THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE MESSAGE
MUHAMMAD'S marriage with the wealthy widow Khadija gave him ample leisure for indulging in religious speculation. ‘Whether in the bosom of his family or in the depth of solitude,’ writes Syed Ameer Ali, in his Life of Mohammed, ‘he passed his time in profound meditation. Solitude had indeed become a passion with him. Every year, the month Ramadhan he spent with his family on the Mount of Hira devoting his time to prayer and to the succour of the poor and famished wayfarers who came to him.’ In the Mishkatu'l-Masabih, in the Kitab Fadail Syedu'l-Mursalin we have very detailed accounts, for which there is no space here, of the prophet's mode of life at this period. Suffice it to say that, as he brooded over the great unknown, mental visions and apparitions of angels came to him in his mountain retreat, and led him to believe that he held converse with the messengers of heaven. Jabir has preserved to us Muhammad's own account of the beginning of these hallucinations of an overwrought brain in the following words,
بَيْنَمَا أَنَا أَمْشِي سَمِعْتُ صَوْتًا مِنْ السَّمَاءِ فَرَفَعْتُ رَأْسِي فَإِذَا الْمَلَكُ الَّذِي جَاءَنِي بِحِرَاءَ جَالِسٌ عَلَى كُرْسِيٍّ بَيْنَ السَّمَاءِ وَالْأَرْضِ فَجُثِثْتُ مِنْهُ رُعْبًا فَرَجَعْتُ فَقُلْتُ زَمِّلُونِي زَمِّلُونِي.
‘As I walked along I heard a voice from heaven and raised my eyes. And behold ! an angel who came to me in (Mount) Hira, seated upon a throne between heaven and earth. At this I feared greatly and fell upon my knees upon the ground. Then I returned to my household and said, Cover me up; and they covered me up ' (Mishkatu'l-Masabih, Babu’ B'ath wa bad'u’l-Wahi). ‘Ayesha, the favourite wife of the prophet, who doubtless received her information direct from the prophet himself, describes the first ‘descent’ of inspiration thus: ‘The first revelations which the prophet received were in true dreams, and he never dreamt but it came like the dawn of day. After this the prophet became fond of retirement, and used to seclude himself in a cave in Mount Hira and worship there day and night . . . till one day the angel came to him and said, “Read”! but the prophet said, “I am not a reader”. Then, said Muhammad, he took hold of me and squeezed me as much as I could bear, and he then let me go, and again said, “Read”. I said, “I am not a reader.” Then he took hold of me a second time and squeezed me as much as I could bear, and then let me go and said, “Read.” And I said, “I am not a reader.” Then he took hold of me a third time and squeezed me as much as I could bear and said, “Recite thou in the name of thy Lord who created—created man from clots of blood—Recite thou! For thy Lord is the most Beneficent, who hath taught the use of the pen.”
From this time onward, with the exception of one important interval, for a period of some twenty-three years Muhammad continued to recite, as occasion required, various communications religious, social and political, which he declared he had received from the angel Gabriel. From a close study of the prophet's life it would appear that, at first, he was sincere in the belief that he was the chosen messenger of God to wean his fellow-countrymen from the gross idolatry which they practised; but, as time went on, ambition and the lust of power carried him away, and there can be no doubt that, later in his career, he deliberately forged ‘revelations’ in the name of the Deity in order to further his own ends.
The traditionists speak of one outstanding suspension of the ‘revelations’' which lasted, according to some, for three years. Others declare the period to be no longer than six months. Be that as it may, we are told by both Muslim and Bukhari that, for a period, Muhammad ceased to receive his angelic visitants. This circumstance so preyed upon his mind that, we are told, he seriously contemplated suicide and wished
يَتَرَدَّى مِنْ رُءُوسِ شَوَاهِقِ الْجِبَالِ.
‘to cast himself from the summit of some high mountain’. He was restrained however, so the story goes, by an angel, who assured him that he was a prophet despite the suspension of communications from God.
From the historians it is clear that Muhammad suffered from some form of epilepsy, and fits, often accompanied by convulsions, were not rare. Muslim literature contains many references to this distressing malady, and we are told how Muhammad was douched with cold water by his solicitous followers when such paroxysms began. Thus Bukhari relates that Muhammad said:
فَأَتَيْتُ خَدِيجَةَ فَقُلْتُ دَثِّرُونِي فَدَّثروني وَصُبُّوا عَلَيَّ مَاءً بَارِدًا.
‘I went to Khadija and said, “Wrap me up”. Therefore they wrapped me up, and poured cold water over me.’ In the Mishkatu'l-Masabih, in the Kitab Fadail Syedu'l Mursalin there is a tradition preserved by Ubadah-binu's-Samit that,
إِذَا أُنْزِلَ عَلَيْهِ الْوَحْيُ كُرِبَ لِذَلِكَ وَتَرَبَّدَ وَجْهُهُ.
