First and Second Hijrahs to Abyssinia
When endurance was reaching its limits and persecution became unbearable, the Prophet advised a group of his followers to migrate to Abyssinia where a benign Christian king reigned. This was the first Hijrah (Migration) in Islam and fifteen people took part in it:
And those who become fugitives for Allah's sake after they are oppressed, verily We shall give them good abode in the world and surely the reward of the Hereafter is greater, if they only knew. (Qur'an, 16:41)
And what was all this tyranny and persecution for? Just for believing in one God and for leading a chaste and pious life! Further migration of some people led to intensified persecution of those left behind. The Prophet advised a second Hijrah to Abyssinia, and this time about a hundred people, including Jafar, the elder brother of 'Ali, went away. The Quraish sent a deputation with 'Amr ibn al-'As and 'Ammara ibn Rabi'ah to Negus (Nijashi, in Arabic), the king of Abyssinia, to demand the deportation of the emigrants back to Mecca to be punished by death. Having won the favor of the clergy, the deputation tried to prejudice the king against the fugitives. Asked to explain the position, Jafar delivered a speech, which is a brilliant summary of the fundamentals of Islam and all that it stands for:
"O king! We were plunged in the depth of ignorance and barbarism; we adored idols; we lived in unchastity; we ate dead animals, and we spoke abomination. We disregarded every feeling of humanity, and the duties of hospitality and neighborhood. We knew no law but that of the strong. At that time, God raised from among us a man of whose birth, truthfulness, honesty and purity we were aware, and he called us to the Unity of God and taught us not to associate anything with Him. He forbade us to worship idols and enjoined us to speak the truth, to be faithful to our trusts, to be merciful, and to regard the rights of neighbors. He forbade us to speak ill of women and to eat the substance of orphans. He ordered us to flee from vices, to abstain from evil, to offer prayers, to render alms, and to observe the fast. We have believed in him; we have accepted his teachings and injunctions to worship God, and not to associate anything with Him. For this reason, our people have risen against us and persecuted us in order to make us forego the worship of God and return to the worship of idols of wood and stone and other abominations. They have tortured us and injured us. Having found no safety among them, we have come to thy country and hope thou wilt protect us from their oppression."
The king refused to oblige the deputation, and the latter had to return disappointed. Muslim traditions indicate that the king later on secretly converted to Islam.
Some European critics, with the object of assigning some ulterior motive for the migration, go to the length of saying that persecution was only slight and at worst confined to slaves and the poorer people who could find no clans to protect them. There is a mass of historical data recorded in original sources about the names and numbers of persons put to physical torture, the names of their tormentors and the manner of their physical torture and persecution. Although these critics admit that even Abu Bakr had to undergo the indignity of being bound to a clansman and to solicit the protection of a nomadic chief, they would still suggest that the persecution was limited to persons who had no clans to support them. Such people had, no doubt, the worst of the treatment, but when people of a clan were oppressing their fellow clansmen for accepting Islam, clan protection could not help the victims. What protection could be expected from the clan when a father chained his son, a brother tortured his sister, or a husband injured his wife? Furthermore, the slaves and the poor people constituted the bulk of the disciples at that stage. A Western historian surmises that the migration was caused either by a rift in the Muslim ranks, as some Muslims might not have liked the attitude of the Prophet towards Meccan opposition, or was undertaken with the object of making Abyssinia a base of attacking Meccan trade or to solicit military help to enable the Prophet to seize control of Mecca. Even Encyclopedia Britannica tries to water down the persecution (Macro. Vol. 12. p. 607):
"There was little physical violence, and that almost always within the family. Muhammad suffered from minor annoyances, such as having filth deposited outside his door."
About the emigration to Ethiopia it suggests:
"... but they may have been seeking opportunities for trade or military support for Muhammad."
If such fantastic conjectures can be made when the Muslims were yet a handful and survival was the only consideration before them, when all along they stood solidly behind the Prophet, when no Meccan caravan was ever attacked from Abyssinia, when that country never provided any military help to the Muslims, and when the Prophet did not seize control of Mecca even when it lay at his feet, what fairness in exposition and presentation can be expected from such historians?
