The First Hijrah to Abyssinia
Dr. Maher Hathout, February 4, 2005

We praise Allah. We humbly ask him to grant us the best in this life and in the life hereafter. And we ask him to shower his peace and blessings on the last of his messengers, his gift to the humanity, Muhammad (PBUH). We bear witness that there is no deity, save Allah and we bear witness that Muhammad (PBUH) is the servant and messenger of Allah.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, after about a week we will be or we should be commemorating and celebrating and learning from, probably the most important occasion in our collective history as Muslims which is the hijrah and the beginning of Insha Allah a Happy New Hijrah year. And as this time approach, we always talk about the hijrah with Prophet (PBUH) and believers from Mecca to Medina and the significance on that and how this represented the birthday of this structure of Islam as reality on land.

Today as I am thinking about the Hijra, I thought I share with you the experiences about another hijrah, the pre-hijrah. Because we know there were 3 hijrahs happened during the time of Prophet (PBUH). Each one of them was designed for different purpose. The first one which I would like to share with you was the hijrah from Mecca to Abyssinia. The purpose of that was simple to protect the elements of Islamic movements from the tyranny and torture of the establishment in Mecca. It is the hijrah just for preservation and protection, nothing more and nothing less.

Then was the hijrah of Prophet (PBUH) himself to At-Ta'if, the purpose of the hijrah was to get support from the people of At-Ta'if and the trail failed at that time. The third is the BIG hijrah, where it was neither for just seeking protection nor to get support but to establish the structure of the reality in Islam in an organized group, state, society and community that happened in Medina.


The hijrah to Abyssinia took place five years after the declaration of the Prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH). After he announced his mission in public, which elicited and triggered a wave of torture, persecution, abuse and detonation that was unprecedented at least in the history of that part of Arabia. And things reached such a miserable and decimal situation that Prophet (PBUH) in concern about the safety, integrity and intactness of those very few, very early Muslims and very valuable elements for Islam that because of the fact that they existed we are here today, otherwise there would have been nothing. So his purpose was to protect those and so he ordered some of his followers to travel and actually to cross the sea, which was very adventurous at that time because the Arabs are not sailors they don't travel by sea. Arabs travel by camel and they travel through deserts and they don't travel through water. So it was a big adventure at that time, which make us understand that it was clearly that staying there is more dangerous than crossing the Red Sea with the very primitive boats and things at that time and for the people who are not used to sea and you can imagine the sea sickness and dangers etc.

What is amazing is that, that hijrah took place in 2 steps, one of them was the small group about 16 persons, men and women, including the Prophet's daughter Ruqaiyyah (Ra) accompanied by her husband Uthman ibn Affan (Ra). They were included in that first group. So just imagine, here is the leader trying to save the elements and sending them in that adventurous and dangerous trip and on that boat was his own daughter, which I am sure one way or the other he could have protected her particularly because her husband was a wealthy and important man Uthman ibn Affan (Ra), none the less that was the nature of the movement, all Muslims are equal and all the valuable elements need to be protected. They took the trip and they stayed for very short time and then they got rumors. And I want you to understand, when we say rumors they did not switch to Al-jazeera or CNN, they didn't read the paper. It is rumor and God knows how it arrived and there was not even mail. It is someone traveling accidentally or by chance indicated to them the news that very amenable to be inaccurate. Guess what all tortures and persecutions stopped, things organized and so they were so eager to go back and went back to find the things worse.

And actually the things became worse, so the Prophet (PBUH) hastily ordered a larger group, that there were 86 men and 19 women to go again to Abyssinia. And this is a trip that we can relate to very well, more probably than the trip to Medina. The trip to Medina, Muslims went to find a strong community that is already Muslim, already became Muslims on the hands of young man 19 yr old, Mus‘ab ibn ‘Umair (Ra) eager to receive them, walking out to the desert and waiting impatiently to receive Prophet (PBUH). The hijrah to Abyssinia is different, they are just seeking refuge with a Christian king and here is the number one in the lessons that we need to learn and reflect about this amazingly important and amazingly less emphasized part of early Islamic history.

The choice of the place itself #1, they have crossed the sea, so they are more protected by a natural barrier from the establishment of Mecca. If they go to any place in Arabia, they can follow them and chase them but over there it is difficult.

