It will be recalled that the ceremony of marriage between the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, and Aisha, younger daughter of Abu Bakr, had been performed in Mecca approximately three years before the Migration to Medina. The wedding took place two years after the Migration, when Aisha’s age had approximated to fifteen years. Some historians have fallen into error with regard to her age at the time of the wedding. Thorough research has, however, established that at the time of the ceremony of marriage in Mecca, Aisha was between ten and eleven years of age, and that the wedding took place in Medina between four to five years after the ceremony of marriage. This puts beyond doubt that, at the time of the wedding, Aisha’s age was at least fifteen years.
Aisha’s mind and memory were extraordinary. Under the Holy Prophet’s supervision, instruction and training, her faculties developed very rapidly, and as she observed the life of her illustrious husband very minutely and never forgot a single word that she heard from him, she performed a matchless service for the faith in the instruction and training of Muslim women in all aspects of the teachings of Islam. The greater part of the information that has become available about the daily life of the Holy Prophet is based on the reports of Aisha. She was esteemed most highly by the leading Companions of the Holy Prophet after his death, on account of her superior knowledge and understanding of the faith. Whenever they encountered any intellectual difficulty, they had recourse to Aisha, who always succeeded in resolving the difficulty for them. She survived the Holy Prophet for about forty years and died at the age of sixty-eight.
The battle of Badr added tremendously to the heavy burden of responsibility that the Holy Prophet already carried. The disaffected under the leadership of Abdullah bin Ubayy were a source of apprehension close to the Holy Prophet, their machinations had to be carefully watched and they had to be wisely and sympathetically dealt with.
The Jewish tribes and their adherents were another cause of continuous uneasiness. They had hoped that Islam, upon which they looked as a heresy, and the Muslims, would be either wiped out at Badr or so weakened that nobody thereafter would pay any attention to the Prophet and his message. But all their calculations were falsified by the event and their hopes were frustrated. They began immediately to intrigue with Quraish against the Muslims. Quraish were only too ready to lend ear to the whisperings of the Jews, Thus, the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, had need of even greater alertness than before the battle of Badr.
In the following passages, Sir William Muir has set out an account of the situation with which the Holy Prophet was faced at that time (Life of Muhammad, pp. 243-5):
Abu Sufyan, smarting under the defeat at Badr, and still bound by his oath of abstinence, resolved by way of revenge, to beard his enemies at their very doors. Setting out with two hundred mounted followers, he took the eastern road skirting the tableland of Nejd, and arriving by night at the settlement of Bani Nadhir, one of the Jewish tribes living close to Medina. Refused admittance by their chief, Huyay, Abu Sufyan repaired to another leading man of the same tribe, who furnished him with intelligence regarding Medina, and hospitably entertained his party during the night. When the dawn was about to break, the party moved stealthily forward, and fell upon the cornfields and palm gardens two or three miles north east of the city. Some of these, with their farm-houses, they burned to the ground, and killed two of the cultivators. Then, holding his vow fulfilled, Abu Sufyan hurried back to Mecca. Meanwhile, the alarm was raised in Medina and Muhammad hastened, at the head of the Citizens, in pursuit. To accelerate their flight, Quraish cast away their wallets filled with meal (whence the name of the expedition), which were picked up by the pursuers. After an absence of five days, Muhammad returned from the fruitless chase. Shortly after, he celebrated the first festival of Idal-Adha.
During the summer and autumn, two or three expeditions were undertaken against the tribes inhabiting the plain east of Medina. These were of a minor interest in their immediate results, but are significant of the widening circle of the struggle. Juheina and other tribes on the sea-coast being already in the interest of Muhammad, the Syrian trade by that route was now absolutely barred. There remained the eastern route to Babylonia. This passed through the territories of two powerful nomad tribes, Suleim and Ghatafan, both allied to Quraish and employed by them as carriers, They inhabited part of the great plain of Najd in the centre of the peninsula. There Bani Suleim had their headquarters in a fruitful plain, the seventh station from Mecca on the caravan route which crossed the tableland to the head of the Persian Gulf. Quraish now turned their eyes towards this territory, and entered into closer bonds with the tribes inhabiting it. Henceforth, the attitude of Suleim and Ghatafan, especially of the former, became actively hostile towards Muhammad. Incited by Quraish, and by the example of Abu Sufyan, they now projected a plundering attack upon Medina, a task in itself congenial with their predatory habits. Timely intelligence reached Medina that they had begun to assemble at Qarqarat al-Kudr; Muhammad, anticipating their design, hastened to surprise them at the head of two hundred men. On reaching the spot he found it deserted; but a herd of 500 camels, feeding under charge of a single boy, fell into his hands, and was divided as spoils of war. The boy was made captive, but afterwards, on professing faith in Muhammad, released.
A month later, Bani Ghatafan were again reported to be collecting troops in Nejd. Heading a strong force of 450 men, some mounted on horses, Muhammad himself proceeded to disperse them. In three or four marches, he reached the spot; but the enemy, having notice of his approach, had retired to the hills, and secured in fastnesses their families and cattle. One of them, who was met on the road, and employed as a guide, embraced Islam and was spared. In effecting this demonstration Muhammad was absent for seven days. In the autumn, he led another attack, at the head of three hundred followers, against Bani Suleim, who still maintained a threatening attitude. Arrived at their rendezvous, he found that the force had broken up. So, after staying unavailingly for some time to watch the autumn caravans of Quraish proceeding northwards, he returned without meeting the enemy.
