One of the most misunderstood concepts in Islam is the concept of JIHAD. Most non-Muslims think that it’s a savage concept built upon violence and terrorism. In this post I’m going to shed some light on the roots of the concept of fighting in Islam, or what is generally know as “Jihad.” Between the 600 pages of the Qur’an, there are 7 locations (found in 5 chapters) in which Muslims were ordered to fight. Within these locations, the rules governing “Combative Jihad” and defining it, are well stated. In order to grasp correct understanding of their intended meanings, one must learn the circumstances, and reasons under which these verses were revealed. Hence, the following historical background is necessary for understanding the Qur’anic injunctions related to “Combative Jihad.” Please read it carefully and try to comprehend the circumstances that surrounded the sequence of events.
When Prophet Muhammad started preaching Islam, those who embraced it were persecuted by the pagans of Makkah. A torture campaign was led by the Makkan leaders against those who were weak, and didn’t have anyone to protect. Since that Islam preached equality and justice ever since its first day, slaves were the first to embrace it, and were also the first ones to suffer terribly. Bodies were lashed, tied on the burning sands and left for days, heads and faces were branded with flaming swords, and some were mutilated, or killed in the process.
History books have recorded several cases. One unforgettable story is that of the brave family of companion “Ammar Ibn Yaser.” Ammar, alongside his parents, were continuously tortured for several days. They were severely beaten, tied up on the burning sands, tossed over embers, lashed, etc. Ammar’s mother, Lady Sumaiyah, was fatally bayoneted in her groin by Abu-Jahl (one of the mightiest Makkan pagans). Ammar’s father also died during the torture process. It was narrated that the pagans continued torturing Ammar after he had witnessed his parents’ murder, threatening to increase the means of torture unless he cursed Prophet Muhammad, and recanted Islam. In a moment of weakness and inability to endure more pain, Ammar yielded and recanted Islam. Later on, Ammar came to the prophet, and told him of what had happened, the prophet asked him about his heart, whether it was with or against the words he had uttered? Ammar told the prophet that his heart was totally against them, and that his faith never wavered. The prophet consoled him and told him that Allah doesn’t hold those who are forced accountable for their misdeeds.
The list of men and women who were persecuted is too long. Even some companions from among the notable figures of Makkah were also tortured and persecuted when they embraced Islam. ‘Othman Ibn Affan and Mus’ab Ibn ‘Umayr, are two famous names of the most honored Makkans who endured horrible tortures for embracing Islam. The prophet himself was attacked several times beside the sacred mosque. Abu-Bakr rescued him several times, consequently, he was once severely beaten by the pagans till he fell in a coma for almost a whole day. His relatives thought that he died. His wife reported that the first sentence he uttered when he woke up was: “How is the prophet?” and he insisted that they carry him to the prophet’s house to see him with his own eyes.
When the persecution campaign worsened and became unbearable, the prophet P.B.U.H. ordered those who were weak among the companions to immigrate to Abyssinia. He told them that he had heard of a king there who never wronged any of his subordinates. A group of 12 men and 4 women took shelter in the night and started their escape towards the red sea shore, seeking to catch any ship going to Abyssinia. Among the immigrants, were the prophet’s elder daughter Lady Ruqayah, and her husband, companion ‘Othman Ibn Affan.
Later on, some false news reached Abyssinia saying that the Makkans have all embraced Islam. Based on this information, most immigrants returned to Makkah only to find out that the news was false. Some of them returned to Abyssinia without entering Makkah, while others entered the holy city. After this, the persecution campaign became severer. Once again, the weak Muslims decided to escape to Abyssinia. This time 83 men and 18 women set out towards Abyssinia escaping with their lives. The pagans decided to ride out after them and kill them, but Allah helped the Muslims to reach Abyssinia safely. The pagans then decided to pursue the renegades and bring them back from Abyssinia, so they dispatched a special delegation to Negus, king of Abyssinia for this purpose. Without indulging into the details of their meeting with Negus, the result of their meeting was that King Negus refused to extradite the Muslims to the pagans. He told the Muslims: “What your Prophet preaches and what Jesus preached before him seem to radiate from the same source.”
The escape of Muslims from between the hands of the pagans enraged them, especially that the Muslims remaining in Makkah were protected through their relatives and bloodlines. This made them think of a devilish idea, they decided to starve Muslims to death. They all signed an agreement to apply a complete boycott on Muslims, especially Prophet Muhammad’s clan “Banu-Hashim.” No business interactions, social relations or verbal contact was to be conducted with them or their supporters. They stipulated that the prophet must be delivered to their hands to be killed, so that this boycott could be ended. The boycott continued for 3 years. During this period all of the food that the Muslims ate was either smuggled to them by some compassionate Makkans, or they were able to buy it during the sacred months for double its price, or even more.
