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A Message to the Enlightened Thinkers
Surah al-Rum - The Romans

Part 2

Dr. Ali Shariati


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Since conventionally one thinks of "men of the sword" as merciless and insensitive, it may be difficult to imagine how the courageous and powerful Prophet could possess such a high degree of affection and sympathy, a quality that even Jesus did not have, and which was manifested throughout the ordeal. The Prophet of Islam was the only one who simultaneously carried the sword of Caesar in his hand, and the heart of Jesus in his chest. A sensitive person, he was forced to witness the best models of love and faith subjected to the torture hands of Abu Jahl and his associates. Unfortunately, the Prophet could not protest such actions nor initiate measures to curtail them Every day as he stood by the victims, he observed the sadistic reactions of those who inflicted the torture. As if drunk with their performance, the torturers happily encouraged each other to more extreme torture of the followers of the Prophet. As already noted the Prophet was there but could only give the victims moral support during such a situation of weakness, desperation and universal ignorance. Praying that Allah's help and victory should soon arrive, the Prophet encouraged the victims to be patient and steadfast in their resistance.

Day after day, the Prophet of Islam watched the old and faithful black woman, Sumayyah, the old, poor, loving, faithful and courageous man, Yasir, and last but not least, the growing young man who was totally overcome by the love for his Prophet, 'Ammar Although continuously tortured, these victims were the bleeding symbols of uprightness and righteousness. Whenever they noticed the Prophet's arrival, the victims tried to conceal their pains and desperation and would project an image of strength, self-control, happiness and dedication to and love for the Prophet. After sharing his sorrow with those being tortured, the Prophet would depart.

Day after day this event was repeated, until one day the Prophet came but saw neither Sumayyah, nor Yasir, nor the torturers the shouts of Abu Jahl and Umayyat Ibn Khalaf (Abu-Jahl's associate) no longer filled the air. Amidst the vacant and silent valley of Mecca the Prophet saw 'Ammary who possessed the sincerity of an Abyssinian, the emotions of an Arab and the awareness of a Muslim standing all alone. Unlike in the past, 'Ammar's arms and legs were not tied. Nobody was watching him; 'Ammar was actually free . Why was he still at the site? As the Prophet approached 'Ammar, he noticed 'Ammar was in an unusual position, one which he never assumed even under severe torture. Bowing his head over his chest 'Ammar tried to conceal his face from the Prophet. In light of 'Ammar's previous demonstration of strength, the prophet was surprised to see him in a state of weakness. The Prophet tried to hold 'Ammar's head in an upright position by grabbing his curly hair. He asked 'Ammar to look at him. He repeated his request, but then he noticed tears falling from 'Ammar's face as 'Ammar tried even harder to conceal his face. The Prophet realized 'Ammar must have experienced the severest torture; he concluded that 'Ammar must have witnessed the torture and death of his parents.

Although the bodies had been removed, 'Ammar remained. Why didn't 'Ammar want to return to the city? As 'Ammar cried, the Prophet tried to calm him and eulogized his parents. Surprisingly 'Ammar was not concerned with the destiny of his parents. He was suffering a more severe pain. 'Ammar said: "O messenger of Allah, I finally said what I have always been loath to say." It was evident to the Prophet that 'Ammar had lost consciousness after watching his parents tortured to death. Like any other human being, 'Ammar had feelings and emotions which limited his capacity for resistance. Consequently, when 'Ammar lost consciousness, he pleased Abu Jahl but displeased himself by rejecting the Prophet. In return, 'Ammar was freed. As he regained consciousness, the pains of torture subsided and the shouts of Abu Jahl as well as his associates were no longer heard. Upon achieving total consciousness, 'Ammar wondered why he had been freed. He quickly realized that he had succumbed to the enemies of Islam, and could not tolerate the torture of his shame which was much more painful than Abu Jahl's torture. 'Ammar's state of mind caused him to forget about the death of his parents. He was preoccupied with the anxieties of his return home and facing the Prophet. Standing alone in the desert, 'Ammar experienced sadness homelessness, and helplessness. Sympathetically, the Prophet addressed 'Ammar and said: "'Ammar, do not worry if you said something you did not believe, because Allah is forgiving." 'Ammar was relieved.

