The Hijra: Movement of God’s People ~ Omid Safi


The Islamic calendar does not begin with the year of Muhammad’s birth (as the Christian calendar begins with the birth of Christ), nor does it begin with the commencement of revelation to Muhammad. Rather, it begins with this purposeful move of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to what became known as Medina. This migration, the Muslim Exodus, established the model community under Muhammad’s rule and care. This was the emigration to Yathrib, the city that would be renamed Madina al-nabi (“the City of the Prophet”) and forever after known simply as Medina (“the City”).

Like much of the Prophet’s actions, this movement has been remembered both for itself, and also for the larger symbolism of the need to spiritually and politically move to a state of emancipation. There are other similar moves in other traditions, whether it is the Exodus of the Hebrews, or the Rastafarian tradition remembering, as Bob Marley put it, the Movement of Jah People. Muhammad’s migration to Medina would be known as the Hijra, and it is the quintessential marking point of Islamic history.

The context was urgent, and timely: The pagans of Mecca were stepping up their persecution of Muhammad and his followers. Whereas in the beginning of Muhammad’s prophetic career the persecution was directed at the marginalized members of the Prophet’s community, now there were clear indications that Muhammad’s own life was in grave danger. In fact, the Meccans were planning the imminent assassination of the Prophet. It was at this time that providential grace provided an opening: a community of people from Yathrib, a city two hundred miles away from Mecca came to Muhammad, offering their allegiance to him and asking him to come to their city to help them settle their tribal disputes. They had been long impressed by Muhammad’s qualities as the Amin (“the Trustworthy”) and saw him as having the Solomonic wisdom to arbitrate among them.

After Muhammad’s dear wife, Khadija, passed away, his two closest friends were Ali and Abu Bakr, a respected elder of the community. Both would play crucial roles in this migration. Muhammad had Ali assume the dangerous task of sleeping in his stead in his bed while the band of assassins waited outside the Prophet’s house. Muhammad covered Ali in his green shawl and had him repeat a verse of Surah Ya-Sin as protection. Meanwhile, Muhammad and Abu Bakr took to the road, heading toward Yathrib. Standing outside the city, Muhammad looked back lovingly on Mecca and said: “Of all God’s earth, you are the dearest place unto me, and the dearest unto God. Had not my people driven me out from you, I would not have left you.”

The Hijra was neither an abandonment of Mecca nor the forgetting of where one had come from. It was the determination to rise up from oppression, with the intention of returning eventually to redeem even the oppressor. This Muhammad would accomplish at the end of his life through his triumphant return home. But before he could liberate Mecca, he had to move to the city where the Muslim community would become established.

Muhammad and Abu Bakr eventually arrived in Yathrib and were received with joy and beautiful poetry composed in honor of the Prophet. Ali too would join them in a few days. It had taken him three full days to disperse all the goods that Muhammad’s enemies and others had entrusted him with, a further indication of the level of trust all had had in the very soul they were persecuting.

When Muhammad arrived in Medina, his address there was simple, and a reminder of the need to connect acts of worship with care for the poor:

O people, give unto one another greetings of Peace; feed food unto the hungry; honor the ties of kinship; pray in the hours when men sleep. Thus shall you enter Paradise in peace.

The first communal action in Medina was establishing the Mosque, truly the first Muslim mosque. Muhammad himself joined in the building task, and he was fond of reciting a line of poetry as he worked:

No life there is but the life of the Hereafter,
O God, have mercy on the Helpers and the Migrants.

One of the ways in which God’s mercy rained down on the Helpers (the Ansar, those from Medina who received the Prophet) and the Migrants (the Muhajirs, those who accompanied Muhammad from Mecca) was through a bond of brotherhood. Muhammad’s first declaration was to alter the social fabric of the Yathrib (now Medina) community. He had each member of the Helpers pair up with a member of the Migrants, establishing a bond of faith that bypassed, transcended and inverted tribal connections and socioeconomic class status. Muhammad’s own faith-brother would be none other than Ali.

In one of his first speeches, Muhammad preached the following sermon:

Praise belongs to God whom I praise and whose praise I implore. We take refuge in God from our own sins and from the evil of our acts. He whom God guides none can lead astray; and whom He leads astray none can guide. I testify that there is no God but He alone, and He is without comparison… Love what God loves. Love God with your hearts, and weary not of the word of God and its mention. Harden not your hearts from it… Love one another in the spirit of God. Verily God is angry when His covenant is broken. Peace be upon you.

This community was one based on faith in God and love for one another “in the spirit of God,” as this speech enjoined them to do. It was in Medina that the general moral outlines of Muhammad’s teachings became linked with a full set of ethical, legal and social injunctions. In Mecca, Muhammad received the Divine call that placed him in the footsteps of Abraham, and in the line of Biblical prophets. It was that purposeful movement from Mecca to Medina that established the Muslim community, one that would remain rooted in the spirit of God, carrying the fragrance of the Prophet.

As the Prophet moved from Mecca to Medina, Muslims today, and every day, hope to leave behind and beyond the state of injustice, heedlessness and tyranny, to move to the higher spiritual ground of a community rooted in the spirit of God and the love of one another, and then to come back to redeem that very state of tyranny and injustice. That is the loftiest way to remember and honor the movement of God’s people.

Omid Safi is a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina. The above essay draws on his newly published Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters (HarperOne).

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Deepak Chopra on J. Krishnamurti statement about being God

Deepak Chopra expands on the meaning of the great Indian philosopher, Krishnamurti, about being God.
This is a clip from the Seduction of Spirit course given at the Chopra center.

Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and other Curiosities in Religion and Culture by Bader, Mencken, and Baker

Ed: The bulk of this new book, an effective balance of both the academic and the entertaining, profiles what apparently is a growing subculture of Americans who believe in such anomalous phenomena as those identified in its subtitle. The authors, all of whom are sociology professors, draw primarily from data generated by the seminal 2007 Baylor Religion Study but fill in the gaps with their own research as well as numerous case studies of everyday people and their direct experiences with the paranormal. The following excerpt comes from their concluding chapter.

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Spending time in the realms of the paranormal led us to reflect on how much has changed since the 1980s. Back then the Internet was in its infancy, not filled with websites, blogs, and discussion forums devoted to paranormal subjects. The X-Files had yet to appear on television. There was no MonsterQuest or Ghost Hunters, let alone the seemingly endless clones and spin-offs that have appeared in their wake. Not that the paranormal is new, far from it. In Search of was a fairly popular pre-1990 paranormal show. In 1992, CBS relaunched Miracles and Other Wonders, hosted by Darren McGavin. Magazines such as Fate and Argosy (now defunct) brought the ghosts and psychic powers to the newsstands.

What appears to have changed is the degree of societal interest in the paranormal and the extent to which this interest has organized. Two decades ago, an attempt to investigate the paranormal nearly always led to someone like Datus Perry [referred to earlier in the book]. Almost every community had “that guy who sees UFOs” or the “family who thinks their house is haunted.” Few people knew of the organized paranormal groups in existence at the time, such as the Mutual UFO Network and National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), so local inquiries usually led to colorful, eccentric dead ends.

It is clear that increased interest in the paranormal has gone hand in hand with greater media attention and the rapid diffusion of the Internet. If you live in a city or town of any size, you are likely to find an organized local or regional group of ghost hunters, a group for developing one’s psychic potential, a UFO investigation club, and depending on the region, a Bigfoot hunting organization. If your area does not have its own paranormal organization or club, it is probably home to a regional chapter of a national one. Twenty years ago, a visit to a reputed haunted house in a community was a lonely affair. Today one may find competition for the ghosts’ attentions from a local ghost-hunting group, a documentary crew, or a radio show.

While we doubt many will argue with us when we claim that interest in the paranormal has increased over the last few decades, it is very difficult to prove so with any certainty. Beliefs about the paranormal have rarely been subjected to detailed scrutiny. When survey researchers have asked Americans if they believe in paranormal topics or have had paranormal experiences, the way in which the questions have been asked, the population to whom the questions have been asked, and even the subjects asked about have varied so dramatically that it is impossible to know for certain how much interest in the paranormal has increased. What we can say for certain is that we live in a paranormal America. Put another way, the paranormal is normal.

It is important that we be very clear what we mean by this statement, as it may be open to misinterpretation. Most books about the paranormal are written from a base underlying assumption regarding the reality of the phenomenon under discussion. A number of skeptics and scientists have written books bemoaning increased interest in the paranormal as a sign that our culture is losing its critical reasoning skills. Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things and the late Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World assume that paranormal phenomena are not objectively real and therefore try to explain what leads people to lose their common sense and believe in fallacious subjects. Books written by paranormal believers attempt to present evidence, often in the form of personal accounts or eyewitness testimony, in an attempt to prove the reality of the phenomenon in question. Conservative Christian authors vary: some arguing that paranormal phenomena are not real while others claim that the paranormal is a tool of Satan.

In the course of researching this book and presenting its findings, we have been accused of being (1) too skeptical by some paranormal believers who wish we would attest to the reality of UFOs or Bigfoot and (2) not skeptical enough by some colleagues who wish we would “call out” lapses in logic among the people we have studied.

We could have presented arguments against the objective reality of UFO abductions. The first widely publicized abduction case of Betty and Barney Hill has been the subject of intense debate. For example, Betty claimed to have copied a “star map” shown to her by her abductors. Skeptics and believers have argued ever since whether the map truly displays a star system (and if so, which one) or is simply a random selection of dots produced by a deluded person.

From our perspective, there was little point in entering such debates. One aspect of the Hill case that few disagree with is that the couple truly believed themselves to have been abducted. From a sociological perspective, that is the important factor. The Hills’ apparent sincerity amid their astonishing claims proved to be a formative moment in what ultimately became a popular phenomenon in the late seventies. Sociologists have long observed that people act upon their strongly held beliefs, whether those beliefs represent “reality” or not.

When we report that the paranormal is normal, therefore, it should not be taken as an implicit or explicit statement for or against the reality of UFOs, psychic phenomena, ghosts, Bigfoot, or any other paranormal topics. We simply mean that the paranormal is no longer a fringe subject. Need proof? Only 32 percent of Americans [based on the 2007 Baylor Religion Survey] report no paranormal beliefs, and half of the population reports belief in two or more paranormal phenomena. Statistically, those who report a paranormal belief are not the oddballs; it is those who have no beliefs that are in the significant minority. Exactly which paranormal beliefs a person finds convincing varies, but whether it is UFOs and ghosts or astrology and telekinesis, most of us believe more than one. If we further consider strong beliefs in active supernatural entities and intense religious experiences, the numbers are even larger. The paranormal is here to stay and is no longer marginal phenomena.

About the Author
Bader, Mencken, and Baker
Christopher D. Bader is Associate Professor of Sociology at Baylor University. With F. Carson Mencken, he is Principal Investigator on the Baylor Religion Survey Project.

F. Carson Mencken is Professor of Sociology at Baylor University.

Joseph O. Baker is Assistant Professor of Sociology at East Tennessee State University.

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