Political Analysis – A Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ

In a previous series of posts, we saw how the political Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ included his methodology in statecraft in addition to how he strove to establish the first Islamic state in Yathrib [please see parts 1, 2, 3 and 4]. We also discussed how the Prophet’s ﷺ contribution to constitutional law is preserved in the charter (Ṣaḥīfah) of Madina [see part 5].

Another aspect of political responsibility undertaken by the Prophet ﷺ which is hardly ever discussed is political analysis.

The Prophet ﷺ worked with the Sahabah in his da‘wah with full political awareness and monitored the international situation and its impact on the Muslims.

An example of this is how the Prophet ﷺ reacted to the conflict between two of the superpowers on the world stage at the time, Persia and Byzantium (i.e. al-Rūm, the Eastern Roman Empire). The Qur’an mentions the conflict between these two adversaries in Sūrah al-Rūm (the political significance of this Sūrah being named after a global superpower cannot be ignored):

“Alif  Lām Mīm

The Romans have been defeated
in the land nearby,

but after their defeat

they will themselves be victorious

in a few (biḍ‘i) years time.

The affair is Allah’s from beginning to end,

On that day, the believers will rejoice

in Allah’s help.

He grants victory to whomever He wills.

He is the Almighty, the Most Merciful.

That is Allah’s promise.

Allah does not break his promise.

But most people do not know it.

They know an outward aspect of the life of this world

But are heedless of the next World.”

[Sūrah 30:1-7,  Arabic verses pictured above at the top of this post]

The Quraysh had important trade routes to both Rome and Persia. They therefore were very skilled in political analysis and it was widely practiced by the Makkans, as their priority was to maintain these trading partnerships and the safety of these routes. The Prophet ﷺ was also skilled in this art, but his analysis was from the angle of Islam and the benefit of the Islamic da‘wah [Cf. Haykal, The Life of Muhammad (English translation, 3rd edition), p. 9].

The war referred to in the above verses took place over a period of 26 years, so it is clear that the Prophet ﷺ was monitoring the international situation continuously.

In his tafsīr, Ibn Kathir quotes Ibn ‘Abbas (r) as saying:
“The idolaters wanted the Persians to prevail over the Romans, because they were idol worshippers, and the Muslims wanted the Romans to prevail over the Persians, because they were People of the Book. This was mentioned to Abu Bakr who mentioned it to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

«أَمَا إِنَّهُمْ سَيَغْلِبُون»

“They will certainly prevail.”

[English translation of Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr, volume 7, page 518]

Al-Shawkani said: 

“The scholars of tafsīr said: the Persians defeated the Romans, and the kuffār of Makkah rejoiced because of that and said, “Those who do not have a Book have defeated those who do have a Book,” and they gloated over the Muslims and said, “We will also defeat you as the Persians defeated the Romans.” The Muslims wanted the Romans to prevail over the Persians because they were People of the Book… “but after their defeat they will themselves be victorious” means that the Romans, after having been defeated by the Persians, would defeat the people of Persia. 

Al-Zajjaj said: ‘This is one of the verses that prove that the Qur’an is from Allah, because it is foretelling something that was yet to come, and this is something which no one could know except Allah.’ ” 

[Al-Shawkani, Fatḥ al-Qadīr, 4/214]

In Ma‘āriful Qur’ān, the following is mentioned in relation to these verses:

“At the defeat of Christians, the infidels of Makkah rejoiced, and taunted the Muslims that their favourites have lost. They also claimed that as the Persian infidels defeated the Roman Christians, the same way Makkans would also beat down the Muslims. This claim hurt the Muslims to some extent.” (Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Ibn Abi Hatim)

“The opening verses of Sūrah Ar-Rūm related to this incident, predicted this as a good tiding whereby the people of Rūm would overcome the Persians again in a few years time. When Sayyidna Abu Bakr (r) learnt about these verses, he went to the infidels in the market place and suburbs of Makkah and announced that there was no occasion for them to be happy as after a few years, the Christians would overcome the Persians again. Hearing this, Ubayy ibn Khalaf challenged him and said it could not be so and that he was only telling a lie.

Sayyidna Abu Bakr (r) said: ‘O enemy of Allah! You are a liar, I am willing to bet on this issue that in case the Christians would not overcome the Persians in three years time, I will give you ten camels, and if they did overcome, then you will have to give me ten camels’. (This was an instance of gambling, but gambling was not prohibited by then).

After saying the above, Sayyidna Abu Bakr (r) went to the Prophet ﷺ and narrated the episode. On that, the Prophet ﷺ said to him that he did not fix the time of three years, because the Qur’an has used the words biḍ‘i sinīn (a few years) under which the time limit could be anything between three to nine years. Therefore, the Prophet ﷺ asked Sayyidna Abu Bakr (r) to go back to the person with whom he had made the bet and ask him that he would bet for a hundred camels instead of ten, but the time limit would be nine (and according to some other reports, seven years and not three). Sayyidna Abu Bakr (r) followed the instructions of the Prophet ﷺ, and Ubayy Ibn Khalaf also agreed on the terms of the new bet (Ibn Jarir al-Tabari).

