The Islamic Call


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  • The Islamic Call


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    CHAPTER III

     

    MUHAMMAD, THE PROPHET

            A call
    may be there, strong and sound in principle, but lacking the man able to
    propagate it and carry it through. Such a call will inevitably fail. At the
    start, the requisite personality for advocating a call is more important than a
    written programme or a worked-out scheme. To succeed in his mission, the advocate
    of a new call must be in possession of those rare qualities which are essential
    elements of success. Now, did the personality of Muhammad, the Prophet, possess
    such traits?

           

    It may be important in this connection
    to point out that many Muslim historians attributed to revelation all the
    wonderful traits of the Prophet. Revelation, it is claimed, guided him in big
    and little, in the trivial as well as in the momentous, to the entire exclusion
    of any inborn personality in Muhammad himself. The influence exerted by
    revelation can in no way be denied, the Qur'an being the main source. But the
    Messenger, upon whom be peace, could not have properly delivered the divine
    message without having been endowed with the proper personality for carrying
    such a tremendous task through. He had to use his initiative in adapting the
    manner of delivery to the mentality of the various peoples addressed, so widely
    divergent in class and character.

           

    Had he lacked the necessary intellect,
    wisdom and foresight, he would not have been able to carry out his mission with
    such conviction and success. Nor could he have been the man chosen by God and
    sustained throughout by the Divine Spirit. This point was amply expounded by
    all bi?graphers who had written about Islam and the life of the Prophet
    Muhammad.

            Muhammad
    did not see his father who died while his mother was in pregnancy. This may
    have influenced him only very little on account of the care and patronage
    extended to him by his fond mother and his large influential family. He grew up
    in the untractable sandy desert which makes one lonely and impressionable,
    inclined to self-criticism and self-contemplation. This introvert trait would
    grow stronger the more the child felt his loneliness in the absence of immediate
    kin who should have sympathised with him. When the Child is brought up among
    children, his linguistic expression develops, and his vocabulary multiplies,
    for undoubtedly the child learns more through mixing with children. Moreover,
    desert life engenders in a child muscular strength, stiffness of bone, and
    agility.

     
            When back from the desert to the
    bosom of his mother and the sympathy and affection of his grand father
    Abdul-Mottalib, his mother took him on a visit to Yathrib (Medina), the dwelling place of his uncles
    "The Naggars", and the burial place of his father Abdullah. There he
    passed one month with his mother and uncles, and on their return home were
    accompanied by Um-Eiman, his nurse. That was fortunate, for his mother fell ill
    on the road, and the child, only seven years old, was destined to see a very
    sad and oppressive sight to see his mother succumbing to her illness and dying
    in his presence. With his impressionable nature, this would touch him very
    deeply, and throughout life remain a bitter memory.

           

    Grief seems to have deeply touched his
    heart and inclined him more to mysticism and contemplation. His now complete
    orphanage speeded up his experience in life, developing his sense of
    responsibility, and maturing his judgment. He returned to Mecca to his grandfather Abdul Mottalib, to
    tell him of the tragedy.

           

    It seems that this old chief, now in
    his eightieth year, was deeply affected by his grand-son's calamity, since
    Muhammad was, to him, the dearest of descendants - the son of Abdullah who had
    been offered as a sacrifice to God, narrowly escaping his doom in much the same
    way as Isaac of old in one version, or Ismail in another, namely by a timely
    redemption. On his death bed, Abdul Mottalib earnestly committed Muhammad to
    the care of his uncle Abu Talib.

           

    What sore trials the boy was destined
    to meet his father die? before he is born. His mother expires before his eyes.
    His grandfather, his kind and affection ate guardian, is soon consigned to the
    grave.

           

    These tragic events he meets
    successively without relief. Man is affected most by his childhood's
    impressions. That may be one reason why Muhammad, the Apostle, appeared sad,
    his face suggesting a shade of sorrow. In this connection, it is said by Abu Halah
    that "The Messenger of God was in continual sorrow, continual
    contemplation, restless and silent, save when the situation pressed for an
    answer". That also is probably why he was aloof when young, and did not
    take part in youthful entertainments, though his biographies, reporting the
    fact, did not give it such a natural explanation.

