MUHAMMAD AT MADINA
SOCIAL AND RELIGIOUS LEGISLATION
MECCA stands in the midst of a desert. On all sides bare, stony hills, entirely devoid of vegetation, present one of the dreariest and most inhospitable aspects it is possible to conceive. Madina, on the contrary, stands in a fertile plain. On all sides are charming gardens and fruitful date-groves. Even at the present day the cultivation of the date-palm constitutes one of the principal occupations of the inhabitants.
Before the time of Muhammad the people of Madina were roughly divided into two classes, pagan Arabs and monotheistic Jews, though there were also a few Christian tribes settled in the surrounding country. Soon after the planting of Islam in the northern city, however, we find the people divided into four distinct groups. First of all there were the non-Muslim Arabs of Madina who, anxious to curry favour with the powerful leader who had settled in their midst, and yet unwilling to embrace Islam, are designated by the Muslim historians with the epithet ‘the Hypocrites’.
Second, there were those Muslims who had fled from Mecca with the prophet, and had taken up their abode, in a more or less destitute condition, at Madina. These were termed ‘Refugees’, and were ever afterwards given a high place of honour in the annals of Islam. Muhammad himself was much attached to these, and always spoke with feelings of the deepest gratitude of the men and women who had left all for the Faith, and had shared with him the privations and dangers of the great flight from Mecca.
The third party in Madina consisted of the ‘Helpers’. These were the people of Madina who had first embraced Islam, and had offered hospitality and assistance to Muhammad and his Meccan disciples. These ‘Helpers’, as the first converts of Madina, were ever afterwards treated with the highest respect, and all who could boast the proud title of Ansar were looked up to with admiration and regard.
The fourth group stood apart by itself. It consisted of several numerous and wealthy tribes of Jews who lived in and around Madina. These, for a time, enjoyed the patronage of Muhammad who drew up a kind of treaty with them for mutual defence. This compact, however, did not last long, and, as we shall see in the third chapter, the time soon came when the utter expulsion of the ‘People of the Book’, as the Jews were called, was considered by the prophet a political necessity.
One of the first acts of Muhammad after his arrival in Madina was to call his disciples together and urge upon them the construction of a mosque for public worship. He himself, it is said, laboured with the rest in this work, and soon a substantial building of brick with a roof supported by the trunks of palm trees stood as a monument to the religious zeal of the Muslims. Adjoining the temple thus built, a row of humble dwellings gradually arose for the accommodation of the prophet and his wives.
It has already been remarked that Muhammad at first strove to win the allegiance of the Jews; and, for this purpose, he addressed them as the ‘People of the Book’, and treated them with studied respect. In fact, it is clear from the records that have come down to us that he adopted not a few of their religious practices and incorporated them into his system. One of the principal means adopted by the prophet for winning the favour of the Jews was the adoption of Jerusalem as his Qibla, or place towards which prayer was to be made. This, it need scarcely be remarked, was a practice already observed by the Jews. The Muslims, we are told, had been in the habit of praying with their faces turned towards the sacred temple at Mecca, but now, at Muhammad's command, and for some considerable time after, the Muslim prayers were made facing north instead of south. At length, however, finding the Jews obdurate, and seeing no prospect of winning them to his side, Muhammad determined once more to woo the favour of the Arabs by making the national sanctuary at Mecca again his Qibla. Thus one day the prophet, to the astonishment of the assembled worshippers, suddenly turned from north to south and once more said his prayers in the direction of the Ka'ba at Mecca. Such a drastic change demanded divine sanction, and so a ‘revelation’ was produced to satisfy the qualms of his bewildered disciples. It runs thus:
قَدْ نَرَى تَقَلُّبَ وَجْهِكَ فِي السَّمَاء فَلَنُوَلِّيَنَّكَ قِبْلَةً تَرْضَاهَا فَوَلِّ وَجْهَكَ شَطْرَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ وَحَيْثُ مَا كُنتُمْ فَوَلُّواْ وُجُوِهَكُمْ شَطْرَهُ.
‘We have seen thee (O Muhammad) turning thy face towards every part of heaven; but we will have thee turn to a Qibla which shall please thee. Turn, then, thy face towards the sacred mosque (of Mecca), and wherever ye be, turn your faces toward that part’ Qur’an Al-Baqarah 2:144. Candid Muslim scholars have freely acknowledged this change of policy on the part of Muhammad. Thus Jalalu'd-Din, in his comments on the above passage, clearly states that Muhammad,
كان صلى إليها فلما هاجر أمر باستقبال بيت المقدس تألفاً لليهود فصلى إليه سنة أو سبعة عشر شهراً ثم حول.
