The Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah and Seerah are the fundamental sources of knowledge for all Muslims. The Qur’an is the eternal source of guidance revealed to the noble messenger of Allah (saws) who then demonstrated it by his practical example. Thus the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah and Seerah form an integrated model for Muslims to emulate in life. While there is agreement at the theoretical level, at the level of implementation some Muslims have a tendency to opt for secondary or even tertiary roots rather than remaining close to the primary roots: the Qur’an and the Sunnah and Seerah. Each group insists on their own interpretation or that of their favorite scholar/imam as the basis of their work. Even this would be acceptable were it not for the fact that some Muslims also insist that this is the only understanding of the Qur’an and the Sunnah and every other interpretation is either flawed or completely wrong.
It is, therefore, imperative to review the Prophetic Sunnah and Seerah carefully in light of the teachings of the Qur’an to determine how the noble messenger of Allah (saws) transformed the jahili society of Arabia in the short period of 23 years into the Islamic state and turned the savage people of the Peninsula into the most-upright human beings.
In the glorious Qur’an Allah (swt) describes the noble Messenger as the “best of exemplars” (33:21). His Seerah(life-history) and his Sunnah (life-example) are guides for humanity till eternity because he embodied in his blessed life the entire teachings of the Qur’an. Even before receiving the first revelations confirming his mission as the last and final Messenger of Allah, he led a pure and clean life earning the title of Al-Amin (the trustworthy one) from the tribal-ridden, idol-worshipping and quarrelsome society of Makkah. He was soft-spoken, kind and compassionate. Allah (swt) in His Infinite Wisdom and Mercy, called His beloved Prophet a “Mercy to all the worlds” (21:107). The Creator also commands those who have made a faith-commitment to Him to “Obey Allah and obey the Messenger” (4:59 & 4:80) in all matters. In fact, Allah reminds His servants that if they truly love Allah, they should express it through loving and obeying the Messenger of Allah.
Almost all Muslims are aware of these lofty qualities of the noble Messenger (saws). These are repeated in Juma‘ Khutbahs as well as in sermons on other occasions, especially in the month of Rabi al-Awwal when the birthday of the noble Messenger of Allah is celebrated with great joy and fervor. By approximating our behavior as closely as possible to that of the noble Messenger (saws), Muslims hope to achieve nearness to and the pleasure of Allah.
Allah (swt) says in the noble Qur’an that Prophet Muhammad (saws) was sent with clear signs in order to bring those who commit themselves to Allah (i.e., make the faith-commitment) and perform righteous deeds, out of darkness and into light (65:11). The great Muslim thinker and writer, Syed Qutb Shaheed (d.1966), has said that any action or behavior that does not conform to the commands of Allah is jahiliyyah (primitive savagery); similarly, all action and behavior that is in consonance with Allah’s prescribed path is good, wholesome and commendable. Thus, even the simple act of kindness to one’s family, friends, relatives or total strangers becomes an act ofibadah (worship) because it is pleasing to Allah.
Throughout history many societies have experienced dramatic upheavals but no change except the one brought by the noble Messenger (saws) has been comprehensive. It encompassed the entire spectrum of human existence. Historically, most changes have resulted in one class of people replacing another; the French and communist revolutions were of this kind. Similarly, the balance of political and economic power merely shifted from one class of people to another with the injustices that led to change in the first place, remaining largely intact. People’s social and moral values also were seldom affected.
The noble Messenger (saws) transformed both the individual as well as society but he neither promised wealth nor power to attract people. He also did not instigate class warfare despite great disparities in wealth in society at the time. Nor did he launch a movement merely to rectify people’s morals even though the Arabian society was steeped in immorality and corruption. For 13 years in Makkah, he emphasized only one point: the Oneness of Allah (swt). While it may appear to be a simple statement, in the idol-ridden society of Arabia, it signaled an ideological challenge that carried profound implications.
The Prophet (saws) overwhelmed the entire Arabian Peninsula in the relatively short period of 23 years. From hopelessly divided warring tribes, he organized the people into an Islamic state that not only defeated the two superpowers of the time—Byzantium and Persian—but also went on to dominate the world for more than 1,000 years. What methods and processes did the Prophet (saws) employ to bring about such profound change at the individual as well as collective (societal) levels?
