Remembering Uzza

If Islam was explained to me in a pub

Birth of a Cult

Uzza: Al-Malik was the son of Marwan, the fifth Umayyad caliph. He would put an end to al-Zubayr's aspirations and redefine 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, like the Jews of Medina, they did not perceive the believers as much of a threat and vice versa and why, for the most part, they 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[385], made smaller by constant repetitions[386], 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, which 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 mainly based on the life of one man and therefore not subject to the whims of changing times and mores as are precedents in Western jurisprudence − except where the evidence cannot be denied by even his most obtuse supporters.

Bob: Such as?

Uzza: For example, Muhammad said that we could never know what is in the womb[387]. That is obviously not true. You cannot conclusively prove or disprove anything he had to say about Heaven or Hell but we have been able to tell what is in the womb long before the actual childbirth for quite some time.

Gerry: The Prophet trusted his senses whether it be what they revealed of the real world or the world of his dreams, and that was it. No reason to look any further. He had, to paraphrase the man you quoted earlier, “an inert fallow intellect.”

Uzza: You mean Lawrence?

Gerry: Yes.

Uzza: As I keep saying, Muhammad was a man of his time, and the idiosyncrasies evident in many of his sayings and in what he claims were revelations from God are simply a reflection of the thinking about the natural and supernatural world at the time in which he lived.

Archie: Who decided that a medieval guy’s life would serve as precedent in just about everything?

Uzza: Early medieval, also referred to as the Dark Ages.

Archie: That would explain the idiocies even more.

Uzza: Not idiocies, idiosyncrasies. There is a difference.

Archie: I’ll take your word for it.

Uzza: To answer your question, Allah decided, but it was the second Abbasid caliph, Al-Mansur, who wanted his son to read about the life of Muhammad, only to be told that no such written account existed who got people interested in the man whom Allah praises as a good example to follow[388] and whose words, like His, are the law[389].

Archie: You’re 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, 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 Muhammad led his followers out of Arabia "to fight against the largest empires," there is no contemporary Muslim account 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 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 he was informed that no such biography existed.

Bob: 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[390] 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 exists, 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 fed into the personification of the perfect human being. 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"[391].

Archie: What you're saying is that when people are told to shut up or die, it is to preserve 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?

Bob: Yes.

Gerry: Think of a panegyric as a eulogy, as mostly undeserved praise or praise that leaves out the naughty and nasty bits.

Bob: If most of what Uzza has told us about the Prophet comes from this sham biography, it did not leave out the nasty bits like the killing, the stealing and the raping.

Archie: Haven't you been listening? Those were not nasty bits; they were praiseworthy bits 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 any more 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 cleansed 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: Exactly.

Bob: Huh...

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 open 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 was not. 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 concretized 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.


[385] An English translation of the Koran will run to about 77,700 words; the approximate size of a standard 300 page book. The Bible, the King James Version, is about 791,328 words, more than 10 times the number of words in the Koran.

[386] It is a testament to the power of persuasion that simply by repeating over and over again what a mortal said was written in a book whose author was God, a book no one has ever seen, not even his self-proclaimed spokesperson, that the book became self-evident proof of the alleged author's existence. For the skeptics this is, of course, no proof at all. It makes no difference. Did Muhammad accidentally stumble upon one of the more effective methods of indoctrination, not to say brainwashing, that is repetition? Repetition is also key to making the Koran easy to remember, as the Book reminds the reader.

54:17 And We have made the Qur’an easy to remember. Is there, then, any one (sic) who will remember?

54:22 We have made the Qur’an easy to remember. Is there, then, any one who will remember?

54:32 We have, indeed, made the Qur’an easy to remember. Is there, then, any one who will remember?

54:40 We have, indeed, made the Qur’an easy to remember. Is there, then, any one who will remember?

[387]        Narrated Ibn Umar:

Allah's Apostle (p.b.u.h) said, "Keys of the unseen knowledge are five which nobody knows but Allah . . . nobody knows what will happen tomorrow; nobody knows what is in the womb; nobody knows what he will gain tomorrow; nobody knows at what place he will die; and nobody knows when it will rain."

Bukhari 17.149


33:21 You have had a good example in Allah’s Messenger; surely for him who hopes for Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah often.


33:36 It is not up to any believer, man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have passed a judgement, to have any choice in their affairs. Whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger have gone astray in a manifest manner.

To live by the Book and the example of Muhammad is to abandon your rights as a human being to decide your own fate as this revelation makes abundantly clear. The concept of free will or freedom to make your own choices is very narrowly defined in Islam. In practical terms, for believers, it means surrendering yourself to God or rejecting him. Once you have surrendered your “will” to God, your free will is effectively extinguished.

Just so we are clear on the concept:

31:22 Whoever surrenders his will to Allah, while doing the right, has surely grasped the firmest handle. Unto Allah is the ultimate issue of all affairs.

[390] Ishaq's most vocal critic was renowned authority on the sayings and deeds of the Prophet (the so-called hadiths) Malik ibn Anas (b. 711 d. 795).

The methodology pursued by Ibn Ishaq was, first and foremost, that of an historian and biographer while Malik was steeped in Islamic Jurisprudence…

The main reason why Malik and others questioned Ibn Ishaq's reliability as a hadith narrator was due largely to the fact that he had obtained information about the Prophet's military campaigns (including that of the Battle of Khaibar) from both Jewish and Christian converts to Islam.

The Muslim 100 - The Lives, Thoughts and Achievements of the Most Influential Muslims in History, Muhammad Mojlum Khan, Kube Publishing, 2008


Thanks to its success the Sira of Ibn Ishaq (as redacted by Hisham and others) is practically our one source for the life of Muhammad preserved within the Islamic tradition.

The work is late; written not by a grandchild, but a great great-grandchild of the Prophet's generation, it gives us the view for which classical Islam had settled. And written by a member of the "ulema" the scholars who had by then emerged as the classical bearers of the Islamic tradition, the picture which it offers is one-sided: how the Umayyad caliphs remembered their Prophet we shall never known.

That it is unhistorical is only what one would expect, but it also has an extraordinary capacity to resist internal criticism, a feature unparalleled in either the Skandhara [the life of the Buddha] or the Gospels, but characteristic of the entire Islamic tradition, and most pronounced in the Koran: one can take the picture presented or one can leave it, but one cannot work with it.

Stephen Shoemaker cf. Patricia Crone, Slaves on Horses