Why did the battle of Badr break out and how did it happen?
The Quraysh first threatened the Madinans, in
a letter addressed to �Adbullah ibn Ubayy ibn Salul, to kill their males and
enslave their females unless they expelled God�s Messenger from Madina. The
Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, put a timely end to the mischief which
Ibn Ubayy inclined to cause. Besides, when Sa�d ibn Mu�adh went to Makka to
perform minor pilgrimage (Umrah), he was stopped at the entrance of the Ka�ba
and prevented from performing circumambulation. Also, the Makkans quite regularly
sent invading parties to Madina. In such circumstances, the Muslims were left no choice
but to gain and consolidate control over that trade route in order to force
the Quraysh and other tribes unfriendly to the Muslims to reconsider their hostile
It was, at last, at the beginning of 624, two years after the Hijra that
a large caravan of the Quraysh, escorted by no more than 40 security guards
en route to Makka from Syria, arrived at a place within reach of the Muslims.
Fearing that the Muslims would stop their caravan and restore their usurped
goods, Abu Sufyan, the leader
of the caravan, rushed a messenger to Makka and sought help and reinforcements.
This caused an uproar through Makka. The leading chiefs of the Quraysh decided
to wage war on the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, and about 1000
fighters moved out of Makka with much pomp and show. They had decided to
deal a crushing blow to the rising power of the Muslims.
God�s Messenger, who always kept himself
abreast of developments which had any bearing on his mission, realized that
if an effective step was not taken right then, the preaching of Islam might
suffer a blow from which it might be very difficult for it to recover. Had the Quraysh taken the initiative and launched an attack on Madina,
it might have put an end to the existence of the small Muslim community in
Having decided to use the resources available to him, the Prophet, upon him
be peace and blessings, left Madina. Although he may have been intent upon a
decisive battle with the Quraysh, some of the Muslims desired to stop the
caravan. In order to inform his Companions of the situation, the Prophet gathered
them and told them that the trading caravan of the Quraysh was in the north
whereas the invading Quraysh army was in the south and moving towards Madina.
He also informed them that God had promised the Muslims that they would be able
to seize any of the two parties they wished (al-Anfal, 8.7) Now it was for them
to make the choice whether they wished to stop the trading caravan or attack the
approaching army. Aware of the Prophet�s intention, Miqdad ibn �Amr, one of
the Emigrants, replied as follows:
O Messenger of God! Proceed as God has commanded you to. We are with you
wherever you go, even as far as Bark al-Ghimad. We shall not say as the Children
of Israel said to Moses: �Go forth, you and your Lord, and fight, We shall remain
here sitting!� We rather say: �Go forth, you and your Lord, and fight, and we
shall fight on your side as long as the eyelid of any one of us keeps moving.�18
Until the Battle of Badr, God�s Messenger had not sought help from the Helpers
in military expeditions. This was the first occasion when the Helpers would
prove their commitment to support Islam. Without addressing them directly, God�s
Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, again put the same two alternatives
before his audience. Realizing that God�s Messenger aimed to ascertain the views
of the Helpers on the question, Sa�d ibn Mu�adh rose and spoke as follows:
O Messenger of God! I think your question is directed to the Helpers. We
have believed in you, affirmed the veracity of your claim to be the Messenger
of God, and borne witness to the truth of your teachings. We took the oath of
allegiance to you that we would hear and obey you. O Messenger of God! Do as
you wish! By the One Who has sent you with the truth, if you were to take us
to the sea and plunge into it, none of us should remain behind. So take us along
to the battlefield with God�s blessings.19
The decision was given in favor of attacking the approaching
army. This was also the decree of God:
God promised you that one of the two hosts would be yours, and you wished
that the one with no power should be yours. But God willed to establish the
truth through His words and to annihilate the unbelievers to the last remnant,
that He might prove the truth to be true and falsify falsehood, even if the
sinful are averse. (al-Anfal, 8.7-8)
The Makkan army consisted of 1000 fighters, including 600 soldiers in coats
of mail, and 200 cavalry. They were accompanied by singers and dancers. Whenever
the army halted, dancing and drinking parties were held. Also the army arrogantly
vaunted its military power and numerical strength before the tribes and localities
which fell on the way, and boasted of its invincibility.20 What was even worse
was that they were not fighting for any lofty ideal. They aimed to defeat the
forces of belief, truth, justice and good morals.
