looking back and thinking of the emotions felt over the last month, the one word that stands out constantly in our hearts is "helpless". the reality is that we were helpless, and that we were silently witnessing helpless people; our helpless people.
the images of the charred bodies of infants, blood-soaked hijab s of sobbing mothers, mosques turned into rubble, stockpiles of food being fed to white phosphorous flames instead of the starving people they were meant for, fathers frantically and tearfully pulling corpses of their families from the remains of bombed out homes – these images will forever remain in our conscience and memory.
this reality mirrors another one experienced by the messenger of allah and his companions more than one thousand four hundred years ago after the battle of uhud. reviewing the events surrounding this defeat, one cannot help but be affected by the helplessness felt by the muslims the moment they realized just how deep their material loss was in that battle, just as what we are feeling at this moment when reflecting on what was taken from us as a result of the israeli attack ongaza.
the magnitude losses at uhud
uhud affected the muslims on many fronts. first of all, in what was possibly the most dangerous hour in the life of the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), he found himself unprotected and exposed to the enemy on the battlefield, except for the presence of talhah and sa’d bin abi waqqas. this led the disbelievers to rush and take advantage of the opportunity to inflict as much physical pain on him as they could. they followed through by pelting him with stones (resulting in breaking his tooth and cutting his lip), cleaving his forehead, striking his shoulder with a sword, and striking him in the face so forcefully that his helmet pierced his cheek and caused a gaping wound. this audacity of the disbelievers deeply affected the prophet that while wiping the blood from his face, he asked:
"how can people who cut the face of their prophet and break his incisor tooth - he who calls them to worship allah - how can such people thrive or be successful? "
imagine also the emotion felt by the prophet and his companions at the sight of mus`ab bin `umayr - who was personally appointed by the prophet to bring islam to madinah - as both of his hands were amputated by the disbelievers in his attempt to secure the banner of the muslims before they killed him.
picture in your mind the disbelievers mistaking the corpse of mus`ab for the prophet, yelling "muhammad is killed!" and sending a wave of disbelief through the muslim ranks that demoralized many of them and caused them to give up the fight and turn back to madinah.
imagine the sadness that swept over the companions as they assessed the aftermath of the battle to find the corpses of seventy of their brethren scattered around the battlefield, mutilated and disfigured by the spiteful disbelievers. imagine then the shock and pain of the prophet as he recognized the body of his beloved uncle, the lion of allah, hamzah, as he lay among the casualties. ibn mas’ud said: "we have never seen the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) weeping so much as he did for hamzah bin `abdul-muttalib."
imagine the dismay the muslims must have felt seeing that after their groundbreaking victory at badr, only a year earlier, they had now lost seventy of their brethren compared to the disbelievers’ only 22 men casualties. such a loss would not only demoralize the muslim army, but would also leave their military reputation, credibility, and dignity damaged in the eyes of the people.
all of this was the result of one single avoidable mistake of disobedience to the prophet,s order on the part of the archers stationed on a hill. all of those deaths, losses, sadness, and sorrow were easily avoidable had they simply obeyed a single command of the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
undoubtedly, such circumstances would bring down any group and cause them immense pain, helplessness, dismay, and despair. however, the prophet and his companions were not such a group. they were a group who lived by the slogan,
( and do not despair or be sad, as you are the most superior so long as you are believers. ) (al `imran 3:139)
they were a group who knew how to take advantage of their hard situation and hold their heads up high whatever the odds stacked against them were.
an attitude of dignity and honor
when the disbelievers had completed their attacks and mutilation of the corpses of the companions, abu sufyan scaled mount uhud looking for the prophet, abu bakr, and `umar. he called out to them and taunted them, but `umar did not give the response of a defeated, dismayed, weak and submissive victim. rather he replied: "o enemy of allah, those whom you have just mentioned, i tell you that they are still alive. allah has maintained what you hate!"
abu sufyan replied: the mutilation of your dead is something i did not order. however, it did not displease me. may hubal (their idol) be sublime!
at the behest of the prophet, ‘umar replied: allah is more sublime, exalted, and mightier!
abu sufyan then shouted: al-`uzza (another idol) is ours, and you have no `uzza !
