In the beginning of Ramadhan, it was generally known in Medina that a large trading caravan of Quraish was returning to Mecca from Syria under the leadership of Abu Sufyan. It was accompanied by about fifty armed guards. It was a richly-loaded caravan in which everyone of Quraish had invested his or her savings. It has been pointed out earlier that these caravans constituted a grave threat to the security of Medina and, therefore, on receiving intimation of the approach of the caravan, the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, dispatched two Emigrants, Talha bin Ubaidullah and Saeed bin Zaid, to gather intelligence about the caravan and to report back. At the same time, he instructed his Companions that they should be ready to set forth to block the passage of the caravan to the south. On his side, Abu Sufyan, apprehending that his progress with the caravan might be blocked by the Muslims, sent a fast rider to Mecca to explain the situation to Quraish and bring an adequate force for the safeguarding of the caravan. He also veered somewhat to the west and began to travel fast with the caravan on a route closer to the sea. When his emissary arrived in Mecca he, according to Arab custom, began to behave wildly and started shouting: ‘Men of Mecca, Muhammad and his Companions have set forth from Medina to attack your caravan. Make haste to gather a strong force for rescuing the caravan.’ Hearing his cries of distress people began to assemble around the Ka’aba and leading Quraish harangued them and incited them to get ready to go forth against the Muslims and to destroy them. It was decided that a strong army should be got together for this enterprise and everyone who was capable of bearing arms should join it. If anyone was unable to do so for some unavoidable reason, he should provide a substitute in his place. The leaders of Quraish, with the exception of Abu Lahab and Umayya bin Khalf, declared themselves ready to proceed. Abu Lahab was afraid, as his sister had seen in her dream only three days earlier that ruin was about to overtake Quraish, but he provided a substitute in his place. Umayya bin Khalf was afraid because of the prophecy of the Holy Prophet about his being slain, which S’ad bin Muaz had mentioned to him earlier, but he was persuaded in the end to join the army that was to march north. Within three days, a well-armed and well-equipped force of more than a thousand warriors became ready to set out from Mecca. Some of the Quraish leaders were apprehensive lest Banu Bakr, a clan of Banu Kananah, with whom their relations were not friendly, should take advantage of their absence from Mecca and attack it. It so happened, however, that a chief of Banu Kananah, Suraqa bin Malik bin Ja’tham, who happened to be in Mecca, reassured them and guaranteed that no one of his people would threaten the security of Mecca in any way. He himself joined the Quraish army and accompanied it as far as Badr, but on arrival there, when he saw the Muslim force, he left Quraish and withdrew before the battle was joined. His conduct is referred to in the Holy Quran as follows (8:49):
Call to mind when Satan made the conduct of the disbelievers appear fair to them and assured them: No one shall prevail against you this day, and I will be your strong supporter. But when the two hosts came in sight of each other, he turned on his heels and announced: I am absolved of all obligations to you; I see that which you see not. I fear Allah.
Before setting out from Mecca, Quraish gathered around the Ka’aba and supplicated: ‘Lord, do Thou help out of the two parties the one who is based on truth and is nobler and better in Thy estimation than the other, and do Thou humiliate and disgrace the other.’ Thereafter, the Quraish host set forth from Mecca in great pomp and panoply. They were accompanied by singing women who, with the beating of drums and the singing of martial songs, incited the men towards deeds of valour. Leaders of Quraish provided for the host all the food that was needed during the journey. Nine or ten camels were slaughtered every day for their meat. When this army arrived at Jahfah, a little more than half-way to Badr, an emissary of Abu Sufyan brought the news that the caravan had passed through the danger zone safely and that it was not necessary for the Quraish force to proceed any further. On hearing this, some of them counselled that they should go back, but Abu Jahl and his party rejected the suggestion violently and swore that they would proceed as far as Badr and would hold a festival there for three days so that their prestige may be established throughout the country and people should stand in awe of them. Nevertheless, a small number went back, but the main body went forward and arrived at Badr on the ninth day after setting out from Mecca. They were a strong body of 1,000 well-armed warriors. They had 700 camels and 100 horses. Most of them were in armour and were well-armed.
In Medina, before the return of Talha bin Ubaidullah and Saeed bin Zaid, the Holy Prophet received secret intimation, probably sent by his uncle Abbas, that a strong army of Quraish had set out from Mecca, but he did not disclose this information to anyone, except to a few of his very close Companions who were forbidden to mention it to anyone else. The Companions continued with their preparations to set forth against the caravan. Hitherto Ansar, who, according to the terms of the Second Pledge of Aqabah, had undertaken to safeguard the Holy Prophet in the event of an attack upon Medina, had not taken part in any scouting campaign; but on this occasion quite a number of them indicated their readiness to set forth. The Holy Prophet, while still in Medina, held a council and asked for advice from his Companions. Abu Bakr and Umar assured him of their utmost devotion, but he did not react to their declarations in any way, from which the leaders of Ansar gathered that he was waiting for them to declare their stand. Thereupon, S’ad bin Ubadah, chief of Khazraj, made a spirited declaration that they were ready to make whatever sacrifice may be needed in the cause of Allah. Thereafter, the Holy Prophet called for volunteers and a number of Emigrants and Ansar offered to set forth with him. But as the general impression was that the campaign was directed against the caravan, several of the Companions felt that it was not necessary for a large number to set forth on the venture. The selected Companions, who had been told by the Holy Prophet about the armed force of Quraish advancing from Mecca, were feeling uneasy whether in case of an encounter with the armed host they would be able to safeguard the Holy Prophet against all harm. They felt they were faced with a difficult and delicate situation, but perceiving that the Holy Prophet probably intended to go forward to meet the armed host, they responded to him as eagerly, and even more eagerly, than the rest.
