16.5 The Messenger Consults His Men
The Muslims feared the caravan would slip by, so they hurried as fast as their limited means allowed until they reached the valley of Dhafiran where they rested. There they learnt that Quraysh had come out to defend their caravan. Mohamed called the Muslims together and informed them of the news. He first consulted his two close advisors, Abu Bakr and Umar ibn AI-Khattab, and then he consulted all the Muslims after giving them time to consider this new development. He invariably consulted his men, for according to the Koran the affairs of Muslims are best decided after mutual consultation.
Al-Miqdad ibn Amr rose and spoke. He said,
"Messenger of Allah, go ahead with what Allah has commanded you, for, by Allah, we shall not say to you as the Jews said to Moses, ‘Go, you and your God, and fight and we will remain here.’ But we shall say to you, "Go, you and your God, and fight and we shall fight with you."
The people listened to his words in silence. Mohamed asked again, for he always wanted them to speak out and to act freely. If they were to fight, they were to fight willingly. He repeated, "Tell me your opinions?" Then Sad ibn Muadh, the chief of the Supporters, spoke,
"Do you want our opinion, Messenger of Allah?"
"Yes," said Mohamed.
"We believe in you and know that you speak the truth. We have given you a solemn oath and covenant to listen and obey. So go ahead with what you desire, for by Him who sent you with the truth, if you were to ask us to cross the sea, we would cross it with you, and not a single man of us would tarry behind. Lead us forward with the blessing of Allah."
The Prophet smiled and said,
"March forward and be of good cheer, for Allah has promised me that one of the two groups will be ours."
He meant that they would either capture the caravan or Allah would give them victory over Quraysh.
When they reached the well of Badr, Mohamed went on ahead to discover fresh information. He found an old man whom he asked about Mohamed and his followers, to see what news had leaked out to these parts, and then he asked him about Quraysh. Mohamed, learning from him that Quraysh were nearby, sent out Ali ibn Abi Talib with three others to find out more. They brought back with them two boys, servants of Quraysh, who had gone out to get water. When the two boys came, the Messenger was praying. The Muslims asked the boys for information, and when they would not answer, some started beating them. The boys said whatever came into their heads to avoid being beaten and the men stopped.
When Mohamed finished his prayer, he said,
"Wondrous! When they tell you the truth, you beat them. When they tell you lies, you stop beating them!"
Then he asked the boys how many Qurayshis there were, and they answered that they did not know. So he asked them how many cattle they slaughtered a day, and they answered that they killed either nine or ten a day. Mohamed was able to infer from this that they were around one thousand strong. He also learnt from the boys that all the nobles of Quraysh had come out to fight him.
Two of his men went to the well at Badr and overheard two slave girls talking. One of them was asking the other for money she owed her and the other was telling her to wait one or two days until the caravan came in. They returned with this bit of information to Mohamed.
Abu Sufyan who was leading the caravan was very wary and cautious. He went a little ahead, fearing that Mohamed and his men were on his route. Reaching the well, he met a man whom he asked if he had seen anyone. The man said that he had seen no one except two men who had come to water their camels. Abu Sufyan went to where the two men had stood and, looking at the camel droppings, said,
"Ah! This is the kind of food the people of Medina give their camels!"
So he returned quickly to his caravan and took another route towards safety. Next day the Muslims learnt that the caravan had slipped away and that only the warriors of Quraysh remained nearby.
Some of the men hesitated, for they realized that they were no match for Quraysh. They were three hundred and five men, ill-equipped, poorly supported, while Quraysh were one thousand strong, well-equipped, with clients and slaves to attend to their needs. Many of them were experienced warriors, while for many of the Muslims this was the first time they had attended a battle.
Mohamed, once he made a decision, never hesitated or turned back. He trusted in Allah to fulfill the destiny written for him. If it was the will of Allah that they fight Quraysh, then they would fight Quraysh. The Muslims had hoped to regain some of what Quraysh had taken from them by intercepting the caravan, but He who decides the destiny of men had other reasons for this fateful meeting.
In the meantime Abu Sufyan had sent a messenger to Quraysh to inform them that their caravan had escaped and that they would do well to return. But Abu Jahl would not hear of it; he would not be cheated of his quarry. He hated Mohamed, his very uprightness and manly courage were a reflection on Abu Jahl's cowardly and cunning behaviour. Mohamed and the Muslims must be exterminated and here was the opportunity to do it. He must detain Quraysh by any means, so he swore that they would not return before they had remained three days by the well of Badr to celebrate, so that none would make the mistake of thinking they had returned out of fear, and so that all the Arabs would hear of their illustrious march.
All Quraysh liked Abu Jahl's idea, except the Banu Zuhra, who returned to Mecca. Quraysh occupied a good strategic position behind a hill which they used as a shield. Seeing this, the Muslims decided that if Quraysh wanted to engage them they would stand and fight. A downpour of rain facilitated the march towards Badr for the Muslims and when they reached the first of its wells, they stopped and dismounted.
When Al-Hubab ibn al-Mundhir saw where the Prophet had stopped, he said,
"Messenger of Allah, is this by Allah's command, in which case we should not move an inch from it, or have you chosen this place for strategic reasons?"
Mohamed answered that it had been chosen for strategic reasons whereupon Al-Hubab suggested that they descended lower down and filled in the wells lower than them, so that they could drink and the enemy could not. They moved down towards the well, and Al-Hubab built a basin for them to drink clear water from.
The Messenger took this opportunity to point out to them that he was a mortal man liable to error. In Islam men are helped to avoid the pitfalls that have distorted preceding religions. The Koran points out that Mohamed was only a mortal and lived the life of an ordinary man, the same as those around him, so that he would not be deified after his death. He was not too far removed from other men to be followed. The Koran says:
In the Messenger of Allah you have a good example
for him who seeks Allah and the Eternal Day. (33: 21)
Sad ibn Muadh suggested that they build a small shelter for the Prophet where he could remain during the battle, adding that if Allah granted them victory, well and good, but if they were defeated, then the Prophet could join his followers in Medina who supported him and who loved him as much as those who were fighting with him that day. The Prophet thanked him and accepted the suggestion.
Mohamed was no coward; on the contrary, he was absolutely fearless. Ali ibn Abi Talib said of him that in the heat of the battle he was always first and closest to the enemy. He always adopted a modest and inconspicuous role, far from the conquering hero's, except in situations too difficult for anyone else, when his true mettle appeared (as later at the Battle of Hunain). He tried to foster courage and self-confidence in those around him by assuming a minor role, to the extent that some historians point out that Mohamed's greatness lay in his ability to create great men. He saw the best in each man and started to build him up from there.
Now the Muslims were facing a vicious enemy far superior to them in numbers and weapons, so their first concern was for the safety of the Messenger, whom they all loved dearly and indeed many would and did sacrifice their lives for his sake. It is at such moments that the hearts of men are revealed, their love for their Lord and His Messenger blazing like a lighted torch.