Battle of Badr

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The battle of Badr was the first great battle in the military career of the prophet Muhammad according to the sira. Again according to the sira it took place in the month of Ramadan in the second year of the hijra (circa 624 AD). It was a watershed moment in the prophetic career, where some of the prophet's greatest enemies from Mecca were killed or humiliated. It was also interpreted as a sign of divine favor by the Muslim community in Mecca, with angels including Jibra'il reportedly taking part. The run-up to the battle, the battle itself and the aftermath were also the backdrop of the revelation for many verses in the Qur'an including the majority of surat al-anfal, the sura of war booty or voluntary gifts. The aftermath of the battle would see Muhammad put in place new rules around the division of booty. The defeat of the Meccans would harden their resolve to resist Muhammad as well as creating several blood fueds that the Meccans felt needed avenging, ultimately culminating in the defeat of Muhammad and the Muslims at the Battle of Uhud. For Muhammad, the battle would solidify his reputation as a commander and strengthen the faith of his community.


After having fled with his followers from Mecca to Medina in the hijra, Muhammad had continued his preaching, growing his ranks amongst the so-called Ansar or partisans/helpers who came on board the movement, joining the ranks of the muhajirun or emigrants from Mecca. Once Muhammad had felt his position strong enough, he had embarked upon maghaazi or raids against the caravans of the Meccans, which were the life blood of the mercantile city. A raid on a Qurayshi caravan netted Muhammad and his followes a massive loot haul with no casualties. This whet the appetite of Muhammad and the Muslims for more loot. When they learned that the biggest caravan of the year was heading back to Mecca from Syria, Muhammad and his soldiers started planning their own raid. Abu Sufyan, chief amongst the Meccans, though, learned of Muhammad's plans, as Ling says "no doubt one of the hypocrites or one of the Jews" [1] and immediately set forth sound the alarm to his countrymen. The Meccans gathered outside of their place of worship and formed a force to stop Muhammad.

An important source for early Islamic history are the letters to the Umayyad court from 'Urwa b. Zubayr (d. 94 H), a nephew of Aisha. One of his letters describes the events leading up to the battle of Badr as well as the battle itself (for a discussion of academic views on 'Urwa's letters see Jihad in Islamic Law). In his book Muhammad and the Empires of Faith, Professor Sean Anthony translates these letters. His translation of the beginning of 'Urwa's third letter is given below, outlining events leading up to the battle:

§2.1 Now to the heart of the matter. You wrote to me concerning Abū Sufyān and his expedition to ask me about how it transpired. What happened to him is that Abū Sufyān was on a return journey from Syria with riders from the clans of Quraysh, about seventy in all. They had been trading in Syria and were heading back together with wealth and traded goods.

2 They mentioned this to the Messenger of God and his companions, for there had been a battle between them before that. Several warriors had been killed. Ibn al-Ḥaḍramī was killed in a raiding party at Nakhlah, and several captives were taken from the Quraysh, including a man from the Mughīrah clan and their client Ibn Kaysān. ʿAbdallāh ibn Jaḥsh Wāqid, a confederate of ʿAdī ibn Kaʿb, were the ones who attacked them, with a party of the companions of God's Messenger, whom he had sent out along with ʿAbdallāh ibn Jaḥsh. It was this event that provoked the war between the Messenger of God and Quraysh, and the first conflict in which they inflicted casualties on one another. That all happened before the trading expediton of Abū Sufyān and his cohort to Syria.

3. Later, after that, Abū Sufyān and the riders from Quraysh began to head back. Returning from Syria, they followed the coastal route. When the Messenger of God heard about them, he readied his companions and told them how much wealth they carried and how few they were in number. They set out only intending to go after Abū Sufyān and the riders that accompanied him. Seeing it as nothing more than a change to plunder, they did not imagine that there might be a full-fledged battle when they met them. This is as God Almighty revealed concerning the incident, "your desire was for the party without weapons to be yours" (Q. Anfāl 8:7).
Third letter of 'Urwa b. Zubayr to the Umayyad court[2]

Order of Battle

In his letter, 'Urwa continues by explaining that when Abu Sufyan learned of the plan he sent a message to the Meccans, who came to his aid with men from various clans. Muhammad did not learn of these reinforcements until he arrived at Badr, on the route the caravan had been heading. The Quraysh made their way to Badr, while Abu Sufyan himself steered the caravan clear, fearing the ambush. A slave boy who had come to draw water for the Quraysh was captured and repeatedly beaten and interrogated by Muhammad's companions, who could not believe his answer that the Quraysh were close by. "The riders at the time were in fact just below them, as God Almighty declared, 'Recall when you were on the near side of the valley and they were on the far side and the riders were below you' until "a matter already preordained" (Q. 8:42)". Muhammad took and protected the boy, learning from him that there were around 700 to 1000 Quraysh. He then prepared his forces for battle.

