By Ibrahim Khan
The Conquest of Makkah occurred eight years after the Muslims migrated from Makkah to Madinah. In 630 AD, the Prophet ﷺ and ten thousand of his Companions returned to Makkah and took control, facing little resistance. The impetus of the Conquest was a breach of the Treaty of Ḥudaybiyya, signed two years prior. Under the rules of the treaty, there would be ten years of peace, during which time any aggression could be met with retaliation. When Quraysh and their allies disregarded the treaty and killed twenty men of Banū Khuzā‘a, members of the tribe sought support from their Muslim allies. The Prophet ﷺ responded by approaching Makkah, the main center of Quraysh. The conquest of the city is one of the most significant moments in the history of Islam. If the Battle of Badr bookends the beginning of the establishment of the nascent Muslim community, the Conquest of Makkah signifies its culmination.
It is no coincidence that both events occurred in Ramadan. Ramadan is a month of victory, and there is much to consider in what lessons the victory of the Conquest of Makkah has to offer—and not only for politics. The Conquest also teaches us loyalty (the Prophet ﷺ took very seriously the agreement he had with his allies); humility (the Prophet ﷺ entered with his head lowered, thanking Allah, without claiming credit for the victory nor displaying might as was the custom of conquerors); and mercy and forgiveness (a general amnesty was offered to the Makkans). All these themes link closely to Ramadan’s larger purpose of suppressing the ego and reorienting toward the Divine.
Each of these lessons can be explored at length, but what I would like to focus on here is something else: precedence in good deeds. The Conquest of Makkah marked a seismic shift in the history of Arabia. With the Conquest, the Muslims suddenly became in charge of a major metropolis. For the first time, in parts of Arabia it became easier to become and remain a Muslim than it was to do otherwise. Numerous people entered Islam, including previously sworn enemies of the faith. Allah alludes to this shift in Sūrat al-Naṣr:
“When the victory of Allah and the conquest [of Makkah] have come; And you see the people entering into the religion of Allah in multitudes; Then exalt the praise of your Lord and ask His forgiveness. Indeed, He is ever accepting of repentance” (Qur’an 110:1-3).
Even though many people joined the community of the faithful after the Conquest, these newcomers were never able to catch up in rank to those who had come earlier. The ones who had become Muslim before the Conquest had done so at a time when the position of the Muslims was politically and economically insecure; prolonged poverty and pitiless persecution were all but guaranteed for many of them. To have recognized Islam’s truth and to have embraced it in this precarious phase was qualitatively different from having done so when it was the prevailing norm. It was only fair that the sacrifice of the pioneers was recognized and honored.
Many of the later converts were members of the political and economic elite; once they were Muslim, it was important that their worldly authority did not translate into religious authority. Thus ‘Umar as caliph ensured that the leaders of Quraysh did not assume superiority, and that the early Companions were honored for their service. Once, Bilāl and Ṣuhayb—former slaves and non-Arabs, yet early converts—came to stand at ‘Umar’s door just as the leaders of Quraysh, among them Abū Sufyān and al-Ḥārith b. Hishām, also came to meet the caliph. When ‘Umar emerged, he first granted an audience to Bilāl and Ṣuhayb, keeping the leaders of Quraysh standing at the door. At this, some expressed their anger that former slaves were being shown preference over the most distinguished of the Arabs. They were told: “You were invited to Islam at the same time that they were invited. They quickly embraced it, but you delayed. You have no one to blame but yourselves.”
The point is that individuals such as Bilāl and Ṣuhayb achieved such a high rank because they entered Islam before these leaders of Quraysh. Precedence in good deeds made all the difference. The former slaves, in other words, gained a higher social status than their former masters as a result of accepting Islam in its days of struggle. Allah affirms their superiority when He says:
“Not equal among you are those who spent and fought before the conquest [of Makkah and those who did so after it]. Those [who came earlier] are greater in degree than those who spent and fought afterwards” (Qur’an 57:10).
In this same verse Allah promises the best of rewards for both groups: they will all succeed and prosper at the end. Yet those who came before the Conquest will forever be the select few. Some of the later Companions regretted that they had not entered Islam earlier, despite having had the opportunity. Ḥakīm b. Ḥizām was a close friend of the Prophet ﷺ in the pre-Islamic era, and a nephew of Khadija. Upon receiving the message, the Prophet ﷺ invited him repeatedly to Islam, but Ḥakīm showed little interest. Nonetheless, he was a noble and generous man and among the leaders of Quraysh. When the Prophet ﷺ returned to Makkah during the Conquest, Ḥakīm converted. At that point, he felt a certain sense of remorse: given his proximity to the Prophet ﷺ and therefore the early date in which he received the invitation to Islam, he could have been one of the very first Muslims. He could have been another Abū Bakr, another ‘Umar.
How do we apply these lessons today? The distinction of pre-Conquest and post-Conquest no longer exists—we are all post-Conquest individuals—but there are more general situations that exhibit the same principle. Frequently, certain aspects of religious practice are difficult and not well-established in society. If we stick to such an action, we become pioneers. There will soon come a day when the action will become mainstream; at that point, it will still be rewarded, but the later people will not be able to surpass the early ones. In fact, all the action performed by the later people will also be rewarded to the early people, because they became an indirect means for the later ones to come into this practice. Forging the path forward when it comes to religious practice is therefore often difficult but always extremely rewarding.
Now that the last ten days and nights of Ramadan are upon us, we can use the lesson of precedence that the Conquest of Makkah offers to think about our actions. Are we people who are making the most of this special time of the year despite larger society’s distractions? Are we setting a positive precedent for future generations? Or are we complacent, waiting for that day to come when society as a whole will be imbued with spirituality, making it easy for us to follow along? That day will surely come, but those who act now will achieve a rank unattainable to those who act later.
More generally, we sometimes feel frustrated that we are the only ones practicing at a time when it is incredibly difficult to do so. Sometimes our practice can appear tiring and tedious, and we do not experience immediately tangible benefits. At such moments, it is worth to pause and realize that Allah is boasting of us at that moment to His angels, proud of our consistency. Allah is delighted that we maintain this action regardless of how cumbersome it may appear. There will come a time when such practice will become mainstream and easy to adopt. But at that point our chance to excel and distinguish ourselves also goes away. To be able to become a part of as-sābiqūn al-awwalūn (the first to lead the way), as Allah describes the early Companions, is not a gift given to all. When it is offered, as it is frequently in these turbulent times, we must seize it.