The Battle of Hunayn


Oh Traveler on the Road to Truth! Following the conquest of Mecca, the tribes of Arabia entered Islam in great numbers.
When comes the help of God and victory, and thou seest men entering God’s religion in throngs. (Surat an-Nasr, Help: 1, 2)
The Companions of the Prophet ﷺ were overjoyed at the rapid development of Islam, as described in the above-mentioned holy verse. Only Abu Bakr was beset by sadness and took to weeping. When asked the reason for his grief, he answered, “A time will come when the very opposite of this verse will be manifested. Just as people are now streaming into the fold of Islam, a day will come that will see men running away from the religion of Islam in masses.”
The Holy Prophet ﷺ himself said in a Hadith: “A time will come when a man will live as a Muslim from morning to evening, and from evening to morning he will live as an infidel.”
Oh Lord! As You have brought us into this world as Muslims, grant us to leave this world again as Muslims.
After the conquest of Mecca, the clans and tribes that had sided with the Quraysh now inclined towards Islam and the number of Muslims greatly increased. Only the tribe of the Hawazin persisted in enmity and decided to make war against the Prophet ﷺ. They allied themselves in this endeavor with the Bani Thaqif. It was very disagreeable for these two warlike tribes to witness the daily increase of the Muslim numbers, and their jealousy robbed them of rest. For over a year the Hawazin had been trying to incite the Arabs to rise up and fight against the Muslims. In the end, all the tribes allied with the Hawazin and the Bani Thaqif agreed to unite in the valley of Hunayn, which lies between Ta’if and Mecca. The only tribesmen not to participate in this alliance were the clans of the Bani Ka’b and the Bani Kilab.
Malik bin ‘Awf was appointed as the supreme commander of the Hawazin. He took all the women and children of the tribe along to the army’s encampment. They also took along a very old man named Durayd bin al-Simma, who was experienced in all aspects of warfare and exceedingly clever. Some say he was over one hundred and twenty years old, while others claim that he was as old as one hundred and sixty years of age. Allah knows best. In order to profit from his skill and wisdom, they carried him along to the battlefield in a sort of howdah.
When they came to the spot, which is named Awtas, Durayd said, “This is a very suitable place for a battle, as the ground is neither too hard nor too soft.” When he heard the sounds of women and children, he asked, “What have you brought them along for?” Malik, the chief commander, answered, “We brought them along so that the soldiers would have no reason to look back, nothing to distract them, and that under no circumstances would they think of running back home.” To this Durayd replied, “Take heed! If a soldier is driven to flight, there is absolutely nothing that will stop him. Should retreat indeed become expedient, their dishonor will be even greater because of the presence of their women. Apart from that, have the clans of the Bani Ka’b and the Bani Kilab joined in the alliance?” Hearing that they had not, he continued, “Had this day been a day of honor, they would have participated in this battle.”
These words displeased the commander-in-chief, Malik, so that he said to the ancient sage, “Your words are the result of your great age and infirmity.” “Mark my words all the same, for I speak from my vast stores of experience. If all goes well, nothing will help you but men who are able to use the lance and the sword. But if defeat and misfortune are to be your lot, you would only be further disgraced and publicly scorned with your wives and families at your side.”
The army of the Hawazin comprised twenty thousand fighters. Hearing of such a great force assembled against him, the Holy Prophet ﷺ instantly made preparations for war. He sent out Abdullah al-Aslami in disguise as a spy to the enemy camp in order to achieve full reconnaissance of the situation and the strength of the enemy. He scouted out what was needful to know and the Prophet ﷺ ordered preparations to proceed accordingly.
