The Unlettered Prophet (23)

The Unlettered Prophet (23)


The Madinan Phase of Prophethood

Initial Ativities in Madinah

The issue of his residence after arriving in Madinah being settled, the Prophet (sws) sent Zayd ibn Harithah (rta) and Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (rta) to Makkah to bring their families. Sawdah (rta) brought the Prophet's daughters, Kulthum (rta) and Fatimah (rta), and 'Abdullah (rta) brought his mother and sisters. Hence, 'A'ishah (rta) came with her brother. Zaynab (rta) was prevented from migrating by her husband: Abu al-'As ibn al-Rabi'.

The Construction of Masjid-i Nabawi

The Prophet's she-camel had trotted off to sit on the grounds belonging to Banu Malik ibn al-Najjar. This was a spacious land with a few graves and date palms. The Prophet (sws) inquired about the ownership of the land, saying that he wished to buy it. He was informed that the land belonged to two orphans, Sahal and Suhayl. When they and their guardian were called, they wanted to give away the land without taking any compensation, but the Prophet (sws) did not agree and purchased the land after making a payment for it. It was leveled out and the construction of the mosque was started. He himself and other Muslims participated with great religious fervour in the construction. During the work, the Prophet (sws) would say:

"O God! There is no benefit other than the benefit of the Hereafter, so forgive the muhajirun and the ansar."

The mosque was built with unbaked bricks. The pillars for the roof were constructed of the trunks of the date palm trees and the roof was made of their branches and leaves. To the east were small rooms where the Prophet (sws) kept his residence. Pebbles were laid out on the floor of the mosque. In subsequent times, this mosque became the centre of all religious activities. Everyone prayed there; people went there to consult the Prophet (sws), accept Islam and obtain knowledge of its teachings. There, too, tribes would go to negotiate with the Prophet (sws). Whenever there was an important issue, people were called to the mosque and when they gathered, matters of collective significance were settled there.

Initially, there was no pulpit, and the Prophet (sws) would give his sermon while sitting with his back against a tree trunk. Later a woman companion had a pulpit made by her slave who was a carpenter and placed it within the mosque. In the earlier days, there was also no arrangement to call people for prayers. Since they were required to come five times a day, they discussed what could be the best methods for calling them. They thought of the practices of the Jews and Christians, such as sounding a conch or bells, but they did not feel satisfied. According to narrations, a companion called 'Abdullah ibn Zayd Ansari (rta), or possibly 'Umar (rta), too, heard the words of the adhan in their dreams and related this to the Prophet (sws). The Prophet (sws) said: "Insha'Allah, this is a true dream." Then he instructed Bilal (rta) to recite the same words loudly, while standing at a high place.

When the Prophet (sws) reached Qaba, he constructed the Mosque of Qaba while staying with Banu 'Amr ibn 'Awf. Then he went to Madinah where the first thing he did was to build a mosque. This shows the importance of mosques in a Muslim society. It is a fact that Islam wishes to connect human beings firstly to God, and then to their fellow beings. Hence, the two basic tenets of Islam are to maintain the prayer and pay the zakah. The mosque holds a particular significance for prayers. This place meets the needs of mentioning Allah, religious learning and discussions and developing relations with each other in the best possible way. This is why the Prophet (sws) built the mosque as a priority. Following his example, mosques would occupy a central place for subsequent generations of Muslims whenever they populated new cities.

'A'ishah's Formal Departure after her Wedding

The nikah between the Prophet (sws) and 'A'ishah (rta) had been formalized while they were in Makkah. When several months had passed after migration to Madinah, Abu Bakr (rta) inquired as to why the Prophet (sws) was not asking for 'A'ishah (rta) to go to his house. The Prophet (sws) excused himself by saying that he did not have any resources to meet the expenses. He was then given an amount as a loan and 'A'ishah (rta) came to live with him in the month of Shawwal. She occupied quarters next to the mosque while Sawdah (rta) lived in another set of rooms.

Developing Familiarity with the New Environment

The first priority for the Prophet (sws) was to become familiar with the location and its people. This covered an extensive area and it was not possible for the Prophet (sws) to ignore any of its aspects. It will be enough to mention the groups that were present within and around Madinah to understand this.