'Ammar went on to lead his life, which included thirteen years before Hijra and forty years afterwards, in defense of Islam. Throughout the life of the Prophet until the time of 'Uthman (the third Caliph), 'Ammar participated in numerous battles. Despite his old age and diminished combat abilities, 'Ammar remained dedicated to the cause of Islam. Forty-three years after being exonerated for making a statement he did not believe in (i.e., rejecting the Prophet), and although aged and weak, 'Ammar was making up for it. He participated in the battle of Siffayn. He remembered what the Prophet had told him: "'Ammar, you will be killed by a group of oppressors." (Many people had witnessed the Prophet uttering this statement). Anxious to do his best and aware of his inability to fight holding a sword alongside Ali, 'Ammar decided to fight bare-handed. He felt that if he were killed by Mua'wiyah army, the truth would be revealed and people would identify the oppressors. Mu'awiyah's army was eager to see Ammar dead, but many were aware of the Prophet's statement and therefore kept away from 'Ammar. Nevertheless, 'Ammar wholeheartedly sought to reach the forefront of the battle and finally did. When he died, the followers of Mu'awiyah not only cried that 'Ammar was killed but also recalled what the Prophet had said regarding 'Ammar's death. The members of Mu'awiyah's army began to argue and became hesitant, which strengthened the convictions of Ali's followers. This account shows that 'Ammar died in a manner reserved exclusively to him. Another victim of torture, inflicted by Umayyat Ibn Khalaf, was a slave called Bilal. Everyday at a site near Mecca, a barrel of water was heated under the burning desert sun. The torturer would then submerge Bilal's head under the water almost to the point of suffocation. Whenever the torturer released his hand, Bilal would grasp his breath and say "Ahad" (Allah is One). Regardless of the continuous torment, Bilal repeated "Ahad, Ahad." Later, when he became semi-conscious and was about to die, Bilal was left exposed to the whims of ignorant people and children. Without mercy, they teased him, cursed him, spat on his face and dragged his body on the ground. Bilal's responses of "Ahad, Ahad," did not go unheeded. Because of its significance, "Ahad" became a slogan which Muslims repeated during their battles when they were at the peak of victory. It as the exclusive legacy of Bilal.

These stories illustrate the status of the early Muslims in Mecca and the strength of those who supported the poor and lonely Prophet, a man deprived of the rights of an ordinary Arab in Mecca. He could not even pray at Masjid al-Haram, which was open to everyone. Subject to all forms of harassment by non-believers, the Prophet was cursed, stoned, showered with the contents of the stomach of a lamb (on his head) and attacked with ashes as he went to the mosque. During such a difficult situation only a small group of poor, lonely and homeless individuals stood behind the Prophet. In this atmosphere of weakness, desperation and helplessness, the Prophet informed his companions: "You will be the victors of history. Neither the superpowers, the great kingdoms nor the great Caesar, but Muslims, will dominate the world. Not only will you rule Arabia, Mecca or the Quraysh, but you will also conquer Persia, Byzantium, Yemen and Egypt (i.e., the contemporary East and the West)." Those were the words of a lonely leader whose followers had either died helplessly under torture or emigrated to Abyssinia to escape Quraysh oppression. Not only did the leader of the small and weak group of supporters speak with strong determination, but he also informed his followers that they would rule the world.

The Prophet assured them that although the intellectuals of his time would ridicule them, the Muslims would eventually control the great civilizations of the East and the West. Who were the intellectuals of the Prophet's time? They included wealthy businessmen who were the farm owners of Ta'if, or importers of goods from Iran, Byzantium, Yemen, and Syria (Sham), those who were exposed to other religions or had accepted other faiths, and finally, those who had become familiar with foreign countries and foreign relations through commercial dealings with Persia. Claiming that the Qur'an was nothing more than a collection of old stories for which they had better substitutes, they would go to the Masjid al-Haram, and relay the stories of Rustam, Esfandiar, and Ashkabus to the Arab audience. Through such entertainment, the intellectuals would preoccupy the people so as to stop them from thinking about the Prophet's message.

