Battle of Badr
The Battle of Badr (Arabic: غَزْوَةُ بَدِرْ Arabic pronunciation: [ɣaz'wat'u ba'dir]), also referred to as The Day of the Criterion (Arabic: يَوْمُ الْفُرْقَانْ, Arabic pronunciation: [jawm'ul fur'qaːn]) in the Qur'an and by Muslims, was fought on Tuesday, 13 March 624 CE (17 Ramadan, 2 AH), near the present-day city of Badr, Al Madinah Province in Saudi Arabia. Muhammad, commanding an army of his Sahaba, defeated an army of the Quraysh led by Amr ibn Hishām, better known as Abu Jahl. The battle marked the beginning of the six-year war between Muhammad and his tribe. Prior to the battle, the Muslims and the Meccans had fought several smaller skirmishes in late 623 and early 624.
|Battle of Badr|
|Part of Muhammad's campaign against the Quraish|
Scene from Siyer-i Nebi, Hamza and Ali leading the Muslim armies at Badr. The writing is Ottoman Naskh.
|Muslims of Madinah||Quraish of Makkah|
|Commanders and leaders|
az-Zubayr bin al-'Awwam
al-Miqdad bin 'Amr
Hamza ibn Abd al-Muttalib
Ali ibn Abi Talib
'Ubaydah bin al-Harith †
Amr ibn Hishām †|
Utbah ibn Rabi'ah †
Umayyah ibn Khalaf †
Shaybah ibn Rabi'ah †
Walid ibn Utbah †
Uqba ibn Abi Mu'ayt
|Casualties and losses|
Total: 14 killed
|70 killed, 70 prisoners[f]|
Muhammad took keen interest in capturing Meccan caravans after his migration to Medina, seeing it as repayment for his people, the Muhajirun. A few days before the battle, when he learnt of a Makkan caravan returning from the Levant led by Abu Sufyan ibn Harb, Muhammad gathered a small expeditionary force to capture it. Abu Sufyan, learning of the Muslim plan to ambush his caravan, changed course and took a longer route away from Muhammad's base at Medina and sent a messenger to Mecca, asking for help. Abu Jahl commanded an army nearly one-thousand strong, approaching Badr and encamping at the sand dune al-'Udwatul Quswa.
Badr was the first large-scale engagement between the Muslims and Qurayshite Mecca. Advancing from the north, the Muslims faced the Meccans. The battle began with duels between the warriors on both sides, following which the Meccans charged upon the Muslims under a cover of arrows. The Muslims countered their charge and broke the Meccan lines, killing several important Quraishi leaders including Abu Jahl and Umayyah ibn Khalaf.
The Muslim victory strengthened Muhammad's position; Medinans eagerly joined his future expeditions and tribes outside Medina openly allied with Muhammad. The battle has been passed down in Islamic history as a decisive victory attributable to divine intervention, and by other sources to the strategic prowess of Muhammad.
After the Hijra (migration to Medina) in 623 CE, the population of Medina chose Muhammad to be the leader of the community. Muhammad decided to raid the caravans of the Makkans as they passed by Medina, considering it recompensation for the years of abuse the Muhajirun faced under the Quraysh and for the wealth they were forced to leave back at Mecca. In early 624, a caravan of the Quraysh led by Abu Sufyan ibn Harb carrying wealth and goods from the Levant was returning to Mecca. Knowing of the threat of Muhammad's growing influence in the region, routinely sent spies to check on Muhammad and warn him of any Muslim movement in the area.
Muhammad had gathered a small expeditionary force of around 300 men to intercept the caravan. Abu Sufyan's spies informed him of the Muslims' plot to ambush his caravan. Fearing the loss of wealth that was imminent, Abu Sufyan sent the messenger Damdam bin 'Amr al-Ghifari to the Quraish. Damdam, upon his arrival at the Ka'bah, cut off the nose and ears of his camel, turned its saddle upside down, tore off his shirt and cried:
Abu Sufyan had rerouted his caravan toward the Red Sea and escaped the Muslim threat by Damdam's arrival at Mecca.
The valley of Badr is surrounded by two large sand dunes to the east, called al-'Udwatud Dunya (the near side of the valley) and al-'Udwatul Quswa (the far side of the valley). The Qur'an speaks of these two in Surah 8, verse 42. The west of the valley was covered by the al-Asfal Mountain (Jabal Al-Asfal) with an opening between it and another hill in the northwest.
