By Syed Iqbal Zaheer
It is noticeable from the study of early Muslim history after the Prophet, that the earliest Muslims did not make any special effort to invite peoples of the conquered territories to Islam. Neither was there any official apparatus for this purpose, nor individuals seemed to have formed groups or organizations to systematically present Islam to the non-Muslims residing in territories subdued by force.
Most of the territories of the early Islamic period: Persia, Central Asia, the Caucasian territories, Asia Minor, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, etc., were brought to control through conquest. The offer in the battle-fields was: (a) become Muslim, (b) remain non-Muslim but pay Jizyah (c) or fight it out.
Almost always the non-Muslims of these areas chose to fight it out, and almost always they were defeated. When they were defeated, Muslims entered their territory, established a new government, and imposed Jizyah. The defeated armies and leaders had expected a grand scale plunder, loot, rape and slaughter: as every army did. But nothing of that sort happened at the time of the Companions and their immediate followers. That left the peoples of the conquered territories in a mild shock accompanied by gradual relief. At that moment they would give anything in return of what they thought was the puzzling behavior of the Muslim army.
Therefore, when the terms of Jizyahwere announced, which were five to ten times less mild in any case (as against the then prevalent 25-50% of all land produce and merchandise for the conqueror – after all that looting, raping and mass murdering), a new government was in place, Muslims and non-Muslims went about with their business of life, as usual.
Days passed by and nothing was happening. No courts were conducted, and no citizens were ordered to present themselves to attend the court, with folded hands, before the Governor, Army Chief, or anyone else (as was the Roman and Persian custom); nor were there any Abu Ghuraib-like prisons, or Guantanamo type of torture centers (as in our civilized times).
There were no check posts, no raiding of homes to un-earth insurgents, no regular slaughter of civilians to warn the rest how they would be punished if they resisted occupation; nor were there any patrolling by fully armed soldiers, murdering every day, numerous merchants, peasants, men women and children, on the pretext of going after a terrorist; which has been the practice and the way of conducting war of all Jahiliyy societies and all modern so-called civilized, but behind the mask, cavemen’s way of wars. No wonder Israel threatens the neighbor that it will reduce their countries to stone-age (just as Iraq has been reduced to stone-age through proxy war). Those of the stone-age mentality can only reduce others to stone-age, if given the gun.
But no such thing was happening to the Jahiliyy peoples the Muslims had conquered. Many would have thought that perhaps the Muslims were waiting for a command from the center, to begin behaving like the 7th century cavemen (like the 21stcentury civilized men of stone-age). But days passed by and there was no sign of any action.
This weakened those insurgents who were lying low, trying to organize themselves, to strike when an opportunity arose, for, the resentment was there, no matter how the occupiers behaved. All occupiers are hated. But, since, as some fair-minded Western historians have noted (most of them are outright dishonest) Muslim occupation was benign, and so, the resentment was not great. And, without good amount of resentment spreading among the masses, organizing a powerful insurgent activity was not easy. Obviously, there were many sons-of-the-land who were loyal to their former rulers, highly patriotic to their country and indignant towards the Muslims. Such elements did succeed in some areas, in raising a quick army to revolt; but generally, Muslims were able to subdue them.
Insurgency, however, was not a frequent occurrence. Muslims allowed the conquered people to attend their temples, live by their Personal Law, and drink wine and gamble as they would, so long as they did not indulge in these beastly activities publicly.
Yet of course, the apprehensive mood of the conquered people lasted quite a while, and they waited to see what would happen next, quite suspicious that the Muslims were merely showing kind faces before they would launch murderous attacks. After all, hadn’t they been told by their former rulers that the Arabs were blood-thirsty people who would slaughter their children and drink off their blood right in front of their mothers? So, the fears and apprehensions lasted quite a while. (Said an American soldier who raped a 14 year old Iraqi girl, and killed her entire family with the help of other soldiers, “I never thought the Arabs were humans”).
