Battle of Badr
Part of Muslim–Quraysh wars

Early 14th century depiction of Muhammad encouraging his followers before the Battle of Badr
DateMarch 624 (Ramadan 2 AH)
Badr, Hejaz (present-day Saudi Arabia)
23°44′N 38°46′E / 23.733°N 38.767°E / 23.733; 38.767
Result Muslim victory
Early Muslims Quraysh forces from Mecca
Commanders and leaders

Total: 315[1]

Departing from Mecca:

At the time of the battle:

Casualties and losses

Total: 14 killed

  • Muhajirun: 6
  • Ansar: 8
    • Khazraj: 6
    • Aws: 2

Total: 140[5][f]

  • 70 killed
  • 70 captured
Battle of Badr is located in Saudi Arabia
Battle of Badr
Location within Saudi Arabia

The Battle of Badr took place in March 624 C.E.,[6][7] in the Arabia town of Badr between the Islamic prophet Muhammad-led Muslim army and a relief column of the Meccan Quraysh tribe.[8] The latter had originally set out to protect their homeward-bound trade caravan that Muhammad was about to raid.[9][2] Prior to this, Muhammad had ordered his followers to carry out several raids on Quraysh caravans, which, despite initial failures, finally succeeded in gaining their first plunder at Nakhla, when the Quraysh were observing a holy month forbidding them from shedding blood.[10][11]

In addition to many smaller caravans, the Quraysh sent two major caravans each year.[12] One of these was sent to Syria in the autumn of 623, led by Abu Sufyan and carrying the investments of all the Meccans. Muhammad tried to ambush it on its departure, but failed. On the caravan's return journey, Muhammad planned to raid it again. The caravan reportedly consisted of 1,000 camels and 50,000 dinars worth of goods. At Zarqa, Abu Sufyan got wind of Muhammad's intention and sent a messenger to Mecca for help. A relief column, said to have been 1,000 strong, under Abu Jahl then set out to protect the caravan.[1][13]

Approaching the watering place of Badr, Abu Sufyan, fearing Muhammad's possible attack, conducted a reconnaissance. When he discovered that two Muslim scouts had just visited the town and left, he hastily diverted the caravan to the coastal road to the west,[14][2] even though it would deprive them of access to fresh water.[2] Once at a safe distance, he sent another messenger to update the relief column. Upon learning of the caravan's safe escape, the column, already bivouacked about 3 miles from Badr, faced a split. Some, whose close relatives were among the Muslims, chose to return home,[15] leaving behind an estimated 600–700 men.[3][16] When Muhammad learned of the column's presence from their water carriers, he followed Hubab ibn al-Mundhir's advice and immediately ordered his followers to seal the wells with sand and stones,[17][18] leaving only one for him and the Muslims, thus forcing the remaining Quraysh to fight for water.[19][20]

The battle began with duels between champions of both sides and escalated into wild melee.[21] While the Muslims were fueled by Muhammad's promises of paradise, the Quraysh were not only grappling with thirst, but many were reluctant to kill their kin among the Muslims.[22][23][24] They had assumed that a mere show of force would be enough to scare off the Muslims, and had not expected such ferocity from them.[23] Shortly before noon, when they could no longer see their leader Abu Jahl hovering above them after his horse fell, the Quraysh column broke in disarray and turned to flight.[25][23] The Muslims slashed them as they fled,[25] and managed to acquire a number of captives for ransom, as well as booty, which, though not as abundant as that brought by the caravan, was still considerable.[23][26]


Muhammad's rise to prophethood and the beginning of conflicts

See also: Muhammad

Muhammad was born in Mecca to the Quraysh clan of Banu Hashim around the year of 570.[27][28] At the age of 40 he claimed to have received his first revelation from God through the angel Gabriel in the cave of Hira.[29] He then spread his new religion of Islam to his fellow tribesmen. At first, he met no serious resistance from the people of Mecca, who were indifferent to his proletyizing activities, until he began to attack their beliefs, which led to tensions.[30][31][32][33] In 620, Muhammad met six men from Banu Khazraj, one of the two Yemeni Arabic tribes that were settled in Medina, the other was Banu Aws. The six individuals had previously raided Jews in their locality, who in turn would warn them that a prophet would be sent to punish them. On hearing Muhammad's religious message, they said to each other, "This is the very prophet of whom the Jews warned us. Don't let them get to him before us!" Upon embracing Islam, they returned to Medina and shared their encounter, hoping to bridge the divide between their people—the Khazraj and the Aws, who had been in conflict for years—through the common leadership of Muhammad.[34][35]

In 621 and 622, two secret meetings were held in Aqaba where the Muslim converts from the Khazraj and Aws pledged their allegiance to Muhammad.[36] The latter pledge included an oath to protect Muhammad as they would defend their own wives and children.[37] Paradise was Muhammad's promise to them in return.[38][39] Shortly thereafter, Muhammad took his Meccan followers to relocate to Medina.[40][41] This migration is termed the Hijrah, which literally means the severing of kinship ties.[42][43] The Meccan Muslims who undertook the migration were then called the Muhajirun, while the Medinan Muslims were dubbed the Ansar.[44]

During his early days in Medina, Muhammad expected to gain the approval of the local Jews and endeavored to convert them to his religion.[44] However, his efforts were unsuccessful and even met with ridicule as the Jews perceived discrepancies between the Quran and their own scriptures. The Quran then charged the Jews with concealing and tampering with parts of their holy texts. The Jewish rejection and criticism pose a threat to his prophetic claims, and therefore the views of Muhammad and the Quran toward them deteriorated.[45][46][47] This led to the change of the Muslim direction of prayer, the qibla, from Jerusalem to the Kaaba in Mecca.[48][49]

Muhammad's designation of Mecca as the center of Islam, coupled with his need to settle scores with the Meccans after his threats of divine punishment against them never materialized,[50] as well as the economic hardships he and the Muhajirun faced in Medina,[51][52] culminated in a new divine directive—to fight the polytheists.[50] Accordingly, Muhammad set out his followers to raid the Quraysh trade caravans.[50][53][54] Some of his Meccan followers were hesitant to partake because it would mean attacking their own tribesmen. This annoyed Muhammad and prompted the revelation of Qur'anic verse 2:216, among others, which asserts that fighting is good and has been made obligatory for them.[50] After several months of failures, Muhammad achieved his first successful raid, at Nakhla, during a month in which the pagans prohibited themselves from shedding blood.[10][11] When the rich booty was brought to him in Medina,[50] Muhammad was met with censure from the locals. He contended that his followers had misunderstood his command, and he postponed taking his one-fifth share of the booty until a verse was finally revealed that justified the attack.[55][56][57][58]


Grand Meccan caravan and Muhammad's attempts to raid it

In the autumn of 623, the Quraysh dispatched a vast trade caravan, led by Abu Sufyan, to Syria.[1] This was one of the major caravans they usually sent each year, the other in the spring.[12] The entire Quraysh people had a share in the investment. When Muhammad heard about it from his secret agents in Mecca, he gathered his followers to ambush it on its departure but failed.[13][1]

In January 634, the same caravan made its way home.[1] It was reported to consist of 1,000 camels and goods worth a total of 50,000 dinars.[13] During its stop at Zerqa, about a hundred miles south of Damascus, Abu Sufyan obtained information that Muhammad had intended to again raid the caravan.[1] So Abu Sufyan sent a messenger to Mecca for aid. When the messenger arrived in the city, he tore his shirt, cut his camel's nose in despair, and cried, "Oh, Quraysh! The caravan, the caravan! Muhammad and his comrades are lying in wait to seize your wealth which is with Abu Sufyan! You will not be in time to save it! Help! Help!"[1][2] A relief column, said to have been 1,000 strong, under Abu Jahl then set out to protect the caravan.[1]

Muhammad planned to ambush the caravan at the watering place of Badr. He sent two of his followers ahead to scout the place, and there they overheard a conversation between two local girls, which confirmed that the caravan would soon be making a stop in the town.[59] Since the people of Badr made a hefty profit by providing services to caravans, it was common for them to obtain advance information about their arrival.[60] The scouts then reported their findings to Muhammad, and he hastily rallied his followers.[61] 314 Muslims, consisting of 83 muhajirin and 231 ansar, joined his force. They were so poor that they could muster only 72 camels and 2 horses for transportation, with each of the three or four men taking turns riding a camel.[1][62]

As the Muslim army departed, Hubayb ibn Yusuf and Qays ibn Muharrit, two expert swordsmen from Medina, followed Muhammad. They were still pagans then. They wanted a share of the expected plunder, but Muhammad said they had to embrace Islam first. They initially refused, with Hubayb arguing that Muhammad was their sister's son and protege, which was enough for cooperation by pagan standards. But Muhammad did not accept that; he demanded their conversions. Qays gave up and returned, but Hubayb changed his mind and joined Islam later before the fight.[63]

