After the Conquest of Makkah, Caeser - Ruler of Byzantium, which was considered the greatest military force on earth at the time - could no longer turn a blind eye to the activities of the Muslims. He was anxiously aware of the Arab tribes' expectations of independence, and their hopes of getting free from his reign and influence. They could not ignore the alliance of the Arab tribes on his borders to the Muslims. So he concluded that the demolition of the Muslims' power had grown an urgent necessity. This decision of his should, in his opinion, be achieved before the Muslims become too powerful to conquer, and raise troubles and unrest in the adjacent Arab territories. Thus, Caeser raised a huge army of Byzantine and pro-Roman Ghassanide tribes to launch a decisive bloody battle against the Muslims. News of this army reached the Muslims and much fear spread in their hearts. After much deliberating on the situation, the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam made up his mind and ordered his companions to prepare for war. No sooner had the Muslims heard the voice of the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam calling them to fight the Byzantines, than they rushed to comply with his orders. Almost all the Muslims responded positively. Only those who had weakness in their hearts favoured to stay behind. They were only three people. Their story is told below:
Due to its particular circumstances, this invasion was a particularly severe trial provided by Allah only to try the believers' faith and sort them out from the others. This is Allah's permanent Will in such circumstances. In this respect He says:
"Allah will not leave the believers in the state in which you are in now, until He distinguishes the wicked from the good ... " [Al-Qur'an 3:179]
Lagging behind and hanging back from full participation in that invasion amounted to a degree of hypocrisy. Whenever the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam was informed of a man's lingering, he would say: "Leave him alone! If Allah knows him to be good, He will enable him to follow you; but if he were not so, Allah would relieve us of him."
Nobody stayed behind except those who were either hindered by a serious excuse or the hypocrites who told lies to Allah and His Messenger. Some of those hypocrites' lingering was due to an excuse based on forgery and delusion. Some others tarried, but didn't ask for instant permission. But there were three believers who unjustifiably lingered. They were the ones whose faith Allah tried, but later He returned to them in Mercy and accepted their repentance. One of the believers' stories is recorded in an authentic hadeeth:
It has been related by 'Abdullah ibn Ka'ab ibn Malik, who became Ka'ab's guide from amongst his children - when he became blind. He said: I heard Ka'ab ibn Malik speaking about the incident concerning his non-participation during the Battle of Tabuk. Ka'ab said:
"I was not absent from the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam during any campaign that he fought in, except the Battle of Tabuk. Nevertheless, I was absent from the Battle of Badr. However, no individual was admonished for non-participation. Indeed, the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam departed in search of a caravan of the Quraysh, thereafter certain events took place until Allah assembled the two armies unexpectedly. Verily, I witnessed the night of Al-'Aqabah (the Pledge) with the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, the night wherein we pledged our allegiance to Islam. Furthermore I would not exchange it for participation in the Battle of Badr, regardless of the fact that the Battle of Badr is deemed more noteworthy amongst the people. In relation to my news: I had never before been stronger nor wealthier than at the time I remained behind the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam during that campaign. By Allah - I had never before been in possession of two she-camels, until the time of the battle."
The Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam would conceal his intention to embark upon a military expedition by making reference to other campaigns, until the time for that expedition arrived.
The Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam conducted that expedition during a season of extreme heat, undertaking a lengthy journey through desert terrain. In addition, the enemy was great in number. Thus, the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, clarified the matter to the Muslims, in order that they prepare themselves adequately for their campaign, and he informed them of their intended destination. The Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam was accompanied by a considerable number of Muslims, whose names could not be recorded in a book. Ka'ab continued:
"Any individual who wished to remain absent would assume that his absence would pass unnoticed, unless it was revealed by Allah by means of Divine Revelation. The Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam undertook that expedition during a season wherein the fruit had ripened and the shade had become pleasant.
"The Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam and the Muslims equipped themselves with the necessary provisions. I too departed in order to prepare myself, however I returned without accomplishing anything. I would say to myself: I am able to prepare myself. Hence, I continued to postpone my preparations. However the people occupied themselves in earnest with the journey, until the day arrived wherein the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam and the Muslims proceeded to depart. However I had not completed any part of my preparations. I said to myself: I shall prepare myself in one or two days after his departure, and then I will join them.
