The Command to Emigrate
muhammad discovered that the quraysh had plotted to kill him rather than to allow him to emigrate to madinah where he might entrench the forces of islam for a resolute stand against makkah and from where he might cut off its trade with al sham. no one doubted that muhammad would hence-forth seize any opportunity to carry out his plan for emigration. but no one knew of any plans he might have had; not even abu bakr, who had been commanded to keep two beasts alert and ready ever since he asked the prophet for permission to emigrate and the prophet advised him to wait. muhammad remained in makkah until he learned of the quraysh's plot to assassinate him, and until none but the fewest muslims were still left there with him. he waited for the command of his lord for emigration. when, finally, that command did come, he went to the house of abu bakr and informed him of the permission god had granted. he asked abu bakr to accompany him on the trip.
'ali in the prophet's bed
here begins one of the greatest adventures history has known in the cause of truth and religious conviction. it is one of the noblest and most beautiful. abu bakr had chosen his two beasts and given them to 'abdullah ibn urayqit to graze until the time when they would be needed. when the two men planned to leave makkah they were absolutely certain that quraysh would follow them in their trail in order to seize them and bring them back. hence, muhammad decided to surprise his enemies by leaving under circumstances and at a time hardly conceivable to them. the young men whom the quraysh had prepared for performing the assassination had blockaded his house during the night in fear that he might run away. on the night of the hijrah, muhammad confided his plan to 'ali ibn abu talib and asked him to cover himself with the prophet's green mantle from hadramawt and to sleep in the prophet's bed. he further asked him to tarry in makkah until he had returned all things left with muhammad to their rightful owners. the quraysh men waiting to kill the prophet felt reassured whenever, looking through a hole in the door, they saw somebody sleeping in the prophet's bed. just before dawn, muhammad left without being noticed, picked up abu bakr at the latter's house and from there they proceeded through a back door southward toward the cave of thawr. the southerly direction of their flight was inconceivable to everyone.
nobody knew of their hiding place in the cave except 'abdullah, son of abu bakr, his two sisters, 'a'ishah and asma', and their servant 'amir ibn fuhayrah. 'abdullah spent his day in makkah listening to what the quraysh said and plotted about muhammad and then reported it to the pair at their hideout under cover of night. 'amir grazed the sheep of abu bakr and passed by the cave in the evening in order to give them some milk and meat. upon 'abdullah's return from the cave, 'amir would follow him with all his sheep and then conceal any trace of his steps. for three long days, the pair remained in the cave and the quraysh persistently looked for them without avail. for the quraysh it was absolutely necessary to find muhammad and to prevent his emigration to yathrib. meanwhile, muhammad spent most of his time praying to god and invoking his blessings, and abu bakr continually sought to find out whether they were being discovered and to look after their security.
the young men of quraysh who were chosen to kill muhammad continued their search and came close to the cave fully armed and ready for the kill. when they found a shepherd in the vicinity, they asked him about muhammad and abu bakr. he answered, "perhaps they are within the cave, although i have not seen anyone go in or out." when he heard the shepherd's answer, abu bakr trembled with fear and expected the quraysh to break into the cave any moment. he withdrew into a corner and, trusting in god, remained motionless. some members of the quraysh party climbed up to the cave, and the foremost among them turned round as soon as he saw the cave entrance. his companions asked him, "why have you not gone into the cave? he answered, "its entrance is covered with cobwebs, and there is a pair of wild pigeons on the threshold. obviously, no one could have gone in without disturbing the pigeons and destroying the cobwebs." at that moment, muhammad prayed while abu bakr continued to shake with fear. to abu bakr, who pressed ever closer to muhammad, the latter whispered, "do not grieve; god is with us." according to some hadith books, it is reported that when the quraysh party arrived at the cave entrance, abu bakr exclaimed: "if any one of them looks at his feet he will find us," and that the prophet had answered, "o abu bakr, how can you fear for two men whose constant companion is god himself?" the quraysh men were further convinced that the cave was empty when they saw the entrance to the cave covered indeed blocked with branches growing from a tree nearby. they then agreed to leave and called one another for their return to makkah. only then did the two refugees within the cave feel reassured. abu bakr's faith in god and his prophet became stronger, and muhammad prayed: "praise be to god! god is greater than all!"
the miracle of the cave
the cobwebs, the two wild pigeons, and the tree and its branches these are the miracles which the biography books relate concerning the hiding in the cave of thawr. the miracle is that none of these things were there when the prophet and his companion entered the cave, and that thereafter, the spider hurried to weave its cobwebs, the two pigeons to build their nest and to lay their eggs, and the tree to grow its branches around the door. in this connection the orientalist dermenghem wrote, "these three things are the only miracles recorded in authentic mussulman history: the web of a spider, the love of a dove, the sprouting of a flower three miracles accomplished daily on god's earth."[e. dermenghem, op. cit., p. 149]
some biographers omit the story
this miracle received no mention in ibn hisham's biography. his version of the story of the cave ran as follows: "they [muhammad and abu bakr] went to the cave of thawr, on the south side of makkah. abu bakr ordered his son `abdullah to stay in makkah during the day, listen to the news of the quraysh and bring them knowledge thereof in the evening. he ordered his servant, `amir ibn fuhayrah, to continue to graze his sheep and to come by the cave at night. asma', daughter of abu bakr, brought them provisions of food in the evening, also. the prophet of god-may god's peace and blessing is upon him stayed in the cave three days. the quraysh had announced a prize of one hundred camels to whosoever would bring back muhammad to makkah. `abdullah, son of abu bakr, used to spend his day in makkah listening well to the plotting and gossip of the quraysh, and when visiting the pair in the evening, related the news to them. `amir ibn fuhayrah, servant of abu bakr, used to graze the flock of sheep around makkah and, in the evening, passed by the cave and gave milk and meat to the pair. when `abdullah, son of abu bakr, returned home to makkah, he was followed by `amir ibn fuhayrah and his sheep in order to cover over his footprints. three days later, when the interest of the quraysh in this search had subsided, the man whom abu bakr had appointed to graze the two camels for the trip came with the three camels, two for muhammad and abu bakr, and a third for himself . . . ." that is all that ibn hisham says concerning the story of the cave.
in the same connection, the following verses of the qur'an were revealed
"when the unbelievers plotted to imprison you, to kill you or to banish you, god planned on your behalf, and he is the best of planners. . . if you [the people] do not help muhammad, then know that god will. for god helped him when the unbelievers drove him out, and he and his companion hid in the cave. at that time, the prophet said to his companion, `grieve not for god is with us.' it was then that god sent down his peace upon him and assisted him with hosts invisible that the word of god might be supreme and that of the unbelievers might be repudiated. god is almighty and all wise."[qur'an, 8:30; 9:40]