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What Caused the Battle of Badr?

It is a well-known fact that during the first 18 months after Hijrah, the Prophet and the Muslims were under a constant threat of war from their Makkan enemies. After many small scale acts of aggression, the Makkans decided on a major invasion of Madeenah, which resulted in the Battle of Badr. According to the Qur-aan, this battle was purely ideological. It took place because the Makkans wanted to eradicate Islam and destroy Muslims once and for all, while Allaah SWT wanted to establish the supremacy of the Truth and cut the roots of falsehood. That is why the day of this battle was called the day of “Al-Furqaan” – the criterion that determines what the Truth is.

Considering that some historians theorize that the Makkan attack resulting in the battle of Badr was initiated because of other reasons, it is necessary to evaluate those suggested reasons on the basis of the known facts.

Usually one or more of the following reasons are speculated:

  1. The Makkans wanted to avenge the killing of ‘Amr and the arrest of the other two guards by ‘Abdullaah ibn Jaĥsh expedition to Nakhlah (in Rajab 2 AH);
  2. The Makkans had to remove the Muslim threat to their trade route to Syria on which their economic well-being was hugely dependent;
  3. The Muslims wanted to rob the caravan, but had to fight the army because the caravan slipped by and the Makkan army came to protect it.

None of the above can be a valid trigger for war because of the following reasons:

  1. The first matter was definitely a sore point for Makkans but was not significant enough to justify amassing an army. According to the rules of the society, the Makkans could have demanded Qiŝaaŝ1either from the Prophet directly or through his clan in Makkah. Even the Prophet himself had offered blood money for the person killed. In addition, when some Makkan leaders wanted to go back without fighting, and this issue of revenge was raised, ‘Utbah ibn Rabee‘ah was willing to pay the blood money to the victim’s family, but it was refused. Thus, according to Arabian traditions, the war could not be justified on this basis.
  2. The second reason could not be an excuse for war at all because none of the Makkan caravans travelling the Syrian route were so far intercepted, stopped or robbed.

    The most common theory presented in this respect is that the Muslims intended to rob the caravan. Some people even go one step further and accuse that all of the eight expeditions mentioned earlier were also undertaken for this reason. Although this claim is so ridiculous that it is not even worthy of any consideration, some Muslims have accepted this baseless accusation as a matter of fact, rationalizing it on the basis that Muslims had a legitimate claim against the Quraish who had usurped the wealth and properties of the Muslim Muhaajireen (emigrants). Attributing this intent to the Muslims is a totally implausible assertion for the following reasons:

    • So far, Allaah had granted the Prophet and the Muslims permission to fight only when they were attacked or fought with, i.e. specifically for defensive purposes (Al-Ĥajj). Attacking or robbing a caravan would obviously be an act of aggression rather than a defensive encounter. Do you think the Prophet would disobey Allaah and would attack the caravans just because Muslims have a legitimate claim against the Quraish?
    • There were eight expeditions undertaken before the battle of Badr, and there was only one encounter with a caravan. Do you think the Prophet was so clumsy in his planning and so weak in his intelligence gathering that seven out of eight missions failed in robbing the caravans?
    • Is there any historical evidence that Quraish would send multiple caravans one after the other in a matter of a few months to the same direction; i.e. Syria?
    • If robbing a caravan was the goal all along, when his men finally succeeded why would he return all the goods and give the blood money for the killed guard? Someone might say it was because the fight took place in Rajab (another propaganda of falsehood). But if the inviolability of the month of Rajab was the reason, how would return of the money and payment of the blood money restore the sanctity already broken? And why would he worry about restoring the sanctity especially when Allaah had provided a justification for fighting in the inviolable months? The fact is that the only reason he returned the goods, freed the prisoners and offered the blood ransom was because it was never his intention to attack any caravan.

The idea of plundering the caravan is so inconsistent with the entire life and style of the Prophet that it is evidently a fabricated story. The person who was so forgiving and kind to his enemies, who spent lavishly on them after having authority over them, who was kindest to the prisoners of war -- how could one say that he was sending troops to rob caravans? Although it would have been justified for an ordinary person to think of robbing the caravans to recover misappropriated wealth of Muslims, it does not fit with the personality of someone who did not even want to mention a thing of the past when he had full control over his enemies’ affairs and full authority of recovering all that was taken from the Muslims in the past. The person who made a point to win the hearts of people, do you expect him to gain wealth and alienate the hearts?

