I was trying to find the reason for Islamic Conquests, inspired and being questioned by the new Documentary of Al Jazeera Channel, named ‘Caliph’, especially Conquests during Rashidun Caliphate, or even during the time of Prophet (pbuh) when he sent an army, by the command of Allah, to north-western areas of Madina to capture Tabouk, as a means to protect Madina from the threats of Byzantines.
As Muslims, we believe, spreading the message is a responsibility of each of us; but the methods used varied in history according to the receiving end. For example, we all heard about the history of Malik Ibn Dinar, a companion of prophet, who came to Malabar, India as part of the existing trade relationship. His life-style and treatment of others invited many including the local ruler Cheraman Perumal to Islam. I wonder why it is that such a methodology is less publicized than the romanticized conquests of Tariq Ibn Ziyad of Hispania or Khalid bin al Walid of Sham and Syria even though these great men (pbut) could be the agents in the last resort of resistance towards an arrogant Empire, after all the trials of sending messengers in peace.
It is understood that there is a call from God to establish a just society, eradicating poverty, usury, social and economic injustice and guide everyone towards the purpose of their creation. But for that, what could be the ideal solution/suggestion back then considering the political situation of Muslims of that time?
I do humbly acknowledge the rules of war, given by Abu Bakr(pbuh), inspired by Prophet(pbuh), when he commanded war against Persian and Byzantine empires together before his death and the treatment of prisoners and war-booty handled by Muslims at that time. I don’t echo the orientalist claim of ‘Islam spread through swords’, nor do i compare it with the Christian Crusades with the scale of bloodshed either. But I want to identify the wisdom behind those wars other than rebellions. Would it be difficult to spread the message without such conquests at that time where spreading Islam through individual migration is challenging and of less hope unlike today where the impact of muslim immigrants in the world is not negligent?
It was interesting to know the pre-Islamic political situations of many places that easily came in the hands of Muslim rulers. For example, see the history of Muslim conquest of Iberian Peninsula, modern day Spain and Portugal. “When the Muslims arrived in Iberia in 711, the Unitarians were very happy to help their brothers in monotheism against the oppressive Trinitarian government. For this reason, after the main battle against Roderic, most of the cities and towns of Spain opened their doors to Tariq without a fight. The Muslims offered a just legal system, freedom to practice religion, and the removal of oppressive and unjust taxes. It is no wonder that Tariq’s army was able to conquer the entire peninsula with a small army in a few years.” (Ref: Lost Islamic History by Firas Alkhateeb).
This respect for people of other beliefs are seen from the early years of Islam itself. After capturing Jerusalem, Umar(pbuh), second Caliph of Islam, made a Treaty with the Jews and Christians of Jerusalem detailing their rights, privileges and protection under Muslim Rulers. Muslims ruled the city for the next 462 Years with mutual co-existence of all the three Abrahamic faiths. This is the ideal method when you are in power; the power to forgive the wrong doers and build a just society and guide people of reason and intellect to this religion. Also when neighboring country is waging a war against you, when your country’s existence is under threat, you have to fight to defend it. But what about the wars initiated by muslims, as a method for expansion?
Extending your empire is not a call of Islam, but spreading the message is. This is at least what I believe as there is no compulsion in religion. Muslims have sent messengers with the Message of Quran to different empires of that time across the world and did not wage war against those empires when they discarded their messages. People who have accepted the message gave allegiance to Muhammad(pbuh) and his message like the Negus of Ethiopia and some; but those who have seen Muslims as a threat to their kingdom had declared war against Islam. The repudiation of protection and asylum for Muslims from places like Ta’if during pre-hijra years and their participation in the wars against Muslims during post-hijra years had to submit to the army of Islam later when Muslims acquired enough power.
There are notes from history that Abu Bakr(pbuh) had declared war against rebel tribes who refused to submit to the new caliphate. He also commanded war against Persian and Byzantine empires together which he couldn’t finish before his death. Later, Umar(pbuh) continued this conquest fighting the Byzantine under the command of Khalid and captured the whole Levant including the militarily unequipped Jerusalem. Umar(pbuh) himself walked to Jerusalem for collecting the keys of Baithul Muqaddis, Al Aqsa, as per the request from the Patriarch of the city. Another holy place was thus captured without bloodshed just as Muslims entered Mecca without a war and forgiving captives instead of punishing them for their persecution.
There was a need to fight the injustice in the world, by implementing the message of Quran, the idea of a just society and encouraging others to allow practice and preach of Universal Islamic values. I would like to believe, it was required to have the control of the masses and the places at that time to implement the message unlike today. Do such political conquests required today?
If there is a global call for Muslims to action, irrespective of the era, is such a method required today? We are being told by many that brain-washed young fellas travelling to join false caliphates like Daesh even with their abundant ignorance and stupidity; and most of us agree with thousands of scholars who have condemned their actions. Then what method should be the ideal way and who should be taking it?
I don’t think such a method of political conquest is required today. Considering the technological inventions, thanks to Science, there are numerous ways the world is knowing about Islam. Not just Books but documentaries, articles, news, discussions, movies, talks, websites and many other methods including witnessing the life of Muslims living among them. Also, the Message of Quran is reaching the corners of this world and people are attracted to know about this religion. We as individual Muslims have the duty to live the life of just and mercy to others. Our Rulers or those with position held in the society have to follow the methods of Prophet and his companions, may peace and blessings be upon them, during times of their caliphate bringing up a society from their tribal ignorance and corruption to an ethically valued community that understands the purpose of their creation and their duties to its co-creations and live a balanced life guided by the Creator.
The scholars and students of Islamic Sharia have to come up with a Constitution for Islam for the current era through consensus from the majority of scholars if not all across the world, for rulings across all sectors of Judiciary and all ages of one’s life. This could be considered as a new school of thought of the 21st century, not contradicting from the previous ones but aligning them to the current challenges. Any religious or non-religious person, Muslim or non-Muslim can access these rulings at ease to find solutions for their individual, society’s or even country’s social or political decision. As individuals, what we have to do is to encourage young generations to reach positions in society in the field of Politics, Judiciary, Economics, Health, Education, Technology and so forth that has the power to impact and reform a society towards Universal Islamic values and ethics.
The need of the hour at this time is to correct the Muslims themselves from their false beliefs and unethical practices in social and business transactions, work, marital life, responsibilities towards parents, children, neighbor, employer, society etc. Many are tied to their regional customs and rituals which lack any serious connection to Islam and, sitting in the comfort zones of male dominance and patriarchy, some are even beholden to their prophet lineage and language. Many are not aware that being born to and raised by Muslim parents and even attending group prayers and engaging in yearly fasting don’t necessarily qualify one for good rewards when they fail to follow the moral values and ethics this religion endorses. If anyone wishes to change the world for better, one has to start from himself, his family, his community and if you succeed as an ideal society eradicating poverty, hunger, usury, social and economic injustice then talk about extending it.