Stop Settling for Iramah’s Exchange

Reception of Venetian ambassadors in Damascus in the time of Qaitbay.

Iramah’s exchange is an incident in which Abu Talib was proposed the exchange of a Quraysh notables son, Iramah, for his nephew, the Prophet Muhammad. It’s the reflection topic for my third post of Rabi al-Awwal from Adil Salahi’s seerah, Muhammad: Man and Prophet. (The first post was a reflection on Torture, and the second post dealt with contextualizing the Taif incident.)

I can’t but wonder how often we face a similar exchange every day. But before I consider that, it might be good to give a bit more context into Iramah’s exchange.

The Most Absurd Offer In the World

After the torture and brutal murder of Summayah and Yassir, and the continued torture of their son Ammar, the Quraysh were under the impression that it was enough of a deterrence to any person in Mecca or arriving for to do trade or pilgrimage there, to not listen to the Prophet’s message.

However, that was not the case. The Quraysh leaders must have realized that their persecution of a few helpless people and reign of terror against the Prophet was not deterring anyone from accepting the new faith, the Quraysh attempted instead to negotiate a settlement with an offer. The most absurd offer in the world, ever.

Abu Talib, the Prophets uncle and the leader of the Meccans, was approached once more by all the anti-Muslim camp leaders. With them came one young man, Iramah ibn al-Walid. Salahi says the following:

“We have brought with us Iramah, the smartest and most vigorous young man in the Quraysh, to offer him to you as a son. He will benefit you, with his courage and sound mind. In exchange, you give us your nephew who has rebelled against the religion you and your forefathers have followed, and has sown the seeds of discord among your people and ridiculed their practices. We would take him and kill him while you would take a man for a man.

Again, Abu Talib had taken on the responsibility of looking out for the welfare of and raising the Prophet after his Grandfather, Abu Talib’s father, passed away.

Abu Talib replied: “What a raw deal you are offering me! You want to give me your son to feed while I give you my son to kill! This will never be.” 

To which the party argued that Abu Talib was being unreasonable given all that had transpired, and with the patience the Quraysh had carried themselves so far.

Abu Talib rejoined: “They certainly have not been fair to me. I see that you have joined them in letting me down.”

This should sound incredibly preposterous to us today. What a silly and absurd proposition to have brought to negotiate terms with. But here Salahi provides some more analysis:

If the proposal the Quraysh put to Abu Talib sounds preposterous today, the Quraysh delegation saw in it an honest attempt to achieve a solution to the satisfaction of all concerned. In the society of Arabia, where tribal ties transcended all other ties and where a man’s position was determined by the number of children he had and the support he could muster, Abut Talib would not be sacrificing much if he exchanged his nephew for an able and intelligent young man. It is noteworthy that the proposal was described as fair by a man like al-Mut’im, who would show over the years a friendly and compassionate attitude towards the Prophet and the Muslims in general. Furthermore, he was a distant relative of Abu Talib. And Manaf was the great-grandfather of both men; hence he was expected to look at the affair from a standpoint closer to that of Abu Talib [since they were more closely related]. Indeed, Abu Talib’s remark about al-Mut’im’s letting him down acquires a stronger sense when it is considered in this light.

We also have to remember how absurdly disconnected we are from the essence of tribal society, norms were much different then what we have today, just read the post about Taif.

Our Daily Iramah Exchange

They wanted the man who had a controlling/protecting interest in the Prophet’s wellbeing to trade him for some one else. There isn’t much about Iramah ibn al-Walid or this proposal. In fact, this is the first time I ran across this incident in a Seerah, which is one reason why Adil Salahi’s Muhammad: Man and Prophet stands out as a good English language Seerah.

In a way we spend moments of our life faced with the same exchange- what I would refer to as the Iramah exchange. We put ourselves into Abu Talibs shoes of having the honor of peotecting and safegaurding the message of the Prophet, or of exchanging it for worldly norms. We have the choice to do what is expected or to choose to do what society considers is the thing to do. We often see the expected religious obligation as being difficult and hard, and the societal choice as the being the easy choice.

Yet its a raw deal, just like the Uncle of the Prophet saw through the deal that was being offered to him. We should recognize it for what it is.


3 thoughts on “Stop Settling for Iramah’s Exchange

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