39 – Harmony and Discord

The Prophet gave orders that his newly acquired courtyard should be made into a mosque, and as in Quba’ they began work on it immediately. Most of the building was done with bricks, but in the middle of the northern wall, that is, the Jerusalem wall, they put stones on either side of the prayer niche. The palms in the courtyard were cut down and their trunks were used as pillars to support the roof of palm branches, but the greater part of the courtyard was left open.

The Muslims of Medina had been given by the Prophet the title of Ansar which means Helpers, whereas the Muslims of Quraysh and other tribes who had left their homes and emigrated to the oasis he called Muhajirah, that is, Emigrants. All took part in the work, including the Prophet himself, and as they worked they chanted two verses which one of them had made up for the occasion:

” O God, no good is but the good hereafter,
So help the Helpers and the Emigrants.”

And sometimes they chanted:

“No life there is but life of the Hereafter.
Mercy, O God, on Emigrants and Helpers.”

It was to be hoped that these two parties would be strengthened by a third, and the Prophet now made a covenant of mutual obligation between his followers and the Jews of the oasis, forming them into a single community of believers but allowing for the differences between the two religions. Muslims and Jews were to have equal status. If a Jew were wronged, then he must be helped to his rights by both Muslim and Jew, and so also if a Muslim were wronged. In case of war against the polytheists they must fight as one people, and neither Jews nor Muslims were to make a separate peace, but peace was to be indivisible. In case of differences of opinion or dispute or controversy, the matter was to be referred to God through His Messenger. There was, however, no express stipulation that the Jews should formally recognize Muhammad as the Messenger and Prophet of God, though he was referred to as such throughout the document.

The Jews accepted this covenant for political reasons. The Prophet was already by far the most powerful man in Medina, and his power seemed likely to increase. They had no choice but to accept; yet very few of them were capable of believing that God would send a Prophet who was not a Jew. At first they were outwardly cordial, whatever they may have said amongst themselves and however set they were in the consciousness of their own superiority, the immense and incomparable superiority of the chosen people over all others. But though their skepticism with regard to the new religion was normally velied, they were always ready to share it with any Arab who might have doubts about the Divine origin of the Revelation.

Islam continued to spread rapidly throughout the clans of Aws and Khazraj, and some believers looked forward to the day when, thanks to the covenant with the Jews, the oasis would be one harmonious whole. But the Revelation now gave warning of hidden elements of discord. It was about this time that the longest surah of the Qur’an began to be revealed, al-Baqarah (the Heifer), which is placed at the beginning of the Book, immediately after the seven verses of al-Fatihah, the Opening. It starts with a definition of the rightly guided: Alif – Lam – Mim. This beyond doubt is the Book, a guidance unto the God-fearing, who believe in the Unseen and perform the prayer and give of that which We have bestowed upon them; and who believe in that which is revealed unto thee and in that which was revealed before thee, and who are certain of the Hereafter. These are they who follow guidance from their Lord and these are they who shall prosper.[1]

Then after mention of the disbelievers who are blind and deaf to the truth, a third body of people is mentioned: And of men there are some who say: We believe in God and in the last day, yet they are not believers … When they meet those who believe they say: we believe. And when they go apart unto their satans, they say: Verily we are with you; we did but mock.[2] These were the waverers and doubters and hypocrites of Aws and Khazraj in all their varying degrees of insincerity; and their satans, that is their inspirers of evil, were the men and women of the disbelievers who did all they could to sow the seeds of doubt. The Prophet was here warned of a problem by which he had been altogether untroubled in Mecca. There the sincerity of those who embraced Islam was never to be doubted. The reasons for conversion could only be spiritual, since as regards the things of this world a convert had nothing to gain and in many cases much to lose. But now there were certain worldly reasons for entering the new religion, and these were steadily on the increase. The days of the total absence of hypocrites from the ranks of the Muslims were gone for ever.

