Chapter 3: The battle of Uhud
"Allah did indeed fulfil His Promise to you, when you were about to annihilate the enemy with His permission, until you flinched and fell to disputing about the command, and disobeyed after He showed you what you covet. Among you were some that hankered after this world and among you were some that desired the Hereafter. Then did He divert you from them in order to test you. But He has forgiven you, for Allah is full of grace to those who have faith."
Everybody in Makkah rejoiced at tbe arrival of the caravan from Palestine. The caravan had been in grave danger during the few days it moved along the coastal road near Madinah and very nearly fell into the hands of the Muslims. It was only the skill and leadership of Abu Sufyan, who led the caravan, that saved it from capture. The caravan consisted of 1,000 camels and had taken goods worth 50,000 dinars, on which Abu Sufyan had made a cent per cent profit. Since every family of note in Makkah had invested in this caravan, its return with so much profit was a matter of jubilation for all Makkah. And it was spring in Arabia: the month of March, 624.
Even as the people of Makkah sang and danced, and the merchants rubbed their hands while awaiting their share of the profit, the battered and broken army of the Quraish picked its weary way towards Makkah. This army had rushed out in response to Abu Sufyan's call for help when he had first realised the danger from the Muslims. Before the Quraish army could come into action, however, Abu Sufyan had extricated the caravan and sent word to the Quraish to return to Makkah as the danger had passed. But Abu Jahl, who commanded the army, would have none of this. He had spent the past 15 years of his life in bitter opposition to the Prophet, and he was not going to let this opportunity slip away. Instead of returning, he had precipitated a battle with the Muslims.
Now this proud army was returning home in a state of shock and humiliation.
While the Quraish army was still on its way, a messenger from it sped to Makkah on a fast camel. As he entered the outskirts of the town, he tore his shirt and wailed aloud, announcing tragedy. The people of Makkah hastily gathered around him to seek news of the battle. They would ask about their dear ones and he would tell of their fate. Among those present were Abu Sufyan and his wife, Hind.
From this messenger Hind heard of the loss of her dear ones; of the death of her father, Utbah, at the hands of Ali and Hamza, uncle of the Prophet; of the death of her uncle, Sheiba, at the hands of Hamza; of the death of her brother, Waleed, at the hands of Ali; of the death of her son, Handhalah, at the hands of Ali. She cursed Hamza and Ali and swore vengeance.
The Battle of Badr was the first major clash between the Muslims and their enemies. A small force of 313 Muslims had stood like a rock against the onslaught of 1,000 infidels. After an hour or two of severe fighting the Muslims had shattered the Quraish army, and the Quraish had fled in disorder from the battlefield. The finest of the Quraish had fallen in battle or been taken prisoner.
A total of 70 infidels had been killed and another 70 captured by the Muslims, at a cost of only 14 Muslim dead. Among those killed were 17 members of the Bani Makhzum, most of them either cousins or nephews of Khalid. Abu Jahl had been killed. Khalid's brother, Waleed, had been taken prisoner.
As the messenger announced the names of those who had fallen and those who had killed them, the Quraish noted the frequency with which the names of Ali and Hamza were repeated. Ali had killed 18 men by himself and had shared in the killing of four others. Hamza had killed four men and shared with Ali in the killing of another four. The name of Ali thus dominated the proceedings of this sad assembly.
Two days later Abu Sufyan held a conference of all the leaders of the Quraish. There was not one amongst them who had not lost a dear one at Badr, Some had lost fathers, some sons, some brothers. The most vociferous at the conference were Safwan bin Ummayya and Ikrimah, son of Abu Jahl.
Ikrimah was the most difficult to restrain. His father had had the distinction of commanding the Quraish army at Badr and had fallen in battle. The son drew some comfort from the fact that his father had killed a Muslim at Badr and that he himself had killed another. Moreover, he had attacked and severed the arm of the Muslim who had mortally wounded his father; but that was not enough to quench his thirst for revenge. He insisted that as noble Quraish they were honour-bound to take revenge.
"And I have lost my son, Handhalah." said Abu Sufyan. "My thirst for revenge is no less than yours. I shall be the first to prepare and launch a powerful expedition against Muhammad."1
At this conference they all took the pledge of revenge; this time none would stay back. An expedition would be prepared such as had never assembled at Makkah before, and other local tribes would be invited to join the expedition and take part in the annihilation of the Muslims. The entire profit from the caravans, amounting to 50,000 dinars, would be spent on financing the expedition- Abu Sufyan was unanimously elected as the commander of the Quraish army.
Abu Sufyan now gave two decisions, the first of which was more or less universally accepted. This was to the effect that there should be no weeping and no mourning of any kind for those who had fallen at Badr. The idea behind this order was that tears would wash away the bitterness in their hearts, and that this bitterness should be kept alive until they had taken their revenge against the Muslims. However, those whose burden of sorrow was too heavy to carry wept secretly.
The second decision related to the prisoners who were in Muslim hands. Abu Sufyan forbade all efforts to get them released for fear that if these efforts were made immediately, the Muslims might put up the price. This decision, however, was not followed by everyone. Within two days a man left Makkah secretly at night to ransom his father; and when others came to know about this, they took the matter into their own hands and got their dear ones released. Abu Sufyan had no choice but to revoke his decision.
The rate of ransom varied. The top rate was 4,000 dirhams and there was a graduated scale down to 1,000 dirhams for those who could not afford to pay more. A few prisoners who were too poor to pay but were literate, earned their freedom by teaching a certain number of Muslim children to read and write. Some destitute ones were released by the Prophet without ransom on condition that they would never again take up arms against Muslims.
Among those who went to negotiate the release of the prisoners were Ikrimah, Khalid (who had missed the battle of Badr on account of his absence from the Hijaz) and Khalid's brother, Hisham. Khalid and Hisham arranged the release of their brother, Waleed. When Hisham heard that the ransom would be 4,000 dirhams, he began to haggle for a lower sum but was rebuked by Khalid. The sum of 4,000 dirhams was duly paid for the release of Waleed, whereafter the three brothers left Madinah and camped for the night at a place called Zhul Halifa, a few miles away. Here, during the night, Waleed slipped away from the camp, returned to Madinah, reported to the Prophet and became a Muslim. He thereafter proved a devout Muslim and became very dear to the Prophet; and in spite of his new faith, his relations with Khalid remained as warm and loving as ever.
