Refu­ta­tion of Arthur Jef­fery : Was Muham­mad A Prophet From His Infancy ?

Excerpt­ed from1 Sir­at Al-Nabi and the Ori­en­tal­ists : With Spe­cial Ref­er­ence to the Writ­ings of William Muir, D.S. Mar­go­liouth and W. Mont­gomery Watt 2, Vol. IA (1st ed., 1997), Chap­ter XIV, pp. 203 – 215. Compiled/​Edited by Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi.

Mar­goli­uth has been fol­lowed in his argu­ments and con­clu­sions3 by many a sub­se­quent writer. Men­tion may be made, how­ev­er, of Arthur Jef­fery who, some quar­ter of a cen­tu­ry after the appear­ance of Mar­goli­uth’s work, har­nessed the ori­en­tal­ists’ argu­ments on this ques­tion in an arti­cle cap­tioned : Was Muham­mad a Prophet from His Infan­cy.“4 Jef­fery starts with the obser­va­tion that the whole ques­tion of Muhammad’s(P) immu­ni­ty from idol­a­try in his ear­ly life is an exceed­ing­ly fool­ish one”, for it is obvi­ous to any instruct­ed intel­li­gence that every prophet before his call has fol­lowed the reli­gion of his peo­ple, and that an infant prophet would be psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly a mon­strousi­ty.“5 Thus cas­ti­gat­ing the Mus­lim atti­tude on the sub­ject Jef­fery fore­stalls the objec­tions that might be raised to the tra­di­tions he cites by say­ing that the Mus­lim crit­i­cism of tra­di­tion con­cerned itself sole­ly with the exam­i­na­tion of the sanad ” and paid very lit­tle atten­tion to the matn or sub­stance of tra­di­tion itself”; but atten­tion to the lat­ter yields aston­ish­ing­ly fruit­ful results”. Hence mod­ern schol­ar­ship treats con­cen­tra­tion on isnad alone as worth­less. He fur­ther says that as in the cas­es of Jesus, Bud­dha or even Alexan­der, there grew an ide­al­iz­ing ten­den­cy in the case of Muhammad(P) too at a sub­se­quent peri­od giv­ing rise to many such tra­di­tions. It is thus pre­cise­ly those tra­di­tions which are far­thest from this ide­al­iz­ing ten­den­cy which are a pri­ori the most like­ly to be gen­uine.” For, these could not have been invent­ed after the ide­al­iz­ing process had start­ed” and they would in all like­li­hood have been sup­pressed at that time had they not been old and unques­tion­ably authen­tic.“6 He fur­ther says that the Qur’an­ic pas­sage 93:6 – 7 shows that Allah found Muhammad(P) in a false reli­gion” and then guid­ed him to the true one and that his whole atti­tude in the Qur’an is that of a man who has for­sak­en the old reli­gion of his peo­ple and is press­ing on them the neces­si­ty of embrac­ing a new and bet­ter reli­gion. Jef­fery then enu­mer­ates the fol­low­ing six rea­sons in sup­port of his view :

(i) In his Kitab al-Bad’ wa al-Tarikh Al-Maq­disi gives a tra­di­tion on the author­i­ty of Qatadah7 which says that the first son whom Khadi­jah (r.a.) bore to the Prophet in the Jahiliyya was named by him Abd Man­af, i.e. Ser­vant of Man­af”. Man­af was the name of an ancient and at one time impor­tant idol of Mak­ka. And since Muham­mad (P) after his assump­tion of the prophet­ic office” took care to change the names of those of his fol­low­ers which were rem­i­nis­cent of the old pagan­ism”, it is obvi­ous that he would not have named his first-born Abd Man­af had he been at that time fol­low­ing the reli­gion of Abra­ham’ which he lat­er pro­fessed”.8

(ii) Pri­or to his prophet­hood he mar­ried three of his daugh­ters to three idol­a­trous hus­bands (two to Abu Lahab’s two sons and the eldest to Abu al-‘As ibn Rabi); and at that time there was no con­scious­ness on the part of any­one of any dif­fer­ences between the reli­gion of Muham­mad and that of his Mec­can con­tem­po­raries.“9

(iii) Refer­ring to the Prophet’s arbi­tra­tion in set­ting the Black Stone to its place at th time of rebuild­ing the Ka’­ba, Jef­fery says that the fact that Muhammad(P) took part in the rebuild­ing of the Ka’­ba, the House of that al-Lat, al-‘Uzza and Man­at” against whom he lat­er ful­mi­nat­ed in the Qur’an” shows that he was then fol­low­ing peace­ful­ly the reli­gion of his peo­ple”.10

(iv) Jef­fery cites the tra­di­tion in the Mus­nad (iv, 222), already referred to by Mar­goli­uth, which speaks of a neigh­bour over­hear­ing the Prophet’s state­ment to his wife refus­ing to wor­ship Al-Lat and Al-‘Uzza, and the neigh­bour’s remark : Those were the idols which they used to wor­ship, and then go to bed”. Jef­fery adds his own rea­sons for sup­port­ing Mar­goli­uth’s inter­pre­ta­tion of the tra­di­tion.11 These rea­sons will be con­sid­ered presently.

