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The Unlettered Prophet (33)
Khalid Masud
(Tr. by:Nikhat Sattar)


Efforts to malign People of Faith


The Banu Nadir went all out to destroy Islam and even attacked Madinah after gathering its enemies from all over the country. However, they were unable to achieve any success and, instead, suffered humiliation and despair. Then they turned their attention to maligning the character of Muslims and the Prophet (sws) and to destroy their reputation of morality and piety by using their agents ie. the hypocrites. They were of the opinion that if they overwhelmed Muslims with such attacks, the latter would be too preoccupied in saving their honour and would not be able to pay attention to other fronts. Ka‘b ibn Ashraf had already initiated this policy when he had begun to compose sordid poetry using names of Muslim women. This policy was then taken to the next level. As far as the hypocrites were concerned, not only were they under the influence of the Jews, but they also did not hesitate to offer their services to their benefit whenever the opportunity arose. Such a strategy created many difficulties for the Prophet (sws) and the believers. 


1. Allegations against Muslim Women

Initially, derogatory poems about Muslim women were circulated through hypocrites. This was followed by making immoral allegations against them and spreading scandalous gossip about them. Hypocritical men and women were mobilized to share such baseless stories within the society.

During the days of the jahiliyyah, there were no specific restrictions on entering homes or on women being seen by strangers. According to narratives, when the Prophet (sws) invited people inside his home, his family members would confine themselves to a corner of the same room. Similarly, when women ventured out, it was not necessary for them to observe purdah from strangers. The hypocrites adopted the policy of casting doubt on the character of Muslim women and at the same time, would try to deliberately come in the presence of the women members of the Prophet’s household and speak with them. When they saw Muslim women outside, they would pass unseemly comments and when they were reprimanded, they would give the excuse that they had not recognized them and had thought that they were slave-women of such and such a person. When this issue became intolerable and the hypocrites still continued to harass Muslim women, instructions to protect Muslim society from degradation were sent down in the Qur’an:

i.      Entry of strange men and women into homes was discouraged. Only those people were allowed to enter with whom the household members were familiar on account of family ties or personal relationships. Even they were told to ask for specific permission from inhabitants before entering their houses. If they were not given permission, they were instructed not to force entry.

ii.     If permission was granted, women within the house were to hide their embellishments from strange men and women, not flaunt their bodies and not look at them in the eye. The same attitude was to be adopted by men entering the house.

iii.    People were to avoid entering homes during times of rest and repose.

iv.    If the Prophet (sws) invited anyone inside his home, the guest was to limit himself to the issue at hand and avoid staying longer than necessary.

v.     People were not to barge into the Prophet’s house but were to explain their purpose from behind a curtain. 

vi.    When Muslim women went out, they were also to cover themselves with a big chadar, and bring one corner of it over their faces so that no excuse could be given to anyone bent on mischief.

vii.   Hypocrites were warned that if they did not refrain from mischief, they would lose any right to remain within the city. The Qur’an said:  

O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons [when abroad]: that is most convenient, that they should be known [as such] and not molested. And Allah is Oft- Forgiving, Most Merciful. Truly, if the Hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is a disease, and those who stir up sedition in the City, desist not, We shall certainly stir thee up against them: Then will they not be able to stay in it as thy neighbours for any length of time: They shall have a curse on them: whenever they are found, they shall be seized and slain without mercy. (33:59-61)  

viii.   If anyone alleged adultery by a woman, he was to be asked to produce four witnesses. If he failed to prove his allegation, he would be given 80 lashes in punishment for bringing the woman’s name into disrepute. Thus, when on returning from the Battle of Banu Mustaliq, some people tried to allege adultery about the Prophet’s wife without a proof, they were given this punishment. This incident also showed that the real objective of the Jews and hypocrites was to cause harm to the Prophet’s personality and status.


