The proof of the universality of Islam, of its claim on the acceptance of all men, lay in the fact that it was the religion divinely appointed for the whole human race and was now revealed to them anew through Muhammad (Peace be upon him), "the Seal of the prophets" (Surah Al-Ahzab, 33: 40), as it had been to former generations by other prophets.
"Men were of one religion only: then they disagreed one with another and had not a decree (of respite) previously gone forth from thy Lord, judgment would surely have been given between them in the matter wherein they disagree.” (Surah Yunus, 10:19.)
"I am no apostle of new doctrines.” (Surah Al-Ahqaf, 46:9.)
"Mankind was but one people: then God raised up prophets to announce glad tidings and to warn: and He sent down with them the Book with the Truth, that it might decide the disputes of men: and none disagreed save those to whom the book had been given, after the clear tokens had reached them, through mutual jealousy. And God guided those who believed into the truth concerning which they had disagreed, by His will; and God guideth whom He pleaseth into the straight path.” (Surah Al-Baqarah, 2: 213.)
"And We revealed to thee, ' follow the religion of Abraham, the sound in faith, for he was not of those who join gods with God.'” (Surah An-Nahl, 16. 123.)
"Say: As for me, my Lord hath guided me into a straight path: a true faith, the religion of Abraham, the sound in faith; for he was not of those who join gods with God.” (Surah Al-An'am, 6:161.)
"Say: God speaketh truth. Follow therefore the religion of Abraham, he being a Hanif and not one of those who join other gods with God.” (Surah Al-Imran, 3:95.)
"Verily the first house that was set up for men was that which is in Bakka, blessed and a guidance for all created beings.” (Surah Al-Imran, 3: 96.)
"And who hath a better religion than he who resigneth himself to God, who doth what is good and followeth the faith of Abraham, the sound in faith.” (Surah An-Nisa’, 4: 125.)
"He hath elected you, and hath not laid on you any hardship in religion, the faith of your father Abraham. He hath named you the Muslims." (Surah Al-Hajj, 22: 78.)
But the return to Muhammad in Medina, in order properly to appreciate his position after the Flight, it is important to remember the peculiar character of Arab society at that time, as far at least as this part of the peninsula was concerned. There was an entire absence of any organised administrative or judicial system such as in modern times we connect with the idea of a government. Each tribe or clan formed a separate and absolutely independent body, and this independence extended itself also to the individual members of the tribe, each of whom recognised the authority, or leadership of his chief only as being the exponent of a public opinion which he himself happened to share; but he was quite at liberty to refuse his conformity to the (even) unanimous resolve of his fellow clansmen. Further, there was no regular transmission of the office of chieftain; but he was generally chosen as being the oldest member of the richest and most powerful family of the clan, and as being personally most qualified to command respect. If such a tribe became too numerous, it would split up into several divisions, each of which continued to enjoy a separate and independent existence, uniting only on some extraordinary occasion for common self-defence or some more than usually important warlike expedition. We can thus understand how Muhammad could establish himself in Medina at the head of a large and increasing body of adherents who looked up to him as their head and leader and acknowledged no other authority, — without exciting any feeling of insecurity, or any fear of encroachment on recognised authority, such as would have arisen in a city of ancient Greece or any similarly organised community. Muhammad thus exercised temporal authority over his people just as any other independent chief might have done, the only difference being that in the case of the Muslims a religious bond took the place of family and blood ties.
Islam thus became what, in theory, at least, it has always remained—a political as well as a religious system.
It was Muhammad's desire to found a new religion, and in this he succeeded; but at the same time he founded a political system of an entirely new and peculiar character. At first his only wish was to convert his fellow-countrymen to the belief in the One God—Allah; but along with this he brought about the overthrow of the old system of government in his native city, and in place of the tribal aristocracy under which the conduct of public affairs was shared in common by the ruling families, he substituted an absolute theocratic monarchy, with himself at the head as vicar of God upon earth.
Even before his death almost all Arabia had submitted to him; Arabia that had never before obeyed one prince, suddenly exhibits a political unity and swears allegiance to the will of an absolute ruler. Out of the numerous tribes, big and small, of a hundred different kinds that were incessantly at feud with one another, Muhammad's word created a nation. The idea of a common religion under one common head bound the different tribes together into one political organism which developed its peculiar characteristics with surprising rapidity. Now only one great idea could have produced this result, viz. the principle of national life in heathen Arabia. The clan-system was thus for the first time, if not entirely crushed—(that would have been impossible)—yet made subordinate to the feeling of religious unity. The great work succeeded, and when Muhammad died there prevailed over by far the greater part of Arabia a peace of God such as the Arab tribes, with their love of plunder and revenge, had never known; it was the religion of Islam that had brought about this reconciliation.
Even in the case of death, the claims of relationship were set aside and the bond-brother inherited all the property of his deceased companion. But after the battle of Badr, when such an artificial bond was no longer needed to unite his followers, it was abolished; such an arrangement was only necessary so long as the number of the Muslims was still small and the corporate life of Islam a novelty; moreover Muhammad (Peace be upon him) had lived in Medina for a very short space of time before the rapid increase in the number of his adherents made so communistic a social system almost impracticable.
It was only to be expected that the growth of an independent political body composed of refugees from Mecca, located in a hostile city, should eventually lead to an outbreak of hostilities; and, as is well known, every biography of Muhammad is largely taken up with the account of a long series of petty encounters and bloody battles between his followers and the Quraysh of Mecca, ending in his triumphal entry into that city in A.D. 630, and of his hostile relations with numerous other tribes, up to the time of his death, A.D. 633.
To give any account of these campaigns is beyond the scope of the present work, but it is important to show that Muhammad, when he found himself at the head of a band of armed followers, was not transformed at once, as some would have us believe, from a peaceful preacher into a fanatic, sword in hand, forcing his religion on whomsoever he could.
It has been frequently asserted by European writers that from the date of Muhammad's migration to Medina, and from the altered circumstances of his life there, the Prophet appears in an entirely new character. He is no longer the preacher, the warner, the apostle of God to men, whom he would persuade of the truth of the religion revealed to him, but now he appears rather as the unscrupulous bigot, using all means at his disposal of force and statecraft to assert himself and his opinions.
But it is false to suppose that Muhammad in Medina laid aside his role of preacher and missionary of Islam, or that when he had a large army at his command, he ceased to invite unbelievers to accept the faith. Ibn Sa'd gives a number of letters written by the Prophet from Medina to chiefs and other members of different Arabian tribes, in addition to those addressed to potentates living beyond the limits of Arabia, inviting them to embrace Islam; and in the following pages will be found instances of his having sent missionaries to preach the faith to the unconverted members of their tribes, whose very ill-success in some cases is a sign of the genuinely missionary character of their efforts and the absence of an appeal to force. A typical example of such an unsuccessful mission is that sent to preach Islam to the Banu 'Amir b. Sa'sa'ah in the year A.H. 4. The chief of this tribe, Abu Bara 'Amir, visited Muhammad in Medina, listened to his teaching, but declined to become a convert; he seemed, however, to be favourably disposed towards the new faith and asked the Prophet to send some of his followers to Najd to preach to the people of that country. The Prophet sent a party of forty Muslims, most of them young men of Medina, who were skilled in reciting the Qur'an, and had been accustomed to meet together at night for study and prayer. But in spite of the safe conduct given them by Abu Bara 'Amir, they were treacherously murdered and three only of the party escaped with their lives.
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