For successful operation of war and for gaining victory over the enemy there are certain universally recognized principles which are also called war tactics or war strategy in military terminology. Some of such principles or war tactics which have been recommended by military genius and war experts are:
Let us now examine, in the light of these universally recognized principles, the conduct of Jihad by Islam with special reference to the war policy of the Prophet of Islam.
About preparedness for war, the Holy Qur’an enjoins upon its followers: “Make ready for them all you can of (armed) force and of horses tethered, that thereby ye may dismay the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others beside them whom ye know not ……” (8:60). In another verse the revealed book of Islam exhorts the Muslims : “O ye who believe! Take your precautions, then advance the proven ones, or advance all together”-(4:71). Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), in his following traditions, emphasised acquiring of military training and skill to use weapons:
1. Oqbah-b-A’mer reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah say while he was delivering sermon upon the pulpit : Prepare strength for them as far as you can. Behold! strength is shooting; behold! Strength is shooting; behold! Strength is shooting.
2. Oqbah bin A’mer reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah say: The Byzantines will soon be conquered by you and Allah will then defend you. So none of you should be careless as not to employ his arrows.
3. Oqbah bin A’mer reported : I heard the Messenger of Allah say: Whoso learns archery and then leaves it is not of us or is disobedient.
4. Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Who-so keeps a horse confined in the way of Allah out of belief in Allah and belief in His Covenant, then its food, its drinks, its dung and its urine will be in his scale on the Resurrection Day.
5. Oqbah-b-A’mer reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah say: Allah will admit three persons in Paradise for an arrow, the maker who hopes good in making, one who shoots it, one who throws it and one who hands it over. So shoot and ride on; and your shooting is better to me than your riding. Everything with which a man plays is vain except his shooting with his arrow, his training of his horse and his sporting with his wife, because they pertain what is right.
–(Tirmizi Ibn Majah, Abu Daud)
6. Abu Najih Sulami reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah say: He who causes an arrow to hit its mark in the way of Allah, will get a rank in Paradise, and he who shoots an arrow in the way of Allah will get the reward of emancipation of a slave and he who grows old in Islam will have a light on the Resurrection Day.
–(Baihaqi, Nisai, Tirmizi)
7. Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: There is no competition except in archery, or in racing camel or horse.
–(Tirmizi, Abu Duad, Nisal)
8. Syeb-b-Yezid reported: The Apostle of Allah had two coats of mail on the Day of Uhud in the midst of which he came out.
–(Abu Daud, Ibn Majah)
9. Ibn Abbas reported that the banner of the Holy Prophet was black and its ensign was white.
–(Tirmizi, Ibn Majah)
10. Abdur-Rehman-b-Auf reported: The Apostle of Allah trained us in ranks for one night at Badr.
11. Anas reported that Abu Talha used to practice archery with the Holy Prophet with the same shield and Abu Talha was a good archer. Whenever he shot, the Prophet went there and watched where his arrows went.
12. Anas reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Fortune lies in the forelocks of horses.
The practice of the Prophet of Islam shows that he attached paramount importance to training of his companions and followers in the art of warfare. He also encouraged them to acquire skill in using the weapons of war like arrows, swords, etc. Horse-riding, horse-racing, camel-riding, shooting were encouraged. The Prophet gave utmost attention to acquire arms and horses for his troops as much as possible and allocated a considerable portion of public funds for this purpose. When he met the Quraish at Badr his military strength in men and material was 313 men with 3horses and meagre weapons. Just after one year when he met them again at Uhud he had 700 men out of whom 100 were in armour and had a strong company of archers. Three year after he defended Madinah with the help of 3000 men with strong archery and a considerable quantity of arms and weapons. In 8, A.H.. i.e. after another three years, the Prophet conquered Makkah with a formidable force of 10,000 fully armed and many of them on horses. And this was all due to Prophet’s interest in making Islamic forces formidable.
We have already studied the aims and objectives of Islamic Jihad in detail. Jihad is waged not to acquire any material gains but to please Allah and establish supremacy of the Divine Law on earth. The Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) enjoined upon the Muslims that they were not fighting for acquiring lands, subjugating other people and gaining booty. Rather they were fighting for noble cause in the path of God and God alone would give them reward. The Qur’an says:
1. The (true) believers are those only who believe in Allah and His messenger and after-ward doubt not, but strive with their wealth and their lives for the cause of Allah. Such are the sincere.
-----49 : 15
2. O ye who believe! Shall I show you a commerce that will save you from a painful doom? Ye should believe in Allah and His messenger, and should strive for the cause of Allah with your wealth and your lives. That is better for you, if ye did but know.
