Gibril Fouad Haddad

An oasis and seasonal market town of the Ghifār tribe possibly named after the digger of its well, Badr b. al-Ḥārith, located at the lowest point of the Wādī al-Ṣafrāʾ valley between Madina (155 km away) and Makka (310 km away), east of the Red Sea coastal route used by the Syrian and Egyptian trade caravans, Badr is where the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—led three military expeditions, the first two in the second year of the Hijra and the third in the fourth year.

Events: Badr I, II, and III

Badr I, also known as the Safawān expedition and Badr al-Ūlā, took place in Rabīʿ I 2/September 623 in response to a raid by the Makkan chief Kurz b. Jābir al-Fihrī on the grazing herds (sarḥ) of Madina. The Prophet led a counter-expedition up to the Safawān valley in the vicinity of Badr, then returned to Madina without finding Kurz, who later became Muslim and was killed in a skirmish during the conquest of Makka (Ramadan 8/January 630).

Badr II is mentioned explicitly in Sūrat Āl ʿImrān as a victory against all odds: Allah had already given you the victory at Badr, when you were contemptible in number (Q 3:123); and implicitly elsewhere (Q 3:13, 140, 165; 8:5ff.) (see Anonymous Mentions). Sūrat al-Anfāl is a Divine commentary on the events of that campaign and its aftermath (see below). The Battle of Badr holds tremendous importance in the Prophetic biography and world history. Fought in Ramadan 2/624, it is known as the Major Campaign of Badr (ghazwat Badr al-kubrā/al-ʿuẓmā) and “Badr of the Battle” (Badr al-qitāl)—the Arabic word ghazwa or “raid,” plurals maghāzī and ghazawāt, being traditionally used by the scholars for the 27 military operations in which the Prophet took part, as distinct from the sariyya, plural sarāyā, or baʿth, plural buʿūth, the 60 expeditions he did not physically accompany (al-ʿIrāqī, Alfiyya v. 573-780, p. 103-122; al-Sibāʿī, Sīra p. 79). Its Qurʾānic name is the Day of the Criterion (Q 8:41) and it is also mentioned as the Day the Two Throngs Met (Q 8:41) which also refers to the Battle of Uḥud (3/625) (Q 3:155, 3:166).

The third expedition to Badr took place in Shaʿbān 4/626 (according to the majority of the historians of the Prophetic biography, a minority dating it in Dhūl-Qaʿda 4/626) in response to Abū Sufyān’s challenge, upon parting at Uḥud: “We shall meet again at Badr in exactly one year,” to which the Prophet assented (Ibn Isḥāq, al-Sīra 2:343), whence its alternate names of Badr of the Tryst (Badr al-mawʿid) and the Minor Badr (Badr al-ṣughrā). The Prophet went out on the night of the new moon with 1,500 men and 10 horses, leaving ʿAbd Allāh b. Rawāḥa in charge of Madina, and camped at Badr for eight nights during which they engaged in fruitful trade, while Abū Sufyān came out with 2,000 men until they reached the oasis of ʿUsfān between al-Juḥfa and Makka. There he changed his mind and decided to return to Makka on the pretext that it was a drought year, to the jeers of his fellow Makkans. The revelation of Q 3:174 was linked to that campaign: So they (the Muslims) returned with grace and favor from Allah, and no harm touched them. They followed the good pleasure of Allah, and Allah is of infinite bounty (Baghawī, Tafsīr; Ibn Rushd, al-Jāmiʿ p. 104, 106-107, 122; Mughulṭāy, al-Ishāra p. 191-192, 197-201, 243-245; Shurrāb, al-Maʿālim p. 44-46; Marʿashli, “Badr,” Mawsūʿa p. 144). The rest of this entry is about Badr II.

The Great Severing

The Qurʾānic appellation of furqān (Q 8:41) or “Criterion” for the Battle of Badr prophetically sums up its historical, strategic, and geopolitical ramifications as the first step in the subsequent demise and assimilation of all the non-Muslim powers in the Arabian peninsula and its fringes one by one—the Arabs, the Jews, the Byzantines, and the Persians—followed by outward expansion. The erudite early Muslims viewed Badr as one of the major signs of the end of times; the Baṣran Jāhiliyya-born Tābiʿī (Successor) exegete Abū al-ʿĀliya Rufayʿ b. Mahrān al-Riyāḥī al-Tamīmī (d. 90/709) said: “We considered that the day when We shall strike them with the greatest strike [then], in truth We shall punish (Q 44:16) was the Day of Badr” (Ibn Abī Shayba, al-Maghāzī p. 216-217 §204)—and it was indeed Ibn Masʿūd’s (d. 32/ca.653) famous exegesis of “the greatest strike” (al-baṭshat al-kubrā) in that verse and his view that it had already taken place (Bukhārī, Tafsīr, yaghshā al-nās, hādhā ʿadhābun alīm; Muslim, Ṣifat al-qiyāma, al-dukhān). Much more than just Islam’s first major military victory, Badr as the Day of Criterion (yawm al-furqān, Q 8:41), embodies the Muslims’ sense of themselves as the people of Belief in latter-day history, the last opportunity for mankind—the Prophet prayed, “O Allah, if You do not grant victory to this small band of Muslims You will no longer be worshipped on earth” (Muslim, Jihād, al-imdād bil-malāʾika fī ghazwat Badr)—who can never be one again with the people of Unbelief (see Disbelief and Doubt; Disbelievers) regardless of parentage, tribe, or national affiliation, as the battle pitted brother against brother, father against son; “for on that day truth (ḥaqq) was distinguished from falsehood (bāṭil)” (Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr, sub Q 8:41). The more analytical works of Prophetic biography and Qurʾān commentary have elaborated these and other momentous consequences of Badr (e.g., Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr, sub Q 8:29 and 8:41; ʿArjūn, Muḥammad Rasūl Allāh 3:284-538; Abū Shahba, al-Sīra al-Nabawiyya p. 123-178; al-Būṭī, Fiqh al-Sīra p. 229-247).

