Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Muhammad and the Natural Law: Murder for Prophet-Al-Nadr and 'Uqba

MUHAMMAD COULD BE MERCILESS in the handling of his political and theological opponents. Another example of this attitude--de rigeur for all good Muslims who strive for that imitation of Muhammad that follows from the perception that he was a perfect man, al-Insan al-Kamil (الإنسان الكامل)--is his treatment of his fellow Quraysh tribesmen, al-Nadr bin al-Harith and 'Uqba bin Abu Mu'ayt. It is true that al-Nadr and 'Uqba were political and theological enemies of Muhammad (but then so is every Westerner and every Jew and Christian, not to mention Buddhist or Hindu or Agnostic or Atheist or Neo-Pagan: indeed everyone except a Muslim, that is, someone who is supposed to think and act like Muhammad).

Al-Nadr opposed himself to the man who claimed to be the exclusive and final spokesman for an Arabic mental idol, and irrepressible figment of diseased imagination which demanded obeisance from all men bar none and on the word of one man alone. A rich merchant, al-Nadr was well-read, was relatively cultured, and so he would compete with Muhammad when Muhammad was at Mecca competing for the ears of his townsmen. He would taunt Muhammad for his historical ignorance, for his copying and re-tailoring the the stories of others, and he rejected the Muhammadan revelations as authentic, accusing them of being asatir al-awwalin (أَسَاطِيرُ الأَوَّلِينَ), tales or fables of the ancients. He was one of those of whom Muhammad complained through the words of Allah:
And when Our Verses (of the Qur'ān) are recited to them, they say: "We have heard this (the Qur'ān); if we wish we can say the like of this. This is nothing but the tales of the ancients."

وَإِذَا تُتْلَى عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتُنَا قَالُوا قَدْ سَمِعْنَا لَوْ نَشَاءُ لَقُلْنَا مِثْلَ هَذَا إِنْ هَذَا إِلاَّ أَسَاطِيرُ الأَوَّلِين
Qur'an 8:31.*

Al-Nadr fought Muhammad and his troops at the Battle of Badr and had the misfortune of captured. Muhammad then ordered him killed, and his son-in-law `Ali cut off al-Nadr's head with the blade of his sword.

The entire event between Muhammad and al-Nadr is handled by the Muslim historian Ibn Ishaq, and all references or quotes in this post will be to that work as translated by A. Guillaume.**

Al-Nadr bin al-Harith, a leader of the Abu Nashim tribe, is introduced by Ibn Ishaq as a leader among the Quraysh, Muhammad's own greater tribe at Mecca. When introduced to him in Ibn Ishaq's biography of Muhammad, al-Nadr is conferring with his fellow leaders on how to handle the erratic Muhammad--then without political power and relying entirely on the protection of his uncle Abu Talib and the wealth of his wife Khadija. In the elders' view, Muhammad was an impertinet rabble rouser, breaching the peace with his demands and eccentric behavior. And so they decide to make him an offer:
If it was money he wanted, they would make him the richest of them all; if it was honour, he should be their prince; if it was sovereignty, they would make him king; if it was a spirit which had got possession of him (they used to call the familiar spirit of the jinn ra'iy), then they would exhaust their means in finding medicine to cure him.
But this was a time when Muhammad was in Mecca, before he tasted political power, and he appeared to have some integrity, though if not integrity, perhaps it was merely a self-righteous, priggish response which was his way of making himself better that his elders:
The apostle replied that he had no such intention. He sought not money, nor honour, nor sovereignty, but God had sent him as an apostle, and revealed a book to him, and commanded him to become an announcer and a warner. He had brought them the messages of his Lord, and given them good advice. If they took it then they would have a portion in this world and the next; if they rejected it, he could only patiently await the issue until God decided between them, or words to that effect.
Life, 133-34. The Muhammad at Mecca is a man a moral man can like. The Muhammad at Medina is a man a moral man begins to despise. It is the Muhammad at Medina that is the hero of Muslims: the majority of the Qur'anic revelations at Mecca abrogated by the later ones of Medina. Muhammad's life, like the Qur'an, may be divided in twain: the Meccan and the Medinan, pre-Hegira and post-Hegira. White and black are these two lives, almost opposites like the flag of the caliphate and the flag of jihad. It is as if a spirit of darkness entered into Muhammad during his Hegira to Medina: introivit in eum satanas.

