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محمد تامالت


Prophet Mohammed: A State Builder
By Mohamed Tamalt, MA
An Algerian Researcher Living in the UK
mohamed_tamalt@yahoo.co.uk


The treaty which Prophet Mohammed signed with the leaders of the Jewish community of Medina in 622 seems to be one of the first clear shadows of a new state in Arabia which begun in a small oasis and continued growing up in the three continents of the old world, and even in the two Americas. Mohammed knew the importance of the political and economical Jewish influence in the city which remained the first political capital of the Islamic state for almost 50 years and the second religious capital after Mecca.

The Prophet wanted to gain the confidence of this elite of merchants and capital owners in order to establish security and peace in the city which saw a long bloody conflict between Al Aws And Al Khazraj; the two local tribes who invited Mohammed to migrate to their land after they met him in the famous second ‘Pledge of Aqaba’, and who asked him to create convenient conditions for a climate of reconciliation between them. Mohammed came with his Devine word to bring peace; when selling a sword was more beneficial then selling a word.

The treaty with the Jews followed a necessary step: clarifying the status of the new emigrants called Al Muhajiroon and their relationship with their hosts called Al Ansar; the major Jewish clans in medina (Banu Najjar, Banu al-Harith, Banu Sa'idah, Banu Jusham, Banu al-Aws, Banu Tha'labah, Jafnah, and Banu al-Shutaybah) were concerned with it.

The text of the treaty (see Sirat Ibn Hisham: vol. iii pp. 31 to 35) referred Mohammed as the prophet of God but did not oblige the Jewish party to recognise this status. Mohammed stated in this document that the Jews who signed this treaty ‘shall have help and equality; they shall not be injured nor shall any enemy be aided against them’ and shall maintain their religion. The Prophet refused in the treaty to give the ‘unbelievers’ the authority to punish a guilty believer but he severely encouraged the Muslims to stop whoever is ‘rebellious, or seeks to spread injustice, enmity or sedition … even if he is a son of one of them.’

Solidarity and joint liability between the believers were the most important points the treaty focused on. The Muslims had to pay the dept of a needy Muslim and to support him in the case of inability. They were also ordered to revenge him if killed or injured. If a believer gives protection to an unbeliever his word must be respected by the whole Muslim community although he comes from a weak clan in the society. On the other hand, no Muslim shall propose peace to the enemies while his brothers are in war with them; also no one shall protect a criminal.

The Jews were asked in return of their protection guaranteed by the prophet to give assistance to him in the case of war, and not to assist his enemies; according to the Muslim historians they failed later to keep their promises and some of them tried to kill him twice. This was, according to the Islamic sources, the reason of exiling most of the Jewish tribes from the land which they were occupying for centuries before the birth of Mohammed. Before the Meccans attacked Medina, Banu Nadir and Banu Qainuqa’ were exiled as a result of the attempts of their leaders to kill the prophet. In the Battle of Al Ahzab (the siege of Medina in 627) the leaders of Banu Quraidha the tribe which was still leaving on the Southside of the city let the attackers enter the capital of Islam when Quraish sought their help. After more than three weeks, the Meccans and their aliens from the north-western Arabia left Medina, and Banu Quraidha faced their destiny alone. Other Jewish clans remained in the Arabian Peninsula several years after the death of Mohammed, under the Muslims protection.

Suddenly, Mohammed who won the battle of Badr with 300 men fighting more than 1000 Meccans, after Quraish seized the Muslims goods and attempted to sell them in Damascus; and who could be killed, on the other hand, in the battle of Uhud; and who faced a difficult experience of the siege of Medina; announced his famous and unbelievable prophecy that his army would occupy Persia and Byzantium and defeat the two greatest armies in this time. He previously told Soraqa Ibn Malik, a Bedouin who failed to bring him back to Mecca during his migration and who surrounded to Islam, that he would wear the two golden bracelets of Chosroes Anosharvan (Kisra in Arabic) the emperor of Persia; he wore them Indeed 16 years later.

The treaty of Hudaybiyyah with Quraish was the best opportunity for Prophet Mohammed to spread his message in the whole Arabian Peninsula. He started to send his messengers calling for monotheism to the Bedouins; he could also politically play the role of the unifier in a dispersed society obviously weaken by its own conflicts. Mohammed arrival in fact was the first coming light in a very obscure horizon; after centuries of external supremacy, Islam reminded the Arabs their glorious but limited victory against Persia in the battle of Dhi Qar (Nasiriyah – South of Iraq) in 614.

The strategy of Mohammed to unify Arabia is explained by Encyclopوdia Britannia (2001): ‘Ever since the hijrah, Muhammad had been forming alliances with nomadic tribes. At first these were probably nonaggression pacts, but, when he was strong enough to offer protection, he made it a condition of alliance that the tribe should become Muslim. While in Mecca Muhammad had word of a large concentration of hostile nomads, and he set out to confront them. A battle took place at Hunayn in which part of Muhammad's army was put to flight, but he himself and some older Muslims stood firm. The enemy was finally routed … Muhammad was now militarily the strongest man in Arabia. Most tribes sent deputations to Medina seeking alliance. It is difficult to say how much of Arabia joined his alliance, for the inner politics of each tribe were complex, and in some cases the deputation might represent only a small section. Muhammad benefited from the defeat of the Persian Empire by the Byzantine (Christian) Empire (627-628), for, in the Yemen and in places on the Persian Gulf, minorities that had relied on Persian support against Byzantium now turned to Muhammad instead’

The conquest of Mecca is a good example for those who think that Islam is a peaceful religion which is able, at the same time, to protect itself. Only 28 people were killed in a secondary clash while the Islamic army contained ten thousand fighters, the conquest of Mecca was immediately followed by a general amnesty. Franklin Graham, an Evangelic minister seems to be against such an idea; he sees the use of violence in Islam not as a necessary step to face the internal and external menaces, nor as a tool protecting the call of Islam but only as a sick tendency of blood effusion. In June 2002 he told Fox News cable network: ‘I think it's [terrorism] more mainstream. And it's not just a handful of extremists. If you buy the Koran, read it for yourself, and it's in there. The violence that it preaches is there’. In the end of the year, President Georges W. Bush declared the war against Iraq under the cover of bringing democracy; Reverend Graham who previously offered the benediction at his friend’s swearing-in ceremony did not notice any strangeness in the use of this argument.

The itineraries of the Islamic state became clearer after the return to Mecca. the main task was not only enlarging this state but enforcing it from the interior by establishing a system of penalty and an economical organisation of incomes (charities divided to compulsory Zakat and voluntary Sadaqa, spoils etc.) and outcomes (the social supports, the war costs etc.).

Mohammed made from the traditional sources of energy a public property with his famous rule ‘Muslims are partners in three: water, pasture, and fire’ but did not severely limit the right of private ownership. Also, Islam ordered the rich Muslims to pay Zakat (2.5% of their capital according to the Sunnis, and 20% according to the Shia); and the non Muslims ruled by the state to pay Jizya (a nominal tax taken from adult working males, it varies from a country to an other and from a social class to another) which made from the Islamic model a social liberal experience.

This formula provides the necessary level of protection and dignity for the poor and encourages the rich to invest his money as clearly explained by the Hadith narrated by As-Shaf’i: ‘trade with orphans' wealth lest it be exhausted by Zakat’; this is not an instruction for the guardians of the orphans only, but for every capital owner.

Many Islamic thinkers, Muhammed Qutb as an example, consider that Zakat and Islamic inheritance may stop the accumulation of wealth; Qutb says in his book (Islam the misunderstood religion): ‘the ruler is invested with full and unlimited powers within the bounds set by God’s law--the law that precludes the accumulation of wealth. We might refer in this respect to the law of inheritance which ensures that wealth left by each generation is properly distributed. Reference should also be made to Az-Zakat which prescribes that 2.5% of the capital and profit should be annually earmarked for the poor. In addition, Islam explicitly prohibits the hoarding up of wealth’

In fact, Islam brought a revolutionary concept, which was the use of the faith as a tool of social balance, the rich must help the state to gain stability by reducing the margin of poverty, and in return the poor would not, and must not at the same time try to own others’ properties illegally.

From a technical view of the first Islamic state some analysts may find the experience primary, although the document of the foundation of the state in Medina can be considered as a constitution. However, the experience was very rich intellectually; not only Islam had successfully combined faith with force, but it revived the sense of humanity in a thirsty land, full of injustice and humiliation of the human beings. It is not to be ignored in this context that Islam encouraged the liberation of slaves and made from it one of the forms of worshiping God and requesting the Devine amnesty; even Quran blamed the prophet for having ignored a poor man coming to ask him while he was talking to one of Quraish celebrities.

Forbidding usury was another courageous step in a society based on exploitative economical rules; Islam does not see usury as a promotion of production-goods development but as a kind of slavery which must be eradicated. Freedom and social justice had an important place in the new born religion.

Indeed, the state, at this stage, was not only a structure which manages Muslims life, but a compulsory guarantee aiming to protect the religion itself. As stated in the document agreed in Medina, Islam is not a religion which accepts the authority (Wilayah) of a non Muslim on a Muslim, except in very limited cases. This is also very clear in Quran: “Surely (as for) those whom the angels cause to die while they are unjust to their souls, they shall say: In what state were you? They shall say: We were weak in the earth. They shall say: Was not Allah's earth spacious, so that you should have migrated therein?” (4 - 97). Respecting this condition makes from Islam a very flexible religion in the context of the form of the state; as I may understand it is an obligation for the Muslims to rule themselves by themselves but they are still free to choose a political model which must not be contradictory with the general rules of Islam.

The question of ruling Muslims by Muslims was for both Sunni and Shia, the most important issue, and this made from Islam a political religion; however, the margin of interpreting the text is guaranteed and nothing stops it. This is very clear in the appearance of many schools of Law which were resumed later to the current famous doctrines: Maliki, Hanafi, Shafi’i, Hanbali and perhaps Ibadhi for the Sunnis; Imami, Ismaili and Zaidi for the Shia.

For the Sunni scholars, choosing a caliph (successor) of the Prophet was prior to his burial; the argument is that failing to do so, could push the society to a complete disorder and anarchy. For the Shiite scholars the prophet had appointed his cousin Ali Bin Abi Taleb to succeed him, and made thousands of Muslims witnessing his bequest in Ghadir Khumm a few months before he died.

Mohammed was a prophet, not a king; everything confirms that he could easily use his influence to make a fortune and to establish a Mohammedan kingdom, those who accepted to die for him and his message could accept to give this privilege to him. In fact the messenger died and did not leave any inheritance equal to his rank in the Muslim society; even the garden of Fadak, which Abu Bakr refused to give to Mohammed’s daughter Fatimah arguing that he heard her father affirming that God messengers shall not leave inheritance but knowledge, cannot be considered as an enormous capital. The conflict of Fadak had been interpreted later by the birth of Shiism: a political and a religious doctrine based on the idea that the rulers should have to be Mohammed’s descendents.

A look in of the first 30 years of Islam shows how flexible and rational was the religion, this flexibility can be considered as the reason of the quick spread of Islam, a religion which started with a man, a woman and a child and dominated the region between Iran and Morocco in 25 Years. Only Mohammed could face the challenge of urbanising the Arabian Peninsula where two tribes kept fighting for several years to revenge a man who killed a camel and had been killed in revenge.

The prophet died and left a very heavy inheritance to his successor Abu Bakr; Medina faced both internal and external threats: nomad groups’ rebellion and Imperialistic intervention. Mohammed had clearly stated in his last days that Muslims must send an army to fight Byzantium aliens in Syria, this was not a revenging action of the Muslims defeat in the battle of Mauta (the western of Jordan where three thousand Muslims fought two hundred thousands) as it was interpreted by most of the Islamic historians, It was in my opinion a preventive war which Mohammed declared in order to anticipate a global campaign which could attend Medina. Arabia had seen a similar experience in the year the prophet was born in: Abraha the governor of Yemen allying to Negus, the Christian Emperor of Abyssinia, tried to destroy Ka’aba in Mecca.

Even Mauta itself was a preventive battle; Mohammed sent his messenger to the governor of Bosra (southern of Syria) who killed him, he then decided to send the army as he knew that such a murder would be followed by a global military campaign. The last minute join of Caesar troops supported by the local Christian tribes did not push the small army to withdraw its troops. Mauta can be considered as a relevant example of the existence of a rooted culture of martyrdom in Islam: as most of the army stood firm for six days and three of its commanders were killed. This spirit of sacrifice was not, in the view of the prophet, contradictory to the tactics of war. Khaled’s pragmatic decision to come back with the rest of the army after a long resistance was fully agreed by Mohammed.

As Omar Ibn Al Khattab narrated, Muslims were expecting sooner or later a conquest of Medina by the Romans aliens. the evolution of their military capacity after taking Mecca encouraged the Prophet to lead himself thirty thousand Arab fighters in Tabuk after the murder of the governor of Ma’an (southern of Jordan) by the Romans for being converted to Islam. The army of Tabuk (western of Saudi Arabia) was called “the army of distress” as it was very difficult to logistically equip it. This preventive military action should have to continue; and Abu Bakr swore he would ‘let the Romans forget the whispering of the devil by Khaled Ibn Al Walid’ the famous commander of the Islamic army. He even sent Osama’s army to the Syrian borders in a circumstance when Medina was surrounded by rebellion.

In two years, Abu Bakr suppressed the rebellion, reunified most of the Arabian Peninsula, and even took parts of Syria and Iraq. His firm policy against the rebellion having as a purpose the protection of the new born state has been mistakenly generalised by some Islamist ideologues. There is nothing in Quran which states a particular punishment for whom leaves Islam, a few Hadiths ordering the murder of the apostate exist and have been interpreted by the moderate schools of Islamism as an exclusive action related to those who fight Islam after leaving it

As many of the tribes did not actually express a wish to leave Islam but a determination to stop paying Zakat, it is more convenient to see the war of apostasy as a political war against dissidence. Tactically Abu Bakr was right, but nothing encourages me to think that he would do the same thing today if he had been the ruler of the Islamic world.