Battle of Badr

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Pre 1900 Military

Battle of Badr
Part of the Muslim- Quraish Wars

Scene from the film The Message depicting the Muslim army at the Battle of Badr.
Date March 17, 624 CE/17 Ramadan, 2 AH
Location Badr, just outside Medina
Result Muslim victory
Muslims of Medina Quraish of Mecca
Hamza ibn Abd al-Muttalib
'Amr ibn Hishām (aka "Abū Jahl")
Abu Sufyan
305-350 <900-1000
14 killed 50-70 killed
43-70 captured
Campaigns of Muhammad
Badr Banu Qaynuqa – Uhud – Banu Nadir – The Trench – Banu Qurayza – Hudaybiyyah – Khaybar – Mu'tah – Mecca – Hunayn – Autas – Ta'if – Tabouk

The Battle of Badr (Arabic: غزوة بدر‎), fought March 17, 624 CE (17 Ramadan 2 AH in the Islamic calendar) in the Hejaz of western Arabia (present-day Saudi Arabia), was a key battle in the early days of Islam and a turning point in Muhammad's struggle with the Meccan Quraish. The battle has been passed down in Islamic history as a decisive victory attributable to divine intervention or the genius of Muhammad. Although it is one of the few battles specifically mentioned in the Muslim holy book, the Qur'ān, virtually all contemporary knowledge of the battle at Badr comes from traditional Islamic accounts, both hadiths and biographies of Muhammad, written decades after the battle.

Prior to the battle, the Muslims and Meccans had been engaging in several smaller skirmishes and by late 623 and early 624 the Muslim ghazawāt had become more frequent. Badr, however was the first large-scale engagement between the two forces. Muhammad was leading a raiding party against a Quraish caravan when he was surprised by a much larger Quraishi army, however some Islamic scholars have questioned raiding the caravan, both opinions are discussed in the article. Advancing to a strong defensive position, Muhammad's well-disciplined men managed to shatter the Meccan lines, killing several important Quraishi leaders including Muhammad's chief antagonist, 'Amr ibn Hishām. For the early Muslims the battle was extremely significant because it was the first sign that they might eventually overcome their persecutors in Mecca. Mecca at this time was one of the richest and most powerful pagan cities in Arabia, fielding an army three times larger than that of the Muslims.


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At the time of the battle, Arabia was sparsely populated by a number of Arabic-speaking peoples. Some were Bedouin; pastoral nomads organized in tribes; some were agriculturalists living either in oases in the north or in the more fertile and thickly settled areas to the south (now Yemen and Oman). The majority of Arabs were adherents of numerous polytheistic religions. There were also tribes that followed Judaism, Christianity (including Nestorianism), and Zoroastrianism.

Muhammad was born in Mecca around 570 CE into the Banū Hāshim clan of the Quraish tribe. When he was about forty years old, he is said to have experienced a divine revelation while he was meditating in a cave outside Mecca. He began to preach to his kinfolk first privately and then publicly. Response to his preaching both attracted followers and antagonized others. During this period Muhammad was protected by his uncle Abū Tālib. When he died in 619 and the leadership of the Banū Hāshim passed to one of Muhammad's enemies, 'Amr ibn Hishām, who withdrew the protection and stepped up persecution of the Muslim community.

In 622, with open acts of violence being committed against the Muslims by their fellow Quraishi tribesmen, Muhammad and many of his followers fled to the neighboring city of Medina. This migration is called the Hijra and marked the beginning of Muhammad's reign as both a temporal as well as a religious leader.

The Ghazawāt

Following the hijra, tensions between Mecca and Medina escalated and hostilities broke out in 623 when the Muslims began a series of raids (called ghazawāt in Arabic) on Quraishi caravans. Ghazawāt (s. ghazw) were plundering raids organized by nomadic Bedouin warriors against either rival tribes or wealthier, sedentary neighbors. In late 623 and early 624, the Muslim ghazawāt grew increasingly brazen and commonplace. In September 623, Muhammad himself led a force of 200 in an unsuccessful raid against a large caravan. Shortly thereafter, the Meccans launched their own "raid" against Medina, although its purpose was just to steal some Muslim livestock.

