Friday, December 12, 2008

Who was Muhammad? Part 4 - The Influence of Idolatry

SUMMARY: In this episode from Al-Hayat TV, Abuna Zakaria Boutros presents evidence that Muhammad as a youth participated in the idolatry of his peers, and later incorporated their gods into his religion in hopes of attracting them to Islam.

COMMENT: It makes sense that as a young man Muhammad would participate in and be influenced by the religious practices of those around him. It is also logical that he would incorporate some of their beliefs into Islam in the hope of attracting the citizens of Mecca. This of course runs directly counter to the Islamic belief that Muhammad was "masum" (divinely protected) from error and any such influence.

Although the hadiths quoted below indicate Muhammad's involvement in idolatry, Muslims can easily dismiss them by claiming they are "weak" or inauthoritative. It's interesting that even the hadiths of Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, which have been as authoritative as the Quran for 1400 years, are now said to be weak when they prove embarrassing. That was Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi's response to Wafa Sultan when she quoted the Bukhari hadith "Heaven is under the shadow of the sword." It is also the response of Western writers such as Reza Aslan (No god but God) and Sumbul Ali-Karamali (The Muslim Next Door) to the Bukhari hadith that Muhammad consumnated his marriage with Aysha when she was nine years old.

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AHMAD: We have spoken about the personal, tribal, and political circumstances that influenced the personality of Muhammad. What about his religious environment?

ABUNA: The religious environment influenced Muhammad more than any of the other factors, and it is very important to understand this environment. There were many religious factions at his time including idol worshipers, the hanifs who followed the monotheism of Abraham, the Sabians who worshipped the planets, Jews and Christians, and they all influenced Muhammad.

AHMAD: Can you paint a picture of what idolatry was like at that time?

ABUNA: Yes, indeed. And I would also like to note the ancient sources as well as the modern references for anyone who wants to do further study. The sources include “The Book of Idols”, by Ibn Kalbi (819-920 A.D); another book entitled “The Book of Idols” by Jahith, and “Nihayat al-Arab” by Nuwayri. The modern references include “The History of Islam” by Dr. Hasan Ibrahim Hasan, and “The History of the Arabs before Islam” by Dr. Jawad Ali.

AHMAD: Let’s begin by talking about the local gods of the Arab Peninsula.

ABUNA: Dr. Hasan writes the Quraysh put 360 idols in and around the Kaaba. It does not mean the people of Mecca worshipped an idol each day of the year, but each tribe kept its idol in the Kaaba. The Quraysh benefitted financially from the annual pilgrimage when people came to the Kaaba to worship their idols. They linked economics to one of humankind’s strongest motivation, that of religion. Dr. Jawad Ali writes that the names of the Arab gods included Allat, Uzza, Manat (who are each mentioned in the Quran and subject of Muhammad’s “Satanic verses”), Hubal, Wudd, Asaf, Nailah, and many others.

AHMAD: Can you give us an idea of who these gods were?

ABUNA: Dr. Jawad Ali writes that Allat is linguistically derived from the name of Allah, and was his female version (adding the letter “t” to a word in Arabic generally makes it feminine). Allah was the masculine, and Allat was “Mrs. Allah”. The people were primitive in their thinking; they had Allah, and they had his wife. The first mosque in (the Saudi Arabian city of) Taif was built on the location where Allat was worshipped. The explanation given for this was that the mosque was built by former idolaters who had converted to Islam with their mouths but still believed in Allat in their hearts. They built the mosque in that location in lasting memory of their idol Allat. This helps us understand how Muhammad later tried to please the idolaters and attract them to his religion.

Next was the goddess Uzza, who was also feminine and worshipped by the people of Taif. Dr. Jawad writes on p.208 of his book that Muhammad said, “I sacrificed a white sheep to Uzza when I practiced the religion of my people.” I must admit I was amazed when I first read that Muhammad worshipped idols and presented a sacrifice to Uzza.

AHMAD: Why were you amazed?

ABUNA: Because Muhammad has been surrounded by such sanctity in the traditions of Islam. The ancient books tell us that he was “a light behind Adam even before Adam’s creation”. They say he was prophesied in the Torah and the Injil (Old and New Testaments) long before he was born. His mother supposedly emanated a light when she was pregnant with him that could be seen in the palaces of Syria. Angels cut open his chest when he was a child to remove a black clot that was impurity from Satan. If all that is true, why did Muhammad worship idols while practicing the religion of his people?

According to Abu Hisham, Muhammad stated that Zayd bin Amer was the first to scold him for worshipping idols. Muhammad told the story as follows, “I had come from Taif with Zayd bin Haritha when we passed Zayd bin Amer in the highlands of Mecca. The Quraysh had made a public example of Zayd bin Amer for abandoning his religion, so he went out from their midst (Zayd bin Amer had left idolatry for the monotheism of the hanifs). I was but a lad at the time, and we had a bag containing meat that we had sacrificed to our idols. I offered some to Zayd bin Amer, but he refused to eat it and said he never ate those sacrifices. Then he upbraided me for idolatry and spoke disparagingly of those who worship idols. After that I never knowingly stroked one of their idols, not did I sacrifice to them.”

Muslim author Suhayli explains this by saying Allah did not allow Zayd to eat this meat, but Muhammad was above that! But my question is, if Muhammad was present in the creation, prophesied in the Gospels, a light from his mother’s stomach illuminated Syria, and angels removed all impurity from his chest, why was he worshipping and eating food sacrificed to idols? I would like to hear a reply from the Shaykhs of Al-Azhar.

AHMAD: Perhaps one of them will respond. What can you tell us about the other idols?

ABUNA: Manat is the third goddess mentioned in the Quran. Dr. Hasan and Dr. Jawad both inform us that the Meccans would circumambulate the Kaaba repeating,

By Allat and Uzza and Manat,
The three goddesses who are the most exalted females (sometimes translated as “cranes),
And whose intercession is desirable indeed.”

The Muslims today circle the Kaaba, repeating chants. The Arabs did that before Islam.

These three goddesses are famous because of their mention in the Quran (this is the story of the “Satanic verses”). Both Ibn Sad in “The Major Classes” and Wahidi in “Asbab al-Nazul” (the science of determining the authenticity of the hadith) tell the story of Muhammad’s desire to attract the people of his tribe who were turning against him. While sitting with them one day near the Kaaba, Muhammad recited, “Do you see Allat and Uzza and Manat, the three goddesses who are the most exalted females? Their intercession is desirable indeed.” It was the same thing the idolaters said when circumambulating the Kaaba! When the Quraysh heard this, they were filled with joy realizing that Muhammad acknowledged their gods (News of this event even reached Ethiopia where some of Muhammad’s followers had taken refuge, and they began to come home thinking their problems with the Quraysh were resolved).

That evening, according to Muslim scholars, Gabriel informed Muhammad that it was Satan, not he, who had whispered these words in Muhammad’s ears. Note that Muhammad apparently could not distinguish the voice of Satan from that of Gabriel. Gabriel then reassured Muhammad that Satan tried to whisper words into the ears of all of Allah’s prophets by revealing Quran 22:52, 53:

“Whenever we send a messenger who recites the words of Allah, Satan tries to throw some falsehood into it. Allah, however, abolishes the words Satan throws in, and establishes his revelations. Allah allows Satan to do this to test those whose hearts are hardened with unbelief.”

Muhammad then changed his message to the Quraysh to Quran 53:19-23, “Have you thought about the goddesses Allat, Uzza, and Manat? Would Allah give you male sons while giving himself female goddess daughters? That would be most unfair! Those are merely names that you have given, not names from Allah” (note the insinuation that daughters are of less value than sons).

My question is, Muhammad repeated to the Quraysh that day the same sentences about the three goddesses they had all memorized by heart and repeated every year at the Kaaba. What makes more sense, that Satan whispered those words in his ear, or that his memory recalled them to mind? Another question is why did Gabriel wait until the evening to correct Muhammad? Why not correct him immediately when Muhammad was speaking to the Quraysh?

I have another serious question. According to this story, Satan spoke to Muhammad. But the Quran says in 16:99-100 that Satan has no power over those who put their trust in Allah. Satan’s power is only over those who obey him, or who associate others with Allah. If Satan spoke to Muhammad, does that mean Muhammad was one of those who obeyed him or associated others with Allah? How could Satan have the power to whisper words into Muhammad’s ears? I invite the Shaykhs to answer me.

AHMAD: It is clear from the hadith that both the Arabs and Muhammad worshipped idols. What was the influence of this on Muhammad?

ABUNA: You can see the influence from an idol named Wudd (the Lover). Jawad Ali writes that Wudd was the moon god, as well as the greatest god, and his symbol was the crescent. I want to link things together. First of all, Muhammad adopted the crescent, which was the symbol of the moon god. Muhammad also adopted the slogan “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is the greatest). These both came from Wudd. Could Muhammad have adopted these to placate Wudd’s worshippers?

AHMAD: What about other gods?

ABUNA: There was Rahman (the Compassionate). Dr. Jawad Ali writes that the texts of the Southern Arabs describe a new god named Rahman, or Rahman Saman. That is, he was the god of the sky (sky is “samah” in Arabic, or “saman” in some grammatical forms). “Rahman” as well as “Wudd” are both included in the Muslim 99 names of Allah, as well as the god Rahim (the Merciful). I find it amazing that Muhammad took the names of these idols and included them in the names of Allah. The expression “al-Rahman al-Rahim” opens almost every chapter of the Quran.

AHMAD: Is there additional information available for those who want to learn more?

ABUNA: Yes, indeed. Jawad Ali describes all 360 idols in his book and some of them are very interesting. One of them was named Allah-humah (“their Allah” which is a common expression of the Quran). Did Muhammad use this expression to convince the idolaters there was no difference between the Allah he was calling them to, and their Allah-humah?

There was the god “Rabb al-Aalimin” (Lord of the Universe, another common Muslim phrase used to describe Allah). There was a god called Allah Ya Sin (two letters of the Arabic alphabet) worshiped in the Hadramout in Yemen. Does that not explain the chapter of the Quran entitled “Ya Sin”?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Who was Muhammad? Part 3 - International Political Influence

SUMMARY: Numerous tribes in the Arab Peninsula had united to form kingdoms at the time of Muhammad, but the tribes of the Hejaz (the area including Mecca and Medina) were never able to follow their example. Muhammad’s grandfather Abu Mutallib envisioned his descendants forming a kingdom similar to those of the surrounding kingdoms. Muhammad himself had political and economic ambitions that included conquering the Sassanid (Persian) and Byzantine (Roman) Empires.

