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The Ultimate Jihad: The Battle of Tabuk

by Helmy Sa'at

Many battles have been fought in the name of Islam. The battle of Tabuk, also known as the expedition of Usra, in October of 630 CE was to be the last battle headed by the Prophet Muhammadﷺ. Approximately 30,000 Muslim men participated in the march to the north of Tabuk then; presently located in northwest of Saudi Arabia.

External Provocations

The Byzantine empire, one of the powerful states then, with the push of Christian Arabs, prepared a large army with the objective to put an end to Islam by attacking Medina.

Strong Leadership Rallying Actions

During that period, with widespread famine that caused scarcities of resources from food to war preparations, encompassing purchase of weapons, in addition to the large number of the enemy’s army, Prophet Muhammadﷺ did warn the Muslim soldiers of all the risks involved. Messengers were sent to Muslim tribes for a call to action.

Following that, rich Muslims were asked to contribute to the collective effort which garnered encouraging responses. Albeit money was channelled to the war preparations, each Muslim contributed in whatever way he or she could afford, ranging from dates to camels. Women did their part, too. They gave up their jewellery for the war effort which helped in paying for the required resources, such as equipment for the expedition.

Sifting Munafiqs from the Ummah

An opportunity to unite Muslims also surfaced the opportunity to identify hypocrites lurking in the community. This particular group gave many excuses, including casting doubts on Muslims to triumph over the Byzantine army, so that they could extract themselves from being part of the battle. Among a few Quranic verses which addressed this specific issue: 

وَمِنْهُم مَّن يَقُولُ ٱئْذَن لِّى وَلَا تَفْتِنِّىٓ ۚ أَلَا فِى ٱلْفِتْنَةِ سَقَطُوا۟ ۗ وَإِنَّ جَهَنَّمَ لَمُحِيطَةٌۢ بِٱلْكَـٰفِرِينَ

And among them there is one who says, “Allow me (to stay behind) and do not expose me to an ordeal.” Look! They have already fallen into an ordeal, and certainly Jahannam (the Hell) has the disbelievers encircled.

[Surah At-Tawbah 9:49]

March to Tabuk

With many impossibilities and hurdles conquered, under the leadership of the Prophet, 30,000 Muslim soldiers set off from Medina in the month of Rajab. The scorching heat of the sun did not deter these men from carrying out jihad in the name of Allah.

Many Challenges Experienced

During one of the many stops, the Muslim army was desperate for water. They even had to slaughter a camel to drink water. Again, the Munafiqs seized the opportunity to slander the Prophet ﷺ for not asking Allah for rain. Miraculously, with Allah’s blessings, the Prophet’s ﷺ prayer was answered, thus allowing the Muslim soldiers to fill their drinking containers.

Bloodless Battle Won

Upon arrival in Tabuk, the Byzantine army was nowhere to be found. The enemy had withdrawn at the last minute. 

In Tabuk, the Prophet delivered a sermon; part of it emphasised piety to Allah in believers’ hearts whereby the highest wisdom is derived from the fear of one and only true God. And, doubt is a sign of infidelity of faith.

While in Tabuk, the Prophet was informed about a plague in Damascus, Syria. Narrated by Saud:

يُحَدِّثُ سَعْدًا عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ “‏ إِذَا سَمِعْتُمْ بِالطَّاعُونِ بِأَرْضٍ فَلاَ تَدْخُلُوهَا، وَإِذَا وَقَعَ بِأَرْضٍ وَأَنْتُمْ بِهَا فَلاَ تَخْرُجُوا مِنْهَا ‏”

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.”

[Sahih al-Bukhari 5728]

During his stay in Tabuk lasting 20 days, smaller battles were won in the form of treaties. For instance with smaller pockets of the Jewish communities through jizyah — taxation in exchange for security, which upheld harmony despite religious differences.