3.6 A Eulogy for the Ages
Gerry: Why Medina, why not stay closer to God in Mecca?
Uzza: Medina being an oasis city was more hospitable than dusty sun-backed Mecca. And, let us not forget, much better situated to launch an invasion of the Byzantine Empire and Dabiq.
Gerry: How long after taking Mecca did the Prophet decide to take the fight to the Byzantines?
Uzza: In the Fall of the same year.
Gerry: That quickly?
Uzza: Muhammad, as I have told you, was a man in a hurry. He also was a man who knew how to seize the day. With eager young warriors from all corners of Arabia flocking to his banner with the promise of booty, and a river of Zakat flowing into Medina, Muhammad wasted no time taking his now well-funded army of more than 30,000 north to the frontier of the Byzantine Empire.
Archie: The Byzantines must have been surprised.
Uzza: Actually, they could not be bothered being somewhat preoccupied with the Persians who coveted the same territory.
Bob: So what happened?
Uzza: Muhammad and his army made the arduous journey of more than 552 miles north intending to engage the Byzantines at Tabuk, now part of Saudi Arabia, only to find no one there to fight.
Archie: A bit of a waste a time, was it?
Uzza: What is your expression, when life gives you lemons make lemonade. Muhammad was very good at making lemonade during the few times lemons were the fruit of his endeavors. He made friends with the locals who were suitably impressed. Many converted ensuring that the eventual conquest of the land Allah had bequeathed to the children of Abraham a relatively bloodless conquest.
Bob: If Abraham is the father of both the Jews and the Arabs, that would make them joint owners of the Holy Land?
Uzza: Yes, and that is how it is supposed to be.
Bob: Then, why all the fighting between the Palestinians and the Israelis?
Uzza: At Tabuk Muhammad gave an example of how the people who believed in the god that he did should be treated and that is why the Jews did not oppose the conquest of Palestine by the believers. And, why, for more than a thousand years, Jews and believers lived in relative harmony in that now disputed part of the Middle East.
Bob: So what happened?
Archie: Israel happened, you moron.
Uzza: Israel was the outcome, not the cause.
Archie: And that cause would be?
Uzza: A British betrayal of the aspirations of both Jews and Arabs.
Gerry: But the British did follow through on their promise of a Jewish homeland?
Uzza: Only after six million Jews were murdered and an opportunity for cementing a nurtured peace between Jews and Arabs that had lasted since Tabuk was squandered. The Faisal–Weizmann Agreement, a joint proposal by the Zionists and the Arabs which would have given the Jews a negotiated home in Palestine in 1919 instead of an imposed one in 1949 was rejected by the British during the Treaty of Versailles negotiations.
Bob: You mean there was a time when the Zionists and the Arabs actually saw eye to eye?
Archie: And the British did not jump at that opportunity. I don't believe it!
Uzza: They had already agreed in secret negations with the French, the Sykes–Picot betrayal of 1916, to carve up the Middle East between themselves; a Middle East that would be largely liberated by the Arabs of King Faisal to whom they lied. They had no intention of keeping their promise to him that if he fought the Turks, after the war he would be allowed to "unite the Arabs into one nation". Instead, the Arabs were driven out of lands they conquered with their blood by mostly French troops who came to claim what was agreed to during those secret negotiations.
Gerry: Is that the betrayal Islamic State referred to in its propaganda about uniting the Arabs under one nation as Faisal tried to do?
Uzza: Yes, again.
Gerry: Think about it. If a negotiated home for the Jews had been agreed to back in 1919, not only might we have avoided the atrocities of Islamic State, but how many more Jews would have survived the Holocaust.
Archie: What about the Christians?
Uzza: What Christians?
Archie: The Christians he would have met during his stay in Tabuk.
Uzza: Funny you should ask, because it was on the return from Tabuk that Allah demanded that the Masjid al-Dirar, a Christian mosque built next to a traditional mosque in Medina be destroyed.
Bob: A Christian mosque? Isn't that like a church?
Uzza: It was built by a Christian a monk with the help of disaffected Medinans who refused Muhammad's entreaties to convert to Islam, so you could call it that. But I would not read too much into its destruction.
Uzza: Two reasons. The first being that Muhammad on the way back escaped an assassination attempt and feared that those who would see him dead used the Christian mosque as as a place to conspire against him and therefore Allah demanded its destruction as a precaution.
