5.1 Some Muslims take refuge in Ethiopia

While this opposition and persecution was going on or, if Ibn-Ishq is right, even before the episode of the Satanic verses, Muhammad sent some of his followers away to Ethiopia. He saw that this Christian country would readily welcome his persecuted followers, as Ibn-Ishq says:

When the Messenger of God saw the sufferings inflicted on his companions and his inability to protect them, although he himself was exempt because of his position with God and with his uncle Ab-Tlib, he told them, "If you went to Ethiopia you would find a friendly country whose king does not allow anyone to be mistreated. Stay there until God gives you relief from the present situation." At those words, his Muslim companions left for Ethiopia, fleeing to God with their religion since otherwise they might be exposed to deny it. This was the first hijra in Islam. (1:321-2)

Although some later Muslim writers say there were two separate migrations to Ethiopia, Ibn-Ishq speaks only of a stream of emigrants: "The Muslims followed one another until they gathered in Ethiopia; some took their families, others went alone." (1:323) Ibn-Sad indicates that the emigration may have taken up to two years (IS iv, I, 73, 14). The total number of adult males is given as 83. Included was the future 3rd caliph Uthmn ibn-Affn, who went with his wife Ruqayya, a daughter of Muhammad.

Muhammad may have had other motives for sending his followers to Ethiopia besides to spare them persecution. He may have hoped for some business or political deals, which never materialized, or may have wanted to avert a split in the Muslim community by separating people of clashing viewpoints. Ibn-Hishm notes that the leader of the emigrants was Uthmn ibn-Man (different from the future caliph), an important man who wanted the community to adopt a strict ascetic life. He was opposed by Muhammad and Ab-Bakr. Other emigrants also had points of difference with Ab-Bakr, and Muhammad may have been glad of the chance to post these people where they could not disturb his policies and the development of the Muslim community.

In Ethiopia, says Umm-Salama, a future wife of Muhammad, "the Negus showed us excellent hospitality. We safely practiced our religion and worshiped God without interference or any words of reproach" (1:334). Ibn-Ishq tells how a delegation of Meccans came to the Emperor and asked for the extradition of the Muslim refugees, but the Emperor refused to hand them over.

Ibn-Ishq then gives a probably imaginary or embellished story of how the Emperor interrogated the Muslims about their faith and equivalently became a Muslim, declaring "that there is no God but Allh and Muhammad is his servant and messenger, and that Jesus, Son of Mary, is his servant and messenger, his spirit, and his word which he planted in Mary" (1:341). These words are a quotation of Qur'n 4:171, which even Muslims say dates from the Medinan period, much later than the time of this conversation.

5.2 The Meccans boycott the Muslims

In the meantime Umar ibn-al-Khattb (the future 2nd caliph) became a Muslim. He had been a fierce enemy of the Muslims before, and his conversion lent strong support to the beleaguered Muslim community in Mecca. As a result, says Ibn-Ishq,

when the Meccans saw that Muhammad's companions had found a place to live in security and that the Negus protected these refugees from the Meccans, that Umar had become a Muslim and he and Hamza ibn-Abdalmuttalib were among the companions of Muhammad, and that Islam was spreading among the tribes, they held a meeting and decided to issue a document proclaiming a boycott of the Hshim and al-Muttalib clans, that no one should marry their daughters or give them women to marry and that no one should buy anything from them or sell anything to them. When they settled on that, they wrote up a document swearing to their agreement and hung it inside the Kaba to ratify their obligation. (1:350)

The two clans of Hshim and al-Muttalib continued to support Muhammad because of their blood relationship to him, even though most members of these clans were not Muslims. Only one member of Muhammad's clan of Hshim refused to support him and joined the enemy's boycott. That was Ab-Lahab ("father of the flame"); we don't know his real name, since it is a Muslim abusive term meaning someone destined to hell. Because of his joining hands with the enemy, Muhammad pronounced the cursing sra 111:

May Ab-Lahab's hands perish, and may he perish.
His wealth will do him no good, neither what he has earned.
He will enter the flaming lahab) fire,
while his wife carries the firewood
in a bundle hanging from her neck.

In Ethiopia a rumour spread that the Meccans had converted to Islam; so 33 of the emigrants decided to return. On reaching Mecca and finding themselves disappointed they had either to go into hiding or find protection under one of the Meccan citizens. Some of the Muslims who accepted such protection later renounced it because of the restrictions laid on them. For instance, Ab-Bakr renounced the protection given by Ibn-al-Dughunna after the latter required him to do his prayer and recitation of the Qur'n indoors and not on the street where he annoyed the Meccans by gathering an audience of their women and children.

