Battle of Tabouk
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The Battle of Tabouk (also called the Battle of Tabuk) was a military expedition, which, according to Muslim biographies, was initiated by Muhammad in October, AD 630. Muhammad led a force of as many as 30,000 north to Tabouk in present-day northwestern Saudi Arabia, with the intention of engaging the Byzantine army. Though not a battle in the typical sense, if historical the event would represent the opening conflict in the coming Arab–Byzantine wars. There is no contemporary Byzantine account of the events, and much of the details come from later Muslim sources. Noting this, as well as the fact that the armies never met, some Western scholars have questioned the authenticity of the details surrounding the event; though in the Arab world it is widely held as historical.
Reasons for war
According to Ar-Rahīq al-Makhtum, a modern Islamic hagiography of Muhammad written by the Indian Muslim author Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri, the reason for war against the Byzantine Empire, was that one of Muhammad's ambassadors was killed by Sharhabeel bin ‘Amr Al-Ghassani (the governor of Al-Balqa). This immediately led to the Battle of Mutah. But Mubarakpuri also claims that event was one of the reasons of the Battle of Tabouk also. Mubarakpuri further mentions that the emperor of the Byzantine Empire, Heraclius was preparing a force to demolish the growing Muslim power in the region.
The non Muslim scholar William Muir claims that one of the reasons Heraclius decided to go to War was that he wanted to prevent the recurrence of the Expedition of Ukasha bin Al-Mihsan against the Banu Udrah and military campaigns similar to it. The Banu Udhrah was a Christian tribe that was aligned to the Byzantine Empire, before converting to Islam and aligning themselves to Muhammad. The tribe converted to Islam after Khalid ibn Walid carried out a military campaign in the area, however there were some who were still disaffected, so another campaign was carried out in the area.
Preparations for War
All the Muslims as well as allies of Muhammad, received an urgent call to join the campaign. But the Arabs of the desert showed little interest. Many came up with excuses not to participate. Muhammad provided incentives to persuade the Arabs to join, and provided many with gifts.
The Muslim scholar Ibn Kathir mentions in his tafsir that the Quran verse [Quran 9:49] was "revealed" about the people who make excuses not to participate in the Jihad. In this case Al-Jadd bin Qays made an excuse not participate in the Battle of Tabuk, and Ibn Kathir says that [Quran 9:49] verse was "revealed" because of his excuse.  The verse states: "Among them is (many) a man who says: "Grant me exemption and draw me not into trial." Have they not fallen into trial already? and indeed Hell surrounds the Unbelievers (on all sides)"
Many rumors of the danger threatening the Muslims was carried to Mecca by Nabateans who traded from Syria to Medina. They carried rumors of Heraclius' preparations and the existence of an enormous army said to number anywhere from 40,000 to several 100,000 besides the Lakhm, Judham and other Arab tribes allied to the Byzantines. Ibn Kathir stated that verse 9:81 was also "revealed" about the Battle of Tabuk, regarding those who made excuses
Ibn Kathir also mentions that verse [Quran 9:29] which called for fighting against the people of the book till they pay Jizyah was "revealed" while Muhammad was preparing for the Battle of Tabuk. The verse states:
|“||Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. [Quran 9:29]||”|
Ibn Kathir's commentary on this verse is as follows:
|“||The Order to fight People of the Scriptures until They give the Jizyah
(Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth among the People of the Scripture,) This honorable Ayah was revealed with the order to fight the People of the Book, after the pagans were defeated, the people entered Allah's religion in large numbers, and the Arabian Peninsula was secured under the Muslims' control. Allah commanded His Messenger to fight the People of the Scriptures, Jews and Christians, on the ninth year of Hijrah, and he prepared his army to fight the Romans and called the people to Jihad announcing his intent and destination. The Messenger sent his intent to various Arab areas around Al-Madinah to gather forces, and he collected an army of thirty thousand. Some people from Al-Madinah and some hypocrites, in and around it, lagged behind, for that year was a year of drought and intense heat. The Messenger of Allah marched, heading towards Ash-Sham to fight the Romans until he reached Tabuk, where he set camp for about twenty days next to its water resources.