2. The Incident of Ila and Takhyir

In those times, hypocrite women too became active along with men. In order to create dissatisfaction within the family members of the Prophet (sws), they increased their interaction with them. They said to them that they were daughters of elite houses and rich leaders would have been very willing to marry them and keep them with great honour and dignity.  All the comforts and luxuries of the world would have been available to them. What had they gained by coming to this house? They faced a life of poverty, surrounded by dangers. It was such a pity that they were deprived of even the most basic facilities which were available to the common leaders. The Prophet (sws) should show some generosity in the expenditure of his household. It is no wonder that wives of the Prophet (sws) may have been influenced by constant reminders of such issues through frequent meetings. It seems that, thinking along these lines, they may have requested something from the Prophet (sws) at which he was distressed. In order to bring the point home to them, he told them that he would not see them for one month. He stopped going to his wives and obtained separate quarters for his residence. When ‘Umar (rta) was informed of this, he blamed the wives of the Prophet (sws). He was of the opinion that the Ansar did not control their wives and the latter spoke with them as equals in a competitive spirit. The wives of the Prophet (sws) had also adopted the style of the Ansar women and caused pain to him. He went to his daughter Hafsah (rta) to probe the matter and chided her, saying that she had hurt the Prophet (sws). She should understand her status and speak accordingly. He then went to the Prophet (sws)’s residence where a black slave was not allowing anyone to meet him. After repeated requests from ‘Umar (rta), he asked the Prophet (sws) who gave permission to him to enter. After discussing other matters, ‘Umar (rta) asked him if he had divorced his wives. The Prophet (sws) replied in the negative. ‘Umar (rta) told him that people were concerned and worried about this situation. While the Prophet (sws) was staying at his temporary residence, he was instructed in the Qur’an that he should give his wives the option to either stay with him, or leave him, in which case they would be given some money and/or possessions and divorced. They could thus adopt any way they wished to.  

O Prophet! Say to thy Consorts: “If it be that ye desire the life of this World, and its glitter,- then come! I will provide for your enjoyment and set you free in a handsome manner. But if ye seek Allah and His Messenger, and the Home of the Hereafter, verily Allah has prepared for the well-doers amongst you a great reward.” (33:28-29) 

When one month had passed, the Prophet (sws) went first to his wife ‘A’ishah (rta). She asked him about coming before the time was over as it had been 29 days, at which he said that a month could also be of 29 days. Then he asked her that, if she wished for the life of this world and its beauty and comforts, he could not provide these to her and he could give her something and let her go. But if she wanted God and His Prophet and the next world, she could stay in his house and that it was not necessary to answer immediately. She could consult her parents and then give him her answer. ‘A’ishah (rta) replied that she did not need anyone’s advice to answer this question and that she would opt for God, the Prophet and the afterlife. The Prophet (sws) asked her not to divulge her answer to the others. He then went to his other wives and gave each of them this option. Every one of them gave the same answer which ‘A’ishah (rta) had given. In this manner, guided by God, the Prophet (sws) successfully addressed the seeds of doubt which the hypocrite women had sowed. It was proved that the Prophet’s wives were perfectly satisfied with their lives and were not willing to give any attention to the lifestyle of elitist women in the least.

The one month period during which the Prophet (sws) stayed away from his wives was called ila and giving them authority to decide upon separation was called takhyir.

The Qur’an developed awareness among the wives of the Prophet (sws) of their status, on account of being his wives, and thus holding distinct responsibilities which were different from those of ordinary women. They were to perceive themselves above the others and understand that whatever they said could create problems for the Prophet (sws). They were, therefore, to be very careful when talking with hypocrites. It could be dangerous to be kind hearted in their attempt to be generous.


Wives of the Prophet! Ye are not like any of the [other] women: if ye do fear [Allah], be not too complacent of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire: but speak ye a speech [that is] just. (33:32).  


3. The Issue of Marriage to the Divorcee of the Adopted Son 

Similarly, another situation in which the hypocrites accused the Prophet (sws) arose when he married Zaynab bint Jahash (rta). When the Prophet (sws) had married Khadijah (rta), she had presented her slave Zayd ibn Harithah (rta) to him. The Prophet (sws) found in him many abilities and adopted him as his son, after which the boy began to be called Zayd ibn Muhammad. Zayd (rta) was very close to the Prophet (sws) because of his loving attentions. When the Prophet (sws) gained prophethood, Zayd (rta) was one of the first ones to accept Islam and was always ready whenever called upon to provide services to Islam.

