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Caravan raids

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Caravan raids

The Caravan raids refer to a series of raids which Muhammad and his companions participated in. The raids were generally offensive[1] and carried out to gather intelligence or seize the trade goods of caravans financed by the Quraysh. The raids were intended to weaken the economic and in turn the offensive capabilities of Mecca by Muhammad. However, many of the early converts, who themselves were members of the Quaraysh, saw this as means of vengeance against the persecution they endured in Mecca. The Meccans had sold property Muslims left behind after the Hijra and invested it in the caravans.[2] In Medina's opinion, this was against Arab custom.[3] The Muslims felt that the raids were justified and that God gave them permission to defend against the Meccans' persecution of Muslims.[4][5]


The Islamic prophet Muhammad's followers suffered from poverty after fleeing persecution in Mecca and migrating with Muhammad to Medina. Their Meccan persecutors seized their wealth and belongings left behind in Mecca.[6]

Beginning in January 623, some of the Muslims resorted to the tradition of raiding the Meccan caravans that traveled along the eastern coast of the Red Sea from Mecca to Syria. Communal life was essential for survival in desert conditions, as people needed support against the harsh environment and lifestyle. The tribal grouping was thus encouraged by the need to act as a unit. This unity was based on the bond of kinship by blood.[7] People of Arabia were either nomadic or sedentary, the former constantly traveling from one place to another seeking water and pasture for their flocks, while the latter settled and focused on trade and agriculture. The survival of nomads (or Bedouins) was also partially dependent on raiding caravans or oases, thus they saw this as no crime.[6][8]

Earliest Quran verse about fighting

According to William Montgomery Watt and the Muslim scholar Ibn Kathir, the Quran verse [Quran 22:29][9] [10][11] was the earliest verse commanding Muslims to fight. However, he says there was a "disinclination" among the Muslims to follow the command to fight, but they were given an incentive, after the Muslims were told that God prefers fighters to those who sit still and remain at home, and that for fighters there is a reward in paradise (Jannah).[12]

Al-Is Caravan raid

According to Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar), a modern Islamic hagiography of Muhammad written by the Indian Muslim author Safi ur-Rahman Mubarakpuri, Muhammad ordered the first caravan raid led by Hamza ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib (Muhammad's uncle) seven to nine months after the Hijra. A party of thirty to forty men assembled at the seacoast near al-Is, between Mecca and Medina, where Amr ibn Hishām (Abu Jahl), the leader of the caravan was camping with three hundred Meccan riders.[13][14][15][16]

Hamza met Abu Jahl there with a view to attack the caravan, but Majdi bin Amr al-Juhani, a Quraysh who was friendly to both the parties intervened between them; so, both parties separated without fighting. Hamza returned to Medina and Abu Jahl proceeded towards Mecca. Muhmmad also entrusted the first flag of Islam to Kinaz bin Husain an Ghanawi.[13][14][15][16][17]

Islamic primary sources

It is mentioned in Ibn Hisham and Ibn Ishaq's biography of Muhammad (the earliest surviving biography of Muhammad from the 7th century), that for these caravan raids Muhammad gave permission to "plunder" the caravans of theirs enemies and seize their goods and property(s) and said:

The Muslim scholar Al-Waqidi also mentions in his Kitab al-Tarikh wa al-Maghazi ("Book of History and Campaigns") that Muhammad said: "This caravan of the Quraysh holds their wealth, and perhaps God will grant it to you as a plunder".[19]

Second raid

Second Raid on Meccan Caravans: Buwat
Date April, 623 , 1 AH
Location Batn Rabigh[13]
Result Failed raid (Enemy too far away)[14][15]
Muslims of Medina Quraish of Mecca
Commanders and leaders
Ubaydah ibn al-Harith Abu Sufyan
60-80[15] 200
Casualties and losses
Unknown (Arrows fired) Unknown (1 arrow fired)

Ubaydah ibn al-Harith was the commander of the second raid. This raid took place nine months after the Hijra, a few weeks after the first one at al-Is.[13][14][15][16]

About a month after Hamzah's unsuccessful bid to plunder, Muhammad entrusted a party of sixty Muhajirun led by Ubaydah to conduct another operation at a Quraysh caravan that was returning from Syria and protected by two hundred armed men. The leader of this caravan was Abu Sufyan ibn Harb.

