56 – Victims of Revenge

For two months and more there was nothing to disturb the peace. Then came news that the Bani Asad ibn Khuzaymah were planning a raid on the oasis. Notwithstanding the Islam of the Hajsh family and other Asadites who had previously lived in Mecca, the main body of this widespread and powerful tribe of Najd were still close allies of Quarysh, who had now encouraged them to take advantage of the disabling effect of Uhud. It was therefore necessary to demonstrate to them and to all Arabia that the Muslims derived strength from Uhud rather than weakness. So the Prophet sent out a body of a hundred and fifty well armed and well mounted men into their territory to the north of the central desert under the command of his cousin Abu Salamah with instructions to do all in his power to take their camp by surprise. This they succeeded in doing, but after a brief encounter, with little bloodshed on either side, the Bedouin withdrew and scattered in all directions, while the Muslims returned to Medina after eleven days with a large herd of camels and three herdsmen. The expedition had served its main purpose, which was to affirm the undiminished power of Islam.

About the same time news came of the danger of another projected raid from further south; but in this instance the Prophet divined that the hostility against Islam was all concentrated in one remarkably evil man, the chief of the Lihyanite branch of Hudhayl. If they could be rid of him, the danger from that quarter would become negligible; so he sent ‘Abd Allah ibn Unays, a man of Khazraj, with instructions to kill him. “O Messenger of God,” said ‘Abd Allah, “describe him to me that I may know him.” “When thou seest him,” said the Prophet, “he will remind thee of Satan. The certain sign for thee that he is indeed the man will be that when thou seest him thou wilt shudder at him.” It was as he had said; and, having killed the man, ‘Abd Allah escaped with his life.

All idea of the projected raid against Medina was now abandoned, but it was no doubt in revenge for this death of one of their chiefs that in the following month some men of Hudhayl attacked six Muslims who were on their way to give religious instructions to two of the smaller neighboring tribes. The encounter took place in Raji’, a watering place not far from Mecca. Three of the Prophet’s men died fighting, and three were taken captive, one of whom was subsequently killed when he tried to escape. Amongst those who died fighting was ‘Asim of Aws who had killed two of the standard bearers of Quraysh at Uhud. their mother had sworn to drink wine out of his skull, and the men of Hudhayl were bent on selling her his head for that purpose. But ‘Asim’s body was protected from them by a swarm of bees until nightfall, and during the night it was swept away by a flood, so that the mother’s vow was never fulfilled. As for the two captives, Khubayb of Aws and Zayd of Khazraj, they were sold to Quraysh, who were still glad of any means of avenging those slain at Badr. Khubayb was bought by a confederate of the Bani Nawfal and presented to a member of that clan so that he might kill him in revenge for his father. Safwan bought Zayd for a similar purpose, and the two men were imprisoned in Mecca until the sacred months were past.

After the sighting of the new moon of Safar they were taken outside the hallowed precinct to Tan’im. There they met for the first time since their imprisonment, and they embraced, and exhorted each other to patience. Then the Bani Nawfal and others who were with them took Kubayh a short distance away, and when he saw that they were about to bind him to a stake he asked to be allowed to pray first, and he prayed two cycles of the ritual prayer. It is said that he was the inaugurator of the wont that a condemned man should pray thus before his death. Then they bound him to the stake saying: “Revert from Islam, and we will let thee go free.” “I would not revert from Islam,” he said, “if by so doing I could have all that is on earth.” “Dost thou not wish that Muhammad were in thy place,” they said, “and that thou wert sitting in thy home?” “I would not that Muhammad should be pierced by a single thorn that I might thereby be sitting in my home,” he answered. “Revert, O Khubayb,” they persisted, “for if thou dost not we will surely slay thee.” “My being slain for God is but a trifled, if I die in Him,” he said, then: “As to your turning my face away from the direction of holiness” -he meant from Mecca, for they had turned him another way- “verily God saith: Wheresoever ye turn, there is the Face of God.”[1] Then he said: “O God, no man is here who will take Thy Messenger my greeting of Peace, so take him Thou my greeting of Peace.” Now the Prophet was sitting with Zayd and others of his Companions in Medina, and there came over him a state even as when the Revelation descended upon him, and they heard him say: “And on him be Peace and the Mercy of God!” Then he said: “This is Gabriel, who greeteth me with Peace from Khubayb.”[2]

Quraysh had with them about forty boys whose fathers had been killed at Badr, and they gave each boy a spear and said: “This is he who slew your fathers.” They speared him but did not kill him, so a man put his hand over the hand of one of the boys and gave Khubayb a mortal wound, and another did the same, yet he remained alive for an hour, continually repeating the two testifications of Islam: There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.

His fellow captive Zayd was then put to death, and he also prayed two cycles of prayer before he was tied to the stake, and gave similar answers to the same questions. Akhnas ibn Ash-Shariq, the confederate of Zuhrah, who had gone out with the others to Tan’im, was impelled to remark: “No father so loveth his son as the companions of Muhammad love Muhammad.”