‘used to pray towards it (i.e., the Ka’ba), but after the flight (to Madina) he ordered (his followers) to turn towards the temple at Jerusalem in order that he might conciliate the Jews. So he prayed towards it for a year or seventeen months; after which he changed it again.’ Abdu'l-Qadir, in his Tafsiru'l-Mada'ihil Qur'an (p. 22) says,
چاہتے تھے کہ کعبہ کے طرف نماز پڑھنے کا حکم آئے سو آسمان کے طرف منہ کرکے راہ دیکھتے تھے کہ شائد فرشتہ حکم لائے کہ کعبہ کے طرف نماز پڑھو۔
‘He (Muhammad) wished that he might receive a command to pray towards the Ka'ba, and for this reason he kept his gaze fixed towards the heavens if, perchance, an angel might appear with a command to pray towards the Ka’ba.’ It is not strange that, under such circumstances, the prophet soon found a means of gratifying his wish, and that a ‘revelation’ forthwith appeared to sanction the change.
A very large amount of space is devoted, in the traditions, to the prayers of Muhammad; and the most minute particulars as to the time and manner in which prayer should be offered have been handed down to us. From this mass of tradition we learn that the followers of Muhammad, themselves most punctilious in the performance of all the necessary ablutions and minute forms of ritual laid down by him, were at times scandalized by his own violation of the very rules he had himself laid down. Muhammad had, for example, told them that
إنّ الله لا يقبل صلاة بغير طهور.
‘Verily, God accepts not prayer without ablution.’ Yet in the Mishkatu'l-Masabih in the Kitabu'l-Atama there is a tradition from ‘Amr bin Umaya to the effect that,
أنه رأى النَّبيَّ الله صلى الله عليْه وسلم يَحتزُّ مِن كَتِفِ شاةٍ في يَدهِ، فدُعي إلى الصَّلاة، فألْقَاهَا والسكين التي كان يَحْتزُّ بها، ثمَّ قام فصلَّى ولم يَتوضَّأ.
‘Verily he saw the prophet cutting a shoulder of mutton which was in his hand. Then he was called to prayer; so he cast it down together with the knife with which he was cutting it, and then stood up to prayer, and he did not perform his ablutions.’
Tirmidhi relates that when the prophet entered the mosque he used to say,
رَبِّ اغْفِرْ لِي ذُنُوبِي وَافْتَحْ لِي أَبْوَابَ رَحْمَتِكَ.
‘O my Lord, forgive me my sins; and open for me the gates of thy mercy.’ Then, on leaving, he used to say,
وَقَالَ رَبِّ اغْفِرْ لِي ذُنُوبِي وَافْتَحْ لِي أَبْوَابَ فَضْلِكَ.
‘O my Lord, forgive me my sins; and open for me the gates of thy favour.’ Bukhari further relates with reference to the prophet's prayers that he used to remain silent at the time of uttering the takbir and during the recital of the Qur'an. At length the prophet's friend and disciple Abu Huraira addressing him asked, ‘O prophet of God, what sayest thou in thy heart when thou remainest silent at the time of the takbir and at the recital of the Qur'an?’ The prophet replied:
أَقُولُ: اللَّهُمَّ بَاعِدْ بَيْنِي وَبَيْنَ خَطَايَايَ كَمَا بَاعَدْتَ بَيْنَ الْمَشْرِقِ وَالْمَغْرِبِ، اللَّهُمَّ نَقِّنِي مِنْ خَطَايَايَ كَمَا يُنَقَّى الثَّوْبُ الأَبْيَضُ مِنَ الدَّنَسِ، اللَّهُمَّ اغْسِلْنِي مِنْ خَطَايَايَ بِالثَّلْجِ وَالْمَاءِ وَالْبَرَدِ.
‘I say, “O my God, remove from me my sins as thou hast removed the east from the west. O my God, cleanse me from my sins as a white cloth is cleansed from impurity. O my God, wash my sins with water and snow and hail.”’ (Mishkatu'l-Masabih, Kitabu's-Salat.) It is evident from a perusal of the many traditions relating to the prophet's daily life, that he found the burden of ritual which he had imposed upon his followers greater than he himself could bear; and again and again his violation of those ritual observances is mentioned by the historians. Thus there is a tradition handed down by Ibn Mas’ud, one of the companions of the prophet, that one day Muhammad
صَلَّى الظُّهْرَ خَمْسًا فَقِيلَ لَهُ أَزِيدَ فِي الصَّلَاةِ فَقَالَ وَمَا ذَاكَ قَالَ صَلَّيْتَ خَمْسًا فَسَجَدَ سَجْدَتَيْنِ بَعْدَ مَا سَلَّمَ. ورواية أخرى قال: إنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ مثلكم أَنْسَى كَمَا تَنْسَوْنَ فإذا أنْسيْتَ فَذَكّروني.
