by Zafar Bangash (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 2, Ramadan, 1444)
We are in the blessed month of Ramadan. Many great events occurred in this month including the revelation of the noble Qur’an, the battle of Badr, digging of the trench in preparation for the battle of Ahzab, the march on Makkah to liberate it from the mushriks and the battle of Hunayn.
This is a long list. Let us focus on one event—the battle of Badr—that occurred in the month of Ramadan. Fasting was made compulsory for Muslims for the first time in the second year of the hijrah. Yet they were tested at Badr in their very first month of fasting. It was the most decisive battle in the life of the nascent Muslim community in the Arabian Peninsula in the early days of Islam.
Badr is located about 100 miles southeast of Madinah, where the battle occurred on the 17th day of Ramadan. This battle, more than any other, became the defining moment in early Islamic history. It distinguished those who participated in Badr from those that came after.
Led by the Prophet (pbuh), 313 companions had set out from Madinah to intercept the Makkan caravan that was returning from Syria with goods. The caravan was led by Abu Sufyan, one of the leading Makkan chiefs and among the staunchest enemies of the noble Messenger (pbuh).
For 13 years, Muslims were persecuted, terrorized and brutalized in Makkah for no other reason than that they proclaimed Tawhid, the Oneness of Allah (swt). They were finally forced to flee Makkah to save their lives. They were not allowed to take any of their possessions with them. They arrived in Madinah penniless and destitute.
What did the Makkan mushriks do with the Muslims’ goods that they had confiscated? They traded them to enriched themselves. Thus, Muslims had every right to retrieve their stolen goods.
Abu Sufyan had sent out his spies ahead of the caravan to seek information about what the Muslims were doing. When he was informed that the Muslims were coming for the caravan, he changed his route moving further south of Madinah and also sent an emissary to Makkah calling on the people to come and save their goods.
Led by Abu Jahl, another enemy of Allah and His Prophet, more than 1,000 heavily armed men set out from Makkah to finish the Muslims once and for all. That is when the two armies came face to face at the well of Badr.
Looked at purely from the material point of view, this was a complete mismatch. The 313 lightly armed Muslims had only a few swords, a few horses and bows and arrows. They were outnumbered by Makkah’s 1000-strong mushrik army that was heavily armed.
The other challenge the Muslims faced was that they had to confront their own kith and kin—often brothers, sons or fathers—in battle. In addition to the physical odds, the Muslims faced this huge psychological challenge as well.
This is where a clear distinction emerges between those committed to Allah and His Prophet (pbuh) and those that take only worldly issues into account. Throughout history, earlier Prophets had to abandon their mushrik relatives. Nuh (as) was told to abandon his mushrik son, while Ibrahim (as) abandoned his mushrik father. And Lut (as) was commanded to leave his deviant wife behind.
Led by the Prophet (pbuh), the small group of Muslims did not flinch in their commitment to Allah. Their Imaan was so strong that they did not hesitate to fight and if need be, kill their own kith and kin. In Islam, the only relationship is that of Imaan. Blood relationships have to be abandoned if they threaten Islam. This is what distinguished Badr from the battles that followed.
And it was this commitment that enabled the 313 lightly-armed but dedicated Muslims to defeat the 1,000 heavily-armed Makkan mushriks. Untested in battle, some Muslims were apprehensive. This was even reflected in the tearful dua the Prophet (pbuh) offered beseeching Allah’s help in this critical hour. With trembling hands, he (pbuh) pleaded for help.
“O Allah, if these few servants of Yours are defeated today, there will be nobody left to proclaim Your name.”
Allah was not going to let His beloved Prophet down on this crucial day. The Prophet (pbuh) and his companions had suffered grievously for many years in Makkah and shown great patience in adversity. Allah’s promised help was at hand as He showed the multitude of mushriks small in number to the Muslims (Surah al-Anfal: 43).
The Makkan mushriks, supremely arrogant in their numbers and weapons, assumed that they would soon finish off the rag-tag band of a few hundred Muslims. Allah, however, had other plans. He had willed that the two groups meet to establish the power of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula (Anfal: 44).
The small group of Muslims confronted their enemy with courage and determination. It was the test of Imaan (faith-commitment to Allah) against shirk (associating partners with Allah).
Despite their small numbers, the Muslims were able to dispatch more than 70 Makkan mushriks to hell. Among them were such Makkan stalwarts as Abu Jahl, Umayya ibn Khalaf, Utbah ibn Rabiah, Shaybah ibn Rabiah and Waleed bin Utbah. A number of Makkan mushriks were also taken prisoner. It was a crushing defeat for the mushriks and a great victory for Muslims.
The battle of Badr established an important Islamic principle: weapons alone do not determine the outcome of a battle. It is Imaan and the determination of fighters that ultimately establish who will be victorious. The lesson of Badr is witnessed repeatedly in different locales around the world even today.
Committed Muslims confronting massively armed enemy forces have been able to withstand their ground and come out victorious.
This has been witnessed by the people of Iran in their defensive war against Iraq and its western and eastern allies (1980-1988), by the Afghans against the Soviets (1979-1988) and again, against the Americans in Afghanistan (2001-2021). The Hizbullah confronted and defeated the Israeli army in May 200 and again in July-August 2006. More recently, the Yemeni defenders have stood against the Saudi invaders for eight years (2015-2023).
Badr is alive and so are its lessons. Muslims must imbibe the lessons of Badr fully, especially in these troubled times when they face aggression from predatory powers abiding by no rules or law.