15. Virtue, Destiny, Knowledge, Remembrance of God

The thirtieth book is on “Virtue, Good Manners, and the Joining of the Ties of Relationship.”

Many of the principles enunciated in this book are good except that they have a sectarian orientation. While the Muslim has a permanent quarrel with polytheists, he must not feel enmity toward a fellow Muslim. “It is not lawful for a Muslim that he should keep his relations estranged with his brother beyond three days” (6205).

A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim. He neither oppresses him nor humiliates him nor looks down upon him.... All things of a Muslim are inviolable for his brother in faith: his blood, his wealth and his honour” (6219).

A Muslim should visit his sick brother. “When a Muslim visits his brother in Islam he is supposed to remain in the fruit garden of Paradise until he returns” (6229). And, of course, the sickness of a Muslim is no sickness; it is a reward. “When a Muslim falls ill, his compensation is that his minor sins are obliterated” (6235). If he suffers pain, even to the extent of stepping on a thorn, “Allah elevates him in rank or effaces his sins because of that” (6238). This idea runs through many ahAdIs (6233-6245)

Believers should not nurse mutual rancor. “The gates of Paradise are not opened but on two days, Monday and Thursday, and then every servant of Allah is granted pardon who does not associate anything with Allah except the person in whose heart there is rancour against his brother” (6222).

In short, all Muslims should help each other, stand by each other, and feel for each other. “A believer is like a brick for another believer, the one supporting the other” (6257). All Muslims are one body. “The believers are like one person; if his head aches, the whole body aches with fever and sleeplessness” (6260).


Charity and forgiveness are recommended (6264). Abuse and backbiting and tale-carrying are censured (6263, 6265, and 6306). It is meritorious to speak the truth, for “truth leads one to Paradise” (6307). But lying is permissible in three cases: “In battle, for bringing reconciliation amongst persons and the narration of the words of the husband to his wife, and the narration of the words of a wife to her husband” (6303).


Nonviolence of a sort is also preached. “When any one of you fights with his brother, he should spare his face” (6325).1 The face should be avoided because, as the Prophet himself explains, “Allah created Adam in His own image” (2872).

Similarly, if a man goes to a bazaar or a mosque with arrows, he should take care of their “pointed heads so that these might not do any harm to a Muslim” (6332).


If we could forget Allah’s partiality for Muslims, the following could be considered an eloquent rendering of the law of retribution: “The claimants would get their claims on the Day of Resurrection so much so that the hornless sheep would get its claim from the horned sheep” (6252). Therefore a Muslim should not oppress another Muslim and, in fact, should help him. “A Muslim is the brother of a fellow-Muslim. He should neither commit oppression upon him nor ruin him, and he who meets the need of a brother, Allah would meet his needs, and he who relieves a Muslim from hardship, Allah would relieve him from hardships to which he would be put on the Day of Resurrection, and he who did not expose the follies of a Muslim, Allah would conceal his follies on the Day of Resurrection” (6250).


Such benevolence as is compatible with jizyA, spoils, and holy war was allowed by some believers toward the nonbelievers too. When HishAm saw “the farmers of Syria, who had been made to stand in the sun ... [and] detained for JizyA,” he was reminded of the Prophet’s words: “Allah would torment those who torment people in the world” (6328). Obviously, HishAm extended the definition of “people” to include men other than Muslims.


Muhammad was somewhat more indulgent toward his own lapses. If he ill-treated his followers, that brought him no blame, secular or divine, and, in fact, turned into a blessing for the sufferers. “O Allah, I make a covenant with Thee against which Thou wouldst never go. I am a human being and thus for a Muslim whom I give any harm or whom I scold or upon whom I invoke curse or whom I beat, make this a source of blessing, purification and nearness to Thee on the Day of Resurrection” (6290). One would think that to err is human, not apostolic; at least, not in such grave matters.


The subject of virtue is also discussed in the fortieth book, pertaining to “Piety and Softening of Hearts” (al-zuhd wa al-raqA’iq).

