The First Migration to Abyssinia
As the number of Muslims increased, the polytheists of Makkah found many ways to persecute the Muslims to try and stop the wave of Islām. Rasūlullāh (SAW) told his companions to spread themselves out in the land, so they asked him where they should go. Rasūlullāh (SAW) told them to go to Ḥabashah, Abyssinia. He also told them that there is a king there who has never oppressed anyone. The Muslims wanted to go to a place where they could practise Islām without being persecuted and in the month of Rajjab, in the 5 th year of Prophethood, 11 men and 5 women left for Ḥabashah. They were:
•ʿUthmān ibn ʿAffān (RA) and his wife Ruqayyah (RA), the daughter of Rasulullah (SAW)
• ‘Abdul Rahman Ibn ‘Awf
• Zubayr ibn ʿAwwām
• Abū Ḥudhayfah and his wife Sahla
• Muṣʿab ibn ʿUmayr
• Abū Salamah and his wife Umme Salamah (RA) (she later married Rasūlullāh (SAW))
• ʿUthmān ibn Maẓʿūn
• ʿĀmir ibn Rabī’ah and his wife Layla
• Suhayl ibn Bayḍā
• Abū Subrah and his wife Kulthūm
• Ḥāṭib ibn ʿAmr
These Companions left secretly, some were walking, whilst others were saddled. When they reached the coast, 2 trade boats were waiting to leave for Ḥabashah. They took 5 dirhams off the Companions and took them aboard. According to Ḥāfidh ʿAskalāni, they had got on the boat from Jeddah.
When the polytheists found out about the Companions leaving, they sent a person right away to catch them. By the time he got there, the boats had already left so his journey had been in vain
The ancient kingdom of Abyssinia was located around Eritrea and the Tigray region of Ethiopia. As to where exactly in the kingdom the migrants travelled, Allāh (SWT) knows best, but the ancient capital of Abyssinia was called Aksum.
The Companions stayed in Ḥabashah for the months of Rajjab and Shawwāl. They then received news in the month of Shawwāl that the people in Makkah had become Muslim, so they returned to Makkah. When they got close to Makkah, they found out that this news was wrong which put them in a predicament. Some of them made their way into the city secretly, whilst others had to take refuge with another person and then enter Makkah.
Rasūlullāh (SAW) once again gave the Companions permission to emigrate to Ḥabashah. This time there were over 100 men & women.
When the Quraysh saw that the Muslims were living there peacefully and able to practise their religion freely, they decided to do something about it. They got together and had a meeting. The decision was made to send ʿAmr ibn Al-ʿĀṣ and ʿAbdullāh ibn Abi Rabīʿah to Ḥabashah with gifts, so they can win the support of the Abyssinians. Once they have their support, they will agree to send back the migrants.
They both arrived in Ḥabashah and presented all the gifts to the people who were close to the King. They then said that some of our people have left the religion of our forefathers and have sought refuge in your city. They left our religion and have not even accepted your faith, meaning Christianity, but they have embraced a new faith which neither us nor you are familiar with. Our leaders have sent us to you so that you can hand these people over to us. Can you all ask your King to hand these people back to us without any form of conversation. ʿAmr ibn Al-ʿĀṣ and ʿAbdullāh ibn Abi Rabīʿah were worried that the King would call the Muslims and ask them some questions.
ʿAmr ibn Al-ʿĀṣ and ʿAbdullāh ibn Abi Rabīʿah then presented the Qurayshi gifts to Najjāshi. The people in the court who had already been briefed, asked the King to hand over the Companions to this delegation which had arrived from Makkah.
The concern which ʿAmr ibn Al-ʿĀṣ and ʿAbdullāh ibn Abi Rabīʿah had, became a reality. Najjāshi got angry and said that he cannot just hand these people over without speaking to them first. How can it be that people who have come to his country to seek refuge, be handed over to people who oppose them without even an investigation.
Najjāshi then sent a person to call the Companions. The Messenger arrived with the Kings message and the Ṣaḥābah discussed the matter. They decided that they would only say what Rasūlullāh (SAW) has taught them in the court.
The Court of Najjāshi
The Companions arrived at the court and gave Salām. None of them prostrated in front of the King. The people in the court found this quite offensive and started to question them as to why they hadn’t bowed down. In one narration it mentions that even the King Najjāshi asked why they hadn’t prostrated.