The Holy Prophet set forth from Medina with a body of just over 300 Emigrants and Ansar on the twelfth day of Ramadhan. Of the principal Companions, those who were not able to accompany the Holy Prophet were Uthman bin Affan, whose wife Ruqayya, daughter of the Holy Prophet, was seriously ill, and he had been directed by the Holy Prophet to stay in Medina to look after her; S’ad bin Ubadah, chief of Khazraj, who was himself ailing and was unable to travel; Usyad bin Hudhair, chief of Aus, who was also prevented by some unavoidable difficulty; and Talha bin Ubaidullah and Saeed bin Zaid who had not yet returned from the errand on which they had been sent.
Setting out from Medina, the Holy Prophet made camp after a few miles and checked his forces. Some minors who had joined out of their eagerness to participate in the campaign were sent back. Umair bin Abi Waqqas, brother of S’ad, was also a minor and when he heard the direction of the Holy Prophet, he tried to conceal himself but was discovered and was told to go back, whereupon he began to cry. The Holy Prophet noticing his extraordinary eagerness permitted him to remain. The Muslim force comprised a total of a little over 310, of whom over 60 were Emigrants and the rest were all Ansar. They lacked almost everything. They had only 70 camels and 2 horses, which they shared between them turn by turn. The Holy Prophet himself also took his turn, and when his Companions insisted that he should be mounted all the time, he smiled and said, ‘I am as much able to walk as you and am not less eager than any of you to win spiritual merit. Then why should I not walk in my turn?’ There were only seven men in armour and the equipment was both defective and meagre.
Proceeding from Rauha when the Muslim force arrived at Zafran, which was only one stage short of Badr, intimation was received that a well-armed strong force of Quraish was advancing from Mecca. On this, the Holy Prophet addressed his Companions, informed them of the intimation that had been received and asked them what should be done. Some of the Companions, being conscious of their weakness in all respects, submitted that the better course would be to confront the caravan, but the Holy Prophet did not approve of this suggestion. At this, the principal Companions affirmed their devotion to the Holy Prophet, and their total commitment to the cause of Allah in glowing terms. For instance, Miqdad bin Amr submitted: ‘Messenger of Allah, we are not like the companions of Moses so that we should tell you, “Go thou and thy God and fight the enemy, but here we shall sit.” We affirm, “Go forth wherever you wish, we shall be with you and shall fight on your right and on your left and in front of you and behind you.”’ The Holy Prophet was pleased with these assurances but awaited some expression of view on behalf of Ansar. Perceiving this, S’ad bin Muaz, chief of Aus, submitted: ‘Messenger of Allah, it may be that you are awaiting an expression of our view. We have believed in you as a true Prophet of God and we have put our hands in your hand in token of absolute commitment. Go wherever you determine, we shall be with you. We call to witness Him Who has sent you with Truth, that if you will command us to jump into the sea, we shall jump into it and not one of us will hold back. God willing, you will find us steadfast in battle. You will behold that from us which will greatly please you.’ The Holy Prophet was pleased and observed: ‘Go forward in the name of Allah and be glad that Allah has promised me that we shall certainly prevail over one of these two bodies of Quraish (the army or the caravan). I call God to witness that I am beholding the actual spots where the leaders of the enemy will be cut down.’ The Companions were greatly reassured by these words and some of them inquired: ‘Messenger of Allah, if you had known of the advance of the Quraish army, why did you not mention it to us in Medina, so that we might have made some preparation for a confrontation in arms?’ Even now the Muslims did not know definitely whether they would be confronted with the caravan or with the Quraish army.
The Holy Prophet, peace be on him, now began to advance rapidly towards Badr, and when he arrived close to it he asked Abu Bakr to ride behind him and the two went forward in advance of the Muslim force. Presently they encountered an old Bedouin from whom they gathered that the Quraish army had arrived near Badr. On learning this, the Holy Prophet rejoined his Companions and sent Ali, Zubair bin Awam and S’ad bin Abi Waqqas ahead to gather intelligence. When these entered the valley of Badr, they saw some Meccans collecting water from a spring. They took them by surprise and captured a Negro slave whom they brought back with them for questioning. The Holy Prophet was at the time engaged in Prayer and they started the interrogation of the slave. They asked him about the whereabouts of the caravan. He professed ignorance about the whereabouts of the caravan but said that Abul Hikam, Utba, Shaiba, Umayya and others were encamped on the other side of the valley. Those who were questioning him thought he was deliberately pretending ignorance of the whereabouts of the caravan and beat him and threatened him to force him to tell them the truth. He stuck to his story. The Holy Prophet then came up and forbade the Companions molesting the slave and questioned him in a gentle tone concerning the whereabouts of the Quraish army. He replied that the army was encamped behind the sand-dunes on the other side of the valley. On being asked the number, he replied that it was a large army but he did not know its exact strength. He was asked how many camels were daily slaughtered to provide meat for the army. He indicated ten. The Holy Prophet turned to his Companions and observed, ‘The strength of the army is about one thousand.’ He then inquired from the slave, ‘Which of the leaders of Quraish are with the army?’ He replied, ‘Utba, Shaiba, Abul Hikam, Abul Bakhtari, Uqbah bin Abi Mueet, Hakeem bin Hizam, Nadhar bin Harith, Umayya bin Khalf, Suhail bin Amr, Naufal bin Khuweilid, Ta’eemah bin Adi, Zamaa bin Aswad are all there.’ The Holy Prophet turned to his Companions and observed, ‘Take note, Mecca has flung all the pieces of its liver before you.’ This was a very wise observation as it changed the whole concept of the Muslims from confrontation with a strong well-armed force to the concept that God had brought the chiefs of Quraish out from Mecca to be destroyed at the hands of the Muslims.
