Battle of Badar
oleh: Izzulfikri M. Anshorullah
The Battle of Badr, fought 13 March 624 CE (17 Ramadan, 2 AH in the Islamic calendar) in the Hejaz region of western Arabia (present-day Saudi Arabia), was a key battle in the early days of Islam and a turning point in Muhammad's struggle with his opponents among the Quraish in Mecca. The battle has been passed down in Islamic history as a decisive victory attributable to divine intervention, or by secular sources to the strategic genius of Muhammad. It is one of the few battles specifically mentioned in the Quran. Most contemporary knowledge of the battle at Badr comes from traditional Islamic accounts, both hadiths and biographies of Muhammad, recorded in written form some time after the battle.
Prior to the battle, the Muslims and Meccans had fought several smaller skirmishes in late 623 and early 624, as the Muslim ghazawÄt (prophet-led battles) had become more frequent. Badr, however, was the first large-scale engagement between the two forces. Advancing to a strong defensive position, Muhammad's well-disciplined force broke the Meccan lines, killing several important Quraishi leaders including Muslims' chief antagonist Abu Jahl. For the early Muslims the battle was the first sign that they might eventually defeat their enemies among the Meccans. Mecca at that time was one of the richest and most powerful cities in Arabia, fielding an army three times larger than that of the Muslims. The Muslim victory also signalled other tribes that a new power had arisen in Arabia and strengthened Muhammad's position as leader of the often fractious community in Medina.
Muhammad was born in Mecca around 571 CE into the Quraish tribe. In 622, to escape persecution of Muslims by the Meccans, Muhammad and many of his followers migrated from Mecca to the neighboring city of Medina. This migration is called the Hijra.
Following the hijra, tensions between Mecca and Medina escalated and hostilities broke out in 623 when the Muslims began a series of raids (called ghazawÄt in Arabic) on Quraishi caravans. Since Medina was located just off Mecca's main trade route, the Muslims were in an ideal position to do this. Even though many Muslims were Quraish themselves, they believed that they were entitled to such raids because the Meccans had expelled them from their property, homes and tribes, a serious offense in hospitality-oriented Arabia. Also, there was a tradition in Arabia of poor tribes raiding richer tribes. It also provided a means for the Muslim community to carve out an independent economic position at Medina, where their political position was far from secure. The Meccans obviously took a different view, seeing the Muslim raids as banditry at best, as well as a potential threat to their livelihood and prestige.
In late 623 and early 624, the Muslim ghazawÄt grew increasingly brazen and commonplace. In September 623, Muhammad himself led a force of 200 in an unsuccessful raid against a large caravan. Shortly thereafter, the Meccans launched their own "raid" against Medina, although its purpose was just to steal some livestock which belonged to the Muslims. In January 624, the Muslims ambushed a Meccan caravan near Nakhlah, only forty kilometers outside of Mecca, killing one of the guards and formally inaugurating a blood feud with the Meccans. Worse, from a Meccan standpoint, the raid occurred in the month of Rajab, a truce month sacred to the Meccans in which fighting was prohibited and a clear affront to their pagan traditions.
In the spring of 624, Muhammad received word from his intelligence sources that one of the richest trade caravans of the year, commanded by Abu Sufyan and guarded by thirty to forty men, was travelling from Syria to Mecca. Because of the caravan's size, or perhaps because of the previous failures to intercept a caravan, Muhammad gathered an army of over 313 men, the largest army the Muslims had ever put in the field. The goods contained in the caravan were the belongings of the Muslims which were taken by the Meccans following the migration to Madinah.
The march to Badr
Muhammad's forces included Abu Bakr, Umar, Ali, Hamza, Mus`ab ibn `Umair, Az-Zubair bin Al-'Awwam, Ammar ibn Yasir, and Abu Dharr al-Ghifari. The Muslims also brought seventy camels and two horses, meaning that they either had to walk or fit three to four men per camel. However, many early Muslim sources indicate that no serious fighting was expected, and the future Caliph Uthman stayed behind to care for his sick wife Ruqayyah, the daughter of the Prophet. Salman the Persian also couldn't join the battle, as he was still not a free man.