A defensive strategy against the enemy needed to be devised, and money had to be borrowed. Thirty thousand dirhams were borrowed from Abu Jahl’s foster-brother Abdullah bin Rabi’. Arms were to be procured, and Safwan bin Umayya was asked to supply them from his armory. However, he had still not become a Muslim, so he asked, “Do you wish to take them from me by force?” “No,” replied the Holy Prophet ﷺ, “I ask them from you on loan and they shall be returned. In case of damage they shall be replaced.” Safwan then agreed to the deal and loaned the Holy Prophet ﷺ three hundred suits of armor and sufficient arms to go with them. Nawfal bin Harith bin Abd ul-Muttalib donated three hundred lances and spears. So the Prophet ﷺ completed his preparations. He left ‘Attab bin Asid and Mu’adh bin Jabal in charge of Mecca; Mu’adh was responsible for religious affairs, whereas ‘Attab took over the governing of the town, although he was only twenty years old at the time.
On the seventh day of the month of Shawwal in the eighth year of the Hijra, the Holy Prophet ﷺ set out from Mecca towards Hunayn with an army of over twelve thousand soldiers, astride his mule Duldul. The army consisted of one thousand men of the Muhajirin, four thousand of the Ansar, five thousand of the tribes of Juhayna, Muzayna, the Bani Sabur, Aslam, Ghifar and Ashja’, and two thousand men from the people of Mecca. Among these there were some non-Muslim idolaters, such as Safwan bin Umayya.
On the eleventh of Shawwal, the Prophet ﷺ and his resplendent army reached the valley of Hunayn. So great and magnificent seemed their force that the commanders began to boast that surely such an army would never see defeat. But the Holy Prophet ﷺ warned them and said, “These words smack of unbelief.” As events were to show, the Muslims were at first faced with defeat, in spite of their sure expectations of victory. This is referred to in the Sura named ‘Repentance’:
God has already helped you on many fields, and on the day of Hunayn, when your multitude was pleasing to you, but it availed you naught, and the land for all its breadth was strait for you, and you turned about, retreating. Then God sent His Sakina down upon His Messenger and upon the believers, and He sent down legions you did not see, and He chastised the unbelievers and that is the recompense of the unbelievers. (Repentance: 25)
The Muslims were overly sure of their victory and fell into the error of over-reliance on their own devices. Therefore the Holy Prophet ﷺ warned them that all power and might to change things lies in the hands of Allah Almighty alone.
The front lines of the Muslim army were made up of young men from Mecca under the command of Khalid ibn al-Walid. Trusting in the pride and strength of their youth, they had declined to gird themselves with the armor provided for them. This was one of the reasons for the rout, the other being the two thousand non-Muslims who marched with the Muslim army.
The enemy army had availed themselves of the stronger positions, and the Muslim army could not advance for the hail of arrows. It was the hour before the break of dawn. The Imam of Prophets ﷺ, set forth the battle strategy to the Muslim soldiers and distributed the banners. One was given to Ali ibn Abi Talib, one to ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab and one to Hubab ibn al-Mundhir. The fighting began and Hawazin lay in wait. The company of Khalid ibn al-Walid encountered a rain of arrows and fell into disarray. Line upon line, the Muslim fighters began to waver, and twelve thousand fighters were forced to retreat.
No more than a handful of his closest companions remained to surround the Holy Prophet ﷺ. A disaster was in the making. Those who had only recently entered Islam were shaken in their faith. Abu Sufyan, the father of the famous Mu’awiya said, “Their flight will not be halted before they get to the sea.” Jabala ibn al-Hanbal who was a brother of Safwan cried out, “Today the sorcery of Muhammad ﷺ has been foiled,” and he rejoiced in this. Safwan had not yet become Muslim, but all the same he scolded his mother’s son, saying, “Shut up! May Allah cause your tongue to falter! For it is better to be ruled by a man of the Quraysh, whoever he may be, than by a man of Hawazin!”
Everyone was in a state of great perturbation except the Holy Prophet ﷺ. There came a moment when he wished to remain all alone on the scene of battle with the forces evoked through the powers of his faith. He expressed his wish to Ali, ‘Abbas, ‘Umar, Abu Bakr and Usama, and told them to leave off guarding him and to go and fight against the enemy. The Holy Prophet ﷺ was now left all alone to face the attacking warriors of the unbelievers’ armies.
