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There are several battles won by Muslim armies where the opponent outnumbers them heavily and yet it is still fought. Some famous ones are the Battle of Badr where the Meccan army fielded "an army three times larger than that of the Muslims", the Battle of Yarmouk where Khalid ibn al-Walid led a defeat of an army possibly ten times the size, and the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah where the Persian army was again, possibly three times larger.

On the other hand, it wasn't always a victory against the odds for the Muslims, as the Battle of Tours, also referred to as Battle of the Palace of the Martyrs, shows.

Since the outcome of a battle is unknown to the generals, and since greater odds usually mean defeat (which is why defeats by much smaller armies are notable) why is it not considered suicidal to engage the larger army? Sometimes it's unavoidable, such as an attack on your home, but not all these battles would meet this standard.

My understanding is that suicide is a great sin, so what makes seemingly unassailable odds any different? Surely a truly great general would know the huge risk.

  • AFAIK, battles during the reign / time of Prophet Muhammad were divinely inspired. We can find about some of them in Qur'an. But I don't know about the ones after his time. – servant-of-Wiser Jan 31 '16 at 10:45
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I would have answered this in the comment, but I am unable to post one.

In my opinion, a battle, even if it is lost, may still be "useful". (I am a pacifist, so this word weighs heavily on my tongue)

Sending an army of 300 against an army of 3000, even if it's a lost cause, might still weakens the larger army for future battles (I play board games a lot). The message of courage (or whatever) can also be considered a good enough motivation (Saying to other armies "see? We fear nothing")

The hight risk/high gain is particularly apparent in Badr, as it served as an announcement, to the other tribes, that a new power was forming, capable of defeating Quraich.

The reason I find your question interesting is only concerning the very first battle the Muslim fought. Because had they lost (and the odds were not in they favour), Islam would have ended. There was no second army waiting to be called in, there was no man ready to take the mantle of prophet-hood. Especially because, according to most sources, the Prophet was told that no man could kill him only very late in his life, so he didn't go into battle thinking he would win, or even go out of it alive. (as evident by his prayer prior to the battle, asking his favours because "Lord, if these people[meaning his army] are defeated, Islam will end")

I guess, technically, doing that is suicidal, but it is not suicide.

  • That's a very interesting answer, thanks. Is not the intention important though, in that if you know it's suicidal, it's just the same as suicide? I mean, if I try to commit suicide by shooting myself but the gun jams, that's down to the gun and not me - wouldn't a failed suicide attempt be viewed the same and a successful one? If so, should this extend to generals in battle? – iain Jan 31 '16 at 18:43
  • That is an interesting analogy but it is flawed: the gun is not sentient, your enemies in battle are. If you kill or try to kill yourself with a gun, it is your own doing. If you are killed in battle, it is the doing of a sentient being besides yourself. Suicide is self inflicting death, going into battle, unless it is with a suicide vest, is not a self-inflicting death. It a certain death, but I would not rule it as a suicide. But this is not an Islamic motivated answer, it is my own logic. My reasoning may be flawed as well. – ZakC Jan 31 '16 at 18:59
  • Sure, and I'm grateful for your answers, flawed or not! – iain Jan 31 '16 at 22:31

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