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the safety of the caravan reached them ; and he (it is
said) left it to the Helpers to decide ; justly acknow-
ledging that the contract which they had made by
no means bound the Helpers to aid him in aggres-
sive warfare. The Helpers were, however, eager for
battle — perhaps doubting whether the caravan had
got into safety after all. There is, however, a story
that Mohammed sent Omar to offer the blood-money
for 'Amr the Hadramite : which his brother 'Amir,
at Abu Jahl's instigation, refused. The story is
told with details which give it some plausibility :
'Amir is said to have practised the peculiar rites by
which the demand for blood was enforced. Such an
act may perhaps be alluded to in the pride and osten-
tation with which Mohammed in his comments on
the battle charges the Meccans, while he rather im-
plies that the Moslems were not anxious for battle.
After the victory it was natural that the latter should
represent themselves to have been eager to fight from
the commencement.

Experience has shown that the military career can, ,
more than any other, be started successfully late in
life ; but if Mohammed, entering his first battle as
commander at the age of fifty three, succeeded be-
yond all hope, the result must be attributed to his
readiness to receive suggestions. The help of the
angels or other supernatural agencies was gratefully
acknowledged ex post facto, but for the attainment
of the end much mor commonplace expedients were

258 Mohammed

adopted. Hubab,* son of Al-Mundhir, the Prophet's
junior by twenty years, having ascertained that they
were engaged in ordinary warfare, and possessing a
special knowledge of the wells in the neighbourhood,
advised the Prophet to get in front of all, except
one, round which they should make a reservoir, so
as to have a constant supply of water for the troops :
the possession of this valuable element would then
save the day. The Prophet welcomed the suggestion
and placed his force under Hubab's guidance. One
Meccan is said to have rushed at the reservoir, and
to have paid for a drink with his life ; but when a
number of the enemy approached they were allowed
to drink unmolested — in accordance with a principle
laid down in Persian treatises on tactics, f

Of the battle that followed we have no clear or
detailed account : but we know at least some of the
factors which brought about the result. The dis-
cipline of the salat or " prayer," in which the Mos-
lems were arranged in rows, and had to perform
after a leader certain bodily exercises, % and falling
out of line was threatened with divine punishment, §
had served as a rough sort of drill , and Mohammed
before the battle discharged the duty of making the
troops fall into line. The Meccan general, 'Utbah,
son of Rabiah, was struck with their appearance:
they were kneeling on their knees, silent as though
they were dumb, and stretching out their tongues

* Since Hubab was the name of a demon, it is strange that it was
not altered.

f ' Uyun al-Akhbar, 140, 12.
\Musnad, iv., 228.
%Ibid., iv.. 2T*

The Battle of Badr 259

like snakes.* They were all subject to the single will
of their Prophet, who was aware that the general
should not risk his life ; for him therefore in the rear
cf the army a hut was built, where, attended by his
most trusted counsellors, he could issue orders ; and
to which camels were tied ready to be used by the
leaders for flight in case of disaster. When the first
blood was shed the Prophet retired into his hut and
fainted ; when he had come to himself he devoted
the time to impassioned prayer, showing that he was
thoroughly alarmed, f The members of the cabinet,
who regarded these prayers as unseemly, remained
by their master in his hut, issuing orders when
necessary. The soldiers had probably been supplied
with armour by the Jews of Medinah, who could
judge well of such goods, though unskilful in using
them. The armour, when complete, covered the
whole person except the legs % ; the helmet was pro-
vided with a continuation for the throat §; thus the
holes for the eyes and the legs offered the most
promising places for blows.

Opposed to them was a horde of Arabs, far
superior in numbers (six hundred to three hundred),
and well provided with cavalry and camels ; but justi-
fying otherwise the reproaches levelled against the
Arabs in later days when foreign Moslems main-
tained that the Arabs were inferior to other races.
The Arabs, || they urged, were unacquainted with

