As we have seen in Part 1, the Muslims migrated to Madinah after suffering a decade of pagan persecution in Makkah. While a fledgling community in Madinah, Muslims continued to face security threats and hostilities from the pagans.
In 2 A.H, the pagans raided the pastures of Madinah and looted livestock. The Prophet, leading 70 men, pursued the raiders but was not able to catch up to them.
The Prophet did not follow up with a declaration of war. Still concerned about Madinah’s safety, however, he extended the patrol perimeters.
Four months later, the Prophet dispatched 13 men on a reconnaissance mission to a place called Nakhlah. The Prophet ordered the men to meet the pagan caravan and ascertain their motives.
Upon reaching the caravan, the dispatch deliberated attacking the caravan and eventually decided to attack. Perhaps the pagans’ recent pasture raid was a factor in the decision. The confrontation caused one pagan casualty and two prisoners.
When the dispatch returned to the Prophet in Madinah, they received his stern disapproval. It seemed that the Prophet did not expect his men to go beyond his orders and engage in military confrontation. He had sent the dispatch out in the month of Rajab, which was considered by Muslims and pagans to be a sacred month – when fighting is prohibited.
As a matter of fact, 2 out of the 7 dispatches that the Prophet sent were during sacred months. If critics claim that the Prophet had belligerent intentions for these dispatches, why did the Prophet send them during sacred months?
Besides the Nakhlah mission, the only other 2 instances where Muslims and pagans did cross paths were during non-sacred months. At neither of these two instances did any fighting occur. If the Prophet’s intentions were belligerent, attacks should have happened when both parties met in non-sacred months.
The Prophet paid the pagans blood money for their casualty and returned the two prisoners peacefully. These actions of the Prophet further prove that his intentions were not combative.
The goals of these dispatches were to collect intelligence and show pagans that the forces of Madinah were vigilant lest they decided to invade Madinah, which seemed imminent. The Prophet brilliantly used the pagan caravans as couriers who brought the message of the new Muslim vigilance back to Makkah.
A large trade caravan, led by a chief of the Makkan pagans, received news of nearby Muslim patrol as the caravan approached Madinah. The chief panicked and sent word to Makkah demanding troops. His caravan was carrying large sums of wealth; it was boasted that every person in Makkah had invested in this caravan. However, this was not the first time the chief, Abu Sufyan, faced Muslim patrol. He experienced a previous encounter where neither side did any looting nor harm to the other.
Makkah, eager for the opportunity, responded to the chief’s plea by sending out a well-equipped battalion, hoping to neutralize the Muslims’ trade-route leverage once and for all.
Abu Sufyan, in the meantime, managed a detour and sent word to the battalion that the caravan was safely heading home, leading some to the conclusion that the military was no longer necessary.
Some pagan troops returned to Makkah, but that did not discourage other influential chiefs who were fired up for war. They threatened and convinced the majority to attack the Muslims, believing their prayers for a decisive victory would be answered.
Despite the safety of the pagan caravan, the Makkan pagans still sent out a battalion for war. If the pagans had not sent forth an army and had recognized Madinah’s right to patrol its perimeters, especially in response to their belligerent activities, Badr would not have happened.
Clearly, the pagans sought opportunities to escalate their belligerence against Muslims.
With the oncoming battalion, the Muslims found themselves vulnerable to an impending battle.
Poorly armed, the Muslims faced a perilous outcome at the hands of a well-equipped army. The Quran describes their dislike for this military confrontation:
…a party among the believers were unwilling (Quran 8:5)
…as if they were being driven toward death while they were looking on. (Quran 8:6)
The reluctance described here does not sound like the mindset of blood-thirsty belligerents.
The pagan battalion traveled 174 miles from Makkah to launch their attack on the Muslims at the Battle of Badr, just 75 miles from the Muslims’ new settlement at Madinah.
Outnumbered three to one, the Muslims still managed to overcome the pagan attack. The Quran then encouraged the pagans to accept the decision they sought in their prayers and to cease all hostilities.
If you [pagan Arabs] seek a decision – the decision has come to you. And if you desist [from hostilities], it is best for you. (Quran 8:19)
Refusing to accept the decisive outcome, the pagan Arabs adopted a victim mindset after their loss and used their period of mourning to kindle a desire for revenge. They spread their story throughout Arabia and garnered support from nearby tribes. Then, they sent out another battalion, three times larger than that of Badr, to attack Madinah in what would be known as the Battle of Uhud.
As we can see, if we view historical events with their associated activities, we will have a better picture of what transpired.
The pagans’ belligerence led to the Battle of Badr, not Madinah’s minuscule caravan patrols.
The Prophet Muhammad’s pursuit of non-violence and peace is unparalleled in history, especially against the high level of belligerence the pagans have shown for over a decade.
However, critics point to the words of the Prophet to prove he had a hostile intent:
This is the caravan of Quraysh, within it is their wealth. Go out towards it. It could be that God will grant it as spoils of war. (Al-Bidayah wal-Nihayah)
What the words mean, and how we are to understand it in its historical context are what is covered in Part 3.
Read Part 1.