Some of the tribes were still trapped in the delusion that the rise of Islam was transient like a cloudburst, whose tide would be stemmed before long. It was therefore necessary to warn or even threaten such people before they device an opportunity to strike at the Muslims. The expedition of Tabuk had the desired effect on such lukewarm tribes much in the same way as the conquest of Mecca had gone a long way in clearing away the clouds of opposition. This expedition against the Byzantine Empire whose might and magnificence was well-known to the Arabs, virtually meant that the Muslims were ready to fling down the gauntlet even to the greatest power of the day. As to how much respect the Arabs had for the Byzantines whom they called Romans, is well illustrated by the remarks made by Abu Sufyan after he had seen Heraclius rendering honor to the Prophet (Peace be upon him)'s letter sent through Dihya b. KhAli (may Allah be pleased with him)fa al-Kalbi. He had heard Heraclius saying that he, too, expected a Prophet (Peace be upon him) to be born. Abu Sufyan had then gotten up, as he related later on, rubbing his hands and saying that the affair of Ibn Abi Kabsha(69) (i.e. the Prophet Peace be upon him), had become so great that the King of the Romans dreaded him. Abu Sufyan further says that he was then convinced that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) would ultimately emerge victorious and this was how Islam originated in his heart. (Bukhari)
The Arabs could not then dream of attacking the Byzantine Empire; they themselves feared Byzantine invasion or rather did not rate themselves so high as to be converted by any great power. Whenever the Muslims of Madinah were confronted with a grave danger or their safety was imperiled, their immediate action was to seek the aid of the Gassanid King who was a plyarch of East Syria under the rule of Caesar. What 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said during the affair of Aylah, which took place in the beginning of 8 A.H., shed sufficient light on the state of affairs during those days. He said that he had an Ansaari friend with whom he had convinced that one of them should alternately remain in attendance upon the Prophet (Peace be upon him) (Peace be upon him) and inform the other about the incidents transpiring in his absence. 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) further said that in those days they were alarmed by a rumor that the Gassanid King intended to invade Madinah and were thus constantly agitated by it. Once, when his Ansaari friend came to his house and knocked at his door so he could get in, 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) inquired of his friend if the Gassanids had attacked Madinah. (Bukhari and Muslim)
The Byzantine star was on the ascent in those days. Its armies had, under Heraclius, dealt a death blow to the Iranian forces and carried their arms to the Iranian capital. The glorious victory was celebrated by the Emperor's stately march from Hims (Emessa or Edessa) to Ayleh (Elath or 'Aqabah) in the seventh year of the Hijrah. Heraclius himself carried, in the guise of a penitent pilgrim, the True Cross retrieved from the Persians while carpets were spread and rose water sprinkled beneath his feet all over the path by the people who went forth to meet their hero with tears and acclamations.(Muslim, Kitab ul-Jihad)
Hardly two years had passed after this splendid victory won by the Emperor of the Romans, when the Prophet (Peace be upon him) led an army to face him. The Prophet's (Peace be upon him) daring venture made such a deep impression on the minds of the Arabs that it would be no exaggeration to claim that the expedition of Tabuk served as prelude to the conquest of Syria during the reigns of Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) and 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with themaa). The Tabuk Expedition really brought the match to a chain of victories which eventually catapulted the Muslims as the masters of Syria.
What was the genesis of this expedition? It is related that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) got reports of Byzantine forces converging in the northern frontiers of Arabia with the intention of mounting an attack on the Muslims. Ibn S'ad and Waqidi had reported that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) was informed by the Nabataeans that Heraclius was intending to come upon him and that his advance party had already reached Balqa'.(70) This was after stocking one year's provision for his army and drafting the pro-Byzantine tribes of Lakhm, Jodham, 'Amla and Ghassan under his banner.
