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The Reasons For the Setback at Uhud

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Prophet Muhammad as Commander

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Before passing on to explain the reasons for the setback suffered at Uhud, it should be pointed out that the Companions have, after the Prophets, superiority over all the other people in virtue. They were honoured with being the comrades and trainees of the greatest of the whole creation, one for whose sake the universe was created and who was sent as a mercy for all the worlds, that is, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. Therefore, according to the rule, the greater the blessing, the greater the responsibility, they had to be the most sensitive in obeying God and His Messenger. We read in the Qur'an that, for example, whoever of the Prophet's wives commits manifest indecency, the punishment for her will be doubled because they are not like any other women (al-Ahzab, 33. 30, 32). Likewise, a sin committed by the Companions, small as it may be, deserves severe punishment. They are all included in those 'foremost in belief and nearness to God', and they are the ones whose conduct is an example followed by later generations, so they should be pure in belief and intention, sincere in worship and devotion, upright in conduct and extremely careful in refraining from sins and disobedience.

Secondly, God has raised the Community of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, as the best community who enjoin the good and forbid the evil, and believe in One God (Al 'Imran, 3.110) and also appointed them as a 'middle nation' so that they may be witnesses to mankind, and that the Messenger may be a witness to them (al-Baqara, 2.143). But, in the first years of the Madinan era, the community of the Companions consisted of true believers and hypocrites, so God wanted to sift those who were truly His witnesses against all mankind, and also to see who among them strove hard in His Way and remained steadfast (Al 'Imran, 3. 141–2). The Battle of Uhud, therefore, became a decisive test to sift out the sincere and steadfast from the hypocritical and wavering ones, and served to make the Islamic community more stable and formidable than before.

After these preliminary notes, we can summarize the reasons for the reverse which the Muslims experienced in the second stage of Uhud.

1. God's Messenger, being the Commander-in-chief of the Muslim army supported by Divine Revelation, was of the opinion that they should stay within the confines of Madina, but the younger Companions, inexperienced and full of excitement, urged him to march out of the city. This was a mistake, even though for the sake of obtaining the rank of martyrdom in the Way of God, since the Messenger tended to apply different tactics in battles and knew in advance that the Quraysh army was coming to fight in an open field.

2. The second disobedience on the part of the Companions showed itself when the archers whom the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, had posted to defend the army against any attack from the rear, left their posts. They misinterpreted the order of God's Messenger that they should not move away from their places even if they saw birds fly off with the flesh of their brothers fighting on the battlefield, and took part in collecting booty.

3. The hypocrites numbering three hundred, one third of the whole army, cut themselves off from the army half-way and returned to Madina. This undermined the morale of Banu Salama and Banu Haritha, who were only persuaded with difficulty not to leave. Moreover, there was still a small group of hypocritical people who demoralized the Muslim ranks during the course of the battle.

4. A number of the Companions did not remain sufficiently patient. They acted, in certain respects, in a manner inconsistent with the dictates of piety and were lured by material wealth.

5. There were some among the believers who had thought that as long as God's Messenger was in their midst and as long as they enjoyed God's support and help, the unbelievers could never triumph over them. However true this was, they came to understand by the setback they suffered that deserving God's help requires, besides belief and devotion, deliberation and strategy, and steadfastness. They also perceived that the world is a field of testing and trial:

Many ways of life and systems have passed away before you; journey in the land, and behold how was the end of those who did deny (the Messengers). This is an exposition for mankind, and a guidance and an admonition for the God-fearing. Faint not, nor grieve, for you shall gain mastery if you are true believers. If a wound has touched you, a like wound already touched the (unbelieving) people (at Badr); such days We deal out in turn among men, that God may see who are the believers, and that He may take witnesses from among you; and God loves not the evil-doers; and that God may prove the believers, and blot out the unbelievers. (Al 'Imran, 3. 137-141)

6. Those who had not taken part in the Battle of Badr sincerely prayed God for martyrdom. They were deeply devoted to the cause of Islam and longed for their meeting with God. Some among them like 'Abd Allah ibn Jahsh, Anas ibn Nadr, Sa'd ibn Rabi', 'Amr ibn Jamuh and Abu Sa'd Haysama, tasted the pleasure of martyrdom and the martyrdom of the others was delayed. The Qur'an sings the praises of them as follows:

Among the believers are men who were true to their covenant with God; some of them have fulfilled their vow by death (in battle), and some are still awaiting, and they have not changed in the least. (al-Ahzab, 33.23)

7. Any success or triumph lies in the hand of God, Who does whatever He wills and cannot be questioned concerning His acts. Belief in the Unity of God requires that a believer must always ascribe to God his accomplishments and never appropriate for his self anything good. If the decisive victory of Badr gave some of the Muslims some sort of self-pride and if they imputed the victory to their own prudence and wise arrangement or some material causes, this, too, would have taken a part in their setback in Uhud.

8. There is an important point worth mentioning concerning the setback the believers suffered in Uhud. Among the Quraysh army there were some eminent soldiers and commanders such as Khalid ibn Walid, Ikrima ibn Abi Jahl, 'Amr ibn al- 'As and Ibn Hisham, each of whom had been destined by God to serve Islam very greatly in the future. They were the ones most esteemed and respected among the people. For the sake of their future service for Islam, God may not have willed to hurt their feelings of honour completely. So, as expressed by Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, the Companions of the future defeated the Companions of the present in the second stage of Uhud. (1)

Finally, the following verses are to explain the reasons of that setback together with its aftermath, and the lessons which should be taken from it:

Did you suppose you should enter Paradise without God seeing who of you have struggled and who are patient? (Al 'Imran, 3.142)

Muhammed is naught but a Messenger; Messengers have passed away before him. Will you, if he should die or is slain, turn back on your heels? If any man should turn back on his heels, he will not harm God in any way; and God will recompense the thankful. It is not given to any soul to die save by the leave of God, at an appointed time. Whoso desires the reward of this world, We will give him of this; and whoso desires the reward of the other world, We will give him of that; and We will recompense the thankful. (Al 'Imran, 3. 144–5)

God fulfilled His pledge to you when by His leave you blasted them, until you lost heart, and quarrelled about the matter, and disobeyed, after He had shown you that you longed for. Some of you sought this world and some of you sought the next. Then He turned you from them, that He might try you; and He has pardoned you; and God is bounteous to the believers. When you were going up, not twisting about for anyone, and the Messenger was calling you in your rear; so He rewarded you with grief after grief that you might not sorrow for what escaped you neither for what smote you; and God is aware of the things you do. (Al 'Imran, 3. 152–3)

Those of you who turned away on the day two hosts encountered – Satan made them slip because of some of their lapses; but God has pardoned them; God is All-Forgiving, All-Clement. (Al 'Imran, 3. 155)

O believers, be not as the unbelievers who say concerning their brothers, when they journey in the land, or are upon expeditions, 'If they had been with us, they would not have died and not been slain' – that God may make that an anguish in their hearts. For God gives life, and He makes to die; and God sees the things you do. If you are slain or die in God's way, forgiveness and mercy from God are a better thing than what they amass; surely if you die or are slain, it is unto God you shall be mustered. (Al 'Imran, 3.156–8)

If God helps you, none can overcome you; but if He forsakes you, who then can help you after Him? Therefore in God let the believers put all their trust. (Al 'Imran, 3. 160)

Why, when an affliction visited you, and you had visited twice over the like of it, did you say, 'How is this?' Say: 'This is from your own selves; surely God is powerful over everything'. And what visited you, the day the two hosts encountered, was by God's leave, and that He might mark out the believers; and that He might also mark out the hypocrites, to whom it was said: 'Come, fight in the way of God, or repel!' They said, 'If only we knew how to fight, we would follow you.' They that day were nearer to unbelief than to belief. (Al 'Imran, 3.165–7)

Count not those who were slain in God's way as dead. They are alive with their Lord, by Him provided, rejoicing in the bounty that God has given them, and joyful in those who remain behind and have not joined them yet: that no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow, joyful in blessing and bounty from God, and that God leaves not to waste the wage of the believers. (Al 'Imran, 3. 169-171)

God will not leave the believers in the state in which you are, till He shall distinguish the corrupt from the good, and God will not inform you of the Unseen; but God chooses out of His Messengers whom He wills. Believe you then in God and His Messengers; and if you believe and are God-fearing, there shall be for you a mighty wage. (Al 'Imran, 3.179)

1. Said Nursi, Lemalar, 28.