Archive for May, 2015

Islam A Short History
The following is a reproduction of some observations I made while reading the first chapter of Karen Armstrong’s book “Islam: A Short History” well over a year ago.
All quotes and page numbers are from the e-book here
She writes;

” … the opposition grew, led by Abu al-Hakam (who is called Abu Jahl, “Father of Lies,” in the Quran), …” (p.12)

The Qur’an no where mentions Abu Jahl explicitly, what to say of giving him this title.

Islamic tradition would later assert that there had been 124,000 such prophets, a symbolic number suggesting infinity.” (p.8)

Clear reflection of the mythological orientalist belief that Hadith is a later “invention”

“On one occasion his most intelligent wife,Umm Salamah, helped to prevent a mutiny.” (p.16)
This is a reference to short lived reluctance of the companions to put off ihram at the eve of Hudaybiya. Giving it the name of mutiny can be the work of an orientalist genius only.

Giving plain injunctions the sense of mere “tradition”

One instrument often used by the orientalists and otherwise Muslim writers following their line is to put the garb of “tradition” on the plain injunctions of Islam. This is important because it exposes the plain narratives of Qur’an (and Hadith) to natural outburst against tradition.

“The Quran prescribes some degree of segregation and veiling for the Prophet’s wives, but there is nothing in the Quran that requires the veiling of all women or their seclusion in a separate part of the house. These customs were adopted some three or four generations after the Prophet’s death. Muslims at that time were copying the Greek Christians of Byzantium, who had long veiled and segregated their women in this manner; they also appropriated some of their Christian misogyny.” (p.16)

There can’t be greater ignorance of the Qur’an than this. See the wording in the Qur’an;

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ قُلْ لِأَزْوَاجِكَ وَبَنَاتِكَ وَنِسَاءِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ يُدْنِينَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِنْ جَلَابِيبِهِنَّ

“O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments.” (33:59)

Pragmatism and planning- the underpinning of Prophet’s maneuvers

The most crucial issue is about the attributing every kind of pragmatism to the Prophet (ﷺ) to ward off any idea of revelation guiding his course.

It starts with the attributing the change the Prophet (ﷺ) eventually brought to Arabia’s urge for something of the kind as if the Prophet (ﷺ) merely cashed what was just imminent. This is out-rightly false.

“There was also spiritual restlessness in Mecca and throughout the peninsula” and feeling of being left out of the divine plan (p.3) She repeats the same on p.7

Talking of the physical concomitants of revelation she writes;

“In purely secular terms, we could say that Muhammad had perceived the great problems confronting his people at a deeper level than most of his contemporaries, and that as he “listened” to events, he had to delve deeply and painfully into his inner being to find a solution that was not only politically viable but spiritually illuminating. He was also creating a new literary form and a masterpiece of Arab prose and poetry.” (p.5)

This is to say  revelation was not communication with divine but some extra-ordinary internal thought process. But she was well short of Watt’s all time record of verbal gimmicks on this particular subject.

Then she mentions the rise of religions bracketing Islam with rationalism of Europe. And further that;

“The Axial Age prophets and reformers all built on the old pagan rites of their region, and Muhammad would do the same.” (pp.7-8)

And then without any mincing or game of words;

Muhammad had been greatly excited by the prospect of working closely with the Jewish tribes, and had even, shortly before the hijrah, introduced some practices (such as communal prayer on Friday afternoons, when Jews would be preparing for the Sabbath, and a fast on the Jewish Day of Atonement) to align Islam more closely with Judaism. (pp.16-17)

But some of the Jews in the smaller clans were friendly and enhanced Muhammad’s knowledge of Jewish scripture. He was especially delighted to hear that in the Book of Genesis Abraham had two sons: Isaac and Ishmael (who became Ismail in Arabic), the child of his concubine Hagar …. This was music to Muhammad’s ears. (p.17)

In short, they would accept Prophet as a great politician, reformer, manager, leader, statesman but nothing close to someone on a mission from God.
One may ask what else should one expect from non-Muslims? The point is not about expectation from non-Muslims, rather it is about the effect it has when a Muslim reads them with awe and preconceived notion of objectivity on their part. It can create havoc as their writings slowly erode or dim the idea of revelation being the cornerstone of the entire Islamic rubric.
For more information and insight into the orientalist approach towards the life of the Holy Prophet (ﷺ) see this translation of a paper by Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi.

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