Islam from the Western Scholars' Viewpoints (2)

Islam from the Western Scholars’ Viewpoints (2)


Washington Irving

‘O children of Abd al-Muttalib,’ cried he (Mohammed) with enthusiasm, ‘to you, of all men, has Allah vouchsafed these most precious gifts. In his name I offer you the blessings of this world, and endless joys hereafter. Who among you will share the burden of my offer? Who will be my brother, my lieutenant, my vizir?’ All remained silent; some wondering; others smiling with incredulity and derision. At length Ali, starting up with youthful zeal, offered himself to the service of the Prophet though modestly acknowledging his youth and physical weakness. Mohammed threw up his arms around the generous youth, and pressed him to his bosom. ‘Behold my brother, my vizir, my vicegerent,’ exclaimed he, “Let all listen to his words, and obey him.”(1)

Sir Richard Burton

After a long course of meditation, fired with anger by the absurd fanaticism of the Jews, the superstitions of the Syrian and Arab Christians, and the horrid idolatries of his unbelieving countrymen, an enthusiast too – and what great soul has not been an enthusiast? – He (Mohammad) determined to reform those abuses which rendered revelation contemptible to the learned and prejudicial to the vulgar. He introduced himself as one inspired to a body of his relations and fellow-clansmen. The step was a failure, except that it won for him a proselyte worth a thousand sabers in the person of Ali, son of Abu Talib. (2)

Ali had offered his services to Muhammad, the Messenger of God, and the latter had accepted them. To the elders of the tribe, Ali’s conduct might have appeared rash and brazen but he soon proved that he had the grit to accomplish far more than others had the courage even to dream. The Messenger of God, on his part, accepted the offer not only with expressions of gratitude and joy but also declared that Ali was, from that moment, his vicegerent.

Muhammad’s declaration was forthright and unequivocal. It is foolish to quibble, as some people do, that Ali’s vicegerency of Muhammad, was confined to the tribe of Banu Hashim. But Muhammad himself did not restrict Ali’s vicegerency to Banu Hashim. Ali was his vicegerent for all Muslims and for all time.

The banquet at which Muhammad, the Messenger of God, declared Ali to be his successor, is famous in history as “the banquet of Dhul-‘Asheera.” This name comes from Al-Qur’an al-Majid itself. (3) Strangely, Sir William Muir has called this historic event “apocryphal.” But what is “apocryphal” or so improbable about it? Could anything be more logical for the Messenger of God than to begin his work of propagating Islam at his own home, and with members of his own family and his own clan, especially after being expressly commanded by God towarn his nearest kinsmen?

The feast of Dhul-‘Asheera at which Muhammad, the Apostle of God, designated Ali ibn Abi Talib, as his successor, is a historical event, and its authenticity has been affirmed, among others, by the Arab historians. (4)

Sir William Muir

His (Mohammed’s) cousin, Ali, now 13 or 14 years of age, already gave tokens of the wisdom and judgment which distinguished him in after life. Though possessed of indomitable courage, he lacked the stirring energy which would have rendered him an effective propagator of Islam. He grew up from a child in the faith of Mohammed, and his earliest associations strengthened the convictions of maturer years. (5)

We have many reservations about Sir William Muir’s statement that Ali “lacked the stirring energy that would have made him an effective propagator of Islam.” Ali did not lack energy or anything else. In all the crises of Islam, he was selected to carry out the most dangerous missions, and he invariably accomplished them.

As a missionary also, Ali was peerless. There was no one among all the companions of the Prophet who was a more effective propagator of Islam than he. He promulgated the first 40 verses of the Surah Bara’a (Immunity), the Ninth chapter of Al-Qur’an al-Majid, to the pagans at Mecca, as the first missionary of Islam, and as one representing the Apostle of God himself. And it was Ali who brought all the tribes of Yemen into the fold of Islam.

Muhammad, the Messenger of God, had brought up Ali as his own child, and if the latter had lacked anything, he would have known it. He declared Ali to be his wazir, his successor and his vicegerent at a time when no one could have foreseen the future of Islam. This only points up the unbounded confidence that the Prophet of Islam had in this stripling of fourteen years.

Ali symbolized the hopes and aspirations of Islam. In the great revolution which Muhammad, the Apostle of God, had launched at the feast of Dhul-‘Asheera, he had mobilized the dynamism, and idealism, and the fervor and vigor of youth; Ali personified them all.

Two things had happened at the Feast. One was that the Prophet had brought Islam out in the open. Islam was no longer an “under-ground” movement; it had “surfaced.” At the feast of his kinsfolk, Muhammad had “crossed the Rubicon” and now there could be no turning back.

Time had come for him to carry the message of Islam beyond his own clan, first to the Quraysh of Makkah, then to all the Arabs, and finally, to the rest of the world. The other was that he had found Ali who was the embodiment of courage, devotion and resolution, and was worth far more than a thousand sabers.

It is reported that some days after the second banquet of Dhul-‘Asheera, Muhammad climbed up the hill of Safa near Kaaba, and called out: “O sons of Fehr, O sons of Loi, O sons of Adi, and all the rest of Quraysh! Come hither, and listen to me. I have something very important to tell you.”

Many of those Meccans who heard his voice, came to listen to him. Addressing them, he said: “Will you believe me if I were to tell you that an army was hidden behind yonder hills, and was watching you to attack you as soon as it found you off-guard?” They said they would believe him because they had never heard him tell a lie.

“If that’s so,” said Muhammad, “then listen to this with attention. The Lord of the Heavens and earth has commanded me to warn you of the dreadful time that is coming. But if you pay heed, you can save yourselves from perdition…” He had gone only as far as this when Abu Lahab, who was present among the listeners, interrupted him again by saying: “Death to you. Did you waste our time to tell us only this? We do not want to hear you. Do not call us again.”

Thenceforth, Abu Lahab made it a practice to shadow the Prophet wherever the latter went. If he started to read the Qur’an or to say something else, he (Abu Lahab) interrupted him or started heckling him. Abu Lahab’s hatred of Muhammad and Islam was shared by his wife, Umm Jameel. Both of them were the recipients of the curse of God in Al-Qur’an al-Majid (6).



  1. The Life of Mohammed
  2. The Jew the Gypsy and El Islam, San Francisco, 1898
  3. chapter 26; verse 214
  4. As Follow:
    1. a) Tabari, History, Vol. II,p. 217
    2. b) Kamil ibn Atheer, History, Vol. II, p. 22
    3. c) Abul Fida,History, Vol. I, p. 116
  5. The life of Mohammed, London, 1877
  6. chapter 111
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