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The Unlettered Prophet (31)
Khalid Masud
(Tr. by:Nikhat Sattar)

Onslaughts by the Enemies of Islam 

In consideration of the increasing strength of Muslims, people living in and around Madinah thought it expedient to accept Islam so that when the former gained power in the country, they would not be deprived of the benefits. This is the reason why, although there was only a year’s difference between the battles of Badr and Uhud, the number of Muslims going to war in Uhud was thrice as large as those going to Badr. Some people among the Jews adopted a policy of conciliation towards the Muslims: even though they might have harboured hostility within their hearts, but they did not dare break their covenants with the Muslims. Many of them even accepted Islam. Expediencies were considered when Islam was accepted due to perceptions of its power. Thus, there was a majority of Muslims who were not sincere to Islam in that period. They were called hypocrites and they attempted to hurt the Muslims at every stage later on.

 The results of Badr created worries among the Quraysh and other enemies of Muslims, such as the Jews. They did not see humiliation only in their defeat but considered Islam as a serious threat. When the Muslims migrated, the Quraysh had heaved a sigh of relief. They had thought that Muslims would lose their sense of collectivity once they were cut off from their centre and a strange environment would not be conducive to them. However, the results of Badr showed that this opinion was far from reality and that Islam needed more power and force than before to be uprooted. In view of these concerns, they tried to take their fight to several fronts.


Plot to kill the Prophet (sws) 

The young men of the Quraysh were extremely frustrated by the large number of their leaders being killed in the Battle of Badr and they tried various ways and means to harm the Muslims. Umayyah ibn Khalaf’s son Safwan convinced ‘Umayr ibn Wahb to go to Madinah and kill the Prophet (sws). In lieu of this, he would pay all his debts and take care of his children in the same manner as he would of his own children. ‘Umayr accepted this condition, dipped his sword in poison and proceeded towards Madinah. When he reached the door of the Mosque of the Prophet, ‘Umar (rta) stopped him. When the Prophet (sws) saw him, he welcomed him and asked him why he had come. He said that he had come to pay ransom for one of the prisoners. The Prophet (sws) asked why the sword was necessary for this task. He answered: “Curse be upon these swords! They have hardly been of any benefit to us before.” The Prophet (sws) asked what the value of the promises made between him and Safwan ibn Umayyah was. ‘Umayr said that the matter was not known to a third person besides Safwan and himself. If the Prophet (sws) was referring to this, he had to be the prophet of God and he would accept Islam. Safwan waited for the big news in Makkah and the Prophet (sws) won ‘Umayr’s loyalty.  


Battle of Sawiq

When the leadership of the Quraysh came to Abu Sufyan after all the main leaders had been killed in Badr, he vowed that he would not bathe until he had taken revenge. Two months after the Battle of Badr, he gathered 200 men and left, taking up post a few miles from Madinah. In the darkness of night he went to the suburbs of Madinah where mostly Jews lived. He knocked upon the door of his Jewish friend, Huyy ibn Akhtab who was the leader of Banu Nadir. The latter did not open his door for fear of going back on his promise to the Muslims. Disappointed, Abu Sufyan then went to another leader, Salam bin Mushkam. He welcomed Abu Sufyan and was hospitable towards him but refrained from making any open promises of help. When Abu Sufyan did not get cooperation from the Jews, he did not find the courage to undertake any big operation. He found a couple of Muslim farmers working in their fields outside of Madinah. He destroyed the farms, torched the houses and killed the farmers. Thus he completed his oath and returned to Makkah. When the Prophet (sws) found out, he followed him. Fearing his capture, Abu Sufyan lightened the burden on his camels by dropping the wheat flour which he had brought for use during the travels, and ran to Makkah. This mission of the Prophet (sws) is known as the Battle of Sawiq.


Treachery of Banu Qaynuqa‘

The Prophet (sws) had signed agreements with the Jews to ensure their neutrality but since they had previous relations with the Quraysh and were also sympathetic towards them, they would advise them secretly not to let Muslims obtain a firm foothold. They also had a hand in inciting the Quraysh in the Battle of Badr. Their efforts were focused on causing harm to the Muslims and at the same time, remaining free from any blame. This is why they did not make themselves obvious during the Battle of Badr. The Qur’an gave news of this satanic role of theirs and gave instructions to cancel the agreements if they were unwilling to stand by their promises.  

