Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Muhammad and Islam: Stories not told before, Part 8

Part 9 <<<

The Battle of Uhud

Muhammad and his troops returned in triumph to Medina with the spoils and prisoners taken in the battle. Their success on the battleground propelled their prestige and morale to an extraordinary height. Having tasted the fruits of success, Muslims clamored for more expeditions against the Pagans, primarily to loot them and to turn their womenfolk into their slaves.

Muhammad was not oblivious to the desires of his people. In fact, he himself harbored such a yearning in his heart. But in the absence of an opportunity, he dared not initiate an action that could have turned off, against him, those Pagans, who were seriously considering their assimilation into his religion. Wherefore, in wait for an opportunity, he busied himself momentarily in the propagation of his faith.

In this effort, he found himself making little progress due to the assaults launched against him by the satirical poets of the city of Medina. Muhammad, however, found an effective way to deal with this menace: he engaged one of them to defend him. Hassan ibn Thabit was middle-aged and had already achieved fame as a poet. He had spent some years at the court of Bani Ghassan princes in Syria. Asked by Muhammad if he could defend him from the attacks of his enemies, he is said to have stuck out his tongue and declared, “There is no armor that I cannot pierce with this weapon.”

Many of the Pagan and Jewish satirical poets were silenced by Hassan’s quick-witted responses. Still, there remained some who continued, unabated, to ridicule Muhammad and his doctrines with their satires. Hassan failed to silence them, so Muhammad decided to take his own measures against them.

In implementation of his decision, Asma, a Jewish poetess, was put to death for her satirical effusions. Abu Afak, an Israelite of a very ripe age, was likewise slain for indulging in satire against Muhammad. Another Jewish poet, Kaab ibn Ashraf, who tried to rouse the Quraishites to vengeance also paid with his life for his satires against the Prophet of Islam.

Having rid himself of the satirical poets, Muhammad turned his attention to another serious problem. The Jews of Medina, he felt, were not only increasingly becoming hostile to him, they were also erecting stumbling blocks on his way to success. He, therefore, decided to confront them with an iron hand.

The recent victory at Badr had completely changed Muhammad’s position; he was now a triumphant chief of a growing power. He became very confident of coming out successful in the campaigns he was thinking to launch against those he came to believer were his enemies. With this confidence in his mind, he began to look out for opportunities to retaliate, especially, against the Jews.

The Jewish community of Bani Qaynuqa gave him the first opportunity to test his confidence, with a devastating effect for them as well as for other Jewish communities of Medina and its neighborhood.

The members of this tribe were goldsmiths and were probably the richest among the Jewish tribes. They numbered about seven hundred; three hundred of whom are said to have been armed. They also made armor, but owned no fields or fruit gardens. An altercation in the market, involving two Muslims and a Jew, provided Muhammad with the excuse he was looking for to lay siege against the entire settlement to which the offending Jew belonged. It lasted for two weeks and then the Jews surrendered. Muhammad promptly sentenced them to death.

Two tribes among the Aus and the Khazraj were allies of Bani Qaynuqa, and both of them had embraced Islam. The leader of the first tribe went to Muhammad and renounced the alliance. Abdullah ibn Ubayy, whom we have already met earlier as being a peace-loving leader, was their other ally. On hearing of the death sentence declared on the tribe of Bani Qaynuqa, Abdullah rushed to Muhammad, and taking hold of his cloak, begged him to spare the lives of the condemned Jews. Muhammad, reacting in an angry rage, at first refused to oblige him, but overtaken by his insistence and dictated by his political farsightedness, he relented and spared the lives of the seven hundred doomed Jewish men. He, however, ordered them to leave Medina and settle in Syria. At the time of their migration, they were compelled to leave most of their property behind them. They were permitted to take that many animals as were necessary to carry them to their destination.

The expulsion of the Jews from Medina helped Muhammad overcome some of his pressing problems. It enabled him, first of all, to solve the accommodation problem of most of the Meccan refugees by allotting them the homes of the expelled Jews. Secondly, the wealth, which they left behind helped him build up his own state exchequer for financing those expeditions, which he had already planned in his mind.

The recent defeat at the hands of the Muslims at Badr struck the Quaraishites of Mecca with humiliation and astonishment. They failed to understand how a fugitive recently driven out from their midst could muster the strength to challenge them to a battle and then rob them off of their pride. Several of their bravest and ablest men fell to his sword; this failing to satisfy him, he extracted ransom from them to free those of their men he took prisoners, thus humiliating them beyond their imagination.

