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“Umar” Ramadan Series: Review and Synopsis of Episode 17

Synopsis: The episode begins by recapping Abu Sufyan and Hind discussing the new situation. Abu Sufyan then reminisces about the old order and asks where those days have gone; he finally states that everything has changed completely. He recognizes that a new era has arrived and says that he feels lost within it, not knowing where he stands or where he is headed, especially given the past several years of his life. Hind then walks over to one of idols of pre-Islamic deities in the corner of the room and picks it up. Shaking it violently, she asks it if it has the answers and when it fails to responds, she expresses frustration and smashes it to the ground, shattering it into hundreds of pieces. She then proceeds to do the same with the rest of the idols, destroying them all. Finally, she collapses crying, completely overwhelmed. Later, Abu Hudhayfa (Hind’s brother and an early convert to Islam) and Abu Sufyan are sitting in the house and Hind walks in. Hind greets her brother and says that she has given her oath of allegiance to the Prophet. Abu Hudhayfa then prays for her that God will erase all traces of jahiliyya from her heart and establish her firmly upon the path of the new religion. She responds that Abu Sufyan and herself are in major need of such a supplication.

The next scene shows Suhayl ibn ‘Amr sitting in a darkened room (and it’s clear he’s been drinking), when someone suddenly knocks at the door. He reaches for his sword and demands to know who is at the door. His son (Abu Jandal) answers and asks his father to open. Abu Jandal tells his father to go to the Prophet and pledge his allegiance. Suhayl responds that the Prophet will probably kill him if he even approaches. Abu Jandal assures him that he has safe passage and a guarantee, which was secured by his other son ‘Abd Allah. The latter then walks into the room and warmly embraces his father. Accompanied by his sons, Suhayl is then taken through the streets of Mecca to the Prophet. The next seen shows Safwan ibn Umayyah about to embark from Jeddah to go into exile, but he is stopped short by one of the Muslims who implores him to stay and go pledge his allegiance to the Prophet. Safwan demands to know what guarantees there are for his safety and the Muslim (‘Umayr I think it was) shows him the turban of the Prophet which was given to him as a sign of guarantee to Safwan.

The next scene shows Wahshi sitting on the hills above Mecca in absolute despair, at which point he is approached by Bilal who light-heartedly comments that it seems that Wahshi has fled to this place in fear of punishment from the Prophet for the death of Hamzah. Bilal tells him to go to the Prophet and pledge his allegiance, telling him that other notables of Quraysh who were enemies of Islam had done the same already. Wahshi responds that unlike those individuals, he does not come from any tribe or have any protection within Mecca…on the contrary, his only badge is that he is the murderer of Hamzah. Bilal assures him that the Prophet will accept his pledge of allegiance and not exact any vengeance from him. He continues and says that even Hind bint ‘Utbah has had her oath of allegiance accepted, so why shouldn’t he? Before departing, Bilal says that he gives this advice out of pity for Wahshi with whom he has a long history. Wahshi then accompanies Bilal back to Mecca. As they walk through the streets of the city the Muslims call out “Wahshi, the murderer of Hamzah!” Suddenly, al-‘Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib (Hamzah’s brother) blocks their path and asks Wahshi whether he is going to the Prophet so that the latter can pass judgement upon him for his heinous crime. Bilal tells everyone to be silent and allow them to pass. The next scene shows Wahshi looking angry and yelling…Bilal tells him to calm down and relax, especially since the Prophet has accepted his oath of allegiance and his conversion to Islam. Wahshi, extremely frustrated, agrees but says that the Prophet then asked him to describe how he killed Hamzah and the whole time had his face turned away. Wahshi then explains to Bilal how he only killed Hamzah to gain his freedom, and found that after he had done so the Quraysh still treated him like a slave. And now, he says, that he has accepted Islam, he will forever be known as the “murderer of Hamzah”…he expresses frustration that he will never be free from the tyranny of labels and discrimination. Wahshi then goes to his house and picks up his spear (which was used to kill Hamzah) and says “O spear, you brought this mess upon me…therefore it should be fitting that you remove me from it” and he throws it into the wall. As this discussion and series of events is happening, Khalid ibn al-Walid enters the house of Ikrimah ibn Abu Jahl and is welcomed by the latter’s wife as “the Sword of God,” a title given to him by the Prophet. Khalid and Ikrimah (who has accepted Islam by this point) have a talk and the latter asserts that he had known the truth for a long time but his attachment to his father and his tribal pride had kept him from acknowledging the Prophethood of Muhammad.