They are those with whom thou didst make a covenant, but they break their covenant every time, and they have not the fear [of Allah]. If ye gain the mastery over them in war, disperse with them, those who follow them, that they may remember. If thou fearest treachery from any group, throw back [their covenant] to them, [so as to be] on equal terms: for Allah loveth not the treacherous. (8:56-58)  

It seems that the Prophet (sws) suspected the Banu Qaynuqa‘ of being involved in the matter of the Battle of Badr. Ibn Ishaq narrates that the Banu Qaynuqa‘ were the first Jews who broke the covenant between them and the Prophet (sws).  The Prophet (sws) went to their settlement to remind them of their promise and warned them to protect themselves from the fate of the Quraysh. He explained that the prophet who was referred to in their holy texts was himself. It was their agreement with God that they would support and accept him. Obviously it was reasonable to warn the Jews regarding the fate of the Quraysh if they (the jews) were found to commit an act that was contrary to the agreement made with the Prophet (sws) and had broken their covenant with him. However, in answer to the Prophet (sws)’s speech, the Jews showed arrogance towards him and said: “O Muhammad! You consider us your subordinates. Do not remain in any doubt. You were fighting a nation that did not know how to wage a war. You caused harm to them, but if we ever fight you, you will find out what real fighters are like.” Their reference to the Battle of Badr indicated that they had some expectations from the Quraysh which had not been met and they saw their own humiliation in the defeat of the Quraysh. The Prophet (sws) noted their changed stance but ignored it. Despite this, their hostile attitude did not change. In fact, when a Muslim woman went to one of the Jewish goldsmiths, the Jews present there tried to lift her veil. When they were unsuccessful, they tied one corner of her shawl behind her. As she tried to get up, her shawl opened. The Jews started to make fun of her. At this she screamed. A Muslim man, hearing her, attacked the goldsmith and killed him. The other Jews went haywire and killed the Muslim. His tribe called other Muslims. As the Banu Qaynuqa‘ had already committed acts of treachery against the Muslims, this became an opportunity for Muslims to act against them. The Prophet (sws) laid siege to their settlements. After 15 days, they admitted defeat. ‘Abdullah ibn Ubayy, the head of the hypocrites, was eager to save them. He said: “These are 700 brave men who have kept me safe from the enmity of every white or black man. I am concerned about the dangers I face in these times. How can you have them killed?” At his insistence, the Prophet (sws) spared their lives but ordered them to leave Madinah. They went to Syria. After their departure, the Prophet (sws) had the covenant of neutrality renewed by the remaining two tribes.


Treachery of Ka‘b ibn Ashraf

Ka‘b ibn Ashraf’s father was from the Banu Tay but his mother was from the Banu Nadir. Jewish lineage is linked to the mother, so he was a native Jew and included among the influential people of the Banu Nadir. When Muslims returned to Madinah after the end of Badr and he heard that most of the leaders of the Quraysh had been killed, he could not believe it. He commented that if indeed, Muhammad (sws) had killed all those people whose names were constantly mentioned by ‘Abdullah ibn Rawahah and Zayd ibn Harithah, then it would be better to go underneath the ground than remain upon it, because these people were the kings of commoners and the elite of the country. When he found that the news was true, he went to Makkah, tried to pep up the Quraysh and kept inciting them to take revenge. He read poems in memory of those killed and assured their families of his support. Upon his return from Makkah, he declared enmity to  the Prophet (sws) openly. He recited poetry to ridicule the Prophet (sws) and incited people against him. According to the history of Ya‘qubi, he also conspired to kill the Prophet (sws) but his scheme failed.1 He began to recite sordid verses with names of Muslim women. When sufficient proof had been found of him being an enemy of Islam, the Prophet (sws) asked his Companions about who could get rid of the pest. A few persons of the Banu ‘Abd al-Shahal offered their services. They went to him and brought him out of his home on some excuse and attacked him thereby killing him. This took place during the night. When the Jews found out about this, they were afraid. When the Banu Nadir came to complain, the Prophet (sws) related to them all his wrongdoings which they had been unable to deter him from.

Obviously Ka‘b was not under the Prophet’s jurisdiction that he could have punished him himself. He was a member of a tribe that had taken an oath of non-alliance. Practically, Ka‘b had broken this oath in his personal capacity, opposed the Muslims openly and created difficulties for them. His attitude was known to everyone and the leaders of the Banu Nadir were also aware of this, but it seems that they had ignored it. Thus, the Prophet (sws) had this enemy of Islam removed.


