Polarization around the Character of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib
Martyr Murtada Mutahhari
Chapter 9: Examples from the History of Islam
In the history of Islam we find distinguished and unprecedented examples of the strong love and devotion of Muslims for the person of the Prophet. In fact, one difference between the `school’ of the prophets and the `school’ of the philosophers is just this, that the pupils of philosophers are just students, and philosophers have no more influence than that of a teacher; but the influence of the prophets is like the influence of someone, a beloved, who has entered into the depths of the spirit of the lover, caught him in his grasp, and taken a hold on every element of his life.
One of those who dearly loved the Prophet was Abu Dharr al-Ghifari. The Prophet had given the order to march to Tabuk (a hundred farsangs – about four hundred miles -north of Medina, close to the border with Syria). Some made excuses, the hypocrites tried to disrupt things, but eventually a powerful army set out. They had no military equipment, and they were in difficulties and in need as regards food too, so that sometimes some of them would make do with a single date; however they were all full of vigor and cheerful. Love created their strength and the force of attraction of the Prophet gave them their power.
Abu Dharr was also marching towards Tabuk with this army. On the way three persons, one after the other fell behind, and the Prophet was informed about each one as he dropped back. Each time he said:
“If there is any good in him, God will make him come back; and if there is no good in him, it is better that he go.”
The thin, weak camel of Abu Dharr fell back, and then Abu Dharr was also seen to be behind.
“O Messenger of Allah! Abu Dharr has fallen back too!”
Then the Prophet repeated the same sentence:
“If there is any good in him, God will return him to us; and if there is no good in him, it is better that he go.”
The army then continued on its way and Abu Dharr stayed behind; but there was nothing to be done – his animal stayed in the same state. No matter what he did, it would not move, and he had now dropped several miles behind. He set the camel free and took the pack on his own shoulder, and in the hot weather he set out over the scorching sand. He was thirsty and it was killing him. He came across some rocks in the shade of a hill and among them some rainwater had gathered, but he said to himself that he would never drink until his friend, the Prophet of Allah, had drunk. He filled his water-skin, slung it also on his back, and hastened off in the direction of the Muslims.
In the distance they espied a figure.
“O Messenger of Allah! We have seen a distant figure coming towards us! “
He said that it had to be Abu Dharr. He came nearer – yes, it was Abu Dharr, but exhaustion and thirst took his feet away from under him. He was afraid he would collapse. The Prophet said to give him some water quickly, but he said with a feeble voice that he had water with him. The Prophet said:
“You have water, but you are near to dying from thirst!”
“Yes, O Messenger of Allah! When I tasted the water I refused to drink any before my friend, the Messenger of Allah. “30
In all truth, in which of the world’s religions can we find such a state of captivation, such restlessness and such unselfishness?
Another of these enamored and selfless people was Bilal al-Habashi. The Quraysh were subjecting him to insupportable torture in Mecca, and they were tormenting him under the burning sun by laying him on scorching stones. They wanted from him that he say the names of the idols and declare his belief in them, and that he renounce, and say he would have nothing to do with, Muhammad. In the sixth part of the Mathnawi, Rumi has related the agonizing story of Bilal, and he has justly made a masterpiece out of it. He says:
“Abu Bakr counseled him to hide his belief, but he did not have the fortitude for dissimulation for ‘love was ever rebellious and deadly’.”
Bilal was devoting his body to the thorns:
His master was flogging him by way of correction,
(Saying:) “Why dost thou celebrate Ahmad?
Wicked slave, thou disbelievest in my religion! “
He was beating him in the sun with thorns
(While) he cried, vaunting “One!”
Till when Siddiq (Abu Bakr) was passing in that neighborhood,
Those cries of “One!” reached his ears.
Afterwards he saw him in private and admonished him:
`Keep thy belief hidden from the Jews.
He (God) knows (all) secrets: conceal thy desire.”
He (Bilal) said: “I repent before thee, O prince.”
There was much repenting of this sort,
(Till) at last he became quit of repenting,
And proclaimed and yielded up his body to tribulation,
Crying:”O Muhammad! O enemy of vows and repentance! O thou with whom my body and all my veins are filled!”
How should there be room therein for repentance?
Henceforth I will banish repentance from this heart.
How should I repent of the life everlasting?”
Love is the All-subdue, and I am subdued by Love:
By Love’s blindness I have been made bright like the sun.
O fierce wind, before Thee I am a straw:
How can I know where I shall fall?
Whether I am Bilal or the new moon,
I am running on and following the course of Thy sun.
What has the moon to do with stoutness or thinness?
