As was discussed earlier, Muslims had been oppressed, humiliated, tortured, persecuted, and driven into exile. During this 13 year period, Muslims did not retaliate against the ill-treatment of Quraysh. The following critical incident, however, where Muslims attacked a caravan belonging to Quraysh, was a turning point in which a policy regarding war was established. This method sets a new phase for dealing with the Idolaters. Below are the details of this incident.
Islam’s Policy for Initiating a War
In the latter part of 623 CE. (the beginning of the second year in Medina), the Prophet (PBUH) sent his companion Abdullah Ibn-Jahsh as the head of a number of his associates with a sealed document and asked him to unseal it after two days of travel in the direction of Mecca. He was also directed to follow its instructions without forcing any member of his companions to comply with the guidance. Two days after embarking on the mission, Abdullah unsealed the Prophet’s document, which read:
As soon as you have read this paper, proceed to Nakhlah (a place between Mecca and Taif), observe and learn Quraysh news and return.
All members of the mission decided to proceed to Nakhlah. On their way, two people, Al-Zuhi and Urban Ibn-Gazwan lost their camel and went to look for it. Later, they were taken by the Quraysh and kept as hostages. At Nakhlah, the Muslims saw a caravan carrying trade goods for Quraysh. The group felt the eagerness to seize the caravan in return for Quraysh’s confiscation of their gains earlier. Some of them, including their leader, did not want to attack the caravan because the Prophet did not command him to do so, and he did not want to kill in the Sacred Months. Arabs, before Islam, had established the tradition of stopping war among themselves for four Sacred Months. Finally, the decision was made to attack the caravan.
After the attack was carried out, Amr Ibn al-Hadrami, the caravan’s guardian, was killed, two other people were captured, and the goods seized. When Abdullah arrived in Medina, before the Prophet, together with the gains and the two taken men, the Prophet (PBUH) refused to accept the goods and receive the hostages. He said: “I have not instructed you to fight in the holy months.” Abdullah and his companions were under a lot of pressure until the Prophet received the following revelation that outlined Islam’s policy regarding their action and the act of war. The inspiration states:
They ask you concerning the Holy Months whether or not fighting is permitted therein. Say (oh Muhammad), fighting therein is a grave (offense). But graver is it in the sight of God to prevent access to the path of God, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque and drive out its people, tumult and oppression are worse than fighting in the Holy Months. Quran, 2:217
This verse approved the view that it is indeed a grave offense to fight in the Sacred Months. But it warns of something far weightier in its evil and immorality, which are: 1) Preventing man’s freedom of belief and obeying God, 2) Denying people access to the House of God and driving people out of their homes, and 3) Religious persecution, forcing Muslims to disbelieve. These actions of injustice are greater offenses than killing. This incident has set the fundamental philosophy of what may constitute war in Islam.
Defending freedom of belief and truth, and protecting the weak and justice against oppression and incitement to rebellion are the factors permitting a Muslim state to fight. If one does not fight for the right but preferably passively chooses not to get involved, this action directly or indirectly would help the wrong. Shortly after this incident, God sent His Prophet a revelation permitting the Muslims to defend themselves.
Permission (to fight) has been given to those being fought (the Muslims) because they were wronged. Quran, 22:39
The Pagans deliberately made all the major battles during the early period of Islam to attack the Muslims. For example, the onset of Badr (discussed below) was the first significant battle not planned nor expected by the Muslims. The Muslims were out intercepting a caravan belonging to Quraysh, a move that appeared to be designed to pressure Quraysh to allow the Muslims to go about their businesses in practicing their faith. Even when the caravan in question escaped the Muslims and was safe in Mecca, Quraysh insisted on fighting the Muslims at the well of Badr.
The battle of Uhud, which took place a year after the battle of Badr, was an attack on the Muslims in revenge for Quraysh’s death in the battle of Badr. The last fight (battle of the Ditch or the Pac), which took place a year after Uhud, was an attack by Quraysh and its confederacies on the Muslims in their city of Medina designed to finish them out. The battle was defused because the Muslims dug a deep trench preventing Quraysh from clashing the Muslims. The move ended with no bloodshed and fight, known as the Battle of the Pact or the Ditch.
The Battle of Badr
For fourteen years, Quraysh had been confiscating the Muslims’ homes and wealth and had driven them into exile. During the first year after migration to Medina, the Muslims attempted to put economic pressure on Quraysh by intercepting their caravans. The battle of Badr occurred over Quraysh’s escaped caravan coming from Greater Syria led by their leader Abu Sufyan. Abu Sufyan was able to escape the caravan from the Muslims into Mecca unharmed. Having learned about the Muslims’ attempt to intercept the caravan, however, Quraysh called its alliance and prepared an army of 1000 fighters for its rescue.
