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)
THE COMPANIONS’ RESPONSE TO JIHAD:
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 ARMY TRAVELS TO TABUK:
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.
THE MESSENGER(SALLALLAHU ALAIYHI WASSALLAM) OF ALLAH RETURNS TO MADINAH:
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.
THE TRIAL OF KA’B IBN MALIK:
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)
TABUK: THE LAST EXPEDITION
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 outcome of the encounter between the Muslims and Byzantines at Mu’ta had came as a shock to the whole of Arabia and the Middle East that the Romans failed to gain the upper hand even though they had outnumbered the Muslims by thirty-three to one. Ultimately, thousands of people from the semi-independent Arab tribes living in Syria and its adjoining areas converted to Islam. To avenge himself for the Battle of Mu’ta and prevent the advance of Islam, Caesar (the Emperor of the Byzantines) ordered military preparations to invade Arabia. God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, who always kept himself abreast of all developments which had any bearing on his mission, promptly decided to challenge the Byzantine army on the battlefield. Any show of weakness on the part of Muslims might have given a fresh release to the dying forces of Arabian Jahiliyyah which had received a crushing blow at Hunayn, and also encouraged the hypocrites in and around Madina to cause serious damage to Islam from within. For the hypocrites were in touch with the Ghassanid Christian prince and with Caesar (the Byzantine Emperor) himself and had even built a mosque – the Mosque of Dirar (Dissension) – in the vicinity of Madina which served as their operational base.
Realizing the gravity of the situation, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, publicly appealed to the Muslims to prepare for war and, as against his usual practice, declared that the Romans were his target.
It was in mid-summer. The scorching heat of the season was at its peak, the harvest season had just arrived, and there was a shortage of material resources needed to wage a war. What was more, the enemy was one of the two super powers of the time. Despite all, the Companions responded ardently to the Prophet’s call and commenced their war preparations, each Muslim contributing much more than his financial means warranted. Huge amounts of money were donated by the wealthy Companions such as ‘Uthman and ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-‘Awf, (1) and those who could not be included in the Muslim army because of the acute paucity of cavalry and other war provisions wept bitterly, and lamented their exclusion so pathetically that God’s Messenger was moved and God praised them in the verse He revealed (al-Tawbah, 9.92). The occasion, in fact, served as a touchstone for distinguishing the sincere from the insincere, the true men of faith from the hypocrites.
In the month of Rajab 9 A.H./631 C.E. God’s Messenger, along with 30,000 soldiers, left Madina and marched as far as Tabuk, quite close to what was then Byzantine territory in the province of Syria. The Roman Emperor, who had indeed begun amassing a huge army, had to abandon the idea of an encounter with God’s Messenger and withdrew his army because the Messenger arrived ahead of the anticipated time and well before the planned concentration of troops had been completed. (2)
The Messenger stayed in Tabuk for 20 days and forced several buffer states under the hegemony of the Byzantine Empire to pay the poll tax and live under his rule, and many Christian tribes chose Islam willingly. (3) This bloodless victory also enabled the Muslims to consolidate their position before launching a prolonged conflict with the Romans and altogether shattered the power of both unbelievers and the hypocrites in Arabia.1. Bukhari, Tafsir, 18; I. Hisham, 4.161; Tabari, Tarikh, 3.143; Tafsir, 10.161.
2. I. Sa’d, 2.165–8; Tabari, Tarikh, 3.100–11.
3. I. Kathir, al-Bidayah, 5.13.