Given the Prophet Muhammad’s immense impact on history, surprisingly few books specifically analyze his understanding and employment of warfare as an economically, politically and socially transformational process, even though he was continuously at war for a decade and initiated around eighty armed missions, twenty-seven of which he led himself. Most Islamic biographies deal with this issue by using an understandable but insufficient logic: that because Muhammad, as the Messenger of Allah, was the ideal and paradigmatic human, he must have been an ideal and paradigmatic military commander. His successes flowed from his prophetic status and his moral perfection. Following this logic, and wanting Muhammad’s behavior to conform to very modern ethical concepts and widespread (but not necessarily accurate) beliefs about the nature and conduct of war, the writers have inadvertently created a narrative which, in significant ways, departs from the account clearly and consistently revealed in the earliest extant Arabic sources. The writers’ narrative also removes the Prophet from his historical and cultural context and the realities of the harsh and competitive tribal society in which he lived.
Professor Joel Hayward sees this as an unhelpful explanatory tendency and believes that the modern depiction of the Prophet’s relationship with warfare — which presents him as being rather antipathetic to war, indeed as virtually a pacifist who only fought reluctantly in self-defense — cannot actually be sustained by an even-handed analysis of the early Islamic sources. A committed Muslim himself, Hayward agrees that Muhammad was a moral and decent man who saw peace as a highly desirable state in which humans should live and as a goal worth pursuing. Yet Hayward has approached the Prophet’s understanding and employment of warfare from a different vantage point. He has painstakingly scrutinized the earliest Arabic sources impartially according to the strict standards of historical inquiry in order to ascertain whether Muhammad’s actions, habits and methods can — when understood within their original seventh-century stateless Arabian context — provide any substantial and meaningful insights into the way that he understood and undertook warfare.
Hayward concludes that Muhammad was an astute, situationally aware and self-reflective man who created and communicated a believable strategic vision of a necessary and desirable future. That vision persuaded increasing numbers of people to follow him and risk everything willingly in the struggle to create the optimal conditions for their survival, security and prosperity. In a competitive and conflictual environment with ubiquitous threats, warfare was necessary to make real the bold new world that he foresaw. Through original, meticulously researched and rigorous analysis, Hayward covers all the raids and campaigns and demonstrates that Muhammad correctly understood the necessity and utility of force and duly developed into an intuitive, effective and victorious military practitioner who developed and enforced a strict moral code so as to attain his goals whilst safeguarding the innocent. This engaging, accessible yet deeply scholarly book makes a major contribution to strategic and military analysis and to the Prophet’s biography.
Book cover: The Warrior Prophet: Muhammad and War, by Professor Joel Hayward
"Renowned military historian Hayward explores the war campaigns of the Prophet Muhammad in this sprawling historical study.
"Perhaps no two people have influenced the world quite like Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad. And while their religious teachings are similar, Muhammad diverges in his dual role as a “warrior-prophet” who “fought militarily to fulfil [sic] the mission that he believed God had given him.” Central to Hayward’s impetus in writing this book is his belief that contemporary scholarship has inadequately addressed Muhammad’s militarism. Most studies on the prophet, for example, are written by theologians and religious scholars who fail to approach the topic with the methodology of trained historians and thus focus on issues of fiqh (jurisprudence). According to the author, many scholars are also plagued by “present-centeredness” and operate under modern assumptions that condemn warfare or rely on Western tropes that portray “Muhammad as a general” based on contemporary understandings of military organization. Eschewing these historiographic trends that attempt to speak to 21st-century issues, Hayward emphasizes the religious and military context in which Muhammad acted. Divided into three sections, the book begins by placing Muhammad in a historical context in which the “ordinariness of raiding” was the “norm.” A similar contextual approach guides the book’s subsequent sections: “Pitched Battles and Attacks on Settlements” and “Muhammad’s War With the Jews.” Arguing against allegations that Muhammad was antisemitic, the book notes that Jews were “under his sworn protection,” were given “certain freedoms,” and that there were even Jewish “strong warriors” serving as auxiliaries in his Khaybar campaign. Though Hayward is a self-described “committed Muslim,” he is uninterested in presenting religious history or defending Muhammad’s military competence. Instead, as a professor of strategic thought at Rabdan Academy in the United Arab Emirates and author of multiple books on military history, he seeks to further readers’ understanding of “the historical Muhammad” whose military actions are filtered through a seventh-century Arabic mindset. At more than 450 dense pages, the book may be overwhelming to those unfamiliar with Islamic history, though ample reading aids (from maps and charts to timelines and a glossary) are provided. With almost 1,500 endnotes, this is a remarkably well-researched book that has a solid grasp on both contemporary scholarship as well as Arabic primary sources."
The Online Book Club gave the book five stars (out of five) and described it as "highly insightful and informative", with an objective approach that, unlike most works on this subject, analyzed Muhammad within the context of seventh-century Arabia, and thus provided "in-depth knowledge and enlightenment."
Charlotte Walker of LoveReading called Hayward an "authority on military and Islamic history" and, having already rated Hayward's previous book on Muhammad’s leadership "insightful and intellectual," wrote that this new book is "another scholarly insight" into Muhammad’s life. She added: "Referenced in detail and using extant sources, this book looks at the Prophet Muhammad as a military leader, a biography of his deeds as one would expect to see about Napoleon. It comes complete with chronology of the Prophet’s life, glossary, maps and a table of Islamic Raids and Campaigns to further help the reader get to grips with the subject. As one would expect from his credentials, the writing in The Warrior Prophet demonstrated the author’s expertise, with each event being conveyed in a way that is concise and easy for even the general reader to understand. The book is well-structured … [with] each section looking at a different style of warfare, with chapters within those sections about specific battles, sieges, or conquests." Walker concluded by describing The Warrior Prophet as an "engaging read for those interested in military history as well as those looking to expand their knowledge of Islam and the Prophet."
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