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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Hardest Day in the Life of Allah’s Messenger

Once Aishah, the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) wife, asked him: “Have you ever gone through a day harder than that of the Battle of Uhud?” We will leave the Prophet’s answer till next week, but we will only say today that the Prophet spoke to her about his trip from Makkah to Taif to recruit support for his message. This was at least five years before the Battle of Uhud. For today, we will concentrate on what happened in that battle to justify Aishah’s question that suggests that for her the day ranked as the hardest in the Prophet’s life. Was it just the military defeat?
After the Prophet settled in Madinah, welcomed by the Ansar, the people of the Quraysh in Makkah were wary lest the message of Islam should win support in the rest of Arabia. Such a prospect would certainly weaken their position as the master tribe, respected and feared by all other Arabian tribes. They tried to prevent such an eventuality by military force in the Battle of Badr, which took place about 18 months after the Prophet’s immigration to Madinah. That battle, however, ended in a spectacular victory for the Muslims, while the unbelievers of the Quraysh lost many of their leading personalities. Therefore, they raised a large army and moved fast to attack the Muslims in Madinah, taking them unawares. They were very close to Madinah when the Prophet learned of their approach and consulted his companions about the strategy to meet the impending challenge. Such were the circumstances leading to the Battle of Uhud.
The day started badly for the Muslims. As they set out of Madinah in an army of around 1,000 men, Abdullah ibn Ubayy, the chief hypocrite who was still enjoying popular support in his tribe, the Khazraj, one of the two major tribes of the Ansar, deserted with about one third of the army. They protested that going out to face the Quraysh army was the wrong strategy.
When the battle started, the Muslims soon gained the upper hand, and it looked likely that they would score another great victory. However, lack of discipline within the rearguard unit led to chaos. The unbelievers, benefiting by a young commander who was to become one of the greatest military commanders in Muslim history, Khalid ibn Al-Waleed, were able to regroup and launch a fresh attack from the rear of the Muslim army. Thus, the Muslims were facing a much larger force fighting them on two sides, when a cry was heard that Muhammad was killed. This made many of them give up and they started to go up the nearby Mount of Uhud, unsure what to do.
That was only the beginning of what Aishah described as the hardest day in the Prophet’s life. The main strategy the Quraysh had adopted for their battle set their top aim as killing the Prophet. Failing that, they aimed to kill as many of his leading companions as possible to avenge what happened to them a year earlier in the Battle of Badr. In fact, four brave Quraysh fighters had vowed that they would stop at nothing to kill Muhammad.
When most of his companions were fleeing the battleground, the Prophet himself stood firm, with a handful of his companions exerting every effort to defend him and ready to die in order to protect God’s Messenger. The best show in this defense was put up by one of those who had emigrated with the Prophet from Makkah called Talhah ibn Ubaydellah. He was only 15 or 16 when he adopted Islam in the very first week of the Prophet receiving God’s revelation. Now a man of 30, he was continuing his unblemished record of devoted service to the cause of Islam. At Uhud, he surpassed himself. He fought as hard and as determinedly as anyone could imagine. He carried his sword and dashed here and there in front of the Prophet or behind him or to his left or to his right, beating off whatever danger was approaching. He walked round the Prophet, making his own body a shield, protecting the Prophet from the swords and spears of his attackers. He continued to do so until the Quraysh attack was beaten off. Indeed, no one was as effective as Talhah in protecting the Prophet that day. For this reason the Prophet praised him and said: “Talhah has made it a must.” What the Prophet meant was that Talhah had made it inevitable that God would admit him to heaven because of his determined defense of the Prophet. The Muslims recognized the role played by Talhah in Uhud and that he alone did the work of a whole unit. Abu Bakr himself, the Prophet’s closest companion and one of those who stood firm when the Muslims were badly shaken, used to say of the Battle of Uhud: “That day belonged totally to Talhah.”
Shammas ibn Uthman of the Makhzum clan of the Quraysh was another man who defended the Prophet well. Every time the Prophet looked right or left, he found Shammas fighting in that direction. Apparently the attackers came very close to the Prophet, so that a few of his defenders had to shield him with their own bodies. One of those was Shammas who dug his feet into the ground as he shielded the Prophet until he was killed. The Prophet said: “I have never seen the like of Shammas except in heaven.”
Now, what did those four men determined to kill the Prophet do on that day? Their pledge that they would not be deterred from killing him was well known in Makkah, where everyone of the Quraysh expected them to be true to their word. When the assault on the Prophet was at its height, the four of them were in the thick of it. One of them, Abdullah ibn Shihab managed, indeed, to hit the Prophet, causing a cut in his forehead; his beard was red with blood. Another, Utbah ibn Abu Waqqas, the brother of Saad who was defending the Prophet so bravely, managed to hit the Prophet in his lower lip and break one of his lower front teeth. A third, Amr ibn Qami’ah succeeded in hitting him on his cheek; two links of the Prophet’s iron mask penetrated into his flesh. Amr then hit the Prophet on the shoulder with his sword and the Prophet fell in a hole in the ground and was unable to rise again. Ali ibn Abu Talib held the Prophet’s hand while Talhah ibn Ubaydellah lifted him. This injury to the Prophet caused him pain for a whole month.
The fourth man, Ubayy ibn Khalaf aimed his spear at the Prophet and said: “You liar, where will you flee from me?” The Prophet hit him in his shoulder with a spear and he went back, snorting like a bull. When the Quraysh army was on its way back, Ubayy had given up all hope of survival. His fellow soldiers said to him: “There is hardly any injury in your shoulder. Why are you behaving like a dying man?” He said: “Have you not heard what Muhammad said? He said he would kill me. By God, had he spat on me, he would kill me.” Ubayy died before reaching Makkah.
It took a long while for sufficient numbers of the Muslims to rally to the Prophet’s defense. The battle ended in a clear military victory for the Quraysh. It was very bitter for the Muslims to feel that they let down the Prophet and did not fight well for their faith, but this taught them an important lesson that was to serve them well in future.

Adil Salahi