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A Critical Exposition of the Popular ‘Jihad’—Part 8


By Moulavi Chirágh Ali

All the Wars of Mohammad Were Defensive

The Persecutions

[Sidenote: 1. The early persecutions of Moslems by the people of Mecca.]

The severe persecution which Mohammad and his early converts suffered at Mecca at the hands of their fellow-citizens, the Quraish, is a fact admitted by all historians.

The Quran, which may be regarded as a contemporary record of the ill-feeling manifested towards the Prophet and his followers, bears ample testimony to the fact. Not only were the early Moslems persecuted for renouncing the pagan religion and obtaining converts to the monotheistic religion of Mohammad, but they were also tortured and otherwise ill-treated to induce them to return to the religion which they had forsaken. The persecution seems to have been so great that Mohammad was compelled to recognize those of his followers, who by force and cruelty were compelled to renounce Islam and profess paganism, but were inwardly steadfast in their belief of the one true God, as true Moslems.

The Quran says:

"Whoso after he hath believed in God denieth Him, if he were forced to it, and if his heart remains steadfast in the faith, _shall be guiltless_; but whoso openeth his breast to infidelity, on them, in that case, shall be wrath from God, and a severe punishment awaiteth them."--Sura xvi, 108.

"The incarceration and tortures," says Mr. Stobart, "chiefly by thirst in the burning rays of the sun, to which these humble converts were subjected, to induce their recantation and adoration of the national idols, touched the heart of Mahomet, and by divine authority, he permitted them, under certain circumstances, to deny their faith so long as their hearts were steadfast in it."[159]

[Sidenote: 2. Notices of the persecution in the Quran.]

The oppressions, trials, and sufferings which the early Moslems underwent compelled them to fly from their homes, leaving their families and property in the hands of their oppressors. They chose this course rather than revert to paganism. They held steadfastly to the one true God whom their Prophet had taught them to trust and believe. All these facts are clearly outlined in the following verses of the Quran:--

"And as to those who when oppressed have fled their country for the sake of God, We will surely provide them a goodly abode in this world, but greater the reward of next life, did they but know it."

"They who bear ills with patience, and put their trust in the Lord!"--xvi, 43, 44

"To those also who after their trials fled their country, then did their utmost and endured with patience, verily, thy Lord will afterwards be forgiving, gracious."--_Ibid_, 111

"But they who believe, and who fly their country, and do their utmost in the cause of God, may hope for God's mercy: and God is Gracious, Merciful."--ii, 215

"And they who have fled their country and quitted their homes and suffered in my cause and have fought and fallen--I will blot out their sins from them and will bring them into gardens beneath which the streams do flow."--iii, 194

"And as to those who fled their country for the cause of God, and were afterwards slain, or died, surely with goodly provision will God provide for them! for verily, God is the best of providers!"--xxii, 57

"Those believers who sit at home free from trouble, and those who toil in the cause of God with their substance and their persons, shall not be treated alike. God hath assigned to those who strive with their persons and with their substance, a rank above those who sit at home. Goodly promises hath He made to all: But God hath assigned to those who make efforts a rich recompense above those who sit still at home."

"The angels, when they took the souls of those who had been unjust to their own weal, demanded, 'What hath been your state?' They said, 'We were the weak ones of the earth.' They replied, 'Was not God's earth broad enough for you to flee away in?' These! their home shall be Hell, and evil the passage to it"--

"Except the men and women and children who were not able through their weakness to find the means _of escape_, and were not guided on their way. These haply God will forgive: for God is Forgiving, Pardoning."--iv, 97, 99, 100.

"God doth not forbid you to deal with kindness and fairness towards those who have not made war upon you on account of your religion, or driven you forth from your homes: verily, God loveth those who act with fairness."

"Only doth God forbid you to make friends of those who, on account of your religion, have warned against you, and have driven you forth from your homes, and have aided your expulsion: and whoever maketh friends of them, these therefore are evil-doers."--lx, 8, 9

[Sidenote: 3. Insults suffered by Mohammad.]

