Story of Mohammed - Edith Holland

The Day of Deliverance

One of the great events of the year, at Meccah, was the departure of the Syrian caravan. A regular service of caravans had been instituted by Hashim, the Prophet's great-grandfather, for Meccah was an important centre of trade and exported much valuable merchandise. Leather was one of the chief articles of the Meccan trade; this was exchanged for silks, and other costly goods, in the markets of Syria and Irak, and occasionally the Meccan caravans travelled as far as Egypt and Mesopotamia. Not only the rich merchants but almost every citizen of Meccah sent goods to these distant markets, so that the whole city was concerned for the safety of a caravan and much anxiety was felt if its return was delayed.

In the autumn of the year 623 the great Syrian caravan set out in the charge of Abu Sufyan, one of the chiefs of the tribe of Kuraysh. Abu Sufyan was a relentless opponent of Islam, and was one of those who had conspired against the Prophet's life. The caravan which he led was large and richly laden, and we can imagine the crowds that would have flocked to the outskirts of the city to watch the long string of camels winding their way up the rocky valley. When an Arab tribe is at war, its caravans are always in danger of being attacked by the enemy; great precautions were therefore taken by Abu Sufyan when nearing the territory of Medinah. But, though at one point an alarm was raised that the Moslems were in pursuit, the Syrian caravan reached its destination in safety. Three months later, in the spring of 624, this caravan was on its return journey, but while yet on the borders of Syria, Abu Sufyan was warned that his enemies were meditating an attack. He at once despatched a messenger to Meccah, to ask for help, and proceeded cautiously along a track lying near the shores of the Red Sea. On reaching a place called Badr, situated to the southwest of Medinah, Abu Sufyan went on in advance of the caravan to inquire if any strangers had been in the neighbourhood. On hearing that two men had been seen, resting their camels near a well, he carefully examined the ground, searching for any suspicious tracks. His sharp eyes, for Arabs are good scouts, soon detected some very small date stones lying by the wayside. His suspicions were at once aroused. "The spies of Mohammed have been here!" he exclaimed, as he hurried back to the caravan. You will wonder why the sight of the date stones should have put Abu Sufyan on his guard? The reason was this: the dates of Medinah are much smaller than those grown in other parts of Arabia, and, by putting two and two together, Abu Sufyan concluded that these strangers must have been spies from Medinah. Whether he guessed rightly, the sequel will show.

Meanwhile the messenger despatched by Abu Sufyan had travelled in hot haste to Meccah. Arriving before the Kaabah breathless and panting, he tore his shirt open before and behind, and sat backwards on his camel, to show that he brought bad news. The people crowded round him, and when he cried aloud, "Help, help, O Kuraysh, your caravan is pursued by Mohammed!" great excitement prevailed in the city. There was no time to be lost; an army, which was joined by almost every man of the tribe, was quickly got together, and, in the space of three days, over a thousand well-armed men marched out of Meccah, determined, once for all, to crush the power of their enemy.

We must now turn our attention to the state of things in Medinah. The time having arrived when the Syrian caravan should be on its return journey, Mohammed sent two of the Refugees to scout and get early news of its approach; as you have heard, their presence near the well at Badr was suspected by Abu Sufyan. The Prophet now called on his followers to arm themselves against the infidels, promising them rich spoil if the enterprise should succeed. But he would allow none but Moslems to go with him; some of the citizens of Medinah were eager to join the army in the hope of plunder, but Mohammed turned them back, saying, "Ye shall not go thus, believe and fight." Nearly every Refugee followed the Prophet; one of the few remaining behind was Othman, whose wife Rukayyah (Mohammed's daughter) was seriously ill. Besides the Refugees, who numbered eighty, many of the Helpers joined the little army, making in all three hundred and five men. There were seventy camels, on which the men rode in turn, but only two horses!

Mohammed marched out of Medinah with his small but determined band on the same day that the army of the Kuraysh left Meccah. This force, more than three times as large as that of the Moslems, was mounted on seven hundred camels and a hundred horses. When the Meccans were on their way to Badr they were met by another messenger bringing them news of the safety of the caravan, which had passed by another road. The leaders now consulted as to whether they should return to Meccah, or go forward and attack the Moslems. After some discussion the advice of the most warlike prevailed; the army continued its march, and on arriving at Badr encamped behind some low sand-hills.

