The battle of Taif happened in the month of Shawwal in 8A.H., in a city in the Hijaz, 65 miles southeast of Mecca, which was known for its good climate and fertile ground.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) led the Muslim front, which consisted of 12 thousand fighters. He placed Khalid ibn Al-Waleed (may Allah be pleased with him) at the forefront of the army.
Facing the Muslim army, Malik ibn Auf led the army of disbelievers, which was made up of 30 thousand fighters.
The Prophet was pursuing the remaining fugitives of the polytheists of Hawazin and Thaqif, after the Battle of Hunayn, who had attacked and killed the Muslims. They had conspired against the spread of the Islamic call after the liberation of Mecca, in cooperation with a number of rebellious tribes in the Arabian Peninsula.
Pursing the aggressor after the Battle of Hunayn
After Allah gave victory to His slaves of Muslims at Hanayn, under the leadership of the Prophet, against their enemies from the rebelling tribes led by the tribes of Thaqeef and Hawazin, the Prophet (peace be upon him) gathered the booty and captives from the Battle of Hunayn and assigned Budeel ibn Waraqa and a group of Muslims to guard them. He (peace be upon him) then ordered the army to head towards Taif, where the remaining disbelievers, under Malik ibn Auf, had fleed.
Taif was a fortified city which could only be entered through gates. The people of Taif were experienced in war and had great wealth that enabled them to make their strongholds among the most insurmountable forts.
The crossfire of the two parties
Many spears and arrows were thrown by the two sides, resulting in the death of 12 Muslims as well as others being injured. Among the injured were Abdullah ibn Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him), whose wounds led to his death during the caliphate of his father, and Abu Sufyan ibn Harb, whose eye was shattered.
Following the suggestion of Al-Hubab ibn Al-Munthir, the Muslims moved back from the fortified city so that they would not be hit by the arrows.
When the Prophet (peace be upon him) saw that the enemy were able to attack them easily, he went up to the present-day position of Taif mosque, where he put up two tents, one for Um Salamah and one for Zainab.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) was the first Arab to use catapults, following the advice of Salman the Persian (may Allah be pleased with him), as the Persians used to use catapults in their wars.
The catapult is a tool that throws stones with great force. The Prophet (peace be upon him) started to use the catapult because the siege of Taif was long and the people of the tribe of Thaqeef refused to leave their forts. This was because their fortified city was impregnable and they had plenty of provisions [The Wars by Al-Waqadi, p927].
Before the catapult was used, Khalid ibn Al-Waleed called to the leaders of the polytheists inside the forts to have a duel. The leaders of the tribe of Thaqeef replied that the supplies they had could last them for many years. They added that if they had to leave any of their forts, they would leave with their swords to fight with them (the swords) until the last of them were killed.
For this reason, the Prophet (peace be upon him) used the catapult on the people of Taif for 17 days. The Muslims also built a wooden tank for the soldiers to hide under, in order to reach the castles and forts without the arrows hitting them; and they were able to actually break down some of the wall of one fort.
However, the people of Taif surprised the Muslims with huge sharp iron rods that had been kindled with fire until they were red [Ibn Katheer, 2/306]. This made the Muslims move back to save themselves.
Burning the vines and palm trees
When the siege lasted a long time and Thaqeef started to throw rods kindled with fire from behind the forts, the Prophet (peace be upon him) ordered that the palm trees of Taif, their vineyeards and crops be burnt. This was in order to frighten and weaken them. The Muslims actually cut down a large number of them, so the people in the forts started to appeal to the Muslims for them to stop, saying, “(For) Allah and the ties of blood.” Consequently, the Prophet (peace be upon him), the merciful one, accepted their request. He (peace be upon him) then sent a messenger to announce to the people of Taif, “Any slave who leaves the forts and comes to us will be free.” As a result, about a dozen men left the forts, and the Prophet (peace be upon him) freed them and treated them kindly [At-Tabaqat Al-Kubra by Ibn Saad, 2/1872].