Some of the satans referred to were of the Jews. The same Revelation said: Many of the people of the Book[3] long to bring you back into disbelief after your belief through envy that is in their souls.[4] Eagerly the Jews had looked forward to the coming of the predicted Prophet, not for the sake of the spiritual enlightenment it would bring but so that they might regain their former supremacy in Yathrib; and now to their dismay they saw that it was a descendant of Ishmael, not of Isaac, who was proclaiming the truth of the One God, with a success which was truly suggestive of Divine support. They feared that he was indeed the promised Prophet, whence their envy of the people to whom he was sent. Yet they hoped that he was not, and they sought continually to persuade themselves and others that he had not the true requisites of a Heaven-sent Messenger. “Muhammad claimeth that tidings come to him from Heaven, yet he knoweth not where his camel is,” said a man of the Jews on a day when one of the Prophet’s camels had strayed. “I only know what God giveth me to know,” said the Prophet when he heard of it, “and this He hath shown me: she is in the glen that I will tell you of, caught to a tree by her halter.”[5] And some of the Helpers went and found her where he had said she was.

Many of the Jews welcomed at first what seemed to be the end of all danger of a further outbreak of civil war in the oasis. There had none the less been advantages in that danger, for the division between the Arabs had greatly enhanced the status of the non-Arabs, who were much in demand as allies. But the union of Aws and Khazraj made the old alliances unnecessary, while at the same time it gave the Arabs of Yathrib a formidable strength. The covenant of the Jews with the Prophet made it possible for them to share in that strength. But it also meant incurring obligations for a possible war against the far greater Arab strength which lay beyond the oasis; there might be other grave disadvantages for them in the new order of things, which was as yet untried, whereas the old order they knew and they were so well versed in its ways that many of them soon longed to return to it. One elderly Jewish politician of the Bani Qaynuqa’, a master in the art of exploiting the discord between the Arab tribes, felt particularly frustrated by the new friendship between Aws and Khazraj. He therefore instructed a youth of his tribe who had a beautiful voice to go and sit amongst the Helpers when they were assembled together and to recite to them some of the poetry which had been composed by men of both tribes immediately before and after Bu’ath, the most recent battle of the civil war -poems in revilement of enemies, glorying in deeds of prowess, elegies for the dead, threats of revenge. The youth did as he was told, and he quickly held the attention of all who were there, transporting them from the present into the past. The men of Aws vehemently applauded the poetry of Aws and those of Khazraj the poetry of Khazraj; and then the two sides began to argue with each other, and to boast, and to shout abuse and threats, until, finally the cry burst forth: “To arms! To arms!” and they went out into the lava tract, bent on fighting the fight once again. When the news reached the Prophet he gathered together all the Emigrants who were at hand and hastened out to where the two hosts were already drawn up in battle order. “O Muslims,” he said, and then he twice pronounced the Divine Name, Allah, Allah. “Will ye act,” he went on, “as in the days of Ignorance, what though I am with you, and God hath guided you unto Islam, and honored you with it, and thereby enabled you to break with pagan ways, and thereby saved you from disbelief, and thereby united your hearts?” At once they realized that they had been led stray, and they wept, and embraced each other, and returned with the Prophet to the city, attentive and obedient to his words.[6]

In order to unite the community of believers still further, the Prophet now instituted a pact of brotherhood between the Helpers and the Emigrants, so that each of the Helpers would have an Emigrant brother who was nearer to him than any of the helpers, and each Emigrant would have a Helper brother who was nearer to him than any Emigrant. But he made himself and his family an exception, for it would have been too invidious for him to choose as his brother one of the Helpers rather than another, so he took ‘Ali by the hand and said: “This is my brother”; and he made Hamzah the brother of Zayd.

Among the chief adversaries to Islam were two cousins, the sons of two sisters, but of Aws and of Khazraj through their fathers, each being of great influence in his tribe. The man of Aws, Abu ‘Amir, was sometimes called “the Monk” because he had long been an ascetic and had been known to wear a garment of hair. He claimed to be the religion of Abraham, and had acquired a certain religious authority amongst the people of Yathrib. He came to the Prophet soon after his arrival, ostensibly to ask him about the new religion. He was answered in the words of the Revelation which had more than once defined it as the religion of Abraham.[7] “But I am of it,” said Abu ‘Amir, and persisting in the face of denial he accused the Prophet of having falsified the Abrahamic faith. “I have not,” said the Prophet, “but I have brought it white and pure.” “May God let the liar die a lonely outcast exile!” said Abu ‘Amir. “So be it!” said the Prophet. “May God do that unto him who is lying!”[8]

Abu ‘Amir soon saw that his authority was rapidly losing weight; and he was still further embittered by his son Hanzalah’s devotion to the Prophet. It was not long before he decided to take his remaining followers, about ten in all, to Mecca, seemingly unaware that this was the beginning of his own self-imprecated exile.

