Battle of Badr
The Battle of Badr (Arabic: غزوة بدر), fought on Tuesday, 13 March 624 CE (17 Ramadan, 2 AH in the Islamic calendar) in the Hejaz region of western Arabia (present-day Saudi Arabia), was a key battle in the early days of Islam and a turning point in Muhammad's struggle with his opponents among the Quraish in Mecca. The battle has been passed down in Islamic history as a decisive victory attributable to divine intervention, or by secular sources to the strategic genius of Muhammad. It is one of the few battles specifically mentioned in the Quran. All knowledge of the battle at Badr comes from traditional Islamic accounts, both hadiths and biographies of Muhammad, recorded in written form some time after the battle. There is little evidence outside of these of the battle. There are no descriptions of the battle prior to the 9th century.
|Battle of Badr|
|Part of the Muslim-Quraish Wars|
Scene from Siyer-i Nebi, Hamza and Ali leading the Muslim armies at Badr. The writing is Ottoman Naskh.
|Muslims of Medina||Quraish of Mecca|
|Commanders and leaders|
Hamza ibn Abd al-Muttalib
Ali ibn Abi Talib
Umar Ibn al-Khattab
Abu Jahl ⱶ|
Utba ibn Rabi'ah ⱶ
Umayyah ibn Khalaf ⱶ
|313 infantry and cavalry: 2 horses and 70 camels||950 infantry and cavalry: 100 horses and 170 camels|
|Casualties and losses|
|14 killed||70 killed, 70 prisoners|
Prior to the battle, the Muslims and the Meccans had fought several smaller skirmishes in late 623 and early 624. Badr, however, was the first large-scale engagement between the two forces. Advancing to a strong defensive position, Muhammad's well-disciplined force broke the Meccan lines, killing several important Quraishi leaders including the Muslims' chief antagonist Abu Jahl. For the early Muslims the battle was the first sign that they might eventually defeat their enemies among the Meccans. Mecca at that time was one of the richest and most powerful cities in Arabia, fielding an army three times larger than that of the Muslims. The Muslim victory also signaled to the other tribes that a new power had arisen in Arabia and strengthened Muhammad's position as leader of the often fractious community in Medina. The battle also established the position of Ali ibn Abi Talib as the best fighter among the Muslims, as he alone killed 22 Meccans, while the rest of the Muslims combined killed 27 Meccans.
Muhammad was born in Mecca around 570 CE into the Quraish tribe. After Muhammad's revelation from Gabriel in 610 until his proclamation of monotheism to the Quraysh, Islam was practiced primarily in secret. The Quraiysh, who traditionally accepted religious practices other than their own, became increasingly more intolerant of the Muslims during the thirteen years of personal attacks against their (the Meccans) religions and gods. In fear for their religion and economic viability, which heavily relied on annual pilgrimages, the Meccans began to mock and disrupt Muhammad's followers. In 622, Muhammad bade many of his followers to migrate from Mecca to the neighboring city of Medina, 320 km (200 mi) north of Mecca. Shortly thereafter, Muhammad himself left for Medina. This migration is referred to as the Hijra.
The Quranic Verse 22:39 uttered by Muhammad sometime shortly after the migration permitted Muslims, for the first time, to take up arms in defence. During this period Muhammad employed three broad military strategies against the Meccans. Firstly, to establish peace treaties with the tribes surrounding Medina, especially with those from whom the Meccans could derive most advantage against the Muslims. Secondly, to dispatch small groups to obtain intelligence on the Quraish and their allies and also provide, thereby, an opportunity for those Muslims still living in Mecca to leave with them. Thirdly, to intercept the trade caravans of the Meccans that passed close to Medina and to obstruct their trade route. In September 623, Muhammad himself led a force of 200 in an unsuccessful raid against a large caravan. Shortly thereafter, the Meccans launched their own raid against Medina led by Kurz bin Jabir and fled with livestock belonging to the Muslims. In January 624, Muhammad dispatched a group of eight men to Nakhlah, on the outskirts of Mecca, led by Abdullah bin Jahsh to obtain intelligence on the Quraysh. However, Abdullah bin Jash and his party disguised as Pilgrims with shaved heads, upon being discovered by a Meccan caravan, decided to attack and kill as many of the caravan as possible, resulting in killing one of its men, Amr bin Al-Hadrami, the seizing of its goods and taking two as prisoners. The situation was all the more serious since the killing occurred in the month of Rajab, a truce month sacred to the Meccans in which fighting was prohibited and a clear affront to Arab traditions. Upon their return to Medina, Muhammad initially disapproved of this decision on their part, rebuked them and refused to take any spoil until he claimed to have received revelation (Quran, 2:217) stating that the Meccan persecution was worse than this violation of the sacred month. After his revelation Muhammed took the goods and the prisoners. The Muslims' raids on caravans prompted the Battle of Badr, the first major battle involving a Muslim army. This was the spot where the Meccans had sent their own army to protect their caravans from Muslim raiders.
