In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien puts these words into the mouth of the brave though modest Faramir (younger brother to the brave but impulsive Boromir): 'War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I only love that which they defend …'

In classical Islam, warfare is regulated by an all-important shari'ah dictum that states about jihad: wujubuhu wujubu'l-wasa'il la al-maqasid – 'Its necessity is the necessity of means, not of ends.'1 Indeed, Islam's overall take on war is best seen in the following words of the Prophetṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), peace be upon him: 'Do not wish to meet your enemy, but ask God for safety. When you do meet them, be firm and know that Paradise lies beneath the shades of swords.'2 In other words, pursue the path of peace, with the presence of justice; if such a path be denied by belligerence or hostile intent, then be prepared to act differently.

War, invariably, can and does throw up immense carnage and destruction, and brings untold human loss and suffering. Yet it is also where some of the profoundest acts of courage, bravery and heroism are found, as well as invaluable lessons for life. In what follows, we shall look at two battles in the life of the Prophetṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), peace be upon him, and their core lessons that need internalising:

The first lesson is from the Battle of Uhud. It began at dawn on Friday, March 25th, 2H/624AD, a year on from the Battle of Badr. The Muslims numbered seven hundred against an enemy three-thousand strong. The prestige of the Makkan idolaters was at stake for the crushing defeat they suffered at Badr – including seventy deaths and just as many taken captive. The Prophetṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), peace be upon him, positioned his men so that Mount Uhud was behind them. The only way the Makkan cavalry could attack them now was from in front, so the Prophetṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) posted fifty archers on a rise with strict orders to stay put, no matter what happened. This would be an excellent strategy, provided the archers obeyed their orders. But by nightfall, and due to the archers abandoning their post (thus leaving the rear of the army unguarded), the fortunes of war changed and disaster befell the Muslims: the Prophetṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) would be wounded and seventy Muslims would be killed. But it didn't have to be that way.

The Companion, Bara' b. 'Azib, recounts: We encountered the pagans on that day [of Uhud]. The Prophetṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), peace be upon him, positioned a group of archers and appointed 'Abd Allah [b. Jubayr] as their leader, saying: 'Do not leave this position. If you should see us defeat them, do not leave this position; if you should see them defeating us, do not come to our aid.' When we met the enemy they fled on their heels, to the extent that we saw their women fleeing to the mountains, lifting their dresses and revealing their anklets. Some people started saying: 'The booty, the booty!' But 'Abd Allah said: 'The Prophet took an oath from me to not leave this post.' His companions, however, disobeyed. So when they disobeyed, Allah confused them, so they did not know where to go, and because of which they suffered seventy deaths.3

Ibn al-Qayyim comments: 'This calamity that struck them was as a result of their own actions. Allah said: When a disaster befell you after you had yourself inflicted [losses] twice as heavy, you exclaimed: 'How did this happen?' Say: 'It is from yourselves. Allah is able to do all things.' [3:165] And He mentioned this very same matter in that which is more general than this, in one of the Makkan chapters: Whatever misfortune befalls you, is for what your own hands have earned, and He pardons much. [42:30] And He said: Whatever good befalls you is from Allah, and whatever calamity befalls you is from yourself. [4:79] So the good and bad mentioned here refer to blessings and misfortunes: Blessings are what Allah favours you with, while misfortunes occur because of your own selves and your misdeeds. The first is from His grace (fadl); the second, His justice ('adl).'4

So the single most important lesson to learn from Uhud is that whenever we Muslims suffer defeat – be it on the battlefield of swords, ideas, or hearts and minds – we are to blame ourselves, take account of our souls and repent for our sins. There being no other way to correct our course. For despite the enemy attacking the Muslims from their unprotected rear and being the reason why one believer after another was cut down and killed; and despite the enemy being the reason for Muslim flight turning to full-scale panic as the Prophetṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), peace be upon him, was knocked down by a crushing blow to the head – the Qur'an still laid the blame for these calamities squarely at the feet of the Muslims:

When a disaster befell you after you had yourself inflicted losses twice as heavy, you exclaimed: 'How did this happen?' Say: 'It is from yourselves.' [3:165]

Nor was the defeat the result of the entire army's disobedience, or even the majority; but because of less than fifty men among a total of seven-hundred! If such can be the consequences of a sin of a tiny minority, what then about the plethora of sins or acts of disobedience committed by a heedless, unrepentant, transgressing majority!

