Prophet Muhammad’s The Military Dimension
Islam is the religion chosen by God for humanity’s individual and collective welfare in this world and the next. It is based on belief in and worship of God, and does not countenance associating any partners with Him, whether in the form of something created, a person, or a concept. True belief and worship requires a deep concern for all animate and inanimate things. The deeper their belief in and submission to God is, the deeper is their concern for all creatures. Belief in God’s Unity prevents humanity from enjoying and exercising absolute freedom in dealing with creatures.
Islam is derived from the Arabic root s-l-m, which means salvation, peace, and submission. In its religious context, it is the expression of God’s Grace flowing in the universe’s arteries, the Divine system to which all creatures (except humanity) have submitted willingly. The universe displays perfect order, for everything therein is muslim, in the sense that it submits to God’s laws. Even people who reject belief in God or worship that which is not God are muslims, as far as their bodily existence is concerned. While we journey between being an embryo and a corpse, every bodily tissue and every limb follows the course prescribed for them by God’s law.
The fundamental Islamic principle of Divine Unity implies that humanity necessarily must be in harmony with the surrounding world. The vast muslim universe displays a coherence and harmony of which our world is a part. Although our world is subject to laws special to itself and to the general “laws of nature,” it is also in harmony with other laws governing surrounding phenomena. Human beings, unlike other creatures who tread “the path of nature,” have free will. We bear the gift of freedom and the obligation to harmonize our life with nature. This harmony is also the path of our exaltation and progress, the path upon which God created human nature:
Set your face to the religion, a man of pure faith—God’s original nature in which He originated humanity. There is no changing God’s creation. That is the right religion, but most of humanity know it not. (30:30)
To harmonize our lives with nature, we first should realize our personal integrity. To do this, we must apply our free will to our energies (e.g., desires, thoughts, and actions) to keep them within the limits established by God. If we do not recognize such limits, we might usurp another’s property, seek illicit sexual relations, and indulge in other sins. If we do not recognize such limits with respect to our intellect, we may use it to deceive others. Our powers must be held in check, our intellect used with wisdom, and our desire and anger restrained by lawful behavior and moderation. In addition, we should remember that we are social beings; if we do not restrain ourselves as God demands, wrongdoing, injustice, exploitation, disorder, and revolution will occur in society.
God does not approve of wrongdoing and disorder. Rather, it is His Will that we live in peace and justice. Therefore, those who believe in God and worship Him faithfully are obliged to work for justice in this world. Islam calls this responsibility jihad.
Jihad has the literal meaning of exerting our best and greatest effort to achieve something. It is not the equivalent of war, for which the Arabic word is qital. Jihad has a much wider connotation and embraces every kind of striving in God’s cause. A mujahid is one who is sincerely devoted to his or her cause; who uses all physical, intellectual, and spiritual resources to serve it; who confront any power that stands in its way; and, when necessary, dies for this cause. Jihad in the way of God is our struggle to win God’s good pleasure, to establish His religion’s supremacy, and to make His Word prevail.
A related principle, that of enjoining good and forbidding evil (amr bi al-ma‘ruf wa nahy ‘an al-munkar) seeks to convey the message of Islam and establish a model Islamic community. The Qur’an introduces the Islamic community as a model community required to inform humanity of Islam and of how the Prophet lived it:
Thus We have made you a community justly balanced, that you might be witnesses for all humanity, and the Messenger may be a witness for you (2:143).
The Greater and Lesser Jihad
There are two aspects of jihad. One is fighting to overcome carnal desires and evil inclinations—the greater jihad. The other is encouraging others to achieve the same objective—the lesser jihad.
The Muslim army was returning to Madina after they had defeated the enemy, when the Messenger of God said to them: “We are returning from the lesser jihad to the greater one.” When the Companions asked what the greater jihad was, he explained that it was fighting with the carnal self.1
The aim of either jihad is that the believer be purified of sins and so attain true humanity. The prophets were sent for this purpose. God says in the Qur’an:
Thus We have sent unto you a Messenger from among you, who recites unto you Our revelations (and makes Our signs known to you), and who purifies you and instructs you in the Book and in the Wisdom, and also instructs you in what you don’t know. (2:151)
Human beings are in some sense like raw minerals to be worked upon by Prophets, who purify and refine them by removing the seal from their hearts and ears, by lifting the veils from their eyes. Enlightened by the Prophets’ message, people can understand the meaning of the laws of nature, which are signs of God’s Existence and Unity, and can penetrate into the subtle reality behind things and events. Only through the guidance of Prophets can we attain the high status expected of us by God.
In addition to teaching the signs, Prophets also instructed their people in the Book and in Wisdom. As the Qur’an was the last Revelation to the Last Prophet, the Book, in the verse, refers to the Qur’an, and what is meant by the Wisdom are the ways of understanding and practicing the Book, thus the Sunna. We must therefore follow the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunna if we desire to be rightly guided.
The Prophet also teaches us what we do not know, and so humanity will continue to learn from the Prophet until the Day of Judgment. We learn from him how to purify ourselves of sin. By following his way, many great saints have attained their distinctions as saints. Among them, ‘Ali says that his belief in the pillars of Islam is so firm that even if the veil of the Unseen were lifted, his certainty would not increase.2 ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani is said to have had insight into the mysteries of the seventh heaven. These and many others, such as Fudayl bin ‘Iyaz, Ibrahim bin Adham, and Bishr al-Khafi might well have been endowed with Prophethood, if God had not already set a seal on Prophethood.
The dark clouds of ignorance have been removed from our intellectual horizon through the guidance of Prophet Muhammad, and many more advances will be made in science and technology as a result of the light he brought from God.
Jihad is the legacy of the Prophets, and Prophethood is the mission of elevating men to God’s favor by purifying them. Jihad is the name given to this prophetic mission, which has the same meaning as bearing witness to the truth. Just as judges listen to witnesses to settle a case, so those who have performed jihad have borne witness to God’s Existence and Unity of God by striving in His way. The Qur’an says:
God bears witness that there is no god but He and so do the angels and the people of learning, maintaining justice. There is no god save He, the All-Mighty, the Wise (3:18).
Those who have performed jihad will also bear witness to the same truth in the heavenly court, where the case of unbelievers will be settled.
Those who bear witness to God’s Existence and Unity convey this truth to the remotest parts of the world. This was the duty of the Prophets as stated in the Qur’an, and it should be our duty as well:
. . . Messengers who brought good news to humanity and who admonished them, so that they might have no argument against God after their coming. God is the All-Mighty and the All-Wise. God Himself bears witness by what He has revealed to you that it has been revealed with His knowledge; and so do the angels. There is no better witness than God. (4:165-66)
God has sent a Prophet to every people, so that every people can have an idea of Prophethood. As the term used to describe the activity of Prophethood, jihad is deeply engraved on the heart of every believer so that he or she feels a profound responsibility for preaching the truth in order to guide others to the Straight Path.
The lesser jihad, usually taken to mean fighting in God’s cause, does not refer only to military struggle. The term is comprehensive, for it includes every action done for God’s sake. Whether speaking or keeping silent, smiling or making a sour face, joining or leaving a meeting, every action taken to ameliorate the lot of humanity, whether by individuals or communities, is included in its meaning.
While the lesser jihad depends on mobilizing all material facilities and is performed in the outer world, the greater jihad means a person’s fighting against his or her carnal soul. These two forms of jihad cannot be separated from each other.
The Messenger of God has taught us how to perform both forms of the jihad. He has established the principles of preaching the truth, which have application until the Day of Judgment. When we scrutinize the way he acted, we shall see that he was very systematic. This is actually another proof of his Prophethood and a wonderful example of following the way of God in behavior.
The believers have kept their belief vigorous and active by means of jihad. Just as a tree keeps its leaves as long as it yields fruits, so believers can preserve their vigor as long as they perform jihad. Whenever you encounter a hopeless pessimist, you soon realize that he or she is one who has abandoned jihad. Such people have been deprived of the spirit, and are sunk in pessimism because they have abandoned preaching the truth. Whoever performs jihad unceasingly does not lose his or her enthusiasm and always tries to increase the scope of his or her activities. Every good deed results in a new one, so that believers never become deprived of a good:
As for those who strive for us We surely guide them to our path. God is with the good (29:69).
There are as many paths leading to the Straight Path as the number of breaths drawn in creation. Whoever strives for His cause is guided, by God, to one of these paths and is save from going astray. Whoever is guided to His Straight Path by God lives a balanced life. They neither exceed the limits in their human needs and activities or in their worship and other religious observances. Such balance is the sign of true guidance.
All sacrifices made in fighting oppressive unbelievers, no matter how great, only constitute the lesser jihad of striving to discharge religious obligations as perfectly as possible. The greater jihad is much harder to accomplish, since it requires us to fight against our own destructive drives and impulses, such as arrogance, vindictiveness, jealousy, selfishness, self-conceit, and the carnal desires.
Although the person who abandons the lesser jihad is liable to spiritual deterioration, he or she may recover. Everything in the universe praises and glorifies God with each breath and is, accordingly, a sign of God’s Existence and Unity. A person may be guided to the Straight Path through one of these signs. For this reason, it is said that there are as many paths leading to the Straight Path of God as the breaths of all His creatures. A person returning from the lesser jihad is vulnerable to worldly weaknesses. Pride, love of comfort and ease may captivate that person. Thus the Prophet warned us through his Companions by saying, while returning to Madina after a victory:
“We are returning from the lesser jihad to the greater.”
The Companions were fearless on the battlefields, and as sincere and humble as dervishes in worshipping God. Those victorious warriors used to spend most of their nights praying to God. Once, when night fell during battle, two of them took turns in standing guard. One rested while the other prayed. Having become aware of the situation, the enemy shot a shower of arrows at him.
He was hit and bled profusely, but did not abandon his prayer. When he finished his devotions, he woke his friend, who asked him in amazement why he had not done so sooner. He replied: “I was reciting Surat al-Kahf, and I did not wish the deep pleasure I found in this prayer to be interrupted.”3
The Companions went into a trance-like state of ecstasy when in prayer, and would recite the Qur’an as if it were being revealed directly to them. Thus, they did not feel the pain caused by arrows which penetrated their bodies. Jihad, in its lesser and greater aspects, found complete expression in them.
The Prophet combined these two aspects of jihad in the most perfect way in his own person. He displayed monumental courage on the battlefields. ‘Ali, one of the most courageous figures of Islam, confesses that the Companions took shelter behind the Prophet at the most critical moments of fighting.
Jihad’s Stages and Main Principles
The first Revelation to the Messenger was the command: Read! This command, coming at a time when there was nothing readily available to read, meant that believers should use their intellectual and spiritual faculties to discern God’s acts in the universe and His laws related to its creation and operation. Through such discernment, believers seek to purify themselves and their minds of all ignorance-based superstitions and to acquire true knowledge through observation and contemplation.
We are not composed only of our minds. God has endowed us with many faculties, each of which needs satisfaction. So while feeding our minds with the Divine signs in the universe, we seek to cleanse our hearts of sin. We live a balanced life in awareness of Divine supervision, and continuously seek His forgiveness. In this way, we eventually conquer our desire for forbidden things and, through prayer, ask God to enable us to do good deeds.
Thus Read! signifies action. For the Messenger, who already was absolutely pure in spirit and devoid of superstition, it meant that it was time to start his mission as a Messenger of God. He was to recite the Revelation in public and instruct people about His signs. By doing this, he would purify their minds of superstitions carried over from the Age of Ignorance, and their hearts of sin. He would enlighten them, intellectually and spiritually, by instructing them in the Revealed Book of God (the Qur’an) and His Created Book (the universe):
We have sent among you, of yourselves, a Messenger who recites Our signs to you, purifies you, and instructs you in the Book and in the Wisdom, and also instructs you in what you don’t know. (2:151)
After he received this first revelation, the Messenger returned home in great agitation. He was sleeping wrapped in a cloak, enwrapped by his people’s suffering and this heavy responsibility, when God commanded him:
O enwrapped one, keep vigil the night long, save a little (a half of it, or diminish or add a little), and recite the Qur’an in measure, for We shall charge you with a weighty word. (73:1-5)
The short period between the first revelation and the spreading of Islam, marked by such verses as those mentioned above, was a preliminary stage for the Messenger. He had to prepare himself to convey the Qur’an by keeping long night vigils and reciting the Qur’an in measure.4
In addition to conveying the Message, jihad, as discussed above, entails the believers’ struggles with their carnal selves to build a genuine spiritual character, one overflowing with belief and inflamed with love. These two dimensions of jihad continue until the believer dies (the individual sphere) and until the Last Day (the collective sphere). Therefore, soon after this verse was revealed, the Messenger received the following revelation:
O enshrouded one, arise and warn! Magnify your Lord, purify your robes, and flee defilement! Do not show favor, seeking worldly gain! For the sake of your Lord, be patient! (74:1-7)
These revelations ordered the Prophet to begin preaching Islam. He started with his family members and nearest relatives and, after Warn your tribe of nearest kindred (26:214) was revealed, spread this call throughout his tribe. His subsequent public preaching was met with derision, threats, torture, enticing bribes if he would stop, and boycott.
