subsequently, muhammad commanded his companions to follow al ansar [literally, "the helpers," the name given by muhammad to the first muslims of madinah who gave assistance to the cause at the time of its greatest peril. later on, the name was to apply to all the muslims of madinah in contrast to al muhajirun-literally, "the emigrants"-applied to those muslims of makkah who emigrated before or after the prophet to madinah. -tr.] in yathrib. he ordered them to exit from makkah in very small groups so that they would not give cause to quraysh to suspect or attack them. the muslims began their exodus individually or in small groups. when the quraysh realized what they were about, it began to return those whom it could catch to makkah to suffer punishment and torture. this makkan countermeasure was carried out with such zeal and determination that man and wife were separated whenever a pair wanted to exit from makkah. those who disobeyed were locked up in jail. but the quraysh could not do more, fearful as they were of alienating the tribes by killing their muslim members and thereby adding to their list of enemies. the muslims, nonetheless, continued to exit from makkah and to emigrate to yathrib. muhammad remained where he was, nobody knowing whether he, too, was planning to emigrate or not. none suspected him. previously, he had permitted his companions to emigrate to abyssinia without going there himself; he had stayed behind and continued to call the makkans to islam. indeed, even abu bakr asked the prophet for permission to emigrate to yathrib. the prophet advised, "do not hurry; perhaps god may yet give you a companion for your trip." no more was said regarding this matter.
the quraysh and the prophet's emigration
all this notwithstanding, the quraysh were quite apprehensive lest the prophet himself emigrate to yathrib. the muslims in that city had become so numerous that the dominion of the city was almost theirs. the muhajirun,[literally, "the helpers," the name given by muhammad to the first muslims of madinah who gave assistance to the cause at the time of its greatest peril. later on, the name was to apply to all the muslims of madinah in contrast to al muhajirun-literally, "the emigrants"-applied to those muslims of makkah who emigrated before or after the prophet to madinah. -tr.] who were arriving at yathrib in numbers, consolidated and increased muslim power. should muhammad himself go there, the quraysh feared that under his wise and farsighted leadership and persistence, the people of yathrib might even seek to attack makkah or, at least, to cut off their trade route to al sham. if this should ever become a real possibility, the muslims would avenge the boycott and isolation of the muslims in kind by cutting off the makkan trade routes.
on the other hand, even if the quraysh were to succeed in keeping muhammad in makkah and thus prevent him from joining his companions, the quraysh were still exposed to the danger of the people of yathrib's attacking them in defense of their prophet. hence, the quraysh decided that there was really no alternative but to kill muhammad and get rid of this persistent trouble once and for all. but in case they did succeed in killing him, banu hashim and banu al muttalib would surely seek to avenge his blood, and the civil war which they feared so much would break out within makkah and bring a greater danger than that which they feared might come from the side of yathrib. in al nadwah, their community house, the quraysh gathered in order to find a means and solution. one of them suggested, "let us catch muhammad and lock him up in jail. then, wait to see happen to him that which has happened to other possessed people and poets like zuhayr, al nabighah, and others." this view found no supporters. another suggested, "let us carry him out of our country and banish him and then forget about him altogether." this, too, found no supporters because the quraysh feared that muhammad might then join his followers in yathrib and lead them against makkah frightful possibility, indeed. finally, they concluded that the best solution is that each one of their clans delegate a strong youth and arm him with a sharp sword so that all these delegates can kill muhammad together in one stroke; therefore, responsibility for his death would be equally divided among all, thus making vengeance on the part of banu `abd manaf virtually impossible. the clan of muhammad would then be forced to accept his bloodwit, and the quraysh would put an end to this instigator who had rent its unity and sapped its power. the quraysh thought well of this counsel and carefully chose their executioners. they expected that the story of muhammad was soon to come to a close, that his cause would soon be buried and forgotten, and that those who had migrated to yathrib would soon return to their tribe, their former religion and gods, and that quraysh would resume the unity and leadership which it had almost lost.