The Prophet himself suffered insults and personal injuries from the hands of his persecutors. He was prevented from offering his prayers (xcvi, 10). He allowed himself to be spat upon, to have dust thrown upon him, and to be dragged out of the Kaaba by his own turban fastened to his neck. He bore all these indignities with the utmost humility, and he daily beheld his followers treated oppressively. After his uncle's death his life was attempted, but he escaped by flying to Medina.

"And _call to mind_ when the unbelievers plotted against thee, to detain thee prisoner or to kill thee or to banish thee: they plotted--but God plotted; and of plotters is God the best."--viii, 30

[Sidenote: 4. Historical summary of the persecutions.]

About 615 of the Christian era, the Quraish of Mecca began to persecute the faith of Islam. Those who had no protection among the early Moslems were hard pressed, as related above. A body of eleven men, some with their families, fled the country, and found refuge, notwithstanding their pursuit by the Quraish, across the Red Sea at the Court of Abyssinia. This was the first Hegira, or flight of the persecuted Moslems. After some time, the persecution being resumed by the Quraish more hotly than ever, a larger number of Moslems, more than hundred, emigrated to Abyssinia. This was the second flight of the Moslems. The Quraish had sent an embassy to the Court of Abyssinia to fetch back the refugees. The king denied their surrender. About two years later the Quraish formed a hostile confederacy, by which all intercourse with the Moslems and their supporters was suspended. The Quraish forced upon the Moslems, by their threats and menaces, to retire from the city. For about three years, they, together with the Prophet and the Hashimites and their families, had to shut themselves up in the _Sheb_ of Abu Tálib. They remained there, cut off from communication with the outer world. The ban of separation was put rigorously in force. The terms of the social and civil ban put upon them were, that they would neither intermarry with the proscribed, nor sell to or buy from them anything, and that they would entirely cease from all intercourse with them. Mohammad, in the interval of the holy months, used to go forth and mingle with the pilgrims to Mecca, and preached to them the abhorrence of idolatry and the worship of the One True God. The _Sheb_, or quarter of Abu Tálib, lies under the rocks of Abu Cobeis. A low gateway cut them off from the outer world, and within they had to suffer all privations of a beleaguered garrison. No one would venture forth except in the sacred months, when all hostile feelings and acts had to be laid aside. The citizens could hear the voices of the half-famished children inside the _Sheb_ and this state of endurance on the one side, and persecution on the other, went on for some three years. Five of the chief supporters of the adverse faction detached from the league and broke up the confederacy and released the imprisoned religionists. This was in the tenth year of Mohammad's ministry. Soon after Mohammad and the early Moslems suffered a great loss in the death of his venerable uncle and Protector Abu Tálib. Thus, Mohammad and his followers became again exposed to the unchecked insults and persecutions incited by Abú Sofian, Abu Jahl, and others; and being a handful in the hostile city, were unable to cope with its rich and powerful chiefs. At this critical period, either because he found it unsafe to remain at Mecca, or because he trusted his message would find more acceptance elsewhere, Mohammad set off to Tayef of the Bani Thakif,--the town was one of the great strongholds of idolatry. There was a stone image, called Al-Lât, adorned with costly vestments and precious stones, was an object of worship, and esteemed to be one of the daughters of God. Here Mohammad preached to unwilling ears, and met with nothing but opposition and scorn from the chief men, which soon spread to the populace. He was driven out of the town, maltreated, and wounded. He could not return to and enter Mecca unless protected by Mut-im, a chief of the blood of Abd Shams.

At the yearly pilgrimage, a little group of worshippers from Medina was attracted and won over by the preaching of Islam; and the following year it increased to twelve. They met Mohammad and took an oath of allegiance. A teacher was deputed by Mohammad to Medina, and the new faith spread there with a marvellous rapidity. Again the time of pilgrimage arrived, and more than seventy disciples from Medina pledged themselves to receive and defend him at the risk of their lives and property. This was all done in secret; but the Quraish, having got notice of it, renewed such severities and persecutions, including, in some cases, imprisonment, as hastened the departure of the Moslems to Medina, their city of refuge.

[Sidenote: 5. The Hegira.]

