backing off is not an option
it is not in the nature of things that those who find themselves taking a stand against the truth accept defeat easily and abandon their attempts to suppress the cause they oppose.
hostility to the truth is often brutal, immoral, unyielding. if one imagines truth as a man, he would be of the honest, frank and straightforward type. trying to make any gains, big or small, by petty or devious means, would be totally alien to his nature.
truth also has a direct, clear and logical way of putting its case to the human mind. hence the difficulty its opponents find in resisting it is very great.
therefore, they often find an inescapable need to resort to vile and devious means. this is a slippery road: once started, there is no stopping. the only way out of this dilemma is for the opponents of the truth to give up: they can either follow the truth or acknowledge the fact that they are at variance with it and allow it to take its course.
the situation in makkah was growing more tense every day. the quraysh were waking up to the realization that the new faith was establishing its roots and gaining more recruits in all clans.
its followers belonged to all sectors of society. attempts to strike a compromise with the prophet proved to be of little value. persecution brought no results. the hard-line approach was gaining ground.
on the other hand, the prophet went on preaching his faith and conveying god's message. those who responded to him were keen to make it clear to their people that their new faith had a positive influence on life as a whole. they also made it clear that they were not prepared to barter their faith for the richest of prizes.
exodus to christian king
however, the prophet realized that no amount of persuasion or negotiation would make the leaders of makkah change their hostile attitude to islam, or convince them that they should take an objective look at it and judge it on its merits.
indeed, the makkans started to escalate their campaign of repression, subjecting the weaker muslims to much more torture and endless persecution. those of the prophet's companions who belonged to strong tribes and were assured of tribal protection were tormented by ridicule. nevertheless, islam was gaining more converts every day.
always a far-sighted and well informed leader, the prophet advised his companions to emigrate to abyssinia where the christian king, negus, was known for his abhorrence of injustice.
although the main reason for this exodus given by most historians is that the muslims were simply fleeing to save their lives, the move was certainly a very shrewd one, taken after a very careful consideration of the whole situation.
in his choice of a possible refuge for his companions, the prophet was keen to make sure that the muslims would not be substituting one kind of repression for another. since negus had gained a wide reputation for his justice, abyssinia was to be a second home for the islamic call.
the first emigrants after prophet lot
the first party of muslim emigrants to abyssinia consisted of 16 people, four of whom were women. the most notable figure among them was 'uthman ibn affan', who was to become the third caliph, and his wife ruqayyah, daughter of the prophet.
indeed, uthman was the first man ever to emigrate with his wife for no other reason than serving god's cause since prophet lot had emigrated many centuries earlier. those sixteen people managed to find a boat which carried them to their destination.
apparently, they were chased by the quraysh, who sought to force them to return but their pursuers arrived at the coast when the boat had already set sail. other parties of emigrants followed at frequent intervals.
those who were left in makkah might have been fewer than those who emigrated. that was a shrewd tactical move by the prophet which defused a potentially explosive situation.
to all appearances, the muslims who stayed in makkah did not constitute any threat to its social order. that was bound to weaken the argument of hard liners, who advocated a strong-fisted approach to the problem presented by islam.
an appeal to extradite the fugitives
the quraysh however, were utterly displeased that the muslims should be able to escape its tyranny and find peace and security in their new place of abode. a meeting was called to discuss the situation and it was resolved to send a delegation to negus requesting him to deport the muslims and send them back home.
amr ibn al-as was the head of a two- men delegation. he in particular was well known for his diplomatic skills. he carried with him many gifts with which he sought to make the atmosphere at negus's court favourable when he made his request.
amr's plan was to present everyone of the patriarchs who attended negus court with a fine gift of animal hide. feeling that he could rely on their help, he explained his mission saying:
a few drop-outs of our people have arrived in your land. having rebelled against our religion, they did not adopt yours. instead, they have come up with a new trend, unknown to you or to us. we have come as representatives of our leaders to request the king to extradite these fugitives. when we make this request to the king, we hope you will counsel him to grant it without going to the trouble of calling them and speaking to them. you will undoubtedly agree that their own people are better equipped to judge them fairly and to determine whether their creed is of any use.
the patriarchs promised amr and his friend their support. thus the ground was prepared for a quick decision by negus in favour of amr and his colleague.
when the two were admitted into court, they presented the king with a precious gift of superb camel hide. to him, that was the finest gift they could bring. he was so pleased with it that he immediately asked them to put their request.
nothing was more loathsome to the quraysh delegation that that negus should call the muslims in to present their case. hence, they emphasized that the muslims did not opt for christianity, negus own religion.
they also stressed that they were making their request on behalf of the fugitives' own parents and uncles who could not be expected, particularity in the arabian tribal society, to subject them to any harm. as they made their case, the patriarchs supported them, saying:
' certainly their people are best equipped to judge them. extradition is the proper course for the king to take in these circumstances.'
