The battle of Hunayn 8 (A.H.):
The formidable Bedouin tribes, the Hawaazin, the Saqif and various others pastured their flocks on the territories bordering Mecca. Some of them possessed strongly fortified towns like Tayef, and were unwilling to render obedience to the Muslims without resistance. They formed a league with the intention of overwhelming Prophet Muhammad (SAW) before he could make preparations to repulse their attack.
It was the usual practice with the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) that whenever he conquered a region, he personally looked after its political problems and the religious matters of its inhabitants, so long as he stayed there, and as and when he left that place he appointed there suitable persons on different posts. Its reason was that the people of these regions, who were acquainted with the old and wound-up systems, did not possess information about the system, which had replaced it. Islam is a social, moral, political and religious system, its laws emanate from revelation, and acquainting people with these laws and their enforcement amongst them needs distinguished, mature and learned persons, who should teach them correct principles of Islam intelligently and should also enforce Islamic system amongst them.
When the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) decided to leave Makkah for the territories of Hawazin and Saqif, he appointed Mu’az bin Jabal as a guide to educate and instruct the people and entrusted the government and administration of the city and imamate (leading prayers) in the mosque to Atab bin Usayd, who was a capable person. The threatening information compelled the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) to cut short his stay in Makkah. After staying in Makkah for fifteen days the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) proceeded to the land of Hawazin tribe.
An unmatched army
On that day the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had twelve thousand armed soldiers under his standard, out of them ten thousand were those, who had accompanied him from Madina and had taken part in the conquest of Makkah, and the other two thousand were from amongst Quraysh, who had embraced Islam recently. The command of this group rested with Abu Sufyan. Imam Ali as usual, held the Sacred Standard of the Prophet Muhammad.
In those days such an army was hardly found anywhere and this numerical strength of theirs became the cause of their initial defeat. It was because, contrary to the past, they prided themselves on the large number of their soldiers and ignored the military tactics and principles of war. When Abu Bakr’s eyes fell on the large number of men he said: “We should not at all be defeated, because our soldiers far outnumber those of the enemy”. He did not, however, pay attention to this reality that numerical superiority is not the only factor for victory and in fact this factor is of little importance.
The Holy Qur’an itself mentions this fact and says: Allah has helped you on many occasions including the day of Hunayn. When you were happy with the number of your men who proved to be of no help to you and the whole vast earth seemed to have no place to hide you (from your enemies) and you turned back in retreat. (Surah al-Tawbah, 9:25)
Acquisition of Information
After the conquest of Makkah great excitement and enthusiasm could been seen in the areas inhabited by the tribes of Hawazin and Saqif. Special contacts existed between them. The connecting link between them was a war like person named Malik bin Awf Nasri. The result of their mutual contacts was that before the Islamic army could pay attention to them they themselves came up to encounter it, so that, before the Muslims moved, they themselves should strike them hard by military tactics. They also selected from amongst them a thirty-year-old brave and courageous man to act as their commander.
Besides the aforesaid two tribes, the tribes of Bani Hilal, Nasr and Jasham also participated in this battle and all of them came up as a single striking force.
As ordered by the chief commander, all those, who participated in the battle, stationed their women and retinue, behind the rear of the army. When he was asked about the reason for this decision he said: “These men will remain steadfast in their fighting to protect their women and property and will not at all think of flight or retreat”.
When Durayd bin Sammah, an old man and an experienced warrior, heard the wailing’s of the women and the children, he quarreled with Malik, and, considering this act of his to be wrong from the point of view of principles of war, said to him: “The result of this action will be that if you are defeated you will be surrendering all your women and property to the army of Islam gratuitously”. Malik did not pay heed to the words of this experienced soldier and said: “You have grown old and have lost your wisdom and knowledge of military tactics”. However, the later events proved that the old man was right and the presence of women and children in a sphere of operation in which one has to strike and run proved to be of no use, except that the soldiers got involved in difficulties and their activities were hindered.
