It is utterly incredible that Prophet Muhammad, who decisively reshaped and altered the world, had no disciples or blood-relations to keep records of the contemporary events during his life time. The earliest biography of Prophet Muhammad was over 100 years after the prophet’s death. Ibn Ishaq is the first and the most important source for the biography. His time was from 704 CE to about 768 C.E. Obviously, he had never seen the Prophet in person and had no authentic source other than collecting tales and hearsay that were spinning around Yathrib in his time. Ibn Ishaq has titled his work as "Sirat Rasul Allah" (Life of Allah’s Messenger). The book is now lost in its original form and is known only in the editorial revision by Ibn Hisham (d. 833 C.E.).
Histories, over a long time of their existence in pages, often make the readers trust the entire narratives – as if they are the blueprints of yesterday’s reality. Despicably, a massive building-block of history remains the patronage of the powers – imperial or the spiritual. Whether it is the mass media or mangled manuscript, the tales get taller after every telling.
Ibn Ishaq tells us that after being branded as a trouble maker, several assassination attempts were made on Prophet Muhammad’s life as he believed in a God that was different from the gods of the Meccan aristocrats – the Qureysh. His opposition to idolatry evoked deadly enmity of the Qureysh. They felt throne-crushing tremor in Prophet Muhammad’s humanitarian ideals. Consequently, he and his followers had to leave the city of Mecca secretly and migrate to Yathrib in 622 C.E. – the beginning of Islamic Year (Hijrah).
While Prophet Muhammad’s God was remarkably identical to the God of the Jewish tribes, and yet Islamic history tells us that he was not received by the Jews (Banu-Qaynuqa, Banu-Nadir, Banu- Qurayza and more) at Yathrib. He was rather jeered by some idol worshipping tribes around Medina. More to the surprise, despite opposing idolatry, Prophet Muhammad seemed to have been revered in Yathrib by the idolaters and not by the Jews. That is not the sole inconsistency. Despite being a fugitive, Muhammad immediately got recognized as the mediator to settle the internal disputes of the idolaters namely Banu-Qaila, Aus, Khazraj and more.
Islamic historians have no choice other than taking Ibn Ishaq as the sole source for tracing Islam’s early records. Marmaduke Pickthall, the renowned translator of the Qur’an in English has profoundly relied on Ibn Ishaq. Despite the credit for well cognisance of Ibn Ishaq in Islamic history, the biography of Prophet Muhammad was too late in compilation for authenticity. Inevitably, inconsistencies, hasty placement of events, and image-tarnishing affairs are rampant in Ibn Ishaq’s book. He amazingly took more dull interest in the details of the Prophet’s personal life than placing rationality in his records. A few historians think that Ibn Ishaq’s publication is more of an anecdote than what is demanded in a biography.
The Jewish history tells us that about 550 years before Prophet Muhammad’s arrival in Yathrib, a huge number of the Jews were massacred in Jerusalem during 66-73 CE, by the Roman emperor – Titus Flavius Vespasian. Josephus, a contemporary historian of the time witnessed the Romans rounding up thousands of Jewish men and women. They were then exported for selling into slavery and prostitution in the lucrative slave markets of Rome. About 30,000 of those slaves are believed to have been engaged in building the Coliseum – the humongous stadium in Rome that exists still today.
Only a fraction of the Jews of Jerusalem could succeed in escaping the massacre. A few chose North Western Africa, and finally to Spain and Portugal – known as the Sephardic as opposed to the Ashkenazi who are excessively blended with the Europeans. Another minor fraction of the war-torn Jewish tribes took shelter in Yathrib and have been addressed as the ‘Bani Israel’ in the Quran. The Jewish escapees, on their way to hiding, left their holy scrolls in the caves of Qumran, a place around the Dead Sea. Uncovered during 1947 through 1956, these are the famous "Dead Sea Scrolls", a solid evidence supporting Jewish exodus from Jerusalem.
The Biblical belief that a Messiah would emancipate the Jewish people from their banishment in Babylon had remained as one of the most important beliefs amongst them for ages. His coming has been predicted by the Prophets of the Old Testament. (Isaiah 13, 14, 48, and Jeremiah 27 and 50-52). Ever since then, the Jewish belief remained invincible on the coming of a redeemer as the fulfilment of their history of salvation.
After being expelled from Mecca, the Prophet, on his way to Yathrib, was passing over Ta’if. While the people there did not spare him from the pains and wounds of a barrage of stones being thrown at the Prophet and his companions, their counterpart in Yathrib strangely gave him a standing ovation and a stable shelter. Ibn Ishaq justifies this abrupt inconsistency of the idolaters’ behaviour by telling the Islamic world that a few idolaters of Yathrib, while paying their annual visit to Mecca, suddenly got mesmerized by Prophet Muhammad’s perception of one unseen God as opposed to their ancestral 360 idols in the Kaaba. Incidentally, all these people of Mecca, Ta’if and the outskirts of Yathrib were the worshippers of Lat, Uzza and Manat, the daughters of their chief god.
