Violence: Not a Prophetic Strategy

Without precluding the possibility of conflict and violence in human situations Islam does not make it a necessary condition or an ideal for human conduct. In pursuit of truth God values life of the faithful and enjoins them to tread with caution. The apt illustration of this can be found in the conduct of His messengers in relation to their divinely ordained mission of calling people to the righteous path. Whatever account of their pursuance of the noble prophetic mission we get in Qur’an is that they, with extremely high degree of perseverance and determination, exhibited immense patience against all types of persecution and oppression. All of them treaded the divinely ordained path with caution and resisted any temptation of reacting to provocations with any angry or violent response lest their powerful adversaries draw a justification to inflict greater harm to them and their followers in their situation of physical and numerical weakness. This is indicated in the conduct of all the prophets. It was in rare cases, when some of these succeeded in constituting a politically community that they would be allowed to fight as and when situation demanded.

 In his thirteen years of prophetic life in Makkah Prophet Muhammad (SAW), despite all the persecution that he and his followers had to bear with, always guarded against his companions getting provoked. During these years of extreme tribulation Quran always stressed on patience. The Prophet also stressed on the same. In all the circumstances his first priority was security of the life and honour of his companions. So much so that in situations of extreme difficulty he persuaded his companions to leave their homes and migrate to places that could be safer for them. In the 7th BH (Before Higrah) he sent a small group of 12 companions to the Christian Kingdom in Abyssinia (Ethiopia). After learning about the safe atmosphere for Muslims in that country next year (6th H.1) he sent a larger vulnerable group of 100 followers for the secure stay there. The Prophet remained grateful to its Christian King, Negus for this kind gesture of his.

The lesson in all this is that in their divinely guided wisdom Prophets valued the life of their followers. They understood that how provocation to violence would jeopardise their mission in its infancy.  Therefore, even God in his absolute wisdom did not permit the faithful to get into violent campaign or resistance even in self defence. As indicated above,   Quran always stressed the virtues of patience and perseverance in the face extreme provocations and persecution. During the thirteen years of prophetic mission in Mecca, although they suffered worst kind of oppression and persecution, Muslims remained calm and composed in their suffering. In response to abuses they were told to “have patience with what they say, and leave them with noble (dignity).” (73: 10). They were not permitted to take recourse to violence even in self defence. As we understand in terms of  human psychology it is because the discourse of violence creates more problems, generated more hatred, hardens attitudes, blocks communication, hinders understanding, precludes the possibility of continuing dialogue and as our present day experience indicates, it afflicts those involved, socially, economically, culturally, physically and psychologically.  Therefore, for Muslims at a time when they were in their weakest in an atmosphere vitiated by violence spreading the message of God would have become even harder. Instead the faithful are advised that while preaching they should be most courteous and the most gracious.  “Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious…” (16:125).  Even where Muslims were (in position) to punish the culprit they were told that “let your punishment be proportionate to the wrong that has been done to you: But if ye show patience, that is indeed the best (course) for those who are patient.” (16:125) 

This extraordinary character, commitment and moral discipline reflected in conduct of the Prophet and his followers against all odds did not go unnoticed within the length and the breadth of the Arabia. Thus, Muslims began to develop pockets of empathy, influence and a constituency of Muslim converts across in far off places like Yathrib (about 500 km away from the Mecca). This made a new opening of contacts between the suffering Muslims in Mecca and the delegations visiting Mecca during the Hajj. The Prophet had success in dealing with the delegations coming from the Yathrib. It gradually began to change atmosphere in the city for Islam & Muslims. The atmosphere became so favourable within only a couple of years in Yathrib that the Prophet was formally invited to migrate and settle in the city.

Thus, the Prophet immigrated to Medina in the 13th (H. 1) year of his prophet hood under a plan with a certain understanding with a representative delegation of tribal leadership from the city. One reason for some feuding tribes to invite Prophet to their city was to seek his help to resolve their mutual feuds and create a peaceful, safe and secure atmosphere in the city. Therefore, at Yathrib, (which became Madinatul Nabi after Prophet’s arrival and is known as Madina) Prophet of Islam began his mission by making peace in the city among the warring tribes and all communities living there and founded a polity patterned on a sort of “social federation”.  He (SAW) convened a general meeting of the representatives from different communities and tribes, both Muslim and non-Muslim.  The participants in the meeting unanimously agreed to a framework of mutual relationship and the provisions according to which the newly formed city-state was to be run. The agreed provisions were reduced to writing and they constitute (according to one of the prominent 20th century Muslim Scholars Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah, 1908-2002) “the earliest written- Constitution of a state promulgated by its head in the world”. The text has come down in Sahih Bukhari. The main points of the agreement related to:

1.            the banning of internecine feuds within and dissuade aggression from without,

2.            constituting a city-state in the region of Madina, on a confederal basis, with very large autonomy to the units with the Prophet as its sole administrator/arbiter;

3.            private justice was to be banished. Appeal could be made to the head of the State, who had also the prerogative to decide the issues related to war and peace.

It also included the prerogatives and obligations of the ruler and the ruled, as well as other immediate requirements (including a sort of social insurance for the needy). The right of seeking justice was transferred from the individuals to the community (i.e., the central authority). The final court of appeal was to be the Holy Prophet himself. This led to the formation of a political community in Madina under the leadership of the Prophet. This allowed a secure atmosphere for Muslims to live in relative peace and practice and propagate their religion internally and in the neighbouring areas helping them to expand their mission and influence. Even thereafter, God (in his absolute wisdom) did not grant permission of Qital (fight/war) for another year till Muslims settled down properly in Medina and had established a polity relatively within the safe zones of the town.

 But even after the emigration of the Prophet to Madina, the Makkans did not end their enmity to Muslims. Under the leadership of the holy Prophet, the political community in Medina began to stabilise, and migrant destitute Muslims dislocated in Mecca were rehabilitated by establishing a unique mechanism of Muakhah (brotherhood of sharing). The Meccans knew that they had not only persecuted Muslims, forced them to seek refuge away from the comfort of their home, rendering them homeless destitute, occupied their properties, created difficulties in their migration in peace, and continued their hostilities. So it was not only because of the continued hostility toward Islam, they were also apprehensive about Muslims having settled and stabilised at a place that was strategically vital for their trade to outside world (Sham in particular). Soon after Hegrah, the Makkan Quraish began to conspire against the nascent political community and did not want Muslims to consolidate in Madina. It was in this context, when the community in Madina had relatively stablised that Muslims, one year after Higrah (H.2) i.e. in the 14th year of the prophethood, were allowed to fight to defend themselves through the following verse of Quran, “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors.”