we have already spoken about al-‘ushairah invasion when a caravan belonging to quraish had escaped an imminent military encounter with the prophet [pbuh] and his men. when their return from syria approached, the prophet [pbuh] despatched talhah bin ‘ubaidullâh and sa‘id bin zaid northward to scout around for any movements of this sort. the two scouts stayed at al-hawra’ for some days until abu sufyan, the leader of the caravan, passed by them. the two men hurried back to madinah and reported to the prophet [pbuh] their findings. great wealth amounting to 50 thousand gold dinars guarded by 40 men moving relatively close to madinah constituted a tempting target for the muslim military, and provided a potentially heavy economic, political and military strike that was bound to shake the entire structure of the makkan polytheists.
the prophet [pbuh] immediately exhorted the muslims to rush out and waylay the caravan to make up for their property and wealth they were forced to give up in makkah. he did not give orders binding to everyone, but rather gave them full liberty to go out or stay back, thinking that it would be just an errand on a small scale.
the muslim army was made up of 300-317 men, 82-86 emigrants, 61 from aws and 170 from khazraj. they were not well-equipped nor adequately prepared. they had only two horses belonging to az-zubair bin al-‘awwam and al-miqdad bin al-aswad al-kindi, 70 camels, one for two or three men to ride alternatively. the messenger of allâh [pbuh] himself, ‘ali and murthid bin abi murthid al-ghanawi had only one camel. disposition of the affairs of madinah was entrusted to ibn umm maktum but later to abu lubabah bin ‘abdul mundhir. the general leadership was given to mus‘ab bin ‘umair al-qurashi al-‘abdari, and their standard was white in colour. the little army was divided into two battalions, the emigrants with a standard raised by ‘ali bin abi talib, and the helpers whose standard was in the hand of sa‘d bin mu‘adh. az-zubair bin al-‘awwam was appointed to the leadership of the right flank, al-miqdad bin ‘amr to lead the left flank, and the rear of the army was at the command of qais bin abi sa‘sa‘ah. the general commander-in-chief was the prophet [pbuh], of course.
the prophet [pbuh], at the head of his army, marched out along the main road leading to makkah. he then turned left towards badr and when he reached as-safrâ’, he despatched two men to scout about for the camels of quraish.
abu sufyan, on the other hand, was on the utmost alert. he had already been aware that the route he was following was attended with dangers. he was also anxious to know about the movements of muhammad [pbuh]. his scouting men submitted to him reports to the effect that the muslims were lying in ambush for his caravan. to be on the safe side, he hired damdam bin ‘amr al-ghifari to communicate a message asking for help from the quraishites. the messenger rode fast and reached makkah in frenzy. felling himself from his camel, he stood dramatically before al-ka‘bah, cut off the nose and the ears of the camel, turned its saddle upside down, tore off his own shirt from front and behind, and cried: "o quraish! your merchandise! it is with abu sufyan. the caravan is being intercepted by muhammad [pbuh] and his companions. i cannot say what would have happened to them. help! help!"
the effect of this hue and cry was instantaneous and the news stunned quraish and they immediately remembered their pride that was wounded when the muslims had intercepted al-hadrami caravan. they therefore swiftly mustered almost all of their forces and none stayed behind except abu lahab, who delegated someone who owed him some money. they also mobilized some arab tribes to contribute to the war against the prophet [pbuh]. all the clans of quraish gave their consent except banu ‘adi. soon an excited throng of 1300 soldiers including 100 horsemen and 600 mailed soldiers with a large number of camels, was clamouring to proceed to fight the muslims. for food supplies, they used to slaughter an alternate number of camels of ten and nine every day. they were however afraid that banu bakr, on account of old long deep-seated animosity, would attack their rear. at that critical moment, iblis (satan) appeared to them in the guise of suraqa bin malik bin ju‘sham al-mudlaji — chief of bani kinana — saying to them: "i guarantee that no harm will happen from behind."
they set out burning with indignation, motivated by a horrible desire for revenge and exterminating anyone that might jeopardize the routes of their caravans:
"…boastfully and to be seen of men, and hinder (men) from the path of allâh. " [al-qur'an 8:47]
or as the prophet [pbuh] said:
"o allâh these are the haughty and conceited; they have come defying allâh and defying his messenger."
they moved swiftly northward to badr. on the way they received another message from abu sufyan asking them to go back home because the caravan had escaped the muslims. incidentally, abu sufyan, on learning the intention of the muslims, led his caravan off the main route, and inclined it towards the red sea. by this manoeuvre, he was able to slip past the madinese ambush and was out of their reach.
