Taken from

Hijra: Story and Significance
Zakaria Bashir, The Islamic Foundation, ISBN 0-86037-124-7

The Political Implications of the Hijra

At the beginning of the fifteenth century of Hijra, we consider afresh the importance and value of
the Hijra' in the political history of Islam. Everyone agrees that the Hijra ushered in the
beginning of the first civilisation of Islam. However, there seems to be precious little
appreciation of the primarily ideological and political significance of that event in the
establishment of the Islamic society. In what follows, we attempt to expose the shortcomings of
some current interpretations of the Hijra, and advance (hopefully) more satisfactory ones that do
justice to this most crucial event in the evolution of early Muslim society and subsequent Muslim

Let us begin with two current interpretations of the Hijra which, in our view, fall far short of
giving it its rightful place in the formative history of Islam. The first interpretation is the
flight interpretation. The second is the arbitration interpretation. Both are unknown in Muslim
sources. They have been adopted, and introduced into Muslim thought, by Western and Orientalist

The flight interpretation represents the Hijra as a flight from the Makkan crucible - as a running
away, so to speak, from persecution by the polytheists of Makka. Early Western accounts of the
Hijra, almost all, systematically use the term `flight' to describe the Prophet's Hijra from Makka
to Madina. In view of the obvious unambiguous connotation of the Arabic word `Hijra' (the
straightforward literal English rendering of which is `emigration') one cannot but wonder why
Orientalists have preferred to use the word `flight' instead. Given good faith, the negative
connotation of the word `flight' should have deterred anyone, seeking to elucidate the true
significance of the Hijra, from using it. Any implication that the Hijra was in fact a withdrawal
from the ideological war that raged in Makka, between nascent Islam and its pagan adversaries, is,
from the account we have given above, a gross misinterpretation.

More substantial than the flight theory is the arbitration theory. According to this, Yathrib
(Madina) was going through a period characterised by anarchy and conflict. The two leading tribes
of Aws and Khazraj were on the brink of open warfare over the control of the city. The Jewish
settlers there seemed to have failed in their efforts to mediate between the two warring tribes,
and it is not far-fetched to suggest that they might even have contributed, in some measure, to
the perpetuation of the conflict. Such a perpetuation would have given them the privileged status
of playing the roles of judges and arbitrators each time there was a fresh outbreak of

According to the theory, the Yathribites invited the Prophet to come to Madina because they were
weary of the continuing wars and hostilities. They wanted him to act as arbitrator in the age-long
dispute between Aws and Khazraj. They were quite ready to accept the implications of the role they
were offering the Prophet. Most important among these implications was the acceptance of the
Prophet's authority over the city of Yathrib.

It is our contention that, substantial and intelligent as it is, the arbitration theory does not
do justice to the full meaning of the Hijra. Evidence from the Sirah of Ibn Hisham depicting the
events of the Second Pledge of 'Aqaba sufficiently refutes, we believe, the main point of the
arbitration theory - that the Yathribites grew weary of the war amongst themselves and urgently
needed an arbitrator. Firstly, the second pledge has been termed the Pledge of War by all the
Muslim biographers of the Prophet. The reason for this is that it contained a commitment, notably
absent from the first 'Aqaba pledge, to fight, should that become necessary for the defence and
safety of the Prophet himself, or his followers, once they arrived in Madina. By contrast, the
first 'Aqaba pledge was called the Pledge of Women because it was mainly a pledge to abide by the
moral standards and religious rules and obligations of Islam, the kind of commitments women have
to make when they accept Islam. There was no mention of fighting in the first 'Aqaba pledge.

Rather than being in search of an arbitrator, the Yathribites were, in fact, seeking the Prophet
with the Divine mission whose appearance was foretold by the people with Scripture living in
Yathrib. In particular, the Jews of Yathrib were anxiously awaiting his coming. Secondly, the
terms of the second 'Aqaba pledge leave little doubt as to the attitude of those leaders of Aws
and Khazraj who accepted them. Ibn Hisham, quoting Ibn Ishaq, has given the following account:

Ibn Ish aq said: The Pledge of War took place after God had given permission to His Messenger,
upon him be peace, to wage war. It comprised conditions other than those which he [the !Prophet]
had laid down in the first `Aqaba Pledge. The first pledge was in the manner of the Pledge of
Women because God had not then given permission to His Messenger, upon him be peace, to wage war.
When God gave permission to wage it, and the Messenger of God, upon him be peace, then took the
pledge in the last 'Aqaba for waging war on any of his persecutors [lit. on people be they red or
black] he took conditions for himself [i.e. for his protection] and took further conditions from
those people for [obedience to] his Lord. He made Paradise the reward for the keeping and
fulfilling of that pledge.

Ibn Ishaq said: I have been told by `Ubadah ibn al-Walid ibn `Ubadah ibn al-Samit on the authority
of his father al-Walid, on the authority of his grandfather `Ubadah ibn al-Samit, who was one of
the Nuqaba' [deputies], that: The Messenger of God, upon him be peace, has taken from us the
Pledge of War. `Ubadah was one of the Twelve Nuqaba' who had taken the `Pledge of Women' at.the,
first `Aqaba that we obey the Prophet in times of hardship and times of ease, (to fulfil any
undertaking irrespective of whether we like or hate it, even against our self-interest). We shall
not contest the authority of those in charge, and we say the truth wherever we are, not fearing
when obeying God, the censure of anyone.

Further evidence that the Aws and Khazraj tribes of Yathrib were committing themselves to fight in
defence of the Prophet and the oppressed Muslims of Makka is provided by a statement made by one
of their leaders, namely al-`Abbas ibn Ubadah ibn Nadlah al-Ansari. During the enactment of the
second 'Aqaba pledge, when the Yathribite delegation of eighty-three men and women were about to
enter the phase of handshaking (an act signalling official conclusion of the pledge), he reminded
everyone that they were giving a solemn pledge to wage war against whoever happened to oppose the
Prophet, `be they red or black'; and that if they doubted their ability to honour the pledge when
their lives were endangered or their money or property threatened, then they should be wise enough
not to make it. However, the delegation was wholeheartedly adamant in its determination both to
make and to honour that commitment at any cost, whether to their lives or their property. They
then went on to give a reassuring demonstration of their resolve to honour the defence pact. As
soon as the handshaking was completed, they asked permission of the Prophet to make a raid against
the Quraysh, the chief oppressors of the Muslims. But the Prophet calmed them, saying that he had
not as yet received any order or permission to wage war.

This refutes conclusively, in our view, the arbitration theory proposed by a leading Orientalist.
Far from being either a flight or a retreat, the Hijra, and the Pledge that made it possible,
firmly ushered in the beginning of a positive and effective stage in the process of inviting the
people to Islam and establishing the first Muslim civilisation. It provided a point of departure
in the life of the early Muslims, who, for thirteen years, had been commanded by the Prophet not
to retaliate against their persecutors and oppressors, but rather to endure patiently and
courageously the indignities which the ignorant and, ultimately, ineffective polytheists of Makka
were wont to heap upon them. From the Hijra onwards the Muslims were granted permission to fight
in self-defence. They were permitted to wage war to liberate themselves and purge their land from
the unseemly and unjust practices of the polytheists who transgressed against them and caused them
physical and moral suffering. The transformation from the passive to the active stage was only
made possible by the resolved will of the Yathribites, leaders of the Aws and Khazraj, to wage war
on behalf of the Prophet and his oppressed followers. Thus it is totally implausible to suggest
that the Yathribites invited the Prophet to come to Madina because they needed someone who would
end the dispute in which they were involved.

It is interesting to speculate about the wisdom of restraining the Muslims from fighting, even in
self-defence, throughout the Makkan period. Perhaps it was important that their character, their
fortitude and forbearance in the cause of Islam, should be severely tested. Probably it was futile
to fight when they did not possess the necessary force, in numbers or arms, to wage a successful
war. Perhaps it was that Islam needed a period of time in which to establish itself peacefully and
on the merit of its own intrinsic spiritual and moral strength, without the further support of
military force. Whatever the reasons that led to the absolute prohibition of fighting which the
Prophet imposed on his early, much-oppressed followers, the situation was dramatically changed as
soon as the Muslims managed to secure a political and military presence in the territory of
Yathrib by the voluntary consent of the vast majority of its population.

Only after Yathrib had been secured as a base upon which a Muslim authority could be set up, was
it possible for Muslim civilisation to take root and expand. If we are to draw the moral from the
Hijra, if we wish to be guided by its positive implications, then we must reflect adequately and
at length upon the conditions and imperatives which made possible the first Muslim society, the
first Muslim civilisation in Madina.

Islam is not only a body of ideals and doctrines, but a practical system of politics and laws. As
such it seeks to realise in practice its model of society, state and civilisation. Now, no
society, state or civilisation can be formed without a territorial base. So long as the Muslims
remained without a secure and defensible territory, they could not realistically hope to obtain or
defend their human rights. So long as they remained residents of a non-Muslim land they could not
aspire to the achievement of their ideals, nor even live with honour and justice. Thus, the
securing of a self-sufficient and defensible land becomes the first imperative in the way of
forming a Muslim civilisation.

The Prophet must have understood, through Divine revelation, and must consequently have deemed
futile any attempt to exhaust the Muslims' energies or sacrifice their lives in a fruitless armed
struggle within the framework of the Makkan society. If the Muslims had embarked upon a course of
violent confrontation with the Makkan polytheists, they might have been utterly destroyed and
their religion with them. Passive resistance was the best policy for survival when a small group
of peaceful, unarmed men found themselves face to face with the unlimited, unchecked power of an
evil and immoral state.

A Muslim civilisation is one founded on the principles and articles of Islam and rooted in the
bonds of religious fraternity of the Muslim community. For this reason, a Muslim society is
ideological and the basis for belonging to it is a commitment to the common feelings, beliefs and
convictions of the people rightly included in it. The essence of the fundamental transformation
which the new-born Islam was able to bring to the Arabian society lay in its substitution of this
ideological basis for the blood `Asabiyyah of Jahiliyyah (pagan-barbaric) times. The Muslim
society is thus an open society, ready to include and embrace anyone willing to belong to it.
Belonging to it means nothing more or less than having a willingness and a commitment to abide by
its rules. The widening human, egalitarian horizons which Islam opens up in this respect are quite
unmatched. If we ponder but for a moment on the barriers that divide the human race in the
contemporary world, then we are-as Muslims- justified in feeling a sense of gratitude and
satisfaction in the progressive and liberalising tendency of Islam. Human societies today are
based either on narrow nationalistic or often false patriotic sentiments. There are even some
societies that are based on blatant racialism or have strong cultural biases exclusive and inhuman
in their norms

and ideals. Communist societies are based upon an ideology which denies and undermines most of
what is characteristically human in us and rejects totally any Divine or spiritual quality of
life. Capitalist societies are so much geared towards material self-interest that the liberties
they acclaim are often empty and hollow.

Islamic civilisation in Yathrib was only based upon ideological commitment - a commitment that was
as broad and open as it was human in scope. The ideological society could not have existed without
a territory. Nor would it have been possible had it not been for the supreme and unchallenged
political authority that Muslims enjoyed in Madina.

The third imperative is therefore that of political authority and political control. Islam is not
like any other religion because it lays clear and unambiguous claim to government. It has a
political theory as well as a positive law of its own. Without the materialisation of its
political theory and the enforcement of its positive law, the Islamic community cannot and will
not be in a position to thrive and prosper, nor uphold its characteristic sociological features,
norms and values. The Prophet clearly recognised the vitality of the state and the political
authority of a truly Muslim environment and society. Because of this, he explicitly demanded, and
obtained, the acceptance of his personal authority in his capacity as Messenger of God over the
city of Yathrib. This demand was explicitly mentioned as one of the conditions of the second
'Aqaba Pledge, and the Yathribites explicitly assented to it by declaring their intention and firm
commitment not to contest the authority of the new administration which they were by contract,
conscious desire and explicit pledge, inviting to their own city. And they made this solemn pledge
without any motive of self-interest or in any hope of some `return' for political support. These
three imperatives - territorial, the ideological and political control - are the necessary
conditions for the establishment of a Muslim community. Without their realisation, the Muslim
cannot rightly entertain any hopes of falah (well-being).

The establishment of the Muslim community could not have been carried out without the personal
effort and commitment of the individual Muslim. The human element was, and is, and always will be,
one of the most essential factors in any historical change. It was therefore important that the
Muslim character should be raised to the highest level of commitment and competence in pursuit of
the ideals of Islam. The task of building up a strong, reflective Muslim personality is very great
indeed, and that of realising the dreams and values of a conscious Muslim personality is even
greater -because in the second stage of establishing a Muslim civilisation, the Muslims have to
contend with contrary forces and contrary interests. But the two responsibilities interpenetrate:
strife against the inner urges of the self in a sense is continued in the strife against the more
tangible, aggressive, external forces. The Muslim character is put to the test when, while
upholding faith within, it must face exacting demands from without. The time of persecution in
Makka was, equally with the active Madina phase, just such a putting to the test.

A revolutionising process is essential to bring about a new awareness in the individual
consciousness - an awareness that will enable him to understand that his personal dignity and
honour, as well as his personal safety, are at stake should he fail to create the society and the
state in which he can expect to live in honourable peace and security. He should not expect to
declare his ideals as a Muslim and live by them in a non-Muslim society without that society
attempting to encroach on, to limit, his rights.

But the new awareness of himself as a Muslim is needed also to shake the individual free of false
identities, and false hopes that he may be accepted as a full Muslim in a non-Muslim society. It
is important that all such hopes of belonging to non-Muslim communities, of being accepted by them
with honour and justice and equality, should be shed and exposed as mere fantasies. Non-Muslim
societies will never accept nor enable a truly conscious Muslim - a Muslim who is aware of his
full identity as Muslim - to realise the ideals of Islam. His attitude and behaviour will be bound
to evoke feelings of aversion and outright enmity from persons who are confirmed citizens of the
non-Muslim society. The only way for him to achieve some kind of quick peace or acceptance in such
a society is to compromise his beliefs or to be hypocritical, developing in the process an
inferiority complex vis-a-vis the dominant non-Muslim society.

The only way to avoid these wretched consequences is to challenge the sterile communities and
cultures that refuse to heed the Divine call of Islam. Here it is important to shake away false
spatio-temporal identities- identities with a certain place and with the present in which it
expresses itself. The Muslim must, as part of the revolutionising process, be emancipated from the
here-and-now requirements of the material environment. He must aspire to a more fertile, more
receptive, more sympathetic and generous, a much broader, set of here-and-nows. It is perhaps with
this in mind that most Muslim authorities have labelled all non-Muslim environments Dar al-Harb as
distinct from Dar al-Islam. It was perhaps also with this intent that the Prophet was explicitly
commanded by the Qur'an not to extend protection or social responsibilities to those who failed to
make the Hijra and thus failed to appreciate the importance of earning the protection of the
Muslim government through the emancipating, but sacrificedemanding process of the Hijra.

In our contemporary efforts to recreate a Muslim civilisation which will satisfy our aspirations
and realise our vision of a just society which is both Divinely-guided and sensitive to the plight
of the modern man, we must give thought to the political implications of the Hijra. It provides a
living, historical example of what is possible in the greatest adversity, and a living symbol and
ideal of what is desirable, both for the individual Muslim and for the Muslim state.

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