Reasons for the emigration to Abyssinia
The disbelievers were subjecting the Companions of the Prophet to severe torment that varied between imprisonment and torture by means of beating, deprivation of food and drink, burning, and exposure to the scorching heat of Makkah in order to coerce them into giving up their religion. Some of the Companions responded to their demands under severe torture, but their hearts remained full of faith. Others were firmly committed to their religion and were saved by Allah The Almighty. Witnessing this ordeal that was experienced by the Companions and the welfare that he enjoyed thanks to the protection that he received from Allah The Almighty then from his uncle Abu Taalib, and being unable to terminate the new Muslims’ misery, the Prophet proposed that they: “Set out to the land of Abyssinia. There is a king there by whom no one is wronged, and it is a land of honesty. [Stay there] until Allah makes a way for you out from what you are suffering.” Hence, some Companions of the Messenger of Allah left for the land of Abyssinia in fear of tribulation and in protection of their religion. This was the first emigration in Islam.
In addition to this, researchers have mentioned many reasons behind the Muslims’ emigration to Abyssinia including the following:
- The Emergence of Faith
The Muslims emigrated to Abyssinia when the number of converts to Islam had increased and news of the faith had circulated among the people. In his reported citation on the authority of ‘Urwah, may Allah have mercy on him, concerning the emigration to Abyssinia, Az-Zuhri, may Allah have mercy on him, said, “When the number of Muslims increased, faith emerged and people spoke about it, and the disbelievers of Quraysh placed their believing tribes under torture and imprisonment trying to make them leave their religion. When the Prophet learnt about this, he said to the believers: ‘Spread out in the world.’ They asked, ‘Where should we go, Messenger of Allah?’ He said, ‘There,’ pointing to the land of Abyssinia.”
- Fleeing to Save Their Religion
Fleeing to save their religion in the fear of being enticed away from it was an important reason behind the Muslims’ emigration to Abyssinia. In this regard, Ibn Is’haaq, may Allah have mercy on him, said, “At that time, some of the Companions of the Messenger set out to the land of Abyssinia in fear of enticement, and to flee to Allah The Almighty to protect their religion.”
- Spreading the Da‘wah (call) Outside Makkah
Sayyid Qutb said
The Messenger searched for a base, other than Makkah, from which the creed would be protected, freedom guaranteed, and where the Da’wah would be rid of its immobile state that it had been suffering from in Makkah. He wanted a base for the freedom of the Da‘wah and the protection of the Muslims against oppression and enticement. This, in my estimation, was the primary and most important reason behind the emigration.
Many of the early believers emigrated to Abyssinia and the opinion that they had emigrated to it simply to save their own lives is not based on strong evidence. If that was the case then the Muslims of the lowest esteem, power and protection would have emigrated, but that did not happen. The weak Muslims who were slaves and who were subjected to extreme oppression, torment and intimidation did not emigrate. Rather, those who belonged to renowned tribes and were able to secure them against harm and intimidation emigrated to Abyssinia. Moreover, the Qurayshis formed the majority of the emigrants.
Muneer Al-Ghadhbaan agrees with Qutb, saying
This great view of Qutb’s, may Allah have mercy on him, is supported by evidence from the prophetic biography. This view is most definite, in my opinion, due to the ultimate overall situation of the emigrants to Abyssinia. It is not known that the Messenger did not call for the emigrants to Abyssinia to return until after the emigration to Yathrib [Madinah], [after all] the battles of Badr, Uhud, Al-Khandaq and the pact of Al-Hudaybiyah. For five years, Yathrib [Madeenah] was vulnerable to a sweeping invasion by Quraysh, with the attack of Al-Khandaq [the Trench] marking the last of them. When the Prophet was sure that Madeenah was a safe base for the Muslims and that it was no longer being attacked by the disbelievers, he called for the Muslim emigrants in Abyssinia to return. There was no further need for the reserve base to which the Prophet would have resorted if Yathrib [Madeenah] fell into the hands of the enemies.
