Did Prophet Muhammad (sa) Initiate War against the Meccan Pagans?

July 3, 2023

Share this article

Did Prophet Muhammad (sa) Initiate War against the Meccan Pagans?

by Missionary Sabahat Karim


Today, with a little effort and pure intentions, facts can be separated from fictions. Yet, critics allege that the Prophet of Islam engaged in raids to capture the bounties of the Arab traders travelling from Mecca to Syria en route to the city of Medina. They claim that it was the Prophet of Islam and the Muslims who first instigated the war against the Meccans by looting and plundering the non-combatant trading caravans, while the Meccans had no intention of disturbing the peace of the region. Much to their surprise, history protects genuine facts against the critics’ fabrications.

Thirteen Years of Persecution in Mecca

To set the record straight, we must first become acquainted with the thirteen-year history of Muslims in Mecca. 

The Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) and his early companions lived in Mecca for thirteen torturous years. Muslims avoided every confrontation and dispute; they only desired to be left alone so they could freely practice the faith of their choice. However, the leaders and affluent of Mecca, being the custodians of the old traditions and the ones benefiting from them with wealth and reputation, could never permit a new voice to flourish. Muslims, as a minority, had no rights. Anyone and everyone mistreated Muslims as they pleased. 

Later on with the permission to migrate, Muslims began travelling to neighbouring lands. The Quraish did not leave Muslims free even then; they went after them to bring them back, “so that the persecution could continue”. This included lobbying the Negus, the King of Abyssinia, to hand over those Muslim families who had sought refuge in his kingdom as refugees of conscience. 

Thereafter, a plot was devised to execute the Prophet of Islam (sa) while he slept in his bed at night, but Allah had other plans. To the great surprise of the Quraish, the Prophet (sa) left Mecca on the very same day when they intended to execute him. The Quraish were furious at the news. They announced 100 camels as a reward for the one who would bring him back, dead or alive.

History bears witness that the long thirteen years in Mecca, was the most difficult time for Muslims. Early narrations depict how Muslims were ill-treated. To understand these tortures is fundamental to understanding the wars that subsequently followed. 

Examples of Torture

The following are some examples of the extreme torture Muslims had to endure during the thirteen years at Mecca. This extreme torture was borne with the greatest patience. 

Torturing the Prophet Muhammad (sa)

Narrated ‘Urwah bin Az-Zubair: I asked ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr, “What was the worst thing the pagans did to Allah’s Messenger?” He said, “I saw ‘Uqba bin Abi Mu’ait coming to the Prophet while he was praying.’ ‘Uqba put his sheet around the Prophet’s neck and squeezed it very severely. Abu Bakr came and pulled ‘Uqba away from the Prophet and said, “Do you intend to kill a man just because he says: ‘My Lord is Allah, and he has brought forth to you the evident signs from your Lord?”

Sahih Al-Bukhari Volume:5, Book:57, Hadith:27

Torturing the Muslims

“Sa’eed Ibn Jubayr narrates that he once asked Abdullah Ibn Abbas, ‘Was the torture that the polytheists (Mushrikeen) put the companions through so severe that they would been excused if they had to forsake Islam? ‘Abdullah Ibn Abbas replied, ‘Certainly. By Allah! The polytheists would beat one of the Muslims up and keep him so hungry and thirsty that he would be unable to even sit up because of his intense suffering.”

(The Life of The Prophet Muhammad – (‘Al-Sira al-Nabawiyya’) (Translated by Professor Trevor Le Gassick, Garnet Publishing – Copyright 1998, The Center for Muslim Contribution To civilisation), by Ibn Kathir, volume:1, page:59)

First Martyrs of Islam 

(Whoso disbelieves in Allah after his belief….) [16:107]. Said Ibn ‘Abbas: “This verse was revealed about ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir. the idolaters had taken him away along with his father Yasir, his mother Sumayyah, Suhaub [al-Rumi], Bilal [ib Rabah], Khabbab [ibn al-Aratt] and Salim [the client of Hudhayfah] and tortured them. As for Sumayyah, she was tied up between two camels and stabbed with a spear in her female genitalia. She was told: ‘You embraced Islam for the men’, and was then killed. Her husband Yasir was also killed. They were the first two persons who were killed in Islam…

Asbab al-Nuzul, Wahidi, pare 102

Muslims Seek Permission to Retaliate

Muslims never retaliated against such inhumane treatment. They tolerated all wickedness with patience and prayer. Their lack of a response to such treatment was not out of cowardice. Not at all! In fact, they requested the Prophet Muhammad (sa) permission to fight back. The response he gave was immensely significant and contained a prophecy that was fulfilled in an extraordinary way:

