Having met with disappointment and frustration in every direction, the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, made up his mind to proceed to Taif and invite its people to Islam. Taif is a well-known city, distant about forty miles from Mecca to the southeast. It was the home of Banu Thaqeef. It was a rival city to Mecca and many influential and wealthy persons lived in it. Meccans also acknowledged its importance. This is affirmed by the Holy Quran, where it is said: ‘They ask: Why was not this Quran sent down to some great man of the two cities, meaning Mecca or Taif?’ (43:32)
In his journey to Taif, the Holy Prophet was accompanied by Zaid bin Harith. He called on the leading men of the city, one after the other, but all of them rejected him and made fun of him. He stayed in Taif for about ten days. In the end, he called on the most prominent chief of the city, Abd Yaleel, and invited him to embrace Islam. He also rejected him and put him off with the cynical observation, ‘If you are true, I dare not converse with you; if you are false, it is no use talking with you.’ He advised him to leave the city, as no one was ready to pay attention to him. Thereafter, he incited the rabble of the city to chase him out of the town. They started pelting him and Zaid with stones and went on reviling them for a distance of three miles beyond the city. Blood flowed from both legs of the Holy Prophet; and Zaid, endeavouring to shield him, was wounded in the head. The mob did not desist until they had chased them across the sandy plain to the foot of the surrounding hills. There, wearied and mortified, he took refuge in one of the numerous orchards, and rested under a vine. Hard by was a vineyard belonging to two Quraish, Utba and Shaiba, for the wealthy citizens of Mecca had gardens in the vale of Taif, as they have even today. Observing the condition of the Holy Prophet, and moved with compassion, they sent Addas, their servant, with a tray of grapes for his refreshment. The servant, a Christian slave from Nineveh, marvelled at the pious invocation with which the fruit was received by the weary travellers, ‘In the name of the Lord’, and a conversation ensued in which the Holy Prophet, learning from whence the servant came, made mention of the righteous Yunas, son of Mattai of Nineveh, a brother prophet like himself. Thereupon, Addas swore allegiance to the Holy Prophet, who must have been solaced more by the humble devotion of the slave than by the welcome fruit and grateful shade. After a little, composed and reassured, the Holy Prophet betook himself to Prayer and made the following supplication: ‘Lord, I make my complaint unto Thee of my helplessness and frailty, and my insignificance before mankind. Thou art Lord of the poor and feeble, and Thou art my Lord. Into whose hands wilt Thou abandon me? Into the hands of strangers that beset me round about, or of the enemy Thou hast given the mastery over me at home? If Thy wrath be not upon me, I have no concern; but rather Thy favour is the more wide unto me. I seek refuge in the light of Thy countenance. It is Thine to chase away the darkness, and to bestow peace, both in this world and the next; let not Thy wrath alight upon me, nor Thy indignation. It is Thane to show anger until Thou art pleased; and there is no other power nor any resource but in Thee.’
This supplication, made in a state of utter desolation and helplessness, is strong proof of the Holy Prophet’s firm faith in God and in his own truth, sincerity and righteousness. Comforted by his supplication, he set out on his return to Mecca. He halted half way at Nakhla where he tarried for a few days. One night, when he was occupied with the recitation of the Holy Quran, a group of seven persons who belonged to Nasibain passed near him and heard his recitation, by which they were deeply affected. When they returned home, they communicated the substance of what they had heard to their people. This incident is mentioned in the Holy Quran at two places (46:30-3 and 72:2-20), where they are described as jinn, inasmuch as they had come by night and were strangers in the land. The Holy Prophet was informed of this incident through revelation.
He then resumed his journey towards Mecca, but before entering the city, where now he had no protector, he turned aside by a northward path to his ancient haunts on Mount Hira. From thence he sent twice to solicit the guardianship of certain influential chiefs of Quraish, but without success. At last he bethought him of Mut’am bin Adi; and sent him word requesting that he would bring him into the city under his protection. He assented, and having summoned his sons, bade them buckle on their armour and take their stand by the Ka’aba. Assured of his guarantee, the Holy Prophet and Zaid re-entered Mecca. When they had reached the Ka’aba, Mut’am stood upright on his camel and called aloud, ‘O ye Quraish, verily I have given the pledge of protection unto Muhammad; therefore, let not anyone amongst you molest him.’ The Holy Prophet then returned to his house guarded by Mut’am and his party.
Western writers have admired the Holy Prophet’s journey to Taif as something lofty and heroic; a solitary man, despised and rejected by his own people, going boldly forth in the name of God, and summoning an idolatrous city to repent and support his mission, they opine, sheds a strong light on the intensity of his belief in the divine origin of his calling.
