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The expedition of Tabuk the last of the Prophet’s conquests

The expedition of Tabuk the last of the Prophet’s conquests

Name of the expedition

It was called the expedition of Tabuk, after the water spring which the Muslim army reached to fight the Roman army.

It is also called the Expedition of Great Difficulties because of the extreme heat, the hunger and thirst, as well as the far distance and the great difficulties involved.

Moreover, it is called the Exposer, as it uncovered the hypocrites who left the army early during the campaign; therefore, Allah threatened them with punishment.

Location and date of the expedition of Tabuk

The expedition occurred in the month of Rajib in 9 A.H., in the area between the Al-Qura Valley and Ash-Sham, north Al-Hijaz, overlooking the Red Sea, and for this reason it was considered a meeting point between the Arabian Penninsula and the Romans. It was part of the district of the tribe of Qada’a, which was under the control of the Romans at that time.

The leader of the expedition of Tabuk

The Prophet (peace be upon him) was the leader in the battle, leading 30,000 Muslim soldiers. Hercules, the King of the Romans, confronted the Muslims with an army consisting of 40,000 Roman and Arab soldiers.

Reasons for the expedition of Tabuk (the expedition of great difficulties)

The expedition was a reply to the huge army of Roman and Arab disbelievers that had gathered to eliminate the Islamic forces led by the Prophet (peace be upon him), which, after the Liberation of Mecca, became a major threat to paganism and disbelief in the whole world. 

The main motive of the campaign was to invite the disbelievers to Allah’s religion, following the order in Allah’s saying, {Oh you who have believed, fight with the disbelievers who are near you, and they should find you firm and stern, and know that Allah is with the ones who fear Allah} [Surah At-Tawba: 123].

Some authors of the Prophet’s biography, eg. Ibn Katheer, considered that the result of the conflict was a form of compensation for the financial harm suffered by Quraish due to the disbelievers being prohibited from entering Mecca, as indicated in the verse {Oh you who have believed! the idolaters are unclean, so after this year they should not come near the sacred mosque (in Mecca). If you fear impoverishment, Allah will enrich you from His bounty if He wills. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise} [At-Tawba: 28.]

Events of the expedition of Tabuk

The Prophet (peace be upon him) took the initiative to attack Rome

Allah ordered the believers to fight the Jews and Christians, who had waged war against the religion of Islam, after the Arabian Peninsula had come under the believers control following the liberation of Mecca. This order was first implemented with the Romans due to their close proximity to the Arabs.

The Nabaetaean traders had told the Prophet (peace be upon him) that the Romans had gathered to confront the Muslims, and that they had sought help from the tribes of Lakhm and Jutham.  Therefore, the Prophet (peace be upon him) wanted to fight them before they started to fight him [At-Tabaqat Al-Kubra, Ibn Saad, 2/65].

The Prophet (peace be upon him) called the fighters from the different tribes. About 3000 soldiers came, but a large number of hypocrites stayed behind. There was a drought and the weather was very hot that year.

The Prophet (peace be upon him)  left, heading for Ash-Sham, to fight the Romans. They reached Tabuk, where they stayed for about twenty days.

The call to fight

When the Prophet (peace be upon him) learnt about the bad intentions of the Romans, he called the neighbouring Arab tribes and the people of Mecca to mobilize for the conflict. The difficult circumstances due to the hot weather and the lack of water and crops that year did not stop them from answering the call. This is because it was clear that Allah (Glory be to Him) had stipulated fighting. And indeed, the soldiers thronged towards Medinah from every hillside.

Declaration of war

This was the first time that the Prophet (peace be upon him) announced his destination early in the campaign, and that he was going to fight the Romans. He realized that travelling in the very hot, arid desert would be difficult and that supplies were scarce. For this reason, the soldiers had to have special training, especially since the Romans were experienced in intense combat and had much practice in warfare. [The Messenger as a Leader by Mohammed Shayit Khattab, 398].

The Companions spend on the army of great difficulties

The excellence of Othman (may Allah be pleased with him): the Prophet (peace be upon him) ordered his companions to give charity to prepare the army of great difficulties. Othman ibn Affan was the companion who gave the largest amount for this; he donated 300 animals in the cause of Allah. Consequently, the Prophet (peace be upon him) came down from the pulpit while saying, < No matter what (mistakes) Othman may do after this, this act will compensate for them> [related by At-Tirmidhi, 3700]. Another narration states that Othman went to the Prophet (peace be upon him) with 1000 dinars in his garment, and the Prophet (peace be upon him) held them in his hands, saying, <No deed Ibn Affan does will harm him after today> [related by Ahmed 5/63].

