Migration to Abyssinia

The Holy Prophet (sa) was still en route when he met Hazrat Zubair (ra), who was returning along with a Muslim caravan of merchants from Syria. Hazrat Zubair (ra) presented the Holy Prophet (sa) and Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra) with white clothes.

*(Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Manaqib, Bab Hijrat al-Nabisa wa Ashabih ila al-Medina, Hadith 3906) *

In reference to this meeting, Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmed Sahib (ra) writes:

“On the way, he met Zubair bin Al-Awam (ra), who was returning to Mecca with a small party of Muslims from a trading expedition in Syria. Zubair (ra) gifted a white set of clothing to the Holy Prophet (sa) and one to Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra), and said, ‘After my return to Mecca, I too shall soon join you in Medina.’”

(Sirat Khatamun-Nabiyyin, Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad (ra), p. 242)

Nevertheless, Hazrat Abdullah (ra) bin Jahsh had accepted Islam prior to the establishment of this centre. It is narrated that his family was also subjected to the oppression at the hands of the idolaters of Quraish. He migrated to Abyssinia twice, along with his two brothers Hazrat Abu Ahmad and Ubaidullah and his sisters Hazrat Zainab bint Jahsh, Hazrat Umme Habibah and Hazrat Himnah bint Jahsh. His brother, Ubaidullah, upon arrival in Abyssinia, had converted to Christianity and died there as a Christian. His wife Umme Habibah bint Abu Sufyan was still in Abyssinia at the time when her marriage to the Holy Prophet (ra) took place.

(Usdul Ghaaba, Vol. 3, p.89, Abdullah bin Jahsh, Darul-Fikr, 2003, Beirut).

When some of the Muslims were migrating to Abyssinia, those acquainted with Hazrat Umar (ra) saw his extremely compassionate side as he witnessed them migrating, despite the fact that he had not yet accepted Islam and in spite of his strong nature. In relation to this, Hazrat Umm Abdillah (ra) bint Abi Hasmah relates:

“By Allah, when we were departing for Abyssinia and my husband Amir (ra) bin Rabi‘ah had gone due to some work of his, in that moment Hazrat Umar (ra) bin al-Khattab came and stood next to me. He was still an idolater at the time and we had suffered great affliction at his hands. He said to me, ‘O Umm Abdillah, it seems as though you are going somewhere.’ I replied, ‘Yes, by Allah we are indeed setting forth in the land of Allah’”; they were going in search of somewhere as the land of Allah is vast. “‘You people have caused us much grief and committed grave injustices against us, to the point where Allah the Almighty granted us a way to save ourselves.’”

Hazarat Umm Abdillah (ra) then relates, “Hazrat Umar (ra) then said, ‘May Allah be with you.’ Never before had I witnessed the emotion that had overcome Hazrat Umar (ra). Thereafter, he left. I felt as though our departing had saddened him.” Hazrat Umm Abdillah (ra) then states, “When Amir (ra) bin Rabi‘ah returned from his work, I said to him, ‘O Abdullah, if only you had witnessed the state of Umar and his compassion and sadness for our sake. Amir (ra) bin Rabi‘ah replied, ‘Are you hopeful of his conversion to Islam?’” She must have been affected by this incident and thought he would accept Islam. “I answered in the affirmative. Thereupon, Amir (ra) bin Rabi‘ah said, ‘He will never accept Islam. No matter what you saw of him, Khattab’s donkey will accept Islam before he does.’” Hazrat Umm Abdillah (ra) says, “Amir bin Rabi‘ah (ra) had said this out of despair having witnessed Hazrat Umar’s (ra) ferocity and sternness towards Islam, and thought how can such a fierce opponent accept Islam?”

(Ibn Hisham, Sirat Ibn Hisham, Vol. 1, Bab Dhikr Islam Umar bin al-Khattab (ra) [Dar Ibn Hazm, Beirut, 2009], p. 159)

According to Ibn Aseer, Hazrat Utbah(ra) was 40 years old when he migrated to Abyssinia [Ethiopia].

