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The Battle of Ta'if

By: Ayatullah Ja'far Subhani
Ta'if is one of the fertile country towns of the Hijaz. It is situated in the south-east of Makkah at a distance of twelve leagues from there. It is one thousand metres above sea level. On account of its fine weather, gardens, and palm groves, the town of Ta'if was the centre of a group of people who led very comfortable lives.
This town was inhabited by the tribe of Saqif who were one of the powerful and popular tribes of the Arabs. The Arabs of Saqif tribe were amongst those people, who fought against Islam in the Battle of Hunayn. After suffering a signal defeat they took refuge in their own town which possessed strong and elevated forts.
In order to complete the victory, the Prophet ordered the fugitives of the Battle of Hunayn to be pursued. Abu 'Amar Ash'ari and Abu Musa Ash'ari were deputed along with a unit of the soldiers of Islam to pursue some of the fugitives who had taken refuge in Awtas. The first commander lost his life in the encounter, but the second one scored complete victory and dispersed the enemies.[1] The Prophet himself proceeded to Ta'if along with the remaining army[2] and, while on his way, destroyed the fort of Malik, (who had sparked off the Battle of Hunayn). Of course, the demolition of the fort of Malik did not carry an aspect of revenge.
What the Prophet desired was that he should not leave a point which could serve as an asylum to the enemies.
The groups of the army of Islam moved one after the other and made the various sides of the town their camping places. The Fort of Ta'if was situated at a great height and had very strong walls, and its watch towers fully controlled the outside area. The army of Islam proceeded to besiege the fort, but it had not yet been completely encircled, when the enemies checked their advance with a shower of arrows and killed some of them on the spot in the very first moment.[3]
The Prophet ordered the army to retreat and to transfer its encampment to a point which was beyond the reach of the arrows of the enemies.[4] Salman Muhammadi, from whose military plans the Muslims had availed at the time of the Battle of the Ditch, suggested to the Prophet that the fort of the enemy might be stoned by means of catapults. During the battles of those days a catapult served the same purpose as artillery serves in modern warfare. The Muslim officers erected a catapult under the guidance of Salman and stoned the towers and the interior of the fort for about twenty days. However, the enemies, too, continued to shoot arrows and thereby inflicted injuries on the soldiers of Islam.
Now let us see as to how the Muslims procured a catapult at that juncture. Some say that Salman made it himself and taught the Muslim soldiers how to operate it. Others believe that the Muslims came in possession of this military weapon at the time of the conquest of Khayber and brought it with them to Ta'if.[5] It is not improbable that Salman himself made the catapult and taught the Muslims how to install and use it. History tells us that this was not the only catapult available with the Muslims, because, simultaneously with the Battles of Hunayn and Ta'if, the Prophet had sent Tufayl bin 'Amr Dowsi to pull down the idol-temples of the tribe of Dows. He returned after successfully carrying out his assignment and came to the Prophet at Ta'if along with four hundred soldiers, all of whom belonged to his own tribe, as well as a catapult and a military vehicle. And during this battle these military equipments, which had been acquired by Tufayl bin 'Amr Dowsi as war booty, came into use.[6]

In order to make the enemy surrender, it was necessary to attack it from all sides. It was, therefore, decided that, simultaneously with the installation of the catapult and throwing stones, the military vehicles should also be utilized to create a rent in the wall of the fort, so that the army of Islam might enter it. However, the battalions of the army of Islam were faced with a great difficulty in accomplishing this task, because arrows were showered on their heads from the towers and other spots of the fort and none could manage to approach the wall. The best means of achieving this purpose were the military vehicles which were available with the organized armies of those times in an imperfect shape. A military vehicle was made of wood and was covered with a thick hide. Strong soldiers took their places inside it and pushed it towards the fort and began making holes in the wall under its cover. By making use of this military device the soldiers of Islam busied themselves bravely in splitting the wall. However, the enemies threw melted iron and wires on the vehicle and burnt its covering; inflicted injuries on them. This military device, therefore, proved to be unsuccessful on account of the planning of the enemy and the Muslims failed to achieve victory. Hence, when a number of Muslims were wounded and killed, they abandoned their attempt."[7]

