothers: 'No blame be on you this day. God will forgive you, for He is the most merciful of those who show mercy (Qur'an 12:92).' " And He struck down the Ka'bih gods, saying: "Truth is come and falsehood is gone. Verily, falsehood is a thing that perisheth." (Qur'an 17:83). The Arabs now came into the religion of God by troops. As each tribe accepted, Muhammad sent them a teacher of Islam, telling him: "Deal gently with the people, and be not harsh; cheer them, and contemn them not . . . the key to heaven is to testify to the truth of God and to do good works." (Ameer-`Ali, op. cit., 208). Muhammad also sent out missives and embassies declaring Islam to rulers of the day, the King of Persia, the Negus of Abyssinia, Heraclius the Greek emperor, the ruler of Egypt, the governor of Yaman, the chief of the Bani Hanifa. The King of Persia, enraged at seeing Muhammad's name before his own on the letter, tore it up. Muhammad said, "God will tear up his kingdom in the same way."

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      Then Muhammad fell ill. He had an intense fever. A disciple laid his hand on Muhammad's forehead and said, "How fierce is the fever upon thee!" "Yea, verily," said Muhammad, "but I have been during the night season repeating in praise. of the Lord seventy surihs, including the seven long ones." The disciple said, "Why not rest and take thine ease, for hath not the Lord forgiven thee?" "Nay," replied Muhammad, "wherefore should I not yet be a faithful servant unto Him?" (Cf. Muir, op. cit., 488). As He grew worse, He asked if there was any gold in the house; on being told there was, He insisted that His wife 'Ayishih give it away to the poor, and could not rest until she had done this. He said, "It would not have become me to meet my Lord, and this gold still in my hands." While He lay dying, He called for pen and ink to write His will, but 'Umar said, "Pain is deluding God's Messenger; we have God's Book, which is enough." They disputed at the bedside, whether to bring the pen and ink, and He sent them away. He was praying in a whisper when He ascended. (June 8, 632).

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