Tolerance Together With Mercy
It was not only mercy that the Prophet (pbuh) kindly showed towards disbelievers and opponents. What outshone mercy was the tolerance that the Prophet (pbuh) established towards all non-Muslims, which opened for humanity new vistas of benevolence, amity, and peaceful coexistence. Tolerance was woven into the fabric of Islam, practiced from the dawn of the Prophet’s mission and traced all along his history, and at the most critical moments of his blessed journey.
After receiving the Divine Revelation in Hira’ Cave, the Messenger of Allah( pbuh) hurried back home to his wife Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her), his noble body shivering and his heart beating hard. He (pbuh) just said, “Cover me! Cover me!”
Lady Khadijah comforted him and, after listening to the incident that occurred in the cave, she supported him with the words of the first believer. Then she accompanied him to her paternal cousin, Waraqah bin Nawfal bin Asad bin ‘Abdul ‘Uzza bin Qusai t. He was a blind old man who embraced Christianity in the pre-Islamic time. He used to write in Hebrew and write from the Gospel in Hebrew as much as Allah willed for him to write. She said, “O my cousin, listen to your nephew.”
Waraqah said to him, “O my nephew, what have you seen?”
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) recounted to him what he had seen.
Waraqah said to him, “This is the same Namus (the Angel entrusted with Divine Secrets, i.e. Gabriel u) whom Allah had sent to Musa (Moses (pbuh)). Would that I were young and could live until the time when your people will turn you out.”
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) asked, “Will they turn me out?”
Waraqah replied, “Yes, never did a man come with the like of what you have come with but he was treated with hostility. If I should live to see that day, I would support you strongly.”1
A short while later, this venerable Christian who possessed knowledge of the Scriptures died after giving the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) the glad tidings: he is surely the Prophet of the time.
Persecution of the Muslims started after the open preaching of Islam, near the middle or end of the fourth year of prophethood. It began slowly at first, but steadily escalated and kept worsening day by day and month by month until, in the middle of the fifth year, it became intolerable and Muslims could no longer endure living in Makkah.
They began to seriously think of a way out from this intolerable sufferance.
Amid such hard times, Surat Az-Zumar was revealed, ushering the way to emigration and declaring that the Land of Allah was spacious.
(For those who do good in this world is good, and the earth of Allah is spacious. Indeed, the patient will be given their reward without account.)
(Az-Zumar 39: 10)
If they could not worship Allah in one place, they could go to another.2
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said to his followers, who were suffering persecution and afflictions he could not protect them from, “If only you set out to the land of Abyssinia, for in it is a king with whom none is wronged; and it is a land of truth, until Allah makes for you a way out of your suffering.”3
This was the first Islamic immigration to the Christian land of Abyssinia, which the Prophet (pbuh) described as “a land of truth.” It was ruled by the Negus, a Christian king, whom the Prophet (pbuh) described as “a just king” who never wronged or mistreated any of his subjects.
A group of twelve men and four women left for Abyssinia, in Rajab of the fifth year of prophethood, led by ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan t. In his company was his wife Ruqaiyah (the Prophet’s daughter, may Allah be pleased with her).
They moved out of Makkah under the cover of darkness and headed for the sea where two merchant ships were sailing to Abyssinia – their destination.
News of their departure reached the ears of the Quraish and men were dispatched in their pursuit. But the believers had already left Shuaibah Port for their secure haven, where they were received warmly and accorded due hospitality.4
The second emigration was larger yet more difficult. The Quraish was on the alert and tried to thwart any attempt of escape. The Muslims were faster, and Allah removed all obstacles along the way.
This time the group of emigrants comprised three hundred and eighty men and eighteen or nineteen women.5
The incident of their immigration to Abyssinia and the hospitality of the Negus was narrated by Umm Salamah (may Allah be pleased with her), the Prophet’s wife, who said:
We stayed with his hospitality in the best land, with the best neighbor (the Negus). By Allah, we remained so until there came a man who contended with him for sovereignty. By Allah, we have never experienced greater grief than that which we felt at that time, for fear that he might conquer the Negus, and then there would come (as a sovereign) a man who would not acknowledge our rights (as refugees) as the Negus did.
The Negus marched onward (to meet the enemy) and between them was the broad Nile. The Companions of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, “Would a man go to attend the combat and bring us the news?” Az-Zubair bin Al-‘Awam, who was the youngest among the people, said, “I (will go).” They blew up a waterskin for him to use as a float, which he placed on his chest and swam over until he reached the Nile bank, where the encounter occurred between the people. Then he proceeded until he witnessed them. We supplicated Allah to grant victory to the Negus over his enemy and to give him power in his country. He did maintain full control over Abyssinia, and in his hospitality we lived in the best abode until we came back to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) in Makkah.6
In return, when the delegation of the Negus came to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), Abu Umamah t narrated that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) rose to serve them himself.
His Companions said, “We shall suffice (serve) instead of you, O Messenger of Allah,” but he said, “They were hospitable towards my Companions and I love to suffice them (myself).”7
Quranic Ayat were revealed regarding the Negus and his companions, who, when they heard the Qur’an, recognized the Words of their Lord and their eyes overflowed with tears because of the truth they recognized.8
Allah Almighty says:
(Verily, you will find the strongest among men in enmity to the believers the Jews and those who associate others with Allah, and you will find the nearest in love to the believers those who say, “We are Christians 9.” That is because among them are priests and monks, and they are not proud. And when they listen to what has been sent down to the Messenger, you see their eyes overflowing with tears because of the truth they have recognized. They say, “Our Lord, we believe; so write us down among the witnesses.”)