Since Medina was located just off Mecca's main trade route, the Muslims were in an ideal position to do this. Even though many Muslims were Quraish themselves, they believed that they were entitled to steal from them because the Meccans had expelled them from their homes and tribes, a serious offense in hospitality-oriented Arabia. Also, there was a tradition in Arabia of poor tribes raiding richer tribes. It also provided a means for the Muslim community to carve out an independent economic position at Medina, where their political position was far from secure. The Meccans obviously took a different view, seeing the Muslim raids as banditry at best, as well as a potential threat to their livelihood and prestige.

In January 624, the Muslims ambushed a Meccan caravan near Nakhlah, only forty kilometers outside of Mecca, killing one of the guards and formally inaugurating a blood feud with the Meccans. Worse, from a Meccan standpoint, the raid occurred in the month of Rajab, a truce month sacred to the Meccans in which fighting was prohibited and a clear affront to their pagan traditions. It was in this context that the Battle of Badr took place.

However, some Islamic scholars question narratives regarding raid against the caravan as they argue that these narratives contradict the Qur'anic version of the account. They argue that the caravan was one of the two targets which weak believers wanted to attack ( 8:5-8), but then eventually Muslims fought against Meccan army, as looting a defenceless caravan wouldn't require preparations which Qur'an talks about( 8:43).

The battle

The march to Badr

Muhammad commanded the army himself and brought many of his top lieutenants, including Hamzah and future Caliphs Abu Bakr, Umar, and Ali. The Muslims also brought seventy camels and three horses, meaning that they either had to walk or fit three to four men per camel. However, many early Muslim sources, including the Qur'an, indicate that no serious fighting was expected, and the future Caliph Uthman stayed behind to care for his sick wife.

The Quraish assembled an army of 900-1000 men to rescue the caravan. Many of the Quraishi nobles, including Amr ibn Hishām, Walid ibn Utba, Shaiba, and Umayah ibn Khalaf, joined the army. Their reasons varied: some were out to protect their financial interests in the caravan; others wanted to avenge Ibn al-Hadrami, the guard killed at Nakhlah; finally, a few must have wanted to take part in what was expected to be an easy victory against the Muslims. Amr ibn Hishām is described as shaming at least one noble, Umayah ibn Khalaf, into joining the expedition.

By this time Muhammad's army was approaching the wells where he planned to waylay the caravan, at Badr, along the Syrian trade route where the caravan would be expected to stop. However, several Muslim scouts were discovered by scouts from the caravan and Abu Sufyan made a hasty turn towards Yanbu.

Around this time word reached the Muslims about the departure of the Meccan army. Muhammad immediately called a council, "If you [Muhammad] order us to plunge our horses into the sea, we would do so." However, the Muslims still hoped to avoid a pitched battle and continued to march towards Badr.

After few days, both armies were about a day's march from Badr. Several Muslim warriors who had ridden ahead of the main column captured two Meccan water carriers at the Badr wells. Expecting them to say they were with the caravan, the Muslims were horrified to hear them say they were with the main Quraishi army. The next day Muhammad ordered a forced march to Badr and arrived before the Meccans.

The Badr wells were located on the gentle slope on the eastern side of a valley called "Yalyal". The western side of the valley was hemmed in by a large hill called 'Aqanqal. When the Muslim army arrived from the east, Muhammad initially chose to form his army at the first well he encountered, but he was apparently persuaded by one of his soldiers to move his army westwards and occupy the well closest to the Quraishi army. Muhammad then gave the order to fill in the remaining wells, so that the Meccans would have to fight the Muslims for the sole remaining water source.

The Meccan plan

"[The] Arabs will hear how we marched forth and of our mighty gathering, and they will stand in awe of us forever." - Amr ibn Hishām

By contrast, while little is known about the progress of the Quraishi army from the time it left Mecca until its arrival just outside Badr, several things are worth noting: although many Arab armies brought their women and children along on campaigns both to motivate and care for the men, the Meccan army did not. Also, the Quraish apparently made little or no effort to contact the many Bedouin allies they had scattered throughout the Hijaz. Both facts suggest the Quraish lacked the time to prepare for a proper campaign in their haste to protect the caravan.

