The Battle of Khandaq (Trench)
|The city of Madina al-Munnawara|
When the battle was fought :
|2nd, 4th or 9th of Shawwal 5 AH, March 627 A.D.|
This battle is known by various names – battle of Khandaq(trench), battle of Ahzaab and battle of Abu Sufiyan.
The defeat at the battle of Badr and the temporary victory at Ohod had made the Qureshite community have one important dream – The destruction of Islam and Prophet Mohammed(pbuh&hf). Pagan tribes outside Mecca were sharing with them the same dream. This belief brought together these tribes. A delegation from these people went to Makkah and other Arab communities during the fifth year after the Hijrah, propagating war against the Prophet(pbuh&hf) and attempting to mobilize the Arab forces for the proposed war. They did not need much effort to persuade the Makkans to a military undertaking against the Prophet(pbuh&hf). Their response to the invitation was prompt, and without hesitation, they mobilized four thousand fighters.
There were clashes between the Muslims and some of the people of scripture who were neighboring Madina caused by their breaching of covenants with the Holy Prophet(pbuh&hf). The following seven tribes took part in this battle against the Muslims: Ghatfan, Saleem, Asjaa, Asad, Qareeza, Tazeer and Quresh. This army of about 24,000 was commanded by Abu Sufiyan and the Muslim arway which numbered 3,000 was commanded by the Prophet Mohammad(pbuh&hf) himself.
DIGGING OF THE TRENCH
The Holy Prophet(pbuh&hf) received the news of the imminent invasion a few days before their arrival at Madina. He consulted his companions, and Hazrat Salman al-Farisi(a.r.) counselled to dig a trench around Madina to prevent the invaders from entering it. The Prophet(pbuh&hf) commanded the Muslims to implement the plan. The number of days required to dig the trench is reported to be between six and twenty days as per different historical accounts.
Witnessing the trench, the invaders were surprised and realized that it had become difficult for them to enter Madina. Thus they found it necessary to besiege Madina instead of invading it directly. This siege continuted for about 20 days. Banu Quraidhah, a community from the followers of the Scripture, joined the pagan army after its arrival. This community had a covenant of peace with the Prophet(pbuh&hf). Their treacherous action was a frightening surprise to the Muslims. By breaching the covenant, this community gave the pagan army additional forces and equipment. It became the duty of the Muslims to add to their defensive lines another line.
THE MUSLIMS IN HORROR
There were many hypocrites among the Muslims who circulated frightening rumors, which added to the fear of the Muslims. The Holy Qur’an tells us of the psychological crisis with which the Muslims lived during that period:
“Behold! They came upon you from above you and from below you, and when the eyes grew wild and the hearts gaped up to the throats, and ye imagined various (vain) thoughts about God! In that situation the believers were tried: They were shaken with a mighty Shock. And behold! The hypocrites and those in whose hearts there is disease (even) say: God and His Apostle promised us nothing but delusion! Behold! A party among them said: O people of Yathrib (Madina), you cannot stand (the attack), therefore turn back! And a band of them ask for leave of the Prophet, saying: Truly our houses are bare and exposed though they were not exposed; they intended nothing but to flee.”(33:10-13)
It is also reported in Maarij-un-Nabuwwah (4:128) that when Amr ibn Abduwud challenged the Muslims, Hazrat Umar added to the fright by saying that Amr was such a fighter who alone fought 1,000 men at one time.
FIRST ATTEMPT FROM KUFFAR
An adventure young fighter named Nofel ibn Abdallah from the Kuffar army started the venture and jumped in the trench with his horse in an attemp to cross it. He was greeted by stones from the Muslim army and was not able to get out of the trench. Not bearing the stones thrown by the Muslims, he shouted in despair that O people of Arab it is much better for me to be killed than bear this painful stone throwing. Hearing this, Imam Ali(a.s.) got into the trench and within minutes killed him and cut him into two pieces (Seerat-e-Halbia Vol.2 Page 637, Seerat Ibn-e-Hashsham Vol.2 Page 196)
Amr ibn Abduwud, accompanied by Dhirar Ibn Al-Khattab, Akramah Ibn Abu Jahl, and others, sought and found a narrow place in the trench. Their horses leaped above the trench to the other side. The Muslims were in a state of shock and horror before the passage of these pagan soldiers to their side. The new danger, which was presented by their passage, made the morale of the Muslims much lower than before.
MEN OF STRONG FAITH
Though the hearts of most of the Muslims were filled with fear, some of them were unshaken by the new danger. It rather made their faith stronger in God, His Messenger, and the promised victory. These individuals were ready to sacrifice themselves and one of them certainly was determined to try to confine the danger, then to remove it. The Holy Qur’an tells us of the morale of these believers.
