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But despite Muhammad’s remarkable accomplishments, there is no modern account of his life that examines his role as Islam’s first great general and the leader of a successful insurgency.
Had Muhammad not succeeded as a commander, however, Islam might have been relegated to a geographic backwater—and the conquest of the Byzantine and Persian empires by Arab armies might never have occurred.
The idea of Muhammad as a military man will be new to many. In the space of a single decade he fought eight major battles, led eighteen raids, and planned another thirty-eight military operations where others were in command but operating under his orders and strategic direction.
Wounded twice, he also twice experienced having his positions overrun by superior forces before he managed to turn the tables on his enemies and rally his men to victory.
Just as Philip of Macedon transformed the armies of Greece so his successor, Alexander, could employ them as instruments of conquest and empire, Muhammad transformed the armies of Arabia so his successors could use them to defeat the armies of Persia and Byzantium and establish the heartland of the empire of Islam.
Muhammad was first and foremost a revolutionary, a fiery religious guerrilla leader who created and led the first genuine national insurgency in antiquity that is comprehensible in modern terms, a fact not lost on the jihadis of the present day, who often cite the Koran and Muhammad’s use of violence as justification for their own insurgencies.
To achieve his revolutionary goals Muhammad utilized all the means recognized by modern analysts as characteristic of a successful insurgency in today’s world.Muhammad used the new religious creed of Islam to challenge basic traditional Arab social institutions and values as oppressive and unholy and worthy of replacement.To this end he created the ummah, or community of believers, God’s community on earth, to serve as a messianic replacement for the clans and tribes that were the basis of traditional Arab society.The later Arab conquests, as regards both strategic concept and the new armies as instruments of military method, were the consequences of Muhammad’s prior military success as the leader of an insurgency.This aspect of Muhammad’s military life as a guerrilla insurgent is likely to strike the reader as curious.
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In Muhammad’s case his own charismatic personality was enhanced by his deeply held belief that he was God’s Messenger, and that to follow Muhammad was to obey the dictates of God himself.