The Prophet’s first full battle with the Quraysh was the Battle of Badr. This fight, in which 70 idolaters were killed and around the same number taken captive, took place on the 17th of Ramadan, 2nd hijrah, at the location of Badr. This battle damaged the strength and status of the Quraysh irreparably and the major leaders of the Quraysh were killed. The Quran called it the “Battle of Furqan,” i.e. the fight to discern between truth and falsehood. It is astonishing that such a great event has been hidden behind history in such a way that it has become difficult to gain access to facts and several questions to which answers are unavailable are raised about the same.
The Causes of The Battle of Badr
Historians describe the following as being the reasons for the battle:
1. The Quraysh were enraged by the killing of ‘Amr ibn al-Hadrami during the sariyyah of ‘Abdullah ibn Jahash (rta) and the capture of ‘Uthman and al-Hakam. They could not tolerate this humiliation. Taking revenge for killing was, in any case, a tradition of the Arabs. Thus, they began to make preparations for war, as a result of which the Battle of Badr took place.
2. Madinah is located along the route which runs from Makkah to Syria. The trade convoys of the Quraysh travelled through this route to Syria. By making cooperation agreements with the tribes living around Madinah, Muslims had made it impossible for the Quraysh to get permission to use this route. This was akin to cutting off the main artery of their economy, hence war became incumbent.
3. The spoils of war obtained from Nakhlah had created greed for more among Muslims. Hence, they waylaid a large trade caravan which was returning after bringing products from Syria towards Makkah. The Quraysh became suspicious and came out to defend their caravans.
If these are the reasons for the Battle of Badr, what are the characteristics that distinguish it from ordinary wars, on the basis of which the Quran named it “The Day of al-Furqan?” The premise behind all worldly wars is either political or economic. Wars have been started because of killing of people. When a nation has sensed danger to its economy, it has picked up weapons of war. Do the prophets of God too fight on the basis of such factors? These are the questions to which no satisfactory answers are available with biographers and it is necessary that we determine these.
In our view, the above are not the real causes for the battle, because of the following reasons:
1. ‘Amr ibn al-Hadrami’s killing and ‘Uthman and al-hakam’s captivity was certainly humiliating for the Quraysh, and it was also used to incite the emotions of people, but the preparation of a 1,000 soldier strength army and attack on Madinah was completely unnecessary. According to the Arab tradition, qiṣaṣ (retaliation for murder) could have been demanded. If the Prophet (sws) did not cooperate, revenge could have been asked for from the Banu Hashim tribe members who had been left in Makkah, because the Prophet (sws) was one of them and according to Arab custom, a tribe was held responsible for an individual’s actions. According to some narratives, the Prophet (sws) had offered payment of blood money, but the offer was rejected by the Quraysh. Before the battle, the Qurayshi leader, Hakim ibn Hizam had offered to the mayor of Makkah, ‘Utbah ibn Rabi’ah that he would pay blood money so that the matter could rest. This idea was accepted by Rabi’ah, but other leaders opposed it. It seems, therefore, that waging a war was not the only way to avenge a killing and that the leaders of the Quraysh not only did not consider such retaliation significant but also did not find it suitable to think of the options available.
2. The stated cause of the Syrian route becoming a danger is also unrealistic and the outcome of a perception only. There is a span of one whole year between the agreements with Juhaynah, Banu Damrah and Banu Mudlaj, and the Battle of Badr. Firstly, the wording of these agreements has been preserved and does not include stopping the trade caravans of the Quraysh. Secondly, during that one year, no trade convoy of the Quraysh was asked to obtain permission, nor was any stopped. Their convoys continued to ply on this route. If the purpose had been to stop the trade caravans, one or two incidents would surely have taken place. Thirdly, if it is supposed that Muslims were not so strong during that phase to have served such a notice, they became strong and emboldened after the battle and could have done so. But the truth is that even in later years, there were no signs of putting curbs on such trade. Hence, this cause is merely based on speculation.
