Battle of Tabouk

Battle of Tabouk

The Battle of Tabouk (also called the Battle of Tabuk) was a military expedition said to have been led by Muhammed in October, AD 630. According to Muslim biographies, Muhammed 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 the authenticity of the details surrounding the event; [See, for example, Bowersock, Glen Warren, PeterRobert 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 "probelmatic 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 complexitites, anachronisms, discrepancies, and contradictions. Moreover, many of them provide evidence of embelleshment and invention that were introduced to serve the purposes of political or religious apologetic."] though in the Arab world it is widely held as historical.

The expedition is said to have taken place in the 9th year of the Muslim calendar. According to "Ar-Rahīq al-Makhtum", a modern Islamic hagiography of Muhammad written by the Indian Muslim author Saif ur-Rahman Mubarakpuri, Heraclius, then the Byzantine emperor, had decided that reducing the growing Muslim power had become an urgent necessity and the conquest of Arabia should, in his opinion, be achieved before the Muslims became too powerful to conquer and raise troubles and unrest in the adjacent Arab territories. According to the Muslim accounts, the Emperor was rumored to have mustered a huge army of Byzantine soldiers and pro-Roman Ghassanid tribes to launch a decisive military attack against the Muslims.

Many rumors of the danger threatening Muslim life was carried to Mecca by some 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 Lukham, Judham and other tribes allied to the Byzantines.

Muhammad, deciding that it might be worthwhile and precautionary to investigate the possible danger, announced plans to raise an army for an expedition to Syria. Though in a famine and with not much funds in the treasury, all who could contributed what they could. Eventually they set out.

Muhammad marched northwards to Tabouk. The army that numbered 30,000 fighters was a great one, when compared with the previous armies of Islam. Muslims had never marched with such a great number before.

After arriving at Tabouk and camping there, 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. According to some Muslim historians, upon learning of Muhammad's march north, the Byzantines and their allies probably withdrew without a fight.

Nevertheless, it is sometimes claimed that this expedition brought, in itself, credit to the Muslim forces that had gained military reputation in the remote lands of the Arabian Peninsula.

The local tribes gave their allegiance to Muhammad and agreed to the payment of the jizyah protection tribute. The head of the jizyah, 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:

:"In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.":"This is a guarantee of protection from Muhammad to Yahna bin Rawbah and the people of Allah; their ships, their caravans on the land and sea shall have custody of Muhammad , he and whosoever are with him of Ash-Sham people and those of the sea. Whosoever contravenes this treaty, his wealth shall not save him; it shall be the fair prize if him that takes it. Now it should not be lawful to hinder the men from any springs which they have been in the habit of frequenting, nor from any journeys they desire to make, whether by sea or by land."

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.


External links

* [ The Expedition of Tabuk] from Restatement of History of Islam at

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