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The First Signs of Victory in Yathrib

3826 2008/08/06 2024/06/14

muhammad did not have to wait more than a few years before the first signs of victory began to loom on the horizon, in the direction of yathrib. muhammad was related to yathrib in ways other than trade. he had relatives in yathrib. moreover, in yathrib was his father's grave. in yathrib lived banu al najjar, uncle of his ancestor 'abd al muttalib, and hence his relative. to that grave, aminah, the loyal wife, as well as `abd al muttalib, the father who lost his son at the very height of his youth and power used to come for yearly visits. muhammad himself accompanied his mother to yathrib when he was six years old and visited his father's grave with her. on their way back to makkah, his mother, aminah, fell ill and died and was buried at al abwa' midway between yathrib and makkah. it was no surprise to muhammad that the first sign of victory came from a town to which he was so closely associated, a town which stood in the direction of al aqsa mosque in jerusalem, toward which he prayed and where stood the shrines of his two predecessors, moses and jesus. no wonder that circumstances prepared the town of yathrib for this great destiny that muhammad might achieve victory therein and that it might become the capital from which islam was to conquer and to spread over the world.

al aws, al khazraj, and the jews

for this illustrious career, the town of yathrib was better fitted than any other. both al aws and al khazraj were idolaters sharing their town with the jews whom they hated and often fought, and were hated and fought by them. history relates that the christians of al sham who then belonged to the dominant church in the east roman empire hated the jews very strongly, regarding them as the crucifiers and torturers of jesus. these christians had raided yathrib in the past for the express purpose of killing its jewish citizens. when they could not succeed, they sought the assistance of al aws and al khazraj in order to draw the jews of madinah into their trap. such a plan was responsible for the death of many a jew and deprived the jewish community of its dominion and power within the city. it also raised al aws and al khazraj to a position of power greater than that which trade relations with the byzantines had hitherto established for them. history further relates that once more the madinese tried to destroy jewish power in their city in order to extend their possessions and influence, and that they had succeeded. the surviving jews hated al aws and al khazraj deeply. enmity was hence deeply rooted in the hearts of both. however, the followers of moses were quick to realize that they neither had the power nor the numbers needed to meet force with force, and that continuation of such adventures would in the end result in their own extermination should al aws and al khazraj ever find allies among their own coreligionists in arabia. hence they changed their tactics and, instead of victory in battle, they sought to divide and separate al aws from al kharzaj and cause the two tribes to hate and fight each other. in this they succeeded far better, for the two tribes were soon at each other's throats. through the continuing hostility of the two arab tribes, the jews secured their position, increased their trade and wealth, and reestablished the dominion, possession, and prestige which they had once enjoyed.

the jews' spiritual influences

besides this competition for power and dominion, there is a sphere in which the jews exerted greater influence upon al aws and al khazraj than they had over any other tribe of arabia. that is the realm of the spirit. as adherents of a monotheistic faith, the jews had been castigating their idolatrous neighbors for worshipping at the feet of idols which they took to be intercessors for them with god. the jews had been threatening them with the prediction that soon a prophet would arise among the arabs who would destroy them and ally himself to the jews. nonetheless, they did not succeed in judaizing the arabs for two reasons: the first was that perpetual enmity between christianity and judaism did not allow the jews to entertain any hope of political dominion in yathrib. to realize for themselves a measure of security and prosperity through trade was the highest desideratum to which they would aspire. the second was that the jews had thought of themselves as god's chosen people and objected that any other people might share with them such favored position. they do not missionarize their faith, for they do not wish for it to include other than their own people, the children of israel. this notwithstanding, neighborliness and trade between arab and jew enabled al aws and al khazraj to become more familiar with and more prepared for spiritual and religious discussion than other tribes. the evidence of this preparation is in the fact that nowhere had the arabs responded to muhammad's spiritual call with the same understanding and enthusiasm.

suwayd ibn al samit

suwayd ibn al samit was one of the noblest men of yathrib. his people called him "the perfect" for his bravery, his eloquent poetry, his great honor, and his noble lineage. during this period suwayd, who came to makkah for pilgrimage, was approached by muhammad, who called him unto god and islam. suwayd said, "perhaps what you have, muhammad, is like that which i have." muhammad answered, "what is it that you have?" he answered, "the wisdom of luqman." muhammad asked him to explain this wisdom, and after hearing him, he said: "your words are good, but those which i have are even better. for they are a qur'an revealed by god to me as light and guidance." he read to him the qur'an and called him to islam. suwayd was pleased with what he heard, and said: "that is indeed good." when he left muhammad, he was in deep thought; there are reports that when al khazraj killed him he had already become a muslim.

iyas ibn mu'adh

suwayd ibn al samit was not the only example of the spiritual influence of the jews upon the arabs of yathrib. the jews had not only instigated the enmity of al aws for al khazraj and vice versa, but fanned its flames as well. this enmity caused each of the two hostile tribes to seek alliances with other tribes to consolidate its power. it was in search of an alliance from the quraysh against al khazraj that abu al haysar anas ibn rafi` came to makkah with a number of men from banu `abd al ashhal, including iyas ibn mu'adh. after muhammad heard of their arrival, he visited with them for a while, calling them unto islam and reading to them the qur'an. when he finished, iyas ibn mu'adh, still young and of tender age, rose and said:"0 my people, this is by god far better than your religion." the delegation returned to yathrib with one convert to islam, namely iyas. apparently, they were too busy to listen attentively to muhammad's preaching and too preoccupied with their war preparations. upon the return of abu al haysar and his delegation from makkah, al aws engaged them in the war of bu'ath where both parties suffered grave losses. nonetheless, the words of muhammad-may god's peace be upon him-left such a deep impression upon them that both al aws and al khazra. carte to see in muhammad a prophet, a messenger of god, and a worthy spiritual leader.


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