Tabuk, the Litmus Test

imageThe Surah Tawbah starts without Bismillah. And no wonder. Its a part of the Quran, which talks about hypocrisy. The unusual harshness which Allah (swt) displays within the Surah, shows the importance of the subject. Surah Tawbah partially revolves around the Tabuk incident.

The Tabuk expedition, was a march from Medina to Tabuk in 9 AH, against Roman Armies – in the peak of the summer- which led to their dispersal without any battle. It helped consolidate most of Northern Arabia within Islamic rule, thus creating unity which (the year after) led to the freeing of Mecca, and culminating at Yarmuk (some years later) in a decisive opening of the world to Muslims, via the defeat of Heraclius. Hence, it is one of the most important events in Muslim history. Some have called Tabuk a non-event, because no battle took place. The reality is that this is where the wheat separated from the chaff. Tabuk, was the Litmus Test for the people in Medina.

In focussing on the march to Tabuk, the Surah brings out the problem which had bedevilled the Muslims for long. The hypocrites pulled out all the stops to cause dissension pre the march, even to the extent of using a mosque outside Medina, as a meeting centre, to execute their plans. They caused issues and doubts, but due to the high profile participation of all the big figures of Islam, the Prophet (saw) marched with thirty thousand in the peak of the burning summer. Only three Muslims did not participate and even these three felt great guilt and were eventually pardoned by Allah (swt). However, due to the difficulties and the danger of possible battle, the hypocrites opted out and this led to a decisive parting of the ways. The reality had come out of hiding. The hypocrites would hereafter, either be sidelined or become responsible members of Muslim society. This seminal moment has affected us down these fourteen centuries. That all this was accomplished without any battle or lives lost, is an absolute wonder.

The lessons learnt from Surah Tawbah were simple and apply even today.

– you cannot have an ordered society, till people take responsibility.
– sacrifice is required from the good to fulfil this responsibility.
– there is no tolerating evil, otherwise it overwhelms you.
– hypocrisy is the biggest danger to societies.

If you read Ayat 75-77 of Surah Tawbah, it is a reflection of what has happened to us in Pakistan.

75) And among them are those who made a covenant with Allah [saying], “If He should give us from His bounty, we will surely spend in charity, and we will surely be among the righteous.”
76) But when He gave them from His bounty, they were stingy with it and turned away while they refused.
77) So He penalized them with hypocrisy in their hearts until the Day they will meet Him – because they failed Allah in what they promised Him and because they [habitually] used to lie.

We made this country for greater things, based on an aspiration and a promise of goodness. However, somewhere along the way, in the 1950s and 60s we lost our way. Its a collective derailment; we all are responsible. The punishment for that breaking of a promise has been a full doze of hypocrisy and its repercussions. Hypocrisy is taken here in the religious sense; to lie, break promises, betray a trust and argue unjustly.

May we learn from the events of Tabuk and be guided on a rightful path.

The above write up, while based on Surah Tawbah, has used the interpretations applied by Maulanas Maudoodi and Israr.

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From Enemy to Friend – Ikrimah bin Abi Jahl

Yarmuk Valley

Yarmuk Valley

When Ikrimah looked up at the sky, as the storm raged and called on Allah the one to help, the shades fell from his eyes. Two decades of virulent opposition to the Prophet (saw) turned into belief in Allah. The flashes of Badr, his father’s body undone , the triumph at Uhad as assistant to Khalid bin Waleed, the retreat from Khandaq and his flight from Mecca all cascaded by. What a waste! So let him go back to Mecca and profess the shehadah.

This seminal event was to change history, resulting in hundreds of millions of lives being influenced in these past 1400 years.

On arriving at Mecca, Umm Hakim, his wife, took Ikrimah to the Prophet (saw). Already the Prophet (saw) feeling the momentous event, had told his companions Ikrimah approaches with belief in his heart, so do not revile his father. The meeting was close and Ikrimah asked for forgiveness and promised to devote his life to Islam.

Six years later, the Muslim armies positioned in Yarmuk valley, north of Jerusalem and east of Lake Tiberius, were barely clinging on with their finger nails across a broad front of 7 miles. The Romans outnumbering them – some say 5 to 1- had been pushing them back for four days. Favourable ground and higher numbers had taken toll.

Vahan had decided that today was the day to break the enemy lines and encircle the Arab armies. Heracles orders were clear, destroy these Arabs and drive them into the desert, so that they never return. A march further south into the Arabian heartland was also conceivable.  Having done a feint on the Arab right, he had forced Khalid bin Waleed to send the reserves into action.  Then, putting together all his strength Vahan focused on the Arab left centre, attacking Yazid’s (not the same one!) divisions. The Muslims outnumbered and without reserves, were spread thin. During this attack, Abu Sufyan and some 100 others lost an eye under a barrage of arrows- also known as Day of the Lost Eyes. Under pressure, the Muslim left centre was in wholesale retreat, the Arab lines were about to break.

Left facing the approaching Roman cavalry was the sole regiment (400 strong) of Ikrimah, son of Abu Jahl – former great enemy of the Prophet (saw).

The situation is clear. If Ikrimah’s men break, the battle is lost and the future is bleak. If they hold, there is hope yet. Not since Uhad, has Islam faced such a cataclysmic moment. Ikrimah decides to use the Arab tradition and take baith from all 400. Today, no one will retreat, rather they shall die. The Roman ranks crash against the Arab 400. As the day drags, Vahan intent on victory throws lines after lines on the enemy, only for them to stand firm. Losses are heavy, but the Arab lines hold and as the night falls, a perplexed Vahan withdraws.

Lying somewhere in the middle of the carnage is the broken body of Ikrimah, his triumph complete and his debt to Islam paid in full. His regiment have achieved shehadat and also forced the Romans to withdraw. Not only the Roman strength has been used up, but the enemy is exhausted and demoralised, they have let victory escape out of their grasp.

The rest of the story is recorded as a gory tale, when the Roman armies in retreat are boxed in and slaughtered and are never able to recover. Khalid bin Waleed’s resounding victory leaves the road open west and north. One of the greatest victories of Islam leads to massive conquests over the next century. Not till Tours – just 18 miles from present day Paris- and some 96 years later were the Muslim armies to be stopped.

Khalid’s maneuverings at Yarmuk are taught even today in various military academies. But in those few hours, Ikrimah and his companions made that success possible, where otherwise defeat stared in the face. Yarmuk changed history and while today European historians using their own logic (rather than facts) try and review numbers, even they agree to the significance of the event.

Above all stands the phenomena of belief, where one man went from being the most persistent enemy to being the saviour of Islam. May Allah accept the sacrifice of Ikrimah and his companions.

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