negus was very angry. he said:
' a group of people, who have sought my shelter, preferring me over everyone else, will not be summarily judged. i shall call them first and give them a chance to answer what these two have alleged about them. should i find these allegations true, i will extradite them. otherwise, they will certainly enjoy my protection.'
thus the scene was set for a great encounter. needless to say, the makkan delegation was very disappointed at negus's decision, but they could do nothing about it. they had to attend the court when the muslims were summoned.
the muslims consulted with one another when the king's messenger delivered to them an order to appear at court. they were unanimous that they would answer any questions put to them truthfully. they would state the whole truth as they had been taught by the prophet, regardless of what results it might produce.
when they were admitted into the king's presence, he was surrounded by his patriarchs. the atmosphere was awesome. however, he came straight to the point and asked them: 'what is this new religion over which you are in dispute with your own people and which is at variance with my own religion and with all other known religions?'
the muslims had chosen jafar ibn abi talib, the prophet's own cousin, as their spokesman. he put their case as follows:
in our recent past we were ignorant people: we worshipped idols, ate carrion, committed all sorts of sins, attached little value to maintaining good relations with our kinsfolk and behaved badly to our neighbours. our overruling maxim was that might was right. this continued to be our situation until god sent us, from among ourselves, a messenger whose good name, honesty, sincerity and integrity were well known to us. he called on us to believe in god, the one and only god, and to stop worshipping all idols which we and our forefathers used to worship alongside him. he commanded us always to speak the truth and be honest, to be good to our relatives and neighbours, to preserve life and shed no blood, to refrain from sin, perjury, robbing the property of orphans entrusted to our care, and making false accusations against honourable women. he also commanded us to devote our worship to god alone, ascribing to him no partners of any sort. he further commanded us to pray regularly, to give away certain purifying alms and to fast, etc. we gave him a favourable response, believed in him and gave him our full support. we followed these divine commandments he conveyed to us. we began to worship god alone, refraining from what he forbade us and accepting what he made lawful for us. our people, however, assaulted us and subjected us to physical torture to compel us to revert to idolatrous worship and to indulge in the sinful practices we used to indulge in. having been overpowered, oppressed and denied the freedom to choose our faith and practise it, we sought refuge in your country, choosing you in preference to all other rulers, hoping that in you refuge we would suffer no injustice.
negus asked jafar to read him a passage of the quran. jafar chose the opening of chapter 19, entitled mary, which speaks about the prophet zachariah and his son john before it goes on to relate the story of the virgin birth of jesus. negus and his patriarchs were in tears. then he said: 'what i have just heard comes from the same source as jesus' revelations.' he then dismissed the quraysh delegation and assured the muslims that they would have his full protection.
igniting flames between christianity and islam
certainly the quraysh delegation who tried to secure the extradition of the muslim refugees in abyssinia were in no mood to leave the muslims alone. having failed in their attempt to overcome negus's sense of justice by offering precious, personal gifts to him and his patriarchs, they began to think of some other more devious way to achieve their purpose.
as they left negus's court, amr ibn al-as, the more cunning of the two-men delegation, said to his colleague, ' i will come back to him tomorrow with something which would make him exterminate them all.' his colleague counselled him against such a step, protesting the fact that they were still their own kinsfolk.
the following day amr went back to negus and said to him: ' these people make a very wild claim about jesus. you may wish to question them on that.'
when the muslims realized the reason for their second summons to attend the king's court, they were alarmed. they resolved, however, to stick to the truth and put their case frankly and clearly. they would simply state what god's messenger had taught them, whatever the consequences.
jesus from the islamic perspective
some people may argue that in their delicate situation the muslims' stand might have been foolhardy. the situation called for a somewhat diplomatic stance. people of faith, however, consider such an argument to be short-sighted. truth, they argue, speaks louder and more frankly.
given a chance, it will always prevail. to the muslim refugees in abyssinia, the case was simply stating a fact revealed by god and conveyed by his messenger. evasion was unthinkable. moreover, evasion is alien to the nature of those who follow the truth.
jafar, the muslims' spokesman, therefore answered negus question about their view of jesus without hesitation: ' our view is that taught to us by our prophet: jesus is god's servant and messenger. he is his spirit and his word delivered unto virgin mary.'
negus picked a little stick from the floor and said: 'what you have just said about jesus does not go beyod the truth by the width of this stick.'
to the jeers and sneers of the patriarchs he replied: ' it is true, no matter what you say.' he then said to the muslims: 'you are safe in my land. whoever harms you will be brought to justice. i would not harm anyone of you for a mountain of gold.' he then ordered his patriarchs to return the gifts of the quraysh delegation.
but does the emigration of the prophet's companions to abyssinia was a highly significant event, which can be accurately described as the first major political move taken by the prophet rather than a mere desire to spare his companions the persecution inflicted by the quraysh? to be continued…