Did the Prophetsa Seek to Continue Warfare?
In the battles which had so far been fought, Muslims had either remained in Madinah or gone some distance out of it to fight the aggression of disbelievers. Muslims did not initiate these encounters, and showed no disposition to continue them after they had started. Normally hostilities, once begun, can be ended in only two ways—an agreed peace or the submission of one side to the other. In the encounters between Muslims and disbelievers so far there had been no hint of a peace nor had either side offered to submit. True, there had been pauses in the fighting, but nobody could say that war between Muslims and disbelievers had ended. According to ordinary canons, Muslims could have attacked the enemy tribes and compelled them to surrender. But Muslims did not do this. When the enemy stopped fighting, Muslims stopped also. They stopped because they believed there might be talk of peace. But when it became evident that there was no talk of peace by the disbelievers, nor was there any disposition on their part to surrender, the Prophetsa thought that the time had come to end the war either by peace or by the surrender of one side to the other. War had to be ended if there was to be peace. After the Battle of the Ditch, therefore, the Prophetsa seemed determined to secure one of two things; peace or surrender. That Muslims should surrender to disbelievers was out of the question. The victory of Islam over its persecutors had been promised by God. Declarations to this effect had been made by the Prophetsa during his stay at Makkah. Could Muslims then have sued for peace? A movement for peace can be initiated either by the stronger or by the weaker side. When the weaker side sues for peace it has to surrender, temporarily or permanently, a part of its territory or part of its revenues; or it has to accept other conditions imposed upon it by the enemy. When the stronger side proposes peace it is understood that it does not aim at the total destruction of the weaker side but is willing to let it retain complete or partial independence in return for certain conditions. In the battles which had so far been fought between Muslims and disbelievers the latter had suffered defeat after defeat. Yet their power had not been broken. They had only failed in their attempts to destroy Muslims. Failure to destroy another does not mean defeat. It only means that aggression has not yet succeeded; attacks which have failed may be repeated. The Makkans, therefore, had not been beaten; only their aggression against Muslims had failed. Militarily speaking, Muslims were decidedly the weaker side. True, their defence was still maintained, but they constituted a miserable minority and a minority which, though it had been able to resist the aggression of the majority, had been unable to take the offensive. Muslims, therefore, had not yet established their independence.
If they had sued for peace, it would have meant that their defence had broken, and that they were now ready to accept the terms of the disbelievers. An offer of peace by them would have been disastrous for Islam. It would have meant self-annihilation. It would have brought new life to an enemy demoralised by repeated defeats. A growing sense of defeat would have given place to renewed hope and ambition. Disbelievers would have thought that though Muslims had saved Madinah, they were still pessimistic about their ultimate victory over disbelievers. A suggestion of peace, therefore, could not have proceeded from the Muslim side. It could have proceeded from the Makkan side, or from a third side, if a third side could have been found. No third side could, however, be found. In the conflict which had arisen Madinah was set against all Arabia. It was the disbelievers, therefore, who could have sued the Muslims for peace, and there was no sign of this. Thus warfare between Muslims and Arabs might have gone on forever. The Muslims could not, and the Arabs would not, sue for peace. Civil strife in Arabia, therefore, seemed to have no end, at least not for another hundred years.
There was only one way open to Muslims if they wanted to put an end to this strife. They were not prepared to surrender their conscience to the Arabs, to renounce, that is to say, their right to profess, practise and preach what they liked; and there was no movement for peace from the side of disbelievers. Muslims had been able to repel repeated aggression. It was for them, therefore, to force the Arabs either to surrender or to accept peace. The Prophetsa decided to do so.
Was it war which the Prophetsa sought? No, it was not war but peace that he wanted to bring about. If he had done nothing at this time, Arabia would have remained in the grip of civil warfare. The step which he took was the only way to peace. There have been some long wars in history. Some have lasted for a hundred years, some for thirty or so. Long wars have always resulted from lack of decisive action by either side. Decisive action, as we have said, can take only one of two forms—complete surrender or a negotiated peace.1
- Hazrat Mirza Bashir-Ud-Din Mahmud Ahmadra, Life of Muhammadsa (Tilford, Surrey: Islam International Publications Ltd., 2013), 103-106.