“If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties”—Francis Bacon (1561-1626) [Quoted from Milestones of Science by Curt Suplee, p.70, published by the National Geographic Society, 2000]
[A note of caution: The content of this article may offend some readers. The writer will not take any responsibility in the event of hurt feeling or damage caused as result of reading this essay. Read this article at your own risk]
Zayd bin Amr bin Naufal
During Muhammad’s time, a religious movement to counter paganism was taking shape. Led by a group of ‘freethinkers’, this group rejected paganism, and to fulfil their spiritual needs they were searching for an alternative religion. They were known as Hanifites or simply as Hanifs.
The Dictionary of Islam (Hughes Dictionary of Islam, pp.161-162) writes that the original meaning of Hanif was a convert or a pervert [sort of apostate–to say].
The other meanings of Hanif are:
1. Any one sincere in his inclination to Islam 2. One orthodox in the faith 3. One who is of the religion of Abraham.
W. St. Clair-Tisdall (The Sources of Islam, The Origins of the Koran, p.289) writes:
’The word Hanif, indeed, originally signified “unclean” or “apostate,” and was so used by the idolatrous Arabs of Zaid, because he abandoned the worship of gods.’
Muhammad later used the word Hanif, first for the religion of Abraham, then for any sincere believer of Islam. Thus, the Muslims are supposed to be Hanifs—and truly speaking, the followers of Zayd! In the same essay W. St. Clair-Tisdal (ibid)) writes further, “The name pleased the Prophet and was used by him in a good sense.”
According to Ibn Ishaq (Ibn Ishaq, p.99) the most famous of those apostates (Hanifs) in Mecca during Muhammad’s time were:
- Waraqa b. Naufal: he became a Christian
- Ubaydullah b. Jahsh: he became a Christian after migrating to Abyssinia. His wife was Umm Habiba d. Abu Sufyan whom Muhammad married later
- Uthman b. al-Huwayrith. He later went to the Byzantine emperor and became a Christian
- Zayd b. Amr b. Naufal left paganism saying that he worshipped the God of Abraham
Waraqa was the cousin brother of Khadijah, Muhammad’s first wife. Some authors suggest that he was a Jew before embracing Christianity. Ubaydullah was the grandson of Abd al-Muttalib and Uthman b. al-Huwayrith was offered a high position in the Byzantine court of Syria.
Only Zayd b. Amr remained a diehard Hanif. He used to say (ibid, p.287), “I worship the god of Abraham,” but he blamed his people for having chosen the evil ways.
According to W. St. Clair-Tisdal (The Sources of Islam, The Origins of the Koran, pp.229-230) Zayd worshipped yearly in a cave near Mecca, and no doubt influenced Muhammad who used to visit the same place for quiet and lonely contemplation.
Ibn Ishaq (Ibn Ishaq, pp.99-100) writes that when Zayd b. Amr faced the Ka’ba he used to say ‘Labbaka in truth, in worship and in service.’
When Zayd stood and faced Qibla he would say (ibid), “I take refuge in what Abraham took refuge.”
Zayd also abhorred animal sacrifice to idols and condemned the pagan practice of burying alive new-born females (this, I believe, was a very rare practice–as not a single instance of live burial of a female baby is cited either in the Qur’an or inAhadith: these books vaguely talk about this pagan practice without citing any specific case of live burial).
Abu Bakr’s daughter, Amina once saw a very old Zayd bin ‘Amr in Ka’ba. On this, Ibn Ishaq writes (Ibn Ishaq, pp.99-100):
‘Hisham b. Urwa from his father on the authority of his mother Asma d. Abu Bakr said that she saw Zayd as a very old man leaning his back on the Ka’ba and saying, ‘O Quraysh, By Him in whose hand is the soul of Zayd, not one of you follows the religion of Abraham but I.’ Then he said: ‘O God, if I knew how you wished to be worshipped I would so worship you; but I do not know.’ Then he prostrated himself on the palms of his hands.’
