The Treatment of the Captives

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How were badr prisoners treated? How were the badr prisoners released? Treatment of prisoners of war in islam.

Upon his return to Medina following a three day stay at Badr, the Noble Messenger -upon him blessings and peace- discussed, with the Companions, and above all with Abu Bakr, Omar and Ali -Allah be well-pleased with them-, what the most appropriate approach of dealing with the captives would be. Abu Bakr -Allah be well-pleased with him- was the first to share his opinion.

“These are our relatives and our kin, Messenger of Allah. So I suggest we should exact ransom of them and set them free. What we receive from them will be a means of adding strength to us in our struggle against the nonbelievers. And, Allah willing, they too will perhaps be guided and wind up assisting us.”

“What is your opinion, son of Khattab?” the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- then asked Omar -Allah be well-pleased with him-.

“No way, Messenger of Allah…I am in no way of the same opinion as Abu Bakr. Allow us to sever their heads. Allow me and I will personally finish off so and so from among my relatives. Allow Ali to finish off his brother Aqil and allow Hamza to finish off his brother Abbas…until Allah brings it entirely into light that there is not a trace of weakness and vulnerability in our hearts for the idolaters! These captives are the leaders of idolatry and oppression!”

As he carried the hope that they would eventually be guided and anticipated the issuing forth, through them, of generations who would worship Allah only, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- inclined towards the opinion of Abu Bakr  -Allah be well-pleased with him-. (Muslim, Jihad, 58; Tirmidhi, Siyar, 18/1567; Ahmad, I, 30-31, 383-384; Waqidi, I, 107; Ibn Saad, II, 22)

Consequent upon these discussions, the captives were set free in return for a certain amount of ransom. Those unable to pay were let go regardless, free of charge. But each of those, among them, who could read and write were made to pass on their knowledge to ten kids in Medina. Only then were they to be considered as having imbursed their ransom. Zayd ibn Thabit, the future scribe of the Quran who later was to end up being entrusted with the task of gathering the Quran, was among the children who learnt how to read and write from the captives. (Ahmad, I, 247; Waqidi, I, 129; Ibn Sad, II, 22)

Allah, glory unto Him, declared, with regard to the captives and the ransom exacted from them:

“It is not for any prophet to have captives until he has thoroughly subdued (the enemy) in the land. Ye desire the lure of this world and Allah desires (for you) the Hereafter, and Allah is Mighty, Wise. Had it not been for an ordinance of Allah which had gone before, an awful doom had come upon you on account of what you took. Now enjoy what you have won, as lawful and good, and keep your duty to Allah. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (al-Anfal, 67-69)

Omar -Allah be well-pleased with him- recounts:

“When I went next to the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- in the morning, I found him sitting with Abu Bakr. They were both shedding tears. ‘What makes you and your friend cry, Messenger of Allah?’ I asked him. ‘Tell me, so I can either join you, if I am able to identify with what it is you’re crying over. If not, I can at least try to join you!’

‘What am I to do know over the ransom these friends of yours received from these captives? I was shown that the punishment awaiting them is closer than that tree over there’, said the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- . (Ahmad, I, 31; Muslim, Jihad, 58)

Allah, glory unto Him, was not pleased with the detaining and releasing of captives in return for ransom, given the enemy had not yet been decisively dealt with, and Islam had not yet attained the might it was destined for and before fitnah (mischief) had entirely been wiped out. He therefore issued a warning against the Believers. Accepting ransom carries the furthermore baggage of worldly desire, whereas the Almighty was willing the Muslims to take into consideration the Hereafter. Taking captives from the enemies of Truth before they had been overwhelmed could have jeopardized the happiness of Muslims.

As there is no accrued liability in an error of legal opinion (ijtihad), coupled with the guarantee that the participants of the Battle Badr would not be subject to Divine punishment, reinforced all the more with the fact that there is no punishment for a deed that has not explicitly been prohibited from beforehand, the Almighty pardoned the Believers and declared permissible the ransom they had seized.

