This command, now in the Qur’an (2:183), was revealed when the nascent Islamic state was still in its formative period and the Muslim community of Madinah was facing grave perils.
Shortly before the commencement of this first month of fasting, the direction of the qiblah had been changed from Jerusalem to the Masjid al-Haram in Makkah by another revelation (al-Qur’an 2:144); this happened in the month of Sha’aban in 2 After Hijrah (AH).
After this revelation a new mihrab was constructed in the south wall of the Prophet’s mosque, and this change was celebrated with joy by all Muslims; since that day, all Muslims have turned towards the Ka’abah for their five daily Prayers, and by extension for many other rites and formalities.
This change in the direction of the qiblah was also a sign that a new era had dawned that would end with the liberation of Makkah, for it is inconceivable that any religious community should leave its qiblah in the hands of its enemies.
This somewhat veiled reference to the beginning of a new era became apparent during the next Ramadan, when the entire Muslim community observed a Ramadan of fasting together for the first time.
It was during the first ten days of the month of Ramadan that the Prophet and almost all other able men of Madinah left the city for a decisive battle with Quraysh—a battle that was to transform the balance of power in Arabia.
Ruqayyah, one of the Prophet’s daughters, fell seriously ill just before his departure for Badr, but even this personal consideration could not prevent him from going forth. He put Abdullah bin Umm-Maktum in charge of Madinah, and left the city.
As his custom was to become, the Prophet went out of the city and then stopped for the night. He examined the troops and noticed a fifteen-year-old boy, ‘Umayr, among the Companions. The Prophet bade him turn back, but ‘Umayr wept and insisted on taking part in the battle; the Prophet relented and granted him permission.
The next day seventy camels, three horses and 313 men left the oasis. Some were fasting and others not; the Prophet had given them the choice. Mus`ab of the tribe of Abd al-Dar was carrying the white banner in front of the troops. The Prophet rode his camel, which stayed behind the vanguard; it was preceded by two black banners, one for the Muhajirun (emigrants from Makkah), the other for the Ansar ('helpers' of Madinah).
When the Prophet and his Companions arrived at Badr, a town on the coastal route from Syria to Makkah, the Prophet sent two men to the town to scout for news of the caravan of the Quraysh, which was returning from Syria and which the Prophet had planned to attack. The scouts returned with the news that the caravan was expected within the next day or two. But at the same time the Prophet received news from Makkah: an army of more than 1,000 men had left there to rescue their caravan. An encounter between the two forces seemed inevitable.
The Prophet gathered his Companions for a consultation. They had set out from Madinah in the hope of capturing the caravan, but now it seemed that they were going to encounter an army three times their own size.
So the Prophet asked his Companions what was to be done. Abu Bakr and Umar spoke for the Muhajirun, favouring the march to Badr to meet the army of Quraysh.
Then Miqdad stood up and said, “O Messenger of Allah, do what Allah has commanded you to do. We will not say to you what the children of Israel had said to Musa: ‘You and your Lord go and fight, we shall sit here’. Rather, we will say, O Messenger of Allah, ‘You and your Sustainer go and fight, and with you we too will fight, on the right and on the left, before you and behind you’.”
Upon hearing these words, the Prophet’s face became radiant and he blessed Miqdad. Then he addressed them all, saying, “O men, give me your advice.” Although he did not specifically address these words to the Ansar, they realised that these were meant for them.
The reason was that at Aqabah, as well as in the Sahifah (constitution) drawn up at the time of the Prophet’s arrival in Madinah, the Ansar had only pledged to protect the Prophet when he was with them in Madinah. Now that he was away from Madinah, and they were not bound by their given word to fight, he wanted to know their opinion. Sensing this, Sa'd ibn Mu'adh rose and said, “O Messenger of Allah, it seems that we are the men you mean.”
When the Prophet nodded, Sa'd said, “O Messenger of Allah, we have faith in you and we believe in what you have told us, and we testify that what you have brought us is the truth (Haqq) and we have given you our binding oath to hear and obey you, so do what you wish and we are with you. By Allah, the Most High, if you would command us to go to Bark al-Ghamad [in Yemen], we will go with you… Neither are we averse from meeting our enemy tomorrow. We are well-experienced in war, trusty in combat.”
Upon hearing this, the Prophet rejoiced and said, “Proceed in the name of Allah, for I see the enemy lying prostrate.”
It was soon after their departure that it started to rain. The Prophet took it as a sign of Allah’s favour. The rain refreshed the men, settled the dust and made the sand firm under their feet. This was in the valley of Yalyal.
When they reached one of the wells of Badr, the Prophet halted with the intention of breaking camp. Hubab ibn al-Mundhir of Khazraj tribe came to the Prophet and said: “O Messenger of Allah, has Allah revealed unto you this place where now we are? That we should neither advance nor retreat from here, or is it a matter of opinion and strategy of war?”
When the Prophet told him that it was merely his own opinion, Hubab said: “This is not the place to halt, but take us further, O Messenger of Allah, take us forward to one of the large wells nearest to the enemy and let us build for ourselves a cistern from where to drink and the enemy would have none of the wells.” The Prophet agreed and the troops moved forward. They made camp, filled their drinking vessels and rested.
It was the night of March 17, 623 CE, Ramadan 17, 2 AH. That night Allah sent down a sleep of peace and tranquillity upon the believers; when they awoke they felt refreshed: all fatigue of travelling in that harsh terrain had disappeared.