Habib bin Mundhar submitted to the Holy Prophet that the spot chosen for the encampment of the Muslim force was not very suitable. He was asked whether he had any suggestion. He recommended that the Muslims should advance and should take possession of the spring of water nearest to Quraish, the water of which to his knowledge was both plentiful and pleasant. The Holy Prophet approved of the suggestion and the Muslims moved forward accordingly. The water of the spring was not as plentiful as was needed and also the new ground chosen for encampment was sandy and was not firm underfoot.
At the suggestion of S’ad bin Muaz a tent was set up for the Holy Prophet who retired into it for the night along with Abu Bakr. While the men in the Muslim camp were able to sleep by turn during the night, the Holy Prophet spent the whole night in supplication. By Allah’s grace some rain fell during the night and the Muslims gathered a supply of water, and the rain also made the sand firm underfoot, while the ground under Quraish became muddy and their water became dirty.
The dawn came. It was Friday, 17th of Ramadhan, 14 March 623. After Fajr Prayer, the Holy Prophet delivered a brief address on jihad. When it began to be light, he started organizing the Muslim force in battle array. One of them, Sawad, was standing out of line and the Holy Prophet indicated to him with his arrow to get into line, and by chance the arrow touched his chest, whereupon Sawad dared a protest: ‘Messenger of Allah, you have been raised by God with truth and justice. But you have poked me with an arrow unjustly. I insist upon retribution.’ The Companions were shocked, but the Holy Prophet told Sawad in a kindly tone, ‘Well, Sawad, you may poke me with your arrow,’ and he bared his chest before Sawad, who stepped forward and kissed the Holy Prophet’s chest. He inquired, ‘Sawad, why did you contrive this?’ He replied, in a voice trembling with emotion, ‘Messenger of Allah, we are facing the enemy and I know not whether I shall go back alive. I, therefore, wished that before my martyrdom I may touch your blessed body.’
About that time, Hudhaifah bin Yaman and Abu Jabal arrived and submitted that they had just come from Mecca and that when they were about to leave, Quraish had forbidden their egress and then permitted it only on condition that they would not take part in the fighting against them. The Holy Prophet told them, ‘You must fulfil your promise. We seek help only from Allah and rely wholly on His succour.’
While the Holy Prophet was still occupied with the disposal of his force, the Quraish army began to move forward. At that stage, the Muslim force appeared to them even smaller than its actual number. They came forward with great aplomb. On observing them from a distance, the Holy Prophet supplicated: ‘Lord, those people are advancing with great arrogance to wipe out the religion established by Thee. Do Thou of Thy grace, I beseech Thee, help Thy religion.’ About this time a few men of Quraish advanced towards the spring of water which was under the control of the Muslims, who tried to stop them, but the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, directed that they should be permitted to drink from the spring in peace, which they did and returned to their ranks.
Now the forces faced each other in such order that the numbers of the Muslims appeared to Quraish double their actual strength, which disturbed Quraish, while the numbers of Quraish appeared to the Muslims smaller than their actual strength. Quraish deputed Umair bin Wahb to ride around the Muslim force and to make an estimate of their strength, and also discover whether there was any supporting force hidden behind them. Umair soon returned from his errand and reported his estimate of the numbers of the Muslim force and that there was no supporting force behind them; and added: ‘Ye Quraish, calamities approach you, fraught with destruction. Their numbers are small, but death is astride upon the camels of Yathrab. Their only refuge is the sword. Not a man of them shall fall but in his stead one of ourselves will be slain; and when there shall have been slaughtered amongst us a number equal unto them, of what avail will life be to us after that?’ Quraish were perturbed at Umair’s words and Suraqa bin Malik was so overcome that he left them and went back. When someone tried to restrain him, he said, ‘I see that which you do not.’
When Hakeem bin Hizam heard Umair’s description of the Muslim force, he went to Utba bin Rabi’a and said to him, ‘Utba, you are seeking retribution from Muhammad for the killing of Amr bin Hadhrami, who was your confederate. Would it not do if you were to pay his heirs his blood money and lead Quraish back to Mecca? This would redound to your great credit.’ Utba expressed his willingness to follow this advice and added, ‘Hakeem, after all the Muslims and we are closely related to each other. Would it be right that brother should raise his sword against brother and father against his son? Go to Abul Hikam and put your plan to him.’ On his side, Utba mounted his camel and began to urge people that fighting between close relations was not called for, and that they should return to Mecca and leave Muhammad to his devices and let him settle with the other Arab tribes. He added, ‘We shall see what happens. Besides, the fight in front of us is not easy. I am not a coward but those people appear to me eager to purchase death.’ The Holy Prophet espied him from a distance and observed, ‘If there is a spark of nobility in the host opposing us it is certainly in that rider of the red camel. If these people follow his advice, it would be to their good.’
