There is no Islam, but for the wealth of Khadija and the Sword of Ali – the Alpha and Omega of Islam’s birthing.
If ya wanna understand this long-running combat lying before us, regard carefully my citation to the Heritage Foundation, from “Patton” when the general gleams at having defeated Rommel in the desert tank-battle carnage. This follows his bedtime reviewing of Rommel’s classic tome on tank warfare, the prior night. George C. Scott bellows in his gravelly [and very un-Patton] voice:
“Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I READ YOUR BOOK.”
Before the Time of Sorrows, Muhammad ibn Abdallah, the Prophet of Islam was known widely as The Trustworthy, and a host of other monikers, reaching back to his earliest youth, each indicating his honesty, reliability, general good nature and all around Dudley Do-Rightedness. Repeatedly orphaned – his father’s death left him an only child to a widow even before his birth, his mother Amina dying when Muhammad was six, then his grandfather reared him until age eight, when again Muhammad lost that ‘parent’ to then be reared by his long-dead father’s brother, his uncle Abu Talib – he was thus inclined very much to be a loner, often reflective in desert caves in evenings. His contemplative style was mindful of aboriginal ‘walkabout’ tradition in the dry outback of Australia.
His first Revelation, via the angel Gabril [or Gabriel, in Old Testament English version], came when he was forty – prior to which he was not an ambitious man, or challenging in any way to leadership politics in the Mecca of his birth. He’d married at age 25, upon the proposal to him by his employer, Khadija: a businesswoman of competence and strength, mindful of a film role by Myrna Loy or Barbara Stanwyck, whose clan status in the Quraysh tribe raised Muhammad several rungs above his prior meager social-economic status. Early in the marriage, his uncle Talib had a young, late-life son, Ali, whose half-siblings were much older.
Thus, Ali ibn Talib had a virtual lifelong playdate in the home of his uncle Muhammad and Aunt Khadija – his playmates were the four young daughters of the Prophet, the youngest [and most pious] becoming Ali’s bride. Combine Conan the Barbarian, Sergeant Rock, Rocky Balboa, Rambo and Batman to get a hint of the action-hero combat derring-do of Ali – a righthand-swordsman of gargantuan legend. As Paul Bunyon is the epitome of lumberjacks, Ali’s famed sword is one energetic source of Muslim storytelling. Beyond combat capacity, Ali was dubbed by the Prophet himself as the ‘gateway to true Islam’ – thus, he married the most pious of Muhammad’s daughters.
Herewith the proposed divisions of Muhammad’s life: first phase is from his reportedly ‘holy’ conception, to the day he heard the Koran from Gabril, while on religious retreat on a mountaintop with his wife and daughters, outside Mecca, during the holy month of Ramadan. [Ramadan was one of many long-established religious traditions which Islam adopted and adapted, in a politically and culturally shrewd strategery, that survive to this day.] Thence began his ministry, or pre-ministry: he waited nearly two years before commencing active efforts at converting the entire population of Mecca.
And thus began his troubles – pagan for centuries, Mecca was the commercial and religious center of the Hejaz: the elliptical area around Mecca, extending to the Red Sea and northerly to near the fringes of the Holy Land, and southward almost to Yemen. And Mecca was where pilgrims came to worship a huge array of pagan gods, in the Ka’aba: a cubic mosque, filled with stone idols, the number as high as 360 when Muhammad and Ali dispensed with them on the day Mecca finally surrendered to his authority, many years after Muslims’ forced emigration to Medina.
Thus Mecca is the First Holy City of Islam, as it had been the pagans’ central holy capitol for centuries prior to Muhammad’s birth. And a commercial chamber-of-commerce dream city, made so by the Quraysh tribe: they’d pushed out the prior dominant tribe over a century earlier, and parlayed the city into an even more prosperous trade-center than any had ever imagined possible. Thus came great wealth to many clans and families. But not to all clans, including Muhammad’s clan: the Hashim were in near-poverty all his life, though Talib had ascended to be clan leader just as Muhammad arrived, to mature within that humble home.
Thereby, Muhammad grew from age eight to adulthood in a leader-home; but as a poor-relation, he saw wealth all around Mecca, benefiting only upon marrying well, to Khadija, and adding his managerial skills to expanding her inherited caravan empire. An important note is the apparent soulmate nature of their marriage: she was his only wife so long as she lived, and they were sexual, intellectual, emotional, familial and spiritual partners in a depth of commitment and connection that would make medieval European romantic ideals pale in comparison. And, Khadija was the first Muslim, accepting his prophecy as her own belief, within a few days of the first revelation.