“The Sura of Badr”: Synopsis of Sūrat al-Anfāl

Revealed in the Madinan period and numbered 89 (according to Ibn ʿĀshūr) or 93 (according to al-Jābirī) in the sequence of revelation, the 75-verse Sūrat al-Anfāl was dubbed by Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/619-688) “the Sura of Badr” (Muslim, Tafsīr, fī Sūrat Barāʾa wal-Anfāl wal-Ḥashr; Baghawī, Tafsīr, sub Q 9:1; cf. Bukhārī, Tafsīr, qawluh Yasʾalūnaka ʿanil-anfāl) as it gathers up Divine strategic and martial ordinances for all time in the form of a vivid commentary on the events of that campaign and its aftermath—as well as reminders of the practical reality of what it means to be a believer or an unbeliever—in the following form:

  1. War spoils (see Booty) belong to none but Allah and His Prophet. This is a warning for those whose approach to battle is still rooted in the pagan ethos of pillage and looting, and a reassurance to the true believers, defined as those who heed the Qurʾān, pray, and give of their wealth. They shall be raised to various levels in Paradise (Q 8:1-4). The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, had two criers announce before battle: “Let no one loot even a needle from the spoils!” (al-Fazārī, al-Siyar p. 234 §388). It is in reference to this issue that Sūrat al-Anfāl begins: They ask you about the spoils of war. Say: The spoils of war belong to Allah and the Messenger, so keep your duty to Allah, and adjust the matter of your difference, and obey Allah and His messenger, if you are believers (Q 8:1);
  2. Allah brought the Emigration (see Ḥijra) to pass for the sake of truth and right, and promised the believers supremacy over the Quraysh for the sake of right, with victory over either Abū Sufyān’s trade caravan returning from Syria or the Makkan detachment sent out later to escort it safely home (Q 8:5-8).The above mention of the Hijra together with the repeated reference to Firʿawn and his doomed host (Q 8:52-54) and the reference to Badr as the great severing (Q 8:41) and greatest strike (Q 44:16) imply a sustained comparison of pre-Islamic Makka with Pharaonic Egypt, the Hijra with the Exodus, and the routing of Quraysh with the drowning of Firʿawn and his host. The Prophet underlined this similitude with his remark over Abū Jahl’s corpse, “This was the Firʿawn of my Community” (Aḥmad through the narrators of Bukhārī and Muslim, Musnad 7:278-280 §4246-4247);
  3. Allah Most High aided the Companions of His Prophet through their restful sleep, the elements, and angelic support of the believers and deterrence of the enemy (Q 8:9-14) (see Angels).

The verse [mentioning sleep] contains the reminder of the bounty of Allah toward them, in that despite their fear of meeting the enemy and their being daunted at the prospect, Allah stilled their hearts and made them feel secure so that they were able to sleep in peace without fear the night before the battle. (Shawkānī, Fatḥ al-qadīr, sub Q 8:11)

The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, also proclaimed to his army that their enemies would be routed, citing a verse that had been revealed seven years earlier: Their multitude will be put to flight, and they will show their backs (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 54:45).

Help was sent in the form of a thousand angels (Q 8:9), who fought invisibly but were heard spurring their horses (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 3:124-125, cf. 8:11-12; Muslim, Jihād wal-siyar, imdād bil-malāʾika), and the enemies’ heads were observed flying off their shoulders from invisible sword-blows (Aḥmad, Musnad al-Anṣār, ḥadīth Abī Dāwūd al-Māzinī and Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 3:124). Al-Rāzī (543-606/1148-1209), however, wavers regarding whether the angels fought the unbelievers literally: he first says they did (al-malāʾika… qātalū al-kuffār) in his commentary on Q 3:124, “by consensus of the exegetes and Sīra historians;” then reconsiders and states, “they differed as to the modality of the angels’ help, some saying through fighting alongside the believers (bil-qitāl maʿ al-muʾminīn), while others said, rather, by strengthening their souls and feelings that victory was theirs and by casting fear into the unbelievers’ hearts;” and finally explicitly sides, in his commentary on Q 8:9-10, with the view that the angels never literally took part in any battle.

Kaʿb b. Mālik (d. 51/671)—Allah be well-pleased with him—reportedly declaimed on that occasion:

We witnessed that Allah, there is no god other than Him / and that Muḥammad is victorious with the truth / As swift white blades were bared, like torches a sword-dancer whirs before your eyes.  (Ibn Hishām, Sīra 3-4:15, Mā qīl min al-shiʿr fī yawm Badr, shiʿr Kaʿb b. Mālik yarudd ʿalā Ḍirār b. al-Khaṭṭāb)

  1. Desertion in battle is absolutely forbidden: the believers must respond to Allah and His Messenger, and dissension and treachery are proscribed, although victory is all from Allah (Q 8:15-19). As the enemy army approached, the Prophet said: “Let no one go forward anywhere until I first get in front of him.” ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/660) later said: “I can still see us taking refuge behind him in the battle of Badr: he was always the nearest of us to the enemy.” Fleeing in the face of the enemy became a categorical prohibition (al-Fazārī, al-Siyar p. 199 §§294-295; Ibn Abī Shayba, al-Maghāzī p. 180-181 §133, p. 215 §§199-200). When the pagans were very near, the Prophet gave the signal to go forward with the words: “Rise to a garden as wide as heaven and earth!” (Muslim, Imāra, thubūt al-janna lil-shahīd) and he recited, and race to forgiveness from your Lord, and a Paradise as wide as the heavens and the earth, prepared for those who ward off evil (Q 3:133) (al-Fazārī, al-Siyar p. 215-217 §333).

