THE LIFE OF MOHAMMAD (PBUH) THE PROPHET OF ALLAH
BY E. DINET and SLIMAN BEN IBRAHIM
CHAPTER THE EIGHTH
“Ad-da’wah” or the Invocation.
Accomplish the Pilgrimage and the Visitation of the Holy Places in honour of Allah.
Quoth Ayishah: “During my return from the Mustaliq expedition, pressing need compelled me to alight from my Hawdaj, (a kind of litter carried on a camel’s back). I found a lonely spot and stopped behind, waiting until all the soldiers had marched past. But seeing my camel halted, and thinking I was inside the hawdaj, they drove the animal forward to ensure it remaining in line with the rest.
“When I came back and found my camel gone, I shouted despairingly; but all in vain, until overcome by fatigue, I dropped down and fell asleep. One of the rearguards, Safwan Ibnu’l-Mu’attal, catching sight of me, recognised me and cried out: ‘To Allah we belong and to Him shall we return!’ Having awakened me by this exclamation, he brought up his camel, helping me into the saddle, and he led the animal by the bridle until we rejoined the Prophet.”
Scandalmongers got hold of the story and ascribed shameful motives to this chance meeting. Despite the accused woman’s protestations of innocence, Mohammad felt suspicion gnawing at his heart, and he kept Ayishah at a distance, greatly to the confusion of his father-in-law, Abu Bakr.
At last, a Revelation called the accusers liars, and condemned calumny: “With Allah it was a grave matter,” (The Qur’an, xxiv, 14), thus ridding the Prophet of all suspicion and putting an end to a painful situation.
THE BIRTH AND DEATH OF IBRAHIM
In Year VIII of the Hegira, Mary, the Coptic concubine, gave birth to a boy. The Prophet, who had never found consolation for the death of his sons brought into the world by Khadijah, was beside himself with joy. He gave a slave as a present to Abu Rafi’a, for having brought the news that a son was born, and Mohammad declared that the child’s advent freed the mother.
On the seventh day, the baby’s hair was shaved off and buried; two sheep were sacrificed and alms were distributed to the poor. All the wet-nurses vied with each other for the honour of suckling the Prophet’s son, who was called Ibrahim. He was given into the care of Umm Burda, wife of Al-Bara ibn Aws, and she, was rewarded by the gift of a palm-garden.
She took her nursling into the country, to the Banu Mazin, where the Prophet went frequently to see his son. He used to take him in his arms, unceasingly “smelling” him and covering him with kisses. The affection he felt for the child’s mother, Mary the Copt, also increased, much to the great vexation of his other wives.
It happened, too, that he broke his strictly impartial household laws, and granted Mary a night that rightly belonged to Hafsa, Umar’s daughter. She was grieved to the heart by her rights being forgotten and reproached Mohammad so bitterly that he promised to cease all intercourse with his freed slave on condition that Hafsa held her tongue. But haughty Hafsa broke her word. She told her grievances to Ayishah, who was likewise furiously exasperated at the favour shown to Mary. It was now the turn of Hafsa to rouse the indignation of the other joint wives.
Scenes, scandal and shrieks caused life to be unbearable; so, renouncing all consideration and refusing to let his spouses dictate to him, the Prophet put Hafsa away, after having blamed her severely for her indiscretion. For a whole month, he refused to have anything to do with his helpmates who, although there was now no cause for jealousy, still continued their quarrels; each woman accusing the other of being the cause of their common husband’s neglect. All his wives swore that in future they would not pester him with their scolding.
But Mohammad kept his oath strictly. He sought seclusion in a room to which access could only be had by a staircase of palm-tree trunks, and where his sole couch consisted of a mat, of which the rough fibre made dents in his flesh. His meals were brought to him by a black guardian who stood—an inexorable sentinel—in front of the door, which remained closed even to the most beloved among the Prophet’s companions. At last, on the twenty-ninth day, mindful of the grief felt by Umar and Abu Bakr at the humiliation experienced by their daughters, Hafsa and Ayishah, Mohammad took them both back, and all his other wives as well, after he had recited the following verses:
“If ye assist one another against the Prophet, then verily, Allah is his Protector and Gabriel and every just man among the Faithful; and the angels are his helpers besides. * Haply if he put you both away, his Lord will give him in exchange other wives better than you: Moslems, Believers, devout, penitent, worshippers, observant of fasting.” (The Qur’an, lxvi, 4, 5.)
The joy and hopes accompanying the birth of Ibrahim were not destined to last long. The child breathed its last sigh at the age of seventeen months, under his father’s eyes, and Mohammad could not repress showers of tears.
Seeing the Prophet’s grief and remembering that in cases of mourning he forbade all lamentations, rending of garments, or laceration of faces, Abdu’r-Rahman ibn Awf said to him: ‘Thou also, O Messenger of Allah?’—’O Ibn Awf!’ he replied. ‘Tears arise from compassion. They are not prohibited like shrieks and lamentations which are protestations inspired by the Evil One against the decrees of Providence.’
Then, as his tears flowed in still greater abundance, he added: ‘The eyes shed tears; the heart is full of affliction, but we utter no exclamation displeasing to the Lord. True resignation is manifested at the first shock; as, later, time bringeth succour. O Ibrahim, we are deeply saddened by being separated from thee; but we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return!’
Zaira, mother of the wet-nurse, washed the poor little dead body; Al-Fadl ibn al-Abbas and Usama ibn Zayd carried it to the cemetary of Al-Bagi and lowered it into the grave. When the earth covered the son on whom he had founded such great hopes, the Prophet prayed over the tiny tomb, and exclaimed: ‘Declare, O my son! Allah is my Lord, His Messenger is my father, and Islam is my Religion!’
All who assisted at this scene were shaken by sobs. All of a sudden, their faces took on a livid tint, which, at the same time, spread over the earth, the sand, and the rocks. The azure of the sky changed to a leaden hue; the sunlight paled and gradually faded away, although no clouds gathered to veil it. An icy shudder, resembling that of fever, caused the whole face of nature to be stirred; and the birds, with cries of fright, took refuge in their nocturnal shelters. The last rays, still illuminating surrounding objects with dim and sinister light, began to die away and darkness came on in open day, whilst a few twinkling stars appeared in the sky.
