Principles of Crisis Management According to the Prophet (1)

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Crisis typically refers to an extraordinary, dangerous, and difficult period that arises suddenly and unexpectedly, significantly disrupting the normal course of life, stalling plans, projects, goals, and calculations, and if not managed well, can lead to chaos, collapse, and significant losses. Just as yesterday, today individuals, families, and societies encounter administrative, economic, social, legal, military, humanitarian, ethical, familial, in short, material and spiritual crises.

Crisis can arise among individuals, groups, societies, nations, or states. Whether caused by human actions or external developments, crises are a reality and part of the constant test of human, familial, and societal life. Sometimes, despite anticipation and necessary precautions, prevention may not be possible. The focus should then shift to finding solutions, minimizing damage and loss, and even turning the crisis into an opportunity. The greatest responsibility falls on the shoulders of capable leaders who hold the reins of direction and management.

What are the Key Principles of Crisis Management in Islam?

In the era of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)—both in the Meccan and Medinan periods—numerous crises occurred. Particularly, those who couldn’t reconcile with Islam subjected the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and the Muslims to numerous humanitarian and social crises through means such as violence, embargo, isolation, threats, sedition, rebellion, hypocrisy, and war. These crises threatened and endangered their lives, basic rights and freedoms, financial situations, social relationships, security, unity, solidarity, and even their citizenship. However, as a result of the Prophet’s (peace and blessings be upon him) exemplary leadership and the fundamental principles and strategies he followed, crisis situations were successfully managed, problems were resolved one by one and even led to various worldly and spiritual gains.

Making the Parties to the Crisis Part of the Solution

It was five years before the Prophethood. The Ka’ba, rebuilt by Qusay ibn Kilab, had deteriorated significantly due to reasons such as fire, flood, and theft. The Quraysh tribes had decided to demolish and rebuild it. They jointly carried out the demolition and then began the construction. The walls were erected, and it was time to place the Black Stone (Hajar al-Aswad) back in its place. However, a disagreement arose over this matter, which soon turned into a crisis. Each tribe claimed that they were more deserving to place it, resisting and obstructing anyone attempting to do so. Although it was suggested to divide the Black Stone into pieces equal to the number of tribes, and each tribe would place a piece, this proposal was not accepted, and armed tribes were on the brink of war. They were dipping their hands into a bowl filled with blood and swearing to fight. This situation lasted for four days.

The eldest man of Quraysh, Abu Umayyah ibn Mughirah, intervened, gathered them in the Masjid al-Haram, and pointed to them the gate of Banu Shaybah, advising them to choose whoever entered through that gate as their arbitrator and to leave the resolution of the crisis to him. All the tribes who agreed expressed their consent and began to wait. Then, on that day, the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him), who was thirty-five years old at the time, was the first to enter through the gate. Seeing him, they all exclaimed, ‘Here comes the Trustworthy One! We are satisfied with him!’ When he approached them, they addressed the crisis concerning the Black Stone, informing him that they had appointed him as the arbitrator and agreed to abide by his judgment.

When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) pointed to which tribe, others would have agreed. However, instead of favoring any individual or group, he offered a solution that encompassed all sides of the crisis to ensure that no residue of dissatisfaction remained among them. He first requested a cloth from them, then placed the Black Stone on the spread cloth, and asked one person from each tribe to come forward and simultaneously lift the cloth on behalf of their tribe. When they raised the cloth to the level where the Black Stone would be placed, he took it and positioned it himself. Thus, the crisis that had brought the tribes to the brink of war was resolved in a manner acceptable to everyone, leaving no trace behind.1

Maintaining Calmness, Patience, and Avoiding Escalation of Tension

Islamic Leadership and Crisis Management

When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) reached the age of forty, the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to him in the cave of Hira, and he was chosen and sent by God as the final and universal prophet. His mission was to convey the monotheistic and just religion of Islam to humanity. However, when the polytheistic Meccans learned of this development, they immediately went on alert and, God forbid, accused and ridiculed him as being insane. 2

The Meccans incited a crisis from the very first day, which would last for twenty-one years and eventually give rise to many other crises over time. The Meccans appeared determined to preserve idolatry and the political, economic, and administrative systems that revolved around it. The situation could have ended before it even began. Indeed, on the very first day, Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, who had embraced Islam, was saved from their lynching attempt by the timely arrival of Abbas, the Prophet’s uncle.