Though the Holy Prophet had been re-admitted to Mecca, he could not think of any fresh plan for the purpose of the propagation of his faith. By chance one day, Tufail bin Amr, a respected chief of Daus, who was also a poet, happened to arrive in Mecca. On hearing of his arrival, some Quraish, being apprehensive lest he should encounter Muhammad and become a Muslim, approached him and warned him not to be beguiled by him, as he was a sorcerer who, through his deceptive propaganda, brought about separation between brother and brother and between husband and wife. Tufail has related that Quraish admonished him so repeatedly that, believing in what they said, he became fearful, and, in order to safeguard himself against the wiles of Muhammad, he filled both his ears with cotton lest any word of the alleged sorcerer should penetrate to his mind and he might be involved in trouble. One day, he went early in the morning to the courtyard of the Ka’aba and noticed the Holy Prophet occupied in Prayer in a corner. The sight attracted him and he approached closer to the Holy Prophet. His ears were still filled with cotton, yet he could hear an odd word or two. He then reflected, ‘After all, I am an intelligent person and can distinguish between right and wrong. What harm could I suffer if I were to listen to this person and determine whether he is in the right or not?’ Upon this, he pulled out the cotton from his ears and threw it away and listened to the recitation of the Holy Quran by the Holy Prophet. When the latter had finished his supplications and began to walk away, Tufail came up to him and requested him to tell him something of his mission. The Holy Prophet recited a passage of the Holy Quran to him and called him to the Unity of God. He was so deeply affected that he immediately affirmed his faith in Islam. He then said to the Holy Prophet, ‘I am respected in my tribe and they listen to me. I beg you to pray that God Almighty may guide them to Islam through me.’ The Holy Prophet supplicated, as he desired. When he arrived among his tribe, he explained to his wife and his father what had happened in Mecca and invited them to embrace Islam. They responded to his invitation and made their affirmations of Islam. Tufail then addressed himself to his tribe and invited them to Islam, but they rejected his invitation and adopted a hostile attitude. On this, Tufail returned to the Holy Prophet and told him that his people had refused to accept Islam and had become hostile and he requested that the Holy Prophet should curse them. The latter raised his hands in an attitude of Prayer and supplicated, ‘Allah do Thou guide Daus.’ He then directed Tufail to go back and continue to summon his people to Islam courteously and affectionately. He went back and continued his efforts as directed by the Holy Prophet and they bore fruit some years later. Tufail then migrated with seventy families of his tribe to Medina. This happened when the Holy Prophet was campaigning against Khaibar. Hazrat Abu Hurairah, who became a well-known narrator of hadith, was of Daus and came to Medina with them.
The Holy Prophet, on his return from Taif, was leading a lonely life. He supplicated God Almighty that He should guide him in the matter of his marriage, so that he might choose rightly and wisely. A short while later he saw the angel Gabriel in his dream who presented him with a green silk kerchief and said, This is your wife in this world and the next.’ The Holy Prophet observed that the kerchief bore a likeness of Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr.
Sometime later, Khulah, daughter of Hakim and wife of Usman bin Maz’un, came to him and asked him, ‘Messenger of Allah, why do you not marry?’ He inquired, ‘Whom shall I marry?’ She submitted, ‘If you wish, you can marry a virgin, and if you prefer, you can marry a widow.’ He asked, ‘Who are they?’ Khulah submitted, ‘The virgin is the daughter of your close friend, Abu Bakr; and the widow is Sudah, daughter of Zamaa and widow of Sakran bin Amr.’ On this, the Holy Prophet asked her to find out about both. Accordingly, Khulah first approached Abu Bakr and his wife, Um Ruman, and mentioned the matter to them. They were surprised and wondered whether the match was permissible as Abu Bakr looked upon the Holy Prophet as his brother. On this being mentioned to the Holy Prophet, he pointed out that a spiritual relationship was no bar to marriage. Being apprised of this, Aisha’s parents signified their assent with great pleasure. Thereafter, Khulah went to Sudah bint Zamaa and mentioned the proposal to her, whereupon she and her relations accepted it gladly. Thus the nikah of the Holy Prophet was performed, both with Sudah and with Aisha, in the month of Shawal of the tenth year of prophethood. The dower of the bride in each case was four hundred dirhems. Hazrat Sudah took up her residence with the Holy Prophet immediately, but as Aisha was only ten years of age at the time of her nikah, her wedding was postponed till after the Migration to Medina.
It might be permissible, in view of Western criticism of the concept of marriage in Islam, to offer some observations on the subject, which might prove helpful in appreciating the attitude of Islam towards marriage. Islam considers married life as the norm and regards marriage essential for the complete fulfilment of life. It prohibits celibacy. Polygamy is permissible in certain situations, but on condition of equal treatment of the wives, without the least discrimination. A person who has any apprehension of not being able to conform to the strict standard required in that respect, is forbidden to marry more wives than one (4:4). The purpose of marriage is that the parties may be enabled to lead their lives at the highest level of righteousness. Islam does not permit self-indulgence and voluptuousness in marriage, and forbids unchastity. Husband and wife are required to assist each other in upholding the highest moral and spiritual values. A Muslim, who fails to uphold that standard in marriage, whether monogamous or polygamous, falls seriously short of that which is required of him, and would fail to achieve beneficent fulfilment of life. Self-indulgence, in any form or shape, whether in marital relationship, or in eating or drinking, or in any other respect whatever, is inconsistent with the spirit of Islam.
The West is critical of Islam and the Muslims in respect of the attitude of both towards marriage and marital relationship. So far as Islam is concerned, Western criticism is based upon a total misconception of the spirit that Islam inculcates. So far as the Muslims are concerned, there are unfortunately many among them who fall short of the standard that Islam prescribes in this respect, as there are many who fall short in other respects, for instance those who indulge in liquor and gambling, etc. It is as unfair to ascribe the shortcomings of such Muslims to Islam, as it would be to ascribe the vicious immorality that is unfortunately so prevalent in the West today to Christianity.
So far as Judaism and Christianity are concerned, the righteous among them in earlier ages, for instance, all the Prophets of the Old Testament, married more wives than one, which is proof that polygamy is not inconsistent with the highest standard of spirituality. The truth is that in modern times the thinking of the West on these matters has been progressively vitiated, so much so that today almost all values in the West revolve around sex, which appears to be the principal preoccupation of men and women in all walks of life, so that the standards of Islam and the West in this respect may be contrasted by saying that Islam insists upon chastity and the upholding of moral and spiritual values, as against the Western preference for nominal monogamy and unchecked promiscuity.