Abu Lahab, Muhammad’s uncle and always his staunchest opponent, had been unable to take part in the last battle due to his illness. He died a few days after hearing of the Meccans’ ignominious rout, his death, it is believed, having been hastened by the exasperation of his spirits.

But no one was as much touched by the tragedy of the battle, as was Abu Sofian. It was one thing to reach Mecca safely; it was another to hear about the triumph of the man he detested from the core of his heart, and finding his own home desolate. He was more agonized by the lamentations of his wife, Hinda, who had lost her father, her uncle, and her brother to the swords of Hamza and Ali. She was now crying out in rage day and night for vengeance on these men.

In her desire for revenge, Hinda vowed not to anoint her hair and not to sleep with her husband or any of her lovers until all the deaths of her near and dear ones were avenged. Abu Sofian, like wise, swore not to sleep with his wife or any of his paramours until he had taken revenge for the deaths of the leaders of his Quraish clan.

Abu Sofian and Hinda had taken those vows of vengeance following a tribal law of the Arabs, which ordained that whoever shed the blood of a man owed blood on that account to the family of the slain person. Muhammad upheld this ancient barbarous law and gave sanction to retaliatory acts of bloodshed, for he has said: “Believers, retaliation is decreed for you in bloodshed: a free man for a free man, a slave for a slave, and a female for a female.”[1]

While Abu Sofian was thinking to raise a Meccan army to attack the Muslims, Muhammad set out, in June of 624 A.D., with four hundred and fifty men to raid the tribes of Ghatafan. They received timely warning, however, and moved away to safety. Muslims returned home without a fight or spoils. This expedition is known as “The Raid of Dhu Amr.”

Two months later, Muhammad again set out with three hundred of his raiders to raid Bani Sulaim. They reached a place called Bahran and, finding no one, returned to Medina, again empty-handed.

The Meccans regularly heard about those raids, conducted by Muhammad, and they quivered in fear. While they were still trying to figure out ways to contain his growing power, time came to send their yearly caravan to Syria. Knowing the risk their caravan faced if it traveled by the conventional route, they decided to send it to its destination via Najd, as they deemed it to be safe. However, information about the caravan bearing toward Najd reached Muhammad, and he became busy in plans to seize it before it could cross his domain.

He gathered a team of one hundred brigands headed by his adopted son, Zaid ibn Harith, and detailed it with its mission. The marauders surprised the caravan and captured it at the well of Qadra in Najd. The rapine proved extremely rich for the Muslims, for a great part of the caravan had been laden with silver.

Following the events of Badr and Najd, the Quraishites set up a fund with the intention of building up of a powerful army to fight the Muslim brigands. It seems that the fund was well subscribed, the ordinary Meccans and their merchants keenly recognizing the perils with which the Muslims had endangered their means of livelihood. At the same time, they called upon the men of Bani Kinana, who lived on the coastal plains and had a pact of cooperation with them, to assist them in their struggle against the Muslims. As was the custom, eminent poets were also asked to join the expeditionary forces to stir up their valor and ferocity in the impending battle.

Soon after the formation of the force, it left Mecca on its way to Medina under the command of Abu Sofian, presently the most prominent leader of the Meccans. It consisted approximately of three thousand men, the majority of them fully equipped for the battle. The Meccan army arrived on a Wednesday below the mount called Uhud and remained there, resting until Thursday. In the meantime, the news of the arrival of this massive force reached Muhammad, causing serious consternation among the Muslims. They held hasty consultations to find ways to face the threat, Muhammad being inclined to defend the city from within, in order to avoid the exposure of his forces to the Meccans in an open field.

Many elders, including Abdullah ibn Ubayy, strongly supported Muhammad. All the younger men, who had not had the chance to take part in the battle of Badr and were consequently deprived of the booty, insisted on going out to fight the enemy in the open. Their insistence had its roots in their belief in Muhammad, who had attributed the Muslim victory at Badr to the heavenly help, rather than to human strength. They believed that Allah would help them with angels this time, too, and make them victorious over their enemy. Their inferior number, therefore, was of no consequence to them, nor did it make any difference in their thinking process.