Khabbab said “We came to the Apostle of Allah (sa) while he was reclining on an outer garment in the shade of the Ka’bah. Complaining to him we said “Do you not ask Allah for help for us? And do you not pray to Allah for us? He sat aright turning red in his face and said “A man before you (i.e., in ancient times) was caught and a pit was dug for him in the earth and then a saw was brought and placed on his head and it was broken into two pieces but that did not turn him away from his religion. They were combed in iron combs in flesh and sinews above the bones. Even that did not turn them away from their religion. I swear by Allah, Allah will accomplish this affair until a rider will travel between San’a and Hadramaut and he will not fear anyone except Allah, Most High (nor will he fear the attack of) a wolf on his sheep, but you are making haste.”

Sunan Abi Dawud 2649

They sought help from Allah to fight back and to become victorious, but the Prophet Muhammad (sa) instead commanded them to show patience to the highest degree, prophesying that a time would come when all the Arabian peninsula would accept Islam. 

When the limit of persecution was reached, it was then that Allah finally granted Muslims permission to migrate. 

Migration to Medina & State of Fear

When the Holy Prophet (sa) finally arrived safely in Medina and the news of his migration reached Mecca, the Quraish were outraged. They felt betrayed by the Medinites. Immediately, they sent letters to the Medinites, demanding they expel the refugee Muslims from Medina:

“Abdur Rahman ibn Ka’b ibn Malik reported on the authority of a man from among the companions of the Prophet (sa): The infidels of the Quraysh wrote (a letter) to Ibn Ubayy and to those who worshipped idols al-Aws and al-Khazraj, while the Apostle of Allah (sa) was at that time at Medina before the battle of Badr. (They wrote): You gave protection to our companion. We swear by Allah, you should fight him or expel him, or we shall come to you in full force, until we kill your fighters and appropriate your women. When this (news) reached Abdullah ibn Ubayy and those who were worshippers of idols, with him they gathered together to fight the Apostle of Allah (as). When this news reached the Apostle of Allah (sa), he visited them and said: The threat of the Quraysh to you has reached its end. They cannot contrive a plot against you, greater than what you yourselves intended to harm you. Are you willing to fight your sons and brethren? When they heard this from the Prophet (sa), they scattered. This reached the infidels of the Quraysh. The infidels of the Quraysh again wrote (a letter) to the Jews after the battle of Badr: You are men of weapons and fortresses. You should fight our companion or we shall deal with you in a certain way. And nothing will come between us and the anklets of your women….”

Abu Dawud Book 19, Hadith 2998

It should be noted that this narration specifically mentions that this letter was sent prior to the Battle of Badr. This is clearly a letter of aggression, pronouncing war against not only the Muslims, but anyone who harbours them. The intentions of Meccans were clear; they were to leave no stone unturned in order to stand against Muslims. Of note, the end of the narration states the letter sent after the Battle of Badr, inciting the Jews against the Prophet Muhammad (sa).

Map depicting the battle of badr – By Dr Zubair Rashid, wikimedia commons

Another narration highlights how the Meccan aggression was not limited to letters, but to personal threats of violence:

Narrated ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud: From Sa’d bin Mu’adh: Sa’d bin Mu’adh was an intimate friend of Umaiya bin Khalaf and whenever Umaiya passed through Medina, he used to stay with Khalaf and whoever Umaiya passed through Medina, he used to stay with Sa’d, and whenever Sa’d went to Mecca, he used to stay with Umaiya. When Allah’s Messenger (sa) arrived at Medina, Sa’d went to perform ‘Umra and stayed at Umaiya’s home in Mecca. He said to Umaiya, “Tell me of a time when (the Mosque) is empty so that I may be able to perform Tawaf around the Ka’ba. “So Umaiya went with him about midday. Abu Jahl met them and said, “ O Abu Safwan! Who is this man accompanying you?” He said, “He is Sa’d,” Abdul Jahl addressed Sa’d saying, “I see you wandering about safely in Mecca in spite of the fact that you have given shelter to the people who have changed their religion (i.e. became Muslims) and have claimed that you will help them and support them. By Allah, if you were not in the company of Abu Safwan, you would not be able to go your family safely.” Sa’d, raising his voice, said to him, “By Allah, if you should stop me from doing this (i.e. performing Tawaf) I would certainly prevent you from something which is more valuable for you, that is, your passage through Medina.”

Sahih Al-Bukhari 3950 / Book:64, Hadith:2

This was an open threat by Mecca to Medina. Meccans were in no authority to instruct Medinites to exile Muslims from their city. Especially when Muslims had brought no harm to them. This open threat was enough for any nation to arm against another nation. But even then no hard steps were taken by the Muslims. 

