37 – The Hijrah

Meantime the Prophet had returned to Abu Bakr, and losing no time they went out through a window at the back of his house where two camels, already saddled, were waiting for them. The Prophet mounted one of them, and Abu Bakr the other, with his son ‘Abd Allah behind him. As they had planned, they made for a cave in the Mount of Thawr a little to the south, on the way to the Yemen, for they knew that as soon as the Prophet’s absence was discovered search parties would be sent out to cover all the northern outskirts of the city. When they had gone a little way beyond the precincts of Mecca, the Prophet halted his camel, and looking back he said: “Of all GOd’s earth, thou art the dearest place unto me and the dearest unto God, and had not my people driven me out from thee I would no have left thee.”

‘Amir ibn Fuhayrah, the shepherd whom Abu Bakr had brought as a slave and then set free and put in charge of his sheep, had followed behind them with his flock to cover up their tracks. When they reached the cave, Abu Bakr sent his son home with the camels, telling him to listen to what was said in Mecca the next day when the Prophet’s absence was discovered, and to bring them word of it the following night. ‘Amir was to pasture his sheep as usual with the other shepherds during the day and to bring them to the cave at night, always covering up the tracks of ‘Abd Allah between Thawr and Mecca.

The next night ‘Abd Allah returned to the cave and his sister Asma’ came with him, bringing food. Their news was that Quraysh had offered a reward of a hundred camels to anyone who could find Muhammad and bring him back to Mecca. Horsemen were already following every normal route from Mecca to Yathrib, hoping to overtake them both -for it was assumed that Abu Bakr was with the Prophet, since he also had disappeared.

But others, perhaps unknown to ‘Abd Allah, thought they must be in hiding, in one of the numerous caves in the hills round Mecca. Moreover, the Arabs of the desert are good trackers: even when a flock of sheep had followed in the wake of two or three camels, the average Bedouin would see at a glance the remains of the larger prints of the camel-hooves which the multitude of smaller prints had all but obliterated. It seemed unlikely that the fugitives would be to the south of the city; but for such a generous reward every possibility should be tried; and camels had certainly preceded the sheep on those tracks which led in the direction of Thawr.

On the third day the silence of their mountain sanctuary was broken by the sound of birds -a pair of rock doves they thought- cooing and fluttering their wings outside the cave. Then after a while they heard the faint sound of men’s voices, at some distance below them but gradually growing louder as if the men were climbing up the side of the mount. They were not expecting ‘Abd Allah until after nightfall, and there were still some hours to go before sunset, although in fact there was strangely little light in the cave for the time of day they supposed it to be. The voices were now not far off -five or six men at least- and they were still approaching. The Prophet looked at Abu Bakr, and said: Grieve not, for verily God is with us.[1] And then he said: “What thinkest thou of two when God is their third?”[2] They could now hear the sound of steps, which drew nearer and then stopped: the men were standing outside the cave. They spoke decisively, all in agreement that there was no need to enter the cave, since no one could possibly be there. Then they turned back the way they had come.

When the sound of their retreating steps and voices had died away, the Prophet and Abu Bakr went to the mouth of the cave. There in front of it, almost covering the entrance, was an acacia tree, about the height of a man, which had not been there that morning; and over the gap that was left between the tree and the wall of the cave a spider had woven its web. They looked through the web, and there in the hollow of a rock, even where a man might step as he entered the cave, a rock dove had made a nesting place and was sitting close as if she had eggs, with her mate perched on a ledge not far above.

When they heard ‘Abd allah and his sister approaching at the expected hour, they gently drew aside the web that had been their safeguard, and taking care not to disturb the dove, they went to meet them. ‘Amir had also come, this time without his flock. He had brought the Bedouin to whom Abu Bakr had entrusted the two camels he had chosen for their journey. The man was not yet a believer, but he could be relied on to keep their secret and also to guide them to their destination by such out-of-the-way paths as only a true son of the desert would know. He was waiting in the valley below with the two mounts, and had brought a third camel for himself. Abu Bakr was to take ‘Amir behind him on his, to look after their needs. They left the cave, and descended the slope. Asma’ had brought a bag of provisions, but had forgotten to bring a rope. So she took off her girdle and divided it into two lengths, using one to tie the bag securely to her father’s saddle and keeping the other for herself. Thus it was that she earned the title “She of the girdles”.