"The morning after their departure, I set out in order to equip myself. However, I returned without completing anything. The following morning, I set out again, nevertheless, but I returned without accomplishing anything. This continued until they hastened towards the battle, and the campaign had passed by. Nevertheless, I intended to depart and reach them, would that I had done so! However, I was not destined to do that.
"After the departure of the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam I would enter amongst the people and it would become a cause of sadness for me. For I did not see except the one suspected of being a hypocrite, or the weak and infirm whom Allah had excused from participation.
"The Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam did not remember me until he arrived in Tabuk. He was sitting amongst his people in Tabuk and asked, 'What happened to Ka'ab?' A man from amongst the tribe of Bani Salimah responded: 'O Messenger of Allah, he was hindered by his garments and pleasure for his clothes and his self.'
"Mu'adh ibn Jabal said: 'What a wretched statement you have uttered. O Messenger of Allah, we do not know of him save goodness.'
"Hence, the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam became silent. Whilst he was in that position, he saw a man clothed in a white garment real in essence (not merely a desert mirage). The Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam said: 'May it be Abu Khaythama al-Ansari, he was the one who donated a measure of dates when the Munafiqin (Hypocrites) defamed him.' "
Ka'ab ibn Malik continued:
"When I learned that he had turned in order to return, I was consumed by distress, and started therefore to invent lies. I started to question myself: With what can I avoid his anger tomorrow? I sought assistance from every individual of sound mind and judgment from amongst my family.
"When it was mentioned that the Messenger of Allah's sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam arrival was imminent, the false excuses vanished from my mind. I recognized that I could not liberate myself from this predicament by means of falsehood. I therefore resolved to speak the truth.
"The Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam arrived the following morning. It was a practice of the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam that upon returning from a journey, he would proceed towards the Mosque and perform a two rak'ah prayer therein, and then sit amongst the people. After those matters had taken place, the absentees approached him. They started to present their excuses and take oaths to that effect. There were over eighty men in number. The Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam accepted their excuses, their oaths, and sought forgiveness on their behalf. In addition, he entrusted unto Allah their secret affairs. Thereafter I approached him, and conveyed the greeting upon him. He smiled - the smile of the one enraged. Then he said: 'Come forward.' I therefore approached him walking until I was sitting before him. Then he said: 'What prevented you from accompanying us? Had you not purchased a riding animal?'
"I responded: 'Of course O Messenger of Allah. However, by Allah, if I was in the presence of any other man from amongst the inhabitants of this World, I would avoid His wrath by presenting an excuse for I have been granted the ability to speak in an eloquently persuasive manner. However, I am aware that if I utter a lie today in order to seek your pleasure, certainly Allah will cause you to become enraged with me in the future. Alternatively, if I inform you of the truth, thereby causing you to become angry, I may nevertheless hope for Allah's Pardon. No, By Allah I have no excuse to present. I had never before been stronger nor wealthier than during the time I neglected to accompany you.'
"The Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam replied: 'In relation to this man - he has spoken the truth. Therefore, stand until Allah pronounces judgment in this matter.' I therefore stood, a group of men from the tribe of Bani Salimah became disorderly and started following me. They addressed me: 'By Allah - we have not known you to commit a misdeed. Verily you erred in not excusing yourself before the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam in a similar manner to the other absentees who excused themselves. The Messenger of Allah's sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam action of seeking forgiveness for your misdeed would have been sufficient for you.' They continued to reprimand me until I desired to return to the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam and fabricate a lie against myself (contradict my story).
"However I questioned them, 'Is there any other individual in a similar position?' They responded, 'Yes, there are two men who uttered the same statement as you and both received the same directive as you did. 'I asked: 'Who are these two men?' They answered: 'Murarah ibn al-Rabi' and Hilal ibn Umayyah al-Waqifi.'
"By their statement, they had made reference to two virtuous men who had participated in the Battle of Badr, and were examples to be followed. After they had mentioned these two men I remained steadfast upon my original statement.
"Thereafter, the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam prohibited the Muslims from speaking to us - namely the three individuals from amongst us who had neglected to accompany him.
"As a consequence the people avoided us and altered their conduct towards us, until the land wherein I lived appeared foreign, not one which I was familiar with. We remained in that state for a period of fifty nights. In relation to my companions - they surrendered themselves to their houses and remained seated therein, weeping. However, I was the youngest and most forbearing of the three, I would therefore exit the house in order to perform the prayer with the other Muslims.