The people in terror knew not which way to turn so as to escape the fearful cataclysm they anticipated. Many in the crowd, struck by the phenomenon coinciding with the death of Ibrahim, cried out: ‘O Prophet! the eyes of the sun itself are dimmed by tears and it hath departed to take part in thy mourning!’
The Prophet, struggling against his grief, drew himself up erect and proclaimed in firm accents: ‘Nay; it is not so. The Sun and the Moon are two tokens of Allah’s Almightiness. Like everything beautiful in this world, their beauty is liable to be eclipsed by His orders…. But there is no eclipse for the death of any mortal!’
GHAZWAH, OR EXPEDITION OF TABUK
(Jumada, Year VIII of the Hegira, August A.D. 630)
At the battle of Mutah, the Christian Greeks learnt to their cost what it meant to put the valour of Allah’s warriors to the test; and in their hatred of Islam’s steady growth, they busied themselves in mustering a most terrible army to crush it.
The Prophet heard of this. He resolved to be first in the field and attack. Only his unshaken confidence in divine protection could have inspired him with such temerity. How many thousands of soldiers must he gather together so as not to court irretrievable disaster? Now the moment was not in the least favourable: a long drought had withered crops and herbage; flocks were decimated; horrible famine plunged the whole region in desolation; and the torrid heat of the second half of summer destroyed all energy. The harvest of the savoury fruit of each oasis, watered by inexhaustible wells, alone promised to be abundant and invigorating; and it was precisely when the Faithful were about to profit by the only benefits of this lean year that the Apostle issued his marching orders.
Secret discontent invaded every heart and the incorrigible “Hypocrites” hastened to exploit it by hawking about everywhere perfidious remarks, such as these: ‘Do ye think this war against the Banu’l-Asfar (the descendants of fair-headed Ishaq) will be child’s play, as was that against the swarthy sons of Ishmael? Remember that arriving exhausted by the intolerable heat of the season and the superhuman fatigue of the road, ye will have to face the Nazarene soldiers encased in armour!’
These arguments, which would have been logical if the struggle had not been in the cause of Allah, began to weaken the minds of those who were hesitating. As for those who were convinced, they could not get away from the unheard-of difficulties bound to be met with in feeding the troops, by reason of the dearth of provisions; and means of transport, in consequence of the scarcity of camels. Following the lack of pasturage, the majority of these animals that had not succumbed to hunger, were in a pitiful state of decline. All these circumstances were unfavorable; but no obstacle could stop the Chosen One.
As the “Hypocrites” met to conspire in the house of Suwaylim, a Jew, the Prophet sent Talha ibn Ubaydu’llah to burn their den. They said, “March not out in the heat.” Say: “A fiercer heat wilt be the fire of Hell! Little then let them laugh, and much let them weep as the meed of their doings.” (The Qur’an, ix, 82, 83.)
Caring nothing for his own toil, the Prophet spared no pains to impress upon his disciples the grandeur of the goal. So as to arouse general interest, he treated each man differently according to the inward aspirations of his being. If in some he awakened the pure hope of celestial satisfaction, suitable to their souls loving ideality; in others, he did not discourage hopes of material gratification, such as booty and profane pleasures.
Al-Jadd ibn Qays was a man of intrigue. He said to the Prophet: ‘Thou knowest that in my “qawm” no man loveth woman better than I. Now, I fear I shall not be able to restrain myself at the sight of the charming lasses of the Banu’l-Asfar. In that case, wilt thou blame me?’
The Prophet avoided answering. Al-Jadd interpreted such silence as showing that Mohammad promised to shut his eyes. The debauchee could not repress a start of joy, despite the presence of his son, who made a gesture of disapproval, and his father threw his sandal in the lad’s face.
Thanks to the indefatigable activity of their leader, it was not long before the Believers were carried away by enthusiasm. The difficulties to be overcome; the sacrifices to be made, instead of diminishing their optimism, only succeeded in feeding it, and those whose poverty or infirmities prevented them from joining the ranks of the fighters, became so sad that they were nicknamed the “Bakka’un,” or “Weepers.” Nevertheless, they are excused by this Revelation: “It is no crime in the weak, and in the sick, and in those who find not the means of contributing, to stay at home, provided that they are sincere with Allah and His Apostle. Nor in those who when they came to thee that thou shoulsdt mount them, and thou didst say: “I find not wherewith to mount you,” and turned away their eyes, and shed floods of tears for grief, because they found no means to contribute towards the expense.” (The Qur’an, ix, 92, 93.)
Moved by their despair, the Prophet made an urgent appeal to the devotion of all the Believers who, with admirable emulation, replied at once by bringing considerable sums. Abu Bakr placed the whole of his fortune at the disposition of the Prophet. Usman ibn Affan furnished ten thousand warriors with provisions and weapons. All vied with each other in acts of generosity and women stripped themselves of their most precious jewellery.
The expeditionary force was soon organised and numbered between thirty to forty thousand men; a figure hitherto unknown in Arabia. The troops were assembled at the Sanniyat-ul-Wida pass. Seeing the exaltation of the Believers, the “Hypocrites” considered it prudent to conceal their sentiments, but they arranged to group themselves together in the rear and when the army had disappeared behind the “Farewell Pass,” the shufflers dropped out, one after the other, and made their way back to Al-Madinah.
Their conduct was not surprising, but unfortunately their fatal advice had deterred four good Moslems from their duty: the poet Ka’b ibn Mabk, Murara ibnu’r-Rabi’, Hilal ibn Umayya and Abu Khaythama. The latter, suffocated by the extreme heat and also, perchance, by feelings of shame, went into his orchard, surrounded by protecting walls. It was there, under intertwining palms and vine-branches with leaves and grapes, which stretched like serpentine bind-weeds from one date-tree to another, that two shelters were erected, built of palm-tree trunks and foliage; so impervious to sunlight that the obscurity therein seemed to be the shades of night. To complete the resemblance, the mysterious darkness of each of these arbours was illuminated by a young woman’s face, as brilliant as the moon in the fulness of its fourteenth night.
