By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
(Co-author (Jointly with AshfaqueUllah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009.)
12 August 2016
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s endorsement of Islam as a ‘religion of peace’ in a recent conference speaks of the inherent spiritual strength of Islam and a glaring testimony to its peaceful character.
The purpose of this article is not to discuss about the spate of terror attacks as the whole world knows about each major attack, whether in Orlando, Paris, Brussels, Munich, Medina, Baghdad, Kabul, Dhaka – to cite the grisly attacks fresh in memory – but to elaborate on Theresa May’s summary remarks. She partly quoted only two verses of the Qur’an whose full renditions are:
“(There is) no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clearly from falsehood; so whoever rejects false deities and believes in God, has grasped a firm handhold, which will never break. (Remember,) God is All-Knowing and Aware” (2:256).
“O People! We have created you as male and female, and made you into races and communities (lit., ‘tribes) for you to get to know each other. The noblest among you near God are those of you who are the most heedful (morally upright). Indeed, God is All-Knowing and Informed” (49:13).
The sceptic may regard Theresa May’s words as mere platitude aimed at appeasing the sizeable British Muslim population and getting their full support in curbing radicalization. One can quote ten times as many verses out of context to disprove her and to claim that the Prophet amassed large armies, crushed his opponents, compelled them to convert and forced the pagan women to enter Islam or become sex-slaves. There is ample material in Islam’s secondary sources to support such claims.
The purpose of this article is to let the Qur’an – which was recorded and memorized by its direct audience and preserved verbatim through an unbroken chain of memorizers, speak for itself.
Accordingly, this essay pieces together some 280 verses of the Qur’an to establish the captioned claim and to remove any doubts about the sincerity of Theresa May with regard to what she said. The essay is divided into three parts to cover four different phases of the revelation as informed by its historical setting, challenges and priorities:
The Initial Non-Violent Phase – The Meccan Period (610-622)
During the first twelve years of the revelation (610-622) the Prophet was stationed at his hometown, Mecca. He preached by reciting the passages of the Qur’an as they were revealed. Barring exceptions, his fellow Meccans dismissed his claims to the revelations. As the Qur’an records, the Meccans called him impostor (30:58), insane (44:14, 68:51), and an insane poet (37:36), and ridiculed the Qur’anic revelation (18:56, 26:6, 37:14, 45:9). They found the revelation strange and unbelievable (38:5, 50:2), and condemned it as the legends of the ancients (6:25, 23:83, 27:68, 46:17, 68:15, 83:13). They questioned why Muhammad could not show any miracles (6:37, 11:12, 13:7, 17:90-9321:5, 25:7/8, 29:50), and why the Qur'an was not revealed to a man of importance from the two cities (43:31) and declared that other people coached Muhammad or dictated to him morning and evening (25:5). They also charged him with forging lies and witchcraft (34:43, 38:4), forging lies against God, forgery and making up tales (11:13, 32:3, 38:7, 46:8), witchcraft (21:3, 43:30, 74:24), bewildering witchcraft (10:2, 37:15, 46:7)and of being possessed by a Jinn (17:47, 23:70, 34:8).
The foregoing Qur’anic allusions (in italics) leave no doubt that the Meccans were bitterly opposed to and enraged with Muhammad and found his claims to revelation outrageous and a monstrous lie. The prevalent clan ties and fear of revenge, however, prevented the Meccans from any recourse to violence against Muhammad, but they hoped for a misfortune to befall him any time (52:30). But they captured and persecuted those converts who were weak and helpless (8:26, 85:10). They also barred (the believers) from the Sacred Mosque (8:34) and eventually schemed against Muhammad to take him captive, or kill him or drive him away (from Makkah) (8:30).
The Qur’an, consoles the Prophet in his grief (36:76), and anguish (7:2, 15:97, 20:2), and (asks him) not to feel depressed by their (Meccans’) plots (16:127, 27:70), nor to be unsettled by them (30:60). (It exhorts him) not to let his enemies divert him from the messages of God after it had been revealed to him (28:87), to endure patiently what they say, to ignore their insults and to trust in God (26:217, 33:3, 33:48, 67:29) and seek refuge in Him (7:200, 41:36). It assures him that God was enough for him against those who ridiculed him (15:95), and devotes the following passage in his defence at an early stage of the revelation:
“Nun. By the Pen and what they write with it line by line. You are not, by the grace of your Lord, crazy. And yours for sure is a reward constant and beyond measure. You are surely of a sublime character and do act by a sublime pattern of conduct. Soon you will see and they will see, which of you is afflicted with madness. (68:1-6)
Conclusion (Part-I): Not one single verse of the Qur’an from this period (610-622) carries any instruction or suggestion to the Prophet to taking to any form of violence in the face of bitter opposition, unmitigated fury, hostility and persecution. Islam, during this period remained completely non-violent, espoused complete freedom in religion and enjoined repelling evil with good:
“If your Lord so willed, everyone on earth would have believed, all together. Will you then compel people until they become believers” (10:99)?
“We know best what they say; but you (O Muhammad,) are not to force them. So remind with the Qur'an those who fear My warning” (50:45).
“So remind (them, O Muhammad) – for you are one who reminds (88:21); and have no power over them” (88:22).
Those who patiently seek the Countenance of their Lord, keep up prayer and spend out of what We have provided them, secretly or publicly and repel evil with good – such will attain the eternal life” (13:22).
“Repel evil with that which is good. Indeed, We are aware of what they are working (in their minds)” (23:96).
“Goodness and evil are not equal. Therefore, repel the latter with that which is good, and then the one between whom and you is hatred, will indeed become your friend (41:34). None can attain this except those who show perseverance; and none can attain this except the very fortunate” (41:34).
The question is, did Islam change its character with time.
The answer is No.
The Qur’anic verses of the Meccan period form an integral part of the Qur’anic message through to the end of the revelation as they remain to this day and the diverse egalitarian and humanistic themes of the Meccan revelations reverberate through the Medinite period (622-632).
With this back up of the Meccan period, we now move to the first eight years (612-620) of the Medinite period, when organized warfare was permitted to defend against oppression, attack and persecution.