The next scene shows ‘Umar approaching several of the new Qurashi converts (‘Amr, Khalid, Safwan, Ikrimah) who are sitting in their old meeting spot. ‘Umar asks them to reflect upon the fact that they used to all sit in this place to discuss how to destroy Islam and now they are sitting there as Muslims. Safwan responds that today the Quraysh understand that the Prophet and his Companions had all fought to ensure that truth is accepted, not for its own sake but for the sake of the salvation of the Quraysh itself, and they are all thankful that God has gathered them here together as Muslims. One of them then expresses his hope that the Arabs will all accept Islam as the Quraysh did. ‘Umar then begins weeping in sorrow…they all look puzzled and ask him why he is crying. ‘Umar responds (rather cryptically) that it is because he does not feel that the matter (of the struggle to establish Islam) is even near to being complete. He then walks away.

The next scene jumps forward in both time and space. The viewer is taken to Medina in the year 631/632 (immediately after the farewell pilgrimage of the Prophet) and focuses on a discussion between ‘Asma bint Abi Bakr and her father Abu Bakr, who looks rather saddened and somber. The latter explains that so much has transpired over the years…Mecca has been conquered, the Quraysh embraced Islam, and Taif has accepted the new faith following the battle of Hunayn. He then recites the newly-revealed verse: “Today, I have completed your religion, perfected My blessing upon you, and I have decreed Islam as the religion for you” (Q. 5:3). He continues and recites Surah al-Nasr (“When the victory of Allah has come and the conquest; And you see the people entering into the religion of Allah in multitudes; Then exalt [Him] with praise of your Lord and ask forgiveness of Him. Indeed, He is ever Accepting of repentance). Abu Bakr states that these verses indicate that the end of revelation was near, which was a sign that the Prophet would soon be taken to His Lord and the community be left without him. This is the reason for his sadness. Abu Bakr then narrates the Prophet’s khutba from the farewell pilgrimage (and the viewer is shown a view of all the Companions standing in the ihram on Mount Arafah listening attentively and weeping):

“O People, lend me an attentive ear, for I know not whether after this year, I shall ever be amongst you again. Therefore listen to what I am saying to you very carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today

O People, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as Sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. Remember that you will indeed meet your Lord, and that He will indeed reckon your deeds. God has forbidden you to take usury (interest), therefore all interest obligation shall henceforth be waived. Your capital, however, is yours to keep. You will neither inflict nor suffer any inequity.

Beware of Satan, for the safety of your religion. He has lost all hope that he will ever be able to lead you astray in big things, so beware of following him in small things.

I leave behind me two things, the Qur’an and my example, the Sunnah and if you follow these you will never go astray. Know that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves. Be my witness, O Allah, that I have conveyed your message to your people.”

The next scene has the athan being proclaimed in Medina and when the Muslims gather in the mosque, ‘Umar asks about the condition of the Prophet. One of the Muslims says that his health is deteriorating rapidly. The Muslims in the mosque begin to worry about the delay of the Prophet in emerging from his house to lead prayers; ‘Umar sends Bilal to check on the Prophet. When Bilal comes back, he says that the Prophet ordered him to appoint someone to lead the prayers for the day…after looking around nervously, Bilal designates ‘Umar to lead the prayer; the latter looks astounded. After prayer (presumably), ‘Umar is talking privately with Bilal and tells him that he appointed him to a station far beyond his desire and that, by God, had he not known that the Prophet ordered Bilal to appoint someone, he would have refused to lead prayers. Bilal responds that the Prophet actually ordered Bilal to designate Abu Bakr to lead prayers, but since he could not see Abu Bakr anywhere in the mosque he appointed ‘Umar instead, viewing him as second only to Abu Bakr. When Abu Bakr finally arrives in the mosque, ‘Umar explains that his absence has put such a weight upon his heart. ‘Umar asserts that when the Prophet heard ‘Umar’s takbir in the mosque, he immediately sent a messenger proclaiming that none but Abu Bakr should lead prayers. Abu Bakr then proceeds to lead the Muslims in prayer. The next two small scenes are quite significant: the first shows Abu Bakr and ‘Umar talking about the Prophet’s condition and the latter implores Abu Bakr to inform him the moment the Prophet’s condition improves…the purpose of this is to show the concern of the Sahaba about the Prophet and their sadness at his illness. The other scene has ‘Ali and al-‘Abbas emerging from the Prophet’s house looking rather sad, since the Prophet’s condition has deteriorated. Al-‘Abbas informs ‘Ali that if he wishes to ask or request anything from the Prophet, then the time is now. ‘Ali shakes his head.