The caravan changing course

Abu Sufyan, with his caravan approaching Badr from the north, was deeply concerned that Muhammad might make his raid on the town. So he scouted the town, questioned a local, and learned that two camelmen had just visited and left after resting and fetching water. He examined the place where they had been and noticed some camel dung containing a date kernel similar to those from Medina. This confirmed his suspicion. He then rushed to the caravan and changed their route to the coastal road west of Badr,[14][2] even though it would deprive them of access to fresh water.[2]

On the other hand, the Muslims coming from the east received word as they passed Safra that the Quraysh had left Mecca to meet and safeguard the caravan. There was no news, however, of the caravan's arrival in Badr.[64] While the Muhajirun reaffirmed their unwavering support for Muhammad, he was concerned about whether the Ansar would still fight in this offensive raid, as opposed to the pledge of Aqaba, where they only vowed to protect him if he was attacked in Medina. To Muhammad's delight, Sa'd ibn Muadh, one of the Ansar's chiefs, assured that they would follow him even if they had to jump into the sea. Pleased with the responses, Muhammad advanced his troops, declaring, "For God has promised us one of the two parties."[64]

Muhammad changed his target

A map of the Badr campaign, showing the route taken by Abu Sufyan to protect his caravan from the Levant to Mecca, the route taken by Amr ibn Hishām (Abu Jahl) from Mecca to Badr, and the route taken by Muhammad and the Muslims from Medina to Mecca.

After the caravan had traveled a safe distance from Badr, Abu Sufyan sent another messenger to the relief column. However, unbeknownest to him, the two parties had already passed each other via different routes. When the messenger finally delivered the message, the column was already within three miles of Badr and had sent some men to fetch water from the well of Badr.[65] Learning the caravan's safe escape, the column was faced with internal divisions.[66] Some chose to return home, including:

Leaving behind an estimated 600–700 men who, despite some hesitation, remained at the urging of Abu Jahl.[3][16]

When the Quraysh water-carriers was fetching water from the wells of Badr, the Muslims managed to capture two of them. After some beatings, they disclosed the presence of the Meccan troops. Muhammad asked how many Quraysh nobles were accompanying them, and the watermen replied that there were seventeen and listed their names. Excitedly, Muhammad exclaimed to his followers, "Mecca has thrown the pieces of its liver at you!"[67]

Muhammad promptly led his troops through the mountain pass to the center of the northern plain, securing the nearest wells and calling for a halt. Hubab ibn al-Mundhir, an Ansar military leader, inquired if this arrangement was a divine command or Muhammad's own idea. When Muhammad clarified it was the latter, Hubab suggested moving forward, filling the wells of Badr to the west and south with stones and sand, and constructing a cistern to the east for ample water. Muhammad accepted the plan, instructing his followers to implement it immediately.[17][18][20] A hut was specially erected for Muhammad, with a number of camels tethered outside for him to escape in case the Muslims were losing.[68][69] The sealing of Badr's wells compelled the Quraysh to battle for water.[19][20] One of them had attempted to reach the Muslims' water cistern and drink from it, but on his way, he was killed by Hamza ibn Abd al-Muttalib, Muhammad's uncle.[8][70]

Abu Jahl and his forces advanced to the hill south of the Badr Plain in the morning and set up camp. When the scout they had sent returned with an assessment of Muhammad's army's strength, the scout expressed concern, stating, "One of them will not be killed until he kills one of you." If the Quraysh lost as many men as their enemies, he questioned, "What is the good of living after that?" This remark sparked dissension among the Meccans. Utba ibn Rabi'a, a Quraysh noble whose son had joined the Muslims, advised his fellow nobles against entering battle. Upon hearing this, Abu Jahl criticized him, claiming his lungs were swollen with fear. Utba countered, asserting that his bravery would be proven on the battlefield. According to an Islamic tradition, Utba, in an attempt to dissuade the Quraysh from fighting their kinsmen, said, "Do you not see them," referring to the Muslims, "squatting on their mounts, holding on tightly, licking their lips like snakes?" Abu Jahl reportedly reacted angrily, stating that if anyone else had said it, he would have bitten them.[71]


Hamza ibn Abdul-Muttalib duels Shaybah ibn Rabi'ah, as portrayed in Tārīkhunā bi-uslūb qaṣaṣī (published 1935)