*' Uyun al-Akhbar^ 135.
\ Muslim, ii., 55.
\ Wellhausen ( W.\ 153.
§ Wakidi(W.\ no.
I Jahiz, Bayan, ii., 5a


the rudiments of military science. They fought in
no order, with no leadership, with no suitable
weapons or attire, with no scouting, no artillery, and
no camp defence. Of the hundred or more techni-
cal terms which the warfare of Islam evolved, the
Arabs of the Ignorance had no knowledge. And in-
deed the Meccan leaders fell out before the battle ;
'Utbah, son of Rabi'ah, killing his colleague Abu
Jahl's horse. He then, in order to show his courage
before his rival, abandoned the duty of director of
operations, and demanded that a champion of the
enemy should meet him in single combat ; and in the
miniature combat between 'Utbah with two other
Meccans, and Ali with Hamzah and another, all
three Meccans were killed. One tradition speaks of
a Meccan leader having deserted in the middle of
the combat, and so having broken the line of fight-
ing men ; but the source of this statement appears
to be a rather too literal interpretation of the realistic
language of the Koran about Iblis or the devil. The
other general, Abu Jahl, being on foot, was forced to
fight and was killed. There being no recognised
leader left, the Meccans were seized with panic and
turned their backs, losing seventy slain and seventy
captives ; the Moslem loss was fourteen.

It certainly appears that the winning of this most
important fight was in the main due to the prowess
of Ali (who fought without armour to his back)* and
Hamzah. The Prophet is said to have bestowed
especial praise on the valour of Simak, son of Khara-
shah, Sahl, son of Hunaif, al-Harith, son of al-Simmah,

* 'Uyun al-Akkbar, 162, 18.

The Battle of Badr 261

and Kais, son of al-Rabi — all of them Medinese.*
The armour of Abu Jahl is said to have been worn
by three men in succession, each of whom perished
in single combat ; after the death of the third no one
was found willing to don it. For the greater part of
the day the Moslems remained in serried formations,
"fighting (or rather defending themselves) like a
wall," except when a champion went forward to
answer a challenge : of any sort of order or discipline
on the Meccan side we do not hear. The greater
number of deaths and captures seem to have taken
place late in the day, when the Meccans turned
their backs. What we cannot understand is how, if
any sort of purpose was to be found in the Mec-
can tactics, their cavalry failed to trample down the
enemy. Sprenger supposes that the cavalry was de-
terred by fear of the Moslem archery ; and their
attack on the square appears to have been re-
sisted. But with their superiority in numbers there
should have been no difficulty in outflanking, for
the accounts of the battle do not suggest that the
Mohammedan position was particularly strong. Mo-
hammed himself seems to have been puzzled by the
result, and to have on the whole regarded it as due
to an erroneous estimate of the forces on both sides.
The Meccans thought the Moslems twice as many
as they actually were, whereas the Moslems similarly
underestimated the Meccan force.f Mohammed's
statements on this matter are likely to be based
on accurate knowledge. At the next meeting the

*Isabah, iii., 491.

f Surah iii., 11, viii., 46.

262 Mohammed

victory of Uhud was rendered fruitless to the Mec-
cans by their erroneous supposition that Mohammed
had still an enormous force at his command. In the
Boer war grossly mistaken estimates of the forces in
action seem many times to have been made, and to
have been of influence on the course of the cam-
paign. The statement of the Koran forces us to
reject, as biographical fiction, the story that Mo-
hammed made before the battle an exact computa-
tion of the force arrayed against him based on their
daily consumption of camels; and that a Meccan
scout by inspection of the Moslem force was able to
estimate it exactly, and also to tell that it had no
reinforcements and no men in ambush. It is more
likely that the Meccans were firmly convinced that
Mohammed had an enormous reserve.

Mohammedan writers, arguing from a hint in the
Koran, further imagine that the heavy rain which
fell the night before the battle was of advantage to.
the Moslems, but the opposite to the Meccans.
They suppose that the rain by moistening the sand
rendered it firmer and better suited -to infantry —
perhaps taking the words of the Koran too literally.
And indeed the very recent writer who " went on the
track of the masked Tawariks " declares that the feet
of camels are useless when the ground is wet.
Further, they interpret the passage as meaning that
the Moslem forces actually slept the night before
the battle, and so came to the fight fresher than the
Meccans, who had kept awake, fearing a surprise,
and perhaps also doubting the fidelity of different
detachments after the loss of two by desertion. If

The Battle of Badr 263

the night was spent in this way by the armies, there
can be no doubt that Mohammed was correct when
he declared that each was quite mistaken in its esti-
mate of the numbers of the other.

