The Wars We Fought – Battle of Badr

Not a year had passed since the emigration that took the Prophet and his devoted companions from their homeland to a foreign city; a city that would become their new home providing them the much needed shelter from the tyranny of those who were by birth their closest. The brutality shown by neighbours and kinsmen could reach such heights that would force them out of their homes was perhaps not imagined but by those who understood the nature of the prophetic message and the demands of the path of God. One such noble and farsighted person was the Christian relative of the Prophet’s wife, Waraqah bin Naufal.


Muhammad, sallallahu alaihi wasallam[1], was now nearly in his mid fifties, an age in which as Syed Iqbal Zaheer puts it, “a man likes to withdraw to an easy chair and brood over the past” especially so since with “the umbrella of defence provided to him by the Madinans, the chapter of pain, suffering and tribulations seemed to have ended”. But that was not to be. Neither the Makkans nor the Jews in Madinah were ready to accept that Muslims should enjoy the peace resulting from the emigration. This was clear from the letters of threats that the Makkans wrote to the Madinan leaders warning them against providing any help and inciting them against the Muslims. Nor was the Prophet going to barter the Divine responsibility for a paltry price of peace even if it meant remaining awake whole nights due to the fears of an attack from Makkah. The mission of taking the message of God to humanity could not be jeopardized for the sake of pleasing his foes. Especially not now after having spent more than thirteen years in peaceful perseverance under the most torturous conditions humans are capable of withstanding. The time had come now to consolidate the believers and make it clear to the enemies that Muslims had had enough. They had spent thirteen long years trying to propagate the message of God peacefully among their people. But forces opposed to change tried preventing them by lures, threats, ridicule, boycott and finally by attempting to assassinate the Prophet himself. Doses of torture were given to the weaker ones regularly. It was finally then that they were commanded to migrate to safer regions and war was permitted to remove all obstacles that would prevent the message of God from reaching the people.

After having arrived in Yethrib (now Madinah) in the year 623 CE (Christian Era), the Prophet established a brotherhood between the Muhajiroon – Emigrant Quraish and their Helpers from Madinah, the Ansar. He then set about forming the Madinan Charter which gave several non-Muslim tribes in Madinah citizenship and protection of the state. It also laid down the ground rules for cooperation between Muslims and non-Muslims[2]. Then he sent out emissaries to the tribes residing around Madinah especially on the trade routes of Makkah. Several non-aggression pacts were signed with them with the aim to create a safe belt around Madinah and to break the Quraish’s monopoly over the trade routes. But that would not be sufficient to reduce the constant danger of an attack from Makkah. And even a reasonably large scale attack would have decimated the Muslims. Therefore it was necessary that the supply chain of the Makkans be cut-off. Several platoons were sent with the aim of either assessing the situation or causing minor damage to the trade caravans. No fighting however took place (except minor skirmishes) either because it was not intended to or because the Muslims could not reach the destination in time or because peace ensued due to mediation of common acquaintances. That these were missions of loot and plunder clearly appears an unfounded allegation since firstly Islam had forbidden such heinous acts[3], two because not a single mission led to such an eventuality and three because if this was indeed the motive then there were much easier targets besides the Makkans who were by far the strongest force in Arabia to be meddled with. It should be obvious to any student of history that these were strategic missions to defend their own freedom and stop the danger of an attack on Madinah.

In the beginning of the second year after the Hijrah[4], the Makkans raided the pastures around Madinah and looted some animals. The Prophet chased them in vain till Badr, a place around 150 km from Madinah in what came to be known as the preliminary Badr invasion. He, however, took the opportunity to sign non-aggression pacts with two tribes in the area. Later that year, the Prophet learnt that Abu Sufyan was leading a trade caravan battleofbadr_mapcarrying a large amount of wealth back from Syria. Muslims decided that it was a good opportunity to make up for their losses and gathered together a band of around 300 men including many future leaders of the Muslims like Abu Bakr, Umar, Ali etc, may God be pleased with them all, with the notable exception of Uthman who had to stay back to take care of his ailing wife Ruqayya, the Prophet’s daughter. Their aim was to ambush the caravan and give a big financial blow to the Makkans. Abu Sufyan, however, learnt of the Muslim plans through his agents and cleverly changed the route. He also sent this news to Makkah where the Quraish already burning with hatred for the Muslims quickly raised an army of around 1300 well armed men that comprised many top notch leaders and arch rivals of the Muslims including Amr ibn Hisham[5]. A notable absentee was the coward Abu Lahab who deputed someone who owed him money to fight on his behalf. Several clans such as Banu Hashim were not interested in fighting the Muslims but Amr incited them saying they had a caravan to save. Abu Sufyan on his part made his people ride for two full nights with very little rest and succeeded in escaping the rendezvous with the Muslims. The Makkan army started out towards Badr when news reached them that their caravan was safe and heading for home. But the zeal of many most notably Amr ibn Hisham did not let them turn back. However, Al-Akhnas bin Shuraiq made his people the Banu Zahra brake away from the group and return to Makkah. Thereafter the Makkan army comprised somewhere between nine hundred and a thousand souls.