Allah, glory unto Him, has ordered that captives and slaves be treated with honor and kindness.[1] The Prophet of Mercy -upon him blessings and peace- has also many ahadith in regard. Indeed, his last words before his passing away, reportedly, were:

“Be attentive to salat and salat especially…And fear Allah for those under your care.” (Abu Dawud, Adab, 123-124/5156; Ibn Maja, Wasaya, 1)

Marur ibn Suwayd explains:

“I once saw Abu Dharr -Allah be well-pleased with him- wearing precious clothes. His servant was also wearing the same clothes. I asked Abu Dharr of the reason. In reply, he told me that in the time of the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- he had once cursed someone regarding the person’s mother and he was in turn admonished by the Prophet of Allah, who said, ‘It seems you still carry traces of the customs of Ignorance. They are your servants and at the same time your brothers. Allah has entrusted them in your care. Given you have a brother under your care, feed him what you feed yourself and clothe him in what you clothe yourself. Do not burden him with more than he can handle; and if you do, help him!” (Bukhari, Itq, 15; Muslim, Ayman, 40)

An evocative testimony is offered by Abu Aziz, brother of Musab ibn Umayr -Allah be well-pleased with him-:

“I too had fallen prisoner in the aftermath of the Battle of Badr and was handed to a group of Ansar. The Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- command to treat the prisoners well was made known to everyone but the pains taken by the Ansar was something out of the ordinary. Day and night, they would give their share of bread to me, making do themselves with mere dates. Embarrassed, I would hand the bread back to one of them, only to have it returned to me, without anyone of them laying a hand on it.” (Haythami, VI, 86; Ibn Hisham, II, 288)

Such magnanimity by the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- and his Companions, at a time when oppression and injustice ran rife, provides an exemplary pattern for entire mankind until the Final Hour. Approaching people with supreme and genuine goodness, the Prophet of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- would simply let his overall conduct (hal) do the talking in calling them to the path of Truth; and only after warming their hearts, would he begin to verbally explain Islam. Moved by a compassionate approach of the kind, many of the Badr captives in fact ended up accepting Islam.

Not only does Islam not advocate the institution of slavery[2], it also does not promote it. That said, Islam saw the practice as an entrenched social reality; and considering its sudden abolishment would cause mayhem in the social balance, it did not entirely overrule it all at once. But to prevent possible abuse and exploitation, it did regulate slavery, by virtue of binding it to certain principles, thereby perfecting the law of slavery, as best as could be.

Since war is an existing actuality among nations that seemingly will not subside until the Final Hour, the need for laws protecting those who have lost their freedom as a consequence of it will always remain. Therefore, instead of abolishing it, which would have entirely overlooked the aforementioned matter of fact, Islam considered greater benefit in instating protective principles and regulating the law of slavery.

Through the principles it implements, Islam brings the slave and the master closer to each other, seeking, at the same time, the freeing of the former. In a case where a person accidentally kills another, for instance, Islam then necessitates, as compensation, first the freeing of a slave and then the payment of blood-money, valued in silver or camels, of an amount negotiated with the victim’s family. Atoning for an error made during hajj likewise calls for, first of all, the freeing of a slave; and the same goes for failing to keep an oath, committing zihar[3] and even breaking the fast of Ramadan. In praise of the greatness of certain deeds, it is not uncommon to see them compared to ‘freeing such and such amount of slaves’, which places accent on the virtue in paving the way for the freedom of others. On the other side of the coin, unlawful enslavement of another is regarded as one of the greatest sins. It emphatically commands to treat in the nicest manner those who were previously enslaved for one reason or another.

Islam always counsels the master to feed the slave from what he would see fit to feed himself, to clothe him in the same manner, not to burden him with surplus work while he is fasting and see to his needs. Freeing a slave is always considered a better avenue of salvation for a Believer. Islam introduces such rights for slaves that a strict abidance by them suggests that it is much more preferable to stay away from purchasing slaves, for it is no different than becoming enslaved.

Islam hence shut the doors on slavery as much as was allowed by the circumstances, fully opening, in contrast, its doors of exit, promoting at every given opportunity the freeing of the enslaved.

The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- suggested to his uncle Abbas, among the captives of Badr:

“You are a wealthy man, uncle. Pay ransom for yourself, your nephew Aqil, Nawfal ibn Harith and also for your ally Utbah ibn Amr.”

“I am a Muslim, Messenger of Allah”, replied Abbas. “Quraysh made me come by force!”

