One topic I tend to avoid on this blog is that of jihad. There are plenty of well qualified and adept authors who catalog political movements within Islam. God has called me to keep a more theological focus. Yet the issue of jihad within Islam, while certainly incentivized by political movements or oppression, derives from a more fundamental theological foundation. It is within this context that I discuss this controversial issue. Specifically, to better understand jihad within Islam and the differences between Islam and Christianity, this article will examine the second pledge of ‘Aqaba.
On a broader note, grasping the history of Islam is essential if a person wants to understand Islam itself. So much of Islamic theology ties back to the actions of Muhammad. Yet the stories of Muhammad’s life as contained within the Hadith are fragmented. Consequently, it is often difficult to get an overarching view of the history of Muhammad’s life rather than bits and pieces of the puzzle that prohibit the entire scene from coming into focus.
With that in mind, today’s blog article is about the second pledge of ‘Aqaba. To provide context, Muhammad was still in Mecca and persecution of the fledgling Muslim community was on the increase. Because of this, many of the early Muslims had already fled to Medina where they were being welcomed. Muhammad was also preparing for an impending departure from Mecca, but his life was in danger from his opponents and his escape would require some clever maneuvering. At the minimum, he would need some followers to provide cover and possibly a much higher level of commitment. While many Muslims had pledged their loyalty to Muhammad at ‘Aqaba the previous year, Muhammad extended that first pledge to include his protection should fighting erupt. [i] As ibn Ishaq reports in his well respected work “Life of Muhammad”,
“When God gave permission to his apostle to fight, the second ‘Aqaba contained conditions involving war which were not in the first act of fealty. Now they bound themselves to war against all and sundry for God and his apostle, while he promised them for faithful service thus the reward of paradise. [ii]
The apostle had not been given permission to fight or allowed to shed blood before the second ‘Aqaba. [iii]
This second pledge of ‘Aqaba introduced the concept of jihad, consequently giving the prophet of Islam the confidence and resources to escape Mecca for Medina. This flight is known as the hijra, and it is the foundational moment of Islamic history. (See unravelingislam’s inaugural article for more info.) The hijra was the pivotal moment in Islam and it occurred soon after this second pledge of ‘Aqaba, and so these two events are highly interrelated.
How does all this relate to Christianity? To find the analogous event, we need to backtrack to what happened just prior to the pivotal moment in Christian history, and note the contrasts. Of course the pinnacle events in the life of Jesus are the crucifixion (Romans 5:6) and the resurrection (Acts 17:31). As we move backwards from this climactic moment, we find an analogous moment for Jesus’ disciples. Just as Muhammad’s followers are forced to decide whether to pledge their lives for the prophet of Islam, so too Jesus’ disciples are put in a corresponding position. The mob had come to arrest Jesus, and the time to defend Him from physical harm had arrived. Luke 22:49-51 gives the details,
49 When those who were around Him saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus answered and said, Stop! No more of this.” And He touched his ear and healed him.
The disciples were ready to fight for Jesus. In fact one did so even before waiting for the answer to the question of whether or not they should fight! Yet Jesus turns everything upside down. He doesn’t ask His followers to fight for His safety. He tells them to stop and lay down their arms. Jesus makes it clear that loyalty toward Him means something very different from fighting to defend His physical safety because He is a different kind of king (John 18:36).
Both Christianity and Islam have a defining event. In each religion, the followers have a chance to show their loyalty just before that event. In Islam, that loyalty is shown by agreeing to fight to protect Muhammad at the second pledge of ‘Aqaba. In Christianity, that loyalty is shown by putting down swords and agreeing not to fight in the garden of Gethsemane.
[ii] Ishaq, M. i. (1955). Sirat Rasul Allah. (A. Guillaume, Trans.) Karachi: Oxford University Press, p208.
[iii] ibid, p 212