Meccans’ Attacks and Internal Conspiracies – first five years of the Medinite Period (622-627)
The Meccans’ increasing hostility towards the believers and their plan to capture, kill or expel the Prophet made them flee Mecca to Medina after some twelve years of their struggle in Mecca (610-622). This marked the beginning of the Medinite period. The Qur’anic allusion to this historical event is sparse and obliquely captured in these verses:
If you (O Meccans) do not help him (the Messenger), yet for certain God helped him when those who disbelieve drove him out (of his home), and when he and his only accomplice (literally, the second of the two) were in the cave (to hide from their pursuers), and he said to his companion (Abu Bakr, not named in the Qur’an): "Do not grieve. God is surely with us." Then God sent down His gift of inner peace (sakinah) and reassurance on him, supported him with hosts you cannot see, and brought the word (the cause) of the unbelievers utterly low…. (9:40)
“The first and foremost (to embrace Islam) among the Emigrants (who migrated to Medina) and the Helpers (the Muslims of Medina who sheltered them), and those who follow them in devotion to doing good, aware that God is seeing them – God is well-pleased with them, and they are well-pleased with Him, and He has prepared for them Gardens throughout which rivers flow, therein to abide forever. That is the supreme triumph” (9:100)
From moment of his arrival in Medina, the Prophet earned the unreserved respect of its people that included some native pagans who had embraced Islam during the concluding years of the Prophet’s stay in Mecca, and the native Jewish tribes. With passing of days, his popularity as a Messenger of God grew and conversion picked up through social contacts and word of mouth. Before long, he entered into a joint peace and defence treaty with the mixed Medinite community that comprised the native pagan tribes (notably the Aws and the Khazraj), the Jewish tribes (the Qaynuqah, the Nadir and the Qurayzah), and the upcoming Muslim community - the Emigrants (Muhajirin) and the Helpers (Ansar) (9:100 above). The Prophet was appointed as the civil head (Chief arbiter of tribal disputes) of Medina. Thus, in less than a year he was transformed from the most helpless and despised man in his native city, Mecca, to the most respected and politically powerful man in the host city, Medina through his exemplary conduct and trust worthiness rather than any coercion or violence – a transformation that is impossible to explain in political terms. Meanwhile his following also grew and the Muslims gained their identity as a growing community under the spiritual and temporal leadership of the Prophet. This greatly alarmed the Prophet’s Meccan enemies who had seen his tenacity and resilience through the twelve-year span of the Meccan period and dreaded his revolutionary ‘Deen’ (code of life)that was antithetical to their ancestral customs, practices, notions, taboos and believes that they cherished and were proud of. They had to stop him at any cost. Accordingly, in the ensuing years (624, 625, 627) they sent powerful armies against the Prophet that precipitated in three major battles (Badr, Uhud and Trench), each fought in the vicinity of Medina. Meanwhile a faction of Medinite converts wavered in faith. They pretended to believe but in their hearts mocked at the new faith (2:8, 2:14). (Referred to as) the hypocrites (munafiqun) (at a later stage of the revelation), they opposed the Prophet (47:32) and conspired with the native Jewish tribes to foil the Prophet’s mission.
With this snap-shot on the Prophet’s role as a leader of the believers and the Chief Arbiter of Medina, we take a window at the battles and sieges that he encountered in this period.
At the outset it needs explaining that the Qur’an only captures the high points of the Prophet’s mission and omits any details and historical contexts. The Prophet’s followers had no difficulty in comprehending its related verses as they were witnessing the details of what was happening. For the later and present day audience, some additional remarks are needed to be inserted into Qur’anic allusions to say what the Qur’an omitted but its audience understood. These remarks are added in bracket ‘’ in the review below and it is hoped that even an unfamiliar reader will be able to read the Qur’an’s mind. Some explanatory words are added in semi-circle brackets ‘(...)’ to make the cryptic Qur’anic diction easy to understand. Rendition of Qur’anic verses is in italics in green ink.
II.1 Battle of Badr (624)
The Prophet departed Medina on a true cause though some of the believers were averse to this mission (not knowing where they were heading for) (8:5).
[As a home-bound Meccan trading caravan was scheduled to pass through a close by caravan route], some of them hoped that they were going to raid it (8:7). Meanwhile, a powerful Meccan army had set off boastfully taking the expedition as an easy way to fame (8:47).
[As the story goes, the Prophet had secret plans to raid the caravan. But if so, he could have disclosed it and get more people to join him as such a mission would have carried little risk and promised great rewards. But he was silent about the destination. This can only mean that he apprehended an engagement with the approaching Meccan army, and left Medina to have his nascent community of believers fight against the non-believers. Or possibly he himself did not know which of the two parties he was going to encounter.]
When the Prophet’s party was at the nearer end of the valley (some 35 miles en-route Mecca which lay a further 215 miles to the south) the Meccan army was at the farther end and the trading caravan was close by (but out of sight) (8:42). God showed this army to be fewer in the believers’ dream and in the battle-field. Had God showed it to be numerous (as it really was), the believers might have lost heart and disputed over the decision to engage it in battle (8:43, 8:44). But as the truth dawned, the believers were struck with horror and argued about it with the Prophet (8:6) without realizing that it was God’s scheme to verify the truth of His Words and to cut the root of the pagans (8:7). They implored God for help. (The Qur’an responded that) God will help them with one thousand angels, swooping down host after host (8:9), but this promise was merely to reassure them (8:10). It commanded the Prophet to inspire his followers and assured them that if they persevered patiently, they would overcome the attackers, even if they were twice or ten times as many (8:65/66).But the hypocrites and those weak in faith thought that their faith had deluded them (8:49).(The revelation reassures them that) if they could but see how the angels will strike them (the attackers) on the faces and the backs (saying): "Taste the punishment of the scorching Fire! (8:50).
(The Qur’an also touches on the essential military code relevant to the era). It commands the believers “to strike at their necks and strike at every finger (which holds a sword or bow)” (8:12) as they had defied God and His Messenger (8:13).It warns them not turn their backs in flight (8:15), – except for tactical manoeuvring to fight again or joining another troop of believers (8:16).
[Many of the Meccans killed in the battle were close relatives and friends of the Prophet and his followers. This must have greatly saddened the believers. The Qur’an reassures them that they did not kill them but God killed them; and when they shot (arrows at them), it was not they who shot – but it was all part of God’s scheme to put the believers to a severe test from Him and to thwart the evil design of the pagans (8:17/18).