Due to his great love for Zayd (rta) and also because he wished to demonstrate equality between humans in Islam, the Prophet (sws) had him married to his paternal aunt’s daughter, Zaynab bint Jahash (rta). Zaynab (rta) belonged to the family of leaders of the Quraysh. While she obeyed the Prophet (sws), she found this relationship below her status and could not get along with Zayd (rta). Zayd (rta) was very worried about this situation and discussed it with the Prophet (sws) who advised him to compromise and continue with the union. He opposed a divorce because he felt that since Zaynab (rta) was already unhappy with the marriage, she would not be able to accept the stigma of being a divorcee. Zayd (rta) postponed the divorce but a compromise was still not possible. Eventually he acted upon his decision and divorced Zaynab (rta).

God’s will was to use this incident as a tool to bring reform to an important issue in society. The Prophet (sws) was instructed to marry Zaynab (rta) if Zayd (rta) divorced her. The Prophet (sws) was concerned that if he did so, the hypocrites would stir up a storm of propaganda against him. The reason for this was it was a tradition in Arab society that an adopted son was considered to be like a real son and his wife to be a daughter in law. If the father of the adopted son married the latter’s wife, he would be guilty of committing the sin of marrying a real daughter. This is an unnatural and irrational concept because the connections of blood and race that exist with real children do not exist in case of adopted ones. Islam, being based on nature, does not give importance to matters that are based merely on customs and traditions. God’s prophet removes all unnatural customs from society. His status requires him to fight circumstances despite opposition from people. The Qur’an reminded the Prophet (sws) of this.  

There can be no difficulty to the Prophet in what Allah has indicated to him as a duty. It was the practice [approved] of Allah amongst those of old that have passed away. And the command of Allah is a decree determined. [It is the practice of those] who preach the Messages of Allah, and fear Him, and fear none but Allah. And enough is Allah to call [men] to account. (33:38-39) 

After Zayd (rta)’s final decision, the Prophet (sws) had no option but to obey the divine instructions.  As soon as he married Zaynab (rta), the hypocrites began to spread the propaganda that he had married his daughter in law. Some made up false stories of which parts still exist in our books and those wishing to besmirch the Prophet’s personality quote these in their writings. All of these stories are baseless. The reason is that Zaynab (rta) was the Prophet’s cousin and was, therefore, not a stranger to him. It was the Prophet (sws) who had her married to Zayd (rta) and it was he who wished from his heart that Zayd (rta) would not divorce her. Zaynab (rta) was a Companion from before Islam and the Prophet (sws) knew her well. He was worried that Zaynab (rta) had found the union which he had helped to create below her status and it was unsuccessful. Zayd (rta) was not willing to retain the union and thus Zaynab (rta) had to go through the humiliation of a divorce. The only way to comfort Zaynab (rta) and to compensate for her loss was for the Prophet (sws) to marry her himself. This instruction was revealed to him in the Qur’an. 

Allah has not made for any man two hearts in his [one] body: nor has He made your wives whom ye divorce by zihar your mothers: nor has He made your adopted sons your sons. Such is [only] your [manner of] speech by your mouths. But Allah tells [you] the Truth, and He shows the [right) Way. Call them by [the names of] their fathers: that is more just in the sight of Allah. But if ye know not their father’s [names, call them] your Brothers in faith, or your mawlas. But there is no blame on you if ye make a mistake therein: [what counts is] the intention of your hearts: and Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful. (33:4-5) 

The above means that just saying something does not change reality. Wives do not become mothers if they are called mothers and adopted sons do not become real sons by saying so. Thus, such sons should be called by the names of their real fathers. Zayd ibn Muhammad, therefore began to be called Zayd ibn Harithah (rta).