The following month was marked by a more successful affair. Quraish, finding the seashore closely watched by Muhammad, dared not expose their merchandise to the perils of that route. They were reduced to great straits. If we sit still at home, they said, we should be eating up our capital; how can we live, unless we keep up the winter and the summer caravans? We are shut out from the coast; let us try the eastern road by Iraq. Water is scarce upon this route, but the summer was now passed, and, moreover, a sufficient supply could be carried upon camels between the distant wells. Accordingly, they equipped a caravan to traverse the tableland of the central desert. It was headed by Safwan, and Quraish sent much property with him for barter, chiefly in vessels and bars of silver. An Arab guide promised to lead them by a way unknown to the followers of Muhammad; but intelligence of the rich venture and of the road which it was to take, reached the Prophet through an Arab who chanced to visit the Jews at Medina; whereupon Zaid was immediately dispatched in pursuit with a hundred picked and well-mounted men. He came up with the caravan, and fell suddenly upon it. The leaders of Quraish fled, the rest were overpowered, and all the merchandise and silver were carried off, with one or two prisoners, to Medina. The booty was valued at 100,000 pieces; so that, after the appropriation of the Prophet’s Fifth, 800 pieces fell to the lot of each soldier. The guide was brought to Muhammad, who promised him liberty if he would believe. He embraced Islam, and was set free. Zaid obtained great distinction in consequence, and thenceforward became a favourite commander.
It has been mentioned that shortly after his arrival in Medina, the Holy Prophet had made an agreement with the three principal Jewish tribes, Banu Qainuqa’, Banu Nadhir and Banu Quraidha, which bound both sides to live together in peace and security, to maintain law and order in Medina and to co-operate with each other in the defence of Medina against any external attack. For a short while the Jews observed the terms of the agreement, at least they sought no opportunity of seeking a conflict with the Muslims. But when they observed that the Muslims were progressively gaining strength in Medina, they made up their minds to put a stop to this tendency. For this purpose they had recourse to every type of device. They tried to create dissension among the Muslims. For instance, on one occasion, when a large number of Aus and Khazraj were together and were in amicable converse with each other, some mischievous Jews appeared among them and somehow started a discussion of the Battle of Bu’ath, with the result that passions were aroused between Aus and Khazraj and both sides drew their swords. Fortunately, the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, received intimation of the situation and soon arrived on the scene with a party of Emigrants. He rebuked both sides for having reverted to pre-Islamic ways, forgetting the favour that God had bestowed upon them by making them brethren through Islam. Both sides were deeply moved by his words and, repenting of their misbehaviour, embraced each other with tears in their eyes.
The Jews had not rested content with murmuring against Muhammad’s rule, they sought to embarrass him by active sedition. One of their first attempts against Muhammad’s regime was to stir up strife between the Refugees and Helpers (G. M. Draycott, Mahomet, p. 148).
The Jews, at first surprised to see the Qurashites beaten by a handful of peasants from Medina (Kaab bin Ashraf composed a melancholy song about the ruin of the patricians, these kings of Arabia), then decided that they need not come to a hasty conclusion because of the easy defeat of a troop of bourgeois without military training. They became alarmed at Muhammad’s increasing authority; his prestige was heightened by the victory in which the people saw the confirmation of his prophetic mission. The Jews began to show their hostility to Islam openly (L. Dermenghem, The Life of Mahomet, p. 201).
After the battle of Badr, the Jews were greatly chagrined and began to give open expression to their feelings. Soon after the battle, the Holy Prophet called the leading men among the Jews together and inviting their attention to the battle as a clear Divine Sign, urged them to reflect on it and to accept his message and embrace Islam. To this, the Jews made the taunting retort: ‘Muhammad, by slaying a few Quraish, you appear to have become arrogant. Quraish are not trained in the science of war. If you had been confronted by us, we would have shown you what fighting means.’ Not content with provocative verbal challenges, they began to plan the assassination of the Holy Prophet himself. Apparently, this became generally known; for instance, when a devoted Muslim, Talha bin Braa, who was ill, felt that his end was approaching, he directed that if he died during the night the Holy Prophet should not be informed of his death till the morning lest he should decide to come out for his funeral prayers during the night and might be exposed to mortal danger on the part of the Jews. The Banu Qainuqa’, the strongest and reputedly the bravest of the three principal Jewish tribes, took the lead in contravening the spirit of the agreement which they had made with the Holy Prophet. Ibn Hisham and Tabari have recorded: Banu Qainuqa’ were the first of the Jews who broke the agreement between them and the Messenger of Allah. After the battle of Badr, they gave open expression to their frustration and jealousy and finally committed a breach of the agreement.
The Holy Prophet continued to admonish the Muslims to possess their souls in peace and not to furnish any occasion to the Jews to embark on any rash action. He himself was most anxious and careful that their feelings and sentiments should be duly respected. On one occasion, he rebuked a Muslim, who, being provoked by the observation of a Jew, designed to exalt Moses above all the Prophets, affirmed, somewhat fiercely, that it was the Holy Prophet who was most exalted among the Messengers of God. The Holy Prophet mentioned some superiority of Moses to assuage the feelings of the Jews. Despite this attitude of the Holy Prophet, the mischief of the Jews increased progressively and ultimately it was they who brought on the first conflict with the Muslims. It happened in this wise. A Muslim woman went shopping to the shop of a Jew, and, while she was sitting occupied with selecting whatever she needed, some Jews who were also present in the shop started teasing her mischievously and the shopkeeper himself, taking advantage of her preoccupation with her shopping, pinned up the lower part of her skirt with her bodice. The woman, being annoyed at the attitude of those in the shop, stood up suddenly, intending to leave the shop, and in consequence of the shopkeeper’s mischievous pinning up her skirt, the lower part of her body was exposed at which the shopkeeper and his companions burst out laughing. The outraged woman shrieked in great distress and called for help. A Muslim who was near rushed to her aid, and in the scuffle that ensued, the Jewish shopkeeper was killed, whereupon the Muslim was set upon and was immediately dispatched. This drew the attention of Muslims and Jews in the vicinity of the shop and a delicate situation arose. When the Holy Prophet learnt of the incident, he went over and called together the leading men of Banu Qainuqa’ and admonished them to fear God and mend their ways. They retorted arrogantly and repeated the challenge that he should lay no store by the victory at Badr as, in case of a conflict, they would show him what fighting meant.
