THE BATTLE OF UHUD
(3 Shawwal 3 AH)
The victory of Badr alerted to Islam all the hostile forces in Arabia. The Muslims were in a state of unease, and endured the wrath of most of the neighboring societies.
The Jewish tribes around Madina were disinclined to honour the agreements they had concluded with God’s Messenger after his Emigration from Makka. During the Battle of Badr they were sympathetic with the idol-worshipping polytheists rather than with the Muslims. After the Battle of Badr these tribes openly promoted the Quraysh and other Arab tribes to urge them to unite against the Muslims. They also collaborated with the hypocrites, who were apparently an integral part of the Muslim body-politic. To serve the same end, that is, to sabotage the spread of Islam, they fanned the flames of old animosities between the Aws and Khazraj, the two tribes of Madinan Muslims. In particular, the chief of Banu Nadir, Ka‘b ibn Ashraf, went to Makka personally and recited stirring elegies for the Makkans who had been slain in Badr, in order to provoke the Quraysh into hostile action against the Muslims. Also, this Ka‘b spoke slanders against the Muslims and satirized God’s Messenger in the poems he composed.
Their violation of treaty obligations exceeded all reasonable limits. A few months after the Battle of Badr, a Muslim woman was indecently treated by some Jews of Banu Qaynuqa, the most hostile to the Muslims among the Jewish tribes. In the fighting that followed a Muslim was martyred and a Jew killed. When God’s Messenger reproached them for this shameful conduct and invited them to remain faithful to the obligations of the treaty they had concluded with him, they threatened him, saying: ‘Do not be misled by your encounter with a people who had no knowledge of warfare, and so you had good luck with them. By God, if we were to wage war against you, you would know that we are the men of war.’
Finally, God’s Messenger launched an attack on Banu Qaynuqa, and banished them from the outskirts of Madina. In addition, upon the order of God’s Messenger, Muhammed ibn Maslama killed Ka’b ibn Ashraf and put an end to his mischief.1
The reasons of the battle
The Quraysh were smarting from the defeat of Badr. Their women were mourning almost everyday over their warriors killed at the Battle of Badr and encouraged them to wage war on the Muslims. In addition, the Jewish efforts to arouse their feelings of revenge were like pouring oil on flames. Within a year they attacked Madina again with an army of three thousand, including 700 in coats of mail and 200 cavalry.
Informed of the Makkans’ march upon Madina, God’s Messenger took counsel with his Companions as to how best to resist the Quraysh. He had had a dream that he was in his coat of mail with his sword notched and that some oxen were being slaughtered, and interpreted it as meaning they should defend themselves from within the boundaries of Madina; also that a leading member of his kinsmen, together with some others of his Companions, would be martyred.2 Also, he knew that the Makkan army was coming with the intention of doing battle in open ground, and if, therefore, they defended themselves from within Madina, the Makkan army could not continue a long siege. With this plan he also stressed once more that the Muslims are, in reality, the representatives of peace and security and therefore they resort to force only when it is inevitable for them either to eliminate the obstacle put before their preaching of Islam or to defend themselves or their faith and country against any attack.
However, there were several young people who longed for martyrdom and felt aggrieved at not having had the opportunity to fight in the Battle of Badr. They were of the opinion that the enemy should be resisted outside the confines of Madina. God’s Messenger gave in to the demands of the majority and decided to march out of the city to meet the enemy. Nevertheless, those young people repented, upon the warning of the elders, of having insisted on their opinions to march out of Madina, and the elders came to God’s Messenger to inform him that the young people had changed their minds. The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, replied to them:
It does not befit a Prophet to take off his coat of mail after he has put it on.3
An advisory system of government
An advisory system of government is an indispensable article of the Islamic constitution. The advice of the learned, of the pious and of persons of sound judgment and expert knowledge who enjoy the confidence of people, is always to be sought, and these persons, in turn, are expected to speak out and express their opinions according to the dictates of their conscience with precision and integrity. This advisory system is so important to a Muslim community that in the Qur’an God praises the first, exemplary Muslim community as a community whose affair is by counsel between them (al-Shura, 42.38). This importance becomes more explicit when the fact that this first community was led by the Prophet himself is taken into consideration, who never spoke out of caprice and on his own authority but spoke what was revealed to him by God (al-Najm, 53.3-4). It is because of this that God’s Messenger preferred the opinions of the majority to his own. But, since he had to execute the decision they had concluded after consultation in full submission to and confidence in God, he should not be expected to change his decision for several reasons:
This would, first of all, have led those in authority to exert pressure upon others to accept their opinions.