With her wealth, and of Abu Bakr’s wealth when he converted later, Islam was able to assist less fortunate Muslims when a nasty embargo was enforced by all the clans and tribes against the Muslim community. By this time, Muhammad had gotten under a lot of pagan, polytheistic folks’ skin: his relentless insistence that there was but one God, and he was His Prophet, is mindful of many ‘cult’ phenomena we see in modern times. Families were enraged at a member abandoning ages-old loyalty to family-clan-tribe, and cleaving tightly to this new ‘weird’ religion.
The embargo lasted two-plus years, and soon Meccans retracted the boycott of vital goods, but too late for the health impact on Khadija and Talib: she died shortly after the embargo was lifted, having suffered from water and food deprivation, while in her early 60s. Shortly thereafter, Talib died for likely similar deprivation, also in his 60s. Without his foster-father’s power as clan leader, the Hashim clan was less protective, rendering Muhammad very vulnerable to the rising pagan majority’s resentful rage.
And thus begins the part of the second phase of Muhammad’s life: the Time of Sorrows, when this genuine mensch began to blame the Mecca embargo for the loss of the two most vital people in his life. His soulmate and mother of his children, a business woman of means and distinction, the first Muslim who stood by him thru thick-and-thin, was lost. As was the man who reared him, and protected him from harm – even though to his dying day, Talib never abandoned his pagan beliefs, while suffering as though a Muslim for protecting his nephew/foster-son from the blood-feud potentials arising from the Meccans’ resentment at Islam’s invasion on their spiritual territory.
Amidst this, note that Ali had never known pagan belief, growing almost from birth amidst Muhammad’s household, thus never ‘tainted’ by the paganism of his father, Abu Talib. Thereby, Ali is the first ‘pure’ Muslim: he was never required to relinquish pagan belief by conversion, but knew only Islam from his earliest consciousness. And the most pious of Khadija’s daughters, Fatima, became Ali’s wife and bore the children that formed the beloved and honored bloodline that is the core of Shi’ite differences with Sunni.
After Talib’s death, Muhammad found his life under growing danger, seeking other clans’ protections. His umma – the Muslim religious community – was small, but tight-knit [much as a clan or family was traditionally intended to achieve] and growing slowly. The embargo had forced the umma into a small street conclave, which one historian dubs a ‘ghetto’ – Karen Armstrong’s characterization shows her casual regard for Jewish terms which might be better left unexploited.
Soon, the situation became hyper-critical: a murder contract was issued, by all the other clans in the Quraysh tribe, with each clan sending a member to be part of a group effort, a la the film “Murder on the Orient Express”: no one person would be held individually accountable, and a blood-feud by the Hashim would be impossible to invoke against the entire tribe. And as the Quraysh were the key tribe of Mecca, only blood money would pay the debt for Muhammad’s assassination.
Muhammad got wind of the plot, by a revelation, and deceived the plotters, with Ali donning the Prophet’s robes and mistaken for Muhammad, even as the leader escaped during the night, in the company of Abu Bakr, a wealthy man who’d betrothed his six year old daughter, Aisha, to Muhammad shortly after Khadija’s death. This little gal is the famed child-bride, whom Muhammad wedded and bedded in Medina when she was nine [or ten, by some accounts]. Thus, another name to remember, for the later rage she acquired toward Ali is a supreme factor in the Shia-Sunni split.
Muhammad and Abu Bakr hid in a cave for three days, then followed other Muslims who were already relocating to Medina for some months. Ali soon followed, and Medina became the rallying center for the third phase of Muhammad’s life: the political-military period when the mix of his rage over losing lover and wife, and foster-father, to the vicious persecution in Mecca, with being effectively cast out under threat of death, made him just a wee bit testy.
No more mensch – Muhammad ibn Abdallah, onetime Nice Guy, an embodiment of Sir Galahad and Ron Howard, was on a rampage, a Mission From God that makes the Blues Brothers pale bleach-white in embarrassed comparison. Scholars of the Quran [or Koran] note that the verses become much nastier in the Medinan period; the early, middle and late Meccan utterances are much kinder and conciliatory. The transition? The Time of Sorrows, when he’d lost his dearest adult links due to the pagans’ embargo.
