The Covenant of `Aqabah
the first covenant of `aqabah
as the year passed and the holy months and the pilgrimage season returned, twelve men from yathrib set out for makkah. they met the prophet at al 'aqabah and entered with him into an alliance known as "the first covenant of al 'aqabah." in this covenant they agreed to adhere to the absolute unity of god, neither to steal nor to commit adultery, neither to kill their children nor knowingly to commit any evil, and not to fail to obey god in his commandment of any good. they were satisfied that, in case they succeeded in living the life of virtue and obedience, their reward would be paradise; otherwise, their judgment belonged to god, his being the power to punish as well as to forgive. on their return to yathrib, muhammad sent with them mus'ab ibn 'umayr to teach them the qur'an and the precepts of islam. after this covenant, islam spread in yathrib. mus'ab resided with the muslims of al aws and al khazraj and taught them the religion of god and the revelation of truth while their numbers increased with new converts every day. when the holy months returned, mus'ab traveled to makkah and reported to muhammad the progress of the muslims at madinah in solidarity and power and informed the prophet that a greater number of them, surpassing their predecessors in faith, would be arriving this season to perform the pilgrimage.
muhammad thinks of emigration
muhammad pondered the news which mus'ab had brought for a long time. he thought of his followers in yathrib who were increasing in number and power and who were progressing without let or hindrance from either jews or others, unlike their colleagues in makkah who suffered from quraysh at every turn. he thought of yathrib, the city of greater prosperity than makkah on account of its large fields, its orchards and vineyards. it must have occurred to him to ask whether it might not be better that the makkan muslims emigrate to yathrib, live with their coreligionists, and enjoy the security they missed so much at makkah. in all likelihood, he pondered the observation which a member of the first group of converts from yathrib once made, namely, that should al aws and al khazraj unite under him, he would be the strongest man in the country. was it not better, now that god had united them under him, that he, too, should consider to emigrate to yathrib? muhammad did not want to return the injuries of quraysh since he knew he was still weaker than they. as for his allies, banu hashim and banu al muttalib, it is one thing for them to come to his rescue as a sufferer of their injustice, but a totally different matter for them to support him in a war of aggression against the quraysh. he also pondered the fact that banu hashim and banu al muttalib were not really capable of protecting all the muslims in such an open war with quraysh. it is true that religious conviction is man's strongest and most precious possession, for which he is prepared to sacrifice wealth, peace, freedom and life itself. it is equally true that the nature of religious conviction is such that physical injury inflames as well as strengthens it. nonetheless, it is also true that persistence of injury, suffering, and sacrifice rob the believer of the possibility of the peaceful contemplation and precise vision necessary for the nourishment of faith and the deepening of man's awareness of ultimate reality. previously, muhammad had commanded his followers to emigrate to christian abyssinia because of its sound faith and just rule. there was all the more reason now to permit them to emigrate to yathrib, to strengthen and be strengthened by their fellow muslims in order to achieve a measure of peace and security against the evil designs of the enemy. there was all the more reason to ask them to do so in order to give them the chance to contemplate the religious truths, to cultivate their understanding, and to preach their faith to their fellow men. islam had ruled out coercion and propagated itself through gentleness, persuasion, and conviction by argument alone.
the second covenant of `aqabah
the year 622 c.e. saw a great number of pilgrims, seventy-three men and two women, from yathrib. when muhammad learned of their arrival, he thought of concluding another pact with them which would not be limited to the preaching of islam in the way followed during the last thirteen years. beyond the preaching of gentleness and forbearance and sacrifice under attack, the times and their present dangers called for an alliance by which the muslims would help one another to prevent as well as to repel injury and aggression. secretly muhammad contacted the leaders of the group and learned of their good preparation for a task such as this. they agreed to meet at al `aqabah during the night on the second day following the pilgrimage. the muslims of yathrib kept this appointment secret and did not inform the unbelievers among their own tribe. when the time came, they went to their rendezvous with the prophet, stealing themselves away under the cover of night. when they reached al `aqabah, men and women ascended the mountain and there awaited the arrival of the prophet.
