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Judaism, Christianity and Islam all began as versions of what we would today call political movements. Hence political and military warfare today in the name of religion and sectarianism. Historians are not challenging the Prophets (peace be upon them) or Allah. They only report on what they have observed and these are the accounts from the earliest Muslim historians. Divinely revealed holy books were used to resist imperial oppression, to unite a disparate people or both. If early Islam is observed in this light then its history poses few mysteries. The Prophet (عليه السلام) appears as a visionary political leader and the triumphs of early Islam a sign of his action programme. The philosopher Bertrand Russell once remarked that early Islam was "practical, social, unspiritual, concerned to win the empire of the world". He's philosophically correct otherwise it would have stayed in the Arabian peninsula instead of spreading throughout the continents. Islam never spread by itself by some force of miracle. The universal philosophy of existence contained the Qu'ran had to be transported throughout the continents. Sections of the Qu'ran remind one of the vigour of the founding manifesto of a new political organisation. At times the tone towards its Jewish and Christian rivals becomes ultra-factional. The same sort of ultra-factionalism that extremist Sunni clerics deploy against "Shia heretics". And vice-versa. It is this aspect of Islam that makes the history of its rapid growth genuinely fascinating. Around AD 629-it is the year 8 of the new Muslim calendar even though it has yet to be recorded as such at the time. Twenty armed horse-men are on their way to the sanctuary of the popular Meccan goddess, Manat. The men and their leader (Sa'ad) have been dispatched by the Prophet(عليه السلام) to destroy the statue of the goddess of fortune. For 8 years (as explained by the early Muslim historians) the Prophet (عليه السلام) had uneasily tolerated the existence between the pagan male God and his 3 daughters: al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat. The tribal politics of the period necessitated that the Prophet (عليه السلام) bide his time . While al-Uzza (the morning star-Venus) was the goddess most worshipped by the Quraish (Pre-Islamic), the tribe of the Prophet (عليه السلام), it was Manat(Fate) who was popular in the region as a whole idiolised by 3 key Meccan tribes which the Prophet (عليه السلام) was peacefully converting to the new faith. It wasn't easy as goddesses and gods and paganism dictated the politics of the period (no different to Hindu India with different castes worshipping their own gods). By year 8, three important military victories against rival pagan and Jewish forces had been won. Judaism has never set foot in the Arabian peninsula since then. The tribes had been impressed by the muscularity of the revealed faith. It so transpired that one late afternoon as twilight approached and shadows began to embrace the desert, the Prophet's emissary arrived with his twenty armed horsemen to enforce the revealed monotheism. Manat's sanctuary at Qudayd was situated on the road between Mecca and Medina. The guardian of the sanctuary saw them arrive, noticed by their demeanour that they were not there to offer tokens or sacrifice but did not stand in their way. According to Islamic tradition as Sa'ad went towards the beautifully carved statue of Manat, a naked black woman arose out of nowhere. The guardian called out to her: 'Come, O Manat, show the anger of which you are capable!'. "Manat" began to pull out her and beat her breasts in despair all the while she cursed her tormentors. Sa'ad beat her to death. Sa'ad and the other 19 companions hacked the statue to pieces, this was repeated with the other two statues of al-Lat and al-Uzza. This was repeated by the Taliban in Afghanistan concerning ancient Buddhist statues (despite appeals from Al-Azhar in Egypt and Qom in Iran that "Islam is a tolerant religion" but a a Wahabbi delegation from Saudi Arabia advised the stupid Talibans to go ahead and blow them up, recently Dae'sh did the same in Syria concerning ancient pre-Islamic statues of another ancient era which were world heritage sites.) I can imagine the day Salafists get their bombs on to Shia shrines all over the world from Iran to Iraq and wherever else. The Qu'ran contains a verse which follows as: Have you thought on al-Lat and al-Uzza, And on Manat, the 3rd other? Are you to have the sons and he the daughters? This is indeed an unfair distinction! They are but names which you have and your fathers have invented; Allah has vested no authority in them; the unbelievers follow them but vain conjectures and the whims of their soul, although the guidance of Allah has long since come to them (53.7-11) Six hundred years earlier, the Christian church had been forced into a permanent compromise with pagans, the church was forced to readjust its theology, its new followers were given a woman to worship and not just any woman, this was a woman who had conceived a child with God, even though far removed from the sexual adventures of Zeus (the Greek pagan God) it was a virgin birth but the failure of the early Christian church to effect a break with paganism did not go unnoticed. The emergence of the new faith (Islam), obliterated in entirety the dominant cultural practices of the Peninsula Arabs including