Muslim Military Strategies in the Times of Muhammad

by Michael Van Ginkel

Originally organized in small war bands, the early followers of Muhammad relied on guerrilla tactics to overcome their opposition. Muhammad, however, soon managed to mobilize tribes on a far grander scale, diverging from caravan raids in favor of large scale, organized warfare. Combined with Muhammad's strategies and tactics, the new Muslim military arm would conquer great swathes of land even after its founder's death.

Arms and Armor

Equipped with swords, bows and arrows, and javelins, the Arabs fought as individuals rather then as a cohesive fighting unit. Each warrior, instead of working in concert with the men around him in an organized fighting formation, fought independently from his comrades on the battlefield. The cavalry were armed primarily with long spears and were mounted on either camels or horses. While most men wore chain mail coats, small round shields of wood and leather, and thick turbans wrapped around their heads, some richer men supplemented their protective gear with metal helmets.

Early Muslim Military

Muhammad's early battles revolved around hit-and-run and ambushes, successfully utilizing the Muslims' superior close-combat abilities in conjunction with the element of surprise to overwhelm their opposition. In contrast to the traditional Arab style of warfare, where the two sides agreed on a location and engaged in ritual single combat before battling, Muhammad's Islamic warriors fought not in the pursuit of a glory but as a means to achieve strategic and long-term objectives, forsaking glory on an individual bases so that the effectiveness of the whole army would be maximized by unifying efforts toward a common goal.

Muhammad's Reformation of the Army

The Arab warriors of the past, armed with heavy long swords, naturally deployed for battle in lose formation in order to guarantee ample room for their ponderous swings. Muhammad enforced stricter discipline, with small clan-based units working together in organized ranks. In addition, he adopted a more malleable standard battle order consisting of a center, two wings, a rear guard and a vanguard in order to create the khamis, or five formation.

New Tactics

Muhammad utilized an array of different tactics to overcome his enemy with minimal loses. By manipulating his opposition through deception, unconventional tactics and diplomacy Muhammad used war as a mean to a strategic end. In addition, he began to evoke psychological warfare through mass killings in order to suppress those who would resist his incursions. His use of trenches, such as in the battle of Khaybar, and siege equipment, such as at the battle of Ta'if, revolutionized Arab fighting, which until then had shied away from undertaking such time-consuming endeavors.

References

  • Muhammad: Prophet of Islam; Maxime Rodinson 2002
  • Muhammad: Islam's first great general; Richard A. Gabriel 2007

About the Author

Michael Van Ginkel is currently a student at Emory University, Atlanta Georgia. He was previously a staff writer for the Simpson Street Free Press.

Photo Credits

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