The small Muslim community in Mecca eventually expanded until its members began to clash with the Quraysh tribe–the tribe Muhammad (SAW) and many others had broken off with. Close-knit Arab society was ripped apart by the seams with the arrival of Islam, as many who had once affiliated themselves with family tribes abandoned their social status to become Muslims. Especially in Mecca, this change was not welcome.
When it became too dangerous for large groups of Muslims to congregate in Mecca, Muhammad (SAW) decided to send a community to live with Christians in Ethiopia, and around seventy other followers north to the town of Yathrib, which would later be called Medina. There, they would establish a community safe from the invasions of the Quraysh tribe. Muhammad (SAW) decided not to join them immediately. But when he learned of a plot against his life and that of companion Abu Bakr, he decided to flee. As the story goes, a reward was offered for Muhammad’s (SAW) life. He and Abu Bakr decided to hide in a cave from their assassins, and while they were waiting, Allah (SWT) sent a spider to speedily spin a complete web across the entrance of the cave. When the Quraysh searching for Muhammad (SAW) saw that the web was unbroken, they concluded that it was impossible for Muhammad (SAW) to have entered it, so they continued their search elsewhere and his (SAW) life was spared.
The migration of the Prophet (SAW) and his followers north to Medina became known as “year one” and the basis of the Islamic calendar. It not only marked the geographic expansion of Islam throughout the Arabian peninsula and to Africa, but it also marked a strengthening of the community. Jews and Muslims who had come from tribes throughout the region banded together to form a community free of past tribal ties. Muslim society blossomed: equipped with laws, a standing army, and a common heritage, it set the stage for the expansion of Islam throughout the world. Indeed, though Islam was extremely contained and young as a religion, from Medina Muhammad (SAW) wrote to the leaders of the world, calling them to submit to Allah (SWT). From Medina, Islam would begin to change the world.
The first big battle the Muslims were to fight would occur during Ramadan, two years after the Hijrah. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had received information that a caravan led by Abu Sufyan was headed back from Syria to Mecca, and after putting together a force of a little over 300 men he marched to Badr to meet them. Abu Sufyan, for his part, had requested a much larger force come to protect the caravan, which included well over 900 men, who were so sure of their numbers they thought it would be an easy battle to win with the Muslims. In the Qur’an (8:47), it describes them as such:
“ وَلاَ تَكُونُواْ كَٱلَّذِينَ خَرَجُواْ مِن دِيَارِهِم بَطَراً وَرِئَآءَ ٱلنَّاسِ وَيَصُدُّونَ عَن سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ وَٱللَّهُ بِمَا يَعْمَلُونَ مُحِيطٌ ”
“And be not as those who came forth from their dwellings boastfully and to be seen of men, and hinder (men) from the way of Allah, while Allah is surrounding all they do.”
Furthermore, it says (8:49):
“ إِذْ يَقُولُ ٱلْمُنَافِقُونَ وَٱلَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ غَرَّ هَـٰؤُلاۤءِ دِينُهُمْ وَمَن يَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ فَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ ”
“Lo! the hypocrites (Quraysh)say, and those in whose hearts is a disease: “These people,- their religion has misled them (into thinking they can win).” But if any trust in Allah, behold! Allah is Exalted in might, Wise.”
However, the Muslims indeed had the support of Allah (SWT) on their side (in the Qur’an, it says He sent a thousand angels to help them (8:9)), and the day after the two camped out the battle commenced, with the Meccans facing a crushing defeat from the Muslims. In all, over seventy Meccans died and about seventy were taken prisoner, while only about fifteen Muslims were killed. This battle was an important victory for the Muslims because it inspired a great deal self-confidence in them, and proved to all that they were a formidable force to be reckoned with, much to the chagrin of the Meccans.1
The second great battle that would take place between the Muslims and the Meccans would be in the third year after Hijrah, during the month of Shawwal. Under the leadership of Abu Sufyan, who had been pushed by the anger of those who lost friends and family at the battle of Badr, a force of over 3,000 men marched towards Madinah to take revenge on the Muslims. In response, the Prophet (SAW) assembled a force of about 1,000 men to meet the Meccans outside of Medina.
However, this battle would not be won by the Muslims, even though early on they appeared to be winning. The Prophet (SAW) had ordered approximately between 50-100 archers to stand guard on Mount Uhud to the rear of the Muslim forces, and were under strict orders to stay put until the Prophet (SAW) told them they could leave their post. However, once it appeared the Muslims were on the edge of victory, they left their station to join the other Muslims on the ground. Khalid ibn Walid, who would later become a very well-known companion of the Prophet (SAW) , noticed and sought to exploit this weakness by directing some Meccan forces to approach the Muslims from behind, where they were taken by surprise.
