In later life, the Prophet Muhammad served his community as a statesman, engaging in diplomatic and military affairs. This video explores the sources of Muhammad’s teachings on peace and compromise.
This lesson has three parts. The first concerns the upbringing of al-Kamil and the teachings he absorbed from his uncle Salahuddin and his mother. It also describes the life of Muhammad and his leadership of the Muslim community against resistance to his ideas, and efforts to end his mission, as well as the conduct of his response to persecution and attacks, and how he taught his followers. The second part of the lesson is document study from Qur’an and hadith on the conduct of war and the mandate to make peace as soon as possible. The third segment expands on the Islamic sources on war and peace, and their interpretation and implementation in the real world.
- Students will identify authoritative texts and points of Muslim scholars’ interpretation on the conduct of war and peace.
- They will relate aspects of the life of Muhammad as an example of the conduct of war and peace, and its effect on al-Kamil’s decisions to offer negotiation, and to temper his victory over the Crusaders by offering them favorable terms of surrender, and feeding the army in its dire situation.
- Who was al-Kamil’s uncle, and what made his uncle famous?
- What characterized al-Malik al-Kamil’s upbringing in Egypt? What was expected of him?
- What gives the Qur’an and Hadith its authority for Muslims?
- How did Tareq al-Gawhary describe the relationship of Prophet Muhammad to military leadership and diplomacy?
- What are the limits placed on warfare and the conduct of war according to Homayra Ziad?
- When you hear about Prophet Muhammad, what do you think about his relationship to peace and compromise?
- Watch the video and use the discussion questions as context for the document study in the other parts of the lesson, which are introduced by the experts speaking in the video on Islamic principles of war, peace and compromise.
- Assign the handout on the life of Muhammad and his example, and use its discussion questions to draw a line between al-Kamil’s upbringing to be a ruler, his study of the Qur’an and the prophetic example.
- Recall the Sultan & Saint film and the other short videos to relate al-Kamil’s actions to the Islamic sources. Students may refer to the al-Kamil bionote as well.
- How did his actions in first offering the crusaders a compromise, then defending Egypt from invasion by allowing the Nile to flood the battlefield, then feeding the crusader soldiers and allowing them safe passage home after the defeat.
- Assign groups or pairs to select Qur’an verses and prophetic hadith to analyze their content in depth. One method is to cut the handout into strips containing one verse or hadith each, and having the students analyze their meaning and calls to action. They may try to pair Qur’an verses and hadith of similar meaning.
- Finally, discuss the limitations on warfare, the role of the Qur’an in limiting war and encouraging peace, and compare both with the state of the world in medieval times, and current media perceptions around Islam as fostering war and atrocities.
Muhammad (son of Abdullah) (ca. 570 – 632) is known as “Prophet Muhammad” among believers in the religion of Islam. According to Islamic teachings, he was the last prophet, or messenger of God, who received revelation. When Muslims mention Muhammad’s name, they ask God to bless him, as they do for other prophets such as Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Muhammad was born into the tribe of Quraysh, in the Arabian city of Makkah. Quraysh was the tribe that took care of the sacred Ka’bah, or house of worship, and gave water and food to pilgrims who visited it. Quraysh traced its ancestry to Abraham and his son Ishmael, and believed that the two of them founded Makkah and built the Ka’bah.
Muhammad’s father died before he was born and his mother died when he was a child. Muhammad lived with his grandfather, and later his uncle, Abu Talib. Abu Talib was generous but not wealthy, and taught Muhammad to trade on their caravan journeys to Syria. A wealthy Makkan widow named Khadijah employed Muhammad to sell her goods in Syria. She was so pleased with his work that she asked him to marry her. For twenty-five years, Khadijah and Muhammad were happily married. Their four daughters lived to be adults, but two sons died.
Muhammad did not like the idol-worship of the Makkans or the unjust way the rich treated the poor and even members of their own tribe. He often spent time in thought and prayer in a cave outside Makkah. There on the Mountain of Light (Jabal al-Nur), Muhammad first experienced the call to prophethood. Muhammad described how the Angel Gabriel awoke him and told him to read. Muhammad replied that he could not read. Gabriel then said, “Read (or recite) in the name of your Lord who created, created man from a clinging clot.” (Qur’an 95:1–2) These were the first verses of the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam.
Muhammad was about forty years old then. The experience frightened him and he hurried home, shivering, to his wife, who wrapped him in a blanket. Khadijah reassured him that his search for truth would not lead him astray. Her cousin Waraqah, a man of faith who knew the Christian holy books, reassured them that Muhammad’s call to prophethood was true. He also warned them that his own tribe would reject him as other prophets had been rejected by their people.