In one narration it is stated that Hazrat Uthman (ra) migrated once again to Abyssinia (Ibn Saad, Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol. 3, Uthman (ra) bin Affan [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi, 1996], p. 31) but in the majority of books of history, there is no mention of Hazrat Uthman (ra) migrating to Abyssinia a second time. As it were, with regard to the background and details of the second migration to Abyssinia that are mentioned in certain books of history and hadith, careful and meticulous historians do not accept them completely as they are because from the historical events, it seems impossible.

Hazrat Abdullah (ra) bin Makhrama was among those companions who accepted Islam in its early days. He had the honour of migrating twice, one migration was towards Abyssinia and the second one towards Medina. Ibn-e-Ishaaq has mentioned Hazrat Abdullah (ra) bin Makhrama among those companions who migrated to Abyssinia with Hazrat Jafar (ra). Yunus bin Bukair, Salma and Bukai have recorded this saying of Ibn-e-Ishaaq in which there is mention of Hazrat Abdullah (ra) bin Makhrama’s migration to Abyssinia. After migrating to Medina, Hazrat Abdullah (ra) bin Makhrama resided in the house of Hazrat Khulthum (ra) bin Hidam. The Holy Prophet (sa) established a bond of brotherhood between Hazrat Abdullah (ra) bin Makhrama and Hazrat Farwah (ra) bin Amr Ansari.

Then, mentioning his own analysis of the incident, Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad Sahib (ra) states:

“However, there is another fact which makes the entire tale of this rumour and the return of the immigrants altogether incredulous. The beginning date of the migration to Abyssinia is mentioned as Rajab 5 Nabawi and the date of ‘the prostration’ has been mentioned as Ramadan 5 Nabawi and historical accounts state that as a result of this rumour, the return of the immigrants to Abyssinia occurred in Shawwal 5 Nabawi. Therefore, the gap in time-periods between the first migration and the return of the immigrants is merely two to three months.

“If the time period is calculated from the date of ‘the prostration’, the time is only one month. Now, in accordance with the circumstances of that era, it is categorically impossible for three trips to have been undertaken between Mecca and Abyssinia in such a small time period. In other words, first the Muslims travelled from Mecca to Abyssinia, after which an individual from Mecca brought news to Abyssinia regarding the Quraish’s acceptance of Islam. Then the Muslims once again set off from Abyssinia and reached Mecca. The completion of these three trips”, excluding the additional time that is consumed in various affairs, preparation for example, “were absolutely impossible in such a short time frame.

“Furthermore, it is unpragmatic that two trips could have been completed between the time of ‘the prostration’ and the time of the alleged return of the immigrants to Abyssinia. At that time, in order to travel from Mecca to Abyssinia, one was required to first go south, then, from there, cross the Red Sea and reach the coast of Africa by ship”, which was not always present. “Then from the coast, further on to Aksum, the capital of Abyssinia, which was situated at quite a distance from the coast. And as per the slow mode of travel in that era, a trip of this magnitude could not have been performed in less than one and a half to two months.

“From this vantage point, the entire incident in itself turns out to be fabricated and baseless. If, hypothetically, there was some underlying truth, then it is no more than that which has been mentioned above. Allah knows best.”

(Sirat Khatamun-Nabiyyin, Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad (ra), pp. 146-152)

Whilst mentioning this incident and in relation to Hazrat Umar’s (ra) fierce opposition to Islam, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maud (ra)has narrated this incident in his own style:

“Despite Hazrat Umar’s (ra) intense hostility towards Islam, he also possessed a spiritual capacity, i.e. despite his severe temper and his afflictions upon the Holy Prophet (sa) and his companions, he still possessed kindness and compassion. When the first migration to Abyssinia was taking place, the Muslims had prepared to depart from Mecca before the Fajr prayer, lest the idolaters halted and harassed them. There was a custom in Mecca where some of the chieftains would go around the city at night to prevent any theft etc.”; they would patrol in the streets. “In accordance with this custom, Hazrat Umar (ra) was walking about at night when he saw some household luggage tied up in one place. He proceeded forward and there was a female companion standing by the luggage. The husband of this companion was perhaps a relative of Hazrat Umar (ra) which is why he addressed the female companion saying, ‘O lady! What is all this? It seems to me as though you are about to embark on a long journey.’ Her husband was not present at the time. Had he been there, after hearing this from Hazrat Umar (ra) and due to the persecutions of the idolaters of Mecca, he could have perhaps made an excuse”, i.e. an excuse as to whether they were going or not, or that it was perhaps a short journey, or that the place they were going to was nearby.

