This past Sunday, the minister at the church I attend asked us to state our life’s goal in one sentence.  Good exercise!  Let’s switch that around a bit: in one sentence, what is it that God most wants from us?  Last year in Memphis, I heard Marcus Borg (a bit too liberal for my tastes on several topics, but when he talks about living out Christianity I am usually in wholehearted agreement) sum it up this way: love God and love the people God loves, a memorable summary of Luke 10:27

Of course this is the right answer.  Jesus said as much, but it begs the question what does love look like?  How do I show love to God, in particular?  I would like to assert that showing genuine, unflinching trust in the midst of uncertainty is one of the best ways.     

At this point in the third surah we come to mentions of two significant battles fought by the first Muslims during the life of Muhammad — the Battles of Badr and Uhud.  The way they come packaged, one right after another; the outcomes of both battles; and the lesson the Qur’an appears to be teaching from these battles make me immediately think of the Old Testament stories of Jericho and Ai in Joshua 6-7.  Today we will look at Badr and tomorrow at Uhud. 

Battle of Badr, iranian miniature

The Battle of Badr, Iranian miniature

The Battle of Badr pitted the first Muslims against the polytheists of Mecca.  Skirmishes had taken place between the Muslims and the Meccans before this time; the Meccans had been successful in chasing Muhammad and the Muslims out of Mecca in 622 CE.  But Badr would be the first large-scale battle and it is remembered as one of the most decisive.  On March 13, 624 CE the greatly outnumbered Muslim army marched into the gently sloping valley where the wells of Badr were, anticipating the advance of the much larger Meccan army.  Muslim tradition says the Muslims had 313 troops to the over 900-man, better-equipped Meccan force.  On the day of the battle each side presented their champions for the traditional 3-on-3 individual combat.  Surprisingly, the three Muslim champions were victorious.  This quickly turned into all-out battle, and when all was said and done, with some give-and-take on both sides, the Meccans suffered many more losses than the Muslims (some sources say 20% vs. 4%) and retreated.  Historians say this was the tipping point for Muhammad’s popularity; he had become a force to reckon with in Arabia.  The Muslims would no longer be anybody’s whipping boys. 

It is interesting how the Qur’an describes what takes place in the battle.  The Muslims are outmanned, weaken and losing heart.  So they pray for God’s help.  What happened next is described this way:

If you are steadfast and mindful of God , your Lord will reinforce you with five thousand swooping angels if the enemy should suddenly attack you, and God arranged it so. (3:125)

When by all accounts the Muslims should lose, God intervenes to make the impossible possible.  Victory comes, but from the hand of God.  They proceeded in faith and obedient steadfastness and God brought reward. 


Now imagine you are an Israelite soldier marching into your first battle in Canaan.  You come over a rise to see Jericho, the great walled city.  You are undermanned and underequipped, never mind that your battle plans sound more like instructions for a parade.  What would drive you to take another step?              

Trust.  And that alone. 

Before the non-Battle of Jericho ever started God had said: “I have delivered Jericho into your hands” (Joshua 6:2).  In the midst of the marching, Joshua encourages his troops that “the LORD has given you the city” (Joshua 6:16).  And, of course, the victory comes when the walls fall by no feat of the Israelites themselves.  But would the walls have fallen had the Israelites not marched?  I don’t believe so.  God was wondering one thing.  Will you trust me?  I’ll give you a plan that the most inept soldier would reject, but will you still go?  I’ll stretch it out over a week so the ridicule from the people of Jericho increases by the day, even so will you obey?  If I give you a test, will you pass?  They did.  Why?

Trust.  And that alone. 

And the lesson seems to be the same at Badr.  You are outmanned, will you trust me?  You have no significant victories under your belt, will you go anyway?  The tide of battle is turning against you, will you turn and run or turn to me and pray?  Will you pass my test?  And this is exactly what the Qur’an calls it (3:140-42)?  Today’s section begins with the admonition that trust is what Allah desires from his people at the lowest point in the battle most (3:122).  The section ends with further exhortation not to lose heart but to be steadfast (3:146).  The Muslims were and reward came. 

Really, we are talking about faith, but that word has developed so much religious baggage that I wonder if the word “trust” doesn’t actually help us understand the concept better.  Trust gives up control.  Trust surrenders.  Trust submissively says we will do it your way and I’ll look to you to lead the way.  Is this not what God wants most from His people?  Is that maybe how we best say we love someone, even God? 

And is this not what the very word “islam” means?