In Makka, the Messenger never resorted to or allowed retaliation. Islam came not to spread trouble or cause dissention, but, in the words of Amir ibn Rabi‘, to bring people out of the darkness of unbelief into the light of belief, to free them from serving that which is not God so that they can serve the One True God, and to elevate them from the pits of the Earth to the heights of Heaven.5
As Islam literally means “peace, salvation, and submission,” it obviously came to establish peace. This is established first in our inner worlds, so that we are at peace with God and natural environment, and then throughout the world and the universe. Peace and order are fundamental in Islam, which seeks to spread in a peaceful personal and collective atmosphere. It refrains from resorting to force as much as possible, never approves of injustice, and forbids bloodshed:
Whoever kills someone, other than in retaliation for murder or corruption on the Earth, in effect has killed humanity; whoever saves a life in effect has saved humanity. (5:32)
Coming to eradicate injustice and corruption, and to “unite” the Earth with the Heavens in peace and harmony, Islam calls people with wisdom and fair exhortation. It does not resort to force until the defenders of their corrupt order, which is rooted in injustice, oppression, self-interest, exploitation, and usurpation of others’ rights, seek to prevent its preaching in peaceful ways and to suppress it. Thus, force is allowed in the following cases:
• If unbelievers, polytheists, or those who cause trouble and corruption actively resist the preaching of Islam and prevent others from listening to its message. As Islam is a Divine religion seeking to secure human well-being and happiness in both worlds, it has the right to present itself. If this is not allowed, theoretically, its opponents are given three alternatives: accept Islam, allow its preaching in peaceful ways, or admit its rule. If they reject these alternatives, force is allowed. However, there is an important point to mention. In order to use force, there must be an Islamic state. It was allowed only after the Prophet emigrated to Madina and established an independent state, for the Muslims had been wronged. The verses revealed to give this permission explain the Islamic view of just war:
(Fighting is) permitted to those who are fought against, because they have been wronged. God is able to give them victory. Those who have been driven from their homes unjustly only because they said: “Our Lord is God.” For had it not been for God’s repelling some people by means of others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the Name of God is much mentioned, would have been pulled down. God helps one who helps Him [His religion]. God is All-Strong, All-Mighty. Those who, if We give them power in the land, establish worship and pay zakat and enjoin the good and forbid the evil. And God’s is the sequel of events. (22:39-41)
It is clear from these verses and from history that Islam resorts to force only to defend itself and establish freedom of belief. Under Muslim rule, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Hindus, and adherents of other religions are free to practice their religion. Even many Western historians and writers have agreed that Christians and Jews experienced the most prosperous and happiest period of their history under Muslim rule.
• Islam, being the true religion revealed by God, never approves of injustice. As declared in:
We have written (decreed) in the Psalms after the Torah (and remind once more in the Qur’an) that My righteous servants will inherit the Earth (21:105),
God’s righteous servants must submit the Earth to His rule, which depends on absolute justice and worship of the One God. They also are obliged to strive until persecution, as well as any worship of and obedience to false deities and unjust tyrants, is ended. Thus Muslims are to fight for the feeble and oppressed:
How should you not fight for the cause of God and of the feeble and oppressed men and women and children, who cry: “Our Lord! Bring us out of this town whose people are oppressors! Give us from Your presence some protecting friend! Give us from Your presence some defender!” (4:75)
As believers cannot transgress God’s limits, they must observe His rules related to fighting. Some are deduced direct from the Qur’an and Sunna, and are as follows:
· A believer is one from whom God has bought his or her life and wealth in exchange for Paradise (9:111). They are dedicated solely to His cause and seek only His good pleasure. Therefore, whoever fights for other causes (e.g., fame, wealth, racial or ideological considerations) is excluded from God’s good pleasure.
· Fight in the way of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress. God does not love transgressors (2:190). Believers are told not to fight neutral parties, and to reject unscrupulous methods or indiscriminate killing and pillage, which characterize all wars waged by non-Muslims. The excesses alluded to consist of, but are not limited to, fighting women and children, the old and the injured, mutilating enemy corpses, destroying fields and livestock, and other acts of injustice and brutality. Force is to be used only when unavoidable, and only to the extent absolutely necessary.
· When fighting cannot be avoided, the Qur’an tells believers not to avoid it. Rather, they must prepare themselves, both morally and spiritually, and take precautions. These are:
– Strive for that spiritual stage when 20 Muslims can overcome 200 of the enemy:
O Prophet! Exhort the believers to fight. Twenty steadfast men shall overcome 200; 100 hundred steadfast men shall overcome 1,000 unbelievers, because unbelievers have no understanding or sound judgment. (8:65)
When those who will meet their Lord exclaim: How often a small company has overcome a mighty host by God’s leave! God is with the steadfast. (2:249)
To attain such a rank, Muslims must have an unshakable belief and trust in God and avoid all sins as much as possible. Belief and piety or righteousness are two unbreakable weapons, two sources of inexhaustible power: Don’t faint or grieve, for you shall gain the upper hand if you are true believers (3:139), and The sequel is for the righteous people (7:128).
– In addition to moral strength, believers must equip themselves with the latest weaponry. Force is vital to obtaining the desired result, so believers cannot ignore it. Rather, they must be further advanced in science and technology than unbelievers so that the latter cannot use their superiority for their own selfish benefit. As Islam states that “right is might,” believers must be able to prevent unbelievers and oppressors from showing that “might makes right”:
Make ready for them all you can of armed force and tethered horses, that thereby you may dismay the enemy of God and your enemy, and others beside them whom you don’t know; God knows them. Whatever you spend in the way of God will be repaid to you in full, and you will not be wronged. (8:60)
An Islamic state should be powerful enough to deter the attacks of unbelievers and oppressors, as well as their plans to subject weaker people. It should be able to secure peace and justice, and to prevent any other power from causing trouble or corruption. This will be possible when Muslims equip themselves with strong belief and righteousness, and with scientific knowledge and the latest technology. They must combine science and technology with faith and good morals, and then use this force for the good of humanity.
Belief in God calls for serving people. Greater belief means a greater concern for the created’s welfare. When Muslims attain this rank, God will not allow unbelievers to defeat believers (4:141). Otherwise, what the Prophet predicted will happen: “(The forces of unbelief) will unite to make a concerted attack upon you. They will snatch the morsel out of your mouths and pillage your table.”6
– When fighting is necessary, Muslims must report for duty, for:
O you who believe! What ails you that when you are told: “Go forth in the way of God,” you sink down heavily to the ground? Are you so content with the life of the world, rather than the world to come? Yet the enjoyment of the life of the world, compared with the world to come, is a little thing. If you don’t go forth, He will afflict you with a painful doom. He will replace you with another people; and you will not hurt Him. God is powerful over everything. (9:38-39)
God loves those who battle for His cause in ranks, as if they were a solid structure. (61:4)
O you who believe! Shall I show you something that will save you from a painful doom? You should believe in God and His Messenger, and strive for the cause of God with your wealth and your lives. That is better for you, if you only knew. He will forgive your sins and admit you into Gardens underneath which rivers flow, and to dwelling places goodly in Gardens of Eden. That is the mighty triumph; and other things you love, help from God, and a nigh victory. Give good tidings to believers. (61:10-13)
– A community is structured and functions like a body, for it demands a “head” having “intellect.” Therefore, obedience to the head is vital for communal prosperity. When the Messenger was raised in Arabia, people resembled a broken rosary’s scattered beads and were unaware of the need for obedience and the benefits of collective life. The Messenger inculcated in them the feeling of obedience to God, His Messenger, and their superiors, and used Islam as an unbreakable rope to unite them:
O you who believe! Obey God, the Messenger, and those of you who are in authority. If you have a dispute concerning anything, refer it to God and the Messenger if you believe in God and the Last Day. That is better and more seemly in the end. (4:59)
O you who believe! When you meet an army, hold firm and remember and mention God much, so that you may be successful. Obey God and His Messenger, and don’t dispute with each other lest you falter and your strength departs. Be steadfast, and God is with the steadfast. (8:45-46)
The Companions’ consciousness of obedience made many previously impossible things possible. For example, when he appointed the 18-year-old son of his emancipated (black) slave as commander of an army containing many elders, among them Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman, no Companion objected.7 In another case, during a military expedition the commander ordered his soldiers to throw themselves into a fire. Even though this was not an Islamic order, some tried to obey it. However, others prevented them from committing suicide and persuaded them to ask the Messenger whether they had to obey such un-Islamic orders.8 Although it is unlawful to obey sinful orders, obedience to law is vitally important to a community’s collective life, particularly if it wants to win a war.
– Believers must remain steadfast and are forbidden to flee the battlefield:
O you who believe! When you meet unbelievers in battle, don’t turn your backs to them. Whoever does so on that day, unless maneuvering for battle or intending to join a company, has incurred God’s wrath, and his habitation will be Hell—an evil homecoming! (8:15-16)
Fleeing the battlefield is one of the seven major sins, for it causes disorder in the ranks and demoralizes the others. Their belief in God and the Hereafter cannot be firm, for their actions show they prefer this life to the Hereafter. Believers may leave the battlefield only to maneuver, as a tactic, or to join another company. In the Battle of Yarmuk (636), 24,000 valiant Muslims fought and defeated 200,000 Byzantines.9 Qabbas ibn Ashyam, one of the heroes, realized that he had lost a leg (around noon) only when he dismounted from his horse hours later. His grandson later introduced himself to Caliph ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, saying: “O Caliph, I am the grandson of the one who lost his leg at noon but became aware of it only toward evening.” During the Battle of Mu’ta (629), the Muslim army consisted of 3,000 soldiers; the opposing Byzantine forces had about 100,000 soldiers. The Muslims fought heroically, and both armies retreated at the same time. Despite this, the Muslims thought that they had fled the battlefield and so were ashamed to meet the Messenger. However, he welcomed and consoled them: “You did not flee; you retreated to join me. You will collect strength and fight with them again.”10 It happened just as he said, for just before his death the Muslim army raided southern Syria; a few years later, the Muslims dealt the Byzantines a deadly blow at Yarmuk.
With the arrival of the Messenger in Madina, the struggle between Islam and unbelief entered a new phase. In Makka the Prophet had devoted himself almost exclusively to expounding Islam’s basic principles and to his Companions’ moral and spiritual training. After the Emigration (622), however, new Muslims belonging to different tribes and regions began to gather in Madina. Although the Muslims held only a tiny piece of land, the Quraysh allied itself with as many tribes as possible to exterminate them.
In these circumstances, the small Muslim community’s success, not to mention its very survival, depended upon several factors. In order of importance, they were to:
· Convey Islam efficiently and effectively to other people.
· Demonstrate the unbelievers’ falsehoods so convincingly that nobody could doubt Islam’s truth.
· Face exile, pervasive hostility and opposition, economic hardship, hunger, insecurity, and danger with patience and fortitude.
· Regain their wealth and goods usurped by the Makkans after they emigrated.
· Resist, with courage and weapons, any assault launched to frustrate their movement. While resisting, they should ignore the enemy’s numerical or material superiority.
In addition to threats from Makka and its allies, the young community had to contend with Madina’s three Jewish tribes, which controlled its economic life. Although they had been waiting for a Prophet, they opposed the Messenger because he was not Jewish. One of the first things the Messenger did in Madina was to sign a pact with the Jews.11 Despite this, the Jews continued to harbor considerable ill-will toward the Messenger and plot against him and Islam. For example, the skilled Jewish poet Ka‘b ibn Ashraf composed poems satirizing the Messenger and instigating his enemies.
In Madina, another hostile element began to emerge: hypocrisy. The hypocrites can be divided into four broad groups, as follows:
· Those who had no faith in Islam but entered the Muslim community to cause trouble within its ranks.