Muhammad and his forces marched northwards to Tabouk. The Byzantine army didn't initiate aggression against the Muslims. The army of 30,000 was a great one, when compared with the previous armies of Islam. Muslims had never marched with such a great number before.
After arriving at Tabouk and camping there, the Muhammad's army was prepared to face the Byzantines. However the Byzantines were not at Tabouk. They stayed there for a number of days and scouted the area but they never came.
Nevertheless, this expedition brought, in itself, credit to the Muslim forces that had gained military reputation in the remote lands of the Arabian Peninsula.The strategic long term consequence of the battle was that many Arab tribes now abandoned the Byzantines and joined with Muhammad, enlarging the Muslim state.
Letter to Christian princes
When Muslims arrived at Tabuk, they halted and took a rest, rumours of a Roman Byzantine Invasion had cooled down, and there was nothing to threaten Muhammad. Muhammad dispatched Khalid ibn Walid on a military expedition to Duma. Muhammad sent him to Dumatul Jandal with 400 men. The Jewish and Christian tribes in the area where Muhammad was converted to Islam. According to William Muir, Muhammad sent a letter to the Christian Prince of Ayla/Aliah (called Yahna bin Rawbah), threatening him to submit to Islam, or pay the Jizyah, if he did not want to be attacked. The Letter stated:
To John ibn Rubah and the Chiefs of Ayla (or Acaba). Peace be on you! I praise God for you, beside whom there is no Lord.
I will not fight against you until I have written thus unto you. Believe, or else pay tribute. And be obedient unto the Lord and his Prophet (and the messengers of his Prophet). Honour them and clothe them with excellent vestments, not with inferior raiment. Specially clothe Zeid with excellent garments. As long as my messengers are pleased, so likewise am I. Ye know the tribute. If ye desire to have security by sea and by land, obey the Lord and his Apostle, and he will defend you from every demand whether by Arab or foreigner, saving the demand of the Lord and his Apostle. But if ye oppose and displease them, I will not accept from you a single thing, until I have fought against you and taken captive your little ones and slain the elder; for I am the Apostle of the Lord in truth.
Believe in the Lord and in his Prophets. And believe in the Messiah son of Mary; verily he is the word of God. Come then, before trouble reach you. I commend my messengers to you. Give to Harmala three measures of bailey ; and indeed Harmala hath interceded for you. As for me, if it were not for the Lord and for this (intercession of Harmala), I would not have sent any message at all unto you, until ye had seen the army. But now, if ye obey my messengers, God will be your protector, and Muhammad, and whosoever belongeth unto him. Now my messengers are Sharahbil, &c. Unto you is the guarantee of God and of Muhammad his Apostle, and peace be unto you if ye Submit.
[Letter of Muhammad to the Christian price of Aliah]
William Muir claims the letter is authentic and was retained by the chiefs of Ayla, as proof of the rights Muhammad gave to the people of Ayla for their conversion, he claims that it is authentic because in the letter Muhammad's name is mentioned without affixes i.e. the phrase "Prayes and blessings be upon" him (and similar phrases) are missing, he suggests it would be forged if it did not have these affixes missing, as the affixes are added by later generation Muslims when mentioning Muhammad's name. Muhammad also sent some letters to other tribes in the area, William Muir mentions that Waqidi copied the content of some of the other letters.
The local tribes gave their allegiance to Muhammad and agreed to the payment of the jizyah protection tribute. The Muslim scholar, Saifur Rahman al Mubarakpuri mentions that Yahna bin Rawbah, came to Muhammad "and made peace with him, paying him the jizyah" and Muhammad in return gave each tribe a letter of guarantee, similar to Yahna's. This letter especially guaranteed the Freedom to practice Religion.
