#Article (Archive)

Continued from: Elements of Unity

Aug 28, 2009, 6:50 AM | Article By: Alhaji Ousman M. Jah

The Practice of the Holy Prophet, his Companions and Muslim Leaders in Dealing with Ideological Opponents


In recent times, some Islamic factions have taken their literal understanding of certain religious doctrines as a pretext for accusing other Muslims of infidelity, to the point of legitimizing and even sanctifying their killings. In justifying their actions, they have cited the example of the leading figures of Islam, in particular the Holy prophet -pbuh-, the Rightly Guided Caliphs, the founders of the various schools of thought,  as well as other prominent scholars. However, as the  Islamic Center for Harmonization of schools of Thought will argue, a more thorough analysis of their example reveals that such extreme measures were never sanctioned by these great personalities.


Throughout its tumultuous course, the history of Islam has been witness to many a heated theological debate and argument. In many of these, the opposing sides would set up founding principles particular to themselves, thereby providing the basis for the formation of a new sect or school of thought; in the process, thy would link their debates to the polarization between Tawhid [monotheism] and shirk [ polytheism]. Whenever a sect found fault with the arguments of its opponent, it dwelt upon their logical erroneous consequences and attempted to label them as polytheistic in nature. Such antagonistic currents, taking their cue from the extremist views of particular individuals, would sometimes end in violence and bloodshed. At the same time, it can be said that all sectarian warfare and internecine conflicts that have historically taken place within the Islamic world were the result of the stratagems and guile of the corrupt rulers of some of the Islamic countries, who cunningly used existing differences and instigated factionary antagonisms to secure their self-interests.

In recent times, some Islamic factions have taken Tawhid  as a pretext to carry out extreme measures such as mass murder and severe repression. In justifying their actions, they have cited the example of the Muslims [ of the past] and the Companions [ of the prophet], maintaining that their deeds are nothing but the continuation of the policies adopted by those pious predecessors [ salaf  salih] in their theological disputes and polemical debates. In perpetrating  their inhuman acts, this group claims to base itself solely on the words and deeds of the pious predecessors. Thy put forth the example of the prophet, the policies of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, the speech and actions of the Imams of the Islamic schools of thought ( madhahib) as well as some other Islamic scholars, to try to explain their own actions with respect to Muslims who are, from their perspective, Mushrik.

This attempt to find textual authority for themselves- given the vagueness inherent in trying to apply the meaning of a text to a concrete reality, and in this case, to a particular group of Muslims -were, for the most part, " proving-the-given" and hence, invalid. This led the Disunity advocators to further study the relationships between Islamic sects and intra-Muslim conflicts. Using fallacious arguments they concluded that they themselves were the true successors of the pious predecessors.

With these few introductory comments, we can conclude that a proper study of the life and example of the prophet, his companions and Islamic scholars not only gives us definite criteria and principled proofs for a number of civil and legal codes, but also allows us to critique certain deviant ideologies. This, then, can be come the basis on which such groups can be opposed. Proving that the actions of this deviant group are diametrically opposed to the example of the prophet is tantamount to taking away from them their proverbial religious fig leaf- thereby enlightening the general populace of Muslim communities.

Some samples from Theological debates:

(a) The practice of Theological debates amongst the Muslims during the Lifetime of the Prophet

1-The prophetic Sirah in dealing with polytheists:

Our discussion surrounding the debates within the Islamic society is particular to the issues of tawhid and shirk. However, a study of the prophetic Sirah in dealing with the polytheists and those who had not accepted Islam, can, in its own capacity, divest all pretexts from the advocators of disunity in justifying their unpleasant behavior. The sirah of the prophet before and after Hijrah contains two different facts, each of which has to be examined independently.

* The prophetic Sirah before Hijrah.