“Only Allah knows the insight to that. If what you said is true, then Allah will surely reward you for it. But as far as appearances go, you took up arms against us and therefore you must pay your ransom”, stated the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- after which he seized the 800 dirhams of gold Abbas had with him, as part of the spoils of the battle.

“At least, count that as ransom, Messenger of Allah”, pleaded Abbas.

“No”, replied the Prophet of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- . “Those are the spoils Allah has granted us!”

“It seems you are adamant to force me into begging in my remaining days”, then lamented Abbas.

“What about the gold you left with your wife Ummu’l-Fadl?” commented the Prophet of Mercy -upon him blessings and peace- .

“Which gold are you talking about?”

“I am talking about the gold you handed over to your wife Ummu’l-Fadl as you were leaving Mecca, telling her, at a place where nobody other than Allah could see or hear you, ‘I do not know what will happen to me this time…if something should happen to me, then take this much of the gold for yourself, and give this much to Ubaydullah, this much to Fadl, this much to Qusam and this much to Abdullah’”.

Astounded by these words, Abbas could but say:

“By Allah who has sent you as prophet, no other person apart from Ummu’l-Fadl and I knew about that. There is no doubt that you are the Messenger of Allah!” (Ahmad, I, 353; Ibn Sad, IV, 13-15)

Among the captives of Badr was also Abu’l-As ibn Rabi, the husband of Zaynab –Allah be well-pleased with her- and the son-in-law of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. Abu’l-As was a highly regarded merchant in Mecca. His mother Hala bint Khuwaylid was the sister of the honorable Khadijah, the Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- wife, for whom Abu’l-As was more like a son than a nephew.

At the height of their enmity, the idolaters of Quraysh were inciting the Noble Messenger’s -upon him blessings and peace- son-in-laws to, “…divorce Muhammad’s daughters and send them back to him, so he has more to worry about!” Abu’l-As was the subject of similar provocations, with the idolaters promising him that they would have him married to whoever he wished if he did go ahead with the divorce. But Abu’l-As sternly rejected their offer, insisting he was going to remain by the side of his wife no matter what it took.

Once the Meccans began sending the required ransom to free their fellow tribesmen who had fallen captive at Badr, Zaynab  -Allah be well-pleased with her-, too, sent her necklace, given to her as present by her mother Khadijah -Allah be well-pleased with her- at her wedding. The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- was overcome with emotion the moment he saw the necklace. He said to the Companions:

“You might consider freeing Zaynab’s captive and sending her ransom back to her, if you wish”.

The Companions agreed unreservedly, freeing Abu’l-As at that instant and arranging for the necklace to be returned to its owner immediately.

Before letting him go, the Noble Messenger -upon him blessings and peace- made Abu’l-As promise him he would send Zaynab to Medina, a condition of his release that nonetheless was to remain a secret between the two. (Ibn Hisham, II, 296-297; Abu Dawud, Jihad, 121/2692; Ahmad, VI, 276)

Wahb ibn Umayr was also among the captives of Badr. His father Umayr was among the most sharp-witted of all the idolaters of Quraysh and was also among their bravest. Back in the days, he was the man behind many assaults on Muslims. Expressing, in the aftermath, his grief over the fate of their fellow idolaters thrown in the pits of Badr to Safwan ibn Umayr, with whom he was sitting near Hijr, Umayr had Safwan tell him, bemoaningly:

“There is no point on living after hearing what happened to them!”

“You are right at that”, remarked Umayr. “If I had no debt and children for the wellbeing of whom I would fear should something happen to me, I would have surely gone and killed Muhammad. I even have an excuse to get them to allow me near. I will simply tell them that I have come for my captive son. Besides, from what I hear, he even walks the streets without fear!”

Safwan was happy just to hear these words.

“I will pay your debt. As for your children, I will take care of them as my own and tend for their wellbeing as long as I am alive”, he assured Umayr.

A man of his word, Umayr then immediately had his sword sharpened and smeared with poison. Safwan aided his cause further by having a camel and food for the journey prepared for him.

It was not long after that Umayr arrived at Medina. Stopping at the door of the Masjid, he dismounted his camel and girded his sword. His sight made Omar -Allah be well-pleased with him-, who was the first to see him, furious, as he wondered to himself, “that is Umayr, the enemy of Allah…and by Allah, he could have only come with evil on his mind”, before storming inside the Masjid, where he found the Blessed Prophet  -upon him blessings and peace- .