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) sent Abdullah Aslami Ibn Abi Hadrad to collect information about the equipment, intentions and itinerary of the enemy. He roamed about in the entire army of the enemy, collected the necessary information and placed it at the disposal of the Prophet Muhammad. Malik, too, sent three spies towards the Muslims in a special manner so that they might bring the requisite information for him. They, however, returned to Malik with their hearts full of awe and fear.
The commander of the enemy army decided to make amends for the numerical inferiority and weak morale of his soldiers by means of a military trick i.e. by making a surprise attack, create confusion among the army of Islam so that the discipline of their units might be disrupted and the schemes of their high command might be frustrated.
To achieve this end, he encamped at the end of the pass, which led to the region of Hunayn. He then ordered all the soldiers to hide themselves behind the stones, the rocks and gaps of the mountains and at elevated places around the pass, and as soon as the army of Islam arrived in this deep and lengthy pass, all of them should come out of their places hiding and attack the units of Islam with arrows and stones. Thereafter a special group should descend from the mountains in an orderly manner and put the Muslims to sword under the cover of their archers.
Equipment of the Muslims
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was aware of the strength and the obstinacy of the enemy. Before leaving Makkah therefore, he called Safwan bin Umayyah and borrowed one hundred suits of armor from him and guaranteed its return. He personally put on two suit of armor, put a helmet on his head, and mounted a white mule, which had been presented to him, and moved on behind the army of Islam.
In the dead of night the army reached the Hunayn valley, which lies about midway between Mecca and Tayef. In order to reach the fertile valley of Tayef, they had to pass through a narrow defile called Hunayn. This was the key point or the enemy’s defense. It was a narrow and dismal place leaving little room for an army to pass through, except in single file, nor could camels and horses be maneuvered within its narrow walls. The army of Islam rested at night at the mouth of the Hunayn and the day had not yet dawned fully when the tribe of Bani Salim arrived in the passage of Hunayn under the command of Khalid bin Walid. When a major part of the army of Islam was still in the pass. Concealing themselves under the precipitous side of the rocky valley, the tribesmen, from the heights, showered avalanches of rocks and arrows on the Muslims, and prevented all attempts by the Muslim cavalry to organize a charge. Panic began to spread amongst the Muslim troops and defeat seemed very probable.
This sudden attack terrified the Muslims so much that they began to flee and created, more than the enemy itself, disorder and disruption among their ranks. According to Habib-us-Siyar and Rouzath-ul-Ahbab, Khalid Bin Walid was the first to leave the field. These developments were a source of great joy for the hypocrites present in the army of Islam, so much so that Abu Sufyan said: “Muslims will run up to the coast of the sea”. Another hypocrite said: “The magic has been counteracted”. A third from amongst them determined to do away with Islam in that confused state of affairs by killing the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and thus destroy the belief of the Oneness of Allah and the Prophet Hood of Islam lock, stock, and barrel.
The steadfastness of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and of a group of self-sacrificing persons
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was disturbed immensely by the flight of his friends which was the main cause of all the alarm and disorder, and felt that if matters were allowed to take their own course, even for a moment longer, the pivot of history would be different, humanity would change its course and the forces of polytheism would beat down the army of monotheism. While riding his mule, therefore, he said loudly: “O supporters of Allah and His Prophet! I am the servant of Allah and His Prophet”. He uttered this sentence and then turned his mule towards the battlefield, which was occupied by Malik’s men, who had already killed some Muslims and were busy killing others. A group of self-sacrificing persons like Imam Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, Abbas, Fazal bin Abbas, Usamah and Abi Sufyan bin Hirith, who had not left him alone and unprotected ever since the battle started, also proceeded along with him.
At this critical moment Imam Ali rallied the disorganized forces around him inspiring them to fight with fresh valor. At the same time the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) asked his uncle Abbas, who held his mule, who had a very loud voice, to call back the Muslims in this manner: “O Ansar, who helped the Prophet! O you who took the oath of allegiance to the Prophet under the tree of Paradise! Where are you going? The Prophet is here!” The words of Abbas reached the ears of the Muslims and stimulated their religious zeal and fervor. All of them responded immediately by saying, Labayk! Labayk! (Here am I! Here am I!) And returned bravely towards the Prophet Muhammad.