The Meccans who protected the Muslims did so because for them blood ties should not be set aside because of religious differences. Moved by the suffering that the boycott was causing the Muslims, five Meccan leaders conspired to annul the boycott. They denounced it at a public meeting at the Kaba and, in spite of Ab-Jahl's objections, tore up the deed.

Some of the Muslims were not so tolerant. At-Tufayl was a stranger to Mecca who was converted and went back to his people of Daws. He told his father and his wife, "Get away! I have nothing to do with you or you with me." They asked "Why?" He answered, "Islam has divided us and I follow the religion of Muhammad". Only when they agreed to become Muslims and washed themselves and their clothes would he accept them. The other people of Daws refused to become Muslims; so a-ufayl went to Muhammad and asked him to curse them. Muhammad refused and said, "Go back to your people and preach to them gently." (1:382-5)

5.3 The night ride and ascension (1:396-408)

About this time Muhammad underwent a very strange experience, which Ibn-Ishq frankly admits was an embarrassing "trial and test" for the Muslims of his time as it was when it occurred. Most modern biographies do not mention it at all or consider it purely legendary, but it is a celebrated episode in popular Muslim biographies. This was the night ride to Jerusalem and ascent to heaven. Ibn-Ishq quotes various versions according to which Muhammad was woken from his sleep by Gabriel and put on "a white animal, half mule, half donkey, with wings on its sides with which it propelled its feet, at each step advancing as far as its sight could reach". The animal took him to Jerusalem and back in one night.

That Muhammad claimed some such experience is certain from Qur'n 17:1: "Praised be He who carried his servant on a night journey from the Sacred Mosque (of Mecca) to the Aqs Mosque whose surroundings we have blessed, in order to show him some of our signs." When this verse was published the "Aqs (furthest) mosque" may have referred to a heavenly shrine, but by the time of Ibn-Ishq it was taken for the temple shrine in Jerusalem.

Of the many "signs" the traditions say were shown to Muhammad, one that he possibly claimed in his preaching was to have prayed with Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Many of Muhammad's listeners thought he had really gone mad, and "many Muslims gave up their faith". Ab-Bakr, however, had absolute faith in Muhammad and said of every part of the story, "That is true." For this reason Muhammad gave him the title siddq, meaning "testifying to the truth".

In a rationalization of this event which was common among later Muslims, Muhammad's wife 'isha allegedly said, "The Messenger's body remained where it was but God removed his spirit by night". While one current of tradition followed this rationalizing tendency to explain the event away, another current added more and more realistic details, such as how the Prophet's mount, named Burq, frightened the camels of the caravans it overtook on the way.

The story of the ascent to heaven contains even more details. In the first heaven Muhammad saw many angels, one of whom showed him the fire of hell; he also saw the punishments that people receive for various crimes. In the second heaven he met Jesus and John, the son of Zechariah. In the third heaven he met Joseph, in the fourth Idrs (a Qur'nic prophet of uncertain identity), in the fifth Aaron, in the sixth Moses, and in the seventh Abraham. He then met God in Paradise. Next, in the words of Muhammad,

on my return I passed by Moses, a good friend of the Muslims, and he asked me, "How many salt prayers were you commanded to do each day?" I answered, "Fifty". He said, "Salt is laborious and your people are weak. Go back to your Lord and ask him to reduce the number for you and your people." So I returned and asked my Lord for a reduction, and he reduced it to forty. Then I passed Moses again and he told me the same thing over again. So I returned and asked my Lord again, and he reduced it to thirty. I went away and passed Moses and he told me the same thing. I went back and got the salt reduced to twenty. Moses kept saying the same thing and I kept going back until the salt was reduced to five times a day and night. Going back to Moses, he told me the same thing again, but I answered, "I have gone back and asked him so often that I am ashamed to do so again." Any of you who performs these five alts with faith and trust in them will have the reward of fifty.

Note that the five prayers a day were not yet instituted in the Meccan period.

5.4 Family deaths and realignments

In the year 619 Muhammad suffered the loss of his wife Khadja (n.1). In her place he married Sawda (n.2), daughter of Zamaa and widow of Sakrn ibn-Amr. Sakrn had emigrated with his wife to Ethiopia and died after their return to Mecca (1:329,368). At the same time Muhammad married 'isha (n.3), the 6 year old daughter of Ab-Bakr, but he did not take her into his house as wife until three years later, in Medina. These marriages not only provided Muhammad with personal companionship, but also were important means of cementing relations among the early Muslims, as was the earlier marriage of Muhammad's daughter Ruqayya to Uthmn.

