The Invasion of Tabuk
in rajab, in the year 9 a.h.
the invasion and the conquest of makkah was considered a decisive one between the truth and the error. as a result of which, the arabs had no more doubt in muhammad’s mission. thus we see that things went contrary to the pagans’ expectations. people started to embrace islam, the religion of allâh, in great numbers. this is manifested clearly in the chapter — the delegations, of this book. it can also be deduced out of the enormous number of people who shared in the hajjatul-wadâ‘ (farewell pilgrimage). all domestic troubles came to an end. muslims, eventually felt at ease and started setting up the teachings of allâh’s laws and intensifying the call to islam.
the underlying reasons
the byzantine power, which was considered the greatest military force on earth at that time, showed an unjustifiable opposition towards muslims. as we have already mentioned, their opposition started at killing the ambassador of the messenger of allâh [pbuh], al-harith bin ‘umair al-azdi, by sharhabeel bin ‘amr al-ghassani. the ambassador was then carrying a message from the prophet [pbuh] to the ruler of busra. we have also stated that the prophet consequently dispatched a brigade under the command of zaid bin haritha, who had a fierce fight against the byzantines at mu’tah. although muslim forces could not have revenge on those haughty overproud tyrants, the confrontation itself had a great impression on the arabs, all over arabia.
caesar — who could neither ignore the great benefit that mu’tah battle had brought to muslims, nor could he disregard the arab tribes’ expectations of independence, and their hopes of getting free from his influence and reign, nor he could ignore their alliance to the muslims — realizing all that, caesar was aware of the progressive danger threatening his borders, especially ash-sham-fronts which were neighbouring arab lands. so he concluded that demolition of the muslims power had grown an urgent necessity. this decision of his should, in his opinion, be achieved before the muslims become too powerful to conquer, and raise troubles and unrest in the adjacent arab territories.
to meet these exigencies, caesar mustered a huge army of the byzantines and pro-roman ghassanide tribes to launch a decisive bloody battle against the muslims.
general news about the byzantines and ghassanide preparations for war
no sooner news about the byzantine’s preparations for a decisive invasion against muslims reached madinah than fear spread among them. they started to envisage the byzantine invasion in the least sound they could hear. this could be clearly worked out of what had happened to ‘umar bin al-khattab one day.
the prophet [pbuh] had taken an oath to stay off his wives for a month in the ninth year of al-hijra. therefore, he deserted them and kept off in a private place. at the beginning, the companions of the messenger of allâh were puzzled and could not work out the reason for such behaviour. they thought the prophet [pbuh] had divorced them and that was why he was grieved, disturbed and upset. in ‘umar’s version of the very story he says: "i used to have a helper friend who often informed me about what happened if i weren’t present, and in return i always informed him of what had taken place during his absence. they both lived in the high part of madinah. both of them used to call at the prophet alternatively during that time of suspense. then one day i heard my friend, knock at the door saying: "open up! open up!" i asked wondering, "what’s the matter? has the ghassanide come?" "no it is more serious than that. the messenger of allâh [pbuh] has deserted his wives." [sahih al-bukhari 2/730]
in another version, ‘umar said, "we talked about ghassanide preparations to invade us. when it was his turn to convey the news to me, he went down and returned in the evening. he knocked at the door violently and said ‘is he sleeping?’ i was terrified but i went out to meet him. ‘something serious had taken place.’ he said. ‘has the ghassaindes arrived?’ said i. ‘no,’ he said, ‘it is greater and more serious. the messenger of allâh [pbuh] has divorced his wives.’" [sahih al-bukhari 1/334]
this state of too much alertness manifests clearly the seriousness of the situation that muslims began to experience. the seriousness of the situation was confirmed to a large degree by the hypocrites behaviour, when news about the byzantines’ preparations reached madinah. the fact that the messenger of allâh [pbuh] won all the battles he fought, and that no power on earth could make him terrified, and that he had always proved to be able to overcome all the obstacles that stood in his way - did not prevent the hypocrites, who concealed evil in their hearts, from expecting an affliction to fall upon the muslims and islam.
