End of Fitna or Religious Persecution
The Qur’an has this to say of the mission of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH:
“We have not sent you forth but as a mercy to mankind.” (21:107)
In actual fact, the mission of all the prophets, right from Adam to Christ (may peace be upon them all), was one and the same—of establishing the ideology of monotheism in the world, so that man might worship one God alone. As we know, there came a large number of prophets in ancient times, but the message of monotheism remained at the initial stage; it could not culminate in a revolution. This state continued up till the time of Christ, the last but one Prophet. The reason being that in ancient times, the system of monarchy was entrenched throughout the world. The kings, in order to secure their political interests, adopted the course of religious persecution. These kings suppressed all religious movements, which were different from the state religion. They would nip all apostasy in the bud, since they saw religion as a matter of affirming one’s loyalty to the state. If a person adhered to a religion other than the state religion, he was regarded as a rebel.
That is why in ancient times prophetic movements could go no further ahead than the stage of da‘wah. No sooner would a movement based on monotheism arise than the coercive political system would be activated to pull it out by its roots. The reason for the absence of any historical record of prophets (besides the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) in antiquity is traceable to the intense opposition of these coercive political systems. All the Prophets of ancient times, historically speaking, were like mythical beings, rather than real human beings accepted as historical figures. The Prophet Jesus was the last link in the chain of these persecutions faced by the preachers of monotheism. Then God decreed the abolition of this coercive political system, even if it entailed the use of force in order that the age of religious persecution might be brought to an end forever, and replaced by the age of religious freedom. This divine plan was brought to completion through the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) and his companions. This is the command given in the Qur’an:
“Fight them until there be no persecution and religion be wholly God.” (8:39)
Therefore the Prophet Muhammad PBUH received special divine succour in the form of a powerful team consisting of more than one hundred thousand individuals. Equipped with this team the Prophet waged war to end this coercive system of religious persecution, and it was in Arabia that it was first of all overthrown. Then within a very short span of time, they advanced to abolish the coercive system established by the Sassanid and Byzantine empires. In the wake of this Islamic action, the coercive system was abolished forever in the major part of the inhabited world of the time. This war waged by the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) and his companions was not a war as is commonly understood, but rather a divine operation, which was carried out by a people who possessed a high standard of moral character.
However, this operation was certainly only temporary in nature. Its goal was to put an end to the age of religious persecution and usher in the age of religious freedom. This end was fully achieved during the early period of Islam, the age of the pious Caliphs. Afterwards the time came to keep the sword in its sheath and engage in da‘wah work, that is, the call to God, which was the real and permanent goal of Islam. According to the explicit command of the Qur’an, the call to God is the true and eternal mission of Islam, whereas war is only temporary and allowed only in exceptional cases.
Here it would be pertinent to refer to a great companion of the Prophet. After the period of the pious Caliphate, a group of Muslims once again engaged in war. At that time some senior Companions were present in Mecca and Medina. But they did not join these wars, one prominent name being that of Abdullah ibn Umar ibn Khattab. He did not approve of these wars; therefore he remained away from them. Some of those involved in these wars came to him and said: God has commanded us in the Qur’an to fight against fitna (persecution). Then why do you not join with us in these wars? Abdullah ibn Umar replied “the command of the Qur’an to fight against fitna is not what you hold to be fitna. Fitna meant religious persecution and we have already fought and put an end to this fitna (qad fa‘alna). Therefore now after the removal of this obstacle, we have to engage ourselves in peaceful da‘wah work, rather than initiating hostilities and creating new fitna once again, which is akin to creating new obstacles for peaceful Islamic da’wah (al-Bukhari, Sahih, Kitab at-Tafsir, under al-Baqarah and al-Anfal).
Abdullah ibn Umar had made an extremely pertinent point at the most appropriate time, but others did not forcefully take up this point of view. Afterwards when the Islamic sciences were developed, this important point made by Abdullah ibn Umar could not be highlighted, with the result that history took the course of wars and conquests, while in terms of the real teachings of Islam, history should have taken the course of the call to God and the propagation of Islam.
It is no exaggeration to say that Islam and violence are contradictory to each other. The concept of Islamic violence is so obviously unfounded that, prima facie it stands rejected. The fact that violence is not sustainable in the present world is enough to convince one that violence, as a principle, is quite alien to the scheme of things in Islam. Islam claims to be an eternal religion and such a religion cannot afford a principle in its scheme which will not be sustainable in later periods of human history. An attempt to bracket violence with Islam amounts to casting doubts upon the very eternity of the Islamic religion.
No wonder, then, that the Prophet Muhammad PBUH so earnestly used to entreat his Lord in his daily prayer:
“O God, You are the original source of Peace; from You is all Peace, and to You returns all Peace. So, make us live with Peace; and let us enter paradise: the House of Peace. Blessed be You, our Lord, to whom belongs all Majesty and Honour!”