But the prolonged wait-and-see situation was also cooling down the atmosphere, defusing the tension, and lowering the apprehensions. This, as said before, stifled the insurgency efforts. As time drifted on, and the apprehensive non-Muslims gradually began to interact with the conquerors, the fears were reduced. Ultimately, the conquered peoples knew that their fears were baseless, and that these Muslims were a different class of occupiers. As a result, a situation arose in which most would oppose any insurgency, and a few actually offered their services to the Muslims in their battles against their former rulers: Romans, Persians or others.
What made things easy was that the conquered people gradually realized that their new masters had not come for wealth, agricultural products, minerals or other resources of the land. They were not even interested in the wealth of their wealthy men, but rather, were always there to offer a little here, or a little there, to their poor, i.e., the non-Muslim poor. To them, this was amazing. Soldiers of occupying armies are well-known for knocking down a passer by and knocking off his money. (The invaders looted the Iraqi Museum). In contrast, the Muslims were sometimes even feeding their needy – not handing out their left-overs – but right on their own dinner tables.
Further, to their discovery, Muslim soldiers were, by any measure, well civilized, who accorded much respect to their women, (allowing them freeway in the narrow lanes with downcast eyes), occasionally lifting a child and kissing it, or innocently asking the merchant in the market whether they could take the goods now and pay up later, perhaps the next day, and then, amazingly turning up the next day and paying up the merchant in full. These were little things happening everyday that changed the perception of the occupied people over time.
Again, the Muslim soldiers were homogeneous, i.e., every one of them was almost of the same quality, same behavior, same manners and decorum. So, their behavior was predictable: no harm expected any time.
Compare and contrast today’s Western armies with the Muslim armies that conquered millions of acres of land along with millions of hearts of the sons-of-the-land, while the Westerners have neither conquered an inch of Islamic territory, nor the heart of (let alone Muslims), millions of Europeans, including the British, who are in one voice (at the intellectual level) in contempt of their leaders, and condemnation of the invasions. This comparison will explain how the Da`wah machinery functioned in those early days of Islam.
To mark the difference, a few soldiers in the Western armies are fanatics, pure and simple. They believe in the Judeo-Christian fantasy that a turbaned Anti-Christ is just around the corner, about to drop a bombshell with his appearance, and that since he would – according to the Bible experts – pop up in the Middle-east, any, and every Muslim, can be killed now. A few soldiers hold, no less a fantastic belief that Muslims brought down the twin towers, and, therefore, any, and every Muslim, can be shot at sight. A few other soldiers are there because they have no jobs and the only way they can feed their families is by shooting or dropping bombs at anyone the commander signals. A few others know that they are used by their country as mules to be sacrificed for the gangster-politicians, bankmen, corporate owners, Jews, war industry representatives, and other elements. And yet a few who know that if they went back home minus a limb, they will neither find a job nor a shelter, nor yet receive an artificial limb without paying from their own pockets, and so, are full of resentment at being so roughly treated by their own leaders; and therefore: “Fire, Fire.”
In other words, they are not a homogenous group, but disparate elements, hired men and women, who will just deliver what they are expected to deliver, and get the hell out as soon as possible with enough dollars in pockets that will last for a while back home. Except that they unanimously believe that they can kill any one, any time, with complete impunity, they share no other opinion among themselves. This makes these disparate elements, quite a few of whom are disenchanted, disillusioned and frustrated, quite unpredictable and dangerous. They are remnants of the Roman armies that the Muslims encountered early on, the difference between that situation and what prevails now is that today’s Muslims are not allowed to encounter today’s Roman armies.
This comparative study is essential to realize how Muslims of the earliest times penetrated into the hearts of the people, without the use of power of weapons, media, political machinations, buying up politicians, assassinating opposing individuals, installing puppet regimes, provoking extremist reactions, planting terrorists, organizing inside jobs of destruction, etc.
