The Great Battle of Badr

Hajjah Amina bint `Ayesha

In the second year of the Hijra, on the first day of Ramadan, news came that Abu Sufyan was approaching with a great and richly laden caravan, accompanied by ‘Amr ibn ‘As. The angel Jibra’il brought this message to the Holy Prophet ﷺ: “Go out and fight them, the victory will be yours.” The Prophet ﷺ thereupon informed his Companions, saying, “Make ready and know that Allah has promised you victory.” The Companions made their preparations. Sa’d bin Khaysana and his father made ready to go, but the Prophet ﷺ said to them, “Let one of you go and one of you stay.” They threw lots and Sa’d drew his lot. “Oh Sa’d,” pleaded his father, “will you not cede your lot to me, and let me go in your stead?” Sa’d replied, “Father, had you not brought me up to seek the honor of fighting for Truth, I would leave it to you.” He was martyred in this battle, and his father was later martyred at Uhud.

The Holy Prophet ﷺ left Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum to lead the prayers in his absence and himself set out with three-hundred and ten men towards Badr. Two riders were on horseback, seventy on camels, the remaining men were on foot. The Prophet ﷺ went on his own camel, Qaswa. After a two days’ journey they heard that Abu Sufyan’s caravan had not yet arrived and the Prophet ﷺ looked out for it. The angel Jibra’il came to the Prophet ﷺ and informed him that Allah Almighty would make the Muslims victorious over the unbelievers. The Prophet ﷺ was very happy for that.

Basbas bin ‘Amr al-Juhani and ‘Adiy bin Abi Zaghba al-Juhani were sent to scout out the area and bring news of the approach of the caravan. They came to a well and met two men there who had come to sell food and drink to the passing caravan, as was the custom of the time. One of them said to the other, “Tomorrow the caravan will pass by here, and I will sell them something, so I will be able to repay my debt to you.” When they heard these words, they asked no further questions, drank water from the well, and returned with the news. Not long after this, Abu Sufyan came to that same well with ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, asking them whether they had any news of Muhammad and the men of Madinah. “No,” they replied. “Has nobody passed by here then?” asked Abu Sufyan. “Only two men who came and watered their camels and rode on,” replied the Arabs. Hearing this, Abu Sufyan quickly turned around and followed the tracks of the two riders. They picked up some camel droppings and discovered in it pieces of date stones. From this they concluded that the riders must have come from Madinah, for, “No camel eats dates except the camels of Madinah,” they said. “Muhammad is on our trail.” They speedily turned the caravan back in its tracks.

Abu Sufyan sent a hired scout, Damdam bin ‘Amr al-Ghifari by name, to ride to Mecca at top speed and to call out from the mountaintop that anybody interested in his property should grab even an old broomstick and come forth to its defense. There was not a person in Mecca who had not invested in that caravan. Abu Jahl said to ‘Ubada, “You are related to Muhammad; should we win this battle, we will expel the Bani Hashim from the city.” They picked up the Prophet’s ﷺ uncle ‘Abbas and forced him to accompany the army. Abu Jahl stood at the gates of the city and watched the thousand armed men pass by, and was very proud and happy. “All the nobles of Mecca have taken to arms,” he said, “let Muhammad and his men not think that this caravan is like the caravan of Ibn Hadrami! Soon they will know that it is not so!”

Abu Sufyan and ‘Amr ibn al-‘As turned around to the well of Dhat-al-Qarn and led the caravan to the road by the seashore. They rode back five halts and came to Jiddah by way of the coastal road. From there they reached Mecca. The armed men had already left the city, headed for Badr. The angel Jibra’il informed the Holy Prophet ﷺ that the caravan had changed its route and was headed for Mecca via Badr. The Holy Prophet ﷺ had been informed of victory, but he had hoped that this would mean taking possession of the rich caravan, rather than fighting a pitched battle:

And when God promised you one of the two parties should be yours, and you were wishing that the one not accoutered should be yours; but God was desiring to verify the truth by His words, and to cut off the unbelievers to the last remnant, and that He might verify the truth and prove untrue the untrue, though the sinners were averse to it. (The Spoils, 7)

When Abu Sufyan reached Mecca, he felt himself in safety. But two of his sons had gone out with the Meccan army. He sent a message back to the army, saying, “God has saved your property and delivered us; now there is no point in going to war without profit, so turn back.” This message was delivered to the army at Wadi Rauha. Opinions were divided, as to whether they should advance or retreat. Abu Jahl however said, “By Allah, we will not turn back until we have been to Badr and spend three days there and feast and drink wine, and listen to the girls play for us.” But two hundred armed riders of the Bani Zuhra turned back, and there were nine-hundred and fifty men who continued on with Abu Jahl.

