IN THE SIXTH YEAR AFTER THE EMIGRATION, THE Prophet saw in a vision that he was performing the circuit of the Ka’aba with a party of Muslims (48:28). Relating this vision to his companions, he asked them to prepare for a journey to Mecca for the purpose of performing the circuit. This was a privilege which could be claimed by anyone, and it was not permissible to hinder its exercise. The Prophet announced that the only purpose of his party, which numbered fifteen hundred men, was to perform the circuit in peace and then to return to Medina. He had no hostile intent against anybody. The Meccans decided not to permit him and his party to enter Mecca for any purpose whatever, and sent out a strong force to the north to intercept him. The Prophet, approaching Mecca from the west, refrained from entering the limits of the Sanctuary, * and made camp a few miles outside these limits. He announced that he would accept any conditions the Meccans might choose to impose upon his party during the period they would be in Mecca, so only that they might perform their acts of worship in peace. (The Sanctuary, an area encompassing the Ka’aba and its precincts and extending for twenty miles in each direction from the limits of Mecca, is a region in which no fighting is permitted. Pillars mark the boundaries of the Sanctuary)
Soon an envoy arrived from the city and made it clear that the chiefs would on no account permit the Muslims to enter Mecca, at least not that year, for this would be interpreted as a triumph for the Prophet and a humiliation for the Meccans. Continuing his efforts to persuade the Meccans to let his party perform an act of worship which was the undoubted right of every Arab, the Prophet sent one of his principal companions, Uthman, into Mecca to talk to the chiefs, but to no purpose. Eventually, the Meccans did propose certain conditions, all of which the Prophet accepted, and a treaty, known as the Treaty of Hudaibiyya (after the place where the Prophet was then encamped), was drawn up. The treaty specified that hostilities be suspended for ten years; that any tribe choosing to do so could enter into treaty relations with the Muslims or the Meccans; that both sides were under obligation to respect these treaties; that any Meccan young man who left the town without the permission of his father or guardian and joined the Prophet would be returned to Mecca, but that any Muslim who left the Prophet and went over to the Meccans would not be returned to the Muslims; that the Prophet and his party would return to Medina, but would be permitted to perform the circuit the following year and could stay in Mecca for that purpose for three days; that they would not enter Mecca with any arms other than sheathed swords; that the Meccans would vacate the town during that period in order to eliminate all risk of clash.
The Muslims felt that the terms of the treaty were not only onerous and one‑sided, but humiliating. The Prophet, however, explained that unequal as it was, it did secure great benefits, the principal ones being that the Meccans had recognized the Muslims as a people with whom they could enter into treaty relations, and that they had agreed to a ten‑year truce period. During that time Islam could be freely preached, and, he added, perhaps peaceful conditions would be established throughout Arabia before the truce period ended. He also stressed that the terms of the treaty were not contrary to his vision; in fact, they opened a way for its fulfillment, inasmuch as the performance of the circuit of the Ka’aba the following year was now assured. Concerning the one‑sided arrangement with regard to the return of Meccan young men who might accept Islam, the Prophet pointed out that any person whose heart was illumined by faith would continue to spread the light wherever he was, while Muslims had no use for anybody who chose to repudiate his faith and desert them.
While the Prophet and his party were on their way back to Medina from Hudaibiyya, the Prophet received a revelation which described the peace treaty as a great victory (48:2).
Peace having been secured, with every chance of its being made permanent before the treaty lapsed, the Prophet was now able to turn, without distracting diversions, to the carrying forward of his principal mission. He addressed letters to the various rulers holding sway over territories which were part of, or contiguous to, the Arabian peninsula, inviting; them to accept Islam. Among those to whom these letters were sent were the Cheif of Bahrain, the Emperor of Iran, the Byzantine Emperor, his Viceroy in Egypt, and the Emperor of Ethiopia. The Chief of Bahrain and many of his people accepted Islam. The Iranian Emperor treated the Prophet’s communication with haughty contempt, not only tearing it up, but sending directions to his Viceroy in Yemen to have the Prophet arrested. The Byzantine Emperor, to whom the letter was delivered, took some interest in its contents and even made inquiries concerning the Prophet. His Viceroy in Egypt treated the letter with great veneration and sent back presents to the Prophet. The Emperor of Ethiopia accepted the Prophet’s invitation and declared himself a Muslim.