Even if we ignore this report, it can hardly be denied that the purpose of the expedition was to strike terror into the neighboring force which was a potential threat to the rising power of Islam. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) intended to forewarn the Byzantines that they should not consider the Muslims weak nor should they take any precipitate action to violate their territorial sovereignty. The expedition was thus considered a precautionary measure since one that does not have enough strength could neither dare shake one's fist at a great power nor could one take the risk of descending on its borders. It is certain, at all events, that the true purpose of the expedition was what the revelation in this connection had explained in these words:
"O Ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him)." [Qur'an 9:123]
This objective was more than achieved as was subsequently borne out by the far-reaching consequence of the expedition. No retaliatory action was taken nor any detachments were moved to their borders by the Byzantines to drive back the Muslim army. The Emperor, exhausted by his Persian campaigns, remained an impotent spectator to the raid on his confederate border tribes or perhaps he thought it fit to wait and see before taking up the cudgels against the new power rising up in the East.
The first rattle of the new Arabian power impressed the pro-Byzantine Christian tribes in northern Arabia. This was a great advantage accruing from the expedition of Tabuk for it made these tribes shift their allegiance from Constantinopole to Madinah which eventually led them to accept the religious aspects akin to the Islamic power. The Expedition also went as far as proving that the rise of Islam was for real and not just meteoric, or one which is fated to burst like a bubble, as some of the Arabs had hitherto been thinking about it. Moreover, the expedition showed that its climb to power was solid as a rock with a great future lying ahead of it. In fact, severance of the ties between these border tribes and the Byzantium was a prerequisite before they could pay attention to Islam, their new source of power and strength which was taking roots and shaping up in their own homeland. The divine revelation, too, makes an allusion to this aspect of the expedition as culled from a verse of Surah at-Taubah:
"Nor step they any step that angereth the disbelievers, nor gain they from enemy a gain, but a good deed is recorded for them therefore." [Qur'an 9:120]
The battle of Mu'ta was still fresh in the minds of the Byzantines who had failed to humble the Muslim army in spite of their vastly superior numbers. The Muslims, on the other hand, having once traded swords with the Byzantines, had overcome their traditional terror of the impregnable Roman legions.
In short, the expedition of Tabuk was a landmark in the life of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) as well as in the continuity of the Islamic mission for it provided long-term effect on the future course of events leading to the glorious conquest of Islam developing throughout the course of time.
THE TIME OF EXPEDITION
The Tabuk campaign was undertaken in the month of Rajab, 9 A.H.(71) It was the time when the date palms had ripened and their shades were very pleasant. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) undertook a long journey for the Tabuk expedition and traversed deserts and arid plains to face an enemy immensely great in numbers. As the Muslims were then passing through a period of drought, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) told the companions beforehand, unlike in previous occasions, that he intended to fight with the Byzantines so that they might make suitable preparations. (Sahihain, on the authority of K'ab b. Malik)
The hypocrites fell out on different pretexts. They either disliked strenuous wars against the powerful enemy or disliked going out in the oppressive heat. They even doubted the truth and had little interest in fighting for the sake of God, so they refrained from accompanying the Prophet (Peace be upon him) on this occasion. God admonished such disaffected persons as is related in this Quranic verse:
"Those who were left behind rejoiced at sitting still behind the Messenger of Allah, and were aversed to striving with their wealth and their lives in Allah's way. And they said: go not forth in the heat! Say: The heat of Hell is more intense of heat, if they but understood." [Qur'an 9:81]
ENTHUSIASM OF THE MUSLIMS
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) took particular care to make preparations for the expedition. He urged upon the affluent companions to donate considerably for the campaign resulting in the lavish donations that they had thus accumulated. 'Uthman spent one thousand dinars on the force known as "The brigade of distress" or "Jaish al-'Usr" and the Prophet (Peace be upon him) invoked God's blessings for him. A number of companions who were unable to raise money for their participation requested the Prophet (Peace be upon him) to arrange the same for them. As, however, their requests could not be met for want of funds, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) told them that their demands cannot be granted and so they went back disconsolate and disheartened. Some of them were so sorrow-stricken and depressed that God sent down the revelation exempting them from the obligation of joining the expedition:
"Nor unto those (is any blame) whom, when they came to thee (asking) that thou shouldst mount them, thou didst tell: I cannot find whereon to mount you. They turned back with eyes flowing with tears, for sorrow that they could not find the means to spend." [Qur'an 9:92]
There were still others who could not make up their mind to participate in the campaign although their indecision was not because of any doubt or misgiving.