-----61 : 10-11
There are many Ahadith of the Prophet of Islam exhorting the believers to fight for the cause of Allah and shun all desires for any worldly gain. For facility of reference only the following shall be cited:
1) Abu Musa reported that a man came to the messenger of Allah and enquired: A man fights for booty, a man fights for fame, and man fights that his position may be known-who then fights in the way of Allah? He said: whose fights to raise highest thereby the word of Allah, is in the way of Allah.
2) Obadah bin Swamet reported that the messenger of Allah said: whose fights in the way of Allah and does not wish but for a fetter, there is for him what he has intended.
Belief of the soldiers of Islam in the nobility of the cause they are fighting for keeps them steadfast in the war and plays a great role in the sacrifices which they voluntarily make for winning the victory for Islam.
For keeping high the morale of the Muslim soldiers in war, Islamic teachings on Jihad are very inspiring. According to Islam, Jihad is not an aggressive war waged for worldly gains, rather it is a defensive war for the cause of Allah and in the path of Allah in the defence of Islam and in the defence of Muslim Ummah. The nobility of cause for which Jihad is fought keeps the morale of the Islamic warrior (Mujahid) high. The Muslim warrior knows that he is fighting for Allah and Allah world give him reward for his services in this world as well as in the Hereafter. Islam has given very high status to a warrior in the path of Allah. If he survives in the war he is blessed with victory and all the attendant gifts which a victory ensures. If he dies in fighting he is Martyr and is blessed with Paradise in the Hereafter. A Mujahid is therefore ready to fight to the end and remains prepared to sacrifice his life as well as his wealth for the noble cause of Jihad.
The following teachings of the Qur’an particularly motivate and inspire a Muslim soldier and keep his courage high:
1) Nay, but if ye persevere, and keep from evil, and the enemy attack you suddenly, your Lord will help you with five thousand angels sweeping on.
–(3 : 125)
2) Muslim soldier knows that if he steadfastly fights he is equal to atleast two of enemy men. The Qur’an says:
O Prophet! Exhort the believers to fight. If there be of you twenty steadfast they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be of you a hundred steadfast they shall overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve, because they (the disbelievers) are a folk without intelligence. Now hath Allah lightened your burden, for he knoweth that there is weakness in you. So if there be of you a steadfast hundred they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be of you a thousand steadfast they shall overcome two thousand by permission of Allah, Allah is with the steadfast.
-----8 : 65-66
3) A Muslim soldier knows that if he turns his back in the war, Allah will be angry with him :
4) Let those fight in the way of Allah who sell the life of this world for the other. Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward.
–—(4:An-Nisa : 74)
5) Lo! Allah hath bought from the believers their lives and their wealth because the Garden will be theirs: they shall fight in the way of Allah and shall slay and be slain. It is a promise which is binding on Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Qur’an. Who fulfilleth the convenant better than Allah? Rejoice then in your bargain that ye have made, for that is the supreme triumph.
–—(9:At-Taubah : 111)
6) It is not for the townsfolk of Al-Madinah and for those around them of the wandering Arabs to stay behind the messenger of Allah and prefer their lives to his life. That is because neither thirst not toil nor hunger afflicteth them in the way of Allah, nor step they any step that angereth the disbelievers, nor gain they from the enemy a gain, but a good deed is recorded for them therefor. Lo! Allah loseth not the wages of the good. Nor spend they any spending, small or great, nor do they cross a valley, but it is recorded for them, that Allah may repay them the best of what they used to do.
–—(9:At-Taubah : 120-121)
7) Lo! Allah loveth those who battle for His cause in ranks, as if they were a solid structure.
–—(61:As-Saff : 4)
8) Anas reported that the Messenger of Allah said: To go out at morn in the way of Allah or to go out at dusk is better than the world and what is therein.
–—(Bukhari and Muslim)
9) Salman, the Persian, reported : I heard the Messenger of Allah say: Guarding for a day and a night in the way of Allah is better than fasting for a month and praying it. If he dies, his action which he used to do would continue for him and he will be rewarded with sustenance and he will be safe from mischief.
10) Abu Hurairah reported: Whoso meets Allah without any wound of Jihad, meets Allah with defect in him.
–—(Tirmizi, Ibn Majah)
11) Abu Musa reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Verily the doors of Paradise are under the shades of swords.
12) Fuzalah-b-Obaid reported from the Messenger of Allah who said: A seal is put over the actions of every dead man except one who dies guarding in the way of Allah, and verily his actions will increase for him up to the Resurrection Day, and he is safe from the punishments of the grave.
