The Status Quo in Madinah at the Time of Emigration
emigration to madinah could never be attributable to attempts to escape from jeers and oppression only, but it also constituted a sort of cooperation with the aim of erecting the pillars of a new society in a secure place. hence it was incumbent upon every capable muslim to contribute to building this new homeland, immunizing it and holding up its prop. as a leader and spiritual guide, there was no doubt the noble messenger [pbuh], in whose hands exclusively all affairs would be resolved.
in madinah, the prophet [pbuh] had to deal with three distinctively different categories of people with different respective problems:
his companions, the noble and allâh fearing elite [r]
polytheists still detached from the islam and were purely madinese tribes.
as for his companions, the conditions of life in madinah were totally different from those they experienced in makkah. there, in makkah, they used to strive for one corporate target, but physically, they were scattered, overpowered and forsaken. they were helpless in terms of pursuing their new course of orientation. their means, socially and materially, fell short of establishing a new muslim community. in parallel lines, the makkan chapters of the noble qur’ân were confined to delineating the islamic precepts, enacting legislations pertaining to the believers individually and enjoining good and piety and forbidding evils and vices.
in madinah , things were otherwise; here all the affairs of their life rested in their hands. now, they were at ease and could quite confidently handle the challenges of civilization, construction, means of living, economics, politics, government administration, war and peace, codification of the questions of the allowed and prohibited, worship, ethics and all the relevant issues. in a nutshell, they were in madinah at full liberty to erect the pillars of a new muslim community not only utterly different from that pre-islamic code of life, but also distinctive in its features in the world at large. it was a society that could stand for the islamic call for whose sake the muslims had been put to unspeakable tortures for 10 years. no doubt, the construction of a society that runs in line with this type of ethics cannot be accomplished overnight, within a month or a year. it requires a long time to build during which legislation and legalization will run gradually in a complementary process with mind cultivation, training and education. allâh, the all-knowing, of course undertook legislation and his prophet muhammad [pbuh], implementation and orientation:
"he it is who sent among the unlettered ones a messenger (muhammad [pbuh]) from among themselves, reciting to them his verses, purifying them (from the filth of disbelief and polytheism), and teaching them the book (this qur’ân, islamic laws and islamic jurisprudence) and al-hikmah (as-sunna: legal ways, orders, acts of worship, etc. of the prophet muhammad [pbuh].)." [al-qur'an 62:2]
the prophet’s companions [r] , rushed enthusiastically to assimilate these qur’ânic rules and fill their hearts joyfully with them:
"and when his verses (this qur’ân) are recited unto them, they (i.e. the verses) increase their faith." [al-qur'an 8:2]
with respect to the muslims, this task constituted the greatest challenge for the messenger of allâh [pbuh]. in fact, this very purpose lay at the heart of the islamic call and the muhammadan mission; it was never an incidental issue though there were the matters that required urgent addressing.
the muslims in madinah consisted virtually of two parties: the first one already settled down in their abode, land and wealth, fully at ease, but seeds of discord amongst them were deeply seated and chronic enmity continually evoked; they were al-ansar (the helpers). the second party were al-muhajirun (the emigrants), homeless, jobless and penniless. their number was not small, on the contrary, it was increasing day by day after the prophet [pbuh] had given them the green light to leave for madinah whose economic structure, originally not that prosperous one, began to show signs of imbalance aggravated by the economic boycott that the anti-islamic groups imposed and consequently imports diminished and living conditions worsened.
- the purely madinese polytheists constituted the second sector with whom the prophet [pbuh] had to deal. those people had no control at all over the muslim. some of them nursed no grudge against the muslims, but were rather skeptical of their ancestors’ religious practices, and developed tentative inclination towards islam and before long they embraced the new faith and were truly devoted to allâh. however, some others harboured evil intentions against the prophet [pbuh] and his followers but were too cowardly to resist them publicly, they were rather, under those islamically favourable conditions, obliged to fake amicability and friendliness. ‘abdullah bin ubai, who had almost been given presidency over al-khazraj and al-aws tribes in the wake of bu‘ath war between the two tribes, came at the head of that group of hypocrites. the prophet’s advent and the vigorous rise of the new spirit of islam foiled that orientation and the idea soon went into oblivion. he, seeing another one, muhammad [pbuh], coming to deprive him and his agents of the prospective temporal privileges, could not be pleased, and for overriding reasons he showed pretension to islam but with horrible disbelief deeply-rooted in his heart. he also used to exploit some events and weak-hearted new converts in scheming malevolently against the true believers.
- the jews (the hebrews), who had migrated to al-hijaz from syria following the byzantine and assyrian persecution campaigns, were the third category existent on the demographic scene in madinah. in their new abode they assumed the arabian stamp in dress, language and manner of life and there were instances of intermarriage with the local arabs, however they retained their ethnic particularism and detached themselves from amalgamation with the immediate environment. they even used to pride in their jewish-israeli origin, and spurn the arabs around designating them as illiterate meaning brutal, naïve and backward. they desired the wealth of their neighbours to be made lawful to them and they could thus appropriate it the way they liked.