The Muslims took many captives; the revelation, however, reproves the Prophet for taking captives before completely subduing the enemy (8:67). (In other words, the Qur’an warned him that showing compassion in the battle-field where the only the heartless killer survives is not the best tactics). It, however, asks him to tell the captives that if God recognizes any good in their hearts, God will give them better than what was taken from them (8:70).
(The revelation tells the Meccans), if they wanted a judgment it was before them, and warns them to desist from any further attack and declares that their army, however large, will avail them nothing (8:19)
[With the military encounter at the Badr, Islam acquired a political dimension that it retained through the end of the Prophet’s mission and has reeled from through the course of Islamic history till this day. But Badr was a purely historical development triggered by the departure of a powerful army from Mecca, whose commander was over-confident of victory (8:47 above). The Prophet had to defend against this army with his small band of followers who did not even know the destination of their mission and some among them were not happy about it(8:5 above)].
Post Badr Conspiracies of the Jewish tribes
[The native Jews were thoroughly Arabised, and had independent tribal identity as mentioned earlier. As revelation had acknowledged their Prophet and first Patriarch Abraham as the epitome of pure monotheism (3:95, 4:125, 16:123) and the leader of all humanity (2:124) and the believers turned towards Jerusalem in their prayers, they welcomed him in Medina as a Semitic Prophet and supported him in his mission. But one incident upset them.]
(During a prayer) the revelation commanded a change in the direction of prayer (from Jerusalem to the Ka‘bah) (2:143).
[This virtually meant turning away from the focal point of the Jewish faith, and facing towards a pantheon of idols that the Kaba represented at that stage. Since the revelation had described the Ka‘bah, as the first House of worship built by Abraham (2:127, 3:96), the new prayer direction (qiblah) virtually appointed the Muslims as the true representatives or spiritual successors of the Prophet Abraham, From the Jewish perspective, Muhammad had hijacked their spiritual heritage and laid the foundation of an independent Semitic faith that could claim greater genuineness and purity than their own. Not many months later, they got the news of Muhammad’s victory at Badr. They were shattered and began to harbour suspicion against the Muslims.]
However, the Muslims loved them, but they did not love the Muslims, and they wouldn’t have done so even if the Muslims believed in the whole of their scripture. When they met the Muslims, they would pretend to believe but when they were alone, they bit their fingertips at them (the Muslims) in rage (3:119). Moreover, if any good befell the Muslims it grieved them; but if something bad happened to them, they rejoiced at it (3:120). Thus they loved what distressed the Muslims, spoke maliciously against them, and what their breasts concealed was even worse (3:118).
[With time their malice turned into treachery leading to Treaty violations. The Qaynuqas, whose settlement was close to the city and who were allies of the hypocrites of Medina posed an immediate threat.]
(The revelation had meanwhile declared to Muhammad) “If you fear treachery from a people (with whom you have a treaty), reciprocate to them (by dissolving the treaty) … and inflict crushing defeat in war to those of their allies who repeatedly broke their treaty (8:56-58).
[The Qaynuqas were put under a siege. They expected in vain for the hypocrites to come forward to defend them and finally surrendered. None of the vanquished was killed, enslaved or taken captive and the whole community was allowed to leave Medina with whatever personal belongings they could carry.]
Post Badr Conspiracies of the hypocrites
[The Badr victory established hitherto little known Muhammad as an emerging political power. This greatly alarmed the hypocrites and they launched a campaign to marginalize him and dismissed his prophetic claims.]
When asked to come to what God revealed and to the Prophet, they turned their faces in aversion (4:61). The Qur’an warns that God will not forgive nor guide those who embrace faith, then deny it and yet again come to believe and then become more stubborn in their denial (4:137) and took the pagans as their friends in preference to the believers (4:139) and warns them of severe punishments (4:138). They now openly denied and ridiculed the revelation (4:140), and waited to see the Prophet’s downfall. If he succeeded, they readily claimed their allegiance to him but if the pagans had good luck, they secretly claimed to be on their side (4:141). They tried to deceive God; when they stood for prayer, they stood lazily merely for others to see (4:142).Some of them pretended obedience to the Prophet in public, but schemed against him by night (4:81). The Prophet’s followers were, however, in two minds about these hypocrites (4:88). (The revelation commands them) not to argue or plead on their behalf (4:105, 4:107) and declares the hypocrites will be in the lowest depth of the Fire and will never find for them any helper (4:145).
[The Meccans meanwhile made massive preparations and sent a powerful army to avenge their defeat at Badr. It camped at the plane facing Mount Uhud, a few miles from Medina, awaiting a defensive encounter from the Prophet. The second major battle against the Muslims was soon to begin.]
II.2 Battle of Uhud (624):
The Qur’an commands the Prophet to prepare with whatever arms and cavalry they could muster to strike terror (into the hearts of) the enemies of God and theirs (8:60), but to avert fighting if their enemies were inclined toward peace (8:61). But the Meccans were not inclined to peace.
The community leaders advised the Prophet to stay back in Medina and avert a direct encounter (3:168).The revelation, however, commands Muhammad to urge the believers to fight, but not to compel anyone to march with him (4:84).On way to the battleground a faction of Muslims (hypocrites) withdrew saying, if they knew how to fight, they would have followed the Prophet (3:167).(It reminded the believers) that at Badr also they were weak and helpless (3:123) and inspired them with God’s promise of sending down three thousand angels (3:124). It further said, if they stood firm and dutiful in the face of a sudden attack, God would assist them with five thousand angels, swooping down (3:125) (It, however, clarified that, as at Badr, - 8:10 above), God had made this (promise) only to set their hearts at peace (3:126), and thus to enable them to overthrow their enemies and repulse their attack (3:127).
(On the day of the encounter), the Prophet left early in the morning to put his people at battle stations (3:121).Initially, the Muslims made decisive gains, when some of the fighters weakened: they argued over the order and disobeyed after God showed them what they loved of this world (booty) (3:152). They ran off, paying attention to no one and ignoring the Prophet calling them from behind. (The attackers struck back in full force and thus) God repaid them (the Muslims) with affliction upon affliction so that they would not sorrow over what slipped away from them (3:153). Two of the factions of believers almost lost hope (3:122). (The revelation urged the believers) not to despair or grieve (3:139) (and consoled them that) if they were wounded, their enemies had also sustained injuries. (It reminded them that) these were the days of changing fortune to which God subjects humankind to know which of them truly believe (3:140). The hypocrites were assailed with the thoughts of pagan ignorance. They said, ‘if we had any say in the matter our men would not have been killed (3:154). Those, who had stayed back, said of their brethren: ‘Had they obeyed us, they would not have been killed (3:168).
