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ABC's of Islam New Muslims

First Muslim Community in Madinah & the Groundwork for Hijrah

It was 620, a year after the deaths of Muhammad’s wife, Khadijah, and his uncle Abu Talib, and the time of the yearly pilgrimage to the Ka`bah and Makkah’s annual market period was drawing near. Muhammad (peace be upon him) was still dispensing his teachings in a climate of rejection, exclusion, and persecution.

Toward Exile

About a hundred Muslims now lived under protection in Abyssinia, but no solution seemed to present itself for the faithful who lived in Makkah.

The pilgrims, coming from all areas of the peninsula, started to settle in the Mina area, to remain there throughout the festival period. Muhammad often went there and conveyed his message to women and men who, in their distant dwelling places, had heard about it but did not know its actual contents. He was far from always receiving a favorable response.

At Al-`Aqabah, not far from Mina, the Prophet met a group of people from Yathrib. They were from the Khazraj tribe, one of the two great rival tribes in Yathrib (the other being the Aws), and he began to deliver his message to them. They had already heard of the message from the Jewish tribes who lived in their city, and they wished to know more about it. They listened to the Prophet and eventually accepted the message of Islam: they promised to inform the members of their tribe of the substance of the message and to keep in permanent contact with the Prophet. They went back home and started preaching in Yathrib.

In Makkah, conversions kept increasing, and Muhammad carried on with his public call. As far as his private life was concerned, many advised him to think of remarrying. Proposals had been made, but the Prophet had never pursued the matter. He had, however, had two dreams in which the very young `Aa’ishah, Abu Bakr’s daughter, who was then six years old, was offered to him in marriage.

When Khawlah, who had taken care of the Prophet’s needs since Khadijah’s death, advised him to remarry and suggested two names-Sawdah, a widow in her thirties who had very recently come back from Abyssinia, and `Aa’ishah, Abu Bakr’s daughter- Muhammad saw in this strange coincidence a sign of the truthfulness of his dreams, and he asked Khawlah to do what was necessary to find out whether the two unions were possible.

Polygamy was the norm in Arabia then, and the Prophet’s situation was the exception, since he had remained monogamous for twenty-five rears. The union with Sawdah was particularly easy to concretize: Sawdah immediately, and most favorably, answered the proposal made to her, and they married a few months later.

`Aa’ishah had already, in keeping with Arabian customs, been promised by Abu Bakr to Mutim’s son, and her father had to negotiate with Mutim in order to break the engagement. `Aa’shah then officially became Muhammad’s second wife, though the union would not be consummated for several years.

A year later, pilgrims and traders were again flocking to Makkah for the celebrations of 621. A second meeting was organized at Al-`Aqabah between the Prophet and the Yathrib delegation that had come to report on the evolution of the situation in their city. Twelve people from Yathrib, two of whom belonged to the Aws clan, took part in the meeting. They pledged allegiance to the Prophet, stipulating that they would worship only the One God, no others, and that they would honor the duties and interdictions of Islam.

They were therefore to constitute the first Muslim community in Yathrib. Muhammad sent back with them a Companion, Mus`ab ibn `Umayr, who had just returned from Abyssinia and who was known for his calm, his wisdom, and tile beauty of his recitation of the Qur’an.

Message of Brotherhood

Back in Yathrib, the delegation kept spreading the message and Mus`ab taught Islam, recited the Qur’an, and answered questions. In spite of age-old and still very sharp divisions between the Aws and Khazraj, members of both tribes converted to the new religion and realized that their former rivalries had become pointless: ’Islam’s message of brotherhood united them.

Clan chiefs nevertheless remained very reluctant to embrace Islam. Mus`ab never reacted to their attacks nor to their aggressive attitude; rather, he invariably answered: “Sit down and listen to the message: if you like it, accept it, if you do not, leave it.” As a result, the number of conversions was high, even among leaders.

During the following year’s pilgrimage, the Prophet met an important delegation of Yathrib. Muslims, composed of seventy-three people, two of them women. They belonged to both me Aws and the Khazraj, and they had come to bring the Prophet the good news of their commitment to Islam. After a few discussions about the nature of their future relationship, they concluded a second covenant stipulating that the Yathrib.

Muslims pledged to protect the Prophet, as well as Makkah’s Muslim women and children, against any aggression. This second covenant, granting refuge and protection and a commitment of Yathrib Muslims to support their Makkan brothers, opened before the Prophet the prospect of a promising future.

From then on, Muhammad encouraged Muslims to emigrate to Yathrib discreetly, while his closest Companions still remained by his side.

