Omar ibn Al-Khattab



Here's a comment recently added to a previous post by an anonymous Muslim reader.
I fully support that the Qur'an is a scientific miracle, but it's also a miracle linguistically. Know the 2nd Khalifa? Omar ibn Al-Khattab? Huge enemy to Islam before he converted. Tortured the muslims. As soon as he picked up a page of the Qur'an, and read, it was instant. An illiterate man, never had anything to do with poetry, somehow had put up the best literature the Arabs had ever seen and until now the same, and forever, it'll be the same. 
Anon is keen to point out that he doesn't base his belief that the Qur'an is God's work purely on the basis of the scientific "miracles" (although we notice he "fully supports" the idea). He states the Qur'an is a linguistic miracle, and to back up his claim he quotes the famous story of the second Khalifa, Omar ibn al-Khattab's conversion to Islam.

The story is well known to all (Sunni) Muslims and is, I would suggest, the Islamic equivalent of Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus. Both men were of dubious character and enjoyed persecuting the righteous believers until their "miraculous" and sudden conversions. Thereafter they were largely responsible for the spread and indeed the character of the two religions we see today.

Saul saw a blinding light, heard a voice ask, "Saul, why are you persecuting me?", promptly changed his name to Paul and started a career as an inveterate letter writer, and single-handedly transformed Christianity into a religion for gentiles as opposed to simply a Jewish sect. More than anyone else St Paul is the man we have to "thank" for some of the less appealing aspects of Christianity. Some even suggest Christianity would be better called Paulism.

Al-Khattab, on the other hand, was on his way to murder Muhammad when he stopped off at his sister's place as he'd heard she'd converted to Islam. He was in the process of slapping her around a bit, so the story goes, when she handed him a page from the Qur'an. So overcome was he by the beauty of the words (Surah Taha) that he converted to Islam on the spot. Upon Muhammad's death he set about the most violent and successful spread of any religion the world has ever seen.

Here's an excerpt (92-97) from Surah Taha (which deals almost exclusively with the story of Moses) to give you a taster. Interestingly this is the same surah which casts Aaron, Moses' brother, in an extremely bad light:

[And now that he had come back, Moses] said: "O Aaron! What has prevented thee, when thou didst see that they had gone astray,from [abandoning them and] following me? Hast thou, then, [deliberately] disobeyed my commandment?" Answered [Aaron]: "O my mother's son! Seize me not by my beard, nor by my head! Behold, I was afraid lest [on thy return] thou say, 'Thou hast caused a split among the children of Israel, and hast paid no heed to my bidding!" Said [Moses]: "What, then, didst thou have in view, O Samaritan?" "Begone, then! And, behold, it shall be thy lot to say throughout [thy] life, `Touch me not! But, verily, [in the life to come] thou shalt be faced with a destiny from which there will be no escape! 
(I only quote this since Muslims are taught that when Muhammad  erroneously referred to Mary (Jesus's mother) as Aaron's brother, Muhammad quickly explained to those who challenged him that it was a custom to call people sister/brother of famous ancestors. So Mary's contemporaries preferred to refer to her as a descendant of someone who allowed the most infamous case of idolatory in history...  as opposed to the man who received the Ten Commandments, did they? Hmm.)

Anyway, back to the story of al-Khattab. Where do Muslims find this wonderful tale? It's told in Muhammad's biography, The Sirat Rasullah by Ibn Ishak. And, as far as I know, all references to al Khattab's conversion owe their origins to Ibn Ishak. "So what's wrong with a single source?" I hear you say. Nothing, provided it's reliable. But even Muslims themselves are at pains to point out how UNRELIABLE Ibn Ishak is because of the disturbing and frankly disgusting things he reported Muhamad doing - such as the beheading of 800 mean and boys (Ishak 464). Indeed, many Muslim sites are devoted to proving how unreliable a witness Ishak was because of this. The Islamic apologist site, Answering Christians is a case in point. They even have a page entitled The Problems with Ibn Ishak which contains the following, very revealing, comment:
There are about 600 Hadiths in Ibn Ishaq's book "Sirat Rasullah" and most of them have what appears to be questionable (at best) isnads (chains of transmissions) . But the later hadith collectors (Bukhari, Muslim, etc) rarely used any material from the Sira (because of the lack of quality and authentic isnads). 
Of course, it is only the Sunni Muslims who revere al-Khattab in any case. Shias consider him to be little better than a traitor. They believe the whole story of al-Khattab's conversion to be a myth...

Shia believe that the Sunni view of Umar Ibn al Khattab is an inaccurate one, created by the later Umayyad dynasty to honour the man that gave power to the first Umayyad ruler and third Sunni CaliphUthman. In this way, it gives legitimacy to Umar's consultation that started their own dynasty, a corrupt one in both Shi'a and Sunni view.
Shia believe that the Umayyad view was propagated with lethal force and heavy duress and as time went on, that view became predominant and eventually taken as truth, cemented by the works of Bukhari. However, Shi'a believe that despite the perceived white washing of Umar, bits of his true qualities can be found in all sources, including Sunni ones. They also believe that invented positive traits attributed to him do not hold a closer scrutiny.
Thus we have Muslims the world over basing their love of the Prophet and the "miraculous" literary qualities of the Qur'an partly on a story told in a history book that in all other circumstances they disown as full of scandalous nonsense.