Muhammad meets a pilgrim party from Medina A. D. 620
The fortunes of Muhammad were enveloped in thick gloom, when hope suddenly dawned from an unexpected quarter. The season of pilgrimage was at hand; and as his custom was, the Prophet plied the crowds of pilgrims with solicitations wherever they afforded a likely audience. The ceremonies were nearly at an end when Muhammad was attracted by a little group of six or seven persons, whom he recognised as strangers from Medina.’ Of what tribe are ye?’ said he, coming up and kindly accosting them. ‘Of the tribe of Khazraj,’ they replied. ‘Ah ! Confederates of the Jews? ‘’ We are.’ ‘Then why should we not sit down for a little, and I will speak with you ‘The offer was accepted willingly, for the fame of Muhammad was well known in Medina, and the strangers were curious to see more of the man who had created such turmoil in Mecca. So he expounded to them his doctrine, asserted the warrant of a divine mission, and, after setting forth the difficulties of his position at home, frankly enquired whether they would receive and protect him at Medina.
The listeners were not slow to accept his teaching and embrace the faith of Islam; ‘but as for protecting thee’ they said, ‘we have up to this time been at variance among ourselves and have fought great battles. If thou comest to us, we shall be unable to rally around thee. Let us, we pray thee, return unto our people and perhaps the Lord will create peace amongst us; and we will come back again unto thee. Let the season of pilgrimage in the following year be the appointed time.’ They returned to their homes, and invited their people to the faith, and many believed, so that there remained hardly a family in Medina in which mention was not made of the Prophet.
State of parties at Medina
Medina had been divided into two clans the Bani Aus and Bani Khazraj but by the beginning of the sixth century we find them in a state of chronic enmity, if not engaged in actual warfare with each other. In 616 war broke out between them at the great battle of Boath in which the Bani Khazraj were humbled. The Jews of Medina divided there allegiance between the Aus and the Khazraj.
Medina prepared for Islam
There was, first, the vague expectation derived from the Jews, of a coming prophet. When the Jews were either supporting the Aus or the Khazraj they would say: ‘A prophet is about to arise; his time draweth nigh. Him shall we follow; and then we shall slay you with the slaughter of the ungodly nations of old.’ So when Muhammad addressed the pilgrims of Medina at Mina, they said to one another: ‘Know surely that this is the prophet with whom the Jews are ever threatening us; wherefore let us make haste and be the first to join him.’
There is truth, though exaggerated and distorted, in this above tradition. In their close and constant relations with the Arabs of Medina, the expectation of a Messiah must in some measure have been communicated by the Jews to their heathen neighbours. Nor could the idolatrous inhabitants live in daily contact with a race professing the pure theism and practising the stern morality of the Old Testament without realising its practical protest against the errors of Paganism, and its contrast with the spiritual worship of the one true God. Moreover, Medina was only half the distance of Mecca from the Christian tribes of southern Syria; the poet Hassan, and others from Medina, used to frequent the Christian court of the Ghassanide king; and thus Christianity as well as Judaism had probably wrought a more powerful effect upon the social condition of Medina than upon any other part of the Peninsula.
Such was the position of Medina. A tribe addicted to the superstition of Mecca, yet well acquainted with a purer faith, was in the best state of preparation to join itself to one who aimed at reforming the worship of the Ka’aba. Many had come under direct influence of Muhammad’s preaching and were beginning to respond to his claims.
The first pledge of Aqabah by the men of Medina A. D 621
The days of pilgrimage at last came round, and Muhammad sought the appointed spot in a narrow sheltered glen near Mina. His apprehensions were at once dispelled; a band of twelve faithful disciples were there ready to acknowledge him as their prophet. Ten were of the Khazraj, and two of the Aus tribe. They confirmed their faith to Muhammad thus: ‘We will not worship any but the one God; we will not steal, neither will we commit adultery, nor kill our children; we will not slander in anywise; nor will we disobey the Prophet in anything that is ‘right.’ (This was afterwards called the Pledge of women, because, as not embracing any stipulation to defend the Prophet, it was the only oath ever required from the female sex).
Spread of Islam at Medina A. D. 621
These twelve men were now committed to the cause of Muhammad. They returned to Medina again to report their success at the following pilgrimage. The new faith spread rapidly from house to house and from tribe to tribe. The Jews looked on in amazement at the people whom they had in vain endeavoured for generations to convince of the errors of polytheism suddenly of their own accord casting away their idols and professing belief in one God alone. Judaism, foreign in its growth, touched few Arab sympathies; Islam, engrafted upon the faith and superstition, the customs and the nationality of the Peninsula, gained ready access to every heart.