Historical records do not mention clearly what eventually happened to Zayd b. Amr. However, Ibn Ishaq writes that Caliph Umar’s father, al-Khattab (Umar b. al-Khattab was Zayd’s nephew) used to severely harass Zayd b. Amr and he was finally killed. Who killed Zayd is a complete mystery. Here is what Ibn Ishaq (Ibn Ishaq, p.102) writes:
“When al-Khattab (Umar’s father) harassed Zayd bin ‘Amr so much so that he was forced to withdraw to the upper part of Mecca and he stopped in the mountain of Hira facing the town. Zayd could visit Mecca in secret only.
Then Zayd left Mecca seeking the religion of Abraham—went through all of Syria. Then Zayd returned to Mecca but was killed.”
As written previously, because of his uncompromising stand on Hanifite movement and because of his deriding remarks on paganism, the Quraysh expelled Zayd b. Amr from Mecca and he was forbidden to live there. He was a severely ostracised person, boycotted and utterly disdained by the larger section of the Quraysh. He had to live in the cave of mount Hira, opposite the city. Muhammad, being a forlorn person at that time used to meet Zayd in the cave of Hira.
Ibn Ishaq also writes that Gabriel used to visit Muhammad at the Hira cave. When we consider the fact that on many instances Muhammad had confessed that Gabriel, on many occasions had met Muhammad in the form of human beings it is quite likely that when Muhammad visited Zayd b. Amr many times to learn about the new religion of the ‘Hanif’ he might have thought Zayd to be the angel Gabriel. It is also quite probable that Zayd b. Amr took an interest in teaching Muhammad how to read (and write)—his poetry (or verses) that later became Qur’anic verses!
Ibn Ishaq (Ibn Ishaq, p.105) writes that Muhammad used to pray in seclusion in Hira every year for a month to practice ‘tahnanuth’, a pagan practice (thus confirming again Muhammad’s pagan background). According to the Quraysh, ‘tahannuth’ meant religious devotion.
Sahih Bukhari confirms that Muhammad had encountered Zayd b. Amr in the Valley of Hira Mountain.
Muhammad meets Zayd b. ‘Amr and offers him meat that was slaughtered for the idols (Sahih Bukhari, 7.67.407, 5.58.169)
Volume 7, Book 67, Number 407:
Allah’s Apostle said that he met Zaid bin ‘Amr b. Nufail at a place near Baldah and this had happened before Allah’s Apostle received the Divine Inspiration. Allah’s Apostle presented a dish of meat (that had been offered to him by the pagans) to Zaid bin ‘Amr, but Zaid refused to eat of it and then said (to the pagans), “I do not eat of what you slaughter on your stone altars (Ansabs) nor do I eat except that on which Allah’s Name has been mentioned on slaughtering.”
Volume 5, Book 58, Number 169:
Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar:
The Prophet met Zaid bin ‘Amr bin Nufail in the bottom of (the valley of) Baldah before any Divine Inspiration came to the Prophet. A meal was presented to the Prophet but he refused to eat from it. (Then it was presented to Zaid) who said, “I do not eat anything which you slaughter in the name of your stone idols. I eat none but those things on which Allah’s Name has been mentioned at the time of slaughtering.” Zaid bin ‘Amr used to criticize the way Quraish used to slaughter their animals, and used to say, “Allah has created the sheep and He has sent the water for it from the sky, and He has grown the grass for it from the earth; yet you slaughter it in other than the Name of Allah. He used to say so, for he rejected that practice and considered it as something abominable.
Narrated Ibn ‘Umar: Zaid bin ‘Amr bin Nufail went to Sham, inquiring about a true religion to follow. He met a Jewish religious scholar and asked him about their religion. He said, “I intend to embrace your religion, so tell me some thing about it.” The Jew said, “You will not embrace our religion unless you receive your share of Allah’s Anger.” Zaid said, “‘I do not run except from Allah’s Anger, and I will never bear a bit of it if I have the power to avoid it. Can you tell me of some other religion?” He said, “I do not know any other religion except the Hanif.” Zaid enquired, “What is Hanif?” He said, “Hanif is the religion of (the prophet) Abraham who was neither a Jew nor a Christian, and he used to worship None but Allah (Alone)” Then Zaid went out and met a Christian religious scholar and told him the same as before. The Christian said, “You will not embrace our religion unless you get a share of Allah’s Curse.” Zaid replied, “I do not run except from Allah’s Curse, and I will never bear any of Allah’s Curse and His Anger if I have the power to avoid them. Will you tell me of some other religion?” He replied, “I do not know any other religion except Hanif.” Zaid enquired, “What is Hanif?” He replied, Hanif is the religion of (the prophet) Abraham who was neither a Jew nor a Christian and he used to worship None but Allah (Alone)” When Zaid heard their Statement about (the religion of) Abraham, he left that place, and when he came out, he raised both his hands and said, “O Allah! I make You my Witness that I am on the religion of Abraham.”