they used to harbour evil and ill-intentions against the whole process of islam and the muslims. on grounds of illusory hopes of destroying this great religious edifice, they erected a hotbed of conspiracy and intrigue in the form of a mosque — masjid-e-darar (the mosque of harm). they approached the prophet [pbuh] with the request that he should come and consecrate the place by praying in it himself. as he was at the moment about to start for tabuk, he deferred compliance with their request till his return. meanwhile he came to know through divine revelation that it was not a mosque for devotion and prayer but a meeting place for the anti-islamic elements. on his return, therefore, the prophet [pbuh] sent a party to demolish the new structure.
particular news about the byzantine and ghassanide preparations for war
a magnified image of the prominent danger threatening the muslims life was carried to them by the nabateans who brought oil from ash-sham to madinah. they carried news about heraclius’ preparations and equipment of an enormous army counting over forty thousand fighters besides lukham, judham and other tribes allied to the byzantines. they said that its vanguard had already reached al-balqâ’. thus was the grave situation standing in ambush for the muslims. the general situation was aggravated seriously by other adverse factors of too much hot weather, drought and the rough and rugged distance they had to cover in case they decided to encounter the imminent danger.
the messenger of allâh’s [pbuh] concept and estimation of the situation and its development was more precise and accurate than all others. he thought that if he tarried or dealt passively with the situation in such a way that might enable the byzantines to paddle through the islamic controlled provinces or to go as far as madinah, this would — amid these circumstances — leave the most awful impression on islam as well as on the muslims’ military credibility.
the pre-islamic beliefs and traditions (al-jahiliyah) which were at that time dying because of the strong decisive blow that they had already had at hunain, could have had a way to come back to life once again in such an environment. the hypocrites who were conspiring against the muslims so that they might stab them in the back whereas byzantines would attack them from the front. if such a thing came to light and they succeeded in their evil attempts, the prophet and his companions’ efforts to spread islam would collapse and their profits which were the consequences of successive and constant fights and invasions would be invalidated. the messenger of allâh [pbuh] realised all that very well. so — in spite of the hardships and drought that muslims were suffering from — the prophet [pbuh] was determined that the muslims should invade the byzantines and fight a decisive battle at their own borders. he was determined not to tarry at all in order to thwart any roman attempt to approach the land of islam.
when the messenger of allâh [pbuh] had made up his mind and took his final decision, he ordered his companions to get ready for war and sent for the makkans and the other arab tribes asking for their assistance.
contrary to his habit of concealing his real intention of the invasion by means of declaring a false one, he announced openly his intention of meeting the byzantines and fighting them. he cleared the situation to his people so that they would get ready, and urged them to fight in the way of allâh. on this occasion a part of surat bara’a (chapter 9 — the repentance) was sent down by allâh, urging them to steadfastness and stamina.
on the other hand, the messenger of allâh [pbuh] cherished them to pay charities and to spend the best of their fortunes in the way of allâh.
no sooner had the muslims heard the voice of the messenger of allâh [pbuh] calling them to fight the byzantines than they rushed to comply with his orders. with great speed they started getting ready for war. tribes and phratries from here and there began pouring in madinah. almost all the muslims responded positively. only those who had weakness at their hearts favoured to stay behind. they were only three people. even the needy and the poor who could not afford a ride came to the messenger of allâh [pbuh] asking for one so that they would be able to share in the fight against the byzantines. but when he said:
the muslims raced to spend out money and to pay charities to provide this invasion. ‘uthman, for instance, who had already rigged two hundred, saddled camels to travel to ash-sham, presented them all with two hundred ounces (of gold) as charity. he also fetched a thousand dinars and cast them all into the lap of the messenger of allâh [pbuh], who turned them over and said: "from this day on nothing will harm ‘uthman regardless of what he does." [jami' at-tirmidhi 2/211 (the virtues of 'uthman)] again and again ‘uthman gave till his charity toped to nine hundred camels and a hundred horses, besides the money he paid.