The Midnight Journey to Jerusalem and Heaven
The hopes of Muhammad were now fixed upon Medina. He dreamed that he was swiftly carried by Gabriel on a winged creature past Medina to the temple at Jerusalem, where he was welcomed by the former prophets, assembled solemnly to meet him. From Jerusalem his conjured up excited spirit mounted upwards, ascending from one heaven to another, till he found himself at last in the awful presence of his Maker from where he was dismissed with the instruction that his people were to observe the season of prayer five times in the day. As the story of his midnight journey spread, idolaters scoffed, believers were staggered, and some followers are said even to have gone back. Abu Bakr supported the Prophet, and declared his implicit belief in the vision.
The vision has been embellished by Tradition and decked out in the wildest colouring of romance, and in all the gorgeous drapery that fancy could conceive. But the only mention in the Quran of this is contained in the 17th Sura, Al-Isra which opens: “Glory to (Allah) Who did take His servant for a journey by night from the sacred mosque to the farthest mosque, whose precincts We did bless”.
Relations with Christianity
Muhammad must have gained, either from some Christian slave at Mecca, or from visitors at the neighbouring fairs, a closer acquaintance with Christianity, yet he never showed the same interest in the Christian as in the Jewish history and doctrines. His treatment of Christianity is mainly confined to the recitation of a few passages connected with the birth and life of Jesus, whom he acknowledged as the last and greatest of the Jewish prophets, but who’s Sonship ( as well as the doctrine of the Trinity) he strenuously rejected. At the same time, his attitude towards Christianity was quite favourable as it was towards Judaism but on the other hand his relations with the Christian faith never advanced materially beyond the point at which we find them now developed in the Quran. In fact excepting one or two campaigns against distant Christian tribes, he personally came into little contact with believers of the faith of Jesus.
The Second Pledge of Aqabah A. D 622
In Mecca the Qurraish were congratulating themselves that their enemy had done his worst and now was harmless so they relaxed their vigilance and opposition. In Medina another year passed away in comparative tranquillity, and the month of pilgrimage, when the Medina converts were again to rally around the Prophet in Mecca drew near. Written accounts as well as messages of the amazing success of lslam in Medina had no doubt reached Muhammad yet, it was necessary to proceed with caution and proceedings were conducted with the utmost secrecy, even the other pilgrims from Medina, in whose company the converts travelled were unaware of their object.
Mus’ab, the teacher sent to Medina, who had also joined the pilgrims’ party, immediately on his arrival, related to Muhammad all that had happened in Medina. The Prophet rejoiced greatly when he heard of the numbers of the converts, and their eagerness in the service of Islam.
To elude the scrutiny of the citizens of Mecca, the meeting between Muhammad and his new adherents was to be by night. The day was deferred to the very close of the pilgrimage, when the ceremonies and sacrifices were finished when the following day the crowds would disperse to their homes. The spot was to be the secluded glen, where the previous meeting place had occurred, beneath a well-known eminence of Aqabah.
The Emigration – April A. D 622 (Hegira)
It was about the beginning of the month Muharram that the emigration commenced. Medina lies some 250 miles to the north of Mecca. Within two months nearly all the followers of Muhammad, excepting the few detained in confinement or unable to escape from slavery, had migrated with their families to their new abode. Eighteen months later, at the battle of Bedr, Muhammad had 314 followers, of whom 83 were emigrants from Mecca. We shall probably not err far in making the whole number who emigrated at first, including women and children, about 150. They were welcomed with cordial and even eager hospitality by their brethren at Medina, who vied with one another for the honour of receiving them into their houses, and supplying them with such things as they needed.
The Qurraish were paralysed by a movement so suddenly planned, and put into such speedy execution. They looked on in amazement, as families silently disappeared, and house after house was abandoned. One or two quarters of the city were entirely deserted, and the doors of the dwelling houses were left deliberately locked. Muhammad and Abu Bakr with their families, including Ali, now a youth of about twenty years of age, were the only believers left (excepting those unwillingly detained) at Mecca.
