At the beginning of 624 CE, a large Qurayshi caravan en route to Makka from Syria, and escorted by no more than 40 security guards, arrived at a place within reach of the Muslims. It contained goods that had been purchased with the Emigrants' property. Naturally Abu Sufyan, the caravan's leader, feared a Muslim attempt to retrieve their stolen property. And so he sent a messenger to Makka asking for help and reinforcements.
This caused an uproar throughout Makka. Leading Qurayshi chiefs decided to fight the Prophet. About 1,000 fighters left Makka, amidst much pomp and show, to crush the Muslims' rising power. They also wanted, as always, to terrorize neighboring tribes to ensure their trade caravans' continued safety.
The Messenger, always informed of developments that could affect his mission, realized that if an effective step were not taken right then, the preaching of Islam might suffer a blow. Had the Quraysh taken the initiative and attacked Madina, the city's small Muslim community might have perished. Even if the Quraysh only brought their caravan safely to Makka by dint of their military strength, the Muslims' political and military prestige would be undermined. Once this happened, their lives, property, and honor would be jeopardized.
Deciding to use his available resources, the Prophet left Madina. Although he may have wanted a decisive battle with the Quraysh, most Muslims wanted to capture the caravan and retrieve their property. The Prophet assembled the people and told them that the Qurayshi trade caravan was in the north and its invading army was in the south, moving toward Madina. He also informed them that God had promised that they would be able to seize either party. It was for them to choose which target to attack.
Aware of the Prophet's intention, an Emigrant named Miqdad ibn 'Amr replied:
"O Messenger of God. Proceed as God has commanded you. We are with you wherever you go, even as far as Bark al-Ghimad. We shall not say, as the Children of Israel said to Moses: 'Go forth, you and your Master, and fight. We shall remain here sitting.' We rather say: 'Go forth, you and your Master, and fight, and we shall fight on your side as long as the eyelid of any one of us keeps moving.'"
Until the Battle of Badr, The Messenger had not sought military aid from the Ansar. This was the first time they would prove their commitment to Islam. Without addressing them directly, The Messenger again put the two alternatives before his audience. Realizing what The Messenger was doing, an Ansari named Sa'd ibn Mu 'adh, the leader of the Aws tribe, rose and said:
O Messenger of God. I think your question is directed to the Ansar. We believe in you, affirm that you are the Messenger of God, and bear witness to the truth of your teachings. We took the oath of allegiance to you that we would hear and obey you. O Messenger of God, do as you wish! By the One Who has sent you with the truth, if you were to take us to the sea and plunge into it, none of us should remain behind. So take us along to the battlefield with God's blessings.
The decision was made to fight. This was also the decree of God, as mentioned above.
The Makkan army consisted of 1,000 fighters, including 600 soldiers in coats of mail and 200 cavalrymen, and was accompanied by singers and dancers. Dancing and drinking parties were held whenever it halted. The soldiers arrogantly vaunted their military power and numerical strength to the tribes and settlements it passed, and boasted of their invincibility. Even worse, they were fighting for no lofty ideal; rather, they sought to defeat the forces of belief, truth, justice, and good morals.
The Muslim army was made up of 313 fighters: 86 Emigrants and 227 Ansar. Only two or three Muslims had horses, for resources were scarce. There were no more than 70 camels, so three or four persons took turns riding each camel. The Messenger took turns with two others. When they asked him to ride the camel and exclude them from the turns, The Messenger answered: "You are no better in strength than me. Concerning the reward, I am not in less need of it than you."
The Muslim soldiers were fully devoted to and ready to die for the cause of Islam. To accomplish what He had decreed, God made The Messenger dream that the number of Makkan soldiers was small, just as He made the number of the Muslims appear smaller in the eyes of the Makkans (8:44).
The two armies met at Badr. The Makkans outnumbered the Muslims by three to one and were far better equipped. However, the Muslims were fighting for the most sublime cause: to establish God's religion, based on belief, good morals, and justice. Deeply convinced of Islam's truth and eager to die for it, they were ready for battle.
Being the first to reach the battlefield, they positioned themselves around the wells. They also benefited from the heavy downpour of the previous night, for it provided them with an abundant supply of water that they quickly stored in large containers. The rain also compacted the loose sand in the upper part of the valley in which they pitched their tents. This allowed them to plant their feet firmly and move with less difficulty. In the valley's lower part, however, where the Quraysh army stationed itself, the ground was marshy. In addition to these Divine blessings, God sent a feeling of drowsiness over the Muslims and gave them a feeling of peace and security (8:11).