While at the Quraish conference the main theme of the discussion had been revenge, another factor which drove the Quraish to war with the Muslims was economic survival. The main route of the Quraish caravan to Syria and Palestine lay along the coastal road which now, after the Battle of Badr, was no longer open to them. In November, Safwan bin Ummayya felt the need for more trade, and despatched a caravan towards Syria on another route which he thought might be safe. This caravan left Makkah on the road to Iraq, and after travelling some distance turned north-west towards Syria, bypassing Madinah at what Safwan considered a safe distance. But the Holy Prophet came to know of this caravan and sent Zaid bin Harithah with 100 men to capture it, which Zaid did.
Safwan then went to Abu Sufyan, and both leaders agreed that since the economic well-being and prosperity of the Quraish depended on their profitable trade with Syria, the sooner the Muslims were crushed the better. Ikrimah also was impatient and pressed for speed. Abu Sufyan, however, as a wise old chief, knew that it would take time to prepare the expedition and purchase the camels, the horses and the weapons. He promised to do his best.
The preparations for the expedition now began in right earnest. While they were in progress, an unbeliever of doubtful character approached Abu Sufyan with a proposal. This man was Abu Amir of Madinah. He had taken exception to the arrival of the Holy Prophet at Madinah and to the speed with which members of his own clan, the Aws, had begun to embrace Islam. Consequently he had left Madinah and sworn never to return as long as Muhammad remained in power. At Makkah he took to inciting the Quraish against the Muslims. In the old days Abu Amir had been known as the Monk, but the Holy Prophet had given him the nickname of the Knave! Thus the Muslims knew this man as Abu Amir the Knave.2
1. Waqidi: Maghazi, pp. 156-7
2. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, p. 67.
"I have 50 members of my clan with me", he said to Abu Sufyan. "I have much influence with my clan, the Aws. I propose that before the battle begins I be permitted to address the Aws among the Muslims, and I have no doubt that they will all desert Muhammad and come over to my side." 1 Abu Sufyan gladly accepted the arrangement. The Aws were one of the two major tribes of Madinah and would comprise more than a third of the Muslim army.
Parleys were begun with neighbouring tribes, and strong contingents were received from the Kinana and the Thaqeef. Early in March 625, the assembly of the expedition began at Makkah. At this time Abbas, uncle of the Prophet, wrote to him from Makkah to inform him of the preparations being made against him.
In the second week of March, the Quraish set out from Makkah with an army of 3,000 men, of whom 700 were armoured. They had 3,000 camels and 200 horses. With the army went 15 Quraish women in litters, whose task it was to remind the Quraish of the comrades who had fallen at Badr and to strengthen their spirits. Among these women was Hind, who acted as their leader, and the role came naturally to her. Others were the wife of Ikrimah, the wife of Amr bin Al Aas and the sister of Khalid. One of the women, whom we shall hear of again later, was Amrah bint Alqama, and there were also some songstresses who carried tambourines and drums.
As the expedition moved towards Madinah, one of the leaders of the Quraish, Jubair bin Mut'im, spoke to his slave, who was known as the Savage-Wahshi bin Harb. "If you kill Hamza, the uncle of Muhammad, in revenge for the killing of my uncle at Badr, I shall free you." 2 The Savage liked the prospect. He was a huge, black Abyssinian slave who always fought with a javelin from his native Africa. He was an expert with this weapon and had never been known to miss.
After travelling a little further, the Savage saw one of the litter-carrying camels move up beside him. From the litter Hind looked out and spoke to the Savage. "O Father of Blackness!" she addressed him. "Heal, and seek your reward." 3 She promised him that if he would kill Hamza in revenge for his killing her father, she would give him all the ornaments that she was wearing.
The Savage looked greedily at her ornaments-her necklace, her bracelets, the rings that she wore on her fingers. They all looked very expensive and his eyes glittered at the prospect of acquiring them.
The Holy Prophet had been warned by Abbas of the Quraish preparations before they left Makkah. While they were on their way, he continued to receive information of their progress from friendly tribes. On March 20, the Quraish arrived near Madinah and camped a few miles away, in a wooded area west of Mount Uhud. On this very day the Prophet sent two scouts to observe the Quraish, and these scouts returned to give their exact strength.
On March 21, the Prophet left Madinah with 1,000 men, of whom 100 were armoured. The Muslims had two horses, of which one was the Prophet's. They camped for the night near a small black hillock called Shaikhan, a little over a mile north of Madinah.
The following morning, before the march was resumed, the Hypocrites, numbering 300 under the leadership of Abdullah bin Ubayy, left the Prophet on the plea that fighting the Quraish outside Madinah had no prospect of success, and that they would not take part in an operation which in their view was doomed to failure. The Hypocrites returned to Madinah. The Prophet was now left with 700 men; and with this strength he marched from the camp. The Prophet had not actually intended to fight outside Madinah. It had been his wish that the Muslims should await the arrival of the Quraish on their home ground and fight the battle in Madinah; but most of the Muslims had insisted that they go out to meet the Quraish, and so the Prophet, submitting to their demand, had marched out to give battle to the Quraish outside Madinah. But although he was going out to meet his enemy in the open, he would nevertheless fight the battle on ground of his own choice. He moved to the foot of Mount Uhud and deployed for battle.
1. Waqidi: Maghazi, p. 161
2. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, pp. 61-2.
Uhud is a massive feature lying four miles north of Madinah (the reference point in Madinah being the Prophet's Mosque) and rising to a height of about 1,000 feet above the level of the plain. The entire feature is 5 miles long. In the western part of Uhud, a large spur descends steeply to the ground, and to the right of this spur, as seen from the direction of Madinah, a valley rises gently and goes up and away as it narrows at a defile about 1,000 yards from the foot of the spur. Beyond this defile it shrinks into nothingness as it meets the main wall of the ridge. At the mouth of this valley, at the foot of this spur, the Prophet placed his army. The valley rose behind him.
He organised the Muslims as a compact formation with a front of 1,000 yards. He placed his right wing at the foot of the spur and his left wing at the foot of a low hill, about 40 feet high and 500 feet long, called Ainain. The Muslim right was safe, but their left could be turned from beyond Ainain; so, to meet this danger, the Prophet placed 50 archers on Ainain, from which they could command the approaches along which the Quraish could manoeuvre into the Muslim rear. These archers, under the command of Abdullah bin Jubair, were given instructions by the Prophet as follows; "Use your arrows against the enemy cavalry. Keep the cavalry off our backs. As long as you hold your position, our rear is safe. On no account must you leave this position. If you see us winning, do not join us; if you see us losing, do not come to help us." 1 The orders to this group of archers were very definite. Since Ainain was an important tactical feature and commanded the area immediately around it, it was imperative to ensure that it did not fall into the hands of the Quraish.
Behind the Muslims stood 14 women whose task it was to give water to the thirsty, to carry the wounded out of battle and to dress their wounds. Among these women was Fatimah, daughter of the Prophet and wife of Ali The Prophet himself took up his position with the left wing of his army.