Kindly attentive as well as beautiful, these loving spouses had carefully watered the sandy soil, whence arose exquisite, moist odours. Ingeniously, too, they had hung up, in draughty corners, oozing goat-skins in which water got to be as cool as snow; and they had prepared delicate dishes of which the aroma sufficed to excite the most rebellious appetite….
Abu Khaythama, bathed in sweat, powdered all over with sand, experienced a sensation of Eden-like comfort, when he glanced at the delights in readiness and was about to revel in enjoyment by lazily stretching his limbs on soft rugs. But, suddenly, the emerald-tinted reflection of the shade that gently caressed his tired eyes, was furrowed by the flash of a vision:
In a gloomy, wild, boundless space, beneath the deep azure hue of a cloudless sky, under the unbearable sting of a pitiless sun, a long line of human beings dragged itself along with difficulty, coming into view and then being lost to sight amid yellowish waves formed by rocks or sandheaps…. He recognised these mortals. They were his brethren in Islam. At their head was … Allah’s Chosen One!
‘The Prophet leads an expedition, under yon blazing sky! And Abu Khaythama is at rest, in this fresh shade, with fresh water and two fresh beauties! No! that cannot be!’ he cried; and turning to his wives, each of them hoping to gain the preference: ‘By Allah! I go not into the shelter of any among you! I rejoin the Prophet! Prepare my provisions for the journey; and that quickly!’
They obeyed. Releasing his camel, busy just then in drawing water, he clapped on the saddle. Then he took down his sword, spear and shield from where they were hanging, and without a look behind, abandoned fresh shade, fresh water and fresh beauties, to hurry in the track of the army. He rejoined it at Tabuk.
Meanwhile, after having followed the windings of the Wadi’l-Qura, a broad valley where the verdant splashes of colour of more than one oasis, encircling many villages or strongholds, stood out in gay, bold relief on the dull hue of the arid landscape, the expedition had reached the fringe of the frightful desert surrounding Al-Hijr, or Mada’in Salih, the Thamud country. The sight of this inhospitable region oppressed the hearts of the Believers. With its Harra, or burning soil cracked and laid waste by celestial flames that marked it with a distinguishing funereal hue of ashes and charcoal, it offered to their view the most startling image of a country cursed by the Almighty.
THE THAMUD COUNTRY
In the earliest ages, the idolatrous and debauched inhabitants of Thamud, proud of the prosperity of their seven towns and massive dwellings, hewn out of the solid rock, welcomed with derision the Prophet Salih, sent by Allah to lead them in the right path.
So as to show them that his mission was genuine, Salih implored the Most High to grant him the aid of a miracle. Thereupon, a rock split itself, with a roar which may be compared to that of ocean waves, and brought forth a wonder in the shape of a gigantic she-camel, wonderfully hairy and advanced ten months in pregnancy. She dropped a little foal, already weaned, and bearing an astonishing resemblance to its mother.
Miracles have nearly always been powerless to convert hardened sinners and the only result of this marvel was a recrudescence of perversity among the people of Thamud. To testify how little they valued such a portent, these impious wretches resolved to do away with the prodigy. With sharp blades, they studded the two steep sides of a narrow rocky pass, through which, each morning, the she-camel passed to graze in the plains. In the evening, returning with her little camel, she rushed through and tore her flanks most cruelly. The poor beast, quivering, uttered groans and, it is said, the echo thereof resounds even nowadays, from time to time. She dropped down and died at the egress of the defile that was called: “Al-Huwayra,”—the camel-foal—remarkable by reason of a rock that took on a faithful resemblance to the young animal.
Salih, after such sacrilege, realised how useless were his efforts, and called down the curse of Allah on the head of the Thamud people, upon whom punishment was quickly inflicted: “And they hewed them out secure abodes in the mountains * But they rebelled against their Lord’s command: so the tempest took them as they watched its coming … * So that they were not able to stand upright, and could not help themselves…. * We sent against them a single shout; and they became like the dry sticks of the fold-builders.” (The Qur’an, xv, 82. li, 44, 46. liv, 31.)
Ever since the wrath of Heaven destroyed its inhabitants, the country of Thamud is deserted. The abodes of this ungodly people alone were left and are still remaining. Under the brows of their frontals, the wide-open doors look like the pupils of fantastic eyes, dilated by the horror of the formidable sight they witnessed. The crevices scarring the walls seem, likewise, to be mouths distorted by affright and calling out to those who dare set foot in this desolate domain: “Admire by our example, the vanity of mortals’ pride and the emptiness of their undertakings. Who can describe the mighty efforts by which our masters carved us out of the heart of the mountain and adorned us with slender pillars and graceful sculpture? Sheltered in our bosom, stronger than iron, were they wrong to reckon that they were in perfect safety?
“How mad were they! In vain their contracted hands clung despairingly to the angles of our walls, the storm of divine wrath passed over them … and they disappeared for evermore. Even we tottered on our foundations like unto the limbs of a man devoured by fever whose teeth chatter noisily. If we were spared, it was only so that we might serve as a lesson to travellers straying into our mournful land.”
When the army of the Believers penetrated into the midst of strangely-shaped stone blocks, emerging like reefs from a sea of sand, and showing in their smooth sides the dark openings that were the abodes of the people of Thamud, the Prophet covered his face with a corner of his mantle, so as to avoid looking at these vestiges of impiety. He closed his mouth and nostrils, not wishing to breathe the impure air emanating from the ruins, and urged on his camel to get away from them as quickly as possible.
Fearing lest irresistible curiosity might lead the Soldiers of Islam astray, he exhorted them thus: ‘If ye enter these dens of the ungodly, do so only with tears in your eyes as ye recall their sad fate.’ He knew that tears of this kind, welling up by reason of such terrible remembrances, would cause the attraction of curiosity to be dominated by fear of the Almighty. Impressed, however, by the strangeness of these dwellings, seemingly those of superhuman beings or evil spirits; and by the deathly silence that reigned in these parts where formerly a powerful people lived a riotous life of pride and debauchery, the Faithful sought but to follow the example of their inspired guide and flee from the accursed ruins.
