51 – The March to Uhud

The sun was already setting when they reached Shaykhayn, halfway between Medina and Uhud. Bilal made the call to prayer and they prayed, after which the Prophet reviewed his troops. It was then that he noticed the presence of eight boys who, despite their age, were hoping to take part in the battle. Amongst them were Zayd’s son Usamah and ‘Umar’s son ‘Abd Allah, both only thirteen years old. The Prophet ordered them and their six friends to return home immediately. They protested, and one of the Helpers assured the Prophet that the fifteen-year-old Rafi’, of the Awsite clan of Harithah, was already a better archer than some of his elders. So Rafi’ was allowed to stay, whereupon Samurah, an orphan from one of the Najd tribes, whose mother had married a Helper of Rafi’s clan, claimed that he could throw Rafi’ in wrestling. The Prophet told the two boys to show him what they could do, so they set about each other then and there; and Samurah proved his claim to be true, so he also was allowed to stay, while the others were sent back to their families.

The Meccans were hoping that the Muslims would come out against them and so enable them to use their greater strength, and in particular their cavalry, to the best possible advantage. The Prophet was aware of this and, having none the less decided to leave the city, he was determined to compensate for the disparity of numbers by taking up a position which would give his army an advantage and which would at the same time be unexpected and therefore disconcerting to the enemy. But for his purpose he would need a guide, so he made some inquiries, and since they would have to pass through the territory of the Bani Harithah he accepted the offered services of a member of that clan who knew the lie of the land to perfection.

In Medina that night Hanzalah and Jamilah had consummated their marriage; and in her sleep, during the small hours, Jamilah had a dream in which she saw her husband standing at the outside of Heaven; and a door opened for him and he entered through it, whereupon it closed behind him. When she woke, she said to herself: “This is martyrdom.” They performed their ablutions and prayed the dawn prayer together, after which he bade her farewell. But she clung to him, and would not let him go, and again he lay with her. Then he tore himself from her embrace, and not even staying to repeat his ablution, he put on his coat of mail, seized his weapons, and hastened from the house.[1]

The Prophet had given instructions that the army should be ready to move off from Shaykhayn shortly before dawn. But Ibn Ubayy had been in consultation with some of his nearest followers during the night, and when it was time to raise camp he turned back to Medina with three hundred of the hypocrites and doubters, to the great shame of his son ‘Abd Allah, who remained with the army. Ibn Ubayy did not even speak to the Prophet, and when questioned by some of the Helpers he said: “He hath disobeyed me, and obeyed the striplings and men of no judgment. I see not why we should lose our lives in this ill chosen spot.” Another ‘Abd Allah, the father of Jabir, went after them and called out: “I adjure you by God not to desert your people and your Prophet in the very presence of the enemy.” But they only answered: “If we knew that ye would be fighting, we would not leave you. But we do not think there will be a battle.” “Enemies of God,” he retorted, “God will avail His Prophet beyond any need of you.”

Reduced now to seven hundred, the army advanced for a short distance towards the enemy and then, still under cover of the darkness, they moved to their right and made their way across a volcanic tract until they came to the south-easterly end of the gorge of Uhud. Turning again they advanced north-west up the gorge until in the half-light of dawn they saw the Meccan camp ahead of them, a little to their left and a little below them. They marched on until they were directly between the enemy and Uhud. Having now reached his objective, which was to have the slope of the ground in his favor, the Prophet halted them and dismounted. Bilal made the call to the morning prayer, and they moved into lines with their backs to the mountain. This was also their formation for battle, since the enemy were not between them and Mecca. Having led the prayer, the Prophet turned and exhorted them, saying: “Verily this day ye are at a station that is rich in reward and rich in treasure, for him who is mindful of what he is about and who devoteth his soul thereunto in patience and certainty and earnestness and effort.”[2] When he had finished, Hanzalah went forward to greet him, for he had just arrived from Medina.

The Prophet now chose out his best archers: of these he attached to himself Zayd, Sa’d his cousin of Zuhrah, and Sa’ib the son of ‘Uthman ibn Maz’un amongst others; but he told fifty of them to take up their position on a rise a little to the left of his main force. He put over them ‘Abd Allah ibn Jubayr, a man of Aws, and gave them their orders, saying: “Keep their cavalry from us with your arrows. Let them not come upon us from our rear. Be the tide of battle for us or against us, stay at this post! If ye see us plundering the enemy, seek not to have a share in it; and if ye see us being slain, come not to our aid.”[3]

Having put on another coat of mail he took up a sword and brandished it, saying: “Who will take this sword, together with its right?” Immediately ‘Umar went to take it, but the Prophet turned away from him, saying again: “Who will take this sword, together with its right?” Zubayr said he would take it, but again the Prophet turned away, repeating his question a third time. “What is its right, O Messenger of God?” said Abu Dujanah, a man of Khazraj. “Its right,” said the Prophet, “is that thou shouldst strike the foe with it until its blade be bent.” “I will take it together with its right,” he said, and the Prophet gave it to him. He was a valiant man, who gloried in battle. His red turban was well known, and among the Khazraj it was called the turban of death. When he put it on, as now he did, winding it round his helmet, they knew that he meant to inflict great slaughter on the enemy; and none could doubt that this was his firm intention as sword in hand he strutted up and down between the lines. Seeing him, the Prophet said: “That is a gait which God detesteth, Save at such a time and place as this.”[4]


[1] W. 273
[2] W. 221
[3] I.I. 560
[4] I.I. 561

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