Seerah episode 41: The Migration to Abyssinia

— Walid ibn Mughira, the chief of the Banu Makhzum clan, also confronts Prophet. The Prophet recites the Qur’an to him as well, & he has same reaction as Utbah

  • Walid also claims, “Oh, this is just fancy poetry Muhammad has come up with.”
  • The ayah 74:11 is about both Utbah bin Rabi’ah & Walid bin Mughira: “Leave me to deal with that liar. We have given him all his blessings and he slanders, and I will deal with him severely.”

— When the Quraysh’s talk with the Prophet failed (about him ceasing his preaching), they settled on torturing the Muslims

  • When the violence & aggression became full-scale against the Muslims in the 5th year of Prophethood, the Prophet gathered the weak & oppressed Muslims together & told them, “It’s time for you all to go outside Makkah to live safely & in peace.”

— The Prophet was an empathetic leader

  • By this point in time, there were over a 100 Believers, so the Muslims were growing in number, which gives them strength, community, & solidarity among them
  • In spite of that, the Prophet put the well-being & security of the Muslims first. Their safety was more important to the Prophet than having large numbers & large community of Muslims

— The Prophet also understood that as a leader, it was his job to be well-informed, so that he would know what options were available to him

  • He found out that there was an-Najashi, the Christian King of Abyssinia (Habesha), who was well-known for his religious tolerance. There were many minority religious communities in an-Najashi’s kingdom – Jews, fire-worshippers, & idol worshippers

— In the month of Rajab, in the 5th year of Prophethood, the Prophet gathers some of his Believers together & proposed that those who need to migrate should explore the opportunity to leave for Abyssinia

  • The first group of people who migrated to Abyssinia comprised of 15-16 people. There were 4 women, who were wives of 4 of the men in that group. The rest were single men
    • Uthman ibn Affan & his wife, Ruqayyah bint Muhammad (the Prophet’s 2nddaughter)
    • Abu Hudahayfa bin Utbah & his wife Sahla bint Suhail
    • Zubayr ibn al-Awam
    • Mus’ab ibn Umair
    • Abdur Rahman ibn Awf
    • Abu Salama & his wife Ummu Salama, who later becomes the wife of the Prophet
    • Uthman ibn Madh’oon
    • Amir ibn Rabi’a & his wife Layla bint Abu Hadhma
    • Abu Sabra
    • Disputed: Hatim ibn ‘Amr or Abdullah ibn Mas’ood (more authentic narrations say that Abdullah ibn Mas’ood went with the 2nd wave of migrants to Abyssinia)
  • The group left at night
    • There wasn’t enough transportation for all of them, so some would take turns riding the animals. Between 15-16 people there were 7-8 animals for rides
  • When morning came & people realized that they were gone, the Quraysh put together a search party to look for them.
    • The Quraysh wanted to drag the refugees back to Makkah & keep them there under their torture

— The Muslim migrants reached a port called Suhaiban

  • They had very limited funds (half a dinar – gold coin) & limited food rations
  • They spoke to a man at the port who had a small boat. They were able to rent a boat & crew to sail them to Eastern Africa
  • By the time the search party from Quraysh reached the port, the Muslims had already departed

— After they had left, the Prophet was curious as to what happened to the Muslim migrants

  • He hears of someone coming from Abyssinia. The man was probably a trader or businessman from Abyssinia. The Prophet searched out that man & asked him, “Have you heard of some people leaving Makkah & going towards Habesha?”
    • The man replied, “Yes, I heard about some people.”
  • The Prophet asked, “How are they doing?”
    • The man said, “As far as I know, they’ve reached Habesha safely.”
  • The Prophet was relieved (he’s speaking as a father here). He asked, “Were you able to see these people? Speak with them?”
    • The man said, “Yes, I spoke to them.”
  • The Prophet said, “Have you seen a couple, they are like the leaders of the group?” He was speaking of Uthman & Ruqayyah (the Prophet’s daughter)
    • The man from Abyssinia confirms. He said, “The last I saw them, the husband had put his wife on top of a mule, and the husband was leading the mule. It was a very slow and weak animal.”
  • The Prophet was relieved at this news. “May Allah be with them.”

— The Prophet then said, “Uthman has revived a great tradition of the Prophets of the Past. Uthman is the first one to leave his home with his family for the sake of his Imaan since Lut (alayhi as-salaam).”

