58 – Peace and War

During the months which followed, soon after the New Year of AD 626, Fatimah gave birth to another son. The Prophet was pleased with the name al-Hasan that he now named the younger brother al-Husayn, which means “the little Hasan”, that is “the little beautiful one”. About the same time his new wife, Zaynab, “the mother of the poor”, fell ill and died, less than eight months after he had married her. He led her funeral prayer and buried her in the Baqi’ not far from the grave of his daughter Ruqayyah. The next month his cousin Abu Salamah died of a wound from Uhud which had closed too soon and broken out afresh. The Prophet was with him at the end and prayed for him as he was breathing his last; and it was the Prophet who closed his eyes when he was dead.

Abu Salamah and his wife had been a most devoted couple, and she had wanted him to make with her that if one of them died the other would not marry again, but he told her that if he died first she should marry again, and he prayed: “God grant Umm Salamah after me a man who is better than me, one who will cause her no sadness and no hurt.” Four months after his death the Prophet came and asked for her hand in marriage. She replied that she feared she was not a suitable match for him. “I am a woman whose best time hath gone,” she said, “and I am the mother of orphans. What is more, I have a nature of exceeding jealousy, and thou, O Messenger of God, hast already more than one wife.” He answered: “As to age, I am older than thou; as to thy jealousy, I will pray God to take it from thee; as to thine orphan children, God and His Messenger will care for them.” And so they were married, and he lodged her in the house which had belonged to Zaynab.

Despite what she had said of her age, Umm Salamah was still in her youth, no more than twenty-nine years old. She had been only eighteen when she had emigrated to Abyssinia with Abu Salamah. As regards her jealousy, she rightly feared that this marriage would put her to the test, nor was she alone in having such fears. ‘A’ishah had accepted Hafsah without difficulty, and also Zaynab; but with this new wife it was different, partly no doubt because she herself was older, being almost in her fourteenth year. She had often met Umm Salamah, and it was together with her that she had made the preparations for Fatimah’s wedding. But she had never looked on her as a possible rival. Now, however, when everyone in Medina was talking of the Prophet’s new marriage and of the great beauty of his bride, she was troubled and apprehensive. “I was grievously sad,” she said, “for what they told me of her beauty, so I made myself agreeable to her that I might observe her closely, and I saw that she was many times more beautiful than they had said. I told Hafsah of this and she said: ‘Nay, this is naught but thy jealousy; she is not as they say.’ Then she also made herself agreeable to Umm Salamah that she might let her own eyes judge, and she said: ‘I have observed her, but she is not as thou sayst, nowhere near, yet she is indeed beautiful.’ Then I went to see her again, and she was, by my life, as Hafsah had said. Yet was I jealous.”[1]

The time was drawing near for the second encounter at Badr, in accordance with Abu Sufyan’s parting challenge after Uhud -a challenge which the Prophet had accepted. But it was a year of drought, and Abu Sufyan saw that there would be not a blade of greenery for their camels and horses to eat on the way. All the fodder for the expedition would have to be brought with them from Mecca, and their stores were already depleted. But he shrank from the dishonor of breaking the tryst which he had himself proposed. It was desirable that Muhammad should be the one to break it, but reports had come from Yathrib that he was already making preparations to set out. Could he be induced to change his mind? Abu Sufyan went into consultation with Suhayl and one or two other leaders of Quraysh, and they formed a plan. There happened to be in Mecca at that time a friend of Suhayl’s named Nu’aym, one of the leading men of the Bani Ashja’, a clan of Ghatafan. They felt they could trust him, and since he was not of Quraysh he could pose as a neutral and objective onlooker. They offered him twenty camels if he could induce the Muslims to renounce their project of marching out to Badr. Nu’aym agreed and set out at once for the oasis, where he drew an alarming picture of he forces which Abu Sufyan was preparing to lead out to Badr. He spoke to all the different sections of the community, Emigrants, Helpers, Jews and hypocrites, and he would close his assessment of the danger with the urgent counsel: “Therefore stay here and go not against them. By God, I do not think a single one of you will escape with his life.” The Jews and the hypocrites were glad the news of Meccan preparations for war, and they helped to spread the tidings throughout the city. Nor did Nu’aym fail to make an impression on the Muslims themselves, many of whom were inclined to think that it would indeed be most unwise to go out to Badr. News of this attitude reached the Prophet, and he began to fear that no one would go out with him. But Abu Bakr and ‘Umar urged him on no account to break his tryst with Quraysh. “God will support His religion,” they said “and He will give strength to His Messenger.” “I will go forth,” said the Prophet, “even if I go alone.”