Faced with Muhammad's pretentious response, the leaders of Mecca mocked him, challenged him, demanded from him proof of his divine warrant, asked for a sign, a miracle, anything except his own witness. How else distinguish him from a mere charlatan? But Muhammad could give them none of these. He was the sole witness of his claimed authenticity. His prophetic office was pulled up by his own bootstraps. Muhammad was self-ordained:
"Well, Muhammad," they said, "if you won't accept any of our propositions, you know that no people are more short of land and water, and live a harder life than we, so ask your Lord, who has sent you, to remove for us these mountains which shut us in, and to straighten out our country for us, and to open up in it rivers like those of Syria and Iraq, and to resurrect for us our forefathers, and let there be among those that are resurrected for us Qusayy b. Kilab, for he was a true shaikh, so that we may ask them whether what you say is true or false. If they say you are speaking the truth, and you do what we have asked you, we will believe in you, and we shall know what your position with God is, and that He has actually sent you as an apostle as you say."

He replied that he had not been sent to them with such an object. He had conveyed to them God's message, and they could either accept it with advantage, or reject it and await God's judgement.

They said that if he would not do that for them, let him do something for himself. Ask God to send an angel with him to confirm what he said and to contradict them; to make him gardens and castles, and treasures of gold and silver to satisfy his obvious wants. He stood in the streets as they did, and he sought a livelihood as they did. If he could do this, they would recognize his merit and position with God, if he were an apostle as he claimed to be.

He replied that he would not do it, and would not ask for such things, for he was not sent to do so, and he repeated what he had said before.

They said, "Then let the heavens be dropped on us in pieces, as you assert that your Lord could do if He wished, for we will not believe you unless you do so."

The apostle replied that this was a matter for God; if He wanted to do it with them, He would do it.

They said, "Did not your Lord know that we would sit with you, and ask you these questions, so that He might come to you and instruct you how to answer us, and tell you what He was going to do with us, if we did not receive your message? Information has reached us that you are taught by this fellow in al-Yamama, called al-Rahman, and by God we will never believe in the Rahman. Our conscience is clear. By God, we will not leave you and our treatment of you, until either we destroy you or you destroy us." Some said, "We worship the angels, who are the daughters of Allah." Others said, "We will not believe in you until you come to us with God and the angels as a surety."

When they said this the apostle got up and left them.
Life, 134.

One can feel the discomfiture of the powerless Muhammad in the presence of scoffers, of doubters. In Muhammad's defense, any kind of faith does not do well in front of scoffers. But this is nothing unique to Muhammad. It is part and parcel of the rough-and-tumble life of a person who sets himself up as a prophet. We know many prophets are false: indeed, Muhammad has his hand in putting some prophets to death. But even if a prophet is true, he ought to expect resistance, some of which comes in the form of ridicule. It is for this reason that it is practically dogma that a prophet is not honored in his own country. (Cf. John 4:44; Mark 6:4; cf. also Luke 4:28-30.) The Quraysh knew of Muhammad's eccentricities, of his disposition to depression and suicide, of his epilepsy and fits and strange seizures, of his public and unusual praying. For them, Muhammad was human, all too human. But then maybe not. It appears that they misread the man. When he got political power in his hands, and had swords at his command, he was not human, all too human--but inhuman, all too inhuman to his enemies.