#2 they chose to seek refuge with the Christian king with a very specific criteria, and when you read the books of history they tell you about the king of that time, that he was a man of openness and flexibility, an open-minded guy, this is all what they needed. They did not want a man who is a Muslim who will convert, but a man who is open-minded and flexible to be able to reason with them and give them what they need. And so this tells us about the choice of the destiny. Then the choice of the group as I said it was men and women together participating in that great adventure and when they went there, they never represented a threat to the community which they are seeking to protect them. And I want us, American Muslims to reflect on that. We didn't go to convert and change the lives and talk down to people, and you guys are misguided and we are coming to guide you and no, they are smart, decent people. We appreciate that you are going to offer us protection; we did not threaten the situation there. We did not hear much, there is no solid evidence about any movement of conversion from Christianity to Islam at that time, as a matter of fact there is one of those Muslims who converted to Christianity, known by name and historians his legacy etc. So they were not a threat by any means and they just wanted to be protected.

The nature of tyranny is what we should learn because it never get changed. The nature of tyranny is nature of tyranny up till now. How come they escaped out grip? If you think rationally and logically they left, let them go, fine but no, we got to go to them and ask the guy to give them back to us so that we can torture them again. The tyranny has it nature of its own. The nature of blind power and arrogance exactly like when the magicians at the time of Musa (PBUH) became Muslims, what did Pharaoh say "How come you become Muslims without ME giving you the permission?" His argument is NOT over they believed or NOT. His argument about ME. "I am the God and I am supposed to give you the authorization. I had control over your conscience."

So the same thing (happened here), they sent a delegate from Quraish led by Amar ibn Al 'As and Abdullah ibn Abu Rabiah, who were not Muslims and who became Muslims later on (may Allah be pleased with both of them), to go to convince as a matter of fact to bribe the King of Abyssinia to deport those people and send them back to Mecca. So here we can see a glimpse of the nature of tyranny and how tyranny behaves. When they went there, they said we want you to give us those people, and look at the logic, this is the logic of tyranny. "Those people who left their religion and did not join yours", which is very true statement but very lethal. In other words, "You are the King of Abyssinia, you have nothing to gain by having those people, they did not become Christians, they did not stay on the religion of forefathers either, they are up bolts, foolish, senseless people, why should you protect them. So you have to give them back to us." That tells us about the logic of tyranny.

The character of King is also amazing. He did not say "No, you are wrong or Yes, you are right." He said we should have a hearing, a very fair stand and very fair statement. "As I listened to you, I have to listen to them." And so a hearing was conducted which includes great lessons for us as Muslims.

That takes us to the next step in this sage. The hearing was conducted and the delegate of the Quraish said their statement and then the King asked the Muslims to speak for themselves. And here when you read the statement that was delivered on behalf of Muslims read by Jafar ibn Abi Talib (Ra), it is a lesson in Islam that is pertinent at that time, pertinent to us now, particularly as a group that includes large number of immigrants and will be pertinent until the day of judgment because it is polite, true, decent and it is uncompromising and it is non-threatening. The King asked Jafar ibn Abi Talib to speak and he stood up and said:


Let us follow the logic and let me paraphrase it. Jafar said, "We were people who did not worship God, we worshipped the idols. We were people who are not so keen to speak the truth; as a matter of fact we forged lots of statements. We were harsh to the weak. We were catering to the strong. We were hurtful to the neighbor. We were not keeping kin relationships and not caring for the families. And we were violating the trusts. Then God sent to us a messenger that we know his family and we know his character. And he taught us to worship God, to be nice to the neighbor, to speak the truth, to fulfill the trusts, to keep the kinship and relationship of their own, to respect the weak and NOT to take the side of the strong against them. And so we followed that man and we were tortured, persecuted until we have to leave. And we chose you NOT others, (just look at the diplomacy), we chose you over others because we expect "JUSTICE" in your land."

What is Jafar ibn Abi Talib offering here? He is offering the whole Islam. It is the belief in God and moral, ethical, social agenda. This is five years after the Prophet still in Mecca, no state, no armies, no wars, no fights, no power, nothing. This is Islam, brothers and sisters.

This is what we contemporary Muslims are forgetting today. Everyone who goes somewhere wants to be the hero, who will beat other people who are superior to them or ridicule them and their beliefs, and will try to convert them and we are the chosen. Non-sense. This is why they succeeded and we are NOT. And so it is important for us to look into the experience of our Messenger (PBUH) and his followers and to gain something out of that, whether it is the hijrah to Medina or Abyssinia, the whole thing is not to have a story telling bench, it is rediscovering ourselves. It is a soul searching process so we know who we are supposed to be, what we ought to be and how to behave.

I ask Allah (swt) to guide us to the right path and to give us the knowledge and vision so that we can discover the truth. Aameen.


Excerpts from the Friday Sermon addressed by Dr. Maher Hathout at the Islamic Center of So. Calif, Los Angeles on February 4, 2005. To listen to the audio, click on the khutba dated February 4, 2005 at http://islamctr.org/JUMAS.ASP