66 – The Dilemma of Quraysh

The Prophet fasted Ramadan in Medina and remained there also during the month which followed. One night towards its end he dreamed that with his head shaved he entered the Ka’bah, and its key was in his hand. The next day he told his Companions of this and invited them to perform the Lesser Pilgrimage with him, whereupon they hastily set about making preparations so that they could leave as soon as possible. Between them they purchased seventy camels to be sacrificed in the sacred precinct. Their meat would then be distributed among the poor of Mecca. The Prophet decided to take one of his wives with him, and when lots were cast the lot fell to Umm Salamah. Also amongst the pilgrims were the two women of Khazraj who had been present at the Second ‘Aqabah, Nusaybah and Umm Mani’.

Each man took with him a sword, and what might be needed for hunting, but before they set off ‘Umar and Sa’d ibn ‘Ubadah suggested that they should go fully armed. Quraysh, they said, might well take the opportunity of attacking them, despite the sacred month. But the Prophet refused, saying: “I will not carry arms; I have come forth for no end other than to make the Pilgrimage.” At the first halt he called for the sacrificial camels to be brought to him, and he himself consecrated one of them, turning it to face towards Mecca, making a mark on its right flank, and placing garlands round its necks, after which he ordered that the others should be consecrated in the same way. he then sent on ahead a man of Khuza’ah, of the clan of Ka’b, to bring him back word of the reactions of Quraysh.

The Prophet was bareheaded and had already donned the age-old traditional pilgrim’s dress of two pieces of unstitched cloth, one girt round the waist to cover the lower part of the body, and the other draped round the shoulders. He now consecrated himself for the Pilgrimage with two prayer cycles, after which he began to utter the pilgrim’s cry Labbayk Allahumma Labbayk, which means “Here I am at Thy service, O God.” Most of the others followed his example, but a few preferred to wait until they had advanced somewhat further upon their journey, for the pilgrimal state carried with it certain restrictions about hunting.

When Quraysh heard of the departure of the pilgrims from Medina, they were filled with misgivings, as the Prophet had anticipated, and they immediately summoned a meeting in the Assembly. Never had they known a more serious dilemma. If they, the guardians of the sanctuary, were to hinder the approach of over a thousand Arab pilgrims to the Holy House, this would be a most flagrant violation of the laws on which all their own greatness was founded. On the other hand, if they allowed their enemies to enter Mecca in peace and comfort, it would be an immense moral triumph for Muhammad. The tidings of it would spread throughout Arabia and be on everybody’s lips; and it would serve to place the crown of defeat upon their own recent unsuccessful attack upon Medina. Perhaps worst of all, these pilgrims’ performances of the ancient rites would serve to make the new faith more attractive and to confirm its claim to be the religion of Abraham. All things considered, it was out of the question to let them come. “By God, this shall not be,” they said, “so long as there is a single eye amongst us with a glimmer of life left in it.”

When the pilgrims reached ‘Usfan, the scout who had been sent on ahead rejoined them with the news that Quraysh had sent Khalid with a troop of two hundred horse to bar their approach. So the Prophet asked for a guide who could take them on by another way, and a man of Aslam led them a little towards the coast and then by a devious and difficult path until they reached the pass which leads down to Hudaybiyah, an open tract of land below Mecca at the edge of the sacred territory. Their detour had kept them well out of sight of Khalid, but at one point, when it was too late for him to take up another position, they raised so much dust that he realized what had happened, and galloped back to Mecca with his troop to warn Quraysh of their approach.