(Al-Ma’idah 5: 82-83)
Upon the death of the Negus, the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Today a righteous man has died. Get up and offer Salah (Funeral Prayer) for your brother Ashamah.”10
Persecution grew more and more ferocious as the Islamic Call gained momentum. Opposition erupted and forces of evil allied to curb Islam and kill its Prophet (pbuh). With hardships encircling him, the momentous event finally came and the Prophet (pbuh) received permission from his Lord to emigrate from Makkah to Al-Madinah.
Hijrah (emigration) was a journey fraught with danger, commanding the utmost secrecy and caution. Among the necessary preparations was hiring a skilled guide, well acquainted with desert routes, to show the Prophet (pbuh) and Abu Bakr t the way to Al-Madinah.
It was a role certainly precarious for a traveler whom the Quraish wanted dead at any price, in a journey that was later on used as the starting date of the Islamic era.11
In this pivotal journey in the history of Islam, which ushered in the foundation of the first Muslim State, the Prophet (pbuh) and his journey Companion, Abu Bakr t, entrusted the reins of their camel to a man called ‘Abdullah bin Ariqt, from the tribe of Banu Ad-Dail. He was an idol-worshiper, a follower of the religion of the infidels of Quraish.
Lady ‘Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated:
The Prophet (pbuh) and Abu Bakr hired a man from the tribe of Banu Ad-Dail, from the family of Banu ‘Abd bin ‘Adi, as a guide. He was an expert guide. He was under an oath he took in alliance with the family of Al-‘Asi bin Wail and followed the religion of the infidels of Quraish. The Prophet (pbuh) and Abu Bakr t trusted him and gave him their riding camels.
They agreed with him to meet at Thawr Cave after three nights. He brought them their two riding camels in the morning following the three nights. They both (the Prophet (pbuh) and Abu Bakr t) departed accompanied by ‘Amir bin Fuhaira and the guide from Ad-Dail, who took them through the lower part of Makkah – across the coastal road.12
This choice, full of reliance on Allah Almighty, demonstrated confidence in and tolerance towards not only the People of the Scripture, which is only natural for Islam is the continuity of Judaism and Christianity, but also towards infidels, by the just and discerning look of a merciful Prophet (pbuh) who appreciated the skilled and loyal among them, and even hired them if necessity called for it.
This is the tolerance that Islam preaches towards non-Muslims as long as they do not fight against Islam and Muslims and do not chase them or aid others in chasing them out of their land, in which case it is forbidden. Allah Almighty says:
(Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes, from being kind towards them and acting justly towards them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly. Allah only forbids you from those who fight you because of religion and expel you from your homes and aid in your expulsion – (forbids) that you make allies of them. And whoever makes allies of them, then it is those who are the wrongdoers.)
(Al-Mumtahinah 60: 8-9)
- Narrated by Lady ‘Aishah: Sahih Al-Bukhary, Book of Bid’ Al-Wahy, Hadith no. 3; similar versions of the Hadith are also reported by Al-Bukhary (4572, 6467), Muslim (231), and Ahmad (24681, 24768).
- Safi-ur-Rahman Mubarakpuri, Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum, Second Phase (Open Preaching): The First Emigration to Abyssinia (Ethiopia).
- Ibn Hisham, As-Sirah An-Nabawiyyah, The First Emigration to Abyssinia. vol. 1; Al-Hafiz Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidaya wa An-Nihaya (The Beginning and The End), vol. 3.
- Safi-ur-Rahman Mubarakpuri, Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum, Second Phase (Open Preaching): The First Emigration to Abyssinia.
- Safi-ur-Rahman Mubarakpuri, Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum, Second Phase (Open Preaching): The Second Emigration to Abyssinia.
- Musnad Ahmad, Book of Ahlul Bait, Hadith no. 1649; a similar version of the Hadith is also reported by Ahmad (21460).
- Al-Hafiz Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidaya wa An-Nihaya, vol. 3.
- Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol. 2, and Muhammad ‘Ali As-Sabuni, Safwat At-Tafasir, vol. 1, interpretation of Surat Al-Ma’idah [5: 82].
- Nasara (translated as Christians): The equivalent of Nasara in English is supporters. The verb of “Ansar” is Nasara, which means, “supported, aided, helped, sided with... etc.” Thus, “Ansar” means “supporters.” The specific meaning of the word “Nasara” when used to refer to the Christians is the Supporters of Jesus r on the Way to Allah, which means ultimately the Supporters of Allah, to Whom Jesus r was calling people. [Definition is excerpted from the Journal of the Society for Qur’anic Studies: Dr Louay Fatoohi & Dr Shetha Al-Dargazelli].
- Narrated by Jabir bin ‘Abdullah: Sahih Al-Bukhary, Book of Al-Manaqib, Hadith no. 3588; similar versions of the Hadith are also reported by Al-Bukhary (1236), Muslim (1583, 1584), An-Nasa’y (1944, 1947), and Ahmad (13635, 13911, 14434, 14754).
- The Islamic era did not start with the birth or the death of the Prophet r, or with the Divine Revelation itself, or with the victories of Islam. It started with Hijrah or sacrifice for the cause of Truth; an event that reminds Muslims every year not of the pomp and glory of Islam, but rather of its sacrifice, and prepares them to do the same. [adapted from Al-Nadwi]
- Sahih Al-Bukhary, Book of Al-Ijarah (Hiring), Hadith no. 2103; similar versions of the Hadith are also reported by Al-Bukhary (2104, 3616).