Out there, in the realm of the abstract, can be found a theory of human nature that has existed for aeons. It purports to preach a perennial truth, or the logos as the early Greek philosopher Heraclitus would call it. That truth is simply this: stripped of all our creature comforts and left to our own cerebral devices, humanity discriminates and stratifies itself, eventually strutting down the red carpet to our own grandiose destruction, our beautiful deaths. We are, at our core, murderous bigots.
Across temporal and geographical divides, some, more than others, are keenly aware of this possibly imagined, possibly real disposition. A few have attempted to reach out to the rest – to warn perhaps or maybe to just draw attention to this leviathan within us. One such attempt transformed a little known World War II veteran by the name of William Golding into a literary sensation following the release of his first novel, Lord of the Flies. Golding’s 1954 work narrates the descent into dystopia of a group of young boys who are stranded on an uninhabited island. In Golding’s imagining, boys will not be boys but barbarians who discriminate, stratify and hunt each other like game in pursuit of power.
Prophet Muhammad understood the ubiquity of bigotry all too well. He suffered it in his hometown Mecca at the hands of his own flesh and blood, Abu Lahab, in the early days of Islam. It was reported that Abu Lahab once threw the entrails of a sacrificed camel over his paternal nephew who was praying at the Ka’aba. Yet this aggression was mild compared to the savagery that befell the subalterns and the pariahs who had converted to Islam in pagan-majority Mecca. Take, for instance, the African slave Bilal ibn Rabah, who was dragged roughshod around the streets of Mecca. Bilal then had his limbs stretched and was made to endure the weight of a hefty boulder on his chest. While Bilal survived his ordeal to become Islam’s first muezzin, the betrothed pair of Sumayya bint Khayyat and Yasir ibn Amar were not as fortunate. As ‘immigrants’ with no familial affiliation in Mecca, the two Muslim converts did not enjoy the benefits of tribal protection. Sumayya’s poor standing was worsened by the fact that she was a former slave. Seeing that the couple were vulnerable, Meccan tribal leader Abu Jahl and his men tortured the two poor souls before ending their lives.