Abu Bakr and Umar (may Allah be pleased with them): As for Umar ibn Al-Khattab, he gave away half of his money, thinking that he had outdone Abu Bakr As-Siddiq. So the Prophet (peace be upon him) said to Abu Bakr, <‘What is left for your family?’ Abu Bakr replied, ‘I left them Allah and His Messenger.’ Consequently, Umar said, ‘I will never be able to outdo you in anything’> [related by Abu Dawud, 1678].

The greatest form of spending: it has been reported that Abdurrahman ibn Auf (may Allah be pleased with him) spent 2000 dirhams, half of his money, to equipment the army of great difficulties. Some other companions spent large amounts of money, eg. Abbas ibn Abdul-Muttalib, Talha ibn Abayd Allah, Mohammed ibn Maslamah, and Asim ibn Ady (may Allah be pleased with them) [The Battles by Al-Waqidi, 3/391].

The charity of the poor: when the poor Companions learnt that the Prophet (peace be upon him) had ordered the people to spend to prepare the army, they became very upset as they did not own anything to spend on preparing the army. Concerning those of them who the hypocrites used to sarcastically joke about, Allah (Glory be to Him) revealed the following verse, {(Allah fully knows those greedy rich people) who find fault with the charity of those Believers who make willing and voluntary contributions generously, (those) who also scoff at the people who find nothing to contribute (to the cause of Allah) except what little they contribute, sacrificing their own needs. Allah scoffs at those who scoff, and there is a painful punishment in store for them} [Surah At-Tawba: 79].

Some of the stories about the charity of such Companions include:

‘Ulbah ibn Zayd (may Allah be pleased with him), one of the poor Companions, gave charity by saying that he had forgiven all those who had oppressed him.

A group of them, led by Abu Musa Al-Ash'ari, cried bitterly when they had approached the army asking for camels to leave to fight but did not find any. Some of them were even sick, disabled and destitute. Allah (Glory be to Him) revealed the following about them, {Nothing is held against the weak and sick nor against those who find nothing to spend, provided they are true to Allah and His Messenger; there is no way open against good-doers, Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful. Nor is anything held against those who, when they came to you for you to provide them with mounts and you said, “I cannot find anything on which to mount you,” they turned away with their eyes overflowing with tears, overcome by grief at having nothing to give} [Surah At-Tawba: 91].


The men the Prophet (peace be upon him) allowed to remain in Medinah

The Prophet (peace be upon him)  said about these people, <‘There are people in Medinah, you did not take any path or cross any valley but they are with you.’ The Companions with the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, while they are still in Medinah?’ The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied, ‘Yes, their circumstances kept them in Medinah’> [related by Ibn Hibban, 4731].

There were three men who did not join the army although there were no severe circumstances that had stopped them. One of them was Kaab ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him), who had always joined the Prophet (peace be upon him) in the previous wars. They greatly regretted not joining the army for this campaign, and truthfully admitted their error to the Prophet (peace be upon him). The other Companions did not talk to them for two consecutive months, until the Prophet (peace be upon him) allowed them to speak to them, thereby relieving their distress after the Prophet (peace be upon him) was ordered to pardon them for their sincerity when revelation came from his Lord. Allah (Glory be to Him) revealed the following verses about them, {Allah has turned towards the Prophet, and the Muhajirun (the Immigrants) and the Ansar (the Helpers), those who followed him at the ´time of difficulty´, after the hearts of a group of them had almost deviated. Then He turned towards them. He is All-Gentle, Most Merciful to them} [Surah At-Tawba: 117] [related by Muslim, 2769].


Abu Dharr Al-Ghafari left Medinah walking alone, by himself

Abu Dharr Al-Ghafari (may Allah be pleased with him) heard the call to fight, but his riding animal delayed him. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, <‘Leave him. If he is good, Allah will make him catch up with you; and if he is otherwise, Allah will relieve you of him’> [The Beginning and the End by Ibn Kathir, 8/5].

It is related that one of the rare cases of true sincerity was when Abu Dharr took his belongings, carried them on his back, and left on foot, following the Prophet’s footprints, seeking the honor of fighting in Allah’s cause. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) saw him far away, he said, <‘May it be Abu Dharr (hoping).’ When his Companions confirmed it was him, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said (praising him), ‘May Allah have mercy on Abu Dharr; he walks alone (by himself), will die alone (by himself), and will be resurrected alone (by himself)’> [related by Ibn Hesham, 4/178]. This is what actually happened; he was alone when he died. He had asked his family to shroud him when he dies and leave him on the edge of the road. Abdullah ibn Masoud (may Allah be pleased with him) came leading a group of travelers, so they prayed over him and kept crying over his dead body [The Prophet’s Biography, Ibn Hesham, vol. 4, p. 178].


