34 – Yathrib Responsive

“Torn asunder by enmity and evil.” In so describing their people, the six recent converts of Yathrib had not exaggerated. The battle of Bu’ath, the fourth and most savage conflict of the civil war, had not been altogether decisive; nor had it been followed by any peace worthy of the name but merely by an agreement to stop fighting for the moment. The dangerously prolonged state of chronic bitterness fraught with an increasing number of incidents of violence had won over many of the more moderate men of both sides to the opinion that they needed an overall chief who would unite them as Qusayy had united Quraysh, and that there was no other solution to their problem. One of the leading men of the oasis, ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy, was favored by many as a possible king. He had not fought against Aws in the recent conflict but had withdrawn his men on the even of the battle. He was none the less of Khazraj; and it was exceedingly doubtful whether Aws would be capable of accepting a king who was not of their tribe.

The six men of Khazraj delivered the message of Islam to as many of their people as would listen to them; and the next summer, that is, in AD 621, five of them repeated their Pilgrimage, bringing with them seven others, two of whom were of Aws. At ‘Aqabah, these twelve men pledged themselves to the Prophet, and this pledge is known as the First ‘Aqabah. In the words of one of them: “We pledged our allegiance to the Messenger of God on the night of the First ‘Aqabah, that we would associate nothing with God, that we would neither steal, not commit fornication, nor slay our offspring[1] nor utter slanders; and that we would not disobey him in that which was right. And he said to us: ‘If ye fulfill this pledge, then Paradise is yours; and if ye commit one of these sins and then receive punishment for it in this world, that shall serve as expiation. And if ye conceal it until the Day of the Resurrection, then it is for God to punish or forgive, even as He will.'”[2]

When they left for Yathrib the Prophet sent with them Mus’ab of ‘Abd ad-Dar who had by that time returned from Abyssinia. He was to recite the Qur’an to them and give them religious instruction. He lodged with As’ad ibn Zurarah, one of the six who had entered Islam the previous year. Mus’ab had also to lead the prayer because, despite their Islam, neither Aws nor Khazraj could yet endure to give one another that precedence.

The rivalry between the descendants of the two sons of Qaylah was of long standing. There had been none the less frequent intermarriages between the two tribes, and as a result of one of these, As’ad, the Khazrajite host of Mus’ab, was the first cousin of Sa’d ibn Mu’adh, chief of one of the clans of Aws. Sa’d strongly disapproved of the new religion. He was therefore angry, yet at the same time embarrassed, to see his cousin As’ad together with Mus’ab and some newly converted Muslims sitting one day in a garden in the midst of his people’s territory, in earnest conversation with members of his clan. Determined to put an end to such activities, yet not wishing to be involved in any unpleasantness himself, he went to Usayd who was next in authority to himself, and said: “Go thou to these two men who have come to our quarters to make fools of our weaker brethren” -he was no doubt thinking of his younger brother, the now dead Iyas, who had been the first man of Yathrib to enter Islam[3]- “and drive them out; and forbid them to come to our quarters again. If As’ad were not my kinsman I would save thee this trouble but he is my mother’s sister’s son, and I can do nothing against him,” Usayd took his lance and went and stood over them and said, with as fierce an expression as he could muster: “What bringeth the two of you here, to make fools of our weaker brethren? :eave us, if ye have any care for your lives.” Mus’ab looked at him and said gently: “Why not be seated and hear what I have to say? Then if it please thee, accept it; and if not, keep thyself clear of it.” “That is fairly spoken,” said Usayd, who liked both the appearance and the manner of the Prophet’s envoy; and striking his lance in the ground he sat down beside them. Mus’ab spoke to them about Islam and recited the Qur’an to him; and Usayd’s expression changed, so that those who were present could see Islam in his face from the light that shone in it and the repose that softened it even before he spoke. “How excellent are these words and how beautiful!” he said, when Mus’ab had finished. “What do ye do, if ye wish to enter this religion?” They told him that he must wash himself from head to foot in order to be purified, and that he must also purify his garments and then perform the prayer. There was a well in the garden where they were sitting, so he washed himself and purified his garments and testified There is no god but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God. They showed him how to pray, and he prayed. Then he said: “There is a man behind me who, if he follow you, will be followed without fail by every man of his people, and I will send him to you now.”

