Islam From Western Scholars' Viewpoints (3)

Islam From Western Scholars’ Viewpoints (3)


In this part of the topic “Islam from Western Scholars’ viewpoints” we shall be looking at the opinions of some non-Muslim scholars about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his household).

Sir William Muir

Shortly after the rebuilding of the Kaaba, Mohammed comforted himself for the loss of his infant son Casim by adopting Ali, the child of his friend and former guardian, Abu Talib. Ali, at this time not above five or six years of age, remained ever after with Mohammed, and they exhibited towards each other the mutual attachment of parent and child. (1)

Since Ali was a member of the Prophet’s own family, he was inevitably the first, among males, to receive the message of Islam. He testified that God was One, and that Muhammad was His messenger. And he was very eager to stand behind Muhammad Mustafa to offer prayers. Since then Muhammad was never seen at prayer except when Ali was with him. The boy also memorized the verses of Al-Qur’an al-Majid as and when they were revealed to Muhammad. In this manner, he literally grew up with Qur’an. In fact, Ali and Qur’an “grew up” together as “twins” in the house of Muhammad Mustafa and Khadija-tul-Kubra. Muhammad Mustafa, the Messenger of Allah, had found the first Muslima in Khadija, and the first Muslim in Ali ibn Abi Talib.

Muhammad ibn Ishaq

Ali was the first male to believe in the Apostle of God, to pray with him and to believe in his divine message, when he was a boy of ten. God favored him in that he was brought up in the care of the Apostle before Islam began. (2)

Muhammad Husayn Haykal

Ali was then the first youth to enter Islam. He was followed by Zayd ibn Harithah, Muhammad’s client. Islam remained confined to the four walls of one house. Besides Muhammad himself, the converts of the new faith were his wife, his cousin, and his client. (3)

Marmaduke Pickhtall

The first of all his (Muhammad’s) converts was his wife, Khadija; the second his first cousin Ali, whom he had adopted; the third his servant Zeyd, a former slave. (4) The third “witness” who accepted Islam, was Zayd ibn Haritha, the freedman of Muhammad, and a member of his household.

Tor Andre

Zaid was one of the first to accept Islam, in fact the third, after Khadija and Ali. (5) Ali ibn Abi Talib was the first male to accept Islam, and his precedence is beyond any question. Allama Muhammad Iqbal, the poet-philosopher of Indo-Pakistan, calls him, not the first, but “the foremost Muslim.”

Ibn Ishaq

From Yahya b. al-Ash’ath b. Qays al-Kindi from his father, from his grandfather Afiif: Al-Abbas b. Abdul Muttalib was a friend of mine who used to go often to the Yaman to buy aromatics and sell them during the fairs. While I was with him in Mina, there came a man in the prime of life and performed the full rites of ablution and then stood up and prayed. Then a woman came out and did her ablution and stood up and prayed. Then out came a youth just approaching manhood, did his ablutions, then stood up and prayed by his side. When I asked Al-Abbas what was going on, and he said that it was his nephew Muhammad b. Abdullah b. Abdul Muttalib, who alleges that Allah has sent him as an Apostle; the other is my brother’s son, Ali ibn Abi Talib, who has followed him in his religion; the third is his wife, Khadija daughter of Khuwaylid who also follows him in his religion. Afiif said after he had become a Muslim and Islam firmly established in his heart, ‘Would that I had been a fourth. (6)

The fourth witness who accepted Islam, was Abu Bakr, a merchant of Makkah. In the beginning, Muhammad preached Islam secretly for fear of arousing the hostility of the idolaters. He invited only those people to Islam who were known to him personally. It is said that through the efforts of Abu Bakr, the fourth Muslim, a few other Meccans also accepted Islam. Among them were Uthman bin Affan, a futurekhalifa of the Muslims; Talha, Zubayr, Abdur Rahman bin Auf, Saad bin Abi Waqqas, and Obaidullah ibn al-Jarrah.

For a long time, the Muslims were very few in number and they did not dare to say their prayers in public. One of the early converts to Islam was Arqam bin Abi al-Arqam, a young man of the clan of Makhzoom. He was well-to-do and lived in a spacious house in the valley of Safa. Muslims gathered in his house to offer their congregational prayers. Three years passed in this manner. Then in the fourth year, Muhammad was commanded by God to invite his own folks to Islam openly. And admonish thy nearest kinsmen. (7)

Muhammad’s folks included all members of Banu Hashim and Banu al-Muttalib. He ordered his young cousin, Ali, to invite all their chief men to a banquet – forty of them.

