Review Of The Battle Of Badr

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Shaykh Allamah Shibli Nomani

Having given a bare description of events, we now proceed to a critical examination of the question whether the battle of Badr was a defensive measure against the Quraish or, as generally stated by historians, a high-way robbery directed against a trade-caravan.

I know there is a difference between history and a court of law, and that history narrates its facts not quite in the same manner as a court of law adopts to write down its verdict. I also admit that my duty is to narrate facts and not to write down a judgment. But there is an occasion when a historical event has assumed the nature of a law suit, and I am forced to deviate from the usual style and deal with the issues on the lines of a legal judgment.

In doing so, I fear naught if all the historians and biographers stand arrayed against me. It shall soon be evident that truth, single-handed, may conquer a host. In order to ensure continuity in the line of thought, we must first tell our readers what, (in the light of our researches) was the real situation.
The fact is that the whole of Mecca was crying for revenge at the death of Hadramu. This had led to petty skirmishes and each party was living in dread of the other. As usual in such circumstances, rumours take wing. At this time Abu Sufyan travelled to Syria at the head of a big trade caravan. He was still in Syria when a rumour was bruited abroad that the Muslims were planning an attack on the caravan. Abu Sufyan despatched a messenger post-haste to Mecca to inform the Quraish, and Quraish started making preparations for war. In Medina it was believed that the Quraish were bringing up a huge army to attack the city. The Prophet (p) decided to take defensive measures; and thus took place the battle of Badr.

In order to decide the issue, let us first state the principles uncontroversially accepted by all of us. They will serve as established fundamentals in the progress of our discussion. They are as follows:

1. If a fact has been described by the Qur’an in clear words, no contradictory report, from whatsoever source, shall be deemed reliable.

2. Due regard shall be paid to the grade of authenticity in which each book on traditions has been generally placed.

It is generally agreed that when the Prophet (p) came to know that the Quraish had set out from Mecca with great preparations, he turned to the Companions and sought their views. The Muhajirs were highly enthusiastic in volunteering themselves; but the Prophet (p) was anxious to know if the Ansar were willing. Sa’d or some other respectable Ansari realised the situation and stood up, and thus addressed the Prophet: ‘Is it we you mean? We are not the sort of people who had told Moses to go himself with his God and carry on the fight, while they would sit where they were. By Allah, if you order us, we will plunge down into sea or fire.’

It is also agree that there were some of the Companions who hesitated to take part in the battle. The Holy Qur’an says:

‘Though a party among the believers were averse.’ Quran – 8:5

Historians and traditionists generally accounted for the Prophet’s anxiety to know the views of the Ansar, by reference to the promise given by them at the time of Bai’at (oath of allegiance) at Mecca. There the Ansar had promised to oppose the enemy if Medina itself was attacked. They were not pledged to give battle out of Madina. The crucial point in our controversy is the location of the place where the consultations took place. Historians say that the Prophet (p) had mind to attack the trade caravan when he first set out from Medina, but when he had gone a distance of a few stages he came to know of the approach of the Quraish army. It was then and there that the Prophet (p) called the Ansar and the Muhajirs to ascertain their views. All that followed took place here. But, transcending the writers on Sira (biography) or any other source whatsoever, we have the testimony of the Qur’an, which we must all accept in humble submission. The Quran says:

‘This is like what time the Lord had caused thee to go forth from thy house for a party among the believers were averse. Disputing with thee respecting the right cause after it had become manifest, as though they were led forth unto death while they looked on. And recall what time Allah was promising you one of the two parties that it should be yours, and ye would fain have that the one without arms were yours; whilst Allah besought to justify the truth by His words and to cut off the root of the infidels.’ – Quran 8:7

According to the rules of Arabic grammar, the Wa’u occurring in the phrase ‘Wa Inna’ in the above passage is ‘Wa’u Haliyah’ or consequential, which makes the flinching of a group from battle, a simultaneous occurrence with the setting out of the Prophet (p) from Medina and not with a later time when he had marched off some stages. Wa’u Haliyah Or the consequential Wa’u denotes that the time when they hesitated was no other than the time they were coming out of their houses.

