In part one of this article we threw light on why there was so much violence when the Holy Prophet, who is described as the "Mercy of the World" (Rahmat li al-'alamin) was basically committed to peace. We have shown that Islam was the first and most systematic attempt to establish a just society in the history of humankind and thus violence was unavoidable. When you try to establish a just society you hurt the interests of powerful forces of exploitation and oppression and they use violence, if needed, with brutality and ferocity.
The Prophet had to face violence consistently from enemies of Islam who were out to sabotage establishment of a just society in Arabia. The kuffar (unbelievers) did not oppose the Prophet only because he attacked idol worship and preached tawhid i.e. unity of Allah but much more because he emphasised social justice. 'Adl (justice) is a key word in the Qur'an along with ihsan (benevolence), rahmah (compassion) and hikmah (wisdom). These values are very important in Islamic ethics; in fact so important that these are also Allah's name in the Qur'an i.e. Allah is Just, Allah is Benevolent, Allah is Compassionate and Allah is Wise.
The Vested interests in Mecca wanted free hand to exploit their own people and wanted to keep themselves free of an moral or ethical obligations. As we know there was no state structure in Arabia of the Prophet's time and the tribal leaders were completely free to take their own decisions and enact them in their interests. If Islamic system was established they would have been subjected not only to moral and social obligations but also to a governmental system on the basis of laws enacted in keeping with the Islamic teachings.
But these tribal leaders did not want them to be subjected to any such obligations or laws and resisted attempts of the Prophet very violently. Since the Prophet had migrated to Madina, away from the clutches of the powerful tribal leaders but they did not leave him in peace in Madina either. They were afraid if the Prophet succeeds in establishing such a system in Madina it is bound to influence Meccan society as well. Thus Madina was attacked and the prophet had to fight against the Meccan forces.
The Prophet had entered into a covenant with various Jewish and other tribes in Madina giving them complete autonomy to follow their religion, customs and traditions and thus created a political community. The terms of this covenant were most liberal but the Jewish leaders resented the emerging community of Muslims based on religion of their own and though they signed the covenant, they looked for opportunities to wreck it, if possible, with the help of Meccan leaders. And they got the opportunity when the Meccan leaders attacked the prophet and his followers. The Jewish leaders did not fulfill their obligation to defend Madina along with Muslims as per the terms of the covenant.
The Jewish leaders secretly conspired against the Prophet and his followers. Thus conflict arose between the Muslims and the Jews, which could not be resolved peacefully. Thus Muslims and Jews fought and Jews ultimately lost out. Thus the conflict between the Jews and Muslims was not of religious nature. The Prophet had given them full freedom to follow their religion. But what they resented was ascendance of Muslims and taking control of situation. Thus violent conflict became unavoidable between Jews and Muslims of Madina.
The Islamic society in the period after the death of the Holy Prophet also had to face many challenges and could not remain peaceful as ideally desired. We would like to discuss in this paper the causes of violence in Islamic society after the death of the Prophet. An attempt will be made to analyse the situation that developed after the Prophet was no more.
We have to keep this in mind that the Islamic society then was continuously in throes of change and was, in fact, fast changing. It was most dynamic society. Violence erupted in that society both for external and internal reasons. No society can ever change peacefully as these changes also bring change in power equations among countries, tribes, castes and classes. The Arab society in Mecca in pre-Islamic period was in throes of change. Islam gave this change a definite direction, which was moral and ethical.
In pre-Islamic period it was urban society of Mecca which was mainly affected by socio-economic changes taking place but the Bedouin society was by and large unaffected. But Islamic revolution was far too wide in its implications. It took entire Arab society in its sweep. And soon its repercussions were felt even outside Arabia during Prophet's own time. Thus Islam brought about total change of equations. The old tribal relations were replaced by the concept of Muslim ummah. It was totally a new concept for a tribal society transcending all tribal barriers.
Also, tribal autonomy was completely shattered. The focus of power shifted from tribe to a much wider community, which soon embraced even non-Arabs. It was no ordinary change and such a change could not take place peacefully by any stretch of imagination. Quraysh was acknowledged as superior in power and material resources in the Arab peninsula. And it is for this reason that when question of successor to the Holy Prophet assumed controversy it was proposed that the successor could only be from the tribe of Quraysh.