So he went back to his clansmen, and even before he reached them they could see that he was a changed man. “What hast thou done?” said Sa’d. “I spake unto the two men,” said Usayd, “and by God I saw no harm in them. But I forbade them to continue and they said: ‘We will do as thou wilt.'” “I see thou hast been of no avail,” said Sa’d, taking the lance from his hand and setting off to where the believers were still sitting peacefully in the garden. He remonstrated with his cousin As’ad and upraided him for taking advantage of their kinship. But Mus’ab intervened, speaking to him just as he had spoken to Usayd, whereupon Sa’d agreed to listen to him, and the result was finally the same.

When Sa’d had performed the prayer, he rejoined Usayd and those that were with him and together they went to the assembly of their people. Sa’d addressed them and said: “What know ye of my standing amongst you?” “Thou art our liege lord,” they answered, “and the best of us in judgment, and the most auspicious in leadership.” “Then I tell you,” he said “I swear I will speak neither to your men nor to your women until ye believe in God and His Messenger.” And by nightfall there was no man or woman of his clan who had not entered Islam.

Mus’ab stayed with As’ad for about eleven months, and many were the people who embraced Islam during that time. Then, when the month of the next Pilgrimage drew near, he returned to Mecca to give tidings to the Prophet of how he had fared among the various clans of Aws and Khazraj.

The Prophet knew that the well watered land between two tracts of black stones which he had seen in a vision was Yathrib, and he knew that this time he too would be of the emigrants. Now there were few people in Mecca whom he trusted so much as his aunt by marriage, Umm al-Fadl. He was also certain that his uncle ‘Abbas, although he had not entered Islam, would never betray him and never divulge a secret confided to him. So he told them both that he hoped to go and live in Yathrib and that much depended on the delegation which was expected from the oasis for the coming Pilgrimage. On hearing this, ‘Abbas said that he felt it his duty to go with his nephew to meet the delegates and speak with them, and the Prophet agreed.

Not long after Mus’ab’s departure, some of the Muslims of Yathrib set out upon the Pilgrimage as had been arranged between him and them, in all seventy-three men and two women, hoping to make contact with the Prophet. One of their leaders was a Khazrajite chief named Bara’, and during the first days of the journey a preoccupying thought came over him. They were on their way towards Mecca wherein was the House of God, the Ka’bah, the greatest center of pilgrimage for the whole of Arabia; and therein was also the Prophet, to whom they were going, and it was there that the Qur’an had been revealed, and thither their souls were moving ahead of them in aspiration. Was it then right or reasonable, when the time came for prayer, that they should turn their backs on that direction and face towards the north, towards Syria? This may have been more than a mere thought, for Bara’ had only a few more months to live, and men who are near to death are sometimes gifted with premonitions. However that may be, he told his companions what was in his mind, whereupon they said that as far as they knew the Prophet was wont to pray towards Syria, that is towards Jerusalem, and they did not wish to differ from him. “I shall pray towards the Ka’bah,” said Bara’, and he did so throughout the journey, while all the others continued to pray towards Jerusalem. They remonstrated with him to no avail, except that when they arrived in Mecca he had some misgivings and he said to Ka’b ibn Malik, one of his younger clansmen -and one of the more gifted poets of Yathrib: “Son of my brother, let us go to the Messenger of God and ask him about what I did on this journey, for doubts have fallen into my soul through my seeing that ye were against me.” So they asked a man in Mecca where they could find the Prophet, whom they did not even know by sight. “Know ye his uncle ‘Abbas?” said the man, and they replied that they did, for ‘Abbas was a frequent visitor to Yathrib and was well known there. “When ye enter the Mosque,” said their informant, “he is the man sitting beside ‘Abbas.” So they went to the Prophet, who said, in answer to the question of Bara’: “Thou hadst a direction, if thou hadst but kept to it.” Bara’ took to praying towards Jerusalem once more, in order to do as the Prophet did, though the answer he had received could have been taken in more than one sense.