If a leader changes his decision according to individual feelings and fancies, it can cause him to lose his authority and reliability.
Any hesitation shown by the leader passes fear and anxiety on to his followers and leads them to conflicting ideas.
If God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, had changed his decision, and chosen to defend the Muslims from within the boundaries of Madina with some undesired result, it would have caused those of the opposing view to criticize the Messenger and the leading Companions.
In his every word and deed, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, set an example to be followed by his Umma. All the reflections above refer to the kind of behavior he showed prior to the Battle of Uhud and in his saying: It does not befit a Prophet to take off his coat of mail after he has put it on.
The stages of the Battle of Uhud
God’s Messenger, accompanied by a thousand warriors, left Madina for Uhud, a volcanic hill only a few miles from the western outskirts of Madina, with a plain stretching before it. However, half way to the destination ‘Adbullah ibn Ubayy ibn Salul broke away along with his three hundred men.4 This, happening as it did just before the commencement of the battle, caused such perplexity and confusion that the people of Banu Salama and Banu Haritha wanted to turn back, but were persuaded not to.
God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, advanced with the remaining seven hundred Muslims, much less in number and equipment than their enemies, and lined up his troops at the foot of Mount Uhud in such a manner that the mountain was behind and the Quraysh army in front of them. There was only a mountain pass from where the Muslims could be subjected to a surprise attack. God’s Messenger posted fifty archers there as guards under the command of ‘Adbullah ibn Jubayr, instructing him neither to let anyone approach nor to move away from that spot, adding:Even if you see birds fly off with our flesh, still you must not move away from this place.5
The standard of God’s Messenger was again in the hands of Mus‘ab ibn ‘Umayr. Zubayr ibn ‘Awwam commanded the cavalry and, Hamza, the infantry. The army was ready to begin the battle. In order to encourage his Companions, the Prophet had brought forth a sword and asked: Who would like to have this sword in return for giving its due? Abu Dujana asked: ‘What is its due?’ It is to fight with it until it is broken, the Prophet answered. Abu Dujana took it and was engaged in fighting.6 Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas and ‘Adbullah ibn Jahsh prayed to God to make them encounter the strongest soldiers of the enemy. Hamza, the uncle of the Prophet and who was known as the Lion of God, wore an ostrich feather on his breast. The verse revealed to describe the godly persons around previous Prophets pointed also to them:
Many a Prophet there was, with whom a large number of God-devoted men fought. They fainted not for anything that befell them in the way of God, neither weakened, nor did they abase themselves. God loves the steadfast. Nothing else did they say but, ‘Our Lord, forgive us our sins, and that we exceeded in our affair, and make firm our feet, and help us against the people of the unbelievers.’ And God gave them the reward of the world and the good reward of the Hereafter. God loves the good-doers. (Al ‘Imran, 3. 146-8)
In the first stage of the battle, the Muslims defeated the enemy, so easily so that Abu Dujana, with the sword the Prophet had given him, advanced as far as the central part of the Quraysh army and, encountering Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan, who was the commander of the Quraysh army, attempted to kill her but, ‘in order not to dirty the sword given by the Prophet with the blood of a woman’, spared her life.7 ‘Ali had killed Talha ibn Abi Talha, the standard-bearer of the enemy. Those who took hold of the standard of the Quraysh one after the other had all been killed by either ‘Ali or ‘Asim ibn Thabit or Zubayr ibn ‘Awwam. After that, the self-sacrificing heroes of the Muslim army like Hamza, ‘Ali, Abu Dujana, Zubayr ibn ‘Awwam, and Miqdad ibn ‘Amr thrust themselves into the ranks of the enemy and put them to flight.
