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The Unlettered Prophet (42)
Khalid Masud
(Tr. by:Nikhat Sattar)


Conquest of Makkah 


The conquest of Makkah is the most significant and glorious event in the history of Islam. The objective given to the Prophet (sws) and his companions immediately after migration was that they were to purify the House of God against the filth of idolatry and dislodge the polytheists who were in its possession. The Muslims had been informed that this would not be an easy milestone to reach. The path to it was extremely hard. At every step, difficulties would be encountered and they would have to suffer loss of property and life in order to overcome those obstacles. They would stumble, but those who believed in God and were steadfast would, ultimately, be the winners. Then, in just the same manner that Surah Fath was revealed after the treaty of Hudaybiyyah and declared the treaty to be a clear victory and predicted that it would certify victory over Makkah, Surah Nasr was revealed before the conquest of Makkah and it gave the news that Makkah would be conquered with God’s full support and polytheists would accept Islam in large numbers. After this supremacy of Islam over polytheism, the Prophet’s mission would be complete. It is surprising that books of history and biographies depict this most important turning point in Islamic history as that the Prophet (sws) had made this mission a huge secret and had even kept it from his most trusted companion, Abu Bakr (rta). The Quraysh who were directly impacted by this mission remained so ignorant of this mission that the Prophet (sws) surprised them with an army of 10,000 and they were unaware. Then, the entry into Makkah has been related such that our jurists have still not been able to decide whether Makkah was conquered after a battle or whether it was won without any fighting. Perhaps the unusual preferences of biographers find it satisfying that they present the glorious and successful culmination of the Prophet’s mission in such an unrealistic style.  

Preparations to attack Makkah

After refusing to accept Abu Sufyan’s request to maintain the treaty of Hudaybiyyah, the Prophet (sws) began to prepare for a final blow upon the Quraysh. He ordered Muslims in and around Madinah to be ready and also sent his ambassadors to all allied tribes and those who had recently converted to Islam, to prepare people for a war. We have said earlier, in the context of the mission of Hudaybiyyah, that many Bedouin tribes had refused to join the Prophet (sws) for the journey to ‘umrah because they considered it to be going to their death. When Surah Fath was revealed after signing of the treaty of Hudaybiyyah, in addition to exposing the weakness and doubtful faith of these tribes, it also gave the information that when opportunities for war booty arose in a mission to come in the near future, those people would want to participate in it and they were not to be given permission. However, after that, conditions for a more important mission with a stronger enemy would develop and then those people were to be called to demonstrate their loyalty to the cause. The mission that came in the near future was the Battle of Khyber, in which only the companions who had taken the Bay‘t-i ridwan were allowed to participate. The bigger mission and facing the harder enemy was to happen at that time. The Quraysh were the strongest force in the country and conquering Makkah was a difficult task. The Prophet (sws) took steps according to instructions in Surah Fath as follows:  

Say to the desert Arabs who lagged behind: “Ye shall be summoned [to fight] against a people given to vehement war: then shall ye fight, or they shall submit. Then if ye show obedience, Allah will grant you a goodly reward, but if ye turn back as ye did before, He will punish you with a grievous Penalty.” No blame is there on the blind, nor is there blame on the lame, nor on one ill [if he joins not the war]: But he that obeys Allah and his Messenger,- [Allah] will admit him to Gardens beneath which rivers flow; and he who turns back, [Allah] will punish him with a grievous penalty.” (48:16-17)  

According to narratives, the Prophet (sws) sent companions belonging to the same tribes, to Bedouin tribes of Aslam, Juhaynah, Ghifar, Banu Damrah, Banu al-Husayn, Ashja‘, Muzaynah, Banu Sulaym and Banu Ka‘b, to motivate the people to join the effort and tell them that whoever believed in God and the Day of Judgement was to reach Madinah during Ramad@an. The names of the companions are given in biographies, and to repeat them here would be of no use.1 The special effort to send ambassadors to convince Bedouins to participate in jihad is seen only during this mission. Obviously, this was carried out in obedience to orders from God. Prior to this mission, a battle had been fought at Mu’tah, but neither did the Prophet (sws) participate in it, nor did it require fighting in large numbers that Bedouins were invited. But for conquering Makkah, the Qur’an itself shamed Muslims by asking them that if they did not stand up at that stage, when would the time to do so come again?  