Against the force of the Makkan army, the Muslim army was made up of 313
fighters. Of these, 86 were Emigrants and the rest, the Helpers. Such was the
scarcity of resources that only two or three Muslims had horses. The number
of camels was no more than 70 so that three or four persons took turns on each
camel. God�s Messenger himself took turns with two persons. When they asked
him to ride the camel to exclude themselves from the turns, God�s Messenger,
upon him be peace and blessings, answered: You are no better in strength than
me. Concerning the reward, I am not in less need of it than you.21
The Muslim soldiers were fully devoted to the cause of Islam and were fired
with the zeal to sacrifice their lives for their cause. In order to accomplish
what He had already decreed, God made the Makkan army appear as small in number
in the dream God�s Messenger had, just as He made the number of the Muslims
appear smaller in the eyes of the Makkans (al-Anfal, 8.44).
At the battlefield
The two armies finally encountered each other at Badr. The Makkan army outnumbered
the Muslims by three to one. Moreover, the Muslims were scantily equipped. However,
they would fight for the most sublime of causes, to establish God�s religion
based on belief, good morals and justice. They were deeply convinced of the
truth of this cause and accordingly ready to sacrifice their lives. They had
reached the battlefield earlier than their opponents and been positioned around
the wells. Apart from that, the heavy downpour which had come the previous night,
was to the advantage of the Muslims. It had provided them with an abundant water
supply which they quickly stored in large reservoirs. Rain had also compacted
the loose sand in the upper part of the valley where they had pitched their
tents. This helped the Muslims plant their feet firmly and facilitated their
movement. But in the lower part of the valley, where the Quraysh army was stationed,
the ground had turned marshy. In addition to all those Divine blessings, God
brought on them drowsiness and gave them a feeling of peace and security (al-Anfal,
God�s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, positioned his army in
the upper part of the valley overlooking the whole of the battlefield, and divided
them into three parts, one centre and two flanks. The central force consisted
of the leading figures among the Emigrants and Helpers, who were foremost in
devotion to God�s Messenger. Mus�ab ibn �Umayr was carrying the standard of
God�s Messenger. Mus�ab belonged to one of the richest families of Makka. He
had accepted Islam as an adolescent. He was very handsome, and when he used
to go out, before his conversion, in silken clothes, the Makkan girls used to
stare at him from the windows of their houses. However, after he embraced Islam,
he became a whole-hearted follower of God�s Messenger. He sacrificed whatever
he had in the way of God and finally died a martyr at the Battle of Uhud, during
which he was again the standard-bearer of the Prophet, upon him be peace and
blessings. When he lost his right arm, he took the standard in his left hand,
and when a blow of an enemy sword took it away too, he was left with a �head�
to protect God�s Messenger, before whom he was finally martyred.22
The flanks were commanded by �Ali and Sa�d ibn Mu�adh. �Ali was famous for
his courage and deep devotion to God�s Messenger. He was only nine or ten years
old when he answered God�s Messenger, �I will help you�, when the Messenger
gathered his kinsmen to call them to Islam at the outset of his mission and
asked them: �Who among you will help me in this affair?�23 Again, on the night
of the Prophet�s Emigration, he slept on the Prophet�s bed in order that God�s
Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, might be able to leave Makka in
safety.24 Those who surrounded the house of the Prophet had thought that it
was God�s Messenger who was sleeping in the bed and waited until daybreak. By
the time they rushed into the house only to find �Ali in the Prophet�s bed,
God�s Messenger had already reached the Cave of Thawr outside Makka. �Ali was
a man wholly dedicated to the cause of God.
God�s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, had not neglected to take
all the necessary precautions and perfect all the preparations for the war.
He had mobilized all the resources available to him and chosen his best and
most qualified men as commanders. He had stationed his army at the upper part
of the valley and pitched his tent at a place from where he would be able to
see the whole of the battlefield and have all his commands conveyed to his soldiers
instantaneously. And, as the final prerequisite, for the desired result, he
outstretched his arms and prayed with great earnestness and humility:
O God! Here are the Quraysh who in their vainglory seek to deny and cry lies
against Your Messenger. O God! Support us with the help You promised me. O God!
