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Why Religion?

Discover Islam


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Owing to the numerous predictions of his coming, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was awaited by all of humankind. In that dark era of human history, the whole of creation was waiting for one who would destroy the order of unbelief and breathe new life into the world. Judaism and Christianity, being God-revealed religions in origin, had no more to offer mankind. Everyone was expecting him, especially those who had studied the old books without prejudice. Among them was Bahira, whose story we mentioned in the previous chapter. In Makka itself, there were many in expectation of him. Zayd ibn ‘Amr, the uncle of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, was one of the foremost among them. He had rejected the worship of idols, was leading a pure life and used to address people in this way:

There is no good in the idols you worship. I know of a religion which will soon be taught and spread. It will be proclaimed no later than a few years from now, but I do not know whether I will live long enough to witness it.

The same Zayd, according to ‘Amr ibn Rabi‘a, gave a detailed description of the expected Prophet:

I am expecting a Prophet, who is about to come. He will appear among the descendants of Ishmael and the grandsons of ‘Abd al-Muttalib. He is of middle height, neither too tall nor too short. His hair is neither curly nor straight. His name is Ahmad. His birthplace is Makka. However, his people will force him to leave Makka, and he will emigrate to Yathrib (Madina), where his religion will spread. I have travelled from place to place in quest of the religion of Abraham. However, all the Jewish and Christian scholars I spoke to advised me to wait for him. He is the Last Prophet; no Prophet will come after him. I may not live long enough to see him, but I have believed in him.

At the end of his introduction of the Last Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, Zayd made this request to ‘Amr ibn Rabi‘a: ‘If you live long enough to see him, say my greetings to him.’

Years passed before the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, declared his Prophethood and ‘Amr ibn Rabi‘a, after having declared his faith to the Prophet, explained what Zayd had told him, and conveyed his greetings to him. Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, returned his greetings and added: I saw Zayd in Paradise, trailing his robes.1

Among the people who lived the inward anguish of seeking the truth was Waraqa ibn Nawfal. He was a Christian scholar and a paternal cousin of Khadija, wife of Muhammad, upon him be peace. When the first Revelation came to the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, Khadija went to Waraqa and told him what had happened. Waraqa replied: ‘Muhammad is a truthful man. What he saw is that which occurs at the beginning of Prophethood. The being who came to him is Gabriel, who also came to Moses and Jesus. Muhammad will be a Prophet. If I live long enough to witness his declaration of Prophethood, certainly I will believe in him and support him.’2

One of those seeking the Last Prophet was ‘Adbullah ibn Salam. The Jews had great confidence in this scholar, whom they called ‘the lord, son of a lord’. Such was his greatness that he could match even the greatest companions like Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, and God would consider his testimony to the Qur’an as equal to the testimony of a people in the verse:

Say: ‘Have you considered? If it be from God, and you unbelieve in it, and a witness from among the Children of Israel bears witness to its like, and believes, and you wax proud, God guides not the people of the evildoers.’ (al-Ahqaf, 46.10)

This great Companion describes how he found him:

When God’s Messenger emigrated to Madina, I went to see him, as did everyone else. He was sitting amidst a group of people when I went in, and saying: Give food to others and offer them a greeting! His speech was so sweet and his face so charming that I said to myself: ‘I swear by God that one with such a face cannot lie’. Without delay I declared my belief in him.3

Those who sincerely sought him, found him; and whoever seeks him sincerely will certainly find him. But those who have not been able to give up obstinacy and escape the temptations of the evil-commanding self, have drowned in unbelief and hypocrisy. Mughira ibn Shu’ba narrates:

One day I was with Abu Jahl in Makka. God’s Messenger came near us and invited us to accept Islam. Abu Jahl rebuked him, saying: ‘If you are making this invitation so that we should testify before God in the other world that you performed your mission of Prophethood, we will do it. Leave us then, O man, to ourselves!’