Nevertheless, Abdullah still insisted on remaining within the city and to defend it without putting his men’s lives at unnecessary risk. Muhammad stalled a decision, but when his young followers became irresistible, he gave in. Donning his armor, he left the safety of the city, accompanied by his troops, to fight his enemy on the turf that the latter had chosen to test his strength once again.

On Saturday morning, Muhammad and his troops sighted the enemy. Abdullah ibn Ubayy, seeing the strength of the Quraish forces, turned back with three hundred of his followers, leaving Muhammad with only seven hundred Muslims to fight the large number of the Pagans. Undeterred by the defection, Muhammad continued his advance, in course of which, he assured his soldiers of receiving help from five thousand angels, provided he and his followers remained firm and acted diligently. In a short time, Muhammad found himself facing his antagonists, determined to inflict a singular defeat on him and his followers. Plundering their defeated enemy and taking slaves from amongst them never occupied the Pagans’ mind; this pagan norm vastly contrasting the conduct of the Muslims, who fought all the battles for achieving exactly what they abhorred and avoided.

In spite of being outnumbered by the enemy, Muhammad proceeded to draw his men in order of battle. To deal with the mounted Meccans, he placed fifty of his archers on the Muslim flank, with strict orders to repel any attack by the enemy’s horsemen and on no account to leave their position. He then handed over his standard to Musab ibn Omar and his sword to Abu Dujana, with orders to smite the enemy until it bent in his hand.

Both sides now faced each other. As was their tradition, single combats between the valiant warriors from both sides opened the contest. When Muslims saw the Meccan veterans being defeated by their warriors, they rushed forward shouting their war cry, “Allah –o- Akbar,” and fell upon the enemy with the same defiance and fury that had brought them a grand victory at the battle of Badr. In the rampant bloodshed that ensued, Muslims, it is said, gained the upper hand, when some of the Pagans took flight. At this juncture, the archers posted on the flank to keep the enemy horsemen at bay allegedly left their station to join their swordsmen in the collection of booty from their fleeing enemy.

A Meccan cavalry saw the Muslim archers leaving their position. Seizing the opportunity, they swung around and charged the unprotected rear of the Muslim line, which included Muhammad, and some of his soldiers. The unexpected onslaught created a state of pell-mell in the rank of the Muslim forces; this inspiring the Meccans to rally around their standard of war and to fight the enemy to the end.

In the confusion that ensued in the Muslim rank and file, a swordsman by the name of ibn Qamia of Bani Kinana, attacked Musab ibn Omar, Muhammad’s standard-bearer, and cut him down with a single slash from his sword. Mistaking his victim for Muhammad, Qamia waved his sword over his head and cried, “I have killed Muhammad! Muhammad is dead!”

Muslims, already disoriented by the rear attack of the horsemen, panicked uncontrollably by the news of their leader’s death, and fled. In their haste, they ran past Muhammad and the little group around him without seeing him. His shouts to reunite and fight also went unnoticed. Taking advantage of the disarray in the Muslim camp, the Meccans began moving toward the small group that was surrounding Muhammad, showering on it a rain of arrows, as well as stones from their slings. A stone struck Muhammad in the face, knocking out one of his incisors. He also received a blow on his head, forcing him to fall down to the ground, his visage fully covered with blood.

Here a miracle-like event is again believed to have taken place. A group of the Meccans went past Muhammad, who was then lying helplessly on the ground, mortally wounded. As willed by Allah, his enemies failed to recognize him. The so-called miracle that saved Muhammad from his enemies inspires the Muslims even today. The very mention of this “miracle” turns them into a kind of ecstasy, which no man can display in a normal condition.

In fact, the Meccan Pagans did not like to shed blood unnecessarily, especially of a hapless man and kindred. Since Muhammad was wounded and he was also one of them, they decided not to kill him, despite the fact that he was within their easy reach and they could have killed him without taking any risk on their own lives.

Once the Meccans passed by, Muhammad got up from the ground and supported by a small group of his followers, hurried up the rocky slopes of Mount Uhud, where he concealed himself in a hollow.

