Saturday, August 14, 2010

Did Muhammad fight before the hijrah?

In the histories I have read about Muhammad, I have been told that before the hijrah he endured suffering and shame from the Meccans and never fought or was violent. I may have misunderstood the Muslim claim but this is what I understand, that Muhammad did not fight before the hijrah.

However, I am reading my way through the qur'an and it seems this understanding of Muhammad's life does not work easily.

In Sura 16 (the bee)Islamic scholars say that verse 110 comes for the Medinan period and has been inserted into this Meccan sura.

Then lo! thy Lord - for those who became fugitives after they had been persecuted, and then fought and were steadfast - lo! thy Lord afterward is (for them) indeed Forgiving, Merciful. 16:110

The reason for saying this verse is inserted is that it refers to fighting in a Meccan period sura.

My problem is that it does not read as though it has been inserted. In fact is flows with the argument of the sura and seems to be repeated as an idea in later verses.

If ye punish, then punish with the like of that wherewith ye were afflicted. But if ye endure patiently, verily it is better for the patient. Endure thou patiently (O Muhammad). Thine endurance is only by (the help of) Allah. Grieve not for them, and be not in distress because of that which they devise. 16:126-127

The issues I want to discuss are:

1. If the Qur'an is the best source for understanding Muhammad's life (and I think it is), then doesn't it appear that he was fighting before the hijrah? Maybe the hijrah happened not because Muhammad was the victim but because he was the unsuccessful aggressor?

2. Is it right for Muslim scholars to use the theory of "inserted verses" to explain why their reconstruction of Muhammad's life does not match up with what the Qur'an says?

What do you think?


Tizita said...

Whoa, Whoa, Whoa....Are they addressing mohammed as Lord?
I get more and more amazed every single day by what islam teaches!

Pat said...

How widespread is this Islamic belief that this was inserted? Does this not undermine the claims to a perfectly preserved Qur'an?

One of the key differences that I notice between biblical and Qur'anic studies is the method of textual criticism. Biblical textual critics make a case from textual clues and manuscript evidence to argue for or against any sort of insertions or other textual issues. Theology may be considered, but it doesn't stand alone. Perhaps I have not read the right Muslim sources, but it seems far more common in Islam to cast something off for the simple reason of convenience, whether theologically or apologetically.

1moremuslim said...

This verse is a madinah verse, not because the mention of fight, but rather for an obvious reason; the verse speaks about refugees. Muslims cannot be refugees before the Hijra to Medina. Are you not able to think?

The verse 126 begins with "IF" , God instruct how to retaliate in the future, IN CASE that the Muslims will have to, But God instructed them to be patient. So no fighting in there!

Sam said...

This verse is a madinah verse, not because the mention of fight, but rather for an obvious reason; the verse speaks about refugees. Muslims cannot be refugees before the Hijra to Medina. Are you not able to think?

Your argument doesn't follow since this verse can be referring to the Muslims who migrated to Abyssinia and sought asylum from the Negus. This event took place while Muhammad and the majority of Muslims still remained in Mecca.

So how do you know for certain this refers to the fugitives who settled in Medina?

1moremuslim said...

To Sam;
"So how do you know for certain this refers to the fugitives who settled in Medina?"
Because those people are referred to as "Muhajirun"
And after all , what are you trying to prove? That Muhammad sent his followers to Abyssinia, and stayed in Makkah fighting, while living among the Mushrikeen? Was it a kind of street fight during the day, and when the night falls everybody go home? If you want to revise and rewrite history, try something believable.
Read the first and second comment to this article, you people can't understand an English Sentence, let alone the Hebrew and the Arabic.

Samuel Green said...

My point is, if we just read the sura 16, verse 110 flows with the rest of the sura, yet the sura is Meccan. What evidence do we have that Muhammad moved verses around?

My observation is simply this, that when Muslim scholars say different verses come from different periods within the one sura, it seems that they are trying to make the Qur'an fit into their reconstructed view of Muhammad's life. I cannot see any evidence for the idea that 110 verses in sura 16 are meccan and just one verse is medinan. I think the Qur'an is a better source for Muhammad's life and that the scholars are wrong.

1moremuslim, your argument is based on the scholars view of Muhammad's life. I am suggesting that this does not match up with the Qur'an at every point.

Zack Skrip said...

Hey what translation of the Quran do you suggest? I am going to be speaking with muslims very soon and I would like to get a Quran to read before that. I want to get a translation that won't be quickly disregarded. Thanks!

David Wood said...

M.H. Shakir translation. You can get a cheap copy at the bookstore for under $10.

Sam said...

1moremuslim let me try this again since you obviously didn't get my point.

