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Self-Censorship in Muslim History

Chapter Two

Self-Censorship in
Muslim History

1. Introduction

    Many students of Islamic history begin with the assumption that if an event or a statement has not been reported in the learliest source of Muslim history or hadith like as-Sirah an-Nabawiyya of Ibn Hisham or SDahih 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 persins, events and statement, they are equally relevant in ignoring and silently bypassing ertain historical figures and stories.

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    this paper intends to examine the way Muslim historians have dealt with the first open call to Islam known as Da'wat dhu 'l-'Ashira.

2. The first Open Call to Islam

    Islam begin when the Prophet Muhammed (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 warm thy nearest relation." (26:214)
    When this verse was released, the Prophet organised a feast that is known in history as "Summoning the Family -- Da'wat dhu 'l-'Ashira". The Prophet invited around forty men from the Banu Hashim asked 'Ali bin Abi Talib to make arrangements for the dinner. After having served his guests with food and drinks, 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 him.
    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 is people with better than what I have

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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 (waliyyi), and my caliph (khalifati) among you?
    This was the first time that the Prophet openly and bublicly called the relations to accept him as the Messenger and Prophet of Allah, he also uses the words "akhhi wa wasiyyi wa khalifati --- my brother, my successor, my caliph" for the person who will aid him in this mission. No one aswered him, they all held back except the youngst of them --- 'Ali bin Abi Alib. He stood up and said. "I will be you helper, O Prophet of God.
    "Inna hadha akhhi wa wasiyyi wa khalifati fikum, fastma'u' lahu wa ati'u -- Verily this is my brother, my successor, and my caliph amongst you; therefore, listen to him and obey."1
1. Most Muslim historians and commentators of the Qur'an have quoted this event. see the following Sunni source; at-Tabari, at-Ta'rikh, vol.I (Leiden, 1980 offset of the 1789 edtion) p.171-173; Ibn al-Thir, al-kamil, vol.5 (Beirut, 1965) p.116-117; al-Khazin, at-Tafsir, vol.4 (cairo, 1955) p.127; al-Baghawi, at-Tafsir (Ma'alimu 't-Tanzil), vol.6 (Riyadh; Dar Tayyiba, 1993) p.131; al-Bayhaqi, Dala'ilu n-Nubuwwa, vol.5 (Beirut, n.d.) p.97; and Muttaqi al-Hindi, Kanzu 'l-'Ummal, vol.15 (Hyderabad, 1968) pp 100, 113, 115, For further references, see 'Abdu 'l-Husayn al-Amini, al-Ghadir, vol.2 (Beirut, 1967) pp.278-289.
In English see, Rizivi, S, Saeed Akhatar, Imamate; the Vicegerancy of the Prophet (Tehran; WOFIS,1985)pp.57-60. For an elaborate discussion on the isnad and meaning of the Prophet's hadith in this event, and also the variations in the early Sunni and Shi'a sources, see Dr, Sayyid Talib Husayn ar-Rifa'i, Yawmu 'd-Dar ( Beirut: Dar al-Azwa', 1986).

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    This was a very explicit statement because the audience understood the appointment of 'Ali very clearly. Some of them, including Abu Lahab, even joked with Abu Talib that your nephew, Muhammed, 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 questios reaised in relation to thisd issue is why 'Abbu '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 Muhammed Ibn Ishaq (born in 85in Medina and died in 151 AH in Baghdad). The unabriged version of Ibn Ishaq's history book does not exist anymore. So the question has to be reformulated : "Did Ibn Ishaq mention the Summoning of the Family event?"