It is gathered from various ahadith that this incident happened five years before the hijrah. After the passage of exactly seven years, at the time of the battle of Badr, the Romans defeated the Persians. By that time, Ubayy Ibn Khalaf had died.

So Sayyidna Abu Bakr (r) demanded a hundred camels from his heirs according to the terms of the bet, to which they complied and handed over the agreed number of camels…

When Sayyidna Abu Bakr (r) won the bet according to the agreement and got hold of one hundred camels, he took them to the Prophet ﷺ, who asked him to give them in charity (ṣadaqah). Abu Ya‘la has quoted these words in Ibn ‘Asakir on the authority of Sayyidna Bara’  ibn ‘Azib  هذا السحت تصدق به. That is ‘this is prohibited. Give it in charity (ṣadaqah)’ (Rūḥ al-Ma‘āni)”

[English translation of Ma‘āriful Qur’ān, volume 6, pages 718 to 720]

And Ibn Kathir mentions the following in his al-Sīra al-Nabawīyyah:

“It is also related through al-Walid b. Muslim, who said, “Usayd al-Kilabi related to us that he heard al-‘Ala b. al-Zubayr al-Kilabi relate to us from his father as follows, ‘I saw the victory of the Persians over the Byzantines and then that of the Byzantines over the Persians. I then saw the victory of the Muslims over both Rome and Persia and their conquering of Syria and Iraq. And all of this over a period of 15 years!
[English translation of al-Sīra al-Nabawīyyah, volume 2, page 61]

Thus, the Prophet ﷺ monitored the international situation and the progress of his enemies in Makkah several years before he established Islamic rule in Madina.

In fact political analysis of circumstances both locally and in neighbouring lands was necessary as his ﷺ vision was to conquer not only the whole of Arabia, but also other peoples, as is clear from the following narrated by al-Wahidi in his Asbāb al-Nuzūl:

“When ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab embraced Islam, the Muslims were overjoyed while the Quraysh was devastated. Al-Walid ibn al-Mughirah said to the nobles and chiefs of Quraysh: ‘Go to Abu Talib and say to him: you are our elder and chief and you know well what these fools have done. We have come to you so that you judge between us and your nephew’. Abu Talib sent for the Prophet  and when he answered his call, he said to him: ‘Son of my brother, these are your own people and they are asking you for fairness, so do not swerve completely from them’. The Prophet  asked: ‘What do they want from me?’ They said: ‘Cease mentioning our deities and we will leave you alone with your God’. The Prophet  said to them: ‘Will you grant me one word [kalimah] by means of which you will rule over the Arabs and subjugate the non-Arabs?’ Abu Jahl said: ‘We will surely grant it and grant you ten like it!’ The Prophet  said: ‘Say: there is no deity except Allah! [Lā ilāha illa Llah] The Quraysh were repelled and left, saying: ‘Does he make the gods One God? How can One God be sufficient for the whole creation?’ And so Allah, exalted is He, revealed about them these verses [i.e. from 38:5], up to His words (The folk of Noah before them denied (their messenger)…) [38:12]”
[Cf. English translation of Asbāb al-Nuzūl by Adnan Salloum, Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyah, Beirut, 1999, pp. 410-412]

And the Prophet ﷺ continued to perform political analysis when he became the ruler. All of this was done to progress the Islamic da‘wah so when he ﷺ found out that the tribe of Khaybar were negotiating with the Quraysh and planning to attack and annihilate the nascent Islamic state, he ﷺ neutralised the Quraysh by committing them to a peace treaty, thereby enabling him ﷺ to wipe out Khaybar.

This peace treaty was described by Allah in Sūrah al-Fatḥ as فَتْحاً قَرِيباً  – “a near victory” [Surah 48:18]. Ibn Kathir comments in his tafsīr that this was revealed “in reference to the goodness that Allah, the Exalted and Most Honoured, caused to happen to the Companions on account of the peace treaty between them and their disbelieving enemies.”
[English translation of Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr, volume 9, pages 148-149]

Unfortunately, as far as our times are concerned, we too often hear remarks that shut down any discussion of politics such as: “No politics in the Mosque!” (This may be due to the fact that in today’s world, most politicians are the worst of mankind. They work to enrich themselves and increase their power and influence for worldly gain).

The exclusion of politics from the dīn is a way of secularising Islam which is exactly what the Establishment in non-Muslim countries and the corrupt regimes in Muslim countries want.

But the Prophet ﷺ and his Companions engaged in politics according to the principles of Islam and this included contemporaneous political analysis of events.

In a forthcoming article, we will outline how Islamic politics is the guardian of the affairs of the Ummah in accordance with the laws of the Shari‘ah. We will also examine the role of political parties within the Islamic paradigm.

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