on receiving abu sufyan’s message, the makkan army showed a desire to return home. the tyrant abu jahl, however haughtily and arrogantly insisted that they proceed to badr, stay three nights there for making festivities. now they wanted to punish the muslims and prevent them from intercepting their caravans, and impress on the arabs that quraish still had the upper hand and enjoyed supremacy in that area.
abu jahl’s threats and insistence notwithstanding, banu zahrah, acting on the advice of al-akhnas bin shuraiq, broke away and returned to makkah. thenceforth al-akhnas remained ‘the well-rubbed palm tree’ for bani zahrah and was blindly obeyed in all relevant matters.
banu hashim were also inclined to break away, but abu jahl’s threats made them desist from that idea.
the rest of the army, now 1000 soldiers, approached badr and encamped themselves beyond a sand dune at al-‘udwat al-quswa.
‘the intelligence corps’ of the madinese army reported to the prophet [pbuh] that a bloody encounter with the makkans was inescapable, and that a daring step in this context had to be taken, or else the forces of evil would violate the inviolable and would consequently manage to undermine the noble cause of the islam and tread upon its faithful adherents. the muslims were afraid that the pagan makkans would march on and start the war activities within the headquarters of islam, madinah. a move of such nature would certainly damage and produce an infamous impact on the dignity and stance of the muslims.
on account of the new grave developments, the prophet [pbuh] held an advisory military emergency meeting to review the ongoing situation and exchange viewpoints with the army leaders. admittedly, some muslims feared the horrible encounter and their courage began to waver; in this regard, allâh says:
"as your lord caused you (o muhammad [pbuh]) to go out from your home with the truth, and verily, a party among the believers disliked it, disputing with you concerning the truth after it was made manifest, as if they were being driven to death while they were looking (at it)." [al-qur'an 8:5, 6]
the prophet [pbuh] apprised his men of the gravity of the situation and asked for their advice. abu bakr was the first who spoke on the occasion and assured the prophet [pbuh] of the unreserved obedience to his command. ‘umar was the next to stand up and supported the views expressed by his noble friend. then al-miqdad bin ‘amr got up and said: "o messenger of allâh! proceed where allâh directs you to, for we are with you. we will not say as the children of israel said to moses [aws]:
"go you and your lord and fight and we will stay here;"
rather we shall say:
"go you and your lord and fight and we will fight along with you."
by allâh! if you were to take us to bark al-ghimad, we will still fight resolutely with you against its defenders until you gained it."
the prophet [pbuh] thanked him and blessed him.
the three leaders who spoke were from the emigrants, who only constituted a minor section of the army. the prophet [pbuh] wanted, and for the more reason, to hear the helpers’ view because they were the majority of the soldiers and were expected to shoulder the brunt of the war activities. moreover, the clauses of al-‘aqabah pledge did not commit them to fighting beyond their territories.
the prophet [pbuh] then said:
"advise me my men!"
by which he meant the helpers, in particular. upon this sa‘d bin mu‘adh stood up and said: "by allâh, i feel you want us (the helpers) to speak." the prophet [pbuh] directly said: "oh, yes!" sa‘d said: "o prophet of allâh! 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 allâh, 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 allâh 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 allâh."
the prophet [pbuh] was impressed with the fidelity and the spirit of sacrifice which his companions showed at this critical juncture. then he said to them: "forward and be of cheer, for allâh has promised me one of the two (the lucrative course through capturing the booty or strife in the cause of allâh against the polytheists), and by allâh it is as if i now saw the enemy lying prostrate."
in the immediate vicinity of badr, the prophet [pbuh] and his cavemate abu bakr conducted a scouting operation during which they managed to locate the camp of quraish. they came across an old bedouin nearby whom they manipulated and managed to extract from him the exact location of the army of the polytheists. in the evening of the same day, he despatched three emigrant leaders, ‘ali bin abi talib, az-zubair bin al-‘awwam and sa‘d bin abi waqqas to scout about for news about the enemy. they saw two men drawing water for the makkan army. on interrogation, they admitted that they were water carriers working for quraish. but that answer did not please some muslims and they beat the two boys severely in order to exact from them an answer, even if it isn’t true, alluding to the caravan laden with wealth. the two boys thus lied, and so they were released. the prophet [pbuh] was angry with those men and censured them saying: "on telling the truth, you beat them, and on telling a lie, you released them!" he then addressed the two boys and after a little conversation with them he learned a lot about the enemy: number of soldiers, their exact location and names of some of their notables.