This fabrication has been most vigorously propagated for the battle of Badr. It is claimed that Muslims had left Madeenah to rob the caravan. When Aboo Sufyaan, the leader of the caravan, found out that the Muslims were coming to attack the caravan, he sent a messenger to Makkah for help. The Makkans gathered the army and marched towards Madeenah to protect the caravan. On hearing the news of the Makkan army, then the Prophet consulted his companions at a place called Dzafraan, where the aforementioned speeches took place and the Muslims decided to confront the army instead of the caravan.

This theory is so baseless and so absurd that it should not even be mentioned. The unfortunate aspect is that many Muslims themselves keep repeating this fabricated propaganda thoughtlessly, disregarding all the clear evidence available against this false assertion. Let us look at the events surrounding the battle of Badr to see what the evidence suggests.

 

Solid Facts

The battle of Badr took place on Friday, 17th of Ramadhaan at Badr which is about 90 miles from Madeenah and 200 miles from Makkah. The Muslims reached Badr on the 16th of Ramadhaan, where Makkans were already camped on the other side of the mountain. The caravan had reached the vicinity also at the same time.

The Makkan army had reached Badr before the Muslim army. Now let us say that they reached there earlier the same day or only a day earlier. It is known that they spent 10 days traveling to Badr, which means they must have started from Makkah on the 6th of Ramadhaan, at the latest. After Dhamdham reached Makkah, the Makkans took 4 days to make arrangements with Banoo Bakr not to attack Makkah at that time in their absence. They needed this time also to assemble and organize the army. It means Dhamdham must have reached Makkah by the first or second of Ramadhaan.

Now the question is when and from where Dhamdham was sent so as to reach Makkah by the 1st or 2nd of Ramadhaan. Usually it is mentioned that Aboo Sufyaan sent him when he found out that Muslims are advancing to attack his caravan. If this is believed to be true, it means Dhamdham must have been sent when the caravan was close to Madeenah. Even if Dhamdham travelled uninterrupted at full speed of the camel, it would have taken him about one week to reach Makkah (remember that it took the Prophet 7-8 days while migrating to Madeenah on camel). Accordingly, the Muslims must have left Madeenah around the 20th of Sha‘baan, at the latest, to be in the vicinity of the trade route so that their presence was noted and reported to Aboo Sufyaan, and Dhamdham had enough time to reach Makkah by the beginning of Ramadhaan. Although even this time estimate is tight, we are taking the minimum numbers for the sake of argument.

Hence, if the story that Dhamdham was sent after Aboo Sufyaan had found out about the Muslim’s intention to attack the caravan is believed, it implies that:

  • Muslims left Madeenah around the 20th of Sha‘baan;
  • Although the caravan was close by and even its diverted route was only 15-16 miles away, the Muslims wandered around for about two weeks instead of chasing the caravan until they heard about the Makkan army, when they changed their mind and decided to confront the army instead.

Both of these implications themselves highlight the falsehood of the proposition.

It is an established fact that the travel did happen in Ramadhaan, not in Sha‘baan. This was the first year when fasting was prescribed. When the Muslims started from Madeenah they were fasting and the Prophet had to ask them to break the fast.

Similarly, the second point does not make sense at all. If the intent was to attack the caravan, why did the Muslim army not do anything when the Makkans were still at home? Why did they wait for the army to come? Why not rob the caravan, use the wealth to buy more arms, horses and camels and then confront the Makkans to fight with them? And when they departed from Madeenah, why is it that the Muslims marched in the direction of Makkah towards Badr instead of marching North-west towards the Caravan?

Some others may assume that Aboo Sufyaan sent for help not because the Muslims troops were seen in the area but as a precaution against the fear that the Muslims might attack. The question is, what was the basis of the fear? Was there any caravan robbed by Muslims before he left for Syria? Did anyone chase his caravan on his way to Syria? The answer to both of these questions is a resounding NO! So perhaps the Nakhlah incident triggered his fear. That is not possible either because he was in Syria and did not have access to that information. Perhaps the Makkans sent him a special courier to inform him about the incident? Does it not sound odd that at first the Makkans would send him a message to inform him of the incident and then he would send Dhamdham to ask for help? Why would the Makkans not send him a message: “A caravan has been attacked and thus, as a precaution, we will be coming to protect you according to your scheduled arrival”? Moreover, if it was just because of the fear and precaution, why would Dhamdham cry about it as if the caravan was, as a matter of fact, under attack? It is apparent that Aboo Sufyaan had no clue about the Nakhlah incident and he had no basis to suspect a raid. He had sent his man to stage the pre-planned drama so that a justification for war could be created and the Makkans could be incited to fight.