The Holy Prophet felt that matters were coming to a head and, collecting a number of Muslims, he marched to the strongholds of Banu Qainuqa’, who, instead of seeking a peaceful solution, appeared ready to fight. The Holy Prophet invested their strongholds and the siege continued for a fortnight. At the end of it, Banu Qainuqa’, perceiving that they could no longer hold out, surrendered on condition that they, their families and their animals would be spared and the rest of their belongings would pass to the Muslims. The Holy Prophet accepted their terms, though, in terms of the agreement, the matter had to be settled according to Mosaic law, which was to the effect (Deuteronomy 20:10-14):
When thou comest nigh upon a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee. And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it. And when thy Lord thy God bath delivered it unto thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword; but the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the Lord thy God hath given thee.
As this was the first default on the part of the Jews, the Holy Prophet was not inclined to impose the extreme penalty upon them. On the other hand, it was no longer safe to let such a hostile and treacherous tribe continue in Medina to carry on its designs, particularly at a time when the disaffected, from among Aus and Khazraj, were bent upon mischief inside Medina, and the Muslims in Medina were also exposed all the time to external aggression on the part of hostile Arab tribes. In these circumstances, the expulsion of Banu Qainuqa’ from Medina was the least penalty that was permissible. Indeed, it was too clement. The main purpose of the Holy Prophet was the security of Medina. Expulsion was not much of a punishment for any Arab tribe, especially when it does not own any land or orchard; as was the case with Banu Qainuqa’. They made their preparations to depart from Medina and to go and settle in Syria. The Holy Prophet appointed Ubadah bin Thamat, who was one of their confederates, to supervise the arrangements in connection with their departure. He accompanied them for several stages and returned to Medina when they were well on their way. They left behind only their arms and the instruments of their profession, which was that of goldsmith. It is reported that within a year of their exile, an epidemic broke out among them, which destroyed the whole tribe.
The pre-emptive expeditions undertaken by the Holy Prophet, were not only conceived in wisdom for the safeguarding of the security of Muslims and of Medina, but also in beneficence towards his opponents. Altogether there were more than five-dozen such expeditions, big and small, led by the Holy Prophet himself or under his directions, by Zaid or some other Companion of the Holy Prophet. There was little loss of life and very small other damage suffered by his opponents. As time passed and opposition to him and the Muslims spread over a larger and larger area, the expeditions had to be undertaken over longer and longer distances. The total loss of life suffered by the opponents of Islam in pitched battles between comparatively large forces as well as pre-emptive expeditions was 759 and by the Muslims 259. Military operations of one type or the other carried on during ten years, with an interval of about two years after the Truce of Hudaibiyya, involved only a total of 1,018 deaths. Yet, till quite recent times, Western writers had represented the Holy Prophet as a bloodthirsty fanatic who carried fire and sword over large areas in the attempt to impose his false creed upon unwilling people at the point of the sword. Nothing could be farther from the truth and from reality. It is true that very often in the course of these expeditions an individual or a group embraced Islam, and these were welcomed as brethren in the faith. As the only cause of hostility between the Muslims and their opponents was a difference of belief, anyone who professed belief in Islam thereby laid aside his hostility and was no longer an enemy and could not be treated as such.
What is relevant is that no one was at any time forced to believe. As has already been pointed out, there were instances in which the Holy Prophet rejected a profession of belief in Islam when he had reason to suspect that such profession was being made with an ulterior motive.
On this question of Islam having been spread by the sword, Thomas Carlyle has observed (The Hero as Prophet, p. 61):
The sword indeed: But where will you get your sword? Every new opinion has its starting precisely in a minority of one. In one man’s head alone, there it dwells as yet. One man alone of the whole world believes it; there is one man against all men. That he take a sword, try to propagate with that, will do little for him. You must first get your sword! On the whole, a thing will propagate itself as it can …. In this great duel, Nature herself is umpire, and can do no wrong. The thing that is deepest-rooted in Nature, what we call truest, that thing and not the other will be found growing at last.
James Michener has said (‘The Misunderstood Religion’, Reader’s Digest, June 1955, p. 88):
No other religion in history spread so readily as Islam. The West has widely believed that this surge of religion was made possible by the sword. But no modern scholar accepts that idea, and the Quran is explicit in support of freedom of conscience.
History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races, is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated (De L. O’Leary, Islam at the Crossroads, p. 8).
About this time the Holy Prophet’s youngest daughter, Fatima, was married to his cousin, Ali bin Abi Talib. Within a year of her marriage she gave birth to a baby boy who was named Hassan by the Holy Prophet. A year later, she gave birth to a second boy who was named Husain. Those who claim descent from the Holy Prophet are descended from these two grandsons of his.
About the same time the Holy Prophet gave his third daughter, Um Kulthum, in marriage to Uthman bin Affan.
The exile of Banu Qainuqa’ from Medina did not bring about any improvement in the relations between the remaining two principal Jewish tribes in Medina and the Muslims. On the contrary the Jews embarked upon greater and greater mischief and began to intrigue more extensively against the Muslims. The affair of Kaab bin Ashraf was only one link in this lengthening chain. Kaab was a Jew by creed but not by race. His father, Ashraf, was a clever and intelligent Arab of Banu Nadhan who came and settled in Medina and became a confederate of Banu Nadhir. Gradually, he acquired so much importance and influence that the chief of Banu Nadhir, Abu Rafe, bin Abi Haqeeq, gave his daughter in marriage to him. She gave birth to Kaab, who, as he grew up, acquired an even greater status than his father, so much so that in the end all the Jews in Arabia acclaimed him as their chief. He was a well-built, handsome man, had acquired great wealth and was a poet of a high order. He was open-handed, and through his generosity exercised great influence over the Jewish divines and other notables. He was morally despicable and was a master of intrigue.
