Read the Passage | Wherever Mohammed (SAW) took over, he instructed people to live in peace with one another, and the converts did

Mohammed never claimed supernatural powers. He never claimed the ability to raise the dead, walk on water, or make the blind to see. He only claimed to speak for God, and he didn’t claim that every word out of his mouth was God talking.

Sometimes it was just Mohammed talking. How could people tell when it was God and when it was Mohammed? At the time, apparently, it was obvious.

   

Today’s Muslims have a special way of vocalizing the Qur’an called qira’ut. It’s a sound quite unlike any other made by the human voice. It’s musical, but it isn’t singing. It’s incantatory, but it isn’t chanting. It invokes emotion even in someone who doesn’t understand the words.

Every person who performs qira’ut does so differently, but every recitation feels like an imitation or intimation or interpretation of some powerful original. When Mohammed delivered the Qur’an, he must have done so in this penetrating and emotional voice.

When people heard the Qur’an from Mohammed, they were not just listening to words but experiencing an emotional force. Perhaps this is why Muslims insist that no translation of the Qur’an is the Qur’an.

The true Qur’an is the whole package, indivisible: the words and their meanings, yes, but also the very sounds, even the look of the lettering when the Qur’an is in written form. To Muslims, it wasn’t Mohammed the person but the Qur’an coming through Mohammed that was converting people.

One other factor attracted people to the community and inspired them to believe Mohammed’s claims. In this part of the world, small-scale warfare was endemic, as it seems to be in any area populated by many small nomadic tribes among whom trading blends into raiding (such as North America’s eastern woodlands before Columbus arrived, or the Great Plains shortly after).

Add the Arabian tradition of blood feuds lasting for generations, add also the tapestry of fragile tribal alliances that marked the peninsula at this time, and you have a world seething with constant, ubiquitous violence.

Wherever Mohammed took over, he instructed people to live in peace with one another, and the converts did. By no means did he tell Muslims to eschew violence, for this community never hesitated to defend itself. Muslims still engaged in warfare, just not against one another; they expended their aggressive energy fighting the relentless outside threat to their survival. Those who joined the Umma immediately entered Dar al-Islam, which means “the realm of submission (to God)” but also, by implication, “the realm of peace.”

Everyone else was living out there in Dar al-Harb, the realm of war. Those who joined the Umma didn’t have to watch their backs anymore, not with their fellow Muslims. Converting also meant joining an inspiring social project: the construction of a just community of social equals. To keep that community alive, you had to fight, because the Umma and its project had implacable enemies. Jihad never meant “holy war” or “violence.”

Other words in Arabic mean “fighting” more unambiguously (and are used as such in the Qur’an). A better translation for jihad might be “struggle,” with all the same connotations the word carries in the rhetoric of social justice movements familiar to the West: struggle is deemed noble when it’s struggle for a just cause and if the cause demands “armed struggle,” that’s okay too; it’s sanctified by the cause.

Over the next two years, tribes all across the Arabian peninsula began accepting Mohammed’s leadership, converting to Islam, and joining the community. One night Mohammed dreamed that he had returned to Mecca and found everyone there worshipping Allah. In the morning, he told his followers to pack for a pilgrimage. He led fourteen hundred Muslims on the two-hundred-mile trek to Mecca. They came unarmed, despite the recent history of hostilities, but no battle broke out. The city closed its gates to the Muslims, but Quraysh elders came out and negotiated a treaty with Mohammed: the Muslims could not enter Mecca this year but could come back and perform their rites of pilgrimage next year. Clearly, the Quraysh knew the game was over.

In year 6 AH, the Muslims came back to Mecca and visited the Ka’ba without violence. Two years later, the elders of Mecca surrendered the city to Mohammed without a fight. As his first act, the Prophet destroyed all the idols in the Ka’ba and declared this cube with the black cornerstone the holiest spot in the world. A few of Mohammed’s former enemies grumbled and muttered threats, but the tide had turned. Virtually all the tribes had united under Mohammed’s banner, and all of Arabia was living in harmony for the first time in reported memory. In year 10 AH (632 CE), Mohammed made one more pilgrimage to Mecca and there gave a final sermon. He told the assembled men to regard the life and property of every Muslim as sacred, to respect the rights of all people including slaves, to acknowledge that women had rights over men just as men had rights over women, and to recognize that among Muslims no one stood higher or lower than anyone else except in virtue. He also said he was the last of God’s Messengers and that after him no further revelations would be coming to humanity.

Shortly after returning to Medina, he fell ill. Burning with fever, he went from house to house, visiting his wives and friends, spending a moment or two with each one, and saying good-bye. He ended up with his wife Ayesha, the daughter of his old friend Abu Bakr, and there, with his head in her lap, he died. Someone went out and gave the anxious crowd the news. At once, loyal Omar, one of Mohammed’s fiercest and toughest but also one of his most hotheaded companions, jumped to his feet and warned that any man who spread such slander would lose limbs when his lie was exposed. Mohammed dead? Impossible!

Then the older and more prudent Abu Bakr went to investigate. A moment later he came back and said, “O Muslims! Those of you who worshipped Mohammed, know that Mohammed is dead. Those of you who worship Allah, know that Allah is alive and immortal.” The words swept away Omar’s rage and denial. He felt, he told friends later, as if the ground had been cut out from under him. He broke down crying, then, this strong bull of a man, because he realized that the news was true: God’s Messenger was dead.

( Allah’s Mercy, peace and  blessings be upon him)

Tamim Ansary. Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes

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