Who And What Had Inspired The Prophet … ?
Any transformation needs a measure of introspection, a degree of witnessing and due deliberation before and after the “A-Ha” moment. So too, Muhammad’s revelation is less about ‘magic’ and supernatural, and more of a realisation and a vision of the way forward from where the world was. It needs to be recalled that the Arab Muslim emergence did not happen in vacuum. The path of Islam did not drop out of nothing in the 7th Century, with the rise of an ambitious, middle-aged, epileptic man who declared himself to be a prophet. The development requires to be seen along a series, before and after.
Close to the Prophet epoch, we have Mazdak, a Persian reformer and religious activist who died c. 524 or 528, Very much in the likeness of Muhammad, Mazdak ideas gained prominence in the Arab world of his time and acquired much influence under the Sassanian reign of Shahanshah Kavadh I.
Mazdak too claimed to be a prophet of God and drove his religio-communal vision over proto-socialist social welfare programs instituted under his supervision. Much of the same things followed a hundred years later, albeit with different attitude and style; it was as if the Prophet had himself adapted Mazdek’s vision, though not the latter’s ways.
Mazdak was the chief representative of a religious and philosophical teaching called Mazdakism, which he viewed as a reformed and purified version of Zoroastrianism, such as Muhammad claimed to be doing in respect of the “original” religion instituted by Abraham. And quite as Mazdak’s teaching has been argued to display influences from Manichaeism, so has Islam derived from Mazdakism. Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion of Sassanid Persia, and Mazdak himself was a Zoroastrian priest or mobed; but most of the Zoroastrian clergy regarded his teaching as heresy.
It is claimed that the original founder of Mazdakism was a Zoroastrian philosopher known as Mazdak the Elder, who taught a combination of altruism and hedonism : “He directed his followers to enjoy the pleasures of life and satisfy their appetite in the highest degree with regard to eating and drinking in the spirit of equality; to aim at good deeds; to abstain from shedding blood and inflicting harm on others; and to practice hospitality without reservation.”
The doctrine was developed by Mazdak the Younger, son of Bāmdād. Later, Mazdak was blamed for heresy and for sharing of women etc. in the spirit of commonality. As the first real socialist among Arabs who emphasised the community – common identity, effort and collective welfare – Mazdak must have had quite an impact. Much of Islam, as a community, is modeled on the Mazdakian vision.
Altruism is what Islam preaches from the pulpit, but only for the believers. And hedonism is what was commended in practice, as can be seen how the Prophet indulged in food and sex. The sense of community and commonality is also strong in Islam. Is that why the Prophet acquired his wives from among those related to his first followers ? All but one were obtained by divined right from among both his enemies and followers, whom he knew closely !
Like Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism, Mazdakism had a dualistic worldview. The doctrine laid two original principles of the universe : Light, the good; and Darkness, the evil. The two were mixed by a cosmic accident, tainting everything except God. Light is characterised by knowledge and awareness, by acts of design and free will, whereas Darkness was manifest as ignorance, blindness, and random acts of fancy and willfulness.
Mazdakian tenets lay that mankind’s role in life was to release parts of himself that belonged to Light through deliberate alignment and good conduct. But where Manichaeism saw the mixture of good and bad as a cosmic tragedy, as does Islam, Mazdak viewed this in a more neutral, even optimistic way.
Mani, the prophet and Manichæus apostle of Jesus Christ, made his attempt to succeed and surpass the ways of Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism. So does the Prophet declare himself as the last one, the most high.
Mani provisioned in advance a cave which had a spring and informed his disciples that he was going to heaven, and would not return for a year, after which time they were to seek him in the cave he had spoken about. The people, it is reported, went to the cave and found their teacher, who showed to them an illustrated book called Ergenk, or Estenk, which he said he had brought from heaven. Thereupon he gained many followers, with whom he returned to Persia.
The entire narration is uncannily similar to how Muhammad pushed himself and his vision to power. But he must have also been familiar with the danger of making such an attempt. The new Iranian king, Hormisdas, joined and protected the Manichaen sect; he built Mani a castle. The next king, Bahram or Varanes, at first favoured Mani but, after Mani’s debate with Zoroastrian teachers that the king had set up, the latter had him flayed alive; his skin was stuffed and hung to public view. Thereupon most of his followers fled to India and China. Those who remained were reduced to slavery.
With Mani’s example being a widely known, one can see why Muhammad loved the sword, the need for military buildup and the utility of enslaving the opposition, if not killed.
- Islam – Prehistory, Myths & Present (IV) (vamadevananda.wordpress.com)
- Islam – Prehistory, Myths & Present (I) (vamadevananda.wordpress.com)