His cousin of Khazraj was ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy, who also felt himself to have been frustrated by the coming of the Prophet and robbed not of spiritual authority but of the chief temporal power in the Yathrib oasis. He likewise had the bitterness of seeing his own son ‘Abd Allah altogether won over by the Prophet, as well as his daughter Jamilah. But unlike Abu ‘Amir, Ibn Ubayy was prepared to wait, thinking that sooner or later the newcomer’s overwhelming influence would begin to ebb. Meantime it was his policy to be as non-committal as possible, but he sometimes betrayed his feelings despite himself.

One such occasion was when another chief of Khazraj, Sa’d ibn ‘Ubadah, was ill and the Prophet went to visit him. All the rich men of the oasis had their houses built as fortresses, and on his way he passed by Muzaham, the fortress of Ibn Ubayy, who was sitting in the shadow of its walls surrounded by some of his clansmen and other men of Khazraj. Out of courtesy to this chieftain, the Prophet dismounted from his ass and going to greet him sat for a while in his company, reciting the Qur’an and inviting him to Islam. When he had said all that he felt moved to say, Ibn Ubayy turned to him and said: “Naught could be better than this discourse of thine, were it but true. Sit then at home, in thine own house, and whoso cometh unto thee, preach unto him thus, but whoso cometh not, burden him not with thy talk, nor enter into his gathering with that which he liketh not.” “Nay,” said a voice, “come unto us with it, and visit us in our gatherings and our quarters and our houses, for that do we love, and that hath God given us of His Bounty, and thereunto hath He guided us.” The speaker was ‘Abd Allah ibn Rawahah, a man whom Ibn Ubayy had thought he could count on for support at every turn. The disappointed chieftain now sullenly uttered a verse to the effect that when one is deserted by one’s friends one is bound to be overcome. He had learned more clearly than ever that it was useless to resist. As to the Prophet, he went away deeply saddened, despite ‘Abd Allah’s glowing tribute; and when he entered the sick man’s house the rebuff he had received was still as it were written on his face. Sa’d immediately asked what was troubling him, and when he was told about Ibn Ubayy’s impenetrable disbelief he said: “Deal gently with him, O Messenger of God, for when God brought thee unto us, even then were we fashioning for him a diadem wherewith to crown him; and he seeth that thou hast robbed him of a kingdom.”

The Prophet never forgot these words; and as to Ibn Ubayy, he soon saw that his influence, once so great, was rapidly dwindling and that if eh did not enter Islam it would vanish altogether. On the other hand he knew that a nominal acceptance of Islam would confirm him in his authority, for the Arabs were averse to breaking their old ties of allegiance unless there was a great reason for doing so. It was therefore not long before he decided to enter Islam; but although he formally pledged himself to the Prophet and regularly thereafter attended the prayers, the believers never came to feel sure of him. There were others about whom they were equally doubtful, but Ibn Ubayy was different from the majority of lukewarm or insincere converts by reason of his far- reaching influence, which made him all the more dangerous.

