A Restatement of the History of Islam and Muslims

A Restatement of the History of Islam and Muslims

A Restatement of the History of Islam and Muslims

728 Pages ·2013·3.08 MB ·English

A Restatement of the History of Islam and Muslims

1


Chapter


Introduction


This is a new story of Islam. It is the story of the movement which was


launched by Muhammad, the Messenger of God, in A.D. 610 in Makkah,


and was consummated with the support of his cousin, collaborator and


vicegerent, Ali ibn Abi Talib, in A.D. 632 in Medina. It covers a period of


ninety years from A.D. 570 when he was born in Makkah, to A.D. 661


when his successor, Ali ibn Abi Talib, was assassinated in Kufa.


Countless histories of Islam have been written in the past and will be


written in the future. The spectacular advance of Islam in the missionary


field in our own times; the renaissance of the Muslim nations after many


centuries of slumber; the obtrusion of oil as a new factor in world politics


in this century; but above all and most recently, the success of the Islamic


Revolution in Iran, all are acting, both in the east and in the west, as cata-


lysts of a new interest in Islam. The Revolution in Iran, has, in fact,


triggered a world-wide explosion of interest in Islam, and many new


books are being written on the subject – both by Muslims and non-


Muslims.


In these days when the leaders of the Christian world are quietly


working to realize the old dream of Christian ecumenism, many


Muslims are also looking back nostalgically toward that ideal state when


Islam was monolithic. Islam, however, was monolithic only during the


lifetime of its Prophet, Muhammad, the blessed one. As soon as he died,


the first crack appeared in the "monolith" of Islam. His followers – the


Muslims – were polarized into two groups. In this polarization, most of


his companions were on the one side and the members of his family on


the other. While the members of his family were occupied with his ob-


sequies, some of his companions were occupied in "electing" a new lead-


er to succeed him. During the interval between his death and his burial,


2 the latter gathered in the outhouse of Saqifa in Medina, and elected one


out of themselves as the new head of the Muslim umma (community).


They, then, confronted the members of the bereaved family with a fait


accompli. This confrontation, most unfortunately, became a permanent


feature of the history of the Muslims.


Muhammad, the Messenger of God, may God bless him and his Ahlul-


Bayt (family), belonged to the clan of Banu Hashim. After his death in


A.D. 632, his cousin, son-in-law and heir-apparent, Ali ibn Abi Talib,


succeeded him as the new chief of Banu Hashim. Many of the compan-


ions of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, had nursed a secret antagon-


ism toward him. They could not show him their antagonism during the


lifetime of the Prophet but once they were in control of his government


in Medina, they were resolved, not to let it fall, through any miscalcula-


tion, into the hands of Ali ibn Abi Talib. The members of the family of


Muhammad, the Apostle of God, were thus precluded, by human force


majeure, not only from direct succession but also from all positions of


authority and power in the successive governments of his followers.


The friends, followers and supporters of the family of Muhammad


Mustafa, the Messenger of God, have been historically called Shia; and


the friends, followers and supporters of the companions, i.e., the party


which succeeded in seizing power in Medina, have been called Sunni. I


shall also identify these two groups by these names.


M. Shibli, the famous Indian historian of Islam, says that almost all his-


tories of Islam have been written by Sunni historians. This statement im-


plies that Shia scholars did not write any histories of Islam. Why not?


They did not write history for an obvious reason. All khalifas, sultans


and kings were Sunni. A Shia could not publish an interpretation of


Islamic history that was divergent from the official interpretation, and he


had no desire to perpetuate what he believed to be the distortions of


truth. He, therefore, preferred not to write any history at all.


In this manner, it was the "official" account of the history of the early


days of Islam that gained currency and found acceptance. It was the


most logical thing for the governments of the early centuries of Islam to


do to put into circulation only that story which was consistent with the


party line. It was also most logical for the supporters of the policies of


the governments in question, to toe the party line. And in toeing the


3 party line, if they felt that it was necessary to smother truth, or at any


rate, to smother the other side of the story, it was just as logical to do so.


There is nothing strange, surprising or shocking in this attitude of the


Sunni historians. The most logical thing for them to do, was, and is, to


uphold the legitimacy of the events which transpired in Saqifa, where


some of the companions, in a pre emptive strike, seized the government


of Muhammad, the Sovereign of Arabia.