“Umayr has come, Messenger of Allah, with a sword in hand!” he said.

“Send him to me”, the Prophet of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- responded, calmly. So Omar -Allah be well-pleased with him- went back to Umayr. Seizing him by the strap of his sword, he dragged Umayr inside the Masjid, telling the Ansari Companions around him to “be on your toes to protect the Messenger of Allah from this wicked man, for he is not to be trusted!”

“Let him go, Omar!” the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- called out, noticing the scuffle. “And you Umayr…come closer!” He then asked Umayr the reason why he had come.

“I have come for my captive son. And I expect you to be generous in his release!” Umayr explained.

“Then what is with the sword around your neck?” inquired the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- .

“To hell with swords…! Of what benefit have they been to us until now?” Umayr replied astutely.

“Tell me truth”, the Prophet of Mercy -upon him blessings and peace- however insisted. “Why have you come here?”

“For no other reason than for my son, who has fallen prisoner in your hands!”

“What was it that you said to Safwan at Hijr, then?”

“What is it that I could have said to him?” Umayr mumbled, astounded.

The Noble Messenger -upon him blessings and peace- then retold Umayr, word for word, his conversation with Safwan, adding, “Allah has come in between you and your plans and prevented you from what you had in mind of doing!”

Umayr then remarked, “I bear witness that you are most surely the messenger of Allah. We used to reject you regarding the revelation that came to you from the heavens. Nobody other than Safwan and I knew about that. Only Allah could have informed you of it. Thank Allah who has brought me here and given me guidance!” He then professed his declaration of iman. The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- then told the Companions to:

“Thoroughly teach your brother Islam. Recite to him and teach him the Quran and release his prisoner!”

The Blessed Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- orders were carried out immediately. Umayr had more to say.

“Messenger of Allah…I was a man who used to take no pains in trying to snuff out the light of Allah and not shrink back in exacting the most ruthless torment to the Believers. I can, if you wish, go to Mecca and invite the idolaters to Allah and His Messenger. Allah willing, it could be that they might just be guided!”

The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- allowed him to go.

Without a clue as to how the events had unfolded, Safwan ibn Umayya was meanwhile telling the Meccan idolaters, “…you will be sent into ecstasy over the news you shall receive only within a few days; news that will make you forget the pain of Badr!”

Anxious, he was asking each and every caravan arriving at the town, of the news of Umayr’s whereabouts. Someone, on horseback, eventually informed him of Umayr’s acceptance of Islam.

Upon his return to Mecca, Umayr ibn Wahb -Allah be well-pleased with him- wasted no time in beginning to invite the idolaters to Islam. Idolater attempts of restraining him were without success. Many were guided through his call. Umayr -Allah be well-pleased with him- one day came across Safwan, near Kaabah, and said to him, “You are one of the most notables of Quraysh. Can’t you still see that it is stones that we worship and dedicate sacrifices for? How could that be religion?” Safwan could not say a word back, reduced to an unbreakable silence. (Ibn Hisham, II, 306-309; Waqidi, I, 125-128; Ibn Sad, IV, 199-201)

The whole incident has since been celebrated as an epitome of the saying, “breathe life into he who has come to kill you.”

The news that all the notables of Quraysh were slain at Badr and the sight of seventy other captives brought to Medina with their hands tied around their necks sent the idolaters, hypocrites and Jews in local Medina into despair. Lamenting that ‘the tide of victory had now turned towards the Prophet’, Abdullah ibn Ubayy and his crew had no other option than to pledge their allegiance to the Blessed Prophet and state their affinities to Islam.[4]

[1] See, an-Nisâ, 36.

[2] Captivity and slavery are here evaluated together, for no other reason, than that the source of slavery is captivity; slaves are those who have fallen prisoner at war.

[3] Zihar is the then prevalent practice among Arab men of resembling their wives to their mothers and thereby considering it no longer proper to continue marital relations with them. Islam prohibited this practice, holding accountable those who do so with compensation (kaffarah).

[4] Bukhari, Tafsir, 3/15; Waqidi, I, 121.

Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş, The Prophet Muhammed Mustafa the Elect II, Erkam Publications

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