Islamic History

Absolute Obedience: Two Costly Mistakes by Muslims in the Battle of Uhud

What lessons can be drawn from the events that took place in the Battle of Uhud?

View from Mount Uhud

Zafir Malik, UK

Hindsight is a beautiful thing; one can ponder over what happened and learn from the mistakes of the past. When analysing early Islamic history, one will find a particular point in time when certain Muslims, not realising the dangers of freely interpreting a commander’s instructions, paid a heavy price for not fully obeying their orders.

After suffering a terrible defeat at the hands of the ill-equipped Muslim army in the Battle of Badr, the idolaters of Makkah gathered together an even bigger army and marched on towards Madinah. Prophet Muhammad (sa) learnt that the Makkan army had arrived in Mount Uhud, three-miles north of Madinah and had camped there. They raided the grazing pasture belonging to the Muslims in Arid, wreaking havoc all around the region.

First Mistake

When the Holy Prophet (sa) received news of this, he gathered his companions and sought their advice as to the best course of action. But before he opened the floor to suggestions, he narrated to them a dream;

‘Last night in my dream, I saw a cow, and I also saw that the tip of my sword had broken. Then, I saw the cow being slaughtered, [1] and I also saw that I had placed my hand in a secure and strong coat of mail.’ [2]

The Companions asked the Holy Prophet (sa) how he interpreted this dream, to which, he replied:

‘I have understood the slaughtering of the cow to infer that some of my Companions shall be martyred, and it seems as if the breaking of the tip of my sword is an indication towards the martyrdom of someone from among my relatives, or perhaps I shall myself suffer an injury in this campaign. As for placing my hand in a coat of mail, I have understood this to infer that in order to fend off this attack, it is more appropriate for us to remain in Madinah.’ [3]

Having listened to the dream and the interpretation, the eminent Companions of the Holy Prophet (sa) – who had spent time in his company and were trained by him – suggested to remain in Madinah and fight. Even Abdullah bin Ubayy bin Salul, the chief of the hypocrites, advocated that it would be best to remain in Madinah and fight. However, some other companions, especially the youths who did not have a chance to partake in the Battle of Badr, proposed to go out of Madinah and fight the enemy. Perhaps it was their ardent desire to attain martyrdom that made them persist with their suggestion, but they did so to such a degree that the Holy Prophet (sa) eventually agreed to their proposal and left the gatherings to prepare himself.

When the Holy Prophet (sa) returned to the gathering, fully clad in armour and ready for battle, by then, the youths had realised their mistake and said to the Holy Prophet (sa) that he ought to adopt the strategy that he saw fit. The Holy Prophet (sa) replied:

‘It does not behove a Prophet of God to put on his arms and then lay them down until God issues forth a verdict. So go forth now, in the name of Allah and if you are steadfast, then be certain that the succour of Allah the Exalted shall be with you.

The keyword in this statement is ‘steadfast’, which will be touched upon later.

Two Costly Mistakes by Muslims in the Battle of Uhud

©️Wikimedia Commons
Illustration to show how the Muslim Army set up their camp, including the archers strategically positioned to protect the rear of the Muslim army

Second Mistake

On Saturday 31st March 624 CE, the Muslim army reached Mount Uhud. They set up camp in a way whereby the mount was to the rear of the Muslim army. There was a mountain pass in this valley, which was susceptible to attack. In order to protect this pass, the Holy Prophet (sa) stationed 50 archers under the command of Abdullah bin Jubair (ra) and gave them clear cut instructions:

‘Look here! This mountain pass should not be left empty under any circumstances. Even if you see that we have become victorious, and the enemy has fled in defeat, do not leave this place; and if you see that the Muslims have been defeated, and the enemy has prevailed upon us, do not come to assist us.’ [4]

The Holy Prophet (sa) stressed upon this matter so much that he even said:

‘Even if you see that vultures are tearing away at our remains, do not move from this place until you receive an order to leave.’ [5]

It is interesting to note here that Imam Bukhari (rh) has placed this very Hadith under the chapter titled:

مَا يُكْرَهُ مِنَ التَّنَازُعِ وَالاِخْتِلاَفِ فِي الْحَرْبِ وَعُقُوبَةِ مَنْ عَصَى إِمَامَهُ

Which means: ‘What is disliked amongst quarrels and disputes during warfare and the punishment for disobeying one’s Imam.’

Before an all-out battle ensued, there were individual duels, each of which were won by the Muslims. Incensed by this, the Makkan army sounded the battle cry and attacked at once. However, they were repelled back by the spirited Muslims, despite only numbering 700 men compared to the 3000 man army of the Makkans. The battle intensified; nine flag bearers of the Makkan army took up their flag but each of them was slain. As the Muslims continued advancing further, the Makkan army broke rank and scattered. Seeing the enemy army flee, the Muslims began gathering the spoils of war.

