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The First Emigration

Many of the early Muslims were persecuted and tortured for their belief in Allah. They were forced to worship in the utmost privacy, and for some, who had no privacy from their idol-worshiping masters or kinsmen, it was very difficult to worship at all. When the Prophet saw how these people were suffering, he suggested that they go to Abyssinia, where the king would grant them protection. The Prophet himself and other Muslims who were not so strongly persecuted did not go, but he did send some of his strongest supporters, such as Uthman , to lead and support the group. His cousin Jafar was sent as the Muslims’ spokesman, for he was very eloquent in his speech.

If you were to look at a map, you would not find Abyssinia on it. It is now known as Ethiopia, on the continent of Africa, just west of the southwestern tip of the Arabian peninsula. It was a journey of several hundred miles for the fleeing Muslims. They did not all leave at once from Makkah, for they knew that their families would try to prevent their departure. They left secretly in small groups, so that the Quraish were not aware of what had happened until all the emigrants had reached their destination. In Abyssinia, where most of the inhabitants were Christian, the emigrants were allowed to worship freely.

The Quraish were angered by the carefully planned departure of the Muslims and devised a plot to get them back. They sent to Abyssinia two men loaded with bribes for the king and his generals. First the men approached each general individually and presented their case and their gifts, so that when they made their request to the king for the return of the Muslims, the generals would side with the Quraish. However, the king was not about to hand over a group of people, who had come to him for protection, without hearing their side of the story. He had the Muslims summoned to his court.

The king asked the group of assembled Muslims to explain this new religion to him, a religion which was not like that of their kinsmen, but was not like any other religion with which the king was familiar. Jafar explained how they had been called from the worship of idols and images to the worship of Allah, and that this call had come from a Messenger who had been sent to them from their own people. He explained how their desire to worship the oneness of Allah had caused their people to turn against them and to try to get them to return to idol-worshiping. It was for this reason that the Muslims had fled from their homeland and had sought the protection of the king. Jafar then recited a passage from the Surah Maryam (19:16-21) which described how Maryam had been chosen to be the mother of Jesus . The king and his religious advisers wept when they heard the passage and wept again after it was translated. Surely, the king exclaimed, these words came from the same source as the teachings of Jesus . He refused to turn the Muslims over to the Quraishi representatives.

But the two men were not to be so easily turned aside from their mission. The following day they started a rumor that the Muslims claimed that Jesus was a slave. The king sent for the Muslims once more to hear from them what they said about Jesus . The Muslims were afraid of the outcome of their response but they had to say what Muhammad had taught them. They told the king that Jesus indeed was the slave of Allah and His messenger and His spirit and His word. The king recognized that this was no more than what Jesus himself had said. So once again he rejected the Quraishi demands and, returning all the gifts which the two men had brought, sent them in disgrace back to their country.

However, yet another crisis faced the Muslims, for many of the king’s people were angered at what the king had said about Jesus . He was well liked by his subjects, for he was a good and just ruler, but they demanded an explanation of his words. The king feared for the safety of the Muslims and sent word to them to prepare for a hasty departure if his people were to rise up against him. He then wrote on a piece of parchment the words which the Muslims had spoken of Jesus , about him being the slave of Allah, and concealed the parchment inside the front of his shirt. When the king addressed an assembly of his people, he asked them what they said of Jesus . They replied that Jesus was the son of God. The king placed his hand on his breast and declared that this was what he believed. The king was referring to the words on the piece of parchment under his hand, but his people thought that "this" referred to their statement about the son of God. The people were satisfied with his answer and the crisis was averted. The Muslims were free to worship as they pleased under the protection of the king of Abyssinia.


Published: December 2002

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Last modified 08/12/05 09:25 AM - Iqra - ISSN #1062-2756