Expeditions

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Could you give information on the early military expeditions?

The first military expedition sent after the Emigration was toward Sif al-Bahr. When Hamza, the commander of the expedition, reached Sif al-Bahr, a trade caravan of the Quraysh was returning from Damascus. The Quraysh had usurped all the possessions of the Emigrant Muslims left in Makka, and used them in trade. In order to threaten their trade, and weaken them economically, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, desired to make a show of power in the desert. No clash took place in this first confrontation with the Quraysh, but the desert tribes witnessing the incident showed an inclination to acknowledge a second power in the peninsula besides the Quraysh.

This first expedition was shortly followed by the second sent under the command of ‘Ubayda ibn Harith. With the same purpose as in the first expedition, ‘Ubayda went as far as Rabigh, a valley on the route to Makka. The Muslim expedition of sixty cavalrymen met there with a force of the Quraysh consisting of two hundred armed men. An exchange of arrows took place between the parties; in the end, fearing a possible defeat, the Makkan troops withdrew towards Makka.12

Military expeditions followed one another, some of them commanded by God’s Messenger himself, upon him be peace and blessings. In two of the expeditions he commanded, he went to Abwa and Buwat respectively and aimed to threaten the trade caravans of the Quraysh and intimidate them.13 In the former, he also had the purpose of signing a treaty with Banu Damra. According to the conditions of the treaty, neither of the sides would take up arms against the other, and the tribe of Banu Damra would not help any aggressive force against the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings.

Shortly before the Battle of Badr, God’s Messenger sent an expedition of about ten persons under the command of ‘Adbullah ibn Jakhsh to Nakhla, a place between Makka and Ta’if, a few miles away from Makka. He ordered them to follow the movements of the Quraysh and gather information about their plans. While they were staying in Nakhla, a trade caravan of the Quraysh coming from Ta’if halted there. Something happened unexpectedly and the Muslims killed one of the Makkans and captured the rest except one, and their belongings, and took them to Madina. They did this at a time when the month of Rajab was approaching its end and Sha’ban about to begin. It was, therefore, doubtful whether the event took place in Rajab, one of the sacred months, or not. But the Quraysh, and the Jews who were secretly in league with them, as well as the hypocrites, made great use of this as a weapon in their propaganda campaign against the Muslims. They claimed that the Muslims shed blood in a sacred month, when bloodshed is forbidden.

Since the incident had taken place without his approval, God’s Messenger expressly pointed out to those who had participated in the campaign that he had not ordered them to fight. Also the other Muslims reproached them for doing something not commanded. However, the verses revealed consoled them on account of their purity of intention with hope for the mercy of God:

They question you concerning the holy month, and fighting in it. Say: ‘Fighting in it is a heinous thing, but to bar from God’s way, and unbelief in Him, and denying entry into the Holy Mosque, and to expel its people from it – that is more heinous in God’s sight; and persecution is more heinous than killing.’ They will not cease to fight with you till they turn you from your religion, if they are able; and whoever of you turns from his religion and dies unbelieving – their works have failed in this world and the next; those are the inhabitants of the Fire; therein they shall dwell forever. But the believers, and those who emigrate and struggle in God’s way – those have hope of God’s Mercy; and God is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate. (al-Baqara, 2.217–8) 14

The verses aimed to answer the objections raised by the Quraysh and the Jews and hypocrites. The essence of the matter is that fighting during the holy months is an evil act. However, those people who had continually subjected the believers to indescribable wrong for thirteen years merely because they believed in the One God could have no right and justification to make such an objection. They had not only driven the Muslims from their homes, they had closed to them the way to the Holy Mosque, a bar which had not been imposed by anyone during the course of some two thousand years. With this record of mischief and misconduct it was not for them to raise such an outcry at a small incident, and especially so when the incident had taken place without the approval of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings.

A general evaluation of the expeditions

Until the Battle of Badr, which took place two years after the Emigration, God’s Messenger arranged around twenty military expeditions. By these expeditions he seized control of the desert and paralyzed the morale of the Makkan polytheists. Second, most of the desert tribes began to acknowledge the power of Islam and take the side of God’s Messenger. In none of the expeditions, except one, did the Muslim warriors shed blood, nor did they wound anyone. They neither plundered the caravans nor usurped something from desert peoples. They showed in practice that Islam is the guarantee of security.

