“Our Prophet (peace be upon him) and his peope were constantly harassed and attacked by the polytheists after the hijra to Medina.”
This myth owes its origin to the need Muslim apologists have to justify the more violent passages of the Quran’s second chapter, which was “revealed” shortly after Muhammad arrived in Medina following the hijra.
Passages from this chapter encourage believers to violence within the context of ending “tumult,” “oppression,” and “persecution.” Contemporary Muslim readers usually apply their personal definitions to these terms and assume that the Muslims in Medina must have been under attack at the time.
Unfortunately, what Muhammad meant by “persecution” is well-defined within the historical record, and it is quite different from the popular modern-day view. In fact, it was the Meccans who were generally acting in their own defense during this time.
Historians do not record any act of aggression by the Meccans against the Muslims during the time at which the second sura was narrated by Muhammad. There were no armies marching against them, nor any plans for such. The Meccans had no influence in this far-away town, and Muslims were not under persecution at the time by any stretch of the term as it is popularly understood today.
According to the sequence of events in the Sira (biography), the Meccans were quite content with leaving Muhammad alone following his eviction (even though he had made a pledge of war against them). Common sense also tells us that had the Muslims been under actual attack then it would not have been necessary to inspire them to war. If someone has broken into your home and is in the process of savaging your family, you do really need a formal command from Allah telling you to act in self-defense?
Muhammad’s pride was hurting from his ouster, and his credibility as Allah’s chosen messenger was damaged. He wanted revenge. He used “revelations” from Allah to redefine persecution in order to convince his followers that they were under it. He wanted them to believe that the mere fact that the Meccans had evicted him from to Medina and prevented a return was grounds for marching back with a vengeful army (ie. 2:193 – “persecution is worse than slaughter”).
But it was entirely reasonable for the Meccans to evict Muhammad and prevent his return. In the first place, the prophet of Islam had declared himself to be an armed revolutionary against them. What town would invite a sworn enemy back within its own gates? (Indeed, the Meccans were foolish enough to do exactly that a few years later and paid for it with the loss of their cityand way of life).
The second reason that the Meccans did not want Muhammad anywhere near their town was that Islam was intolerant of other faiths and demanded sole possession of the Kaaba, the common worship area. In other words, it wasn’t that the Meccans had a problem with Muslims circling the Kaaba, it was that Muslims wanted to bar everyone else from doing so. This is confirmed in the Quran (Sura 9:18-19), which ordered the eviction of anyone at Mecca who refused to convert to Islam following the city’s capture by Muhammad in 630.
Against this reality, the words of Sura 2 take on a different meaning:
Although apologists are fond of claiming that this passage is limited to matters of self-defense, the actual historical context firmly contradicts this. Instead the verse is a justification for aggression in the cause of advancing Islamic rule.As we have pointed out, Muhammad and his Muslims were not under attack by the Meccans. They were not being slaughtered, hence the obvious distinction in the verse between “persecution” and slaughter.
“Persecution” thus means that Muslims living 300 miles away in Medina were simply barred from visiting Mecca and thus entering the “sacred mosque” (the Kaaba). Muhammad was trying to convince his people that this (non-lethal) policy was justification for attacking and slaughtering the Meccans in the name of religion.
[Note: There is evidence from the Sira that Muslims were allowed to conduct pilgrimages from Medina during these years – with the exception of Muhammad. This makes the justification for warfare all the thinner.]
The only possible reason for marching on Mecca at the time would have been to capture the Kaaba and evict the pagans (note “until religion is for Allah”. Within its true context, the passage is therefore a manifesto for aggressive warfare against the Meccans, not a case of the Muslims being under real persecution so many miles away.
There is obvious irony in the fact that the “persecution” spoken of by Muhammad in this verse (to justify slaughter) is exactly the same sort of persecution that the Muslims were planning to impose on their adversaries… and did. To this day, anyone who is non-Muslim is forbidden to enter the city of Mecca merely on that basis.
As can be seen, the historical record provides absolutely no evidence that the Muslims were being oppressed or threatened in any way by the Meccans, and fully supports the view that it was the latter who were acting in self-defense. The Meccans had no interest in Muhammad and simply wanted to live in peace and pursue their commerce. At each turn, the prophet of Islam unnecessarily harassed them with deadly and provocative actions that eventually forced battles on several occasions.
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