[The survivors were traumatized, and lay wounded and lifeless in the field, struck with grief at the loss of some 62 of their men. Meanwhile a word spread that the Prophet was killed. The Muslims were terribly shocked and broke into a rout while the attackers left in glory, fully sure of their success in eliminating the Prophet.]
(The revelation reminds them that) Muhammad was merely a messenger, other messengers had passed away before him, (and asks,) if he died or was killed would they turn on their heels? (3:144). God sent down after their grief a sense of security - slumber overtook a group of them (who were firm in faith), while others (the hypocrites) who had been anxious about themselves, were assailed with the thoughts of pagan ignorance. They said, ‘if we had any say in the matter our men would not have been killed (3:154).
[But the Prophet was not dead – he was wounded. Seeing the attackers retreating, he planned to chase them on their way back home.]
(The revelation promised) the wounded followers of the Prophet who responded to his call: those among them who did good and remained active in taqwa (morally upright), a splendid reward (3:172)and exhorted them not to let up in pursuit (4:104). (Meanwhile, a rumour arose that) a host had gathered against them (at Medina), so they had to be wary. But this only increased their faith (3:173), and they returned home by the grace and blessings of God, untouched by harm (3:174). (The revelation consoles the Prophet’s followers that) it is not for God to leave them in the (dire) state they were in until He separates the bad ones form the good and it is not for God to inform them of the unseen (3:179).
It was due to mercy from God that the Prophet was mild to the dissenters (who had defied his orders) (3:159). The revelation commands the Prophet to consult with them, asks his followers to put their trust in God and assures them that no prophet could be false to his trust (by giving his own decision in God’s name) (3:160-161)
With this ends the Qur’an’s very sketchy account of this battle, which was nothing short of an ordeal for the Prophet and his followers.
Post Uhud internal Conspiracies and actions against the native Jewish tribe, Banu Nadir
[The expulsion of the Qaynuqas prior to the battle of Uhud and the Prophet’s virtual defeat at Uhud at the expense of heavy casualties was deeply distressing to the twin internal enemies of the Prophet - the native Jewish tribes and the hypocrites. From the Jewish perspective, one out of their three tribes was expelled and it was only a matter of time that their turn came. The hypocrites held the Prophet singularly responsible for the loss of life and injuries Uhud inflicted upon many fellow Medinites who took part in the battle. As the hypocrites concealed their true feelings, they secretly instigated the neighbouring Jewish tribe- the Nadirs to openly defy the Prophet and promised their active assistance if he attacked them. They also promised the Nadirs that if they were driven away (from Madinah), they will certainly go out with them and will never obey anyone against them (59:11).
[Meanwhile, as the story goes, an assassination plot leaked out, and the Prophet demanded their expulsion from the oasis for breaking their treaty. Finally, on their refusal to comply, he laid siege on their settlement.
They(Nadirs) thought that their strongholds would protect them, but (the punishment of) God came upon them from where they failed to reckon. (59:2). Besides, they did not fight as a united body, with each fortified settlement defending on its own from within fortified strongholds or from behind high walls. (59:14). To make matter worst, the hypocrites went back on their promise and did not turn up(59:12).
Finally, when (as a prelude to an attack) the Prophet ordered to cut down the tender palms (59:5), the Nadirs were overwhelmed with dread of the believers (59:13). Like those (the Jews of Banu Qaynuqah) who, a short time before them suffered on account of their own doings(59:15), they surrendered without a battle (59:2).Had God not decreed banishment for them, He would certainly have punished them (more grievously) in this world (59:3). [They were allowed to depart with as much of their possessions as their camels could carry]. However, the Muslims made material gains in terms of what was left behind by the people of the settlement (the Nadirs), without having to drive horses or camels for it. (59:6) (The revelation reserved) it for God and His Messenger, the close ones (qurba), the orphans, the needy and the traveller (in distress), so that it didn’t circulate among the rich in their midst (59:7). It was also for the poor Emigrants, who had been driven from their homes and their property, seeking favour with God and His approval and good pleasure (59:8).
II.3 Trench War/ Siege – Coordinated attack on Medina (627)
[The exile of Banu Nadir only exacerbated the frustration of the hypocrites.] They came to Muhammad to bear witness that he was a Messenger of God, but they were simply crying lies (58:18, 63:1). They used their faith as a cover to lead others away from God and the Prophet thus acted in an evil way (58:16, 63:2) first embracing faith and then denying it - It was as if their hearts were sealed up and they were unable to think coherently (63:3)
The hypocrites were charming in looks, deceitful in speech, commanded profound self-confidence and turned away from the believers in arrogance (63:4-5). They discouraged the people of Madinah from spending anything for those who are with the Prophet [the Emigrants] until they are forced to leave and looked forward to the expulsion of the humble ones (Muhammad and the Emigrants) after their return to Medina from the Uhud (63:7-8). Thus, they contended against God and His Messenger in brazenly despicable manner for which the revelation singles them out as the comrades of Satan (58:19/20).
[They now colluded with the remaining native Jewish tribe, the Qurayzah, and invited the Meccans (led by the powerful Quraysh tribe which was native to the Prophet) to launch an all-out attack on the Muslims in Medina. Accordingly, the Quraysh formed a military confederation with the powerful Jewish tribe of Khaybar (a settlement some 85 miles from Medina) and the nomadic tribes opposed to the Prophet. Their armies approached Medina in a coordinated manner, while the Qurayzah of Medina stood by to strike the believers from the rear. It was almost checkmate in a war game. The attackers were soon to arrive.]
(As the Prophet’s followers watched over the horizon) the attackers came on them, waves upon waves. Their eyes dimmed and their hearts rose up to their throats and they conceived (weird) thoughts about God (33:10). This was a moment of trial for the believers as they were shaken by a most violent shock (33:11).
