Chapter 9: The Seige of Taif
It was said, “O Messenger of Allah! Pray to Allah against the tribe of Thaqif [of Ta’if].” He said, “O Allah! Guide Thaqif, and bring them (to us).”1
The Prophet had routed the enemy at Hunain and driven him from Autas. He now decided to give Malik bin Auf no time to recover his breath and organise further resistance. Consequently, he sent the captives and the flocks taken at Autas with an escort to Jirana, to be kept under guard until the return of the army, and the very next day he set out for Taif, where major resistance was to be encountered. But he moved cautiously, for after the unpleasant experience of the ambush at Hunain, he had no intention of letting the army walk into another trap. The country now was hilly, consisting of steep ridges rising up to the plateau on which stood Taif; and in this terrain a wily commander like Malik could lay an ambush almost anywhere.
Leaving Autas, the Prophet marched through the Nakhla Valley and then turned south into the Wadi-ul-Muleih. From this valley he crossed into the Wadi-ul-Qarn, and following this wadi, reached the plateau 7 miles north-west of Taif. So far the Muslims had encountered no opposition and scouts had reported no sign of the Thaqeef outside Taif; but hoping to surprise Malik, the Prophet shifted his axis. Cutting across the difficult terrain north of Taif, he got to the less hilly region lying east of the town, between Nikhb and Sadaira. 2 From here he marched to Taif, coming in from the rear. Throughout this march, Khalid again led the army with the Bani Sulaim as advance guard. (See Map 6 below)
But Malik bin Auf, in spite of his lack of years, was not a man to be caught unawares. Having suffered grievously in his clash with the Muslims at Hunain and Autas, he was determined not to accept battle with the Muslims again in the open: he would fight them on his own terms. Consequently, he kept his army within the walled city of Taif and speedily stocked it with sufficient provisions to withstand a long siege. Here the Thaqeef, under their brave young general, awaited the arrival of the Muslims.
The Muslims got to Taif on February 5, 630 (the 15th of Shawal, 8 Hijri), and started a siege which was to last 18 days. On arrival at Taif, the camp was set up too close to the wall of the town and this mistake was punished by the Thaqeef archers, who showered the camp with arrows. A few Muslims were killed before the camp was moved away and established in the area where the mosque of Ibn Abbas stands today. Groups of Muslims were now deployed around the fort to prevent entry and escape; and Abu Bakr was made responsible for the siege operations.
Most of the time, fighting between the two armies consisted of exchanges of archery. The Muslims would close up to the town and try to pick off the Thaqeef archers on the wall, but the Thaqeef had the odds in their favour as they had some cover in the open. So the Muslims got the worst of these engagements and many of them were wounded, including Abdullah, son of Abu Bakr, who later died of his wounds.
Thus some days passed. After the fall of Makkah, the Prophet had sent two Muslims to Jurash, in the Yemen, to learn all about siege warfare. These two men did not, however, return till after the Siege of Taif and thus could play no part in the siege. But Salman the Persian again came to the help of the Muslims as he had done in the Battle of the Ditch. As a Persian he knew something about more sophisticated forms of warfare. Under his instructions, the Muslims constructed a catapult and used it to hurl stones into the town; but the Muslims were amateurs at this business and the catapult produced no significant effect.
Salman next decided to use a testudo. (A testudo was a large shield, usually made of wood or leather, under which a group of assailants could advance to the gate of the fort, safe from enemy missiles, and either crash through the gate with a battering ram or set fire to it.) Under the instructions of Salman, the Muslims constructed a testudo of cowhide, and a group of them advanced under its protection to set fire to the wooden gate of Taif. As they got to the gate, however, Malik and his men poured red-hot scraps of iron onto the testudo. These pieces burnt the testudo and terrified those under it, so that they hurriedly dropped the unfamiliar equipment and ran back. As they ran, the Thaqeef fired a volley of arrows at them and killed one of them.
1. Mukhtasar Sirat Al-Rasul sall-Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam, of Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab.