Will ye not fight people who violated their oaths, plotted to expel the Messenger, and took to agression by being the first [to assault] you? Do ye fear them? Nay, it is Allah Whom ye should more justly fear, if ye believe! (9:13) 

It is obvious that it was the Quraysh who had not tolerated the presence of the Prophet (sws) in Makkah and he was forced to migrate. The Quraysh had fought with all their strength during the battles of Badr, Uhud and Ahzab to destroy Muslims. After this, when the treaty of Hudaybiyyah had been signed, it was the Quraysh who broke their promises and were guilty of violating the agreement. The verse spells out their crimes in order to motivate Muslims so that they were not overwhelmed by the strength of the Quraysh and faced the enemies of Islam with only the fear of God in their hearts. These verses can refer to no group except the Quraysh.

In presence of this clear instruction in the Qur’an and the the Prophet (sws) sending his ambassadors to Bedouin tribes, the narrative in biographical books that the Prophet (sws) had kept the mission secret from Muslims does not seem to be correct. When the Qur’an itself was stimulating Muslims, why would the Prophet (sws) act in opposition and refrain from developing fervour and enthusiasm for jihad among them?  The Qur’an was not only encouraging Muslims for jihad but also giving predictions for the Muslim’s victory in the mission.  

Fight them, and Allah will punish them by your hands, cover them with shame, help you [to victory] over them, heal the breasts of Believers and still the indignation of their hearts. For Allah will turn [in mercy] to whom He will; and Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise. (9:14-15)  

In the presence of these verses, in our opinion, the narratives that tell us that the Prophet (sws) ordered people to prepare for jihad and made it clear to them that he was intending to attack Makkah are preferable. Imam Dhahabi writes in the section of al-Maghazi of his History of Islam:


Then the Prophet (sws) ordered for preparation for war; he also asked his relatives in his house to do the same and told people that he intended to attack Makkah. 

It is said in the Zad al-ma‘ad:


He informed people that he was going to Makkah and that they should take the matter seriously and prepare for it.


Similar narratives are given in the History by Tabari and in Al-Kamil fi Tarikh by Ibn al-Athir.

Some biographers have written that the route taken by the Prophet (sws) to reach Makkah was an unknown one so that others could be kept in the dark. Facts belie this statement. Not only did people know of the destination, they had been informed of the complete timetable and intermediary stops. This is why, when the mujahidin started towards Makkah on 10th Ramadan, 8th AH, they were 7,500 in number. In between the stopovers between Madinah and Makkah, Muslims from other tribes joined them until they numbered 10,000 by the time they reached Marra al-Zahran, close to Makkah. The tribes that joined them on the way included Ghifar, Ashja‘, Banu Khuza‘ah and Banu Damrah. Even in ordinary life, if people are not informed ahead of time about the schedule after careful planning, their participation cannot be ascertained. This was a matter of attacking a powerful enemy. How could it be expected that tribes living along the route would join the army while being kept ignorant of the time schedule, given that the complete journey took 7-8 days?

Further, the scale of preparation for destruction of an army was unprecedented in the history of Arabia. Tribes were mobilized to participate in the mission by sending 18-24 representatives to them. Verse number 17 of Surah Fath tells us that it was made mandatory for every able Muslim not to stay behind. Only sick and crippled men were exempted. For thousands of men from various regions and tribes to gather at specific dates was an extraordinary event that could not have been hidden. By its very nature, such an event becomes known far and wide and people against whom action may be taken become particularly sensitive.   

Reasons for the Idea of Secrecy

There are two things which may have made the biographers get the idea that the attack on Makkah was undertaken with secrecy. One was the letter from Hatib bin Balta‘ah (rta) to the Quraysh leaders, which was being taken by a woman to Makkah and was apprehended and Hatib was called for an explanation. The second was the prayer to God by the Prophet (sws), that He make the Quraysh blind and deaf so that the Muslims could get them unawares. The Prophet (sws) had prayed for this, much before setting off for the battle while still in Madinah.