Between al-'Udwatud Dunya and al-'Udwatul Quswa was an opening, which was the primary route to Medina. Muhammad and his army did not approach the battlefield from here, they came from the north, as they were originally planning to target the caravan, which was moving from the Levant in the north, to Mecca in the south. Between al-'Udwatul Quswa and the hill covering the southern part of the battlefield was another opening, which was the primary route from Mecca.
The Quraish had encamped in the south-eastern portion of the valley near the road to Mecca, while Muhammad and his army had encamped in some date-palms in the north. They had taken a well near the center of the western margin of al-'Udwatul Dunya and destroyed the other wells near the road to Medina to prevent the Makkans from getting any water. Another well situated at the end of the road to Mecca was later filled with the dead bodies of the dead Makkans.
On the night of 11 March (15 Ramadan), it had rained over the battlefield and the surrounding region. Muslims believe this was a blessing from Allah for the believers and a curse for the disbelievers, who suffered hardship in trying to climb the muddy slope.
Muslim march to Badr
Muhammad was able to gather an army of 313-317 men. Sources vary upon the exact number, but the generally accepted number is 313. This army consisted of 82 Muhajirun, 61 men from the 'Aws and 170 men from the Khazraj. They were not well-equipped for a major conflict nor prepared. They only had two horses, and those belonged to az-Zubayr ibn al-'Awwam and al-Miqdad ibn 'Amr. The entire army had 70 camels, meaning that they had one camel for two to three men to ride alternatively. Muhammad shared a camel with 'Ali ibn Abu Talib and Marthad ibn Abi Marthad al-Ghanawi. The guardianship and administration of Medina was entrusted with 'Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum, but later with Abu Lubaba ibn 'Abd al-Mundhir. Muhammad handed a white standard to Mus‘ab ibn 'Umair al-Qurashi al-'Abdari. The army was divided into two battalions: one of the 82 Muhajirun and the other of the 231 Ansar. The flag of the Muhajirun was carried by 'Ali ibn Abu Talib, while that of the Ansar was carried by Sa'd ibn Mu'adh. az-Zubayr commanded the right flank, while al-Miqdad commanded the left. And the rear of the army was commanded by Qays bin Abi Sa'sa'ah.
With Muhammad in the lead, the army marched out along the main road to Mecca, from the north. At Safra', he dispatched Basbas al-Juhani and 'Adi al-Juhani to scout for the Quraish. The future Caliph Uthman stayed behind to care of his sick wife Ruqayyah, the daughter of Muhammad. Salman al-Farsi also could not join the battle, as he was still not a free man.
Qurayshi advance toward Badr
All of the clans of the Quraish except the Banu 'Adi quickly assembled an excited army of around 1300 men, 100 horses and a large number of camels. Moving swiftly towards Badr, they passed the valleys of 'Usfan, Qadid and al-Juhfah. At al-Juhfah, another messenger from Abu Sufyan informed them of the safety of their merchandise and wealth. Upon receiving this message, the Makkan army expressed delight and showed a desire to return home. Abu Jahl was not interested in returning and insisted on proceeding to Badr, and holding a feast there to show the Muslims and the surrounding tribes that they were superior. Despite Abu Jahl's threat and insistence, the Banu Zahrah, numbering around 300, broke away from the army and returned to Mecca, on the advice of Al-Akhnas ibn Shurayq. Muhammad's clan, the Banu Hashim, also attempted to break away but were threatened by Abu Jahl to stay. Many of the Qurayshi nobles, including Abu Jahl, al-Walid ibn 'Utbah, 'Utbah ibn Rabi'ah, and Umayyah ibn Khalaf, joined the Meccan army. Their reasons varied: some were out to protect their financial interests in the caravan; others wanted to avenge Ibn al-Hadrami, a guard killed in one of the caravan ambushes 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 Umayyah ibn Khalaf into joining the expedition.
