“The Parson and the Prophet: A Study in the Origin of Islam” (Book Review, April 8, 2009)
Note: The Arabic Lebanese manuscript “The Parson and the Prophet” was published in 1978 in Lebanon, most probably by the University of Kaslik in Jounieh, a university administered by the Christian Maronite Order.
As the various religious sects started dialogue, the book was banned and rounded up from libraries. The author used the pseudo name of Abu Mousa El Hariri; I overheard that the real author is a priest in his eighties by now.
As usual, I tell the story and leave the documentations, references, and quotations for the curious reader.
The story is basically to prove the strong and frequent connections between the Christian-Jew parson (priest) Warkat Bin Nawfal and his nephew the Prophet Mohammad and the fundamental influence of Warkat on the Prophet’s message.
In Kureich tribe, there are two clans related to their great grand father Kussai. The richest clan includes the close relatives of parson Warkat bin Nawfal, Othman bin El Howeyress, and Khadija bint Khowayled.
The poorer clan includes the sons and daughters of Abdel Mottaleb: Abdallah, Abu Taleb, Al Abbass, Abu Lahab, and Hamza among others. Muhammad lost his father Abdallah before his birth and his mother at the age of eight. He was cared for by the eldest of the uncles Abi Taleb.
Abi Taleb was the father of Ali who will become the fourth Caliph.
Parson Warkat bin Nawfal bin Assad bin Abed El Azaa bin Kussai was the leading “patriarch” of the Christian-Jew sect of the Epyonites in Mecca; he was of one of the most prosperous clans of Kureich and a leader of Kureich tribe; he translated one the versions of the Aramaic Mathew Testament known as “The Hebrew Testament” into Arabic. This Testament and a version of the Bible were the only Books or sources of the faith of the Epyonites.
There were many other Christian-Jews sects and purely Jewish sects in Mecca and the Arab Peninsula. Two other Christian-Jew sects were Cerinthe and Elxai (see notes).
These sects were recognized in the Coran, but they were considered “heretics” by the Church of Constantinople after the conclave of Nicee (Turkey) in 325; they were persecuted within the Byzantium Empire. Thus, parson Warkat was obviously not a priest since he was not of the Orthodox Christian sect of Constantinople, but the lead predicator and administrator of his sect. These sects were known as “Ahzab” (parties or organizations) in the Coran.
It is not correct to claim that the tribes in the Arab Peninsula were only pagans. The term Jahiliya or Ignorants was created by the Moslem converts as a historical dividing period between Islam and the previous culture. It is not also correct to translate “Ummy” for illiterate: in the Coran it means those who didn’t follow the Bible of the previous prophets; it could be appropriate to translate it as “gentiles” in opposition to Jews.
Parson Warkat took special care of the orphaned Muhammad, one of the youngest relatives in the clan. He taught Muhammad reading and writing and translating the Bibles from Aramaic to Arabic. The custom was for the learned men to translate and transcribe as often as needed; first, to memorize better the Books and to have spare copies for the initiated who were ready to be transmitted the mysteries of the sect.
Thus, it is not correct that Muhammad was illiterate. It was convenient for the early Moslems to spread this myth because:
first, they were trying hard to prove that Muhammad was indeed a Prophet and
second, what better proof that Muhammad is a Prophet if an illiterate could be so wise if not the message was not revealed by God?
As Muhammad grew up, parson Warkat invited Muhammad to join the restricted party of their leaders of Christian-Jews to the retreats at Gor Haraa. Once a year, during the fasting season of a month before Easter (tahannoth), the party of the fasting people would survive on vegetables, yogurt, and unleavened bread. The retreat included praying, contemplating, repeating and invoking God’s name, and reading the Bibles in silence and complete isolation from the inhabitants of Mecca.
After the fast, they would circle Al Kaaba 7 times (like during Palm Sunday the Christians would circle the church 7 times). This is how the Prophet Muhammad was trained to receive revelations. In addition to parson Warkat this party included: Adel Motaleb, Othman bin Al Howeireth, Abdalah bin Jahsh, Abi Ummaya bin Al Maghirat.
