44 – The Return of the Vanquished

The army of Quraysh made its way back to Mecca in small groups, preceded or followed by single individuals. One of the first to arrive with the news was the Hashimite Abu Sufyan whose brother Nawfal had been captured. Abu Sufyan’s hostility towards the new religion had spurred him to write verses against it and against his cousin and foster-brother, the Prophet. But the experience of Badr had greatly shaken him. His first thought was to visit the Ka’bah, and it happened that his uncle Abu Lahab was sitting in the large tent that was known as the tent of Zamzam. Seeing his nephew, Abu Lahab called out to him to come and sit with him and tell him what had happened. “There is no more to it than this,” said Abu Sufyan “We met the enemy and turned our backs, and they drove us in flight or took captives even as they pleased. Nor can I blame any of our folk, for we had to face not only them but also men in white on piebald horses between heaven and earth who spared nothing and nothing could stand up against them.”

Now Umm al-Fadl was sitting in a corner of the tent, and with her was Abu Rafi’, one of ‘Abbas’s slaves, who was making arrows. Like her he was a Muslim, and they had both kept their Islam secret from all save a few. But Abu Rafi’ could not contain himself for joy at the news of the Prophet’s victory; and when he heard speak of the “men in white between heaven and earth” he exclaimed in wonder and in triumph: “Those were the Angels.” Immediately Abu Lahab was overcome by a paroxysm of rage and he struck Abu Rafi’ a wounding blow in the face. The slave tried to retaliate, but he was slight and weak, and the thickset ponderous Abu Lahab bore him to the ground, knelt on him and struck him again and again. Then Umm al-Fadl took up a wooden post which was sometimes used to reinforce the tent poles, and she brought it down with all her strength on the head of her brother-in-law, splitting the skin and flesh away from his skull in a long gash that was never to heal. “Wilt thou treat him as of no account,” she cried, “now that his master is away and cannot protect him?” The wound putrefied, and within a week his whole body was covered with festering pustules from which he died.

When further news of the battle was brought, and when the bereaved began to bewail their dead, a decision was quickly made in the Assembly that they should be told to restrain themselves. “Muhammad and his companions,” it was said to them, “will have news of this and rejoice.” As to the kinsmen of the captives, they were urged to delay sending any offers of ransom to Yathrib. Through the deaths of so many eminent men, the Umayyad Abu Sufyan had become, in the eyes of many, the leading man of Quraysh; and as if to set an example he said with regard to his two sons, Hanzalah and ‘Amr, the one killed and the other made captive: “Must I suffer the twofold loss of my blood and my wealth? They have slain Hanzalah, and must I now ransom ‘Amr? Leave him with them. Let them keep him as long as they please!”

Abu Sufyan’s fiery wife Hind was not the mother of either Hanzalah or ‘Amr; but at the outset of the battle she had lost her father, ‘Utbah, her uncle Shaybah, and her brother Walid; and, though she held back her lamentations, she vowed that when Quraysh took their revenge on the Muslim army -as take it they must- she would eat raw the liver of Hamzah who had slain her uncle and given her father the death-blow.

As to the rich caravan load which Abu Sufyan had brought safely to Mecca, it was unanimously agreed in the Assembly that all the profits should be devoted to raising an army so large and so powerfully equipped that it could not fail to crush any resistance that Yathrib might be able to put up against it; and this time women would march out with the men, to urge them on and spur them to excel themselves in deeds of valor. It was also agreed, to the same purpose, to send messengers to all their many allies throughout Arabia, summoning them to join in their attack, and giving them what they thought to be powerful reasons why the followers of the new religion should be considered as a common enemy.

While respecting the precept of the Assembly about lamentation, most of Quraysh disregarded what had been said about ransoming, and men from almost every clan were soon on their way to Medina in order to make terms with the captors and set free one or more of their kinsmen or allies. Abu Sufyah kept his word; but at the next Pilgrimage he detained one of the pilgrims from the oasis, an old man of Aws, and said he would not release him until his son ‘Amr had been returned to him; and the pilgrim’s family persuaded the Prophet to agree to this exchange.

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