As for Muslims, they dwelled in Medina with the constant fear of a sudden attack. Ahadith described the restless state of Muslims:

“In the beginning, when the Holy Prophet (sa) arrived in Medina, he would often remain awake during the night in apprehension of an enemy attack.”

Sunan Al-Kubra Li Al-Nisai, Kitab Al-Munaqib, Hadith no. 8617

In another narration, recorded in Bukhari and Muslim it is stated:

“One night the Holy Prophet (sa) remained awake until very late. Then he stated: ‘If a suitable man from among our friends were to stand guard, I may be able to sleep a bit.’ Suddenly we heard the clanking of arms. The Holy Prophet (sa) inquired, ‘Who is there?’ ‘O Messenger of Allah! it is I, Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas’ was the response, ‘I have come to stand guard.’ It was after this reassurance that the Holy Prophet (sa) went to sleep.”

Sahih Al-Bukhari, Book 94, Hadith 6

“The Holy Prophet (sa) and his companions migrated to Medinah. The Ansar gave protection to them, and in turn all of Arabia collectively stood up against the Muslims. In that era, the Muslims would not even put off their arms at night and during the day they would walk around armed, in case of a sudden attack. They would say to each other, ‘Let us see if we live till such a time when we might be able to sleep at night in peace, without any fear except for the fear of God.”

The Life & Character of the Seal of Prophets (sa) – Volume II p:33

The Holy Quran also mentions the vulnerable state of Muslims:

And remember the time when you were few and deemed weak in the land, and were in fear lest people should snatch you away, but He sheltered you and strengthened you with His help, and provided you with good things that you might be thankful.

Holy Quran 8:27

Had Muslims not every right to take up arms against such aggressors? Had Muslims not families to look after, nor children to provide security and peace for? Had Muslims not the right of freedom?

Enough was enough. God, finally gave permission to Muslims to take up arms as an act of noble struggle (Jihad) to defend themselves and more importantly, the principle of freedom for all peoples:

Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged — and Allah indeed has power to help them — Those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly only because they said, ‘Our Lord is Allah’ — And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated. And Allah will surely help one who helps Him. Allah is indeed Powerful, Mighty.”

Holy Quran 22:40-41

Muslim Strategy of Defence

It was now when Muslims began to take steps against the onslaught of Meccans. The Holy Prophet (sa) employed strategies in order to protect the Muslims from the mischief of their enemies. What were these actions of plan? It has exactly been explained by Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad (ra) in three succinct points. All of the points have been expounded in great detail in his comprehensive book, The Life and Character of the Seal of the Prophets, reference to which is given below. The summary of the strategy of defence taken by the Prophet of Islam (sa), is as follows:

Firstly, the Holy Prophet (sa) extended his acquaintance with neighbouring tribes of Medina in order to establish peace treaties, so that the vicinity of the region could breathe a sigh of relief from the constant fear of attack by intruders. 

Secondly, the Holy Prophet (sa) established a surveillance system around Medina in order to stay informed of the movements of the Quraish and their allies, in case they attempted a sudden attack. 

Thirdly, The Holy Prophet (sa) intercepted the trade caravans of the Quraish, travelling from Mecca to Syria, passing en route via Madinah. The purpose of this strategy has been explained by Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad (ra) as follows: 

  1. These trade caravans propagated false information and provoked neighbouring tribes of Medina against Muslims.
  1. These trade caravans were always heavily armed and accompanied with trained soldiers. Their passing closer to Medina could always end up with a sudden attack on Muslims. 
  1. These trade caravans were a big source of livelihood for the Quraish. By intercepting them, it was possible to bring Quraish cruelties and oppression to an end. Above all it constrained them to reconciliation, which they denied to come to terms with, from day one. In fact, history bears witness that this strategy produced miraculous results and ultimately compelled the Quraish to come to reconciliation in the end. 
  1. The revenue of these trade caravans was mostly, in some cases entirely, spent on war against Muslims. Hence, interception of these caravans was a legitimate reason for Muslims. 
Camels were often laden with a variety of goods, such as spices, textiles, gold and other precious commodities

Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad (ra) further explained that, to this day, historians and opponents of Islam attempt to tarnish the Holy Prophet (sa) and his companions with the claim that he plundered trade caravans of the Quraish for personal benefit, while in fact, this was a legitimate tactic of war. However, today when their own countries obstruct, destroy or take possessions of the trade vessels of enemy nations in order to subdue them or obtain their wealth, no one calls such activities as unjust or cruel. Is this not sheer prejudice against Islam?