When Abu Bakr offered the Prophet the better of the two camels he said: “I will not ride a camel that is not mine own.” “But she is thine, O Messenger of God,” said Abu Bakr. “Nay,” said the Prophet; “but what price didst thou pay for her?” Abu Bakr told him, and he said: “I take her at that price.” Nor did Abu Bakr insist further on making it a gift, although the Prophet had accepted many gifts from him in the past, for this occasion was a solemn one. It was the Prophet’s Hijrah, his cutting off of all ties of home and homeland for the sake of God. His offering, the act of emigration, must be entirely his, not shared by another in any respect. The mount on which the act was accomplished must therefore be his own, since it was part of his offering. The camel’s name was Qaswa’, and she remained his favorite camel.

Their guide took them away from Mecca to the west and a little to the south until they came to the shore of the Red Sea. Yathrib is due north of Mecca, but it was only at this point that any north came into their direction. The coastal road runs north-west and for a few days they kept to this. On one of their first evenings, looking across the water towards the Nubian desert, they saw the new moon of the month of Rabi’al-Awwal. “O crescent of good and of guidance, my faith is in Him who created thee.”[3] This the Prophet would say when he saw the new moon.

One morning they were somewhat dismayed to see a small caravan approaching from the opposite direction. But their feelings changed to joy when they saw that it was Abu Bakr’s cousin Talhah who was on his way from Syria where he had bought the cloth and other merchandise with which his camels were laden. He had stopped in Yathrib on his way, and intended to return there as soon as he had disposed of his wares in Mecca. The Prophet’s arrival in the oasis, he said, was awaited with the greatest eagerness; and before bidding them farewell he gave them each a change of clothes from out of the fine white Syrian garments which he had intended to sell to some of the richer men of Quraysh.

Not long after their meeting with Talhah they turned due north, going slightly inland from the coast, and then north-east, now at last making directly for Yathrib. At one point of their journey the Prophet received a Revelation which told him: Verily He who hath made binding upon thee the Qur’an will bring thee home once more.[4]

Shortly before dawn on the twelfth day after leaving the cave they reached the valley of ‘Aqiq, and crossing the valley, the climbed up the rugged black slopes on the other side. Before they reached the top the sun was well up and the heat was intense. On other days they would have stopped for rest until the great heat of the day had passed; but they now decided to climb the final ridge of the ascent, and when at last they came within sight of the plain below there could be no question of holding back. The place that the Prophet had dreamed of, “the well watered land between two tracts of black stones,” was lying before them, and the grey-green of the palm groves and the lighter green of orchards and gardens stretched at one point to within three miles of the foot of the slope they had to descend.

The nearest point of greenery was Quba’, where most of the emigrants from Mecca had first stayed, and where many of them still were. The Prophet told their guide: “Lead us straight to the Bani ‘Amr at Quba’, and draw not yet night unto the city” -for so the most densely inhabited part of the oasis was called. That city was soon to be known throughout Arabia, and thence elsewhere, as “the City”, in Arabic al-Madinah, in English Medina.

Several days previously news from Mecca of the Prophet’s disappearance, and of the reward offered for him, had reached the oasis. The people of Quba’ were expecting him daily, for the time of his arrival was no overdue; so every morning, after the dawn prayer, some of the Bani ‘Amr would go out to look for him, and with them went men of other clans who lived in that village, and also those of the emigrant Quraysh who were still there and had not yet moved to Medina. They would go out beyond the fields and palm groves onto the lava tract, and after they had gone some distance they would stop and wait until the heat of the sun became fierce; then they would return to their homes. They had gone out that morning, but had already returned by the time the four travelers had begun their descent of the rocky slope. Eyes were no longer staring expectantly in that direction; but the sun shone on the new white garments of the Prophet and Abu Bakr which were set off all the more against the background of bluish-black volcanic stones, and a Jew who happened to be on the roof of his house caught sight of them. He knew at once who they must be, for the Jews of Quba’ had asked and been told why so many of their neighbors had taken to going out in a body into the wilderness every morning without fail. So he called out at the top of his voice: “Sons of Qaylah, he is come, he is come!” The call was immediately taken up, and men, women and children hurried from their houses and streamed out once more onto the strip of greenery which led to the stone tract. But they had not far to go, for the travelers had by now reached the most outlying palm-grove. It was a noon of great joy on all sides, and the Prophet addressed them, saying: “O people, give unto one another greetings of Peace; feed food unto the hungry; honor the ties of kinship; pray in the hours when men sleep. Even so shall ye enter Paradise in Peace.”[5]

