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I've read a number of biographies of Muhammad now. In numerous raids and battles, there seem to have been many thousands of captives taken, but nothing I've read so far mentions any specifics about what happened to all of them.

There is much talk of captives being ransomed, but usually high-ranking, politically useful captives, never any details about what happened to the commoners. If so many had been ransomed, or even sold off as slaves, it seems that there wouldn't be so much talk of Muhammad's state being poverty-stricken, his military understaffed and under-equipped.

If the captives were kept as slaves (or converts) in Medina, that could explain the extreme poverty, having all those extra mouths to feed. But there was already near-starvation among the Muhajirun, so it seems that many thousands of people added to Medina's population would go from near-starvation to actual starvation. Plus I haven't found anything in any of the biographies I've read to support any such notion.

Are there any historians of Islam who discuss the fates of the vast majority of the captives?

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The methods of dealing with prisoners varied from one religion to another, and from one community to another, though, what dominated all before emergence of Islam was cruelty, oppression and injustice, despite the prevalence of those methods in dealing with the prisoners, but the Messenger of Allah did not contradict his morals and nature when he dealt with them, the Messenger of Allah did not look at them at all as they wanted to eliminate the Islamic entity in all its aspects by killing the messenger and extermination of Muslims.

Dealing with prisoners of Badr

Let us look at the life of the Messenger of Allah to realize the greatness of his character in dealing with the prisoners, similar to what he did to the prisoners of Badr; it is well known that the battle of Badr was the first battle between Muslims and infidels, and victory was for Muslims although they were few in number and lack arms. Besides the victory they captured seventy from the infidels. The Messenger of Allah consulted his companions what to do with them? Narrated by Omar bin al-Khattab saying: Abu Bakr said: O Messenger of Allah, these are the cousins, the clan and brothers of Muslims, and I see that we take the ransom from them, and what we get from them will be support for us against the infidels, and Allah may guide them and make them support for us (if they become muslims). The Messenger of Allah said: "what you see, O Ibn al-Khattab?" He said: what I see is not what Abu Bakr said, but I see that you give me (and named one of the captives who is a relative of Omar) so I strike his neck, and give Akil to Ali so he will strike his neck (kill him), and give Hamza his brother to smite his neck; so Allah knows that it is not in our hearts relentlessly to the heathens, and these are their imams and their leaders. Messenger of Allah liked what Abu Bakr said, and did not like what I said (Omar) and he took the ransom.

The amount of ransom has varied according to the status of each prisoner.

Prophet exchanged Amr ibn Abi Sufyan with Saad bin Nu'man bin Akal, who was captured by Abu Sufyan while doing Omrah.

One prisoner redeemed himself with money, and the Messenger of Allah took into account the condition of each prisoner, some of them paid four thousand dirhams such as Abu Wadaah, and Abu Aziz, his rich mother paid his ransom, and some of them paid One hundred ounces such as Alabas bin Abdul Muttalib, and some of them paid eighty ounces as Aqil bin Abi Talib, was paid for him by Abbas, and some prisoners paid only forty ounces.

Those who had no money, and knew how to read and write, their ransom was to teach some Muslims reading and writing; Narrated Ibn Abbas said: There were people at the day of Badr did not have ransom, the Messenger of Allah decided their ransom was teaching the children of the Ansar.

Some prisoners were released without ransom such Al-Muttalib bin Hntb, and Abu Azza Al-Shaer, and Saifi ibn Abi Refaah.

Messenger of Allah treated others well also, such as Suhail bin Amr, he saved his prestige and leadership in Quraish, did not want to insult or maim him, although he was able to, it was Omar Iben Al-Khattab wanted to take off the front teeth of Suhail bin Amr so he never again make speech against prophet Mohammad, but prophet said "I will not maim him so Allah maim me although I'm a prophet". It is obvious that the remaining prisoners were released in less than a year after the Battle of Badr, and what confirms that the infidels in a battle of Ohod did not negotiate on any of captives.

The eternal position of the Messenger of Allah with Thamama bin Athaal

Shows the attitude of the Messenger of Allah in dealing with prisoners as in this rare position with Thamama bin Athaal; Thamama bin Athaal was one of the leaders of Bani Hanifa, and had decided to come to the city of Medina to kill the Messenger of Allah, he was captivated, and brought to the Prophet's mosque, what was the reaction of the Messenger of Allah, he said to his companions: "deal with him kindly". He also said: "Gather what you have of food and give it to him.", so they were giving him milk from a camel belongs to the Prophet.

Messenger of Allah treated him with high respect, politeness and amnesty, the Messenger of Allah said: "O Thamama What do you have?" He said: O Mohammed I have the good; If you kill, you kill a man of blood (means of position in his people), and if you please, you please a thankful person, and if you want money, ask and you will get as much as you want.

Messenger of Allah left him until the next day, then he said: "What you have Thamama ?" He said, what I said to you, if you please, you please a thankful person, and if you kill, you kill a man of blood, and if you want money, ask and you will get as much as you want.

Then Messenger of Allah left him until the next day, then he said: "What you have Thamama?" He said, what I said to you, if you please, you please a thankful person, and if you kill, you kill a man of blood, and if you want money, ask and you will get as much as you want. The Messenger of Allah said: "set Thamama free."

He went to palm trees near the mosque did ghusl (wash-up), then entered the mosque, he said: I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is his slave and Messenger, O Muhammad, there was no face on Earth I hate more than your face, your face has become the most beloved face to me, and your religion was most religion I hate, now your religion has become the most religion I like, your country was the most hated by me, it has become the best country to me.

The care of the Messenger of Allah of prisoners

It was a general rule urged by the Messenger of Allah “Be kind to them" . This good treatment ordered by the Messenger of Allah to the prisoners were not just a theory the laws have no application in real life, but it was the many manifestations predictors for hearts filled with compassion.

Muslims did not feed prisoners what was left of their food, but they were weeded them the highest quality of their food, and make them eat in accordance with the commandment of the Messenger of Allah them.

Dealing gentle and soft side with prisoners It is the commandments of the Messenger of Allah prominent in dealing with prisoners with kindness, so they can feel the security and peace of mind, the attitude of the Messenger of Allah was responding to the prisoner’s inquiries, not bored or tired of their questions; showing the depth of his mercy, which included all human beings.

One of the greatest interests of the Messenger of God was the psychological aspects of prisoners in every respect, it appears clearly in times of adversity, and after a private wars, we find the Prophet directs his companions esteemed upscale humanitarian guidance regarding dealing with prisoners from the women and children; he did not allow separating mother and her child ; narrated that Abu Ayyub said: "I heard the Messenger of Allah said:" whoever separates a mother and her son Allah will separate him from his beloved in the day of judgment.

One last beautiful story; where the ethics of the Messenger of Allah in dealing with prisoners shows at its best, the Messenger of Allah, looked at captives from bahrain; and saw woman crying; he said: “what makes you cry? " She said: my son was sold in Bani Abs; The Messenger of Allah commanded one to ride and get her son. The man rode and brought him!

The Messenger of God sent his soldiers to a distant country to bring her son, to rest her mind, and dry her tears!

Collected and translated from an article by Dr. Ragheb El-Sergany

  • You have done a lot of work to address my question. Thank you very much. – SaganRitual Jun 13 '16 at 13:55
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From Muhammad: Prophet And Statesman, by W Montgomery Watt:

[Captives] who were not sufficiently influential or wealthy to be ransomed, Muhammad usually set free without any ransom. Generosity in any form was always admired by the Arabs.

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