Surah At-Tawba exposes the hypocrites in the expedition of Tabuk

The Prophet (peace be upon him) left Mohammed ibn Muslamah Al-Ansari in Medinah to look after the affairs in his absence. Among the Muslim fighters, only the hypocrites stayed behind in Medinah during this battle. These hypocrites caused many problems. Surah At-Tawba exposed them in the Quran, and that is why the surah is called “The Exposer”. Some of the problems they caused included:

- They mocked at Ali ibn Abu Talib (may Allah be pleased with him), who the Prophet (peace be upon him) had left in Medinah to look after his family. The hypocrites said that the Prophet only left him because he wanted to be relieved of him. The Prophet (peace be upon him) denied their claim. Ali said, <‘Are you leaving me behind with the children and women?’ The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied, ‘Are you not pleased that you are in the same status to me as Haroun was with Musa? But there will be no prophet after me’ [related by Al-Bukhari, 4416].


- The hypocrites told the believers not to go out to the conflict in the hot weather. Allah (Glory be to Him) revealed about them, {Those who were left behind were glad to stay behind the Messenger of Allah. They did not want to do jihad with their wealth and themselves in the Way of Allah. They said, “Do not go out to fight in the heat.” Say, “The Fire of Hell is much hotter, if they only understood.” Let them laugh little and weep much, in repayment for what they have earned} [Surah At-Tawba: 81 and 82].


When he (peace be upon him) was making preparations for the Tabuk campaign, the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked Jadd ibn Qays, <‘Would you like to fight the yellow ones (the Romans) this year?’> The man claimed that he was fascinated by their women, and they were a temptation for him! Consequently, the Prophet (peace be upon him) allowed him to stay behind in Medinah. However, Allah (Glory be to Him) revealed the following ayahs about this incident, {Among them are some who say, “Give me permission to stay. Do not put temptation in my way. They have already succumbed to temptations, and Hell encircles the disbelievers} [Surah At-Tawba: 49].


Some of the hypocrites went to the Prophet (peace be upon him) to give false excuses in order to stay behind and not leave for the expedition of Tabuk. Allah (Glory be to Him) forgave the Prophet (peace be upon him) for accepting their excuses, as in such a way, the hypocrites became clear. Allah (Glory be to Him) explains, {Allah pardon you! Why did you excuse them until it was clear to you which of them were telling the truth and until you knew the liars?} [Surah At-Tawba: 43].


The Taleha campaign: Some narrations report that the Prophet (peace be upon him) ordered that the house of the Jew Suwailem be burnt as the people used to gather there to discourage the fighters from leaving for Tabuk. However, it is a report which many hadith scholars have classified as weak. Some say that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said this only to terrify the hypocrites, not to actually burn them [Ibn Hesham, 4/157].


False justifications: When the Prophet (peace be upon him) started to return, victorious, from Tabuk, some of the hypocrites tried to justify their actions. However, Allah (Glory be to him) explained what was in their hearts, {If it had been a case of easy gains and a short journey, they would have followed you, but the distance was too great for them. They will swear by Allah, “Had we been able to, we would have gone out with you.” They are destroying their own selves. Allah knows that they are lying} [Surah At-Tawba: 42]. Allah (Glory be to Him) also explains that if they really wanted to leave for the battle, they would have prepared for it, but, {Allah was averse to their setting out, so He held them back and they were told, “Stay behind with those who stay behind”} [Surah At-Tawba: 46].


Playing with the ayahs of Allah: A group of hypocrites, during one of their gatherings at the time of the expedition of Tabuk, said some derogatory words. They described the Muslims who had gone out to fight as being cowardly, liars and gluttonous. They also accused the Prophet (peace be upon him) of wanting to take the palaces of Ash-Sham. Consequently, the Prophet ordered that they be imprisoned and punished. Allah (Glory be to Him) revealed the following about such hypocrites, {If you ask them, they will say, “We were only joking and playing around.” Say, “Would you make a mockery of Allah and of His Signs and of His Messenger?”} [Surah At-Tawba: 65].


Attempts to kill the Prophet (peace be upon him): This attempt was made by a dozen men called the people of Aqaba. The Prophet (peace be upon him) had warned Hudhayfah (may Allah be pleased with him) about them when Hudhayfah was leading the Prophet’s riding animal on their way towards Tabuk. He noticed that they were masked and wanted to throw the Prophet to the ground to harm him. The Prophet (peace be upon him) forgave three of them, but announced to the others a war from Allah and His Messenger in this life and on the day the witnesses are gathered (the Resurrection Day).