These few words cost Nu’aym his camels, making vain all his efforts just when he was beginning to think that he had succeeded. But despite himself, he was impressed by the total failure of his mission: some power was at work in Medina which was altogether beyond his influence and beyond his experience, and the seeds of Islam were sown in his heart. The Prophet set out as originally planned with fifteen hundred men on camels and ten horsemen. Many of them tok merchandise with them, intending to trade at the fair of Badr.

Meantime Abu Sufyan had said to Quraysh: “Let us go out and spend one night or two nights on the road, and then return. If Muhammad go not out he will hear that we set forth and that we then returned because he came not out to meet us. This will be counted against him and in our favor.” But as it happened, the Prophet and his Companions spent eight days at the fair of Badr, and those who attended it reported the news far and wide that Quraysh had broken their word but that Muhammad and his followers had kept theirs and had come to fight Quraysh as they had promised. When the news reached Mecca of the great moral victory of their enemy and of their own moral defeat in the eyes of Arabia, Safwan and others bitterly upbraided Abu Sufyan for ever having proposed the second encounter at Badr. But this mortification none the less served to intensify their preparations for the final and lasting revenge which they were planning to inflict on the founder and followers of the new religion.

After his return from Badr the Prophet had a month of peace in Medina, and then at the beginning of the fifth Islamic year, June 626, news came that some clans of Ghatafan were again planning to raid the oasis. He set out immediately into the plain of Najd with four hundred men, but the enemy vanished as before when they were almost upon them. It was on this expedition that when they were nearest to an encounter the Prophet received the Revelation instructing him how to pray “the Prayer of Fear”, that is, how an army should abridge the ritual prayer and modify the movements of it at times of danger, and how some should keep watch while others pray.[2]

One of the Helpers who went out with this force was Jabir the son of ‘Abd Allah. In after years he would tell of an incident which took place at one of their encampments: “We were with the Prophet when a Companion brought in a fledgling which he had caught, and one of the parent birds came and threw itself into the hands of him who had taken its young. I saw men’s faces full of wonderment, and the Prophet said: “Do ye wonder at this bird? Ye have taken its young, and it hath thrown itself down in merciful tenderness unto its young. Yet I swear by God, your Lord is more merciful unto you than is this bird unto its fledgling.'[3] And he told the man to put back the young bird where he had found it.”

He also said: “God hath a hundred mercies, and one of them hath He sent down amongst jinn and men and cattle and beasts of prey. Thereby they are kind and merciful unto one another, and thereby the wild creature inclineth in tenderness unto her offspring. And ninety-nine mercies hath God reserved unto HImself, that therewith He may show mercy unto His slaves on the day of the Resurrection.”[4]

Jabir also recounted how on the way back to Medina most of the troops went on ahead, while the Prophet and a few others were riding in the rear. But Jabir’s camel was old and weak, and could not keep up with the main force, so that it was not long before the Prophet overtook him and asked him why he was so far behind. “O Messenger of God,” he said, “this camel of mine can go no faster.” “Make him kneel,” said the Prophet, making his own camel kneel also. Then he said: “Give me that stick,” which I did, and he took it and gave him one or two prods with it. Then he told me to mount, and we went on our way, and, by Him who sent the Messenger with the truth, my camel outstripped his.