3. Muslims would have become greedy after obtaining the war booty of Nakhlah, if the Prophet (sws) had praised them and patted them on their backs. Contrary to this, biographers narrate that he was unhappy with this incident and kept the booty aside. It was only distributed after the Battle of Badr. Was this behavior of the Prophet (sws) a deterrent to war or an incitement?
According to narratives, when Abu Sufyan was informed about the sariyyah of ‘Abdullah ibn Jahash (rta), he was in Syria. He felt that Muslims could attack his convoy while he was en route to Makkah passing by Madinah. He sent a man named Damdam ibn ‘Amr to Makkah to alert them of the potential danger so that they could send a group of soldiers. When this man arrived in Makkah, panic erupted. As a result, they formed a full army and marched towards Madinah. These narratives are not correct because it was impossible in those times for the news to have reached Syria from Makkah, for someone to travel from Syria to Makkah again, for the Quraysh to have made full preparations for war and then to reach Madinah which was a week’s distance away, all within six weeks. Such an activity would have required at least 10-12 weeks, provided the travel time of the man from Syria to Makkah was excluded. According to another narrative, Damdam was not sent from Syria, but from when the convoy was a little distance away from Madinah. The same objections can be applied to this because of the travel time in those days. Had this been the case, the caravan would have been very close to Badr, whereas the messenger was quite far away. [The time taken for travel can be assessed by considering the fact that it took 10 days to travel between Makkah and Madinah. The Prophet (sws) had arrived at northern side of Arabia for the Battle of Tabuk after travelling for 24 days].
What is more likely, therefore, is that the Quraysh may have made plans for war and prepared all the war equipment, and wanted to make the safety of the trade route an excuse. The scheme could have been that a man would come as a representative from Abu Sufyan, and the Quraysh army would move just when the trade convoy would be close by. The man reached Makkah, tore his clothes, toppled the saddle of the camel and starting lamenting, calling upon the people to beware of their convoy as Muhammad (sws) and his companions had waylaid them. This made the people of Makkah angry and they participated in the battle, according to the scheme of their leaders. Even if such a description is accepted, questions on the attack of the trade convoys remain.
Firstly, no incident of robbing any convoy before the sariyyah of ‘Abdullah ibn Jahash had taken place. The trade convoys of the Quraysh used to travel without any barriers to and from Syria. Without any previous bitter experience, Abu Sufiyan could not have been concerned about the safety of his convoy. News about the incident that occurred in Nakhlah could not have reached Abu Sufyan in time for him to send a messenger to obtain timely help from the Quraysh. It has to be admitted that sending Damdam ibn ‘Amr was part of another plan which had no connection with the news of the sariyyah of ‘Abdullah ibn Jahash.
Secondly, if protection of the convoy has been the purpose of the Quraysh, it would have sufficed to send a few hundred individuals. Instead, the Quraysh had prepared for a battle on a large scale and ensured that every person participated. This arrangement was far in excess of any need for protection of the convoy and greatly imbalanced.
Thirdly, if the Muslims had wanted to rob Abu Sufyan’s convoy, they would have started from the north-west of Madinah, where they would have achieved their objective before the Quraysh army arrived. Before proceeding towards Badr, the Prophet (sws) had sent two spies in that direction. All biographers agree that when the Prophet (sws) prepared his army, he moved it towards Badr, which is 80 miles away from Madinah towards Makkah. Proceeding towards Makkah to rob the convoy would have been a dangerous tactic. It is impossible to imagine such a huge technical error on the part of Muslims.
Fourthly, According to historians, the idolaters knew before they reached Badr that Abu Sufyan had taken the convoy safely out towards Makkah through the coast and he no longer needed any protection. If the Quraysh had come only to protect the convoy, there was no reason for them to go on to Badr despite this news. This proves that their purpose was different.
In the light of these points, it can be deduced that the trade convoy coming from Syria was not the factor behind the Battle of Badr, although biographers have given it more importance.