The Muslim party went as far as Thanyatul-Murra, a watering place in Hejaz. No fighting took place, as the Quraysh were quite far from the place where Muslims were in the offing to attack the caravan. Nevertheless, Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas shot an arrow at the Quraysh. This is known as the first arrow of Islam.[20] Despite this surprise attack, no fighting took place and the Muslims returned empty-handed. It is believed that Ubaydah was the first to carry the banner of Islam; others say Hamzah was the first to carry the first banner .[13][15][21]

The incident is partly referenced in the Sahih al-Bukhari hadith collection:


Kharrar raid (3rd raid)

Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas was ordered to lead the third raid. His group consisted of about twenty Muhajirs. This raid was done about a month after the previous. Sa'd, with his soldiers, set up an ambush in the valley of Kharrar on the road to Mecca and waited to raid a returning Meccan caravan from Syria. But the caravan had already passed and the Muslims returned to Medina without a fight.[13][14][15][16][17]

Invasion of Waddan

The fourth raid, known as the invasion of Waddan, was the first offensive in which Muhammad took part personally with 70, mostly Muhajir,troops.[13] It is said that twelve months after moving to Medina, Muhammad himself led a caravan raid to Waddan (Al-Abwa). The aim was to intercept the caravans of the Quraysh. The raid party did not meet any Quraysh during the raid.[15][16]

But the caravan of the Banu Damrah was raided.[22] Negotiations began and the two leaders signed a treaty of non-aggression. Banu Damrah pledged to not attack Muslims or side with the Quraysh; and Muhammad pledged to not attack the caravans of Banu Damrah or seize their goods.[13][22]

According to Muslim scholar Muhammad al-Zurqani, the provisions of the pact/treaty go as follows:

This document is from Muhammad, the messenger of Allah, concerning the Banu Darmah. In which he (Muhammad) established them safety and security in their wealth and lives. They can expect support from the Muslims, unless they oppose the religion of Allah. They are also expected to respond positively if the prophet sought their help.[17][21][23]

Buwat caravan raid (5th raid)

The fifth raid, known as the invasion of Buwat, was also commanded by Muhammad.[15] A month after the raid at al-Abwa, he personally led 200 men including Muhajirs and Ansars to Bawat, a place on the caravan route of the Quraysh merchants. A herd of 1,500 camels, accompanied by 100 riders under the leadership of Umayyah ibn Khalaf, a Quraysh.[24]

According to Muslim scholars Ibn Hisham and Ibn Ishaq's the purpose of these raid were to plunder this rich Quraysh caravan, it is mentioned in their biography of Muhammad (the earliest surviving biography of Muhammad from the 7th century) that for these caravan raids Muhammad gave permission to "plunder" the caravans of theirs enemies and seize their goods and property(s) and said: "Go forth against this caravan; it may be that Allah will grant you plunder.[18][25] The Muslim scholar Al-Waqidi also mentions the same.[19]

No battle took place and the raid resulted in no booty. This was due the caravan taking an untrodden unknown route. Muhammad then went up to Dhat al-Saq, in the desert of al-Khabar. He prayed there and a mosque was built at the spot. This was the first raid where a few Ansars took part.[16][21][26] The caravan was led by 100 Quraysh and 2,500 camels were with them.[24]

Sixth raid

Two or three months after Muhammad's return from Buwat, he appointed Abu Salamah Ibn Abd al-Assad to take his place in Medina while he was away commanding another raid. Between 150 and 200 followers joined this operation to al-Ushayra, Yanbu in either the month of Jumada al-awwal or Jumada al-Thani.[15][16][24][27]

They had 30 camels that they rode upon by turns. When they arrived at al-Usharayh, they expected to raid a rich Meccan caravan heading towards Syria led by Abu Sufyan. Muhammad already had the knowledge of this caravan’s departure from Mecca and waited for about a month for this caravan to pass. But the Meccan caravan had already passed.

