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Battle of Badr Parts I and II by Martin Lings

When was it?
The Battle of Badr
17 Ramadhan
2 AH

The Battle of Badr Part I

The Prophet now drew up his army, and he passed in front of each man to give them good heart and to straighten the ranks, bearing an arrow in his hand. "Stand in line, O Sawad", he said to one of the Helpers who was too far forward, and he gave him a slight prick in the belly with his arrow. " O Messenger of God, thou hast hurt me," said Sawad, "and God hath sent thee with truth and justice, so give me my requital." "Take it," said the Prophet, laying bare his own belly and handing him the arrow whereupon Sawad stooped and imprinted a kiss where it was his due to place a point of the shaft. "What made thee do this?" said the Prophet. And he answered: " O Messenger of God, we are now faced with what thou seest; and I desire that at my last moment with thee-if so it be- my skin should touch thy skin;" and the Prophet prayed for him and blessed him.

Quraysh had now begun to advance. Seen across the undulating dunes, the Meccan army appeared to be much smaller than it was. But the Prophet was fully aware of their true numbers and of the great disparity between the two hosts, and he now returned to the shelter with Abu Bakr and prayed for the help which God had promised him.

A light slumber came upon him, and when he woke he said: "Be of good cheer, Abu Bakr; the help of God hath come to thee. Here is Gabriel and in his hand is the rein of a horse which he is leading, and he is armed for war."

In the history of the Arabs many a battle had been averted at the last minute, even when the two forces were drawn up face to face. But the Prophet was now certain that the battle would take place, and that this formidable array was the one of the two parties that he had been promised. The vultures also knew that carnage was imminent and they were already in wait to feed on the carcasses of the slain, some wheeling overhead and others perched on the rocky slopes in the rear of either army. It was, moreover, clear from the movements of Quraysh that they were preparing to attack. They were already near and now halted within easy reach of the cistern which the Muslims had made. It seemed likely that their first move would be to take possession of it.

Aswad of Makhzum strode ahead of the others, clearly intending to drink. Hamzah went out to meet him and struck him a blow which severed one of his legs below the knee, and a second blow which killed him. Then Utbah, still smarting from the taunts of Abu Jahl, stepped from the ranks and gave the challenge for single combat ; and for the further honour of the family of his brother Shaybah and his son Walid stepped forward on either side of him. The challenge was immediately accepted by the Awf of the Najjar clan of Khazraj, who had been one of the first six of the Helpers to pledge themselves to the Prophet; and with Awf stepped forward his brother Mu'awwidh. It was their quarter in Medina that Qaswa had chosen as the ultimate halt of the Hijrah. The third to accept the challenge was 'Abd Allah ibn Rawahah. Who had defied his leader Ibn Ubayy in speaking words of welcome and comfort to the Prophet.

"Who are ye?" said the challengers. When the men answered, 'Utbah said "Ye are noble and our peers, yet we naught to do with you. Our challenge is against none but men of our own tribe." Then the herald of Quraysh shouted: "O Muhammad, send forth against us our peers from our own tribe." The Prophet had not intended anything else, but the eagerness of the Helpers had forestalled him. Now he turned to his own family. Since it was above all for them to initiate the battle. The challengers were two men of mature age and one youth. " Arise, O 'Ubaydah," he said. "Arise, O Hamzah. Arise, O Ali." 'Ubaydah was the oldest and most experienced man in the army, a grandson of Muttalib, and he faced Utbah while Hamzah faced Shaybah and Ali faced Walid. The combats were not long: Shaybah and Walid were soon lying dead on the ground, while Hamzah and Ali were unhurt: but at the moment Ubaydah struck Utbah to the ground he received from him a sweep of the sword that severed one of his legs. It was a triple contest, three against three, so Hamzah and Ali turned their swords on 'Utbah, and Hamzah gave him the death blow. Then they carried their wounded cousin back to their camp. He had lost a mortal quantity of blood, and the marrow was oozing from the stump of his leg. He had only one thought. "Am I not a martyr, O Messenger of God?" he said as the Prophet approached him. "Indeed thou are" he answered.

The tense stillness between the two hosts was now broken by the sound of an arrow from Quraysh, and a freedman of Umar feel to the ground, fatally wounded. A second arrow pierced the throat of Harithah, a youth of Khazraj, as he was drinking at the cistern. The Prophet now exhorted his men saying: "By Him in whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, no man will be slain this day, fighting against them in steadfast hope of his reward, advancing not retreating, but God shall straightaway enter him into Paradise." His words were passed on by those who heard them to those who were out of earshot. Umayr of the Salimah clan of Khazraj had a handful of dates which he was eating. " Wonder of wonders!" he exclaimed. "Is there naught between me and my entering Paradise, but that these men should slay me?", and he flung away the dates and put his hand to his sword and, in eager readiness for the word of command.

