The Fatal Mistake
It was one of the most intense moments of his life. Those around him had likely never striven so hard and moved so fast. As the battle waned and the fighters retreated up the hill a sense of relief and calmness overtook them: they had made it out alive.
Allah `azza wa jal (honored be His Glory) says in the Qur’an:
“[Remember] when you [fled and] climbed [the mountain] without looking aside at anyone while the Messenger was calling you from behind. So Allah repaid you with distress upon distress so you would not grieve for that which had escaped you [of victory and spoils of war] or [for] that which had befallen you [of injury and death]. And Allah is [fully] Acquainted with what you do.” (Qur’an, 3:153)
Here Allah suhanahu wa ta`ala (Glorified and Exalted is He) cites an incident to be remembered and reflected upon. The Prophet ﷺ stood, with few by his side, calling those who were fleeing; there was utter confusion as friends blended with foes. Many righteous individuals died in the havoc that ensued, and the life of Prophet ﷺ seemed in jeopardy.
As the opposing army enclosed the Muslims, the Prophet ﷺ was exposed. One of the Quraysh thought he had killed the Prophet ﷺ and announced his death. In order to deny the claim and re-instill faith in the Muslims, the Prophet ﷺ called out to anyone that could hear him, exposing his position. Now the strongest warriors of Quraysh were vying for the head of Muhammad ﷺ. Seven of the Ansar fell in his defense, and he was left with two of the Muhajireen at his side. As is described in al-Raheeq al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar),
“Utbah bin Abi Waqqas pelted him with stones. One of the stones fell on his face. His lower right incisor Ruba‘iya (i.e. the tooth that is between a canine and a front tooth) was injured. His lower lip was wounded. He was also attacked by `Abdullah bin Shihab Az-Zuhri who cleaved his forehead. `Abdullah bin Qami’a, who was an obstinate strong horseman, struck him violently on his shoulder with his sword; and that stroke hurt the Messenger of Allâh ﷺ for over a month — though it was not strong enough to break his two armors. He dealt a heavy blow on his cheek. It was so strong that two rings of his iron-ringed helmet penetrated into his holy cheek.”
It was not until other sahabah came to his ﷺ aid that they were able to turn back the enemy fighters.
Initially the Muslims had been defeating the Qurayshi army. Allah ta`ala [Almighty] says:
“And Allah had certainly fulfilled His promise to you when you were killing the enemy by His permission until [the time] when you lost courage and fell to disputing about the order [given by the Prophet] and disobeyed after He had shown you that which you love. Among you are some who desire this world, and among you are some who desire the Hereafter. Then he turned you back from them [defeated] that He might test you. And He has already forgiven you, and Allah is the possessor of bounty for the believers. (Qur’an, 3:152)
Since the battle took place near the small mountain of Uhud, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ positioned forty archers atop the mount to ensure that Quraysh would not attack from behind. When the archers were in place the Muslims were winning by the grace of Allah `azza wa jal. It wasn’t until the archers disobeyed the orders of the Prophet ﷺ and came down the hill that Khalid ibn Walid (who was not Muslim at the time) was able to ambush the Muslims.
This was an incredible test of patience and faith. As Allah (swt) says, it was in this time that some of the underlying desires of the sahabah were exposed. Of course Allah (swt) protected the Prophet ﷺ and those that were written to died would have died regardless, but their decision to come down the hill for the booty of war not only resulted in the death of many sahabah, but also a near death experience for the Prophet ﷺ. The message as we know it today was jeopardize because of one decision.
A Community Founded on Islam (3:103)
And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favor of Allah upon you – when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favor, brothers. And you were on the edge of a pit of the Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus does Allah make clear to you His verses that you may be guided. (Qur’an, 3:103)
Although these verses were actually revealed later in the life of the Prophet ﷺ, they are placed before the verses of Uhud in Surat Al `Imran. Allah explicitly points out that the sahabah had little in common before Islam; they had been millionaires and beggars, men and women, young and old, of various tribes, bandits and traders, warriors and feeble-men, tall and short, healthy and sick, orphans and those of strong kin. The only thing that brought them together was Islam and it was the only that kept them together in such a trial.