Their journey to Mecca had been in a caravan together with the polytheist pilgrims of Yathrib, one of whom entered Islam in the valley of Mina, an eminent Khazrajite, Abu Jabir ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Amr, a leader of the Bani Salimah and a man of great influence. It was agreed that they should secretly meet the Prophet as before at ‘Aqabah on the second of the nights immediately following the Pilgrimage. In the words of one of them: “We slept that night with our people in the caravan until when a third of the night had passed we crept out from amongst the sleepers to our appointed meeting with the Messenger of God, stealing as stealthily as sand-grouse, until we were all assembled in the gully near ‘Aqabah. There we waited until the Messenger came, and with him came his uncle ‘Abbas who was at that time still of the religion of his people, albeit that he wished to be present at his nephew’s transaction and to make sure that the promises made to him were reliable. When the Prophet was seated, ‘Abbas was the first to speak: ‘People of Khazraj’ -for so the Arabs were wont to address Khazraj and Aws- ‘ye know the esteem in which we hold Muhammad, and we have protected him from his people so that he is honored in his clan and safe in his country. Yet hath he resolved to turn unto you and join himself with you. So if ye think that ye will keep to what ye promise him, and that ye will protect him against all that shall oppose him, yours be that burden which ye have taken upon yourselves. But if ye think ye will betray him and fail him after he hath gone out unto you, then leave him now.’ ‘We have heard what thou sayest,’ they answered, ‘but speak thou, O Messenger of God, and choose for thyself and for thy Lord what thou wilt.'”

After reciting from the Qur’an and pronouncing a summons to God and to Islam, the Prophet said: “I make with you this pact on condition that the allegiance ye pledge me shall bind you to protect me even as ye protect your women and your children.” Bara’ rose and took his hand an said: “By Him who sent thee with the truth, we will protect thee as we protect them. So accept the pledge of our allegiance, O Messenger of God, for we are men of war, possessed of arms that have been handed down from father to son.” A man of Aws then broke in upon him and said: “O Messenger of God, there are ties between us and other men” -he meant the Jews- “and we are willing to sever them. But might it not be that if we do this, and if then God give thee victory, thou wilt return to thy people and leave us?” The Prophet smiled and said: “Nay, I am yours and ye are mine. Whom ye war against, him I war against. Whom ye make peace with, him I make peace with.”

Then he said: “Bring out to me twelve of your men as leaders, that they may look to the affairs of their people.” So they brought out to him twelve leaders, nine from Khazraj and three from Aws, since sixty-two of them were of Khazraj and also the two women, whereas only eleven were from Aws. Amongst the nine leaders of Khazraj were As’ad and Bara’; amongst the three of Aws was Usayd whom Sa’d ibn Mu’adh had sent to represent him.

When the people were about to pledge themselves, one by one, to the Prophet, a man of Khazraj, one of the twelve who had pledged himself the previous year, made a sign that they should wait, and he addressed them saying: “Men of Khazraj, know ye what it means to pledge yourselves to this man?” “We know,” they said, but he disregarded them. “Ye pledge yourselves,” he continued, “to war against all men, the red and the black.[4] So if ye think that when ye suffer the loss of possessions and when some of your nobles are slain ye will forsake him, forsake him now, for if ye forsake him then it will bring shame upon you in this world and the next. But if ye think ye will fulfill your pledge, then take him, for therein, by God, is the best of this world and the next.” They said: “What though our possessions be lost and our nobles slain, yet do we take him. And what shall be ours thereby, O Messenger of God, if we fulfill to thee our pledge?” “Paradise,” he said, and they said: “Stretch forth thy hand,” and he stretched out his hand and they pledged their oaths.

And Satan was watching and listening from the top of ‘Aqabah; and when he could contain himself no longer he cried out in the loudest voice possible and spoke the name Mudhammam, Reprobate; and the Prophet knew who it was who had thus cried, and he answered him, saying: “O enemy of God, I will give thee no respite.”


[1] In reference to the practice which had developed in Arabia among the indigent Bedouin, especially in time of famine, of burying unwanted female infants.
[2] I.I. 289
[3] See chapter 19 – Aws and Khazraj
[4] That is, all men whatsoever. After this second pledge at ‘Aqabah, that of the First ‘Aqabah came to be called “the pledge of the women”. It continued to be used, but for women only, because it contained no mention of the duties of war.

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