abdur rahman bin ‘awf, on his side, paid two hundred silver ounces, whereas abu bakr paid the whole money he had and left nothing but allâh and his messenger as a fortune for his family. ‘umar paid half his fortune. al-‘abbas gifted a lot of money. talhah, sa‘d bin ‘ubadah and muhammad bin maslamah, gave money for the welfare of the invasion. ‘asim bin ‘adi, on his turn, offered ninety camel-burdens of dates. people raced to pay little and much charities alike. one of them gave the only half bushel (or the only bushel) he owned. women shared in this competition by giving the things they owned; such as musk, armlets, anklets, ear-rings and rings. no one abstained from spending out money, or was too mean to grant money or anything except the hypocrites:
the muslim army is leaving for tabuk
upon accomplishing the equipment of the army, the messenger of allâh [pbuh] ordained that muhammad bin maslamah al-ansari should be appointed over madinah — in another version siba‘ bin ‘arftah. to ‘ali bin abu talib he entrusted his family’s safety and affairs and ordered him to stay with them. this move made the hypocrites undervalue ‘ali, so he followed the messenger of allâh [pbuh] and caught up with him. but the prophet made ‘ali turn back to madinah after saying: "would it not suffice you to be my successor in the way that aaron (harun) was to moses’?" then he proceeded saying: "but no prophet succeeds me."
on thursday, the messenger of allâh [pbuh] marched northwards to tabuk. the army that numbered thirty thousand fighters was a great one, when compared with the previous armies of islam. muslims had never marched with such a great number before.
despite all the gifts of wealth and mounts the army was not perfectly equipped. the shortage of provisions and mounts was so serious that eighteen men mounted one camel alternatively. as for provisions, members of the army at times had to eat the leaves of trees till their lips got swollen. some others had to slaughter camels — though they were so dear — so that they could drink the water of their stomach; that is why that army was called "the army of distress".
on their way to tabuk, the army of islam passed by al-hijr — which was the native land of thamud who cut out (huge) rocks in the valley; that is "al-qura valley" of today. they watered from its well but later the messenger of allâh [pbuh] told them not to drink of that water, nor perform the ablution with it. the dough they made, he asked them to feed their camels with. he forbade them to eat anything whatsoever of it. as an alternative he told them to water from that well which prophet salih’s she-camel used to water from.
on the authority of ibn ‘umar: "upon passing by al-hijr the prophet [pbuh] said:
then he raised his head up and accelerated his strides till he passed the valley out." [sahih al-bukhari 2/637]
shortage of water and the army’s need to it made them complain to the messenger of allâh [pbuh] about that. so he supplicated allâh, who sent a rainful cloud. it rained and so all people drank and supplied themselves with their need of water.
when they drew near tabuk, the prophet said: "if allâh will, tomorrow you will arrive at tabuk spring. you will not get there before daytime. so whoever reaches it should not touch its water; but wait till i come." mu‘adh said: "when we reached the spring it used to gush forth some water. we found that two men had already preceded us to it. the messenger of allâh [pbuh] asked them: ‘have you touched its water?’ they replied: ‘yes’. he said what allâh inspired him to say, then he scooped up little water of that spring, thin stream which gathered together, he washed his face and hand with it and poured it back into it; consequently plenty of water spouted out of it so people watered. ‘mu‘adh’, said the messenger of allâh, ‘if you were doomed to live long life you will see in here fields full of vegetation.’" [sahih muslim 2/246]
on the way to tabuk, or as soon as they reached tabuk, the messenger of allâh [pbuh] said: ‘severe wind will blow tonight, so none of you should stand up. whoever has a camel should tie it up.’ later on when the strong wind blew, one of the men stood up and the wind carried him away to tai’ mountain. [ibid. sahih muslim 2/246]
all the way long the messenger of allâh [pbuh] was intent on the performance of the combined prayer of noon and the afternoon; and so did he with sunset and evening prayers. his prayers for both were either pre-time or post-time prayers.