What however is strange, surprising and shocking, is that the Western


historians of Islam, i.e., the Orientalists, have swallowed up, as gospel


truth, whatever the Muslim "court" historians have dished out to them as


"facts." The Orientalists are supposedly objective, non-partisan, and in no


way emotionally involved. The outcome of a certain contest in the dis-


tant past of Islam, one way or the other, could not make any difference to


them. And yet, the works of many of them reflect, not the facts but the


interpretations and propagandas of the party in power. In this sense,


their works are the imitations of the books "inspired" by what the Com-


munists call the "ruling circles" of the Muslims.


The works of the Orientalists can have scientific value only if they


heed the advice of the great historian of Muslim Spain, Dr. J. A. Conde.


He says:


"A sort of fatality attaching itself to human affairs would seem to com-


mand that in the relation of historical events those of the highest import-


ance should descend to posterity through the justly suspected channels


of narrations written by the conquering parties. The mutation of empires,


the most momentous revolutions and the overthrow of the most


renowned dynasties seem all to be liable to this disadvantage. It was by


the Romans that the history of their own aggrandizement was written;


the narration of their rivalry and sanguinary wars with the Carthagini-


ans has come down to us from themselves; or if Greek writers have also


treated the subject, these men were the tributaries and dependents of


Rome, nor did they spare the flatteries best calculated to conciliate her fa-


vor. Scipio thus appears to us the most admirable of heroes, but is not


that in part because the history of his life is the work of his admirers and


flatterers? It is true that the noble and illustrious Hannibal cannot look


otherwise than great and glorious even in the narratives of his mortal en-


emies, but if the implacable hatred and aggressive policy of Rome had


4 not commanded the destruction of all the Punic annals, the renowned


general would doubtless appear to us under an aspect differing much


from that presented by the ruthless barbarian, described by Livy and ac-


cepted by his readers as the portrait of Hannibal. Therefore a sound and


just discrimination forbids us to content ourselves with the testimony of


one side only. This requires that we compare the relations of both parties


with careful impartiality, and commands us to cite them with no other


purpose than that of discovering the truth." (History of the Dominion of


the Arabs in Spain translated from Spanish by Mrs. J. Foster, Volume I,


page 1)


It cannot be gainsaid that many Orientalists have made most invalu-


able contributions to the study, knowledge and understanding of Islam.


It is only through their labors that many priceless treasures of Islamic


history, art and literature have been rescued from oblivion, and have


been preserved. It is entirely possible that many such treasures would


have been lost forever if it were not for their efforts to salvage them.


Among them are men who have amazing grasp of the details of Islamic


studies, and whose knowledge is encyclopedic in range. They have read


and assimilated vast quantities of detail, and then they have condensed,


organized and edited them in most masterly and critical analyses. Some


of them devoted their lives and their fortunes to the study of Islam, and


to them the world of Islam owes a profound debt of gratitude.


But notwithstanding the love of and zeal for knowledge, and devotion


to truth of the Western students, it appears that when many of them in-


terpret Islam, its history and its institutions, something goes awry. It is


incredible but true that some of them show a curious inability to penet-


rate through the conventional and stereotyped appearance of events to


the sometimes deliberately obscured facts and forces, and significant


realities. And some of them fail even to see the obvious.


I have quoted above the principles of writing scientific and impartial


history as laid down by Dr. Conde, who is himself a most distinguished


Orientalist. The principle, viz., no expert judgments in history, rests


upon plain common sense, and there is nothing mystical about it. And


yet, many of the Orientalists have accepted, with a credulity that is idiot-


ic, the account of the events that took place immediately following the


death of Muhammad, as given by the party that succeeded in capturing


his throne for itself.


5 A most glaring example of the gullibility, and basic misperception of


the Orientalists, in this regard, is the acceptance by them, as a historical


"fact" of the canard that Muhammad, the Messenger of God, died


without designating anyone as his successor, and that he left the prob-


lem of finding a leader for the Muslim umma (community) to the discre-


tion of his followers themselves.


No Orientalist has paused, as far as I am aware, to investigate if this is


true or even plausible that Muhammad abandoned the Muslims without


a leader, and they had to find one in a no-holds barred, ruthless, free-for-


all, struggle for power. Eschewing the laborious search for truth, the Ori-


entalists have merely concurred with the Sunni historians that


Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, had no wishes or preferences in the


matter of his own succession; and whatever happened in Saqifa was,


therefore, right and justified, and also, was in the best interests of the


Muslim umma (community).