COMMENT: The concept of Muhammad having political and economic ambitions runs counter to the common Muslim understanding that he was a peace-loving man called by Allah to be a religious prophet. As could be expected, there are numerous websites that seek to vigorously refute all that (Abuna) Zakaria Boutros says about Muhammad on his Al-Hayat TV programs. Zakaria often repeats that he only wants people to critically examine the available evidence and think for themselves.

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AHMAD: We have talked about the tribal and domestic political influences that influenced the personality of Muhammad. What were the other influences?

ABUNA: By domestic political influences, I meant the Arab Peninsula, but we only talked about the situation in Mecca. The most important thing occupying the minds of the thinkers in Mecca was how to establish a united country with Mecca as its capital. In his book “Mecca and Medina”, Dr. Ahmad al-Sharif writes that the Arabs of Mecca felt that the absence of a kingdom uniting them was a source of abasement and shame. This was particularly true because they were surrounded by numerous Arab kingdoms.

AHMAD: What were some of them?

ABUNA: There were at least eight Arab kingdoms. First of all, there was the kingdom of Hirah in the northern part of the Peninsula on the border of the Persian Empire that includes today’s Iraq, with its famous king Numan. In the north-western part, bordering the Byzantine Empire that is today’s Syria, was the Ghassanid Kingdom led by king Harith. There was the Sabean kingdom (also known as the Kingdom of Sheba) near Najran south-west of Mecca, the Qatban kingdom in a southern pocket of the Peninsula, the kingdom of Hadramout east of Qatban, and other kingdoms in Yemen including the Humayr, the Maen and the Kindah. One of the Kindah kings, Imru al-Qais, is famous for his pre-Islamic poetry. There was a sense of Arab nationalism that encouraged the establishment of these kingdoms.

AHMAD: How did these kingdoms influence the personality of Muhammad?

ABUNA: We have already seen that Muhammad’s ancestors including Qusay, Hashim, and his grandfather Abu Mutallib were occupied by this idea. They were surrounded by kings; why could they not establish a kingdom? In his book “Islamiyat”, Dr. Qimni writes that Abu Mutallib once pointed at his children and grandchildren and said Allah would raise children such as these if he wanted to establish a kingdom in Mecca. Dr. Qimni also pointed out that the area of the Hejaz with its two major cities of Mecca and Yathrib (Medina) was geographically far removed from the realm of international conflicts and independent of subjugation to any foreign influence. In spite of that, however, it did not have kings in the true sense nor a sense of political unity that united all the tribes. One man, Aswad Ibn Abdel al-Uzzah said, “We need to establish a state with a leader like the Prophet David.” The political environment in which Muhammad lived was occupied with the idea of establishing a kingdom.

AHMAD: Why were the people of the Hejaz unable to form a kingdom?

ABUNA: They were a tribal society, unable to decide which tribe would be the ruler. Dr. Qimni writes that they would not allow one person to rule over them, because that would mean the ruler’s tribe was superior to the other tribes and his family was above their families. Even king Numan, who inherited the throne of the Hirah Kingdom from his father, informed the Persian king Khosrau that the infighting of the Arabs made it impossible for one person to be their king, even though many had tried. For that reason some believed the only solution was that of the Jewish tradition where one person, such as King David, fulfilled the dual role of prophet and king.

AHMAD: Perhaps Muhammad announced himself as a prophet in order to achieve the dream of his grandfather Abu Mutallib of establishing a kingdom in the Hejaz. But what was the connection between the people of Mecca and the surrounding Arab kingdoms?

ABUNA: In his book “The Ancient Arabs”, Lutfi Abdul Wahab writes that even though the Kindah kingdom in Yemen did not last very long, the fact that it even existed at all gave birth to a longing among the Arab tribes of the Hejaz to form a similar union. It paved the way for the uniting of the region under Islam.

AHMAD: So it was not merely a dream of uniting the tribes of Mecca, but of establishing a kingdom in the entire Hejaz.

ABUNA: Yes, but much more than that. This will become evident as we examine the influence of the external or international political situation on Muhammad. His dream was not only to unite the Hejaz with Mecca as its capital, but to unite the other Arab kingdoms and overtake the Persian Sassanid and Roman Byzantine Empires which had been making inroads into conquering some of the Arab kingdoms.

AHMAD: Was Muhammad really thinking about conquering the Byzantine and Persian Empires?

ABUNA: Yes. Dr. Qimni writes in “Islamiyat” that when Muhammad first called the slaves of Mecca to Islam, he promised them that if they followed him he would give them the treasures of Khosrau and Caesar, meaning the rulers of those empires. Dr. Qimni adds that when the Quraysh understood what Muhammad meant, they concluded he was merely another self-proclaimed prophet with political ambitions. He was attacking their commercial interests by calling their slaves to follow him, and then planned to rule the Hejaz in preparation for defeating the Persian and Byzantine Empires. This was particularly true of Muhammad’s distant relatives, the Meccan Quraysh clans of Abdel Dar, Abdel Shams, and Naufal, as they realized Muhammad’s clan of the Beni Hashim would be above them.

AHMAD: You have been quoting from Dr. Sayyid Qimni, but some Muslims might say he was only a historian subject to error. Are their authoritative hadith from the life of Muhammad that speak of conquering those empires?

ABUNA: Yes indeed. But I want to say that modern researchers and historians rely upon the authoritative texts. They do not create new information. However if we want to go back to the source documents, we have the following hadith that indicate Muhammad’s ambitions toward these kingdoms.

Sahih Bukhari says in hadith volume 8, book 78, number 626: Narrated Abu Huraira, Allah's Apostle said, "If Khosrau is ruined, there will be no Khosrau after him; and if Caesar is ruined, there will be no Caesar after him. By Him in Whose Hand Muhammad's soul is, surely you will spend their treasures in Allah's cause.

Also Sahih al-Bukhari hadith volume 4, book 52, number 175: Narrated Khalid bin Madan, The Prophet then said, “The first army amongst my followers who will invade Caesar’s city will be forgiven their sins.”

Also Sahih al-Bukhari hadith volume 9, book 91, number 369: Narrated Abdullah bin Abbas: Allah's Apostle sent a letter to Khosrau and told his messenger to give it first to the ruler of Bahrain, and tell him to deliver it to Khosrau. When Khosrau had read it, he tore it into pieces. (Az-Zuhri said: I think Ibn Al-Musaiyab said, "Allah's Apostle invoked Allah to tear them (Khosrau and his followers) into pieces."

And Sahih al-Bukhari hadith volume 4, book 56, number 793: Narrated Adi bin Hatim: The Prophet said, “If you should live long, the treasures of Khosrau will be opened and taken as spoils.”

AHMAD: What caused Muhammad to think in this way?

ABUNA: It was the victory of the Christian Arabs over the Persians in the battle of Dhi Qar about 609 that caused Muhammad to think about overcoming the Persians.

AHMAD: What happened in that battle?

ABUNA: Dhi Qar (which is located in Iraq and the modern name of one of Iraq’s provinces) belonged to the Persians. The Persian king Khosrau had an Arab administrator working in the royal court whose father had been killed by Numan king of Hirah. The administrator created a ruse to gain revenge on his father. Knowing that Khosrau loved beautiful women, the administrator informed him that Numan had beautiful daughters. Khosrau sent the administrator to ask for one of them, but Numan refused. Khosrau then summoned Numan to appear before him. Realizing he was in a precarious position, Numan hid his family armor including 400 shields with one of the local tribes. Khosrau imprisoned and killed Numan, and then sent his forces to recover the armor. Numan’s friend Hani bin Masud refused to turn it over and enticed the Persian forces to a location of Dhi Qar where it was extremely hot and there was no water. The Persian commander challenged the Arab commander to an individual dual and the Arab won. The Persian commander was killed and his forces routed. When news of this reached Muhammad, he said, “This is the first time the Arabs defeated the non-Arabs.”

AHMAD: So the Arab victory at Dhi Qar caused Muhammad to begin thinking about defeating the Persians and the Byzantines?

ABUNA: Yes. And it is clear that his motive in this was not religious, but economic and political. Another important event took place about the same time in Yemen. The Ethiopians had conquered parts of Yemen for seventy-two years, but a Yemeni Arab leader forced them out. These two events raised sentiments of Arab nationalism, and caused Muhammad to think about achieving the dream of a kingdom long held by his grandfather Abu Mutallib.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Iraq Security Agreement

SUMMARY: The vast majority of those who called or wrote in to a recent al-Jazeera show on the US-Iraqi security agreement believed the agreement was engineered to achieve America ’s interests, not those of Iraq . Many believed the Americans had no intention of leaving Iraq even by the 2011 terms of the agreement.

COMMENT: Two things struck me from this episode. First was that in spite of over 4200 American deaths, tens of thousands permanently injured, and the billions of dollars spent in Iraq, very few Arabs trust us or our intentions. President Bush has been speaking recently about his presidential legacy of “liberating 50 million people”. Not many in this part of the world would agree with his analysis.

The second thing is I believe the opinions expressed by those who called in below are very different from what Americans diplomats hear when they sit with Arab leaders and government officials. Either there is a great gulf between those leaders and their own people, or they don’t tell the American diplomats what they really believe. I’m not sure which of the two options is correct.

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The first caller, who was from Norway, began with a poem, “Oh you people of Iraq , remember your history filled with betrayers and betrayals…” Hostess Muna Salman cut him off, reminding her viewers she would not allow them to openly insult Arab people or their leaders, and put on Iadat from Morocco . Iadat wanted Iraqis to unite as quickly as possible to put out the Americans, or else the name of their country would become the United States of America and Iraq . The American influence in Iraq was negative and not positive. Iraqis needed to hold demonstrations and resist before their country became a perpetually occupied territory like Palestine .

Muhammad from Switzerland noted that the American rationale for occupying Iraq constantly shifted. At first it was the weapons of mass destruction, followed by the need for regime change, and most recently Bush’s speech in New York that people needed protection who wanted to change their religion. The real reason was that America needed Iraq as a military and political base, and wanted access to Iraqi oil.

When Muna asked why some people opposed the security agreement even though it gave a timeline for American withdrawal, Muhammad replied there were other reports that America wanted to keep 14 military bases in Iraq for an unlimited amount of time. There was no way that the occupier would choose to liberate the land it was occupying. It was the responsibility of Muslim armies to liberate any Muslim country under occupation whether Iraq , Palestine , or Afghanistan .

Hasan from Saudi Arabia also thought Iraqis needed to unite to immediately expel the American imperialists. The Americans wanted to control not only Iraq but the entire Arab Peninsula , and the only alternative was to put them out. When Muna asked if the agreement of the Iraqi Parliament to accept the security plan could not be seen as unity, Hasan replied that 90 percent of the Iraqi Parliamentarians were only interested in media attention. He was calling on the Iraqi people, not their politicians, to unite and expel the Americans.