Many of the Quraishi nobles, including Amr ibn HishÄm, Walid ibn Utba, Shaiba, and Umayah ibn Khalaf, joined the Meccan army. Their reasons varied: some were out to protect their financial interests in the caravan; others wanted to avenge Ibn al-Hadrami, the guard killed at Nakhlah; finally, a few must have wanted to take part in what was expected to be an easy victory against the Muslims. Amr ibn HishÄm is described as shaming at least one noble, Umayah ibn Khalaf, into joining the expedition. 
By this time Muhammad's companions were approaching the wells where he planned to either waylay the caravan, or to fight the Meccan army at Badr, along the Syrian trade route where the caravan would be expected to stop or the Meccan army to come for its protection. However, several Muslim scouts were discovered by scouts from the caravan and Abu Sufyan made a hasty turn towards Yanbu.
The Muslim plan
When the word reached the Muslim army about the departure of the Meccan army, Muhammad immediately called a council of war, since there was still time to retreat and because many of the fighters there were recent converts (called Ansar or "Helpers" to distinguish them from the Quraishi Muslims), who had only pledged to defend Medina. Under the terms of the Constitution of Medina, they would have been within their rights to refuse to fight and leave the army. However, according to tradition, they pledged to fight as well, with Sa'd bin 'Ubada declaring, "If you [Muhammad] order us to plunge our horses into the sea, we would do so." However, the Muslims still hoped to avoid a pitched battle and continued to march towards Badr.
By 11 March both armies were about a day's march from Badr. Several Muslim warriors (including, according to some sources, Ali) who had ridden ahead of the main column captured two Meccan water carriers at the Badr wells. Expecting them to say they were with the caravan, the Muslims were horrified to hear them say they were with the main Quraishi army. Some traditions also say that, upon hearing the names of all the Quraishi nobles accompanying the army, Muhammad exclaimed "Mecca hath thrown unto you the best morsels of her liver." The next day Muhammad ordered a forced march to Badr and arrived before the Meccans.
The Badr wells were located on the gentle slope of the eastern side of a valley called "Yalyal". The western side of the valley was hemmed in by a large hill called 'Aqanqal. When the Muslim army arrived from the east, Muhammad initially chose to form his army at the first well he encountered. Hubab ibn al-Mundhir, however, asked him if this choice was divine instruction or Muhammad's own opinion. When Muhammad responded in the latter, Hubab suggested that the Muslims occupy the well closest to the Quraishi army, and block off the other ones. Muhammad accepted this decision and moved right away.
The Meccan plan
By contrast, while little is known about the progress of the Quraishi army from the time it left Mecca until its arrival just outside Badr, several things are worth noting: although many Arab armies brought their women and children along on campaigns both to motivate and care for the men, the Meccan army did not. Also, the Quraish apparently made little or no effort to contact the many tribes allies they had scattered throughout the Hijaz. Both facts suggest the Quraish lacked the time to prepare for a proper campaign in their haste to protect the caravan. Besides it is believed since they knew they had outnumbered the Muslims by three to one, they expected an easy victory.
When the Quraishi reached Juhfah, just south of Badr, they received a message from Abu Sufyan telling them the caravan was safely behind them, and that they could therefore return to Mecca. At this point, according to Karen Armstrong, a power struggle broke out in the Meccan army. Abu Jahl wanted to continue, but several of the clans present, including Banu Zuhrah and Banu Adi, promptly went home. Armstrong suggests they may have been concerned about the power that Abu Jahl would gain from crushing the Muslims. The Banu Hashim tribe wanted to leave, but was threatened by Abu Jahl to stay. Despite these losses, Abu Jahl was still determined to fight, boasting "We will not go back until we have been to Badr." During this period, Abu Sufyan and several other men from the caravan joined the main army.
