In the following essay, a precise account of the incidents and factors which led to the battle of Badr will be addressed. Secondly, the reasons and motives behind why the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) took the steps he did which led to the first battle in Islam will also be mentioned. Finally there will be a conclusion briefly summarising the things mentioned in the essay.
Persecution of Muslims in Mecca
After reading the biography of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), it is crystal clear that in the early phase of Islam, Muslims were subjected to torture, suffering, adversity and hardship from non-Muslims. There are numerous examples of this; Ammar Ibn Yasir (Allah be pleased with him) who, along with his parents would be taken by the Banu Makhzum in the heat of the day and be exposed to the heat of Mecca just because they were Muslims. They even ended up killing his mother because she refused to abandon Islam. Furthermore, if Abu Jahl would hear of a man becoming a Muslim, if he were man of social importance and had relations to defend him he would reprimand him and pour scorn on him, saying things such as, “we will destroy your reputation”. If he were a merchant, then Abu Jahl would say things such as “we will reduce you to beggary and boycott your goods”. If the person was of no social importance, he would beat him and would incite people against him. The torture and ill-treatment was to such an inhumane level that they would deprive the Muslims from food and drink and compel them to say regarding a beetle that would pass them, “this beetle is my God and not Allah”. Consequently, the Muslims would say such things to escape from the suffering. (Alfred 1978:143,144)
The story of Bilal (Allah be pleased with him) is another famous example of maltreatment the Meccan Polytheists showed towards Muslims. Ummayah, Bilal’s tyrant master, would bring him out at the hottest part of the day, make him lie down in an open valley and place a great rock on his chest. Then Ummayah would say that you will stay here until you die or denounce Muhammad.
In light of the above, it was extremely difficult for Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and in general for the Muslims to live in Mecca. There was an increasing numbers of Muslims in Medina hence the Muslims would be more safe and protected in Medina. Consequently, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and a large number of Muslims eventually migrated to Medina.
Precise account of the incidents which led to the battle of Badr
Prior to Prophet Muhammad’s arrival to Medina, the Quraysh wrote a letter to Abdullah Ibn Ubayy, who was the chief of the Ansar and threatened to attack unless he killed the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) or expel him from Medina. When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) learnt of this he made Abdullah Ibn Ubayy think before taking such drastic actions by asking him, would he like to kill his own children and brothers, in other words the Ansar, because a lot of the Ansar had become Muslims. Thereafter, Abdullah Ibn Ubay understood and ignored the instructions of the Quraysh. (Nomani 2003:249)
When Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and his companions (Allah be pleased with them) migrated to Medina and the Muslims in Medina (Ansar) (Allah be pleased with them) gave them protection, all the other Arabs united to fight them. This led the companions (Allah be pleased with them) to keep their weapons on them whilst even sleeping. (Nomani 2003:251)
There came a time when Sa’d Ibn Muadh (Allah be pleased with him) a great helper of the Muslims went to Mecca for Umrah (lesser pilgrimage) and used Umaiyah Ibn Khalaf as a protection from any harm. Then Abu Jahl saw Sa’d Ibn Muadh (Allah be pleased with him) and said that he would have not got to his family safe and sound if it were not for Umaiyah Ibn Khalaf. Upon hearing this, Sa’d Ibn Muadh (Allah be pleased with him) courageously responded that if Abu Jahl were to stop him, he would stop Abu Jahl and inevitably the polytheists their passageway through Medina. (Mubarakpuri 2001:180)
The Quraysh were respected by the Arabs due to them being custodians of the Ka’bah and hence the Quraysh had an influence over the tribes between Mecca and Medina. People, such as the people of Yemen could not meet the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) until the 6th year after migration. This was because the Quraysh used their position to alienate Islam. The Quraysh went to the extent that they made preparations for an attack on Medina to wipe out Islam. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) even had sleepless nights. (Nomani 2003:251)
Not long after migration, the following Quranic verse was revealed (Lings 1985:135): “Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, Allah is competent to give them victory.”(Qur’an, 22:39)
Allah granted Muslims permission to battle. It is clearly evident from the above what the real cause was. This was the first verse revealed permitting fighting (Nomani 2003:252). The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) knew that permission granted by Allah in the above mentioned verse was an obligation (Lings 1985:135). However, before fighting, a good plan needed to be prepared on how and when to fight. This was partly due to the sheer number of non-Muslims compared to Muslims.
