Hindering the Path
That callers to Islam can freely convey the message to people, and people can then choose whether or not to embrace Islam is uncompromisable.
People must be given a fair chance to understand what Islam is inviting them to. But to have the callers to Islam beheaded and thick walls erected against them is what Islam will resist by force.
Let the different creeds express themselves, to either attract people or they turn away. This request of Islam was given an armed reply.
Al-Harith bin ‘Umair Al-Azdi t was sent with a letter from the Messenger (pbuh) to the ruler of Busra. On his way to the village of Mu’tah he was intercepted by Sharhabil bin ‘Amr Al-Ghassani, the governor of Al-Balqa’ under Heraclius. Al-Harith was tied up and beheaded.
Killing envoys and messengers was regarded as one of the most heinous crimes, tantamount to a declaration of war. The Prophet (pbuh), greatly distressed by the news, prepared a large Muslim army of three thousand men, never before mobilized on such a scale except in the Battle of Al-Ahzab (Confederates).
Heraclius, on the other hand, mobilized one hundred thousand Roman warriors, who were reinforced by another one hundred thousand men who joined the Roman troops from Lakham, Judham, Balqain, Bahra’, and Bala.
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) appointed Zaid bin Harith t in command of the army, saying: “If Zaid is killed, then Ja‘far (should take over). If Ja‘far is killed, then ‘Abdullah bin Rawaha.”1
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) commanded them to go to Mu’tah, where Al-Harith bin ‘Umair t was killed. They should first invite the people there to Islam. If they responded, they should accept that from them and should refrain from fighting them; but if they refused, they should seek the Help of Allah and fight them. He (pbuh) said to them, “Fight in the Name of Allah and in the Cause of Allah, those who disbelieve in Allah, but do not betray, do not embezzle (booty), do not kill a child, or a woman, or a decrepit old man, or a recluse in a hermitage. Do not cut down a palm or a tree. And do not destroy a building.”
At Mu’tah the two parties encountered one another and the hard battle started. Three thousand men facing the attacks of two hundred thousand warriors, far better equipped than them. It was certainly one of the most amazing battles ever witnessed; but believers are never granted victory because of number, force, or military supplies… only by their power of faith and the righteousness of their cause.
This was how Allah Almighty willed the battle to run its course: a large disbelieving party against a small believing one, to teach the difference between two views and assessments of the causes of victory and defeat.
Faith triumphed over numbers, equipment, and munitions in order for people to understand that victory is granted through the power of true faith, not arms and supplies. The holders of true faith must strive and go into the battle without waiting to be equal in material visible forces, for at their side stands a superior power that far outweighs any numbers.2
Twelve Muslim men were martyred on that day. The casualties among the Romans were unknown; details of the battle point to a large number. The Muslim army returned with insignificant losses.
Mu’tah won Muslims a great reputation and had a great impact on the Arabs all over Arabia, who were struck with amazement. The Romans were the largest and mightiest power on the face of the earth; for this small Muslim army to face this huge force and return with minimal loss was nothing less than a miracle. It ascertained for the Arabs that the Muslims were backed and supported by AllahAlmighty, and their Companion was truly the Messenger of Allah (pbuh).
After this battle hostile tribes like Sulaim, Ashja‘, Ghatfan, Dhubian, and others that had kept revolting against Muslims, embraced Islam. It also ushered in the downfall of the Roman Empire, the most powerful military force that occupied Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and other lands and kept a tight grip over the Arab people for centuries. 3
- Sahih Al-Bukhary, Book of Al-Magazi, Hadith no. 3928; similar versions of the Hadith are also reported by Al-Bukhary (3927) and Ahmad (1659, 2203, 21509, 21523).
- Sayyid Qutb, In the Shade of the Qur’an, interpretation of Surat Al-Anfal [8: 8].
- Details of Mu’tah: Safi-ur-Rahman Mubarakpuri, Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum, The Battle of Mu’tah; Muhammad Al-Ghazali, Fiqh As-Sirah, Tabuk.