The day of battle
At midnight on 13 March, the Quraish broke camp and marched into the valley of Badr. It had rained the previous day and they struggled to move their horses and camels up the hill of 'Aqanqal. After they descended from 'Aqanqal, the Meccans set up another camp inside the valley. While they rested, they sent out a scout, Umayr ibn Wahb to reconnoitre the Muslim lines. Umayr reported that Muhammad's army was small, and that there were no other Muslim reinforcements which might join the battle. However, he also predicted extremely heavy Quraishi casualties in the event of an attack (One hadith refers to him seeing "the camels of [Medina] laden with certain death"). This further demoralized the Quraish, as Arab battles were traditionally low-casualty affairs, and set off another round of bickering among the Quraishi leadership. However, according to Arab traditions Amr ibn HishÄm quashed the remaining dissent by appealing to the Quraishi's sense of honor and demanding that they fulfill their blood vengeance.
The battle began with champions from both armies emerging to engage in combat. Three of the Ansar emerged from the Muslim ranks, only to be shouted back by the Meccans, who were nervous about starting any unnecessary feuds and only wanted to fight the Quraishi Muslims. So Hamza approached forward and called on Ubayda and Ali to join him. The Muslims dispatched the Meccan champions in a three-on-three melee. Hamza killed his opponent Utba ibn Rabi'ah; Ali killed his opponent Walid ibn Utba; Ubayda was wounded by his opponent Shaybah ibn Rabi'ah, but eventually killed him. So this was a victorious traditional 3 on 3 combat for the Muslims.
Now both armies began striking arrows at each other. A few Muslims and an unknown number of Quraish warriors were killed. Before the real attack began, Muhammad had given orders for the Muslims to attack with their ranged weapons, and only engage the Quraish with melee weapons when they advanced. Now he gave the order to charge, throwing a handful of pebbles at the Meccans in what was probably a traditional Arabian gesture while yelling "Defaced be those faces!" The Muslim army yelled "YÄ maná¹£Å«r amit!" "O thou whom God hath made victorious, slay!" and rushed the Quraishi lines. The Meccans, understrength and unenthusiastic about fighting, promptly broke and ran. The battle itself only lasted a few hours and was over by the early afternoon. The Qur'an describes the force of the Muslim attack in many verses, which refer to thousands of angels descending from Heaven at Badr to terrify the Quraish. It should be noted that Muslim sources take this account literally, and there are several hadith where Muhammad discusses the Angel Jibreel (Gabriel) and the role he played in the battle.
The Battle of Badr was extremely influential in the rise of two men who would determine the course of history on the Arabian peninsula for the next century. The first was Muhammad, who was transformed overnight from a Meccan outcast into a major leader. Marshall Hodgson adds that Badr forced the other Arabs to "regard the Muslims as challengers and potential inheritors to the prestige and the political role of the [Quraish]." Shortly thereafter he expelled the Banu Qaynuqa, one of the Jewish tribes at Medina that had been threatening his political position, and who had assaulted a Muslim woman which led to their expulsion for breaking the peace treaty. At the same time Abd-Allah ibn Ubayy, Muhammad's chief opponent in Medina, found his own position seriously weakened. Henceforth, he would only be able to mount limited challenges to Muhammad.
The other major beneficiary of the Battle of Badr was Abu Sufyan. The death of Amr ibn Hashim, as well as many other Quraishi nobles gave Abu Sufyan the opportunity, almost by default, to become chief of the Quraish. As a result, when Muhammad marched into Mecca six years later, it was Abu Sufyan who helped negotiate its peaceful surrender. Abu Sufyan subsequently became a high-ranking official in the Muslim Empire, and his son Muawiya would later go on to found the Umayyad Caliphate.