“On the way I conversed with the Messenger of God, and he said to me: “Wilt thou sell me this camel of thine?” I said: “I will give him to thee.” “Nay,” he said, “but sell him to me.” Jabir knew from the tone of the Prophet’s voice that he was expected to bargain. “I asked him,” said Jabir, “to name me a price and he said: ‘I will take him for a dirham.’ ‘Not so,’ I said, ‘for then wouldst thou be giving me too little.’ ‘For two dirhams,’ he said. ‘Nay,’ said I, and he went on raising his price until he reached forty dirhams, that is, an ounce of gold, to which I agreed. Then he said: ‘Art thou yet married, Jabir?’ And when I said that I was, he said: ‘An already married woman or a virgin?’ ‘One already married,’ I said. ‘Why not a girl,’ he said, ‘that thou mightst play with her and she with thee?’ ‘O Messenger of God,’ I said, ‘my father was struck down on the day of Uhud and left me with his seven daughters, so I married a motherly woman who would gather them round her and comb their hair and look after their wants.’ He agreed that I had made a good choice; and then he said that when we reached Sirar, which was only about three miles from Medina, he would sacrifice camels and spend the day there, and she would have news of our home-coming and would set about shaking the dust from her cushions. ‘We have no cushions,’ I said. ‘They will come,’ he said. ‘So when thou returnest, do what is to be done.’

“The morning after we returned, I took my camel and knelt him outside the Prophet’s door. The Prophet came out and told me to leave the camel and pray two prayer cycles in the Mosque, which I did. Then he bade Bilal weigh me out an ounce of gold, and he gave me a little more than what tipped the scales. I took it and turned to go, but the Prophet called me back. ‘Take thy camel,’ he said, ‘he is thine, and keep the price thou wast paid for him.'”[5]

It was during these months, between one campaign and another, that Salman the Persian came to the Prophet to seek his counsel and his help. His master, a Jew of the Bani Qurayzah, kept him so hard at work on his property to the south of Medina that he had never been able to have a close contact with the Muslim community. It had been out of the question for him to be at Badr or Uhud or to take part in any of the lesser forays which the Prophet had led or sent out during the last four years. Was there no way of escape from his present situation? He had asked his master what it would cost to set him free, but the price was far beyond his means. He would have to pay forty ounces of gold and plant three hundred date palms. The Prophet told him to write his master an agreement to pay the gold and plant the trees. Then he called on his Companions to help Salman with the palms, which they did, one contributing thirty palm-shoots, another twenty, and so on, until the full number had been reached. “Go dig the holes for them, Salman,” said the Prophet, “and tell me when thou hast done, and mine is the hand that shall put them in.” The Companions helped Salman to prepare the ground, and the Prophet planted each of the three hundred shoots, which all took root and thrived.

As to the remainder of the price, a piece of gold he size of a hen’s egg had been given to the Prophet from one of the mines, and he gave it to Salman, telling him to buy himself free with it. “How far will this go towards what I have to pay?” said Salman, thinking that the price had been greatly underestimated. The Prophet took the gold from him and putting it in his mouth he rolled his tongue round it. Then he gave it back to Salman, saying: “Take it, and pay them the full price with it.” Salman weighed out to them forty ounces from it, and so he became a free man.[6]

There was another month of peace in Medina, and then at the head of thousand men the Prophet made a rapid northward march of about five hundred miles to the edfe of Dumat al-Jandal, an oasis on the borders of Syria, which had become infested with marauders, mostly from the Bani Kalb. They had more than once plundered provisions of oil and flour and other goods which were on their way to Medina. There was also reason to suppose that they had entered into some agreement with Quraysh, which meant that they would close in from the north when the day came for a general onslaught upon Islam. The Prophet and his Companions had that day continually in mind; and though the immediate result of the expedition was no more than the scattering of the marauders and the capture of their flocks and herds which were grazing on the southern pastures of the oasis, it had also the desired effect of impressing the northern tribes in general with a sense of the presence of a new and rapidly increasing power in Arabia. Gone were the years of civil discord which had made Yathrib so vulnerable to outside attack. That discord had been replaced by a closely united expansive strength which could strike far and wide with amazing speed, and which was all the more to be feared because it knew that attack was the surest means of defense.

