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A large caravan was on its way back to Mecca, loaded with goods and treasure. Mohammed heard of this and decided to attack the caravan and steal the treasure. Some of his men were reluctant to get involved, as the Quraysh were their relatives and tribal kin.
Killing them had always been forbidden before the time of Islam, but now was made lawful by Allah. Mohammed set out with a small army to attack the caravan, but the Meccans found out. They sent a fast rider to Mecca to call for assistance.
In Mecca, an army was quickly assembled. They marched north to defend the caravan. The caravan however, managed to avoid Mohammed's army and sneak through to safety. The caravan was out of harm’s way but the Meccan army still decided to take on the Muslims at a place called Badr.
Until now Mohammed's fighters had never fought a real battle. So far most of their targets had been small trading caravans. The Muslims were heavily outnumbered, but before the battle began, Mohammed had a revelation which is recorded in The Sira:
I445 Some arrows flew and one Muslim was killed. Mohammed addressed his army. “By Allah, every man who is slain this day by fighting with courage and advancing, not retreating will enter Paradise.” One of his men who had been eating dates said, “You mean there is nothing between me and Paradise except being killed by the Quraysh?” He flung the dates to the side, picked up his sword, and set out to fight. He got his wish and was later killed.
I445 One of Mohammed’s men asked what made Allah laugh. Mohammed answered, “When a warrior plunges into the midst of the enemy without armour.” The man removed his coat of mail, picked up his sword, and made ready to attack [and he was killed].
The Muslims gained great courage from Mohammed's revelation. Not only were they no longer afraid of death, they actually welcomed it. Should they win the fight, the spoils of war would be theirs; if they lost they would attain Paradise.
The battle went well for the Muslims and as luck would have it, a dust storm appeared at the decisive moment. It blew straight into the eyes of the Meccans. According to Mohammed, this was the angels blowing sand in the face of their enemies.
The Muslims were victorious in their first ever battle against great odds. Mohammed was a very capable military tactician. It was his ability to motivate his followers to suicidal bravery which was his real genius however.
From The Sira:
I455 As the bodies were dragged to the well, one of the Muslims saw the body of his father thrown in. He said, “My father was a virtuous, wise, kind, and cultured man. I had hoped he would become a Muslim, but he died a Kaffir. His abode is Hell-fire forever.” Before Islam, killing of kin and tribal brothers had been forbidden since the dawn of time. After Islam, brother would kill brother and sons would kill fathers fighting in Allah’s cause: Jihad.
The participants of this battle numbered only in the hundreds. It is however, probably one of the most important battles in history. It marks the turning point for a religion which numbers over 1 billion souls today.
To Muslims it is very well known and yet Westerners remain almost totally ignorant of this event. Mohammed’s men went into this fight as a rag tag bunch of brigands. They marched out as a potent political force. The success of Mohammed was news all around Arabia. His success (and war booty) began to attract more followers.
Importantly, Mohammed added another plank to his new system of Jihad. By introducing the concept of martyrdom into his religion, (/political movement) he managed to inspire his followers to suicidal bravery. This is a huge advantage to any fighting force.
It is particularly useful to one which can replace fallen warriors as quickly as Islam. Mohammed clearly understood the advantage this gave him. Much of his teaching from this point on would be woven around the importance of martyrdom.
He spoke repeatedly of the rewards which await shahid (martyrs) in the afterlife. These far outshine anything an ordinary Muslim can expect. There are seven different layers in the Islamic heaven. The difference between one layer and another is as great as the difference between the earth and the first level. The shahid go straight to the Seventh Heaven.
Rules of Jihad:
5) Inspire your followers to fanatical suicidal bravery.