Chapter 19: The Fiction of Gharaniq
It is possible that some of the readers may like to know the origin of the myth of 'Gharaniq', which has been quoted by some Sunni historians, and may incidentally become aware of the hands which have been busy in inventing and propagating falsehoods.
The Jews, and especially their religious leaders, have been and are sworn enemies of Islam. A group of theirs like Ka'b Ahbar who had ostensibly embraced Islam was continuously busy in concealing the realities of Islam by coining falsehoods and publicizing baseless things by ascribing them to the Prophet, and some of the Muslim writers, reposing confidence in all their co-religionists, accepted most of their forgeries without proper scrutiny and compiled them in the shape of tradition and history.
Nowadays, however, more opportunities are available to the scholars for scrutinizing such matters and particularly a set of rules and methods has come into existence as a result of the efforts of the Muslim research scholars for distinguishing historical facts from myths. In the circumstances it is not at all proper for a writer, who is well-versed in religious matters, to accept as final whatever he comes across in a book and to quote it without verification.
It is said that the chiefs of Quraysh like Walid, 'As, Aswad and Umayyah met the Prophet and proposed that, in order to remove their mutual differences, both the parties should acknowledge the gods of each other. At that moment 'Surah al-Kafirun' was revealed in reply to their proposal and the Prophet was ordered to speak thus: "I do not worship that which you worship, nor do you worship Him whom I worship."
Nevertheless, the Prophet was fiery keen to reconcile with his people and wished that an order might be revealed which should lessen the gap between him and his kinsmen. One day he was sitting near the Ka'bah and reciting Surah al-Najm in a sonorous tone. When he reached these two verses. "Have you thought on al-Lat and al-Uzza and thirdly on Manat?"
Satan suddenly made him utter another two sentences viz. "These are 'Gharaniq' 1 who are high in position and their intercession is acceptable", and then he recited the remaining verses. When he reached the verse of sajdah (the last verse of the surah) the Prophet himself as well as all others present, whether Muslims or idolaters, performed sajdah before the idols, with the exception of Walid who was too old to do so.
There was tumult and rejoicing amongst those who were present in the mosque and the idolaters said that Muhammad had spoken well of their gods. The news about the reconciliation of Muhammad with Quraysh reached those who had migrated to Ethiopia and consequently some of them returned from their place of residence (Ethiopia).
However, on their return they found that once again the conditions had undergone a change and the angel had brought revelation to the Prophet and had asked him again to oppose the idolaters and had told him that Satan had made him utter those words and he (the angel) had never spoken them!
This is the gist of the fiction of 'Gharaniq' which the orientalists are very keen to quote with much grandiloquence. 2
You may suppose that Muhammad was not one of the chosen ones of the Almighty, but his wisdom and intelligence cannot be denied in any case. Now how can a wise man resort to such an act? Is it possible that an intelligent person who observes that the number of his followers is becoming larger day by day and the split in the ranks of the enemy is increasing, should, at such a juncture, do something which may lower down his position before his friends as well as of his enemies?
Can you believe that the person who refused all offers of status and wealth by Quraysh for the sake of the Divine religion should once again introduce polytheism and idol-worship? Not to talk of the Holy Prophet, we cannot expect any such thing even from a reformer or an ordinary statesman.
1. According to the verdict of intellect the Divine teachers are always immune from all sorts of errors on account of the strength of innocence they possess. But if it be agreed upon that they too are liable to commit mistakes and errors in religious matters the very basis of the confidence, which people repose in their words, crumbles down.
Hence, it is necessary that we should test such historical events with the touchstone of our rational beliefs and should solve these ambiguities of history with our firm faith. And it goes without saying that the uprightness of Muhammad in propagation of the Divine religion would not allow the occurrence of such events.
2. The myth rests on the assumption that the Prophet was tired of the responsibility which Allah had laid on his shoulders and was very much perturbed on account of the deviation and remoteness of his people. He was therefore, anxious to find out ways and means to improve their condition. However, wisdom ordains that the prophets should be very patient and forbearing, their fortitude should be proverbial amongst all and they should never think of abandoning their mission.
If this myth be a true and confirmed incident it would mean that the hero of our narrative had lost his fortitude and patience and his spirit had become depressed and tired. This thing is not, however, in consonance with the verdict of wisdom and does not also accord with the Prophet's past and future life, as we know it.
The inventor of this story has ignored the fact that the Qur'an bears testimony to the falsehood of this story, because Allah has given him good tidings that falsehood would not enter his path.
This is a Mighty Scripture. Falsehood cannot reach it from before or behind. (Surah al-Fussilat, 41:42)
Allah has also given an absolute promise that He would protect the Qur'an from every harm throughout human history.