The next day, the Prophet is proclaimed to have passed away and the Muslims gather in the mosque, shaking and weeping in disbelief. Upon hearing some people declare that “the Prophet is dead,” ‘Umar rushes from his house into the mosque and loudly asserts that anyone who proclaims that the Prophet has died is sorely mistaken and he insists that the Prophet has only gone to his Lord in the same manner as Moses, and will return after 40 days. ‘Umar then declares that he will not tolerate anyone to say that the Prophet has died. Abu Bakr sweeps past this commotion, enters the house of ‘Aishah where the Prophet died and bends over and kisses his forehead (implied obviously). He then weeps and says that what God has written for His Prophet has finally come to pass. He then hears the voice of ‘Umar from outside getting even louder, with the latter proclaiming that he will strike down any man or woman who dares utter the words that the Prophet is dead. Abu Bakr then emerges from the Prophet’s house and orders ‘Umar to calm himself. Abu Bakr then ascends the minbar and says “O people, whoever worshiped Muhammad, know that Muhammad is dead, but if you worship God, know that He is alive and cannot die!” He follows this up by a recitation of the following verse from the Qur’an: “Muhammad is no more than a messengermany were the messengers that passed away before him! If he died or were slain, will ye then Turn back on your heels? If any did turn back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to God; but God (on the other hand) will swiftly reward those who (serve Him) with gratitude” (Q. 3:144). ‘Umar then falls crying to his knees in the middle of the mosque, recognizing now that the Prophet has indeed passed away.

The next scene shows the Muslims sitting in the mosque reflecting and mourning, when one Muslim approaches Bilal, ‘Umar, Abu ‘Ubaydah, and ‘Uthman who are sitting in one corner of the mosque and tells them to come urgently since the Ansar have gathered in the Saqifah of the Banu Sa’idah and have elected one of their number (Sa’d ibn ‘Ubadah) as successor to the Prophet. ‘Umar immediately tells him to summon Abu Bakr from inside the house of ‘Aishah (where the Prophet was being prepared for burial). Abu Bakr emerges quite angrily and tells ‘Umar that he (and ‘Ali) are both occupied with the solemn task of preparing the Prophet’s body for burial. ‘Umar tells him this is an urgent matter which concerns the welfare of the Muslims.