Also in 619 Muhammad lost his uncle and protector Ab-Tlib. When the latter was nearing death, Ab-Jahl and other Meccan leaders asked him to arbitrate a compromise between themselves and Muhammad:

Ab-Tlib, you know your rank among us and, as you know, you are near death. That makes us concerned about you. You know the rift between us and your nephew. Call him and let us make an agreement, so that he will leave us alone and we will leave him alone. He will respect our religion and we his. (1:417)

Muhammad refused to make peace on these terms, and gave his opponents his own condition for peace:

He said, "You must say, 'There is no god but Allh", and you must repudiate what you worship apart from him.'" They clapped their hands and said, "Muhammad, do you want to make all the gods one? That is an amazing project." Then they said to one another, "By God, this man is not conceding anything. let us go and follow the religion of our fathers, until God judges between us and him." (1:417)

Muhammad was eager to convert his uncle before his death, and Ab-Tlib showed some inclination to Islam, but refused to change.

As death was near, al-Abbs looked at Ab-Tlib and he was moving his lips. He put his ear close and said, "My nephew, by God, my brother has said the confession of faith which you commanded him to say." But Muhammad replied, "I did not hear it."

Qur'n 9:113 is said to refer to this event:

It is not for the Prophet and those who believe to ask forgiveness for the polytheists, even if they are near relations, once it has been made plain to them that they are the citizens of hell.

5.5 Muhammad left stranded

Ab-Tlib's successor as leader of the clan of Hshim was none other than his brother Ab-Lahab. According to Ibn-Sad, Ab-Lahab at first promised to continue to include Muhammad under the protection of the clan (IS i,I,141), but he soon found an occasion to exploit Muhammad's extreme views about polytheists as a reason to withdraw this protection. Ab-Jahl and his friend Uqba ibn-ab-Muay told him to ask Muhammad what was the state of his deceased grandfather Abdalmuttalib, who had raised Muhammad with so much kindness but followed only the Arabian traditional religion. Muhammad gave an evasive answer which satisfied Ab-Lahab, but when told of it, Ab-Jahl sent him back to Muhammad to ask him point blank whether his grandfather was in hell or not. Muhammad answered that he was. Such an insult to the ancestor of the clan was taken as reason enough to deny Muhammad further protection from the clan.

Now without protection, Muhammad's situation in Mecca was desperate. He decided to flee to at-T'if and look for asylum and help, but was ignominiously driven away from the town by its leaders. Stranded, he prayed and, according to Qur'n 72:1 and 46:29 which Ibn-Ishq situates on this occasion, was visited by a group of jinn who listened to him and believed and then returned to preach to the other jinn. Drawing comfort from the thought that spirits, at least, were listening to him, Muhammad returned to the practicalities of saving his situation among men. A passing Meccan traveler agreed to carry his message to various Meccan leaders begging for protection so that he could enter the city. After two refusals, a third man, Muim, agreed and invited Muhammad to come in.

The protection Muhammad obtained in Mecca was a precarious temporary arrangement; so he put all his energy into trying to win over influential Arabs outside Mecca. At the trade fair of 620 he went around the camps of the visitors and told them that he was a prophet and they should believe in and support him, abandoning worship of anything other than God. A few individuals were impressed, but no one openly accepted his message.

5.6 Negotiations with Medina

Muhammad's search for asylum was a failure until he met six men from Medina (then known as Yathrib) belonging to the federation of clans called the Khazraj. They had been at war with another federation of clans called the Aws. In addition, some twenty clans of Jews were also involved in the civil war, shifting their support from one side to another. The bloodshed was so much and so protracted that the people were desperate for any kind of settlement. The Jews were eagerly awaiting the Messiah, whom they thought would be like a prophet who would restore the kingdom of Israel. In moments of difficulty with the Medinan Arabs, so Ibn-Ishq tells us, the Jews would remind the Arabs that one day the prophet (Messiah) would make the Jews supreme. When the six Medinan men heard Muhammad's claim,

they said to one another, "By God, do you know this is the prophet which the Jews were warning you of? Don't let them get to him first." So they accepted his call, believed in him and became Muslims, saying, "We have left our people, for there is no people so divided by hatred and evil as they are. Maybe God will reunite them through you. Let us go to them and invite them to your religion and maybe they will accept it as we did. If God unites them this way, there will be no man more powerful than you." They then returned to Medina as believers.

