Are we in a period similar to the Prophet in Makkah as it relates to fighting Jihad?

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In the early period of Islām when the Prophet (ﷺ) was in Makkah, the Muslims were forbidden from fighting, forbidden from physical Jihād and they were not given permission to fight. In fact there occurs a well known hadeeth wherein a Companion, Khabbāb Ibn Arat (may Allāh be pleased with him) said: “I came to the Prophet (ﷺ) whilst he was resting on a cloak in the shade of the Ka`bah. We were suffering much at the hands of the idolators in those days. So I said to him: “Will you invoke Allāh to help us?” He sat up with a red face and said: “A believer among those who came before you used to be torn with iron combs so that nothing of his flesh or nerves or veins would remain on his bones, yet that would never cause him to desert his religion. A saw would be placed over the centre of his head and he would be sawn apart splitting him into two parts, yet that would never make him abandon his religion. Indeed, Allāh will complete this religion so that a person will travel from San`ā to Hadramaut (in Yemen) and not fear anyone except Allāh, or the wolf, lest it should harm his sheep.” (Bukhārī, no. 3852) So in this period the Messenger was distinguished with his commending his Companions with patience and forbearance. At this stage the first migration to Abyssinia had taken place, but they were not yet commanded with the migration to Madīnah. So this was the first stage as it relates to Jihād upon the battlefield.

The second stage in the legislation of Jihād was the permissibility to fight. At this stage they were not commanded to fight and they were not told whom to fight, rather it was a mere granting of permission:

أُذِنَ لِلَّذِينَ يُقَاتَلُونَ بِأَنَّهُمْ ظُلِمُوا ۚ وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ نَصْرِهِمْ لَقَدِيرٌ

“Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, Allah is capable to give them victory.” (Hajj 22:39)

The third stage: This is when Allāh (the Most High) commanded the believers to engage in fighting (Jihād) against those who fight and kill the Muslims:

فَمَنِ اعْتَدَىٰ عَلَيْكُمْ فَاعْتَدُوا عَلَيْهِ بِمِثْلِ مَا اعْتَدَىٰ عَلَيْكُمْ ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الْمُتَّقِينَ

“So whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you. And fear Allah and know that Allah is with those who fear Him.” (Al-Baqarah 2:194)

The fourth stage: This refers to those verses which were revealed to the Prophet (ﷺ) as the leader of the Muslims at the beginning of Sūrah At-Tawbah, and they are referred to as the verses of the sword, wherein it is stated:

إِلَّا الَّذِينَ عَاهَدتُّم مِّنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَنقُصُوكُمْ شَيْئًا وَلَمْ يُظَاهِرُوا عَلَيْكُمْ أَحَدًا فَأَتِمُّوا إِلَيْهِمْ عَهْدَهُمْ إِلَىٰ مُدَّتِهِمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَّقِينَ

“Excepted [from fighting] are those with whom you made a treaty among the polytheists and then they have not been deficient toward you in anything or supported anyone against you [in battle]; so complete for them their treaty until its term. Indeed, Allah loves the righteous [and who fear Him].” 

فَإِذَا انسَلَخَ الْأَشْهُرُ الْحُرُمُ فَاقْتُلُوا الْمُشْرِكِينَ حَيْثُ وَجَدتُّمُوهُمْ وَخُذُوهُمْ وَاحْصُرُوهُمْ وَاقْعُدُوا لَهُمْ كُلَّ مَرْصَدٍ ۚ فَإِن تَابُوا وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَوُا الزَّكَاةَ فَخَلُّوا سَبِيلَهُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

“And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the idolatrous [armies] wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give in charity, let them go on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”

وَإِنْ أَحَدٌ مِّنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ اسْتَجَارَكَ فَأَجِرْهُ حَتَّىٰ يَسْمَعَ كَلَامَ اللَّهِ ثُمَّ أَبْلِغْهُ مَأْمَنَهُ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَوْمٌ لَّا يَعْلَمُونَ

“And if any one of the polytheists seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the words of Allah . Then deliver him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know.” (At-Tawbah 4-6)

So the Messenger (ﷺ) and the rulers thereafter were commanded to fight – except with those with whom there are treaties of peace. And at all times, justice is not transgressed. Note that these verses of war are directed to the rulers and their armies and not to individual citizens, vigilante groups and so on. It is the rulers of countries and their governments who sign treaties and makes pacts of peace on behalf of their citizens – and they are the ones who declare wars.

Are the first stages of Jihād abrogated by the last?

