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chapter eight

Jihad In Practice

The title of this chapter is perhaps a little misleading, because I do not want to ransack the whole of Muslim history and prove that Muslim wars were always made in the right spirit. I abstain from doing this, not only because the size of this treatise would not allow it, but also because I do not pretend that there have not been Muslim kings and warriors who have waged totally unjust wars and thus defied the teachings of Islam. What I mean to do in this chapter is simply this: I want to show that no war waged by the Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)  or his great caliphs was against the precepts laid down in the Quran and that all the high sounding ideals preached in the Book were not so many pieces of cant. This I intend to do because it will show that the verses quoted by me were understood by Muslims from the earliest times to bear the interpretation which I have given them.

A-        The Wars Waged By The Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)

For full thirteen years had the Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)  patiently borne the persecution of the Meccans. He had been insulted, pelted with stones, and assaulted; his followers had shared his privations and difficulties and maltreatment at the hands of the enemies of the Truth. But he had carried on his noble work of emancipating humanity from the clutches of ignorance and darkness. The Quraish had tried their best to make life a hell for the Muslims; they had to leave their home and hearth and seek refuge in foreign lands. And yet they did not succeed in exhausting the Prophet’s (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)  patience; he would not retaliate! This sublime patience of the Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)  and his success in winning converts in ever increasing numbers so exasperated his enemies that they conspired to take his life. Yet the Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) would not even raise his little finger to save himself; and his enemies went on hatching conspiracies against his life. Till, at last, the odds against him grew too many; most of his followers had taken refuge in Abyssinia, and he was left alone with only a handful of friends. This encouraged the Quraish who held a big conference in the “Darul-nadwa” or the House of Assembly. It was proposed that the Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) should be imprisoned in a cellar and starved to death. Another proposal was to exile him. But the Assembly would run no risks. It, therefore, accepted Abu Jahl’s suggestion that stalwart youths of noble descent be selected from the Quraish families and armed with sharp swords. These young men were to fall upon the Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)  and kill him. This would at once make the Prophet’s (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) death certain and  any revenge by his friends impossible. The Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was informed of this, and he escaped from Mecca to Medina. Even then, the Quraish would not let him alone. A reward of a hundred camels was proclaimed for the man who would bring the Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) a captive before his inveterate enemies; but inspite of many difficulties, the Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) succeeded in reaching Medina.

Even here he was not left in peace. Abdullah bin Ubayy, a chief of Medina with immense influence, was instigated to expel the Muslims from the city. Abdullah, though hostile to Islam, refrained from doing this only because he was not sure of his success, as many of his followers had turned Muslims. The Quraish then began to incite the tribes round about Medina to hostility against Islam. They enjoyed the prestige of being the custodians of the Holy Temple at Mecca, and therefore their propaganda was not likely to miscarry. More specially they concentrated their attention on the tribes lying between Mecca and Medina.

They did not stop here; but they carried on marauding expeditions right up to Medina. Once a party carried off cattle from the very precincts of the town. Then, emboldened by their success, they prepared for an incursion upon Medina. At this juncture the Muslims were allowed to defend themselves:

“Permission is granted to them against whom war is waged, because they have been tyrannized.” (XXII, 39)

“Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you; and do not transgress the limits.” (II: 190)

The Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) tried to counteract the activities of the Quraish by hunting for defensive alliances with his neighbouring tribes, and sending parties to defend his allies and their fields. One such party, under Abdullah bin Jahsh met a party of the Quraish, and in a skirmish that followed, one Abdullah bin Hazrami, a Quraishite, was killed. The Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) reprimanded his men, because his instructions to this party were to abstain from fighting. According to the then prevailing law in Arabia, the relations of the deceased ought to have either taken revenge upon Abdullah ibn Jahsh or demanded blood money from him. But the Quraish found the pretext they had been waiting for all this time. They wanted nothing short of the extirpation of the Muslims, and therefore, after a preparation of full two months, they marched against Medina in Ramadhan A.H. 2. This army consisted of 1,000 veteran Arab fighters, fully armed and equipped- some of whom were the most renowned soldiers of the land. Against these were hurriedly placed in the field 313 ill-armed followers of the Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)  including boys and aged men- a testimony to the fact that the Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)  could not have entertained any idea of aggression. Indeed so nervous were some of the weaker brethren that the Qur’an describes their mental condition in the following words:

“A party of the believers were surely averse… as if they were being driven to death.” (VIII: 5,6)

Even on the battlefield, the Muslims desisted from dealing the first blow and thus proving the aggressors. After this cruel ordeal, through which the Muslims came out triumphant and victorious, they did not lose their magnanimity. The prisoners of war were treated kindly; indeed some Muslims gave the best food in the house to their captive guests while they themselves lived upon the frugal meal of dates and barley. The poor were released free, the literate were required to teach ten Muslim children how to read and write, and the rest had to pay a moderate ransom. This was the Prophet’s   treatment of his worst enemies- persons who had terribly persecuted him and conspired to kill him, and who had driven him and his inoffending followers from their homes into exile. One of the worst offenders was brought before him; some one recommended that the prisoner ought to be mutilated to prevent him from further mischief. The Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)  replied with characteristic generosity, “If I disfigure any of his limbs, Allah will disfigure mine!”

The proud and powerful Quraish could ill bear the shame of a crushing defeat by the contemptible little band of Muslims. As most of the chiefs had fallen at Badr, Abu Sufyan was elected the leader and solemnly swore to take revenge upon ‘the heretics.’ The profit of a Syrian venture was set aside for the purpose, and an army of 3,000 soldiers including 200 cavalry and 700 veterans was collected. A year after Badr, this force marched upon Medina. Women accompanied the army in the orthodox Arab fashion to cheer up the soldiers. This army easily took possession of the pastures of Medina and did great harm to the crops. The Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)  summoned his friends to ask their opinion as to the best course to be adopted. They decided upon marching against the foe, but when this little army of 1,000 came in sight of the enemy, the leader of the ‘hypocrites’- Abdullah bin Ubayy- deserted with his 300 men according to a previous plan. The remaining 700 pitched themselves against the invaders. Owing to a mistake of a group of archers acting against the orders of the Prophet  , the Muslims sustained heavy losses, and even the Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)  was wounded. But the battle was a drawn affair; the Quraishites marched off, leaving the Muslims so much the masters of the situation that they gave chase to the enemy the next day. But the Quraish had shown their innate ferocity. Hinda, a woman, tore out the liver of Hamza  , the Prophet’s   uncle, and chewed it and garlanded herself with a wreath made of his internal organs. Even these brutal deeds did not embitter the Prophet  . While arrows were being showered upon him, he was praying, “O Allah! Forgive my people, because they are in ignorance and do not know what they do.” This was the true spirit of jihad: the Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)  had to protect his persecuted followers, but he would do nothing more- not even pray against his inveterate foes.

The battle of Uhud greatly weakened the Muslims. Many of this brave but scanty band fell, among whom were some of their most distinguished leaders. The Arab tribes round about Mecca who had been viewing with jealousy the rise of a new power hostile to their most cherished customs and gods now saw their opportunity of crushing it. The Prophet found that the Muslims were in danger of being extirpated, but he did not take aggressive steps even to ward off this danger.

The Jews of Medina were the first to conspire with the Quraish. They were aided by the 'hypocrites' whose hostility was the more dangerous because they were Muslims in appearance and therefore knew well how to attack the true followers of thc Prophet. Indeed they made life so unbearable for thc Muslims that they could not part with their arms at any time: a report tells us that they even went to bed fully armed. The neighboring tribes added treachery to their hostility. Abu Bara, the chief of the tribes of Banu Amir and Banu Sulaim came to thc Prophet  and requested him to send some of his disciples to preach Islam to his people. The Prophet  suspected treachery, but at the repeated requests of the chief he sent 70 of his best preachers. At Biri Maa'una they were surrounded by a large army and put to the sword, only one 'Amru Umayya managed to escape to inform the Prophet of what had happened.

The same fate befell another set of theologians at Rafi’, all of whom were killed after a brave defense. These perfidious deeds so upset the Prophet  that he thought of praying for chastisement for these traitors, but it was revealed to him:-

“You have no concern in the affair whether He turns to them mercifully or chastises them, surely they are unjust.” (III: 127)

The Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) refrained from cursing, but his tolerance was little appreciated by the tribes. They were not satisfied with killing a few preachers or showing their hostility in other petty ways, therefore they began to gather armies and made preparations to march upon Medina. The Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) stood on the defense and defeated one army after another in severa1 skirmishes. The most important of these was the Battle of Muraisi' where the Banu-Mustaliq fought under their leader Haris bin Abi Zirur and were defeated.

