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Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Muhammad's jahili past
Robert Spencer in Life of Muhammad quoted a translation from Ibn Sa'd, over whether or not Muhammad regretted a tribal dustup in his past, when he was still Qutham. Danios at Loonwatch disputed Spencer last January. In The sinful wars Ella Landau-Tasseron had already debated that point; I'll not get into that here (here's my take). Even if Landau-Tasseron and (I think independently) Spencer were wrong I'm not sure that such an error hurts Spencer's argument.
Ibn Sa`d was quoting from his teacher Waqidi and from Dahhak b. `Uthman and also some others, which Ibn Sa`d (like Waqidi) then characteristically blended together into a detailed account. I have also found the hadith in Muhammad ibn Habib (d. 215/830)'s al-Munammaq fi Akhbar Quraysh. The tale seems to have been making the rounds in early third / ninth century Baghdad. Anyway Ibn Habib had it from Dahhak b. `Uthman, alone. Dahhak, we are informed, had it from `Abd Allah b. `Urwa b. al-Zubayr. Keep that genealogy in mind. The patriarch `Urwa was a Zubayrid, brother of the caliph of the Fitna, 683-92 AD; a reactionary / rebel against the Umayyads. `Urwa later joined the Umayyad court.
"Muhammad" belonged to "the Quraysh" and more exactly to the Qusay; the Visiting Team in this particular brawl were the Qays (Danios and Landau-Tasseron say, "Hawazin").
Here I interject that the Hadith seems to be downplaying Qutham's role - it puts him at the back and it hints that he didn't hurt anybody. That means that the Hadith regrets that Qutham fired potshots at the Qaysis. Why is that?
It turns out that there was, going back to `Umar, a strain in Islam that wanted the Sons of Ishmael to band together. The Qays were of Ishmael as were the Qusay, and as was `Umar himself. So here was the Prophet - admittedly, not then a Prophet - involving himself in self-destructive violence. The Arabs couldn't have that. The Zubayrids especially couldn't have that if they wanted the Qays on their side; which was a real issue, when the Qays were fighting alongside the Banu Zubayr in the Fitna. So Muhammad has to say something - either regret for his role in the Sinful War or else an explanation for why he was in it.
Everyone seems to agree that, before taking the name Muhammad, the adolescent Qutham had joined in a pointless and squalid Jahili tiff. Under Islam, Believers are not supposed to do that. Under pre-`Abbasid Islam, certainly the Arabs are not supposed to be so wasting their time. It is an embarrassment to Islam that its Prophet had this event in his past. That is why so many generations of Arab Muslims tried to excuse it away.
The hadith of Muhammad's regret - or his reaction - is authentic... to the Zubayrid Fitna. If Muhammad himself, generations before that, ever regretted fighting the Qays, it was because the Qays were Ishmaeli Arabs and because the name of God was not invoked. It was certainly not because the man had any aversion to human bloodshed.
UPDATE 9/8/2016: Landau-Tasseron's finding prompted me to split Loonwatch's immediate nitpick out and to promote that to the top of the post-list.
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