Muhammad brought a new message that the people of his own tribe had never heard. They were pagan polytheists of the jahiliya pre-Islamic period. They had hundreds of idols that they worshipped and served.
This new revelation from one of their fellow tribesman troubled them. Their reaction is given in Sura 38:5. Let’s look at it in three different translations.
“Has he made the aliha (gods) (all) into One Ilah (God – Allah). Verily, this is a curious thing!” (Mohsin Khan)
“Has he made the gods (all) into one Allah? Truly this is a wonderful thing!” (Yusuf Ali)
Maketh he the gods One Allah? Lo! that is an astounding thing.” (Pickthall)
What did Muhammad tell them? He was espousing monotheism by making their gods all into One!
This is the concept of Tawheed in Islam. It is the “UNIFICATION or oneness of God.” The 360 idols were going to become united as one under the name Allah. This was the teaching Muhammad initially brought to his people.
This got the people riled up and upset. How can they accept Muhammad’s blasphemy and insult against the gods they had been worshiping for generations? They accused Muhammad of lying and sarcastically called him a magician for his “magical feat” of being able to unify 360 idols into one. “This is a magician and a liar.” (Sura 38:4)
We have to remember that these people knew Muhammad. He was one of them. They had seen him grow up among them, and served and worshiped together for 40 years. But this new “innovation” he brought was too much!
The leaders decide to reject it. Tafsir Ibn Kathir records this: Ibn Jarir said, “The Tawhid to which Muhammad is calling you is something by which he wishes to gain power over you, and exalt his own position, so that he will have followers among you, but we will not respond.”
These leaders then go to Abu Talib, Muhammad’s uncle, to bring their dissatisfaction to him to see if he would straighten out his nephew.
Abu Ja`far bin Jarir recorded that Ibn `Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “When Abu Talib fell sick, some of the people of the Quraysh, including Abu Jahl, entered upon him and said, `Your brother’s son is insulting our gods; he does such and such and says such and such. Why don’t you send for him and tell him not to do that’ So he sent for the Prophet and he entered the house. There was space enough for one man to sit between them and Abu Talib, and Abu Jahl, may Allah curse him, was afraid that if ﴿the Prophet ﴾ were to sit beside Abu Talib he would be more lenient with him, so he jumped up and sat in that spot, and the Messenger of Allah could find nowhere to sit near his uncle, so he sat by the door. Abu Talib said to him, `O son of my brother, why are your people complaining about you and claiming that you insult their gods and say such and such’ They made so many complaints against him.Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Surat Sad 38:4
When questioned about the reason for this new message he brought, here is Muhammad’s reply.
«يَا عَمِّ إِنِّي أُرِيدُهُمْ عَلَى كَلِمَةٍ وَاحِدَةٍ يَقُولُونَهَا تَدِينُ لَهُمْ بِهَا الْعَرَبُ، وَتُؤَدِّي إِلَيْهِمْ بِهَا الْعَجَمُ الْجِزْيَة»
(O uncle, all I want from them is one word which, if they say it, the Arabs will become their followers and the non-Arabs will pay Jizyah to them.)
Did you see that?
The reason Muhammad gave for wanting the Arabs to accept the message of tawheed is to:
1. Gain followers
2. Gain money (jizya)
Straight from the horse’s mouth. The true motive of Muhammad exposed. Power and wealth. That was what he was after. It was a clear cut admission that Ibn Jarir was absolutely right!
“The Tawhid to which Muhammad is calling you is something by which he wishes to gain power over you, and exalt his own position, so that he will have followers among you, but we will not respond.”
﴿إِنْ هَـذَا إِلاَّ اخْتِلاَقٌ﴾
(This is nothing but an invention!) Mujahid and Qatadah said, “A lie.” Ibn `Abbas said, “A fabrication.”
The pagan Arabs were not denying Allah as god. Allah was known to them.
“Allah was known to the pre-Islamic Arabs; he was one of the Meccan deities.” (Encyclopedia of Islam, ed. Gibb, I:406)
What they could not accept is this NEW position Muhammad was elevating their idol Allah to occupy at the expense of the other idols they revered.
Most Muslims think that the Islamic phrase “Allahu akhbar” means “Allah is great.” In truth, the actual meaning of the takbir is “Allah is greater.” This obviously leads one to ask, “Greater than what?” Now we can understand that it is really simply a Mohamedan assertion that Allah is greater than the other idols.
A lot of things in the Quran begins to make a little more sense when we understand this historical perspective.
The unforgivable sin of shirk is associating a partner with Allah. Muslims think this a rebuke to Christians. But the fact is, it cannot apply to Christianity. There is no Christian teaching or doctrine that says Jesus is a partner of God. In reality, shirk was another Mohamedan condemnation of the Arabs.