· Those who understood political realities and so sought some advantage by seeming like a Muslim. However, they maintained contacts with anti-Islamic forces in the hope that they could benefit from contacts with both sides and thus not be harmed.
· Those who had not made up their minds yet, but seemed to have converted because those around them were doing so.
· Those who accepted Islam as the true religion but found it difficult to abandon their inherited way of life, superstitions, and customs, as well as to exercise the self-discipline required by Islam.
In such severe circumstances, God’s Messenger decided to dispatch military expeditions into the desert’s heart. He had several goals in mind, some of which were as follows:
· Unbelievers tried to extinguish the Light of God with their mouth, but, although they were averse, God willed to perfect His Light (61:8). The Messenger wanted to prove that unbelievers could not exterminate Islam, and to show that Islam could not be ignored.
· Makka enjoyed a central position in Arabia. As the peninsula’s most formidable power, all other tribes felt some sort of adherence to it. By sending military expeditions to neighboring areas, the Messenger wanted to display Islam’s power and break the Quraysh’s dominance. Throughout history, the concept of “might is right” has usually been a norm, for “right” is often too weak to rule. In Arabia, the Quraysh had might and wealth, and so neighboring tribes obeyed them. Islam came to make right prevail, and so the Messenger had to break Makka’s grip.
· His Mission was not restricted to a fixed period or nation, for he was sent as a mercy for all the worlds. Thus he was charged with conveying Islam as far as possible. To succeed, he had to know what was going on in the peninsula. These expeditions served as vanguards providing him with the information he needed to pave the way for the preaching of Islam.
· One of the most effective ways to crush your enemies is to drive them to unpremeditated, premature actions, for this allows you to retain the initiative. The Messenger surely was informed of the Quraysh’s contacts with ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy ibn Salul, leader of Madina’s hypocrites. He was also alert to their possible attacks on Madina. After a Qurayshi military force entered Madina’s suburbs and then returned to Makka with its plunder, the Messenger dispatched military expeditions to encourage the Quraysh to act before thinking. He then could thwart their plots.
· The Quraysh lived on trade with the international markets in Syria and Yemen, and so had to secure their trade routes. But now that the Muslims were in Madina, these routes could be threatened. While strengthening his position, the Prophet was also dispatching military expeditions to paralyze the Quraysh’s hopes and plans of defeating him.
· Islam’s commandments seek to guarantee security of life and property, chastity and belief, as well as physical, mental, and spiritual health. Given this, murder and theft, robbery and plundering, usurpation and interest (or usury), gambling, alcohol, illicit sexual relations, anarchy, and the propagation of atheism are forbidden.
· The Arabic word for belief, iman, means giving security. Thus a mu’min (believer) never cheats, and all are safe from a believer’s tongue and hand. Believers do not lie, break their promise, or betray a trust. They do not earn their livelihood through stealing, usurpation, and interest-based transactions. In addition, they seek to harm no one, for they are convinced that those who kill even one person are like those who kill humanity.
· When he was raised as a Messenger , Arabia had no security of life or property, chastity, health, or belief. One of his tasks, therefore, was to establish absolute security in every aspect of life. Once he said to Adiy ibn Khatam: “A day will come when a woman will travel, riding in a litter, from Hira to Makka and fear nothing except God and wolves.”12 By dispatching military expeditions, the Messenger sought to establish security therein and show everyone that only Islam would bring them security.
The first post-Emigration military expedition, led by Hamza, was sent toward Sif al-Bahr. It arrived just as a Qurayshi trade caravan was returning from Damascus. The Quraysh had usurped all the Emigrants’ possessions and traded them in Damascus. The Messenger used this situation to display Muslim power and directly threaten Quraysh’s economic well-being. No clash took place in this first confrontation, but the desert tribes witnessing the incident were inclined to acknowledge another source of power in the peninsula.
This expedition was followed by another one commanded by ‘Ubayda ibn Harith. With the same purpose in mind, ‘Ubayda went as far as Rabigh, a valley on the way to Makka. The 60 Muslim cavalrymen encountered a Qurayshi force of 200 armed men. An exchange of arrows took place and, fearing defeat, the Makkan force eventually withdrew toward Makka.13
Military expeditions, some led by the Messenger, now followed one another. In two of the expeditions he commanded, the Messenger went to Abwa and Buwat, respectively, with the intention of threatening Qurayshi trade caravans and intimidating the Quraysh.14 In Abwa, he concluded a treaty with the Banu Damra tribe: neither side would fight the other, and Banu Damra would not aid the Muslims’ enemies.
Shortly before the Battle of Badr (624), the Messenger sent an expedition of about 10 people, commanded by ‘Abd Allah ibn Jahsh, to Nakhla, located a few miles from Makka on the way to Ta’if. He told them to follow the Quraysh’s movements and gather information about their plans. While they were in Nakhla, a Qurayshi trade caravan coming from Ta’if halted there. Something happened unexpectedly, and the Muslims killed one Makkan and captured the rest (except one) and their belongings. These were taken to Madina.
This event occurred toward the end of Rajab and the beginning of Sha‘ban. Therefore, it was uncertain whether the sanctity of Rajab, one of the four holy months, had been violated. The Quraysh, those Jews secretly allied with them, and the hypocrites made full use of this possible violation in their anti-Muslim propaganda campaign. They claimed that the Muslims shed blood in a sacred month, a time when doing so is prohibited.
Since the incident had taken place without his approval, God’s Messenger explained to its participants that he had not ordered them to fight. Other Muslims also reproached them. However, a Revelation consoled them on account of their pure intention with hope for God’s mercy:
They question you concerning the holy month, and fighting in it. Say: “Fighting in it is a heinous thing, but to bar from God’s way, and unbelief in Him, denying entry into the Holy Mosque, expelling its people from it are more heinous in God’s sight. Persecution is more heinous than killing.” They will not cease to fight with you till they turn you from your religion, if they are able; and whoever of you turns from their religion and dies unbelieving—their works have failed in this world and the next. Those are the inhabitants of the Fire; therein they shall dwell forever. But the believers, and those who emigrate and struggle in God’s way—those have hope of God’s Mercy. God is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate. (2:217-18)15
The verses answered the objections of the anti-Muslim forces. In short, fighting during the holy months is an evil act. However, those who had subjected the believers to continual and indescribable persecution for 13 years merely because they believed in One God had no right or justification to raise such an objection. Not only had they driven the Muslims from their homes, they had placed the Holy Mosque beyond their reach, a punishment unknown in the Ka‘ba’s approximately 2,000-year known history. With such a record, who were they to raise such an outcry over a small incident, especially one that had taken place without the Prophet’s approval?
A General Evaluation
About 20 military expeditions preceded the Battle of Badr. Through these activities, the Messenger seized control of the desert and paralyzed Makka’s morale. In addition, most of the desert tribes began to acknowledge Islam’s power and came to some agreement with the Muslims. Only one expedition resulted in the Muslims actually killing or wounding enemy soldiers. To prove that Islam guaranteed security, they neither plundered caravans nor usurped the bedouins’ property.
The Messenger formed an intelligence network to inform him of everything happening in the desert and in Makka. This system was so sophisticated that probably most of his Companions in Madina did not know, for example, that his uncle ‘Abbas was left in Makka as an intelligence agent. When the Messenger set out on a military campaign, no one knew his real intention and destination16 He used couriers to communicate with his soldiers fighting at the front, and news reached him through a series of relay stations. With this system, his information was always up-to-date.
Only Emigrants participated in these expeditions. First of all, the Quraysh were at war with the Emigrants and did not want them to be sheltered in Madina. Besides, it was the Emigrants who had been forced out and made to leave all their possessions behind. As the Helpers had sworn allegiance to the Messenger, they were expected to realize on their own that they should also fight in the way of God.
The military genius of the Messenger showed itself in his choice of military commanders. His uncle Hamza led the first military expedition. Besides his courage and strength, Hamza had sound judgment, good opinions, and a high administrative ability. Until his community adopted his ideas and opinions, the Messenger chose to train them through his relatives. Since his mission’s military dimension was displayed for the first time in Madina, the Messenger put his own relatives on the front line until everyone became used to this. It should be noted, however, that these commanders were capable and eminent generals who were highly qualified for the post. In addition, they were wholly devoted to Islam.
Hamza was martyred at Uhud while fearlessly fighting. ‘Ubayda ibn Harith, the Prophet’s cousin, eventually died from wounds he received at Badr. Before he died, he asked the Messenger: “O Messenger, I did not die fighting at the front. Am I considered a martyr?”17
The expedition sent to Nakhla was commanded by ‘Abd Allah ibn Jahsh, the son of the Prophet’s paternal aunt. In the second stage of the Battle of Uhud, he fought heroically. He came across Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas and told him:
“Come on and pray, and I’ll say amen for your prayer. Then I’ll pray and you say amen for mine.” Sa‘d prayed: “O God, make me encounter one of the strongest enemy soldiers, and let me defeat him.” Ibn Jahsh said amen and then prayed: “O God, let me encounter one of the strongest enemy soldiers. After I wound him severely, let him kill me, and cut off my ears and nose and lips so that I shall come to Your Presence bleeding profusely. You will ask me: ‘Abd Allah, where are your ears, nose, and lips?’ and I’ll respond: ‘O God, I was ashamed to come to Your Presence with my limbs with which I had sinned, so I sacrificed them while fighting in the way of Your Beloved One.’”
When the battle ended, ‘Abd Allah ibn Jahsh was found lying with his ears, nose, and lips cut off and his abdomen lanced.18
Lastly, by sending a series of military expeditions, the Messenger agitated the Quraysh into an unpremeditated action. On the pretext of recapturing their trade caravan, 1,000 Makkan soldiers left for Badr, some 90 miles toward Madina.
As Muslim power solidified in Madina, the Quraysh began to worry about a possible threat to their trade route to Syria. In a letter addressed to ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy ibn Salul,19 the Quraysh threatened to kill all Madinese men and enslave their women unless they expelled the Messenger. The Prophet put a timely end to this, and Ibn Ubayy did not pursue the matter. Next, when Sa‘d ibn Mu‘adh went to Makka to perform the minor pilgrimage (‘umra), he was stopped at the Ka‘ba’s entrance and prevented from performing the circumambulation. The Makkans kept sending groups of raiders.
The Battle of Badr
Given such incidents, the Muslims had to extend their control over the Syrian trade route to force the Quraysh and other unfriendly tribes to reconsider. It also was time for the Prophet to show the forces arrayed against him that the preaching of Islam could not be stopped or eradicated from its adherents’ hearts, and that polytheism and unbelief would surrender to Islam.
At the beginning of 624, a large Qurayshi caravan en route to Makka from Syria, and escorted by no more than 40 security guards, arrived at a place within reach of the Muslims. It contained goods that had been purchased with the Emigrants’ property. Naturally Abu Sufyan, the caravan’s leader, feared a Muslim attempt to retrieve their stolen property. And so he sent word to Makka asking for help and reinforcements.
This caused an uproar throughout Makka. Leading Qurayshi chiefs decided to fight the Prophet. About 1,000 fighters left Makka, amidst much pomp and show, to crush the Muslims’ rising power. They also wanted, as always, to terrorize neighboring tribes to ensure their trade caravans’ continued safety.
The Messenger, always informed of developments that could affect his mission, realized that if an effective step were not taken right then, the preaching of Islam might suffer a blow. Had the Quraysh taken the initiative and attacked Madina, the city’s small Muslim community might have perished. Even if they only brought their caravan safely to Makka by dint of their military strength, the Muslims’ political and military prestige would be undermined. Once this happened, their lives, property, and honor would be jeopardized.
Deciding to use his available resources, the Prophet left Madina. Although he may have wanted a decisive battle with the Quraysh, most Muslims wanted to capture the caravan and retrieve their property. The Prophet assembled the people and told them that the Qurayshi trade caravan was in the north and its invading army was in the south, moving toward Madina. He also informed them that God had promised that they would be able to seize either party.20 It was for them to choose which target to attack.
