The Battle of Uhud ( ') was fought on 23 March, 625 (3 Shawwal 3 AH in the Islam) near Mount Uhud, in what is now north-western Arabia.
Muhammad had preached the religion of Islam in Mecca from 613 to 622. He had attracted a small community of followers, but also drew staunch opposition from the rest of the Quraysh, the clan that ruled Mecca and to which he belonged. The Muslims fled Mecca in 622 after years of persecution and established themselves at Medina (formerly known as Yathrib). As such, they considered themselves to be in a state of war with Mecca and raided Meccan caravans. The Meccans sent out a small army to punish the Muslims and stop their raiding. At the Battle of Badr in 624, a small Muslim force of 313 men defeated the much larger Meccan army of 1000 men.
Many Muslims considered this unexpected victory a proof that they had been favored by Allah, and believed they were assured such victories in the future. A number of the leading tribesmen of Quraysh including Abu Jahl had been killed at Badr, and so leadership passed to Abu Sufyan. He forbade the mourning of the losses at Badr, for he was eager to exact revenge upon Muhammad, vowing to conduct a retaliatory raid on the city of Medina. Several months later, Abu Sufyan accompanied a party of 200 men to the city, obtaining temporary residence with the chief of the Jewish tribe Banu Nadir and learning more of the current situation in Medina. He and his party then left Medina, burning down two houses and laying waste to some fields in fulfillment of his vow. Further skirmishes between the Meccans and the Muslims would occur thereafter.
Meccan force sets out
The following year on 11 March, 625 with Abu Sufyan at the helm, the Meccans — anxious to avenge their defeat at Badr — raised another force numbering 3,000 and set out for the Muslim base in Medina. Rather than attacking Medina itself, which was populated by numerous strongholds that would have required long sieges to overcome, they camped on the pastures north of the city, hoping that the Muslims would come out to meet them. According to the early Muslim historian Ibn Ishaq, a number of Meccan women are said to have accompanied Abu Sufyan's army to provide vocal support, including Hind bint Utbah, his wife.
A scout alerted Muhammad of the Meccan army's presence and numbers late on Thursday 21 March. The next morning, at the Muslim conference of war, there was dispute over how best to repel the Meccans. Muhammad and many of the senior figures suggested that it would be safer to fight within Medina and take advantage of its heavily fortified strongholds. Younger Muslims argued that the Meccans were destroying their crops, and that huddling in the strongholds would destroy Muslim prestige. Muhammad eventually conceded to the wishes of the latter, and readied the Muslim force for battle.
Encounter at Uhud
A group of approximately 1,000 men set out on late Friday from Medina and managed to circle around the Meccan forces. Early the next morning, they took a position on the lower slopes of the hill of Uhud. Shortly before the battle commenced, 'Abdullah ibn Ubayy (the chief of the Khazraj tribe) and his followers withdrew their support for Muhammad and returned to Medina, with reports suggesting Ibn Ubayy's discontent with the plan to march out from Medina to the Meccans. Ibn Ubayy and his followers would later receive censure in the Qur'an for this act.
The Muslim force, now numbering around 700, was stationed on the slopes of Uhud, facing Medina with the rear being protected by the towering mount itself. In order to shield a vulnerable extremity of the Muslim flank, Muhammad posted a detachment of archers on a nearby rocky eminence and instructed them to remain fixated, even if the Muslim lines advanced. The Meccan army positioned itself facing the Muslim lines, with the main body led by Abu Sufyan, and the left and right flanks commanded by Ikrimah ibn Abi Jahl and Khalid ibn al-Walid respectively.
The Meccans attacked with their initial charge led by the Medinan exile Abu ‘Amir. Thwarted by a shower of stones from the Muslims, Abu ‘Amir and his men were forced to retire and tend to the camps behind the Meccan lines. The Meccan standard bearer, Talhah bin Abi Talhah al-‘Abdari, advanced and challenged the enemy to a Duel. Ali ibn Abi Talib, a companion of Muhammad, rushed forth and struck Talhah down in a single blow. Talhah's brother, `Uthman, ran forward to pick up the fallen banner — the Meccan women willing him on with songs and the loud beating of timbrels. Hamza ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib emerged from the Muslim ranks, bringing him to a similar fate as Talhah. One by one, Talhah's brothers and sons went to retrieve the Meccan banner and fight, but all eventually perished.