 Concerning the spring in the area of Tabuk, they found that it had only a small amount of water. The Prophet (peace be upon him) had ordered, <No one is to reach it (the spring) before me.> However, he saw some people had reached it before him (and had taken some water), so he cursed them (i.e. asking for Allah to not show them any mercy) [related by Muslim, 2779].

The Prophet (peace be upon him) ordered his people to leave the land of Thamud

When the Prophet (peace be upon him) was travelling to the expedition of Tabuk, some of his companions went to the land of Thamud (known as Al-Hijr), the people of Prophet Salah (peace be upon him), who had disobeyed their Lord and so He had sent a severe punishment on them, annihilating all of them. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was not happy that his companions were present in that area, and so he called the people to prayer and then said to them, <Do not go to people on which the anger of Allah fell.> He also added, <Allah truly would not be bothered about your punishment at all. And there will be a nation who cannot protect themselves to any extent> [The Beginning and the End, 1/131].

It has been authentically reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, <Do not go to the living quarters of those who have oppressed themselves except if you are crying in fear that what befell them will happen to you> [related by Al-Bukhari, 3381].

The Prophet’s sermon at Tabuk

It has been reported that when the Prophet (peace be upon him) entered Tabuk and fighting was just about to start, he gave a sermon to his companions warning them of following misguidance after receiving the guidance and advising them to hold onto the most trustworthy handhold “the word of piety” (there is no God who deserves to be worshipped but Allah), the best religion “the religion of Ibraheem (peace be upon him)”, the best Sunnah “the Sunnah of Muhammad”, and the most noble of words “remembrance of Allah”.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) continued to say that the most beautiful stories are those in “this Quran”, the best matters are “the final state of affairs”, the most evil matters are “innovations”, the best guidance is “this guidance of the prophets”, the most noble death is “the death of a martyr”, the best act is “the most useful one”, and the best guidance is “what he follows”. He (peace be upon him) then warned them of the blindness of the heart, fighting believers and whatever leads to this, taking interest, and lying, which is one of the greatest sins. Moreover, he (peace be upon him) said that “saying just enough to suffice is better than a lot of talking that distracts a person”, “piety is the best provision”, and “the peak of wisdom is fearing Allah”. The Prophet (peace be upon him) completed his sermon by praying for forgiveness for his nation [Mughazi Al-Waqidi, 3/1016]. 

The army of great difficulties and the blessings of the Prophet

Allah (Glory be to Him) forgives the fighters: Hasan Al-Basri described the army of great difficulties in the following way, “A group of ten Muslims used to leave Medinah travelling one camel which they would take turns in riding. The food in Medinah at the time was only infected dates, old barley and rancid fat. The group of fighters would leave with only dates. Whenever one of them became hungry, he would take a date and chew it just until its taste became clear, and then give it to his companion, who put it in water to drink the water and any small amounts of date that had fallen off. It was then given to the next companion, who put it in water and drank the water too. This continued for all the fighters in the group until there was only the date kernel left.

They travelled with the Prophet, with sincere and sure faith. Their reward for this was that Allah forgave them their sins. Allah (Glory be to Him) says, {Allah has turned towards the Prophet, and the Muhajirun (the Immigrants) and the Ansar (the Helpers), those who followed him at the ´time of difficulty´, after the hearts of a group of them had almost deviated. Then He turned towards them. He is All-Gentle, Most Merciful to them} [Surah At-Tawba: 117] [Ar-Razy Tafsir, vol. 16].


A cloud helps suppress their thirst: Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) reported, “We left towards Tabuk in intense heat, so we camped at a place where we felt so thirsty that we thought our necks would break (i.e would die). A man would slaughter his camel and squeeze its intestines to have what is left inside them, and then put the rest on his liver. Consequently, Abu Bakr As-Saddiq (may Allah be pleased with him) said, <‘Oh Messenger of Allah, Allah promised to answer your prayers, so pray to Allah.’ The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied, ‘Do you wish this?’ He answered in the affirmative. Therefore, the Prophet lifted his hands (to pray) and did not lower them until the sky changed (went dark). He (peace be upon him) kept praying until it rained heavily, and they filled their water containers. After that, we went to look at the situation, and found that the raincloud was only over the army [The Beginning and the End, 6/96].