2. The Wadi-ul-Muleih runs between the present Taif Airport and Seil-ul-Kabeer. The Wadi-ul-Qarn, in its upper reaches, crosses the present Taif-Makkah Highway 7 miles from Taif. Sadaira is 25 miles east of Taif on the Turaba road, and Nikhb lies just 3 miles east-south-east of Taif. The Wadi-un-Nikhb was known in ancient times, according to local tradition, as the Wadi-un-Naml-the Valley of Ants-through which Solomon marched towards the Yemen for his encounter with the Queen of Sheba. The story of Solomon is narrated in the Quran (27: 16-44).
Two weeks passed and the end was not in sight. The Thaqeef would not come out to fight; the Muslims could not get in to fight. Every time they approached the town they were driven back with, arrows. One day Abu Sufyan also took part in a sally towards the town and stopped an arrow with his eye. He lived thereafter as a one-eyed man. 1
February can be very cold in the region of Taif, and the weather during the siege was unpleasant. The Muslims tried to force the Thaqeef out to give battle by destroying some vineyards near Taif; but the Thaqeef refused to leave the security of their fort. Malik was much too clever a general to risk a battle under conditions which would favour his opponent. Finally the Holy Prophet called a council of war and sought the advice of his officers. One of them said, "When you corner a fox in its hole, if you stay long enough you catch the fox. But if you leave the fox in its hole it does you no harm." 2 Abu Bakr advised a return to Makkah, and Umar concurred with him.
The Prophet could not wait indefinitely for the fall of Taif as he had more important matters to attend to. He proposed that the siege be raised and the army return to Makkah; but some Muslim hot-heads protested against this and insisted that they fight on until victory was gained. "Then you can attack tomorrow." 3 said the Prophet.
The next day a few of these battle-hungry Muslims again approached the fort with a view to capturing it, but were severely punished by the Thaqeef archers. They returned in a more philosophical mood and agreed with the Prophet that it might be best to leave the fox in its hole.
On February 23, 630 (the 4th of Dhul Qad, 8 Hijri) the siege was raised. The Muslims had lost 12 men and a large number had been wounded. The Thaqeef remained defiant. Ten months later, however, this tribe was to accept Islam and prove staunch in its faith.
The Muslims arrived at Jirana on February 26, and here the Prophet distributed the spoils taken at Autas. To show the newly converted Makkans that there was no discrimination against them for having delayed their acceptance of the new faith, the Prophet also gave them a share of the spoils. But hardly had the women, children and animals been distributed among the Muslims, when a delegation of the Hawazin came to the Prophet and declared that the tribe had accepted Islam. "Will you not return to us what you captured from us in battle?" the delegates pleaded. Actually they had no right to demand a return of what they had lost, because they had lost it as infidels and not as Muslims; but the Prophet was generous. "Are your women and children dearer to you or your property?" he asked them. "Return to us our women and children and you can keep the rest", they replied. 4
The Prophet now appealed to his army to return the women and children of the Hawazin. Every soldier responded to the Prophet's appeal and returned the captives in his hands, with the exception of Safwan bin Umayyah, who refused to part with a girl who had been given to him as his share of the spoils. She must have been very beautiful!
A few days later Malik slipped out of Taif and came to the Muslim camp. He became a Muslim and was amply rewarded by the Prophet. It is a pity that this brilliant young soldier was given no important role in later Muslim campaigns, for he had the makings of a superb general.
The Holy Prophet and the army of Islam now returned to Madinah, arriving there in the latter part of March 630. Thus ended the eighth year of the Hijra. The year that followed was to become known as the Year of Delegations, for during this year most of the tribes of Arabia sent delegations to Madinah and submitted to the Prophet. Not all the delegates, or the tribal chiefs who sent them, were motivated by a desire for the true religion, as we shall see later. While some were sincere seekers of the truth, others came for political reasons. Some came out of sheer curiosity, and a few were downright scoundrels.
1. According to some sources, Abu Sufyan lost his eye at Yarmuk and not at Taif.
2. Ibn Sad: p. 675.
4. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, p. 489.