At the trade fair of the next year (621) the same six men and five others of the Khazraj alliance and two of the Aws met Muhammad at the camp of al-Aqaba and there made to him the First Pledge of Aqaba, also known as the Pledge of Women because it did not oblige them to fight on Muhammad's behalf. The following is one version of the Pledge as given by Ibn-Ishq:

We gave allegiance to the Messenger of God.. that we would not associate anything with God, we would not steal or commit adultery or kill our children or slander our neighbours or disobey him in what is right. If we fulfill this we will have Paradise, but if not we will undergo his fixed punishment in this world as an atonement, but if we hide the matter until the day of Resurrection, the matter is for God to punish or forgive as he likes. (1:434)

Muhammad sent Mus`ad ibn-`Umayr back to Medina with these men to instruct them in Islam. The door of success was now open. Mus`ad made converts in Medina from nearly every clan. One of them, Sa`d ibn-Mu`dh, told his clan: "It is a sin for me to speak to any man or woman among you until you believe in God and his Messenger." Thereupon every man and woman of the house of the al-Ashhal clan became Muslim. (1:437)

When time came for the Meccan trade fair the following year (622) Mus`ab and 73 men and 2 women converts went with the Medinan caravan and secretly planned a meeting with Muhammad at al-Aqaba in the middle of the night. After some discussion,

Muhammad spoke: "I accept your allegiance on condition that you defend me as you defend your wives and children." Al-Bar' ibn-Marr clasped his hand and said, "Yes, by Him who sent you with the truth, we will defend you as we defend our wives. Accept our allegiance, Messenger of God, for by God we are warriors and we possess arms which have been passed on from father to son." (1:442)

Muhammad then said, "Bring me twelve leaders who may take charge of your people's affairs." They selected nine from the Khazraj and three from the Aws. (1:443) Muhammad told these leaders, "You are responsible for your people's affairs just as his disciples were responsible for Jesus Son of Mary, while I am responsible for my people, that is, the Muslims." They agreed to that (1:446). Before the meeting concluded,

al-Abbs ibn-Ubda spoke: "Men of Khazraj, do you realize the conditions of your allegiance to this man? They answered, "Yes". He said, "You are pledging him to make war against any race of man. If you think that if you lose your property and your nobles are killed you will give him up, then renounce your pledge now, for by God to do so later would be your shame in this world and the next. But if you think that you can fulfil what you have undertaken if you lose your property and your nobles are killed, then take the pledge, for it is the best for you in this world and the next." They said, "We accept him on these conditions, but, Messenger of God, what will we receive if we fulfill the pledge?" Muhammad said, "Paradise". They said, "Stretch out your hand." He did so, and they pledged allegiance to him.

So the Second Pledge of Aqaba is also known as the Pledge of War. Its conditions were outlined as follows:

We pledge to the Messenger of God an allegiance of war.. to obey as soon as we hear, in difficult conditions and easy ones, in pleasant and unpleasant circumstances, whatever effect it has on us, and that we will not wrong anyone; that we will speak the truth wherever we are, and in God's service fear no one's criticism. (1:454)

The next day the Meccan leaders heard of the Pledge and were furious, but before they could verify the report the Medinans escaped, except for one man who was captured and then released at the request of a Meccan with whom he had a mutual alliance of protection.

5.7 The hijra concluded

The Second Pledge of Aqaba had two immediate results. The first was to put the Muslim community on a war footing, and the second was the migration or hijra of the Muslims to Medina. Thereafter hijra and/or jihd were the answer to any situation where the faith of the Muslims was in danger (fitna), as Ibn-Ishq explains:

Before the Second Pledge of Aqaba, war and the shedding of blood were not permitted to the Messenger of God. He was only commanded to call people to God, to be patient under persecution and to forgive the ignorant. The Quraysh people, however, persecuted his followers, turning some from their religion and exiling others. They had to choose between giving up their religion or being ill-treated because of it or fleeing to another country, either Ethiopia or Medina.

In any case, when the Quraysh people became insolent towards God and refused to give him honour, and called his Prophet a liar, and tortured or drove away those who served the one God and believed in his Prophet and held to his religion, then God permitted his Messenger to fight and defend himself from those who treated them unjustly and attacked them.

