[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]

Religious and Political Liberty Allow Islām to Advance

John C. Rankin

Ibn Isḥāq’s narrative shows five sequential realities where Islām is protected and honored by the religious and political liberties given to them.

First, the sacred enclosure of the Ka‘ba in Mecca is a center for all the Arabian tribes, with 360 gods and goddeses that are worshiped. Muḥammad has free access to the sacred enclosure from the very beginning of his mission, honored by the polytheists, to call people to follow Islām. Only when his preaching against polytheism ratchets up and causes conflict, does he wear out his welcome.

Second, Muḥammad’s mother Āmina d. Wahb dies when he is six years old, with his father having died much earlier. “Thus the apostle was left to his grandfather [‘Abdu’l-Muṭṭalib] for whom they made a bed in the shade of the Ka‘ba.” ‘Abdu’l-Muṭṭalib dies two years later, and then his uncle Abū Ṭālib, full brother to ‘Abdu’l-Muṭṭalib, becomes his guardian and protector. Abū Ṭālib becomes his guardian, and thus protects Muḥammad against hostilities many times, but never converts to Islam, even at his dying breath.

Third, under duress of opposition from Muḥammad’s own ruling Quraysh tribe in Mecca, the first hijra (emigration) in Islām comes to pass. “When the apostle saw the affliction of his companions and that though he escaped it because of his standing with Allah and his uncle Abū Ṭālib, he said to them, ‘If you were to go to Abyssinia (it would be better for you), for the king will tot tolerate injustice and it is a friendly country, until such time as Allah shall relieve you from your distress.’ Thereupon his companions went to Abyssinia, being afraid of apostasy and fleeing to God [Allāh] with their religion.” Abyssinia, ruled by the Negus, or king, was a Christian nation in East Africa.

Fourth, the second bodyguard conversion to Islam was one ‘Umar. He was bold, strong and helped Muḥammad prevail in the sacred enclosure, and later in key battles. When he “gets into a fight with some of the Quraysh,” an appeal for religious freedom is made is made on his behalf.

“At this point a shaykh of the Quraysh, in a Yamani robe and embroidered shirt, came up and stopped and inqured what was the matter. When he was told [by the Quraysh] that ‘Umar had apostatized [from polytheism] he [the shaykh] said, ‘Why should not a man choose a religion for himself, and what are you trying to do? … Let the man alone.” The shaykh was a man who never converted to Islām.

And fifth, when Muḥammad and his companions the Quraysh in Mecca flee to Medīna, in the second hijra, they found religious freedom honored by the Jews, who were the largest portion of the population in Medīna.

Thus, at five crucial junctures, Muḥammad and his religion survive at strategic points of vulnerability — the initial freedom honored by the polytheistic culture, the essential protection of his polytheistic uncle, the Christian king of Abyssinia, the conversion of one of his two major bodyguards by a polytheist, and the religious liberty honored by the Jews in Medīna.

But, this honor and liberty is not reciprocated by Islām.

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