The hypocrites wished they were in the desert with the Bedouins, inquiring about the news of the believers (33:20).They said what God and the Prophet of God had promised was mere illusion and some of them sought the Prophet’s permission saying that their homes were exposed, though they were not exposed and they only wanted to flee (33:13).
[Not being in a position to face the attackers, Muhammad, got a deep trench dug at the approach side of the town, otherwise protected by inaccessible hills, to keep the invaders at bay. This forced them to lay a siege on Medina. The siege threatened the very survival of the believers].
Had the enemy broken the siege and entered (the city) from the sides and asked them (the hypocrites) to dissent and join a civil war, they would have readily done so (33:14), despite their oaths that they will not turn their backs (33:15). Thus, they broke the trust that is placed exclusively on humankind (3:72). Accordingly, God pronounced his curse upon the hypocrites, men and women and upon the Meccan pagans, men and women (33:73).
It was only the Qur’anic exhortations and the Prophet’s exemplary conduct and behaviour (Uswatun hasana) that kept the Muslims from surrendering (33:21).Finally, God repulsed the pagans in their rage by a severe storm (33:25)and forces invisible (33:9),and spared the believers any combat (33:25). And God brought down from their strongholds those of the People of the Book (the Qurayzas) who backed them (the attackers) and He threw terror into their hearts. A group of them was killed and a group was taken as captive (33:26), and their land, their homes, and their possessions were seized (33:27).
[The classical biography of the Prophet reports that some 800-900 Jews were slain one after another – single handedly by the Prophet, in a sword wielding feat. But the classical biography is based on the work of Ibn Ishaq, pieced together some 150 years after the Prophet’s death in the form of a story. Like all stories of that era, the Prophet’s story is based entirely on oral accounts (pious tales), is highly romanticized, speculative and embellished and its bits and pieces can be highly exaggerated, grossly inaccurate and patently legendary. This is expounded in the writer’s duly authenticated co-authored work, Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, Maryland, USA 2009.]
Conclusion – Phase-II The Qur’anic allusions cited above demonstrate that in each of the battles the Prophet was forced to engage with attacking armies for survival. One can find no ground to charge the Prophet of giving false hope to his people such as assuring them of victory, or divine help in the battle-field, or enticing them with the promise of any kind of material reward or favour for valour in the battle-field or of committing any excesses. In fact, the Prophet is shown to be lenient by taking captives rather than killing them all (at Badr) as was the normal rule of war in the era and remains so to this day. He is also seen to be lenient with a faction of his followers (the hypocrites) that deserted him on way to the battlefield (Uhud), readily exempting others from defending Medina at the Trench war without verifying their excuses and being mild to those who defied his orders in the battlefield of Uhud. Thus there is no evidence to project him as a military leader commanding any trained or organized army or betraying the aura, temperament, martial astuteness, and moral imperviousness of an army commander. The actions against the Jewish tribes of Banu Qaynuqah and Banu Nadir are also seen to have been provoked by repeated treaty violations and not any religious consideration and were lenient in civilisational relativism. The alleged genocide of Banu Qurayzah in the immediate aftermath of the Trench War is no more than a legend, though undoubtedly the chief conspirators must have been slain for high treason that had put the survival of the Muslim community at stake.
The Interlude of Peace (628-630)
III.1 Hudaybiyah Peace Treaty (628)
[In the days of relative peace that followed the Trench war, the Prophet had a dream that promised an end to the fear and anxiety in which he had lived for almost two decades - since he began his Prophetic career (610).]
He saw himself and his followers entering the Sacred Mosque (the Ka‘bah) in complete security, heads shaved or hair cut short and without fear (48:27). [He decided to realize this dream.]The nomadic Arabs who were weak in faith preferred to stay back (48:11), as they thought the Prophet and the believers would never be able to return to their families (48:12). As a soft punishment, the revelation barred the Prophet from taking them along during any military campaign that promised spoils (48:15).
[The Prophet set off for pilgrimage with some one thousand of his followers, all in pilgrim garb, not geared for any combat. The Quraysh sent a cavalry squadron under the command of Khalid Ibn al-Walid, a veteran of the battle of Uhud and Trench, to intercept the caravan. The pilgrims made a detour and camped at Hudaybiyah, some nine miles from Mecca; and a powerful Quraysh army camped nearby threatening them with total destruction, as they had not come with any preparations for war. The pilgrims waited in gnawing uncertainty - tormented, agonized and utterly confused about what fate had in store for them].
(Before long) God sent divine peace (sakinah) down into their hearts to add faith to their faith (48:4), [and the Prophet sought an oath of allegiance from his followers]. God was pleased with them when they swore allegiance to him under the tree for He knew what was in their hearts, and He sent divine peace (sakinah) down on them and rewarded them with an opening (fatah - putatively ‘victory) (48:18).
[Finally, a peace treaty was signed. The Meccans dictated the terms of the treaty in a high-handed manner. It undermined the position of Muhammad as the Prophet of God, and was offensive and humiliating to the Muslims and seemingly to the sole advantage of the Quraysh.The Prophet’s companions were quite perplexed, though they remained unwavering in their faith, and in their allegiance to the Prophet. However, soonthe Qur’an removes their confusion with its following declaration]:
Indeed, We have (now) given you (O Muhammad!) a clear opening (fatah, 48:1). God has promised you an abundance of gains that you will take, and He has expedited this for you, and it was God who held back the hands of your enemies from you as a sign for the believers (48:20). Even if the pagans fight you, they will turn their backs and will not be able to find any protector or any helper (48:22).
[As the revelation had declared, the Hudaybiyah Peace treaty turned out to be a great opening (Fatah - putatively ‘victory). It allowed for increased interaction between the Muslims and the nomadic tribes who were now free to form alliance with the Quraysh or the Prophet as they chose. In a year or two following the signing of this peace treaty, the Prophet made as many converts as he had made in the preceding eighteen years. Thanks to this Peace Treaty, the Muslims had grown sufficiently in number to contain their perennial foes, the Meccans.]
III.2 Peace treaty with the Jews of Khaybar (629)
[The oasis Khaybar lay to the north of Medina and was home to the most prosperous of Jewish settlements outside Medina that had given refuge to the exiled Nadirs. They had taken a lead role in the launching of the recent coordinated attack on Medina.] They colluded with the hypocrites, listened to lies and to what other people who had not even met the Prophet said, and altered the wordings of the revelation from their contexts to distort their meanings (5:44).