The matter with Hatib was that his relatives were still in Makkah. There was no one there who would support them. When he came to know of the planned attack, he wrote to some of his friends, informing them of the Prophet (sws)’s coming with a large army to attack them that would cover them like the night and wash them away like a flood. Even when the Prophet (sws) was alone, God helped him. Now, He was going to fulfill His promise of support and victory, so they were to get ready to defend themselves. When this letter was caught, Hatib (rta) was questioned and he clarified that his purpose in sending the letter was for the Quraysh to become beholden to him so that they would not harm his relatives. Hatib (rta) was forgiven at this explanation. In our view, Hatib’s incident in itself is proof of the fact that people in Madinah were aware of the proposed attack on Makkah. This plan had not been kept secret. As far as Hatib’s questioning is concerned, it is never acceptable in military life that the loyalties of any of its soldiers be with the enemy forces. If such incidents come to light, it becomes necessary to undertake an inquiry, otherwise the foolishness of their own soldiers can lead to great losses. Hatib (rta) had not kept the demands of the announcement of acquittal from the Quraysh, which have been explained above with reference to Surah al-Mumtahinah. In any case, the nature of the contents of the letter was not such that he was guilty of exposing a military secret. Instead, had the letter reached its destination, it would have merely caused fear among the enemy.             

The matter related to the prayer of the Prophet (sws) is that when efforts made by Abu Sufyan to keep the agreement intact failed, and he realized that the Muslims were then in a state of war with the Quraysh, he left Madinah greatly perturbed. Seeing him go, the Prophet said: “O’ Allah, bandage the eyes and ears of the Quraysh so that they should see me suddenly.” The Zad al-ma‘ad presents this prayer as: “O’ Allah, stop observations and information from the Quraysh until we reach them in their region.” Acceptance of this prayer is not only in the form of the Quraysh remaining ignorant for a long time of the preparations in Madinah and not being aware of the coming and going of Muslims to the tribes and the jihad movement.  This does not normally happen in practical life. Not all people within the tribes were Muslims; there were also polytheists who were sympathetic to the Quraysh. Also, some allied tribes of Muslims lived so close to the Quraysh that their movements were well known to them. In our view, the Prophet’s prayer was accepted, resulting in the Quraysh looking on with resignation and becoming deprived of the strength to fight the Muslims. They did not possess the motivation to prepare and enter the battlefield and confront the Muslims who were on their way. What could be the reason for lack of possession of the will to defend themselves while still retaining their powers of sight and hearing, other than acceptance of the Prophet’s prayer? This reality was stated by the Prophet (sws) later when he said that he was helped through impressing the enemy.

The fact is that the situation had changed drastically during the two years of peace. Noted young leaders of the Quraysh: Khalid ibn Walid, ‘Amr ibn al-‘Ās, ‘Uthman ibn Talhah, Mu‘awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan etc had accepted Islam and migrated to Madinah. Every house in Makkah was influenced by the call of Islam. During the eight years of conflict, the Quraysh had gained nothing. All their top notch leaders were killed in the wars and their reputation among Arab tribes had been destroyed. When, previously, the maximum number of Muslims who could be brought to the battlefield was not more than 3,000, now there was a 10,000 strong army ready to attack Makkah.  Had reconciliation been brought about by Abu Sufyan’s efforts, the Quraysh would have been able to retain their dignity. But with the failure of this mission, they had lost their will and their energies were depleted. As it happened, when the Muslim army reached the suburbs of Makkah, they did not meet any resistance from the Quraysh.  

Request for Amnesty from the Quraysh

The Muslims army camped at Marra al-Zahran, one stop away from Makkah. The encampment of an army of 10,000 was spread over a large area and when, at night, the mujahidin lit their fires, the lights reflected an extraordinary capacity to vanquish the enemy. According to narratives, three leaders of the Quraysh- Abu Sufyan, Hakim ibn Hizam and Budayl ibn Warqa’ ventured out to see which tribe was staying here. When they reached Marra al-Zahran, they thought that these might be the Banu Khuza‘ah, and Budayl also was of the same opinion. But then they realized that the Banu Khuza‘ah could not be in such large numbers: they were surely some other tribes. While they were discussing and moving about, ‘Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib (rta) came across them on the donkey of the Prophet (sws). He was searching for someone who could take a message to the Quraysh that the Muslim army had arrived. Therefore, it was better if they contacted the Prophet (sws) directly and thus save themselves. ‘Abbas recognized Abu Sufyan’s voice in the dark and took the three Makkan leaders to the Prophet (sws). ‘Umar (rta) came behind them, waving his sword. His demand was that Abu Sufyan being in their custody, if he was commanded, he would sever his head. The Prophet (sws) calmed him down and ordered Abu Sufyan and his friends to spend the night in the camp. They would talk the next morning.

