Badr: The First Battle in Islam
The Quraish had begun grand-scale preparations to attack Medina. The trade caravan which had gone to Syria that year headed by Abu Sufyan was extraordinarily equipped. Every Quraishite put all his savings in that caravan, and it was decided that whatever the profit accrued that year, it would not be given to the traders but would be spent on arms, horses, and other items of war to fight the Muslims of Medina.
This news did cause much anxiety in Medina. As Abu Sufyan was returning from Syria, he feared that the Muslims might intercept his trade caravan. He sent a messenger well in advance to inform the leaders of the Quraish of his fears. Upon receiving the message, a well-equipped army of one thousand Meccans marched towards Medina under the command of Abu Jahl.
They had reached Badr (200 miles from Mecca and 80 miles from Medina) when news came that the trade caravan was passing just three miles on the seaside from the Quraishites' camp, and that it had not encountered any attack from the Muslims yet. But since the Meccans were so eager on giving battle to Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) and his followers, they decided to proceed towards Medina anyway. After all, was not the objective of sending such a trade caravan this very battle?! So, why should they go back to Mecca when they had one thousand well-equipped warriors among them who were sufficient to teach the Muslims a lesson? They camped at the stream of Badr.
Now let us see what was happening in Medina. When news came that the trade caravan was coming from Syria (on the north side) and that the Meccan army was marching towards Medina (from the South), the Muslims thought that they would be crushed between these two enemy groups.
Now, there were two alternatives before the Muslims in Medina: to either save themselves from being overwhelmed by the Meccans with all their resources from the rich Syrian trade, or make another option (one which had the least danger for the time being and which also promised a rich booty): fall upon the Quraishi caravan returning from Syria richly laden and led by Abu Sufyan with only 40 not so well-armed men. From a worldly point of view, this latter course was the safest and the most lucrative, and many Muslims preferred it. The other alternative, which was actually adopted on the recommendation of the Prophet as guided by God, was to leave the booty alone and to march out boldly against the well-armed and well-equipped Quraishite army of 1,000 men coming from Mecca.
This situation is described in the following ayats of the Qur'an:
Just as your Lord caused you (O Prophet!) to go forth from your house with the truth, though a party of the believers were averse, they disputed with you about the truth after it had become clear, (and they went forth) as if they were being driven to death while they looked (at it). And when Allah promised you one of the two parties that it shall be yours, and you loved that the one not armed should be yours, and Allah desired to manifest the truth of what was true by His words and to cut off the root of the unbelievers. That He may manifest the truth of what was true and show the falsehood of what was false, even though the guilty ones disliked it. (Qur'an, 8:5-8)
These verses clearly show that the Meccan army was already on its way long before the Muslims came out of Medina to defend themselves. Also, they clearly show that although some Muslims desired to avoid the Meccan army and to attack the trade caravan, that idea was not accepted, and that the decided aim and objective of their march was to fight the Meccan army which was already on its way.
This clearly belies the vicious and mischievous propaganda of Western writers who claim that the Prophet had intended to attack the trade caravan of the Quraish and that the Quraish had come out only to protect their caravan. The verses of the Qur'an are the only contemporary record of the events of Badr. If there is any writing by anyone, which goes against this authentic narrative, it must be thrown out of window.
You may wonder why the enemies of Islam labor so much to present this battle of Badr as one in which the Quraishites (poor souls!) were aiming just to protect their trade caravan. The reason is this: It was the first battle between the Quraishites and the Muslims, and if the responsibility of this first battle is laid on the heads of the Muslims, then all subsequent battles could be portrayed as being the continuation of this battle and, thus, the Holy Prophet could be presented as a warrior prophet who by his plundering designs compelled the "peace-loving" Meccans to fight!
Anyhow, let us go back to our narrative. The Meccan army was in control of the stream of Badr, and the ground of their campsite was of firm clay. Contrarily, the Muslims were far from the stream and thus experienced difficulty in finding water. To make the matters worse, many Muslims had nocturnal discharge while asleep and became "unclean" (najis). And the ground under them was sandy which was likely to prevent fast running during the battle.
God helped them by sending rain which provided them with water enough for their needs and made the sandy ground firm for them, while the firm clay of the Meccans' side became muddy, making their stand and maneuvers difficult.
Referring to this, Allah says in the Qur'an:
The Holy Prophet
(Remember) when He caused drowsiness to fall on you as a security from Him and sent down upon you water from the cloud so that He might thereby purify you and take away from you the uncleanness of Satan, so that He might fortes your hearts and keep (your) footsteps thereby firm. (Qur'an, 8:11)
In this background, look at the insinuation of some Western "scholars" who have written that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) had taken control of the stream of Badr and by refusing water to Meccans, reduced them to defeat! Anyhow, the facts of the actual battle are, in short, as follows:
With an ill-equipped body of three hundred and thirteen persons, having among them only two horses and seventy camels, the Prophet proceeded to Badr, about eighty miles from Medina, to meet the Meccan army. The forces met on the 17th of the month of Ramadhan, 2 A.H. (624 A.D.). After individual combats according to the custom of the Arabs, between Hamza, 'Ali and Ubaidah (all Hashimites) on the side of the Muslims and Utbah, Shaibah and Walid ibn 'Utbah (all Umayyads) from the Meccan ranks, a pitched battle ensued. The stakes were high. Both forces fought valiantly but the Muslims were animated by holy zeal. In the thick of the battle, the Prophet prayed to God, earnestly beseeching Him thus: "O Lord, forget not Thy promise of assistance! O Lord! If this little band were to perish, there will be none to offer worship unto Thee."