The Prophet had chosen his favorite camel, Qaswa’, for the Pilgrimage, and at the end of the pass she stopped and knelt. The rocks resounded as many of the men cried out Hal! Hal!, which is what they say to make a camel rise, but she remained as if rooted to the earth. “Qaswa’ is stubborn,” they said, but the Prophet knew well that it was a sign that they should go no further than Hudaybiyah, at any rate for the moment. “She is not stubborn,” he said, “it is no in her nature; but He holdeth her who held the elephant.” He added, referring to Quraysh: “They shall not ask of me this day any concession which honoreth the rights of God but I will grant it them”.* Then he spoke to Qaswa’, and she quickly rose to her feet and bore him down to the edge of Hudaybiyah, followed by the other pilgrims. Here he told them to camp; but there was almost no water, only the dregs of it at the bottom of one or two hollows, and the men were complaining of thirst. The Prophet called Najiyah to him, the man of Aslam who was in charge of the sacrificial camels, and told him to bring him a pail of as much water as he could from the largest of the hollows, which he did. Having performed his ablution, the Prophet rinsed his mouth and spat back the water into the pail. Then, taking an arrow from his quiver, he said: “Go down with this water and pour it into the waters of the hollow; then stir them with this arrow.” Najiyah did as he was bid, and water, clear and fresh, surged up so quickly and so plentifully at the touch of the arrow that he was almost overwhelmed before he could clamber out. The pilgrims gathered round the edge of the hollow and every man drank his fill, as did also the animals.

One, or two of the hypocrites were amongst the pilgrims, including Ibn Ubayy; and, as he sat drinking his fill, one of his fellow clansmen addressed him saying: “Out upon thee, O father of Hubab, hath not the time now come for thee to see how thou art placed? What more than this can there be?” “I have seen the like of this before,” said Ibn Ubayy, whereupon the other man remonstrated with him so threateningly that Ibn Ubayy went with his son to the Prophet to forestall trouble and to say that he had been misunderstood. But before he had time to speak the Prophet said to him: “Where hast thou seen the like of that which thou hast seen this day?” He answered: “I have never seen the like of it.” “Then why,” said the Prophet, “didst say what thou saidst?” “I ask forgiveness of God,” said Ibn Ubayy. “O Messenger of God,” said his son, “ask forgiveness for him,” and the Prophet did so.**

Having satisfied their thirst, the pilgrims were soon able also to eat their fill, thanks to a gift of camels and sheep from two Bedouin chiefs, whose tribe, the Bani Khuza’ah, one-time guardians of the Sanctuary, included the clans of Aslam, Ka’b and Mustaliq. To a man, these were now all well disposed towards the Prophet. For such of them  as had not yet entered Islam, there was a political advantage in this alliance, which was needed to counterbalance the pact that their great enemies, the Bani Bakr, had long had with Quraysh. This situation was soon to give rise to events of the greatest importance. For the moment, however, there was no fighting between Khuza’ah and Bakr, and Khuza’ah were tolerated by Quraysh, but at the same time suspected. One of their leading men, Budayl ibn Warqa’, was in Mecca when news came that the pilgrims were encamped at Hudaybiyah. He now went with some of his clansmen to the Prophet to inform him of the attitude of Quraysh. “They swear by God,” he said, “that they will not leave the way open between thee and the House until the last of their fighting men hath perished.” The Prophet said: “We came not here for battle; we came only to make our pilgrimal rounds about the House. He that standeth in our way, him we shall fight; but I will grant them time, if they so desire it, to take their precautions and to leave the way clear for us.”

Budayl and his fellows returned to Mecca, and Quraysh received them in sullen silence. When they offered to tell them what Muhammad had said to them, ‘Ikrimah, the son of Abu Jahl, said they did not wish to hear it, whereupon ‘Urwah, one of their allies of Thaqif -his mother was a Meccan- protested that this attitude was absurd. So Safwan said to Budayl: “Tell us what ye have seen and what ye have heard.” And he told them of the peaceful intent of the pilgrims, and also that the Prophet had said he was ready to give Quraysh time to prepare for their coming. Then ‘Urwah said, “Budayl hath brought you a goodly concession such as no man can refuse except to his own hurt. So accept his hearsay of it, but send me to bring confirmation direct from Muhammad, and I will look on those who are with him, and I will be for you a scout, to bring you tidings of him.”

