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“Umar” Ramadan Series: Review and Synopsis of Episode 15

Synopsis: The episode begins with Suhayl ibn ‘Amr and his son Abu Jandal in their home. The former is boasting about how the conditions of the treaty are favorable to the Quraysh, while the latter reminds him that the terms actually have an underlying wisdom which are favorable to Islam. In particular, Abu Jandal argues, that the condition that Muslims are obligated to send any defectors from Quraysh back to Mecca while the Meccans were not obligated to do the same actually reflects the confidence of the Muslims and the insecurity of the Quraysh. One of the Muslims from Mecca is shown fleeing to Medina, but is soon forced to return to Mecca due to the conditions of the treaty.  However, on the way back, he flees from his captors and goes into exile (neither in Mecca nor in Medina), living the desert. Soon, this desert community of Muslims grows exponentially as more and more Muslims from Mecca flee from the city. These Muslims are then shown as raiding a wealthy Meccan caravan that passes nearby…probably as a means of making their living. One of the Muslims rounds up the prisoners from the raid, tells them their (i.e. the Muslims’) quarrel is with Quraysh, and then releases them all…sending them on their way.

In Mecca, the Quraysh are gathered in a council and are discussing the real predicament they are in. Many of the Muslims in Mecca, including those from prominent families, have fled to the desert to join the exiles and have taken part in the raiding of caravans. The problem for them is that by doing so they have not broken the treaty with Muhammad (since they didn’t go to Medina) but they nonetheless have proven destructive to the economy of Mecca and to its prestige. They seem in complete confusion and have no idea what to do. Safwan ibn Umayyah goes to Medina to speak with the Prophet about the situation and he brings up the treaty. He tells the Prophet that the Quraysh are willing to drop the clause of the treaty declaring that the Muslims who flee to Medina are obligated to be returned from Mecca, and insists that the Prophet incorporate the desert exile community into the Muslim community at Medina, bringing them under his control. An Ansari emissary is sent to the desert community telling them about the change and inviting them, on behalf of the Prophet, to settle in Medina. They are happy to hear this news and accept and make the journey to Medina. Upon their arrival, they are warmly welcomed by the Muslims in the city.

Abu Bakr and ‘Umar are walking and talking and the former tells the latter “what do you think now, O ‘Umar…now that you have seen how things played out?” He’s referring to ‘Umar’s initial doubts about the Treaty of Hudaybiyya ofcourse. ‘Umar responds by praising God and declaring that the Prophet knows best and God Almighty truly did grant him the wisdom and foresight to see the best path forward, and he expresses his sorrow for ever having doubted this, asserting that anger had gotten the best of him. He then wonders how he can ever forgive himself. Abu Bakr tells him not to be so hard on himself and that even the Prophet understood ‘Umar’s perspective, knowing that it was motivated only by the love for God and His Messenger and the desire to see Islam prosper.

The next scene takes place in Abyssinia. The Negus is talking with an Ansari emissary and telling him that all preparations have been made for the return of the Muslims to Arabia, with ships and provisions being provided. As the emissary leaves the presence of the king, he runs into ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, who also seeks an audience with the Negus; they exchange an uneasy look. As ‘Amr and the Negus start talking, the latter insists that Muhammad is indeed a Prophet and urges ‘Amr to follow him because sooner or later, he says, the Muslims will triumph over their opponents the same way that Moses triumphed over Pharaoh.

Next, we see a Muslim emissary in Ctesiphon addressing the Persian Emperor and presenting him with the message of the Prophet: “From Muhammad, the Messenger of God, to Chosroe Lord of Persia, peace be to him who follows rightful guidance and believes in One God and that I, Muhammad, am the Messenger of God who has been sent to all humanity. I hereby call you to Islam.” The Emperor responds by taking the letter, tearing it, and having the emissary arrested. Next, we see the emissary to Abyssinia delivering the same message to the Negus, but with added appeal of a clause about Jesus being the Spirit and Word of God. The Negus takes the letter, smiles and nods. Meanwhile at the port of Gaza in the Byzantine empire (which, again, is done completely wrong!), Abu Sufyan is summoned by  Byzantine soldiers (dressed, again, like Roman centurions from the classical age!) to accompany them. In the next scene, a Muslim emissary in Alexandria (represented totally inaccurately!) is shown calling the patriarch to Islam.

The next scene turns back to Abu Sufyan and the Byzantine soldiers, who are now in Jerusalem. Abu Sufyan is brought into the presence of the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (and I could not help but laugh at the inaccuracy of the representation!) who questions Abu Sufyan about the Prophet. The Emperor first asks about the Prophet’s lineage; Abu Sufyan asserts that it is one of the most noble among Arabs. The Emperor then asks if any Arab before has claimed to be a Prophet…Abu Sufyan replies in the negative. The Emperor then asks if the Prophet’s followers consist more of the aristocrats or the disenfranchised in society…Abu Sufyan states that his followers are primarily the latter. The Emperor follows up by asking if their numbers are increasing (yes, says Abu Sufyan) and whether apostasy from the faith is known among them (no, Abu Sufyan replies). Some other questions follow, in which Abu Sufyan verifies the Prophet’s moral character and honesty. The Emperor then asks if Abu Sufyan fought against the Prophet and how the battles were. Abu Sufyan replies that they indeed fought him and that the result of the battles was a stalemate, with sometimes the Prophet victorious and sometimes the Quraysh victorious. The Emperor demands to know what the Prophet commands people to do. Abu Sufyan responds by saying that “He says to worship One God without joining with Him any partner. He also calls people to prayer and alms”. The Emperor then asserts that the Prophet, like other prophets, comes from a noble lineage, his followers are mostly the disenfranchised (like those of other prophets), he is upright and honest, and that he does not betray his oaths. The Emperor continues and says that if indeed everything is as true as Abu Sufyan has said, then the Prophet will soon come into possession of the very ground on which they are standing (i.e. Jerusalem). The Emperor then gives Abu Sufyan the Prophet’s letter and orders him to read aloud. It is as follows: “In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. From Muhammad, the Messenger of God, to Heraclius, Emperor of Rome/Byzantium. Peace be upon him who follows rightful guidance. I call you to accept Islam. Become Muslim, and you will be secure…God will reward you two-fold.”

In Mecca, Khalid ibn al-Walid, Safwan ibn Umayyah, and Ikrimah ibn Abu Jahl are talking about the latest political development in which the Prophet had sent emissaries to various kingdoms and nations. While the other two scoff, Khalid asserts that it is very possible that the Prophet will unite the Arabs and they will take over Byzantium and Persia. Khalid ibn al-Walid then starts praising the Prophet and his accomplishments and how he created an entire society, military organization, and political order in Medina. In the year 629, the Muslims accompanied by the Prophet are shown making the pilgrimage to Mecca. As the Muslims perform the pilgrimage rites at the Ka’ba, many of the Meccans and the Quraysh observe with great interest and awe. The episode ends with Khalid ibn al-Walid sitting on one of the hills in Mecca, deep in thought and contemplation (about Islam, clearly) and as he stands up, the credits appear.

Review: This episode, in contrast to the previous one, was done beautifully. I particularly loved how the exchange between Abu Sufyan and the Byzantine Emperor was done…definitely straight out of the classical narratives. I also was deeply intrigued by the representation of the Muslims post-Hudaybiyya and how they made the most out of the treaty with Mecca by establishing themselves ever more firmly in Medina while sending emissaries throughout the world. This episode really gives one an appreciation of the figure of Khalid ibn al-Walid, especially as in this episode he is on the eve of his conversion, whose thought-process and depth makes him one of the most complex characters in the series. The final sequence with the pilgrimage of the Muslims in Mecca was also done beautifully, with the cinematography and soundtrack working excellently together. I also couldn’t help but notice how the Muslims were organized with Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman, and ‘Ali standing at the front of the crowd…very symbolic and foreshadowing the future. Something I highly appreciated 🙂

But…there are a few critiques! I think the story of ‘Amr is a bit confusing and didn’t have enough time devoted to explaining his actions and thought-process. Yes, he is also on the eve of his conversion, but–unlike Khalid–we are given very little indication about what is going through his mind. I feel as if they were trying to capture the various struggles within the character, but failed to convey this well on screen. The other major criticism I had has to do with the set and costumes. For the Arab side of things, they got it pretty accurate. However, I have to say, for the Byzantine Empire they did a disastrous job! Once again, the Byzantines (in Gaza, Jerusalem, Alexandria) are made to look like Romans from 100 B.C.! Also, Greeks and Armenians (the primary components of the Byzantine army and administration) were NOT pale-skinned but rather were quite olive in complexion…I think the association of “Byzantine/Christian” with “European/white” is quite obvious in the series and is definitely problematic! Also, the representation of the Byzantine Emperor…wth?!! This is the Emperor of Byzantium, not a random Germanic warlord from western Europe, which is how he was dressed. I’ve attached a few images below of Byzantine emperors and soldiers to give people an idea how inaccurate they got these representations, so maybe my frustration can be better understood!

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