Plans of action
Muslim council near Badr
Muhammad held a council of war to review the situation and decide on a plan-of-action. According to some Muslim scholars, the following verses of Al Anfal, Q8:5-6, were revealed in lieu of some Muslims fearing the encounter. Abu Bakr was the first to speak at the meeting and he reassured Muhammad. 'Umar was next. Then, al-Miqdad ibn 'Amr got up and said:
"O Messenger of Allah! Proceed where Allah directs you to, for we are with you. We will not say as the Children of Israel said to Musa: "Go you and your Lord and fight and we will stay here;" rather we shall say: "Go you and your Lord and fight and we will fight along with you." By Allah! If you were to take us to Birk al-Ghimad, we will still fight resolutely with you against its defenders until you gained it."
Muhammad then praised him and supplicated for him, but the three who had spoken were of the Muhajirun, who only constituted around one-third of the Muslim men in Medina. Muhammad wanted the opinion of the Ansar, who were not committed to fighting beyond their territories in the Pledges of 'Aqabah. Muhammad then indirectly asked the Ansar to speak, which Sa'd ibn Mu'adh understood and asked for permission to speak. Muhammad immediately gave him permission to speak and Sa'd said:
"O Prophet of Allah! We believe in you and we bear witness to what you have brought is the Truth. We give you our firm pledge of obedience and sacrifice. We will obey you most willingly in whatever you command us, and by Allah, Who has sent you with the Truth, if you were to ask us to throw ourselves into the sea, we will do that most readily and not a man of us will stay behind. We do not deny the idea of encounter with the enemy. We are experienced in war and we are trustworthy in control. We hope that Allah will show you through our hands those deeds of bravery which will please your eyes. Kindly lead us to the battlefield in the Name of Allah."
Muslim plan of action
By Sunday, 11 March (15 Ramadan), both armies were about a day's march from Badr. Muhammad and Abu Bakr had conducted a scouting operation and managed to locate the camp of the Quraish. They came across an old bedouin nearby from whom they managed to find out the exact strength of their army and their location. In the evening, Muhammad dispatched 'Ali, az-Zubayr and Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas to scout for the Makkans. They captured two Meccan water-bearers at the wells of Badr. Expecting them to say they were with the caravan, the Muslims were horrified to hear them say they were with the main Quraishi army. Unsatisfied with their answer, while Muhammad was praying, some of the Muslims beat the two boys into lying and Muhammad strictly condemned this action later. Muhammad then extracted the details of the Makkans from the boys. The next day Muhammad ordered a march to Badr and arrived before the Meccans.
When the Muslim army arrived from the east, Muhammad initially chose to encamp at the first well he encountered. al-Hubab ibn al-Mundhir, however, asked him if this choice was from divine instruction or Muhammad's own opinion. When Muhammad responded in the latter, Hubab suggested that the Muslims occupy the well closest to the Quraishi army, and block off or destroy the other ones. Muhammad accepted this decision and the plan was carried out at midnight. Muhammad had also given strict orders to not begin an attack without his sole permission.
Meccan plan of action
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. The Quraish apparently made little or no effort to contact the many allies they had scattered throughout the Hejaz. 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 they expected an easy victory.
Since Muhammad's army had either destroyed or taken all the wells in the city, a few Makkans approached the well controlled by Muslims to draw out water. All were shot except Hakim ibn Hizam, who later accepted Islam. At midnight on 13 March (17 Ramadan), the Quraish broke camp and marched into the valley of Badr. 'Umayr ibn Wahb al-Jumahi made a survey of the Muslim position and reported 300 men keen on fighting to the last man. After another scouting mission, he reported that neither were the Muslims going to be reinforced, nor were they planning any ambushes. This further demoralized the Quraish, as Arab battles were traditionally low-casualty affairs, and set off another round of bickering among the Quraishi leadership. However, according to Arab traditions Amr ibn Hishām quashed the remaining dissent by appealing to the Quraishis' sense of honor and demanding that they fulfill their blood vengeance.