[Hearing about their schemes to pull off yet another coordinated invasion of Medina, the Prophet decided to launch a campaign against them.Prevented from taking those nomadic Arabs who had stayed back during the pilgrimage to campaigns that promised spoils (48:15 above), the Prophet set off for Khaybar with a small group (reportedly some 600) of his devout followers. After a series of encounters and sieges, the Jews surrendered. The Prophet concluded a peace treaty with them granting full liberties and military protection against a levy that was no different from what they paid to their old Bedouin protectors].
III.3 Peaceful Integration of Mecca (630)
[Muhammad now envisioned integrating his own people – the Quraysh, whom he loved (42:23), but could not bring to his faith (28:56). The Hudaybiyah Treaty prevented him from interfering with the Meccans, and he waited for an opportunity to realize his vision. This came about when the Quraysh took up arms against one of the Meccan tribes who had treaty alliance with him for defending them when attacked. The Prophet set off for Mecca with all his men, all armed for battle if needed.]
(As the Muslims began to enter the city), the most fanatic among theMeccans harboured intense animosity – the fiery passion of the days of Ignorance, when God sent divine peace (sakinah) upon His Messenger and on the believers, and imposed on them the Word of restraint (taqwa), as they were entitled to it and worthy of it (48:26).
God withheld the hands of the Meccans from the Muslims and the hands of the Muslims from the Meccans (48:24). Had it not been so, the Muslims would have trampled on those believing men and believing women (among the Meccans) they were not aware of (as those Meccans had secretly become Muslims), and thus guilt and stigma would have befallen them unawares? Had the (Meccan) Muslims been separated out, God would surely have punished the disbelievers among them (the Meccans) (48:25).
[Muhammad would have been within his rights to bring to justice the tormentors and killers of the unprotected converts during the Meccan period, execute the leaders of the tribes who had plotted to kill him, who attacked Medina and broke treaty alliances. But all he is reported to have said to a group of Meccans was: There is no blame upon you today. God will forgive you. He is the Most Merciful of the merciful (12:92) - words of forgiveness that in the Qur’an, Joseph had spoken to his brothers who had been unjust to him when he was a child.]
(In the ensuing days), the Meccans came in throngs to the Prophet to embrace the new faith (110:2), and the revelation reminded the Prophet to glorify God and seek His forgiveness (110:3).
[Thus, the Qur’an commanded Muhammad to remain humble at the greatest and most unexpected political cum military achievement of his life, and to seek forgiveness (for any feeling of arrogance or grandeur that might have assailed him)]
Conclusion – Phase III
The Prophet’s determination to travel to Mecca virtually unarmed for pilgrimage speaks loudly of his faith in peace and reconciliation as a tool to win over the most bitter of enemies. Occurring soon after the Trench war, this unarmed journey into the bastion of his powerful enemies demonstrates that he would have never crossed limits – let alone committing the alleged massacre of the Qurayzas just a little while ago in historical terms. The peace treaty with the Jews of Khyber who had surrendered under siege is another example of mercy in military history that is replete with most gory accounts of massacre of besieged people upon surrender. The bloodless integration of Mecca can stand out as a unique example of compassion and reconciliation in human history.
IV.1The battle of Hunayn (630)
[Shocked at the un-resisted fall of Mecca and voluntary conversion of flocks upon flocks of the Meccans, the Hawazins, a powerful tribe proud of Arab paganism, sent a strong army to retake the Ka‘ba and reinstall Arab paganism.]
The numerical superiority of the Muslims that delighted them came to no benefit, and the earth, spacious though it was, narrowed on them and they were forced to retreat (9:25). God sent divine peace (sakinah) upon the Prophet and on his followers and forces invisible and thus helped them to defeat the pagans (9:26).
IV.2 Tabuk Expedition (630)
[In the aftermath of the pilgrimage (628) the Qur’an had warned the nomadic Arabs who had not participated in the pilgrimage that they shall be summoned (to fight) against a nation of great might (48:16). So, the Prophet was revelation-bound to mount an expedition against a mighty nation. As the neighbouring Byzantium posed a threat to the nascent Muslim community, and at that point in history was the mightiest in the region, the Prophet decided to lead an expedition up north to the frontiers of Byzantium.]
If there were immediate gains and a convenient trip, the Prophet’s followers would have readily agreed; but (they knew) the journey was going to be too long, (about 350 miles) strenuous and dangerous. They swore their inability to go out on the expedition, though God knew they were liars (9:42). The Prophet allowed them exemption without even verifying if they were telling lies (9:43). The sincere believers, however, did not seek any exemption and came forward with their possessions, ready to lay down their lives (9:44). But those who did not believe in God and the Last Day and wavered in their doubts (the hypocrites) sought to stay back (9:45). They swore by God that they supported the expedition, but in truth, they were in such mortal fear (9:56) that if only they could find any place of refuge, a cave or a crevice, they would have resorted to it (9:57). They swore to God, only to please the Prophet, but it was more proper for them to please God and His Messenger (by going forth with the Prophet) (9:62). They also feared if any verse was revealed disclosing what was in their breast (9:64). Had they any intention to go forth, they would have made some preparations for it, but God was averse to their participation (9:46). Some nomadic Arabs came to the Prophet in Medina with excuses seeking exemption; others, who belied God and the Prophet, remained at home (9:90). (God knew,) had they gone out with them (the believers), they would have only added to their difficulties seeking to spread rumours among them and some of the believers might have listened to them (9:47).
[Given the nature of this dangerous – virtually suicidal mission, and the dread it inspired], the hypocrites requested the Prophet not to put them to such a hard test (9:49). They ridiculed the Prophet in their hearts, privately joked about him (9:64), and tried to stir up discord and upset matters for him (9:48). They blamed and ridiculed the believers for their voluntary donations to the Prophet, and criticized those without any means for rendering physical services (9:79). Cognizant of their antipathy to their faith, the Qur’an asked the Prophet not to accept any donation from them (9:53/54). Some of the affluent believers wished to stay back with those who were to sit it out, though the believers who had faith in the Prophet were ready for the ordeal (9:86-87). The revelation, exempted the sick and those who had no role in the expedition (the women, children or physically challenged) (9:91), while those eager to join the expedition but having no means of transport for the journey, turned back with tears overflowing their eyes (9:92). However, the hearts of some of the believers nearly swerved (9:117), while three persons among the devout believers stayed back (9:118) and some of the hypocrites aimed at something that was beyond their reach – (kill the Prophet) (9:74).