Muslim participants of Badr
March to Badr
In April 624, it was reported in Medina that Abu Sufyan was leading a caravan from Syria to Mecca containing weapons to be used against the Muslims. Muhammad gathered 313 men and went to Badr to intercept the caravan. However, Meccan spies informed Abu Sufyan about the Muslims coming to intercept his caravan; Abu Sufyan changed his course to take another path to Mecca and sent a message to Mecca. Abu Jahl replied to Abu Sufyan's request and gathered an army to fight against the Muslims.
Muhammad's forces included Abu Bakr, Umar, Ali, Hamza, Mus`ab ibn `Umair, Az-Zubair bin Al-'Awwam, Ammar ibn Yasir, and Abu Dharr al-Ghifari. The Muslims also brought seventy camels and two horses, meaning that they either had to walk or fit three to four men per camel.The future Caliph Uthman stayed behind to care for his sick wife Ruqayyah, the daughter of Muhammad. Salman the Persian also could not join the battle, as he was still not a free man.
Many of the Quraishi nobles, including Amr ibn Hishām, Walid ibn Utba, Shaiba, and Umayah ibn Khalaf, joined the Meccan army. Their reasons varied: some were out to protect their financial interests in the caravan; others wanted to avenge Ibn al-Hadrami, the guard killed at Nakhlah; finally, a few must have wanted to take part in what was expected to be an easy victory against the Muslims. Amr ibn Hishām is described as shaming at least one noble, Umayah ibn Khalaf, into joining the expedition.
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|“||Behold! Allah Promised you one of the two (enemy) parties, that it should be yours: Ye wished that the one unarmed should be yours, but Allah Willed to justify the Truth according to His Words and to cut off the roots of the Unbelievers;||”|
|— Quran: Al-Anfal 8:7|
|“||Behold! Allah Promised Me that He would definitely help me. I'm taking an oath by Allah's Excellent Name, Here will be the grave of Abu Jahl, and here will lay Utba ibn Rabiah (Prophet mentioned 14 different unbeliever leaders' names and signed they graves before the battle).||”|
|— Muhammad – Sahih Muslim|
When the word reached the Muslim army about the departure of the Meccan army, Muhammad immediately called a council of war, since there was still time to retreat and because many of the fighters there were recent converts (called Ansar or "Helpers" to distinguish them from the Quraishi Muslims), who had only pledged to defend Medina. Under the terms of the Constitution of Medina, they would have been within their rights to refuse to fight and leave the army. However, according to tradition, they pledged to fight as well, with Sa'd ibn Ubadah declaring, "If you [Muhammad] order us to plunge our horses into the sea, we would do so." So, the Muslims continued to march towards Badr.
By 11 March both armies were about a day's march from Badr. Several Muslim warriors (including, according to some sources, Ali) who had ridden ahead of the main column captured two Meccan water carriers at the Badr wells. Expecting them to say they were with the caravan, the Muslims were horrified to hear them say they were with the main Quraishi army. Some traditions also say that, upon hearing the names of all the Quraishi nobles accompanying the army, Muhammad exclaimed "Mecca hath thrown unto you the best morsels of her liver." The next day Muhammad ordered a forced march to Badr and arrived before the Meccans.