Besides, the soldiers were urged onwards by thirst; and when, in the midst of the sandy plains, the famous well of the Thamud people came in sight where the she-camel of the miracle used to drink, they broke their ranks in the greatest disorder, trying to outstrip each other, racing to be the first to slake their thirst. The Prophet, who had been unable to restrain them, hurried along with his she-camel, caught them up, and gave his orders in accents of great severity: ‘Beware of that water, tainted by impiety. Take care not to use it for drinking purposes; nor for your ablutions; nor for cooking your food! Let all who have drunk of it, vomit it forth! Those who have kneaded “hays” with it must throw that “hays” to their camels! Those who have used it to cook their victuals must scatter those victuals on the ground without touching them!’ To put an end to all temptation, he ordered the march to be resumed, without taking into account the fatigue or the thirst of his troops.
His face still veiled by a fold of his mantle, the Prophet, obeyed and followed blindly by his soldiers, among whom deception and suffering had not caused the slightest murmur, soon reached the entrance to the narrow, weird pass of the “Mabraku’n-Naqa.”
Skirted on each side by crags from one hundred and fifty to two hundred cubits high, the dark defile produced the most sinister impression. The Faithful felt their breasts shrinking as if crushed between the dizzy dominating walls. What they most feared was to hear the resounding echoes of the miraculous, disembowelled she-camel. In that case, no power on earth could have mastered the mad terror that must have overwhelmed the animals ridden by the soldiers. By dint of wild leaps and bounds, the camels would have thrown off their loads of arms and food, and ridding themselves of their drivers, taken to flight; when, after throwing down and trampling all those who might have tried to stop them, the men must have been abandoned on foot in the midst of the most frightful of all deserts.
The slightest noises, amplified by the sonorous echoes of the rocky heights, made the Believers start and shudder. They went on in the most profound silence, thinking only of how best to speed their camels. At last the lugubrious passage was traversed; the soldiers’ breath came and went normally in their breasts now relieved of all oppression, and a wide, open space, suitable for pitching the tents, offered itself to their gaze.
When the Believers had finished the work of encampment, the Prophet warned them that a heavy tempest would rage during the night, and he enjoined them solemnly: ‘Let those in charge of camels tie them securely and no man leave his tent without a companion.’
They had scarcely time to give a look at the hobbles of their beasts than the Prophet’s prediction began to come true. The sun had set, covered by a misty veil, contrasting with its habitual sumptuous purple; its rayless pallor was the sign of an extraordinary storm.
All of a sudden, a brownish curtain sprung up from the horizon, to drag in its moving folds the orb of day, and the shades of coming night took on a tarry tint. The darkness thickened to such an extent that each man might have thought he was struck blind. A strange rumbling sound arose from the depth of the desert and approached with incredible rapidity, soon changing its deafening uproar which might have been taken for the hissing of monstrous vipers, accompanied by diabolical vociferation. At the same moment, the camp was crushed by a gigantic whirling spout of sand, tearing away in its gyrations everything that was not securely fastened. The pitchy darkness gave way to yellow obscurity, still more impenetrable to the eye.
Sheltered behind their camels, turning their backs to the tempest whilst shuddering and snorting in terror, the Faithful veiled their faces and covered their arms and legs, so as to guarantee their limbs against the fury of the raging sand that sank painfully into their flesh like thousands of wasps’ stings. The soldiers flattened themselves face downwards on the ground, digging in their nails; holding fast in fear of being swept away like flock of wool….
Despite the horror of the hour, two soldiers forgot the formal directions of the Prophet. One of them, urged by necessity, left the encampment and at once fell suffocated. The other tried to run after his maddened camel that had broken its trammels and galloped away, only to be caught immediately in the whirlwind, and rolled round and round in its spirals, like a pebble spinning when hurled from a sling; and he was whisked up to the summit of the Jabala Tay. When told of this, the Prophet exclaimed: ‘Did I not forbid you to leave the camp without a companion?’
He invoked the Mercy of the Compassionate in favour of the suffocated soldier who gradually regained consciousness and came back to life. As for the other victim, the Tay mountains restored him when the expedition returned.
The hurricane, at last, after having exhausted its impotent fury against the soldiers of Allah, passed away to ravage other regions and the Faithful had no further accidents to deplore. But they were broken down by their former difficult marches; and that night, instead of granting invigorating rest, only brought them fresh fatigue. The simoon having dried up the last vestiges of moisture in their bodies, their thickened blood circulated difficultly in their veins and the beatings of their temples led to unbearable singing in the ears.
What would become of them on the long road they still had to travel before reaching the first well? The aspect of the surrounding country was not at all calculated to encourage them. They fancied that they were tramping through the ruins of a world destroyed by an inconceivable outbreak of fire. A black line marked the horizon: the never-ending Harra, which seemed in some parts to be formed of coal, soot and ashes; and in others, of iron congealed when molten, with enormous bubbles which, in bursting, had laid great crevices open, bordered with scattered slag as sharp as broken glass….
There, at any rate, the flames were extinguished, whereas, on the way they went, fires seemed to be still smouldering. Blocks of rock rose up on all sides, like a real forest, and by their shape and colour, they could bear comparison with gigantic tree-trunks, partly calcined and partly incandescent. Some were distorted in such strange fashion that, in the eyes of the Faithful, they looked like mouthing demons escaped from Hell and posted where they stood to revel in the torments of Allah’s soldiers passing by.
Slippery slabs and pointed black stones of volcanic origin covered the earth, except where it was carpeted by sand of dazzling whiteness which, by its intense reverberation, kindled myriads of white-hot embers under every stone and in all the windings and turnings of the crags and peaks. Even in the depths of the sapphire sky, a hovering vulture and a rare fleeting cloud were tinted with a bright orange hue, as if they reflected the blaze of an immense furnace. To complete the illusion, lofty pillars of sand hung over all these remains, like columns of smoke issuing from a badly-extinguished conflagration.
