Could you tell us about the expedition to Tabuk?
The outcome of the encounter between the Muslims and Byzantines at Mu’ta
had came as a shock to the whole of Arabia and the Middle East that the Romans
failed to gain the upper hand even though they had outnumbered the Muslims by
thirty-three to one. Ultimately, thousands of people from the semi-independent
Arab tribes living in Syria and its adjoining areas converted to Islam. To avenge
himself for the Battle of Mu’ta and prevent the advance of Islam, Caesar (the
Emperor of the Byzantines) ordered military preparations to invade Arabia. God’s
Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, who always kept himself abreast
of all developments which had any bearing on his mission, promptly decided to
challenge the Byzantine army on the battlefield. Any show of weakness on the
part of Muslims might have given a fresh release to the dying forces of Arabian
Jahiliya which had received a crushing blow at Hunayn, and also encouraged the
hypocrites in and around Madina to cause serious damage to Islam from within.
For the hypocrites were in touch with the Ghassanid Christian prince and with
Caesar (the Byzantine Emperor) himself and had even built a mosque – the Mosque
of Dirar (Dissension) – in the vicinity of Madina which served as their operational
Realizing the gravity of the situation, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace
and blessings, publicly appealed to the Muslims to prepare for war and, as against
his usual practice, declared that the Romans were his target.
It was in mid-summer. The scorching heat of the season was at its peak, the
harvest season had just arrived, and there was a shortage of material resources
needed to wage a war. What was more, the enemy was one of the two super powers
of the time. Despite all, the Companions responded ardently to the Prophet’s
call and commenced their war preparations, each Muslim contributing much more
than his financial means warranted. Huge amounts of money were donated by the
wealthy Companions such as ‘Uthman and ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-‘Awf,77 and those
who could not be included in the Muslim army because of the acute paucity of
cavalry and other war provisions wept bitterly, and lamented their exclusion
so pathetically that God’s Messenger was moved and God praised them in the verse
He revealed (al-Tawba, 9.92). The occasion, in fact, served as a touchstone
for distinguishing the sincere from the insincere, the true men of faith from
In the month of Rajab 9 A.H./631 C.E. God’s Messenger, along with 30,000
soldiers, left Madina and marched as far as Tabuk, quite close to what was then
Byzantine territory in the province of Syria. The Roman Emperor, who had indeed
begun amassing a huge army, had to abandon the idea of an encounter with God’s
Messenger and withdrew his army because the Messenger arrived ahead of the anticipated
time and well before the planned concentration of troops had been completed.78
The Messenger stayed in Tabuk for 20 days and forced several buffer states
under the hegemony of the Byzantine Empire to pay the poll tax and live under
his rule, and many Christian tribes chose Islam willingly.79 This bloodless
victory also enabled the Muslims to consolidate their position before launching
a prolonged conflict with the Romans and altogether shattered the power of both
unbelievers and the hypocrites in Arabia.
77. Bukhari, “Tafsir,” 18; I. Hisham, 4.161; Tabari, Tarikh, 3.143; “Tafsir,”
78. I. Sa‘d, 2.165–8; Tabari, Tarikh, 3.100–11.
79. I. Kathir, al-Bidaya, 5.13.