Story of Mohammed - Edith Holland

The Flight from Meccah

The Kuraysh were determined to rid themselves of their enemy. The governor of the city was at this time, Abu Sufyan; he was one of the Prophet's bitterest opponents, and was resolved to put an end to the conditions which, for nearly twelve years, had been constantly threatening the peace of Meccah. Though Abu Bakr was daily urging Mohammed to leave the city, he still lingered on, for, as he said, the time for flight had not yet come.

The elders of the Kuraysh now met in council, to consider the best course to pursue. Some advised banishing Mohammed, but it was objected that he might be more dangerous removed from Meccah and surrounded by his followers. Others counselled imprisonment, but this would lead to disturbances, as the friends of the Prophet would be certain to try and rescue him. When all ways had been discussed, the Kuraysh came to the conclusion that the only safe course was to put Mohammed to death. There was one objection to this; the Arabs had a system of blood revenge, and if a man was murdered, his whole clan was involved in war with the clan of the murderer; this often led to far-reaching feuds among the tribes. To prevent such a catastrophe, the Kuraysh hit on a cunning and wicked plot. A man was chosen from each clan of the tribe, including that of Hashim, Mohammed's own clan. These men were to waylay the Prophet, and all, at the same moment, to stab him with their swords. Thus it would never be known who was guilty of his blood, and the clan of Hashim would surely never dare to make war on the whole tribe.

One evening, just as it was getting dark, the conspirators concealed themselves near the Prophet's house, intending to fall on him when he came out in the early morning. But rumours of the plot having reached Mohammed, he escaped from the back of his house, and took refuge with his friend Abu Bakr. Meanwhile Ali laid himself down on the Prophet's bed, wrapped in his green mantle, to deceive any of the enemy who might chance to look in, thus allowing Mohammed time to get safely away. It was not till morning that the assassins discovered their prey had escaped.

Abu Bakr was rejoiced when Mohammed came to his house ready for immediate flight. With the wisdom and forethought which distinguished him, he had, for some time, been preparing for this event. He had bought two swift camels, which stood ready in the yard of his house, and had hired a guide who knew all the byways of the road to Yathrib; nothing was forgotten, and sufficient money for a journey had been provided.

But the Kuraysh would be certain to conclude that the Prophet had fled to Yathrib, where all his friends had already gone. With the instincts of the sons of the desert, Mohammed and his companion decided to avoid the roads most likely to be searched, and, going in another direction, to remain for some days in hiding. So they made their way cautiously, under cover of the darkness, to one of the southern suburbs, and managed to get out of the city unobserved. Still going south, they crossed a rough and stony tract of country, until they arrived at the foot of Mount Thaur, a high mountain about an hour and a half's journey from Meccah. The side of Mount Thaur is rocky and precipitous, and must have been difficult to climb in the darkness; but those who are flying for their lives are not easily hindered, and the Prophet and his companion accomplished the ascent in safety. Near the summit of Mount Thaur is a deep cave with a very narrow entrance, and here the fugitives took shelter. For three days they remained in hiding, Abu Bakr's servant coming each day to bring them food, and to report on the doings of the Kuraysh. The latter, on discovering Mohammed's escape, had immediately sent parties to scour the country in the direction of Yathrib, but finding no trace of the Prophet's flight on the northern roads, the scouts had encircled the city, searching the recesses of the rocky hills, in any of whose caves or defiles their prey might be lurking. Discovery of the fugitives would have been well rewarded, for the Kuraysh had offered a hundred camels for the heads of Mohammed and Abu Bakr.

It must have been a time of anxious suspense for the two hiding in the cave, for they knew that their enemies were close on their track; "and what can we do if we are discovered," said Abu Bakr, whispering his fears to his companion, "for we are but two against so many!" "Nay" replied Mohammed, "there is a third, for God is with us." It is related that some of the scouts came to the very mouth of the cave, and were about to enter when they noticed a thick network of spiders' webs spun across the opening. Feeling certain that no one could have passed into the cave for a considerable time, they agreed that further search was useless.

Another legend tells that a party of armed men, ranging over Mount Thaur, came to the entrance of the cave, and behold! an acacia tree had sprung up just in front of the narrow opening, and two wild pigeons were perched on its branches. One of the men called out to his companions that no one could have got in, as a tree on which a pigeon had made her nest blocked the entrance. Mohammed, crouching within, blessed the pigeons, which had been of such service to him. To this day these birds are regarded as sacred in the territory of Meccah; flocks of them are always to be seen round the Kaabah, and no one would ever think of hurting them.

On the evening of the third day, Abu Bakr's son, Abdallah; brought tidings that the Kuraysh had, for the time, abandoned the search, persuaded that Mohammed had escaped them. The moment for flight had arrived! A longer delay would be unwise, as, at any moment, a chance wayfarer might hit on some clue leading to the discovery of the fugitives. So Abdallah was ordered to make all ready for the following night. As soon as it was dark the camels were to be brought up the mountain in charge of Abu Bakr's servant and the guide, who were to wait with them in the neighbourhood of the cave.

That last day of waiting must have seemed a very long one! After dusk, Abu Bakr's daughter, Asma, came to the cave, bringing provisions for the journey. All was now ready. Truly the fate of Islam hung on a slender thread the night when the Prophet stole forth from his hiding-place, a price on his head, trusting to the darkness and the speed of his camel to be delivered from his enemies!

Mohammed and the guide rode a camel called "Al-Kaswa," or the Crop-eared, and Abu Bakr took his servant with him on the other camel. Al-Kaswa came to be famous in the history of Islam, and carried the Prophet in several of his battles, and on the occasion of his last pilgrimage to Meccah—things you will hear about by-and-by.

After descending the mountain, the fugitives went westward towards the Red Sea, thus keeping clear of the outskirts of Meccah. They made all speed till dawn, when they chanced on a Bedouin encampment. The Bedouins are wandering Arabs who have no habitations but their tents, which they move from place to place, according to the season; they are the most hospitable people in the world, and always ready to entertain strangers. As Mohammed and his companions passed the camp, an Arab lady, who was sitting in front of her tent, offered them a drink of milk, for which they must have been most grateful. But those who are hunted for their lives cannot rest long, and the travellers were soon pursuing their way northward, never stopping till sundown, except for a short halt at midday.

It was the hottest time of the year, when the desert is like a fiery furnace, and the glare intolerable. Nothing that you have ever felt could be compared to the fierce and scorching heat of the desert at midsummer. But there could be no rest for the fugitives until they had left Meccah far behind, for might not the spies of the Kuraysh be even now on their track! Avoiding the caravan roads, they made their way over rough hills, across dry river beds and hollows, for the desert has its hills and valleys just as much as the fertile country. Many miles had been covered on this first day of the Flight, and towards evening the travellers, thinking themselves safe from pursuit, joined the caravan road between Meccah and Yathrib. They had not gone far along this road before they were aware of a horseman galloping furiously towards them. He proved to be one of the scouts of the Kuraysh returning to Meccah; but, being single-handed against four, he was unable to stop the fugitives, and even promised not to betray them if allowed to go on his way in peace.

Later on the travellers met a small caravan belonging to Talhah, a cousin of Abu Bakr. He was coming from Syria, and had, among his merchandise, some garments made of fine white cloth; of these he gave one to his cousin and one to the Prophet, whom he rejoiced to see out of reach of his enemies.

The distance from Meccah to Yathrib is roughly the same as it is from London to Edinburgh, but travelling is slow and difficult between the Arabian cities, and caravans usually take eleven days to do the journey. Mohammed and his companions had made such speed that on the morning of the eighth day they beheld, from the summit of a mountain range, the gardens and palm groves of Yathrib.

How beautiful must the tender green of the date palms have appeared to the eyes of the weary travellers! After all the hardships of the flight—the burning heat, the thirst, the want of sleep, and the haunting fear of pursuit—here, at last, was salvation in sight!

The arrival of the Prophet had long been looked for by the Moslems of Yathrib, some of whom went every day to the summit of a hill, hoping to catch sight of the fugitives. "How long!" they exclaimed, "shall the Prophet of the Lord be left to wander about, in fear of his life!" Day after day the watchers had returned, disappointed, to the city; but, at length, a Jew who was stationed on a watch-tower spied the two camels descending the opposite line of hills, and following the road leading to Kuba, a village about three miles from Yathrib. The joyful news spread fast, and when Mohammed dismounted from his camel in the shady palm groves of Kuba he found, many of his friends already waiting to receive him.

It was a charming spot, this village nestling among fruitful orchards, and shadowed by feathery date palms; to none is the sight of verdure and running water so grateful as to those who have known the privations of the desert.

Mohammed waited at Kuba for the arrival of Ali, his faithful cousin, who had risked his own life to facilitate the Prophet's escape. Great was Mohammed's joy when, on the third day, Ali arrived, having travelled from Meccah on foot.

Thus was accomplished The Flight, that great event in the history of Islam, and the Prophet of Arabia was safe among his friends. From the Hijrah, or Flight, of the Prophet the Mohammedans date their calendar. The word Hijrah means, in Arabic, Flight. The year 1 of the Hijrah is therefore the year in which Mohammed fled from Meccah. This event happened in the year 622 of the Christian era.