On the advent of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, in Medina, Kaab bin Ashraf became a party to the agreement that the Holy Prophet had entered into with the Jews whereby it had been agreed that the parties would live in amity, peace and security, and would co-operate with each other in the defence of Medina. But Kaab, from the beginning, entertained sentiments of rancour and enmity towards the Holy Prophet and the Muslims and began to intrigue against them. He was much chagrined at the victory of the Muslims in the battle of Badr and began actively to plan the destruction of Islam and the Muslims. Up till then he had imagined that the religious zeal of the Muslims was only a temporary phase, and that gradually they would abandon Islam and revert to their ancestral creed. But the surprising victory of the Muslims in the battle of Badr, and the slaughter of almost all the leading personalities of Quraish in the battle, convinced him that Islam was not a casual phenomenon. His immediate reaction at the receipt of the news of the issue of the battle was one of incredulity. But when the news was confirmed, he was filled with apprehension and anger. He forthwith proceeded to Mecca and provoked Quraish with his speeches and his poetry and roused their wrath against the Muslims to boiling point. He took their leaders to the Ka’aba and put them on oath, their hands clutching the covering of the Ka’aba, that they would not rest till they had wiped out Islam and its founder from the face of the earth. Having achieved his purpose in Mecca, he travelled from tribe to tribe in the country and roused them against the Muslims. Returning to Medina, he began to address amorous and provocative verses to Muslim women, not sparing even the women of the family of the Holy Prophet. He gave wide publicity to his lewd poems. He then conspired to bring about the assassination of the Holy Prophet at a meal in his own house to which he intended to invite him along with some Jewish young men, who were to perpetrate the foul deed. But the Holy Prophet came to know of the design, which was thus frustrated. In this context, it must be remembered that the Holy Prophet, by virtue of the agreement, which had been arrived at between the various tribes of Medina, was not only the spiritual leader of the Muslims, but was also the chief executive and chief magistrate of Medina. Thus everyone of these activities of Kaab amounted to treason and was punishable with death. When the Holy Prophet was convinced of these various offences of Kaab, he determined that Kaab had earned the ultimate penalty several times over. In the atmosphere that prevailed in Medina at the time, any disciplinary action against Kaab was bound to start a dangerous civil war in Medina; and the Holy Prophet was anxious to avoid such a contingency at all costs. He, therefore, decided that Kaab would not be executed publicly, but silently without any fuss. He committed this enterprise to Muhammad bin Maslamah, a devoted Muslim of Aus, and directed him to consult the chief of Aus, S’ad bin Muaz, about the method of carrying it out. After consultation with S’ad, Muhammad bin Maslamah selected Abu Nailah, who was foster brother of Kaab, and two or three other Muslims, and proceeded to Kaab’s residence where they made a tryst with him for that night for some plausible purpose, which they discussed with him. At night, when Kaab came to the tryst, they fell upon him and dispatched him.
As regards the manner of the execution of Kaab, Stanley Lane-Pole has observed (Studies in a Mosques, p. 68):
The reason is almost too obvious to need explanation. There were no police or law courts or even courts martial at Medina; some one of the followers of Muhammad must, therefore, be the executor of the sentence of death, and it was better that it should be done quietly, as the execution of a man openly before his clan would have caused a brawl and more bloodshed and retaliation, till the whole city had been mixed up in the quarrel.
When the news of the execution of Kaab became known in Medina, it occasioned great excitement in the city and the Jews called on the Holy Prophet and protested that their chief, Kaab bin Ashraf, had been assassinated in such and such a manner. The Holy Prophet heard what they had to say, and asked them whether they were aware of the offences of which Kaab had been guilty. He then reminded them of all the pernicious activities of Kaab, to which the delegation made no reply. The Holy Prophet then urged them that, at least in the future, they should agree to live in peace and in healthy co-operation and not to sow the seeds of enmity, intrigue and disorder. The Jews agreed to subscribe to a new covenant, guaranteeing mutual peace and security, discarding all mischief and disorder. This agreement was committed to the custody of Ali. There is no mention that thereafter the Jews ever charged the Muslims with any culpability in respect of the execution of Kaab bin Ashraf, for they knew and felt in their hearts that Kaab had richly earned his punishment.
Despite Abu Sufyan’s raid against Medina, retreating from which the members of his party had to discard their wallets filled with meal, lest they should be overtaken by their Muslim pursuers, Quraish felt keenly the need of avenging the disaster and wiping out the disgrace that they had suffered at Badr. The profit made by the caravan led by Abu Sufyan, which had arrived safely in Mecca, had amounted to 50,000 dinars, and according to the decision taken by the leaders of Mecca immediately after the battle, was in deposit in the House of Consultation for the purpose of organizing a force to march against the Muslims. This money was now taken out of deposit and preparations were started for getting together a large armed force for the execution of the design of Quraish. This resolve had been taken suddenly and preparations were pushed forward speedily. Quraish intended that they should take the Muslims by surprise. They were not, however, aware that the Holy Prophet had directed his uncle, Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib, who was sympathetic towards the Muslims, to stay on in Mecca and to keep him informed of the designs and movements of Quraish. Accordingly, Abbas dispatched a fast rider of Banu Ghaffar to take a letter of his to the Holy Prophet, promising him a substantial reward if his letter was delivered within three days. When the courier arrived in Medina, the Holy Prophet was in Qaba and the courier delivered the letter to him there. The Holy Prophet immediately summoned his special scribe, Ubayy bin Kaab Ansari, and asked him to read out the letter to him, which he did. The letter contained the grave intimation that a strong army of Quraish was about to leave Mecca for Medina. The Holy Prophet told Ubayy bin Kaab that he should not divulge the intimation contained in the letter to anyone; and returning to Medina, dispatched two of his Companions in the direction of Mecca to gather intelligence about the Quraish army. He also directed that a census should be taken of the Muslim population of Medina. This disclosed that the number of Muslims in Medina had by then reached 1,500.
Abu Sufyan led the Quraish army, which numbered 3,000, of whom 700 were clad in mail. They had 200 horses, and 3,000 camels, and were well equipped in every way. They were accompanied by several women who included Hind, wife of Abu Sufyan, and the wives of Ikramah bin Abu Jahl, Safwan bin Umayya, Khalid bin Waleed and Amr bin Aas, and also the mother of Mus’ab bin Umair. The women, according to Arab custom, carried with them timbrels and other instruments of music to accompany their songs, which were designed to rouse the warriors to heroic deeds.