The Believers’ eyes, inflamed by the sandstorm, reddened by the refraction on the dunes, produced—even in their sockets—the effect of burning embers. Each time they put their feet, lacerated by the pebbles of the Hammada, to the overheated ground, their sufferings were unbearable. Their thickened saliva, mixed with impalpable dust, formed a firm paste, which the throat would not allow to pass. Their skin, stretched as on a drumhead, resounded at the slightest touch, cracking in broad furrows, and split lips made speech impossible.
Some of the soldiers were a prey to delirium, caused by thirst; a sure sign of death. To bring them back to life, the only resource of their companions was to make the sufferers drink the liquid contained in the stomach of a slaughtered camel, and to plaster the dying man’s parched breast with the still moist residue.
The Prophet endured the sufferings of each of his disciples, but at no moment was his confidence shaken; he knew that if Allah often sees fit to put His servants to the test, never does He abandon them. So Mohammad never ceased to implore His mercy.
Would the day never come to an end? The sun, as if fastened in the sky by invisible bonds, at last seemed determined to come down to earth. The orb was veiled, as on the preceding eve; its ruby disc was swallowed up on the horizon by the dark cloud in waiting and which, travelling fast towards the zenith, covered the camp with an ebony canopy, fringed with stalactites reflecting coppery tints. A series of lightning flashes struck furiously against the sides of this cupola, breaking it into a thousand fragments. From between them, large drops of rain escaped, and then came more and more, to be followed at last by a diluvian downpour. The poor, parched soldiers shuddered delightfully in feelings of indescribable comfort when the blessed shower, soaking through their garments, refreshed their racked limbs; and they rushed to quench their thirst at the numerous pools which the waters of the heavens, rolling in cascades on the bare slopes, formed in every depression of the soil.
Thus reinvigorated, and their goat-skins filled again, the Believers joyfully resisted the fatigue of the march between each successive halting-place and finally emerged, safe and sound, from that accursed region.
ARRIVAL AND SOJOURN OF THE PROPHET AT TABUK
A vast plain of sparkling sand, streaked by a thin line of a beautiful peacock blue, now spread itself out to the gaze of the Prophet and his men. This line, the goal of their efforts, soon became notched; and at last appeared, sharply outlined on the turquoise sky, the slender tufts of the palm-trees of which it was formed.
This was the oasis of Tabuk! No pen can describe the joy of those, who having endured the anguish of thirst, arrived at this safe haven, an oasis of date-trees; nor give an idea of the expression on their faces when, having slaked their thirst and performed their ablutions, they looked down on the crystal water rippling in the “Sawaqi;” nor of their satisfaction when they laid themselves down in the light shade of the palm-trees.
The Prophet’s soldiers had got through the hardest part of their task. They had triumphed over the obstacles opposed to them by Nature, and henceforward could look with deep disdain on any barriers formed by the weapons of the Infidels. Besides, thanks to the fantastic rapidity with which tidings travel through the desert, their arrival at Tabuk soon came to the ears of the Christians and the Syrian Arabs who had formed a coalition to fight the Believers.
The enemies of Allah were overcome by stupor, for they had felt certain that if the Prophet should try to carry out his audacious plan at such a time of year, the bones of all the men of his army would be scattered over the lonely Hijaz wilderness.
Therefore, in spite of their enormous numerical superiority, they concluded that any struggle against forty thousand Believers who had just accomplished this prodigious feat would be madness, and finish by overwhelming their opponents with indescribable disaster. Strife broke the ranks of their innumerable army, and each party it comprised fled towards its own part of the country without having dared to face the Prophet. The pitiful helter-skelter retreat of the allies enhanced the magic power of Islam as greatly as the most brilliant victory; and if Mohammad had not been kept back by the necessity of fulfilling his mission in the Hijaz before any other undertaking, he could have penetrated in the depth of the Palatinat almost without striking a blow.
As it was, established at Tabuk, he received the eager submission of the Arab lords who hurried to him, one and all, coming not only from the vicinity, but also from distant regions, such as those of Sinai and Syria. Alone, the proud Prince of “Dawmatu’l-Jandal,” an important town situated on the outskirts of the “Nefud” (Desert of Red Sand), having refused submission, the Prophet sent Khalid the Terrible to him; and he was brought to his knees at once.
During the few weeks’ rest granted to his army, Mohammad never ceased the work of organising the country and teaching new converts.
One event only saddened him in his success: the death of a most devoted comrade, known as “Dhu Nijadayn,” (the man with the two shoulder-belts). To prove to all in what esteem he held this perfect Mussulman, he insisted in helping, with his own noble hands, the gravedigger to lower the body into the earth, and Ibn Mas’ud, jealous at seeing the dead man so highly honoured, exclaimed: ‘Ah! why am I not buried in that tomb?’
THE PROPHET GOES BACK TO AL-MADINAH
The return journey took place without any incident worthy of narration. The hot months having gone by, the army was spared the pangs of thirst; and during the first days of the month of Ramadhan, the soldiers re-entered Al-Madinah.
In such a moment, in the midst of the acclamations greeting the returning, energetic soldiers, the perfidious “qawm” of the “Hypocrites” knew not where to turn to hide their shame. To palliate their meanness, they invoked the most specious pretexts in vain. The Apostle did not even deign to honour them by resentment, reserved for the shaming of the three Ansars, deterred from their duty by the double-faced crew.
Despite the repentant humility of the abashed men, the Prophet sentenced them most rigorously by putting them under interdict and forbidding the Believers to have anything to do with them. The delinquents were completely isolated and the Faithful fled from them as if they were plague-stricken. Allah, notwithstanding, moved by their remorse, pardoned them:
“He hath also turned in Mercy unto the three who were left behind, so that the earth, spacious as it is, became too strait for them; and their souls became so straitened within them, that they bethought them that there was no refuge from Allah but unto Himself. Then was he turned to them that they might turn to him. Verily Allah is He that turneth, the Merciful!” (The Qur’an, ix, 119.)
The “Ghazwah” of Tabuk was the last expedition led by the Prophet. To conclude the conquest of Arabia, he was satisfied thenceforth to send his lieutenants to accomplish a certain number of “Saraya” or expeditions, all fully successful, but which it would take too long to describe here.