Ahmad was convinced that the agreement was advantageous for any American, military or civilian, who wanted to exploit Iraqis because it would exempt them from legal prosecution. He could not understand how any politician could approve it. Majid from Yemen thought the agreement would be thrown into the “dust-bin of history” by the Americans, because they needed Iraq as the “footprint” for their control of the entire region.

Abd al-Fattah from Jordan covered 1400 years of history in one sentence by linking the killing of the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin Ali (which was the beginning of the Shia-Sunni divide) to the execution of Saddam Husayn. The Shia, according to him, could never be trusted.

Adel from Saudi Arabia thought the agreement represented the “betrayal of the great Iraqi people”. At the same time it was a defeat for America , because it would force them out of Iraq . Adel’s problem with the agreement was that it allowed Americans to remain until 2011.

Mahmud, a Syrian living in Oman thought Iraqi politicians quickly pushed the agreement through following the Obama victory to serve their goals of remaining in power. Without the agreement, the new American administration might want to withdraw forces before 2011. The current leaders in Iraq were linked to the occupation and wanted it to continue. But the Iraqi people, in agreement with regional leaders such as Syrian President Bashar al-Asad who opposed the agreement, would cause it to fail. The only countries in the world willing to stand against the Americans were between Afghanistan and the Mediterranean Sea . The Americans had occupied Afghanistan in order to cut Pakistan off from Iran , and had occupied Iraq to cut off the connection between Iran and Syria . They also had made many security and military agreements with other Arab and regional governments to control the oil of the Gulf and the Caspian Sea .

Ahmad from Libya used the common expression “those who arrived on the American tanks” to describe the Iraqi leaders who signed the agreement. They were only American agents whose stay in power was linked to the occupation.

Ahmad Adel from Egypt said the Arabs would claim victory when American forces finally left Iraq , but in fact it would be a victory for the Americans who had succeeded in dividing Iraq into three separate cantons (Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish). People should not rejoice even when the Americans left, because their occupying influence would remain.

Muhsin thought the agreement represented a “change of masks” on the part of the Americans. It was foolish of the Iraqis to trust the Americans, and even more foolish for them to try to persuade other Arabs to trust the Americans. The Iraqi leaders signed the agreement to protect themselves against the resistance, but the resistance would in turn smash any agreement made with the government that “rode in on the backs of American tanks”.

Hostess Muna noted that not a single participant thus far supported the agreement. She read an email from Ridah who quoted the English proverb, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” There was no way that America , having spent billions on this war, would allow an agreement not in its interests.

Ali, an Iraqi in the UK agreed that the agreement served only American interests in Iraq . America was buying Iraqi oil for three dollars a barrel, stealing Iraq ’s natural resources, and opening American companies that would control Iraqi interests. Having lost 5,000 soldiers, there was no way America would leave Iraq . America needed to at least reassure its people it had achieved cheap Iraqi oil. The election of Obama would make no difference; a black person might be in charge, but American policy was the same. Because of Iran , America would keep its forces in Iraq , Kuwait , and other locations throughout the Gulf region. The American intelligences services governed Iraq .

Karim from Morocco thought it was scandalous that the agreement should discuss “Americans in Iraq ”. The only agreement should be that the Americans leave and repair what they destroyed.
Faizah, a female from Saudi Arabia, had the following comment. “In the old days, the Arabs would make agreements with other countries or with the kufar when they were in a position of strength and able to impose their will in reality. Are the Arab countries in a position of strength today? America is not a charity organization. The goal of America ’s presence in the region is petrol, and they are now even more determined because of the financial crisis. Can Iraq guarantee that America will withdraw in 2011? If they do not, who will be strong enough to force them out and save the Iraqi people?

Faizah continued, “Have the Iraqis even read the agreement? Do they realize it allows the presence of five American bases in Iraq fully controlled by the Americans as if it was the country of America inside Iraq ? Do they know it gives America the right to take preemptive action using the pretext of terrorism? Do they know it allows America to call for the assistance of any foreign force if they see it necessary? The goals of America in the region make it sacrifice itself for the sake of petrol.”

Ahmad was the first Iraqi to call from within Iraq . “Why is all this fuss being made about Iraq ? Are Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and the other Arab countries free from American influence? We do not like America , and we reject this agreement, but what brought America to Iraq ? Wasn’t it the killing and the destruction that came from the Arabs?”

Nabil, a second caller from Iraq , believed the agreement signified a defeat for the Americans. It was a victory for Iraq because it indicated that Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds could reach an agreement together. It was also a victory for the jihadists and resistance fighters throughout the world who wanted the kafirs (the Americans) out of Iraq .

Khalid from Mauritania agreed with earlier callers that America had come only to plunder Iraq and had no intention of leaving. The agreement was worth no more than the paper it was written on, and allowed Americans to do what they wanted with no possibility of being tried or judged by Iraqi courts. Muna corrected him to say the section of the agreement granting immunity to all Americans in Iraq had been amended, and Americans who committed crimes would not be immune from prosecution.

Dr. Shukri added that an agreement of this type could only be valid if it were between two independent parties. An agreement between an occupier and the people occupied was of no value. In reality the agreement was not between Baghdad and Washington , but between the American occupiers and the Iraqi inhabitants of Baghdad ’s Green Zone who had come with the occupation and as part of it. The agreement would fail and the occupation would collapse just as it had in Vietnam .

Thunyan from Saudi Arabia was the first caller who believed the agreement was to the benefit of Iraq . If the Americans left without an agreement, internal violence would break out in Iraq . The first thing to happen would be “a great evil” from Iran , and who would be able to stop Iran ? Media attention and other factors put limits on what the Americans would do, but nobody could put limits on Iran .

When Muna repeated the question of an earlier caller what was the guarantee the Americans would really leave in 2011, Thunyan replied that no occupier lasted forever. The Americans would eventually leave. It used to be said that the sun never set on the British Empire , but look at that empire now.

Akram from Greece thought the agreement should be called the American-American agreement, since it was concluded between an imperialist government and an American colony. Muna countered that others had said the same thing and it was time to more the discussion forward. What did Akram think was the best solution for the Iraqi people?

Akram had a ready answer. “The security agreement does not serve the interests of the Iraqi people in any way. The Iraqis must liberate themselves from the American colonizers by establishing an opposition front that includes all those who oppose America to force the Americans out. This front cannot be based on sectarian or religious divides, because these divisions have caused all of Iraq ’s problems. The Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds must unite to force out the Americans. The Americans want to remain in Iraq to avoid the embarrassment they would face if they left at the present time.”

Kazim was the second participant who thought the agreement was a good idea. “The security agreement,” he wrote in an email, “Is the best thing the elected Iraqi government has given to its people, and is Iraq ’s salvation from civil war and dissolution. Your show today showed the superficiality of most of those who called in and their ridiculous positions.”

Mustafa from Holland had a practical perspective. “The security agreement is a fact,” he wrote, “And it could have been called the agreement of security and reconstruction. The Iraqi politicians should present a study to America containing all the parts of the Iraqi infrastructure and Iraqi organizations that were destroyed by the Americans, and take advantage of the American presence there to have them rebuild Iraq during the remaining years of the agreement.”

Sabah’s email expressed the majority view. “The haters in the Green Zone drew up the agreement of humiliation in accordance with the orders of their bosses in the Black House (a common mocking description of the American White House). This was only the culmination of many other agreements between the American intelligences services and their (Arab) servants.”
Sarah from the UAE also agreed with the majority. “The Americans won’t leave Iraq in 2011 or any other year,” she said. “They will stay for years and years, and the Iraqi people must understand this. I was one of those who cried when Saddam Husayn was hung, and his death affected me greatly. I don’t know if he was a good man or not, but as Muslims his execution had a great effect on us.”

Muna reminded Sarah that the discussion was simply whether the security agreement was good for Iraq or not. Sarah replied there would be no security as long as the Americans remained in Iraq but under the present circumstances there would be no security if the Americans left. The only answer was for all the regional governments including Iran to sit down and reach a workable solution.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


SUMMARY: The underlying assumption of every caller to a recent al-Jazeera program on the humanitarian situation in Gaza was that Israel harbors enmity and ill-will towards Muslims and Arabs in general, and the Palestinians in particular. Another commonly stated theme was that the Arab rulers are to blame for the Gaza blockade because of their unwillingness to confront Israel. One caller said that the reason for the situation was the rockets fired into Israel, but quickly added that Israel really wanted those rockets to continue so they could use them as an excuse to extend the blockade and build more settlements. Another caller berated the Egyptian closing of Palestinian tunnels dug under the borders, not mentioning that these tunnels are often used to smuggle weapons and other explosives.

COMMENT: I was waiting for the question that never came. “The preamble to the Hamas Charter states that “Israel will continue to exist until Islam obliterates it, just as Islam has obliterated others before it”. Is there any other country in the world that provides food, water, and electricity to an enemy whose constitution contains a vow to destroy it?” I think the Gazans could have peace with Israel tomorrow if the Palestinian leaders wanted it, and the result of that peace would be an economic, social, and political prosperity that would be the envy of millions throughout the Middle East. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening.

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After showing scenes of children scrounging for scraps of food and describing women baking bread from wheat intended for cows and chickens, hostess Muna Sulman asked her viewers how their consciences could allow them to do nothing while Palestinian mothers were listening to the last gasping breaths of their children. What can we do, was Muna’s question, to help the Palestinians?

The first caller, a Palestinian, felt there was no hope to be found with the “midget Palestinian officials”, who were willing to obey the leaders of Israel as long as they could “sit on their crooked chairs of power”. The only solution was a military one. He quoted Quran 4:141, “Allah will never give the infidels victory over the believers”. The Jews were now experiencing victory over the Muslims in Palestine, but this victory would be quickly overturned if the Muslims armies attacked Israel. It was particularly shameful that Egypt, a country of 70 million people, was unwilling to fight.

The next caller was from Syria. “We all know,” he said, “That the Zionist entity is the enemy of Islam and the Arabs. What is particularly sad is the fearful silence of the Arabs. Egypt searches day and night to close the tunnels used by the Palestinians to bring food and medicine into their country, and then Egypt informs the Israelis of what they have done.”

A caller from Libya praised the Hamas leaders fighting for victory against the “Zionists who killed 400 prophets, these Zionist tyrants who humiliate the Arabs and trample their Quran under their feet and who reach out with their filthy and treacherous hands to…....”

Muna quickly cut him off, as she often does with callers who go over the limit, to ask what he thought the solution was. He told the story of the Caliph Umar whose stomach was growling from hunger while he was delivering a sermon. “Growl on,” said Umar to his stomach, “But you will not be filled until the stomachs of the Muslim children are satisfied.”

