Agricultural in nature
Though Mohammed would be gainfully employed in migrating to Yathrib (Medina), as in any immigration situation, the issue of economic absorption would rise here. At the time (CE 622), the main source of economic dependence in Medina was agricultural in nature. This was in stark contrast to the commercial dependency in Mecca. In Medina, the cultivation of dates was the main source of support. 8 One could speculate with a small dose of common sense that these preciously ‘metropolitan’ immigrants from Mecca would most likely not be agriculturally skilled. This begs the question: ‘How did immigrants from Mecca intend to create livelihoods in Medina?’ Speculation abounds, but the most relevant theory is that “perhaps they were needed for employment outside of it (Medina – clarification added) that is Bedouin police.”
This theory would most certainly lend itself to the idea of recruitment, as this position would put Mohammed and his followers in the unique context of protecting the Medinese, and establishing diplomatic relationships with outside tribes. Though the Muslims would have ended up in a position to protect the Medinese, they would also have ample opportunity to interact with the threatening tribes. It would have given them opportunity to discover and analyze what made these tribes tick, and how to effectively play both sides of the fence. These patrols provided the Medinese with a previously unfelt sense of safety. It was during this time that Mohammed was able to construct treaties with the clans of Al-Damra and Al-Mudlij of the Banu Bakr tribe, which would prove to be paramount in an upcoming victory.
As Mohammed worked on gaining power and influence in Medina by converting influential members of the Medinese society, he was also leading raids on Meccan caravans along the trade routes. It is possible, perhaps even probable that he was trying to gain control of these routes to turn Medina into the center of commerce and to simultaneously get revenge upon the Meccan community, which had so clearly rejected both him and his message.
With promises of gaining booty through plunder, Mohammed grouped his Muhajarin (Holy Warriors already on the “straight path” of Islam) with a group of native Medinese who supported The Prophet (the Ansar). Being familiar with the mindset of the Ansar, Mohammed was able to use the promise of booty to persuade them to take part in an attack on a Meccan Caravan returning from Syria. Though the Ansar had only sworn to defend the Muslims in an attack on Medina, the temptation of glory and booty clearly defined their interests and motivations. This group set out primarily to take part in the spoils of victory. In spite of the motivation of the Ansar, this pairing would prove to be a colossal step toward the first victory of Islam.
The Battle of Badr (CE 623) proved to be both the first victory for Islam, and a testament to the effects of sly diplomacy and recruiting skills between Mohammed and various tribes. Initially, this was not planned as a battle. The purpose was simply to gain booty through the plundering of this Meccan caravan returning from Syria. For obvious reasons, there was existing animosity between the Meccans and the Muslims.
The Meccans had refused to accept Islam, and in the process personally rejected Mohammed. To add insult to injury, the Muslims were forced into exile by the Meccans. If one was on the receiving end of such persecution, of course it would only make sense for the persecutors (the Meccans in this case) to be the first target. The justifications for this raid were obviously different for all parties involved. The Muhajarin obviously saw this as a chance to punish the infidels (ones who did not accept Islam), the Ansar obviously saw this as a chance to make a quick buck (or dinar as it were), and Mohammed could very well have seen this as a chance to avenge the shame of his having been rejected by his own community.
The Meccans, having caught wind of this plan, promptly called in reinforcements. When the caravan was thought safe, some of these reinforcements returned to Mecca. Mohammed, his followers and the Ansar plugged on to Badr, where they hoped to perform the raid. It was here that another example of the diplomacy and recruiting skills of The Prophet reared their heads in the form of his alliance with the Banu Bakr tribe. The alliance that The Prophet had cultivated with them served him well. Whilst the Meccan reinforcements prepared themselves for battle, they were attacked from the rear by the Banu Bakr. This began the victorious note of the battle in favor of the Muslims. Ultimately the Muslims prevailed, despite being seriously outnumbered – which gives way to the theory of ‘divine will’.
Of course, there are other points of view as far as what the factors of this victory were. One theory in particular is far more ethereal in nature. Some say, “an unseen army of angels aided the Muslim Army.” 10 Additionally, at the time of the battle, Mohammed promised that the “holy warriors will be rewarded in this life with victory and the spoils of war. Those who fell will be rewarded with eternal life as martyrs (shahid, witness) for the faith.” While this is all well and good, and serves a purpose for the faithful, it is not a tangible reason for the Muslims to have been victorious at this particular battle. To see the reasons objectively, one must consider the motivations of the leader of this movement called Islam. 11 It is once again a testament to the skills of The Prophet that he was able to gauge possible fears and apprehensions, and address them before they became a problem, rallying his troops into a frenzy with both the idea of becoming rich and victorious in either a material or spiritual fashion no matter what the outcome.
