Thursday, October 25, 2007

Ja’afar Ibn Abu Talib

  The "Father of the Poor".
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
All the praise and thanks are due to Allah; May Peace and blessings of Allah be upon His Messenger.

In spite of his noble standing among the Quraish, Abu Talib ibn Abdul Muttalib, an uncle of the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) , was quite poor. He had a large family and did not have enough means to support them adequately. His poverty-stricken situation became much worse when a severe drought hit the Arabian Peninsula. The drought destroyed vegetation and livestock and, it is said, people were driven to eat bones in the struggle for survival.

It was during this time of drought, before his call to prophethood that Muhammad said to his uncle Al-Abbas Ibn Mutallib: "Your brother, Abu Talib, has a large family. People, as you see have been afflicted by this severe drought and are facing starvation. Let us go to Abu Talib and take over responsibility for some of his family. You will take one of his sons and you can take another and we will look after them.""What you suggest is certainly righteous and commendable," replied Al-Abbas, and together they went to Abu Talib and said to him: "We want to ease some of the burden of your family until such time as this distressing period has gone."

Abu Talib agreed. "If you allow me to keep Aqeel (one of his sons older than Ali), then you may do whatever you like," he said. It was in this way that Muhammad took Ali bin Abu Talib into his household and Al-Abbas took Ja’afar Abu Talib into his.

Ja’afar ibn Abu Talib had a very close resemblance to the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) . It is said there were five men from the Hashim clan who resembled the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) so much, they were often mistaken for him. They were: Abu Sufyan Ibn Al-Harith and Qutham Ibn Al-Abbas both of whom were cousins of his. As-Saib ibn Ubayd, the grandfather of Imam Ash Shafie: Al-Hasan Ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) , who resembled him most of all; and Ja’afar Ibn Abi Talib.

Ja’afar stayed with his uncle, Al-Abbas, until he was a young man. Then he married Asmah binti Umays, a sister of Maymunah Binti Umays who was later to become a wife of the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam. After his marriage, Ja’afar went to live on his own.

He and his wife were among the first persons to accept Islam. He became a Muslim at the hands of Abu Bakar as-Siddiq, may God be pleased with him. The young Ja’afar and his wife were devoted followers of Islam.

They bore the harsh treatment and the persecution of the Quraish with patience and steadfastness because they both realized that the road to Paradise was strewn with thorns and paved with pain and hardship. The Quraish made life intolerable for them both and for their brethren in faith. They tried to obstruct them from observing or performing the duties and rites of Islam. They prevented them from tasting the full sweetness of worship undisturbed. The Quraish waylaid them at every turn and severely restricted their freedom of movement.

When the conditions became unbearable, Ja’afar eventually went to the Prophet, peace be upon him, and sought permission for himself and a small group of the Sahabah, including his wife, to make Hijrah to the land of Abyssinia. With great sadness, the Prophet SAW gave his permission in the month of Rajab of the fifth year of Prophethood, gave advice to his Companions to this effect: "You may well migrate to Habash, for there is a king, who does not allow any kind of injustice to anyone, and there is good in his land. You should remain there till the time that Allah provides a remedy for your affliction".

Accordingly, at first, eleven men and four women left for Habash. The Quraish pursued them up to the coast but fortunately they got a timely boat for Habash at the sea-port of Shu'aibah, and they escaped attest. Then after a few months, other people migrated to Habash and their number rose to eighty-three men and eleven women of the Quraish and seven non-Quraish. After this, only forty persons were left with the Holy Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) at Makkah. It was really a painful for him that these pure and righteous souls should be forced to leave their homes and the familiar and cherished scenes and memories of their childhood and youth, not for any crime but only because they said, "Our Lord is One. Allah is our Lord."

The group in Abyssinia was led by Ja’afar ibn Abi Talib. Soon they settled down in this new land under the care and protection of the Negus, the just and righteous ruler of Abyssinia. For the first time since they became Muslims, they savoured the taste of freedom and security and enjoyed the sweetness of worship undisturbed.

There was a great hue and cry in Makkah after this Migration, for every family of the Quraish was adversely affected by this. There was hardly a family of the Quraish which did not lose a son, a son-in-law, a daughter, a brother or a sister. For instance, there were among the Migrants the close relatives of Abu Jahal, Abu Sufyan and other chief of the Quraish who were notorious for their persecution of the Muslims. As a result of this, some of them became even bitterer in their enmity of Islam; while there were others who were so moved by this that they embraced Islam. For instance, this Migration left a deep mark on Umar ibn Al-Khattab. One of his relatives, Laila, daughter of Hathmah, says, "I was packing my luggage for Migration, while my husband, Amr bin Rabiy'ah, had gone out. In the meantime Umar came there and began to watch me, while I was engaged in preparation for the journey. Then he said, 'Are you also going to migrate?' I answered, 'Yes by God, you people have persecuted us much. But the wide earth of Allah is open for us. Now we are going to a place where Allah will grant us peace'. At this, I noticed such signs of emotion on the face of Umar as I had never seen before. He simply said, 'May God be with you' and went away."

When the Quraish learnt of the departure of the small group of Muslims and the peaceful life they enjoyed under the protection of the Negus, they made plans to secure their extradition and their return to the great prison that was Makkah. They sent two of their most formidable men, Amru Ibn Al-Aws and Abdullah Ibn Abi Rabiah, half brother of Abu Jahal, to accomplish this task and loaded those with valuable and much sought after presents for the Negus and his bishops.

In Abyssinia, the two Quraish emissaries first presented their girls to the bishops and to each of them they said: "There are some wicked young people moving about freely in the King's land. They have attacked the religion of their forefathers and caused disunity among their people. When we speak to the King about them, advise him to surrender them to us without his asking them about their religion. The respected leaders of their own people are more aware of them and know better what they believe." The bishops agreed.

Amru and Abdullah then went to the Negus himself and presented him with gifts which he greatly admired. They said to him: "O King, there is a group of evil persons from among our youth who have escaped to your kingdom. They practice a religion which neither we nor you know. They have forsaken our religion and have not entered into your religion. The respected leaders of their people - from among their own parents and uncles. And from their own clans - have sent us to you to request you to return them. They know best what trouble they have caused."

The Negus looked towards his bishops who said: "They speak the truth, O King. Their own people know them better and are better acquainted with what they have done. Send them back so that they themselves might judge them."

The Negus was quite angry with this suggestion and said: "No. By God, I won't surrender them to anyone until I myself call them and question them about what they have been accused. If what these two men have said is true, then I will hand them over to you. If however it is not so, then I shall protect them so long as they desire to remain under my protection."

The Negus then summoned the Muslims to meet him. Before going, they consulted with one another as a group and agreed that Ja’afar Ibn Abu Talib and no one else should speak on their behalf. In the court of the Negus, the bishops, dressed in green surplices and impressive headgear, were seated on his right and on his left.

The Quraishi emissaries were also seated when the Muslims entered and took their seats. The Negus turned to them and asked: "What is this religion which you have introduced for yourself and which has served to cut you off from the religion of your people? You also did not enter my religion or the religion of any other community."

Ja’afar ibn Abi Talib then advanced and made a speech that was moving and eloquent and which is still one of the most compelling descriptions of Islam, the appeal of the noble Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) and the condition of Makkan society at the time. He said:

“O King, we were a people in a state of ignorance and immorality, worshipping idols and eating the flesh of dead animals, committing all sorts of abomination and shameful deeds. Breaking the ties of kinship, treating guests badly and the strong among us exploited the weak. We remained in this state until Allah sent us a Prophet, one of our own people whose lineage, truthfulness, trustworthiness and integrity were well-known to us.”

“He called us to worship Allah alone and to renounce the stones and the idols which we and our ancestors used to worship besides Allah.”

"He commanded us to speak the truth, to honor our promises, to be kind to our relations, to be helpful to our neighbors, to cease all forbidden acts, to abstain from bloodshed. To avoid obscenities and false witness, not to appropriate an orphan's property nor slander chaste women."

“He ordered us to worship Allah alone and not to associate anything with him, to uphold Salat, to give Zakat and fast in the month of Ramadhan.” We believed in him and what he brought to us from Allah and we follow him in what he has asked us to do and we keep away from what he forbade us from doing.”

"Thereupon, O King, our people attacked us, visited the severest punishment on us to make us renounce our religion and take us back to the old immorality and the worship of idols. They oppressed us, made life intolerable for us and obstructed us from observing our religion. So we left for your country, choosing you before anyone else, desiring your protection and hoping to live in Justice and in peace at your midst."

The Negus was impressed and was eager to hear more. He asked Ja’afar: "Do you have with you something of what your Prophet brought concerning God?" "Yes," replied Ja’afar. "Then read it to me," requested the Negus.

Ja’afar, in his rich, melodious voice recited for him the first portion of Surah Maryam which deals with the story of Jesus and his mother Mary. On hearing the words of the Quran, the Negus was moved to tears.

To the Muslims, he said: "The message of your Prophet and that of Jesus came from the same source..."

To Amru and his companion, he said:" Go. For, by God, I will never surrender them to you." That, however, was not the end of the matter. The wily Amru made up his mind to go to the King the following day "to mention something about the Muslims belief which will certainly fill his heart with anger and make him detest them" On the next day, Amru went to the Negus and said: "O King. These people to whom you have given refuge and whom you protect say something terrible about Jesus the son of Mary (that he is a slave). Send for them and ask them what they say about him."

The Negus summoned the Muslims once more and Ja’afar acted as their spokesman. The Negus put the question: "What do you say about Jesus, the son of Mary?"

"Regarding him, we only say what has been revealed to our Prophet," replied Ja’afar. "And what is that?" enquired the Negus. "Our Prophet says that Jesus is the servant of God and His Prophet. His spirit and His word which He cast into Mary the Virgin."

The Negus was obviously excited by this reply and exclaimed: "By God, Jesus the son of Mary was exactly as your Prophet has described him"

The bishops around the Negus grunted in disgust at what they had heard and were reprimanded by the Negus.

He turned to the Muslims and said: "Go, for you are safe and secure. Whoever obstructs you will pay for it and whoever opposes you will be punished. For, by God, I would rather not have a mountain of gold than that anyone of you should come to any harm."

Turning to Amru and his companion, he instructed his attendants: "Return their gifts to these two men. I have no need of them." Amru and his companion left broken and frustrated. The Muslims stayed on in the land of the Negus who proved to be most generous and kind to his guests.

Ja’afar and his wife Asmah spent about ten years in Abyssinia which became a second home for them. There, Asmah gave birth to three children whom they named Abdullah, Muhammad and Awn. Their second child was possibly the first child in the history of the Muslim Ummah to be given the name Muhammad after the noble Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace.

In the seventh year of the hijrah, Ja’afar and his family left Abyssinia with a group of Muslims and headed for Madinah. When they arrived the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) was just returning from the successful conquest of Khaibar. He was so overjoyed at meeting Ja’afar that he said: "I do not know what fills me with more happiness, the conquest of Khaibar or the coming of Ja’afar." Muslims in general and the poor among them especially were just as happy with the return of Ja’afar as the Prophet was. Ja’afar quickly became known as a person who was much concerned for the welfare of the poor and indigent. For this he was nicknamed, the "Father of the Poor". Abu Hurairah said of him: "The best of men towards us indigent folk was Ja’afar ibn Abu Talib. He would pass by us on his way home and give us whatever food he had. Even if his own food had run out, he would send us a pot in which he had placed some butterfat and nothing more. We would open it and lick it clean..."

Ja’afar's stay in Madinah was not long. At the beginning of the eighth year of the hijrah, the Prophet mobilized an army to confront Byzantine forces in Syria because one of his emissaries who had gone in peace had been treacherously killed by a Byzantine governor. He appointed Zaid Ibn Harithah as commander of the army and gave the following instructions: "If Zaid is wounded or killed, Ja’afar ibn Abu Talib would take over the command. If Ja’afar is killed or wounded, then your commander would be Abdullah Ibn Rawahah. If Abdullah ibn Rawahah is killed, then let the Muslims choose for themselves a commander."

The Prophet SAW had never given such instructions to an army before and the Muslims took this as an indication that he expected the battle to be tough and that they would even suffer major losses. When the Muslim army reached Mutah, a small village situated among hills in Jordan, they discovered that the Byzantines had amassed a hundred thousand men backed up by a massive number of Christian Arabs from the tribes of Lakhm, Judham, Qudaah and others. The Muslim army only numbered three thousand.

Despite the great odds against them, the Muslim forces engaged the Byzantines in battle. Zaid Ibn Al-Harithah, the beloved companion of the Prophet, was among the first to fall. Ja’afar Ibn Abi Talib then assumed command. Mounted on his ruddy-complexioned horse, he penetrated deep into the Byzantine ranks. As he spurred his horse on, he called out: "How wonderful is Paradise as it draws near! How pleasant and cool is its drink! Punishment for the Byzantines is not far away!" Ja’afar continued to fight vigorously but was eventually slain. The third in command, Abdullah Ibn Rawahah, also fell. Khalid ibn al-Walid, the inveterate fighter who had recently accepted Islam, was then chosen as the commander. He made a tactical withdrawal, redeployed the Muslims and renewed the attack from several directions. Eventually, the bulk of the Byzantine forces fled in disarray.

The news of the death of his three commanders reached the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) in Madinah. The pain and grief he felt was intense. He went to Ja’afar's house and met his wife Asmah binti Umays. She was getting ready to receive her absent husband. She had prepared dough and bathed and clothed the children. Asmah said: "When the Messenger of God approached us, I saw a veil of sadness shrouding his noble face and I became very apprehensive. But I did not dare ask him about Ja’afar for fear that I would hear some unpleasant news. He greeted and asked, 'Where are Ja’afar's children?' I called them for him and they came and crowded around him happily, each one wanting to claim him for himself. He leaned over and hugged them while tears flowed from his eyes.

'O Messenger of God,' I asked, 'why do you cry? Have you heard anything about Ja’afar and his two companions?' 'Yes,' he replied. 'They have attained martyrdom.' The smiles and the laughter vanished from the faces of the little children when they heard their mother crying and wailing. Women came and gathered around Asmah. "O Asmah," said the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) , "don't say anything objectionable and don't beat your breast." He then prayed to God to protect and sustain the family of Ja’afar and assured them that he had attained Paradise. The Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) left Asmah's house and went to his daughter Fatimah who was also weeping. To her, he said: "For such as Ja’afar, you can (easily) cry yourself to death. Prepare food for Ja’afar's family for today they are beside themselves with grief."

[ Via Umnurah]

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