When the Quraishi reached Juhfah, just south of Badr, they received a message from Abu Sufyan telling them the caravan was safely behind them, and that they could therefore return to Mecca. At this point, according to Karen Armstrong, a power struggle broke out in the Meccan army. Amr ibn Hishām wanted to continue, but several of the clans present, including Banu Zuhrah and Banu Adi, promptly went home. Armstrong suggests they may have been concerned about the power that Hishām would gain from crushing the Muslims. A contingent of Banu Hashim, hesitant to fight their own clansmen, also left with them. Despite these losses, Hishām was still determined to fight, boasting "We will not go back until we have been to Badr." During this period, Abu Sufyan and several other men from the caravan joined the main army.

The day of battle

Different map of the battle
Different map of the battle

At dawn on March 17, the Quraish broke camp and marched into the valley of Badr. It had rained the previous day and they struggled to move their horses and camels up the hill of 'Aqanqal (sources say the sun was already up by the time they reached the summit). After they descended from 'Aqanqal, the Meccans set up another camp inside the valley. While they rested, they sent out a scout, Umayr ibn Wahb to reconnoiter the Muslim lines. Umayr reported that Muhammad's army was small, and that there were no other Muslim reinforcements which might join the battle. However, he also predicted extremely heavy Quraishi casualties in the event of an attack (One hadith refers to him seeing "the camels of [Medina] laden with certain death"). This further demoralized the Quraish, as Arab battles were traditionally low-casualty affairs, and set off another round of bickering among the Quraishi leadership. However, according to Muslim traditions Amr ibn Hishām quashed the remaining dissent by appealing to the Quraishi's sense of honour and demanding that they fulfill their blood vengeance.

The battle started with champions from both armies emerging to engage in combat. Three of the Ansar emerged from the Muslim ranks, only to be shouted back by the Meccans, who were nervous about starting any unnecessary feuds and only wanted to fight the Quraishi Muslims. So the Muslims sent out Hamzah, Ubaydah, and Ali. The Muslims dispatched the Meccan champions in a three-on-three melee, although Ubaydah was mortally wounded.

Now both armies began firing arrows at each other. Two Muslims and an unknown number of Quraish were killed. Before the battle started, Muhammad had given orders for the Muslims to attack with their ranged weapons, and only engage the Quraish with melee weapons when they advanced. Now he gave the order to charge, throwing a handful of pebbles at the Meccans in what was probably a traditional Arabian gesture while yelling "Defaced be those faces!" The Muslim army yelled "Yā manṣūr amit!" and rushed the Quraishi lines. The sheer force of the Muslim attack can be seen in several Qur'anic verses, which refer to thousands of angels descending from Heaven at Badr to slaughter the Quraish. It should be noted that early Muslim sources take this account literally, and there are several hadith where Muhammad discusses the Angel Jibreel and the role he played in the battle. In any case the Meccans, understrength and unenthusiastic about fighting, promptly broke and ran. The battle itself only lasted a few hours and was over by the early afternoon.

Important participants


  • Amr ibn Hishām (Meccan commander, killed)
  • Abu Sufyan ibn Harb
  • As ibn Sa'id (killed)
  • Safwan ibn Umayah
  • Umayah ibn Khalaf (killed)
  • Umayr ibn Wahb
  • Uqbah ibn Abu Mu'ayt (killed)
  • Utba ibn Rabi'ah (killed)
  • Walid ibn Mughira (killed)
  • Walid ibn Utba (killed)
  • Nawfal ibn Khuwaylid
  • Wahb ibn Umayr (prisoner)


+ Indicates Ansar

  • Muhammad (Muslim commander, Islamic prophet)

Names in alphabetic order

  • Abd al-Rahman ibn Awf
  • Abu Bakr (future caliph)
  • Abu Hudaifah ibn Utbah
  • Ammar ibn Yasir
  • Ali ibn Abu Talib (future caliph)
  • Bashir ibn Sa'ad+
  • Bilal ibn Ribah
  • Hamza ibn Abd al-Muttalib
  • Khabbab ibn al-Aratt
  • Khunais ibn Hudhaifa
  • Muaaz ibn Amr+ (killed)
  • Muawwaz ibn Amr+ (killed)
  • Mu‘awwadh bin Al-‘Afrâ (died)
  • Obaidah ibn al-Harith (killed)
  • Umar (future caliph)


An Iranian depiction from 1314 of the Muslim pursuit following the battle.
An Iranian depiction from 1314 of the Muslim pursuit following the battle.