Achievement of victory does not depend on material military devices only. A skilful commander can diminish the power of the enemy by dealing economic and moral blows at him and can thus make him surrender. More often than not moral and economic blows prove to be more effective than corporal injuries which are occasionally sustained by the soldiers of the enemy. Ta'if was an area of date-palms and vine and was well-known throughout the Hijaz for its fertility. As its inhabitants had taken great pains in developing the palm-groves and the vineyards, they were keenly interested in their safety.
In order to threaten those, who had shut themselves within the fort, the Prophet announced that, if they continued to resist, their gardens would be plundered. However, the enemies did not pay any heed to this threat, because they did not imagine that the kind and merciful Prophet would resort to such an action. However, as they observed, all of a sudden that compliance with the orders to pull down the gardens and to cut the date-palms and the vines had already commenced, they began to wail and cry and requested the Prophet to refrain from this action as a mark of respect for the proximity and relationship which existed between them.
The Prophet, notwithstanding the fact that those who had now taken refuge in the fort were the very persons, who were responsible for the battles of Hunayn and Ta'if and these two battles had proved very costly, he showed his mercy and kindness once again in the battlefield, which is usually a theatre of wrath and vengeance. He ordered his companions to desist from cutting down the trees. Though he had lost many officers and men in these two battles (which had been occasioned by the conspiracy of the people of the Saqif tribe who had conducted a night attack on the army of Islam and had now taken refuge in their burrow like a fox) and would have been justified in destroying their farms and gardens as a measure of revenge, his kindness and mercy subdued his anger and he asked his friends to refrain from taking punitive action.
From the conduct of the Prophet and the manner in which he always treated his enemies, it can be safely said that the orders given by him to cut down the trees were a mere threat and if this weapon had not proved effective, he would certainly have refrained from using it.

The people of Saqif tribe were rich and affluent and possessed a large number of slaves and slave-girls. In order to obtain information about the state of affairs within the interior of the fort and to assess the strength of the enemy as well as to create differences amongst that organized group, the Prophet got announced that those slaves of the enemy, who came out of the fort and took refuge with the army of Islam, would become free. This device proved effective to some extent and about twenty slaves escaped from the fort very skillfully and joined the Muslims. On enquiries having been made from them it was known that those within the fort were not prepared to surrender at any cost, and even if the siege continued for one year they would not be faced with any shortage of provisions.

The Prophet used all the physical and moral military devices in this battle, but the experience gained thereby proved that the conquest of the fort needed further activities and patience, whereas the conditions prevailing at the time, the prolongation of war, and the resources of the army of Islam, did not permit any further stay in Ta'if, because, firstly during the period of this siege thirteen persons had been killed. Out of them seven were from amongst Quraysh, four were Ansar and one belonged to some other tribe. Furthermore, some persons, whose number and names have not unfortunately been recorded in the books, were also killed as a result of the deceitful attack of the enemy in the valley of Hunayn and consequently there appeared lack of discipline and morale in the Muslim army.
Secondly, the month of Shawwal was terminating and the month of Zi Qa'd (during which warfare was forbidden amongst the Arabs, and Islam later confirmed this tradition as well) was fast approaching.[8]
In order to safeguard this tradition it was necessary that the siege should be raised as early as possible so that the Arab tribe of Saqif might not be able to charge the Prophet with the violation of the good tradition.
Moreover, the Haj season was near and the supervision of Haj ceremonies was the responsibility of the Muslims, because before this all the ceremonies of Haj were performed under the supervision of the polytheists of Makkah.
A very large number of the people came to Makkah from all parts of Arabia to participate in Haj ceremonies and it was the best occasion to propagate Islam and to acquaint the people with the realities of the Divine faith. It was necessary that the Prophet should take full advantage of this opportunity, which had become available to him for the first time and should think of much more important matters as compared with the conquest of an outlying fort. Keeping all these matters in view, the Prophet raised the siege of Ta'if and proceeded, along with his soldiers, to Ji'ranah.
[1] Mughazi-i Waqidi, vol. III, pp. 915 - 916.
[2] Biharul Anwar, vol. XXI, page 162.
[3] Seerah-i Halabi, vol III, page 132.
[4] Tabaqat, vol. II, page 158.
[5] Seerah-i Halabi, vol. III, page 134.
[6] Tabaqat, vol. II, page 157.
[7] Mughazi-i Waqidi, vol. III, page 928.
[8] This statement is supported by the fact that the Prophet left Makkah on the 5th of Shawwal and the period of the siege was 20 days and the remaining five days of the month were spent in the Battle of Hunayn as well as in journeying. As regards the period of the siege being 20 days it is in accordance with a narrative quoted by Ibn Hisham. However Ibn Sa'd has mentioned the period of the siege to be 40 days (vide Tabaqat, vol. II, page 158).

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