Islamic Perspectives

The Prophet of non-violence - ii

Virtues: However, the Prophet never retaliated against his and his companions and followers persecution. He and his followers were urged to bear all this with patience. In fact, one of the Qur’anic surahs of Meccan period dwells on virtues of patience and makes it inseparable part of truth. Truth and patience go together, it says (chapter 103 Al-Asr) in both Meccan and Medinese chapters the virtues emphasised are: truth, justice, humility, patience, compassion, wisdom and piety. Also emphasized is suppression of feeling of revenge and anger. Revenge and retaliation were main ingredients of tribal behaviour and had already led to years of bloodshed among Arabs

All of these virtues lead to non-violent conduct, which is most essential part of it. The Prophet showed greatest forbearance in the Arab history who desisted from retaliating at any stage. When faced with gross brutalities he would often retire to himself, reflect deeply and come out with peaceful solution. When persecution became unbearable in Mecca both for him and his companions and when tribal chiefs plotted to assassinate him in his sleep, he decided to migrate to Madina in the dark of night.

He bore all tribulations quietly, some suggest because the Prophet and his followers were a minority and dared not to fight back in Mecca. This is gross distortion of Prophet’s very character. He was meticulous follower of peace and non-violence. Had it been not so, he could have easily not only conquered Mecca earlier than he did, but could have taken revenge on his persecutors, killing them and shedding blood. He did not order killing of any of his foes or persecutors though tribal traditions sanctioned it.

When he migrated to Madina he was welcomed very enthusiastically, as he went there primarily as peace-maker. The inter-tribal feud had robbed Madina of peace for last forty years. He succeeded in ending this feud and establishing peace between the two tribes on principles of justice and fairness to both. Thus he entered Madina as an ambassador of peace and hence got enthusiastic welcome.

In Madina, situation was entirely different partly under the Prophet’s control and partly beyond him. He emerged in Madina as great moral, spiritual and ethical teacher who not only brought about unity among the people of Madina but also guided them in every walk of life. Another great virtue of the Prophet was his humility. He described himself as abduhu wa rasuluhu i.e. as servant of Allah and His messenger. He never tried to place himself above others. When he was constructing his house and mosque he himself took part, like others in the construction work. He used to say I am not above you except as a messenger of Allah. A great teacher and so humble! Some Arabs tried to bow down before him. He strictly prohibited them from doing so and said you should bow before none except Allah.

But there were certain things beyond the Prophet’s control. The Prophet’s (PBUH) migration to Madina gave rise to another kind of hostility among the Jews who handled trade and often functioned as arbitrators to whom the Arab tribes would refer their disputes to. The Prophet’s migration changed this situation. The Jews lost their pre-eminent position and, over and above this, their monopoly of trade was broken which hurt them deeply. Many of the Prophet’s companions like Abu Bakr, Uthman and others were expert traders and since they also came along with the Prophet, began trading and thus Jews’ monopoly was over.

There in Mecca, the tribal chiefs were very angry that the Prophet escaped and is now preaching in Madina. They had vowed either to silence him or eliminate him. They had failed in both these projects. So they decided to pursue their animosity right in Madina. The Prophet was very alert to the situation. Soon the Meccan chiefs secretly established contacts with the Madinese Jews and prepared to attack Madina. The Prophet in apprehension of possible attack had sent some of his followers to keep an eye near a place called Badr which was possible site of attack.

Attack on Madina: Meanwhile the Prophet had entered into a covenant with all tribes including the Jewish tribes known as Mithaq-e-Madina and guaranteed full freedom of faith, traditions, culture and security of life and property. The Jews too had full freedom to follow their religion and all traditions without any interference from any. The only condition was that if Madina was attacked all will defend it together. It was a wonderful document as modern as Union or national and international declarations of today.

By this covenant Jews were obliged to join Muslims if Madina is attacked by the Meccans. And Meccans did attack Madina and Jews had advance information of it as they were in secret negotiations with the Meccans. The Jews did not defend Madina and a hostile situation arose between Jews and Muslims. The battle of Badr took place in which 313 Muslims defeated about 1000 Meccans which was great humiliation for them.

The Prophet (PBUH) cannot be in any way responsible for this battle. He left Mecca so as to avoid any violent conflict and even in Madina he and his companions were not left in peace by the vested interests.