Casualties and prisoners

Al-Bukhari lists Meccan losses as seventy dead and seventy captured, which would be 15%-16% of the Quraishi army, unless the actual number of Meccan troops present at Badr was significantly lower, in which case the perecentage of troops lost would have been higher. Muslim losses are commonly listed at fourteen killed, about 4% of their engaged forces. Sources do not indicate the number of wounded on either side, and the major discrepancies between the casualty totals on each side suggests that the fighting was extremely brief and that most of the Meccans were killed during the retreat.

During the course of the fighting, the Muslims took a number of Meccan Quraish prisoner. Their fate sparked an immediate controversy in the Muslim army. The initial fear was that the Meccan army might rally and that the Muslims couldn't spare any men to guard the prisoners. Sad and Umar were in favour of killing the prisoners, but Abu Bakr argued for clemency. Muhammad eventually sided with Abu Bakr, and most prisoners were spared, either because of clan relations (One was Muhammad's son-in-law), desire for ransom, or the hope that they would later convert to Islam (in fact, several later would). At least two high-ranking Meccans, Amr ibn Hishām and Umayyah, were executed after the battle, and two other Quraish who had dumped a bucket of sheep excrement over Muhammad during his days at Mecca were also killed during the return to Medina. In the case of Umayyah, his former slave Bilal was so intent on killing him that his companions even stabbed one of the Muslims guarding Umayyah.

Shortly before he departed Badr, Muhammad also gave the order for over twenty of the dead Quraishis to be thrown into the well at Badr. Multiple hadiths refer to this incident, which was apparently a major cause for outrage among the Quraish of Mecca. Shortly thereafter, several Muslims who had been recently captured by allies of the Meccans were brought into the city of Mecca and executed in revenge for the defeat.

According to the traditional blood feud (similar to Blood Law) any Meccans related to those killed at Badr would feel compelled to take vengeance against members of the tribe who had killed their relatives. On the Muslim side, there was also a heavy desire for vengeance, as they had been persecuted and tortured by the Quraishi Meccans for years. However, as a general rule, the Muslims took better care of their prisoners, even going so far as to house them with Muslim families in Medina.


The Battle of Badr was extremely influential in the rise of two men who would determine the course of history on the Arabian peninsula for the next century. The first was Muhammad, who was transformed overnight from a Meccan outcast into a major leader. According to Karen Armstrong, "for years Muhammad had been the butt of scorn and insults, but after this spectacular and unsought success everybody in Arabia would have to take him seriously." Marshall Hodgson adds that Badr forced the other Arabs to "regard the Muslims as challengers and potential inheritors to the prestige and the political role of the [Quraish]." The victory at Badr also allowed Muhammad to consolidate his own position at Medina. Shortly thereafter he expelled the Banu Qaynuqa, one of the Jewish tribes at Medina that had been threatening his political position. At the same time Ibn Ubayy, Muhammad's chief Muslim opponent in Medina, found his own position seriously weakened. Henceforth, he would only be able to mount limited challenges to Muhammad.

The other major beneficiary of the Battle of Badr was Abu Sufyan. The death of Amr ibn Hashim, as well as many other Quraishi nobles gave Abu Sufyan the opportunity, almost by default, to become chief of the Quraish. As a result, when Muhammad marched into Mecca six years later, it was Abu Sufyan who helped negotiate its peaceful surrender. Abu Sufyan subsequently became a high-ranking official in the Muslim Empire, and his son Muawiya would later defeat Muhammad's son-in-law Ali and go on to found the Umayyad Caliphate.

In later days having fought Badr became so significant that Ibn Ishaq included a complete name-by-name roster of the Muslim army in his biography of Muhammad. In many hadiths, individuals who fought at Badr are identified as such as a formality, and they may have even received a stipend in later years. The death of the last of the Badr veterans occurred during the First Islamic civil war. According to Karen Armstrong, one of the most lasting impacts of Badr may be the fasting during Ramadan, which she argues the Muslims initially began as a way of commemorating the victory at Badr. This view is disputed, however, due to traditional claims that the Muslim army was fasting while it marched out to the battle.

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