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Thu Sep 22, 2011 10:17 am

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In the pre-Islamic age of ignorance in Arabia, as in most parts of the world, those who disposed wealth and power or were connected with those who did, committed crimes without fear of punishment. Powerful tribes or clans crushed the weak and defenseless who enjoyed no legal rights or protection.

The Banu Makhzum were one of the most powerful Makkan clans. Together with the Umayyads, they lorded it over the weaker clans without pity.

In the early days after the conquest of Makka, when the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, began to apply the Islamic laws, a woman from Banu Makhzum called Fatima committed a crime of theft. In fact, she had stolen many times before that but had always escaped punishment every time because she belonged to a powerful clan. On this occasion, since the Islamic legal system was in force, she was sentenced to the punishment decreed.

Hoping that they could secure the freedom of Fatima this time too, the clan of Banu Mahkzum attempted to intercede for her. They sent Usama to God's Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. Usama, may God be pleased with him, was the son Zayd, the emancipated slave of the Prophet and, like Zayd, very dear to him. Unable to resist the insistent pressure from the Banu Makhzum, Usama pleaded with the Prophet for Fatima to be excused.

The Prophet was, for the second time, angry with Usama. The first was after he had learnt how Usama, in a military campaign in which the Prophet himself did not take part, had killed a soldier of the enemy. Usama had overcome the soldier and was about to kill him when the latter professed belief in Islam. However, thinking that the man had declared belief only to avoid death, Usama had killed him. When the matter was referred to the Prophet, he reprimanded Usama, saying many times: 'Did you cut his heart open and look whether he had declared belief because of fear of death?' Usama, reflecting on the Prophet's anger with him, had remarked: 'If only I had become Muslim after this event (i.e. not committed an offence which made the Messenger so angry and annoyed)'!

Seeing again the anger and annoyance of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, Usama repented and asked for forgiveness, saying: 'O Messenger of God! Since I sought to intercede with you to excuse a woman for a crime she committed against the weak and defenseless, I ask you for forgiveness on my own account, and I withdraw my request.'

The Prophet ordered the punishment to be carried out according to the law, and the woman's hand was cut off. After this, the Messenger instructed 'A'isha: 'If that woman needs something and cannot meet the need by herself, let her come to us and let us provide for her.' Then, he climbed the pulpit in the Mosque and gave the following warning:

'O people! Know of a certainty that the Almighty ruined many of the peoples before you because they did not observe justice. When an influential person among them who had powerful backing committed a crime, they ignored it, but if the same crime was committed by a weak one, they applied the necessary punishment. I swear by God, Who keeps the soul of Muhammad in His grasp, that if my daughter Fatima steals, I will not hesitate to cut off her hand.'

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