The news of the caravan’s safe arrival into Mecca reached the army, but Quraysh insisted on attacking the 314 Muslims, who were not equipped for the fight. Advises from Quraysh elders, such as Utbah ibn Rabee’ ah not to attack the Muslims and return to Mecca, were denied by Abu Jahl, a Quraysh leader. The latter insisted to “perish the Muslims” in the upcoming battle.
It was customary for Prophet Muhammad to consult his people over crucial matters concerning their lives and affairs. So, he got his people’s approval to engage in a battle before the encounter. On January 8, 624 CE, at the wells of Badr, the Meccans attacked the 314 Muslims. Quraysh outnumbered the Muslims three to one.
“O, God! Fulfill thy promise to me. If this little band of believers perishes, there will be none on earth to worship Thee,” Muhammad stretched out his hands as he called. Just as the forces were about to engage, a violent storm whipped up sand in the faces of the Meccans. “Gabriel,” the Prophet cried ecstatically, “with a thousand angels is falling upon the enemies.”
A wild melee ensued. Over the clash of swords and the whistle of arrows, Muhammad cried:
All who die today will enter Paradise!
Even though the Muslims fought boldly and routed the Pagans, Allah told them:
It was not ye who slew them; it was God. Quran, 9:17
The total dead from the Muslims and the non-believers were fourteen and seventy, respectively. Several Quraysh leaders were killed. Over seventy other disbelievers were taken as prisoners of war. Later, each prisoner of war had to pay a ransom, and those who were unable to pay had to teach ten children how to read and write.
Remarkably, the following Biblical verse, in great detail, expressed the event of the arrival of the Prophet to Medina and his victory at Badr.
The burden upon Arabia, in the forest of Arabia ye shall lodge, O you traveling companions of Dedanites. The inhabitants of the land of Tema brought water to him that was thirsty, with their bread, they met him who fled. For they fled from the swords, the drawn swords, and from the bent bow, and the grievousness of war. For thus hath the Lord said unto me, within a year, according to the years of a hireling, all the glory of kedar shall fail: and the residue of the number of archers, the mighty men of the children of Kedar shall be diminished: for the Lord God of Israel hath spoken it. Isaiah, 21:13-17
]The Myth: A Muslim Enters Paradise by Killing a Christian or a Jew
In the previous section, we related the Prophet’s call: “All who die today will enter Paradise!” We must take a deeper examination of the circumstances surrounding this call because it has been misused to mean, “by killing Christians or Jews, Muslims go to Paradise.” This interpretation does not stand ground or truth of any kind. First, the Prophet was facing the Pagans of Mecca, not Christians, Jews, or westerners. Second, the Prophet’s word “today” limits the act of entering Paradise to those who die that day only. Thirdly, the word of the Prophet “die” implies dying in self-defense, since the entire battle of Badr was made in self-defense.
Defending one’s self is considered a duty, whether it be in the west or the east. There is no rule in Islam that calls Muslims to maliciously attack Christians and Jews, advertised by Western media and writers. In fact, Islam’s philosophy concerning the act of war is to prevent it and bloodshed. Why is this quotation of the Prophet twisted to mean killing Westerners, Jews, or Christians? On the contrary, the Muslims and the Jews joined each other a few months before this battle of Badr and allied to defend Medina against the Pagan Quraysh as stated above under the subtitle, Peaceful Coexistence of Muslims and Jews.
Furthermore, before this alliance with the Jews, Prophet Muhammad sent his followers to Abyssinia to escape Quraysh’s execution and be protected by its Christian King, Negus. This event took place nine years before this battle, and the Muslim/Christian cooperative relationship lasted for centuries. For more information on this subject, see “The Muslim’s Alliance with the Christians and Jews.” Finally, the Islamic philosophy of martyrdom entering Paradise is no different than the concept of martyrdom in Christianity. This philosophy cannot be interpreted as permission to kill Christians, Jews, westerners, or any human being. The human soul in Islam is considered sacred and therefore protected. Islam’s philosophy regarding living with non-Muslims is not based on destructing, but rather on building good relations and friendships.
