Synopsis: This fourth episode picks up with the meeting of the Quraysh deciding what to do about the question of the rise of Islam and the preaching of the Prophet. After his impassioned speech against the divisions caused by the rise of Islam, the tribal elders decide to appoint ‘Umar as their intermediary and ambassador in dealing with the Prophet, but the former refuses and cites reasons of inexperience and his modest stature within Quraysh as a whole. So far, the show has depicted ‘Umar as a rational, politically-astute opponent of Islam which I feel rather ignores the historical reality in which he was actually (according to his own testimony later in life) one of the most ardent idol-worshipers and had strong religious motives in opposing the new message. Perhaps this will come out more clearly as the story unfolds. Thus far, however, ‘Umar is not shown as the aggressive and hostile persecutor of Islam which he is remembered as being before his conversion. The staunch persecutor to heroic proponent is a very Pauline narrative, ofcourse, but has some basis in reality. I wonder whether the producers want to address ‘Umar’s career from that angle or are setting up the story in a different way.
This episode picks up on the theme of Islam’s social revolution. Here are just two examples from this episode: 1) In the center of town, the newly-converted Abu Hudhayfa (the son of ‘Utbah ibn Rab’iah and the brother of Hind, wif eof Abu Sufyan) announces the freeing of his mawla/slave, creating uproar among the crowd. 2) Bilal and Wahshi, two Ethiopian slaves, engage in a deep conversation about the nature of slavery and freedom, with Bilal advocating the free will of all and asserting that all men were created equal, while Wahshi is largely resigned to his fate and implores Bilal to stop such subversive talk. It was certainly interesting to see, even if some liberties were taken with historical accuracy. I’m not sure whether Wahshi and Bilal ever had contact with each other while in Mecca, although now that i think about it it seems very likely. The character of Wahshi is developing in quite an interesting way, and he is perhaps one of the most intriguing “minor” characters within the show…since his own internal struggles dominate his character.
An interesting scene in this episode is when Abu Jahl (verbally) abuses Abu Bakr and ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud in public and threatens them with repression and violence if they remain on the path they are on. Abu Bakr deals with the situation honorably (as always) and turns away from Abu Jahl. When Ibn Mas’ud asks why he did not attack back, Abu Bakr explains that the Prophet, peace be upon him, had told his followers not to be aggressive against anyone since he was sent merely as mercy, a warner, and a bringer of good tidings.
An interesting dynamic, which is slowly playing out in the past two episodes, but which is clearly demonstrated in this episode particularly is the uneasy relationship between ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab and his uncle, Abu Jahl/Abul al-Hakam, The latter is infuriated at his nephew for refusing to remain silent during the Qurayshi council, particularly since his passionate speech led this council to reject his opinion and adopt ‘Umar’s instead. His dissatisfaction with ‘Umar plays out in an interesting (and rather comical) tantrum. Clearly, the independent-mindedness of ‘Umar is not to the liking of individuals such as Abu Jahl, even though the solution to Islam proposed by ‘Umar is not dissimilar to the opinion held by Abu Jahl. In sum, it’s simply a pride issue. ‘Umar then proceeds to put Abu Jahl in his place, explaining that a council is intended to bring together all opinions, even conflicting ones, and for people to decide upon the most sound one. He also doesn’t understand why Abu Jalh is so upset…since they both have the same goal: the silencing of the Prophet and the opposition to Islam. The next scene shows ‘Utbah ibn Rabi’ah addressing his son Abu Hudayfa and criticizing his decision to embrace Islam (and adopt Salim) but eventually reconciles himself to his decision, explaining that whatever occurs he remains his son and blood-ties will always bind them. This was really interesting to say the least, and quite similar to how “The Message” represents the relationship between the father and son. However, in a later scene, ‘Utbah throws a tantrum when he sees his son praying…especially when he sees that his former slave is leading in prayer. Abu Hudhayfa then engages his father in theological discussion in order to disprove polytheism and call to the worship of One God. At this moment Abu Sufyan and Hind walk into the room and learn that Abu Hudhayfa has become Muslim…and they too go on a long rant against the Prophet and Islam. Abu Hudjayfa goes back to his primary point about the importance of truth and worshiping One God…whatever the social consequences. He asserts that the opposition of his relatives to the new faith is based on material interests and selfish concerns. In anger, Hind then declares that the only solution to Islam and the Prophet is the sword…and everyone walks out. Hudhayfa looks at his family leave with a sad and disappointed expression upon his face.
As the council of Quraysh continues, the elders continue debating the nature of the Prophet’s preaching. They assert: is he (Muhammad) a soothsayer (kahin)? al-Walid ibn Mughirah asserts: no, he is not. Is he a liar? Again, al-Walid asserts that his reputation proves that he is not. Is he simply a madman? al-Walid strongly insists that he is not. Abu Jahl then declares: he must be a poet therefore! al-Walid scoffs and says: how can he be simply a poet, when we know all poetry and things of this nature?! Then, some others assert, a magician?! al-Walid, again, says no…but this would be the best approach to convince the people to oppose him. Therefore, they agree to spread the rumor that the Prophet is a magician who spreads discord between families and tribes. At the Ka’ba, one of Quraysh’s heralds begins to spread propaganda about the Prophet, claiming that him and his message are evil, and seeks to convince people that his preaching seeks the downfall of Meccan society. Abu Lahab emerges from the crowd, and starts screaming that Muhammad is indeed a liar/magician and needs to be strongly opposed. The herald smiles and asserts that “if this is what his own uncle is saying…what else is there left to say?!” The opposition of Quraysh to the Prophet and Islam has entered a new phase: active social opposition and mobilization of the people.
Review: Overall, this episode did a really good job setting up the transition of the Quraysh from mild opposition to active persecution of Islam. I particularly appreciated the fact that they represented ‘Umar as merely one individual within a broader context, rather than devoting disproportionate attention to his character, which at this early stage was not very central.
P.S. I know this appears more as a detailed summary or a play-by-play of the episode, but it by no means does justice to the show, which is far more complex and has entire scenes which I didn’t even mention. I just focused on those that I found most interesting/engaging.