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The Unlettered Prophet (28)
Khalid Masud
(Tr. by:Nikhat Sattar)

Measures to protect Madinah 

It is generally believed, and also correct, that before migration, believers were not allowed to kill anyone. When Muslims, tired of constant persecution and torment from the idolaters, would ask for permission to use arms, they were told to be patient, persevere, show restraint, remember God frequently and trust in Him. The instruction to kill came at the time of migration, and, as stated before, was to remain in effect until Islam had gained supremacy over all religions in the entire country. After the migration of the Prophet (sws) and believers, the Quraysh were satisfied that they had rid themselves of the Muslims and had begun to plan ways and means whereby the power of Muslims could be completely destroyed. To counter these actions, the Prophet (sws) too, took steps which could address these schemes. We now consider these steps taken by the Prophet (sws), keeping in view the dangers posed by the Quraysh.


Preventive Measures 

1.      The Prophet (sws) regularly sent persons to collect information around Madinah. If news came from any quarter of a potential attack by the enemy, he would keep awake throughout the night and arrange for a close vigil to ensure that the enemy did not attack them unaware. Despite this, one year after migration, Makkah’s Kurz ibn Jabir Fihri attacked a pasture which was three miles from the city and which belonged to the people of Madinah and stole several animals. The Prophet (sws) followed him but could not find him.

2.      The Prophet had signed a covenant called the Covenant of Madinah with all citizens of Madinah, including the tribes of Aws and Khazraj and the Jews. This included the following conditions in particular:  

a)      No one was to give protection to the Quraysh or their allies

b)      If Madinah was attacked, Muslims and Jews were to defend it together

c)      If Muslims made peace with any group, the Jews were to be liable to follow the agreement and if the Jews made any such agreement, Muslims were bound to follow it. However, there was to be no responsibility on any signatory to cooperate in a religious war of the other group.

d)      If any group was required to leave Madinah for purposes of war, it would have rights of defense and peace and this would be also applicable to those who remained in Madinah. No one would be persecuted and no one was to break his/her promises.


Deliberation upon these conditions shows that the Prophet (sws) was concerned about hostility from the Quraysh and the danger of an attack as a consequence. Hence, he had penned the Covenant of Madinah as a counter step.


3.      The Prophet (sws) also signed agreements with the Jewish tribes of Banu Nadir, Banu Qurayzah and Banu Qaynuqa’, who were settled around Madinah, so that they would remain neutral and not cause any harm while living in the Muslim centre, by becoming a tool in the hands of the Quraysh. The tribes of Aws and Khazraj already had agreements of cooperation and support with these tribes, so the Prophet (sws) too, did not face any difficulty in making similar agreements.

4.      The Prophet (sws) penned cooperation agreements with tribes who were settled along the route to Makkah. These tribes included Juhaynah, Banu Damrah and Banu Mudlij. They were allies of the Aws and the Khazraj earlier. The advent of Islam in Madinah paved the way with these tribes for agreements, that covered the following clauses:  

a)      The life and property of members of the tribes were to be safe and sacrosanct

b)      If any one were to oppress or attack them, they were to be helped in their defense

c)      If any oppression was related to their own people or their religion, it was not necessary to provide support to them.  

These agreements were signed with the above mentioned three tribes during the first year of migration, several months before the Battle of Badr. The Prophet (sws) had gone to visit them to finalize these agreements along with 150 companions. Some narrators say that the Ansar were not involved in any of the Prophet (sws)’s missions before the Battle of Badr, but the number of these missions and the nature of relations of the Aws and the Khazraj with these tribes indicate that the Ansar must have accompanied the Prophet (sws) in these missions. Biographers have named these battles ghazwat and they are called battles of Buwat, Abwa and Dhu al-‘Ashirah respectively, although no preparations necessary for a battle were made, nor did the Prophet (sws) take any step that may be considered a war like action. When he reached Bawat, a trade caravan of the Quraysh, led by Umayyah ibn Khalaf was passing through. Similarly, when he reached Dhu al-‘Ashirah, he was informed that a caravan of the Quraysh with Abu Sufyan in charge had just gone by. Orientalists claim that Muslims had taken up highway robbery after migration. Had this been the case, why did the Prophet (sws) not take advantage of those two opportunities, when a large number of supporters ready to lay down their lives were with him and could have easily attacked the caravans? Meeting the trade convoys and not harming them seems to prove that these events had taken place just to reject the accusations of the Orientalists. The fact is that all three journeys were political in nature and their purpose was to sign cooperation agreements with the tribes that had settlements along the routes in case Madinah was attacked by the Quraysh. If one presupposes that the Prophet (sws) was informed of the movements of trade convoys of the Quraysh, the maximum that could be said about choice of timings is that the Prophet (sws) wished to make the Quraysh aware that he was watching out and to create a sense of awe among them of the power exercised by the Muslims. Another reason for taking such large numbers of companions on these journeys could have been to familiarize them with the terrain and train them for future journeys which may have been necessary to be taken during battles. This is the same objective for which battle exercises are carried out in current times.