Parson Warkat arranged an employment for Muhammad at his cousin Khadija’s caravan business. Khadoja caravans made trips to Damascus and Basra. Muhammad is aged 25. Warkat asked Khadija to marry her employ and cousin Muhammad. Khadija was over 40 of age and twice a widower with offspring.
Khadija was extremely wealthy and had many suitors whom she refused. The two clans met at the wedding ceremony and parson Warkat performed the rituals and as long as Khadija lived Muhammad did not marry another wife as the Christian marriage requires. Thus, parson Warkat made sure for his protégé Muhammad to become wealthy, prosperous, and a potential leader and successor to his rank as “patriarch” of the sect of Mecca.
Muhammad had several revelations that scared him because he thought it was Satan (shaytan) or bad spirits harassing him; Khadija, aided by parson Warkat, reassured Muhamad of being selected by the good archangel to preach the message and Warkat gave Muhammad his benediction and sent him proselytizing among the people of Mecca.
The poorest and those considered in the lowest rank of society started to listen to Muhammad and follow him and perform ablution and praying as initiated. Muhammad could not be touched by the angry Kureich clans because he enjoyed the support of Khadija, Warkat, and his uncle Abi Taleb.
When parson Warkat and Khadija died, Muhammad was over 40 and he was left without spiritual backing or clan support. Revelations stopped appearing to Mohammad for four years before Muhammad had to flee to Medina to meet the converts who preceded him there. A new phase in Islam was unfolding.
Note 1: The Epionite Christian-Jew sect was discussed and commented on by the early Christian scholars and Bishops like Irene, Epiphane, and Origene. The name Epionites refers to the “poor” in Aramaic such as “Blessed be the poor”. This sect considered Jesus one of the great prophets. Jesus was not God or Son of God who received the revelations after John baptized him and thus, the messiah spirit entered him till he was crucified.
Jesus message was teaching and preaching the revelation, but didn’t include saving or forgiving our sins. The Aramaic Testament of Mathew is their only book in addition to the Bible. This New Testament of Mathew used by the Epionites was revised, slanted and distorted according to Epiphanous. This sect persevered on frequent washing for purification, not eating meat, and to focus on aiding and feeding the needy, widowers, and people of passage.
After the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, many of the priests in Komran immigrated to Hijjaz in the Arab peninsula.
Note 2: The Christian-Jew Cerinthe sect proclaimed that Heaven resembled life on earth where the body will get its fill of every passion it needed to satisfy; that the role of Jesus was to free his people from the Romans; that Jesus message was political and social.
Note 3: The Christian-Jew sect Elxai was Gnostic ( relying on knowledge). It preached that Jesus is another human and the Messiah in him vacated his body before martyrdom. The Holy Ghost is the mother of Jesus and the Angel Gabriel depending on events. Jesus received the Bible from the angel and Gabriel taught Jesus wisdom and the ability to foreseeing the future.
Note 4: We know that Aicha, the educated and most beloved wife of the Prophet, has dedicated her life into gathering and organizing the revelations. The third Caliphate Othman bin Affan selected among the revelations and verses and arranged them by order of length and the gathered book was considered the official Coran.
The shortest revelations or verses are the first chronologically and represent the message of Islam in the first 13 years before the relocation to Medina or Yathreb in 633 and the successive civil management and organization of the converts to Islam.
Note 5: In February 5, 2009 I posted “Islam: the two messages of Jesus and Mohammad. A challenge to all theologians: Islam is one of the Christian sects” I had not read the above manuscript and my hypothesis was based on the content of the Coran in the first 13 years of the message. The hypothesis can now be confirmed that Islam started as one of the Christian-Jewish “heretical” sects that were scattered outside the Byzantium Empire.
After the “hejra” to Medina, the prophet could no longer ask for spiritual counsel from anyone and Islam followed an independent direction.