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Myths of Muhammad

The Myth:

Muhammad Fought
 the Battle of Badr
in Self-Defense

"Our Prophet (peace be upon him) never started hostilities and never fought anyone unless it was truly necessary."

The Truth:

If Muslims are only supposed to fight in self-defense, then the Battle of Badr would had to have been a case in which an enemy was attacking or marching on Muhammad at Medina.  If this is what you want to believe, then stop right now and try to stay away from history books.

Muslim historians of the day meticulously documented the circumstances that preceded the Battle of Badr and there is not the least bit of wiggle room for anyone hoping to believe that Muslims fought in self-defense that day.

In the first place, the Meccans were not marching on Muhammad or Medina (Ibn Kathir v.2 p260). They did eventually send out an army - but it was to protect their caravans from Muslim raiders (who had recently killed Meccan caravan drivers defending their property).  The Meccans were not interested in starting a war; only in seeing that their merchandise and drivers were unmolested by Muhammad’s pirates (see prior article on Muhammad's Caravan Raids).

Another popular misconception propagated by apologists is that the caravans were carrying the stolen goods of Muslims.  There is no evidence for this from the record.  In fact, not only do the historians say that the merchandise belonged to the Quraish, but the caravan was actually traveling to Mecca from Syria rather than the other way:
Then the apostle heard that Abu Sufyan was coming from Syria with a large caravan of Qurish, containing their money and merchandise, accompanied by some thirty or forty men… When the Apostle heard about Abu Sufyan coming from Syria, he summoned the Muslims and said, “This is the Quraish caravan containing their property. Go out to attack it, perhaps Allah will give it as a prey.” (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 428)

When the Messenger of God (SAAS) heard that Abu Sufyan was arriving from Syria, he sent the Muslims out against them, saying, 'This caravan belongs to Quraysh, and will carry much wealth. Attack it; God may present it to you.'  (Ibn Kathir v.II p.253)
The account goes on to say that some of the Muslims were reluctant to participate in the attack because they did not want to go to war.  Muhammad later refers to these peaceful Muslims as ‘Hypocrites’ in the Qur’an, where he also condemns them to Hell and demands that true Muslims deal with them harshly (66:9).

After Muhammad sent his men to attack the caravan, Abu Sufyan (his Meccan adversary) learned of his plans:
When he got near to the Hijaz, Abu Sufyan was seeking news and questioning every rider in his anxiety, until he got news from some riders that Muahmmad had called out his companions against him and his caravan. (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 428)

When Abu Sufyan approached Hijaz he sought information from each mounted man he encountered since he was concerned what might develop.  Eventually he received news from some travellers that Muhammad had readied a force of men against him and his caravan. This alarmed Abu Sufyan and he commissioned Damdam h. 'Amr al-Ghifari, sending him on to Mecca with orders to go to Quraysh and get them to prepare for battle to save their property (Ibn Kathir v. 2 p.253)
Abu Sufyan tried to avoid a battle by changing his route and calling for help. The Meccans then sent out a larger force of about 900 men to rescue the caravan.

A statement made by a Muslim participant at the time confirms that they were not expecting a battle, meaning that the Quraish were not threatening them:
No; we just don't have the strength to do battle with them. We came seeking the caravan (Ibn Kathir v.2 p.262
Muhammad himself declared that the Quraish of Mecca were simply trying to protect their property:
The Quraysh have come to protect their horsemen. (Tabari, Volume V11, p.31)
A lengthy cat and mouse game ensued between Muhammad and the Meccans, in which the Quraish do nearly everything they can to avoid a conflict and make their way home (Ishaq/Hisham 433 to 443, Ibn Kathir v.2 p.264).  Muhammad is so desperate for a fight that he begins capturing and beating civilians for information on Abu Sufyan's whereabouts:
They set off and reached Badr. People came to them with reports of Quraysh, and one of these was a black youth of the Banii al-Hajjaj whom they captured. The Companions of the Messenger of God (SAAS) asked him about Abu Sufyan and those men with him. He would respond, 'I have no knowledge of Abu Sufyan... When he said this they beat him...  (Ibn Kathir v.2 p.261)
Eventually Muhammad successfully forces the Quraish into battle by deliberately stopping up the water wells on which they depended for the trek back to Mecca - and then planting his army between the remaining wells and the thirsty Meccans.

What part of this could possibly be confused with self-defense on the part of Muhammad?

At that point, the Muslims clearly had the advantage against the weary and reluctant Meccans, even though they were lesser in number.  Initially, they amused themselves by killing the few men desperate enough to try and reach the water:
Al-Aswad, who was a quarrelsome ill-natured man, stepped forth and said, “I swear to God that I will drink from their cistern or destroy it or die before reaching it.”  Hamza [a Muslim strongman] came forth against him and when the two met, Hamza smote him and sent his foot and half his shank flying as he was near the cistern.  He fell on his back and lay there, blood streaming from his foot toward his comrades.  Then he crawled to the cistern and threw himself into it for the purpose of fulfilling his oath, but Hamza followed him and smote him…” (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 443)
The Muslims toyed with several other thirst-crazed Meccans in the same deadly manner before Muhammad finally gave the order to rout the “enemy.”

The period following the victorious battle was one of giddy celebration for the Muslims.  The decapitated heads of Muhammad’s opponents from Mecca were presented to him, and their slayers honored.  Live captives were brought before him as well, where he ordered some ransomed and others executed.  In what seemed bizarre even to his own men, Muhammad walked among the bodies of the dead Meccans and taunted them, insisting that they could hear him in Hell (Bukhari 59:314).

The captured wealth of the Meccans was divided among the victors.  Hamza, the man who had slaughtered the first Meccan attempting to reach water, turned his cruel amusement toward defenseless animals, cutting the humps off of camels and disemboweling them for no reason other than to relish their agony (Bukhari 59:340).

Amid the drunken carnage, Allah “spoke” to Muhammad and told him to make sure that the other Muslims gave him a fifth of the war booty.  These words have become permanently recorded in the Qur’an (8:1), even though they have no relevance today. 

The prophet of Islam also informed his men that their victory was actually due to a legion of angels sent down by Allah (8:9) - which were, of course, visible only to Muhammad (8:50).  (For some reason, the angels didn’t show at the next battle, in which the Muslims were routed at Uhud).

Much of the 8th Sura, one of the Qur’an’s more violent chapters, was “revealed” following the aftermath of the Battle of Badr.  Many of the verses make little sense outside of their historical context, proving that the Sira (biography of Muhammad) is necessary for interpreting the Quran.

In this case, the historical context is completely at odds with any misconception on the part of modern-day Muslims that the Battle of Badr was a defensive conflict.  Only the Meccans fought in defense of their lives and property that day – and they did so reluctantly after Muhammad took monumental steps to force them into battle.

Further Reading:

Badr and the Greatest Jihad (Video)


Myths of Muhammad Index

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