The battle began with al-Aswad bin 'Abdul-Asad al-Makhzumi, one of the men from Abu Jahl's clan, the Banu Makhzum, swearing that he would drink from the well of the Muslims or otherwise destroy it or die for it. In response to his cries, Hamza ibn 'Abdul-Muttalib, one of Muhammad's uncles, came out and they began fighting in a duel. Hamza struck al-Aswad's leg before dealing him another blow that would kill him. Seeing this, three men protected by armor and shields, Utbah ibn Rabi'ah, alongside his brother, Shaybah ibn Rabi'ah and son, al-Walid ibn 'Utbah, emerged from the Makkan ranks. Three of the Madani 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 Muhajirun, keeping the dispute within the tribe. So Hamza approached and called on Ubaydah ibn al-Harith and 'Ali ibn Abu Talib to join him. The first two duels between 'Ali and al-Walid and Hamza and Shaybah were quick with both managing to kill their opponents swiftly. After the fight between Ali and Walid, Hamza looked at 'Ubaydah to find him seriously wounded. He then fell upon and killed Shaybah. Ali and Hamza then carried Ubaydah back into the Muslim lines. He died later due to a disease. A shower of arrows from both sides followed these duels and this was followed by several other duels, most of which were won by the Muslims. The Makkans now took the offensive and charged upon the Muslim lines.
The Makkan charge and Muslim counter-attack
As the Makkans charged upon the Muslims, Muhammad kept asking Allah, stretching his hands toward the Qibla:
"O Allah! Should this group (of Muslims) be defeated today, You will no longer be worshipped."
Muhammad kept reciting his prayer until his cloak fell off his shoulders, at which point Abu Bakr picked it up and put it back on his shoulders and said:
"O Prophet of Allah, you have cried out enough to your Lord. He will surely fulfill what He has promised you."
Muhammad gave the order to carry out a counterattack against the enemy now, throwing a handful of pebbles at the Makkans in what was probably a traditional Arabian gesture while yelling "Defaced be those faces!" or "Confusion seize their faces." The Muslim army yelled in reply, "Yā manṣūr amit!" meaning "O thou whom God hath made victorious, slay!" and rushed the Qurayshi lines. The Makkans, understrength and unenthusiastic about fighting, promptly broke and ran. Muslims attribute their fear of fighting and fleeing from the battlefield to divine intervention, with the Qur'an stating in Chapter 8, verse 12, that Allah sent thousands of angels (mala'ikah) to strengthen the ranks of Muslims. The battle itself only lasted a few hours and was over by early afternoon. The Qur'an describes the force of the Muslim attack in many verses, which refer to thousands of angels descending from Heaven at Badr to terrify the Quraish. It also describes how Iblis, the Leader of the Jinn, mentioned to have taken the form of Suraqa ibn Malik, fled the battlefield upon seeing the angels. Muslim sources take this account literally, and there are several ahadith where Muhammad discusses the Angel Jibreel and the role he played in the battle. Modern non-Muslim historians, such as Richard A. Gabriel, attribute the victory and the subsequent triumph over the Quraysh to Muhammad's strategic and military prowess.
Imprisonment of captives and their ransom
Three days after the battle, Muhammad left Badr for Medina. As far as the treatment of prisoners was concerned, Abu Bakr was of the opinion that they should be ransomed, since they were all of their own kin. 'Umar argued against this, saying that there is no notion of blood relationships as far as Islam is concerned, and that all the prisoners should be executed, and that everyone should execute him who is closest to him by blood. 'Ali should kill his brother 'Aqeel ibn Abu Talib, Hamza ibn 'Abdul-Muttalib should behead his brother 'Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib, and that he himself would kill someone close to him. Muhammad preferred the opinion of Abu Bakr, and the prisoners were ransomed. Some 70 prisoners were taken captive and are noted to have been treated humanely, including a number of Quraysh leaders. Most of the prisoners were released upon payment of ransom and those who were literate were released on the condition that they teach ten persons how to read and write and this teaching was to count as their ransom.
William Muir wrote of this period:
In pursuance of Mahomet's commands, the citizens of Medîna, and such of the Refugees as possessed houses, received the prisoners, and treated them with much consideration. "Blessings be on the men of Medina!" said one of these prisoners in later days; "they made us ride, while they themselves walked: they gave us wheaten bread to eat when there was little of it, contenting themselves with dates. It is not surprising that when, some time afterwards, their friends came to ransom them, several of the prisoners who had been thus received declared themselves adherents of Islam...Their kindly treatment was thus prolonged, and left a favourable impression on the minds even of those who did not at once go over to Islam"— William Muir, The Life of Mahomet
Despite scholars estimating Meccan casualties at around 70, only the names of the more prominent ones are known. However, the names of the 14 Muslims who were killed during the course of the war or later (due to injuries sustained during the war) are all known.