As Muslims embark on the process of transforming their societies by applying the Prophet’s Sunnah and Seerah, it may be argued that we face a very different historical situation, the greatest of which is the absence of the noble Messenger (saws) himself. His presence at the advent of Islam was a source of great inspiration for early Muslims. This is completely true. There are other differences as well: the Arabian society of the Prophet’s time was relatively small, comprising at most a few thousand people in Makkah and an equal number in Madinah. The Arabian Peninsula as a whole had several hundred thousand inhabitants but today, the world’s population has surpassed seven billion and Muslims account for about one-fourth of this total. Would Muslims be able to transform their societies in 23 years as the Prophet did in Arabia, starting with a handful of followers? Is there a time limit in which change must be achieved? These differences—the Prophet’s physical absence, and the much larger scale today—however, should not overwhelm us. The Prophet’s physical presence has not been made a condition by Allah to achieve success in this world; following the Qur’an and the Sunnah and Seerah have been.
The Prophet (saws) had to convince the mushriks at a time when the Qur’an was gradually being revealed; today there are nearly 2 billion Muslims in the world, in possession of the entire Qur’an, as well as the Sunnah andSeerah of the noble Prophet (saws). True, Muslims today are disconnected from Islam and the Seerah but this is precisely the challenge we face. We have to make the Seerah applicable in our lives by understanding it beyond anecdotes and as a source of blessings. There are other impediments as well: kufr has not only become globalized but in the words of Dr Kalim Siddiqui, it has also penetrated the House of Islam (‘Political Thought and behaviour of Muslims under colonialism’ by Kalim Siddiqui in ZB (edited): In Pursuit of the Power of Islam: Major writings of Kalim Siddiqui: 1996, pp.257- 287). Yet the Seerah as a model is the divine prescription for humanity and is applicable to every situation regardless of different historical time periods.
The process of transformation, however, requires a priori, a clear understanding of the nature of society in which we live. During the Prophet’s time, Arabia was steeped in jahiliyyah (primitive savagery) in which idol-worship formed the principal mode of religious, social and cultural behavior. People believed in Allah but they also associated partners with Him, hence their designation as “mushrikeen” in the Qur’an. Injustice, oppression, tribal arrogance and, therefore, tribal warfare borne of such arrogance, and female infanticide as well as slavery were other practices that characterized the ancient Arabian society. Today Muslims are afflicted by many of the same problems even though idol worship may have been replaced by such other idols as nationalism, money and class interests. Exploitation is as rampant and widespread in the world including the Muslim world today as it was in thejahili society of Arabia. It is, therefore, imperative for Muslims to recognize and understand the nature of dhulmand darkness that surrounds them as they embark on the process of transforming their societies.
For some Muslims, the Prophet’s Seerah is merely a means to attaining greater spirituality, oblivious of its relevance for the world at large. Like their attitude towards the Qur’an, Muslims use the Seerah to seek blessings but not guidance, and individual but not collective salvation. The Prophet’s birthday is celebrated with great veneration, even fanfare, but no lessons are derived from it for the arduous struggle in life. Many Muslims quotehadiths (sayings of the Prophet) endlessly but either do not follow them or use them selectively to support their preconceived notions and ideas.
Muslims spend endless hours arguing about the number of miracles the noble Messenger of Allah performed and whether the mi‘raj was a physical journey or merely a vision. While there may be merit in discussing these issues at some level, the Muslims’ present plight hardly allows for such indulgences. It would be far more relevant to consider the circumstances in which the Prophet was rewarded with mi‘raj. He had to endure 12 years of extreme hardship and when the worldly prospects for his mission looked almost totally bleak, there was an explosion of divine mercy, resulting in mi‘raj. Therefore, the mi‘raj must not be viewed merely as a phenomenon that occurred in isolation but as the culmination of a long process of struggle to establish Allah’s deen on earth. Unfortunately, many vital issues have been frozen out of Muslim consciousness during the dark period of Islamic history. The study of the Prophet’s Seerah, for both historical and contemporary reasons, has also fallen victim to this phenomenon. It is our duty to rectify this error.
Seldom, if ever, in history has any ruling class voluntarily relinquished power or accepted the inherent injustices of the prevailing system. Whenever its inequities are exposed, the system has reacted violently to suppress such attempts. The struggle to transform a society based on man-made laws into the Islamic state will not be without human or material costs. It demands great sacrifices because those who have a vested interest in the established order will use all means at their disposal, fair or foul, to crush any challenge but the Seerah also shows that through sustained effort, change can be achieved.
