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Battle of Tabouk

Tabuk, Saudi Arabia
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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;[1] though in the Arab world it is widely held as historical.


  • Reasons for war 1
  • Preparations for War 2
  • Expedition 3
  • Immediate Aftermath 4
    • Letter to Christian princes 4.1
    • Return to Medina 4.2
  • Islamic primary sources 5
    • Quran 5.1
  • References 6

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.[2]

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.[3] The Banu Udhrah was a Christian tribe that was aligned to the Byzantine Empire, before converting to Islam and aligning themselves to Muhammad.[4] 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.[5]

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.[5]

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. [6][7] 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.[2] Ibn Kathir stated that verse 9:81 was also revealed about the Battle of Tabuk, regarding those who made excuses[8][9]

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:

Ibn Kathir's commentary on this verse is as follows:


Muhammad and his forces marched northwards to Tabouk. 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.[2]

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.[2]

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.[2]

Immediate Aftermath

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.[11] Muhammad sent him to Dumatul Jandal with 400 men.[2] 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[2]), threatening him to submit to Islam, or pay the Jizyah, if he did not want to be attacked.[12] The Letter stated:

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.[13]

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.[2]

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] .[14] Ibn Kathir mentions this event and the verse as follows:

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.[2] The Muslim scholar Ibn Kathir mentions that verses 9:42-48, 9:49,[6][7] 9:81,[8][9] and 9:29 are all related to the Battle of Tabuk or where revealed during the Battle of Tabuk.[6][10]


  1. ^ 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."
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Rahman al-Mubarakpuri, Saifur (2005), The Sealed Nectar, Darussalam Publications, p. 272 
  3. ^ William, William (10 August 2003). Life of Mahomet. Kessinger Publishing Co. p. 454.  
  4. ^ R.L. Bidwell (editor), R. (Feb 1996). New Arabian studies, Volume 3. University of Exeter Press. p. 95.  
  5. ^ a b Muir, William (10 August 2003). Life of Mahomet. Kessinger Publishing Co. p. 454.  
  6. ^ a b c d e 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.  
  7. ^ a b Tafsir ibn Kathir,On 9:49, Text Version
  8. ^ a b 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.  
  9. ^ a b Tafsir ibn Kathir,On 9:81, Text Version
  10. ^ a b c Tafsir ibn Kathir,On 9:29, Text Version
  11. ^ William, William (10 August 2003). Life of Mahomet. Kessinger Publishing Co. p. 456.  
  12. ^ a b William, William (10 August 2003). Life of Mahomet. Kessinger Publishing Co. p. 457.  
  13. ^ William, William (10 August 2003). Life of Mahomet. Kessinger Publishing Co. p. 458.   See notes section
  14. ^ William, William (10 August 2003). Life of Mahomet. Kessinger Publishing Co. p. 463.  
  15. ^ Tafsir ibn Kathir, Surah 9,

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