Not long after the battle of Hunain, the Prophet decided to prepare for a campaign against Syria. He sent word to the people of Makkah and to all his allies that they must send as many of their men as possible to Madinah to prepare for the campaign. Many of the hypocrites and Muslims of little faith, as well as some of the Bedouins, made excuses to stay behind and the Prophet gave them permission to remain at home. There were also some very staunch Muslims who were permitted or ordered to stay behind due to certain circumstances. Among these was the Prophet’s son-in-law Ali who was told to stay behind to look after the Prophet’s family, although Ali would have much preferred to go along on the campaign. But there were four very good Muslims who, for one reason or another, put off their preparations for so long that the army left without them.
One of these, Abu Khaithamah , went out into his garden in the heat of the day, about ten days after the army had departed, and saw there his wives’ huts which had been sprinkled with water to cool them, and water kept cool in clay jars for drinking, and food which his wives had prepared for him. And as he stood there he thought of the Prophet out in the sun and the heat of day with none of the physical comforts being enjoyed by Abu Khaithamah . His remorse was so great that he immediately made preparations to depart and eventually caught up with the army as it camped at Tabuk. The Prophet , although upset with Abu Khaithamah , accepted his apology.
Abu Murarah bin Rabi , fearful of losing his entire date crop, reasoned that he had fought in every other campaign and that his presence would not even be missed in this one. When he eventually realized his mistake, he gave away not only his whole date crop but the garden as well. Hilal bin Umayyah had another reason for tarrying. He was being visited by relatives whom he had not seen in a long time, and he was reluctant to leave them. He also figured that his absence just this one time would not really matter. He later severed all connections with those relatives who had been the cause of his error.
But this story is really about what happened after the Prophet had returned to Madinah and how strong believers who had not joined him were punished for their mistake. The story as we know it was narrated by Ka'b bin Malik , one of the believers who stayed behind, and we will let him tell the rest of the story as it has been translated from the hadith.
I had never been financially so well off as I was at the time of Tabuk. I had two dromedaries of my own. I had never possessed this number before. It was a habit with the Prophet that he never disclosed the destination of his expeditions, but he would keep enquiring about the conditions prevailing elsewhere. But this time, in view of the distance, the hot season, and the strength of the enemy, he had declared his destination, so that preparations could be made, thorough and complete. The number of the participants was so large that it was difficult to note down their names even; so much so, that absentees could hardly be detected in the large host. The gardens of Madinah were full of fruit. I intended every morning to make preparation for the journey but somehow or other the days passed by and I made no progress. I was satisfied that I had all the necessary means at my disposal and that I would be ready in no time if I once did decide to do so. I was still in this state of indecision when I learned that the Prophet had left with his companions. The idea still lingered on in my mind that I would take a day or two to get ready and overtake the party. This procrastination continued till the time for the Prophet’s arrival in Tabuk drew very near. I then tried to get ready but again somehow or other I did not do so.
Now, when I came to look at the people left behind, I realize that there were none in Madinah except those who had been condemned as munafiqin or had been specially exempted from going for certain reasons. The Prophet , on reaching Tabuk, inquired as well, “How is it that I don’t see Ka'b?” Somebody said, “O Prophet of Allah: His pride in wealth and ease has caused him to stay behind.” Mu'adh interrupted and said, “No, this is wrong. As far as our knowledge goes he is a true Muslim.” The Prophet , however, kept quiet.
After a few days I heard the news of the Prophet’s return. I was struck with grief and remorse. Good excuses one after the other entered my mind and I was sure that I could escape the Prophet’s wrath with one of them for the time being, and later on I could pray for forgiveness to Allah. I also sought advice of the wise men of my family in the matter. But when I knew that the Prophet had actually arrived, I was convinced that nothing but the truth would save me; so I decided to speak out the stark truth.
It was a habit with the Prophet that whenever he returned from a journey he would repair to the masjid, first of all, say two raka’at “tahiyyatul masjid’ and then stay there for a while to see his visitors. Now also as he sat in the masjid, the munafiqin came and placed before him on solemn oaths, their excuses for failing to accompany him on the campaign. He took them upon their words, leaving the rest to Allah.
Just then I came and greeted him with ‘salam’. He turned his face with a sardonic smile. I besought him with the words, “O Prophet of Allah! You turn your face from me. By Allah, I am neither a munafiq nor have I the least doubt in my faith.” He asked me to draw near and I did so. He then said to me, “What prevented you from going out? Had you not purchased the dromedaries?”
I made a reply, “O Prophet of Allah! If I were dealing with a worldly man, I am sure I would escape his displeasure through (seemingly) reasonable excuse, for Allah has endowed me with the gift of gab. But in your case I am sure that if I appease you with a false statement, Allah would be displeased with me. And, on the other hand I am sure that if I displease you by confessing the naked truth, Allah would very soon blow away your displeasure. I, therefore, make bold to speak the very truth. By Allah, I had no excuse at all. I had never been so well-to-do as I was at that time.”
The Prophet remarked, “He is speaking the truth.” He then said to me, “You go away. Allah will decide about you.”