The Jews who had been expelled from Medina and were settled in Khaibar, a short distance to the north, found that their incitement of Arab tribes against the Prophet had, in view of the Treaty of Hudaibiyya, little chance of success; therefore, they turned their attention to the Christian and pagan tribes in the north, who were under the protection of the Byzantine Emperor, and they also started intriguing with the Jews settled in Iraq and with the Iranian Emperor. Thus, though the Prophet and the Muslims might have peace in south and central Arabia, they were to be exposed to fresh and even greater dangers from the north and northeast. If the whole of that region were not to flare up at once against the Muslims, the least that was necessary was to remove the Jews from Khaibar because the place served as a dangerous spying post as well as a center of disaffection and incitement close to Medina. The Prophet led a force against Khaibar and called upon the Jews to surrender, but, relying on the strength of their fortifications, they chose to fight. After a siege lasting some days they surrendered, but were allowed to depart unharmed on condition that they settle in some place far from Medina.
When the time came, the Prophet and two thousand followers performed the circuit of the Ka’aba‑and did so with scrupulous observance of the conditions which had been laid down the previous year in the Treaty of Hudaibiyya. Shortly after, Khalid and ‘Amr, two of the Meccan generals who had distinguished themselves in the battle of Uhud, accepted Islam and joined the Muslims.
On return from Mecca, the Prophet received intelligence that Christian tribes on the Syrian border, instigated by the Jaws and pagan Arabs, were making preparations for an attack upon Medina. He dispatched a party of fifteen to make a reconnaissance. They found an army massing on the Syrian border, and hoping that an exposition of the principles of Islam might serve to reassure the Christian tribes of Syria and to preserve peace, they attempted to establish contact with these hostile forces. They were, however, attacked with arrows, and were all killed.
Upon receipt of this news, the Prophet planned an expedition against Syria, but receiving intimation that the forces which had been concentrating on the border had dispersed, he abandoned the project. Instead, he addressed a letter to the Byzantine Emperor through the chief of the Ghassan tribe, who exercised authority in the name of Byzantium, in which he protested against the military preparations which had been observed on the Syrian border and the unjust killing of the party of fifteen whom he had sent to report on the border situation. His envoy was arrested by the Ghassan chief and was put to death. When this came to the Prophet’s knowledge, he dispatched a force of three thousand to Syria under the command of Zaid, his freedman.
The Prophet, together with some of his companions, traveled some distance out of Medina with these forces, to speed them on their way, and when parting with them he reminded them that they should consider themselves all the time in the presence of God, and that the commanders should deal justly with those over whom they had been placed in authority. They should fight in the cause of God courageously, but humanely. They should not molest priests and monks and those who occupied themselves with the remembrance of God in their houses of worship, nor should they kill women or children or old people or those who were in any manner afflicted and were not able to fight. Nor should they cut down any tree or pull down any building.
When these forces arrived at the Syrian border, they found that the Emperor himself had taken the field with one hundred thousand of his own soldiers, and a like number recruited from the focal Christian tribes. A discussion arose among the Muslims whether they should go forward to encounter this huge force, or should return to Medina and report the situation, or should send to Medina for instructions. It was decided to march forward, and the battle was fought at a place called Muta. The fighting was fierce and desperate and first Zaid, and after him Jafar, a cousin of the Prophet, and then Abdullah, each of whom had been named commander by the Prophet in that order, were killed. Then Khalid took over the command and continued the fight till dark. The next day he changed the disposition of his small force; those on the right were posted on the left and those in the rear were brought to the front. This created the impression among the enemy that the Muslims had received reinforcements during the night. There was desperate fighting throughout the day, and at nightfall the Byzantine forces withdrew from the field. Khalid returned to Medina with the remnant of the Muslim force.
The following year the Meccan’s committed a flagrant breach of the Treaty of Hudaibiyya. Without warning or cause, they sent a force with the Banu Bakr tribe, with whom they were in alliance, to attack the Khuza’a, a tribe in alliance with the Muslims, and killed many of their people. The Khuza’a immediately dispatched a party of forty fast riders to Medina to give the Prophet intimation of this treacherous attack and to call upon him to redress the breach of the treaty. The Meccans, perturbed at this piece of news, sent Abu Sufyan to Medina to patch up the matter. Nobody there paid any attention to him and he returned to Mecca, where he reported that though he had not succeeded in securing a new agreement, neither had he observed any warlike preparations in Medina. Abu Sufyan and the Meccans were soon undeceived, however, and were taken completely by surprise when they found the Prophet only a day’s march from Mecca at the head of a force of ten thousand, composed partly of Muslims from Medina, but mainly of Muslims from among the tribes in alliance with the Prophet.