When the enemy began to flee the battlefield, the Muslims occupied themselves with the spoils. The archers on the mountain pass saw their brothers collecting booty, and said to themselves. ‘God has defeated the enemy, and our brothers are collecting the spoils. Let us go and join them.’
‘Adbullah ibn Jubayr tried to persuade them not to leave their posts by reminding them of the Prophet’s directive, but they answered: ‘He ordered us to do that without knowing that the matter would come to what we now see’. Except a few who remained at their posts, they took part in collecting booty. Khalid ibn Walid, who was at that time an unbeliever and who commanded the Quraysh cavalry, seized this opportunity. He rode with his men around Mount Uhud and attacked the flank of the Muslim army through the pass. ‘Adbullah ibn Jubayr’s depleted forces tried unsuccessfully to resist the attack.
The fleeing soldiers of the enemy also returned and joined the attack from the front and the scales of the battle turned against the Muslims. The suddenness of these attacks by outnumbering forces, from both the rear and the front, caused great confusion among the Muslim ranks. The enemy forces wanted to either seize God’s Messenger alive or kill him, and attacked him from all sides, striking with swords, thrusting with spears, shooting arrows and hurling stones. Those who defended him fought heroically.
Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan, had lost her father and brothers in the Battle of Badr and urged Wahshi, a black slave, to kill Hamza. When the scales of the battle turned against the Muslims, Hamza thrust himself into the ranks of the enemy like a furious lion. He had killed almost thirty of them when the lance of Wahshi struck him just above the thigh and pierced it. Hind came forward and ordered Hamza’s stomach to be split open. She mutilated his body and chewed his liver.8
Ibn Kami‘a martyred Mus‘ab ibn ‘Umayr, the standard-bearer of God’s Messenger and who had been fighting before him. Mus‘ab resembled God’s Messenger in build and complexion. This resemblance led Ibn Kami‘a to announce that he had killed God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. Meanwhile, the Messenger himself had been wounded by a blow of the sword and stones hurled at him. He fell in a pit and, bleeding profusely, stretched his hands and prayed: O God, forgive my people, because they do not know (the truth).9
The rumor that the Prophet had been martyred led many Companions to lose courage. But, in addition to those like ‘Ali, Abu Dujana, Sahl ibn Hunayf, Talha ibn ‘Ubayd Allah, Anas ibn Nadr and ‘Adbullah ibn Jahsh, who fought self-sacrificingly, some Muslim women, having heard the rumour, hastened to the battlefield. Of them, one from Banu Dinar called Sumayra had lost her husband, father and brother, but she was asking about God’s Messenger. When she saw him, she said: ‘All the misfortunes mean nothing to me as long as you are alive, O God’s Messenger!’10 Another one, named Umm ‘Umara, fought before the Messenger so heroically that the Messenger told her: Who else can endure all that you endure? That pride of womanhood took this opportunity to ask the Messenger to pray God for her: ‘O Messenger of God! Pray to God to join me in your company in Paradise!’ The Messenger prayed: O God, join her with me in Paradise! She responded to this prayer: ‘Whatever happens to me from now on, I will not care it any more .’11 Anas ibn Nadr heard the rumour that God’s Messenger had been martyred. He fought so valiantly that he suffered eighty wounds.12 They found Sa‘d ibn Rabi’ giving his last breath. He had received seventy wounds. His last words were ‘Convey my greetings to God’s Messenger. I sense the fragrance of Paradise from behind Uhud.’13
Besides Abu Dujana and Sahl ibn Hunayf, ‘Ali stood in front of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and defended him during the battle. Once, the Messenger pointed to him some of the enemy who had come down from the hill. ‘Ali repelled them. Then, the Messenger pointed to him some more of the enemy. Again he attacked them and put them to flight. The Prophet then pointed to him another group of the enemy. Yet again ‘Ali attacked them and put them to flight.14
Despite the indescribable resistance of the Muslim warriors around God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, defeat seemed inevitable until Ka’b ibn Malik, seeing God’s Messenger, shouted: ‘O Muslims! Good tidings for you! This is God’s Messenger, here!’ The scattered Companions advanced toward him from all sides, rallied around him, and led him to the safety of the mountain.