Of course there are some vague, even dark areas about the fight between Jews and Muslims. The fact of Jewish betrayal and conspiracy with Meccans is beyond doubt. However certain narratives in Ibn Ishaq, Tabari, primary sources for the Prophet’s life, have recorded certain events which need to be critically looked at. They have uncritically accepted certain Jewish historical narratives accusing the Prophet of killing more than 700 Jews after the battle of Trench (Khandaq) in which the Meccan Jews openly collaborated with the Meccan enemies of the Prophet (PBUH).

We need not go into details of this here but suffice it to say that this whole episode does not accord with the character of the Prophet. One psychological reason for accepting this uncritical narrative by early Muslim historians is that they wanted to establish their superiority over their enemies who betrayed them. Moreover, it does not accord well with the Qur’anic description of the event. Islamic historians and scholars need to look into it very seriously and make critical appraisal of it. Unfortunately all scholars, Islamic as well as non-Islamic, keep on quoting from Ibn Ishaq, Tabari etc without seriously subjecting it to critical analyses in the light of modern historical researches.

The Prophet of Islam, it must be noted, never resorted to wars of aggression. There is specific prohibition in the Qur’an for war of aggressions. The Qur’an specifically says, "And fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you but be not aggressive. Surely Allah loves not aggressors." (2:190) The Prophet of Islam never violated this Qur’anic doctrine and this 2nd chapter was revealed in Madina, not in Mecca. This is clear that war of aggression is not acceptable to Allah in any case.

Exponent of Peace: I would like to give two major examples of non-violent way of resolving highly complex issues which establish the Prophet as a major exponent of peace in a region like Arabia which had witnessed blood baths on minor issues. And their revenge and anger never came to an end. One example is that the Prophet, though head of a proto-state, never raised any army throughout his life. All the fights he was forced to fight were done by voluntary participation and hence came to concept of martyrdom - dying for a higher cause. Had Prophet any aggressive intentions and sought political power, he could have raised an army. Also funds for weapons etc. were collected through donations from his followers, never by any public tax.

Zakat money as clearly described in Qur’an was meant for distribution to the poor and weaker sections of society and was never spent on war preparations. Prophet never accepted zakat for himself or his family. It was prohibited to him. Only a person of non-violent intentions will desist from raising an army while being surrounded by powerful and highly resourceful enemy.

Second proof of Prophet’s peaceful intentions is what is called in Islamic history Sulh-e-Hudaibiyah (Peace of Hudaibiyah). Before he performed his last Hajj after conquering Mecca peacefully he intended to perform Hajj a year before. He was apprehensive of armed resistance by the Meccans. So he departed for Mecca with defensive preparations. He was stopped, as expected at Hudiabiyah on the way and asked not to proceed. Though the Prophet was fully prepared to take Meccans on, he instead started negotiations with the representative of Meccans. He accepted all their terms in the interest of peace, including deleting Messenger of Allah, from his name. This angered some of his followers but he persisted and avoided unnecessary bloodshed. This peace agreement favoured Muslims ultimately and next year the Prophet could enter Mecca very peacefully without shedding a drop of blood. There cannot be greater proof that peace and non-violence was not only teaching of the Qur’an but embedded in the very character of the Prophet (PBUH).

To conclude, I would like to make few observations:
1) Violence in Prophet’s life was highly contextual and no one like the Prophet had any control over it. Whatever violence took place was the result of actions by vested interests from Mecca and Madina not only not to allow peaceful preaching of Islam but also inflicting violence on the Prophet and his followers; 2) There is no difference in Meccan and Madinese period as far as Prophet’s approach is concerned. The Prophet followed consistently a policy of peace and non-violence in both the phases. Whatever contradiction we find in Meccan and Madinese period is of the situation, not doctrinal, much less intentional; 3) The Qur’an had to permit defensive violence without which Muslims could not have survived at all. Thus absolute non-violence can only be doctrinal and cannot work in a highly complex world full of different interests and people who want to dominate. Absolute non-violence can be applied in a different world which is perfectly just and full of people willing to coexist without contradictions and evil intentions. Such a world has remained utopia so far; 4) Islam is not a political ideology but a civilizational force with strong spiritual and moral doctrines. Its main aim is to exalt the human beings to highest levels of spiritual and moral conduct. Allah has created human beings in best of mould (fi ahsan-e-taqwim) but they descend into lowest of low to fulfill their ambitions and desires to have more and to dominate others; 5) The Muslims must understand that Islam will emerge in its best only when they pursue these higher values, not power. Pursuit of power caused enough bloodshed and is still causing in the Muslim world. Islam has great civilizational potential and has given great civilization to the world and 6) And they can call the world to the way of Allah only through wisdom and good, upright conduct.    


This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 August 2010 on page no. 28

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