Tuesday, 18 June 2013


 Aspects of Hijra – Meinrad Calleja

This essay shall discuss the consequences of the Hijra tracing its concrete relevance and symbolic representation. Mohamed’s move from Mecca to Medina will be discussed to highlight how this move was not simply immigration from one zone to another, but was undertaken for both logistic reasons and its symbolic severing of former modes of socio-economic organization, facilitated both culturally and spiritually.
The Quranic verses received in Mecca prior to the Hijra (610-622) emphasize eschatology, prophecy, and omnipotence of god. Mohamed’s preaching was critical of contemporary society based on tribal lineage, polytheism, unscrupulous trade, monopolization of resources (including spiritual, military and political patronage), and moral decadence. Tribal leaders attempted to preempt any social upheavals that could have challenged the status quo. They made no secret of their contempt of Mohamed, organizing his systematic persecution and boycott. This was partially subdued by patronage of Mohamed’s uncle, some important conversions (Abu Hamza, Umar), and his links to dominant tribes. When Abu Talb and Khadija died in 619, Mohamed was faced with the prospect of isolation and further persecution, particularly stemming from Abu Lahab’s quarter. Following some preparatory negotiations with some members in exile, Mohamed moved to Medina in 622.

The Hijra symbolically represents the severing of all ties with Meccan hegemony. This includes assertively cutting the umbilical chord of clan membership dependency, implying a denial of all former social mores, norms or affiliations based on memory institutions and socialization, or the correlative modes of conduct they presuppose. This rupturing entails a forceful challenge to traditional Meccan authority. The subsequent articulation of competitive structures directly seeks to establish Medina suzerainty codified through Islam and the Quran, with Mohamed as a leader. This was not simply inter-tribal conflict for the Islamic ideology Mohamed espoused incorporated wider social bases extended not only to tribal Arabia, but beyond to universal humanity.

Medina symbolizes an end of former tribal apartheid based on resources secured through ascriptive lineage that favoured traditional power elites. The Hijra represents a transition to a more democratic entitlement based on religiously-determined meritocratic principals and assumed equity before one God, the monotheism of which entailed total submission to God. This also annihilated any notion of temporal power based on patronage, specifically Meccan control of sacred symbols, artifacts, or territory, formerly associated with polytheism. While not directly challenging Meccan historically determined territorial significance, even if an intermediary phase did seem to suggest, for example, Jerusalem may have been considered as an alternative to supplant Mecca, and while not explicitly altering the solidity of former belief/ value systems and world views, the Medina ideology did substantially reshape the normative systems, ethos and mores of traditional Arabian society and their socio-political structures.

Resources were allocated more fairly, human ontology was afforded some primacy, a step towards some recognition of a possibility of minor gender equity was attempted, individual existential responsibility was initiated, and legal codes were circumscribed. Private, as opposed to collective, property was re-articulated. Rather than having ‘centrally-planned’ distribution of goods to individuals based on clan membership, Islam now entailed a ‘collective’ contribution system based on eleemosynary welfare (zakat) from and to adherents, while discriminating against non-members divided into people of the book (ahl al katab – jews, Christians and sabians) and pagans who were also expected to submit to their Islamic temporal authority discriminatory taxation. Community based relations were based on a new community of believers. These were apparently radical revolutionary changes.   

The Quranic verses received in Medina, compared to those formerly received in Mecca, see an important thematic shift. Here these texts seem to be primarily concerned with organizing Islamic society as one society (Umma), codifying the legal, moral, and ethical frameworks (Sharia), foundations for a more democratic political participation based on wider consultation (shura), and establishing a corporate ideology based on expansionist ambitions viewing the religious conversion of non-Muslims to Islam as a duty (jihad).

