The Foundation of Islamic Law and the Conquest of Mecca

Shari’ah, or Islamic law, literally means “a way to the watering place” or “a path to seek felicity and salvation”, and is the laws and regulations meant to govern the lives of every day Muslims as a way to lead a moral and ethical life.1 Since Islam is considered less a religion and more a way of life by its adherents, the importance of Islamic law is therefore significant.

When Muhammad (SAW) settled in Medina after migrating from Mecca, he did so at the request of several of its residents who had accepted Islam after meeting the Prophet (SAW) . Their request was that he come to stop the fighting of the two tribes who lived there, the Aws and the Khazraj, who had a long history of bloody feuding as well as problems with a group of Jews who lived there. In turn, the city (then known as Yathrib) would accept him and give him protection from the Quraysh.2 The Prophet (SAW) sought to settle this fighting through the Constitution of Medina, which established an alliance among the tribes of Medina, the new Muslim immigrants, and the Jews, and specified their rights and duties as citizens, unifying them all into one community.3 This would, for the most part, settle a great deal between these groups and set the stage for what would come next.

islamiclaw1The Prophet (SAW) then set forth establishing the basic foundations of what would be later analyzed and expounded upon by Muslim scholars as Islamic law. Islamic law was primarily concerned with the principles and values most fundamental to Islam, which was naturally the five pillars of Islam (the Shahadah, or belief in God and His Messenger, the five daily prayers, fasting during the month of Ramadan, performing Hajj at least once in your life, and giving yearly alms, or Zakah). Therefore, the Prophet (SAW) was most concerned with articulating to the believers exactly what faith in God was, the ways in which He (SWT) should be worshipped, and observance of the five pillars of Islam.

The bulk of legal rules revealed to the Prophet (SAW) would come during his twelve years in Medina for several reasons. A major reason was that the newly established Muslim community and government needed these guidelines to function properly and smoothly, whereas the Muslims while in Mecca were a minority under the constant harassment of the Quraysh and with no way to enforce these laws. So, while some basic rules on ritual prayers, Zakah, and doing justice to orphans and widows were revealed in Mecca, most legal rulings were revealed in Medina. However, the penal rulings which would become known as Hudud (literally, limits) were revealed during the last two years of the Prophet’s life. The laws of Islam were revealed in this way to prepare the Muslims before they became fully enacted and put into practice.4 And it would not be until later centuries that the schools of thought regarding Islamic law would come into being, which are different opinions about resolving the new, minor situations that arose over time after the Prophet’s (SAW) death.

3653176823_f21a4dba59_oWhile the Prophet was concerned with governing Medina, he was also concerned with the community’s external relations with the rest of Arabia. While some such as the kingdom of Abissiniya had welcomed the Muslims, and others had a decidedly neutral stance towards them, some such as the Quraysh who had sworn themselves enemies of Islam were most troublesome for the Muslims. This resulted in several battles over the years between the Muslims and the Quraysh. However, the growing numbers and strength of the Muslims would prove to be too much for the Quraysh to handle, and after they broke their treaty (the Treaty of Hudaibiya) with the Muslims, the believers at last conquered Mecca without a fight from the defeated Quraysh, an event called “Fatah Mecca” (the opening of Mecca).

The Prophet (SAW) arrived at Mecca with around 10,000 men. However, he had already spoken with Abu Sufyan and some others earlier, who had asked for amnesty for all and said the Quraysh would not fight the Muslims when they came, which the Prophet (SAW) readily granted. So, he instructed to all that those who stayed in their houses were safe, and, with the exception of a few who were taken captive due to committing egregious offences, the town surrendered itself without any bloodshed. Extraordinarily, almost all of its inhabitants converted to Islam! In this way, the great town of Mecca who for so long had bullied and sought to demoralize and crush the Muslims gave itself up at last. The Prophet (SAW) then went about destroying all the idols in the Kaaba and in and around Mecca, and asked Bilal ibn Rabah to make the call of prayer, or Athan, for the first time atop the Kaaba.

Mecca and Medina thus became the effective capitals of Islam, and from where the Islamic Empire would continue to spread. Mecca is also the place where every practicing Muslim will visit at least once in their lifetime to perform the ritual Hajj, and where Muslims face while praying their five daily prayers. What is most important to note, however, is that Mecca was conquered not through blood and the sword, but through the acceptance of the Quraysh to Islam and the Muslims. For many years, the Muslims as a community were forbidden to even fight at all, and when they were at last forced to defend their way of life against an enemy bent on destroying it, they were instructed to do so with the greatest care and compassion, which is why in the final stand-off between them and their enemy there was no loss of life.

