Battle of Badr
|Battle of Badr
|Part of the Muslim-Quraish Wars
Scene from Siyer-i Nebi (The Life of the Prophet) depicting Muhammad at Badr.
|Muslims of Medina
|Quraish of Mecca
The Battle of Badr (Arabic: غزوة بدر), fought March 17, 624 C.E. (17 Ramadan 2 AH in the Islamic calendar) in the Hejaz of western Arabia (present-day Saudi Arabia), was a key battle in the early days of Islam and a turning point in Muhammad's struggle with his opponents among the Quraish in Mecca. The battle has been passed down in Islamic history as a decisive victory attributable to divine intervention or the genius of Muhammad. Although it is one of the few battles specifically mentioned in the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an, virtually all contemporary knowledge of the battle at Badr comes from traditional Islamic accounts, both hadiths and biographies of Muhammad, written decades after the battle.
|Campaigns of Muhammad
|Badr – Banu Qaynuqa – Uhud – Banu Nadir – The Trench – Banu Qurayza – Hudaybiyyah – Khaybar – Mu'tah – Mecca – Hunayn – Autas – Ta'if – Tabouk
Advancing to a strong defensive position, Muhammad's well-disciplined men managed to shatter the Meccan lines, killing several important Quraishi leaders including Muhammad's chief antagonist, 'Amr ibn Hishām. For the early Muslims, the battle was extremely significant because it was the first sign that they might eventually defeat their enemies in Mecca. Mecca at that time was one of the richest and most powerful pagan cities in Arabia, which fielded an army three times larger than that of the Muslims. The Muslim victory also signaled other tribes that a new power had arisen in Arabia and strengthened Muhammad’s authority as leader of the often fractious community in Medina. Local Arab tribes began to convert to Islam and ally themselves with the Muslims of Medina; thus, the expansion of Islam began.
At the time of the battle, Arabia was sparsely populated by a number of Arabic-speaking peoples. Some were Bedouin; pastoral nomads organized in tribes; some were agriculturalists living either in oases in the north or in the more fertile and thickly settled areas to the south (now Yemen and Oman). The majority of Arabs were adherents of numerous polytheistic religions. There were also tribes that followed Judaism, Christianity (including Nestorianism), and Zoroastrianism.
Muhammad was born in Mecca around 570 C.E. into the Banū Hāshim clan of the Quraish tribe. When he was about forty years old, he is said to have experienced a divine revelation while he was meditating in a cave outside Mecca. He began to preach to his kinfolk first privately and then publicly. Response to his preaching both attracted followers and antagonized others. During this period Muhammad was protected by his uncle Abū Tālib. When his uncle died in 619, the leadership of the Banū Hāshim passed to one of Muhammad's enemies, 'Amr ibn Hishām, who withdrew the protection and stepped up persecution of the Muslim community.
In 622, with open acts of violence being committed against the Muslims by their fellow Quraishi tribesmen, Muhammad and many of his followers fled to the neighboring city of Medina. This migration is called the Hijra and marked the beginning of Muhammad's reign as both a political as well as a religious leader.
Prior to the battle, the Muslims and Meccans had fought several smaller skirmishes in late 623 and early 624, as the Muslim ghazawāt had become more frequent. Badr, however was the first large-scale engagement between the two forces. In the spring of 624, Muhammad received word from his intelligence sources that a trade caravan, commanded by Abu Sufyan and guarded by thirty to forty men, was travelling from Syria back to Mecca. The caravan was funded with the money that the Muslims had left behind in Mecca before their departure for Medina. The Quraysh sold all their belongings and used the money to fund this caravan in order to mock the Muslims. Muhammad gathered an army of 313 men, the largest army the Muslims had put in the field yet.
The march to Badr
Muhammad commanded the army himself and brought many of his top lieutenants, including Hamzah and future Caliphs Abu Bakr, Umar, and Ali. The Muslims also brought seventy camels and three horses, meaning that they either had to walk or fit three to four men per camel. However, many early Muslim sources, including the Qur'an, indicate that no serious fighting was expected, and the future Caliph Uthman stayed behind to care for his sick wife.