When the comrades of Abdullah bin Jubair (ra) who were stationed on the mountain pass, saw that the Muslim army had won and the enemy was fleeing, they said:

‘Victory has now been secured and the Muslims are collecting spoils of war. Permit us to join the army as well.’

Abdullah (ra) reminded them of the strict instructions of the Holy Prophet (sa) not to leave the pass under any circumstances. However, his comrades inferred the directive of the Holy Prophet (sa) of their own accord saying:

‘All that the Holy Prophet (sa) meant was that the mountain pass should not be left empty until security fully prevailed, and now that victory has been clinched, there is nothing wrong with proceeding forward.’

And so, only six or seven companions remained steadfast on the mountain pass along with Abdullah bin Jubair (ra) and fully adhered to the instructions of the Holy Prophet (sa).

When Khalid bin Walid – who was not a Muslim at the time – saw the mountain pass was empty, he gathered his cavalry and headed to the mountain pass. Ikrimah bin Abi Jahl followed behind him with the few riders left in his contingent. Both these detachments quickly martyred Abdullah bin Jubair (ra) and the handful of his warriors; they then attacked the Muslim army from the rear. Unmindful of this attack, the Muslim army was caught completely off-guard. This situation created such confusion and panic, that the Muslim army became overwhelmed by the sudden attack. According to historians, the situation changed so drastically and so quickly that the Muslims were unable to even distinguish between friend and foe. Many Muslims were inadvertently injured by fellow Muslims and Yaman (ra), the father of Hudhaifah (ra), was accidentally martyred by another Muslim. [6]

All this confusion and disarray dealt a devastating blow to the Muslims. Many eminent companions of the Holy Prophet (sa) were martyred. As the Holy Prophet (sa) had interpreted from his dream, his uncle and dear companion – Hamzah (ra) – was martyred. The Holy Prophet (sa) himself was badly injured and even lost his lateral incisor.

Moral of the Story

We will never know how things would have panned out had the Muslims adhered to the instructions and guidance of the Holy Prophet (sa). However, what one learns is that absolute obedience is a basic Islamic principle. So much so that among the root meanings of the word Islam is to resign one’s matter to God, to submit to the Will of God. [7] But in order to show complete obedience, one has to pledge allegiance to someone. As God states in the Holy Qur’an:

‘O ye who believe! obey Allah, and obey His Messenger and those who are in authority among you.’ [8]

Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra) explains:

‘The word “obey” which has been repeated before the words “Allah” and “Messenger” has been omitted before the words, those who are in authority, in order to point out that obedience to the authority properly constituted by Law is in reality obedience to God and His Messenger.’

The question then, that is faced by the Muslim Ummah today is who should they pledge allegiance to? Each sect and even within a particular sect there are various sheikhs and leaders. Who does one choose?

Interestingly, the landscape of the Muslim world we are seeing today was described by the Holy Prophet (sa) 1400 years ago. He described that in the latter days there would be those from among the believers who would lead people astray, as they would teach principles contrary to those taught by the Holy Prophet (sa). When the Companions asked what should be done at such a time, the Holy Prophet (sa) said,

‘Adhere to the group of Muslims and their Chief’ [9]

The followers of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community are fortunate enough to be spared the confusion which the rest of the Muslim world finds itself in. The community is guided by one supreme spiritual leader, a Caliph, to whom every Ahmadi pledges complete obedience. Thus, if we are to learn from our past, we must show absolute obedience to the Caliph not infer of our own accord and repeat the mistakes of the past.

About the AuthorZafir Malik serves as the Associate Editor of The Review of Religions, having graduated from Jamia Ahmadiyya UK – Institute of Modern Languages and Theology. He is also an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and regularly appears as a panellist on MTA International and Voice of Islam radio station answering questions on Islam.


[1] Sahih Al-Bukhari, Kitab Al-Maghazi, Bab Man Qutila min al-muslimin yaum Uhud, Hadith No. 4081

[2] Ibn Hisham, Al-Sirat Al-Nabawiyyah, (Beirut, Lebanon: Dar Al-Kutub Al-Ilmiyyah, 2001) 522-523

[3] Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad, The Life & Character of the Seal of the Prophets, Volume 2, (Tilford, UK: Islam International Publications Ltd. 2013) 323

[4] Sahih Al-Bukhari, Kitab Al-Maghazi, Bab Ghazwah Uhud, Hadith No. 4043

[5] Sahih Al-Bukhari, Kitab Al-Jihad wa Al-Seir, Bab ma yukrahu min al-Tanazu’ wa al-Ikhtilaf fi al-Harb wa ‘uqubah man ‘asa imamahu, Hadith No. 3039

[6] Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad, The Life & Character of the Seal of the Prophets, Volume 2, (Tilford, UK: Islam International Publications Ltd. 2013) 333-334

[7] See Lanes Lexicon under the word: سلم

[8] Holy Qur’an 4:60

[9] Sahih al-Bukhari Hadith no. 3606