In contrast to the "intellectuals," who knew about the world and the universe, the Prophet was a lay person. With the exception of a few times when he visited the neighboring areas, he rarely had gone beyond the vicinity of Mecca. The Prophet had neither seen nor studied other holy books. He was not familiar with other existing civilizations, empires, faiths, and politicians. Furthermore, not knowing their armies or the type of weapons they used, the Prophet did not estimate the capabilities of the great powers. The companions of the Prophet were in a worse condition. They lacked not only social and cultural class but also scientific qualifications and distinction. The intellectuals singled out the son of Abdullah and the poor people around him (i.e., his companions). They asked if the Prophet was deceiving his followers or fooling himself. Was he assuring the companions that if they strived hard and believed in Allah, they would rule the world? According to the intellectuals, because the Prophet did not know the geography of the world, he thought the world was limited to Mecca, Medina and the few Arab tribes. They also claimed that the Prophet was not aware of the fact that the Arab legion of the Byzantine army numbered almost one hundred thousand, and were equipped with the best weapons. This was only their northern division. Their southern one had an equal number of armed cavaliers. If both squadrons were called to a battle, two hundred thousand soldiers would quickly appear, armed with sophisticated weapons. As for the Persians, the) had commissioned seven hundred thousand soldiers to Greece, and had five hundred thousand soldiers in their northern army and three hundred thousand well-equipped soldiers based in Isfahan. Each horse in the Persian army had a saddle and ornaments which were more expensive than the total cost of the Arab army's weapons. Yet, although unfamiliar with contemporary international affairs, the Prophet told Bilal, Khubab, 'Ammar, Sumayyah, Salman and others that if they worked hard and lived a righteous life, their generation would rule the world.

The Prophet did not know that all of Arabia and the Arab tribes (not in Mecca and Medina) plus Yemen were not valuable enough for the Persians or Byzantines to conquer. This position implied that the Arabs were not even worthy of being slaves or of being colonized by the Empires. The Persians invaded Greece and Egypt. (To reach Egypt, the Persians had to encircle the Arabian Peninsula). They conquered Egypt. Considering that today's Iraq, the Red Sea, Turkey and Greece were all parts of the Byzantine Empire, when the Prophet declared his message in the seventh century the entire known world was divided between the Persian and Eastern Roman empires, which were both civilized and heavily armed. All the world's wealth belonged to the two powers. It was in Constantinople or Ctesiphon, the capital of Byzantium and of the Sassanid's respectively, that the fate and future of all races, nations and civilizations were decided and planned. If there were lands or nations which were not ruled by the Byzantines or the Persians, it was not because they were strong and independent, but because they were not important to either power from a historical, political or economic point of view. In other words, it was not worth the superpowers' time and effort to conquer such areas.

During the seventh century, Mecca was midway between the world's two most powerful civilizations, ideologies, philosophies, social systems, public relations systems, military structures, and civil systems The most sophisticated and modern weapons of the day were in the possession of the Persians and the Byzantines. Persia occupied most of the East while the Byzantines had most of the West. Mecca and Medina were two small villages that neither the Byzantines nor the Persians bothered to capture. The Byzantines were not interested in experiencing the hardships of crossing the northern desert to reach Medina. Likewise, the Persians did not want to cross Rab'-al-Khali and the hot desert of Najd in order to capture Mecca. After all, what was in Mecca? It housed a simple temple (Ka'bah), its inhabitants were groups of caravan owners or herders, and it lacked fertility and vegetation. What was in Medina, save a few palm trees, two major tribes of Aws and Khazraj and tribesmen engaged in agricultural projects, and some Jewish families carrying on their usual practices of shop keeping and business. One might wonder which era is being described, today's world situation or the seventh century.

The Prophet resided in Mecca, a small village whose main attraction was the temple even though it was becoming a city because it was on the caravan route. The "Silk Road" was one of the most important economic lines that extended from China to Rome: it passed through Persia and crossed northern Arabia (Turkey today). However, because of the war between the Persians and the Byzantines, tradesmen had to avoid the "Silk Road" and use the desert route in their effort to carry Chinese and Persian goods to Europe. The desert was an uninhabitable hot place where nothing grew. While its stones were granite, the sand hills and pebbles were formed and reformed by the winds. Since camels were the only means of getting across, businessmen negotiated deals with the camel owners or Arab caravan men whereby goods would be taken across the desert. (Mecca and Medina are located on the western side of the desert).

