By Mohamed Elmenshawy
28 Sep 2015
A while ago, when I was strolling through Barnes and Noble store in a Washington DC suburb, a copy of Military History Quarterly caught my eye because it had the name Mohammed on the cover. I was curious, so I picked up the magazine and read the rest of the title; I was both surprised, angered and curious.
I decided to buy the periodical that is read by senior US army officers who are interested in history and how it reflects on current military affairs. The publication has a circulation of 22,200 and is one of the oldest periodicals covering military affairs, and its writers include renowned American military historians.
The study was written by military historian Richard Gabriel who previously served in various government posts and the CIA, and authored 41 books. Gabriel believes without the Prophet Mohammed’s military genius and vision, Islam would not have survived and expanded after his death. The study also states that despite abundant research about the Prophet’s life and achievements, there is no study about him being the first military general in Islam, and “first insurgent.”
The study adds that if it wasn’t for the Prophet’s success as a military leader, Muslims would not have been able to invade the Byzantine and Persian empires after his death. It adds that viewing the Prophet Mohammed as a military leader is a new concept for many; he was a first-class military mind who in one decade led eight battles, launched 18 attacks and planned 38 limited military operations.
The study states that the Prophet was injured twice during battle, and that not only was he a seasoned military leader, but also a “military theorist,” “strategic thinker,” and “revolutionary combatant.” It described him as the pioneer of “insurgency warfare” and “guerrilla warfare,” and the first to apply these strategies.
The Prophet used all available tools to achieve his political goals and resorted to military and non-military means (such as building alliances, political assassinations, clemency, religious incentives and “butchery”), and sometimes sacrificed short term goals for the sake of long-term ones.
The study praised the “intelligence agencies” he created and managed, which surpassed their peers among the Persians and Romans — the two strongest empires at the time. The study believes the Prophet’s strategies can be described as a combination of theories by Carl von Clausewitz and Niccolo Machiavelli, because he always used force to achieve political gains. It adds that he succeeded in revolutionising military doctrine in the Arab Peninsula, because he believed he was a messenger of God.
And thus, he was able to create the first regular Arab army based on faith with an integrated ideological doctrine, namely “Islam.” He was the first to introduce and use such concepts as “holy war,” “jihad,” and “martyrdom” for religion. The Christian world borrowed the “negative” concept of holy war from Muslims and used it later to launch the Crusades against Muslims themselves.
Unlike traditional military leaders, the Prophet Mohammed did not seek to defeat the armies of his enemies, but form a united Arab army under his personal leadership combining all these armies. Although the study claims the Prophet Mohammed began a military rebellion with a handful of fighters using hit and run tactics, these few men grew to nearly 10,000 combatants one decade later when Mecca was invaded.
The Prophet also realised that in order for the rebellion to succeed it needed a strong army and a population that supports the army, and thus he was the first in history to adopt the policy of “people’s army; people’s war” — well before Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap during the Vietnam War.
The study adds that the Prophet succeeded in convincing his followers that Allah requires all Muslims to dedicate all their resources in the service of faith and what the Prophet demands.
He also succeeded in consolidating Arab combat formations that were divided into infantry (composed of poor men from small villages, oases and communities on the outskirts of main cities) and cavalry (composed of tribe members who are descendants of highly skilled fighters). Each branch was highly suspicious and begrudged the other, but the Prophet was able to give the new army a new identity and a strict military order.
The study claims that Arab combatants before Islam were only focused on their own direct and limited interests; the goal of combat was for material gains and spoils of war, and thus they did not grasp the concept of a regular army.
Wars in the Arab Peninsula were small, limited and repetitive, it stated, and there was no system or order of when battles occur or when fighters gathered. A fighter would join battle and possibly leave before the fighting is over if he captures enough spoils of war. In order to fix these problems, the study states, the Prophet succeeded in building a military system of leadership and control for the first time in Arab history.
In conclusion, the author stated that as a child and young man, the Prophet was trained in combat by his family. In order to compensate for what the author described as the Prophet Mohammed’s deficient skills, he surrounded himself with seasoned fighters and always listened to their military advice.
Mohamed Elmenshawy is a researcher on Egyptian politics.