The Jews and Hypocrites
In the first year of his reign at Yathrib the Prophet made a solemn treaty with the Jewish tribes, which secured to them equal rights of citizenship and full religious liberty in return for their support of the new state. But their idea of a Prophet was one who would give them dominion, not one who made the Jews who followed him brothers of every Arab who might happen to believe as they did. When they found that they could not use the Prophet for their own ends, they tried to shake his faith in his Mission and to seduce his followers, behavior in which they were encouraged secretly by some professing Muslims who considered they had reason to resent the Prophet’s coming, since it robbed them of their local influence. In the Madinah’s surahs there is frequent mention of these Jews and Hypocrites.
Till then the Qiblah (the place toward which the Muslims turn their face in prayer) had been Jerusalem . The Jews imagined that the choice implied a leaning toward Judaism and that the Prophet stood in need of their instruction. He received command to change the Qiblah from Jerusalem to the Ka‘bah at Makkah. The whole first part of juz’ 2, part of Surah II, relates to this Jewish controversy.
The First Expeditions
The Prophet’s first concern as ruler was to establish public worship and lay down the constitution of the State: but he did not forget that Quraysh had sworn to make an end of his religion, nor that he had received command to fight against them till they ceased from persecution. After he had been twelve months in Yathrib several small expeditions went out, led either by the Prophet himself or some other of the fugitives from Makkah for the purpose of reconnoitering and of dissuading other tribes from siding with Quraysh. These are generally represented as warlike but, considering their weakness and the fact that they did not result in fighting; they can hardly have been that, though it is certain that they went out ready to resist attack. It is noteworthy that in those expeditions only fugitives from Makkah were employed, never natives of Yathrib; the reason being (if we accept Ibn Khaldun’s theory, and there is no other explanation) that the command to wage war had been revealed to the Prophet at Makkah after the Yathrib men had sworn their oath of allegiance at al-‘Aqabah, and in their absence. Their oath foresaw fighting in mere defense not fighting in the field. Blood was shed and booty taken in only one of those early expeditions, and then it was against the Prophet’s orders.
One purpose of those expeditions may have been to accustom the Makkah Muslims to going out in war like trim. For thirteen years they had been strict pacifists, and it is clear, from several passages of the Qur’an, that many of them, including, it may be, the Prophet himself, hated the idea of fighting even in self-defense and had to be inured to it.
The Campaign of Badr
In the second year of the Hijrah the Makkahn merchants’ caravan was returning from Syria as usual by a road which passed not far from Yathrib. As its leader Abu Sufyan approached the territory of Yathrib he heard of the Prophet’s design to capture the caravan. At once he sent a camel-rider on to Makkah, who arrived in a worn-out state and shouted frantically from the valley to Quraysh to hasten to the rescue unless they wished to lose both wealth and honor. A force a thousand strong was soon on its way to Yathrib: less, it would seem, with the hope of saving the caravan than with the idea of punishing the raiders, since the Prophet might have taken the caravan before the relief force started from Makkah.
Did the Prophet ever intend to raid the caravan? In Ibn Hisham, in the account of the Tabuk expedition, it is stated that the Prophet on that one occasion did not hide his real objective. The caravan was the pretext in the campaign of Badr; the real objective was the Makkan army.
He had received command to fight his persecutors, and promise of victory, he was prepared to venture against any odds, as was well seen at Badr. But the Muslims, ill-equipped for war, would have despaired if they had known from the first that they were to face a well-armed force three times their number.
The victory of Badr gave the Prophet new prestige among the Arab tribes
The army of Quraysh had advanced more than half-way to Yathrib before the Prophet set out. All three parties – the army of Quraysh, the Muslim army and the caravan – were heading for the water of Badr. Abu Sufyan, the leader of the caravan, heard from one of his scouts that the Muslims were near the water, and turned back to the coast-plain. And the Muslims met the army of Quraysh by the water of Badr.
Before the battle the Prophet was prepared still further to increase the odds against him. He gave leave to all the Ansar (natives of Yathrib) to return to their homes unreproached, since their oath did not include the duty of fighting in the field; but the Ansar were only hurt by the suggestion that they could possibly desert him at a time of danger. The battle went at first against the Muslims, but ended in a signal victory for them.
The victory of Badr gave the Prophet new prestige among the Arab tribes; but thenceforth there was the feud of blood between Quraysh and the Islamic State in addition to the old religious hatred. Those passages of the Qur’an which refer to the battle of Badr give warning of much greater struggles yet to come.