The verse of Divine triumph (Q 8:17: You (Muslims) slew them not, but Allah slew them. And you (Muḥammad) threw not when you did throw, but Allah threw, that He might test the believers by a fair test from Him. Truly Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing) is of immense importance in Sunni doctrine, contrary to Muʿtazilism, for its illustration of the exclusive effectiveness of the Divine will in the creation of history and all human acts (see Ability; Acquisition). Al-Ṭabarī (224-310/839-ca.922) comments:

Allah Most High told those who believe in Him and in His Prophet among the combatants at Badr fighting alongside the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, against the Qurayshite pagan enemies of the Religion: “You yourselves did not kill the pagans, O believers, but it was Allah Who killed them.” He ascribes their slaying to Himself and negates it from the believers who had fought the pagans, because it it He—Almighty—who was the Causator (musabbib) of their slaying, and the fighting of the believers against them came from His command. This constitutes the most glaring proof against those who deny that Allah has any hand in the acts of His creatures by which they enact them. (Tafsīr, sub Q 8:17)

Both the verse and its referent—the report of the Prophet’s casting of dust in the direction of the enemies with the imprecation “Perish the faces!” (shāhat al-wujūh)—were adduced by al-Wāqidī (d. 207/822) and Ibn Hishām (d. ca.218/833) and are quoted by some later books of Sīra in the context of the battle of Badr (al-Maghāzī 1:133; Ibn Hishām, Sīra 1-2:668, Dhikr ruʾyā ʿĀtika bint ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib, al-Rasūl yarmī al-mushrikīn bil-ḥaṣbāʾ; Ibn al-Qayyim, Zād al-maʿād 3:163). Mālik b. Anas (93-179/712-795) asserted there was consensus among the exegetes that the pelting and imprecation of the unbelievers’ army also took place in the battle of Ḥunayn (Ibn Rushd, al-Bayān wal-taḥṣīl 17:539; cf. Muslim, Jihād wal-siyar, fī ghazwat Ḥunayn). This is confirmed in the commentaries on the verses of Ḥunayn (cf. Tafsīrs of al-Farrāʾ, ʿAbd al-Razzāq, Ṭabarī, Makkī, Baghawī, Ibn al-ʿArabī, Rāzī, Qurṭubī, Abū Ḥayyān, Ibn Juzayy, Ibn Kathīr, al-Khāzin, Ibn ʿĀdil, Naysābūrī, Abū al-Suʿūd, Shirbīnī, Ibn ʿAjība, Ṣābūnī, sub Q 9:25-26) and “There is no disagreement over this” (Tafsīrs of Thaʿālibī and Ibn ʿĀshūr, sub Q 9:25);

  1. The believers are summoned to hold fast to obedience to Allah and His Prophet, and those who do not are compared to dumb beasts and to the dead. They cause an all-inclusive Divine punishment (Q 8:20-25);
  2. The unbelievers once plotted against the Prophet in Makka and some of them even dared to torture his followers, squandering their wealth in the propagation of misguidance and falsehood. They were spared from immediate Divine retribution for the sake of the Prophet being among them, but will no longer be spared (Q 8:26-40);
  3. Wealth and children are a test (see Trials and Strife) (Q 8:27). When the believers truly fear Allah, Allah grants them spiritual and moral discernment: Believers, if you fear Allah, He will give you discrimination (furqānan) and will rid you of your evil thoughts and deeds, and will forgive you. Allah is of infinite bounty (Q 8:29). Al-Rāzī and Ibn ʿAjība (d. 1224/1809) both discuss this verse in light of the verse Is he whose chest Allah expands to surrender [unto Him], so that he follows a light from his Lord, [as him who disbelieves]? (Q 39:22). The latter states: "He will give you a light in your hearts by which you can differentiate between truth and falsehood, beauty and ugliness. According to Ibn Juzayy this shows that Godwariness (taqwā) enlightens the heart, expands the chest, and increases one’s knowledge (ʿilm) and gnosis (maʿrifa)." (Ibn ʿAjība, Baḥr, sub Q 8:29)
  4. The Divinely-ordained distribution scheme of war spoils (ghanīma) into five categories known as “fifth” (khumus) (Q 8:41) (see Booty);
  5. The clash of Muslim ranks and pagan ranks in battle and the miraculous diminishment of the latter in the believers’ eyes (Q 8:41-44). Al-Rāzī explains:

Know that Allah Most High made the number of the pagans seem small in the eyes of the believers, and He also made the number of the believers seem small in the eyes of the pagans. The wisdom in the first belittlement was to confirm the dream of the Messenger—upon him blessings and peace—and also so that [the believers’] hearts and fighting spirit would be strengthened against the enemy. The wisdom in the second belittlement was that when the pagans made little of the number of the Muslims, they lowered their guard, and did not make every preparation against them; that became the means for the believers to overcome them. (Tafsīr, sub Q 8:44)

  1. The Divine injunction to the believers to be united, steadfast, and humble in battle in contradistinction to the delusion and hubris of the unbelievers, doomed to destruction just as Firʿawn and his host were destroyed—all, again, worse than beasts (Q 8:45-55);
  2. Castigation of the hypocrites for their betrayal of the believers, and the exemplary punishment of treaty-breakers as a lesson to others (Q 8:49, 56-59);
  3. Strategy of war preparedness for the deterrence of would-be betrayers and other enemies in order to achieve secure truce and peace (Q 8:60-61);
  4. The unity of the believers and their protection from harm is a miraculous Divine gift, not a matter of organization or funding (Q 8:62-64). These verses echo the Qurʾānic summon to unity (Q 3:103, 42:13) and warning that disunity spells defeat: and dispute not one with another lest you falter and your strength depart from you (Q 8:46, cf. Q 6:65 and 159);
  5. The superior balance of power of believers against unbelievers despite the smaller number of the believers (Q 8:65-66). According to a number of commentators, the verses O Prophet, Allah is sufficient for you and those believers who follow you. O Prophet, exhort the believers to fight. If there be of you twenty steadfast they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be of you a hundred steadfast they shall overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve, because they (the disbelievers) are a folk without intelligence (Q 8:64-65) were revealed before the beginning of the sura, while the Muslim army was still on the way to Badr (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr, introduction to Q 8).