The Prophet (saws) faced numerous difficulties and challenges in his quest to convey the message of Islam and to establish the Islamic state. At the start of his mission, Islam was propagated only among his close relatives and friends. This may be categorized as the initial quiet phase. When Allah commanded him to proclaim it openly (Surahs 73 & 74), the message was then neither confined to the cave where the Prophet received his first revelation, nor to a small circle of acquaintances. It was propagated and spread in the marketplace despite clear risk to the Prophet’s person and life. The beneficiaries of the established system immediately adopted two tactics to undermine the challenge: ridiculed the message and started persecution of those who were weak; that is, the slaves and the downtrodden. In this phase, the Prophet (saws) counseled patience to his followers. We are reminded of his famous exhortation to the family of Yasir as they were being tortured: “Isbiru ya al-e Yasir; fa inna mo‘idha kumul Jannah” (Have patience, O Family of Yasir! You will be rewarded with Paradise). As the persecution of Muslims intensified and it failed to break the spirit of resistance, the Makkan chiefs resorted to offering inducements to the Prophet to get him to modify his stand vis-a-vis their system. When this also failed, a reign of terror was unleashed, including a three-year siege in Sha‘b Abi Talib, ultimately leading to a plot to kill the Prophet (saws). With the Prophet’s migration to Madinah where he secured a territorial base, permission for taking up arms was granted by Allah. Muslims today will have to go through some or all of these phases as they struggle to establish Islamic states in their territories.
It may be noticed that armed struggle was delayed for as long as possible because time is needed to attract and consolidate a sufficiently large number of people and a safe territorial base from which to operate. As physical confrontation is delayed, resentment against the established system builds up because of its oppression and tyranny borne of arrogance. When armed clash finally occurs, the challengers prove highly motivated, willing to make every sacrifice for their cause. Allah also helps them because He is with the oppressed and those who strive in His cause (28:05; 47:07)
The declaration of Islam at the popular level was necessary to deconstruct the socio-political order in Arabia in order to pave the way for implementing the Islamic order with its own ideology and power-base. There are some Muslims who recoil in horror at the suggestion that the Prophet (saws) may have had anything to do with politics. This is clearly the result of corruption in politics and the abuse of power and authority in the world, but it also reflects the distorted view some Muslims have of the Seerah itself. Since crookedness and lying are considered a normal, indeed essential part of politics these days with little or no room in it for honesty, Muslims have assumed that politics per se is bad. Similarly, treating Islam merely as another “religion” like so many others despite the Qur’an’s clear reference to it as Deen, meaning way of life (3:83; 5:03) has unfortunately resulted in Muslims overlooking many important dimensions of Islam and of the Seerah.
There is another important aspect highlighted by the Seerah: the Prophet (saws) did not perform any miracles in the struggle to establish the Islamic state. This was clearly part of the divine scheme. If the Islamic state had come into being through miracles and not through sustained human effort, future generations may have used this as an excuse to claim that they could not possibly achieve the same results without some form of divine intervention, such as miracles, aiding them. In fact, establishment of the Islamic state in Madinah provides additional proof of the finality of his Prophethood. In addition to correcting peoples’ belief and morals, the Prophet also demonstrated superb mastery in the conduct of state and politics, two fields not normally associated with Prophetic mission. With the exception of Prophets Yusuf, Daud and Sulaiman (as), none of the other Prophets ruled a state or acquired worldly power. This has perhaps led to the assumption that deen itself has nothing to do with politics. The Prophet (saws) established a state in society that had experienced little organized existence except on the basis of clan solidarity.
In order to consider how the Prophet transformed the jahili society in Arabia, we must first get a better understanding of the environment in Makkah. While it had no organized system, it was governed by what is referred to as “customary law.” The desert dwellers were not accustomed to formal laws; the harsh climate dictated its own logic that meant people had no loyalty to any place or people. It was these tribal customary laws that governed relations between tribes as well as individuals.
