Monday, March 30, 2009

Abbas ibn Ubada Got it!

People who argue that Islam is a religion of peace often justify the raids and battles carried out by Muhammad as being defensive. After years of suffering persecution without retaliation in Mecca, they say, Allah finally allowed Muhammad to defend himself against the continued attacks of his enemies after he and his followers immigrated to Medina.

The Quran itself does not seem to make that distinction. In the first and most authoritative biography of Muhammad, Ibn Ishaq’s “The Life of the Apostle of Allah”, the author notes that the first passage given to Muhammad authorizing fighting was Quran 22:39-40, “Permission is given to fight against those who have wronged you. Allah will give victory to those who were expelled from their homes only because they said, Our Lord is Allah.” The emphasis is clearly not that Muslims were only allowed to defend themselves from attack in Medina, but were authorized to attack those who had been their opponents in Mecca.

One person who understood this was Abbas ibn Ubada. Ibn Ishaq explains the background as follows:

Yearly fairs were held outside Mecca where people came from as far away as Medina, 250 miles to the north. Muhammad regularly went to these fairs to try to convince visitors to accept him as a prophet, and on one occasion met some men from the Khazraj tribe in Medina. The Khazraj, who were illiterate idolaters, often raided their wealthier, better educated, more skilled Jewish neighbors who formed over one-half the population of Medina. The Jews used to warn them that a prophet would soon be sent to them, and when he came they would gain revenge on the Khazraj for their constant raids. When six Khazraj men heard Muhammad’s message, they concluded he was the prophet the Jews had been talking about. It was better to align themselves with him, they decided, before the Jews got to him first. The Khazraj tribe was also notorious for its lack of unity and internecine hatred. If Muhammad could unite them, they reasoned, they would be mightier than all the other tribes. For these reasons, says Ibn Ishaq, they accepted Islam. (It is interesting that their motivation for becoming Muslim was not spiritual in any sense, but based on a desire to become strong militarily and overpower the Jews).

The six returned to Medina, and told their fellow tribesmen about Muhammad. The following year they came back to the fair with some others, and twelve of them pledged themselves to Muhammad. Muhammad sent a man from Mecca named Musab back with them to read the Quran to them and give them instruction in their new religion. The next year 75 of them attended the fair and gave their allegiance to Muhammad.

One of their leaders was Abbas ibn Ubada. Before they gave their pledge to Muhammad, he warned of the seriousness of what they were about to do. “Oh men of Khazraj,” he said, “Do you realize what you are committing yourselves to when you pledge support to this man? It is to war against one and all.” He reminded them that it would be shameful for them to make the pledge, only to rescind it if they lost their leaders and their property in the wars that were to come. If they took the pledge they needed to keep to it, no matter what the consequences. Faced with the significance of their oath, they asked Muhammad what they would get in return for their loyalty. He promised them paradise, and they accepted the bargain. Ibn Ishaq notes that at least 20 of the 75 were killed in the battles of the next few years.

As soon as they completed the pledge by shaking hands with Muhammad, he told them to go back to their caravan. Abbas ibn Ubada told Muhammad they would gladly attack the Meccans with their swords the next day if the Prophet wanted them to. Muhammad’s reply was simply that he had not yet received the command to fight.

The following morning the leaders of the Meccan Quraysh tribe came to the Khazraj, saying they had heard they had invited Muhammad to leave Mecca for Medina, and had pledged themselves to him in war against them. The Quraysh leaders said they had no interest in going to war against the Khazraj, and in fact there was no Arab tribe they would fight with more reluctance. Abbas ibn Ubada noticed that one of the young Quraysh men was wearing a new pair of sandals. He said to an associate named Abu Jabir, “Why can’t you get me a pair of nice sandals like this young man has?” When the young men heard that, he took off his sandals and threw them at Abbas ibn Ubada. Abu Jabir told him, “You’ve made that young man angry, so give him back his sandals.” “By Allah, I will not,” Abbas ibn Ubada retorted, “It is a good omen and if it proves to be true I will plunder him.”

