In the same year a less successful attempt was made by a new convert, Wathilah b. al-Asqa', to induce his clan to accept the faith that he himself had embraced after an interview with the Prophet (Peace be upon him). His father scornfully cast him off, saying, "By God! I will never speak a word to you again," and none were found willing to believe the doctrines he preached with the exception of his sister, who provided him with the means of returning to the Prophet at Medina. This ninth year of the Hijrah has been called the year of the deputations, because of the enormous number of Arab tribes and cities that now sent delegates to the Prophet (Peace be upon him), to give in their submission. The introduction into Arab society of a new principle of social union in the brotherhood of Islam had already begun to weaken the binding force of the old tribal ideal, which erected the fabric of society on the basis of blood-relationship. The conversion of an individual and his reception into the new society was a breach of one of the most fundamental laws of Arab life, and its frequent occurrence had acted as a powerful solvent on tribal organisation and had left it weak in the face of a national life so enthusiastic and firmly-knit as that of the Muslims had become. The Arab tribes were thus impelled to give in their submission to the Prophet (Peace be upon him), not merely as the head of the strongest military force in Arabia, but as the exponent of a theory of social life that was making all others weak and ineffective. Muhammad (Peace be upon him) had succeeded in introducing into the anarchical society of his time a sentiment of national unity, a consciousness of rights and duties towards one another such as the Arabs had not felt before. In this way, Islam was uniting together clans that hitherto had been continually at feud with one another, and as this great confederacy grew, it more and more attracted to itself the weaker among the tribes of Arabia. In the accounts of the conversion of the Arab tribes, there is continual mention of the promise of security against their enemies, made to them by the Prophet on the occasion of their submission, "Woe is me for Muhammad!" was the cry of one of the Arab tribes on the news of the death of the Prophet (Peace be upon him). "So long as he was alive, I lived in peace and in safety from my enemies;" and the cry must have found an echo far and wide throughout Arabia.
How superficial was the adherence of numbers of the Arab tribes to the faith of Islam may be judged from the widespread apostasy that followed immediately on the death of the Prophet (Peace be upon him). Their acceptance of Islam would seem to have been often dictated more by considerations of political expediency, and was more frequently a bargain struck under pressure of violence than the outcome of any enthusiasm or spiritual awakening. They allowed themselves to be swept into the stream of what had now become a great national movement, and we miss the fervent zeal of the early converts in the cool, calculating attitude of those who came in after the fall of Mecca. But even from among these must have come many to swell the ranks of the true believers animated with a genuine zeal for the faith, and ready, as we have seen, to give their lives in the effort to preach it to their brethren.
"These men were the true moral heirs of the Prophet, the future apostles of Islam, the faithful trustees of all that Muhammad (Peace be upon him) had revealed unto the men of God. Into these men, through their constant contact with the Prophet and their devotion to him, there had really entered a new mode of thought and feeling, loftier and more civilised than any they had known before; they had really changed for the better from every point of view, and later on as statesmen and generals, in the most difficult moments of the war of conquest they gave magnificent and undeniable proof that the ideas and the doctrines of Muhammad (Peace be upon him) had been seed cast on fruitful soil, and had produced a body of men of the very highest worth. They were the depositaries of the sacred text of the Qur'an, which they alone knew by heart; they were the jealous guardians of the memory of every word and bidding of the Prophet, the trustees of the moral heritage of Muhammad (Peace be upon him). These men formed the venerable stock of Islam from whom one day was to spring the noble band of the first jurists, theologians and traditionists of Muslim society."
But for such men as these, so vast a movement could not have held together, much less have recovered the shock given it by the death of the founder. For it must not be forgotten how distinctly Islam was a new movement in heathen Arabia, and how diametrically opposed were the ideals of the two societies. For the introduction of Islam into Arab society did not imply merely the sweeping away of a few barbarous and inhuman practices, but a complete reversal of the pre-existing ideals of life.
Herein we have the most conclusive proof of the essentially missionary character of the teaching of Muhammad (Peace be upon him), who thus comes forward as the exponent of a new scheme of faith and practice. Whatever may have been the conditions favourable to the formation of a new political organisation, Muhammad (Peace be upon him) certainly did not find the society of his day prepared to receive his religious teaching and waiting only for the voice that would express in speech the inarticulate yearnings of their hearts. But it is just this spirit of expectancy that is wanting among the Arabs—those at least of the Central Arabia towards whom Muhammad's (Peace be upon him) efforts were at first directed. They were by no means ready to receive the preaching of a new teacher, least of all one who came with the (to them unintelligible) title of apostle of God.
Again, the equality in Islam of all believers and the common brotherhood of all Muslims, which suffered no distinctions between Arab and non-Arab, between free and slave, to exist among the faithful, was an idea that ran directly counter to the proud clan-feeling of the Arab, who grounded his claims to personal consideration on the fame of his ancestors, and in the strength of the same carried on the endless blood-feuds in which his soul delighted. Indeed, the fundamental principles in the teaching of Muhammad (Peace be upon him) were a protest against much that the Arabs had hitherto most highly valued, and the newly-converted Muslim was taught to consider as virtues, qualities which hitherto he had looked down upon with contempt.
To the heathen Arab, friendship and hostility were as a loan which he sought to repay with interest, and he prided himself on returning evil for evil, and looked down on any who acted otherwise as a weak nidering.
He is the perfect man who late and early plotteth still
To do a kindness to his friends and work his foes some ill.
To such men the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, "Recompense evil with that which is better." “As they desired the forgiveness of God, they were to pass over and pardon offences.” (Surah An-Nur, 24: 22), “And a Paradise, vast as the heavens and the earth, was prepared for those who mastered their anger and forgave others.” (Surah Al-Imran, 3: 133.)
The very institution of prayer was jeered at by the Arabs to whom Muhammad (Peace be upon him) first delivered his message, and one of the hardest parts of his task was to induce in them that pious attitude of mind towards the Creator, which Islam inculcates equally with Judaism and Christianity, but which was practically unknown to the heathen Arabs. This self-sufficiency and this lack of the religious spirit, joined with their intense pride of race, little fitted them to receive the teachings of one who maintained that "The most worthy of honour in the sight of God is he that feareth Him most" (Surah Al-Hujurat, 49: 13). No more could they brook the restrictions that Islam sought to lay upon the licence of their lives; wine, women, and song, were among the things most dear to the Arab's heart in the days of the ignorance, and the Prophet was stern and severe in his injunctions respecting each of them.
Thus, from the very beginning, Islam bears the stamp of a missionary religion that seeks to win the hearts of men, to convert them and persuade them to enter the brotherhood of the faithful; and as it was in the beginning, so has it continued to be up to the present day, as will be the object of the following pages to show.
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