2. The foregoing Verse clearly indicates that it was a time when the Muslims could expect either the trade caravan or the army coming from Mecca. Historians allege that it speaks of the time when the Prophet (p) had reached Badr. But we know that by the time the Prophet (p) reached Badr, the trade caravan had safely passed off. In these circumstances how could God promise to place at their disposal one of the two-the trade caravan or the Quraish army. Thus it is evident that according to the Qur’anic verse the consultations were held at a time when either of the two could be attacked that is, the time when the Prophet was still at Medina and when a trade caravan was reported to be on the road under Abu Sufyan, while a Quraish army fully equipped for battle, on the march from Mecca.

3. Another point that deserves to be noted is that, of the two bodies of infidels spoken of in this verse, one is the trade caravan and the other a force splendid and equipped Ghair Dhat Shaukatah, namely the Quriahs army advancing from Mecca to give battle. The verse also clarifies that a section of the Muslims were in favour of an attack on the caravan, which God disapproved in these words.

‘And you would fain have that the one without arms were yours; whilst besought to justify the truth by His words and to falsify the false even though the guilty ones were averse.’ – Quran 8:4

On one side are those who want to attack the caravan and on the other is God who wills to establish the truth with His word and uproot infidelity altogether. Which side would the Holy Prophet take? I shudder at the thought of the answer to this question, if it should accord with the statements of our historians and traditionists.

4. Let us now consider another aspect. The prophet (p) is marching out of Medina with the best force he could muster. Three hundred Muhajirs and Ansar he commands-including Ali, the future victor of Khaibar, and Amr Hamza, the top-most warrior, each of whom is by himself a match for a whole army. With all that that (as clearly mentioned in the Qur’an) some of the Companions feel their hearts sinking for fear as though they were being driven into the jaws of death. The Qur’an says:

‘While a party among the believers were averse. Disputing with thee respecting the right cause after it had become manifest, as though they were led forth unto death.’ – Quran 8:4-5

If the object was merely to attack the trade caravan, why then this fear, this fidgety feelings, this evasive attitude. Many a time before this, as the historians report, batches of men had been despatched to pillage the caravans. None of them had ever been injured. Why should this particular caravan inspire so great a fear that a good many of them, in spite of their numbers, are seen drooping down unnerved? Decidedly it proves that the approach of a huge army had been reported to the Muslims before they left the city.

5. The Holy Qur’an has yet another verse regarding this affair. It was revealed at the time when the Holy Prophet (p) was still in Medina as expressly reported in Sahih Bukhari (commentary on Sur Nisa or the Women). The verse runs thus:

‘Allah with their riches and their lives. Allah hath preferred in rank the strivers with their riches and their lives above the holders-back, and unto all Allah hath promised good.’ – Quran 4:95

Sahih al-Bukhari quotes here comment of Ibn Abbas who said that those who did not participate in the battle could not be equated with those who participated. Sahih al-Bukhari adds that the verses when first revealed made no exception in case of those suffering from physical disability. Abdullah Ibn Maktum, when the verse was reported to him, came to the Prophet (p) with a request to be excused as he had lost his eyesight. Then and there the words ‘except those who are disable’ were revealed to be appended. This makes it certain that while still at Medina the Muslims had come to know that they were going not to attack a trade caravan, but to measure swords and lay down their lives.

6. Regarding the Quriash pagans who came from mecca to fight at Badr, the Holy Qur’an says:

‘And be not like unto those who came forth from their homes vaunting and to be seen of men and hindering others from the wy of Allah; and that Allah is the Encompasser of that which they work.’ – Quran 8:47

Next to the Qur’an is the status of the Hadith. A number of books on traditions give brief or detailed description of Badr. Barring the report narrated on the authority of Ka’b ibn Malik, I did not come across, in my study of these books, a ingle report saying that the Prophet (p) had set out for Badr in order to intercept the trade-caravan. The report of Ka’b Ibn Malik is worth discussing in the following facts:

1. Ka’b ibn Malik himself had not been a participant in the battle of Badr, hence he does not report from personal observation.

2. The motive behind the report is to under-estimate the importance of Badr so that he might forgive himself for his absence. That it was an eventful encounter may best be judged from the fact that the Qur’an called it the ‘Day of Proof or Decision’, and promised absolution from sins to those who took part in it.

