Risk taking

Battle of Badr
The first military challenge that the Muslims faced was at Badr. It was not a planned confrontation but something that was in the nature of taking advantage of an emerging opportunity with its attendant risks. We will discuss the lessons about risk taking later in this chapter but for the present let us take a look at the events as they happened.

Rasoolullah(SAW) dispatched Talhah bin ‘Ubaidullâh (RA) and Sa‘id bin Zaid (RA) northward to scout around for any movements of caravans of Quraysh. The two scouts stayed at Al- Hawra’ for some days until Abu Sufyan, the leader of the caravan, passed by them. The two men hurried back to Madina and reported to Rasoolullah(SAW) that great wealth amounting to 50 thousand gold Dinars guarded by 40 men moving relatively close to Madina could be had. This was a tempting target for the Muslims who had been driven from their homes and all their wealth looted by the Quraysh. At the same time this constituted a potentially heavy economic, political and military strike that was bound to shake the entire structure of the Makkan polytheists.

Rasoolullah(SAW) immediately exhorted the Muslims to rush out and waylay the caravan to make up for their property and wealth they were forced to give up in Makkah. He did not give orders binding on everyone, but rather gave them full liberty to go out or stay back, thinking that it would be just an errand on a small scale. Some people asked to go back to their dwellings to bring their camels and weapons but Rasoolullah(SAW) refused and said that only those who were ready should go with him. That is why there were more from Khazraj than from Aws because the Aws lived a little way away from Al Masjid An Nabawi and so not many of them could join Rasoolullah(SAW).

Rasoolullah(SAW) decided to stop in Badr at a particular place and ordered this. Habbab ibn Al Mundhir (RA) asked Rasoolullah(SAW), ‘Is this a Wahi from Allah(SWT) that we have been ordered not to proceed beyond this and to stop here or is this a matter of opinion and battle tactics?’

Rasoolullah(SAW) said, ‘It is a matter of opinion and battle tactics.’ So he said, ‘We should go ahead to the well that is nearest to their force and stop there. Then we should stop up the wells and build a cistern and fill it with water so that we can fight with water and they won’t have water.’ Rasoolullah(SAW) liked his advice and accepted it and ordered likewise.

The night of the battle Rasoolullah(SAW) saw a dream in which he saw the army of the enemy smaller than it really was. Next morning there was rain. The rain on the Muslims dampened the earth and made it firm and refreshed them. On the Quraysh it fell so hard that it made their movement difficult and the ground muddy. The same rain fell on both but did different things to them. This is one of the many miracles of Badr.

Allah(SWT) mentioned this mercy and said:

(Remember) when He covered you with a slumber as a security from Him, and He caused water (rain) to descend on you from the sky, to clean you thereby and to remove from you the Rijz (whispering) of Shaitân and to strengthen your hearts, and make your feet firm thereby.

Anfal 8:11

The Muslim army was made up of 300-317 men, 82-86 Emigrants, 61 from Aws and 170 from Khazraj. They were not well-equipped nor adequately prepared. They had only two horses belonging to Az-Zubair bin Al-‘Awwam(RA) and Al-Miqdad bin Al-Aswad Al-Kindi(RA), 70 camels, one for two or three men to ride alternatively. Rasoolullah(SAW) himself, ‘Ali bin Abi Talib(RA) and Murthid bin Abi Murthid Al-Ghanawi(RA) had only one camel between them. The two companions of Rasoolullah(SAW) offered the camel to him but he refused saying, ‘You are not stronger than I am and I need the reward as much as you.’

He set a standard of leadership that the leader is the equal of his men in all things except that he leads. It is such things that inspire love and encourage people to follow the leader without reservation.

Disposition of the affairs of Madina was entrusted to Ibn Umm Maktum(RA) but later to Abu Lubabah bin ‘Abdul Mundhir(RA). The overall leadership was given to Mus‘ab bin ‘Umair Al- Qurayshi Al-‘Abdari(RA), and their standard was white in color. The little army was divided into two battalions, the Muhajiroon with a standard raised by ‘Ali bin Abi Talib(RA) and the Ansaar whose standard was in the hand of Sa‘d bin Mu‘adh(RA). Az- Zubair bin Al-‘Awwam(RA) was appointed to the leadership of the right flank, Al-Miqdad bin ‘Amr(RA) to lead the left flank, and the rear of the army was at the command of Qais bin Abi Sa‘sa‘ah(RA). Rasoolullah(SAW) personally commanded this force and marched out along the main road leading to Makkah. He then turned left towards Badr and when he reached As-Safrâ’, he dispatched two men to scout about for the camels of Quraysh.