Heaven and earth remained speechless and the Throne trembled at this spectacle.
Oh Seeker of the Way to Truth! Just try to fathom the depth of this matter: the Eternal Pride of all Humankind, the Holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ now faced not only one tribe, or one nation, not even a single world, but the whole universe, the entire creation. In facing his foe and addressing him with the whole Majesty of his Prophethood, his steadfast courage, his close communication with the Lord Almighty, and his perfect reliance on Allah became apparent. These were his words, “Here I am, Servant and Prophet of the Lord Allah. I am the Prophet from the lineage of Abdul-Muttalib. Why do you hesitate, go ahead and charge! Empty your quivers, hurl your spears! Aim all that you have at me I challenge you now!”
Then he called for ‘Abbas. ‘Abbas had a strong voice, so that everyone present heard him answer, “At your service, oh my Prophet ﷺ!” The Prophet ﷺ commanded him to call together the Muhajirin and Ansar immediately. So ‘Abbas called out with a loud and ringing voice, “Oh you Ansar and People of the Tree, come and gather here!” No sooner had he voiced this command than they all rallied round their leader, crying, “Labbayk,” as if with one great voice. Those who could not ride up on their horses dismounted and came running swiftly on foot. The followers of Muhammad ﷺ were assured of victory.
The Prophet ﷺ then prayed, “Oh my Lord, make true Your promise to me!” Thereupon, an invisible army manifested itself, though none could perceive it. Before the Holy Prophet ﷺ gave the command for the assault, he took up a handful of dirt in his hand and threw it in the direction of the unbelievers’ army, saying, “May their faces be blackened!” Then the Muslims proceeded to the attack and they fiercely drove into the enemy ranks. The soldiers of the Hawazin responded in kind and a pitched battle took place. Ali countered these onslaughts with his customary bravery and slew the standard-bearer of the Hawazin. The Prophet ﷺ commented, “Now the oven is hot.”
The unbelievers were badly routed and began to retreat in chaos. They managed to regroup their forces at Ta’if and Awtas. At Awtas, Durayd had gathered together a few thousand fighters, intending to engage in battle with the Muslims once more. The Holy Prophet ﷺ sent out Abu Amir al-Ash’ari against him. Abu Amir was slain by the son of Durayd ibn al-Simma and the Muslim banner was taken from his hands. At this point Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, Abu Amir’s cousin, joined the fray and rescued the standard. Rabi’ bin Rufay’ then charged against Durayd and killed him. As he lay dying, he said to his killer, “Tell your mother that it was you who killed me.” When Rabi’ later told this to his mother, she said, “By Allah, Durayd set free three women related to you.”
A great number of prisoners fell into Muslim hands. Among them was the Holy Prophet’s ﷺ foster-sister Shayma. As she was taken prisoner, she said to her captors, “Take me to my brother.” Asked whom she meant by this, she replied, “Muhammad ﷺ is my milk-brother.” Immediately they brought her into the Prophet’s ﷺ presence. When he saw and recognized his foster-sister, his eyes filled with tears. He rose from his seat, took off his cloak and laid it on the ground for his sister to sit on. They remained seated together in conversation for a long time. Then he made her a present of many camels and other gifts and honored her with hospitality. The Prophet ﷺ loved his foster-sister Shayma very much. Their wet-nurse Halima as-Sa’adia used to say, “When Muhammad ﷺ was a small child, he never used to suck from my left breast. Whenever I wanted to give him the left breast, he would point to his foster-sister Shayma and make signs as if to say, “That one is rightfully hers to drink.” Oh Lord, grant us his intercession. Amin.
