Thursday, October 02, 2014

Urwa's Muhammad, Part II

This is the second of what will actually be three posts on the research of Andreas Goerke and Gregor Schoeler into Urwa b. al-Zubayr's information about Muhammad.  (I can't type the umlaut on Gorke's name in Blogger!)  I explained the historiographic issues here and posted the first part here.  The third post will come tomorrow or over the weekend.  I am organizing it by the seven major episodes of Muhammad's life concerning which Goerke and Schoeler found that Urwa taught substantial narratives.

4.) Slander Against Aisha - According to the authors, Urwa's material on this is better than any other issue, perhaps because his main source was Aisha, who obviously had a special interest in it.  The authors conclude that Urwa passed on that rumors began circulating in Medina that Aisha had committed adultery, which Aisha learned about from a woman named Umm Mistah.  Aisha then asked Muhammad if she could return to her parents' house, which he accepted.  On the advice of a Companion or two, Muhammad asked Aisha's servant girl if she knew of any bad doings by Aisha, and the girl spoke only praise of her.  Muhammad then spoke of the matter before the assembly of Medina, leading to a stand-off between Aws and Khazraj, the two dominant tribes, with Sa'd b. Mu'adh, the leader of Aws, offering to kill the Khazraj leader Abdullah b. Ubayy for spreading the rumors.  The Khazraj objected to this plan, and Muhammad calmed the assembly.  Muhammad then went to Aisha, asking if the rumors were true, and offering forgiveness if they were.  Finally, Sura 24 was revealed, leading to the exoneration of Aisha and punishment of the leading rumor-mongers.

The standard version includes the story that prior to this, Aisha had accompanied Muhammad on a raid, and was inadvertently left behind when she went to look for a missing necklace.  After a day or so in the desert, a man found her and escorted her to Medina; this was the man with whom she had the alleged affair.  Urwa may have passed on information about the man escorting her back after she was left behind on a raid, but there is no evidence he had a necklace story or a specific raid, and his inclusion of Sa'd b. Mu'adh puts it before its place in the standard biographies, by which time Sa'd is dead.  Another thing missing is the role of Ali b. Abi Talib, who in the standard accounts urged Muhammad to divorce Aisha.  The authors, however, note that at later stages of transmission, an anti-Aisha role for Ali was added by two different transmitters, presumably as Sunni propaganda.

According to the possible "connecting tissue" of the standard bios, Abdullah b. Ubayy was the dominant figure in Medina before Muhammad came, but was unable to end the tribal feuds, a critical role for Arabian leaders.  When Muhammad came and secured his position by ending them, Abdullah b. Ubayy converted to Islam, but often criticized his leadership and sought to undermine him.  Early Islamic exegetes said that he and his followers were the "Hypocrites" often referred to in the Qur'an.  The bios present him as often vexing Muhammad, but Muhammad always tolerated him, and when he died in 631, Muhammad even performed his funeral prayers.

How much of that is truly early tradition?  I have no idea, but it is what I have to offer to clarify the players.  The main point may be that even though in the later tradition this is famous partly as a source of enmity between Ali and Aisha that prefigures the Sunni/Shi'ite division, Urwa's information on it places it squarely within the reputational politics of Muhammad's Medina.

5.) Death of Sa'd b. Mu'adh - I'd guess most Muslims have never heard of Sa'd b. Mu'adh, who led the Aws, one of the two most powerful tribes in Medina.  He seems to have mattered to Urwa, though.  This, however, is the weakest of the seven accounts as far as the authors' efforts to find authentic information Urwa transmitted.  In fact, applying their methods, they can only say for sure that Urwa's son and student Hisham b. Urwa transmitted on this, though they say they do believe he got his information from Urwa himself.  If I'm reading them correctly, then even from Hisham they have only two points meeting their criteria for certainty: 1.) When Sa'd was lying wounded in the mosque, Muhammad erected a tent over him for visitors and 2.) When the B. Qurayza surrendered to Muhammad, he chose to defer judgment over them to Sa'd, as the Qurayza were confederates of the Aws.  Sa'd was brought with his wound, and declared that their men should be slain, the women and children sold into slavery, and their property confiscated.  Muhammad then had this done.

We need a broader view here.  A potential fuller account from Hisham b. Urwa, though again with far less certainty, is that Sa'd was wounded at the Battle of the Trench, then taken to the mosque where Muhammad erected the tent.  Then the Archangel Gabriel appeared to warn Muhammad that the B. Qurayza were fighting the Muslims.  Muhammad and the Muslims won, then Sa'd gave his judgment, then he died of his wound, possibly after lying in the mosque awhile bleeding profusely.  (Notice this includes the only truly supernatural event we've encountered.)

