A Travel Report
During our recent tour in Iran I tried to entertain you on the long bus rides in that beautiful and dramatic country by telling about the life of the Prophet, and the time where he together with his converts had fled from Mecca to Medina. My information was primarily taken from Maxime Rodinson’s “Mohammed”, a French-Jewish orientalist and atheist, and from Frants Buhl’s “Das Leben Muhammads”. Buhl was professor at the University of Copenhagen and published his work in 1903 in Danish, which in 1922 got translated into German and thereby internationally known. Both these experts build on Arabian historians as their sources. among these Ibn Is’haq and Waqidi
From a vagabond life
Several times I referred also to the Koran but as I did not have it with me on the trip I was unable to point to the exact Sures or chapters from which I quoted. My Koran is N.J. Dawood’s authorized translation from 1956 in which he had an eye for having the Sures arranged in a chronological order, as far as possible, instead of the traditional order, where the longer and worldlier Medina chapters come first, and the shorter Mecca chapters last, although this tradition is not authoritatively founded.
Mohammed’s father Abdullah bin Abdul-Muttalib died before the boy was born around the year 570, according to our present calendar, the Gregorian. His mother Aminah died when he was about six years old, whereupon he got raised by his grandfather and later by his uncle Abu Talib. As a young man he traveled with caravans up to Jerusalem and Damascus where he got acquainted with both Christianity and Judaism. At the age of twenty five years he married the fifteen year older and rich widow Khadija who then made him a leader and financed the caravans (cf. Rushdie calling him “the businessman”).
Mecca was a pilgrimage town on account of the many idols, but already on Mohammed’s time some stagnation was being felt, although the three goddesses Al-Lat, Al-Uzza, and Al-Manat still enjoyed great popularity, and were considered as daughters of the Semitic god Allah who already at that time was worshipped by the Meccans in the Ca’aba. The three goddesses represented the Sun, Venus, and Fortuna. The time had become ripe for Mohammed, in so far that a few respected men, the hanifs, repudiated the ruling idolatry in Mecca. According to the Muslim tradition, hadith, Mohammed, or M, as we will denote him from now on, received one night during the Ramadan about the year 610 a revelation in which the archangel Gabriel commanded him to recite what had been revealed for him. During the following twelve years M preached his message of monotheism until it became too much for the leading citizens. The indelicate business of pilgrimage in connection with the many idols suffered because of his attacks, with the result that M and his followers had to flee to Medina in 621, the so called hedjra, while some of the adherents chose to flee to the Christian Ethiopia.
During the next ten years M fought against the infidel (sic!) Arabs in Mecca, a struggle that included plundering of the caravans between Mecca and Syria. Real battles were fought, even against his own tribe in Mecca, the Qureishi, which caused the ‘First Lady’ of Mecca by name of Hind, a formidable woman, to declare that she would, after the battle of Mt. Uhud, eat M’s uncle Hamza’s liver. That battle took place on March 23, 625, and resulted in defeat for the prophet and his warriors. Hamza had in an earlier battle killed Hind’s father, and she now fulfilled her vow, by taking a bite and spitting it out.
The fortune of war, however, turned later to M’s advantage, and about ten years after the expulsion the prophet and his army had struck camp outside Mecca, waiting for the negotiators from the city. A peace accord was reached, but on conditions. M. had to accept that the three goddesses as hitherto could be worshipped as daughters of Allah, a fact, that very fittingly got confirmed in his revelation from Gabriel, namely in the form of the three verses in the Sura 53: The Star. These verses were about ten years after M’s death banned as inspired by Satan (cf. Salman Rushdie), and replaced by the present ones, see below.
Now the gates were opened for the prophet and the idols were destroyed, except the ones of Allat, Uzza, and Manat, whereupon he worshipped Allah at the meteoric stone in the Ca’aba. This became his last visit to Mecca, and he returned to Medina where he stayed until his death in 632. He had on several occasions attempted overtures to the Jewish villages and congregations in Medina and its vicinity, in order to have them acknowledge his dominion but was turned down, after which he started a merciless warfare against them. During this campaign the three large Jewish clans in the Medina area were either expelled, or simply slaughtered. Mohammed is not Jesus.
