Killing During the Sacred Months
In pre-Islamic times there was a four months long festival centered on Mecca, a festival referred to as the Sacred Months (not to be confused with the Sacred Months of the Islamic Calendar (11 - Dhu’l-Qa’dah, the Month of Rest; 12 - Dhu’l-Hijjah, the Month of Pilgrimage; 1 Muharram, the Sacred Month and the beginning of the Islamic New Year; 7 - Rajab the Month of Respect).
The Sacred Months allowed pilgrims to make their way to Mecca unmolested. During this period, all faiths came together; all wars and all petty quarrels had to stop.
Mecca, before the Prophet made Islam the only acceptable religion on the Peninsula, was not only special to Allah, but also to all the other gods and goddesses in the Arabian pantheon. In fact, anyone from anywhere who made the journey to Mecca could place a figure of his god or goddess on the altar in the Ka’ba, the structure that sheltered (and still does) the stone that Adam grabbed onto when he and Eve were cast out of Paradise.
After the Prophet fled to Medina, the Meccans, having decided that Muhammad is too big a threat to the way of life on the Peninsula, marched on the city and demanded that its citizens surrender the Prophet to them. They refused.
Rather than risk the lives of the innocent, the Meccans, as is their custom, impose what authors refer to as "the blockade of Medina" but which is more like a trade embargo.
Even with the so-called blockade in place, the Prophet’s raiding parties, which is his response to the embargo, leave and enter Medina at will. The Muslim raiders are, however, too few to effectively challenge the large Meccan caravans passing between Medina and the Red Sea on their way to and from Syria.
Many of Allah’s revelations to His Messenger during his stay in Medina, unlike the revelations the Prophet received during his time in Mecca, have a blood-thirsty, pitiless war-like quality about them. It is during his stay in Medina that the Prophet decides that, if his fellow Arabs will not accept him as Allah’s mouthpiece and the Koran as the Word of God on his say-so, he will make them see the light by force.
Minor setbacks, like his initial inability to plunder at will the Meccan caravans passing by Medina, did not deter the Prophet. Unlike his adversaries, God’s Messenger had a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish, and more importantly, the wherewithal to outwit his opponents at almost every turn, combined with a single-minded ruthlessness that knew no bounds.
Virgil Gheorghiu, in his admiring biography “Le Prophet Mahomet”, from which much of the story told so far finds its inspiration, condones the attack on what was essentially four farmers taking their goods to market. During the attack during a holy month when all fighting is forbidden, one farmer is killed.
Gheorghiu repeats the same canard as apologists for the Prophet’s questionable actions such as author and former nun Karen Armstrong, that it was out of necessity that God's Messenger ordered a raid during a sacred month, because the believers in Medina were starving to death.
Starving, in an oasis city famous for its orchards of dates and other fruit bearing trees, where the inhabitants more than lived up to the Arab reputation for hospitality, stretches credibly to the breaking point.
It is possible that the cunning farsighted Muhammad planned for the attack to occur when it did so as to do away, once and for all, with the interdiction against warfare during the Sacred Months. An interdiction which he could foresee would play havoc with his plans to Islamisize (sic) the Peninsula by force.
The attack on the farmers’ caravan occurred more than 250 miles south east of Medina. The attackers’ instructions were contained in a letter from the Prophet which they were told not to read until they had reached a well some distance west of Medina.
A summary on how it went down based on Virgil Gheorghiu’s account.
In November 623, having failed to plunder even a single Meccan caravan passing between the Red Sea and Medina, the Prophet changes tactics and decides to attack non-Meccan caravans plying another route. It is all very hush-hush. Even the men who will carry out the raid don’t know what their ultimate target is.
Abdallah-ibn-Djach, the leader of an eight men raiding party, is given a letter by the Prophet which he is told not to read until he arrives at a famous well, two days ride by camel, west of Medina.
The Prophet’s instructions tell the group to head in the opposite direction. Two weeks later, they arrive at their destination on the trade route between Mecca and Ta’if where they wait for a caravan making its way from Ta’if to Mecca.
