Did Allah forgive the companions for fleeing from battles?

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The Muslim majority are constantly finding ways to defend the companions from blemishes. For this they mount vague defences like ‘Adalat-e-Sahabah’ which basically frees companions from all blemishes. However, when obvious wrongs like fleeing from battles (Uhud, Khaibar, Hunain,) is pointed out, they claim that although these were major sins, but Allah has forgiven them so we must also ignore them.

Reply

Either Adalat or Sins – can’t have both

The Sahabah (companions) were prone to grave misdeeds, going by the apparent verses of the Holy Quran. Their fleeing from battles, apart from other misdeeds, is roundly condemned by Allah on many occasions. Bluntly put, they were just like other Muslims so arguments like special status of the Salaf and Adalat of Sahabah ring quite hollow.

The Muslims attempt to sanitize the companions by claiming they were forgiven for fleeing, among other misdeeds.

The point is when companions were forgiven then it proves they were not Adil, else why would they need forgiveness. And if they needed divine forgiveness just like others, then how are they superior to Muslims of the past, present and future?

You do not assume greatness merely by spending time with the Prophet (s.a.w.a.). Even Iblis spent much time in the company of angels, but that could not save him.

Fleeing the battlefield is a major sin deserving of hellfire

Allah in the Holy Quran warns the Muslims of a painful chastisement in hellfire for fleeing the battlefield:
And whoever shall turn his back to them on that day — unless he turns aside for the sake of fighting or withdraws to a company — then he, indeed, becomes deserving of Allah’s wrath, and his abode is hell; and an evil destination shall it be. (Surah Anfal (8): 16).

Based on this verse, Muslim scholars and interpreters of Holy Quran are unanimous that fleeing from the battlefield is a major sin and Muslims have been warned against it.

They maintain that once battle has been declared fulfilling the necessary conditions, Muslims must engage in it as a show of loyalty to Allah and His Prophet (s.a.w.a.). To turn one’s face from Allah and His Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and flee the battlefield is one of the highest forms of disdain and insolence one can show. In modern warfare, this amounts to treason against one’s nation, and the deserter can be court-martialled and suffer the highest form of disgrace.

Therefore fleeing the battlefield counts as one of the major sins by the vast majority of scholars.

  • Al-Muḥiṭ al-Burhanī v 8 p 312,
  • Al-Badai al-Ṣanai v 6 p 268
  • Al-Ikhtiyar v 4 p 47

There is a discussion on whether those who flee the battlefield will be forgiven by Allah. Many scholars believe that the deserters will not be forgiven.

Al-Nawawi maintains that they will not get a chance for repentance.

Mulla Ali Qari in Al-Mirqat believes their death is on apostasy and they will be punished forever (for fleeing).

Al-Qurtubbi claims that since this group fled from the battle, despite this fleeing not being permissible for them, Allah will not forgive them. They will not get the chance to repent. Instead, they will persist in their sin, unregretful as ever.

He continues that it is also possible to say that the meaning is that Allah will not accept their repentance even if they were to repent due to their great crime.

Did Allah pardon the fleeing companions of Uhud?

Regardless of the Quranic verses and reliable Sunnah condemning the deserters from battle, Muslims offer many excuses and arguments to pardon the companions of this heinous crime.

Some Muslims advance the verse of Surah Ale Imran: 155 to prove forgiveness:
‘(As for) those of you who turned back on the day when the two armies met, only the Shaitan sought to cause them to make a slip on account of some deeds they had done, and certainly Allah has pardoned them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Forbearing.’ (Surah Ale Imran: 155)

Reply

First and foremost, the verses from Surah Anfal (8): 15-16) lay down a general principle condemning the deserter of battle with everlasting punishment in hellfire.

The defence advanced from Surah Ale Imran (3): 155 is of a specific nature. Any jurist will agree that a general principle cannot be nullified by a specific principle; this is true for any law, not just Islamic law. For instance, ablution (wuzu) is mandatory for prayers (general principle), however if water is not available tayammum is the next option (specific principle). But tayammum is not permissible so long as water is available because the general principle always hold primacy over specific principle.