The Muslim dispositions were intended to lead to a frontal positional battle and were superbly conceived. They gave the Muslims the benefit of fully exploiting their own sources of strength-courage and fighting skill. They also saved them from the dangers posed by the Quraish strength in numbers and in cavalry-the mobile manoeuvre arm which the Muslims lacked. It would have suited Abu Sufyan to fight an open battle in which he could manoeuvre against the Muslim flanks and rear with his cavalry and bring his maximum strength to bear against them. But the Prophet neutralised Abu Sufyan's advantages, and forced him to fight on a restricted front where his superior strength and his cavalry would be of limited value. It is also worth noting that the Muslims were actually facing Madinah and had their backs to Mount Uhud; the road to Madinah was open to the Quraish.
Now the Quraish moved up. They established a battle camp a mile south of the spur, and from here Abu Sufyan led his army forward and formed it in battle array facing the Muslims. He organised it into a main body of infantry in the centre with two mobile wings. On the right was Khalid and on the left Ikrimah, each with a cavalry squadron 100 strong. Amr bin Al Aas was appointed in over-all charge of the cavalry, but his task was mainly that of co-ordination. Abu Sufyan placed 100 archers ahead of his front rank for the initial engagement. The Quraish banner was carried by Talha bin Abi Talha, one of the survivors of Badr. Thus the Quraish deployed with their backs to Madinah, facing the Muslims and facing Mount Uhud. In fact they stood between the Muslim army and its base at Madinah. (For the dispositions of the two armies see Map 1).
Just behind the Quraish main body stood their women. Before battle was joined, these women, led by Hind, marched back and forth in front of the Quraish, reminding them of those who had fallen at Badr. Thereafter, just before the women withdrew to their position in the rear of the army, the clear, strong voice of Hind rose as she sang:
O you sons of Abduddar!
Defenders of our homes!
We are the daughters of the night;
We move among the cushions.
If you advance we will embrace you.
If you retreat we will forsake you
With loveless separation. 2
1. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, pp. 65-66; Waqidi: Maghazi, p. 175.
2. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, p. 68. Waqidi: Maghazi, p. 176.
It was the morning of Saturday, March 22, 625 (the 7th of Shawwal, 3 Hijri)-exactly a year and a week after Badr. 1 The armies faced each other in orderly ranks, 700 Muslims against 3,000 unbelievers. This was the first time that Abu Sufyan had commanded in the field against the Prophet, but he had able lieutenants and felt certain of victory. The Muslims repeated to themselves the Quranic words: "Sufficient for us is Allah, and what a good protector He is." [Quran 3: 173] And they awaited the decision of Allah.
The first event, after the forming up of the two armies, was the attempt by the Knave to subvert the Aws. This man stepped forward ahead of the front rank of the Quraish, along with his 50 followers and a large number of the slaves of the Quraish. He faced the Aws and called, "O people of the Aws! I am Abu Amir. You know me!" The reply from the Aws was unanimous: "No welcome to you, O Knave!" This was followed by a shower of stones hurled with great delight by the Aws at the Knave and his group, under which the group hastily withdrew through the ranks of the Quraish. Observing the look of derision on the faces of the Quraish, the Knave assumed a prophetic posture and observed, "After me my people will suffer." 2 But the Quraish were not impressed!
After the encounter of the Knave, the archers opened up from both sides. This was a kind of artillery duel between the 100 archers of the Quraish and the Muslim archers, who were either in the group on Eniein or dispersed along the front rank of the Muslims. Many salvoes were fired. Under cover of the Quraish archers Khalid advanced with his squadron to attack the left wing of the Muslims, but was forced back by accurate fire from the Muslim archers. As the archers' engagement ended, the song of the Quraish women was again heard on the battlefield: "We are the daughters of the night... "
The next phase was the phase of duels by the champions of the two armies. Talha, the standard bearer of the Quraish, stepped out of the front rank and called "I am Talha, son of Abu Talha. Will anyone duel?" 3 On his challenge, Ali strode out and before Talha could deliver a single blow, Ali struck him with his sword and felled him. Talha was only wounded, and as Ali raised his sword to strike again, Talha begged for mercy. Ali promptly turned away. Later, however, while the general engagement was in progress, the wounded Talha was despatched by the Muslims. On the fall of Talha, another infidel came forward and picked up the Quraish standard. This man was killed by Hamza, As Hamza killed him, he was noticed by the Savage who stood behind the Quraish ranks. Stealthily the Savage began to move towards the right in order to approach Hamza from a flank. Hamza was easily recognisable by a large ostrich feather which he wore in his turban.
Now the duels became more general. One after the other the relatives of Talha picked up the standard, and one after the other they were killed by the Muslims, the largest number falling before Ali's sword, Abu Sufyan also rode up to duel and was faced by Handhalah bin Abu Amir, who was dismounted. Before Abu Sufyan could use his lance or draw his sword, Handhalah struck at the forelegs of the horse and brought it down. Abu Sufyan shouted for help and was assisted by one of his companions, who engaged and killed Handhalah. Abu Sufyan withdrew hastily to the safety of the Quraish ranks.
Another Quraish warrior who came forward was Abdur-Rahman, son of Abu Bakr. He stepped out of the front rank and gave the usual challenge, whereupon his father, Abu Bakr, drew his sword and prepared to move forward from the Muslim position to fight him. But Abu Bakr was restrained by the Holy Prophet, who said to him, "Sheathe your sword," 4 This Abdur-Rahman was later to become one of the most valiant warriors of Islam and acquire glory in the Muslim campaigns in Syria.
1. Some historians have placed the date of the Battle of Uhud a week later, but the earlier date is probably more correct.
2. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, p. 67; Ibn Sad: p. 543.
3. Waqidi: Maghazi, p. 176.
4. Ibid: p. 200.
Soon after the duels, the fighting became general and both armies were locked in fierce hand-to-hand fighting. The Muslims were superior in swordmanship and courage, but these advantages were offset by the numerical superiority of the Quraish. As this general engagement of the main body progressed, Khalid made another sally towards the left wing of the Muslims, where the Prophet stood, but was again driven back by the Muslim archers on Ainain.
The Prophet himself participated in this action by firing arrows into the general mass of the Quraish. Beside him stood Sad bin Abi Waqqas, who was an arrow-maker by profession and was among the best archers of his time. The Prophet would indicate targets to Sad and Sad would invariably score a hit.
