After Gaza: How the Prophet Coped With Loss




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In the Name of Allah, we invoke peace and blessings upon His Messenger.

Going back and thinking of the emotions felt over the last 25 days, one word which found a constant presence in our hearts was ‘helpless’ – the reality that we were helpless, and that we were silently witnessing a helpless people – our helpless people – trapped as Israeli killers patiently bombed them to bits while seated comfortably in the cockpits of American F-16s, as if to fulfill former IDF Chief of Staff Raphael Eitan’s April 1983 wish to see them “scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle.”

The images of the charred bodies of infants, blood-soaked hijabs of sobbing mothers, mosques turned into rubble, stockpiles of food being fed to white phosphorous flames instead of the starving people they were meant for, fathers frantically and tearfully pulling corpses of family from the remains of bombed out homes – these images will forever remain in our conscience. From a material perspective, this was defeat and loss at its worst. What befell our brethren in Palestine has caused, and will continue to cause, much pain, anxiety, and sorrow in our hearts.

This reality mirrors one experienced by none other than the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) and his Companions 1,427 years ago following their military defeat at Uhud. When reviewing the events surrounding this defeat, one cannot help but be affected by the helplessness felt by the Muslims the moment they realized just how deep their material loss was in this battle, just as we are feeling at this moment when reflecting on what was taken from us as a result of the Israeli attack on Gaza.

However, in reviewing these events, one can also not help but to take his feeling of helplessness and despair and transform it into firmness and strength.

First, let us examine the magnitude of the loss at Uhud.

Uhud affected the Muslims on many fronts. First of all, in what was possibly the most dangerous hour in the life of the Messenger of Allah, he found himself unprotected and exposed to the enemy on the battlefield, except for the presence of Talhah and Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas. This led to the disbelievers rushing to take advantage of the opportunity to inflict as much physical pain on him as they could, and they followed through by pelting him with stones (breaking his tooth and cutting his lip), cleaving his forehead, striking his shoulder with a sword, and striking him in the face so forcefully that his helmet pierced his cheek and caused a gaping wound. This audacity of the disbelievers so affected the Prophet that while wiping the blood from his face, he asked: “How can people who cut the face of their Prophet and break his incisor tooth – he who calls them to worship Allah – how can such people thrive or be successful?”

Imagine also the emotion felt by the Prophet and the Companions at the sight of Mus’ab bin ‘Umayr – who was personally appointed by the Prophet to bring Islam to Madinah in the first place – as both of his hands were amputated by the disbelievers in his attempt to secure the banner of the Muslims before they killed him. Picture in your mind the disbelievers mistaking the corpse of Mus’ab for the Prophet, yelling “Muhammad has been killed!” and sending a wave of disbelief through the Muslim ranks that demoralized many of them and caused them to give up the fight and turn back for Madinah.

Imagine the sadness that swept over the Companions as they assessed the aftermath of the battle to find the corpses of seventy of their brethren scattered around the battlefield, mutilated and disfigured by the spiteful disbelievers. Imagine then the shock and pain of the Prophet as he recognized the body of his beloved uncle, the Lion of Allah, Hamzah, as he lay among the casualties. Ibn Mas’ud said: “We have never seen the Messenger of Allah weeping so much as he was for Hamzah bin ‘Abd al-Muttalib.” To make matters worse, Hamzah’s burial was not quick and easy such that the Prophet could quickly put behind him the immense personal loss he had just experienced, as Khabbab bin al-Arrat said: “No shroud long enough was available for Hamzah except a white-darkish garment. When they covered his head with it, it was too short to cover his feet. Similarly, if they covered his feet, his head would be revealed.”

Imagine how the army returning to Madinah must have felt as they had to inform the family members of each of those seventy Companions killed that they would not be seeing their loved ones again in this life, one of whom was a woman who had lost her husband, father, and brother that day.

Imagine the dismay the Muslims must have felt that after their groundbreaking victory at Badr only a year earlier, they had now lost seventy of their brethren compared to the disbelievers’ casualties that amounted to only 22 men – less than a third of the Muslims’ losses. Such a loss would not only demoralize the Muslim army, but would also leave their military reputation, credibility, and dignity damaged in the eyes of the people.

