the series of persecutions started late in the fourth year of prophethood, slowly at first, but steadily accelerated and worsened day by day and month by month until the situation got so extremely grave and no longer tolerable in the middle of the fifth year, that the muslims began to seriously think of feasible ways liable to avert the painful tortures meted out to them. it was at that gloomy and desperate time that sûrah al-kahf (chapter 18 — the cave) was revealed comprising definite answers to the questions with which the polytheists of makkah constantly pestered the prophet [pbuh] . it comprises three stories that include highly suggestive parables for the true believers to assimilate. the story of the companions of the cave implies implicit guidance for the believers to evacuate the hot spots of disbelief and aggression pregnant with the peril of enticement away from the true religion:
"(the young men said to one another): "and when you withdraw from them, and that which they worship, except allâh, then seek refuge in the cave, your lord will open a way for you from his mercy and will make easy for you your affair (i.e. will give you what you will need of provision, dwelling, etc.)" [al-qur'an 18:16].
next, there is the story of al-khidr (the teacher of arabia) and moses [aws] in a clear and delicate reference to the vicissitudes of life. future circumstances of life are not necessarily the products of the prevalent conditions, they might be categorically the opposite. in other words, the war waged against the muslims would in the future assume a different turn, and the tyrannous oppressors would one day come to suffer and be subjected to the same tortures to which the muslims were then put. furthermore, there is the story of dhul-qarnain (the two horned one), the powerful ruler of west and east. this story says explicitly that allâh takes his righteous servants to inherit the earth and whatever in it. it also speaks that allâh raises a righteous man every now and then to protect the weak against the strong.
sûrah az-zumar (chapter 39 — the crowds) was then revealed pointing directly to migration and stating that the earth is spacious enough and the believers must not consider themselves constrained by the forces of tyranny and evil:
"good is (the reward) for those who do good in this world, and allâh’s earth is spacious (so if you cannot worship allâh at a place, then go to another)! only those who are patient shall receive their rewards in full without reckoning." [al-qur'an 39:10].
the prophet [pbuh] had already known that ashamah negus, king of abyssinia (ethiopia), was a fair ruler who would not wrong any of his subordinates, so he permitted some of his followers to seek asylum there in abyssinia (ethiopia).
in rajab of the fifth year of prophethood, a group of twelve men and four women left for abyssinia (ethiopia). among the emigrants were ‘uthman bin ‘affan and his wife ruqaiyah (the daughter of the prophet [pbuh]). with respect to these two emigrants, the prophet [pbuh] said:
"they are the first people to migrate in the cause of allâh after abraham and lot [aws]."
they sneaked out of makkah under the heavy curtain of a dark night and headed for the sea where two boats happened to be sailing for abyssinia (ethiopia), their destination. news of their intended departure reached the ears of quraish, so some men were despatched in their pursuit, but the believers had already left shuaibah port towards their secure haven where they were received warmly and accorded due hospitality.
in ramadan of the same year, the prophet [pbuh] went into the holy sanctuary where there was a large host of quraish polytheists, including some notables and celebrities. suddenly he began reciting sûrah an-najm (chapter 41 — the star). the awe-inspiring words of allâh descended unawares upon them and they immediately got stunned by them. it was the first time for them to be shocked by the truthful revelation. it had formerly been the favourite trick of those people who wished to dishonour revelation, not only not to listen to it themselves but also to talk loudly and insolently when it was being read, so that even the true listeners may not be able to hear. they used to think that they were drowning the voice of allâh; in fact, they were piling up misery for themselves, for allâh’s voice can never be silenced, "and those who disbelieve say:
"listen not to this qur’ân, and make noise in the midst of its (recitation) that you may overcome." [al-qur'an 41:26].
when the unspeakably fascinating words of allâh came into direct contact with their hearts, they were entranced and got oblivious of the materialistic world around them and were caught in a state of full attentiveness to the divine words to such an extent that when the prophet [pbuh] reached the stormy heart-beating ending:
"so fall you down in prostration to allâh and worship him (alone)." [al-qur'an 53:62]
the idolaters, unconsciously and with full compliance, prostrated themselves in absolute god-fearing and stainless devotion. it was in fact the wonderful moment of the truth that cleaved through the obdurate souls of the haughty and the attitude of the scoffers. they stood aghast when they perceived that allâh’s words had conquered their hearts and done the same thing that they had been trying hard to annihilate and exterminate. their co-polytheists who had not been present on the scene reproached and blamed them severely; consequently they began to fabricate lies and calumniate the prophet [pbuh] alleging that he had attached to their idols great veneration and ascribed to them the power of desirable intercession. all of these were desperate attempts made to establish an excusable justification for their prostrating themselves with the prophet [pbuh] on that day. of course, this foolish and iniquitous slanderous behaviour was in line with their life-consecrated practice of telling lies and plot hatching.
news of this incident was misreported to the muslim emigrants in abyssinia (ethiopia). they were informed that the whole of quraish had embraced islam so they made their way back home. they arrived in makkah in shawwal of the same year. when they were only an hour’s travel from makkah, the reality of the situation was discovered. some of them returned to abyssinia (ethiopia), others sneaked secretly into the city or went in publicly but under the tutelage of a local notable. however, due to the news that transpired to the makkans about the good hospitality and warm welcome that the muslims were accorded in abyssinia (ethiopia), the polytheists got terribly indignant and started to mete out severer and more horrible maltreatment and tortures to the muslims. thereupon the messenger of allâh [pbuh] deemed it imperative to permit the helpless creatures to seek asylum in abyssinia (ethiopia) for the second time. migration this time was not as easy as it was the previous time, for quraish was on the alert to the least suspicious moves of the muslims. in due course, however, the muslims managed their affairs too fast for the quraishites to thwart their attempt of escape. the group of emigrants this time comprised eighty three men and nineteen or, in some versions, eighteen women. whether or not ‘ammar was included is still a matter of doubt. [tafheem-ul-qur'an 5/188; za'd al-ma'ad 1/24; ibn hisham 1/364; rahmat-ul-lil'alameen 1/61]