9.1 The battle of Uhud

Not long after their defeat at Badr, the Meccans, led by Abű-Sufyân, planned a counter attack. The Muslims learned of the impending attack and made their own preparations. Muhammad wanted to make his defence right in Medina, but the majority of his companions wanted to go out to meet the enemy; so Muhammad went in and put on his armour.

Meanwhile the people repented saying, “We urged the Messenger of God against his will to go out and fight. We had no right to do so. When the Messenger of God came out they said, “Messenger of God, We pressured you against your will, and we had no right to do so. If you wish, stay in the city.” He replied, “Once a prophet puts on his armour he should not take it off until he has fought. So the Messenger of God set off with 1,000 companions. (2:63)

They met the enemy at Uhud. The Muslim strong point was a corps of 50 archers; these kept the Meccan cavalry away. Most of the fighting seems to have been hand to hand. The battle was difficult, and many Muslims were killed, including Muhammad’s favourite warrior, Hamza. For a brief moment the battle turned in the Muslims’ favour, then near disaster came before the situation stabilized:

God sent his help to the Muslims and fulfilled his promise. They slaughtered the enemy with the sword until they cut them off from their camp and were obviously defeated.

Zubayr said, “By God, I found myself looking at the ankles of Hind bint-`Utba and her companion as they tucked up their clothes and fled. They could easily have been captured when the archers turned aside to the abandoned camp (going after booty). Thus they opened our rear to their cavalry and they attacked us from behind. Someone shouted, “Muhammad has been killed’” We turned back and the enemy turned against us, although we had killed their standard bearers and prevented them from recuperating it.” (2:77-8)

9.2 Muhammad nearly killed

The Muslims were routed and the enemy killed many of them. It was a day of trial and testing on which God honoured a good many Muslims with martyrdom. The enemy even reached the Messenger of God and hit him with a stone. He fell on his side, his tooth broken, his face and lips injured. The one who hit him was `Utba ibn-abî-Waqqâs... Blood was flowing on his face, and he began wiping it away and saying, “How can a people prosper that stains the face of their prophet when he is calling them to their Lord. So God revealed the verse (3:128): “It is none of your business whether He turns to them with favour or punishes them, for they are wrongdoers.” (2:79-80)

When the enemy was around him, the Messenger of God asked, “Who will sell his life for us?” Ziyâd ibn-as-Sakan in a group of five Ansâr arose.. They fought in defence of the Messenger of God until they were killed one by one until Ziyâd was left. He fought until he was wounded and a group of Muslims came and drove the enemy away. The Messenger of God said, “Bring him to me.” They did so and he supported his head with his foot, and there Ziyâd died.

Abű-Dujâna made himself a shield for the Messenger of God. Arrows were falling on his back as he was leaning over him until there were many stuck in him. Sa`d ibn-abî-Waqqâs was shooting in defence of the Messenger of God. He said, “I saw him handing me arrows and saying, ‘Shoot. May my father and my mother be your ransom!’ He would even hand me an arrow that had no head and say, ‘Shoot it.’”

The Messenger of God kept on shooting until it broke at the bottom.. Qatâda ibn-an-Nu`mân took and kept it. That day his eye was wounded and was hanging out. The Messenger of God put it back in its place with his hand, and it became Qatâda’s best and sharpest eye.

Anas ibn-al-Nadr came to `Umar ibn-al-Khattâb and Talha ibn-`Ubaydallâh with men of the Muhâjirűn and Ansâr who were dejected, and said, “Why are you sitting there?” They said, “The Messenger of God has been killed.” He answered, “Then what will you do with life after him? Die for what he died’” So he fought until he was killed...

The first to recognize the Messenger of God after the defeat, when people were saying he was killed, was Ka`b ibn-Mâlik. He said, “I recognized his eyes gleaming from under his helmet, and called with the top of my voice, “Muslim people, courage’ Here is the Messenger of God.” But he signaled to me to be quiet. When the people recognized the Messenger of God they took him up to a grove of trees...

When the Messenger of God arrived there, Ubayy ibn-Khalaf came up to him saying, “Muhammad, may I not live if you live.” Those around the Messenger of God said, “Should one of us get him?” But the Messenger of God said, “Let him alone,” and when he came near the Messenger of God took a lance from al-Hârith ibn-as-Simma, shook himself free from us as a camel shakes off flies and, facing him, stabbed him in the neck, so that he swayed and fell from his horse... When he returned to the Meccan camp he had a slight scratch on his neck with no bleeding, but said, “Muhammad has killed me, by God’” The Meccans said, “Your heart has gone, by God. Nothing is wrong with you.”.. The enemy of God died in Sarf as they were bringing him back to Mecca.

