A General Evaluation of His Military Achievements

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in The Messenger of God: Muhammad

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A significant point concerning the Messenger is that he was the most eminent commander in human history. To understand this dimension of his sacred mission, consider these following points:

• No other Prophet carried his mission to decisive victory in all aspects of life. Moses, who most resembles the Messenger, died while his people were still in the desert and unable to conquer Palestine after several decades of preaching. Jesus' mission sought mainly to infuse a spiritual and moral revival among the Jews, who were drowning in materialism. After his elevation to Heaven, his disciples conveyed his message to Rome, despite severe persecution. Unfortunately, the price to be paid was the degeneration of Jesus' original creed.

When Prophet Muhammad died, he left behind a Muslim Arabia and dedicated Companions ready to convey Islam throughout the world. He achieved this end with a handful of self-sacrificing people who previously had not heard of belief or Scripture, and who had known nothing of civilized social life, world politics, good morals, and self-discipline. He transformed desert tribes engaged in civil wars and unending feuds, and equipped them with belief, sincerity, knowledge, good morals, love of humanity, compassion, and activism. They dedicated themselves to a Divine cause, and the result was an army of light. Rabi' ibn Amir, Muslim envoy to the Persian commander during the War of Qadisiya, said the Prophet

…elevates people from the dark pits of worldly life to the high, boundless realm of the spirit; from the humiliation of worshipping false and human-made divinities to the honor and dignity of worshipping One God, the only Creator and Sustainer of the universe; and frees them from the oppression and depression brought about by false religions and human systems to the luminous and peaceful climate of Islam."

• The Messenger never sought a worldly kingdom; he was sent to guide humanity to salvation in both worlds. His goal was to revive people, not to kill them. To achieve this, however, he had to arrange military expeditions and sometimes command armies. He sent out about 80 such expeditions, and actually commanded 28 of them. Fighting took place in almost half of these campaigns, and only around 1,000 people died: approximately 250 Muslims were martyred, and 750 non-Muslims were killed. He established Islam, brought absolute security to Arabia for the first time, and opened the way to global security at the cost of only 1,000 lives. This is, as so many of his other achievements are, unequalled in world history.

• The Messenger was the first to legislate an international law. Although the concept was known before Islam, international law was very limited. For example, there were no recognized rules concerning prisoners of war. The Messenger established a set of rules to bring a "discipline" to fighting. For example, the following is the order given by him and all his true successors to departing armies, an order obeyed to the letter by Muslims in their wars as Muslims:

Always keep fear of God in your mind. Remember that you can't afford to do anything without His grace. Don't forget that Islam is a mission of peace and love. Don't destroy fruit trees or fertile fields in your paths. Be just, and spare the feelings of the vanquished. Respect all religious persons who live in hermitages or convents, and spare their edifices. Don't kill civilians, or violate women's chastity and the conquered's honor. Don't harm old people and children, or accept gifts from the civilian population. Don't billet your soldiers or officers in civilians' homes. [1]

• The Messenger always took preliminary precautions and left nothing to chance. He always acted with great care, insight, and forethought, and so never met with any setbacks. He had no part in the reverse suffered at Uhud. Also, he was extraordinarily successful in getting information from the enemy without resorting to force or torture. For example, some Muslim soldiers who had captured an enemy soldier tried to force information out of him about the enemy's numbers and equipment. The Messenger ordered his release and asked him how many camels his army slaughtered every day. Calculating how many camels are eaten by how many people in a day, he tried to work out how many soldiers were coming toward him.

• The Messenger established a military intelligence service to provide him with all necessary information about the enemy. No news of his own movements, however, was ever leaked. Before setting out to conquer Makka, Khatib ibn Abi Balta'a secretly sent a letter with a woman to his relatives in Makka about the preparations. However, the Prophet was informed of this and sent 'Ali and Zubayr to intercept her, which they did.

Also, the Messenger kept his military preparations and ultimate destination a secret. He tended to march in one direction, and then turn toward his real destination later on. His tactics were characterized by speed, surprise attack, and flexibility. In most of his campaigns, he caught the enemy unprepared and overcame them relatively easily. For example, in the Battle of Khaybar, the Jews learned of his approach only because their farmers were abandoning their fields after seeing him in the early morning. They only had time to shelter in their citadels. When he marched upon Makka, his advance planning was so perfect that the Makkan poytheists surrendered unconditionally.