God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, formed an intelligence network and was informed of everything happening in the desert and in Makka itself. So sophisticated a system did he establish that probably none of his Companions in Madina even knew that, for example, his uncle, ‘Abbas, was left in Makka as a member of his intelligence service. When he set out on a military campaign, no one knew, up to a certain point, his real intention and where they were going.15 Besides, he used couriers in communication with his soldiers fighting at the front. A courier carried the news to some certain point, where he trusted it to another one waiting to carry it to the other station. With this system, he got the news of his expeditions in the shortest time possible.

All the expeditions he dispatched until the Battle of Badr consisted of the Emigrants exclusively. For first of all, the Quraysh were at war with the Emigrants. They did not want them to be sheltered in Madina. Besides, those who were driven from their homes with everything they had left behind were the Emigrants. Second, the Helpers had sworn allegiance to God’s Messenger so that it was expected that the Helpers should perceive by themselves the necessity of taking part in any military action in the way of God.

The military genius of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, showed itself also in his choice of commanders of the expeditions. His uncle, Hamza, was appointed the commander of the first military expedition. Besides his courage and strength, Hamza was a man of sound judgment, good opinion and high administrative ability. In addition, until the whole of his community appropriated his ideas and adopted his opinions, God’s Messenger chose to practice them in the persons of his relatives. Since the military dimension of his mission showed itself for the first time in Madina, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, was to put his own relatives on the front line until everyone was wholly accustomed to it. It should, however, also be noted that all of the commanders he chose were able and eminent generals and highly qualified for the job. They were, in addition, very upright persons wholly devoted to the cause of Islam.

Hamza was martyred in Uhud after having killed more than twenty soldiers of the enemy. ‘Ubayda ibn Harith was martyred because of the wounds he received in the Battle of Badr. Before his martyrdom, he asked God’s Messenger: ‘O God’s Messenger, I did not die in fighting at the front. Am I regarded then as having died a martyr?’16

Hamza was the uncle of the Prophet; ‘Ubayda his cousin. The commander of the expedition he sent to Nakhla, ‘Adbullah ibn Jakhsh, was the son of his paternal aunt. In the second stage of the Battle of Uhud, he fought heroically. He came across Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas and told him: ‘Come; you pray and I’ll invoke ‘Amen’ for your prayer. Let me pray, and you invoke ‘Amen’ for my prayer.’ Sa‘d prayed: ‘O God, make me encounter one of the strongest soldiers of the enemy, and let me overcome him!’ Ibn Jakhsh invoked ‘Amen’ for this prayer, and then himself prayed: ‘O God, let me encounter one of the strongest soldiers of the enemy. After I wounded him severely, let him kill me, and cut my ears and nose and lips so that I shall come to Your Presence bleeding profusely. You ask me, “‘Abd Allah, where are your ears, nose and lips?” and I’ll answer You: “O God, I was ashamed to come to Your Presence with my members with which I had sinned, and I sacrificed them while fighting in the way of Your Beloved One.”‘ When the battle ended, ‘Adbullah was found lying with his ears, nose and lips cut off and his abdomen lanced.17

Lastly, by sending military expeditions one after the other, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, agitated the Quraysh to an unpremeditated action, and, as will be explained below, on the pretext of securing the return of their trade caravan, they formed an army of one thousand and left Makka for Badr some ninety miles to the south of Madina.

11. Bukhari, “Manaqib,” 25.

12. I. Hisham, Sira, 2.241; I. Sa‘d, Tabaqat, 2.7.

13. I. Hisham, 2.241, 248. “ “

14. I. Hisham, 2.252.

15. I. Hisham, 4.39-42; I. Kathir, al-Bidaya, 4.332–5.

16. Hakim, Mustadrak, 3.188; I. Kathir, 3.334.

17. I. Hajar, al-Isaba, 1.286–7.

 

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