After having endured thirteen insufferable years of mental, emotional, and physical humiliation at the hands of the relentless Quraish in Makkah, Allah sanctioned retaliation for the Muslims in Surah Al-Baqarah soon after their migration to Madinah. This was an allowance that paved the way for a series of battles fought between the forces of truth and falsehood. The Battle of Badr was the first battle between the Muslims and disbelievers.
Muhammed ﷺ warned his followers that the Makkans were sending their finest sons before Badr, the first-ever skirmish. However, time would prove that Islam’s very own handful of distinguished personalities from among the Muhajirin and Ansar would ferociously take on the Quraish notables, aided by divine intervention. Indeed, Badr was a turning point in the Prophet’s ﷺ mission.
Build up to the battle
After the migration to Madinah, the Quraish stepped up their persecution of the Muslims in Makkah. They also intensified in their enmity towards Islam. They would send threats to the believers, and eventually, Allah permitted the believers to take up arms against the disbelievers. Some minor expeditions followed, and the believers started focusing on seizing some of the Quraishite caravans. By doing so, they could economically pressurize the Quraishites to stop persecuting and hounding Muslims.
A caravan of the Quraish led by Abu Sufyan had evaded the Muslims as it headed for Syria. The Muslims awaited its return, and some of their scouts witnessed the caravan going by and alerted the Prophet (PBUH) about the caravan and how big it was. If the Muslims managed to capture the caravan, it would have a massive effect on the Makkan economy. If the believers succeeded in intercepting their caravans, it would stun the Meccans. The plan was to intercept the Quraishite caravan when it stopped at the wells of Badr.
Abu Sufyan got wind of the Muslims’ plan. He sent a message to Makkah, asking for an army to take on the believers. The Makkans realized the urgency of the situation and the importance of the caravan’s safety. They hurriedly gathered an army with as much strength as they could muster and set out to tackle the Muslims. As the army of approximately 1,000 men approached Badr, people informed them that Abu Sufyan had safely avoided the Muslims by taking a different route.
Despite this turn of events, the disbelievers decided to advance to Badr to punish the Muslims. They wished to prevent them from attacking any more caravans. When the Muslims realized this, they knew that they had to respond with courage and make a bold decision.
The believers prepare for the Battle of Badr
The Muslims understood that they had to face the army of disbelievers, or the Makkans would continue being hostile. This might even embolden them to attack Madinah. The Prophet (PBUH) did not decide on the Muslims’ decision regarding the battle without consulting others. On the contrary, he held meetings to come to a decision.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) did not wish to lead the believers into a battle without their agreeing to it, particularly the Helpers (Ansar) of Madinah. The Ansar comprised most of the Muslims’ forces, and the Pledge of Aqaba did not oblige them to fight at Badr, as it was not their territory.
Saad ibn Muaadh affirmed that the Ansar would support the Prophet (PBUH) and Islam. He said that they would dive into the sea if the Prophet (PBUH) asked them to do so. He also assured the Prophet (PBUH) that they did not oppose fighting the Quraish. Additionally, he spoke of their experience when it came to wars and their reliability when it came to combat. Sad asked the Prophet (PBUH) to lead them to the battleground in Allah’s Name. Hence, the Emigrants and Helpers were devoted to the cause of Islam.
The disbelievers had an army of some 1000 men. However, the Muslim forces that set out for Badr had just over 300 men in their ranks. For transport, the believers only had 70 camels and three horses. Therefore, they had to take turns to ride the animals. Ahead of the commencement of the battle, the Prophet (PBUH) prayed and supplicated throughout the night.
The events of the battle
The date on which the Battle of Badr took place was the 17th of Ramadan, in 624 CE, which was the second year of the Hijrah.
The battle started with individual duels, in line with Arab customs. The Muslims had the upper hand during these individual duels, killing some prominent members of the Quraish. The Quraish furiously charged at the Muslims to wipe them out.
The Muslims kept their cool, maintaining their defensive position as per their strategy. Their composed approach led to their enemies suffering substantial casualties. The Prophet (PBUH) earnestly implored Allah, and Allah revealed that He would assist the believers with a thousand angels, as we see in Surah Al-Anfal. Upon learning of Allah’s support, the Prophet (PBUH) instructed the believers to go on the offensive.
The Muslims attacked the Makkans and inflicted severe casualties. The believers overcame the Quraish despite their superiority in numbers, by their bravery, persistence, and unwavering faith. They had no choice but to run for their lives and thus fled the battlefield. Only some disbelievers remained. One of those who remained on the battlefield was Abu Jahl, the ultimate foe of Islam and Muslims. The Muslims took the life of this wretched opponent of Allah, and the Muslims, in spite of having less than half as many men as the Makkans in their ranks, emphatically defeated the disbelievers.
Although the Battle of Badr was one with significant implications for both parties, the number of deaths that occurred in the battle was only 70-80. The disbelievers were left licking their wounds, astounded by the unexpected outcome of their attack on the thoroughly outnumbered Muslims. The Muslims showed that they were a force to be reckoned with and Islam went from strength to strength, attracting plenty of new converts in Madinah.
The believers who took part in the Battle of Badr are very highly regarded in Islam. When one of the Sahabah sinned by informing the Quraish that the Prophet (PBUH) and the army of the believers were coming in the year of the conquest of Makkah, Umar wanted to kill him. However, the Prophet (PBUH) protected him, saying that he had been a part of the Battle of Badr, and Allah might have forgiven the people who participated in the Battle of Badr.
Furthermore, Allah admonished the Prophet (PBUH) for his decision concerning the prisoners of war from the Battle of Badr. The Prophet (PBUH) liked Abu Bakr’s suggestion to take ransom for them, whereas Umar wanted them executed. Allah sent revelation favoring Umar’s view and opposing the practice the Prophet (PBUH) adopted in this regard, as it was not befitting to take ransom for the prisoners until a severe slaughter of the disbelievers had been carried out.
There is no doubt that the Badr triumph brought immense joy, prosperity, and strength to the growing Muslim Ummah at the time, while at the same time, it bolstered the security of the Islamic state of Madinah. It taught Muslims the power of prayer, faith, complete reliance on Allah (SWT), and showed them the glorious beauty of martyrdom.