When the Messenger of God was at the edge of the grove, `Alî ibn-abî-Tâlib came bringing his shield filled with water from al-Mihrâs so that the Messenger of God could drink from it. He found it smelly and refused to drink it, but used the water to wash his face of blood. As he did so, he said, “The anger of God is fierce against whoever bloodied the face of His Prophet.”

Sa`d ibn-abî-Waqqâs used to say, “By God, when the Messenger of God said this, I never wanted to kill anyone as much as I wanted to kill my brother `Utba...”

While the Messenger of God was in the grove with the group of his companions, a group of Meccans appeared on the hill above them. He said, “God, they should not be above us.” So `Umar and a group of Emigrants fought them until they drove them down the hill.

The Messenger of God went up to a rock on the hill and wanted to climb it. But he was fat and weak and had two coats of mail, so was unable to get up. So Talha ibn-`Ubayda sat under it and lifted him up. The Messenger of God then said, “Talha earned Paradise when he did what he did for the Messenger of God.” (2:81-6)

9.3 Conclusion of the battle

Hind bint-`Utba and some women friends stopped to mutilate the dead companions of the Messenger of God, cutting off their ears and noses to make into anklets and collars which she gave to Wahshî, the slave of Jubayr ibn-Mu`tim. She cut out Hamza’s liver and chewed it, but could not swallow it, so threw it away. Then she climbed a high rock and shrieked:

We have paid you back for Badr.
A war that follows a war is always violent... (2:91)

When Abű-Sufyân was about to leave he went to the top of a hill and shouted, “You have done well. Victory goes in turns. This makes up for Badr. Up, up the god Hubal’”

The Messenger of God said, “`Umar, get up and answer him. And say, ‘God is higher and more majestic. Our dead in Paradise and your dead in the Fire are not equal.’” At this answer Abű-Sufyân said, “Come here, `Umar.” And the Messenger of God said, “Go and see what he wants.” So `Umar went and Abű-Sufyân said, “I put you on oath, `Umar, did we kill Muhammad?” `Umar said, “God, no’ He is listening to you now.” He answered, “You are more truthful and reliable than Ibn-Qami’a,” referring to the latter’s claim that he had killed Muhammad.

Then Abű-Sufyân called out, “There are some mutilated bodies among your dead. By God, I am not pleased or angry with this. I neither forbade it nor ordered it.. As Abű-Sufyân and his companions went away he called out, “Your next appointment is at Badr next year.” The Messenger of God instructed his companions to say, “Yes, it is an appointment.”

Then The Messenger of God sent `Alî after them saying, “See what they are doing and what they intend. If they are leading their horses and riding their camels they are heading for Mecca. But if they are riding their horses and leading their camels they are heading for Medina. By God, if they are heading for Medina I will meet them there and fight them.” `Alî said, “I followed their tracks and watched what they were doing. They were leading their horses and riding their camels and heading for Mecca.” (2:93-4)

The Muslims then buried their dead, 70 of them, against 22 Meccans. Muhammad then, according to Ibn-Ishhâq, organized a feigned pursuit of the Meccans “to let them know that he was pursuing them, so that they would think he was in a position of strength and that their losses had not weakened them.” In conclusion Ibn-Ishâq comments:

The battle of Uhud was a trial, a calamity and a test whereby God tested the believers, put on trial the hypocrites who were manifesting belief with their tongue but hiding disbelief in their hearts. It was also a day when God honoured with martyrdom those of his allies he chose.

9.4 Theological interpretation

The Qur’ân also (3:121 ff.) offers a theological interpretation of the battle of Uhud. Divine help and angelic protection is assured if the Muslims fight with dedication and perseverance. (3:164-5) The misfortunes suffered at Uhud are a test to determine who is really serious about the cause of God, and is willing to die for it. (3:141-3) Muhammad will die like any mortal, and the Muslims should not lose heart over what might happen to him. (3:144-6). The archers are blamed, at least as Ibn-Ishâq interprets these verses, for abandoning their positions to go after booty, thus causing a reversal for the Muslims, but God will forgive them. (3:152-3) Critics who said that the Muslims should never have left Medina to fight are answered: God is master of life and death, and to die for his sake is a privilege. (3:155-160) The combined Muslim losses at Badr and Uhud were only half those of the Meccans, yet God permitted the Muslims to suffer because of their sins and so as to test them and sift out the hypocrites from the believers. (3:165-8) The martyrs are praised; their reward with God is greater than anything anyone could have on earth; riches are only a temptation from the lasting rewards that God promises. (Q 3:169ff. Ibn-Ishâq 2:106-121)