When Hakeem bin Hizam approached Abu Jahl and mentioned his plan to him, he retorted sarcastically, ‘Well, well, Utba now sees himself opposed to his relatives!’ He then called to Aamir bin Hadhrami, brother of Amr, and said to him, ‘Have you heard what your confederate Utba now says, and that at a time when we are in a position to wreak vengeance for the killing of your brother?’ Aamir went into a paroxysm of rage and tearing off his clothes, according to Arab custom, began shouting, ‘Woe to Amr, woe to Amr, he is not being avenged.’ This created an uproar among the Quraish host and everyone became eager to fight. Abu Jahl’s taunt had greatly provoked Utba and he came forward with his brother Shaiba and his son Waleed and challenged the Muslims to single combat. Some Ansar were about to respond to the challenge, when the Holy Prophet stopped them and told Hamzah bin Abdul Muttalib, Ali bin Abi Talib and Ubaidah bin Muttalib, who were his close relations, to go forward. According to Arab custom, each side identified itself and then Ubaidah confronted Waleed and Hamzah confronted Utba and Ali confronted Shaiba. Hamzah and Ali cut down their opponents almost immediately, but Ubaidah and Waleed exchanged several thrusts and in the end both fell down severely wounded. Upon this, Hamzah and Ali quickly dispatched Waleed and carried Ubaidah back to their camp. He succumbed to his injuries during the journey back to Medina.
After these single combats, the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, returned to his tent, after directing the Muslims, ‘Do not start the general fight till I order it; but if the other side should advance in force, shoot your arrows at them carefully and use your swords only for hand to hand fighting. There are some people among the opposing host who have joined them under coercion, but who bear no enmity towards us, like Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib. There are others to whom we owe gratitude for their kind treatment of us when we were being persecuted in Mecca, for instance, Abul Bakhtari. If a Muslim finds any of them at his mercy, he should spare him.’
In his tent, the Holy Prophet occupied himself with supplicating the Divine. Abu Bakr was with him in the tent and a company of Ansar, under the leadership of S’ad bin Muaz, stood at guard around the tent. Presently, shouts were heard which indicated that the Quraish army had begun the attack in force. The Holy Prophet continued his supplications and was heard to beseech, ‘Allah, I remind Thee of Thy promise and beg Thee for its fulfilment. Lord, if Thou dost let this body of Muslims be destroyed today, Thy worship will be discarded altogether on the earth.’ He continued his supplications in agony, standing up and falling into prostration, addressing his Lord as Ever-Living and Bestower of Life. Abu Bakr was much agitated at observing the agony of the Holy Prophet and tried to comfort him, but he continued his agonized supplications.
On the field, when the two hosts came face to face and the general fight broke out, Abu Jahl also supplicated, ‘Lord, do Thou this day destroy in this field the party that has sundered the ties of kinship and has started an innovation in religion.’ He is also reported as having supplicated, ‘Lord, if the faith taught by Muhammad is true, do Thou send a rain of stones upon us or destroy us through some other painful torment.’
It was a most unequal contest. The Muslims were opposed by a well-armed, well-mounted host, more than three times their number, determined to wipe out Islam altogether, and they were well-equipped and well-nourished; while the Muslims were half-starved and, so far as resources went, could not have withstood the Meccans for more than a few minutes. But they were drunk with the glory of their faith in the Unity of God and the truth of the Holy Prophet. Their living faith had filled every one of them with an extraordinary power and they were performing feats of valour unmatched in human history. Everyone was eager to do more than anyone else and to sell his life dearly in the cause of Allah. Hamzah, Ali and Zubair created havoc in the ranks of the enemy. Abdul Rahman bin Auf has stated that when Quraish advanced in battle array, he looked to his right and left to see whether he was well supported, but was much perturbed on finding that on either side of him was an Ansar stripling. While he was revolving the situation in his mind, the youth on his right asked him in a whisper, ‘Uncle, which of them is Abu Jahl, who persecuted the Holy Prophet in Mecca?’ Before Abdul Rahman could reply to him, the youth on his left also made the same inquiry from him in a whisper. Abdul Rahman was nonplussed, but he pointed in the direction of Abu Jahl and instantly the two boys sped forward like arrows, and, within a few seconds, attacked Abu Jahl so suddenly that before he could put up his defence, or any of his close companions could intervene, he was lying wounded in the dust. His son, Ikramah, was with his father, but though he could not move in time to save him, he attacked Muaz, another assailant who was close to his father, and nearly severed his arm from his shoulder. As the mutilated limb hanging by the skin impeded his action, Muaz put his foot upon it, pulled it off, and went on his way fighting.
Despite such heroic deeds, the numbers of the enemy, their arms and their equipment appeared to furnish an impregnable barrier and for some time the issue of the battle continued in doubt. The Holy Prophet was still occupied with his supplications in mounting agony. After a long time, he stood up from his prostration and emerged from the tent reciting the divine promise that had been vouchsafed to him long before, while he was still in Mecca (54:45-7):
The hosts shall soon be routed, and they will turn their backs in flight; the context of which was: Do they boast: We are a strong host for the wreaking of vengeance? The hosts shall soon be routed, and they will turn their backs in flight. Aye, the Hour is their appointed time, and the Hour will be most grievous and most bitter.