Mohammad, being much troubled by the intolerance of the people and the personal safety and security of himself and his followers being endangered, and mutual intercourse denied, saw that it was hopeless to expect any forbearance on the part of the Quraish, who would not permit him to live and preach his religion at home, and looked for assistance and protection from a strange land. He asked the people of Medina to receive and protect him. The Medina converts, who had come to Mecca on pilgrimage, pledged themselves to Mohammad, and promised to defend him as they would defend their wives and children. The Medina converts, although not acting on the offensive, became at once objects of suspicion to the Quraish, who endeavoured to seize those who were in Mecca. They maltreated one of the Medina converts who fell into their hands, and the work of persecution was recommenced in right earnest.[160] Two months elapsed before the believers, except those detained in confinement or who were unable to escape from slavery, or women and children, could emigrate. Families after families silently disappeared, and house after house was abandoned. One or two quarters of the city were entirely deserted. The Quraish held a council and proscribed Mohammad, who escaped together with Abu Bakr, leaving Ali in his house, around whom, to lull the suspicions of his neighbours, he threw his own mantle, and desired him to occupy his bed. Mohammad and his follower took refuge in a cave. The Quraish despatched scouts in all directions to search for Mohammad, but in vain. After hiding for three days in the cave, Mohammad and Abu Bakr started for Medina, where they arrived safely.

The foregoing circumstances would have fully justified immediate hostilities on the part of Mohammad, but he did not take up arms until compelled to do so by the attacks of the Meccans.

[Sidenote: 6. The persecution of the Moslems by the Quraish after their flight from Mecca.]

Notwithstanding the flight of the Prophet and of all the early Moslem converts who were able to affect an escape except their families, women and children, and those weak Moslems who could not leave Mecca, the Meccans or the Quraish did not forgive the fugitives and did not abstain from their aggressions against them. They maltreated the children and weak Moslems left at Mecca (iv, 77, 99 and 100), expelled the Moslems from their houses, and would not allow them to come back to Mecca for a pilgrimage (ii, 214). The Meccans several times invaded the Medina territory with the avowed intention of making war upon the Moslems (and actually fought the battles of Bedr, Ohad, Khandak or Ahzáb, at Medina), consequently the Moslems were forced to resort to arms in pure self-defence.

These were sufficient grounds for the Moslems to assume the offensive. They were desirous also of rescuing their families and those who had been unable to join in the flight from the tyranny and oppression of the Meccans. Yet they were in no instance the aggressors. Driven from their homes and families they did not resort to arms until absolutely compelled to do so in self-defence.

All that Mohammad claimed for himself and his followers was, full liberty of conscience and actions, and permission to preach and practice his religion without being molested. This being refused, he advised his followers to leave the city and seek refuge elsewhere. They emigrated twice to Abyssinia, and for the third time was expelled to Medina, where he himself followed, when his own life was attempted.

[Footnote 159: Islam and its Founder, by J.W.H. Stobart, B.A., page 76.

But, in fact, there was no such permission. The verse quoted above says, that the wrath and punishment of God will be on those who deny God, except those who do so by being forced. The latter were not put on the same footing as the former; in short, those who denied God under compulsion were not counted unbelievers.]

[Footnote 160: "The support of the Medina adherents, and the suspicion of an _intended_ emigration, irritated the Quraish to severity; and this severity forced the Moslems to petition Mahomet for leave to emigrate. The two causes might co-exist and re-act one another; the persecution would hasten the departure of the converts, while each fresh departure would irritate the Quraish to greater cruelty."--William Muir's Life of Mahomet, Vol. II, pp. 242, 243, foot-note.]

_The Meccans or the Quraish._

[Sidenote: 7. A Quraish chieftain commits a raid near Medina.--A.H., I.]

The attitude of the Quraish towards the Prophet and his followers after the flight rapidly became more hostile. Kurz-ibn Jábir, one of the marauding chieftains of the Quraish, fell upon some of the camels and flocks of Medina, while feeding in a plain a few miles from the city, and carried them off.

[Sidenote: 8. The Quraish march to attack Medina. Mohammad marches forth in defence, and gains the battle at Badr.--A.H., II.]

