Lecture 16 in the Ramadaan series:
UNPACKING THE MOST INTRIGUING QUESTIONS IN THE QURAN
Sunday 10 May 2020 (16 Ramadaan 1441)
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
17th Ramadaan is another crucial turning point in the early history of Islam. It is so important to remember this day, that the Holy Quran repeatedly reminds us about its significance and demands that we learn very valuable lessons from this major event in the early history of Islam.
I am referring to the Battle of Badr, which occurred on 17 Ramadaan 2AH. My approach to this discussion is to reply to a couple of questions in connection with the Battle of Badr, which is very much a source of confusion and also an excuse in the hands of enemies to portray Islam and the early Islamic movement in a negative light.
I would also like for us to have further understanding of some very, very important lessons and crucial fibres which are present in this particular incident which the Holy Quran also insists on those aspects of Badr and reminds us to remember those incidents.
HISTORICAL NARRATION OF THE BATTLE OF BADR
Let me start by narrating the story of the Battle of Badr. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) migrated to Madina and established himself there. By the time of the second year after his migration, the state of Madina, which hosted the community of Islam, was relatively stable and well established.
However, it was constantly under threat from Mecca and those who were left behind in Mecca were always the target of the disbelievers and Quraysh. These people used all the resources at their disposal to defeat Islam, even if it is not in their city. They did not allow anyone in Mecca to accept Islam or migrate towards Madina.
A cold war is developing behind the scenes, which is presenting a serious concern for the future of this newly established state of Islam in Madina. In this regard, the way that most historians have recorded the event is that our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) became aware that Abu Sufyan was coming from Syria with a vast caravan filled with trading assets for sale and money, and he was going to pass nearby Madina.
Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) decided to attack this trade caravan of Abu Sufyan and capture their belongings and assets because they will be used to fight against Islam, while they have taken our money and assets and do not allow anybody to embrace Islam in Mecca, who are under terrible pressure from the same Quraysh.
Therefore, as a strategy Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) decided to go and capture this particular business caravan. Rasulullah (SAWA) gathered his companions and moved from Madina towards the direction that the caravan is expected to go through.
SPIES TIP-OFF ABU SUFYAN ABOUT THE IMMINENT ATTACK
As always, spies exist in every society. Abu Sufyan somehow got a tip-off from these spies about the plan of the Prophet of Islam to attack them. As soon as Abu Sufyan got this news, he changed his direction and decided to go a very bad route which is in fact in the opposite direction of Mecca.
At the same time, he sent a messenger on an express trip to Mecca and called them for help, as the situation is very serious and critical. The messenger arrived in Mecca and created a big drama and were able to recruit nearly 1000 people. Amongst them were almost all the leaders and elite of Mecca. They came with 700 camels and over 100 horses and weapons under the commandership of Abu Jahl.
Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), with his small number of people (313 of his companions and supporters) reached to an area called Badr. When they reached to Badr, they received the news that an army from Mecca and Quraysh is coming and he consulted with the companions who joined him.
RASULULLAH (SAWA) CONSULTS HIS CAMP TO DECIDE ON WHETHER TO EMBARK IN WAR
Through consultation, he wanted to know from them what would they like to do ie. either face the army which is coming from Mecca or to go behind the same trade caravan of Abu Sufyan. He wanted them to express their preference.
An interesting discussion was initiated. Some people said that they did not come out for war, because their intent for joining was to seize the trade caravan of Abu Sufyan. So, they felt that they were not sufficiently prepared, especially in comparison to the exponentially greater size of Abu Sufyan’s army. Hence, some felt that their focus should remain on capturing the trade caravan of Abu Sufyan, which was going to be launched against Islam.
On the other hand, there were those who were valiant and said that they will go towards war against this army of Quraysh and Almighty Allah (SWT) has promised them that they will be granted victory.
Rasulullah (SAWA) preferred the opinion of going to war with the army of Quraysh. After a while, the battle occurred at the battlefield of Badr. Great bravery of people like Hamza, the uncle of Rasulullah (SAWA), Imam Ali (a.s) and other great warriors of Islam finally concluded with 70 people killed from Quraysh, including their leader, Abu Jahl, and a further 70 were made prisoners of war.
This is how this war concluded with victory to Islam, despite the small number of 313 in the camp of Rasulullah (SAWA) against the 1000 in the camp of the enemy.
QURANIC REFERENCES TO THE BATTLE OF BADR
This is the abbreviated version of the Battle of Badr, which occurred on 17 Ramadaan 2AH. I would like to expand on how the Quran approaches and presents this battle.
The first point to note, which we are all aware, is that the Battle of Badr was the first battle of Islam, and the Holy Quran has not referred to any battle more than this one. It shows its great importance, not only for the people of that time, but very much relevant for us too.
The following Quranic references directly explain the Battle of Badr:
- Verses 123 – 128 of Surah aal-Imraan (chapter 3)
- Verses 1 – 19 of Surah Anfaal (chapter 8)
There are references indirectly to the Battle of Badr in other parts of the Holy Quran too.
WAS THE OBJECTIVE OF ATTACKING THE BUSINESS CARAVAN FOR MATERIAL GAINS?
At the onset, I would like to respond to the accusation presented by the enemies of Islam in the form of orientalists, where they say that the motive of this war was to rob a business caravan of trading merchandise belonging to Abu Sufyan and the Quraysh. Therefore, according to them, Rasulullah (SAWA) came with a clear plan to loot for material gains.
If you look closer at the way I narrated the story above, and also the way it is presented in the chronicles of history, then indeed it does appear to take such a negative complexion. However, when we look at how the Battle of Badr is described in various verses of the Holy Quran, which is beyond reproach, we understand the narration of this event to be different.
Of course, our religious scholars and commentators of the Holy Quran defended the narrative of the event I described earlier. They argue that the pre-emptive seizure of the trading caravan of Abu Sufyan by Rasulullah (SAWA) was justified.
You see, it is not as if the Quraysh of Mecca were no longer worried about the spread of Islam through the prophetic mission of Rasulullah (SAWA). The danger from Abu Sufyan and Quraysh was therefore a constant danger.
There was not a single day which passed without the Quraysh of Mecca plotting to destroy Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his divine mission of Prophethood. There was not a single day where these people did not torture the people of Mecca who were inclined towards Islam!
BATTLE OF BADR WAS TO CUT THE ROOTS OF DECEPTION AND DECEIT
Another important point to note is that a big number of those in the camp of Quraysh in the Battle of Badr were forced to be there, upon the command of Abu Sufyan through his messenger he dispatched to Mecca earlier.
Against this background, and the grave danger they posed to Islam, it was necessary to attack on this lifeline (business caravan) of the leaders of Quraysh. The intent was to cut the financial and economical trade route between Syria and Mecca, as this was funding all the conspiracies of the Quraysh.
Through weakening the Quraysh in this way, by seizing their trade caravan, it would result in them no longer being able to continue terrorising Muslims and those inclined towards the newly established religion of Islam which was starting to expand.
There are other justifications provided too by our religious scholars in their insightful analysis.
The point I want to make, which is the conclusion drawn by religious scholars who have studied the victory of Badr carefully, is that historians simply narrate the series of incidents the way it occurred. However, they do not understand the connection between the different incidents, to place the whole episode in its proper context.
Yes indeed, Rasulullah (SAWA) became aware of the trade caravan being en-route to Mecca, led by Abu Sufyan. Yes indeed, Rasulullah (SAWA) did consult his companions on what they believe should be done about it. This is narrating the event as it is, but what was the motive of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) as explained in the Holy Quran is the important context to apply to the historical narrative of events.
PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE FROM RASULULLAH (SAWA) WAS TO PROTECT THE FUTURE OF ISLAM
The Holy Quran very clearly explains in verse 7 of Surah Anfaal (chapter 8):
وَإِذْ يَعِدُكُمُ اللَّهُ إِحْدَى الطَّائِفَتَيْنِ أَنَّهَا لَكُمْ وَتَوَدُّونَ أَنَّ غَيْرَ ذَاتِ الشَّوْكَةِ تَكُونُ لَكُمْ وَيُرِيدُ اللَّهُ أَنْ يُحِقَّ الْحَقَّ بِكَلِمَاتِهِ وَيَقْطَعَ دَابِرَ الْكَافِرِينَ
“And when Allah promised you one of the two parties that it shall be yours and you loved that the one not armed should be yours and Allah desired to manifest the truth of what was true by His words and to cut off the root of the unbelievers.”
This verse is making reference to a group of people who were not eager to go to war in the Battle of Badr. What this verse is therefore highlighting is that even in these very early days of Islam, when everyone would be highly motivated at seeing the light of Islam, there was also a small minority in the camp of Rasulullah (SAWA) who had weaker Imaan (faith) and more inclined towards Dunya (worldly pursuits).
Most people have great difficulty accepting this, because the way we learn about the Battle of Badr is that a distinguishing feature of the people of the Battle of Badr is that ALL of them had the highest level of Imaan without any exception. However, what we witness from this verse is that was not necessarily the case.
The key objective of the Battle of Badr was to root out the faithless who were causing major harm to Islam. By attacking on these enemies through a pre-emptive strike, the result will be that they should not even think of attacking the newly established Islamic state of Madina and continue their campaign of torture on the Muslims of Mecca and creating further problems through their spies and with the aid of the Jews of Madina.
Many research scholars who have studied the Battle of Badr have concluded that the purpose of Rasulullah (SAWA) was not to steal the trading merchandise from the caravan of Abu Sufyan for any personal benefit. Rather, it was a means of hitting them where it will hurt most, and thereby cripple their relentless campaign against Rasulullah (SAWA) and the Islamic mission he was establishing. This pre-emptive strike was therefore to cut the roots of the enemy’s evil plans, and thereby protect the future of Islam.
This is very important point to understand from the Quranic perspective on the Battle of Badr, which is discussed in detail in Surah aal-Imraan and Surah Anfaal, as noted earlier.
There are many important lessons to draw from this beautiful discussion on the Battle of Badr.
BATTLE OF UHUD WAS A VERY DIFFERENT REALITY FOR MUSLIMS THAN BATTLE OF BADR
The Battle of Uhud occurred one year after the Battle of Badr, on 3 Shawwal 3AH. This battle ended in a very sad result, with defeat to the Muslims, and the gruesome martyrdom of Hamza, the uncle of Rasulullah (SAWA). Amazingly, we find here that in analysing the situation of the Muslim nation (ummah) after the Battle of Uhud, Almighty Allah (SWT) shares a very important lesson in verse 123 of Surah aal-Imraan (chapter 3 of the Holy Quran):
وَلَقَدْ نَصَرَكُمُ اللَّهُ بِبَدْرٍ وَأَنْتُمْ أَذِلَّةٌ ۖ فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
“And Allah did certainly assist you at Badr when you were weak; be careful of (your duty to) Allah then, that you may give thanks.”
The Muslims had a larger army in the Battle of Uhud and were much better prepared and equipped for war. Despite this, the Muslims lost this battle. However, this verse explains that Almighty Allah (SWT) helped the Muslims at Badr, when they were in an utterly weak position in comparison to their readiness in Uhud.
This verse shares the very important lesson of being conscious of Almighty Allah (SWT) at all times. Perhaps we will then be thankful. This Taqwa is therefore identified as a key shortcoming in the Muslims at Uhud, resulting in their defeat.
It is also a very important reminder that we should not concern ourselves with numbers, as the power of our God consciousness generates synergies to defeat those who may appear mightier in a material sense. The end of verse 249 of Surah Baqarah (chapter 2 of the Holy Quran) has a stark reminder on this:
قَالَ الَّذِينَ يَظُنُّونَ أَنَّهُمْ مُلَاقُو اللَّهِ كَمْ مِنْ فِئَةٍ قَلِيلَةٍ غَلَبَتْ فِئَةً كَثِيرَةً بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ
But those who were convinced that they must meet Allah, said: “How oft, by Allah’s will, Hath a small force vanquished a big one? Allah is with those who steadfastly persevere.”
WHY DID ALLAH (SWT) HELP THE MUSLIMS IN BADR BUT NOT IN UHUD?
We should think about why we have seen in history where a small number have defeated a large number. The Muslims were weak in Badr, but Almighty Allah (SWT) helped. The obvious question that arises then is, why did this same Allah (SWT) not help the Muslims in Uhud? The help of Almighty Allah (SWT) is always there, and Muslims were under the greatest leadership of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). What more could the Muslims have wished for, in Badr and Uhud?
So, the question to ponder is, why did Almighty Allah (SWT) not come to the rescue of the Muslims in the Battle of Uhud, despite helping them in the Battle of Badr? The answer to this question lies in one word – TAQWA! We should not bank on the help of Almighty Allah (SWT) when we do not have that steadfast God consciousness and when we are divided.
These were the clear problems in the Battle of Uhud. The Muslims were not united and chased the spoils of war instead of following the decisive commands of the leader, Rasulullah (SAWA). This lack of God consciousness (Taqwa) led to their eventual defeat at the hands of the enemies.
WILAYAH IS THE SECRET TO ACHIEVING ALLAH’S (SWT) PLEASURE
As noted earlier in this discussion, in the early stages at Badr, there were differences of opinion amongst the camp of Rasulullah (SAWA). Some were only interested in getting after the trade goods. But then there were also the majority, who were very committed and loyal to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). Now, once he made a decision to attack on the business caravan of Abu Sufyan, everyone in his camp was on board.
This is the key point to remember, they all accepted the Wilayah (authority) of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), and with this firm conviction, even though they were one third (313) of the number compared to the enemy (1000), and with no equipment for combat, the Quran explains in verse 123 of Surah aal-Imraan (chapter 3) noted earlier, that Almighty Allah (SWT) helped them at the Battle of Badr.
The secret to this divine help from Almighty Allah (SWT) was Taqwa, being united, and not being consumed in chasing worldly pursuits.
RASULULLAH (SAWA) HAD TO CONTEND WITH DIVERSE SOCIAL DYNAMICS IN BADR AND UHUD
The early verses of Surah Anfaal (chapter 8 of the Holy Quran) speak about the spoils of war. In the Battle of Uhud, as Muslims were approaching victory, there was a difference of opinion on the distribution of the spoils of war. We find that verse 2 – 4 of Surah Anfaal very beautifully describes the attributes of the believers, amongst all the following lessons noted a moment ago:
- Acceptance of the Wilayah of leadership;
- Not being obsessed with this material world;
- Being ready for struggle (Jihad); and
- Offering your life for the sake of the pleasure of Almighty Allah (SWT) and not being afraid of death
There are 5 key qualities of the believers discussed in these 3 verses, and one of them is very much connected to our previous discussion on the diseases of the heart.
The discussion develops further in Surah Anfaal, in verses 5 and 6 which we have already discussed. These verses refer to the same group of people who are not ready for sacrifice and struggle, as they prefer the spoils of this material world with all its illusions.
كَمَا أَخْرَجَكَ رَبُّكَ مِنْ بَيْتِكَ بِالْحَقِّ وَإِنَّ فَرِيقًا مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ لَكَارِهُونَ
- “Even as your Lord caused you to go forth from your house with the truth, though a party of the believers were surely averse.”
يُجَادِلُونَكَ فِي الْحَقِّ بَعْدَمَا تَبَيَّنَ كَأَنَّمَا يُسَاقُونَ إِلَى الْمَوْتِ وَهُمْ يَنْظُرُونَ
- “They disputed with you about the truth after it had become clear, (and they went forth) as if they were being driven to death while they saw (it).”
To emphasize the important lesson we draw from this, you have full right to express your opinion once the leadership consults you. However, it is not acceptable to continue arguing or debating once the decision has been made. This is when we are expected to follow the decision. We see that this was contained in Badr, but in Uhud it went out of hand, and the results are there for us to see.
Verse 7 which follows is what we already expounded upon in the earlier part of this discussion, namely that the whole philosophy and objective of the Battle of Badr was not about stealing the trade goods of the enemy ie. the business caravan of Quraysh led by Abu Sufyan. Instead, it was about launching a pre-emptive strike on the conspiracies of Quraysh, before they attack.
There is nothing wrong with this. We see this in modern day politics too, where pre-emptive strikes may be launched by countries which are enemies with each other, to prevent a possible attack on them.
RAISING OUR HANDS TO OUR LORD (SWT) IMPLORES DIVINE INTERVENTION
The next important issue in the Battle of Badr is referred to in various verses of the Holy Quran. I would like to refer to verse 9 of Surah Anfaal, as it reminds us of the very important lesson on this victorious day of 17th Ramadaan, and that is divine intervention:
إِذْ تَسْتَغِيثُونَ رَبَّكُمْ فَاسْتَجَابَ لَكُمْ أَنِّي مُمِدُّكُمْ بِأَلْفٍ مِنَ الْمَلَائِكَةِ مُرْدِفِينَ
“When you sought aid from your Lord, so He answered you: I will assist you with a thousand of the angels following one another.”
It was a night like this, 17th night of Ramadaan. This is when our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) made his decision that they shall embark on war with the Quraysh the next day. This is despite having no preparation for battle and being extremely small (313) against 1000 well-equipped army of the enemy.
In the eyes of normal people, winning this war was almost impossible. There is no way to win this war when the scales are so heavily tipped against the Muslims, with the stress and tension in the camp to add. In this very tense and stressful situation, they raised their hands for dua (supplication)!
This is what the Holy Quran reminds us about. If all your material resources appear to be stuck and you turn your attention towards Almighty Allah (SWT). This is what Rasulullah (SAWA) and his companions did on this night. They raised their hands altogether, imploring for help from their Lord (SWT).
This is what we read in the first part of verse 9: “When you sought aid from your Lord, so He answered you…”
History has recorded the most beautiful dua that our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) made on the night of 17th Ramadaan. He raised his hands and said: “O Allah, if this small number of followers are killed tomorrow, there will be nobody left to worship you! Only You can help them.”
Now, because they had unity, Taqwa, and full trust in Almighty Allah (SWT), He responds to their call with a thousand angels to support (refer verse 9 of Surah Anfaal above). So, the equation is pretty straightforward:
UNITY + TAQWA + TRUST IN ALLAH (SWT) = ALLAH (SWT) ANSWERS YOU
FINAL VICTORY IS THE PROMISE OF ALMIGHTY ALLAH (SWT)
Moving to verse 10 of Surah Anfaal, Almighty Allah (SWT) says that by the way, the angels are only temporary support to keep you satisfied, otherwise, victory is from Allah (SWT). Angels are simply a means.
وَمَا جَعَلَهُ اللَّهُ إِلَّا بُشْرَىٰ وَلِتَطْمَئِنَّ بِهِ قُلُوبُكُمْ ۚ وَمَا النَّصْرُ إِلَّا مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ
“And Allah only gave it as good news and that your hearts might be at ease thereby; and victory is only from Allah; surely Allah is Mighty, Wise.”
The succeeding verses further elaborate on the divine intervention which came, resulting in the victory of Islam and the defeat of the enemies. This is the day which the Holy Quran describes as a very joyous day for Muslims.
Divine intervention is a reality. Almighty Allah (SWT) has established this universe based upon the system of cause and effect. That being said, it does not mean that there is no exception. It does not mean that there is no divine intervention. In fact, divine intervention is a crucial component in any success. This is what the victory of the Battle of Badr is reminding us.
As we noted earlier, even after Almighty Allah (SWT) mentions the angels as the divine help, victory really belongs to Almighty Allah (SWT). This divine intervention can occur in different forms. Sometimes, the conditions for victory are provided, as an exception. Sometimes, the enemy is all of a sudden in big trouble, totally unexpected. Sometimes, the angels will come. Sometimes the rain will come.
Also, in the Battle of Badr, the camp of Rasulullah (SAWA) were under heavy stress the night before, but after raising their hands in dua, Almighty Allah (SWT) made it possible for them to take some rest.
These are all examples of divine intervention from Almighty Allah (SWT)!
So these are very, very important lessons. We are supposed to try whatever we can, through our normal efforts and energies. However, we should remember that the final victory is only possible with the help of Almighty Allah (SWT). We read this in verse 126 of Surah aal-Imraan (chapter 3 of the Holy Quran):
وَمَا النَّصْرُ إِلَّا مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّهِ الْعَزِيزِ الْحَكِيمِ
“And victory is only from Allah, the Mighty, the Wise.”
Things which appear to us as impossible are in fact not impossible, provided we raise our hands in dua, with Taqwa and the conditions which are the framework for receiving divine help.
COVID-19 SHOULD MAKE EVERYONE WAKE UP TO THE REALITY OF DIVINE INTERVENTION
When we speak about that global revolution of Imam Mahdi (atfs), which will bring justice to the whole world and defeat all the oppressors, establishing Tauheed and justice on the earth, it will be through normal means and not through a miracle. However, it does not mean that it will be without divine intervention.
We reflect on the situation in the world and wonder how it is possible in this complicated world, for one person to lead a revolution and change the whole order, and defeat all the extremely deep-rooted, well-established, evil, oppressive systems on this earth. Yes, it is possible with the struggle of our Imam Mahdi (atfs) and the readiness of his followers, but first and foremost with the dependency on divine intervention.
This element of divine intervention is not present in the materialist world view. Perhaps now in the world of COVID-19, they will be able to realize that with all their power and might, and technological advancement, they are surrendered before this microscopic virus, feeling totally helpless.
Somebody passed a comment, that the total mass of all the coronavirus across the world is probably not more than 5 grams, if that at all. Yet this microscopic enemy in the form of a virus has infected more than 4 million people, with close to 300,000 having died, and the numbers keep climbing every day.
Now, if Almighty Allah (SWT) can bring this whole world to its knees purely through 5 grams of His creation, we can then understand how it is possible that through the leadership of His Wali, Imam Mahdi (atfs), to defeat all the systems of oppression and injustice, and establish justice and Tauheed on the whole earth.
The return of Imam Mahdi (atfs) is the peak of divine intervention, but we cannot ignore this very important reality in our day to day lives, that Almighty Allah (SWT) rescues us in various conditions.
Divine intervention comes about through having firm Taqwa, like in the case of the Battle of Badr, when the people were ready for Jihad (struggle). They were not indulged in the love of this world to the extent where they were scared to sacrifice their life for Islam. Quite the contrary, as they were deeply committed to give anything for the sake of Almighty Allah (SWT).
We see through the Battle of Badr, that with this vision and status of Imaan, a small number of people can be victorious with divine intervention and support.