He looked at the scene before him and saw that the battle was raging fiercely. He took up a handful of sand and gravel and, throwing it in the direction of the enemy, called out, ‘May their faces be ruined,’ and directed the Muslims to make a concerted attack. They closed their ranks and shouting ‘God is Greatest’ advanced in concert. Simultaneously a fierce gust of wind arose and sand and gravel began to fill the eyes, mouths and noses of the opposing host, so that they could not see clearly and were unable to manoeuvre. Also, they were facing the sun and this too obstructed their vision. The Muslims had the sun at their backs and took full advantage of the confusion into which the enemy ranks had been thrown. Very soon, Quraish were routed and rendered helpless. About seventy of them were killed and about the same number were taken prisoners. When those killed were identified, the terrible fulfilment of the divine design to cut off the roots of the disbelievers (8:8) became manifest. Almost all the principal personalities of Quraish were lying dead in the dust and a few who had escaped with their lives had been taken prisoners. At first, it was not known what happened to Abu Jahl, and Abdullah bin Masood was directed to go and see whether he was among the slain. Abdullah found him almost at his last breath and inquired from him, ‘Are you Abu Jahl?’ He replied, ‘Have you today slain anyone of greater status than me?’ Then he muttered, ‘I wish I had not been killed by peasants’ (meaning Ansar, who were not esteemed highly as warriors by Quraish). Then he inquired, ‘Whose is the victory?’ Abdullah replied, ‘Of Allah and His Messenger.’ Abu Jahl then ceased to breathe and gave up the ghost. Abdullah returned to the Holy Prophet and informed him of Abu Jahl’s end.
During the fighting Abul Bakhtari had a companion seated on his camel behind him. A Muslim warrior came upon them and told Abul Bakhtari of the quarter given him by the Holy Prophet. He inquired whether his companion would be spared and was told the quarter did not extend to him, upon which Abdul Bakhtari exclaimed that he did not wish it said of him that he had abandoned his comrade through love of life. They were both killed.
Umayya bin Khalf and his son had not been able to escape, and Umayya implored Abdul Rahman bin Auf that for the sake of their ancient friendship, he might extend them his protection. Abdul Rahman was inclined to do so when Bilal, who had been the victim of Umayya’s brutal persecution in Mecca, shouted to the Muslims that Umayya and his son should not be spared. Hearing Bilal’s appeal, Muslim warriors crowded round them and Abdul Rahman, finding resistance impossible, bade them save their lives as best they could. Any defence was vain and they were both immediately dispatched.
As soon as the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, had finished dealing with matters which demanded his immediate attention, he directed that the enemy dead should be buried together in one place. Accordingly, twenty-four of the most prominent of them were buried together in a large pit that had been dug for the purpose, and the rest were buried wherever they had fallen. When the burial had been completed, the Holy Prophet stood over the pit and, calling the names of the principal ones whose bodies had been lowered into the pit, exclaimed, ‘Have ye found true that which your Lord did promise you? What my Lord promised me, that verily have I found to be true. Woe unto this people! You have rejected me, your Prophet! You cast me forth, and others gave me refuge; you fought against me, and others came to my help.’ On this, Umar submitted, ‘Messenger of Allah, do you speak to the dead?’ ‘Yea, verily,’ replied the Holy Prophet, ‘for now they well know that the promise of their Lord has fully come to pass.’ At the moment when the corpse of Utba had been lowered into the pit a look of distress had overcast the countenance of his son, Abu Hudhaifa. The Holy Prophet turned kindly to him and said, ‘Perhaps thou art distressed over thy father’s fate?’ ‘Not so,’ replied Abu Hudhaifa. ‘Messenger of Allah, I do not doubt the justice of my father’s fate; but I knew well his wise and generous heart and I had hoped that the Lord would have led him to the Faith. But now that I see him slain, and my hope destroyed, it is for that I grieve.’ The Holy Prophet comforted Abu Hudhaifa and blessed him.
Of the Muslims, 14 had become martyrs, 6 Emigrants and 8 Ansar; among them the devoted stripling, Umair bin Abi Waqqas, who had obtained permission to remain among the fighters by beseeching the Holy Prophet with tears. A larger number had been wounded but that was not a distressing loss. The Holy Prophet and the Muslims stopped in the valley of Badr for three days after the battle. This time was spent in the burial of the Muslim martyrs and in taking care of the wounded and in collecting and sorting out the spoils. The prisoners taken, who numbered seventy, were secured and were committed to the custody of individual Muslims. The Holy Prophet directed that the prisoners should be dealt with gently and their needs and comfort should be looked after. One of them, Abu Aziz bin Umair, stated subsequently that the Ansar into whose custody he had been committed, provided him with bread, while they themselves subsisted on dates. On some occasions when they had only a small piece of bread, they gave it to him, and if out of a feeling of courtesy, he returned it to them, they insisted that he should eat it. Those prisoners who lacked adequate clothes were provided with what was needful in that respect. In this connection, Sir William Muir has observed (Life of Muhammad, pp. 233-4):
In pursuance of Muhammad’s command, and in accord with the passage [of the Holy Quran] already quoted, the Citizens, and such of the Refugees as had houses of their own, received the prisoners with kindness and consideration. Blessings on men of Medina, said one of these in later days, they made us ride, while they themselves walked on foot; they gave us wheaten bread to eat when there was little of it, contenting themselves with dates. It is not surprising, therefore, that some of the captives, yielding to these influences, declared themselves Believers, and to such their liberty was at once granted. The rest were kept for ransom. But it was long before Quraish could humble themselves to visit Medina for the purpose. The kindly treatment was thus prolonged, and left a favourable impression on the minds even of those who did not at once go over to Islam.