It was decided that he should lodge with Kulthum, an old man of Quba’ who had previously welcomed both Hamzah and Zayd in his house on their arrival from Mecca. The Bani ‘Amr, Kulthum’s clan, were of Aws, and it was no doubt partly in order that both the Yathrib tribes might share in the hospitality that Abu Bakr lodged with a man of Khazraj in the village of Sunh which was a little nearer to Medina. After a day or two, ‘Ali arrived from Mecca, and stayed in the same house as the Prophet. It had taken him three days to return all the property which had been deposited with them to its various owners.

Many were those who now came to greet the Prophet, and amongst them were some Jews of Medina who were drawn more by curiosity than good will. But on the second or third evening there came a man who was different in appearance from any of the others, clearly neither an Arab nor a Jew. Salman, for so he was named, had been born of Persian Zoroastrian parents in the village of Jayy near Isfahan, but he had become a Christian and gone to Syria as a very young man. There he had attached himself to a saintly bishop who, on his deathbed, recommended him to go to the Bishop of Mosul, who was old like himself but the best man he knew. Salman set off for the north of Iraq, and this was for him the beginning of a series of attachments to elderly Christian sages until the last of these, also on his deathbed, told him that the time was now at hand when a Prophet would appear: “He will be sent with the religion of Abraham and will come forth in Arabia where he will emigrate from his home to a place between two lava tracts, a country of palms. His signs are manifest: he will eat a gift but not if it be given as alms; and between his shoulders is the seal of prophecy.” Salman made up his mind to join the Prophet and paid a party of merchants of the tribe of Kalb to take him with them to Arabia. But when they reached Wadi l-Qura near the Gulf of ‘Aqabah at the north of the Red Sea they sold him as a slave to a Jew. The sight of the palms in Wadi l-Qura made him wonder whether this could be the township he was seeking, but he had his doubts. It was not long however before the Jew sold him to a cousin of his of the Bani Qurayzah in Medina; and as soon as he saw the lie of the land, he knew beyond doubt that here was the place to which the Prophet would migrate.

Salman’s new owner had another cousin who lived in Quba’; and on the arrival of the Prophet this Jew of Quba’ set off for Medina with the news. He found his cousin sitting beneath one of his palms; and Salman, who was working in the top of the tree, heard him say: “God curse the sons of Qaylah! They are now even gathered together at Quba’ about a man who hath come to them this day from Mecca. They claim him to be a Prophet.” Those last words filled Salman with certainty that his hopes had been realized, and the impact was so great that his whole body was seized with trembling. He was afraid that he would fall out of the tree, so he climbed down; and once on the ground he eagerly began to question the Jew from Quba’; but his master was angry and ordered him back to his work in the tree. That evening however he slipped away, taking with him some of his food which he had saved, and went to Quba’, where he found the Prophet sitting with many companions, new and old. Salman was already convinced, but he none the less approached him and offered him the food, specifying that he gave it as alms. The Prophet told his companions to eat of it, but did not eat of it himself. Salman hoped that he would one day see the seal of prophecy, but to have seen in the presence of the Prophet and to have heard him speak was enough for that first encounter, and he returned to Medina elated and thankful.

[1] Qur’an 9 : 40
[2] B. 57, 5
[3] A.H. 5, 329
[4] Qur’an 28 : 85
[5] I.S. 1/1, 159

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