Hamza was fighting near the left edge of the Muslim force. By now he had killed two men and found a third one approaching him-a man named Saba hin Abdul Uzza, whom Hamza knew well. "Come to me!" shouted Hamza, "O son of the skin-cutter!" 1 (The mother of Saba used to perform circumcision operations in Makkah!) The colour rose in Saba's face as he drew his sword and rushed at Hamza.
As the two men began to duel with sword and shield, the Savage, crawling behind rocks and bushes, approached Hamza, At last he got within javelin range and with an experienced eye measured the distance between himself and his victim. Then he stood up and raised his javelin for the throw. Hamza struck a mortal blow on the head of Saba, and Saba fell in a heap at Hamza's feet. At this very moment the Savage hurled his javelin. The cruel weapon, thrown with unerring aim, struck Hamza in the abdomen and went right through his body. Hamza turned in the direction of the Savage and, roaring with anger, took a few steps towards him. The Savage trembled as he waited behind a large rock, but Hamza could only take a few steps before he fell.
The Savage waited until all movement had ceased in Hamza's body, and then walked up to the corpse and wrenched out his javelin. He then casually walked away from the scene of fighting. He had done his job. The Savage would fight more battles in his life, but there would be no more battles for the noble Hamza- "Lion of Allah and of His Prophet!" 2
Soon after this, the Quraish army began to waver and the Muslims pressed harder in their assault. When several Quraish standard-bearers had been either killed or wounded, their standard was picked up by a slave who continued to fight with it until he too was killed and the standard fell again. As it fell, the Quraish broke and fled in disorder.
There was now complete panic in the ranks of the Quraish. The Muslims pursued them, but the Quraish outran their pursuers. The Quraish women wailed when they saw what had befallen their men. They also took to their heels; and raising their dresses in order to be able to run faster, gave a fine view of their flashing legs to the delighted Muslims. All the women ran except Amra, who remained where she had stood, close behind the original Quraish battle line.
The Muslims got to the Quraish camp and began to plunder it. There was complete confusion in the camp with women and slaves milling around, hoping not to be killed, while the Muslims rifled everything they could find and shouted with glee. There was now no order, no discipline, no control, for the Muslims felt that the battle was won. The first phase of the battle was indeed over. The casualties had been light, but the Quraish had been clearly defeated. This should have marked the end of the Battle of Uhud, but it did not.
As the Quraish fled and the Muslims, following in their footsteps, entered the Quraish camp, the two mobile wings of the Quraish stood firm. Both Khalid and Ikrimah moved back a bit from their previous positions but kept their men under complete control, not permitting a single rider to retreat. And Khalid now watched this confused situation, looking now at the fleeing Quraish, now at the plundering Muslims, now at the archers on Ainain. He did not quite know what to do; but he was capable of a high degree of patience and waited for an opportunity which would give him a line of action. Soon his patience was rewarded.
Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, p. 70.
2. Waqidi: Maghazi, p. 225.
When the archers on Ainain saw the defeat of the Quraish and the arrival of the Muslims at the Quraish camp, they became impatient to take part in the plunder of the camp. The Quraish camp looked very tempting. They turned to their commander, Abdullah bin Jubair, and asked for permission to join their comrades, but Abdullah was firm in his refusal. "You know very well the orders of the Messenger of Allah", he said. "We are to remain on this hill until we receive his orders to leave it." "Yes, but that is not what the Messenger of Allah intended," the archers replied. "We were to hold this hill during battle. Now the battle is over, and there is no point in our remaining here." And in spite of the protests of their commander, most of the archers left the hill and ran towards the Quraish camp shouting, "The booty! The booty!" 1 Abdullah was left with nine archers on the hill. This movement was observed by the keen eyes of Khalid, who waited until the archers had reached the Quraish camp.
Then Khalid struck. He launched a mounted attack against the few archers who remained on the hill, with the intention of capturing this position and creating for himself room for manoeuvre, Ikrimah saw the movement of Khalid and galloped across the plain to join Khalid's squadron. As Khalid's squadron reached the top of the hill, Ikrimah's squadron was just behind while Ikrimah himself came ahead and began to take part in the assault on the Muslim archers.
The faithful archers who had remained on the hill resisted gallantly. Some were killed while the remainder, all wounded, were driven off the hill by the assault of Khalid. Abdullah bin Jubair, defending to the last the position which the Prophet had entrusted to him, suffered many wounds and was then slain by Ikrimah. Now Khalid's squadron, followed by Ikrimah's, swept forward and came in behind the line that had been held by the Muslims an hour ago. Here the two squadrons wheeled left and charged at the Muslims from the rear. Ikrimah with a part of his squadron assaulted the group which stood with the Holy Prophet, while Khalid's squadron and the remainder of Ikrimah's squadron attacked the Muslims in the Quraish camp.
Khalid drove into the rear of the unsuspecting Muslims, confident that having taken them unawares he would soon tear them to pieces. But the Muslims refused to be torn to pieces. As the Quraish cavalry reached the camp, there was an uproar in the ranks of the Muslims, and a few of them lost their heads and fled. Most of them, however, stayed and fought. As long as the Prophet lived, these men were not going to acknowledge defeat. But as the Muslims turned to fight the Quraish cavalry, Amra rushed towards the Quraish standard which lay on the ground. She picked up the standard and waved it above her head in the hope that the main body of the Quraish would see it.
By now Abu Sufyan had regained control over most of the infantry, He saw the movement of the cavalry. He saw the Quraish standard waving in the hands of Amra and he got his men back into action. Knowing that the Muslims had been taken in the rear by the cavalry, the Quraish rushed into battle once again, shouting their war cry: "O for Uzza! O for Hubal!" 2
The Muslims were now caught between two fires, the Quraish cavalry attacking from the rear and the bulk of the Quraish infantry attacking from the front. Abu Sufyan himself charged into battle and killed a Muslim. The situation soon became desperate for the Muslims, who broke up into small groups, each fighting on its own to repel the attacks of the cavalry and infantry. The confusion increased, and in the dust a few of the Muslims even began to fight each other. There was some alarm, but still no panic. Losses began to mount among the Muslims, but they held out-determined to fight to the last. At about this time, Khalid killed his first man-Abu Aseera-with his lance and knocked down another Muslim. Believing him dead, Khalid rode on; but the second man was only wounded and got up to fight again.
1. Waqidi: Maghazi, pp. 178-179.; Ibn Sad: pp. 545, 551.
2. Waqidi: Maghazi, p. 188; Ibn Sad: p. 545.
The battle was now divided into two separate actions. There was the main body of the Muslims holding out against the main part of the Quraish army, and there was the group with the Holy Prophet holding out against part of Ikrimah's squadron and some of the; Quraish infantry which had returned to attack him.
