19 The Tabuk Expedition

The Arabs had never thought of fighting or attacking the Romans. They probably considered themselves to be not strong enough for that task.

The Romans, however, remembered the Mu’tah expedition and were still a threat. The Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah decided to lead a Muslim army into Roman territory before the Roman armies crossed the Arab borders and threatened the heart of Islam.

The Tabuk expedition took place in Rajab, 9 A.H. The Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah led the expedition in intense heat, when the dates were ripe and the shade of the trees was pleasant. It was a long journey through arid deserts towards a vast enemy army. He had made the position clear to the Muslims in advance so that they could make preparations for the journey. It was a difficult time because the Muslims were experiencing a severe drought.

The hypocrites made various excuses not to accompany the Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah. They said they feared the enemy or the intense heat. They were reluctant to perform jihad and had doubts about the truth. Allah Almighty said of them: ‘Those who were left behind rejoiced in tarrying behind the Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah and were averse to struggling with their possessions and their selves in the way of Allah. They said, “Go not Forth in the heat.” Say. “The Fire of Jahannam is hotter did they but understand!” ‘(9: 81)

In preparing for the expedition, the Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah had encouraged the wealthy to spend in the way of Allah. Some provided mounts for those who had neither provision nor mount, expecting a reward from Allah.

Uthman ibn Affan spent one thousand dinars on the ‘Army of Distress’ and the Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah prayed for him.

The Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah set out for Tabuk with 30,000 men from Madinah. It was the largest Muslim army ever to set forth on an expedition.

When they reached al-Hijr, the land of Thamud, he told the Companions that it was a country of those who were being punished for their sins.

‘If you enter the houses of those who did wrong, enter tearfully, fearing that what befell them might also befall you.’ He added that they must not drink any of al-Hijr’s water nor use it for ablutions. Because the soldiers had no water they complained to the Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah. He prayed to Allah and a dark cloud brought rain so that everyone could quench their thirst and store sufficient water for their needs.

When the Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah reached Tabuk, the Arab amirs on the herders called on him and made treaties of peace. They also paid to him the jizyah tax. The Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah guaranteed their borders, the security of their territories and their caravans and ships travelling by land and sea. Letters to this effect were delivered to all parties.

Then came the news that the Romans had withdrawn from the border towns. They had decided not to encroach on Muslim land. The Prophet could see no reason to pursue them into their own territory as his goal had already been achieved.

He stayed at Tabuk for about two weeks and then travelled back to Madinah.

Among those who had stayed behind at the time of this expedition were Ka’b ibn Malik, Murarah ibn ar-Rabi’ and Hilal ibn Umayyah. They were among the first Muslims and had been thoroughly tested in Islam. Murarah ibn ar-Rabi’ and Hilal ibn Umayyah had been present at Badr and it was not their nature to not take part in the battle. The situation was only part of the Divine wisdom, so they would really examine themselves and be a lesson for all Muslims in the future. Such failings are usually because of procrastination, weak will and over-reliance on means.

The Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah forbade anyone to speak to them. All the Muslims obeyed him and people avoided them. They had to endure that trial for fifty days. Ka’b ibn Malik would attend prayers with the Muslims and visit the markets but everyone ignored him. But his suffering only increased his faith in Islam.

The wives of these three were also affected by the measures and no one was allowed to go near them either.

A further test came when the influential King of Ghassan heard what was happening in Madinah. He invited Ka’b ibn Malik to his court in order to honour him and lure him from Islam. But when the King’s messenger delivered the invitation to Ka’b he threw it into the fire. Allah’s examination was over and none of the three had failed the test. A revelation came from Allah to illustrate how their example would hold for all time. They had not deserted their faith but had found refuge and safety with Allah. The Qur’an says:

Allah has turned towards the Prophet and the Muhajirun and the Ansar who followed him in the hour of difficulty, after the hearts of a party of them almost swerved aside; then He turned towards them; surely He is Gentle to them, and he turned to the three who remained behind, until, when the earth became straitened for them, for all its breadth, and their souls became straitened for them, and they thought that there was no shelter from Allah except in Him, then He turned towards them, that they might also turn; surely Allah turns, and is Compassionate. (9: 117-18)

The expedition to Tabuk, in Rajab 9 A.H., was the last in the Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah’s campaign. In all, the Muslims had fought in twenty-seven battles and taken part in sixty forays and expeditions. No conqueror had ever achieved such success with so little loss of life. Throughout the campaign a total of only one thousand and eighteen from both sides had been killed. Only Allah knows the number of those whose lives were spared in gaining security for the Arabian peninsula. Eventually it was so safe that a woman pilgrim could travel all the way from Hirah to Makkah without fearing anyone except Allah.

The hajj was made obligatory in 9 A.H. The Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah sent Abu Bakr as amir for the hajj in that year. Three hundred men from Madinah went to Makkah with him. The Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah sent for Ali ibn Abi Talib and said to him, ‘Go out and announce to the people on the Day of Sacrifice that “no kafir will enter Paradise and after this year no idol-worshipper will perform hail nor do tawaf if he is in a state of nudity.’
Source: Al Islaah Publications


  • Mohamed Yousuff

    Thank you for such an inspirational story. Much detailed articles needs to be rolled in, InshaAllah.

    I would like to point out the error in the article ( But when the King’s messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) delivered the invitation to Ka’b he threw it into the fire. ) . You have stated (sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) for king’s messenger.Please make necessary changes and as well excuse me if I have misunderstood the sentence.

    • Jazakallah for pointing out the error, I have made the correction you suggested.


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