Aware of the Prophet’s intention, an Emigrant named Miqdad ibn ‘Amr replied:
O Messenger of God. Proceed as God has commanded you. We are with you wherever you go, even as far as Bark al-Ghimad. We shall not say, as the Children of Israel said to Moses: “Go forth, you and your Lord, and fight. We shall remain here sitting.” We rather say: “Go forth, you and your Lord, and fight, and we shall fight on your side as long as the eyelid of any one of us keeps moving.”21
Until the Battle of Badr, the Messenger had not sought military aid from the Ansar. This was the first time they would prove their commitment to Islam. Without addressing them directly, the Messenger again put the two alternatives before his audience. Realizing what the Messenger was doing, an Ansari named Sa‘d ibn Mu‘adh, the leader of the Aws tribe, rose and said:
O Messenger of God. I think your question is directed to the Ansar. We believe in you, affirm that you are the Messenger of God, and bear witness to the truth of your teachings. We took the oath of allegiance to you that we would hear and obey you. O Messenger of God, do as you wish! By the One Who has sent you with the truth, if you were to take us to the sea and plunge into it, none of us should remain behind. So take us along to the battlefield with God’s blessings.22
The decision was made to fight. This was also the decree of God, as mentioned above.
The Makkan army consisted of 1,000 fighters, including 600 soldiers in coats of mail and 200 cavalrymen, and was accompanied by singers and dancers. Dancing and drinking parties were held whenever it halted. The soldiers arrogantly vaunted their military power and numerical strength to the tribes and settlements it passed, and boasted of their invincibility.23 Even worse, they were fighting for no lofty ideal; rather, they sought to defeat the forces of belief, truth, justice, and good morals.
The Muslim army was made up of 313 fighters: 86 Emigrants and 227 Ansar. Only two or three Muslims had horses, for resources were scarce. There were no more than 70 camels, so three or four persons took turns riding each camel. The Messenger took turns with two others. When they asked him to ride the camel and exclude them from the turns, the Messenger answered:
“You are not stronger than me. And as for the reward, I need it just as much as you do.”24
The Muslim soldiers were fully devoted to and ready to die for the cause of Islam. To accomplish what He had decreed, God made the Messenger dream that the number of Makkan soldiers was small, just as He made the number of the Muslims appear smaller in the eyes of the Makkans (8:44).
The two armies met at Badr. The Makkans outnumbered the Muslims by three to one and were far better equipped. However, the Muslims were fighting for the most sublime cause: to establish God’s religion, based on belief, good morals, and justice. Deeply convinced of Islam’s truth and eager to die for it, they were ready for battle.
Being the first to reach the battlefield, they positioned themselves around the wells. They also benefited from the heavy downpour of the previous night, for it provided them with an abundant supply of water that they quickly stored in large containers. The rain also compacted the loose sand in the upper part of the valley in which they pitched their tents. This allowed them to plant their feet firmly and move with less difficulty. In the valley’s lower part, however, where the Quraysh army stationed itself, the ground was marshy. In addition to these Divine blessings, God sent a feeling of drowsiness over the Muslims and gave them a feeling of peace and security (8:11).
From their campsite, the Muslim army could see the whole battlefield. It was divided into three parts: one center and two flanks. The central force consisted of the leading Emigrants and Ansar who were foremost in devotion to the Messenger. Mus’ab ibn ‘Umayr, a member of one of Makka’s richest families who had accepted Islam as a youth, carried the standard of the Messenger. He was so handsome that when he would go out wearing his silk clothes, before his conversion, Makkan girls would stare at him from their windows. After he embraced Islam, however, he followed the Messenger wholeheartedly. He sacrificed whatever he had in the way of God, and was martyred at Uhud, during which he again bore the Prophet’s standard. When he lost his right arm, he took the standard in his left hand; when he lost his left arm, he was left with a “head” to protect the Messenger, before whom he was finally martyred.25
The flanks were commanded by ‘Ali and Sa‘d ibn Mu’adh. ‘Ali was famous for his courage and deep devotion to the Messenger. He had been only 9 or 10 years old when he told the Messenger: “I will help you,” after the Messenger had gathered his kinsmen at the outset of his mission to seek their conversion and support.26 On the night of the Prophet’s Emigration, ‘Ali had slept in the Prophet’s bed so he could leave Makka in safety.27 By the time those surrounding the house discovered this ruse, the Messenger had reached Thawr cave. ‘Ali was wholly dedicated to the cause of God.
The Messenger took all necessary precautions and made the best possible preparations. He mobilized his resources and chose his best and most qualified men as commanders. He stationed his army at the valley’s upper part. He then pitched his tent where he could see the whole battlefield and have his commands conveyed instantaneously. As the final prerequisite, he prayed with great earnestness and humility:
O God, here are the Quraysh who in their vainglory seek to deny and cry lies against Your Messenger. O God, support us with the help You promised me. O God, were this small group of Muslims to perish, no one in the world would remain to worship You.28
After the prayer, he threw a handful of dust at the enemy saying: “May their faces be scorched.”29
Badr was a severe test for the Muslims. They would either win or be martyred, for they were ordered not to flee. They could retreat in orderly fashion under strong enemy pressure, as a stratagem to seek reinforcements or to re-group with another party in the rear (8:15), but not because of cowardice and defeatism. Such a disorderly flight would reveal that they preferred their lives over Islam, a major and deadly sin.
The Battle Begins
In the Quraysh’s first frontline were ‘Utba ibn Rabi‘a, his brother Shayba, and his son Walid. They challenged the Muslims to single combat. Three young Ansar went forward. “We will not fight Madina’s farmers and shepherds!” ‘Utba shouted arrogantly. This was, in fact, what the Messenger expected. He ordered ‘Ali, Hamza, and ‘Ubayda ibn Harith forward for single combat. Hamza fought and killed ‘Utba, and ‘Ali killed Walid with two blows. ‘Ubayda, who was old, fought Shayba and was wounded on his knee. Hamza and ‘Ali rescued him, killed Shayba, and carried ‘Ubayda away.30
The Quraysh were shocked by such an unexpected beginning. The Muslims’ belief, sincerity, and valor won them God’s help. The Quraysh, who had exulted in their superiority in number and weaponry, were decisively defeated by the ill-equipped Muslims. Seventy Qurayshis were killed. ‘Awf and Mu‘awwidh (two young Ansari brothers) joined with ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas‘ud to kill Abu Jahl, who the Messenger called the “Pharaoh of the Muslim Community.”31 Almost all Qurayshi leaders were killed: Abu Jahl, Walid ibn Mughira, ‘Utba ibn Rabi‘a, ‘As ibn Sa‘id, Umayyah ibn Khalaf, and Nawfal ibn Khuwaylid. Prior to the battle, the Messenger had indicated the spots where they would die, saying: “‘Utba will be killed here; Abu Jahl here, Umayyah ibn Khalaf here,” and so on.32
Seventy Qurayshis were captured. God allowed the Muslims to ransom them, and some were released. Those who were literate were to be released only after teaching the unlettered Muslims how to read and write. This policy had several benefits: captives who had expected execution gladly paid the ransom; Madina’s low literacy rate was raised, making the newly literate Muslims more effective in preaching Islam and gaining people’s respect; literate captives could learn about Islam and be in close contact with Muslims, which would bring more people into Islam; and the captives’ families and relatives were so glad to see their presumed-dead family members that they became much more receptive to Islam.
The decisive victory made Islam a force to be reckoned with throughout Arabia, and many hardened hearts were inclined to accept Islam.
The Battle of Uhud
The victory of Badr alerted the peninsula’s hostile forces. The Muslims were in a state of unease, and endured the wrath of most neighboring societies.
Madina’s Jewish tribes were not eager to honor their agreements with the Messenger after his Emigration. During the Battle of Badr, they favored the Makkan polytheists; afterwards, they openly encouraged the Quraysh and other Arab tribes to unite against the Muslims. They also collaborated with the hypocrites, who were apparently an integral part of the Muslim body politic.
To sabotage the spread of Islam, they began to fan the flames of old animosities between the Aws and Khazraj, the two tribes of Madinan Muslims. Ka‘b ibn Ashraf, chief of Banu Nadir, went to Makka and recited stirring elegies for the Makkans killed at Badr to provoke the Quraysh into renewed hostilities. He also slandered the Muslims and satirized the Messenger in his poems.
The Jewish tribes’ violation of their treaty obligations exceeded all reasonable limits. A few months after Badr, a Muslim woman was treated indecently by some Jews of Banu Qaynuqa, the most anti-Muslim Jewish tribe. During the ensuing fight, a Muslim was martyred and a Jew was killed. When the Messenger reproached them for this shameful conduct and reminded them of their treaty obligations, the Jews threatened him: “Don’t be misled by your encounter with a people who have no knowledge of warfare. You were lucky. By God, if we fight you, you will know that we are men of war.”
Finally, the Messenger attacked the Banu Qaynuqa, defeated them, and banished them from Madina’s outskirts. In addition, upon the order of the Messenger, Muhammad ibn Maslama killed Ka‘b ibn Ashraf and ended his trouble-making activities.33
The Reasons for the Battle
The Quraysh were still smarting from their defeat in the Battle of Badr. Their women were mourning their dead warriors almost daily, and encouraging the survivors to revenge themselves. In addition, the Jewish efforts to rouse their feelings of revenge were like pouring oil on flames. Within a year, the Quraysh attacked Madina with an army of 3,000 soldiers, including 700 in coats of mail and 200 cavalrymen.
Informed of the Makkans’ march upon Madina, the Messenger consulted with his Companions about how to meet this threat.34 He had dreamed that he was in his coat of mail with his sword notched, and that some oxen were being slaughtered. He interpreted this to mean that they should defend themselves within Madina’s boundaries, and that a leading member of his kinsmen, together with some Companions, would be martyred.35 He also knew that the Makkan army was coming to fight on open ground. Thus, if the Muslims defended themselves within Madina, the Makkan army could not mount a long siege. He stressed once more that Muslims represent peace and security, and that they should resort to force only to eliminate an obstacle to the preaching of Islam or to defend themselves, their faith, or their country.
However, several young people longed for martyrdom. Upset that they had not fought at Badr, they wanted to fight the enemy outside of Madina. The Messenger gave in to this ultimately majority demand. When these young people repented, upon warning from their elders about their insistence, and the elders informed the Messenger of this, the Messenger replied: “It does not befit a Prophet to take off his coat of mail once he has put it on.”36
Having decided to follow the majority, the Messenger and 1,000 warriors left Madina for Uhud, a volcanic hill only a few miles from its western outskirts. Its main feature was a plain that stretched out before it. When they were only half way there, however, ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy ibn Salul turned back with his 300 men.37 This event, coming just before the battle began, caused such perplexity and confusion that the Banu Salama and Banu Haritha tribes also wanted to turn back. Eventually, they were persuaded to remain.
The Messenger advanced with the remaining ill-equipped 700 Muslims. He lined them up at the foot of Mount Uhud so that the mountain was behind them and the Qurayshi army in front of them. The enemy could launch a surprise attack from only one mountain pass. The Messenger posted 50 archers there under the command of ‘Abd Allah ibn Jubayr. He told him not to let anyone approach or move from that spot, adding: “Even if you see birds fly off with our flesh, don’t move from this place.”38
Mus‘ab ibn ‘Umayr was the standard bearer, Zubayr ibn ‘Awwam commanded the cavalry, and Hamza commanded the infantry. The army was ready to fight. To encourage his Companions, the Prophet brought forth a sword and asked: “Who would like to have this sword in return for giving its due?” Abu Dujana asked: “What is its due?” “To fight with it until it is broken,” the Prophet said. Abu Dujana took it and fought.39 Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas and ‘Abd Allah ibn Jahsh prayed to God to let them meet the strongest enemy soldiers. Hamza, the Prophet’s uncle and “Lion of God,” wore an ostrich feather on his chest. The verse revealed to describe the godly persons around previous Prophets pointed also to them:
Many a Prophet there was, with whom a large number of God-devoted men fought. They fainted not for anything that befell them in the way of God, neither weakened nor abased themselves. God loves the steadfast. Nothing else did they say but: “Our Lord, forgive our sins, and that we exceeded in our affair. Make our feet firm, and help us against the unbelievers.” God gave them the reward of the world and the good reward of the Hereafter. God loves those who do good. (3:146-48)
In the first stage, the Muslims defeated the enemy so easily that Abu Dujana, with the sword the Prophet had given him, pushed into the center of the Qurayshi army. There he met Abu Sufyan’s (the Qurayshi commander) wife Hind. He tried to kill her but, “in order not to dirty the sword given by the Prophet with a woman’s blood,” spared her.40 ‘Ali killed Talha ibn ‘Abi Talha, the enemy’s standard-bearer. All who carried the Qurayshi standard were killed by ‘Ali, ‘Asim ibn Thabit, or Zubayr ibn ‘Awwam. After that, such self-sacrificing heroes of the Muslim army as Hamza, ‘Ali, Abu Dujana, Zubayr, and Miqdad ibn ‘Amr flung themselves upon the enemy and routed them.
