In the second year of the Hijrah, during the month of Ramadan, the Muslims came up against the infidels in the decisive battle of Badr which was to prove the turning point not only in the destiny of Islam but of the entire human race.
This event in which the underequipped Muslims emerged victorious still stands today as one of the founding moments in Islamic history. The battle of Badr was one of the major signs of God, in which He demonstrated that those who believed in Him and His religion would in the end be made victorious despite the apparently overwhelming obstacles in store ahead. This day has been remembered in the Holy Quran as the "Day of Criterion (between right and wrong)":
"If you believe in Allah and that which We revealed unto Our slaves on the Day of Criterion (between right and wrong), the day when two armies met." [Qur'an 8:41]
The circumstances that led to this battle began with the news received by the Prophet (Peace be upon him) that a great caravan with lots of money and merchandise, was being led by Abu Sufyan on its way back to Mecca from Syria. A state of belligerence already existed between the Muslims and the Quraish, for the latter was doing all in their power to harm and abuse the Muslims, to impede their progress and to seize their rising power. They were sparing none of their financial and physical resources to get on the job and their armed detachments very often waded deep into the limits of Madinah and its pastures to pound upon the Muslims.
Abu Sufyan, was one of the worst enemies of Islam, therefore, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) asked the Muslims to get ready to intercept the caravan. However, since it was a commercial caravan the Prophet (Peace be upon him) did not make any elaborate arrangements for fighting, but merely positioned himself in order to catch it flat-footed.
Informed of the Prophet's (Peace be upon him) decision to stop him, Abu Sufyan sent a courier to Mecca with an urgent request for reinforcements. Thereupon, the Quraish ably supported and accompanied by all the notable chiefs of Mecca hastily formed an armed force. Such support group enlisted every man available therein from the neighbouring tribes - and this army went forth to assist the caravan. The Quraish were so flared up that hardly a man was left behind in Mecca.
FAITHFULNESS OF THE ANSAAR
News came to the Prophet (Peace be upon him) that a strong Meccan army was on its way to engage him in a battle. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) thereupon summoned his followers and solicited for their advice. He really wanted to ascertain the reaction of the Ansaars, for, their original oath of allegiance with him obliged them to defend him in Madinah and did not compel them to take part in a military expedition outside their territory. The Muhajirin responded first and assured him of their help and loyalty. The Prophet (Peace be upon him), however, repeated his appeal and the Muhajirin gave similar reply but the Prophet (Peace be upon him) threw the same question once again for the third time. Now the Ansaar realised that the question was meant for them. S'ad b. Mu'ad immediately got up to say in reply, "O Prophet of God, it appears that the question is directed to us and you want to have our answer. Perhaps you think, O Prophet of God, that the Ansaar have offered to help you on their own territory only. I want to tell you in behalf of the Ansaar that you may lead us wherever you like, align with whom you may desire or break relations with whom you may think fit; you may take whatever you desire from our property and give us as much as you want; for, whatever you would take from our property would be dearer to us than what you would leave for us. We will follow whatever you command us to do. By God, if you go ahead until you reach Bakr Al Ghimad, (1) we will accompany you, and by God if you march into the sea, we will also do it with you."
Then Miqdad got up and said, "O Prophet of God, we will not say as the Children of Israel said to Moses:
"Go thou and thy Lord and fight, we will sit here" [Qur'an 5:24]
We will fight with you on your left and on your right, in your front and in your rear."
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) was delighted to hear the replies given by his companions. He said, "Go ahead with glad tidings." (2)
ENTHUSIASM OF THE YOUNGSTERS
When the detachments went out from Madinahh, a boy of sixteen, whose name was 'Umair b. Abi Waqqas also accompanied the warriors stealthily because he feared that if the Prophet (Peace be upon him) saw him, he would send him back due to his juvenile age. When his elder brother, S'ad b. Abi Waqqas saw 'Umair avoiding detection of the Prophet (Peace be upon him), he verified this. "Umair replied, "I am afraid that the Prophet of God will send me back due to my age, but I want to take part in the battle. God may perhaps honour me with martyrdom." When the Prophet (Peace be upon him) saw 'Umair, he asked him to go back but he started crying and so he was allowed to stay with them. 'Umair was killed in the battle and thus his hearts's desire was fullfiled. (Usd ul-Ghaba, Vol. IV, p. 148)
STRENGTH OF THE CONTENDING PARTIES
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) rallied forth to the battlefield with three hundred and thirteen combatants who were not even well-equipped. The Muslims had seventy camels and two horses on which men rode by turns; (Zad al-ma'ad, Vol. I, p. 342) there was nothing to distinguish the soldiers from the captains, not even the eminent companions like Abu Bakr and 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with himmaa) or the Prophet (Peace be upon him) himself bore any mark of distinction.