When I left the Masjid many a man of my clan blamed me for reverting to the grim truth and admonished me thus, “Never before had you committed any wrong. If after making some good excuse for the present occasion you had requested the Prophet to pray for your forgiveness surely his prayer would have sufficed you.” I inquired of them if there were any more people like me. They informed me that there were two more persons who also had admitted their faults like me and received the same reply from the Prophet . I knew that both of them were very good Muslims and had participated in the campaign of Badr. The Prophet issued instructions that none was to speak with the three of us.
Under the instructions of the Prophet the sahabah completely boycotted us. Nobody was prepared to mix with or even speak to us. It seemed as if I was living in a strange land altogether. My own birth-place looked like a foreign locality and my bosom friends behaved like strangers. “The earth, vast as it is, was straitened” (al-Qur’an IX:113) for me. The thing which worried me most was that if I died in this condition, the Prophet would not lead my funeral prayer, and if the Prophet died in the meantime I would be doomed forever, with none to talk to me and with none to pray at my funeral.
The other two companions of mine confined themselves to their houses. I was the most daring of the three; I would go to the market, and join the jama’at for salat, but nobody would talk to me. I would approach the Prophet and say, “Assalamo alaikum” and would watch eagerly if his lips moved in reply. After fardh I used to complete the salat by standing close to him and I would look at him from the corner of my eye to know if he ever cast a single glance at me. I noticed that when I was engaged in salat, he did glance at me but when I was out of it, he would avert his face from me.
When this complete social boycott became too hard for me to bear, I, one day, climbed up the orchard wall of Qatadah, my dear cousin, and greeted him with ‘Assalamo alaikum.’ He did not return my greetings. I said to him, ‘For Allah’s sake do answer my one question. Don’t you know that I love Allah and His Prophet ?’ He kept quiet. Again I repeated my request but again he would not speak. When I inquired for the third time he simply said, ‘Allah and His Prophet know best.’ At this tears welled out of my eyes and I left him alone.
Once, I was passing through a street of Madinah when I noticed an Egyptian Christian, who had come from Syria to sell his grain, inquiring about ‘Ka'b bin Malik.’ When people pointed me out to him, he came and made over a letter to me from the Christian King of Ghassan. Thus it read: “We have come to know that your master has ill-treated you. Allah may not keep you in abasement and in disgrace. You had better come to us. We shall extend all help to you.”
When I read this letter I uttered “Inna lillahi wa Inna ilaihi Rajeun” and said to myself, “So, my state of affairs have reached such an ebb that even the kafirs are aspiring to detract me from Islam.” I could not imagine a calamity worse than that. I went and threw the letter into a furnace. Thereafter I presented myself to the Prophet and exclaimed, “O Prophet of Allah! Your indifference towards me has lowered me to such an extent that even the kafirs are building up their hopes over me.”
When forty days had passed in this condition a messenger of the Prophet brought me this mandate, “Be separated from your wife.” I inquired, “Am I to divorce her?” He replied, “No, only be separated.” A similar message was delivered to my other two companions as well. I consequently said to my wife, “Go to your parents and wait till Allah decides my case.”
Hilal’s wife went to the Prophet and said, “O Prophet of Allah! Hilal is an old man and there is nobody else to look after him. If I go away from him, he will perish. If it is not very serious, kindly permit me to keep attending to him.” The Prophet replied, “There is no harm provided you don’t indulge in each other.” She remarked, “O Prophet of Allah! He has no urge for such a thing. Since the day his ordeal started he has been spending his entire time in weeping.”
It was suggested to me that I might also request the Prophet for permission to keep my wife with me for service, but I said, “Hilal is old while I am young. I don’t know what reply I shall get and as such I have no courage to make a request.”
Another ten days passed and now our ordeal had lasted for full fifty days. On the morning of the fiftieth day, when I had said my fajr and was sitting on the roof of my house stricken with grief and the earth had “straitened” [become confining] for me and life had become dismal for me, I heard a crier cry from over the top of Mount Sula, “Happy tidings to you, O Ka'b.” The moment I heard this I fell prostrate on the ground and tears of joy rolled down my cheeks as I understood that the ordeal was now over. In fact the Prophet had announced the Divine forgiveness for all three of us after the salat that morning. At this a person ran up the top of the mountain and yelled out the cry which had reached me.
Thereafter a rider came galloping to deliver the same happy news to me. I gave away as gift the clothes I was putting on to the messenger of cheer. I swear on Allah I had no other clothes in my possession at that time. I dressed by borrowing clothes from some friend and went to the Prophet . As I entered the masjid the people in the audience of the Prophet ran to congratulate me. Abu Talhah was first to approach me. He shook my hand with a warmth that I shall never forget. Thereafter I presented my salam to the Prophet . I found his face beaming and radiating light like the full moon. This was usual with him at the time of extreme joy. I said to him, “O Prophet of Allah, I propose to give away in charity all that I possess in thanks for the acceptance of my repentance.” He said, “This will be too much for you. Keep a portion with you.” I agreed to keep my share of the booty that fell in our hands in the Khaiber campaign.
It is the truth that brought my salvation, and as such I am determined to speak nothing but the truth in future.
Published: February 1997
Last modified 08/12/05 09:25 AM - Iqra - ISSN #1062-2756