Were this small group of Muslims to perish, none in the whole earth would remain
to worship You.25
After the prayer, he threw a handful of dust at the enemy saying: May their
faces be scorched!26
The Battle of Badr was a severe test for all the Muslims. They would either
gain the victory or be martyred. They were not to flee the battlefield. Although
they were not forbidden to retreat in orderly fashion under strong pressure
from the enemy provided the retreat was resorted to as a stratagem of war �
for example, seeking reinforcements or regrouping with another party in the
rear (al-Anfal, 8.15) � any disorderly flight because of cowardice and defeatism
was strictly forbidden. That kind of retreat takes place because the deserter
holds his life dearer than his cause, and such cowardice has been characterized
as one of the major deadly sins.
The battle began. In the first frontline of the Quraysh were �Utba ibn Rabi�a
and his brother, Shayba, and his son, Walid. They challenged the Muslims to
single combat. Three young men of the Helpers went forward against them. �We
will not fight with the farmers and spherherds of Madina,� �Utba shouted out
of an arrogance which would cause their perishing. This was, in fact, what God�s
Messenger expected. He ordered �Ali, Hamza and �Ubayda ibn Harith to go forth
for single combat. Hamza, may God be pleased with him, advanced against �Utba
and killed him. �Ali killed Walid with two blows. �Ubayda, who was old, marched
against Shayba. They exchanged blows, and the sharp edge of Shayba�s sword struck
�Ubayda�s knee and cut it. However Hamza and �Ali rescued him from Shayba. They
killed Shayba and carried �Ubayda away.27
The Quraysh were shocked at the beginning of the war. The belief and sincerity
of the Muslims won them God�s help. The Quraysh, who had exulted in their power,
suffered a decisive defeat at the hands of the ill-equipped Muslims. Seventy
of the Quraysh were killed. The two young brothers, �Awf and Mu�awwidh, from
the Helpers, together with �Adbullah ibn Mas�ud, killed Abu Jahl, who had been
described by God�s Messenger as the Pharaoh of the Muslim Ummah.28 Almost all
the leaders of the Quraysh, including Abu Jahl, Walid ibn Mughira, �Utba ibn
Rabi�ah, �As ibn Sa�id, Umayyah ibn Khalaf, and Nawfal ibn Khuwaylid were killed.
Prior to the battle, God�s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, had indicated
the spots where they were killed, saying: �Utba will be killed here; Abu Jahl
here, Umayyah ibn Khalaf here, and so on.29
Another seventy of the Quraysh were taken as war prisoners. God granted the
Muslims permission to accept ransom for them. God�s Messenger released some
of them in return for ransom, and the others who knew how to read and write,
on the condition that they should teach the unlettered Muslims how to read and
Such treatment of the captives proved very beneficial for the Muslims. For
those people who had expected execution welcomed the chance to pay ransom and
paid it. Second, the rate of literacy in Madina was very low, and, in order
to propagate Islam, the Muslims had to know how to read and write. Besides,
the Muslims had to be culturally superior to the polytheists. Third, those who
were kept in Madina to teach the Muslims how to read and write would be able
to learn Islam better than before and find the opportunity to be in close contact
with the Muslims. This was certain to soften their hearts toward Islam and accelerate
their conversion, together with that of their families. Fourth, the families
and relatives of those captives had despaired of their lives. But, when they
saw them before them unexpectedly, their enmity to Islam was considerably lessened
The decisive victory gained at Badr made Islam a force to reckon with across
all of Arabia, and many hardened hearts were inclined to accept the message
18. I. Sa�d, 3.162.
19. Muslim, �Kitab al-Jihad wa l-Siyar,� 30; Waqidi, Maghazi, 1.48�9.
20. Tabari, Tarikh al-Umam wa l-Muluk, 2.430.
21. I. Hanbal, 1.411, 418.
22. I. Sa�d, 3.120.
23. I. Hanbal, 1.159.
24. I. Hisham, 2.127.
25. I. Hisham, 1.621.
26. I. Hisham, 1.668; I. Hanbal, 1.368.
27. I. Hisham, 2.277.
28. I. Hisham, 2.280�7; I. Kathir, 3.350.
29. Abu Dawud, 2.53; Muslim, 5.170.