The lifting of the siege of Taif
Although the siege of Taif continued for 40 days, the Muslims were unable to break into the fortified city, and the enemy had prepared themselves to be able to stay a long time inside the forts. Therefore, the Prophet (peace be upon him) told the Muslims to lift the siege and to return to Medinah. It was said that among the ones who the Prophet (peace be upon him) consulted about this was Nawfal ibn Mu’awiyah Ad-Daili, who was an elderly man who understood the circumstances of the Arabs and who had embraced Islam when Mecca was liberated. Nawfal said, “Oh Messenger of Allah, the fox has rushed into its hole. If you remain firm, you will capture it, but if you leave it be, it will not harm you.” Therefore, the Prophet (peace be upon him) ordered the Muslims to leave.
It is also said that some of the Companions had asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) to pray against Thaqeef as “they had pierced them with their arrows”, that is, they had injured the Muslims. So the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, <Oh Allah, guide Thaqeef and make them come (to us) as Muslims> [part of a hadith related by At-Tirmidhi, 3942].
Omar ibn Al-Khattab called out to the people, “We are leaving tomorrow,” but the Companions asked how they could return when the city had not been liberated. As a result, they asked to raid the fortified city again. The Prophet (peace be upon him) agreed. But when they attacked the city, they suffered many painful wounds due to the strong resistance they met. After this, they willingly accepted to leave, which made the Prophet (peace be upon him) laugh. He told them to say, “There is no god (worthy of worship) but Allah, alone. He alone fulfilled His promise, gave victory to His slave, and defeated the confederates.”
When the Companions mounted their riding animals, the Prophet (peace be upon him) ordered them to say, “We are returning, asking for forgiveness, worshipping our Lord and praising Him” [related by Muslims, 1778].
The wise stance in distributing the booty
As we have indicated concerning the booty of the Battle of Hunayn, which resulted in the Battle of Taif with the siege of this city to which the polytheists had fled, the Prophet (peace be upon him) exhibited many wise stances concerning the booty. This was even though the Arabs had caused him much harm and had persistently kept bothering him; they kept impatiently asking for their share of the booty. Their insistence was because they had recently entered Islam and that some of them were hypocrites. Some of the most important of the Prophet’s stances are stated below:
- Softening the hearts: The Prophet (peace be upon him) returned from the Battle of Taif to Al-Jiranah, where he had left the booty, and started to count it, dividing it into fifths. He allocated much of it to those who had recently embraced Islam, in particular, and even some non-Muslims among the chiefs of Quraish to soften their hearts to Islam. These included Abu Sufyan ibn Harb, who he gave 40 ounces of gold and 100 camels. The Prophet (peace be upon him) gave each of his sons Mu’awiyah and Zaid the same amount. Abu Sufyan said to the Prophet (peace be upon him), “By my father and mother, you are generous at times of peace and during war.”
Hakeem ibn Hizam also asked for a larger share of the booty, so the Prophet (peace be upon him) said to him, <Oh Hakeem, this wealth is like a sweet fresh fruit; whoever takes it because he needs (without greediness), there will be blessings in it, but whoever takes it being greedy for it, there will be no blessings in it. Will be like one who eats but does not become satisfied. The upper hand (that gives) is better than the lower hand (that takes).> Consequently, this was the last charity that Hakeem accepted in his life.
Moreover, the Prophet (peace be upon him) gave Uyaynah ibn Hisn 100 camels, and the same to Al-Aqra’ ibn Habis and Al-Abbas ibn Mardas. Safwan ibn Umayyah's share was a valley full of cattle and sheep. Safwan said, “No one is as generous as this,” and this resulted in him embracing Islam.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) aimed, by such gifts, to unite the hearts and to bring them together on the correct religion. This was a religious political step, with one of the recipients of zakat being for those whose hearts could be softened towards Islam. Such a step resulted in great benefits, as many of those to whom the Prophet (peace be upon him) gave booty that day and whose love for Islam had not yet become strong in their hearts later became among the most honourable and beneficial, like Safwan ibn Umayyah, Mu’awiyah ibn Abu Sufyan, Al-Harith ibn Hesham and others [The Light of Certainty by Mohammed Khadir, transmitting hadiths which were related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim and An-Nisa’a].
