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Why did the Battle of Badr happen?

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This epochal battle unfolded on the 17th of Ramadan in the second Hijri year, corresponding to March 13, 624.

The Battle of Badr stands as the seminal confrontation between the nascent Muslim community and the idolaters of Quraysh, marking a pivotal moment in the early annals of Islam. This clash has garnered significant attention in the Islamic scripture, with the Qur’an delineating its circumstances and outcomes in considerable detail, particularly within the passages of Surah Al-Anfal (8) and Surah Al-Imran (3). Despite their numerical inferiority and limited resources, the Muslims, under divine auspices and through the valor of key figures such as Ali (a) and Hamza, Sayyid al-Shuhada’, achieved a resounding victory that would decisively shape the future trajectory of the Islamic faith.

Within the early Islamic historical narrative, the term “Battle of Badr” encompasses a trio of engagements:

  1. The First Badr, also known as the Battle of Safwan
  2. The Great Badr, or Badr al-Qital
  3. Badr al-Maw’id

However, in the absence of specification, it is the second battle, the Great Badr or Badr al-Qital, to which references are customarily directed.

History

According to what historians, hadith scholars, and interpreters have mentioned, the Battle of Badr began when:

“Abu Sufyan,” the leader of Mecca, was returning from “Sham” (Syria) to “Medina” at the head of a relatively significant trade caravan consisting of forty people with 50,000 dinars of merchandise.

The Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) ordered his companions to prepare to move out and rush towards this large caravan, which carried a significant portion of the enemy’s capital, and by seizing this capital, they aimed to strike a severe blow to the economic and consequently military power of the enemy.

The Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) and his companions had the right to launch such an attack because:

Firstly – With the Muslims’ migration from Mecca to Medina, many of their possessions fell into the hands of the Meccans, causing them significant loss, and they had the right to compensate for such loss.

Furthermore, the people of Mecca had fully demonstrated during the 13 years of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him and his family) and the Muslims’ residence there that they would not refrain from any harm to Muslims and were even prepared to kill the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family).

Such enmity, with the Prophet’s (peace be upon him and his family) migration to Medina, would not remain idle, and they would undoubtedly mobilize their forces for a more decisive strike. Therefore, logic and reason dictate that Muslims, as a preventative measure, should strike a severe blow to them by seizing the vast capital of their trade caravan, thereby strengthening their own economic and military base for future defense.

This action is one that exists in all military plans of the world, past and present, and those who, without considering these aspects, try to portray the Prophet’s (peace be upon him and his family) movement towards the Quraish caravan as a form of looting are either uninformed individuals unaware of the historical issues of Islam or are biased individuals trying to distort realities.

In any case, “Abu Sufyan” became aware of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him and his family) decision through his friends in Medina; and since the caravan had also faced such a potential assault when it was going to “Sham” for trade, he swiftly sent a messenger to Mecca to inform the people of Mecca.

The messenger, following “Abu Sufyan’s” advice, mutilated his camel’s nose, cut its ears, and shed blood in an alarming manner from the camel, tore his shirt from both sides, and rode the camel in a reversed manner to draw everyone’s attention. He entered Mecca and shouted, “O victorious people, save your caravan! Save your caravan! Hurry up and rush, but I don’t think you’ll make it on time; because Muhammad and those who have left your religion have rushed out from Medina to attack the caravan.”

At this time, the strange and terrifying dream that “Atikah,” daughter of “Abd al-Muttalib” and the Prophet’s (peace be upon him and his family) aunt, had seen was being talked about and added to the people’s excitement.

The dream was as follows: Three days earlier, she dreamt that someone was shouting, “Hurry to your slaughterhouse,” and then this announcer went to the top of the “Abu Qubais” mountain and set a large rock in motion, which shattered and each piece hit a house of the Quraish, and a flood of blood flowed through the valley of Mecca.

When she woke up terrified and told her brother “Abbas,” people were plunged into fear.

However, when “Abu Jahl” heard the story of this dream, he said: This woman is a second prophet that has appeared among the children of “Abd al-Muttalib.” I swear by the idols of “Lāt” and “ʿUzzā” that we give her three days; if no interpretation of her dream appears, we will sign a letter among ourselves declaring the “Banu Hashim” to be the most lying among the Arab tribes.

But on the third day after the dream, the same day that the cry of “Abu Sufyan’s” messenger shook all of Mecca. Since many people of Mecca had a stake in this caravan, they quickly mobilized, and about 950 warriors, including some of the notables and dignitaries of Mecca, with 700 camels and 100 horses, set out. “Abu Jahl” took command of the army and quickly made his way to the area of “Badr.”

On the other hand, “Abu Sufyan,” to protect himself from the Muslim assault, changed his route and swiftly moved towards Mecca.

The Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him and his family), with 313 men, which roughly constituted the total number of Muslim combatants that day, had reached near the land of “Badr” – between Mecca and Medina – when he received news of the Quraish army’s change of direction.

At this point, he consulted with his companions: Should they pursue “Abu Sufyan’s” caravan and seize its goods, or prepare to confront the enemy’s army?

