As the hardships and sufferings borne by the early Muslims were ever increasing, the Prophet Muhammad SAW at last permitted them to emigrate to some other place. Abyssinia at that time was ruled by a Christian king famous for his mercy and equity. In Rajab of the fifth year of the Mission, the first group emigrated to Abyssinia. The group comprised of about twelve men and five women. The Quraysh pursued them to the port to capture them, but their vessels had already left the shore. When the group reached Abyssinia, they heard the rumour that the whole tribe of the Quraysh had accepted Islam. They were naturally very much pleased at the news and returned to their country.
On approaching Makkah, they learnt that the rumour was false and the persecutions were going on unabated. Some of them decided to return to Abyssinia and the rest entered Makkah, seeking the protection of a few influential people. This is known as the first migration to Abyssinia.
Later on, a bigger group of eighty-three men and eighteen women emigrated to Abyssinia separately. This is called the second emigration to Abyssinia. Some of the Sahabah RA even took part in both the migrations.
The Quraysh did not like the emigrations, and the thought of peace enjoyed by the fugitives gave them no rest. They then sent a delegation to Abyssinia with attractive presents for the king, his courtiers and the clergy. The delegation first met the chiefs and the priests and, by offering them presents, succeeded in winning the court officials to their side. Having thus made their way to the royal court, they prostrated themselves before the king and then presenting the gifts put their case before him.
"O, king! A few foolish lads of our community have renounced their ancestral faith, and have joined an absolutely new religion, which is opposed to our's as well as your religion. They have come and settled in your country. The nobility of Makkah, their own parents and kith and kin have sent us to take them back to their country. We beseech you to make them over to us."
The king replied:
"We cannot make over the people who have sought our shelter, without proper investigation. Let us call them to our presence, and hear them out. If your charge of apostasy against them is genuine, we shall make them over to you."
The king thereupon summoned the Muslims to his court. They were at first greatly distressed and did not know what to do, but Allah gave them courage, and they decided to go and place the facts before the king. On appearing before him, they greeted him with 'Salaam'. Someone from the courtiers objected that they had not prostrated before the king according to the rules of the land.
"Our Prophet (SAW) has forbidden us from prostrating before any one except Allah."
The king then asked them to submit what defense they could make to the charges brought against them.
Ja'far RA rose and addressed the king thus:
"O, king! we were an ignorant people. We neither knew Allah nor His Prophets AS. We worshipped stones. We used to eat carrion and commit all sorts of undesirable and disgraceful acts. We did not make good our obligations to our relatives. The strong among us would thrive at the expense of the weak. Till at last, Allah raised a Prophet (SAW) for our reformation. His noble descent, up right conduct, integrity of purpose, and pure life are only too well known amongst us. He called upon us to worship Allah, and exhorted us to give up idolatry and stone-worship. He enjoined upon us right conduct, and forbade us from indecency. He taught us to tell the truth, to make good our trust, to have regard for our kith and kin, and to do good to our neighbours. From him we learnt to observe Solat, Fasting, Zakat and good conduct; and to shun everything foul, and to avoid bloodshed.
He forbade adultery, lewdness, telling of lies, misappropriating the orphan's heritage, bringing false accusations against others, and all other indecent things of that sort. He taught us the Qur'an, the wonderful book of Allah. So we believed in him, followed him and acted up to his teachings. Thereupon our people began to persecute us, and to subject us to tortures, thinking that we might abjure our faith and revert to idolatry. When, however, their cruelties exceeded all bounds, we took shelter in your country by the permission of our Prophet (SAW)."
The king said:
"Let us hear something of the Qur'an that your Prophet (SAW) has taught you."
Ja'far RA recited a few verses from the beginning of Surah Maryam, which touched the hearts of the king and the priestly class so much that tears flowed down their cheeks and wetted their beards. The king remarked:
"By Allah, these words and the words revealed to Musa (AS) are the rays of one and the same light."
The king then told the Quraysh delagation that he would by no means hand over the refugees to them.
Then, disappointed and disgraced, the Quraysh delegation held a counsel.
One of them said:
"I have hit upon a plan that is sure to draw the king's wrath upon their heads."
Although the others did not agree to such a drastic step - for after all they were their own flesh and blood - yet he would not listen.
The next day, they excited the king by telling him that those heretics denounced Isa AS and did not believe in his Divinity.
The Muslims were again summoned to the court. They were much more distressed this time. When the king inquired about their belief in Isa AS, they said:
"We believe in what Allah has revealed about him to our Prophet (SAW), that is - he is a servant and Prophet of Allah, and is His word, which He conveyed to the virgin and pure Maryam."
The king then responded:
"Isa (AS) himself does not say anything beyond that."
The priests then began to murmur in protest, but the king would not listen to them. He returned to the delegation the presents they had brought for him, and said to the Muslims:
"Go and live in peace. If anybody ill-treats you, he will have to pay heavily for it."
A royal declaration was also issued to that effect. This enhanced the prestige of the Muslims in the country, and the Quraysh delegation had to return crestfallen. Even the king also embraced Islam later.
This failure of the Quraysh embassy to Abyssinia, and the triumph of Muslims over them, led to an increase in the exasperation of the idolaters; the conversion of Umar RA to Islam also added fuel to fire. They grew more and more embittered, till things came to such a pass that a large number of the Quraysh chiefs conspired to kill the Prophet Muhammad SAW outright and deal summarily with the whole affair. But this was not so easy. Banu Hashim to which clan the Prophet Muhammad SAW belonged, were strong in number and still stronger in influence. Although all of them were not Muslims, yet even the non-Muslims among them would not agree to, or tolerate the murder of the Prophet SAW.
The Quraysh, therefore, decided to place a social ban on the Banu Hashim, and their chiefs drew up a document to the effect that - none of them or their clans would associate with, buy from or sell to those who sided with the Banu Hashim, unless and until they surrendered Muhammad (SAW) for the death penalty. All of them signed this document on 1st Muharram of the 7th year of the Mission, and the scroll was hung up in the Ka'abah in order to give it full sanctity.
Then, for three long years, the Prophet SAW was shut up with all his kinsfolk in the glen, which was a sub-section of one of the gorges that run down to Makkah. For three long years, nobody could see them nor could they see anybody. They could not purchase anything in Makkah nor from any trader coming from outside.
If any person was found outside this natural prison, he was beaten mercilessly and if he asked for anything it was flatly refused. Soon their stock of food was exhausted and they were reduced to famine rations. Their women and, more specially, the children and suckling babies would cry with hunger, and this was harder on them than their own starvation. During the last part of this period, their sole subsistence was the little food that the husbands of Hashimite women married into other clans managed to smuggle into the glen in the darkness of night.
At last by the Grace of Allah, after three years, the scroll was eaten up by termites and the ban was removed. The severity of the afflictions, which they bore during this period of ostracism, cannot be imagined. But the Sahabah RA not only remained steadfast in their faith, but also kept busy in spreading the light of Islam amongst their comrades in distress.
Let us now contemplate at how much the Sahabah RA have suffered in the path of Allah and for the cause of Islam. We claim to follow their footsteps, and dream of the material progress and spiritual elevation which was theirs, but how much have we suffered in the true cause? What sacrifice have we offered for the sake of Allah in His path? Success is always proportionate to the sacrifice. We wish to live in luxury and comfort, and are too eager to race shoulder to shoulder with the non-Muslims in enjoying the good things of this world, forgetting the Hereafter, and then at the same time we expect to receive the same help from Allah which the Sahabah RA received in their time. We cannot beguile anybody but ourselves by working like this.