A caller from Paris joined the criticism of Arab leaders. He would like to help the Palestinians, but French Jews would not allow him to. “This is the responsibility of the Arab rulers,” he repeated four times, “But we here in Paris can do nothing because the French government will not allow us to. There are many Jews in the government here, and they won’t even let us hold a demonstration or raise funds for the people of Gaza.”

Ahmad from Egypt had a different perspective. “Rather than just blaming each other,” he said, “Why don’t we look at the reason for the blockade? It is the rockets that are being fired from Gaza into Israel. If the Palestinians want the blockade to be lifted, stop launching their rockets.” Ahmad continued by saying that Israel really desired these rocket attacks, because it gave Israel the excuse to continue building settlements. He thought the Palestinian resistance was necessary, but it needed to be a peaceful resistance so that Israel would show its true colors by opposing it.

An Egyptian living in Saudi Arabia thought there was nothing he could do. “If I went to Gaza to help the Palestinians,” he said, “My government wouldn’t even allow me to cross the border. Besides, there’s nothing I can do to even change the government in my own country, so how can I help change things in another country?” And the Arabs don’t even care. They’ve been absent from the global scene for a hundred years. They’ve become a hard, cold body unable to move. We need a Saladin.”

Mary, a Palestinian living in Norway, was the first female caller. “We know,” she said, “That the governments won’t do anything. These are the governments who starve their people so they are incapable of movement. But the people could rise up if they really wanted to. What would their governments do, kill all of them? We all know that the first criminal is Israel. But right behind it are the people who collude with Israel, such as Mahmud Abbas and Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Those three are Satans; I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true. All of them are united against Hamas. Someone called in earlier to blame Hamas. Shame on them for saying that! Shame on them for blaming Hamas!” Mary went on to say that the Shaykhs of Islam, the ulema, should be the ones leading the way on boats from Cyprus to break the blockade. That would provide a real example for Muslims to follow.

Umar from Egypt expressed a view that is common throughout the Arab world. “We need to unite in prayer for our brothers in Gaza,” he said, “And we need to truly return to the roots of our religion.” A caller from Mauritania read a poem similar to the English expression “God helps those who help themselves.” “If the people are determined to live,” he recited, “Destiny will respond.” He then began to defame the Palestinian and Egyptian presidents, but Muna quickly cut him off. “The Prophet Muhammad said,” she reminded the caller, “We should not use expressions like this to describe people.”

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Christians in Iraq - and Edward the Saudi

SUMMARY: Most of the callers to an al-Jazeera show on the persecution of Christians in Iraq believed, if they even acknowledged that Christians were being persecuted, that the Americans or the Kurds were behind it. The notable exception was a Saudi Christian who believed the Christians were being killed simply because they were Christian.

COMMENT: Muslims have a difficult time acknowledging atrocities committed by other Muslims. If they do, it’s usually at least one level removed from the group they belong to. An Arab Sunni Muslim, for example, might admit that a Kurdish Sunni Muslim or an Arab Shia Muslim commits atrocities, but it is much harder for him to acknowledge the guilt of another Arab Sunni Muslim. Few if any of the callers below were willing to admit that members of their own group would be involved in the slaughter of Christians in Iraq.

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The current situation of Christians in Iraq was the subject of a recent al-Jazeera TV show where viewers were invited to call in and share their opinions about the reasons for the persecution of Christians there. Hostess Muna Salman introduced the program by informing her viewers that many of the Chaldean Christians still speak the language of Jesus, and that the Assyrian Christians are descendants of an empire that existed 700 years BC. They have formed an integral part of Iraqi society for 2,000 years, but are now targeted for killing and forced departure from their homes. Muna wanted to know whether her viewers believed the Christians were being killed for political or religious reasons.

The first two responses were, unfortunately, all too typical. The first caller was convinced the Kurds were killing the Christians. These were the same Kurds who in the 80’s cooperated with the Israelis and more recently with the White House. They were killing the Christians to create political instability so they could form their own Kurdish nation. The second caller, an Egyptian with a view of history most Copts might disagree with, said that in 642 the ruler of Egypt called upon the Muslim General Amer Bin al-Aas to come and protect the Egyptian Christians from the Romans. The General responded to the invitation, introducing both Islam and security to Egypt. Muslims have always protected Christians. The Iraqis on the other hand, had invited people – the Americans - whose only goal was to destroy the country.

The third caller was a surprising change. He introduced himself as Edward, a Saudi Christian. He believed the problem facing Christians in Iraq was the interpretation and application of religious texts that allowed people to kill them. Muna, as surprised as anyone to hear someone describe himself as a Saudi Christian, interrupted him to ask, “Excuse me, Edward, this is the first time I’ve ever heard this. Are you saying there are Christians who are Saudi citizens?”

“Yes, there are,” Edward replied, “For reasons of their own safety I cannot say how many we are, because as you well know there is no freedom of religious conversion here.”

“I don’t know any such thing,” Muna quickly retorted, “I am just listening to your point of view.”

“I am informing you,” Edward continued, “That there is no freedom of religion in our Arab countries and for that reason I cannot tell you how many converts there are. But I can tell you that I represent…..”

Muna interrupted again, “OK, let’s get back to our subject of the Christians in Iraq. The callers so far think that what they are being subjected to is due to political and not sectarian reasons. Do you agree with that?”

Edward’s response was clear. “No, ma’am, and my point of view might surprise some people. I believe that Christians in Arab countries are being persecuted just because they are Christians. Go back and look at the religious texts. They tell people to fight for Allah, they say, ‘I have been ordered to fight.’ We need a new understanding of these texts. We need love and we need culture. We don’t need someone saying, ‘I have been ordered to fight you until you accept Islam.’ There is no room for violence in our day. We need school curriculums that condemn violence, not ones in which students are taught these violent texts from elementary school to university. The Christians in Iraq are being persecuted and oppressed in application of these texts.”

Muna interrupted again, “Edward, the purpose of this program is not to discuss religious texts, whether they are Islamic or Christian. We are only talking about the political and social aspect, and we don’t have religious scholars here to clearly explain the religious texts.”

Edward wouldn’t give up. “I respect your opinion, but I want to point out that the basic issue is a faulty interpretation of some texts that produces a culture of extremism that results in this persecution, hatred, provocations, and genocide. I cannot display my cross in Saudi Arabia even though I am a Saudi citizen. I cannot carry a Bible….”

It was time to switch gears. “OK, Edward,” Muna said, “It’s not only the Christians who are being persecuted and killed in Iraq. Other groups are being subjected to the same thing, and millions have been forced to flee the country. Why do you think this is a religious issue only related to the Christians?”

“Because,” Edward replied, “The Christians are peaceful. Everyone in Iraq will testify that the Christians are peaceful and not aligned with this or that political party. The only reason they are being persecuted is because some takfiri salafi Wahabis want to…”

Muna decided to bring the discussion to a close. “Edward, don’t wander off the subject, because there is no-one here from the other side to respond to what you are saying. But I thank you for expressing your viewpoint. You believe that the reasons are religious, and you believe the Christians are being persecuted because they are Christians. We will see if other viewers agree with you. Khalil, from Palestine?”

Khalil cut to the chase. “I want to reply to Edward. The truth as confirmed by history is that Christians have never lived a life better than that under Islam. Islam gave them the same rights it gave Muslims, and made the same demands on them it made on Muslims. Islam guaranteed them food, clothing, lodging, and protection, and anyone who attacked any of them was given the same punishment as if he had attacked a Muslim.”

Muna reminded Khalil that the earlier caller from Egypt had also spoken of how Christians were protected when Islam entered Egypt, and Khalil readily agreed. “That’s exactly correct. And when the European Crusaders came to attack Muslim countries, the Christians stood with the Muslims to defend them.” Khalil went on to express his viewpoint that the only solution for Iraq was the application of an Islam strong enough to end all sectarian conflicts. Those with a Sunni or Shia or Kurdish platform were only carrying out the plans of the Western kafirs to shed both Christian and Muslim blood.

When Muna pointed out that the number of Christians in Iraq had dramatically dropped from over a million to less than 600,000 in just a short time, he replied that Muslims were being persecuted throughout the Muslim world 100 times more than the Christians. The fact that Muslim rulers were worried about the Vatican and the West, in fact, probably meant that Christians were suffering less in their countries than were the Muslims.

One caller from Morocco claimed that “the Prophet lived in peaceful coexistence with the Christians and the Jews”, and Muslims today should do the same. A Syrian caller asked why Syrian Christians were not being “persecuted” if the issue was one of Christian persecution. His answer was that the Western media was exaggerating the situation to gain support for the Bush administration’s war policy, and that the groups targeting Christians were carrying out the plans of that administration. As soon as a demonstration took place in Canada calling for the withdrawal of their troops from Afghanistan, the media began playing up the story of Christians being persecuted in Iraq. He also agreed with previous callers that “never in the history of the world have people been pressured or oppressed or persecuted as Muslims are today by their own rulers”.

An Iraqi now living in Qatar took strong exception to the suggestion that the Christian persecution in Iraq was a new phenomenon or supported by the West. He said Christians were targeted there from the beginning of the war by terrorists who entered Iraq from other countries including Jordan and Iran. The entire Christian population of the Baghdad section of Dorah had either killed or forced into exile. He claimed it was a mistake to ignore the terrorists group present in the country and blame everything on the Americans. “There are,” he said, “Terrorist groups and unprotected borders and militias entering the country from all over the world.”

But he was in the minority. Most of the remaining callers agreed on one thing – it was the Americans (or the American-supported non-Arab Kurds) who were behind the killing of Christians in Iraq. Arab Muslims would never do such a thing.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Who was Muhammad? Part 2 - Domestic Political Influence

SUMMARY: In this program from Al-Hayat TV, Father (Abuna) Zakariya Boutros examines the political and economic situation of Mecca and the surrounding region that influenced the personality of Muhammad. The idea that a prophet would arise who would combine political and religious rule was not unique to Muhammad, but commonly believed by many Jewish tribes in the region. The animosity between Muhammad and the Quraysh did not begin when Muhammad first announced he was a prophet, but when he began to attack their religious beliefs and request they follow him.

COMMENTS: Muslims believe, and many Western writers and academics pick up the refrain, that the early Muslim community in Mecca was intensely "persecuted" for thirteen years before the immigration to Medina. As is often the case, the only evidence for this is what Muhammad himself said. Looking at the situation more objectively in light of other written evidence, as Zakariya Boutros does, gives a quite different conclusion.

AHMAD: In the last segment we talked about the tribal factors that influenced the personality of Muhammad. What do you want to talk about today?