Too much confidence must not, however, be placed
in the Prophet's statements. Thus he declared that
God had promised them (before the battle) one of
the two — either the caravan or the Meccan host ;
yet it appears that of the arrival of the latter Mo-
hammed had no knowledge till the day before the
battle, and the same messenger who brought news
of the arrival of the Meccan force, must also have
brought intelligence of the safety of the caravan.
Then to the Moslem prayer for help, he says, there
came an answer that a reinforcement of one thou-
sand angels, each with a back rider, would be sent.
Finally even these angels had to be encouraged by a
special promise of the divine assistance. We can-
not very well believe that the promise of the angels'
help was made till after the victory was won. Had
Mohammed known the size of the force opposed to
him, it is not probable that he would have fought ;
and he was too cautious to promise angelic assist-
ance when there was no chance of its arriving.
Once, however, the angels had been called in, it cost
nothing to multiply them ; and the next year the
angels who fought at Badr had grown to three thou-
sand.* But in the popular tradition the credit of the
battle was ascribed not to the angels, but the prowess
of the family of Abd al-Muttalib,f who years after

* Surah iii., 120.

f Jahiz, Mahasin, 140.

264 Mohammed

continued to fling it in the face of Abu Sufyan's

Discipline and steadfastness of purpose are said to
win battles, and it is clear that these qualities were
to be found on the Moslem side, not on the Meccan.
Mohammed, in getting his troops into line, is said to
have hurt one of his followers with his staff ; the in-
jured man, by way of obtaining amends, kissed his
leader's stomach. We have but to contrast this
scene with the unseemly brawls between the Meccan
leaders to understand one reason why the Meccans
failed. And further, there is evidence that the mo-
tive which worked wonders in so many Moslem
battle-fields helped largely too in this. Death in
the path of God was regarded by not a few of the
fighters as a better thing than victory. Overwrought
with desire for their gaudily painted paradise they
chafed at the chains which bound them to this
world : they flung themselves with rapture on the
enemy, whose swords formed so many keys to the
gates of the eternal kingdom. Well able to assist
by their counsels, and to impart strength and en-
durance, Al-Lat and Al-'Uzza had in store no Garden
of Delight, to be entered by the grave and gate of
death. Those who died in their service, if they did
not, as Mohammed declared, enter the Fire, yet at
best, according to their account, had a continuation
of their personality similar to that enjoyed by Mr.
Myers's discarnate spirits: the sovereign among
whom might be thought worse off than a poor slave
up above.

And finally early satirists of the Kuraish accuse

The Battle of Badr 265

them without hesitation of cowardice. As merchants
they had obtained some immunity from fighting, and
by putting some bark or other sign on themselves
when they left their houses, they could pass safely
where others would be challenged. The poet who
refers to this practice taunts the Kuraish with their
abandonment of the Ka'bah at the time of the in-
vasion \. and the unwillingness to shed blood and
readiness to leave the field which characterise their
actions till the taking of Meccah seem to show that
the poet was right in his estimate. *

But it is likely that the point on which Sir William f
Muir insists, the horror of shedding kindred blood
on the one side, with the desire to shed it which
prevailed on the other side, was after all the leading
factor in deciding the battle in favour of the Moslems.
The cases in which members of the same family were
ranged on opposite sides were numerous; and Is-
lam, as appears from the most authorised traditions,
had the effect of making men anxious rather than
otherwise to signalise their faith by parricide or frat-
ricide. The Tradition records a case, presumably
later than this time, when a man told Mohammed
he had killed his father for speaking slightingly of
the Prophet ; who received the intelligence calmly, f
And lest any filial affection should remain, he ex-
pressly forbade men to pray for the souls of their
unbelieving fathers. When it was pointed out that
according to the Koran Abraham had done this for
his father, a special revelation came down, explaining

* yahiz, Opuscula, 6l.
\ Isabah, Hi., 708.

266 Mohammed

that Abraham had specially promised " Azar " that
he would do this — one wonders how or when;
and in quite late revelations this act of Abraham
is noticed as a slur on his character.* Abu
Bakr's son (it is said), who was converted long
after, told his father that he had intentionally
spared him on the day of Badr. Abu Bakr
answered that had he had the chance he would
have slain his son. Abu 'Ubaidah, son of Al-Jarrah,
actually killed his father, who was fighting on the
Meccan side ; he is credited indeed with having en-
deavoured to avoid the necessity. Abu Hudhaifah,
not being permitted to fight with his father, 'Utbah,
son of Rabi'ah, in single combat, still assisted in dis-
patching him.f Mus'ab, son of 'Umair, urged the
captor of his brother to demand a heavy ransom,
because their mother could well pay it, declaring
the captor to be of nearer kin to himself, being
a Moslem.:): Probably Moslem earnestness was a
case of that principle of human nature by which
"what before was too much feared is all the more
eagerly trampled under foot." Mohammed indeed
appears to have endeavoured to obtain immunity
for his own relatives and former benefactors, and
thereby to have incurred the reproach of one of his
followers, who thought the Prophet should have set
a better example — the Prophet who for years had
owed the continuance of his existence to the respect
felt for kindred blood ! But the Prophet was him-

* Surah lx. , 4.

f Wakidi ( W.) t 54.

