12 First Caravan
Shortly after this expedition to Badr the apostle
sent Abdullah b. Jahsh and eight Emigrants on a journey. He gave a letter
to Abdullah, but ordered him not to read it till the end of a two days'
march; he also told him to avoid giving offence to any of his companions.
After Abdullah had marched two days' journey, he
opened the letter, and found it contained the following instructions: 'Go
on to Nakhla, between
and Al‑Taif, and keep watch over the Quraysh there and bring back
news of their business.' Abdullah said, 'I read and obey!' Then he told
his companions about the letter, and added, 'He has also prohibited me
from forcing any one of you to do anything against his will. If,
therefore, any of you wishes to earn martyrdom, let him come with me; but
if not, let him go back.' All his companions went with him, and none
remained behind, but at Bahran two of the travellers lost the camel which
they had been riding in turns and they fell behind to look for it.
Abdullah marched on with the rest of his companions to Nakhla, where they
came upon a Quraysh caravan laden with raisins, tanned hides, and various
other goods., and accompanied by four men.
When the caravan saw Abdullah and his companions they
were afraid because they had alighted so near to them, but when Ukkasha
– whose head was shaved like that of a pilgrim – approached them, they
recovered their confidence and said, “These are pilgrims, and we need
have no fear of them.’
This took place on the last day of the sacred month
Rajab [October]. Abdullah and his companions conferred among themselves:
‘If we allow these people to continue and reach sacred territory
tonight, they will be safe from us; but if we attack them now, we profane
the sacred month.’ And they vacillated and hesitated to attack, but at
last mustered up their courage and agreed to slay as many of the Quraysh
as they could, and take possession of what they had with them. So Waqid
shot an arrow and killed one of the Quraysh, two others were made
prisoner, and the fourth fled.
Then Abdullah, with his companions, the caravan, and
the prisoners, returned to
, saying, One fifth part of our plunder belongs to the apostle of
Allah.’ This was before Allah had made it encument on Believers to give
up a fiftyh part of any booty to Him. One fifth of the caravan was set
aside for the apostle of Allah, and Abdullah distributed the rest anong
When they arrived at
, however, the apostle said, 'I did not command you to fight in the holy
month, and he walked away from the caravan and the prisoners, and refused
to take anything from them. The captors were crestfallen and decided they
were doomed, and their Muslim brethren too, reproved them for their deed.
, the Quraysh were saying: “Muhammad and his companions have violated
the sacred month; they have shed blood in it, and taken booty, and
captured prisoners.’ The Jews interpreted
the event as a bad omen for the apostle.
When speculation on the subject became widespread
Allah revealed these words to His apostle: 'They will ask thee about the
sacred month and the fighting. Say "To fight in the sacred month is a
matter of grave import, but to obstruct the worship of Allah and not to
believe in Him, to prevent men from entering the holy mosque or to drive
them out of it, these are of even graver import." '
So the apostle of Allah took possession of the
caravan and the prisoners. The Quraysh sent men to negotiate for the
ransom of the prisoners, but the apostle replied that he could not release
them until the two Emigrants who had fallen behind Abdullah to look for
their camel returned, because he feared the Quraysh might have met and
harmed them. 'If you have killed them, we shall kill our prisoners,' he
said. But the two wanderers returned and the apostle released the
prisoners, one of them making profession of Islam and remaining in
When Allah made plunder permissible He allowed four
parts to those who had won it, and one part to Himself and to His apostle,
exactly as Abdullah had done with the captured caravan.
This was the occasion when the first booty was taken
by the Muslims, when the first prisoners were taken by the Muslims and
when the first man was slain by the Muslims. It was eighteen months since
the Emigrants had arrived in
Soon the apostle of Allah heard that Abu Sufyan
‑ whom he had missed at al‑Ushayra ‑ was returning from
with a large caravan of merchandise, accompanied by thirty or forty men.
Then he addressed the Believers, saying: 'Go forth against this caravan;
it may be that Allah will grant you plunder.' The people soon assembled,
though some were fearful and others hesitated because they had not thought
the apostle would really go to war.
Meanwhile, Abu Sufyan was approaching the Hijaz,
gathering information and questioning every rider he met, lest he expose
his people to danger. At last he heard: 'Muhammad has gathered his
companions to attack you and your caravan.' Greatly alarmed, he sent off a
messenger named Damdam to
to call out the Quraysh to protect their goods and to warn them of the
threat of Muhammad and his companions.
When Damdam arrived in
he cut off the nose of his camel, turned its saddle back to front, and
rent his own shirt, all to indicate the alarming news he brought. He
shouted, '0, ye Quraysh! Your prized caravan is in danger from Muhammad.
You may be too late to save it. Help! Go now!' The people hastened to
prepare, exclaiming, 'Does Muhammad believe this will be as easy a victory
as at Nakhla? No, this time we shall teach him otherwise!' Thus the
Quraysh assembled, and not a well‑born man among them remained
behind save Abu Lahab, who sent in his place a man who owed him money and
who could not pay.
The apostle himself left
with his companions early in the month of Ramadan [December], leaving Abu
Lubaba in control of affairs at
The white banner of the apostle was carried by Musab,
and one black banner (The Eagle) by Ali, and another by the Helpers. There
were seventy camels, which the men rode in turn. When the party arrived in
al‑Safra, a village between two mountains, the apostle asked the
names of the village tribes and was told they were called Banu al‑Nar
[sons of fire] and Banu Huraq [sons of burning]. The apostle was uneasy
and read an evil omen in the names, so he by‑passed the village and
the mountains and travelled through a valley known as Dhafiran. Halting
here, he received news that the Quraysh were on the march from
to protect their caravan. He asked his people what they thought should be
done and al‑Miqdad said, 'Go where Allah leads! We are with thee,
and we shall not say to thee what the children of
said to Moses, "Thou and thy Lord may go and fight; we shall remain
here!" Instead we say "Go thou and thy Lord and fight; we shall
fight with you!" ' The apostle thanked him for this declaration and
blessed him, and said, 'Advise me also, you men of the Helpers.' He feared
the Helpers might aid him only by defending him against attack in
, and that they would not think it incumbent upon them to fight for him
outside their own territory. But Sad answered, 'We believe in thee, and
have testified that the revelation thou hast brought is true. Therefore we
have made a covenant! We hear and obey thee! Go where thou wilt, we are
with thee; we shall be steady in battle and true in combat. And perhaps
Allah will show thee something of us which will rejoice the eye, and procure
the blessing of Allah.'
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