All of this was the result of one single avoidable act of disobedience to the Prophet on the part of the archers stationed on the hill…all of this death, loss, sadness, and sorrow was easily avoidable had they simply obeyed a single command…

Undoubtedly, such circumstances would bring down any group and cause them immense pain, helplessness, and dismay. Undoubtedly, such circumstances would leave any group feeling that they had just experienced a loss from which they would not recover. However, the Prophet and his Companions were not just any group. They were a group who lived by the slogan {“And do not despair or be sad, as you are the most superior so long as you are believers.”} [Al ‘Imran; 139] They were a group who knew how to take advantage of their situation and hold their heads up high no matter what the odds were stacked against them, and no matter what their enemies did to intimidate them. They were a group who were able to emanate honor and power despite material loss.

Now, let us examine the attitude of the Muslims who had just experienced this loss firsthand.

When the disbelievers had completed their attacks and mutilation of the corpses of the Companions, Abu Sufyan scaled Mount Uhud looking for the Prophet, Abu Bakr, and ‘Umar. He called out to them and taunted them, but ‘Umar did not give the response of a defeated, dismayed, weak, and submissive victim. Rather he replied: “O enemy of Allah, those whom you have just mentioned, I tell you that they are still alive. Allah has maintained what you hate!”

Abu Sufyan replied: “The mutilation of your dead is something I did not order. However, it did not displease me. May Hubal be sublime!”

At the behest of the Prophet, ‘Umar replied: “Allah is more Sublime, Exalted, and Mightier!”

Abu Sufyan then shouted: “al-’Uzza is ours, and you have no ‘Uzza!”

‘Umar then made his famous statement: “Allah is our Helper, and you have no helper (الله مولانا و لا مولى لكم)!”

Frustrated, Abu Sufyan muttered: “Today is revenge for Badr, as war is conducted with alternating successes.”

Unrelenting, ‘Umar yelled back: “No, we are not the same. Our dead are in Paradise, while your dead are in Hell!”

The honor, strength, and confidence with which ‘Umar stood up to the leader of the army that had just inflicted defeat upon his own speaks for itself. This shows that material victory or loss meant very little to these people compared to the true victory of the honor associated with being a believer. He was not intimidated or dismayed in the least despite directly conversing with the man whose happiness and joy was in seeing the Muslims tortured and eradicated, and despite the fact that this conversation was taking place directly on the heels of the first military defeat ever experienced by the Muslims.

This shows that no matter how demoralizing a loss may be for you, the Muslim – no matter how many mosques are bombed to rubble, how many children are made into orphans or are themselves burned to a crisp by white phosphorous bombs, how distressing it is that even basic food and medicine are held back from our brothers and sisters by those who have no regard for human life – no matter how cruel a hand you as a Muslim are dealt, you always keeps your head up, your boldness intact, and put aside your anxiety and dismay.

Then came Hamra’ al-Asad.

While the disbelievers were still on their way back to Makkah, the Muslims had arrived back in Madinah in a state of exhaustion, pain, and sorrow. They were also in a state of alert, as they were expecting the disbelievers to turn back and attempt to invade Madinah in light of the perceived weakness of the Muslim army.

However, none of these hindrances prevented the Prophet from what he was about to do next: he went around and gathered all of the injured Muslims who had fought at Uhud the day before in order to lead them in pursuit of the army that had just defeated them. Many fresh, uninjured fighters were available and desperate to join, such as ‘Abdullah bin Ubayy and Jabir bin ‘Abdillah. However, the Prophet only wanted those injured and exhausted soldiers who were still recovering from their wounds to join him. This was unheard of: an army composed exclusively of crippled fighters who had just experienced a major military defeat?!

With the Prophet still recovering from his own wounds, they marched to an area outside of Madinah called Hamra’ al-Asad, only to receive word that their assumptions were true – the disbelievers had turned back and considered attacking Madinah. They still haven’t recovered from Uhud, and they now have to defend Madinah against the same enemy? However, the Prophet’s ability to take advantage of the situation was now going to reverse the psychological loss the Muslims had suffered at Uhud.

He sent a messenger to relay to Abu Sufyan and his troops that the Muslims had regrouped, recovered, and were hot on their heels. Abu Sufyan could not believe his ears, and the anxiety and panic that had gripped the Muslims only the day before was now spread among his own troops. He then decided that it was in his best interests to retreat to Makkah and cancel his plan to attack Madinah. However, in an attempt to frighten and intimidate the Muslims from pursuing him, Abu Sufyan sent a message back to the Muslims that he had gathered the ranks of all the Makkans to lay waste to the Prophet and his army: {“Those to whom the people said: “Verily, the people have gathered against you a great army. So, fear them.””} [Al ‘Imran; 173] What was the response of the injured Prophet and his small group of crippled fighters to this threat from the man who had just dealt them defeat the day before? {“…But it only increased them in faith, and they said: “Allah is sufficient for us, and He is the best disposer of affairs.””} [Al ‘Imran; 173] And the injured Prophet stayed at Hamra’ al-Asad with his crippled group, waiting for three whole days to confront this great army that Abu Sufyan had supposedly gathered against them. In the end, when it became clear that Abu Sufyan and the disbelievers were simply bluffing and were too afraid to pull through with their threats, he decided to turn back and return to Madinah. Would anyone have expected the disbelievers to act so cowardly only a day after Uhud?

