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“Umar” Ramadan Series: Review and Synopsis of Episode 14

Synopsis: The episode begins by showing the Muslims besieging the fortress of the Banu Qurayzah . On the other side of Medina, the siege of the Quraysh is shown with both sides becoming exasperated by the long wait and cold desert wind at night. In the distance, ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy with the other Munafiqun laugh at the situation of the Muslims and assert that the Prophet is truly absurd to promise his followers the palaces of Caesar and Chosroes when he cannot be sure of his own safety. The next day, the Quraysh send in their cavalry for the charge, but are met with the spears and arrows of the Muslims. The battle intensifies, with injuries on both sides and we are shown some of the Muslims being tended to behind the battle lines. In addition, one Qurashi defects to the Muslim side and converts to Islam in the presence of the Prophet. Next, the Banu Qurayzah are seen in their fortress deliberating on what course of action to take. In the end, they decide to resist and fight until the last man as long as they can rely upon the support of the Quraysh.

Back at the battle on the other side of Medina, hundreds of Qurashi infantry are shown as charging at the ditch and destroying a small part of the defenses. Next we see some of the prominent Muslim cavalry and Qurashi cavalry face off, at which point ‘Ali and another Qurashi noble (‘Ali’s cousin) challenge one another to single combat. The duel is quite intense with neither getting the better of the other until ‘Ali overpowers his opponent and disarms him. As ‘Ali is about to strike the death blow, he stops, having been moved by pity. However, his opponent slyly withdraws a dagger and attempts to strike ‘Ali, but the latter swiftly strikes him down with his sword. The Quraysh look terrified and withdraw their attack for the day. That evening, in the Qurashi camp, a few of the nobles are being briefed on the situation in the city by one of their Medinian allies, who tells them that opposition to the Prophet within the city is half-hearted at best and that the Jewish tribes had (unsuccessfully) sent emissaries to the Prophet as an attempt at reconciliation. The next morning, Ikrimah ibn Abu Jahl goes to the Banu Qurayzah’s fortress and attempts to convince them to mount an attack…the chieftain responds that it’s the Sabbath when such acts are forbidden. He also says that he doesn’t trust the Quraysh, since it is likely that if the fighting intensifies, they will withdraw from the attack and go back to Mecca, leaving the Banu Qurayzah standing alone against the Muslims. The Banu Qurayzah vow NOT to fight until the Quraysh grant them hostages from among themselves (as a political guarantee), something that Ikrimah bluntly refuses to do. At the siege of the Medina, Abu Sufyan expresses frustration with the course of events and declares his intention to abandon the siege and withdraw; the rest of the Quraysh follow suit. The news is met with joy and celebrating on the Muslim side the next morning.

The next scene shows ‘Umar, speaking on behalf of the Prophet, and telling the people that God has commanded the Muslims that they should not put down their weapons until they have defeated the Banu Qurayzah and pray the afternoon prayer (‘asr) in their fortress. We then see the chieftain of the Banu Nadir entering the Qurayzah fortress and, curiously, casts eyes upon the women and children of the tribe who look deeply exhausted and saddened by the current siege which they have been subjected to. He then meets the Qurayzah chieftain and tells him that he is here to die alongside him. The next scene has some of the Sahaba (notably ‘Umar) leaning over Sa’d ibn Mu’adh, one of the Muslims who was injured at the Battle of the Ditch. Following a short speech in which he talks about how this war has changed the fortunes of the Muslims, he passes away. As the women of Sa’d’s household mourn, Bilal tells them to stop and put their trust in God. ‘Umar tells Bilal to allow them to mourn.

Meanwhile, in Mecca, Khalid ibn al-Walid and ‘Amr ibn al-‘As are having one of their reflective discussions again. ‘Amr seems frustrated and exasperated by the situation, as does Khalid. ‘Amr then says it feels like only yesterday that the elders of Quraysh were sitting in their council chambers discussing Muhammad and his new faith; Khalid reminds him that it has been over 19 years. ‘Amr says that it is only a matter of time before the idols are removed from the Ka’ba and the Prophet and his companions are circumambulating the structure. Khalid, a bit worried at this point, asks ‘Amr what is on his mind. ‘Amr says “hijra”. Khalid says “to him (i.e. Muhammad)?!”. ‘Amr responds: “No, far away from him…from Quraysh…and from the Arabs.” Khalid tries to bring ‘Amr to his senses (since he clearly thinks he has lost his mind) , but the latter tells him he no longer cares how the situation of Islam and Quraysh develops (for better or for worse) and he wants to move on with his life. The Qurashi council (later in the day/week) is outraged at ‘Amr’s departure from Mecca and start abusing him…but Khalid comes to his defense. Abu Sufyan, however, declares that ‘Amr acted merely in his own interest…observing the situation from afar until it becomes clear which side will prevail.