Ta’if is a small city about 46 miles or (74 km) south east of Mecca. At an elevation of 6,165 ft. (1,879 m) on the slopes of the Sarawat Mountains the area is conducive to the production of agricultural products such as grapes, roses and honey.
There is still a day left in the sacred month of Rajab when they spot four men on their way to Mecca with a cargo of raisins, wine and animal skins. If they wait a day until the end of the sacred month to attack, the small caravan will have reached the precinct of Mecca and will be inviolate.
What to do? Follow the Prophet’s instructions, which they believe to be from God or respect God’s sacred month. They decide to attack, and one of the four people with the caravan is killed. Amr-ben-al Hadra’mi becomes the first person murdered in the cause of Islam.
When they return to Medina, the story of the murder of Hadra’mi during a sacred month has spread far and wide. A scandal has erupted. Believers and unbelievers alike are aghast that anyone would pillage and murder during a sacred month and that this sacrilege would be tolerated. The Prophet's reputation and his quest are at stake.
God's Messenger is surprised by the uproar, but is unperturbed. He orders that the puny plunder for which a man was killed (raisins, wine and animal skins) be set aside and not distributed until he has heard from God. A few days later the Angel Gabriel delivers to the Prophet revelations from Allah that are intended to clarify the rules regarding this killing business during a sacred month.
First, Allah establishes, as a general principal, that killing in retaliation for a killing is allowed during a sacred month; and that killing those who would violate things that are sacred to the believers is justified year round.
2:194 A sacred month for a sacred month; and retaliation [is allowed] when sacred things [are violated]. Thus, whoever commits aggression against you, retaliate against him in the same way. Fear Allah and know that Allah is with those who fear Him.
Furthermore, don't let this stop you from spending money and fighting in Allah's Cause, lest you cause your own destruction.
2:195 Spend [money] for the Cause of Allah and do not cast yourselves with your own hands into destruction (do not stop fighting for the Cause of Allah), and be charitable. Surely Allah loves the charitable.
What about killing during the sacred months where there is no apparent provocation or reason, as in the murder of Amr-ben-al Hadra’mi?
In a fine piece of hair splitting, Allah both condemns and condones the murder of Amr-ben-al Hadra’mi. In doing so He implicitly, if not explicitly, gives the believers a licence to kill anyone, anywhere, at any time if they honestly believe it will advance the cause of Allah, such as killing those who would “debar people from Allah’s Way”, which could be anyone, even other Muslims.
He does not stop there! He reminds the believers who would rather live in peace, that fighting “is good for you” and that they should kill anyone at any time, even entire communities, if they fear they will leave Islam, the meaning of “Sedition is worse than murder” in revelation 2:217.
2:216 You are enjoined to fight, though it is something you dislike. For it may well be that you dislike a thing, although it is good for you; or like something although it is bad for you. Allah knows and you do not.
2:217 They ask you about the sacred month: “Is there fighting in it?” Say: “Fighting in it is a great sin; but to debar people from Allah’s Way and to deny Him and the Sacred Mosque, and to drive its people out of it is a greater sin in Allah’s Sight. Sedition is worse than murder.” Nor will they cease to fight you until they make you, if they can, renounce your religion. Those of you who renounce their religion and die, while they are unbelievers, are those whose works come to grief, [both] in this world and in the Hereafter. And they are the people of the Fire, abiding in it forever.
The murder of Hadra’mi, and Allah's failure to categorically condemn the killing during a sacred month, meant that jihad could be conducted throughout the year. This could have been the Prophet's objective all along.
Ta'if would prove a difficult conquest, even for experienced holy warriors, during the campaign to convert the people of the Arabian Peninsula by force.
Narrated Abdullah bin Umar:
When Allah Apostle was in Ta'if (trying to conquer it), he said to his companions, "Tomorrow we will return (to Medina), if Allah wills."
Some of the companions of Allah's Apostle said, "We will not leave till we conquer it."
The Prophet said, "Therefore, be ready to fight tomorrow."
On the following day, they (Muslims) fought fiercely (with the people of Ta'if) and suffered many wounds.
Then Allah's Apostle said, "Tomorrow we will return (to Medina), if Allah wills."
His companions kept quiet this time. Allah's Apostle then smiled.