Al historical indications shows that the prophetMuhammad-pbuh-was before hijrah extremely kind and gentle in his dealings with the polytheists. Throughout the period of his stay in Mecca and some neighboring cities, he was never observed to display violent behavior towards them, and in fact, he would even prohibit others from expressing such behavior. To the same extent that the polytheists would persecute and provoke him, he would tolerate and accept it patiently. He would even humbly supplicate for their guidance from the Lord, and would consider their behavior to be a result of their ignorance.

Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud narrates that he himself would witness the prophet being brutally tortured by his people, and yet, while wiping the blood off his face, he would pray, "O Lord! Forgive my people for they are ignorant." Sahih Bughari, vol.9.20.)

In the midst of difficult moments, the prophet was not seen to curse his people even once. When the disbelievers wounded him on his holy face with their stones, he went off to a mountain faraway from their view, and retreated into a corner. When Lady Khadijah-went to see him, she observed the blood trickling down his holy face and how he would prevent it from falling on the ground with his hands. She said: May my parents be sacrificed for you, let the blood fall onto the ground." To this he responded, " I fear the anger of the Lord may overcome its inhabitants." Bihar al- Anwar, vol.18p.242-243.

After His uncle, Abu Talib, passed away, the polytheists intensified their persecutions towards him. Once, he had left Mecca for the city of Ta' if where he encountered a hostile reception from its residents. While blood was flowing from his feet, he sought refuge in a garden under the shade of a tree. Instead of cursing the people of Ta' if, he raised his hands in supplication and prayed, " O Lord, I complain to you regarding the weakness of my strength, the lack of my stratagems, the shortage of my supporter, and my debasement amongst the people; O the most Merciful of the Merciful." Bihar al- Anwar vol 2 p.96

With this in mind, how can a pretext for the violent actions perpetrated  by certain sects be derived from the interactions of the Holy prophet- pbuh-, who dealt with the obstinate and ill- natured polytheists of Mecca in such a kind manner?

*-The Prophetic Sirah after Hijah

A study of the prophetic sirah in dealing with the polytheists and the disbelievers is necessary from two perspectives:

1- A study of the Prophet's war objectives.

2- A study of the Prophet's dealings with the hypocrites.

A historical review of the prophet's battles demonstrates that he never permitted the Muslims to go to war without the polytheists cowardly initiating it. When the polytheists of Mecca confiscated the property belonging to the Muslims, the Prophet -pbuh- ordered the caravan of Abu sufyan to be seized. Then, upon encountering the Meccan army, he issued the command for Jihad to confront their advance. Similarly, in the battle of Uhud it was the polytheists  who had initiated the battle to make amends for their losses in Badr.

In the Battles against the Jews of Medina, their treachery and broken pledges were the principal causes ( That lead to the issuing of the command for Jihad). Likewise, the conquest of Mecca started only after the polytheists broke the terms of the agreement of Hudaybiyyah.

After establishing an Islamic government in Medina, The prophet never took the initiative to kill the polytheists there. On the contrary, his interaction with them was one of love and affection. During the battle of Uhud, when the enemies had broken his teeth and bruised his blessed face, his companions asked him to curse the polytheists. Instead, he responded " I wasn't raised to be a curser; I was raised to be a caller and a mercy. O Allah, guide my people, for certainly they are ignorant." (afinat al-Bihar vol.p.412.)

He threw the drops of blood streaming down his face into the air, and not a single drop fell back to the earth.

When the Prophet  entered Mecca with a large number of soldiers, Sa'd ibn Ubadah, the standard bearer, was crying out, " Today is the Day of War. Today your dear ones will be imprisoned." When news of this reached the Holy prophet, he instructed ' Ali to take the standard from Sa'd and call out a message of love and friendship. Ali- RLH- did so and called out, Today is the day of forgiveness."(Biharel- Anwar, vol.21, p. 105.) .Various narrations have been reported with respect to the prophet's verbal interactions with the disbelievers, polytheists and hypocrites. For the sake of brevity, these will not be mentioned in this article. Clearly, if the prophet- pbuh- dealt with obstinate hypocrites and disbelievers in such a manner, how can he be considered a propagator of the violent actions meted out by some Muslim sects against others?..

To be Continued