When the prisoners had been presented before the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, he said, ‘If Mut’am bin Adi had been alive and had interceded on behalf of these prisoners, I would have set them free.’ The Holy Prophet, no doubt, had in mind the kindness of Mut’am, which he had exhibited towards the Holy Prophet and the Muslims when they were being severely persecuted in Mecca. He had been instrumental in terminating the prolonged boycott of the Muslims and the whole of Banu Hashim, and on the occasion of the Holy Prophet’s return from Taif, had extended his protection to him.
Among the prisoners were several leading men of Quraish, like Nadhar bin Harith and Suhail bin Amr. Some of the prisoners were related closely to the Holy Prophet, for instance, his uncle Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib, his cousin Uqail bin Abi Talib who was a real brother of Ali, Abul Aas bin Rabi’i, his son-in-law, being the husband of his daughter Zainab. Out of the prisoners of war, Nadhar bin Harith, who had taken part in the murder of innocent Muslims in Mecca, including Harith bin Abi Hallah, foster brother of the Holy Prophet, was condemned to death on account of these offences. Subsequently, when the Holy Prophet heard the pathetic verses in which his sister had set forth an appeal for mercy being shown to her brother, he observed that if those verses had reached him in time he would have forgiven Nadhar.
Before setting out for Medina from the field of Badr, the Holy Prophet sent Zaid bin Haritha in advance to Medina to convey to the Muslims the news of the victory in the Battle of Badr, which greatly pleased the Muslims, though some of them who had not set forth with the Holy Prophet regretted their failure to do so. Shortly before the arrival of Zaid in Medina, Ruqayya, daughter of the Holy Prophet, wife of Uthman, who had been ill, had expired.
On arrival in Medina, the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, held a council to determine the disposal of the prisoners of war. According to Arab custom, prisoners of war were either slain or were condemned to permanent slavery. But the Holy Prophet was averse to such harsh measures. In the discussion that ensued Abu Bakr submitted that the prisoners should be released on payment of ransom as, after all, they were all related to the Muslims, and it was likely that in the course of time they might embrace Islam. Umar, who was made of sterner stuff, submitted that in the matter of faith no consideration was due to claims of kinship. The prisoners had by their conduct earned death as their recompense and should all be executed. He even suggested that each prisoner should be dispatched by the Muslim, related most closely to him. The Holy Prophet approved the view of Abu Bakr and decided in favour of the release of the prisoners on payment of ransom. His view was subsequently approved by Divine revelation to the effect: ‘When you meet in battle those who have disbelieved, smite their necks; and after the slaughter fasten tight the bonds until the war lays aside its burdens. Then either release them as a favour, or in return for ransom’ (47:5).
The ransom of each prisoner was determined on the basis of his means, the minimum 1,000 dirhems and the maximum 4,000 dirhems, and thus most of the prisoners were gradually released. Concerning Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib, Ansar represented that as he was their nephew they were willing to release him without ransom. But the Holy Prophet decided that Abbas could be released only on payment of ransom. He had been tied up in the Mosque and the Holy Prophet could not sleep because of his groaning on account of the tightness of his bonds. On this becoming known, those in whose custody he was loosened his bonds. When the Holy Prophet perceived this, he directed that no discrimination should be made in favour of Abbas and that if bonds were to be loosened, they should be loosened in the case of all prisoners.
Another prisoner was Abul Aas, son-in-law of the Holy Prophet. His wife, who was still in Mecca, sent some articles by way of ransom for her husband. These included a necklace that her mother, Khadija, had given her as part of her dowry. On seeing the necklace, the Holy Prophet was deeply moved and suggested that the articles sent by Zainab might be returned to her, to which his Companions immediately agreed. The Holy Prophet fixed the ransom of Abul Aas that on his return to Mecca, he should arrange to send Zainab to Medina, which he did. Shortly thereafter Abul Aas himself embraced Islam and migrated to Medina and thus the husband and wife were reunited. When Zainab was about to set out from Mecca some of Quraish tried to restrain her. On her insistence on departure, Habbar bin Aswad attacked her with his spear and the shock brought about her abortion. She was so deeply affected that she never recovered her normal health and in the end she died from the effects of the shock.
Those of the prisoners who were too poor to pay ransom were released as a matter of favour. Those of them who were literate were released on condition that they should teach reading and writing to ten Muslims. Zaid bin Thabet, who subsequently acted as the secretary of the Holy Prophet, was one of those who had learned reading and writing under this direction of the Holy Prophet.
One of the prisoners was Suhail bin Amr who was a leading personality of Quraish and was a great orator, who often delivered addresses against the Holy Prophet. Umar suggested that his front teeth should be extracted, so that he might be disabled from holding forth against the Holy Prophet. But the latter greatly disapproved of this suggestion and observed, ‘Umar, how do you know that God may not place him in a position later which should be praiseworthy?’ Suhail embraced Islam on the occasion of the fall of Mecca and after the death of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, he delivered effective addresses which helped to confirm many people in their faith, and thus through Suhail’s efforts they were safeguarded against apostasy. On one occasion in the time of Umar, Abu Sufyan and some other leading Quraish who had embraced Islam on the occasion of the fall of Mecca came to see Umar along with Suhail, and it so chanced that at the same time Bilal, Ammar and Suhaib, who were freedmen and were very poor but had embraced Islam in the early years, also arrived to see Umar. When the latter was informed of the people waiting to see him, he directed that Bilal and his companions may be shown in immediately. On hearing this, Abu Sufyan was much upset and said, ‘I was preserved to experience such humiliation that ex-slaves should be admitted to meet the Khalifah ahead of me.’ To this Suhail retorted, ‘Then whose fault is it? The Holy Prophet called all of us to God. These people responded to his call immediately, but we held back. Then why should not they have priority over us?’