The Meccans, feeling helpless, sent Abu Sufyan and two others to the Prophet’s camp to see whether anything could be done to save the situation. They found the Prophet much distressed over the wanton breach of the treaty by the Meccans and the slaughter among the Khuza’a that they and their allies had perpetrated. Abu Sufyan, recalling all that the Meccans had done to and attempted against, the Prophet and the Muslims, feared the worst. He passed a night in the Prophet’s camp and was deeply impressed by the love and devotion which the Muslims entertained for the Prophet. Realizing that there was no way of escape for the Meccans, he asked the Prophet whether the Meccans could have peace if they did not draw the sword. The Prophet answered in the affirmative and announced a series of measures which would secure a peaceful entry of his followers into Mecca and obviate the possibility of a clash. These measures were widely proclaimed in Mecca and the Muslim forces marched in, the Prophet himself bringing up the rear. At one point the party led by Khalid was attacked by the Meccans and there was a clash resulting in the death of about a dozen men. News of this was brought quickly to the Prophet, and he immediately issued orders which stopped further bloodshed.
The Prophet proceeded to the Ka’aba, and himself smashed one by one the idols that had been installed therein. As each idol fell, he recited the verse: “Truth has come and falsehood has vanished away. Falsehood does indeed vanish fast” (I7:82). Thus was the Ka’aba restored to its true purpose, the worship of the One God, as was intended by Abraham.
Having performed these immediate and necessary tasks, and having prayed inside and outside the Ka’aba in thankfulness to God for all His favors, the Prophet sent for the leaders of the Qureish and asked them how he should deal with them. They replied that they fully merited whatever punishment he might choose to inflict upon them, but that they knew he was a generous brother and would deal with them as such. The Prophet pronounced judgment in the words addressed by the Prophet Joseph to his brethren: “No retribution shall be exacted from you this day” (12:93)
All the scorn and ridicule poured on him by the Meccans; their implacable hatred and enmity; the long years of bitter, cruel, and sustained persecution; all the fighting, the hardship and suffering; the loss of dear and devoted companions‑all, all was in the moment of triumph laid aside, banished from the mind and forgiven in the name of the Lord on High, the Gracious, the Merciful, the Creator and Master of all. God’s glorious command was carried out to the uttermost: “Good and evil are not alike. Repel evil with that which is best and lo, he between whom and thyself was enmity will become as though he were a warm friend. But none attains to it save those who are steadfast, and none attains to it save those who possess abundant good” (41 : 35‑36). The gates of love and mercy were opened wide. Bitter enemies of the morning became warm friends by nightfall. Some hearts were still sullen; the humiliation, though softened by magnanimity, was hard to endure, but even these could not long withstand the healing effect of the balm so generously and so beneficently applied by the Prophet. History furnishes no parallel instance of such complete forgiveness, such utter beneficence, on so large a scale.
A dozen individuals had been marked down for punitive action on account of the atrocities of which they, individually, had been guilty. One of them was Hindah, the wife of Abu Sufyan, who had constantly incited the Meccans against the Muslims. After the battle of Uhud she had cut out the heart of the Prophet’s uncle, Hamza killed in battle, and had chewed it up. Even on the day that Mecca opened its gates to the Muslims, she was so outraged when her husband conveyed to her news of the surrender that she took hold of his beard and gave him a violent shaking, calling upon the Meccans to come and kill him for his treachery in having agreed to the surrender instead of taking up arms against the Muslims. However, when she realized that the situation was hopeless, she joined a group of women who went to the Prophet to make their submission. During their talk with the Prophet, Hindah, veiled, intervened several times with pert remarks. The Prophet, thinking the voice was familiar, inquired: “Is that Hindah?” Hindah replied: “Yes, but Messenger of Allah, you cannot proceed against me now for I am a professing Muslim.” The Prophet smiled and said: “Of course, you are free.”
Another Meccan of the same type was Habbar, who had cut the girth of the camel which carried the Prophet’s daughter Zainab as she was about to proceed to Medina during the Emigration. Habbar’s action caused Zainab to fall from the camel. She suffered a miscarriage, which later resulted in her death. Habbar also appeared before the Prophet, and professing sorrow for his misconduct begged forgiveness, intimating that he had accepted Islam. In his case also the Prophet said: “You may go free. I can take no action against you now.”
It will be recalled that Abu Jahl, the commander of the Meccan army killed during the battle of Badr, had been the Prophet’s bitterest enemy in Mecca. His son, Ikramah, was one of the Meccan commanders in the battle of Uhud who had spotted the inadequately guarded rear pass and had led the attack which ended in near disaster for the Muslims.
