The Battle of Badr was the first major clash between the young Islamic state in Madinah and the Quraish, the predominant Arab tribe which had opposed Islam ever since its very first day.
As such, its importance cannot be exaggerated. A win for the Quraish might
have tempted them to march on to Madinah to put an end to Islam altogether. A victory for the Muslims, on the other hand, would establish them as a major force inArabia on a parallel level with the Quraish. This explains the Prophet's earnest prayers for a complete victory.
The Muslims were aware that nothing less than a clear victory could serve their purpose. Hence they went into battle, eager to prove that numerical and material strength could not withstand the power of faith. Having seen two of the most distinguished figures in the Quraish, Utbah and Shaybah, fall in the initial duels, they went for other leading figures.
Umayyah ibn Khalaf was the chief of the Jumah clan. In the early days of Islam, he assumed a leading role in torturing the new Muslims in an attempt to force them to renounce their new religion. His main victim was Bilal, who endured a great deal of hardship from Umayyah until he was finally bought by Abu Bakr, who set him free.
As related earlier, Umayyah did not want to join the Quraish army but he was shamed into joining it by one of the Quraishi hard-liners. As the battle broke out, Umayyah was keen to save his own life. He was therefore pleased to come across Abdul-Rahman ibn Awf, one of those who adopted Islam in its very early days.
Abdul-Rahman, who was an old friend of Umayyah, was carrying a few armor plates. Umayyah asked him: "Would you like to take me instead of your armor plates? This would be a much better deal for you."
Abdul-Rahman agreed, threw away the armor plates he was carrying, and moved to lead Umayyah and his son Ali away from the battlefield to a place where they could be safe as captives.
As they walked together, Umayyah remarked that the most notable thing about the battle was that the Muslims were not keen to take prisoners,who could bring them a great deal of money in ransom.
At that moment Bilal saw Umayyah being led away. He shouted: "Umayyah, head of idolatry, may I perish if he survives!"
He then drew near to them. Abdul-Rahman made it clear to Bilal that the two men were his prisoners and should not be harmed.
Bilal repeated his determination to avenge himself on Umayyah. When Abdul-Rahman implied that he would defend his captives, Bilal appealed to the Ansar: "Supporters of God's cause! Here is Umayyah, head of idolatry! May I perish if he survives."
A group of the Ansar surrounded them. Abdul-Rahman tried to protect them, but one of the Ansar struck Ali, Umayyah's son, on the leg. He fell down. His father uttered a loud cry, and both he and his son were killed instantly.
Abu Jahl himself was among those killed in Badr. A man from the Ansar called Muadh ibn Amr reported that during the battle he noticed that several men from the Quraish stood in a circle round Abu Jahl and said to one another: "Abul-Hakam (that was his name among the Quraish) shall not be reached."
When I heard them saying that, I resolved to get to him. I made a determined attack towards him and when he was within my reach I struck him with my sword once, which was enough to send half his leg high into the air, as a date stone flies from underneath the date-stone crusher.
His son, Ikrimah, struck back at me and cut off my arm, which remained attached to my body by a thin piece of my skin. I was prevented by the raging battle from coming back on him. I, however, kept on fighting for the rest of the day, pulling my arm behind me.
When it became too troublesome I bent down and put my hand under my foot and stood up to cut off my arm.
Muadh lived more than thirty years after that day.
Later during the battle, another Ansari, Muawwad ibn Al-Harith, passed Abu Jahl and hit him hard until he could not get up. He then left him, not quite dead. When the battle was over, the Prophet asked some of the Muslims to look for Abu Jahl among the dead.
The man who found him was Abdullah ibn Masud, a little man who used to be a shepherd in Makkah and was once at the receiving end of Abu Jahl's aggressionagainst the Muslims.
Abdullah put his foot on his neck and said: "You enemy of God, haven't you been humiliated?"
Abu Jahl replied: "How? I am only a man killed by his people. Tell me, who has secured victory in battle?"
Abdullah told him that victory belonged to "God and His Messenger".
He then chopped Abu Jahl's head off and took it to the Prophet. That was the end of the arch-enemy of Islam.
Many leading Quraish personalities met their death in Badr. Both moderates and hard-liners suffered, for both were in the same camp.