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    The political considerations that influenced Ibn Hisham in deleting certain events and maintaining others is clear from his own statement. While listing the iterms that he has omitted, Ibn Hisham writes, ... things which it is disgraceful to discuss; matters which would distress certain peple .. all these things I have omitted."1 Editors of the 1955 Egyptian edition of the Sirah writes that Ibn Ishaq had quoted events that would not have pleased the 'Abbasids "like the participatioon 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 to the fear of the Abbasids."2
    Praises of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib, especially the tradition of dar, were among the iterms 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 Ishaq by sources other than Ibn Hisham. For example, at-Tabari (d. 310 AH) marrate the same event through Ibn Ishaq. Shayks Abu Ja'far at- Tusi (d. 460 AH) also narrates
1. Inb Hisham, as-Sirah an-Nabawiyya, vol.I (Cairo: Musatafa al-Halabi & Sons, 1955) p.11-12; also see its English translation by A Guillaume, The Life of Muhammed (Lahore; Oxford University Press, 1955) p.691. See also the introduction by Dr. Ashari Mahadawi to the 6th century Persian translation by Rafi'u d-Din Hamadani of the Sirah entiled as Sirat-e Rasudu 'l-lah (Tehran, Bunyad-e Farhang-e Iran, 1360 {solar} AH) p.nun.

2. Ibn Hisham, as Sirah, vol.I, p.10

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the same event through two different chains of marrators: one of those two is on the authority of Ibn Iahaq through at-Tabari.1

chain of narrators of"da'wat Dhu 'l'-Ashira'
' by at-Tabari & at Tusi
Abdullah bin Abbas
Abdullah bin Harith bin Nawafal
Al-Minhal bin Umar


Abdu 'l-Ghaffar bin al-Qasim
Muhammad bin Ishaq
Salma bin al-Fadhl
Muhammed ibn Humayd

Salayman al-Amash
Salma bin Salim al-Ju'fi
Muhammed al-Jurura'i
Muhammed al-Baghandi



Abu 'l-Mufadhdhal
a group

    This clearly shows that what has come to be recognized as the earliest and the most authentic historical account is not free from bias in ignoring certain events and in narrating others.
1. Abu Ja'far at-Tusi, Kitabu 'l-Amali, vol.2 (Najaf: Maktabatu 'l-haydari, 1964) p.194-196.

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    Ibn Ishaq himself has been accused of having Shi'te leanings. If true, this could be one of he considerations that prompted Ibn Hisham to omit the iterms tha he thought supported the Shi'ite cause. However, al-Khatib al-Baghdadi in Ta'rikh Baghdad and Ibn Sayyidi 'n-Nas in Uyumu 'l-Athar, both Sunni historians, have defended Ibn Ishaq against all kinds of accusations including that of having Shi'ite learning.1

4. Self-Censorship by At-Tabari

    The case of Muhammed bin Jarir at-Tabari (d. 310 AH) is even more interesting. The event of Da'wat dhi 'l-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'will 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.

أدعوكم إليه فأيكم يوازرني على هذا الأمر على أن يكون أخي ووصيي وخليفتي فيكم قل فاحجم القوم عنها جميعا وقلت واني لاحدثم سنا وارمصهم عينا واعظمهم بطنا واحمشهم ساقا انا يا نبي الله أكون زيرك عليه فاخذ برقفبتي ثم قال أن هذا اخي ووصيي وخليفتي فيكم فاسمعوا له واطيعوا قال فقام القوم يضحكون

Tabari's Ta'rikh, vol.3 (1879 edition) p.1173.
1. See the introduction to as-Sirah an-Nabawiyya, vol.1. P, 15=17; also see Guillaume, The life of Muhammed, p.xxxiv-xxxviii.

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    In his Ta'rikh, at-Tabari has quoted the words used by the Prophet for 'Ali in the Feast in its entirely :

اخي و وصي و خليفتي
"akhhi wa wasiyyi wa khalifati
my brother, my successor, my caliph."1

    But in his at-Ta'will (vol.19, p.74), while discussing the relevant verse in which jthe 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 a follows :

اخي وكذا وكذا
akhhi wa kadha wa kadha
my brother, and so and so and so".

    Ibn Kathir another famous Damascene author of al-Bidayah wa an-Nihaya (vol.3, p.40), has used the Ta'rikh of at-Tabari as his main reference. However, When he comes to the event of the Feast, he abandons the the Ta'rikh of at-Tabari and uses the altered version of Jami'u l-Bayan of at-Tabari. This is not suprising since it is known that Ibn Kathir had anti-Shi'a sentiments.
1. See the 1879 edition of E.J Brill, Leiden (vol.3, p.1173), the 1908 edition of Daru 'l-Qamusi 'l-Hadith, Cairo (vol.1 & 2 p.217), also the 1961 edition of Daru 'l-Ma'arif, Cairo, edited by Muhammed Abu 'l-fadl Ibrahim (vol 2. p.321) in which the original words are intact Even at-Tabari's 1988 English translation published by State University of New York. vol.6 (translatior: WM Watt and MV Mc Donald) p.90-91 has maintained original words of the Prophet without any omission.

