the Prophet armed. The ambivalent relationship between the Sword and the Word…
Mohammed began to send raiding parties against Meccan caravans. Booty was his first source of income and allowed him to build up a treasury. His first real battle, at the Badr well, a relay point from caravans for Syria, took place in 624. Mohammed and his men set an ambush there after drying up or poisoning all the other wells. Word reached Mecca that he was at Badr, and a small army was sent to crush him. Mohammed stood fast with his three hundred men and defeated the thousand man Meccan force.
Mohammed’s troops were more highly motivated, we would say today, and he had carefully chosen the terrain. His victory was also proof that Allah was on his side. “it was not you who fired the arrow, it was Allah who fired the arrow,” the Koran says. Stories of the Prophet’s prowess sprang up, and his fingernail parings and hair were collected.
The yearafter the battle at Badr, the Meccans marched on Medina with three thousand men, and Mohammed’s men rashly left their citadels to confront the enemy at a place called Uhud, about a mile from Medina. This time they were routed, and the Prophet himself received a swordstroke across the face. If Badr was more than a victory, Uhud was more than a defeat, for Allah seemed to have abandoned the Prophet.
Fortunately, a revelation arrived to explain the defeat as a test for believers. The soldiers were told that they had been beaten because they had fought for worldly gain rather than for Allah. In 627, a force of ten thousand men, a coalition of jews and Meccans, prepared to attack Medina. Mohammed conscripted the entire population to dig a broad ditch around the city. The ditch was finished in a few days. The Meccan army pitched its tents for a siege, but after two weeks the siege was lifted. There had been hardly any fighting. The failure to take Medina confirmed its power as a city state.
Medina was a sound territorial base, but to make it secure, the Prophet had to conqur Mecca. He now had only four years to love, years in which he must guarantee the survival of his faith by laying the foundation for an Islamic state. Rather than a frontal attack on Mecca, Mohammed concluded a treaty with his old enemies the Quraishites, at the same time subduing the tribes around Mecca, so that when he was ready to take the city, it would be encircled.
The treaty, negotiated in 628, made important concessions to the Quraishites and Mohammed obtained what he most wanted: he forced the Meccans to recognize him as a legitimate political and religious leader. They also granted him the right to proselytize among Bedouin tribes and permission to make pilgrimages to Mecca.
The following year Mohammed visited Mecca.The treaty allowed him to stay three days, in which he was able to enlist the secret alliance of several important Meccans. He co
sense they were weary of conflict. Returning to Medina, he waited for a chance to break the truce. It came soon enough, when a Bedouin tribe allied to the Quraishites attacked a tribe under Mohammed’s protection. The Prophet raised an army of ten thousand men and marched on Mecca. The Meccans capitulated with almost no resistance, and on January 11, 630, Mohammed entered his birthplace as a conqueror.