One of the prisoners was Waleed bin Waleed, who was the son of Waleed bin Mughirah, a chief of Quraish, and brother of Khalid bin Waleed. His ransom was fixed at 4,000 dirhems, which his brothers paid in, and Waleed was released and returned to Mecca. On arriving in Mecca Waleed declared himself a Muslim; whereupon his brothers were much upset and upbraided him, ‘If you had made up your mind to embrace Islam, why did you pay the ransom?’ Waleed replied, ‘I postponed my declaration of the acceptance of Islam till after my ransom had been paid, lest it should be thought that I had become a Muslim in order to escape payment of my ransom.’ Thereupon Waleed was taken into custody and began to be severely persecuted. But he remained steadfast, and after some time found an opportunity of escaping from Mecca and arrived in Medina.
At Mecca, the news of the defeat was received with consternation. Burning shame and thirst for revenge stifled for a time all outward expression of grief. ‘Weep not for your slain,’ was the counsel of Abu Sufyan, ‘mourn not their loss, neither let the bard bewail their fate. If ye lament with elegies, it will ease your wrath and diminish your enmity towards Muhammad and his followers. Should that reach their ears, and they laugh at us, will not their scorn be worse than all? Haply the time may come and you may yet obtain your revenge. As for me, I will touch no oil, neither approach my wife, until I shall have gone forth again to fight with Muhammad.’ It was this savage pride, which so long prevented their sending to Medina for the ransom of their captive kinsmen.
A month elapsed thus and then they could refrain no longer. The wild cry of long-stilled grief burst forth at last from the whole city. In almost every house there were tears and wailing for the captive and the dead. This lasted an entire month. One house alone was silent. ‘Why sheddest thou no tears,’ said they to Hind, wife of Abu Sufyan, ‘why weep not for thy father Utba, thine uncle also, and thy brother?’ ‘Nay,’ replied Hind, ‘I will not weep until ye again wage war with Muhammad and his fellows. If tears could wipe the grief from off my heart, I too would weep as ye; but it is not thus with Hind.’ To mark her sullen sorrow, she forswore to use oil for her hair, or to go near the bed of Abu Sufyan, until an army should march forth against Medina.
The blind and aged Aswad had lost two sons and a grandson in the battle. Like the rest of Quraish, he sternly repressed his grief; but as days rolled on he longed to give vent to his feelings. One night, he heard the wild notes of a female wailing, and he said to his servant, ‘Go see, it may be that Quraish have begun to wail for their dead; perchance I, too, may wail for my sons; for grief consumed me within.’ The servant returned, saying that it was the voice of a woman lamenting for her strayed camel. On this the old man gave way to a burst of beautiful and impassioned poetry: ‘Doth she weep for her camel, and for it banish sleep from her eyes? Nay, if ye will weep, let us weep over Badr; weep for Uqail and for Harith the Lion of Lions.’
There was much in the battle of Badr, which Muhammad could represent as a special interposition of the Deity on his behalf. Not only was it a decisive victory gained over a force three times his own in number, but the slain on the enemy side included in a remarkable manner many of his most influential opponents. In addition to the chief men killed or made prisoners, Abu Lahab, who was not present in the battle, died a few days after the return of the fugitive army, as if the decree marking out the enemies of the Prophet was inevitable (Sir William Muir, Life of Muhammad, p. 236).
The battle was productive of grave and lasting consequences both for the pagans and the Muslims. It was not only decisive and important in the history of Islam, but also proved an outstanding landmark in human history. That is why the Holy Quran describes it as the Day of Discrimination between falsehood and truth (8:42). It is true that after Badr there were several other battles fought between Quraish and the Muslims, which involved much larger numbers on both sides and in which the Muslims were sometimes faced with great odds, but the spine of Quraish was broken in Badr which no surgical operation could thereafter repair permanently. The number of combatants killed on the side of Quraish was nothing remarkable in itself, what was remarkable was the quality and importance of those who had been slain. It was this that the Holy Quran has described as cutting off the root of the disbelievers (8:8). Of the leaders of Quraish the only one left, and that because he was not present in the battle, was Abu Sufyan, who ultimately became a Muslim on the fall of Mecca.
On the other side the Muslim position became visibly stronger in consequence of the victory at Badr, which was strikingly decisive and utterly unexpected. It impressed the tribes of Arabia and considerably boosted the morale of the Muslims, whose faith was much strengthened and who began to feel confident and reassured. Another consequence was that the disaffected in Medina were restrained and curbed. The Muslims always looked upon it as a great national event. Those who had taken part in it from among them were ever after looked upon as possessing great distinction. On one occasion one of them committed a grave default and Umar urged that he should be punished as a traitor, but the Holy Prophet reminded him that the person concerned had fought in the battle of Badr and his default was, therefore, to be forborne. In the time of Umar when stipends were fixed for the Companions of the Holy Prophet, those who had participated in the battle of Badr were assigned a larger amount. They themselves also took just pride in their participation in the battle. As Sir William Muir has observed (Life of Muhammad, p. 234):
The significance of the Battle of Badr is also stamped by the exalted rank assigned to the famous Three Hundred. Their names were enrolled in the first rank of the Register of Umar, as entitled to the highest of all the princely donations there recorded. They were, in fact, the peerage of Islam. Bring me hither the garment in which I went forth to Badr; for this end have I kept it laid up unto this day. So spake S’ad, the youthful convert, now about to die at four score years. Crowned with renown as the conqueror of Persia, the founder of Kufa, and the Viceroy of Iraq, his honours were cast into the shade by the glory of having been one of the heroes of Badr. In his eyes the garment of Badr was the highest badge of nobility, and in it would he be carried to his grave.
