Synopsis: This episode picks up from the previous one (there I go stating the obvious again lol). The year is 625 and the Muslims are encamped at Uhud. The Muslim archers are depicted as taking their positions on the mountain, at which point Hamzah announces that the Prophet has ordered that under NO circumstances whatsoever are they to abandon their posts, whatever course the battle may take. The Qurashi army is shown opposite the Muslims and is quite large…no CGI, just actors and extras. About 3000 soldiers, which is the around the same figure listed in classical accounts. As the Qurashi champion steps forward, ‘Ali meets his challenge and draws his sword. He tells his opponent that either his sword will send the Qurashi to hell or the Qurashi’s sword will send ‘Ali to heaven. ‘Ali then quickly, with two swift motions of Zulfiqar (his sword) brings his opponent down, but–following the Qurashi’s pleas for mercy–does not strike the killing blow. Elsewhere, we see the Jewish rabbi riding his camel on the way to the battle, unaccompanied by anyone else. Back at the battle, Hind and the other Qurashi women are seen banging on drums, reciting war poetry, and urging their kinsmen onto battle. Abu Sufyan and Ikrimah ibn Abu Jahl lead the charge and lunge towards the Muslims. They are met with a massive volley of arrows from the mountain which stops their charge. ‘Umar, ‘Ali, and Hamzah then draw their swords and lead the charge against the Quraysh. As the Muslims cut through the Qurashi ranks, they begin to withdraw…with the women, led by Hind, trying unsuccessfully to persuade them to return to battle.
As the Muslims overrun the Qurashi camp, the archers on the mountain begin to descend and join the rest of the army in the rout. The few that remain attempt in vain to convince them to remain in their positions as the Prophet commanded. As the Muslims begin looting the enemy camp, Khalid ibn al-Walid leads a cavalry charge around the mountain and cut down the Muslims from behind. It’s a complete rout and massacre. We see many prominent Muslims fight bravely but are nevertheless killed…even the brave Jewish rabbi who joined the battle falls after battling valiantly. Wahshi, for his part, is searching for Hamzah on the battlefield and when he sees him, he throws the spear with all his power…it goes straight through Hamzah, killing him almost instantaneously. ‘Umar sees Hamzah fall and cries out; ‘Ali is frozen with shock and anger at seeing the mangled body of his uncle. Many of the Muslims begin to flee the battle as the news of their beloved general’s death reaches their ears. Notably, one Muslim (a Medinian woman) stands her ground and continually fires arrows, bringing down many of the Quraysh. Only a few Muslims remain–including Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Ali–gathering around the Prophet (implied) and protecting him from harm. They suffer several blows to protect him. Slowly, they retreat to the top of the mountain, while the Quraysh at the base call out mockingly for them to come down and fight. Back at the battlefield, Hind finds Hamzah’s fallen body and cuts him open. She then stands up with her bloodied knife pointing towards the Muslims on the mountain and declares that she has avenged her dead relatives. Abu Bakr is deeply affected by this and begins weeping at how she mutilated Hamzah. ‘Ali and ‘Umar look very somber and angered. Hind then goes to Wahshi and personally rewards him with her jewels.
Next we see the Quraysh marching back to Mecca in triumph. When back in Mecca Wahshi is celebrating his newly-acquired freedom and Khalid ibn al-Walid is praised as the hero of the victory by all. As Wahshi is free, he wears the turban and robes of an Arab noble and expects better treatment. He enters the council of the Quraysh and is scolded severely and told he does not belong among Arab nobles. Clearly, although free he is still treated as nothing more than a slave. Safwan ibn Umayyah then declares that things have deteriorated so much in Mecca that even a black slave expects the privilege of being able to sit with the Quraysh as an equal. As he departs the council, he bumps into another noble outside who calls him “slave” (‘abd) and tells him to watch where he is going. Wahshi goes into a kind of trance as he walks through the streets…and the reality begins to settle in: he will never be equal or even worthy in the eyes of the Quraysh. As he reaches his house, he begins weeping in sadness. He then goes to Rayhanna (the slave-girl) and proposes marriage to her…she refuses, telling him that she has become a follower of the Prophet and a Muslim. He looks confused and frustrated. But, since he just killed Hamzah, it’s a bit hard to feel sorry for the guy, although on some level there is a degree of pity one feels for his situation.
The next scene shows the Jewish chieftain of the Banu Nadir speaking to the Qurashi council and telling them that although they differ in religion, they share a common enemy: the Prophet. They then proceed to concoct a plan in which the Meccans would attack Medina and the Banu Qurayza within the city would also launch an attack. The Jewish chieftain explains that a certain portion of the Medinian aristocracy, who the Muslims call “al-Munafiqun,” staunchly oppose the Prophet and will also possibly join in any attack. They (the Quraysh and the Jewish chieftain) then pledge themselves in alliance to each other.