The Holy Prophet ﷺ wanted to hold a council, for he had not brought out his men to make war, but rather to take hold of the caravan and its goods. The first to speak was Abu Bakr, “Oh Messenger of Allah ﷺ,” he said, “Those who are coming to fight us are our relatives. Nevertheless we will do whatever you command us to do, we will sacrifice our souls in your way.” Then ‘Umar spoke up and said, “Oh Prophet of Allah ﷺ, may our souls be your ransom, we will not deviate from this way, as long as even one of us is left.”

The Holy Prophet ﷺ then said, “Be seated; of you I am certain,” and from his words it became clear that he wished to hear how the Ansar felt about joining in the fight. Sa’d ibn Mu’adh got up and said, “Oh Prophet of Allah ﷺ, is it us whom you are calling?” The Prophet ﷺ answered, “Yes, it is you whom I wish to hear from, for I have migrated from my home and come to live with you.” Sa’d answered, “Oh Prophet of Allah ﷺ, may our lives and souls and all our possessions be ransom in your way.” The Prophet ﷺ was happy to hear these words, and calling Sa’d to himself he kissed his face and said to him, “Oh Sa’d, may Allah reward you well.”

Then the army began to move towards Badr. At a certain distance they began scouting out for movements of the Qurayshi troops. The next day, the Holy Prophet ﷺ mounted his camel and went to the well. There he came upon an old man whom he asked for news of the caravan of Quraysh. The old man told him that the caravan had reached Mecca in safety, but that an army of Quraysh was headed towards Badr to fight Muhammad. The Holy Prophet ﷺ asked, “Do you know where Muhammad is?” “I heard on a certain day that the army was at a certain spot, and if this is true, then today they must be at such-and-such a place. Tomorrow they will be here.” Then the Prophet ﷺ prayed and sent Ali, Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas and Zubayr bin Awwam to guard the outpost.

They brought news to the Holy Prophet ﷺ that Quraysh were at a distance of one hour’s journey from the well at Badr. At nightfall they apprehended some of the watermen of the Quraysh who had come to fill their waterskins. They pressured them into telling them where Quraysh were camped, and how many of them there were. The water bearer said, “I can’t say how many there are, but every day they slaughter nine or ten beasts for food.” From this the Holy Prophet ﷺ understood that there must be between nine hundred and a thousand men. Then he asked the man how many nobles of Quraysh were among them, and he enumerated their names: “`Utba, Shayba, Umayya, Abu Jahl, Nabih, Naufal, al-Harith bin `Amir, Munabbih, Suhayl…” and others he mentioned. Thereupon the Prophet ﷺ turned to his companions and said, “Mecca has thrown to you choice pieces of its liver!”

The companions said, “Oh Prophet of Allah ﷺ, they have not reached the wells of Badr yet, it is best we get there first.” The Prophet ﷺ agreed and they stopped up the wells and built a cistern so that they would have plenty of water, and the enemy would have none. The next day the two armies came face to face. Abu Jahl saw that the Muslims were much fewer than they and he spoke derisively in their face: “If it is true what Muhammad says, then we are out to fight the God of the heavens. But only he who fights against me, is then fighting the God of the heavens!”

One man from the tribe of the Bani Makhzum who was allied with Abu Jahl stepped forth and said, “I swear to God that I will drink from their cistern or destroy it or die beside it!” With these words he made for the cistern. Hamza drew his sword to prevent him, and he cut off his foot and half his leg as he was near the cistern. The man fell onto the ground, but continued crawling towards the cistern and threw himself in it, with the purpose of fulfilling his oath. Hamza followed him and smote him in the cistern so that he died there. After this, the unbelievers asked for water to drink from the cistern, which was now contaminated with blood, and the Muslims were disinclined to give it to them. But the Holy Prophet ﷺ said to them, “Let them drink, do not prevent them.”

