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Hegira: is the resettlement of Muhammad and those that followed him to Yathrib (Medina).

From Mecca to Medina

The oasis of Yathrib (later called Medina), located more than 200 miles north of Mecca, presented a solution to Mohammed’s problem. The Yathrib community’s chieftains were desperate to settle old feuds that made it a violent place. They approached Mohammed to solve this problem in 620 AD. The start of Hegira is recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History at the beginning of the 6th century AD. Two years later, the Chieftains made a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca to worship at the Kaaba. They also came with a mission: to pledge allegiance to Mohammed and become new converts to Islam. In return, Mohammed, along with his followers from Mecca, would join them in Yathrib to mediate between the warring people in their community and defend each other from common enemies. This offer made a lot of sense for Mohammed. Persecution from the Quraysh authorities had intensified in recent years since Mohammed first preached about Islam. This was not the first time he was forced to send the first converts away from Mecca. The first migration was in 615 AD when Mohammed sent his followers to the court of the Christian king of Ethiopia, Ashama ibn-Abjar, for protection from the Quraysh leaders.

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That was the first Hegira (also called Hijrah) in Islam’s history, but the migration the Muslims made from Mecca to Medina was the most significant for the community. Quietly, over a period of two months in 622 AD, the Muslims of Mecca slipped out in small numbers from under the watchful eyes of the Quraysh leaders. When all of his followers reached safety in Medina, Mohammed made plans to escape along with his friend, Abu Bakr (his cousin, Ali ibn Abi Talib, stayed behind).

Assassins were sent to Mohammed’s house on the night of their escape, but they safely made their way out of the city and spent the night inside a cave to escape the assassins. The search continued in Mecca, and the assassins followed them outside the city until they reached the mouth of the cave where the two stayed, but they failed to find them inside the cave. The two runaways eventually reached Quba after several days’ journey in the Arabian desert and Mohammed oversaw the construction of a mosque in the area for two weeks before he continued to the city of Medina itself.

“The Hijrah and other earlier Muslim migrations”

New City, Old Realities

The Arabian peninsula was a harsh land to live in, and it was no different in the city of Medina. There were few sources of food in the Oasis and the mad scramble for resources sometimes turned bloody. In this unforgiving environment, petty quarrels sometimes turned into blood feuds and people needed their tribe to protect them and help them survive. The tribalism that dominated the people of Mecca obviously did not work, so Hegira became a way for them to unite beyond their tribes.

From the old tribal ways and worship of pagan gods of Mecca, the Muslims could now start fresh in Medina. Their new community was made up of women and men from the poorest up to the richest, as well as Jews and pagans. For them, early Islam was more than just a new religion. It offered an inclusive community where Muslims, pagans, Christians, Jews, and people from different social classes could live with each other and help one another survive in this harsh land.

But all was not well in Medina and for the next two years, the former Meccans remained poor as the city could only support so many people. Apart from the original pagan inhabitants plus the new Muslims, there were also a significant number of Jews who lived in the city. They reached such prominence and wealth that their clans were also considered important in Medina. The new city had few acres of land suitable for farming, and this meant Mohammed would have to find a way to keep his new followers from starvation. For Mohammed, there was only one viable solution: they raided the rich Meccan caravans that passed through the area and returned home to Medina with the loot. This would be their source of income for several years after the Hegira.

Picture By ExploreTheMedOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Armstrong, Karen. Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992.
Esposito, John L. The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Rodinson, Maxime. Muhammad: Prophet of Islam. London: I.B. Tauris, 2002.
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