Darwazeh sees that opening a domain for Da‘wah in Abyssinia was a reason behind the emigration to it, saying, “One of the reasons that would cross one’s mind for choosing Christian Abyssinia is the hope to find a domain for Da‘wah there, and the reason for deputizing Ja’far, may Allah be pleased with him, was associated with that hope.”
This view is also held by Dr. Sulaymaan bin Hamad Al-‘Awdah
Confirmation of the opinion stating that calling to the new religion in the land of Abyssinia was a reason behind the emigration is that the Negus and other Abyssinian people had embraced Islam. Also, Muslims emigrated to Abyssinia based on consultation with and guidance from the Prophet . They remained in Abyssinia until the time of the conquest of Khaybar under the orders and guidance of the Prophet . In Saheeh Al-Bukhari, it is narrated that Ja‘far, may Allah be pleased with him, said to (part of the tribe of al-Qahtaan from Yemen), when he met them in Abyssinia “The Messenger has sent us here and ordered us to stay here, so you also should stay with us.” [Al-Bukhari]
This means that the Muslims emigrated for a certain purpose – noting that nothing is more noble than making Da‘wah for the religion of Allah The Almighty – and emigration was terminated when the emigrants were told to go to Madeenah.
- Searching for a Safe Haven for Muslims
The security plan of the Messenger aimed at preserving the cream of the believers. That was why the Messenger considered Abyssinia to be a safe haven for Muslims until Islam would be strong and the tempest would abate. The emigrants found in Abyssinia what made them feel assured and secure. In this regard, Umm Salamah, may Allah be pleased with her, said, “When we stayed in Abyssinia, we were under the protection of the best guardian, the Negus. We had our religion secured and we worshipped Allah The Almighty without being harmed.”
There are many reasons that help answer this question.
a) The Just Negus
The Prophet referred to the fairness of the Negus, saying to his Companions: “Set out to the land of Abyssinia. There is a king there by whom no one is wronged.”
b) The Righteous Negus
The Prophet was reported to have commended the king of Abyssinia, saying: “In Abyssinia, there is a righteous king in whose land no one is wronged.” This attribute of the Negus was well-known and his righteousness was proven thanks to the protection that he gave the Muslims, and to the way he was touched by the Quran when he listened to it as it was recited by Ja‘far, may Allah be pleased with him. Moreover, he had a sound creed concerning ‘Eesaa (Jesus), may Allah exalt his mention.
c) Abyssinia Was a Trade Destination of the Quraysh
Trade was the pillar of the Quraysh’s economy, and Abyssinia was the Peninsula’s trade destination. Perhaps some Muslims knew it when they went there for trading or it was mentioned to them by those who had been there before them. At-Tabari, may Allah have mercy on him, mentioned, in the context of the reasons behind the emigration to Abyssinia, “The land of Abyssinia was a trade destination for Quraysh where they traded their goods. They found it to be a good source of provisions and security and a dynamic market.”
d) Abyssinia the Secure Country
Outside the Arabian Peninsula, there was no country safer than Abyssinia which was beyond the dominance of Quraysh and, unlike other tribes, it was not subjected to Quraysh. Ibn Is’haaq, may Allah have mercy on him, said about the reasons behind choosing Abyssinia for emigration, “It was a land of truthfulness, and it was ruled by a just King by whom no one was wronged, and these are the most important features of a secure country.”
e) The Messenger Loved Abyssinia and Knew It Well
In a tradition by Az-Zuhri, may Allah have mercy on him, the Prophet favored Abyssinia, for the following reasons:
- The just rule of the Negus
- The Abyssinians’ adherence to Christianity, which is closer to Islam than paganism.
- The Messenger being aware of the news of Abyssinia through his nurse, Umm Ayman, may Allah be pleased with her, who was proved to be Abyssinian. [Muslim] Likewise, the Prophet was well-versed in the nature and conditions of the other lands of his time.