As the caravan approached Medina, Abu Sufyan began hearing from travelers and riders about Muhammad's planned ambush. He sent a messenger named Damdam to Mecca to warn the Quraish and get reinforcements. Alarmed, the Quraish assembled an army of 900-1000 men to rescue the caravan. Many of the Quraishi nobles, including Amr ibn Hishām, Walid ibn Utba, Shaiba, and Umayah ibn Khalaf, joined the army. Their reasons varied: some were out to protect their financial interests in the caravan; others wanted to avenge Ibn al-Hadrami, the guard killed at Nakhlah; finally, a few must have wanted to take part in what was expected to be an easy victory against the Muslims. Amr ibn Hishām is described as shaming at least one noble, Umayah ibn Khalaf, into joining the expedition. 
By this time Muhammad's army was approaching the wells where he planned to waylay the caravan, at Badr, along the Syrian trade route where the caravan would be expected to stop. However, several Muslim scouts were discovered by scouts from the caravan and Abu Sufyan made a hasty turn towards Yanbu.
The Muslim plan
|Behold! Allah promised you one of the two (enemy) parties, that it should be yours: Ye wished that the one unarmed should be yours, but Allah willed to justify the Truth according to His words and to cut off the roots of the Unbelievers;
—Qur'an Surah 8:7
Around this time word reached the Muslim army about the departure of the Meccan army. Muhammad immediately called a council of war, since there was still time to retreat and because many of the fighters there were recent converts (Called Ansar or "Helpers" to distinguish them from the Quraishi Muslims), who had only pledged to defend Medina. Under the terms of the Constitution of Medina, they would have been within their rights to refuse to fight and leave the army. However, according to tradition, they pledged to fight as well, with Sa'd bin 'Ubada declaring, "If you [Muhammad] order us to plunge our horses into the sea, we would do so." However, the Muslims still hoped to avoid a pitched battle and continued to march towards Badr.
By March 15 both armies were about a day's march from Badr. Several Muslim warriors (including, according to some sources, Ali) who had ridden ahead of the main column captured two Meccan water carriers at the Badr wells. Expecting them to say they were with the caravan, the Muslims were horrified to hear them say they were with the main Quraishi army. Some traditions also say that, upon hearing the names of all the Quraishi nobles accompanying the army, Muhammad exclaimed "Mecca hath thrown unto you the best morsels of her liver." The next day Muhammad ordered a forced march to Badr and arrived before the Meccans.
The Badr wells were located on the gentle slope of the eastern side of a valley called "Yalyal." The western side of the valley was hemmed in by a large hill called 'Aqanqal. When the Muslim army arrived from the east, Muhammad initially chose to form his army at the first well he encountered, but he was apparently persuaded by one of his soldiers to move his army westwards and occupy the well closest to the Quraishi army. Muhammad then gave the order to fill in the remaining wells, so that the Meccans would have to fight the Muslims for the sole remaining water source.
The Meccan plan
By contrast, while little is known about the progress of the Quraishi army from the time it left Mecca until its arrival just outside Badr, several things are worth noting: although many Arab armies brought their women and children along on campaigns both to motivate and care for the men, the Meccan army did not. Also, the Quraish apparently made little or no effort to contact the many Bedouin allies they had scattered throughout the Hijaz. Both facts suggest the Quraish lacked the time to prepare for a proper campaign in their haste to protect the caravan. Besides it is believed since they knew they had outnumbered the Muslims by three to one, they expected an easy victory.
When the Quraishi reached Juhfah, just south of Badr, they received a message from Abu Sufyan telling them the caravan was safely behind them, and that they could therefore return to Mecca. At this point, according to Karen Armstrong, a power struggle broke out in the Meccan army. Amr ibn Hishām wanted to continue, but several of the clans present, including Banu Zuhrah and Banu Adi, promptly went home. Armstrong suggests they may have been concerned about the power that Hishām would gain from crushing the Muslims. A contingent of Banu Hashim, hesitant to fight their own clansmen, also left with them. Despite these losses, Hishām was still determined to fight, boasting "We will not go back until we have been to Badr." During this period, Abu Sufyan and several other men from the caravan joined the main army.
The day of battle
At midnight on March 17, the Quraish broke camp and marched into the valley of Badr. It had rained the previous day and they struggled to move their horses and camels up the hill of 'Aqanqal (sources say the sun was already up by the time they reached the summit). After they descended from 'Aqanqal, the Meccans set up another camp inside the valley. While they rested, they sent out a scout, Umayr ibn Wahb to reconnoiter the Muslim lines. Umayr reported that Muhammad's army was small, and that there were no other Muslim reinforcements which might join the battle. However, he also predicted extremely heavy Quraishi casualties in the event of an attack (One hadith refers to him seeing "the camels of [Medina] laden with certain death"). This further demoralized the Quraish, as Arab battles were traditionally low-casualty affairs, and set off another round of bickering among the Quraishi leadership. However, according to Muslim traditions Amr ibn Hishām quashed the remaining dissent by appealing to the Quraishi's sense of honor and demanding that they fulfill their blood vengeance.