How was the community supposed to react after Uhud? Were they to be punished or forgiven? The following verses were revealed after the battle, addressing the situation of the Muslims at the time. There are many lessons to be derived, but I will focus exclusively on two in sha’ Allah (God willing): the appropriate reaction of those who wronged and those who are wronged.
1. Don’t fall into haram (3:130-132)
O you who have believed, do not consume usury, doubled and multiplied, but fear Allah that you may be successful.
And fear the Fire, which has been prepared for the disbelievers.
And obey Allah and the Messenger that you may obtain mercy. (Qur’an, 3:130-132)
Not only had the sahabah gone through a traumatic experience, but now they were in a financially precarious situation. They had spent much of their wealth and time fighting for the cause of Allah (swt) only to go home with nothing material. The sahabah had families to take care of and children to feed but it was at this time that Allah `azza wa jal reminded the believers to stay away from interest (money maker!) and to be firm in obedience to Him. The shari`ah (Islamic Law) sent down to us has the rules and guidelines to be the most successful in the next life and this life no matter the situation.
Similarly, if we are wronged, we cannot fall into the trap of backbiting or slandering any individual or anything else haram. Often times we simply forget everything good that came from this individual and all the negatives come flooding back (no doubt with the aid of shaytan—the devil). And if we are the ones who commit a mistake, it is most difficult to keep a straight tongue. It is in these particular times that it is hardest to be steadfast on the principles set forth by Allah and it is easiest to give into the whispers of shaytan.
2. Seek and give forgiveness (3:136-140)
And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteous.
Who spend [in the cause of Allah] during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and Allah loves the doers of good;
And those who, when they commit an immorality or wrong themselves [by transgression], remember Allah and seek forgiveness for their sins – and who can forgive sins except Allah? – and [who] do not persist in what they have done while they know.
Those – their reward is forgiveness from their Lord and gardens beneath which rivers flow [in Paradise], wherein they will abide eternally; and excellent is the reward of the [righteous] workers. (Qur’an, 3:133-136)
Out of the mercy of Allah `azza wa jal, we are not expected by any means to be perfect. If fact, the Prophet ﷺ even tells us that “All the children of Adam are fallible and the best of those who make mistakes are those who repent.” [Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah] So first, in any trying situation, we should seek the forgiveness of Allah (swt) for falling short, whether it’s apparent or not where exactly we fell short. Allah `azza wa jal starts in these verses by imploring all the believers to race for forgiveness, regardless if they were of those who disobeyed the Prophet ﷺ. There is always room for improvement, no matter how big of a “success” or “failure” an individual person’s reaction is in a situation.
Thereafter, Allah starts talking to those who were wronged. Interestingly though, He (swt) does not explicitly distinguish them from those who disobeyed; rather, He only describes them by their good characteristics. He `azza wa jal first points out that they give in charity in hardship and difficulty, showing that the believer is unwavering in his or her good actions. Second and third, Allah describes them as “those who restrain their anger and who pardon people.” Ibn Kathir says in his tafsir (commentary on the Qur’an), “They forgive those who treat them with injustice. Therefore, they do not hold any ill feelings about anyone in their hearts, and this is the most excellent conduct in this regard.” Furthermore, the literal translation of “restrain anger” is “swallowed their anger.” Nouman Ali Khan makes a note here that since “swallow” is in the past tense, it implies that their anger does not show because they already swallowed it! Additionally, Allah `azza wa jal uses the word عفوة to describe how the believers should forgive each other. When you forgive with عفوة it is like the act or deed were written in the sand and then wiped away, as if it never existed!
Then Allah (swt), without switching audiences, mentions those who erred. Instead of chastising (although in other places He does point out their mistakes) or commanding them, He (swt) describes the best characteristics to embody in their situation. He says that they should sincerely seek His forgiveness and to never return to their mistake because Allah is the only one who forgives sin.
Although lives were lost at Uhud because of the decision of a few, mistakes are made, and the best way to move forward as a community is with forgiveness. Everything Allah says in these verses is directed at the believers in general, allowing each individual to identify under which category they fall without explicitly reprimanding specific individuals. Thus, these verses contain little change in address between those who were wronged and those who erred. It is only by Allah’s mercy that we are protected from sin and error; so when our brother or sister commits a mistake, it is out of humility and understanding that we forgive and forget.