Khadija’s own sister insisted that he needed female presence in his daily life, and recommended quick remarriage. Prior to Aisha’s young marriage, he took a widow, who became his house-manger and companion. Soon he’d married a dozen women, all widows but for Aisha: she was the only virgin he would ever take to his bed. This fact she often held as a cudgel for her advantage in competition with the other wives. Plus, she was considered his favorite wife, and by some judgments, the most beautiful and desirable. Which fact Aisha exploited in a manner which led to the event creating schism with Ali, and contributed to the schism which is still the Shia-Sunni division twelve centuries later.
Aisha’s father was actually named Attiq ibn Uthman, but acquired the later title, Abu Bakr, in acknowledgement of the value his daughter’s virginity brought to the Prophet’s bed: the name means Father of the Virgin Bride. Think of young Elizabeth Taylor, or Brook Shields, as pre-pubescent displays of impending major beauty awaiting the bursting flower of adolescence. And the behavior one often sees in such lovelies who audaciously exploit their assets. This be Aisha, whose playful, tartish flirtations contributed to an episode when she was publicly suspected of infidelity, at age fourteen.
Even her parents urged her to confess and receive absolution by her husband. Amidst this, Ali suggested the Prophet just be done with the silly girl, and divorce her. Soon, this indecisive leader – momentarily the Hamlet of the Hejaz – got a Revelation, absolving Aisha of adultery. In effect, Allah was telling his mortal prophet: Man up, Muhammad, grow a pair – and back up your wife to stop the gossip that is undermining your authority.
Thus ended the gossip, but not Aisha’s resentment. Twenty-four years after the Prophet’s death, the caliphate title finally came to Ali, as Aisha was returning from a pilgrimage in Mecca. Before reaching Medina, she was intercepted with word of umma leadership finally coming to Ali – he’d been bypassed, preceded first by Abu Bakr, then two others who took the leadership before he finally got the belated nod.
Aisha immediately conspired with an insurgency, at age 42, as a commanding general of a military force, in concert with two co-conspirators, leading her insurgent soldiers from the back of a camel. Thus, to avoid dubbing the event of Arabic machismo with a woman’s name, scholars call this the Battle of the Camel. As with Khadija’s strong role being rather minimized in Islamic history, Aisha’s brief bold behavior is also minimized – her name is hardly acknowledged in recording and telling of this dramatic event.
Ali, being one helluva combat lieutenant, a great right-hand swordsman, was sadly a lousy head of a movement. He sent Aisha back to Medina after her defeat, pensioning her rather than beheading her – which is how the Prophet had treated many insurgents and traitors, including many Jewish tribes. The chapter on how Ali lost his long-overdue caliphate is itself a full feature film, or even a lengthy novel by Pasternak.
This small insight is to increase awareness of this rich, thickly-entertaining story of Muhammad, Khadija, Talib, Mecca, the Ka’aba, Medina, Aisha, Abu Baker, Ali, Fatima, Umar, Uthman, and a long cast of hundreds who make for one helluva mini-series. Ten weeks, two hours a night, seven nights a week would be barely sufficient to bring you this story. It is compelling and thus energizing to Muslims. The Shia belong to the Shi’at Ali: the partisans of Ali, who believe he got sandbagged from being the first caliph [inheritor of the Prophet’s authority], and are still pissed off on his behalf.
Sunni are just nifty with the way things worked out, and dispute the notion that a bloodline, thru Ali, would be the Prophet’s wish. Indeed, much of Islam’s devastating, tragic later chapters come from inherited dynasties. Islam focused on a meritocracy for picking leaders. Ali was dubbed ‘the gateway to true Islam’ by Muhammad, but the Prophet never actually named who should be his successor. Ali’s assertion that he was to be the first caliph was promptly deflated by Aisha, in whose bed her husband took his last breath, decrying: If he had said such a thing, I would have heard it, for he died with his head upon my bosom.
Thus, three phases to the Prophet’s life: the period before he became a Prophet, the period thence to when his umma were driven from Mecca [fomented to a degree from the Time of Sorrows over two mortal blows to his family], then the third when he became a fervent, even enraged political and military leader. Shrewd, cunning, ruthless – Muhammad in this era was no mensch – soon he compelled Mecca to surrender, as Paris did to the Nazis, without a fight. Then he returned to Medina, his political capitol, to continue the expansion of Islam into adjoining areas.
After his death, the first two caliphs, beginning with Aisha’s daddy, spread the empire far and wide, by many multiples of what the Prophet had achieved. After being pensioned following the Battle of the Camel, Aisha lived to her 70s, a major source of the vital ‘oral tradition’ of what is the ‘history’ of Islam. You can imagine what she had to say, for three decades thereafter, about Ali and his ‘right’ to rule.
