The Tabuk Campaign: An Enormous Test of Iman

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What is the tabuk campaign?

The Campaign to Tabuk, a town lying right in the middle of Medina and Damascus, was the last undertaken by the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. The Campaign can be considered a sequel of the Battle of Muta. The Emperor of Byzantine, still rattled from Muta, was of the intention to invade entire Arabia before Muslim power reached threatening heights. For the purpose of quelling what he saw as the Muslim onslaught, he wanted to use the Christian Arabs. The Ghassanids, who he saw as natural candidates for this, were more than ready for such a mission. The news of the potential attack was soon brought to Medina by the incoming trade caravans, warning them their towns were soon to facing an ominous attack.

The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- then rallied all the Companions together, young and old. Preparations for any given campaign until then were always conducted secretly, in order for the enemy not to become aware of the destination. But now the situation was different. It was the hottest days of summer. They were facing a strong enemy and a great distance. Moreover, Muslims were in a financially tight situation, strained by the devastating famine that had struck Medina that year.[1]

Hypocrites, making the most of the troubles as usual, rekindled their undying flames of mischief and attempted to demoralize the Believers. Their chief Abdullah ibn Ubay, arrogant as usual, began to drivel, “Does Muhammad think the Romans are child’s play? I can see him fall captive with his Companions from now!”

Following suit, other hypocrites were making remarks like, “How could you set out on a campaign in such hot weather?” The response to that came through a Revelation:

“Those who were left behind were glad on account of their sitting behind Allah’s Messenger and they were averse from striving in Allah’s way with their property and their persons, and said: Do not go forth in the heat. Say: The fire of hell is much severe in heat. Would that they understood it?” (at-Tawba, 81)

Some desert Arabs, on the other hand, came to the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, and submitting made-up excuses, asked to be exempted from participating in the Campaign; as is recounted by the below ayah:

“And the defaulters from among the dwellers of the desert came that permission may be given to them and they sat (at home) who lied to Allah and His Messenger; a painful chastisement shall afflict those of them who disbelieved.” (at-Tawbah, 90)[2]

The Quran subsequently laid down clear criteria to separate the Believers from hypocrites:

“Had it been a near advantage and a short journey, they would certainly have followed you, but the tedious journey was too long for them; and they swear by Allah: If we had been able, we would certainly have gone forth with you; they cause their own souls to perish, and Allah knows that they are most surely liars.” (at-Tawbah, 42)

“They do not ask leave of you who believe in Allah and the latter day (to stay away) from striving hard with their property and their persons, and Allah knows those who guard (against evil). They only ask leave of you who do not believe in Allah and the latter day and their hearts are in doubt, so in their doubt do they waver.” (at-Tawbah, 44-45)

The hypocrites had made no preparation for the campaign whatsoever. This clearly showed they had no intention of joining the Believers on the march to Tabuk. So the Almighty declared:

“If they had intended to come out, they would certainly have made some preparation…” (at-Tawbah, 46)

Yet it was a Divine blessing that the hypocrites were intentionally lagging behind and keeping a low profile not to join the Muslim army. Even if they did, Abdullah ibn Ubayy would have in fact repeated an attitude similar to which he had displayed during the Battle of Uhud and desert the Believers. Allah, glory unto Him, states:

“…but Allah was averse to their being sent forth; so He made them lag behind, and they were told, “Sit ye among those who sit (inactive). If they had come out with you, they would not have added to your (strength) but only (made for) disorder, hurrying to and fro in your midst and sowing sedition among you, and there would have been some among you who would have listened to them. But Allah knoweth well those who do wrong.” (at-Tawbah, 46-47)

Although the hypocrites were already mischievous and disobedient, this was still nothing in comparison to the harm they caused during the campaigns in which they had somehow taken part, disrupting the entire Muslim army with their rumors, lies and endless bouts of fear and anxiety. Each hypocrite was simply trouble waiting to break lose. The Almighty intervened, however, and prevented the hypocrites from joining the Tabuk Campaign; a campaign whose many hardships seemed just too daunting for them. The Companions were ultimately relieved from their usual trouble making.

Making up excuses, the hypocrites were asking to be exempted from the Campaign. Some took this far enough to even claim they were withholding themselves from joining from fear they might be tempted by Greek women. They were trying to hide their sinister hypocrisies by appearing to have deeper concerns. But Allah, glory unto Him, exposed them yet again:

‘And among them there is he who says: Allow me and do not tempt me. Surely into temptation have they already tumbled down, and most surely hell encompasses the unbelievers.” (at-Tawbah, 49)

Threatening the hypocrites with a bitter punishment awaiting them, the Almighty was at the same time warning some of the Believers, who under their influence, were showing signs of slackness:

“O you who believe! What (excuse) have you that when it is said to you: Go forth in Allah’s way, you should incline heavily to earth; are you contented with this world’s life instead of the hereafter? But the provision of this world’s life compared with the hereafter is but little. If you do not go forth, He will chastise you with a painful chastisement and bring in your place a people other than you, and you will do Him no harm; and Allah has power over all things.” (at-Tawbah, 38-39)

“Go forth light and heavy, and strive hard in Allah’s way with your property and your persons; this is better for you, if you know.” (at-Tawbah, 41)

The warnings had an instant effect on the Muslims, revitalizing them in a blink. The slackness that had doomed upon hearts now made way for remorse, which turned into a lively and enthusiastic initiative. A mobilization of iman, packed with vigor, had now gotten under way. After all, it was a fard’ul-ayn, a categorical obligation upon all Muslims to heed the call of jihad where the enemy was getting prepared to raid Muslim lands. Still, those who could justifiably be considered exempt from the call for jihad were again classified by Divine Revelation

“It shall be no crime in the weak, nor in the sick, nor in those who do not find what they should spend (to stay behind), so long as they are sincere to Allah and His Messenger; there is no way (to blame) against the doers of good; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (at-Tawbah, 91)

In line with the declaration of the ayah, those who are exempt from joining the battle, in remaining back, are not to cause mischief in their town or spread false, demoralizing rumors and are to run to the aid of the families of those who are taking part in battle; and given they are ‘doers of good’, can be sure to incur neither blame nor sin. At the same time, since there is no declaration prohibiting them from joining the cause, if they wish and have the means to do so, they are free to join the army on the condition that they do not be a burden on the rest.