The Battle of Uhud
In 625 CE, Quraysh assembled an army of three thousand people to attack the Muslims and avenge their people’s death in the battle of Badr the previous year. The Prophet consulted his people regarding where to meet Quraysh. The choices were either to stay in the City (Medina) or to fight Quraysh at mount Uhud, north of the city. The majority of the Muslims chose the latter alternative. This ‘majority’ or democratic approach was uneasy for people living for ages under common monarchy systems. On the way to the battlefield, one-third of the Muslim army split and returned to Medina, led by the hypocrites’ head, due to the majority choice. See Section: Towards Democracy (shura) below for more details.
At Mount Uhud, the Muslims stayed defeated. The Prophet and many of his companions were injured. The number of Muslims dead was seventy-three; most of them were Medinan Muslims. The number of disbelievers dead was 35. A large number of deaths from Medina led to an orphanage crisis, as explained below. Quraysh’s victory is distinguished by the mutilation of the Muslim’s dead.
Muslim’s War-Preventive Measures
This defeat of the Muslims and their weak position was an opportunity for Quraysh to mobilize its confederate tribes surrounding Medina and launch to ensure no further attacks by the Pagan or their confederates. The Prophet ordered the Muslims to chase the Quraysh army or meet them if the situation called for it. At Hamrau al-Asad, the Muslims camped for three days, facing the army of Quraysh, ensuring that they do not return to attack Medina.
Elsewhere around Medina, tribes took the opportunity of the Muslims’ weakness and started preparing to attack the city. Upon learning of the massing locations, the Prophet quickly dispatched several units to stall the attackers. Examples are sending Aba Salamah bin Abd al-Asad with 150 of his companions to hinder Banu Asad’s forces, and Abdu Allah ibn Anees to Khaled al Huzally to terminate the massing of Banu Huzail. By taking such war-preventive measures, the Muslims were able to prevent further violence and bloodshed.
The Crisis of Orphanages and Polygamy
The loss of seventy-three Muslims, mostly Medinans, in Uhud’s Battle created a new problem for Muslims, how to deal with the dead’s families? Widows and children went with no financial and social-psychological support. Moreover, some of these families have property and businesses that required management and care. This crisis addressed by God in the following verses;
And give the orphans their property, and do not substitute worthless (things) for (their) good (ones), and do not devour their property (as an addition) to your property> This is undoubtedly a high crime. And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem reasonable to you, two and three and four. But if you fear that you will not do justice (between them) then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course. Quran, 4:2 and 3
The solution to this social problem was the multiple marriages of more than one woman for a man. This resolution was not only a humanitarian one, but it solved the question of property management of the newer and possibly bigger families with fairness and equity. As a result of these revelations, several new marriages to the widows were secured. Thus, some happiness, tranquility, and security returned to many helpless women and orphans. While the solution permitted the Muslim man to marry up to four women, indirectly, it limited the custom that allowed an unlimited number of wives for a man, which commonly functioned in the pre-Islamic times by Arabs and other People of the Book.
Islam’s Shura Principle Parallels Today’s Democracy
An interesting point is an indirect way of introducing a portion of today’s democracy to people under common tribal monarchy systems. The details of this approach occurred preceding the battle of Uhud, as explained above. Although Muslims are not supposed to outvote Allah’s commands, such as prohibitions or permissions, but are allowed to cast votes and opinions on many issues about the health and well-being of the Ummah.
Historically, a good example is a decision on a location to meet the army of Quraysh before Uhud was selected. As the Medinan learned of the news of the Meccans’ intent to attack, the Prophet called upon his companions and the tribal leaders, including the head of the hypocrites, Abdullah Ibn Abi Salul, to discuss the alternative locations for meeting the Quraysh army. Two places considered: The first states that the Muslims stay in the city as they defend it. This choice was the elder’s approach (tribal leaders). The second method was meeting the Meccans outside the town by Mount Uhud. This plan is managed by the majority and younger groups of Muslims.