"I would wander around the markets, yet no one would speak to me. I would approach the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam and convey the greeting upon him whilst he was sitting amidst his gatherings, which took place upon completion of the prayer. I would question myself: Did his lips move in the act of reciprocating the greeting upon me or not? Thereafter, I would perform the prayer close by him, and look towards him in a surreptitious manner. When I occupied myself with the prayer, he would turn towards me. However, when I looked in his direction, he would avoid me. When this period of estrangement lengthened, I set out to walk until I climbed upon the wall of Abu Qatadah's garden. He was my cousin and amongst the most beloved of people to me. I conveyed the greeting upon him, and by Allah - he did not reciprocate the greeting upon me. Hence, I said: 'O Abu Qatadah: I implore you by Allah, are you aware that I love Allah and His Messenger?' He remained silent. I appealed to him by Allah a second time, however he remained silent. Then he responded: 'Allah and His Messenger sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam are greater in knowledge.' Thereupon tears flowed from my eyes, I turned away and climbed over the wall."
"Whilst I was walking in the market in Madinah I saw a Christian farmer from amongst the farmers of Sham, who had traveled to Madinah in order to sell their produce. He said: 'Who shall direct me to towards Ka'ab bin Malik?' The people started to gesture towards me, until he approached me and presented me with a letter from the King of Ghassan, in which it was written:
'To proceed, it has come to our attention that your companion has dealt with you in a harsh manner. Allah has not rendered this world for you as a dwelling of disgrace and degradation, nor one of loss and ruin. So join us and we shall bestow upon you comfort and consolation.'
"Upon reading the letter I said to myself: This too is a trial placed before me. I therefore placed the letter in the oven and created a fire by burning it therein.
"When a period of forty out of fifty nights had passed, the messenger of the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam approached me and said: 'The Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam commands you to distance yourself from your wife.' I said: 'Should I divorce her, or what must I do?' He responded: 'No, distance yourself from her and do not approach her. The Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam has issued a similar directive to your two companions.' Hence, I said to my wife:
'Go to your parents and remain with them until Allah passes judgment in this matter.' "
"The wife of Hilal ibn Umayyah came to the Apostle of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam and said: 'O Messenger of Allah, verily Hilal bin Umayyah is an elderly man who is incapable of taking care of himself. Furthermore, he is not in possession of a servant, would you therefore object if I was to serve him?' He responded: 'No, but he must not approach you.' She said: 'By Allah, he has no desire for any matter. By Allah, he has not ceased to weep from the day this matter started until this time now.' Some of my family members questioned me: 'Why don't you seek permission from the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam concerning your wife, as he has granted permission for the wife of Hilal bin Umayyah to serve him?' I responded: 'By Allah, I shall not seek permission from the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam concerning her. I am not aware of what the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam would say if I sought his permission in relation to her whilst I am still a young man.' I remained in that state for an additional ten nights, until fifty nights had been completed from the point that he had prohibited the people from speaking to us.
"On the morning of the fiftieth night, I performed the Fajr prayer upon the roof of one of our houses. I was experiencing a condition which Allah had mentioned in the Book:
'My soul had become contracted, and the earth had contracted upon me despite its vastness.'
"Suddenly I heard a clear voice emanating from the direction of Mount Safa. Somebody announced with his loudest voice: 'O Ka'ab bin Malik, I confer upon you glad tidings!' I prostrated myself upon the ground. I realized that relief from this tribulation had arrived and that the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam had indicated that Allah had granted us penitence. After the Fajr prayer, the people thereupon proceeded forth to congratulate us, and bearers of glad tidings departed to my two companions. A horseman raced towards me in order to congratulate me and a messenger from the tribe of Aslam raced towards the mountain and scaled it in order to make the announcement. I heard his voice before that of the horseman. When the individual whose voice I had heard approached me to convey the glad tidings, I removed my garments and clothed him in them. By Allah, on that day I was not in possession of any other garments, I therefore borrowed two items, clothed myself and proceeded towards the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam. People started receiving me in groups, congratulating me upon the acceptance of my penitence. They said: 'We congratulate you upon Allah's acceptance of your repentance.' When I entered the Mosque, the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam was sitting, surrounded by people. Talhah ibn 'Ubaydullah hastened towards me. He shook my hand, and congratulated me. By Allah, no one from amongst the Muhajirin (Emigrants) stood in order to greet me save him, and I shall never forget Talhah's action in doing so.