Archie: You would think that having the only god in the universe as your guardian would be precaution enough.
Uzza: [ignores him] The second is after the believers came into possession of Jerusalem they made sure that both the Jewish and Christian place of worship were not disturbed.
Archie: Building that dome where the Jews wailed on their wall was not disturbing the place. Give me a break!
Uzza: The Dome of the Rock was built over the rock outcrop where Abraham is said to have offered a son to god. It was built to honour their common ancestor which is why when it was built Jews were invited to worship there as they would in a synagogue. It even honoured the Christians, proclaiming in one of the more than fifty inscriptions that circle the perimeter and which are said to be Koranic in origin that the virgin Mary was a Messenger of Allah.
Gerry: I wasn't aware of that.
Uzza: That may be because there is no verse in the Koran that says such a thing.
Gerry: But you just said that the inscriptions on the Dome were from the Koran.
Uzza: The original Koran maybe?
Gerry: You've lost me.
Uzza: What may be a copy of the original Koran was discovered in the walls of a mosque in Yemen with whose construction Muhammad was involved, the Great Mosque of Sana'a. During renovations in the 1970s, what is known as the Sana'a Manuscripts, was found in the walls. When Yemeni authorities were informed that this possibly earliest Koran contained minor but significant differences from the version that orthodox Islam maintains is the perfect unchanging Word of God, they restricted access to the more than 40,000 pieces of parchment from the earliest days of Islam.
Gerry: And you are saying that the inscription on the Dome of the Rock may be from this earlier version?
Uzza: The hundred years following Muhammad's death was an extremely violent period even by Islamic standards with non-stop wars of conquest and civil wars; the second war pitting believers against believers, in particular, was transformative as far as Islamic scriptures and early Islamic history are concerned.
Gerry: Are you saying that scriptures may have been changed as a way of putting an end to the violent disagreements among believers?
Bob: Forget all that. Two civil wars in the first 100 years, that is awesome. Before we get to the second, what was the first about?
Uzza: The first Fitna as it is called was a result of the assassination of Uthman, the third successor to Muhammad as leader of the believers, the meaning of caliph, which resulted in a bloody war of succession. It ended shortly after the assassination of his successor Ali by a disgruntled ally. His eldest son Hasan, not caring to suffer a similar fate, accepted a rich endowment from his father's challenger, and the Governor of Syria was proclaimed caliph and Damascus became the capital of the caliphate.
Bob: That would mean that two of the Prophet's immediate successors were assassinated.
Uzza: Make that three, his second successor, Umar was also assassinated.
Gerry: Why all the assassinations?
Uzza: Muhammad, thinking the end of the world would occur in his lifetime or shortly after his death made no provisions for an orderly transition. That is why. What would have been the point. In fact, when he died people were literally going mad because Muhammad had said that he would be with them on Judgement Day shielding them from all the horrible things the Koran said would happen that day. If it had not been for Bakr who quoted a verse that none had ever heard before, that Muhammad was going to die, who knows what would have happened.
Archie: Quoted a verse that none have heard before. Are you saying he made it up?
Uzza: I did not say that.
Archie: Here we go again. Any other verses that nobody had ever heard of that somebody just happened to remember to save the day?
Uzza: If you believe that the Koran is the word of god then the verse about making the Persians a people of the Book is not something that somebody made up to save the day, but a revelation from a god who could see the future when such a verse would come in handy.
Bob: I did not know the Persian believed in the Bible.
Uzza: Not the Bible, the Avesta which provided Allah, or whoever remembered the verse, reason to stop killing them and getting them to accept Muslim rule.
Gerry: Why is there any doubt that this verse was not part of the original Koran?
Uzza: Muhammad's obsession was with the Byzantine who stood in the way of getting to Dabiq before Judgement Day. Therefore, a verse which made the followers of Zoroaster a people of the Book would not have been necessary during his lifetime which would see the world come to end as the Koran strongly hinted.
Bob: But it didn't!
Uzza: Which is why some have suggested that the Koran's message was modified from "repent the end of the world is at hand" to "conquer the world and I will bring it to an end and welcome you into Paradise" to reflect this new reality.
Bob: What has all this to do with the Koran making the Persian a people of the Book.
Uzza: Because there should not have been a need for it. The believers invaded Persia proper in 642, ten years or so after Muhammad's death and the anticipated end of times.
