Muhammad (pbuh), His military leadership

May 15, 2003 Thursday Rabi-ul-Awwal 12, 1424

Muhammad (pbuh), His military leadership

By Sardar F. S. Lodi

FOR an excellent example of good leadership in peace and war one must turn to the life of the holy Prophet (PBUH) and see his achievements during his lifetime and those of his companions thereafter.

The holy Prophet was born in Makkah in the year 570 AD. The divine call came when he was 40 years old in the year 610 AD. The Prophet's wife Hazrat Khadeja was first convert to Islam. For the next twelve years up to 622 AD while he was at Makkah, he spread the message of God and the people embraced Islam as they believed in him and his message.

At the age of 52 in the year 622 AD, the holy Prophet migrated to Medina, about 400 km to the north of Makkah, along with his followers. For the next ten years he set up the first Muslim state in the world, governed, administered and led by him under the new and emerging laws of Islam.

Two years after migration to Medina in 624, the first battle of Islam was fought against the Makkans at Badr about 80 miles east of Medina towards the coast where 300 Muslims were pitched against 1000 unbelievers of Makkah. It was a crucial battle and the very existence of Islam itself was at stake. Before taking a final decision the holy Prophet always consulted his companions. In this case the Muslims wanted to return to Medina and fight there, but the holy Prophet wished to stand and fight at Badr and his desire prevailed. It was the correct decision from the tactical and political point of view.

The Makkans had over three to one superiority in numbers which is considered adequate for a breakthrough. But the holy Prophet gave his followers two tactical advantages, the choice of ground and time of attack. He selected hard ground for his force and forced the Makkans to attack through soft sand with the sun in their eyes. The Makkans were utterly defeated at Badr and forced to retreat. It is the considered view of historians, both Muslims and Christians that the battle of Badr was won by the Muslims with Allah's blessings and owing to the personal leadership of the holy Prophet. He was able to galvanize his small force and motivate them with his personal courage and conviction to attain victory.

A year later in 625 a force of about 3,000 Makkans arrived near Medina to defeat the Muslims. This time the holy Prophet wished to fight around the city itself but accepted the advice of the assembled elders to have the battle outside Medina. He led a force of about 1000 Muslims and the battle took place near the hill of Uhad. Losses were heavy on both sides and Khalid bin Walid with his cavalry nearly turned the tide for the Makkans at a crucial stage. The holy Prophet though wounded was able to successfully exhort his followers to hold fast compelling the Makkan force to withdraw.

Two years later in 627 AD the Makkans made yet another attempt to defeat and destroy the Muslims in Medina. This time the attacking force was 10,000 strong, probably the biggest force ever seen in Arabia. The holy Prophet could muster no more than 3,000 able bodied Muslims for the defence of Medina, but he had a large ditch dug under his supervision around the vulnerable areas of the city. This was a revolutionary idea at the time. These defences were able to halt the enemy advance, punish his attempts to cross and eventually forced the Makkans to withdraw with considerable losses.

These three battles fought by the early Muslims under the leadership of the holy Prophet in adverse military conditions were to establish the supremacy of the new religion in the area. After these battles the Quresh of Makkah realized that they could not eliminate the Muslims and the Messenger of God by force of arms. Although these battles were comparatively on a smaller scale fought in the obscurity of the desert yet they were to have a profound effect on the world stage in the years to come, and changed for ever the course of history.

In March 628 the treaty of Hudaibiya was signed which showed the holy Prophet as a statesman who could achieve his objective without resort to arms. To realize a dream the holy Prophet wished to perform Umra and left Medina with about 1600 followers. When the Quresh heard of his journey they deployed 200 horsemen to prevent his advance. The holy Prophet bypassed the horsemen by taking a difficult route through the hills and reached Hudaibiya on the edge of the sacred territory of Makkah, about 8 miles from the city.

The main points of the treaty stipulated that there would be peace between the two sides for 10 years. The Muslims would not perform Umra that year but could return the following year and stay in Makkah for three days, when the Makkans would leave the city for that period. The treaty had great strategic significance for the Muslims. It was drawn on the basis of equality and the Muslims returned to Makkah the following year in their own right.

In September 628 the holy Prophet marched to Kheibar, an oasis 75 miles north of Medina, leading 1400 followers including 200 horsemen. Kheibar was an action against the Jews and consisted of a series of battles, where some fortified positions had to be reduced. This was the first occasion when the Muslims came across fixed defences. After subduing Kheibar the holy Prophet took Wadi al Qura, a smaller oasis nearby, also inhabited by Jews.

In January 630 the holy Prophet occupied Makkah along with 10,000 followers. It was a peaceful capture of Makkah. Having taken Makkah the supreme triumph of the Apostle's career, the circle was complete. In February the holy Prophet defeated the tribe of Hawazin east of Makkah at Hunain with 12,000 men. In spite of numerical superiority there was panic in the Muslim ranks when the enemy attacked unexpectedly from both flanks. The situation was saved and gradually stabilized by the holy Prophet's personal intervention and his call to arms till the Hawazin were defeated and forced to flee.

In September 630 the holy Prophet led an expedition to the Byzantine frontier to the north as it was reported that a large garrison of Byzantine troops had gathered at Tebook. According to Martin Lings, the holy Prophet led an army of 30,000 men including 10,000 horsemen. At Tebook he signed an agreement with the local Christian and Jewish leaders under which they were afforded protection and in return they agreed to pay pool tax. This was the pattern followed later in all cases.

It is a great achievement when we consider that from only two Muslims in 610 AD when the divine call came, a large number of people had accepted Islam, before the migration to Medina in 622. In the next 10 years before his death the holy Prophet was able to take Makkah and Taif to the south and expand northwards into present-day Jordan and push back the outposts of the once mighty Byzantine Empire. A large portion of western Arabia had converted to Islam.

It is astonishing to note that by 732 AD, a 100 years after the holy Prophet's death his followers had defeated and overrun two mighty empires, Byzantine to the north and west and the Persian Empire to the east. They had taken the whole of North Africa, crossed the Mediterranean, taken Spain and crossed the Pyrenees into France. By 850 AD the Muslim Empire extended from the Atlantic to the frontiers of China. As Sir John Glubb writes, The Muslims conquered the greater part of the known civilized world, if we exclude China. The Arab expansion, from a tangle of mutually hostile nomadic tribes in a remote desert to the world's greatest empire, is one of the most astonishing and dramatic incidents in world history.

These remarkable achievements of the Muslims were due primarily to the outstanding leadership qualities of one man - the holy Prophet and his explicit faith in the teachings of Islam. His followers were also imbibed by the same spirit, which carried them across continents and pitched them against two mighty empires, which were swept aside as the Muslim armies marched on.

The writer is a retired Lt-General of Pakistan army.

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