"When I greeted the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, his face was radiant with happiness, and he said: 'I give you the glad tidings of the best day you have witnessed since your mother gave birth to you.' I asked, ipation in that invasion amounted to a degree of hypocri'Is this from you or from Allah?' He responded, 'It is from Allah.'
"Whenever the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam became delighted, his face became illuminated until it resembled a piece of the moon. We recognized that this matter was characteristic of him. When I sat before him, I said: 'O Messenger of Allah, by virtue of the acceptance of my repentance, I shall donate the sum total of my wealth in charity for the sake of Allah and His Messenger.' The Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam responded: 'Retain a portion of your wealth, for it is better for you to do so.' I said: 'I shall retain a portion of my wealth in Khaybar. O Messenger of Allah, verily Allah has delivered me from this tribulation because I spoke the truth. My penitence therefore dictates that I shall speak only the truth as long as I live.'
"By Allah, I am not aware of any individual from amongst the Muslims whom Allah has blessed for speaking the truth more than myself, from the time wherein I mentioned those words of truth to the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam. In addition, I have never intended to utter a falsehood from the time wherein I mentioned those words of truth to the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam to the present day. Furthermore, I hope that Allah will protect me from uttering falsehood during the remaining portion of my life. Allah revealed the Verse to His Messenger:
"Allah has forgiven the Prophet, the Muhajirin, and the Ansar ... be with those who are truthful ... " [Al-Qur'an 9:117-119]
"By Allah, after guiding me to Islam, Allah has not bestowed upon me a favour - greater in magnitude - than my statement of truth to the Apostle of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, and my action of not uttering a lie to him. For I would have destroyed myself, as those who uttered lies were destroyed. Allah ascribed to those who had uttered falsehood, a description more evil than he had ascribed to any other individual, when He revealed His Revelation. Allah, Blessed be He, the Most High stated:
'They will swear by Allah to you when you return to them, that you may turn away from them. So turn away from them. Surely, they are impure, and Hell is their dwelling place - a recompense for that which they used to earn. They (the hypocrites) swear to you (Muslims) that you may be pleased with them, but if you are pleased with them, certainly Allah is not pleased with people who are rebellious.' [Al-Qur'an 9:95-96]"
"We, the three who neglected to participate, differed from those whose excuses were accepted by the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam when they swore to him to that effect. He accepted their pledge of allegiance and sought forgiveness for them. However, the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam deferred our case until Allah passed judgment in relation to it. With reference to that, Allah said: 'He also forgave the three who remained behind ... ' [Qur'an 9:118]
"In this Verse Allah did not refer to our non-participation in the military expedition. However it refers to the postponement and deferment of the Messenger sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam in the act of passing judgment. In contrast to the one who took an oath before him and excused himself: an action which was accepted by the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam."
In a different narration: The Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam departed for the Battle of Tabuk on Thursday, he would love to set out on a Thursday. In a further narration: He would not return from a journey save during the day time before noon. Upon arrival, he would proceed towards the Mosque and perform a two rak'ah prayer. Thereafter, he would sit." [Collected: Bukhari (4418), Kitab al-Maghazi, and Muslim (2769), Kitab at-Tawbah]
As for those who were needy and poor, even they came to the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam out of a yearning desire to join the blessed Jihad. However, the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam could find no mounts for them, and they turned away, grief stricken with their eyes full of tears that they could not accompany the expedition. Regarding them, Allah mentioned in the Qur'an:
"Nor (is there blame) on those who came to you to be provided with mounts, and when you said: 'I can find no mounts for you,' they turned back, while their eyes overflowing with tears of grief that they could not find anything to spend (for Jihad)." [Al-Qur'an 9:92]
And regarding them, the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam said to his companions as they returned to Madinah:
"Inside Madinah, there are certain men, who though being left back due to serious excuses, they have, all the time, been with you. Lingerers as they are, they have been while you were passing valleys or walking along roads."
"Do you mean that they have done that while they are still in Madinah?" They wondered.
"Yes though they are in Madinah."