‘performed the mid-day prayer in five raq’ats (or series of prostrations). Therefore it was said to him, “Have the prostrations been increased (from four to five)?” He said, “What do you mean?” They replied, “You made five series of prostrations.” Then after the salam he made two prostrations and said, “Verily I am only a man like you. I forget as you do. Therefore when I forget, do ye remind me”’ (Mishkatu'l-Masabih, Kitabu's-Salat).
Not only did Muhammad lay down minute liturgical rules for guiding the devotions of his followers; but in the new mosque at Madina he also constituted himself the great law-giver for all time, and founded a system of laws which were designed to govern every realm of life whether social, political or religious. It must be conceded that many of the regulations thus laid down were a vast improvement upon the conditions which ruled throughout Arabia previous to the promulgation of Islam; but by giving these laws a religious sanction Muhammad gave them a permanent and abiding character, so that, for all time, Muslims are tied down to the legislation which governed the seventh century of our era. There can, under such circumstances, be no progress towards higher ideals. Slavery and polygamy, because sanctioned by the prophet in the seventh century, is the law for Muslims for all time.
Before the advent of Muhammad an unrestricted system of polygamy prevailed amongst the Arabs, carrying with it abuses better imagined than described. Muhammad, not being strong enough to destroy the system root and branch, attempted to modify its evils by restricting his followers to four wives. This reform, however, though good in itself, was quite nullified by Muhammad's permission of an unlimited concubinage. He placed no restriction upon the carnal knowledge of female slaves or of women taken in war, even though the latter were married, and has thus perpetuated an evil which would not be tolerated in any civilized society to-day. Amongst the passages of the Qur'an sanctioning these shameful practices may be mentioned the following:
وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلاَّ تُقْسِطُواْ فِي الْيَتَامَى فَانكِحُواْ مَا طَابَ لَكُم مِّنَ النِّسَاء مَثْنَى وَثُلاَثَ وَرُبَاعَ فَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلاَّ تَعْدِلُواْ فَوَاحِدَةً أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ.
‘If ye are apprehensive that ye shall not deal fairly with orphans, then of the women who seem good in your eyes marry two or three or four. And if ye fear that ye shall not act equitably, then one only or the slaves whom ye have acquired’ Qur’an An-Nisa’ 4:3.
حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمْ ... وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ النِّسَاء إِلاَّ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ.
‘Forbidden to you . . . are married women, except those who are in your hands as slaves’ Qur’an An-Nisa’ 4:23-24.
The history of the great wars of conquest which followed the decease of Muhammad throws a lurid light upon the legislation quoted above; and even at the present day every Turkish massacre of helpless Armenians is accompanied by the rape and abduction to Muslim homes of hundreds of young girls and newly made widows.
Another great evil of Muhammad's day, which he tried in vain to reform, was the practice of slavery. To his credit, he it said, he taught his followers to be kind to their slaves, and even went so far as to teach that the emancipation of a slave was an act pleasing to God. But the simple fact remains that he allowed the buying and selling of human beings as slaves; and Muslims, all down the centuries which have passed since his day, have carried on this inhuman traffic under the full sanction of their prophet.
The Muslim refugees in Madina at first experienced very great privations. Many of them were penniless. Muhammad himself, more than once, endured the pangs of hunger. Tirmidhi tells us that many were reduced to a diet of dates and barley. A foolish and mistaken pronouncement on the part of Muhammad, made at this time, added not a little to the privations of the Muslims, who were largely dependent upon the bounty of the believers of Madina for their daily food. We have already remarked that many of the inhabitants of Madina and its suburbs were engaged in the cultivation of the date-palm: an occupation at which they had acquired considerable skill. Artificial fertilization was generally practised, and many had become prosperous in consequence. But in the Mishkatu'l-Masabih it is recorded that when Muhammad arrived in Madina he forbade this practice. The result was that when the time of the date harvest came round the disappointed Muslims found their own trees bare, whilst those of their non-Muslim neighbours were loaded with beautiful clusters of fruit. At this the disconcerted Muslims repaired to Muhammad and informed him of their state. The prophet is recorded as making the following reply:
إِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ، إِذَا أَمَرْتُكُمْ بِشَيْءٍ مِنْ دِينِكُمْ، فَخُذُوا بِهِ، وَإِذَا أَمَرْتُكُمْ بِشَيْءٍ مِنْ رَأْيٍ، فَإِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ.
‘I am only a man. When, therefore, I command you anything concerning your religion, then accept it; but when I command you anything as a matter of my own opinion, then—verily I am only a man’ (Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu'l-Iman). Needless to say, the prophet's reply did little to fill the hungry mouths of his disconcerted disciples or to avert the ruin which was staring them in the face.
In the next chapter we will endeavour to show the reader how Muhammad solved the problem, and changed the poverty of his followers into wealth.