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Early Military Expeditions

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

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With the arrival of The Messenger in Madina, the struggle between Islam and unbelief entered a new phase. In Makka the Prophet had devoted himself almost exclusively to expounding Islam's basic principles and to his Companions' moral and spiritual training. After the Emigration (622 CE), however, new Muslims belonging to different tribes and regions began to gather in Madina. Although the Muslims held only a tiny piece of land, the Quraysh allied itself with as many tribes as possible to exterminate them.

In these circumstances, the small Muslim community's success, not to mention its very survival, depended upon several factors. In order of importance, there were:

• Propagate Islam efficiently and effectively to convert others.

• Demonstrate the unbelievers' falsehoods so convincingly that nobody could doubt Islam's truth.

• Face exile, pervasive hostility and opposition, economic hardship, hunger, insecurity, and danger with patience and fortitude.

• Regain their wealth and goods usurped by the Makkans after they emigrated.

• Resist, with courage and force of arms, any assault launched to frustrate their movement. While resisting, they should ignore the enemy's numerical or material superiority.

In addition to threats from Makka and its allies, the young community had to contend with Madina's three Jewish tribes, which controlled Madina's economic life. Although they had been waiting for a Prophet, they opposed The Messenger because he was not Jewish. One of the first things the Messenger did in Madina was to sign a pact with the Jews. Despite this, the Jews continued to harbor considerable ill-will toward the Messenger and plot against him and Islam. For example, the skilled Jewish poet Ka'b ibn Ashraf composed poems satirizing The Messenger and instigating his enemies.

In Madina, another hostile element began to emerge: hypocrisy. The Hypocrites can be divided into four broad groups, as follows:

• Those who had no faith in Islam but entered the Muslim community to cause trouble within its ranks.

• Those who understood political realities and so sought some advantage by seeming to convert. However, they maintained contacts with anti-Islamic forces in the hope that they could benefit from contacts with both sides and thus not be harmed.

• Those who had not made up their minds yet, but seemed to have converted because those around them were doing so.

• Those who accepted Islam as the true religion but found it difficult to abandon their inherited way of life, superstitions, and customs, as well as to exercise the self-discipline required by Islam.

Military expeditions. In such severe circumstances, The Messenger decided to dispatch military expeditions into the desert's heart. He had several goals in mind, some of which were as follows:

• Unbelievers tried to extinguish the Light of God with their mouth, but, although they were averse, God willed to perfect His Light (61:8). The Messenger wanted to prove that unbelievers could not exterminate Islam, and to show that Islam could not be ignored.

• Makka enjoyed a central position in Arabia. As the peninsula's most formidable power, all other tribes felt some sort of adherence to it. By sending military expeditions to neighboring areas, The Messenger wanted to display Islam's power and break the Quraysh's dominance. Throughout history, the concept of "might is right" has usually been a norm, for "right" is often too weak to rule. In Arabia, the Quraysh had might and wealth, and so neighboring tribes obeyed them. Islam came to make right prevail, and so The Messenger had to break Makka's grip.

• His Mission was not restricted to a fixed period or nation, for he was sent as a mercy for all the worlds. Thus he was charged with conveying Islam as far as possible. To succeed, he had to know what was going on in the peninsula. These expeditions served as vanguards providing him with the information he needed to pave the way for the preaching of Islam.

• One of the most effective ways to crush your enemies is to drive them to unpremeditated, premature actions, for this allows you to retain the initiative. The Messenger surely was informed of the Quraysh's contacts with 'Abd Allah ibn Ubayy ibn Salul, leader of Madina's Hypocrites. He also was alert to their possible attacks on Madina. After a Qurayshi military force entered Madina's suburbs and the returned to Makka with its plunder, The Messenger dispatched military expeditions to encourage the Quraysh to act before thinking. He then could thwart their plots.

• The Quraysh lived on trade with the international markets in Syria and Yemen, and so had to secure their trade routes. But now that the Muslims were in Madina, these routes could be threatened. While strengthening his position, the Prophet also was dispatching military expeditions to paralyze the Quraysh's hopes and plans of defeating him.