Abu Sufyan, on the other hand, was on the utmost alert. He was well aware that the route he was following was dangerous. He was also anxious to know about the movements of Rasoolullah(SAW) ’s people. His scouts reported to him that the Muslims were lying in wait to ambush for his caravan. To be on the safe side, he hired Damdam bin ‘Amr Al- Ghifari to communicate a message asking for help from the Quraysh. The Messenger rode fast and reached Makkah in a frenzy. Jumping off his camel, he stood dramatically before Al-Ka‘bah, slashed the nose and the ears of the camel, turned its saddle upside down, tore off his own shirt from front and behind, and cried: “O Quraysh! Your merchandise! It is with Abu Sufyan. The caravan is being intercepted by Muhammad(SAW) and his companions. I cannot say what would have happened to them. Help! Help!”

The effect of this hue and cry was instantaneous and the news stunned Quraysh and they immediately remembered their pride that was wounded when the Muslims had intercepted the Hadrami caravan. They therefore swiftly mustered almost all of their forces and none stayed behind except Abu Lahab, who delegated someone who owed him some money. Abu Lahab said that he was sure that he would be killed in the battle with Rasoolullah(SAW). It is strange how the enemies of Rasoolullah(SAW) believed everything he told them except that they should worship Allah(SWT). The Quraysh also mobilized some Arab tribes to contribute to the war against Rasoolullah(SAW). All the clans of Quraysh gave their consent except Banu ‘Adi.

Soon an excited throng of 1300 soldiers including 100 horsemen and 600 soldiers in armor with a large number of camels was clamoring to proceed to fight the Muslims. For food supplies, they used to slaughter an alternate number of camels; ten on one day and nine the next day. They were however afraid that Banu Bakr, on account of old long deep-seated animosity, would attack their rear. At that critical moment, Iblis (Satan) appeared to them in the guise of Suraqa bin Malik bin Ju‘sham Al-Mudlaji — chief of Bani Kinana — saying to them: “I guarantee that no harm will happen from behind.”

Allah(SWT) described this: · “…boastfully and to be seen of men, and hinder (men) from the path of Allâh. ” [8:47]
They moved swiftly northward to Badr. On the way they received another message from Abu Sufyan asking them to go back home because the caravan had escaped the Muslims. Abu Sufyan, on learning the intention of the Muslims, led his caravan off the main route, and inclined it towards the Red Sea. By this maneuver, he was able to slip past the ambush and was out of their reach.

On receiving Abu Sufyan’s message, the Makkan army showed a desire to return home. Abu Jahl, however haughtily and arrogantly insisted that they proceed to Badr and stay three nights and make festivities. Badr was a seasonal market as well and Abu Jahl wanted to demonstrate the strength of the Quraysh to the people and impress on the Arabs that Quraysh still had the upper hand and enjoyed supremacy in that area. Abu Jahl’s threats and insistence notwithstanding, Banu Zahrah, acting on the advice of Al-Akhnas bin Shuraiq, broke away and returned to Makkah. Thenceforth Al-Akhnas remained ‘the well-rubbed palm tree’ for Bani Zahrah and was blindly obeyed in all relevant matters.

Banu Hashim were also inclined to break away, but Abu Jahl’s threats made them desist from that idea. The rest of the army, now 1000 soldiers, approached Badr and encamped themselves beyond a sand dune at Al-‘Udwat Al-Quswa. ‘The intelligence corps’ of the army reported to Rasoolullah(SAW) that an encounter with the Makkans was inescapable, and that a daring step in this context had to be taken.

Rasoolullah(SAW) held an advisory emergency meeting to review the developing situation and consult with the army leaders. Admittedly, some Muslims feared the encounter and their courage began to waver; in this regard, Allâh says:

“As your Rabb caused you (O Muhammad [Peace be upon him) ] to go out from your home with the Truth, and verily, a party among the believers disliked it, disputing with you concerning the Truth after it was made manifest, as if they were being driven to death while they were looking (at it).”