ARMYS DEPARTURE FOR TABUK
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) proceeded to Tabuk with a strong army of 30,000 from Madinah. In no other drive, earlier to Tabuk, had such a large number of persons carried arms. Before the departure, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) ordered the men to secure their camp at Thaniyatul-Wada'. He put Muhammad b. 'Maslama al-Ansaari in charge of Madinah and left behind 'Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) to look after his family. When 'Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) complained to the Prophet (Peace be upon him) that the hypocrites were trying to spread false rumors about him, he replied, "Are you not content,'Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) that you are to me as Haroon (Aaron) was to Musa (Moses), except that there will be no Prophet (Peace be upon him) after me?"(Bukhari , Gazwah Tabuk)
When the Prophet (Peace be upon him) encamped at al-Hjir, the land of Thamud, he told the companions that it was the country of those who were being tortured for their sins. He said, "If you enter the houses of those who did wrong to themselves, enter tearfully with the fear that you may also meet the same fate that befell them."(72) He also instructed his men, "Do not drink any of its water nor use it for ablutions. If you have used any for dough, then feed it to the camels and eat none of it."
The journey was extremely arduous, and scarcity of water added to the misery of the army. When the people complained to the Prophet (Peace be upon him) about their distress, he prayed to God and a cloud came down in torrents until every man had quenched his thirst and stored enough water to meet his needs. (Ibn Hisham, Vol. p. 522)
Some of the hypocrites kept company with the Prophet (Peace be upon him). While the Muslim army was headed for Tabuk, one of them said to another, but alluding to the Prophet (Peace be upon him), "Do you think that the executioners of the Romans will deal with you in the same way as the Arabs do? By God, we seem to see you bound with ropes tomorrow." (Ibn Hisham, Vol. II, p. 522)
TREATY OF PEACE WITH AYLAHS RULER
Yuhanna b. Ru'ba, the governor of Aylah called upon the Prophet (Peace be upon him) at Tabuk. Yuhanna made a treaty of peace and also paid the Jizyah. So did the people of Jarba' and Adhruh, and they were all granted peace as well as guaranteed safety of their territory and their ships and caravans by land and sea. The treaties were written by the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and delivered to the respective parties. Yuhanna was received by the Prophet (Peace be upon him) cordially and was given due respect. (Ibn Hisham Vol. II, pp. 525-26)
BACK TO MADINAH
There was no commotion in Byzantium. When the Prophet (Peace be upon him) saw that there was no movement of troops by the enemy who seemed to have abandoned the border towns, he gave orders for the return march. The objective of the expedition having been achieved, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) did not consider it necessary to advance further in the enemy's territory to carry on the hostilities. Only a Christian chief, Ukaydir b. 'Abdul Malik, who was the ruler of Dumatul Jandal(73) and enjoyed the patronage of the Byzantines, was reported to be harboring hostile designs. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) sent Khalid (may Allah be pleased with him) with five hundred troops who captured Ukaydir and brought him to the Prophet (Peace be upon him). The Prophet (Peace be upon him), however, spared his life on the condition that he surrendered unconditionally and agreed to pay the Jizyah. (Ibn Hisham, Vol. II, p. 526)
After staying for a few nights in Tabuk, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) returned to Madinah. (Ibn Hisham, p. 527)
FUNERAL OF POOR MUSLIM
'Abdullah Dhu'l-Bijadayn died at Tabuk. He had been too eager to accept Islam but his tribesmen had prevented him from conversion. At last they turned him over with only one coarse sheet of cloth in which he repaired to call upon the Prophet (Peace be upon him). By the time he came to the Prophet (Peace be upon him) the sheet of cloth had been torn into two pieces, one of which was used by him as a loincloth and the other he had wrapped over him. Since the day he appeared before the Prophet (Peace be upon him) in that condition, he came to be known as Dhu'l-Bijadayn.