Here are mentioned certain acts which are considered pious and meritorious. Widows, orphans, and the poor should be treated benevolently (7107-7108). Charity should be given to the poor and the wayfarer (7112-7113). The merit of building mosques is stressed. “He who builds a mosque for Allah, Allah would build for him a house in Paradise” (7110).

Any ostentatious display of one’s deeds is deplored. “If anyone makes a hypocritical display, Allah will make a display of him” (7115). Therefore, one should not publicize one’s lapses and omissions. “All the people of my Ummah would get pardon for their sins except those who publicize them” (7124).

The great theological sin of polytheism does not go unmentioned. Allah the Most High and Exalted states: “I am the One, One who does not stand in need of a partner. If anyone does anything in which he associates anyone else with Me, I shall abandon him with one with whom he associates Allah” (7114). This is the first time that Allah lets a man off so lightly and does not seize him and roast him in hellfire for the great sin of polytheism.

Muhammad also disapproved of sneezing and yawning. “The yawning is from the devil,” he said (7129).


Several ahAdIs at the very beginning of the book show the “vanity of worldly possessions,” and how worldly wealth perishes and only good deeds remain.

Muhammad sent AbU ’Ubaida to collect jizyA from the tribes of Bahrain. As soon as the news of his return came, the ansArs gathered round Muhammad. Muhammad smiled and said: “I think you have heard about the arrival of AbU ’Ubaida with goods from Bahrain.” They said: “Yes.” Muhammad now did some thinking out loud and said that the new riches might corrupt them. “By Allah, it is not the poverty about which I fear in regard to you but I am afraid in your case that the worldly riches may be given to you as were given to those who had gone before you and you begin to vie with one another for them as they vied for them, and these may destroy you as these destroyed them” (7065).

This sentiment was duplicated by ’Umar while distributing the “holy one-fifth” amongst the Medinans, part of a booty valued at thirty million dirhams (besides many maidens and a vast number of fine Persian horses, nine falling to the lot of every combatant) won at the Battle of Jalola under the generalship of Sa’d, from an outlying province of Persia. The sentiment sounded pious and it still does. It has come down the corridor of history “proving” the great “piety” of ’Umar. But the basic question about the whole business of holy war, burning, pillage, booty, jizyA, and how these can become legitimate and moral has really never bothered Muslim theologians and scholars or even the Sufis. They can strain at a gnat but are ready to swallow a camel.

Several ahAdIs show that the holy war against the infidels was not only a pious act but a profitable business. Utba b. GhazwAn tells us: “I was the seventh amongst seven2 who had been with Allah’s Messenger and we had nothing to eat but the leaves of the tree.... We found a sheet which we tore in two and divided between myself and Sa’d b. Malik. I made the lower garment with half of it and so did Sa’d.... And today there is none amongst us who has not become the governor of a city” (7075).


The Prophet’s moral teaching is dominated by theology. For example, the “Book of Virtue and Good Manners” opens with ahAdIs which enjoin the believers to accord benevolent treatment to their parents and to obey them. Who among the people is most deserving of good treatment? “Your mother, again your mother, again your mother, then your father, then your nearest relatives according to the order of nearness,” replies Muhammad (6181).

But if morality conflicts with Muslim theology, the latter prevails. We have already seen how Allah Himself ordered Sa’d b. AbI WaqqAs not to obey his parents if they stood for polytheism (QurAn 29:8, 31:15). Not merely to disobey them, but if necessary to oppose them in more active ways. The son of ’Abdullah ibn Ubayy, an ansAr, tells Muhammad: “If you really want him [his father] killed, command me to do it and I will bring you his head ... [but] if you order another to kill him, I shall not afterwards be able to bear the sight of his murderer.... I shall kill him—and then I shall have killed one of the faithful for an infidel, and I shall go to hell.” What a combination of piety and filial duty!3

Similarly, there are several traditions which boast how AbU Hozayfa, an Emigrant, helped Hamza to kill his own father by giving him a cut with his sword at the Battle of Badr.

