as the number of the prophet's followers increased so the enemies of the muslims grew more and more angry. at last some of the muslims decided to go to another country in order to live in peace. it was only five years since the archangel gabriel had first come to the prophet (pbuh) and two years since the prophet (pbuh) had spoken out in public. the muslims asked the prophet (pbuh) to allow them to leave mecca. he agreed, saying 'it would be better for you to go to abyssinia. the king there is a just man and it is a friendly country. stay there until allah makes it possible for you to return. the muslims prepared for the journey. they decided to wait until night so that they could leave without being seen. the first sixteen left mecca and, after reaching the shore of the red sea, crossed over to abyssinia. another eighty-three men and nineteen women followed, all hoping to be welcomed by the king and people of that country. this was the first hijrah, or migration, in islam.
the meccans were furious when they discovered that these muslims had secretly left the city for among them were the sons and daughters of many of the leading families of mecca.
the anger of the meccans was even greater when they found out that the muslims had been warmly welcomed in abyssinia. the leaders of quraysh decided to send two men to the abyssinian king in hopes of persuading him to send the muslims back. these were 'amr ibn al-'as, a very clever speaker, and 'abd allah ibn abi rabi'ah. before they met this king, they gave each of his advisers a gift, saying: 'some foolish men from our people have come to hide in your country. our leaders have sent us to your ruler to persuade him to send them back, so when we speak to the king about them, do advise him to give them up to us.' the advisers agreed to do what the meccans wished.
amr ibn al-'as and 'abd allah ibn abi rabi'ah then went to the king and presented him also with a gift, saying: 'your highness, these people have abandoned the religion we have always followed in mecca,
but they have not even become christians like you.' the royal advisers, who were also present, told the king that the meccans had spoken the truth and that he should send the muslims back to their own people. at this, the king became angry and said, 'no, by god, i will not give them up. those who have come to ask for my protection, settled in my country, and chosen me rather than others, shall not be betrayed. i will summon them and ask them about what these two men have said. if the muslims are as the meccans say, i will give them up and send them back to their own people, but if the meccans have lied i will protect the muslims.' 'amr was very upset by this for the last thing he wanted was for the king to hear what the muslims had to say. the king then sent for the muslims. when they entered, they did not kneel before him as was the custom of the abyssinians. 'why do you not kneel before our king?' they were asked by one of the advisors. 'we kneel only to allah', they replied.
so the king asked them to tell him about their religion.
ja'far ibn abi talib, ali's brother and a cousin of the prophet (pbuh), was chosen to speak for the muslims. he replied, Ɔ king, at first we were among the ignorant. we and our ancestors had turned from the faith of abraham, who, with ishmael, rebuilt the ka'bah and worshipped only allah. we used idols in our worship of allah; we ate meat that had not been killed in the right way; we did not respect the rights of our neighbors; the strong took advantage of the weak. we did terrible things of which i dare not speak. this was our life until allah sent a messenger from among us, one of our relatives, whom we have always known to be honest, innocent, and faithful. he asked us to worship only allah, and to give up the bad customs of our forefathers. he asked us to be truthful and trustworthy, to respect and help our neighbors, to honor our families, and to put a stop to our bad deeds and endless fighting. he asked us to look after orphans. he ordered us not to slander or speak evil of women or men.
he ordered us to worship allah alone and not to worship anyone or anything else alongside him. he ordered us to pray, to give alms, and to fast. we believe he is right and therefore we follow him and do as he has commanded us.
the meccans began to attack us and come between us and our religion. so we had to leave our homes and we have come to you, hoping to find justice.'
the king, who was a christian, was moved by these words. 'amr had to think quickly of a way to win the argument. cunningly he said to the king, 'these people do not believe in jesus in the same way as you'. the king then wanted to know what the prophet (pbuh) had said about jesus. ja'far replied by reciting a surah from the koran which tells the story of jesus and his mother mary. these are a few of the lines he recited:
in the name of allah, the beneficent, the merciful
"and make mention of mary in the scripture,
when she had withdrawn from her people to an eastern place, and had chosen seclusion from them. then we sent unto her our spirit and it assumed for her the likeness of a perfect man. she said: lo! i seek refuge in the beneficent one from thee, if thou fearest god. he said: i am only a messenger of thy lord, that i may bestow on thee a faultless son. she said: how can i have a son when no mortal hath touched me, neither have i been unchaste? he said: 'even so thy lord saith: it is easy for me. and (it will be) that we may make of him revelation for mankind and a mercy from us, and it is a thing ordained. and she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a far place. then she brought him to her own folk, carrying him. they said: o mary! thou hast come with an monstrous thing. oh sister of aaron! thy father was not a wicked man nor was thy mother a harlot. then mary pointed to the child (jesus); but they said, 'how can we speak to one who is still in the cradle, a young child?' he said, 'lo, i am allah's servant; he has given me the book,
and made me a prophet.
he has made me blessed, wheresoever i may be; and he has enjoined me to pray, and to give alms, so long as i live, and likewise to cherish my mother; he has not made me arrogant, unblest peace be upon me, the day i was born, and the day i die, and the day i am raised up alive!" (koran xix:16-33) . when the king heard this, his eyes filled with tears. turning to his advisers, he said, 'these words have surely come from god; there is very little to separate the muslims from the christians. what both jesus and muhammad, the messengers of allah, have brought comes from the same source.
so the muslims were given the king's permission to live peacefully in his country. 'amr was given back the gift he had presented to the king and the two meccans returned home, bitterly disappointed.