In order to avoid escalating the crisis, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) decided to invite people to Islam individually. He confided in those he knew well and trusted, and his companions followed suit. This way, a significant action was taken without intensifying tension. In fact, people were allowed to keep their Muslim identity secret, and those who embraced Islam from outside were sent back to their hometowns so as not to attract attention.3

Qur’anic instruction and prayer were performed in secluded places.4 The principle of not escalating tension, as upheld by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), bore fruit. Despite the crisis created by the Meccans, over a hundred individuals were reached and a core group was formed by the fourth year, when open and collective invitation to Islam would begin. 5

Upon receiving the command for the open and collective invitation to Islam, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) first gathered his relatives, but his uncle Abu Lahab sabotaged the gathering and stirred up a crisis. Not wanting to divide his relatives and deepen the crisis, the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) chose silence and tranquility.6

Indeed, during the three years of the boycott, he reaped the fruits of this stance, and even his polytheistic relatives mobilized to protect him. Soon after, the Prophet brought together the Quraysh tribes and invited them to Islam. Although they were deeply affected by this invitation, once again Abu Lahab intervened, launching a verbal attack and causing a second crisis. The Prophet’s stance remained the same here as well. He did not engage in argument with Abu Lahab in front of the community, maintained his composure, and chose tranquility. 7

He maintained this approach until his passing; in times of crisis and critical moments, he never engaged in arguments with the likes of Abu Jahl, Ibn Salul, or others in front of the people. He turned away from the ignorant and followed the command of the Qur’an: “So be patient. Indeed, the promise of God is truth. And let them not disquiet you who are not certain [in faith].” 8

He enlightened public opinion while the Qur’an provided the necessary response to these malicious speakers, almost defending the Mercy Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).

Despite all this, the crisis for the Muslims in Mecca was growing day by day. The Meccans fixated on hostility, had intensified surveillance on people. On one hand, they tortured the identified Muslims, and on the other hand, they tried to dissuade the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) from his mission by threatening and offering inducements to his uncle, Abu Talib, who supported him.9

The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) advised his tortured companions to be patient and never to respond to oppression with oppression. The Muslims, who followed these recommendations at the risk of their lives, were not drawn into violence. As a result, the actions of the oppressors were perceived and recorded in history as “the oppression of the leaders of polytheism” by the public opinion.

Considering Alternative Paths and Opening Up to the Outside

In Mecca, the continued propagation of Islam under very difficult conditions, the inability to ensure the safety of Muslims, and the atmosphere of fear created by the Meccan authorities led to crises that were unilaterally escalating day by day.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) began to consider alternative ways to overcome these crises; first and foremost, he decided to reach out to other Arab tribes. For this purpose, the fairs and the pilgrimage season around Mecca presented a great opportunity. These fairs and the pilgrimage attracted tribes from all over the Arabian Peninsula. He made sure not to miss these events, visiting tribes in their tents, explaining Islam to them, and inviting them to support him.

In order to overcome the crisis in Mecca, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) met with various tribes, including the tribes of Banu Amir ibn Sa’saa, Banu Muharib, Fazara, Ghassan, Murra, Hanifa, Sulaym, Abs, Banu Nasr, Banu Baqa, Kinda, Kalb, Harith ibn Ka’b, Uzra, Khadarima, Hamdan, and Banu Shayban ibn Sa’laba. He asked them to support him and his companions. He also took advantage of the pilgrimage that began immediately after the fairs, calling upon the tribes in Mina to embrace Islam and support his cause. The Meccans, however, did not remain idle; they followed him closely, harassed him, threw stones at him, and tried to dissuade those he spoke to from believing in him. Despite this, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did not engage in a verbal or physical altercation with them in front of the tribes. He simply moved on to the next tent as if nothing had happened. 10

Due to the opening of the fairs, the Meccans intensified the violence against the Muslims. The oppression had reached unbearable levels, and the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) found himself facing a humanitarian crisis. In response, he directed his companions to seek refuge in the land of Abyssinia, ruled by the just ruler Negus, as a solution. 11

Over a hundred companions migrated there. Unaware of religious and conscience freedom, the polytheists not only denied him the right to preach but also began to attack him personally. They placed camel entrails on his head while in prostration, attempted to suffocate him with his clothing, pelted his house with stones, scattered thorns on his paths, plotted assassinations against him, condemned him and his relatives to hunger, and tried to intimidate him by beating him until he was afraid to leave his home. 12

Each of these acts constituted a separate crisis, and the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) decided to go to Taif to overcome them. However, the people of Taif treated him in the same manner. He did not engage in arguments with the people of Taif and even refused the proposal to have them destroyed. 13

The principles and strategies followed by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) throughout all these crises yielded long-term results. Firstly, no negative impression was left in the minds of the Meccans. When the waters calmed after the conquest of Mecca, they could find no words or actions from the past to criticize the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his companions; they even admitted in humility, “You are the noble son of a noble man!” Behind this confession lay the great influence of the principle of not retaliating, patience, forgiveness, silence, and tranquility that had been maintained. Despite their current reluctance to accept it, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) had already introduced Islam to all the Arab tribes in Mecca through his outreach efforts. 14

Indeed, his acquaintance with the Ansar occurred as a result of his persistent invitation strategy at the fairs and during the pilgrimage.