The Prophet (peace be upon him) prayed for blessings in the food: It is related by Abu Hurairah that they suffered a famine in Tabuk, so they asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) if they could slaughter their riding camels. The Prophet (peace be upon him) allowed them to do this. At that point, Umar ibn Al-Khattab interceded, advising the Prophet not to allow them to slaughter the riding camels as it would reduce the number of camels they would have to continue their journey. He asked the Prophet to pray that there would be blessings in the food they have left. Therefore, the Prophet prayed for them. He (peace be upon him) made a man come with one handful of corn, and another come with a handful of dates, and a third with a piece of bread. He (peace be upon him) said to them <‘Place them in your containers.’> Abu Hurairah said, “By Allah, Who there is no god but Him, there was no container in the army that was not full. The people ate until they were satisfied, and there was still some food left. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, <‘I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and that I am the Messenger of Allah. Any slave who meets Allah with these two phrases, without doubting them at all, paradise is guaranteed for him’> [related by Muslim, 27].

The Prophet’s camel: the Prophet’s camel went astray during the journey to Tabuk, and Allah told the Prophet (peace be upon him) where the camel was, in order not to believe what the hypocrites had said. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, <Truly, by Allah, I do not know anything but what Allah taught me. Allah showed me where it was. It is in this valley, its reins are stuck in a tree.> That camel stayed with the Prophet until he (peace be upon him) died.

News of a strong wind: At Tabuk, the Prophet (peace be upon him) told his companions that a strong wind would blow on them. He said, <Tonight, a strong wind will blow on you.> A man stood up and the wind carried him away to Tai mountain. He ordered them to take precautions for themselves and their animals, not leave the camp in order not to be harmed by the wind, and to tie their animals up.

Rome flees from the Porphet’s army

When the Prophet (peace be upon him) reached the district of Tabuk, he found that the Roman army had already fled, in fear of the Muslim army.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) consulted his companions about going to the borders of As-Sham. However, Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) suggested that they return with the army to Medinah. This is because fighting in the land of the Romans would be difficult; they were a large number of fighters, nearly 250,000, and they would be fortified in their cities, so fighting with them would be more difficult than fighting in the dessert [Consultation is an Islamic Obligation, Ali As-Salaby, 33].

Results of the expedition of Tabuk

The Muslims achieved victory without any fighting as their enemy ran away from them towards the north, leaving the cities they used to occupy, eg. Dumat Al-Jandal and Amarah Elah (on the Gulf of Al-Aqabah). A treaty was written with the Prophet (peace be upon him) for them to pay a tax for the Muslims to protect them from any oppression.

This conflict resulted in the Romans losing their respect in the Arabian Peninsula, although they used to be known as a very strong force.

The conflict clearly displayed the strength of the Islamic nation and the unity of the Arabian Peninsula under the rule of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Most of the tribes who had not entered Islam before, embraced Islam after Islam had reached the borders of Rome. This resulted in some covenants being signed between the Prophet (peace be upon him) and different tribes, eg. the agreement with West Nijran for them to pay the Jizyah (tax). The ninth year of Hijrah became known as the year of delegations, as many tribes sent delegations to the Prophet (peace be upon him) for them to enter Islam.

The expedition of Tabuk was the first step that later resulted in the liberation of Ash-Sham, which started when the Prophet (peace be upon him) ordered the army led by Usama to go to Ash-Sham. This order was carried out after the Prophet’s death, during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr As-Saddiq (may Allah be pleased with him).

Lessons learned from the expedition of Tabuk

Allah (Glory be to Him) grants victory to His army, no matter how unfavourable the physical circumstances may be (the army of great difficulties suffered from thirst, hunger, a lack of riding animals, and a relatively small number of fighters compared to the Romans, but they terrified their enemy)

Obeying Allah and His Messenger and working for paradise are characteristics of a believer (the Companions rushed to leave for the expedition although there were no crops that year; one of them would cry if he did not have the means to leave, and Abu Dhuhr left on foot, carrying his supplies, until he reached the army).

In this battle, the altruism that the Prophet (peace be upon him) instilled in his companions was clear. They used to share the meager amount of food they had among themselves, as well as other supplies.

Listening to advice is a quality of a true Muslim leader. The Prophet (peace be upon him)  listened to and followed Omar’s advice in many situations (returning with the army, not slaughtering the camels, and other situations).

The Prophet (peace be upon him) was merciful with his nation. He prayed for them so their food increased, he suffered the same pain as them, and he prayed for forgiveness for them.

The effect of bad plans falls on those who make them. Allah (Glory be to Him) promised the hypocrites and those who did not leave for the legitimate battle, without any excuse, that He would have a severe punishment.

Truthfulness saves the truthful person, even if he was wrong: the story of the three who Allah forgave.