In this operation, Muhammad entered into an alliance with Banu Madlaj, a tribe inhabiting the vicinity of al-Ushayra. He also concluded another treaty that was made with Banu Damrah previously.[27] All those treaties established good political connections for him.[21]

Nakhla raid

The Nakhla Raid was the seventh Caravan Raid and the first successful raid against the Meccans. Abdullah ibn Jahsh was the Commander .[28] [29]

It took place in Rajab 2 A.H., i.e. January 624 A.H. Muhammad despatched ‘Abdullah bin Jahsh Asadi to Nakhlah at the head of 12 Emigrants with six camels.[21][30][31][32]

After his return from the first Badr encounter (Battle of Safwan), Muhammad sent Abdullah ibn Jahsh in Rajab with 8 or 12 men on a fact-finding operation. Abdullah ibn Jahsh was a maternal cousin of Muhammad. He took along with him Abu Haudhayfa, Abdullah ibn Jahsh, Ukkash ibn Mihsan, Utba b. Ghazwan, Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, Amir ibn Rabia, Waqid ibn Abdullah and Khalid ibn al-Bukayr. Muhammad gave Abdullah ibn Jahsh a letter, but not to be read until he had traveled for two days and then to do what he was instructed to do in the letter without putting pressure on his companions. Abdullah proceeded for two days, then he opened the letter; it told him to proceed until he reached at Nakhla, between Mecca and Taif, lie in wait for the Quraysh and observe what they were doing.[33][34] The sacred months of the Arab Pagans were the 1st, 7th, 11th and 12th months of the Islamic calendar according to the Muslim scholar Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri[35]

Muhammad initially disapproved of that act and suspended any action as regards the camels and the two captives on account of the prohibited months . The Arab Pagans, exploited this opportunity to accuse the Muslims of violating what is Divinely inviolable (fighting in the months considered sacred to the Arab pagans[35]). This idle talk brought about a painful headache to Muhammad’s Companions, until at last they were relieved when Muhammad revealed a verse regarding fighting in the sacred months[35][36]

According to Ibn Qayyim, he said "most of the scholars have explained the word Fitnah here as meaning Shirk"[37]

Aftermath after new Quran verse "revealed"

According to Ibn Kathir Muhammad refused to accept ransom until he was sure his companions were safe, he also threatened to kill the captives "For we fear for their safety with you. If you kill them, we will kill your people", Ibn Kathir cites Ibn Ishaqs 7th century biography of Muhammad as the primary source for this quote.[34] The Muslim scholar Muhammad Husayn Haykal also mentions this and said the verse which permitted Muslims to fight in the months which were considered sacred by the Arab pagans (i.e. 1st, 7th, 11th and 12th months of the Islamic calendar) had "brought the Muslims relief", and that then Muhammad had accepted his share of the booty[36]

Soon after his release, al-Hakam bin Kaysan, one of the two prisoners captured, became a Muslim.[21][26][38] Mubarakpuri mentions that the Quran verse 47:20 was also sent down, dispraising the hypocrites and cowards who are scared of fighting, and exhorted Muslims to fight.[39]

Nejd caravan raid (8th raid)

The Nejd Caravan Raid took place in Jumad at Thaniya, in the year 3 A.H. The Meccan polytheists lived on trade and as summer approached, it was time for the Meccans to leave for Syria for their seasonal trade business.

After receiving intelligence, Zayd ibn Harithah went after the caravan (after receiving orders from Muhammad), and they successfully raided it and captured 100,000 Dirham's worth of booty. Safan (the caravan leader) and his guards fled away. As a result, the Muslims foiled the Quraysh plan to find another trade route.[16][40]

Expedition of Zaid ibn Haritha in Al-Is (9th raid)

Expedition of Zaid ibn Haritha (Al-Is)
Date September 627AD, 5th month 6AH
Location Al-Is
Result *Successful raid, lots of booty captured [16][41]
Commanders and leaders
Zaid ibn Haritha Abu al As
170 horsemen Unknown
Casualties and losses
0 [41] Unknown number captured

The expedition of Zaid ibn Haritha in al-Is took place in September, 627 AD, 5th month of 6 AH of the Islamic calendar.[16]

Zaid bin Haritha, at the head of a 170 horsemen, set out to a place called Al-‘Ais, intercepted a caravan of Quraish led by Abu al-Aas ibn al-Rabee, Muhammad's son-in-law (Zainab bint Muhammad's husband) and captured their camels as booty.[41]

Abu al-Aas was released at the insistence of Muhammad's daughter Zainab bint Muhammad.[41] The whole caravan, including a large store of silver was captured and some of those who guarded it, taken prisoners.[42]

Expedition of Abu Ubaidah ibn al Jarrah (10th raid)

The [45] took place in October 629 AD, 8 AH, 7th month, of the Islamic calendar,[43] or according to some scholars in 7 AH, 4th month.[16][46]