When all the guests had gathered in a hall in the house of Abu Talib, and had partaken of their repast, Muhammad, the Messenger of God, rose to address them. One of the guests was Abu Lahab, an uncle of the Prophet on his father’s side. He must have heard rumors of what his nephew was doing in Makkah secretly, and probably guessed the reason why he had invited Banu Hashim to a feast. The Prophet had just begun to speak when he stood up; rudely interrupted him, and himself addressed the assembly, saying:

“Uncles, brothers and cousins! Do not listen to this “renegade,” and do not abandon your ancestral religion if he invites you to adopt a new one. If you do, then remember that you will rouse the anger of all Arabs against you. You do not have the strength to fight against all of them. After all, we are a mere handful. Therefore, it is in your own interest to be steadfast in your traditional religion.” Abu Lahab, by his speech, succeeded in throwing confusion and disorder into the meeting so that everyone stood up milling around and jostling against each other.

Then they began to leave, and soon the hall was empty. Muhammad’s first attempt to convert his own tribe to Islam had failed. But unfazed by this initial setback, he ordered his cousin, Ali, to invite the same guests a second time. A few days later the guests came, and when they had eaten supper, Muhammad rose and spoke to them as follows:

“I offer thanks to Allah for His mercies. I praise Allah, and I seek His guidance. I believe in Him and I put my trust in Him. I bear witness that there is no god except Allah; He has no partners; and I am His messenger. Allah has commanded me to invite you to His religion by saying: And warn thy nearest kinsfolk. I, therefore, warn you, and call upon you to testify that there is no god but Allah, and that I am His messenger.

O ye sons of Abdul Muttalib, no one ever came to you before with anything better than what I have brought to you. By accepting it, your welfare will be assured in this world and in the Hereafter. Who among you will support me in carrying out this momentous duty? Who will share the burden of this work with me? Who will respond to my call? Who will become my vicegerent, my deputy and my wazir?”

There were forty guests in the hall. Muhammad paused to let the effect of his words sink into their minds but no one among them responded. At last when the silence became too oppressive, young Ali stood up and said that he would support the Messenger of God; would share the burden of his work; and would become his vicegerent, his deputy and his wazir. But Muhammad beckoned him to sit down, and said: “Wait! Perhaps someone older than you might respond to my call.”

Muhammad renewed his invitation but still no one seemed to stir, and he was greeted only by an uneasy silence. Once again, Ali offered his services but the Apostle still wishing that some senior member of the clan would accept his invitation, asked him to wait. He then appealed to the clan a third time to consider his invitation, and the same thing happened again. No one in the assembly showed any interest.

He surveyed the crowd and transfixed everyone in it with his gaze but no one moved. At length he beheld the solitary figure of Ali rising above the assembly of silent men, to volunteer his services to him. This time Mohammed accepted Ali’s offer. He drew him close, pressed him to his heart, and said to the assembly: “This is my wazir, my successor and my vicegerent. Listen to him and obey his commands.”

Edward Gibbon

Three years were silently employed in the conversion of fourteen proselytes, the first fruits of his (Mohammed’s) mission; but in the fourth year he assumed the prophetic office, and resolving to impart to his family the light of divine truth, he prepared a banquet for the entertainment of forty guests of the race of Hashim. ‘Friends and kinsmen,’ Mohammed said to the assembly, ‘I offer you, and I alone can offer, the most precious gifts, the treasures of this world and of the world to come. God has commanded me to call you to His service. Who among you will support my burden? Who among you will be my companion and my vizir?

No answer was returned, till the silence of astonishment and doubt, and contempt was at length broken by the impatient courage of Ali, a youth in the fourteenth year of his age. ‘O Prophet,’ he said, ‘I am the man. Whosoever rises against thee, I will dash out his teeth, tear out his eyes, break his legs, rip up his belly. O Prophet, I will be thy vizir over them.’ Mohammed accepted his offer with transport, and Abu Talib was ironically exhorted to respect the superior dignity of his son. (8)




  1. The Life of Mohammed, London, 1877
  2. The Life of the Messenger of God
  3. The Life of Muhammad, Cairo, 1935
  4. Introduction to the Translation of Holy Qur’an, Lahore, Pakistan, 1975
  5. Mohammed, the Man and his Faith, 1960
  6. The Life of the Messenger of God
  7. Chapter 26; verse 214
  8. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
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