While this story presents a total misfit in logic and human characteristics, and yet, this is the popular belief that prevails in the Islamic world. It is only a few who sense rampant gaps between the jigsaws of narratives. Although forensic survey on the accuracy of antiquated history is abrasive and sure to face hostile discord, it is not hard to evaluate their misfits through deductive approach. Although we can’t turn back the clock, but we can surely rearrange the recorded events in a model that is parallel with human qualities of credibility.
Realistically speaking, the only people who could have found resonance in Muhammad’s call for one unseen God are the Jews, believing in prophethood. Evidently, Prophet Muhammad’s invitation to Yathrib came from a group of eminent Jews, and not from a few idolaters. Interestingly, various Jewish anecdotes still tell us that Prophet Muhammad’s arrival in 622 C.E. was announced exuberantly from the rooftop of a Jewish dweller of Yathrib, saying: "here comes the Prophet." For about five years most Jewish people of Yathrib took Prophet Muhammad as their long awaited Messiah. All these historical events emphatically assures us that Prophet Muhammad had much closer relations with the Jews than what we find in Ibn Ishaq’s "Sirat Rasul Allah". Within a short while, their acceptance of Muhammad as their long awaited Prophet got symbolised in the name of the city. The powerful Jewish tribes, controlling the affairs of Yathrib, renamed the city as Medinatun Nabi (City of the Prophet). Eventually, the name got shortened as Medina.
Transmission of information from Yathrib, across the lands and seas to Europe did not exist in those days as it is today. Evidently, the Jewish tribes in Yathrib did not have any way to know that a large number of their people did survive the Roman massacre and were in Europe who might have not known anything about Prophet Muhammad. Perhaps, they might have been looking forward to having a redeemer yet to come. To the Jews of Yathrib, however, expectations were different. To them Muhammad appeared as the redeemer. His ancestry, being tied to Abraham, gave the needed credence to their monotheistic faith. The Romans who massacred their people in Jerusalem and finally established Christianity, were still then their deadliest enemies. Naturally, after a long waiting for their Messiah’s coming, the Jews in Yathrib must have been thrilled to receive their Prophet. The Christians, on the contrary, were not looking forward to having anyone conflicting with their belief, ingrained in their mind, since the conference of Nicea in 325 C.E. declaring Jesus as their God.
The impressions gained by a non-Muslim about Islam are unquestionably the amazing similarities of Islam’s essential rituals with the Jewish legends and practices that were carried to Yathrib by those Jews who escaped the Roman massacre in Jerusalem. Though, the Muslims believe Jesus as the immediate prophet before Prophet Muhammad, no legends of the Christendom are revered in the Qur’an. The vestments of the priests, the use of incense and holy water in purification, burning of candles, lights before the altars are nowhere near to Islamic paradigm. Rather, Islam has been emphasized as having conformity with the faith of Abraham and Moses. Embedded in Islam are all that were the norms of Judaism, practised by the Bani Israelis in Medina. Avoidance of swine meat, performance of circumcision, eating kosher meat (halal) and most importantly keeping away from idol worshipping signify the intimate Judaeo-Islamic bond. Even the Islamic calendar begins from the day when Muhammad started his journey to Medina, as opposed to the sacred day he claimed to have received the divine message from God around Mecca. These are just a few evidences to epitomise the Judaeo-Islamic bond that existed before any religiopolitical connivance intruded into these two purely monotheistic faiths.
Right from Islam’s infancy to about the Battle of the Trench, this hallmark of closeness remained deeply fastened amongst the hosting tribes of Medina and the followers of Prophet Muhammad. In reality it was a merger of two Abrahamic religions into one with a secular name – Islam. The mystery of history is that the Christendom was mesmerized with the awesome rapidity of Islam’s expansion. It was the time when Christianity got bogged-down in the preaching of trinity doctrines, that essentially were the paganistic ideals of godly plurality in Hellenism, galvanized in the making of the Christ (god, father and the holy ghost). It sharply deviated from the perception of God that was identical to Judaism and Islam. Naturally, Judaeo-Islamic kinship had biblical footings and many common threads.
The conventional wisdom holds the origin of anti-Semitism to Christianity and not to Islam. It is deeply tied to the New Testament’s stories of Judas helping the Romans crucifying Jesus. Ever since the crucifixion, the Christians connected Judas to Judaism and regarded the Jews as a form of devil incarnates. The heinous crimes for about two thousand years of slavery, torture, torment, persecution, deprivation, discrimination and mass-execution, committed by the Euro-Aryans on the Jewish people in Europe is now a forgotten tale. The Islamic Ottomans empire, sheltering thousands of uprooted Jews of the Christendom is a fable today. In recent years, the table has got turned around and the hatred has been downloaded on the back of the Muslims. What is more baffling is that the perpetuity of the hatred has evangelical blueprint in the "controlled demolition" of the Twin Towers that emerge on TV screens on September 11 in each year.
- "The Life of Muhammad" – by Ibn Ishaq, translated by Alfred Guillame from the edited version of Abd al-Malik Ibn Hisham
- Classical Islam, a History 600 -1258 – by G.E. Von Grunebaum
- The Outline of History – by H. G. Wells
- Contemporary magazines and newspapers.