9.5 Missionaries to the Adal and al-Qâra clans are killed

The next misfortune was the killing of Muhammad’s missionaries at ar-Rajî``:

After Uhud a delegation of the `Adal and al-Qâra clans came to the Messenger of God and said, “Messenger of God, some of us have accepted Islam. Send with us a group of your companions to instruct us in religion, recite to us the Qur’ân and teach us the laws of Islam.” So the Messenger of God sent six of his companions... He put Marthad ibn-abî-Marthad in charge of the group and they set off with the delegation. When they came to ar-Rajî`, a watering place of Hudhayl.., they betrayed them and called for Hudhayl against them. They were off guard with their baggage when some men with swords appeared. So they went for their own swords to fight them, but the men said, We do not want to kill you. We only want to get something through you from the people of Mecca. You have our promise before God that we will not kill you.” But Marthad, Khâlid and `Âsim said, “By God we will never accept a promise from a polytheist.”... So `Âsim fought the men until he was killed with his two companions. (2:169-71)

The three remaining missionaries were captured and brought to Mecca where they were killed. The last to be killed was Khubayb ibn-`Adî:

They brought Khubayb out to at-Tan`îm to crucify him. He said to them, “Please let me make two rak`as first; then kill me.” They said, “Go ahead.” So he made the rak`as very devoutly, then said to the people, “Were it not that you would think I was taking time for fear of being killed, I would have added to my salât.” Khubayb was the first to establish the custom for Muslims to make two rak`as before being killed. Then they lifted him onto the wood and when they had fastened him he said, “God, I have delivered the message of your Messenger. So tell him tomorrow what has been done to us. God, mark each one of them, and kill them one by one. Let none of them escape.” Then they killed him. God have mercy on him.

Mu`âwiya ibn-abî-Sufyân said, “I was present at the execution, and at those words Abű-Sufyân threw me to the ground out of fear of Khubayb’s curse. They used to say, ‘If a man is cursed and is thrown to one side, the curse will go away.’” (2:173)

9.6 Missionaries to the Najd clan killed

Another misfortune came with the killing of Muhammad’s missionaries at Bi’r Ma`űna. This version of at-Tabarî adds a few details:

Abű-Bara’ `Âmir.. came to the Messenger of God and offered him a present. But the Messenger refused to accept it saying, “Abű-Barâ’, I do not accept gifts from a polytheist. Become a Muslim if you wish me to receive your gift.” Then he explained to him what Islam is and the reward that God promised the believers, and recited the Qur’ân to him. He neither accepted Islam nor rejected it, but said, “Muhammad, this cause of yours is good and beautiful. If you send some of your companions to the people of Najd to call them to it I have high hopes that they will respond favourably.” The Messenger of God answered, “I am afraid to expose them to the people of Najd.” Abű-Barâ’ said, “I am their guarantee. Send them to call those people to your cause.” So the Messenger of God sent al-Mundhir ibn- `Amr.. with forty of his companions, the best of the Muslims... (Anas ibn-Mâlik says he sent him with seventy riders.) They rode until they camped at Bi’r Ma`űna, near the land of the `Âmir clan...

When they camped, they sent Harâm ibn-Milhân with a letter of the Messenger of God to Âmir ibn-at-Tufayl. When he came to Âmir the latter did not even look at the letter, but attacked arâm and killed him. He then called the men of the `Âmir clan to attack the visitors but they refused saying, “We will not violate the promise of security which Abű-Barâ’ gave them.” So he called against them the tribes of Sulaym, Ri`l and Dhakwân, and they agreed to come and attack the visitors. They surrounded them in their camp, but when the latter saw them they grabbed their swords and fought them until they were killed to the last man, all except Ka`b ibn-Zayd whom they left still breathing. He was picked up from among the dead and lived until he was killed at the battle of the Trench.

`Âmir ibn-Umayya and a man of the Anâr were out pasturing the camels and did not hear of the disaster until they saw vultures flying over the camp. They said, “By God this means something;” so they went up and saw the men lying in their blood and the horsemen who attacked them standing near. The Ansârî said, “What should we do?” Âmir said, “I think we should go and tell the Messenger of God about it.” But the Ansârî said “I cannot bring myself to leave the place where al-Mundhir was killed or to hear men say that I did so.” So he fought the attackers until he was killed, while `Amr was taken prisoner. When `Amr told them that he was of the Mudar clan, `Âmir let him go after snipping the front of his hair. He let him go because of an oath his mother had supposedly taken.