For the Meccans, the battle was over. They took pride in the fact that they had defeated the Muslims. Before leaving the battlefield, however, Abu Sofian stood at a point opposite the hollow where Muhammad had been hiding himself, and called up to the Muslims to know if, in fact, Muhammad was dead. On being told by Omar that he was alive and that he was hearing them speak at that very moment, Abu Sofian threw a challenge to the Muslims to meet him the next year at Badr for another round of fighting, and then left the grounds to saddle his camels and horses in preparation for the journey that would take him back to Mecca and into the arms of those on whose behalf he had, in 625 A. D, waged and won the just concluded battle against the Muslims.

Muslims attribute the lack of desire on Abu Sofian’s part to kill Muhammad to a miracle, which they claim, Allah had caused, along with others, as described above, to save him from sure death. Unfortunately, it is one of the fallacious beliefs that is known to have always been helping the believers in adhering to their faiths. In reality, neither science nor philosophy accepts the existence of miracles.

“For instance,” wrote Dr. Rafiq Zakaria, “Cicero declared that ‘there are no such things as miracles;’ they were invented ‘for the piety of the ignorant folk.’ Celsus said that miracles, whether attributed to Christ or Moses, were ‘insufficiently attested and most improbable.’” But, despite knowing the fact that miracles do not exist, many scholars and scientists, inspired by their respective religions, suffered from its tantalizing spell. The above-named Muslim gentleman is one among many scholars who believed in the scientific fact, but forced by his Muslim conviction, he sacrificed science at the altar of his religion so that he could attribute Muhammad’s success at Badr to a miracle. He concurred: “The fact that he {Muhammad} won the battle {of Badr} was, indeed, a miracle. That is why he attributed it entirely to God.”[2]

The real reason behind sparing Muhammad’s life by Abu Sofian was, perhaps, the non-blood thirsty nature of the Pagans; the former Pagan, Muhammad, being an exception. The nomadic Pagans fought wars and battles among themselves, either for plundering in their bad times, or for revenge, but they always avoided shedding blood of their own people. It was this tribal practice that prevented Abu Sofian from killing Muhammad, as he considered him to be his own blood.

Or, Abu Sofian might have believed that by sparing his life, he was doing Muhammad a favor in reciprocation whereof, he expected him and his followers, to abandon their murderous attacks on the Meccan caravans. But, as history tells us, he was dead wrong in his assumptions, for Muhammad continued on his deadly path until the time the entire population of the Peninsula surrendered themselves to his dictatorial authority for nothing, but to save their lives.

In order to sooth his followers’ injured ego, Muhammad attributed their defeat to the Will of Allah. Asked why Allah did not help them this time with five thousand angels from heaven, he told them: “Allah did this {promised the angels} only as good news for you that your hearts might be at rest herein. Victory comes only from Allah, the Mighty the Wise, i.e. I mentioned the armies of My angels only as a good news for you so that your hearts might be at rest herein, because I know your weakness and victory comes only from Me because of My sovereignty and power for the reason that power and authority belong to Me, not to any one of my creatures.[3]

The aforesaid statement makes it clear: Allah had no intention of helping the Muslim fighters, and Muhammad knew it beforehand. Allah made the promise of the angelic help only to boost their moral; and they lost their moral when they failed to stand firm and wavered in the face of their enemy’s onslaught. It did not matter to Allah that the Muslims suffered an ignominious defeat at the hands of the Pagans, for this defeat was intended to teach them a lesson, which would prevent them, in future, from doing what they did in the just concluded battle.

Other Raids

Muhammad’s debacle at the battle of Uhud affected, for a time, his cause unfavorably among some Arabs and the Jewish tribes. Two months after the battle, a group of tribesmen from the towns of Adhal and Kara came to him, requesting to send some of his missionaries to instruct them and their people in his religion. He agreed and sent with them six of his disciples, who were well versed in the faith. When the party was about thirty miles from Mecca, the deceitful deputies fell upon the unsuspecting Muslims, killing four of them and carrying the other two to Mecca, where they were sold into the slavery of the Quraish.

The people of Nadj are alleged to have committed a similar act of treachery against Muhammad. Claiming to be Muslims, they sought his help to contain their enemies. Acceding to their request, he sent a number of his followers to aid them in their efforts. Those Muslim mercenaries were attacked by the Bani Suliam at a place about four days’ journey from Medina and slain almost to a man.

On his way to Medina, the escapee named Amru ibn Omeya met two unarmed Jews of the Bani Amir, whom he fell upon and killed them. The tribe of Bani Amir, being at peace with Muhammad, called upon him to redress the killings. He referred the matter to another rich Jewish tribe of Bani Nadir for mediation. The chief of the tribe invited Muhammad to a meeting, which he attended with a number of his followers.

