Jafar ibn Abi Talib
In spite of his noble standing among the Quraysh, Abu Talib, an uncle of the Prophet, 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 theArabian 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: "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. It 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 into his household and al-Abbas took Jafar into his. Jafar stayed with his uncle, al-Abbas, until he was a young man.
He embraced Islam and was raised to a high station among the early believers. On the same day, his wife, Asmaa' Bint 'Umais, submitted herself to Islam. They had their share of abuse and oppression, which they withstood with courage and joy. When the Prophet (PBUH) advised his Companions to immigrate toAbyssinia, Ja'far and his wife were among those who acted upon his advice.
When the Quraysh 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 wasMecca. They sent two of their most formidable men, Amr ibn al-Aas and Abdullah ibn Abi Rabiah, to accomplish this task and loaded them with valuable and much sought after presents for the Negus and his bishops.
Amr and Abdullah 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 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 Jafar ibn Abi 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 Qurayshite 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 nor the religion of any other community."
Jafar 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 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 Ramadan.
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 m your midst."
When Ja'far finished his glorious words which were as clear as daylight, the Negus was gripped by compassion and grace. He addressed Ja'far saying, "Do you have a scroll on which you have written the words of your Prophet?" Ja'far replied, "Yes.""Then read it to me," requested the Negus. Jafar, 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..." . The meeting was over. Allah had helped the Muslims and made their feet firm; whereas the Quraish delegates were bitterly defeated. Yet 'Amr Ibn Al-'Aas was a resourceful, crafty man who could neither accept defeat nor despair easily. Therefore, no sooner had he returned to their residence than he sat turning the matter over in his mind. Then he addressed his comrade saying, "By Allah, I will go to the Negus tomorrow and I will pluck the Muslims out from this land once and for all." His comrade replied, "You must not do that, for despite their disobedience, they are still related to us." 'Amr said, "By Allah, I will tell the Negus that they claim that "Jesus is a slave like the rest of Allah's slaves." Thus the web was spun by the shrewd delegate so as to lead the Muslims unawares right into the trap. The Muslims were put in a tight comer, for if they said that Jesus was Allah's slave, they would incite the king and bishops against them, and if they denied the fact that he was human, then they would turn from their religion.
On the following day, 'Amr hastened to meet the king and said, "Your Majesty, those Muslims utter an awful saying against Jesus." At once, the bishops were agitated by this short but fatal sentence. They asked the Muslims once again to meet the king so as to clarify their religious standpoint concerning Jesus.
When the Muslims found out about the new plot, they discussed the possibilities, and then agreed to say nothing but the truth as said by the Prophet (PBUH), regardless of the consequences. Once again, the audience was held and the Negus started it by asking Ja'far, "What does your religion say about Jesus?" Ja'far, stood once again like a gleaming lighthouse and said, "We say what has descended on our Prophet (PBUH): he is Allah's slave, Messenger, His word which He bestowed, and a spirit created by Him." The Negus cried out in assent and said that the same words had been said by ''Jesus to describe himself, but the lines of bishops roared in disapproval. Nevertheless, the enlightened, believing the Negus declared, "You are free to go now. My land is your sanctuary. Anyone who dares to abuse or mistreat you in any way will be severely punished." He addressed his retinue and pointed towards the Quraish delegation declaring, "Give them back their presents, for I do not want them. By Allah, Allah did not take a bribe from me when He restored my kingdom; therefore, I will not be bribed against Him!"
After the Quraish delegates had been utterly disgraced, they headed back toMecca.
The Muslims headed by Ja'far went on with their secure life in Abyssinia. They settled in the "most hospitable land of the most hospitable people" until Allah gave them permission to return to their Prophet (PBUH), who was celebrating with the Muslims the conquest of Khaibar when Ja'afar and the rest of the emigrants to Abyssinia arrived. The Prophet's (PBUH) heart was filled with joy, happiness, and optimism.
Jafar'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 inSyria because one of his emissaries who had gone in peace had been treacherously killed by a Byzantine governor. He appointed Zayd ibn Harithah as commander of the army and gave the following instructions: "If Zayd is wounded or killed, Jafar ibn Abi Talib would take over the command. If Jafar 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 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 inJordan, 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. Zayd ibn al-Harithah, the beloved companion of the Prophet, was among the first to fall. Jafar 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 isParadise as it draws near! How pleasant and cool is its drink! Punishment for the Byzantines is not far away!" Jafar 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 in Madinah. The pain and grief he felt was intense. He went to Jafar's house and met his wife Asma. She was getting ready to receive her absent husband. She had prepared dough and bathed and clothed the children. Asma 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 Jafar for fear that I would hear some unpleasant news. He greeted and asked, 'Where are Jaffar'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 Jafar 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 Asma.
"O Asma," said the Prophet, "don't say anything objectionable and don't beat your breast." He then prayed to God to protect and sustain the family of Jafar and assured them that he had attainedParadise.
The Prophet left Asma's house and went to his daughter Fatima who was also weeping. To her, he said: "For such as Jafar, you can (easily) cry yourself to death. Prepare food for Jafar's family for today they are beside themselves with grief."
Hassaan Ibn Thaabit, the poet laureate of Islam, lamented the death of Ja'afar and his Companions saying:
At daybreak a man of a blessed nature and graceful face
Commanded the believers to death.
His face was as bright as the moon.
He was a proud man who descended from Al Haashim.
He was a valiant man who rushed to help the oppressed.
He fought until he was martyred
And his reward was Paradise where there are lush green gardens.
Ja'far was loyal and obedient to Muhammad.
If Islam lost one of Al-Haashim,
There are still honorable and pious men of them
Who are the support and pride of Islam.