Historians incorrectly refer to the "Quraysh aristocracy" and claim that there were many aristocrats in Mecca. They probably do not realize that Mecca was little more than a temple. How much was the property of Abu-Sufyan worth? What was the criteria for being a member of the aristocracy those days? Those who owned a few camels or acted as brokers were most likely considered aristocrats. Interestingly enough, if one examines the seventh century of Persian or Roman books, one will rarely find the word "Arab" or "Arabia Felix." Only in some Greek books does one find these terms. And even these are references to Yemen, which was mentioned because of its fertility and its significance as the bone of contention between Persia and Abyssinia.

It was in this area, to which the Persians and Byzantines attached so little import and which was deemed unworthy of conquest, that the Prophet was born, received the revelations, proclaimed the message and initiated the Islamic revolution. In light of the circumstances, it would not have been abnormal to expect that such a movement, like a desert storm, would be short-lived and would soon disappear. The world beyond Mecca could not hear about the movement since it had no access to that area. It seemed that the power of the movement could hardly extend beyond Mecca. At most the threat of the revolution went as far as Mecca itself, where the Prophet and his companions might gain ascendancy. So what? What would happen if they did?

During the desperate conditions in which a group of poor, exploited, illiterate, homeless, alienated, tortured and helpless people could do nothing to stop the torturers from tormenting them or their friends, the Prophet of Islam tried to comfort them. He assured his followers that if they believed in Islam, they would rule the world. The so-called intellectuals ridiculed the Prophet's prediction. They raised doubts. Do these people know anything about the world? Do they know what power means? Do they know who has the greatest amount of weapons? Do they know who alone is able to defeat the Romans? They answered that it could only be the Persians who were capable of defeating the Byzantines.

For over eleven hundred years (i.e., 550 BC to 622 CE) the Persians and the Romans controlled the world and fought one another. The Arabs are hardly mentioned in the history of that era. They became visible as a result of some trade activity via the bypass road when a few camel owners and Arab caravan men encountered some business dealings. At that time a homeless man who lived in his uncle's house, unable to defend himself from even the camel owners, experienced numerous hardships throughout his life and married the woman he worked for, and who was much older than himself, when he decided to establish a family. It was this man who claimed that the Muslims would conquer the entire world. The surah confirms his utterance, "Alif-Lam-Mim, The Romans were defeated" (30: 1-2).

Even with this geographical and historical clarification, it is still unclear as to whether what is being discussed appertains to the contemporary world situation or the situation of fourteen hundred years ago. Conditions today are very similar. In fact not even the terminology has changed. The same polarization exists, while the geographical positions have undergone minor transformations. The Muslims are in the same, if not a worse, predicament. East and West rule the world while the Muslims, who are in the middle, are considered part of the Third World. Unfortunately, many intellectuals who have been overcome by the present superpowers believe that the survival of the Third World nations depends on their allegiance to one of these powers. Of course, such a position is contrary to the Islamic belief that Allah is the Almighty and Omnipotent.

The Byzantines and the Persians reached an agreement about how most of the world should be divided between them but disputed over a few issues, such as the status of the Armenians and the area of Mesopotamia. Depending on who controlled them, the East or the West, the rulers of each area shifted. Another area of contention was Georgia. This dispute was solved in a foolish way: the governor was elected by the Persians, but he had to follow the procedures and regulations set by the Byzantines.

The Near East was the major trouble spot during the seventh century. At times, the main roads were controlled by the East (Persians) and at other times by the West (Byzantines). The Westerners reached as far as Ctesiphon on certain occasions while the Easterners reached the heart of Byzantium. And, in a state of affairs that bears a striking resemblance to world politics of today, the people of Arabia were urbanized and had close contacts with one of the superpowers of the day, the Persians, and imitated their way of life. On the other hand, those who lived in the north were highly influenced by the Byzantines. The allies of the East concluded military agreements with the Persians which guaranteed their protection from aggression by the tribal Arabs who attacked their villages. A group of Arabs were hired to defend the urbanites from unanticipated aggression by the East. The Arabs in the North, the Ghassanites, were pro-Byzantine. They were supposed to protect themselves from aggression by the central tribes, but their army could not operate in the desert. Therefore, they used the northern Arabs to fight the central Arab tribes. Consequently, the Middle East was the battleground of the East and West.

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