Narrated Asma bint Abi Bakr: I saw Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail standing with his back against the Ka’ba and saying, “O people of Quraish! By Allah, none amongst you is on the religion of Abraham except me.” He used to preserve the lives of little girls: If somebody wanted to kill his daughter he would say to him, “Do not kill her for I will feed her on your behalf.” So he would take her, and when she grew up nicely, he would say to her father, “Now if you want her, I will give her to you, and if you wish, I will feed her on your behalf.”
The first Hadis tells us something about Muhammad’s paganism—that, in the beginning, he probably ate the meat offered to the idols by the pagans (thus confirming Hisham ibn al-Kalbi—see Part1/5 of this essay), but Zayd b. Amr steadfastly refused to eat any meat slaughtered in the name of idols. Muhammad learned from Zayd not to eat the pagans’ meat (or Haram meat). The secondHadis apparently contradicts the first Hadis (7.67.407) on Muhammad’s consumption of ‘pagan’ or Haram meat. However, a little thought on this Hadisevidently shows that Muhammad followed Zayd with respect to Halal meat, and from Zayd he also obtained the idea of Allah to be his (Muhammad’s) God. Can we not, therefore, conclude that the idea of Islam really came from Zayd? In the biography of Muhammad written by Ibn Ishaq we find several verses of poetry written by Zayd that are quite similar to some verses of the Qur’an. Therefore, isn’t it sufficient to say that after the sudden, mysterious and untimely killing of Zayd Muhammad took up his mantle, philosophy, poetry and the zeal to propagate ‘Hanifism’?
Ibn Sa’d (Ibn Sa’d, vol.i, p.185) writes that when Muhammad started his Islam, a convert told Muhammad about the words of Zayd ibn Amr and Muhammad replied, “I have seen him in Paradise drawing his skirts.” This proves that Muhammad acknowledged the piety and contribution of Zayd towards the concept of Islam or Hanifism.
The following excerpts from the Islamic historian Ibn Sa’d (Ibn Sa’d, vol.i, p.185) demonstrates further that Muhammad got the idea of Islam from Zayd b. Amr:
“Zayd Ibn ‘Amr Ibn Nufayl said: I smelled Christianity and Judaism but I disliked them. I went to Syria and its adjoining territories till I came to my strangeness with my people and my abhorrence for idol worship, Judaism and Christianity. He said to me: I see you are in search of the creed of Ibrahim. O Makkan brother! You are seeking a creed which is not practiced now a days. It is the creed of your ancestor, Ibrahim, and it is the true faith. He (Ibrahim) was neither a Jew nor a Christian. He used to offer prayers and prostrate towards this house (Ka’bah) which is in your city. So retire to your city. He will revive the true creed of Ibrahim and he is the most honoured of the creatures of Allah.”
It is highly palpable that Zayd himself wrote few Suras (probably around 30 Suras, but not in chronological order), including those that contain the Hanifship of Abraham.