Of the ten-to-one ratio Makkī al-Qaysī (d. 437/ca.1045) said:

That is because the polytheists (mushrikūn: see Polytheism and Polytheists) are a nation that fights without hope of Divine reward, and not in pursuit of recompense. Hence they do not stand firm in the fray, for fear they might be killed and part with their world. ʿAṭāʾ said that when this verse (Q 8:65) was revealed it weighed heavily on the Muslims. They thought it too much that twenty of them should have to fight two hundred, and one hundred fight a thousand. So Allah lessened this injunction for them and abrogated it (nasakhahā: see Abrogation) with the verse Now has Allah lightened your burden, for He knows that there is weakness in you. So if there be of you a steadfast hundred they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be of you a thousand they shall overcome two thousand by permission of Allah. Allah is with the steadfast (Q 8:66). (Makkī, Hidāya, sub Q 8:65-66)

It was also said that this was merely a lightening (takhfīf) from Allah and not an abrogation, since He did not say that one should not fight ten; He only lightened what had previously been made obligatory for them (furiḍa ʿalayhim). It is equivalent to a traveler not fasting: it is only a lessening and is not called an abrogation, as one who travels may still fast without sin, and his fast is valid.

Al-Māturīdī (d. 333/ca.945) said of the same verses:

Some say the understanding that it was previously a categorical obligation is because the verse If there be of you twenty (in yakun minkum ʿishrūna, Q 8:65) was read in the sense of Let there be twenty of you (li-yakun minkum ʿishrūna); and if it were not a binding command then the lightening would make no sense. Others say the ten-to-one verse was only a Divine promise of support, in the spirit of How many a little company has overcome a mighty host by Allah’s leave! Allah is with the steadfast (Q 2:249). But it is more likely that it was a command. (Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt, sub Q 8:65-66)

  1. The status of the Badr prisoners of war (Q 8:67-71). This issue is discussed below in a separate section;
  2. The aid due to allies (see Alliance and Treaty) of the Muslims, and another definition of the true believers: Those who believed and left their homes and strove for the cause of Allah, and those who took them in and helped them (Q 8:72-74);
  3. Prioritizing relatives in inheritance (see Inheritance and Patrimony), especially blood relatives (q.v.) (Q 8:75). This verse is related to the new order inaugurated by the victory at Badr and abrogates the pre-Islamic remittance of inheritance to allies referred to as those with whom your right hands have made a covenant (Jalālayn, Tafsīr, sub Q 4:33).

The Prelude to Badr

After the Quraysh seized all the Makkan properties of the Emigrants (see Muhājirūn) as part of their declared state of war with the Muslims, both sides recognized the possibility of the latter recouping their losses by raiding the Makkans’ Syrian trade caravan—a motive that proved the catalyst of the events that led to Badr, which Allah was to turn into a much greater achievement. Spies were hard at work reporting each side’s movements to the other. There was also a conscious effort by the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—to engage in actual battle with the Makkans, evidenced by frequent raids and sorties; the Makkans, too, were eager to engage in such warfare. The early reports of the events—transmitted with varying reliability and uniformity in the now-reconstituted Maghāzī of al-Zuhrī (52?-124/672?-742) and Sīra of Ibn Isḥāq (80-150/699-767), the latter’s emendation by Ibn Hishām, the Maghāzī of Mūsā b. ʿUqba (d. 141/758), al-Wāqidī, and Ibn Abī Shayba (159-235/776-849), the Siyar of al-Fazārī (d. 186/802), the Ṭabaqāt of Ibn Saʿd (d. 230/ca.845), and the books of hadith—were combined into a single narrative in subsequent histories, as in the following account by Ibn Rushd (450-520/1058-1126):

When Ramadan 2 AH (March 624) began, news reached the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—that a huge caravan carrying vast goods for the Quraysh (1,000 camels and 50,000 dinars, according to al-Wāqidī) was on its way to Makka from Syria with 43 Qurayshīs headed by Abū Sufyān b. Ḥarb. The Prophet prepared a raid on that caravan and ordered whoever had a mount to go; he did not mobilize a great number as he was only after the caravan and did not expect combat to take place. News of the Prophet’s expedition reached Abū Sufyān, who sent out an alarm call to Makka and an urgent summon for help. Most of the Makkans came out, and very few of their top leaders stayed behind.

When the Prophet heard that the Makkans had come out en masse to defend their caravan he informed his Companions and sought their opinion. Many of the Emigrants spoke out but the Prophet kept asking for more responses; he wanted to hear from the Helpers (see Anṣār). Then Saʿd b. Muʿādh said: “Messenger of Allāh, even if you were to enter that sea we would dive into it with you. March us, then, Messenger of Allah, with the blessing of Allah, wherever you want.” The Prophet was pleased when he heard this. He said: “March, and receive the good news! For Allah Most High has promised me victory over one of the two bands” (cf. Q 8:7).

When Abū Sufyān came in sight of Badr he went forward alone until he reached the oasis and asked Majdī b. ʿAmr: “Have you news of anyone coming this way?” He said, “No, only two riders that dismounted over at that hill, drank, and got up.” Abū Sufyān went over to their spot, examined their camels’ droppings, and saw date-pits in them. He exclaimed: “This, by Allah, is Yathrib fodder!” Alarmed, he hurried back and diverted the caravan from its route, taking the coastline and escaping to safety. He then sent word to the Quraysh that he and the caravan were safe and that they should go back. Abū Jahl refused, saying: “By Allah, we shall not go back until we alight at the oasis of Badr and spend three days there, after which the Arabs will fear us forever.”

