The First Believer
Having received the first Divine Communique concerning carrying the Message, Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) returned home and informed Imam Ali (a.s.) about it.(15) Imam Ali (a.s.) received him with complete certainty and belief, and so did Khadijah, his great and supportive wife. Thus, sprang the first nucleus of the society of believers on the earth.
It is particularly poignant, that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) never invited Imam Ali (a.s.) to Islam as he did others later on, because he was already a Muslim by God-granted nature. He was never polluted with the permissiveness of the Ignorant Era, and was never involved in any of its debased practices. As it is related: The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) informed Imam Ali (a.s.) of his Message and Call and he immediately believed in the truthfulness of the Final Message, and offered to receive and carry out the Messenger's orders. That was why he was given the attribute of: 'Karramallahu wajhah'. May Allah grant him honor. This is amazing in the light of the fact that Imam Ali (a.s.) was still a mere boy of ten at the time!
Imam Ali (a.s.) had been prepared, as we said, to follow the Messenger, since the Prophet (s.a.w.) himself had built his personality and character and fixed its foundations on high moral and virtues.
Nothing new is added by saying that Imam Ali (a.s.) was not taken by surprise at hearing about the Blessed Message, because, as we know, he lived under the patronage and trust of the Al-Mustafa (s.a.w.) who would worship his Lord, the Exalted, and was far removed from the misconcepts, misconducts and irrational behavior which prevailed during the pre-Islamic era, prior to the revelation of the first Sura (chapter) of the Qur'an...(16)
Imam Ali (a.s.) knew about the Messenger of Allah's (s.a.w.) worship and practices, as well as his ascendent mental and spiritual changes. He used to worship with him, follow him and do as he did, even at a tender age.
No sooner had the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) told him about the Divine call than he responded to it with all his heart and body and without being surprised. The only new departure was the practical way of applying the Message and the degree of responsibility to be shouldered, as the details of the Divine religion were revealed.
On entrusting the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) with the Divine task of carrying out his blessed call, he was told to begin with his household. Ibn Hisham, in his 'Sirah' says: "...Then the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) began relating about Allah's bounty- -the Prophethood and secretly communicating it to those of his household whom he trusted most..." (17)
Thus, he talked to Imam Ali (a.s.) and Khadijah about his Message and later on to Zaid bin Harithah. No one except these, and some others of his close household, knew about it.
Imam Ali bin Hussein (a.s.), in a speech about the Islam of his father, Ali bin Abi Talib (a.s.), said: "....and he believed in Allah, the Exalted, and in His Messenger. He preceded the others in Islam and in reciting prayers by a three year interval."(18)
On his early acceptance, Imam Ali (a.s.) himself said:
"...I was the third of the trio (The Prophet, Khadijah and himself). Nobody else in this world had accepted Islam. I would even see the divine light of revelation and message and smell the heavenly fragrance of prophethood..." Having passed the stage of calling his close household, the Message came to the stage of calling potential individuals whom the Prophet (s.a.w.) believed would be responsive to his call. So, a number of people embraced Islam. They were mostly the youth of Mecca, the deprived and oppressed. They met to recite the Glorious Qur'an and to obtain information about the preachings of the religion of Allah, the Exalted. At that time, it was an underground movement.
THE FIRST AMONG THE CALLERS TO ISLAM
He, Allah, the Exalted, told His Messenger to invite other members of his tribe, Bani Hashim, so as to widen the circle of the Message: "And warn your tribe of near kindred. And lower your wing (in kindness) unto those believers who follow you. And if they disobey you, say: Lo! I am innocent of what you do." Holy Qur'an (26:214.216)
On receiving, from his Exalted Lord, the command to warn his nearest kin, the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) ordered Imam Ali (a.s.) to invite them to a banquet. They came to the Prophet's house, forty in number. After dinner, the Messenger told them:
"O Bani Abd Al-Muttalib! Allah has sent me to all creation, and to you in particular. He said. 'And warn your tribe of near kindred'. So, I ask you to say two phrases, light on the tongue, heavy in the scales, by which you will master the Arabs and the Ajams (non-Arabs), the nations will follow you and by them you will enter Paradise, and will be saved from Hell: to bear witness that there is no god save Allah, and that I am the Messenger of Allah. Whoever responds to this and supports me to carry it out will be my brother, vicegerent, helper, inheritor and successor..."(19)
While Abu Lahab criticised and warned the Messenger (s.a.w.) against carrying on his mission, on the other hand, Abu Talib offered his support and said to the Messenger (s.a.w.): "GO ahead with Your errand! By God I will never stop protecting and defending you."(20) At this time, Ali bin Abi Talib, the youngest of them all, stood up and said, "O Messenger of Allah! I will back you up in this matter." The Messenger (s.a.w.) told him to sit down. But seeing nobody else responded, he stood once again and offered his readiness to serve him, but the Messenger (s.a.w.) told him again to sit down.
The Messenger repeated his words. Still nobody responded, except Imam Ali (a.s.) whose voice was raised once again in answer to the call, announcing his full support to the cause. It was his firm commitment and strong faith that broke their silence. Since, for the third time there was no response except from Imam Ali (a.s.), the Messenger (s.a.w.) turned to him and said: "Sit down. You are my brother, vicegerent, minister, inheritor, and successor after me."(21)
The group stood up to leave and somewhat sarcastically addressed Abu Talib, saying: "Congratulations on accepting the religion of your nephew who made your son commander over you!"(22)
After tribal members refused the invitation, the Divine Mission entered a delicate stage of confrontation. The first ones to lead the conflict were Abu Lahab and his wife, who started encountering the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) and planting difficulties in his way, in an attempt to force him to change his mind and give up his blessed task. But the call of Allah, the Exalted, advanced, clearing its way through society in the Age of Ignorance. The invitation to embrace Islam moved from privacy to generality. The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) stood in the Sacred House (Ka'bah in Mecca) and loudly proclaimed to the people that he was Allah's Messenger sent to them...(23)
The success of extending the invitation was to increase the number of believers, many of which were young and came from all walks of the Meccan society. The growth in numbers had a great impact on the attitude of the disbelievers, who resorted to terrorist tactics.
Each tribe, as well as every family, began a compaign to outcast believers from among their members, torturing them and trying to suppress their faith.(24) But those who were resolute and had a strong belief in the message of Truth and Guidance, pronounced by the voice of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), were resilient inside their souls and thirsty to do good and be emancipated.
The brutality of physical torture to which the believers were subject became such that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) ordered them to migrate to Habashah (Ethiopia), under the leadership of Ja'far bin Abi Talib, who was 10 years older than his brother, Imam Ali (a.s.). Ja'far's sagacity was effective in foiling the plans of Quraish who tried to instigate the King of Habashah to move against the emigrants and expel them from his country.(25)
**ABU TALIB'S CONFRONTING
THE ENEMIES OF THE MESSAGE**
Although the Quraish confronted the forerunners of believers with violence and oppression, they were unable to harm the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.), as the leader of the movement and the carrier of the Message. They knew that Abu Talib, the Sheikh of Abtah, would not let them commit any sort of terror against the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) himself.
Abu Talib commanded very much respect and influence, not only among the Bani Hashim, but from all other Meccan tribes. He was a stalwart for the mission and stood like a high wall in the face of its enemies from the rise of its glowing dawn. The Quraish knew this very well and therefore adapted methods of discussions, bargaining and inducing: negotiating with the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), himself, about his mission and guidance, or with Abu Talib for him to give up his support. They offered wealth and power to Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) to abdicate his divine mission and at the same time, tried to talk Abu Talib over, asking him to use his influence with the Prophet to persuade him to give up his task. They even threatened him and warned him of severe conflict between him and the Quraish if he did not stop supporting Muhammad (s.a.w.).
But Abu Talib persisted in staying on the Messenger's side and in defending him, notwithstanding what great sacrifices might lie ahead of him.
ABU TALIB, WITH THE MESSENGER OF ALLAH, IN THE BLOCKADE
When all efforts failed and the Quraish despaired of getting Muhammad (s.a.w.) to forsake his mission, their leaders held an urgent meeting in "Dar Al-Nadwah" , the house of Qusay bin Kilab, where they would meet to consult about decisive events in their lives. The final result was to boycott the Bani Hashim and whoever chose to identify themselves with them. They decided to isolate them through an economic and social blockade, which meant that no one should deal with the Bani Hashim and their followers in matters of buying and selling and in marriage. This agreement bore the signatures of forty of the Quraish's chiefs.
To protect themselves against the assaults of the Quraish, the Bani Hashim, on a command from their head, Abu Talib, entered the "shi'b" of Abi Talib (a mountain pass). They were thus no longer able to enter Mecca, except in the two seasons of pilgrimage: Umrah and Hajj, during the months of Rajab and Dhulhijjah respectively. As the situation aggravated between the Bani Hashim and Quraish, Abu Talib strengthened the guard on the Shi'b, lest the Quraish might carry out a surprise offensive.
The Bani Hashim, including the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) and Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (a.s.), endured this situation for three years--some say: four years--suffering a hard life of poverty and deprivation such as to bring grief and bleeding to the heart. The extent of this test was added to by the Quraish intensifying their siege to the limits, of either cutting off all provision, or doubling prices so that friends of Bani Hashim might not be able to purchase them. Thus, the Bani Hashim suffered a real famine, and it is recorded that their children's cries of hunger could be heard from a far distance.
After the elapse of these three heavy and painful years, the Messenger (s.a.w.) told his uncle, Abu Talib, that the Quraish's boycott pact, with its injustices, had been eaten up, except the phrase "In Your Name, O God!" Abu Talib hurried to the Quraish and said: "My nephew has told me that your paper has been eaten up by moths, except the name of Allah. So, if he is right, you are to spare him the evil of your decision, but if he is wrong, I will hand him over to you..."
"You are fair enough," they agreed. The paper was brought and opened. It was eaten up as he had said. A decisive dispute followed. Then the paper was torn to pieces, the boycott cancelled and the siege lifted.(26) This miraculous defeat of the boycott had its great effect in gaining more and more supporters and sympathizers to the Message in Mecca.
Such were the sacrifices of the family of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (a.s.) in the way of Allah. While Imam Ali (a.s.) was the first to answer the call to Truth and remained foremost a fighter in the Islamic front all his life, his father sacrificed even his social prestige amongst the Quraish and tasted bitter calamities to uphold the Message of Allah, the Most High. He was, in fact, the protecting shield for the Messenger (s.a.w.) and his mission, despite the fact of holding such a social position in that tribal society that all men dreamed of.
Ja'far bin Abi Talib, Imam Ali's (a.s.) brother, inaugurated his life in Islam by leading the procession of the first emigration of Muslims to Habashah. Then it was crowned by his martyrdom in the Battle of Mu'tah, when he became known as "the Flying Ja'far", the one who flies with the angels in Paradise, as the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) had proclaimed.(27)
The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) loved him very much. When Ja'far returned to Madinah from Habashah--which coincided with the day of liberating Khaibar--the Messenger (s.a.w.) hugged him and kissed his forehead, saying "...I do not know with which I should be more pleased: with Ja'far's return or the conquest of Khaibar!"(28)
TO DAR AL-SALAM
The death of Abu Talib was a calamity for Islam. The severe conflict between the blessed Divine Call and ignorance and disbelief was continuing and the painful event grieved the Prophet (s.a.w.). He knew that Quraish would accelerate its campaign against his Mission, and against his person in particular.
The Quraish, which used to fear Abu Talib in his prestigious social capacity, now had less obstacles to interfere with their desires after his death. The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) had lost his strong and persistent support. In the same year he also received another severe blow with the death of his loyal wife, Khadijah. He thus called that year "The Year of Sorrows."
Abu Talib's death was so important to the progress of the historical Divine Call that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) said: "The Quraish kept away from me until Abu Talib died."(29)
The Quraish duly did increase their attacks on the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) and the early believers. So, the Messenger (s.a.w.) looked to somewhere other than Mecca, in which they might settle, and where the tree of Guidance might grow. He started his search contacting tribes and informing the people dwelling around Mecca about his cause. He visited Ta'if and spoke with the heads of the tribes there but none of their socially distinguished chiefs responded to him. Nevertheless, he did not let despair creep into his heart. He continued offering his message to the people outside Mecca.
On the occasion of hajj he met a number of people of "Yathrib" (Madinah). He talked to them about his mission and they accepted Allah's invitation. They returned home carrying with them the Word of Allah to their people.
Twelve men of Yathrib came and swore allegiance to the Messenger (s.a.w.). They undertook to carry the Message. The Messenger (s.a.w.) sent Mas'ab bin Umair with them to teach them the laws of the religion of Allah, to educate them of His Message, and to teach them the Glorious Qur'an. He stayed with them for a year. A considerable number accepted the blessed Call and embraced Islam. During the next hajj, a large delegation of them came to Mecca, led by Mas'ab bin Umair. They joined the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), and swore to assist him if he emigrated to their town.
Allah's command came enjoining the Muslims to emigrate. So, the processions of the Muslims emigrants started to move towards their new residence, leaving behind their wealth, property and relatives.
While Islam was entering a new stage in its steady advance, the heads of the Quraish gathered in their "Dar Al-Nadwah" to consult about the Messenger (s.a.w.). They decided to collectively assassinate him. Each tribe would send one of its men to carry out the assassination at night, thus laying the blame of the proposed murder on no one tribe.
Arch Angel Gabriel (a.s.), however, disclosed to the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) the intent of the plot the Quraish had planned: "And when those who disbelieve plot against you (O Muhammad) to wound you fatally, or to kill you, or to drive you forth; they plot, but Allah (also) plots, and Allah is the best of plotters."
Holy Qur'an (8:30)
DECOY FOR THE MESSENGER
Gabriel (a.s.) told the Messenger (s.a.w.) that Allah en joined that he should also emigrate to Madinah. When darkness spread, the conspirators hurried to besiege the house of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) so as to prevent his escape. Here came another role for Imam Ali (a.s.).
The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) told Imam Ali (a.s.) about all that was transpiring. He asked him to sleep in his bed and cover himself with the Prophet's (s.a.w.) garment. Imam Ali (a.s.) asked if by doing so the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) would be safe. The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) confirmed that he would. Imam Ali (a.s.) without further comment agreed to act as a decoy.
Then the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) left the house, and, passing through the besiegers, he recited: "And We have set a bar before them and a bar behind them, and (thus) have covered them so that they see not." Holy Qur'an (36:9)
Indeed, none of the disbelievers saw him. At daybreak the conspirators broke into the house of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) to commit their crime. When they entered the Holy Prophet's chamber, Imam Ali (a.s.) jumped out of the bed, shouting at them: "What do you want?" "Where is Muhammad?" they asked.
"Did you appoint me to watch him?" he replied. "Didn't you say you would expel him from your town? Now he has left you..."(30)
Their plot was foiled and (hey left the house in failure. It occurred to them to search for the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), and track him through the mountains and valleys. For this purpose they took Abu Karz with them. Abu Karz was an expert tracker and he managed to trace the Messenger's tracks up to a grotto at Mount Thowr. He told them that Muhammad (s.a.w.) had ended there, and, if he was not there, he must have flown away, or dived into the earth.(31)
Allah, the Exalted, had sent a spider which immediately spread its web over the entrance of the grotto. The conspirators did not think that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) could be behind flimsy threads it had woven. Thus, they were misled. Then, under the protection of the dark night, Imam Ali (a.s.) and Hind bin Abu Halah, hurried to the grotto to see the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.).(32)
The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) discussed with Imam Ali (a.s.) what he should do during his emigration to Madinah. He told Imam Ali (a.s.) to stay behind in Mecca to hand the deposits of the people back to them, and then to join him in Madinah, bringing with him Fatimah al-Zahra' (a.s.) and the rest of the women of his household.
WAITING IN QUBA
After a few days walk, the convoy arrived at "Quba" where the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) called on Kulthum bin Hadm, one of the heads of Bani Amru bin Awf.(33) There he built the "Mosque of Quba," while waiting for Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (a.s.).(34) He dictated a letter asking Imam Ali (a.s.) to join him. The letter was carried by Abu Waqid al-Laithi.
Imam Ali (a.s.) had already carried out what the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) had told him to do before his emigration. He had returned the deposits which had been entrusted to the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.). He had the howdahs ready to carry the women, Fatimah bint Muhammad (a.s.), Fatimah bint Asad, Fatimah bint Hamzah and Fatimah bint Zubair. Thus the caravan was called the "Caravan of the Four Fatimahs."
Then he ordered some of the believers to leave the town at night, while he, the women and Abu Waqid al-Laithi, travelled boldly during the daytime.(35)
Within a few days the convoy arrived in Quba. The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) received them. He embraced Imam Ali (a.s.) and wept for the pains and the hardships they had to suffer. Imam Ali (a.s.) had walked over the hot sands of the desert to reach the Holy Prophet. His feet were swollen and bloodied...then the Holy Prophet prayed for him. This produced instaneous relief.(36)
On Friday, 16th of Rabi'i, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) left Quba for Madinah. Quba lies two miles (approx. 3.2 kms) south of Madinah. The Holy Prophet's (s.a.w.) caravan was enthusiastically received by the people in many districts through which they passed. The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) arrived at a place where his mosque was afterwards built.
There, the Messenger's (s.a.w.) mount halted. The Messenger (s.a.w.) dismounted, and went with Abu Ayub Ansari (may Allah be pleased with him) as his guest. Later, he called for a mosque to be built on the spot where his camel had halted, together with rooms for his household. His room was built next to A'ishah's. (37)