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The Quraysh Quandary 7 December 2006

Posted by mecca in ABUSHARIF, History, Spirituality, Theology.
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Like Islam, Christianity had to deal with an idolatrous milieu. But unlike the Islamic context, the pagan Roman Empire was powerful and organized, while Arabia lacked a centralized cohesiveness that compares with the Romans, though there were a vague set of norms (at the center of which was chivalry), but, again, nothing compared to the Roman experience.

But Arabia did have something going for it: beneath the Arabian idolatry, the memory of Arabia was Abrahamic: the Pilgrimage, the Ka’ba, the count of months and their sacredness, and, however forlorn, a once strict belief in the oneness of God—all of which had been long stamped in the region with an Abrahamic legacy.

When the Prophet of Islam began to preach publicly, he was rejected by the Quraysh oligarchy, the ruling clan of Arabs, to whom the Prophet himself belonged. The Quraysh put forth argumentations that attempted to defend their way of life. But the arguments of the Quraysh were doomed from the start because they were disconnected from the core and overriding concern of the Prophet: transcending truth with an interior unaffected by the vagaries of life or context. The Quraysh’s quandary was this: they couldn’t refute the Prophet’s message on the grounds of the message itself, perhaps because of the Abrahamic memory. They were not only far from the Prophet on facts but on emphasis. The Quraysh’s main and most consistent argument was about their truncated sense of tradition, what they bequeathed from their forefathers, to which the Quran simply and powerfully asks: even if their forebears knew nothing? Or even if they were not guided? Even if they understood nothing?

For the Quraysh, it was more about a vague loyalty to the ethos of their forebears (however incongruent, belligerent, imbalanced, and socially divisive they were). They complained that the Prophet’s message was sowing the seeds of discontent in Makkah and surroundings, and weakening the pull of caravans to their city.

The Quraysh tried to make deals: you pray to your God part time and pray to our gods part time. What’s interesting about this offer was that for the Quraysh this was acceptable because, again, transcending truth was not their core concern. It was not an anathema for them to have allowed certain people to hoist up in Makkah an idol of their own. The more the merrier, just bring your purses to the party. But to tell them that there’s only one God, unseen, and all of these wooden and stone idols they devoted themselves to were frauds—that’s when the fists started to fly.

The obvious conflict here in logic and style is that if forebears had the power of tradition and the Quraysh were willing to kill for it, then why limit how far back you go in defense of ancestry and their belief systems? Why not meander all the way back to their ultimate patriarch Ishmael and father, Abraham himself, and devote yourselves to Abraham’s unflinching resolve to worship God and none other?

Immutable truths have to matter. To disregard the possibility of an immutable truth is to disregard the very purpose of the religion project. The Quraysh fought a losing battle on two counts: (1) Never did the Prophet’s followers dip in number. This is important because his followers were largely peopled by those who once equally defended the Quraysh’s sense of “forefathers” but who saw a stronger pull in the Prophet’s message. (2) The Quraysh’s overwhelming emphasis on their forebears presented a self-inflicted wound. The Prophet’s message echoed something similar: let’s go to Abraham because there you’ll find tradition and truth, inseparable and pure, which is really how any City of God can find authenticity.

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Comments»

1. talib - 9 December 2006

the quraysh and many of the mushrikeen believed in Allah and also believed Him to be the Creator of al-‘alameen. so perhaps in a sense they did feel a connection with Abraham (alaihi salaam) and other pious predessors just like christians nowadays believe that they have remianed true to the message of the Old Testament, though there is little to substantiate such a belief.

the bigger point i suppose is that ‘tradition’ is not necessarily based in historical fact. people often construct their view of tradition based on their provincial norms and values and then project it onto the past. i think the quraysh were guilty of this. and notoriously, muslims have been too.

i think you bring up a very interesting point with your argument that the quraysh had little care for truth. jahili arabs come off as superstitious people when you look at the ahadith. from an anthropological perspective, there seems to be a direct connection between the presence of polytheism and superstition in a society. superstition is often concerned with warding off evil and incurring blessing in this life, i.e. a very dunya-centric institution that has little concern for greater realities beyond day-to-day human affairs.


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