Prophet Muhammad (sa) Despised Plunder

In fact, definitive evidence exists in the hadith that the Prophet of Islam (sa) despised the taking of other people’s property who were not in a state of war with him. Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad (ra), in The Life & Character of the Seal of Prophets (sa) – Volume II p: 92-93, draws attention to the following instances:

On one occasion, a party among the companions during a military expedition, out of extreme hunger, caught and slaughtered two or four goats from a wandering flock. When the Holy Prophet (sa) found out, he immediately came and turned over the pots to the floor and asked:

“Who has made this plunder lawful for you? This is no better than carrion.”

Sunan Abi Dawud 2705

He asked whether Islam can teach looting and plundering, when we read the following narration: newcomers in Islam asked the Holy Prophet (sa) regarding Jihad:

“O Messenger of Allah! If the actual intention of an individual who takes part in Jihād is to safeguard religion, but the thought crosses his mind that he may also receive the wealth of spoils as well, would such a person be worthy of spiritual reward?” The Prophet (sa) responded, “Absolutely not, absolutely not, there is no spiritual reward whatsoever for such a person.”

Sunan Abi Dawud 2516

Such incidents shed light on the majestic teachings of Islam, which are far from oppression and injustice. In fact the very definition of a Muslim is:

“… the one from whose tongue and hand the people are safe…”

Sunan an-Nasa’i 4995 / Book 47, Hadith 11 

Meccans Plunder and Loot

As part of the treaty of Hudaybiyyah in 6 A.H., which was a peace pact between Muslims and Quraish, many unjust demands were made by Meccans of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) to be added into the treaty. The Prophet of Islam (sa) happily accepted them for the sake of establishing peace, despite his companions’ unwillingness and distress.

Had the attack of Meccan caravans been unjust looting, it would have been dictated by Meccans as a first demand to be added in the treaty, as it affected their bread-and-butter source of income – trade. But, surprisingly for the opponents of Islam, it was never brought up even once while the treaty was drafted. Why was that? Because Meccans knew that Muslims would never attack their caravans unjustly. They knew it was their own actions that created chaos, fear and disorder in the land.

After the treaty of Hudaybiyyah, the Prophet of Islam (sa) wrote letters to the Kings of Persia and Rome, inviting them to Islam. When the letter reached the King of Rome, he requested that an Arab be brought to him to inquire about the Prophet. Abu Sufyan, the leader of Quraish, happened to be in the city with a trading caravan. He was brought before Heraclius for questioning: 

Heraclius said, “Bring him (Abu Sufyan) close to me and make his companions stand behind him.” Abu Sufyan added, Heraclius told his translator to tell my companions that he wanted to put some questions to me regarding that man (The Prophet) and that if I told a lie they (my companions) should contradict me.” Abu Sufyan added, “By Allah! Had I not been afraid of my companions labeling me a liar, I would not have spoken the truth about the Prophet…”

Sahih Al-Bukhari, Book:1, Hadith:7

Abu Sufyan was in search of any reason to speak against Islam and the Prophet. Yet he found no ground to defame the Muslims. Had the Quraish thought Muslims attacked their caravans, plundered and looted, then surely Abu Sufyan would have happily mentioned this before Heraclius, as this was the best opportunity to announce it. But the full narration of the incident finds no such complaint. 

The reality is quite the opposite; Meccans plundered and robbed Muslims. History tells us that when Muslims were forced to migrate to Medina as refugees, leaving all possessions and properties locked up behind them, taking only a handful of belongings, the Meccans forcefully entered their properties and looted all their possessions. Such was the case with many companions of the Prophet of Islam, such as Abdullah ibn Jahsh (ra) who was among the first Muslims to migrate to Medina. He was the son in law of Abu Sufyan himself and his migration from Mecca to Medina resulted in his relatives seizing his house and selling it. The properties and land of Muslims were unlawfully divided among the Meccan idolaters. Yet one never reads of Christian orientalists objecting to this injustice!

Yet, at the conquest of Mecca, when Muslims were in full control and power, and had every right to take back what was looted from them, without any objection, they desisted. The Prophet Muhammad (sa) stated:

No believer will inherit an infidel’s property.”

Sahih al-Bukhari Book 64, Hadith 316 

And all was left alone. The Prophet Muhammad (sa) himself set such a high example that he camped outside Mecca lest anyone would be burdened by his presence. 

We ask, has the world witnessed such virtue and such ethics? Never. The allegation is not only false but in fact, obscene, when one considers the Prophet Muhammad’s (sa) own example to the contrary. He was a model of virtue, the like of which the world has never and the like of which the world will never see again.

Share this article