When this force approached Medina, it veered to the north and stopped near Mount Uhud, close to a large pasture where the cattle of Medina grazed and there were also some cultivated fields. Quraish captured the cattle and destroyed the tilth. The Holy Prophet, on being apprised of the approach of Quraish, sent Habib bin Mundhar to gather intelligence about the numbers and strength of the enemy, and told him that on return, he should communicate his intelligence to him in private. Habib slipped away and returned within a short time and submitted his report. This was Thursday evening and the advent of Quraish and their raid on the pasture had become generally known in Medina, and though the Muslims were not aware of the details about the Quraish army, the night was spent in great alarm. On Friday morning, the Holy Prophet held a consultation whether the attack of Quraish should be awaited in Medina or whether they should be fought outside. The Holy Prophet related a dream that he had seen the previous night, the details of which he interpreted as indicating that he would receive an injury himself, that the Muslims would suffer damage, that there would be carnage among the enemy, that a near relation of his would be killed, but that Medina would be safe. He therefore opined that the Muslims would be secure within Medina, but without it there was risk and danger. In this opinion the men of years and wisdom, both Emigrants and Ansar, concurred. Abdullah bin Ubayy, who had also been invited for consultation, strongly supported the view of the Holy Prophet. He added, ‘Our city, O Prophet, is a virgin inviolate. Quitting it, we have ever suffered loss; remaining in it, we have beaten back every attack. Leave Quraish alone; if they remain, they will be in evil case. At length, frustrated in their design they will retire.’ It was resolved accordingly to bring all outlying inhabitants within the walls, and, if Quraish should venture near, to drive them back by a galling discharge of arrows and stones from the walls and housetops.
This decision did not please the younger and more impetuous section of Ansar. ‘Shall we sit quietly here,’ they muttered, ‘a laughing-stock for all Arabia, and look on in frustration while our possessions are ravaged all round? Disgrace will cleave to us ever after, and the enemy, emboldened, will repeat the insult. Nay, we should go forth and smite our foes, as was done at Badr.’ Emigrants also sided with this party, and their ardour was so great that the Holy Prophet at last gave way, and announced his readiness to offer battle. Ascending the pulpit (the day was Friday) he stirred up the people, in his discourse, to fight courageously. ‘If ye be steadfast,’ he said, ‘the Lord will grant you victory.’ Then he commanded the men to make ready for the battle. The most part rejoiced at this, but some were grieved that the first decision had been set aside.
By the time the afternoon Prayer was ended the people had assembled in the court of the mosque, armed for battle. The Holy Prophet then retired with Abu Bakr and Umar to make ready. In a little while, he issued from his chamber clad in mail and helmet, his sword hanging from a leather girdle and shield slung over his shoulder. Ansar, seeing him thus accoutred, repented of their rash remonstrance and prayed that he would even now do as seemed good to him. But it was too late. ‘I invited you to this,’ he said, ‘and ye would not. It becometh not a Prophet, when once he hath girded himself to the battle, to lay his armour down again until the Lord hath decided betwixt him and his enemies. Wait, therefore, on the Lord. Only be steadfast, and He will send you victory.’
The Holy Prophet called for three lances and fixed banners upon them. The one for Aus he committed to Usyad bin Hudhair, and the one for Khazraj to Habib bin Mundhar, and the one for Emigrants to Ali. Abdullah bin Um Maktum was appointed to command the city, and lead the public Prayers. The Holy Prophet mounted his horse and, surrounded by his followers, took the road to Uhud. There was but one other horse in the Muslim army. Arrived at an eminence, the Holy Prophet turned around and saw following, amid the palm plantations on the right, a rude and disorderly band of men, and being told that they were the Jewish confederates of Abdullah bin Ubayy, he commanded that they should go back to Medina. He then passed onwards to Sheikhein, halfway to Uhud, and having reviewed the force, and sent back some striplings unequal to the fight, there halted for the night. Abdullah bin Ubayy, with his followers, encamped near at hand; but, displeased at the rejection of his advice, and also at the unfriendly treatment of his Jewish friends, he kept sullenly aloof. The Holy Prophet passed the night with Bani Najjar, and a guard of devoted followers was stationed over him. Muhammad bin Maslamah patrolled the camp with fifty men.
At early dawn the Muslim army was in motion. In the dim morning light they marched, by the nearest path, through the intervening fields and gardens, and emerged upon the sandy plain beneath the peak of Uhud. The vicinity owes its verdure to a water-course, which carries off the drainage of the country lying to the south and east. The hill of Uhud, three miles distant from Medina, is a rugged and almost insulated off-shoot of the mountain range, projecting eastwards for three or four miles into the plain. The torrent, sometimes swollen so as to inundate the adjacent track, a sweep along its southern and western face and discharges its flood into the low basin lying beyond. Now dry, its course was marked only by deep sand and scattered stones. On the farther bank, upon a slightly sloping plain, bare and stony, the Holy Prophet halted the Muslim army. By this time dawn was breaking, and, although the columns of the enemy were in sight, the call for Morning Prayer was made by Bilal, and the whole army, led by the Holy Prophet, prostrated itself in worship. Abdullah bin Ubayy at this moment wheeled suddenly round and, deserting the army with his 300 followers, took the road back to the city. To those who sought to restrain him he replied that had it been a case of fighting a straight battle he would not have shirked it, but as it was the Muslims were bent upon self-destruction and he would have no part in it. The Holy Prophet was thus left with but 700 followers, of whom only 100 were clad in mail; but they were all true men, and, fighting in the cause of God, they boldly faced a well-appointed enemy more than four times their number. Advancing, they occupied the rising ground in front; their rear was thus protected by the frowning heights of Uhud, excepting on the left, where the rocks, receding, afforded the enemy a dangerous opening, suited to the movements of their horse. The Holy Prophet therefore posted on an adjoining eminence the flower of Muslim archery, and gave their leader, Abdullah bin Jubair, stringent orders in no possible contingency to quit the spot, but steadily to check any attempt which Quraish might make to turn the flank. ‘Guard our rear,’ he said, ‘and stir not from this spot; if ye see us pursuing the enemy and gathering spoils, join not with us; if we be pursued and even worsted, do not venture to our aid.’ Having thus secured his rear, the Holy Prophet lined up his force in battle array and appointed captains of different sections. At this stage he was informed that the standard of Quraish was being borne by Talha, who was of the family who were entitled, under the dispensation established by Qusai bin Kalab, to be the standard-bearers of Quraish in battle. On this, the Holy Prophet observed, ‘We are better entitled to conform to the family tradition,’ and he took the banner of Emigrants from Ali and committed it to Mus’ab bin Umair, who was of the same family as Talha. He forbade his followers to engage the enemy till he gave command, for he realized that the strength of his position might be sacrificed by a premature advance. Having thus disposed his force, he calmly awaited the enemy approach. The Muslim force faced towards Medina.