         The guardianship of his
    uncle was another factor in the development of this aloofness on his part, this
    tendency to loneliness. His uncle was of strained means, having a big family to
    support. He had, in one phase to send his sons, including his nephew, to work
    as shepherds. Muhammad shepherded his flock at the outskirts of Mecca, near the
    vast desert. This gave him leisure and opportunity to enjoy the company and conversation
    of some shepherd slaves of diverse experience and some knowledge of border
    civilizations.

            These talks might have done
    something towards the enlightenment of the boy-shepherd concerning certain
    already existing peoples and religions, countries and cities, outside his
    Arabian home. Since, as has been stated above, he was of a contemplative bent
    of mind, such various bits of information, must have speeded up his
    intellectual maturity far above that of his mates. It was inevitable that such
    a boy would not be left behind by his uncle when on his trading journeys to
    Syria, not only because of the training and experience that would be acquired
    by the boy through such a journey, but also because of the benefit which would
    accrue to the uncle through his talented nephew, since on such travels certain
    services are better done by boys like Muhammad than by men.

            He left with his uncle for Syria
    when he was only twelve years old. He, along with his uncle and the other
    travellers, met Bahira the monk at his convent where they rested. According to
    tradition, Bahira discovered in Muhammad the physical marks foreshadowing his
    prophethood. This is probably true, though the writer personally thinks that
    the boy's talents and intellectual maturity did not escape the monk who was so
    impressed by them as to prophecy for him a brilliant future. In Syria
    he could see new types of people, and come in contact with religions he had
    previously heard of but not seen. Perhaps owing to his young age and his
    overcautious uncle, Muhammad was, at that stage, of limited knowledge, because
    he seldom mingled with people, could see more than he could hear, and could
    hear more than he could converse.

            With his return he, like
    other boys of his age, got well trained in horsemanship and marksmanship with
    bow and arrow. His first experience in warfare was gained in the war waged
    between the Quraish tribes and the tribes of Kais - the second Figar war. He
    was barely fifteen years when he was first able to participate in the battles
    which his uncles fought, and although he was assigned the task of supplying the
    fighting men with bows and arrows on the battlefield, he soon gave vent to his
    fervour, and took an active part in the fighting. Young though he was, he soon
    developed into a capable fighter. Indeed, the boy of the desert grew into a
    courageous warrior, and it is no wonder that Ali, son of Abu Talib, himself a
    famous warrior, said of Muhammad's courage : "When the battle grew hot and
    thick, we used to find protection in the Prophet, peace be upon him, than whom
    no other man was nearer the enemy". Later the Prophet remarked : "Only three kinds of sporting are recommended :
    training one's how playing with one's folk, and shooting with one's bow and
    arrow. These are true. To give up shooting willingly after having learnt it is
    to forego a blessing"
    .

            On attaining age, Muhammad
    seems to have confined himself to Mecca,
    mixing with the Meccans, frequenting their consultation "House" and
    performing pilgrimage. This I say because the probability is that Muhammad in
    this period did not show signs of detracting from Quraish's worship or of
    denouncing their gods. He was named the "Trusty" and lived
    confortably in conformity with the established traditions and institutions sanctified
    by the Arabs. So he lived on until he became a young man of twenty five. It
    then happened that Khadigah, daughter of Khowailid, wanted to send a trading
    caravan to Syria.
    His uncle Abu Talib suggested to him that he should be the head of this caravan,
    Muhammad accepted, Khadigah consented, and so he travelled to Syria for the
    second time accompanied by Maisarah, one of the retainers of Khadigah. One
    tradition says that he there met Nastor the monk. If so, Muhammad is now the
    young man who can appreciate what he hears, comprehend the speech of the
    Christian monk, learn what the latter might say about the essentials of his
    religion and discuss it with him. Nastor probably felt more admiration for
    Muhammad than Bahira. It will be understood that during his long residence in Mecca he had the
    opportunity of meeting many people, especially such monotheists as Zaid son of
    Nofile and Waraka son of Noufal, in addition to some of the freed Christian
    slaves. If then he argued with Nastor, his argument would be not without some
    knowledge and experience. It is probable that he had the opportunity of meeting
    with other people in Syria
    through whom he acquired further experience.

