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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Softening a Hardened Heart: A New Convert

Adil Salahi, Arab News

In the early days of the Islamic message, the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his companions met tough opposition from the unbelievers in Makkah. Those who did not have high standing in their tribes were vulnerable to much persecution, including torture and even death. On the other hand, Muslims who belonged to distinguished families and enjoyed tribal protection were subjected to pressure by their families, with the aim of bringing them back to idolatry, the religion that prevailed in Arabia at the time. It was necessary, therefore, that new Muslims should keep the fact of their adoption of Islam secret, so as to learn and practice their faith in safety. However, in a closely-knit society like that of Makkah it was difficult to keep such an important fact secret. Besides, new Muslims who appreciated the great difference Islam brought into their lives were keen to try to win others to their new faith. Hence, the pressure increased and the persecution acquired a wider scale.

One of the hardest opponents of Islam at the time was Umar ibn Al-Khattab, a man full of vigor and ability, approaching 30 years of age. At one stage, he thought that the easiest and surest way to put a final solution to the trouble caused by Islam was to kill Muhammad, as this was certain to kill his message too. Umar was not a man who shrank from a difficult task or pretended not to know what he could or should do. If Muhammad was to be killed, then he would be the one to kill him. He therefore went out carrying his sword in search of Prophet Muhammad.

He was soon met by a man called Nuaym ibn Abdullah who managed to keep secret the fact that he was a Muslim. Nuaym asked Umar where he was going. Unhesitatingly, Umar declared his purpose. Nuaym then said: “Your strength has certainly fooled you. Do you imagine that the Abd Manaf clan (to which the Prophet belonged) would leave you to walk these roads when you have killed Muhammad? You would be better advised if you went back to your own household and put them on the right course.” Umar asked: “What do you mean, and who of my household?” Nuaym replied: “Your cousin and brother-in-law Saeed ibn Zayd and your sister, Fatimah, have both followed Muhammad and become Muslims.” Obviously Nuaym’s purpose was to divert Umar’s attention. If Umar was preoccupied with his own household, the Prophet would be in no imminent danger from that quarter.

When Umar approached his sister’s home, she and her husband were studying the Qur’an with a fellow-Muslim called Khabbab. When they realized that Umar was approaching, Khabbab sought somewhere to hide, while Fatimah hid the sheet they were reading. In his fury, Umar asked as he entered about the voices he overheard. Receiving an unsatisfactory answer from his sister, he assaulted his brother-in-law making it clear that he knew their secret. His sister rushed to push him away from her husband but he struck her, causing blood to gush from her face. She then said, with a boldness and determination which surprised Umar himself: “Yes indeed, we are Muslims; we believe in God and His Messenger. You may do as you please.”

The sight of blood on his sister’s face made Umar feel sorry for her. He said in a rather conciliatory tone: “Give me what you have been reading. Let me see what Muhammad teaches.” When she hesitated, expressing her fear that he might destroy the sheet, he swore by his idols to give it back to her after he had read it. The sheet contained the opening verses of Surah 20 entitled Ta Ha. The meaning of these opening verses may be rendered as follows: “We have not bestowed the Qur’an on you from on high to make you unhappy, but only as an exhortation to all who stand in awe (of God): A revelation from Him Who has created the earth and the high heavens, the Merciful, the One established on the throne of His almightiness. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth, as well as all that is between them and all that is beneath the sod. And if you say anything aloud, well, He indeed knows even the secret thoughts as well as that which is hidden even more deeply. God, there is no deity other than Him; His alone are the attributes of perfection.” (1-8)

Impressed, Umar read on, and then he read the whole sheet again. He felt the powerful verses striking their notes on the strings of his heart. He looked at the floor for a moment as he repeated Verse 13: “For certain. I - I alone - am God; there is no deity other than Me. Hence, worship Me alone and be constant in prayer, so as to remember Me.” He then raised his head and said: “How beautiful and how noble.” At this point Khabbab came out and told Umar about the Prophet’s prayer for fresh support to Islam, saying: “I sincerely hope that you will come forward in answer to the Prophet’s prayers.”

Umar did not need much persuasion to take the great step of changing sides. Indeed nobody tried to persuade him, not even his injured sister. Everybody was aware of Umar’s enmity toward Islam which was so fierce that no one close to him would have imagined such a change was at all possible.

Some may wonder whether Umar’s sense of guilt at hitting his sister was the main factor in bringing about such a change. What is known of Umar’s personality, before and after his conversion to Islam, lends no support to this argument. What happened was that the sight of blood awakened Umar’s sense of justice. He decided to listen to the case of the other side. Hence he asked to look at the sheet his sister was studying. When he read it, he was overwhelmed by the power of the argument and submitted to the truth.

Umar then went to the house which served as a school and a hideout for the new Muslims. Although the people inside were alarmed at seeing him approaching and carrying his sword, Hamzah, the Prophet’s uncle and a very powerful warrior in his own right, said to the Prophet: “Shall we let him in? If he has come for something good, we will grant him that. If his motive is evil, we will kill him with his own sword.”

The door was opened. Umar came in. The Prophet went up to him, took him by the collar and pulled him hard and said: “What brings you here, Umar? It looks to me as if you will not mend your ways until a calamity has befallen you.” Umar replied humbly: “Messenger of God! I have come to you to declare that I believe in God and His Messenger and accept what God has revealed.” The Prophet said: “God is Supreme.” Everybody in the house realized that Umar had joined the Islamic camp. They were so delighted because, with him, the Muslims had become infinitely stronger.


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