Role of the Hypocrites

Just as the idolaters and Jews are obvious as a group in the life of the Prophet (sws), the involvement of the hypocrites is also so entangled with the incidents in his life that no biography is complete without mentioning their destructive activities.  These hypocrites were apparently supporters of the truth brought by the Prophet (sws) but practically they disregarded it, kept themselves away from its requirements and created problems for the Prophet (sws). They would be counted amongst the Muslims but they could not be depended upon for support or companionship due to their specific character.

The seed of discord had been sown as soon as the Prophet (sws) reached Madinah. After a long period of bloodletting between the tribes of Aws and Khazraj, they realized that both were suffering losses due to their inter-fighting, so it would be in their interest to create an environment of peace and harmony. This necessitated that both tribes select a person as their leader and then lead their lives in unity under his guidance. The person both tribes agreed upon was ‘Abdullah ibn Ubayy al-Salul who belonged to Banu al-Habla. As preparations were underway to make him the leader, the two tribes invited the Prophet (sws) to Madinah as their leader. As a result of the efforts of Mus‘ab ibn ‘Umayr, several families accepted Islam and this change happened so quickly that the matter of the leadership of ‘Abdullah ibn Ubayy was forgotten. ‘Abdullah ibn Ubayy was deeply aggrieved by this. He continued to observe the situation in Madinah closely and when he saw that there were no chances for him, he converted to Islam reluctantly. The regret in his heart caused him to nurse a grudge against the Prophet (sws) and he continued to try to harm him whenever he could. Due to his influential personality, a large number of people believed in his opinions and he kept creating discord within them.

‘Abdullah ibn Ubayy and his companions considered their own interests in every matter. They never gave any importance to the collective interests of Muslims. For them, personal prudence was an outcome of their own efforts and strategies. They considered belief in God’s promises and spending their lives with support from these to be highly dangerous. Thus, they took interest in the collective matters of Muslims only up to the extent that it was necessary to keep up appearances for their legitimacy. It was part of their nature to avoid collective responsibilities.

Just as a personal grudge of ‘Abdullah ibn Ubayy had become a cause for developing a group of hypocrites, similarly, the Jews of Madinah had vowed to remove Islam from its roots and seeds. To achieve this, while they carried out other conspiratorial actions, they infiltrated Muslims through some of their own people who had apparently converted to Islam. They were helped in this by the presence of some individuals within the Aws and Khazraj who had accepted Judaism. These people had no difficulty in gaining access to the Prophet (sws) and other Muslims because, according to the Covenant of Madinah, they had the same rights as the Muslims. When some of them donned the cloak of Islam, they could be accepted within the special meetings of the Prophet (sws). They found the opportunity to demonstrate their evil nature in such a situation. They acted upon the guidelines they obtained from Jewish scholars and leaders and not only created doubts about the future of Islam among people, but also raised objections about the Qur’an and the prophet hood of the Prophet (sws). This was, in reality, the enemy group of Muslims which had hidden itself under the guise of Islam.

These hypocrites came from within the Jews and even after converting to Islam, remained loyal to them and acted as their agents. They fulfilled their wishes and followed their guidance. However, as Muslims, they had to agree with the latter and participate in their worship. They attended prayers per force, more for the sake of showing off than really remembering God. When, in some collective matters, they supported Muslims they then ran to their masters and offered excuses and gave reassurances of their loyalty. They could not imagine cutting off their friendship with enemies of Islam for the sake of Islam. They would constantly assure them that they had not forsaken them and would soon return to them when the situation was more conducive. When Muslims questioned them about some issue, they would say that they wanted peace and harmony among various groups and wished to bridge the divide between the two parties. The Qur’an clarified that this was an effort to retain the ancient customs of the jahiliyyah period which their society had been involved in. Islam wanted to end the scourges of anarchy on earth, breaking of blood relationships and killing of brothers, but these people wanted to hold on to them.

When a problem occurred among these people, they would not approach the Prophet (sws) as other Muslims did so that he could resolve the issue justly, but would go to the Jewish scholars and jurists. They were convinced in their hearts that the Prophet (sws) would be unfair to them while the Jews would be just. This was despite the fact that Islam had declared denial of Satan as second only to faith.