The Companions were now caught in the midst of a whirlpool of excitement, anticipating to sacrifice their lives in the way of Allah, glory unto Him. Seven underprivileged Companions, however, could not find a mount to take part in the journey. In any case, the Companions were overall forced to share one camel and sometimes even three among each other. But these seven could not even find a mount they could at least share with two or three others, despite their desperation to join. So they came to the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- to inform him of their dilemma. But when the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- told them he had no camels to offer them, they broke down in tears and returned weeping. The Divine appreciation of the tears shed in the noblest of ways was pronounced in the Quran:

“…Nor in those who when they came to you that you might carry them, you said: I cannot find that on which to carry you; they went back while their eyes overflowed with tears on account of grief for not finding that which they should spend.” (at-Tawbah, 92)

As Abdurrahman ibn Kaab and Abdullah ibn Mughaffal -Allah be well-pleased with them-, among those praised in the ayah, were returning from the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- with teary eyes, Ibn Yamin approached them and asked the reason why they were weeping.

“We went to the Messenger of Allah as a last resort so he could arrange a mount for us”, they said. “But he could not find one either…and we have no mount to join the Messenger of Allah in his cause.”

Ibn Yamin -Allah be well-pleased with him- then provided a mount for both to share and some dates as provision. Likewise, Abbas -Allah be well-pleased with him- provided mounts for the other two and Othman -Allah be well-pleased with him- for the remaining three.[3] The Noble Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- was later able to provide mounts for other needy Companions.[4] These Companions, who despite being exempt from joining the Campaign could not bear to be away from the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- even for a moment and whose hearts were filled with the love of Allah, glory unto Him, were thus granted the honor of setting out to Tabuk, in return for their fervent enthusiasm and desire to join.

This is just one of numerous examples that shows just how great a physical and spiritual sacrifice the Companions showed in the way of the Almighty and indicates the excellence of their inner composition.

Another moving memory from Tabuk is recounted by Wasilah ibn Asqa -Allah be well-pleased with him-:

“Days before setting out to Tabuk, I made an announcement in Medina, looking for someone who could have me ride on his mount in return for my share of spoils. An old Ansari man told me he could take me to the battle by taking turns with me to ride on his mount. ‘It is a deal’ I immediately said, and he responded by saying, ‘Then we shall advance in the name of Allah’s abundance!’

I thus departed Medina with a perfect friend for the road. In the end, Allah granted me a share of spoils in the form of some camels. I steered them to my Ansari friend, for him to take.

‘Take your camels and go!’ he, however, said.

‘But these are yours according to our earlier agreement’, I insisted.

‘Brother’, then said the Ansari, ‘take your spoils for I never wanted your material share in the first place. I only intended to have a share of your rewards in the Hereafter.’” (Abu Dawud, Jihad, 113/2676)

Excitement over turning lives and wealth into resources for the Hereafter and thereby purchasing Paradise was lived at its maximum during the preparations for the Campaign, providing scenes setting a standard for the entire ummah to come until the Final Hour. In rushing to serve the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, the Companions were like moths around a flame, repeating the words ‘May our parents and lives be sacrificed for you Messenger of Allah’ with every tremendous feat they carried out, indicating it meant nothing for them in comparison for their love of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-.

The excitement endured with the Companions for years to come. Preferring taqwa over the grant given to those mentioned as justifiably exempt in the above ayah, the blind Ibn Umm Maqtum took active part in the Battle of Qadisiyyah, even acting as a flagbearer of the Muslim army, in spite of his blindness.

The warnings revealed by the Almighty had the effect of mobilizing a superb Muslim army of over thirty-thousand men in a short amount of time.[5] The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- had at first given the flag of Najjar to Umarah ibn Hazm  -Allah be well-pleased with him-; yet seeing Zayd ibn Thabit  -Allah be well-pleased with him-, he decided to take it off Umarah’s hands and give it to Zayd instead.

“Are you angry with me, Messenger of Allah?” then inquired Umarah -Allah be well-pleased with him-.

“No, by Allah, I am not angry with you at all!” replied the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- . “But you should prefer the Quran, too. He has committed more of the Quran to his memory than you. One who has more of the Quran in his memory is always to be preferred, even if he be a black slave with a slashed nose!”

The Prophet of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- then advised Aws and Khazraj to give their flags to persons who had more of the Quran memorized than others. Abu Zayd -Allah be well-pleased with him- was thus given the flag of Awf, while Muadh -Allah be well-pleased with him- the flag of Banu Salimah. (Waqidi, III, 1003)

[1] Ibn Saad, II, 165; Bukhari, Tafsir, 66/2.

[2] Waqidi, III, 993-996; Ibn Saad, II, 165.

[3] Ibn Hisham, IV, 172; Waqidi, III, 994.

[4] Bukhari, Maghazi, 78.

[5] Waqidi, III, 1002; Ibn Saad, II, 166.

Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş, The Prophet Muhammed Mustafa the Elect II, Erkam Publications

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