Prophet Muhammad discovered that the Quraysh had plotted to kill him rather than to allow him to emigrate to Madinah where he might entrench the forces of Islam for a resolute stand against Makkah and from where he might cut off its trade with al Sham. No one doubted that Prophet Muhammad would hence-forth seize any opportunity to carry out his plan for emigration. But no one knew of any plans he might have had; not even Abu Bakr, who had been commanded to keep two beasts alert and ready ever since he asked the Prophet for permission to emigrate and the Prophet advised him to wait. Prophet Muhammad remained in Makkah until he learned of the Quraysh’s plot to assassinate him, and until none but the fewest Muslims were still left there with him. He waited for the command of his Lord for emigration. When, finally, that command did come, he went to the house of Abu Bakr and informed him of the permission God had granted. He asked Abu Bakr to accompany him on the trip.
‘Ali in the Prophet’s Bed
Here begins one of the greatest adventures history has known in the cause of truth and religious conviction. It is one of the noblest and most beautiful. Abu Bakr had chosen his two beasts and given them to ‘Abdullah ibn Urayqit to graze until the time when they would be needed. When the two men planned to leave Makkah they were absolutely certain that Quraysh would follow them in their trail in order to seize them and bring them back. Hence, Prophet Muhammad decided to surprise his enemies by leaving under circumstances and at a time hardly conceivable to them. The young men whom the Quraysh had prepared for performing the assassination had blockaded his house during the night in fear that he might run away. On the night of the Hijrah, Prophet Muhammad confided his plan to ‘Ali ibn Abu Talib and asked him to cover himself with the Prophet’s green mantle from Hadramawt and to sleep in the Prophet’s bed. He further asked him to tarry in Makkah until he had returned all things left with Prophet Muhammad to their rightful owners. The Quraysh men waiting to kill the Prophet felt reassured whenever, looking through a hole in the door, they saw somebody sleeping in the Prophet’s bed. Just before dawn, Prophet Muhammad left without being noticed, picked up Abu Bakr at the latter’s house and from there they proceeded through a back door southward toward the cave of Thawr. The southerly direction of their flight was inconceivable to everyone.
Nobody knew of their hiding place in the cave except ‘Abdullah, son of Abu Bakr, his two sisters, ‘A’ishah and Asma’, and their servant ‘Amir ibn Fuhayrah. ‘Abdullah spent his day in Makkah listening to what the Quraysh said and plotted about Prophet Muhammad and then reported it to the pair at their hideout under cover of night. ‘Amir grazed the sheep of Abu Bakr and passed by the cave in the evening in order to give them some milk and meat. Upon ‘Abdullah’s return from the cave, ‘Amir would follow him with all his sheep and then conceal any trace of his steps. For three long days, the pair remained in the cave and the Quraysh persistently looked for them without avail. For the Quraysh it was absolutely necessary to find Prophet Muhammad and to prevent his emigration to Yathrib. Meanwhile, Prophet Muhammad spent most of his time praying to God and invoking his blessings, and Abu Bakr continually sought to find out whether they were being discovered and to look after their security.
The young men of Quraysh who were chosen to kill Prophet Muhammad continued their search and came close to the cave fully armed and ready for the kill. When they found a shepherd in the vicinity, they asked him about Prophet Muhammad and Abu Bakr. He answered, “Perhaps they are within the cave, although I have not seen anyone go in or out.” When he heard the shepherd’s answer, Abu Bakr trembled with fear and expected the Quraysh to break into the cave any moment. He withdrew into a corner and, trusting in God, remained motionless. Some members of the Quraysh party climbed up to the cave, and the foremost among them turned round as soon as he saw the cave entrance. His companions asked him, “Why have you not gone into the cave? He answered, “Its entrance is covered with cobwebs, and there is a pair of wild pigeons on the threshold. Obviously, no one could have gone in without disturbing the pigeons and destroying the cobwebs.” At that moment, Prophet Muhammad prayed while Abu Bakr continued to shake with fear. To Abu Bakr, who pressed ever closer to Prophet Muhammad, the latter whispered, “Do not grieve; God is with us.” According to some Hadith books, it is reported that when the Quraysh party arrived at the cave entrance, Abu Bakr exclaimed: “If any one of them looks at his feet he will find us,” and that the Prophet had answered, “O Abu Bakr, how can you fear for two men whose constant companion is God Himself?” The Quraysh men were further convinced that the cave was empty when they saw the entrance to the cave covered indeed blocked with branches growing from a tree nearby. They then agreed to leave and called one another for their return to Makkah. Only then did the two refugees within the cave feel reassured. Abu Bakr’s faith in God and His Prophet became stronger, and Prophet Muhammad prayed: “Praise be to God! God is greater than all!”
