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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 the Prophet Muhammad in October 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 Byzantine-Arab 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 details surrounding the event;[1] though in the Arab world it is widely held as historical.

Reasons for war

Tabuk, Saudi Arabia

According to Ar-Rahīq al-Makhtum, a modern Islamic hagiography of Muhammad written by the Indian Muslim author Safi-ur-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

The Muslim scholar Ibn Kathir mentions in his tafsir that the Quran verse 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 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). [Quran 9:49]

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 9:29 which called for fighting against the people of the book until they pay Jizyah was "revealed" while Muhammad was preparing for the Battle of Tabuk, he wrote:

The Order to fight People of the Scriptures until They give the Jizyah

(Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth among the People of the Scripture,) This honorable Ayah was revealed with the order to fight the People of the Book, after the pagans were defeated, the people entered Allah's religion in large numbers, and the Arabian Peninsula was secured under the Muslims' control. Allah commanded His Messenger to fight the People of the Scriptures, Jews and Christians, on the ninth year of Hijrah, and he prepared his army to fight the Romans and called the people to Jihad announcing his intent and destination. The Messenger sent his intent to various Arab areas around Al-Madinah to gather forces, and he collected an army of thirty thousand. Some people from Al-Madinah and some hypocrites, in and around it, lagged behind, for that year was a year of drought and intense heat. The Messenger of Allah marched, heading towards Ash-Sham to fight the Romans until he reached Tabuk, where he set camp for about twenty days next to its water resources.

[Tafsir ibn Kathir, on 9:29][6][10]


Muhammad marched northwards to Tabuk, though the Byzantine army did not initiate any form of aggression against the Muslims. 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 Tabuk and camping there, Muhammad's army was prepared to face the Byzantines. However the Byzantines were not at Tabuk. 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

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. Then, God revealed a new verse of the Quran.[11] Ibn Kathir mentions this event and the verse as follows:

(Until the war lays down its burden.) Mujahid said: "Until `Isa bin Maryam (peace be upon him) descends. It seems as if he derived this opinion from the Prophet's saying, There will always be a group of my Ummah victorious upon the truth, until the last of them fight against Ad-Dajjal.) Imam Ahmad recorded from Jubayr bin Nufayr who reported from Salamah bin Nufayl that he went to the Messenger of Allah and said, "I have let my horse go, and thrown down my weapon, for the war has ended. There is no more fighting. Then the Prophet said to him, Now the time of fighting has come. There will always be a group of my Ummah dominant over others. Allah will turn the hearts of some people away (from the truth), so they (that group) will fight against them, and Allah will bestow on them (war spoils) from them (the enemies) [Tafsir ibn Kathir][12]

Islamic primary sources


According to Safi-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 were 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. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Rahman al-Mubarakpuri, Saifur (2005). "The Sealed Nectar". Darussalam Publications. p. 272.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "autogenerated1" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "autogenerated1" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "autogenerated1" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "autogenerated1" defined multiple times with different content
  3. William, William (10 August 2003). Life of Mahomet. Kessinger Publishing Co. p. 454. ISBN 978-0-7661-7741-3. 
  4. R.L. Bidwell (editor), R. (February 1996). New Arabian studies, Volume 3. University of Exeter Press. p. 95. ISBN 978-0-85989-479-1. 
  5. Muir, William (10 August 2003). Life of Mahomet. Kessinger Publishing Co. p. 454. ISBN 978-0-7661-7741-3. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 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. ISBN 978-1-86179-650-9. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Tafsir ibn Kathir,On 9:49, Text Version
  8. 8.0 8.1 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. ISBN 978-1-86179-650-9. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Tafsir ibn Kathir,On 9:81, Text Version
  10. 10.0 10.1 Tafsir ibn Kathir,On 9:29, Text Version
  11. William, William (10 August 2003). Life of Mahomet. Kessinger Publishing Co. p. 463. ISBN 978-0-7661-7741-3. 
  12. Tafsir ibn Kathir, Surah 9,

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Coordinates: 28°23′N 36°35′E / 28.383°N 36.583°E / 28.383; 36.583

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