Meanwhile, Abu Sufyan, as hereditary leader, brought up the Meccan army; and, facing Uhud marshalled it in front of the Muslim line. The right wing was commanded by Khalid, the left by Ikramah, son of Abu Jahl. Amr bin Aas commanded the Quraish horse and Abdullah bin Rabiyya the archers. The women at first kept to the front and beat their timbrels to shrill martial songs, but as the line advanced they fell to the rear.
The battle opened by the inglorious advance of the exiled Abu Aamir, who vainly expected his fellow citizens of Medina to fraternize with him. He was received with a shower of stones and was forced with his band of followers to retire, Talha crying out indignantly, ‘Get to the rear, ye slaves! Guard the camp, a fitting employment for you!’ Then, flourishing the Quraish banner, Talha advanced alone and challenged the Muslims to single combat, shouting:
The standard bearer hath the right
To dye its shaft in blood
Till it be broken in his hand.
Ali stepped forth and, rushing on Talha, with one blow of his sword brought him to the ground. Talha’s brother, Uthman, who was in charge of the women, then ran forward and seized the banner, which lay by the lifeless body. The women beat their timbrels loudly as they sang:
Daughters of the brave are we,
On carpets step we delicately;
Boldly advance, and we embrace you!
Turn back and we will shun you,
Shun you with disdain.
Hamza responded to Uthman’s challenge and, after a brief encounter, brought him also lifeless to the ground. Then striding proudly back to the Muslim ranks he shouted, ‘I am the son of him who gave the pilgrims drink’, meaning Abdul Muttalib who had held that office. One after another the family of Talha, two brothers and three sons, seized the standard; one after another, they fell in single combat.
At the commencement of the general action the Holy Prophet held up his sword and said, ‘Who will take this sword, and give to it its due?’ Several of his Companions, including Umar, Zubair and Ali, came forward one after another, but the Holy Prophet did not yield the sword to any of them, till Abu Dujana Ansari offered to take it and he gave it to him.
The result of single-combat encounters put the two armies on equality for the time. So long as it went on Quraish derived no advantage from their superior numbers, and the rapid destruction of their standard bearers carried dismay into their ranks. A general engagement ensued, and, pressed by the fierce ardour of the Muslims, the Meccan army began to waver. Their horse sought repeatedly to turn the left flank of the Muslims, but they were each time forced back by the galling archery of the little band, which the Holy Prophet had posted there. The same daring contempt of danger was displayed as at Badr. The Meccan rank might be seen to quiver as Abu Dujana, distinguished by a red kerchief round his helmet, swept along the enemy’s rank, and dealt death on every hand with the sword given him by the Holy Prophet. Hamzah, conspicuous with his ostrich feather; Ali, known by his long white plume, and Zubair in his bright yellow turban, carried confusion wherever they appeared.
But now the Muslims pressed their success too hotly. Their line lost form and order; and a portion, piercing the enemy ranks, fell to gathering the spoils. The archers, who had hitherto held the Meccan horse in check, saw from their height the tempting opportunity and, disregarding the strict injunction of the Holy Prophet as well as the earnest expostulations of their leader, hurried to the spoils. The ready eye of Khalid saw the chance, and he hastened to retrieve the day. Wheeling his cavalry round the Muslims’ left, and sweeping from the rising ground the few remaining archers, he suddenly appeared in the rear of the Muslims and charged into their ranks. The surprise was fatal, and the discomfiture complete.
It might still have been possible to rally the Muslims had not a brave Quraish warrior, Abdullah bin Qami’a, attacked the Muslims’ standard bearer, Mus’ab bin Umair, and severed his right hand with his sword. Mus’ab supported the standard with his left hand and advanced towards Ibn Qami’a who then severed his left hand also, where after Mus’ab folded both his arms round the standard and held it against his chest. Ibn Qami’a attacked him a third time and felled him to the ground. In the meantime, Wahshi, a Negro slave whom Jubair bin Mut’am had brought with him, promising him his freedom if he succeeded in killing Hamzah, who had killed Jubair’s uncle, Ta’eemah bin Adi, in the battle of Badr, perceiving Hamzah passing near him, swung his javelin at him with unerring aim and brought him lifeless to the ground.
It was a moment of great peril for the Holy Prophet as well as the Muslims, some of whom, in their bewilderment, attacked each other and inflicted injuries upon their own people. Yaman, the father of Hudhaifa, was killed in this moment of peril and confusion by the Muslims despite Hudhaifa’s shouts that they were attacking his father.