Anfal 8:5-6

Rasoolullah(SAW) addressed his followers and apprised his men of the gravity of the situation and asked for their advice. Abu Bakr(RA) was the first who spoke on the occasion and assured Rasoolullah(SAW) of unreserved obedience to his command. Omar ibn Al Khattab(RA) was the next to stand up and supported the views expressed by his noble friend. Then Al-Miqdad bin ‘Amr(RA) got up and said: “O Messenger of Allâh! Proceed where Allah(SWT) directs you to, for we are with you. We will not say as the Children of Israel said to Musa(AS): “Go you and your Rabb and fight and we will stay here;” Rather we shall say: · “Go you and your Rabb and fight and we will fight along with you.” By Allah! If you were to take us to Barq Al-Ghimad, we will still fight resolutely with you against its defenders until you gained it.”

Rasoolullah(SAW) thanked him and blessed him. The three leaders who spoke were from the Muhajireen, who only constituted a minor section of the army. Rasoolullah(SAW) wanted to hear the Ansaar’s view because they were the majority of the soldiers and were expected to shoulder the brunt of the war activities. Moreover, the clauses of Al-‘Aqabah Pledge which the Ansaar of Madina gave to Rasoolullah(SAW) in Mina only committed them to protect him within the boundaries of Madina and did not commit them to fighting beyond their territories. I have mentioned this very important pledge in detail later but for this discussion it is important to realise how Rasoolullah(SAW) was cautious and careful to ensure that he had the support of all his people, even those as committed as Al Ansaar. Rasoolullah(SAW) wanted to know where the Ansaar stood at this very critical time when they were not bound by their formal treaty. So Rasoolullah(SAW) once again said: “Advise me my men!” by which he meant the Ansaar, in particular.

Upon this Sa‘d bin Mu‘adh(RA) stood up and said: “By Allah(SWT), I feel you want us (Ansaar) to speak.” Rasoolullah(SAW) directly said: “Yes!” Sa‘d(RA) said: “O Messenger of Allah(SWT)! We believe in you and we bear witness to what you have brought to us and we declare in unequivocal terms that what you have brought is the Truth. We give you our firm pledge of obedience and sacrifice. We will obey you most willingly in whatever you command us, and by Allah(SWT), Who has sent you with the Truth, if you were to ask us to plunge into the sea, we will do that most readily and not a man of us will stay behind. We do not grudge the idea of encounter with the enemy. We are experienced in war and we are trustworthy in combat. We hope that Allah(SWT) will show you through our hands those deeds of valor which will please your eyes. Kindly lead us to the battlefield in the Name of Allah(SWT).”

As they say, the rest is history. The Muslims won the battle and the Quraysh were roundly defeated. More than 70 of their leaders were killed, including Abu Jahl. Allah(SWT) sent angels to help the Muslims. The Qur’an says about this day:

And Allah has already made you victorious at Badr, when you were a weak little force. So fear Allah much that you may be grateful.

A’al Imran 3:123

There are 3 major lessons in leadership from this entire episode:

1. The ability to see the potential advantage in a high risk situation: The leader must have the judgment to assess the risk to see if it is worth taking. There has to be a balance between getting overly extended on the one hand and losing out on major potential gains by being risk averse on the other. The ability to see the advantage and correctly assess the chance of success is the first major requirement of the leader.

2. Consultative decision making: It is essential to take people into confidence if you want their commitment to your cause. The leader must share all relevant information, must trust his people and must be prepared to put his own credibility on the line. He must ensure that he has the genuine support of all his people and make sure that he takes steps to unearth and hesitation or conflict as early as possible. It can be disastrous to go into the challenge and then discover that you didn’t have the support of key people. At the same time there must be an upbeat atmosphere to the whole thing; a focus on the certainty of success and the potential gains from it. Without that positive energy will drain away and be replaced by fear. The possibility of success is very important. Excitement after all is fear that is optimistic of success.

3. Internal faith and connection with Allah(SWT): Ultimately leadership is about the willingness to stand alone before your Rabb and ask for His help for the mission. It needs enough of a connection with Him to enable the leader to do this with the confidence that He hears and will answer. I believe that it is this connection that is often missing and in that case is a critical deficiency.

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