The Expedition of Tabuk
The battle of Mootah in which the Muslims were
defeated, was fought in September 629. Their defeat was interpreted in many circles as a
sign of decline in the power of the new Islamic State. The Arab freebooters must have
found it very tempting to attack Medina after this fancied decline. But in the summer of
630, rumors were circulating in Medina that it were not the North Arabian tribes but the
Roman troops which were massing at the Syrian frontier for an invasion of Hijaz.
Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, decided to take
preventive action for the defense of Medina, and ordered his followers to prepare
themselves for a long campaign in the north.
It was the month of September, and the weather in
Hijaz that year was exceedingly hot. Furthermore, a protracted draught threatened the
province with conditions of semi-famine. The response of the Muslims, therefore, to the
call-up was very lukewarm. They did not wish to leave their homes at a time like this.
Sir John Glubb
In September or October 630 the Messenger of God
gave orders to prepare for an expedition to the Byzantine frontier. The weather in the
Hijaz was still oppressively hot, water and grazing were scarce, and the movements of a
large force would be extremely difficult. Perhaps the memories of the disaster at Mootah
deprived many men of the wish to face the Byzantines again. (The Life and Times of
The hypocrites in Medina seized this opportunity to
plant disaffection in the minds of the neophytes in Islam. They not only did not take part
in the campaign but also tried to dissuadeothers from doing so. In an attempt to undermine
the will and purpose of the Muslims, they began to spread alarmist stories that the
antagonists this time were not the poor, ill-equipped, backward and ignorant tribal levies
which fought without order and without discipline but the Romans who were the most
civilized and the most powerful nation in the world, and who, in effect, would exterminate
them (the Muslims).
Nevertheless, many Muslims responded to the appeal
of the Prophet, and took up arms to defend the faith. When a head-count was taken, there
were found to be 30,000 volunteers. It was the largest force ever assembled in Arabia
The Prophet appointed Ali ibn Abi Talib his viceroy
in Medina during his own absence. He selected Ali to be his viceroy for the following
1. He wanted to show to the rest of the world that
he considered Ali to be more qualified than anyone else to be the ruler of all Muslims,
and to be the head of the Islamic State. He, therefore, appointed him as his
representative in his capital.
2. All fighting men were going with the expedition,
leavingMedina without any troops. In the event of an attack upon the city by the nomadic
predators, Ali could be counted upon to handle the situation by dint of his courage and
3. Many hypocrites had stayed behind in Medina, and
many others had deserted the army to return to the city. They were a potential threat to
the security of the capital of Islam. The Prophet, therefore, selected a man to rule in
his place who was capable of defending Medina against any pagan advance, either by
external aggression or through internal subversion.
For the hypocrites there was nothing more
disagreeable than to see Ali in authority over them. When the army left Medina, they began
to whisper that the Apostle had left Ali in Medina because he wanted to get rid of him.
Ali was mortified to hear that his master had found him a "burden." He,
therefore, immediately went after the army and overtook it at Jorf. The Apostle was
surprised to see him but when he (Ali) explained why he came, he (the Apostle) said:
"These people are liars. I left you in Medina
to represent me in my absence. Are you not content to be to me what Aaron was to Moses
except that there will not be any prophet after me."
Many have inferred from the foregoing that Mohammed
intended Ali for his caliph or successor; that being the significance of the Arabic word
used to denote the relation of Aaron to Moses. (The Life of Mohammed)
Ali was satisfied by the assurance that the Prophet
gave him, and returned to Medina to take charge of his duties as viceroy.
When the Prophet gave audience to Ali in his camp at
Jorf, some of his companions were with him. One of them was Saad bin Abi Waqqas, the
future victor of the battle of Qadsiyya against the Persians. He reported to the other
Muslims that it was in his presence that Muhammad Mustafa, the Messenger of God, told Ali
that he (Ali) was to him (Muhammad) what Aaron was to Moses, except that he (Ali) was not
After a laborious march the army arrived at the
Syrian frontier, and halted at a hamlet called Tabuk but the Prophet could find no sign of
the Roman army or of any other army or enemy. The frontier was peaceful and quiet. The
reports he had heard in Medina about an imminent invasion by the Romans, were false.
Peace and tranquillity on the Syrian frontier is
another proof that the Romans considered the battle of Mootah as nothing more than a foray
by a band of desert Arabs. If Mootah had been such a titanic battle as some Muslim
historians claim it was, the Romans would have maintained their garrisons on the border.
But they didn't maintain even pickets much less garrisons!
The Messenger of God then pondered the next step to
be taken in Tabuk.
Calling a council of war, he (Mohammed) propounded
thequestion whether or not to continue forward (from Tabuk). To this Omar replied drily:
"If thou has the command of God to proceed further, do so." "If I had the
command of God to proceed further," observed Mohammed, "I should not have asked
thy counsel." (The Life of Mohammed)
Eventually, the Prophet decided not to advance into
Syria but to return to Medina.
The army spent ten days in Tabuk. Though it had not
been engaged in any action, its presence at the frontier had some salutary effects. Many
northern tribes of Bedouins accepted Islam. Dauma-tul-Jandal, a strategic post between
Medina and Syria, was acquired as new territory.
Just before the army left Tabuk, the monks of the
monastery of St. Catherine in the valley of Sinai, came to see the Prophet. He gave them
audience, and granted them a charter which is comparable to the Charter of Medina which he
had granted to the Jews. Its main terms were:
1. The Muslims would protect the churches and
monasteries of the Christians. They would not demolish any church property either to build
mosques or to build houses for the Muslims.
2. All ecclesiastical property (of the Christians)
would be exempt from every tax.
3. No ecclesiastical authority would ever be forced
by the Muslims to abandon his post.
4. No Christian would ever be forced by the Muslims
to become a convert to Islam.
5. If a Christian woman marries a Muslim, she would
have full freedom to follow her own religion.
The army recuperated from the toil and fatigue of
the long journey, and the Prophet gave it the signal to return home. He arrived in Medina
after an absence of one month.