Now began the ordeal of the Prophet. (See Map 2. below)
When the Muslims left their positions in pursuit of the Quraish, the Holy Prophet remained at his battle location. Here he had with him 30 of his Companions who stuck to him and refused to be tempted by the prospect of plunder. Among these 30 were some of the closest of his followers, including, Ali, Abu Bakr, Sad bin Abi Waqqas, Talha bin Ubaidullah, Abu Ubaidah, Abdur-Rahman bin Auf, Abu Dujanah and Mus'ab bin Umair. With the group were also present two women who had busied themselves with carrying water to the Muslims and had now joined the Prophet.
As Khalid captured the archers' position and the Quraish cavalry began to wheel round to attack the Muslims in the rear, the Prophet realised the seriousness of the predicament in which the Muslims were placed. He could do nothing to control and direct the actions of the main body, for it was too far away; and he knew that his own group would soon be under attack. His present position was utterly untenable, so he decided to move to the foot of the spur immediately behind him (not the spur at the foot of which the Muslim right wing had been placed), and with this intention he started to move backwards. But he had not gone more than about a quarter of a mile with his 30 Companions when Ikrimah with his horsemen moved up and barred his way. The Prophet determined to stand and fight where he stood; and it was not long before a Quraish infantry group also arrived to attack the Prophet.
The Prophet's group found itself assailed from front and rear. The Muslims formed a cordon around the Prophet to defend him and the fighting gradually increased in intensity. The Prophet himself used his bow to effect and continued to use it until it broke. Thereafter he used his own arrows to augment those of Sad, whose superb archery gave a great deal of trouble to the Quraish. Every Muslim took on an opposing group of three or four men and either fell himself or drove his opponents back.
The first of the Quraish to reach the Prophet's position was Ikrimah. As Ikrimah led a group of his men forward the Prophet turned to Ali and, pointing at the group, said, "Attack those men." Ali attacked and drove them back, killing one of them. Now another group of horsemen approached the position. Again the Prophet said to Ali, "Attack those men." 1 Ali drove them back and killed another infidel.
As the fighting increased in severity, the Quraish began to shower the Prophet's group with arrows and stones, They would use these missiles from a distance and then charge with swords, either mounted or on foot. To shield the Prophet from the arrows, Abu Dujanah stood in front of him, with his back to the Quraish infantry, from which came most of the arrows. After some time the back of Abu Dujanah was so studded with arrows that he looked like a porcupine, but he continued passing his own arrows to Sad. Talha also stood beside the Prophet. On one occasion, when an arrow seemed about to hit the Prophet in the face, Talha put his hand in the arrow's line of flight and stopped it with his hand. Talha lost a finger as a result, but saved the Prophet.
Against the main body of the Muslims, Khalid was launching assault after assault with his squadron and doing severe damage. About now he killed his second man-Sabt bin Dahdaha-with his lance. In this battle Khalid relied mainly on his lance, with which he would run down and impale his adversary. Every time he brought a man down, he would shout, "Take that! And I am the Father of Sulaiman!" 2
The first rush of the counter-attack passed, and was followed by a lull in the Prophet's sector, as the Quraish withdrew a short distance to rest before resuming their attacks. During this lull, one of the Muslims, noticed that the Prophet was looking cautiously over his shoulder. The man asked the reason for this, and the Prophet replied casually, "I am expecting Ubayy bin Khalf. He may approach me from behind. If you see him coming, let him get near me". He had hardly said this when a man detached himself from Ikrimah's squadron and slowly advanced towards the Prophet, mounted on a large, powerful horse. The man shouted, "O Muhammad! I have come! It is either you or me!" At this some of the Companions asked the Prophet for permission to deal with the man, but the Prophet said, "Let him be!" 3 The Companions moved aside, and left the way open for the rider to approach.
1. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 197.
2. Waqidi: Maghazi, p.198.
3. Ibid: pp. 195-6; Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, p. 84.
At the Battle of Badr, a young man by the name of Abdullah bin Ubayy (not to be confused with the Abdullah bin Ubayy who was the leader of the Hypocrites) was taken prisoner by the Muslims. His father, Ubayy bin Khalf, came to release his son and paid 4,000 dirhams as ransom. Once the ransom had been paid and the young man released, while still in Madinah, Ubayy had been insolent to the Prophet. He had said, "O Muhammad! I have a horse which I am strengthening with a lot of fodder, because in the next battle I shall come riding that horse and I shall kill you" The Prophet had then replied, "No, you shall not kill me. But I shall kill you while you are on that horse, if Allah wills it." 1 The man had laughed scornfully as he rode away with his son.
And now Ubayy bin Khalf was approaching the Prophet on his horse. He saw the Companions move out of the way. He saw the Prophet waiting for him, and grudgingly he admired the man he had set out to kill. The Prophet was wearing two coats of mail. He wore a chain helmet, the side-flaps of which covered his cheeks; His sword rested in its sheath, tucked into a leather belt, and in his right hand he held his spear. Ubayy noticed the powerful, broad shoulders of Muhammad; notice the large, hard hands-hands strong enough to break a spear in two. The Prophet looked a magnificent sight.
It is known to few people today that Prophet Muhammad was one of the strongest Muslims of his time. Add to his great personal strength the fact of divine selection, and one can imagine what a formidable opponent he would prove to anybody. But Ubayy was undaunted, He had just killed a Muslim, and his spirits were high.
The Prophet could easily have told his Companions to slay Ubayy. They would have fallen upon him and torn him to pieces. Or he could have given Ali the simple order, "Kill that man", and that man would be as good as dead, for when Ali set out to kill a man nothing could save him. But the Prophet had ordered his Companions to stand aside. This time he wanted no help from anyone. This was a matter of personal honour-a matter of chivalry. Muhammad would fight alone as a chivalrous Arab. He would keep his rendezvous with a challenger.
As Ubayy reached the Prophet, he pulled up his horse. He was in no hurry. Not for a moment doubting that Muhammad would await his attack, he took his own time over drawing his sword. And then suddenly it was too late, for the Prophet raised his spear and struck at the upper part of Ubayy's chest. Ubayy tried to duck, but was not quick enough. The spear struck him on the right shoulder, near the base of the neck. It was a minor wound, but Ubayy fell off his horse, and in the fall broke a rib. Before the Prophet could strike again, Ubayy had risen and turned tail, running screaming towards his comrades. They stopped him and asked how he had fared, to which Ubayy replied in a trembling voice, "By Allah, Muhammad has killed me."
The Quraish examined his wound, and then told him not to be silly because it was a superficial wound which would soon heal. Ubayy's voice rose higher as he said, "I shall die!" When the Quraish tried to console him further, Ubayy lost all control over himself and in a frantic voice screamed, "I tell you I shall die! Muhammad had said that he would kill me. If Muhammad were to just spit on me, I would die!" 2 Ubayy remained inconsolable.