And tragically, as frequent as these verses appear in the Qur'an, we still choose not to internalise them or allow them to enter into our hearts. Instead, we allow our souls to be invaded by a false victim mentality and choose to play the blame game. We accuse all and sundry for our political woes and misfortunes – the West, the rulers, bankers, Zionists, along with a whole host of conspiracy theories which plague our minds and cripple our thinking – but we never accuse ourselves. We are keen to hold to account other people – in a way that contains no pity, mercy or leeway – but are not prepared to take ourselves to any serious account. And yet: Allah never changes the condition of a people unless they change what is within themselves. [13:11]

Thus while we are clear about the evils of Assad and his crimes of carnage in Syria; and the shameless hypocrisy and tyranny of al-Sisi et al. in Egypt, we tend to steer shy of the all-important question of why such calamities occurred in the first place. The Quranic reply to this is very likely to be: Say: 'It is from yourselves.' [3:165] Isn't it? And while this does not excuse us from raising our hands in prayer, and giving as much humanitarian aid as possible, we still need to sincerely confront the deeper question.

The second lesson we will consider is the Battle of Hunayn. It is Wednesday morning, February 2nd, 8H/630AD. The Muslim army, now twelve thousand strong, marched towards the valley of Hunayn to encounter the Hawazin tribe and their allies, whose number was perhaps a third of that of the Muslims. It is worth noting that two years earlier, when the Prophetṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) came to Mecca for the lesser pilgrimage, or 'umrah, only 1,400 people were with him. This was the time when the Prophetṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), peace be upon him, concluded the peace treaty with the Makkans at Hudaybiyah. A few months later, the same number fought alongside him at the Battle of Khaybar. And in previous battles, their numerical strength had been far smaller.

But this time, many of the newcomers to Islam felt a sense of euphoria and over confidence as they observed the size of their army. They felt sure that, having previously won battle after battle with much smaller numbers, such large numbers would make victory a sure certainty. But as soon as the Muslims reached the valley, they were met with a fierce, unexpected torrent of arrows from all directions. Caught off guard, confused and overwhelmed, the Muslims were forced into a chaotic and panicked retreat. And though the Muslims would eventually prevail as victors in this battle (for the Prophetṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), as ever, remained calm in his wisdom, certainty and faith: he eventually rallied a hundred men and inflicted a most crushing defeat on the enemy), it wasn't without many of them being slain in the ambush first. The Qur'an says:

Allah had already helped you on many fields, and on the day of Hunayn, when you delighted in your numerical strength, it availed you nothing. And the earth, vast as it was, narrowed on you, and you turned back in retreat. [9:25]

9:25

Ibn al-Qayyim again: 'Thus from Allah's wisdom, transcendent is He, is that He first made them taste the bitterness of defeat and of being overcome – despite their large numbers, strength and preparation – so that heads that were raised in the Conquest of Mecca, should be lowered. For they did not enter His city and sanctuary as Allah's Messenger, peace be upon him, had done: head bowed upon his horse; to the extent that his head almost touched the saddle out of humility to his Lord, humbleness to His glory, and submission to His might. For Allah had made lawful to him His sacred city [Mecca] and sanctuary, and had not made it lawful to anyone before him nor to anyone after him. [All this occurred] so that He could make it clear to those who said, “We will not be defeated today due to our numbers,” that help and victory come from Him alone; that whomsoever He helps, none can overcome; and that whomsoever He forsakes, none can grant victory to. [And that] it was He who took it upon Himself to give victory to His Messenger and to His religion – not because of their numbers that they revelled in. Such numbers, in fact, were of no avail to them, since they turned and fled. But when their hearts were humbled, Allah sent down the removal of their distress and a foretaste of victory by sending down His tranquility upon His Prophetṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and upon the believers, and by sending an army unseen. Hence from His wisdom is that He sends down His victory and gifts to them when their hearts become humbled and broken: And We desired to show favour to those who were oppressed in the earth, and to make them leaders, and make them inheritors. And to grant them power in the earth, and to show Pharaoh, Haman and their hosts that which they feared. [28:5-6]'5

The core lesson of Hunayn is, undoubtedly, to never overlook the real, most essential reason for victory: Allah. For victory comes from Him, not from numerical strength. (We do, however, have a duty to tie our camel, as one hadith says, and to then trust in Him.) The Muslims were initially given to taste the bitterness of defeat in order that they might remember precisely this. In fact, large numbers – in the absence of hearts feeling humbled before the majesty and might of Allah – are of little use. Having been taught a lesson in humility; having their pretensions of numerical strength shattered; and having presented their broken hearts to Allah, Allah then granted the believers victory at Hunayn at the hands of a small band of courageous, steadfast Muslims who remained dedicated to the Prophetṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), peace be upon him.

Allah is with the broken-hearted and will call overconfident, self-assured Muslims to account if they exult in their numbers or their material achievements – as He will call proud establishments and arrogant religiousness to account.

W'Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

 

1. Ibn Hajr al-Haytami citing al-Zarkashi, Tuhfat al-Muhtaj bi Sharh al-Minhaj (Beirut: Dar Sadir, 1972), 9:211.

2. Bukhari, no.2991. For comparisons between Jihad theory and Western Just War theory, consult: Kelsay & Johnson (eds.), Just War and Jihad: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on War and Peace in Western and Islamic Traditions (New York, Westport & London: Greenwood Press, 1991).