The Miracle of the Cave
The cobwebs, the two wild pigeons, and the tree and its branches these are the miracles which the biography books relate concerning the hiding in the cave of Thawr. The miracle is that none of these things were there when the Prophet and his companion entered the cave, and that thereafter, the spider hurried to weave its cobwebs, the two pigeons to build their nest and to lay their eggs, and the tree to grow its branches around the door. In this connection the Orientalist Dermenghem wrote, “These three things are the only miracles recorded in authentic Mussulman history: the web of a spider, the love of a dove, the sprouting of a flower three miracles accomplished daily on God’s earth.”[E. Dermenghem, op. cit., p. 149]
Some Biographers Omit the Story
This miracle received no mention in Ibn Hisham’s biography. His version of the story of the cave ran as follows: “They [Prophet Muhammad and Abu Bakr] went to the cave of Thawr, on the south side of Makkah. Abu Bakr ordered his son `Abdullah to stay in Makkah during the day, listen to the news of the Quraysh and bring them knowledge thereof in the evening. He ordered his servant, `Amir ibn Fuhayrah, to continue to graze his sheep and to come by the cave at night. Asma’, daughter of Abu Bakr, brought them provisions of food in the evening, also. The Prophet of God-may God’s peace and blessing is upon him stayed in the cave three days. The Quraysh had announced a prize of one hundred camels to whosoever would bring back Prophet Muhammad to Makkah. `Abdullah, son of Abu Bakr, used to spend his day in Makkah listening well to the plotting and gossip of the Quraysh, and when visiting the pair in the evening, related the news to them. `Amir ibn Fuhayrah, servant of Abu Bakr, used to graze the flock of sheep around Makkah and, in the evening, passed by the cave and gave milk and meat to the pair. When `Abdullah, son of Abu Bakr, returned home to Makkah, he was followed by `Amir ibn Fuhayrah and his sheep in order to cover over his footprints. Three days later, when the interest of the Quraysh in this search had subsided, the man whom Abu Bakr had appointed to graze the two camels for the trip came with the three camels, two for Prophet Muhammad and Abu Bakr, and a third for himself . . . .” That is all that Ibn Hisham says concerning the story of the cave.
In the same connection, the following verses of the Qur’an were revealed
“When the unbelievers plotted to imprison you, to kill you or to banish you, God planned on your behalf, and He is the best of planners. . . If you [the people] do not help Prophet Muhammad, then know that God Will. For God helped him when the unbelievers drove him out, and he and his companion hid in the cave. At that time, the Prophet said to his companion, `Grieve not for God is with us.’ It was then that God sent down his peace upon him and assisted him with hosts invisible that the word of God might be supreme and that of the unbelievers might be repudiated. God is almighty and all wise.”[Qur’an, 8:30; 9:40]
The Trip to Yathrib
On the third day, when they felt certain that the Quraysh had called off the hunt for them in the vicinity, Prophet Muhammad and Abu Bakr commanded their servant to bring them their camels for escape. The servant managed to bring a third camel for himself. Asma’, daughter of Abu Bakr, brought them provisions. As they mounted, they could not find ropes with which to tie their provisions of food and water. Asma’ cut her robe in two and used one hall’ of it for the purpose while covering herself with the other half. For this reason she was called “the woman with the two half robes.” Their provisions taken care of, the three men went forth. Abu Bakr carried five thousand Dirhims, [The word is originally the Greek “drachme,” a silver coin of varying value. -Tr.] which was all that was left of his wealth. Lest the Quraysh should find them, they cautiously took an untrodden path toward their destination. Their servant and guide, `Abdullah ibn Urayqit, from the tribe of Banu al Du’il, headed south of Makkah and then to the mountain range of Tihamat close by the shore of the Red Sea. From there he took an unknown path northward parallel to the shore but far removed from it. His purpose was always to remain off the beaten track. All night and most of the day the riders pressed forth unaffected by fatigue or hardship, for every hardship was preferable indeed easy by comparison to what the Quraysh was prepared to do to destroy them and their cause! Prophet Muhammad never doubted that God would come to his help, but God had also commanded man not to expose himself to open risks. God had counseled that He would assist man only as long as man helped himself and his brother. The two men were successful in their hiding in the cave. However, the Quraysh’s announcement of an hundred camel prize to whoever would bring them back or furnish information which would lead to their capture was sufficient to mobilize the wealth seeking Makkans for the search, even if it was a criminal one. Still, the Arabs of Quraysh had additional motivation to conduct such a search, for they regarded Prophet Muhammad as their enemy par excellence; and they were so revengeful and passionate in their hate that no consideration could stop them from exploiting the weak and injuring the harmless. Therefore, they redoubled their attentiveness and renewed their vigor for the search.