When the enemy began to flee, the Muslims gathered the spoils. The archers on the mountain pass saw this and said to themselves: “God has defeated the enemy, and our brothers are collecting the spoils. Let’s join them.” ‘Abd Allah ibn Jubayr reminded them of the Prophet’s order, but they said: “He ordered us to do that without knowing the outcome of the battle.” All but a few left their posts and began to collect booty. Khalid ibn Walid, who had not accepted Islam yet and commander of the Qurayshi cavalry, seized this opportunity to lead his men around Mount Uhud and attacked the Muslims’ flank through the pass. ‘Abd Allah ibn Jubayr’s depleted forces could not repel them.
The fleeing enemy soldiers came back and joined the attack from the front. Now, the battle turned against the Muslims. Both of these sudden attacks by superior forces caused great confusion among the Muslims. The enemy wanted to seize the Messenger alive or kill him, and so attacked him from all sides with swords, spears, arrows, and stones. Those who defended him fought heroically.
Hind, having lost her father and brothers at Badr, urged Wahshi, a black slave, to kill Hamza. When the scales turned, Hamza fought like a furious lion. He had killed almost 30 people when Wahshi’s lance pierced him just above the thigh. Hind came forward and ordered Hamza’s stomach split open. She then mutilated his body and chewed his liver.41
Ibn Kami’a martyred Mus‘ab ibn ‘Umayr, the Muslims’ standard-bearer who had been fighting in front of him. Mus‘ab resembled God’s Messenger in build and complexion, and this caused Ibn Kami’a to announce that he had killed the Messenger. Meanwhile, the Messenger had been wounded by a sword and some stones. Falling into a pit and bleeding profusely, he stretched his hands and prayed: “O God, forgive my people, because they do not know (the truth).”42
The rumor of the Prophet’s martyrdom led many Companions to lose courage. In addition to those like ‘Ali, Abu Dujana, Sahl ibn Hunayf, Talha ibn ‘Ubaydullah, Anas ibn Nadr, and ‘Abd Allah ibn Jahsh, who fought selfsacrificingly, some Muslim women heard the rumor and rushed to the battlefield. Sumayra, of the Banu Dinar tribe, had lost her husband, father, and brother. All she asked about was the Messenger. When she saw him, she said: “All misfortunes mean nothing to me as long as you are alive, O Messenger!”43
Umm ‘Umara fought before the Messenger so heroically that he asked her: “Who else can endure all that you endure?” That pride of womanhood took this opportunity to ask him to pray for her: “O Messenger of God, pray to God that I may be in your company in Paradise!” The Messenger did so, and she responded: “Whatever happens to me from now on does not matter.”44
Anas ibn Nadr heard that the Messenger had been martyred. He fought so valiantly that he suffered 80 wounds.45 They found Sa‘d ibn Rabi‘ dying with 70 wounds on his body. His last words were: “Convey my greetings to the Messenger. I sense the fragrance of Paradise from behind Uhud.”46
Besides Abu Dujana and Sahl ibn Hunayf, ‘Ali stood in front of the Messenger and defended him. Three times the Messenger pointed to some of the enemy who were advancing toward them; each time ‘Ali attacked and routed them.47
Despite the indescribable resistance of the Muslim warriors around the Messenger, defeat seemed inevitable until Ka‘b ibn Malik, seeing the Messenger, shouted: “O Muslims! Good tidings for you! This is the Messenger, here!” The scattered Companions advanced toward him from all sides, rallied around him, and led him to the safety of the mountain.
The reasons for the setback at Uhud
Before explaining the reasons for this setback, it should be pointed out that the Companions, after the Prophets, are superior to everybody else in virtue. They are honored with being the comrades and trainees of Prophet Muhammad, the greatest of creation, the one for whose sake the universe was created and who was sent as a mercy for all the worlds. Therefore, according to the rule “the greater the blessing, the greater the responsibility,” they had to be the most obedient to God and His Messenger.
We read, for example, whoever of the Prophet’s wives commits manifest indecency, the punishment for her will be doubled … you are not like any other women (33:30, 32). Likewise, even a small sin committed by a Companion deserves severe punishment. They are all included in those “foremost in belief and proximity to God,” and their conduct is an example to be followed by later generations. Therefore, they must be pure in belief and intention, sincere in worship and devotion, upright in conduct, and extremely careful in refraining from sin and disobedience.
God raised the community of Muhammad as the best community to enjoin the good and forbid the evil, and believe in One God (3:110) and appointed them as a middle nation so that they may be witnesses to humanity, and the Messenger may be a witness to them (2:143). In the early years of the Madinan era, among the Companions were some hypocrites. Therefore, God wanted to sift His true witnesses against all humanity, and see who strove hard in His Way and remained steadfast (3:141-42). The Battle of Uhud, therefore, was a decisive test to sift out the sincere and steadfast from the hypocritical and wavering, and served to make the Islamic community more stable and formidable.
After these preliminary notes, we can summarize why the Muslims experienced a setback as follows:
- The Messenger, the commander-in-chief, thought they should stay within Madina. The younger Companions, inexperienced and excited, urged him to march out of the city. This was a mistake, even though for the sake of martyrdom in the way of God, since the Messenger tended to apply different tactics in battles and knew in advance that the Quraysh army was coming to fight in open field.
- The archers posted to defend the army left their posts. They misinterpreted the Messenger’s order not to leave for any reason and went to collect booty.
- The 300 hypocrites, one-third of the army, deserted half-way and returned to Madina. This undermined the morale of the Banu Salama and Banu Haritha tribes, who were persuaded only with difficulty not to leave. Moreover, a small group of hypocrites demoralized the Muslims during the battle.
- Several Companions became impatient. They acted, in certain respects, inconsistently with the dictates of piety and were lured by material wealth.
- Some believers thought that as long as the Messenger was with them, and as long as they enjoyed God’s support and help, the unbelievers could never beat them. However true this was, the setback taught them that deserving God’s help requires, besides belief and devotion, deliberation, strategy, and steadfastness. They also perceived that the world is a field of testing and trial:
Many ways of life and systems have passed away before you; journey in the land, and see the end of those who did deny (the Messengers). This is an exposition for humanity, and a guidance and an admonition for the God-fearing. Don’t faint or grieve, for you shall gain mastery if you are true believers. If a wound has touched you, a like wound already touched the (unbelieving) people (at Badr); such days We deal out in turn among humanity, that God may see who are the believers, and that He may take witnesses from among you; God loves not the evildoers; and that God may prove the believers, and blot out the unbelievers. (3:137-41)
- Those who had not taken part in Badr sincerely prayed to God for martyrdom. They were deeply devoted to Islam and longed to meet God. Some, like ‘Abd Allah ibn Jahsh, Anas ibn Nadr, Sa‘d ibn Rabi‘, ‘Amr ibn Jamuh, and Abu Sa‘d Haysama tasted the pleasure of martyrdom; the martyrdom of the others was delayed. The Qur’an sings the praises of them as follows:
Among the believers are men who were true to their covenant with God; some of them have fulfilled their vow by death (in battle), and some are still awaiting, and they have not changed in the least. (33:23)
- Any success or triumph lies with God, Who does whatever He wills and cannot be questioned. Belief in God’s Unity means that believers must always ascribe their accomplishments to God and never appropriate anything good for themselves. If the decisive victory of Badr gave some Muslims a sort of self-pride, and if they imputed the victory to their own prudence, wise arrangement, or some material causes, this would have been part of the reason for their setback.
- Among the Qurayshi army were several eminent soldiers and commanders (such as Khalid ibn Walid, Ikrima ibn Abi Jahl, ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, and Ibn Hisham) who were destined by God to be great servants of Islam in the future. They were the ones most esteemed and respected among the people. For the sake of their future service, God may not have willed to hurt their feelings of honor completely. So, as expressed by Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, the Companions of the future defeated the Companions of the present.48
- The following verses explain the reasons for that setback together with its aftermath, and the lessons to be taken from it:
Did you suppose you should enter Paradise without God displaying which of you have struggled and who are patient? (3:142)
Muhammad is naught but a Messenger; Messengers have passed away before him. Will you, if he should die or is slain, turn back on your heels? Whoever should turn back on his heels will not harm God in any way; and God will recompense the thankful. It is not given to any soul to die save by the leave of God, at an appointed time. Whoso desires the reward of this world, We will give him of this; and whoso desires the reward of the other world, We will give him of that; and We will recompense the thankful. (3:144-45)
God fulfilled His pledge to you when by His leave you blasted them, until you lost heart, and quarreled about the matter, and disobeyed, after He had shown you that you longed for. Some of you sought this world and some of you sought the next. Then He turned you from them, that He might try you; and He has pardoned you. God is bounteous to the believers. When you were going up, not twisting about for anyone, and the Messenger was calling you in your rear; so He rewarded you with grief after grief that you might not sorrow for what escaped you neither for what smote you. God is aware of the things you do. (3:152-35)
Those of you who turned away on the day two hosts encountered—Satan made them slip because of some of their lapses; but God has pardoned them. God is All-Forgiving, All-Clement. (3:155)
believers, be not as the unbelievers who say concerning their brothers, when they journey in the land, or are upon expeditions: “If they had been with us, they would not have died and not been slain”—that God may make that an anguish in their hearts. For God gives life, and He makes to die; and God sees all that you do. If you are slain or die in God’s way, forgiveness and mercy from God are a better thing than what they amass; if you die or are slain, it is unto God that you shall be mustered. (3:156-58)
If God helps you, none can overcome you; if He forsakes you, who can help you after Him? Therefore let the believers put all their trust in God. (3:160)
Why, when an affliction visited you, and you had visited twice over the like of it, did you say: “How is this?” Say: “This is from your own selves; God is powerful over everything.” And what visited you, the day the two hosts encountered, was by God’s leave, that He might mark out the believers and that He also might mark out the hypocrites, to whom it was said: “Come, fight in the way of God, or repel!” They said: “If only we knew how to fight, we would follow you.” They that day were nearer to unbelief than to belief. (3:165-67)
Count not those who were slain in God’s way as dead. They are alive with their Lord, by Him provided, rejoicing in the bounty that God has given them, and joyful in those who remain behind and have not joined them yet. No fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow, joyful in blessing and bounty from God, and that God leaves not to waste the wage of the believers. (3:169-71)
God will not leave the believers in the state in which you are, till He shall distinguish the corrupt from the good, and God will not inform you of the Unseen; but God chooses out of His Messengers whom He wills. Believe then in God and His Messengers; if you believe and avoid disobeying God, there shall be for you a mighty wage. (3:179)
The Last Stage of the Battle of Uhud and the Campaign of Hamra’ al-Asad
After this confusion ended, his Companions rallied around the Prophet, who was wounded and had fainted. Many Companions also were wounded. They retreated to the mountain’s safety. The Qurayshi army began to leave the battlefield, thinking they had revenged themselves for Badr. Seeing that they could not crush the Muslims’ resistance, they mounted their camels and, leading their horses, headed for Makka.
The Messenger worried that the Makkans might return and launch another attack on Madina. On the second day of Uhud, therefore, he ordered those who had fought the day before to gather together and pursue the unbelievers. Some of the Banu ‘Abd al-Qays, appointed by Abu Sufyan, tried to discourage this line of action by saying: “The people have gathered against you, therefore fear them.” But this only increased the faith of the believers, who retorted: God is sufficient for us; what an excellent Guardian He is! (3:173).49
Most were seriously wounded; some could not stand and had to be carried by their friends.50 At this highly critical moment, they girded up their loins and prepared to lay down their lives at the Messenger’s behest. They accompanied him to Hamra’ al-Asad, eight miles from Madina. The Makkan polytheists had halted and were talking about a second attack on Madina. However, when they saw the believers they had supposedly just defeated coming toward them, they could not muster sufficient courage and so continued on to Makka.