Most books on the Seerah mention the tribal nature of society but have not paid much attention to economic factors that shaped the Makkan aristocracy’s attitude to Islam. Financial interests, it must be noted, often influence people’s attitude towards other aspects of life. The entire history of colonialism and imperialism can be understood in the light of this phenomenon. Makkah has always been a desolate place; its barren hills stand as a stark reminder to its inhospitable environment. Its location at the centre of the East-West and North-South trade routes, however, gave it a commanding position that was the envy of other tribes. Similarly, the Ka‘aba, the first House of Allah on earth, located in Makkah conferred religious sanctity on the city that other places lacked.
Caravans used to travel to Makkah both because it was located on the trade routes, and to perform pilgrimage. Over time, the belief in one God—Allah—as proclaimed by Prophet Ibrahim (as) who had built the Ka‘aba with his son Isma‘il (as), was corrupted and people began to associate partners with Allah. Idol-worship crept in, interestingly, again as a result of the merchants’ journeys. Whenever they went out of Makkah, they would take a stone from the Ka‘aba with them to worship. In Syria, they found that people worshipped stone idols. The Makkans adopted this practice and also allowed other tribes to place their idols in the Ka‘aba adding to Makkah’s prestige. Ultimately, there were 360 idols in the Ka‘aba belonging to different tribes. Thus, both the Quraysh as well as non-Makkan tribes developed a vested interest in preserving the system built around idol-worship. Their position as custodians of the Ka‘aba, however, conferred certain advantages on the Quraysh: safe passage for their trade caravans when they travelled north or south because other tribes were dependent on their goodwill to visit the Ka‘aba.
Like people throughout the ages, the Makkan aristocracy also lived according to the dictum, might is right; powerful tribes suppressed and exploited weaker ones; slaves, women and the poor were especially mistreated. Since tribal warfare was common, plundering others’ wealth—camels, sheep etc—and abducting women and children, were regular features of life. Similarly, the barbaric practice of burying infant girls alive was widespread in Arabia before the advent of Islam because they were seen as a liability in war.
Conflict occurs within or between societies when ideological differences emerge. The Makkan society was based on idol-worship; into this environment was introduced the message of Tawheed, the Oneness of Allah (swt) embodied in the Kalimah. Naturally, the Makkans saw this as a direct challenge to the prevalent system. As Syed Qutb has so perceptively observed, the Prophet (saws) neither attempted to mobilize people on the basis of class or economic divisions, nor along tribal lines (Encyclopaedia of Seerah, Vol. IV; London, 1986; pp.328-340; quoting Syed Qutb’s Milestones. There are different editions of the English translation of this book. The one published by IIFSO, Salmiyah, Kuwait [nd] carries this text on pp.39-44). Given the immense economic disparity in which a small tyrannical class dominated society and imposed its will on the majority who were poor, the Prophet (saws) could easily have aroused the down-trodden in the name of social and economic justice and risen to power in Makkah, but he did not do so. Neither did he mobilize his own clan, the Banu Hashim, which enjoyed great prestige in Makkah, to rally around him. Had he done so, the Prophet (saws) would have saved himself the wrath of people like his own uncle Abu Lahab who together with Abu Jahl and Abu Sufyan, were three of his most implacable foes.
He also did not appeal to people on the basis of Arab nationalism to confront the Persian and Roman empires that dominated the southern and northern regions of the Arabian Peninsula respectively. It would have appealed to the Arabs’ sense of pride if the Prophet (saws) had issued a call to rid the Peninsula of alien powers. Yet it was not part of the divine scheme to fight the Roman and Persian taghoots by replacing them with Arab taghoot even if the Prophet planned to make the people submit to Islam later. This reflects an important principle of Islam: it is not permissible to use wrong means even to achieve noble ends. All these would have proved potent weapons in the hands of the Prophet (saws) to mobilize people. Once he had acquired power, he could have used his enormous prestige and authority to guide them to submit to the one God, Allah, but he did not do so. Rather, Allah did not want him to adopt such means. Instead, the more difficult but universal approach of proclaiming theKalimah was adopted to challenge the dominant ideology in society. This meant facing the wrath of the vested interests in Makkah and indeed the whole of the Arabian Peninsula, but there was no compromise on principles.