When the Holy Prophet married Sudah bint Zamaa, she was a widow and of an advanced age. The principal motive of the Holy Prophet in marrying Sudah was to procure suitable female companionship and to provide protection and comfort for one who had suffered for the faith and deserved his compassion. In no single marriage of his was he inspired by any purely personal desire or motive. At the time when his nikah was performed with Aisha, she was only ten years of age. She was the daughter of his closest and most devoted friend; had been brought up from her birth in an atmosphere of piety and righteousness; her mind under the Holy Prophet’s care could be moulded along lines of utmost beneficence; she could be instructed in an intimate relationship with regard to all that Islam required of a woman and could thus prove most helpful in guiding Muslim women, both by precept and by example, along the ways of righteousness; and she could be expected to survive the Holy Prophet for a long period and to serve as a source of instruction for the whole Muslim community, as indeed it proved to be the case in fact. A great part of the knowledge of the ways and practice of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, was handed down to future generations of Muslims through Aisha.
All his subsequent marriages were with widows or divorced women, and personal desire played no part in the motive behind any of those marriages. An insinuation to that effect has crept into some accounts of his marriage with his cousin, Zainab bint Jahsh, after she was divorced by Zaid bin Haritha. The circumstances, however, do not lend the least support to any such insinuation. The Holy Prophet had known Zainab, his first cousin, from the moment of her birth, and had he developed any fondness for her he could have married her at any time after Khadija’s death. He had himself arranged her marriage with his freedman, Zaid bin Haritha, whom he loved as a son and whom he had adopted. When Zaid, despite the Holy Prophet’s urging that he cleave to his wife, made up his mind to divorce her, the Holy Prophet felt himself under an obligation to provide her solace and comfort, but hesitated to offer her marriage as, according to Arab custom, marriage with a woman who had been married to one’s adopted son was not considered lawful. He feared that such a marriage would draw hostile criticism upon him. While he was in that state of mind, he received divine assurance that adoption did not establish any legal relationship between the adopted son and the adoptive father, and that, therefore, his hesitation in offering marriage to Zainab should be laid aside. At the time of her marriage to the Holy Prophet, she was thirty-eight years of age, which for Arab women of the time was a period of advanced middle age. There was thus nothing in the circumstances attendant upon this marriage, which could justify the reflection that it had been inspired by passion or desire. The subject is adverted to in the Holy Quran (33:38).
About the same time, the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, had experience of two very significant spiritual visions at the highest level. In one of these, he was conducted to Jerusalem where he encountered several of the past prophets and went through other spiritual experiences, which constituted strong indications of the victory and supremacy of Islam. This spiritual journey is referred to in the Holy Quran in 17:2.
The other vision was one in which his spirit ascended to heaven, in the course of which ascent he also met some of the past prophets, and continued his ascent beyond them to the very precincts of the Divine. This experience of his is also described in the Holy Quran in some detail (53:8-19). During the course of this vision, the Holy Prophet traversed several spiritual stages and ultimately arrived at the highest pinnacle of spiritual glory.
At the mention of these experiences, his opponents derided him and made fun of him. With regard to his first vision, some of them who had been to Jerusalem put him questions concerning certain features of that city, and were surprised that he was able to describe them accurately. But even this did not serve to convince them that he was the recipient of divine revelation and was a true Messenger of God.
It was in the course of his second vision that the Salat was prescribed and was made obligatory to be performed five times a day, at appointed hours, in congregation. These times are: from the first flush of dawn till a few minutes before sunrise, for Fajar; from noon till mid-afternoon for Zuhr; from mid-afternoon till the decline of the light of the sun for Asr; from sunset till the end of twilight for Maghrib; and from the end of twilight till midnight for Isha.
Even as few as two worshippers make a congregation. But a single Muslim who has no opportunity of associating himself with another Muslim to form a congregation must nevertheless observe the Salat alone at its appointed hours. In certain contingencies, Zuhr and Asr may be joined together, and Maghrib and Isha may be similarly joined.
The postures of Salat are: Qiyam, during which the worshippers stand in a row with their arms folded in an attitude of the utmost humility; this is followed by Ruku, in which the worshippers bow down in even greater humility before their Lord; this is followed by two prostrations, one after the other, which are indicative of the uttermost humility of the worshippers before their Lord. These three postures constitute one raka’a, that is to say, one unit. At the end of two raka’as, the worshippers continue their glorification of God and their supplications in a sitting position, which is called Qa’dah, and is indicative of serenity. The praise and glorification of the Divine and supplications to Him are prescribed for each posture and have to be repeated in Arabic, but it is permissible for the worshipper to supplement them with supplications in his vernacular. The worshippers must face towards the Ka’aba during the Salat. The Salat should preferably be performed inside a mosque behind the Imam (leader), but may be performed anywhere provided only that the place is clean. Before joining in the Salat a worshipper must wash his mouth, face, forearms and his feet.
The Salat is the principal form of worship in Islam. The Holy Prophet is reported to have said that the Salat is the spiritual ascension of the believer during which he holds communion with God. There is no doubt that if the Salat is offered with full concentration and in conformity to all the prescribed conditions, it becomes a means of achieving nearness to God. The Salat combines the body and the soul in divine worship, which is in accord with the verity that there is an intimate relationship between the body and the soul in consequence of which each of them reacts to the condition of the other. During Salat both are united in the worship and glorification of God. The different postures are indicative not only of the humility of the body but also of the humility of the soul. The prescribed glorification of God for each posture is appropriate to that posture. For instance, during prostration the worshipper glorifies God in the terms ‘Holy is my Lord, the Most High’, whereby both the body and the soul feel and acknowledge their own extreme humility before the Lord.
In all worship, Islam insists upon the participation of the soul along with the body. Mere physical performance according to the prescribed procedure has no value and is strongly condemned. For instance, it is said: ‘Woe unto those who pray but are unmindful of their Prayer, and pray only to be seen of people’ (107:6,7). In the same way, concerning sacrifice, it is said (22:38):
The flesh of the animals that you sacrifice reaches not Allah, nor their blood, it is your righteousness that reaches Him. Thus has He subjected them to you that you may glorify Allah for guiding you; and give glad tidings to those who carry out all commandments in their true spirit.