Surely we have revealed the Qur'an and We will most surely be its Guardian. (Surah Hijr, 15:9)
Hence, could it be possible that an outcast (Satan) should overpower the chosen one of Allah, insert falsehood in his Qur'an and make the Qur'an, whose very foundation is laid on campaign against idol-worship, a promoter of the system of idolatry.
It is strange that the inventor of this myth has sung a tuneless song and has calumniated the Oneness of Allah at that spot where a few moments earlier the Holy Qur'an has itself contradicted this calumniation, because in the second and third verses of the same Surah the Almighty Allah says:
He (the Prophet) does not speak out of his own fancy. This is an inspired revelation. He is taught by One who is Powerful and Mighty. (Surah al-Najm, 53:3 - 5)
In spite of this positive tiding how could He leave His Prophet unprotected and allow that Satan should take possession of his mind and thoughts?
We are sorry to discuss this myth to a greater extent than it deserves. But the fact is that our remarks are based on rational arguments and are useful for those who believe in the prophethood of the Prophet. However, these arguments are not sufficient for the orientalists, whose hearts have not yet been illuminated by faith in the Prophet and who quote and explain such myths to prove this religion to be of no consequence. With them, therefore, we should discuss the matter in another manner.
History tells us that when the Prophet was reciting Surah al-Najm, the chiefs of Quraysh, most of whom were great poets and men of letters, were present in the mosque. One of them was Walid who was a sage and poet of Arabia and was well known for his wisdom and intelligence. And all of them heard the surah up to its end and performed sajdah when it ended with the verse necessitating sajdah.
The question, therefore, arises as to why these persons, who were great poets and scholars, were satisfied with only two sentences in praise of their gods, when the verses preceding and succeeding these sentences consist totally of admonition and condemnation of their gods.
It is not known what opinion the inventor of this white lie had formed about those persons, whose mother-tongue was Arabic, who were considered to be the champions in the field of eloquence in the entire Arab society, and who knew the allusions and metaphors (not to speak of explicit things) of their language better than anyone else.
Was it proper for them to be satisfied with the two sentences in praise of their gods and ignore the preceding and succeeding sentences? Not to talk of others, it is not possible to deceive even ordinary persons by fascinating sentences which are placed in a context which consists entirely of condemnation of their beliefs and conduct.
Now we write down the relevant verses and place dots instead of these two sentences. You can very well decide whether these two sentences can be accommodated in the verses which have been revealed in condemnation of the idols:
Have you thought on Lat and Uzza, and, thirdly on Manat?3 Is He to have daughters and you sons? This is indeed an unfair division! They (The idols) are but names which you and your fathers have invented. Allah has vested no authority in them.
Can even a common man agree, on the basis of such contradictory sentences, to give up his enmity against, and to come to terms with a man whose religion he has endeavoured to uproot for ten years, and has placed his very existence in danger for that cause?
The distinguished Egyptian scholar Muhammad Abdoh says: The word 'Gharaniq' has never been used for 'gods' in the Arabic language and poetry. The words 'Gharnuq' and 'Gharniq' are found in the lexicon and they mean a particular aquatic bird or a fair and handsome young man, and neither of these conveys the meaning of 'gods'.
Sir Willian Muir has considered the myth of 'Gharaniq' as an established fact of history and the evidence relied upon by him is this: "More than three months had not yet passed since the migration of the Muslims to Ethiopia and they were leading a peaceful life under the protection of the Negus.
They would not have returned to Makkah to see their kith and kin if they had not received news about the reconciliation of Muhammad with Quraysh. It was, therefore, necessary that Muhammad should provide a means for peace and that means was the very story of 'Gharaniq'.
However, one may very well ask this noted orientalist firstly as to why it should be necessary that the return of those people to Makkah was the result of a correct news. In every day life self-interested persons circulate thousands of false news amongst the people every now and then.
It is, therefore, quite possible that some persons coined the news of reconciliation between Muhammad and Quraysh with a view to make the Muslims return to their own country from Ethiopia and consequently some of them believed in the news and returned, whereas others were not deceived and stayed on in Ethiopia.
Secondly, even if it is supposed that the Prophet wanted to make peace with Quraysh why should the foundation of that peace be laid on these two spurious sentences? As a matter of fact it would have been sufficient to win their hearts if he had made a solemn promise to keep absolutely quiet about their beliefs.
In short the return of the migrants is no proof of the correctness of this myth and peace and reconciliation do not also depend upon uttering these two sentences.
- 1. 'Gharaniq' is the plural of Gharnuq or Gharniq which means a sort of aquaic bird or a handsome youth.
- 2. Tarikh-i Tabari, vol. II, pp. 75-76.
- 3. lf you fill in the blank by inserting the translation of the two sentences in question ('These are gharaniq, who are high in position and their intercession is acceptable') you will certainly observe they will be contradictory to the verses preceding and succeeding them.