The battle started with champions from both armies emerging to engage in combat. Three of the Ansar emerged from the Muslim ranks, only to be shouted back by the Meccans, who were nervous about starting any unnecessary feuds and only wanted to fight the Quraishi Muslims. So the Muslims sent out Ali, Ubaydah, and Hamzah. The Muslims dispatched the Meccan champions in a three-on-three melee, although Ubaydah was mortally wounded.
Now both armies began firing arrows at each other. Two Muslims and an unknown number of Quraish were killed. Before the battle started, Muhammad had given orders for the Muslims to attack with their ranged weapons, and only engage the Quraish with melee weapons when they advanced. Now he gave the order to charge, throwing a handful of pebbles at the Meccans in what was probably a traditional Arabian gesture while yelling "Defaced be those faces!" The Muslim army yelled "Yā manṣūr amit!" and rushed the Quraishi lines. The sheer force of the Muslim attack can be seen in several Qur'anic verses, which refer to thousands of angels descending from Heaven at Badr to slaughter the Quraish. It should be noted that early Muslim sources take this account literally, and there are several hadith where Muhammad discusses the Angel Jibreel and the role he played in the battle. In any case the Meccans, understrength and unenthusiastic about fighting, promptly broke and ran. The battle itself only lasted a few hours and was over by the early afternoon.
Casualties and prisoners
Al-Bukhari lists Meccan losses as 70 dead and 70 captured. This would be 15-16 percent of the Quraishi army, unless the actual number of Meccan troops present at Badr was significantly lower, in which case the percentage of troops lost would have been higher. Muslim losses are commonly listed at 14 killed, about 4 percent of their engaged forces. Sources do not indicate the number of wounded on either side, and the major discrepancies between the casualty totals on each side suggests that the fighting was extremely brief and that most of the Meccans were killed during the retreat.
During the course of the fighting, the Muslims took a number of Meccan Quraish as prisoners. Their fate sparked an immediate controversy in the Muslim army. A similar incident appears in the Bible 1 Samuel:15, where God punishes Saul for sparing the lives of prisoners which God had commanded him to slaughter. The Meccan Quraishi prisoners, were released only on the condition that they educated ten Muslims how to read. There was no evidence of imprisonment, and in fact the prisoners were kept safe and catered for during that period. In the case of Umayyah, his former slave Bilal was so intent on killing him that his companions even stabbed one of the Muslims guarding Umayyah.
Shortly before he departed Badr, Muhammad also gave the order for over twenty of the dead Quraishis to be buried in the well at Badr. Multiple hadiths refer to this incident, which was apparently a major cause for outrage among the Quraish of Mecca. Shortly thereafter, several Muslims who had been recently captured by allies of the Meccans were brought into the city of Mecca and executed in revenge for the defeat.
According to the traditional blood feud (similar to Blood Law) any Meccans related to those killed at Badr would feel compelled to take vengeance against members of the tribe who had killed their relatives. On the Muslim side, there was also a heavy desire for vengeance, as they had been persecuted and tortured by the Quraishi Meccans for years. However, after the initial executions, the surviving prisoners were quartered with Muslim families in Medina and treated well, either as kin or as possible sources of ransom revenue.
The Battle of Badr was extremely influential in the rise of two men who would determine the course of history on the Arabian Peninsula for the next century. The first was Muhammad, who was transformed overnight from a Meccan outcast into a major leader. According to Karen Armstrong, "for years Muhammad had been the butt of scorn and insults, but after this spectacular and unsought success everybody in Arabia would have to take him seriously." Marshall Hodgson adds that Badr forced the other Arabs to "regard the Muslims as challengers and potential inheritors to the prestige and the political role of the [Quraish]." The victory at Badr also allowed Muhammad to consolidate his own position at Medina. Shortly thereafter he expelled the Banu Qaynuqa, one of the Jewish tribes at Medina that had been threatening his political position. At the same time Abd-Allah ibn Ubayy, Muhammad's chief opponent in Medina, found his own position seriously weakened. Henceforth, he would only be able to mount limited challenges to Muhammad.
