Last updated: 4 October 2017 From the section Biography of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
Battle of Badr
The Battle of Badr (Arabic: غزوة بدر), fought Saturday, March 13, 624 AD (17 Ramadan, 2 AH in the Islamic calendar) in the Hejaz region of western Arabia (present-day Saudi Arabia, 80 miles (130 km) southwest of Medina), was a key battle in the early days of Islam and a turning point in Muhammad's struggle with his opponents among the Quraish in Mecca.
Prior to the battle, the Muslims and Meccans had fought several smaller skirmishes in late 623 and early 624, as the Muslim ghazawāt (prophet-led battles) had become more frequent. Badr, however was the first large-scale engagement between the two forces. Advancing to a strong defensive position, Muhammad's well-disciplined force broke the Meccan lines, killing several important Quraishi leaders including Muhammad's chief antagonist, Abu Jahl/ 'Amr ibn Hishām. For the early Muslims the battle was the first sign that they might eventually defeat their enemies among the Meccans. Mecca at that time was one of the richest and most powerful cities in Arabia, fielding an army three times larger than that of the Muslims. The Muslim victory also signalled other tribes that a new power had arisen in Arabia and strengthened Muhammad’s position as leader of the often fractious community in Medina.
In short, the whole of the Holy Prophet’s life - his every thought, every movement, every action, his very being - was devoted to God in the effort to seek closer communion with Him. This is also clearly affirmed by divine testimony. He was commanded to say, ‘My Prayer and my sacrifices and my life and my death are all for Allah, the Lord of the worlds. He has no associate. So am I commanded, and I am the first of those who submit wholly to Him’ (6:163-4).
The West has, with a few honourable exceptions, through fourteen centuries consistently ignored all that was patently good and beneficent in the life of the Holy Prophet and in Islam and, when confronted by his example and his doctrine, has taken shelter behind flimsy and untenable excuses. Its favourite objection has been that the sword spread Islam. By whose sword? The Holy Prophet was but one man against the whole world. Through thirteen long years of his ministry at Mecca, under the severest persecution and the gravest provocation, he and his small band of followers set the example of steadfast law-abiding citizens, who offered no violence against violence. Finally, some of them having left for Abyssinia, the greater part of them migrated to Medina and the Holy Prophet followed them later. His Meccan enemies should have then left him alone, calling it a good riddance. But they would not leave him and his in peace. It was they who unsheathed the sword against him and his followers. It was then that he was, under divine command, compelled to take up the sword in defence of freedom of conscience, which is proclaimed in positive and emphatic terms by the Holy Quran. It was the persistence of Quraish in the use of force against the Muslims, much inferior to them in numbers and equipment of every type that brought ruin upon Quraish; the same happened after the fall of Mecca to other tribes.
The facts speak eloquently in this, as in all other, contexts. During the Meccan period of his ministry the Holy Prophet did not employ the sword on any occasion, even in defence. There could be no question of anyone being forced or coerced in any way to accept his message. His wife Khadija, his cousin Ali, still only a boy, his freedman Zaid and his closest friend Abu Bakr accepted him without the slightest hesitation; the last, when told of Muhammad’s claim of Prophet hood, at once exclaimed, ‘That mouth is not capable of uttering a falsehood.’ Slowly others followed: Uthman, Zubair, Talha, Mus’ab bin Umair, Suhaib, Bilal, and some time later Umar and Hamzah, all of whom played distinguished roles in the early history of Islam. Was any of them forced or coerced into believing in the truth of the Holy Prophet? The number of such outstanding personalities who joined the ranks of the Muslims in Mecca, despite the severest persecution, continued to grow steadily. Was there any suspicion in respect of any of them that they had been forced to declare faith in the Holy Prophet by force or coercion? Was the delegation from Medina, composed of seventy men and two women, who swore the pledge of allegiance to the Holy Prophet, and, despite the warning of Abbas, uncle of Muhammad, affirmed that if the Holy Prophet decided to move to Medina, they would safeguard him with their very lives, actuated to undertake that fearful responsibility by anything save the sincerity of their faith and the depth of their devotion?
It is airily argued that the Holy Prophet did not employ force in Mecca as he possessed little strength there. But if the faith to which he invited steadily gained strength in Mecca under the most adverse conditions, what need had he to employ force for its propagation after he had migrated to Medina? Even before his arrival there, Islam was making rapid progress among Aus and Khazraj and all that the Holy Prophet and the Muslims needed was to be left alone to lead their individual and collective lives in accordance with the teachings of their faith. But they were not left in peace. Did the Holy Prophet lead his ragged force of just over 300 men, half-starved, ill-equipped and ill-armed, against 1,000 experienced warriors of Quraish, well fed, well-equipped, well-armed and well-mounted, in the field of Badr, in order to convert Quraish by the sword to Islam? In the eyes of the worldly the Holy Prophet’s project was a suicidal adventure. He was compelled to embark upon it in defence of the freedom of conscience, trusting wholly in divine support. Of the 70 Quraish taken prisoners in the battle of Badr, was a single one forced to accept Islam on the point of the sword? A year later at Uhud, were 750 Muslims pitted against 3,000 Quraish for the purpose of forcing them to accept Islam at the point of the sword? Two years later, did a Confederate force of 20,000 besiege Medina because the Muslims under the command of the Holy Prophet had been forcing them to accept Islam at the point of the sword? Later, at Hudaibiyya, was it the Holy Prophet who was anxious to secure a truce with Quraish and to put an end to fighting, or was it Quraish who sought an end to the use of the sword? The Holy Prophet was so keen that the sword be sheathed between him and Quraish that, in order to secure his purpose, he accepted every reasonable and unreasonable condition proposed on behalf of Quraish, so much so that the Muslims felt that the terms of the treaty were humiliating. Is it or is it not a fact that once fighting was ended between Quraish and the Muslims, Islam began to make much faster progress than it had made during the years of conflict? At Hudaibiyya, the Holy Prophet was accompanied by 1,500 Muslims; in less than two years when a flagrant breach by Quraish of the treaty forced the Holy Prophet to march on Mecca, he was followed by 10,000 devoted Muslims. What is it then on the basis of which the West has persisted in charging the Holy Prophet with having spread his faith by the sword?
Sir Thomas W. Arnold, a well-known and highly respected orientalist, at one time Professor of Arabic in the University of London, made a thorough research into this question and in his outstanding work, The Preaching of Islam, first published in 1896, established beyond a doubt that the sword had nothing to do with the spread of Islam.
History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one of the most absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.
De L. O’Leary has affirmed (Islam at the Crossroads, p. 8):
For nearly two centuries the Muslims have been deprived of the sword. Most Muslim countries, one after the other, passed under the domination of Christian colonial powers and have regained their independence only during the last thirty years. During this period political power rested in the hands of Western countries and Christian missionaries spread all over the world, including Muslim lands, with unlimited resources at their disposal for the purpose of propagating Christianity and winning the world for it. What has been the result?
Islam and the Muslims are in a much stronger position today than they were 150 years ago. In several countries of Africa during the last fifty years Islam has been steadily gaining ground against Christianity. Where is the sword at the point of which Islam is winning the hearts of increasing numbers of people almost everywhere today? Even in the countries of the West latterly small communities of indigenous Muslims have been established who uphold moral and spiritual values above the material values that dominate the West. Their number is increasing.