5.      Before the Battle of Badr, the Prophet (sws) sent small parties of companions in various directions from time to time. These missions are called sariyyah.

6.      In the seventh month of migration, the Prophet (sws) sent a group of 30, led by his uncle, Hamzah (rta) to the coastal region occupied by the tribe of Juhaynah. There, they came across 300 soldiers from the Quraysh. The two groups were close to coming to swords but a battle was prevented by the timely intervention of Majadi ibn ‘Amr, the leader of Juhaynah. When the Prophet (sws) was informed, he praised the efforts of Majadi ibn ‘Amr. At that event, the purpose behind 300 soldiers of the Quraysh could only have been either military or political, but not trade. If the objective of the sariyyah was skirmish with the Quraysh, the Prophet (sws) would not have praised the peacemaking efforts made by Majdi.


In Shawwal of the first year of migration, the Prophet (sws) sent a group of 60 people led by his cousin, ‘Ubaydah ibn al-Harith (rta) to Juhfah, which is a place between Makkah and Badr. There they came across an army of 200 from the Quraysh, but matters did not reach the point of war. The large number of soldiers of the Quraysh indicates that they were not traveling for purposes of trade, otherwise there would not have been such a large party. Trade convoys usually had more animals to carry goods and the men would be 40-50 in number only.

During Dhu al-Qa‘dah of the first year hijrah, 20 people led by Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas (rta) came to Kharrar, close to Juhfah and then returned to Madinah.

If the objective of these missions was to rob trade convoys, as claimed by Western historians, at least one such event should have taken place. What sort of highway robbers were the companions that they would undertake such long journeys and when faced with the Quraysh, not harm them in any way? The fact was that none of these missions were carried out for the purpose of robbery. They were meant to assess what mischief the Quraysh were up to and to keep a watchful eye on their activities. Additionally, they were meant to warn the Quraysh that the Muslims were not unaware of the need for their own defence.


The Sariyyah of ‘Abdullah ibn Jahash (rta) 

The first sariyyah in which bloodshed took place was in Rajab, second hijrah. The Prophet (sws) had put his cousin, ‘Abdullah ibn Jahash (rta) in charge of this sariyyah, and it had eight Muhajirun. They were ordered to put up their camp at Nakhlah, a place in the north east outside the boundaries of Makkah, and gather information about the Quraysh. It so happened that a small trade convoy of the Quraysh set up camp very close to them in the dark of the night. Fighting ensued and both sides used arms, as a result of which the leader of the Quraysh convoy, ‘Amr ibn al-Hadri, who was also the son of ‘Abdullah al-Hadri, an ally of Harb ibn Umayyah, a leader of Makkah, was killed. Two young men, ‘Uthman ibn ‘Abdullah ibn al-Mughirah (a cousin of Khalid ibn Walid) and al-Hakam ibn Kaysan were taken prisoners. ‘Uthman’s brother Nawfal ran to Makkah and informed the Quraysh of this incident. ‘Adullah ibn Jahash broke up his camp immediately for fear of being caught and returned to Madinah. The Prophet (sws) was saddened to know of this activity as it had exceeded the boundaries of the parameters of the assignment.

The incidents of this sariyyah provide an opportunity to Orientalists to loosen their tongues in sarcasm because they find in this the only argument to accuse the companions of robbery and prove that the greed to loot wealth became the reason for the Battle of Badr later. In our view, the Prophet (sws) himself had set the purpose of this sariyyah, which was to stay in concealment and unearth information about the Quraysh. No Muslim, as long as he lived, could have disobeyed the Prophet’s clear instructions. It is also worth considering that only a few Muslims, more than 12 destinations away from their centre and so close to that of their enemy could not have endangered themselves in order to rob the convoy. The fact should also be kept in mind that the people in the Muslim group were relatives of the Makkans. Their faces were not unknown to the idolaters, nor was there any misunderstanding about their religious beliefs and thoughts. It is more likely that the idolaters had started the fight in their arrogance of being more powerful and close to Makkah, and faced losses as a consequence. Or, the Muslims may have sensed the danger of Makkah being informed and may have attacked the convoy to prevent this information reaching the Quraysh. Whatever the reason for this skirmish, it became important due to its consequences.

This skirmish with the Makkans took place on the last day of Rajab.  According to research by Ibn Kathir, the instruction to take custody of the qiblah was also given during Rajab. The Muslims had been warned in that instruction that their difficulties would increase after the announcement. Circumstances would demand major sacrifices from them and wars would be imminent in order to take control of the House of God from the idolaters. It is possible that the Prophet (sws) may have sent the members of the sariyyah of ‘Abdullah ibn Jahash (ra) to go so close to Makkah in order to find out the reaction of the Quraysh to the situation that arose after that announcement. They may have been making arrangements for this when the convoy of the Quraysh came upon them and the situation may have evolved into the incidents that have been stated above.             



(Translated by Nikhat Sattar)



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