When the effort at reconciling Muhammad failed, al-Nadr addressed all the leaders of Mecca gathered before him as follows:
Al-Nadr b. al-Harith b. Kalada b. `Alqama b. Abdu Manaf b. Abdu'l-Dar b. Qusayy got up and said: "O Quraysh, a situation has arisen which you cannot deal with. Muhammad was a young man most liked among you, most truthful in speech, and most trustworthy, until, when you saw grey hairs on his temple, and he brought you his message, you said he was a sorcerer, but he is not, for we have seen such people and their spitting and their knots; you said, a diviner, but we have seen such people and their behaviour, and we have heard their rhymes; and you said a poet, but he is not a poet, for we have heard all kinds of poetry; you said he was possessed, but he is not, for we have seen the possessed, and he shows no signs of their gasping and whispering and delirium. Ye men of Quraysh, look to your affairs, for by God, a serious thing has befallen you."

Now al-Nadr b. al-Harith was one of the satans of Quraysh; he used to insult the apostle and show him enmity. He had been to al-Hira and learnt there the tales of the kings of Persia, the tales of Rustum and Isbandiyar. When the apostle had held a meeting in which he reminded them of God, and warned his people of what had happened to bygone generations as a result of God's vengeance, al-Nadr got up when he sat down, and said, 'I can tell a better story than he, come to me.' Then he began to tell them about the kings of Persia, Rustum and Isbandiyar, and then he would say, 'In what respect is Muhammad a better story-teller than I?'
Life, 135-36.

So the Pagan townspeople of Mecca decided to get advice from the Jews at Medina, which made sense since Muhammad seemed to be drawing on the Jewish traditions, and presumably the Jews knew about prophets. So Al-Nadr and another Meccan named `Uqba bin Abu Mu'ayt went to the Jewish rabbis in Medina to get information from them about what prophethood was all about.

Now 'Uqba was also an enemy of Muhammad. He had once listened to Muhammad and appeared a potential recruit to Muhammad's struggling group of Muslims, but his friend Ubayy ibn Khala ibn Wahb ibn Hudhafa had threatened to break his friendship off if 'Uqba continued to audit Muhammad's preaching, and so 'Uqba departed from Muhammad and turned on him. Life, 164-65. A hadith in Sahih Bukhari 1.9.499 relates how, at a time before Muhammad had political power and lived in Mecca, 'Uqba threw dung, blood and the offal of slaughtered camels on the shoulders of Muhammad when he bowed down for prayers, to the delight of some of the Meccans. It was a slight that Muhammad, who could bear a grudge, would never forget.

So it was that al-Nadr and 'Uqba went to the rabbis and asked them:
"You are the people of the Taurat [Torah], and we have come to you so that you can tell us how to deal with this tribesman of ours."

The rabbis said, "Ask him about three things of which we will instruct you; if he gives you the right answer then he is an authentic prophet, but if he does not, then the man is a rogue, so form your own opinion about him. Ask him what happened to the young men who disappeared in ancient days, for they have a marvelous story. Ask him about the mighty traveler who reached the confines of both East and West. Ask him what the spirit is. If he can give you the answer, then follow him, for he is a prophet. If he cannot, then he is a forger and treat him as you will."

The two men returned to Quraysh at Mecca and told them that they had a decisive way of dealing with Muhammad, and they told them about the three questions.

They came to the apostle and called upon him to answer these questions. He said to them, "I will give you your answer tomorrow," but he did not say, "if God will."

So they went away; and the apostle, so they say, waited for fifteen days without a revelation from God on the matter, nor did Gabriel come to him, so that the people of Mecca began to spread evil reports, saying, "Muhammad promised us an answer on the morrow, and today is the fifteenth day we have remained without an answer."

This delay caused the apostle great sorrow, until Gabriel brought him the Chapter of The Cave,*** in which he reproaches him for his sadness, and told him the answers of their questions, the youths, the mighty traveler, and the spirit.
Life, 136-137.

The answers, a synthesis of Greek, Arab, Jewish, and Christian tales, did not impress al-Nadr. Ibn Ishaq tells us how al-Nadr would follow up Muhammad's recitations of the Qur'an and the warnings to the Quraysh tribe, that al-Nadr would follow with a story about "Rustum the Hero and Isfandiyar and the kings of Persia, saying, 'By God, Muhammad cannot tell a better story than I and his talk is only of old fables which he has copied as I have.'" Life,, 162-163.