This pro-Saqifa tilt of the Orientalists has led them up a blind alley in


which they cannot find answers for some fundamental questions in the


history of Islam, and they find themselves caught, like the Sunni histori-


ans, in a net of paradoxes and contradictions.


Many Sunni historians and many among the Orientalists have made a


deliberate attempt to minimize the importance of the role played by Ali


ibn Abi Talib in the story of Islam. They are, of course, entitled to their


opinions and assumptions even if these are not attested by facts. In my


presentation, I have made an attempt to place the emphasis on facts. In


doing so, it has been my hope that the facts themselves would act as


"judges". Since facts are impartial "judges," they can be counted upon to


restore balance to the assessment of the roles played by the various prot-


agonists in the history of nascent Islam. I have picked them up and have


tried to string them, like pearls, into a "necklace", so that most of them


can be seen in one place.


History has no supreme court rendering verdicts; it has only fallible


chroniclers. And yet, history can find its own supreme court or objective


tribunal in the logic of facts.


6 I have another and very pragmatic reason for depending upon facts.


For writing the story of the early days of Islam, there are three primary


sources, viz., Al-Qur’an al-Majid (the revealed book of Islam); the Hadith


(the memorials of the attributed acts and sayings of Muhammad, as


transmitted by a chain of informants or narrators); and the events as re-


corded by Arab historians. Out of these three, the first, i.e., the Qur’an, is


acknowledged by all Muslims to be divine in origin. If a Muslim chal-


lenges the authority of Qur’an, he immediately becomes an apostate. But


whereas the authority of Qur’an, as far as the Muslims are concerned, is


inviolate, its verses are subject to varying and sometimes conflicting in-


terpretations, and there is no such thing as a consensus on which or


whose interpretation is right. The Hadith also suffer from a handicap;


too many of them are spurious although there are some which are ac-


knowledged both by the Sunnis and the Shias to be authentic. I have,


therefore, made an attempt to be selective in quoting only those verses of


Qur’an and only those Hadith (statements of the Prophet) in the inter-


pretation of which the difference between the Sunnis and the Shias is


minimal. But historical facts belong to an area in which there is not much


room for disagreement.


I have made very frequent use of quotations, both from classical and


modern historians, in this book, often on the same subject or event. I


have done so to present to the reader more than one point of view or


more than one interpretation of the more important events. The same


event seen from different angles appears different to different observers


and is, therefore, subject to different interpretations. It is in the hope that


the reader shares this opinion that I have tried, on many occasions, to let


more than one historian tell the same story. "Let the professionals do the


job," has been my motto in the restatement of most of the vital facts of


the history of Islam.


Another reason why I have presented testimony of the historians on


such a vast scale, is to underpin my thesis with evidence, so that the


reader, if he so wishes, may advert to sources which he may consider to


be unimpeachable.


It has been said that daring as it is to investigate the unknown, even


more so it is to question the known. Many of the so-called "known facts"


in the history of nascent Islam are little more than pious assumptions or


even pious wishes which through persistent repetition by the long chain


of the generations of Muslims, have acquired the "patina" if not the


7 status of the "articles of faith". When I questioned some of the assump-


tions of many Muslims which are disguised as historical "truths", I no-


ticed that they cannot withstand the scrutiny of critical analysis. The


reader himself may, therefore, decide if he would cling to them or would


accept truths some of which he might find extremely bitter and brutal.


There are those people who are afraid of truth. Truth threatens their illu-


sions, their favorite myths, and their assumptions. These latter, through


long propinquity, have become so familiar to them that they feel it is safe


and comfortable to live with them without the "intrusion" of truth. They


equate truth with "insecurity." And yet, truth alone can bring them real


security. Truth must be upheld at all costs, and by all, but especially, by


the historians. Truth must be upheld even if it hurts a friend and benefits


a foe. The first loyalty of the historian must be to truth, and nothing


whatsoever must deflect him in its quest.


The war of ideas and the conflict of opinions become even more inter-


esting when the spotlight of investigation is turned away from philo-


sophical concepts and abstract political doctrines to characters and per-


sonalities which played the key roles in the events under review. History


springs to life with characterization; it becomes vibrant with sharply de-


lineated characters who "make" events or act on them or react to them.