[The imperial Byzantine army was massive, well organized, well equipped and regularly drilled, had strong cavalry divisions and extensive combat experience, and did not risk any supply shortage as it stood on home ground. The Prophet’s army on the other hand consisted of an assemblage of warriors drawn from diverse Arab tribes on a relatively short notice, and was no match to the Byzantine army on any military criteria. Any military strategist of the era would have instantly predicted an utter defeat and annihilation for the Prophet’s army, attacking the mighty Byzantines - some 300 miles away from their own base (Medina) across barren and blazing desert terrain without any supply line or plans to sustain an attack or safe passage for retreat in case of a rout. So the hypocrites must have questioned the Prophet’s sanity, and planned to finish him off.]
[The Qur’an omits any reference to the destination of the expedition or any military engagement of the of the Prophet’s party in course of the expedition. It, however, gives the following instruction on making a peace treaty with the Christian and Jewish settlements that lay en-route the Prophet’s path]:
“Fight those from among the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) who do not have faith in God, nor in the Last Day, and do not consider forbidden what God and His messenger have forbidden, and do not acknowledge the religion of truth - until they pay tribute (jizyah) willingly as subjects” (9:29).
[The significance of this verse in peaceful spread of Islam lies the argument that had this verse not been revealed, the newly converted Arabs with their pre-Islamic economy of collecting booties by raiding caravans and culture of blood vendetta would have unleashed a reign of terror – a train of loot, plunder, slaughter and arson that would have reduced Islam to a cult of violence and extinguished its spark with the demise of the Prophet.
It is a well-established historical fact the above verse informed the benevolent and supremely tolerant (in historical relativism) terms of surrender of the countries that the Muslim army conquered in its initial sweep. Thus, the world-famous historian of Islam, Philip K. Hitti records the following terms of surrender of Damascus (AH 13/ 635) to Khalid ibn al Walid (History of the Arabs, 1937, 10th edition; London 1993, p. 150):
“In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful! This is what Khalid ibn al Walid will offer to the inhabitants of Damascus if he enters therein: he promises to give them the security for their lives, property and churches. Their city wall will not be demolished, neither shall any Moslem be quartered in their houses. Thereunto we give to them the pact of God and the protection of the Prophet, the caliphs and the believers. So long as they pay the poll tax, nothing shall befall them."
Thomas Arnold, another iconic figure in Islamic history records the terms of surrender of Jerusalem in these words (Preaching of Islam, 2nd revised edition, 1913, reprinted Delhi 1990, p. 56):
“In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate! This is the security which Umar, the servant of God, the Commander of the faithful, grants to the people of Elia. He grants to all, whether sick or sound, security for their lives, their possessions, their churches and their crosses, and for all that concerns their religion. Their churches shall not be changed into dwelling places, nor destroyed, neither shall they nor their appurtenances be in any way diminished, nor the crosses of the inhabitants nor aught of their possessions, nor shall any constraint be put upon them in the matter of their faith, nor shall any one of them be harmed.”
With this we revert to the Qur’anic allusions relating to the concluding years of the revelation (630-632), notably, the advent of Surah al-Tawbah which is cited as an example of Islam’s use of sword to spread Islam and its hostility against the Jews, Christians and polytheists.]
IV.3 The concluding phase of Islam – the advent of Surah al-Tawbah
[The bloodless integration of Mecca could not possibly turn the entire population of this city from hostile pagans to devout and loving Muslims overnight. For the preceding twenty years, the Meccan leaders had regarded Muhammad as their archenemy and had done everything possible to destroy him and therefore could not be expected to reconcile with him even if they cooperated with him. Besides, the sudden integration also meant an abrupt change in the established norms, social order and inter-tribal political equation. This created a highly heterogeneous mix of people under the extended political domain of Islam - the diverse pagan tribes of Mecca and Medina (there was no compulsion in religion, so many Arabs did not covert) - the diverse Muslim groups, namely the Emigrants who had fled to Medina some eight years ago (622) the Helpers - Medinite converts who sheltered them, with each of these groups having vestiges of pre-Islamic tribal ties but united under the Prophet as a single umma (inclusive community). It was like a great big mansion with bricks, slabs, arches and domes of different shapes and designs pieced together with raw glue that needed time to cure.
The internal volatility apart, Islam had formidable foes:
The desert Arabs who were opposed to the Prophet’s preaching and wanted to see the end of him and his newfound faith as it challenged their gods and their ancestral ways they held sacred and were proud of.
The hypocrites of Medina, who actively conspired against the Prophet, and even planned to expel him and his followers from Medina.
The neighbouring Christian Byzantine (Eastern Roman Empire) that was conceivably threatened by the newly unified Arab power that combined its military skills as fearless tribal warriors with intense religious zeal and readiness to die in the battlefield.
In the divine scheme, the Prophet had only two years left, and unless the hostile pagans and the hypocrites were integrated and the Byzantine threat diffused, Islam risked extinction soon after the Prophet’s death. The Qur’an, though, had to achieve the unachievable in just about two years’ time. It was in this historical setting that the Surah Tawbah was revealed. It had the almost impossible mission of neutralizing the above mentioned formidable foes of Islam and establishing it as a historical reality.