When the believers saw the confederate forces, they said: This is what God and His Apostle had promised us. And God and His Apostle told us what is true. And it only added to their faith and their zeal in obedience. “Among the believers are men who have been true to their covenant with God: Of them some have completed their vow (to the extreme), and some (still) wait; but they have never changed (their determination) in the least.”(33: 23)
The Holy Qur’an does not inform us of the number of those believers whose faith was increased by the increase of the danger. These believers may have been scores or just a few. However, faith sometimes remains only as a state of mind without being transformed into action. Some of the faith is active, flowing with vitality and moving the faithful to face the danger and to rise to its level and above its level.
IMAM ALI(a.s.)’S RESPONSE
History informed us of one of them because of his outstanding achievements at this battle, in confining and removing the danger, which shook the very foundation of the Islamic state. That man was no other than Imam Ali Ibn Abu Talib(a.s.).
Amr Ibn Abduwud, who crossed the trench, was well known among the Arabs. He attended the battle, boastfully making his place known to people. His very passage from one side to the other side of the trench, accompanied only by a small number of fighters, indicates that the man was extremely courageous. He was the only one from among the 24,000 fighters who tried to invade the Muslims directly and challenge them totally while he was with them on one side.
While mounting his horse, Amr went around the area of Sal’a, facing the Muslims and challenging them: “Is there any dueler?” He repeated this call but there was no response on the part of the companions. This compelled Imam Ali(a.s.) to rise up and request permission from the Prophet(pbuh&hf) to fight Amr. Prophet(pbuh&hf) said “Not you Ali”. Amr again repeated his challenge and there was no response again from the companions of the Prophet(pbuh&hf). Infact, as stated above, Hazrat Umar added to the fear of the Muslims by stating the story of Amr fighting 1,000 men at the same time alone. This time again Imam Ali(a.s.) asked for permission and the Prophet(pbuh&hf) replied in the same manner. Perhaps the prophet(pbuh&hf) wanted to test the loyal companions and also not to give chance to others to say that if Ali(a.s.) had not been given permission earlier then I would have gone to face Amr……
Finally Amr addressed the Muslim army as follows: “You muslims have been made to believe that there is a Jannah, is there anyone among you who has the courage to challenge me so that I can kill him and send him to his Jannah”. Hearing this the Prophet(pbuh&hf) asked his companions “Is there anyone among you who could stop the non-sense of this Dog”. Hearing this, none other than Imam Ali(a.s.) rose up for the third time and requested permission saying that now he cannot stop. Prophet Mohammad(pbuh&hf) finally gave permission to Imam Ali(a.s.) and prayed in his favor. The prophet(pbuh&hf) decorated Imam Ali(a.s.) with his turban and gave him his Zirah (iron protective dress) and gave him Zulfiqar – the sword of Imam Ali(a.s.) that was sent by Allah(swt) during the battle of Badr.
THE DUAL STARTS
When Imam Ali(a.s.) started toward Amr, the Peophet Mohammad(pbuh&hf) addressed the Muslims and said “Baraz-al Imaan Kulle ilash-shirk kulle” meaning “Absolute/Total Faith (Imaan) is going against absolute/total Infidalism (Kufr)”. In another tradition, Prophet(pbuh&hd) used the word Islam instead of Imaan. (Yanabe al-Muwaddah 1:94, Manarijan Nabuwwah 3:168)
Imam Ali(a.s.) neared Amr and asked him to face him in a duel. Amr arrogantly replied: “Your father Abu Talib was a friend of mine. By God, I would not like to kill you.” Imam Ali(a.s.) replied: “But, by God; I would love to kill you.” The battle started after exchange of some more harsh words. There was such a ferocity in the duel that the whole scene was covered with dust and only the voice of swords clashing could be heard. In a little while the voices stopped and the dust started settling down. Everyone was anxious to see the results. Amidst settling dust, Imam Ali(a.s.) was seen coming out in such a way that the head of Amr was in his hands and blood was soaking from his sword – Zulfiqar. Viewing this scene the Prophet(pbuh&hf) shouted “Allaho Akbar – God is great” and so did the Muslims The death of Amr was the end of the new danger. Those who were with him ran away, trying to save their skin; but most of them were killed before they could cross to the other side.