In this respect, referring to the Hijra simply as ‘emigration’ does not assure semantic sufficiency. This move was de facto permanent and irrevocable, in as much as there could be no turning back. Tribalism is based on absolute obedience to traditional authority and is assured against sanctions of exclusion. Any questioning of this authority would cause a serious legitimacy deficit. Membership would also exclude possibility of self-determination, individual actualization, autonomy or independence. All was collective. So rupturing ties with traditional authority also perforce entailed a loss of historically and culturally formatted identity. There was no possibility of returning to Mecca, unless under conditions of humiliating obeisance. This meant that those that defected from Mecca to follow Mohamed to Medina were to be permanently socially excluded and ostracized. This Hijra meant they also had to create a new alternative collective identity to address the psychic and social pressures that no doubt impinged on their emotional welfare. The Medina-inspired Islam supplanted tribal identity and was considered to be the permanent underpinning of all future forms of socio-political exchange and organization. Mohamed’s astute leadership and circumstantial incidentals secured this risky enterprise was not abandoned.  

The ensuing reciprocal hostilities propelled into conflict, both material - tribal raids on each other (Badr, Uhud, Ditch) as well as symbolically - in ‘divine’ language. Medina Chapter 111 surat al masad, The Palm Fibre, for example, is a short but forceful criticism of Abu Lahab and his wife. ‘Perish the two hands of Abu Lahab, and perish he. His wealth and his children. He will be burnt in a fire of blazing flames. And his wife, too, who carries wood, (thorns of Satan which she used to put in the way of the prophet, or use to slander him. In her neck is a twisted rope of masad (palm fibre).’ In other verses Meccan leadership is associated with a pharo rather than Abrahim or Moses, and Meccans as mujrimun – criminals, disbelivers, iblis –satan refusing to prostrate before allah, while Medinese, in sharp contrast, were ansar and muhajirun, birr /piety , al khashiun true believers, who see in mecca its true spiritual Abrahamic tradition of manasik, hahh and umrah ). Mohamed consolidated his military power eradicating competing ideologies in the process (Jewish rivalry), also bringing about his initial recognition as Head of Medina. 

This bellicose terminology (jihad, seif al Islam, harb) actually signifies a religious mission statement that seeks to divide the criteria of membership now exclusively in religious terms, if necessary through military force, facilitated through the spatial boundaries the Hijra forged. Islam is thus assumed to be either permanently at war or in a perpetual state of truce regulating by provisos articulated and codified in Medina from this context. Membership was no longer a matter decided exclusively by Meccan utilitarian imperatives based on inter-tribal confidence-building measures determined by the transient interests of power elites or tradition. Membership was an exclusively religious affair based on total submission to Allah, Islam and the Quran, accepting Mohamed’s prophecy and his temporal leadership. The dichotomous groups were now determined by the sphere of Islam (dar al islam) or those outside (dar al harb), ‘harb’ meaning war. In verse (9:5) Al Musrikun, those that perform shirk –idolatry- and zalimun – polytheists and wrong doers - are to be hounded and if they refuse conversion, destroyed. This was an attack on the intransigent pagan Meccans made in spiritual terms and forceful symbols. Medinese, again, in stark contrast, were referred to as al muttaqun – pious. This gave Islam a semblance of universality, at once both challenging the insular fragmentism, particularism or localism of Mecca, as well as extending Islamic monotheism over a greater range of temporal jurisdiction. Mohamed’s leadership was also commensurately enhanced.

The validity of Medina can also be extrapolated by Mohamed’s return to Medina after visiting Mecca (small haj 929 and final haj 632) once his ascendancy was secured. This was not simply a matter of pride or tribal honour. Mecca was to lose all its temporal hegemony in favour of a spiritual title for all Muslims, irrespective of class, ethnicity or race. While also removing all competing religious imagery, Meccan ritual was restructured to symbolize a more universally coherent monotheism consonant with the codes the Hijra had facilitated. Mohamed’s Hijra also consolidated his power base as he was able to separate the chaff of association based on pragmatic hypocritical expediency, from the wheat of unflinching friendship based on sincere loyalty, securing his undisputed leadership of the umma and his status of prophesy.    

Meinrad Calleja, 2004

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