We have previously discussed how Abu Sufyan (leader of the Qureish tribe in Mecca) gathered a party of some 200 men and orchestrated violent raids into Muslim territory and killed whomever they could find present.
We also discussed how the Muslims gave chase but never met up with the enemy, and how Abu Sufyan, together with his cohorts—having made good their escape—once again became the laughingstock of the Arab world.
But perhaps it can be said that all these incursions or whatever one might want to call them were just a smoke screen for what Qureish was really planning.
We found (in Mecca) that all the leaders, notables, business people—even womenfolk—those who had lost loved ones in the Battle of Badr, were seriously intent on avenging their kin.
We find that Abu Sufyan’s wife, Hind, who had lost her father, Utbah bin Rabi’ah, her brother, Al Walid, as well as some other close relatives of hers to the sword of Hamza ibn Al-Muttalib, the Prophet’s (pbuh) uncle, was one such woman.
She, being someone of great spirit and influence, spent her days (ever since the defeat of her clan at Badr) scheming how she was going to cut down Hamza, open his stomach, remove his liver, and eat it. She spent all her waking moments talking to her husband, Abu Sufyan, urging him on to prepare for war on the Muslims; calling on the other woman to do the same—realizing of course, that it would not be easy for a woman to get within striking distance of the ‘Lion-hunter’ (as Hamza was nicnamed). Hence she called on Wahshi, an Abyssinian slave, who was notoriously known for his skilful handling of a lance or a spear. She promised him his freedom and a huge amount of money for just one throw—one telling throw that would bring an end to her suffering. She would so enjoy opening Hamza’s stomach and eating his liver. How she longed for that!
Even when the leadership of Qureish ruled that the women were to stay at home and attend to their domestic commitments, it was Hind who spoke out strongly against their judgement. She argued fiercely that it was because the womenfolk had not been given fair opportunities (whatever that meant) during the Battle of Badr, that Qureish had lost that war! But this time it was going to be different, she promised. This time Muhammed (pbuh) and his cohorts were going to taste the steel of their warriors’ blades and die like flies. She and her female compatriots would make sure of this. No Qureishi would turn tail this time and run away from the enemy!
And so passionate and feverish were Hind and the other Meccans (male and female) in their call to arms that on 11 March 625, a force of 3,000 Qureish infantry plus 200 cavalry marched from Mecca to Medina to avenge those who had fallen in the Battle of Badr.
Many historians record this march of Qureish as not only a show of strength and military might, but a manifestation of how eager they were to exact retribution on the Muslims who at that particular time were seemingly unaware of the approaching danger.
It was Al-Abbas ibn Abdul Muttalib, the Prophet’s (pbuh) uncle, who notified Muhammed (pbuh) about Qureish’s plans. He (Al-Abbas), albeit faithful to his clan (Banu Hashim from Qureish) and to the religion of their forefathers, felt a strong affinity to the Prophet (pbuh), as well as a deep admiration for what Muhammed (pbuh) had achieved thus far.
He wrote a letter to the Prophet (pbuh), explaining Qureish’s plans as well as military strength, in detail. He sent this letter forth with a man from Ghifaar (a small town on the route to Medina) and urged the messenger to repair with the greatest of haste to Muhammed (pbuh).
Meanwhile, the forces of Qureish reached Al-Abwa, halfway between Mecca and Medina, the place where Amina, the mother of the Prophet (pbuh), was buried.
Some of the Meccans felt that her remains should be dug up and displayed for all to see. The leadership however felt differently; they argued that many, if not most of their fallen comrades (slain at Badr) were buried in Muslim territory, and it would certainly not be a wise thing to set a precedent of such a nature at all.
And so they marched on, singing songs of war and imploring their gods, Al-Lat and Al-Uzza (two of their main idols which, incidentally, are also mentioned in the holy Quran), to strengthen them and to smite their enemies down.
They marched determinedly, their soldiers keeping tread with the deafening roll of the drums, while the womenfolk played their tambourines and sang with loud voices, almost screaming: ‘Death to Muhammed (pbuh)! Death to Muhammed (pbuh) and his killers!’
And their war cries were so profound and so frightening that those villagers whom they passed on their way to Medina shuddered and hurriedly closed their doors and windows and prayed that Qureish would not turn on them for earlier fraternities or perhaps even clandestine alliances they had formed with Muhammed (pbuh) and his followers in the past.
But Qureish were more intent on killing Muhammed (pbuh) and his Companions. and focused all their attention on the task at hand. They genuinely presented an awe-inspiring and terrifying sight as they reached the vicinity of Al-Aqiq and set up camp at the foot of Mount Uhud. They were five miles away from Medina!
The messenger from Ghifaar had in the meantime reached Medina and found the Prophet (pbuh) at Qubah. He handed over the letter to Muhammed (pbuh), who had just completed his afternoon prayers, and who, in turn, sent for Ubayy ibn Ka’b to read the contents of the letter.
‘This does not look good, O Messenger of Allah!’ said Ubayy ibn Ka’b, after he had read out the news aloud. ‘The whole of the Meccan force—plus their allies—are here!’
Muhammed (pbuh) thought for a moment and frowned deeply. ‘We shall have to keep this letter a secret for the moment,’ he said, placing his hand on Ubayy’s arm. ‘We do not want to panic the people…’
He then sent Anas and Mu’nis, the two sons of Fadalah, a Companion, to reconnoitre the movements of Qureish, who in the meantime were beating their war drums to a crescendo. The Meccans were drawing ominously close to the city itself.
Another scout, Hubab ibn Al-Mundhir, was also deployed to track the movements of Qureish and report immediately to the Prophet (pbuh). But by now most of Medina was abuzz with the news about the advance of the Qureish army and Muhammed (pbuh) was forced to call an emergency meeting with all the people of the city.
They were Muslim and non-Muslim; Arab or Jew; Faithful or Hypocrite—Medina was the main focus. No one could turn their backs on what was staring them in the face so vividly and so glaringly. Everyone had to play their part in not only the preservation of not only the city, but their very existence itself.
Muhammed (pbuh) and many of the prominent citizens felt that Medina would be best defended from within. They argued that, from past experience of those who had witnessed attacks on the city and had actually participated in its defense, Medina was more familiar ground than the outside terrain. They also argued that by concealing the women and children on the upper floors of the buildings, they (the women and children) could attack the enemy (as soon as they entered the portals) with stones and fire-balls and help the men repulse the insurgents. Qureish would not find them an easy target at all!
But the young men would hear nothing of that. After Badr—so they believed—Islam was invincible. No force, no army, no matter how powerful or well-equipped, would be able to withstand the forces of Islam—not while the Prophet (pbuh) was there. Someone even said that he would hate to hear Qureish boast that they had locked up Muhammed (pbuh) and his followers and that they were too scared to come out and fight.