Those who had escaped rallied their forces and tried their luck one more time at Ta’if, which was a well-fortified city. The people of Ta’if joined forces with the remnants of the army that had suffered defeat at Hunayn. They reinforced the city’s defenses and laid up stores that would last them through a long siege.
The Holy Prophet ﷺ ordered that the prisoners taken at Hunayn and their property be brought to al-Ji’rana and kept there while he proceeded towards Ta’if. Khalid ibn al-Walid had preceded him and laid siege to the city. Four days into the siege they brought and installed an engine of war with which to hurl rocks to break through the fortress walls, if all else were to fail. The siege lasted for another twenty days. Then the Prophet ﷺ took counsel with his Companions and asked them for their opinions on what should be done. Nawfal answered, “Oh Prophet of Allah! The fox is hunted down in his den. We need not follow them into it, for eventually they will be compelled to emerge. If we just leave it as it is, no harm will come from it, but the ultimate decision is yours.” The Prophet ﷺ however, whose only aim was the defense of the Muslims, did not wish to pursue any aggressive action and therefore discontinued the siege.
Some of the Prophet’s ﷺ friends and companions wished that he might curse them, but the Holy Prophet ﷺ, the Mercy to all the World, said, “I have been sent to bring guidance to mankind; therefore, I will pray on their behalf, that guidance may reach them as well.” And he raised his hands in supplication.
The Division of the Spoils
The Prophet ﷺ returned to al-Ji’rana where all the prisoners of war were kept. There was also an enormous pile of booty. In all, there were six-thousand prisoners, four-thousand okes of gold and silver, twenty-four thousand camels, and forty thousand goats and sheep.
The Holy Prophet ﷺ, the Mercy for all the World, waited for a long while for the relatives of the prisoners to come and ransom them, but not a single person came. The spoils were divided into five parts, four of which were given to the deserving warriors. One fifth was placed in the Bayt-al-Mal (public treasury) which provided for the poor and destitute.
Many of the chiefs of Mecca made a show of having accepted Islam, but they were in reality very uncertain of their new faith. When they saw the scales of destiny tipping in the direction of Islam, most of them had declared their faith in order to secure their positions of worldly power. But still they could not rid themselves of their doubts and remained of two minds about the new arrangement. In the language of the Holy Quran they are referred to as the ‘mu’allaf al-qulub’, that is to say, those whose hearts were reconciled with Islam by means of material advantages. “Islam will make us rich,” they said to themselves, and therefore did not oppose Islam.
This custom continued up until the time of ‘Umar. During his Khalifate, he decreed, “The light of Islam has now flooded the four corners of the earth; and there is no believer left who will renounce his faith at the suggestion of any two-faced person,” therewith abolishing this procedure.
The ‘mu’allaf al-qulub’ comprised twenty-nine people. At their head was the principle commander of the unbelievers, the famous Abu Sufyan and his no less famous son Mu’awiya, who bore the nickname of being one of the ‘duhat al-arba’a’, i.e. one of the four exceedingly clever men. The Lord’s Beloved ﷺ gave the most valuable items from among the spoils to these men, which became known as ‘muallaf al-qulub’. Abu Sufyan and his family were given three hundred camels, and one hundred and twenty okes of silver. Hakim bin Hizam received two hundred camels; Madr ibn al-Harith ibn Kalada al-Thaqafi received one hundred camels; Qays bin ‘Adiyya received a hundred camels; Safwan bin Umayya got one hundred camels; Huwaytib bin Abd ul-‘Uzza, al-Aqra bin Habis, ‘Uyayna bin Hisin, Malik bin ‘Awf received one hundred camels each. Apart from these, numerous people received fifty camels each.
The soldiers were each given four camels and forty sheep; the horsemen among them were given twelve camels each, as well as one hundred and twenty goats each.
Oh Traveler on the Road to Truth! This you must know: as long as man has not sampled the taste of true faith, and not reached the station of Love, he cannot easily be freed of his material bonds. He attains to full abandonment only after he has been cleansed in the fires of Love. Moreover, the desire for high rank and dignity does not easily depart from a man.
