The timing and secrecy of the departure, and the arrival in Abyssinia
The Companions of the Messenger left Makkah in the fifth year after Prophethood had begun. The emigrants were made up of ten men and four or five women. Quraysh tried to pursue them to take them back to Makkah. Thus, they traced them until they had reached the sea, but the Muslims had already boarded a ship heading for Abyssinia.
When contemplating upon the traditions related to this event, we realize that this emigration was engulfed in secrecy. According to the narration of Al-Waaqidi, may Allah have mercy on him, “The emigrating Muslims sneaked out in secret.” The same thing was narrated by him on the authority of At-Tabari, may Allah have mercy on him. Other scholars who mention that the emigration was in secret are Ibn Sayyid An-Naas, Ibn Al-Qayyim and Az-Zurqaani, may Allah have mercy on them.
When the Muslims arrived in the land of Abyssinia, the Negus afforded them a comfortable residence and welcomed them kindly. In his country, the Muslims enjoyed security that they lacked in their country and among their people.
A reflection upon the names of the emigrating Companions shows that none of them were slaves who had been subjected to harm and torture at the hands of Quraysh, such as Bilaal, Khabbaab and ‘Ammaar, may Allah be pleased with them. Most of them were from notable families of the Quraysh and they represented a number of tribes. It is true that the noble converts were also harmed, but the slaves were subjected to severe torture in an environment that paid great respect to families and social status. If the reason behind the emigration to Abyssinia had been the desire to escape hardship, the tortured slaves would have been the ones to emigrate. This is supported by the fact that Ibn Is’haaq and other scholars, may Allah have mercy on them, discussed the polytheists’ aggression against the weak Muslim but never mentioned that those weak Muslims emigrated to Abyssinia.
With research, one discovers an important fact - that there were reasons other than torture that motivated the emigration. The Prophet chose some of his Companions who represented a number of tribes. This would play a role in protecting the Muslims if Quraysh could convince the people of Abyssinia to return the emigrating Muslims, and whose emigration would shock all the tribes of the Quraysh or at least some of them. The emigration was a declaration that Makkah had no room for its own people, thus, they had to search for security in another country. A third objective was that the emigrants would leave their country to spread the religion of Allah The Almighty in horizons which would likely be more appropriate and blessed for establishing Da‘wah (Islamic propagation), and where hearts and minds would follow the Da‘wah when others (the Makkans) had adamantly rejected it.
Three months after the Muslims’ emigration to Abyssinia, the Muslims’ life in Makkah witnessed a major change. There emerged conditions that inspired them with hope that the Da‘wah was possible to spread in Makkah during the period when Hamzah bin ‘Abd Al-Muttalib, may Allah be pleased with him, a direct paternal uncle of the Prophet embraced Islam. At first he embraced Islam in support of his nephew - the Messenger but then Allah The Almighty opened his heart to Islam and he committed himself firmly to it. Hamzah, may Allah be pleased with him, was the most proud and powerful young man of Quraysh. So when he adopted Islam, the Quraysh knew that the Prophet was safe and secure because his uncle would protect him. Therefore, they stopped some of the harm that they had inflicted upon him.
After Hamzah, may Allah be pleased with him, had embraced Islam, ‘Umar bin Al-Khattaab, may Allah be pleased with him, did the same. It is noteworthy that he was also proud and powerful. As ‘Umar and Hamzah, may Allah be pleased with them, embraced Islam, the Companions of the Messenger enjoyed protection that kept them beyond the harm of Quraysh.
These two great men entered Islam after the Muslims had emigrated to Abyssinia. Their acceptance of Islam empowered the Muslims, suppressed the disbelievers and encouraged the Companions of the Messenger to openly declare their creed.
In this regard, Ibn Mas‘ood, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “‘Umar’s acceptance of Islam was a conquest, his emigration was a victory, and his rule was a mercy. We could not pray at the Ka‘bah until ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, embraced Islam. When he became a Muslim, he fought Quraysh until he prayed there and we prayed with him.”
‘Abdullaah bin ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with them, was reported to have said
When ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, embraced Islam, he asked which person from the Quraysh propagated news most widely, he was informed about Jameel bin Ma‘mar Al-Jumahi, so he went to him the following morning.
[Abdullaah, may Allah be pleased with them, said that he followed him to see what he would do.] When he reached Jameel, he asked him whether he knew that he had become a Muslim and had embraced the religion of Muhammad . By Allah, Jameel did not even discuss the matter with ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him; he instead immediately went forth dragging his garment with ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, in his footsteps, and I followed my father. Jameel went further until he stood in front of the door of the Mosque and called out as loudly as he could, while Quraysh were in their sessions around the Ka‘bah, saying that Ibn Al-Khattaab, may Allah be pleased with him, had committed apostasy.
‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, was there behind him saying, “You are lying, I have embraced Islam and testified that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is His Slave and Messenger.” The disbelievers then initiated a fight with him until the sun was directly over their heads and he was exhausted and sat down. The disbelievers stood around him and he said to them, “Do what you want, for by Allah, if we [Muslims] were three hundred in number, we would fight you and end up leaving it [Makkah] for you or you leaving it to us.”
The Muslims were now in a position that was different from their situation before the emigration to Abyssinia. They were protected by ‘Umar and Hamzah, may Allah be pleased with them, and could access the Ka‘bah after they had not been able to. They left the house of Al-Arqam, may Allah be pleased with him, declaring their Islam until they entered the Masjid. Quraysh stopped the savage torture that they used to inflict upon them. The situation changed for the benefit of the Muslims, and their conditions improved since the emigration.
Does one think that no one was aware of this? Does he think that the news of such changes in Makkah were not communicated to the Muslims in Abyssinia, even through the seamen who passed by Jeddah? There is no doubt that the strangers in Abyssinia knew that and were overjoyed. It is quite normal that they were all suffering from homesickness, something that Allah The Almighty has made a natural disposition in every creature. They desired to return to Makkah, their dear home, the Mother of Towns, where their families were. They returned to Makkah in the shade of new and encouraging circumstances, motivated by their persistent yearning for the Sacred House of Allah The Almighty.
The emigrants returned to Makkah because they knew about the Islam of Hamzah and ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with them, and out of their belief that the Islam of these two grand Companions gave Muslims pride and power.
The Quraysh, nevertheless, faced the Islam of Hamzah and ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with them, with more schemes that highlighted their cunning and cruelty. In addition to the terrifying weapons they used against the Prophet and his Companions, they used the weapon of economic boycott, which has already been discussed. Owing to this tense situation, the Muslims returned to Abyssinia and were accompanied by a large number of those who did not emigrate previously.