They invest history with the "human interest" element, and the touch of


drama.


Whatever history is – accident, or inevitable causality, or the pressure


of economic determinism, or the actions of strong leaders, or the result of


forces nobody understands, or the collective aspirations of a people –


whatever history is, the Arabs themselves see and interpret their own


history more in terms of personal action than anything else. And they


may be right. After all, as in every other area of endeavor, history is


made by those who act. It consists, in the interaction, not of blind forces


but of human beings. The conflicts of history are not between the ab-


stractions of philosophy, economics or sociology but between human be-


ings. It has been said that even in its most sociological moments, history


cannot overlook the factor of human personality. The history of the first


23-years of the career of Islam which comprehends the entire ministry of


Muhammad as the Messenger of God, is made, for the most part, next to


himself, by the personal actions of his collaborator, Ali ibn Abi Talib.


This is the testimony of history. But it is a testimony which many


8 historians have consistently tried to conceal. It is to this testimony that I


have tried to draw the attention of the readers of this book.


But notwithstanding the past and present lopsidedness of Western his-


toriography on Islam, there is new hope that historians of the future will


make restitution for the omissions and failures of the historians of the


past. All that they have to do is not to be tendentious, and not to accept


blindly those interpretations and conclusions which have become the


clichés of the history of Islam, but to rediscover truth for themselves


through collation and examination of the evidence.


In the introduction to the Cambridge History of Islam, Volume I, pub-


lished by the University Press, Cambridge (1970), P.M. Holt, writes:


"The study of Islamic history is now developing, many of the apparent


certainties of the older Western historiography (often reflecting the asser-


tions and interpretations of the Muslim traditional historians) have dis-


solved, and it is only gradually through detailed research that a truer un-


derstanding of the past may be attained."


The certainties of the older Western historiography reflecting the as-


sertions and interpretations of the Muslim traditional historians have not


dissolved yet but let us hope that they will, and a truer understanding of


the past will be attained in due course.


An attempt to interpret the history of Islam, especially the history of


its first century, is like stepping into a mine field; it's seething with con-


troversy, diatribes and polemics, and one may approach it only ex-


tremely gingerly. Nevertheless, interpretation remains basic to the un-


derstanding of history. Without interpretation, history becomes a mass


of uncoordinated information and a catalogue of "dead" events and dates


unrelated to each other. Yet these "dead" events bounce back to life when


effects are related to causes, and a concatenation of facts is established. A


fact in correlation with other facts has historical significance; in isolation


it may be meaningless.


Even Einstein's Relativity is the understanding of the world not as a


series of events but as relations.


9 As stated above, there is a plethora of books on Islam but most of them


are stereotypical interpretations of the story of its birth and growth, and


its religious experience, just as handed down to their authors by the


court historians of the government which was born in Saqifa, and its suc-


cessor governments – the governments of Damascus and Baghdad. The


story, however, has another side also.


A principle of the ancient Roman law was audi alteram partem (in any


dispute, hear the other side); or audiatur et altera pars (let the other side


be heard). Concerted human action – which is called politics – is full of


immense, heart-breaking tragedies that have damaged the lives of every-


one on the planet. Most would have been averted had this law been


heeded by all.


This principle that in any dispute, both sides of the case should be


heard – is entrenched in the legal systems of most nations, but most par-


ticularly in those of the United States and Western Europe. Thomas Jef-


ferson was only paraphrasing this principle, without which there cannot


be any justice, when he exclaimed: "For God's sake, let us freely hear


both sides." The American and European students of Islam, in most


cases, have heard only one side of its story; this book is an attempt to


present the other side. It is with this intent that I deliver it to the judg-


ment of its readers.


From the cowardice which shrinks from new truth;


From the laxness that is content with half-truth;


From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth;


O God of Truth deliver us!


Transliteration


The system of transliteration employed in this book was devised with


particular regard for simplicity. In most cases, those forms of spelling for


names of persons and places have been used which are most familiar to


Western readers, such as Qur’an, Muhammad, and Yemen in preference


to Coran, Koran or Kuran, Mohammad, and al-Yaman. At the same time,


some other forms of Western usage such as Moslems, Sunnites and


Shi'ites have been discarded in favor of the simpler and more correct


forms such as Muslims, Sunnis and Shias.


