Prophet Muhammad was the most compassionate of human beings. His compassion was not only limited to those who accepted his message. It extended as far as those disbelievers who were enough opposed to Islam to go into battle with the believers.
This fact is clearly visible to any objective reader of the Prophet’s biography, especially in the accounts of the various wars he went into.
He never went to war unless it was unavoidable, unless there was a very strong reason to do so, such as blatant treachery, violation of an allegiance, or killing of innocent Muslims without any provocation.
And even when he encountered an obligation for going into battle, the compassionate way Prophet Muhammad dealt with his enemies in the aftermath of the battle was beyond anything any military leader in the world could achieve. He achieved this because of the innate mercifulness and humility which Allah had put into his blessed nature.
Let us take the examples of three expeditions of the Prophet to see how he dealt with the enemy army who had lost the war and were completely at his mercy.
The Battle of Badr
The Battle of Badr was the first expedition the Muslim nation went into, and so new issues arose from it which they had never dealt with before. One such issue was what to do with the prisoners of war.
The Prophet asked his two closest companions, Abu Bakr and Umar, for advice. The latter was all for executing the disbelievers who had persecuted the Muslims for a decade. But the former’s advice, that the POW shouldn’t be killed but rather be ransomed off, was more in line with the Prophet’s merciful nature, and he chose that opinion. (Mubarakpuri 179)
These people were not just POWs; they were cruel war criminals, and giving war-criminals capital punishment is justified in legal systems throughout the world.
But then Allah revealed verses of the Quran admonishing the Prophet for his decision, saying:
It is not for a prophet to have captives [of war] until he inflicts a massacre [upon Allah ‘s enemies] in the land. Some Muslims desire the commodities of this world, but Allah desires [for you] the Hereafter. And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. If not for a decree from Allah that preceded, you would have been touched for what you took by a great punishment. (Quran 8:67-68)
The previous decree mentioned above was this verse:
… and either [confer] favor afterwards or ransom [them] until the war lays down its burdens…. (47:4)
It was a mistake to release the POWs, as Allah explained. And yet this incident shows the level of generosity which the Prophet displayed towards a group of people who had made the Muslims’ lives so unbearable in their homeland that they were forced to leave it.
Could you or I have done it?
Battle of Muraisi’
There were several Jewish tribes living in and around Madinah at the time of the Prophet. One of these tribes was Banu al-Mustaliq.
One day, in 5 AH, the Prophet got to know that Banu al-Mustaliq’s leader, Al-Harith ibn Dirar, was preparing to attack Madinah. Some Arabs had joined him too.
The Prophet decided that, before they came to attack the Muslims in Madinah, the Muslims should go out to attack them first. The Muslim army marched forward and surprise-attacked the enemy tribe. The latter surrendered without much fighting, and many were taken captives. (Mubarakpuri 249)
It so happened that one such captive was the daughter of the chief, al-Harith, who had fled from the battle with some others. Her name was Juwayriyah, and the Prophet freed her and married her. Her mahr (dowry) was her freedom. Immediately afterwards, the Muslims freed all the captives from the tribe, to honor the Prophet’s wife. (Yasir Qadhi)
Conquest of Makkah
As mentioned before, the Quraysh of Makkah had dealt very harshly with the Prophet and the early Muslims. Near the end of the Prophet’s life, he conquered Makkah without any major battle.
When he entered the Holy City, he found all those enemies of the Quraysh under his mercy. He could now take revenge and punish them for their misdeeds however he pleased.
But what did he do?
“O you people of Quraysh!”
He said to them.
“What do you think of the treatment that I am about to accord to you?”
They replied: “O noble brother and son of noble brother! We expect nothing but goodness”.
The Prophet said:
“I speak to you in the same words as Yusuf spoke to his brothers: ‘No reproach on you this day,’ go your way, for you are freed ones.” (Mubarakpuri 301)
And thus, except for a handful of the worst criminals, all of Quraysh was forgiven.
There is no wonder why Allah said about him:
And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds. (Quran, 21:107)
Yasir Qadhi, “Seerah of Muhammad (sa)”, Episode 54
Mubarakpuri, Safi-ur-Rahman. The Sealed Nectar. Darussalam eLibrary