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See: Project Rebuttal: What the West needs to know about Islam

Refuting the gross distortion and misrepresentation of the Quran, the Prophet Muhammad and Islam, made by the critics of Islam

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May 19th, 2012

Issue 54

Issue 54 [@1:00:47]: Slide projected with voice – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol. 4, Bk. 52, Hadith 269 – The Prophet said, “War is deceit.”

Rebuttal 54: Once again there is an out of context quote of a Hadith in the documentary to frame its distorted and maligned agenda. Why stop at one Hadith, below are three from the preferred translator of the documentary, Muhammad Muhsin Khan:

Volume 4, Book 52, Number 267: Narrated Abu Huraira:

The Prophet said, “Khosrau will be ruined, and there will be no Khosrau after him, and Caesar will surely be ruined and there will be no Caesar after him, and you will spend their treasures in Allah’s Cause.” He called, “War is deceit’.

Volume 4, Book 52, Number 268: Narrated Abu Huraira:

Allah’s Apostle called,: “War is deceit.”

Volume 4, Book 52, Number 269: Narrated Jabir bin ‘Abdullah:

The Prophet said, “War is deceit.”

This is a classical case of ‘lost in translation’, both when translating and when reading the Hadith. We find the full context of the phrase “War is deceit” in the first Hadith above. What the Prophet is telling us is that – war is a deceit for the warmongers, namely the Khosrau of Persians and Caesar of Romans. Their power intoxication will deceive them into a loss against the apparent minnows of Arabia, to which history bears witness. The more appropriate translation would had been “War is a deceit”.

War strategy is based upon tactics. It would be utter imbecility to call a legitimate war tactic as deceit, rather than out-maneuvering and out-classing the enemy. By its very definition, there are no deceits in battlefields, there cannot be because there are no innocent, unaware or unsuspecting parties. In war, each party has to be fully cognizant of any strategy that may unfold against it by the enemy, else it would be labeled as incompetent. Deceit only happens in negotiations and peacetime, when the opposing party is lied to and an underhanded tactic is employed against an unsuspecting party or a previous treaty, contract or oath is breached. Quran vociferously admonishes against deceit:

16:92. And do not be like her who unravels her yarn, disintegrating it into pieces, after she has spun it strongly. You make your oaths to be means of deceit between you because (one) nation is more numerous than (another) nation…

16:94-96. And do not make your oaths a means of deceit between you, so that a foot should slip after its stability, and you should taste evil because you hinder (people) from Allah’s way and severe punishment be your (lot). And do not take a small price for Allah’s covenant. Surely what is with Allah is better for you, if only you knew! What is with you passes away and what is with Allah is enduring…

3:75-77. And among the People of the Book is he who, if you entrust him with a heap of wealth, would pay it back to you; and among them is he who, if you entrust him with a dinar, would not pay it back to you, unless you kept on demanding it. This is because they say there is no blame on us in the matter of the unlearned people and they forge a lie against Allah while they know.

[Footnote] They considered themselves free from all responsibility towards the Arabs, despite any agreement they might have made with them. They are, however, told that God never allowed dishonesty against any people.

No, whoever fulfils his promise and keeps his duty — then Allah surely loves the dutiful. Those who take a small price for the covenant of Allah and their own oaths — they have no portion in the Hereafter, and Allah will not speak to them, nor will He look upon them on the day of Resurrection, nor will He purify them, and for them is a painful punishment.

The above verses of Quran were practically affirmed by another Hadith, which confirms honesty and truthfulness in treaties with enemies rather than deceit:

Volume 4, Book 53, Number 391: Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr:

The Prophet said, “Whoever killed a person having a treaty with the Muslims, shall not smell the smell of Paradise though its smell is perceived from a distance of forty years.”

In Quran, peace has to be preferred over war even at risk of deceit by the enemy:

8:61-62. And if they incline to peace, you (must) incline to it also, and trust in Allah. Surely He is the Hearer, the Knower. And if they intend to deceive you, then surely Allah is sufficient for you…

[Footnote] The deceit is in relation to what has been said in the previous verse [8:61], the meaning being that if they intend to deceive you under the cloak of peace, even in such a case peace is to be accepted.