ABUNA: I would like to look at the influence of the domestic political situation on Muhammad’s personality. By that, I mean the situation in Mecca and in the Arab Peninsula. In his book “The Arabs in Ancient History”, Lutfi Abd al-Wahhab Yahya describes the situation at that time. As we saw in the previous episode, the Quraysh were weak following the rule of Abd al-Mutallib. His son Abu Talib was not at his level, and we can now understand the Quranic verse that says of Muhammad, “We found you poor and gave you wealth.” It was a time of need, not in Mecca only but in the entire Arab Peninsula. The situation had deteriorated economically, financially, and in security. The first need was for stability and security. There was a need to establish an organized army to protect the people. There was also a need to guard the caravans as they travelled to and from Syria and Yemen. There was the need to bring back a united control to Mecca and the region. There was a need for someone as strong as Muhammad’s ancestors Qusay, Hashim, and Abd al-Mutallib who could unite the people of Mecca and establish rule over them.

AHMAD: What is the connection between united political rule and the prophethood of Muhammad?

ABUNA: The connection is very close. When Qusay wanted to acquire political power, he was very keen to obtain the keys of the Kaaba. He rebuilt it, reestablished religious rule in it, and revitalized the religion of Abraham. The political leader needed to be the religious leader, largely because of the economic importance of the Kaaba. Abd al-Mutallib followed the example of his grandfather Qusay by paying attention to the Kaaba, to worship, and to the religion of Abraham. The connection between religious and political power was very strong. The person who wanted to rule needed to pay attention to the religious aspect. As we saw in the previous segment, Abd al-Mutallib claimed that revelation to dig the well of Zamzam came to him while he was sleeping in the Kaaba. From the example of Qusay and Abd al-Mutallib, it was clear that religion was important to establish the state. Sayyid al-Qimni said in “Islamiyat”, “Religion was used in the Kaaba as a means to establish the state.”

AHMAD: Where did they get this idea to link religion and power?

ABUNA: It came from the Jews who were scattered around the Arab Peninsula, especially in Medina. The Jews at the time had the concept that their tribes would never be united, unless it was under the rule of a prophet-king as they were originally united under King David. This person would first be a prophet and then a king. This dream was widespread among the Jewish tribes of the region, and each tribe imagined the prophet-king would come from their tribe.

AHMAD: Where there pretenders among them who claimed this role?

ABUNA: There were many. The Arabic history books mention names such as al-Aswad al-Ansi in Yemen, Musaylama in Yamama, Tulayha in the Beni Usid, Askar in Samrira, and others. Some of these lived in the time of Muhammad. They claimed to be prophets, and called upon people to follow them.

AHMAD: Was Muhammad one of these who claimed to be a prophet?

ABUNA: I don’t want to be misunderstood. I am merely a reader of history and am not making declarations about Muhammad? What is doubtless is that he appeared during this time when many people were claiming prophethood. Sayyid al-Qimni says in “Islamiyat”, “When Muhammad reached the age of forty he settled the matter and announced that he was a prophet for the people.”

AHMAD: He “settled the matter”?

ABUNA: Everyone was claiming to be a prophet, and Muhammad “settled it” by declaring he was the true prophet. And by the way, Muhammad did not first announce that he was a prophet of Islam. He declared he was a prophet of the “hanifiya”, the monotheistic religion of Abraham. The idea to name his religion Islam came later. Quran 16:123 says, “We sent the message to you, Muhammad, to follow the hanifiyah of Abraham who was not one of the idolaters.”

AHMAD: How did people respond to this claim?

ABUNA: First of all, it was not a strange or original claim because the hanifs were common at that time. Even Muhammad’s own ancestors, including Qusay, Hashim, and Abd al-Mutallib, had been among them. It was not a problem for him to say that he was a hanif.

AHMAD: What happened when he first began to say it?

ABUNA: He did not find any resistance for a number of reasons. First of all, freedom of expression and criticism was common at that time throughout the Arab Peninsula. There were hanifs, Jews, Christians, Sabians, and others. There was freedom of expression; it’s not like today. Secondly was the matter of economic interests. Mecca was a commercial center for all these religions as well as the idolaters, and religious conflict was of no financial benefit to anyone. Thirdly, there were many hanifs in the area and there was nothing unusual about Muhammad calling people to the religion of Abraham, which was only one of many religions coexistent in Mecca. Fourthly, in the beginning his call was not confrontational, and he did not force anyone to accept his message. Many of the early suras emphasize tolerance and coexistence. Quran 109:6 says, “You have your religion and I have mine.” Quran 10:99 says, “If Allah had willed, he could have made all men believe. So will you then, Muhammad, compel mankind to become believers?” Quran 35:23 says, “You, Muhammad, are only a warner.” There was no pressure from Muhammad in the beginning.

AHMAD: So what happened?

ABUNA: The conflict began little by little. Sayyid al-Qimni says in “Islamiyat”, “Conflict began when Muhammad began to call upon the people of Mecca to follow him. The opposed him saying, “Have you gone crazy and become a madman?” They were saying, in effect, “Believe anything you want, but don’t tell us we need to follow you.” His response was to tell them in Quran 74:50 that they were like wild donkeys running away from a lion. He began to call them kafirs, which is the title of sura 109.

AHMAD: So he was the lion, and they were the wild donkeys. Did the situation get worse after that?

ABUNA: Definitely. Theirs was a slave society, and the slaves were the backbone of the trade caravans. The workers, camel drivers, and guards of the caravans were the slaves. They served as a de facto army. Sayyid al-Qimni writes in “Islamiyat” that Muhammad began to incite the slaves against their owners by telling them to follow him and he would give them treasure. Some of them tried to run away from their masters, and in turn were captured and punished.

The next thing Muhammad began to do was attack the gods of the Quraysh. The history books relate that the people of Mecca did not distance themselves from Muhammad until he began to mock and attack their idols. Tabari writes that a delegation from the Quraysh came to Abu Talib saying that if Muhammad would stop cursing their gods they would allow him to freely worship his God. Muhammad responded by calling upon them to recite the shahada, that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. They then left him and separated themselves from him.

AHMAD: So the conflict began to get serious. What was next?

ABUNA: Al-Qimni writes in “Islamiyat” that the Meccans began to understand the intentions of Muhammad. They realized he had a political purpose, and was beginning to attack the Quraysh in their economic interests. They suspected he wanted to gain control of the city. He wanted to advance the cause of the Beni Hashim at the expense of the other tribes and clans.

AHMAD: What did they do after they realized that?

ABUNA: The next stage was one of attack. The Quran became more warlike in its expression. Quran 100:1-5 says, “The panting horses ran into the midst of the foe, striking sparks of fire from their hooves and raising clouds of dust in the air.” It was like a declaration of war. Tabari writes that once when Muhammad was walking around the Kaaba he said to the people there, “Will you listen to me, people of Quraysh? I tell you by him who holds my life in his hand, I have come to you with slaughter.”

AHMAD: That was a threat. What was their response?

ABUNA: It was the beginning of an increasingly hostile confrontation that resulted in the emigration of Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina. But I would like to present the viewpoint of his own relatives. The oldest son of Muhammad’s ancestor Qusay who ruled Mecca was Abd al-Dar. Abd al-Dar’s younger brother Abd al-Manaf wrested power from Abd al-Dar to become the leader of Mecca, and after that there was conflict between the two families. Muhammad was from the line of Abd al-Manaf. Amre al-Hashim was one of Muhammad’s relatives from the line of Abd al-Dar. Speaking ruefully of the power that had been taken from his family and the claims of Muhammad, Amre said, “They took our honor from us. They told us to feed them, and we fed them. They told us to give, and we gave. And now they are saying, “We have a prophet who receives revelation from the sky!” Our response was, “By God, we do not believe in him nor do we believe he is true.” It was a war of words. Another response was a poem of the time written by Ibn al-Zubari that says, “The Beni Hashim rose up and took power. But no king has come, and no revelation has come down.”

Friday, November 7, 2008

Who was Muhammad? Part 1 - Geneology

SUMMARY: It is common knowledge that Muhammad was orphaned at an early age, but it is less known that his ancestors ruled Mecca for five generations. Father (Abuna) Zakariya Boutrous examines in this segment the influences of Muhammad’s family and tribal background on his personality.

COMMENTS: The merger of religious and secular power in Mecca did not originate with Muhammad, but with his ancestors Qusay and Hashim. Religion was seen not as a personal goal, but as a means to power. The concept of revelation was not unique to Muhammad, but was seen in the dream of Hashim in which Allah told him to dig the well of Zamzam. Truth can exist in Islam apart from historical fact. Muslims believe Abraham’s son Ishmael lived in Mecca and drank from the well of Zamzam, although older historical records indicate he lived in what is now Gaza and never even visited the Arabian Peninsula. Many of Muhammad’s concepts of leadership were taught him at a young age by his grandfather Abd al-Mutallib who dreamed of uniting Arabia under a single ruler.

ABUNA: The first thing I want to say is that Muhammad was an important historical figure who is worthy of study. This will involve examining the factors that affected his personality, the people who influenced him, his ambitions and goals, and his plans to carry them out. We’ll look in detail at his personal situation and his tribal background, as well as the political, economic, and religious milieu of his day.

AHMAD: Let’s start with his personal situation.

ABUNA: We all know what we learned in school. The Quran says in 93:6-8, “Did he not find you an orphan and gave you a refuge? He found you unaware and guided you, and found you poor and made you rich.” Ibn Kathir explains that Muhammad’s father died before he was born, his mother died when he was 6 years old, and he was next cared for by his grandfather who died two years later. He then entered the household of his uncle Abu Talib, who later protected him against the Quraysh even though he never accepted Islam.

AHMAD: What does the Quran mean when it says, “He found you poor and made you rich?”

ABUNA: Imam Qurtubi explains it by saying, “He found you without a family and gave you Khadija, because Khadija was a wealthy woman. But my question is, how could Muhammad have been poor if he came from the wealthiest tribe of Mecca?

AHMAD: What do you mean? We all know he was an orphan.

ABUNA: This leads to today's study, which is his tribal affiliation. The history books tell us that the previous five generations of Muhammad’s family were his father Abdallah, his grandfather Abd al-Mutallib, his great-grandfather Hashim, and before that Abd al-Manaf and Qusay al-Qurayshi. Let’s begin with Qusay.

AHMAD: Is this going to be a history lesson?

ABUNA: Not exactly, but there are lessons to be learned in history and there’s an important point in what I’m going to say. History is the root, and the present is the fruit. If we want to understand what is happening now, we need to look at the history.

AHMAD: All right, let’s begin with Qusay.