Muhammad sent [45]

This expedition is famous because the Muslims were short of supplies and food was running out, and they were fighting for survival, they suffered from famine. In the end, the Muslims found a sperm whale that came ashore and ate it for twenty days. Ibn Hisham mentions the incident in detail. This is why its also known as the 'expedition of fish.' They brought some of the stale meat to Muhammad and he ate it too.[46][47]

Expedition of Abu Qatadah ibn Rab'i al-Ansari, Batn Edam (11th raid)

The expedition of Abu Qatadah ibn Rab'i al-Ansari,[48] to Batn Edam (also spelt Idam) took place in November 629 AD, 8 AH, 8th month, of the Islamic calendar[16]

Muhammad was planning on attacking Mecca, with view of securing a complete news black-out concerning his military intentions, then Muhammad despatched an 8 man platoon under the leadership of Abu Qatadah bin Rab‘i in the direction of Edam, a short distance from Medina, in Ramadan 8 A.H., in order to divert the attention of people from his main target of attacking Mecca, with which he was pre-occupied.[46]

According to Ibn Sa'd, Ibn Hisham, and many Sunni hadith collections,[49] a Bedouin caravan passed by and they greeted the Muslims with Assalamu Alaikum. But Abu Qatadah attacked the caravan anyway and killed the people. They returned to Muhammad with the flock they captured and told him the story.

Muhammad then had revealed to him the verse 4:94.[50][51] Ibn Kathir interprets this as, God asking Muslims to be more careful when killing Muslims accidentally.[50]

Permission to fight

Up to this point the Muhammad told people to endure insults and abuse. Because of being persecuted and economically-uprooted by their Meccan persecutors, Muhammad claimed that God gave him permission to fight the Meccans.

The permission to fight was given in many stages during Muhammad's prophetic mission:

  • At first, the Muslims were only allowed to fight the Meccan Quraysh, because they were the first to oppress the Muslims in Mecca. Muslims were allowed to seize their goods, but not those tribes which the Muhammad made a treaty with.
  • Then Muhammad and the Muslims were allowed to fight pagan tribes that allied with the Quraysh.
  • Then Muhammad and the Muslims were allowed to fight the Jewish tribes of Medina, when these tribes violated the Constitution of Medina and their pact with the Muslims.
  • Subsequently, Muhammad and the Muslims were allowed to fight the "People of the Book" (Christian and Jews). If the People of the Book paid a poll tax (jizya), then the Muslims were forbidden to fight them.
  • Muslims were required to make peace with any polytheist, Jews or Christians who embraced Islam, and were required to embrace them as fellow Muslims.[52]