Islam’s ideological challenge was not confined to the mushriks alone; even those who became Muslims were not automatically cleansed of all the jahili characteristics. One was their attachment to the Ka‘aba, which was based more on cultural rather than Islamic reasons. Thus, Allah designated Masjid al-Aqsa as the Muslims’ first Qibla to break their cultural attachment rooted in tribal customs and traditions. When the Ka‘aba was restored as theQibla, the Qur’an made clear that it was also meant to test and determine those who truly obeyed and followed the Prophet (saws) rather than their customs and traditions (2:143). The function of the ideological challenge is thus to sharpen rather than blur divisions and contradictions in society, especially pertaining to faith so that people are able to distinguish between right and wrong. Islam does not compromise with ideologies opposed to the divine order, whether they are based on nationalism, tribalism or family and class interests. This is a lesson unfortunately lost on many Muslims today.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that today Muslim societies are not only ruled by alien ideologies but also deeply penetrated, and in some cases, controlled by the kuffar. Whenever and wherever the Islamic movement embarks on the process to restore Islamic values in society, the real opposition will come from thekuffar. According to Syed Qutb, the Muslim world today cannot be considered dar al-Islam (abode of Islam) because it is not governed by the Shari‘ah, but as part of dar al-harb, or the state of jahiliyyah, (Milestones: IIFSO edition; Kuwait. p.26). Syed Qutb’s understanding is of course based on the well-known hadith of the noble Prophet that one must either live in the Islamic state or strive to establish one. Otherwise a person dies a death ofjahiliyyah.
After the ideological challenge, the issue that most irked the Makkan aristocracy was the Prophet’s rejection of the established social order in society. The Quraysh viewed the principle of equality of all human beings regardless of birth, tribe, wealth or color with alarm. They had created a hierarchy based on wealth and power; the leading figures used to congregate in Dar an-Nadwa, the Council Chamber of the Makkan elite, to discuss issues affecting them. It was Qussay, the great grandfather of the Prophet, who had established Dar an-Nadwaafter uniting all the tribes of Makkah. He was proclaimed as their leader (Note: Tareekh-e Tabari, Vol. I & II, p.43). Naturally, the call in which the poor, the slaves and women were given equal voice and rights was seen as a threat to the privileged classes. But that is precisely the function of the social challenge; it creates a breach in the ranks of the established order. The Makkan chiefs were not going to tolerate this.
While the majority of those who accepted Islam in its early days were the young and downtrodden, there were also a number of them who belonged to powerful Makkan families. The Prophet’s own family was divided: his cousins Ali and Jafar accepted Islam but their brother Aqeel ibn Abi Talib did not do so until later; his uncle Hamza became a Muslim in the sixth year while another uncle Abbas was initially lukewarm but later supported the Prophet (saws) fully even though he formally accepted Islam after the battle of Badr. Abu Lahab was openly hostile and did everything to disrupt the mission of the Prophet (saws). The Quraysh chiefs also saw their own children rejecting the comforts of life by accepting Islam although they (the Quraysh elite) had worked so hard to provide these for their off springs as parents everywhere do.
The matter of slaves was even more irritating for the Quraysh. Sumayya, her husband Yasir and son Ammar were mercilessly tortured for embracing Islam, as were Lubina, Nahdiyya, Zanira and Um Ubais, all slave-girls. Bilal and Khabbab ibn al-Aratt, too, suffered the same fate (Qazi Muhammad Sulaiman Salman Mansurpuri: Rahmatan lil-Alamin; Vol. I; Delhi, 1980; p55). Sumayya, of advanced age, was tortured to death, becoming the first martyr of Islam (ref: Naeem Siddiqui: Mohsin-e Insaniyyat (Urdu); Lahore, 1991. p.175). The Prophet’s proclamation that upon reciting the shahadah no difference remained between the slave and his/her master was something the prejudiced mind of the Makkan aristocracy could not accept. Despite subjecting them to great persecution, the Muslims remained steadfast. In fact, it helped create greater awareness and brought them closer to each other.
It is interesting to note that the Prophet (saws) did not use the platform of Dar an-Nadwa to propagate the message of Islam even though he approached members of the Makkan aristocracy on an individual basis (Muhammad Hamidullah: The Emergence of Islam; Islamabad, 1995; pp155-157). Instead, the Muslims used to gather in Dar al-Arqam, a house belonging to one of the companions. This was a clear rejection of the jahilisystem and laid down the principle that its institutions cannot be used to advance the cause of Islam. Muslims struggling to transform their societies today need to bear this in mind; the ruling systems in Muslim societies have little or nothing to do with Islam even if Muslims administer them. This is a point not clearly understood by many Muslims, including some leaders of the Islamic movement.
