Hijrah and Shahadah: Dynamics of Movement and Change

Throughout Muslim history, the Hijrah has engendered a movement of people from land to land, through sea and land: their purposes varied, their intentions many. To the Prophet, however, only that Hijrah was a movement towards God which was done explicitly with the intention of pleasing Him as in the safeguarding of one’s faith and practice, in Jihad in the path of God, and in the search for knowledge of that which would bring one closer to one’s Creator, writes BIJU ABDUL QADIR.


“I flew with the wings you gave me,

And burnt myself with the fire of my song;


The Muslims that made death tremble with fear,

I searched in the world but did not find,”


“One night before God I wailed,

Down in the world why Muslims are?


Came the reply: ‘Don’t you know?

This community possesses the heart, but not the beloved.’” ~ Allama Iqbal


Two figures on the road.

Sad, but sure; thoughtful, but confident.

Six hundred and twenty-two years after the Hijrah of Christ.

That was when and how it began; in its stark, deceptive, simplicity; in its clear and present danger; its grim but certain foreboding.

Muhammad’s mission at Makkah had come to this end after thirteen years of selfless effort at trying to convince his people – the Quraysh: the tribe into which it was his destiny to be born, reared and raised as the Seal of Messengers from God to humanity. The Quraysh once, not long ago, knew him as one of their own. Indeed, that was the time when they would hail him as the Trustworthy. But that they had known him thus was before those thirteen long years. Now those years had passed them by: thirteen years when the changing vicissitudes – the dwindling misfortunes and the rising fortunes – of a persecuted Prophet and his followers were writ large on the horizons of a new and unfolding chapter in human history.

Persecuted by his own people for his firm refusal to give in to their demands at compromising the Last Revelation of which he was the carrier, Muhammad had become a fugitive from the land of his birth, or so to say. Miraculously escaping a well-planned, last-ditch, attempt on his life, he was now out of Makkah with his trusted friend and companion, Abu Bakr, on their way to Yathrib: the land of new hopes, of new dreams and a new life.

However, Muhammad’s emigration from Makkah – which would, in time, divide history as before and after the event – would not be in absolute happiness, though in absolute willingness. Indeed, some way out of Makkah, did he halt, turn around, look upon the town and say:

‘Of all God’s earth, thou art the dearest place unto me and the dearest unto God, and had not my people driven me out from thee, I would not have left thee.’

Muhammad’s migration – or Hijrah in Arabic – was, thus, a forced exile that came after his having weathered the storms at Makkah, the while he and his companions were clinging tenaciously to their faith, as other men would to their lives. For by the end of the thirteenth year of the mission, their lives had been consecrated in the service of the Cause of all causes.

Of the King of all kings.

Of the Master of the Last Home of all journeying.

Yet, such commitment as was displayed by the Prophet and his companions inevitably presupposed a readiness to sacrifice, and sacrifice in all its forms: torture – both physical and mental – at the hands of the powers that be, losses in property and prestige among men, and the ever-so-graver severing of blood ties.

Crowning this list of sacrifices stand the towering and magisterial elements of Hijrah and Shahaadah.

Exile and martyrdom.

In exile, if the Muslim is the Muhaajir, the migrant, in martyrdom he is the Shaheed, the martyr: the ultimate witness to the Truth, the pulsating heart of man’s history and from whose spilt blood new life emerges, and generations are reborn, revitalized. In Islamic eschatology, both states – Hijrah and Shahadah – at once imply tangible, temporary losses, but also intangible, eternal gains. The Qur’an had a remarkable way of expressing this point:

“O ye who believe! Hasten thou unto God and His messenger when they exhort you to that which will give you life.”

The context of this verse is of defining, over-riding, importance. Revealed on the occasion of the Prophet’s expedition to far-off Tabuk, against the formidable imperial legions of Rome in the deadly heat of an Arabian summer of harvest, it was a divine ratification of his call to arms which, to many, was, in fact, a call to certain death.