  • This dispels the notion that these Muslims who chose to leave Makkah are weaker than the Muslims who stayed behind. The Prophet’s compliment to Uthman lets us know that the Muslim migrants were just as noble as the ones who stayed behind in Makkah
  • When some of the Khawaarij seized Medina during the khilafa of Uthman (3rd khalifah) & assassinated Uthman, they were making accusations against Uthman that he was a coward & ran away from Makkah when he migrated to Abyssinia. They were trying to discredit Uthman & make him out to be a coward, but the Prophet spoke of the migrants’ virtue & made dua for these migrants to Abyssinia

— The Prophet told those Muslims to lay low when they reach Habesha & keep quiet

  • They lived slightly outside of a major city in Habesha. This was so that the men could go work & buy at market in the major city, but lived outside of that city so that the migrants won’t be the point of curiosity or contention from that particular community

— When the search party from Quraysh failed to find the Muslims who had escaped Makkah, the Quraysh decided to put tighter clamps on the remaining Muslims in Makkah

  • The Quraysh kept a strict eye on who exactly the Muslims were, & did not allow any of those Muslims to exit Makkah. The Quraysh set up a border patrol & tracked the Muslims in Makkah

— Two months after the first group of Muslims left Makkah, a major incident occurs

  • It’s month of Ramadan (obligations of Ramadan have not yet been sent down). The Prophet went to the Haram as part of his normal routine at the Baytullah to pray. Nobody likes it, but they tolerate it, because the Prophet has the protection from Abu Talib & Banu Hashim
  • As the Prophet is praying at the Haram, he recites the Qur’an, out loud (for whatever reason). Usually he would recite it quietly.
    • As the Prophet continues to recite the Qur’an out loud, the people are agitated. “Now Muhammad has gone too far. He comes here, does his thing, which we’ve put up with because he’s Abu Talib’s nephew. But now he’s going to make us listen to his ramblings? This is too much.”
    • They get close to the Prophet to sort him out. As soon as they get close enough to hear him, they stop dead in their tracks & listen to the Prophet’s words
  • The Prophet then raises his voice. Now everyone at the Haram is listening. They all become quiet & stop what they’re doing to listen to the Prophet’s words, completely captivated

— The Quraysh listen to the Prophet reciting from Surat Al Najm, from Ayah 53:19 & on:

  • So have you considered al-Lat and al-Uzza? And Manat, the third the other one (idols that the Quraysh primarily worshipped)? Are the male angels for you and for Him the female? That, then, is an unjust division. They are not but mere names you have named them – you and your forefathers – for which Allah has sent down no authority. They follow not except assumption and what their souls desire, and there has already come to them from their Lord guidance.
  • Or is there for man whatever he wishes? Rather, to Allah belong the Hereafter and the first (life).
  • And how many angels there are in the heavens whose intercession will not avail at all except only after Allah has permitted it to whom He wills and approves.
  • Indeed, those who do not believe in the Hereafter name the angels female names, and they have thereof no knowledge. They follow not except assumption, and indeed, assumption avails not against the truth at all.
  • So turn away from whoever turns his back on Our message and desires not except the worldly life. That is their sum of knowledge. Indeed, you Lord is most knowing of who strays from His way, and He is most knowing of who is guided. And to Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth – that He may recompense those who do evil with (the penalty of) what they have done and recompense those who do good with the best (reward)
  • Those who avoid the major sins and immortalities, only (committing) slight ones. Indeed, your Lord is vast in forgiveness. He was most knowing of you when He produced you from this earth and when you were fetuses in the wombs of your mothers. So do not claim yourselves to be pure; He is most knowing of who fears Him.
  • Have you seen the one who turned away and gave a little and (then) refrained? Does he have knowledge of the unseen, so he sees? Or has he not been informed of what was in the scriptures of Moses and of Abraham, who fulfilled [his obligations] – that no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another and that there is not for man except that [good] for which he strives and that his effort is going to be seen. Then he will be recompensed for it with the fullest recompense and that to your Lord is the finality and that it is He who makes [one] laugh and weep and that it is He who causes death and gives life
    • Interesting to note that death mentioned first, then life (talking about al Qiyama)
  • And that He creates the two mates – the male and female – from a sperm-drop when it is emitted and that [incumbent] upon Him is the next creation and that it is He who enriches and suffices and that is He who is the Lord of the Sirius.
  • And that He destroyed the first [people of] ‘Aad and Thamud – and He did not spare [them] and that people of Noah before. Indeed, it was they who were [even] more unjust and oppressing.
  • And the overturned towns He hurled down and covered them by that which He covered. Then which of the favors of your Lord do you doubt? This [Prophet] is a warner like the former warners.
  • The Approaching Day has approached. Of it, [from those] besides Allah, there is no remover.
  • Then at this statement do you wonder? And you laugh and do not weep while you are proudly sporting? So prostrate to Allah and worship [Him].