Mohammed and his followers were also moving towards Badr when, on the third day's march, they heard of the escape of the caravan, and of the army that was advancing to meet them. The Prophet now held a council of war. Some of the Moslem leaders, as Abu Bakr and Omar, urged an immediate attack on the infidels, but Mohammed wished to give the citizens of Medinah the choice of going back if they felt so inclined, as their oath of allegiance did not bind them to fight except in defence of their own city. The Helpers, however, were all of one mind. "Prophet of the Lord," cried their leader, "march where thou wilt, make war or peace as it may please thee. I swear by the Lord who hath sent thee that we will follow thee even to the world's end; there shall none remain behind!" "Go forward then with the blessing of God," said the Prophet.

The Valley of Badr is bounded by steep hills on the north and east; from these hills a stream flows, and the lower ground is well watered by several springs and wells. When Mohammed descended into the valley he wisely occupied the ground near the springs, where he made his camp, thus gaining possession of the water. The Moslems, tired with their march, slept peacefully. A rough hut of palm branches was constructed for the Prophet and Abu Bakr, and one of the Helpers stood on guard at the entrance with a drawn sword in his hand.

It was a rough night, this night before the battle which was to decide the fate of Islam; rain fell in torrents and cold blasts of wind swept across the desolate land. In the early morning Mohammed drew up his men, ordering them to stand firm and await the attack of the enemy. It was not long before the Meccans were seen advancing over the sand-hills; the slope of the ground prevented their full numbers being at once discerned, and the Moslems imagined the attacking force to be much smaller than it was in reality. But the Prophet fully realized the serious risk to which his army was exposed, and, retiring for a moment into the hut of palm branches, he thus prayed earnestly for victory; "O Lord, forget not Thy promise of help, for if this little band should perish, there will be none to offer Thee pure worship, and idolatry will prevail."

The enemy was now close at hand, but the Moslems stood firm, as they had been ordered to do. Some skirmishing took place for the possession of the wells, but fighting did not at once become general. Single combats were common in Arab warfare, and three stalwart champions stood out from the Meccan army, each challenging a Moslem to try his strength with him. Of the Moslems who eagerly came forward, one was an elderly man of about sixty-five, another a powerful warrior in the prime of life, and the third a young man who wore a white plume on his helmet as a distinguishing mark; their features, being hidden by their armour were not visible.

The Meccans now asked for the names of their opponents. "I am Hamzah, the son of Abd al-Muttalib, surnamed the 'Lion of God,'" replied the Prophet's uncle. The old man's name was Ubaidah, and the youth wearing the white plume was Ali, the son of Abu Talib and cousin of Mohammed. The champions, facing each other, attacked in deadly earnest; Hamzah and Ali each slew his man, but Ubaidah, after a severe encounter, received wounds of which he died in a few days. The two armies now engaged in a fierce struggle for victory, and prodigious deeds of valour were performed on both sides. Ali fought with no armour to his back, thus showing his resolve to conquer or die. The Arab historians tell of many a desperate deed done this bleak wintry day on the battlefield of Badr. The Prophet, moving among his men, roused their ardour by reminding them of the cause for which they fought. God was on their side, he said, and Paradise would be the reward of those who fell. The very winds of heaven seemed to assist the Moslem cause, and fierce gusts laden with blinding storms of rain swept down the valley in the face of the enemy. Gabriel with a thousand angels was sweeping as a whirlwind on the foe, said the Prophet. Another storm sped by—it was Michael and his angels coming to the help of the true Believers. And again, the Prophet said that Seraphil with a legion of angels was descending to aid the cause of God.

Battle of Badr


The issue of the battle still hung in the balance when Mohammed picked up a handful of gravel, and threw it in the direction of the enemy. "May confusion seize them!" he exclaimed. This was the turning point of the battle; whatever the cause, the Meccans now began to waver, unable any longer to withstand the fierce onsets of their opponents.

The Kuraysh, with vastly superior numbers, good arms and horses, should have had the advantage of their enemies; but the Moslems, fighting with a burning enthusiasm for their cause, and encouraged by the presence of their Prophet to deeds of bravery and self-sacrifice, gained a moral advantage, and this it was which won them the day.