When the Quraish returned to Makkah, he went with them. While they were camped at a place called Saraf, not far from Makkah, the wretched man died. The cause of his death was certainly not the physical effect of the wound. And Allah knows best!
1. Ibn Sad: p. 549; Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, p. 84.
2. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, p. 84.
The situation gradually became more desperate as the Muslims held on grimly and showed no sign of breaking up. Abu Sufyan and Khalid both wanted a quick decision, for the battle had gone on long enough. The Quraish therefore decided to press harder and if possible get at the Prophet, as his death would have the probable effect of ending resistance.
A strong group of Quraish infantry consequently advanced against the Prophet. The Muslim defenders continued to fight, and many of them were cut down. Three of the Quraish managed to break through the cordon and got within stone throwing distance of the Prophet. These three men were: Utbah bin Abi Waqqas, Abdullah bin Shahab and Ibn Qamiah. They all began to hurl stones at the Prophet.
The first (a brother of Sad) landed four stones on the Prophet's face, broke two of the Prophet's lower teeth and cut his lower lip. Abdullah managed to land one stone which gashed the Prophet's forehead, while Ibn Qamiah with one stone cut the Prophet's cheek and drove two links of the Prophet's chain helmet into his cheek bone.
The Prophet fell to the ground as a result of these blows and was helped up by Talha. At this moment the few Muslims left with the Prophet counter-attacked fiercely and drove the Quraish back. Sad dropped his bow, drew his sword and rushed at his brother; but the latter outran him and took shelter in the Quraish ranks. Sad was later to say that he had never wanted to kill a man so badly as he wanted to kill his brother, Utbah, for wounding the Prophet.
There was again a little respite in which the Prophet wiped the blood from his face. As he did so he said, "How can a people prosper who colour the face of their Prophet with blood, while he calls them to their Lord!" 1 Abu Ubaidah, who was a bit of a surgeon, tried to pull out the two links which had dug into the Prophet's cheek bone. Finally he had to use his teeth to pull them out, and in the process lost two of his teeth. He later became known among the Arabs as Al Asram, i.e. the one without the incisors.
During this respite the Prophet regained his strength and recovered from the physical shock of his wounds. A black lady by the name of Umm Eiman, who had once nursed the Prophet in his childhood, stood near him. From the Quraish ranks a man by the name of Haban bin Al Arqa slowly walked up to within bow-range, and fitting an arrow to his bow, shot it in the direction of the lady who was standing with her back to him. The arrow struck Umm Eiman in her backside. Haban found this terribly funny and roared with laughter as he turned and began to walk back towards the Quraish. The Prophet saw what had happened and was deeply angered. He took an arrow from his quiver and gave it to Sad. "Shoot that man", 2 he ordered. Sad fitted the Prophet's arrow to his bow and, taking careful aim, fired it at the infidel, hitting him in the neck. This time the Prophet laughed!
The Quraish now started their last onslaught with violent assaults against the Prophet from all directions. The cordon formed by the Companions was able to hold the attack at practically all points; but at one place it was breached, and Ibn Qamiah broke through again and rushed towards the Prophet. This man was one of those who had struck the Prophet with stones in the previous phase of the attack. Near the Prophet and a bit to his right, stood Mus'ab bin Umair and a lady by the name of Umm Ammarah. This lady had given up her task of carrying water to the wounded, and picking up a sword and a bow from one of the dead, had actually taken part in the recent fighting. She had brought down one horse and wounded one unbeliever.
Ibn Qamiah mistook Mus'ab for the Prophet and rushed at him. Mus'ab was waiting for him with drawn sword and they began to duel. After a few passes, Ibn Qamiah struck Mus'ab bin Umair and killed him with a deadly blow.
As he fell, Umm Ammarah rushed at Ibn Qamiah and struck him on the shoulder with her sword. Ibn Qamiah wore a coat of mail, and since the blow lacked the power of muscle behind it, it did no damage. In return Ibn Qamiah struck the lady on her shoulder with his sword, but as it was a hasty blow it did not kill her. It just made a deep gash in her shoulder as a result of which the lady fell and was unable to move for some time.
1. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, p. 80: Waqidi: Maghazi p. 191.
2. Waqidi: Maghazi, p. 189.
As soon as Umm Ammarah fell, the infidel saw the Prophet standing by himself and rushed at him. He raised his sword and struck a savage blow at the Prophet's head. The sword cut a few links in the Prophet's chain helmet but was unable to penetrate it. Deflected by the helmet, the sword continued in its thrust and landed on the Prophet's right shoulder. The violence of the blow was such, and the power of muscle behind it so great, that the Holy Prophet fell into a shallow ditch just behind him. From here he was later lifted up by Ali and Talha.
Seeing the Prophet fall, Ibn Qamiah turned and rushed back to the Quraish, shouting at the top of his voice: "I have killed Muhammad! I have killed Muhammad!" 1 This shout carried across the battlefield and was heard by Quraish and Muslim alike. It broke the spirit of the Muslims, and most of them turned and fled towards Mount Uhud. A few Muslims, however, decided that if the Messenger of Allah was dead there was no point in their living on. They rushed at the Quraish cavalry-determined to sell their lives as dearly as possible, but were cut down in no time by Khalid and Ikrimah. Here Khalid killed his third man-Rafa'a bi Waqsh.
As the main body of the Muslims fled to the hills, most of the Quraish turned to loot the dead, and the Muslims defending the Holy Prophet now found that none of the Quraish remained near them. The temptation of loot proved as strong for the Quraish as it had proved a little while before for the Muslims. Finding his way clear, the Prophet, surrounded by the survivors of his group, withdrew towards the defile in the valley. In this withdrawal a few of the Quraish followed the Prophet but were beaten off and one or two of them were killed by the Companions. Khalid saw the movement of the Prophet's group towards the mountain pass, but made no attempt to intercept it, for he was busy pursuing the main body of the Muslim infantry. Thus the Prophet had no difficulty in reaching the defile, and the group climbed the steep slope of the spur, where it formed a rocky bluff about 400 feet high, on the east edge of the defile. Here the Prophet stopped, in a cleft in the rock, to survey the tragic panorama which stretched before him. (For this last phase see Map 2.)
Of the group of 30 who had fought with the Prophet in the preceding few actions, only 14 remained and most of these were wounded. Sixteen of them had fallen-in defence of the Prophet and in the way of Allah.
