Strained relationships with the Jews in Medina

When Muhammad became established at Medina he acted in a conciliatory manner towards the Jews, who formed a strong party there. Accordingly Islam was for the present, made as comfortable to Jewish ideas as possible. Jerusalem was still the Qiblah towards which the eyes of all believers, Jew, Christian or Arab, instinctively turned in prayer. The great feast of the Atonement was held to be binding on the followers of Islam. A treaty was even made with the Jews allowing them to keep their own faith, while yet forming one people with the true believers. But, as Muhammad gradually grew stronger, he was able to kick away the supports which he had mounted, and, finally, by changing the Qiblah to Mecca, he broke away with the Jews, and indulged the national vanity of his Arabian followers. In the future, Islam was to stand alone – the abrogation, rather than the fulfilment of Judaism and Christianity.

As the relations with the Jews became more and more strained, so did the tone of the Quran become more and more warlike. The first definite permission to use force seems to be:

> “To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged; – and verily, Allah is most powerful for their aid (Al-Hajj 22:39).”

> “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors. And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith. But if they cease, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression.” (Al-Baqarrah 2:190-193)

The first bloodshed in the cause of Islam

Within six months of the flight from Mecca the ejected Prophet began to undertake reprisals, and to engage in the pious and profitable commission of despoiling the infidels. At first little expeditions were sent out to intercept caravans and waylay travellers. In the second of these Obeida, the son of Harith shot the first arrow for Islam. Meanwhile it is an indication of the enlarged sphere of Muhammad’s influence that he now made a treaty (his first) with a foreign tribe near Mecca. In November 623 A.D. at Nakhla where the genii had been converted, a raiding party of Muslims seized their first booty, and shed the first blood of infidels.

The breach between Mecca and Medina was daily widening, and could only be closed by the decisive victory of one side or the other. Force was the only possible arbiter in this contest; and war was a congenial pastime for Arabs. They were far more in their element spreading the faith by the sword with the high expectation of a large plunder. That the latter added to the ranks of Islam is clear from the tradition that when some of the unconverted citizens of Medina made as though they would accompany the true believers in their attack on the caravan, and Muhammad asked them on what grounds they wished to join the expedition, they answered, “in the hope of plunder;” but on Muhammad’s remonstrating and refusing to let them go, unless they believed, they were straightway converted.

The first battles in the cause of Islam

The success which attended the first great venture of the Muslims at Bedr (624 A.D.), where, in accordance with the assurance contained in the Quran (Al-Imran 3:123) 300 Muslims put to flight three times their own number. This encouraged the Prophet to emphasise still more strongly the duty of “fighting in the ways of the Lord” and to hold forth the promise of hell for those who were backward in the cause; of plunder for those who fought and won; of Paradise for those who fell.

The next two years form a dismal record of cowardly assassinations of opponents and treacherous attacks on the Jews, ending either in there slaughter or exile. The situation will best be explained by the answer given by an Arab confederate of the Jews, when upbraided with deserting them: “Hearts have changed; Islam hath blotted all treaties out (Muir)”. The massacre of the tribe of Koreitza was a political decision for Muhammad did not as yet profess to force men to join Islam or punish them for not embracing it.

The defeat of Uhud (624) lessened the aggressiveness of the Prophet when many distinguished Muslims fell, among them Muhammad’s youngest uncle Hamza, the “Lion of God and his Apostle.” The cruelties of Muhammad provoked reprisals, and two missionaries, or spies (it is not clear which they were), being seized by the Bani Lahyan, whose chief had been assassinated at Muhammad’s instigation, were carried to Mecca and put to a cruel death.

The next year (626) Muhammad extended his campaign to the Syrian frontier and then in 627, after having found himself with sufficient material power took the course of action of sending an expedition to Dhuma to call upon an Arab tribe to embrace Islam, or in default of that, to fight for their faith.

The great influx of converts

In the following year the Prophet was prevented from going on the usual pilgrimage to Mecca by the hostile attitude of the Qurraish. However, before returning to Medina, Muhammad concluded the famous Treaty of Hodeibia, which guaranteed a truce for ten years and permitted Muhammad to perform the pilgrimage the following year unmolested, but the most important provision accorded that every Arab had the free liberty to embrace Islam, if so minded. For Muhammad this was an evident victory.

The immediate result of this liberty of conscience was that the ambassador from the Qurraish, who had negotiated the treaty, himself became a Muslim, and so great was the influx of converts that, as Ibn Hisham points out Muhammad was able two years afterwards to take up with him to Mecca ten thousand followers, whereas this year he had only fifteen hundred with him.

Muslim Missionaries invite nobles and tribes to Islam

This success was followed up by the despatch of embassies to the neighbouring nations, to the King of Persia, and the Emperor of the East, to Egypt and Abyssinia, to the Arabs of Syria and Yemen. These were the true missionaries of Islam, and one cannot but admire the audacity that could prompt, and the enthusiasm that could justify, such peremptory demands addressed by an obscure Arabian chieftain to the greatest potentates of the earth. While these far reaching schemes overstepped the narrow bounds of Arabia, the more immediate need of keeping up the religious fervour of his disciples by glutting their lust for plunder, induced Muhammad to make a treacherous attack on another Jewish settlement, that of Kheiber.