Again, Islam’s social challenge was not confined to the established order in Makkah alone. Even those who became Muslims still carried the germs of jahiliyyah based on the false notion of superiority based on birth or tribal affiliation, described as “the jahili spirit,” by Malek Bennabi (Malek Bennabi: Islam in History and Society, Kuala Lumpur, 1991, p.9). These resurfaced immediately after the period of the Khulafa ar-Rashidoon with devastating consequences for the Ummah. As the Muslim political and social personality was being constructed, it had to be cleansed of jahili traits simultaneously. In Makkah all Muslims were oppressed so their common experience united them; in Madinah, the Muhajiroun were destitute because they had come penniless from Makkah. The Brotherhood established between the Ansar–residents of Madinah—and the Muhajiroun laid the foundations of a socially cohesive community in which everyone shared with others according to their capacity.
We must now turn our attention to the economic challenge. Had Islam been just another ‘religion’ that did not threaten the vested interests of the mushriks, there probably would have been little opposition to it. After all, there were Christians living in and around Makkah; some even from among the Quraysh, such as Waraqa ibn Nawfil, had become Christians. Then there was a large concentration of Christians in Najran. The Makkan aristocracy had no problem with them; nor did they have any problem dealing and trading with the Jews in Madinah. So it was not religion per se that the mushriks in Makkah objected to; rather, their primary concern was with Islam as a value system that challenged the very foundations upon which their economic prosperity was built.
The mushriks realized that if Islam gained a foothold, they would lose their privileges. Similarly, the Prophet’s condemnation of idol-worship alarmed them because their economic wellbeing was directly linked to it. The most important trade fairs in the Arabian Peninsula were held in and around Makkah, at the time of Hajj [ref: In addition to the trade fair at Dhumatul Jandal near the Syrian border which lasted for the entire month of Rabi al-Awwal, other fairs were held at Okaz (Dhul Qa‘dah 15-30); Dhul Majaz between Okaz and Makkah (Dhul Hijjah 1-7) and Mina (Dhul Hijjah 9-11). Fairs were held throughout the year but the one at Okaz was the largest and was attended by the Quraysh, Hawazin, Ghatafan, Aslam, Ahabish, Adl, ad-Dish, al-Haya and al-Mustaliq tribes (ref:Encyclopaedia of Seerah: vol. II, London, 1986, pp.305-307)]. The Quraysh greatly benefited from these both in trade as well as due to pilgrimage. As it turned out, Islam banned neither the trade fairs nor prevented people from performing the pilgrimage but it shifted the focus in which the privileges of the Makkan aristocracy were curtailed and replaced by the egalitarian values of Islam. The Quraysh, however, were bound to be affected both economically as well as politically once they lost their privileges based on injustice and exploitation.
Hijrah is an important factor in the process of change. In the Qur’an, Allah chastises a group of people who were oppressed but neither resisted it nor moved out by telling them, “Was not Allah’s earth spacious enough for you to migrate to [to escape evil and oppression]?” (4: 97). Throughout history, hijrah has played an important role at crucial junctures; Prophet Ibrahim (as) performed hijrah from his place of birth in Ur (present-day Iraq) to escape persecution and ultimately settled in Palestine. He settled his oldest son, Ismail, in the barren valley of Makkah, which ultimately became the cradle of Islam. The early Muslims first migrated from Makkah to Abyssinia in the fifth year of the Prophet’s mission, again to escape persecution; and when Allah’s permission was granted, the Muslims migrated to Madinah, leading to the establishment of the Islamic state there. From being oppressed and persecuted and without support in Makkah, Muslims became the dominant power in Madinah after hijrah.