The other major beneficiary of the Battle of Badr was Abu Sufyan. The death of Amr ibn Hashim, as well as many other Quraishi nobles gave Abu Sufyan the opportunity, almost by default, to become chief of the Quraish. As a result, when Muhammad marched into Mecca six years later, it was Abu Sufyan who helped negotiate its peaceful surrender. Abu Sufyan subsequently became a high-ranking official in the Muslim Empire, and his son Muawiya would later go on to found the Umayyad Caliphate.
In later days having fought at Badr became so significant that Ibn Ishaq included a complete name-by-name roster of the Muslim army in his biography of Muhammad. In many hadiths, individuals who fought at Badr are identified as such as a formality, and they may have even received a stipend in later years. The death of the last of the Badr veterans occurred during the First Islamic civil war.
Badr in the Qur'an
Allah had helped you at Badr, when ye were a contemptible little force; then fear Allah; thus May ye show your gratitude. Remember thou saidst to the Faithful: "Is it not enough for you that Allah should help you with three thousand angels (Specially) sent down? "Yea, - if ye remain firm, and act aright, even if the enemy should rush here on you in hot haste, your Lord would help you with five thousand angels Making a terrific onslaught. Qur'an: Sura 3:123-125
According to Yusuf Ali, the term "gratitude" may be a reference to discipline. At Badr, the Muslim forces had allegedly maintained firm discipline, whereas at Uhud they broke ranks to pursue the Meccans, allowing Meccan cavalry to flank and rout their army. The idea of Badr as a furqan, an Islamic miracle, is mentioned again in the same surah.
"There has already been for you a Sign in the two armies that met (in combat): One was fighting in the cause of Allah, the other resisting Allah; these saw with their own eyes Twice their number. But Allah doth support with His aid whom He pleaseth. In this is a warning for such as have eyes to see." Qur'an: Sura 3:13
Badr is also the subject of Sura 8: Al-Anfal, which details military conduct and operations. "Al-Anfal" means "the spoils" and is a reference to the post-battle discussion in the Muslim army over how to divide up the plunder from the Quraishi army. Though the Sura does not name Badr, it describes the battle, and several of the verses are commonly thought to have been from or shortly after the battle.
Traditional Muslim accounts
Virtually all contemporary knowledge of the Battle of Badr comes from traditional Islamic accounts, both hadiths and biographies of Muhammad, written down decades after the battle. There are several reasons for this: first, many Arabs of the Arabian peninsula were illiterate and oral traditions were the default method of passing on information. By the time the Armies of Islam had conquered the more literate Arabs of Syria and Iraq, practically all Quraish had been converted to Islam, eliminating any chance of a non-Muslim account of the battle. Second, as Muslim hadith compilations were assembled, the original manuscripts became redundant and were destroyed at what Hugh Kennedy called a "depressingly high" rate. Finally, the Muslims killed at Badr are regarded as martyrs by most pious Muslims, which has most likely stymied any serious attempts at archeological excavation at Badr.
Because of its place in Muslim history and connotations of victory-against-all odds, the name "Badr" has become popular among both Muslim armies and paramilitary organizations. "Operation Badr" was used to describe Egypt's role in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and Pakistan's actions in the 1999 Kargil War. In Iraq, the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq calls itself the Badr Organization.
The Battle of Badr was featured on the big screen in the 1976 film The Message, produced and directed by Syrian-born Moustapha Akkad. Although the film was reasonably faithful to the event, it made some notable changes. The Quraishi army was depicted as having women in tow, when the women were noticeably absent. It also suffered no defections before the battle, though in the film Abu Sufyan refused to take part. The champion combat in front of the wells consisted of three one-on-one fights, instead of a three-on-three melee. Also, since neither Muhammad nor Ali were shown (though Ali's sword was shown) due to religious concerns, Hamza became the nominal commander of the army. The battle itself seemed be based more along the lines of Zulu, with the Quraishi army launching an all-out charge on the Muslim lines which in real life might have routed the smaller army. Both Amr ibn Hishām and Umayyah were killed in the battle, and their deaths marked the climax of the fighting. The film presented a highly-sterilized version of the aftermath, omitting all post-battle executions as well as the Muslim debate over the prisoners.
- Quraish refers to the tribe in control of Mecca. The plural and adjective are Quraishi. The terms "Quraishi" and "Meccan" are used interchangeably between the Hijra in 622 and the Muslim Conquest of Mecca in 630.