In the confusion that followed, the Prophet’s (SAW) uncle Hamza ibn Abdul Muttalib was killed, and rumors flew that the Prophet (SAW) had been killed himself, which greatly disheartened the Muslims and didn’t help the situation any. However, once news came that he had only been injured and was not in fact dead, the Muslims’ spirits were buoyed enough that they were able to get themselves together and push the Quraysh to eventually withdraw their forces to Mecca.
This battle would stand as an important lesson to the Muslims, which was to follow the Prophet’s (SAW) orders no matter what and also not to have over-confidence in their abilities. It was their surety that they had won which eventually cost them a victory, and the Muslims would not forget this fact in the battles to come.2
The Battle of the Trench would be one of the last big battles between the Muslims and the Quraysh, and took place during Thul Qai’dah five years after Hijrah. The Meccans had been preparing for this attack since the battle of Uhud, and marched towards Madinah with the about 10,000 men and 600 horses they had managed to round up. When the Prophet (SAW) heard about the coming army from Mecca, he immediately instructed the Muslims to dig a trench around the city of Madinah.
The Muslims moved quickly to accomplish this enormous task. As they were digging, Umar (RAA) was having difficulty dislodging a rock from the ground. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) struck it with his pickaxe, and at the same moment lightning flashed over the city and towards the south. He struck it a second time and at once lightning flared in the direction of Uhud mountain and toward the north. With a third and final blow, the rock broke into pieces and lightning flashed once more, this time reflecting from the east. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said:
By the light of the first I saw the castles of Yemen; by the light of the second I saw the castles of Syria; by the light of the third I saw the white palace of Kisra (Chosroes, King of Persia) at Mada’in. Through the first Allah (SWT) has opened to me Yemen; through the second He has opened to me Syria and the West; and through the third the East.
The trench around the entire city was completed within six days. When the Meccans arrived, they were taken by surprise by the trench, and though their ground forces were far superior to the Muslims they were unable to cross the trench to fight them. So, the Meccans decided they would lay siege to Madinah in an effort to get the Muslims to either leave and force them to fight or to finally admit defeat to the Meccans.
However, after about two weeks the Muslims still would not admit defeat despite the siege, and the Meccans gave up and returned to Mecca. The failure of the Quraysh to defeat the Muslims once again strengthened the position of the Prophet (SAW) and the Muslims, and would further lower the spirits of the Meccans as to whether they could actually beat their enemy of Islam.3
The year after the treaty of Hudaibiya with the Quraysh tribe, the Prophet (SAW) decided to send out letters to the surrounding heads of state summoning them to Islam. He chose six of his companions to be ambassadors: Dihyah ibn Khalifah al-Kalbi (RAA) as ambassador to the Byzantine Empire, Abdullah bin Hudhafah (RAA) to the Persian Empire, Amr bin Umayyah (RAA) to Abyssinia, Hatib’ bin Abi Baitah (RAA) to Egypt, Shuja bin Wahab al-Asadi (RAA) to Syria, and Ala bin Hadrami (RAA) to Bahrain. Each of the Prophet’s (SAW) letters were sealed with the words “Muhammad Rasul Allah” (Mohammad the Messenger of Allah). The following is the letter Prophet Muhammad (SAW) sent to Heraclius, the emperor of the Byzantine Empire:
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. This letter is from Muhammad the slave of Allah and his Apostle to Heraclius, the ruler of the Byzantines. Peace be upon him who follows the right path. Furthermore, I invite you to Islam and if you become a Muslim you will be safe, and Allah will double your reward, and if you reject this invitation of Islam you will be committing a sin by misguiding your subjects. And I recite to you Allah’s (SWT) statement:
‘O People of the Scriptures! Come to a word common to you and us that we worship none but Allah and that we associate nothing in worship with Him, and that none of us shall take others as Lords beside Allah. Then if they turn away, say: Bear witness that we are Muslims (those who have surrendered to Allah).’ (3:64)
With these simple words, Muhammad (SAW) would soon overcome the most dominant empires of his time and lead his people to becoming the strongest civilization on Earth.
1 Watt, W. Montgomery. “Badr.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2009. Brill Online. University of Texas at Austin. 24 August 2009
2 Robinson, C.F. “Uḥud.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2009. Brill Online. University of Texas at Austin. 24 August 2009
3 Watt, W. Montgomery. “Ḵh̲andaḳ.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2009. Brill Online. University of Texas at Austin. 24 August 2009