At first, the Prophet (PBUH) sided with the first approach, that of the elders. However, most Muslims kept asking the Prophet to take their method and meet the Meccans at Mount Uhud. Before long, the Prophet (p) changed his mind for the majority opinion. This step was giant and risky for the Prophet since the traditions in Arabia are such that “no one goes against the opinion or order of a tribal leader and that “what the tribal leader says goes unquestioned, right or wrong.” And as is expected, selecting the youthful majority’s approach did not go free, but the Prophet and Muslims had to pay for it. As mentioned above, 300 people split away from the Muslim army and left them more vulnerable to defeat in the battle ahead. After the battle and the Muslims defeat, Allah revealed verses re-enforcing the Prophet’s decision for consulting his people and siding with the majority, saying:
So (Muhammad) pardon them (the companions who disobeyed your orders by leaving their positions during the battle of Uhud and essentially causing the defeat) and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. And your decision, then rely upon Allah (as you carry out the plans). Indeed, Allah loves those who rely upon Him. Qur’an, 4:159
Clarity and Priority Guidance
Halfway into the battlefield in meeting Quraysh’s army, about one-third of the Muslim army, 300 people, split from the Muslim army and returned home. This split was orchestrated by the hypocrites’ head, Abdullah Ibn Abi Salul, who said: “He (Muhammad) obeyed the young and disobeyed me.” He was referring to the Prophet’s decision about siding with the youthful majority. This act of betrayal created havoc for the Muslims. It broke their strength and lowered their moral; two groups of the Muslims lost course and vision and got into tangential issues of how to deal with the hypocrites, forgetting that dealing with such matter at this point takes away from the more crucial problem which was facing Quraysh in the battle ahead. What to do about the hypocrites can be dealt with later. Furthermore, such a matter requires a whole different setting to deal with effectively.
Before Muslims’ condition deteriorates any further, Allah (SWT) sent Gabriel with a revelation that questioned the moral and even discussed the hypocrites’ issue. The Muslim’s priorities must be calculated with wisdom and vision. Vision must be based on the best option that would carry the vehicle of Islam further. Below is the revelation:
What is [the matter] with you [that you are] two groups concerning the hypocrites, while Allah has made them fall back [into error and disbelief] for what they earned? Do you wish to guide those whom Allah has sent astray? And he whom Allah sends astray – never will you find for him a way [of guidance]. Qur’an 4: 88
The Battle of the Pact or the Ditch
After the Battle of Uhud, Quraysh continued leading its campaign against the Muslims. It called upon all the Arabian tribes around Mecca and Medina to attack the Muslims and finish them. A year after the battle of Uhud, Quraysh and its confederacies summed up ten thousand people and set off to attack the Muslims in the city of Medina.
What would be the fate of about 2,500 Muslims as they meet an army of 10,000 people in a battle? Could this mean their end? Here again, the Prophet called his people for suggestions and opinions, and still, it was shura that saved the situation. Salman al Farsi (Salman the Persian) suggested to the Prophet that he dig a ditch, “similar to what the Persians do in similar cases.” The trench would be in the flat part bordering the north’s city since the town is naturally surrounded by mountains and protruding rock on the other sides. Besides, this solution can mean the prevention of war and bloodshed altogether.
The Prophet accepted Salman’s suggestion and organized his people for the operation to begin digging the ditch. Within 25 days and just in time before the Pac arrival, the Muslims dug a massive trench, approximately 4 meters wide, 4 to 6 meters deep, and about 2000 meters long. (again, should this be in feet?)This trench completed the city’s isolation from the Meccans. No one on a horse or otherwise could easily cross the ditch or enter the city.
When the Pact approached the city, they were surprised as they faced the ditch and could not cross it or carry off an offense. Quraysh camped before the trench for forty days while attempting to pass it or working a strategy to engage in a battle. During this time, Quraysh’s knights over and over again challenged and intimidated the Muslims to start a fight. Quraysh’s poets (Amr ibn Wed al Ameri and Dherar Merdas) composed poems insulting, instigating, humiliating, and challenging the Muslims to step outside the ditch and begin a battle. The wise Muslims, however, contained the intimidations and controlled themselves from preventing violence and bloodshed. Also, during this time, Quraysh made contact with one of the Jewish tribes, Qurathah, and was able to get the tribe to breach its covenant with the Muslims and join Quraysh.
As for the Muslims, the Prophet attempted to make peace with the tribe of Ghatafan (one of the Pac significant tribes) and convinced them to break away from Quraysh. Similarly, the Muslims were able to cut the ties between Quraysh and the Jewish tribe of Quraythah, who betrayed them. Quraysh planned that the tribe of Quraythah, which was inside the city with the Muslims, to attack the Muslims from behind, while Quraysh works from the front. The situation for Quraysh and the Pac in this long stand began to show that it was unwise to continue to engage in a battle that was not going to materialize. These developments, along with God’s acts of severe winds that blew away Quraysh’s tents and belongings and exposed them to cold weather, drove Quraysh to withdraw and return to Mecca.
The withdrawal of the Pac constitutes a significant victory for the Muslims. Quraysh is now exhausted. The Pac was their last straw. In fact, after the Pac’s diffusion, the Prophet (PBUH) said: “Today we can conquer them, and they cannot conquer us,” pointing out to their exhaustion from war. Soon after the Pac withdraws, the prophet immediately punished the Jewish tribe of Qurathah, who betrayed him and the Muslims in the stance.