- The hatred many Muslims have towards Hishām can be seen in his nickname, "Abū Jahl" (Father of Ignorance), which is how the majority of Muslims know him today.
- Martin Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources (Inner Traditions International, 1983, ISBN 0892811706), 138-139.
- Sahih al-Bukhari: Volume 5, Book 59, Number 287 Retrieved March 9, 2021.
- Sahih al-Bukhari: Volume 4, Book 53, Number 359 Retrieved March 9, 2021.
- Lings, 139-140.
- Sahih al-Bukhari: Volume 5, Book 59, Number 286 Retrieved March 9, 2021.
- Ibn Ishaq says that Abu Sufyan himself rode ahead to reconnoiter the area and discovered the Muslim scouts via the dates left in their camels' droppings.
- Lings, 140.
- Sahih Muslim: Book 19, Number 4394 Retrieved March 9, 2021.
- Lings, 142.
- Lings, 154.
- Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (HarperCollins, 1992, ISBN 0062508865), 174.
- Lings, 142-143.
- Armstrong, 175.
- Lings, 143-144.
- Armstrong, 174-175.
- Lings, 144-146.
- Sunan Abu Dawud: Book 14, Number 2659 Retrieved March 9, 2021.
- Sunan Abu Dawud: Book 14, Number 2658 Retrieved March 9, 2021.
- Armstrong, 176.
- Lings, 148.
- "O thou whom God hath made victorious, slay!"
- Qur'an: Sura 3:123-125. "Allah had helped you at Badr, when ye were a contemptible little force; then fear Allah; thus May ye show your gratitude. Remember thou saidst to the Faithful: "Is it not enough for you that Allah should help you with three thousand angels (Specially) sent down? "Yea, - if ye remain firm, and act aright, even if the enemy should rush here on you in hot haste, your Lord would help you with five thousand angels Making a terrific onslaught."
- Sahih al-Bukhari: Volume 4, Book 52, Number 276 Retrieved March 9, 2021.
- Qur'an:Sura 8:67-69. "It is not fitting for an apostle that he should have prisoners of war until he hath thoroughly subdued the land. Ye look for the temporal goods of this world; but Allah looketh to the Hereafter: And Allah is Exalted in might, Wise. Had it not been for a previous ordainment from Allah, a severe penalty would have reached you for the (ransom) that ye took. But (now) enjoy what ye took in war, lawful and good: but fear Allah. for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful."
- Sahih Al-Bukhari: Volume 3, Book 38, Number 498 Retrieved March 9, 2021.
- Al Muslim: Book 040, Number 6870 Retrieved March 9, 2021.
- Sahih al-Bukhari: Volume 5, Book 59, Number 325 Retrieved March 9, 2021.
- Marshall Hodgson, The Venture of Islam: The Classical Age of Islam (University of Chicago Press, 1974, ISBN 0226346838), 176-178.
- Including the elderly Abu Lahab, who was not at Badr but died within days of the army's return
- Sahih al-Bukhari: Volume 5, Book 59, Number 357 Retrieved March 9, 2021.
- Sahih Al-Bukhari: Volume 5, Book 59, Number 358 Retrieved March 9, 2021.
- Hugh N. Kennedy, The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphate (Longman, 1985, ISBN 0582405254), 355.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Ali, Abdullah Yusuf. The Holy Qur'an: Text, Translation & Commentary. Tahrike Tarsile Qur'an; Reissue edition, 1987. ISBN 0940368323
- Armstrong, Karen. Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. HarperCollins, 1992. ISBN 0062508865
- Crone, Patricia. Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987. ISBN 1593331029
- Hodgson, Marshall. The Venture of Islam: The Classical Age of Islam. University of Chicago Press, 1974. ISBN 0226346838
- Kennedy, Hugh. The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphate. Longmont, 1985. ISBN 0582405254
- Lings, Martin. Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. Inner Traditions International, 1983. ISBN 0892811706
- Nicolle, David. Armies of the Muslim Conquest. Osprey Publishing, 1993. ISBN 185532279X
- Watt, W. Montgomery. Muhammad at Medina. Oxford Univ. Press, 1981. ISBN 9780195772869
All links retrieved September 20, 2023.
- The Battle of Badr at Al-Islam.Org
- The first battle of Islam at Badr: Islamic Occasions Network
- Tafsir (Sura 8: verse 11 to 18) - Battle of Badr: Analysis of Qur'anic verses by Irshaad Hussain.
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