The Muslims continued to march till they reached Badr. News reached them that the caravan had escaped and an army from Makkah was proceeding towards them. The Prophet had time to retreat but due to some reasons decided to march towards Badr. The men that accompanied him had neither given their consent for full scale war nor were they bound by any pledge to help the Prophet in such a suicidal mission. They had set out to ambush a trade caravan not to meet a well prepared army several times their size. Moreover they were so far away from Madinah that help could not possibly reach them in time nor could they retreat in the event of defeat since they hardly had about 70 camels and one or two horses. By any standard they were not prepared for the impending clash. The Prophet had to, therefore, seek their approval. However, his companions were not the type to say no. Al Miqdad bin Amr from the Emigrants got up and said,

O Messenger of God, proceed where God directs you to, for we are with you. We will not say as the Children of Israel said to Moses, ‘Go you and you Lord and fight and we will stay here’, rather we will say, ‘Go you and your Lord and fight and we will fight along with you’.

From the Ansar, Sa’d bin Mu’adh got up and said,

O Prophet of God! We believe in you and we bear witness to what you have vouchsafed to us and we declare in unequivocal terms that what you have brought is the Truth. We give you our firm pledge of obedience and sacrifice. We will obey you most willingly in whatever you command us, and by God, Who has sent you with the Truth, if you were to ask us to plunge into the sea, we will do that most readily and not a man of us will stay behind. We do not grudge the idea of encounter with the enemy. We are experienced in war and we are trustworthy in combat. We hope that God will show you through our hands those deeds of valour which will please your eyes. Kindly lead us to the battlefield in the name of God.

Thus having received their whole hearted approval, the Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, continued to march till he reached the nearest spring of Badr and decided to stop there. During the night Muslims conducted scouting operations around the area to learn more about the enemy. They captured two water carriers of the Quraish and extracted from them information about the number of enemy soldiers, their exact location and their leaders. It was thus that the Muslims came to know precisely what they were facing. All the important leaders of the Quraish such as Amr ibn Hisham, Utbah, Shaybah and Umayyah bin Khalaf had come to battle.

Date[6]

Event

Rabi-Al-Awwal, 53 BH

Birth of Prophet Muhammad

Rabi Al-Awwal, 1 AH

Hijrah – The Emigration from Makkah to Madinah

Ramadhan, 1AH – Shawwal, 2AH

Series of minor ghazawat

Ramadhan, 2AH

Battle of Badr

One of the Prophet’s companions suggested that the place they had encamped was not good and they ought to move to a more strategic location near a water-well closest to the Makkan side so that they would have control over the wells. The Prophet readily accepted his advice against his own judgement and thus provided a great precedent for his followers of consultation. Having moved to the advised location, the Muslims built a basin to collect water and a trellis for the Prophet. It was already quite late in the night and the Muslim army took rest and given the situation had a surprisingly sound sleep. The Prophet on the other hand spent the whole night in prayer in his trellis.