The Badr wells were located on the gentle slope of the eastern side of a valley called "Yalyal". The western side of the valley was hemmed in by a large hill called 'Aqanqal. When the Muslim army arrived from the east, Muhammad initially chose to form his army at the first well he encountered. Hubab ibn al-Mundhir, however, asked him if this choice was divine instruction or Muhammad's own opinion. When Muhammad responded in the latter, Hubab suggested that the Muslims occupy the well closest to the Quraishi army, and block off the other ones. Muhammad accepted this decision and moved right away.
|“||[The] Arabs will hear how we marched forth and of our mighty gathering, and they will stand in awe of us forever.||”|
|— Abu Jahl|
By contrast, while little is known about the progress of the Quraishi army from the time it left Mecca until its arrival just outside Badr, several things are worth noting: although many Arab armies brought their women and children along on campaigns both to motivate and care for the men, the Meccan army did not. Also, the Quraish apparently made little or no effort to contact the many allies they had scattered throughout the Hijaz. Both facts suggest the Quraish lacked the time to prepare for a proper campaign in their haste to protect the caravan. Besides, it is believed they expected an easy victory, knowing they outnumbered the Muslims by three to one.
When the Quraishi reached Juhfah, just south of Badr, they received a message from Abu Sufyan telling them the caravan was safely behind them, and that they could therefore return to Mecca. At this point, according to Karen Armstrong, a power struggle broke out in the Meccan army. Abu Jahl wanted to continue, but several of the clans present, including Banu Zuhrah and Banu Adi, promptly went home. Armstrong suggests they may have been concerned about the power that Abu Jahl would gain from crushing the Muslims. The Banu Hashim tribe wanted to leave, but was threatened by Abu Jahl to stay. Despite these losses, Abu Jahl was still determined to fight, boasting "We will not go back until we have been to Badr." During this period, Abu Sufyan and several other men from the caravan joined the main army.
Day of battle
At midnight on 13 March, the Quraish broke camp and marched into the valley of Badr. It had rained the previous day and they struggled to move their horses and camels up the hill of 'Aqanqal. After they descended from 'Aqanqal, the Meccans set up another camp inside the valley. While they rested, they sent out a scout, Umayr ibn Wahb to reconnoitre the Muslim lines. Umayr reported that Muhammad's army was small, and that there were no other Muslim reinforcements which might join the battle. However, he also predicted extremely heavy Quraishi casualties in the event of an attack (One hadith refers to him seeing "the camels of [Medina] laden with certain death"). This further demoralized the Quraish, as Arab battles were traditionally low-casualty affairs, and set off another round of bickering among the Quraishi leadership. However, according to Arab traditions Amr ibn Hishām quashed the remaining dissent by appealing to the Quraishi's sense of honor and demanding that they fulfill their blood vengeance.
The battle began with champions from both armies emerging to engage in combat. Three of the Medinan Ansar emerged from the Muslim ranks, only to be shouted back by the Meccans, who were nervous about starting any unnecessary feuds and only wanted to fight the Quraishi Muslims, keeping the dispute within clan. So Hamza approached forward and called on Ubayda and Ali to join him. The Muslims dispatched the Meccan champions in a three-on-three melee. The first fight was between Ali and Walid ibn Utba; Ali killed his opponent. After the fight between Ali and Walid, Hamza fought Utba ibn Rabi'ah, and Ubayda fought Shaybah ibn Rabi'ah. Hamza killed Utba; however, Ubayda was mortally wounded by Shaybah. Ali (and, according to some sources, Hamza as well) killed Shaybah. Ali and Hamza then carried Ubayda back into the Muslim lines, where he died.
Now both armies began showering each other with arrows. A few Muslims and an unknown number of Quraish warriors were killed. Before the battle, Muhammad had given orders for the Muslims to attack first with their ranged weapons and only afterwards advance to engage the Quraish with melee weapons. Now he gave the order to charge, throwing a handful of pebbles at the Meccans in what was probably a traditional Arabian gesture while yelling "Defaced be those faces!" The Muslim army yelled "Yā manṣūr amit!" "O thou whom God hath made victorious, slay!" and rushed the Quraishi lines. The Meccans, understrength and unenthusiastic about fighting, promptly broke and ran. The battle itself only lasted a few hours and was over by the early afternoon. The Quran describes the force of the Muslim attack in many verses, which refer to thousands of angels descending from Heaven at Badr to terrify the Quraish. Muslim sources take this account literally, and there are several hadith where Muhammad discusses the Angel Jibreel and the role he played in the battle.