If life in Makkah was characterized by passive resistance, in Madinah it entered a more active phase with the Prophet (saws) himself initiating many of the moves. Within six months of arriving and consolidating the internal situation there (see: M. al-Asi & ZB: The Seerah: A Power Perspective, ICIT, London, Toronto, 2000. pp. 41-42; ZB: Power Manifestations of the Sirah, p.(?); 2011), the Prophet (saws) sent several expeditions against the Quraysh caravans. The first one was sent under the command of his uncle, Hamza; others followed suit. There were eight such expeditions before the famous battle of Badr in the month of Ramadan in the second year of the Hijrah. There was a specific purpose behind these expeditions. First, it was to declare the Muslims’ presence and stake a claim to the trade routes around Madinah; second, it served notice that the days of the Quraysh’s trouble-free journeys were over and that their aggression that had driven the Muslims out of Makkah would now be resisted, by force if necessary. Third, these expeditions helped facilitate alliances with tribes along the trade routes; if these did not materialize, at the very least, the tribes were neutralized in any future conflict between Muslims and the Quraysh. Finally and most importantly, the Quraysh’s most vulnerable point—economic lifeline—was threatened (ZB: Power Manifestations, (p.?)).
The Prophet’s challenge to the caravans was a new and more ominous development for the Quraysh. Hitherto they had enjoyed trouble-free travel between Makkah and Syria, a rare privilege in that uncertain part of the world. More importantly, this was the first time that anyone had threatened the Quraysh caravans so openly and if that continued, it was bound to encourage others to challenge them as well. In the past, whenever their caravan was threatened with attack, all they had to say was they were from the land of the Haram and would be let go unmolested. A modern-day comparison could be made with the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf. (Note: Just as any blockade of the Persian Gulf would lead to the collapse of western economies, so challenging the Quraysh caravans at the time of the Prophet threatened their economic lifeline.)
In warfare, all factors—military, political, social and economic—must be utilized. For instance, if a country is undermined economically, it may not even be necessary to wage war against it. In the eighties, the US involved the Soviet Union in an expensive arms race that crippled it economically. Additional blows were delivered by themujahideen in Afghanistan bringing the Soviet colossus to its knees leading to its disintegration. Today, the US imposes economic sanctions against a host of countries as a bullying tactic whose policies it does not approve of. Economic pressure is, therefore, a recognized form of warfare. (Note: It is important to identify the enemy’s most vulnerable point and apply one’s strength against it. For instance, America and Israel can be defeated by imposing on them human costs that their societies cannot bear; this may not work in the case of a country like India where human life is considered cheap. India, however, can be confronted through an economic strategy as well as by deepening the fault lines that exist within it. Muslims must consider more creative ways of confronting their enemies in order to ward off aggression and the violence that is inflicted on them).
The Prophet’s strategy involved clipping the power of the Quraysh while increasing the power of the Islamic state. True, the Quraysh had driven the Muslims out of Makkah; they even plotted to kill the Prophet (saws) but he managed to leave safely once Allah granted him permission. But it was not merely to save his own life; Allah says in the Qur’an: “He [Allah] it is Who has sent the Messenger with clear guidance and the Deen of Truth so that it may become dominant over all other systems, however much the mushrikeen may be averse to it” (9:33; 61:11). No apologies are offered for making Islam dominant, as some Muslims do these days. It is the divine system that must triumph but Muslims have to work for it. Change will come about only when Muslims are prepared to make the requisite sacrifices. Apologizing for Islam’s power or not making it dominant is not theSunnah of Allah; He wants Islam to be dominant so that Allah’s laws are implemented on earth. This is precisely what the Seerah of the noble Messenger of Allah (saws) exemplifies.
We must now return to the Prophet’s method of dealing with the Quraysh once he had secured the internal situation in Madinah. Upon his arrival, he established a bond of Brotherhood between the Muhajiroun (migrants from Makkah) and the Ansar (helpers of Madinah). The former were completely destitute and would have suffered immense hardship had this bond not been created. It is instructive to note that the bond of brotherhood was based not on blood relationship but iman (faith-commitment to Allah), a new basis for social interaction. Similarly, the Prophet (saws) gave a Covenant to all the people of Madinah, including the Jews, to establish peace in the City-state. This was a unique document and reflected the statesmanship of the noble Messenger of Allah. It also established his undiputed leadership in Madinah (ZB: Power Manifestation of the Sirah; ICIT, 2011; (p.?)). Everyone, including the Jews, accepted his authority, even if they secretly plotted to undermine it by violating their treaty obligations. What is worthy of note is the Prophet’s consolidation of authority to enable him to deal with any threat to the fledgling Islamic state including the ever-present menace of the Quraysh who had declared open war on Islam and were beginning to threaten Madinah as well. Soon after the Muslims arrived in Madinah, the Quraysh had sent a message to Abdullah ibn Ubayy ibn Sallul, the well-known munafiq, asking him to expel the Muslims or prepare to face the consequences. When the Prophet (saws) learnt of this, he personally intervened and averted a crisis (Power; (p.?). Despite this, it would not be long before the Quraysh attacked the City-state, so it was important to prepare for it.