The first Qur'n verse permitting him to wage war, shed blood and fight those who attack them.. is: "Permission is given to those who fight because they were wronged - God is well able to defend them - those who were driven out of their homes unjustly, only because they say "Allh is our Lord". If God did not use some men to defend others, you would see the destruction of hermitages, churches, oratories and mosques where God's name is celebrated very often. God will help those who help him, for he is powerful and mighty. Those we make powerful in the land will establish alt, pay zakt, command what is right and forbid what is wrong - God has the last word" (Q 22:39-41)... Then God revealed the verse: "Fight them until there is no more danger to the faith, and religion belongs to God" (Q 2:193), that is, until God alone is worshiped.

When God permitted Muhammad to make war, and this group of the Ansr had pledged that they would accept Islam and support him and his followers, and some Muslims had taken refuge with them, the Messenger of God commanded the emigrants (to Ethiopia) and his Muslim companions in Mecca to leave for Medina and join their brothers, the Ansr. He said, "God provided for you with brothers and homes where you can be safe." So they left in companies, but he himself stayed in Mecca waiting for God's permission to leave and migrate to Medina. (1:467-8)

Some of those who began the hijra were captured and imprisoned by the Meccans and gave up their faith. Then Umar and others commented:

We were saying that God will accept neither compensation nor ransom nor repentance from those who apostatized, people who knew God and then returned to unbelief because of a trial they underwent. And the apostates were saying the same of themselves. But when the Messenger of God came to Medina, God revealed concerning them and what we were saying and they were saying of themselves: "Say, 'My servants, who have acted foolishly against yourselves, do not despair of God's mercy, for God forgives all sins. He is forgiving and merciful. Turn to your lord and submit yourselves to him before punishment comes and you have no help. Follow the excellent revelation already given to you, before punishment comes suddenly upon you before you realize it'" (Q 39:53-55). (1:475-6)

The time was near for Muhammad himself to migrate:

The Messenger of God stayed in Mecca after his companions had left, waiting for permission to migrate. None of his supporters were left except those who were imprisoned or had been turned from Islam, as well as Al ibn-lib and Ab-Bakr.

The Meccan leaders were now afraid that if Muhammad left he would lead a coalition of non-Meccans to attack them. So they resolved, as Ibn-Ishq tells us, to kill him. (Cf. Q 8:30.)

Gabriel came to the Messenger of God and said, "Do not sleep tonight on the bed you usually sleep." When night had set in, they gathered at his door waiting for him to sleep so they could fall on him. When the Messenger of God saw what they were doing, he said to Al, "Sleep on my bed and wrap yourself in my green aram cloak. Sleep in it, for you will not meet any harm...

The Messenger of God then went outside and took a handful of dust... God took away their sight so that they could not see him. He began sprinkling dust on their heads and reciting from the sra "Y Sn" up to the verses, "And we covered them and they could not see"...

Then God gave his Prophet permission to emigrate. Ab-Bakr was a rich man and had asked the Messenger of God for permission to emigrate, and was told, "Do not hurry. Maybe God will give you a companion." Hoping that the Messenger of God meant himself when he said that, he bought two camels and tied them in his house, feeding them in preparation for departure. (1:482-4)

Muhammad then went to Ab-Bakr and they planned their departure. Then the time came:

Nobody knew when the Messenger of God departed except Al and Ab-Bakr and Ab-Bakr's family. According to my information, the Messenger of God told Al of his departure and commanded him to stay behind in Mecca after him until he returned goods left for safekeeping with the Messenger of God, since anyone in Mecca who was anxious about his property confidently left it with the Messenger of God because of his probity.

When the Messenger of God was ready to depart, he came to Ab-Bakr and the two left by a window in the back of Ab-Bakr's house. Then they made for a cave in the Thawr mountain below Mecca and entered it. Ab-Bakr had told his son Abdallh to listen to what people were saying about them each day and then come and report at night. And he had ordered mir ibn-Fuhayra, his client, to shepherd his animals by day and to send them to the cave at night. Ab-Bakr's daughter Asm' used to bring them good food at night.

The two stayed in the cave three days. When the Quraysh people missed them they offered a reward of 100 camels to anyone who would capture and bring back Muhammad. Ab-Bakr's son Abdallh listened to their plotting and brought the news at night... When three days had passed and people lost interest in them, the man they had hired to lead the camels came with their camels and one of his own. (1:485-6)

Muhammad and Ab-Bakr and their guide then rode off. After three days Al also departed.

Muhammad reached Medina about 4 September 622. That was 12 Rab` I, the third month of the lunar year. The year in which the hijra took place is counted as the fist year of the Islamic era.


Early Islam

Chapter 6