the next year, thirteenth of prophethood, june 622 a.d., during the pilgrimage season, over seventy converts from madinah came in the trail of their polytheist people to perform the rituals of pilgrimage in makkah. the oft-repeated question amongst them was "isn’t it high time we protect muhammad instead of leaving him forsaken, deserted and stumbling in the hillocks of makkah?"
shortly after arrival, they conducted clandestine contacts with the prophet [pbuh] and agreed to meet him secretly at night in mid tashreeq days (the 11th, 12th and 13th days of dhul hijja) in a hillock at al-‘aqabah, the last year’s meeting place.
one of the leaders of the ansâr (helpers), ka‘b bin malik al-ansari, gave an account of the historic meeting which changed the whole course of the struggle between islam and paganism, he said:
we set out for pilgrimage and struck a rendezvous in mid tashreeq days. we were accompanied by a celebrity and a notable of ours called ‘abdullah bin ‘amr bin haram, who was still a polytheist. we disclosed to him our intention of meeting muhammad [pbuh] and exhorted him to join our ranks and give up polytheism lest he should serve as wood for hell in the hereafter. he promptly embraced islam and witnessed the serious meeting at al-‘aqabah.
that very night we slept with our people in our camps. after a third of the night had elapsed, we began to leave stealthily and met in a hillock nearby. we were seventy three men and two women nusaibah bint ka‘b from the najjars and asma’ bint ‘amr from bani salamah. we waited for the messenger of allâh [pbuh] until he came in the company of his uncle al-‘abbas bin ‘abdul muttalib who (though himself not a muslim), adjured us not to draw his nephew away from the protection of his own kindred unless we were fully prepared to defend him even at the risk of our lives. he was the first to speak:
"o you people of the khazraj — the arabs used to call the ansâr (helpers) khazraj, whether from khazraj or aws — you all know the position that muhammad holds among us. we have protected him from our people as much as we could. he is honoured and respected among his people. he refuses to join any party except you. so if you think you can carry out what you promise while inviting him to your town, and if you can defend him against the enemies, then assume the burden that you have taken. but if you are going to surrender him and betray him after having taken him away with you, you had better leave him now because he is respected and well defended in his own place." [ibn hisham 1/440-442]
ka‘b replied: "we have heard your words, and now o messenger of allâh, it is for you to speak and take from us any pledge that you want regarding your lord and yourself."
it was a definite stance showing full determination, courage and deep faith to shoulder the daunting responsibility and bear its serious consequences.
the messenger of allâh then preached the faith, and the pledge was taken. al-imam ahmad, on the authority of jabir, gave the following details:
the ansâr (helpers) asked the messenger of allâh about the principles over which they would take a pledge. the prophet answered:
- to listen and obey in all sets of circumstances.
- to spend in plenty as well as in scarcity.
- to enjoin good and forbid evil.
- in allâh’s service, you will fear the censure of none.
- to defend me in case i seek your help, and debar me from anything you debar yourself, your spouses and children from. and if you observe those precepts, paradise is in store for you. [mukhtasar seerat ar-rasool p.155; ibn hisham 1/454]
in another version narrated by ka‘b, he said:
the prophet [pbuh] began to speak, recited some qur’ânic verses, called people unto allâh, exhorted them to enter the fold of islam and concluded saying: "i give you my pledge that you debar me from whatever you debar your women and children from." here al-bara’ bin ma‘rur, caught him by hand, and said: "oh yes, we swear by allâh, who sent you as a prophet in truth, that we will debar you from whatever we debar our women from. have confidence in us, o messenger of allâh. by allâh, we are genuine fighters and quite reliable in war, it is a trait passed down to us from our ancestors."
then ‘abul haitham at-taihan interrupted and said: "o prophet of allâh! between us and the jews, there are agreements which we would then sever. if allâh grants you power and victory, should we expect that you would not leave us, and join the ranks of your people (meaning quraish)?" the prophet [pbuh] smiled and replied:
"nay, it would never be; your blood will be my blood. in life and death i will be with you and you with me. i will fight whom you fight and i will make peace with those with whom you make peace." [ibn hisham 1/442]
after the negotiations concerning the conditions of allegiance had ended, and all of the audience were unanimously agreed to ratify it, two men of the early generation of converts who had embraced islam in the eleventh and twelfth years rose to their feet to apprise the others of the serious step they were about to take so that they could give their pledge fully aware of the whole affair and consequently be ready for the sacrifice they were expected to make. al ‘abbas bin ubada bin nadlah, in this context, remarked: "o you people of khazraj! do you know the significance of the pact that you are entering into with this man? you are in fact avowing that you will fight against all and sundry. if you fear that your property will be at stake or the lives of your nobles will be endangered, then leave him now, because if you do this after the pledge, it will be degrading for you both in this world and the world to come. but if you think that you can carry out what you are called upon to do in spite of the loss of precious lives and property, then undertake this heavy responsibility, and i swear by allâh, that herein lies the good of this world and that of the next."