the army of islam at tabuk
arriving at tabuk and camping there, the muslim army was ready to face the enemy. there, the messenger of allâh [pbuh] delivered an eloquent speech that included the most inclusive words. in that speech he urged the muslims to seek the welfare of this world and the world to come. he warned and cherished them and gave them good tidings. by doing that he cherished those who were broken in spirits, and blocked up the gap of shortage and mess they were suffering from due to lack of supplies, food and other substances.
upon learning of the muslims’ march, the byzantines and their allies were so terrified that none of them dared set out to fight. on the contrary they scattered inside their territory. it brought, in itself, a good credit to the muslim forces. that had gained military reputation in the mid and remote lands of arabian peninsula. the great and serious political profits that the muslim forces had obtained, were far better than the ones they could have acquired if the two armies had been engaged in military confrontation.
the head of ailah, yahna bin rawbah came to the messenger of allâh [pbuh], made peace with him and paid him the tribute (al-jizya). both of jarba’ and adhruh peoples paid him tribute, as well. so the messenger of allâh [pbuh] gave each a guarantee letter, similar to yahna’s, in which he says:
the messenger of allâh [pbuh] dispatched khalid bin al-waleed at the head of four hundred and fifty horsemen to ‘ukaidir dumat al-jandal and said to him: "you will see him hunting oryxes." so when khalid drew near his castle and was as far as an eye-sight range, he saw the oryxes coming out rubbing their horns against the castle gate. as it was a moony night khalid could see ukaidir come out to hunt them, so he captured him — though he was surrounded by his men — and brought him back to the messenger of allâh [pbuh], who spared his life and made peace with him for the payment of two thousand camels, eight hundred heads of cattle, four hundred armours and four hundred lances. he obliged him to recognize the duty of paying tribute and charged him with collecting it from dumat, tabuk, ailah and taima’.
the tribes, who used to ally the byzantines, became quite certain that their dependence oinn their former masters came to an end. therefore they turned into being pro-muslims. the islamic state had therefore enlarged its borders to an extent that it, touched the byzantines’ and their agents’ borders. so we see that the byzantine agents role was over.
returning to madinah
the muslim army returned from tabuk victoriously, undeceived or wronged. that was because allâh had sufficed them the evils of fight.
on the way back and at a mountain road, twelve hypocrites sought the prophet’s life and that was while he was passing along that mountain road with only ammar holding the rein of his she-camel and hudhaifa bin al-yaman driving it, at the time that people had already gone down into the bottom of the valley.
the hypocrites seized that opportunity to seek the prophet’s life. as the messenger of allâh [pbuh] and his two companions were moving along, they heard thrusts of people coming towards him from behind with their faces veiled. hudhaifa, who was sent by the prophet to see what was going on, saw them and stroke their mounts’ faces with a crook in his hand and allâh cast fear into their hearts. they fled away and overtook their people.
however, hudhaifa named them to the messenger of allâh [pbuh] and informed him of their intentions. so that was why hudhaifa was called the "confidant" of the messenger of allâh [pbuh]. about this event allâh, the exalted says:
when his headquarters, madinah, began to loom at the horizon, the prophet [pbuh] said: "this is a cheerful sight. this is uhud, which is a mountain, we like it and it likes us." when the madinese learnt of their arrival they set out to meet the army. women, youths, youngsters and small children went out of town to celebrate their home-return wholeheartedly singing:
the messenger of allâh [pbuh] ’s march to tabuk was in rajab and his return in ramadan. so we see that this ghazwah took fifty days, twenty days of which were spent in tabuk and the others on the way to and fro. tabuk invasion was the last one made by the prophet [pbuh].
the people who lagged behind
due to its particular circumstances, this invasion was a peculiar severe trial provided by allâh only to try the believers’faith and sort them out of others. this is allâh’s permanent will in such circumstances. in this respect he says:
lagging and hanging back from full participation in that invasion amounted to the degree of hypocrisy. whenever the messenger of allâh [pbuh] was informed of a man’s lingering, he would say: "leave him alone! if allâh knows him to be good he will enable him to follow you; but if he were not so, allâh would relieve us of him."