Still there was no hostile response from Medina, till the aggressors (the Quraish) brought from Medina an army of 950 strong, mounted on 700 camels and 100 horses, to Badr, nine stages from Mecca, advancing towards Medina. Then the Prophet set out from Medina at the head of his small army of 305 to check the advance of his aggressors. This was the first offensive and defensive war between the Quraish and Mohammad respectively. The aggressors lost the battle.

[Sidenote: 9. Attack by Abu Sofian upon Medína.--A.H., II.]

After this Abu Sofian, the head of the Quraish, accompanied by 200 mounted followers, alarmed Mohammad and the people of Medina by a raid upon the cornfields and palm gardens two or three miles north-east of Medina. The nomad tribes of Suliem and Ghatafán, who were descended from a common stock with the Quraish, being probably incited by them, or at least by the example of Abu Sufian, had twice assembled and projected a plundering attack upon Medina--a task in itself congenial with their predatory habits.

[Sidenote: 10. The battle of Ohad.]

The Quraish made great preparations for a fresh attack upon Medina. One year after the battle of Badr, they commenced their march,--three thousand in number, seven hundred were mailed warriors, and two hundred well mounted cavalry. Reaching Medina they encamped in an extensive and fertile plain to the west of Ohad.

Mohammad met Abu Sufian at the head of 700 followers and only two horsemen, but lost the battle and was wounded.

[Sidenote: 11. Mohammad's prestige affected by the defeat.]

Mohammad's prestige being affected by the defeat at Ohad, many of the Bedouin tribes began to assume an hostile attitude towards him. The Bani Asad, a powerful tribe connected with the Quraish in Najd and Bani Lahyan in the vicinity of Mecca, prepared to make a raid upon Medina. The Mohammadan missionaries were killed at Rají and Bír Maúna. The marauding bands of Duma also threatened a raid upon the city. Bani Mustalik also raised forces to join the Quraish in their threatened attack upon Medina.

[Sidenote: 12. Abu Sufian threatened the Moslems with another attack next year.]

Abu Sufian, while retiring from the field, victorious as he was, threatened the Moslem with a fresh attack the next year as he said to Omar: "We shall meet again, let it be after a year, at Badr." Medina and the Moslems, however, enjoyed a long exemption from the threatened attack of the Quraish.

At length the time came when the forces of the Quraish and the Moslems were again to meet at Badr. But the year was one of great draught, and the Quraish were desirous that the expedition should be deferred to a more favourable season. Accordingly the Quraish engaged Naeem, an Arab of a neutral tribe, to repair to Medina, and there to give forth an exaggerated account of the preparations of the Quraish, in the hope that, with the field of Ohad fresh in memory, it might deter the Moslems from setting out to meet them. But Mohammad, with a force of fifteen hundred men and only ten horses, set forth for Badr. The Quraish, who never appeared mortified at the triumph of Mohammad, began to project another grand attack upon him.

[Sidenote: 13. The Quraish again attack Medina with a large army. Mohammad defends the city. The enemy retire. (Ditch or Nations.--A.H., V.)]

The winter season in the next year was chosen for the renewal of hostilities by the Quraish. They joined an immense force of the Bedouin tribes (the entire army was estimated at ten thousand), marched against Mohammad, and besieged Medina. Mohammad defended the city by digging a Ditch. The army of Medina was posted within the trench, and that of the Quraish encamped opposite them. In the meantime Abu Sofian succeeded in detaching the Jewish tribe of Koreiza from their allegiance to Mohammad. The danger to Medina from this defection was great. The enemy made a general attack, which was repulsed. Bad weather set in, and Abu Sofian ordered the allied force to break up. The enemy retired, and never came again to attack the Moslems. This, therefore, was the last war of aggression on the part of the Quraish, and of defence on the part of Mohammad.

[Sidenote: 14. Mohammad, with his followers, advanced to perform the lesser pilgrimage of Mecca. The Quraish opposed Mohammad, who returned disappointed.--A.H. VI.]

URL: of Part 7:‘jihad’—part-7/d/11288