`umar then made his famous statement: allah is our supporter, and you have none.
frustrated, abu sufyan muttered: today is revenge for badr, as war is conducted with alternating successes.
unrelenting, `umar yelled back: no, we are not the same. our dead are in paradise, while yours are in hell!
this shows that no matter how demoralizing a loss may be for muslims, and no matter how mosques are bombed to rubble, or children are made into orphans and burned to a crisp by white phosphorous bombs, or basic food and medicine are held back from them and no matter you have been subjected to cruelty -you should always keep your head up, your boldness intact, and put aside your anxiety and dismay.
new morale at hamra’ al-asad
the battle of hamra’ al-asad is a practical way that showed how the prophet transformed the defeat into victory.
while the disbelievers were still on their way back to makkah, the muslims had arrived back in madinah in a state of exhaustion, pain, and sorrow. however, none of these hindrances prevented the prophet from what he was about to do next; he went around and gathered all of the injured muslims who had fought at uhud the day before in order to lead them in pursuit of the army that had just defeated them. the prophet only wanted those injured and exhausted soldiers who were still recovering from their wounds to join him. this was unheard of; an army composed exclusively of crippled fighters who had just experienced a major military defeat!
the prophet sent a messenger to relay to abu sufyan and his troops that the muslims had regrouped, recovered, and were hot on their heels. abu sufyan could not believe his ears, and the anxiety and panic that had gripped the muslims only the day before was now spreading among his own troops. he then decided that it was in his best interest to retreat to makka and cancel his plan to attack madinah. however, in an attempt to frighten and intimidate the muslims from pursuing him, abu sufyan sent a message back to the muslims that he had gathered the ranks of all the makkans to lay the prophet and his army to waste.
on this occasion almighty allah says,
( those to whom the people said: “verily, the people have gathered against you a great army. so, fear them. ) (al `imran: 173)
what was the response of the injured prophet and his small group of crippled fighters to this threat from the man who had just defeated them in the battlefield?
almighty allah says,
( but it only increased them in faith, and they said: allah is sufficient for us, and he is the best disposer of affairs. ) (al ‘imran 3: 173)
and the injured prophet and his companions stayed at hamra’ al-asad waited for three whole days to confront this great army of abu sufyan who was simply bluffing and his men were too afraid to pull through with their threats.
reflect on how the prophet was able to so effectively reverse the devastation of uhud in just a matter of days:
- he revived the morale of the crippled muslims who had just experienced loss and defeat by insisting that they be the ones to accompany him in pursuit of the very enemy that had just defeated them.
- he enfeebled the morale of the disbelievers who had just experienced victory by showing them that no matter how hard the blow was, muslims always still have their honor, bravery, and will to face those who challenge them.
- he restored the military reputation and power of the muslims that had temporarily suffered as a result of the events at uhud.
the effectiveness of the prophet as a leader at times of crisis cannot be overstated. it is often said that a person can be judged by how he handles crises and disasters as anyone can be calm and composed in times of ease. this concept can be applied to groups and nations as well as individuals. therefore, this episode in the seerah teaches us that even at the worst times and in the midst of the most depressing crises, it is possible to reverse the loss, psychologically if not physically.
similarly, it is upon us to look into ourselves as individuals and groups and see if we are reacting to the devastation and loss experienced in gaza in the proper way and with the proper attitude. it should all serve to strengthen us, teach us that despair, anxiety, and victimization should not be in the dictionary of muslims, and to maintain our honor and confidence following defeat and keep our heads raised high in the face of loss.
almighty allah says in the qura'n,
(faint not nor grieve, for ye will overcome them if ye are (indeed) believers. ) (al `imran 3:139-140)