he then turned to the muslims and said: "hearken, quraish has sent you their most precious lives."
the same night it rained on both sides. for the polytheists it obstructed further progress, whereas it was a blessing for the muslims. it cleaned them and removed from them the stain of satan. allâh sent rain to strengthen their hearts and to plant their feet firmly therewith. they marched a little forward and encamped at the farther bank of the valley. muhammad [pbuh] stopped at the nearest spring of badr. al-hubab bin mundhir asked him, "has allâh inspired you to choose this very spot or is it stratagem of war and the product of consultation?" the prophet [pbuh] replied "it is stratagem of war and consultation." al-hubab said: "this place is no good; let us go and encamp on the nearest water well and make a basin or reservoir full of water, then destroy all the other wells so that they will be deprived of the water." the prophet [pbuh] approved of his plan and agreed to carry it out, which they actually did at midnight.
sa‘d bin mu‘adh suggested that a trellis be built for the prophet [pbuh] to function as headquarters for the muslim army and a place providing reasonable protection for the leader. sa‘d began to justify his proposal and said that if they had been victorious, then everything would be satisfactory. in case of defeat, the prophet [pbuh] would not be harmed and he could go back to madinah where there were more people who loved him and who would have come for help if they had known that he was in that difficult situation, so that he would resume his job, hold counsel with them and they would strive in the cause of allâh with him again and again.
a squad of guards was also chosen from amongst the helpers under the leadership of the same man, sa‘d bin mu‘adh, in order to defend the prophet [pbuh] in his headquarters.
the prophet [pbuh] spent the whole night preceding the day of the battle in prayer and supplication. the muslim army, wearied with their long march, enjoyed sound and refreshing sleep, a mark of the divine favour and of the state of their undisturbed minds.
"(remember) when he covered you with a slumber as a security from him, and he caused rain to descend on you from the sky, to clean you thereby and to remove from you the rijz (whispering, evil suggestions, etc.) of satan, and to strengthen your hearts, and make your feet firm thereby." [al-qur'an 8:11]
that was friday night, ramadan 17th., the year 2 a.h.
in the morning, the prophet [pbuh] called his men to offer the prayers and then urged them to fight in the way of allâh. as the sun rose over the desert, the prophet [pbuh] drew up his little army, and pointing with an arrow which he held in his hand, arranged the ranks.
quraish, on the other hand, positioned their forces in al-‘udwat al-quswa opposite the muslim lines. a few of them approached, in a provocative deed, to draw water from the wells of badr, but were all shot dead except one, hakeem bin hizam, who later became a devoted muslim. ‘umair bin wahab al-jumahi, in an attempt to reconnoiter the power of the muslims, made a scouting errand and submitted a report saying that the muslim army numbered as many as 300 men keen on fighting to the last man. on another reconnaissance mission he came to the conclusion that neither reinforcements were coming nor ambushes laid. he understood that they were too brave to surrender and too intent on carrying out their military duties to withdraw without slaying the largest number possible of the polytheists. this report as well as kindred relations binding the two belligerent parties together, slackened the desire to fight among some of the quraishites. to counteract this reason-based opposition advocated by a rival of his, ‘utbah bin rabi‘a and others, abu jahl started an anti-campaign seeking vengeance on muhammad [pbuh]’s followers for the quraishites killed at nakhlah. in this way, he managed to thwart the opposite orientation, and manipulated the people to see his evil views only.
when the two parties approached closer and were visible to each other, the prophet [pbuh] began supplicating allâh "o allâh! the conceited and haughty quraishites are already here defying you and belying your messenger. o allâh! i am waiting for your victory which you have promised me. i beseech you allâh to defeat them (the enemies)." he also gave strict orders that his men would not start fighting until he gave them his final word. he recommended that they use their arrows sparingly[sahih al-bukhari 2/568] and never resort to sword unless the enemies came too close.[abu da'ud 2/13]
abu jahl also prayed for victory, saying: "our lord, whichever of the two parties was less kind to his relatives, and brought us what we do not know, then destroy him tomorrow.". they were confident that their superior number, equipment and experience would be decisive. the noble qur’ân, with a play on the word, told them that the decision had come, and the victory — but not in the sense they had hoped for:
"(o disbelievers) if you ask for a judgement, now has the judgement come unto you and if you cease (to do wrong), it will be better for you, and if you return (to the attack), so shall we return, and your forces will be of no avail to you, however numerous it be, and verily, allâh is with the believers." [al-qur'an 8:19]
the first disbeliever to trigger the fire of the battle and be its first victim was al-aswad bin ‘abdul asad al-makhzumi, a fierce bad-tempered idolater. he stepped out swearing he would drink from the water basin of the muslims, otherwise, destroy it or die for it. he engaged with hamzah bin ‘abdul muttalib, who struck his leg with his sword and dealt him another blow that finished him off inside the basin.