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5. Self-Censorship in Modern Times

    A modern writer of Egypt, Dr, Muhammed Husayn Haykal, wrote a famous book in the Prophet's biography known as Hayat Muhammed. Haykal had first Published the Prophet's biography in his weekly paper as-Siyasa. The event of the Feast was pulished in the supplement of issue # 2751 (12 Dhu 'l-Qa'dah 1350) p.5, column 2. One of his critics wrote a letter to the paper accusing Haykal of using Shi'ite sources for that statement about Imam 'Ali. Haykal responds to this occusation in the supplement of issue # 2758, p.6, column 4, by denying that he used a Shi'ite source "since all traditions do speak of this behaviour or 'Ali" and quotes the hadith from Sahih of Muslim, Musnad of Ahamed and others.1
    Haykal resisted the presure to omit the Prophet's statement about Ali when the biography was finally printed in a book form. In the first edition of Hayat Muhameead, Haykal narrtes the event of the feast at follows:
    ... When they had finished eating, he {the Prophet} said th them, I do not knw any person among the Arabs who has come to his people with something better than what I have come to you; I have come
1. Antonie Wessels, A Morden Arabic Biography of Muhammad (Leiden; EJ Brill, 1972) p.223, 245; also see Abdu l-Hassayn ar-Razi (Beirut; n.p.1982) p.189.

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to you with the best of this world and the hereafter. My Lord has ordered me to call you unto him.
    "So who among you will help me in this matter, so that he may be my brother, my successor, and my caliph among you?"
    "All of the turned away from his and wanted to leave him but 'Ali stood up although he was still a child who had not reached maturity and said, 'O Messenger of Allah, I shall be your helper I will help you against whomsoever you fight. The Banu Hashim smiled, some of the laughed, and their eyes moved from Abu Talib to his son; and then they left in the state of ridicule."1

القوم ليقوموا . ودعاهم محمد في الغداة كرة أخرى ؛ فلما طعموا قال لهم : ما أعلم إنساناً في العرب جاء قومه بأفضل بما جئتكم به ، قد جئتكم بخير الدنيا والآخرة . وقد أمرنى ربى أن أدعوكم إليه . فأيكم يؤازرنى على هذا الأمر وأن يكون أخى ووصّي وخليفتي فيكم ؟ فأعرضوا عنه وهموّا يتركه . لكن عليّا نهض وما يزال صبيّا دون الحلم وقال : « أنا يا رسول الله عونك ، أنا حرب على من حاربت » . فابتسم بنو هاشم وقهقه بعضهم . وجعل نظرهم ينتقل من أبى طالب إلى ابنه ، ثم انصرفوا مستهزئين .

1. Haykal, Hayat Muhammed (Cairo: 1st edition ) p.104.

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    In the second edition, Haykal seems to have given into the pressure of the bigots and even deleted tha crucial words of the Prophet and just wrote: "... he said to them, '... So who among you will help me in this matter? All of them turned from him..."1

حياة محمد

ليقوموا . ودعاهم محمد في الغداة كّرةً أخرى . فلما طعموا قال لهم : ما أعلم إنسان في العرب جاء قومه بأفضل مما جئتكم به ؟ قد جئتكم بخير الدنيا والآخرة . وقد أمرنى ربى أن أدعوكم اليه . فأيّكم يؤازرنى على هذا الأمر ؟ فأعرضوا عنه وهمّوا بتركه . لكن عليّا نهض ، وهو ما يزال صبيا دون الحلم ، وقال : " أنا يا رسول الله عونك ، أنا حربٌ على من حاربت " . فابتسم بنو هاشم وقهقه بعضهم ، وجعل نظرهم يتنقّل من أبى طالب الى ابنه ، ثم انصرفوا مستهزئين .

    This clearly show that he doesn't doubt the actual "Summoning of the Family" event but he lacked the intellectual courage to stand by the logical conclusion of his initial findings in the study of history.

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