- The roughness of the Arab Beduoins: When the Beduoins, persistently asking for wealth after the battle, pushed the Prophet (peace be upon him) back on the tree to the extent that his garment became caught in it, the Prophet (peace be upon him) patiently replied, <Give me back my garment, Oh people. By Allah, if I had (spoils like the number of) acacia trees on the plain of Tihama, I would distribute them over you, and you would not find me to be greedy, cowardly or a liar.> He even stressed to them that his portion of the booty, which is one fifth, would been given to the Muslims and that he would not take any of it. He (peace be upon him) also told them not to steal anything from the booty, as, < (Stealing from the booty is) disgrace, fire and ignominy on the Resurrection Day for those who do it.> Then he began to divide the booty to the fighters, giving every soldier 4 camels and 40 sheep, and every horseman 3 times this amount. When one of the hypocrites accused the Prophet (peace be upon him) of not being just and for following his personal desires, the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not allow one of the Companions to punish him. He (peace be upon him) said that he might be among those who pray. When Khalid ibn Al-Waleed said he might just be claiming that with his tongue, the Prophet (peace be upon him) replied, <I have not been ordered to delve into people’s hearts or to open their insides> [related by Muslim, 1064].
- Love for the Al-Ansar: When the Prophet (peace be upon him) gave these gifts to Quraish and the Arab tribes, some of the Al-Ansar became angry. They said, “This is surprising; he gives (booty) to Quraish but leaves us (without anything), although blood is still dripping from our swords!” So the Prophet (peace be upon him) gathered them all together to remind them that he was the reason Allah had guided, made them not in need of anyone, and reconciled their hearts after they used to be enemies. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, <‘Oh Al-Ansar, are you not pleased that the people leave with sheep and cattle, and you leave to your homes with the Prophet? By Him in Whose hands is the life of Muhammed, had it not been for the immigration, I would have (liked to have) been one of the Al-Ansar. If the people travel along a mountain pass and Al-Ansar travel along another mountain pass, I would travel the same mountain pass as Al-Ansar. Oh Allah, have mercy on Al-Ansar and the sons of Al-Ansar.’ Consequently, the people cried until the tears wet their beards, saying, ‘We are pleased with the Messenger of Allah being our share and portion (of booty).’ Then he (peace be upon him) left and they departed.>
The Muslims gained victory, although they were not able to liberate the fortified city. A total of twelve Muslims were martyred during the siege and several of them were injured as a result of the attacks of the people of Taif.
The events of Hunayn and Taif gave a number of lessons, the most important ones being:
- The Muslims remained vigilent and kept striving to push back the enemy forces and raise Allah’s words high.
- An example of leadership: The Prophet (peace be upon him) was an example for the Muslims with regards to his bravery on the battlefield, even if he had to stand alone against the enemy. He (peace be upon him) was also a role model with regards to him giving up and not caring to take any of the booty. In fact, he returned all his portion to the Muslims.
- The Prophet’s military prowess: During this battle, the Prophet (peace be upon him) used the catapult for the first time as well as tanks. These were not known in the Arabian Penninsula before this time. The Prophet (peace be upon him) also used psychological warfare against the people of Taif by burning their palm trees, which frightened them.
- Forgiveness and mercy of the Prophet (peace be upon him): Have you ever seen a leader praying to guide his enemies after leaving a fierce battle?! The Prophet (peace be upon him) actually stopped burning their palm trees and lifted the siege of their forts, hoping that this would return them to their senses.
- Justice and wisdom of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in distributing the booty: See how the Prophet (peace be upon him) acted with the polytheists, the new Muslims, the Arab Beduoins and Al-Ansar.
- Attributing every victory to Allah (Glorified be He) and praising Him for enabling the Muslims to win: The Prophet (peace be upon him) was humble when returning from that liberation, remembering Allah and teaching his companions to do the same.
- Being constantly alert: There were only a few weeks, or sometimes even a few days, between the major battles at the end of the Prophet’s life. However, neither the body nor the heart stopped seeking to fight in the cause of the truth.