He dwelt in Al-Madinah, kept busy in receiving the numerous submissions brought about by the victories of Islam. There were those of the Princes of Dawmatu’l-Jandal; of the Yaman; of the Uman, of Buhayra; of the Yamama; of Taif; of Najran, etc. He also devoted his energies to the most difficult task of governing the Arabs, for the first time united to form a people of brothers; and in his work as legislator, he displayed the resources of as much genius as when he was at the head of his armies.
About this time, the famous chief of the “Hypocrites,” Abdullah ibn Salul, died. Seized with remorse in his last moments, Abdullah implored Mohammad’s pardon and, despite the objections of ungovernable Umar, the Prophet was not to be stopped from saying prayers over the body of his perfidious foe and burying him with his own hands. After this proof of clemency and forgetfulness of offences, there no longer remained a single “Hypocrite” in Al-Madinah.
In his turn, Ka’b ibn Zuhayr, who had passed his life in composing virulent satires against the Prophet, came to be converted by him, and recited a poem which he had written in his honour. When Ka’b got as far as the fifty-first verse:
“The Messenger of Allah is a flaming sword illuminating mortals; a sword of India, unsheathed by Allah,” Mohammad pardoned him, making him a present of his mantle which he threw over the poet’s shoulders.
After the return of his victorious lieutenants, the Prophet despatched missionaries to the newly-converted tribes, in order to prevent them backsliding by introducing any of their past superstitions into the religion.
One of the principal missionaries was Mu’adh ibn Jabal, who was about to set out for the Yaman. So that all should see the consideration he attached to the mission entrusted to Mu’adh, the Prophet bound a turban round his envoy’s head, helped him to mount his camel, and walked by the animal’s side, giving final instructions. Mu’adh confused, made as if to alight, but Mohammad stopped him. ‘Remain in the saddle, O sincere friend!’ he said. ‘I follow the orders of Heaven and satisfy my heart. It is needful that a man performing important duties should be honoured. Ah! if only I had hopes of seeing thee again, I should cut our conversation short; but probably I now speak to thee for the last time.’ Much moved, they separated; never to meet again in this world….
In the month of Zu’l-Qa’dah, the Apostle, ever mindful of the religious and political importance of the pilgrimage to Makkah, sent Abu Bakr to accomplish it at the head of three hundred Mussulmans. Scarcely had Abu Bakr reached Zu’l Holifah, when the Surah of “Bara’ah” was revealed:
“O Believers! only they who join gods with Allah (that is to say, those who in any way whatsoever, associate Allah the Only One with other divinities or persons) are unclean! Let them not therefore, after this their year, come near the Sacred Temple (of Makkah).” (The Qur’an, ix, 28.)
This Surah, remarkable as being the only one in the Qur’an without the introductory form: “In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate,” was of the greatest importance, in so far as the pilgrimage was concerned. It forbid all who were not Mussulmans from setting foot in Holy Territory and even nowadays this prohibition being rigorously enforced, the pilgrims of Islam are safeguarded against enemy spies, and protected from the unseemly curiosity of foreigners.
This was also the final blow struck at idolatry among the Arabs who could no longer come to Makkah unless they disowned their idols. Consequently, the Prophet charged Ali to rejoin the pilgrims’ caravan in all haste and recite this imperative Surah to the assembled Faithful, after the sacrifices had been made in the valley of Mina.
THE VALEDICTORY PILGRIMAGE
(Zul-Hijjah, in Year X of the Hegira, March A.D. 632)
The following year, the Prophet determined to lead the pilgrimage to Makkah personally. Since the Hegira, he had only accomplished the “Amratu’l-Qada,” or pious visitation, at a time when Makkah had not yet been entirely won over to Islam. Now the “Hajj u’l-Akbar,” or Greater Pilgrimage, which imposes, besides the visit to the Sacred Temple of Allah, a visit to the mountain of Arafa, or of Recognition, (so called because our first parents, Adam and Eve, met each other there after having been driven out of Paradise), is one of the five pillars of the practical religion of Islam.
Mohammad also wished to see his native land for the last time, having a presentiment of his coming end, for he felt himself secretly undermined by the vestiges of poison remaining in his veins. He solemnly announced his intention. The idea of seeing the Apostle of Allah and accomplishing the pilgrimage with him, stirred the enthusiasm of the whole of Arabia, and the number of pilgrims who accompanied him from Al-Madinah or joined him on the way, may be set down at about hundred thousand.
At Zu’l Hobfah, all the Faithful, following the Prophet’s example, put themselves in the state of “Ihram,” as described in the chapter of al-Hudaibiyah, and assumed the robe also called “Ihram,” consisting of two seamless wrappers free from any dye likely to stain the skin. One piece of drapery is wrapped round the waist and the other, thrown loosely over the shoulders, covers the chest; the head, arms, and legs being left bare. After the Prophet had proclaimed the “Talbiyah,” the pilgrims took it up in chorus: “I stand up for thy service, O Allah! There is no Partner with Thee! Verily Thine is the Praise, the Blessing and the Kingdom!“
During the journey, two unimportant incidents arose which we note nevertheless, because they show that a pilgrim is obliged to suppress all feelings of impatience or anger. The camel of Safiyah, one of the Prophet’s wives, was a slow animal, and being heavily laden, did not keep up with the caravan, despite the efforts of its driver. Ayishah’s camel, possessing a good turn of speed and lightly burdened, Mohammad, after having tried to explain these facts to its fair rider, gave orders to change the loads of the two animals. But this displeased Ayishah. She lost her temper and cried out: ‘Thou sayest thou art Prophet? Then why not do things justly?’
No sooner had these words escaped her lips, than her father, Abu Bakr, slapped her face; and as Mohammad upbraided him, he replied: ‘Didst hear what she said?’—’Yea; but she must be excused. The essence of a woman’s mind is jealousy; and when jealousy masters her, she is incapable of seeing in what direction runs the current of a wadi!’