Regarding the fast, it is pointed out: ‘O ye who believe, fasting is prescribed for you during a fixed number of days, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may safeguard yourselves against moral and spiritual ills’ (2:184). The Holy Prophet said: ‘He who does not give up uttering falsehood and misconduct abstains in vain from food and drink during the fast, as Allah does not require merely physical compliance from him.’
Thus it will be seen that Islam insists upon the body and the soul being joined together in all types of worship. Indeed, it not only insists upon spiritual as well as physical compliance, but assigns priority to spiritual compliance, for whenever physical compliance may be difficult or inconvenient, it may be modified or even dispensed with, but spiritual compliance must be carried out fully in all conditions and circumstances. The Islamic system of worship of the Divine in all its aspects is another strong proof that it was established under divine direction and was not prescribed by the Holy Prophet on his own.
During the last three years of the Holy Prophet’s stay in Mecca, the prospect of the spread of Islam in Mecca was bleak and most discouraging. The hostility of Quraish and their persecution of the Holy Prophet and the Muslims were daily on the increase. His journey to Taif had been equally disappointing. The Holy Prophet was, however, assured of the ultimate triumph of Islam, and the revelations vouchsafed to him during this period contained strong indications of the approach of such triumph. He was, therefore, anxious that his striving in the cause of Allah and the propagation of Islam must not slacken. Consequently, he now turned his attention more and more towards the Arab tribes. The best way of conveying his message to them was to make an approach to them when they resorted to Mecca and Mina on the occasion of the pilgrimage, or when they gathered together on the occasion of certain festivals at Okaz, Majannah and Zul Majaz. In order to take full advantage of these opportunities, he started visiting them repeatedly. He was sometimes accompanied by Abu Bakr, or Ali, or Zaid bin Haritha. But, as has been mentioned earlier, Quraish continuously obstructed him in such efforts. For instance, his uncle Abu Lahab made it his business to follow him everywhere and to tell everyone not to pay any attention to him as he was a renegade, and was seeking to mislead them. When they found that his own near relations accounted him false, they shied away from him and sometimes ridiculed him and laughed at him. Abu Jahl also obstructed him in the same way. He would follow him, throw dirt upon him and warn people not to be beguiled by him, as he was seeking to wean them away from the worship of Lat and Uzza.
On one occasion, the Holy Prophet betook himself to the camp of Banu Aamir bin Sa’s’a. Fortunately, none of Quraish had followed him on the occasion. He preached the Unity of God to them and sought their support for Islam. When he had finished, one of them, Buhairah bin Faras, called out, ‘If I could get this man to support me, I could dominate the whole of Arabia’, and then addressing the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, asked him, ‘If we were to support you, so that you might prevail over your opponents, then after you pass away, would we have a share in government?’ He replied, ‘Kingdom is in the hands of God Almighty; He bestows it upon whomsoever He wills.’ Buhairah exclaimed, ‘You invite us to stand up in your support against the whole of Arabia, but when you triumph the fruits thereof would go to others. Be gone. We have no need of you.’
In this manner, the Holy Prophet went round to different tribes, Banu Maharab, Fazarah, Ghassan, Marrah, Haneefah, Suldim, Abs, Kandah, Kalb, Harith, Azrah, Hadhramah and others, and called each of them to Islam, but they all rejected him. Banu Haneefah of Yamamah treated him harshly. Musailamah Kazzab, who later claimed prophethood, was the chief of Banu Haneefah.
This was a strange spectacle. The Messenger of God, whose message within a very few years thereafter found acceptance over wide areas of the earth, was seen making his solitary way to the tents of the chiefs of tribe after tribe and presenting God’s message to each one of them, and entreating them to accept it as it portended great good for them; but every ingress was closed upon him and the response from every tent was ‘Begone, we have no concern with you’. But he was not discouraged and from one tent he preceded to another where he met with the same response.
In the meantime the revelation that was vouchsafed to him presented a wider and wider horizon to him and to his followers. They were invited to lift their eyes from the citizens to tribes and from the tribes to the nation, and from the nation to the international situation. The two mightiest powers of the time were the Persians and the Byzantines. The dominions of both were close to Arabia. The Persian Empire was to the northeast of Arabia, and the Byzantine to the northwest. As their borders met in the north of Arabia, they had been at odds with each other at the time of which we are writing. For some time, the Persians had been pressing the Byzantines hard and had deprived them of a large part of their territory in what is today known as the Middle East.
Byzantium suffered another setback about the time of which we are writing. When news of this reached Mecca, Quraish, who favoured Persia and were not too well disposed towards Byzantium, interpreted the victory of Persia as a good augury that they would prevail over the Muslims and vanquish them as the Persians had vanquished the Byzantines. On this, the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, received the revelation (30:3-7):
The Byzantines have been defeated in the land near-by, but after their defeat, they will be victorious within a few years; Allah’s is the Supreme authority before and after, and the believers will rejoice on that day, with the help of Allah. He helps whom He pleases; He is the Mighty, the Ever-Merciful. This is the promise of Allah; He goes not back on His promise, but most people know it not.
This was a prophecy not only of the victory of the Byzantines within a few years, but also of the victory of the believers over their enemies about the same time, and thus it happened at the battle of Badr. The news of the victory of the Byzantines over the Persians was received about the same time, which delighted the Muslims. The receipt of this revelation predicting this double victory, at a time when the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, and the small company of believers in Mecca, were almost facing extinction in the estimation of Quraish, was both a source of reassurance for them, which strengthened their faith, and was another conclusive proof of the truth of the Holy Prophet.