3. Bukhari, no.4043.

4. Zad al-Ma'ad fi Hady Khayr al-'Ibad (Beirut: Mu'assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 3:214.

5. ibid., 3:418-9.

This was originally posted on The Humble “I” 

15 Responses

  1. Ali

    Subhanallah!

    this article gives us some great insights as to the state of our Ummah. I was thinking about this yesterday.

    The main lesson here is that “What you see in others is a reflection of yourself. The injustice we see around us is a reflection of our own inner condition. It is a reflection of what is inside our hearts.

    Whether you have the longest beard or wear the hijab or pray every salah on time, it doesn’t matter if your heart isnt good. it doesnt matter if you dont treat people with fairness and justice and kindness

    “If you have a choice between being right or being kind, then be kind.”

    The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “Each one of you serves as a mirror to his brother. Hence, if you see any fault in your brother, eliminate it.” [Tirmidhi]

    I am from the middle east. And i have worked in many jobs with middle eastern people. And in my experience I have experienced lack of justice or fairness when it comes to treatment of employees in these middle eastern businesses. I am not saying all, just some. I am not trying to generalize here.

    We middle easterners seem to have this mentality of wanting to be forceful and wanting to exert our power over those around us. I have seen this in the companies I have worked. And it reminded me yesterday that the same thing takes place on a national level, where our rulers are unjust and unfair over its citizens.

    I have read a hadeeth (May Allah forgive me If I am making a mistake) that says that the ruler is a reflection of its people. But I cant find the hadeeth

    Can someone post it and tell us whether its sahih or not

    jazakallah khair again for this wonderful article

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  2. Hyde

    Indeed the greatest wound is the self-inflicting wound.
    Weeping and wowing like women, the fantastical ummah has has turned to hypocrisy and melodramatics.

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    • Edward Kefas

      People of Faith with common morality (sane halaka, shariah, decent orthodox church teachings , where they intersect ) should band together in unity against Christophobia. We should understand the pathological hatred of Jesus saws to include Islamaphobia as a subset:

      From an extremist flyer in Palestine:

      “The Pope is responsible for the continued deception of millions of people who believe in false G-d’s. This very deception led the Elders of Israel to demand that Yeshu [Jesus] be killed 2000 years ago.”

      http://mondoweiss.net/2014/05/incendiary-jerusalem-franciss.html/comment-page-1#comment-668324

      I do not know why the Muslim leaders unite with the pagan Left as some how that will protect us. Only one can protect.

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      • Hyde

        Walli that is what I have been saying for some time now. All these liberal degenerates who “defend” Islam today will stab us in the back tomorrow. So will go the days when “liberal agnostics” defend Islam. Tsk, tsk…sorry sorry Muslims.

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      • Mahmud

        Agreed. This grace period was only for a certain time. Now the liberals in Europe for example are combining both liberalism and opposition to Islam in one.

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      • RCHOUDH

        I think it’s a bit more nuanced than that brothers, so it’s better not to generalize. While there may be militant atheist liberals who hate and mock at every religion out there, there are also people of the liberal persuasion who try to defend the rights of others to practice and believe in whatever they want (freedom of religion). You’ll see such dynamics within any large group of people, whether religious, ethnic, racial, ideological, etc.
        With that said, I agree wit Edward Kefas that Muslims should also peacefully stand up for defending the honor of Isa (AS) and the other prophets of Allah that also get mocked at from time to time in the West. The banning of that Noah Hollywood movie was a good start.

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  3. Just another Muslim

    Salam alaik wa jazaakallaahu khair!
    Also, Ayah 9:24 in Arabic is incorrectly quoted in the article. (It doesnt match the translation which seems to be for another ayah)

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  4. Mahmud

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    Allāh had already helped you on many fields, and on the day of Hunayn, when you delighted in your numerical strength, it availed you nothing. And the earth, vast as it was, narrowed on you, and you turned back in retreat. [9:24]

    Misplaced Arabic ayat is below the above translation in this article

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  5. Khalida

    As-salaamu ‘alaikum wrwb,
    Great article, maa shaa Allah. I love hearing lessons from those battles in particular. JazaakAllah khair. I was just wondering why “AD” is used for dating. Doesn’t that mean “After Death” of ‘Isa (as)? We Muslims obviously don’t believe that.

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    • Khalida

      Okay, ignore the “After Death” thing. I was misinformed.

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    • Wael Abdelgawad

      It stands for “Anno domini” – “In the year of our lord”, meaning Jesus (pbuh). For that reason, many Muslims prefer to use C.E., for Christian Era.

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