This narrative is as unrealistic and unnatural as it is famous. Firstly, the Banu Khuza‘ah were so closely connected with the Quraysh that none of their actions could have been hidden from them.  If thousands from the Banu Khuza‘ah had been preparing for a mission, the Quraysh would have come to know of it during the early stages. Thus, their initial thought that the army belonged to the Banu Khuza‘ah is very unnatural. Secondly, the leader of the Banu Khuza‘ah, Budayl, was among the group. Did he not know what his tribe was up to that day? And was the tribe so conceited that it would be ready to fight an enemy without prior knowledge of its leader? Thirdly, leaders of a nation and commanders of its army do not go on a reconnaissance mission themselves.  There are always other people who are sent, so that if any problems arise, major losses can be prevented. In this narrative, there are two leaders of the tribe and one very important member of the Quraysh elite. And the three ventured out, unarmed, to look into the movements of an unknown group at night? Such a possibility is contrary to tradition and habit. Fourthly, ‘Abbas (rta) had accepted Islam just three days before and joined the Muslim army. Obviously he, himself was a stranger to the army. He could be recognized only by the muhajirun. Moving around within the encampment fearlessly was something which could not have been done by a newcomer. It stands to reason that three new persons would not have been able to wander freely within the camp. Was there no tradition to mount guards among the armies of Muslims? Fifthly, the action which ‘Abbas (rta) was planning to carry out was seemingly against the purpose of the Prophet’s mission. The Prophet (sws) was aiming to defeat the people of Makkah, whereas ‘Abbas (rta) was trying to protect them secretly from the attack. If Hatib ibn Abi Balta‘ah can be reprimanded for writing a letter, the situation regarding ‘Abbas (rta) would be even more serious, in the sense that he came out to provide military information to the Quraysh on his own. But there is no mention of his being questioned anywhere. Sixthly, how could a thinker like ‘Umar (rta) be ready to kill without knowing why the three leaders had come? Had his aim been to kill Abu Sufyan, this could have been achieved when the latter had gone to Madinah with a request to maintain the treaty of Hudaybiyyah and had not been heard. He had met Umar (rta) himself. Thus, in our view, the actual situation was not one as has been presented in this narrative. Instead it was totally different, but it was so obscured by the more famous but unrealistic narrative that it is now difficult to retrieve the original. In any case, indications to the original are as follows:

1.   The words in a narrative of the Kitab al-Maghazi of Ṣahih Bukhari are: “In the year of the conquest, when the Prophet (sws) departed from Madinah and the Quraysh found out, Abu Sufyan, Hakim ibn Hizam and Budayl ibn Warqa’ left Makkah to gather more information about the Prophet’s movements. When they reached Marra al-Zahran, they saw fires being lit everywhere, over a large area, just as was done in the ‘Arafat. Then, the guards of the Prophet (sws) spotted them and they were arrested and taken to the Prophet (sws).”2    

This narrative tells us that the Quraysh were not totally ignorant of the aims of the Muslims. They had been informed about the army coming from Madinah. They did not see the lights of Marra al-Zahran from Makkah, but only saw them when they had reached the valley. The army of the Prophet (sws) was not camping with such abandonment that they were unaware of anyone who wandered in, but it was guarded so that unrelated people could not enter it. ‘Abbas (rta) did not take the Makkan leaders to the Prophet (sws) with him, but the guards arrested them, taking them to be strangers and gave them over to the Prophet (sws), as was the requirement of military discipline.

2.   In the history he has written, Tabari has referred to a letter from Hisham ibn ‘Urwah (rta), in which the latter had written details about the conquest of Makkah in answer to questions from Khalifah ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan. According to this, the Quraysh had put together a delegation of two persons, Abu Sufyan and Hakim ibn Hizam to assess the plans of the Prophet (sws). They decided to take Budayl ibn Warqa’ with them when they departed. These people reached Marra al-Zahran, met the Prophet (sws) and accepted Islam. The Prophet (sws) sent then back to Makkah so that they could call the rest of their people to Islam. As a sign of this, whoever entered the homes of Abu Sufyan or Hakim ibn Hizam, or would close the doors of his house and would not pick up arms would be given amnesty.