The situation of the Byzantines at the time when this revelation was received was considered so hopeless by Quraish that one of them laid a wager with Abu Bakr that this prophecy would not be fulfilled. But all expectations of Quraish, both with regard to the Byzantines and the Muslims, were frustrated and disappointed by the subsequent victory of the Byzantines, and the decisive and shattering defeat of Quraish in the battle of Badr.
About the same time, the Holy Prophet was vouchsafed a revelation that indicated that he would have to migrate from Mecca, but that God Almighty would restore him to Mecca in triumph. The words of the revelation were: ‘He Who has made the teaching of the Quran obligatory on thee, will most surely bring thee back to the place of resort’ (28:86). This also was a double prophecy of grand import, which was fulfilled in an extraordinary manner.
The crushing defeat of mighty Quraish, arrogant and drunk with power, at the hands of a small straggly body of Muslims at Badr, which changed the whole course of human history, was an astounding event. This was also prophesied in a revelation vouchsafed to the Holy Prophet, about the same time, in Mecca, when the fortunes of the Muslims were at their lowest ebb. The words of this prophecy were (54:45-7):
Do they boast: We are a strong host, well succoured? The host shall soon be routed, and they will turn their backs in flight. Aye, the Hour is their appointed time, and the Hour will be most grievous and most bitter.
Quraish heard these prophecies and ridiculed them, and laughed at the Holy Prophet and the Muslims, describing the revelations as the ravings of a madman. Having regard to the hopeless situation in which the Holy Prophet and his few Companions were placed at the time, and the constant frustration to which they were exposed, it is not surprising that Quraish should have accounted these revelations as the ravings of a madman. There was not the slightest indication in any direction that the Holy Prophet and the small body of believers would ever be delivered from the perils that confronted them in all directions. But they believed firmly that Allah, the All-Knowing and All-Powerful, having promised them deliverance and ultimate triumph, would most surely fulfil all His promises to the full.
A Western biographer of the Holy Prophet has observed (Sir William Muir, The Life of Muhammad, p.126):
Muhammad thus holding his people at bay; waiting in the still expectation of victory; to outward appearance defenceless; and with his little band as it were in the lion’s mouth; yet trusting in His Almighty Power Whose Messenger he believed himself to be, resolute and unmoved; presents a spectacle of sublimity paralleled only by such scenes in the sacred records as that of the Prophet of Israel when he complained to his Master: I, even I only, am left. Nay, the spectacle is in one point of view even more amazing…. It is this, which brings if possible into still bolder prominence the marvellous self-possession and enthusiasm which sustained Muhammad on his course. Say unto the unbelievers, such was the reiterated message from On High, Work ye in your place. Wait in expectation; We too in expectancy are waiting (11:123). And again: Say: Each of us awaiteth the issue; wait therefore, hereafter shall ye surely know who they are that have chosen the straight path, and who hath been guided aright (20:136). Muhammad’s bearing towards his followers, no less than towards his opponents, exhibits the assurance of being the vicegerent of God and the exponent of His will.
A ray of hope beamed in the north. At a distance of approximately 250 miles from Mecca was a town then known as Yathrab. Its population was divided into two groups, Jews and pagans. There were three principal tribes of Jews, Banu Qainuqa, Banu Nadhir and Banu Quraidha. The pagans had two divisions, Aus and Khazraj. These two were generally at loggerheads with each other. At the time of which we are writing they were preparing for a fearful battle which became known as the battle of Bu’ath. In that battle, many leading personalities on both sides perished.
As the Jews were an intellectual and religious people and were more wealthy and more powerful than the Arab tribes, they were looked up to by the latter. If any of them was desirous of having male issue, he would make a vow that he would offer his first son to the Jews to be brought up among them in their religion. Living in the proximity of the Jews, Aus and Khazraj had acquired some glimmerings of Scripture and prophethood. They had heard that the Jews, according to their Scripture, were awaiting the advent of a prophet, under whose leadership they would wipe out the pagans and would become a great power.
While the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, was occupied with visiting tribe after tribe, he came to know that a well-known personality of Yathrab, Suwaib bin Thamat, had arrived in Mecca. He was, on account of his bravery, noble descent and other good qualities, known as Kamil (perfect), and was also by way of being a poet. The Holy Prophet called on him and invited him to Islam. Having heard a recitation from the Holy Quran, Suwaib expressed his appreciation of it, and though he did not become a Muslim, he expressed his approval of the Holy Prophet and did not deny him. After returning to Yathrab, he soon perished in some local tumult. This was before the battle of Bu’ath.
Shortly after, still before the battle of Bu’ath, the Holy Prophet, during his rounds on the occasion of the pilgrimage, espied a group of people who turned out to be of Aus, who had arrived in Mecca to procure help from Quraish against Khazraj. The Holy Prophet invited them to Islam, whereupon a young man named Ayas called out, ‘By God, that to which this man calls us is better than that for which we have come here.’ But the leader of the group took up a handful of gravel and threw it at Ayas, exclaiming, ‘Shut up. We have not arrived here on such an errand.’
Sometime later, after the Battle of Bu’ath, in Rajab of the eleventh year of prophethood, the Holy Prophet encountered another small group from Yathrab, who were of Khazraj. He asked them courteously whether they would be willing to hear what he wished to say. On their signifying assent, he sat down among them, invited them to Islam and recited some verses of the Holy Quran. When he had finished, they looked at each other and expressed their readiness to accept Islam, lest the Jews should steal a march over them. There were six of them: (1) Abu Amamah, Asad bin Zararah of Banu Najjar, who was the foremost in signifying his acceptance of Islam; (2) Auf bin Harith, also of Banu Najjar, among whom Abdul Muttalib’s father had been married; (3) Raf’e bin Malik of Banu Zareeq. The Holy Prophet bestowed upon him a copy of the Holy Quran which had so far been revealed; (4) Qutbah bin Aamir of Bani Salmah; (5) Uqbah bin Aamir of Bani Haram; (6) Jabir bin Abdullah bin Rayan of Bani Ubaid.