But this did not break the spirit of the warlike Arabs. A grand alliance was formed in which the Quraish, the Jews, and the Bedouins aided by some treacherous Medinite tribes combined to crush Islam. A large army consisting of about twenty-four thousand warriors marched upon Medina. The Prophet  decided to defend his position by digging a ditch at the suggestion of Salman the Persian- a seeker after truth who had found the object of his search in Islam. So meager were the resources of Muslims that the Prophet  and some of his disciples were actually starving; they had not touched food for a couple of days before they had to work hard at digging the ditch. Yet Islam had given them radiant hope, for, covered with earth and sweat in the hot climate of Arabia, they were singing:-

“O Allah! Had it not been for Thy mercy, we could not have had guidance; we would not have given alms, nor would we have prayed;

“Send down peace upon us, and make us steadfast in resistance;

“For they are up against us, and want to pervert us by force;

“But we refuse!”

The last line was the burthen of the song. With this spirit they defended their lives, their homes, their women and children, and their religion. The siege went on for a month, when the patience of the Allies was exhausted. A storm greatly discouraged them, as it wrought great confusion in their camp, and they retreated once again disappointed and defeated.

The Jewish War: The Jews were the most prosperous and educated community in Arabia. They could not like the rise of Islam because it would greatly rob them of their predominance; therefore they grew hostile to the Prophet  and his followers. This hostility found vent in many petty ways; for instance in insulting the Prophet  and molesting the Muslim ladies. The Prophet  bore the insults meekly but the molestation of ladies could not be easily borne by the proud and sensitive Arabs. One such incident led to a quarrel in which a Jew and a Muslim were killed. The Banu Qainuqa’- the Jewish tribe concerned- retired to their strongholds and declared war against Muslims. The latter had to fight. After a siege of a fortnight, they surrendered and were allowed to go to Syria unmolested. Another Jewish tribe, the Banu Nazir, once invited the Prophet  to a dinner and tried to murder him. The attempt failed, but now the hostility between the tribe and Muslims could no longer be hidden. But the Prophet  did not attack them: he simply asked them to renew their covenant which they refused to do and declared war. They were besieged and forced to leave Medina. Most of them settled at Khaibar. Later they were induced to join the league which was formed against Muslims and which resulted in the Battle of Ahzab. They were left unmolested even after this. But they went on conspiring with anti-Muslim tribes- specially the Ghatafan. Therefore, at the verification of this news, the Prophet  had to send a force against them which, after considerable difficulty, defeated them. They were allowed to retain possession of their settlements provided they remained faithful and paid tribute. But they did not give up mischief. They induced one of their women- Zainab, daughter of Haris- to invite the Prophet  and some of his friends to dinner and to poison them. The Prophet  discovered that the food was poisoned from its taste, but a companion of his who had swallowed a morsel died, for whose murder the woman was executed. The rest of the Jews were left unmolested. They did not prove faithful inspite of the Prophet’s  generosity and indulged in rebellious activities till the caliph Omar RAA was obliged to turn them out.

The Truce of Hudaibiyya:      The Muslims wanted to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, and as all hostilities usually stopped at the time of the annual pilgrimage and all were allowed to gather at the Holy Temple of Mecca in spite of mutual hostilities, there was nothing to dissuade them. But the Prophet  took the precaution of disarming every one of the pilgrims before starting from Medina. These unarmed pilgrims stopped at Hudaibiyya- a day's journey from Mecca and sent an envoy to the Meccans asking for permission to make the pilgrimage. But the Quraish maltreated the Muslim envoys and tried to surprise the unarmed Muslims. This attempt failed, but the Muslims realized their perilous position. Yet the Quraish had tasted the fruit of driving the Muslims to desperation; therefore they resumed negotiations. A truce was ultimately drawn up which seemed to be distinctly against the interests of the Muslims, the terms being the following:-

1. This year the Muslims shall return without entering Mecca;

2. Next year they shall be allowed to make the pilgrimage, but they shall not stay for more than three days;

3. They shall not take away any Muslim already living at Mecca; but they shall allow any Muslim to remain behind if he likes to do so;

4. The Muslims shall restore any Meccan going to them, but the Meccans shall not send back any Medinite Muslim coming to them.

5. The Arab tribes shall be free to enter into alliance with any side they like.

The Muslims did not like this truce, but the Prophet  did not like war and he induced them to accept it. An interesting thing happened which shows the Prophet’s  regard for treaties. Abu Jandal had been persecuted by the Quraish for accepting Islam; he now escaped and joined the Muslims. But inspite of all his entreaties and those of other Muslims, Muhammad  asked him to go back which he did.

The Conquest of Mecca:       The Muslims faithfully observed the truce, and the resulting peace won for them a large number of converts, because the peace made it possible for them to come into contact with others, and impress upon them the truth of their religion. The Quraish could hardly bear this, yet they refrained from attacking the Muslims. But they did not wait long before showing their malice. Taking advantage of the truce, the tribe of Khuza'a entered into an alliance with the Muslims. Their hereditary enemies, the Banu Bakr, became the allies of the Quraish. One night the Banu Bakr fell upon the Khuza'a who were defeated. They tried to escape worse disaster by taking shelter in the sanctuary of the Haram where, according to Arab traditions, bloodshed was considered to be sacrilege. But they were killed even there; and the Quraish, instead of stopping their allies from this brutality, participated in the crime. The Khuza'a appealed to the Prophet  and demanded his help. The Prophet  asked the Quraish either to disown their allies, or to induce them to pay blood-money to the relations of the murdered Khuza'aites, or to formally abrogate the Truce of Hudaibiyya which they had so sadly transgressed. The Quraish accepted the last provision, and thus once again showed their intention of fighting it out with the Muslims to the bitter end. The Prophet , after some preparations, marched against Mecca and took it. He had intended to make this a bloodless victory; and so it might have been but for a slight skirmishing which Khalid had to do to ward of attacks upon his men. The casualties numbered 13 to 28 on the side of the Meccans and 2 on the side of the Muslims. This surely was the day for revenge! Had not the Quraish persecuted the Prophet  for full thirteen years when he had to flee for his life? Had they not thrice attacked him in his exile? Had they not committed every possible treachery? How were they to be rewarded for all this? The Prophet  simply said, “This day there is no reproof against you?” The Meccans themselves could scarcely believe this! Hinda, the woman who had gnawed the heart of Hamza, came and said, “I am Hinda. Is this amnesty for me as well?” “Yes,” replied the Prophet . The property of the persons who had fled to Medina with the Prophet  had been confiscated by the Quraish. Even that was not taken back from them!

Innumerable acts of forgiveness and generosity which stand unparalleled in the history of the world crowned this triumph of Islam.

The Battle of Hunain:            The clan of Hawazin lived to the east of Mecca- the conquest of which endangered their position. They did not, however, approach the Prophet  for the guarantee of peace, but made warlike preparations and decided to strike at the first opportunity. The Prophet  got wind of this. He first made a careful inquiry and when the report was more than confirmed, he sent an army against them. They gave battle and were defeated, when they went into their forts. All of these were taken except Taif. A deputation came to ask for the release of the prisoners of war who 6,000 in number were all set free. This was the last great war of the Prophet , which he did not push to extremities, but refrained when he was sure that the enemy could do no harm.

I leave out Tabuk because it was a mere expedition to ward off an impending attack on the frontier, and did not end in fighting.

The above account, sketchy as it necessarily is, will have shown, I hope, how the Prophet  faithfully acted upon the real teachings of the Quran about jihad- how he was never aggressive or vindictive, how he was inclined to be peaceful even at the risk of treachery on the part of the enemy and danger to his cause and the interests of his followers, and how he would avoid fighting till fighting became inevitable.


Wars Of the Republic

In this section it will be shown how the great “companion” caliphs of the Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)  followed the august example of their master.

The first war that was waged after the death of the Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) had to be undertaken to quell a widespread rebellion of Arab tribes which endangered the very existence of the Muslim faith. The spirit in which this necessary action was undertaken is demonstrated by the following advice which the aged caliph Abu Bakr gave to Osama, the general in charge of the expedition:-

“See that thou avoidest treachery. Depart not in any wise from the right. Thou shalt mutilate none, neither shalt thou kill child or aged man, nor any woman. Injure not the date-palm, neither burn it with fire, and cut not down any tree wherein is food for man or beast. Slay not the flocks or herds or camels, saving for needful sustenance. Ye may eat of the meat which the men of the land shall bring unto you in their vessels, making mention thereon of the name of the Lord. And the monks with shaven heads, if they submit, leave them unmolested. Now march forward in the name of the Lord, and may He protect you from sword and pestilence!”

The Muslim expedition for pacifying the Peninsula and quelling the grand rebellion once again alarmed the non-Muslim tribes. Some of them belonged to the kingdom of Hira which was situated towards the North East. They raided Muslim territory and caused some mischief. The Muslims retaliated and invaded Hira. Now Hira was a semi-dependant kingdom under the influence of Persia. Thereupon the Persian governor of Chaldea intervened, though he had not stopped his master’s allies from hostilities against Muslims. He was defeated and Hira fell into the hands of the Muslims. The aged caliph Abu Bakr died at this juncture and was succeeded by the Great Omar. Persia also witnessed a change of rulers. Yezdjard who now succeeded to the throne of Xerxes was a young and energetic emperor. The war went on and resulted in several defeats to the Persians including the capture of Madain- the capital of the Empire. A peace was patched up, but the Persians chafed under this humility and broke the treaty at the first opportunity. The Persian raids started once again, and, after considerable hesitation, the Muslims had to retaliate. But before retaliation they had to induce the Caliph to give his consent. The way in which this consent was given throws a flood of light upon the doctrine of jihad. To quote a well known authority (Amir Ali, A Short History of the Saracens):