It is not possible to go into greater details of comparison at this point. It is an issue which requires Muslim intellectuals (are there any left around?), to take up as a task of thorough research. Our objective is to point out to the Da`wah workers of today (a misnomer anyway) that it was men and methods that made the difference and not the weapons, in the conversion of millions of people to Islam at its first encounter with a vast number of non-Muslims. The Muslim soldier of those times was the member of a homogenous group: of one faith, one character and one opinion: “We have come here to release you from the slavery of men and bind you to the slavery of God:” words said, words kept.
The strangest of facts, for the (so-called) Da`wah workers of today (with apologies), is that the Muslims of the earliest times were not even offering their religion to the conquered populations. They were not going about distributing copies of the Qur’an; nor were their preachers working among the masses, (openly or surreptitiously as the clergy in soldier’s garbs working in Iraq and Afghanistan). They were not handing out leaflets about Islam, delivering lectures at street-corners, or debating with the Jews, Christian, or Roman Pagan religious leaders demonstrating ‘beyond any doubt’ how Islam was a superior religion, the Religion of Truth, and how those others were false and their holy literatures cock and bull stories of the past. This was not the way of the earliest Muslims. These are sure methods of creating resentment, plugging the ears, and shutting the eyes.
What then were their methods? The answer is, none. That is, no methods were adopted at all. Adopting a method means being artificial, affective, and pretentious. But rather, they stayed natural: natural men and women except that they were Muslims. And that’s what had its impact. They were Muslims, honestly and sincerely. They did not know that the best way of demonstrating the Truth is to live by it. They knew no philosophy and disliked philosophizing. ‘That the best way of presenting the Truth is to live by it,’ is what we learn from them without they having attempting it consciously.
Being Muslims honestly and sincerely made them different from peoples of all times. They did not have to speak about Islam. Their faces, gestures, smiles (or even the famous Arab scowls), were all natural. When a non-Muslim complained of the hard times he was facing (for any of his personal reason), then the exclamation on the face and the sincerity of the gesture, and an ‘Oh’ of the mouth, told him that the conqueror shared his difficulty. When a non-Muslim said thanks for a little service offered by a Muslim, and he said in return, ‘That was your right,’ then the sincerity of the tone sent a cool current into his heart. When at the evening someone knocked at the door, the non-Muslim opened it to find a twittering little girl, and a littler boy, with a little plate covered with a piece of cloth, saying coyly, ‘Uncle, my mother said, give this to auntie,’ then the man was already bowled half over by Islam. Let alone the effect of the gift, when was it last that any foreign child had addressed him as, ‘Uncle?’
When a non-Muslim went to a Muslim state-official complaining against a Muslim, and the official told him, “Look my friend. It is obvious from your explanation that your case is not too strong against the man you are accusing. But it seems you are in some sort of problem. So, let me suggest something. We go together to this Muslim of your mention, and persuade him. We will tell him: ‘Right or no right, you ought to look at this more sympathetically;’” and when the non-Muslim asked, “But what happens when the man refuses? My problem remains,” the Muslim replied, “Well, there is nothing we can do to force the man. After all, it is not his fault. But, if he cannot be persuaded, then I’ll find some other way to help you out. We cannot bank on that man, but you can bank on me. So, let’s go to him first and see what happens.” When the non-Muslim heard these words, he felt convinced that the Qur’an must contain some good things, although he hadn’t seen a copy of the Qur’an yet.
Or, another scenario: A Muslim inquires a non-Muslim acquaintance carrying a sickly child on his shoulder and is told that he is going to such and such a doctor. (That ‘such and such a doctor’ is a Muslim). The Muslim replies, “Well, if you have trust in him, go ahead. But I personally believe that ‘the other guy’ is better qualified.” The non-believer says about the ‘other guy’, “But he is a Jew, and, moreover, so expensive.” The Muslim answers, “I know he is a Jew. I also know that his charges are quite a bit on the higher side. But he is definitely a better doctor, and honest in his trade.” That sort of advice left a strong impression on the non-Muslim acquaintance about what this religion Islam stood for.
If one was a slave, he was eager to be owned by one of the occupiers of his lands. He knew that the day of the occupier buying him was the day of freedom: the next meal would be at his master’s table. Almost hundred percent of second and third generation scholars of Islam were new-Muslims, former slaves, converted in the house of their occupying masters who had vowed that even if set free, they’d not part company with their masters: “Never in my life,” one of them would say.