The participants in this battle were always highly honoured, and received the highest pensions in the days of Umar. To be called a Badri (participant in the battle of Badr) was a special mark of honour.
The report of Ka’b Ibn Malik is as follows:

‘From Ka’b who says: I never kept away from accompanying the Holy Prophet (p) in any battle except that of Tabuk and the Ghazwa of Badr, the which too I missed and no displeasure was shown to any who did not join it for the Holy Prophet (p) had set out in search of the caravan, but God brought the two forces face to face unexpectedly.’

Against this there is a report on the authority of Anas mentioned by Muslim. It runs thus:

1. Anas reported that when the Prophet (p) came to know of the approach of Abu Sufyan, he held consultations and sought advice. Abu Bakr spoke, but the Prophet (p) was not attentive to him. Then Umar, followed Abu Bakr and the Holy Prophet (p) was again not attentive.

Then Sa’d Ibn Abada stood up and asked if the Prophet wanted to know their views. On oath he declared that if he ordered them to jump with their horses into a river, they would do it, and if he ordered them to go up to Bark –al-Ghammad, they would go. Anas said that on hearing these words the Prophet (p) invited people to take part in the battle. They started and stopped at Badr.

2. The first to arrive was an advance party of the Quraish, which included an Abyssinian slave of Bani Hajjaj. The Muslims arrested him and asked him the whereabouts of Abu Sufyan. He said he knew not where Abu Sufyan was, he could only say that Abu Jahl, Shaiba and Umayya Ibn Khalaf were coming. At this he was beaten again and would again promise to give a clue.

But again when they stopped beating him, he said that he knew nothing of Abu Sufyan, but that Abu Jahl and the other chiefs were coming. The Holy Prophet (p) was offering prayers and had to intervene saying.

‘By God who has my life at His mercy, when he tells a lie you leave him.’

The first part of this report says that when the Prophet (p) came to know of the approach of Abu Sufyan, he consulted the Companions and desired help from the Ansar. Now it is agreed on all hands that Abu Sufyan’s arrival had become known in Medina.

It follows that Medina was the place where the Prophet (p) sought help from the Ansar. Had this taken place outside Medina, as mentioned in books on Sira, how could the Ansar be there? The same part of the report says that after having consulted his companions, the Prophet (p) invited the people to battle.
If the version of the books on Sira be accepted then the order of events would be that the Ansar, contrary to their custom and promise, first marched out to take part in the fighting, then the Prophet, (p) ascertained their views, and then he asked them to join the battle-obviously an insane statement.

The second part of the report clearly indicates that through revelation or some other source, the Prophet (p) had come to know that it was not the trade-caravan they had to face but a force of fighting men. It is quite possible that other people might have not known it.

In this report there is yet another knot to be undone. If the Muslims had the knowledge of the approach of Abu Sufyan and knew nothing of the Quraish army, why would the Prophet be at pains to call in the entire Muslims strength? If the narration of facts, instead of beginning with the ‘On hearing of the approach of Abu Sufyan’, had been with ‘On knowing of the approach of the infidels of Mecca’, that would have been more in keeping with the circumstances. Imam Ahmed Ibn Hanbal in his Musnad, Ibn Abi Shaiba in his Musannaf, Ibn Jarir in Tarikh and Baihaqi in his Dala’il have all recorded the event with the words substituted as above and also declare it to be the correct version reported by the hero of Badr, the lion-hearted Ali Ibn Abi Talib. ‘

‘On the authority of Ali who says that when we came to Medina, we got fruits to eat and they did not agree with us. We fell ill. The Holy Prophet (p) would often inquire about Badr. When we got the news that the pagans were coming, the Prophet (p) set out for Badr. Badr is the name of a well and here we reached before the arrival of the infidels.’

This version clearly states that the Prophet (p) had set out, when he had been informed of the advance of the Quraish and that he ordered a halt when he had come to Badr. This report makes no mention of the trade caravan.

With these texts before us no further argument is called for. The following facts may, however, serve to set at rest doubts, if any:

1. All the expeditions sent from time to time by the Prophet (p) to harass the caravans of the Quriahs had comprised from twenty to two hundred men, but none of them had ever included a single Ansari. The historians explicitly mention this fact and feel called upon to do so, as the Ansar had not committed themselves to fight outside Medina. Consequently, it is obvious that the Ansar should not have been there with the Muslim army in case it had merely aimed at falling upon a trade-caravan.