When al-Nadr and 'Uqba had the upper hand, they abused Muhammad with words and with offal. But when Muhammad had the upper hand, he was brutal: he heartlessly abused his opponents with the sword.

A Veiled Muhammad Orders Decapitation of His Captive

After the battle of Badr, when the victorious Muslims were heading back to Medina, Ibn Ishaq relates the following:
Then the apostle began his return journey to Medina with the unbelieving prisoners, among whom were 'Uqba b. Abu Mu'ayt and al-Nadr bin Al-Harith. . . . Then the apostle went forward until when he came out of the pass of al-Safra' he halted on the sandhill between the pass and al-Naziya called Sayar at a tree there and divided the booty which God had granted to the Muslims equally. . . . When the apostle was in al-Safra', al-Nadr was killed by `Ali, as a learned Meccan told me. . . . .
Life, 308.

Ibn Ishaq records the plaint of al-Nadr's sister engendered at hearing of the death of her brother at the order of Muhammad:
Qutayla d. al-Harith, sister of al-Nadr b. al-Harith, weeping him said:

O Rider, I think you will reach Uthayl
At dawn of the fifth night if you are lucky.
Greet a dead man there for me.
Swift camels always carry news from me to thee.
(Tell of) flowing tears running profusely or ending in a sob.
Can al-Nadr hear me when I call him,
How can a dead man hear who cannot speak?
O Muhammad, finest child of noble mother,
Whose sire a noble sire was,
'Twould not have harmed you had you spared him.
(A warrior oft spares though full of rage and anger.)
Or you could have taken a ransom,
The dearest price that could be paid.
Al-Nadr was the nearest relative you captured
With the best claim to be released.
The swords of his father's sons came down on him.
Good God, what bonds of kinship there were shattered!
Exhausted he was led to a cold-blooded death,
A prisoner in bonds, walking like a hobbled beast.
Life, 311. A voice was heard at the pass of al-Safra', weeping and loud lamentation, Qutayla weeping for her brother, but she refused to be comforted, because he was no more. He was no more because of Muhammad.

'Uqba suffered a similar fate. Ibn Ishak tells us the following about Muhammad's captive, 'Uqba:
When he was in `Irqu'l-Zabya `Uqba was killed. He had been captured by `Abdullah b. Salima, one of the B. al-`Ajlan.

When the apostle ordered him to be killed `Uqba said, "But who will look after my children?"

"Hell," he said, and `Asim b. Thabit b. Abu'l-Aqlah al-Ansari killed him according to what Abu `Ubayda b. Muhammad b. `Ammar b. Yasir told me.
Life, 308.

Seventy-two Meccan prisoners were made captive by the Mohammadan forces at the Battle of Badr. Seventy traded for ransom. Two, however, killed at the order of Muhammad: al-Nadr and 'Uqba.

Learn well kuffar and mushrikun, unbelievers and Christians, from the example of Muhammad. Muhammad teaches his followers to be heartless to their opponents. He will teach them to feel no softness for the sisters and the children of their enemies, and the sorrow that they may cause them. Turn deaf ears to their pleas, to their wails, to the misery you have caused them, he tells them. Get even! Forget not! Get that revenge! Their children, for all they care, can go to Hell. And this hardness of heart is a fine thing, a very fine thing, a most blessed, noble, and virtuous thing, a divine thing--though it goes against the grain of any humane reasoning--for one ought to remember: in Islam, الله ورسوله أعلم, Allah and his messenger know best, the natural law notwithstanding.

*The Qur'an refers to the asatir al-awwalin (أَسَاطِيرُ الأَوَّلِينَ), the tales or fables of the ancients, in numerous surahs, and it is commonly thought that these are references to al-Nadr and his criticisms of Muhammad.
**A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq's Risat Rasul Allah (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2006).
***Qur'an (Al-Khaf)

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