The Cause of the Battle of Badr
The battle of Badr, was, in reality, a clash between the forces of truth and falsehood. Its purpose was to punish a nation that had humiliated the Prophet of God and to strike at the roots of those who denied him by killing its leaders. A total annihilation of the Quraysh as punishment for denying the Prophet (sws) was not part of God’s scheme, as explained above. But their frontline leadership was destroyed in this battle. In their arrogance, the leaders of the Quraysh had set out to stamp out the voice of truth forever, but instead, God’s strategy worked and truth prevailed. Evidence of the fact that the Quraysh had left Makkah, armed with religious fervor, with aims to defeat Islam and break the strength of the Muslims is found in books of history. Let us look at the situation among the Quraysh.
1. The Quraysh involved every individual tribe in the preparation for war by formal instruction and obtained their cooperation through arms, wealth and in kind contribution. Thus, the entire nation participated in the war.
2. It was arranged that no important person was left behind. Such a psychological ambiance had been created that anyone who stayed behind was worried about being stigmatized. The leader of the Quraysh, ‘Utbah ibn Rabi’ah had no intention of participating, but he was so criticized that his son Shaybah said: “if we remain apart from our nation today, this fact will become a reason for our disrepute always”. Abu Lahab was hesitant to join in, but Abu Jahal went to him and said: “Get up, Abu ‘Utbah, By God, we are only going to war for the glory of your and your forefather’s religion.” At this, Abu Lahab put al-‘As ibn Hisham al-Maghirah in his place, forgiving him the debt the latter owed to the former in lieu of this service. Umayyah ibn Khalaf was a heavy set man. He expressed his inability to go to the front, but Abu Jahal incited him by calling out to his honour: “O Abu Ṣafwan, you are the leader of the inhabitants of this valley. If you stay at home, others too will not come out.” Abu Jahal kept after him until he agreed and said: “If you are blaming me, by God, I shall buy the most pure bred camel and come with you, riding it.”
3. The Quraysh leaders took on the responsibility to feed the entire army for one day each. For this, the names of Abu Jahal, Umayyah ibn Khalaf, Suhayl ibn ‘Amr, Shaybah, ‘Utbah, ‘Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Muṭṭalib, Abu al-Bukhtari, Nabih ibn al-Hajjaj and Manbah ibn al-Hajjaj have been given. This shows that this battle was accorded the status of a national war. Accompanying the army were women who played the tambourine, sang songs ridiculing Muslims and keeping the idolators happy.
4. The Quraysh were at odds with the tribe of the Banu Bakr. They were worried that on their way to Badr, the tribe may attack them from behind. Using diplomatic sources, it was ensured that they would not carry out any such attacks. Obviously, if they had been going merely to protect their convoy, they would not have needed to worry of such a happening.
5. When departing from Makkah, the idolaters prayed while holding on to the drapes of the Ka’bah: “O Allah! whichever army is better, which group is more honourable, whichever tribe is better, help it.” They prayed thus in the belief that they were superior to the Muslims and because they were leaving for a formal battle with them.
6. Abu Jahal prayed the night before the battle: “O Allah! that man (the Prophet) has cut our relationships. He gives us a message with which we are unfamiliar. O Allah! Destroy that man tomorrow.” This prayer of Abu Jahal reflects the same fervor and feelings with which the Quraysh had entered war.
7. When the Quraysh reached Juhfah, before Badr, they knew that the trade convoy had left the route to Badr and was moving towards Makkah through the coastal route and was safe from any attack by the Muslims. Hearing this news, Banu Zahrah and Banu ‘Adi said that their interest was limited to the protection of their people and property. They would, therefore, return to Makkah. Abu Jahal was adamant that they would not go back and would put up camp at Badr. The army moved on without taking these two tribes into consideration and they did not take part in the battle.
8. After reaching Badr, when the faithful too reached it, some peace loving individuals, including Hakim ibn Hizam who was at the forefront, advised ‘Utbah to avoid any fighting. But the Quraysh elite insisted that they would not leave without destroying the Muslims.
