In this part, we will see how Prophet Muhammad refused to defer to the advice of some of his Companions who believed that the polytheistic captives of Mecca should have been beheaded and how he preferred to keep them alive though they abused him and conspired to assassinate him.
Polytheistic Captives after Badr Battle
The polytheists of Mecca used to kill and persecute Muslims in Mecca. Each Muslim was either killed, seriously harmed, expelled or dispossessed of his property. The Meccan polytheists insisted on fighting against Muslims even outside Mecca to humiliate them.
Those polytheists disbelieved, abused and tried to assassinate Prophet Muhammad in Mecca. Therefore, he had to migrate to Medina along with his Companions. However, those pagans insisted on fighting Prophet Muhammad even outside Mecca.
Nevertheless, At Badr Battle, God gave victory to Prophet Muhammad. He defeated the polytheists of Mecca, killed some of them and captured the others.
About the fate of those captives, Prophet Muhammad consulted his Companions. He said: “Surely, God enabled you to defeat them.” `Umar ibn Al-Khattab got up and said: “O Messenger of God, behead them!” Prophet Muhammad then turned away from him and then said: “O people, God enabled you to defeat them. But, they were your (beloved) brothers yesterday!” Once again, `Umar got up and said: “O Messenger of God, behead them!” Again, Prophet Muhammad turned away from him and then said to people the same words. Then, Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq got up and said: “O Messenger of God, I opine that you’d better forgive them and accept ransom from them.” Then, the grief with which Prophet Muhammad’s face was overcome died down and so he accepted ransom. (Muslim)
It is also said that in the wake of Badr Battle, Prophet Muhammad said to his Companions: “What do you think about those captives?” Abu Bakr replied: “O Messenger of God, they are your people and kindred. So keep them alive and ask them to turn to God in repentance so that God may accept their repentance.” `Umar suggested: “O Messenger of God, they disbelieved you and drove you out. So bring them forward and behead them!” `Abdullah ibn Rawahah suggested: “O Messenger of God, you are in a valley which abounds in firewood. So set fire to the valley and then throw them away in the valley.” Al-`Abbas then commented: “You have ruptured your kinship relationship.” Then, Prophet Muhammad kept silent and did not respond. Then, he got up and entered.
Some people then speculated: “He will adopt Abu Bakr’s opinion.” Other people guessed: “He will adopt `Umar’s opinion.” Others surmised: “He will adopt `Abdullah ibn Rawahah’s opinion.” Then, Prophet Muhammad went out and said: “Surely, God softens the hearts of some men until they become softer than milk. Surely, God hardens the hearts of some men until they become harder than stone. You, Abu Bakr, resemble Abraham (peace be upon him). He said:
My Lord, indeed they have led astray many among the people. So whoever follows me – then he is of me; and whoever disobeys me – indeed, You are [yet] Forgiving and Merciful. (Ibrahim 14:36)
You, Abu Bakr, resemble Jesus (peace be upon him). He said:
If you should punish them – indeed they are Your servants; but if You forgive them – indeed it is You who is the Exalted in Might, the Wise. (Al-Ma’idah 5:118)
You, `Umar, resemble Moses (peace be upon him). He said:
Our Lord, obliterate their wealth and harden their hearts so that they will not believe until they see the painful punishment. (Yunus 10:88)
You, `Umar, resemble Noah (peace be upon him). He said:
My Lord, forgive me and my parents and whoever enters my house a believer and the believing men and believing women. And do not increase the wrongdoers except in destruction.” (Nuh 71:26)
You are in need. So nobody of them should get away except with ransom or beheading.” Then, Ibn Mas`ud said: “O Messenger of God, except Suhayl ibn Bayda’. He mentioned that he converted to Islam.” Then, Prophet Muhammad kept silent. About that, Ibn Mas`ud relates: “I did not fear that a stone from the sky would fall down on me more than on this day until the Messenger of God said: ‘Except Suhayl ibn Bayda’.’” (Ahmad & At-Tirmidhy)
It is also reported that the captives of Quraysh included Al-`Abbas, who was captured by an Ansari (native of Medina) man. The Ansari people threatened to kill him. When Prophet Muhammad knew about that, he said: “I have not slept tonight because of my uncle, Al-`Abbas. The Ansari people alleged that they would kill him.” `Umar said to him: “May I go to them?” Then, Prophet Muhammad agreed: “Ok!” Then, `Umar went to the Ansari people and told them: “Release Al-`Abbas!” They replied: “No, by God, we will not release him.” Then, `Umar said: “What if the Messenger of God will be pleased with that?” They said: “If the Messenger of God is pleased with that, you can take him.” When `Umar took him, he said: “O `Abbas, profess Islam, by God, your conversion to Islam is beloved by me more than the conversion of Al-Khattab (`Umar’s father), simply because I see that the Messenger of God will be pleased with your conversion.”
Then, Prophet Muhammad consulted Abu Bakr, who advised: “They are your kindred. So release them!” When he consulted `Umar, he advised: “Kill them!” However, Prophet Muhammad accepted ransom from them. (Al-Hakim)
On this occasion, the following verses were revealed:
It is not for a prophet to have captives [of war] until he inflicts a massacre [upon God’s enemies] in the land. Some Muslims desire the commodities of this world, but God desires [for you] the Hereafter. And God is Exalted in Might and Wise. If not for a decree from God that preceded, you would have been touched for what you took by a great punishment. (Al-Anfal 67-68)
Some scholars argue that those verses involve blame to Prophet Muhammad for accepting ransom since they should have been rather beheaded. Other scholars do not believe that. They are of the opinion that the above verses were revealed to tell Prophet Muhammad that he could not continue to keep the captives in custody. He should have rather beheaded them or accepted ransom from them. Anyway, it is safe to say that Prophet Muhammad’s reaction to abuse was forgiveness and kindness as he refused to behead the captives though they deserved that.
1- The Glorious Qur’an (Sahih International Translation)
2- Sahih Muslim
3- Sunan At-Tirmidhy
4- As-Sirah An-Nabawiyah, by Ibn Ishaq