When parting from the Holy Prophet, they submitted that they had been much weakened by internecine conflicts and there were great differences among them, but on return home they would convey the message of Islam to their brethren, and it might be that Allah, the Exalted, may bring them all together through him; in which case, they would all combine in helping him. On their return home, Islam began to be preached in Yathrab.
In Mecca at this time, the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, and the Muslims were faced with the situation described by Sir William Muir, as set out above. After the Holy Prophet’s encounter with the six first Muslims from Yathrab, he awaited some indication from them of how they were faring in their efforts to propagate Islam in their city. He wondered whether Yathrab would also reject him as Mecca and Taif had done, or whether God, of His grace, would open a way of deliverance for the Muslims through the spread of Islam in Yathrab. Thus, when the season of pilgrimage arrived, he issued forth eagerly from his home and arriving at Aqabah, in the direction of Mina, he looked about and suddenly discovered a small party from Yathrab, among whom were included five of the first Muslims who recognized him immediately and welcomed him eagerly and affectionately. This was a party of twelve, including the first five Muslims. The Holy Prophet withdrew with them into a defile where they told him that Islam was beginning to make progress in Yathrab and all twelve of them took the formal pledge of allegiance at his hands. The pledge affirmed that they would believe in the Unity of God, would not associate anyone with Him, would not commit theft, adultery, or murder, would not calumniate anyone, and would obey the Holy Prophet in all virtuous enterprises. The Holy Prophet told them that if they would adhere to their pledge sincerely, they would inherit paradise, but that if they exhibited any weakness they would be accountable for it to God. This pledge is known as the First Pledge of Aqabah.
Before departing from Mecca, they requested the Holy Prophet that someone may be sent with them who should instruct them in the teachings of Islam and should propagate Islam among their fellow tribesmen. He sent Mus’ab bin Umair of Abdud Dar, who was a very sincere young man, with them. Arriving in Yathrab, he took up his residence with Asad bin Zararah, who had been the first to accept Islam from among the people of Yathrab, and was a very sincere and influential person. As the Muslims in Yathrab by now formed a small community, the Holy Prophet, at the suggestion of Asad bin Zararah, directed Mus’ab to make a start with the Friday noon service. Thus the Muslims of Yathrab began to lead a communal life and by Allah’s grace, Islam began to spread among Aus and Khazraj very rapidly. Sometimes a whole tribe accepted Islam on the same day, as happened in the case of Banu Abdul Ashhal, who were part of Aus. Their chief, S’ad bin Muaz, was also the chief of the whole of Aus. When Islam began to spread in Yathrab, S’ad resented it and considered how he could stop its progress. He was a first cousin of Asad bin Zararah, who had become a Muslim, and he hesitated to speak to him directly lest this should occasion some misunderstanding between them. He therefore requested another relative of his, Usyad bin Hudhair, to go and persuade Mus’ab to stop his missionary activities and also tell Asad that Mus’ab’s activities were undesirable. Usyad also was a very influential chieftain among Banu Abdul Ashhal and at the suggestion of S’ad, he called on Mus’ab bin Umair and Asad bin Zararah and told Mus’ab in a tone of sharp rebuke that he should desist from his undesirable activities, for, otherwise, there would be trouble. Asad whispered to Mus’ab to deal gently with Usyad as he was a leading personage in his tribe. Mus’ab spoke respectfully and affectionately to Usyad and requested him to sit down and hear calmly what he might have to say to him before he made up his mind. Usyad considered the request reasonable and sat down. Mus’ab recited a few verses of the Holy Quran to him and expounded the Islamic doctrine very gently to him. Usyad was deeply affected and immediately embraced Islam. He then said that he had been sent by someone who was so much respected among his tribe that if he believed in Islam, the whole tribe would follow him. He said he would send him to them immediately. S’ad bin Muaz arrived in a great passion and said to Asad, ‘You are taking undue advantage of your relationship with me and that is not right.’ Mus’ab made his approach to him in the same way as he had approached Usyad, and S’ad agreed to listen to him. Within a short time, S’ad also embraced Islam. Thereupon, S’ad and Usyad went together to their tribe and S’ad asked them, ‘Bani Abdul Ashhal, how do you esteem me?’ They affirmed unanimously, ‘You are our chief and the son of a chief and we have complete trust in you.’ Upon this, S’ad said to them, ‘I shall have no connection with you till you believe in Allah and His Messenger.’ He then proceeded to expound to them the doctrine and teachings of Islam, and before sunset, the entire tribe embraced Islam; and S’ad and Usyad broke up the idols of the tribe with their own hands. Both of them attained to a distinguished position among the Companions of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, and S’ad acquired a standing among Ansar which Abu Bakr had acquired among the immigrants from Mecca. He was a most sincere and devoted Muslim and a great lover of the Holy Prophet. He was very intelligent and began to be counted among the topmost Companions. He died young and the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, truly observed, S’ad’s death has moved even the throne of Rahman.’
Thus, Islam spread so rapidly among Aus and Khazraj that the Jews of Yathrab began to be apprehensive how the situation might develop. While the prospect in Yathrab for Islam and the Muslims appeared hopeful, in Mecca the Holy Prophet and the Muslims were passing their days in extreme discomfort and distress. Quraish, on learning of the progress of Islam in Yathrab, were roused to fierce enmity against the Muslims and made their lives miserable for them.
