chapter  10
20 Pages

Pre-Foundations of the Muslim Community in MeccaFazlur Rahman

God is one, that the poor ones of the society must not be allowed to flounder and that there is a final day of Judgment-the stories about the earlier Prophets become numerous, more detailed and are repeated in the Qur'an. There can be little doubt that the Prophet heard these stories during discussions with certain unidentified people, and the Meccans themselves were not slow to point this out. (1) Muhammad insisted, nevertheless, that they were revealed to him. He was, of course, right. For, under the impact of his direct religious experience, these stories became revelations and no longer remained mere tales which they were before. Through this experience, he cultivated a direct community with earlier Prophets and became their direct witness: “You were not [O Muhammad!] upon the western side when we decreed to Moses the Commandment, nor were you of those witnessing [at the time]. But We raised up [many] generations [afterwards] who have lived too long [to keep the original experiences alive]. Neither were you a dweller among the Midianites...” (xxvm, 45). The Prophet was not present at the Siniai of Moses nor in the Midian of Shu'aib, but he was present now. Not only were the points and lessons of those stories transformed through revelation but often their content was too. Shu'aib is represented as admonish­ing his people against fraudulent forms of commerce, which was Muhammad’s problem at Mecca; Noah is seen rejecting the demands of the big men in his community that he dissociate himself from his socio-economically weak followers before these big men could join his religion, a situation which, of course, Muhammad himself was facing in Mecca. And so on.Because of this spiritual community with earlier Prophets through his revelatory experience, Muhammad was absolutely convinced of the identity of the messages of all Prophets. All Scriptures stem from and are parts of a single Source, the Heavenly Archetype called “The Mother of Books” and also “The Hidden Book.” This being the case, it is necessary to believe in all revealed books and Muhammad is made to declare in the Qur’an: “Say, ‘I believe in any and every Book that God

has revealed” (x l i i , 15). Indeed, the term “The Book” is often used in the Qur’an not denoting any specific scripture but as a generic term denoting the totality of revealed scriptures. It was, then, absolutely natural for Muhammad to expect that all communities should believe in the Qur’an just as he and his followers believed in all the Books. It is true that the Qur’an repeatedly emphasizes (l2) the fact that the Qur’an is revealed in “clear Arabic,” but this emphasis is addressed especially to the Arab Meccans; otherwise, the truth of a scripture is not circumscribed by being revealed in any particular language.Let us now consider a different dimension of this issue. From the Qur’an it is abundantly clear that there were, among the followers of Judaism and (whether orthodox or not) of Christianity, some who affirmed the truth of the Prophet’s mission and, in fact, encouraged him in the face of Meccan opposition. History tells us next to nothing about them; (*) nor do we know whether these are the same persons with whom the Prophet held discussions. The Qur’anic references to them, however, are clear evidence for the presence of Messianism among these circles. In xxvi, 192 iT., we have, “Truly it [i.e., the Qur'an] is Revelation from the Lord of the world, brought down by the Trusted Spirit upon your heart, that you may be one of the warners, in a clear Arabic tongue. It is, indeed, in the Scriptures of the ancients. Was it not a sign for them (i.e., the Meccans) that it is known to the learned of the children of Israel?” They are invoked again and again by the Qur’an as witnesses to the truth of Muhammad’s prophethood, being “People whom We had already given the Book,” “People whom the Book or K now ledge had already been given,” “people (1) X V I , 103; X X V I , 105; X X X I X , 2H; X I . I , 3, ole. (2) T h e M u s lim t ra d it io n u su a lly refers to a d e le ga tio n of C h r is t ia n s w ho cam e

1 2 FAZLUR RAHMAN of Knowledge” and “people of Admonition,” through the second and third Meccan periods. Even when the Prophet himself, during periods of intense pressure and trial from opposition, seemed occasionally to lose hope and wondered whether, after all, he should go ahead with his movement, the Qur’an asks him to seek solace and support from “the people who recite the [previous] Book” (x, 94) and not to become a party to the polytheists after “clear signs” and the divine teaching have come to him, which he had never anticipated before his Call (xxvm, 85-89).If God is one and His Message is also one and fundamentally indivisible, mankind should surely be one community? And, particularly in view of the affirmation of his mission by followers of earlier religions, the Prophet had come to hope to unify the multiplicity of these religions into one single community, under his teaching and on his terms, but that this was not to be soon became apparent to him as his knowledge about differences among earlier religions and sects gradually increased. This undoubtedly set him a theological problem of the first order which the Qur’an continued to treat until well deep into the Madinan period when the Muslim community was formally established as the “median” and “ ideal” community. We are not here concerned with the purely theological aspect of the phenomenon of the diversity of religions in the Qur’an, but rather with the effect upon the development of the Muslim community of the perception on the part of the Prophet of this diversity.The jolt to the Prophet’s idea of a single religious community did not come so much in Madina, as the quotation from Hurgronje at the beginning of this paper states, but well back in Mecca. Who precisely the agents here were, we again know very liLtle about, for the Qur’an, as usual, names no persons. According to Ibn Ishaq’s Biography of the Prophet, Meccan leaders had once sent a team of two men to solicit the help of the Jews of Madina in their controversies with the Prophet and this team had returned with three questions to be put to the Prophet. (1) The Qur’ánic accounts, however, assume much