They drank, and every man who drank of it on that day was killed in battle, but for one. The next day the troops were arrayed and stood facing each other. Abu Jahl prayed, “Oh Lord,” he said, “Thy help be with him whom You love best.” Immediately this verse was revealed:

If victory you are seeking, victory has already come upon you; and if you give over, it is better for you. But if you return, We shall return, and your host will avail you nothing though it be numerous; and that God is with the believers. (The Spoils, 19)

At that time the Muslim army had no tents. Sa’d bin Mu’adh made a shelter for the Holy Prophet from palm fronds, saying, “Oh Prophet of Allah ﷺ, remain here in the shadow of these branches while we go out and meet the enemy.” The Holy Prophet ﷺ entered the shelter they had made for him and prostrated himself in the dust, praying, “Oh Lord, grant us Thy Help which Thou hast promised to us!” Then he stepped outside the shelter and took a branch or an arrow and with it dressed the ranks of the Muslim soldiery.

From the pagan army `Utba bin Rabi’a, Shayba bin Rabi’a and his son Walid stood up and challenged the Muslims to battle. Abdullah bin Rawaha, ‘Auf bin Harith and Mu’adh of the Ansar went out to meet them. Seeing them, `Utba said to them, “We have no business with you. We wish for an encounter with our equals.” Thereupon the Prophet ﷺ sent out Ali ibn Abi Talib, ‘Ubayda bin Harith and Hamza ibn Abdul Muttalib to fight them. They attacked each other, and Hamza slew Shayba, while Ali slew Walid in the first onslaught. Only `Utba struck ‘Ubayda such a blow that his leg was cut off and the marrow was oozing out. Ali and Hamza came to his aid and struck `Utba to his death. Then they brought ‘Ubayda into the Presence of the Prophet ﷺ. He looked at his leg, and said to him, “Good fortune to you, ‘Ubayda, for you are presently to enter Paradise. ‘Ubayda replied, “In me is realized the word of Abu Talib which he spoke when he said, ‘We will not give him up till we lie dead around him, and be unmindful of our women and children.’”

Then the battle began in earnest with an arrow from Quraysh mortally wounding Mihja’, a freedman of ‘Umar. Harith bin Suraqa was pierced in the throat by another arrow while he was drinking and fell a martyr. The Holy Prophet ﷺ entered the shelter of the hut they had built for him and placing his face in the dust prayed fervently to Allah, “Oh my Lord, we have relied on Thy promise, do send us Thy support!” The angel Jibra’il then descended with one thousand angels and announced to the Holy Prophet ﷺ, “Oh Muhammad ﷺ, Allah Almighty has sent you peace and victory,” and he recited to him the following verse:

When you were calling upon your Lord for succor, and He answered you, ‘I shall reinforce you with a thousand angels riding behind you.’ (The Spoils, 9)

The angels stood arranged in rows, and each one of them held in his hand a spear with which they smote the heads and necks of the unbelievers. The following verse tells of this:

When thy Lord was revealing to the angels, I am with you; so confirm the believers. I shall cast into the unbelievers’ hearts terror; so smite above the necks, and smite every finger of them!’ (The Spoils, 12)

Then the Holy Prophet ﷺ took up a handful of dust and hurled it at the faces of the unbelievers. Allah made a wind spring up at that moment that carried the dust into the eyes of the idolaters, so that they were momentarily blinded and could not see. They perished instantly when struck by the angelic swords. When the Muslims saw the enemy fall under unseen blows, they realized that there was another force at work here besides their own efforts at war. As it is written in the Holy Quran:

You did not slay them, but God slew them; and when thou threwest, it was not thyself that threw, but God threw, and that He might confer on the believers a fair benefit; surely God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (The Spoils, 17)

