Lessons in Effective Communication from the Life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was very much aware of the power of Media and his successes in deploying Media to the advantage of Islam were a source of great power for him and placed a critical role in his eventual success which happened in a span of just 23 years, writes SYED KAZIM.
Media is the best medium of communication for mass audience. With the help of various media like electronic media, print media and web media, the mass communication method is accomplished in a suitable way. A vast majority of people, all across the world, rely upon various sources of media for keeping themselves updated on various ongoing issues around the world.
Media plays an important role for the whole society. It gives us immense knowledge and transmits information, it raises our consciousness, it raises voice against social evils, it provides true pictures and live telecast for various events and also educates the society. Today, media has become an important part of our life as well as society. Henceforth, the role and effects of media cannot be ignored! It informs, educates and entertains people and most importantly, it helps in reforming, reshaping, educating and strengthening the society.
Prophet (pbuh) exercised significant control over media. Prophet (pbuh) was keenly aware of the influence of media over human beliefs and behaviours. At the time of Prophet (pbuh) news travelled only as fast as a horseman. Naturally, media in the 7th century AD was comprised mostly of five modes. Firstly, word of mouth, secondly, poetry (praising or condemning a subject), thirdly, information from pilgrims and trading caravans from far off lands, fourthly, information from intelligence, fifthly, letters and ambassadors sent to the chiefs of tribes, governors and kings
Modes of Media in the Seventh Century
The following are the ways employed by Prophet (pbuh) to use all the modes of Media which were available:
i. Word of Mouth
Word of mouth was the simplest and the most common means of communication. When Islam became strong, Prophet (pbuh) decided to make his message public and convey the message through word of mouth. He (pbuh) climbed on Mount Safa, a well-known elevation in the city of Mecca. He (pbuh) felt no fear or shame and stood on a high place. His voice resounded on the mountain and attracted the attention of the people. Large crowds from various tribes hurried toward him to hear what he was going to say. Once the people were gathered, he (pbuh) conveyed the message.
After the Muslims won in the Battle of Badar, the Prophet (pbuh) was quick to use this victory as a means of consolidating his position in the area by disseminating this information far and wide. Prophet (pbuh) sent Zaid bin Harithah (ra) to the lower quarter and Adbullah bin Rawahah (ra) to the upper quarter to tell the Muslims of Madina of Allah’s victory and of the polytheists who had been killed.
Prophet (pbuh) used poetry to demoralize the enemies psychologically. While they visited Mecca to perform Umrah (minor pilgrimage) one year after the treaty, Prophet (pbuh) used to tell Hassan bin Thabit (ra) and Abdullah bin Rawaha (ra), who were poets to go around the Kabba reciting the poems which would demoralize the enemies. The Prophet (pbuh) wisely used the opportunity of Umrah to spread the message of Islam and to weaken the enemies psychologically.
iii. Information from Pilgrims and Trading Caravans
Annual fairs and pilgrimages provided the perfect stating posts to disseminate information to a wide audience. The Prophet (pbuh) was in the habit of meeting the visiting pilgrims in Mecca and he routinely explained Islam to them and invited them to Islam. Not only was the Prophet (pbuh) able to explain Islam to the visiting pilgrims, he was also able to gather crucial information from them about the Arab tribes all over Arabia and people from other countries.
iv. Information from Intelligence
The Prophet (pbuh) routinely sent messengers to neighbouring areas of Madina. This served many purposes such as, to inform the adjoining tribes about the positive developments of Islam in Madina so as to help them submit to Islam or at least develop friendly terms with the Muslim community, to counter any negative propaganda that may be emanating from Mecca against Islam and the Prophet (pbuh) and to keep himself appraised of material developments in the area that could have an impact on his future plans.
Just before the Battle of Badar, the Prophet (pbuh) wanted to know the number of soldiers in the Makkan army so the Muslims could plan their strategies accordingly. He (pbuh) sent a group of Muslims to find out before the battle could start. They were able to get hold of the slave of Akbah bin Abi Muait. After a conversation with him Prophet (pbuh) got an idea that the size of the army was somewhere between 900 to 1000 soldiers.
v. Letters and Ambassadors sent to the Chiefs of Tribes, Governors and Kings
Zayd ibn Thabit (ra) said, “Prophet (pbuh) ordered me to learn some words for him from the language of the Jews. He (pbuh) told me, “I take an oath by Allah that I do not trust the Jews with my letter”. Before half a month could pass, I learnt the language (Hebrew and Suryani). After I learnt it, if he (pbuh) had to write a letter to the Jews, I used to write it for him and if they wrote to him, I used to read their letters for him” (Bukhari and Tirmidhi).
