The Two Covenants of al `Aqabah

Muslim Weakness after al Isra'

Quraysh did not understand the meanings behind al Isrd'. Neither did many of the Muslims who themselves apostatized in consequence, as we saw earlier. Encouraged by this relapse, Quraysh intensified its attacks against Muhammad and his followers until they could cope with it no more. Muhammad's hope of enlisting the tribes into his ranks was dissipated after his rejection by Thaqif at al Ta‘if, as well as by the tribes of Kindah, Kalb, Banu `Amir and Banu Hanifah at their annual pilgrimage in Makkah, After all these experiences, Muhammad nearly gave up hope of converting any more men from Quraysh. Realizing the isolation imposed upon Muhammad and the irreconcilable opposition of Quraysh to his cause, the other tribes of the Peninsula, especially those surrounding or having business relations with Makkah, became all the more reluctant to receive his calls. Despite his reliance upon Hamzah and `Umar, and his confidence that Quraysh could not harm him any more than they had already done on account of the tribal loyalties and alliances involved, Muhammad realized that the spread of God's call, limited as it were to a small number of weak people, exposed to the danger of apostasy or extermination, had come to a halt unless some victory from God was forthcoming. Days passed while Muhammad's increasing isolation kept pace with Quraysh's ever-growing enmity.

 

Muhammad's Fastness

Did this isolation of Muhammad weaken his determination or impair his morale? No! Rather, it strengthened his faith in the truth which had come to him from his Lord. Such travails would have discouraged any person of ordinary spirit; but the noble, the truly gifted, they can only be stimulated to higher levels of conviction, of resolution, and self exertion. Rather than being shaken, Muhammad and his companions continued to have the strongest faith that God would raise His religion above all religions and bring victory to them in the process. The storms of hatred raging around them did not shake the faith. Muhammad spent his year in Makkah unconcerned that his and Khadijah's wealth was being rapidly exhausted to the point that poverty and want were imminent. Only the victory which he was absolutely certain God soon would grant him occupied his thought. When the season of pilgrimage came again and men from all over the Arabian Peninsula gathered in Makkah, he renewed his call to the revealed truth, undaunted by any violent rejection with which these tribes might meet his call. The plebeians of Makkah renewed their attacks against his person whenever he preached in public, but their injuries did not reduce Muhammad's self assurance. He knew that it was Almighty God who sent him a messenger of the truth, that there could be no doubt but that God would confirm His truth and give it victory. He knew that God had asked him always to present his revelations to men with arguments yet more sound and gentle, counseling "and then, your enemy will become your very warm friend."[Qur'an, 41:34] He knew too well that God has asked him to be gentle to men that they might remember and fear. It was in this certainty, therefore, that Muhammad received the attacks of the Quraysh and bore patiently ,their injuries and harm. All along, he knew that God is always with the patient.

 

 

The First Signs of Victory in Yathrib

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.

 

The Battle of Bu'ath

A1 Aws fought the battle of Bu'ath against al Khazraj in which both tribes gave full vent to their chronic enmity and hostility. So fierce did the battle rage that each party was seriously considering exterminating the enemy and finishing with the affair once and for all if it could only achieve victory. Abu Usayd was the general not only of the legions of al Aws but of their hate and resentment as well. In the first round of battle, al Aws lost and they ran toward the desert for their lives. A1 Khazraj, who accused them of cowardice, began to sing in verse of their unmanliness and poltroonery. When Abu Usayd heard this, he plunged his own spear in his leg, fell from his horse and shouted, "Woe! Woe! By God I shall not move from this spot until they kill me. If you my people must forsake me, go ahead and run." Moved by this sacrifice of their own leader, al Aws returned to the battle with such enthusiasm and resoluteness indeed despair that they inflicted a terrible defeat upon al Khazraj. Pressing forth against their enemy, they burnt their houses as well as their orchards until stopped by Sa'd ibn Mu'adh al Ashhali. Indeed Abu Usayd had intended to wipe out the Khazraj tribe completely, house by house, tree by tree, and person by person, until not one of them remained alive. Abu Qays ibn al Aslat, however, stood in his way and begged him to save al Khazraj saying, "They are your co-religionists ; it would still behoove you to keep them alive. They would be better neighbors for you than the foxes and beasts of prey of the desert."

 

Islamic Beginnings in Yathrib

After that day, the Jews recaptured their position of dominance in Yathrib. Both conqueror and vanquished realized the tragedy of what they had done, and they pondered their fate with gravity. Together they looked forward toward appointing a king to manage their affairs, a choice to fall upon `Abdullah ibn Muhammad, of the vanquished al Khazraj, on account of his wisdom and sound opinions. The situation, evolved too rapidly, however, to allow a realization of this dream. A group of al Khazraj made a pilgrimage to Makkah where, they were met by Muhammad and asked about their affairs. The Prophet knew they were clients of the Jews. In order to keep their clients in check, the Jews used to threaten them that a new prophet was about to appear whom they would follow and bring to any of their enemies that dared oppose them the total destruction which was meted out to the ancient tribes of 'Ad and Iram. When the Prophet talked to this group and called them unto God, they looked to one another and said, "By God, this is the Prophet by whom the Jews had threatened us. Let us acclaim him before they do." They responded favorably to Muhammad's call, were converted, and said, "We have left our people, al Aws and al Khazraj, who are alienated from one another and are full of hatred for one another. Would to God that they might meet you and unite under your leadership! Should this ever become the case, you will be the strongest man in Arabia." The group included in their numbers two men from Banu al Najjar, the uncles of 'Abd al Muttalib, and the grandfather of Muhammad who had protected him ever since his birth; the latter returned to Madinah and reported to their people their conversion to the new faith. The relatives received the news with joy and enthusiasm, for now they could boast of a religion that made them monotheists like the Jews indeed more excellent than they. Soon, there was no house in al Aws or al Khazraj in which the name of Muhammad God's peace by upon him was not mentioned with reverence and awe.