There is no mention of the protection of the trade convoy or any other reason for the war in any of the above incidents. These incidents are completely irrelevant with regard to the convoy. In reality, the Quraysh, infused by emotions for the religion of their forefathers, had left their homes, aiming to destroy the Muslims and praying for the same. If some people suggested that the convoy was safe and there was no need for fighting, the Quraysh leaders gave no weight to these views and insisted that they would not go back without wiping out the Muslims.
As far as the camp of the Muslims is concerned, our early biographers have stated their purpose of leaving Madinah as attacking the trade convoy. The same story has been repeated by historians so often that it has been taken as a fact. However, there are several incidents that prove that the purpose in front of the Prophet (sws) in leaving Madinah was to fight the Quraysh. Please deliberate upon the following facts:
1. According to narratives, although the Prophet (sws) had sent two companions, Ṭalhah ibn ‘Ubaydullah (rta) and Sa’id ibn Zayd (rta), 10 days before departing for Badr, to the trade route in the west of Madinah, but without waiting for their return or arranging for an alternate to bring information about the convoy, he had ordered the army to proceed towards Badr. When Ṭalhah (rta) and Sa’id (rta) returned to Madinah, the Prophet (sws) had left for Badr.
2. Historians say that the Anṣars were not included in any of the earlier skirmishes, but in this, both Muhajirs and Anṣars were present in full. There were 86 Muhajirs, 61 Ansars belonging to the tribe of Aws and 170 from the tribe of Khazraj. Even adolescent boys signed up for the army, but they were not allowed to go. It seems that just as the Quraysh made preparations to take its entire people along, so did the Prophet (sws) prepare to take all able bodied Muslims.
Biographers say that no nationwide call for war had been made and no blame was attached to those who stayed behind. But they do not state who had stayed behind. The eight men who did and whose names appear were the ones who had been instructed by the Prophet (sws) to take on different responsibilities and who had been awarded the war bounty. Hence, the above statement of historians is not acceptable.
3. The desire for jihad and martyrdom among the Muslims shows that they had confrontation with the Quraysh in mind. Even children tried to take part. For example, ‘Umayr ibn Abi Waqqas (rta) participated despite his youth and was martyred. Similarly, it was necessary for either Khaythamah (rta) or his son, Sa’d ibn Khaythamah (rta) to stay at home. When the father attempted to stop his son, the latter said: “if it had not been a matter of Paradise, I would have given you priority over myself. I am going in hope of martyrdom. Please give me permission.”
4. The Prophet (sws) stopped at the well of Abi Anba’ outside Madinah to inspect his forces, and sent back some children, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar, Uthamah ibn Zayd, Rafay’ ibn Khudayj, Bara’a ibn ‘Azib, Zayd ibn Thabit, Usayd ibn Hudayr and Zayd ibn Arqam due to their tender age. It is obvious that he was looking at the certainty of a war with the Quraysh and wanted to take only people who would be most suitable for it.
5. During the mission of Dhu al-‘Ashirah, he had come to know that Abu Sufyan’s contingent comprised of only 30-40 horse riders. Only horse riders could be appropriate against them and only two companions possessed horses in the Muslim army. Secondly, there were 300 foot soldiers in the Battle of Badr, which were too many to attack the trade convoy. In other words, just as the army of the Quraysh was very imbalanced compared to the need for protection of the trade convoy, so too was the army of the Prophet (sws) too numerous for the purpose of attacking the trade convoy.
6. It was a custom among the Arabs that some people would participate in wars among other parties, greedy for war bounty. When two idolatrous warriors, Khubayb ibn Sayyaf and Qays ibn Muhrith expressed their wish to do so, the Prophet (sws) replied: “No one who is not on our faith will go with us.” The reason for this refusal could be that he was not considering that battle between Islam and its enemies to be an ordinary one.
7. All historians have stated this prayer of the Prophet (sws) before the battle: “O Allah! If you destroy this small group of the people of Islam, there would be no one left to worship You on this earth.” The words of this prayer indicate that the Prophet (sws) had submitted his entire possessions; otherwise such a prayer would not have been suitable. At that time, he was not thinking of the trade convoy but of the equipped army of the Quraysh.