Next year the wish of Muhammad’s heart was at last accomplished and, accompanied by two thousand followers he performed the Lesser Pilgrimage to Mecca. The proof of the approaching triumph of Islam, procured for it the adhesion of its two ablest, but perhaps most unscrupulous supporters, Khalid, Ibn Walid, “The Sword of God,” as he was afterwards called, and Amru, destined to be the conqueror of Egypt, and the mainstay of the Umayyad faction against the house of Ali and Muhammad.

Meanwhile we hear of missionaries being sent to summon several tribes to the faith. The Bani Saleim repulsed the half-missionary, half-military, band of fifty men who visited them, but afterwards gave in their allegiance (they apostatised, like so many others, under Abu Bakr). Another troop of about fifteen boldly preached to an assemblage on the borders of Syria, and being met with a shower of stones, only one of them survived to tell the tale (Muir p. 94). So completely had Muhammad confused the functions of Prophet and Ruler, of warrior and missionary that it is difficult to know whether we ought to call such emissaries soldiers or preachers. “Islam, Tribute or the Sword” was to be the motto for the future.

Muhammad, now sixty-one years old, in 629, he sent three thousand men to Muta, on the Syrian border where they crossed swords with the Romans in order to avenge the death of a Muslim missionary (Muir p.195). The Muslim army was defeated and its three commanders slain. The second of these Djafar, brother of Ali, and cousin of Muhammad, shouted or sang in the midst of battle:

Paradise, how fair a resting place! Cold is the water there and sweet the shade!

Rome, Rome, thine hour of tribulation draweth nigh! When I close with her I will strike her to the ground.”

(Muir, “Life of Muhammad,” 4.100 from Hishami).

Mecca is taken and instructed by a missionary in Islam

The repulse of Muta did not check the progress of Islam, and tribe after tribe of Bedouin Arabs made their submission, avowing the superficial conversion, which was so soon to be disavowed upon the death of the Prophet. At the same time the opportunity of taking Mecca came. On the first day of the year 630, the Prophet set out with a huge array of Ansar, Muhajarin and allies. On his way he received the submission and conversion of his uncle, Abbas, and his most uncompromising enemy Abu Sofyan. Mecca surrendered without a blow and Muhammad took the more politic and congenial method of granting pardon.

Muhammad’s clemency had its due effect, and the whole city came over to Islam, but because they were still ignorant of the rudiments of the new faith the Prophet on his departure left the youthful Moadz Ibn Jabal as a missionary to instruct them (Muir Life of Muhammad, 4.137). In order to secure their allegiance and maintain their conversion he gave some of the Meccan and Bedouin chiefs such large gifts of money from the spoils as to arouse the jealousy of his own followers. The revelation came in At-Taubah 9:60: “Alms are for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the (funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of Allah.”

After the fall of Mecca no serious opposition was to be feared in Arabia, and most of the Bedouin tribes at once gave nominal allegiance. The delegates of Tayif, who had previously so scornfully resisted Muhammad sent their delegates and were graciously received, and the members instructed in Islam. On their return the citizens also came over to Islam, but one of the chiefs of the tribe, going in his new-born zeal, as a missionary to his fellow tribesmen beyond the boundaries of the city, was slain.

The main policy was spread Islam by the sword amongst pagans

That the spread of Islam would continue by the sword was made manifest by Muhammad through the mouth of his representative Ali on the next annual pilgrimage (631). At-Taubah 9:1-2,5-6 declares that the Prophet of God is absolved of all obligations towards the unbelievers after a period of four months.

> “A (declaration) of immunity from Allah and His Apostle, to those of the Pagans with whom ye have contracted mutual alliances:- Go ye, then, for four months, backwards and forwards, (as ye will), throughout the land, but know ye that ye cannot frustrate Allah (by your falsehood) but that Allah will cover with shame those who reject Him …..……. But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. If one amongst the Pagans ask thee for asylum grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of Allah; and then escort him to where he can be secure.”

 

Peaceful methods and force go hand in hand in the expansion of Islam

But though force became the main weapon of conversion, the peaceful methods of persuasion and instruction were not wholly discarded, and when a tribe tendered its submission, missionaries were straightaway despatched to instruct the new converts in their religious duties.

The Christian tribes of the Najran consented to pay tribute and keep their religion. However, Muir points out that their religion soon disappeared before its powerful rival. The heathen tribes, on the other hand, had no choice, but as Hisham naively remarks, being worsted by Khalid, believed and accepted Islam, which their conqueror then proceeded to expound to them.

The astonishing success of Muhammad, however, encouraged the rise of three other pretended prophets in Arabia, who after Muhammad’s death, caused his successor, Abu Bakr, no little trouble, and at the battle of Yemama even jeopardised the supremacy of Islam (Moseilma the prophet was killed at this battle).

Muhammad himself died in the early part of June 632, aged sixty-three; and the army of invasion which had been held back by his sickness advanced upon Syria. The description given by the old Muslim commentator Wackidi, (p.139, from Muir’s ‘Life of Muhammad, ‘) will enable us to gain some idea of its proceedings. “With the well know cry of Ya Mansur Amit, ‘Strike, O ye conquerors,’ they slew all who opposed them, and carried off the remainder into captivity. They burned the villages, the fields of standing corn, and the groves of palm and behind them there went up as it were a whirlwind of fire and smoke.” Such was the method by which Islam was propagated.

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