Question: What are the messages that can be drawn from the verse (translated as): “God has already helped you on many fields, and on the day of Hunayn, when your multitude was pleasing to you, but it availed you nothing, and the earth, for all its vastness, was too narrow for you, and you turned back, retreating” (at-Tawbah 9:25).
Answer: After the conquest of Mecca, the tribes of Thaqif and Hawazin were allied with other tribes and prepared to attack the Muslims. In addition to being an excellent head of state, the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, was a unique commander. Upon receiving the news, he immediately took action to launch a preemptive strike. Thus, he aimed to win without much bloodshed and not to give way to much rancor. As a matter of fact, so many people from those tribes became Muslim later on. As a matter of fact, the noble Prophet utilized the same practice and strategy during the process that started with the Treaty of Hudaybiya and resulted in the conquest of Mecca. Imagine that the Messenger of God, a person who is held in high esteem beyond the heavens, accepted the articles of the treaty although they asserted demands seemingly disadvantageous to the Muslims for the sake of gaining the hearts of those people. Later on, the Meccans themselves breached the treaty. Upon this, the Pride of Humanity gathered an army and camped outside Mecca. During that time, he could easily have said “Might is right,” and charged at them. However, that noble soul never did and would not do such a thing, because, had he entered Mecca through bloodshed, it would have hurt the people’s pride and possibly given way to long-standing bitter feelings.
Hunayn: A hard test
Getting back to our main subject, 2,000 new Muslims from Mecca were added to the 10,000 Companions who conquered Mecca and an army of 12,000 marched toward Hunayn. Therefore, those the army was compiled of mostly young soldiers who were dizzy from the conquest of Mecca and people who had newly embraced Islam. In this state, such a thought may have occurred: “Nobody can stand before this army. Just as we have conquered Mecca by God’s grace, we are going to defeat Thaqif and Hawazin as well.”
At this point, let me note that I always have a spirit of showing respect toward the Companions, seeing them as pure souls, and choosing carefully selected words when talking about them so much so that I take heed not to use the slightest expression of questioning where the Companions are concerned. However, in this incident, some of the blessed Companions may not have adhered to the refined state God Almighty expected of them that was becoming of their distinguished position. Consequently, they may have received a Divine warning, so that they gave the due of their elevated status. However, this is a matter between God Almighty and them. Our making off-handed remarks regarding this issue will be impertinence and a transgression.
Now, keeping this point of view and criterion in consideration, let us look closer at the mood of the Companions on their way to Hunayn. First of all, they had formed the greatest army until that day. In addition, they had won so many battles against greater forces than theirs, by God’s grace and permission. Despite the adverse conditions they faced, they had always emerged victorious. Now they were marching upon the enemy with the Pride of Humanity riding his camel in front of them and they were very hopeful; may our souls be sacrificed for them and may God make us steadfast upon their righteous path. Describing their state, the Qur’an first reminds us how they received Divine help, “God has already helped you on many fields…” alluding to the instances such as the battles of Badr and Uhud and the conquest of Mecca. God Almighty makes the first reference to Hunayn by stating that they received Divine support on that day as well. Later, He describes their mood at the time, but it needs to be reminded once more that the mistakes of theirs must be approached with the consideration “The good, righteous deeds of the virtuous would be regarded as vices for those who are nearest to God Almighty.” For example, just as you can be held responsible for something negative you thought about, they might even be responsible for such a thing merely passing their imagination. God Almighty states, “and the earth, for all its vastness, was too narrow for you.” The same expression is used in another verse for Ka’b ibn Malik and his friends. In fact, there is an idiom meaning, “to feel suffocated” that happens when some place is not as roomy as you expected. So, the temporary troubled state experienced by the Companions at Hunayn is described as the earth’s being too narrow for them, and this is underlined by the fact that they came to the point of retreating. Despite all of this, God Almighty sent down His gift of sakina (inner peace and reassurance) upon them, as is expressed in the next verse: “Then God sent down His gift of inner peace and reassurance on His Messenger and the believers…” (at-Tawbah 9:26). Hearing this, they experienced heartfelt repentance, pulled themselves together, and became victorious by God’s permission and grace.
Dizziness that comes along with glory
Let us consider the lesson to be drawn from this historical event, as expressed in the initial question. Just as the blessed Companions of the noble Prophet had Divine providence and support behind them, today’s Muslims can be granted different Divine favors and blessings as well. What really matters is to keep one’s inner purity at such times by acknowledging Him as the only one who really makes things happen. Even in the face of the greatest achievements that seemingly depend on our free will and efforts, we need to shatter the veil of causality and see the Causer of causes beyond and say, “Everything is from You.”
From a worldly perspective, success and achievements can be seen as good things to sing praises about, but such things must never make a believer feel dizzy or forget their position of servitude for God. No matter how great the accomplishments we make, we always need to see ourselves as loyal slaves at His door. In fact, if we can achieve to see ourselves as His slaves, we will be freed from being slaves to everything else. This, at the same time, means freedom from different systems of manipulation and abuse. Those who do not become slaves to God Almighty become slaves to different things—some to lust, bohemianism, worldly benefits, and fame, while others become slaves to power and commit different forms of oppression thinking that might set everything right. You can view all of these people as captives. I can even say that if you swear they are being captives, you will not have made a false statement, because, some of those people bear two, five, or even ten shackles of captivity around their necks. Ones devoid of wisdom might ascribe good things being achieved to certain individuals and groups on stage and extol them. Those with character flaws and a weakness for fame and praise might grow arrogant and insolent in the face of such applause. They might have claims on what does not belong to them. In truth, it is a downfall to make such claims by forgetting that their achievements are blessings granted by God Almighty. For example, if a preacher sees that the audience is deeply moved and are listening to him in tears, he will corrupt what he did if he takes any personal pride and sees it as a consequence of his powerful oratory; in reality, people’s hearts are in God’s hand of power. Being granted oratory skills is both a blessing and a test. Making a claim of such things is a form of usurpation. Let us not forget that a love and desire for fame is such a trouble that one with such a character flaw can make claims on what belongs to God, the noble Prophet, and the Qur’an when they keep being extolled. May God protect us from such a disaster!
In conclusion, if you wish to build up the statue of your soul one more time, you need to know that this can neither be achieved through worldly opportunities nor through different means of power. As the poet Mehmed Akif put it, “One must always rely upon God, work diligently, and comply with what wisdom requires.” With this understanding, if you try to always speak up for the truth by taking Qur’anic reasoning as the basis and without engaging in polemics, God lets you see and speak correctly; eventually, He makes the impossible become real for you and grants you success on the path you walk.