16.2 Abdullah ibn Jahsh's Raid and the Decision of Allah
Having been given permission to fight, the Muslims went out in groups of twenty men or more to threaten the trade routes of Quraysh, the jugular vein of their livelihood, hoping to make Quraysh come to terms with them. Mohamed made treaties with many of the tribes around Medina and some of the coastal tribes, so that in case of a war with Quraysh, these tribes would not support the Meccans, as they had formerly done. These armed parties used to go out on sorties, and then return to Medina.
One day in the month of Rajab, the Prophet sent Abdullah ibn Jahsh at the head of one of these groups and asked him not to open the document containing his instructions and destination until he was already two day's march away from Medina, so as to outwit the spies of Quraysh. After a two days' march, when Abdullah opened his letter, he found the following words,
"Go to Nakhla, watch for Quraysh there, and bring us news of their movements."
Nakhla is between Mecca and Al-Taif.
All the men with him had volunteered to go on this mission, for joining in a mission was optional and Muslims were always consulted on any mission or battle they were to attend. Two of them went to search for a camel they had lost, and were taken captives by Quraysh.
Arriving at Nakhla, Abdullah and those with him observed a caravan carrying goods belonging to Quraysh, led by Amr ibn Al-Hadrami - Quraysh who had persecuted them, taken their property, and driven them out of their homes. This seemed to be an opportunity to exact revenge, but they hesitated as it was the last day of Rajab, one of the four holy months during which the Arabs did not fight. At least they were unsure whether it was the last day of Rajab or the first day of the month after it, as such matters cannot be decided in advance and depend upon the sighting of the new moon. If they waited until the next day, however, the caravan would enter the precincts of Mecca and be out of their reach. They thought of all they had suffered at the hands of Quraysh, and then charged forward, capturing the caravan. During the fight one man fired an arrow at Amr ibn Al-Hadrami, killing him.
Abdullah and those with him returned to Medina with the caravan and two captives. Mohamed was aghast. He said,
"I never commanded you to fight in the Sacred Months."
He refused to take a share of the caravan. All the Muslims reproached their brethren for having fought in the Sacred Months and without the Prophet's permission.
Abdullah and his comrades felt they had done wrong, and all the Muslims were upset. Quraysh was exultant. This was an opportunity they would not allow to pass by. They spread the news far and wide that Mohamed and his followers had fought, taken captives, and killed a man in the Sacred Months. The Muslims answered in defense of their brethren that it was the first of Shaban and not the last day of Rajab, but they felt humiliated by this trespass. Deep in their hearts they knew they were the wronged party, they had been wronged over and over again, persecuted, tortured, and robbed, but their limited perception could not transcend above the customs and traditions they had been brought up to respect. Then these holy verses were revealed.
They ask you about the Sacred Month, does one fight in it? Say,
"There was great fighting in it,
and driving people from the way of Allah, and denying Him.
The Sacred Mosque and driving its people out of it
is to Allah a worse sin.
Persecution is worse than killing"
They will continue to fight you,
until they make you deflect from your religion, if they can. (2:217)
This was justice, finer, clearer, and more certain than anything that the Muslims could think of. It was Quraysh who were the trespassers; it was Quraysh who had infringed the sanctity of the Sacred House by not allowing its visitors to enter it. It was Quraysh who had trespassed against the Muslims' sacred right to believe and worship in freedom. It was they who had broken the sanctity of the Holy City. To Allah, driving worshippers out of His House was a worse sin than fighting in the Sacred Months. To Allah, tempting a man away from His worship, whether by torture and persecution or by allurements, was a sin worse than killing, for it jeopardized his immortal soul. Quraysh had no right to complain since it was they who had started trespassing against things which were sacred.
The Muslims were much relieved to know they had not done anything that Allah did not approve of. Deep in their hearts they had felt it all the time but, blinkered by tradition, they could not express themselves or point out the finer principles involved. On more than one occasion we find observations and judgments in the Koran different from what Mohamed had felt or thought as an individual and from what his contemporaries thought.
The Muslims rejoiced but Quraysh were adamant. They continued to complain and spread evil propaganda against the Muslims until the Messenger realized that he would never come to an understanding with them. They would not listen to reason nor would they be guided by justice. Quraysh disregarded their own interests and the interests of the Muslims for the sake of their pride and they underestimated and belittled Muslim power. The hope that a threat to their trade route would let them come to an understanding was stillborn. If the Muslims were ever to attain freedom of worship for themselves and their families in Mecca and be able to return there and if they were ever to go as pilgrims to the Sacred House, it would have to be by force of arms. They were not numerous enough or strong enough to attack Mecca but they could harass its main trade route which passed near Medina on the way to Al-Sham.