When Mecca fell, Ikramah left the town and proceeded to the coast, intending to cross over to Ethiopia, being convinced that he could have no security in Mecca or anywhere near it. His wife approached the Prophet and asked whether Ikramah could re turn to Mecca while professing his idolatrous beliefs. The Prophet replied that faith was a matter of conscience and conscience was free. If Ikramah returned to Mecca he would not be molested, and could live there in security professing whatever he chose to believe in. On this assurance she followed Ikramah and persuaded him to return to Mecca. On arrival there, he repaired to the Prophet and received the assurance which the Prophet had already given to his wife. Thereupon he announced his acceptance of Islam, and the Prophet asked him if there were anything he wished for. Ikramah replied that he could wish for no greater bounty than God had already bestowed upon him in opening his heart to the acceptance of Islam, but he did desire that the Prophet should pray God to forgive him all the enmity that he had borne toward the Prophet and the Muslims.
The Prophet prayed accordingly and then bestowed his own cloak on Ikramah, saying: “He who comes to me believing in God can claim my house as his.” Ikramah proved himself a sincere and zealous believer and set the seal on his faith by laying down his life in defense of it on one of the Syrian battlefields some years later.
The Prophet, having returned to Mecca, as had been foretold before the Emigration (28:86), felt that the people of Medina might wonder whether he intended to take up his residence there. He called their leaders and told them that he had no such intention. Mecca was very dear to him, but having cast in his lot with the people of Medina, who had stood by him when he was rejected by the Meccans and had to leave Mecca, he would not now leave them for Mecca. They were delighted to hear this and felt as if he had bestowed the world’s abundance upon them.
Mecca had fallen, but this did not bring peace. The Prophet’s march against Mecca had been so sudden that the first intimation of it that reached the tribes of central and southern Arabia was the fall of the town. They were greatly agitated by the news, and felt that the time had come for the last desperate effort to be put forth against Islam. Within a month of the fall of Mecca and while the Prophet was still in the town, he had to go forth to face an army of seventy thousand men at Hunain. On this occasion a force of two thousand Meccans, many of whom had not yet professed Islam, had also joined him, for though not Muslims they had accepted the Prophet’s authority.
The battle, even before it was fairly joined, took an adverse course, and the Muslim forces were thrown into utter confusion. The Prophet was left with only twelve companions, but he spurred his mule forward, saying: “I am a true Prophet and no impostor. I am the grandson of Abdul Muttalib.” At the same time he asked his uncle, Abbas, who was near him, to stand on an eminence and call out to the Emigrants and the Helpers that the Prophet of God summoned them. This helped rally the Muslim forces and the battle that ensued ended in complete victory (9:25‑26). On this occasion Abu Sufyan, a recent and reluctant convert, gave proof of his rapid inner conviction by holding fast to the stirrup of the Prophet and exposing himself to extreme danger. The enemy abandoned great booty on the field of battle and many prisoners were taken, which brought in large sums in ransom. Instead of distributing all this among the Muslim forces, according to custom, the Prophet chose to distribute it among the people of Mecca and those living in the neighborhood of Mecca, Muslim and non‑Muslim alike. This occasioned some disappointment among sections of the Muslim army, but most of them reconciled themselves to the Prophet’s decision and accepted it cheerfully.
The result of the battle of Hunain seemed to assure peace in the peninsula proper, but when the Prophet returned to Medina he found that owing mainly to the activities of some of the disaffected elements, the leading figure among whom was Abu ‘Amir of the Khazraj, there was serious apprehension of an attack from the north. Abu ‘Amir and his associates had been active in creating tension between the Muslims and the Christian tribes of Syria. They went to and fro spreading rumors on each side that the other was preparing to attack. These rumors became so persistent that the Prophet considered it necessary to lead in person an army against Syria. In Medina itself the disaffected element tried to scare the Muslims by painting dreadful pictures of the sufferings and destruction that surely awaited any force that might dare to challenge the great might of Byzantium, while yet hoping that the Prophet would go north at the head of a group so small and weak that none of them would be suffered to return. Medina was at that time in the grip of a famine and the season was at its hottest, so that marching through the desert involved terrible suffering. Some of the desert Arabs sought to make excuses why they could not join the expedition. Others who were eager to join could not find mounts, nor even shoes to protect their feet against the burning sands of the desert (9:90‑96) Nevertheless, a force was got ready, and marched to the border of Syria. Arriving there, the Prophet dispatched parties in different directions to report on the situation. These returned and reported that they had not observed any concentrations anywhere. Being assured that in fact no preparations were going forward in Syria for an attack against the Muslims, the Prophet decided to return to Medina, stopping only for a few days near the border to conclude peace treaties with some of the tribes on the border. There was no fighting at all. The expedition involved the Prophet’s absence from Medina for about two and one‑half months.
Delegations now poured in from all parts of Arabia offering their submission and announcing their acceptance of Islam. In a short time the whole of Arabia adhered to the Pax Islamica.
