To scheme a strategic plan for the future, Muslims should look into their history to learn lessons and derive wisdom. Many incidents in the biography (seerah) of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) reveal his personal skills and inherent talent bestowed on him by Almighty Allah. Out of these incidents and the way he tackled them, numerous lessons can be learned and countless pieces of wisdom can be cherished.

An expert in strategic planning, Dr. Carter McNamara defines the term as follows:

Simply put, strategic planning determines where an organization is going over the next year or more, how it is going to get there, and how it will know if it got there or not. The focus of a strategic plan is usually on the entire organization, while the focus of a business plan is usually on a particular product, service, or program. (1)

Although I am not a strategic planner by profession, I have received special training on this sort of planning on two or more occasions. Through this training, I grasped some idea of the nature of strategic planning and its importance for any entity aspiring to progress or even to survival.

I learned that no ambitious organization can progress without planning or trying to foresee the future via applying famous measures, such as SWOT analysis (analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats). Also, other tools are used in the analysis of all that is involved in the process of operating this entity.

This should be the behavior of today’s Muslims, whether they are employees at some institution, citizens in a country, or individuals in the Muslim Ummah as a whole. All Muslims should apply strategic planning in one way or another to preserve their identity and even the very existence of the Muslim Ummah.

Lessons From Seerah

Among the skills bestowed on the Prophet was his ability to scheme strategic plans for the da`wah (inviting people to Islam). He was entrusted with this mission by Allah, Who says in the Glorious Qur’an,

Nor does he [Muhammad] speak out of [his own] desire. It is naught save an inspiration that is inspired. The Lord of Mighty Powers has taught him. (An-Najm 53:3–5)

This skill of the Prophet can be seen in many incidents, such as the Treaty of Al-Hudaibiyah when he managed the situation with Quraish. A second example is his advice to a number of his Companions to leave Makkah and seek asylum in Abyssinia . Here, only the latter incident will be dealt with. A discussion on the Treaty of Al-Hudaibiyah is left to another occasion in the near future, in sha’ Allah.

Any one who scans the books of Prophetic seerah will apparently notice that nearly all of these books attribute Muslims’ seeking asylum in Abyssinia to the mere avoidance of the oppression of Quraish.

However, to me, this cannot be the sole reason behind this tiresome journey, which lasted for years and years in its second version. I do think that there are other reasons behind that immigration to Abyssinia and that it was not merely to avoid the tyranny and oppression of Quraish. In fact, it was done to fulfill other goals, as well.

Motive for Immigration to Abyssinia

Among the things that made the Prophet advise his companions to immigrate to Abyssinia was the severity of torment they witnessed at the hands of the polytheists of Quraish. Those latter used all sorts of torture known at the time to force Muslims to renounce their true religion.

However, those who immigrated to Abyssinia were not only from among the poor and the weak. The dispatch included, among others, `Uthman ibn `Affan and his wife, Ruqayyah, the Prophet’s own daughter.

Also, Ja`far ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet’s cousin, was in the dispatch. It is important to know that Abu Talib (Ja`far’s father and the Prophet’s uncle) used to protect the Prophet from the violence of Quraish. How then could he not protect his own son, Ja`far, from the tyranny of polytheists? Why did Ja`far resort to seeking asylum in a distant place like Abyssinia?

The Muslim dispatch also included `Abdur-Rahman ibn `Awf, Abu Salamah Al-Makhzumi, and Az-Zubayr ibn Al-`Awam, who were all noble and public figures in the Quraishi scene.

Some women from among the noblest households of Quraish were also part of the dispatch. Those women would have never been harmed in any way if they chose to remain in Makkah.

This may suggest that one of the reasons behind this immigration was to shake the Quraishi social context from within. Certainly, the Quraishi people understood this, especially that some of their noblest figures immigrated and deserted their homeland to save their faith, leaving behind the kith and kin.

Indeed, such an immigration shook the Quraishi society very violently, especially that Umm Habibah, the daughter of Quraishi leader Abu Sufyan, was one of the immigrants. For such a noble woman to abandon her household and homeland for her religion, this was indeed remarkable in a tribal society like that of Quraish.

To me, foremost among all reasons is that the Prophet wanted to keep a strategic reserve for Islam in a far and safe place beyond the reach of Quraish’s tyranny. He wanted to keep these people intact away from the scourges of war. In other words, he wanted to establish a base outside the area of conflict to preserve the faith and keep it intact in a safe place until everything is decided by Almighty Allah.

If the aim was the mere avoidance of harm, Ja`far ibn Abi Talib and the other 83 male and female Companions would have left Abyssinia and immigrated to Madinah immediately after the Hijrah. A strong Muslim state and capable army were established in Madinah after the Hijrah, and therefore those who had immigrated to Abyssinia would have been safe in Madinah.