From their campsite, the Muslim army could see the whole battlefield. It was divided into three parts: one center and two flanks. The central force consisted of the leading Emigrants and Ansar who were foremost in devotion to The Messenger. Mus'ab ibn 'Umayr, a member of one of Makka's richest families who had accepted Islam as a youth, carried the standard of The Messenger. He was so handsome that when he would go out wearing his silk clothes, before his conversion, Makkan girls would stare at him from their windows. After he embraced Islam, however, he followed The Messenger wholeheartedly. He sacrificed whatever he had in the way of God, and was martyred at Uhud, during which he again bore the Prophet's standard. When he lost his right arm, he took the standard in his left hand; when he lost his left arm, he was left with a "head" to protect The Messenger, before whom he was finally martyred.
The flanks were commanded by 'Ali and Sa'd ibn Mu'adh. 'Ali was famous for his courage and deep devotion to The Messenger. He had been only 9 or 10 years old when he told The Messenger: "I will help you," after the Messenger had gathered his kinsmen at the outset of his mission to seek their conversion and support. On the night of the Prophet's Emigration, 'Ali had slept in the Prophet's bed so he could leave Makka in safety. By the time those surrounding the house discovered this ruse, The Messenger had reached Thawr cave. 'Ali was wholly dedicated to the cause of God.
The Messenger took all necessary precautions and made the best possible preparations. He mobilized his resources and chose his best and most qualified men as commanders. He stationed his army at the valley's upper part. He then pitched his tent where he could see the whole battlefield and have his commands conveyed instantaneously. As the final prerequisite, he prayed with great earnestness and humility:
"O God, here are the Quraysh who in their vainglory seek to deny and cry lies against Your Messenger. O God, support us with the help You promised me. O God, were this small group of Muslims to perish, no one in the whole world would remain to worship You."
After the prayer, he threw a handful of dust at the enemy saying: "May their faces be scorched."
Badr was a severe test for the Muslims. They would either win or be martyred, for they were commanded not to flee. They could retreat in orderly fashion under strong enemy pressure, as a stratagem to seek reinforcements or regroup with another party in the rear (8:15), but not because of cowardice and defeatism. Such a disorderly flight would reveal that they preferred their lives over Islam, a major and deadly sin.
The battle begins. In the Quraysh's first frontline were 'Utba ibn Rabi'a, his brother Shayba, and his son Walid. They challenged the Muslims to single combat. Three young Ansar went forward. "We will not fight Madina's farmers and spherherds!" 'Utba shouted arrogantly. This was, in fact, what The Messenger expected. He ordered 'Ali, Hamza, and 'Ubayda ibn Harith forward for single combat. Hamza fought and killed 'Utba, and 'Ali killed Walid with two blows. 'Ubayda, who was old, fought Shayba and was wounded on his knee. Hamza and 'Ali rescued him, killed Shayba, and carried 'Ubayda away.
The Quraysh were shocked by such an unexpected beginning. The Muslims' belief and sincerity won them God's help. The Quraysh, who had exulted in their power, were decisively defeated by the ill-equipped Muslims. Seventy Qurayshis were killed. 'Awf and Mu'awwidh, two young Ansari brothers, joined with 'Abd Allah ibn Mas'ud to kill Abu Jahl, who The Messenger called the "Pharaoh of the Muslim Umma." Almost all Qurayshi leaders were killed: Abu Jahl, Walid ibn Mughira, 'Utba ibn Rabi'a, 'As ibn Sa'id, Umayyah ibn Khalaf, and Nawfal ibn Khuwaylid. Prior to the battle, The Messenger had indicated the spots where they would die, saying: "'Utba will be killed here; Abu Jahl here, Umayyah ibn Khalaf here," and so on.
Seventy Qurayshis were captured. God allowed the Muslims to ransom them, and some were released. However, those who could read and write were to be released only after they had taught these skills to the unlettered Muslims. Such treatment proved very beneficial for the Muslims' image. First, those captives who had expected execution gladly paid the ransom. Second, Madina's low literacy rate was raised and the newly literate Muslims could be more effective in preaching Islam and gaining people's respect. Third, literate captives could learn about Islam and be in close contact with Muslims. This was certain to soften their hearts and accelerate their conversion, together with that of their families. Fourth, the captives' families and relatives were so glad to see their captive family members, whom they had presumed dead, that they became much more receptive to Islam."
The decisive victory gained at Badr made Islam a force to be reckoned with throughout Arabia, and many hardened hearts were inclined to accept Islam.