And so in recapitulation, Khadija found a modest man among her employees, abandoned her twice-widowed declaration to never marry again, bore more children with a man who fifteen years later had revelations which she quickly embraced. Her wealth, and that later of Abu Bakr, sustained the movement on behalf of poorer Muslims [including buying off kidnapped Muslims, held for ransom by their families or neighbors]. She helped rear Ali, whose sword and pectorals would make Conan seem like Alan Colmes.
The fateful path of politics kept Ali from rule for 24 years, and then as caliph he screwed the pooch in a manner which led to his own followers’ rage, assassinating him for ‘going wobbly’ in a major battle. His son Husayn attempted to aid a besieged collection of the Faithful, but they did not come out to assist his meager army, so Husayn and his family were surrounded, his army and kith and kin killed, the family members beheaded and their heads sent to the evil sixth caliph for proof of the family’s threat being snuffed.
A tough land well before his birth led Muhammad to eventually be a tough man, a political leader with military brilliance that would impress von Clausewitz and Sun Tzu. Machiavelli as well. Even Patton.
And so, consider this mantra, if you wish to understand more, and thus be more qualified to judge and assess and conclude your position on this vital issue of our day, our lifetime, our children’s lifetime:
MUHAMMAD, YOU MAGNIFICENT BASTARD, I’M LEARNING ALL I CAN ABOUT YOUR LIFE, ISLAM AND HOW IT AFFECTS THE WORLD.
It’s a long journey – yet, that meager fraction of a single percentage of this full history which what I’ve learned would fill the TV mini-series for all those many weeks. A soap opera that slam-dunks “Desperate Housewives” and “Dallas” and every other drama about politics, conflict, jealousy, power, lust, greed, et al. The first Muslim: Khadija, who embraced her husband with all her heart and soul and fortune. The last of the Rightly-guided Caliphs: Ali, whose sword swept aside those who challenged his Prophet and uncle and foster-father. The Time of Sorrows for Islam at large began with Ali’s failed caliphate, made worse by Husayn’s brutal death amidst his family and army.
And so, you have an outline of this story, compelling and chilling, with players you likely never suspected were part of this strange religion. Never knew of Khadija? Many Muslims are nearly as ignorant. Aisha? Who knew a tartish child could influence the oral ‘history’ for so many decades, and would survive leading an insurrection army against the Prophet’s right-hand sword? And there’s so much more: the assassins of Uthman included her half-brother, son of Abu Baker, who then was appointed governor of Egypt by Ali!
You must read yourself – avoid Karen Armstrong until you’ve seen light that is not filtered thru her lefty lens. But she should be on your second-page bibliography. Start with Bernard Lewis, add Mark Steyn, consider David Lamb, as well as Richard Gabriel and Judith Miller. Then examine their footnotes and bibliography for additional journeys. You’ll get a hint of what “Rommel” is scheming and planning for our society. To get a capsulated view of the ‘problem’ you should rent and carefully view “Lawrence of Arabia” – but, do so after you know a bit about the subject first.
Which will lead you on a pathway to entertainment – think of it as the ‘treatment’ for the longest mini-series in TV history – and elucidation and maybe even horror. Plus so many juicy surprises, which don’t appear in the more common sources of Islamic information.
For there will never be a miniseries about the Meccan Mensch whose suffering and rage led him to become Allah’s Prophet – no cojones in Tinseltown, a land filled with Hamlets of Hollywood. They got the ‘courage’ to slam McCarthy, Nixon, Bush, and even Jefferson. Soon, maybe Cheney and Rumsfeld. But testicles to criticize Muhammad ibn Abdallah?
In your dreams – so find the story yourself. This is a movie that will NOT be opening in a theatre near you, or on a TV network staffed by liberal weenies.
J.R. Ewing, watch out – there’s someone more entertaining, scarier and more influential than thee. ExileStreet
copyright 2008 Steve Finefrock Finefrock is founder of Hollywood Forum, a speaker-bureau and panel-discussion vehicle to “Bring the Potomac to the Palisades” on issues that overlap politics and culture with the Hollywood film-TV influence on such national concerns. His scripts have addressed politics [including a TV series pilot/bible package about state political combat, called "A State of the Union"], hazardous materials [from twelve years in emergency management, including six years managing FEMA's Superfund curriculum for hazmat], terrorism, equestrian reincarnation, serial murderer killing journalists in the nation’s capitol, and fantasy about time-wasters. Finefrock is proprietor of PhoneBooth: The Smallest Space in Hollywood…