ABUNA: Our references are the biographies of the Prophet by Ibn Hisham and al-Halabi, as well as the Islamic Encyclopedia of Knowledge. Qusay’s original name was Zayd. His father died and his mother remarried a man who took them to Syria to live. His name became Qusay, which means “someone who lived far away”. He returned as an adult to Mecca with his new name.

AHMAD: But we all know that he became the ruler of Mecca and the Kaaba. How did that happen if he grew up in Syria?

ABUNA: At the time the al-Khuzai tribe controlled Mecca, and its chief was Khalil al-Khuzai. Qusay married Khalil’s daughter, and when Khalil died Qusay became the new leader.

AHMAD: So Muhammad’s ancestor five generations back was the ruler of Mecca. What did he do?

ABUNA: The first thing he did was unite the tribes. It is possible the name of the Quraysh tribe came from that, because one of the meanings of the verb “qarasha” is to unite. He purchased the keys of the Kaaba, reestablished religious worship in it, and revitalized the religion of Abraham. This is important to note; in order to become the leader, he took interest in the religious side. He wanted to control the Kaaba, and wanted to control religious worship in it so that his leadership was sanctioned by the divinity. Another important note is that he revitalized the religion of Abraham. There were Christians in the region, as well as idolaters. But he chose the religion of Abraham, who was considered a “haneef” or a worshiper of the one true God He established taxes, as well as civil and religious rule. A most important thing that he did is noted by Sayyid al-Qamni, in his book “Islamiyat”. Sayyid writes, “His gaining control of Mecca was in accordance with a carefully laid out plan of political awareness towards a specific goal. This plan was carried out by means of religion.”

There is a big difference between religion being a goal, and religion being used as a means to achieve power. Since the time of Qusay, religion has been used to acquire power. Sayyid continues, “Thus Qusay was able to gather all the legal, civilian, and religious authorities under his control. He was the first complete ruler of Mecca.”

AHMAD: What happened after Qusay’s death?

ABUNA: His descendants remained in power, but there was conflict between the families of his sons Abd al-Dar and Abd al-Manaf that resulted in war between the two. Abd al-Manaf’s side was called the Party of the Perfumed ones because they would bring a bowl of perfume to the Kaaba and dip their hands in it before rubbing them against the walls of the Kaaba to show their solidarity. The other side did the same, but with a bowl of blood. The two families eventually reached an agreement in which they shared power, but with the passing of time the family of Abd al-Manaf regained power of the entire city. Ibn Kathir writes in the “The Beginning and the End” that power was eventually consolidated in the hands of Abd al-Manaf’s son Hashim.

AHMAD: The father of Abd al-Mutallib, Muhammad’s grandfather. What can you tell us about him?

ABUNA: Hashim’s name originally was Amre, but during some lean years he adopted the practice of breaking up bread and mixing it in broth to feed the pilgrims who came to the Kaaba. The verb “hashama” means “to break up”, and so he was named Hashim. He was a good businessman and instituted the custom of sending out two trade caravans per year. One would go to Syria in the summertime, and the second to Yemen in the winter. He transferred Mecca from merely a transit town that collected taxes from caravans passing through and fees from pilgrims visiting the Kaaba, to a major commercial center. The Encyclopedia of Islamic Knowledge says it was known as a “commercial republic”.

AHMAD: Hashim seems to be an unusual person. Can you tell us more about him?

ABUNA: Yes, because he was the great grandfather of Muhammad, and to understand Muhammad we must know where he came from. Hashim was an intelligent man, a great businessman and equal to the kings with whom he met. He established a trade agreement with Rome so that the caravans could travel safely to Syria. He strengthened his clan, the Beni Hashim, and married one of the leading women of Medina in order to strengthen his relationship with the rulers there. When his son Abd al-Mutallib was born, Hashim left him in Medina with his wife so that he could learn horsemanship from his mother’s relatives and religion from the Jewish community living there. Abd al-Mutallib’s name was originally Shayba, and when he grew up his uncle al-Mutallib went to Medina to bring him to Mecca. As they approached Mecca and the people saw Shayba for the first time, they assumed al-Mutallib was bringing a new slave he had purchased. They called him Abd al-Mutallib (“abd” means slave and Abd al-Mutallib means “the slave of Mutallib”), and the name stayed with him.

AHMAD: Did Abd al-Mutallib become the ruler of Mecca after Hashim?

ABUNA: Not immediately. After Hashim died during a trade expedition to Gaza, al-Mutallib ruled for a short while. He soon died, and Abd al-Mutallib became the next ruler of Mecca. He shared his father’s intelligence and political and business acumen. He became greater than any of his ancestors, and was well-loved by his people.

AHMAD: What did he do to become so great?

ABUNA: He benefitted from the expertise of his ancestors Qusay and Hashim and, like Qusay, revitalized the religion of Abraham and removed idols from the Kaaba. Another very important thing he did was dig the well of Zamzam, which he said was the well where God miraculously provided water to Hagar and Ishmael. He said the revelation to dig the well came to him while he was sleeping in the Kaaba. Note the similarity of the fact that he said the idea to build the well was a revelation from God to the later revelations claimed by Muhammad.

AHMAD: Was this really the well that Ishmael drank from?

ABUNA: There is no record of that in any Islamic source except that Abd al-Mutallib said it was revealed to him in a dream.

AHMAD: Was there really a well at all?

ABUNA: The Bible records the original story of Ishmael and the well, but says it took place in Beersheba, which is in southern Gaza. It was not anywhere near Mecca. The original records also say that Ishmael lived in Gaza, and there is no historical evidence he ever went to Mecca.

AHMAD: What did Abd al-Mutallib do other than dig the well of Zamzam?

ABUNA: In his creativity, he invented some things which have become part and parcel of Arabic and Islamic heritage. He claimed that the Arabs in general and the Quraysh in particular were direct descendants of Ishmael. He followed the religion and example of Abraham to the extent he wanted to sacrifice one of his sons as Abraham was ordered to do. He vowed that if he had ten sons, he would sacrifice one of them to God. When his tenth son was born, Abdallah the father of Muhammad, he prepared to carry out the vow but the Quraysh stopped him and sacrificed camels instead. The businessman Abd al-Mutallib linked his activities of the religion of Abraham and taught a complete package of religious and secular leadership to his grandson Muhammad. Abu al-Mutallib would also retreat during Ramadan to the cave of Hara. He announced that he would not drink alcohol and proclaimed certain moral values and warned about the final Day of Judgment, just as Muhammad did later.

AHMAD: Are there other things Abd al-Mutallib did that can give us a more complete picture of him?

ABUNA: Abd al-Mutallib’s ambitions were larger than merely ruling Mecca. He wanted to unite the entire Arab peninsula. In “Towards Wider Horizons”, Abkar al-Saqqaf writes that Abd al-Mutallib said, “If Allah wanted to establish a state, he would have created people such as these,” and pointed to his sons and grandchildren.

Abd al-Mutallib raised Muhammad with this perspective. Al-Bayhaqi says in his book “The Evidences of Prophethood” that Abd al-Mutallib put a carpet in the Kaaba on which none of his children or grandchildren were allowed to sit except the young Muhammad, and Abd al-Mutallib would say that Muhammad was going to be great. He prepared the way for Muhammad to rule through the medium of religion.

AHMAD: How old was Muhammad when Abd al-Mutallib died?

ABUNA: He was only eight years old, and was next raised by his uncle Abu Talib. Abu Talib was not the leader his ancestors had been, and the Quraysh tribe quickly weakened with conflicts breaking out between ancient rivals.

AHMAD: What happened to the Quraysh tribe in this period of weakness?

ABUNA: Abu Talib saw in Muhammad the hope of the Quraysh, and stood by Muhammad the rest of his life even though he never accepted Islam. Abu Talib was interested in the political and economic aspects of power, not the religious side. His only interest was in bringing rule and wealth back to the Quraysh. For this reason he had no interest in accepting Islam. His poetry still remains in the history books, and it was all about bringing back the power and the wealth and the glory of Quraysh rule.

AHMAD: This brings us to the end of the segment on the influences on Muhammad’s life from his family and tribal background.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Future of Islam

In the forward to Ali Sina’s “Understanding Muhammad”, an unnamed writer notes, “Ali Sina predicts that Islam will be nothing but a bad memory in a few short decades and many of us will see its end in our own lifetime.” It’s one thing for an ex-Muslim to talk about the demise of Islam, but did Muhammad himself prophesy the end of the religion he created? Father (Abuna) Zakariya Boutros asks that question in the following interview on Al-Hayat TV.

AHMAD: What is your opinion of the spread of Islam in the world?

ABUNA: You need to define your question. Do you mean the spread of Islam by the sword, as we have seen during the past 14 centuries, or do you mean the adaptation – not the spread – of Islam to the world of the internet and satellite TV that is allowing things to be discussed openly that were never discussed before?

AHMAD: We’ve already experienced the spread of Islam by the sword, and don’t want to repeat that. What I mean is, how do you see the future of Islam in light of the freedom that has come to people through mass communication?

ABUNA: I am not a mufti and do not express my views of Islam. Because I do not want to be accused of attacking Islam, I prefer to look at what Islamic sources themselves say. The hadith of Sahih Muslim report, and this was repeated 18 times, that Muhammad said, “Islam began as something strange, and it shall return to being something strange.” The Sunnan al-Tarmizi explained this by saying that Muhammad said Islam would shrink back to the Hijaz (western Saudi Arabia) from which it came as life returns to its source. Muhammad said this, not me.

AHMAD: Do you think this is happening?

ABUNA: I do not want to express my personal opinion about the collapse or disappearance of Islam, but want to point out what Muhammad said. I don’t believe that Muhammad was speaking prophetically, but I think he knew what was going to happen. If Muhammad was really a prophet from God, would he be speaking about the end of Islam? But let’s look at sources Muslims recognize. On Al-Jazeera TV, the famous Muslim daiah (missionary) Shaykh Ahmad al-Qatani devoted two programs to the spread of Christianity in Africa and Asia. He said that six million Muslim per year in Africa were converting to Christianity. The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Watan said that 10,000 Algerians per year were becoming Christian. The online newspaper reported that 45,000 Moroccans are now Christians.

AHMAD: What did Shaykh al-Qatani say about Asia?

ABUNA: He divided it up by country. In Cambodia, he said there were a quarter of a million Muslims, and now there are none. Russia in 1927 had 24,321 mosques. Now there are 20, and they are like museums. Tens of thousands became Christian in Kyrgyzstan between 2001-2004. There were four million Muslims in Burma, and now there are 300,000. Saudi Arabia has 50,000 Christian converts, and before there were no Christians there.

AHMAD: They have left Islam for Christianity?