In this way the unbelievers were routed. Among them were some men of the Bani Hashim who had been forced to join in this campaign, such as ‘Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib, ‘Aqil ibn Abi Talib, Abul-Bakhtari and others. The Holy Prophet ﷺ had given orders not to kill them, but to give no quarter to Abu Jahl if they encountered him. The Prophet ﷺ retreated into the shade of the shelter and began to pray and give his thanks. The Muslims went after the fleeing enemy. A Muslim by the name of Abu Yasir recognized ‘Abbas and called out to him, “Muhammad ﷺ told us not to kill you,” and tied his hands. ‘Abbas had twenty dinars in his belt, these he gave to Abu Yasir. Together they went to the presence of the Holy Prophet ﷺ. Mujadhdhar bin Ziyad came across Abul-Bakhtari and called to him, “The Holy Prophet ﷺ wishes for you not to be killed.” Abul-Bakhtari pointed to the friend at his side and said, “Then refrain also from killing my friend.” This Mujadhdhar could not accept, and so a fight between them began in which Mujadhdhar slew them both. The Holy Prophet ﷺ was very grieved when he learned of the death of Abul-Bakhtari, and Mujadhdhar fell down and begged his forgiveness, kissing his hands and feet.

Mu’adh bin ‘Amr of the Ansar had sworn he would kill Abu Jahl. He looked out for him and espied him astride his horse. With one sweep of his sword he cut off his leg so that he fell underneath his horse. Abu Jahl’s son Ikrima then came and wounded Mu’adh on his hand and arm, so that his arm was swinging loosely at his side, held only by a piece of skin. He continued to fight in this condition until the pain became intolerable, and he cut it off by standing on it with his foot. Then he continued to fight.

Searching among the dead, Abdullah bin Mas’ud saw Abu Jahl. He recognized him and went and sat upon his chest. Abu Jahl opened his eyes once more and recognized him, saying, “You have climbed high, you little shepherd.” Abdullah bin Mas’ud replied, “Praise be to that King who has put you to shame,” and with that he cut off his head and the Holy Prophet ﷺ gave thanks to Allah Almighty. According to one narration, Abdullah bin Mas’ud invited him to Islam before he killed him. Abu Jahl’s answer was only, “Go and tell your prophet that as much rancor as I have held against him thus far, I shall hold against him even more from now on.” When these words were reported to the Holy Prophet ﷺ he commented, “The Pharaoh I have had to deal with was much worse than the Pharaoh of Musa; for when Musa’s Pharoah was on the verge of drowning, he accepted the God of Musa and the Bani Isra’il, whereas this one increased a thousand fold in his disbelief.”

At nightfall all the soldiers returned to camp. There was a dried-up well at the entrance to Badr, and the Holy Prophet ﷺ had the corpses of the unbelievers piled into this well. As they threw them into the pit, the Holy Prophet ﷺ stood beside it and said, “Oh people of the pit! You were an evil kinsfolk to your Prophet. You called me a liar and expelled me from your city. Have you found that what Allah promised you is true? I have found that what my Lord promised me is true.” The Muslims said, “Oh Prophet of Allah ﷺ, are you calling to the dead bodies?” The Holy Prophet Z answered them, “They hear as well as you do, but they cannot answer me.”

There is a disagreement as to how many died at Badr. Some narrations say there were forty-five dead and some say there were seventy-two dead. There is no doubt about the number of dead among the Muslims: six of the Muhajirin and eight from among the Ansar: fourteen in all.

After the battle was over, disputes arose as to the division of the spoils. One group said, “Whatever we find is ours,” while another group was of the opinion that everything should be brought before the Holy Prophet ﷺ and they would wait to see what was his command. Promptly a verse was revealed concerning this:

They will question you concerning the spoils. Say: ‘The spoils belong to God and the Messenger; so fear you God, and set things right between you, and obey you God and His Messenger, if you are believers.(The Spoils, 1)

The spoils were then all collected in one place and Abdullah bin Ka’b was set to guard over them.

The next day the Holy Prophet ﷺ sent Zayd bin Harith back to Madinah to give the news of the victory and the slaying of Abu Jahl. He met ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan coming back from the cemetery. His wife, the Prophet’s own daughter Ruqiyya, had been very ill when they went out to Badr, and ‘Uthman had been ordered to stay at her side. She had died that day and they had buried her. Zayd gave him the news of Abu Jahl’s defeat, and ‘Uthman’s heart was gladdened in spite of his grief, as were the hearts of the townspeople of Madinah.