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) ordered his companion to learn the language of the Jews, so that he (pbuh) would be able to become secure against their plotting. Furthermore, he (pbuh) never used a non-Muslim translator, yet, he (pbuh) ordered his companion to learn the language in order to be able to translate any letter of both languages to Arabic and make sure the translation is accurate and that no one is bluffing.
On the other hand, Prophet (pbuh) wrote many letters to various kings across the world. He (pbuh) wrote a letter to the Vicegerent of Egypt, called Muqawqas, a Letter to Chosroes, Emperor of Persia, a letter to Caesar, King of Rome, a letter to Mundhir bin Sawa, Governor of Bahrain, a letter to Haudha bin ‘Ali, Governor of Yamama, a letter to Harith bin Abi Shamir Al-Ghassani, King of Damascus, a letter to the King of ‘Oman, Jaifer, and his Bother ‘Abd Al-Jalandi.
With respect to ambassadors, after the Aqabah Pledge with the people of Yathrib (Madina), the Prophet (pbuh) sent Musab bin Umair (ra) to Yathrib (Madina) as the first ambassador to teach the people the doctrines of Islam, give them practical guidance and make attempts at propagating the Islam among those who still professed polytheism.
Strategy of Controlling Information
The entire intelligence gathering was a private affair. Once Prophet (pbuh) told his companions to go and enquire about a rumour during the Battle of Ahzaab, “If it is true give me an enigmatic message which I can understand, and do not undermine the people’s confidence; and if they are loyal to their agreement speak out openly before the people” (Ibn Ishaq).
Prophet (pbuh) had given standing instruction to his ambassadors, emissaries and an intelligence agent which was to share positive news with all present. However, news of any adverse developments was to be shared with the Prophet alone in private or in garbled language. The Prophet (pbuh) clearly wanted to control the flow of any bad news and wished to exercise control and caution as he dealt with a potentially serious adverse development. This shows how the Prophet (pbuh) controlled the flow of communication.
Many of the closest companions of Prophet (pbuh) were left guessing about his internal deliberations. The Prophet (pbuh) himself possessed the most sensitive and most crucial information, very few of his closest aides would be aware of this development. On many occasions, the Prophet (pbuh) sent out expeditions by giving a sealed letter of instructions to the leader of the expedition with the explicit command to open the letter after two or three days of travelling in the specified direction. This served the twin purpose of keeping the mission totally secret and of ensuring compliance with the instructions by the members of the expedition (who would probably not refuse the mission in order to avoid coming back to Madina to face the ridicule of the city).
Prophet (pbuh) ordered the Muslims to complete preparations for war but did not tell them who he intended to attack. Even Abu Bakar (ra) and Umar (ra) who were very close to the Prophet (pbuh) had no idea who and where the Prophet (pbuh) intended to attack. As the preparations for an attack were being made, the Prophet (pbuh) also issued an order to keep their preparations totally secret. His goal was that the news of martial preparations should not go outside Madina.
The control over Media was a great asset and weapon which the Prophet (pbuh) employed very effectively. The Prophet (pbuh) was great in managing and deploying of Media. Not only could Prophet (pbuh) use Media to his great advantage, he (pbuh) also knew how and when to control the flow of negative information. He (pbuh) was keenly aware of the importance of spreading positive news about Islam and controlling and silencing the negative media that is bound to surround any burgeoning new religion. He (pbuh) was the central repository of critical and sensitive information. He (pbuh) employed a wide array of information sources to enable him to triangulate accurately the diplomatic and military state-of-affairs around him at all times.
Prophet (pbuh) was in the state of battle readiness during the Madina period. He (pbuh) knew very well that any show of weakness on the part of the nascent Islamic State in Madina would cause the Makkans to pound on him with vengeance and viciousness. Prophet (pbuh) was the guardian of this community in Madina and knew that any ill-preparedness could be seriously punished by his adversaries.
Prophet (pbuh) was very much aware of the power of Media and his successes in deploying Media to the advantage of Islam were a source of great power for him and placed a critical role in his eventual success which happened in a span of just 23 years.