After the battle Muhammad returned to Medina. Some seventy prisoners were taken captive and are noted to have been treated humanely including a number of Quraish leaders. Most of the prisoners were released upon payment of ransom and those who were literate were released on the condition that they teach ten persons how to read and write and this teaching was to count as their ransom.
William Muir wrote of this period:
In pursuance of Mahomet's commands, the citizens of Medîna, and such of the Refugees as possessed houses, received the prisoners, and treated them with much consideration. "Blessings be on the men of Medina!" said one of these prisoners in later days; "they made us ride, while they themselves walked: they gave us wheaten bread to eat when there was little of it, contenting themselves with dates. It is not surprising that when, some time afterwards, their friends came to ransom them, several of the prisoners who had been thus received declared themselves adherents of Islam...Their kindly treatment was thus prolonged, and left a favourable impression on the minds even of those who did not at once go over to Islam"— William Muir, The Life of Mahomet
Two of the prisoners taken at Badr, namely Nadr ibn al-Harith and ‘Uqbah ibn Abū Mu‘ayṭ are reported to have been executed upon the order of Muhammad. According to Muslim scholar Safiur Rahman al-Mubarakpuri, these two captives were executed by Ali. Mubarakpuri says that this incident is also mentioned in the Sunan Abu Dawud no 2686 and Anwal Ma'bud 3/12 However, according to numerous accounts deemed reliable, such as a number of narrations in Sahih Bukhari, and Ibn Sa'd's biographical compendium, the Tabaqat Al-Kubra, Uqba was not executed but was killed during fighting in the field of battle at Badr and was among those Quraysh leaders whose corpses were buried in a pit.
Muslims killed in the Battle of Badr
Fourteen Muslims were killed in that battle.
- Haritha bin Suraqa al-Khazraji
- Dhush-shimaalayn ibn 'Abdi 'Amr al-Muhajiri
- Rafi' bin al-Mu'alla al-Khazraji
- Sa'd bin Khaythama al-Awsi
- Safwan bin Wahb al-Muhajiri
- Aaqil bin al-Bukayr al-Muhajiri
- Ubayda bin al-Harith al-Muhajiri
- Umayr bin al-Humam al-Khazraji
- Umayr bin Abi Waqqas al-Muhajiri
- Awf bin al-Harith al-Khazraji
- Mubashshir bin 'Abdi'l Mundhir al-Awsi
- Mu'awwidh bin al-Harith al-Khazraji
- Mihja' bin Salih al-Muhajiri
- Yazid bin al-Harith bin Fus.hum al-Khazraji
The Battle of Badr was extremely influential in the rise of two men who would determine the course of history on the Arabian peninsula for the next century. The first was Muhammad, who was transformed overnight from a Meccan outcast into a major leader. Marshall Hodgson adds that Badr forced the other Arabs to "regard the Muslims as challengers and potential inheritors to the prestige and the political role of the [Quraish]." Shortly thereafter he expelled the Banu Qaynuqa, one of the Jewish tribes at Medina that had been threatening his political position, and who had assaulted a Muslim woman which led to their expulsion for breaking the peace treaty. At the same time Abd-Allah ibn Ubayy, Muhammad's chief opponent in Medina, found his own position seriously weakened. Henceforth, he would only be able to mount limited challenges to Muhammad.
The other major beneficiary of the Battle of Badr was Abu Sufyan, safely away from the battle leading the caravan. The death of Amr ibn Hashim, as well as many other Quraishi nobles gave Abu Sufyan the opportunity, almost by default, to become chief of the Quraish. As a result, when Muhammad marched into Mecca six years later, it was Abu Sufyan who helped negotiate its peaceful surrender. Abu Sufyan subsequently became a high-ranking official in the Muslim Empire, and his son Muawiya would later go on to found the Umayyad Caliphate.
In later days, the battle of Badr became so significant that Ibn Ishaq included a complete name-by-name roster of the Muslim army in his biography of Muhammad. In many hadiths, veterans who fought at Badr are identified as such as a formality, and they may have even received a stipend in later years. The death of the last of the Badr veterans occurred during the First Islamic civil war.
As Paul K. Davis sums up, "Mohammed's victory confirmed his authority as leader of Islam; by impressing local tribes that joined him, the expansion of Islam began."