they replied, "we have already considered the loss of property and the murder of our notables, yet we pay him allegiance. but what is our reward if we observe all the items of this pact?" the prophet replied: "paradise is in store for you." then they asked him to stretch out his hand, and they all stretched out their hands and took the pledge. only at that time did as‘ad bin zurarah come to realize the people’s readiness for sacrifice in the cause of allâh. [ibn hisham 1/446]
on the authority of jabir, who said: "when we started to pay allegiance to the prophet [pbuh], as‘ad bin zurarah stood up and gave the following short address: "take it easy people of yathrib! we have not covered that long distance except because we have had deep belief that he (muhammad [pbuh]) is the messenger of allâh. we are already convinced that following him entails departure from the pagan arabs even if it were at the risk of our life. should you preserve in this course, holdfast to it, and your great reward is placed in the hand of allâh, but if you are caught in fear, i admonish you to give it up just now, and then you would be more excusable by allâh." [musnad ahmad]
with respect to the two women, the pledge was taken orally for the prophet [pbuh] had never shaken hands with a strange lady. [muslim 2/131]
the prophet [pbuh] then asked the group to appoint twelve deputies to preach islam to their people in madinah, to shoulder the responsibility of implementing the articles of this pledge and to guide the respective men of their own tribes in matters relating to the propagation of islam. the deputies elected were nine from al-khazraj: as‘ad bin zurarah bin ‘ads, sa‘d bin ar-rabi‘ bin ‘amr, ‘abdullah bin rawahah bin tha‘labah, rafi‘ bin malik bin al-‘ajlan, al-bara’ bin ma‘rur bin sakhr, ‘abdullah bin ‘amr bin haram, ‘ubadah bin as-samit bin qais, sa‘d bin ‘ubadah bin dulaim and al-mundhir bin ‘amr bin khunais. three others were from al-aws: usaid bin hudair bin sammak, sa‘d bin khaithamah bin al-harith and rifa‘a bin ‘abdul mundhir bin zubair. once again, those twelve men were sworn to act as surety over the affairs of their people just as the christ’s disciples did, and the prophet would act as surety over his people, meaning all the muslims.
somehow or other, the news of these secret desert meetings with the madinese leaked out. the prophet immediately knew that it was a certain pudgy ugly devil, inhabited in al-‘aqabah, who discovered their meeting, and he threatened to settle his account with him as soon as possible.
on hearing this, al-‘abbas bin nadlah said "by allâh, who has sent you in truth, we are powerful enough to put the people of mina (the quraishites) to our swords tomorrow, if you desire." the prophet [pbuh] said "we have not been commanded to follow that course. now, back to your camps." they went back to sleep till morning. [ibn hisham 1/448]
no sooner did quraish hear of this treaty than a kind of trouble-provoking tumult began to mushroom in all directions. they realized quite fully that an allegiance of this sort is bound to produce far-reaching ramifications of direct impact on their lives and wealth. the following day, a large delegation comprising the leaders and arch-criminals of makkah set out for the camp of the madinese to protest severely against the treaty. they addressed the madinese: "o people of khazraj, it transpired to us that you have come here to conclude a treaty with this man (muhammad) and evacuate him out of makkah. by allâh, we do really hold in abhorrence any sort of fight between you and us." [ibn hisham 1/448]
the madinese polytheists having known nothing about the secretly taken pledge, began to swear by allâh and answered in good faith that there was no truth in the report. ‘abdullah bin ubai bin salul, a madinese polytheist, refuted their allegations denouncing them as null and void, claiming that his people would never initiate anything unless he gave them clear orders.
the madinese muslims, however, remained silent neither negating nor confirming. the quraishite leaders seemed to be almost convinced by the arguments presented by the polytheists, and went back home frustrated. however, they did not fully acquiesce in the words they heard. they began to scrutinize the smallest details, and trace the minutest news till it was established beyond a shadow of doubt that the pact did take place, but that was after the madinese pilgrims had left makkah. in a fit of rage, they pursued the pilgrims but did not succeed in catching hold of anyone except sa‘d bin ‘ubadah. they subjected him to unspeakable tortures, but he was later rescued by al-mut‘im bin ‘adi and harith bin harb bin omaiya with whom he had trade relations. [za'd al-ma'ad 2/51,52; ibn hisham 1/448-450]
that is the story of the second ‘aqabah pledge, later known as the great ‘aqabah pledge, effected in an atmosphere of love, allegiance and mutual support between madinese believers and weak makkan muslims. this new spirit of affection, rapport and cooperation could never be attributable to a fleeing whim, on the contrary, it totally derived from an already deeply-established approach, viz. belief in allâh, his messenger and his book. it was a belief so rooted in the selves that it managed to stand immune to all powers of injustice and aggression, and could be translated into miracles in the practical aspects of action and ideology pursuit. that sort of belief was the real instrument for the muslims to record in the annals of history unprecedented breakthroughs. we are also sure that the future will always remain wanting as regards those great achievements carried out by those great men.