On the contrary we find that the Ansar constituted the major portion of the Muslim force on this occasion-out of 305 only 74 being the Muhajirs, and the rest Ansar. This is then a conclusive argument establishing the fact that the Quraish had already been reported to be making for Medina before the Muslims moved from the city. It was for this reason that the Prophet (p) addressed the Ansar for it was now time to itillize their services.

2. The caravan route to Syria passed close by Medina. The tribes living between Mecca and Medina were mostly under the domination of the Quraish. On the other hand the Quriash had no influence over the tribes living between Medina and Syria. If the trade-caravan had been the target, the Muslims ought to have advanced towards Syria. That the caravan was coming from Syria and the Prophet (p) was in the know of the fact, yet he marched out in the direction of Mecca, instead of going towards Syria, only to learn that the caravan had made its escape and he was to measure swords with the Quraish, is simply unthinkable.

3. The chronological order of events is this:

(a) The Quraiysh wrote to Abdullah Ibn Ubayy that they should turn Muhammad (p) and his companions out of Medina or they would come to Medina and destroy them all. (already mentioned on the authority of Sunan Abu Dawud).

(b) Abu Jahl told Sa’d Ibn Mu’adh that he had given shelter to their enemies, and if he had not been promised protection by Umayya Ibn Khalaf, he would have killed Sa’d.

(c) Kurz Ibn Jabir raided the grazing fields belonging to the Medinites in Jamadi al-Thani of the 2nd year of the Hijra; and made off with the Prophet’s camels.

4. Next month the Prophet (p) deputed Abdullah Ibn Jahsh to watch and report the movement of the Quraish.

5. Abdullah Ibn jahsh, against the directions of the Prophet (p), pillaged a small caravan of the Quraish, killing one and taking two of them prisoners. Let us keep in view all that the Quraish had done to the Muslims in Mecca, and note that their craving for revenge had known no abatement. They had written to Abdullah Ibn Ubayy that they would come to Medina and destroy them and the Prophet both; and then Kurz Fihri had attacked the pasture lands of Medina.

Then Abdullah Ibn Jahsh attacked their caravan and two of their dignitaries were taken prisoner, which was adding fuel to fire. But the Quraish put up with all that and did not think of any sort of revenge. Only when the Prophet comes out to loot their caravan which carries the entire investment of the Meccans, do they feel forced to come out for defence. Even then at a short distance from Badr, when they come to know of the same passage of the caravan, their leaders, including the commander-in-chief, Utba, suggest that it is no use fighting and they had better turn back. Is this presentation of facts in keeping with the revengeful spirit of the Quraish, or does it do credit to a Prophet’s character as a Messenger of God?

6. Most of the historians state that people did not show much enthusiasm when they were asked to advance against the caravan. Then thought it was neither a true battle nor a religious war, but simply a bid for booty: hence only those who sought material gain joined the expedition. But facts point the other way.

Leading personalities and warriors of note among the Ansar were out to a man. Need and indigence, if there was any, was to be met with among Muhajirs; but the Ansar were twice as many as the Muhajirs.

7. Those who came forward with a willing response to the call of the Prophet (p) included Abu Bakr, Umar and Miqdad, from the Muhajirs, and Sa’d Ibn Ubada from amongst the Ansar. Sa’d Ibn Ubada could not participate in the battle of Badr and was unable to leave Medina. Thus it must be concluded that Sa’d made his reply in Medina where it was already known that the Quraish were on the march for an attack. The fact that the consent of the People was sought at Medina follows as a logical corollary.

8. The assertion that the Prophet (p) did not meet with a unanimous response when he called upon people to start for Badr, that there were some who flinched from it as they knew that it was not a religious war, but only a raid for plunder, and so they were free to go or stay back, are not confined to historians; some books on tradtions tell the same tale. Tabari has it in these words:

‘People have reported that when the Prophet heard of Abu Sufyan’s departure from Syria, he called the Muslims and informed them that a caravan of the Quraish, was coming laden with the wealth of the Quraish, and he asked them to proceed in its direction for God might perhaps grant them something out of it as booty. People evinced their readiness but some of them shrunk from it, thinking that the Holy Prophet (p) would not have to fight.’