The reasons for the setback at Uhud
Before passing on to explain the reasons for the setback suffered at Uhud, it should be pointed out that the Companions have, after the Prophets, superiority over all the other people in virtue. They were honored with being the comrades and trainees of the greatest of the whole creation, one for whose sake the universe was created and who was sent as a mercy for all the worlds, that is, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. Therefore, according to the rule, the greater the blessing, the greater the responsibility, they had to be the most sensitive in obeying God and His Messenger. We read in the Qur’an that, for example, whoever of the Prophet’s wives commits manifest indecency, the punishment for her will be doubled because they are not like any other women (al-Ahzab, 33. 30, 32). Likewise, a sin committed by the Companions, small as it may be, deserves severe punishment. They are all included in those ‘foremost in belief and nearness to God’, and they are the ones whose conduct is an example followed by later generations, so they should be pure in belief and intention, sincere in worship and devotion, upright in conduct and extremely careful in refraining from sins and disobedience.
Secondly, God has raised the Community of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, as the best community who enjoin the good and forbid the evil, and believe in One God (Al ‘Imran, 3.110) and also appointed them as a ‘middle nation’ so that they may be witnesses to mankind, and that the Messenger may be a witness to them (al-Baqara, 2.143). But, in the first years of the Madinan era, the community of the Companions consisted of true believers and hypocrites, so God wanted to sift those who were truly His witnesses against all mankind, and also to see who among them strove hard in His Way and remained steadfast (Al ‘Imran, 3. 141-2). The Battle of Uhud, therefore, became a decisive test to sift out the sincere and steadfast from the hypocritical and wavering ones, and served to make the Islamic community more stable and formidable than before.
After these preliminary notes, we can summarize the reasons for the reverse which the Muslims experienced in the second stage of Uhud.
God’s Messenger, being the Commander-in-chief of the Muslim army supported by Divine Revelation, was of the opinion that they should stay within the confines of Madina, but the younger Companions, inexperienced and full of excitement, urged him to march out of the city. This was a mistake, even though for the sake of obtaining the rank of martyrdom in the Way of God, since the Messenger tended to apply different tactics in battles and knew in advance that the Quraysh army was coming to fight in an open field.
The second disobedience on the part of the Companions showed itself when the archers whom the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, had posted to defend the army against any attack from the rear, left their posts. They misinterpreted the order of God’s Messenger that they should not move away from their places even if they saw birds fly off with the flesh of their brothers fighting on the battlefield, and took part in collecting booty.
The hypocrites numbering three hundred, one third of the whole army, cut themselves off from the army half-way and returned to Madina. This undermined the morale of Banu Salama and Banu Haritha, who were only persuaded with difficulty not to leave. Moreover, there was still a small group of hypocritical people who demoralized the Muslim ranks during the course of the battle.
A number of the Companions did not remain sufficiently patient. They acted, in certain respects, in a manner inconsistent with the dictates of piety and were lured by material wealth.