 

Some more Pertinent Questions

If the Prophet and Muslims started from Madeenah to intercept the caravan, and the Makkan army was called for, only in response to the presence of the Muslim army, why was a 313-strong army needed to confront 30-40 guards? Was that the style of the Prophet, especially considering that the manpower for each of the expeditions sent so far had been very small compared to the number of Makkan troops they were expected to confront? Why were the Anŝaar included for the first time, unless that every Muslim was truly needed to confront the army for the survival of the Islamic mission, so much so that only eight believing men were left to fulfil some assigned tasks in Madeenah?

Why were two non-Muslims who wanted to join the army told, “Whoever does not follow our Deen cannot participate with us.” Was this differentiation something pertinent for robbing a caravan? Or was it because the Muslims were setting out to confront the enemies to establish the “Ĥaqq” (the Truth)?

Why were all Muslims joining the army with the passion for Jihad and martyrdom, so much so that young Muslims like ‘Umair ibn Abee Waqqaaŝ also wanted to participate? And why were other young boys like ‘Abdullaah ibn ‘Umar, Usaamah ibn Zaid, Baraa ibn ‘Aazib, Zaid ibn Arqam, etc. not allowed to join? Was intercepting a trade caravan which had only about 40 guards all that risky for an army of more than 300 fighting men to deny participation to those boys?

If the coming of the army was found later on at Dzafraan, which is very close to Badr, why would the matter be presented that there were two gangs on the way, one of which can be yours? By that time, the caravan had already slipped by (down towards the coast) and the Makkan army was close at hand. Thus, they had no choice but to face the army.

Also, if the intent was to rob the caravan, why did the Muslim army not chase the caravan after the defeat of the Makkan army at Badr? After the Muslims were victorious and the danger of the Makkan army was gone and the caravan was so close to Badr, it could have been easily chased and robbed.

From the Makkan perspective, if they set out merely to defend their caravan, what would justify the following:

  • When they found out that the caravan had safely passed the “danger” zone, why did they not leave without fighting, especially when some of their own urged them to do so? Why did they continue marching to Badr?
  • Why was such a strong army with more than one thousand (1000) fighters and so much preparation for the war needed? Why was it made incumbent for every clan and every noticeable leader to participate in the war? Why was such an environment created that anyone who would not participate in the war would be doing so to destroy his reputation? Why was it given the status of a “national” war where each clan contributed to the expenses of the war, instead of only those clans who had invested money in the caravan? Why was it given a religious and ideological significance?

The fact is that the war was undertaken on a purely ideological basis by the Makkans to root out the Muslims. Dhamdham was sent far in advance according to the prior plan, not because of any danger from Muslims. The protection of the caravan was just a cover. That is why troops from Banoo Saleem and Banoo Ghaŧfaan of Najd area were able to participate in the army. Without behind-the-scene pre-arrangements, their joining the Makkan army on short notice would have been impossible. Banoo Bakr also agreed to refrain from attacking Makkah during that time for the religious reasons.

It is also fact that the Muslims started from Madeenah only after hearing the news of the invading army starting from Makkah. Hence, the Muslims left Madeenah on the 12th of Ramadhaan, as some of the historians have reported, traveling at the speed of a foot soldier because of a lack of enough camels, reaching Badr in 3-4 days by the 16th. What happened at Dzafraan was only that some of those who had hoped to chase the caravan finally realized that the only option they had was to face the army.

Thus, the Makkans came out clearly and determinedly to destroy the growing challenge to their religion and their way of life and the Muslims came out to defend their Deen and their way of life. Hence it was a critical moment to determine which ideology was going to survive and flourish.

The fact that the Muslims left Madeenah to confront the army is also clearly indicated by verses 5-8 of this soorah, which documented the truth immediately after the Battle of Badr. Those verses make it crystal clear that the Muslims had set out of Madeenah to defend themselves and their faith from the Makkan aggression, not to attack the caravan.

The tactics of the Makkans leading up to the battle show that the Battle of Badr was one of those situations where people are fired up to fight against the Muslims through dramatization and lies. It also shows that tactics of the Kufr do not change. Whether it is the Pharaoh of Egypt, Aboo Jahl of Makkah or a neo-conservative of the 21st century, their mentality and tactics remain the same. They use lies and false propaganda about an imminent danger, retaliation or pre-emption to fool people and convince them to participate in and support the illegitimate and unjust wars of aggression.

 



[1] Settling life for life or for an established equivalent monetary compensation.

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