During his Medina period M acquired twelve wives, either by arrangement or by loot. Their names are as follows: Hafsah, Ramlah, Sawdah, the two Zainabs, Maimunah, Safya, Juwairiyah, Umm Salamah, the Jewess Rayhana, the beautiful Coptic Maria, and the youngest of them all, Ayesha, nine years old at marriage, and daughter of Abu Bakr, the later first Kalif. The prophet had his difficulties as to dealing fairly between his wives, and his Medina revelations are increasingly devoted to more worldly matters and rules to be strictly submitted to, not the least regarding women and their way of living.
I shall attempt some random elections from the Koran that should not be taken as being representative, considering the extent of the work. I will quote from Dawood’s translation into English without further translating into Danish, in order not to risk bungling the text:
Each chapter (Sura) begins with the words: ‘In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful’.
On the Trinity
Sura 19, Mary: ‘Those who say: The Lord of Mercy has begotten a son, preach a monstrous falsehood, at which the very heavens might crack, the earth break asunder, and the mountains crumble to dust. That they should ascribe a son to the Merciful, when it does not become Him to beget one!’
On the three verses that substituted the Satanic ones
Sura 53, The Star: ‘Have you thought on Al-Lat and Al-Uzzah, and Manat the third other? Is He to have daughters and you sons? This is indeed an unfair distinction! They are but names which you and your fathers have invented: Allah has vested no authority in them. The unbelievers follow vain conjectures and the whims of their own souls, although the guidance of their Lord has come to them’.
On one of M’s uncles who was against his preaching
Sura 111, Fiber: ‘May the hands of Abu-Lahab perish! May he himself perish! Nothing shall his wealth and gains avail him. He shall be burnt in a flaming fire, and his wife, laden with faggots, shall have a rope of fiber round her neck!’
Mohammed was much absorbed by the doings and dealings of his wives, as it clearly appears from the extensive chapters ‘The Confederate Tribes’ and ‘Women’:
On the prophet’s wives
Sura 33, The Confederate Tribes: ‘Prophet, say to your wives: If you seek this life and all its finery, come, I will make provision for you and release you honorably. But if you seek Allah and His apostle and the hereafter, know that Allah has prepared a rich reward for those of you who do good works’.
ibid: ‘Wives of the Prophet! Those of you who commit a proven sin shall be doubly punished. That is no difficult thing for Allah. But those of you who obey Allah and His apostle and do good works shall be doubly rewarded, for them We have made a generous provision’.
ibid: ‘Wives of the Prophet, you are not like other women. If you fear Allah, do not be too complaisant in your speech, lest the lecherous-hearted should lust after you. Show discretion in what you say. Stay in your homes and do not display your finery as women used to do in the days of ignorance. Attend to your prayers, give alms to the poor, and obey Allah and His apostle’.
ibid: ‘You may put off any of your wives you please and take to your bed any of them you please. Nor is it unlawful for you to receive any of those whom you have temporarily set aside. That is more proper, so that they may be contented and not vexed, and may all be pleased with what you give them’.
ibid: ‘You must not speak ill of Allah’s apostle, nor shall you ever wed his wives after him; this would be a grave offence in the sight of Allah. Whether you hide or reveal them, Allah has knowledge of all things’.
ibid: ‘Prophet, enjoin your wives, your daughters, and the wives of true believers to draw their veils close round them. That is more proper, so that they may be recognized and not molested. Allah is forgiving and merciful’.
On the relationship to the infidel local tribes
Sura 2, The Cow: ‘Fight for the sake of Allah those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. Allah does not love the aggressors. Kill them wherever you find them. Drive them out of the places from which they drove you. Idolatry is worse than carnage. But do not fight them within the precincts of the Holy Mosque unless they attack you there; if they attack you put them to the sword. Thus shall the unbelievers be rewarded: but if they mend their ways, know that Allah is forgiving and merciful’.
On marriage with infidels
Sura 2, The Cow: ‘you shall not wed pagan women, unless they embrace the faith. A believing slave-girl is better than an idolatress, although she may please you. Nor shall you wed idolaters, unless they embrace the faith. A believing slave is better than an idolater, although he may please you. These call you to Hell-fire; but Allah calls you, by His will, to Paradise and to forgiveness. He makes plain His revelations to mankind, so that they may take heed’.
On orphans (i.e. girls)
Sura 4, Women: ‘Give the orphans the property which belongs to them. Do not exchange their valuables for what which is worthless or swindle them out of their possessions; for this would surely be a great sin. If you fear that you cannot treat orphans equitably, then you may marry other women who seem good to you: two, three, or four of them. But if you fear that you cannot maintain equality among them, marry one only or any slave-girl you may own. This will make it easier for you to avoid injustice’.
On the relationship to the People of the Book
Sura 5, The Table: ‘Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends. They are friends with one another. Whoever of you seeks their friendship shall become one of their number. Allah does not guide the wrongdoers’.
Sura 65, Divorce: ‘Prophet and believers, if you divorce your wives, divorce them at the end of their waiting period. Compute their waiting period and have fear of Allah, your Lord. Do not expel them from their homes or let them go away unless they commit a proven crime. Such are the bounds set by Allah; he that transgresses Allah’s bounds wrongs his own soul. You never know; after that Allah may bring to pass some new event.
When their waiting period is ended, either keep them with kindness or part with them honorably. Call to witness two honest men among you and give your testimony before Allah. Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day is exhorted to do this. He that fears Allah, Allah will give him a means of salvation and provide for him whence he does not reckon: Allah is all-sufficient for the man who puts his trust in Him. He will surely bring about what He decrees. He has set a measure for all things.
If you are in doubt concerning those of your wives who have ceased menstruating, know that their waiting period is three months. And let the same be the waiting period of those who have not yet menstruated. As for pregnant women, their term shall end with their confinement. Allah will ease the hardship of the man who fears Him. Such is the commandment, which Allah has revealed to you. He that fears Allah shall be forgiven his sins and richly rewarded.
Lodge them in your own homes, according to your means. Do not harass them so as to make life intolerable for them. If they are with child, maintain them until the end of their confinement; and if, after that, they give suck to their children, give them their pay and consult together in all reasonableness. But if you cannot bear with each other, let other women suckle for you. Let the rich man spend according to his wealth, and the poor man according to what Allah has given him. Allah does not charge a man with more than He has given him; He will bring ease after hardship.
How many nations have rebelled against the commandments of their Lord and His apostles! Stern was Our reckoning with them, and grievous Our punishment. They tasted the fruits of their misdeeds; and the fruit of their misdeeds was ruin. Allah has prepared a woeful scourge for them. Have fear of Allah, you men of understanding.
Believers, Allah has now sent down to you a warning; an apostle proclaiming to you the revelations of Allah in all plainness, so that he may lead the faithful who do good works from darkness to light. He that believes in Allah and does good work shall be admitted to gardens watered by running streams where he shall dwell for ever. Allah has made for him a generous provision.
It is Allah who has created seven heavens, and earths as many. His commandment descends through them, so that you may know that Allah has power over all things, and that He has knowledge of all things”.
I have quoted Sura 65 about divorce in extenso because it gives us a deep insight into the way of thinking of Mohammed and his time, especially as to the marital relations, and their affiliated problems.
To finalize this little survey I could also mention the five kalifs who succeeded the prophet, namely Abu Bakr (d. 634), whose daughter Ayesha became M’s favorite wife, then Omar and Uthman, both also with family relations to M, followed by M’s cousin and son-in-law Ali who married his daughter Fatima, and as number five, Mu’awiya.
With Fatima Ali had two sons, Hassan and Husayn. Allegedly Hassan was poisoned by Mu’awiya, and Husayn succumbed in the battle at Kerbela in the present Iraq on the 10. Muharram (or the 10. Ashura), 680. Here the schism between sunni and shia arose, because the shia from that time on chose Ali and Hussayn’s genealogy as the rightful successors. Of these, only the 8. imam (out of twelve in all), Mohammed Reza, is buried in Iran, in Mashhad in the Northeastern province, whereas his brother, as we witnessed it, is worshiped in Shiraz, and his sister in Quom. The Khomeini monstrosity of a mosque outside Teheran is better ignored, at least in my optics.
With this I would like to express my appreciation of having shared with you all a very memorable Persian voyage, and with special thanks to professor for inspiring recitation from the Shahnameh in the bus, and commemorative poem at the Hafez tomb in Shiraz.