There were some among the believers who had thought that as long as God’s Messenger was in their midst and as long as they enjoyed God’s support and help, the unbelievers could never triumph over them. However true this was, they came to understand by the setback they suffered that deserving God’s help requires, besides belief and devotion, deliberation and strategy, and steadfastness. They also perceived that the world is a field of testing and trial:
Many ways of life and systems have passed away before you; journey in the land, and behold how was the end of those who did deny (the Messengers). This is an exposition for mankind, and a guidance and an admonition for the God-fearing. Faint not, nor grieve, for you shall gain mastery if you are true believers. If a wound has touched you, a like wound already touched the (unbelieving) people (at Badr); such days We deal out in turn among men, that God may see who are the believers, and that He may take witnesses from among you; and God loves not the evil-doers; and that God may prove the believers, and blot out the unbelievers. (Al ‘Imran, 3. 137-141)
Those who had not taken part in the Battle of Badr sincerely prayed God for martyrdom. They were deeply devoted to the cause of Islam and longed for their meeting with God. Some among them like ‘Adbullah ibn Jahsh, Anas ibn Nadr, Sa‘d ibn Rabi’, ‘Amr ibn Jamuh and Abu Sa‘d Haysama, may God be pleased with them all, tasted the pleasure of martyrdom and the martyrdom of the others was delayed. The Qur’an sings the praises of them as follows:
Among the believers are men who were true to their covenant with God; some of them have fulfilled their vow by death (in battle), and some are still awaiting, and they have not changed in the least. (al-Ahzab, 33.23)
Any success or triumph lies in the hand of God, Who does whatever He wills and cannot be questioned concerning His acts. Belief in the Unity of God requires that a believer must always ascribe to God his accomplishments and never appropriate for his self anything good. If the decisive victory of Badr gave some of the Muslims some sort of self-pride and if they imputed the victory to their own prudence and wise arrangement or some material causes, this, too, would have taken a part in their setback in Uhud.
There is an important point worth mentioning concerning the setback the believers suffered in Uhud. Among the Quraysh army there were some eminent soldiers and commanders such as Khalid ibn Walid, Ikrima ibn Abi Jahl, ‘Amr ibn al- ‘As and Ibn Hisham, each of whom had been destined by God to serve Islam very greatly in the future. They were the ones most esteemed and respected among the people. For the sake of their future service for Islam, God may not have willed to hurt their feelings of honour completely. So, as expressed by Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, the Companions of the future defeated the Companions of the present in the second stage of Uhud.15
Finally, the following verses are to explain the reasons of that setback together with its aftermath, and the lessons which should be taken from it:
Did you suppose you should enter Paradise without God seeing who of you have struggled and who are patient? (Al ‘Imran, 3.142)
Muhammed is naught but a Messenger; Messengers have passed away before him. Will you, if he should die or is slain, turn back on your heels? If any man should turn back on his heels, he will not harm God in any way; and God will recompense the thankful. It is not given to any soul to die save by the leave of God, at an appointed time. Whoso desires the reward of this world, We will give him of this; and whoso desires the reward of the other world, We will give him of that; and We will recompense the thankful. (Al ‘Imran, 3. 144-5)
God fulfilled His pledge to you when by His leave you blasted them, until you lost heart, and quarrelled about the matter, and disobeyed, after He had shown you that you longed for. Some of you sought this world and some of you sought the next. Then He turned you from them, that He might try you; and He has pardoned you; and God is bounteous to the believers. When you were going up, not twisting about for anyone, and the Messenger was calling you in your rear; so He rewarded you with grief after grief that you might not sorrow for what escaped you neither for what smote you; and God is aware of the things you do. (Al ‘Imran, 3. 152-3)
Those of you who turned away on the day two hosts encountered - Satan made them slip because of some of their lapses; but God has pardoned them; God is All-Forgiving, All-Clement. (Al ‘Imran, 3. 155)
O believers, be not as the unbelievers who say concerning their brothers, when they journey in the land, or are upon expeditions, ‘If they had been with us, they would not have died and not been slain’ - that God may make that an anguish in their hearts. For God gives life, and He makes to die; and God sees the things you do. If you are slain or die in God’s way, forgiveness and mercy from God are a better thing than what they amass; surely if you die or are slain, it is unto God you shall be mustered. (Al ‘Imran, 3.156-8)
If God helps you, none can overcome you; but if He forsakes you, who then can help you after Him? Therefore in God let the believers put all their trust. (Al ‘Imran, 3. 160)
Why, when an affliction visited you, and you had visited twice over the like of it, did you say, ‘How is this?’ Say: ‘This is from your own selves; surely God is powerful over everything’. And what visited you, the day the two hosts encountered, was by God’s leave, and that He might mark out the believers; and that He might also mark out the hypocrites, to whom it was said: ‘Come, fight in the way of God, or repel!’ They said, ‘If only we knew how to fight, we would follow you.’ They that day were nearer to unbelief than to belief. (Al ‘Imran, 3.165-7)
Count not those who were slain in God’s way as dead. They are alive with their Lord, by Him provided, rejoicing in the bounty that God has given them, and joyful in those who remain behind and have not joined them yet: that no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow, joyful in blessing and bounty from God, and that God leaves not to waste the wage of the believers. (Al ‘Imran, 3. 169-171)
God will not leave the believers in the state in which you are, till He shall distinguish the corrupt from the good, and God will not inform you of the Unseen; but God chooses out of His Messengers whom He wills. Believe you then in God and His Messengers; and if you believe and are God-fearing, there shall be for you a mighty wage. (Al ‘Imran, 3.179)
The last stage of the Battle of Uhud and the Campaign of Hamra’ al-Asad
After the confusion at Uhud, his Companions rallied around the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. He was wounded and fainted, and many of his Companions were also wounded. They had retreated to the safety of the mountain. When the Quraysh army began to leave the battlefield, thinking they had taken revenge for the defeat at Badr and seeing that they were unable to crush the resistance of the Muslims, they mounted their camels and, only leading their horses (not riding), they headed for Makka.
