بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيم
Self-Censorship in Muslim History A case study of Dawat -e- Zul- Ashira
1. Introduction Many students of Islamic history begin with the assumption that if an event or a statement has not been reported in the earliest sources of Muslim history or hadith like as-Sirah an-Nabawiyya of Ibn Hisham or Sahih of al-Bukhari, it must be a later fabrication and therefore not credible. They tend to ignore the biases and limitations that are imposed on the writer by the ruling powers as well as by self-inclination. Biases are not only relevant in fabrication of mythical persons, events and statements, they are equally relevant in ignoring and silently bypassing certain historical figures and stories.
This paper intends to examine the way Muslim historians have dealt with the first open call to Islam known as Da’wat e zul-‘Ashira.
2. The First Open Call to Islam Islam began when the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) became forty years old. Initially, the mission was kept a secret. Then three years after the advent of Islam, the Prophet was ordered to commence the open declaration of his message. This was the occasion when Almighty Allah revealed the verse
“And warn thy nearest relations.” (26:214)
When this verse was revealed, the Prophet organized a feast that is known in history as “Summoning the Family – Da’wat e Zull-‘Ashira”. The Prophet invited around forty men from the Banu Hashim and asked ‘Ali bin Abi Talib to make arrangements for the dinner. After having served his guests with food and drinks, when the Prophet wanted to speak to them about Islam, Abu Lahab forestalled him and said, “Your host has long since bewitched you.” All the guests dispersed before the Prophet could present his message to them.
The Prophet then invited them the next day. After the feast, he spoke to them, saying:
O Sons of ‘Abdu ‘l-Muttalib! By Allah, I do not know of any person among the Arabs who has come to his people with better than what I have brought to you. I have brought to you the good of this world and the next, and I have been commanded by the Lord to call you unto Him. Therefore, who amongst you will support me in this matter so that he may be my brother (akhhi), my successor (wasiyyi) and my caliph (khalifati) among you?
This was the first time that the Prophet openly and publicly called the relations to accept him as the Messenger and Prophet of Allah; he also uses the words “akhi wa wasiyyi wa khalifati- my brother, my successor, my caliph” for the person who will aid him in this mission. No one answered him; they all held back except the youngest of them – ‘Ali bin Abi Talib. He stood up and said, “I will be your helper, O Prophet of God.”
The Prophet put his hand on the back of ‘Ali’s neck and said:
“Inna hadha akhhi wa wasiyyi wa khalifati fikum, fasma’u lahu wa ati’u – Verily this is my brother, my successor, and my caliph amongst you; therefore, listen to him and obey.”
This was a very explicit statement because the audience understood the appointment of ‘Alivery clearly. Some of them, including Abu Lahab, even joked with Abu Talib that your nephew, Muhammad, has ordered you to listen to your son and obey him! At the least, this shows that the appointment of ‘Ali bin Abi Talib was clear and explicit, not just implied.
3. Why Doesn’t Ibn Hisham Mention this Da’wat? One of the questions raised in relation to this issue is why ‘Abdu ‘l-Malik Ibn Hisham (d. 213 AH) does not mention this event in his as-Sirah an-Nabawiyya – The Biography of the Prophet? After all, he is the earliest of all historians.
What is known as the Sirah of Ibn Hisham is actually the summary of the book of Muhammad Ibn Ishaq (born in 85 AH in Medina and died in 151 AH in Baghdad). The unabriged version of Ibn Ishaq’s history bookdoes not exist anymore. So the question has to be reformulated: “Did Ibn Ishaq mention the Summoning of the Family event?”
The political considerations that influenced Ibn Hisham in deleting certain events and maintaining others is clear from his own statement. While listing the items that he has omitted, Ibn Hisham writes, “…things which it is disgraceful to discuss; matters which would distress certain people…all these things I have omitted.” Editors of the 1955 Egyptian edition of the Sirah write that Ibn Ishaq had quoted events that would not have pleased the ‘Abbasids “like the participation of al-‘Abbas with the infidels in the battle of Badr and his capture by the Muslims-the narration that Ibn Hisham later on omitted out of the fear of the ‘Abbasids.”
Praises of Imam ‘Ali bin Abi Talib, especially the traditon of dar, were among the items that Ibn Hisham has deleted in summarizing the Sirah of Ibn Ishaq. “The tradition of dar” is about the Summoning of the Family event mentioned above.
The fact that Ibn Ishaq had mentioned the Summoning of the Family can be seen through those who have narrated events from Ibn Ishaqby sources other than Ibn Hisham.
at-Tabari (d. 310 AH) narrates the same event through Ibn Ishaq. Shaykh Abu Ja’far.
at-Tusi (d. 460 AH) also narrates the same event through two different chains of narrators: one of those two is on the authority of Ibn Ishaq through at-Tabari.
4. Self-Censorship by At-Tabari The case of Muhammad bin Jarir at-Tabari (d. 310 AH) is even more interesting. The event of Da’wat e zull-‘Ashira given above is based on the version of at-Tabari’s monumental work in history: Ta’rikhu ‘l-Umam wa ‘l-Muluk. At-Tabari has also authored a famous commentary of the Qur’an: Jami’u ‘l-Bayan ‘an Ta’wil Ayai ‘l-Qur’an. It is interesting to compare the history of at-Tabari with his Qur’anic commentary in relation to the present topic.
القوم ليقوموا، ودعاهم محمد في الغداة كرة أخرى، فلما طعموا قال لهم: ما أعلم إنسانا من العرب جاء قومه بأفضل مما جئتكم به، قد جئتكم بخير الدنيا والآخرة، وقد أمرني ربي أن أدعوكم اليه، فأيكم يوازرني على هذا الأمر وأن يكون أخي ووصيي وخليفتي فيكم؟ فأعرضوا عنه وهموا بتركه، لكن عليا نهض وما يزال صبيا دون الحلم، وقال: أنا يا رسول الله عو نك، أنا حرب على من حاربت. فابتسم بنو هاشم وقهقه بعضهم، وجعل نظرهم ينتقل من أبي طالب إلى ابنه ثم انصرفوا مستهزئين
In his Ta’rikh, at-Tabari has quoted the words used by the Prophet for ‘Ali in the Feast in its entirety:
“akhhi wa wasiyyi wa khalifati:
my brother, my successor, my caliph.”
But in his at-Ta’wil (vol. 19, p. 74), while discussing the relevant verse in which the Prophet was ordered to call his relations to Islam, at-Tabari exercises self-censorship and has concealed the clear and the explicit impact of the Prophet’s words by recording it as follows:
“akhhi wa kadha wa kadha:
my brother, my successor, my caliph.
رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ
اَللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ عَلى مُحَمَّدٍ وَّآلِ مُحَمَّدٍ وَّعَجِّلْ فَرَجَهُمْ
وَالْعَنْ أَعْدَائَهُمْ اَجْمَعِيْن
🤲 اللھم عجل لولیک الفرج(ع)🤲
فی امان لله