The Captives of Badr
the muslims entered madinah without the captives who were to follow the next day. when they did, sawdah, daughter of zam'ah and wife of the prophet, was returning from a morning visit to the relatives of the two sons of 'afra'. she saw abu yazid suhayl ibn amr, one of the captives, whose hand was bound to his neck. unable to control her indignation at the sight, she approached him and said, "o abu yazid! did you give yourself up, and surrender voluntarily? woe! the pity that you had not fallen nobly and met a heroic death on the battlefield!� muhammad called her away and said to her, "o sawdah, are you inciting the man against god and against his prophet?" she answered, "o prophet of god, by him who sent you a prophet of the truth, i could not control myself when i saw abu yazid with his hand tied to his neck and felt impelled to say what i said." muhammad distributed the captives among his companions and said to them, "treat them well." the question of what to do with them, to kill them or to accept ransom for them, continued to trouble him. many of them are strong warriors; their hearts are now filled with hatred following their defeat and shameful captivity. if he were to accept ransom for them, surely they would wage another war against him. and yet, if he were to kill them would he not incite their people in quraysh to further acts of violence? to a new height of enmity which might be avoided if he were to accept their ransom?
abu bakr and umar's views regarding the captives
muhammad submitted the matter to the muslims and sought their advice. he wanted them to share freely in the decision. the muslims, for their part, discovered that the captives desired to live and, therefore, that a great amount of wealth could be reaped from them as ransom. the captives sent word to abu bakr knowing that he was the nearest to the quraysh and the most merciful and compassionate of the muslims as well as the closest adviser and friend of muhammad. they said to abu bakr: "o abu bakr, among us are fathers, brothers, uncles, and cousins of the muslims. the most distant of us is still a relative. approach your friend on our behalf and ask him to forgive us or to allow us to be ransomed. abu bakr promised them to do his best. at the same time, they feared that ibn al khattab would counsel against abu bakr's pleas; therefore, they sent after him to ask as they did abu bakr. 'umar ibn khattab looked at them in anger and did not answer. the two approached muhammad and each presented his point of view. abu bakr appealed to muhammad's gentleness and stirred his compassion. he pleaded, "0 prophet of god, you are dearer than my father and my mother. your captives consist of men who are parents, sons, cousins, uncles and brothers of your own people. the most removed of them is still a member of your clan and a blood relative. be good to them and forgive them. god will forgive you and be good to you. otherwise allow them to be ransomed and take from them that which would increase the muslims in power. perhaps, by such action, god will soften their hearts toward islam." muhammad listened without answering. `umar, coming after abu bakr, sat in his place and pleaded: "0 prophet of god, these are the enemies of god. they have belied you, fought you, and banished you. strike their necks. they are the leaders of idolatry and misguidance. by this course god will consolidate islam and bring low the idolators." again muhammad did not answer. later, abu bakr returned to muhammad and sought once more to stir his compassion by reminding him of the captives' relation and hoping for their conversion to islam in case they were allowed to live. `umar, too, the exemplar of stern justice, returned to muhammad to plead once more still unmoved as ever by any feelings of leniency or mercy. when both abu bakr and. `umar said all they had to say, muhammad withdrew to his room to ponder the matter alone. when he came out, he found the muslims divided between abu bakr's view and `umar's. he consulted them again, characterizing both abu bakr and `umar for their benefit. abu bakr, muhammad said, was like michael, a carrier of god's pleasure and forgiveness. compared with the prophets he is like ibrahim who was sweeter to his people than honey itself. ibrahim's people had condemned him to the fire and threw him into it, but all he could say to them was, "fie on you and on that which you worship instead of god! would you not use your reason ? . . . whoever follows me is surely of me, but whoever disobeys me, god is merciful and forgiving."[qur'an, 21:67; 14:36] abu bakr is like jesus when the latter said: "if you punish them they are only your servants; and if you forgive them, you are the all-wise and almighty�[qur'an, 5:118], `umar, on the other hand, is like gabriel among the angels. he is the carrier of god's wrath and condemnation of his enemies. among the prophets he is like noah when the latter said: "o god, spare not one of the unbelievers;" or like moses when he said: "0 god, destroy their wealth and confirm them in their error that they may not believe until they receive the painful punishment."