Some of these verses are:
002.135 They say: “Become Jews or Christians if ye would be guided (To salvation).” Say thou: “Nay! (I would rather) the Religion of Abraham the True, and he joined not gods with Allah.” [The original Qur’an says Haneefan—my note]
003.067 Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian; but he was true in Faith, and bowed his will to Allah’s (Which is Islam), and he joined not gods with Allah. [The original Qur’an says Haneefan—my note]
003.095 Say: “Allah speaketh the Truth: follow the religion of Abraham, the sane in faith; he was not of the Pagans.”[The original Qur’an says Haneefan—my note]
004.125 Who can be better in religion than one who submits his whole self to Allah, does good, and follows the way of Abraham the true in Faith? For Allah did take Abraham for a friend. [The original Qur’an says Haneefan—my note]
006.161 Say: “Verily, my Lord hath guided me to a way that is straight,- a religion of right,- the path (trod) by Abraham the true in Faith, and he (certainly) joined not gods with Allah.” [The original Qur’an says Haneefan—my note]
006.079 “For me, I have set my face, firmly and truly, towards Him Who created the heavens and the earth, and never shall I give partners to Allah.” [The original Qur’an says Haneefan—my note]
016.120 Abraham was indeed a model, devoutly obedient to Allah, (and) true in Faith, and he joined not gods with Allah: [The original Qur’an says Haneefan—my note]
010.105 “And further (thus): ‘set thy face towards religion with true piety, and never in any wise be of the Unbelievers; [The original Qur’an says Haneefan—my note]
022.031 Being true in faith to Allah, and never assigning partners to Him: if anyone assigns partners to Allah, is as if he had fallen from heaven and been snatched up by birds, or the wind had swooped (like a bird on its prey) and thrown him into a far-distant place. [The original Qur’an says Hunafaa—my note]
098.005 And they have been commanded no more than this: To worship Allah, offering Him sincere devotion, being true (in faith); to establish regular prayer; and to practise regular charity; and that is the Religion Right and Straight. [The original Qur’an says Hunafaa—my note]
030.030 So set thou thy face steadily and truly to the Faith: (establish) Allah’s handiwork according to the pattern on which He has made mankind: no change (let there be) in the work (wrought) by Allah: that is the standard Religion: but most among mankind understand not. [The original Qur’an says Haneefan—my note]
As mentioned earlier, Zayd ibn Amr was totally against the pagan practice of burying live female infants. The Qur’an mentions this rare practice of the Quraysh in three verses only.
These verses are:
016.058 When news is brought to one of them, of (the birth of) a female (child), his face darkens, and he is filled with inward grief!
017.031 Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily the killing of them is a great sin.
081.008 When the female (infant), buried alive, is questioned –
081.009 For what crime she was killed;
Evidently, the above verses were inspired by Zayd b. Amr and most likely were written by him too. Later, when Zayd died Muhammad simply passed them up as Allah’s revelations to him.
Those examples demonstrate that Muhammad had copied stories, concepts and style of Zayd ibn Amr in the composition of the Qur’an.
Labid was another poet whom Muhammad admired a lot. We will now briefly review the contribution of this poet towards the authorship of the Qur’an.
Labid was the son of Rabiah ibn Jafar al-Amiri. Dictionary of Islam (Hughes Dictionary of Islam, p.282) reports that Labid died at Kufah in Iraq at the age of 157. As told before, Labid was one of the 7 magnificent poets of Muallaqat. Islamic historians claim that Labid embraced Islam when he saw the first verse of Sura al-Bakara (Sura 2) posted up at Ka’ba; he withdrew his verses and embraced Islam. This claim, of course, cannot be true, as the first verse of Sura al-Bakara is simply: Alif. Lam. Mim–the cryptic message which even Muhammad claimed that only Allah knew their meaning. Labid’s verse was: “Know that everything is vanity but God.” Muhammad said the same to Labid—the truest poet.
Even if one accepts the assertion that Labid became a Muslim after reading Muhammad’s verses then it is more palpable that it was indeed Labid who helped Muhammad to construct poetical verses that were, later, passed up as messages of Allah via Gabriel. Those verses which Labid wrote on behalf of Muhammad were mostly the verses dealing with piety, exhortation of good deeds, some narrations of Arab practices… etc.
In Ahadith we find references of Labid. Here are some samples:
The most true words said by a poet was the words of Labid…5.58.181
Volume 5, Book 58, Number 181:
Narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, “The most true words said by a poet was the words of Labid.” He said, Verily, Everything except Allah is perishable and Umaiya bin As-Salt was about to be a Muslim (but he did not embrace Islam).
A true poetry testifies the indestructibility of Allah…8.76.496
Volume 8, Book 76, Number 496:
Narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, “The truest poetic verse ever said by a poet, is: Indeed! Everything except Allah, is perishable.”
This Hadis, of course, refers to the poetry of Labid.