Such was the outward impression; but for those who were capable of approaching nearer the strength was seen to be even greater than it appeared, for it was based on a unity that was itself a miracle. The Revelation had told the Prophet: If thou hadst spent all that is in the earth, thou couldst not have united their hearts. But God hath united their hearts.[7] The presence of the Prophet as none the less one of the great means of realizing this unitedness. Providentially, the attraction of that presence had been made so powerful that no man of normal good will could resist it. “Not one of you hath faith until I am dearer to him than his son and his father and all men together.”[8] But this utterance of the Prophet was not so much a demand as a confirmation of the rightness of a love that had already been given -a love which found its expression so often in the words: “May my father and my mother be thy ransom.”

A time of peace was not a time of rest for the Prophet. He put forward as an ideal that a third of each cycle of twenty-four hours should be for worship, a third for work and a third for the family. This last third included the time spent in sleep and at meals. As to worship, much of it was done during the night. In addition to the evening and dawn prayers they performed voluntary prayers after the same pattern. The Qur’an also enjoined long recitations of its own verses, and the Prophet recommended various litanies of repentance and praise. Lengthy night worship had been established as a norm by the first Revelations, but the community which had received these had been a spiritual elect. Medina had also had its own initial elect of believers. But the rapid spread of Islam within recent years had made the elect something of a minority; and they are referred to as a group of those that are with thee in a verse which was now revealed to lessen the sense of obligation attached to long vigils:

Verily thy Lord knoweth that thou keepest vigil wellnigh two thirds of teh night, and some times half of it or a third of it, thou and a group of those that are with thee. God measureth the night and the day. He knoweth that ye will not be able to come up to the full measure of it, and therefore hat He relented unto you. Recite then even so much of the Qur’an as is easy for you.[8]

The elect of the Companions none the less continued to pray much at night, of which the last third was mentioned by the Prophet as being especially blessed:

“Each night, when a third of it hath yet to come, our Lord -blessed and Exalted be He!- descendeth unto the nethermost heaven, and He saith: ‘Who calleth unto Me, that I may answer him? Who prayeth unto Me a prayer, that I may grant him him? Who asketh My forgiveness, that I may forgive him?'”[9]

It was also revealed about this time, in definition of the believers:

They turn aside from their beds to invoke their Lord in fear and in longing, and of what We have given them they give. And no soul knoweth the hidden bliss that lieth in store for them as meed for that which they were wont to do.[10]

The equal distribution of the hours of the daily cycle between the three claims of worship, work and the family could only be approximate. As regards family, the Prophet had no room of his own, and every evening he would move to the apartment of the wife whose turn it was to give him a home for the next twenty-four hours. During the day he had frequent visits from his daughters and from his aunt Safiyyah, or he would visist them. Fatimah would often bring her two sons to see him. Hasan was now nearly a year and a half old, and the eight-month-old Husayn was already beginning to walk. The Prophet also loved his little granddaughter Ummah, who nearly always accompanied her mother Zaynab. Once or twice he brought her with him to the Mosque perched on his shoulder when he resumed his upright position.[11] Another loved one was the fifteen-year-old Usamah, the son of Zayd and Umm Ayman, very dear to the Prophet for the sake of both his parents and also for his own sake. As a grandson of the house, he was often to be found inside it or about its doors.

Most afternoons the Prophet would visit Abu Bakr as he had done in Mecca. To some extent the claims of family and of work coincided, for he often wished to talk with Abu Bakr about affairs of state, as he likewise did with Zayd and with his two sons-in-law ‘Ali and ‘Uthman. But work as in danger of invading the Prophet’s whole life, because no voice in all Medina could compare with his for solving a problem or answering a question or settling a dispute. Even those who did not believe him to be a Prophet would seek his help if need be, unless they were too proud. Quarrels between Muslims and Jews were not infrequent, and misplaced fervor was often to blame, as when, for example, one of the Helpers struck a Jew merely on account of an oath which he heard him utter. “Wilt thou swear,” said the Muslim, “‘by Him who chose Moses above all mankind’ when the Prophet is present in our midst?” The Jew complained to the Prophet, whose face was full of anger when he rebuked the aggressor. In the Qur’an itself God is mentioned as saying:

O Moses, I have chosen thee above all mankind by My messages and My speaking unto thee.[12]

The Qur’an had also said:

Verily God chose Adam and Noah and the family of Abraham and the family of ‘Imran above all the worlds.[13]

But divining what was in the man’s mind the Prophet added: “Say not that I am better than Moses.”[14] He also said, perhaps referring to another example of the misplaced zeal: “Let none of you say that I am better than Jonah.”[15] The Revelation had already given them the words, as part of the Islamic creed:

We make no distinction between any of His messengers.[16]

In addition to what concerned the welfare of the community as a whole, both in its inward harmony and in its relations with the rest of Arabia and beyond, scarcely a day passed when his advice or help was not sought by one or more of the believers in connection with some purely personal problem, either material, as in the recent case of Salman, or spiritual, as when on one occasion Abu Bakr brought to him a man of the Bani Tamim, Hanzalah by name, who had settled in Medina. Hanzalah had first approached Abu Bakr with his problem, but Abu Bakr felt that in this case the answer should come from the highest authority. The man’s face was full of woe, and when the Prophet questioned him he said: “Hanzalah is a hypocrite, O Messenger of God.” The Prophet asked him what he meant, and he answered: “O Messenger of God, we are with thee, and thou tellest us of the Fire and of Paradise until it is as if they were before our very eyes. Then go we out from thy presence, and our minds are engrossed with our wives and our children and our properties, and much do we forget.” The Prophet’s answer made it clear that the ideal was to seek to perpetuate their consciousness of spiritual realities without altering the tenor of their daily lives: “By Him in whose hand is my soul,” he said, “if ye were to remain perpetually as ye are in my presence, or as ye are in your times of remembrance of God, then would the Angels come to take you by the hand as ye lie in your beds or as ye go your ways. But yet, O Hanzalah, now this and now that, now this and now that, now this and now that!”[17]

Such demands as these upon the Prophet’s time were not to be avoided; but there was a growing need that he should be protected in other ways, and the protection that now came was not unconnected with the following altogether unexpected event which served to emphasize his uniquely privileged position. It happened one day that he wanted to speak to Zayd about something and went to his house. Zayd was out, and Zaynab, not expecting any visitors at that time, was lightly clad. But when she was told that the Prophet had come, she was so eager to greet him that she leaped to her feet and ran to the door, to invite him to stay until Zayd returned. “He is not here, O Messenger of God,” she said, “but come thou in, my father and my mother be thy ransom.”[18] As she stood in the doorway, a radiant figure of joyous welcome, the Prophet was amazed at her beauty. Deeply moved, he turned aside, and murmured something which she could not grasp. All she heard clearly were his words of wonderment as he walked away: “Glory be to God the Infinite! Glory be to Him who disposeth men’s hearts!” When Zayd returned she told him of the Prophet’s visit and of the glorification she had heard him utter. Zayd immediately went to him and said: “I have been told thou camest unto my house. Why didst not enter, thou who art more to me than my father and my mother? Was it that Zaynab hath found favor with thee? If it be so, I will leave her.”[19] “Keep thy wife and fear God,” said the Prophet with some insistence. He had said on another occasion: “Of all things licit the most hateful unto God is divorce.”[20] And when Zayd came again the next day with the same proposal, again the Prophet insisted that he should keep his wife. But the marriage between Zayd and Zaynab had not been a happy one, and Zayd found it no longer tolerable, so by mutual agreement with Zaynab he divorced her. This did not, however, make Zaynab eligible as a wife for the Prophet for although the Qur’an had only specified that men were forbidden to marry the wives of sons sprung from their loins, it was a strong social principle not to make a distinction between sons by birth and sons by adoption. Nor was the Prophet himself eligible, for he had already four wives, the most that the Islamic law allows.

