Let us Search for Julaibib
by Mohja Kahf
Do you know Julaibib? He was an Arab. He was a Madinan.
Probably misshapen or a dwarf, he slunk like a shadow along the margins of “normal” life. Julaibib had no other name. He was not “the son of so-and-so” or “the father of such-and-such.” Rootless. Dark man. No lineage, no tribe - in seventh-century Arab society! Even in Muslim society today that is a huge handicap. Then, it could only mean one thing: total exclusion. Decent people wouldn’t let him in their homes. They sensed something perverted about him. Well, whose personality would not become a little twisted from life as a pariah? They said he hung around women too much. Well, who was he supposed to talk to when all the fine men refused his company? So the cruel circular logic of bigotry circumscribed his life. Maybe he embodied people’s secret fears ... everything they were horrified of becoming.
Marriage was out of the question.
His frustrated desires could have led him to crimes. Vengeance for his undeserved abasement: “You have treated me like a criminal anyway, why shouldn’t I make your accusations true?”
Then came Islam.
Julaibib, may Allah be pleased with him, became a Companion of the Prophet. The Prophet asked an Ansari man if he would let his daughter marry - “Delighted! We would be delighted!” Julaibib. Double take. “Who?!” Horror. To cover for his speechlessness, the Ansari sputtered that he had to ask his wife:
“Julaibib?! Never!” What would the women say? A man like that! How could he even think ... !”
So what about Islam? Did Islam really change anything? Isn’t it the staunchest Muslims, even today, who cling most to the pettiness of status, class, family, custom, nation? Or make token salams to universal brotherhood and sisterhood but balk at letting the concept effect their private lives, their homes, their daughters?
Wait - the Ansari’s daughter, the second-generation Muslim, raised in Islam, hearing her shocked parents’ raised voices, what did she say? “Send me to him,” she said. “Do you refuse the Messenger of God? Send me to him, for he shall certainly not bring ruin to me.” And she quoted from the Qur’an:
“It is not fitting for a believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allh and His Messenger, to have any option about their decision. If anyone disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong path” Qur’an 33:36
Normal, traditional society needs its scapegoat, its innocent victim. Having such pariahs helps glue the rest of the community together, makes them feel satisfied in their “normalcy.” But Islam is not interested in society’s sense of the normal. Islam comes at first gently into traditional society, as the Prophet came to the Ansari parents, appealing to it. Overlapping with some of its values like marriage, family, and stability. Once lodged in the heart of society, however, Islam shows its radical aims of changing forever the basis on which traditional society is comfortably nestled. Changing society’s basis from human interests to tawhid (unity of Allah) interests, from the search for power and the maintenance of class oppression, to the real, pragmatic establishment of that universal equality, tolerance and love which stem from the unity of God.
Not everyone “gets it,” though. Traditional people like these unnamed parents continue to think that Islam is just a veneer of spiritual legitimacy over their usual activities. Fine. Islam can tolerate even that, as long as these activities are harmlessly contained within the petty circle of what these people think is important, do not transgress into the haram (forbidden), and do not impose on the rights of others.
Other, more insightful people, like the Ansari daughter, sense with excitement the radical implications of tawhid and rebel against the traditional deadweight. While Islam, for the parents, only legitimizes the status quo authorities, the daughters of the world see Islam as their rebellion. (The danger is when the daughters know that the parents are wrong, that preserving what exists just because it exists is futile, but equate the parents with Islam and reject both). Notice that the daughter was smart enough not to try to upset the parents’ entire value system. No lectures on tawhid-directed radicalism, just one verse, containing an answer they could not refuse, the only common ground between them: You don’t want to disobey the Prophet, do you?
But sometimes when the night of rebellion gets dark, it seems that the parents really are Islam. Especially in these days when there is no Prophet to help the girl marry Julaibib despite her parents. Who will show us in this night how Islam expands where social customs contract, includes where tradition excludes, produces tolerance and love in place of bigotry and hate, integrates the segregated? Who will marry Julaibib?
The Prophet succeeded in integrating Julaibib in the community, and Julaibib proved that he was a gain for Islam. He died defending Islam against a mushrikeen (polytheist) attack. At the end of the battle, the Prophet went around to each Companion asking, “Have you lost anyone?” Each one named the relatives they had lost. No one missed Julaibib. But the Prophet kept looking: “But I have lost Julaibib! Search for him in the battlefield.” When he found Julaibib, lying beside the seven mushrikeen he had downed, the Prophet said, “He is of me and I am of him.”
Have we lost anyone?
Where is Julaibib?
Originally published in the Spring 1992 issue of Reflections, and the Summer 1992 print edition of The American Muslim.