Following the duels, general engagement between the two armies commenced. Meccan confidence quickly began to dissolve as the Muslims swept through their ranks. The Meccan army was pushed back, and repeated attempts by its cavalry to overrun the left Muslim flank were negated by the Muslim archers. Enjoying the best of these early encounters, the Muslims pierced through the Meccan lines, with victory appearing certain. The detachment of archers, however, disobeyed its initial orders to remain stationary and ran downhill to join in the advance and despoil the Meccan camp, leaving the flank vulnerable.
At this critical juncture, the Meccan cavalry led by Khalid ibn al-Walid exploited this move by the Muslim archers, and attacked their remnants still positioned on the hill. From here, they were then able to target and overrun the Muslim flank and rear. Confusion ensued, and numerous Muslims were killed including Mohammad's uncle, Hamza ibn Abdul-Muttalib and Mus'ab ibn Umair.
After fierce hand-to-hand combat, most of the Muslims managed to withdraw and regroup higher up on the slopes of Uhud. A small faction was cut off and tried to make its way back to Medina, though many of these were killed. The Meccans' chief offensive arm, its cavalry, was unable to ascend the slopes of Uhud in pursuit of the Muslims, and so the fighting ceased. Hind and her companions are said to have mutilated the Muslim corpses, cutting off their ears and noses and making the relics into anklets. Hind is reported to have cut open the corpse of Hamza, taking out his liver which she then attempted to eat. Abu Sufyan, after some brief verbal exchanges with Muhammad's companion, Umar ibn al-Khattab, decided to return to Mecca without pressing his advantage. The battle is also noted for the emergence of the military leadership and tactical military genius of Khalid ibn al-Walid, who would later become the most famous of all Arab generals during the Islamic expansion era, in conquering the Sassanid Empire.
Muhammad and the Muslims buried the dead on the battlefield, returning home that evening. The Meccans retired for the evening at a place called Hamra al-Asad, a few miles away from Medina. The next morning, Muhammad sent out a small force to hurry the Meccan army on their way home. According to Watt, this was because Muhammad realized that a show of force was required to speed the Meccans away from Medinan territory. The Meccans, not wanting to be perceived as being chased away, remained nearby for a few days before leaving.
For the Muslims, the battle held a religious dimension as well as a military one. They had expected another victory like at Badr, which was considered a sign of God's favor upon them. At Uhud, however, they had barely held off the invaders and had lost a great many men. A verse of the Qur'an revealed soon after the battle cited the Muslims' disobedience and desire for loot as the cause for this setback:
According to the Qur'an, then, the misfortunes at Uhud — largely the result of the rear guard abandoning their position in order to seek booty — were partly a punishment and partly a test for steadfastness.
Abu Sufyan, whose position as leader was no longer undisputed, set about forging alliances with surrounding Nomadic tribes in order to build up strength for another advance on Medina. The success of the Meccans' rousing of tribes against Muhammad reaped disastrous consequences for him and the Muslims with two main losses: one was where a Muslim party had been invited by a chieftain of the Ma'unah tribe, who were then killed as they approached by the tribe of Sulaym; while the other was when the Muslims had sent out instructors to a tribe which stated it wanted to convert to Islam — the instructors had been led into an ambush by the guides of the would-be Muslim tribe, and were subsequently killed. Soon thereafter, Muhammad became convinced that the Jewish tribe Banu Nadir harbored enmity towards him and were plotting to kill him. The Banu Nadir were expelled from Medina after a fifteen-day siege, with some relocating to the oasis of Khaybar and others to Syria. Abu Sufyan, along with the allied confederate tribes, would attack Medina in the Battle of the Trench, two years after the events at Uhud (in 627). The battle of Uhud is also depicted in the 2004 animated film, Muhammad, directed by Richard Rich. The cave in Mount Uhud where Muhammad rested temporarily during the battle has also received recent media attention in the light of proposals by some Islamic scholars for it to be destroyed.
- Ali ibn Abu Talib
- Abu Dujana
- Nusaybah Bint k’ab Al Maziniyyah
- Books and journals