The Holy Prophet had been standing in the rear watching from a rising ground the first success when he narrowly escaped the sweeping charge of Khalid’s horse. With the staff of followers who surrounded him, he joined in discharging arrows at the enemy till his bow was broken; then he betook himself to casting stones. One of Quraish pressed madly forward to cut him down, whom he pricked in the chest with the point of his spear. The injury was slight, but the man died subsequently of it. The enemy soon bore down upon him in strength and if a party of devoted followers (seven Ansar and seven Emigrants) had not rallied round the spot, he would have been in mortal peril. This small band performed unmatched feats of heroism inspired by their utter devotion to the Holy Prophet. Ali and Zubair, by their fierce attacks, repeatedly pushed back the enemy ranks that bore down upon the little group. Abu Talha Ansari broke three bows in shooting arrows at the enemy while he shielded the Holy Prophet against the arrows of the enemy. The Holy Prophet went on handing arrows to S’ad bin Waqqas and on one occasion encouraged him with the words
‘Go on shooting your arrows, May my father and mother be your sacrifice.’ Abu Dujana shielded the Holy Prophet with his own body, receiving all the arrows and stones aimed at his beloved master. His body was covered with multiple injuries, but he did not move an inch from his station lest any movement of his should expose some portion of the body of the Holy Prophet to the arrows of the enemy. Talha received so many arrows on his own body in his effort to shield the Holy Prophet that one of his hands was rendered permanently useless. Nevertheless when the attack was pressed this devoted band was sometimes pushed aside and the Holy Prophet was exposed to the missiles of his assailants. On one such occasion a stone aimed at him by Urbah bin Abi Waqqas, brother of Sa’d, struck his face, broke one of his teeth and cut open his lip. At another time a stone cast by Abdullah bin Shahab wounded his forehead; and a third time a stone directed at him by Ibn Qami’a struck his cheek and forced two rings of his helmet to be buried in his flesh.
Finally Ibn Qami’a pierced the line of the Muslims and, arriving close to the Holy Prophet, hit him in the side with his sword. The Holy Prophet escaped injury because of his double coat of mail, but the shock felled him down and Ibn Qami’a shouted that he had killed Muhammad. But Ali and Talha raised him up and the Muslims were much cheered that he was safe.
The degree of confusion among the Muslims about this time may be gauged from the fact that many of the Companions of the Holy Prophet, imagining that the Holy Prophet had been martyred, had withdrawn from the field and had thrown aside their arms. Umar was one of them. A group of them were sitting on one side when Ans bin Nadhar Ansari came upon them and asked them what they were doing there. They replied, ‘The Holy Prophet having become a martyr, what purpose is there now in fighting?’ Ans retorted, ‘This is the time to fight so that we too should achieve martyrdom and, in any case, life is not worth living after him.’ He then noticed S’ad bin Muaz and said to him, ‘S’ad, I smell the fragrance of paradise issuing from yonder hill.’ Saying this, he rushed into the enemy ranks and was killed fighting. After the battle, it was observed that his body bore the marks of eighty injuries and could not be identified till his sister identified him from one of his fingers.
Gradually the force of the battle subsided, as Quraish, imagining that the Holy Prophet had been slain, felt that their purpose had been achieved and they became occupied with looking after their dead and mutilating the corpses of the Muslims. Those who were still in the field now gathered round the Holy Prophet who, being supported by Talha and one or two others, climbed one of the cliffs of Uhud close behind and joined several of the Muslim army who had already found secure retreat there. The joy of the Muslims at finding the Holy Prophet alive was unbounded. Kaab bin Malik, who met him on the way, began to call aloud the good news, but the Holy Prophet motioned him to be silent. When the party found shelter in a cave, the first care of the Companions was to remove the helmet from the head of the Holy Prophet. Two of its rings were so firmly embedded in his cheek that Abu Obaida lost two teeth in the endeavour to extract them. The blood flowed copiously from his wounds. Ali ran to a hollow in the rock and brought some water in his shield. The Holy Prophet could not drink of it, but only rinsed his mouth. As the blood was being washed off his face, he remarked, ‘How shall a people prosper that treat thus their Prophet who calleth them unto the Lord?’ After a few moments, he supplicated, ‘Allah, forgive my people, for they know not.’ About this time, the Holy Prophet’s daughter, Fatima, arrived from Medina and dressed the wound on her father’s temple, stanching the blood with the ash of some burnt matting. The wound took more than a month to heal fully. Safiya, the Holy Prophet’s aunt, was fondly attached to her brother Hamza, and the Holy Prophet, fearful of the effect which the sight of his mangled remains might have upon her, had desired her son, Zubair, to keep her aside till the body was buried, but she was not to be kept back. ‘I will not go back’, she cried, ‘until I see him.’ So the Holy Prophet led her to the spot, saying, ‘Leave her to her grief alone.’ She sat down with Fatima by the body, and both sobbed aloud. To comfort Safiya, he told her that her brother’s name was already enrolled in Paradise as the Lion of God and of His Apostle. He spoke comfortingly also to the women of Medina, who were wailing over their dead. The grave being now ready, and the bodies laid out in order, he commanded that they should be buried by twos and threes in each grave.
In the meantime, the leaders of Quraish had been busy on the field of battle. They sought for the body of the Holy Prophet, and, not finding it, began to doubt his death. Many acts of barbarous mutilation were committed on the slain. Hind gloated over the body of Hamza. Tearing out his liver, she chewed it, fulfilling thus her savage vow, and she strung his nails and pieces of his skin together to bedeck her arms and legs. When Quraish had spent some time thus, and had disposed of their own dead, Abu Sufyan drew near to the foot of the hill, and, raising his voice, called out the names successively of the Holy Prophet, Abu Bakr and Umar. Receiving no reply (for the Holy Prophet enjoined silence) he cried again, ‘Then all are slain, and we are rid of them.’ Umar could contain himself no longer. ‘Thou liest,’ he exclaimed, ‘they are all alive, thou enemy of God, and will requite thee yet.’ Abu Sufyan, recognizing Umar’s voice, enquired, ‘Tell me truly, Umar, is Muhammad alive?’ ‘Indeed he is alive and hears you,’ replied Umar. ‘I believe you in preference to Ibn Qami’a,’ rejoined Abu Sufyan. ‘Then this day shall be a return for Badr.
Fortunes alternate, even as the bucket.’ He then called out glory to their idols, naming them one by one. The Holy Prophet directed Umar to reply, ‘Glory to Allah. He is our Guardian and you have no guardian.’ Abu Sufyan said, ‘We shall meet after a year again at Badr.’ ‘Be it so,’ answered Umar. With these words Abu Sufyan turned to go and the Meccan army began its homeward march.
Of the Muslims 70, 4 Emigrants and 66 Ansar, had laid down their lives on the field of battle. It was evident that the destruction of the greater part of the Muslim force was only averted by the foresight of the Holy Prophet in keeping a secure place of refuge in his rear. On the enemy’s side, the loss was but 23.