On the occasion of the pilgrimage in the thirteenth year of prophethood, several hundred of Aus and Khazraj came to Mecca; among them were seventy persons who had embraced Islam, or were ready to do so, and who had come to Mecca to meet the Holy Prophet, peace be on him. Mus’ab bin Umair was with them. His mother was a pagan, but was very fond of him. When she learnt of his arrival, she sent a message to him to go to her immediately, to which he sent back word that he would come and see her after he had paid his respects to the Holy Prophet. Thereafter, when he called on his mother he found her in a rage and greatly upset that he had not come to see her immediately. Mus’ab spoke gently to her and tried to persuade her to embrace Islam. She reacted very fiercely to his suggestion and signalled to her male relatives to seize Mus’ab and detain him, but he escaped.
The Holy Prophet, peace be on him, had been briefed by Mus’ab, and some of the Yathrab Muslims came to meet him secretly in ones and twos. The Holy Prophet sent a message that they should all meet him at midnight a few days later in the same spot where he had met some of them the previous year, so that he could speak to all of them in comparative privacy. He directed that they should not proceed to the rendezvous all together, or in large groups, but only in ones and twos, and taking precautions that their purpose should not become known. The Holy Prophet left his house shortly before midnight and on the way took his uncle Abbas with him, who was still a pagan, but was very fond of him and was now the chief of Banu Hashim. On arrival at the rendezvous, where the Muslims of Yathrab had arrived as they had been instructed, Abbas opened the conversation with: ‘Men of Khazraj, Muhammad is respected and loved among Banu Hashim, who have been the guarantors of his safety and have guarded him against all danger. He is now thinking of leaving Mecca and of going over to you. If you desire that he should go over to you, you will have to undertake to guard him against his enemies. If you are prepared to undertake this responsibility, well and good; but if not, you should say so frankly.’ Braa bin Ma’roor, who was an aged and influential person among the Muslims of Yathrab, replied to him, ‘Abbas, we have heard you, but we wish that the Messenger of Allah should also speak to us himself and tell us what responsibility he would wish us to undertake.’ Thereupon the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, as was his practice, recited a few verses of the Holy Quran and made a brief exposition of the teachings of Islam and the obligations due to Allah and to one’s fellow beings, and concluded with, ‘As to myself, all I require of you is that if need arises you would behave towards me in the same manner as you would behave towards your near relations.’ When he had finished, Braa bin Ma’roor took hold of his hand, according to Arab custom, and said: ‘Messenger of Allah, we call to witness God Who has sent you with truth and righteousness, that we shall guard you as we guard our own lives. We have grown up under the shadow of swords ….’ He was interrupted by Abul Haitham bin Teehan, who said: ‘Messenger of Allah, we have had close relations with the Jews of Yathrab since a long time. If we take up with you, those relations will be sundered. We are apprehensive lest when God bestows supremacy upon you might leave us and return to Mecca and we may be left in an awkward situation.’ The Holy Prophet smiled and said, ‘No, no, that will not be. Your blood will be my blood, your friends will be my friends, and your enemies will be my enemies.’ On this, Abbas bin Ubadah turned to his companions and said, ‘Do you realize what this covenant might involve? It means that you should now be ready to oppose all the whites and the blacks and should be prepared to make every sacrifice in this cause.’ They responded, ‘Yes, we realize this. But, Messenger of Allah, what shall we get in return for it?’ He said, ‘You will be admitted to the gardens of God’s pleasure, which is the highest of all bounties.’ They all affirmed, ‘We are content with this bargain. Messenger of Allah, give us your hand.’ He put forth his hand and the whole company of seventy devoted men took the pledge of allegiance at his hand. This became known as the Second Pledge of Aqabah.
At the end, the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, said to them: ‘Moses had chosen twelve leaders from among his people who supervised them on behalf of Moses. In the same way I desire to appoint twelve leaders from among you who would supervise you. They will be like the disciples of Jesus for me, and will be responsible to me for their people. I would wish you to suggest some names to me for this purpose.’ When the selection had been made, the Holy Prophet explained their duties to the designated leaders. They were:
- Asad bin Zararah of Banu Najjar, who has already been mentioned. He started the Friday noon service in Yathrab. He was in the first rank of the Companions of the Holy Prophet. He died after the arrival of the Holy Prophet in Yathrab and before the battle of Badr.
- Usyad bin Hudhair of Banu Abdul Ashhal. He has also been already mentioned. He is counted among the principal Companions. His father was the commander of Aus in the battle of Bu’ath. He was very sincere and possessed a keen intelligence. He died in the time of Umar.
- Abul Haitham Malik bin Teehan, who has also been already mentioned. He was killed in the battle of Siffin, fighting on the side of Ali.
- S’ad bin Ubadah of Banu Sa’edah, a branch of Khazraj. He was chief of Khazraj and was counted among the topmost Ansar. On the death of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, some of the Ansar had put forward his name for the Khilafat. He died in the time of Umar.
- Braa bin Ma’roor of Banu Salmah, a branch of Khazraj. He has also been mentioned already. He was very aged and much respected. He died before the arrival of the Holy Prophet in Yathrab.
- Abdullah bin Rawaha of Banu Harith, a branch of Khazraj. He was a well-known poet and was a devoted believer. He died in the battle of Mutah, while commanding the Muslim forces.
- Ubadah bin Thamat of Banu Auf, a branch of Khazraj. He was counted among the learned Companions. He died in the time of Uthman.
- S’ad bin Rabi’ of Banu Tha’labah, a branch of Khazraj. He was a very sincere and distinguished Companion. He became a martyr in the battle of Uhud.
- Rafe’ bin Malik of Banu Zareeq, a branch of Khazraj. He has been mentioned already. When he embraced Islam, the Holy Prophet bestowed upon him a copy of the Quran, which had been revealed up to that time. He became a martyr in the battle of Uhud.