`Amr got as far as al-Qarqara when two men of the `Âmir clan came up and camped with him in the shade. The `Âmir clan had an agreement of mutual protection with the Messenger of God which `Amr did not know about. When they told him who they were, he waited until they were asleep, then attacked and killed them, thinking that he was taking vengeance on the Âmir clan for the killing of the companions of the Messenger of God. When `Amr came and told him about this, the Messenger of God said, “Now I have to pay compensation for these men you killed. As for what Abű-Barâ’ did, I was reluctant and fearful about this expedition.” When Abű-Barâ’ heard the news, he was upset over `Âmir’s violation of his guarantee, especially when the companions of the Messenger of God were killed trusting in him and his guarantee. (T 2:545-7 = 1442-4. Ibn-Ishâq 2:184-6)

9.7 A morale booster: the expulsion of the Nadîr Jews

After all these reverses the mood of the Muslims was low and they needed encouragement. They found it in their success against the Banű-Nadîr, one of the larger clans of Jews in Medina. The story does raise some questions, particularly about the truth of the plot based on “information from heaven”.

The Messenger of God went to the Nadîr people asking their help to pay the compensation for the two Âmir men whom `Amr had killed in violation of the pact of mutual protection between himself and the `Âmir clan... The Nadîr Jews replied, “Yes, we will help you as you asked with whatever we have.” Then they went aside and said, “You will never get this man in such a situation again.” - The Messenger of God was sitting against the wall of one of their houses. - “Who will go up to the roof, throw a stone on him and get rid of him for us?” `Amr ibn-Jihâsh, one of their number, volunteered and went up to throw the stone.

The Messenger of God was sitting with a group of his companions, including Abű-Bakr, `Umar and `Alî. Information came to him from heaven of what the Jews were plotting, so he got up and went back to Medina. After waiting for the Prophet a long time, his companions got up to look for him and met a man coming from Medina. They asked him and he said, “I saw him going into Medina.” So the companions went to him and he told them all about what the Jews were plotting and commanded them to prepare for war and march against them.

He marched with his men and camped against them, while the Jews shut themselves up in their forts. The Messenger of God ordered their palm trees to be cut down and burned, but they called out, “Muhammad, you used to forbid destruction and blamed those who did so. Why are you cutting down palm trees and burning them?”

In the meantime a group of the Awf clan, including `Abdallâh ibn-Ubayy, Wadî`a, Mâlik ibn-abî-Qawqal, Suwayd and Dâ`is sent a message to the Nadîr Jews to hold firm.   “We will not surrender you. If you are attacked we will fight with you. And if you are expelled we will go out with you.” So the Nadîr Jews were expecting that help and did not receive it, since God had put fear in their friends’ hearts. So they asked the Messenger of God to spare their lives and deport them, letting them take whatever property their camels could carry except for their weapons. He agreed, and so they went.   Some were knocking down their houses and loading away the doors. They went to Khaybar and became masters of the place, while some went on to Syria...

They left their property to the Messenger of God and it became his personally, to dispose of as he wished. He divided it among the original Emigrants, leaving the Ansâr out, except that Sahl ibn-Hunayf and Abű-Dujâna complained of poverty and he gave them something.

Only two of the Nadîr men became Muslims in order to keep their property. They were Yâmîn ibn-`Umayr and Abű-Sa`b ibn-Wahb. The Messenger of God then told Yâmîn, “Did you see how your cousin treated me and what he was plotting against me?” So Yâmîn hired a man to kill `Amr ibn-Jihâsh, and they say he did so. (2:190-2)

Ibn-Ishâq concludes with an exposition of Sűrat al-Hashr (59), which deals with this incident, justifying Muhammad’s action, including the destruction of the palm trees, authorizing the way he divided the spoils and warning the Hypocrites who supported the Nadîr Jews.

9.8 Zaynab bint-Khuzayma (n.5)

This Zaynab (Muhammad also had a daughter and a later wife by that name) had been married to at-Tufayl ibn-al-Hârith. After a divorce she married his brother Abű-Salama `Ubayda who was killed at Badr. She herself died abut eight months after her marriage to Muhammad.