The Arabic word for "son" is transliterated to conform with the Arabic


spelling as ibn or bin, and both variants have been used.


10


1


Chapter


Introduction


This is a new story of Islam. It is the story of the movement which was


launched by Muhammad, the Messenger of God, in A.D. 610 in Makkah,


and was consummated with the support of his cousin, collaborator and


vicegerent, Ali ibn Abi Talib, in A.D. 632 in Medina. It covers a period of


ninety years from A.D. 570 when he was born in Makkah, to A.D. 661


when his successor, Ali ibn Abi Talib, was assassinated in Kufa.


Countless histories of Islam have been written in the past and will be


written in the future. The spectacular advance of Islam in the missionary


field in our own times; the renaissance of the Muslim nations after many


centuries of slumber; the obtrusion of oil as a new factor in world politics


in this century; but above all and most recently, the success of the Islamic


Revolution in Iran, all are acting, both in the east and in the west, as cata-


lysts of a new interest in Islam. The Revolution in Iran, has, in fact,


triggered a world-wide explosion of interest in Islam, and many new


books are being written on the subject – both by Muslims and non-


Muslims.


In these days when the leaders of the Christian world are quietly


working to realize the old dream of Christian ecumenism, many


Muslims are also looking back nostalgically toward that ideal state when


Islam was monolithic. Islam, however, was monolithic only during the


lifetime of its Prophet, Muhammad, the blessed one. As soon as he died,


the first crack appeared in the "monolith" of Islam. His followers – the


Muslims – were polarized into two groups. In this polarization, most of


his companions were on the one side and the members of his family on


the other. While the members of his family were occupied with his ob-


sequies, some of his companions were occupied in "electing" a new lead-


er to succeed him. During the interval between his death and his burial,


2 the latter gathered in the outhouse of Saqifa in Medina, and elected one


out of themselves as the new head of the Muslim umma (community).


They, then, confronted the members of the bereaved family with a fait


accompli. This confrontation, most unfortunately, became a permanent


feature of the history of the Muslims.


Muhammad, the Messenger of God, may God bless him and his Ahlul-


Bayt (family), belonged to the clan of Banu Hashim. After his death in


A.D. 632, his cousin, son-in-law and heir-apparent, Ali ibn Abi Talib,


succeeded him as the new chief of Banu Hashim. Many of the compan-


ions of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, had nursed a secret antagon-


ism toward him. They could not show him their antagonism during the


lifetime of the Prophet but once they were in control of his government


in Medina, they were resolved, not to let it fall, through any miscalcula-


tion, into the hands of Ali ibn Abi Talib. The members of the family of


Muhammad, the Apostle of God, were thus precluded, by human force


majeure, not only from direct succession but also from all positions of


authority and power in the successive governments of his followers.


The friends, followers and supporters of the family of Muhammad


Mustafa, the Messenger of God, have been historically called Shia; and


the friends, followers and supporters of the companions, i.e., the party


which succeeded in seizing power in Medina, have been called Sunni. I


shall also identify these two groups by these names.


M. Shibli, the famous Indian historian of Islam, says that almost all his-


tories of Islam have been written by Sunni historians. This statement im-


plies that Shia scholars did not write any histories of Islam. Why not?


They did not write history for an obvious reason. All khalifas, sultans


and kings were Sunni. A Shia could not publish an interpretation of


Islamic history that was divergent from the official interpretation, and he


had no desire to perpetuate what he believed to be the distortions of


truth. He, therefore, preferred not to write any history at all.


In this manner, it was the "official" account of the history of the early


days of Islam that gained currency and found acceptance. It was the


most logical thing for the governments of the early centuries of Islam to


do to put into circulation only that story which was consistent with the


party line. It was also most logical for the supporters of the policies of


the governments in question, to toe the party line. And in toeing the


3 party line, if they felt that it was necessary to smother truth, or at any


rate, to smother the other side of the story, it was just as logical to do so.


There is nothing strange, surprising or shocking in this attitude of the


Sunni historians. The most logical thing for them to do, was, and is, to


uphold the legitimacy of the events which transpired in Saqifa, where


some of the companions, in a pre emptive strike, seized the government


of Muhammad, the Sovereign of Arabia.