Is it possible that the man who was considered the Prophet was simply a man with capitalistic tendencies, or a taste for vengeance against the ‘infidels’, who simply knew how to motivate the masses to get what he wanted? It was known that Mohammed was a very successful businessman. Given his upbringing, and experience with the caravan routes, and his encounters and family alliances with peripheral tribes, one could rightly speculate that he was familiar with the psyche of the tribesman. Is it reasonable then to assume that promises of wealth through victory, or glory through death – both of which tribesmen were unlikely to achieve outside of the message of Islam – were simply tools in a mass manipulation?
Regardless of the questions that arise in considering this theory of ‘divine will’, it must be discounted as a plausible possibility insofar as it is not the root of the success of this campaign. Ultimately Mohammed promised these ‘warriors’ that they would get what they wanted provided that he got what he wanted. On the off-chance that one would like to give credibility to this theory, it would still not explain away or discount all of the simply human diplomatic work and outstanding recruiting that was done by The Prophet to forge these successful tribal alliances.
There are many examples that defy the theory of ‘divine will’ or theories of fighting solely out of commitment to the message of Islam, without hope of material gain. By the time Mohammed took over Mecca for example, a great number of his armies were dependent on war and pillaging to make a living. The subsequent plunder of a city called Hunayn is a perfect example. As usual, the conquered city was required to turn over all of its’ belongings to The Prophet.
He then turned around and essentially ‘bribed’ his allies in Mecca and his Bedouin allies as well with the spoils of this victory. This action was specifically intended to maintain and ensure their loyalties to him, and essentially to Islam. If tribal alliances with him were motivated simply by faith in Islam, or people were devoted only to the faith and not to their own pocketbooks, then these ‘bribes’ would never have been necessary. The mere act of this bribery indicates that initial converts to Islam were simply motivated by material gain, and their own survival. As Mohammed continued to gain control throughout the Hijaz, many tribes began to give in to Islam.
This action was by no means divinely inspired or motivated. As it turns out, the Muslims were gaining control over cities that were agricultural, and were depended upon by the Bedouin tribes of the Hijaz for sustenance. These cities provided them with rice and flour, among other things, and to stand against Islam would mean little or no access to these resources, and of course, eventually they would have perished without them. The reasons for many Bedouin tribes joining the folds of Islam were purely economic in nature, as opposed to an innate or blind devotion to Islam.
The theory has been proposed that the early Muslim armies attained victory largely because of superior mobility. “He begins his argument by considering the inherent need for mounts – horses and camels. From his study of relevant sources, he concludes horses were in short supply among the early Muslim Armies. Riding camels, however, were more abundant, and so were used to deploy troops to objective areas […] they retained the ability to […] mass rapidly. They were easily able to cut lines of communication, isolate towns or forts and raid encampments.”
This theory may hold some weight as far as an explanation for the advantage the armies as far as physical advancement is concerned. Even so, we must revisit the traits of the tribes that Mohammed recruited. Whilst Mohammed was spreading his scope of power with the local inhabitants of Medina, he was also busy forging alliances with and recruiting tribes in the peripheral areas, particularly in the northwestern region of the peninsula known as the Hijaz. These tribes were well trained in the caravan trade as the Quraysh tribe had been. Due to their superior navigational and survival skills, they often led the caravans.
These tribes knew the wilderness better than anyone and were best suited for this task. Their use of camels, as well as their superior navigational skills were qualities these tribes possessed when Mohammed recruited them. It was these attributes that gave the Muslim armies the advantages mentioned, which applies to the theory of superior mobility. Though this theory works, it was ultimately Mohammed’s having recruited them that brought this advantage to the Muslim armies.
In closing, The following statements seem to sum up the idea that the early expansion of Islam was not due solely to any kind of superior mobility, or some mass form of divine inspiration, but the results of a politically and socially adept leader, who both used his skills to advance his own ideas, and gain enormous amounts of power.
“Mohammed’s career was remarkable not only for his religious teachings, bu also for his highly successful pursuit of political power. Three main themes can be discerned in Mohammed’s rise to power [……..}. The third theme in Mohammed’s consolidation was the course of his relations with the nomadic groups [……..}.[……}At the outset, he had little if any effective support from nomadic groups, but by the time of the conquest of Mecca, he was backed by contingents from several nomadic tribes of the Hijaz. As he entered the last years of his career, nomadic groups increasingly found that they had to come to terms with the Islamic State [……]. Mohammed …showed himself as adept at using the promise of material gain, or the granting of gifts outright, in order to bolster the allegiance of important individuals”.