Naturally, justice or preventative measures should always be exacted against those who harm society. Allah calls us to stand for justice even if it were against ourselves and our own families. Out of the mercy of Allah `azza wa jal , we are not expected by any means to be perfect. If fact, the Prophet ﷺ even tells us that “All the children of Adam are fallible and the best of those who make mistakes are those who repent.” [Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah] So first, in any trying situation, we should seek the forgiveness of Allah (swt) for falling short, whether it’s apparent or not where exactly we fell short. Allah `azza wa jal starts in these verses by imploring all the believers to race for forgiveness, regardless if they were of those who disobeyed the Prophet ﷺ. There is always room for improvement, no matter how big of a “success” or “failure” an individual person’s reaction is in a situation.
When someone else is wronged, we should always demand his or her rights, but when we are wronged it is always better to forgive if possible. (Qur’an, 4:135). This does not, however, void us of being able to forgive each other for our mistakes, no matter how grievous. When someone else is wronged, we should always demand his or her rights, but when we are wronged it is always better to forgive if possible.
Take these following examples as practical consideration:
- During the battle, “Hudhaifah caught sight of his father Al-Yaman about to be killed by other Muslims. So he said: “O servants of Allah! Beware! This is my father. This is my father.” `Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) said: “But they did not part with him till he was killed.” Hudhaifah then said, “May Allah forgive you.” And ‘Urwa said: “By Allah, from that time on Hudhaifah has always been blessed and wealthy till he died.”[Sahih Al-Bukhari 1/539, 2/581] That was because he forgave them and refused to take any blood-money for his father’s murder but recommended that it be spent in charity.” [al-Raheeq al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar)]
- The brothers of Yusuf `alayhi as-salam (may peace be upon him) threw him into a well as a young child out of envy (12:15). He was then readily taken into slavery (12:20) and then jailed for much (12:35)—if not all—of his youth. Because of his brothers Yusuf (as) had to suffer for years. Yet Yusuf (as) not only forgave them, but laid the blame on shaytan for creating hostilities between them (12:100).
- Sins of a Father
3. Normalize (3:159)
So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [upon Him]. (Qur’an, 3:159)
The greatest reaction is, of course, that of the Prophet ﷺ. In the verse above, Allah (swt) not only reminds us of the soft, kind and understanding demeanor that the Prophet ﷺ was blessed with, but also instructs him ﷺ to forgive those who disobeyed, seek forgiveness for them from Allah, and to continue to consult them in affairs! Allahu akbar! It is also important to note the Prophet ﷺ wanted to wait for the Quraysh in Madinah instead of meeting them at Uhud. He ﷺ chose to instead leave for Uhud because many of the best companions had urged him to do so. At this time of material defeat, all of an individual’s decisions come flooding back as one tries to determine where the mistake was made. Instead of blaming his companions for the error in judgment, he ﷺ was understanding and forgiving. On top of this, Allah then commands him to continue to seek their council and to rely on Allah (swt) for facilitating the best outcome and result. How could one possibly react better?
Many of us might pass over these points in a breeze, sidelining them because of the pain we have suffered at the hands or words of someone. Some of us may even go to the point of hatred and resentment. Look at the example of the sahabah and that of the Prophet ﷺ: they suffered much worse; the entire Muslim population was on the brink of extinction, but they still stayed steadfast on the principles that Allah set forth. Many times the very decision to forgive can be as hard as forgiving itself. Although there is an enormous amount of personal and internal struggle involved in forgiving a heinous sin, forgiveness is exactly the solution to all the pain and anger. Forgiveness is in clear and utter recognition of the fact that Allah (swt) is the Most Wise, the One Who Decrees and the One Who Knows the best for any situation. Clearly the example that Allah sets forth for us all is a people, the best of people, who forgive and forget as if it never happened, even in the face of the death.
It is when we come together as a community with understanding and forgiveness that we will be able to get over the relatively minor blips in our Islamic work. We need to focus on achieving the higher objective under the watch and protection of Allah (swt).
May Allah `azza wa jal grant us success in both worlds. May He grant us the strongest bonds of brotherhood for His sake so that we might complete work in His cause and—out of His mercy—attain His pleasure. Ameen!