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
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.