–—(Tirmizi, Abu Daud)
13) Abu Malek al-Ash’ari reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah say: Whoso goes out in the way of Allah and then dies or is killed, or his horse or his camel tramples him to death, or a serpent bites him, or he dies upon his bed of whatever calamity Allah wishes, he is a martyr and there is certainly Paradise for him.
14) Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: The likeness of a fighter in the way of Allah is like the likeness of one who fasts, stands up (in prayer) and obeys the verses of Allah without any break of fast and prayer till the fighter returns to the way of Allah.
–—(Bukhari and Muslim)
The Prophet used to give highest priority to the organisation of the Islamic army in the battle field. Central command of the army, in the battles in which he was present, was always with him while he delegated sectional commands to various leaders. The Encyclopedia of Seerah gives comprehensive report on the battle formation in various battles fought by Islamic forces under the leadership of the Prophet. It writes:
In the Battle of Badr, he assigned seven flags, the flag of the Muhajirun was given to Musaib Ibn Umair, that of Al-Khazraj to Hubab Ibn-al-Mundhir and that of Aws to Sa’d Ibn Maadh. In the Battle of Uhud, he had three flags, the flag of Al-Aws went to Usaid Ibn Hudair, that of Khazraj to Al-Hubab Ibn al-Mundhir and that of the Muhajirun to Ali. And he appointed Muhammad Ibn Maslamah as head of fifty archers. And in the Battle of Ahzab many sector commanders were created under the central command of the Prophet. On the victory day, each tribe carried its flag under the command of its own leader and the whole army was divided into four main divisions which were ordered to enter Makkah from different sides. Khalid bin Walid was in command of the right wing with Aslam. Sulaim, Ghifar, Muzaina, Juhaina and other Arab tribes. Al-Zubair commanded the left wing, Sa’d bin Ubadah commanded the Ansar and Ubaidah Ibn Jarrah commanded the Muhajirun. And the central overall command was with the Prophet”.
“Likewise in Hunain, Ta’if, Tabuk and other compaigns of the Prophet, sectional leaders were appointed to work under the direction of the central command, thus giving them training in commanding their forces as well as the opportunity to develop a spirit of co-operation under the joint command. At the time of general battle, the Prophet directed all operations in all stages of the battle while his section commanders obeyed and executed his orders without delay”.
The Prophet never behaved like an autocrat in the battle field. Rather he used to consult his companions and always welcomed their proposals. He would make adjustments in war strategy whenever he would receive a good suggestion. He would adopt new battle plans and new war weapons without any hesitation. In the Battle of Badr, he changed his battle place on the advice of one of his companions who suggested a better place from the military point of view. In the Uhud battle he again accepted the advice of his young companions to fight outside Medinah. In the Ahzab battle he acted on the advice of Sulman Farsi in defending the town from behind the trench. He was always prepared to accept any suggestion of his companions which was considered to be better and more effective from a military point of view. He used catapults (Minjaniq) in the siege of Taif.
It was cardinal principle of Prophet’s war policy to use his force with great economy. He made very economical use of his scarce human and material resources but achieved great results compared to costs. In all, the Prophet organised 78 military expeditions during period of a almost 10 years he lived at Makkah–76 against the Quraish, the Jews and Arab tribes and 2 against the Romans. Out of these he himself commanded 28 including 11 major expeditions while the rest 50 were sent under the command of various companions. In 48 out of these 78 campaigns, less than 200 men were sent. Average force used in many expeditions never exceeded 100 men and that was against very big enemies who normally outnumbered the Muslims many times.
In the Battle of Badr, 313 Muslims faced 1000 men of Quraish who were even far superior in terms of weapons, and defeated the Quraish. In the Battle of Uhud, 700 Muslims faced 3000 Quraish’s soldiers and the result remained draw. In Battle of Ahzab, Prophet’s 3,000 men defended Madinah against allied forces of 10,000 strong and forced the allies to withdraw their siege of the city. In the Battle of Khaibar, Prophet conquered the Jews with a force of only 1400 men while the Jews living in the strong forts of Khaibar were no less than 10,000. In the Battle of Mutah, the Prophet sent 3000 Muslims who successfully faced professionally trained and well-equipped army of 100,000 of the ruler of Ghussan. In the last year of his campaigns, Muhammad (PBUH) marched against Rome with a force of 30,000 while the Romans had organised a force of over 100,000 strong on the borders of the infant Islamic state.
See the results. With skilful employment of small forces against numerically and equipment-wise far superior enemies, Muhammad (PBUH) not only defeated his enemies but also conquered almost the whole of Arabian peninsula to the fold of Islam.
