And [He also forgave] the three who were left behind [and regretted their error] to the point that the earth closed in on them in spite of its vastness and their souls confined them and they were certain that there is no refuge from Allah except in Him. Then He turned to them so they could repent. Indeed, Allah is the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful.
O you who have believed, fear Allah and be with those who are true.
[Surat At-Tawbah: Ayahs 118-119]
Ka`b bin Malik RadhiAllahuAnhu had become blind. His son Abdullah used to guide him and attend to his needs. Ka`b bin Malik RadhiAllahuAnhu narrated a story to his son, looking back into the past during the time of great battles he had spent alongside the Prophet Sallalahu Alayhi wa Sallam. This story is especially a particular battle called ‘the battle of Tabuk’ which he did not join. What happened when the Prophet Sallalahu Alayhi wa Sallam found out that he had not joined the battle? Let us read the story of Ka’b bin Malik RadhiAllahuAnhu that is noted down in the famous explanation of the quran Tafseer Ibn Katheer:
Ka`b bin Malik narrates,
“I did not remain behind Allah’s Messenger in any battle that he fought except the battle of Tabuk. I failed to take part in the battle of Badr, but Allah did not admonish anyone who did not participate in it, for in fact, Allah’s Messenger had gone out in search of the caravan of Quraysh, until Allah made the Muslims and their enemies meet without any appointment. I witnessed the night of Al-`Aqabah pledge with Allah’s Messenger when we pledged for Islam, and I would not exchange it for the Badr Battle, even though the Badr Battle is more popular among the people than the `Aqabah pledge.
As for my news of this battle of Tabuk, I was never stronger or wealthier than I was when I remained behind Allah’s Messenger in that battle. By Allah, never had I two she-camels before, but I did at the time of that battle. Whenever Allah’s Messenger wanted to go to a battle, he used to hide his intention by referring to different battles, until it was the time of that battle (of Tabuk) which Allah’s Messenger fought in intense heat, facing a long journey, the desert, and the great number of enemy soldiers. So the Prophet clearly announced the destination to the Muslims, so that they could prepare for their battle, and he told them about his intent. Allah’s Messenger was accompanied by such a large number of Muslims that they could not be listed in a book by name, nor registered.”
Ka`b added, “Any man who intended not to attend the battle would think that the matter would remain hidden, unless Allah revealed it through divine revelation. Allah’s Messenger fought that battle at a time when the fruits had ripened and the shade was pleasant, and I found myself inclined towards that. Allah’s Messenger and his Companions prepared for the battle and I started to go out in order to get myself ready along with them, but I returned without doing anything. I would say to myself, `I can do that if I want.’ So I kept on delaying it every now and then until the people were prepared, and Allah’s Messenger , and the Muslims along with him, departed. But I had not prepared anything for my departure. I said, `I will prepare myself (for departure) one or two days after him, and then join them.’ In the morning following their departure, I went out to get myself ready but returned having done nothing. Then again, the next morning, I went out to get ready but returned without doing anything. Such was the case with me until they hurried away and I missed the battle. Even then I intended to depart to catch up to them. I wish I had done so! But such was not the case. So, after the departure of Allah’s Messenger , whenever I went out and walked among the people (who remained behind), it grieved me that I could see none around me, but one accused of hypocrisy or one of those weak men whom Allah had excused. Allah’s Messenger did not remember me until he reached Tabuk. So while he was sitting among the people in Tabuk, he said,
“What did Ka`b bin Malik do?”
A man from Banu Salimah said, “O Allah’s Messenger! He has been stopped by his two Burdah (garments) and looking at his own flanks with pride.”
Mu`adh bin Jabal said, “What a bad thing you have said! By Allah! O Allah’s Messenger! We know nothing about him but that which is good.”
Allah’s Messenger kept silent.”
Ka`b bin Malik added, “When I heard that Allah’s Messenger was on his way back to Al-Madinah, I was overcome by concern and began to think of false excuses. I said to myself, `How can I escape from his anger tomorrow’ I started looking for advice from wise members of my family in this matter. When it was said that Allah’s Messenger had approached (Al-Madinah) all evil and false excuses abandoned my mind and I knew well that I could never come out of this problem by forging a false statement. Then I decided firmly to speak the truth.
Let us pause for a moment here and reflect. Remember, the sahabah were also human beings who could make mistakes now and then. He, Ka’b bin Malik Radhi Allahu Anhu, could have chose to lie, but he didn’t. He decided not to resort to false excuses and lies in this pressurizing situation. He was determined to speak the truth. What happened next? Ka’b bin Malik continues to narrate:
“Allah’s Messenger arrived in the morning, and whenever he returned from a journey, he used to visit the Masjid first, and offer a two Rak`ah prayer, then sit for the people. So when he had done all that (this time), those who failed to join the battle came and started offering (false) excuses and taking oaths before him. They were over eighty men. Allah’s Messenger accepted the excuses they expressed outwardly, asked for Allah’s forgiveness for them and left the secrets of their hearts for Allah to judge. Then I came to him, and when I greeted him, he smiled a smile of an angry person and then said,
I came walking until I sat before him. He said to me,
“What stopped you from joining us? Had you not purchased an animal for carrying you?”
“Yes, O Allah’s Messenger! By Allah, if I were sitting before any person from among the people of the world other than you, I would have escaped from his anger with an excuse. By Allah, I have been bestowed with the power of speaking fluently and eloquently, but by Allah, I knew well that if I tell you a lie today to seek your favor, Allah would surely make you angry with me in the near future. But if I tell you the truth, though you will get angry because of it, I hope for Allah’s forgiveness. By Allah, I had never been stronger or wealthier than I was when I remained behind you.”
SubhanAllah! The sahabah could have said anything at that moment to get away. But pay attention to what the Sahabah said. He said, “I knew well that if I tell you a lie today to seek your favor, Allah would surely make you angry with me in the near future. But if I tell you the truth, though you will get angry because of it, I hope for Allah’s forgiveness.” Look at how the sahabah is fearing Allah in this situation knowing that Allah is all aware of his actions, his speech and what is in his heart. The sahabah knows that although he may escape the Prophet Sallalahu Alayhi wa Sallam in the short term with a forged lie, he will never be able to escape Allah in the long term. This is a lesson we need to learn. We should know that if we lie, we may escape a certain situation in that small moment of time, but what about the anger and punishment of Allah that may follow in the future because of this? What if we choose instead to speak the truth fearing Allah, knowing that Allah is seeing our actions and knows everything, then Allah is surely be with those who are truthful. So hearing the sahabah, what did the Prophet Sallalahu Alayhi wa Sallam say? Ka’b bin Malik continues:
Allah’s Messenger said,
“As regards to this man, he has surely told the truth. So get up until Allah decides your case.”
I got up, and many men of Banu Salimah followed me and said to me, `By Allah, we never witnessed you commit any sin before this! Surely, you failed to offer an excuse to Allah’s Messenger like the others who did not join him. The invocation of Allah’s Messenger to Allah to forgive you would have been sufficient for your sin.’ By Allah, they continued blaming me so much that I intended to return (to the Prophet ) and accuse myself of having told a lie, but I said to them, `Is there anybody else who has met the same end as I have’ They replied, `Yes, there are two men who have said the same thing as you have, and to both of them was given the same order as given to you.’ I said, `Who are they’ They replied, `Murarah bin Ar-Rabi` Al-`Amiri and Hilal bin Umayyah Al-Waqifi.’ They mentioned to me two pious men who had attended the battle of Badr and in whom there was an example for me. So I did not change my mind when they mentioned them to me.
A lesson to learn here is how the good deed of the two sahabah Murarah bin Ar-Rabi` Al-`Amiri and Hilal bin Umayyah Al-Waqifi RadhiAllahuAnhu inspired Ka’ab bin Malik to stand firm on the truth. We see how a good deed can inspire someone else to do a good deed too. What happened to the three sahabah who stood firm on truth? Ka’ab bin Malik RadhiAllahu Anhu explains:
Allah’s Messenger forbade all the Muslims from talking to us, the three aforesaid persons, out of all those who remained behind for that battle. So we kept away from the people and they changed their attitude towards us until the very land (where I lived) appeared strange to me as if I did not know it. We remained in that condition for fifty nights. As for my two companions, they remained in their houses and kept on weeping, but I was the youngest and the firmest of them. So I would go out and attend the prayer along with the Muslims and roam the markets, but none would talk to me. I would come to Allah’s Messenger and greet him while he was sitting in his gathering after the prayer, and I would wonder whether he even moved his lips in return of my greeting or not. Then I would offer my prayer near him and look at him carefully.
When I was busy with my prayer, he would turn his face towards me, but when I turned my face to him, he would turn his face away from me. When this harsh attitude and boycott of the people continued for a long time, I walked until I scaled the wall of the garden of Abu Qatadah who was my cousin and the dearest person to me. I offered my greeting to him. By Allah, he did not return my greetings. I said, `O Abu Qatadah! I beseech you by Allah! Do you know that I love Allah and His Messenger’ He kept quiet. I asked him again, beseeching him by Allah, but he remained silent. I asked him again in the Name of Allah and he said, `Allah and His Messenger know better.’ Thereupon my eyes flowed with tears and I returned and jumped over the wall.
While I was walking in the market of Al-Madinah, suddenly I saw that a Nabatean from Ash-Sham came to sell his grains in Al-Madinah, saying, `Who will lead me to Ka`b bin Malik’ The people began to point (me) out for him, until he came to me and handed me a letter from the king of Ghassan (who ruled Syria for Caesar), for I knew how to read and write. In that letter, the following was written: `To proceed, I have been informed that your friend (the Prophet) has treated you harshly. Anyhow, Allah does not make you live in a place where you feel inferior and your right is lost. So, join us, and we will console you.’ When I read it, I said to myself, `This is also a sort of test.’ I took the letter to the oven and made a fire burning it.
So we see how Allah tested these sahabah who chose to stand firm on the truth. The lesson we take here is that we may face tests from Allah. Allah may test us to see if we stand resilient and firm. Did the tests come to an end for the sahabah or were there more to come? Let’s see:
When forty out of the fifty nights elapsed, behold! There came to me a messenger of Allah’s Messenger saying `Allah’s Messenger orders you to keep away from your wife.’ I said, `Should I divorce her; or else what should I do’ He said, `No, only keep aloof from her and do not mingle with her.’ The Prophet sent the same message to my two fellows. I said to my wife, `Go to your parents and remain with them until Allah gives His verdict in this matter.”’
Ka`b added, “The wife of Hilal bin Umayyah came to Allah’s Messenger and said,
“O Allah’s Messenger! Hilal bin Umayyah is a helpless old man who has no servant to attend on him. Do you dislike that I should serve him?”
He Sallalahu Alayhi wa Sallam said,
“No you can serve him, but he should not come near you sexually.”
She said, “By Allah! He has no desire for anything. By Allah, he has never ceased weeping since his case began until this day of his.”
On that, some of my family members said to me, “Will you also ask Allah’s Messenger to permit your wife (to serve you) as he has permitted the wife of Hilal bin Umayyah to serve him.”
I said, “By Allah, I will not ask permission of Allah’s Messenger regarding her, for I do not know what Allah’s Messenger would say if I asked him to permit her to serve me while I am a young man.”
We remained in that state for ten more nights, until the period of fifty nights was completed, starting from the time when Allah’s Messenger prohibited the people from talking to us. When I had finished the Fajr prayer on the fiftieth morning on the roof of one of our houses, while sitting in the condition in which Allah described (in the Qur’an): my very soul seemed straitened to me and even the earth seemed narrow to me for all its spaciousness. There I heard the voice of a man who had ascended the mountain of Sal` calling with his loudest voice, `O Ka`b bin Malik! Be happy (by receiving good tidings).’ I fell down in prostration before Allah, realizing that relief has come with His forgiveness for us.
The sahabah immediately turned to Allah with praise and shukr (thanks).
Allah’s Messenger announced the acceptance of our repentance by Allah after Fajr prayer. The people went out to congratulate us. Some bearers of good news went to my two companions, a horseman came to me in haste, while a man from Banu Aslam came running and ascended the mountain and his voice was swifter than the horse. When the man whose voice I had heard, came to me conveying the good news, I took off my garments and dressed him with them; and by Allah, I owned no other than them on that day. Then I borrowed two garments, wore them and went to Allah’s Messenger . The people started receiving me in batches, congratulating me on Allah’s acceptance of my repentance, saying, `We congratulate you on Allah’s acceptance of your repentance.”’ Ka`b further said, “When I entered the Masjid, I saw Allah’s Messenger sitting in the Masjid with the people around him. Talhah bin `Ubaydullah swiftly came to me, shook my hands and congratulated me. By Allah, none of the Muhajirun got up for me except Talhah; I will never forget Talhah for this.” Ka`b added, “When I greeted Allah’s Messenger , his face was bright with joy. He said,
“Be happy with the best day you have ever seen since your mother gave birth to you.”
I said to the Prophet, “Is this forgiveness from you or from Allah.”
He said, “No, it is from Allah.”
