Friday, 3 December 2010

chapter 14 false lords and ladies

"The Hour will not be established until there arise thirty impostors, liars, each one imagining that he is a messenger of Allah, a prophet, but I am the Seal of the Prophets: there is no prophet after me."
[Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)]1

Malik bin Nuwaira was a chief of the Bani Yarbu', a large section of the powerful tribe of Bani Tamim which inhabited the north-eastern region of Arabia, above Bahrain. Being close to Persia, some elements of the Bani Tamim had embraced Zoroastrianism, but by and large the tribe was pagan until Islam came to Arabia. The centre of Malik's clan was Butah. 2 (See Map. 8).

Malik was a chief of noble birth. Famous for his generosity and hospitality, he would keep a light burning outside his house all night so that any traveller passing that way would know where to find shelter and food. He would get up during the night to check the light. A strikingly handsome man, he had a thick head of hair and his face, a contemporary has said, was "as fine as the moon." 3 He was skilful in the use of weapons and noted for his courage and chivalry, and he was an accomplished poet. Thus Malik possessed all the qualities which the Arabs looked for in the perfect male. He had everything!

Laila was the daughter of Al Minhal and was later also known as Umm Tamim. A dazzling beauty, she was one of the loveliest girls in Arabia, the fame of whose stunning good looks had spread far and wide. She was known especially for her gorgeous eyes and her lovely legs. She too had everything! 4

When she came of age she was pursued by every swain in the region but rejected the suit of one and all. Then she met Malik, with whom she was destined to enter the pages of history. Malik married Laila. Thus Malik, in addition to all his other enviable qualifications, also had as wife one of the loveliest women of the time.

Malik bin Nuwaira certainly had everything. Everything, that is, but faith.

During the Year of Delegations, when the tribe of Bani Tamim embraced, Islam, Malik also moved with the popular trend and became a Muslim. In view of his distinguished position in the tribe and his unquestionable talents, the Holy Prophet appointed him as an officer over the clan of Bani Handhalah. His main responsibility was the collection of taxes and their despatch to Madinah.

Malik performed these duties honestly and efficiently for some time. Then the Holy Prophet died. When news of his death reached Butah, Malik had just collected a good deal of tax, prior to its despatch to Madinah. Forgetting his oath of allegiance, he at once opened the coffers and returned the money to the taxpayers. "O Bani Handhalah!" he announced, "your wealth is now our own." 5 Malik had apostatised.

Sajjah was the daughter of Al Harith. Born in a family of chiefs, she had qualities of leadership, personality and intellect with which few women have been endowed. She was clairvoyant, would predict future events, and was so versatile a poetess that practically everything that she said was in verse. When people spoke to her, she rhymed back at them.

Later known as Um Sadira, she also belonged, on her father's side, to the Bani Yarbu' and thus was a kinswoman of Malik bin Nuwaira. On her mother's side, however, she belonged to the Taghlib, one of the tribes in the large group known as Rabi'a which inhabited Iraq. Sajjah lived mostly among the Taghlib who followed the Christian faith, and because of her mother's influence, Sajjah also had become a Christian, but Christianity did not have a very strong hold upon her, nor upon many members of the Taghlib, as we shall see.

When apostasy began to spread, Sajjah heard that Tulaiha and Musailima had proclaimed their prophethood. Her fertile imagination was intrigued by the possibilities that these false claims opened up. Why should only men be prophets? Why could a woman not enter the sacred precincts of prophethood? An adventuress at heart, she finally gave in to the temptation. "I am a prophetess!" she declared, and elucidated the point with a few appropriate verses.

1. Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Ahmad, Hakim. Sahih Al-Jami' Al-Saghir No. 7417-8.
2. Butah is now nothing more than a tiny Bedouin settlement 14 miles south-south-west of the present Ras. It shows signs of having been a bigger place at one time.
3. Balazuri: p. 108.
4. Isfahani: Vol. 14, p. 65. "It used to be said that never had legs more beautiful than hers been seen."
5. Balazuri: p. 107.

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Strangely enough, most of her mother's clan accepted her as prophetess and pledged to obey her. They had been Christians! She mustered many armed followers and came down into Arabia, where her father's tribe also flocked to her standard. No doubt many that followed her, elders and clansmen, were led by the temptation of plunder and the desire to settle old scores with some of the tribes in north-eastern Arabia which had old feuds with them.