• Being a Prophet who brought a universal religion from God, the Messenger taught it so effectively that his Companions were always ready to sacrifice themselves. This was one of the main factors lying behind his victories. His Companions placed all of their reliance and confidence in him. Therefore, he inculcated fear in enemies' hearts, as he himself said: "I am supported by God through implanting fear in the hearts of my enemies from a distance of a month's walk." [2] He used psychology to demoralize his enemies. Poets like Hassan ibn Thabit and 'Abd Allah ibn Rawaha wrote or recited verses to demoralize the enemy. While performing the minor pilgrimage one year after the treaty of Hudaybiya, he ordered his Companions to run around the Ka'ba to demonstrate their strength to the Makkans watching from the neighboring hills. While running, 'Abd Allah ibn Rawaha recited:

I start with the name of God,
Apart from Whom there is no other god,
And Muhammad is the Messenger of God.
O unbelievers, and sons of unbelievers, clear out of his way.

The Messenger was pleased with his recitation, and said: "His words are more penetrating to the Quraysh than arrows." [3]

• The Messenger introduced new strategies and shattered the unity of allied enemy tribes. During the Battle of the Trench, the Jewish Banu Qurayza broke their treaty with the Muslims at a most critical moment and joined the Qurayshi siege. Left between two hostile camps, the Messenger offered peace to the Banu Ghatafan, a Qurayshi ally. This discouraged the Banu Ghatafan from continuing the war. He also engendered disagreement and mutual mistrust between the Quraysh and the Banu Qurayza. During the campaign of Khaybar, he pretended to march upon the Banu Ghatafan, allies of the Jews of Khaybar. Thus this tribe remained inactive and did not help the Jews.

• The Messenger did what he had to do, without hesitation or irresolution, at each step of his life. He never retreated or gave up hope during a battle. He stood steadfast during the critical moments of Uhud and Hunayn. He called to his scattering Companions: "Do not scatter! I am Muhammad, the Messenger of God. That is no lie!" When the Jewish tribes in and around Madina refused to honor their agreements, the Messenger marched upon them immediately. He did the same thing against the Banu Qurayza after the Battle of the Trench, without even stopping to take off his coat of mail, and against the Qurayshi army a day after the setback at Uhud. Such incidents are very significant in showing his resolution and invincibility.

• In almost every campaign, the Messenger took the initiative to attack and direct the battle. Even in set battles, like those of Badr, Uhud, and the Trench, he kept the initiative. His use of surprise strategies and effective tactics defeated the enemy. He also used time and any opportunity most effectively.

• The Messenger usually changed his battle tactics and strategy. For example, during Badr he launched an overall attack after demoralizing the enemy in single combat. In the first stage of Uhud, he rendered the enemy cavalry inactive through archers stationed in the Aynayn mountain pass. Hurling such eminent warriors as Hamza, 'Ali, Abu Dujana, and Zubayr upon the enemy, he won the victory in the first stage of the battle. As for the Trench, he faced the enemy with a long, deep trench around Madina and, remaining within the city's confines, forced the enemy to retreat after a 4-week siege.

• The Messenger was never short of necessary reinforcements or logistics, and always kept his lines of communication open. He brought up, along with such extraordinary statesmen as Abu Bakr and 'Umar and people of profound scholarship and spirituality, great soldiers and invincible commanders. His education was based on three basic elements:

• Continuous physical training. He urged his Companions to train in archery, wrestling, swimming, and riding horses. Sometimes arranged competitions and footraces, in which he himself occasionally participated. He also stressed the need to preserve one's health and strength.

• Good morals and being well-mannered.

• Devotion to God with unshakable belief, submission, and reliance, and obedience to God, himself, and others in authority.

The Muslim army conveyed peace and security to the lands it conquered. Each soldier was absolutely dedicated to Islam. The only criterion for them to judge between people was belief in God. They did not feel true love for anybody who opposed God and His Messenger, even if they were their parents, children, or siblings (58:22). As a result, sometimes family members faced each other on the battlefield.

Belief and submission made the Muslim soldiers so powerful and fearless that neither the numerical strength of the enemy nor fear of death could prevent them from conveying the Divine Message. 'Abd Allah ibn Hudafa al-Sahmi, captured by the Byzantines, was told by a Christian priest that his life would be spared if he converted. He was given 3 minutes to decide. 'Abd Allah replied: "Thank you, father. You have given me 3 minutes to tell you about Islam."

[1] Andrew Miller, Church History, 285; Bukhari, "Manaqib," 9.
[2] Bukhari, "Tayammum," 1, "Salat," 56.
[3] Nasa'i, Sunan, 5:212; Ibn Hisham, 4:13; Ibn Sa'd, 2:121.