A Bitter Defeat

Adil Salahi

The Battle of Uhud (Part 1)

No one inArabia expected the Quraish to accept defeat at Badr without making a determined effort to avenge themselves. The skirmishes that took place in the following months between the Muslims and certain pockets of resistance to the Islamic cause could inflict no harm on the Muslims.

Indeed the Prophet Muhammad and his followers made use of these skirmishes to consolidate their reputation as a major force in Arabia. When the Quraish also felt that the economic siege imposed by the Muslim state on them was biting hard, and that it had become a major danger threatening its well-being, they realized that they could regain their prestige and break the economic siege only through scoring a military victory over the Muslims.

The Quraish allocated for the new war effort every penny they had made in their trading with Syria by means of the caravan led by Abu Sufyan ibn Harith, who managed to escape his Muslim pursuers just before the Battle of Badr.

Delegations were sent to several Arab tribes to seek their support in the campaign to be launched. Arms were sought and bought everywhere they could be found. These preparations continued for a whole year, after which the Quraish felt that they were strong enough to make a strike and exact revenge.

In the lunar month of Shawwal of the third year of the Prophet's emigration, that is, a little over a year after the Battle of Badr, the Quraish army, now 3,000-men strong, set out on its way towards Madinah. A large number of "volunteers" and supporters from the tribes of Tihamah and Kinanah, Abyssinians living in Arabia, and others, were also in the army.

Fourteen women, most prominent among whom was Hind bint Utbah, Abu Sufyan's wife, went out as well in order to provide encouragement and to deter any would-be defectors. Also in the army was Abu Amir, a man from the Aws, one of the two main tribes of the Ansar.

Abu Amir was a man of knowledge who had learnt about the appearance of the last Prophet. He used to tell his people about the qualities and description of that Prophet, making it clear that the time was due for his appearance.

When the Prophet Muhammad emigrated to Madinah, however, and the Ansar followed him, Abu Amir, a prominent figure occupying in the tribe of the Aws a similar position to that of Abdullah ibn Ubai in the tribe of the Khazraj, rejected his message.

Both men felt envious of the Prophet because he had gathered such a large following, but they adopted different attitudes. Abdullah ibn Ubai professed to be a Muslim although his actions gave no credence to what he professed.

Abu Amir, on the other hand, rejected Islam and went out to Makkah along with 50 men and youths of his tribe, giving support to the Quraish and now joining its army to fight the Prophet and his own people.

Abu Amir also told the Quraishis that he would make his tribesmen desert the army of the Prophet and that the Quraish had nothing to fear from the Aws. Obviously, he made these promises on the basis of his former standing with his people.

Little did he think that Islam had superseded all tribal loyalties. He was soon to be bitterly disappointed.

The Element of Surprise

The Quraish army moved forward. Abu Sufyan was its overall commander; Talhah ibn Abi Talhah was the flagman; Khalid ibn Al- Waleed and Ikrimah ibn Abi Jahl were commanders of the right and left flanks respectively; Safwan commanded the infantry. The army included 200 horsemen and 700 soldiers wearing body armor.

A large number of camels were utilized to carry the soldiers and to be slaughtered for food. There were plenty of slaves and servants to carry out the menial jobs. The Quraish had apparently set a plan for the achievement of well-defined objectives.

They wanted to surprise the Muslims in their own city and take them unawares. If that initial aim was thwarted and the Muslims were aware of the impending attack, the Quraish's plan was to attempt to cause division among the Muslims when the clash became imminent.

Should that also fail, the immediate aim when war broke out was to kill the Prophet himself and the leaders of the Muslims, especially the prominent figures among the

Muhajirun (those Muslims who emigrated from Makkah to Madinah), in the same way as the Muslims did in Badr when they killed many prominent figures of the Quraish.

The Quraish army moved in total secrecy. No demonstration of strength was attempted this time, as was Abu Jahl's aim in Badr. Whatever the goal, it was to be accomplished with speed. Hence the army moved very fast until it reached the valley of Uhud, only eight kilometers from Madinah, where it encamped.

Perhaps the Quraish would have taken the Muslims by surprise, had it not been for the fact that Al-Abbas, the Prophet's uncle, who still lived in Madinah and had not yet declared his adoption of the Islamic faith, sent the Prophet a letter informing him of the Quraish's march and giving him all the details of the army and its equipment.

Al-Abbas's emissary travelled day and night until he reached Madinah, where he learnt that the Prophet was in Quba, a short distance away. He went to him there and gave him the letter. As is well known, the Prophet could not read or write. He therefore gave the letter to Ubai ibn Kaab, who read it for him.

The Prophet asked Ubai not to circulate the news. He then informed Saad ibn Al-

Rabi of the Ansar of what he had learnt. Saad said: "I pray to God to give us the benefit of all this."

Back in the Quraish encampment, Abu Sufyan said as he woke up in the morning: "I swear that they have informed Muhammad of our march and he has now learnt all the information he needs about us. I should not be surprised if his followers are staying in their forts and we will see none of them face to face."

Safwan said: "If they do not come out to meet us we will cut down the date palms which belong to the Aws and the Khazraj. They will be left without any produce. If they come out and meet us, we outnumber them and we are better equipped. We have more horses than they have and we are here for revenge, while they seek norevenge with us."

The Prophet's informers came back with the news that the Quraish army was encamped at Uhud. They gave him their estimates of their number and their equipment.

They also told him that the unbelievers let their camels and horses loose in the farms of Madinah and they were causing havoc. Thus the danger was abundantly clear and the Muslims realized that they could not afford to waste any time.

That night, guards were keeping an all-night vigil at the approaches of Madinah. Many of the Muslims stayed the night in the mosque, with their arms ready. The Prophet's rooms were adjacent to the mosque and the Muslims were worried lest the Quraish should mount an attack on the mosque with the aim of killing him.

The next day was a Friday. After the dawn prayer, the Prophet consulted his Companions in order to achieve a consensus of opinion for an effective plan of action.

He told them that he had a dream the previous night. Long before he became a Prophet, every dream Muhammad had, came true in every single detail. This was one of the early signs of his prophethood.

After he became Prophet, his dreams continued to be indicative of forthcoming events. Now he said that he saw in his dream a few cows which belonged to him being slaughtered, and a little notch in the edge of his sword, and that he had put his hand in a strong shield of armor.

He said that he felt optimistic about his dream and he interpreted that the cows indicated that a few of his companions would be killed, while the notch indicated that a member of his household would be killed.

The shield of armor, he felt, was a reference to Madinah itself. He then suggested that they should stay put in Madinah and leave the Makkans where they had encamped.

"If they stay there, they will find that their position is an unenviable one. If they attempt to force their way into Madinah, we will fight them in its streets and alleys, which we know far better than they, and they will be attacked with arrows

and all sorts of missiles from rooftops."

To be continued..

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.

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