Even if “War is deceit” is taken out of context, it still holds the fundamental moral message of the Prophet that War is a deceit for the warmonger for the mere fact that the instigator with all his ‘shock and awe’ can only initiate a war, but its end can be deceitful to the original ambitions. Ask the Americans, they will tell you that Vietnam war was a deception to themselves from themselves, both for the Pentagon war planners as well the common citizen who was drafted. Similarly, Afghanistan turned out to be a deceit for the power intoxicated Soviets before and NATO now.

The Hadith quoted by the documentary is more accurately as “War is a Stratagem” and draws its beginnings in Battle of the Ditch (or Trench, aka Battle of Allies). The following is an excerpt from the book by Lt. Gen. A. I. Akram “Sword of Allah”, chapter 4 Battle of the Ditch (p. 20 of the full pdf). The author of the book has drawn from Waqidi, and Ibn-Hisham, beside Ibn Qutaiba and Ibn Sad, some of whom are are known for historical exaggerations, but the composite picture proves the point of the said Hadith:

On Monday, February 24, 627 (the 1st of Shawal, 5 Hijri), the Allies, converging from their separate tribal regions, arrived near Madinah and established their camps. The Quraish camped in the area of the stream junction south of the wood, west of Mount Uhud, where they had camped for the Battle of Uhud. The Ghatfan and other tribes camped at Zanab Naqnia, about 2 miles east of Mount Uhud. Having established their camps, the Allies advanced on Madinah.

Hardly had the concentration of the Allies begun when agents brought word of it to Madinah. As more and more tribal contingents gathered, the reports became increasingly alarming. Finally the Prophet received the information that 10,000 warriors bent on destroying the Muslims were marching on Madinah. There was alarm and despondency among the Muslims as this unpleasant intelligence was received. The Muslims had, of course, always been numerically inferior to their enemies. The ratio of relative strengths at Badr and Uhud had been one to three and one to four respectively, and although the number of Muslims at Madinah had now increased to 3,000 able bodied men, many hundreds among them were Hypocrites on whom no reliance could be placed. And 10,000 seemed a terribly large figure. Never before in the history of the Hijaz had such a vast army assembled for battle.

Then came light in the form of a suggestion by Salman the Persian. He explained that when the Persian army had to fight a defensive battle against superior odds, it would dig a ditch, too wide and too deep to cross, in the way of the enemy. To the Arabs this was an unfamiliar method of warfare, but they saw its virtue and the proposal was accepted.

The Prophet ordered the digging of the ditch. Many of the Arabs who could not comprehend such tactics seemed unwilling to get down to the arduous labour of digging, and the Hypocrites as usual went about dissuading the people from taking all this trouble. But the Prophet got down to digging with his own hands, and after this no self?respecting Muslim could keep away from the task. The ditch was sited and its entire length divided among the Muslims at the scale of 40 cubits per group of 10 men.

To guard against surprise, the ditch was lightly covered along its entire length by 200 men, most of whom were placed as pickets on the hills commanding the ditch. A mobile force of 500 men was employed to patrol the various settlements of Madinah and deal with any infiltrators who might enter unseen, and also give some protection to areas not covered by the ditch. (Madinah was not then a city as it is now but consisted of a group of settlements and forts. The center of Madinah, physical and spiritual, was the Prophet’s Mosque.) The women and children were placed in forts and houses away from the main front, which faced north and north-west.

The winter that was now passing had been a severe one. It was also to prove a long winter.

When the Quraish saw the ditch they were first dismayed and then moved to indignation. They had come in such strength that victory had seemed certain. Abu Sufyan had joyfully expected to fight a victorious battle, and now here was this blessed ditch in the way! “By Allah!” Abu Sufyan exploded. “Such stratagems are not the way of the Arab!”

However, the Allies moved up their camp, deployed along the ditch on the north and north?west, and settled down to a siege that was to last 23 days. By day the Allies would come up to the ditch which the Muslims covered lightly from the home side. There would be an exchange of archery which would go on for most of the day, and for the night the Allies would return to their camp. Mostly by day and sometimes by night, Allied patrols would move up and down the ditch trying to find a place at which a crossing could be attempted.

