For some twelve years after the revelation of the first verses of the Qur’an, Muslims had to endure the harshest persecution in Mecca. They were killed, subjected to torture, and had their properties confiscated. Their only weapon was either keeping their embracement of Islam secret or, if that had already become public, enduring everything with patience. Emigrating from Mecca was another option that Muslims resorted to at times, and which the Prophet himself had to choose twelve years after the revelation of the Qur’an. This is how Allah refers to the emigration of the Prophet, who was accompanied by a Muslim man called Abu Bakr, from Mecca to al-Madina:
If you [O people!] will not aid him [Muhammad], Allah certainly aided him when the disbelievers expelled him, he being the second of two [persons], when they were [hiding] in the cave, when he [Muhammad] said to his companion: “Do not grieve; surely Allah is with us.” So Allah sent down His tranquility upon him, supported him with hosts which you did not see, and made lowest the word of those who disbelieved and highest the word of Allah; and Allah is Invincible, Wise (9.40).1
In order to be able to appreciate what this peaceful struggle of Muslims really meant, it is essential to know the circumstances in which it took place.
The population of the Arabian Peninsula were very violent. Raids amongst tribes were a common way of increasing both wealth and social standing. In that bloody environment, vengeance and retaliation were prime drives in people’s lives. Embracing Islam, however, meant turning one’s back on such practices. For the first fourteen years after the revelation of the Qur’an, Muslims as a group did not take part in any war. Prophet Muhammad and his followers could only use peaceful means even in response to the harshest persecutions. It is reported that Muslims who were beaten or tortured for embracing Islam would ask the Prophet for permission to defend themselves. He would reply that Allah had not given him permission for Muslims to take arms. He would console them, remind them of the virtues of patience, and offer them advice on how to avoid and/or mitigate the persecution they were subjected to.
This was a great test that Allah put early Muslims through. Passing that test required challenging so many customs and beliefs of the society in which Muslims were born and raised. They set a noble example that the Arabs, and indeed peoples of the time in general, had never seen or heard of before. In order to be able to follow the new religion, the individual would have to be prepared for a rebirth and total renewal of himself. Those who were not genuinely willing to change could not become Muslims. This self-control is peaceful jihad. Thus, peaceful jihad started long before armed jihad.
The Qur’an gives us a fascinating insight into the extent of the peaceful jihad that the early Muslims had to practice to meet the requirements of Islam. Those Arabs, who had come from different tribes with long history of enmity between them, had to erase all of their attachment to that pre-Islamic past and its values, embrace the present and its new values, and relate to each other in a completely different way. They are no more sworn enemies, but close brothers who were willing to sacrifice themselves for each other. In fact, the Qur’an describes this transformation as a miracle:
And hold fast [O you who believe!], all of you together, to the rope of Allah [that He stretches out for you], and be not divided among yourselves. And remember Allah’s favor to you; how you were enemies but He established affection between your hearts, so that by His favor you became brethren. And you were on the brink of the pit of Fire, but He saved you from it. Thus Allah makes His signs clear to you, that you may be guided (3.103).
And if they [the disbelievers] intend to deceive you [O Muhammad!], then surely Allah is sufficient for you. It is He who supported you with His help and with the believers (8.62). And established affection between their hearts. Had you spent all that is on earth, you would not have established affection between their hearts, but Allah established affection between them. Surely, He is Mighty, Wise (8.63).
1 After leaving Mecca in the night, the Prophet and Abu Bakr hid for three days in a cave called “Thawr” in a mountain outside the city. When the disbelievers realized that the Prophet had fled, they went after him. They came very close to searching the cave, which is probably why Abu Bakr became so scared as shown in the verse. Tradition tells us that the chasers did not enter the cave because of the occurrence of three miracles: a spider weaved its web at the entrance of the cave; two wild pigeons lied eggs there; and a tree grew up. The cave appeared to the Qurayshites not to have been used for a long time.
Copyright © 2004 Louay Fatoohi
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