Soon afterwards Allah gave Muhammad the verses noted above authorizing war. Ibn Ishaq records that “when Allah gave permission to his apostle to fight, the Khazraj bound themselves to war against one and all for Allah and his apostle, while he promised them the reward of paradise”. Another of the Khazraj leaders said, “We pledged ourselves to war in complete obedience to the apostle come what may.” Ibn Ishaq concludes the episode by noting, “When Allah had given permission to fight, the apostle ordered his companions from Mecca to immigrate to Medina and link up with their brethren there.

A careful reading of the text prepares one for what came next. Muhammad was only in Medina a short time before he began the raids against the Quraysh trade caravans that would mark the rest of his life. Far from being defensive battles against those who were attacking him, they were offensive forays against his own people who had chosen not to accept him as the prophet he claimed to be. And Abbas ibn Ubada had all the opportunity he wanted for plunder. He undoubtedly ended up with a whole lot more than a pair of new shoes.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Thomas Hamill Effect

Thomas Hamill, the Haliburton truck driver who was kidnapped in Iraq in 2004 and escaped 3 weeks later, probably doesn't even know that his story was instrumental in the conversion of a Muslim from Morocco named Sayf to Christianity.

Sayf told his story on the Arabic Christian television channel Al-Hayat on a program entitled "Daring Question". When asked about his name, which means "Sword", Sayf commented that Islam is the only religion in the world that has the word sword as a common first name. Even Col. Gadhaffi has a son named Sayf al-Islam, "the Sword of Islam".

Sayf was a very religious Muslim until the age of 54. He wore a robe and beard, prayed 5 times a day, and in addition to the month-long fast of Ramadan fasted every Monday and Thursday. He allowed no music in his house, no movies, no TV serials. He would not greet nor shake the hand of a woman, and even gatherings in his house did not contain both men and women.

All that changed in 2004. Here's how Sayf tells the story:

RASHID: So you were 54 years old, and very religious. What attracted you to the Gospel? A lot of people won't be able to understand how a person of your age and experience could make such a change.

SAYF: It will be hard for some people to understand. I hadn't been searching for Christianity or reading the Bible. Some times I picked up a Bible but I always had this feeling that I was touching the corrupted book of the infidels. But what drew me to the Gospel was Jesus Christ himself.


SAYF: In April, 2004, I was in America. In early April I was watching the news and saw a news item watched by millions of people around the world. It was about an American truck driver named Thomas Hamill who was kidnapped in Iraq. There was nothing unusual about my watching the story, but what happened some days later was arranged by Jesus. I saw another news story about his wife and children and relatives in a church. The church was filled with people who were praying to Jesus to release Thomas. You can imagine what I thought as a Muslim of people asking this of Jesus. I laughed at their prayer; I mocked and scorned them. I thought, "How can these people ask Jesus who is only...."

RASHID: A prophet...

SAYF: God married Mary and had a son named Jesus...that is what we think Christians believe and it is a big problem for us. It made no sense for them to ask Jesus to release Thomas. I laughed at them. But several days later I was watching the TV again and there was Thomas free and standing with American soldiers.

RASHID: So you were laughing at the Christians' prayer, and in the end it came true.

SAYF: I was listening to the TV announcer, and all of a sudden I heard the voice of Jesus. He said, "Sayf, you were mocking the Christian prayer. But I set him free." It was as if someone turned a switch in my heart from off to on. And from that moment I began to search.

RASHID: To search for the truth.

SAYF: I took a Quran in one hand and a Bible in the other and began to compare them. I did this for 40 days. The Quran was in one hand, the Bible in the other, and the computer in front of me. I would perform my ablutions for the Muslim prayer, and then I would pray as Christians do. After 40 days, Jesus spoke to me again...

RASHID: How did he speak to you? Many of the viewers can't understand this. Was it a voice or an impression?

SAYF: It was a beautiful voice. I literally heard it. He spoke to me first in Arabic and then in French. He said, "I am your Lord, and I know all languages...."

RASHID: Because Allah of the Muslims only knows Arabic...

SAYF: That was on June 11, 2004, and I have been following Jesus ever since.