Allah describes it in the following verses:
(Recall) when you sought aid from your Lord, so He answered you: I will assist you with a thousand angels following one another. And Allah only gave it as a good news and so that your hearts might thereby be at ease, and victory is only from Allah; surely Allah is Mighty, Wise. (Qur'an, 8:9-10)
The Muslims got the upper hand. The Meccans were driven back, leaving seventy dead, including a number of their notable chiefs. Out of 70, thirty-five were killed by 'Ali ibn Abi Talib alone. It was his first war. Seventy others were taken prisoners. The Muslim force had lost fourteen men.
The prisoners were treated with exceptional kindness. Even the hostile critic Muir says:
"In pursuance of Mahomet's commands the citizens of Medina and such of the refugees as possessed houses received the prisoners and treated them with much consideration. 'Blessings be on the men of Medina', said one of these prisoners in later days, 'they made us ride while they themselves walked; they gave us wheaten bread to eat when there was little of it, contenting themselves with dates'."
The more affluent prisoners paid ransom and were set free. The others were asked to teach ten persons each to read and write and this teaching was to count as their ransom. After all, in these times of progress and enlightenment, with all the charters and agreements on the treatment of prisoners of war, history does not record another instance even remotely as generous and as humane as the Muslims' treatment of the prisoners taken in their very first encounter fourteen hundred years ago.
Features and Consequences of the Battle
The battle of Badr was remarkable in more ways than one. It demonstrated the great devotion of the disciples to the cause and their complete faith in the Prophet and his mission. Ranged before them in the Mencan ranks were many of their close relatives, their own sons, fathers, or uncles. Thus, the Prophet's uncle 'Abbas, 'All's brother 'Aqil, Abu Bakr's son, Hudhaifa's father and 'Umar's maternal uncle, to name a few, figured in the Meccan army. Yet the disciples never faltered. Personal feelings and sentiments were subordinated to the supreme cause. Such was the material from which Islam arose. The battle also proved that mere numerical superiority and matching valor are of no avail if the cause is not righteous. God helps those who make sacrifices in His cause.
The battle of Badr had far-reaching consequences. Till then, the Muslims were a harassed band avoiding any major conflict. This victory gave them confidence in their physical power. They could now meet force with force. They were soon recognized as a power to be reckoned with and smaller tribes were cautioned against joining forces against them. This victory dealt a severe blow to the prestige of the Quraish. A number of their chiefs, such as Abu Jahl, 'Utbah, Shaibah, Zam'ah, 'Aas ibn Hisham, and Umayyah ibn Khalaf had been killed and, consequently, Abu Sufyan became their undisputed chieftain. 'Abdullah ibn Ubay and his oscillating followers professed Islam, though in name only, and as munafiqun (hypocrites), they were always a source of danger. The Jews of Medina and its vicinity were alarmed at the new power that had emerged. Their enmity towards the Muslims, however, did not abate, and a Jewish tribe, Banu Qinaqa', had to be punished not long after Badr as will be discussed later. The ignominy of the defeat made the Meccans more bitter and furious and the cry of "Revenge!" was on all lips.
Ghazwat-us-Sawiq (2 A.H.)
Abu Sufyan had sworn vengeance. He took a vow that he would not touch his wives nor comb his hair till he had avenged that defeat. In order to fulfill this vow and to show that all was not lost to the Meccans, he rode upon Medina with two hundred horsemen. Sallam ibn Mashkam, Chief of the Jewish tribe of Banu Nadhir, treated them to a feast and divulged the weak points of Medina's fortifications. On the next day, Abu Sufyan raided a Medina pasture, killing an Ansar named Sa'ad ibn 'Amr and burning a number of houses. When this news reached the Prophet, he hotly pursued the raiders who fled, abandoning their rations. This gave the raid its name, "the battle of meal bags, sawiq."
On the 15th of Rajab of the same year, i.e. 2 A.H., Fatimah, daughter of the Prophet, was married to 'All. All that 'All could offer by way of mater (dower) was his coat of mail, and all that the Prophet could give to his daughter were an ordinary cot, a mattress stuffed with palm leaves, a water bag, two grinding stones, and two earthen pitchers. Yet some writers insinuate that the Prophet and his party were ambushing and plundering trade caravans! If these writers, who profess to make an unbiased study, are to be believed, what had happened to the booty and the riches?! What is most dangerous about such -"historians" is that they dutifully cite a mass of historical data and in the same breath utter some falsehoods so that those lies may also pass on as historically true.
In 3 A.H., tribes of Bani Tha'labah and Bani Mihrab sent a force of five hundred and forty horsemen under the command of Da'thur to raid Medina. They gave up the idea when the Prophet marched with his companions out of Medina to meet this raiding party. Da'thur, however, got an opportunity to launch a surprise attack on the Prophet who was resting=alone under a tree. "O Muhammad," cried he with a drawn sword in his hand, "who is there now to save thee?!" "Allah", replied the Prophet. This dauntless composure and complete faith in God awed the wild bedouin whose sword now fell from his hand... Seizing it, the Prophet asked in turn, "Who is there now to save thee, O Da'thur?" "Alas, none," replied the bedouin. "Then learn from me to be merciful." So saying, the Prophet returned the sword to him. Da'thur was so impressed that he asked the Prophet for forgiveness and later on embraced Islam.