            His trade having prospered,
    he went back home safe to render to Khadigah a full account, restoring to her
    capital, profits, and property, in the best condition possible, having
    protected all against marauders or fraud. She found in him t?e man of youth and
    vigour, whose talk was that of the experienced old, whose right opinion and
    deep thought was beyond his age, of charm and power in speech and exposition.
    Khadigah was impressed; and proceeded to plan something. She secretly sent some
    one who praised and recommended to him his marrying her. To this he did not
    object. It is possible that he saw in the offer an opportunity to obtain
    leisure to settle with the conflicting thoughts which might have been started
    in him by his journeys, his knowledge, and keen intellect, a possible inner
    conflict which might have been akin to that state of enquiry and doubt which
    usually attacks youths at that stage of life, leading sometimes to atheism if
    not met in time.

           
    Muhammad's marriage to Khadigah contributed largely to the success of the
    Islamic call when it came. He remained Khadigah's husband for 15 years before
    he received the divine mission, and became the father of her children. During
    this period he developed again the tendency to live in isolation. He was
    yearning to go back to desert-life where he would be alone with his own thoughts.
    Where would he then go? To the place where was buried the martyr Zaid son of
    Nofile, to that place where the Hanifite monotheists of Quraish used to meet,
    to the Cave of Hira. There, tradition says, he used to
    stay one month every year. This recurrent solitude might have converted his
    doubt into conviction. He looked into what his people worshipped, and found it
    degrading to man's reason. He might have looked into Christianity and found it
    a religion that devotes most care to the hereafter, and little concern for the
    present world. He might have looked into Judaism, and found it narrow, the
    religion of a class whose book bears many a contradiction to Arab tradition and
    ethical usage. From this tumult he was only relieved by the Angel Gabriel
    coming to him in one of his contemplation moments to give him a new message and
    reveal a new religion. So runs the divine text, to the effect:

           
    "Did He not find thee wandering and direct
    (thee)" The personality of the honoured Prophet, then,
    combined both moral and ?hysical courage, both deep thinking and awful doubt,
    till he was thus divinely delivered and guided to the Right Faith.

            The
    tragic events and trials he had undergone, the bereavements he had suffered,
    and the long periods he remained away from home, seem to have stirred in him
    the deepest springs of love and mercy, as may be evidenced by the kind
    treatment he used to accord to slaves, liberating whom he could, and by his
    habitual relief of the poor and the wretched Khadigah who knew him best, told
    him on the famous occasion : "God will never foresake you. You never
    foresake your relatives, you always carry the weary, relieve the distressed, honour
    the guest, and give help in misfortune".

     

         This undoubtedly, is the
    type of personality capable of delivering the Call, discharging the big Mission, and transferring
    the Beduin Arabs to a state where they could carry the big trust, the trust of
    establishing the Faith. Such a personality is capable of discharging the trust,
    as indeed was done by the Prophet despite his illiteracy. But what sort of
    illiteracy. The illiteracy of letters, of reading and writing, not of mental
    awareness or intellectual initiative Muhammad, in the nature of the case, could
    not have been illiterate in the mental and spiritual sense, since he was to be
    charged with so sacred a mission. He should have been the foremost of his
    nation, and the best of his time in enlightened capacity to be equal to the
    task. And such was Muhammad. He was endowed with an eloquent tongue, a charming
    power of expression, and a broad mind. This is illiterate Muhammad as the
    writer conceives him - illiterate as regards the alphabet and the symbols used
    in writing:

          "And thou (O Muhammad) was not a reciter of any
    scripture before it
    (the Qur'an) nor didst thou write it with thy right hand" (Surah,
    Al Ankabout verse 48).

           

    He was not a writer nor a reader, it is
    true, but he was a preacher, indeed a genius in every sense of the word. A man
    may read and write and yet not understand or learn. Another may be good at
    reading and writing and yet be not cultured. A third may have read much without
    being able to assimilate what he has read, or make use of what he has learnt.
    Life teems with these varieties of people. But history tells?of a different
    type of people, like Muhammad, of illiterate geniuses, like Jesus. Such,
    through divine guidance, are the rare makers of epochs, the moulders of history
    despite their ignorance of reading and writing. Such are the extra ordinary
    product of time very rarely presented to the world.

        

    That is Muhammad the Messenger whom God
    sent to an illiterate but clever nation, a nation believing in her right of
    existence:

           
    "He it is who hath sent among the illiterates a messenger of their own, to
    recite unto them His revelations, and to make them grow, and to teach them the
    Book and Wisdom, though heretofore they were in error manifest" (Surah, Al
    Gum'a, verse 2)
    .

        

    Illiteracy is not a blemish in the
    Prophet, but rather a miracle, another of the miracles of his Mission.

     

     

     

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