Those who benefited most from the distribution of booty were the Meccans and those who had recently entered Islam.
Because of this there was some talk and grumbling among the Ansar. Some of them spoke, “Our blood has not yet dried on the swords of the Quraysh who fought against us, thirsting for our lifeblood and eager to destroy the religion of Islam. And although it was us who were stalwart in facing the worst dangers during the most difficult days, others are to reap the rewards of our efforts now that the days of leisure have come.”
The Holy Prophet ﷺ, the most enlightened soul in the entire universe, sensed their bitter complaints with his fine sense of mercy and compassion. He called to him one of the leaders of the Ansar, Sa’d bin ‘Ubada and asked him if it was true that such words were being bandied about among his companions. Sa’d answered, “Allah and His Prophet ﷺ know best; none of the senior companions have said anything of what is reported. But I too have heard that among the younger folk some have fallen to the influence of the hypocrites, who indeed have voiced such feelings. I appeal to your clemency and intercession on their behalf, and would ask pardon for them.” The Prophet ﷺ then ordered Sa’d bin ‘Ubada to call a meeting of the Ansar. When they had all assembled, the Holy Prophet ﷺ gave a khutba of great eloquence in which he said, “Oh People of the Ansar! Is it not true that you were on the road of error before this time and that Allah made you reach to right guidance through my mediation? While you were engulfed in discord and strife and killing each other in lawless brigandry, did Allah Almighty not unite your hearts through my mediation? Did Allah in His Grace and Goodness not show you a road out of your hapless poverty, and lead you on the road I was honored to show you, into a life of prosperity and comfort? Have you not found contentment and felicity?”
Oh Traveler on the Road to Truth! As the Holy Prophet ﷺ delivered this speech, the Ansar fain would have swooned under its impact, and the tears flowed freely from their eyes. They replied, “Yea, oh our Prophet ﷺ, it is from the Almighty’s eternal favor and thanks to the Holy Prophet’s ﷺ intercession that all goodness has come to us.” The Holy Prophet ﷺ then continued, “This is not the answer I expected from you. You ought to have said instead: ‘Oh Muhammad ﷺ, we believed in you at a time when everyone else rejected you and called you a liar; we opened our arms for you and our hearts. When you were an outcast, and destitute, we gave you protection. You came to us as a poor man, and we looked after you and gave you our support.’ If that had been your speech, then you would have spoken truly and I would confirm all your words.”
This address fell upon the hearts of the Ansar like fire, and each one of them sobbed aloud and shed many tears. The Holy. Prophet ﷺ was moved with compassion and his eyes also brimmed with tears. A great silence fell upon the assembly. After a pause, the Prophet ﷺ continued to address the gathering of Ansar. “Oh you people of the Ansar!” he began, “Other than you will carry off the sheep and goats and camels that we have given them. As for you, you will take back with you Muhammad ﷺ, the Prophet of Allah to his home. Now I ask you, do you want me or is it sheep and goats that you wish for? What is better for you: to return to your hometown with me, or to return enriched in worldly goods and gain?”
None of those assembled had the strength even to breathe when he had finished his speech. The young people who had been complaining shed tears of remorse, whereas those who burned with love for the Prophet ﷺ wept for having caused pain to their beloved Prophet ﷺ. When at last they spoke, their voices trembled, “Oh Rasulullah ﷺ! Forgive us, for it is only yesterday that you saved us from the Days of Ignorance we were caught up in; forgive us, do not tax us for our failings. It is you we want, and all we desire.”
The Holy Prophet ﷺ then said, “Oh you of the Ansar! Know that if I were given the choice among the people, I would always choose the Ansar. For the Ansar are as the inner layer of my clothing, whereas all other folk are as my outer clothing. After my time is done, you will be overtaken by strife and discord, and exposed to the hurt of the sword. Until we meet again, be patient, don’t give up, and do not abandon the cause of Allah. For the sake of Allah and His Truth, you must be prepared to face all manner of hardship.”
