Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace be upon him) trust in One God Allah, was absolute and had never caused him to drift with the tide of events. Revelation of the Quran had reminded him that he must never forget to say “Insha Allah” (If God so wills) when he planned to act, and that the memory of God must be associated with humility, (especially in regard to his own powers as a human being).
Prophet Muhammad had been planning a Hijrah (emigration) to Medinah for almost two years, and nothing had been left to chance. Only after making intelligent and careful use of his human powers had he trusted himself to the divine will, thereby clarifying for us the meaning of “Attawakkul ‘ala-llah” (reliance on God and trusting Oneself to God). Each one of us has been granted qualities such as intellectual, spiritual, psychological, sentimental, etc. along with the ability of exercising them. At the same time, humbly remembering that beyond what is humanly possible, God alone makes things happen. Indeed, this teaching is the exact opposite of the temptation of fatalism, (fatalism means, the philosophical doctrine according to which all events are fated to happen, so that human beings cannot change their destinies.) God will act only after humans have, at their own level, sought out and exhausted all the potentialities of action. That is the profound meaning of this Quranic verse:
“Verily never will God change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Qur’an, Surah Ar-Ra’d, 13: 11)
Abu Bakr (may God be pleased with him)
Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) decided to leave Makkah at night and proceeded towards Yemen to avoid attracting attention. Having headed south, they went into hiding for a few days in the Thawr cave.
Not with standing all the arrangements made, a group of Quraysh men, suspecting a trick, went south to look for Prophet Muhammad. They arrived in front of a cave and prepared to enter. From where he stood, Abu Bakr could see them, and in alarm, he told the Prophet that, should the men happen to look down they could not fail to see the two of them. Prophet Muhammad reassured him and whispered,
“Have no fear, for God is with us.” (Qur’an, Surah At-Tawbah, 9:40)
Then he added, “What do you think of two [people] whose third is God?” Those words soothed Abu Bakr. In front of the Thawr cave, the group noticed that a spider web covered the entrance and also that a dove had nested there. It seemed obvious that Muhammad could not be hiding in the cave, and they decided to look for them somewhere else.
Once again, in spite of their carefully planned strategy, Prophet Muhammad and his Companion, Abu Bakr, were going through the trial of weakness. Their lives had been preserved by nothing, but that fragile spider web; trust in God (at-tawakkul-alallah), of which the Prophet reminded Abu Bakr at that particular moment and thus took on its full meaning and strength. God alone had power to save His Messenger. When Prophet Muhammad emigrated, he took care to owe nothing to anyone (he refused gifts, settled his debts, and gave back the deposits he had), but he also knew that he owed everything to Almighty Allah, that his indebtedness and obligation to Him were infinite.
Abu Bakr had enlisted the services of a non-Muslim Bedouin, Urayqat, to guide them to Medinah by an unnoticeable, unfamiliar route. At the time appointed for departure, Urayqat came to meet them at the Thawr cave with camels, and they headed west, then south, before eventually going north towards Medinah, 340 km from Makkah. It was a very risky journey, and were the Quraysh to catch up with the three travelers, they were sure to kill them so as to put an end to Muhammad’s Islamic revolutionary activities.
The Prophet Muhammad and his Companion, Abu Bakr, had entrusted themselves to God, yet they had not hesitated to enlist the help of a Bedouin who, although shared their enemies’ polytheistic beliefs, was well known to them for his trustworthiness (he was proudly true to his word) and his abilities as a guide (he knew better than anyone else the steep, out-of-the way paths they took). Again, such an attitude was present throughout the Prophet’s life. The women and men he surrounded himself with, may not have shared his Islamic faith, but they were known to him for their moral qualities and / or their human abilities. Muhammad, like those who came after him, did not hesitate to rely on them.
A Trial of Trust
Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and all his Companions had to leave Makkah because of persecutions and adversity from their own brothers and sisters within their respective clans. The situation had become unbearable: women and men had died, others had been tortured, and the Quraysh had finally decided to set upon Muhammad himself and get rid of him. The emigration is first of all the objective reality of Muslim women and men who were not free to practice their Islamic faith and who decided to make a clean break for the sake of their beliefs. Because: ‘God’s earth is spacious,’ as the Quran puts it, they decided to leave their homeland, to break with their universe and habits, and to experience exile, all for the sake of their Islamic faith.
Revelation of the Quran was to praise the courage and determination of those Muslim believers who, by taking such a difficult and humanly costly step, expressed their trust in One God Allah:
“To those who leave their homes in the cause of God, after suffering oppression, we will assuredly give a goodly home in this world; but truly the reward of the Hereafter will be greater, if they only realized [this] !, Those who persevere in patience, and put their trust in their Lord.” (Qur’an, Surah An-Nahl, 16:41-42)
Exile is then, another trial of trust. All prophets have intensively experienced this trial of the heart, as all believers have after them. How far are they prepared to go, how much are they prepared to give of themselves and of their lives, for the One God, His truth and His love? Those are the eternal questions of faith, which accompany every temporal and historical experience of the believing conscience. Hijrah was one of the Muslim community’s answers at the dawn of its existence. In effect, exile was also required so that the first Muslims learn to remain faithful to the meaning of Islam’s teachings in spite of the change of place, culture, and memory. Medinah meant new customs and new types of social relationships.
Exile was the most profound experience, since it implied uprooting oneself while remaining faithful to the same God, to the same meaning, in different environments.
Persecuted because of their beliefs in Islam, the faithful Muslims decided to break away from their tormentors and march to freedom. In doing so, they stressed that they could not accept oppression, that they could not accept the status of victim, and that basically the matter was simple: publicly speaking the name of God implied either being free or breaking free. This same message had already been conveyed by the Prophet, then by Abu Bakr, to all the slaves in Makkah: their arrival in Islam meant their liberation, and all the teaching of Islam pointed to the ending of slavery. Henceforth, a broader call was addressed to the Muslim spiritual community as a whole: faith requires freedom and justice and one must be prepared, as was the case with Hijrah, to pay the personal and collective price for it.
Hijrah is the exile of the conscience and of the heart from false gods, from evil and sins. Turning away from the idols of one’s life (power, money, the cult of appearances, etc.); emigrating from lies and unethical ways of life; liberating oneself, through the experience of breaking away, from all the appearances of freedom ironically reinforced by our habits – such is the spiritual requirement of Hijrah. Later on, questioned by a Companion about the best possible Hijrah, the Prophet answered:
“It is to exile yourself [to move away] from evil [abominations, lies, sins].”
This requirement of spiritual exile was to be repeated in different forms.
Thus, the Muslims who performed Hijrah, emigrating from Makkah to Medinah, in effect experienced the unique dimension of Islam’s teachings, since they had to achieve a new return to themselves, an emigration of the heart. Their physical journey to Medinah was a spiritual exile towards their inner selves; in leaving their city and their roots, they came back to themselves, to their intimacy with God, to the meaning of their lives beyond historical contingencies.
Umar (may God be pleased with him) was later to decide that this unique event would mark the beginning of an Islamic era, which begins in 622 CE.
What remains, and is open to everyone to see through the ages and for eternity, is the experience of spiritual exile, which brings the individual back to him-or herself and frees him or her from the illusions and false impression of self and of the world.
Exile for the sake of God is in essence a series of questions that God asks each individual being:
“Who are you? What is the meaning of your life? Where are you going? Accepting the risk of such an exile, trusting the One God, is to answer: through You, I return to myself and I am free.”
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