Numbers and symbolism go great together throughout human history. (In)famous numbers like 666, 88 and 3 still appeal to the imagination of the human mind. Numbers represent a certain concept, revealing a whole meaning despite their ostensible simplicity. It makes them some of the most powerful symbols, not depending on an image or drawing but on the underlying imperceptible purposes and meanings people associate with them. For you, an 8 might be just two connected circles, to others, it represents a crucial part of their religious beliefs. The number 313 is just one of those numbers with a whole lot more to it than you might think.
In Islamic historiographical beliefs, the number 313 refers to the amount of Muslim warriors present at the Battle of Badr in 624 AD, a key battle in Islamic history. The so-called Ahl Badr, or the People of Badr, had an important position among the prophet Muḥammad’s Companions. They were regarded as the top of the earliest Muslims, the veterans of a game changing day. The Companion Abū Ḥuṣayn, for example, said in a narration attributed to him as quoted by Ibn Baṭṭa al-ʿAkbarī in his Ibṭāl al-Ḥīl: “Truly, you issue legal rulings concerning matters (so important) that, were they brought to ‘Omar (ibn al-Khaṭṭāb), he would’ve gathered the People of Badr (to discuss them).”
The Battle of Badr was the first solid military confrontation between the nascent Muslim community and their Meccan opponents from among the Quraysh tribe. The battle erupted after scouts of the prophet Muḥammad reported that a caravan coming from Syria towards Mecca transporting weapons for the fight against the Muslims was about to join up with an army from Mecca seeking to protect its goods against possible raids. The Meccans were intercepted by the Muslim army in the valley of Badr, and fighting broke out. According to the Qur’an, God blessed the outnumbered Muslims with victory by sending thousands of angels to their aid, cutting off the heads of their opponents from among the Meccans. It shouldn’t therefore surprise that the number 313 plays therefore an important role in Muslim symbolism.
In Shia eschatology, the number 313 has another significant meaning. It is believed that the amount of followers that will support the eschatological Islamic redeemer al-Mahdī will also count 313 warriors. The 313 Ḥusayniyya Organisation for example, is an Iraqi Shiite organisation of so-called servants of al-Ḥusayn Ibn ʿAlī, taking care of religious celebrations and the ḥusayniyyāt congregation halls. The number 313 has a central role in their name. According to the imam al-Bāqir (677-733 AD) as quoted in al-Majlisī’s Biḥār al-Anwār vol. 52, “the supporters of al-Mahdī will be three hundred and thirteen men like those present at the Battle of Badr.” Since al-Mahdī is considered the final imam in Shiite beliefs, he is a widely revered figure and a recurring subject in Shiite imagery.
As the Syrian Civil War features a myriad of armed groups, it’s hardly surprising that there are a lot of symbols and distinct flags involved. One of the symbols that appeared several times is this number 313, used by both Sunni opposition groups and Shiite pro-regime militias. The Sarāyā al-ʿArīn for example, is a Latakian Alawite militia featuring the number 313 and two crossed Dhū al-Faqār swords. On the other side of the divide, the Sunni opposition group Alwiyat 313 – Jund Badr, which operated in the north Homs rebel enclave until 2018, took the number 313 as their main emblem. This number obviously inspires people to fight under its name, in the footsteps of those historical Muslims who inspired its symbolism.
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Omer Sayadi (*1993) is a former student of the Catholic University of Leuven with a special love for the Middle East and North Africa. After receiving his Master’s degree in Arabic Language and Islamic Studies, he’s working with both refugees from the region as well as foreigners seeking to learn the Dutch language. He wrote columns on Islam in Europe and migration, and started MENA Symbolism as a means of combining everything history, politics, symbolism and society in one place.