After a short time, Muhammad began experiencing more revelations. These new verses told Muhammad to preach to his family. Members of Muhammad’s household and immediate family accepted Islam, including his wife Khadijah, the first Muslim woman. Later, he gathered members of his tribe and warned them to believe in one God and turn away from worshipping idols and behaving unjustly. All of them rejected him except for his young cousin Ali, son of Abu Talib. The earliest Muslims were mostly poor people, slaves and women. Some important Makkans joined him, but the most powerful leaders of the Quraysh continued to reject him. His growing influence among the members of Makkan society threatened their prestige and power. They bribed him with offers of wealth and power, but he refused to give up. Quraysh persecuted the Muslims and finally banished them to a dry valley and forbade anyone from trading with them. Khadijah and Abu Talib both died during the boycott. During this time Muhammad sent a small group of Muslims to Ethiopia to seek asylum, or protection from persecution, which was granted by its Christian king, the Negus. The Quraysh feared that Muhammad’s preaching against the idols would reach their visitors during the pilgrimage, causing people to stop visiting the Ka’bah.
Visitors from Yathrib, a city north of Makkah, did respond to Muhammad’s teaching. Seeing the suffering of the Muslims, they pledged to protect Muhammad and his followers in their town. Gradually, the Muslims left Makkah. When Quraysh plotted to kill Muhammad, he and a close companion, Abu Bakr, secretly left Makkah to join the Muslims in Yathrib. Muhammad’s journey in 622―called the Hijrah―marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar. Yathrib was renamed Madinat an-Nabi, or “City of the Prophet.” The people of Yathrib invited Muhammad to become their leader and arbitrator to solve the tribal warfare that was tearing Yathrib apart. Muhammad drew up an agreement of cooperation among the Muslims and the tribes of the city. To help the refugees from Makkah, who had left all that they owned behind, Muhammad joined each migrant from Makkah (Muhajirun) in brotherhood with a Muslim from Madinah (Ansar). This policy helped the refugees to begin new lives, and helped the new Muslims of Madinah learn Islam from the experienced Muslims from Makkah.
Muhammad’s successful escape from the murder plot enraged the Makkan leaders. They had gained the wealth of the refugees, but they saw a greater danger from the Muslims. Muhammad’s growing influence among the tribes of Arabia might replace Quraysh’s leadership. They tried to weaken or eliminate the Muslims. Throughout his time in Makkah, Muhammad had not fought against Quraysh’s persecution of the Muslims. In Madinah, according to Islamic teachings, a Qur’anic verse now told the Muslims to fight the Makkans. The first battle came at the arrival of a Makkan caravan near the wells of Badr. Although the Muslims were greatly outnumbered, they defeated the Quraysh in the Battle of Badr. The Quraysh sought revenge in a second battle at Uhud, where many Muslims and Quraysh died, but the outcome was a standoff.
Unable to defeat the Muslims as easily as they expected, Quraysh planned to attack Madinah with the help of allied tribes. Instead of going out to meet the attack, the Muslims fortified the city by digging a deep trench around an undefended part of Madinah. The Makkans had never seen such a defense, and were used to quick raids, but not siege warfare. During the Battle of the Trench, Quraysh and their allies camped outside the trench and tried to break through. After many of their allies lost patience and went home, the weather turned bad, and Quraysh broke camp and returned home, humiliated. Their prestige with local tribes was in serious trouble, and their economic power was weakened by the new threat to their caravans.
After the Battle of the Trench, Muhammad decided to make the pilgrimage to Makkah. Although the Quraysh had the ancient duty to honor visiting pilgrims, they stopped the Muslims outside of Makkah at a place called Hudaybiyyah, and denied them the right to visit the Ka’bah. Instead of entering the city, Muhammad succeeded in getting Quraysh to make a peace treaty. The treaty allowed the Muslims to make pilgrimage the next year, and Quraysh agreed to ten years of peace, with other terms that seemed to benefit the Makkans. The treaty was a victory for Muhammad, however, for three reasons: (1) The Quraysh, after trying to exterminate the Muslim community, had been forced to recognize it as a bargaining partner. (2) The Quraysh had failed in its traditional duty by keeping Muhammad away from the Ka’bah, and was already weakened by defeat in battle. (3) The treaty gave both the Quraysh and Muhammad the right to make alliances with other tribes, and allowed Muslim influence to grow unchallenged.
A short time later, the Quraysh broke the treaty. Muhammad marched an army of thousands toward Makkah. Recognizing certain defeat, the Quraysh surrendered the city without a fight. Muhammad granted amnesty, or safety, to any Makkans who stayed in their houses. He removed the idols from the Ka’bah, and the Islamic call to prayer sounded from its roof, as it has every day since. After the conquest of Makkah, many people in Arabia began to accept Islam.
During this time, Muhammad married several women, including ‘Aisha, the daughter of Abu Bakr, and Hafsa, the daughter of ‘Umar, two important companions. Other wives were mainly older widows, or women who helped to cement relations with their tribes. All agreed to the marriages. His wives spoke of him as a fair and affectionate husband, and passed on the record of his words and deeds to later generations.
Revelation of the Qur’an continued for 23 years, until shortly before Muhammad’s death in 632. He recited the final verse during a sermon on his Farewell Pilgrimage. By that time, the Qur’an had already been memorized by many of Muhammad’s followers, recited in his presence, and written down by secretaries such as Zayd ibn Thabit. Many also had memorized or recorded Muhammad’s words and deeds, which became known as the hadith. The pattern of Muhammad’s life came to be called the Sunnah, the second source of Islamic knowledge after the Qur’an. Muhammad was buried in Madinah in the house where he died, which was connected to the main mosque, or masjid, that had been the gathering place in Madinah. Today, the masjid where he lived is known as the Mosque of the Prophet, or Masjid an-Nabawi.
Study & Discussion Questions:
- What was the origin of the city of Makkah? How did trade and the pilgrimage make the city important to the Arabs?
- Describe Muhammad’s childhood. At what stage of life did the call to prophethood come, according to Islamic teachings?
- What response did the Makkans show toward the Qur’an and the teachings of Muhammad? How did the various Makkan groups express their reactions?
- What does it mean that Muslims were they not allowed to defend themselves in Makkah, relation to other prophets
- What was the purpose of the Hijrah, and what did it achieve for the Muslims from Makkah and Yathrib?
- In your view, what was the most important factor in the success of Muhammad’s mission?
“It was by God’s grace that you (Muhammad) did deal gently with your followers: for if you had been harsh and hard of heart, they would indeed have broken away from you. Pardon them, then, and pray that they be forgiven. And consult with them in all matters of public concern.” (Quran 3:159)
“O you who believe . . . never let the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety.” (Quran 5:8)
People often quote verses to claim that the Qur’an justifies constant, unlimited, and aggressive warfare, especially to force conversion. This is an incorrect and biased view, because it interprets a very conditional allowance for people and communities to defend themselves against aggression, and pretends that there are no limits imposed by the verses that allow but limit it by including commands such as those quoted above. In the following paragraphs, follow the argument and cite the evidence for Islamic sources and their interpretations putting limits on warfare in favor of peace and compromise.
“The servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say words of peace.” (Qur’an 25:63)
“So turn aside from them and say words of peace, but soon they are going to know. (Qur’an 43:89)
“Peace, a word from a Merciful Lord.” (Qur’an 36:58)
“If the enemy inclines to peace, then incline to it also and rely upon Allah. Verily, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing.” (Qur’an 8:61)
“So if they remove themselves from you and do not fight you and offer you peace, then Allah has not made for you a cause for fighting against them.” (Qur’an 4:90)
The term hadith refers to what Prophet Muhammad said and did, based on reports of those who lived with him and recorded his words and deeds. The whole of his words and deeds, his example that believers were to try to follow in their lives, is called the sunnah, or path, or way. While he was alive, his followers exchanged news of his words and deeds, and after he died, they recorded them in memory and in writing. Collection of hadith was an important religious effort and discipline, and hadith scholars took care to verify and preserve the chains of transmission—who heard the Prophet, who related a saying to whom, and so on. These chains were passed down with the sayings.
In the early centuries of Islamic history, critical hadith scholars compiled large collections that became standard reference works of accepted hadith, graded by degrees of accuracy. Several of these standard collections were al-Bukhari, Muslim, Sunnan Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, and al-Tabari, who was also a historian.
These are examples of hadith on peace and diplomacy.
Aisha reported: Whenever the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, would invoke peace while sitting in prayer, he did not sit but long enough to say: “O Allah, you are Peace and from you is peace. Blessed are you, O Majestic and Generous.” (Source: Sahih Muslim 592)
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “You will not enter Paradise until you believe and you will not believe until you love each other. Shall I show you something that, if you did, you would love each other? Spread peace between yourselves.” (Source: Sahih Muslim 54)
Abdullah ibn Umar reported: A man asked the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, “Which Islam is best?” The Prophet said: “To feed the hungry and to greet with peace those you know and those you do not know.” (Source: Sahih Bukhari 28)
Ammar ibn Yasir, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “Whoever has three qualities together will have gathered the faith: equity with yourself, offering peace to the world, and spending from small amounts.” (Source: Sahih Bukhari 28)
Ali ibn Abu Talib reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “Verily, after me there will be conflicts or affairs, so if you are able to end them in peace, then do so.” (Source: Musnad Ahmad 697)
Abdullah ibn Salam said: When the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, came to Madinah [in the time of the Hijra], the people rushed towards him and it was said, “The Messenger of Allah has come!” I came along with the people to see him, and when I looked at the face of the Messenger of Allah, I realized that his face was not the face of a liar. The first thing he said was: “O people, spread peace, feed the hungry, and pray at night when people are sleeping and you will enter Paradise in peace.” (Source: Sunan Ibn Majah 1334)
Abdullah ibn Amr reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “Worship the Most Merciful and spread peace. (Source: Sunan Ibn Majah 3694)
Urwah ibn Ruwaim reported: I saw Abu Umamah Al-Bahili greet with peace whomever he would meet among the Muslims and non-Muslim citizens and he would say: “This is the greeting for the people of our religion, an assurance of security for the people of our covenant, and the name among the names of Allah that we spread between us.” (Source: At-Tamheed Ibn Abdul Barr).