On arriving at the encampment of Al-Arj, the camel carrying the provisions of the Prophet and of Abu Bakr was missing. Ayishah’s father laid the blame on the driver: ‘How’s this? Thou hadst but one camel to look after and thou hast let it go astray?’ Carried away by great anger, Abu Bakr, with his whip, gave the man a good hiding. ‘Admire the conduct of this pilgrim in the state of “Ihram!”‘ said the Prophet, ironically. ‘Come now, O Abu Bakr, be calm, and rest assured that thy serving-man’s sole desire was not to lose thy camel.’
The caravan took the same road as that of the pious visitation. The Prophet entered Makkah in open day, and made his she-camel kneel in front of the entrance of the Sacred Precincts, called the “Door of Salvation,” and on catching sight of the Ka’bah, he exclaimed: ‘O Allah, increase the glory of this Temple and the number of its visitors!’
After three ablutions, he kissed the Black Stone, whilst tears welled up in his eyes. He then performed the “Tawaf,” and the “Sa’y,” in the same way as during the pious visit.
On the eighth day of the month of Zu’l-Hijjah, he went to the valley of Mina where he caused a tent of woollen stuff to be pitched; and it was there he said the prayers of the afternoon; of sunset; and of nightfall. Next day, after the prayer of the “Fajr,” he once more bestrode his she-camel, al-Qaswa, in order to reach the mountain of Arafa.
Countless crowds having gathered on the mountain’s rocky slopes, as well as on the plain and in the surrounding ravines, the Prophet preached, remaining on his she-camel which he had ridden and halted on the summit. Standing immediately beneath him, was Rabiyah ibn Ummayatah, posted there to repeat the words of the sermon, with his resounding voice, during a pause made for that purpose at the conclusion of each sentence.
After Allah had been glorified by the “Takbir,” the Prophet exhorted the Faithful to treat their wives with the greatest gentleness, and never to forget that the rights of spouses are equal to their duties. He explicitly forbade the exaction of any interest whatsoever on money lent; and no murders committed during the “days of ignorance” were to be avenged. He fixed the duration of the year at twelve lunar months; and declared that the “Nasi,” which added a month every three years to reestablish equilibrium and bring the same dates back to the same seasons, was impious and must be abolished….
He then concluded, as he cried: ‘O Believers, your blood and your belongings ought to be looked upon as holy to each of you, even as this day is holy and as this land is holy! O Believers, remember what I say, for I know not if ever I shall be with you again on this spot, when this day is past. And, above all, never forget that every Mussulman should be truly a brother to every other Mussulman, for all the Mussulmans in the world form a single people of brothers!… O Allah! have I fulfilled my Mission?’—’Yea, verily, O Allah!’ replied in unanimous outcry the hundred thousand mouths of the pilgrims, in accents of the most ardent gratitude.—’O Allah! hearken to their testimony!’ cried Mohammad.
At another spot, near the summit of the Arafa, and known by the name of “As-Sakhrah,” recognisable by being paved with broad slabs, a sudden Revelation came down to the Prophet. Under the burden of Divine Inspiration penetrating the heart of her rider, the she-camel al-Qaswa came nigh to breaking all her limbs, and she fell on her knees.
Here are the words of Allah, the Most High: “This day have I perfected your religion for you, and have filled up the measure of my favours towards you; and it is my pleasure that Islam be your religion….” (The Qur’an, v, 5.)
This Revelation, terminating the Prophet’s sermon which had so deeply touched the Believers, stirred up the purest enthusiasm in the whole of the Assembly.
Nevertheless, Abu Bakr, far from participating in the general joy, was seized with a fit of intense melancholy, and was unable to hold back the tears that filled his eyes. He thought that having found favour in the eyes of the Almighty, His mercy was bound to decrease. Knowing that his son-in-law’s Mission was terminated, Abu Bakr was afraid that the Prophet would soon disappear from this world….
The indigo shades of night had fallen over the valley and spread along the slopes of the Arafa. All by himself, on the mountain top, overlooking the great multitude of pilgrims, the Prophet, on the back of his tall she-camel, still remained in the light of the last golden rays of sunset. His glance, ecstatic by faith, was resplendent with superhuman brilliancy; but his face, emaciated by illness, had taken on the immaterial aspect of a vision about to fade…. The rising shadows reached and veiled him….
It was now the turn of the companions of the Prophet to find themselves overcome by the same mournful apprehension that Abu Bakr had felt, although scarcely a few moments before, they were manifesting their joy at hearing that their religion had been perfected by Allah…. By degrees, their emotion was communicated to the entire assembly of the Believers and their hundred thousand hearts were filled with the keenest anguish.
The Prophet gave the signal of departure; but to prevent the accidents which any haste would inevitably cause among the great masses of such a gathering, he tugged the bridle of swift Qaswa to him, twisting her head round until her nostrils touched her ribs, whilst he slid on to her withers; unceasingly exhorting all: ‘Go quietly, O ye people!’
On arriving at Muzdalifa, he said the prayer, “Isha,” and next day, after the daybreak prayer, riding his she-camel, led by Bilal, and protected from the sun by a mantle that Usama, riding behind him, held over his head, he went into the valley of Mina, in order to throw seven stones against each of the three pillars of rude masonry, called “Jumurat.” This is in commemoration of the pebbles thrown by Abraham to drive away the Devil who thrice tried to stop him at that spot.
After that, the Prophet, to prove his gratitude for the sixty-three years of life granted to him by the Creator, freed sixty-three slaves and, with his own hands, sacrificed sixty-three camels, their flesh and skins being distributed among the pilgrims by Ali, acting under Mohammad’s orders. He then had his head shaved by Mi’mar ibn Abdullah, who commenced at the right temple and finished at the left. Finally, after having once more performed the “Tawaf” round the Kab’ah, and drunk for the last time some Zamzam water in a vase offered to him by his uncle Abbas, the Superintendent of the Well, he set out again on the road to Al-Madinah.
Such was the pilgrimage called the “Valedictory Visitation,” which overwhelmed the Believers with such deep emotion by apprising them that Mohammad’s Mission was fulfilled. This pilgrimage serves as a pattern for all the pilgrimages which, during thirteen centuries, have brought annually to these Holy Places, one hundred and fifty to two hundred thousand pilgrims, collected from all parts of the universe.