The Messenger’s prudence and military genius turned a defeat into a victory. The enemy did not have enough courage to confront the Muslims’ resolution yet again by marching upon Madina, and so retreated to Makka. God revealed the following verses in praise of the Muslim heroes:
Those who answered God and the Messenger after the wound had smitten them—to all those of them who did good and behaved in utmost devotion to God, shall be a mighty wage; those to whom the people said: “The people have gathered against you, therefore fear them.” But it increased them in faith, and they said: “God is sufficient for us; what an excellent Guardian He is!” So they returned with blessing and bounty from God, untouched by evil. They followed the good pleasure of God, and God is of bounty abounding. (3:172-74)
Toward the Battle of the Trench
The Jewish Banu Nadir tribe was originally the sworn ally of the Muslims in Madina. However, its members secretly intrigued with the Makkan pagans and the Madinan hypocrites. They even tried to kill the Prophet while he was visiting them, breaking the laws of hospitality and their treaty. The Messenger asked them to leave their strategic position, about three miles south of Madina, and they agreed to do so. But when ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy, the hypocrites’ chief, promised them help in case of war, the Banu Nadir demurred.
The Muslim army then besieged them in their fortresses. The Banu Nadir, seeing that neither the Makkan polytheists nor the Madinan Hypocrites cared enough to help them, left the city. They were dismayed, but their lives were spared. Given 10 days to leave, along with their families and all they could carry, most of them joined their brethren in Syria and others in Khaybar.
While returning from Uhud, Abu Sufyan had challenged the Muslims to a rematch at Badr the following year.51 But when the appointed time arrived, his courage failed him. As a face-saving device, he sent Nu‘aym ibn Mas‘ud (then an unbeliever) to Madina to spread the rumor that the Quraysh were making tremendous war preparations and gathering a huge and invincible army. However, when the Prophet reached Badr with an army of 1,500 fighters, there was no enemy to meet him. They stayed there for 8 days, waiting for the threatened encounter. When no sign of the Quraysh army appeared, they returned to Madina. This campaign was called Badr al-Sughra (Badr the Minor).
In 627, the Messenger was told that the desert tribes of Anmar and Sa’laba had decided to attack Madina. He went to Zat al-Riqa’ with 400 fighters and, hearing that the enemy tribes had fled, returned to Madina.52 After this, he marched upon the pagan Banu Mustaliq tribe, which had made preparations to fight the Muslims. He attacked and defeated them with 700 warriors.53 On the way back to Madina, the hypocrites tried, and failed, to cause dissension among the Emigrants and the Ansar. The verses sent down revealed all their secrets and how polluted their inner world was (63:1-11).
The Battle of the Trench
In 627, a group of the expelled Banu Nadir Jews, including Sallam ibn Abi al-Huqayq, Huyayy ibn Akhtab, and some of the Banu Wa’il, went to Makka. They met with the Quraysh, urged them to continue the fight, and promised their help and support. These Jews then went to Ghatafan and Qays Aylan tribes and, promising them help, encouraged them to fight against the Messenger.54 These intrigues resulted in a great anti-Muslim confederacy of Makkan polytheists, the desert tribes of central Arabia, the Jews (both already expelled and those still resident) in Madina, and the hypocrites. The last two constituted a fifth column within Madina.
When the Messenger was informed of this anti-Muslim gathering of confederates through his intelligence service, he consulted his Companions. It was their unanimous view that they should remain in Madina and fight from there. Salman al-Farisi suggested digging a trench around the city. It took 6 days of feverish labor to dig this trench. The Messenger divided the Muslims into groups of ten and told them to compete with each other. It was a hard task, there was not much time, and hunger was rampant. Yet all the Companions worked enthusiastically. In order to not feel the hunger, each fastened a rock around his stomach and recited, while digging:
We are those people who
Took the oath of allegiance to Muhammad;
Therefore we shall fight in the way of God
As long as we live.
By God, if God had not enabled us to,
We would have neither been guided
Nor given alms, nor performed prayers.
Send down unto us calmness and tranquility
And make our feet firm if we confront the enemy!55
The Messenger, digging alongside them with two rocks fastened around his stomach, answered them with the couplet:
O God, the real life is the life of the Hereafter
So, forgive the Helpers and the Emigrants.56
While digging the trench, the Companions unearthed a huge rock that they could not break. Informing the Messenger of this, he began to strike it with his pickaxe. In the light of the resulting sparks, he predicted: “I have been given the keys to Persia; my community will conquer it.” He struck the rock a second time and, in the light of the resulting sparks, declared: “God is the Greatest. I have been given the keys to Byzantium. My community will conquer it.”57
Madina Under Threat
The allies advanced against Madina in the hope of destroying the Muslims on an open battlefield. However, when they faced this new strategy, they took the first blow. Numbering around 20,000, they camped near the trench. The Madinans had no more than 3,000 soldiers. Moreover, the Jewish Banu Qurayza and the hypocrite fifth columns already had contacted the enemy. As stated in Qur’an 33:12-20, when the hypocrites first saw the enemy, they were already in a defeatist mood. Not content with disloyalty themselves, they tried to infect others, who made feeble excuses to withdraw. If the enemy could gain entrance, they would betray the city.
The Messenger once again displayed his sagacity and military genius: He kept the soldiers within the city and stationed them so that they could safeguard their homes against possible Banu Qurayza attacks. The most critical moment came when the Banu Qurayza sent a man into Madina to learn the conditions of the Muslim women. However, their hopes were frustrated when this man was killed by Safiyya, the Prophet’s aunt.58
While the war was continuing with exchanges of arrows and stones, the Messenger engaged in diplomatic attempts to split the Allies. He contacted the Ghatafan’s leaders and, offering them peace, urged them to withdraw their people. Nu‘aym ibn Mas‘ud, an Ally leader who before the battle had come to Madina to sow discord, already was inclining toward Islam. During the battle, he secretly entered Islam and followed the Messenger’s order to stir up the Banu Qurayza. Nu‘aym set them against the Quraysh by asserting that the Makkans would abandon them and so they should withhold their help until the Quraysh gave them hostages. Then he told the Quraysh that the Banu Qurayza would not fulfill their promise and would try to stall by asking for Qurayshi hostages to share their plight in case of defeat. This stratagem succeeded, and dissension grew among the Allies.59
The Messenger, supported by Sal mountain behind the city, had ordered a narrow point to be made in the trench, as he expected that leading Qurayshi horsemen would try to cross there. This is what happened, for some of the most renowned Qurayshi warriors tried to cross for single combat with Muslim fighters. Among them were ‘Amr ibn ‘Abd Wudd, Ikrima ibn Abi Jahl, Hubayra ibn Abi Wahb, Dirar ibn al-Khattab, and Nawfal ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mughira.
Boasting of his strength and fighting ability, ‘Amr dismounted from his horse and faced ‘Ali, who was ordered by the Messenger to fight him. ‘Amr advanced with his sword drawn. He brought his sword quickly against ‘Ali, but it caught in ‘Ali’s shield. ‘Ali struck him with such strength that dust rose around them. Then the words Allahu Akbar (God is the Greatest) were heard: ‘Ali had killed his opponent.60 He also killed Dirar, Hubayra, and Nawfal.61 No other Qurayshi horsemen or generals could get across at that spot.
The siege lasted 27 days. The Muslims suffered greatly from hunger, cold, unending barrages of arrows and stones, attempts and concentrated assaults to cross the trench, and betrayals and intrigues within Madina. The Qur’an describes this situation as follows:
When they came against you from above and from below, and when your eyes swerved and your hearts reached your throats, while you were harboring vain thoughts about God; there it was that the believers were tried, and shaken most mightily. And when the hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is sickness, said: “God and His Messenger promised us only delusion.” And when a party of them said: “O people of Yathrib, there is no abiding here for you, therefore return!” And a party of them were asking leave of the Prophet, saying: “Our houses are exposed”; yet they were not exposed. They desired only to flee. (33:10-13)
After almost four weeks, during which the enemy was disheartened by its failure and the believers proved their steadfastness and loyalty, there was a piercing blast of cold wind from the east. The enemy’s tents were torn up, their fires were extinguished, and sand and rain beat their faces. Terrified by the portents against them, and already riven by discord, they soon gave up. Hudayfa al-Yamani, sent by the Messenger to spy on the enemy’s movements, heard Abu Sufyan shout: “Come on, we’re going home!”62
The Muslims were victorious by God’s help, for hidden forces (the angels) were helping them:
O believers, remember God’s blessing upon you when hosts came against you, and we loosed against them a wind, and hosts you didn’t see. God sees the things you do. (33:9)
The Battle of the Trench was the last Qurayshi attempt to destroy Islam and the Muslims. Following their withdrawal in defeat and humiliation, the Messenger declared:
“From this moment we will march upon them; they will no longer be able to raid us.”63
After the Allies were routed and returned to their homes, the Messenger focused on to the Banu Qurayza, who had betrayed their agreement with the Messenger and allied themselves with the Quraysh. They also had given asylum to the Banu Nadir’s leaders, like Huyay ibn Akhtab, who had been expelled from Madina and continued to conspire against the Muslims.
No sooner had the Messenger returned from this battle than Archangel Gabriel came and said: “I have not taken off my coat of mail, and I am going to the Banu Qurayza.”64 The Messenger ordered his Companions to march upon this Jewish tribe, and had his tent pitched opposite their fortresses. He would have forgiven them if they had asked, but they preferred to resist. The Messenger besieged them for 25 days. At last they asked for surrender terms, agreeing that they should submit to Sa‘d ibn Mu‘adh’s judgment, who decreed the sentence according to the Torah. This was the end of the Banu Qurayza’s conspiracies, as well as of the Jewish presence in Madina.65
Sa‘d ibn Mu‘adh, a leader of the Ansar, had been wounded in the Battle of the Trench. He prayed: “O God, if I am able to fight once more beside the Messenger, make me live. Otherwise, I am ready to die.” He died a martyr shortly after the Jewish conspiracies ended.66
Toward the Conquest of Makka
As will be elaborated later, the treaty of Hudaybiya was a clear victory that opened a door to new and greater victories. The Makkan threat ended, and the Messenger sent envoys to neighboring countries to invite them to Islam. He also set out to solve the other problems he faced within Arabia.
Most of the Banu Nadir Jews had resettled in Khaybar. Together with them, the Jews of Khaybar continued to work against Islam in league, at various times, with either the Quraysh or the Banu Ghatafan. The Banu Nadir had been instrumental in forming the 20,000-man anti-Muslim alliance defeated during the Battle of the Trench. Seeking to end this continually hostile Jewish presence so that Arabia could be made secure for the future and free preaching of Islam, the Muslims acted.
The Banu Qurayza’s punishment roused the Jews of Khaybar to ally themselves with the Banu Ghatafan and attack Madina.67 They were making preparations for this when, after the treaty of Hudaybiya, the Messenger marched upon Khaybar. He made as if to attack the Banu Ghatafan, and forced them to shelter in their confines without daring to help the Jews in Khaybar. Then he suddenly turned toward Khaybar. The village’s farmers, who had left their homes early with their farming tools, saw the Muslim army approach the city and began running and taking shelter in their formidable citadels.
The Messenger besieged Khaybar for three weeks. Toward the end of the siege, he gathered his soldiers and told them: “Tomorrow I will hand the standard to him who loves God and His Messenger and is loved by God and His Messenger. God will enable us to conquer Khaybar through him.”68 On the next day, almost everyone was hoping to receive the standard. However, the Messenger asked for ‘Ali. Told that “he has sore eyes,” the Messenger sent for him, cured ‘Ali’s sore eyes with his saliva, and gave him the standard.69 ‘Ali went to the fortress and, after a fierce battle, Khaybar was conquered. Among the prisoners was Safiyya, a noble woman and daughter of Huyay ibn Akhtab, the Banu Nadir’s chief. By marrying her, the Messenger established a relationship with the conquered people.
The Battle of Mu’ta
In the peaceful atmosphere brought about by the treaty of Hudaybiya, the Messenger sent letters to neighboring kings inviting them to the fold of Islam. King Shurahbil of Busra, a Christian Arab, killed the envoy (Harith ibn ‘Umayr). This was an unforgivable breach of international custom and the prestige of Islam, and could not remain unanswered. The Messenger formed an army of 3,000 men, with Zayd ibn Haritha as commander, and said: “If something happens to Zayd, Ja‘far ibn Abi Talib will assume the command. If Ja‘far is martyred, ‘Abd Allah ibn Rawaha will assume the command. In case something happens to ‘Abd Allah, choose one among you as the commander.”