That the Qur’an saw this certain death, instead, as an opportunity for eternal life gives us an indirect idea of the now-unbridgeable void that separates the psyches of the earliest companions of the Prophet and those of his followers of today. We know, thereby, of the magnitude of the relative paradigm-shift that transpires betwixt Muslim resurgence and decadence in every age. Indeed, it is here, and here alone – in this world of inverted meaning springing up in terms of the value of life here and hereafter – that Hijrah and Shahaadah both come into their own; that both assume the dynamics of movement and change in raising the level of the human, in altering the course of history.

The prerogative of the Muslim, therefore, is not always to live the life of ease and comfort. Rather, it is oftener to live the life of cosmic danger. To be sure, in a perpetual struggle against the twin vices of injustice and oppression, danger lurks at every corner, at every bend and turn in his path. But then, that is also his pride, for as Plato once said, he is forever ‘doomed to love the good.’

As the last messenger of the Divine, Muhammad’s was to be a clearer elucidation when he said, “The Muhaajir is the one who shuns what Allah has prohibited.” Starting from this perspective of inner reformation, the Hijrah would also encompass, as a natural corollary, the physical movement from a place hostile to the life and practice of a Muslim to one where freedom of faith and security of life are assured.

Mahmud b. Umar al-Zamakhshari (d. 1144 CE), a noted twelfth-century commentator of the Qur’an and the author of the al-Kashshaf – a work of Qur’anic exegesis popular to this day – was persecuted for his rationalist leanings and was forced to flee to Makkah. This personal Hijrah of al-Zamakhshari has been immortalized through the title that has come to be appended to his name ever since: Jaarh Allah, or the ‘Neighbour of God.’ In conscious memory of his own ordeal, al- Zamakhshari added a moving prayer in his commentary on the Qur’anic verse (4: 97) – the verse in Surah Nisa` which deals singularly and uncompromisingly with the obligation of the Hijrah. His touching appeal to God would read thus:

“O God! If You know that my Hijrah to You was with the full purpose of fleeing with my faith, then let it contribute to my good end and achievement, as I desire Your favor and mercy. And reward me with Your nearness in the abode of Your graciousness in return for my seclusion at Your House!”

Zamakhshari did not leave his footprints behind him as he trod the Hijrah-road. He left his foot, arriving at Makkah with one, leaving another behind him as his tribute to the frost-bite cold: his testimonial on the Road to Makkah, the symbol of sacrifice, the Milestone on the way.

Throughout Muslim history, the Hijrah – whether in flight (Harab) from danger or in pursuit (Talab) after a cause – has engendered a movement of people from land to land, through sea and land: their purposes varied, their intentions many. To the Prophet, however, only that Hijrah was a movement towards God which was done explicitly with the intention of pleasing Him as in the safeguarding of one’s faith and practice, in Jihad in the path of God, and in the search for knowledge of that which would bring one closer to one’s Creator.

It has been reported that Caliph Umar b. al-Khattab once addressed a group of the emigrants from Makkah (or the Muhaajirun) at Madinah and admonished them thus: “Do not purchase property in Makkah, for the heart is where your properties are.” A state of continuous Hijrah in which they would ever remain the Muhajirun – the migrant to God – was, perhaps, foremost in Umar’s mind. Or would he have meant a perpetual movement towards the vastness of the next world, as against the restricting confines of this life?

In applying the possibilities of the Hijrah, this critical need – to understand fully the issues involved in prioritizing them for the Ummah in the light of prevailing realities as also the requirements of the Shari`ah – must find its true fulfillment if Muslims are to live a life that finds the good pleasure of God in its most perfect sense.

A life that would render them, like al-Zamakhshari, Jaarh Allah, not Jaarh Ghayr-Allah: the ‘Neighbor of God,’ not the ‘Neighbor of other-than-God.’

A life in movement of the Harab and the Talab towards God.

Not a Harab and a Talab away from God.

Then alone would the Hijrahs of Ibrahim and Musa – and their defiance, and eventual defeat, of Nimrod and Pharaoh – find their truest followers in the later community of Muhammad, as they did in the earlier.

Then alone will Iqbal be vindicated in his poetry of Islam coming alive following each and every Karbala.

Then alone will Muharram have its significance in continuing space and time.

In remembrance of a tradition of triumph.

Of truth over falsehood.

Of Good over Evil.

Of two figures on the road.

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