[Excerpts, with occasional modest edits, from The Real Muḥammad: In the Eyes of Ibn Isḥāq, copyright 2013, TEI Publishing House. All quotations from the Sīrat Rasūl Allāh (“Life of the Messenger of Allāh”) are from the translation by Alfred Guillaume (Oxford University Press), copyright 1955. These stories are faithfully passed along from the most ancient, extant and authoritative biography of Muḥammad. All Muslims are called to imitate Muḥammad in their daily lives, and Muslim scholars know that Ibn Isḥāq is the best source for the historical Muḥammad, despite concern for various hon-historical material. The question is this: Can Muḥammad satisfy the Muslim thirst for freedom? How many people, of their own volition, would follow Muḥammad if they were free to choose otherwise? The same question is freely received by Muslims who would question Christians who follow Jesus as the Son of God]

Muḥammad Yields to Syncretism and is Rescued by Jibrīl

John C. Rankin

But in the midst of addressing syncretists as they propose a theological compromise, a difficult moment in Muḥammad’s life arrives.

“When the apostle saw that his people turned their backs on him[,] and he was pained by their estrangement from what he brought them from God [Allāh][,] he longed that there should come to him from God [Allāh] a message that would reconcile his people to him. Because of his love for his people and his anxiety over them[,] it would delight him if the obstacle that made his task so difficult could be removed; so that he meditated on the project and longed for it and it was dear to him.

“Then God [Allāh] sent down ‘By the star when it sets your comrade errs not and is not deceived, he speaks not from his own desire,’ and when he reached His words, ‘Have you thought of al-Lāt and al-‘Uzzā and Manāt the third, the other,’ Satan, when he was meditating upon it, and desiring to bring it (sc. reconciliation) to his people, put upon his tongue ‘these people are the exalted Gharānīq whose intercession is approved.’ ”

Ibn Isḥāq is careful here to give the Muḥammad’s motivation for winning his people to himself and his mission, taking time to mediate on the how to overcome their resistance. But in this pursuit, Satan is said to slip in and allow Muḥammad to make a compromise with the syncretists, as credibility is given to the three pagan goddesses as intercessors.

“When the Quraysh heard that, they were delighted and greatly pleased at the way in which he spoke of their gods and they listened to him …

“Then the people dispersed and Quraysh went out, delighted at what had been said about their gods, saying, ‘Muhammad has spoken of our gods in splendid fashion. He alleged in what he read that they are the exalted Gharānīq whose intercession is approved.’ ”

The Quraysh accordingly prostrate themselves in the mosque side by side with the Muslims. The news reached the prophet’s companions who were in Abyssinia, it being reported that Quraysh had accepted Islam, so some men started to return while others remained behind. Then Gabriel [Jibrīl] came to the apostle and said, “ ‘What have you done, Muhammad? You have read to these people something I did not bring you from God [Allāh] and you have said what He did not say to you.’ The apostle was bitterly grieved and was greatly in fear of God [Allāh]. So God [Allāh] sent down (a revelation), for He was merciful to him, comforting him and making light of the affair[,] and telling him that every prophet and apostle before him desired as he desired[,] and wanted what he wanted[,] and Satan interjected something into his desires as he had on his tongue. So God [Allāh] annulled what Satan had suggested and God [Allāh] established His verses, i.e. you are just like the prophets and apostles. Then God [Allāh] sent down: ‘We have not sent a prophet or apostle before you but when he longed [for something,] Satan cast suggestions into his longing. But God [Allāh] will annul what Satan has suggested. Then God [Allāh] will establish his verses, God [Allāh] being knowing and wise.’ Thus God [Allāh] relieved his prophet’s grief, and made him feel safe from his fears[,] and annulled what Satan had suggested in the words used above about the gods by his revelation[,] ‘Are yours the males and His the females? That were indeed an unfair division’ (i.e., most unjust); ‘they are nothing but names which your fathers gave them as far as the words ‘to whom he pleases and accepts,’ i.e. how can the intercession of their gods avail with Him?”

[This story is controversial for Muslims since it shows the ability of Satan to deceive their prophet Muḥammad, but then, Jibrīl intervenes awhile later to correct it, so this gives a check and balance that should, by definition, ameliorate such a concern. In Matthew 16:22-23, Peter, who has just faithfully confessed Jesus as the Christ, reacts against Jesus as he speaks of his forthcoming death and resurrection, and Peter, not understanding it, and in fear of Jesus dying, says, “ ‘Never, Lord!’ Jesus rebukes him, ‘Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’ ” This is a far stronger rebuke for a statement of unbelief than given to Muḥammad by Allāh when Muḥammad speaks wrongly in his name. Muslims view Muḥammad as human not divine, and this might also ameliorate the concern, but too, since he is their perfect, if human, example, this is still disturbing to many Muslims. Further, Allāh thus makes “light of the affair,” and annuls the Satanic interposition, and assures Muḥammad that prophets and apostles before him have been likewise vulnerable to deception (though without biblical examples provided, and none can be cited for when a biblical prophet speaks in the name of the Lord)].

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