This means that fleeing from battlefield is a major sin deserving of hellfire (Surah Anfal (8): 15-16) and a specific verse cannot be advanced to nullify or downplay this reality.

At any rate, the defence offered via Surah Ale Imran (3): 155 does not stand to scrutiny. According to the interpretation of this verse by Muslim scholars, the crime of the companions on Satan’s deception was hastening towards war booty in the midst of battle ‘only the Shaitan sought to cause them to make a slip on account of some deeds they had done…’.

This was the sin that Allah had pardoned ‘and certainly Allah has pardoned them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Forbearing.’

  • Tafseer Ali Ibn Ibrahim (r.a.) 1 121
  • Tafseer al-Burhan v 1 p 704
  • Behar al-Anwar v 20 p 61

According to some interpreters, Allah has forgiven some of the companions who escaped the Uhud battle and not all companions. These are the companions who were sincerely repentant of their actions and returned to the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) with remorse.

The other companions (hypocrites) who only made an outward show of repentance is referred to by Allah in the following verse:
‘…and (there was) another party whom their own souls had rendered anxious; they entertained about Allah thoughts of ignorance quite unjustly, saying: We have no hand in the affair. Say: Surely the affair is wholly (in the hands) of Allah. They conceal within their souls what they would not reveal to you. They say: Had we any hand in the affair, we would not have been slain here. Say: Had you remained in your houses, those for whom slaughter was ordained would certainly have gone forth to the places where they would be slain, and that Allah might test what was in your breasts and that He might purge what was in your hearts; and Allah knows what is in the breasts.’ (Surah Aal Imran (3): 154)

  • Tafseer al-Mizan v 4 p 47

How does one distinguish between companions who were sincerely repentant of fleeing the battle as opposed to those who were only putting on a show of repentance?

The (hypocrite) companions were tested in many battles viz. Khandaq, Khaibar, Hunain and were found wanting every time, fleeing from the battlefields at every opportunity. So how can one say that they were sincere in their repentance on fleeing from Uhud, when that was but the first episode of their forgettable performance on the battlefield.

Second ruler’s confession

It is widely reported that the second ruler during his reign confessed in a Friday sermon while narrating the Quranic verse – (As for) those of you who turned back on the day when the two armies met… Surah Aal Imran (3): 155

….when we were defeated in the Day of Uhud, I fled until I climbed the mountain…

  • Al-Durr al-Manthoor v 2 p 88 under Surah Aal Imran (3): 155
  • Tafseer al-Tabari under Surah Aal Imran (3): 155, trad. 8,098
  • Kanz al-Ummal trad. 4,291

Why did he have to confess when he was forgiven? It shows he was guilty, else who wants to remind others of one’s failures that too after assuming ‘caliphate’ on the pretext of superiority over Ansar and Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.)!

Why Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) took the companions back

The Muslims presume that since the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) accepted the companions back, it shows they were forgiven.

This argument is incorrect for many reasons.

First – from the repeated misdeeds of the companions and escaping from numerous battles, clearly the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) did not take them back as an affirmation of their correct Islam or certainty of Paradise. He let them attend his assemblies out of a moral imperative, raised as he (s.a.w.a.) on the highest ethics.

Just like Allah allowed Iblis, Prophet Moosa (a.s.) allowed Samiri and Prophet Esa (a.s.) allowed Yahuda (Judas, the betrayer) in their assemblies.

Second – Not just the deserters from battlefield, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was so magnanimous that even he took back the hypocrite companions who had tried to kill him in the Aqabah incident.

Third – the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was commanded to go by the apparent Islam of the companions. So although the companions committed many misdeeds and abandoned the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) in many a battle, since they were apparently Muslims, the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) accepted their excuse and took them back.

If every fleeing and misdemeanour of the companions is forgiven, then what is left for the Muslims to respect and honour in companionship of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.)? The Muslims of later ages who did not slip up in their Islam are decidedly superior even if they did not get the opportunity to spend time in the company of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.).

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