Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Letter Which I Forgot to Write

You might have known Dr. Hameedullah. He was a world renowned Islamic scholar. Born in Chennai, he was an illustrious son of brother of Qazi Ubaidullah, the first Chief Qazi of Tamil Nadu.
He grew up in Hyderabad, then migrated to France and spent most of his life in Paris. Allah bestowed him the honour of translating the Holy Qur’an into the French language. Besides, he did extensive research on the life history of Prophet of Islam. He wrote innumerable articles on Seerah. His work on the battles of Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless and greet him) is his magnum opus. He is revered as the most authentic voice on Seerah. As a writer on Seerah literature, he could well be called another Sulaiman Nadwi.
I would like to share a bit of information on Seerah that Dr. Hameedullah has presented in one of his works.
It is a piece of statistical information. Dr. Hameedullah has written the following: “During the years that followed the Hudaibiyah Treaty, the Prophet sent emissaries to the Roman Emperor, the Persian Emperor, the Ruler of Egypt, the King of Abyssinia, the chiefs of ash-Sham and the leaders and chiefs of various tribes and clans. In this way the Prophet had written more than 250 letters.”
Read this piece of information once again. Repeat it. What is the most significant information does it highlight? How many letters? 250 i.e. two hundred and fifty letters!
This is just a number, you feel. It straightaway reaches your head. It does not affect your heart. Does it?
Come, Ponder over this piece of information, once again.
Letter writing at the period of Prophet Muhammad was not a joke.
First of all, when you sit down to write a letter you would need paper. Paper was not a commodity which was easily available. Next, you need a pen. You didn’t have a gel pen or jotter pen or even a fountain pen in that era. It would be a finely carved stick, which you would dip into the manually prepared ink to make indelible marks on the paper. So you would need an ink bottle too!
Even if you had paper, a pen and ink, you could not accomplish the task unless you had the services of a katib (writer). In those days finding a katib in Makkah was no ordinary task. Katibs were very few. The situation in Madinah too was no better. So Prophet Muhammad understood this need and immediately assigned certain sahaba to learn the art of writing. In this way the Holy Prophet groomed more than 42 katibs. He assigned different tasks to different sahaba. Somebody was delegated to maintain accounts of the Baitul Mal. Somebody else was appointed to write and keep important documents. Some senior sahaba were assigned to write the Quranic verses as and when they were revealed. Some others were assigned to write letters.
Now coming back to the point, even if you had written a letter, the job was not over. The biggest challenge was to dispatch the same to the addressee. Over 14 centuries ago you didn’t have postal service at all. There was no Professional Couriers or Speed Post. You would need a qasid – a messenger – to deliver the letter. Someone, who was reliable, able and dynamic. You would have to make arrangements for his journey. You would have to provide him with a horse or a camel. You would also have to provide him with food, money, weapons as zad-e-rah for him.
The task does not end there. You didn’t have Highways, Super Expressways linking the major cities in those days. The roads were not laid. There were no milestones, etc. And you needed the services of the guides. They only knew the route. You would have to hire them. Remember, when Prophet Muhammad made Hijrah from Makkah to Madinah he had hired a non-Muslim as his guide.
Above all the qasid should be prepared to face any kind of eventuality. He should be ready to face bricks as well as bouquets.
So, writing a letter 1400 years ago was not a joke. You needed a paper, a pen, ink, writer – katib, qasid – messenger, provisions for the journey, mode of transport, guide, etc.
You have to read that piece of information given by Dr. Hameedullah in this perspective. You will realise the significance of that data then. Your heart would get mellowed. You would realise the magnitude and greatness of the effort of the Prophet Muhammad. He accomplished so much in such a short span of time. Subhan Allah!
Tail piece: Today writing a letter is not a gigantic task. It is as easy as having a cup of tea. Your letter reaches the destination within minutes. It is faster than the inter-continental ballistic missiles. Just touch the button. And it’s gone. Nowadays courier service has spread throughout the country. Not a single village is left out by the courier people. Besides, you have the Indian postal service with post offices throughout the length and breadth of this vast nation. And above all there is this S.M.S which is undoubtedly the toast of the day.
Let me ask the pertinent questions.
Have we ever written any letter to our friend, colleague, and comrade inviting him to Islam?
Have we ever written any letter to our friend, colleague, and comrade, disseminating the message of the Qur’an?
Have we ever written any letter to any newspaper or magazine, disseminating something about the religion of Allah?

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