1. Muslim Ansar: several people from the tribes of Aws and Khazraj had accepted Islam. Although they had become familiar with the tenets of Islam through the untiring efforts of Mus'ab ibn Umayr (rta), they harboured the desire to spend time with and learn from the Prophet (sws) directly, and the need for this was also obvious.

2. The immigrants: many had reached Madinah and continued to come. Some brought their belongings and savings; others were in dire straits when they reached Madinah. It was a very difficult task to rehabilitate them.

3. Original Jews: three Jewish tribes lived in the suburbs of Madinah in separate settlements, which had their worship places and madrasahs. Their power and influence was felt in the entire region. Being the People of the Book, they were also addressees of the Qur'an. Before migration, they had been addressed indirectly, but now that the Prophet (sws) was residing in their neighbourhood, they were being addressed directly. It was thus essential to interact with them.

4. The Jews of the Aws and the Khazraj: Aws and Khazraj were idolaters but many of them had accepted Judaism. Thus their population comprised of Muslims, Jews and idolaters. It was necessary, therefore, to deal with them on the basis of their respective religious affiliations, and this required knowing them well.

5. The tribes around Madinah: the tribes living around Madinah had prior relations with the Aws and the Khazraj. In addition to keeping in touch with them for religious reasons, it was necessary to maintain relations with them on a political basis. Because of the threats given to the Khazraj by the Quraysh, it had become important that the Prophet (sws) develop contacts with the leaders of these tribes and sign agreements with them, if necessary.

It is obvious that the Prophet (sws) worked at every level and in the short time available, became familiar with the whole region and its conditions, and took actions afterwards in the light of this knowledge. The first steps he took were two; both were timely and had far reaching consequences. The first was to create a strong bond of fraternity between the Ansars and the immigrants and the second to establish a code for the rights and obligations of all the tribes through a written agreement that is commonly known as the Covenant of Madinah.


By that time, most of the households of both tribes, the Aws and the Khazraj had become Muslims. A significant feature was that many of the leaders and influential persons were working for Islam proactively. On the other hand, a large number of immigrants had reached Madinah safely and, because they were arriving continuously, their numbers were increasing. During the times of the jahiliyyah, mutual support and help between Arabs was based on familial and tribal affiliation. The immigrants had been cut off from their own families and had no security under the new circumstances. The Qur'an provided new foundations to organize an Islamic society and established a new guardianship between the Ansars and the immigrants, based on faith, Islam and migration and jihad. Thus, it is said in Surah Anfal:

Indeed, those who have believed and emigrated and fought with their wealth and lives in the cause of Allah and those who gave shelter and aided- they are guardians of each other (8:72)

Based on these foundations, the Prophet (sws) united the Ansars and immigrants in such a bond that remains an outstanding achievement in history and is known as fraternity.

It was not possible to build new houses in the settlements of those times to accommodate the new arrivals. Those people, who had faced great hardships and left their homeland to go to Madinah, could not be left without any help and support to fend for themselves. But the lack of resources was a barrier to building new settlements for them on a priority basis. To resolve this issue, the Prophet (sws) adopted the solution of declaring each of the immigrants a brother to one of the well to do Ansar men, who would be responsible to set up the former, establish him and to support and protect him. An alternate would have been to make the leader of a tribe responsible for boarding and lodging a certain number of immigrants in a group, who would then handle the issue according to his own will. But the procedure adopted by the Prophet (sws) was unique and full of wisdom. In this manner, he distributed the immigrants throughout the different branches of the Aws and the Khazraj. To appreciate the extent of and scope of the fraternity scheme, it will be enough to look at the list, preserved in the annals of history, of the Ansar brothers of the leading personalities of the immigrants.

Immigrant Ansar Tribe

Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Kharijah ibn Zuhayr Khazraj-Banu Harith
'Umar ibn al-Khattab 'Utban bin Malik Khazrj-Banu Salim
'Uthman ibn 'Affan Aws ibn Thabit Khazrj-Banu Najjar
Abu 'Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah Sa'd ibn Mu'adh Aws-Banu 'Abd al-Ash hal
Zubayr ibn al-'Awwam Salamah ibn Salamah Aws-Banu 'Abd al-Ash hal
'Abd al-Rahman ibn 'Awf Sa'd ibn al-Rabi' Khazraj-Banu Harith
Zayd ibn Harithah Usayd ibn Hudayr Aws-Banu 'Abd al-Ash hal
Hamzah ibn 'Abd al-Muttalib Zayd ibn Thabit Khazraj-Banu Najjar
Mus'ab ibn 'Umayr Abu Ayyub Khazraj-Banu Najjar
Talhah ibn 'Ubaydullah Ka'b ibn Malik Khazrj-Banu Salamah
Abu Hudhayfah ibn 'Utbah 'Abbad ibn Bishr Aws-Banu 'Abd al-Ash hal
Bilal ibn Rabah Abu Ruwayhah Banu Khath'am
Abu Zir Ghifari Mundhir ibn 'Amr Khazraj-Banu Sa'idah
Salman al-Farisi Abu al-Darda' Khazraj-Banu Harith
Hatib ibn Abi Balta'ah 'Uwaymar ibn Sa'idah Khazraj-Banu 'Amr ibn 'Awf
ridwanullah 'alayhim ajma'in

With the help of several people, researchers have managed to collect over 50 names of the Ansar brothers of the immigrants. The fact is that the number was much larger, but a record has neither been kept, nor was this required. This was not only a one time understanding, immediately after the migration, but as the immigrants kept coming, they were allowed to benefit from this arrangement on a continuous basis. Thus, Mu'awiyyah ibn Abi Sufyan was bonded with Hattat ibn Yazid at the time when the former reached Madinah after the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah. The migration process stopped after the victory of Makkah. At that time, when people asked permission to go to Madinah, the Prophet (sws) said: there is no need to migrate after the victory of Makkah. Therefore, this victory should be considered the end of migration.

The extent to which the Ansars took part in supporting and helping the cause of Islam can be judged by the famous experience of 'Abd al-Rahman ibn 'Awf (rta), when he was sent to Sa'd ibn al-Rabi' as his brother. Sa'd offered to divide his property, land and wealth into two, of which each of them would take one part. He also offered to divorce one of his two wives, so that 'Abd al-Rahman ibn 'Awf could marry her after the mandatory waiting period. 'Abd al-Rahman (rta) thanked him for this offer, saying that his belongings should remain with him and asked to be taken to the market, where he would make an assessment and start trading so that he would not be a burden on him. Sa'd (rta) took him to the market. 'Abd al-Rahman (rta) established his business in a short time and was able to stand on his own feet.

Some Ansars tried to give a portion of their orchards to their immigrant brothers so as to enable them to sustain themselves on the produce. When the Prophet (sws) found out, he prevented the Ansars from doing so. The immigrants suggested that the Ansars should remain the owners and that, they, themselves, would work on them and earn their living. This offer was a sensible one and it was chosen for settling their mutual arrangements. According to the narratives of Jabir (rta), the Ansars wanted to gift houses and land to their immigrant brothers for life, but the Prophet (sws) stopped them, saying that they should keep their inheritance for themselves, as gifting these to others would create a system of inheritance among the receivers.

These narratives demonstrate that the immigrants did not put an unnecessary burden on the Ansars, but they created a position for themselves within the Madinan society through their hard work. However, as far as brotherhood and fraternity was concerned, this was retained throughout their lives and it was given great importance. It is narrated that, when Bilal (rta) received a stipend during the times of 'Umar Faruq (rta), he had this entered along with his Islamic brother, Abu Ruwayhah of the tribe of Banu Khath'am.[1]

Anas ibn Malik's mother Umm Sulaym (rta) gave a date-grove to the Prophet (sws) for his use. He gave it to Uthamah ibn Zayd's (rta) mother Umm Ayman (rta). When the conditions of the immigrants improved after the victory of Khaybar, they returned the gifts of the Ansars. The Prophet (sws), too, returned the date-grove to Umm Sulaym (rta), and gave some trees of another garden to Umm Ayman (rta) for her use.[2]

The Qur'an has also praised the generosity, big heartedness and lack of greediness of the Ansars and has thus presented their character as a model to be emulated until the end of the world.

And those who, before them, had homes [in Madinah] and had adopted the Faith, love those who emigrate to them, and have no jealousy in their breasts for that which they have been given [from the booty of Banu Nadir], and give them [emigrants] preference over themselves, even though they were in need of that. And whosoever is saved from his own covetousness, such are they who will be the successful.(59:9)

This verse shows that the Ansars were so generous and loving towards the immigrants, that they were in no way discouraged by the continuous pouring in of the immigrants, and that every new person who came shared in their wealth. They greeted every new comer and sacrificed their own needs to meet the needs of the immigrants. They were free of greed and envy and fulfilled the requirements of Islamic brotherhood and fraternity from the bottom of their hearts. The Prophet's (sws) advice in this regard was always a beacon of light for them, when he would say:

"Do not keep any grudge among yourselves; do not envy each other; do not turn away your face from each other; O servants of God! Be brothers to each other."

When good feelings exceed a certain level, and a person goes beyond set limits, it becomes necessary to put a stop to them. The feelings of fraternity by the Ansars can be assessed by the offer made by Sa'd ibn 'Abd al-Rabi' (rta), as quoted above. It can be deduced that some people, taking this relationship to be above all others, began to ignore the rights of relatives. Our biographers write that Ansars started to consider the rights of the immigrants over their property and ignore those of their blood relations. At this, the following verse was revealed:

But kindred by blood are nearer to one another regarding inheritance in the decree ordained by Allah. Verily, Allah is the All-Knower of everything.(8:75)

This means that relatives were inheritors, not the Islamic brothers whose relationship had been developed through fraternity. Thus, fraternity and support of each other would not affect the laws and rights that were based on blood relations and that had been taught by the shari'ah. This instruction was given to keep the excessive sentiments in control and within limits. This did not mean that the fraternity system would be brought to an end. This is why it continued according to need, until the victory of Makkah.

The Objectives of Fraternity

The rehabilitation and economic support for the immigrants was a factor in the plan for building of fraternity, but this was not its objective. All immigrants had not come after losing all that they owned. Several still possessed their wealth. They may have needed temporary help, but did not require constant support. The process of migration had begun even before the arrival of the Prophet (sws) in Madinah. Had this issue been so serious, its pressure would have been felt before or just after migration and the scheme would have started immediately. In contrast, it began a few months after migration, after the immigrants had made a place for themselves in society, or, at least, did not offer as much pressure. Therefore, in our view, the need for fraternity arose more for social than economic reasons.

It has been observed generally that when people shift to a place from other locations in large numbers and are able to participate in its society, markets and trade, sooner or later, the original residents begin to feel resentment and hatred towards them. It becomes easy to incite such feelings and cause the two groups to fight each other, when such conspiratorial elements are also present. In Madinah, the Jews had been very successful in creating rifts between the Aws and the Khazraj in the past. It was not beyond their conspiratorial elements that, slowly, they might bring the young men of the Ansars as adversaries confronting the immigrants. This danger could be thwarted by spreading out the pre Islam immigrants among the miscellaneous tribes and households of the Ansars, so that, on the one hand, they would help develop a true understanding of Islam among the Ansars and train them, and, on the other, demonstrate through their behavior that they appreciated the Ansars and that both of them were flag bearers of truth. They did not have base, worldly desires on account of which they had come together. Rather, they were soldiers of Allah and would live and die together. This scheme of fraternity helped a great deal in building an environment of trust between the Ansars and immigrants. Later, at various times, the agents of the Jews attempted to incite the emotions of the Ansars against the immigrants, but the spirit of unity and collectivity among the latter groups did not allow their schemes to succeed. Every tribe had some immigrants whose influence was felt within that tribe and the members gave great importance to their advice. Thus, at such times, they played their roles and ensured that no differences between the Ansars and immigrants were allowed to surface. We have seen that on several occasions, the fraternity prevented the Madinan society from crises; to the extent that, after the demise of the Prophet (sws), the issue of selection of the caliph was addressed in a cordial manner and the voices against anyone from the Quraysh becoming the caliph were silenced. If the Prophet (sws) had not set up this system of fraternity, the forces against Islam would have ignited the flames of regional and tribal prejudices and succeeded in shattering the unity of Muslims into pieces.

(Translated by Nikhat Sattar)

[1]. Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, Al-Jami' al-sahih, vol. 2, 10.

[2]. Ibid., vol. 2, 89.


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