Elated by her success in gathering followers, she arrived at Al Hazn with a fair-sized force and exchanged envoys with her kinsman, Malik bin Nuwaira. 1 She proposed a pact: they would operate jointly against the tribes that were their mutual feudal enemies and would thereafter war against the Muslim power at Madinah. In order to assure Malik that she had no aggressive designs upon the lands of the Bani Yarbu', she declared, "I am only a woman of the Bani Yarbu'. The land is yours." 2

Malik accepted Sajjah's proposal and entered into a pact with her. However, he cooled her martial ardour somewhat and dissuaded her from warring against the Muslims. This happened in June 632.

The combined forces of Malik and Sajjah now turned upon the hapless tribes that had offended the Bani Tamim and the Taghlib. There was nothing religious in this operation, the underlying motives were revenge and the lust for loot. Any tribe that resisted was fought, subdued and plundered. Malik was joined to the impostress by the pact and his followers fought alongside hers in these raids. It appears, however, that he did not personally take part in these depredations.

Then Sajjah came to Nibbaj and began plundering the neighbourhood. 3 And here she suffered a serious setback. The local clans, driven by their common fear of the terrible lady, united in opposition to her and this resistance resulted in a battle. It was not by any means a decisive battle, but she got the worst of it; a few of her important officers were captured by her opponents, who refused to release them unless she pledged to depart from their area. To this she agreed.

The elders of the tribes which made up her following now gathered around their impostress. "Where now?" they asked.

"To Yamamah," she replied.

"But the people of Yamamah are mighty", they pointed out, "and their Chief, Musailima, is a very powerful man."

"To Yamamah", repeated Sajjah and then broke into verse:

Onward to Yamamah!
With the flight of soaring pigeons;
Where the fighting is the fiercest;
And no blame shall fall upon you.
Onward to Yamamah!

1. The location of Hazn is not certain, but according to local information in Hail, it is the same as the area of Hazm which lies between Samira and Butah. This seems to fit in with Yaqut's statement (Vol. 1. p. 661) that it was near Butah.
2. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 496.
3. Nabbaj is the present Nabqiya (also called Nabjiya by the inhabitants) 25 miles north-east of Buraida. Now it is a village; then it was a sizeable town.
4. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 498.

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Musailima the Liar was the most formidable of the enemies of Islam who rose to threaten the existence of the new state. He was the son of Habib, of the Bani Hanifa, which was one of the largest tribes of Arabia and inhabited the region of Yamamah.

Musailima first mounted the stage of history in late 9th Hijri, the Year of Delegations' when he accompanied a delegation of the Bani Hanifa to Madinah. The delegation included two other prominent men who were to exercise a profound influence on Musailima and his tribe-one in aiding Musailima's rise to power and the other in saving the tribe from destruction. These men were, respectively, Nahar Ar-Rajjal bin Unfuwa 1 and Muja'a bin Marara.

The delegation arrived at Madinah. The camels were tied in a traveller's camp, and Musailima remained there to look after them while the other delegates went in. They had talks with the Prophet, submitted to him and embraced Islam. As was his custom, the Prophet presented gifts to the delegates, and when they had received their gifts one of them dropped a hint: "We left one of our comrades in the camp to look after our mounts." The Prophet gave them gifts for him also, and added, "He is not the least among you that he should stay behind to guard the property of his comrades." 2 These words were to be used by Musailima later to his own advantage.

On their return, this delegation passed on the message of Islam and established the new faith among the Bani Hanifa. The whole tribe was converted. They built a mosque at Yamamah and started regular prayers.

Thus some months passed. Then Musailima resiled from his faith and proclaimed his own prophethood. He gathered the people and, referring to Muhammad, addressed them: "I have been given a share with him in this matter. Did he not say to our delegates that I was not the least among them? This could only mean that he knew that I had a share with him in this matter." 3 (The matter was the prophethood.)

He then dazzled the crowd with his marvellous tricks. He was a superb conjuror and could do what no one had done before. He could put an egg in a bottle; he could cut off the feathers of a bird and then stick them on so the bird would fly again; and he used this skill to persuade the people that he really was divinely gifted. He took to addressing gatherings as an apostle of Allah, and would compose verses and offer them, as Quranic revelations. Most of his verses extolled the superiority of his tribe, the Bani Hanifa, over the Quraish. Some, however, were utterly ridiculous, like the following,

Allah has blessed my wisdom.
It is as strong as the gust that blows
From between the belly and the intestines!

And the people marvelled at his wisdom and flocked to him. Strangely enough they did not doubt or dispute the divine mission of Muhammad. They accepted Muhammad as the apostle of Allah. But they also accepted Musailima as co-prophet-which is all that Musailima claimed.