The Battle of Badr Part II

Awf was standing near to the Prophet, disappointed at having lost the honour of the challenge he had been the first to accept, and he now turned to him and said: "O Messenger of God, what is that maketh the Lord laugh with joy at His slave?" At once came the answer: "When he plungeth without mail into the midst of the foe"; and Awf began to strip off the coat of mail he was wearing, while the prophet took up a handful of pebbles and shouting Quraysh " Defaced be those faces!", he hurled the pebbles at them, conscious that he was hurling disaster. Then he gave the order to charge. The battle cry he had devised for them, Ya mansur amit, resounded from every throat as the men surged forward. Awf without his mail and Umayr were among the first to meet the enemy and both fought until they were slain. Their deaths and those of Ubaydah and the two killed by arrows brought the number of martyrs up to five. Only nine more of the faithful were to die that day, amongst them that other Umayr, Sa'd's younger brother, whom the Prophet had wanted to send home.

Thou threwest not when thou threwest, but it was God that threw. These words were part of the Revelation which came immediately after the battle. Nor were the pebbles the only manifestation of Divine strength which flowed form the hand of the Prophet on that day. At one point where the resistance of Quraysh was at its strongest a sword broke in the hands of a believer, whose first thought was to go and ask the prophet for another weapon. It was Ukkashah, a kinsman of the family of Jahsh. The Prophet gave him a wooden club saying: "Fight with this, Ukkashah." He took it and brandished it and it became in his hand a long strong, gleaming sword. He fought with it for the rest of Badr and in all the Prophet's other battles, and it was named al-Awn which means the Divine Help.

When the believers were ordered to charge, they did not charge alone, as well the Prophet knew, for he had been promised: I will help you with a thousand of the angels, troop on troop. And the Angels also had received a Divine message: When thy Lord revealed unto the angels: Lo, I am with you, so make firm the believers. I shall cast terror into the hearts of the disbelievers. It is for you to strike their heads, and to smite their every finger.

The presence of the Angels was felt by all, as a strength by the faithful and as terror by the infidels, but that presence was only visible or audible to a few, and in varying degrees. Two men of a neighbouring Arab tribe had gone to the top of a hill to see the issue and to take part-so they hoped-in the looting after the battle. A cloud swept by them, a cloud filled with the neighing of stallions, and one of the men dropped instantly dead. "His heart burst with fright," said the one who lived to tell it, judging from what his own heart had felt.

One of the believers was pursuing a man of the enemy, and the man's head flew from his body before he could reach him, struck off by an unseen hand. Others had brief glimpses of the Angels riding on horses whose hooves never touched the ground, led by Gabriel wearing a yellow turban, whereas the turbans of the other Angels were white, with one end left streaming behind them. Quraysh were soon utterly routed and put to flight, except in small groups where the Angels had not passed. In one of these Abu Jahl fought on with unabated ferocity until Mu'adh, the brother of Awf, smote him to the ground. Ikrimah, the son of Abu Jahl, then struck Mu'adh and all but severed his arm at the shoulder. Mu'adh went on fighting with his good arm. While the other hung limply by its skin at his side; but when it became too painful he stooped, and putting his foot on his dead hand jerked himself up, tore off the encumbrant limb, and continued in pursuit of the enemy. Abu Jahl was still full of life, but Mu'awwidh, Awf's second brother, recognised him as he lay there and struck him a blow which left him dying. Then Mu'awwidh passed on and like Awf he fought until he was slain.

Most of Quraysh escaped, but some fifty were mortally wounded or killed outright in the battle or overtaken and cut down as they fled. About the same number were taken captive. The Prophet had said to his Companions: "I know that men of the sons of Hashim and others have been brought out despite themselves, without any will to fight us." And he mentioned by name some of those whose lives should be spared if they were caught. But most of his army were in any case bent on holding their own captives to ransom rather than putting them to the sword.

Since Quraysh greatly outnumbered the believers, the possibility of their rallying and returning to the fight had still to be considered, and the Prophet was persuaded to withdraw to his shelter with Abu Bakr while some of the Helpers kept watch. Sa'd ibn Mu'adh was standing on guard at the entrance with drawn sword, and when his fellow warriors started to bring their captives into the camp the Prophet was struck by the expression of strong disapproval on his face. "O Sa'd," he said, "it would seem that what they are doing is hateful in thine eyes." Sa'd vigorously assented; then he added: "This is the first defeat God hath inflicted on the idolaters; and I had rather see men slaughtered than left alive." 'Umar was of the same opinion, but Abu Bakr was in favour of letting the captives live, in the hope that sooner or later they might become believers, and the Prophet inclined to his view. But later in the day, when Umar returned to the shelter, he found the Prophet and Abu Bakr in tears on account of a Revelation which had come: It is not right for a prophet to hold captives until he hath made much slaughter in the land. Ye would have for yourselves the gains of this world and God would have for you the Hereafter, and God is Mighty, Wise. But the Revelation then made it clear that the decision to spare the captives had been accepted by God and should now not be revoked; and the Prophet was given a message for the captives themselves: O Prophet, say unto those captives who are in your hands: If God knoweth any god in your hearts, he will give you better than that which hath been taken away from you, and he will forgive you. Verily God is Forgiving, Merciful.

Extract from "Muhammad - His life based on the earliest sources" by Martin Lings


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