She runs at the heels of the sun, like a shadow.
The lovers have fallen into a fierce-torrent:
They have set their hearts on the ordinance of Love.
(They are) like the millstone turning round and round
Day and night and moaning incessantly.31
Islamic historians have given the names of the Raid of ar-Raji ` and the Day of ar-Raji ` respectively to a famous historical event and the day on which it occurred, and there is an interesting and fascinating story attached to it.
A group from the `Adal and al-Qarah tribes who were apparently from the same ancestral stock as the Quraysh and who dwelt in the proximity of Mecca came to the Messenger of Allah in the third year of the Hijrah and said:
“Some people from our tribe have chosen Islam, so send a group of Muslims to us that they may instruct us in the meaning of the religion, teach us the Qur’an and inform us of the principles and laws of Islam.”
The Messenger of Allah sent six of his companions along with them for this purpose, and he entrusted the leadership of this group to a man called Marthad ibn Abi Marthad al-Ghanawi, or else to a man called `Asim ibn Thabit ibn Abi ‘ l-Aqlah.
The envoys of the Messenger set out in the company of this mission that had come to Medina, till they reached the area which was where the Hadhil tribe lived, and there they halted. 32 The friends of the Messenger had settled down to sleep without leaving anything from anywhere, when all at once a group from the Hudhayl tribe fell upon them like a thunderbolt with their swords drawn. It became clear that the mission that had come to Medina had either had the intention of acting deceitfully from the beginning, or else had become despondent on reaching this place and had had a change of heart. At any rate, it is known that these people sided with the Hudhayl tribe with the aim of seizing these six envoys. As soon as the- friends of the Messenger were aware of what was happening, they swiftly dashed for their arms, and got ready to defend themselves; but the Hudhayli swore that they did not intend to kill them. They wanted to deliver them to the Quraysh in Mecca and get something for them, and they were prepared to make a pact with them there and then that they would not kill them. Three of these men including `Asim ibn Thabit said that would not accept the shame of a pact with polytheists, and fought until they were killed. But the three other men; by the names of Zayd ibn ad-Dathinnah ibn Mu’awiyah, Khubayb ibn `Adiy and `Abdullah ibn Tariq showed themselves more flexible and surrendered.
The Hudhayli bound these three men firmly with cord and set out towards Mecca. Near Mecca, `Abdullah ibn Tariq managed to get his hand free of the bonds and reach for his sword, but the enemy did not let him take the opportunity and killed him by hurling stones. Zayd and Khubayb were carried to Mecca, and they traded them in exchange for two captives from the Hudhayl who were held in Mecca, and then they went away.
Safwan ibn Umayyah al-Qurashi bought Zayd from the person to whom he belonged so as to kill him to avenge the blood of his father who had been killed in Uhud (or Badr). To kill him he took him outside Mecca. The people of the Quraysh assembled to see what would happen, and they brought Zayd to his place of execution. He came forward with his courageous gait and did not tremble even the slightest in his walking. Abu Sufyan was one of the spectators, and he thought he would take advantage of the circumstances of the last moments of Zayd’s life: perhaps he could get a statement of contrition and remorse or an avowal of hatred of the Messenger from him. He stepped forward and said to Zayd:
“I adjure you by God, Zayd, don’t you wish that Muhammad was with us now in your place so that we might cutoff his head, and that you were with your family?”
“By God”, said Zayd, “I don’t wish that Muhammad now were in the place he occupies and that a thorn could hurt him, and that I were sitting with my family.”
Abu Sufyan’s mouth stood agape with surprise. He turned to the other Quraysh and said:
“By God, I swear I have never seen a man who was as loved as Muhammad’s companions love him.”
After a while, Khubayb ibn `Adiy’s turn fell, and he too was taken outside Mecca for execution. There he requested the assembly to let him pray two rak `ah of prayer. They agreed, and he recited the prayers in all humility, respect and absorption. Then he spoke to the crowd, and said:
“I swear by God that were it not that you would think that I only delayed out of fear of death, I would have prolonged my prayer.”
They condemned Khubayb to crucifixion; and it was then that the sweet voice of Khubayb ibn `Adiy was heard, with a perfect spirituality which held everyone in its spell and caused some to caste themselves down on the earth in fear, entreating God with these words:
O God! We have delivered the message of Thy Messenger; so tell him tomorrow what has been done to us. O God! Reckon them by number and kill them one by one, let none of them remain. 33
As we know, the incident of Uhud ended in a sorrowful way for the Muslims. Seventy Muslims were martyred, including Hamzah, the paternal uncle of the Prophet. The Muslims were winning at the beginning, but later, as a result of the lack of discipline of a group who were placed atop a hill by the Prophet, the Muslims were subject to a surprise attack by the enemy. One group were killed, another group was scattered, while the small group round the Prophet remained. The only thing this reduced group could do was to gather their forces once again and become an obstacle to the further advance of the enemy, especially when the rumor that the Prophet had been killed was a further cause for the scattering of the Muslims. But as soon as they heard that the Prophet was still alive, their spirits returned to them.