Well-known Meccans who were killed during the battle included Amr ibn Hishām, Umayyah ibn Khalaf, 'Utbah ibn Rabi'ah, Shaybah ibn Rabi'ah, al-Walid ibn 'Utbah, al-Aswad bin and 'Abdul-Asad al-Makhzumi. Nadr ibn al-Harith and 'Uqbah ibn Abū Mu‘ayṭ were also killed, though the circumstances of their deaths are unclear. According to some sources the last two were killed during fighting in the field of battle at Badr ans subsequently buried in a pit, while Safiur Rahman al-Mubarakpuri writes that these two were taken as prisoners and subsequently executed by Ali.
|Haritha bin Suraqa al-Khazraji||حريثة بن سراقة الخزرجي|
|Zish Shamalain bin 'Abdi 'Amr al-Muhajiri||ذو الشمالين بن عبد عمر المهاجري|
|Rafi' bin al-Mu'alla al-Khazraji||رافع بن المعلاء الخزرجي|
|Sa'd bin Khaythama al-Awsi||سعد بن خيثمة الأوسي|
|Safwan bin Wahb al-Muhajiri||صفوان بن وهب المهاجري|
|'Aaqil bin al-Bukayr al-Muhajiri||عاقل بن البكير المهاجري|
|'Ubayda bin al-Harith al-Muhajiri||عبيدة بن الحارث المهاجري|
|'Umayr bin al-Humam al-Khazraji||عمير بن الحمام الخزرجي|
|'Umayr bin Abu Waqqas al-Muhajiri||عمير بن أبو وقاس المهاجري|
|'Awf bin al-Harith al-Khazraji||عوف بن الحارث الخزرجي|
|Mubashir bin 'Abdul Mundhir al-Awsi||مبشر بن عبدالمنذر الأوسي|
|Mu'awwidh bin al-Harith al-Khazraji||معوذ بن الحارث الخزرجي|
|Mihja' bin Salih al-Muhajiri||مهجاء بن صالح المهاجري|
|Yazid bin al-Harith bin Fushum al-Khazraji||يزيد بن الحارث بن فصحم الجزرجي|
The Battle of Badr was extremely influential in the rise of two men who would determine the course of Arabian history in the next century. The first was Muhammad, who was transformed overnight from a Meccan outcast into the leader of a new community and city-state at Medina. 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]." Shortly thereafter he expelled the Banu Qaynuqa, one of the Jewish tribes in Medina for assaulting a Muslim woman which led to their expulsion for breaking the peace treaty. The tribe is also known for having threatened Muhammad's political position. At the same time 'Abd Allah ibn Ubayy, Muhammad's chief opponent in Medina, found his own position seriously weakened. He would only be able to mount limited challenges to Muhammad.
The other major beneficiary of the Battle of Badr was Abu Sufyan ibn Harb, safely away from the battle leading the caravan. The death of Amr ibn Hisham, 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 Mu'awiya would later go on to found the Umayyad Caliphate.
In later days, the battle of 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, veterans 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 Fitna.
The story of the Battle of Badr has been passed down in Islamic history throughout the centuries, before being combined in the multiple biographies of Muhammad that exist today. It is mentioned in the Quran, and all knowledge of the battle comes from traditional Islamic accounts, recorded and compiled sometime after the battle. There is little evidence beside these and there are no written descriptions of the battle prior to the 9th century, and as such, the historicity and authenticity of the battle are debated by contemporary historians.
"Badr" has become popular among Muslim armies and paramilitary organizations. "Operation Badr" was used to describe Egypt's offensive in the 1973 Yom Kippur War as well as Pakistan's actions in the 1999 Kargil War. Iranian offensive operations against Iraq in the late 1980s were also named after Badr. During the 2011 Libyan civil war, the rebel leadership stated that they selected the date of the assault on Tripoli to be the 20th of Ramadan, marking the anniversary of the Battle of Badr.
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Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah: When it was the day (of the battle) of Badr, prisoners of war were brought including Al-Abbas who was undressed. The Prophet looked for a shirt for him. It was found that the shirt of 'Abdullah bin Ubai would do, so the Prophet let him wear it. That was the reason why the Prophet took off and gave his own shirt to 'Abdullah. (The narrator adds, "He had done the Prophet some favor for which the Prophet liked to reward him.")
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