Such a doctrine militated against the concept of ummah or Islamic brotherhood and equality of all believers, yet it was proposed by members of the Quraysh tribe and was accepted as still the centre of gravity of power in Arabia resided in the Quraysh. This also ultimately became a potential source of violence and we will throw more light on this later. Thus the nascent Islamic society faced fast changing equations of power. This became a powerful source of internal violence in the Arab society.
As pointed out above the Islamic revolution took entire Arab society in its sweep with far reaching implications. Before Islam the Bedouin society outside urban areas of Mecca and Madina survived by inter-tribal raids called ghazwa. There was no source of agricultural production in vast expanses of desert and most of the tribes survived through these raids. But now tribal raids were no longer possible as a wider community transcending these barriers came into existence. When internal source of survival dried up one had to look for certain external sources.
And this source was not far to seek. Islam had united these tribes into an ummah under one banner and they could march towards what was then known as Fertile Crescent. There was also pressure on limited sources of Arabia from the South. The famous dam in the Yemen known as Ma'arib was breached a couple of hundreds of years before Islam and the Yemen lost its primacy in rich agriculture and the people began to migrate towards north for better resources.
The Arabs divided into innumerable tribes and internecine struggle could be no match for the powerful empire either of Rome or Sassanids. The Fertile Crescent was great source of attraction for the Arabs under constantly increasing pressure on scarce land resources in the south and Southeast Arabia. But they could not take on the might of the Romans divided as they were in mutually feuding tribes.
Now they were united under the banner of Islam and could march towards the Fertile Crescent. It was not only unity but also they were armed with a cause - to take the message of Islam to other peoples. It is also important to note that there were Christian Arabs on the border of Roman and Sassanid empires. These Christians were Monophysites on and formed buffer between the Romans and Muslim Arabs. But these Monophysite Christians were highly oppressed at the hands of the Romans belonging to a different sect of Christianity.
These Monophysites were also looking for someone to liberate them from the oppressive Roman regime and the Arabs were looked upon as liberators by them. These Arabs did not impose their religion on this 'heretical' sect of Christianity nor they imposed heavy taxes like Romans. Thus these Arabs became liberator for them both in religious as well as economic sense. They enthusiastically supported these Arabs in fighting the Roman forces, which they could not have taken by themselves.
Thus initial invasions by Arabs of Roman empire had socio-political dynamics of their own. These invasions became liberative for the Monophysite Christians who were also Arabs and also it provided much needed land and economic resources to the Arabs from the South. It became much easier for these Arabs to defeat powerful forces of Roman empire with the help of the these Monophysite Christians constituting the buffer state.
Looked at it from any perspective these invasions were certainly of liberative nature. The Romans were after all colonial power and were highly exploitative and oppressive. These Arabs, it is important to note, were not even properly armed vis-୶is the most sophisticated and powerful army of the Romans (or the Sassanids on the Eastern border) and yet armed with revolutionary zeal provided by Islam they could defeat them. In ordinary circumstances it was impossible to defeat the Romans. Thus Islam began to spread beyond the limits of Arabia.
It should however, be noted that the intention was not to spread Islam or force Islam on these people. All the treaties entered into by the Muslims with the conquered people, which we find in the classic work of al-Baladhuri Futuh al-Buldan. There is no mention in these treaties, of converting anyone to Islam. Islam spread in these areas slowly and steadily for various other reasons. People were left to themselves. The conquering forces negotiated only for jizya. All these treaties mention how much jizya will be paid both in cash and kind. It is also important to note that the jizyai was negotiated and not unilaterally imposed and that it was much lighter than the taxes imposed by the Romans or Sassanids.
Thus the wars in the earliest phase of Islam after the death of the Prophet were part of very complex situation obtaining in and around Arabia. There were external and internal compelling factors. The internal situation in Arabia put pressure for outward movement and the situation on eastern and northern borders of the Arabian desert was inviting the newly organised Arabs charged with a revolutionary ideology to liberate the Sassanid and Roman occupied parts. The outward thrust of the Arabs was, initially at least, quite liberative.
However, like other wars of liberation, these wars also had far reaching consequences on the internal situation of the Muslims. The conquests created forces, which had their own dynamics. The Arab tradition, also upheld by Islam, permitted war booty called mal-e-ghanimat. Since the wars on both eastern and northern fronts were fought with the two great empires of the town they yielded very rich booty. The booty, as per the tradition, was distributed among the soldiers and one fifth of it was deposited in state treasury known as bait al-mal.