For 10 days the siege continued with no decision and no let up on either side. The morale of both sides came under considerable strain, but tended to harden rather than weaken. The Muslims began to feel the pangs of hunger. There were no large stocks of food in Madinah, and the Muslims were now on half rations. The Hypocrites became louder and more open in their criticism of the Prophet. While the ditch was being dug, the Prophet had promised the Muslims that within a few years they would destroy the might of Rome and Persia and possess themselves of the wealth of those empires. The Hypocrites now began to say, “Muhammad promises us the treasures of Caesar and Chosroes, but he cannot get us out of this simple predicament!” The true Believers, however, remained firm and steadfast, and their faith in their leader remained unshaken.

The situation gradually worsened for the Allies too, so that discontent raised its head in their ranks. The Arabs were not used to long sieges and preferred a quick, lively battle to this form of warfare. The weather had remained unpleasant and began to cause a good deal of distress among the Allies. Food also ran short, as Abu Sufyan had made no arrangements for provisions to tide them over such a long period of time. But since the Allies were not themselves under siege some measures were hastily taken to gather provisions from outlying areas. The men began to grumble and Abu Sufyan had to think hard to find some way out of this impasse. Finally, he consulted Huyaiy the Jew [-chief of previously deported Jewish tribe of Banu Nadir/Nazir, which was exiled out of Medina after the Battle of Uhad to the Jewish settlement of Khaibar located at about 90 miles north of Medina], and between them they hit upon a new plan which showed every promise of success.

On the night of Friday, March 7, Huyaiy stole into the settlement of the Bani Quraizah. He knocked at the door of their leader, Kab bin Asad; but the latter, guessing that Huyaiy had come as a Jew and probably intended to incite his fellow Jews against the Prophet, refused to see him. After some wrangling, however, Huyaiy was allowed in, and he gently and cleverly began to work on Kab, pressing him to join the Allies in the war against the Muslims. At first Kab refused. “Muhammad has kept his pact with us, and we have no reason to complain”, he said. “In any case you have no certainty of victory. If we join you and the campaign fails, your idol-worshipers will go back in peace to their homes and we will have to bear the brunt of the wrath of Muhammad.” But the visitor continued to press, now threatening, now tempting, now begging, and eventually got Kab to agree to a pact with the Allies. According to the terms of this pact there would be a simultaneous attack by the Allies and the Bani Quraizah. These Jews had their settlement and their forts two miles south-east of Madinah, and they would attack from this direction and draw some of the Muslims away from the ditch while the Allies attacked frontally. In case the attack failed, the Allies would leave a strong garrison in the Jewish forts to defend the Jews against the Muslims who were bound to turn against them in revenge. The Bani Quraizah asked for 10 days to prepare themselves before the attack was begun, during which period the Allies could continue minor operations from the north.

Thus the last of the Jews of Madinah, following in the footsteps of their coreligionists, broke their pact with the Muslims.

It was not long before the Prophet came to know about this pact. He got the intelligence through one of his agents who entered the camp of the Allies one night and unknown to them, overheard certain conversations. Then rumours of the pact also spread, and the report was ultimately confirmed by the incident of ‘Safiyyah and the Jew’.

Safiyyah was an aunt of the Prophet, and along with other women and children had moved to a small fort in the south-eastern part of Madinah. Present in the fort was Hassaan the Poet, and he was the only man there! One day Safiyyah, looking down from the fort, saw a fully armed Jew moving stealthily beneath the wall as if seeking a way around the fort. Safiyyah at once concluded that he was a scout of the Bani Quraizah who had been sent to reconnoitre a route which the Jews might take in their attack. This Jew would act as a guide, leading his tribe into the unprotected rear of the Muslims.

Safiyyah picked up a club, tied a waist-band around her waist and went down to meet the Jew. The brave lady killed the Jew. Leaving him lying with a crushed skull in a pool of blood.

When the news of this incident reached the Muslims, there was no doubt left in their minds about the treachery of the Bani Quraizah. The situation now became more tense, and the Hypocrites became more outspoken. From half rations the Muslims came down to quarter rations. (Later it was to become no rations!) Their resolution was still unshaken; but if the siege continued very much longer, sheer starvation would force the Muslims to submit. And the Muslims could find no direct military solution to the problem.