According to other traditional sources, ansar formed the majority of Muhammad's forces with a minority of muhajirun. With Muhammad were some of his best men, including Ali. Abu Sufyan was not with the Meccans, but they had sent their best warriors. The Muslims numbered about 300 warriors, including some young boys and old men, with about 70 camels and a smaller number of horses. The Meccans counted almost 1000 men, almost all of them warriors in their prime, and twice as many pack animals as the Muslims.

Lead Up to the Confrontation

Muhammad had been stalking the caravan for several days when he discovered that the Meccans were coming to intercept them. He determined that the place of the battle would be Badr, and sent his forces ahead to secure the access to the water. The Meccans, discovering his camel turds, deduced that camels being fed by the dates of Medina where nearby. In the meantime, the Muslims, fearing for the lift of their prophet, built a booth for Muhammad and his animal and left an elite guard to protect his life. The Meccans advanced across a broad plain and were met by the Muslims. As was custom, the mubaarizuun or great warriors of both sides engaged each other in one-on-one combat. Three Muslims and three mushrikuun advanced to fight one another. All three polytheists fell in battle, while the Muslims suffered one wounded.


The duels being concluded, the general melee commenced. Two Muslims were felled by arrows before the two forces met one another. The Muslims, though outnumbered, were according to the sira far from out-gunned: the angel Jibra'il came to their aide with a host of angels. Two onlookers from a nearby mountain claimed they had seen the angels coming down from the sky to aide the Muslims, and one of them apparently died of a heart attack upon seeing it. One Muslim warrior had his arm chopped almost all the way off but continued to fight with his other hand, until the dangling, mangling appendage so vexed him that he stepped on the hand and broke it off of his body. Muhammad eventually entered the fray, and gave one warrior who had lost his sword a wooden club as a replacement, which miraculously transformed into a full scimitar. The battle raged for several hours, but in the end the Muslims and their angelic allies were victorious.

'Urwa's simpler account of the battle is quoted below and concludes his letter. Muhammad casting dust towards the Quraysh is apparently alluded to in Quran 8:17 "And you did not kill them, but it was Allah who killed them. And you threw not, [O Muhammad], when you threw, but it was Allah who threw [...]". Other traditions ellaborate that a wind then blew dust in the faces of the Quraysh (perhaps this became known as "angelic" assistance, mentioned in Quran 8:9 and Quran 8:12 of the same surah).

6 When the Quraysh advanced, he turned to face them and cast the dust of the earth in their direction. God defeated them. Before they had even encountered the Prophet, a rider from Abū Sufyān and his traveling party reached them to tell them, "Go back!"-and the travelling party was ordering the Quraysh to return to al Juḥfah-but they said, "By God we won't turn around until we go down to Badr and camp there for three nights so that the people of the people of the Ḥijāz can see us. No Arab who sees us and the host we've gathered will dare battle us!" They were the ones about whom God Almight revealed "those who in arrogance left their homes to be seen by the people" (Q. 8:47).
7. They met each other in battle, the Meccans and the Prophet, and God granted His Messenger victory. He disgraced the leaders of the infidels and granted the believers' hearts the vengeance they craved.
Third letter of 'Urwa b. Zubayr to the Umayyad court[2]


The victorious Muslims took much booty. The Muslim warrior who had stayed behind to guard Muhammad felt that it was unfair to allow the warriors who had advanced against the Meccans to keep all of the booty which had fallen into his hands, and according to the sira this prompted the revelation of surat al-anfal. Many prisoners were taken though many of them were also executed. Muhammad ordered that Abu Jahl be specifically found and executed. He was found almost dead and finished off. Several of the prisoners who had been harsh against Islam or were hated by the Muslims were executed. Muhammad stayed in Badr for three days after the battle and mocked the dead, saying "O people of the pit, have you found what God threatened is true? For I have found what my Lord promised me is true."[3] When executing a prisoner who asked who would take care of his children, Muhammad's answer was simple: "hell".[4] Some of the prisoners were ransomed back for a lot of money to the Meccans. The Meccans were highly demoralized by the loss of so many of their great warriors. The faith of Muslims was restored thanks to the victory and the aide of the angels. His status was also raised in Medina thanks to the victory amongst the Jews and the unconverted Arabs.

Qur'an Verses

The battle was the "revelational circumstance" for the revelation of most of surah 8 (al-anfal).

  1. Martin Lings Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources Inner Traditions 2006, page 141
  2. 2.0 2.1 Sean Anthony, Muhammad and the Empires of Faith: The making of the Prophet of Islam, Oakland CA: University of California, 2020, pp. 116-19
  3. ʻAbd al-Malik Ibn Hishām; I. Ishaq; Muḥammad Ibn Isḥāq. The Life of Muhammad (8 ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 305. ISBN 978-0-19-636033-1. OCLC 1024062464, 1967. 
  4. ʻAbd al-Malik Ibn Hishām; I. Ishaq; Muḥammad Ibn Isḥāq. The Life of Muhammad (8 ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 308. ISBN 978-0-19-636033-1. OCLC 1024062464, 1967.