The raiding parties sent by the Prophet (saws) were meant to do just that, which incidentally were not confined to the vicinity of Madinah. One of the raiding parties sent under the command of Abdullah ibn Jahsh went to Nakhlah, to the very doorsteps of Makkah. He was instructed to watch the movement of the Quraysh and to keep the Prophet (saws) in Madinah informed about them. The Quraysh trade caravans used to pass through Nakhlah on their way to Yemen. To challenge the Quraysh in their backyard was an act of supreme courage especially at a time when Muslims were few in number, had had no experience in battle and had barely managed to escape from Makkah only a few months earlier.
The point that emerges from this brief look at the Prophet’s Seerah is that once he had acquired a territorial base, the phase of passive resistance ended. A secure territorial base is essential for Muslims to operate from. It was perhaps providential that the people of Taif did not respond to the call of the Prophet (saws) when he visited them in ‘Am al-Huzn (the year of calamity, the 10th year of his mission in Makkah) when he lost both his uncle Abu Talib and his wife, Khadijah. If he had settled in Taif, it is quite possible that the Quraysh would have attacked and perhaps succeeded in crushing the nascent Islamic state there. Madinah is 400 kilometres away from Makkah; besides, it dominated the trade routes going north to Palestine and Syria. Thus, by settling there, the Prophet (saws) not only secured a base but also gained leverage over the Quraysh’s trade that he would use to maximum advantage to pressure them.
In the first five years in Madinah, Muslims did not go to Makkah to fight the Quraysh; instead, all the wars were fought near Madinah, Badr being the only exception. It is located at a distance of about 100 kilometres from Madinah. For the Quraysh, it was still more than 300 kms away from Makkah but in their arrogance they thought they would easily defeat and, therefore, wipe out the Muslims. Against other tribes, the Prophet (saws) did not hesitate to go and overwhelm them in their home territory; many of them were relatively small and were usually caught off guard and subdued without much fighting. After the Battle of Ahzab, also called Khandaq (Trench) in the fifth year of the hijrah, the Prophet (saws) made his famous prediction that henceforth, the Quraysh will not attack Madinah instead, Muslims would go to Makkah to confront them (Tafheem al-Qur’an: Vol. IV; Lahore, 1974; pp. 80-84; Maulana Maudoodi’s commentary on Surah al-Ahzab). This was borne out by the battles waged against the Yahud at Khyber (7 AH), the liberation of Makkah and the Battle of Hunayn (8 AH), as well as the battles of Muwata (8 AH) and the expedition to Tabuk (9 AH) against the Romans.
One other point is worth mentioning: in the liberation of Makkah, very little force was used although the Prophet (saws) had come with an army of 10,000 heavily armed men and could have easily exacted revenge from the Makkans who had tormented the Muslims for so many years. Instead, he used psychological pressure to break their resistance by ordering his companions to light fires on the mountains surrounding Makkah the night before Muslims entered the city. This had the desired effect; when the Makkans saw so many fires, they thought tens of thousands of Muslims had camped outside; it was futile to resist such a force. The Prophet’s compassionate treatment of his vanquished foes won them over easily. They entered the fold of Islam en masse. Makkah, a bastion of shirk, was transformed into a stronghold of Islam and restored to its original purpose as the House of Allah, purified of all idols.
The Prophet (saws) utilized all means — ideological, social, economic, political and military — to transform the society in Arabia. We also find that he did not use institutions established by the enemy to promote Islam, nor did he resort to such means as tribalism, class interest or nationalism to mobilize people. He never compromised on principles, preferring instead to endure suffering and persecution. It was this strict adherence to principles that helped create a body of Muslims who though small in number, was strong in commitment and prepared to die for their principles. In such confrontation, forces of kufr often simply wither away.
Muslims today will have to imbibe these lessons from the Seerah if they want to re-emerge in their natural dominant role in the world. There is no other way to transform their societies and to regain leadership of a wayward world that is so completely dominated by exploiters and oppressors. The Prophet (saws) showed the way to Madinah; we must now re-discover that path and embark on it to bring about similar change.