When he died at Tabuk the Prophet (Peace be upon him) attended his burial along with Abu Bakr and 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with themaa). By the light of a torch held by someone, a grave was dug for him and the Prophet (Peace be upon him) himself went down into it to put him to rest. While Abu Bakr and 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with themaa) lowered down the corpse of 'Abdullah Dhu'l-Bijadayn, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said to them, "Bring your brother nearer to me." After the Prophet
(Peace be upon him) had arranged 'Abdallah for his niche, he said, "O God, I am pleased with him; be Thou pleased with him! "Abdallah b. Masud used to say thereafter, "would that I had been the man in that grave." (Ibn Hisham, Vol. II, pp. 527-8)
TRIAL OF K'AB B. MALIK (may Allah be pleased with him)
Some of the Muslims who had stayed behind in the expedition of Tabuk, not for any doubt or disaffection, were K'ab b. Malik and Hilal b. Umayya. All of them had accepted Islam in the earlier stage of the Prophet's (Peace be upon him) mission and had undergone hardships for the sake of their faith. Murara b. al-Rabi and Hilal b. Umayya had also taken part in the battle of Badr. Actually, none of them had ever been languid in accompanying the Prophet (Peace be upon him) in the previous battles. Therefore, their failure to do so in the expedition of Tabuk could have been brought about by the will of the providence which perhaps wanted to set another example of severe trial to test the strength of their faith for the benefit of the coming generations. They had been held back on this occasion partly on account of indolence and indecision and partly because of their reliance on worldly means and objects, or, perhaps, they had not given thought to the urgency of the matter as it deserved. These are common human shortcomings which have very often frustrated those who have been second to none in the sincerity of their faith in God and the love of His Prophet (Peace be upon him). In fact, this is the moral so pointedly illustrated by these words of K'ab b. Malik (may Allah be pleased with him).
"Every day I would go out to get ready for the journey so that I might leave with them, but I would come back not having done anything. I would say to my self, 'I can do that whenever I want to', but continued procrastinating until the time for departure came and the Prophet of God (Peace be upon him) left with the Muslims. And, I had still not made necessary preparations. I thought that I could go after a day or two and then join them. I went to make the preparations after they had left but again returned without having done what was necessary. Day after day passed until I became sluggish while the army had gone far ahead at full speed. I still thought of leaving Madinah to overtake them and I wish that I had done so, but I did not.(Bukhari, Kitab-ul-Magazi)
All the three companions were called upon to prove, in a way unknown to the annals of any religion, the sincerity of their faith in God and their love for the Prophet (Peace be upon him). It was undoubtedly an excruciating trial of their loyalty to Islam, of their perseverance and tenacity in times of serenity as well as in difficulty, in cheer as well as despondency.
There is also no doubt that all these true-spirited companions spoke the truth when the hypocrites had offered excuses for justifying their absence from the expedition.
The incidents as related in the Traditions, on the authority of K'ab b. Malik (may Allah be pleased with him), goes on with the narrative which speaks of his sincerity:
"Those who had stayed behind came and began to make excuses with oaths - there were about eighty of them - and the Prophet (Peace be upon him) accepted their pleas, administered oaths to them and asked divine forgiveness for them, leaving what they had concealed in their hearts to God. Then I came and saluted him and he smiled as one who is angry. He said, 'Come nearer.' I went and sat before him. Then he asked, 'What had kept you back? Did you not purchase a mount? I replied, 'True to God, it was exactly so. O Prophet of God (Peace be upon him), were I sitting with anyone else in the world I would have thought of offering some excuses for saving myself from His anger as I know how to defend and justify myself. But, true to God, I know that if I were to satisfy you by telling a lie, God will soon make you angry with me. And if I displease you now by telling the truth, I have hopes that God would excuse me in the end. Honest to God, I have no excuse at all and I was never stronger and richer than when I stayed behind."
