The final straw was when the Holy Prophet (S) blocked the trade routes of the Quraish to Iraq. The chiefs of the Makkans decided that they now had enough reasons to march against the Muslims. The Quraish traders would regain access for their caravans if the Muslims were defeated, so they agreed to pay all the expenses of the proposed war.
Abu Sufyan was aware of the bravery of the Muslims, and he knew that he would have to outnumber them if he wanted to win. He therefore enlisted the tribes of Kanaanah and Saqeef, promising them weapons and full provisions for the journey.
A large number of slaves also joined the Quraish army tempted by promises of freedom. Amongst them was Wahshi, an Ethiopian slave. He possessed great skill in the use of the throwing spear, and had been promised his freedom if he killed the Holy Prophet (S), Imam Ali (A) or Hamza.
Abu Sufyan managed to prepare a large army consisting of 700 armour-clad men, 3,000 camel soldiers, a cavalry of 200 men and a group of foot soldiers.
This army marched towards Madinah and camped at the foot of the hills of Uhud, on 5th Shawwal 3 A.H. The Holy Prophet (S) had already received news of the plans of the Quraish from his uncle Abbas, who lived in Makkah. After consultation with the Muslims he decided to meet the enemy outside the city limits of Madinah for three reasons. These were:
- Hand to hand fighting in the narrow streets of Madinah would be very disorganised and the soldiers could not be used together against the enemy. Moreover, once the enemy was allowed into the city, the lives of the women and children would be in danger.
- The enemy could surround the city and control all roads leading out of the city. Such a siege could break the morale of the Muslims.
- The Holy Prophet (S) did not trust some hypocrites like Abdullah Ubayy, and feared that they might harm the Muslims from within the city.
He gave the excuse that the Holy Prophet (S) had taken the advice of younger men over his own. Thus, the Holy Prophet (S) was left with only 700 men. Only 100 of them were armour-clad and between them they had only two horses.
The Holy Prophet (S) began to set up his army in fighting formations. 50 archers were posted at a pass between the hills of Uhud to guard the army from any attack from the rear. They had strict orders not to leave their post, whatever the outcome of the battle.
The Holy Prophet (S) knew that the Muslims would be worried at being outnumbered in the battle, so he strengthened their morale with an address. He said to them, "It is a difficult task to fight the enemy, and only those who are guided and supported by Allah can remain steadfast. Remember that Allah is with those who obey Him, while Shaitan is the companion of those who disobey Him. Remain firm in Jihad and use it to acquire the blessings that Allah has promised you. None dies in this world until Allah decides."
He then told them not to start fighting until orders were given to fight.
On the side of the Makkans, Abu Sufyan had divided his army into 3 parts. The armoured men were placed in the middle. Preparations were now complete and the small band of Muslims stood against the large army of unbelievers, ready to give their lives away for the sake of the defence of Islam.
The man who began the Battle of Uhud was Talha bin Abi Talha, a great warrior from the army of Abu Sufyan. He entered the battlefield and challenged the Muslims to individual combat. The challenge was accepted by Imam Ali (A) and very soon Talha's dead body lay on the ground. The standard was taken by his two brothers but they were both cut down by arrows from the Muslims.
Thereafter nine people of the Makkan army took the standard, one after the other, but every one of them was sent to Hell by Imam Ali (A). After them, an Ethiopian soldier by the name of Sawaab came to the field. He had a frightening figure and on seeing him none of the Muslims dared to come forward. This man was killed by Imam Ali (A) by a single blow.
Seeing his men being so easily killed, Abu Sufyan ordered a general attack. The two armies met and the air was filled with the sound of weapons. From the side of the Muslims, Hamza, Abu Dujana and Imam Ali (A) gave a heroic account of their valour and began to create chaos in the army of Abu Sufyan.
At this time, the Ethiopian slave Wahshi got behind Hamza unnoticed. With a swift and accurate throw, the accursed man managed to pierce the abdomen of Hamza and kill him.
The Muslims continued to attack the enemy successfully and the Makkans began to lose heart. After losing a lot of men they decided that they had had enough and fled the battlefield.
It was at this point that the Muslims made a grave error that cost them dearly. Instead of following the Holy Prophet's (S) orders and pursuing the enemy out of the battlefield, they lay down their own weapons and started gathering the booty.
Thinking that the battle was over, the majority of the archers guarding the passage in the hill left their posts to gather the spoils, against the orders of their leader. One of the Makkan commanders, Khalid bin Walid, was fleeing when he saw the opportunity to attack the Muslims from behind. He gathered his men and launched a furious attack from the rear.
The Muslims were taken so much by surprise that they did not know what to do. In the confusion, their ranks became disorganised. The retreating Makkan forces rallied again and began a fresh onslaught from the front.
The Muslim army's standard bearer, Mus'ab bin Umair was killed. He bore a great facial resemblance to the Holy Prophet (S) and so the Makkans raised a cry that the Holy Prophet (S) had been killed. This threw the Muslims into further chaos and utter dismay. Many of their famous personalities were disheartened. Some of the weak hearted like Abu Bakr and Umar bin Khattab threw away their swords saying there was no use fighting when the Holy Prophet (S) was no more. Uthman also fled, running so far away that he returned to Madinah after 3 days.
On the other hand, many valiant soldiers remained faithful and entered the middle of the Makkan ranks determined to fight to their last breath. This went on until a Muslim saw the Holy Prophet (S) and shouted at the top of his voice that he was still alive. The spirit of the Muslims revived but the Holy Prophet (S) now became the chief target of the Makkan forces. The Makkans attacked him and his two upper teeth were broken by the sword of one of them. He had fallen into a pit where Imam Ali (A) found him and protected him against the continuous furious attack of the Makkans. Other faithful companions, including the brave lady Umme Ammaarah, also prevented the enemy from getting too close to the Holy Prophet (S) and shielded him against the rain of arrows.
It was in this battle that the reputation of Imam Ali (A) was confirmed and he was acknowledged as a master in the field of sword fighting. He fought so hard that his sword broke. The Holy Prophet (S) then gave him own sword "Zulfiqar". In appreciation of the bravery of Imam Ali (A) the voice of the angel Jibraeel (A) was heard from above saying, "There is no warrior except Ali; there is no sword except Zulfiqar."
The Makkan forces had turned the tables but they were too exhausted to push their advantage either by attacking Madinah or by driving the Muslims from the heights of the hills of Uhud. They satisfied their desire for revenge by committing horrible brutalities upon the slain and the injured, cutting off their ears and noses and mutilating their bodies. The brave Hamza was amongst the martyrs. His liver was torn out and chewed by Hind, wife of Abu Sufyan.
In this battle, 70 Muslims were martyred and 70 wounded. Imam Ali (A) was also heavily wounded. The Makkans lost 22 warriors, 12 of them at the hands of Imam Ali (A).
The defeat of the Muslims was a test for them and through the ashes of the battle they emerged more eager and determined to defend their faith and the cause of Islam.