In Medina, Salman al-Farsi explains a military strategy he learned in Persia in which a ditch could be constructed around the city to prevent a direct attack. ‘Umar agrees and tells the Prophet his own strategy for developing this plan in order to maximize its effectiveness. The majority of the Muslims agree and the next scene shows the Muslims building the ditch around the city. As they dig, Salman struggles with a rock which doesn’t seem to budge and he cries out. The Prophet hears him and approaches and strikes the rock three times with his pick-axe. This seems to be an event of great significance and ‘Umar is next shown announcing this act to the other Muslims on the other side of the city: “O Muslims, the Prophet struck the rock three times, each time smiling. He (the Prophet) asserted that ‘With the first blow, God opened up to me the land of the Levant, with its palaces, and with the second blow, He has given me the keys of Persia and-by God-I can see the beautiful palace of Ctesiphon, and with the third blow I was given Yemen…indeed, I can witness the gates of San’a from this very spot!” ‘Umar tells them that now they know what will happen, they must show nothing but bravery in the face of the coming storm represented by the impending Qurashi attack. Salman then appears behind ‘Umar and attests to the truthfulness of his words…’Umar responds by saying that God has guided the Muslims through Salman’s wisdom and knowledge (i.e. his military strategy) and that he is indeed one of the Muhajirun. Then one of the Ansar cries out : “No, by God, he is one of us! One of the Ansar.” Abu Bakr then says that the Prophet heard the whole exchange and declared “Indeed, Salman is one of us, the Ahl al-Bayt!” All the Muslims declare the greatness of God (“Allahu Akbar”) after these words. The Munafiqun of Medina see this whole scene and scoff at the possibility of the Muslims ever setting foot in the palaces of Syria or Persia.
The following scene shows the Battle of the Ditch, with the Meccan cavalry led by Khalid ibn al-Walid leading the charge against Medina. As they come up against the ditch, they stop their charge and look bewildered. The cavalry withdraw and later that evening as the war council convenes, the Jewish chieftain of the Banu Nadir explains to the Quraysh the idea of the ditch and tells them some more about Salman al-Farsi. Abu Sufyan insists that the Quraysh will maintain the siege even if they have to starve Medina into starvation while Khalid ibn al-Walid suggests that the Banu Qurayzah should be encouraged to attack the Muslim positions. As the Jewish chieftain goes to the fortress of the Banu Qurayzah on the east end of Medina, the gates are firmly closed and the chieftain of the Banu Qurayzah speaks from the top of the gate and explains that they have a treaty with the Prophet and will not violate it. The Quraysh-allied Jewish chieftain, who is apparently from Banu Nadir, attempts to get the Banu Qurayzah involved in the war against the Prophet. Ka’b explains that it’s easy for the Banu Nadir to make such claims from faraway Khaybar where they are based, but the Banu Qurayzah are based in Medina and within striking distance of the Muslims. The Banu Nadir chieftain then explains that Medina is impenetrable to the Quraysh unless the Banu Qurayzah violate their oaths and attack the Muslims from behind…an ingenious plan he says. However, should the plan fail the chieftain vows that he will come to the immediate assistance of the Banu Qurayzah. Word soon reaches the Muslims that the Banu Qurayzah have amassed within their fortress and fortified their positions. Messengers from the Awz and Khazraj are sent to check on the situation…at which point the Banu Qurayzah are intransigent, insulting the Prophet and claiming they have no binding oaths or treaties. The episode ends with the Muslims beginning their attack on the Banu Qurayzah, for the betrayal that occurred.
Review: This episode was very eventful, covering everything from the beginning of Uhud to the middle of the Battle of the Ditch. For me, the battle was one of the most important and interesting parts of the episode and it was represented quite well, although the presentation of Badr was done much better. The martyrdom of Hamza was done beautifully and was very painful and sad to watch. I loved the inclusion of the famous Ansari lady (whose name I seem to have forgotten, but she appears in almost all books of Prophetic biography and hadith) at the Battle of Uhud, which stresses that armed struggle in defense of the faith was an obligation in which men and women took part. I found the scenes with Wahshi struggling to be accepted into the Quraysh quite profound…it conveys perfectly the social hierarchy of Mecca in pre-Islamic times. In so many ways, the way these exchanges were framed was as a modern social critique of the situation in Gulf societies were such social stratification exists and where dark-skinned Arabs or Africans are still called ‘abd (“slave”).
I also found the sequence of the Battle of the Ditch to be done quite well…I particularly enjoyed the integration of the character of Salman al-Farsi into the story (I had begun to worry he wouldn’t make an appearance!). The moment where he was declared to be the Ahl al-Bayt of the Prophet was also very well done…and I’m very glad they included it. It’s a very important moment in Islamic history and speaks to the complete equality of Arab and non-Arab in Islam. Finally, the beginnings of the conflict with the Jews are not done entirely honestly. The series did not mention how the tribes of Banu Qaynuqa’ and Banu Nadir had already been driven out of Medina to Khaybar (following a series of conflicts with the Muslims in Medina) so that the viewer gets the impression is that there is really no history of conflict between the Muslims and the Jews by the time of the Battle of the Ditch. In fact, the Battle of the Ditch represented the culmination of such conflict, and not it’s initiation. I just thought this would be worth pointing out. Also, it’s unfortunate that they did not show the high proportion of Jews that converted to Islam in Medina. Generally, the show gives the impression that most of the Muslims are either Muhajirun and Ansar…hardly any mention is made of other Arab tribes, Bedouins (these guys appear a lot in the hadith literature), Jews, or other groups converting to Islam. Perhaps I’m being overly critical, but I think this diversity is important and this cosmopolitanism in Medina would certainly play a major role in shaping the vision of ‘Umar when he became ruler of a multi-cultural empire.