In later days having fought at Badr became so significant that Ibn Ishaq included a complete name-by-name roster of the Muslim army in his biography of Muhammad. In many hadiths, individuals who fought at Badr are identified as such as a formality, and they may have even received a stipend in later years. The death of the last of the Badr veterans occurred during the First Islamic civil war.
As Paul K. Davis sums up, "Mohammed's victory confirmed his authority as leader of Islam; by impressing local tribes that joined him, the expansion of Islam began."
Badr in the Qur'an
The Battle of Badr is one of the few battles explicitly discussed in the Qur'an. It is even mentioned by name as part of a comparison with the Battle of Uhud.
Qur'an: Al-i-Imran 3:123-125 (Yusuf Ali). "Allah had helped you at Badr, when ye were a contemptible little force; then fear Allah; thus May ye show your gratitude. Remember thou saidst to the Faithful: "Is it not enough for you that Allah should help you with three thousand angels (Specially) sent down? "Yea, - if ye remain firm, and act aright, even if the enemy should rush here on you in hot haste, your Lord would help you with five thousand angels Making a terrific onslaught."
According to Abdullah Yusuf Ali, the term "gratitude" may be a reference to discipline. At Badr, the Muslim forces had allegedly maintained firm discipline, whereas at Uhud they broke ranks to pursue the Meccans, allowing Meccan cavalry to flank and rout their army. The idea of Badr as a furqan, an Islamic miracle, is mentioned again in the same surah.
Qur'an: Al-i-Imran 3:13 (Yusuf Ali). "There has already been for you a Sign in the two armies that met (in combat): One was fighting in the cause of Allah, the other resisting Allah; these saw with their own eyes Twice their number. But Allah doth support with His aid whom He pleaseth. In this is a warning for such as have eyes to see."
Badr is also the subject of Sura 8: Al-Anfal, which details military conduct and operations. "Al-Anfal" means "the spoils" and is a reference to the post-battle discussion in the Muslim army over how to divide up the plunder from the Quraishi army. Though the Sura does not name Badr, it describes the battle, and several of the verses are commonly thought to have been from or shortly after the battle.
Traditional Muslim accounts
Most knowledge of the Battle of Badr comes either from the traditional Islamic accounts, Quran and Hadiths (records of the life and times of Muhammad). In the English speaking world, it is not known if there are earlier written records other than the traditional Islamic accounts since Arabic at that time in the Hijaz was primarily an oral language. People relied mostly on oral traditions.
Muslim exegs interpret the Book of Isaiah 21:13-17 as a prophecy of the Battle of Badr:(13) The oracle concerning Arabia. In the thickets in Arabia you will lodge, O caravans of Dedanites. (14) To the thirsty bring water, meet the fugitive with bread, O inhabitants of the land of Tema. (15) For they have fled from the swords, from the drawn sword, from the bent bow, and from the press of battle. (16) For thus the Lord said to me, "Within a year, according to the years of a hireling, all the glory of Kedar will come to an end; (17) and the remainder of the archers of the mighty men of the sons of Kedar will be few; for the LORD, the God of Israel, has spoken."
After the battle Muhammad decided to return to Medina. While Muhammad was returning to Medina, he reportedly received a revelation regarding the distribution of war booty.
According to Muslim scholar "Saifur Rahman al Mubarakpuri", a Quran verse was revealed ordering the execution of one of the captives, Nadr bin Harith. After this revelation, Nadr bin Harith was subsequently beheaded by Ali.
Later the command to kill Uqba bin Abu Muayt was given, and he was subsequently beheaded by Asim Bin Thabit Ansari (some sources say Ali beheaded him).
1.^ Quraish refers to the tribe in control of Mecca. The plural and adjective are Quraishi. The terms "Quraishi" and "Meccan" are used interchangeably between the Hijra in 622 and the Muslim Conquest of Mecca in 630.
2.^ The development of exegesis in early Islam: the authenticity of Muslim ... By Herbert Berg.