Return to Medina
After returning from Medina, some companions of Muhammad believed that there was no need to fight any longer, after looking around and seeing that there were no enemies remaining to threaten the Muslims, and after the Romans had left the Muslims alone. Muhammad's followers began to sell their weapons, but Muhammad rebuked them, claiming there will always be a need to fight and revealed a new Quran verse: [Quran 47:4] . Ibn Kathir mentions this event and the verse as follows:
(Until the war lays down its burden.) Mujahid said: "Until `Isa bin Maryam (peace be upon him) descends. It seems as if he derived this opinion from the Prophet's saying, There will always be a group of my Ummah victorious upon the truth, until the last of them fight against Ad-Dajjal.) Imam Ahmad recorded from Jubayr bin Nufayr who reported from Salamah bin Nufayl that he went to the Messenger of Allah and said, "I have let my horse go, and thrown down my weapon, for the war has ended. There is no more fighting. Then the Prophet said to him, Now the time of fighting has come. There will always be a group of my Ummah dominant over others. Allah will turn the hearts of some people away (from the truth), so they (that group) will fight against them, and Allah will bestow on them (war spoils) from them (the enemies) [Tafsir ibn Kathir]
Islamic primary sources
According to Saif ur-Rahman Mubarakpuri, many verses of Surah Tawbah (chapter 9 of the Quran) are related to the Battle of Tabuk. The Muslim scholar Ibn Kathir mentions that verses 9:42-48, 9:49, 9:81, and 9:29 are all related to the Battle of Tabuk or where revealed during the Battle of Tabuk.
- See, for example, Bowersock, Glen Warren, Peter Robert Lamont Brown and Oleg Grabar Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World (1999, Harvard University Press) p. 597, which notes that many of the details surrounding Muhammad's life as given in the biographies, are "problematic in certain respects, the most important of which is that they represent a tradition of living narrative that is likely to have developed orally for a considerable period before it was given even a relatively fixed written form. Ideally, one would like to be able to check such accounts against contemporary evidence... however, there is no relevant archaeological, epigraphic, or numismatic evidence dating from the time of Muhammad, nor are there any references to him in non-Muslim sources dating from the period before 632." Also cf. El-Cheikh, Nadia Maria Byzantium Viewed by the Arabs (2004, Harvard University Press) p. 5, "One major challenge to examining initial contacts between Byzantium and the early Muslim umma arises from the controversy surrounding the traditional Islamic account... ...sources are not contemporaneous with the events they purport to relate and sometimes were written many centuries later. These sources contain internal complexities, anachronisms, discrepancies, and contradictions. Moreover, many of them provide evidence of embellishment and invention that were introduced to serve the purposes of political or religious apologetic."
- Rahman al-Mubarakpuri, Saifur (2005), The Sealed Nectar, Darussalam Publications, p. 272
- William, William (10 August 2003). Life of Mahomet. Kessinger Publishing Co. p. 454. ISBN 978-0766177413.
- R.L. Bidwell (editor), R. (Feb 1996). New Arabian studies, Volume 3. University of Exeter Press. p. 95. ISBN 978-0859894791.
- Muir, William (10 August 2003). Life of Mahomet. Kessinger Publishing Co. p. 454. ISBN 978-0766177413.
- Saed Abdul-Rahman, Muhammad (29 October 2009). The Meaning And Explanation Of The Glorious Qur'an (Vol 4), Tafsir ibn Kathir. MSA Publication Ltd. p. 107. ISBN 978-1861796509.
- Tafsir ibn Kathir,On 9:49, Text Version
- Saed Abdul-Rahman, Muhammad (29 October 2009). The Meaning And Explanation Of The Glorious Qur'an (Vol 4), Tafsir ibn Kathir. MSA Publication Ltd. p. 137. ISBN 978-1861796509.
- Tafsir ibn Kathir,On 9:81, Text Version
- Tafsir ibn Kathir,On 9:29, Text Version
- William, William (10 August 2003). Life of Mahomet. Kessinger Publishing Co. p. 456. ISBN 978-0766177413.
- William, William (10 August 2003). Life of Mahomet. Kessinger Publishing Co. p. 457. ISBN 978-0766177413.
- William, William (10 August 2003). Life of Mahomet. Kessinger Publishing Co. p. 458. ISBN 978-0766177413. See notes section
- William, William (10 August 2003). Life of Mahomet. Kessinger Publishing Co. p. 463. ISBN 978-0766177413.
- Tafsir ibn Kathir, Surah 9, qtafsir.com