\ ibid., 79.

The Battle of Badr 267

self at no time a gloomy fanatic : unlike some of his
followers ; for it may be a true anecdote which
makes one of the Meccans before the fight compare
the healthy faces of the idolators with the woe-
begone, melancholy looks of the monotheists, and
warn the Meccan leaders against a course which
might reduce the Meccans to the same miserable con-
dition. The French revolution exhibits well-known
cases of men in whom principle took the form of
a thirst for blood. This passion indeed seized pos-
session of the victorious ranks at Badr. Some men
who had yielded themselves prisoners could not
be rescued by their captors from the fanatics, who
preferred blood to ransoms. Those who had en-
dured torture at Meccah seized the opportunity to
exact vengeance from their persecutors. * Omar
(always ready to be executioner) was for slaughtering
all the prisoners ; one fanatic, the poet Abdallah, son
of Rawahah, suggested that they should be burned,f
and Mohammed in his revelation declared that a
massacre would have been more pleasing to God :
bloodshed on a great scale being calculated to impress
the imagination. Economical considerations probably
decided him against carrying this out. For though
the spoil amounted to one hundred and fifty camels
and ten horses, besides some goods which Meccan
speculators had taken with them in the hope of finding
a market, and the clothes and armour of the slain,
seventy prisoners formed an asset which the condition
of his followers did not allow him to squander.

* So Bilal and 'Ammar.
\Musnad, i., 383.

268 Mohammed

The Prophet spent three days at Badr before
he commenced the triumphal journey home. Some,
it is said, urged him to make a rush on Meccah, but
for that enterprise he was probably not prepared.*
Before they left Badr a pit was dug or cleared into
which the corpses of the unbelievers were thrown ;
and the exultant conqueror, though ordinarily rever-
ent to the dead, f could not refrain from asking
them whether they were now convinced, telling his
astonished followers that the corpses could hear,
though unable to answer. Truly he might exult
over his deliverance from Abu Jahl, thanking Allah
who had helped his servant and strengthened his
religion % ; and a few days more were to deliver him
from Abu Lahab. Two of the prisoners were
slaughtered on the way, Al-Nadir, son of Al-Harith,
and 'Ukbah, son of Abu Mu'ait. The latter is said
to have treated the Prophet with roughness ; he had
also had early connection with the Jews, and may
have at some time helped the Prophet with informa-
tion ; he had even at one time formally espoused Is-
lam, but had afterwards withdrawn. The dirge §
uttered over the former by his daughter (or sister) is
one of the most affecting in the pathetic dirge litera-
ture of the Arabs, and is said to have moved Mo-
hammed himself to tears and regrets. The man's
offence is said to have been that he bought the
books of the Greeks, Persians, and Arabs of Hirah,

* Musnad, i., 229.
\ Ibid., iv., 252.
%Ibid., i., 442.
%Zahr al-adab, i., 28.

The Battle of Badr 269

and recited their contents ; and argued that if story-
telling was the criterion of a prophet he had as good
a right to the title as Mohammed. His daughter
thought a brave man might have pardoned even such
an affront, but she was in error.

No event in the history of Islam was of more im-
portance than this battle : the Koran rightly calls it
the Day of Deliverance, the day before which the
Moslems were weak, after which they were strong.
Its value to Mohammed himself it is difficult to
overrate ; he possibly regarded it himself as a miracle,
and when he declared it one, most of his neighbours
accepted the statement without hesitation. His own
share in the fighting appears to have been small —
was indeed confined to flinging a handful of pebbles
in the enemies' faces*; but he wisely claimed the
whole not as his own work, but as that of God.
The fate that had befallen the enemy was a just re-
tribution to those who had presumed to resist God
and His Prophet. As we have seen, the want of the
power to perform a miracle was a thing that embit-
tered his life. Now at last the trial had been removed.

