just as muhammad learned the routes of the caravans in the desert from his uncle abu talib, and just as he listened to the poets and the orators in the markets around makkah during the holy months, he learned how to bear arms. in the fijar war [literally, "the immoral war." -tr.] he stood on the side of his uncle. the war was so-called because, unlike other wars, it was fought during the holy months. arabia stood then under the convention that during the holy months no tribe should undertake any hostile activity against another; the general peace permitted the markets of `ukaz between ta'if and makkah, of majannah and dhu al majaz in the proximity of `arafat, to be held and to prosper. on these market occasions, men were not restricted to trade. they competed with one another in poetry and debated, and they performed a pilgrimage to their gods in the ka'bah. the market at `ukaz was the most famous in arabia. there, the authors of the mu'allaqat poems recited their poetry. quss exercised his oratory [quss ibn sa'idah al iyadi, archbishop of najran.], and jews, christians and pagans spoke freely each about his faith in the peace and security that the holy months provided.
in violation of the holiness of such months, al barrad ibn qays al kinani stealthily attacked `urwah al rahhal ibn `utbah al hawazini and killed him. every year at this time, al nu'man ibn al mundhir, king of hirah, used to send a caravan to `ukaz to bring thither a load of musk and to take hence a load of hides, ropes, and brocade from yaman. a1 barrad al kinani offered his services to guide the caravan as it passed through the lands of his tribe, namely kinanah. `urwah al hawazini did likewise and offered to guide the caravan through the hijaz on the road of najd. king al nu'man chose `urwah and rejected the offer of al barrad. the latter, enraged with jealously, followed the caravan, committed his crime, and ran away with the caravan itself. a1 barrad then informed bishr ibn abu hazim that the tribe of hawazin would avenge the murder of `urwah from quraysh because the crime took place within the area under quraysh jurisdiction. indeed, members of the tribe of hawazin followed members of the tribe of quraysh and caught up with them before the latter entered the holy sanctuary. hawazin, not yet satisfied, warned that they would make war next year at `ukaz. this war continued to rage between the two parties for four consecutive years. it ended in reconciliation and a peace treaty, very much the kind of arrangement usually met with in the desert. the tribe with the lesser number of casualties would pay the other tribe the blood wit of the victims making up the difference. in the arrangement between quraysh and hawazin, the former paid the latter the blood wit of twenty men. henceforth, al barrad became the exemplar of mischief. history has not established the age of muhammad during the fijar war. reports that he was fifteen and twenty years old have circulated. perhaps the difference is due to the fact that the fijar war lasted at least four years. if muhammad saw its beginning at the age of fifteen, he must have been close to twenty at the conclusion of the peace.
there is apparent consensus as to the kind of participation that muhammad had in this war. some people claim that he was charged with collecting the arrows falling within the makkan camp and bringing them over to his uncle for re-use against the enemy. others claim that he himself participated in the shooting of these arrows. since the said war lasted four years, it is not improbable that both claims are true. years after his commission to prophet hood, muhammad said, "i had witnessed that war with my uncle and shot a few arrows therein. how i wish i had never done so!"