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The article is an excerpt from Dr. Tariq Ramadan’s In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press (2007).

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His Character New Muslims

Prophet Muhammad: A Morality Message for All Time

A few months after his return to Medina, in the eleventh year of hijrah, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) decided to send an expedition to the north, near Mu’tah and Palestine, where a few years earlier Ja`far ibn Abi Talib, `Abdullah Ibn Rawahah, and Zayd ibn Harithah had been killed.

nature-peace

The Prophet had taught in various circumstances about warfare, respect for nature, or how to treat animals.

To everyone’s surprise, he gave the command to young Usamah, Zayd’s son, who was only twenty years old, though this three-thousand-strong army included such men as `Umar and other experienced Companions.

This choice gave rise to much criticism, but the Prophet reacted very promptly and put an end to all arguments when he proclaimed:

“You criticize the choice of Usamah to command the army as you had formerly criticized that of his father Zayd. Usamah is truly worthy of the command I entrust him with, as his father was before him.” (Ibn Hisham, As-Sirah an-Nabawiyyah)

Qualifications-based

In the past, some Muslims had reacted to the choice of Zayd because they still considered him as a slave, though he had been freed; now some opposed the choice of his son, perhaps because of his father, but mostly because of his young age.

By confirming his choice, Prophet Muhammad informed them that neither a man’s social origin nor his age should prevent him from exerting authority and power if he possessed the spiritual, intellectual, and moral qualities required. One had to show discernment by offering the most destitute in society real equality of opportunity and trusting the young so that everybody could express their skills and talents.

On a more general level, trust was a fine lesson in humility addressed to older Companions: they were to experience the inner, greater jihad of obeying a man who could have been their son, and in so doing remember that their time was limited, like any man’s.

By that choice, Prophet Muhammad taught them that time naturally erodes one’s energy, and one must be wise enough to learn to step aside, to delegate authority to those who are young and strong enough to create and build.

The Prophet gave young Usamah his recommendations and asked him to set out promptly. However, the Prophet’s sudden illness was to delay that departure, and the army waited near Medina during all those days of doubt about his condition.

Prophet Muhammad & War Ethics

A few weeks later, Abu Bakr was, according to the Prophet’s wish, to ask Usamah to carry out the expedition. He reminded him of the Prophet’s teachings concerning war ethics, for the latter had constantly insisted on the principles Muslims must respect when dealing with their enemies:

“Do not kill women, children, and old people,” Abu Bakr ordered him.

Literally, “Let the blood of women, children and old people never soil your hands.”

“Do not commit treacherous actions. Do not stray from the right path. Never mutilate. Do not destroy palm trees, do not burn houses and cornfields, do not cut down fruit trees, and do not kill livestock except when you are compelled to eat them …. As you move on, you will meet hermits who live in monasteries and serve God in seclusion. Leave them alone; do not kill them and do not destroy their monasteries.”  (At-Tabari)

Those teachings were essential, and they were conveyed to Usamah in the light of what the Prophet had said in various circumstances about warfare, respect for nature, or how to treat animals.

In a few sentences, Abu Bakr was synthesizing the essence of the Messenger’s teachings in this respect.

Years before, at the end of the Battle of Hunayn, the Prophet had passed by a group of people standing around a woman who lay on the ground, and heard that she had been killed by Khalid ibn Al-Waleed (who was then a recent convert). He was deeply angered and asked that Ibn Al-Waleed be told: “God’s Messenger forbids killing children, women, and slaves.” (Ibn Hisham, As-Sirah an-Nabawiyyah)

The Prophet’s Mercy

He had also blamed him when he had killed men who had already surrendered after a battle. In both cases, then, the message was the same: one should fight only enemy soldiers, while sparing all those who did not directly take part in armed conflict or could no longer cause any harm.

The Prophet had clearly stated before sending the Mu’tah expedition:

You shall not be treacherous, you shall not deceive, you shall not mutilate, you shall not kill children nor the inhabitants of hermitages (ashab as-sawami`).” (Ibn Hanbal)

War was never desirable, but when Muslims were compelled to it because they were attacked or because their survival was threatened, they had to keep strictly to what was needed to fight enemy forces who were armed and/ or determined to fight. If the latter wished for peace or surrendered, the war must be stopped, according to the Qur’anic injunction:

But if they incline toward peace, do you (also, in the same way) incline toward peace, and trust in God, for He is the One that hears and knows (all things). (Al-Anfal 8:61)

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The article is an excerpt from Dr. Tariq Ramadan’s In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press (2007).

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