The repeated call by Abbas, which gave the good tidings of the Prophet’s safety, made the fleeing men return to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) with a peculiar regret and remorse and made them reorganize their rows. About a hundred men, all Ansars (Abul Fida; Ibn Hisham), gaining the narrow Pass, checked the advance of the enemy. The standard bearer of the enemy, a man of extraordinarily tall stature and stout built, came forward and challenged the Muslims to single combat, As usual, Imam Ali stepped forward and engaged him and within a short time put an end to him. In compliance with the orders of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and also to obliterate the shameful stain of desertion, the Muslims launched a general attack and compelled the enemies, in a very short time, to retreat or flee. The Prophet Muhammad, who was watching the struggle from an eminence, taking a handful of gravel, cast it towards the enemy saying, “May these faces be disgraced!” The enemy became panicky within a short time and finally took to flight, chased by the Muslims, and many of them were killed. In order to encourage the Muslims the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was saying: “I am the Prophet of Allah and never tell a lie and Allah has promised me victory”. This war tactics made the warriors of Hawazin and Saqif run away to the region of Autas and Nakhlah and to the forts of Ta’if leaving behind their women and retinue and a number of those killed in the battle. The battle was won by Muslims.
The Prophet’s 8
The army of Islam was in headlong rout with the enemy at full tilt in pursuit. The Apostle, of course, did not abandon his post, and stood firm like a rock. Eight men were still with him, all watching the spectacle of the flight of their army. They were:
- Ali ibn Abi Talib
- Abbas ibn Abdul Muttalib
- Fadhl ibn Abbas
- Abu Sufyan ibn al-Harith ibn Abdul Muttalib
- Rabi’a, the brother of Abu Sufyan ibn al-Harith
- Abdullah ibn Masood
- Usama ibn Zayd ibn Haritha
- Ayman ibn Obaid
Out of these eight, the first five belonged to the clan of Banu Hashim. They were the uncle and the cousins of the Prophet.
The Prophet asked his uncle, Abbas ibn Abdul Muttalib, to call the fleeing Muslims. Abbas had a very powerful voice, and he shouted: “O ye Muhajireen and O ye Ansar! O ye victors of Badr and O ye men of the Tree of Fealty! Where are you going? The Messenger of God is here. Come back to him.”
The voice of Abbas boomed in the narrow valley and almost everyone heard it, and it proved effective in checking the flight of the Muslims.
The Ansar were the first to halt, and to return to the battle. Inspired by their example, others also rallied. Soon they were able to regroup. A fierce skirmish took place. At first, the issue appeared uncertain but then the Muslims began to press the enemy. Once they recovered their morale, they went on the offensive. The enemy still fought bravely but was hampered in his mobility by the vast number of women and children he had brought with him. The Muslims pressed their advantage and then it was the Bedouins who were running in all directions.
In this battle the casualties of the Muslims were large, but the biographers have not mentioned the number of those killed. The enemy lost seventy of their bravest, of whom forty fell under the sword of Imam Ali.
As a result of this victory, enormous booty fell into the hands of the Muslims. The Muslims, however, stood to gain and the enemies fled leaving behind six thousand captives, twenty four thousand camels, forty thousand sheep and four thousand Waqih (It is equal to 213 grams approximately) of silver. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) ordered that all the men and the entire property should be taken to Ji’ranah. He also appointed some men to keep a watch. The captives were kept in a particular house and the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) ordered that the entire booty should remain there as it was, till he returned from Ta’if.
The battle of Hunayn, is one of the most famous events in the history of Islam. It was notable for the strategy of Imam Ali regrouping the Muslim army, turning defeat into victory. It also showed the clemency with which the prisoners were treated. Six hundred of the enemies were freed without having to pay ransom.