What however is strange, surprising and shocking, is that the Western


historians of Islam, i.e., the Orientalists, have swallowed up, as gospel


truth, whatever the Muslim "court" historians have dished out to them as


"facts." The Orientalists are supposedly objective, non-partisan, and in no


way emotionally involved. The outcome of a certain contest in the dis-


tant past of Islam, one way or the other, could not make any difference to


them. And yet, the works of many of them reflect, not the facts but the


interpretations and propagandas of the party in power. In this sense,


their works are the imitations of the books "inspired" by what the Com-


munists call the "ruling circles" of the Muslims.


The works of the Orientalists can have scientific value only if they


heed the advice of the great historian of Muslim Spain, Dr. J. A. Conde.


He says:


"A sort of fatality attaching itself to human affairs would seem to com-


mand that in the relation of historical events those of the highest import-


ance should descend to posterity through the justly suspected channels


of narrations written by the conquering parties. The mutation of empires,


the most momentous revolutions and the overthrow of the most


renowned dynasties seem all to be liable to this disadvantage. It was by


the Romans that the history of their own aggrandizement was written;


the narration of their rivalry and sanguinary wars with the Carthagini-


ans has come down to us from themselves; or if Greek writers have also


treated the subject, these men were the tributaries and dependents of


Rome, nor did they spare the flatteries best calculated to conciliate her fa-


vor. Scipio thus appears to us the most admirable of heroes, but is not


that in part because the history of his life is the work of his admirers and


flatterers? It is true that the noble and illustrious Hannibal cannot look


otherwise than great and glorious even in the narratives of his mortal en-


emies, but if the implacable hatred and aggressive policy of Rome had


4 not commanded the destruction of all the Punic annals, the renowned


general would doubtless appear to us under an aspect differing much


from that presented by the ruthless barbarian, described by Livy and ac-


cepted by his readers as the portrait of Hannibal. Therefore a sound and


just discrimination forbids us to content ourselves with the testimony of


one side only. This requires that we compare the relations of both parties


with careful impartiality, and commands us to cite them with no other


purpose than that of discovering the truth." (History of the Dominion of


the Arabs in Spain translated from Spanish by Mrs. J. Foster, Volume I,


page 1)


It cannot be gainsaid that many Orientalists have made most invalu-


able contributions to the study, knowledge and understanding of Islam.


It is only through their labors that many priceless treasures of Islamic


history, art and literature have been rescued from oblivion, and have


been preserved. It is entirely possible that many such treasures would


have been lost forever if it were not for their efforts to salvage them.


Among them are men who have amazing grasp of the details of Islamic


studies, and whose knowledge is encyclopedic in range. They have read


and assimilated vast quantities of detail, and then they have condensed,


organized and edited them in most masterly and critical analyses. Some


of them devoted their lives and their fortunes to the study of Islam, and


to them the world of Islam owes a profound debt of gratitude.


But notwithstanding the love of and zeal for knowledge, and devotion


to truth of the Western students, it appears that when many of them in-


terpret Islam, its history and its institutions, something goes awry. It is


incredible but true that some of them show a curious inability to penet-


rate through the conventional and stereotyped appearance of events to


the sometimes deliberately obscured facts and forces, and significant


realities. And some of them fail even to see the obvious.


I have quoted above the principles of writing scientific and impartial


history as laid down by Dr. Conde, who is himself a most distinguished


Orientalist. The principle, viz., no expert judgments in history, rests


upon plain common sense, and there is nothing mystical about it. And


yet, many of the Orientalists have accepted, with a credulity that is idiot-


ic, the account of the events that took place immediately following the


death of Muhammad, as given by the party that succeeded in capturing


his throne for itself.


5 A most glaring example of the gullibility, and basic misperception of


the Orientalists, in this regard, is the acceptance by them, as a historical


"fact" of the canard that Muhammad, the Messenger of God, died


without designating anyone as his successor, and that he left the prob-


lem of finding a leader for the Muslim umma (community) to the discre-


tion of his followers themselves.


No Orientalist has paused, as far as I am aware, to investigate if this is


true or even plausible that Muhammad abandoned the Muslims without


a leader, and they had to find one in a no-holds barred, ruthless, free-for-


all, struggle for power. Eschewing the laborious search for truth, the Ori-


entalists have merely concurred with the Sunni historians that


Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, had no wishes or preferences in the


matter of his own succession; and whatever happened in Saqifa was,


therefore, right and justified, and also, was in the best interests of the


Muslim umma (community).