- Abdullah bin Amar of Banu Salamah, a branch of Khazraj. He became a martyr in the battle of Uhud. The Holy Prophet, peace be on him, sought to comfort his son, Jabir bin Abdullah, and told him that God had spoken to his father and had said to him, ‘O My servant, I am pleased with thee. Ask Me for whatever thou might wish and thou wilt be bestowed it.’ He submitted, ‘Lord, my only wish is that I may be revived so that I may lay down my life again in the cause of Islam.’ God affirmed, ‘Were it not that I have determined that no one who has passed through death can go back, I would have granted thee thy wish.’
- S’ad bin Khaithamah of Banu Haritha, a branch of Aus. He became a martyr in the battle of Badr. When he was about to go forth from his home, his father tried to persuade him to stay back and let him go forth. But he insisted and they agreed to cast lots. His name was indicated and he went forth.
- Mundhar bin Amar of Banu Sa’edah, a branch of Khazraj. He had the temperament of a Sufi. He became a martyr in the incident of B’er Ma’oona.
The leaders having been appointed, the Holy Prophet’s uncle, Abbas, admonished Ansar that in returning to their camp they should be very careful and should take every precaution that Quraish should not suspect that they had met the Holy Prophet, lest their proceedings of the night might become known and create difficulties. The Holy Prophet also directed them that they should return to their camp singly or two together. Abbas bin Nadhalah Ansari submitted, ‘Messenger of Allah, we have no fear of anyone. If you will let us, we would attack Quraish in the morning and punish them for their persecution of the Muslims.’ But he forbade any such design and told them to return silently to their camp, just as they had come. They slipped away accordingly and the Holy Prophet returned to Mecca with his uncle, Abbas.
Quraish heard a rumour that some secret conclave had been held during the night. Early in the morning, a delegation of Quraish arrived in the camp of the people from Yathrab and said to them: ‘We have had good relations with you over a long period and we do not desire that anything should happen which might create any misunderstanding between us. We have heard that last night you have come to a secret understanding with Muhammad and we should like to know whether there is any truth in this.’ As the main body of Aus and Khazraj were not aware of the secret meeting, they assured the delegation that nothing of the kind had taken place. Abdullah bin Ubayy was among them and he said, ‘It is not possible that the people of Yathrab should embark on something important and I should not know about it.’ The delegation went back satisfied and shortly after the men of Yathrab started on their return journey. Soon after they left Quraish received definite information of the secret meeting and they sent some people to pursue the men of Yathrab. They failed to come up with the main body, but they caught S’ad bin Ubadah who had fallen behind, and maltreated him severely. At last, Jubair bin Mut’am and Harith bin Harab, who knew S’ad, got wind of what was happening, and they arrived and rescued him.
When the men of Yathrab had returned home, the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, directed the Muslims in Mecca that those of them who could afford it should migrate to Yathrab. Accordingly, within a very short period, despite the opposition of Quraish, most of the Muslims in Mecca managed to migrate to Yathrab and many houses in Mecca were vacated. In the end only the Holy Prophet, Abu Bakr, Ali and the members of their families, and such weak and helpless people who could not afford to undertake the journey, or who were effectively prevented by Quraish from moving, were left in Mecca. As the emigrants arrived in Yathrab they were accommodated by Ansar in their homes as guests till the arrival of the Holy Prophet himself; whereafter, gradually, they were enabled to provide accommodation for themselves. The refugees from Mecca were entertained most generously and warmheartedly by Ansar, and when the Holy Prophet himself arrived in Yathrab, the refugees expressed to him their deep appreciation of the kindness which Ansar had extended to them. This attitude of Ansar is commended highly in the Holy Quran (59:10).
When the greater part of the Muslims had departed from Mecca, Quraish began to be apprehensive that some development might take place in Yathrab which might become a source of anxiety for them. They also felt frustrated that those whom they had persecuted for so long were now out of their reach. They began to think of some means which might make them secure against any retaliatory action against them on the part of the Muslims from Yathrab. They felt that now that Muhammad was almost alone in Mecca, they should adopt some measure against him which might dispose of him finally. For this purpose their leading men gathered together in the Council House of Mecca and took counsel together. About a hundred of them were present on the occasion and there was also present among them an aged Shaikh from Nejd. After preliminary discussions, several plans were put forth. It was suggested that Muhammad may be chained up and abandoned in a cellar and thus starved to death. The Shaikh from Nejd pointed out that this plan was not likely to serve their purpose, as it was bound to become known to Banu Abd Manaf, who would rescue Muhammad and seek vengeance. Another suggestion was that Muhammad might be sent into exile, so that Quraish would have nothing further to do with him, and Mecca would become secure against his mischief. Again, the Shaikh from Nejd pointed out that Muhammad had a very persuasive and eloquent tongue. If he escaped from Mecca, he would beguile some tribe or other to lend him its support and he would stand up against Quraish to wreak vengeance upon them.
After a good deal of discussion, Abu Jahl said: ‘I propose that we should select one young man from every tribe and arm the whole lot with swords. They should fall upon Muhammad as one man and dispatch him. In this manner, all tribes of Quraish would share the responsibility for his death. Banu Abd Manaf would not dare to fight with the whole of Quraish and would thus be reduced to accepting blood money for Muhammad, which we shall all provide.’ This was agreed to. This nefarious plan is mentioned in the Holy Quran as follows: ‘Call to mind the time, when the disbelievers plotted against thee that they might confine thee, or kill thee, or expel thee. They planned and Allah also planned, and Allah is the best of planners’ (8:31).
God Almighty revealed their plan to the Holy Prophet, and directed him to migrate to Yathrab and not to spend even a single night more in Mecca. The Holy Prophet had been made aware by God much earlier that he should have one day to migrate from Mecca, and he was also shown in a vision the place to which he would have to migrate. It was a place of orchards and running springs. He described this vision later, and said that he had imagined that he would have to migrate to Yamamah or Hajar, but it turned out to be Yathrab.