IN THIS EPISODE we will continue our translation and reflection on Heraclius’ interrogation of the Quraishite chief, Abû Sufyân, about Prophet Muhammad œ.
- The first question [Heraclius] posed to me [Abû Sufyân] was this: “What is the standing of his family among you?” “I said: He is of a noble family among us.” Heraclius said: “Has any among you ever made such a claim before” [that is, professed to be a prophet]? “I [Abû Sufyân] said: “No.” He then asked: “Were any of his fathers a king [over you]?” “I [Abû Sufyân] said: “No.”
- “Among you” means ‘from your people i.e., the Quraish or Arabs’.
- Heraclius said: “Do the nobles follow him or the weak?”
- Ibn Isḥâq reports that Abû Sufyân answered:
“The weak and poor among us follow him. As for the high born and noble, none follow him.”
- The usage of ‘noble’ in Abû Sufyân’s quick response may refer to the Quraish luminaries in general. Moreover, his use of “noble” implies the [unbelieving] haughty people of splendor from the Qurashite nobility, not each and every one of Quraish’s nobles, for the likes of Abû Bakr and ¢Umar ibn Al-Kha~~âb were among their nobles.
- Heraclius said: “Do any of those of you who embrace his religion become displeased with the religion and renounce it?” I [Abû Sufyân] said: “No.”
- This phrasing makes clear that the question is not inclusive of those who renounced Islam under compulsion of the disbelievers.
- Heraclius [continued his questioning]: “Have you [Quraish] ever before [his declaration of prophethood] accused him of lying?”
Abû Sufyân said: “I found no chance to inject any [word against the character of the Prophet œ] save [the following attempt].”
- For the Quraish knew from their life with the Prophet œ that never had he betrayed any trust.
Abû Sufyân said: “We are now at truce with him and know not what he shall do in this regard.”
- He answered like this to cast aspersion upon the Prophet’s œ character, speaking of the doubtful, about the unforeseen future, so as to have no lie attributed to him by his company.
Ibn Ishâq reports:
Abû Sufyân said: “By Allah! He [Heraclius] paid this comment no mind.”
- Heraclius said: “To what does he command you?”
- This signifies that it is of the office of a prophet to command his people.
Abû Sufyân said: “He enjoins us to worship Allah alone, to worship nothing along with Him, and to renounce all that our forebears have said [of religion]. He enjoins us to Salah (ritual prayer), to speak the truth, to chastity, and to keep the bonds of kinship.”
- “Renounce all that our forebears have said” is an encompassing command to quit everything they used to do in the pre-Islamic days. Abû Sufyân stated this with the specific intent to gain Heraclius’ sympathies, for blind following of forefathers is the common reason for polytheism among the idol-worshipers of Makkah as well as the Roman Christians.
In another narration in ßa^î^ Al-Bukhâri, the words “He enjoins us to Salah (ritual prayer), to speaking the truth” are replaced by “to Salah (ritual prayer) and to giving in charity (sadaqah).” In another report in ßa^î^ Al-Bukhâri, the words are “to Salah (ritual prayer) and to Zakah (i.e. to payment of the poor due).” All three phrases appear in another report in Kitâb Al-Jihâd in ßa^î^ Al-Bukhâri as: “He enjoins us to Salah (ritual prayer), to speaking the truth, and to giving in charity (Sadaqah).”
- Heraclius said: “I asked you about his family….In fact, all the prophets come from noble families among their peoples.”
- He said this with certainty. This indicates he based his statement on certain knowledge he possessed from the earlier scriptures.
- Heraclius said: “I asked you if any others among you laid claim to this [prophethood]. Had your answer affirmed this, I would regard this man as following his predecessors. Then I asked you if any of his fathers had been a king. Had your answer affirmed this, I would regard this man as designing to retake his ancestral kingdom.”
- These statements come from the personal reflection and inferences of [the Byzantine Roman emperor] Heraclius. Thus he said them without the certainty of his previous statement [based on the earlier scriptures].
- Heraclius said: “I then asked you if the noble or the weak followed him. You answered that the weak followed him. Even so has it been with all the prophets, such having followed them.”
- This means that most of the followers of the prophets are the humble—not the haughty like Abû Jahl and his ilk, who, provoked by prejudice and envy, reject and oppose the truth.
- Heraclius said: “I asked you if his followers were increasing or decreasing. You answered that they were increasing. Even so is the way of true faith, until it is complete in all respects.”
- Îmân (faith) begins as a light which grows until it is fulfilled in all its dimensions: Salah (ritual prayer), Zakah (the poor due), Sawm (fasting), and so on. For this reason, Allah stated near the end of the Prophet’s œ mission: This day, I have perfected for you your religion! And I have completed My grace upon you! [Sûrat Al-Mâ’idah, 5:3]. Also, Allah said: Yet Allah does not will other than to perfect His light—even if the disbelievers hate it [Sûrat Al-Tawbah, 9:32]. In addition, the Companions of the Prophet œ increased in number until Allah blessed them with completion through the victory of Islam—and all praise is for Allah alone.
- Heraclius said: I asked you if there were any who, after accepting his religion, grew displeased with his religion and abandoned it. You answered no, and this is [a mark] of true faith—when its delight enters hearts and thoroughly mingles with them.
- In the Book of Faith in ßa^î^ Al-Bukhâri, Heraclius is reported as having said: “When the delight [of faith] enters hearts and thoroughly mingles with them, none can be displeased with it.”
In Ibn Isḥaq’s narration, Heraclius said: “Such is the sweetness of faith—a sweetness that enters not a heart only to leave it.”
- Heraclius said: “…the prophets betray not ever.”
- For they do not desire worldly gain. He whose aim is but worldly gain, betrayal is of no consequence to him, unlike he who desires the reward of the Hereafter. Thus Heraclius paid Abû Sufyân no mind when he said: “We are now at truce with him and know not what he shall do in this regard.”
In Part 3 we will see Heraclius’ conclusion about the Prophet œ from what he has learned from Abû Sufyân.