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Untitled Document

Religious Adventurism in Islam
By Tahira Parwez

Muslims believe and follow Muhammad (pbuh) as the final prophet, and the Quran as the final holy book of Allah. Any change or deviation from this belief pushes one outside the pale of Islam. Islam, like other religions, has experienced religious adventurism in the shape of false claimants to prophethood since its inception. Most of these claimants were frankly insane and were either ignored or suitably treated; the rest of them were clever individuals who had political ambitions. The latter, considered as religious adventurers by Allama Iqbal, are the subject of this article. Their existence owes much to the emergence of Mullahism under Imperial Islam and its expansion into an institutionalised clergy when the Muslim Empire was disintegrating.

Musaylima, Sadjah, al-Aswad al- Ansi, and Tulayha b. Khuwaylid claimed prophethood during or shortly after the death of Muhammad (pbuh). They are known as leaders of ridda who had refused to accept the authority of the State of Medina to buttresses their aspirations for tribal or regional independence.

Al-Aswad, ‘the veiled one’, was the leader of first ridda in Yemen. It is disputed as to whether he was a Muslim. He claimed to be a soothsayer (kahin), spoke in the name of Allah, and practiced sleight-of-hand. After killing the leader of his tribe, Sahar, he beheaded prophet Muhammad’s two representatives and declared his independence. His rule only lasted a couple of months because his companions and the widow of Sahar, whom he had married, killed him.

Musaylima (al- kazab) declared himself prophet after the death of Howda to advance his claim for the leadership of Banu Hanifa (630 AD). He ordained three prayers, fasting, and abstinence of wine (disputed!). He also believed in Resurrection. He was rebuffed when he wrote to Muhammad (pbuh) in 632 A.D. for the division of authority between them. Abu Bakar (rtu) sent Khalid b. Walid (rtu) with a large army who put an end to his life and ambitions. Shortly before death he married Sadjah, a female claimant of prophethood, from the tribe of Tamim. Al-Harith b. Said claimed prophethood during the reign of Umayyad caliph, Abd al-Malik b. Marwan. A number of royal soldiers were suspected of supporting him. He was executed in 698-699 AD. Imam Abu Hanifa believed strongly in khutum-e-nabuwat and decreed that a Muslim becomes infidel even if he asks a claimant of prophethood to give proof of his claim. He vehemently opposed and criticised an anonymous person who was suspected of harbouring such intention during his times (699-767 AD). The famous rebel al-Mukhtar b. Abi Ubayd is also accused of claiming himself to be a prophet.

Muhammad b. Sa’id (al-muslub) is considered as one of the four infamous forgers of hadith. He distorted the hadith ‘I am the seal of prophets and there is no prophet after me’ by adding ‘unless Allah wills {otherwise}’. He is reported to have drawn his own conclusions from this addition and claimed prophethood for himself. He was executed on the orders of Abbasid caliph, Abu Jafar al-Mansur. Hashim b. al-Hakim, known as al-Muqanna in history, claimed prophethood in Khurasan during the reign of Abbasi caliph al-Mahadi. He is reported to have some following in that region.

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