muhammad arrived with his uncle al `abbas ibn `abd al muttalib. al `abbas, who had not yet converted to islam, knew from his nephew that this meeting was to conclude an alliance which might incite quraysh to a war of aggression as much as it was designed to achieve peace and security. muhammad had informed his uncle that together with some members of banu al muttalib and banu hashim he had agreed with the new group from yathrib that they would protect him personally. anxious to strengthen his nephew and people against a war whose losses might fall heavily upon banu hashim and banu al muttalib, al `abbas sought to make sure that among this group from yathrib he would find real helpers and allies. consequently, he was the first one to open the discussion. he said, "o men from khazraj, muhammad's eminence and prestige among us are known to you. we have protected him even against those of his own people who think as highly of him as we do. among us, he stands strong and secure. but he insists on joining your party. if you find yourselves capable of fulfilling toward him what you have promised, then you may proceed. but if you would betray him and send him over to his enemies once he has joined your party, you had better now say so and leave him alone." after hearing this speech of al `abbas, the men from yathrib said, "we have heard what you said, o `abbas," and turning to the prophet, they continued, "o prophet of god, speak out and choose for yourself and your lord what you desire."
muhammad, after reciting some verses from the qur'an, preached his faith in god in moving terms. he then said to the men from yathrib, "i covenant with you on the condition that you will protect me against all, just as you would protect your women and children." a1 bard' ibn ma'rur, who was chief of his people and their elder, had entered into islam after the first covenant of al `aqabah. since then he had been fulfilling all that islam required of him, except that he directed himself toward the ka'bah whenever he prayed. muhammad and all the muslims were in the practice of turning their faces toward al aqsa mosque in jerusalem. his disagreement with his people on the subject of the qiblah was brought to the attention of the prophet upon their arrival to makkah. the prophet enjoined al bara not to turn his face toward the ka'bah during prayer. nonetheless, it was the same al bara who first stretched forth his hand to covenant with the prophet when the latter asked for the protection that the people of yathrib were wont to give their women and children.
discussion before conclusion of the covenant
a1 bara said, "we have covenanted with you, o prophet of god. by god, we are men of many wars; we are men of the sword, having inherited it from father unto son." before al bard' finished his words, abu al haytham ibn al tayyihan said, "o prophet of god, there are pacts between us and some jews which we are going to denounce. should your cause succeed later or among your own tribe, would you return to them and leave us alone?" muhammad smiled and said, "no! rather, your blood is my blood and your destruction is my destruction. you are of me and i am of you. i shall fight whomsoever you fight and make peace with whomsoever you will make peace." the people were about to rise and give covenant to muhammad when al `abbas ibn `ubadah interrupted and said, "o men of khazraj ! are you fully aware of what you are about to covenant with this man? you are about to covenant with him to make war against all sorts of men without discrimination. if you have any fear that, should you lose your wealth and should your leaders fall by the sword, you might betray muhammad, say so now and withdraw from this covenant. for if you do not and then betray your oath, you will have lost this world as well as the next. but if you feel certain that you can stand by him and fulfill this oath, notwithstanding the loss of your property and the murder of your dear ones, then go ahead and covenant with him. he is, by god, the best gain in this world and in the next."
all the people present answered together, "we take him despite all threats to property, wealth and life. tell us, o prophet of god, what will be our reward' if we remain true to this oath?" with his usual self-reliance muhammad answered, "paradise." they stretched out their hands to him, and he to them, and the covenant was concluded. thereafter, the prophet said, "elect among yourselves twelve representative who will be responsible to me regarding your behavior and conduct." after they elected nine from al khazraj and three from al aws, the prophet addressed them in the following words: "you are the guarantors of your people, just as the disciples were guarantors of theirs before jesus, son of mary. i, for my part, am the guarantor of my people." such was their second covenant which included the words, "we have covenanted to listen and to obey in health and in sickness, in fortune and misfortune, to tell the truth wherever we might be and, at all times, to fear none in the cause of god."