This pro-Saqifa tilt of the Orientalists has led them up a blind alley in


which they cannot find answers for some fundamental questions in the


history of Islam, and they find themselves caught, like the Sunni histori-


ans, in a net of paradoxes and contradictions.


Many Sunni historians and many among the Orientalists have made a


deliberate attempt to minimize the importance of the role played by Ali


ibn Abi Talib in the story of Islam. They are, of course, entitled to their


opinions and assumptions even if these are not attested by facts. In my


presentation, I have made an attempt to place the emphasis on facts. In


doing so, it has been my hope that the facts themselves would act as


"judges". Since facts are impartial "judges," they can be counted upon to


restore balance to the assessment of the roles played by the various prot-


agonists in the history of nascent Islam. I have picked them up and have


tried to string them, like pearls, into a "necklace", so that most of them


can be seen in one place.


History has no supreme court rendering verdicts; it has only fallible


chroniclers. And yet, history can find its own supreme court or objective


tribunal in the logic of facts.


6 I have another and very pragmatic reason for depending upon facts.


For writing the story of the early days of Islam, there are three primary


sources, viz., Al-Qur’an al-Majid (the revealed book of Islam); the Hadith


(the memorials of the attributed acts and sayings of Muhammad, as


transmitted by a chain of informants or narrators); and the events as re-


corded by Arab historians. Out of these three, the first, i.e., the Qur’an, is


acknowledged by all Muslims to be divine in origin. If a Muslim chal-


lenges the authority of Qur’an, he immediately becomes an apostate. But


whereas the authority of Qur’an, as far as the Muslims are concerned, is


inviolate, its verses are subject to varying and sometimes conflicting in-


terpretations, and there is no such thing as a consensus on which or


whose interpretation is right. The Hadith also suffer from a handicap;


too many of them are spurious although there are some which are ac-


knowledged both by the Sunnis and the Shias to be authentic. I have,


therefore, made an attempt to be selective in quoting only those verses of


Qur’an and only those Hadith (statements of the Prophet) in the inter-


pretation of which the difference between the Sunnis and the Shias is


minimal. But historical facts belong to an area in which there is not much


room for disagreement.


I have made very frequent use of quotations, both from classical and


modern historians, in this book, often on the same subject or event. I


have done so to present to the reader more than one point of view or


more than one interpretation of the more important events. The same


event seen from different angles appears different to different observers


and is, therefore, subject to different interpretations. It is in the hope that


the reader shares this opinion that I have tried, on many occasions, to let


more than one historian tell the same story. "Let the professionals do the


job," has been my motto in the restatement of most of the vital facts of


the history of Islam.


Another reason why I have presented testimony of the historians on


such a vast scale, is to underpin my thesis with evidence, so that the


reader, if he so wishes, may advert to sources which he may consider to


be unimpeachable.


It has been said that daring as it is to investigate the unknown, even


more so it is to question the known. Many of the so-called "known facts"


in the history of nascent Islam are little more than pious assumptions or


even pious wishes which through persistent repetition by the long chain


of the generations of Muslims, have acquired the "patina" if not the


7 status of the "articles of faith". When I questioned some of the assump-


tions of many Muslims which are disguised as historical "truths", I no-


ticed that they cannot withstand the scrutiny of critical analysis. The


reader himself may, therefore, decide if he would cling to them or would


accept truths some of which he might find extremely bitter and brutal.


There are those people who are afraid of truth. Truth threatens their illu-


sions, their favorite myths, and their assumptions. These latter, through


long propinquity, have become so familiar to them that they feel it is safe


and comfortable to live with them without the "intrusion" of truth. They


equate truth with "insecurity." And yet, truth alone can bring them real


security. Truth must be upheld at all costs, and by all, but especially, by


the historians. Truth must be upheld even if it hurts a friend and benefits


a foe. The first loyalty of the historian must be to truth, and nothing


whatsoever must deflect him in its quest.


The war of ideas and the conflict of opinions become even more inter-


esting when the spotlight of investigation is turned away from philo-


sophical concepts and abstract political doctrines to characters and per-


sonalities which played the key roles in the events under review. History


springs to life with characterization; it becomes vibrant with sharply de-


lineated characters who "make" events or act on them or react to them.


They invest history with the "human interest" element, and the touch of


drama.