Jaʿfar (RA) told them that we do not do Sajdah, we do not prostrate to anyone apart from Allāh (SWT). Allāh (SWT) has sent a Messenger to us and this is what he has commanded us to do.
Regarding the Salām, the Companions said, this is the way we greet Rasūlullāh (SAW) and greet each other. Our Prophet (SAW) has told us that the people of Jannah, heaven will also greet each other like this.
Najjāshi then asked them about the religion they had embraced other than Christianity or Idol Worship. Jaʿfar (RA) stood up to give his answer.
He said, ‘Oh King, we were all ignorant and simple, we used to worship idols and eat carrion. We were busy in all types of immodest actions. We used to cut relations with our close relatives, we used to behave badly with our neighbours. Whoever was strong from among us, would wish to consume the weak. We were in this state when Allāh (SWT) sent down his bounty, he sent a Messenger from amongst us whose lineage and truthfulness, trustworthiness, and integrity we knew.
He called us to Allāh (SWT), that we believe he is One and recognize him as One, understand he is One. Only worship him alone. All the idols and stones which we used to worship, and our forefathers used to worship, leave them at once. He commanded us to be truthful, trustworthy, to keep ties with our kin, be good to our neighbours, to keep away from causing bloodshed and impermissible talk.
He stopped us from doing all bad things, vain talk, and falsehood, from eating the wealth of the orphan, to slandering a chaste pure woman. He commanded us to only worship Allāh (SWT) and not to adjoin any partners with him. That we read Ṣalāt and give Zakāt, and fast.
Jaʿfar (RA) mentioned other things as well about what Islām teaches and that they had affirmed this and brought faith upon it and everything which comes from Allāh(SWT) to Rasūlullāh (SAW), we follow it. Due to this, our people have caused us all types of harm and persecuted us in many ways that we leave worshipping the one Allāh (SWT) and go back to our old ways.
When we got tired of this persecution and when it became difficult for us to follow our religion and our belief in One God, then we left our home with the hope that you will not oppress us.’ Najjāshi said, ‘Can you remember any of the words which have come to your Prophet?’ Jaʿfar (RA) said yes. Najjāshi, then asked him to read some so he could listen to them. Jaʿfar(RA) then started to recite the opening verses of Sūrah Maryam. Tears started to come out of the eyes of the King and all the people in the court.
The Trial continues
When Jaʿfar (RA) finished his recitation, Najjāshi said, these words and the words which ʿĪsā (AS) came with, are both from the same source. He then said to the Qurayshi delegation that he will under no circumstance give these people up to them.
When the delegation left the court, ʿAmr ibn Al-ʿĀṣ said, tomorrow I will say such a thing in front of the King that he will destroy these people. ʿAbdullāh ibn Abi Rabīʿah said, do not do this as they are related to us even though they may differ in belief. ʿAmr ibn Al-ʿĀṣ didn’t listen to him. The following day he went to the King and said that these people say severe things about ʿĪsā (AS).
Najjāshi called the Companions again. They got very worried about how they would answer but agreed they would only say what Allāh (SWT) and his Messenger have said. They will not say anything against that.
The Companions arrived once again in the Kings court. Najjāshi asked them, ‘What do you say regarding ʿĪsā(AS). Jaʿfar (RA) said, ‘That we only say what the Prophet (SAW) has said about him and that is, that he is a Slave of Allāh, and his Messenger. And he was a special spirit from Allāh (SWT) and a special word from Allāh (SWT).
Najjāshi lifted a piece of wood off the floor and said, ‘I swear by God, what the Muslims have said, ʿĪsā (AS) has not said more than them equivalent to the length of this stick’. Najjāshi then told the Muslims that they can remain in peace, even if he was given a mountain of gold, he would not persecute them.
He then commanded that all the gifts which were given by the Quraysh be returned to them. He said he had no need of them and Allāh (SWT) had given him his dominion without bribery. He would not take a bribe and hand these people over to them. The session at the court ended. The Muslims were happy and the Qurayshi delegation had been humiliated and were in low spirits. And this is how the Quraysh returned to Makkah having failed in their plan to bring back the Muslims from Abyssinia.
(Seerah Part 5 – The Trials and Tribulations of the Early Muslims by Maulana Ebrahim Noor)