When the Muslim army reached Mu’ta, it confronted a 100,000-man Byzantine army. Obviously it would be a fierce battle. Each Muslim would have to fight about 33 of the enemy. In the meantime, the Messenger was in the mosque, relating the fighting to those around him. Zayd took the standard. He thrust himself into the enemy ranks and was martyred. The standard passed to Ja‘far ibn Abi Talib. He also rose up to Paradise. ‘Abd Allah ibn Rawaha took the standard and was martyred. Now the standard was in the hands of one of the “swords of God,”70 meaning Khalid ibn Walid, who would, from then on, be called “the Sword of God.”71
When it was night, Khalid stationed the troops at the rear in the front rank, and changed the wings, positioning those on the right to the left and vice versa. Seeing new troops before them in the morning, the Byzantine army was demoralized. When night fell, the sides parted with each other and retreated. The Muslim army returned to Madina with only 12 losses. Although this was a victory for the Muslims, they were ashamed to meet the Messenger. However, he welcomed and consoled them: “You didn’t flee. You retreated to join me, and will go against them later.”
The Conquest of Makka and its Aftermath
In 627, the Messenger had a dream or a vision that he and his Companions would enter the Holy Mosque of Makka in safety, with their heads shaven or trimmed, and without fear. As will be explained later, earlier they had been prevented from entering Makka and so made a treaty with the Quraysh at Hudaybiya. At first, the Muslims did not like the conditions, but the verses revealed after the treaty called it a clear victory.
The two years following this event proved the truth of these words. Such leading Qurayshi figures as Khalid ibn Walid and ‘Amr ibn al-‘As became Muslims, and Islam spread across Arabia. Jewish conspiracies were ended, and Islam crossed into other lands through the letters sent to neighboring kings. At the end of this period, the Banu Bakr (a Qurayshi ally) attacked the Banu Khuda‘a (the Muslims’ ally) and killed some of them. The truce between the Muslims and the Quraysh was now over. No longer able to resist the Muslims, Abu Sufyan came to Madina in the hopes of renewing it. However, the Messenger refused to meet with him.72
The Messenger began to prepare for war. As always, he kept the affair quite secret and no one, including his wives and closest friends, knew where the campaign would be. When Abu Bakr asked his daughter ‘A’isha (a wife of the Messenger) where the Messenger intended to march, she told him that she did not know.73 However, an Emigrant named Khatib ibn Abi Balta‘a guessed his intention and sent a letter to the Quraysh informing them of the Messenger’s preparations. The Messenger, learning of this through Revelation, ordered ‘Ali and Zubayr to take the letter from the woman to whom Khatib had entrusted it. They did this successfully.74
The Messenger left Madina with 10,000 men. Two years before, they had numbered 1,600 when his attempted minor pilgrimage (‘umra) resulted in the treaty of Hudaybiya. The resulting peaceful atmosphere caused many to reconsider and accept Islam.
The Companions did not know the destination until they were ordered to head for Makka. When they approached this holy city, the Messenger ordered each soldier to light a fire, for the Makkans would light a fire for every tent while traveling in the desert.75 As a result, they estimated the Muslim army to consist of about 30,000 men. Having no realistic way to resist, they surrendered. Abu Sufyan, who had been invited by the Messenger to see the Muslim army, also advised this.
The Messenger did not desire bloodshed. Dividing his army into six columns, each one entered Makka through a different route. He ordered the commanders to avoid bloodshed unless they were attacked. To realize this goal and conquer Makka peacefully, he announced: “Those who shelter in the Ka‘ba are safe, those who shelter in Abu Sufyan’s house are safe, and those who stay in their own houses are safe.”76
Being a Prophet of absolute mercy who came to secure the happiness of humanity both in this world and the next, the Messenger entered Makka, bowing on the back of his mule, as a victorious conqueror. He displayed no self-pride and had no thought of vengeance or retaliation. He proceeded toward the Ka‘ba in complete modesty and absolute gratitude to God, who had made him victorious in his sacred mission. Stopping at the Ka‘ba, he asked his enemies: “How do you expect me to treat you?” They replied: “You are a noble man, the son of a noble man.” The Messenger stated:
“This day there will be no reproach on you. God will forgive you; He is the Most Merciful of the Merciful. You can go away.”77
This marked the end of polytheism in Makka. While he was destroying the idols at the Ka‘ba, he recited:
Say: “Truth has come and falsehood has disappeared. Indeed falsehood is subject to disappearance” (17:81).78
Almost all Makkans now became Companions.
The Battle of Hunayn
The Arab tribes were waiting to see who would win before accepting Islam, saying: “If Muhammad prevails over his people, he is a Prophet.” Consequently, after the Muslims’ victory they began to enter Islam in throngs. This shocked the pagans, who organized a great gathering near Ta’if to coordinate their plans of attack.
The Hawazin and the Thaqif, famous for courage and archery, took the lead and prepared a great expedition against Makka. Informed of their movements by ‘Abd Allah ibn Hadrad, whom he had sent to them, the Messenger left Makka with 12,000 Muslims who were enthusiastic over the 2,000 new conversions. To protect Makka and consolidate the new Muslims’ belief by healing their wounded feelings, the Messenger did not want to fight within Makka.
The battle was joined at Hunayn, a valley between Makka and Ta’if. The new Muslims had more enthusiasm than wisdom, more a spirit of elation than of faith and confidence in the righteousness of their cause. The enemy had the advantage of knowing the ground thoroughly. They laid an ambush in which the Muslims’ advance guard was caught or intentionally pushed by the Messenger, who might have planned to draw the enemy in under the guise of retreat. However, the retreat was confused and took place under a shower of enemy arrows.
The Prophet, calm as ever in his faith and wisdom in that hour of danger, spurred his horse forward. His uncle ‘Abbas was on his right, and his uncle’s son Fadl was on his left. While Abu Sufyan ibn al-Harith was trying to stop him, the Messenger was shouting:
“Now war has been kindled. I am the Prophet, that is no lie. I am the descendant of ‘Abd al-Muttalib.”79
‘Abbas shouted: “Companions who made the pledge of allegiance under the acacia tree!”80 From all sides came the response: “Labbayk!” (At your service!), and they rallied to the Prophet. The enemy, now in the center of the Muslim army, was surrounded on all sides. The Messenger’s courage, wisdom, and steadfastness changed a seeming defeat into a decisive victory. It was by God’s help that the Muslims won that day. They completed the victory with an energetic pursuit of the enemy, capturing their camps, flocks and herds, and families, which they had boastfully brought with them in expectation of an easy victory.
The routed enemy took refuge in Ta’if. The Muslims’ victory persuaded the desert tribes to accept Islam, and shortly thereafter the rebel tribes and Ta’if also surrendered and entered Islam.
The Expedition to Tabuk
The outcome of the Muslim–Byzantine encounter in Mu’ta shocked Arabia and the Middle East, for the Byzantines had not won, even though they had outnumbered the Muslims by thirty-three to one. Ultimately, thousands of people from the semi-independent Arab tribes living in Syria and adjoining areas converted to Islam. To avenge himself for Mu’ta and prevent the advance of Islam, Heraclius (the Byzantine Emperor) ordered military preparations to invade Arabia.
The Messenger, always aware of developments bearing on his mission, promptly decided to challenge the Byzantines on the battlefield. Any show of Muslim weakness might have revived the dying forces of Arabian polytheism and hostility, which had received a crushing blow at Hunayn. Such a development also could encourage the hypocrites in and around Madina to cause serious damage to Islam from within. They already were in touch with the Ghassanid Christian prince and with the Byzantine Emperor, and had built a mosque—which the Qur’an calls the Mosque of Dirar (Dissension) (9:107)—near Madina to serve as their operational base.
Realizing the gravity of the situation, the Messenger publicly appealed to the Muslims to prepare for war and, against his usual practice, declared that the Byzantines were his target.
It was mid-summer. The scorching heat was at its peak, the harvest season had just arrived, and there was a shortage of material resources. Moreover, the enemy was one of the two current local superpowers. Despite this, the Companions responded ardently to his call and commenced their war preparations, all contributing much more than their financial means warranted. Huge amounts of money were donated by such wealthy Companions as ‘Uthman and ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-‘Awf.81 Those who could not be included in the Muslim army, due to shortages of riding animals and other necessary supplies, wept so bitterly and lamented their exclusion so pathetically that the Messenger was moved. God praised them in Qur’an 9:92. The occasion, in fact, served as a touchstone for distinguishing the sincere from the insincere, the believers from the hypocrites.
In 631, the Messenger and 30,000 soldiers left Madina and marched to Tabuk, quite close to what was then Byzantine territory in Syria. The Byzantine Emperor, who had begun amassing a huge army, abandoned his plans and withdrew his army, for the Messenger arrived before he was expected and well before Byzantine troop concentrations were completed.82
The Messenger stayed in Tabuk for 20 days, and forced several buffer states under Byzantine hegemony to pay the poll tax (jizya) and live under his rule. Many Christian tribes embraced Islam willingly.83 This bloodless victory enabled the Muslims to consolidate their position before launching a prolonged conflict with the Byzantines, and shattered the power of both unbelievers and hypocrites in Arabia.
A General Evaluation of His Military Achievements
A significant point concerning the Messenger is that he was the most eminent commander in human history. To understand this dimension of his sacred mission, consider these following points:
• No other Prophet carried his mission to decisive victory in all aspects of life. Moses, who most resembles the Messenger, died while his people were still in the desert and unable to conquer Palestine after several decades of preaching. Jesus’ mission sought mainly to infuse a spiritual and moral revival among the Jews, who were drowning in materialism. After his elevation to Heaven, his disciples conveyed his message to Rome, despite severe persecution. Unfortunately, the price to be paid was the degeneration of Jesus’ original creed.
When Prophet Muhammad died, he left behind a Muslim Arabia and dedicated Companions ready to convey Islam throughout the world. He achieved this end with a handful of self-sacrificing people who previously had not heard of belief or Scripture, and who had known nothing of civilized social life, world politics, good morals, and self-discipline. He transformed desert tribes engaged in civil wars and unending feuds, and equipped them with belief, sincerity, knowledge, good morals, love of humanity, compassion, and activism. They dedicated themselves to the Divine cause, and the result was an army of light. Rabi‘ ibn Amir, Muslim envoy to the Persian commander during the War of Qadisiya, said that the religion the Messenger brought from God
. . . elevates people from the dark pits of worldly life to the high, boundless realm of the spirit; from the humiliation of worshipping false and human-made divinities to the honor and dignity of worshipping One God, the only Creator and Sustainer of the universe; and frees them from the oppression and depression brought about by false religions and human systems to the luminous and peaceful climate of Islam.
• God’s Messenger never sought a worldly kingdom; he was sent to guide humanity to salvation in both worlds. His goal was to revive people, not to kill them. To achieve this, however, he had to arrange military expeditions and sometimes command armies. He sent out about 80 such expeditions, and actually commanded 28 of them. Fighting took place in almost half of these campaigns, and only around 1,000 people died: approximately 250 Muslims were martyred, and 750 non-Muslims were killed. He established Islam, brought absolute security to Arabia for the first time, and opened the way to global security at the cost of only 1,000 lives. This is, as so many of his other achievements are, unequaled in world history.
• The Messenger was the first to legislate an international law. Although the concept was known before Islam, international law was very limited. For example, there were no recognized rules concerning prisoners of war. The Messenger established a set of rules to bring a “discipline” to fighting. For example, the following is the order given by him and all his true successors to departing armies, an order obeyed to the letter by Muslims in their wars as Muslims:
Always keep fear of God in your mind. Remember that you can’t afford to do anything without His grace. Don’t forget that Islam is a mission of peace and love. Don’t destroy fruit trees or fertile fields in your paths. Be just, and spare the feelings of the vanquished. Respect all religious persons who live in hermitages or convents, and spare their edifices. Don’t kill civilians, or violate women’s chastity and the conquered’s honor. Don’t harm old people and children, or accept gifts from the civilian population. Don’t billet your soldiers or officers in civilians’ homes.84
• God’s Messenger’s preliminary precautions left nothing to chance. He always acted with great care, insight, and forethought, and so never met with any setbacks. He had no part in the reverse suffered at Uhud. Also, he was extraordinarily successful in getting information from the enemy without resorting to force or torture. For example, some Muslim soldiers who had captured an enemy soldier tried to force military information out of him. God’s Messenger ordered his release and asked him how many camels his army slaughtered every day. Calculating how many camels are eaten by how many people in a day, he tried to work out how many soldiers were coming toward him.85
• The Messenger established a military intelligence service to provide him with all necessary information about the enemy. No news of his own movements, however, was ever leaked. Before setting out to conquer Makka, Khatib ibn Abi Balta‘a secretly sent a letter with a woman to his relatives in Makka about the preparations. However, the Prophet was informed of this and sent ‘Ali and Zubayr to intercept her, which they did. Also, the Messenger kept his military preparations and ultimate destination a secret. He tended to march in one direction, and then turn toward his real destination later on. His tactics were characterized by speed, surprise attack, and flexibility. In most of his campaigns, he caught the enemy unprepared and overcame them relatively easily. For example, in the Battle of Khaybar, the Jews learned of his approach only because their farmers were abandoning their fields after seeing him in the early morning. They only had time to shelter in their citadels. When he marched upon Makka, his advance planning was so perfect that the Makkan polytheists surrendered unconditionally.
