A sneak-peek in the Prophet’s life and we will see that Prophet Muhammad never strayed or lost focus. He was far-sighted. He had a knack of gauging situations for what they were worth and he never went overboard with anything.
When he began his initial preaching, he was met with harsh criticism from within his own tribe. His companions (who were very few in number) were tortured in the worst way imaginable. Yet he continued to inspire them and even more people towards a religion that seemingly looked like a death sentence.
How was it that the Prophet was able to maintain such an influence in such tribulations, and also managed to take the whole of Arabia under his control in such a short span of time?
The answer lies in wisdom and tact: the right response at the right time. When they were few in number and suppressed, the Prophet never directed his followers to take it to the streets and torch the houses of their persecutors. Instead, he advised them to be patient and gave them glad tidings.
One such incident is that of Ammar ibn Yassir, who along with his mother and father had embraced Islam in its early phase. They were made to lie on the burning sand and were beaten repeatedly. To them, the Prophet said:
O family of Yassir, be patient, you will certainly find your place in Paradise. (Al-Albani)
These people continued to grow in faith and waited till they had established themselves firmly. There was never an irrational decision or heat-of-the-moment protest. Everything was well-planned and well-executed.
One might argue that all this display of forbearance was because the Prophet had little support and a few companions at that time. But it could be that after leadership he would have changed tactics like most other rulers. However, this was not the case. The theme remained the same throughout and that is advocating peace.
The Prophet’s Methodology of Dawah
After migration to Madinah and the establishment of an Islamic state there, fast forward to the time when the Truce of Hudaybiyah brought some peace of mind amongst the Muslims, the Prophet took it as an opportunity to spread Islam outside Arabia.
This was a well-thought step since the Muslims were not in any immediate danger by any attack from the pagans of Makkah as mentioned in the Truce.
As opposed to the popular belief that Islam was spread by the might of sword, we see no such thing here. The Prophet appointed some companions to deliver his message to other sovereign states. He sent letters to the Emperor of Rome, the king of Persia, the ruler of Egypt and to the chiefs of Arab tribes, inviting them to a common call.
A detailed analysis of his letters would show that he had put a great deal of thought and consideration in his message to other leaders and addressed them according to their own creed and faith that they followed at that time.
In his letter to Heraclius, the Emperor of Rome, the Prophet wrote:
In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.
From Muhammad, the slave of Allah and His Messenger to Heraclius, the Emperor of Rome.
Blessed are those who follow true guidance. I invite you to embrace Islam so that you may live in security. If you come within the fold of Islam, Allah will give you double reward, but in case you turn your back upon it, then the burden of the sins of all your people shall fall on your shoulders. (Al-Bukhari)
Say [O Muhammad (Peace be upon him)]: ‘O people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), come to a word that is just between us and you, that we worship none but Allah, and that we associate no partners with Him, and that none of us shall take others as lords besides Allah.’ Then, if they turn away, say: ‘Bear witness that we are Muslims.’ (Quran 3: 64)
Heraclius was of Christian faith, and keeping this in mind, the Prophet mentioned this particular verse from the Quran that invites people of the Book to a common origin, towards the original teachings which automatically point towards belief in his Prophethood and the oneness of God. This was an effective message which carried a lot of weight between the lines and a subtle warning as well.
And Heraclius, being a shrewd ruler, understood it pretty well. However, when his people saw his inclination towards this new faith, there grew amongst them an unrest, and Heraclius, sensing their uneasiness, gave preference to his throne and his people instead of the truth. It should be noted here that there was no compulsion over conversion to Islam.
To Chosroes, the king of Persia, the Prophet delivered the following message:
In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.
From Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah to Chosroes, king of Persia.
Peace be upon him who follows true guidance, believes in Allah and His Messenger and testifies that there is no god but Allah alone with no associate, and that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger.
I invite you to accept the religion of Allah. I am the Messenger of Allah sent to all people in order that I may infuse fear of Allah in every living person, and that the charge may be proved against those who reject the truth. Accept Islam as your religion so that you may live in security, otherwise, you will be responsible for all the sins of the Magians. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Point to be noted here is that this letter is different from the one sent to Heraclius. Khusraw Perwaiz (Chosroes) followed Zoroastrianism, so this letter contained the basics of faith, the foundations which are to be followed and the consequences of disobedience. Chosroes was an arrogant person and couldn’t stand his name being second to the Prophet’s in the letter so he tore it in pieces. And his kingdom met the same fate, consequently.
Throughout the Muslim history of battles, there are only two elements dominant in Jihad. Either it is because the Muslims need to remove the obstacles that are hindering them in their preaching about Islam, or in defensive interest of all the Muslims facing a threat. In both types, no coercion is used or is allowed to be used to convert people’s faiths. But an invitation to Islam is extended nonetheless and it is up to the people to accept it willingly:
There is no compulsion in religion. (Al-Baqarah 2: 256)
The Conquest of Makkah
Take another instance. At the time of the conquest of Makkah, one would probably expect a bloody throttle of revenge to be unleashed on people who had previously shown no mercy when they had an upper hand. But no such reaction was exhibited. The people were forgiven, save a few whom the Prophet deemed necessary to take to task. Upon this attitude, more people converted to Islam and disbelievers fled from the land of Arabia.
It was the Prophet’s unparalleled leadership and his unbeatable tact that his followers were willing to lay their lives for him. A Christian historian truthfully narrates:
“It is better if the Christians remember that Muhammad’s characteristics created a zeal and interest in his followers which was lacking in the initial followers of Isa (Jesus). When Isa was taken to the gallows, his followers fled. Their zeal waned and they left their leader behind in the claws of death. In contrast, the followers of Prophet Mohammad rallied around their innocent prophet and placed their lives at risk, ultimately helping him get an apprehend over his enemies.” (66-7)
It is not without great wisdom and a deep insight that the Prophet alone is able to manage human resources so effectively that it remains fruitful till the end of times.
And to protect the image of such a person, the only way is to don on this image and show the world what Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) really means to us.
Higgin, Godfrey. An Apology for the life and character of the celebrated Prophet of Arabia called Mohamed, or the Illustrious. London: Rowland Hunter, 1829
(From Reading Islam’s archive.)