Whatever history is – accident, or inevitable causality, or the pressure


of economic determinism, or the actions of strong leaders, or the result of


forces nobody understands, or the collective aspirations of a people –


whatever history is, the Arabs themselves see and interpret their own


history more in terms of personal action than anything else. And they


may be right. After all, as in every other area of endeavor, history is


made by those who act. It consists, in the interaction, not of blind forces


but of human beings. The conflicts of history are not between the ab-


stractions of philosophy, economics or sociology but between human be-


ings. It has been said that even in its most sociological moments, history


cannot overlook the factor of human personality. The history of the first


23-years of the career of Islam which comprehends the entire ministry of


Muhammad as the Messenger of God, is made, for the most part, next to


himself, by the personal actions of his collaborator, Ali ibn Abi Talib.


This is the testimony of history. But it is a testimony which many


8 historians have consistently tried to conceal. It is to this testimony that I


have tried to draw the attention of the readers of this book.


But notwithstanding the past and present lopsidedness of Western his-


toriography on Islam, there is new hope that historians of the future will


make restitution for the omissions and failures of the historians of the


past. All that they have to do is not to be tendentious, and not to accept


blindly those interpretations and conclusions which have become the


clichés of the history of Islam, but to rediscover truth for themselves


through collation and examination of the evidence.


In the introduction to the Cambridge History of Islam, Volume I, pub-


lished by the University Press, Cambridge (1970), P.M. Holt, writes:


"The study of Islamic history is now developing, many of the apparent


certainties of the older Western historiography (often reflecting the asser-


tions and interpretations of the Muslim traditional historians) have dis-


solved, and it is only gradually through detailed research that a truer un-


derstanding of the past may be attained."


The certainties of the older Western historiography reflecting the as-


sertions and interpretations of the Muslim traditional historians have not


dissolved yet but let us hope that they will, and a truer understanding of


the past will be attained in due course.


An attempt to interpret the history of Islam, especially the history of


its first century, is like stepping into a mine field; it's seething with con-


troversy, diatribes and polemics, and one may approach it only ex-


tremely gingerly. Nevertheless, interpretation remains basic to the un-


derstanding of history. Without interpretation, history becomes a mass


of uncoordinated information and a catalogue of "dead" events and dates


unrelated to each other. Yet these "dead" events bounce back to life when


effects are related to causes, and a concatenation of facts is established. A


fact in correlation with other facts has historical significance; in isolation


it may be meaningless.


Even Einstein's Relativity is the understanding of the world not as a


series of events but as relations.


9 As stated above, there is a plethora of books on Islam but most of them


are stereotypical interpretations of the story of its birth and growth, and


its religious experience, just as handed down to their authors by the


court historians of the government which was born in Saqifa, and its suc-


cessor governments – the governments of Damascus and Baghdad. The


story, however, has another side also.


A principle of the ancient Roman law was audi alteram partem (in any


dispute, hear the other side); or audiatur et altera pars (let the other side


be heard). Concerted human action – which is called politics – is full of


immense, heart-breaking tragedies that have damaged the lives of every-


one on the planet. Most would have been averted had this law been


heeded by all.


This principle that in any dispute, both sides of the case should be


heard – is entrenched in the legal systems of most nations, but most par-


ticularly in those of the United States and Western Europe. Thomas Jef-


ferson was only paraphrasing this principle, without which there cannot


be any justice, when he exclaimed: "For God's sake, let us freely hear


both sides." The American and European students of Islam, in most


cases, have heard only one side of its story; this book is an attempt to


present the other side. It is with this intent that I deliver it to the judg-


ment of its readers.


From the cowardice which shrinks from new truth;


From the laxness that is content with half-truth;


From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth;


O God of Truth deliver us!


Transliteration


The system of transliteration employed in this book was devised with


particular regard for simplicity. In most cases, those forms of spelling for


names of persons and places have been used which are most familiar to


Western readers, such as Qur’an, Muhammad, and Yemen in preference


to Coran, Koran or Kuran, Mohammad, and al-Yaman. At the same time,


some other forms of Western usage such as Moslems, Sunnites and


Shi'ites have been discarded in favor of the simpler and more correct


forms such as Muslims, Sunnis and Shias.


The Arabic word for "son" is transliterated to conform with the Arabic


spelling as ibn or bin, and both variants have been used.


10


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