When God’s Messenger left us, I asked Abu Jahl whether he did not truly admit the Prophethood of Muhammad. ‘I admit it,’ replied Abu Jahl and then added: ‘I know that he is truly a Prophet. Nevertheless, we have so far competed with the Hashimites in everything. They have been boasting of providing food and water to the pilgrims. Now, if they begin to boast of having a Prophet, I will not be able to endure it at all.’4

This is typical of the thoughts cherished by the Abu Jahls of the past and the present. Free-thinking persons who are not prejudiced and whose will-power is not paralyzed cannot help but believe in Islam and God’s Messenger. In this respect, God says to His holy Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings:

We know well that their talk grieves you; in truth they deny not you, but it is the signs of God that the evildoers condemn. (al-An‘am, 6.33)

Jews and Christians of that time recognized God’s Messenger as they recognized their sons

All the Jews and Christians of that time recognized God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. As stated in the Qur’an, They recognize him as they recognize their sons (al-Baqara, 2.146). After his conversion, ‘Umar asked ‘Adbullah ibn Salam if he had recognized God’s Messenger. ‘I recognized him’, Ibn Salam answered and added, ‘I may doubt my children - my wife might have deceived me; but I have no doubt about God’s Messenger being the Last Prophet.’5

Especially the Jews in Madina were awaiting the coming of a Prophet and expected that he would appear in Madina. Whenever a conflict appeared between them and the Arab people of Madina - the Aws and Hajrac tribes - they threatened them that they would destroy them when the Prophet appeared. However, although they recognized the Prophet Muhammad as they recognized their sons, they rejected him only because he did not belong to their tribe:

When there comes to them a Book from the presence of God, confirming that with them - though before that they were expecting a triumph over those who unbelieve - and when there came to them what they recognized, they unbelieved in him. The curse of God is on unbelievers. (2:89)

Most of the Jews and Christians recognized him, most were envious of him and, because of their prejudice and envy, were left deprived of belief.

When there came to them a Book from God confirming what was with them - and they aforetime prayed for victory over the unbelievers - when there came to them what they recognized, they unbelieved in it; and the curse of God is on the unbelievers. (al-Baqara, 2.89)

After his conversion, ‘Adbullah ibn Salam said to God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings: ‘O Messenger of God, hide me in a corner and then summon all the Jewish scholars in Madina to ask about me and my father. Their assessment will certainly be positive. Then let me come out to declare my conversion.’

God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, accepted this suggestion. Ibn Salam hid in a corner and, when the Jewish scholars gathered, God’s Messenger asked them what they thought of Ibn Salam and his father. All of them answered unanimously: ‘Ibn Salam and his father are among the noblest and most learned of us.’ Upon this, God’s Messenger asked again: ‘How will you react if he affirms me?’ They responded: ‘It is impossible that he will affirm you!’ Ibn Salam came out at this point and declared his conversion, whereupon the Jewish scholars immediately changed their attitude and retorted: ‘Ibn Salam is the most wicked among us and the son of the most wicked.’6

The conversion of Salman al-Farisi

The Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was one who had been sought for centuries. Salman al-Farisi was one of those seekers. Originally he was a Magian, a fire worshipper. However, he was inwardly burning to find the eternal truth, and left home. Before embracing Islam, he had worked for several Christian monks, the last of whom advised Salman on his deathbed:

Son, there is nobody left to whom I can commend you. But according to what we read in our books, the Last Prophet is about to appear. He will come with the pure creed of Abraham and will appear in the place to which Abraham migrated. Nevertheless, he will emigrate to another place and settle there. There are explicit signs of his Prophethood. For example, he will not eat of charity, but will accept gifts, and the seal of Prophethood will be between his two shoulders.

Now, let us leave it to Salman himself to narrate the rest of his story:

I joined a caravan heading for the place that the late monk had mentioned. When we arrived at Wadi al-Qura’, they sold me to a Jew as a slave. When I saw gardens of date palms, I thought that that place would be where the Prophet would emigrate. While I was working there, another Jew from Banu Qurayza bought me and took me to Madina. I began working in the Jew’s date palm garden. There was no news yet of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. However, one day I happened to be harvesting dates in a tree when a cousin of my Jewish owner came up hurriedly. He said to the Jew in anger: ‘Damn it all! All the people are flocking to Quba. A man from Makka, who claims Prophethood, has come, and they imagine him to be a real Prophet.’