Later Allah was to remind the believers about this wonderful calm that had descended upon them that night: “[Remember] when He caused that tranquillity to descend upon you, as an assurance from Him, and sent down upon you water from the skies, so that He might purify you thereby and free you from Satan’s evil whisperings, and strengthen your hearts, and thus make firm your steps.” (Qur'an, 8:11)
As soon as the sun arose, the Prophet saw the army of Quraysh marching forth through the valley of Yalyal toward them. He raised his hands and prayed: “O Allah, here are Quraysh; they have come in their arrogance and their vanity, opposing Thee and belying Thy messenger. O our Sustainer, grant us Thy help which Thou hast promised us! O our Sustainer, this morning destroy them.”
The army of Quraysh came to the foot of the slope and made camp. While they were making preparations for attack, Abd-Allah bin Suhayl, who had been forced to come with the Makkan army by his father, found an opportunity to go out of sight of his father and, manoeuvring his way over the uneven ground of the valley, he arrived in the Muslim camp.
He went straight to the Prophet, who greeted him joyfully. This reunion of a believer with the Prophet was also quietly celebrated by Abu Sabrah and Abu Hudhayfah, `Abd-Allah’s two brothers-in-law.
The believers stood in line. The Prophet passed in front of each man, strengthening their hearts and giving them counsel. He had an arrow in one hand. When he noticed that Sawad was standing slightly out of line, he gave him a slight prick in the belly with his arrow and said, “Stand in line, O Sawad.”
Said Sawad, “O Messenger of Allah, you have hurt me and Allah has sent you with truth and justice, so give me my requital.” The Prophet handed his arrow to Sawad, laid bare his own belly and said, “take it.”
It was as if Sawad had found the best moment of his life. He quickly stooped and kissed the belly of the Prophet.
“What made thee do this?” the Prophet asked. “See, O Messenger of Allah,” Sawad said, “we are now faced with what you know; and I desired that at my last moment with you—if so it be—my skin should touch thy skin.” And the Prophet prayed for him and blessed him.
This was not the Companions’ only show of love for the Prophet on that day when the two armies stood against each other. The Companions were conscious that they had come with their Prophet in this blessed month of Ramadan on a mission that was to transform their lives, and they were eagerly awaiting the fulfilment of the promise of Allah, in the form of either victory or paradise. They had built a shelter for the Prophet, where he now stood with Abu Bakr, fully aware of the great disparity between the material strength of the two armies. He prayed to Allah for help; a light slumber came upon him and when he woke, he said, “O Abu Bakr, be happy, Allah’s help has arrived. Here is Jibra’il (Gabriel) and in his hand is the rein of a horse which he is leading, and he is armed for war.”
It was indeed a historic day, and Allah’s help had come for the believers. It was one of those days when Allah intervenes in the flow of human history so that His promise is fulfilled. For many Companions felt that the arrows they were shooting had hardly left their bows when the enemy was slain.
Soon after the battle, Allah revealed to the Prophet that the angels had indeed been fighting on the side of the believers: “You threw not when you threw, but it was Allah who threw” (Qur'an, 8:17).
When that decisive battle was over, seventy leading men of Quraysh were dead and an equal number had been made captive. Six Muhajirs and eight Ansar had been martyred.
The Prophet told the Companions to put the bodies of the slain disbelievers in a pit. While the dead body of Utbah was being dragged toward the pit, the Prophet saw that the face of Abu Hudhayfah, his son, had turned pale, and comforted him.
“O Messenger of Allah,” Abu Hudhayfah said, “it is not that I question your command as to my father’s fate, but it is that I used to know him as a man of wisdom and had hoped that his good qualities would lead him to Islam, and when I saw what has befallen him, it made me sad.” The Prophet blessed Abu Hudhayfah and spoke to him words of kindness.
Soon thereafter, the Prophet sent Abd-Allah ibn Rawahah to Upper Madinah and Zayd bin Harithah to Lower Madinah with the good news of victory; he himself remained with the army at Badr.
Late that night the Prophet went out of his tent to the pit where the enemies of Islam had been thrown, and he said: “O people of the pit, kinsmen of your Prophet, ill was the kinship you showed him. Liar you called me, when others took me in; you fought against me, when others helped me to victory. Have you found it to be true, what your Lord promised you? I have found it to be true, what my Sustainer promised me.”
Some of the Companions overheard him and said, “Are you speaking to the dead, O Messenger of Allah?” He replied, “Your hearing of what I say is no better than theirs but they cannot answer me.”
The Prophet and his Companions left Badr after fajr (break of dawn) next morning. When they arrived in Madinah a few days later, the Prophet found that Ruqayyah had died in his absence. He went to her grave and prayed.
He was also met by Rubayyi', the mother of Zayd bin Suraqah, who had been martyred while drinking from the cistern before the battle. She was troubled that her son had died before the battle and had been deprived of its reward. But the Prophet reassured her: “O mother of Harithah, in Paradise are many Gardens, and surely your son has attained to the highest of all—al-Firdaws.”
At the end of that Ramadan, Muslims celebrated their first Eid al-Fitr. It was truly a day of rejoicing, and the Prophet took them out of Madinah for a special prayer.
Their takbirs filled the air. They thanked Allah for His help and rejoiced in what He had granted them. Their hearts filled with the blessings of the month of fasting, and they were reminded of Allah’s words:
“And remember the time when you were few and helpless on earth, fearful lest people do away with you—whereupon He sheltered you, and strengthened you with His succour, and provided for you sustenance out of the good things of life, so that you might be grateful.” (Qur'an, 8:26).