In Siratun-Nabi (2003), the author makes a very interesting observation regarding the difficulties, hostility and oppression the Muslims suffered. The author mentions that the difficulties in Mecca may have been severe but the difficulties increased in Medina. This was because in Mecca the Muslims faced the non-Muslim Quraysh. However, in Medina, the Muslims had to cope with the Jews, who were also very staunch enemies, and also the hypocrites, who were the most dangerous because of their deceiving nature (Nomani 2003:249). This was another reason the Muslims had to be very careful and prepare properly before fighting. At this point due to their disadvantage in man power, it was very difficult for them to initiate any sort of fight. Nonetheless, even though the author of Siratun-Nabi’s (2003) observation may be correct to an extent, when the Muslims were in Mecca, it was extremely difficult for them to practice their faith openly without being attacked or at least threatened by the non-Muslim Quraysh. As opposed to this, in Medina the Muslims could at least act upon their faith more freely.
The Prophet‘s first concern was to adopt safety measures not only for himself, but for the Muhajir and Ansaar (Allah be pleased with them) because the Quraysh were hell bent on trying to destroy Medina and had encouraged all the tribes on their side to do the same. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) adopted two strategies as a safety measure. Firstly, Quraysh’s route to Syria should be closed to prevent them trading with Syria. This would maybe compel them to agree to peace and harmony. This threat was also given by Sa’d Ibn Muadh (Allah be pleased with him) like mentioned before: “Sa’d (Allah be pleased with him) courageously responded that if Abu Jahl were to stop him, he would stop Abu Jahl and inevitably the polytheists their passageway through Medina”. Secondly, a peace treaty should be settled with neighbouring tribes. (Nomani 2003:253)
The above mentioned incidents and conditions urged the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) to send small expeditions of fifty to a hundred men, towards Mecca. The Muslims were less in number; hence they had to suffice with raids. This was because the Quraysh were vulnerable in their caravans. (Lings 1985:135)
There was no killing in any of the expeditions because the army either escaped or withdrew. As biographers suggest, the expeditions were sent to bother Quraysh’s trade caravans in preparation of closing Quraysh’s trade route with Syria. Nomani hardly rejects the notion that the companions (Allah be pleased with them) were taught to resort to loot as some critics alleged. He mentions that Islam condemns such conduct and no evidence was found that the companions (Allah be pleased with them) actually looted merchandise. Furthermore, other expeditions were despatched to neighbouring tribes for peace treaties. (Nomani 2003:253)
However Abu Zahrah (n.d:685) mentions that:
The ultimate objective of such raids was to capture and take possession of the property carried by the caravans. Raiding activities in Arabia pre-dated the advent of Islam and was not something invented by the Prophet.
Esposito (1991:5) mentions regarding the general culture of Arabia before and during Muhammad’s life:
Its (raiding) object was to capture livestock from enemy Bedouin tribes with a minimum of casualties. Its ultimate goal was to weaken and eventually absorb other tribes by reducing them to a dependent or “client” status.
It is clear from the above that raiding was a norm or practice even pre-dating the Prophet Muhammad’s time and was something accepted amongst all at those times.