ABUNA: No, they left Islam for the person of Jesus. Let’s not talk about religions.
Al-Qatani went on to say that Pakistan had 80,000 Christians in 1947, but six million by 2000. Ten million people have become Christians in Bangladesh. He also said that Islam is being strongly attacked in Malaysia and if Islam falls in Malaysia it is the end of Islam in Asia. Remember that Jesus said there is joy in heaven if one person repents. Imagine the joy over these millions.

AHMAD: What did Shaykh al-Qatani say about the results of dawah (Muslim evangelism)?

ABUNA: He said that people becoming Christian is a problem so huge and so serious that all the Arab countries together are unable to stop it. In the past we would hear that a family in Africa converted to Islam, or some doctor in some university became Muslim. But for every person who turns to Muslim, thousands become Christian.

AHMAD: It is well-known that the Islamic dawah organizations and wealthy Arab countries use money as a weapon to spread Islam. What is the result of the money they spend?

ABUNA: Shaykh al-Qatani dealt with this also. He said that the Islamic humanitarian organizations give money for a period of time to cover needs and disasters. Dozens of people might become Muslim, but after the disaster is over and the money is gone they return to Christianity. They professed Islam, but there was no belief from the heart.

AHMAD: What about the influence of Muslim websites and chat rooms?

ABUNA: Shaykh al-Qatani said that these websites and chat rooms are embarrassing.

AHMAD: Was he optimistic about the future of Islam?

ABUNA: I carefully studied his interviews and their transcripts. He said repeatedly, “We are living a disaster, by Allah, we are living a disaster. I am afraid that darkness will cover us and we will no longer find Islam in Africa or anywhere else.”

AHMAD: How did Shaykh al-Qatani evaluate the situation?

ABUNA: That’s a very good question. I’m glad you didn’t ask me about my evaluation, because my viewpoint holds no weight. But the opinion of a well-respected Muslim scholar is valuable in the minds of our Muslim viewers. The moderator asked Shaykh al-Qatani directly, “How do you evaluate the size and force of Christian missionary activity?” His reply was, “It is immense. When the Vatican announced in 1962 that the eighties would see the end of Communism, they were correct. And when they announced that 2000 would be the end of Islam in Africa, I tell you with deep regret that they were also right.”

AHMAD: Did he say anything in comparison about Islamic missionary activity?

ABUNA: The moderator asked him about that. He replied that the force of Muslims was non-existent. He quoted a Christian missionary leader as saying, “We will not stop our efforts to bring Muslims to Christ until the cross is raised in the skies of Mecca and Holy Communion is celebrated in Medina.”

AHMAD: What did Shaykh al-Qatani mean by all that?

ABUNA: Well, I don’t think he was preaching Christianity! He was trying to stir up the emotions and passions of Muslims. But the situation is no longer one that can be remedied by the sword of Saladin or even the sword of Muhammad. The world has changed. Following the arrival of modern technology and the freeing of the human mind, the weapon of logic has replaced the sword of steel. There is no doubt that Islam does not possess the weapon of intellect, and that is greater than the atomic bomb.

AHMAD: My next question is a little sensitive. Isn’t is possible that Christian efforts among Muslims will result in increased violence by Muslims against Christians

ABUNA: That is certainly possible. But can terrorism stop us from speaking the truth?

AHMAD: What do you personally see as the main factor influencing the future of Islam?

ABUNA: The first thing is the age of technology that has removed the barriers from speaking out. Can you imagine me saying what I say now on the streets of Cairo 25 years ago? They would have killed me. But the barriers have come down. The next thing is increased freedom of thought. People are thinking about and discussing issues such as the contradictions in the Quran, and Muslim scholars have no answers.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Who was the Father of Muhammad? Part 2

Fatwas have recently begun appearing on Islamic websites offering a 60 million dollar reward for the murder of Zakariya Boutrous (the US reward for Usama Bin Ladin is less than half that). A lawsuit at the highest level is being brought against him in his native country of Egypt. Why? Because he does what few people dare to do – ask hard questions about Islam. Following is the broadcast on Al-Hayat TV that started it all, with host Ahmad and Father (Abuna) Zakariya discussing the birth of Muhammad.

AHMAD: Welcome to “The Bull’s Eye”, in which we look at issues surrounded by questions. Today we will examine the genealogy of Muhammad from Islamic sources to see who he is and where he came from. Abuna, have you found information about this in Islamic history?

ABUNA: Yes I have, and there are questions that I have never heard explained by any Islamic scholar or Imam. I don’t know why they hesitate to talk about it. It’s a vital subject and discussed in the history books. I invite all those watching to think about and do further research on the claim that Muhammad remained in the womb of his mother Amina for four years.

AHMAD: But Muslims will say this is just one of the miracles of Muhammad. What’s unusual about that?

ABUNA: Of course they can say this is a pre-natal miracle of Muhammad, just as they say that he was the first of God’s creation which is another of his miracles. If that’s what they want to say, fine. But they try to justify it by saying that other women have remained pregnant for several years. In other ways, they claim it to be a natural phenomenon. But I pose the question, is it natural that a child would remain in the womb of his mother for four years?

AHMAD: It seems to be an embarrassing question. How do Muslims deal with it?

ABUNA: They just ignore it. You would think they would want to know as much as possible about the birth of Muhammad, just as we Christians want to know as much as possible about the birth of Jesus. The miracles surrounding Christ’s birth are well known. If Muhammad is, as Muslims believe, the highest of the prophets, they should want to know everything about him. The problem concerning the birth of Muhammad begins and ends with his connection to his uncle Hamza, who was the son of Muhammad’s grandfather Abd al-Mutallib.

AHMAD: What’s the relationship between Muhammad and Hamza?

ABUNA: The biography of Muhammad written by al-Halabi, as well as "The Comprehensive Compilation of the Names of the Prophet's Companions" by Ibn Abd al-Barr, both say that Muhammad’s mother Amina lived in the house of her uncle Wahib. Abd al-Mutallib went with his son Abdallah to seek the hand of Wahib’s niece Amina. While there, Abd al-Mutallib was attracted to a daughter of Wahib named Hala and asked for her hand as well. Wahib agreed, and Muhammad’s father Abdallah and his grandfather Abd al-Mutallib were both married on the same day in a double marriage ceremony.

AHMAD: So Muhammad’s father married Amina, and his grandfather married her cousin Hala on the same day.

ABUNA: That’s correct. In his biography of the prophet, Ibn Hisham says that Abdallah had sexual intercourse with Amina in her father’s house immediately after the marriage and she became pregnant with the Messenger of God. So what is undisputed is that Amina became pregnant with Muhammad just after becoming married. “The Book of the Major Classes” by historian Ibn Sad says that Abdallah died a few months after his marriage at the age of 25, when his wife Amina was pregnant with Muhammad. Muhammad’s grandfather Abd al-Mutallib and his new wife Hala also had a son Hamza, who was Muhammad’s uncle.

AHMAD: So what’s the problem with that?

ABUNA: The problem is that Muhammad and Hamza should be about the same age. If Hala and Amina both became pregnant soon after their marriage, Muhammad and Hamza would be the same age. If Hala became pregnant a few years later, Hamza would be younger than Muhammad. But Islamic history informs us that Hamza was older than Muhammad. In his biography of Muhammad “Uyun al-Athar”, Ibn Sayyid al-Nas wrote, “Zubayr narrated that Hamza was four years older than the Prophet. But this does not seem correct to me, because reliable hadith state that Thaybiya nursed both Hamza and the Prophet.” Ibn Sayyid concluded that Hamza was two years older than Muhamad, rather than four years as Zubayr claimed. He finished by saying, as they always say about matters that are in doubt, “Only God knows.”

In his book “Finding the Truth in Judging the Companions”, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani writes that Hamza was born two to four years before Muhammad. Ibn Sad says in “The Book of the Major Classes” that Hamza was killed at the Battle of Uhud when he was 59 years old. Ibn Sad adds that Hamza was four years older than the Prophet of God, and he was killed when Washi Ibn al-Harb pierced his stomach.

AHMAD: How old was Muhammad at the Battle of Uhud?

ABUNA: The encyclopedia “Dairat al-Maarif al-Islamiyah” says Muhammad was born in 570 AD. It also says the Battle of Uhud took place three years after the emigration from Mecca to Medina in 622, which means the battle occurred in 625. So Muhammad was 55 years old when Hamza died at the age of 59.

AHMAD: So Hamza was four years older than his nephew Muhammad. What’s so important about that?

ABUNA: It’s important because of the question that I am going to ask. I challenge Shaykh Tantawi of Al-Azhar University, and Shaykh Qardawi and Shaykh Beblawi and all the other famous Shaykhs to answer this question. If Abdallah and his father Abd al-Mutallib both got married on the same day and Abdallah died a few months later, how could Hamza be four years older than Muhammad? To put my question even more clearly another way, “Who was the father of Muhammad if he was born four years after Abdallah died?”

AHMAD: My goodness! If there was doubt about the genealogy of Muhammad, why wasn’t it mentioned in the history books?

ABUNA: It was mentioned; who said it wasn’t? Ibn Kathir states in his book “The Beginning and the End” that men from the Beni Kindah tribe claimed that Muhammad was one of them.

AHMAD: Who are the Beni Kindah?

ABUNA: One of the Arab tribes of the time, but not the Beni Hashim tribe that Muslims believe Muhammad is descended from. In his book “Dalail al-Nubuwwah”, Abu Naim al-Isbahani wrote that Ibn Abbas told Muhammad that the Quraysh were talking about their ancestors and described Muhammad as “a palm tree growing on the hillside”. When Muhammad heard that, he became angry.

AHMAD: What does that mean, a palm tree growing on the hillside?

ABUNA: It means they were saying Muhammad was not a palm tree they had planted, he was just a tree growing by itself. No-one knew who planted it or put it there. Muhammad understood what they were saying, and that is why he became angry. Abu Naim al-Isbahani went on to say that Ibn Abbas told Muhammad, “When the Quraysh meet each other, they give each other big smiles. But when they meet us, they mock us and say they don’t know where our Prophet came from.” Muhammad became very angry when he heard that.

Some researchers have interpreted this to mean that the men of Beni Kindah knew that Muhammad was from their tribe, not from the Beni Hashim, and that Muhammad admitted that. They also said that the statement that Muhammad was “a palm tree growing on the hillside” meant that he had no known ancestry. It’s all written in the history books.

AHMAD: Those are hard and hurtful words. Why don’t the Islamic scholars come on television and explain them to us?

