1. Unbelievers tried to extinguish the Light of God 'with their mouths' but, although they were averse, God willed to perfect His Light (al-Saff, 61.8). So, God's Messenger desired to demonstrate that it was impossible for unbelievers to exterminate Islam, and to show that Islam was a reality that could not be ignored.
2. Makka enjoyed a central position in the heart of the Arabian peninsula. It was the most formidable power of the time in Arabia and all the other tribes felt some sort of adherence to it. By dispatching military expeditions to neighbouring areas, God's Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, also desired to demonstrate the power of Islam and to break the dominance of the Quraysh in Arabia.
During human history, the concept of 'might is right' has usually been a norm. This has been so because 'right' has usually not had enough power to hold the dominance of the world. The case was the same fourteen centuries ago in Arabia. Since the Quraysh enjoyed might and wealth, the neighbouring tribes obeyed them. However, Islam came to make right might, and, in order to demonstrate this and to break the pressure of the Makkan polytheists on neighbouring tribes to prevent them from embracing Islam, God's Messenger dispatched military expeditions through the desert one after the other.
3. The mission of God's Messenger was not restricted to a fixed period, nor to one nation only; rather, he was sent as a mercy for all the worlds. So, he was charged to communicate the Message of God as far as the remotest corners of the world. However, since he began his mission in Arabia, he had, certainly, to know the conditions surrounding him. These expeditions were, therefore, vanguards to be acquainted with those conditions and pave the way for the preaching of Islam in the peninsula.
4. One of the most effective ways of crushing the enemy is to stir them to unpremeditated, premature movements and thereby to always have the initiative. God's Messenger was surely informed of the contacts the Quraysh established with 'Abd Allah ibn Ubayy ibn Salul, the head of the hypocrites in Madina, to frustrate him in his mission, and he was alert to their possible attacks on Madina. Meanwhile a military force of the Quraysh was able to penetrate as far as the suburbs of Madina and, after a plunder, returned to Makka. So, by dispatching military expeditions, God's Messenger, upon him be peace, also desired to agitate the Quraysh to an unprepared, unpremeditated action against Madina to nip their plots in the bud.
5. The Quraysh lived on international trade. They sent trade caravans to Syria and to the Yemen. So, it was a vital importance for them that their trade routes should be absolutely secure. However, thanks to the situation of Madina, God's Messenger was able to threaten their trade and, therefore, while strengthening his position in Madina on the one hand, he was, on the other, dispatching military expeditions to paralyze the hopes and plans of the Quraysh to deal him any blow.
6. Islam guarantees security of life and property. Its commandments aim to guarantee the security of life, the security of property, the security of, in addition to physical health, mental and spiritual health, the security of chastity, and the security of belief. Therefore, it strictly prohibits murder, theft, robbery and plundering, and also usurpation and interest or usury and gambling, alcohol, every kind of illicit sexual intercourse, anarchy and propagation of atheism. The Arabic original of 'belief' is iman and means giving security. Therefore a mu'min (believer) is the one who never cheats and from whose tongue and hand all people are in utmost security. He never lies, never breaks his word, and never breaches a trust. Also, he never conceives of earning his life by stealing or other un-Islamic ways like usurpation and interest-involving transactions. He is convinced that the one who has killed a man is as if he killed the whole of humankind.
When God's Messenger was raised as a Prophet, there was in Arabia no security, neither of life or property, nor of chastity or health, nor of belief, nor indeed in the rest of the world. However, he had to establish absolute security in every aspect of life. Once, he had said to Adiy ibn Khatam:
A day will come when a woman will travel, riding in a litter, from Hira to Makka and fear nothing except God and wolves. (1)
By dispatching military expeditions through the desert, God's Messenger also aimed to establish security therein and wanted to show to everyone, friend and foe, that security was not possible but by Islam.
