The Meccans felt keenly the loss of their Red Sea caravan route. One of the disadvantages of the only alternative was that in the plain of Najd the wells were relatively far apart. But now that the summer months were drawing to a close the journey could easily be managed by adding to the number of water-carrying camels, and they decided to send a rich caravan to Iraq consisting mainly of bars of silver and silver vessels worth about a hundred thousand dirhems. It was to be under the leadership of Safwan, Some of the Jews of Medina had secret information about the caravan and one of the Helpers happened to hear them discussing it. The Prophet knew that Zayd had gifts of leadership, and he now sent him at the head of a hundred horse to waylay the caravan near Qaradah, which was one of the chief watering places along the route.
The relatively small and therefore more manageable force made it possible for Zayd to realize all the essentials of an effective ambush. Their sudden ferocious and unexpected onslaught put to flight Safwan and his fellows, while Zayd and his men returned to Medina in triumph, having become themselves the escort of all the Meccan transport camels with their rich loads of silver and other merchandise, and a few captives. In Mecca, the disaster of Qaradah intensified and quickened the preparations which had been in progress ever since Badr for an irresistible attack on Medina. The sacred month of Rajab passed and with it midwinter and the New Year of AD 625. It was in the following month that Hafsah’s marriage took place. Then came Ramadan, and in this month of fasting, to the great joy of all the believers, Fatimah gave birth to a son.
The Prophet spoke the words of the call to prayer into the ear of the newborn babe and named him al-Hasan, which means “the beautiful”. The moon reached its full, after which, a day or two later, came the anniversary of Badr; and in the last days of the month a sealed letter was brought to the Prophet by a horseman who had ridden from Mecca to Medina in three days. It was from his uncle’Abbas, warning him that an army of three thousand men was on the point of marching out against Medina. Seven hundred of the men were mailed, and there was a troop of horse two hundred strong. The camels were as many as the men, not counting the transport camels and those which carried howdahs for the women.
By the time the letter arrived Quraysh had already set out. Abu Sufyan, the commander-in-chief, took with him Hind and also a second wife. Safwan likewise brought two wives, other chiefs one only. Jubayr the son of Mut’irn remained in Mecca; but he sent out with the army an Abyssinian slave of his named Wahshi who was, like many of his countrymen, an expert at throwing the javelin. Wahshi “I had seldom been known to miss his mark; and Jubayr said to him: “If thou slayest Hamzah, Muhammad’s uncle, in revenge for mine, thou art a free man.” Hind came to know of this, and during their halts, whenever she passed Wahshi in the camp or saw him passing by, she would say to him: “Go to it, thou father of darkness, slake and then gloat!” She had already made it clear to him that she also, as well as his master, had a thirst to be slaked and a reward for the slacker.
The Emigrants and Helpers still had a week before the enemy could be upon them; but within that time room had to be made inside the walls of Medina for all those who lived in the outlying parts of the oasis, together with their animals. This was done and not one horse, camel, cow, sheep, or goat was left outside the walls. It remained to be seen what the Meccan plan of action was. The news came that they were taking the western route near the coast. In due course, they turned inland and made a brief halt about five miles west of Medina. Then they marched northeast for a few miles and camped on a strip of cultivated land in the plain below Mount Uhud, which overlooks Medina from the north.
The Prophet sent out scouts, who returned the next morning with the information that the numbers of the enemy were true as the letter had stated. Quraysh had with them a hundred men of Thaqif and also contingents from Kinanah and other allies. The three thousand and more camels and the two hundred horses were eating all the pasture and all the as yet unharvested crops to the north of the city, and soon not a blade of greenery would be left. The army showed no signs of being ready for any immediate action. Nonetheless, the city was closely guarded that night, and the two Sa’ds of Aws and Khazraj, that is Ibn Mu’adh and Ibn ‘Ubadah, insisted on keeping watch outside the Prophet’s door, and with them was Usayd and a strong bodyguard.
The Prophet himself was as yet unarmed. But he dreamed that he was wearing an impregnable coat of mail and that he was mounted on the back of a ram. His sword was in his hand and he noticed a dent in it, and he saw some kine which he knew to be his, and they were sacrificed before his eyes. The next morning he told his Companions what he had seen, and he interpreted it, saying: “The impregnable coat of mail is Medina, and the dent in my sword is a blow that will be struck against myself; the sacrificed kine are some of my Companions who will be slain; and, as to the ram which I rode upon, that is the leader of their squadron whom we shall slay if God will”.’ His first thought was not to go out from the city but to stand a siege within its walls. He nonetheless wished to have his opinion confirmed by others, for it was by no means a conviction, so he held a consultation as to whether they should march out or not.
Ibn Ubayy was the first to speak: “Our city,” he said, “is a virgin that hath never been violated against us. Never: without severe losses have we gone out from her to attack an enemy, and none have entered her against us but it is they who have suffered the losses. Therefore let them be, O Messenger of God. Wretched will be their plight, so long as they stay; and when they return they will return dejected and frustrated in purpose, with no good gained.”
A large number of the older Companions, of both the Emigrants and Helpers, inclined to the opinion of Ibn Ubayy. So the Prophet said: “Stay in Medina, and put the women and children in the fortresses.” Only when he had spoken thus did it become apparent that most of the younger men were burning with eagerness to march out against the enemy. “O Messenger of God,” said one of them, “lead us forth against the enemy. Let them not think we fear them or that we are too weak for them.” These words were met with a murmur of approval from different parts of the assembly, and others said much the same, with the added argument that their inactivity and their failure to take reprisal for their devastated crops would only serve to embolden Quraysh against them in the future, not to speak of the tribes of Najd. Hamzah and Sa’d ibn ‘Ubadah and others of the more experienced now began to incline towards this view. “At Badr,” said one of them, “thou hadst but three hundred men and God gave thee mastery over them. And now we are many and have been hoping for this occasion and praying God for it, and He hath sent it to our very door.”