The next scene is the pilgrimage to Mecca, where the Muslims–acting upon a vision of the Prophet–make the journey to the city dressed in the white ihram and bearing no weapons. The Quraysh, on horseback and fully armed, ride out to meet the Muslims, who are encamped at Hudaybiyya. An Arab tribesman from Khuza’a, who was apparently in the Muslim camp speaking with the Prophet (although he himself had not embraced Islam) and tells the Quraysh that the Muslims come in good faith and only to sanctify the Holy Ka’ba. Abu Sufyan asserts that never will the Muslims enter Mecca. The tribesman says that this will cause problems between the Quraysh and the rest of the Arabs, who will view this as a violation of the rights of any pilgrim to visit the sanctuary at Mecca. Another Arab emissary goes to the Prophet and tries to convince him to abandon his pilgrimage and tells him that he should not place any trust in his Companions, since they will easily abandon him. Abu Bakr then retorts and asserts that never will they abandon the Prophet, no matter how tough things get. The emissary goes back to the Quraysh and tells them : “I have visited Chosroes of Persia in his kingdom, Caesar in his kingdom, and the Negus in his kingdom, and–by God–I have never seen a leader so loved and cherished by his people as Muhammad by his Companions” and advises them to take a diplomatic course of action. ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan is next seen entering Mecca as an emissary on behalf of the Prophet. ‘Uthman is shown sitting among the Quraysh in a council, where Abu Sufyan is explaining the delicate political situation of the Quraysh to him and suggests a compromise solution agreeable to both parties.

In the Muslim camp, ‘Ali, Abu Bakr, and ‘Umar express concern over the delay of ‘Uthman inside Mecca. Rumor soon spreads in the Muslim camp that ‘Uthman has been murdered treacherously by the Quraysh inside Mecca…which prompts outrage and calls to war by some of the Companions (esp. Ali and Umar). The Prophet then calls his companions to renew their bay’ah (oath of allegiance) under a tree…this is the famous bay’ah al-ridwan, mentioned in the Qur’an. Inside Mecca, Khalid ibn al-Walid expresses concern that the rumor that ‘Uthman has been killed will spark another war between the Muslims and Quraysh and suggests that ‘Uthman should be released. The next scene shows the latter riding his camel back into the Muslim camp, which is relieved to see him safe and sound. Suhayl ibn ‘Amr is then sent as an emissary to the Muslims and is seen entering into negotiations in the tent of the Prophet. Some of the Sahaba are shown emerging from the Prophet’s tent frowning. ‘Umar seems particularly frustrated and asks Abu Bakr that since the Prophet is God’s Messenger, and that the Muslims are true believers and the Quraysh are polytheists, then why they should have to abandon their pilgrimage. ‘Umar is really angered by the humiliating terms of the Hudaybiyya agreement, which he feels are unfavorable to the Muslims. Abu Bakr tells ‘Umar that the Prophet only does as he is commanded by God, so he should place his trust in that and obey. ‘Umar looks convinced, but still a little bit upset at the situation.

The next scene has Ali reading the terms of the treaty of Hudaybiyya in front of witnesses. The treaty is 10 years in length and is meant to ensure peace between Quraysh and the Muslims. The treaty: “In the name of almighty Allah. These are the conditions of peace between Muhammad, son of Abdullah and Suhayl ibn Amr, the envoy of Mecca. There will be no fighting for ten years. Anyone who wishes to join Muhammad and to enter into any agreement with him is free to do so. Anyone who wishes to join the Quraish and to enter into any agreement with them is free to do so. A young man, or one whose father is alive, if he goes to Muhammad without permission from his father or guardian, will be returned to his father or guardian. But if anyone goes to the Quraish, he will not be returned. This year the Muslims will go back without entering Mecca. But next year Muhammed and his followers can enter Mecca, spend three days, perform the tawaaf. During these three days the Quraish will withdraw to the surrounding hills. When Muhammad and his followers enter into Mecca, they will be unarmed except for sheathed swords.”