When ‘Ubaydah had died after his single combat with ‘Utbah at the beginning of the battle of Badr, he had left a widow who was very much younger than himself, Zaynab, the daughter of Khuzaymah of the Bedouin tribe of ‘Amir. She was a very generous nature, and already before the days of Islam she had been known as “the mother of the poor”. A year after being widowed she was still unmarried, and when the Prophet asked her to marry him she gladly accepted. A fourth apartment was made for her in his house adjoining the Mosque, and it was doubtless in connection with this new alliance that the Prophet now received a visit from Abu Bara’, the aging chief of Zaynab’s tribe. When Islam was put before him, the old man made it clear that he was not averse to it. He did not however embrace it then, but asked that some Muslims should be sent to instruct his whole tribe. The Prophet said that he was afraid that they would be attacked by other tribes. The Bani ‘Amir were a branch of Hawazin, and their territory lay to the south of Sulaym and other tribes of Ghatafan, against whom the oasis of Yathrib had to be continually on its guard. But Abu Bara’ promised that no one would violate the protection which, as chief of ‘Amir, he would give them, so the Prophet chose forty of his Companions who were eminently representative of Islam both in piety and knowledge, and he placed in command of them a man of Khazraj, Mundhir ibn ‘Amr. One of them was ‘Amir ibn Fuhayrah, the freedman whom Abu Bakr had chosen to accompany the Prophet and himself on the Hijrah.

It was not known in Medina that Abu Bara’s leadership was disputed within the tribe, and his nephew, who aspired to be chief in his place, killed one of the Companions who had been sent on ahead with a letter from the Prophet, and called upon his tribe to slaughter the others. When the tribe proved to be almost unanimous in upholding Abu Bara”s protection, the frustrated nephew sent a message of instigation to two clans of Sulaym who had recently been involved in hostilities with Medina. They immediately sent out a detachment of horse and massacred the whole delegation of unsuspecting Muslims in their camp by the well of Ma’unah, except for two men who had gone to pasture the camels. One of these two was Harith ibn as-Simmah, who had fought so valiantly at Uhud. The other was ‘Amr, of the Damrah clan of Kinanah. As they returned from pasturing, they were dismayed to see vultures in great numbers circling above their camp, as over a battlefield when the fighting has been finished; and they found their companions lying dead in their own blood, with the horsemen of Sulaym standing near them, absorbed in so earnest a discussion amongst themselves that they did not appear to notice the newcomers. ‘Amr was for escaping to Medina with the news, but Harith said “I am not one to hold back from fighting on a field where Mundhir hath been slain,” and he threw himself on the enemy, killing two of them before he and ‘Amr were overpowered and taken captive. They were strangely unwilling to kill either of them, even Harith, although two of their men had just died at his hands, and they asked him what they should do with him. He said he only wanted to be taken to where Mundhir’s body lay and to be given weapons and set free to fight them all. They granted his request, and he killed another of two men before he was finally killed himself. ‘Amr they set free, and they asked him to tell them the names of all his dead companions. He went with them to each one, and told them his name and lineage. Then they asked him if any of them were missing. “I cannot find a freedman of Abu Bakr,” he said, “named ‘Amir ibn Fuhayrah.” “What was his position amongst you?” they asked. “He was one of the best of us,” said ‘Amr, “one of our Prophet’s firs Companions.” “Shall I tell thee what befell him?” said his questioner. Then they called to one of their number, Jabbar, who had himself killed ‘Amir, and Jabbar recounted how he had come upon him from behind and thrust him between the shoulders with his spear. The point came out from ‘Amir’s chest, and with his last breath the words “I have triumphed, by God” were ejaculated from his lips. ‘What could that mean?” thought Jabbar, feeling that he himself had more right to claim a triumph. In amazement he drew out his spear, to be still more amazed when unseen hands carried toe body high up into the air until it was lost in sight. When it was explained to Jabbar that the “triumph” meant Paradise, he entered Islam. The Prophet said, when he heard of the event, that the Angels had taken ‘Amir to ‘Illiyyun,[3] which is one of the supreme Paradises.[4]

The men of Sulaym returned to their tribe, where the story of what had befallen was repeated again and again, and this was the beginning of their conversion. As to the liberated survivor, ‘Amr, they told him that the massacre had been instigated by the Bani ‘Amir; and on his way back to Medina he killed two men of that tribe, thinking to avenge his dead companions. But both men were in fact entirely innocent, loyal to Abu Bara’ and recognizing his protection of the believers, so the Prophet insisted that blood-wite should be paid for them to their nearest kin.

[1] Qur’an 2 : 115
[2] W. 360
[3] W. 349
[4] Qur’an 83 : 18 – 19

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