News of the growing power of the Muslims, as more and more of Arabia followed the Prophet (pbuh), eventually reached Heraclius, Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Romans saw the uniting of the Arabs in Islam as a possible threat to their Empire and the Emperor’s advisors and generals, therefore, decided that the best thing to do would be to attack the Muslims from the north and east at the same time and destroy Islam once and for all.
Two years had passed since Heraclius had told them of the Prophet’s letter asking them to submit to Islam, but just as then, they were in no mood now to listen to such ideas. When the Prophet (pbuh) heard of the Romans’ plans, he decided that it would be better to meet the Roman army in Tabuk, some 500 kilometers form Medinah on the route to Syria, than to await an attack on Medinah. One reason for this decision was that the Prophet (pbuh) felt that if the Muslims were defeated at Medinah, the city as well as the army would be taken, which would mean the end of Islam. This was a very hard decision for him to make because not only was Tabuk a very long way away, but it was also harvest time and a particularly hot year. Added to this was the fact that the enemy had an enormous army. Now at this time there were some people living in Medinah who were not true believers. They were called ‘hypocrites’ because they pretended to believe but hid what was truly in their hearts. When the Prophet (pbuh) everyone to war, these hypocrites tried to create fear and doubt among the Muslims, saying ‘How can we hope to defeat the Romans whose great empire stretches over vast areas of the world? And even if we could, we will not get the chance because the long journey and the heat will defeat us first. In any case, our crops and fruits are ready to be harvested; how can we leave them? We will be ruined if we do!’
All that the hypocrites said severely tested the Muslims. Who would continue to fight for his religion against such odds? Who would have the courage to give his wealth to help equip an army? This test of faith would indeed show who the true Muslims were. On this question, Allah revealed the following verse:
“O you who believe! What aileth you that when it is said unto you: Go forth in the way of Allah, you are bowed down to the ground with heaviness. Do you take pleasure in the life of the world rather than in the Hereafter? The comfort of the life of the world is but little in the Hereafter”. (Qur’an 9.38)
To form and equip an army the Prophet (pbuh) needed a great deal of money and despite all that the hypocrites had said, many Muslims, especially the Prophet‟s close friends, were willing to help. ‘Uthman Ibn
„Affan, for instance, generously provided horses and arms for ten thousand soldiers and Abu Bakr gave all that he had in the world. „Umar, too, gave a great deal, and in this way the Prophet (pbuh) was able to equip an army of forty thousand soldiers.
Finally everything was ready but just as they were about to leave, seven more men came to the Prophet (pbuh) to ask if they could go with him. Unfortunately, he had to refuse because there were no animals for them to ride. The seven men were so upset that they wept as they left. With nothing more to be done, the army moved off, but just then several spare camels were found. On learning of this, the Prophet (pbuh) sent for the seven men, who were overjoyed to find that they could join him in his fight.
By now the Romans had heard that the Muslims were coming out to meet them. They felt even more sure of victory when they heard this because they believed that it would be quite impossible for an army to cross a waterless desert in the scorching summer sun. Even if by some miracle the Muslims succeeded, they would be so exhausted that it would be easy to defeat them.
As it happed the heat was so intense and the journey so difficult that several Muslims did turn back. The Prophet (pbuh) and most of the others, however, continued until they finally ran out of water. The expedition now seemed hopeless as the men grew thirstier and thirstier. The Prophet (pbuh) prayed to Allah for help and, as he finished his prayer, the first drops of rain came splashing down. The rain continued to fall until all the Muslims had drunk their fill. That night they slept soundly for the first time in days, refreshed by the water and confident that Bilal would wake them as usual for the dawn prayer. But Bilal slept so deeply that he did not wake up. It was the first time that the Muslims had missed a prayer and they were very upset. The Prophet (pbuh), however, was not angry with Bilal and told the Muslims that they need not be upset because they had not intentionally missed the prayer.
The Prophet (pbuh) and his army continued their trek across the desert and finally arrived at the oasis of Tabuk. When they got there, however, they were surprised to find that the Roman army had retreated in fear on hearing of the miraculous crossing of the desert by the Muslims. The Prophet (pbuh) waited at the oasis for a while but when it became
apparent that the Romans were not going to fight, he gave the order to return home. The enemy was not pursued because the Prophet (pbuh) only fought when attacked. The long march to Tabuk had been yet another test of faith for the Muslims. Even so, there were still some among those who made that heroic journey who were hypocrites, pretending to be sincere while being enemies of Islam in their hearts. No one could have suspected that anyone who had made that journey across the desert with the Prophet (pbuh) would be an enemy of his.
Realizing this, several hypocrites plotted to kill the Prophet (pbuh) by pushing him off the top of a high, rocky passage that ran between the mountains of „Aqabah. Before the army reached this rocky passage, however, Allah warned the Prophet (pbuh) about this wicked plan. The Prophet (pbuh), therefore, ordered the entire army to travel through the valley while he and his two guards went by way of the cliff. As the plotters approached, he shouted to them so that they could see that he knew of their plan, whereupon they quickly ran back to the army and tried to hide among the rest of the soldiers.
Later, the Prophet (pbuh) gathered his followers around him and told them what had happened. He picked out the men who had plotted against him and even told them the exact words they had spoken to each other. Some of the Prophet’s companions said that these men should be killed, but the Prophet (pbuh) forgave them. As soon as he arrived back in Medinah, the Prophet (pbuh) went to the mosque and prayed. Many of the hypocrites and the lukewarm who had not gone with him to Tabuk came to give their reasons for not having done so. Three men of spiritual value who had not joined the army were subjected by the Prophet (pbuh) to the discipline of waiting for Allah’s forgiveness. For fifty days no one spoke to them. Finally, Allah revealed a verse to the Prophet (pbuh) which declared that these three men were forgiven:
“Allah hath turned in mercy to the Prophet, and to the Muhajirin and the Ansar who followed him in the hour of hardship. After the hearts of a party of them had almost swerved aside, then He turned unto them in mercy. Lo! He is full of Pity, Merciful. And to the three also (did He turn in mercy) who were left behind, when the earth, vast as it is, was straitened for them, and their own souls were straitened for them till they understood that there is no refuge from Allah save toward Him. Then He turned unto them in mercy that they (too) might turn (repentant unto Him). Lo! Allah! He is the Relenting, the Merciful. O you who believe! Be careful of your duty to Allah, and be with tile truthful”. (Qur’an 9.117- 119)