Reflect on how the Prophet was able to so effectively reverse the devastation of Uhud in just a matter of days:

    * He revived the morale of the crippled Muslims who had just experienced loss and defeat by insisting that they be the ones to accompany him in pursuit of the very enemy that had just defeated them.

    * He decreased the morale of the disbelievers who had just experienced victory by showing them that no matter how devastating a blow the Muslim is dealt, he still has his honor, bravery, and the will to face those who challenge him.

    * He restored the military reputation and power of the Muslims that had temporarily suffered as a result of the events at Uhud.

The effectiveness of the Prophet as a leader in times of crisis cannot be overstated. It is often said that a person can be judged by how he handles crisis and disaster, as anyone can be calm and composed in times of ease. This concept can be applied to groups and nations as well as individuals. Therefore, this episode in the Sirah teaches us that even at the worst times and in the midst of the most depressing crises, it is possible to reverse the loss, psychologically if not materially. All it takes is a sharp mind to observe the situation and see what holes in the wall there are from which one may take advantage and turn the tables to be in his favor, thus turning defeat into victory.

Let us now examine the bounty Allah granted the Muslims as a result of the attitude they showed in the face of loss and defeat.

It should be noted that even after the events of Hamra’ al-Asad, the Muslims were once again dealt tragic losses at ar-Raji’ (where a group of Muslims were betrayed and captured, leading to the famous crucifixion of Khubayb in Makkah) and the Well of Ma’unah (where, in a painful repeat of Uhud, seventy more of the best Companions were killed, this time as the result of betrayal). Victory is not a stagnant condition that remains once it is achieved. Rather, Allah gives and takes it even from the best of people (صلى الله عليه و سلم), and He intertwines it with loss and defeat in order to see how we will deal with each of the respective situations.

The Muslims whose act of disobedience to the Prophet was the single precursor to the devastating loss at Uhud undoubtedly learned their lesson and repented for their error. As a result, when the Prophet laid siege to the fortresses of Banu an-Nathir only a few months later, the Muslims were able to achieve victory without any fighting even occurring. Allah had directly used the weapon of fear and intimidation by placing these into the hearts of Banu an-Nathir, as He Said: {“…and He cast terror into their hearts, so that they destroyed their own dwellings with their own hands and the hands of the believers…”} [al-Hashr; 2] The same blessing was granted to them by Allah only a few months later when the second battle at Badr took place, with the Muslims waiting eight whole days for Abu Sufyan and his army to show up while he meanwhile had decided to return to Makkah instead of taking his chances in facing the Prophet and his Companions. Such blessings were partly the result of the Muslims learning from their mistakes at Uhud and reviewing what it was they had done to contribute to the loss and defeat that had affected the Ummah as a whole. Their unconditional obedience to the Prophet in going out to Hamra’ al-Asad despite their crippled state, as well as the faith, certainty, and bravery they displayed even when threatened by Abu Sufyan’s army, were among the many reasons for the swift victories at Banu an-Nathir and the second Badr.

Similarly, it is upon us to examine ourselves as individuals and groups and see if we are reacting to the devastation and loss experienced in Gaza in the proper way and with the proper attitude. The bravery of the Prophet at Hamra’ al-Asad, the post-defeat boldness of ‘Umar while speaking down to Abu Sufyan, the cleverness of Khalid bin al-Walid in reversing the flanks in the face of an imminent loss at Mu’tah – these should all serve to strengthen us and teach us that despair, pain, anxiety, and victimization should not be in the dictionary of the Muslim. Rather, we should always maintain our honor and confidence following defeat, keep our heads raised high in the face of loss, and face those who continue to challenge us in a bold, smart, and effective way.

{“And do not despair or be sad, as you are the most superior so long as you are believers. If a disaster befalls you, be sure that a disaster has likewise befallen them. And such are the days, we rotate them between the people…”}

source: iskandrani