The Battle of the Trench was a month-long siege of Medina by a Mecca-led alliance.  It is named for a trench which Muslims dug around the exposed north of the city where most of the fighting happened.  Other sides of the city had natural defenses or were protected by tribal allies.  The B. Qurayza were a Jewish tribe allied with the Muslims.  Before their unsuccessful final attempt to take Medina, the Meccans "flipped" them so they would launch a surprise attack from behind Muslim lines.  The massacre is obviously brutal, and some modern Muslims have denied it happened.  Given confirmation bias, what's above probably won't change minds, since those who believe in it will note it is one of the seven strong Urwa accounts while those who don't will note it is easily the weakest of those seven.  We should probably see the story overall as a parallel to the reported massacres of Benjamin and Amalek in the deep past of the Hebrews, an unusual but not unheard of measure taken against enemies when all men were potential warriors and there was no ruling legal authority.

6.) Peace of Hudaybiyya - Urwa does not have chronology except by implication; however, the standard date for this event is 628, a the year following the Battle of the Trench.  Crucial background, of course, is that the Ka'aba was in Mecca, and this was a sacred house open to all.  That status was a source of Meccan power.  The Muslims believe it was built by Abraham and Ishmael as the first mosque, and something like this may have been more widely spread among the generically monotheistic hanif movement.

Anyway, what the authors conclude is definitely authentic Urwa material is that Muhammad decided to undertake a peaceful pilgrimage to the Ka'aba, and with several hundred Muslims entered into a state of ritual purity and advanced toward Mecca.  At a place called 'Usfan, he learned that the Meccans wanted to prevent him from arriving, and sent out cavalry to intercept, leading Muhammad to take a different route.  At a (pagan) sacred ground called Hudaybiyya, Muhammad's camel stopped and would go no farther.  Muhammad took this as a sign from God and so they all stopped there.  To get water, they poked a watering-hole with an arrow until they found water.  The Meccans sent messengers to Muhammad (because they could note fight in the sacred ground), and they began negotiating; the lead Meccan negotiator was Suhayl b. 'Amr.  They wound up drawing up a treaty to end the war; Muhammad made the concession that the divine invocations in the treaty need not be specifically Muslim as long as they invoked a single anonymous "God."  Muhammad also agreed to send Muslim converts from Mecca back to their families upon request, and to permit anyone who no longer wished to be Muslim to return to Mecca, as well.  Abu Jandal fled to Muhammad, but was sent back by the terms of the treaty.

The "Muhammad of Hudaybiyya" is, of course, beloved to many Muslims who do not see their religion as encouraging violence.  They can take solace that in Gorke and Schoeler's opinion, Hudaybiya, the Aisha slander, and the flight to Medina are actually the three most solid elements of their proposed authentic Urwa corpus.  Some famous terms of the agreement, such as its 10-year duration, and what happened to the intended pilgrimage, are not in all versions of the agreement.  The "Treaty of Hudaybiyya" of Islamic tradition, therefore, may be like the "Seven Last Words of Christ" in Christianity, cobbled together out of several independent traditions to make a whole.

There are at least two distinct strains of this in Muslim tradition.  One of these is related to the evolving ideology of expansionist military jihad.  In the late 700's and early 800's, Muslim scholars began dividing the world into an "Abode of Islam" and the "Abode of War," with a necessity for just Muslim rulers to always extend the former at the expense of the latter.  In this formulation, truces can only be temporary, and so Hudaybiyya came to be interpreted as a necessary tactical concession.  The tradition of a 10-year limit was probably most significant in this context.  (In the late 20th century, of course, some Muslims concluded that there world had no just Muslim rulers, and so it was the duty of individual Muslims to wage military jihad everywhere, which is where we get al-Qaeda and ISIS.)

Anyway, a necessary tactical concession is not the impression of Hudaybiyya conveyed in the 8th-century biographies of Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Rashid.  In both of these, Muhammad is actually portrayed as confident he could defeat the Meccans if necessary.  The impression I get, with background knowledge of 7th-century Arabia, is that the view they portray is one of "peace through strength."  In lawless Arabia, the strong preyed on the weak.  The Muslim community, having established itself as strong, was thus taking the road of agreeing to peace rather than take the more common Arabian route of subjugating their enemies.  In Guillaume's translation of Ibn Hisham's Ibn Ishaq recension, Muhammad even laments at 'Usfan: "Alas, Quraysh (the tribe of Mecca), war has devoured them!  What harm would they have suffered if they had left me and the rest of the Arabs to go our own ways?"

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