Some people, upon instruction from Jewish leaders, began to play the game of changing religions. They would first convert to Islam for a few days and then change back to Judaism, saying that they had not found in it the truth which other prophets had brought. By doing so, they wanted to create uncertainty among weaker Muslims and turn away the Jews who were inclined towards Islam. The Qur’an warned hypocrites having this approach that this was akin to apostasy. If all the hypocrites turned away from Islam in this manner, it would be of no concern to God. He would select the people who loved Him and this love would not be based on any expedience. They would not be like the hypocrites who were very clever in deceiving Muslims but were acting as puppets in the hands of the idolaters.

The idolaters would gain satisfaction by adopting the ways in which the Jews attacked Muslims. For this, they would meet surreptitiously, weave conspiracies and decide on strategies to implement them. The Qur’an said about these meetings that they were held to oppress, rebel and disobey God and His Messenger. These people could hide from human beings but God could see all deeds of the traitors and disloyal people.  Today, some people spoke in their defence but tomorrow who would advocate for them in the court of the all Knowing God?


Instructions to handle the Hypocrites  

The psychological or social problems of all those who demonstrated weakness in their faith were different. It was essential to protect the larger community of Muslims from these. Therefore, instructions were given in the Qur’an accordingly and this continued until the end of the Madinan phase of the Prophet (sws).

Long sections were revealed in the Qur’an for the purpose of training the people whose weak faith became evident in various ways. Each and every misunderstanding of theirs was removed through these revelations. They were informed that they had not lost anything by accepting Islam: rather, they had made themselves worthy of the everlasting blessings of God. Whatever sacrifices they would make would raise their status. As far as trials were concerned, every Muslim must undergo these. It was against the wisdom of God that the group which was meant to guide the world towards truth and redemption should remain a mixture of good and evil forces. It had to differentiate between its faithful and false individuals so that those who were loyal became visible and also those who were not worthy of trust became prominent. The weak Muslims were advised that they were to stay steadfast on the path shown by God and His Messenger. They were to hold dear the verses of God and be wary of those who made every effort to harm them through their propaganda and conspiracies.

The hypocrites who were dissatisfied about the future of Islam and wished to keep intact their relations with the Jews were informed that it was the policy of God that He gave power to His prophets ultimately. Defeating the prophets was impossible.  Therefore, befriending the enemies of the Messenger of God was like guarding a ravaged house. If they became tools in their hands, they were to remember that it was a sign that Satan had overpowered them and that they had joined his party, having forgotten their God. Humiliation would be their destiny. True faith belonged to those who did not make people who fight God and His Messenger their confidantes and friends. Even if fathers, sons, brothers and relatives fought faith, they were not to give them a place in their hearts. It was only in this manner that they could claim to be a part of God’s party.

The hypocrites were informed that their current attitude was exactly according to polytheism. A polytheist was never loyal to One God. He was unfaithful to Him and included others in the rights that belong to Him only. The hypocrites verbally claimed faith in God and His Messenger, but their vested interests came into play when they did not meet the demands of faith and were loyal to others. This is why their fate in the Hereafter would be the same as that of the idolaters and they would be thrown into the lower levels of Hell. It was also clarified to them that they would try to walk side by side with the Faithful because of their false faith, but the Faithful would possess the Light because of which they would proceed towards their grand destination. The hypocrites, on the other hand, would be deprived of Light and a wall would be created between them and the loyal Muslims. They would cry out for light and would be told that their hearts were not with the Muslims; they had remained mired in the same evils from which God had tried to pull them out. They had not sided with the Truth but instead, gave precedence to their vested interests; they longed for harm and troubles for the faithful. They retained their relations with both Islam and its enemies but when they were given some rope, they became active for falsehood. They assumed that their two faced policy was successful. Satan kept deluding them that they would be able to protect their interests through this policy. The result was that the same hardness which had lain upon the hearts of the Jews also covered their hearts.

The hypocrites were told that if they desired to correct themselves, they were to refrain from opposing God and His Messenger. They were to avoid gatherings where God and His Messenger were insulted and the tenets of Islam were ridiculed. They were to adopt the ways of the Companions and move away from conspiring to create chaos and anarchy. In gatherings, instead of sin, oppression and harming other’s rights, they were to focus on positive works to do good, give in charity and reform the society. Instead of being puppets in the hands of Jews and idolaters, they were to fight in the way of God; take part in activities related to raising the word of God and make the people who were trying to give wrong advice and were raising objections unsuccessful. Their current role was absolutely Satanic.