Wealth, fame, honour, power, all of them were
secured or at any rate brought within reach by the
Day of Deliverance. At a later time to have taken
part in the battle of Badr was a letter of nobility,
and when the proceeds of the treasury were divided
among the Moslems, in Omar's time, the Badris re-
ceived five thousand dirhems apiece. f Mohammed

* Ali however asserted that he had fought bravely.
\ The Badri who survived longest was Sa'd, son of Abu Wakkas.
Bokhari (/Cast.) vi., 274.

2 jo Mohammed

was ready to the end of his life to forgive any offence
committed 'by one who had taken part in the fight;
God, he declared, might for all he knew have given
them a license to do what they pleased.*

Almost immediately after the battle gifts were of-
fered Mohammed by neighbouring chiefs, anxious
to win his favour ; but he would only accept them on
condition of the givers embracing Islam. Some who
refused had afterwards occasion to regret that they
had not at this time taken shares in the new

The time was approaching when the Refugees
would depend no longer on the charity of the
Helpers: the latter were beginning to enjoy the
profits of their speculation in joining Islam, and
those who had stayed at home wished they had
joined the expedition. The share which accrued to
each soldier was to starvelings comparative wealth.
Ali's was a couple of camels. Mohammed's slave
Salih, who was given charge of the prisoners, got
gratuities from them which amounted to more than
a share in the spoil. % The Meccan prisoners were
not made of the stern stuff which Horace has
taught us to admire in Regulus. Little difficulty
was made about offering ransoms. The highest
sum so given was four thousand dirhems ; for
others, who were poorer, a smaller sum was taken.
In the case of quite poor men (it is said) the
sum was paid in writing-lessons given to Medinese

* Musnad, iii., 350.
\Ibid., it., 68.
% Ibn Sa'd, iii. , 34.

The Battle of Badr 2 7 1

lads ; the teachers at times recouping themselves
with blows.* The importance of this art was now
fully recognised by Mohammed, whof urges the
utility of drawing up deeds connected with property
and loans, and having them attested. The mode in
use was clumsy, and ere long a new fashion was
brought to Medinah, which Abu Sufyan took the
trouble to learn. % Among the prisoners were
Mohammed's uncle Abbas, and the sons of his
uncle al-Harith : from one of them, Naufal, Mo-
hammed demanded as ransom a thousand spears
which he kept at Jeddah ; Naufal is said to have
turned Moslem at once, supposing the Prophet to
have learned of this store by supernatural means. §
To Abbas himself the Prophet is said to have dis-
played some similar knowledge. " Redeem yourself,
your nephews, and your confederates," he said to
Abbas, who declined, declaring that he was a Moslem
at heart, and had served against his will. " God
knows best about that," was the reply ; " externally
you were against us, so ransom yourself." — "You
have twenty ounces of silver that I lent you, take
them as my ransom." — "They are a present to me
from God." — " But I have no other money." — " Then
where is the money which, when you left Meccah,
you secretly deposited with your wife Umm Fadl,
with instructions how it should be shared be-
tween your sons, in case of your death?" Abbas

* Musnad, i., 247.
\ Surah ii., 282,283.
% Ibn Duraid, 223.
§ Isabah, iii., 1090.

272 Mohammed

(according to his imaginative son) testified that Mo-
hammed was the Prophet of God, when he heard
this secret revealed : yet he appears to have paid
his ransom none the less, in order to go back to
Meccah.* More credit attaches to the tradition
which makes Mohammed endeavour by impressive
religious rites to make proselytes among the visitors
who came to redeem their friends % ; and that at-
tempts were made by kindly treatment of prisoners
to win them over to Islam.

One man only is said to have determined not to
swell Mohammed's treasury. Abu Sufyan, now the
recognised leader at Meccah, instead of sending a
ransom for his brother whom Ali had captured,
waited till a man from Medinah came to Meccah on
pilgrimage ; this man he seized and exchanged for
his brother. The whole sum which Mohammed
thus acquired was probably not less than one hund-
red thousand dirhems. His first idea was to claim
the whole on behalf of God and His Prophet. But
he was induced to modify this claim. Of the whole
sum taken, God and His Prophet were to have a
fifth. Each captor was otherwise to have the ran-
som of his prisoner. It is stated that the claim to
the fifth was a reduction on the leader's perquisite

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthMohammed and the rise of Islam → online text (page 18 of 32)