With the move to Abyssinia, the Prophet (peace blessings be upon him) turned the crisis into a multiple-gain situation. Firstly, he sent his companions to a place where they could practice their religion freely. When the Muslims left Mecca, the atmosphere of fear created around them dissipated, allowing people to have some room for thought. The acceptance of Islam by powerful figures such as respected Hamza, Umar, and Hakim ibn Hizam was greatly influenced by this. Islam was introduced to the African continent, and the process of spreading Islam began in Abyssinia, especially with the Negus family. Around twenty people even traveled to Mecca and embraced Islam.15

It can be said that by utilizing the crisis and sending the companions to Abyssinia, the future of Islam and the Muslims was secured. Indeed, the fact that the Prophet (peace blessings be upon him) kept them in Abyssinia until the signing of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah indicates that every possibility was considered.

Expanding the Scope of Action and Stirring Consciences

Despite the crisis faced by the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) in Mecca, his taking steps that would yield great results in the future, his refusal to respond positively despite the great injustices, and the perception of the situation by the people as one of oppression rather than a fight, further fueled the rage of the leaders of polytheism. They had collectively decided to eliminate him, but upon learning of the situation, the Hashim and Muttalib clans armed themselves and provided him with protection. The Meccans, sheathing their swords due to the status of these two clans among the Arabs, withdrew to the Valley of Beni Kinane.

There, they enacted the famous embargo decision, which stated that they would not accept any peace offers from them until Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) was handed over to them, showing no mercy, compassion, or tolerance, refraining from any kinship relations, trade, or human interactions (such as sitting together, conversing, speaking, or visiting). They obtained signatures from representatives of each tribe on the decision text, announced it to the people, and then hung it inside the Kaaba. They aimed to force the Prophet’s relatives into hunger, thirst, and isolation, compelling him to surrender. If they refused, they intended to eliminate them all through natural means, effectively committing genocide. 16

Within the crisis, another crisis unfolded. In the effort to propagate Islam and eliminate the Muslims, a new crisis emerged unexpectedly. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his relatives were condemned to a process with no clear end, uncertain of when or how it would conclude. Staying in their homes would be inviting death, as two guards stationed at the doors day and night could easily prevent any aid from reaching them. Therefore, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his uncle, Abu Talib, decided to face this situation at a place called Shi’b Abi Talib. They immediately gathered the necessary supplies (tents, dry provisions, clothing, etc.) and withdrew to Shi’b.

Thus, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) not only expanded the scope of action for his relatives but also brought them together to support each other. Moreover, by positioning themselves where their suffering could be witnessed by the people, he hoped to stir their consciences.

Additionally, from this location, they could monitor the developments in Mecca and provide morale-boosting news to their relatives under boycott. Indeed, for this purpose, he respected Hamza with the task. Despite Abu Jahl’s efforts to prevent it, the Prophet’s strategy proved successful; they managed to survive here for three years despite the hardships, thanks to the aid that somehow reached them. At the end of the third year, five compassionate members of the Quraysh, unable to tolerate the ongoing oppression any longer, gathered and ended the boycott. 17

Not Leaving People and Matters Hanging

We can comfortably say that almost the entirety of the Meccan period was spent amidst crisis. However, despite this, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) transcended the various barriers erected by the polytheists, including fear, and safely guided Islam and the Muslims of Mecca into the future with minimal losses. An important principle he adhered to during this crisis was not leaving people and matters hanging. He purchased and liberated enslaved individuals who were subjected to oppression, 18 empowered impoverished or needy Muslims by assigning them resources from those who were well-off and unaffected by violence.19

He fostered a sense of brotherhood among them, encouraging them to support each other. He visited those who were tortured, providing moral support, 20 and intellectually nourished them against the actions and rhetoric of the Meccans.21 He prayed for those who were imprisoned or tortured, offering them hope for the future. 22 He also employed people according to their abilities, appointing some as scribes for revelation, and others as teachers, ensuring that matters related to religion and the mission remained attended to without being neglected.