The Story of Suraqah
Their intuition did not fail them. A man soon arrived at Makkah to report that on his way he met three riders whom he thought were Prophet Muhammad and his companions. Upon hearing this report, Suraqah ibn Malik ibn Ju’shum immediately said, “Those are the sons of so and so.” His purpose was to lead his companions into disregarding the report so that he might capture Prophet Muhammad single-handed and win the prize of the hundred camels. A moment later, he returned home, loaded himself with arms, and ordered his servant to take his horse to the outskirts of the city so that no one would see him go. There, he arrayed himself for battle, mounted his horse, and galloped toward the spot where Prophet Muhammad was reported to have been seen. Prophet Muhammad and his two companions had at that time repaired to a tree to rest a little under its shade, to eat a meal and to replenish their energies.
The time was close to evening. Prophet Muhammad and Abu Bakr began to ready their beasts to resume their ride. Suraqah was still as far from them as the eye could see. Exhausted with fatigue from all its galloping, Suraqah’s horse fell twice on the way. When the travelers came into his sight, and he realized he could now capture or kill them, Suraqah forgot that his horse had fallen twice already. He spurred it once more and hurried it toward them. The horse fell to the ground with its rider. At this turn, Suraqah felt very apprehensive that the gods were against the execution of his scheme and that he might be exposing himself to grave danger should he spur his horse forward for the fourth time. After stopping, he called to the travelers: “I am Suraqah ibn Ju’shum. Wait for me so that I may talk to you. By God, I shall do you neither harm or injury.” When he arrived, he asked Prophet Muhammad to write him a note with which to prove his present encounter. At the Prophet’s command, Abu Bakr wrote a note to this effect which Suraqah took and returned home. Made contrite by his unfortunate venture, he spread the news that the riders were not Prophet Muhammad and his party at all!
The Hardships of the Road
Prophet Muhammad and his two companions set forth toward Yathrib across mountains, hills, and deserts whose sands were glowing with heat. Since they were off the beaten track, they found hardly anything with which to alleviate the hardships of sun and thirst. Furthermore, they were ever apprehensive that the Quraysh or some other people might surprise and overtake them. Their only consolation was their patient trust in God and the truth revealed to His Prophet. For seven consecutive days they traveled, lying low during the heat of day and moving with great haste under cover of night. In the stillness of night and the brilliance of its stars lay their only security and assurance. When they reached the quarters of the tribe of Banu Sabin, where elder chieftain Buraydah came over to greet them, their fears lessened, and for the first time, their hearts palpitated with the hope and assurance of victory. They had almost reached their destination.
Awaiting the Prophet in Yathrib
During Prophet Muhammad’s long and exhaustive trip, the news reached his companions in Yathrib that he had emigrated from Makkah in order to join them. Aware of the enmity of the Quraysh and of their attempts to follow and to seize the Prophet, the Muslims waited anxiously for his arrival and looked very much forward to hearing the details of his escape. Many of them had never seen the Prophet before although they had heard a great deal about his eloquence and resolution. Naturally, they were quite anxious to meet him. We can imagine the enthusiasm of these men when we know that a number of notables from Yathrib had followed Prophet Muhammad even though they had never seen him before. Their knowledge of him depended on his companions who had spoken to them of their love for him and who had been staunchly carrying his message about.
The Spread of Islam in Yathrib
Sa’d ibn Zurarah and Mus’ab ibn ‘Umayr once sat in one of the courtyards of Banu Zafar listening to the speech of those who entered into Islam. Their news had reached Sa’d ibn Mu’adh and Usayd ibn Hudayr, chieftains of their tribes. Sa’d said to Usayd, as one chieftain to another, “Go out to these two men who came here to subvert the weaklings among us. Chastise them and forbid them to come here again. You can do this better than I because Sa’d ibn Zurarah is a cousin of mine and I cannot be harsh enough to him.” Usayd went out to seek the two men. Mus’ab said, “Will you not sit down and listen to us? If you hear something worthwhile, accept it. If, on the other hand, you hear something unworthy, you may put a quick end to it.” Usayd replied, “You are fair.” He stuck his spear into the ground and sat down listening to Mus’ab’s preaching of Islam. No sooner had Mus’ab finished than Usayd was converted to Islam. When he returned, his fellow chieftain, Sa’d, was annoyed at this and sought out the two men in person. They offered him the same choice, and he, too, was converted. Following upon this, Sa’d went to his people and said, “Oh, Banu ‘Abd al Ashhal, what do you think of me?” They answered, “You are our chieftain, our dearest relative, our wise leader and righteous representative.” He said, “Then I shall forbid myself to speak to any of your men and women until you believe in God and in His prophet.” Banu ‘Abd al Ashhal then entered into the faith en bloc.
Islam had spread so widely in Yathrib and the Muslims had gathered so much strength before the emigration of the Prophet that some Muslim youths were encouraged to attack the idols of the unbelievers. Apparently Islam had enjoyed a strength that the Muslims of Makkah had never dreamt of before. ‘Amr ibn al Jamuh had a wooden idol which he called Manat and which he kept in his house according to the custom of the nobility, for he was one of the noblemen of Banu Salamah. When the youths of his tribe joined Islam, they raided his house at night and, without his knowledge, would steal away the idol and place it in the refuse dump outside the city. In the morning, `Amr would miss his statue and look for it. When he found it, he would cleanse, purify, and return it to its place. All along, he would curse and threaten the offenders in the strongest terms. The youth of Banu Salamah continued their attacks upon this idol until one day ‘Amr hung his sword on the shoulder of the statue and said to it, “If there is any power in you, there’s my sword, defend yourself.” The following morning, however, he found the idol robbed of its sword and tied to a dead dog inside an empty pit. At that moment, his people talked to him and showed him how unworthy of man is idolatry. He was convinced and entered Islam.
With all these successes which Islam had been scoring in Yathrib, the people of Yathrib looked forward quite eagerly to the arrival of Prophet Muhammad when they heard of his emigration. For many days before his arrival, they went out to the outskirts of their city at dawn to spend the morning seeking signs of the Prophet’s arrival.
The month was July and the days were hot. Prophet Muhammad reached Quba’, two leagues from Madinah, [Six and a half miles south of the city. -Tr.] and stayed there four days with Abu Bakr being constantly with him. During this interval, he founded a mosque and before he left for Madinah, ‘Ali ibn Abu Talib had joined his party. ‘Ali had returned the trusts left with Prophet Muhammad which Prophet Muhammad had asked him to return to their rightful owners, and he came to Yathrib on foot, walking during the night and hiding during the day. He had been on the road for two whole weeks in order to join the Prophet and his fellow Muslims in Madinah.
Prophet Muhammad’s Entry into Madinah
One day, as the Muslims waited the arrival of Prophet Muhammad, a Jew of Yathrib announced to them, “0 People of Qaylah, your man has finally arrived.” It was a Friday, and Prophet Muhammad performed his prayer in Madinah at the mosque situated in the valley of Ranuqna. The Muslims of Yathrib arrived there from all quarters in order to see the man whom they had not seen, but whom they loved with all their minds and hearts, in whose message they had believed, and whose name they had mentioned many times in their daily prayers. A number of notables invited the Prophet to stay in their houses and to enjoy the comforts, security, and protection of their quarters. As Prophet Muhammad apologized, he rode his camel, which he allowed to go free, toward the city. As it ran forth surrounded by the Muslims who opened the way for it, the people of Yathrib, whether Jews or unbelievers, looked with surprise on the new agitation and vitality that had suddenly seized their city. They looked at this great visitor who was equally acclaimed by al Aws and al Khazraj, who had until recently been death enemies of each other. No one among them apparently grasped the new direction which history was taking at that auspicious moment, nor the great destiny at work to make their city immortal. The Prophet’s camel continued to run until it stopped at a yard belonging to two orphans of Banu al Najjar. There, the camel lay down and the Prophet dismounted. Upon inquiring who the owner of the yard was, he learned from Mu’adh ibn `Afra’ that it belonged to Sahl and Suhayl, sons of `Amr, of whom he was the guardian. He asked the Prophet to build a mosque there and made a promise to satisfy the two orphans.Prophet Muhammad accepted the request by building his mosque as well as his living quarters there.