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Migration to Abyssinia

In the fifth or sixth year of the Prophethood, pressure upon the Muslims of Mecca intensified. The Prophet said to the Muslims: "Now that the enemies of Islam have begun to torture you all. They are sparing me and my family on account of Abu-Talib's (Prophets' Uncle) support, I deem it advisable for you to migrate to Abyssinia." This emigration of early Muslims to Abyssinia is a very important event in the history of Islam, and although the prophet's migration to Medina was adopted as the commencement of the Islamic calendar, yet the Muslim emigration to Abyssinia had an extraordinary result. The prophet remained in Mecca actively propagating Islam.

He sent twelve Muslims to Abyssinia, not to seek assistance, since history makes no such mention. As he spoke to them: "I have hear.d that the Emperor of Abyssinia is a liberal man. You should go there to find temporary refuge as defenceless Muslims and live in peace and above all preserve your faith". Thus the Prophet sent them there to relieve them from the pressure in the center of Islamic faith, namely Mecca, to live in the Christian land of Abyssinia. With just twelve refugees there was never a question of starting a movement with this step. The next time when the pressure upon the Muslims increased, the Prophet ordered a larger emigration, and it is said that the time there were seventy men together with their wives and children. In the second emigration about two-thirds of the emigrants belonged to the Prophet family who went to Abyssinia. In view of the manner adopted by the Prophet to direct the Islamic movement, the second emigration may seem to have been an attempt to find a quarter other than Medina as a base for Islam. The first emigration was a simple change of home, but the second emigration included persons such as the sister of Mu'awiah, daughter of Abu Sufyan (Umm-e-Habiba) who had embraced Islam and was a very devout Muslim, and was later to become a consort of the Prophet.

Also Uthman bin Affan and Ja'far bin-Abi Talib went among the emigrants. So this emigration seemed to have been based on a plan, especially since the Prophet's trip to Ta'if proved of no avail for the founding of an Islamic center, and in Mecca, too, he was faced with failure, and he did not entertain much hope about Medina as such a center. The spread of Islam in Medina is related to a hater time, subsequent to the Abyssinian emigration. The Prophet had also contacted a number of tribes for a place of refuge to propagate his faith, but no positive response was g given to him. Thus when those twelve of the first group of emigrants found Abyssinia a suitable place to live in and keep their faith there, a few of them returned to Mecca and described the favourable situation to the Prophet. They encouraged him to order a larger emigration. The Prophet, appreciating the dangers in Hejaz and the probability of a closed door there, saw little hope for Islam, and considered the second emigration a necessary step. As we see this decision had far-reaching effects on the progress of Islam.

This migration of the Muslims so demoralised the enemies of Islam that they became anxious that the emigrants may not gather strength and return to cause serious trouble. They worried that, since the emigrants were like Abraha's horde but Meccans like themselves, they might overcome them. Therefore they took immediate steps to check them. Thus the infidels of Mecca dispatched 'Amru, As with another bearing numerous presents for the Emperor of Abyssinia to request him to extradite the Muslim refugees by force. These envoys reached Abyssinia, presented themselves in the court of Negus, and levelled many charges against the Muslims. Ja'far bin Abi-Talib acquitted himself magnificently during this audience and successfully countered their charges, and the envoys returned to Mecca disappointed. The Muslims remained there for a number of years in peace and security. The prophet did not allow them to return until some years after his own migration to Medina and setting down there. These events reveal what a significant roll was played by this neibour, otherwise weaker of the great neighbours of Arabia, in the history of Islam.

Adapted from the book: "Background of the Birth of Islam" by: "S. T. H. Khwarazmi"

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