 

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."

 

The Covenant

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.

 

The Muslims' Emigration to Yathrib

Subsequently, Muhammad commanded his companions to follow al Ansar [Literally, "the helpers," the name given by Muhammad to the first Muslims of Madinah who gave assistance to the cause at the time of its greatest peril. Later on, the name was to apply to all the Muslims of Madinah in contrast to al Muhajirun-literally, "the emigrants"-applied to those Muslims of Makkah who emigrated before or after the Prophet to Madinah. -Tr.] in Yathrib. He ordered them to exit from Makkah in very small groups so that they would not give cause to Quraysh to suspect or attack them. The Muslims began their exodus individually or in small groups. When the Quraysh realized what they were about, it began to return those whom it could catch to Makkah to suffer punishment and torture. This Makkan countermeasure was carried out with such zeal and determination that man and wife were separated whenever a pair wanted to exit from Makkah. Those who disobeyed were locked up in jail. But the Quraysh could not do more, fearful as they were of alienating the tribes by killing their Muslim members and thereby adding to their list of enemies. The Muslims, nonetheless, continued to exit from Makkah and to emigrate to Yathrib. Muhammad remained where he was, nobody knowing whether he, too, was planning to emigrate or not. None suspected him. Previously, he had permitted his companions to emigrate to Abyssinia without going there himself; he had stayed behind and continued to call the Makkans to Islam. Indeed, even Abu Bakr asked the Prophet for permission to emigrate to Yathrib. The Prophet advised, "Do not hurry; perhaps God may yet give you a companion for your trip." No more was said regarding this matter.

 

The Quraysh and the Prophet's Emigration

All this notwithstanding, the Quraysh were quite apprehensive lest the Prophet himself emigrate to Yathrib. The Muslims in that city had become so numerous that the dominion of the city was almost theirs. The Muhajirun,[Literally, "the helpers," the name given by Muhammad to the first Muslims of Madinah who gave assistance to the cause at the time of its greatest peril. Later on, the name was to apply to all the Muslims of Madinah in contrast to al Muhajirun-literally, "the emigrants"-applied to those Muslims of Makkah who emigrated before or after the Prophet to Madinah. -Tr.] who were arriving at Yathrib in numbers, consolidated and increased Muslim power. Should Muhammad himself go there, the Quraysh feared that under his wise and farsighted leadership and persistence, the people of Yathrib might even seek to attack Makkah or, at least, to cut off their trade route to al Sham. If this should ever become a real possibility, the Muslims would avenge the boycott and isolation of the Muslims in kind by cutting off the Makkan trade routes.

On the other hand, even if the Quraysh were to succeed in keeping Muhammad in Makkah and thus prevent him from joining his companions, the Quraysh were still exposed to the danger of the people of Yathrib's attacking them in defense of their Prophet. Hence, the Quraysh decided that there was really no alternative but to kill Muhammad and get rid of this persistent trouble once and for all. But in case they did succeed in killing him, Banu Hashim and Banu al Muttalib would surely seek to avenge his blood, and the civil war which they feared so much would break out within Makkah and bring a greater danger than that which they feared might come from the side of Yathrib. In al Nadwah, their community house, the Quraysh gathered in order to find a means and solution. One of them suggested, "Let us catch Muhammad and lock him up in jail. Then, wait to see happen to him that which has happened to other possessed people and poets like Zuhayr, al Nabighah, and others." This view found no supporters. Another suggested, "Let us carry him out of our country and banish him and then forget about him altogether." This, too, found no supporters because the Quraysh feared that Muhammad might then join his followers in Yathrib and lead them against Makkah frightful possibility, indeed. Finally, they concluded that the best solution is that each one of their clans delegate a strong youth and arm him with a sharp sword so that all these delegates can kill Muhammad together in one stroke; therefore, responsibility for his death would be equally divided among all, thus making vengeance on the part of Banu `Abd Manaf virtually impossible. The clan of Muhammad would then be forced to accept his bloodwit, and the Quraysh would put an end to this instigator who had rent its unity and sapped its power. The Quraysh thought well of this counsel and carefully chose their executioners. They expected that the story of Muhammad was soon to come to a close, that his cause would soon be buried and forgotten, and that those who had migrated to Yathrib would soon return to their tribe, their former religion and gods, and that Quraysh would resume the unity and leadership which it had almost lost.