Deputations of Quraish
Now we have reached the sixth year after the Declaration of Prophethood. In spite of the persecution and exodus of some people, the Prophet was laboring quietly but incessantly to wean away his people from the worship of idols. His mission gained considerable momentum by the conversion of his uncle Hamza the Valiant.
Once, at the suggestion of Abu Bakr, the Holy Prophet came into Masjid-ul-Haram and Abu Bakr started a lecture. The Quraish violently stopped him and the Holy Prophet had to take refuge in the house of al-Arqam near the hill of Safa. (Now, that house has been included into the extension of Masjid-ul-Haram). 'Umar ibn al-Khattab accepted Islam in those days.
Because of the prestige of Abu Talib, Quraish did not dare to kill the Holy Prophet. But they were making him suffer as much affliction as possible, no less was the heartache caused to him by the sufferings of the helpless Muslims. He himself said: "No prophet was ever made to suffer such afflictions as I was."
All along, Islam was gaining adherents not only from Quraish but also from the neighboring tribes. The oligarchy of Mecca was now desperately trying to. stem the movement.
The forbearance of the Holy Prophet was making the Quraish wonder as to why a man should put himself in such a precarious situation. Their outlook was materialistic; their ideals were wealth, beauty and power. They, naturally, ascribed the same motives to the Holy Prophet.
'Utbah ibn Rabi'ah, father-in-law of Abu Sufyan, was sent to him to convey the message of Quraish:
"Muhammad! If you want power and prestige, we will make you the overlord of Mecca. Or do you want marriage in a big family? You may have the hand of the fairest maiden in the land. Do you want hoards of silver and gold? We can provide you with all these and even more. But you should forsake this nefarious preaching which implies that our forefathers, who were worshipping these deities of ours, were fools."
The Quraish were almost certain that Muhammad would respond favorably to this offer. However, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) recited Sura 41 in reply, which, inter alia, contained the following warning:
But if they turn away, then say: 1 have warned you of a thunderbolt like the thunderbolt of the 'Ad and the Thamud. (Qur'an, 41:13).
`Utbah was overwhelmed with this ringing warning. He did not accept Islam but advised the Quraish to leave Muhammad alone and to see how he fares with other tribes. Quraish said that he, too, was bewitched by Muhammad.
Then a deputation was sent to Abu Talib. They demanded that Abu Talib should either persuade his nephew to desist from his mission or hand him over to suffer the extreme penalty or be prepared to fight the whole tribe. Finding the odds too heavy against him, Abu Talib said to the Holy Prophet:
"O son! Do not put such a burden on my shoulders which I am unable to bear."
The Prophet's reply to his uncle gives an indication of his indomitable will, his profound trust in God and confidence in his Mission. Said he:
"O uncle! If they placed the sun on my right hand and the moon on my left to persuade me to renounce my work, verily I would not desist therefrom till God makes manifest His cause or I perish in the attempt."
Saying this, he was overwhelmed with grief. Abu Talib was moved by this reply and said:
"By Allah, the Quraish can never reach thee in spite of their great number till I am buried in the earth. Therefore, pronounce what order thou hast; nobody can do any harm to you; be happy with this (promise) and keep thy eyes cool (i.e. be consoled)."
In their final attempt, they took a young man, 'Ammarah ibn al-Walid, to Abu Talib and offered to exchange him with Muhammad. They said to him:
"This young man is a well-known poet of the tribe; he is also very handsome and wise. You better exchange Muhammad with him. You may adopt him as your son: he will be a good helper to you. And give us your Muhammad; we will-kill him. Thus, you will not suffer any loss because you will have 'Ammarah in place of Muhammad, and by eliminating Muhammad, all this strife and friction in the tribe will come to an end."
Abu Talib was extremely furious on hearing this outrageous proposal. His voice was raised in wrath. He said:
"What a worst bargain have you proposed! Why, you want me to give you my son, so that you may kill him, and are giving me your son so that I should feed him and look after him? Go away! This bargain is nothing if not foolishness."