Archie: I get it. But what I still don't get, is why was it necessary to make the Persians a people of the Book.
Uzza: No matter how many Persians the believers slaughtered, the rivers, it was reported, running red with their blood, the Persians refused to submit to rule by the believers until this verse was found that declared they too were a people of the Book, the Avesta would have to do, and therefore not candidate for slaughter if they refused to submit. As happened in Egypt, in only a few generations of being bombarded with the good news most became believers.
Bob: When did the Muslims invade Egypt?
Uzza: In keeping with this doctrine of conquer the world in the name Allah, the believers invaded Egypt in 639. Unlike the Persian campaign, it was, to use your expressing, a walk in park thanks to our friend Muqawqis, who was also head of the Coptic Church. He did care for the brand of Christianity Byzantine wanted to impose on the Copts and thought he could get a better deal from the believers.
Bob: And did he?
Uzza: The believers said the Copts could continue to practice whatever brand of Christianity they wanted as long a they paid the Jizya. With that assurance, Muqawqis told his flock to offer no resistance to the invaders allowing a small army of 4,000 who were later joined by Bedouins as it became evident that Egypt was ripe for plundering. As happened in Persia, once the believers were in charge it was only a matter of time before the Coptic Christians who were the vast majority at the time of the conquest were seduced by the good news and are now in danger of disappearing altogether.
Bob: Talk about not knowing who your friend are.
Uzza: Allah warned the believers to only take other believers as friends and be wary of unbelievers. It is advice that has stood the community in good stead.
Gerry: If the Muslims were all friends, why the civil wars?
Uzza: The Americans considered their compatriots friends, but that did not stop them from fighting a bloody civil war.
Archie: One, not two. So what was the second disagreement among friends that they had to fight a war?
Uzza: Not unlike the American Civil War, the second Fitna, while also a war of succession, was also a war between North and South; and not unlike the American Civil war, the North won, and like the American Civil the winner tried to find common ground, and that common ground was Muhammad and a Koran that set the believers apart from the people of the Book.
Archie: Who was unhappy with the guy in charge this time around?
Uzza: A condition of Hasan agreeing to Muawiyah becoming caliph was that he would not name his son as successor, leaving the door open for another son of Ali, Husayn, to seek the caliphate.
Archie: And he didn't do that. What else is new.
Uzza: Muawiyah appointed his son Yazid as his successor. When he died a Medinan chieftain by the name of al-Zubayr encouraged Husayn to challenge Yazid. He was defeated at the battle of Karbala in 680 and he and his family were beheaded.
Bob: Someone dared to execute the grandson of the Prophet. That took guts.
Uzza: Stupidity is more like it. What should have been an unforgivable sacrilege was quickly followed by the pillage of Medina and desecration of the mosque founded by Muhammad. Yazid then marched on Mecca. During the assault, the Ka'ba was burnt to the ground.
Gerry: This is priceless. Today, an innocent cartoon of the Prophet can get you killed. A few decades after his death, pretenders to his legacy murdered three members of his family, ransacked the city where he died, attacked the city of his birth almost obliterating what was to become the holiest shrine of Islam, the Ka'ba; and not only got away with it, but were rewarded with the caliphate for their efforts.
Uzza: You have to understand, for the believers of the North, those places did not matter. Even Mecca did not matter that much. In the Koran, it is mentioned only once and you have to believe the scholars when they say that Bakka means Mecca and not some other place.
Bob: But the Prophet today is everywhere.
Uzza: But not then. Then Muhammad was just another doomsday prophet of which many roamed the Middle East. What differentiated him from the other soothsayers of his day was the Book and its reputed author that drove the Muslim invaders. They conquered not in the name of any prophet, but in the name of Allah.
Bob: Then, why today does an innocent cartoon or even mild criticism of the Prophet risk you getting killed?
Uzza: That was al-Malik's doing.
Bob: All who?
Uzza: al-Malik son of Marwan the fifth Umayyad caliph. He would put and end to al-Zubayr's aspirations and redefined what it meant to be a believer by borrowing an idea from the man he defeated, a second shahadah.
Bob: What is a shahadah?
Uzza: A declaration of faith, what you profess to believe in. What the early believers professed to believe in was that there was only one god.
Bob: That is what Jews and Christians also believe isn't it?
Uzza: Yes. That is why they did not perceive the believers as much of a threat and vice versa and why for the most part were well treated by the believers as demonstrated by Muhammad at Tabuk.
