4.5 A Eulogy for the Ages
The second civil war in particular, had a transformative impact on Islamic scriptures and early Islamic history because of the actions of caliphs who decided that looking at the history of Islam and scriptures through a common lense might put an end to the violent disagreements among believers.
Gerry: And that lense would be, let me, guess, the Prophet.
Uzza: Yes, but I am getting ahead of myself. Why don’t I first tell you about the first civil war. It is key to understanding the second and what came after.
Bob: You can’t talk about war enough.
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. The murder resulted in the first bloody war of succession. It ended after the assassination of his successor Ali by a disgruntled allie. His eldest son Hasan, not caring to suffer a similar fate, accepted a rich endowment from his father's challenger, Muawiyah, 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. 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 of, that Muhammad was going to die, who knows what would have happened.
Archie: Are you saying he made it up?
Uzza: I did not say that.
Archie: Any other verses that nobody had ever heard 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 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. 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.
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 until this verse was found that declared they too were a people of the Book, the Avesta would have to do, and subject to the same life-saving conditions as the Jews and Christians. 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 an easy victory thanks to our friend Muqawqis who was also head of the Coptic Church. He did not care for the brand of Christianity Byzantine wanted to impose on the Copts and thought he could get a better deal from the believers.
Archie: What a fool!
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 or so 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 friends are.
Uzza: Allah warned us 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. What was the second disagreement among friends that they had to fight another 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 War, the winner tried to find common ground, and that common ground was Muhammad and a Koran that set the believers further 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.
Archie: 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 a cartoon of a guy that been dead for more than a thousand years get you getting killed?
Uzza: That was al-Malik's doing.
Bob: Al 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 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.
Archie: Who decided that the life of one man would serve as precedent in everthing?
Uzza: Allah said so, but it was 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, who got people interested in the man whom Allah praises as a good example to follow.
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.
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 standards, 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've 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 the 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 myths that further defined Muhammad as special, such as how he was cleans of the impurity Satan 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 on 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 Khaybar after taking a byte from the poisoned meat.
Gerry: Similar symptoms do not mean identical causes and didn't one of his dining companions 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 years 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: 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.