During the first months, while the Mosque was still being built, the community suffered a great loss in the death of As’ad, the first man in the oasis to pledge himself to the Prophet. It was he who had been the host of Mus’ab, and who had worked so closely with him during the year between the two ‘Aqabahs. The Prophet said: “The Jews and the Arab hypocrites will surely say of me: ‘If he were a Prophet, his companion would not have died.’ And indeed my will availeth nothing for myself or for my companion against the Will of God.”[9]

It was perhaps at the funeral of As’ad that the second meeting of Salman the Persian with the Prophet took place, for Salman himself described this meeting in later years to the son of ‘Abbas, saying: “I went to the Messenger of God when he was in the Baqi’ al-Gharqad,[10] whither he had followed the bier of one of his Companions.” Salman had known he would be there, and he contrived to absent himself from his work in time to reach the cemetery after the burial, while the Prophet was still sitting there with some of the Emigrants and the Helpers. “I greeted him,” said Salman, “and then I circled round behind him in the hope that I might be able to look upon the Seal. and he knew what I desired, so he grasped his cloak and threw it off his back, and I beheld the Seal of Prophecy even as my Master had described it unto me. I stooped over it and kissed it and wept. Then the Messenger of God bade me come round and I went and sat in front of him and told him my story, and he was glad that his Companions should hear it. Then I entered Islam.”[11] But Salman was kept hard at work as a slave among the Bani Qurayzah, and for the next four years he was able to have little contact with his fellow Muslims.

Another man of the people of the Book who embraced Islam at this time was a rabbi of the Bani Qaynuqa’, Husayn Ibn Sallam. He came to the Prophet in secret and pledged allegiance to him. The prophet thereupon gave him the name ‘Abd Allah, and the new convert suggested that before his Islam became known his people should be questioned about his standing amongst them. The Prophet concealed him in his house and sent for some of the leading men of Qaynuqa’. “He is our chief,” they said in answer to his question, “and the son of our chief; he is our rabbi and our man of learning.” Then ‘Abd Allah came out to them and said: “O Jews, fear God, and accept that which He hath sent unto you, for ye know that this man is the Messenger of God.” Then he affirmed his own Islam and that of his household; and his people reviled him, and denied his good standing amongst them which they had previously affirmed.

Islam was now firmly established in the oasis. The Revelation prescribed the giving of alms and the fast of the month of Ramadan, and laid down in general what was forbidden and what was allowed. The five daily ritual prayers were regularly performed in congregation, and when the time for each prayer came the people would assemble at the site where the Mosque was being built. Everyone judged of the time by the position of the sun in the sky, or by the first signs of its light on the eastern horizon or by the dimming of its glow in the west after sunset; but opinions could differ, and the Prophet felt the need for a means of summoning the people to prayer when the right time had come. At first he thought of appointing a man to blow a horn like that of the Jews, but later he decided on a wooden clapper, naqus, such as the Oriental Christians used at that time, and two pieces of wood were fashioned together for that purpose. But they were never destined to be used; for one night a man of Khazraj, ‘Abd Allah ibn Zayd, who had been at the Second ‘Aqabah, had a dream which the next day he recounted to the Prophet: “There passed by me a man wearing two green garments and he carried in his hand a naqus, so I said unto him: “O slave of God, wilt thou sell he that naqus?” “What wilt thou do with it?” he said. “We will summon the people to prayer with it,” I answered. “Shall I not show thee a better way?” he said. “What way is that?” I asked, and he answered: “That thou shouldst say: God is most Great, Allahu Akbar.” The man in green repeated this magnification four times, then each of the following twice: I testify that there is no god but God; I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God; come unto the prayer; come unto salvation; God is most Great; and then once again there is no god but God.

The Prophet said that this was a true vision, and he told him to go to Bilal, who had an excellent voice, and teach him the words exactly as he had heard them in his sleep. THe highest house in the neighborhood of the Mosque belonged to a woman of the clan of Najjar, and Bilal would come there before every dawn and would sit on the roof waiting for the daybreak. When he saw the first faint light in the east he would stretch out his arms and say in supplication: “O God I praise Thee, and I ask Thy Help for Quraysh, that they may accept Thy religion.” Then he would stand and utter the call to prayer.


[1] Qur’an 2 : 2 – 5
[2] Qur’an 2 : 8, 14
[3] The Bible
[4] Qur’an 2 : 109
[5] I.I. 361
[6] I.I. 386
[7] Qur’an 2 : 135
[8] I.I. 411 – 412
[9] I.I. 346
[10] The cemetery at the south-east ends of Medina
[11] I.I. 141; I.S. 4, 56

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