Gradually the influence and authority of Musailima increased. Then one day, in late 10 Hijri, he wrote to Prophet Muhammad:

"From Musailima, Messenger of Allah, to Muhammad, Messenger of Allah. Salutations to you. I have been given a share with you in this matter. Half the earth belongs to us and half to the Quraish. But the Quraish are a people who transgress."

1. Some early historians have given this man's name as Rahhal.
2. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, pp. 576-7.
3. Ibid
4. Ibid

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In reply the Holy Prophet wrote to Musailima:

"In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. From Muhammad, Messenger of Allah, to Musailima the Liar. Salutations to whosoever follows the Guidance. Lo! The earth belongs to Allah. He gives it to whomsoever He chooses from among His servants. And the Hereafter is for the virtuous." 1

The impostor was henceforth known as Musailima the Liar!

Now Nahar Ar-Rajjal, whom we have mentioned earlier as a member of the Bani Hanifa delegation, came into action. This man had stayed behind at Madinah when the rest of the delegation returned home; and had attached himself to the Holy Prophet, from whom he acquired a great deal of knowledge about Islam. He learnt the Quran and rose in stature as a close and respected Companion of the Prophet. In a few months he had built up an enviable reputation as a devout and virtuous Muslim, and so he became known over most of Arabia.

When reports of the spread of Musailima's mischief became more alarming, the Holy Prophet began to consider ways and means of countering the influence of the Liar. Yamamah was too far away for a military operation, so he decided to send a man to work against Musailima amongst the people. And who could be better suited to this task than Rajjal? He was a chief of the Bani Hanifa, he had learnt the Quran; he had acquired wisdom and grace at the feet of the Prophet. And so Rajjal was sent by the Prophet to undo the mischief that Musailima had wrought at Yamamah.

As soon as he arrived at Yamamah, the rascal declared that Musailima was indeed a prophet. "I have heard Muhammad say so", he lied 2 and who could doubt the words of this respected Companion! The arrival of the renegade proved a windfall for Musailima, and the Bani Hanifa came in even larger numbers to swear allegiance to 'Musailima, Messenger of Allah!'

Musailima and Rajjal now formed an evil and accursed partnership. Rajjal became the right hand man of Musailima, and the impostor made no important decision without consulting him.

With the death of the Holy Prophet, Musailima's hold over the Bani Hanifa became total. People flocked to him, and Musailima began making his own rules in matters of moral and religious conduct. He made alcohol lawful. He also ordered that once a man had fathered a son he would live in celibacy unless the son died, in which case women were permitted to him until he got another son.

His people began to believe that Musailima had miraculous powers, and Rajjal helped foster this image. Once Rajjal suggested that he stroke the head of every newborn babe, as Prophet Muhammad used to do as a form of blessing. Orders were issued accordingly. Thereafter every newborn babe in Yamamah was brought to Musailima to have its head stroked. Historians narrate that when these infants had grown to full manhood or womanhood, they did not have a single hair on their heads! But it this was not, of course, known till after Musailima's death. Many are the instances of Musailima emulating the acts of Muhammad with opposite and disastrous results.

Though all the Bani Hanifa followed him, not all believed in his divine mission, certainly not the intelligent ones. Some accepted him for political convenience or for reasons of personal advancement while many were motivated by feelings of tribal loyalty. One day Musailima appointed a new man as Muazzin, to call the men to prayer. This man, Jubair bin Umair, was a doubter. Instead of the words "I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah", in which the name of Musailima had to be substituted for that of Muhammad, this new muazzin 3 called, at the top of his voice: "I bear witness that Musailima thinks he is the messenger of Allah." 4

Once a man-a clear headed fellow-who had never seen Musailima before came to visit the impostor. When he got to the door of Musailima's house, he asked the guard "Where is Musailima?" "Silence!" replied the guard. "He is the messenger of Allah." "I shall not accept him as such until I have seen him", asserted the visitor, whose name was Talha.

1. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, pp. 600-1
2. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 505.
3. One who calls the Adhan - the call to prayer
4. Balazuri: p. 100.

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The visitor met the impostor. "Are you Musailima?" he enquired.


"Who came to you?"

"Rahman." (i.e. the Beneficent One).

"In light or in darkness?"

"In darkness."

"I bear witness", declared Talha, "that you are an impostor and Muhammad is genuine. But an impostor from our tribe is preferable to a true one from the Quraish." 1 This man later fought and died beside Musailima.