Gerry: What about the part of the shahadah where Muhammad is the Messenger of God?
Uzza: That was was added later. It may have been al-Zubayr's idea. At least he was the first to make it official by issuing a coin during the Second Fitna on which was stamped what has been called the Second Shahadah, a declaration that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. Al-Malik adopted both the coinage and the saying perhaps as a way of telling the believers in the south that the believers in the north believed the same thing. Al-Malik was a practical man, he may have also added the second shahadah so that Jews and Christians could not avoid paying the jizya by repeating the shahadah about there being only one god when asked to so.
Bob: By pretending to be Muslims.
Uzza: But they were not pretending, they all believed in the same god, the one and only.
Gerry: The addition of the second shahadah is how we got the cult of the Prophet Muhammad?
Uzza: It laid the foundation. The full blown cult of Muhammad would be born out of necessity. Allah said that the Koran contained an answer to everything. For a small book by holy book standards, made smaller by constant repetitions, it was quite the boast. When it came to governing an empire it would prove an idle one. It would be left to the Abbasids dynasty that overthrew the Umayyad in 750 or so in another war of succession referred to as the Third Fitna to come up with a comprehensive system of precedents that would guide and expand on the administration of rule by the Book.
Gerry: Precedents, that is a Western Legal tradition.
Uzza: Precedents in Islamic Law are based on the unchanging example and sayings of Muhammad and therefore not subject to the whims of changing times and mores as are precedents in Western jurisprudence.
Gerry: Who decided that the life of one man would serve as precedent?
Uzza: It may have started with the second Abbasid caliph Al-Mansur who wanted his son to read about the life of Muhammad only to be informed that no such written account existed.
Archie: Your kidding. The guy had been dead, let me guess, for about a hundred years, and nobody could be bothered to tell his story. Maybe you were right and the guy was a nobody.
Uzza: I did not say that. Let me finish. With the possible exception of what the Koran has to say, the letter to Muqawqis and a letter of caliph Umar II in 718 or thereabouts to the Byzantine emperor Leo III in which he brags about how God's Messenger led his followers out of Arabia "to fight against the largest empires", there is no contemporary Muslim accounts of Muhammad's life, how he died or what came after for about one hundred years.
Gerry: You told us that the Prophet had his own scribe and the Jews were well known to write down anything and everything.
Uzza: Yes, and when al-Malik asked for more or less the same thing as Al-Mansur he was provided with letters by the first cleric known to have written about the life of Muhammad, another Zubayr by the name of Urwa Ibn al-Zubayr explaining some aspects of Muhammad's life.
Gerry: And where are those letters now?
Uzza: They did not survive, just like the first ever biography of Muhammad which was commissioned by Al Mansur when informed that no such biography existed.
Archie: What was wrong with the first one.
Uzza: The first one was written by a highly respected historian, even by Western Standard by the name of Ibn Ishaq. Ishaq was a controversial figure, in part, because he approached his subject in much the same way a modern historian would by considering all information available, including the testimony of Christians and Jewish converts which his detractors dismissed out-of-hand as not as reliable as that of Arab converts or those born into the faith.
Bob: If what he wrote no longer exist how do we know what he wrote?
Uzza: Because of the next person who was asked to do a proper biography of Muhammad, a fellow by the name of ibn Hisham. Hisham would suppress any information that was unfavourable to Muhammad. He transformed what Ishaq wrote into a panegyric whose contribution to the elevation of a covetous, insular god-fearing man into the personification of the perfect human. Hisham's reworked biography of Ishaq has "achieved canonical status and the immunity from criticism that comes from being elevated to the equivalent of holy writ."
Archie: What you're saying is that when people are told to shut up or die it is to preserve this Hisham's sham biography.
Uzza: A panegyric is not a sham.
Bob: What is a panegyric anyway?
Gerry: You have heard the expression about not speaking ill of the dead?
Gerry: Think of a panegyric as a eulogy, as mostly undeserved praise or praise that leaves out the naughty and nasty bits.
Bob: But, if most of what Uzza has told us about Prophet comes from this sham biography, it did not leave out the nasty bit like the killing, the stealing and the raping.
Gerry: Haven't you been listening. Those were not nasty bits, they were praiseworthy because it was stuff done to unbelievers.
Bob: That is crazy!
Archie: You took the words right out of my mouth.
