Jihad and the Limitations of Caravan Logistics
A military history of Islam
First published 14 April 2022, when I had just 55 subscribers. Now going behind the paywall.
According to many biographies of the prophet, the superb order and discipline of Muhammad’s followers attracted a fair number of converts. Muhammad “only needed to move a hand and everything that he desired was carried out,” Swedish historian Tor Andrae wrote. “A religion which can drive men so far is an extraordinary religion,” remarked one man so impressed by the unquestioning obedience of Muslim warriors that he converted that same day. Hamza ibn Abd al-Muttalib, an uncle of the prophet and a noted veteran of the Fijar Wars, converted after observing the Muslim community in Mecca. Emigrating to Medina with the prophet, Hamza led the first attempted raid against the Qurayshi caravans, fought in the vanguard at the Battle of Badr, and died at the Battle of Uhud, foremost among martyrs, the '“Lion of Islam.”
Muhammad’s leadership had a similar affect even on many of his enemies. The old pagan religion of the Arabs was now little more than anemic ritual and nomadic folkways that were inadequate for the bustling cities of the Hejaz. His new religion was vigorous and vital. No one could fail to see the contrast. Historian W. Montgomery Watt notes “one at least of the pagans who came to arrange for the ransom of prisoners after the Battle of Badr was so impressed by some of the things he saw in Medina that he became a Muslim, though previously he had been plotting to kill Muhammad.”
Tradition holds that the prophet witnessed the Fijar Wars as a young man, though he is not accounted participating in close combat. This is hardly disqualifying for later wartime leadership. On the contrary, Muhammad managed caravans for most of his life and there is no reason to think he was not part of the logistical train during this earlier tribal conflict. Decades later, the prophet marched his men around Yathrib for exercise, teaching them the suras of the Qur’an, managing the march with the efficient mobilization skills of an experienced caravaner.
In terms of planning and preparation, supporting an army in the desert is indistinguishable from the organization and management needed to lead a caravan. All the same ratios and hard realities come into play.
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