The hour of trial came at last. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) forbade everyone to speak to the three who had made a clean breast. Such were those Muslims, who knew nothing but to listen and obey the Prophet (Peace be upon him), that not even the members of their own families would address a word to these men. All the three felt forsaken and abandoned, and were confronted with loneliness that strikes one who's in a foreign land, for they themselves were treated as aliens in their own country. They endured it for fifty nights. Murara b. al-Rab'i and Hilal b. Umayya (may Allah be pleased with themaa) shut themselves up in their house, lamenting and shedding tears all the while. K'ab b. Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) on the other hand, being young and sturdy, used to go out and join the prayer with others, then roam around in the market, but nobody seemed eager to keep him company or accost him.
But such indifference did not cause to increase the distance between them and the Prophet of God (Peace be upon him); nor was there any diminution in the loving regard that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) had for them. The admonition by the Prophet (Peace be upon him) rather gave rise to a still acute longing in them to regain the affection of the Prophet (Peace be upon him). The narration of K'ab b. Malik (may Allah be pleased with him), which bears freshness of the plain truth, goes on to say:
"And I would go to the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and salute him when he sat with others after the prayer, thinking whether his lips had moved in returning my salutation or not; then I would pray near him and see him with half an eye. I am sure that he fastened his eyes on me when I was busy in prayers but then turned away from me as soon as I tried to take a look at him."
The wide world seemed to have closed in on these men. K'ab b. Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) relates about the behavior of one whom he considered to be his inseparable friend.
When the harshness of the people became unbearable, I scaled the wall of Abu Qatada's orchard and went to him. He was my cousin and held dearest by me. I greeted him, but, by God, he did not even return my salutation. I said: "O Abu Qatada, I adjure you by God, do you not know that I love God and His Prophet (Peace be upon him)?" But he still kept quite, so I repeated my question again. He remained silent for a while and then said: "God and His Prophet (Peace be upon him) know best!" At that juncture, my eyes gave way to tears and I jumped over the wall to go back." (Buhkari)
The ordeal, however, did not come to a close just like that. The ban was extended to their wives such that the three were ordered to separate themselves from their respective spouses through divorce. All of them obediently yielded to the command.
The faith and loyalty as well as firmness of K'ab b. Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) was brought to a yet more delicate and crucial test when the King of Ghassan tried to angle him with a silver hook. He was the ruler of a kingdom which had exercised a deep influence upon the Arabs. In fact, the Arab nobles and chieftains vied with one another to be among the circle of his entourage or even to be invited to attend his court, in the same way that even eminent poets composed splendid eulogies in honor of the Ghassanid kings.(74) A Nabataean courier of the King contacted K'ab b. Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) when the Prophet's (Peace be upon him) aloofness and the coolness of the people to him had become agonizing enough to drive him mad. The courier delivered him a letter from the King in which he had written: "We have learnt that your master has treated you badly. God has not destined you to be humiliated and wasted, so come to us and we shall deal kindly with you."
K'ab took the letter to be a challenge to his integrity, but his conscience smote him to the point of tantalizing his love for God and His Prophet (Peace be upon him) and so he took the letter to an oven and burnt it.
Their test was over at last. None of the three was found wanting. Then came the revelation from God which illustrated their personal example to make it a general lesson, good for all times to come. They had demonstrated by their action that they could not flee from God, but could only find solace and refuge in coming back to Him. The spacious earth of God had become straightened for them; rather, in their own souls they had feeling of constraint, but they did not falter from the right path. Then it was that God forgave them and took them back to His grace. But, a noteworthy feature of the verse revealed on this occasion was that the Most Gracious God did not make mention of the repentance of these three persons or lest they might feel singled out and humiliated. Their penitence was spoken of after mentioning the contrition of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and other Muhaajirun and Ansaar who had been ready and willing to take part in the expedition. The revelation goes to show that whatever sufferings and hardships they had endured had raised their degree in the spiritual world.