Muhammad is praised in Islamic lore for “joining of the ties of relationship.” But the fact is that the believers were encouraged to rebel against these very ties in order to disorient them altogether from the old life and to strengthen their exclusive loyalty to the new leader and the new ummah. For the assassination of a poetess of Medina, ’Asma hint MarwAn, one ’Umayr ibn ’Adi, a man of her own clan, was chosen. That helped him to prove his zeal and loyalty to the cause of Islam. After driving his sword through the sleeping woman with one of her children still at her breast, he came to Muhammad to inform him. “You have done a service to Allah and His Messenger,” the Prophet told him gratefully.


For the same theological reason, Muhammad was ready to consign his father, his noble-hearted uncle AbU TAlib, and even his mother to the flames of hellfire.

In this respect, the polytheists, who were not theological, were better than the Muslims. After the conquest of Mecca, when Muhammad became supreme in Arabia, and the smaller tribes had to pay homage to his power and prophethood, two brothers, chiefs of a tribe inhabiting Yemen, came to Muhammad and showed their willingness to embrace Islam. They were converted. They hated to eat the heart of an animal but were made to do so in order to prove that their break with their old polytheism was genuine. Later on, during a conversation with Muhammad, their late mother came in for a mention, and Muhammad told them that she was in hell. Both turned away from him in anger. “Come back, my own mother too is there with yours,” Muhammad cried in an unsuccessful effort to entice them back. As they departed the two brothers said: “This man has not only made us eat the heart of the animals, but said that our mother is in hell: who would follow him?”4


Another feature of the Prophet’s teaching on morals, inevitably flowing from its predominantly theological nature, is its lack of universality. Faith, equity, justice are only for the Muslims in their mutual relationships. To the infidels and unbelievers another code, another set of rules, is applied.5 The lives of their males are forfeit; their women are legitimate objects of concubinage and bondage; their children are meant for slavery; and their wealth and property for pillage and booty.

A sectarian attitude informs all matters large or small. When two Muslims meet, they are to greet each other. “The better of the two is one who is the first to give a greeting” (6210). But Muhammad advises his followers not to greet Jews and Christians first (5389). Similarly, if you meet a Muslim on the road, you are to be courteous and step aside to give him the way (5376), but if you meet a Jew or a Christian, you are to push him aside (5389).

When a Muslim dies, fellow Muslims should “follow his bier.” in fact, this is one of the five or six “rights of a Muslim over another Muslim” (5379). And in the same vein, a Muslim should offer a prayer of mercy for a fellow Muslim. But Allah forbids this courtesy toward non-Muslims (QurAn 9:84). It is another matter that some Muslims do not live up to the Prophet’s teachings. But Muhammad himself was very particular about keeping away from the funerals of non-Muslims. According to Muslim tradition, one MukhayrIq, a learned Jewish priest, recognized Muhammad as the promised prophet and even bestowed seven gardens on him (according to some traditions, they were part of the war booty seized from the Jews of Medina). He also fought alongside Muhammad on the day of Uhud, though it was a Sabbath, and died in the battle. But though his corpse was allowed to be buried near the Muslims, Muhammad did not attend his funeral or pray for him. MukhayrIq was “the best of the Jews,” as Muhammad called him, but he was still not entitled to a Muslim funeral prayer.


Muhammad’s moral teaching also lacks inwardness. It does not seem to know that man’s acts emanate from his thoughts and desires, which in turn are rooted in the separative ego and in nescience. True, Muhammad could not have heard of Indian Yoga, though the Buddhist influence had been penetrating the Middle East for many centuries; but this idea was not entirely unknown to Semitic traditions which he knew and in some ways had made his own. Jesus had preached that “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, theft, false witness, blasphemies.” But Muhammad failed to benefit from this source. The fact is that he founded a very outward religion.

