Muhammad had hardly breathed a sigh of relief in Medina when he was confronted with the series of military expeditions against the fronts of the heathen Meccans. Attack was apprehended every moment from without and treachery from within. Small detachments of the Qoraish of Mecca used to go out on marauding expeditions and scour the country right up to the outskirts of Medina. Once, one such party lifted camels from the very pastures of the town.
From the start of Ramdan, a report reached to Medina that a large trading caravan of Qoraish was returning to Mecca from Syria under the leadership of Abu Sufian bin Harb, one of the most astute men, accompanied by a fifty armed guards. It has been pointed out that this richly loaded caravan constituted a grave threat to the security of Medina, therefore, Muhammad dispatched Talha bin Ubaidullah and Saeed bin Zaid, to gather intelligence about the caravan and to report back. Abu Sufian, apprehending the blockade by the Muslims, sent a fast rider to Mecca in advance to explain the situation to the Qoraish and bring adequate force for the safeguarding of the caravan.
In the interim, Muhammad dispatched small reconnaissance parties to keep an eye on the movements of the enemy as well as to approach certain tribes to secure their neutrality. It so happened that one such party of eight persons was sent out under Abdullah bin Jahash. They were given sealed instructions by Muhammad, requiring them not to open the cover, until two days had passed. When opened as directed after two days' march, it was found to contain the orders that the party should proceed to Nakhlah, between Mecca and Taif, and there keep track of the movements of the Qoraish. The party arrived at Nakhlah, and after few days, they encountered a small caravan of Qoraish on its way from Taif to Mecca. They attacked the four persons, who were in charge of the caravan, of whom one Amr bin Hadharmi, was killed, two were captured and the fourth escaped. The scouting party took over the merchandise of the caravan and made haste to return to Medina. When news reached Muhammad, he was severely reprimanded Abdullah bin Jahash for transgressing his express commands.
It may be pointed out that the sealed orders of Muhammad to Abdullah bin Jahash contained the word tarassadu, meaning "to keep a watch" and not to lay an ambush. Margoliouth, Dr. Zwemer and other European scholars have gloated over this incident and have made it a handle for attack. But might they know that, firstly, it was against the expressed orders of Muhammad, and, secondly, even if Muhammad would have ordered Abdullah to do so, his act would have been justified by the modern international law of the West, which reads:- "From the moment one state is at war with another, it has, on general principles, a right to seize on all the enemy's property of whatsoever kind and wheresoever found, and to appropriate thus to its own use, or to that of the captors." (vide, "Elements of International Law" by Henry Wheaton, London, 1936, p. 419). The death of Amr bin Hadharmi, however, provoked Qoraish and stimulated their hostile designs against the Muslims. According to Tabari, the murder of Amr bin Hadharmi was the root cause of the battle of Badr.
On the other side, when the emissary of Abu Sufian arrived in Mecca, and reported to the Meccans, a preparation was at once made to invade on Medina. Within three days, a well-armed force of over a thousand warriors set out from Mecca under the command of Abu Jahl. When they reached at Jahfah, a little half-way to Badr, an emissary of Abu Sufian brought the news that the caravan had passed through the danger zone safely and that it was not necessary to march towards Medina. On hearing this, some of them counselled that they should go back, but Abu Jahl and his party rejected the suggestion violently and proceeded towards Badr.
Badr is the name of a celebrated well and a market-place of Arabia, and is so named after a certain Badr bin Qoraish bin Mukhlad bin an-Nadr bin Kananah, who hailed from the clan of Ghaffar. The first battle thus fought between the Muslims and the Meccans about 80 miles from Medina was that of Badr. The date given for the battle is 17th, 19th or 21st Ramdan, 2 A.H./March 13, 15 or 17, 624 A.D. The Muslims, who were unprepared for the engagement, numbered only 313 men who had only three horses, seventy camels and a few swords. This small force was marshalled out of Medina, and took suitable position near a stream of fresh water at Badr. The Meccans under the command of Abu Jahl, were a thousand with 300 horses and 700 camels. Numerically the Muslim force was hardly one-third of the Meccans. Besides, the latter were composed of skilled veterans, while the Muslims had recruited even inexperienced youths.
The two ill-matched armies collided on the morning of Friday, the 17th Ramdan. Sword clashed against sword and lance broke against lance. The men confronting each other in mortal combat were no strangers. Brother fought against brother, father against son, son against father. And when the battle was at its height, Muhammad prostrated himself before his God and prayed, "O'God, if this handful band of men perish, there will be no one left to pronounce Your word to worship You truly and selflessly. Your true faith will be destroyed. Come to the aid of Your devotees, my Lord, and give them victory."
At the taunt of the Meccans, Ali bin Abu Talib dashed out of the Muslim ranks, glittering in breastplate and helmet. He was closely followed by Ubaida bin Harith, a paternal cousin of Muhammad, and Hamza, who wore an ostrich feather on his cuirass. They performed such outstanding feats of bravery against Shiba, Walid and Atba in a single combat, who were considered the cream of the Qoraishite power. Hamza killed Shiba, while Ali killed Walid. Ubaida was mortally wounded but, before he fell, Ali and Hamza were able to come to his rescue. Hamza hurled at Atba and, with a sweep of his sword, cut off his head. This single combat was an ominous start for the pagans, as thereby they lost three of their best warriors and commanders in the very first phase of the battle. After a fierceful and dreadful fighting, the Meccans army broke up and fled in a hurly-burly manner before the Muslims. Seventy of the bravest warriors of the Qoraish were slain, and forty-five taken prisoners. Their commander, Abu Jahl had also fallen in the battle. On the Muslim side, fourteen men were killed.
This was the first opportunity of the Muslims after their long and bitter sufferings at the hands of the Meccans to wreak vengeance on them, if they chose. But how were they treated is well illustrated by the following incident. There was one among the captives, possessed of a remarkable force of eloquence which he used to exercise unsparingly while in Mecca, to arouse opposition against Islam. He was brought before Muhammad, and it was suggested that two of his teeth should be knocked out, as an appropriate punishment, to incapacitate him from stirring agitation against Islam. "If I disfigure any of his limbs," replied Muhammad, "God will disfigure mine."
Before Muhammad returned Medina with the Muslim warriors, Zaid bin Harith and Abdullah bin Ka'b had galloped through the city on their horses, and announced the victory, mentioning the names of fallen idolatars in the field. The Muslims rejoiced to hear it and gathered in the streets, acclaiming this great victory.