I began to tremble with excitement. I climbed down from the tree and asked the man: ‘What are you talking about?’ My owner saw my excitement and slapped me on the face with the back of his hand, saying: ‘It does not concern you, mind your own business!’

On the same day, as the sun set, I went to him in Quba and presented to him as alms the food that I had brought with me. God’s Messenger did not himself touch it, but said to those around him, ‘Help yourself to this’. ‘This is the first sign,’ I told myself.

On another occasion, I presented something, but this time as a gift. He accepted it and ate it with his Companions. ‘This is the second sign,’ I told myself.

Once, after one of his Companions passed away, I attended the funeral, and I came close to God’s Messenger in the cemetery. After greeting him, I stood behind him in the hope of seeing the seal of Prophethood. His shoulders were bare. The seal was just as the monk had described it. I couldn’t help kissing it in tears and I told him my story. He was very pleased and wanted also his Companions to hear my story.7

They called Muhammad al-Amin (the Trustworthy)

How could they dare to accuse him of telling lies? He was known by everybody as a truthful one. The testimony of one of his bitterest enemies, ‘Utba ibn Abi Rabi’a, is enough to prove that even his enemies admitted his truthfulness.

The leaders of the Quraysh assembled once more to discuss how to prevent the spread of Islam and arrived at the decision of sending ‘Utba to God’s Messenger. ‘Utba went to him in the hope of persuading him to stop preaching Islam and asked: ‘O Muhammad, are you, or was your father, better?’

God’s Messenger did not answer, probably because silence is the best answer to an idiot question. ‘Utba continued: ‘If your father was better than you, he cannot have been following the religion you are now preaching. If, by contrast, you are better than your father, then I am ready to listen to what you will say.’

God’s Messenger asked ‘Utba: ‘Is that all you intend to say?’ ‘Utba said, ‘Yes’, and stopped. Then, God’s Messenger knelt and began reciting from the beginning of the Chapter called al-Fussilat (Distinguished). By the time he reached the thirteenth verse, But if they turn away, then say ‘I warn you of a thunderbolt [as fell in times past upon the tribes] of ‘Ad and Thamud, ‘Utba was trembling as if caught by fever. He had to put his hand on the lips of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and said: ‘Please stop, for the sake of the God in whom you believe!’

‘Utba returned home in bewilderment. The leaders of the Quraysh had been waiting for him anxiously. Fearing that ‘Utba might have accepted Islam, Abu Jahl knocked at his door and, when admitted, angered ‘Utba by saying:

- I heard that Muhammad treated you very generously and banqueted you, and in return you believed in him. This is what the people are gossiping about.

‘Utba was angered and responded to Abu Jahl, saying: ‘You know well that I do not need his banqueting. I am the richest among you. But the words of Muhammad shook me. They were not poetry, nor did they resemble the words of a soothsayer. I do not know how I should respond. He is a truthful person. While I was listening to his recitation, I feared that what happened to ‘Ad and Thamud might befall us.8

They had been long expecting the Prophet and knew his character very well. They had never heard him tell a lie and accordingly called him ‘the Trustworthy One’. They were charmed by his personality and the eloquence of the Qur’an. However, they could not overcome their pride and arrogance, their feelings of envy and rivalry, that they might believe in him, nor were they able to change their habits and lifestyle to submit themselves to his Message. Is the same not true of all who, although they have known the truth, have since persisted in unbelief all over the world?

1. I. Kathir, al-Bidaya, 2.223.
2. Bukhari, Bad’u l-Wahy, 3.
3. I. Hanbal, 5.451.
4. Kanz al-‘Ummal, 14.39-40; I. Kathir, 3.83.
5. Mukhtasar Tafsir Ibn al-Kathir, 1.140.
6. Bukhari, al-Anbiya’, Bab Khalq Adam, 2.
7. Ibn Hisham, Sira, 1.228-34.
8. I. Kathir, 3.80-81; I. Hisham, 1.313.


Last Updated on November 23, 2000

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