The Qurraish were perplexed at the course which Muhammad was taking as they had expected him to emigrate with his people. Abu Bakr was ambitious of being the companion of the Prophet in his flight; and daily urged him to depart but Muhammad told him that ‘his time was not yet come.’ At last the Qurraish resolved that a deputation should proceed to the house of Muhammad. There is little reason to believe that it was assassination, although tradition asserts that this was determined upon him at the instigation of Abu Jahl. Muhammad himself, speaking in the Quran of the designs of his enemies, refers to them in these indecisive terms: “And (the unbelievers) plotted and planned, and Allah too planned, and the best of planners is Allah.” (Al-Imran 3:54)
Muhammad and Abu Bakr escape to the cave of Thaur
Whatever the object of the visit, Muhammad received previous notice of it, and at once anticipated the danger by stealing away from his house. There he left Ali so that the suspicions of his neighbours might not be aroused. He threw his own red Hadhramaut mantle on him, and desired him to occupy his bed. He himself went straight to the home of Abu Bakr, and after a short consultation matured the plans for immediate flight. Abu Bakr shed tears of joy; the hour for emigration had at last arrived, and he was to be the companion of the Prophet’s journey. They crept in the shade of evening through a back window, and escaped unobserved from the southern suburb. Pursuing their way still south and clambering in the dark over the bare and rugged rocks of the intervening hills, they reached at last the lofty mountain Thaur (a distance of about an hour and a half’s journey from the city) and took refuge in a cave near its summit. Here they rested in security, for the attention of their adversaries would first be fixed upon the country north of Mecca and the route to Medina, which they knew was Muhammad’s destination.
Eight or nine years after, Muhammad alludes in the Quran to the time in the cave of mount Thaur: “when the unbelievers drove him out: he had no more than one companion; they two were in the cave, and he said to his companion, “Have no fear, for Allah is with us”: then Allah sent down His peace upon him, and strengthened him with forces which ye saw not, and humbled to the depths the word of the unbelievers”(At-Taubah 9:40).
The crowd of miracles that cluster about the cave in Tradition are well known. Waqidi says that after Muhammad and Abu Bakr entered a spider came and wove her webs over the mouth of the cave. The Qurraish hotly searched after Muhammad in all directions, till they came close up to the entrance. And when they looked, they said one to another: ’ Spider’s webs are over it from the birth of Muhammad‘. So they turned back. Again, Allah commanded two wild pigeons to perch at the entrance of the cave. Armed pursuers from the Qurraish, seeing the pigeons, returned saying they were sure that nobody was in the cave. The prophet heard their words and blessed the wild pigeons, and made them sacred in the holy territory. There are some miraculous stories of a somewhat later period, regarding Abu Bakr putting his hand into the crevices of the cave to remove the snakes that might be lurking there, and being unharmed by their venomous bites.
The search for Muhammad
Amir ibn Foheira, the freed man of Abu Bakr, who in company with the other shepherds of Mecca, tended his master’s flock, went unobserved every evening with a few goats to the cave and furnished its inmates with a plentiful supply of milk. Abdallah, Abu Bakr’s son, in the same manner nightly brought them food cooked by his sister Asma. It was his business also to watch closely day by day the progress of events and of opinion at Mecca, and to report the results at night.
Much excitement prevailed in the city, when the disappearance of Muhammad was first noised abroad. The chief of the Qurraish went to his house, and finding Ali there asked where his uncle was. ‘I have no knowledge of him’ replied Ali; am I his keeper? Ye bade him to quit the city and he hath quitted.‘ Then they went to the house of Abu Bakr, and questioned his daughter Asma. Failing to elicit from her any information, they dispatched scouts in all directions, with the view of gaining a clue as to the track and destination of the prophet, but the precautions which Muhammad and Abu Bakr had made rendered it a fruitless search. On the third night, the tidings brought by Abdallah satisfied the refugees that the search had ceased. The opportunity had come for them to slip away unobserved the roads were clear and they could leave at once without fear of pursuit.
Asma prepared food for the journey, and in the dusk carried it to the cave. Abu Bakr, not forgetful of his money, safely secreted it among his other property. The camels were now ready. Muhammad mounted the swifter of the two, Al Caswa, his favourite; and Abu Bakr having taken his servant Amir ibn Fohira with him, on the other. They started descending mount Thaur. Ali remained at Mecca three days after the departure of Muhammad, appearing every day in public, for the purpose of restoring the property placed by various persons in trust with his uncle. He met with no opposition or annoyance and leisurely took his departure for Medina. The families of Muhammad and Abu Bakr were equally unmolested. Zeinab continued for a time at Mecca with her unconverted husband. Rockeya had already emigrated with Uthman to Medina. The other two daughters of Muhammad, Omm Kolthum and Fatima, with his wife Sauda, were, for some weeks left behind at Mecca. Ayesha his betrothed bride, with the rest of Abu Bakr’s family and several other women likewise remained in Mecca for a time.
Muhammad and Abu Bakr trusted their respective clans to protect their families from insult. But no insult or annoyance of any kind was offered by the Qurraish. Nor was the slightest attempt made to detain them; although it was not unreasonable that they should have been detained as hostages against any offensive movement from Medina. These facts lead us to doubt the intense hatred and cruelty which the strong colouring of tradition at this period attributes to the Qurraish.
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