[qur'an, 71:26; 10:88] then turning to the muslims, the prophet said: "you have families to support. do not therefore let any of these captives escape before you receive a ransom from him. otherwise, strike off his neck." as the muslims consulted with one another, one of the captives, a poet by profession, and abu `izzat `amr ibn `abdullah ibn `umayr al jumahi by name, stepped forward toward the prophet and said: "i have five daughters whom i must support. do give me to them as your charity, o muhammad. for my part i pledge to you that i shall never fight you nor will i ever criticize you." the prophet forgave him and sent him back to his family without ransom. he was the only captive thus liberated. but he violated his pledge and fought again against the muslims in the battle of uhud, a year later. there he was taken captive, and, this time, executed. after a while, the muslims reached a consensus to accept ransom for the captives. the following verse of the qur'an was revealed on this occasion
"it does not behoove a prophet to hold captives; nor to tyrannize in the world. you seek the advantages of this world whereas god wishes you to seek the advantages of the other. god is almighty and all-wise."[qur'an, 8:67]
a number of orientalists pause at this affair of the captives of badr and especially at the execution of al nadr and `uqbah. they argue: doesn't this prove the thirst of this new religion for blood? without such thirst, the two captives would not have been executed. it would have been more charitable and nobler for the muslims after they won the battle to return the captives and to be satisfied with the booty they acquired. the orientalists' argument is designed to stir mercy and compassion simply in order to provide means for condemning islam and its prophet. but such emotions were utterly out of place on the day of badr, and much more so a thousand or more years after that battle. the incoherence of the argument is evident upon comparison of the execution of al nadr and `uqbah with what happens today and will always happen as long as western civilization rules the world under the banner of christianity. is their execution comparable in any possible manner to what the christian imperialists do when they put down the uprisings of their colonies against their rule? is it equivalent to any part, however, infinitesimal, of the slaughter that took place in the first or second world war? is it at all comparable to the events of the french revolution, or the many other revolutions which have taken place among the christian nations of europe?
revolution against idolatry
there is no doubt that the whole matter between muhammad and his companions was one of a strong revolution led by muhammad against idolatry and its adherents. it was a revolution that started in makkah where muhammad and his companions were subjected to all kinds of suffering for thirteen long years. thereafter, the muslims emigrated to madinah and there organized themselves and built up their strength under revolutionary principles dominating the scene in both their camp and the quraysh's. the muslims' emigration to madinah, the peace they had concluded with the jews, all the skirmishes preceding the battle of badr as well as the battle of badr itself all these were steps in the general plan of revolution, but not its guiding principles. they constitute the policy line decided by the leader of this revolution and his companions as instruments in the realization of principles which the prophet had received from god. the policy of a revolution should not be confused with its principles. the plan followed cannot be identified with the purpose for which it was drawn. since islam made human brotherhood the foundation of its civilization, it had to seek that civilization by following whatever means are necessary, including violence.
the slaughter of st. bartholomew's day
what the muslims did with the captives of badr was an instance of sublime mercy and charity when compared with what happened in the revolutions praised by the western peoples as embodiments of justice and mercy. what happened to the captives of badr was really nothing compared to the many slaughters carried out in the name of christianity such as that which occurred on st. bartholomew's day in france. this slaughter is really a curse in the history of christianity unmatched by anything in the whole history of islam. it was a slaughter planned deliberately during the night. the catholics rose the next morning to slaughter systematically the protestants of paris and france with deception, wantonness, and the lowliest and worst kind of cruelty. if the muslims had killed two of the fifty captives for the cruel suffering they had previously inflicted upon the muslims during thirteen years in makkah, it was an act of further mercy and benefit which occasioned the revelation of the already quoted verse: ` it does not behoove a prophet to hold captives; nor to tyrannize in the world. you seek the advantages of this world, while god wishes you to seek the advantages of the other. god is almighty and all-wise."[qur'an, 8:67]