The retreating army of the Kuraysh was soon in full flight; hindered by the deep sand, which was heavy with the rain of the previous night, many threw away their armour, the better to escape the pursuit of the victorious Moslems. Several of the foremost chiefs of Meccah had been slain, among them Abu Jahl, the commander of the army. In all, forty-nine Meccans lay dead, and many were taken prisoners, while the Moslems had lost only fourteen men. In their hurried flight the Kuraysh abandoned their camp, leaving rich store of plunder for the victors, who secured a hundred and fifty camels and fourteen horses, besides weapons, armour, leather goods and carpets. A dispute arose as to the division of the spoil, some of those who had distinguished themselves in the battle claiming that a larger share was due to them than to those who had stayed to guard the camp; but Mohammed decided that all should share alike. The laws laid down by the Prophet, after Badr, for the distribution of spoil taken in battle, hold good to this day among his followers. One-fifth was set aside for the cause of God—for the Prophet and his family, or for the poor and the orphan, as occasion required; the rest was equally divided among those who had taken part in the battle, an extra portion being awarded to the horsemen.

Darkness was falling when all the spoil had been collected from the enemy's camp, and it now but remained to bury the dead. Thus ended the Day of Deliverances as the eventful day of Badr came to be called. Of the seventy prisoners in the hands of the Moslems, two were executed by the Prophet's orders, one of them being a renegade from the Faith. The rest of the prisoners were taken to Medinah, and Mohammed gave those who had charge of them special injunctions to treat them with kindness and forbearance. This was contrary to the usual custom of Arab warfare, and, in after years, one of these prisoners blessed the men of Medinah who had treated them with so much consideration, giving them the best of their food, and letting them ride while they themselves walked. The prisoners were afterwards ransomed by their kinsmen in Meccah; several, who became converts to Islam, were set free without payment, and those whose relations could not afford a ransom were given their freedom on condition that they each taught ten boys of Medinah the art of writing.

As the victorious army was returning to Medinah, Zaid and another messenger were sent forward to announce the good news. Zaid, mounted on the Prophet's favourite camel, Al-Kaswa, hurried to the city, and, as the people crowded anxiously round him, cried aloud that the army of the Kuraysh had been utterly defeated, and that Abu Dahl, the sinner, was slain.

The next day Mohammed arrived, but he was met by the sorrowful news of the death of his daughter, Rukayyah, who had but just been buried when the messenger announcing the victory entered the city.

We can picture the dismay and consternation of the people of Meccah when their army returned crestfallen and defeated, many of their bravest chiefs missing, the baggage deserted and in possession of the enemy. The city was roused to a pitch of intense excitement and fury, the people vowing that they would not even mourn the dead until they had wreaked vengeance on their foe.

About three months later Abu Sufyan went forth with two hundred horsemen to pillage the country round about Medinah. He wished to make a rapid march and achieve his purpose before the citizens of Medinah could be warned. No baggage animals were taken, as they would have delayed the march, and each horseman carried a sack of meal on his saddle. In a fertile valley a few miles distant from Medinah the raiders laid waste the cornfields, and burnt the palm groves and farm houses to the ground, killing two of the farmers. Just as they were preparing to depart the Prophet himself appeared at the head of an armed force, and the Meccans turned and fled, throwing away their meal bags to lighten the weight on their horses. The Moslems called this skirmish, derisively, the Battle of the Meal Sacks.

The Jews and those Arab tribes who were hostile to the Prophet were a constant source of annoyance to him. During the year following the Battle of Badr the peace of Medinah was continually disturbed by disputes and revolts, and there was more than one plat against the Prophet's life. On the other hand, several of his avowed enemies were put to death by his followers, who wrongly believed they were thus serving the cause of God. Certain Jews who had insulted a Moslem woman were besieged in their fortress, and when they surrendered the whole tribe was sent into banishment.

A few days before the battle of Badr the Prophet's daughter, Fatimah, was betrothed to Ali, and their marriage took place about three months later. Ali was about twenty years of age, and Fatimah barely fifteen. In course of time two sons were born to them, who were named Hasan and Husain; these were the only grandsons of the Prophet who survived him. In the same year Mohammed married Hafsah, who was a widow, and the daughter of Omar.

Although the Moslems had not again been molested by their enemies since the skirmish of the Meal Sacks, the Kuraysh had not forgotten their solemn vows of vengeance for their kinsmen slain at Badr. Events, destined to be of serious import to the small and harassed band of Believers, were preparing in Meccah. Of these we shall hear in the next chapter.