The Holy Prophet ﷺ hereby indicated that among those referred to as the ‘mu’allif al-qulub’ there were such that would use religion as a means for pursuing their own political goals; who would, in the name and under the cover of religion perform every sort of cruelty.
All of the Ansar called out with one voice, “We are well content with our Prophet ﷺ!” and they wept copiously. They were very moved by the gracious words this great Prophet of the Lord ﷺ spoke to them. The Holy Prophet ﷺ then lifted his hands and made supplication for the Ansar and their families and descendants, and such was his du’a that it would have made even angels weep.
The chiefs of the Hawazin then came to al-Ji’rana and made their declaration of faith in the unity of Allah. The Holy Prophet’s ﷺ wet-nurse Halima as-Sa’adia was of the Bani Sa’d who were related to Hawazin. The leader of this delegation, Zuhayr Abu Surad then addressed himself to the Holy Prophet, saying, “We ask for the return of the captives. Among the women are the sisters and relatives of your wet-nurse Halima. It is therefore that we are so bold as to speak to you about the return of our families and children.” The Holy Prophet ﷺ gave them this reply, “I leave to you all the prisoners given to the clan of Abd ul-Muttalib, that is to say, all those belonging to the house of Hashim. I set them free. As for the others, you must come again at the time of prayer and make your request of the Muslim Jama’at. Hopefully, they too will agree to set free their prisoners.”
The time for prayer came, and the delegates put forth their petition to the assembly of Muslims, just as they had done to the Holy Prophet ﷺ. The Holy Prophet ﷺ assisted them in their plea, saying, “I have set free all the prisoners belonging to my own family, and I recommend that you too set free the prisoners belonging to you.” All the Sahaba of the Ansar and Muhajirin and other tribes then followed the example of the Prophet ﷺ and freed the prisoners that were in their hands. In that way, six thousand people were set free all at once.
In consequence, Malik bin ‘Awf of the Hawazin tribe, who had for a whole year been doing his utmost to damage the Muslims, accepted right guidance and entered into the fold of Islam.
In the course of this year, the eighth year of the Hijra, Marya, the Coptic bondmaid of the Holy Prophet ﷺ gave birth to a son who was named Ibrahim. He remained in this world for only eighteen months, before he was taken to the next world. His father, the Holy Prophet ﷺ, placed him in his grave with his own hands while the tears were streaming down his face. “The Holy Prophet ﷺ is weeping,” his friends thought, and in answer to their unspoken thoughts, the Holy Prophet ﷺ replied, “These tears are a rain of mercy.”
That same day, the sun was eclipsed. The Arabs saw the eclipse as bearing relation to the death of the Prophet’s son Ibrahim, and they said, “Even the sun shares in the grief of our Prophet ﷺ.” Hearing of their words, the Prophet ﷺ called for all the Muslims to gather and addressed them, saying, “The sun and the moon are both signs of Allah, as it is written:
and of His signs are the night and the day, the sun and the moon. Bow not yourselves to the sun and moon... (Distinguished, 36)
“They do not move in accordance to the birth or death of any individual, but only to the will of Allah who created them.” Then he led the congregation in the prayer of the eclipse (Salat al-Kusuf).
Some people have a wrong understanding of this prayer, thinking that it is the purpose of this prayer to remove the eclipse of the sun or moon. Some even say, “Scientific discovery has advanced so much since those days that we are now able to predict the occurrence of an eclipse long in advance of the event; what need is there for prayer in this case?” Just as every prayer has its time, the time for the prayer of the eclipse is just that, the event of an eclipse. Therefore, these prayers are to be prayed at exactly those moments.
[Excerpted from Muhammad: Messenger of Islam by Hajjah Amina Adil]

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