The revealed book of Islam, the Holy Qur’an, apparently to boost the morale of the Muslims hints at economical use of force when it says : O Prophet! Exhort the believers to fight. If there be of you twenty steadfast they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be of you a hundred steadfast they shall overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve, because they (the disbelievers) are a folk without intelligence. Now hath Allah lightened your burden, for He knoweth that there is weakness in you. So if there be of you a steadfast hundred they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be of you a thousand steadfast they shall overcome two thousand by permission of Allah. Allah is with the steadfast. –(8 : 65-66)
It is said that the greatest general is he who achieves his war aims with minimum loss in terms of human lives. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) always made it sure that unnecessary bloodshed should be avoided and loss of lives should be minimum not only on his side but also on the side of the enemy. With only a loss of 1014 lives – 255 Muslims and 759 non-Muslims–in a period of less than a decade he achieved the results which any other mortal in history can hardly boast of. He subdued all of his enemies, crushed their power and brought the whole of Arabian peninsula (comprising an area not less than 2 million Sq. Kilometer) under the banner of Islam. Most of the smaller military expeditions which he sent from time to time were bloodless. In very few of such expeditions small resistance was offered by the enemy. In the five major battles the Prophet fought during his life time i.e. Badr, Uhud, Ahzab, Hunain and Taif, the total loss of lives was 298; Muslims 117 and non-Muslims 181. In the battle of Khaiber against the Jews only 111 were killed (93 Jews and 18 Muslims).
The wonderful results achieved by the Prophet are due to his superb planning, initiative, secrecy, speed, mobility, element of surprise and other war tactics.
Element of surprise is one of the most successful war tactics. Muhammad (PBUH) surprised his enemy by resorting to the use of this element in many of his major battles so that the enemy could not have chance to organise his force for fighting. The Prophet so successfully employed the element of surprise coupled with speed and mobility in his military campaigns that his enemies were often taken aback when they suddenly found his forces at their gates. The conquests of Khaiber and that of Makkah are the best examples of the successful deployment of this war tactic by Muhammad (PBUH). The farmers of Khaiber who were coming out of their houses to go to their fields were completely caught by surprise to see him and ran into their forts shouting : “Muhammad is come”. In the year of 8A.H., Muhammad (PBUH), after making preparations secretly, marched on Makkah. Even many of his companions did not know the destination of the troops except his very close friends as that had been kept in top secret till the Muslims landed in the valley. The people of Makkah were taken by surprise and could hardly organise their defence. The city was thus taken without any resistance or bloodshed.
Islamic state, during the time of the Prophet, was maintaining a good system of intelligence and espionage for collecting advance information about the enemy, his plans and his movements. Prophet organised patrols off and on for obtaining comprehensive information about the activities of the enemy and the terrain of the area of operation before launching any major war expedition.
Before the Battle of Badr, Muhammad (PBUH) sent Ali, Zubair and Sa’ad bin Abi Waqqas to Badr to collect information about the Quraish and their army. They caught hold of two boys who were interrogated. When questioned by the Prophet as to how many camels the Quraish army was killing every day for food, they told “Nine on one day and ten on the other day”. From this Muhammad (PBUH) could guess that their number was between nine hundred and one thousand. When enquired about the chiefs of Makkah who were among the troops, the boys named almost every leading person. The Prophet remarked to his companions : “Thus Makkah has thrown to you the pieces of its liver”, meaning thereby that the enemy had come in full force. Before the Battle of Uhud, the Prophet received information through Abbas, his uncle, who was living at Makkah, about the military preparations, equipment and strength of the Quraish who were intending to attack Madinah. He sent Hubab Ibn al-Mundhir to verify and confirm the information so that necessary defence could be raised to counter the enemy attack. Likewise, before the Battle of Ahzab he received information about the big force the enemy was coming with to attack Madinah and, therefore, he decided to dig trench to defend the city. It was again through his network of system that the Prophet was able to create disunity among the ranks of the allies and broke their alliance.