Some preferred to confront the enemy’s army, but a group was reluctant and preferred to follow the caravan.

Their reason was that when they left Medina, they did not intend to confront the Mecca army and were not prepared for a battle with them, especially since they were coming with definite anticipation and sufficient preparation for war.

This dilemma and doubt in this group increased when it was known that the enemy’s numbers were almost three times the Muslims’ and their equipment was several times more.

However, despite all these arguments, the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) favored the first group’s opinion and ordered to prepare for an attack on the enemy’s army.

When the two armies faced each other, the enemy could not believe that Muslims had come to the field with such few numbers and equipment. They thought a significant part of the Islamic army was hidden somewhere to start an ambush attack. Therefore, they sent someone to investigate, but soon realized that the number was as seen.

As mentioned, a group of Muslims was in fear and insisted that fighting this huge group, with which they had no comparison, was not wise.

On the other hand, the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family), with a divine promise, encouraged them by saying, “God has promised me victory over one of the two groups, either over the Quraish caravan or their army, and God’s promise is unbreakable. By God, it’s as if I can see the place where Abu Jahl and some of the Quraish leaders will be killed.” He then ordered the Muslims to station near the well of Badr (Badr, originally, was the name of a man from the tribe of Juhaynah who had dug a well in that land, which later on got named after the land “Badr” and the well “Badr”).

In this turmoil, “Abu Sufyan” managed to escape with the caravan from the danger zone, and via the seashore route (Red Sea), hurriedly made his way to Mecca, and sent a messenger to the army saying, “Your caravan has escaped, I think fighting Muhammad under these conditions is unnecessary since he has enemies who will settle accounts with him.”

But the army chief, “Abu Jahl,” did not heed this suggestion and swore by the great idols “Lāt” and “ʿUzzā” that not only will they fight them but also pursue them into Medina, capture them and bring them to Mecca so that the sound of this victory reaches all Arab tribes.

Eventually, the Quraish army entered the land of “Badr,” and sent their servants to fetch water from the well. The Prophet’s (peace be upon him and his family) companions captured them and brought them for interrogation.

The Prophet asked them: Who are you?

They said: We are servants of Quraish.

He asked: How many are in the army?

They said: We do not have that information.

He asked: How many camels do they slaughter for food each day?

They said: Nine to ten camels.

He concluded: Their number is between nine hundred to a thousand men (each camel feeds a hundred warriors).

The atmosphere was truly terrifying and fearsome. The Quraish army, equipped with ample war gear, sufficient force, food, and even women singers and musicians for encouraging or entertaining the army, found themselves facing an opponent they could not believe would enter the battlefield under those conditions.

The Prophet (peace be upon him and his family), seeing that his companions might not sleep well from fear and face the enemy tired in body and spirit the next day, reassured them with a divine promise, saying:

“Do not worry if your numbers are small, a vast host of angels from heaven will rush to your aid”. He completely reassured them of the ultimate victory that was a divine promise, so much so that they slept peacefully that night.

Another problem that terrified the warriors was the condition of the “Badr” battlefield, which was covered with soft sands that swallowed the feet. That night, a beneficial rain fell, allowing them to perform ablution with its water, cleanse themselves, and also solidify the ground beneath their feet. Interestingly, this downpour was so severe on the enemy’s side that it caused them discomfort.

New information obtained by hidden reporters—who had come to the enemy’s camp from the Islamic army at night and quickly circulated among the Muslims—was that the Quraish army, despite all its resources, was extremely fearful as if God had poured an army of terror into their land.

The next morning, the small Islamic army lined up against the enemy with strong morale.

Previously, the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) had offered peace to them so that there would be no excuse left and sent a representative among them saying, “I do not wish for you to be the first group we attack.”

Some leaders of Quraish were inclined to accept this hand of peace extended towards them, but again, “Abu Jahl” prevented it.

Eventually, the fire of war was ignited. “Hamzah,” the Prophet’s (peace be upon him and his family) uncle, and “Ali” (peace be upon him), who were among the youngest in the army, along with other brave Islamic warriors, delivered severe blows to their opponents in the one-on-one battles customary of the day, weakening the enemy’s morale even further.

“Abu Jahl” ordered a general attack, having previously instructed to kill those of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him and his family) companions who were from Medina and to capture the migrants from Mecca to bring them to Mecca for a series of propaganda activities.

It was a critical moment. The Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) had instructed the Muslims not to focus too much on the enemy’s numbers but to concentrate on their opponents, clench their teeth, speak less, seek help from God, not deviate from the Prophet’s (peace be upon him and his family) command under any circumstances, and hope for ultimate victory.

The Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) raised his hands towards the sky and said, “O Lord, if this group is destroyed, You will not be worshiped”: The wind blew strongly towards the Quraish army, and the Muslims attacked them from upwind. Their steadfastness and bravery put Quraish in a difficult position, resulting in seventy of the enemy’s soldiers, including Abu Jahl, being killed and lying in blood and dust, and seventy were captured by the Muslims.

But the Muslims suffered only a few casualties, and thus, the first armed battle of the Muslims with their powerful enemy ended with an unexpected victory.

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