Shah Abdul Haq Muhaddis Dehlvi writes in Madarij-un-Nabuwwa (2:297) “Specially Hazrat Ali Karam Allah Wajhul Kareem fought in this Ghazwa in such a way that it is beyond comprehension and explainable logic” Various books of history acocunt that the Sahaba(r.a.) stated that “We could not realise how a fighter who fought 1,000 men at the same time could be killed. We just hear Nara-e-Takbeer and the other moment Amr was lying on the ground dead” (Tabqaar ibn-e-Sadd 1:412, Anwaar Mohammadiya minal mawahib Page 84). Imam Ali(a.s.)’s role at this battle was outstanding in the history of the Islamic defense.
REWARDS FOR IMAM ALI(a..)
1. Hazrat Ibn-e-Abbas(a.r.) narrates that Imam Ali(a.s.) approached the Prophet (pbuh&hf) in such a manner that the blood was still dripping from his sword. Prophet Mohammad(pbuh&hf) say Imam Ali(a.s.) and prayed that Allah(swt) grant such a stature to Ali that has not been granted to anyone until now nor will be granted to anyone in the future. His(pbuh&hf) dua was still continuing when Jibreel(a.s.) came to the Prophet and said “Allah(swt) has sent you Salam and has sent this box as a gift for Imam Ali(a.s.)”. He brought a box with him and haded over to the Prophet. The prophet(pbuh&hf) haded the box to Imam Ali(a.s.) and the box opened by itself and it contained a green cloth with two lines written on it: “Tohfatut Talibul Ghalib ila Ali ibn-e-Abi Talib” meaning this is the gift of Allah(swt) towards Imam Ali(a.s.) – (Yanabe ul-Mowaddah 1:95)
2. Allah(swt) states in the Quran “And Allah repulsed the disbelievers in their wrath; they gained no good. Allah averted their attack from the believers. Allah is ever Strong, Mighty” (Al-Ahzaab 33:25). In this context of this ayat, several companions stated that this ayat was sent in honor of Imam Ali(a.s.) on whose had the muslims were saved the rigour of this war.
3. When Imam Ali(a.s.) returned to the Prophet(pbuh&hf) after killing Amr and his son, Prophet Mohammad(pbuh&hf) said “One stroke of Ali at the day of Khandaq is heavier than all the good deeds of my Ummah until the day of judgement” (Maqtal Khawarzmi Page 45, Yanab al-Muwaddah Page 95, Moaraj un-Nabuwwah 4:130). It is also stated in this tradition that when the Prophet(pbuh&hf) declared this award for Imam Ali(a.s.), Hazrat Umar and Hazrat Abu Bakr congratulated Imam Ali(a.s.) and kissed his head.
4. At the same time Prophet Mohammad(pbuh&hf) also said to Imam Ali(a.s.) “Congratulations to you Ali, if this act of yours toaday is compared with the with good deeds of my entire Ummah then your this act would still be heavier.” (Yanabe al-muwaddah Page 96).
5. The Prophet(pbuh&hf) also said: “The virtue of Ali to kill Amr bin Abduwud is better than the virtues of all humans and Jinns” (Seerat Halbia 2:642)
THE MAGNITUDE OF IMAM ALI(a.s.)’S CONTRIBUTION
It would be logical to affirm two important matters:
1. Ima Ali(a.s.)’s initiative to block the passage point and prevent others from following Amr had stopped the danger and confined it. Had the passage point remained open, a great number of the pagan soldiers would have followed Amr and their passage could have resulted in establishing a bridge between the two sides of the moat. Such a bridge would enable the whole army to cross.
One hour of negligence could have led to a decisive defeat of the Islamic army. This did not happen because Ali was fast in his response to the new danger, present minded, calm and collective and ready to deal with the serious crisis.
2. The death of Amr proved to the pagan army that they were unable to pass the trench again, and that what Amr could not accomplish could not be accomplished by others. By this the pagan army had to face one of two alternatives: Withdrawal, or continuation of the siege until the Muslims surrender or were forced to cross the trench and fight the pagans. The continuity of the siege of Medina was beyond the ability of the pagan army. It did not have the food supplies for 24,000 fighters and their horses and camels, which could enable them to continue the siege for several months or weeks. In addition, a hurricane like wind went on causing the pagan army many damages and making its life miserable. The hurricane was preceded by an argument between the pagans and their Jewish allies, which made their co-operation in the battle highly difficult. Thus, there was only one alternative for the pagan army to take after the failure of Amr and his death: The withdrawal and that is what they did.
The Confederate Army withdrew and the Muslims passed the crisis safely. They regained their confidence concerning the future because of failure of the Confederate forces after their biggest mobilization. The Messenger said after their withdrawal: “After today, we shall invade them and they will not invade us.”