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When Allah first conveyed his message to the Prophet (PBUH) via Jibril (a.s.), Islam spread slowly in the Arab lands. People were resistant to change and took some time to accept the “new” faith. As a result, the number of Muslims was initially quite small. Hence, Allah didn’t allow the Muslims to fight the disbelievers in Makkah. Everything changed once they shifted to Madinah, however. First, the two sides fought the Battle of Badr, followed by the Battle of Uhud.
When the Muslims moved to Madinah, Allah announced that they could fight the disbelievers. In Surah al-Haq, Allah says that He permits the believers to fight because the disbelievers wronged them. In Makkah, the non-Muslims persecuted them and eventually forced them to leave, taking over their belongings. It was only natural for the Muslims to fight back, which ultimately culminated in the Battle of Badr and Uhud.
The Battle of Badr was the first ghazwa between the Muslims and the disbelievers. A 313-strong Muslim army came up against a non-Muslim army of around 1,000. However, the numbers didn’t matter. Allah granted the Muslims a resounding victory, and humiliated the disbelievers. The non-Muslims and Quraish lost several of their commanders and senior higher-ups. As a result, the surviving non-Muslims were desperate for a conflict against the Muslims for revenge. They would get their opportunity in the next battle, the ghazwa of Uhud.
The Quraish set out for Madinah
After the loss of several senior members of the Quraish, Abu Sufyan assumed leadership of the none-Muslims. The Meccans were desperate to inflict defeat upon the Muslims and to regain some lost pride. Therefore, they went toward Madinah with an army of around 3,000 – thrice as many as the last time. Reports stated that several women went along with this army to motivate them. Among them was Hind, the daughter of Utba, who was killed in the Battle of Badr.
Madinah, at the time, had several strongholds that would require intense ghazwa and fighting to overcome. The disbelievers didn’t want to engage at these locations. Instead, they wanted to fight the Muslims directly. This avoided the lengthy procedure of a siege. So, the non-Muslim army decided to camp toward the north of Madinah, waiting for the Muslims to come and fight them.
As the Muslims eventually got news of this force waiting for them, they debated about how they should fight them. After much deliberation, they decided to leave the city and confront the Meccans where they were.
The betrayal at Battle of Uhud
When the Madinans deliberated about how to deal with the Quraish threat, people of all far corners made their points known. Abdullah ibn Ubayy was among them; he was also known as the chief of the hypocrites.
Once the Muslims came to a consensus regarding fighting outside the city, all parties agreed. Eventually, the Muslims formed an army of around 1,000 men. This was much stronger than the army at Badr, but several times smaller than the opposition’s force waiting at Uhud.
On the way to the location, Abdullah bin Ubayy and his 300 men suddenly deserted the Muslims. The chief said he didn’t feel it was the right course of action, and he had already made up his mind.
Not only did this lessen the strength of this force, but the aim was to try and affect the confidence of the Muslims. The Muslims now numbered a meager 700. Allah later criticized the hypocrites for their actions during this event.
The positioning of the Muslim forces at Uhud (Ghazwa Uhud)
The Muslims reached the battlefield at Mount Uhud and took notice of the layout of the area. The Prophet (PBUH) decided that most of the men would fight the enemy head-on, but not without taking a few security measures.
The Muslim army was standing with the Uhud mountain toward their right. Toward their left, there was a small rocky hill. The Prophet (PBUH) realized that this locality gave some cover to the enemy to launch an attack from the left flank; the mountain already covered the right flank. Hence, he made the excellent decision to dedicate 50 archers for the hill on the left flank. Documented Hadith show us that the Prophet (PBUH) told the archers in no uncertain terms to stay at their positions no matter what.
This positioning ensured that the Muslims would dictate how the fight would go. Despite being outnumbered, there was no likelihood of any sneak attack. The possibility of the disbelievers encircling and trapping the Muslims diminished as well.
The Battle of Uhud commences
As was usually the case, there were duels at the start of the battle. The likes of Ali (r.a.) and Hamza (r.a.) faced no difficulty in dealing with the enemies. After this, general fighting began. The Muslims immediately gained the upper hand. It was as though this was just an extension of Badr. The Prophet (PBUH) and his men were in control.