The Messenger of Allah reached the oasis of Badr before the Quraysh, thanks to rain Allah had sent down on the latter which impeded their march, while only enough of it fell on the Muslims to compact the trail through the valley, which helped them go faster (cf. Q 8:11). The Messenger of Allah—upon him blessings and peace—went forward to the area where the clash would take place and showed his Companions the spots where the chiefs of the unbelievers would meet with their demise, saying: “This is the spot where so-and-so will be killed; and this is the spot where so-and-so will be killed.” Each one of them was killed exactly where he foretold and nowhere else (cf. Muslim, Janna wa-ṣifat naʿīmihā, ʿarḍ maqʿad al-mayyit min al-Janna aw al-Nār]) The clash took place on Ramadan 17 of the second year after the Hijra. (al-Bayān wal-taḥṣīl 17:428-429; cf. Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt 2:10-25; al-Wāqidī, Maghāzī 1:200)

Some of the Muslims had expressed reservations about engaging the Quraysh when they heard that the latter had come out in arms to protect their caravan, an incident reported in the verse Even as your Lord caused you to go forth from your home with the Truth, and thereupon a party of the believers were averse, disputing with you of the Truth after it had been made manifest, as if they were being driven to a visible death (Q 8:5-6; cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, Ibn Kathīr, sub Q 8:5-8). The Prophet having assured them that Allah Most High had “promised victory over one of the two bands”—And when Allah promised you one of the two bands [of the enemy] that it should be yours—they at first wished it would be the caravan of goods rather than the military outfit: and you longed that the unarmed one might be yours (Q 8:7). Their commitment was sealed through two key verbal interventions variously attributed to al-Miqdād b. ʿAmr on behalf of the Muhājirūn (Emigrants) and Saʿd b. Muʿādh on the part of the Anṣār (Helpers). The latter mattered the most to the Prophet for two reasons: the Helpers constituted four-fifths of the Muslim army and their pledge at al-ʿAqaba was couched in defensive terms for protection of the Prophet inside Madina. Al-Miqdād, famous for his archery, said: “By Allah, we shall not say to you as the Israelites said to Mūsā, ‘Go, you and your Lord, and let the two of you fight while we sit here’ (Q 5:24); rather, we shall fight to your right, to your left, in front of you, and behind you!” whereupon, Ibn Masʿūd said, “I saw the face of the Prophet light up with gladness.” Ibn Abī Shayba attributes al-Miqdād’s statement to Saʿd b. Muʿādh. The latter also said, “If you brought us to this sea (the Red Sea) and plunged into it, we would plunge into it with you to the last man!” (Bukhārī, Maghāzī, qawl Allāh taʿālā idh tastaghīthūn Rabbakum; Ibn Hishām, Sīra 1-2:615, Dhikr ruʾyā ʿĀtika bint ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib, istishārat al-Anṣār; al-Wāqidī, Maghāzī 1:48; Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 8:9; Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt 3:149; Ibn Abī Shayba, al-Maghāzī p. 177-178 §127). All of the above reports illustrate the remarkably developed level of consultative deliberation (shūrā) (see Consultation) practiced by the Prophet with the Madinan leadership, not to mention the dedication and commitment of the Anṣār (al-Būṭī, Fiqh al-Sīra p. 232-240).

The Major Battle of Badr

The Muslim army numbered 314 according to Ibn Isḥāq (Sīra 1:317), a figure elsewhere ranging between 305 (Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt 2:11) to 319 (Muslim, Jihād wal-siyar, al-imdād bil-malāʾika fi ghazwat Badr): over 60 Emigrants (Muhājirūn) and over 240 Helpers (Anṣār) (Bukhārī, Maghāzī, ʿiddat aṣḥāb Badr). They were poorly equipped, with seventy camels and two or three horses, while the Makkans outnumbered them three to one in full armor and horses, having come forth from their dwellings boastfully and to be seen by men—with drummers and minstrels—and debar others from the way of Allah; but Allah encompasses all they do (Q 8:47).

The Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—showed his calmness and tactical finesse when he deduced their number from the replies of three Qurayshī water-carrying slaves whom the Muslims had captured and interrogated unsparingly—Yasār, Aslam, and Abū Rāfiʿ, respectively the slaves of ʿUbayd b. Saʿīd b. al-ʿĀṣ, Munabbih b. al-Ḥajjāj, and Umayya b. Khalaf. As the Prophet prayed he could hear the interrogators beating the prisoners every time the latter said they belonged to Abū Jahl’s expedition and described the Makkans as “many, and in full force;” but they left them alone when they claimed they belonged to Abū Sufyān’s caravan—which was what the Muslims preferred to hear since the latter had no military protection. The Prophet went over and said: “If they tell you the truth you beat them, and if they lie to you, you leave them alone!” (Muslim, Jihād wal-siyar, ghazwat Badr). Then he asked the prisoners: “How many are they (Abū Jahl’s army)?” They replied, “Many, by Allah! and in full force.” He said: “How many camels do they slaughter every day?” They said “Nine or ten per day.” The Prophet said, ”A camel feeds a hundred men; they are between 900 and 1,000.” He then forced the encounter by filling all the wells of Badr with sand except the one under his control, following the tactical advice of al-Ḥubāb b. al-Mundhir b. al-Jamūḥ according to a famous but weak report (Maghāzī of al-Zuhrī p. 63; al-Wāqidī 1:52-53; Ibn Abī Shayba p. 186-188 §146; Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 8:11-14; al-ʿUmarī, al-Sīra al-Nabawiyya al-ṣaḥīḥa p. 360 and n. 2)

Muṣʿab b. ʿUmayr al-ʿAbdarī carried the Muslim army’s white standard, while ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib carried the banner of the Emigrants and Saʿd b. Muʿādh that of the Helpers. Abū Lubāba b. ʿAbd al-Mundhir al-ʿAmrī was put in charge of Madina and Ibn Umm Maktūm was in charge of leading prayers there. The Prophet supplicated at length both the night before and during battle, as narrated from three different Companions:

  • From ʿUmar: “O Allah, grant me what You promised me, for if You let this small Muslim band perish You will no longer be worshipped on the face of the earth!” (Muslim, Jihād wal-siyar, imdād bil-malāʾika)
  • From Ibn ʿAbbās: “O Allah, truly I invoke before You Your covenant and Your promise! O Allah, if You so wished, You would not be worshipped! (Bukhārī, Maghāzī, idh tastaghīthūna Rabbakum)
  • From ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ: “O Allah, they are hungry, so feed them! O Allah, they are barefoot, so carry them! O Allah, they are naked, so clothe them!” (Abū Dāwūd, Jihād, nafl al-sariyya)

Abū Jahl also prayed to Allāh, but against the Prophet, and trusted that greater numbers would earn sure victory; but his hopes were dashed: [O unbelievers,] If you ask for a judgment, now has the judgment come unto you, and if you cease [persecuting the believers] it will be better for you; but if you return [to the attack], We too shall return, and your army will avail you nothing, however numerous. And [know] that Allah is with the believers (Q 8:19; Ibn Hishām, Sīra 1-2:668, Nuzūl Sūrat al-Anfāl taṣif aḥdāth Badr, mā nazal fī-l-istiftāḥ; Maghāzī of al-Zuhrī p. 62; al-Wāqidī 1:8; Ibn Abī Shayba p. 184 §141, p. 189 §148; Aḥmad, Bāqī musnad al-Anṣār, ḥadīth ʿAbd Allāh b. Baltaʿa b. Ṣuʿayr).

Angelic and Prophetic Address to the Unbelievers Who Died at Badr

Over seventy disbelievers were killed and as many were taken prisoner (Maghāzī of al-Zuhrī p. 62 and Ibn Abī Shayba p. 192-193 §153). The dead were thrown into a dry well and the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—addressed them in a famous hadith, narrated by Anas b. Mālik, in the same manner as the Prophets Ṣāliḥ and Shuʿayb had harangued the Thamūd and Madyan after their destruction (Q 7:78-79, 91-93):

The Prophet ordered that the bodies of the idolaters slain on the Day of Badr be thrown into a well whose interior was lined with stones. After three days he approached the well and began addressing the unbelievers by their names and their fathers’ names, saying: “O So-and-so son of So-and-so, and So-and-so son of So-and-so, it would have been easier if you had obeyed Allāh and His Messenger. We have found our Lord’s promise to be true; have you found your Lord’s promise to be true?” To which ʿUmar said: “Messenger of Allah, why do you speak to lifeless bodies?” (In Muslim: “How can they hear, and how can they answer when they have turned into carcasses?”) He replied: “By Him in whose hand is the soul of Muḥammad, you do not hear my words better than they do.” (In Muslim: “By Him in whose hand is the soul of Muḥammad, you do not hear my words better than they do, only they are unable to answer.”) (Bukhārī, Maghāzī, qatl Abī Jahl; Muslim, Janna wa-ṣifa naʿīmihā, ʿarḍ maqʿad al-mayyit min al-janna aw al-nār ʿalayh; Aḥmad, 21:451-452 §14064 Bāqī musnad al-mukthirīn, bāqī al-musnad al-sābiq)

Al-Ṭabarī relies heavily upon the above narrations in his long validation of the proofs for the hearing of the dead in his Tahdhīb al-āthar (see Barzakh).

Among these dead were a number of apostates referred to twice in the Qurʾān, people who had accepted Islam at first but then chose to stay in Makka and were then coerced or co-opted by the Makkan leaders to join them in warring against the Muslims, who then fought and died on the side of tyranny: As for those whom the angels take [in death] while they wrong themselves, [the angels] will ask: “In what conditions were you?” They will say: “We were oppressed in the land.” [The angels] will say: “Was not Allah’s earth spacious, so that you could have migrated therein?” As for such, their habitation will be hell, an evil journey’s end (Q 4:97); ʿIkrima also read the following verse in the same sense, glossing the wrongful compliance as the cooperation of those onetime Muslims with evil, which led to their being counted as one with its instigators: Those whom the angels cause to die while they wronged themselves. They complied fully. “We were doing no wrong.” Nay! Surely Allah is Knower of what you used to do (Q 16:28) (Ṭabarī and Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs, sub Q 4:97, 16:28).

According to al-Zuhrī the Muslims sustained fourteen—or according to some sixteen—casualties, listed by Ibn Isḥāq and others. Six were Emigrants (Muhājirūn):

  • Mihjaʿ al-ʿAkkī the mawlā of ʿUmar (see Clients), the first martyr in Islam;
  • the left-handed Dhūl-Shimālayn ʿUmayr b. ʿAbd ʿAmr;
  • Ṣafwān Ibn Bayḍāʾ (the latter being his mother’s name) al-Fihrī;
  • ʿUbayda b. al-Ḥārith b. al-Muṭṭalib;
  • ʿĀmir or ʿUmayr b. Abī Waqqāṣ; and
  • ʿĀqil b. Abī al-Bukayr of the Banū Saʿd b. Bakr, allied to the Banū ʿAdī b. Kaʿb.

The rest were all Anṣār:

  • ʿUmayr b. al-Ḥumām b. al-Jamūḥ of the Banū Salima b. Ḥarām, the first martyr of the Anṣār.
  • Saʿd b. Khaythama of the Banū ʿAmr b. ʿAwf;
  • Mubashshir b. ʿAbd al-Mundhir of the Banū ʿAmr b. ʿAwf;
  • Yazīd b. al-Ḥārith, nicknamed Fusḥum, of the Khazraj;
  • Rāfiʿ b. al-Muʿallā of the Banū Ḥubayb;
  • Ḥāritha b. Surāqa b. al-Ḥārith of the Banū ʿAdī b. al-Najjār;
  • ʿAwf b. al-Ḥārith and his brother;
  • Muʿawwidh b. al-Ḥārith b. Sawād, both of the Banū Ghanm b. Mālik b. al-Najjār.