Thus the Muslims abandoned the field of battle. Some fled in panic far away; some returned to Madinah; some did not rejoin the Prophet till two days later. But those who intended to seek refuge in the hills moved in small groups, fought their way through the Quraish cavalry and reached the foot of Mount Uhud. Here they dispersed, some taking shelter in the foothills, some climbing up to the ridge, others hiding in the re-entrants. None of them knew what he would do next. The Quraish were in complete command of the battlefield.
On arrival at the defile the Prophet had some time to see to his wounds. Here his daughter, Fatimah, joined him. Ali brought water in his shield from a nearby pool, and Fatimah cried softly as she washed the blood from her father's face and dressed his wounds. In the shelter of this difficult pass, where the Quraish could not attack in strength, the Prophet rested his weary body.
Of the Muslims who had taken shelter on Mount, Uhud, some were moving about aimlessly, not knowing where to go or what to do. One of them, a man named Kab bin Malik, wandering towards the defile, saw the Prophet and recognised him. This man had a powerful voice. He climbed onto a large rock, and facing the direction where he knew most of the Muslims had taken shelter, he shouted, "Rejoice, O Muslims! The Messenger of Allah is here!"2 As he shouted, he pointed with his hand towards the Prophet. As a result of this call, which was not heard by the Quraish, many groups of Muslims moved over the hills and joined the Prophet. These included Umar, whose delight at seeing the Prophet again was boundless.
Meanwhile Abu Sufyan was looking for the body of the Prophet. He wandered over the battlefield and looked at each dead face, hoping that he would see the face of his enemy. Every now and then he would ask his men, "Where is Muhammad?" While he was so wandering, he came across Khalid and asked him the question. Khalid told him that he had seen Muhammad, surrounded by his Companions, moving towards the defile. Khalid pointed out the rocky bluff to Abu Sufyan, and the latter asked him to take his horsemen to attack the position.
Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, p. 78.
2. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 200; Waqidi: Maghazi, p. 185.
Khalid looked at the boulder-strewn valley which led to the spur, and then at the steep slope of the spur itself. He had misgivings about the manoeuvre, for he knew that in this sort of terrain his cavalry would be at a serious disadvantage. But he hoped that some opportunity might present itself, as it had done soon after the initial defeat of the Quraish. Khalid was an irrepressible optimist. He began to move his squadron towards the spur.
The Prophet saw this movement and prayed: "O Lord, let not those men get here." 1 Thereupon Umar took a group of Muslims and moved some distance down the slope to face the Quraish cavalry. As Khalid came up with his squadron, he saw Umar and other Muslims waiting for him on higher ground. Khalid realised that the situation was hopeless-that not only was his enemy better placed, but his own cavalry would be unable to manoeuvre in this difficult terrain. He withdrew. And this was the last tactical manoeuvre in the Battle of Uhud.
Abu Sufyan and Khalid, among many others, now saw a sight which they would never forget and of which they did not approve. The battlefield where the Muslim martyrs lay was invaded by Hind and the Quraish women. Hind found the body of Hamza and, knife in hand, fell upon it.
Hind was a large, heavily built woman and had no difficulty in mutilating the corpse. She cut open the belly and pulled out Hamza's liver. Slicing off a piece of it she put it in her mouth; and she swallowed it! She then cut off Hamza's nose and ears, and made the other women do the same to many of the other corpses.
The Savage now approached Hind. She turned to him, took off all her ornaments and gave them to him. "And when we get to Makkah," she said, "I shall give you 10 dinars." 2 Having disposed of her own jewellery, she made a necklace and anklets of the ears and noses of the martyrs who had been mutilated, and she put on these grisly ornaments! Having done so, this extraordinary woman sang:
We have repaid you for the day of Badr-
One bloody day after another.
I could not bear the loss of Utbah,
Or of my uncle, my brother, my son.
Now my heart is cooled, my vow fulfilled;
And the savage has driven the pain from my heart.
The savage shall I thank as long as I live,
Until my bones turn to nothing in my grave. 3
Soon after this gruesome drama had been enacted, Abu Sufyan walked up the valley. He was still hoping that Muhammad might be dead; that Khalid had made a mistake. He climbed on to a large rock some distance from the Prophet's position and shouted, "Is Muhammad among you?" The Prophet motioned to his Companions to remain silent. Abu Sufyan repeated the question twice, but there was no reply.
Then thrice Abu Sufyan asked, "Is Abu Bakr among you?" And thrice he asked, "Is Umar among you?" There was noting but silence from the spur.
Abu Sufyan now turned towards the Quraish, who stood not far from him, and shouted, "These three are dead. They will trouble you no more." At this Umar could no longer restrain himself and roared at Abu Sufyan, "You lie, O Enemy of Allah! Those whom you have counted are alive, and there are enough of us left to punish you severely."
Abu Sufyan's response was loud and contemptuous laughter. He knew that the Muslims were in no condition at the moment to punish anybody. But he called to Umar, "May Allah protect you, O Son of Al Khattab! Is Muhammad really alive?"
1. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, p. 86.
2. Waqidi: Maghazi, p. 222.
3. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, p. 91.
"By my Lord, yes. And even now he hears what you say."
"You are more truthful than Ibn Qamiah", replied Abu Sufyan.
Then took place a last dialogue between Abu Sufyan and the Prophet. The Prophet did not speak personally to his enemy, but would tell Umar what to say and Umar would shout the reply back at Abu Sufyan.
Abu Sufyan: Glory to Hubal! Glory to Uzza! 1
The Prophet: Glory to Allah, Most High and Mighty!
Abu Sufyan: We have Uzza and Hubal. You have no Uzza and no Hubal.
The Prophet: We have Allah as Lord. You have no Lord.
Abu Sufyan: The deed is done. This was our day for your day of Badr. The destiny of war is not constant. We shall meet at Badr again next year.
The Prophet: At Badr we shall meet. You have our pledge.
Abu Sufyan: You will find among your dead some who have been mutilated. I neither ordered this nor approved of it. Do not blame me for this. 2
Having made this last statement, Abu Sufyan turned away and walked back to his army.
The Quraish left the battlefield and gathered in their old camp of the day before. As they left, the Holy Prophet sent Ali as a scout to see how the Quraish were mounting-mounting camels or horses. Ali carried out his reconnaissance and returned to the Prophet to report that the Quraish were mounting camels and were leading their horses. The Prophet observed, "That means that they intend to return to Makkah and will not attack Madinah. Had they wished to attack Madinah, they would have mounted their horses for battle. In that case, by my Lord, I would have gone this very instant to fight them again," 3
The Quraish spent the night in Hamrat-ul-Asad, 10 miles, from Madinah. 4 The Muslims returned to Madinah, except for some stragglers who were to turn up the following day and the day after.