See also


  1. ^ Montgomery Watt, William (21 Jan 2010). Muhammad: prophet and statesman. Oxford University Press, 1974. p. 105.  
  2. ^ Gabriel, Richard A. (2008), Muhammad, Islam's first great general, University of Oklahoma Press, p. 73,  
  3. ^ Quran 22:39–40.
    "To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged;- and verily, Allah is most powerful for their aid;-
    (They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right,- (for no cause) except that they say, "our Lord is Allah". Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid his (cause);- for verily Allah is full of Strength, Exalted in Might, (able to enforce His Will)." and also in sura Quran 2:190
    "Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors."
  4. ^ Welch, Muhammad, Encyclopedia of Islam
  5. ^ See:
    • Watt (1964) p. 76;
    • Peters (1999) p. 172
    • Michael Cook, Muhammad. In Founders of Faith, Oxford University Press, 1986, page 309.
  6. ^ a b John Esposito, Islam, Expanded edition, Oxford University Press, p.4-5
  7. ^ Watt (1953), pp. 16-18
  8. ^ Loyal Rue, Religion Is Not about God: How Spiritual Traditions Nurture Our Biological,2005, p.224
  9. ^ Ismāʻīl ibn ʻUmar Ibn Kathīr, Ṣafī al-Raḥmān Mubārakfūrī, Tafsir Ibn Kathir: (abridged), p. 582
  10. ^ Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar (Free Version), p. 126.
  11. ^ Quran 22:29
  12. ^   (free online)
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar (Free Version), p. 127.
  14. ^ a b c d e Mubarakpuri, When the Moon Split, p. 147.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Haykal, Husayn (1976), The Life of Muhammad, Islamic Book Trust, pp. 217–218,  
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Hawarey, Dr. Mosab (2010). The Journey of Prophecy; Days of Peace and War (Arabic). Islamic Book Trust.  Note: Book contains a list of battles of Muhammad in Arabic, English translation available here
  17. ^ a b c d Muḥammad Ibn ʻAbd al-Wahhāb, Mukhtaṣar zād al-maʻād, p. 345.
  18. ^ a b ʻAbd al-Malik Ibn Hishām, The life of Muhammad, Apostle of Allah, p. 95, Folio Society, 1964. Translated by Michael Edwardes. Quote: "Go forth against this caravan; it may be that Allah will grant you plunder." (archive)
  19. ^ a b Rizwi Faizer, The Life of Muhammad: Al-Waqidi's Kitab Al-Maghazi, p. 12, ISBN 1136921141, Routledge, 2013
  20. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 5:57:74
  21. ^ a b c d e f Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar (Free Version), p. 126
  22. ^ a b Haykal, Husayn (1976), The Life of Muhammad, Islamic Book Trust, pp. 217–218,  
  23. ^ Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar: Biography of the Noble Prophet, p.244. (see footnote)
  24. ^ a b c Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar (Free Version), p. 128
  25. ^ Calcutta Review, Volumes 86-87, p. 93, University of Calcutta and Indiana University, 2008. Quote: "On another occasion Muhammad himself left the town with 200 proselytes to plunder a caravan"
  26. ^ a b Muḥammad Ibn ʻAbd al-Wahhāb, Mukhtaṣar zād al-maʻād, p. 346.
  27. ^ a b Mubarakpuri, When the Moon Split, p. 148.
  28. ^ Haykal, Husayn (1976), The Life of Muhammad, Islamic Book Trust, p. 218,  
  29. ^ Nakhla Raid, 2008 
  30. ^ Nakhla Raid Quran Verse, 2008 
  31. ^ Hawarey, Dr. Mosab (2010), The Journey of Prophecy; Days of Peace and War (Arabic), Islamic Book Trust,  Note: Book contains a list of battles of Muhammad in Arabic, English translation available here [1]
  32. ^ Mubarakpuri, Saifur Rahman Al (2005), The sealed nectar: biography of the Noble Prophet, Darussalam Publications, p. 245,  
  33. ^ Mubarakpuri, Saifur Rahman Al (2005), The sealed nectar: biography of the Noble Prophet, Darussalam Publications, p. 246,  
  34. ^ a b Muhammad Saed Abdul-Rahman, Tafsir Ibn Kathir Juz' 2 (Part 2): Al-Baqarah 142 to Al-Baqarah 252 2nd Edition, p. 139, MSA Publication Limited, 2009, ISBN 1861796765. (online)
  35. ^ a b c d Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar (Free Version), p. 129
  36. ^ a b c Haykal, Husayn (1976), The Life of Muhammad, Islamic Book Trust, pp. 226–227,  
  37. ^ Muḥammad Ibn ʻAbd al-Wahhāb, Imam (2003), Mukhtaṣar zād al-maʻād, Darussalam publishers Ltd, p. 347,  
  38. ^ Tafsir ibn Kathir, on 2:217, free online text version
  39. ^ Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar (Free Version), p. 130
  40. ^ Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar (Free Version), p. 153
  41. ^ a b c d Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar (Free Version), p. 205
  42. ^ Muir, The life of Mahomet and history of Islam to the era of the Hegira, Volume 4, p. 6.
  43. ^ a b Abu Khalil, Atlas of the Prophet's biography: places, nations, landmarks, p. 218.
  44. ^ Muir, The life of Mahomet and history of Islam to the era of the Hegira, Volume 4, p. 104.
  45. ^ a b Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar (Free Version), p. 206
  46. ^ a b c Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar (Free Version), p. 206
  47. ^ Muir, The life of Mahomet and history of Islam to the era of the Hegira, Volume 4, p. 106.
  48. ^ Abu Khalil, Atlas of the Prophet’s biography: places, nations, landmarks, p. 218.
  49. ^ Sahih Muslim, 43:7176
  50. ^ a b Tafsir ibn Kathir Juz, Pg 94, By Ibn Kathir, Translation by Muhammad Saed Abdul-Rahman
  51. ^ , Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Text VersionSay not to anyone who greets you: "You are not a believer;
  52. ^ Mubarakpuri, When the Moon Split, p. 145.

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