• Islam's commandments seek to guarantee security of life and property, chastity and belief, as well as physical, mental, and spiritual health. Given this, murder and theft, robbery and plundering, usurpation and interest (or usury), gambling, alcohol, illicit sexual relations, anarchy, and the propagation of atheism are forbidden. The Arabic word for belief, iman, means giving security. Thus a mu'min (believer) never cheats, and all are safe from a believer's tongue and hand. Believers do not lie, break their promise, or betray a trust. Also, they do not earn their livelihood through stealing, usurpation, and interest-based transactions. In addition, they seek to harm no one, for they are convinced that those who kill even one person are like those who kill humanity.

When The Messenger was raised as a Prophet, Arabia had no security of life or property, chastity, health, or belief. One of his tasks, therefore, was to establish absolute security in every aspect of life. Once he said to Adiy ibn Khatam: "A day will come when a woman will travel, riding in a litter, from Hira to Makka and fear nothing except God and wolves." [1] By dispatching military expeditions, The Messenger sought to establish security therein and show everyone that only Islam would bring them security.

Expeditions. The first post-Emigration military expedition, led by Hamza, was sent toward Sif al-Bahr. It arrived just as a Qurayshi trade caravan was returning from Damascus. The Quraysh had usurped all the Emigrants' possessions and traded them in Damascus. The Messenger used this situation to display Muslim power and directly threaten Quraysh's economic well-being. No clash took place in this first confrontation, but the desert tribes witnessing the incident were inclined to acknowledge another source of power in the peninsula.

This expedition was followed by another one commanded by 'Ubayda ibn Harith. With the same purpose in mind, 'Ubayda went as far as Rabigh, a valley on the way to Makka. The 60 Muslim cavalrymen encountered a Qurayshi force of 200 armed men. An exchange of arrows took place and, fearing defeat, the Makkan force eventually withdrew toward Makka. [2]

Military expeditions, some led by The Messenger, now followed one another. In two of the expeditions he commanded, The Messenger went to Abwa and Buwat, respectively, with the intention of threatening Qurayshi trade caravans and intimidating the Quraysh. [3] In Abwa, he concluded a treaty with the Banu Damra tribe: neither side would fight the other, and Banu Damra would not aid the Muslims' enemies.

Shortly before the Battle of Badr (624 CE), The Messenger sent an expedition of about 10 people, commanded by 'Abd Allah ibn Jahsh, to Nakhla, located a few miles from Makka on the way to Ta'if. He told them to follow the Quraysh's movements and gather information about their plans. While they were in Nakhla, a Qurayshi trade caravan coming from Ta'if halted there. Something happened unexpectedly, and the Muslims killed one Makkan and captured the rest (except one) and their belongings. These were taken to Madina.

This event occurred toward the end of Rajab and the beginning of Sha'ban. Therefore, it was uncertain whether the sanctity of Rajab, one of the four holy months, had been violated. The Quraysh, those Jews secretly allied with them, and the Hypocrites made full use of this possible violation in their anti-Muslim propaganda campaign. They claimed that the Muslims shed blood in a sacred month, a time when doing so is prohibited.

Since the incident had taken place without his approval, The Messenger explained to its participants that he had not ordered them to fight. Other Muslims also reproached them. However, a Revelation consoled them on account of their pure intention with hope for God's mercy:

They question you concerning the holy month, and fighting in it. Say: "Fighting in it is a heinous thing, but to bar from God's way, and unbelief in Him, denying entry into the Holy Mosque, expelling its people from it are more heinous in God's sight. Persecution is more heinous than killing." They will not cease to fight with you till they turn you from your religion, if they are able; and whoever of you turns from their religion and dies unbelieving—their works have failed in this world and the next. Those are the inhabitants of the Fire; therein they shall dwell forever. But the believers, and those who emigrate and struggle in God's way—those have hope of God's Mercy. God is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate. (2:217–18) [4]

The verses answered the objections of the anti-Muslim forces. In short, fighting during the holy months is an evil act. However, those who had subjected the believers to continual and indescribable wrong for 13 years merely because they believed in the One God had no right or justification to raise such an objection. Not only had they driven the Muslims from their homes, they had placed the Holy Mosque beyond their reach, a punishment unknown in the Ka'ba's approximately 2,000-year known history. With such a record, who were they to raise such an outcry over a small incident, especially one that had taken place without the Prophet's approval?

[1] Bukhari, "Manaqib," 25.
[2] Ibn Hisham, Sira, 2:241; Ibn Sa'd, Tabaqat, 2:7.
[3] Ibn Hisham, 2:241, 248.
[4] Ibn Hisham, 2:252.