more than this and strongly suggest something like direct controversies between the Prophet and representatives of earlier religions. With these controversies, which evidently showed differences not only with Muslims but also within the earlier religions, the followers of these religions are called al-ahzab (pi. of hizb, partisans, sectarians), i.e., those who split up the community of religion. This term had earlier been employed by the Qur’an on three occasions (*) to refer to ancient nations or peoples who had rejected their messengers and were consequent­ly destroyed by God. In one of these passages (xxvm, 11-13), Meccans are invited to ascend to the heavens and witness "there a host of destroyed ahzdb" which are identified as peoples of Noah, *Ad, Pharaoh, Thamud, Lot and the "people of the thicket" (i.e., Midian). The underlying sense in this usage seems to be of "counter-groups" who, in the face of a divine message, oppose it but then are themselves destroyed.Every Prophet’s message, then, acts like a watershed upon people to whom it is addressed; it has the effect of dividing them according to the categories of truth and falsehood. But in a later use of the same term, it means the splitting up into sects of an originally unitary truth. In xix, 37, it refers to the sectarian differences among the followers of Jesus and his message, differences which distorted his teaching and the idea grows strong in the Qur’an, about Jews and Christians in par­ticular but also in general, that "people come to differ only after clear knowledge has come to them." (12) Indeed, the original message gets lost over a long passage of time and the sentence, "too long a period has lapsed over them" is repeated. (3) It becomes an unusually tormenting thought in the Qur’an and the Muslims arc repeatedly warned-both in Mecca and Madina —against such division where "every sect rejoices in what it has" (xxx, 32). (4) In this connection, the words ahzdb and shitja' (pi. of shVa, also meaning a party or a sect) are used in the same sense. (1) F o r i v f r m ic e lo Hirst* earlie r p a ssa ge s I am in r lrh lrd lo H u d i C a re t 's Der

When (in the third Meccan period) the term is applied to the earlier communities contemporary with Muhammad, it has most probably both meanings discussed above. That is to say, they arc sectarians resulting from splits over the earlier messages and also (perhaps because of it) are counter-groups against the message of Muhammad. In three passages they are sharply distinguished from “those We had given the Book” and who believe in the Qur’an as well. The first passage where the term ahzdb is not applied states, “And even thus have We sent down the Book to you [O Muhammad!]; so those to whom We had [already] given the Book believe in it and some among these people also believe in it” (xxix, 47). The second passage is more explicit, “Those to whom We had [already] given the Book rejoice at what is being sent down to you, but among the sectar­ians (al-ahzdb) there are those who reject part of it” (xm, 36). (l)This verse suggests that the ‘sectarians’ did not object to the whole Qur’an but to a part of it. In the third passage we are told, ‘And what of him who stands on [the basis of] a firm conviction from his Lord, and then a Witness from Him [i.e., the Angel of Revelation] recites it and before it is [already] the Book of Moses as an example and a mercy. It is those [i.e., who have the Book of Moses] who believe in it [i.e., the Qur’an]; but whosoever among the sectarians disbelieves in it, Fire shall be his destiny” (xi, 17).The term ahzdb is used once more but much later, in the middle of the Madinan period (in sura xxxm , 20-22), to mean the various parties and tribes (the Quraish, Bedouin tribes and Jews) which had formed a confederacy to war on Madina in the “Battle of the Ditch.” But although the Qur’an does not use this term any longer to mean the earlier communities who rejected the Prophet, it continues to speak to them, now as supporting the Prophet and believing in him, now as rejecting or opposing him-both in the Meccan and the Madinan periods. In x v i i , 107, referring to the Meccans, the Qur’an declares: (1) A s sa iil in NoLe 11 ab ove , these verses are m o s lly , if n o t w h o lly , M eccan .