"Assuredly Allah did help you in many battlefields, and on the Day of Hunayn: behold! Your great numbers elated you, but they availed you nothing. The land, for all that it is wide, did constrain you, and you turned back in retreat.
But Allah did pour His calm on the Messenger and on the Believers, and sent down forces which you saw not, and He punished the Unbelievers: Thus does He reward those without Faith. Again will Allah, after this, turn in mercy to whom He will, for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful."
[Quran 9: 25-27]
Hardly had the people of Makkah sworn allegiance to the Prophet and life returned to normal in the town, when hostile winds began to blow from the east. The powerful tribes of the Hawazin and the Thaqeef were on the war-path.
The Hawazin lived in the region north-east of Makkah and the Thaqeef in the area of Taif. They were neighbouring tribes, who now feared that the Muslims, having conquered Makkah, would attack and catch them dispersed in their tribal settlements. To avoid being taken at a disadvantage, they decided to mount an offensive themselves, hoping to benefit from their initiative. The two tribes concentrated at Autas, near Hunain, where they were joined by contingents from several other tribes. This again was a coalition like the one which had assembled for the Battle of the Ditch. The total strength of the assembled tribes was 12,000 men, and the over-all commander was the fiery, 30-year-old Malik bin Auf. This young general decided to make his men fight in a situation of such serious danger that they would fight with the courage of desperation. He ordered the families and the flocks of the tribes to join the men.
Another leader in the coalition was the venerable Duraid bin As-Simma. Hoary with age, this man had lost the strength and vitality to lead men in battle, but he was a sage with a clear mind who accompanied his men wherever they marched; and since he was an experienced veteran, his advice on matters of war was widely sought. His military wisdom was unchallenged.
At Autas the aged Duraid heard the noises which usually, arise wherever families and animals are gathered. He sent for young Malik and asked, "Why do I hear the call of camels, the braying of donkeys, the bleating of goats, the shouting of women and the crying of children?" Malik replied, "I have ordered the families and the flocks to muster with the army. Every man, will fight with his family and his property behind him and thus fight with greater courage."
"Men fight with swords and spears, not with women and children", said Duraid. "Put the families and the flocks at a safe distance from the field of battle. If we win, they can join us. If we lose, at least they shall be safe."
Malik took this as a challenge to his judgement and his, ability to command the army. "I shall not send them away", he bristled. "You have grown senile and your brain is weak." At this Duraid withdrew from the argument and decided to let Malik have his way. Malik then returned to his officers and, said, "When you attack, attack as one man. As our attack begins, let all scabbards be broken."1 This breaking of scabbards was practised by the Arabs to signify an attitude of suicidal desperation.
As it happened only the Hawazin brought their families and their flocks to the camp. Other tribes did not do so.
The Prophet did not want any more bloodshed, but had, no choice except to set out to face this new enemy. He had no intention of waiting for another coalition to form against him and attack him as had happened three years before at the Battle of the Ditch. Moreover, if he waited on the defensive in Makkah and the enemy remained poised at Autas, the situation would lead to a stalemate which could last for months; and the Prophet could not afford to waste all that time. He had to attend to organisational matters and set about the conversion of the tribes of Arabia while the psychological impact of the fall of Makkah was still fresh in the minds of the Arabs. With a large hostile concentration at Autas, he would not be able to carry out these tasks. In any case, a strong enemy challenge to his authority at this stage would reduce the impact the Muslim conquest of Makkah had made on the Arab mind. This challenge had to be met. This opposition had to be crushed. The Prophet's decision to advance from Makkah created the unusual situation of both sides moving forward to fight an offensive battle.
On January 27, 630 (the 6th of Shawal, 8 Hijri), the Muslims set out from Makkah. The army consisted of the original 10,000 men who had conquered Makkah plus 2,000 new converts from among the Makkans. These new Muslims were of doubtful value as Islam had not really entered their hearts; they had come because they supposed that this was the right thing to do. Among them were Abu Sufyan and Safwan bin Umayyah. The latter had been given four months in which to make up his mind about the new faith, but was now favourably inclined towards the Prophet and had gone so far as to lend the Muslims 100 coats of mail for the forthcoming battle.