The Jewish tribes around Madina were disinclined to honour the agreements they had concluded with God's Messenger after his Emigration from Makka. During the Battle of Badr they were symphathetic with the idol-worshipping polytheists rather than with the Muslims. After the Battle of Badr these tribes openly promoted the Quraysh and other Arab tribes to urge them to unite against the Muslims. They also collaborated with the hypocrites, who were apparently an integral part of the Muslim body-politic. To serve the same end, that is, to sabotage the spread of Islam, they fanned the flames of old animosities between the Aws and Khazraj, the two tribes of Madinan Muslims. In particular, the chief of Banu Nadir, Ka'b ibn Ashraf, went to Makka personally and recited stirring elegies for the Makkans who had been slain in Badr, in order to provoke the Quraysh into hostile action against the Muslims. Also, this Ka'b spoke slanders against the Muslims and satirized God's Messenger in the poems he composed.
Their violation of treaty obligations exceeded all reasonable limits. A few months after the Battle of Badr, a Muslim woman was indecently treated by some Jews of Banu Qaynuqa, the most hostile to the Muslims among the Jewish tribes. In the fighting that followed a Muslim was martyred and a Jew killed. When God's Messenger reproached them for this shameful conduct and invited them to remain faithful to the obligations of the treaty they had concluded with him, they threatened him, saying: 'Do not be misled by your encounter with a people who had no knowledge of warfare, and so you had good luck with them. By God, if we were to wage war against you, you would know that we are the men of war.'1
Finally, God's Messenger launched an attack on Banu Qaynuqa, and banished them from the outskirts of Madina. In addition, upon the order of God's Messenger, Muhammed ibn Maslama killed Ka'b ibn Ashraf and put an end to his mischief. (1)
The Quraysh were smarting from the defeat of Badr. Their women were mourning almost everyday over their warriors killed at the Battle of Badr and encouraged them to wage war on the Muslims. In addition, the Jewish efforts to arouse their feelings of revenge were like pouring oil on flames. Within a year they attacked Madina again with an army of three thousand, including 700 in coats of mail and 200 cavalry.
Informed of the Makkans' march upon Madina, God's Messenger took counsel with his Companions as to how best to resist the Quraysh. He had had a dream that he was in his coat of mail with his sword notched and that some oxen were being slaughtered, and interpreted it as meaning they should defend themselves from within the boundaries of Madina; also that a leading member of his kinsmen, together with some others of his Companions, would be martyred. (2) Also, he knew that the Makkan army was coming with the intention of doing battle in open ground, and if, therefore, they defended themselves from within Madina, the Makkan army could not continue a long siege. With this plan he also stressed once more that the Muslims are, in reality, the representatives of peace and security and therefore they resort to force only when it is inevitable for them either to eliminate the obstacle put before their preaching of Islam or to defend themselves or their faith and country against any attack.
However, there were several young people who longed for martyrdom and felt aggrieved at not having had the opportunity to fight in the Battle of Badr. They were of the opinion that the enemy should be resisted outside the confines of Madina. God's Messenger gave in to the demands of the majority and decided to march out of the city to meet the enemy. Nevertheless, those young people repented, upon the warning of the elders, of having insisted on their opinions to march out of Madina, and the elders came to God's Messenger to inform him that the young people had changed their minds. The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, replied to them:
It does not befit a Prophet to take off his coat of mail after he has put it on. (3)
An advisory system of government is an indispensable article of the Islamic constitution. The advice of the learned, of the pious and of persons of sound judgement and expert knowledge who enjoy the confidence of people, is always to be sought, and these persons, in turn, are expected to speak out and express their opinions according to the dictates of their conscience with precision and integrity. This advisory system is so important to a Muslim community that in the Qur'an God praises the first, exemplary Muslim community as a community whose affair is by counsel between them (al-Shura, 42.38). This importance becomes more explicit when the fact that this first community was led by the Prophet himself is taken into consideration, who never spoke out of caprice and on his own authority but spoke what was revealed to him by God (al-Najm, 53.3-4). It is because of this that God's Messenger preferred the opinions of the majority to his own. But, since he had to execute the decision they had concluded after consultation in full submission to and confidence in God, he should not be expected to change his decision. For this would, first of all, have led those in authority to exert pressure upon others to accept their opinions. Second, if a leader changes his decision according to individual feelings and fancies, it can cause him to lose his authority and reliability. Third, any hesitation shown by the leader passes fear and anxiety on to his followers and leads them to conflicting ideas. In addition to all these, if God's Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, had changed his decision, and chosen to defend the Muslims from within the boundaries of Madina with some undesired result, it would have caused those of the opposing view to criticize the Messenger and the leading Companions. Apart from this, spoils and honour gained through a defensive war could be considerably less than those coming from a battle in an open field, this too might have led some people to be dissatisfied and raise voices of complaint.
In his every word and deed, God's Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, set an example to be followed by his community. All the reflections above refer to the kind of behaviour he showed prior to the Battle of Uhud and in his saying: It does not befit a Prophet to take off his coat of mail after he has put it on.
2. Ibid. 3.664–7.
3. Bukhari, I'tisam, 28; I. Hisham, Sirah, 3.68.