The sı-ra accounts of al-T.abarı-and Ibn Kathı-r portray the story of H. a-t.ib’s letter as ultimately one of divine will versus prophetic will, but their tafsı-r accounts provide for a wider array of possibilities. Both authors incorporate reports that indicate only the ﬁrst verse of Su-rat al-Mumtah. ina was revealed in relation to this incident, but they also include reports that connect H. a-t.ib’s letter to the revelation of the ﬁrst three, four, and seven verses, and one report that makes no Qurʾa-nic connection at all. The verses tied to this story are important, as the addition or subtraction of particular verses changes the meaning of the Qurʾa-nic message regarding relations between believers and unbelievers, and whether it is H. a-t.ib or Muh. ammad who is being chastised. Important, too, is the fact that many of the reports related by al-T.abarı-and Ibn Kathı-r in their tafsı-r works indicate that the revelation of the ﬁrst few verses of Qurʾa-n 60 was not originally part of H. a-t.ib’s story, but that later transmitters added them onto their reports. This provides excellent support for Rubin’s argument that “not everything that looks … like exegesis is indeed exegesis.”1 While H. a-t.ib himself was still likely a literary invention, his story was not originally intended as an exegetical device.2 In addition to the number of verses associatedwith this account and the lackof certainty regarding its Qurʾa-nic connection, a third variable – the timing of the event – is brought into question by a report from al-T.abarı-that connects H. a-t.ib’s letter, not to Muh.ammad’s planned attack on Mecca, but to an earlier incident at al-H. udaybiya. While this single report would initially seem to be of little signiﬁcance, an examination of the remaining reports in both al-T.abarı-and Ibn Kathı-r’s treatment of these verses reveals that only a few of them speciﬁcally connect this incident to the attack on Mecca, while the rest either neglect to say exactly what H. a-t.ib was warning the Meccans about or fail to specify which expedition Muh. ammad was planning. Thus, despite the fact that both al-T.abarı-and Ibn Kathı-r, in their sı-ra works, place this event squarely within their sections on Muh.ammad’s conquest of Mecca, their sources do not necessarily support this connection. The issues raised by these variables also bring into question the supernatural warning Muh.ammad receives about the letter. If the Qurʾa-n verses can be extended to those that change the meaning of the Abrahamic story to one of forgiveness, then God’s warning is supported rather than contradicted by His
revelation, and Muh.ammad’s actions receive divine approval rather than divine reprobation. If the Qurʾa-n revelation itself was not originally part of this story, then the supernatural warning – and Muh.ammad’s forgiveness – is permitted to stand on its own. And, ﬁnally, if the warning from heaven came shortly before the ﬁnal attack on Mecca, then God’s knowledge was proﬁtable to Muh.ammad, as it helped to ensure the success of his mission, but if the warning came at the time of al-H. udaybiya, then God’s knowledge was not enough to keep the Meccans from discovering Muh. ammad’s plans and forestalling him in his quest, disappointing those who were expecting a divinely-guided conquest of that city. In this version of the story, even divine intervention could not keep God’s prophet from failing, and so the story of al-H. udaybiya had to be changed to one of attempted pilgrimage instead of conquest and the story of H. a-t.ib’s letter – and the divine warning about it – had to be moved to the more successful conquest of Mecca.