The Sunnah of Long-Term Thinking

The life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is full of amazing lessons in leadership and growth. One lesson that can be extracted from multiple incidents in his life is the importance of long-term thinking. There are many incidents in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) sacrificed short-term gains for long-term goals. In each of these, history bears witness that he made the right decision.

The Case of Suhail Ibn ʿAmr

An interesting example from the early portion of Madinan history is the case of Suhail Ibn ʿAmr. Suhail was one of the leaders of the Quraysh and among the most outspoken enemies of Islam. When he was captured during the Battle of Badr, ʿUmar (RA) wanted to punish him for his venomous words against Islam by removing his front two teeth.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) did not allow this, stating that perhaps one day Suhail would use that same mouth to defend Islam. Fast forward ten years, after the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him), the people of Makkah disputed with each other over whether they should apostate or not. Suhail, now a recent convert, stood up by the Kabah and delivered a moving sermon that encouraged the people to remain firm on their faith. In this case, the foresight of the Prophet (peace be upon him) saved a lot of people from potential apostasy.

The People of Ta’if

A few years earlier, before migrating to Madinah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) tried to seek the support of the people of Ta’if instead. However, these people not only turned him away, but they also ridiculed him and threw stones at him, causing him both emotional and physical harm. The Prophet (peace be upon him) describes it as the most difficult day of his life.

In response to their aggression, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was offered a chance to allow Divine Punishment to fall upon them. He declined stating that perhaps someone from among their descendants might embrace Islam. Once again, the long-term thinking of the Prophet (peace be upon him) saved the souls of many people, as Ta’if eventually became a community of believers.

The Treaty of Ḥudaibiya

The best example of sacrificing short-term gains for long-term goals is the treaty of Ḥudaibiya. In this incident, the Prophet (peace be upon him) set out from Madinah for Makkah with the intention of pilgrimage. He was stopped outside Makkah in an area called Ḥudaibiya to negotiate. The result of the negotiation was a ten-year peace treaty between the Muslims and pagans.

However, the terms of the treaty were unfairly against the Muslims. They were not allowed to continue with the pilgrimage and would have to return a full year later to complete it. They were not allowed to accept into Madinah anyone who fled from Makkah, but the opposite was allowed. The terms of the treaty seemed very unjust but the Prophet (peace be upon him) signed it anyway.

Shortly thereafter, a verse of the Quran was revealed declaring the treaty a clear victory. The new peace between the pagans and Muslims allowed the Arabs to interact with the Muslims without seeing them as their wartime enemies. As a result, thousands of Arabs converted to Islam including many of the leaders of Makkah. The terms of the treaty caused Islam to spread rapidly across Arabia, accelerating the completion of the Prophetic mission. The treaty of Ḥudaibiya is a clear example of sacrificing short-term gains for long-term goals.

Conclusion

In each of these cases, we see how long-term thinking benefits society more, and leads to greater results. We can learn from this the importance of thinking ahead and planning long-term. If a sacrifice is needed today to accomplish something great tomorrow, we should be willing to sacrifice short-term benefits for long-term goals, especially when those goals are pleasing to Allah and beneficial for the community.

For more Productivity Lessons from Islamic History, check out my ebook Productivity Principles of Umar II, available here.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar

Ismail Kamdar is the Founder of Islamic Self Help, author of over a dozen books, faculty manager of IOU, and a freelance writer.

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