As intelligence system is necessary to collect information about the enemy movements and plans, so is the good security system important to check any possible leakage of secrets about one’s own planning and schemes. The Prophet had set up a very reliable security system so that the secrets of the Muslim plans and military moves could be strictly preserved. He always took very precautionary steps to maintain secrecy regarding the war objective so that the enemy could be caught unprepared by surprise. The invasion of Makkah in 8 A.H and conquest of the enemy stronghold without any resistance is a living example of the Prophet’s successful security system. Sometimes the Prophet sent his military expeditions so closely guarded that even the leader of the expedition was unaware of his objectives till he read the instructions at the appointed time or place. Expedition lead by Abdullah Ibn Jahsh Al-Asadi is a good instance in view. The commander was given a letter containing instructions regarding his mission and was ordered not to open it till he had journeyed for two days. Intentions regarding the expedition of Tabuk were similarly kept secret. The Hadith reported in this connection is as under:-
Ka’ab-b-Malik reported that the Messenger of Allah intended no battle but concealed it with other things till that battle occurred, that is the battle of Tabuk. The Holy Prophet fought it in intense heat and made a very long march through deserts and enormous enemies. Then he disclosed to the Muslims and commanded them to make martial preparations of their arms and then informed them the purpose he had in view. –(Bukhari)
Before invasion of Makkah it was revealed to the Prophet that one of his companions (Hatib bin Abi Balta’a) had sent information to the Quraish about preparations and plans of the Muslims to invade Makkah. The information had been sent through a woman. The Prophet sent Ali and Zubair to search the woman who was on her way to Makkah with a secret letter. She was intercepted well in time and the letter was recovered from her which could have alerted the Quraish had she been successful in reaching Makkah. The incident has been referred to by the Holy Qur’an in its verses 1 and 2 of chapter 60 with strict warning to the Muslims not to befriend the enemies of Islam.
In another verse the Qur’an exhorts the believers thus : “O ye who believe! Betray not Allah and His messenger, nor knowingly betray your trusts” (8:27). Hadith of the Prophet about the maintenance of trust is : “There is no faith in him who has got no trust, and no religion for him who has got no promise”. -(Baihaqi)
Use of propaganda and economic weapon which is resorted to so frequently in the modern world was not unknown to the Prophet. The Prophet made use of propaganda and initiated strategical moves to demoralise the enemy and break his resistance. He is reported to have said: “Who knows the language of a people is safe from them”. He, therefore, asked his companion Zaid bin Harith to learn the language of the Jews. During the Battle of Ahzab, he entered into negotiations with Banni Ghatfan who were allies of the enemy. With this move he not only created disunity among the enemy alliance but also weakened their determination to continue the siege of Madina as one of their allies–Banu Ghatfan–lacked will to do so. In the Battle of Uhud, despite victory the Quraish could not pursue the Muslims as their chief Abu Sufiyan was led to believe by some secret agents of the Prophet that the Prophet had gathered his forces to retaliate. A very successful weapon of psychological war is the fear which one can create in the hearts of one’s enemies. The Prophet is reported to have remarked: “God has given me help and victory over my enemy by casting fear into his heart over a month’s journey”. The Jewish tribe of Madinah Banu Quraizah, inspite of their great strength and power, could not fight against Muhammad (PBUH) because of his fear in their hearts.
Economic weapon was also used by the Prophet against the Quraish. The proximity of Madinah to the trade route of the Quraish for Syria was utilized by the Prophet to subdue the Quraish as they knew that Muhammad would cut their trade route in case of hostilities. A chief of Muslim tribe once threatened Quraish to cut their trade route to Syria and the Quraish had to request the Prophet for intervention. During the famine of Makkah, the Prophet sent a considerable amount of 500 gold coins as economic aid to the Quraish and the chiefs of Quraish could see that the move was well-planned to win over the hearts of the younger generation of their tribe.
(1) Initiative is first such tactic which helps in winning a war with comparatively low cost because striking first generally means catching the enemy unprepared. On Prophet’s practice of keeping initiative usually in his hands, the Encyclopedia of Seerah writes :
(2.) Pursuit: Pursuit of enemy after his defeat helps the winner to consolidate his victory and crush the force of the enemy to retaliate. The Holy Qur’an lays due emphasis on the role of the element of pursuit and motivates the followers of Islam thus:
––(4 : An-Nisa: 104)
(3.) The test for a successful general is how he behaves in adverse and difficult situation. The Prophet never lost his nerve and he never panicked or showed any signs of helplessness even under the extreme pressure of war. In the battle of Uhud, when the archers left their positions against his specific orders and the enemy attacked from all sides, his army began retreating in confusion and disorder. But he remained as cool and confident as ever, called his men and infused new spirit into them, and they rallied around him and fought courageously until the enemy withdraw. The same thing was experienced at Hunain: it was his confidence and steadfastness that re-organised the retreating army and launched a counter-attack against the enemy which won the day.
(4.) The Prophet fully utilized geographical strategy in the formulation of his military plans and made a dynamic use of geographical strategy in his military operations, keeping in mind the strength, mobility, strategy and morale of the enemy. He was fully aware of the importance of environmental factors, especially in a mountainous terrain like that of Medinah and the neighboring region. He therefore very carefully made an assessment of these physical and geographical factors in relation to the effectiveness and efficiency of military operations and security.
(5.) Following Ahadith throw light on the routine and timings of the Prophet in waging Jihad: