Battle of Hunayn
The conquest of Makkah had silenced its citizens, but neighbouring tribes clamoured for a confrontation. Qays Milan assembled for consultation with Banu Thaqif and Banu Hawazen in the forefront. They said among themselves, “As Muhammad has already won the war against his people, none remains to prevent him from fighting against us. Why should we not take the initiative?”
Accordingly, they decided to fight and mustered a large army under Malik bin Auf Nasari. They came down to Autas, their women and children and livestock with them. An old veteran, Durayd bin Simma, who was highly reputed in the art of warfare, accompanied the Hawazen army. When Durayd heard the groaning camels, the braying asses, the bleeting sheep and goats and the crying children, he asked Malik to explain their presence in the army. Malik replied that each number of the army was to be followed by his family and material possessions so that each man would fight fiercely to defend them.
Durayd said, “By God, you are a shepherd! Who can block the way of the deserter? Behold! If you win the battle, it is you alone who will be the winners with your swords and spears; if you are defeated, you will be disgraced in front of your families.” Then he advised Malik to send the non-combatants back home, but the latter refused. He assembled the women, children and livestock in Autas while he himself proceeded to the neighbouring valley of Hunayn with the troops, and lay in ambush.
When informed of the developments, the Prophet marched on at the head of twelve thousand soldiers from Makkah on Saturday, Shawwal 6, 8 A.H. He took one thousand coats of mail and other weaponry from Safwan bin Umayya on credit, and the administration of Makkah was entrusted to Uqab bin Usayd. On the way, the troops came across a big tree named Dhat Al-Anwat. It was a shrine to the pagan city deity of war. From its branches, the pagan Arabs suspended their weapons, offered sacrifices beneath it and performed some rites of propitiation.
Some people who had not quite grasped the essence of Islam beseeched the Prophet “Make us a Dhat Al-Anwat similar to theirs.” At this the Prophet replied, “Allah is the Most Great! You have said what the people of Musa said to him: “Fashion for us a god similar to their gods.’ Musa replied, ‘You are an ignorant people!” (7: 138).
The Prophet then added, “Verily, you will follow every custom of the people before you.”
The Muslims exuded overconfidence because of their great strength. Some even exulted that they could not be defeated now for want of numbers, and the Prophet grew displeased at their arrogance. When evening set in, a cavalier brought the news that Banu Hawazen had come out along with their women, children, camels and goats. The Prophet smiled and remarked, “Inshaa Allah, all these will become the spoils of war for the Muslims.”
On the tenth of Shawwal, the Prophet reached Hunayn. Before descending the valley at dawn, the Prophet arrayed the troops. He gave the standard of the Muhajireen to Ali bin Abi Talib, the standard of Aus to Usayd bin Hudayr, and that of the Khazraj to Hubab bin Mundhir. Each clan had its standard bearer. The Prophet himself wore a double coat of arms and a helmet covering his head and face. The vanguard then began to descend the valley, unaware of the enemy troops lying in wait.
The Muslim soldiers were still in the process of descending when the enemy troops sprang on them like a swarm of locusts. The onslaught forced the Muslim flanks to fall back and they fled in terror, each up-heeding of the other. Those in the rear followed suit, and a complete rout of the Muslims was in sight. This turn of events gladdened the hearts of the polytheists and the token converts to Islam. Abu Sufyan remarked, “Their [the Muslims] fight will not stop until they reach the sea.” Kildah, Safwan’s brothers, rejoice, “The spell of their sorcery has ended today!”
Another brother said, “Receive the glad tidings of the defeat of Muhammad and his followers! He will never be able to unite them.” Safwan, although a polytheist, chided those who mocked the Muslims and said, “By God, I would rather be defeated by a man from the Quraysh than a man from Hawazen.”
While his troops scattered in confusion, the Prophet remained steadfast on the battlefield. He pressed ahead, spurring his mule and declared: “Verily, I am the True Prophet. I am the son of Abdul Muttalib.”
Abu Sufyan bin Harith was holding the bridle of his mule, while Abbas was holding the stirrup, trying to keep the Prophet from advancing toward the enemy too swiftly. The Prophet then dismounted and prayed to Allah, seeking His help. Then he instructed Abbas, who had a booming voice, to call his Companions.
Abbas called out, “O comrades of the tree! [i.e. those who took the pledge of Ridwan] Where are you!” All those who heard the cry were compelled to turn, and they called back, “Here we are!” Numbering about one hundred, they rushed purposefully toward the resounding voice. Reinforced thus, the Prophet bore down upon the enemy, and a new battle between the two parties started.
A call was then given to the Ansar and then to Banu Al- Harith bin Khazraj, and the Muslim squadrons returned to the valley one after another. Peace descended upon the Prophet and the believers, and an unseen army fought side by side with the Muslims who began to fight with fresh resolve. The Prophet took a handful of dust and threw it at his enemies saying, “May their faces be disfigured.” At this the enemies’ eyes were stung by the dust, and from that moment on they became confused and helpless. In disarray, they fled the battleground.
The Muslim army pursued their terrified enemies, killing some and capturing others with ease. Along with the captured soldiers, the Muslims also rounded up the women and children of their enemies. Only moments before the Muslims had appeared to be on the verge of defeat, but Allah reunited them and endowed them with victory. Witnessing the Prophet’s miraculous triumph, many pagans embraced Islam.