The standard banner of the army was given to Mus'ab b. 'Umayr, the flag of the Muhajirin was with 'Ali and that of the Ansaar with S'ad b. Muadh.
Upon learning of the approaching Muslim army, Abu Sufyan turned his caravan towards the seacoast. He also sent word to the Quraish army, when he was at a safe distance from the Muslims, to go back home as it it was no longer essential for them to proceed ahead. Many of the Meccans too wanted to return home but Abu Jahl insisted to charge ahead in order to punish the raiders. His forces were a thousand strong with all the veterans and noted fighters of Mecca and all were well-armed. He did not want to miss the opportunity to engage the Muslims in battle. (Zad al-Ma'ad, Vol. I, p. 343 and Ibn Hisham, Vol. pp. 618-19) On coming to know the names of the Meccan chiefs accompanying Abu Jahl, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) remarked: "Mecca has brought the pieces of heart to you!"
THE DEMOCRATIC WAY
The Quraish army halted on reaching a Wadi (valley) near Badr while the Muslims pitched their tents on the other side of the enemy. Hubab b. Al-Mundhir, however, called upon the Prophet (Peace be upon him) to inquire: "O Prophet of God, is this a place which God has ordered you to occupy, so that we cannot leave the place, or is it a matter of opinion and military tactics?" "No", replied the Prophet (Peace be upon him), "It is only a matter of opinion and military tactics." Hubab then said, "O Prophet of God, it is not the place we should occupy." He suggested another place nearer to the water (wells of Badr), which was more suitable for engaging the enemy. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) agreed and ordered his men to move there immediately. (Ibn Hisham, Vol. I, p. 620)
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) and some of his close companions were the first ones to arrive at the new camping ground that evening; a cistern was built and filled with water from which the enemy was also allowed to replenish its drinking-vessels. (Ibn Hisham, Vol. I, p. 622)
God sent down rain during the night, which caused the infidels great inconvenience by hindering their movement, yet, it revived the vanishing spirits of the Muslims by making the weather pleasant and turning the soft sand of the wadi (valley) into a compact surface.
This was a sign of victory which God disclosed in the following verse of the Qur'an:
"And he sent down water from the sky upon you, that thereby he might purify you, and remove from you the fear of Satan, and make strong your hearts and firm (your) feet thereby." [Qur'an 8:11]
PROPHET AS A GENERAL
We find, on this occasion, the Prophet exhibiting the marvelous qualities of an experienced military tactician, which complemented his eternal mission of delivering the universal guidance to mankind, providing yet another indication that the inspiration received by him could have only been from Almighty God. (3) The way in which he organized his troops for battle, as well as his reactions to the sudden and surprise attacks by the superior enemy forces despite the limited number of soldiers needs to be studied to truly appreciate the prodigious military genius of the Prophet (Peace be upon him).
PREPARATION FOR THE FIGHTING
A booth of palm-branches was erected for the Prophet (Peace be upon him) on a hill overlooking the battlefield. Thereafter, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) traversed the plain and pointed out the spots to his companions where the enemy chiefs were to fall dead. As it was found later on, his predictions proved entirely correct for not a single Quraish chief was found slain at a place different from that indicated by the Prophet of God (Peace be upon him).
When the two contending forces met, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said: "O God, here come the Quraish in their vanity and pride: they contend with Thee calling Thy Prophet a liar."