This statement contradicts the explicit text of the Qur’an, which says that those who felt disinclined did so, not because they were not ready, but because they saw death staring them in the face. The words are:\

‘And a party among the believers were averse. Disputing with thee respecting the right cause after it had become manifest, as though they were led forth unto death while they looked on.’ – Quran 8:5-6

9. The books on tradition and history all say that a mile away from Medina (at a place known as Bi’r Abi Ghabah) the Holy Prophet (p) reviewed the Muslim army and ordered Abdullah Ibn Umar and others to return back as they were below fifteen years or had not attained majority. Had it been the object to raid the caravan, the youngsters should have done it better. In fact they had a religious war on hand, which was a sacred duty, obligatory only for adults. Minors were therefore, ordered back as ineligible for it.

10. Hafiz Ibn Abd al-Barr, in Isti’ab, reports that on the occasion when the Prophet (p) advised the Muslims to attac(k) the Quraish, Khaitama, an Ansari, asked his son, Sa’d, to let him go, while he (Sa’d) should stay there to look after the women. ‘Respected Sir,’ said the son, ‘I should have surely given you precedence over myself on any other occasion, but here is a chance for martyrdom; I will not forego this privilege.’

They had to draw lots and Sa’d won. He went to the battle and was killed. This makes it decidedly certain that it was going to be a religious war, not a highway-man’s business; they were coveting the honour of martyrdom.

THE REAL CAUSE OF THE GHAZWA BADR

It was the characteristic of Arab race to start a bloody war whenever a man from a certain tribe got killed at the hands of another. Huge hosts swarmed up from both sides and blood ran in streams. These wars continued for years, whole tribes were destroyed; but the fighting knew no end. The Arabs were not generally literate, yet the name of the murdered was preserved, written down on a price of paper, and passed on to succeeding generations.

Little children were taught to remember it so that they might take a revenge when they grew up. The horrible wars of Dahis and Basus each of which continued for almost forty years and claimed thousands of lives, were fought for no other reasons. The Arabic word for such a revenge was ‘Thar’, a word that looms large in the national history of the Arabs.

As already mentioned, Amr Ibn Hadrami had been slain in an encounter with Abdullah Ibn Jahsh. Hadrami was an ally of Utba Ibn Rabi’a and Utba was the chief of the whole Quraish community. Badr, and all the battles that followed, were in consequence of revenge for this man’s death. Urwa Ibn Zubair, the son of A’isha’s sister, has explicitly stated in these words:

The cause that led to Badr and all the battles fought between the Prophet (p) and the infidels of Arabia, was, as stated by Urwa Ibn Zubair, the death of Amr Hadrami, who was slain by Waqid Ibn Abdullah Tamimi.

A general mistake that leads to fallacious view of facts is the presumption that Badr was the first battle fought against the infidels. As a matter of fact several engagements had actually preceded it. ‘

‘Urwa Ibn Zubair wrote a letter to Abd al-Malik, the opening sentence of which was: Abu Sufyan Ibn Harb was coming from Syria with seventy riders all of whom were Quraish.’

This was reported to the Prophet (p) and his companions. Hostilities had already broken out between the two parties, and a few persons from the other party including Ibn Hadrami had been slain and some taken prisoners…… And this had been the event that had led to war between the Prophet (p) and the Quriash. This had also been the first occasion when losses were mutually inflicted; and this encounter had taken place before Abu Sufyan departed for Syria. (Tabari, p. 1285)

The best way to arrive at the truth is to see what the other side had to say. Such evidence is rarely found, but fortunately, it is available in this case. Hakim Ibn Hizam (a nephew of Khadija), who was still an unbeliever had come with the Quraish army. He was five years older than the Prophet (p) and had been friendly to him in the pre-ministry days and continued to be so even when the Prophet (p) had entered upon his mission. However he did not embrace Islam till the conquest of Mecca. Ibn Hakim was a Quraish dignitary, held the office of Rifada, and owned and managed Dar al-Nadwa. He lived till the days of the Caliph Marwan Ibn Hakam.