As the Quraysh marched to meet the Muslims, Muhammad exclaimed: "O God! here are the Quraysh in their vanity and pride, fighting against you and calling your prophet a liar. O God! provide the help you promised me. Crush these people this morning."[66] A nearby tribe had offered the Quraysh reinforcements the previous night, but they refused.[72] Utba ibn Rabi'a, accompanied by his brother Shayba and son Walid, went forward and challenged three Muslim warriors to individual combat. Initially, three Ansars answered, but Utba insisted on Meccans of comparable status. Hamza, Ali, and Ubayda then stepped forth. Hamza was Muhammad's uncle, while Ali was Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law. Hamza and Ali managed to kill Shayba and Walid respectively. Meanwhile, Ubayda and Utba dealt each other near-fatal blows. Ali and Hamza then finished off Utba and brought their comrade Ubayda to Muhammad. Ubayda asked if he was a martyr, and Muhammad replied in the affirmative, thus allowing him to die happily.[73][74]

The battle then reportedly continued with wild melee, though no record of who attacked first. With their positioning, the Muslims forced the Quraysh to face the blistering morning sun to the east.[21] While Abu Jahl ordered his force not to kill the Muslims but to capture them so that they could be punished,[24] Muhammad promised his battling followers paradise, as well as the weapons and armors from the enemies each of them killed.[22][23][24] A Muslim named Awf ibn al-Harith asked Muhammad what made God laugh with glee, and he answered that it was when a Muslim, without mail, charged into the enemy. Upon learning this, Awf removed his mail and plunged into the ranks of the Quraysh until he was killed.[25][22] Although Muhammad did not participate in combat and spent much of his time praying in the hut provided for him, he would occasionally go out, motivate his followers, and throw pebbles at his enemies, shouting, "Evil looks on their faces!"[23][75]

The Meccans, who were essentially merchants, had apparently assumed that a simple display of force would suffice to frighten off Muhammad's followers. They had not anticipated such ferocity on the part of the Muslims. Many shied away from killing their kin and setting off a new cycle of revenge.[23] When the Muslims managed to knock down Abu Jahl's horse, the Quraysh column, no longer able to see their leader hovering above them, shuddered and broke in disarray. Overtaken by a combination of thirst, fatigue, and doubt, they turned to flight just before midday.[25][23] It was at this point that the actual killing and maiming started, as the Muslims chased and slashed their blades at the fleeing Quraysh.[25] Abu Jahl's son, Ikrima, desperately shielded his father, whose leg was severed by Mu'adh ibn Amr's sword. Ikrima managed to slash Mu'adh's shoulder, staggering him and causing him to fall back. With Abu Jahl too injured to move, Ikrima retreated alone, leaving his father behind near a thicket of bushes. Not long after, Abu Jahl received another blow from a passing Muslim, but it was still not enough to kill him.[76]


Imprisonment of captives and their ransom

The death of Abu Jahl, and the casting of the Meccan dead into dry wells

As the Quraysh fled in panic, Muhammad's forces began to collect captives.[77][23] He ordered the search for Abu Jahl, his former childhood friend who had become an adversary.[78] A Muslim named Abdullah ibn Mas'ud discovered him, barely clinging to life from his wounds. Ibn Mas'ud then placed his foot on his neck and inquired, "Are you Abu Jahl?" Upon confirmation, he grasped the dying man's beard and decapitated his head.[77][75] Holding it up, he then cast it at Muhammad's feet, who jubilantly exclaimed, "The head of the enemy of God. Praise God, for there is no other but He!"[75][77][78] Muhammad then ordered a large pit to be dug. The deceased Quraysh numbering 50–70, were cast into it, while Muhammad recited over them, "O people of the pit, have you found that what God threatened is true? For I have found that what my lord promised me is true." His companions were surprised and asked if he spoke to the dead. Muhammad assured them that those corpses heard what he said.[78][77]

Muhammad's party gained booty that, while not as extensive as Abu Sufyan's caravan, was still considerable: 150 camels, 10 horses, a substantial amount of weaponry and protective gear, assorted possessions of the fleeing individuals, as well as some goods the Meccans brought along in the hopes of conducting business along the way.[23] The Muslims also acquired a number of captives. One of them was Muhammad's uncle al-Abbas, who, according to some sources, had been Muhammad's secret agent in Mecca.[79][80][81] Umar wanted all the captives killed, but Abu Bakr and others suggested exchanging them for ransom, for besides them being their kinsmen, the revenue from the ransom would strengthen the Muslims.[23][82] Muhammad chose that ransom must be requested first, and afterwards, they could execute anyone for whom no one was prepared to pay.[23]

A painting from Siyer-i Nebi, Ali beheading Nadr ibn al-Harith in the presence of Muhammad and his companions

Among the prisoners were Nadr ibn al-Harith and Uqba ibn Abi Mu'ayt.[83] Previously, during Muhammad's time in Mecca, the two had asked him three questions, which they had obtained by consulting with Jewish rabbis in Medina, to confirm his prophethood. Although Muhammad promised to give the answer the next day, 15 days later the answer from his God still did not come, leading to gossip among the Meccans and causing Muhammad distress. Muhammad was able to give his answer some time later after being informed by the angel Gabriel, but neither they nor the Jews converted to Islam afterwards.[84][85] Upon learning that Uqba and Nadr were his prisoners, Muhammad ordered them to be executed. When Uqba pleaded, "But who will take care of my children, Muhammad?" Muhammad replied, "Hell."[83][86][87]

As Muhammad and his troops made their way back to Medina, they encountered a congregation of Muslims at Rawha, all eager to welcome them back. However, one of the victors, Salama ibn Salama, was heard to grumble: "Why do you congratulate us? By God, we were only up against bald old women; we cut their throats like the camels offered up for sacrifice with their feet tied together." Muhammad smiled and said, "Yes, but nephew, they were the chiefs!"[88][89] The Muslims obtained a large amount of ransom money for the captives.[88] Nevertheless, several Islamic traditions report that later on, Muhammad received a divine revelation stating that Umar's recommendation to kill the captives was actually the right one; and that if God's punishment were to descend from the heavens—due to them having released the captives for ransom—only Umar would be spared.[82]


Muhammad used this triumph as a propaganda tool to assert the validity of his prophetic claims. It was not his army who killed his enemies during the battle, the Qur'an says in verse 8:17, "but it was God who killed them, and it was not you who shot when you shot, but it was God who shot." He doubled down by pointing out that this was the divine punishment he had promised the Quraysh for rejecting his prophethood.[90] Upon his return to Medina, Muhammad immediately worked to solidify his authority. He instructed the removal of Asma bint Marwan, who had criticized him in poetry.[91] One of his followers executed her while she slept with her children, the youngest still nursing in her arms. Upon learning of the deed, Muhammad lauded the act as a service to God and his Messenger.[92][91][93] Shortly after, he called upon his followers to end the life of the centenarian poet Abu Afak.[91] Simultaneously, Muhammad employed poets like Hassan ibn Thabit to circulate his propaganda among the tribes.[91][94] When inquired if he could shield Muhammad from his foes, Ibn Thabit is reported to have extended his tongue and claimed there was no defense against his verbal prowess.[91][95]

As the number of his followers grew, Muhammad set his sights on the Jewish tribe of Banu Qaynuqa. They were mainly goldsmiths and armorers.[96] Muhammad came to their area and invited them to convert to Islam if they wanted to be safe. But when it became clear that they would not, Muhammad ordered them to leave their land,[97][98] and some time later, Muhammad led his followers to lay siege to them.[99] Muslim sources give different reasons for the siege, including an altercation involving Hamza and Ali in the Banu Qaynuqa market, and another version by Ibn Ishaq, which tells the story of a Muslim woman being pranked by a Qaynuqa goldsmith.[100][101]


"Badr" has become popular among Muslim armies and paramilitary organizations. "Operation Badr" was used to describe Egypt's offensive in the 1973 Yom Kippur War as well as Pakistan's actions in the 1999 Kargil War. Iranian offensive operations against Iraq in the late 1980s were also named after Badr.[102] During the 2011 Libyan civil war, the rebel leadership stated that they selected the date of the assault on Tripoli to be the 20th of Ramadan, marking the anniversary of the Battle of Badr.[103]

The Battle of Badr was featured in the 1976 film The Message, the 2004 animated movie Muhammad: The Last Prophet, the 2012 TV series Omar and the 2015 animated movie Bilal: A New Breed of Hero.

See also


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  5. ^ "Sahih al-Bukhari: Book 64 (Military Expeditions led by the Prophet (Al-Maghaazi), Hadith 37".
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  14. ^ a b Glubb 2001, p. 181–2.
  15. ^ Glubb 2001, p. 182–3.
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  101. ^ Glubb 2001, p. 197.
  102. ^ Wright, Robin (1989). In the name of God: The Khomeini decade. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 133. ISBN 9780671672355.
  103. ^ Laub, Karin (21 August 2011). "Libyan Rebels Say They Are Closing In on Tripoli". Associated Press (via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution). Retrieved 21 August 2011.


Books and articles

Online references