Should the diffusion and elimination of this war be another example of Islam’s quest for peace and proof that Islam was not a religion that was “spread by the sword?” And evidence of Islam’s philosophy in preventing wars and changing enemies into friends? This prevention of fight philosophy is precisely what happened. See the Agreement of Hudaybiyah next.
The Agreement of Hudaybiyah
A year after the Ditch battle, the Prophet and the Muslims attempted to conduct the Minor Pilgrimage to Mecca, but Quraysh did not allow them to fulfill their duty. Then, the Prophet negotiated an agreement with Quraysh called “The Treaty of Hudaybiyah.” The treaty, among other things, called for peace between Quraysh and the Muslims for the following ten years and gave the freedom of choice for all Arab tribes to join either Muhammad or Quraysh’s camp. The agreement also called for the Muslims to make a Lesser Pilgrimage in the following year.
This agreement gave the Prophet and the Muslims a chance they had been after for the longest time: peacefully reaching out to members of Quraysh as well as the rest of Arabia, for which Quraysh had for the longest time been diligently keeping them away. Now, Muslims can freely contact people, practice, and display their faith’s quality and virtues, clear the air and bring the truth out for others to see and judge. Ultimately, for the next two years, the number of people who embraced Islam exceeded many folds the number of those who entered it during the twelve-year Meccan period.
Early Muslims and Christians Dialog
In the next two years, most of Arabia embraced Islam. The Prophet sent emissaries and wrote letters to the tribes residing in the Arabian Peninsula introducing Islam and inviting them to accept it. Hundreds of tribe delegations, as a result, came to Medina to give their allegiance to the Prophet and embrace Islam. Many Christian tribes accepted Islam; others, however, did not and chose to stay Christian. For example, a delegation of the tribes of Najran (located between Yemen and Mecca) visited the Prophet in his mosque for two weeks. While the dialog was taking place, the Prophet gave the Christian delegation the right to practice their faith freely in his mosque during their stay. At the end of the dialogue, the Christian commission chose to stay Christians.
The Prophet accepted their decision and gave them a letter assuring their freedom of worship and the safety of their homes, churches, and towns. Below is part of his message :
Our covenant with Najran is that they are under the protection of God and his Prophet. Najran’s homes, churches, monks, priests, their present and absent and alliance, shall be safe…
The War with Byzantine
The Muslims had to go to war with the Byzantine, and here are the details of why the war started. The Prophet sent Harith Ibn-Umair al Azdi with a letter to the Governor of Bostra, Sharhabeel al Ghassani, the Arab Governor of Sham (Syria), appointed by the Roman King Hercules. Sharhabeel tortured and killed the emissary as he learned that he was the messenger of the Prophet. The act of killing emissaries was considered an act of war; otherwise, all nations gave emissaries protection.
In July 629 CE, the Prophet sent a group of men numbering fifteen to learn about Harith. This team was in turn attacked at al-Kara, bordering Syria. They met a shower of arrows, and all killed except one. The moment Prophet Muhammad learned of his messengers’ fate, he set out to punish the killers. If Prophet Muhammad (p) let this criminal act slide, the Arabs, the Romans, or the Persians would assume the door was open to finish off Muhammad and his followers.
In September 629 CE, under Ziad Ibn-Harith, a force of 3000 was dispatched to Syria. At Mu’tah, the Muslims appointed to the rank of leaders were killed. Khalid Ibn-Alwaleed took over the leadership of the army and withdrew back to Medina. The withdrawal at Mu’tah was taken as a defeat, which encouraged the Romans and its Arab alliance to step up their aggression against the Muslims.
In the following months, news came to the Prophet that the tribes of Bali and Qudaha were massing in considerable numbers on the Syrian border, with alleged intentions of invading Arabia. The Prophet sent Amr Ibn al-‘ass as the head of 300 people to disseminate the massing. When the expedition arrived at Syria’s borders, they quickly realized that their enemy was in a more significant number than had been anticipated. Amr then sent back a man of the Juhaynah tribe to the Prophet, asking for reinforcement. Abu Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah immediately dispatched with an additional two hundred men. Amr marched with the five hundred men across the Syrian border, and as they advanced, the enemy dispersed. There was only one brief exchange of arrows, but the rest of the march was a matter of coming upon deserted camps, whose very recent occupants had vanished. Amr returned without meeting the Arab Roman alliance. This expedition is known as Thatu al Riqa’.
By Faysal Burhan