‘When inspiration descended upon him (Muhammad) he became anxious on account of it, and his countenance became distressed.’ It is clear from the narratives that have come down to us that these fits caused much anxiety to the prophet's followers.
Some, we are told, feared that he was possessed with an evil spirit. Others said that he was bewitched. Muhammad himself seemed to favour the latter theory, though he was astute enough to use his affliction for his own interests; and he constantly associated his epileptic seizures with the visits of the angel Gabriel! Strange to say the traditions contain numerous and detailed references to Muhammad's being bewitched, and Muslim writers seem to see no incongruity in a prophet of God being brought under the spell of sorcery. The fullest accounts of this extraordinary matter have been collected together in the Mishkatu'l-Masabih in the chapter on miracles. One or two quotations must suffice here. The following is recorded by both Muslim and Bukhari:
عن عائشة قالت سحر رسول لله صلى الله عليه وسلم حتى أنه ليخيل إليه أنه فعل الشيء وما فعله.
‘It is related from ‘Ayesha that she said, “The apostle of God was bewitched, so much so that he imagined he was doing a certain thing, but (in reality) he had not done it.”’ Then ‘Ayesha continued that the prophet said, Two men came to me, one of whom sat at my head and the other at my feet. After that one of them said to his companion, ‘What is the man's (Muhammad's) illness?’ The other replied, ‘He has been bewitched.’ The first asked, ‘Who has bewitched him’? He replied, Labidu’l-‘Asam the Jew.’ He again asked, ‘By what means?’ He answered, ‘By a comb and the hairs which fall from it, and by the film of a male date bud.’ The first asked, ‘Where is it?’ He replied, ‘In the well Dharwan.’ Then the prophet went with some of his companions to the well and said, ‘This is the well which has been shown to me.’ The water of the well was soaked in Hina, and its date-trees were (reflected in the waters as if they) were the heads of Satans. Then he (Muhammad) brought the things out of the well. It is said that in the well was an image of Muhammad made of wax with needles stuck into it, and a thread tied upon it with eleven knots in it. Then Gabriel brought the chapters imploring protection, every verse of which being repeated unloosed one of the knots, and the prophet of God received relief from every needle that was pulled out, until at length he was completely released from the enchantment Bukhari (vol. iv. pp. 17-18) treats the matter at length, and the whole episode shows how completely Muhammad shared with the people of his time a belief in witchcraft. As a matter of fact, many pages could be written, drawn wholly from Muhammadan sources, showing the prophet's superstition regarding the evil eye, omens and the like. It may not be out of place here, by way of proof, to give one or two illustrations of the latter. In the Mishkatu'l-Masabih, in the Kitabu’t-Tab-wa-ar-Ruqqa there is a tradition preserved by Muslim from Anas to the effect that,
رَخَّصَ رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فِي الرُّقْيَةِ مِنَ الْعَيْنِ وَالْحُمَّةِ وَالنَّمْلَةِ
‘The apostle of God allowed the use of charms in the case of the evil eye, the bite of scorpions and boils.’ There is also another tradition preserved by Muslim, and quoted in the same chapter, to the effect that Umm Salmah said:
أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ رَأَى فِي بَيْتِهَا جَارِيَةً فِي وَجْهِهَا سَفْعَةٌ فَقَالَ اسْتَرْقُوا لَهَا فَإِنَّ بِهَا النَّظْرَةَ
‘Verily the prophet saw a slave-girl in her house, in whose face there was a yellow look. Then he said, “Use charms for her, for verily in her is the evil eye.”’ Another tradition, recorded in the Ja’ma Tirmidhi in the chapter on medicine, runs thus:
أن أَسْمَاءَ بِنْتِ عُمَيْسٍ قَالَتْ: يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّ وَلَدَ جَعْفَرٍ تُسْرِعُ إِلَيْهِمُ الْعَيْنُ أَفَأَسْتَرْقِي لَهُمْ؟ قَالَ: نَعم فإنه لو كان شيء سابق القدر لسبقته العين.
‘Asma’ bint ‘Umais said, “O apostle of God, the children of Ja'far are quickly affected by the evil eye. Shall I therefore use charms (to protect them)?” He said, “Yes! for verily if there had been anything that could rival fate it had surely been the evil eye.”’
