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“Umar” Ramadan Series: Review and Synopsis of Episode 6

Synopsis: The beginning of the episode picks up once again with the torture and ordeal of Bilal ibn Rabah at the hands of Umayyah ibn Khalaf. Although the latter implores him to at least utter the names of the pagan gods, Bilal adamantly refuses and testifies to the Unity of God, leading to an intensification of the punishment. The focus then turns to the torture of ‘Ammar ibn Yasir and his family who are going through an unbelievable amount of pain. Shortly thereafter, we are returned to the scene of Bilal being brutally whipped by Umayyah, at which point Abu Bakr appears and offers to buy Bilal from Umayyah at a price of 40 pieces of gold (a massive investment) and immediately afterwards frees him, publicly declaring “this man [Bilal] is my brother and companion, until death separates us.” Meanwhile, ‘Umar looks on the scene from afar with a strange expression on his face, suggesting he has been observing the situation and is moved by what he sees.

Another scene shows Abu Bakr’s father (still, at this point, a non-Muslim) questioning his son’s wisdom in spending much of his wealth to free the disenfranchised Muslims from their persecution (by buying them from their owners and then freeing them). Abu Bakr asserts that even if he spends all his wealth in this way, it would not be a waste since it pleases God. As attention is given back to the ordeal of ‘Ammar and his family, we see (in quite a graphic scene), Abu Jahl using cruel language and mockery throughout the tortures to weaken the resolve of ‘Ammar. When he mocks Sumayyah (‘Ammar’s mother) in a similar way, she responds by calling Abu Jahl the enemy of God and curses him, at which point he takes a spear and drives it through her body, killing her and making her the first martyr of Islam. Later, in the prison cell where they are held, Yasir (‘Ammar’s father) also dies from the wounds inflicted during the torture…his last words for his son are for him to remain strong and true to the faith. The next morning, ‘Ammar’s torture continues and Abu Jahl demands he curse Muhammad and state the superiority of paganism. Under duress and torture, ‘Ammar declares “Muhammad is a liar” in order to stop the punishment. Abu Jahl laughs in triumph and ‘Ammar runs through the streets weeping until he runs into Abu Bakr, who he tells that he denied the Prophet and is unworthy of him. Abu Bakr then embraces him and walks with him, presumably to calm him down.

The public arrogance of the Quraysh intensifies as several scenes show some prominent notables mocking the Prophet and Abu Jahl physically attacking ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud. Following Ibn Masu’d being struck down in the marketplace by Abu Jahl, we see someone helping him up…the camera angle changes and we find that it is none other than ‘Umar. Ibn Masu’d then smiles and says “Indeed, you are the better of the two men and I do not believe the supplication of the Prophet will let you down” (this is a reference to a famous du’a of the Prophet in which he prayer for the guidance of one of the two ‘Umars [Ibn al-Khattab or Abu Jahl]”. ‘Umar looks confused and intrigued (even frightened) as Ibn Mas’ud walks away.

The episode ends with a council of Muslims, including Abu Bakr, Bilal, Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas and a few others meeting in someone’s house wondering why they do not strike back against the Quraysh. Abu Bakr then stands up and says this is because the Prophet has not given them permission to do so and that he has been sent only as a mercy and guide to mankind and his stance towards the Quraysh is like a doctor to sick patients, and he feels great pain at their persistence in disbelief. Abu Bakr states that the Prophet calls them [the Quraysh] to Islam for their own sakes, not for his own. In the next scene, ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud is at the Ka’ba announcing Surah al-Rahman to the people gathered there, which provokes some outrage. The Qurashi nobles, led by Abu Jahl, then proceed to attack him brutally. ‘Umar refuses to join in and simply stands some distance away observing and shaking his head in disapproval at the whole situation.

Review: This episode, along with the previous one, does an excellent job showing the persecution of the early Muslims in Mecca. The focus on Bilal and ‘Ammar was definitely well-done and similar to the emphasis placed on these two prominent companions by classical Islamic texts of the Prophetic biography. Bilal, in particular, takes on a central role in the series and we begin to understand the strength of his will and resolve as he transforms from a persecuted slave to one of the most prominent early Muslims. Following his freedom, he wears a robe and turban, signifying his elevation and equality with members of the Islamic community who hail from the more prominent tribes of Quraysh; the social distinctions are thus erased by Islam. In this episode, we begin to see the dilemma of the early Muslims, who numbered a few dozen only, as to whether they should take a more aggressive approach or maintain their faith in patience and continue to endure persecution. Also, finally, we see the integration of the story of ‘Umar within the broader series of events of the rise of Islam as his interaction (on screen) with prominent early Muslims increases. It becomes evident that most of the early Muslims, while detesting his attachment to polytheism and his persecution of them, consider his values (“hilm”/muruwwa”: morality, courage, steadfastness) as consistent with that of the Islamic message and implore him to accept the prophecy of Muhammad. However, throughout the episode he remains committed to his position, but we can clearly see that there is a massive conflict ongoing within him with regard to how to proceed…

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