In the first place these verse DO NOT USE THE WORD MUHAJIRUN. It simply speaks of those who fled or emigrated (hajaroo). Are you suggesting that there were no other Muslims who emigrated before the flight to Medina? Your own sources prove you are wrong.

Secondly, even if it did use this precise phrase how do you know that this refers to the fugitives who settled in Medina as opposed to Abyssinia? To say that they are the muhajirun doesn't answer the question but only exposes your circular reasoning and further compounds the problem.

However I anticipate that you are going to distort my argument in order to attack straw man. So as to to prevent you from doing so I have decided to walk you through this. This should also prevent you from committing any more ad hominems and circular reasoning.

1. Q. 16 is a Meccan surah.

2. Q. 16 refers to the fugitives or those who emigrated (hajaroo) due to persecution.

3. Since this verse was composed in Mecca this means that these fugitives cannot be the ones that later settled in Medina but must be the group that traveled to Abyssinia.

4. This further shows that the Quran doesn't use the term muhajirun solely for those Muslims who fled to Medina. The Quran also uses it for the very first Muslim fugitives, namely those who ran to Abyssinia.

Now that I have broken this down for you I am going to repeat my question with the hopes that you will actually provide a meaningful answer this time.

How do you know that Q. 16:110 doesn't refer to the Muslim fugitives that fled to Abyssinia?

mkvine said...

Samuel Green,

Excellent article, its definitely something to think about. When I read Surah 16:110 and compare this exegetically with ayah 106, there seems to be a parallel. Let me quote both of them:

“Whoever disbelieves in Allah after his belief, except for one who is forced [to renounce his religion] while his heart is secure in faith...” (S. 16:106)


“Then, indeed your Lord, to those who emigrated after they had been compelled [to renounce their religion]...” (S. 16:110).

So the common theme that connects these two verses is “renouncing their religion.”

Because verse 106 is a Meccan verse, and because there is a common theme between Ayah 106 and 110, it seems to suggest that verse 110 is also a Meccan verse.

Also as a side note, Tafsir Ibn Kathir commenting on verse 110 says that people who were forced to renounce their religion (remember that theme), were people who lived in Mecca and were forced to emigrate. While Ibn Kathir doesn't mention where these people emigrated to, he does seem to suggest that this verse was a Meccan verse.

“This refers to another group of people who were oppressed in Makkah and whose position with their own people was weak, so they went along with them when they were tried by them. Then they managed to escape by emigrating, leaving their homeland, families and wealth behind, seeking the pleasure and forgiveness of Allah.”

Those are just some of my thoughts.


Hogan Elijah Hagbard said...

So either Muhammad did fight prior to the Hijra, which jeapordizes Islamic history or the Qur'an contains redactionism (a passage or an idea that originally does not belong there but has been included among an entirely different bulk of material).

Funny, then why do Muslims consider John 8: 1-8 to be problematic, or even the end of Mark 16?

If the Qur'an is the Word of God, then certainly the references to the 'separation of heaven and earth', the 'seven heavens, the seven paths and seven earths' and a number of other examples conclude that later Muslims redacted and corrupted the original Qur'an.

But are there more of these particular cases, passages which have been randomly placed in a section of the Qur'an to which it does not belong?

1moremuslim said...

To Samuel Green:

Your whole argument is made of thin air, Be it Medinan or Meccan, Q 16:110 doesn't mention fighting AT ALL. The Arabic for fight is " Katalou" , but here we find the word "Jahadou" which means struggle and steadfast. You are committing a circular reasoning with ignorance: You are using a translation influenced by the idea that the verse is Medianan, and used that translation to prove that the verse is a Meccan.
Samuel, if you reject the view of the scholars and commentators, then you should translate the word "Jahadou" as Struggled, not fought.
David Wood, above, recommended M H Shakir translation, take his advice. It's not bad. You should remove this article and apologize for deceiving your readers.

To Mkvine ( the Youtube Censurer);
Read Al Tabari, it's specified where the emigration took place, and who are the people implicated.
Just a quick question for both of you, Who told you that Q:16 is a Meccan surah? And specifically Q:16.106?

Sam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
1moremuslim said...

Samuel Green:
"My point is, if we just read the sura 16, verse 110 flows with the rest of the sura"

Thank you for that testimony Samuel, there have been critics which say that the Quran is incoherent.

Odo said...

What do I think? Well thanks for asking!

I think the Meccans TOLORATED Muhammad's anti-Meccan preaching for years! Finally they got fed up with Muhammad and his Allah, so they kicked him to the curb, only to have Muhammad raid and rob their caravans in subsequent years.

Muhammad incited the Meccans! He preached in front of their idolatrous rock, and actually said it was his own! He was the one bringing trouble and insulting the Meccans. Once he had some manpower BAM he went around saying "Allah or ELSE!"