About Zaynab (rta), the Qur’an stated:  

Behold! Thou didst say to one who had received the grace of Allah and thy favour: “Retain thou [in wedlock] thy wife, and fear Allah.” But thou didst hide in thy heart that which Allah was about to make manifest: thou didst fear the people, but it is more fitting that thou shouldst fear Allah. Then when Zayd had dissolved [his marriage] with her, with the necessary [formality], We joined her in marriage to thee: in order that [in future] there may be no difficulty to the Believers in [the matter of] marriage with the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have dissolved with the necessary [formality] [their marriage] with them. And Allah’s command must be fulfilled. (33:37) 

4. The Instruction related to Removal of a Hurdle for the Prophet (sws)

There was another problem which the Prophet (sws) faced when marrying Zaynab (rta). As a result of the martyrdom of Muslims in large numbers in the Battle of Uhud, many women became widows and supporting their orphaned children became an issue. The instruction for people of faith to offer their services and provide this support was revealed through the Qur’an. It was also said that if they found this responsibility too difficult, they were to marry the mothers of the orphaned children so that they could assist in the latter’s upbringing. Men who had resources and were able to maintain justice between their wives could marry two, three or four women by using the tradition of multiple marriages in Arabia, but now the tradition would be limited to four wives, contrary to an indefinite number in the past.

Two wives of the Prophet (sws), Sawdah (rta) and ‘A’ishah (rta) had migrated with him from Makkah. Two were widows of martyrs, Hafsah (rta) and Umm Salamah (rta). Hafsa (rta) was the daughter of ‘Umar (rta) and her previous husband was Khunays ibn Hudhafah (rta) who had passed away after being wounded in the Battle of Uhud. Umm Salamah (rta) was from the tribe of the Banu Makhdhum and her husband was Abu Salamah (rta) who was the Prophet’s paternal cousin. When the Prophet (sws) was given the order to marry Zaynab (rta), he had four wives already, Therefore, the hypocrites found another point for their propaganda against him. They said that Mohammed was a strange leader who established a shari‘ah for his people but did not implement it upon himself. He had restricted other men to four wives but did not tolerate the restriction for himself.  The following guidance was given in the Qur’an to exempt the Prophet (sws) in this case.  

O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee; and daughters of thy paternal uncles and aunts, and daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts, who migrated [from Makkah] with thee; and any believing woman who dedicates her soul to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her;- this only for thee, and not for the Believers [at large]; We know what We have appointed for them as to their wives and the captives whom their right hands possess;- in order that there should be no difficulty for thee. And Allah is Oft- Forgiving, Most Merciful. (33:50)   

With the revelation of this verse, not only was the hurdle for the Prophet (sws) to marry for the fifth time removed but certain conditions were established for him within which he could marry again. Firstly, he was barred from divorcing any of his wives who were given the status of mothers of the Muslim ummah. They were thus prevented from marrying again after the Prophet (sws). Secondly, the Prophet (sws) was not to marry a woman who did not fulfil the conditions laid down in Surah al-Ahzab. His wives were informed that the Prophet (sws) would give priority to meeting the responsibilities of prophet hood and they were not to complain of his variable attention to them.


5. Efforts to create Disharmony between the Muhajirun and the Ansar

The Jews were aware of the fact that the strength of Muslims depended upon their unity and sense of mutual belonging. The Prophet (sws) had not only transformed the ancient enmity of the Aws and the Khazraj into strong friendship but had also established a relationship of amity and love between the Ansar and Muhajirun. Troubles only strengthened this bond further. The Jews and their hypocrite agents were continuously engaged in efforts to revive old enmities and create disharmony between the Ansar and the Muhajirun. News reached the Prophet (sws) after the battle of Ahzab that some tribes were angry over their defeat and were planning to strike again. The Prophet (sws) decided to defeat them and attacked Banu Lahyan who were settled along the route to Makkah. These people disappeared in the mountains. After this, some people from the tribe of Ghatfan stole some camels during an attack on the rangelands of the Prophet (sws). The Muslims followed them and the Prophet (sws) too joined them with a group of soldiers and retrieved the animals. Similarly, the Banu Mustalaq inhabited one of the routes to Makkah. When the Prophet (sws) found out about their preparations for battle, he attacked them with some men. The people whom the Banu Mustalaq had gathered from various tribes ran away upon hearing of this attack and the Banu Mustalaq were left alone. A battle ensued in which the enemy was defeated, their people were captured and war booty was won. The winning troops set up camp around the spring of Marisi’, where an altercation occurred between an Ansar and a Muhajir over the issue of taking water. The Muhajir slapped an Ansar as a result of which a fight started between the two groups. ‘Abdullah ibn Ubayy made an all out effort to incite the feelings of the Ansar. He said: “These people have turned upon us after taking shelter with us. It is true that if you feed a dog, it will turn and bite you. By God! If we return to Madinah, those among us who are honourable shall banish these wretched people.” Addressing the Ansar, he also said: “This is the consequence of your own error that you are now forced to bear. You brought them within your homes and made them partners in your wealth. By God! Had you refrained from helping them, they would have run away from here long ago.”