God’s Messenger was apprehensive that the Makkan polytheists might return and launch a second attack on Madina. On the second day of Uhud, therefore, he ordered those who had taken part in the Battle of Uhud the day before to gather and urged them to pursue the unbelievers. Although some people from Banu ‘Abd al-Qays, appointed by Abu Sufyan, tried to discourage the Muslims to confront the Quraysh once more, saying. ‘The people have gathered against you, therefore fear them,’ this only increased the heroes of Islam in faith, and they answered: ‘God is sufficient for us; what an excellent Guardian He is!’ (Al ‘Imran, 3. 173).16
Most of them were seriously wounded; some were even unable to stand and were carried by their friends.17 At this highly critical moment, they girded up their loins and were prepared to lay down their lives at the behest of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. They accompanied him to Hamra’ al-Asad, eight miles from Madina.
The Makkan polytheists had halted and were deliberating among themselves about launching a second attack on Madina to crush the power of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. However, when they saw the believers, whom they thought they had defeated so shortly before, coming towards them, they failed to muster sufficient courage and carried on to Makka.
It was the prudence and military genius of God’s Messenger that a defeat resulted in a victory. The enemy could not find the courage in themselves to march upon Madina, a few miles away, and had to go on towards Makka in the face of the resolution showed by the believers. God revealed the following verses in praise of the Muslim heroes who had participated in this campaign:
Those who answered God and the Messenger after the wound had smitten them - to all those of them who did good and feared God, shall be a mighty wage; those to whom the people said, ‘The people have gathered against you, therefore fear them’; but it increased them in faith, and they said, ‘God is sufficient for us; what an excellent Guardian He is!’ So they returned with blessing and bounty from God, untouched by evil; they followed the good pleasure of God; and God is of bounty abounding. (Al ‘Imran, 3. 172-4)
1. I. Hisham, 3.58.
2. Ibid. 3.664-7.
3. Bukhari, “I‘tisam,” 28; I. Hisham, Sira, 3.68.
4. I. Hisham, 3.68.
5. Bukhari, “Jihad,” 164; Abu Dawud, “Jihad,” 6.
6. Muslim, “Fada’il al-Sahaba,” 128; I. Hanbal, 3.123.
7. Haythami, Majma‘ al-Zawa’id, 6.109.
8. I. Sa‘d, Tabaqat, 3.12; Waqidi, Maghazi, 221.
9. Qadi ‘Iyad, Shifa’, 1.78-9; Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 4.93.
10. I. Hisham, 3.99.
11. I. Sa‘d, Tabaqat, 8. 413-5.
12. I. Hanbal, 3.201; Bayhaqi, Sunan, 9.44.
13. I. Kathir, al-Bidaya, 4.35-6.
14. Tabari, Tarikh, 3.17; I. Athir, al-Kamil, 2.74; I. Hisham, Sira, 3.100.
15. Said Nursi, Lemalar, Istanbul, 28.
16. I. Hisham, 3.120-1; I. Kathir, al-Bidaya, 4.43.
17. I. Hisham, 3.101.