The scholars have differed as to whether the first three stages have been abrogated by the last stage and thus no longer applicable – or is it the case that all four stages are applicable in accordance to the strength or weakness of the Muslims? Ibn Taymiyyah (may Allāh’s mercy be upon him, d. 728H) and Ibn Kathīr (may Allah’s mercy be upon him, d. 774H) and a group from the Salaf and a body from the latter-day Jurists held that these verses do not abrogate one another (see Shaikh Muhammad Bazmool’s: Al-Jihād Ahkāmuhu wa Ādābuhu wa Dawābituhu). So the performance of Jihād is dependent upon the relative strength or weakness of the people of Islām and the Muslim countries. So if the Muslims are in a position of weakness, then it is legislated for them (i.e. their rulers) to withhold from going to war, and they are to be patient – they are not to talk of war and fighting since they are not able to fight. One looks at the condition of the Prophet (ﷺ) whilst they were in Makkah and the Prophet and his Companions were oppressed, mocked, tortured, boycotted and some were killed. Many had to flee to Abyssinia in fear of their lives and religion. They did not fight and they were not commanded to fight as they were weak and unable. The Prophet himself was humiliated, beaten, strangled and mocked yet no one from the Companions was commanded to fight an insurgency or carry out assassinations. Bukhārī reported in the Sahīh (no. 3854) from `Abdullāh: “While the Prophet was prostrating surrounded by some of the Quraish, `Uqbah Ibn Abī Mu`ait brought the rotting abdominal contents of a camel and threw them on the back on the Prophet (ﷺ). The Prophet did not raise his head until Fātimah (his daughter) took it off his back and she supplicated against the one who had done such an act.” The Prophet (ﷺ) supplicated: “O Allāh! Deal with the chiefs of Quraish: Abu Jahl Ibn Hishām, `Utbah Ibn Rabī`ah, Shaibah Ibn Rabī`ah and Umayyah Ibn Khalaf.” 

He did not call for their assassinations, or for an insurgency to be raised against them. That was a time of weakness. Yet years later, after the migration to Madīnah when the Prophet (ﷺ) was the head of state, and the Muslims were able to fight due to their strength and having leadership, all four were killed at the battle of Badr when the two armies met.

If one looks at that which is narrated regarding the descent of `Īsā the son of Maryam (`alaihis-salām) before the Last Hour: He will descend and kill the Great Liar, Dajjāl (the Anti-Christ). `Īsā (Jesus) will rule by the law of Muhammad (ﷺ) – he will pray upon his descent behind a ruler from the nation of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). He will lead the Muslims and be their ruler. Then, what will he do when the tribes of Gog and Magog (Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj) appear with their corruption and killing in the land? Allāh will reveal onto `Isā (alaihis-salām) that he is to flee: “I have brought forth some slaves of mine against whom no one will be able to fight. So take my servants to safety in Mount Tūr.” (Muslim, no. 2937) Meaning: You do not have the strength to fight them. So Prophet `Īsā is not commanded to confront them. The affair returns back the first stage of Jihād as stated above – that they are not permitted to fight. So neither `Īsā (`alaihis-salām) nor the believing servants will be permitted to fight due to their inability.

So what is clearly understand by this discussion is that the stages of Jihād in their chronology of revelation do not abrogate each other. Rather their implementation by the Muslim rulers is in accordance to the condition of strength or weakness of the Muslims. And the principle with regard to abrogation is: “there is no abrogation of one text by another, even if dates of revelation are known so long as there is an ability to gather between them.” So with respect to these stages of Jihād, then it is possible to reconcile between them without making recourse to abrogation (or cancellation of the earlier stages of Jihād). So here we can see from the understanding of the Scholars and the narrations that these stages of Jihād are implemented in accordance to strength, ability or the lack of it. And there is one common thread throughout that does not change and alter: Jihād on the battlefield and establishing prescribed punishments requires a ruler who controls the various arms of government.

So one should not be at all surprised when he hears the great scholars stating that the state of the Muslims today in the affair of Jihād resembles that of the Muslims in Makkah due to their weakness, therefore the Muslims must withhold and show patience just as the Prophet (ﷺ) did in Makkah. This does not mean that every revealed ruling in the Makkan period is applied wherein a Muslim imagines that therefore there is no prayer, no zakah, no fasting, no hijāb, etc. No, rather, the issue here is specific to the weakness of the Ummah in its ability to perform Jihād upon the battlefield behind a ruler. One must not think that just because the Muslims are too weak to fight or protect, they should therefore abandon the rest of the Islamic duties such as charity, fasting, hajj, hijāb, etc! And this is something well-known in the revealed texts. The preservation of Islām and the lives of the Muslims, even if they are oppressed, is given precedence over their annihilation! There is no doubt that Allāh protects the Muslims. However Islām does not command that the people of Islām enter into that which will cause them destruction at their own hands.

Based upon a lecture by Shaikh Muhammad Bazmool: Al-Jihād Ahkāmuhu wa Ādābuhu wa Dawābituhu taken from