Meccans never told Muhammad pagan or ELSE. After years of putting up with him they had enough.

Can anyone stand in front of the pagan rock and preach Christianity today? Does Islam allow that? The Meccans sure allowed Muhammads preaching.

Seems the Meccans were much more tolerant than Muhammads allah.

Ive got a good Bible verse for the modern day pagan rock worshippers:

Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD'

Samuel Green said...

1moremuslim wrote:

"The Arabic for fight is " Katalou" , but here we find the word "Jahadou" which means struggle and steadfast. You are committing a circular reasoning with ignorance: "

I agree that the word is jahadou and most likely does not mean fighting in this context. But you are harsh to say I am ignorant. I am simply commenting on the fact that Muslim scholars say that 16:110 is Medinan in a Meccan sura. My point is that there is really no evidence for this as it fits with the rest of the sura as a unit. I also agree that the Qur'an is not a jumble but that each sura (I have studied up to 17) has a theme which holds it together.

So why do Muslim scholars say that 16:110 is a Medinan verse inserted? The only reason I can see is that the reference to JHD makes them feel that it belongs to the Medinan period.

Samuel Green said...

I got this reply from a friend

It's possible Samuel but difficult to confirm. It seems that a Muslim
historian, e.g. 'Urwa b. al-Zubayr (d. 712-3), tried to make a quranic
verse fit a hadith. In other words, he received a tradition about
Muhammad. Then he searched through the Quran to see if any of its
verses could relate to that tradition. In this manner, the
relationship between the Quran and the sira were educated guesses. In
addition, the Quran at the time of 'Urwa may have been in a fluid
state so as to arrange the verses in line with the sira which was at
the same time being arranged. Thus they appear to have had a parallel
development with one another (This explains why certain whole chapters
relate to a whole event, e.g. The Battle of Uhud is in Sura 3).
Eventually the Quran became fixed; however the sira continued to
develop. This could explain why Muslim historians say that certain
verses are in the wrong location (Why Medinan verses are in the Meccan
half of the Quran and vice versa), and perhaps this is why they say
that Q. 16:110 is supposed to be a Medinan verse.

Since the pairing of the Quran and sira occurred at least a generation
after the death of Muhammad, much of pairing would have been guesses,
and some guesses were better than others. But perhaps the worst part
is that the traditionists assumed that there would be an available
tradition which would "fit" each quranic verse.

Samuel Green said...

continued ...
After researching it for some time now, I'm persuaded
that parts of the sira were "made to fit" one another in the creation
of a coherent and chronological biography of Muhammad. In other words,
the multitudinous hadiths which comprise the sira originally were by
and large in a decontextualized (or partially contextualized) state;
then a traditionist like al-Zuhri or his student Ibn Ishaq pieced
together the hadiths with the goal in mind of producing the
long-flowing narrative of the Prophet's life we have today. Thus Ibn
Ishaq did not faithfully transmitted many of the hadiths he received
but edited them. Indeed as early as the 9th century, Muslim scholars
such as Ibn Hanbal criticized Ibn Ishaq for acting outside the bounds
of the transmitter.

As for the Quran, recent work shows that some Sana'a manuscripts have
been dated to 650-690. Some of the variants within these manuscripts
find no correspondence with those in the established readings;
nevertheless, the variants are not of a major significance. In other
words, it's not the "smoking gun" Orientalists have been searching
for. In addition there appears to have been a certain level of
fluidity in the chronological makeup of the suras up until the Quran's
fixity between 690-710.

Now Muslim literary tradition says that the writing down of the
sira/hadith in a codified form occurred in 715-730. I think that this
is essentially right.

(In one report, the Umayyad caliph Sulayman (r. 96/715-99/717)
commissioned Aban b. 'Uthman to write down the reports about the life
and campaigns of the Prophet. In a different report, the following
caliph 'Umar II (r. 99/717-101/720) ordered Ibn Hazm (d. 120/738) to
compile the first codification of hadiths. Yet another report has Ibn
Shihab al-Zuhri (d. 124/742) as the first to undertake and complete
the codification project.)

In addition, there is no reason to doubt that the two letters from
'Urwa b. al-Zubayr to the Caliph 'Abd al-Malik concerning Muhammad are
authentic. Thus these two letters which contain hadiths about Muhammad
would have been written between 685-705.

Therefore, the forging of the religion of Islam, i.e. the
appropriating of the Quran with the life of Muhammad, seems to have
taken place at the end of the 7th century and the beginning of the 8th

Samuel Green said...

I still want to learn why Muslim scholars say some verses have been inserted into Meccan suras. It seems to me that it is because these scholars feel the verse represents Medinan theology, but I am open to ideas.