Having received his guests, the chief invited them to a meal in an open space of his house. As Muhammad sat down, an angel informed him that he had been decoyed to the place to be crushed to death by a millstone that would be thrown at him from the top of the house (!). Alarmed by the disclosure, Muhammad abruptly left the scene and hastened to Medina without telling anyone the cause of his sudden departure.

Both the incidents, though unproven by independent sources, are said to have aroused in Muhammad intense rage; consequently, he ordered the whole tribe of Bani Nadir to leave the country within ten days at the pain of death. When they were about to leave, a man by the name of Abdullah persuaded them to stay on, promising them his help should Muhammad attacked them. The attack came, but the Jews saw no help coming their way. They, therefore, shut themselves in their castle, where Muhammad besieged them. In rage, his army cut down the date trees on which the Jews depended to sustain their lives.

The beleaguered Jews withstood the siege for six days and then they capitulated, as their supplies had run out. Muhammad expelled them from their homes, each of them permitted only to carry a camel-load of their effects, but no weapons. Some of them found shelter in Syria, while others settled down in Khaybar.

Khaybar was located at a distance of seven days’ journey from Medina. It was a strong settlement of the Jews, with a number of fortresses built for its defense.

The eviction of the Jews, on false pretexts, afforded Muhammad great booty, which he declined to share with his followers, telling them of a revelation in which Allah had decreed that any booty gained without striking a blow, was not won by man, but was a gift from Him to Muhammad, to be expanded by him in ways he saw fit.

Other raids conducted during this period included the one Muhammad launched against the neighborhood of Tabuk. All expeditions yielded rich spoils, much to the delight of the Muslim community, which was then on the verge of emerging as a most powerful force, destined to change, for ever, the face of the world.

At this time, we will deviate once again from our narrative and focus briefly on Muhammad’s sensual side. Ibn Ishaq, a prominent Muslim historian, mentions a dialogue between him and a certain Jabir ibn Abdullah, which was as follows:

“I went out with the Apostle on the raid of Dhar al Riqa at Nakhla on a feeble old camel of mine. On the way back, the company kept going on ahead while I dropped further behind until the Apostle rode up to me and asked me what the trouble was. I told him that my camel was keeping me back and he told me to make it kneel. I did so and the Apostle made his camel to kneel and said, “Give me this stick you are holding” . . . He took it and prodded the beast a few times. Then he told me to remount and off we went. By Him who sent him with the truth, my old camel kept up with the rapid pace of his camel.

As we were talking, the Apostle asked me if I would sell him my camel. I said that I would give it to him but he insisted on buying it, so I asked him to make me an offer. He said he would give me a dirhem. I refused and said that it would be cheating me. Then he offered two dirhems and I still refused and the Apostle went on raising his offer until it amounted to an ounce of gold. When I asked him if he was really satisfied, he said he was and I said that the camel was his.

Then he asked me if I were married; then was she a virgin or a woman previously married. I told him she had been married before and he said, “No young girl so that you could sport together!”

Like the Jews, female virginity was of paramount importance to Muhammad. Following the Torah, he forbade sex before the marriage. Those girls who engaged in pre-marital sex and lost their virginity are generally to be flogged a hundred times. For the commission of adultery, women may be stoned to death. Muslim men usually escape punishments by virtue of an innate advantage granted to them by Allah.

Muhammad’s defeat in the battle of Uhud prompted some of the Arab tribes to take up arms against him. The tribe of Bani Mostalek was one of them. Learning through his intelligence of the warlike preparations of the tribe, he immediately took to the ground where his enemy was gathering. Muhammad was leading a force of his disciples, which was followed by a contingent of Khazrajites, led by their chief Abdullah ibn Ubayy.

The rapid mobilization of the Muslim forces surprised their enemy, and in the confusion that befell the camp of Bani Mostalek, its leader, Prince al Harith, was killed very early in the combat, causing his troops to take to their heels. Muhammad ended up taking two hundred prisoners, five thousand sheep, and one thousand camels as the fruits of his victory.


>>> Part 10


[1] Cf. The Quran; 2:178.

[2] Muhammad & The Quran, pp. 25,32.

[3] Ibn Ishaq, op. cit. p. 392.

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