This Surah, apart from its popular title (Al Tawbah – Repentance) is also known as al-Bara’at, which means, the immunity – It contains a declaration of divine immunity from obligations with such of the unscrupulous pagans of Mecca and desert Arabs, who had repeatedly broken treaty with the Muslims. As such, the Qur’an, issues the following ultimatum (9:5)]:
“When the Sacred Months have passed, kill the polytheists wherever you find them. And capture them, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every conceivable place. But if they repent, and perform the prayers, and pay the alms, then let them go their way. God is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
[The above verse is often quoted in isolation to project the Qur’an as a religion of violence and the verse is often called the ‘sword verse’. However, the verses preceding and succeeding it clarify that the above instruction was in relation to those pagan tribes who were repeatedly breaking the Hudaybiyah Peace Treaty, but this historical context is totally lost in reading of Qur’anic verses in isolation, whether in the original Arabic or translation. The historical context of the verse becomes clear if onereads them in thematic order as attempted below]:
Whenever they (the hostile Arabs) came upon the Muslims, they defied the peace treaty (of Hudaybiyah) and disregarded even blood ties (9:10). They pleased the Muslims with their mouths, but there was hatred in their hearts (9:8). The revelation authorizes the Muslims to kill such archetypes of defiance (kufr) who broke their oaths (treaty obligations) after pledging them, and defamed their religion (9:12) and who had done all they could to drive the Messenger away (from Mecca) and were the first to attack (9:13). It assures them that God will help them against their enemies, bring disgrace upon them and soothe the bosoms of those who believe (9:14).Finally, on the day of the Great hajj(631), the revelation gives an ultimatum of four months to the hostile pagans who were repeatedly breaking their treaty obligations (9:1-3). It commands the Muslims to kill them wherever they come upon them, capture them,besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every conceivable place (take all possible measures as advisable in warfare) after the expiry of the treaty period (9:5) unless they repented, kept up prayer and gave the Zakat (9:5, 9:11). However, the pagans who were honouring their treaty of peace and not helping anyone against the Muslims were to be given time until the treaty term expired (9:4). At the same time, those pagans who sought protection were to be given protection, until they heard the word of God and then to be delivered to a place of security (i.e. their tribal homelands) (so that they were not harmed by any other victimized Muslim) (9:6).
[Meanwhile, the integration of Mecca had created a duality in the mode of worship in Kaba - the pagans, who did not opt to enter Islam, used it to worship their deities and the followers of the Prophet dedicated it to the One and Only God (Allah). This needed to be resolved to avoid any confusion in the status of the Kaba in the backdrop of the Prophet’s imminent death.]
(Accordingly), the Qur’an calls the pagans spiritually impure and forbids their entry into it (reserving it for only pure worship of God without any association) (9:28). It commands the Muslims to fight those of the pagans who were around them with firmness and determination (9:123). At another occasion, it commands the Prophet to be firm against the hypocrites (9:73) who were conspiring with the pagans to destroy the Prophet and Islam. It warns the believers that there were hypocrites all around them and among the people in Medina, who had grown bold in hypocrisy (9:101). It curses the hypocrites (9:68), calls them liars (9:42, 9:107) and deviants (9:96, 9:67). It charges some of the believing nomadic Arabs to being intense in kufr and hypocrisy (9:97) and forbids the Prophet to pray over any of them who had died, nor to stand by their graves (9:84). As the Prophet may still have prayed for all his followers, including the hypocrites, the revelation warns him that even if he sought forgiveness for them seventy times, God will never forgive them (9:80).
Conclusion Phase-IV – Militarily Active Phase (630-6320)
Human history is a succession of events that follow each other, sometimes in the cause and effect sequence - as historical necessity, and sometimes as a result of hegemonic aspirations or despotic and irrational whims of its rulers and leaders. Sometimes they bring good to collective humanity and posterity, and sometimes they bring evil to humankind and cause enduring sufferings to the posterity. The concluding militarily vibrant phase of Islam must be judged against these criteria. The battle of Hunayn was to be fought to defending the recently integrated Mecca. The Tabuk expedition pitted an assortment of tribal warriors with no experience of fighting an organized, drilled, resourceful and seasoned Royal army. Apparently not a historical necessity or rationally driven, the expedition fully exposed the treacherous character of the hypocrites and demonstrated the supreme trust of the Prophet in God. The expedition was beset with incalculable odds and fraught with colossal risks and no one other than a prophet of God could have embarked on it. Finally, Surah Tawbah was needed to set Islam on a permanent footing and rid the world – at least the Islamic world of the culture of loot, murder and arson that conquering armies committed through the Medieval ages for want of a model of treaty that offered peace with dignity and full religious, civil and economic rights in lieu of a levy that all militarily weak nations pay to their powerful neighbours.
Summary: Since the historical settings, priorities and the tone and responses of the Qur’an have varied across the different phases of the revelation as tabled in this work, it has been necessary to cover each phase separately. Any further summarization of the key events of the Prophetic mission and of his responses will be merely repetitious and is therefore avoided. A casual reader, not interested in details may take a look at the remarks under the Conclusions for each of the four phases of the mission. This division is based on the changing context of the revelation and correspondingly changing response of the Qur’an and not in line with the classical history of the Prophet’s mission that lumps up the highly dynamic and eventful Medinite period (622-632) as one corridor of history. What is of essence is that this discourse, unlike the Classical history of Islam has the Qur’an speaking for itself. And since the historical authenticity of the Qur’an is above debate, so are the findings, deliberations and conclusions of this work – though the author cannot claim to be above error.
To wrap up this essay and put a seal of peace and pluralism on the Prophet’s mission we quote below the following verses that make it amply clear that the eventual goal was peace, moral uprightness (taqwa) and justice and not war, injustice and ‘Sword’:
“You who believe, be upright before God as witnesses to justice), and let not the hatred of any people prompt you to detract from justice. Deal justly: this is nearest to heedfulness (taqwa); and heed God. Surely God is Informed of what you do” (5:8).
“... And let not the hatred of a people who (once) obstructed you from (entering the) Sacred House, lead you to be hostile. Therefore, help each other to virtue and uprightness (taqwa), and do not collaborate with each other in sin and enmity. Heed God, and (remember,) God is severe in punishment” (5:2).
“It may be that God will bring about love between you and those of them you (now) regard as your enemies. (Remember,) God is Able (to do anything) and God is Most Forgiving and Merciful (60:7). God does not forbid you to be virtuous and just to those who did not fight you over religion, nor drove you from your homelands. Indeed, God loves the just (60:8). God only forbids you to befriend those who fought against you over religion, and expelled you from your homelands, and backed (others) in your expulsion; and whoever befriends them – it is they who are unjust” (60:9).
The Qur’anic verses relating to all the major expeditions as captured in this work from Qur’anic allusions were specific to given contexts, and since the contexts cannot be recreated as much as the Prophet and his companions cannot be brought back to life, they are not of any direct relevance this day – and this must be true for all so-called ‘fighting verses’ of the Qur’an. Their presence in the Qur’an is essential to establish Islam as a religion of peace as this discourse aims at.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.
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