In 2 AH, the Holy Prophet (sa) sent a military expedition to Nakhlah under the leadership of Hazrat Abdullah (ra) bin Jahsh, who was the son of the Holy Prophet’s (sa) paternal aunt. Hazrat Utbah(ra) was also part of this expedition.
Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad Sahib (ra) writes the following in Sirat Khatamun-Nabiyyin:
“The Holy Prophet (sa) decided that the movements of the Quraish should be surveyed from a closer distance, so that all the necessary intelligence with respect to them may be available on time and Medina could be safeguarded from all kinds of sudden attacks. Hence, for this purpose, the Holy Prophet (sa) assembled a party of eight Muhajirin. As an act of wisdom, the Holy Prophet (sa) selected such men for this party who were from the various tribes of the Quraish, so that it was easier to obtain intelligence with regard to the hidden conspiracies of the Quraish. The Holy Prophet (sa) appointed his paternal cousin, Abdullah (ra) bin Jahsh as the commander of this party…
“Upon ordering this Sariyyah [expedition], the Holy Prophet (sa) did not even inform the commander of this party as to where he was being sent and for what purpose. Rather, upon their departure, the Holy Prophet (sa) handed him a sealed letter and said, ‘This letter contains necessary instructions for you. When you cover a distance of two days’ travel from Medina, open the letter and act in accordance with the stipulated instructions.’ As such, Abdullah (ra) and his companions set out by the command of their Master (sa). When they had journeyed a distance of two days from Medina, Abdullah (ra) opened the instructions of the Holy Prophet (sa), which were as follows:
“‘Go forth to the Valley of Nakhlah between Mecca and Ta‘if, and obtain information on the Quraish and return with news therefrom.’
“At the bottom of this letter, the Holy Prophet (sa) had written that after the objective of this mission became known, if anyone from among his companions was hesitant in accompanying this party and desired to return…” i.e. after reading the letter and learning of the mission and understanding what is required, if anyone from among the party had any reservations or objections, they could return if they wished to do so and there were to be no restrictions for him. The Holy Prophet (sa) instructed that they would be permitted to return.
“Abdullah (ra) read out this guidance to his companions who unanimously affirmed that, ‘We happily present ourselves for this service.’ Then, this party proceeded to Nakhlah. Sa‘d (ra) bin Abi Waqqas and Utbah (ra) bin Ghazwan lost their camels en-route, and were separated from their companions. Despite their best efforts, they were unable to relocate their companions. The party was now left with only six people.”
Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad Sahib (ra) states that an orientalist, Mr Margolius has written regarding this incident:
“Sa‘d (ra) bin Abi Waqqas and Utbah (ra) intentionally let their camels loose and used this as an excuse to remain behind.” Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad Sahib (ra) writes, “Each and every life event of these devotees of Islam, who were ready to sacrifice their lives, is a testimony to their valour and devotion. One of them was martyred at the hands of the disbelievers in the campaign of Bir-e-Ma‘unah, while the other distinctly participated in many dangerous battles and ultimately became the victor of Iraq. Therefore, to doubt the sincerity of such people, especially when that doubt is founded on self-concocted notions, is the work of Mr. Margolius alone. It is ironic that in his book Mr. Margolius claims that he has written this book being completely free from prejudice.”
In any case, this is the practice of the orientalists, they never allow an opportunity to pass in which they can malign Islam or Muslims. I will now turn to the actual incident relating to this expedition.
“This small community reached Nakhlah and became engaged in their work…” i.e. to seek information and intelligence about the movements and intentions of the disbelievers of Mecca, in case they planned an attack against the Muslims. Hence, they became engaged in their work.
“With the thought of concealing their classified mission, some of them shaved their heads so that travellers etc. would not be alarmed in any way, and so that they would consider them as being such people who had come with the intention of Umrah. However, they had only just arrived there, when suddenly a small caravan of the Quraish also happened to arrive, which was travelling from Ta‘if to Mecca, and both parties encountered each other. The Muslims consulted one another as to what should be done. The Holy Prophet (sa) had sent them for the purpose of secretly obtaining intelligence, (and not for an attack) but on the other hand, war had begun with the Quraish. Both opponents were before one another and naturally there was a risk that now, since the people from the caravan of the Quraish had spotted the Muslims, their covert intelligence mission would no longer remain secret. Another predicament was that some Muslims thought that it was perhaps the last day of Rajab, i.e., a sacred month in which fighting was prohibited as per the ancient Arabian custom. Others thought that Rajab had passed and the month of Sha‘ban had started. In some narrations it has been related that this Sariyyah was dispatched in Jamadiyul-Akhir, and there was a doubt as to whether this day was of Jamadi or Rajab. However, on the other hand, the Valley of Nakhlah was situated right on the outskirts of the Haram and it was obvious that if a decision was not made that day, the caravan would have entered the Haram on the following day, the sanctity of which was definite.
“Hence, taking all of these factors into consideration, it was finally decided that the caravan should be attacked, and the people of the caravan should either be taken captive or killed. Therefore, they launched an attack, and as a result, one of the men from among the disbelievers was killed, and two were taken captive. However, the fourth individual unfortunately escaped, and the Muslims were unable to apprehend him, hence they were unsuccessful in their plan. Thereafter, the Muslims seized the goods of the caravan. Since one man belonging to the Quraish had escaped and news of this conflict would inevitably reach Mecca quickly, Abdullah (ra) bin Jahsh and his companions swiftly returned to Medina with the spoils.
“On this occasion, Mr. Margolius writes that Muhammad[sa] deliberately dispatched this company in the Sacred Month, because in this month the Quraish naturally would have been unmindful, and the Muslims would find an easy and definite opportunity to raid their caravan. However, every sensible individual can understand that a small party of this nature could not have been dispatched to such a far-off region to plunder a caravan, especially when the enemy headquarters were so nearby. Furthermore, history categorically establishes that this party had merely been dispatched for the purpose of obtaining intelligence. Moreover, when the Holy Prophet (sa) found out that the companions (ra) had attacked the caravan, he was extremely displeased. As such, it is narrated that when they presented themselves before the Holy Prophet (sa) and informed him of the entire account, the Holy Prophet (sa) was extremely displeased and said:
“‘I have not given you permission to fight in the Sacred Month,’ and the Holy Prophet (sa) refused to accept the spoils. Upon this, Abdullah (ra) and his companions felt extreme remorse and shame. They thought that due to their incurring the displeasure of God and His Messenger (sa), they had been ruined. Even the other Companions (ra) reproached them over their actions.
“On the other hand, the Quraish also raised a huge hue and cry, that the Muslims had violated the sanctity of the Sacred Month. Since the person who had been killed, Amr bin Al-Hadrami, was a chieftain, and was also a confederate of Utbah bin Rabi‘ah, a chieftain of Mecca, this occurrence greatly enraged the Quraish’s fire of fury. They began to prepare for an attack upon Medina with even greater zeal and uproar. Therefore, upon this occurrence, there was murmuring both among the Muslims and disbelievers, and finally the following Quranic verse was revealed, which provided a means of relief for the Muslims:
یَسْأَلُوْنَکَ عَنِ الشَّہْرِالْحَرَام قِتَالٍ فِیْہِ قُلْ قِتَالٌ فِیْہِ کَبِیْرٌ وَّصَدٌّ عَنْ سَبِیْلِ اللّٰہِ وَکُفْرٌ بِہٖ وَالْمَسْجِدِالْحَرَامِ وَإِخْرَاجُ أَہْلِہٖ مِنْہُ أَ کْبَرُ عِنْدَ اللّٰہِ وَالْفِتْنَۃُ أَ کْبَرُ مِنَ الْقَتْلِ وَلَا یَزَالُوْنَ یُقَاتِلُوْنَکُمْ حَتّٰى یَرُدُّوْکُمْ عَنْ دِیْنِکُمْ إِنِ اسْتَطَاعُوْا
“‘People ask thee about fighting in the Sacred Month. Tell them: Undoubtedly, fighting in the Sacred Month is a great transgression, but to forcefully hinder men from the religion of God in the Sacred Month; rather, to disbelieve in relation to the Sacred Month and the Sacred Mosque, i.e., to violate their sanctity, and then to turn out by coercion, the inhabitants of the Haram, as you are guilty of doing, O ye idolaters, is a greater sin with Allah than fighting in the Sacred Month; and verily, to persecute in the land during the Sacred Month is worse than such fighting, which is for the purpose of preventing persecution. O Ye Muslims! The state of the disbelievers is such that they have become so blinded in their enmity towards you that they will not cease fighting you at any time and at any place, until they turn you back from your faith, if they find the power to do so.’ [Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.218]
“Therefore, history establishes that the chieftains of the Quraish would spread their bloody propaganda even in the Sacred Months. As a matter of fact, they became even more active in their evil designs during these months, taking benefit of the gatherings and journeys which would take place in the Sacred Months. Furthermore, with great shamelessness, in order to gratify themselves with a false satisfaction, they would rearrange the order of the Sacred Months, which was known as nas‘i. Then, later on they crossed all bounds, when during the era of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, despite there being a firm covenant and agreement, the disbelievers of Mecca and their allies took up the sword against an ally tribe of the Muslims, in the area of the Haram.” Then when the Muslims came to the aid of their ally tribe, the disbelievers raised the sword in the area within the Haram.
“Hence, it was only natural for the Muslims to find comfort in this response (i.e. in this Quranic verse revealed by God Almighty), but the Quraish were also brought to level. During this time, two of their men arrived in Medina in order to have their two captives released. However, until now, Sa‘d (ra) bin Abi Waqas and Utbah (ra) bin Ghazwan had not returned. On their account, the Holy Prophet (sa) greatly feared that if the Quraish happened to seize them, they would not release them alive. Hence, for this reason, the Holy Prophet (sa) refused to release the captives until they returned and said, ‘When my men safely reach Medina, I will release yours.’ Therefore, when they both reached Medina, the Holy Prophet (sa) released both captives for a ransom. However, from among these two captives, one individual was so deeply impressed by the high moral qualities of the Holy Prophet (sa) and the truth of the Islamic teaching during his stay at Medina, that even after his release, he refused to return, and joined the servants of the Holy Prophet (sa) by accepting Islam at his hand. He was finally martyred at Bir-e-Maunah.”
(Sirat Khatamun-Nabiyyin, Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad (ra), pp. 330-34)