8. To establish the purpose of war, it is said in the Qur’an: “But Allah intended to establish the truth by His words and to eliminate the disbelievers.” (8:7) It is not possible to destroy a strong group of disbelievers by robbing one of its trade convoys. The only way to do this is to humiliate an equipped army and destroy its leadership.
However, it is a fact that the period of the return of the Quraysh convoy from Syria created serious psychological and emotional feelings within both Muslims and the Quraysh and played an active role in pitting the two groups against each other. It also created several misunderstandings that caused people to make huge errors in recognizing the true nature of this battle between truth and falsehood.
A Possible Trajectory of Events and Causes
Keeping all evidence and the time required for travel between the various convoys in mind, a more plausible explanation is that when Abu Sufyan heard that a large group of Muslims had arrived at Dhu al-‘Ashirah when he had left it on his way from Makkah to Syria, he assumed that they were planning to rob his convoy, and that although he had been safe until then, they might be waiting for him and the convoy could be in danger. To pre-empt this, he sent a man, Damdam ibn ‘Amr to the Quraysh with the message that they should make special preparations to protect the convoy on its way back. After sending the message, he proceeded to Syria. When Damdam reached Makkah, the incident of the sariyyah of ‘Abdullah ibn Jahash had just happened and the Quraysh began to see this dim assumption as a reality. Some idolaters also said that the Muslims had the wrong perception that they could repeat the incident of Nakhlah. The Quraysh leaders used this danger to incite the feeling of honour among their people, but the plan they made was to use the protection of the convoy as a ploy to eliminate the Muslims forever. Hence they made elaborate arrangements which suited their real purpose of waging war. They had plenty of time for this, as the convoy would take time to come from Syria. As the time of the convoy’s arrival came near, God showed a dream to His Prophet (sws) that a trade convoy was coming from one side, and the Quraysh army from the other. He instructed the Prophet (sws) to call the Muslims out, and promised him that Muslims would be granted victory over one of these two groups. The Prophet (sws) gathered his people together, told them about his dream and about both possibilities and gave orders to prepare for war. Because the fight would be tough, he gave instructions to prepare accordingly. The Muslims were oppressed, poor and without many possessions. Some expressed the wish that they should not have to fight in such conditions of poverty and that they be allowed to attack the trade convoy. Other companions saw in this a confrontation between Islam and disbelief and they understood that the time had come for the promise for the defeat of falsehood to be fulfilled. Biographers, referring to this situation, write: “When the Prophet (sws) motivated his people for war, some took it as an ordinary happening, but others felt its weight. This happened because people did not believe that the Prophet (sws) would face war”.
We believe that this is a description of the psychological condition of two groups of Muslims. One understood the seriousness of the issue and prepared accordingly. The other remained under the presumption of meeting the trade convoy, and thought that the idea of a war was too farfetched. Coincidentally, the narratives that have been collected by the oldest biographers represent those related to the second group; this is why historians have not given importance to the first view, although events show that the majority held these views.
Possibility of War with an Equipped Army
The Prophet (sws) placed both possibilities he had seen in his dream before his people, but he showed by his actions that he was considering only the battle with the Quraysh army. This was also more in line with his status, that he would keep the more difficult situation in mind. Thus, he gave orders for war. At this, the people who wanted to confront the convoy became worried and started to argue with the Prophet that it was not the right time for a big showdown with the Quraysh. The Quran said about such people:
[It is] just as when your Lord brought you out of your home [for the battle of Badr] in truth, while indeed, a party among the believers was unwilling; arguing with you concerning the truth after it had become clear, as if they were being driven toward death while they were looking on. (8:5-6)
What is being said here is at the time of departure from Madinah. If the Prophet (sws) had wished to attack the convoy, the Muslims would not have opposed this. However, his purpose was very clear to him: that of facing the Quraysh army. Some people left their homes unwillingly. According to some narratives, the Prophet (sws) stopped after leaving Madinah, at a place called the Well of Abi Anba’ to inspect his forces. He saw some children who had joined, motivated by the desire to fight the idolaters. He did not allow them to go on but after seeing proof of war skills by some boys, let them travel.
