Winner Takes All: The Battle of Badr is part two of a series of articles about the first battle of Islam known “Badr”
When the army of the Quraish tribe had fully mobilized and started to move, they received a new message from Abu Sufyan to the effect that he had succeeded in evading his pursuers and the caravan was now safe: They may spare themselves the trouble of marching out to challenge the Muslims.
This news was greeted with evident relief. Many of the Makkans wanted to demobilize. Abu Jahl, however, had the final say:
“We will not go back, but we shall march on to Badr (a venue for an annual celebration for the Arabs), where we shall stay for three days to celebrate.
“We shall slaughter camels for food, feed whoever cares to come to us, drink wine in abundance and be entertained by singers and dancers. The whole of Arabia shall hear about us and hold us in awe for the rest of time.”
Thus Abu Jahl wanted to demonstrate the Quraish’s power and the fact that they were able to defend themselves and protect their caravans. Obviously, Abu Jahl was keenly aware of the morale-boosting successes the Muslims were able to score against the Quraish, both militarily and psychologically.
He, therefore, felt the need to stem the tide, counterbalance those successes and preserve the Quraish’s reputation as the main tribe of Arabia. Meanwhile, the Prophet marched at the head of his 313-man strong expedition. They had only 70 camels and two horses to ride.
They, therefore, had to take turns in riding their camels. The Prophet, Ali, and Marthad al-Ghanawi shared one camel. When the Prophet’s turn was over, his two companions would try to persuade him to continue on the camel’s back and they would walk on.
“You are not anymore able to walk than I, and I am not any less in need of the extra reward from God than you.”
Abu Bakr, Umar and Abd al-Rahman ibn Awf took turns in riding one camel; so didHamzah ibn Abd al-Muttalib, Zaid ibn Harithah and the two servants of the Prophet: Abu Kabshah and Anasah.
The Prophet’s march brought him and his companions nearer to Badr, which was on the caravan route to Makkah. When the Prophet left Madinah, he organized his men so that they would be ready to meet any eventuality and to face any surprise attack.
After all, they were marching in enemy territory. He assigned an advance group under the command of Al-Zubayr ibn al-Awwam and a rear group commanded by Qays ibn Abi Sa’sa’ah. He had one main, white flag carried by Musab ibn Umair and two black ones carried by Ali and a man from the Ansar.
They did not march in close ranks or in groups since they were traversing open ground. Their formation was an open one so that they could move fast, guarding against any surprise.
Thinking that Abu Sufyan’s caravan should still be in the area, the Prophet sent two of his Companions to gather intelligence. The expedition followed the two men at a distance. As the sun set, the Prophet and his companions encamped very close to Badr.
He sent out a group of his companions including three who were highly prominent, Ali, Al-Zubayr and Saad ibn Abi Waqqas. He asked them to try to ascertain the position of the caravan and to gather whatever information they could. They came back with two boys who were looking for water for the Quraish army.
The Prophet’s Companions mistakenly thought that they belonged to Abu Sufyan and his caravan. When the Prophet interrogated the boys, it became clear that they belonged to the Quraish army.
From the information, they gave him the Prophet realized that the army was at least three times stronger than his own force. He was also certain that they were far better equipped.
The Muslims did not set out from Madinah in order to engage in a major clash, as the Quraish did. They simply hoped to intercept a trade caravan. Furthermore, he learned that a large number of the Makkan leaders were in the army. He turned to his companions and said:
“Makkah has sent you its dearest children.”
To Fight or not to Fight
The Prophet felt that the caravan he set out from Madinah to intercept had eluded him. A large army, three times stronger than his force and much better equipped, had set out on a mission of power demonstration. A totally new situation had thus developed and had to be faced.
The Prophet felt he needed to consult his men before taking any decision. He, therefore, put the matter to them, explaining that a confrontation was inevitable if the Quraish were to be prevented from scoring a moral victory.
The Prophet wanted to gauge his companions’ readiness for war. Abu Bakr was the first to speak. He assured the Prophet that they were solidly behind him. Umar then said something to the same effect.
Al-Miqdad ibn Amr, the next man to speak, said:
“Messenger of God! Go ahead and do whatever you feel best. We will never say to you as the Israelites had said to Moses: “Go with your Lord and fight the enemy while we stay behind!” (5:24)
“What we will say is: “Go with your Lord and fight the enemy and we will fight alongside you.” By Him Who has sent you with the message of truth, if you ask us to march with you to Bark al-Ghimad [a place in Yemen] we will fight with you anyone who stands in your way until you have got there.”
The Prophet thanked him and prayed for him, yet he still asked his men to come forward with their opinions. The point here was that the three who spoke belonged to the Muhajirun (the Muslims who emigrated from Makkah with the Prophet).
Their willingness and determination to defend the cause of Islam was never in doubt, no matter what they were asked to do.
Yet they formed a small part of the Prophet’s army. The majority of the troops were from the Ansar (the Muslims of Madinah). None of them had yet spoken when the Prophet repeated his request to hear other people’s points of view.
There was another point of which the Prophet was keenly aware. When the Ansar made their covenant with him at Aqabah that they would support and protect him against his enemies, they made it clear, at the time, that they would not be responsible for him until he had reached their city.
“When you have arrived at our quarters,” they said at the time, “you will be in our charge and we will protect you as we protect our women and children.” The Prophet, therefore, thought that the Ansar might feel that their pledge of support applied only to cases when the enemy attacked him in Madinah itself.
In other words, the pledge of protection did not include marching out to engage the enemy in battle away from home. The Prophet, therefore, needed to be sure of his companions’ feelings.
Saad ibn Muadh, a prominent figure among the Ansar, was the first to realize what the Prophet meant by his repeated request for further opinions. He said: “You seem to want to know our opinion, Messenger of God?”
Having received an affirmative answer, Saad continued:
“We have declared our faith in you and accepted your message as the message of truth. We have made firm pledges to you that we will always do as you tell us. Go ahead, therefore, Messenger of God, and do whatever you wish, and we will go with you.
“By Him who has sent you with the message of truth, if you take us right to the sea, we will ride with you. None of us shall stay behind. We have no qualms about encountering our enemy tomorrow.
“We fight hard and with strong determination when war breaks out. We pray to God to enable us to show you what would please you. You march, then, with God’s blessings.”
The Prophet was very pleased with what Saad had said. He said to his Companions:
“I can give you the happy tidings that God has promised me that one of the two enemy hosts [the caravan or the army] would fall to us. I can discern now their leaders being killed when we clash.” (Ibn Kathir)
To be continued…
Read the previous article: Badr: The First Major Battle – (Part 1)