Uzza: If you think that is crazy... Maybe I should not say anymore about Hisham's masterpiece.
Gerry: What is there left to tell?
Uzza: Hisham's biography of Muhammad, in Arabic his As-sirah Nabawiyyah gives credence to a number of myths that further defined Muhammad as special, such as how he was cleans of the impurity Satin placed on his heart while he was still in the womb.
Archie: I knew it, Muhammad is the devil's own.
Uzza: Then you too are the devil's own Archie, for we are all born with this impurity.
Bob: How did they remove this thing, open heart surgery?
Uzza: Hisham writes that when Muhammad was a boy he was visited by two men in white, angels are assumed, carrying a bowl of snow. They broke opened his chest "took out his heart and extracted a black pebble which they threw away then washed the heart and body with the snow" before returning it to his body and closing it.
Archie: Like I said before, Muslims will believe anything.
Uzza: I heard you the first time, and the second time.
Gerry: A declaration on coinage about your special relationship with God and a biography that makes you out to be anything but an ordinary person would definitely be enough to achieve cult status.
Uzza: But it wasn't. What would make Muhammad a figure revered as much if not more than Allah, something he never intended, was that Hisham's panegyric would lead to every moment of his existence his every word, his every action to be concretize into invariable precedents in law on par with what Allah revealed in the Koran if it did not contradict what was in the Book. Unassailable precedents which outnumber Allah's revelations by more than two to one.
Gerry: Cult figures are often remembered for the way they died. Remember Jesus.
Uzza: Muhammad's demise may not have been as spectacular as Jesus, a slight-of-hand spectacle engineered by Allah so it had to be good, but his death, what he did and said before he died has been an inspiration for the believers to this day and a reason they are triumphing over Jesus's supporters everywhere.
Bob: When did the Prophet die?
Uzza: He died just over a year and a half after his return from Tabuk. During that time he married the youthful Asma, his thirteenth or fourteenth wife depending whose doing the counting.
Bob: That's my boy!
Gerry: How did he die?
Uzza: The official version is that he died from the minute amount of poison he may have ingested at Khaybar a few years earlier.
Archie: That is one slow acting poison. Who arrived at that dubious conclusion.
Uzza: Aisha said that during his agony, her husband told her that the pain he felt was like the one he experienced at Khaibar after taking a byte from the poisoned meat.
Gerry: Similar symptoms do not mean identical causes and didn't one of his dining companion die then and there indicating that it was not a slow acting poison.
Uzza: Muhammad had made his peace with the Jews as Tabuk is a witness, so don't believe a word of that piece of contrived history about the Jews being complicit in his passing. In fact, stories still circulated more than hundred after his death about how he died; stories which made it into the collection of the renown hadith collector Bukhari and are part of the Sunni cannon; stories about Muhammad falling off his horse and appearing for the last time at prayers favouring a left shoulder which was covered up and oily bandage around his head. These authenticated accounts of the last days of Muhammad would indicate that his death was the result of an accident and the Jews had nothing to do with it.
Gerry: Didn't Muhammad curse the Jews with his dying breath?
Uzza: Muhammad cursed both the Jews and Christian in what may have been his next to last breath and it had nothing to do with either one being party to his demise. It was to warn the believers not to do what Christians and Jews did and that is built monuments to their prophet. This is why to this day you won't find any equivalent testimonial to the memory of Muhammad.
Bob: When you said the Prophet did not intend to become a cult figure I now believe you.
Archie: So what were the Prophet's last words?
Uzza: His last words were to ask Allah to welcome him to the highest level of Paradise and to protect him from those who blow in knotted reeds.
Bob: Who are these people who blow in reeds?
Uzza: "Those who blow in knotted reeds" is what Allah calls witches and the likes.
Bob: The Prophet believed in witches?
Uzza: Muhammad was a product of his age, the Dark Ages when irrational beliefs, superstitions and unfounded fears overwhelmed common sense and reason.
Archie: Did you just admit that the Koran is not Allah's doing?
Uzza: I did no such thing. I don't believe in witches but that does not mean they do not exist.
Archie: That still does not explain why the Prophet would want to be protected from witches when he was about to be welcomed into Paradise.
Uzza: Muhammad did not die a martyr so there was no escaping life in the grave when he may have feared those who blow in reeds might be able to pay him a visit. Speaking of visits, it's getting late, time for me to go...