This naturally led to accumulation of wealth - something, strongly denounced by the Qur'an. Even some of the senior companions of the Prophet came to posses great deal of wealth. Ibn Khalladun, the noted 14th century historian and sociologist has described the amount of wealth some of these companions possessed. He has quoted this from Tabqat ibn Sa'ad. Talha and Zubayr, the two companions of the Holy Prophet, for example, possessed so much wealth that silver and gold had to be collected with spade on their death. It was this accumulation of wealth, which led another senior companion of the Prophet, Abudhar Ghifari, began a campaign against accumulation of wealth by some companions by reciting the verse 9:34 denouncing accumulation of wealth.
Thus it will be seen that new contradictions were emerging in the Islamic society of Mecca and Madina which led towards internal conflict. The Qur'an, as pointed out above, led great stress on establishing a just society and these conquests were creating forces which brought the concept of a just society under severe pressure. And it is these forces which ultimately led to conditions of civil war in which thousands were killed in the period of thirty years after the death of the Holy Prophet.
It is seen in the history of all social revolutions that with the passing away of first generation of those who participated in revolutionary movement the sense of commitment to revolutionary values becomes a secondary thing and struggle for power primary. Islamic society could hardly escape this fate. With more wealth and affluence on one hand, and, expansion of territories on the other, power struggle became primary objective for many among the Muslims.
Also, with new territories conquered, more and more non-Arabs began to embrace Islam and soon these non-Arab Muslims and Arab Muslims outside Island of Arabia outnumbered the Arab Muslims from Mecca and Madina and its immediate environs. Many outside Mecca and Madina, mostly non-Arabs, embraced Islam. Many of these who embraced Islam were from low social origin, as Islam did not make any distinction between Arabs and non-Arabs and people of low or high origin. But in practice these distinctions remained and created contradictions in Muslim society.
Much of the conflict in early Muslim society originated in fast changing sociological composition of Islamic society. Now there were three distinct groups, Muslims claiming share in power and other material resources. Dr. Taha Husain of Egypt has given detailed description of these contending Muslim groups in his book Fitnat al-Kubra (The Great Insurrection). This book is full of insights into early Islamic society and the struggle within it, which caused so much conflict and violence.
It would be interesting to throw some light on these contending groups in order to understand the causes of this great insurrection. One group was of the Quraysh who were more advantageous position in as much as the first group of Muslims came from the tribe of Quraysh. This tribe, as pointed out earlier, was most influential and most experienced tribe in matters of diplomacy and international affairs. Many from this tribe had not only refused to embrace Islam but had severely persecuted the Prophet and his followers forcing them to migrate to Madina.
But all Qurayshites, including the worst enemies of Islam, embraced it after the conquest of Mecca. Of course among them also there were those who had made great sacrifices for the cause of Islam and had stood worst kind of persecution. On the death of the Holy Prophet the Quraysh claimed right to succession and rejected the claim of Ansars i.e. helpers of the Prophet from Madina saying that nubuwwah (prophethood) and khilafah (i.e. succession) should reside among the Quraysh.
When Ansar who belonged to the tribes of Aws and Kahzraj of Madina said that we have helped the Prophet and should have share in power and let there be one from you (i.e. from Quraysh) and one from us (i.e. Ansar) this was not accepted. However, many Ansar were given high position in the administration to remove their discontent. In fact there was problem within the tribe of Quraysh too which split Muslims into two sects i.e. Shi'ahs and Sunnis. The clan of Hashimites within the tribe of Quraysh was also brushed aside and Ali, the son-n-law of the Prophet became fourth Caliph though the Shi'ahs maintain he was the rightful claimant appointed by Holy Prophet himself.
The children of Ansar, the second group who came of age during the period of third caliph Uthman also began to nurse the grievance that justice was not done to them. The historians of early Islam tell us that the Umayyads, one of the clans of tribe of Quraysh, had taken major share in the higher administrative posts during the time of the third caliph Uthman. Thus Ansars and Hashimites felt completely sidelined by the time of Uthman.
The third group was of new entrants in Islam from the conquered territories who were mostly non-Arabs in origin and had client status (called mawla in Arabic). They embraced Islam hoping for equal treatment as the Qur'an refers to all believers as ikhwan i.e. brothers of equal status. Islam had laid great stress on brotherhood of all believers irrespective of their tribal, racial, national or social origin (30:22). This emphasis on equality had attracted large number of non-Arabs towards Islam.