The next morning the Holy Prophet got up and put on his armour. His face showed clear signs of the damage which it had suffered in the battle. His cheek, forehead and lip that had been badly cut were still swollen. The loss of his two teeth caused him pain, and his right shoulder hurt badly where the sword of Ibn Qamiah had landed. This shoulder was to trouble him for a whole month.
The Prophet sent for Bilal, his Muazzin, 5 and ordered him to call the Faithful to battle. Only those would be permitted to join this morning's expedition who had taken part in the battle of the day before. The thundering voice of Bilal rang across the streets of Madinah and carried the message into every Believer's home.
The Muslims rose from their mats as they heard the Prophet's orders to assemble for battle. Most of them were wounded, some more severely than others. They had spent a sleepless night in pain and suffering. All night long the women had been busy nursing the soldiers, washing and dressing their wounds. Not many of the Muslims were in fit shape for battle; but they got up from their mats. There were no groans or cries of pain.
Some limped, others used hastily improvised crutches, yet others put their arms around their comrades to get support as they walked. They came, limping and staggering, towards the Prophet. They saw the Prophet and they cried Labbeik- Present, Sir! And these tired, wounded Muslims, led by a tired, wounded Prophet, set out to fight the infidel. They numbered about 500.
As the Muslims were assembling for battle, a wild argument was taking place in the Quraish camp. Ikrimah, no less aggressive than he had been the day before, was insisting on a return to battle for the reason that the Muslims were in a bad way as a result of the battle and now was the time to seek them again and completely crush them before they recovered from the setback.
1. god and goddess in the Arab pantheon.
2. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, pp. 93-4; Waqidi: Maghazi, pp. 229-30; Ibn Sad: p. 551.
3. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, p. 94.
4. This place was near the present Bir Ali, on the main road to Makkah.
5. The one who call the Adhan-the Muslim call to prayer.
"Enough is enough", replied Safwan bin Umayyah. "We have won the battle, and this victory should be sufficient for us. If the Muslims are in a bad way, we too are not in perfect condition. Most of our horses and many of our men are wounded. In the next battle, if we fight it with our present strength, we might not be as lucky as we were yesterday." 1
By now the Quraish leaders had also heard of the defection of the 300 Hypocrites. The fear that troubled them was the possibility of the return of these 300 in a repentant mood to the Prophet, for this would considerably augment the strength of the Muslims with fresh troops. While this argument was in progress, the Quraish soldiers discovered and caught two Muslim scouts who had been sent by the Prophet to seek information of the Quraish. These scouts were promptly killed, but their presence confirmed the fears of Safwan and Abu Sufyan that the Muslims were in an aggressive mood and sought battle. Abu Sufyan promptly gave orders for the move to Makkah; and the Quraish army rode away.
In the afternoon the Muslims arrived at Hamrat-ul-Asad and found it deserted. They set up camp. After four nights at Hamrat-ul-Asad, they returned to Madinah.
The campaign of Uhud was over. A total of 70 Muslims had fallen in battle. Abu Sufyan had killed one. Safwan bin Ummayya, Khalid and Ikrimah had each killed three Muslims. On the Quraish side, 22 unbelievers had been killed including six by Ali and three by Hamza, It was a defeat for the Muslims, but not a decisive one.
This was the second major battle in the history of Islam. It was the first battle in which Abu Sufyan commanded an army against the Muslims, and the first battle in the life of Khalid. The Holy Prophet lost this battle, and the blame for this rests squarely on the shoulders of the fickle archers who disobeyed the orders of the Prophet and of their own immediate commander, In fact, in leaving their position these archers momentarily ceased to be Muslims and became tribal Arabs, bent on plunder.
Several writers have expressed the opinion that the Arabs of this period were ignorant about regular warfare; that militarily they were nothing better than raiders, and that they knew nothing about regular battles. It has been suggested by many of these writers that the Arabs learnt the art of war from the Romans and the Persians with whom they came into military contact after the Prophet's death. This is just not true. We have already considered the dispositions adopted by the Prophet and the sound military reasons underlying his deployment. It should also be noted that in selecting the bettlefield the Prophet left Madinah open to assault by the Quraish, Madinah was the base of the Muslims, but the route to that base, which ran south of the Muslim position, was open to Abu Sufyan, The Muslims were not in the way of Abu Sufyan had he decided to move to Madinah. In this decision, the Prophet guessed rightly that Abu Sufyan would not dare to move to Madinah, because in doing so he would expose his flank and rear to attack by the Muslims. And this is just what happened. Abu Sufyan did not move to Madinah for fear of the Muslims who stood on the flank of the route. This was a classic example, repeated time and again in military history, of a force defending its base not by sitting on it for a frontal action, but by threatening from a flank any enemy movement towards that base.
While Abu Sufyan was forced to fight the battle under conditions not favourable to him, the disposition of his forces was sound, following the normal pattern, as practised by the Romans and the Persians, of having a main body of infantry in the centre and mobile wings for manoeuvre against the enemy's flanks and rear. So far as the selection of the battlefield and the dispositions are concerned, it is doubtful if any Roman or Persian general commanding these forces could have acted differently and deployed the forces in another manner than done by the Prophet and Abu Sufyan. Certainly no critic has offered us a better solution!
Another important fact which this battle brings out is the military judgement and skill of Khalid. When the main body of the Quraish fled, its smaller parts-the cavalry squadrons-remained firm on the battlefield. Generally when the bulk of an army flees its parts do not remain. In this we see the unusual courage of Khalid (and Ikrimah) in keeping their squadrons under control on the battlefield, although reason could suggest no possible advantage in doing so. We see the patience of Khalid and his refusal to accept defeat. It was only the keen eye of Khalid which observed the opening left by the archers when they abandoned their position. He saw the opening and took an immediate decision to exploit the opportunity with a rapid riposte which would get him into the vulnerable rear of the Muslims. It was this brilliant manoeuvre by Khalid which turned the near-complete victory of the Muslims into their near-complete defeat.
1. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, p. 104; Waqidi: Maghazi, pp. 231-2, 263.
We also see the determination and doggedness of Khalid in the relentless pressure which he maintained against the stubborn Muslims until they broke. His killing three men showed the personal courage and fighting skill of the man. Possessing the boldness and dash of youth, and the patience and judgement of age, Khalid showed promise of great military achievements.
This was the first battle of Islam in which a fine manoeuvre was carried out. Henceforth manoeuvres and stratagem would achieve more prominence in Muslim battles. Some of the names that have been mentioned in this account would achieve undying fame within the next two decades as victor and conquerors... Khalid, Amr bin Al Aas, Abu Ubaidah, Sad bin Abi Waqqas.