The Life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) - PART (2) In Al Madinah (i)*

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 hisMission  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.

The Qiblah

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 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:

The Prophet, approving of their faith and zeal, gave way to them, and set out with an army of one thousand men toward Mt.  Uhud, where the enemy were encamped. Abdullah ibn Ubeyy was much offended by the change of plan. He thought it unlikely that the Prophet really meant to give battle in conditions so adverse to the Muslims, and was unwilling to take part in a mere demonstration designed to flatter the fanatical extremists. So he withdrew with his men, a fourth or the army. 

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.

* Taken, with some editorial changes, from Pickthall’s introduction to his translation of the Qur’an.
 ** Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall (1875–May 19, 1936) was a Western Islamic scholar, noted as a poetic translator of the Qur'an into English. A convert from Christianity to Islam, Pickthall was a novelist, esteemed by D.H. Lawrence, H.G. Wells, and E.M. Forster, as well as a journalist, headmaster, and political and religious leader. He declared his Islam in dramatic fashion after delivering a talk on ‘Islam and Progress' on 29th November 1917 to the Muslim Literary Society in Notting Hill, West London.

1 comment:

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