The prophecy set out in the Holy Quran (54:45-7) was fulfilled to the letter. Quraish were routed and turned their backs in flight. The hour of their destiny proved most grievous and most bitter. So also was fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah (21:13-17):
The burden upon Arabia. In the forest of Arabia shall ye be lodged, O ye travelling companies of Dedanim. The inhabitants of the land of Tima brought water to him that was thirsty, they presented with their bread him that fled. For they fled from the swords, from the drawn swords, and from the bent bow, and from the grievousness of war. For thus has the Lord said unto me, Within a year, according to the years of an hireling, and all the glory of Kedar shall fail; and the residue of the number of archers, the mighty men of the children of Kedar, shall be diminished; for the Lord God of Israel has spoken it.
Yet, along with all these happy consequences for the Muslims, temporarily they became exposed to graver dangers, for naturally, in consequence of the tremendous shock of Bach, the hostility of Quraish towards the Muslims became much bitterer and more rancorous. The other tribes also, though they were impressed, yet they became apprehensive that if Islam and the Muslims were not soon vanquished they would become so strong that it would no longer be possible to put them down. Their hostile designs thus assumed a more practical and more dangerous aspect. The Jews of Medina, who had hoped that the confrontation at Badr would destroy the Muslims, felt frustrated and began to entertain hostile designs against the Muslims. Quraish, on their side, having received a severe check, began to think of having recourse to secret conspiracies against the Holy Prophet. The following incident may be cited as an illustration.
A few days after the battle, Umair bin Wahb and Safwan bin Umayya bin Khalf were mourning those slain at Badr in the courtyard of the Ka’aba, when Safwan suddenly turned to Umair and said, ‘Life is no longer worth living.’ Umair perceived his hint, and replied, ‘I am ready to hazard my own life but the thought of my children and my unpaid debts restrains me. Were it not for that, I could go to Medina secretly and put an end to Muhammad. I have an excuse for my journey to Medina as my son is a prisoner there.’ Safwan assured him, ‘I shall be responsible for your debts and your children. You must go and carry through this design somehow.’ Having agreed to this, Umair left Safwan and returned home, and having prepared a sword by boiling it in poison, set out from Mecca. When he arrived in Medina Umar saw him and became apprehensive. He went to the Holy Prophet and informed him that Umair had arrived, and intimated that he was apprehensive about him. The Holy Prophet directed him to bring Umair. Umar departed to fetch Umair and while on the way told some of the Companions that he was going to fetch Umair to meet the Holy Prophet but that he was apprehensive about him and they should go and sit with the Holy Prophet and remain on the alert. When Umar brought Umair, the Holy Prophet asked him to sit down next to him and inquired about his errand. Umair said, ‘My son is a prisoner with you, I have come to obtain his release.’ ‘Then why this sword?’ inquired the Holy Prophet, to which Umair replied, ‘The sword is of no consequence. What did the swords do for us at Badr?’ The Holy Prophet urged, ‘Tell me your true purpose.’ Umair repeated his previous reply, on which the Holy Prophet said, ‘Well then, did you not conspire with Safwan in the courtyard of the Ka’aba?’ Umair was dumbfounded, but persisted, ‘I have not conspired about anything.’ The Holy Prophet questioned, ‘Have you not conspired to kill me? But remember, God will frustrate your design.’ Umair fell silent and after some deep reflection, said, ‘You are right. We did conspire as you have said. But it seems that God is with you, as there was no third person present when Safwan and I spoke to each other, and yet you have come to know of our design. Perhaps, God has brought this about to make me believe. I believe in you sincerely.’ The Holy Prophet was pleased and addressing the Companions who were present said, ‘Umair is now your brother. Instruct him in the teaching of Islam and release his son.’ Umair remained for some time in Medina till he became fully instructed in the tenets of Islam, and became so devoted that he asked permission of the Holy Prophet to go to Mecca and to propagate Islam among the Meccans. He was granted permission and arriving in Mecca he persuaded several Quraish secretly to embrace Islam.
Though, after the battle of Badr, the pagan remnants of Aus and Khazraj rapidly embraced Islam and were absorbed among the Muslims, yet some of them who secretly entertained feelings of jealousy and rancour against the Holy Prophet and the Emigrants joined the disaffected and were always on the look-out for opportunities of damaging the cause of Islam and weakening the Muslims. Their leader was Abdullah bin Ubayy bin Salul, who ostensibly became a Muslim after the battle but continued to nurse his grievance against the Holy Prophet, and became a centre of disaffection against Islam and the Muslims.
Shortly after the battle of Badr, news was received that the Byzantines, who had for some years been under great pressure from the Iranians and had been continuously pushed back, had inflicted a severe defeat on the Iranians and had started recovering the territory which they had lost to them. This piece of news was a source of satisfaction to the Muslims, as their sympathies were with the Byzantines, while Quraish affected sympathy for the Iranians; and also because the victory of the Byzantines fulfilled the prophecy of the Holy Quran set out in 30:3-7.