Two opinions about the hypocrites were found within the Muslims. Some thought that relations should be maintained with them. They would slowly become better integrated. Others hated them because of their actions and believed that if a hard attitude was adopted towards them they would come to their senses. In the beginning, the Qur’an advised that too much harshness was not the solution. It would be better to adopt a moderate and soft approach. However, those who believed that maintaining relations with them would help to bring them to the right path were also not correct. If they remained connected with them, they were so manipulative that they would convert the innocent Muslims to their way of thinking.  The Qur’an also did not give permission for much debate about the hypocrites. It asked that if God disliked their character, why was a group within the Faithful so eager to give them importance and develop relations with them? The Qur’an further clarified that no Muslim should remain under the misconception that the doubtful faith of the hypocrites was in some measure better than the complete denial of the idolaters. It said that this was not so at all. Their character was more harmful for Islam as compared with clear denial by the idolaters and this is why God had decided on their destination to be the lower levels of Hell.

The Prophet (sws) was an extremely kind hearted man who forgave easily. In the matter of the hypocrites, despite their weaknesses and tricks having come to light, he did not change his noble attitude towards them. The Qur’an praised this attitude and said that it was God’s favour upon the people that such a kind and sympathetic prophet had been sent towards them. If his attitude had been hard and rigid, people would have been afraid of approaching him. The policy of forgiveness for the hypocrites was also good. He was told to take them into confidence and ask for their advice so that they would recognize their importance. In the light of these instructions and due to the demands of his nature, the Prophet (sws) would behave with these hypocrites very kindly. Even if he wanted to highlight a mistake anyone of them had made, he did it very gently so that the person would not feel humiliated. If he wanted to identify a mistake, he would not name anyone but would talk in general about people doing some wrong. Due to this softness, the hypocrites became more and more impertinent, thinking that their deceit was bearing fruit. Therefore, in later stages, instructions were given to change the policy. The Prophet (sws) was asked to ignore the activities of the hypocrites but continue to explain the difference been good and evil and give them guidance so that they might adopt the approach that would be truly beneficial to them. If they did not correct themselves, then they would be punished as they would not have any excuse to save themselves.


Demand to Muslims living outside Madinah to Migrate  

The message of Islam had reached several tribes living far from Madinah and people had accepted Islam in large numbers. The number of Muslims within Madinah was small, and danger for them was increasing. The Qur’an was giving clear instructions to Muslims to enhance their strength. The Prophet (sws) sent messages to the tribes inviting the faithful to migrate to Madinah and become a cause for this strength. The great sacrifice made thus would benefit them, both in the beginning and at the end.

Most people obeyed the Prophet (sws) and the Faithful began to migrate, leaving behind their families, relatives and property. But the same order became the cause of much worry for some people. The love of family, relations or property did not allow them to migrate without a reasonable excuse. They were not concerned with the dangers that Islam was facing. They wanted to remain outside of the collective problems of their religion and thus remain protected from trials. The Qur’an counted such people among the hypocrites and advised the really faithful to consider them to be friends of their enemies until they had migrated and joined them. If they came to Madinah, this would be proof of their loyalty and the differentiating tool between who was true and who was not.

There were some Muslims who were caught in their own tribes. They wished to migrate but their tribes prevented them from doing so. Those Muslims were warned that if they died in that state, the excuse that they had been prevented from migrating would not be enough for them. The Qur’an said that if those people asked for some assistance, it was to be provided. However, if such people were present within the tribes with whom covenants had been signed, they were not worthy of such help. Matters could be sorted out only within the confines of the treaties with them. 


(Translated by Nikhat Sattar)







1. Ya‘qubi, Tarikh, 49. Details of killing of men of Banu Qaynuqa‘ and the killing of Ka‘b ibn Ashraf are not found within the books of biographers. This affords an opportunity to people to criticize the Prophet (sws). It is necessary to understand both these incidents in the light of verses 56-58 of Surah al-Anfal. These verses give instructions to kill people who were inciting the Quraysh and providing them with all kinds of support from their hide-outs. If the Qur’an ordered Muslims to handle the hidden enemies while discussing the Battle of Badr, it was not without reason and if the Prophet (sws) carried out these two activities immediately after the battle, he must have seen the hand of those people behind the attack of the Quraysh. 


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