Some months passed and then one day when the Prophet was talking with one of his wives the power of the Revelation overwhelmed him; and when he came to himself his first words were: “Who will go unto Zaynab and tell her the good tidings that God hath given her to me in marriage, even from Heaven?” Salma was near at hand -Safiyyah’s servant who had long considered herself a member of the Prophet’s household- and she went in haste to Zaynab’s house. When she heard the wonderful tidings, Zaynab magnified God and threw herself down in prostration towards Mecca. Then she took off her anklets and bracelets of silver, and gave them to Salma.

Zaynab was no longer young, being almost in her fortieth year, but she had retained the appearance of youth. She was, moreover, a woman of great piety, who fasted much and kept long vigils and gave generously to the poor. As a skilled worker in leather she could make shoes and other objects, and all that she earned in this way was for her a means of charity. There could be no question in her case of any formal wedding, for the marriage was announced in the revealed verses as a bond already contracted: We have married her to thee.[21] It remained for the bride to be brought to the bridegroom, and this was done without delay.

The verses also said that in future adopted sons should be named after their fathers who begot them; and from that day Zayd was known as Zayd ibn Harithah instead of Zayd ibn Muhammad, as he had been called ever since his adoption some thirty-five years previously. But this change did not annul his adoption as such, nor did it affect in any way the love and the intimacy between the adopter and the adopted, who were now nearing their sixtieth and fiftieth years. It was merely a reminder that there was no blood relationship; and in this sense the Revelation continued:

Muhammad is not the father of any man amongst you, but he is the Messenger of God and the Seal of the Prophets.[22]

At the same time other Revelations stressed the great difference between the Prophet and his followers. They were not to address him every by his name as they addressed each other. The permission which God had given him, in virtue of his new marriage, to have more than four wives, was for him alone, and not for the rest of the community. Moreover, his wives were given the title of the mothers of the faithful, and their status was such that it would be an enormity in the eyes of God if, having been married to the Prophet, they should ever be given in marriage to another man. If the believers wished to ask a favor of one of them -for their intercession with the Prophet was often sought- they must do so from behind a curtain. They were also told:

O ye who have faith, enter not the dwellings of the Prophet unto a meal without waiting for its time to come, except if leave be given you. But if ye are invited then enter, and when ye have fed the disperse. Linger not in hope of discourse. Verily that would be irksome unto the Prophet, and he would shrink from telling you, but God shrinketh not from the truth.[23]

Such precepts were necessary on account of the great love they bore him, and their desire to be in his presence as long and as often as possible. Those who were with him were always loath to leave him. Nor could they have been blamed if they stayed, for when he spoke to anyone he would turn to him so fully and make him so amply the object of his attention that the man might well imagine himself to be privileged enough for liberties which others dared not take; and when he took a man’s hand he was never the first to relinquish his hold. But while protecting the Prophet, the Revelation introduced at this time a new element into the liturgy, which made it possible for his people to give expression to their love and to benefit from his spiritual radiance without imposing unduly their presences upon him:

Verily God and His angels whelm in blessings the prophet. O ye who believe, invoke blessings upon him and give him greetings of Peace.[24]

And shortly afterwards the Prophet told one of his Companions: “An Angel came unto me and said: ‘None invoketh blessings upon thee once, but God invoketh blessings upon him tenfold.‘”[25]

[1] I.S. 8, 66
[2] Qur’an 4 : 101 – 102
[3] W. 487
[4] M. 49, 4
[5] I.I. 664
[6] I.I. 141 – 142
[7] Qur’an 8 : 63
[8] M. 1, 16
[9] Qur’an 73 : 20
[10] B. 19, 12
[11] Qur’an 32 : 16 – 17
[12] I.S. 8, 26
[13] Qur’an 7 : 144
[14] Qur’an 3 : 33
[15] B. 65, Surah 7
[16] B. 65, Surah 37
[17] See chapter 32 – “The Light of Thy Countenance”
[18] M. 49, 2
[19] Ibn Sa’d, 8, 71
[20] ibid., 72. See also Tab., Tafsir, Baydawi, Jalalayn, etc., on Qur’an 33 : 37
[21] A.D. 13, 3
[22] Qur’an 33 : 40
[23] Qur’an 33 : 53
[24] Qur’an 33 : 56
[25] D. 20, 58

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