Without inner purification, there can be no higher ethical life. Even piety is no substitute for purity and for inner self-understanding and inner self-culture and aspiration. An unpurified heart merely rationalizes man’s lusts, violence, and prurience; garbing itself in pious clothing, it gives the theology of a Moloch-Allah demanding the blood of the infidels; it gives an ethics of jihAd, war booty, and tribute.

The lack of a philosophy and praxis of inner culture fails to bring about any real sublimation; it imposes only an outer code, leading to a reluctant and even rebellious conformity. For example, Muhammad customarily visited his wives in rotation. But, as might be expected, he found it burdensome to observe this practice. “This I have power to do; but thou, O Lord, are the master over that of which I have no power [love for each],” he said.6 So Allah had to intervene with more accommodating revelations.


The thirty-first book, the “Book of Destiny” (Qadr), contains only fifty-one ahAdIs (6390-6441).

Muhammad believes that everything is predetermined. “Evil one is he who is evil in his mother’s womb” (6393). Each person passes through a series of stages. “The constituents of one of you are collected for forty days in his mother’s womb in the form of blood, after which it becomes a lump of flesh and forty days later Allah sends His angel to it with instructions concerning four things ... his livelihood, his death, his deeds, his fortune and misfortune.” As a result, it may even happen that a very good man who deserves Paradise and is only a cubit away from Paradise will suddenly be overcome by what destiny has written and begin to act like a denizen of hell. And, of course, the reverse may also happen (6390).

The Prophet assures us that “Allah has fixed the very portion of adultery which a man will indulge in” (6421).

This brings in the usual riddle: how to reconcile destiny with freedom of action. One day, Muhammad told his followers that “there is not one amongst you who has not been allotted his seat in Paradise or Hell.” They logically asked: “Why then should we perform good deeds, why not depend upon our destiny?” Muhammad replied: “No, do perform good deeds, for everyone is facilitated in that for which he is created” (6400).

Here is another theological riddle and another answer. If everything of men is decreed in advance, then “would it not be an injustice to punish them?” Muhammad replies: “Everything is created by Allah and lies in His power. He would not be questioned as to what He does, but they [His creatures] would be questioned” (6406).


The thirty-second book, even smaller than the previous one, is the “Book of Knowledge” (’Ilm).

The word “knowledge” here has a special connotation. It means the knowledge that we find in the QurAn. “Recite the QurAn,” and do not dispute about it—that is knowledge. “Verily, the peoples before you were ruined because of their disputation in the Book,” the Prophet warns the believers (6443).

Muhammad also warns against people who believe that certain portions of the QurAn are mere allegories and try to read their own meanings into them. Those who “have a yearning for error go after the allegorical verses seeking to cause dissension, by seeking to explain them.” On the other hand, those “who are sound in knowledge say: We affirm our faith in everything which is from our Lord” (6442).

He also warns against “hair-splitting.” “Ruined are those who indulged in hair-splitting,” he says (6450).

But in spite of these warnings, Muhammad is still apprehensive about his followers and feels that they will take to the path of the Jews and the Christians. “You would tread the same path as was trodden by those before you inch by inch and step by step so much so that if they had entered into the hole of the lizard, you would follow them in this also,” he remonstrates with the believers.

The book also includes a flattering reference to scholars. “Verily, Allah does not take away knowledge by snatching it from the people but he takes away the knowledge by taking away the scholars” (6462).


The thirty-third book is on “Remembrance of Allah” (KitAb al-Zikr).

The believers are exhorted to remember Allah. Though Muhammad rebelled against the idea that Allah had visible forms, he retained His audible names. “There are ninety-nine names of Allah; he who commits them to memory would get into Paradise,” Muhammad tells us (6475).

Why ninety-nine? “God is odd [witr] and He loves odd number,” Muhammad explains (6476).

