The scouts saw the thin line of smoke curling up from the fire long before their nostrils caught the smell of the grilled meat. Moving close enough to the caravan to see the hooves of the camels glinting in the evening sun they quickly scanned the scene. It was the second year after Hijrah and also the month of Ramadan. The Qureish were returning from the part of al-Sham known as modern day Syria. Estimating both the numbers of camels and men, Talhah bin 'Ubaidullah and Sa'id bin Zaid also performed a somewhat informal inventory of the wares laden on the backs of the animals which walk like ships on the waves of the sea.
In the preceding months two distinct flanks had moved out from among the Muslims. The one flank was the diplomatic flank to seek non-aggression pacts with various tribes. As they did their work the smaller and more important intelligence flank moved into play with reconnaisance patrols exploring geopolitical features of the various commercial routes upon which the caravan trade traveled, carefully noting manpower and fighting strength. Using both code words and stealth they moved back and forth across the landscape feeding valuable intelligence to the Muslim community. This intelligence then allowed for the formation of small and quickly formed platoons which practiced and refined the classic Arab art of war - ambush and quick pillage.
A major skirmish with a caravan of Abu Jahl had been averted in 623 A.D. but it is a time when the first flag or banner of the Muslims - white in color and entrusted to Kinaz bin Husain Al-Ghanawi - found its place in battle lore. This white color became the battle standard.
(Qur'an 96:9-19 is addressed as a challenge to Abu Jahl, an arch enemy of the Muslims.)
After this time, several successful expeditionary platoons made it apparent to the Muslims that they were capable of expanding military control over an area of approximately three hundred miles, should they choose to consolidate their planning.
Reporting back to Prophet Muhammad, the scouts offered a stunning account of the approximate value of the booty. An immediate consultation ensued amongst the Sahabah regarding the merits of mounting an attack against the caravan. In the next blog we will move into the command center as the various players consider the practicalities of an attack.
LCDR Tammy Swofford