The prophet continued preaching Islam during the boycott. He seized every opportunity to preach to the Arabs coming from faraway places, and those who pass by Makkah for trade. When the conditions of Muslims worsened, some of their pagan relatives were enraged by what was happening, and decided to call for putting an end for this outrageous boycott. Without indulging into the details of their plan, they succeeded in putting an end for the boycott, and Muslims were saved again. Those who were old when the boycott started were severely weakened by the long starvation periods they had to endure, some of them died shortly after the boycott ended. Among them were the prophet’s beloved and only wife at that time, Lady Khadijah, and his protector and uncle, Abu-Taleb.
After this, Prophet Muhammad started going out to preach Islam to the other Arab tribes. He received a delegation from Madinah who had heard of his teachings and came seeking to meet him so as to declare their faith in what he preached. The prophet P.B.U.H. met them and they testified between his hands that there is no god but Allah and that he was His messenger. The prophet dispatched his companion Mus’ab Ibn ‘Umayr to Madinah in order to preach Islam there, and teach the new Muslims more about Islam. Later on, a much bigger delegation from Madinah came to declare their faith in Islam. Within a period of 3 years, the overwhelming majority of the native Madinites were already faithful Muslims. It was only then that the prophet P.B.U.H. ordered all Muslims to emigrate from Makkah to Madinah.
Realizing that such a collective immigration represented a huge threat to their society, some pagans imprisoned their Muslim relatives to prevent them from escaping to Madinah. Many Muslims immigrated secretly, leaving behind all of their wealth and possessions. The prophet P.B.U.H. was the last Muslim to immigrate with his friend Abu-Bakr. He only left-behind his young cousin ‘Ali Ibn Abi-Taleb so that he would return the trusts that some pagans kept with Prophet Muhammad. This incident took place near the end of the 13th year of prophethood.
As soon as the Muslims reached Madinah, the prophet led the process of building a civil state, in which all people are equal, abiding by one law and governed by a unanimously accepted constitution. He first established brotherhood between the Muslims from the different tribes. Then, he gathered people from all faiths, Muslims, Jews, and the few remnants of native pagans, on one constitution, and under one banner, which was that of Madinah. They agreed that they were all one nation, each party was free to profess its religion, if attacked by some foreign enemy, they should all contribute in defending Madinah, all parties were to consult each other, mutual relations were to be founded on righteousness, any wronged party should be given aid by the other parties, Madinah was declared a sacred city for all those who were concerned with this constitution, if any dispute arose between the parties abiding by this constitution, then Prophet Muhammad would be the one to judge between them, finally all of those concerned with this constitution must boycott the Makkans commercially, they should also abstain from extending any support to them.
When the Makkan pagans learned about the Muslims’ progress, they started planning to abolish Islam once and for all. In order to shake Madinah’s unity, they sent Muslims a note threatening to invade their new homeland. The Prophet received reliable information affirming that schemes were plotted by the enemies. Muslim scouts were dispatched to every road leading to Madinah, so as to alert the people in case of sudden attacks. It was only then that Muslims were permitted to fight back, and the very first verses of the Qur’an speaking about fighting were revealed. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“Allah will surely defend the believers. Allah does not love the perfidious and the ungrateful. Permission to fight is granted to those who are attacked, because they have been wronged — indeed Allah has the power to help them — they are those who have been driven out of their homes unjustly, only because they said, ‘Our Lord is Allah.’ If Allah did not repel the aggression of some people by means of others, cloisters, churches, synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is continuously invoked, would surely be destroyed. Allah will surely help them who support His cause — Allah is indeed powerful and mighty.” [The Qur’an (22:38-41)]
Ponder over this for a moment: Muslims lived in Makkah 13 years enduring all sorts of persecution. They were subjected to torture, mutilation, killing, expulsion, beating, bullying, economic boycott, social boycott, starving to death, and even getting chased after into faraway lands – all of this without raising one finger in the faces of their persecutors, or receiving any order or permission to fight back. Finally, they were able to escape to a new place that embraced their faith, a place where they can live openly as Muslims, and practice their religion freely without any harassment; but once again, they were threatened by their persecutors, and war was forced upon them. Now I have a question for you: “Could this be a savage religion that incites violence?!”
This post is one in many to come. Explaining the laws and regulations of combative jihad needs at least 10 more posts, but this one is the most important of them all.
Written By: Ehab Shawky