Story of Mohammed - Edith Holland

The Field of Uhud

The Prophet was in the mosque at Kuba, a village about two miles from Medinah, when a messenger from Meccah handed him a sealed letter. It had been sent by Abbas, the Prophet's uncle, and contained the news that an army of three thousand men was on the point of marching out of Meccah against the Moslems. Abbas, as you will remember, was not a believer, but he had always shown an interest in his nephew's welfare, and now sent him a secret message to warn him of his danger. For the army that was about to march on Medinah was a far more formidable force than that which the Moslems had defeated at Badr.

The men of Meccah, determined on vengeance, had devoted the whole profits of the Syrian caravan to fitting out their army. Messengers had been sent to the warlike Bedouin tribes, inviting them to join the enterprise, and the Kuraysh had now at their disposal over three thousand well-armed men, of whom seven hundred wore coats of mail. The cavalry consisted of two hundred picked men mounted on good horses, the rest rode camels. Some of the Meccan women accompanied the army, encouraging the warriors with their warlike songs

As soon as Mohammed had read his uncle's letter he hurried back to Medinah. It was in times of sudden danger that his powers of administration and resource were at their best. The town was quickly put into a state of defence, but not before the news arrived that the Meccans were encamped in the plain below Mount Uhud, a mountain three miles to the north of Medinah, and were laying waste the country, cutting down the corn as food for their horses.

A discussion now arose as to whether it were best to remain in the town, on the defensive, and await the attack of the enemy, or to go out and risk a battle in the open. Mohammed with the older and more discreet among his followers were inclined to the first alternative, but the younger men, impatient at the ravages on the cornfields, urged bolder measures. In the end their advice was taken, and the Prophet decided to lead his army out, and attack the enemy. It was Friday morning, the mosque was crowded with worshippers, and the Prophet, preaching his weekly sermon, incited the Moslems to fight bravely in the cause of Islam. The Lord would help them to victory, he said, if they remained steadfast. After the evening prayer Mohammed put on his helmet and coat of mail and led his little army in the direction of Mount Uhud. The Moslem army consisted of barely a thousand men, and on the desertion of the leader of the Hypocrites with his three hundred followers, only seven hundred remained to do battle against a force numbering over three thousand. That night the two armies encamped with but a ridge of black volcanic rock separating them; indeed, so near were they to each other that the Moslems could hear the neighing of the enemy's horses.

With the first glimmering of dawn the Moslems advanced, a guide leading them by the nearest way to the mountain. Just as the rising sun tinged the black peaks of Mount Uhud, they came in sight of the enemy. It was the hour of prayer, and Bilal, raising his voice, uttered the accustomed words: "God is great, there is no god but the Lord. Mohammed is the Apostle of God. Come unto prayer, come unto salvation. God is great, there is no god but the Lord!" Led by the Prophet, the whole Moslem army bowed itself in prayer, in the very presence of the enemy. It must have been a strangely impressive sight.

Mohammed took up his position on a piece of rising ground, with the cliffs of Mount Uhud behind him. To his left the wall of rock turned, leaving an opening through which the enemy might force his way. To cover this weak point Mohammed placed his best archers on a neighbouring hill, ordering them to stand firm at their post, whatever might be the course of the battle.

The Meccan army was disposed in three divisions, the centre being led by Abu Sufyan, while a Kuraysh named Talhah carried the banner, for his family claimed the hereditary right of bearing the standard of the tribe in battle. The left wing of the army was commanded by a son of Abu Jahl, and the right by a warrior who obtained great renown in after years. This was Khalid, a leader of dauntless courage, and the hero of many a daring exploit.

As usual in Arab warfare, fighting began with single combats. Talhah, the standard-bearer, first advanced from the ranks of the Meccan army, but he never returned, for the sword of Ali, with one blow, struck him lifeless to the ground. Talhah's brother then rushed forward and, seizing the banner, challenged the bravest of the Moslems to fight with him; but he too fell, slain by the sword of Hamzah, the "Lion of God." Three more of the family of hereditary standard-bearers fell, one after another, in single combat. The Moslem champions seemed invincible. Enraged at the loss of some of their bravest men, the Meccan leaders ordered a general attack, and the two armies engaged in a deadly struggle.