Additional reports also mention:

  • Anasa, the mawlā of the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace), although it is also said that he survived, fought at Uḥud, and died in the caliphate of Abū Bakr al-Ṣiddīq (d. 13/634); and
  • Muʿādh b. Māʿiṣ, who allegedly died in Madina of wounds sustained at Badr; but it is more probable he survived and was killed years later at the battle of Biʾr Maʿūna.

(Ibn Isḥāq, Sīra 1:318; al-Wāqidī, Maghāzī 1:145-147; Ibn Abī Shayba, al-Maghāzī p. 200-201 §166, p. 218 §208; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 16:106; Ibn Ḥajar, al-Iṣāba, “Muʿādh b. Māʿiṣ”)

The Debate over the Captives

A debate took place over the fate of the Makkan prisoners of war (cf. Ibn Abī Shayba, al-Maghāzī p. 192-196 §§153-157). Some Companions, such as ʿUmar, ʿAbd Allāh b. Rawāḥa, and Saʿd b. Muʿādh, advised their execution, to pre-empt further aggression and as a just retaliation for years of terror and persecution, while Abū Bakr advocated leniency and their release in exchange for ransom money to replenish the Muslim treasury. According to one version of subsequent events, the Prophet took the latter’s advice (Muslim, Jihād wal-siyar, al-imdād bil-malāʾika fi ghazwat Badr wa-ibāḥat al-ghanāʾim) and ransomed them for four hundred dirhams (Abū Dāwūd, Jihād, fidāʾ al-asīr) and up to four thousand dirhams each (Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt 2:17) depending on their personal wealth (Ibn Kathīr, Sīra 2:461). According to another version (Tirmidhī, Siyar ʿan Rasul Allāh, mā jāʾ fī qatl al-usārā wal-fidāʾ; hadith classed ḥasan gharīb), Jibrīl  instructed the Prophet to tell the Companions they were free to choose between (a) execution, or (b) ransom in exchange for the future death of the same number of Muslims as the unbelievers they ransomed, whereupon the Muslims could choose the latter. A third version (Tirmidhī, Tafsīr, Sūrat al-Anfāl; hadith classed ḥasan) shows that the Prophet granted permission for each Muslim captor to decide for himself. A severe Divine rebuke was then revealed: It is not for any Prophet to have captives until he has made slaughter in the land (ḥattā yuthkhina fī-l-arḍ). You (Muslims) desire the lure of this world, but Allah desires [for you] the Hereafter; and Allah is Mighty, All-Wise. Had it not been for a decree of Allah which had gone before, an awful doom would have come upon you on account of what you took. (Q 8:67-68)

Al-Rāzī gave the following commentary on these two verses in his doctrinal monograph on the infallibility of Prophets entitled ʿIṣmat al-anbiyāʾ (p. 132-134):

There are three indicators of the complete innocence of the station of Prophets of any contravention in this incident:

  1. Either the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) received revelation regarding the permissibility of taking prisoners or he did not. In the first case it would be impermissible for him to consult his Companions, since verbatim stipulation and explicit revelation precludes any consultation; but if nothing was revealed at all then no sin whatsoever was committed.
  2. If that decision (to keep and ransom prisoners) had been wrong, Allah would have ordered that it be reversed: the prisoners would have had to be executed and their ransoms returned. Nothing of the kind took place; on the contrary, Allah said Now enjoy what you have won as lawful and good (Q 8:69), from which we understand there was no mistake in that decision whatsoever.
  3. The Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) did not immerse himself in self-blame and asking forgiveness, which confirms that no sin had taken place as we have already said.

In conclusion we say that just as rebuke came for abandoning an obligation, likewise it could come for abandoning a preference, and the preference at that time was carnage (ithkhān) and avoiding ransom in order to thwart any further enmity. If this issue had not been of a preferential type the Prophet would not have left the decision to the Companions.

The above is the reply concerning His saying It is not for any Prophet to have captives. As for His saying Had it not been for a decree of Allah…, its meaning is: “Were it not that war spoils had been made licit previously, I would have punished you for taking this ransom;” and this is extreme scolding in faulting them for resolving to accept ransom.

Thus, at the same time, Allah Most High Himself bestowed leniency, and commuted the ruling of obligatory execution to that of release upon payment of ransom with the very next verse: Now enjoy what you have won as lawful and good, and keep your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful (Q 8:69). In the final analysis, then, the way of mercy—though contrary to the norms of the conduct of war—was confirmed, to the advantage of all concerned, and the spoils of war were made licit for the Umma (Community) (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 8:67-69; Ibn Abī Shayba, al-Maghāzī p. 218 §207). Only two prisoners were executed out of seventy: the Prophet’s arch-persecutors al-Naḍr b. al-Ḥārith, and ʿUqba b. Abī Muʿayṭ who was executed on a tree (Ibn Hishām, Sīra 1-2:644, Dhikr ruʾyā ʿĀtika bint ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib, maqtal al-Naḍr wa-ʿUqba; Abū Shahba, al-Sīra 2:154-155; Ibn Abī Shayba, al-Maghāzī p. 210-211 §185). Al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1273) cited all the above versions and “was granted success in interpreting the verses of the captives in their light without departing from their outward meanings,” in the words of the Azharī historian Muḥammad Ṣādiq Ibrāhīm ʿArjūn (1321-1400/1903-1981), who wrote one of the most elaborate analyses of the battle of Badr, including the ransom issue, in his massive Sīra (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 8:67-69; Ibn Isḥāq, Sīra 1:317; ʿArjūn, Muḥammad Rasūl Allāh 1:501-504).