3.   There is a narrative within the Tabaqat of Ibn Sa‘d that the Quraysh were very worried about the potential attack from the huge army of the Muslims. They sent Abu Sufyan to the Prophet (sws) to see if he could meet him and seek general amnesty.3  

These narratives tell us that the Quraysh had themselves formulated the delegation to go and seek amnesty from the Prophet (sws). When they reached Marra al-Zahran, they first accepted Islam and then returned to Makkah with a message to accept obedience to the Prophet (sws), with the news that every person who would not pick up arms to fight the Muslim army would be granted safety. This was general amnesty, but with a condition of not taking up arms.

In the light of all of these narratives, it seems that what transpired might have been as follows. The Quraysh had found out that the Prophet (sws) was moving towards Makkah at a fast pace with a huge army. They remembered their own violation of their agreement and they were aware that at the breaking of this promise, the Prophet (sws) had adopted a severe attitude towards them. But now, they no longer possessed their earlier energy and enthusiasm. Their determination was weak. They viewed coming out and confronting the mujahidin as equivalent to committing suicide. Hence the Quraysh leaders made a very realistic decision. They neither confronted the army of the mujahidin, nor did they try to stop their progress. Instead, they sent their commander to the Prophet (sws), to surrender and seek general amnesty for all. To remove any suspicion of the action being a personal one of Abu Sufyan and to ensure that it would be seen to be supported by all Quraysh leaders, they sent Hakim ibn Hizam and Budayl ibn Warqa’ along. The Prophet (sws) welcomed them and pondered over their request. It is possible that he consulted his trusted companions at night. Then, thinking that perhaps all of the people of the Quraysh may not be of the same opinion, he gave amnesty only to those who would not arm themselves and stay inside their homes. Before the army arrived, the Prophet (sws) sent the delegation back to Makkah with this message.  

This portrayal of the incident is also supported by the Qur’an. Its prediction was: “Ye shall be summoned [to fight] against a people given to vehement war: then shall ye fight, or they shall submit,” (48:16). The verse uses the word yuslimun, that is evidence of surrendering and also accepting Islam. Both these actions took place during the happenings at Marra al-Zahran and this was demonstrated the next day when the mujahidin reached Makkah.  

The Quraysh Delegation

The composition of the delegation from the Quraysh was most suitable for the purpose for which it was formed. Abu Sufyan was the leader of the Quraysh and the commander of its army. No other person could have been as interested in the future of his nation as Abu Sufyan. Whatever decision he took would have been the decision of the entire tribe, according to Arab tradition. He was also very realistic. He understood that it was not possible for anyone to defeat the Prophet (sws) and his religion anymore. This is why, when the Prophet (sws) sent his letter asking Heraclius, the king of Rome to accept Islam, Abu Sufyan had given his opinion of the Prophet (sws) with great honesty in answer to Heraclius’s queries. Despite his religious and political opposition, he had not tried to falsify the image of the Prophet (sws). At this, when the king had commented that these were the signs of a true prophet and that the Prophet (sws) would reign over his own kingdom one day, Abu Sufyan very rightly opined to his companions that Ibn Abi Kabsha’s (the Prophet’s) situation had gone far ahead; now even the king of foreigners was in fear of him. Abu Sufyan had, therefore, decided that it was no longer possible to stop the spread of Islam’s message. Because he was also the commander of the army, his surrender meant the surrender of all people of the Quraysh.

The second member of the delegation was Hakim ibn Hizam who was a very balanced representative of the elite of the Quraysh. He was a nephew of Khadijah (rta) and a friend of the Prophet (sws) from his childhood days. Budayl ibn Warqa’ was the leader of the Banu Khuza‘ah and was staying in Makkah. His tribe had a good opinion about the Prophet (sws) and Muslims from the beginning. This is why, when the treaty of Hudaybiyyah was signed, the tribe had declared its affiliation with the Muslims. The inclusion of Budayl in the delegation was as a representative of an ally and a recommendation in favour of the Quraysh. All three members accepted Islam on reaching Marra al-Zahran and requested amnesty for their people and for the people of Makkah. What better news could have been given to the Prophet (sws), than obedience from the people of Makkah and the entry into the city with peace? Hence, he accepted their request.


 (Translated by Nikhat Sattar)


1. Waqidi, Kitab al-Maghazi, vol. 2, 799.

2. Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih,  vol. 4, 1559, (no. 4030).

3.Ibn Sa‘d, Al-Tabaqat al-kubra, vol. 1, 441.


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