In the ninth year after the Emigration, the Prophet went on pilgrimage to Mecca. On the day of the pilgrimage he received the revelation: “This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favor unto you and have chosen for you Islam as your faith” (5:4).
The Prophet, as was his wont, announced the revelation and delivered an address‑known as the Farewell Address‑to the huge assemblage in the valley of Arafat outside Mecca. He started by saying that he did not know whether he would be able to meet them again on the occasion of the pilgrimage, and he asked them to lend an attentive ear to what he had to say. He went on to admonish them to order their lives in accordance with the commandments of God; to take particular care that no trespass was committed against any person in respect of his life, property, or honor; to treat women with due regard and consideration, fully observing their rights, which corresponded to the rights that the men had. He expressed solicitude for the welfare of prisoners of war, some of whom they still had among them, saying that they must be accorded the same treatment as members of the captors’ own families; he stressed that all human beings were equal, whatever their individual status, and that no one could claim any privilege or superiority against any other.
He ended by asking them to bear witness to the Unity of God, and to affirm the principal articles of faith. He then inquired whether he had conveyed God’s message to them, and had discharged his trust. There was a deafening response that he had. He asked those present to convey what he had said to those who were not present on the occasion.
The pilgrimage over, the Prophet returned to Medina and occupied every available moment in expounding and teaching the principles of Islam and the philosophy that lay behind them and in urging the Muslims to order their lives accordingly.
One day he announced that he had received the revelation: “In the name of Allah, Ever Gracious, Most Merciful. The help of Allah having come, and the Victory, and thou having witnessed men entering the religion of Allah in troops, hymn the praises of thy Lord, and seek His protection against their weaknesses. Surely He is Oft‑Returning with compassion” (110:2‑4)
Abu Bakr concluded from this that as the Prophet’s mission had been fulfilled, he would not be spared to them for long, and he was overcome by emotion. The Prophet, observing this, remarked: “If it were permissible to love a human being with the heart’s full devotion, I would have so loved Abu Bakr, but such love is only for God,” and he went on to add that all doors that opened into the mosque should be closed except Abu Bakr’s.
Soon the Prophet fell ill. For some days he continued to go to the mosque and lead the Prayers, but then he became too weak to do this. He directed Abu Bakr to lead the Prayers. One day he told those present that if there were anyone whom he might have injured by mistake or unwittingly, that person should come forward now so that he might make suitable amends, as he did not wish to appear before his Maker with any obligation not discharged. One of them came forth. He reminded the Prophet of an inconvenience, even though slight, which he had once suffered at the Prophet’s hands. It was merely that the Prophet’s elbow had by chance once grazed his back. “Come then,” the Prophet offered, “and stick your elbow into my back.” “But, oh Messenger of Allah, my back was bare while yours is covered.” The Prophet offered to bare his back, and did so. ‘the man approached, and with great tenderness kissed the Prophet’s back. It was his way of demonstrating his deep love for the Prophet.
The end approached. The Prophet expressed great anxiety lest after his death his followers might be tempted to have recourse to practices which might assign him a position above that of a human being, as had been done in the case of some other prophets by their followers. He impressed repeatedly upon those who visited him that he was but a human being to whom God had vouchsafed revelation for the guidance of mankind. He breathed his last with the words: “To the Companion on High, to the Companion on High.”
The Prophet’s death (A.D, 632) struck the Muslims as a fearful calamity, and many of his intimate companions were crushed with grief. Umar drew his sword and said he would cut off the head of any who dared to assert that the Prophet was dead; he could not die. Abu Bakr arrived. Entering the chamber where the Prophet’s body 1ay, he kissed it on the forehead and said: “God will not inflict two deaths upon thee,” meaning that the death of the body was inevitable, but that God would preserve forever the Prophet’s teaching concerning the Existence and Unity of God. He then came out and asked Umar to desist while he addressed the people briefly. He recited from the Quran: “Muhammad is but a Messenger. All Messengers have passed away before him. If then he die or be slain, will you turn back on your heels? He who turns back on his heels shall not harm Allah at all. Allah will certainly reward the grateful” (3:145) And he added: “Hearken: he who worshiped Muhammad should know that Muhammad is dead, but he who worships God should remember that God is Ever‑Living and does not die.”
This helped those present to balance their emotions, and to realize that though the parting was heartrending, God’s will was supreme and must be accepted in a spirit of steadfastness,
The poet Hassan gave expression to his poignant grief at the death of the Prophet in Arabic verse:
Thou wert the pupil of my eye;
My eye is now sightless.
After thee I care not who dies;
I was fearful only of losing thee