“At last worried beyond endurance by the incessant raids of the Persians, and apprehending a serious attack from their king who had collected a large army towards the north, the Saracens of Mesopotamia sent a deputation to the caliph for permission to repel the threatened danger. Omar inquired of the deputation the cause of the frequent risings on part of the Persians. “Maybe,” said he, “the Muslims treat Zimmis (non-Muslim subjects and allies) badly, that they break their faith persistently and rebel against us.” “Not so,” they answered, “we do not deal with them otherwise than with honesty and good faith.” “How can that be?” naturally asked the Caliph, “Is there not one honest man among them?” Then answered the leader of the deputation, “Thou hast forbidden us, commander of the faithful, to enlarge our boundaries, and their king is in their midst to stir them up. Two kings can in no wise exist together, until the one expel the other. It is not that we have treated them harshly, but that their king has incited them to rise against us after having made submission. And so it will go on, until thou shalt remove the barrier and leave us to go forward and expel their king. Not till then will their hopes and machinations cease.”

These views were also confirmed by Hurmuzan (the ex-Governor of Chaldea who had fought against the Muslims for Hira) who had been brought as a prisoner to Medina and had adopted Islam. It now became clear to Omar that the ban against an advance towards the East must be withdrawn. In self-defense nothing was left but to crush the Chosroes, and take entire possession of their realm!

Muir also admits that the Muslims could do nothing except fight in self-defense. The Saracens, when they got permission, attacked Persia and conquered it.

The second great war of the Republic was against the Eastern Roman Empire. The Emperors of Constantinople had viewed the rise of a mighty Arabia with natural misgivings, and there were, several times, preparations of war from their side. But their opportunity did not come until some of the Arabs rebelled against the caliph at the death of the Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). They gathered an army at Balca, not far from the frontier. While Osama was pacifying Arabia, Eastern Rome was causing trouble to the Muslims through some of her Syrian subjects who were Arabs. The Muslim had to defend himself and the result was the long war between the two powers. A small incident in that war is very instructive.

The Patriarch of Jerusalem, after a long siege, offered to surrender the city if the caliph would come and take it in person. Omar conceded the request. He was received at the gate by the Patriarch with whom the caliph went into the city, talking upon various topics. When they entered the Church of the Resurrection, it was the time for Muslim prayers. The Patriarch courteously requested the Caliph to offer his prayers there, but he refused, saying, “If I do so, the Muslims may infringe upon your rights in a future age by pretending to follow my example.” And, instead of praying inside the church, he offered his prayers on the steps outside.

The Muslims were all along enjoined to act humanely, and not to interfere with non-combatants or their property or their crops. Only the minimum force was to be used. A handful of Muslims conquered the two great empires- not because their resources were superior, but because their enthusiasm was great, and they were welcomed and aided by the subject peoples themselves who had long been oppressed by their rulers and who now saw in the mild rule of the Muslims and their generous treatment of the conquered peoples the panacea of the evils they had so patiently borne. Every non-Muslim people living under the rule of the caliph enjoyed not only peace and security, but complete autonomy as well which lived on in the form of capitulations in the Turkish Empire up to quite recent times. The only distinction between a Muslim and a Zimmi was that the former was required to pay Zakat (2½  per cent) upon his property every year and fight the enemies of the realm, while the latter paid a comparatively easier tax known as the Jaziya and, for this money, was exempt both from Zakat and military service. This Jaziya was not at all a new tax, it had existed right up to the Muslim conquest in the Roman Empire under the same designation and a similar capitation tax was universally levied under the Sassanides in the Persian Empire. The Muslims did not invent this tax; they only continued what had already existed.

I hope this sketch has shown that the caliphs did not wage wars to indulge in unnecessary bloodshed or to satisfy an insatiable lust for conquest. They did not want to conquer these two empires when the war began; they were simply trying to stand upon defense. How could these ill-organized and scanty bands of Arabs dare to court disaster by invading the two mightiest and the oldest powers of the world? They had ever looked upon them with awe and fear; the empires themselves were driven by the unseen hand of Destiny into a conflict with the rude sons of the desert in spite of the latter’s unwillingness to fight! There seems to be a law of political gravitation which gives young, vigorous people opportunities to show their capabilities; it acted in favor of the Arabs, and who can say that they misused their great opportunity?