Abu ‘Ubaydah, Abu Bakr, and ‘Umar are then all shown as heading to the Saqifah of the Banu Sa’idah, where many of the prominent Ansar are gathered. ‘Umar demands to know what is going on and one of the Ansar responds forcefully that the Ansar have a major precedence in accepting Islam and have hosted the Muhajirun since the beginning. He continues and states that, as the original inhabitants of Medina, it is therefore their absolute right that the successor to the Prophet should be from among them. Abu Bakr tells the Ansar that their precedence in Islam is absolute fact and their commitment and struggle with the Prophet is also undoubted and that both Muhajirun and Ansar are equal in the eyes of God. However, he continues, the Arabs would only ever accept an overlord from among the Quraysh (the Prophet’s tribe). He then holds up the arms of Abu ‘Ubayda and ‘Umar and asserts that they should give the oath of allegiance to one of these two men, whomever they may choose. One of the Ansar responds that, as a compromise, Quraysh should put forward one leader and the Ansar should put forward one leader (“minna amir wa minkum amir”). ‘Umar says that it is impossible for the Muslims to have two (main) leaders, as this will be the root cause of division in the community. Abu ‘Ubayda implores the Ansar not to foster division and allow the matter (of leadership) to rest with Quraysh. One of the primary leaders of the Ansar agrees and asserts that since the Prophet was from Quraysh, his tribe should have precedence in the issue of leadership. Abu Bakr then demands that ‘Umar put forth his hand to receive the oath of allegiance (bay’ah). ‘Umar says that he would never lead a people among whom was Abu Bakr. Indeed, ‘Umar says, Abu Bakr is identified in the Qur’an as the “second of two” (the other being the Prophet; Q. 9:40), the companion of the Cave, and the one whom the Prophet appointed to lead prayers in his absence. Therefore, there could be no more worthy candidate. At this, he takes Abu Bakr’s hand and gives him the oath of allegiance…all the others (Ansar and Quraysh) follow suit and the matter is settled.

The next (and final) scene shows ‘Umar returning to his house in Medina and being welcomed by his family. His son Abd Allah tells him that he did well and averted a great catastrophe for the Muslims. ‘Umar begins weeping and states that never–in all the struggles and battles endured with the Prophet–were the Muslims tested like they were on this day, where the community was nearly torn asunder. And, he continues, the trials of the Muslims in the absence of the Prophet have only just begun…

Review: This episode was very well done, although there definitely was room for improvement. Aside from “The Message,” the completion of this episode represents the only moment in Arab cinema/television when the biography of the Prophet has been shown on screen from the beginning of the revelation to the death of the Messenger. In itself, therefore, it is quite an accomplishment. The first third of the episode, devoted to the post-conquest reality in Mecca, was represented fairly accurately. I highly appreciated how they emphasized the reconciliation aspect on the part of the Prophet without downplaying the fact that many of the Quraysh who embraced Islam now had their own struggles to cope with in coming to terms with the new faith. After all, these individuals had not exactly been convinced of the truthfulness of the faith before the conquest. The actors chosen for the roles do an excellent job of conveying these inner struggles faced by each character. I thought the scene which shows Hind as smashing all the idols in her home was done exceptionally well, and symbolized her abrupt break with the past and acceptance of the new faith.

I was rather ticked off they didn’t show the Battle of Hunayn (really important for underscoring the credentials of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Ali, etc. since they were some of the few who refused to flee the battlefield even as most of the Muslims did so), the conquest of Ta’if (essential for emphasizing Khalid ibn al-Walid’s role as the main general of the Muslim army under the Prophet), and the delegations sent to Najran and Yemen. It was also unfortunate that the rise of Musaylima and Sajjah (false prophets from Najd) were not even hinted at. However, I thought the sequence of the farewell sermon and pilgrimage was portrayed very well; I wouldn’t have done it otherwise if I was directing/producing.

The scenes revolving around the last few days of the Prophet’s life in Medina conveyed the sense of despair and trauma of the Muslims quite faithfully. It was quite emotional to watch as many of the characters who had been with the Prophet from his early days in Mecca being torn apart by the fact that he was soon going to leave them. As Muslims in the 21st century, many of us lose sight of the fact that the Sahaba were people who lived, breathed, fought, and joked with the Prophet on a daily basis. Revelation and the Prophet’s own divinely-inspired wisdom would also consistently provide a source of guidance in their lives. The trauma of them losing him (and humanity’s final direct contact with God) must have therefore been overwhelming! The scene where Abu Bakr is appointed to lead prayers was quite emotional, although they played with facts a little here since it was actually ‘A’ishah, the Mother of the Believers, who was sent by the Prophet to designate Abu Bakr as the imam for the prayers…but, obviously, since they can’t show her they had Bilal fill the role. The two “sub-scenes” in which ‘Umar/Abu Bakr lament the illness of the Prophet on one hand, and ‘Ali/al-‘Abbas discuss the Prophet’s illness on the other were also interesting, although I will withhold judgment about the latter scene, since I THINK I know what they were implying, but need to wait for the next episode to confirm my suspicions. The death scene of the Prophet was extremely emotional to see, and they did an excellent job representing ‘Umar’s absolute shock and Abu Bakr’s calm response in the mosque to the situation. One of my favorite scenes from the Prophetic biography…and thankfully they did it justice on screen. The scene conveys ‘Umar’s utter devastation to hear about the death of his beloved Prophet and guide, who he viewed as inseparable from the Islamic message. The moment where Abu Bakr ascends the minbar and declares the Prophet dead and ‘Umar collapses on the floor of the mosque weeping, having been consumed by grief, was perhaps the most meaningful and sincere scene of the entire series so far. It captures perfectly how much ‘Umar loved the Prophet and how much he was affected by the latter’s passing.