the battle had actually started. protected by armour and shields, ‘utbah bin rabi‘a stepped forth between his brother shaibah and his son al-waleed bin ‘utbah from the lines of quraish and hurled maledictions at the muslims. three young men of the helpers came out against them: ‘awf and mu‘wwadh — the sons of harith, and ‘abdullah bin rawaha. but the makkans yelled that they had nothing to do with them. they wanted the heads of their cousins. upon this the prophet [pbuh] asked ‘ubaidah bin al-harith, hamzah — his uncle, and his cousin ‘ali [r] to go forward for the combat. the three duels were rapid. hamzah killed shaibah, while ‘ali killed al-waleed.[mishkat 2/343] ‘ubaidah was seriously wounded but, before he fell, hamzah fell upon ‘utbah and with a sweep of his sword, cut off his head. ‘ali and hamzah carried ‘ubaidah back with his leg cut off. he died four or five days later of a disease in the bile duct.
‘ali was possessed of a deep conviction that allâh’s words were revealed:
"these two opponents (believers and disbelievers) dispute with each other about their lord." [al-qur'an 22:19]
these verses were revealed in connection with men of faith who confess their lord and seek to carry out his will (i.e. muhammad [pbuh]’s followers at badr battle), and men who deny their lord and defy him (the people of quraish).
the duel was followed by a few more duels but the makkans suffered terrible defeats in all the combats and lost some of their most precious lives. they were too much exasperated and enraged and fell upon the muslims to exterminate them once and for all. the muslims, however, after supplicating their lord, calling upon him for assistance, were made to hold to their position and conduct a defensive war plan that was successful enough to inflict heavy losses on the attackers. the prophet [pbuh] used to pray to his lord ceaselessly persistently and day and night to come to their succour. when the fierce engagement grew too hot he again began to supplicate his lord saying:
"o allâh! should this group (of muslims) be defeated today, you will no longer be worshipped."
he continued to call out to his lord, stretching forth his hands and facing al-qiblah, until his cloak fell off his shoulders. then abu bakr came, picked up the cloak, and put it back on his shoulders and said: "o prophet of allâh, you have cried out enough to your lord. he will surely fulfill what he has promised you."
immediate was the response from allâh, who sent down angels from the heavens for the help and assistance of the prophet [pbuh] and his companions. the noble qur’ân observes:
"verily, i am with you, so keep firm those who have believed. i will cast terror into the hearts of those who have disbelieved." [al-qur'an 8:12]
allâh, the all-mighty, also inspired another message to his messenger, saying:
"i will help you with a thousand of the angels each behind the other (following one another) in succession." [al-qur'an 8:9]
the prophet [pbuh], in his trellis, dozed off a little and then raised his head joyfully crying:
"o abu bakr, glad tidings are there for you: allâh’s victory has approached, by allâh, i can see gabriel on his mare in the thick of a sandstorm."
he then jumped out crying:
"their multitude will be put to flight, and they will show their backs." [al-qur'an 54:45]
at the instance of gabriel, the prophet [pbuh] took a handful of gravel, cast it at the enemy and said: "confusion seize their faces!" as he flung the dust, a violent sandstorm blew like furnace blast into the eyes of the enemies. with respect to this, allâh says:
"and you (i.e. muhammad [pbuh]) threw not when you did throw but allâh threw." [al-qur'an 8:17]
only then did he give clear orders to launch a counter-attack. he was commanding the army, inspiring confidence among his men and exhorting them to fight manfully for the sake of their lord, reciting the words of allâh:
"and be quick for forgiveness from your lord, and for paradise as wide as are the heavens and the earth." [al-qur'an 3:133]
the spirit he infused into his men was clearly witnessed by the valour of ‘umair, a lad of sixteen, who flung away some dates he was eating crying out: "these (the dates) are holding me back from paradise." so saying he plunged into the thick of the battle and died fighting bravely. unique deeds of valour, deep devotion and full obedience to the prophet [pbuh] were exhibited in the process of the battle. the army of the faithfuls was borne forward by the power of enthusiasm which the half-hearted warriors of makkah miserably lacked. a large number of the polytheists were killed and the others began to waver. no wonder! the standard-bearers of truth were given immediate help, and supernatural agencies (the angels), were sent to their assistance by their lord to help them defeat the forces of evil.