all this had taken place in the middle of the night atop one of the hills of al `aqabah in perfect isolation from the surrounding world. only god, the covenanters felt certain, knew what they were about. no sooner had they terminated their meeting, however, than they heard a crier warning the quraysh in the following words, "muhammad and the apostates have covenanted to make war against you." the case of this, however, was unique. he had heard a little bit about the matter as he traveled to al `aqabah and, being a qurayshi and idolater, he thought of spoiling the arrangement of muhammad and of frightening the muslims by pretending everything the muslims did was known to their enemies. a1 khazraj and al aws, however, stood firm by their covenant. indeed, al `abbas ibn `ubadah told muhammad immediately after he heard the crier, "by god, who has sent you with the truth, if you order us to pounce upon mina tomorrow morning with our swords, we shall do so." muhammad answered, "god has not commanded us to fight. return to your quarters." the covenanters returned to their quarters and slept until the morning.
quraysh and the covenant of al `aqabah
the morrow had hardly come when the quraysh, learning of the new pact, was disturbed by it. the quraysh leaders went to al khazraj in their own quarters and blamed them for what they had just done. the quraysh reiterated that they sought no war against them and asked them why they had covenanted with muhammad to fight them on his side. the unbelievers of al khazraj denied that any of this had taken place. the muslims, on the other hand, kept silent and were saved from embarrassment when the quraysh believed the claim of their coreligionists. thus the news was neither confirmed nor denied, and the quraysh allowed the matter to stand until new evidence could be brought forth. the people of yathrib returned to their city before the quraysh had reached any certainty about what had happened. when later the quraysh did learn the truth, they ran after the people of yathrib who had exited the day before but could catch up with none except sa'd ibn `ubadah. they took him to makkah in chains and tortured him until jubayr ibn mut'am ibn `adiyy and al harith ibn umayyah ransomed him as their agent in yathrib when they passed by there on their way to al sham.
tension between the two parties
neither in its fear of them nor in its attempt to catch up with the people of yathrib, who covenanted with muhammad to fight against them, did the tribe of quraysh overestimate the danger. for thirteen long years they had known and observed muhammad. they had exerted enough effort in their war against muhammad to exhaust their own as well as muhammad's energies. the quraysh knew muhammad to be a very strong and tenacious man who held only to his god and the message he had entrusted to him. the quraysh knew him as an unwavering man who feared neither harm nor death. for a moment it seemed to the quraysh that after all the injuries they inflicted upon him, after blockading him within makkah, and frightening the tribesmen enough to keep them from joining him, muhammad's cause was about to fall. they predicted that muhammad's activity would henceforth be restricted to his followers alone and that these would soon fall apart under the constant pressures of quraysh to seek reconciliation. the new covenant brought a new determinant into the situation and gave muhammad and his followers some hope of victory. it at least strengthened their freedom to conduct their missionary activity and renew their attack upon the idols of the ka'bah and their worship. but who could predict what the situation would turn out to be throughout the arabian peninsula after yathrib had come to the rescue of muhammad and both its tribes of al aws and al khazraj were united under his leadership? the quraysh were rightly apprehensive of the future since the covenant of al `aqabah rendered the muslims safe against attack and gave them freedom to practice their new faith, to preach it to the others, and to welcome the new converts under their protection. quraysh thought, therefore, that unless this movement was uprooted and destroyed completely, the future would continue to be threatening and the victory of muhammad would be a most disturbing possibility.
the quraysh thought very hard how it could counterattack muhammad and outmaneuver him in order to destroy this latent power. he, too, gave the same problem no less thought than did the quraysh. he looked upon the covenant as a gate which god had unlocked before him in order to bring power and glory to his religion, to god's truthful words. the war between him and the quraysh had then reached a new level of tension by becoming a matter of life and death for both parties. muhammad trusted, however, that victory belonged to the truthful. he decided to rally his people to trust in god, in utter disregard to quraysh and its plotting. he therefore must march forward, but with wisdom, precision, and sure step. the new situation called for the greatest possible statesmanship and the ablest generalship in time of battle.