(v) Jef­fery also cites the tra­di­tion in the Mus­nad (i, 189), also cit­ed ear­li­er by Mar­goli­uth, pur­port­ing to show that Zayd ibn Amr ibn Nufayl inspired the Prophet to aban­don eat­ing meat offered to idols.12 Jef­fery adds his own rea­sons which will be dis­cussed presently.

(vi) Final­ly Jefer­ry cites also the tra­di­tion, men­tioned ear­li­er by Mar­goli­uth, which pur­ports to show that the Prophet once offered a sheep to Al-‘Uzza.13

It may be not­ed that the first in these series of argu­ments is only a doc­u­men­ta­tion of Mar­goli­uth’s state­ment about the idol­a­trous nature of the names of some of the Prophet’s chil­dren. The argu­ments at (iii) about the Prophet’s role in the reset­ting of the Black Stone is also some­what an exten­sion of Mar­goli­uth’s remarks about the Black Stone. And the points enu­mer­at­ed at (iv), (v) and (vi) are a reit­er­a­tion of those men­tioned by Mar­goli­uth. Thus the only addi­tion­al argu­ment which may be said to be essen­tial­ly Jef­fer­y’s own is that at (ii). But since he adduces his own rea­sons to strength­en all these points, all of them will be tak­en into con­sid­er­a­tion one by one. Before doing so, how­ev­er, it would be worth­while to exam­ine a lit­tle close­ly Jef­fer­y’s pre­lim­i­nary remarks.

It may be not­ed at the out­set that Jef­fery some­what inflates the propo­si­tion in order to make out his case. Mus­lims nev­er do claim that Muham­mad (P) was a Prophet since his infan­cy, as Jef­fery puts it, nor do they say that the Prophet fol­lowed since his boy­hood the reli­gion of Abra­ham. They only say that the Prophet was free from the stain of poly­the­ism (shirk) even in his pre-prophet­ic life. This is not the same thing as say­ing that he was a Prophet from” his infan­cy. Again, Jef­fer­y’s state­ment that it is suf­fi­cient­ly obvi­ous to any instruct­ed intel­li­gence that every prophet fol­lowed the reli­gion of his peo­ple” is arguable. Nor is it at all fool­ish” to think of a per­son, even though born and brought up amidst a cer­tain reli­gious envi­ron­ment, not prac­tic­ing the reli­gious rites of that reli­gious sys­tem. Such could be more eas­i­ly the case where, as in the Makkan trib­al soci­ety, the per­for­mance of reli­gious rites was more in the nature of a com­mu­nal exer­cise than of per­son­al prac­tice. Indeed in such a soci­ety non-par­tic­i­pa­tion in the com­mu­nal reli­gious func­tions by any indi­vid­ual would be rather a pas­sive and unob­tru­sive atti­tude on his part than any notice­able dis­rup­tion in the socio-reli­gious sys­tem. Instances are not want­i­ng of non-prac­tic­ing Chris­tians”, for instance, in a Chris­t­ian soci­ety. And if enquiries are made about what exact­ly such non-prac­tic­ing” indi­vid­u­als believe in, many of them would be found to be in an intel­lec­tu­al vac­u­um or are athe­ists or marx­ists, though they gen­er­al­ly pass off as nor­mal mem­bers of their respec­tive reli­gious communities.

The mat­ter goes beyond this, how­ev­er. It is obvi­ous to any instruct­ed intel­li­gence that in the case of many a great man the signs of his sub­se­quent great­ness were dis­cern­able even in his ear­ly life. And in so far as a great reli­gious fig­ure is con­cerned it is not at all unlike­ly that God sets his mind in the right direc­tion from his boy­hood. Enquiries made with per­sons new­ly embrac­ing a monothes­tic reli­gion but pre­vi­ous­ly belong­ing to anoth­er reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty reveal that in many cas­es they had devel­oped an abhor­rence of the poly­the­is­tic prac­tices of their com­mu­ni­ties and avoid­ed those prac­tices since an ear­ly stage of their lives. The present writer inter­viewed a young Ben­gali Hin­du con­vert to Islam study­ing at the Mad­i­na Islam­ic Uni­ver­si­ty. He stat­ed that he began to dis­like and avoid the wor­ship of idols when he was 8 or 9 years of age, embraced Islam when he was about 12 years, left home, trav­elled to Pak­istan with the help of a bene­fac­tor and after fin­ish­ing his sec­ondary edu­ca­tion there joined the Mad­i­na Islam­ic Uni­ver­si­ty and grad­u­at­ed this year (1991).14 Anoth­er young con­vert to Islam, for­mer­ly belong­ing to a Chris­t­ian fam­i­ly at Leices­ter, Eng­land, who also stud­ied for some time at the Mad­i­na Islam­ic Uni­ver­si­ty, relat­ed to the writer a sim­i­lar sto­ry of his ear­ly absti­nence from the Chris­t­ian forms of wor­ship. The idea of a boy belong­ing to a poly­the­is­tic soci­ety yet not prac­tic­ing poly­the­ism is thus not at all fool­ish” as Jef­fery so con­fi­dent­ly asserts.

His state­ment about the nature of Mus­lim crit­i­cism of tra­di­tion also is unten­able. The Mus­lim crit­i­cism was not con­cerned sole­ly” with the exam­i­na­tion of isnad ; and even if that were so, that is no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for a total dis­pens­ing with the exam­i­na­tion of the author­i­ty on which a par­tic­u­lar tra­di­tion pur­ports to be based, as the ori­en­tal­ists seem to do. The accu­sa­tion orig­i­nal­ly made by Muir and since then echoed by many includ­ing Jef­fery that there was a prone­ness on the part of the Mus­lim author­i­ties of the old to sup­press any report deroga­to­ry to their Prophet is absolute­ly unjus­ti­fi­able. There nev­er was any attempt to sup­press any­thing. On the con­trary, the attempt was to col­lect and pre­serve any­thing and every­thing that was avail­able and in cir­cu­la­tion. In fact there could be no attempt as such to sup­press any­thing ; for the writ­ing down or cir­cu­la­tion of tra­di­tions was no cen­tral­ized affair and there con­ceiv­ably be no machin­ery to pre­vent an indi­vid­ual from writ­ing down and trans­mit­ting a report or infor­ma­tion he cared to col­lect. Sup­pres­sion of any­thing under the cir­cum­stances was out of the ques­tion. It was because of this absence of any plan or fea­si­bil­i­ty to super­vise and con­trol the issuance of tra­di­tion, and because it was found that many spu­ri­ous tra­di­tions were led of neces­si­ty to for­mu­late cri­te­ria to dis­tin­guish the gen­uine from the spu­ri­ous tra­di­tions. The sheer his­tor­i­cal fact is that there was no means of con­trol­ling the issuances of tra­di­tions while there was an abun­dance and unbri­dled growth of spu­ri­ous tra­di­tions. The empha­sis on isnad is an out­come of this his­tor­i­cal fact ; and it is this fact which makes it absolute­ly nec­es­sary to strict­ly exam­ine espe­cial­ly those very tra­di­tions that seem to run counter to the gen­er­al­ly accept­ed facts about the Prophet’s life or sup­ply con­tra­dic­to­ry and incon­sis­tent infor­ma­tion on any par­tic­u­lar point.

On the basi­cal­ly faulty assump­tion that there was a prone­ness on the part of the Mus­lims to sup­press any report dis­cred­itable to their Prophet the ori­en­tal­ists gen­er­al­ly go to the oppo­site extreme of exhibit­ing a prone­ness on their part to treat as gen­uine any­thing that appears to reflect dis­cred­itably on the Prophet. Jef­fer­y’s state­ment that the tra­di­tions which are far­thest from the ide­al­is­ing ten­den­cy are a pri­ori the most like­ly to be gen­uine is symp­to­matic of this atti­tude. Even the exis­tence of an ide­al­iz­ing ten­den­cy and th like­li­hood of the oppo­site type of tra­di­tions being gen­uine do not by them­selves con­sti­tute suf­fi­cient grounds for doing away with any crit­i­cal exam­i­na­tion of the lat­ter in respect of both isnad and oth­er aspects. After all, Mus­lims do not read­i­ly accept the so-called ide­al­iz­ing tra­di­tions on the face of them with­out sub­ject­ing them to any test. That a lit­tle care­ful exam­i­na­tion of the tra­di­tions cit­ed by Jef­fery in sup­port of his view, in respect of both isnad and matn, reveals their weak­ness­es and the haz­ard in treat­ing them as con­clu­sive on the points at issue would be seen presently.

Jef­fer­y’s first evi­dence is the report of Qatadah not­ed by Al-Maq­disi15 and relat­ing to the name of the Prophet’s first born of Khadi­jah (r.a.). It is defec­tive in many ways. This Qatadah (ibn Di’amah, d. 117/​118H.) is gen­er­al­ly con­sid­ered a decep­tive (mudal­lis) nar­ra­tor who, it is fur­ther on record, quot­ed some thir­ty dif­fer­ent per­sons as his infor­mants but from whom he has nev­er heard any­thing.16 In the present instance it is not even men­tioned from whom he received this par­tic­u­lar infor­ma­tion. More impor­tant still, there is a gap of about two hun­dred years between Al-Maq­disi (d. 355 H.) and Sa’ad ibn Abi’U­rubah (d. 156157 H.) who is said to have received the infor­ma­tion from Qatadah. Yet Al-Maq­disi does not men­tion how or through which sources he received the lat­ter’s report. This is all the more remark­able because he men­tions the book of Ibn Ishaq as the source while say­ing that the lat­ter’s state­ment on the sub­ject dif­fers from that of Sa’ad ibn Abi Urubah.17 Apart from this con­sid­er­a­tion of the isnad, the text itself exhibits its weak­ness. Al-Maq­disi writes : Accord­ing to a report of Sa’ad ibn Abi Urubah from Qatadah she (Khadi­jah, r.a.) gave birth to Abd Man­af for the Mes­sen­ger of Allah(P) in the Jahiliyyah and she gave birth for him in Islam to two sons and four daugh­ters, Al-Qasim and Abd Allah, and these two died in their child­hood. And in the book of Ibn Ishaq it is stat­ed that his two sons died in the Jahiliyyah.“18

Now, the most impor­tant thing to note about this text is that while it specif­i­cal­ly states that the two sons, Al-Qasim and Abd Allah, who are said to have been born in Islam, died in their child­hood, it does not say what hap­pened to the alleged Abd Man­af who is said to have been born bre­fore them in the Jahiliyyah. The empha­sis laid on the death in child­hood of the two oth­er sons implied that the so-called Abd Man­af did not so die. But his­to­ry does not know of any son for the Prophet attain­ing age or sur­viv­ing him. Hence the state­ment in the report is clear­ly a mis­take or con­fu­sion on the part of the per­son who made or trans­mit­ted it.

That there has been some con­fu­sion or mis­take appears all the clear­er from the fact that in the Sir­at Mughal­tay it is unequiv­o­ca­bly stat­ed that Khadi­jah(R) gave birth to a son named Abd Man­af (or Abd Allah) for her first hus­band Atiq ibn A’id.19 The report under con­sid­er­a­tion appears to hav con­fused this Abd Man­af as the Prophet’s first son, because he sub­se­quent­ly mar­ried Khadi­jah (r.a.). It may also be not­ed in this con­nec­tion that Ibn Asakir (d. 571) quotes a report from the same Qatadah which says that only four sons were born to the Prophet of whom the eldest was named Al-Qasim.20 In this report there is no men­tion of Abd Man­af at all.

Thus, to sum up, the report giv­en by Al-Maq­disi on the sup­posed author­i­ty of Qatadah does not agree with anoth­er of the same Qatadah’s report on the same sub­ject cit­ed by Ibn Asakir. Sec­ond­ly, there is no men­tion of Qatadah’s infor­mants nor does Al-Maq­disi men­tion how he received the report said to have been trans­mit­ted by Sa’ad ibn Abi Urubah who had died about a cou­ple of cen­turies before him. Third­ly, the report implies that the alleged Abd Man­af did not die in child­hood while the oth­er two sons of the Prophet did so. But his­to­ry does not record any son of the Prophet attain­ing matu­ri­ty or sur­viv­ing him. Fourth­ly, Al-Maq­dis­i’s infor­ma­tion is in con­flict with that giv­en by all the ear­li­er author­i­ties includ­ing Ibn Ishaq. It would be both arbi­tri­ary and unfair to assume that all those ear­li­er author­i­ties were par­ties to sup­press­ing such an impor­tant fact relat­ing to the Prophet as the exis­tence and name of anoth­er son for him. Last but not least, if there was an eldest son oth­er than Al-Qasim, the Prophet’s kun­ya would have been “ Abu so-and-so” instead of Abu Al-Qasim, for the kun­ya of a per­son was invari­ably after his first-born child. Even Al-Maq­disi notes that Abu Al-Qasim was the Prophet’s kun­ya.21 For all these rea­sons the report under dis­cus­sion is not at all cred­i­ble.22

Jef­fer­y’s sec­ond argu­ment that the Prophet, before his call, had mar­ried three of his daugh­ters to three idol­a­trous hus­bands with­out any­one notic­ing at the time any dif­fer­ence in his faith is equal­ly inef­fec­tive. There was no pro­hi­bi­tion in pre-Islam­ic Arab soci­ety on mar­riages between per­sons or fam­i­lies of dif­fer­ent reli­gious per­sua­sions. That pro­hi­bi­tion in Islam came much lat­er on. Pre­vi­ous­ly to that devel­op­ment such mar­riages took place in the Ara­bi­an soci­ety with­out any notice­able objec­tions being raised or any qualms of con­science being exhib­it­ed by any quar­ter. For instance, the Yathrib­ite leader Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf’s moth­er was a Jew­ess of Banu al-Nadir, while his father, Ashraf, was a poly­the­ist of Banu al-Nab­han. Sim­i­lar­ly, though Zayd ibn Amr ibn Nufayl was a monothe­ist (hanif) not prac­tis­ing poly­the­ism, no one object­ed to his son Sa’ad being mar­ried to the poly­the­ist Al-Khat­tab’s daugh­ter (‘Umar ibn al-Khat­tab’s sis­ter) Fatimah before the com­ing of Islam. Again, Waraqah ibn Naw­fal, though a monothe­ist and a Chris­t­ian, did not find any dif­fi­cul­ty in liv­ing peace­ful­ly and as a nor­mal mem­ber of his poly­the­is­tic fam­i­ly and clan. That Abu Lahab and his wife per­suad­ed their wives to dis­band their mar­riages to the Prophet’s daugh­ters was due not real­ly to his change as such in his reli­gious belief, but because he open­ly denounced the old faith, preached a new one and sum­moned his peo­ple to accept it. The enmi­ty of Abu Lahab and the oth­ers were excit­ed by this lat­ter aspect of the Prophet’s activ­i­ties. Had he remained silent with his own faith and not attempt­ed to change the faith of his peo­ple, no objec­tion would per­haps have been raised against him at all, nei­ther by Abu Lahab nor by the oth­ers. Jef­fer­y’s argu­ment ignores this fact and also the pecu­liar mar­i­tal prac­tices in pre-Islam­ic Ara­bia. It also fails to dis­tin­guish between the state of one’s silent and unob­tru­sive non-obser­vance of poly­the­is­tic prac­tices on the one hand and the state of one’s open and chal­leng­ing denun­ci­a­tion of the pop­u­lar reli­gion cou­pled with the pro­mul­ga­tion of a new faith and steps to secure con­verts to it, on the other.

As regards the third argu­ment that Muhammad(P) by his arbi­tra­tion and action in reset­ting the Black Stone par­tic­i­pat­ed in rebuild­ing the Ka’­ba the House of that al-Lat, al-‘Uzza and Man­at” against whom he ful­mi­nat­ed” sub­se­quent­ly, Jef­fery is mis­tak­en in two ways. The Ka’­ba was not the house of Al-Lat, Al-‘Uzza and Man­at. They and their shrines were sit­u­at­ed respec­tive­ly at Ta’if, Nakha­la and Qudayd (near the Red Sea coast between Mak­ka and Mad­i­na) though they were revered by the Quraysh.23 Nor was the Ka’­ba at Mak­ka sanc­ti­fied and revered by the Makkans and Arabs in gen­er­al as the house of their idols, though a good num­ber of them were indeed placed in and around it. In fact a num­ber of shrines of their idols at dif­fer­ent places also were called ka’bas, such as the Ka’­ba at Najran, the Ka’­ba at Sin­dad (between Kufa and Bas­ra)24 and the Ka’­ba al-Yamaniyyah at Dhu al-Kha­lasah25. In so far as the Ka’­ba at Mak­ka was con­cerned, how­ev­er, the Arabs held it in spe­cial esteem as ascribed it to the pre­em­i­nent posi­tion not as the shrine of any par­tic­u­lar idol or as the house of their idols in gen­er­al, but as the House of Allah and because of its asso­ci­a­tion with the mem­o­ry of Prophets Ibrahim and Isma’il. It was also only to this Ka’­ba that the Arabs, despite their lapse into idol­a­try, per­formed umrah and hajj in pur­suance of the Abra­ham­ic tra­di­tion. Hence the Prophet’s arbi­tra­tion and action in re-set­ting the Black Stone to the Ka’­ba was no par­tic­i­pa­tion in the build­ing of an idol house, nor is it at all an evi­dence of his fol­low­ing at that time peace­ful­ly the reli­gion of his people”.

Jef­fer­y’s fourth plea is the report of Mus­nad (iv, 222) which Mar­goli­uth cites and which speaks of a neigh­bour’s over­hear­ing the Prophet’s con­ver­sa­tion with Khadi­jah in which he (the Prophet) refused to wor­ship Al-Lat and Al-‘Uzza. The faulty nature of Mar­goli­uth’s con­clu­sion on this report, par­tic­u­lar­ly the gram­mat­i­cal objec­tions to apply­ing the neigh­bour’s remark those were the idols which they used to wor­ship and then go to bed”, to the Prophet and his wife, have been shown above.26 Jef­fery attempts to sup­port Mar­goli­uth’s con­clu­sion in three ways : (a) He mis­trans­lates the Prophet s state­ment in the report in order to make it con­form to his con­clu­sion (b) He puts for­ward an excuse to avoid the gram­mat­i­cal objec­tions to tak­ing the neigh­bour’s remark as apply­ing to the Prophet and his wife ; and (c) he makes a few obser­va­tions about the impli­ca­tions of the report as a whole to sup­port his conclusion.

Jef­fery trans­lates the Prophet’s state­ment : (Iyya Khadi­jah wa Allahu la a‘budu al-Lat wal Uzza, wa Allahu la a‘budu abadan) as : Oh Khadi­jah : By Allah, I will not wor­ship Al-Lat nor Al-‘Uzza : by Allah I will not per­form wor­ship again“27 This trans­la­tion is faulty in three ways. In the first place, he ren­ders the verb la a‘budu in both places of the state­ment in the future tense which is con­trary to the gram­mat­i­cal rules. It is to be not­ed that in this state­ment the verb a‘budu is used twice and both in the imper­fect (mudari) form. In Ara­bic this form is used to mean either the present (hal) or the future (mus­taqbal) tense. But the gen­er­al rule is that where in the same state­ment the verb occurs in the same mudari form, the first use is to be tak­en in present (hal) tense and the sec­ond in the future (mus­taqbal) tense. In addi­tion to this gen­er­al rule, this is to be so spe­cial­ly and invari­ably when there are clear indi­ca­tions that the sec­ond use of the verb has to be tak­en in the future tense. In the state­ment under ref­er­ence, the verb a‘budu in the sec­ond place, is fol­lowed by the expres­sion abadan which unmis­tak­ably indi­cates that here the verb is in the future tense. The first use of the verb in the state­ment must there­fore be tak­en to be in the present tense (hal). On these sim­ple rules the cor­rect trans­la­tion of the Prophet’s state­ment (… wa Allahu la a‘budu al-Lat wal Uzza , wa Allahu la a‘budu abadan) would be : By Allah, I do not wor­ship Al-Lat and Al-‘Uzza : by Allah I will nev­er wor­ship (them).” The verb in the first instance must be tak­en in the sense of a sim­ple present tense because in the sec­ond instance it is ear­marked as the future tense by using abadan with it. And as it can­not be assumed that the Prophet was sim­ply say­ing that he was at the moment not engaged in the act of wor­ship­ping these idols, the first half of the state­ment must be tak­en to be an asser­tion of his habit and prac­tice and the sec­ond half as an emphat­ic refusal to do so in future. In oth­er words the Prophet stat­ed that it was not his prac­tice to wor­ship those idols nor would he ever wor­ship them.

The sec­ond fault in Jef­fer­y’s trans­la­tion is his dis­re­gard or side-track­ing of the mean­ing of la . .. abadan which stands for nev­er”. Instead of cor­rect­ly ren­der­ing the mean­ing of this expres­sion Jef­fery imports, and this is the third fault of the trans­la­tion, the word again” here, trans­lat­ing the clause as : I will not per­form wor­ship again”. The use of la with abadan in Ara­bic invari­ably means nev­er”; nev­er does the expres­sion mean again”. Jef­fery makes this three-fold incor­rect trans­la­tion — ren­der­ing the verbs in the future tense in both places, side-track­ing the mean­ing of la . .. abadan and import­ing again” in its stead — obvi­ous­ly to imply that while the Prophet used pre­vi­ous­ly to wor­ship those idols, he now assert­ed that he would hence­forth not do so again”. Such a mean­ing is total­ly unjus­ti­fied by the text.

In addi­tion to this twist­ing in the trans­la­tion of the text Jef­fery advances an excuse to cir­cum­vent the gram­mat­i­cal objec­tions to apply­ing the last sen­tence of the report, the neigh­bour’s remark, These were the idols which they used to wor­ship, and then go to bed” to the Prophet and his wife by say­ing that a mod­ern writer is like­ly to be metic­u­lous in his use of duals and plu­rals but ancient­ly it was not so”. He fur­ther says that the whole tra­di­tion would be point­less if it does not refer to the house­hold of Muham­mad and Khadi­ja, and if pressed we could always argue that the plur­al is used to include the fam­i­ly.“28

The excuse offered by Jef­fery to dis­re­gard the gram­mat­i­cal objec­tions is sim­ply poor and unac­cept­able. The nar­ra­tors of tra­di­tions do not at all appear to be such weak­lings in Ara­bic usage as to be care­less about the rules regard­ing duals and plu­rals in verbs. Jef­fery him­self betrays an aware­ness of the weak­ness of his posi­tion when he says : if pressed we could always argue that the plur­al is used to include the fam­i­ly.” Yes, the plur­al is used for the fam­i­ly, i.e. Khadi­jah’s parental fam­i­ly or the Quraysh fam­i­ly in gen­er­al, not the fam­i­ly con­sti­tut­ed by Khadi­jah or her hus­band on their marriage.

And this in fact brings us to Jef­fer­y’s obser­va­tions about the impli­ca­tions of the tra­di­tion in gen­er­al. He says that the tra­di­tion rais­es the veil from Muhammad’s(P) domes­tic life for a moment and that it comes from that peri­od in his spir­i­tu­al devel­op­ment when he was begin­ning to feel the futil­i­ty of idol wor­ship” either under the influ­ence of the pur­er reli­gion around him” or of those shad­owy per­sons the Han­i­fs”.29

The tra­di­tion might be rais­ing the veil for a moment from the domes­tic life of Muham­mad ; but it does not come from the peri­od of his sup­posed par­tic­u­lar spir­i­tu­al devel­op­ment under the influ­ences men­tioned. For if the Prophet, after hav­ing wor­shipped the idols with Khadi­jah for any length of time, had sub­se­quent­ly devel­oped a new atti­tude towards them she would have been well aware of it and the con­ver­sa­tion on the sub­ject would have tak­en a dif­fer­ent form. At least Khadi­jah would not have cut short of the sub­ject by say­ing leave that Al-Lat, leave that Al-‘Uzza” and would rather have sought some expla­na­tion for her hus­band’s new atti­tude. Nor would the Prophet have replied in the man­ner he did but would have used some oth­er words indi­cat­ing the rea­son for his new atti­tude, espe­cial­ly as he was talk­ing to his wife. Thus the tenor and pur­port of the con­ver­sa­tion make it amply clear that it took place, if at all, at the very ini­tial stage of their mar­i­tal life when the Prophet was con­front­ed for the first time with a sit­u­a­tion which nec­ces­si­tat­ed a state­ment of his atti­tude towards the idols. Most prob­a­bly it took place when he spent the night for the first time with Khadi­jah’s parental fam­i­ly or it was the annu­al occa­sion falling for the first time after their mar­riage when the Quraysh used to pay homage to those idols. This expla­na­tions of the inci­dent hav­ing tak­en place at the ini­tial stage of their mar­ried life would fit in well with every­thing in the report. It would agree with the cor­rect mean­ing of the Prophet’s state­ment, as not­ed above, with­out the need for manip­u­lat­ing it in order to make it con­form to a par­tic­u­lar pre­con­cep­tion. There would be no need to inpute igno­rance of gram­mat­i­cal knowl­edge to the ear­ly nar­ra­tors of tra­di­tions, nor would the report be oth­er­wise point­less, as Jef­fery imag­ines. By all canons of con­sid­er­a­tion the report must be relat­ed to a sit­u­a­tion at the ini­tial stage of the Prophet’s mar­ried life with Khadijah.

In argu­ing that the tra­di­tion comes from a time when Muham­mad began to feel the futil­i­ty of idol wor­ship Jef­fery in effect admits that in so far as this par­tic­u­lar report is con­cerned it shows that the Prophet hence­forth did not adore the idols and ceased wor­ship­ping them. This admis­sion, togeth­er with the fact that the inci­dent must have tak­en place not long after the Prophet’s mar­riage with Khadi­jah, inval­i­date Jef­fer­y’s three pre­vi­ous argu­ments too. For, when it is recog­nised that the Prophet saw the futil­i­ty of idol wor­ship and ceased doing so at least since an ear­ly stage of his mar­ried life, it can­not be con­sis­tent­ly be argued that he nonethe­less named his chil­dren, when born, after the idols ; nor that he, by his arbi­tra­tion in reset­ting the Black Stone to the Ka’­ba only five years pri­or to his call to Prophet­hood, par­tic­i­pat­ed in build­ing a house for the idols ; nor that he was still a poly­the­ist when he gave his daugh­ters in mar­riage to polytheists !

As regards the remaing two points (e & f), name­ly the tra­di­tion regard­ing Zayd ibn Amr ibn Nufayl’s refusal to par­take of meat offered to idols and the tra­di­tion which alleges that the Prophet once offered a grey sheep to Al-‘Uzza, Jef­fery does not add any new argu­ment or obser­va­tion. These two tra­di­tions have already been dis­cussed in detail ; so no fur­ther dis­cus­sion of them is called for.Endmark

Cite this arti­cle as : M. Mohar Ali, Refu­ta­tion of Arthur Jef­fery : Was Muham­mad A Prophet From His Infan­cy ?,” in Bis­mi­ka Allahu­ma, Sep­tem­ber 19, 2005, last accessed April 17, 2024, https://​bis​mikaal​lahu​ma​.org/​m​u​h​a​m​m​a​d​/​f​r​o​m​-​h​i​s​-​i​n​f​a​n​cy/
  1. This chap­ter excerpt is slight­ly mod­i­fied from the orig­i­nal — ed.[]
  2. Pro­fes­sor Dr. M. Mohar Ali makes men­tion of (and address­es) Arthur Jef­fer­y’s arti­cle halfway through the chap­ter (pp. 203 – 214), which forms as part of his rebut­tal to the work of the Ori­en­tal­ist D.S. Mar­goli­uth on the Prophet’s ear­ly life. The choice of title for this excerpt is, there­fore, our own. Refer also to the next foot­note — Ed.[]
  3. See Muham­mad Mohar Ali, Sir­at Al-Nabi and the Ori­en­tal­ists, Vol. IA, pp. 183 — 203 for a full treat­ment of Mar­goli­uth’s alle­ga­tions. The fol­low­ing foot­notes are from the work itself — Ed.[]
  4. MW., XX, 1930, 226 – 234. Ed. — See also this arti­cle at Answer­ing (Attacking-)Islam.[]
  5. ibid., 226[]
  6. ibid., 227 – 228[]
  7. Jef­fery writes al-Qata­da” which is a mis­take. The name is sim­ply Qatadah.[]
  8. Jef­fery, op. cit. , 228 – 229[]
  9. ibid., 229 – 230[]
  10. ibid., 230 – 231[]
  11. ibid., 231 – 232[]
  12. ibid., 232 – 233[]
  13. ibid., 233 – 234[]
  14. The con­vert’s name is Muham­mad Safi­ul­lah (his pre­vi­ous name was Paresh Chan­dra Sil), son of Sri Suku­mar Chan­dra Sil, of vil­lage Gabua, P.O. Mankaran, Badarpur, Dist. Pat­u­akhali.[]
  15. Mutah­har ibn Tahir al-Maq­disi (d. 355 H.), Kitab al-Bad’ wa al-Tarikh, ed. Huart, Paris, 1899, reprint­ed Beirut, 1916, p. 136[]
  16. Tahd­hib al-Tahd­hib, VIII, 351 – 356, espe­cial­ly p. 356.[]
  17. See the next note.[]
  18. Al-Maq­disi, op. cit., 139.[]
  19. See also Husayn ibn Muham­mad ibn Hasan al-Diyar al-Bakri (d. 966 H.) Tarikh al-Khamis, Part I. Beirut, n.d. p. 263[]
  20. Ibn Asakir, quot­ed in Mughaltiy, Al-Zahr al-Basim, MSS, Lei­den Univ. Or. 370 (pho­to­copy with Mad­i­na Islam­ic Uni­ver­si­ty), fol. 96[]
  21. Al-Maq­disi, op. cit.[]
  22. It may be not­ed that there is anoth­er such report ema­nat­ing from Hisham ibn Urwah (d. 145146 H.) which says that Khadi­jah (r.a.) gave birth for the Prophet to two sons before Islam, named respec­tive­ly Abd al-‘Uzza and Al-Qasim but both of them died before the com­ing of Islam (Bukhari, Al-Tarikh al-Saghir, ed. Mah­mud Ibrahim Zayd, Part I, Cairo, 13971977, p. 4). This report too is incred­i­ble on the grounds that that it is tech­ni­cal­ly mu’­dal, i.e. more than one of its nar­ra­tors pre­vi­ous to Hisham ibn Urwah are miss­ing, while some of the oth­ers sub­se­quent to him, like Isma’il (ibn Abd Allah ibn ’ Abd Allah ibn Uways) is not depend­able (see Tahd­hib al-Tahd­hib, I., pp. 310 – 312, No. 568).[]
  23. See Ibn Hisham, I., 83 – 85 ; Ibn al-Kalbi, Kitab al-Asnam, p. 13, 16, 44 ; Yaqut, Mu’­jam al-Bul­dan, IV, 16 ; V, 4, 204.[]
  24. Ibn al-Kalbi, Kitab al-Asnam, 44 – 45 ; Ibn Hisham, I. 83[]
  25. Bukhari, nos. 4355, 4356, 4357.[]
  26. Supra, pp. 196 – 200[]
  27. Jef­fery, op. cit., 231[]
  28. ibid., 232[]
  29. ibid., 231[]

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