The Moslems fought with the same fierce determination that they did at Badr, and the Meccans, though vastly superior in numbers, fell back before their advance. The white plume of Ali and the ostrich feather which distinguished Hamzah were seen wherever the battle raged fiercest, and many Meccans were laid low by the swords of these two mighty warriors. In full confidence of success the Moslems broke through the enemy's lines and fell upon their camp. Perceiving this, the archers stationed on the hill could not resist the temptation to plunder, and against the direct commands of their leader, they deserted their post and joined in the pursuit of the enemy. This act of disobedience was fatal to the Moslems, for Khalid, quickly seizing his opportunity, led the Meccan horse through the now unguarded opening in the hills, and suddenly fell on the Moslems from the rear.

Thus was the tide of battle turned, and confusion seized the Moslem host. The Meccans raised their war-cry, calling on their idols Hubal and Uzza, and pressed the attack on every side. Many of the bravest Moslems fell, including Musab (the first missionary sent to Medinah), who carried the standard of the Refugees. But the heaviest loss that befell the Prophet's army on the fatal day of Uhud was that of Hamzah, the "Lion of God," who was pierced by the javelin of an Abyssinian.

Though the followers of the Prophet fought with the courage of desperation, they were at length overcome, and fell back on the fastnesses of Mount Uhud. It was in vain that Mohammed called on his panic-stricken men to stay their flight. His words were unheeded. As the enemy swept across the plain, the Prophet was surrounded, and but for the devotion of some of his friends, could not have escaped alive. Wounded by an arrow, the head of which remained embedded in his face, he was struck down by a violent blow on the head, which drove the rings of his helmet into his cheek, and inflicted a deep gash in his forehead. His most devoted followers (there were seven Helpers and seven Refugees) closed around their Prophet, and with difficulty managed to convey him to a place of safety in one of the deep recesses of the mountain.

The Meccans, seeing their enemy fall, believed him to be dead; the cry went up "Mohammed is dead!" and the echoes of the gloomy mountain repeated "Mohammed is dead!" Terror struck the hearts of the Believers, for in that fateful cry they heard, as they thought, the voice of the Demon of Al-Akabah, the same who had scared the seventy disciples in the glen three years before.

Utterly disheartened, many believing their Prophet dead, the defeated Moslems fled before the foe, and took refuge in a deep cleft in the side of the mountain. The whole aspect of Mount Uhud is strangely dark and doomful; its curious and fantastic outline has an unreal look like that of a mountain seen in a dream, while the masses of black volcanic rock give it the appearance of a mountain of iron.

The Meccans now ranged over the field of battle and barbarously mutilated the bodies of the slain. Searching in vain for the body of Mohammed, they began to doubt if he were truly dead, and Abu Sufyan, approaching the foot of the mountain, called aloud the names of Mohammed, Abu Bakr, Omar. There was silence, and Abu Sufyan cried out, "They are dead, ye are well rid of them!" But Omar's voice was heard in reply, "Thou enemy of God, thou liest, we will yet repay thee for this day." "We shall meet again," Abu Sufyan said, "let it be at Badr, in a year's time." Omar agreed, and Abu Sufyan took his departure and gave the order for the homeward march. About sundown, the Meccans, having buried their dead, were seen moving away across the plain, the men riding the camels and leading the horses.

When news of the defeat reached Medinah, many of the inhabitants hurried to the battlefield, and the women came out ready to attend to the wounded. The survivors were searching among the granite boulders for the killed and wounded, and there was many a sad scene as the dead were recognized, often cruelly mutilated by the enemy's hands. The ancient Arabs were in the habit of mutilating the bodies of those killed in battle, but Mohammed, greatly to his to his credit, absolutely forbade this barbarous practice among his followers.

The Moslems lost seventy men at Uhud, the same number that the Meccans lost at Badr. Among the many wounded were Abu Bakr, Ali and Omar. Fatimah, who had come to the field with Safiyyah, the Prophet's aunt, bathed and dressed her father's wounds. Safiyyah had been devoted to her brother Hamzah, and was overcome with sorrow for his loss. But when she looked on his mangled body her grief knew no bounds, and the Prophet and Fatimah stood by and sobbed aloud.

Thus the day of Uhud closed in sorrow and mourning. The women wailed for the fallen, and above all for Hamzah, the beautiful and brave who had been beloved by all. The little mosque of rough stone which in after years was built over the spot where he was buried is still visited by the pilgrims when they come to pray at the tombs of the martyrs who fell on the ill-fated field of Uhud.