In fact in the following year, an army of three thousand came from Makkah to destroy Yathrib. The Prophet’s first idea was merely to defend the city, a plan of which Abdullah ibn Ubeyy, the leader of “the Hypocrites” (or lukewarm Muslims), strongly approved. But the men who had fought at Badr and believed that God would help them against any odds thought it a shame that they should linger behind walls.
The Battle on Mt. Uhud
Despite the heavy odds, the battle on Mt. Uhud would have been an even greater victory than that at Badr for the Muslims but for the disobedience of a band of fifty archers whom the Prophet set to guard a pass against the enemy cavalry. Seeing their comrades victorious, these men left their post, fearing to lose their share of the spoils. The cavalry of Quraysh rode through the gap and fell on the exultant Muslims.
The Prophet himself was wounded and the cry arose that he was slain, till someone recognized him and shouted that he was still living. a shout to which the Muslims rallied. Gathering round the Prophet, they retreated, leaving many dead on the hillside.
On the following day the Prophet again sallied forth with what remained of the army, that Quraysh might hear that he was in the field and so might perhaps be deterred from attacking the city. The stratagem succeeded, thanks to the behavior of a friendly Bedouin, who met the Muslims and conversed with them and afterwards met the army of Quraysh. Questioned by Abu Sufyan, he said that Muhammad was in the field, stronger than ever, and thirsting for revenge for yesterday’s affair. On that information, Abu Sufyan decided to return to Makkah.
Massacre of Muslims
The reverse which they had suffered on Mt. Uhud lowered the prestige of the Muslims with the Arab tribes and also with the Jews of Yathrib. Tribes which had inclined toward the Muslims now inclined toward Quraysh. The Prophet’s followers were attacked and murdered when they went abroad in little companies. Khubayb, one of his envoys, was captured by a desert tribe and sold to Quraysh, who tortured him to death in Makkah publicly.
Expulsion of Bani Nadhir
And the Jews, despite their treaty, now hardly concealed their hostility. They even went so far in flattery of Quraysh as to declare the religion of the pagan Arabs superior to Islam. The Prophet was obliged to take punitive action against some of them. The tribe of Bani Nadhir were besieged in their strong towers, subdued and forced to emigrate. The Hypocrites had sympathized with the Jews and secretly egged them on.
The War of the Trench
In the fifth year of the Hijrah the idolaters made a great effort to destroy Islam in the War of the Clans or War of the Trench, as it is variously called; when Quraysh with all their clans and the great desert tribe of Ghatafan with all their clans, an army of ten thousand men rode against Al-Madinah (Yathrib). The Prophet (by the advice of Salman the Persian, it is said) caused a deep trench to be dug before the city, and himself led the work of digging it.
The army of the clans was stopped by the trench, a novelty in Arab warfare. It seemed impassable for cavalry, which formed their strength. They camped in sight of it and daily showered their arrows on its defenders. While the Muslims were awaiting the assault, news came that Bani Qurayzah, a Jewish tribe of Yathrib which had till then been loyal, had gone over to the enemy. The case seemed desperate. But the delay caused by the trench had damped the ardor of the clans, and one who was secretly a Muslim managed to sow distrust between Quraysh and their Jewish allies, so that both hesitated to act. Then came a bitter wind from the sea, which blew for three days and nights so terribly that not a tent could be kept standing, not a fire lighted, not a pot boiled. The tribesmen were in utter misery. At length, one night the leader of Quraysh decided that the torment could be borne no longer and gave the order to retire. When Ghatafan awoke next morning they found Quraysh had gone and they too took up their baggage and retreated.
Punishment of Bani Qurayzah
On the day of the return from the trench the Prophet ordered war on the treacherous Bani Qurayzah, who, conscious of their guilt, had already taken to their towers of refuge. After a siege of nearly a month they had to surrender unconditionally. They only begged that they might be judged by a member of the Arab tribe of which they were adherents. The Prophet granted their request. But the judge, upon whose favor they had counted, condemned their fighting men to death, their women and children to slavery.
Early in the sixth year of the Hijrah the Prophet led a campaign against the Bani al-Mustaliq, a tribe who were preparing to attack the Muslims.
In the same year the Prophet had a vision in which he found himself entering the holy place at Makkah unopposed, therefore he determined to attempt the pilgrimage. Besides a number of Muslims from Yathrib (which we shall henceforth call Al-Madinah) he called upon the friendly Arabs, whose numbers had increased since the miraculous (as it was considered) discomfiture of the clans to accompany him, but most of them did not respond. Attired as pilgrims, and taking with them the customary offerings, a company of fourteen hundred men journeyed to Makkah. As they drew near the holy valley they were met by a friend from the city, who warned the Prophet that Quraysh had put on their leopards-skins (the badge of valor) and had sworn to prevent his entering the sanctuary; their cavalry was on the road before him. On that, the Prophet ordered a detour through mountain gorges and the Muslims were tired out when they came down at last into the valley of Makkah and encamped at a spot called Al-Hudaybiyah; from thence he tried to open negotiations with Quraysh, to explain that he came only as a pilgrim.
The first messenger he sent towards the city was maltreated and his camel hamstrung. He returned without delivering his message. Quraysh on their side sent an envoy which was threatening in tone, and very arrogant. Another of their envoys was too familiar and had to be reminded: sternly of the respect due to the Prophet. It was he who, on his return to the city, said: “I have seen Caesar and Chosroes in their pomp, but never have I seen a man honored as Muhammad is honored by his comrades.”
The Prophet sought some messenger who would impose respect. Othman was finally chosen because of his kinship with the powerful Umayyad family. While the Muslims were awaiting his return the news came that he had been murdered. It was then that the Prophet, sitting under a tree in Al-Hudaybiyah, took an oath from all his comrades that they would stand or fall together. After a while, however, it became known that Othman had not been murdered. A troop which came out from the city to molest the Muslims in their camp was captured before they could do any hurt and brought before the Prophet, who forgave them on their promise to renounce hostility.
Truce of Al-Hudaybiyah
Then proper envoys came from Quraysh. After some negotiation, the truce of Al-Hudaybiyah was signed. For ten years there were to be no hostilities between the parties. The Prophet was to return to Al-Madinah without visiting the Ka‘bah, but in the following year he might perform the pilgrimage with his comrades, Quraysh promising to evacuate Makkah for three days to allow of his doing so. Deserters from Quraysh to the Muslims during the period of the truce were to be returned; not so deserters from the Muslims to Quraysh. Any tribe or clan who wished to share in, the treaty as allies of the Prophet might do so, and any tribe or clan who wished to share in the treaty as allies of Quraysh might do so.
There was dismay among the Muslims at these terms. They asked one another: “Where is the victory that we were promised?” It was during the return journey from Al-Hudaybiyah that the Surah entitled “Victory” was revealed. This truce proved, in fact, to be the greatest victory that the Muslims had till then achieved. War had been a barrier between them and the idolaters, but now both parties met and talked together, and the new religion spread more rapidly. In the two years which elapsed between the signing of the truce and the fall of Makkah the number of converts was greater than the total number of all previous converts. The Prophet traveled to Al-Hudaybiyah with 1400 men. Two years later, when the Makkans broke the truce, he marched against them with an army of 10,000.
The Campaign of Khaybar
In the seventh year or the Hijrah the Prophet led a campaign against Khaybar, the stronghold of the Jewish tribes in North Arabia , which had become a hornets’ nest of his enemies. The forts of Khaybar were reduced one by one, and the Jews of Khaybar became thenceforth tenants of the Muslims until the expulsion of the Jews from Arabia in the ‘Caliphate of Omar.’ On the day when the last fort surrendered Ja`far son of Abu Talib, the Prophet’s first cousin, arrived with all who remained of the Muslims who had fled to Abyssinia to escape from persecution in the early days.
They had been absent from Arabia fifteen years. It was at Khaybar that a Jewess prepared for the Prophet poisoned meat, of which he only tasted a morsel without swallowing it, and then warned his comrades that it was poisoned. One Muslim, who had already swallowed a mouthful, died immediately, and the Prophet himself, from the mere taste of it, derived the illness which eventually caused his death. The woman who had cooked the meat was brought before him. When she said that she had done it on account of the humiliation of her people, he forgave her.
Pilgrimage to Makkah
In the same year the Prophet’s vision was fulfilled: he visited the holy place at Makkah unopposed. In accordance with the terms of the truce the idolaters evacuated the city, and from the surrounding heights watched the procedure of the Muslims. At the end of the stipulated three days the chiefs of Quraysh sent to remind the Prophet that the time was up. He then withdrew, and the idolaters reoccupied the city.
In the eighth year of the Hijrah, hearing that the Byzantine emperor was gathering a force in Syria for the destruction of Islam, the Prophet sent three thousand men to Syria under the command of his freedman Zayd. The campaign was unsuccessful except that it impressed the Syrians with a notion of the reckless valor of the Muslims. The three thousand did not hesitate to join battle with a hundred thousand. When all the three leaders appointed by the Prophet had been killed, the survivors obeyed Khalid ibn al-Walid, who, by his strategy and courage, managed to preserve a remnant and return with them to Al-Madinah.
Truce Broken by Quraysh
In the same year Quraysh broke the truce by attacking a tribe that was in alliance with the Prophet and massacring them even in the sanctuary at Makkah. Afterwards they were afraid because of what they had done. They sent Abu Sufyan to Al-Madinah to ask for the existing treaty to be renewed and, its term prolonged. They hoped that he would arrive before the tidings of the massacre. But a messenger from the injured tribe had been before him, and his embassy was fruitless.
Conquest of Makkah
Then the Prophet summoned all the Muslims capable of bearing arms and marched to Makkah. Quraysh were overawed. Their cavalry put up a show of defence before the town, but were routed without bloodshed; and the Prophet entered his native city as conqueror. The inhabitants expected vengeance for their past misdeeds. The Prophet proclaimed a general amnesty. Only a few known criminals were proscribed, and most of those were in the end forgiven. In their relief and surprise, the whole population of Makkah hastened to swear allegiance. The Prophet caused all the idols which were in the sanctuary to be destroyed, saying: “Truth hath come; darkness hath vanished away;” and the Muslim call to prayer was heard in Makkah.
Battle of Hunayn
In the same year there was an angry gathering of pagan tribes eager to regain the Ka‘bah. The Prophet led twelve thousand men against them. At Hunayn, in a deep ravine, his troops were ambushed by the enemy and almost put to flight. It was with difficulty that they were rallied to the Prophet and his bodyguard of faithful comrades who alone stood firm. But the victory, when it came, was complete and the booty enormous, for many of the hostile tribes had brought out with them everything that they possessed.
Conquest of Ta’if
The tribe of Thaqif was among the enemy at Hunayn. After that victory their city of Ta’if was besieged by the Muslims, and finally reduced. Then the Prophet appointed a governor of Makkah, and himself returned to Al-Madinah to the boundless joy of the Ansar, who had feared lest, now that he had regained his native city, he might forsake them and make Makkah the capital.
The Tabuk Expedition
In the ninth year of the Hijrah, hearing that an army was again being mustered in Syria , the Prophet called on all the Muslims to support him in a great campaign. The far distance, the hot season, the fact that it was harvest time and the prestige of the enemy caused many to excuse themselves and many more to stay behind without excuse. Those defaulters are denounced in the Qur’an. But the campaign ended peacefully. The army advanced to Tabuk, on the confines of Syria , and there learnt that the enemy had not yet gathered.
Declaration of Immunity
Although Makkah had been conquered and its people were now Muslims, the official order of the pilgrimage had not been changed; the pagan Arabs performing it in their manner, and the Muslims in their manner. It was only after the pilgrims’ caravan had left Al-Madinah in the ninth year of the Hijrah, when Islam was dominant in North Arabia , that the Declaration of Immunity, as it is called, was revealed. The Prophet sent a copy of it by messenger to Abu Bakr, leader of the
pilgrimage, with the instruction that Ali was to read it to the multitudes at Makkah. Its purport was that after that year Muslims only were to make the pilgrimage, exception being made for such of the idolaters as had a treaty with the Muslims and had never broken their treaty nor supported anyone against them. Such were to enjoy the privileges of their treaty for the term thereof, but when their treaty expired they would be as other idolaters. That proclamation marks the end of idol-worship in Arabia .
The Year of Deputations
The ninth year of the Hijrah is called the Year of Deputations, because from all parts of Arabia deputations came to Al-Madinah to swear allegiance to the Prophet and to hear the Qur’an. The Prophet had become, in fact, the emperor of Arabia , but his way of life remained as simple as before.
The number of the campaigns which he led in person during the last ten years of his life is twenty-seven in nine of which there was hard fighting. The number of the expeditions which he planned and sent out under other leaders is thirty-eight. He personally controlled every detail of organization, judged every case and was accessible to every suppliant. In those ten years he destroyed idolatry in Arabia; raised women from the status of a cattle to legal equity with men; effectually stopped the drunkenness and immorality which had till then disgraced the Arabs; made men in love with faith, sincerity and honest dealing; transformed tribes who had been for centuries Content with ignorance into a people with the greatest thirst for knowledge; and for the first time in history made universal human brotherhood a fact and principle of common law. And his support and guide in all that work was the Qur’an.
By Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall
*Taken, with some editorial changes, from Pickthall’s introduction to his translation of the Qur’an.