Some of the defeated Meccan soldiers made their way back to Mecca. The first to get there was al-Haysuman bin Abdullah. When he was asked for news, he told of all the nobles who had been killed in the battle. Safwan bin Umayya was sitting in a corner, and when he heard the names of the Qurayshi chiefs, he spoke up and said, “This fellow must be mad! Ask him about me!” They said to Haysuman: “What about Safwan bin Umayya?” “Are you jesting with me?” he said, “He is sitting here in the corner of the temple, but I saw his father and brother as they were being killed.” Speaking these words he began to weep, and they realized that he was indeed telling the truth. Abu Lahab was ill that day, and when he received this bad news, his state worsened and the next day he was dead. No one could approach his blackened and swollen corpse. When his son `Utba came and saw his father’s condition, he pulled down the whole house and buried his father within it.

The Holy Prophet ﷺ gathered all the companions and asked them their opinions about the distribution of the spoils. ‘Umar said, “The prisoners should be killed and their possessions burnt, for they are filth and evil.” But the Holy Prophet ﷺ was not pleased with these words. Abu Bakr said, “These prisoners are our relatives. Allah Almighty gave us victory over them. Let the prisoners pay ransom for themselves, and let their belongings be distributed among the companions.” The Holy Prophet ﷺ agreed with this opinion, and said, “Be patient and let us see what Allah Almighty commands us to do.”

According to the law of previous nations, the spoils of war were not lawful and had to be burnt or buried. Before the time of our Prophet ﷺ none of the spoils taken from an enemy were lawful to the victor. But in the time of our Prophet ﷺ the spoils of war were made lawful to the Muslims.

Before long this holy verse of the Quran was revealed:

It is not fitting for any Prophet to take prisoners of war until he has subdued the (uprising in the) land. You desire the chance goods in the present world, and God desires the world to come; and God is All-Mighty, All-Wise. Had it not been for a prior prescription from God, there had afflicted you for what you took, a mighty chastisement. Eat of what you have taken as booty, such as is lawful and good, and fear you God; surely God is All-Forgiving and All-Compassionate. (The Spoils, 67-69)

The next day the Prophet ﷺ together with the bulk of soldiers departed for Madinah. The stopped and halted at a certain distance from the city. There the captives were presented to the Holy Prophet ﷺ. ‘Uqba bin Abi Mu’ayt was among those Meccans who had spat in the Prophet’s face. The Prophet ﷺ said to Asim ibn Thabit, “Go and make true my pledge.” ‘Uqba said, “Oh Muhammad, if I am to die, who will look after my children?” The Prophet ﷺ answered, “Hell!” Then he was put to death.

After that he ordered Ali to strike the neck of al-Nadr bin Harith, for he was that person of whom Allah says in the Holy Book:

And when they say, “Oh God, if this be indeed the truth from Thee, then rain down upon us stones out of Heaven, or bring us a painful chastisement.” (The Spoils, 32)

When they came to Madinah the captives entered with their hands shackled. Sauda, the Prophet’s wife saw them and exclaimed, “Why did they not fight like their forebears and die a noble death?” The Holy Prophet ﷺ happened to hear these words and was unsettled by them. He said by manner of reproof, “Oh Sauda, are you trying to raise trouble against Allah and His Messenger?” Sauda immediately repented of her words and quickly went over to Aisha, just as the Holy Prophet ﷺ was entering her room. She said, “I am an old woman, but I do wish to remain in the Prophet’s wedlock until the Last Day. Please help me in this matter.” The Holy Prophet ﷺ then forgave her.

The Holy Prophet ﷺ did not ransom the captives but waited for their Meccan relatives to come and pay their ransom. Abu Sufyan meanwhile advised his fellow Meccans, “Wait before you ransom the prisoners, for Muhammad is asking a very high price. I had two sons, one of them, Hanzala, became Muslim and was slain; the other, ‘Amr, is their prisoner. Still I am waiting, and I counsel you to wait as well.” But nobody listened to him. The son of Abu Wada’ could not wait and he went to ransom his father and returned with him to Mecca. Then the other Meccans began to pay the ransom for their near and dear ones. The Holy Prophet’s ﷺ uncle ‘Abbas was also taken prisoner in the battle.