Whenever Allah’s Messenger became happy, his face would shine as if it was a piece of the moon, and we all knew that characteristic of him. When I sat before him, I said, “O Allah’s Messenger! Because of the acceptance of my repentance I will give up all my wealth as alms for the sake of Allah and His Messenger.”
Allah’s Messenger said, “Keep some of your wealth, as it will be better for you.”
I said, “So I will keep my share from Khaybar with me.” I added, “O Allah’s Messenger! Allah has saved me for telling the truth; so it is part of my repentance not to tell but the truth as long as I am alive.”
By Allah, I do not know of any Muslim, whom Allah has helped to tell the truth more than I. Ever since I have mentioned the truth to Allah’s Messenger , I have never intended to tell a lie, until today. I hope that Allah will also save me (from telling lies) the rest of my life. So Allah revealed the Ayah:
Allah has forgiven the Prophet, the Muhajirin and the Ansar who followed him in the time of distress, after the hearts of a party of them had nearly deviated, but He accepted their repentance. Certainly, He is unto them full of kindness, Most Merciful. And the three who stayed behind, until for them the earth, vast as it is, was straitened and their souls were straitened to them, and they perceived that there is no fleeing from Allah, and no refuge but with Him. Then, He forgave them, that they might beg for His pardon. Verily, Allah is the One Who forgives and accepts repentance, Most Merciful. O you who believe! Have Taqwa of Allah, and be with those who are true (in words and deeds). [Surat At Tawbah: Ayahs 118-119]
Ka`b said, “By Allah! Allah has never bestowed upon me, apart from His guiding me to Islam, a greater blessing than the fact that I did not tell a lie to Allah’s Messenger which would have caused me to perish, just as those who had told a lie have perished. Allah described those who told lies with the worst descriptions He ever attributed to anyone. Allah said,
They will swear by Allah to you when you return to them that you would leave them alone. So leave them alone; indeed they are evil; and their refuge is Hell as recompense for what they had been earning. 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 the people who are Al-Fasiqun (rebellious, disobedient to Allah). [Surat At Tawbah: Ayahs 95-96]
Ka`b added, “We, the three persons, differed altogether from those whose excuses Allah’s Messenger accepted when they swore to him. He took their pledge and asked Allah to forgive them, but Allah’s Messenger left our case pending until Allah gave us His judgement about it. As for that Allah said, ‘And (He did forgive also) the three who stayed behind…’ What Allah said does not discuss our failure to take part in the battle, but to the deferment of making a decision by the Prophet about our case, in contrast to the case of those who had taken an oath before him, and he excused them by accepting their excuses.”
The story above is from an authentic Hadith collected in the Two Sahihs (Al-Bukhari and Muslim) and as such, its authenticity is agreed upon. This Hadith contains the explanation of this honorable Ayah in the best, most comprehensive way. Similar explanation was given by several among the Salaf. For instance, Al-A`mash narrated from Abu Sufyan, from Jabir bin `Abdullah about Allah’s statement,
(And (He did forgive also) the three who stayed behind…) “They are Ka`b bin Malik, Hilal bin Umayyah and Murarah bin Ar-Rabi`, all of them from the Ansar.”
Ibn Kathirs (A scholar of Islam) comments on this story:
Allah sent His relief from the distress and grief that struck these three men, because Muslims ignored them for fifty days and nights, until they themselves, and the earth — vast as it is — were straitened for them. As vast as the earth is, its ways and paths were closed for them, and they did not know what action to take. They were patient for Allah’s sake and awaited humbly for His decree. They remained firm, until Allah sent His relief to them since they told the Messenger of Allah the truth about why they remained behind, declaring that they did not have an excuse for doing so. They were requited for this period, then Allah forgave them. Therefore, the consequence of being truthful was better for them, for they gained forgiveness. Hence Allah’s statement next,
O you who believe! Have Taqwa of Allah, and be with those who are true.
The Ayah says, adhere to and always say the truth so that you become among its people and be saved from destruction. Allah will make a way for you out of your concerns and a refuge.
Imam Ahmad recorded that `Abdullah bin Mas`ud said that the Messenger of Allah said:
“Hold on to truth, for being truthful leads to righteousness, and righteousness leads to Paradise. Verily, a man will keep saying the truth and striving for truth, until he is written before Allah as very truthful (Siddiq).
Beware of lying, for lying leads to sin, and sin leads to the Fire. Verily, the man will keep lying and striving for falsehood until he is written before Allah as a great liar.”
This Hadith is recorded in the two Sahihs.
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