Quraysh accepted his offer, but they had already sent, as scout and possibly envoy, the man who commanded all their allies of the Bedouin tribes, known collectively as the Ahabish. This was Hulays of the Bani l-Harith, one of the clans of Kinanah. It was he who had rebuked Abu Sufyan for the mutilations at Uhud. When the Prophet saw him coming, he knew -either from his gait and demeanor or from what he had heard of him- that he was a man of piety, with a great reverence for sacred things, so he gave orders that the animals they intended to sacrifice should be sent to meet him; and when the seventy camels solemnly filed past Hulays with their marks of consecration and their festive ornaments he was so impressed that without going to speak to the Prophet he went straight back to Quraysh and assured them that the pilgrims intentions were entirely peaceful. Exasperated, the Meccans told him that he was merely a man of the desert and that he had no knowledge of the situation. This was a great tactical error, as they soon realized, but too late. “Men of Quraysh,” he said sternly, “not for this, by God, did we consent to be your allies, and not for this pledged we our pact with you. Shall one who cometh to honor the House of God be banned from it? By Him in whose hand is my soul, either ye let Muhammad do what he hath come to do, or I lead away the Ahabish, every man of them.” “Bear with us, Hulays,” they said, “until we reach terms that we can accept.”

Meantime ‘Urwah of Thaqif had arrived at the pilgrim’s camp, and was already in converse with the Prophet. Seated in front of him, he began by treating him as an equal and took him by the beard when he addressed him; but Mughirah, one of the Emigrants who was standing by, rapped his hand with the flat of his sword, and he took it away. A few moments later, when he ventured to take the Prophet’s beard again, Mughirah gave him a harder rap, saying: “From the beard of God’s Messenger take thy hand while it is yet thine to take.” ‘Urwah refrained from any further familiarities with the Prophet; but after talking with him at some length, he stayed in the camp for several hours. He had promised Quraysh to be their scout as well as their envoy, and he was bent on taking note of everything. But what impressed him most were things which he had not come to see, things of which he had never seen the like; and when he returned to Mecca he said to Quraysh: “O people, I have been sent as envoy unto kings -unto Caesar and Chosroes and the Negus- and I have not seen a king whose men so honor him as the companions of Muhammad honor Muhammad. If he commandeth aught, they almost outstrip his word in fulfilling it; when he performeth his ablution, they wellnigh fight for the water thereof; when he speaketh, their voices are hushed in his presence; nor will they look him full in the face, but lower their eyes in reverence for him. He hath offered you a goodly concession; therefore accept it from him.”***

While ‘Urwah was still in the camp, the Prophet had mounted a man of Ka’b named Khirash on one of his camels and sent him as envoy to Quraysh. When he arrived, ‘Ikrimah hamstrung the camel; but Hulays and his men intervened and saved the envoy’s life, compelling Quraysh to let him go back to the Prophet. “O Messenger of God,” he said on his return, “send a man who is better protected than I am.” The Prophet called ‘Umar to him, to ‘Umar said that Quraysh knew well of his great hostility to them, and that none of his own clan, the Bani ‘Adi, were strong enough to defend him. “But I will show you,” he said, “a man who is more powerful in Mecca than I am, richer in kinsmen and better protected -‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan.” So the Prophet sent ‘Uthman and he was well received by his kinsmen of ‘Abdu Shams and by others; and though they reiterated to him their refusal to allow any of those now in Hudaybiyah to approach the Ka’bah, they invited him personally to make his pilgrimal rounds, which he refused to do so. Quraysh had already sent a message to Ibn Ubayy, offering the same concession to him also, but he replied: “I make not my rounds of the House until the Messenger of God maketh his.” The Prophet was told of this and it pleased him.

 

*I.I. 741; W. 587

**W. 589

***B. LIV, 15; W. 593-600

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