These, and innumerous such minor incidents that took place as months and years rolled by created the currents of acceptability of the invaders and their religion – which didn’t seem to be too bad after all. (Its full scale grace and beauty were realized only after the faith was embraced).
The above was at the individual level. But it might not be imagined that the exposure was great, for the individual Muslims among the local populations were few; hardly one in fifty. But, the visibility was great. That is, one in fifty outshined the forty-nine if he came into view. Any encounter left an impression of sorts, favorable to Islam. And the same thing was visible in another individual Muslim, so, the impression only got further confirmed. That is the homogeneity we spoke about earlier.
The state and administration did their own Da`wah work of the kind and class identified above. They weren’t talking of Islam. They were demonstrating Islam; not through any scheme worked out for the occupied territories, but rather administrating it, naturally, inartificially, by Islamic principles. No bribes, no gifts, no commission, no myriads of men to circle through before reaching the high official, no paper work, no swearing, no witnessing. If you spoke the truth, the administration believed in you and gave you your right, but if you lied you got severely punished. That was Islamic administration: simple, fast, effective.
When a non-Muslim went to a state official, he did not lecture him on Islam, nor condemn his Jewish, Christian, Magi or Pagan religion. He administered justice. In most cases it was a rough-faced bedouin, rough-tongued man, who looked least friendly, in most cases with a scowl, but he gave the complainant what was his due and told him, “This is your due, no more and no less,” and dismissed him with, “God be with you.” No gesture, no smile, no hypocrisy.
Had the non-Muslim subject ever received “his due” anytime in previous administrations? Did he get anything at all without bribing the officials in between? Had it ever happened anytime during the civilized Roman, Persian or other administrations, that when a pitcher of water was brought in the court, and the Judge signaled to the attendant to pass it through the men sitting around, including the tipsy non-Muslim litigant, before the Judge would drink in the end, with a sigh and the remark, “This is a hot day!” The Judge never said to the litigant, “You are equal to us.”
As simple the Islam, that simple was the administration. When a woman sought help from an official, she did not even know that it was the Governor she was speaking to. There were no sign-boards, no nameplates, no sentries, no personal guards, and no (female) office secretaries because there was no office – so to say. So, when he told her that she could go to the Treasurer and say that I, naming himself, have asked him to give you 10 Dinars, she thought that because she was a non-Arab, he was making fun of her. When she looked at him, quite in askance, with not so bemused eyes, he repeated his words in all earnestness. Ultimately, when she got the money, she turned to the heaven and blessed the new rulers. She couldn’t have got one-tenth of the money from her pervious rulers in 10 days, what she got in one hour. She also got something else that day. When she went back to thank him he remarked, “That was your right. By the way, don’t you have a male in your house: husband, son, someone?” When she said yes, he said, “It would have been sufficient if you had sent one of them. As a woman, you don’t have to take all this trouble.” She knew immediately, what queens those women were who went about in the streets in hijab. “Yes my son,” she muttered to herself as she left, “I didn’t have to go about in this my frail age, if we had a religion like yours.”
True, those who fear Islam have done a good job of scaring the people they enslave, away from Islam and Muslims. They have spread good amount of hatred, suspicion, and apprehension. They are aware that their masses feel disillusioned about the religious, social, political, and economic system, and that Islam may be looked at as an alternative by those whose dignity they trample as they line them up for free food. They have created a mental barrier between their disillusioned people and Islam.
No doubt, this makes presenting Islam in its true color a pretty difficult task. Yet, the difference must be realized between then and now. And the difference is that the earliest Muslims were not saying, like the modern-day preachers, Da`wah workers, speech-makers, seminar lecturers, article writers, debaters, and now a million Islamic Websites: “Islam, Islam, Islam” – with little or no effect.
What was visible to the non-Muslims of the earliest times was, “Islam, Islam, Islam.”