‘Abdullah ibn Ubayy was referring to the Ansar when he spoke of the honourable people and of the Muhajirun when talking of the wretched ones. This appealed to the mentality of the Arabs who were living during the times of jahiliyyah according to which they were residing in that region with honour and status for ages and this was their right. How could they tolerate men who came to seek refuge from them to stand up to them? This incident was referred to in Surah al-Munafiqun thus: 

They are the ones who say: “Spend nothing on those who are with Allah’s Messenger, to the end that they may disperse [and quit Madinah].” But to Allah belong the treasures of the heavens and the earth; but the Hypocrites understand not. (63:7-8)   

Among the people who were taken prisoners in this battle was Jawayriyyah, the daughter of the leader of the tribe, Harith ibn Abi Darar. She was given to one of the Companions, Thabit ibn Qays (rta), whom she asked if he would take ransom for her and free her. Jawayriyyah then came to the Prophet (sws), introduced herself and told him that she was the daughter of the leader and that she had won her freedom from the service of a person after agreeing upon an amount for ransom. She wished him to assist her in attaining this freedom. The Prophet (sws) asked her if she would accept a treatment that would be better than this. Upon her query about this, he said to her that he would pay her ransom, get her freed and marry her. Jawayriyyah agreed to this proposal. When this news reached the Companions, they released all other prisoners since the tribe of Mustalaq had now become the in laws of the Prophet (sws).    


Crimes of the Jews

The conspiracies of the Jews against the Prophet (sws) were not temporary. They were, in fact, an example of the habits which they had been demonstrating since ancient times and due to which the prophets who had come to the Israelites had deemed them worthy of their curses. The Qur’an has referred particularly to the curses of David (sws) and Jesus (sws). Despite seeing the miracles of Moses (sws) with their own eyes and watched the Pharaoh perish, they carved out a calf and began to worship it. With the Mount of Tur towering above them, God took a promise from them and instructed them to follow the path of humility and submission but they gave no importance to their covenants. They broke every promise, neglected every instruction from God, killed prophets and reformers without any reason and closed off their hearts to their calls towards truth. They accused a pure woman, Maryam (sws) from a tribe of the Israelites of adultery and, in spite of being aware of the prophet hood of Jesus (sws), not only planned to kill him but also claimed to have done so. They brought troubles upon themselves and thus had even the things which were halal in the shari’ah made haram.  In every age and time, they tried to stop people from accepting the truth and their efforts to do so are not hidden from any one. Interest had been clearly prohibited for them but they paid no attention to this and created the worst forms of interest in their worldly greed. They became so fond of gathering wealth that no distinction remained between halal and haram for them. They saw no problems in usurping what belonged to others through illegal means. How could it be expected from people whose previous history was so gross, that they would come forward, accept Islam and believe in the Qur’an?

However, the Qur’an instructed the Prophet (sws) to communicate the message to both Christians and Jews that unless they allowed the teachings of the Torah and Injil to enter into the matters of their daily lives, and led their individual and collective lives according to their instructions, in particular, obey the requirements of the predictions about the last prophet, they would possess no religious status. Relationship with God is not based on links with a group, but on fulfilling the needs of faith and doing good deeds, of which both groups had become deprived.

Because the Jews of Madinah had not fulfilled their responsibilities according to their religious books and would not deter from creating anarchy in the land, the Prophet (sws) exiled them from Madinah, considering them to be among warring factions: those who fought God and His Prophet and created anarchy. Later, the Qur’an gave a policy for the People of the Book according to which they could stay in the Islamic state as Dhimmis by paying taxes.  

Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, [even if they are] of the People of the Book, until they pay the jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. (9:29)


(Translated by Nikhat Sattar)



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