After this there came a time when one of the chiefs of Mecca, Kurz Ibn Fahri attacked medina’s grazing grounds and escaped with the Prophet’s goats (Nomani 2003: 255,256). It was particularly in the spring and early summer months, when the Meccans trading with Syria was most active. Subsequently they lay open to attack from Medina (Lings 1985:135). Hence, in Rajab 2AH, the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) sent Abdullah Ibn Jahsh (Allah be pleased with him) with twelve men to Banu Nakhlah, a place between Mecca and Taif. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) gave Abdullah (Allah be pleased with him) a letter and informed him to open it after two days. In the letter it mentioned for them to stay in Nakhlah, investigate Quraysh’s movements and then report back to the Prophet. Unexpectedly, some men from Quraysh who just returned from Syria with trade merchandise, passed by. Abdullah (Allah be pleased with him) attacked them, killing one of them, namely, Amr Ibn al-Hadhrami and took the other two as captives along with receiving booty. Upon returning to Medina, Abdullah (Allah be pleased with him) reported to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) regarding what had happened. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) mentioned that he never granted him permission to fight, further to it being the months of when fighting is prohibited. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) also refused to take the booty. The men taken as captives and the men that were killed were honourable people, hence in consequence enraged the Quraysh and they called for revenge of blood. Urwah ibn Zubayr (Allah be pleased with him), nephew of Aysha (Allah be pleased with her) has mentioned, along with Tabari that the killing of Hadhrami was the root cause of the battle of Badr. (Nomani 2003: 255,256)
It is important to point out that there was no battle amongst the Muslims and non-Muslims as such, where there was a bloody confrontation between the nineteen month periods from migration to the battle of Badr except for the military expedition just before the battle of Badr in which al-Hadhrami was killed. All other military expeditions before this were organised to gather information about the roads around Medina and the roads leading to Mecca, assessing the strengths and concluding peace treaties with neighbouring tribes. (Bashumail 1981:73, 74)
The most important thing in launching an attack was to raise funds for a war. That was the very underlining reason that the trade caravan to Syria carried investments of relatively every inhabitant from Mecca, who had pretty much put all the money they had. Even women, who seldom took part in business, had shares in the trade caravan. The caravan had not yet returned from Syria and al-Hadhrami was killed which instigated fury amongst the Quraysh. At the same instance, a rumour spread Mecca that the Muslims had progressed to loot this caravan. The Quraysh then advanced from Mecca well prepared, with a thousand men. When the news reached the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), he and the Muslims set out from Medina with three hundred dedicated men. The Quraysh were told near Badr that the caravan of Abu Sufyan had passed and it was no longer under threat. There was no need to fight but Abu Jahl was adamant on a fight. Though, some men did retreat. The Quraysh were eager to start the war but some pious hearted men amongst them such as Hakim Ibn Hizam were not of the opinion of shedding blood and hence he said to Utbah, the commander of the forces that all the Quraysh are fighting for is the blood money of Hadhrami and he was your ally so you could settle that. Utbah consented, but had to seek permission from Abu Jahl who refused. The battle of Badr then commenced. (Nomani 2003: 257-260)
The Quraysh actually exploited this incident as a justification to launch a vicious campaign against the Muslims. This was because according to them, the Muslims directly contravened the prevalent norms of tribal morality, captured booty, taken their men as prisoners, and worst of all fought in the forbidden months which was violating the sanctity of the sacred months, consequently shedding blood. (Bashumail 1981:77)
The reasons and motives behind why the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) took the steps he did
Dr Buti (2001) explains that the reason for the battle of Badr taking place was that after coming to know of a trade caravan led by Abu Sufyan, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) told Muslims to take the caravan in place of the wealth that they had to leave behind in Mecca (Buti 2001: 312,313,318). Dr Buti’s view is that the Muslims intention and plan to raid the trade caravan of Quraysh was a type of reimbursement for the wealth they had to leave behind in Mecca due to the persecution of the Meccans. Therefore, the Muslims going forth with the Prophet Muhammad was not to engage in war.
Dr Hussain mentions that Prophet Muhammad’s actions were both defensive and offensive. Further to this, it was nothing short of political and military brilliance. (Hussain n.d:111)
Al-Umari mentions that the raids that took place were to endanger Quraysh’s trade routes, which would turn out to be a serious blow to the commercial economy of Mecca. Secondly; to make peace-treaties with the other tribes residing in the area. Finally; to show the Jews of Medina and the polytheists how powerful the Muslims are. (Umari 1991:19)
The battle of Badr actually took place in consequence of the raids. Hence it is clear from the above that the fundamental reasons of the battle of Badr were social – to provide safety for the Muslims, political – that’s why the raid took place as per the norm at that time and finally religious – to give dominance to Islam.
The conditions due to which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) had to leave Mecca for Medina concluded in a war. The chiefs of Mecca were the instigators and responsible for this. They were determined to wage war against him, and indeed generally against Islam. In such a scenario, the opposition who would be in a natural state of mind would not just sit back and relax. In this case, the opposition were the Muslims, who had to resort to military, political and economic measures in self-defence. The hostile attitude of the enemies – the Meccans – led the Muslims to build up their military strength. The battle of Badr took place in consequence. This battle was enforced on the Muslims as an expected result of long continuous enmity. (Bashumail 1981:73)
In reality, it was because of the battle of Badr that Islam emerged as a state and a recognised power. The significance of the battle of Badr was excellently summed up by a western scholar: “Before Badr, Islam was a mere religion; after it became the state-religion or more truly a State in itself.”(Maududi)
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