• In his position as a Prophet with a universal religion from God, he taught it so effectively that his Companions were always ready to sacrifice themselves. This was a main factor lying behind his victories. His Companions placed all of their reliance and confidence in him. Therefore, he inculcated fear in enemies’ hearts, as he himself said: “I am supported by God through implanting fear in the hearts of my enemies from a distance of a month’s walk.”86
He used psychology to demoralize his enemies. Poets like Hassan ibn Thabit and ‘Abd Allah ibn Rawaha wrote or recited verses to demoralize the enemy. While performing the minor pilgrimage one year after the treaty of Hudaybiya, he ordered his Companions to run around the Ka‘ba to demonstrate their strength to the Makkans watching from the neighboring hills. While running, ‘Abd Allah ibn Rawaha recited:
I start with the name of God,
Apart from Whom there is no other god,
And Muhammad is the Messenger of God.
O unbelievers, and sons of unbelievers,
clear out of his way.
Pleased with his recitation, he said: “His words are more penetrating to the Quraysh than arrows.”87
• The Messenger introduced new strategies and shattered the unity of allied enemy tribes. During the Battle of the Trench, the Jewish Banu Qurayza broke their treaty with the Muslims at a most critical moment and joined the Qurayshi siege. Left between two hostile camps, he offered peace to the Banu Ghatafan, a Qurayshi ally. This discouraged the Banu Ghatafan from continuing the war. He also engendered disagreement and mutual mistrust between the Quraysh and the Banu Qurayza. During the campaign of Khaybar, he pretended to march upon the Banu Ghatafan, allies of the Jews of Khaybar. Thus this tribe remained inactive and did not help the Jews.
• The Messenger did what he had to do, without hesitation or irresolution, at each step of his life. He never retreated or gave up hope during a battle. He stood steadfast during the critical moments of Uhud and Hunayn. He called to his scattering Companions: “Do not scatter! I am Muhammad, the Messenger of God. That is no lie!” When the Jewish tribes in and around Madina refused to honor their agreements, the Messenger marched upon them immediately. He did the same thing against the Banu Qurayza after the Battle of the Trench, without even stopping to take off his coat of mail, and against the Qurayshi army a day after the setback at Uhud. Such incidents are very significant in showing his resolution and invincibility.
• In almost every campaign, the Messenger took the initiative to attack and direct the battle. He did this even in set battles (e.g., Badr, Uhud, and the Trench). His use of surprise strategies and effective tactics defeated the enemy. He also used time and any opportunity most effectively.
• The Messenger usually changed his battle tactics and strategy. For example, during Badr he launched an overall attack after demoralizing the enemy in single combat. In Uhud’s first stage, he rendered the enemy cavalry inactive through archers placed in the Aynayn mountain pass. Using such eminent warriors as Hamza, ‘Ali, Abu Dujana, and Zubayr, he won the victory in the first stage. As for the Trench, he faced the enemy with a long, deep trench around Madina. Remaining within the city’s confines, he forced the enemy to retreat after a 4-week siege.
• The Messenger was never short of necessary reinforcements or logistics, and always kept his lines of communication open. He brought up, along with such extraordinary statesmen as Abu Bakr and ‘Umar and people of profound scholarship and spirituality, great soldiers and invincible commanders. His education featured three basic elements:
– Continuous physical training. He urged his Companions to train in archery, wrestling, swimming, and riding horses. Sometimes he arranged and occasionally participated in competitions and footraces. He also stressed the need to preserve one’s health and strength.
– Good morals and being well-mannered.
– Devotion to God with unshakable belief, submission, and reliance, and obedience to God, himself, and others in authority.
The Muslim army conveyed peace and security to the lands it conquered. Each soldier was absolutely dedicated to Islam. The only criterion for them to judge between people was belief in God. They did not feel true love for anybody who opposed God and His Messenger, even if they were their parents, children, or siblings (58:22). As a result, sometimes family members faced each other on the battlefield. Belief and submission made the Muslim soldiers so powerful and fearless that neither the numerical strength of the enemy nor fear of death could prevent them from conveying the Divine Message. ‘Abd Allah ibn Hudafa al-Sahmi, captured by the Byzantines, was told by a Christian priest that his life would be spared if he converted. He was given three minutes to decide. ‘Abd Allah replied: “Thank you, father. You have given me three minutes to tell you about Islam.”
By M. Fethullah Gülen
- ‘Ajluni, Kashf al-Khafa’, 1:424.
- Imam Rabbani, Ahmad Faruq al-Sarhandi, Maktubat, 1:157.
- Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 3:344; 359.
- As is known, night vigils are times when impression is more keen and recitation more penetrating.
- The Muslim envoy to the Persian commander during the war of Qadisiya. This took place in 637 CE, during ‘Umar’s caliphate.
- Abu Dawud, “Malahim,” 5; Ibn Hanbal, 5:278.
- Muslim, “Fada’il al-Sahaba,” 63; Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidaya, 6:336.
- Muslim, “‘Imara,” 39; Ibn Maja, “Jihad,” 40.
- This battle took place during Abu Bakr’s caliphate. (Tr.)
- Abu Dawud, “Jihad,” 96; Tirmidhi, “Jihad,” 36; Ibn Hanbal, 2:70, 86.
- Such modern historians as Muhammad Hamidullah tend to regard as the first constitution in Islamic history.
- Bukhari, “Manaqib,” 25.
- Ibn Hisham, Sira, 2:241; Ibn Sa‘d, Tabaqat, 2:7.
- Ibn Hisham, 2:241, 248.
- Ibn Hisham, 2:252.
- Ibn Hisham, 4:39-42; Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidaya, 4:332-335.
- Hakim. Mustadrak, 3:188; Ibn Kathir, 3:334.
- Ibn Hajar, Al-Isaba, 1:286-287.
- He had been on the verge of becoming king of Madina when the Emigration began. Seeing that many people had accepted the Prophet as the new leader of Madina, he eventually converted to Islam. However, his lost kingship continued to gall him inside and caused him to become a leading Hypocrite and thorn in the side of the Muslim community.
- God promised you that one of the two hosts would be yours, and you wished that the one with no power should be yours. But God willed to establish the truth through His words and to annihilate the unbelievers to the last remnant, that He might prove the truth to be true and falsify falsehood, even if the sinful are averse (8:7-8).
- Ibn Sa‘d, 3:162.
- Muslim, “Kitab al-Jihad wa al-Siyar,” 30; Waqidi, Maghazi, 1:48-49.
- Tabari, Tarikh al-Umam wa al-Muluk, 2:430.
- Ibn Hanbal, 1:411, 418.
- Ibn Sa‘d, 3:120.
- Ibn Hanbal, 1:159.
- Ibn Hisham, 2:127.
- Ibid., 1:621.
- Ibid., 1:668; Ibn Hanbal, 1:368.
- Ibn Hisham, 2:277.
- Ibid., 2:280-287; Ibn Kathir, 3:350.
- Abu Dawud, 2:53; Muslim, 5:170.
- Ibn Hisham, 3:58.
An advisory system of government is an indispensable article of the Islamic constitution. Those who are learned, pious, and have sound judgment and expert knowledge, and who enjoy the people’s confidence, are to be sought. In turn, they are expected to express their opinions, according to the dictates of their conscience, with precision and integrity. This advisory system is so important that God praises the first, exemplary Muslim community as one whose affair is by counsel among them (42:8). This importance becomes more explicit when the Prophet’s leadership is considered. He never spoke out of caprice and on his own authority, but only spoke what God revealed (53:3-4). Thus, he preferred the majority opinion to his own. But since he had to execute their decision in full submission to and confidence in God, he could not change his decision for several reasons: First, this would cause some to pressure others to accept their opinions; second, leaders who change their decisions according to individual feelings and fancies can lose their authority and reliability; third, any resulting hesitation passes fear, anxiety, and confusion to the followers; fourth if the Messenger had changed his decision and defended the Muslims from within Madina, a defeat would have caused his opponents to criticize him and the leading Companions. In his every word and deed, the Messenger set an example to be followed. All the above reflections refer to his behavior prior to Uhud and his words: “It does not befit a Prophet to take off his coat of mail after he has put it on.”
Ibn Hisham, 3:664/667.
- Bukhari, “I‘tisam,” 28; Ibn Hisham, Sira, 3:68.
- Ibn Hisham, 3:68.
- Bukhari, “Jihad,” 164; Abu Dawud, “Jihad,” 6.
- Muslim, “Fada’il al-Sahaba,” 128; Ibn Hanbal, 3:123.
- Haythami, Majma‘ al-Zawa’id, 6:109.
- Ibn Sa‘d, Tabaqat, 3:12; Waqidi, Maghazi, 221.
- Qadi ‘Iyad, Shifa’, 1:78-9; Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 4:93.
- Ibn Hisham, 3:99.
- Ibn Sa‘d, Tabaqat, 8:413-15.
- Ibn Hanbal, 3:201; Bayhaqi, Sunan, 9:44.
- Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidaya, 4:35-6.
- Tabari, Tarikh, 3:17; Ibn Athir, Al-Kamil, 2:74; Ibn Hisham, Sira, 3:100.
- Said Nursi, Lemalar (Istanbul: 28).
- Ibn Hisham, 3:120-1; Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidaya, 4:43.
- Ibn Hisham, 3:101.
- Ibn Hisham, 3:94; Ibn Sa‘d, 2:59.
- Ibn Hisham, 3:213.
- Ibn Kathir, 4:178-79.
- Ibn Hisham, 3:225-26; Waqidi, 441-43.
- Bukhari, “Manaqib al-Ansar,” 9; “Maghazi,” 29; Muslim, “Jihad,” 123-25.
- Bukhari, “Manaqib,” 9; Muslim, “Jihad,” 127.
- Ibn Hisham, 3:230; Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidaya, 4:116.
- Ibn Hisham, 3:239.
- Ibid., 3:240-42.
- Ibid., 3:235-36.
- Ibn Kathir, 4:123.
- Ibn Hisham, 3:243.
- Bukhari, “Maghazi,” 29; Ibn Hanbal, 4:262.
- Bukhari, “Maghazi,” 30.
- Ibn Hisham, 3:249-51.
- Ibn Hisham, 3:238, 262; Ibn Sa‘d, 3:423-24; Tabari, Tarikh, 3:49.
- Ibn Hisham, 3:226; Diyarbakri, Khamis, 1:540.
- Bukhari, “Maghazi,” 38.
- Bukhari, 5:77; Muslim, 4:1872.
- Bukhari, “Maghazi,” 44.
- Ibn Hanbal, 5:299; Tabari, 3:110.
- Ibn Hisham, 4:31.
- Ibid., 4:39.
- Ibid., 4:41.
- Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidaya, 4:330; Ibn Hisham, 6:41-45.
- Ibn Kathir, 4:331-32.
- Ibn Sa‘d, 2:142; Ibn Hisham, 4:55; Tabari, 3:120; Baladhuri, Futuh al-Buldan, 1:47.
- Bukhari, 5:93; Muslim, 3:1408; Ibn Hisham, 4:59; Ibn Sa‘d, 2:136.
- 7Bukhari, “Jihad,” 52; Muslim, “Jihad,” 78.
- Ibn Kathir, 4:373.
- Bukhari, “Tafsir,” 18; Ibn Hisham, 4:161; Tabari, Tarikh, 3:143; “Tafsir,” 10:161.
- Ibn Sa‘d, 2:165-68; Tabari, Tarikh, 3:100-11.
- Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidaya, 5:13.
- Andrew Miller, Church History, 285; Bukhari, “Manaqib,” 9.
- Ibn Hisham, 2:269.
- Bukhari, “Tayammum,” 1, “Salat,” 56.
- Nasa’i, Sunan, 5:212; Ibn Hisham, 4:13; Ibn Sa‘d, 2:121.