But soon they discovered that in practice Arabs and Arabs of Quraysh tribe were more than equal. This caused lot of discontent among these new entrants to Islam and they rose in revolt during the time of Uthman, the third Caliph. The early Islamic society was rocked by inequalities created in the society by new forces which came into existence with quick conquests of vast territories within few years of the death of the Holy Prophet. Now no ruler, howsoever just, could control these forces of inequalities.
Ali, who was elected fourth Caliph, was very close to the Prophet and had imbibed values of Islam and was known for his strong commitment to these values. Thus the insurrectionists, knowing his commitment to Islamic values almost forced him to assume the responsibility of governing the vast Islamic Empire which was in a state of great turmoil. The insurrectionists had murdered Uthman, the third Caliph, while reciting the Holy Qur'an. Ali knew it would be very difficult to control these forces which had caused the insurrection. However, he ultimately agreed to take charge as there was no one around who could really deliver impartially.
By the time Ali took over another discontented group had come into existence known in Islamic history as Khwarij (seceders). Seceders were mostly of Bedouin origin for whom urban governance made no sense and were more for equality of all believers and refused to submit to any urban government. They deserted Ali at a critical stage when he was about to register victory over Mu'awiyah who belonged to Umayyad clan and refused to accept Ali as the rightful caliph of Muslims. He established his parallel regime in Syria and raised banner of revolt against him.
Ali's strong commitment to Islamic values of justice and equality was not acceptable to those powerful vested interests who came to control vast amount of wealth and power. Now the Islamic society was no more a simple society of early period. Now one had to contend with great power, which many Muslims acquired. Umar, the second caliph had followed very wise land policy. He had not allowed private ownership of the conquered lands and forced many senior companions of the Prophet to return to madina and not to settle down in conquered lands except few. Uthman, the third caliph, under great pressure, yielded and allowed rich fertile land to be exchanged with the land in Mecca and Madina thus bringing into existence powerful landed interests.
Now one had also to contend with these new landed interests to restore peace and justice in a society torn by conflicting interests. Ali tried his best but could not succeed as these powerful interests became law unto themselves and their interests were hurt by the policies of justice and equality followed by Ali. Ali refused to compromise on these Islamic values and himself became victim of violence. These powerful interests conspired to eliminate Ali so that they could have free hand to govern in their own interests. Maulana Maududi in his book Khilafat aur Mulukiyyat has thrown detailed light on transformation of Islamic institution of khilafah into mulukiyyat i.e. hereditary kingship.
Ali was assassinated by these forces while praying in the mosque early in the morning in Kufah whereto he had shifted the capital from Madinah. His son Hasan took over the reigns of governance but had soon to yield to pressures from Mu'awiyah who had revolted from his father. Imam Hasan had agreed to step down on certain conditions one of which was that after Mu'awiyah the question of khilafat will be left to Muslims and that he will not nominate his successor.
Unfortunately Mu'awiyah violated this condition and nominated his son Yazid to succeed him. This was the beginning of transformation of khilafat to mlukiyyat. It was not only the violation of condition on which Imam Hasan had abdicated in favour of Mu'awiyah but violation of the very revolutionary value system of Islam. Yazid had no commitment to Islam at all. He was born of a Christian mother and was given to 'good things' of life. There was hardly any teaching of Islam he did not violate, or even ridicule.
Imam Husain, the younger son of Ali and himself an exemplary Muslim brought up in the Alid tradition of justice and equality, refused to accept Yazid as legitimate caliph of Muslims and preferred to give his head rather than his hand of support in the hand of Yazid. Thus he laid down his and his near and dear ones lives for the sake at keeping Islamic evolution alive and is gratefully remembered by all Muslims as the greatest martyr of Islam and is referred to as Saiyyid al-Shuhada' i.e. leader of martyrs. The Imam fought for defending Islamic values while Yazid committed aggression against him to defend his illegitimate power.
We have thrown here some light on the causes of violence in early Islamic society to show that violence was not result of teachings of Islam but far from it. Violence erupted in early Islamic society because new forces which came into existence tried to derail the Islamic value system which would have proved great boon for the mankind. Islam was the first systematic attempt to bring a just society into existence in the history of mankind.