Resting under a tree, the Prophet Muhammad opened his eyes and found an idolater raising his sword to the sky.
“Who will save you from me?” The idolater asked.
The Prophet replied, “God,” and the man began to tremble and dropped his weapon.
The Prophet Muhammad then asked the man:
“Will you testify that there’s nothing deserving of worship except God and that I am the Messenger of God?”
Despite refusing to testify, the man was allowed by the Prophet Muhammad to go back to his people, unharmed. (Al-Bukhari)
The Spirit of Islam
Our record of the life of the Prophet Muhammad – studied by Muslims worldwide – demonstrates restraint, forgiveness, mercy, and tolerance that characterize the spirit of Islam.
The spirit of Islam is forged by the general timeless principles and objectives that are consistent and thematic throughout the jurisprudence of Islam. Unequivocal verses from the Quran spell out Islam’s spirit of tolerance for other faiths.
You have the right to your religion, and I have the right to my religion. (Quran 109:6)
There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. (Quran 2:256)
In addition to the verses of the Quran, the Hadith – the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad – also contribute to the spirit of Islam.
Critics of Islam, however, have accused the Prophet Muhammad of being a man hungry for war. They use verses from the Quran that mention fighting to further create the impression that the Prophet Muhammad violently sought forced conversions.
Some critics accept that the Prophet was peaceful in Makkah, but allege that he was belligerent later in his life, at Madinah.
Documents and official historical records, however, show us a different picture of the Prophet Muhammad. We find a consistent character of the Prophet Muhammad towards disbelievers from the beginning of his prophethood to his death. He demonstrated restraint, preferred peace, and showed mercy, even when he had the opportunity to be revengeful.
While residing in Makkah, the Prophet Muhammad visited Taif to share with the pagan Arabs settled there the message of monotheism. The pagan Arabs did not allow the Prophet to convey the message of monotheism. Instead, they shelved the Arab etiquette of hospitality and attacked him.
After enduring thrown rocks that left him with bloody wounds, angels from God descended to the Prophet and offered to destroy the city that had hurt him. The Prophet refused the gesture, hoping the next generation would be better. (Al-Bukhari)
The Battle of Uhud
The Prophet’s character of mercy and tolerance was not just a Makkan phenomenon. It was also a fact in Madinah. Take for example the Prophet’s amazing display of mercy at the Battle of Uhud. The pagan Arabs marched from Makkah to attack Madinah and chose Uhud as the battleground. Instead of defending themselves within the city, the Muslims decided to meet the pagans at Uhud, a few miles outside of Madinah.
In the thick of battle, receiving strikes from swords and the sling of arrows, the Prophet Muhammad prayed for his attackers:
O God, forgive my people for they do not know. (Al-Bukhari)
The pagan Arabs led a relentless campaign against the Muslims for two decades. Here is a shortlist of the pagans’ atrocities in Makkah and Madinah:
- Killed Muslims
- Attacked and harassed Muslims
- Compelled Muslims to recant monotheism through imprisonment
- Instituted three years of a boycott: food, social, and financial
- Attempted to assassinate the Prophet Muhammad more than once
- Expelled Muslims from their homes and city
- Declared war on Madinah multiple times
- Sowed discord and strife through proxies in and around Madinah
- Broke the Hudaybiyah Peace Treaty
Al Hudaybiyah Peace Treaty
Despite the repeated pagan attacks, we can see the Prophet’s eagerness for peace when he signed the Hudaybiyah Peace Treaty. The treaty was a landmark accord for peace, but it wasn’t welcome by everyone. Some Muslims objected to the terms, believing that the 10-year accord was lopsided in favor of the pagan Arabs.
Some saw such a treaty as a form of surrender. However, the Prophet inclined towards peace and signed the treaty. Interestingly, the Quran calls the accord a “clear conquest” – because it allowed peace to prevail over violence.
To highlight the significance of this statement, consider that never does the Quran refer to victorious battles against the pagan Arabs as “clear conquests”. The only act earning that title is a lopsided peace treaty. The message is clear to faithful Muslims: peace, when attainable, is preferred over conflict.
After more than twenty years of hostilities, aggression, murder, manufactured conflicts, and war from the pagan Arabs of Makkah, the Muslims were looking forward to the 10 years of peace promised by the Hudaybiyah Treaty. However, the pagans breached the treaty by killing innocent Muslims.
The Prophet of Mercy
When the pagans proved their perfidy and belligerence time and again, the Prophet then led 10,000 troops of the Muslim army to take the city at the Conquest of Makkah. Sa’d ibn ‘Ubadah, a companion of the Prophet, came forward and said:
“Today is a day of slaughter.”
When the Prophet heard that, he deposed the man of his flag. Then, the Prophet corrected his statement, for the better guidance of the Muslim forces:
Today is a day of mercy. (Al-Bukhari)
The Muslims had the strength to annihilate the pagans once and for all, yet the Prophet Muhammad granted the pagan Makkans asylum, safe passage, forgiveness, and he took no prisoners. (Fath ul-Bari)
The scholar Ibn ul-Qayyim sums up the Prophet’s actions this way:
“If one ponders over the Prophet’s biography, it becomes clear that he did not force anyone to his religion, ever. He only fought those who fought him, and those who entered into peace he did not fight them, as long as they kept the peace and did not break the treaty. Rather, God commanded him to keep the treaty as long as they held it upright. As God said: ‘So as long as they are upright toward you, be upright toward them.’” (Hidayatul-Hiyara)