The Prophet now decided to use diplomacy to achieve results which were not attainable by force of arms. He started secret negotiations with Uyaina, the commander of the Ghatfan contingent. (Uyaina was a brave and simple soul. A one?eyed man possessing more brawn than brain, he was to earn from the Prophet the nickname of ‘the willing fool’). The aim of the negotiations was to create a rift between the two major Allies, the Ghatfan and the Quraish-by drawing the Ghatfan away from the siege. If this were achieved, other tribes might also pull away from the Quraish; but even if they did not, the absence of the powerful Ghatfan contingent of 2,000 warriors would reduce the Allied strength to manageable proportions, where after military action could be taken to drive the Allies away from Madinah.

“If the Ghatfan secede from the alliance and return to their homes, they shall be given one?third of the date produce of Madinah”, were the terms offered by the Prophet. This offer was accepted by Uyaina who had by now lost all hope of military victory. The pact was drawn up, but before it could be signed and sealed (without which it would not be binding), the Prophet decided to mention the matter to some of the Muslim leaders. These Muslims protested vehemently. “Dates!” they exclaimed. “Let the infidels get nothing from us but the sword!” This disagreement with the Prophet was so general and so strong that he decided to submit to the wishes of the Muslims, and the negotiations were dropped.

These stout hearted Believers could not understand the seriousness of the military situation or the intricacies of diplomacy as well as the Prophet did. He knew that the only solution to the problem lay in breaking the siege by diplomatic manoeuvre, and he now began to look about for another opening. Soon an opening presented itself. Among the Ghatfan was a man by the name of Nuaim bin Masud who had become a Muslim but had kept his conversion a secret. A prominent figure in the region, he was well known to all the three major partners in the alliance-the Quraish, the Ghatfan and the Jews of Bani Quraizah. He was also a very capable man.

Nuaim left the Ghatfan camp one night and slipped into Madinah. He came to the Prophet, explained his position and expressed his desire to be of service to the Muslims. “Send me where you will”, he said. This was just the opportunity for which the Prophet had prayed. In a conference with Nuaim the Prophet went over the entire situation and laid down the course of action which Nuaim was to take.

The same night Nuaim stole into the settlement of the Bani Quraizah and visited Kab. He outlined the dangers of the situation as they applied to the Jews. “Your situation is not like the situation of the Quraish and the Ghatfan”, he explained. “You have your families and your homes here, while their homes and families are at a safe distance from Madinah. They have no great stake in this battle. If they do not succeed in defeating Muhammad, they will return to their homes and leave you to face the wrath of the Muslims. You must take no action in collaboration with them unless they give you hostages from their best families. Thus you will have an assurance of their good faith.”

Nuaim next went to the Quraish and spoke to Abu Sufyan, who knew him well and had respect for his judgement. “You have made a pact”, he said, “with a people who are treacherous and unreliable. I have come to know through friends in Madinah that the Bani Quraizah have repented and entered into a fresh pact with Muhammad. To prove their loyalty to Muhammad, they are going to ask you for hostages from your best families, whom they will promptly hand over to Muhammad, who will put them to death. The Jews will then openly come out as allies of the Muslims and both will make a joint attack against us. On no account must you give hostages to the Jews!”

He then went to the Ghatfan where he painted the same picture. By the time Nuaim had finished, the seeds of doubt and discord had been firmly planted in the minds of the Allies.

The uncertainty began to tell on Abu Sufyan, who had relied unquestioningly on the alliance with the Jews. He decided to hasten the course of battle and put the intentions of the Jews to test. During the night of Friday, March 14, following the visit of Nuaim, he sent a delegation headed by Ikrimah to the Bani Quraizah. “This is a terrible situation”, explained Ikrimah. “This cannot be allowed to continue any longer. We attack tomorrow. You have a pact with us against Muhammad. You must join in the attack from the direction of your settlement.”