The producers/directors did not shy away from representing the events of the Saqifah of the Banu Sa’idah. This event has had far more ink (and blood) spilled over it than anyone at the time could have ever imagined. Personally, I like how they represented the events in question, which reflect how the earliest sources of the Prophetic biography (Ibn Hisham/Ibn Ishaq, al-Ya’qubi, Tabari, etc.) all describe it. I was relieved that they focused solely on the historical aspects of the narrative, while ignoring and excluding the polemical (whether Sunni, Shi’ite, or Kharijite) narratives which were composed over four centuries after the events they describe. The scene merely attempts to convey two things: 1) the Ansar tried to establish their own leadership in the community, and 2) Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and Abu ‘Ubayda (acting on behalf of all the Quraysh) successfully ensured that leadership of the Muslims remains within the Quraysh. Pure and simple…Saqifah is shown as a political negotiation (within the context of a broader tribal background) with very little religious doctrinal implications imposed on it, nor does it have anything to do with the lust for power among any specific individual. Indeed, this is the perspective of the overwhelming majority of historians (Muslim or otherwise). However, rather than celebrating this event as some sort of “victory” the final scene of the episode did an excellent job showing ‘Umar’s solemn stance towards it, which was as a necessary measure to keep the Muslims unified. I appreciated how they included ‘Umar’s famous warning that the death of the Prophet would open the door of tests and trials of the Muslim community which they had hitherto not experienced due to the presence of a direct connection between God and man (the Prophet being that link). The emphasis on the role of ‘Umar and Abu Bakr at Saqifah also underscores their commitment to the faith and their desire to see the Muslim community remain united in the wake of the Prophet’s death. The very events of Saqifah (with the Ansar seeking to assert themselves as leaders) also throws into sharp relief for the viewer that this is still a very tribal society in which social and political considerations were as important as religious belief. Therefore, it would be futile to attempt to interpret the actions of the main protagonists independently of this broader context.

Finally, let me say one last thing. Historical representations of early Islam are, by nature, doomed to fall into the pitfalls of historical interpretation. This is equally true whether one is writing an academic-style history or directing a television series. We should also not forget that the latter is further colored by the artistic nature of the genre and will therefore place emphasis on the coherence of the narrative, as opposed to the specific contradictions and polemical narratives encountered in the traditional sources. Therefore, the events shown in this series may not necessarily conform to the sensibilities of certain sects but at the end of the day, that is not the point. The director/producer has merely presented an interpretation of Islamic history, based quite firmly on the classical sources ofcourse but the goal of which is to inspire a modern 21st-century audience to appreciate the accomplishments of the Prophet and his Companions in laying the foundations for what has today become a world religion. As far as they are concerned, intra-Muslim polemics (or, similarly, any artificial attempts to “reconcile” religious and theological differences which have existed for centuries) can take a backseat. My view is that, so far, the directors have done an excellent job with the series and have succeeded in keeping the story in line with the history as encountered in the authentic sources. However, my view is colored by my own reading of history (although, to be fair, I’ve examined every major text on this subject and have explored most of the polemical positions on either side) and understanding of the course of events following the death of the Prophet…so, whoever is reading this (if anyone!), take my review with a grain of salt.

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1 Comment

  1. Mohammad Z Momin says:

    They did not show the battle of Khaybar too.

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