the records of hadith speak eloquently of the fact that the angels did appear on that day and fought on the side of the muslims. ibn ‘abbas said: "while on that day a muslim was chasing a disbeliever and he heard over him the swashing of a whip and the voice of the rider saying: ‘go ahead haizum’. he glanced at the polytheist who had (now) fallen down on his back. the helper came to the messenger of allâh [pbuh] and related that event to him. the prophet [pbuh] replied: ‘you have told the truth. this was the help from the third heaven."[sahih muslim 2/93]
one of the helpers captured ‘abbas bin ‘abdul muttalib, who said: "o messenger of allâh, by allâh this man did not capture me. i was captured by a man who was bald and had the most handsome face, and who was riding a piebald horse, i cannot see him here among the people." the helper interrupted: "i captured him, o messenger of allâh." the prophet [pbuh] replied:
"be quiet, allâh the all-mighty strengthened you with the help of a noble angel."
iblîs, the archsatan, in the guise of suraqah bin malik bin ju‘sham al-mudlaji, on seeing angels working in favour of the muslims, and quraish rapidly losing ground on the battlefield, made a quick retreat despite the polytheists’ pleas to stay on. he ran off and plunged into the sea.
the ranks of quraish began to give way and their numbers added nothing but confusion. the muslims followed eagerly their retreating steps, slaying or taking captive all that fell within their reach. retreat soon turned into ignominious rout; and they flied in haste, casting away their armour, abandoned beasts of burden, camp and equipage.
the great tyrant abu jahl, however, on seeing the adverse course of the battle, tried to stop the tidal wave of the islamic victory by nerving the polytheists and encouraging them by all means available and adjuring them by al-lat and ‘uzza and all symbols of paganism to stand firm in place and retaliate against the muslims, but to no avail. their morale had already been drastically reduced to zero, and their lines broken down. he then began to realize the reality of his arrogance and haughtiness. none remained around him except a gang of doomed polytheists whose resistance was also quelled by an islamic irresistible storm of true devotion-based valour and islam-orientated pursuit of martyrdom. abu jahl was deserted and left by himself on his horse waiting for death at the hand of two courageous lads of the helpers.
‘abdur-rahman bin ‘awf related the following interesting story in this regard: i was in the thick of the battle when two youths, still seemingly inexperienced in the art of fighting, one on the right and the second on the left. one of them spoke in a secret voice asking me to show him abu jahl. i asked about his intention, to which he replied, that he had a strong desire to engage with him in a combat until either of them was killed. it was something incredible to me. i turned left and the other said something to the same effect and showed a similar desire. i acceded to their earnest pleas and pointed directly at their target. they both rushed swiftly towards the spot, and without a moment’s hesitation struck him simultaneously with their swords and finished him off. they went back to the messenger of allâh [pbuh], each claiming that he had killed abu jahl to the exclusion of the other. the prophet [pbuh] asked if they had wiped the blood off their swords and they answered that they had not. he then examined both swords and assured them that they both had killed him. when the battle concluded, abu jahl’s spoils were given to mu‘adh bin ‘amr bin al-jumuh, because the other mu‘awwadh bin al-‘afrâ’[sahih al-bukhari 1/444,2/568; mishkat 2/352] was later killed in the course of the same battle. at the termination of the battle, the prophet [pbuh] wanted to look for this archenemy of islam, abu jahl. ‘abdullah bin mas‘ud found him on the verge of death breathing his last. he stepped on his neck addressing him: "have you seen how allâh has disgraced you?" the enemy of islam still defiantly answered: "i am not disgraced. i am no more than a man killed by his own people on the battlefield." and then inquired "who has won the battle?" ibn mas‘ud replied "allâh and his messenger." abu jahl then said with a heart full of grudge "you have followed difficult ways, you shepherd!" ibn mas‘ud used to be a shepherd working for the makkan aristocrats.
ibn mas‘ud then cut off his head and took it to the messenger of allâh [pbuh] who, on seeing it, began to entertain allâh’s praise:
"allâh is great, praise is to allâh, who has fulfilled his promise, assisted his servant and defeated the confederates alone."
he then set out to have a look at the corpse. there he said:
"this is the pharaoh of this nation."