9.9 Umm-Salama = Hind bint-abî-Umayya (n.6)

Umm-Salama had borne several children for her husband Abű-Salama. He was wounded at Uhud and died eight months later, having instructed her before his death, it is said, to remarry. Abű-Bakr and `Umar both proposed but she refused. Muhammad himself then proposed and she made her objections:

“None of my people is here to consult with.” Muhammad answered, “As for your people, none of them absent or present would object.” “I am advanced in age and have orphaned children.” “As for your age, I am older than you, and as for your orphans, they shall be the responsibility of God and his Messenger.” “But I am an exceedingly jealous woman, and you, Messenger of God, acquire many women.” “As for that, I shall pray God to uproot jealousy from your heart.”

The marriage took place in March 626, about a month after the marriage to Zaynab. `Â’isha had her own reactions to this marriage:

When the Messenger of God married Umm-Salama, I was very sad, having heard much of her beauty. I was gracious to her, desiring to see her for myself. And, by God, I saw that she was twice as beautiful and graceful as she was reputed to be. I mentioned this to afa, but she said, “No, by God, this is nothing but jealousy; she is not as they say.” Hafsa too was gracious to her, and having called to see her, she said to me, “I see her not as beautiful as you say, not even anywhere near it, though she is unquestionably beautiful.” I saw her afterwards and, by my life, she was as Hafsa had said. But I was still jealous.

This marriage was the beginning of a political split among Muhammad’s wives. `Â’isha and Hafsa sympathized with their fathers Abű-Bakr and `Umar, who were the senior counsellors of Muhammad. Umm-Salama sympathized with Muhammad’s daughter Fatima and her husband `Alî who were to become the centre of an opposition faction after Muhammad’s death.

9.10 Zaynab bint-Jash (n.7)

This Zaynab was the granddaughter of `Abdalmuttalib and first cousin, on her mother’s side, of Muhammad. She migrated to Medina with her family and there Muhammad arranged a marriage for her, against her will, with Zayd ibn-Hâritha, a former slave of Khadîja and now a client and adopted son of Muhammad.

Much later Muhammad went to look for Zayd but did not find him at home. Instead, he saw Zaynab and was struck by her beauty and remarked, “Praised be God who transforms hearts.” Zaynab told this to Zayd, who went to Muhammad and offered to divorce his wife and let Muhammad marry her. Muhammad sent him away and said, “Keep your wife and fear God.” But the marriage was already shaken; Zaynab had her ambition set on getting Muhammad, and before long Zayd divorced her. Muhammad was then tempted to marry her but hesitated. At this point came the Qur’ân verse (33:37):

You were telling the man to whom God and yourself had been gracious, “Keep your wife and fear God.” You were hiding in your heart what God was bringing to light. You were fearing men, but God is more to be feared. When Zayd divorced her, we gave her to you in marriage, so that Muslims would not have any impediment to marrying the wives of their adopted sons if these should divorce them. The command of God is final.

In going counter to Arabian custom by marrying Zaynab and then justifying his action by a Qur’ân revelation, Muhammad was demanding a yet greater faith in himself as a prophet. His prophetic role had gradually developed from a mere “warner” and “reminder” of obvious truths to an oracle for any occasion. Whatever he said in the name of God stood, no matter how extraordinary. So this action had the effect of consolidating and increasing his authority among his followers.

There were also political implications. Zaynab’s family had been allies of the father of the Meccan leader Abű-Sufyân. Her marriage with Zayd, and even more so with Muhammad, put pressure on the Meccan side of the alliance eventually to accept the authority of Muhammad.

9.11 The law of seclusion

Around this time came a clamp-down on visitors to Muhammad’s house, who were increasingly becoming a nuisance. So there was published the Qur’ân verse (33:53):

Believers, do not enter the Prophet’s apartments unless you are invited to eat, and do not come before time. But if you are invited, enter, and when you have been fed go away without hanging around to talk. That annoys the Prophet and makes him ashamed of you. But God is not ashamed of what is right. If you ask his wives for something, speak to them from behind the curtain. That is purer for your hearts and theirs. It is not permitted for you to offend the Messenger of God or ever to marry his wives after him. That would be a great sin before God.

Other regulations followed:

Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the wives of the believers to keep their veils closely drawn. That way they can be better recognized and not offended. (Q 3:59)

Tell the woman believers to lower their eyes and guard their private parts and not show their adornment except what sticks out. They should cross their veils in front of them and not show their adornment except to their husbands, fathers, fathers-in-law, sons, sons of their husbands, brothers, sons of their brothers or sisters, their women, slaves, eunuchs or children who have had no experience of women’s private parts. They should not shake their legs so that their hidden ornaments can be known. (Q 24:31)

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