Hazrat Musleh-e-Maud (ra) states:

“This woman did not think in this way”; this thought did not cross her mind, or if it did she chose to speak the truth. “This female companion said, ‘O Umar (ra), we are leaving Mecca.’ He replied, ‘You are leaving Mecca?’ She answered, ‘Yes, we are leaving Mecca.’ Hazrat Umar (ra) then asked, ‘Why are you leaving Mecca?’, to which she replied, ‘Umar (ra), we are leaving because you and your brethren do not wish us to stay here and we are not free to worship the One God here. For this reason, we are leaving our homeland and going to another land.’ Despite Hazrat Umar (ra) being a staunch enemy of Islam; despite the fact that he himself was ready to persecute Muslims, when he heard this answer of that female companion in the darkness of the night that they were leaving their homeland because he and his kinsmen disliked for them to remain there, and because they were unable to freely worship the One God; Hazrat Umar (ra) turned his face the other way, saying to the female companion, ‘Alright then, go. May God be your Protector.’ It is evident from this that Hazrat Umar (ra) was overcome with such emotion whereby he thought that if he had not turned his face the other way he would have begun to weep. The husband of the female companion then arrived. Knowing Umar (ra) to be a fierce opponent of Islam he thought that Umar (ra) might hinder them in their journey. Thus, he asked his wife as to why he had come there. She told him why Umar (ra) came and what he had asked. Her husband thought he may perhaps be causing some kind of mischief.”

The husband may have seen Hazrat Umar (ra) just as he was leaving or perhaps Hazrat Umar (ra) left after meeting the husband as well. In any case, the husband said he feared he might cause some mischief.

“The female companion said, ‘O son of my uncle’”, Arab women in those days would often call their husbands the son of their paternal uncle, “‘you say that he might cause some trouble, but I feel as though one day he will become a Muslim. This is because when I said, “O Umar (ra), we are leaving because you and your kinsmen do not allow us to freely worship the One God here,” he turned his face saying, “Alright go. May God be your Protector.” There was a trembling in his voice and I believe that his eyes were filled with tears. So, because of this, I believe that one day he will become a Muslim.’”

(Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 6, pp. 140-141)

In regards to the migration to Abyssinia, Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad (ra) states in Sirat Khatamun-Nabiyyin:

“Therefore, upon the instruction of the Holy Prophet (sa), in the month of Rajab 5 Nabawi, eleven men and four women migrated to Abyssinia.”

Hazrat Mus‘ab (ra) bin Umair was among them. Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad (ra) further writes:

“It is very strange that a majority of these pioneer immigrants were those who belonged to powerful tribes of the Quraish, and the weaker were few and far between. This illustrates two things: firstly, even those who belonged to the powerful tribes of the Quraish were not safe from the cruelties of the Quraish. Secondly, weak people such as slaves etc. at that time were in such a grave state of weakness and misery that they were not even able to migrate … Nonetheless, when the Quraish were informed of this, they were deeply enraged that this ‘prey’ had slipped their hands. Hence, they pursued these immigrants, but when their men reached the coast, the ship had already departed and for this reason, they returned disappointed. Upon reaching Abyssinia, the Muslims found a life of great peace and protection from the cruelties of the Quraish after much difficulty and prayers.”

(Sirat Khatamun-Nabiyyin, Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad (ra), pp. 146-147)

Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad Sahib (ra) has presented his research with reference to the migration to Abyssinia. Even though I have mentioned some of this in the past with regard to other Companions (ra), nonetheless, it is necessary to also mention it here. The research of Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad Sahib (ra) is as follows:

“When the suffering of the Muslims had reached its limit and the Quraish continued to aggravate the affliction of the Muslims, the Holy Prophet (sa) instructed Muslims to migrate to Abyssinia and said, ‘The king of Abyssinia is just and equitable. None are subjected to oppression under his rule.’ The country of ‘Habashah’, which is known as Ethiopia or Abyssinia in the English language, is situated to the north-east in the continent of Africa. It is exactly opposite southern-Arabia and with the exception of the Red Sea, no country intercedes it.

“During that era, a strong Christian sovereignty was established in Abyssinia and the king was referred to as Negus. As a matter of fact, the ruler there is still called upon by the same name.” This is referring to the time when Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad Sahib (ra) wrote this. “Arabia had business relations with Abyssinia and in the era that we are currently mentioning, the capital of Abyssinia was Aksum, which is located near the present-day city of Adowa and until now, is considered a sacred city. In those days, Aksum was the centre of a very powerful sovereignty.

“During that time, the personal name of the Negus was Ashamah, who was a just, intelligent and powerful king. In any case, when the pains of the Muslims reached their limits, the Holy Prophet (sa) instructed that those who could afford to do so, should migrate to Abyssinia. Therefore, upon the instruction of the Holy Prophet (sa), in the month of Rajab, 5 Nabawi, 11 men and four women migrated to Abyssinia.

“The well-known names among them were as follows: Hazrat Uthman (ra) bin Affan and his wife Ruqayyah (ra) (daughter of the Holy Prophet (sa)), Abdur Rahman (ra) bin Auf, Zubair (ra) bin al-Awam, Abu Hudhayfa (ra) bin Utbah, Uthman (ra) bin Maz‘un, Mus‘ab (ra) bin Umair, Abu Salamah bin Abdil-Asad and his wife Umm Salamah (ra).”

Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad Sahib (ra) further writes:

“It is very strange that the majority of these pioneer immigrants were those who belonged to powerful tribes of the Quraish and the weaker ones were few and far between. This illustrates two things: firstly, even those who belonged to the powerful tribes of the Quraish were not safe from the cruelties of the Quraish. Secondly, weak people such as slaves, etc., at that time were in such a grave state of weakness and misery that they were not even able to migrate.

“Travelling south, when the immigrants reached Sha‘ibah, which was a sea-port in Arabia at that time, by the grace of Allah, they found a trade ship which was just ready to leave for Abyssinia and thus, all of them boarded safely. When the Quraish were informed of this, they were deeply enraged that this ‘prey’ had slipped their hands. Hence, they pursued these immigrants, but when their men reached the coast, the ship had already departed and for this reason, they returned disappointed. Upon reaching Abyssinia, the Muslims found a life of great peace and protection from the cruelties of the Quraish after much difficulty and prayers.

“However, as some historians have mentioned, it had not been long since the immigrants had migrated to Abyssinia, when a wandering rumour reached them that all of the Quraish had accepted Islam and Mecca was now a place of complete peace and security. The result of this news was that most immigrants returned immediately and when they reached near Mecca, they found that this news was false.

“Now they were confronted with great difficulty. Ultimately, some returned, while others secretly or under the protection of an influential and powerful individual, entered Mecca. This incident occurred in Shawwal 5 Nabawi. In other words, the duration between the commencement of migration and the return of the immigrants was only two and a half to three months …

“In actuality, although this was a completely false and unsubstantiated rumour, which was probably spread in order to lure the immigrants to Abyssinia back and to put them in difficulty, as a matter of fact, on closer investigation, this rumour and the tale of the immigrants’ return, in itself, seems to be baseless.

“Nonetheless, if it is taken as true, the incident mentioned in various ahadith could be hidden beneath the surface.”

In light of those narrations which state that Hazrat Uthman (ra) stayed in Abyssinia for a few years, this aforementioned incident would prove to be false. But if we accept the earlier incident to be correct, then that means they returned after three or four months. Nonetheless, according to the research of Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad Sahib (ra), this entire incident is false.