The Prophet showed further mercy, and strengthened the bonds of mutual forgiveness and future integration, by freeing those literate Makkan prisoners who had no means to have themselves ransomed, in exchange for their teaching the illiterate among the Madinans (Ibn Kathīr, Sīra 1:511-512). The captives were offered a further Divine incentive to accept Islam: O Prophet, say unto those captives who are in your hands: “If Allah knows any good in your hearts, He will give you better than that which has been taken from you, and will forgive you. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful” (Q 8:70). Al-ʿAbbās b. ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib (d. 32/653), one of the prisoners who had always supported the Prophet even before he overtly accepted Islam, said of the above verse:

I swear by Allah that it was revealed concerning me, when I mentioned my Islam to the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—and asked him to allot me back the twenty gold ounces that he had taken from me (as ransom at Badr, cf. Mūsā b. ʿUqba, al-Maghāzī p. 146); but he refused, after which Allah compensated me with twenty slaves, all of them keen traders redoubling my income, in addition to my hopes for His mercy and forgiveness. (Ibn Isḥāq, Sīra p. 317)

It is also related that the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—took 100 ounces of gold from his uncle al-ʿAbbās and 80 from his uncle ʿAqīl, to their initial dismay:

Al-ʿAbbās said: “Is it because we are your relatives? I swear that you have made me the poor man of Quraysh for the rest of my life!” The Prophet replied: “How can you be the poor man of Quraysh when you have deposited gold nuggets with Umm al-Faḍl (his wife) and told her, ‘If I am killed, I have left you rich for the rest of your life’?” Hearing this, he said, “I bear witness that what you said is exactly what happened and none saw it except Allah!” After Q 8:70 was revealed al-ʿAbbās said: “I wish you had taken many times as much.” (Abū Nuʿaym, Dalāʾil al-nubuwwa 2:476-477 §410; with a good chain of transmitters according to Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī, Maghāzī, shuhūd al-malāʾika Badran; cf. Ibn Kathīr, sub Q 8:70)

Ibrāhīm al-Nakhaʿī (d. 96/ca.715) said: “The Messenger of Allah—upon him blessings and peace—fixed the ransom of Arabs at Badr at forty ounces and that of freedmen (mawlā) at twenty, an ounce being worth forty dirhams” (Ibn Abī Shayba, al-Maghāzī p. 215-216 §201).

The High Rank of the Comrades of Badr

The Prophet indicated that the Muslim veterans of Badr (Badriyyūn) were dwellers of Paradise one and all, that they had been forgiven their past and future sins (Bukhārī, Maghāzī, faḍl man shahida Badran), and that even the heavenly veterans of Badr were counted among the best of angels (Ibn Mājah, Muqaddima, faḍl Ahl Badr). Ibn al-Amīr al-Sinbāwī (1154-1232/1741-1817) stated in his marginalia on ʿAbd al-Salām al-Laqānī’s (d. 1041/1631) commentary on the doctrinal primer Jawharat al-tawḥīd: “The outward sense of free permissiveness (ibāḥa) is not meant [in their being forgiven past and future sins] as it runs counter to the binding principle of the Law; what is meant is their being honored and graced with exemption from retribution (ʿadam al-muʾākhadha) or that they are granted to repent” (Ibn al-Amīr, Ḥāshiya Ibn al-Amīr p. 239).

Al-Khaṭīb (392-463/1002-1071) gives the following hierarchy of rank in Islam among the Companions:

First, the Ten Promised Paradise;

Then the senior Companions among those who fought at Badr;

Then those who gave “the Pledge of Divine Contentment” (bayʿat al-riḍwān) under the Tree;

Then those who entered Islam in the year of the conquest of Makka;

Then the younger Companions who saw the Prophet as children.

al-Khaṭīb, al-Jāmiʿ li-akhlāq al-rāwī 2:445-448; cf. also al-Ḥākim’s twelve classes in his Maʿrifat ʿulūm al-ḥadīth, and ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī’s Lamʿān al-abṣār fī-l-maqṭūʿ lahum bil-janna wal-maqṭūʿ lahum bil-nār (“The Brightness of Vision, concerning Those Definitely Bound for Paradise and Those Definitely Bound for Hellfire”)

Accordingly, the study of the veterans of Badr has become a branch of learning in its own right and they command immense respect and veneration in the Umma (see Community), as illustrated—in the wake of Ibn Isḥāq and Ibn Hishām—by al-Bukhārī’s list of their names in his Ṣaḥīḥ which he begins, as is the wont of Muslim scholars, with the name of the Prophet Muḥammad, followed by the names of the Companions in alphabetical order, in his chapter entitled “The Naming of Those Identified as People of Badr in the Jāmiʿ Compiled by Abū ʿAbd Allāh [al-Bukhārī], in Alphabetical Order” (Bukhārī, Maghāzī, tasmiyat man summiya min ahl Badr fī-l-Jāmiʿ al-ladhī waḍaʿahu Abū ʿAbd Allāh ʿalā ḥurūf al-muʿjam).

One of the most comprehensive studies of the battle of Badr is the two-volume 2006 work, Anwār al-fajr fī faḍāʾil ahl Badr, by the Egyptian al-Sayyid b. Ḥusayn al-ʿAffānī. A number of past scholars compiled the names of the blessed Companions of Badr for recitation in the form of intercessory prayers, such as Jāliyat al-kadar bi-dhikr asmāʾ ahl Badr wa-Shuhadāʾ Uḥud al-sādat al-ghurar by Sayyid Jaʿfar b. Ḥasan b. ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Barzanjī (d. 1187/1764), Mufti of Madina and author of the celebrated Mawlid al-Barzanjī; Sayf al-naṣr bil-sādat al-kirām Ahl Badr by Sayyid Ibrāhīm b. Idrīs al-Sanūsī (d. 1304/1887); and Jāliyat al-akdār wal-sayf al-battār bil-ṣalāt ʿalāl-Mukhtār by the renowned Sufi shaykh Ḍiyāʾ al-Dīn Khālid b. Aḥmad al-Baghdādī (1190-1242/1776-1827).


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See also

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