The Abyssinian Migration

Due to the idolaters’ ruthless persecution, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) advised the believers to migrate, as neither could they freely perform their religious duties, nor could they fulfill their obligation of spreading the religion.

When the Companions asked where they could possibly migrate to, the Prophet (pbuh) said:

“To Abyssinia! Over there is a king who does not oppress his subjects! It is moreover a land of the upright! Until the Almighty provides a path of escape from your sufferings, remain there!” (Ibn Hisham, I, 343; Ibn Saad, I, 203-204)

This first migration took place in the month of Rajab, in the fifth year of the Meccan era.

The first batch consisted of a total of seventeen people; twelve males and five females. It included notable companions like Othman ibn Affan and his wife Ruqayya, Zubayr ibn Awwam, Musab ibn Umayr, Abdurrahman ibn Awf, Abu Salama, Othman ibn Ma’zun and Ibn Masud (r.a).

When the migrants, who had left Mecca in secret, reached the pier of Shuaybah, as a blessing of Allah (SWT), two trading ships arrived. In return for half a coin of gold, they were delivered to Abyssinia. Although the Meccans did come after the migrants, they could not catch them. By the time they had reached the shore, the ship had long departed. (Ibn Saad, I, 204)

For a while, the Prophet (pbuh) did not receive any news from Othman ibn Affan and his daughter Ruqayya (r.a). The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) would go outside at times and ask for news of his daughter from travelers coming from the direction if Abyssinia. Finally, a Qurayshi woman arrived with some news.

“Muhammad! I saw them there. Othman had Ruqayya on a donkey, while he was following them behind on foot”, she said to the Prophet (pbuh).

Then the Prophet (pbuh) remarked:

“May Allah be on their side! Surely, Othman is the first person since Lut (pbuh) who has migrated with his family for the sake of Allah!” (Ali al-Muttaqi, XIII, 63/36259)

The first migrants could only stay in Abyssinia for three months because a rumor had spread that the Meccans had embraced Islam. So on the month of Shawwal in the same year, a group of thirty-nine migrants, consisting of thirty-three males and nine females, left Abyssinia. However, when they came within a distance of Mecca, they found out what they heard was untrue. But they could not bear returning to Abyssinia. They also feared entering Mecca without protection. They eventually entered the town under the protection of their relatives or friends from among the idolaters. (Ibn Hisham, II, 3-8; Ibn Saad, I, 206; Haythami, VI, 33)

The Gharaniq Issue

When the chapter an-Najm had just been revealed, the Noble Prophet (pbuh) began reciting it out loud near the Kaabah. When he came to the verse of prostration at the end of the chapter, he fell prostrate to Allah, and so did everyone else present, believers and nonbelievers, man and jinn alike. (Bukhari, Tafsir, 53/4)

However, the idolaters were not in fact prostrating to Allah (SWT), but to their idols Lat, Uzza and Manat whose names are derogatorily mentioned in the chapter.

This is the event that has provided material for the ‘Gharaniq Issue’ fabricated later.

The rumor that the Meccans had accepted Islam was due to this dual prostration that had taken place at the same time, only one of which belonged to the Muslims.

Even though this is all there was to it, a slander by the name of Gharaniq (which mean ‘cranes’) was later made up. It is alleged that Satan whispered an addition to the Divinely revealed ayah something of the meaning that the ‘intercession of idols is to be hoped for’, which supposedly sent the idolaters in a frenzied joy, for which they fell prostrate in celebration; and only later was the error apparently realized.

This story has been taken as fact by some, like orientalists, who have been hostile towards Islam. But leading scholars of tafsir, hadith and Prophetic-Islamic history have examined both the narrative chain and content of this rumor in relation to Islamic principles, and as a result have rejected it outright.

Firstly, the Prophet’s (pbuh) duty of delivering Divine Revelation to mankind has been protected from error and blunder. It is impossible for Satan to interfere with the duty of prophets. Considering the Almighty has stated that Satan cannot exercise control even on believers[1], it is unthinkable to suppose he can interfere with the Blessed Prophet’s (pbuh) call.

In addition to being protected from all kinds of blunder, error and sin in his duty, the Quran delivered through the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) is equally under Divine protection.

لاَ يَأْتِيهِ الْبَاطِلُ مِنْ بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَلاَ مِنْ خَلْفِهِ
تَنْزِيلٌ مِنْ حَكِيمٍ حَمِيدٍ

 “Falsehood shall not come to it from before it nor from behind it; a revelation from the Wise, the Praised One.” (Fussilat, 42)

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ

“Surely We have revealed the Reminder and We will most surely be its guardian.”(al-Hijr, 9)

The narrative chain of the Gharaniq incident is unacceptable. In relation, Ibn Khuzayma is known to have called it a “lie of heretics”.[2]

That this supposed event has not been transmitted in an unbroken and authentic chain suffices to show its falsity.[3]

Neither can reason accept the Gharaniq claim, as it alleges polytheistic behavior, against the Islamic emphasis on the unity of Allah from the very beginning. Such claims that run against this basic, which is the cement of Islam, can never be reasonable. Chapter an-Najm just mentioned condemns idolatry from beginning to end, underlining the fact that idols are mere names and that the idolaters are simply following their vain desires. Even if the outrageous possibility is granted that a sentence, which the idolaters like so much to the point of falling prostrate, can be mixed into Divine Revelation, it is still unthinkable to assume the idolaters would be convinced. Amid all those verses that put the idolaters down, surely they could not have prostrated just for a couple of sentences allegedly mixed in by Satan.

The best response to this claim is given at the beginning of the chapter itself:

مَا ضَلَّ صَاحِبُكُمْ وَمَا غَوَى وَمَا يَنْطِقُ عَنِ الْهَوَى
اِنْ هُوَ اِلاَّ وَحْىٌ يُوحَى

“Your companion does not err, nor does he go astray.Nor does he speak out of desire. It is naught but revelation that is revealed.”(an-Najm, 2-4)

Muslim scholars have proven from many angles that this is a mere claim that has come about as a result of anti-Islamic hostility. Besides, the thirteen-year Meccan period was a struggle to get rid of idolatry and reinforcing belief in the unity of Allah in the hearts, which cannot in any way suffer ascribing partners to Him.

The Second Abyssinian Migration

Once the Meccans found out that the first migrants had been very well received in Abyssinia, their concern grew and, as a result, so did their ruthlessness.

Othman ibn Ma’zun (r.a), who until then lived comfortably under the protection of Walid ibn Mughirah, began thinking once he saw that the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions were made to go through incredible torment, some branded with fire, others whipped.

“By Allah, it is not right for me to be safe and sound under the protection of an idolater, far from the torment that my friends undergo in the way of Allah! Allah’s protection is greater and more honorable!” Thinking this way, he went to Walid ibn Mughirah, his protector. He said:

“Cousin! You have had me under protection! You have protected me very well and have been a man of your word. But now I wish to leave your protection and go next to the Prophet (pbuh). For me, he and his companions set the best example. Now take me to the men of Quraysh and tell them you have lifted my protection!” (Ibn Ishaq, p. 158; Haythami, VI, 34)

As the Meccan oppression and persecution got more violent, the Muslims were forced to migrate to Abyssinia for the second time that year. This time they were ninety in number; seventy males and thirteen females. They were headed by Jafar Tayyar (r.a), the older brother of Ali (r.a).[4]

Layla (r.ha) explains:

“Omar was very angry with us for accepting Islam. I was astride a camel as we were preparing to leave for Abyssinia when he came and asked where we were going.

‘You have oppressed us for what we believe. So now we are going somewhere where we shall not be oppressed.’

‘May Allah be with you’, he said softly.

When my husband Amir came around, I told him of Omar’s tender attitude. He said:

‘I think you wish for him to receive guidance. But by Allah, there is greater hope for his donkey to become Muslim!’

Such was Omar’s staunchness until then that he had made others despair that he could ever believe.” (Haythami, VI, 23-24)

Ummu Salamah (r.ha), the future wife of the Noble Messenger (pbuh), has said:

“From the moment we stepped foot in Abyssinia, the Negus treated us with great honor and respect. He always looked out for us. We performed our duties to Allah in peace and security.” (Ahmad, I, 201-202)

The account below of Ummu Habibah (r.ha), another of the migrants of Abyssinia, shows the level of long distance affection the Muslims had for the Prophet (pbuh):

“The Negus had a slave-girl by the name of Abrahah. Engaged to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) in Abyssinia and as I was preparing to leave for Medinah, she came to me and said:

‘I ask you to send my greetings to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and tell him that I have entered his Religion.”

Abrahah was very kind to me throughout. She even helped me prepare for the journey. Each time she came next to me, she made sure to remind me of her request.

When I came to Medina, I told about her to the Prophet (pbuh) during the wedding and delivered him her greetings. The Messenger (pbuh) smiled and accepted:

‘…wa alayhassalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.” (Ibn Saad, VIII, 98)

[1].      See al-Hijr, 42.

[2].      İsmâîl Cerrahoğlu, Diyanet İslam Ansiklopedisi, “Garanîk” entry, XIII, 363.

[3].      Qâdî Iyâd, II, 132.

[4].      Jafar ibn Abi Talib (r.a), the cousin of the Noble Messenger (pbuh), had become a Muslim well before the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) took the House of Arqam as base for communicating Islam, participating in the Second Abyssinian Migration with his wife Asma bint Umays. (Ibn Saad, IV, 34)

Jafar ibn Abi Talib and his fellow migrants returned to Medina from Abyssinia, in the 7th year of Hegira, during the siege of Khaybar. The homecoming migrants were also given a share of the spoils. (Bukhari, Maghazi, 38)

Jafar took part in the Battle of Muta in the following year, where he was martyred. Ibn Omar testifies to seeing his body bearing over ninety wounds inflicted by swords, arrows and spears alike. (Bukhari, Maghazi, 44)

Referring to the fact the Jafar had both his arms severed during the Battle, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) famously said, “I saw Jafar flying with angels in Paradise”, indicating he had been given two wings in their place. (Tirmidhi, Manaqib, 29/3763)

Jafar has thereafter after been called Tayyar, meaning one who soars in flight.