The first military expedition sent after the Emigration was toward Sif al-Bahr. When Hamza, the commander of the expedition, reached Sif al-Bahr, a trade caravan of the Quraysh was returning from Damascus. The Quraysh had usurped all the possessions of the Emigrant Muslims left in Makka, and used them in trade. In order to threaten their trade, and weaken them economically, God's Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, desired to make a show of power in the desert. No clash took place in this first confrontion with the Quraysh, but the desert tribes witnessing the incident showed an inclination to acknowledge a second power in the peninsula besides the Quraysh.
This first expedition was shortly followed by the second sent under the command of 'Ubayda ibn Harith. With the same purpose as in the first expedition, 'Ubayda went as far as Rabigh, a valley on the route to Makka. The Muslim expedition of sixty cavalrymen met there with a force of the Quraysh consisting of two hundred armed men. An exchange of arrows took place between the parties; in the end, fearing a possible defeat, the Makkan troops withdrew towards Makka. (2)
Military expeditions followed one another, some of them commanded by God's Messenger himself, upon him be peace and blessings. In two of the expeditions he commanded, he went to Abwa and Buwat respectively and aimed to threaten the trade caravans of the Quraysh and intimidate them. (3) In the former, he also had the purpose of signing a treaty with Banu Damra. According to the conditions of the treaty, neither of the sides would take up arms against the other, and the tribe of Banu Damra would not help any aggressive force against the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings.
Shortly before the Battle of Badr, God's Messenger sent an expedition of about ten persons under the command of 'Abd Allah ibn Jakhsh to Nakhla, a place between Makka and Ta'if, a few miles away from Makka. He ordered them to follow the movements of the Quraysh and gather information about their plans. While they were staying in Nakhla, a trade caravan of the Quraysh coming from Ta'if halted there. Something happened unexpectedly and the Muslims killed one of the Makkans and captured the rest except one, and their belongings, and took them to Madina. They did this at a time when the month of Rajab was approaching its end and Sha'ban about to begin. It was, therefore, doubtful whether the event took place in Rajab, one of the sacred months, or not. But the Quraysh, and the Jews who were secretly in league with them, as well as the hypocrites, made great use of this as a weapon in their propaganda campaign against the Muslims. They claimed that the Muslims shed blood in a sacred month, when bloodshed is forbidden.
Since the incident had taken place without his approval, God's Messenger expressly pointed out to those who had participated in the campaign that he had not ordered them to fight. Also the other Muslims reproached them for doing something not commanded. However, the verses revealed consoled them on account of their purity of intention with hope for the mercy of God:
They question you concerning the holy month, and fighting in it. Say: 'Fighting in it is a heinous thing, but to bar from God's way, and unbelief in Him, and denying entry into the Holy Mosque, and to expel its people from it – that is more heinous in God's sight; and persecution is more heinous than killing.' They will not cease to fight with you till they turn you from your religion, if they are able; and whoever of you turns from his religion and dies unbelieving – their works have failed in this world and the next; those are the inhabitants of the Fire; therein they shall dwell forever. But the believers, and those who emigrate and struggle in God's way – those have hope of God's Mercy; and God is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate. (4) (al-Baqara, 2.217–8)
The verses aimed to answer the objections raised by the Quraysh and the Jews and hypocrites. The essence of the matter is that fighting during the holy months is an evil act. However, those people who had continually subjected the believers to indescribable wrong for thirteen years merely because they believed in the One God could have no right and justification to make such an objection. They had not only driven the Muslims from their homes, they had closed to them the way to the Holy Mosque, a bar which had not been imposed by anyone during the course of some two thousand years. With this record of mischief and misconduct it was not for them to raise such an outcry at a small incident, and especially so when the incident had taken place without the approval of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings.
2. Muslim, Fada'il al-Sahabah, 63; Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah, 6.336.
3. Muslim, 'Imarah, 39; I. Maja, Jihad, 40.
4. I. Hisham, Sirah, 2.252.