17.4 The Captives
When the Messenger asked their opinion about the captives, Abu Bakr, always benevolent, spoke of mercy and forgiveness. Perhaps if these misguided men were given a second chance they would take advantage of Allah’s mercy to them, instead of dying unbelievers and going to the eternal fire. He spoke of the bonds of kinship between them and the Muslims.
Mohamed listened attentively, but said nothing, then he asked Umar's opinion. Umar said,
"Messenger of Allah, these are the leaders of the rejecters. If you execute them, Allah will make Islam triumph by it."
Umar was thinking of the years of torture that the Muslims had suffered at the hands of these men and also, as his words denote, of what would happen if these men were set free and allowed to return with larger forces and a greater desire for vengeance. It was only fair that those who had persecuted and killed should be killed; it was only prudent not to give those bitter and vicious enemies a second chance to destroy the Muslims.
Then Abu Bakr responded, gentle, benevolent, and conciliatory. Justice was a good thing, but mercy was even better. Does one kill one's own kin when they were poor misguided souls? Again he spoke of pardon and forgiveness, for to pardon when in a position to punish is the true spirit of Islam as so many verses in the Koran commend.
The Messenger made no comment on what he had heard but said he would go into seclusion for a while to think the matter over, and he asked all to reflect about it likewise and to discuss it among themselves. It is possible that Mohamed knew what he wanted to do all along, but he insisted on making his Companions think and judge for themselves. Just as in the battle he assumed a minor role and encouraged them to be the judges, he would not let his superior judgment dominate theirs, but on the contrary he used his insight to make them mentally active and independent.
The Muslims discussed the matter amongst themselves. These men were their relatives, their uncles, their cousins, their brothers, but these men had also tortured them for thirteen long years. Some, like Abu Bakr, believed that mercy and kindness would aid these misguided creatures towards faith; others, like Umar, believed that death was their just desert for all those they had persecuted, tortured, and killed. The Muslims were in need of money as they had left most of their possessions in Mecca, so some of them believed that to accept ransom would not be a bad idea, for what would they gain by killing these captives? They debated, they discussed, they pondered over the matter, and then the Prophet came out to them.
He said that among the angels Abu Bakr was like Michael who descends with Allah’s mercy and forgiveness, and among the prophets he was like Abraham who asked forgiveness for his people and would say nothing against them, even after they cast him into the fire. While among the angels Umar was like Gabriel who descends with the wrath of Allah and with retribution from heaven, and among the prophets he was like Noah who prayed that Allah leave no house for the deniers on the earth or like Moses who prayed that Pharaoh’s wealth would perish. Then he mentioned that they were in need and that, should they decide to accept ransom, and they should let no rich man go free without paying it.
They discussed it amongst themselves again and decided to accept ransom. One of the captives was a poet and he went to the Prophet and said,
"Mohamed, I have five daughters. Will you give me as a present to them and I promise never to fight you or speak against you again?"
The Prophet allowed him to go free without ransom, but he broke his word, fought the Muslims again at Uhud and was killed.
On this occasion the verses from Allah came to show that the Muslims had not chosen wisely. Allah in His mercy forgave them and allowed them to keep the ransom they had chosen to take, but it would have been more just, as Umar had declared, to kill these captives. The Muslims had sought the wealth of this world, but it was not the best thing for them. Allah desired for them something much better than this: immortality and eternal happiness.
It is not for a prophet to take captives
until he makes the earth warm with blood.
You desire the delights of this world;
and Allah desires the eternal.
Allah is the Invincible, of highest judgment. (8:67)
Very often one meets in the Koran ideas and thoughts completely different from Mohamed's as an individual. This next verse discusses the captives.
Our Prophet, tell the captives in your hands,
‘If Allah knows that there is good in your hearts.
He will give you better than what was taken from you, and forgive you
Allah is the Merciful, the Forgiving. (8:70)
If one compares these two verses, one can infer that Allah in His mercy had no intention of having the captives killed. Had He had any such intention then the command would have been communicated to His Prophet, but verse 67 serves a very important purpose. It warns the Muslims that they should not care about money and material goods and then it makes the captives realize that death is their just desert, but that Allah is granting them life in spite of all they have done, a gift from Him, the Merciful, the Forgiving. Those with any good in them would respond to such generosity. Then verse 70 gives them hope and solace, telling them that Allah will replace what was taken from them by better if He finds there is good in them. No one is forgotten. The door of hope and forgiveness is never closed in the face of man, even when he denies the existence of Allah and fights those who worship Him.