He further writes:

“… if it is taken as true, the incident mentioned in various ahadith could be hidden beneath the surface. As mentioned in Bukhari, once the Holy Prophet (sa) recited verses of Surah al-Najm in the courtyard of the Ka‘bah. At that time, many a chieftain of the disbelievers were also present along with the Muslims. When the Holy Prophet (sa) completed the chapter, he fell into prostration and with him all the Muslims and disbelievers fell into prostration as well.

“The reason behind the prostration of the disbelievers has not been mentioned in ahadith, but it seems that apparently the Holy Prophet (sa) recited the verses of God in such a manner as touched the cords of the heart. Those verses particularly illustrated the unity of God, His Power and Majesty in an extremely eloquent and perspicuous manner and His favours were reminded of. Then, the Quraish were warned in a very majestic and awe-inspiring manner, that in case they did not refrain from their evil doings, they would meet the same end as past nations because they rejected the Messengers of God. Then, at the conclusion of these verses it was ordered that come and prostrate before Allah.

“After the recitation of these verses, the Holy Prophet (sa) and all the Muslims fell into prostration at once and as a result, these words and this sight had such a miraculous effect on the Quraish that they also fell into prostration involuntarily.

“This should not be surprising, for under such circumstances, as have been mentioned above, the human heart, at times, falls in awe and powerlessly commits such a deed as is against its actual principles and religion.” It is not necessary that one acts in this way only after professing belief; at times, one can do this involuntarily.

“Therefore, at times, we have witnessed that during a severe and sudden affliction, even an atheist cries out, ‘O God! O God!’ or ‘O Ram Ram!’”

I have also asked some atheists and they agreed that this is in fact absolutely true. Despite the fact that they do not believe in God, when they are faced with danger, sometimes they utter the word God involuntarily.

“The Quraish were not even atheists and they actually believed in the being of God. Hence, after the recitation of this majestic word, full of awe, the community of Muslims, all at once, fell into prostration; it had such a miraculous effect that the Quraish powerlessly fell into prostration as well.

“However, such an influence is usually temporary and man quickly returns to his original state. As such, the same was the case here, for when the Quraish rose from prostration, they remained the very same idolaters they were before.” It was not the case that they became monotheists after this.

“In any case, this occurrence is such as is substantiated by authentic ahadith. Hence, if the news of the return of the immigrants to Abyssinia is in fact true, it seems that the Quraish”, who were ever-longing to have the immigrants of Abyssinia return, “probably utilised this action to spread the rumour that the Quraish of Mecca had become Muslim and that Mecca was now completely safe for Muslims.

“When this rumour reached the immigrants of Abyssinia, they were naturally delighted to hear it and in the fervour of their delight, they quickly returned. When they were near Mecca, they were enlightened of the actual matter at hand, upon which some secretly, and others under the protection of a powerful and influential chieftain of the Quraish, entered Mecca, while others set back again. Therefore, if there was any truth in the rumour that the Quraish became Muslim, it was merely confined to the incident of the prostration upon the recitation of chapter al-Najm. Allah knows best.

“In any case, if the immigrants of Abyssinia did in fact return, the majority of them set back again. Moreover, since the Quraish continued to progress in their infliction of suffering and their tyrannies were increasing day by day, other Muslims, upon the instruction of the Holy Prophet (sa), began secret preparations to migrate as well. They began to leave gradually whenever they could find an opportunity to do so.

“This chain of migration was such that ultimately, the number of immigrants to Abyssinia reached 101, 18 of whom were women. Very few Muslims were left in Mecca with the Holy Prophet (sa). Some historians have termed this migration ‘The Second Migration to Abyssinia.’”

There is mention of their return from Abyssinia as well. Ibn Ishaq states that word reached the Companions (ra) of the Holy Prophet (sa) who migrated to Abyssinia that the people of Mecca had accepted Islam. Thereupon, these migrants made their way back from Abyssinia to Mecca. As they were approaching Mecca, they realised that this news was false and so they entered Mecca covertly or by coming under the protection of another.

Some among them also migrated to Medina and participated in the battles of Badr and Uhud alongside the Holy Prophet (sa), whilst others among them are those who were detained in Mecca by the idolaters and were therefore unable to participate in the Battle of Badr and other battles. Among those who migrated to Medina having returned from Abyssinia were Hazrat Uthman (ra) and his wife Hazrat Ruqayyah (ra), daughter of the Holy Prophet (sa).

(Ibn Hisham, Al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001], pp. 265-266)

In one book, it is mentioned that Hazrat Uthman (ra) remained in Abyssinia for a few years. Thereafter, he was among those Companions (ra) who returned to their homeland having received the false news of the Quraish accepting Islam.

Once they reached there, they realised that this was nothing but a rumour and upon this, some of them returned to Abyssinia, yet Hazrat Uthman (ra) remained in Mecca until he had the means to migrate to Medina. When the Holy Prophet (sa) instructed all of his Companions (ra) to migrate to Medina, Hazrat Uthman (ra) also undertook the migration along with his family.

(Sheikh Shah Moinuddin Ahmad Nadvi, Siyar al-Sahabah, Vol. 1 [Lahore, Pakistan: Idarah Islamiyyat Anar Kali, 2004], p. 178)

Ibn Ishaq states with relation to the migration that the Holy Prophet (sa) witnessed the trials and tribulations his Companions (ra) were forced to suffer, whereas he was in relative security due to his status in the eyes of Allah and because of his uncle, Abu Talib. He realised he possessed no power or sway to alleviate the hardships they were facing.

Whilst he was in relative security, he was powerless to prevent the injustices the Companions (ra) were being inflicted with. Although he was safe to a certain degree from the injustices, he did not have the power to stop the atrocities being committed against his Companions (ra). The Holy Prophet (sa) told his Companions (ra) that they should head to Abyssinia, a land of peace where they would find a king who committed no injustices on people and they should stay there until Allah the Almighty alleviated them of their current plight.

Anxious of the troubles they faced owing to their faith, they were forced to flee for the sake of Allah and set off for Abyssinia. This was the first ever migration in Islam. The Companions (ra) who migrated to Abyssinia included Hazrat Uthman (ra) who travelled with his wife, Hazrat Ruqayyah (ra), daughter of the Holy Prophet (sa).

(Ibn Hisham, Al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, bab Dhikr al-Hijrah al-Ula ila Ard al-Habashah [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001], pp. 237-238)

Hazrat Anas (ra) relates that when Hazrat Uthman (ra) departed for Abyssinia, he was accompanied by Hazrat Ruqayyah (ra), daughter of the Holy Prophet (sa). The news of their whereabouts was delayed in reaching the Holy Prophet (sa), meaning he did not know whether they had migrated, where they had reached or how they were. So he went out and continued to wait for news about them. Then a woman came and she gave the Holy Prophet (sa) news with regard to them. Thereupon, the Holy Prophet (sa) stated that after Lot (as), Hazrat Uthman (ra) was the first person to have migrated alongside his family in the way of Allah.

(Majma al-Zawa‘id wa Manba al-Fawa‘id, Kitab al-Manaqib, Bab Hijratuh, Hadith 14498, Vol. 9, Da al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, Beirut, 2001)

Hazrat Saad (ra) relates that when Hazrat Uthman (ra) bin Affan made the intention to migrate to Abyssinia, the Holy Prophet (sa) instructed him, “Take Ruqayyah (ra) along with you for I feel that each of you will be a support for the other.” That is to say that if both were together, they would continue to support one another.

The Holy Prophet (sa) then said to Hazrat Asma (ra), daughter of Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra), “Go and find out whether they have departed or not, where they have reached and what the situation is out there.”

When she returned, Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra) was also with the Holy Prophet (sa). She said that Hazrat Uthman (ra) set forth towards the sea having sat Hazrat Ruqayyah (ra) upon the saddle of the mule. Upon this, the Holy Prophet (sa) stated, “O Abu Bakr (ra), after Prophet Abraham (as) and Prophet Lot (as), these two are the first to migrate [in the way of Allah].”

(Al-Mustadrak ala al-Sahihain, Vol. 4, p. 414, Kitab Marifat al-Sahabah, Bab Dhikr Ruqayyah bint Rasulsa Allah, Hadith 6999, Dar al-Fikr, Beirut, 2002)