"Allah hath turned in mercy to the Prophet (Peace be upon him), and to the Muhaajirun and the Ansaar who followed him in the hour of hardship. After the hearts of a party of them had almost swerved aside, then turned He unto them in mercy. Lo! He is Full of Pity, Merciful for them.
"And to the three also (did He turn in mercy) who were left behind, when the earth, vast as it is, was straitened for them, and their own souls were straitened for them till they bethought them that there is no refuge from Allah save toward Him. Then turned He unto them in mercy that they (too) might turn (repentant unto Him). Lo! Allah! He is the Relenting, the Merciful." [Qur'an 9:117-18]
THE EXPEDITION AT A GLANCE
The Expedition of Tabuk, which took place in the month of Rajab, 9 A.H., was the last crusade during the lifetime of the Prophet (Peace be upon him). The actual number of battles fought was twenty-seven while he is reported to have sent out sixty forays and expeditions(75) although no fighting had taken place in many of them.
Never in the history of human conflict had any conqueror exhausted so little bloodshed yet achieved such a remarkable success. In all these clashes, only 1018 persons,(76) made up of Muslims as well as non-Muslims lost their lives. But, it would be to usurp the impossible to gamble any guess as to how much blood of the ferocious Arabs was saved from being spilled or how many souls escaped degradation and debasement because of this negligible loss to human life. Such was the public tranquillity and orderliness resulting from the Prophet (Peace be upon him)'s campaigns that a woman pilgrim would go from Hira to Mecca and return after circumambulating the K'aba without any fear in her heart save that of God.(77) Another report says that the women from Qadessia went alone on their dromedaries for pilgrimage to Mecca without the least anxiety or fear.(78) This was the country in which, from time immemorial, fights and forays, or battles between nomadic tribes and raids on one another's flocks and properties had been an acceptable part of the desert life. Even the caravans of neighbouring powerful kingdoms dared not cross the country in pre-Islamic days without powerful escorts and guides.
The missions of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) were warranted by two universal truths as enunciated in the Qur'an, in which one of these says that 'is worse than slaughter' (Qur'an 2:191) and the other declared, 'There is life for you in retaliation, O men of understanding'. (Qur'an 2:179) These twin principles, which aimed at the refusal to acquiesce in wrongdoing and urged to strive for the defense of honor and justice, soon established its most sought-after peace and order. This is at the minimum cost of labour and time on the part of the Muslims under the benevolent and altruistic guidance of the Prophet (Peace be upon him). The Messenger of God (Peace be upon him) was ever vigilant to secure the well-being and enlightenment of the enemy instead of allowing the satisfaction of vindictive feelings to become the objective of his campaigns. Whenever the Prophet (Peace be upon him) sent out any detachment for forays or declared battle to the enemy he invariably issued strict instructions to his men to be God-fearing and kind to the friends as well as foes. The directions he once gave to his troops were:
"I asked you to fear God and to be considerate to the Muslims with you. Fight in the name of God and slay those in his name who have disbelieved Him. Neither should you break your promise, nor pilfer the spoils, nor kill any child or woman nor man infirm and old or a priest who has withdrawn to seclusion. Never lay your hands on a date-palm, nor chop down a tree, nor yet pull down any building." (79)
And, as to how successful these campaigns of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) were can be judged from the fact that within a brief period of ten years, more than a million square miles was won for Islam. Moreover, the Islamic state expanded at an average rate of some 274 square miles daily at the cost of one martyr a month." (80) This respect for human blood is unparalleled in the annals of man's history. The truth of this assertion is better understood if the losses of these crusades are placed beside the casualties of the last two world wars, the first of which was fought from 1914 to 1918 and the second from 1939 to 1945. According to the computation of the Encyclopedia Britannica, 6,400,000 persons lost their lives (81) in the first war and the number of casualties in the second ranged between 35 and 60 millions.(82)
Yet, none of these two blood-tainted wars can claim to have done any good to humanity nor did they solve any problem of the world at all.
The ecclesiastical tribunals known as Inquisitions established by the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages for the trial and punishment of heretics are reported to have taken a toll of 12 million lives. (83)