A number of wounded had fallen on the ground and they did not at all know what their fate would be. One of the wounded was Sa’d ibn ar-Rabi`, and he had received twelve mortal wounds. In the middle of all this one of the escaping Muslims reached Sa’d, when he had fallen on the ground, and told him that he had heard the Prophet had been killed. Sa’d said:
Even if Muhammad has been killed, the God of Muhammad has not; the religion of Muhammad remains too.
Why do you not stay and defend your religion?
Away from this, after the Prophet had collected and verified his companions, he counted them one by one to see who had been killed and who was still alive. He did not find Sa’d ibn ar-Rabi`, so he asked who would go to find out what had really happened to Sa’d for him. One of the Ansar said he was ready. When the Ansar found that Sa’d was at his last breath, he said to him:
“O Sa’d! The Prophet has sent me to find out for him whether you are alive or dead.”
“Give my greeting to the Prophet,” said Sa’d, “and say that Sa’d is a dead man, for no more than a few breaths are left of his life. Tell the Prophet that Sa’d said: `May God reward you by us better than he has rewarded any prophet by his people.’ “
Then lie spoke to the Ansar and told him:
“Convey a message too from me to my brothers of the Ansar and the other companions of the Prophet. Tell them that Sa’d said: `You have no excuse with God if anything has happened to your Prophet while you can flutter an eyelid.'” 34
The pages of the early history of Islam are full of such acts of devotion, deeds of love and episodes of beauty. In all the history of mankind, no-one can be found who was loved as much as the Messenger, and the object of so much affection from his friends, companions, wives and children, who loved him so deeply and sincerely.
Ibn Abi l-Hadid writes in his Sharh (commentary on) Nahju ‘l-balaghah:
“No-one heard him (the Messenger) speak without love for him taking a place in his heart, and without becoming inclined to him. Thus the Quraysh called the Muslims round Mecca “subat ” (the infatuated ones) and said: `The fear is that al-Walid ibn al-Mughirah give his heart to the religion of Muhammad; and if Walid, who is the cream of the Quraysh give his heart, all the Quraysh will pledge their hearts to it.’
They also said: `His speech is magic, it inebriates more than wine.’ They forbade their sons to sit with him in case they might be attracted by his speech and the pull of his countenance. Whenever the Prophet sat down beside the Ka’bah near the Stone of Isma’il and recited the Qur’an in a loud voice, or fell to remembering God, they would stick their fingers firmly in their ears so as not to hear and so that they would not fall under the spell of his speech and be “bewitched” by him. They gathered their garments over their heads and covered their faces so that his attractive appearance would not draw them. Nevertheless, most people believed in Islam just by hearing him once or seeing his face and his appearance and tasting the sweetness of his words.” 35
Of all the facts of Islamic history which should cause the amazement of every anthropologist or sociologist, reader or researcher, is the revolution which Islam created among the pre-Islamic Arabs. By any ordinary reckoning and with the usual devices of education and training, the reform of such a society should have required the passage of much time so that the old generation habituated to vice could have been extinguished and the foundations of a new generation laid afresh; but the effect of the power of attraction must not be neglected, for we said that like tongues of fire it burns away the roots of evil.
The majority of the companions of the Messenger were deeply enamored of this great man, and it was by riding on the steed of love that such a long way was covered in such a small time and that in a short period his community became completely changed.
“The wings of my flight became the noose of love for him, dragging me all the way to his mountain; how can I have a lamp before me or behind? When the light of my beloved is not before me or behind? His light shines on the right, on the left, above and below, it is on my head and round my neck like a crown and a yoke.” 36
30. Biharu’l-anwar, vo1.21, pp. 215 -216 (new ed.).
31. Adapted from Nicholson’s translation of Rumi, Mathnavi, bk.1
32. At a place called ar-Raji’. (tr.)
33. Ibn Ishaq’s The Life of Muhammad, translation of A. Guillaume, London, 1955, pp.426 – 428.
34. Sharh of Ibn Abi’l-Hadid, Beirut, vol.3, p.574; and ibid. (note 33) p.387.
35. ibid. vol.2, p.220
36. Rumi, Mathnavi, bk.l