However, the Companions stayed in Abyssinia for 14 years. None of them immigrated to Madinah until the war between Quraish and Muslims came to an end. During that period, Muslims were forced to fight Quraish in many decisive battles, such as the battles of Badr, Uhud, and Al-Ahzab. Ja`far and other Companions came back to Madinah only a year before the Battle of Mu’tah.

During that period, Madinah was threatened by a sweeping attack from Quraish for about five years. The last attack against Madinah was the Battle of Al-Ahzab, where more than 10,000 fighters from among the polytheists came to uproot Muslims and their faith. After the defeat of polytheists at the hands of Muslims, the Prophet said,

“Today, we conquer them and they do not conquer us” (Al-Bukhari).

The danger of sweeping Madinah ended with this battle, which was followed by the Treaty of Al-Hudaibiyah in the 6th year of Hijrah. This treaty stressed the end of this danger and underlined Quraish’s official recognition of the new Muslim state in Madinah.

When the Prophet became confident that Madinah was no longer fearful of being swept by the forces of disbelief and that it became a safe haven for Muslims, he sent for those who immigrated to Abyssinia, commanding them to return. Islam was no longer in need of that strategic reserve, which would have been indispensable if Madinah were to fall in the hands of the enemy.

Another main reason for immigration to Abyssinia was to spread the word of Islam outside Makkah. This religion is a universal one that should not be confined to a certain place, be it a city, a state, or even a continent.

As for the first journey to Abyssinia, Muslims stayed there only for a month and then came back to Makkah. The aim was to explore the place.

Lessons to Learn

As mentioned earlier, many lessons can be derived from the plan of immigration to Abyssinia schemed by Prophet Muhammad. Although the Prophet lived in Makkah at the time, he was aware of what was happening around him in the Arabian Peninsula and its surroundings. He knew that the Negus of Abyssinia was a just king and that no one would be wronged under his rule.

This should be a trait of all Muslims: to know and understand the context in which they are living and have an idea about the environment surrounding them to be able to know when and how to do something.

Another lesson would be endurance in the cause of Allah. The Prophet and his noble Companions suffered in Makkah and in Madinah and endured many calamities and plights in the cause of Allah. True Muslims should be steadfast in the face of all calamities that might afflict them in the way of da`wah.

True believers should be steadfast in their belief. They should never resort to any sort of compromise or submission to the pressures of the enemy. `Amr ibn Al-`Aas, who was a disbeliever when Muslims immigrated to Abyssinia, maliciously tried to persuade the Negus to abstain from providing Muslims with a safe haven. However, Ja`far and his companions unanimously agreed to say only the truth and nothing but the truth. This made the Negus respect them and their call, and he secretly embraced Islam at last.

The incident of immigration to Abyssinia also shows that the Prophet had great mercy for his Companions when he advised them to migrate from Makkah. 

Amazingly, when Ja`far and his companions immigrated to Madinah, the Prophet did not give them a break. The Prophet appointed Ja`far as a second-in-command with the army commander Zayd ibn Harithah in the army heading for Mu’tah.

As already mentioned, Ja`far was the Prophet’s cousin; he was loved by the Prophet. He had a very close resemblance to him. He stayed away from the Prophet for 14 years, yet the Prophet appointed him as a second-in-command in an army of 3,000 Muslim fighters who faced 200,000 Roman fighters in the Battle of Mu’tah!

Finally, this immigration shows a new dimension of Prophet Muhammad’s noble character: A strategic planner who was of course aided by Almighty Allah Himself.

Almighty Allah provided His weak and oppressed servants with a safe haven and protected them from the harm of Quraish. He made them feel safe and secure about their lives and religion. Further, He enabled them to spread the religion of truth through calling to it with wisdom and good advice. Muslims also won a new land, which was a starting point for their call in the region, as part of the global message of Islam.

Strategic Planning Revisited

In relation to the aforementioned definition of strategic planning, there are two things to be looked into:

First: Strategic planning for an entity covers a period of one or more years — maybe two or three years. Meanwhile, Muslims’ immigration to Abyssinia, which was planned by the Prophet, lasted for about 14 years. What a farsighted and futuristic strategic planning!

Second: The focus of strategic planning is usually on the entire entity, not any of its branches or offshoots. This is exactly what was done by the Prophet: His focus was on the entire religion of Islam and the community of all Muslims. He put aside a group of Muslims as a strategic reserve for the Ummah and the religion of Islam. Although Islam is a divine religion, it still needs human effort to be well established in the land. This is one of the characteristics of this religion as may be understood from numerous incidents.

In conclusion, this article was only a glimpse of the great political thinking and farsighted strategic planning practiced by the Prophet in the process of building the Muslim state. In so doing, he studied all possibilities and came to know all the strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities involved in the whole situation. Finally, he could find an appropriate place for the Muslim state, which helped protect the Muslim faith from all harms.

By Ali Al-Halawani

McNamara, Carter. “Strategic Planning (in Nonprofit or For-Profit Organizations).” Free Management Library. Accessed 7 Oct. 2008.