After this inspection, he ordered the army to march towards Badr, because that was the place where the route to Syria and Makkah joined and they could meet one of the two groups of the Quraysh. He traversed this route fast and whoever he found on his way, he would ask about the movements of both the convoy and the army. Since the situation was not clear yet, some Muslims were hoping to meet the convoy and others were expecting to confront the Quraysh army.
Test of the Desire for Jihad amongst the People of Faith
The Prophet (sws) sent two companions; Busbus ibn ‘Amr Juhni (rta) and ‘Adi ibn Abi al-Zaghba (rta) to bring information about the movements of the enemy. When he camped at the valley of Dhafran en route, he received the first information about the Quraysh’s movements and it became necessary to take his companions into confidence. He informed his army about the situation and asked for advice. First, Abu Bakr (rta) and ‘Umar (rta) spoke and expressed their commitment to fighting the enemy. The Prophet (sws) praised their desire for jihad and expressed his happiness. After this, he again addressed the people and asked for advice. At this, Miqdad ibn al-Aswad said: “O Prophet of Allah! Do what Allah has instructed you to. We are with you in every situation. By Allah! We will not give the answer that was given by the Israelites to Moses (sws); you and your Lord go and fight, we sitting here.” The Prophet (sws) praised him also. Then he repeated: “O People! Advise me.” At this, Sa’d ibn Mu’adh go up from amongst the Anṣars and said: “O Prophet (sws)! Perhaps you are referring to us. We have believed in your prophethood and confirmed everything that you have said. We are witness that the faith you have brought is true. We have promised that we shall obey all that you say. O Prophet! Bring to fruition what your purpose is. We are with you. You take action. We swear by He who has made you His Prophet that if you were to enter the sea with us, we would jump into it and not one amongst us would remain behind. We are people who will remain steadfast in war and strong and true in confrontation. Allah may well show you that which would make you happy. Please accord us the honour of being with you by the grace of God.” Hearing this speech, the Prophet (sws) expressed his satisfaction and said: “O People! Hear this interpretation because Allah has promised me to overcome one of the two groups. By Allah! I see the enemy being annihilated.” Thus, getting all of his companions focused and fired with the desire for jihad, the Prophet (sws) moved on from the valley of Dhafran.
When he reached Badr, two pieces of news came. One was that the trade convoy had gone on towards Makkah, by using the coastal route and the other, that the army of the Quraysh had reached the mountains behind the other side of Badr. This was a God sent situation that three groups, without mutual links or information, had reached places close to the valley of Badr. A decisive situation was reached in which the possibility of confrontation with the trade convoy had ended and that with the army of the Quraysh had become a certainty. The Quran described this as follows:
[Remember] when you were on the near side of the valley, and they were on the farther side, and the caravan was lower [in position] than you. If you had made an appointment [to meet], you would have missed the appointment. But [it was] so that Allah might accomplish a matter already destined – that those who perished [through disbelief] would perish upon evidence and those who lived [in faith] would live upon evidence; and indeed, Allah is Hearing and Knowing. (8:42)
This was the stage when the Quraysh would not have accepted any advice to return without fighting. The aims of the leaders of the Quraysh were obvious: they wanted to wipe out the Muslims. So when Hakim ibn Hizam and some others suggested that they go back and refrain from war, the idea was resisted. For the Muslims too, there was no way other than to fight the Quraysh. If they had followed the trade convoy, they would have been caught between the two groups and it was uncertain whether they would have been able to capture their possessions. If they had shown weakness in front of the Quraysh army, they would have been cut and sliced and the Quraysh would have destroyed Madinah completely. Those among them who had wished to rob the convoy had had their misunderstandings removed by then, and the demand of their faith that they should defend it with their full strength and defeat falsehood was before them. Thus, God made the convoy a means of bringing the Muslims and the Quraysh face each other at the front and when they came, He picked up the convoy so that the two forces could fight each other to defend their respective aims.
. Ibn Hisham, Al-Sirah al-nabawiyyah, vol. 1, 607.