3.^ The Sealed Nectar, Page 274
4.^ Qur'an: Sura 22:39-40. "To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight),and also in sura 2:190 prmession of jihad is given by Allah because they are wronged;- and verily, Allah is most powerful for their aid; those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right,- (for no cause) except that they say, "our Lord is Allah.. Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid his (cause);- for verily Allah is full of Strength, Exalted in Might, (able to enforce His Will)."
5.^ a b Hodgson, pp.174-175.
7.^ Though the Muslims would claim it had started when they were expelled.
8.^ Sahih al-Bukhari: Volume 5, Book 59, Number 293. Sources vary as to the precise number.
9.^ Lings, pp. 138-139
10.^ "Sahih al-Bukhari: Volume 5, Book 59, Number 287". Usc.edu. Archived from the original on 16 August 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
11.^ "Sahih al-Bukhari: Volume 4, Book 53, Number 359". Usc.edu. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
12.^ "Witness-pioneer.org". Witness-pioneer.org. 16 September 2002. Archived from the original on 5 February 2010. Retrieved 19 March 2010.
13.^ Martin Lings, p. 139-140.
14.^ "Sahih al-Bukhari: Volume 5, Book 59, Number 286". Usc.edu. Archived from the original on 16 August 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
15.^ Ibn Ishaq says that Abu Sufyan himself rode ahead to reconnoiter the area and discovered the Muslim scouts via the dates left in their camels' droppings
16.^ Martin Lings, p. 140
17.^ a b "Sahih Muslim: Book 19, Number 4394". Usc.edu. Archived from the original on 20 August 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
18.^ Martin Lings, p. 142
19.^ Lings, p. 154.
20.^ Lings, p. 142.
21.^ Armstrong, p. 174
22.^ Lings, pp. 142-143.
23.^ Lings, pp. 143-144.
24.^ Armstrong, pp. 174-175.
25.^ Lings, pp. 144-146.
26.^ "Sunan Abu Dawud: Book 14, Number 2658". Usc.edu. Archived from the original on 10 October 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
27.^ a b Armstrong, p. 176.
28.^ a b Lings, p. 148.
29.^ "O thou whom God hath made victorious, slay!"
30.^ Quran: Al-i-Imran 3:123-125 (Yusuf Ali). "Allah had helped you at Badr, when ye were a contemptible little force; then fear Allah; thus May ye show your gratitude. Remember thou saidst to the Faithful: "Is it not enough for you that Allah should help you with three thousand angels (Specially) sent down? "Yea, - if ye remain firm, and act aright, even if the enemy should rush here on you in hot haste, your Lord would help you with five thousand angels Making a terrific onslaught."
31.^ Hodgson, pp. 176-178.
32.^ Including the elderly Abu Lahab, who was not at Badr but died within days of the army's return.
33.^ "Sahih al-Bukhari: Volume 5, Book 59, Number 357". Usc.edu. Archived from the original on 16 August 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
34.^ Sahih Al-Bukhari: Volume 5, Book 59, Number 358.
35.^ Paul K. Davis, 100 Decisive Battles from Ancient Times to the Present: The World's Major Battles and How They Shaped History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 95-96.
36.^ Husayn Haykal, Muhammad (2008). The Life of Muhammad. Selangor: Islamic Book Trust. p. 250. ISBN 978-983-9154-17-7.
37.^ The Sealed Nectar, Page 274
38.^ Sunan Abu Dawud no 2686 with Anwal Ma'bud 3/12
39.^ Saifur Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri, 2002, DarusSalam Publishing,page 157
40.^ Wright, Robin (1989). In the name of God: The Khomeini decade. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 133. ISBN 9780671672355.
41.^ Laub, Karin (21 August 2011). "Libyan Rebels Say They Are Closing In on Tripoli". Associated Press (via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution). Retrieved 21 August 2011.
Books and articles
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