This was the night of Friday, the seventeenth of Ramadan. At the first manifestation of the morning, the entire force of the Quraish streamed out into the valley and distributed themselves in the battlefield while the Muslims positioned before them in the foreground. (Zad al-Ma'ad, Vol. pp. 343-344)
BESEECHMENT AND ENTREATY TO THE LORD
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) set the ranks of his force in order and returned to the hut with Abu Bakr. Putting his head against the earth, he supplicated and beseeched God for divine assistance. He knew fully well that if the victory in the battle was to be gauged by sheer numbers and strength, prowess and weapons of the two forces, the result was a foregone conclusion. He had no illusion for he fully realized that the Muslims were weak and few, and the enemy strong and numerous. He clearly saw the situation in favour of the Quraish; and now he sought to counteract it with a heavier weapon. Despondently, he supplicated to the Lord of the heavens and the earth, Who engineers all ends and means, to come to the assistance of Muslims in their hour of difficulty. He appealed to God; "O God! If thou were to exterminate this small group of Muslims, Thou will not be worshipped on Earth any more!" In a state of extreme exaltation, his hands raised in prayer and on bent knees supplicated the prayer: "O God! Fulfill what thou had promised to me! Help us Thou, O God!" So lost was he in the prayer that the mantle on his shoulder fell on the ground. Abu Bakr, who was too distressed to see the Prophet of God (Peace be upon him) in tears, consoled and comforted him. (4)
THE TRUE POSITION AND STATURE OF THE MUSLIMS
The prayer of the Prophet (Peace be upon him), although brief, speaks volumes of his pure-hearted companions, his unflinching confidence in the assistance of God in the hour of crisis, his feelings of humility and meekness before God and the serenity of his own heart. At the same time, the prayer sets forth, in crystal- clear terms, the true position and stature of the Muslims amidst the nations of the world; it brings out the value and necessity of the people who are charged with the responsibility of taking his mission ahead. It is, in fact, a plain and clear admission and declaration of the responsibility lying ahead against these people to submit in obedience to God.
And so the Prophet's (Peace be upon him) prayer was answered by God with a resounding victory which was beyond the bounds of every reason and probability. It was but a demonstration of the truth as well as affirmation of the true character of his followers.
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) returned to his men before the battle and delivered a short speech stressing the merits of fighting in the way of God. In the meantime 'Utbah b. Rabi'a, together with his brother and son, Shayba and Waleed, stepped forward in a fashion typical of the Arabs. Three of the Ansaar came forward to contest them, but the three Quraishites asked, "Who are you?" "We are Ansaar," they answered. "You are of noble blood," said the Quraish, "But send our peers, the men of our own tribe."
The Prophet then said, "Go ahead, O 'Ubayda b. al-Harith, Hamza and 'Ali, advance all three of you and grapple with them."
The Quraish then said, "Yes. You are noble and our peers."
Now 'Ubayda being the eldest, confronted 'Utbah b.Rabi'a. Hamza faced Shayba and 'Ali came full blast against Waleed. With a swift dispatch, Hamza and 'Ali slew their opponents, but 'Ubayda and 'Utba struggled with one another. Hamza and 'Ali then charged at 'Utba and got away with him. They defeated him and brought 'Ubayda back to their ranks for he had been badly injured. Later on 'Ubayda died due to excessive loss of blood. (Ibn Hisham, Vol. I, p. 625).
THE GENERAL ATTACK
The Quraish were now filled with a renewed fury. With a cry of rage, they darted and assailed the Muslim champions whereupon the Prophet (Peace be upon him) cried, "Rise for the Paradise which breadth is equal to the heveans and the earth!"
THE FIRST MARTYR
"Umayr b. al-Hunaim heard the Prophet's (Peace be upon him) call and asked, "Is the Paradise equal to the heavens and the earth, O Prophet of God?" "Yes", replied the Prophet (Peace be upon him). "How great it is", he said and when the Prophet (Peace be upon him) asked what had made him say that, he replied, "Nothing, O Prophet of God, but I hope that I might be amongst its inhabitants." The Prophet (Peace be upon him) told him that he would be among them. 'Umayr then took some dates out of his quiver and began to eat them, but suddenly he said, "If I live till my date last, it would mean delaying it for long." So he threw away the dates in his hand and ran to the battlefield and fought wit the enemy until he was dead. He was the first martyr on the day of Badr. (Zad al-Ma'ad, Vol. I, p. 345 and Ibn Hisham, Vol. II, p. 215)
The Muslims fought the Meccans like a firm, united and disciplined army with the name of God on their lips. Up to that moment the Prophet (Peace be upon him) had remained quiet and collected, but now he charged into the ranks of the enemy. None was now braver than he, none dared engage the enemy so closely. (Ibn Kathir , Vol. II, p. 425) God then sent down his angels to assist the Muslims. The enemy suddenly seemed to be tamed down and appeared to be driven back by a fierce charge of invisible warriors.
"When thy Lord inspired the angels (saying) I am with you. To make those who believe stand firm. I will throw fear into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Then smite their necks and smite of them each finger." [Qur'an 8:12]
THE AMBITION OF TWO BROTHERS
Full of enthusiasm, everybody seemed to be bent upon outdoing others in deeds of valor and the acquisition of martyrdom. Even close friends and true brothers vied with one another to excel over the other. 'Abdur Rahman b. Auf says: "I was fighting in my row on the day of Badr, when, lo! I saw on my right and left two very young boys; and did not feel quite happy to see them on my sides. (5) Suddenly, one of them asked me in a low voice, so that his companion should not hear: O my uncle! Show me Abu Jahl! I said: O my brother's son! What have you to do with him? - He answered: I have vowed before God that I shall kill him when I see him, or shall be killed by him! - And the other boy spoke to me likewise in a low voice, so that his companion should not hear. I pointed him out to them, and they threw themselves upon the person in question like two hawks and struck him down. They were the sons of 'Afra." (6)
When Abu Jahl was killed, the Prophet of God (Peace be upon him) remarked, "This is Abu Jahl, the Pharoah of this nation."
THE GREAT VICTORY
The day of Badr drew towards its close with the Muslims sensing and already assured of success whereas the infidels were being trampled in the dust. On this occasion the Prophet (Peace be upon him) paid homage to God, saying: "Praise be to Allah who fulfilled His promise, and helped His servant and alone routed all the enemies." That was exactly what had happened, for the Qur'an also says:
"Allah had given you the victory at Badr, when you were contemptible. So observe your duty to Allah in order that you may be thankful." [Qur'an 3:123]
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) ordered that the dead among the infidels should be thrown into a pit. As the Muslims casted them into the dug hole, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) went there and said standing over the place: "O people of the pit, did you find that what your Lord said is true? For I have found what my God promised me to be true." (Bukhari, on the authority of Bara b. 'Azib).
On the day of Badr, seventy infidels were slain and an equal number were taken captive. Casualties among the Muslims were fourteen, six belonging to the Muhajirin and eight to the Ansaar. (Ibn Kathir, Vol. II, p. 463)
EFFECTS OF BADR'S VICTORY
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) returned to Madinah at the head of a victorious army. The enemies of Islam were appalled and disheartened by the victory at Badr. Tthe Prophet's (Peace be upon him) prestige sored in Madinah and his influence extended over the surrounding district. A large number of persons who had been hesitant for so long from the place accepted the faith of the Prophet (Peace be upon him).
'Abdallah b. Rawaha was one of the two persons sent by the Prophet (Peace be upon him) to Madinah in advance, before he returned to the city. He gave the good news to the people, saying, "Rejoice, O Ansaar for the Prophet of God is safe and infidels have been killed and captured". Then he enumerated the names of the Qurayshite nobles that accompanied the delegation as they found him singing song of joy; some took the news to be true while others were confounded. Then the Prophet (Peace be upon him) returned to Madinah followed by the prisoners of war with the Prophet's (Peace be upon him) slave Shuqran keeping an eye on them. (Ib Kathir, Vol. II, pp. 470-73). When the Prophet (Peace be upon him) reached Ruha, the Muslims met and congratulated him and his companions on the victory God had given them.
The defeat suffered by the polytheists plunged Mecca into gloom. There was not a house in the city, which did not go into mourning. (Ibn Hisham, Vol. pp. 647-48). The Meccans stood aghast and agitated. Abu Sufyan swore that until he had fought with the Prophet (Peace be upon him) again he would not take a bath. The suppressed Muslims of Mecca, on the other hand, breathed a sigh of relief and felt elated as well as vindicated.
TIES OF BLOOD OR FAITH
Of the captives was Abu 'Aziz b. 'Umayr. B. Hashim, a real brother of Mus'ab b. 'Umayr. The two brother were the standard bearers of the rival armies.
Mus'ab b. 'Umyr passed by his brother when an Ansaari young man was tying up the hands of Abu 'Aziz b. 'Umayr. Mus'ab called out, "Bind him fast, for his mother is sufficiently rich; perhaps she would pay a handsome ransom."
Turning to Mus'ab in amazement, Abu 'Aziz b. 'Umayr said, "Brother, is it you to give this counsel?" "You are not my brother", replied 'Umayr, "He is my brother who is tying up your hands."
TREATMENT OF THE CAPTIVES
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) ordered his followers to treat the prisoners generously. He said, "Deal kindly with them." Abu 'Aziz b. 'Umayr relates that he had lodged with an Ansaari family after being brought from Badr. They gave him bread for the morning and evening meals but they themselves took only dates as ordered by the Messenger of God (Peace be upon him). If anybody had a morsel of bread, he gave it to Abu 'Aziz although he felt ashamed and refused it, but they returned it untouched and insisted on his acceptance of it. (Ibn Kathir, Vol. II, p. 475)
RANSOM OF THE PRISONERS
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) accepted ransom for the prisoners according to their means; the Quraish kinsmen of the captives paid sums of money in exchange for their liberty, while those who could not pay any ransom were set free without any payment. The Prophet's uncle 'Abbas b. 'Abdul Muttalib, his cousin, 'Aqil b. Abi Talib,(Ibn Hisham Vol. II, p. 3) his son-in-law, Abul 'As b. Ar-Rab'I, who was married to his daughter Zaynab, were among the prisoners of war but none was shown any favour; all were treated like the other captives.
There were some prisoners who were unable to pay any ransom. But as they were literate they were allowed to earn their freedom by teaching the art of reading to the children of Ansaar, with ten children each for every prisoner available.(Musnad Ahmad b. Hanbal, Vol. I, p. 247) (Tabaqat Ibn S'ad, Vol. II, p. 14) Zaid b. Thabit was one of those who had been taught by the captives of Badr. The importance attached to edification and enlightenment by the Prophet of Islam (Peace be upon him) as exemplified by his decision on this occasion needs no further explanation.
The ironclad oath of Abu Sufyan, as mentioned earlier, bound him to refrain from even splashing water over his head until he had wreaked havoc on the Muslims. The chief of the Jewish tribe of Bani an-Nadir, who offered the information he desired about Madinah. Thereupon Abu Sufyan succeeded in getting away after killing two of the Ansaars.
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) got a warning of the evil raiders and went out in their pursuit. Abu Sufyan eluded the Prophet (Peace be upon him) but was obliged to throw away a good deal of his provisions consisting of foodgrains, especially parched corn or al-sawiq, and hence the expedition goes by such a name. (Ibn Hisham, Vol. II, pp. 144-45).
The Jews of Madinah who first broke their convenant with the Prophet (Peace be upon him) were Banu Qaynuqa. They contended with the Muslims and spoke scornfully of the Prophet (Peace be upon him). Ultimately, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) besieged them - the siege lasting for fifteen nights - until Banu Qaynuqa surrendered unconditionally. The attack was raised on the recommendation of 'Abdallah b. Ubayy, the leader of the hypocrites. ( Ibn Hisham Vol. II, pp. 47-49)
Banu Qaynuqa operated a market in Madinah and practised crafts such as that of the Goldsmith. (Zad al-Ma'ad, Vol. p. 348) They were forced to abandon the city although the number of people who could bear arms among them was seven hundred.