In appearance Musailima was terrible. A short?statured man, though immensely strong, he had a yellow complexion, small, close-set eyes and a flat nose. He was extremely ugly. But as often happens with very ugly and evil men, he had an irresistible fascination for women. They could not say "No!" He was such a talented and unscrupulous Casanova that no woman left alone with him could resist his advances or escape his devilish charm.

But Sajjah the impostress did not know this facet of Musailima's many-sided character as she set out for Yamamah. She would soon learn!

Sajjah marched with her army towards Yamamah. Musailima came to know of this move and was perturbed, for he did not know whether her intentions were hostile or friendly. He could certainly defeat her army in battle, but Ikrimah with his corps was camped some distance to the west, and Musailima had been waiting for several weeks for the Muslims to advance. If Ikrimah were to move at the time when he was engaged with the army of Sajjah, he would be in a most vulnerable position. It would mean simultaneous war with two enemies, Sajjah and the Muslims. Musailima decided to win over Sajjah and neutralise her. He knew how to deal with her: he would handle her as he would handle any woman, the art of which he knew so well.

He sent a message to Sajjah not to bring her warriors, as there was no work for them at Yamamah. She could come alone for talks. Consequently Sajjah left her army in camp and rode forward with 40 of her warriors to meet Musailima the Liar. She arrived at Yamamah to find the gate of the fort closed, and she received Musailima's instructions to leave her men outside and enter alone. Sajjah agreed, and leaving her 40 followers to bide their time in a camp, entered the fort.

Musailima had had a large tent pitched for her in the courtyard of his house. Since the weather was chilly, he had the tent properly heated so that she would be comfortable. And he had a certain incense burning in the tent that would affect Sajjah's senses in the way that he desired. It would make her shed her inhibitions!

She entered the tent. Some time later Musailima also entered. They were alone. The impostor began to talk, weaving a spell over the woman. He talked of Allah and of politics, of the trouble that he was having with the Quraish who were as numerous as 'the scales of a fish'.

After this preamble he said, "Tell me of our revelations."

"A woman should not begin", she replied. "You tell me first what has been revealed to you."
She gazed at him with awe as he intoned, as if reciting a Quranic verse:

Do you not see your Lord?
How he deals with pregnant women? He extracts a living being
From between the belly and the intestines.

1. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 508.

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"And what more?" she asked excitedly.

"He has revealed to me", continued Musailima, "that He created woman a receptacle and, created man as her mate, to enter her and leave her at his pleasure. And then a little lamb is brought forth!"

Sajjah was fascinated. "You are indeed a prophet!" she gushed.

Musailima moved closer. "Do you feel like marrying me?" he asked. "Then with my tribe and yours I shall eat up the Arabs."

"Yes", she answered. 1 Musailima had conquered again.

She stayed with him for three days, then he sent her back to her army. On arrival at her camp, she assembled the elders of the tribe. "I have found the truth", she declared. "I have accepted him as prophet and married him."

The elders were not a little surprised. "Has he given you a wedding gift?" they asked. Sajjah confessed that she had received no wedding gift.

These elders knew a little more about Musailima than she did, and feared that their girl had been taken for a ride. "Then go back to him", they insisted, "and do not return without a wedding gift."

Again Sajjah rode with her 40 companions to Yamamah. Musailima saw her coming and closed the gate of the fort. "What is the matter?" he asked angrily from within.

"Give me a wedding gift" she pleaded from outside.

Musailima thought for a moment, and then replied, "I give you a wedding gift for all your people. Announce to your followers that I, Musailima bin Habib, Messenger of Allah, remit two of the prayers that Muhammad had imposed-the prayer of the early morning and the prayer of the night." 2

With this wedding gift Sajjah returned to her army.

A few days later, wishing to establish more durable ties with her people than those of the tent in his courtyard, Musailima sent an envoy to Sajjah. He offered her political and economic partnership: she could have half the grain of Yamamah. Sajjah refused. But Musailima sent his envoy again to insist that she accept at least a quarter of the grain. She accepted this and left for Iraq. This happened around late October 632 (late Rajab, 11 Hijri), shortly before Ikrimah's clash with Musailima.

Musailima had finished with her. And she had finished with politics and prophethood. She took up residence amongst her mother's tribe and lived in obscurity for the rest of her life. Later she embraced Islam and was believed to be a pious and virtuous Muslim. During the caliphate of Muawiyah she moved to Kufa, where she died at a ripe old age.

1. Tabari Vol. 2, p. 499.
2. Ibid.

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