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The Battle of Badr ( ), fought March 17, 624 AD (17 Ramadan 2 AH in the Islamic calendar) Hejaz region of western Arabia (present-day Saudi Arabiamarker), 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 Meccamarker. The battle has been passed down in Islamic history as a decisive victory attributable to divine intervention, or by secular sources to the 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, written decades 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 ghazawāt 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 Muhammad's chief antagonist, 'Amr ibn Hishām. For the early Muslims the battle was the first sign that they might eventually defeat their enemies in Mecca. 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.

Background

Muhammad

At the time of the battle, Arabia was sparsely populated by a number of Arabic-speaking people. Some were Bedouin; pastoral nomads organized in tribes; some were agriculturalists living either in oases in the north or in the more fertile and thickly settled areas to the south (now Yemenmarker and Omanmarker). The majority of Arabs were adherents of numerous polytheistic religions. There were also tribes that followed Judaism, Christianity (including Nestorianism),and Zoroastrianism.

Muhammad was born in Mecca around 570 AD into the Banū Hāshim clan of the Quraish tribe. When he was about forty years old, he is said to have experienced a divine revelation while he was meditating in a cave outside Mecca. He began to preach to his kinfolk first privately and then publicly. Response to his preaching both attracted followers and antagonized others. During this period Muhammad was protected by his uncle Abū Tālib. When his uncle died in 619, the leadership of the Banū Hāshim passed to one of Muhammad's enemies, 'Amr ibn Hishām, who withdrew the protection and stepped up persecution of the Muslim community. The hatred many Muslims have towards Hishām can be seen in his nickname, "Abū Jahl" (Father of Ignorance), which is how the majority of Muslims know him today.

In 622, with open acts of violence being committed between Muslims and the Quraishi tribesmen, Muhammad and many of his followers migrated to the neighboring city of Medinamarker. This migration is called the Hijra and marked the beginning of Muhammad's reign as both a political as well as a religious leader.

The Battle

A map of the Badr campaign.


In the spring of 624, Muhammad received word from his intelligence sources that a trade caravan, commanded by Abu Sufyan and guarded by thirty to forty men, was traveling from Syriamarker back to Mecca. Muhammad gathered an army of 313 men, the largest army the Muslims had put in the field yet.

The March to Badr

Muhammad commanded the army himself and brought many of his top lieutenants, including Hamzah and future Caliphs Abu Bakr, Umar, and Ali. 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, including the Qur'an, indicate that no serious fighting was expected, and the future Caliph Uthman stayed behind to care for his sick wife.

As the caravan approached Medina, Abu Sufyan began hearing from travelers and riders about Muhammad's army. He sent a messenger named Damdam to Mecca to warn the Quraish and get reinforcements. Alarmed, the Quraish assembled an army of 900-1000 men to rescue the caravan. Many of the Quraishi nobles, including Amr ibn Hishām, Walid ibn Utba, Shaiba, and Umayah ibn Khalaf, joined the 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 Hishām is described as shaming at least one noble, Umayah ibn Khalaf, into joining the expedition.

By this time Muhammad's army was approaching the wells where he planned to waylay the caravan, at Badr, along the Syrian trade route where the caravan would be expected to stop. However, several Muslim scouts were discovered by scouts from the caravan and Abu Sufyan made a hasty turn towards Yanbumarker.

The Muslim Plan

Around this time 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 March 15 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-Muhdir, however, asked him if this choice was divine instruction or Muhammad's own opinion. When Muhammad responded in the latter, he suggests the Muslims occupythe well closest to the Quraishi army, and block off the other ones. Muhammad accepted this decision and moved right away. According to Tariq Ramadan, this shows that Muhammad was not an autocratic leader, and allowed his followers to contradict him without considering this as a sign of disrespect.

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. A contingent of Banu Hashim, hesitant to fight their own clansmen, also left with them. 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 March 17, 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 Hishām quashed the remaining dissent by appealing to the Quraishi's sense of honor and demanding that they fulfill their blood vengeance.

The battle started 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 the Muslims sent out Ali, Ubaydah, and Hamza. The Muslims dispatched the Meccan champions in a three-on-three melee, Hamza killed his victim on very first strike although, Ubaydah was mortally wounded.

Now both armies began firing arrows at each other. Two Muslims and an unknown number of Quraish were killed. Before the battle started, 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 "Yā manṣūr amit!" 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 slaughter the Quraish. It should be noted that early Muslim sources take this account literally, and there are several hadith where Muhammad discusses the Angel Jibreel and the role he played in the battle.

Aftermath

Casualties and Prisoners

Al-Bukhari lists Meccan losses as seventy dead and seventy captured. This would be 15%-16% of the Quraishi army, unless the actual number of Meccan troops present at Badr was significantly lower, in which case the percentage of troops lost would have been higher. 'Ali ibn Abu Talib alone accounted for 18 of the dead Meccans. Muslim losses are commonly listed at fourteen killed, about 4% of their engaged forces. Sources do not indicate the number of wounded on either side.

During the course of the fighting, the Muslims took a number of Meccan Quraish prisoner. Their fate sparked an immediate controversy in the Muslim army.Qur'an: Al-Anfal
A similar incident appears in the Bible 1 Samuel:15, where God punishes Saul for sparing the lives of prisoners which God had commanded him to slaughter. The Meccan Quraishi prisoners, were released only on the condition that they educated ten Muslims how to read. There was no evidence of imprisonment, and in fact the prisoners were kept safe and catered for during that period. In the case of Umayyah, his former slave Bilal was so intent on killing him that his companions even stabbed one of the Muslims guarding Umayyah.

Shortly before he departed Badr, Muhammad also gave the order for over twenty of the dead Quraishis to be buried in the well at Badr. Multiple hadiths refer to this incident, which was apparently a major cause for outrage among the Quraish of Mecca. Shortly thereafter, several Muslims who had been recently captured by allies of the Meccans were brought into the city of Mecca and executed in revenge for the defeat.

According to the traditional blood feud (similar to Blood Law) any Meccans related to those killed at Badr would feel compelled to take vengeance against members of the tribe who had killed their relatives. On the Muslim side, there was also a heavy desire for vengeance, as they had been persecuted and tortured by the Quraishi Meccans for years. However, after the initial executions, the surviving prisoners were quartered with Muslim families in Medina and treated well, either as kin or as possible sources of ransom revenue.

Implications

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]." The victory at Badr also allowed Muhammad to consolidate his own position at Medina. 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 and head of the hypocrites, 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."

Historical sources

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


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


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.

Modern references

Military

Because of its place in Muslim history and connotations of victory-against-all odds, the name "Badr" has become popular among both Muslim armies and paramilitary organizations. "Operation Badr" was used to describe Egyptmarker's offensive in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and Pakistanmarker's actions in the 1999 Kargil War.

The Message

The Battle of Badr was featured in the 1976 film The Message. Although the film was reasonably faithful to the event, it made some notable changes. The Quraishi army was depicted as having women in tow, when the women were noticeably absent. It also suffered no defections before the battle, though in the film Abu Sufyan refused to take part. The champion combat in front of the wells consisted of three one-on-one fights, instead of a three-on-three melee. Also, since neither Muhammad nor Ali were shown (though Ali's sword was shown) due to religious concerns, Hamza became the nominal commander of the army. Both Amr ibn Hishām and Umayyah were killed in the battle, and their deaths marked the climax of the fighting.

See also



Footnotes



References

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