Muhammad's superstitious nature affected all the varied activities of his life, and whether walking or sitting, eating or drinking he was ever in the habit of relying upon ejaculations and spells of various kinds for his protection from both genii and men. Thus there is a tradition, recorded by both Muslim and Bukhari to the effect that Muhammad on one occasion addressing his followers said:
إذا سمعتم صياح الديكة فسلوا الله من فضله فإنها رأت ملكاً، وإذا سمعتم نهيق الحمير فتعوذا بالله من الشيطان الرجيم فإنه رأت شيطانا.
‘When you hear a cock crow, then ask God for his favours, for verily it has seen an angel; but when you hear an ass bray, then take refuge with God from Satan the stoned, for verily it has seen Satan’! On another occasion the prophet prescribed spitting thrice over the left shoulder as a means of defeating the wiles of the great enemy of men! Muhammad's belief in the existence of genii led him into a bondage of fear which his followers have inherited to the present day, and the charge was often levelled at him by his enemies amongst the Quraish that he was possessed by one of these demons. Indeed evidence is not wanting that, at one time in, his career, he himself had doubts as to the same thing.
At first Muhammad proceeded quietly and in secret to propagate his doctrines; and his faithful wife Khadija was the first to proclaim herself a convert. Others soon followed, and in a few months ‘Ali, Abu Bakr, Zaid and several others were counted amongst the little band of believers. In this way, during the course of two or three years, some forty or fifty Meccans, men and women, had embraced the new religion. This accession of strength brought the prophet courage to proclaim in public the great dual message of the unity of God and his own apostleship. At first the Quraish only mocked, but when the new preacher began to abuse their tribal gods and cast scorn upon their most cherished beliefs, active opposition began to take the place of passive indifference, and soon the little band of Muslims found themselves the objects of a bitter and relentless persecution. Muhammad himself found in his uncle, ‘Abu Talib, an all-powerful protector from the machinations of his enemies; but his followers were not so fortunate, and the fury of the now thoroughly angry populace was vented upon their defenceless heads. At length Muhammad, unable to protect them, and yet unwilling to lose them, hit upon an expedient for staving off the anger of the mob. It is recorded in the Tafsiru'l Baidawi (p. 367) that a new convert named 'Umar bin Yasar was so bitterly persecuted by the Quraish that he finally apostatized and signalized the reality of his declension by roundly abusing the prophet. When, however, he was later brought face to face with Muhammad, he declared that his apostasy was only feigned with a view to escape the persecution of his enemies. His heart, he assured the prophet, was right. To this the latter replied that dissimulation under such circumstances was justified, and he dismissed his delighted follower with the words,
إن عادوا لك فعد لهم بما قلت.
‘If they persecute thee again, then do thou return to them again and repeat what thou saidst before? This extraordinary pronouncement upon the part of the prophet was so opposed to all standards of truth that a ‘revelation’ was thought necessary to justify it; and so, for all time, the pages of the Qur'an stand stained with an injunction sanctioning dissimulation. This passage is found in Qur’an An-Nahl 16:106, and runs thus:
مَن كَفَرَ بِاللّهِ مِن بَعْدِ إيمَانِهِ إِلاَّ مَنْ أُكْرِهَ وَقَلْبُهُ مُطْمَئِنٌّ بِالإِيمَانِ وَلَكِن مَّن شَرَحَ بِالْكُفْرِ صَدْراً فَعَلَيْهِمْ غَضَبٌ مِّنَ اللّهِ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ.
‘Whoso, after he hath believed in God, denieth Him; if he were forced to it, and if his heart remain steadfast in the faith (shall be guiltless); but whoso openeth his breast to infidelity, on such shall be wrath from God, and a severe punishment awaiteth them.” The above was not the only occasion upon which Muhammad allowed his followers to lie. It is recorded in the Mishkatu'l-Masabih in the Kitabu'l-Adab that Muhammad mentioned three circumstances in which his followers were permitted to lie. The tradition, which is attested by Tirmidhi, runs thus
قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ لَا يَحِلُّ الْكَذِبُ إِلَّا فِي ثَلَاثٍ كذب الرَّجُلُ امْرَأَتَهُ لِيُرْضِيَهَا وَالْكَذِبُ فِي الْحَرْبِ وَالْكَذِبُ لِيُصْلِحَ بَيْنَ النَّاسِ.
‘The apostle of God said, “Falsehood is not allowed except under three conditions: the falsehood of a man to his wife in order to please her; falsehood in war; and falsehood for the purpose of establishing concord between men.”’ 21
Even under the new conditions allowed by Muhammad, the persecuted Muslims obtained little respite; and the anger and hatred of the Quraish grew more bitter each day, until at last, some five years after the first proclamation of Islam, Muhammad was constrained to advise the drastic expedient of flight to Abyssinia. Thither, therefore, a small band of some fifteen Muslims, who were later joined by others, proceeded and found in the hospitable kingdom of a Christian king an asylum from the vengeance of their enemies.