Islamic primary sources
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Badr in the Quran
Quran: Al Imran 3:123–125 (Yusuf Ali). "Allah had helped you at Badr, when ye were a contemptible little force; then fear Allah; thus May ye show your gratitude. Remember thou saidst to the Faithful: "Is it not enough for you that Allah should help you with three thousand angels (Specially) sent down? "Yea, – if ye remain firm, and act aright, even if the enemy should rush here on you in hot haste, your Lord would help you with five thousand angels Making a terrific onslaught."
According to Abdullah Yusuf Ali, the term "gratitude" may be a reference to discipline. At Badr, the Muslim forces had allegedly maintained firm discipline, whereas at Uhud they broke ranks to pursue the Meccans, allowing Meccan cavalry to flank and rout their army. The idea of Badr as a furqan, an Islamic miracle, is mentioned again in the same surah.
Quran: Al Imran 3:13 (Yusuf Ali). "There has already been for you a Sign in the two armies that met (in combat): One was fighting in the cause of Allah, the other resisting Allah; these saw with their own eyes Twice their number. But Allah doth support with His aid whom He pleaseth. In this is a warning for such as have eyes to see."
Badr is also the subject of Sura 8: Al-Anfal, which details military conduct and operations. "Al-Anfal" means "the spoils" and is a reference to the post-battle discussion in the Muslim army over how to divide up the plunder from the Quraishi army. Though the Sura does not name Badr, it describes the battle, and several of the verses are commonly thought to have been from or shortly after the battle.
|“||Narrated Ibn 'Umar: 'Uthman did not join the Badr battle because he was married to one of the daughters of Allah's Apostle and she was ill. So, the Prophet said to him. "You will get a reward and a share (from the war booty) similar to the reward and the share of one who has taken part in the Badr battle."||”|
|“||Narrated 'Abdur-Rahman bin 'Auf: While I was standing in the row on the day (of the battle) of Badr, I looked to my right and my left and saw two young Ansari boys, and I wished I had been stronger than they. One of them called my attention saying, "O Uncle! Do you know Abu Jahl?" I said, "Yes, what do you want from him, O my nephew?" He said, "I have been informed that he abuses Allah's Apostle. By Him in Whose Hands my life is, if I should see him, then my body will not leave his body till either of us meet his fate." I was astonished at that talk. Then the other boy called my attention saying the same as the other had said. After a while I saw Abu Jahl walking amongst the people. I said (to the boys), "Look! This is the man you asked me about." So, both of them attacked him with their swords and struck him to death and returned to Allah's Apostle to inform him of that. Allah's Apostle asked, "Which of you has killed him?" Each of them said, "I Have killed him." Allah's Apostle asked, "Have you cleaned your swords?" They said, "No. " He then looked at their swords and said, "No doubt, you both have killed him and the spoils of the deceased will be given to Muadh bin Amr bin Al-Jamuh." The two boys were Muadh bin 'Afra and Muadh bin Amr bin Al-Jamuh.||”|
In modern culture
"Badr" has become popular among Muslim armies and paramilitary organizations. "Operation Badr" was used to describe Egypt's offensive in the 1973 Yom Kippur War as well as Pakistan's actions in the 1999 Kargil War. Iranian offensive operations against Iraq in the late 1980s were also named after Badr. During the 2011 Libyan civil war, the rebel leadership stated that they selected the date of the assault on Tripoli to be the 20th of Ramadan, marking the anniversary of the Battle of Badr.
- Quraish refers to the tribe in control of Mecca. The plural and adjective are Quraishi. The terms "Quraishi" and "Meccan" are used interchangeably between the Hijra in 622 and the Muslim Conquest of Mecca in 630.
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Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah: When it was the day (of the battle) of Badr, prisoners of war were brought including Al-Abbas who was undressed. The Prophet looked for a shirt for him. It was found that the shirt of 'Abdullah bin Ubai would do, so the Prophet let him wear it. That was the reason why the Prophet took off and gave his own shirt to 'Abdullah. (The narrator adds, "He had done the Prophet some favor for which the Prophet liked to reward him.")
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Books and articles
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- Battle of Badr, 17th Ramadan 624 A.D
- Badr at IslamAnswers.Net
- The first battle of Islam at Badr: Islamic Occasions Network
- Tafsir (Sura 8: verse 11 to 18) – Battle of Badr: Analysis of Qur'anic verses by Irshaad Hussain.