Meanwhile, the archers repeatedly thwarted the disbelievers’ attempts at launching their cavalry from the left-wing. The Muslims gained the upper hand, pushing the Meccans back. However, at this point, a critical turnaround took place.
As the Muslims continued to thwart the oppositions’ attempts with some of the Meccans now fleeing, some of the archers felt that it was now safe for them to abandon their positions. They eyed the departing Meccans’ goods, which they discarded on the battlefield. Some of the Muslim fighters saw the folly of this action, but most of the archers didn’t listen and came down the hill. At this point, victory seemed almost inevitable, with the Muslims in control, pushing the Quraish back.
Khalid bin Walid suddenly spotted what was happening on the left flank, where the archers were departing from their positions. So far, they had held his cavalry at bay. However, he saw his opportunity and launched a full-scale cavalry attack now from the left-wing. They quickly demolished the few remaining archers then attacked the Muslims from the side and the rear.
From being almost assured of victory, the Muslims suddenly fell into a panic, unaware of where the attack was coming from. They felt overwhelmed as the Meccans ran amok on the battlefield. Chaos reigned, and several Muslims lost their lives during this period.
The Muslims panicked. Rumors spread on the battlefield, some of them even claiming that the Prophet (PBUH) was one of the victims. Many Muslims scattered all around the battlefield, with only a handful protecting the Prophet (PBUH). Eventually, the Muslims were able to retreat to higher land on Uhud, but immense damage was already done.
The battle comes to an end
Once the Muslims retreated onto the mountain, the Meccans weren’t able to easily attack them. However, they had suffered several casualties. The disbelievers proceeded to mutilate the fallen Muslims’ corpses, with Hind, the daughter of Utba, chewing on Hamza’s liver as revenge after he had killed her father at Badr. Approximately 70–85 Muslims were martyred during this battle.
Abu Sufyan taunted the Muslims for a while then opted for a retreat. The Muslims then proceeded to bury their fallen comrades on the battlefield and returned home. The disbelievers were not able to ultimately defeat the Muslims or Prophet Muhammad (S). However, they had the upper hand toward the end, and thus people view the stalemate as being advantageous to the enemies of Islam.
Allah consoles the Muslims
This battle was a test for Muslims and would harden them up for future challenges. Allah says in Surah aal-Imran that the Muslims were about to annihilate the enemy in Ghazwa-e-Uhud. However, some of them lost sight of the larger goal and went after the worldly gain. This was a test from Allah, and He says that he forgave the Muslims for their faults, saying the He is full of Grace toward the believers.
- Muslims are not guaranteed victory courtesy of being believers. We have to put in the requisite effort to achieve victory. Allah facilitates Muslims, but without the right actions from us, we may not gain victory.
- Numbers do not win battles. The Muslims won at Badr with a smaller army. They were on their way to victory at Uhud, too, before some of the Muslims wavered.
- The Muslims learned the many consequences of being disobedient to Allah or His Prophet (PBUH). Even a small degree of non-compliance with divine commands could result in tremendous consequences. We must take the Quranic verse to obey Allah and obey the Prophet (PBUH) very seriously.
- Allah tests the Muslims to strengthen their faith. After this, Muslims fought as a collective unit in other battles and helped to spread Islam. It can be said that the believers had learned their lessons.
- The hypocrites show their true colors when they are needed. They ditched the Muslims at Uhud and would do so again. This test exposed Abdullah ibn Ubayy and his men.
- Allah sometimes teaches Muslims a lesson to make us humble and to keep us righteous and balanced. As a result, we become submissive toward Allah. Then, Allah blesses us.
- Uhud also showed us how to deal with setbacks. The Prophet (PBUH) was patient in the aftermath and didn’t reprimand the Muslims much. He knew that they had been taught a lesson. The verses revealed about this incident also discuss things such as forgiveness.
- We must always have hope. Some of the Muslims lost hope at Uhud when the tide had turned, and they thought that it was all over. However, those with immense faith fought and turned the tide around until the disbelievers departed.