The Jews hummed and hawed for a while and then came out with their terms. “Our position is more delicate than yours. If you have no success you may abandon us, and then we will be left alone to face the wrath of Muhammad. To make sure that this does not happen, you must give us hostages from your best families who will stay with us until the battle has been fought to a satisfactory conclusion. Anyway, tomorrow is Saturday and Jews are forbidden to fight on the Sabbath. Those who break the Sabbath are turned by Allah into pigs and monkeys.” Ikrimah returned empty?handed. Abu Sufyan then decided to make one more attempt at persuading the Jews to join battle on the morrow, and sent another delegation to Kab; but the stand of the two sides remained the same:

Quraish: No hostages; fight tomorrow!

Jews: No fighting on the Sabbath; anyway, hostages first!

All three groups now said, “Nuaim was right. How wise he was in his advice to us!” Nuaim had done his work well. The Bani Quraizah had been neatly detached from the alliance.

Then on Tuesday night, March 18, the area of Madinah was struck by a storm. Cold winds lashed at the Allied camp and howled across the valley. The temperature dropped sharply. The Allied camp was more exposed than the Muslim camp and the storm appeared to strike the Allies with a vengeance. It put out fires, knocked down cooking pots, carried away tents. The Allies sat huddled under their blankets and cloaks as the storm raged around them, waiting for an end that would not come.

Abu Sufyan could take no more. He leapt to his feet, and raising his voice against the storm, shouted to his men: “This is no proper abode for us. Men and animals have suffered grievously from exposure. The Bani Quraizah have turned out to be pigs and monkeys and have betrayed us in our hour of need. The storm has ravaged our camp, put out our fires, knocked down our tents. Let us return to Makkah. Lo, I am one who goes!”

Having made this last speech, Abu Sufyan jumped on to his camel and rode out with his men, hoping to get away from the pitiless storm. But the demons of the storm were to pursue him the whole night. The Ghatfan now came to know of the movement of the Quraish and so did the other tribes. Without further delay they mounted their camels and departed for their settlements and pastures. In the rear of the Quraish army rode Khalid and Amr bin Al Aas with their cavalry squadrons acting as a rear guard in case the Muslims should come out of Madinah and attempted to interfere with the Quraish movement. It was a bitter and disillusioned Abu Sufyan who led his army back to Makkah. The burden of failure lay heavy on his heart.

The next morning the Muslims found the Allies gone, and returned to their homes. This was the last attempt by the Quraish to crush the Muslims; henceforth they would remain on the defensive.

The Battle of the Ditch was over. Each side had lost four men. It was a victory for the Muslims in that they achieved their aim of defending themselves and their homes against the Allies, while the Allies failed in their attempt to crush the Muslims. In fact the Allies failed to do any damage at all. The siege had lasted 23 days and had imposed a terrible strain on both sides. It had been ended by the storm, but the storm was not the cause of the raising of the siege. It was the last straw. Strictly speaking, this operation was a siege and a confrontation rather than a battle, for the two armies never actually came to grips.

This was the first instance in Muslim history of the use of politics and diplomacy in war, and it shows the interplay of politics and arms in the achievement of the national aim. The use of armed force is one aspect of war-a violent and destructive aspect-to be used only when political measures fail to achieve the aims of the State. When a shooting war becomes inevitable, politics, with diplomacy as its principle instrument, prepares the ground for the use of armed force. It sets the stage, weakens the enemy, and reduces his strength to a state where armed force can be employed against him with the maximum prospect of success.

And this is just what the Prophet did. He used the instrument of diplomacy to split and weaken the enemy, not only in numbers but also in spirit. Most of the Muslims could not understand this, but they were learning from their leader. The Prophet’s words, “War is stratagem”, were to be remembered and frequently quoted in later Muslim campaigns.


Fazlul Bari – Urdu Translation of Sahih Bukhari – Muhammad Ali, hadith # 3027, 3028, footnote 2.

Translation of Sahih Bukhari – Muhsin Khan

Hadith numbers mapped between – Muhammad Muhsin Khan and Muhammad Ali

Holy Quran – Muhammad Ali, edited by Zahid Aziz

The Sword of Allah: Khalid bin Al-Waleed, His Life and Campaigns – A. I. Akram (pdf)

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