Then one of the oldest men present rose to speak, a man of Aws named Khaythamah. He repeated many of the arguments already given against remaining on the defensive. Then he spoke on a more personal note. His son Sa’d was one of the few Muslims who had been slain at Badr. “Last night in my sleep,” he said, “I saw my son. Most beautiful was his appearance, and I witnessed how it was given to him to fulfill his every wish amid the fruits and the rivers of the Garden. And he said: ‘Come unto us and be our companion in Paradise. All that my Lord promised me to have I found to be true.’ And I am old and I long to meet my Lord, so pray O messenger of God, that He will grant me martyrdom and the company of Sa’d in Paradise.
The Prophet made a prayer for Khaythamah, no doubt a silent one, for the words, are not recorded. Then another of the Helpers rose to speak, this time a man of Khazraj, Malik ibn Sinan. “O Messenger of God,” he said, “we have before us one of two good things: either God will grant us the mastery over them, and that is what we would have; or else God will grant us martyrdom. I care not which it may be, for verily there is good in both.” It was now clear, not only from the words that were spoken but from the general approval with which they were received, that the majority were against remaining behind the city walls, and the Prophet decided to attack.
At noon they assembled for the Friday prayer, and the theme of his sermon was the Holy War and all that it demands of earnestness and effort, and he said that victory would be theirs if they remained steadfast. Then he bade them make ready to meet the enemy. After the prayer two men waited behind to speak to the Prophet, each having an urgent decision to make, One of them was Hanzalah, the son of the self-styled Abrahamist Abu ‘Amir, who was even now, unknown to his son, in the enemy camp below Uhud. It was Hanzalah’s wedding day – a day which had been chosen some weeks in advance. He was betrothed to his cousin Jamilah, the daughter of Ibn Ubayy, and he was loth to postpone the marriage, yet determined to fight. The Prophet told him to celebrate his marriage and spend the night in Medina. There could be no fighting before sunrise, and Hanzalah would have ample time to join him on the battlefield early the next morning. He could find out by inquiry which way the army had passed.
The other man was ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Amr of the Bani Salimah, one of the clans of Khazraj. It was he who nearly three years previously had gone out on the Pilgrimage as a pagan, and had entered Islam in the valley of Mina, where he had forthwith pledged allegiance to the Prophet at the Second ‘Aqabah. And now, two or three nights previously, ‘Abd Allah had had a dream, not unlike that which Khaythamah had recounted in the assembly. A man had come to him in his sleep and he recognized him as a Helper named Mubashshir, who said to him: “A few days and thou shalt come unto us.” “And where art thou?” said ‘Abd Allah. “In Paradise,” said Mubashshir. “We do there all that it pleaseth us to do.” “Wast thou not slain at Badr?” said ‘Abd Allah. “Even so,” said Mubashshir, “but then was I brought to life.”
“Father of Jabir,” said the Prophet to ‘Abd Allah when he told him the dream, “that is martyrdom.” ‘Abd Allah knew this in his heart, but he wished nonetheless to have it confirmed by the Prophet. Then he went home to make ready for war and to bid farewell to his children. His wife had died recently, leaving him with one son, Jabir, now just grown to manhood, and seven daughters much younger than their brother. Jabir had already returned from the Mosque and was busy with his weapons and his armor. Not having been present at Badr, he was all the more eager to go out with the Prophet on this occasion. But his father had other thoughts. “My son,” he said, “it is not meet that we should leave them” – he meant his daughters – “without a man. They are young and helpless, and I fear for them. But I shall go out with the Messenger of God, perchance to be martyred if God grant it to me, so I leave them to thy care.”
They all assembled again for the afternoon prayer, and by that time the men from Upper Medina had mustered and were present in the Mosque. After the prayer, the Prophet took Abu Bakr and ‘Umar with him into his house and they helped him to dress for battle. The men lined up outside, and Sa’d ibn Mu’adh and his clansmen reproved them saying: “Ye have compelled the Messenger of God to go out against his will, albeit the command cometh down to him from Heaven. Put back the decision into his hands and let him decide afresh.” When the Prophet came out, he had wound his turban about his helmet and donned his breastplate, under which he wore a coat of mail belted with a leather sword belt. He had even girt on his sword and slung his shield across his back. Many of the men by that time had regretted the course they had taken, and as soon as he appeared they said: “O Messenger of God, it is not for us to oppose thee in aught, so do what seemeth best to thee.”
But he answered them saying: “It is not for a Prophet when he hath put on his armor, to take it off until God hath judged between him and his enemies. So look to what I bade you do, and do it, and go forward in the Name of God. The victory is yours if ye be steadfast.”! Then he called for three lances and fastened upon them three banners. The banner of Aws he gave to Usayd, that of Khazraj to Hubab, who had advised him about the wells at Badr, and that of the Emigrants to Mus’ab. Again he appointed the blind ‘Abd Allah ibn Umm Maktiirn to lead the prayers in his absence. Then he mounted his horse Sakb,’ and asked for his bow, which he hung over his shoulder, taking in his hand a spear. No other man was mounted. The two Sa’ds marched in front of him, and there were men on either side. In all, they were about a thousand strong.