Conclusion

From the very first day of his prophethood, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) faced numerous intertwined crises caused by the polytheists in Mecca. Despite his foresight and wisdom in anticipating some events and taking necessary precautions, he could not escape these difficulties. However, when confronted with them, he demonstrated exemplary leadership and guidance, continuing his mission with confidence and through alternative means. In fact, he used these crises as opportunities to reinforce his character, morals, and understanding, meticulously weaving his message into the minds of both the polytheists and his companions. His (peace and blessings be upon him) message was clear: “The essence of my approach is positive action, peace, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, and adherence to justice and rights.”

He turned the crisis process into gain, making moves that would lead to great benefits both for himself and his companions in the future. In facing larger crises ahead, he knew how to strengthen their wills, increase their resilience, and broaden their horizons.

The fundamental principles demonstrated by the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) in the crises he encountered in Mecca provide starting points and gates to salvation not only for Muslims experiencing similar processes but for all humanity. George Bernard Shaw, who deeply studied his life, expressed this observation as follows:

“Because of its extraordinary vitality, I have always valued Islam. This religion appears to me as the only one that can comprehend the changing face of existence and life, and can address every age. I have studied that wonderful Person [referring to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)], and in my opinion, far from being anti-Christ, he should be called ‘Savior of Humanity.’ I believe that if someone like him were to take control of the modern world, he would solve all its problems in a way that would bring about the peace and happiness that the world needs most. 23

Author: Yücel Men

Footnotes

1.See Ibn Hisham, Sirah 92, 93; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 1/146; Haythami, Majma’u’z-Zawaid 3/294; Bayhaqi, Dala’il 2/57.

2.See Surah al-Qalam 68/2; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 1/199.

3.Such as Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, Amr ibn Abasah al-Sulami, and Tufayl ibn Amr al-Dawsi. See Bukhari, Manaqib al-Ansar 33; Muslim, Fada’il 28; Ibn Hisham, Sirah 176, 177; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 4/169, 170, 176.

4.See Hakim, al-Mustadrak 4/52; Ibn Hisham, Sirah 120; Tabari, Tarikh 2/318; Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah 3/37.

5.See Ibn Hisham, Sirah 11–120.

6.See Tabari, Tarikh 2/319; Halibi, Sirah 1/283.

7.See Bukhari, Tafsir 26, 34; Muslim, Iman 89; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 1/74.

8.See Surah Ar-Rum 30/60.

9.See Ibn Hisham, Sirah 120-123; Hakim, al-Mustadrak 3/577.

10.See Hakim, al-Mustadrak 2/612; Haythami, Majma’u’z-Zawaid 6/21; Ibn Hisham, Sirah 194-200.

11.See Ibn Hisham, Sirah 148–154.

12.See Ibn Hisham, Sirah 132, 136, 137, 191.

13.See Bukhari, Bab al-Bid 7; Muslim, Jihad 39; Ibn Hisham, Sirah 193, 194; Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah 3/166–168.

14.See Ibn Hisham, Sirah 129.

15.See Ibn Hisham, Sirah 180.

16.The Meccans, who mostly made their decisions in Dar al-Nadwah, this time made this decision in a place far from the city center. This was because the people with them were already individuals who had set out to kill him. If they had come to Dar al-Nadwah, dissenting voices could have arisen. Therefore, they made the decision at Hayf ibn Kinanah and rushed it through; they created an atmosphere of consensus and even sanctity about this decision. Indeed, the five people who ended the boycott clearly told Abu Jahl that they would not agree to such a thing if they were present at the time of the decision.

17.See Ibn Hisham, Sirah 162, 173-176; Abu Nu’aym, Dala’il 1/358, 359; Ibn Abdilbarr, Durar 38.

18.See Ibn Hisham, Sirah 146, 147.

19.See Bayhaqi, Dala’il 2/216; Ibn Asir, Usd al-Ghabah 4/140; Haythami, Kashfu’l-Astar 3/169 (2493); Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Fada’il al-Sahabah 1/285 (376); Ismail ibn Muhammad al-Isbahani, Siyaru’s-Salafi’s-Salihin 1/94.

20.Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad 1/217; Ibn Hisham, Sirah 147; Haythami, Majma’u’z-Zawaid 9/295

21.See Bukhari, Manaqib 16; Nasaʾi, Talaq 25; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad 12/284.

22.See Bukhari, Manaqib 25; Ikrah 1; Ibn al-Athir, Usd al-Ghabah 2/148.

23.Sir George Bernard Shaw, The Genuine Islam, 1936, 1/8.

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