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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Malaysia in the Era of Globalization #17

Chapter 3: Lessons From The Past

Spreading the Word of God

When Muhammad (pbuh) received his first revelation in that cave high above Mecca, he was already well prepared. Nonetheless for the first few years he preached Allah’s message in secret, first to his immediate family and later, his close friends. He understood the vast implications of his mission.

Muhammad (pbuh) knew that Islam would frontally challenge the existing order. Even though he was committed to Allah’s cause, nonetheless he had no intention of destroying his community in order to save it, to use a Vietnam-era military maxim. He was fully cognizant of the intense opposition to his mission from the existing power structure. His forcing the message would only result in further turmoil, a civil war. His mission was to save, not destroy society.

Despite that caution, those early Muslims faced tremendous hostile opposition. Without divine protection, Muhammad’s fate could easily have been like that of Zaid and other earlier reformers. More down to earth, Muhammad (pbuh) was also fortunate to have the protection of his uncle Abu Talib. It was significant that his uncle, though highly supportive of Muhammad’s mission, was unable to commit himself to the new faith. He was already set in his ways. The first few years were difficult for the Muslims, with open hostilities and violent opposition. Many were tortured and killed.

In the face of such intense resistance, Muhammad (pbuh) wisely decided to send some of his followers to migrate to Abyssinia, then under the reign of a tolerant Christian king. More practically, the migration eased the sense of threat felt by the Quareshis. But as more Arabs accepted this new faith, the establishment felt even more threatened, which in turn prompted them to take even more extreme measures to neutralize Muhammad (pbuh) and his followers.

When bribes did not work with the honest Mohammad, they resorted to harassment. This reference to bribery is well documented. Aware of the devastating consequences to them and their existing way of life of Muhammad’s message, the Arabs persuaded his uncle Abdullah, a pagan, to coax the prophet to give up his mission with promises of riches and titles. They would have willingly surrendered to him the tribal leadership if only the prophet would give up his cause. This prompted the famous response: “By the grace of Allah,” said the prophet, “even if you give me the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left, I will not give up His work.” Meaning, even had the Bedouins promised Muhammad the world, he still would not have changed course. Allah’s messenger could not be bought at any price.

It was no easy mission. The remaining Muslims in Mecca continued to be harassed and boycotted. They were not allowed to trade or interact socially with the community, an ancient version of social and economic sanctions. In the end the boycott backfired. The stoic sufferings of the Muslims evoked sympathy from the populace, gaining the new faith even more converts.

The Muslims continued to grow to a critical mass where they felt they could successfully challenge the existing order. The prophet (pbuh), fully aware that such an open declaration would result in an ugly and vicious civil war – pitting brother against brother, father against son, and uncle against nephew – sought another solution. Creating social upheavals would not be in the best interest of Islam or the community.

With guidance from Allah, he began preparing his followers for migration to Medina where he would encounter less resistance. His preliminary inquiries indicated that that community was more hospitable and tolerant. The migration was secretly planned and executed, with Muslims escaping in the middle of the night to avoid detection by their non-Muslim tribesmen. This migration, or Hijrah, was such a momentous event that the Muslim calendar began from that date, the first year of the Hijrah (AH) being 632CE (Common Era). It is to be emphasized that the hijra was a positive mission to establish the first viable Muslim community, and not a negative one of escaping the persecution at Mecca.

Medina did prove to be a receptive environment. It became the first proper Muslim community, with the prophet (pbuh) able to spread his message more systematically and openly. And the faith continued to spread. But there were still battles to be fought and enemies to be overcome. Of the many battles of the early Muslims, the two most celebrated ones were the Battle of Badr, in which the Muslims won despite overwhelming odds, and the Battle of Uhud, in which the well-prepared but over-confident Muslims were routed and with the prophet (pbuh) himself sustaining injury. These exploits reached legendary proportions to instill in Muslims the lesson that victory is not always assured simply because of the justness of the cause, and of the dangers of over confidence.

To me the genius of our prophet’s military leadership was exemplified not in the heroic battles he won, rather in the conflicts he avoided. The peace treaty he signed with the pagan Meccans at Al-Hudaibiyah is particularly instructive.

It was the tenth year of the Hijrah, the prophet (pbuh) had declared his intention to lead his followers on their first pilgrimage to Mecca. He publicly demonstrated his peaceful intentions by forbidding his followers from carrying arms except their daggers, the traditional accoutrement of desert travelers. To the non-Muslim Meccans, the news was greeted with considerable apprehension; it meant another possible confrontation with the Muslims. It was also a frontal challenge to the Quraishi’s authority as custodians of the Ka’aba.

As the Muslims were preparing for their pilgrimage, Muhammad (pbuh) sent numerous emissaries ahead to assure the Meccans of his peaceful and religious intentions. The Meccans however, were not impressed and remained downright suspicious. They in turn sent delegations to Muhammad to discourage him and his followers from undertaking the pilgrimage, and also to assess the Muslims’ strength. The Muslims were not dissuaded and proceeded with their pilgrimage. They encamped at the plains of Al-Hudaibiyah, just outside of Mecca. Legend has it that the prophet’s camel refused to budge further. After a series of negotiations with and posturing by the Meccans, Muhammad (pbuh) finally agreed to a peace treaty. The Meccans were relieved in not having to fight the determined Muslims and Muhammad (pbuh) in turn was comforted by the fact that he had averted a civil war. He knew only too well that his followers would be fighting their own kin and kind. He also knew that the wounds of this fratricide would take a long time to heal.

Many of the Muslims were not comforted, as the treaty was decidedly lopsided in favor of the Meccans. The Muslims avoided war all right, but the price was stiff; they had to defer their pilgrimage for a year and to stop spreading Islam among the Meccans. Delaying the pilgrimage was a tough sell as the Muslims were already in heightened religious fervor. To be disrupted in one’s pilgrimage is an event of singular significance to Muslims, then and now. In the end despite the rumblings, Muhammad (pbuh) was able to calm his followers. The treaty meant that the Muslims were spared further harassment from the powerful Meccans.

To Muhammad (pbuh), the big relief was in sparing lives and casualties both for his followers as well as for his kinsmen back at Mecca. The welcomed respite from fighting the Meccans also enabled the Muslims to concentrate on propagating their faith elsewhere.

In the following year when the prophet (pbuh) gathered his followers for the deferred pilgrimage, he had an even bigger crowd. More significantly, the Meccans were so impressed by the Muslims’ peaceful mission and tolerant gestures the year earlier, contrary to the propaganda they had been fed by their leaders, that many joined the new faith. Thus what had previously been generally perceived as a defeat for Muhammad (pbuh) and a victory for the Meccans, turned out a year later to be just the reverse.

Next: The Relevant Lessons of Early Islam


Blogger William Braylen said...

Numerous are concerned that the N1H1 Swine Flu could bring about an awesome pandemic in the Middle East because of the quantity of individuals who make the journey to Mecca every year. On the off chance that the swine influenza breaks out and everybody that makes the journey becomes ill, and after that meanders back to the greater part of their towns, urban communities, and towns, then some are concerned that the pandemic will achieve all zones of the Islamic world, possibly executing a huge number of individuals if the infection gets to be destructive and it is a strain for which no antibodies as of now exist. Pilgrimage to Mecca (var.)

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