Once he went to see Marwan, who received him with great honour. Marwan left his royal seat, sat by his side and asked him to relate the events at Badr. Having described the preliminary details, he said,

‘When the Quraish had encamped, I went to Utba and said to him, ‘O’ father of Walid, won’t you like to win a life-long fame? How is it possible? Asked Utba, and I answered, You see, the Quraish demand from Mohammad nothing more than blood for the blood of Hadrami, and he was your ally. Why don’t you pay his blood-money yourself and let all your people march back home-ward. Utba liked this proposal, but Abu Jahl did not consent to it. Abu Jahl called Amir Hadrami, the brother of the deceased Hadrami, and said that he should stand out and invoke the aid of the nation, for he had his chance of vengeance close at hand. According to Arab custom, Amir Hadrami cast off his clothes and cried, ‘Oh Amr Hadrami, Oh, Amr Hadrami, Oh Amr Hadrami!’ (Tabari, pp. 1314-1316)

The first man who came into the battle-field was this Amir Hadrami. Hakim Ibn Hizam and Amir Hadrami were both non-believers, when Badr was fought. Utba and Abu Jahl, the leading chiefs died infidels. When persons of consequence, such as these, regarded the battle of Badr as a revenge for Hadrami’s blood, we need not care if other, born hundreds of years after the battle, believed that it had been the outcome of an intended plunder of the caravan.

THE ESSENTIAL POINT

The fact thus stands definitely established that the battle of Badr was not the sequel to a plundering expedition.

But it is our duty to explain how the entire body of biographers mistook a fact so patent and manifest, and why in books like Sahih al-Bukhari, we meet with statements that the original case of the battle was the attack planned against the trade-caravan.

As a matter of fact, in keeping with the rules of military campaigns, it was seldom disclosed where expedition was to be sent and why. In Shahih al-Bukhari (Ghazwa Tabuk) there is a report on the authority of Ka’b Ibn Malik, a well-known companion, who reports that:

‘Whenever the Prophet (p) decided on a Ghazwa, he would speak of some other place.’

The commentators of Sahih al-Bukhari have explained that on such occasion the Prophet (p) used ambiguous and double meaning words. I do not feel inclined to accept this interpretation of the word as a general rule. However it can be gathered from a survey of events that on certain occasions the real object was so ambiguously expressed that people were left making different conjectures.

It is how Sa’d Ibn Khaithama might have come to know before-hand, on the occasion of Badr, that a fighting force, not a trade-caravan, was to be handled; while on the contrary, in sahih al-Bukhari on the authority of Ka’b Ibn Malik himself we meet with a report to the effect that on the occasion of Badr only the trade caravan was the objective.’

We have already pointed out that an occurrence reported by a narrator (not expecting the companions), is, in many cases, not the objective truth, but the interpretation of the narrator himself, that is, he reports as he viewed it. This is what happened in the case of Badr. No wonder then that the Companions guessed differently, and the guess in accord with the general temperament of the people got current.

CONSEQUENCES OF BADR

The battle of Badr had manifold effects on the religious and political conditions. In fact it was the first step of Islam towards progress. The powerful grandees of the Quraish, each of whom stood like a wall of steel in the way of Islam, were all wiped off. On the death of Utba and Abu Jahl, the Supreme leadership of the Quraish devolved on Abu Sufyan, which paved the way for the Umayyad ascendancy; but the hay-day of the power of the Quraish was over.

In medina Abdullah Ibn Ubayy Ibn Salul had been till now a declared infidel. He now made a show of crossing over to Islam, though throughout life he remained a hypocrite and died as such. The tribes of Arabia that had watched the trend of events were overawed, though not won over. Side by side with the favourable turns, the hostile forces also showed new developments. The Jews had entered into a pact to remain aloof. But the decisive victory at Badr roused their jealousy, which they could not rein back. …

Till now the Quraish had to lament the single loss of Hadrami. After the battle of Badr every Meccan house went into mourning and each Meccan child thirsted for revenge. The Ghazwa of Sawiq and the battle of Uhud were the outcome of the vehemence of this feeling. [1]

Reference:

[1] Sirat -un- Nabi [Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam] By Shaykh Allamah Shibli Nomani (r.a) – volume 2, page 35 – 53

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