all links with polyandry (women having multiple husbands) and a matrilinear past. The Prophet (عليه السلام) himself had been the 3rd and youngest husband of his 1st wife Khadija. I think he was 25 and she 40 when this marriage occurred. Since divorce was widespread and a woman had the right to discard a husband Muslim historians assumed that Khadija had divorced one husband and lost another but the subject was never broached. The influence of these early traditions should not be underestimated. Their similar with non-Arab pre-Islamic cultures of Muslims worldwide and how it causes sectarian clashes and wars between Salafists and their Muslim "heretic" enemies. For these Pre-Islamic Arab tribes, the past was the preserve of their poets who served also as part-time historians, skilfully blending myth and fact in odes designed to heighten the tribal egoisms. The future was considered irrelevant. It was the present that was all-important. The Arabs of the Jahiliyya ( time of ignorance) lived life to the full: Roast flesh, the glow of fiery wine, To speed on camel fleet and soar as they soul lifts to urge her on, though all the hollow's breadth and length; white women statue-like that trail Rich robes of price with golden hem, wealth, easy but, no dread of ill to hear the lute's complaining string These are Life's joys. For man is set The prey of time, and Time is change The Holy Qu'ran counters this view of living la vida loca with the following revelation; they say: 'there is this life and no other life. we die and we live; Nothing but Time destroys us' Surely of this they have no knowledge. They are merely guessing And when our Revelations are recited to them in all their Clarity, their only argument is: 'if what you say is true, Bring back to us our Fathers! Say: 'It is Allah who gives you life and then He causes you to die... (45.246) The tribal humanism of the Pre-Islamic period had many attractive features, but it was incapable of theorising its practice or using it to unite the tribes, let alone raising it to a universal philosophy of existence the drunks and the party freaks that they were. The reason for this was the profusion of gods and goddesses. These were nothing more than supernatural versions of the human, but belief in them perpetuated tribal divisions and disputes, often caused commercial rivalries (Very similar to Hinduism of India, do not underestimate how gods and goddesses in India are used to perpetuate injust caste systems which determines the economic status in society of a human being. No matter how hard working or talented a person maybe.) The world of those days was dominated by merchant caravans. The principle discourse concerned terms of trade. Civil conflicts were common. The Prophet Muhammad (عليه السلام) fully understood this world. a member of the Quraish, an Arab tribe which claimed descent from Ishmael. Before his marriage he had worked as one of Khadija's trusted employees on a merchant caravan. He travelled all over the region, coming into contact with Christians and Jews and Magians and Pagans of every stripe. One can only humbly assume that the journeys provided him with many insights and considerably broadened his mind. The Prophet (عليه السلام) as a well-known fact was known to meditate deeply at the Cave of Hira. The world around him must have weighed heavily on his mind. and spirit. The Meccan traders dealt with two giant neighbours: the Christians of the Byzantine Empire and the fire-worshiping Zoroastrians of Persia. Muslim historians have stressed that the Prophet's (عليه السلام) spiritual drive was partially fuelled by socio-economic passions, by the desire to strengthen the commercial standing of the Arabs and the need to impose a set of common rules some of which are contained in the Holy Qu'ran which, in contrast to the bible, can get impressively practical: Believers, when you contract a debt for a fixed period, put it in writing. Let a scribe write it down for you with fairness; no scribe should refuse to write as God taught him therefore let him write as God taught him... therefore let him write; and let the debtor dictate learning from God his Lord and not diminishing the sum he owes.... parts about women and usury are shockingly detailed. acts of charity etc etc Early Islam encompassed a tribal confederation united by common goals and loyal to a single faith which was both new and universal. Early Islam became the cement utilised to unite the Arab tribes and from the beginning, commerce was regarded as the only noble occupation. The peasants who worked the land were regarded as servile and inferior beings. A telling hadith quotes the Prophet (عليه السلام) on sighting a ploughshare: 'that never enters the house of the faithful without degradation entering at the same time'. Even if the quote was invented, it certainly reflects the thinking of the time otherwise it would not have been invented, if so. The new religious prescriptions made observance in the Muslim countryside virtually impossible. Praying 5 times each day unsurprisingly meant that peasants found it impossible to marry their working conditions to the strict prescriptions of the new faith. This is reflected in almost all Muslim peasants across the non- Arab world. They were the last social layer to accept Islam and some of the earliest deviations from orthodoxy first matured in the Muslim countryside.
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