Allah tells us that if a believer “draws near Me by the span of a palm, I draw near him by the cubit. And if he walks towards Me, I rush towards him” (6471).

The statement is taken from the mystic lore, where it has a meaning very different from the one given to it in certain prophetic traditions. In the mystic tradition, “walking toward Me” means walking in truth, in conciliation, in compassion, in brotherliness, in purity, in wisdom; it means walking toward the Light within. In the prophetic tradition, the phrase means walking in enmity toward the polytheists, the infidels, in conformity to the commands conveyed by Allah through revelation to some favored fellow. Our own role is compliance and conformity and obedience to a revelation which is not ours. In this holy war which we are asked to wage with zeal, faith, and earnestness, our reward is booty, slaves, and empire if we succeed, and Paradise if we fall.

Muhammad’s god, like his moral teaching, is sectarian and lacks both universality and true inwardness. Muhammad’s Allah is a tribal god trying to be universal through jihAd, conquest, and forced conversions. “There is no God but allah and Muhammad is the prophet of this godling” is the true import of the Muhammadan kalimah (creed).

Some theologians “exalt” God but denigrate man; they are tearful about God but are quite dry-eyed and even cruel-hearted toward their fellow mortals, whom they give all kinds of names: heathen, infidel, polytheist, and so on. We should be wary of such theologians and their theologies.


AlI tells us that FAtima, his wife and the Prophet’s daughter, “had a corn in her hand because of working at the hand-mill.” They heard that “there had fallen to the lot of Allah’s Apostle some prisoners of war.” So FAtima came to the Holy Prophet in the expectation of acquiring a slave for herself. But Muhammad had none to spare at the time, so he told FAtima: “May I not direct you to something better than what you have asked for? When you go to your bed, you should recite TakbIr [Allah-o-Akbar] thirty-four times and TasbIh [SubhAn Allah] thirty-three times and TahmId [al-Hamdu li-Allah] thirty-three times and that is better than the servant for you” (6577).

Allah’s name did not always suffice as a substitute for a servant. The Prophet was in the habit of giving prisoners of war to his favorite believers as slaves and concubines. For example, he gave ’AlI a captured girl named Rayta, the daughter of HilAl, as a gift. She was part of the war booty won from the BanU Haw5zin, the tribe of Muhammad’s foster mother. Two other girls from the same booty were given as gifts, one to ’UsmAn, Muhammad’s other son-in-law, and the second to ’Umar, who in turn gave her to his son ’Abdullah.6


We may quote one more hadIs apropos: “When you listen to the crowing of the cock, ask Allah for His favour as it sees Angels and when you listen to the braying of the donkey, seek refuge in Allah from the Satan for it sees Satan,” Muhammad tells the believers (6581). Demonology is the other side of theology.


1This is the nearest we have from Muhammad to Jesus’ teaching: “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39).

2The phrase “seventh amongst seven” refers to a party of seven men sent by Muhammad under the leadership of ’Abdullah ibn Jahsh to waylay a caravan of the Quraish during the second year of his stay in Medina. In order to disarm the apprehensions of the men in charge of the caravan, one of the raiders shaved his head so that they would be taken for pilgrims. When the caravan-men were off guard and cooking their food, the raiders rushed upon them, killing one man, taking two prisoners, and securing spoils. This killing took place during the sacred month of the Arabs when, according to their tradition, no blood could be spilled. That was, however, only the old polytheistic morality. But Utba was hardly “the seventh of the seven,” though he was one of the raiding party, for when the action was taking place, he had fallen behind to search for his camel, which he later said had wandered away.

3The story is given in Ibn IshAq and repeated in TabarI. The version here is from SIrat RasUl Allah, pp.491-492.

4TabaqAt, II.100; also W. Muir, Life of Mahomet, IV.228-229.

5The QurAn frankly teaches this discriminatory ethic. “Muhammad is Allah’s apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another,” it says (48:29).

6TabaqAt, II.280.

7SIrat RasUl Allah, p.593.