At dawn, the Muslims woke up, offered the Morning Prayer in congregation led by the Prophet and readied themselves for battle. It was the 17th of Ramadhan 2nd year after the Hijrah corresponding to 17th April 624 CE. The Quraish lined up their forces on the other side. It was customary in Arabia then that before the general melee started, duels were held between a few from either side. Living up to this tradition three men from the Quraish, namely, Utbah, Shaybah and Waleed drew out of the ranks. From the Muslims side three men from among the Helpers came out to meet them but were shouted back by the Makkans saying they (the Makkans) were interested in fighting their cousins not the Madinans. The Prophet therefore sent Ubaidah bin Harith, his uncle Hamzah and his cousin Ali to meet the challenge. Within a short time the three Muslims put their opponents to sleep, however, Ubaidah was mortally injured in the clash and died a few days later. After a few more duels a general fight ensued which saw many instances of bravery and sacrifice on the part of the Muslims. Though the Makkans had the perfect military ratio of 3:1 in their favour and were far better equipped than the Muslims, they were routed within a few hours. Their greater numbers only caused confusion in their ranks. The fervour of the Muslim army was unmatchable. It was as if angels had descended to help the Muslims. Indeed the Qur’an beautifully describes how God sent rows of angels to fight alongside the Muslims in answer to the fervent prayers of the Prophet. One by one all the major leaders of the Quraish were killed. Umayya bin Khalaf was spotted by Bilal who called others to his help and finished him off. It must be remembered that it was the same Umayya who used to drag Bilal on burning hot rocks to make him give up his new faith. The arch enemy of Islam, Abu Jahl was done away with by two young lads from the Helpers. One of the two, Mu’adh, had his hand cut off later by the son of Abu Jahl, Ikramah who had not yet accepted Islam. The lad kept fighting with his hand hanging on his side but when it started causing him too much pain, he held it under his foot and gave a pull to detach it completely from his body. Mu’adh lived till the Khilafah of Uthman but his associate Mu’awwaz fought till he was martyred on that day. The proud and arrogant Abu Jahl who was breathing his last when found later was still defiant and when he was about to have himself beheaded asked his slayer to cut his neck a little lower so that his head would stand tall when put besides the others! In all about 70 Makkans were slain and another 70 taken prisoner to the loss of 13 Muslims. Some of the dead from the Makkans were buried while corpses of some were dumped in a dry well.

 

Makkan Polytheists

Muslims

Soldiers 900-1000 300-320
Important Participants Abu Jahl, Utbah, Umayyah, Shaybah Prophet Muhammad, Hamzah, Abu Bakr, Umar, Ali
Casualty Figures 70 dead, 70 captured 13 dead
Important Casualties Abu Jahl, Utbah, Shaybah,   Umayyah Ubaidah bin Harith, Umair bin Abi Waqqas

Two of the prisoners of war were executed on the way while others were taken to Madinah. A consultative meet was held there to decide the fate of the prisoners. The opinion of Umar was to execute the prisoners while Abu Bakr opted for clemency suggesting that the ransom thus received would be helpful to the Islamic cause and that there were chances that they may ultimately accept Islam. The decision eventually was to release the prisoners on ransom, although the Qur’an (8:67-68) later disapproved of it. It was neither the right time in the Islamic struggle to let people capable of waging war go free who could and did participate in hostilities against the Muslims in the battle next year, nor were the intentions of some of the people who suggested the mode of ransom right, since they were interested in monetary gains. But not all had this intention; instead they were hopeful that some of the prisoners might come to accept Islam eventually as did actually happen[7]. Therefore, the decision was seen through in accordance with an earlier permission of the Qur’an (47:4). Those who were financially incapable were released without paying the ransom, while those who knew how to read and write were asked to teach the art to ten Muslims each as their ransom, a decision perhaps unparalleled in history. Zaid bin Thabit, the famous compiler of the Qur’an, acquired his skills thus. Till they were released, the prisoners were assigned to the people of Madinah and the people given specific instructions to treat them well. Such was the height of this treatment that the captive would receive the bread whereas the host would make-do with dates.

The news of the defeat shocked Makkah since they were quite certain of their victory. Most of their top leaders who had been in the forefront were killed. Nevertheless, it must not be assumed that the Quraish had lost; they were too strong a force to be finished by one defeat as the coming years were to prove. However, the battle did establish that Muslims were not as weak as previously thought. It also brought another quality of the Prophet to the fore, that of a general. Who would have thought that the quite and gentle shepherd boy would turn out to be such a good commander? The battle although statistically small proved to be a turning point in the history of mankind since it was the beginning of the establishment of a spiritual empire that would engulf the whole world and also because defeat on that fateful day at Badr could have well been the end of Islam.


References

1. Muhammad – The Unlettered Prophet who Changed the World in 23 Years, by Syed Iqbal Zaheer, Iqra Publications, Bangalore, India

2. Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum, by Saifur Rahman al-Mubarakpuri, India

3. Seeratul Mustafa (Urdu), by Maulana Idris Kandhalwi, India

4. Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Battle_of_Badr


[1] Muslims recite this peace formula when the Prophet’s name is pronounced; it means ‘may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him’

[2] A careful reading of these documents reveals the great diplomatic skills of the Prophet who was on his way to creating a truly global brotherhood from those desert dwellers

[3] Highway robbery incurs capital punishment in Islam

[4] The Emigration from Makkah to Madinah

[5] Known infamously as Abu Jahl – ‘Father of Ignorance’

[6] 1 AH (After Hijrah) corresponds approximately to 623 CE, therefore 53 BH (Before Hijrah) would correspond to 570 CE

[7] For a full commentary on the Quranic disapproval, see pages 113-120, volume 2 of Seeratul Mustafa or other larger works

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