Those mentioned, like Utbah, Shaybah, Umayyah, Abu Jahl, Abu Al-Bakhtari, were only a few from the leading class who were killed.
Others, like Zamah ibn Al-Aswad and the two brothers Nabih and Munbih, sons of Al-Hajjaj, met the same fate. The Muslims simply launched a fierce attack which no Quraish army could have hoped to repel. It is not surprising, therefore, that at the end of the day the Quraish losses amounted to 70 dead and 70 taken prisoner.
Fourteen Muslims fell as martyrs in the battle. These figures can be taken as evidence of the ferocity of the battle and the sort of effort the Muslims put into achieving their resounding victory. After all, they were outnumbered three to one, yet they managed to claim nearly half their own number either killed or takencaptive.
Reasons of Victory
Muslims believe that such a remarkable victory was certainly achieved with the help of God. A number of factors combined to make it possible.
Firstly, the Muslims were fighting under one command. The Prophet himself was their commander-in-chief. His sense of timing was superb. The relationship between commander and soldier was exemplary. Discipline among the Muslim forces was of the type any army commander would love to have.
All these aspects made the Muslim army highly efficient: this compensated for its numerical weakness.
While the Prophet consulted his companions before every step he took, the unbelievers lacked unity of purpose. A large number of notables were in the army, but the most distinguished among them were Utbah and Abu Jahl.
The views of these two men were widely different. Suffice it to say that one of them, Utbah, felt compelled to start the battle because the other, Abu Jahl, tried hard to make him appear cowardly.
Secondly, the Prophet marched from Madinah to Badr using a strategy similar to the one adopted today in desert warfare. He also sent out patrols to gather information.
Thirdly, the goals of the two camps were worlds apart. The Muslims wanted to ensure freedom of thought, worship and expression for everyone. The message of Islam had suffered much repression by the Quraish for a decade and a half.
Now it was time for the Quraish to be taught a lesson in respecting man's basic rights. The Quraish's goals were simply those outlined by Abu Jahl.
When many in the Quraish army wanted to go back home after having learnt that Abu Sufyan's caravan was safe, Abu Jahl said:
We will march on to Badr and stay there for three days. We will slaughter camels for food, organize a big feast and make it open to everyone to come and eat.
We will drink much wine and will be entertained by singers and dancers. When this is known, all Arabian tribes will hold us in awe for the rest of time.
These cannot be the goals of a serious army; this is a short-sighted objective of people driven by conceit.
Lastly, morale among the Muslims was sky-high, even among those who had their first taste of battle at Badr. Good equipment and numerical strength cannot win a battle if morale is low. This is true of all wars, both ancient and modern.
When the battle was over and the Quraish army withdrew, having suffered a rushing defeat, the Prophet ordered the burial of the dead. The 14 Muslim martyrs were buried in graves dug for them by their brethren. A disused well which had dried up was used to bury the enemy soldiers.
When all 70 of them were buried, the Prophet stood at their grave and said, "People of the well! Have you seen how God's promises always come true? God's promise to me has certainly been fulfilled."
Some of the Prophet's companions wondered how he could speak to the dead. He said: "They now know that what God has promised is fulfilled."
The Prophet then sent Abdullah ibn Rawahah and Zaid ibn Harithah to convey the good news to the people of Madinah.
Usamah ibn Zaid mentions that his father arrived to give the news of victory shortly after the burial of Ruqayyah, the Prophet's daughter who was married to Uthman ibn Affan.
She was ill when the Prophet set out from Madinah. He asked her husband, Uthman, not to join the expedition. Instead, he was to stay and look after her. Uthmanlater married the Prophet's third daughter, Umm Kulthum.
Adil Salahi is the Executive Director of Al-Furqan Heritage Foundation. He teaches Islamic Studies at the Markfield Institute of Higher Education, Leicester, England. After working for the BBC Arabic Service for several years, he worked for the Arabic daily, al-Sharq al-Awsat. He continues to publish a column, "Islam in Perspective", in its sister publication, Arab News, an English daily published in Saudi Arabia. He has produced an English translation of several volumes of Sayyid Qutb's commentary, In the Shade of the Quran (Leicester, Islamic Foundation), as well as several other books on Islamic subjects.