It is surprising that though Quraish had vanquished the Muslims on this occasion and, if they had so wished, they could have pushed their victory further and could have attacked Medina itself, yet they decided to start on their return journey to Mecca. The Holy Prophet, out of abundant caution, sent S’ad bin Abi Waqqas after them to discover whether Quraish intended to invade Medina itself. He told him, ‘If you find them riding their camels and leading their horses, you may conclude that they intend to return to Mecca and have no design against Medina; but if you find that they are mounted on their horses, then it is likely that they have some further design.’ S’ad returned soon and informed the Holy Prophet that the Quraish army was headed towards Mecca.
The Holy Prophet had been much distressed by the barbarities committed by Quraish on the Muslim dead. The case of Hamza has been mentioned. The corpse of Abdullah bin Jahsh, cousin of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, had been treated in a similar way. For a moment the Holy Prophet felt that Quraish should be repaid in their own coin, but he rejected the impulse and forbade forever mutilation of the enemy dead by Muslim warriors. While he was checking up on the Muslim dead, he deputed Ubayy bin Kaab Ansari to find out whether S’ad bin Rabi’, a leading personality among Ansar, had been killed or was alive. Ubayy bin Kaab, after a thorough search, discovered S’ad at his last breath among a heap of Muslim dead. He was just able to send his greetings to the Holy Prophet in a low voice before he expired, with the message, ‘May God Almighty bestow upon you, in a superlative degree, the reward which He bestows upon his Prophets in return for the devotion and sacrifices of their followers, and may He send comfort to your heart.’ He also told Ubayy to convey his greetings to his brother-Muslims and to tell them that if the Holy Prophet suffered any pain while they were alive to safeguard him, they would be accountable for their default to God and no excuses would avail them. With these words he expired.
One of the martyrs of Uhud was Mus’ab bin Umair, who had been appointed by the Holy Prophet the first missionary of Islam in Medina. Before he had become a Muslim he was accounted the best dressed and the most handsomely turned out young man in Mecca, who had been brought up in the lap of luxury. After he became a Muslim he adopted a most austere way of life. On one occasion when the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, noticed that the garment worn by Mus’ab bore several patches, his eyes became wet, recalling the manner of his earlier life. When Mus’ab’s body was discovered he was clad only in one length of cloth, which could not completely cover his body and the Holy Prophet directed that for burial his head should be covered by the cloth and his feet might be covered with wild grass.
The Holy Prophet began to move towards Medina about sunset. By this time, the Muslims in Medina, men and women, were streaming out in the direction of Uhud, all anxious to be reassured as to the Holy Prophet’s safety. An Ansari woman, grief-stricken and bewildered, encountered the party among whom the Holy Prophet was riding towards Medina. She enquired from one of the party about the Holy Prophet and received the reply that her father, brother and husband had all become martyrs in the battle. She repeated her inquiry about the Holy Prophet and was told that he was safe and he was pointed out to her. On beholding him she said, ‘All calamities are easy to endure, so long as you are safe.’
When the Holy Prophet entered the city he heard mournful wailings from most houses. He was deeply moved, and in order to comfort the mourners remarked ‘My uncle Hamzah has also been martyred, yet no one mourns him.’ The leaders of Ansar misconstrued this observation, as if the Holy Prophet was expressing his grief over the fact that there was no one to mourn Hamzah. They, therefore, told their women to stop mourning their dead and to proceed to the Holy Prophet’s apartment and there mourn the death of Hamzah. They went and when the Holy Prophet heard their wailing, he inquired about the cause of it, and it was explained to him that the women of Ansar were mourning the death of Hamzah. He expressed appreciation of their devotion and affection and supplicated for God’s favour upon them, but told them that Islam did not permit wailing and mourning of this type, and he forbade it for the Muslims.
A young Muslim, Jabir, whose father had become a martyr, came to the Holy Prophet who, perceiving his distress at the death of his father, said to him, ‘Jabir, shall I tell you something that will please you?’ Jabir submitted, ‘Certainly, Messenger of Allah,’ upon which the Holy Prophet told him, ‘When your father, having been martyred, appeared before God Almighty, He spoke to him, face to face, and inquired, “What is your greatest wish?” Your father submitted, “Allah, I have been highly favoured, and all that I wish is that I should go back to the world and should lay down my life in the cause of the faith once more.” God told him, “I would surely fulfil your desire, were it not that I have determined that no one who dies can go back to the world.” Your father submitted, “Then let my brethren be told so that their eagerness for fighting in the cause of the faith may be further stimulated.”’ It was on this occasion that the verse was revealed (3:170-1):
Do not account those who are slain in the cause of Allah, as dead. Indeed, they are living in the presence of their Lord and are provided for. They are jubilant over that which Allah has bestowed upon them of His bounty.
S’ad bin Muaz, chief of Aus, brought his old mother to the Holy Prophet, and he condoled with her on the martyrdom of her son, Amr bin Muaz. She submitted, ‘Messenger of Allah, so long as you are safe, we do not grieve over anything.’
R. V. C. Bodley has observed (The Messenger, p. 179):
Muhammad did not admit defeat. Instead of letting his soldiers be fussed over by their womenfolk and give their versions of the fight, he fell them in. He was wounded himself, he was stiff, he was tired, he was fifty-six years old, but he put his legs across a horse and rode off as if he was pursuing a demoralized and routed enemy. It was masterly strategy, magnificent psychology, above anything any commander has ever conceived to revive the spirits of a shattered body of men. Neither did he relax or give ground when he arrived in Medina. On the contrary, he adopted a commanding, almost reproving, attitude.
G. M. Draycott has observed (Mahomet,p. 201):
Reverses show the temper of heroes, and Muhammad is never more fully revealed than in the first gloomy days after Uhud, when he steadfastly set himself to retrieve what was lost, refusing to acknowledge that his position was impaired, impervious to the whispers that spoke of failure, supreme in his mighty asset of an impregnable faith.