Any pilgrimage, be the religion giving rise to it what it may, causes inexpressible emotion by the sight of so many faces beaming with faith; and the most sceptical among the onlookers finds it difficult to escape the contagion of this outbreak of fervour. But, among the majority of the spectators, inadmissible practices soon overcome sympathetic feelings and change them into aversion. At Makkah, doubtless, as in all religious centres without exception, pilgrims are ruthlessly exploited; but in this city, at least, the traffickers may be excused: they dwell in the most inhospitable of all deserts and have no other means of getting a living.
What makes the Mussulman pilgrimage essentially different to any other, is the absence of those innumerable chapels, whose narrow arches imprison souls, hampering them as they soar towards the Creator and holding them back on earth at the mercy of the clergy. Here are no fetishes, such as statuettes or miraculous icons, surrounded by their procession of votive offerings; nor that multitude of saints, their worship taking the place of that of the “Eternal,” generally neglected on these occasions. There are also none of those monks clad in varied gowns, all jealous of each other; quarrelling over pilgrims and religious resorts for the greater glory of their sect or order.
At Makkah, prayers are said in the vast quadrangular courtyard surrounding the Ka’bah; the ethereal vault of heaven takes the place of the masonry work of chapel roofs and, purified from all its mists, it opens to souls thirsting for ideal good, its lapis-lazuli depths, more vertiginous here than in any other part of the world. At Makkah, nothing is worshipped except Allah, the Chosen One, and pilgrims seek the remembrance of Abraham and Mohammad for no other reason than to strengthen the fervour of their faith by following the Prophet’s example. They never pray to these Prophets in the same way as Christians adore their saints; on the contrary, Moslems pray to Allah for their prophets.
The gates of the Ka’bah enclosure are open day and night. The pilgrim hurries there as soon as he gets to Makkah. At the sight of the temple draped in black, the object of his unceasing thoughts during the severe ordeals of the journey, in the midst of sandstorms or tempest-tossed, he is overtaken by such emotion that in this moment of superhuman ecstasy, he wishes his soul to be snatched away. Sobbing, his breast heaving fitfully, under the influence of remorse, his face convulsed by shame, he approaches the Black Stone to kiss it, exclaiming: ‘O Allah! pardon me my sins; free my being from their burden and purify my heart, O Thou, the most Merciful among the Compassionate!’
When the hour of prayer is called by the Muazzin, the spacious quadrangle is invaded by a veritable sea of Believers; their hurrying waves scarcely leaving in the serried ranks the needful space for prostration. Following one of the “Takbirs” of the Imam, said after him in an immense sigh escaping simultaneously from every breast, a great swell passes over all the Faithful, causing every head to be bowed, like billows breaking.
At another “Takbir,” it seems that the ground suddenly gives way under the pilgrims’ feet. At one bound, every forehead is pressed to the earth, where the body of each man remains crushed by the threefold weight of Contrition, Gratitude and Adoration; like so many rays converging in the direction of the Temple which seems to be made still taller by the added height of the prostrated pilgrims. Above them, the black silk veil undulates, stirred by the gusts of a mysterious breeze which many attribute to angels’ beating wings.
The Assembly of the Arafa is distinguished by quite as much grandeur. In a wild valley stands the conical mountain of Arafa. Its slopes, bare of all vegetation, bristle with enormous boulders. There is no sign of life on its sides, nor in the neighbourhood; all around is the image of desolation and the silence of death. But every year, on the ninth day of the month of Zu’l-Hijjah, the funereal landscape evokes most strikingly the future Day of Resurrection.
Soil, sand and rocks disappear, truly cloaked by human beings, enwrapped in their white “ihrams,” and who might be taken for the resuscitated dead, freeing themselves from their shrouds after having lifted the rocks which were their gravestones. As it will happen on that supreme day, all the earth’s races are represented in the countless crowds gathered together at this spot, deserted but a short time before. Here some Arabs, with eyes of eagles, their complexion of a reddish bronze; Ottomans, their features showing them to be energetic and headstrong; Hindoos, with faces clear-cut and olive-tinted; Berbers, fair-haired and rosy-cheeked, their eyes blue; Somalis and Soudanese, their black skins shining in the sun with lunar gleams; refined Persians; bold Turcomans; yellow Chinese, with closed eyelids; Javanese, high cheek-boned, etc…. Nowhere else in the world can such a variety of faces and languages be met with.
After the prayer of the “Asr,” (afternoon), the “Khatib,” or preacher, riding his she-camel, gorgeously harnessed, appears on the summit of the Arafa where the sermon is given forth, interrupted by frequent “Talbiyahs”: “Labbaika! Allahummah! Labbaika!” (I stand up for Thy service, O Allah! I stand up! I stand up!)
At each “Talbiyah,” the pilgrims wave the ends of their white draperies over their heads and the whole mountain seems to be palpitating under the beating of myriads of wings ready to fly, whilst a lengthy clamour rises to the sky from every part of the valley, reverberating in the sonorous echoes of the desert. “Labbaika! Allahummah! Labbaika!” shout two hundred thousand pilgrims with one voice, neglecting their own idioms, so as to become united in the same tongue: that of the Arabs, chosen by the Almighty for the Revelation of His Book.
In that sublime hour, in language as well as by the heart, all these mortals are cordially brothers. They have forgotten all their racial differences, distinctions of rank or caste, and all their political and religious feuds…. On the Arafa, Islam once more finds its perfect unity and its primitive outbreak of enthusiasm. What great consolation! What balm for some of its wounds!
Quoth the Prophet: ‘The Moslems are as one body; the pain in any single limb gives rise to fever and insomnia in the whole of the frame.’
On the Arafa, Islam has nothing to fear from enemy spies; it can make good its losses and prepare its future. Despite its disasters, it is more alive than ever! Such is the impression of this unforgettable day, that each of the assistants takes back with him to his own country, as well as the title, so greatly envied, of “Haji,” signifying Pilgrim to the Holy Places.
Say: Go through the earth, and see how He hath brought forth created beings.