The condition of the treaty about returning runaway Muslims back to the Quraysh is particularly problematic and causes some dissension among the Muslims. The signatories and witnesses to the treaty on the Muslim side are ‘Ali, Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Awf and ‘Abd Allah ibn Suhayl ibn ‘Amr. Just as the treaty is confirmed and Suhayl departs from the Prophet’s tent, Abu Jandal (Suhay’s other son) comes running to the Muslims asking for protection. Abu Bakr, with sadness, speaks on behalf of the Prophet and tells Abu Jandal that the Prophet has contracted a pact with the Quraysh and cannot violate it. He tells Abu Jandal that the Prophet urges him to be patient and that God will deliver him and the other oppressed Muslims from their situation before long. By the way, the year is about 628 when the treaty is established.

Review: This episode covers a lot of ground, going from the Battle of the Ditch all the way to the Treaty of Hudaybiyya. These two events are perhaps the most controversial episodes within the entire Prophetic biography. In the first case, I think they did a good job showing the siege of Medina, the alliances between the Jewish tribes and the Quraysh…but they did a horrible job depicting the whole situation with the Banu Qurayzah. Not only did they fail to show how the conflict ended (after building it up so much!) but they did not even bother to take a position on or address the most controversial aspect: the post-battle executions of the Banu Qurayzah…with some sources suggesting up to 1200 Jewish men massacred. This is in every single book of Prophetic biography, but naturally it poses problems for a modern audience who would like to see the series reflect their own worldview rather than that of the seventh century (which is so far removed from the concerns and perspectives of a 21st-century audience). As such, I can understand why they failed to depict it, but I am still bewildered by the fact that the producers spent so much time focused upon building up the Jewish-Muslim conflict, while failing to indicate how it was resolved. A rather silly decision in the long-run.

As for the Treaty of Hudaybiyya, I think here they absolutely did NOT shy away from any controversy at all and conveyed the complexities of the situation perfectly and did a great job showing thee frustration of the Muslims with the terms of the treaty. I liked how they included the discussion between ‘Umar and Abu Bakr in which the former is protesting against the terms of the treaty, while the latter reminds him of the Prophet’s divinely-received knowledge and wisdom…it really captures the distinction between the two men. Although both are absolutely committed to the Prophet and Islam, Abu Bakr tends to be the more level-headed, while ‘Umar often allows his anger to get the better of him. It is important to underscore that ‘Umar’s outrage was more directed at the arrogance of the Quraysh than at any action on the Prophet’s part…after all, he was one of the key witnesses and signatories to the treaty! That they showed Abu Jandal ibn Suhayl being the first Muslim subjected to the terms of the treaty and being forced to return to Mecca was deeply saddening, but shows the stark reality which the treaty inaugurated. It emphasizes that the Prophet was true to his word and oath, despite the specific circumstances. Thus, the episode did a wonderful job conveying the social consequences of this treaty with the Quraysh.

Finally, a major criticism. I really feel that there needs to be a more concrete integration of Qur’anic verses and specific dialogue from the hadith literature into the script. Qur’an, especially, is important because many many verses were revealed in reference to the particular circumstances depicted within these episodes. Quite frankly, I was shocked that more emphasis was not placed on the bay’ah al-Ridwan (known also as the Pledge under the Tree), perhaps one of the most important events in the Prophetic biography…it is even mentioned in the Qur’an: “Certainly was Allah pleased with the believers when they pledged allegiance to you, [O Muhammad], under the tree, and He knew what was in their hearts, so He sent down tranquility (al-Sakeenah) upon them and rewarded them with an imminent conquest” (48:18). This verse has massive significance in the history of Islam (especially among Ahl al-Sunnah, for whom it is the basis for the understanding of the uprightness of all the Sahaba who were present at this pledge of allegiance) and has a lot of commentary on it. I think this is one fundamental weakness of the show…that it is decidedly far more historical than it is religious, although (ofcourse) this has its benefits as well. Still, one must realize that the Qur’an is the MAIN source for our history of early Islam and, as such, needs to be cited more. Also, last but least, the Qur’an was also the prime motivating force for the actions of the Muslims and their prime consolation.

Overall, not the most well-structured episodes but one that succeeds in covering a lot of ground and raises a bunch of interesting questions.

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