— The Quraysh, who were listening to the Prophet recite these ayat, felt as they were being spoken directly to by Allah

  • Then the Prophet fell into sajdah. Instinctively, everyone who was in the Haram (the vast majority who had not accepted Islam) also fell into sajdah
    • Abu Jahl, who was there, also fell into sajdah
    • Walid ibn Mughira, who had an exchange similar to the one that Utbah ibn Rabi’ah did with the Prophet, did not want to fall into sajdah with everyone else. “No, I’m not going to do what Muhammad does.” Even so, Walid felt compelled to do something after hearing the Qur’an, so he picked up a bit of dirt & put it on his forehead. Ajeeb.
  • The Prophet then comes up from sajdah, & everyone else does too. There’s now an awkward silence. The Prophet lets them sit in that awkward silence for a while. If this wasn’t fitrah talking, then what else was it?
    • After a while, those people dispersed from the Haram
  • Later, the leaders of Quraysh gathered for some PR conference. They can’t let this incidence go without they saying something. Otherwise, it would look like they are now believing with the Prophet. They claimed that the Prophet was reciting sorcery, which took physical control over the Qurayshis’ bodies & made everyone fall into sojood
    • “Don’t worry. This was all just part of Muhammad’s sorcery.”

— This incident doesn’t fall under radar. Word started to spread outside Makkah that basically all of Quraysh had accepted Muhammad’s religion

  • These rumors reach Abyssinia that Quraysh has accepted Islam. The Muslim migrants in Abyssinia think, “it’s time to go back home.”
  • 12 out of 16 original migrants head back for Makkah

— They meet a Qurayshi just outside Makkah. The Qurayshi said to the group of Muslims, “Hey, you guys are the ones that left, right?”

  • The migrants said, “Yeah, there was a lot of persecution, so we had to leave. But now that all the Quraysh has accepted Islam we’ve decided to come back.”
    • The man said, “What are you talking about?”
  • The Muslims said, “Quraysh, all of them became Muslim, right?”
    • Man: “No, none of that happened.”
  • The Muslim migrants learned what really happened, about the sajdah. They’re heartbroken.
    • “What do we do now? Do we stay or we leave?”
    • A couple of them go back to Makkah & stayed there. When the Prophet saw them, he asked them why they were back, & those Muslims tell him about the rumors they heard
    • 10 of the migrants go back to Abyssinia.

— But now, the Muslims in Makkah do learn that Abyssinia is perfectly safe for Muslims to worship freely without any fear of persecution

  • The torture of Muslims in Makkah start to intensify day by day, with no signs of stopping, so the migration to Abyssinia becomes a favorable option for these Muslims
  • In the next few weeks, dozens of Muslims began to leave Makkah in waves. They leave in small groups of 4-5 people, because of the border patrol in Makkah. They can’t simply leave as they want. They had to leave under cloak of secrecy.

— About 80 some odd people leave Makkah for Abyssinia, until a small community of Muslims emerged in Abyssinia

  • There are about 82-83 Muslim men & 16 Muslim women. They consisted of both the elite & former slaves
  • Towards the end of 5th year of prophethood, once there are about 100 Muslims in Abyssinia, the Quraysh start to realize that Makkah is emptying out for Muslims
    • The Quraysh are concerned because now the Muslims are just setting up camp somewhere else. “We can’t let that happen! We gotta crash this Muslim party that’s going on in Abyssinia.”

— Lessons of leadership from the Prophet

  • A responsible leader has to be well-researched & well-informed
  • A good leader has to be willing to make sacrifices. The Prophet was willing to lose some numbers in order to prioritize the safety of his followers
  • The Prophet is a father at the end of the day. He was concerned for his daughter Ruqayyah’s safety, who was one of the migrants to Abyssinia. A quality leader is a quality family man
  • The Prophet also understood the circumstances of the time, when he advised the Muslim migrants to keep a low profile in Abyssinia
    • This does not mean that the Muslims in Abyssinia didn’t do dawah
    • Those Muslims understood that they were oppressed minority in Makkah, & they should not show up in Abyssinia, where they knew they’d be safe, & act as though they own the place. They should be respectful in how they conduct themselves
  • Surat An-Najm, the surah that the Prophet was reciting to the Quraysh, ends with the call for us to “prostrate to Allah and worship Him” [53:62]
    • This is one of the ayahs in the Qur’an where you have to do sajdah after hearing it


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