The true word in Arabic poetry is “Labid”. Apart from Allah everything is vain…28.5604
Book 028, Number 5604:
Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The truest word spoken by an Arab (pre-Islamic) in poetry is this verse of Labid:” Behold! apart from Allah everything is vain.”
I think Muhammad, in the beginning, wanted to be a famous poet by simply mimicking the style, the vocabulary and the rhythm of the poets of his time. However, his illiteracy proved to be the major stumbling block, until he met Zayd ibn Amr and Labid—his mentors who would completely change his course.
In the beginning and before his marriage to Khadijah, Muhammad was probably more inclined to be a poet. He deeply admired the above three personalities, two of them were poets and the third (Zayd b. Amr) a humanist in to-day’s language. Nonetheless, after his marriage to Khadijah, and when he came in contact with several personalities related to her who were well-versed in religions other than paganism, Muhammad changed his mind. Now, he thought of introducing a new belief system. In fact, the Qur’an narrates that the Quraysh considered that Muhammad was trying to be a poet, but Allah scolded the Quraysh for their wrong assumption.
Here are some sample verses on the ‘poetship’ of Muhammad:
Some people thought that Muhammad was a poet…52:30
052.030 Or do they say:- “A Poet! we await for him some calamity (hatched) by Time!”
People thought that Muhammad was a dreaming poet; they wanted him to show them some miracles like the old prophets did…21:5
021.005 “Nay,” they say, “(these are) medleys of dream! – Nay, He forged it! – Nay, He is (but) a poet! Let him then bring us a Sign like the ones that were sent to (Prophets) of old!”
Muhammad does not recite any poetry; the Qur’an is a clear message…36:69
036.069 We have not instructed the (Prophet) in Poetry, nor is it meet for him: this is no less than a Message and a Qur’an making things clear:
Muhammad is not a poet possessed but he confirms the messages of apostles sent before him…37:36-37
037.036 And say: “What! shall we give up our gods for the sake of a Poet possessed?”
037.037 Nay! he has come with the (very) Truth, and he confirms (the Message of) the messengers (before him).
The Qur’an is neither the words of a poet nor that of a soothsayer…69:41-42
069.041 It is not the word of a poet: little it is ye believe!
069.042 Nor is it the word of a soothsayer: little admonition it is ye receive.
“The Holy Qur’an,” the internet version of three English translations can be read at:http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/]
Ali, Abdullah, Yusuf, “The Holy Qur’an: Translation and Commentary,” Amana Corp., Brentwood, Maryland, 1983.
al-Bukhari, Muhammad b. Ismail, “Sahi Bukhari,” translated in English by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan: [http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/bukhari/ ]
Muslim, Abu al-Hussain b. al-Hajjaj al-Qushairi, “Sahi Muslim,” translated in English by Adul Hamid Siddiqui: [http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/muslim/ ]
Hughes, Patrick Thomas, “A Dictionary of Islam;” first published in 1886; latest reprint by Kazi Publications Inc,, Chicago, 1994.
“The Origins of the Koran,”edited by Ibn Warraq, Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York, 1998.
Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad b. Yasr, “Sirat Rasul Allah,” translated in English by A. Guillaume; first by published by Oxford University Press, London in 1955; fifteenth reprint by Oxford University Press, Karachi, Pakistan, 2001.
Ibn Sa’d, Abu Abd Allah Muhammad, “Kitab al-Tabaqat,” vol i, translated in English by S. Moinul Haq, Kitab Bhavan; 1784, Kalam Mahal, Daraya Ganj, New Delhi, India, 1972.
Ibn Sa’d, Abu Abd Allah Muhammad, “Kitab al-Tabaqat,” vol ii, translated in English by S. Moinul Haq, Kitab Bhavan; 1784, Kalam Mahal, Daraya Ganj, New Delhi, India, 1972.
Ibn al-Kalbi, Hisham, “The Book of Idols (Kitab Al-Asnam),” translated in English by Nabih Amin Faris, Princeton University Press, 1952. [http://www.answering-islam.org/Books/Al-Kalbi/index.htm ]
al-Misri, Ahmed ibn Naqib, “Raliance of the Traveller (‘Umdat al-Salik),” revised edition, translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Amana Publications, Bettsville, Maryland, 1999.