islamiclaw4 By now, however, the news of the Muslims’ conquest of Mecca had spread and was alarming some neighboring tribes. This led to the battle of Hunain, which is only one of two battles actually mentioned by name in the Qur’an (the other is the battle of Badr). It took place during Shawwal the eighth year after Hijra, when the tribe of Hawazin, led by Malik bin ‘Awf and with a subsection of Thaqif, began mobilizing their forces after the Prophet (SAW) had left Medina and conquered Mecca. The Prophet (SAW) , after about two weeks in Mecca, mobilized his own forces (about 12,000 men) against Hawazin, who waited in anticipation of the Muslims. While Hawazin initially had a slight upperhand against the Muslims and forced them to retreat slightly, the Prophet (SAW) and Khalid ibn al-Walid soon rallied the Muslims into a complete victory against them. Only a few Muslims died in this battled compared to the devastating loss of Hawazin, which included over 6,000 taken captive and 24,000 camels captured. This battle would further ensure Muslim dominance of the area.5

The battle, as described in the Qur’an (9:25-26):

/ لَقَدْ نَصَرَكُمُ ٱللَّهُ فِي مَوَاطِنَ كَثِيرَةٍ وَيَوْمَ حُنَيْنٍ إِذْ أَعْجَبَتْكُمْ كَثْرَتُكُمْ فَلَمْ تُغْنِ عَنكُمْ شَيْئاً وَضَاقَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ ٱلأَرْضُ بِمَا رَحُبَتْ ثُمَّ وَلَّيْتُم مُّدْبِرِينَ

ثُمَّ أَنَزلَ ٱللَّهُ سَكِينَتَهُ عَلَىٰ رَسُولِهِ وَعَلَى ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَأَنزَلَ جُنُوداً لَّمْ تَرَوْهَا وَعذَّبَ ٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ وَذٰلِكَ جَزَآءُ ٱلْكَافِرِينَ

Assuredly Allah did help you in many battle-fields and on the day of Hunain: Behold! your great numbers elated you, but they availed you naught: the land, for all that it is wide, did constrain you, and ye turned back in retreat. / Then Allah sent His peace of reassurance down upon His messenger and upon the believers, and sent down hosts ye could not see, and punished those who disbelieved. Such is the reward of disbelievers.”

islamiclaw5Then, in 630 AD, the Byzantines also thought it necessary to attempt to suspend the growing Muslim population and power for fear of them becoming too strong to overcome, and set out to take over Arabia. At the time, the Muslims had never even dreamed of battling the Byzantine Empire, one of the superpowers of that era. Though Muhammad’s (SAW) army of 30,000 was larger than previous Muslim armies, it was still far too small to compete against the Byzantine’s hundreds of thousands, plus its many allies. When news reached Muhammad (SAW) that the Byzantines were convening in the north to raise an attack on the Muslims, he decided it was a pressing issue and, in the midst of a famine, gathered his followers for an expedition to Syria. Many hypocrites who were too concerned with the heat and did not have enough faith to fight for Allah (SWT) backed out. The Qur’anic verse (9:81) says:

فَرِحَ ٱلْمُخَلَّفُونَ بِمَقْعَدِهِمْ خِلاَفَ رَسُولِ ٱللَّهِ وَكَرِهُوۤاْ أَن يُجَاهِدُواْ بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَأَنْفُسِهِمْ فِي سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ وَقَالُواْ لاَ تَنفِرُواْ فِي ٱلْحَرِّ قُلْ نَارُ جَهَنَّمَ أَشَدُّ حَرّاً لَّوْ كَانُوا يَفْقَهُونَ

O Rasool, those hypocrites who did not accompany you in the expedition are delighted that they did not obey the Rasool’s orders. They were averse to striving in the cause of Allah Almighty with their possessions and their lives. They themselves stayed away and also asked others not to go in the hot weather. Say to them O Rasool that the fire of Hell is more severe in heat if they could only understand.

The true believers arrived in the city of Tabuk in northern Arabia ready to fight – but there was no one there. Learning that the Muslims were marching toward them, the Byzantine army retreated from the bordering cities and fled the scene. Seeing this, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) gave the command for the return march; their objective had been achieved, so he didn’t want to further the hostility and advancing more would be unnecessary. Never in the history of mankind had a battle shed so little blood yet achieved such an extraordinary triumph. News of the remarkable feat traveled in every direction and catapulted the Muslims’ military reputation. This, combined with the conquest of Mecca, solidifed the Muslims’ position and ensured the spread and continuation of Islam in the coming centuries. is covering the entire history of the Islamic Empire in the 30 days of Ramadan 2009! Click here to see the entire series.

1 4Kalami, Mohammad Hashim. Shari’ah Law: An Introduction. Oxford, England: Oneworld books, 2008.
3 The Cambridge History of Islam (1977), p. 39
5 Lammens, H. “Ḥunayn.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2009. Brill Online. University of Texas at Austin. 24 August 2009 <>