nobody stayed behind except those who were either hindered by a serious excuse or the hypocrites who told lies to allâh and his messenger.
some of those hypocrites’ lingering was due to an excuse based on forgery and delusion. some others tarried but didn’t ask for an instant permission. but there were three believers who unjustifiably lingered. they were the ones whom allâh tried their faith, but later on he turned to them in mercy and accepted their repentance.
as soon as the messenger of allâh [pbuh] had entered madinah, he prayed two rak‘a then he sat to receive his people. the hypocrites who were over eighty men [fath al-bari 8/119] came and offered various kinds of excuses and started swearing. the prophet acknowledged their excuses and invoked allâh’s forgiveness for them but he entrusted their inner thoughts and faith to allâh.
as for the three faithful believers — ka‘b bin malik, murara bin ar-rabi‘, and hilal bin omaiyah — who favoured telling the truth, the messenger of allâh [pbuh] bade his companions not to talk to them.
consequently they were subject to a severe boycott and were excluded from the life of the community. everybody turned them their back. so they felt as if the whole land had become constrained to them in spite of its spaciousness and they felt awkward and uneasy. the hard times they lived and which lasted for over forty days were towered by an order to them to forsake their wives. after fifty days’ boycott allâh turned to them and revealed that in qur’ân:
allâh’s turning to them was a great joy for both muslims and the three concerned. the joy of the stayers behind was unaccountable in aim and degree. it was the happiest day in their lives. the good tiding cherished them and filled their hearts with delight. as for those who lingered due to disability or sickness or any other serious excuse, allâh, the exalted said about them:
when he approached madinah, the messenger of allâh [pbuh] said:
the invasion of tabuk and its far-reaching ramifications
the effect of this invasion is great as regards extending and confirming the muslims’ influence and domination on the arabian peninsula. it was quite obvious to everybody that no power but islam’s would live long among the arabs. the remainders of jahiliyin and hypocrites — who used to conspire steadily against the muslims and who perpetually relied on byzantine power when they were in need of support or help — these people lost their expectations and desires of ever reclaiming their ex-influence. realizing that there was no way out and that they were to submit to the fait accompli, they gave up their attempts.
from that time on, hypocrites were no longer treated leniently or even gently by the muslims. allâh not only bade muslims to treat them severely but he also forbade them to take their gift charities or perform prayer on their dead, or ask allâh’s forgiveness for them or even visit their tombs. allâh bade the muslims to demolish the mosque, which they verily appointed and used as a hiding place where they might practise their plots, conspiracy and deceit. some qur’ânic verses were sent down disclosing them publicly and utterly so that everybody in madinah got to know their reality.
the great impact that this invasion produced could be perceived in of the great number of delegations who came successively to meet the messenger of allâh [pbuh]. naturally, deputations used to come to meet him at the end of an invasion particularly after makkah conquest [ibn hisham 2/515-537; za'd al-ma'ad 3/2-13; sahih al-bukhari 2/633,635-637, 1/252, 414; fath al-bari 8/110-126; mukhtasar seerat ar-rasool p.391-407] but they were not as many as these nor were they as frequent as they were then in the wake of tabuk event. it was certainly the greatest.
the qur’ânic verses relating to this invasion
many a verse of bara’a (tauba) chapter handling the event of tabuk were revealed. some verses were revealed before the march, while others after setting out for tabuk, i.e. in the context of the battle. some other verses were also revealed on the prophet’s arrival in madinah. all of which covered the incidents that featured this invasion: the immanent circumstances of the battle, exposure of the hypocrites, the prerogatives and special rank earmarked for the strivers in the cause of allâh, acceptance of the repentance of the truthful believers who slackened and those who hung back, etc.
some important events that featured that year
during this year many events of great significance took place. they were: