Muhammad Islam

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

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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 abudu al-Lat wal 'Uzza, wa Allahu la 'abudu 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 abudu</em> 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 'abudu 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 abudu 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 (<em>... wa Allahu la 'abudu 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 Icon Cite This As : 
  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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