The Political Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ: Part 4 – A Coup in Medina

In the previous post in this series (part 3), we examined the efforts of the Prophet ﷺ to establish the first Islamic state. As mentioned by Dr. Eltigani Hamid in his book The Qur’an and Politics (IIIT, Herndon, 2004), he sought to gain support from influential and powerful Arab tribes to gain political authority. He ﷺ and Abu Bakr (raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him)) had devised “a well-defined political plan”. Abu Bakr (raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him)) would first “approach the dignitaries of the tribes and ask them about their numbers, their strength, and their readiness for battle” and only after this had occurred then “the Messenger [ﷺ] would talk to them and put forward his message” (Hamid, op. cit., p. 135 citing al-Sam‘ani, Al-Ansab, vol. 1, p. 36). The first tribe the Prophet ﷺ had approached for help was Thaqif in Ta’if, but they rejected him in a very aggressive manner (see previous post for more details). The journey to Ta’if took place almost five years before Allah gave the Prophet ﷺ success with the establishment of the Medinan State.

We will see in this article that what occurred in Medina was in fact a coup in which the Messenger of Allah ﷺ seized power by gaining the support of men and women from two of the most powerful factions of the city just before someone else was about to be crowned king.

 

The Significance of the Hijra

In the second book of the celebrated trilogy on the life of the Prophet ﷺ by Dr. Zakaria Bashier, he includes a chapter entitled ‘The Political Significance of the Hijra’. The following is quoted from this section:

“Let us begin with two current interpretations of the Hijra which, in our view, fall far short of giving it its rightful place in the formative history of Islam. The first interpretation is the flight interpretation. The second is the arbitration interpretation. Both are unknown in Muslim sources. They have been adopted, and introduced into Muslim thought, by Western and Orientalist scholars.

The flight interpretation represents the Hijra as a flight from the Makkan crucible – as a running away, so to speak, from persecution by the polytheists of Makka. Early Western accounts of the Hijra, almost all, systematically use the term ‘flight’ to describe the Prophet’s [ﷺ] Hijra from Makka to Madina. In view of the obvious unambiguous connotation of the Arabic word ‘Hijra’ (the straightforward literal English rendering of which is ‘emigration’) one cannot but wonder why Orientalists have preferred to use the word ‘flight’ instead. Given good faith, the negative connotation of the word ‘flight’ should have deterred anyone, seeking to elucidate the true significance of the Hijra, from using it. Any implication that the Hijra was in fact a withdrawal from the ideological war that raged in Makka, between nascent Islam and its pagan adversaries, is, from the account we have given above, a gross misrepresentation.” (Bashier, Zakaria, Hijra: Story and Significance, Islamic Foundation, Markfield, 2007, pp. 97 to 98)

Bashier then outlines another theory espoused by Western Orientlaists, which he refers to as the ‘arbitration’ theory:

“According to the theory, Yathribites invited the Prophet [ﷺ] to come to Madina because they were weary of the continuing wars and hostilities. They wanted him to act as an arbitrator in the age-long dispute between Aws and Khazraj.”

Bashier then argues against this theory, stating that ‘[e]vidence from the Sirah of Ibn Hisham depicting the Second pledge of ‘Aqaba sufficiently refutes, we believe, the main point of the arbitration theory – that the Yathribites grew weary of the war between themselves and urgently needed an arbitrator.” (Bashier, op. cit., p. 98)

The author points out that the second ‘Aqaba pledge “has been termed The Pledge of War by all the Muslim biographers of the Prophet [S]” in contrast to the first pledge which took place in the previous year, termed The Pledge of Women as there was no mention of fighting in this pledge (ibid., pp. 98 to 99)

 

A Coup in Medina

An extract from Ibn Hisham’s detailed account of the Pledge of War follows:

‘The Messenger [ﷺ] spoke and recited the Quran and invited men to Allah and commended Islam and then said: “I invite your allegiance on the basis that you protect me as you would your women and children.” Al-Bara’ took his hand and said: “By Him Who sent you with the truth we will protect you as we protect our women. We give our allegiance and we are men of war possessing arms which have been passed on from father to son”… “The Messener [S] said, “Bring out to me twelve leaders that they may take charge of their people’s affairs.” They produced nine from al-Khazraj and three from al-Aws.’ (Ibn Hisham, English translation, pp. 203 to 204)

Ibn Hisham narrates that al-‘Abbas bin ‘Ubayda bin Nadla al-Ansari said when the pledge was taking place, “O men of Khazraj, do you realilze to what you are committing yourselves in pledging your support to this man? It is to war against all and sundry. If you think that if you lose your property and if your nobles are killed you will give him up, then do so now, for it will bring you shame in this world and the next (if you did so later); but if you think that you will be loyal to your undertaking if you lose your property and your nobles are killed, take him, for by Allah it will profit you in this world and the next.” Ibn Hisham continues: “They said they would accept the Messenger [S] on these conditions. But they asked what they would get in return for their loyalty, and the Messenger [S] promised them paradise. They said, “Stretch forth your hand,” and when he did so they pledged their word.”(pp. 204 to 205)

The political significance of this pledge is elaborated upon by Dr. Bashier:

“Islam is not like any other religion because it lays clear and unambiguous claim to government. It has a political theory as well as a positive law of its own. Without the materialisation of its political theory and the enforcement of its positive law, the Islamic community cannot and will not be in a position to thrive and prosper, nor uphold its characteristic sociological features, norms and values. The Prophet [ﷺ] clearly recognised the vitality of the state and the political authority of a truly Muslim environment and society. Because of this, he explicitly demanded, and obtained, the acceptance of his personal authority in his capacity as Messenger of Allah over the city of Yathrib. This demand was explicitly mentioned as one of the conditions of the second ‘Aqaba Pledge, and the Yathribites explicity assented to it by declaring their intention and firm commitment not to contest the authority of the new administration which they were by contract, conscious desire and explicit pledge, inviting to their own city.” (op. cit., p. 103)

The Prophet ﷺ did not seek political power for its own sake, but in response to Allah’s command to him. The following is from Surah al-Isra:

And say: “My Lord! Let my entry be good, and (likewise) my exit be good. And grant me from You a helping authority.” (17:80)

Commenting on the meaning of ‘grant me from You a helping authority [سُلْطَـناً نَّصِيرًا]’ Ibn Kathir says in his  tafsir,  “Al-Hasan Al-Basri explained this Ayah; ‘His Lord promised to take away the kingdom and glory of Persia and give it to him, and the kingdom and glory of Byzantium and give it to him.’ Qatadah said, ‘The Prophet of Allah knew that he could not achieve this without authority or power, so he asked for authority to help him support the Book of Allah, the Laws of Allah, the obligations of Allah and to establish the religion of Allah…’ ” [Cf. tafsir of Ibn Kathir, commentary on 17:80]

So Allah is explicitly instructing the Prophet ﷺ to make du’a to Him to be granted political authority. And he ﷺ did indeed achieve this victory when he seized power in Medina. As we have seen from the account of the second ‘Aqaba Pledge, many from the influential Aws and Khazraj tribes had vowed to use force if necesssry to protect the Messenger of Allah and to secure his position as the new ruler of Yathrib, as well as to fight if necessary to spread the message of Islam. What is often overlooked is that this coup took place at the time that someone else was about to be annointed as leader of Yathrib. The following is narrated in Sahih al-Bukhari;

‘Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) rode his animal and proceeded till he entered upon Sa‘d bin ‘Ubada. Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “O Sa‘d! Didn’t you hear what Abu Habab said?” (meaning ‘Abdullah ibn Ubay). “He said so-and-so.” Sa‘d bin Ubada said, “O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! Let my father be sacrificed for you ! Excuse and forgive him for, by Him Who revealed to you the Book, Allah sent the Truth which was revealed to you at the time when the people of this town had decided to crown him (‘Abdullah ibn Ubay) as their ruler. So when Allah had prevented that with the Truth He had given you, he was choked by that, and that caused him to behave in such an impolite manner which you had noticed.” ’ (Sahih al-Bukhari, hadith #6207, click here for full hadith with Arabic text)

The entry of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ into Medina to take power was actually achieved by military force. Any potential opposition to the Prophet’s ﷺ accession was thus halted in its tracks. Ibn Kathir relates the following:

‘Imam Ahmad stated, “Hashim related to us, quoting Sulayman, from Thabit, from  Anas b. Malik, who said, “I moved along through young men shouting, “Muhammad has come!” And I’d move ahead but still see nothing.

“But the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) did come, accompanied by Abu Bakr. They hid  in a ruin in Medina, then sent out a bedouin asking for the ansar, the Helpers, to let them enter town. Thereupon some 500 of the ansar went out to greet them, saying, “Do come on; you are safe and will be obeyed.” ’ (Ibn Kathir, al-Sira al-Nabawiyya (English translation), vol. 2, p. 177)

Significantly, the men had their swords ready, as mentioned by Ibn Hibban:

“Muslims surged to their weapons and met the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) at Harra and they were 500 in number.” (Ibn Hibban, al-Sira al-Nabawiyya wa Akhbar al-Khulafa, vol. 1, p. 139)

This is also confirmed by a hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari:

“When the Muslims of Medina heard the news of the departure of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) from Mecca (towards Medina), they started going to the Harra every morning . They would wait for him till the heat of the noon forced them to return. One day, after waiting for a long while, they returned home, and when they went into their houses, a Jew climbed up the roof of one of the forts of his people to look for some thing, and he saw Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) and his companions dressed in white clothes, emerging out of the desert mirage.

The Jew could not help shouting at the top of his voice, “O you Arabs! Here is your great man whom you have been waiting for!” So all the Muslims rushed to their weapons and received Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) on the summit of Harra.” (Sahih al-Bukhari #3906, click here for full hadith with Arabic text)

After the Prophet had established the Islamic State in Median, he could now proceed to implement the Shari‘ah as commanded by Allah.

Both Ibn Hisham and Ibn Kathir relate from Ibn Ishaq the following:

“When the Prophet ﷺ was assured and satisfied in Medina and when his brothers from the Muhajireen were gathered with him in Medina along with his brothers from the Ansar, Islam was firmly established so the prayer was established, the zakah and fasting were obligated, the hudud were established, halal and haram was obligated and Islam was in power among them.”

[Cf. English translation of Sirat Ibn Hisham, p. 235 and Sirah of Ibn Kathir, vol. 2 p. 221. Arabic text below]

 

 

In the first part of this series of posts on the political Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ (part 1), we discussed how it was important to follow the methodology of the Prophet in all areas of life, whether in how we pray, run an economy or indeed how we re-institute the Islamic state (Caliphate). It is imperative that we follow in the footsteps of the Prophet ﷺ to bring Islam back to the affairs of daily life in totality, and take note of his example which Allah commands us to follow.

In the fifth and final part of this series, we will examine the ‘Constitution’ of Medina.

[This article could not have been completed without the generous help of Sidi Ahmad, Sidi Ayaz and Sidi Zafar]

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