RESULTS OF THE BATTLE
One might think that the result of the battle was unbelievable and illogical: the Makkans had lost only 140 fighters in the encounter. They still had over 800, that is more than double the whole Muslim contingent .One would suppose they should withdraw, then reorganize and resume the battle.
owever, deeply scrutinizing the tactics employed by the Muslim army at this instance, their first battle, explains the resounding success. The reasons behind the success can be outlined as follows:
K'AB B. ASHRAF MEETS HIS DOOM
- UNITY OF LEADERSHIP
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) was the supreme commander in the battle, an ideal leader who consulted with his companions, accepted good advices and went at the head of his forces when the need arose. This generated a magnificent discipline in the Muslim army, which is contrary to the deep divisions that characterize the armed forces of the enemies.
- MILITARY COMPETENCE
The Muslim soldier was known for exemplary fighting competence, rigorous discipline, obedience to the commander and a strong communal spirit which the Prophet (Peace be upon him) had worked hard to inculcate in his companions. This was exemplified in the brotherhood between the Muhaajirun (Makkan Muslims) and the Ansaar (Madinan Muslims). On the opposite side, we see that extreme selfishness and individualism were dominant in the ranks of the Makkan pagan army.
- NEW TROOP-DISPOSITION PLAN
The march of the Muslim army from Madinah was in a combative form, which resembles modern fighting strategies. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) sent off a vanguard and left behind a rear-guard, made use of exploratory patrols, raided the enemy camps to take captives that divulge information before the battle and braved the war in a new fashion based on cooperation, that of fighting with closed ranks. On the other hand, the Makkan pagan army followed a hit-and-run approach.
- HIGH SPIRITS
The Muslim fighter enjoyed high morale emanating from firm faith. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) encouraged his men and enhanced their spirits with constant prayers and promising them with success.
- CLARITY OF PURPOSE
The chief purpose of the Muslims was to destroy the heads of infidelity and remove the obstacles from the way of the mission. Assaulting the caravan of Quraish was only a tactical aim. This is why we find that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) decided to attack the Makkan Pagan army to realize the strategic chief purpose mentioned earlier in spite of the fact that the caravan (the tactical aim) had slipped away.
- HAVING A SUBLIME END
Muslims were fighting to attain God's pleasure, to raise God's word over all others and to remove material obstacles facing Islam which aims to liberate man from slavery and oppression. On the other side of the spectrum, the Pagans were fighting for lowly worldly aims, corrupt decrepit ideas or in fanatic support of a tribe or clan.
In brief we can see the results of the battle as follows:
- The battle put in jeopardy Mecca's trade route with the Syrian territories.
- It weakened Quraish's reputation and respect among Arabs.
- It solidified the Muslims' position and the status of their new nucleus state in Madinah.
- It paved the way for spreading Islam among the tribes of Arabia by destroying the barrier of respect paid to Quraish which was defeated.
- It enhanced the solidarity between the Muhajirun and the Ansaar.
- It provided an occasion to pass as law the taking of a fifth of the spoils for the Muslim treasury. Quranic verses revealed immediately after the battle made this law which enhanced the Muslim treasury and the Muslim state budget. This law continued to be the greatest source of income for the treasury up to the end of the Muslim conquests in the early days of Islam.
K'ab b. Ashraf was a prominent leader of the Jews. An implacable enemy of Islam, he always did his utmost to get the Prophet (Peace be upon him) into trouble. He was also a poet of considerable standing, availing his talents to compose and recite deregatory verse against the honour of Muslim women - an act intolerable enough to thwart one's patience. Immediately after the battle of Badr he went all the way to Mecca to cry out for vengeance with inflammatory verses and stirred up the Quraish to even out the score of their defeat at Badr. Nevertheless, he returned to Madinah where, in indomitable conceit, he continued his tirades against Islam. When the Prophet (Peace be upon him) heard about his return to Madinah, he said to his companions, "K'ab b. Ashraf had offended God and His Prophet. Who will rid me of him?" A few persons (Muhammad b. Maslamah accompanied by four of his friends) belonging to the Ansaars immediately offered their services and killed the enemy of God in K'ab b. Asraf. (Zad al-Ma'ad, Vol. p. 348).