"… because they say: "there is no blame on us to betray and take the properties of the illiterates (arabs)" [al-qur'an 3:75]
religiously, they showed no zeal; their most obvious religious commodity was fortunetelling, witchcraft and the secret arts (blowing on knots), for which they used to attach to themselves advantages of science and spiritual precedence.
they excelled at the arts of earning money and trading. they in fact monopolized trading in cereals, dates, wine, clothes, export and import. for the services they offered to the arabs, the latter paid heavily. usury was a common practice amongst them, lending the arab notables great sums to be squandered on mercenary poets, and in vanity avenues, and in return seizing their fertile land given as surety.
they were very good at corrupting and scheming. they used to sow seeds of discord between adjacent tribes and entice each one to hatch plots against the other with the natural corollary of continual exhaustive bloody fighting. whenever they felt that fire of hatred was about to subside, they would nourish it with new means of perpetuity so that they could always have the upper hand, and at the same time gain heavy interest rates on loans spent on inter-tribal warfare.
three famous tribes of jews constituted the demographic presence in yathrib (now madinah): banu qainuqua‘, allies of al-khazraj tribe, banu an-nadir and banu quraizah who allied al-aws and inhabited the suburbs of madinah.
naturally they held the new changes with abhorrence and were terribly hateful to them, simply because the messenger of allâh was of a different race, and this point was in itself too repugnant for them to reconcile with. second, islam came to bring about a spirit of rapport, to terminate the state of enmity and hatred, and to establish a social regime based on denunciation of the prohibited and promotion of the allowed. adherence to these canons of life implied paving the way for an arab unity that could work to the prejudice of the jews and their interests at both the social and economic levels; the arab tribes would then try to restore their wealth and land misappropriated by the jews through usurious practices.
the jews of course deeply considered all these things ever since they had known that the islamic call would try to settle in yathrib, and it was no surprise to discover that they harboured the most enmity and hatred to islam and the messenger [pbuh] even though they did not have the courage to uncover their feelings in the beginning.
the following incident could attest clearly to that abominable antipathy that the jews harboured towards the new political and religious changes that came to stamp the life of madinah. ibn ishaq, on the authority of the mother of believers safiyah [r]ا narrated: safiyah, daughter of huyayi bin akhtab said: i was the closest child to my father and my uncle abi yasir’s heart. whenever they saw me with a child of theirs, they should pamper me so tenderly to the exclusion of anyone else. however, with the advent of the messenger of allâh [pbuh] and setting in quba’ with bani ‘amr bin ‘awf, my father, huyayi bin akhtab and my uncle abu yasir bin akhtab went to see him and did not return until sunset when they came back walking lazily and fully dejected. i, as usually, hurried to meet them smiling, but they would not turn to me for the grief that caught them. i heard my uncle abu yasir say to ubai and huyayi: "is it really he (i.e. muhammad [pbuh])?" the former said: "it is he, i swear by allâh!" "did you really recognize him?" they asked. he answered: "yes, and my heart is burning with enmity towards him"[ibn hisham 1/518, 519]
an interesting story that took place on the first day, the prophet [pbuh] stepped in madinah, could be quoted to illustrate the mental disturbance and deep anxiety that beset the jews. ‘abdullah bin salam, the most learned rabbi among the jews came to see the prophet [pbuh] when he arrived, and asked him certain questions to ascertain his real prophethood. no sooner did he hear the prophet’s answers than he embraced islam, but added that if his people knew of his islamization they would advance false arguments against me. the prophet [pbuh] sent for some jews and asked them about ‘abdullah bin salam, they testified to his scholarly aptitude and virtuous standing. here it was divulged to them that he had embraced islam and on the spot, they imparted categorically opposite testimonies and described him as the most evil of all evils. in another narration ‘abdullah bin salam said, "o jews! be allâh fearing. by allâh, the only one, you know that he is the messenger of allâh sent to people with the truth." they replied, "you are lying." ... that was the prophet’s first experience with the jews.[bukhari 1/459]
that was the demo-political picture within madinah. five hundred kilometres away in makkah, there still lay another source of detrimental threat, the archenemy of islam, quraish. for ten years, while at the mercy of quraish, the muslims were subjected to all sorts of terrorism, boycott, harassment and starvation coupled by a large scale painstaking psychological war and aggressive organized propaganda. when they had emigrated to madinah, their land, wealth and property were seized, wives detained and the socially humble in rank brutally tortured. quraish also schemed and made attempts on the life of the first figure of the call, muhammad [pbuh] . due to their acknowledged temporal leadership and religious supremacy among the pagan arabs, given the custodianship of the sacred sanctuary, the quraishites spared no effort in enticing the arabians against madinah and boycotting the madinese socially and economically. to quote muhammad al-ghazali: "a state of war virtually existed between the makkan tyrants and the muslims in their abode. it is foolish to blame the muslims for the horrible consequences that were bound to ensue in the light of that long-standing feud."[fiqh as-seerah p.162]
the muslims in madinah were completely eligible then to confiscate the wealth of those tyrants, mete out for them exemplary punishment and bring twofold retaliation on them in order to deter them from committing any folly against the muslims and their sanctities.
that was a resume of the major problems that the prophet muhammad [pbuh] had to face, and the complicated issues he was supposed to resolve.
in full acknowledgment, we could safely say that he quite honestly shouldered the responsibilities of messengership, and cleverly discharged the liabilities of both temporal and religious leadership in madinah. he accorded to everyone his due portion whether of mercy or punishment, with the former usually seasoning the latter in the overall process of establishing islam on firm grounds among its faithful adherents.