ABUNA: That’s why I’m bringing it up, so they can explain it to us and tell us what is right and what is wrong. And so that Muslims will not be blinded by not knowing the facts because no one will explain it to them. What makes the situation even more interesting is the biography of Muhammad, “Al –Sirah Al-Halabiyah”, by Imam Ali Burhan al-Din al-Halabi in which he writes that the mother of Muhammad commented that her pregnancy with Muhammad was easier than any other pregnancy.

AHMAD: Does that mean she was pregnant before she had Muhammad?

ABUNA: That’s the big question. The same thing is repeated in “The Beginning and the End” by Ibn Kathir, and “Al-Khasas al-Kubra” by Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti and many of the well-known hadith. It is often repeated that she said when she became pregnant with Muhammad it was easier than any other pregnancy. Should this be interpreted to mean she had been pregnant before?

AHMAD: How could Abd al-Mutallib accept that his son marry her if that was the case?

ABUNA: This was in the time of jahiliyah (before Islam). That is when Abd al-Mutallib lived. It was not a problem in those days for a woman to have sexual relations with more than one man. “Al –Sirah Al-Halabiyah” recounts that Amr Ibn al-As in Mecca did not know who his father was, because four men had a sexual relationship with his mother. When he asked his mother who his father was, she chose al-As and Amr Ibn al-As considered him to be his father. This is all in the history books of Islam.

AHMAD: Someone wrote about that and was convicted of “takfir” (becoming an unbeliever. What do you say about that?

ABUNA: It’s true; an Egyptian scholar wrote about it, and was convicted of takfir even though he is a famous writer. I always say the truth is bitter. It’s like when everyone knows how bad a man is treating his wife, but if you go and talk to him about it, he kills you.

AHMAD: You said that it was common in the jahiliyah for a woman to have a sexual relationship with more than one man. Are there other things from the jahiliyah that factor in here?

ABUNA: Yes, it was also common for a man who was unable to impregnate his wife to send her to another man. When she became pregnant, she would return to her husband.

AHMAD: Has that practice stopped, or does it still exist in Islam?

ABUNA: One other practice in the jahiliyah was that when people made the pilgrimage they would often have communal marriages. None of these things were a problem at that time. Did this continue into Islam? Malik relates a hadith that a woman remarried 14 months after the death of her husband and then gave birth to a child four months later. When Umar Ibn al-Khattab heard about this, he asked the people what should be done. They told him this was not a problem, because it was possible she had become pregnant from her first husband and the fetus had solidified after his death until the sperm of her second husband reactivated the life of the fetus. This was their way of justifying her giving birth four months after her marriage. There are many strange stories like that. But the important thing for our purposes is that Abd al-Mutallib, in the days of jahaliya, would not have a problem with Amina not being a virgin when she married his son.

AHMAD: How have the Muslim scholars dealt with the issue of Hamza being four years older than Muhammad?

ABUNA: Many of them have claimed that a pregnancy of four years is no problem. "Al-Sirah Al-Halabiyah” says that Malik and Dahak Ibn al-Muzaim both remained in the wombs of their mothers for two years. The “Muhadarat” of Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti states that another person was in his mother’s womb for three years. The Imam of Cordoba, Ibn al-Arabiya, wrote that if a fetus could remain in his mother’s womb for five years, it could also remain for ten years or more. We discussed in a previous program the event in the Islamic history books when a child emerged from his mother’s womb after ten years knowing how to speak. Can any Muslim in the 21st century believe that a child could remain in the womb of his mother for four years? Can they bring one example from medical history? I would like to address this question specifically to the medical college of Al Azhar University. Can you find one example in history? I urge you to do your research, and come tell us.

And I have another question. If Muhammad was the first of God’s creation, why could God not cause him to have a normal birth, or a birth accompanied by miracles such as the birth of Jesus? Was his being born after remaining in the womb of his mother four years a miracle from God? I want people to think and ask themselves if the Muhammad whom they follow was the son of Abdallah. This is the question I ask the scholars of religion and the Ulema and the Shaykhs.

AHMAD: And what is your conclusion?

ABUNA: I am not a Muslim scholar. I am simply an observer asking a question.

* * * * * * * *
And asking that question was enough to have a 60 million dollar bounty put on his head. It’s small wonder that our government, academics, and media are frightened to criticize Islam.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Who was the Father of Muhammad?

Coptic Priest Father (Abuna) Zakariya Boutros has millions of Arab Muslim listeners who tune in to the Al-Hayat (Life) TV channel to watch his discussion of Muhammad, the Quran, and Islam. Below is a summary of a recent program in which he presented evidence from Islamic sources that Abdallah, traditionally believed to be the father of Muhammad, might not have been his real father. As a result of this program, Islamic scholars in Egypt brought a lawsuit against Zakariya alleging that he claimed that Muhammad was born out of wedlock. As Zakariya himself often states, he uses only authentic Islamic sources to raise the questions he discusses on his program.

ABUNA: Our host today is Sayf from Morocco, who was a Muslim and is now a Christian. Could you tell us how you left Islam to become a Christian?

SAYF: At one stage of my life as a Muslim, I was very religious. I would not allow music in my house or greet a woman. But as I studied the Quran and the Sunnah, I became aware of the many contradictions there. I then began to read the Bible, even though as a Muslim I believed that it was corrupted. I began to see the differences between it and the Quran. For example, the last of the Ten Commandments says that one should not desire his neighbor’s wife. But sura 33 of the Quran tells of Muhammad’s desire for Zaynab, the wife of his adopted son Zayd, and how he persuaded Zayd to divorce her so that he could marry her. I then had personal experiences that convinced me that Jesus was with me and I began to follow him. But as the host of today’s program, let’s begin with our subject, which is a comparison of the births of Muhammad and Jesus from Islamic sources.

ABUNA: Muslims believe the father of Muhammad was Abdallah and his mother was Amina. When Muhammad’s grandfather, Abd al-Mutallib, went to arrange the marriage of his son Abdallah to Amina, he saw a woman that he liked and asked for her hand as well. The marriage of Abdallah and his father Abd al-Mutallib took place the same day. Abdallah’s wife Amina immediately became pregnant, and Abdallah died several months later. But the son of Abd al-Mutallib and his new wife, Muhammad’s uncle Hamza, was four years older than Muhammad. If both wives became pregnant at the same time, Muhammad and Hamza would be the same age. If Abd al-Mutallib’s new wife became pregnant later, Hamza would be younger than Muhammad. So the question is, “Was Abdallah really the father of Muhammad, or was Muhammad conceived some years after Abdallah’s death?”

SAYF: Is there an Islamic source dealing with this question?

ABUNA: There are many sources, one of which is the book “Finding the Truth in Judging the Companions”, by Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani. He writes that Hamza was four years older than Muhammad, and that some explain this by saying that Amina’s pregnancy with Muhammad lasted four years. Others say this is related to the reason Gabriel told Muhammad many years later he could not pray at the grave of his mother. In his book, “The Scattered Pearls; Intertextual Exegesis”, Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti suggests that the statement of Gabriel is perhaps because Muhammad was born several years after the death of his father.

SAYF: Are there miracles associated with Amina’s pregnancy and Muhammad’s birth in Islamic sources?

ABUNA: Yes indeed. In “The Book of the Major Classes”, historian Ibn Sa’d writes that during her pregnancy a light shone from Amina’s womb that was seen in the palaces of Busra in Syria.

SAYF: Why did he mention Busra in particular? Why not just Syria or the palaces there?

ABUNA: That is a good observation. Shaykh Khalil Abd al-Karim commented in his book, “The Preparation Period of the Honest One” that this was to show the relationship between Amina and the Christian monk Buhira in Busra who later declared that he saw in Muhammad the physical characteristics of a prophet.

SAYF: What is your comment on this alleged shining light?

ABUNA: They say this light shone both when she was pregnant, and when she gave birth to Muhammad. My question is, if this really happened why did Amina die an unbeliever, and why did she not even want to see Muhammad after his birth as we have explained in previous episodes. I believe this supposed light is just a fable with no basis in fact.

SAYF: In comparison, what does the Quran say about the birth of Jesus?

ABUNA: The Quran says that the method of the birth of Jesus surpassed the birth of all other people, including Muhammad. In sura 19:20 Mary stated that she was a virgin. In his explanation of his verse, Ibn Kathir noted that she did not have a husband. The Quran says in 4:171 that Jesus was conceived by the spirit of God.

SAYF: Does the Quran mention miracles that accompanied the birth of Jesus?

ABUNA: Yes, indeed. As Christians, we do not believe them, but they are mentioned in the Quran. Sura 19:24, 25 says that Jesus informed Mary as a newborn or perhaps even from the womb that God would provide food and water for her when she was hungry and thirsty. In 19:30, Jesus spoke from the cradle to the relatives of Mary. Did the Quran say anything like this about the birth of Muhammad? His name is not even mentioned in the suras of Mecca. There is no mention of who he is, or where he came from.

SAYF: Why does the Bible place such emphasis on the events that surrounded the birth of Jesus?

ABUNA: It was to show the glory of God, with the message of peace on earth. I Timothy 3:16 says that the great mystery of our faith is that God appeared in the flesh. Did anything like this happen in the life of Muhammad?

SAYF: Muslims often ask how God could possibly appear in physical form.

ABUNA: The Quran says in 7:143 that God appeared in physical form to the mountain. Three other suras repeat that God appeared in the burning bush that spoke to Moses. If Muslims believe that God appeared in a mountain or in a bush, why do they find it hard to believe that God appeared in a person? God is able to do all things, and surely a person is of higher value than a bush or a mountain.

SAYF: Have Muslim scholars written about the possibility of God appearing in human form?

ABUNA: Yes, indeed. In the book “Al-Milal wa Al-Nahal”, al-Shahristani writes, “The appearance of the divine in the body of a human is not something that is illogical.” Shaykh Abu al-Fadhil al-Qurashi in his book about the exigesis of Imam al-Baydawi writes, “They say that the glory of the divine appeared in the person of the Christ. We cannot say that those who believe this are infidels, because God is great.”

SAYF: In summary, what are the most important differences between the births of Muhammad and Jesus?

ABUNA: The most important thing is that Muhammad was only a person born from a human father and mother. The Quran says nothing about Muhammad having a miraculous birth. There were no angels announcing his birth, and he was not “the word of God” or born by “the spirit of God”, as the Quran describes Jesus. He himself said in Quran 18:110, “I am only a man like you are.” The Quran describes Jesus as the word of God, born to a virgin by the spirit of God. Which is better? Which one should you follow?

QUESTIONER: Why do you use the Quran to try to prove that Jesus is the son of God?

ABUNA: I do not believe in the Quran, but you do. If I used the Bible, you would say the Bible has been corrupted. Just as a court listens to the testimony of the accused and judges him based on his own words, we use the Quran to draw our conclusions.