Thursday, March 10, 2005
A year or so after Muhammad’s Hijrah from Mecca to Medina in 622, he attacks Meccan caravans six times, and sent out a punitive expedition three-days away against an Arab tribe that stole some Medinan grazing camels (or cattle), totaling seven raids.
W. Montgomery Watt, a highly reputable Western Islamologist who writes in favor of Muhammad and whose two-volume history of early Islam (Muhammad at Mecca (1953) and Muhammad at Medina (1956)) has won wide acceptance, tells us why geography matters:
The chief point to notice is that the Muslims took the offensive. With one exception the seven expeditions were directed against Meccan caravans. The geographical situation lent itself to this. Caravans from Mecca to Syria had to pass between Medina and the coast. Even if they kept as close to the Red Sea as possible, they had to pass within about eighty miles of Medina, and, while at this distance from the enemy base, would be twice as far from their own base. (Muhammad at Medina, emphasis added, p. 2)
It must be emphatically stated that the Meccans never sent a force up to the doorstep of Medina at this time—they did later on when they were fed up with Muhammad’s aggressions. It is true that the Meccans gathered forces to protect their caravans, but when Muhammad confronted them, they were many days’ journeys away from Medina, often more than a hundred miles. (Medina and Mecca are around 200-250 miles from each other, taking seven to eleven days of travel by foot, horse, or camel.)
Hence, two Muslim scholar-apologists are deliberately inaccurate when they assert that the caravans “passed through” Medina, adding that the Muslims haphazardly sought for whatever spoils they could get, whereas the Meccans mobilized for war (Isma’il R. al-Faruqi and Lois Lamya’al Faruqi, The Cultural Atlas of Islam, New York: Macmillan, 1986, 134). Rather, it is more accurate to say that the Muslims were aggressively harassing the Meccans.
To complete the military picture of Muhammad’s life from 622 to 632, Watt sums up the number of expeditions that Muhammad either sent out or went out on: seventy-four (Muhammad at Medina, pp. 2; 339-43). They range from negotiations (only a few compared to the violent expeditions), to small assassination hit squads, to the conquest of Mecca with 10,000 jihadists, and to the confrontation of Byzantine Christians (who never showed up), with 30,000 holy warriors to Tabuk (see below).
For a fuller account of these six early aggressive attacks against Meccan caravans, go to this article, which explains more thoroughly why these attacks are not defensive.
Thus, aggressive military violence sits at the heart of early Islam—in Muhammad’s life and in the Quran. Islam is therefore not the religion of peace.