the caravans of quraysh were protected by escorts of the people of makkah who were related to many muhajirun as members of the same tribe, the same house and clan, and often the same family. it was not easy, therefore, for them to decide to enter into an engagement in which members of the same tribe, clan, and family would kill one another and then expose to retaliation all their fellow tribesmen on each side, in fact to expose the whole of makkah and madinah at once to the lex talionis of the desert. hardly any change affected the inability and unwillingness of muslims and others to launch a civil war which both parties had ably struggled to avert for thirteen long years, from the commission of muhammad to prophethood to the day of his emigration to madinah. the muslims knew too well that the covenant of al `aqabah was a defensive one which both al aws and al khazraj had undertaken to protect muhammad. these tribes of madinah have never agreed either with muhammad nor with anyone else to commit aggression on anyone. it is not possible, therefore, to accept the view of the earliest historians, who did not begin to write the history of the prophet until two centuries or so after his death, that the first raids and expeditions had actually been intended for fighting. hence, we must understand these events in a more reasonable way to harmonize with what we know to have been the policy of the muslims in this early period of madinah, and to be consistent with the prophet's policy of common understanding, mutual friendship, and co-operation to obtain religious freedom for all.
it is more likely, therefore, that these early expeditions had only psychic objectives, and were meant to press home to the quraysh the realization that their own interest demanded that they come into some kind of understanding with the muslims. the muslims were, after all, their own people, compelled to migrate from their own city to escape the persecution so far inflicted. rather than to bring war and hostility, these expeditions were intended to put an end to the old hostility, to guarantee to the muslims the freedom they sought for calling men to their religion, and to ensure for makkah the security it needed for its caravans to al sham. this trade, in which both makkah and ta'if were involved and which makkah used to carry on with the south as well as with the north, had built up large interests and businesses. some caravans consisted of two thousand camels or more, and carried a load whose value amounted to fifty thousand dinars.[a dinar is a golden coin, equivalent to twenty silver dirhims. -tr.]. according to the estimates of the orientalist, sprenger, the annual exports of makkah amounted to 250,000 dinars or 160,000 gold pounds. if the quraysh could be made to realize that this precious trade and wealth were exposed to danger by their own sons who had migrated to madinah, perhaps they might be inclined to reach an understanding with the muslims in order to grant them the freedom to preach their faith, visit makkah, and perform the pilgrimage, which was all they really sought. such an understanding was not possible, however, unless the quraysh were brought to realize that their emigrant sons were capable of impeding that trade and inflicting some material harm. to my mind, this explains the return of hamzah and his riders without battle after their encounter with abu jahl ibn hisham on the seacoast when majdiy ibn `amr al juhani intervened between him and the quraysh. it also explains the fact of the small numbers of riders which the muslims sent on these expeditions in the direction of the trade routes of makkah. otherwise, it would be unreasonable that the muslims go out to war in such small numbers. this also explains muhammad's alliances of peace which he concluded with the tribes settled along the routes of these caravans while quraysh persisted in its hostility toward the muhajirun. apparently, muhammad had hoped that the news of these alliances would reach the quraysh and cause them to reconsider their position and, perhaps, open the road to some understanding.
al ansar and offensive attack
the foregoing hypothesis is corroborated by a very reliable tradition to the effect that when the prophet, may god's blessing be upon him, went with his men to buwat and to al `ushayrah, a great number of ansar from madinah accompanied him. these ansar had covenanted with him for his protection, not in order to launch any offensive attack against anyone. this point will become clear when we study the great battle of badr. there, muhammad hesitated whether or not to permit the fighting to take place until the people of madinah had clearly agreed to join that specific sortie. although the ansar saw no violation of their covenant with muhammad if the latter entered into other covenants of peace and friendship, they were not thereby committed to join him in a war against makkah which no arab morality or custom would approve. the effect of the alliances which muhammad concluded with the tribes settled along the trade route was surely that of endangering makkan trade. but how far removed is such an attempt from declaring and entering into a full scale war! we may conclude, therefore, that the views that hamzah, `ubaydah ibn al harith, and sa'd ibn abu waqqas were sent to fight the quraysh, and that their expeditions should be called military raids, are unsound and unacceptable. likewise, the view that muhammad had gone to al abwa, buwat, and al `ushayrah for purposes of war is refuted by the considerations we have just given. the fact that such a view is held by the historians of muhammad does not constitute a sound argument because the said historians did not write until toward the end of the second century a.h. furthermore, the said historians were looking at these events as they occurred after the great battle of badr. hence, they looked upon them as preliminary skirmishes preceding that great battle and leading toward it. it was a natural mistake for them to add these sorties to the list of battles the muslims fought during the prophet's lifetime.