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Hijra in Islam

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Hijra (migration), an important principle in Islam, has played a significant role in Islamic history. It might be described as an uninterrupted process, beginning in the very early days of Islam, and continuing right up to the present day. Hijra means, literally, to leave one’s homeland and settle in another place. In Islam, this self-exile is not just a matter of moving from one place to another. And it is not meant to serve any material interests; it is meant rather to be undertaken for the sake of Allah: in other words, for some higher purpose.

Hijra has always had, and still has a great role to play in the process of da'wah. Some examples from Islamic history will demonstrate this. The first incident took place during the life of the Prophet. As is well known, the Prophet migrated from Mecca to Medina, a move which had a far-reaching effect upon Islamic history, for it gave Muslims the opportunity to establish an important centre there for Islam. There the work of da'wah entered upon a new and better phase, and where Mecca had been the arena for its early struggles, Medina now became a great field of victory for Islam. The second incident took place after the death of the Prophet. In his well-known sermon — “The Final Sermon” — which he preached near the Mount of Arafat, the Prophet addressed all the Companions present, saying: “I am the final Prophet. God has sent me to mankind till the Day of Judgement: therefore, convey my message on my behalf to all the nations of the world.” After the death of the Prophet, most of the Companions, the Sahabah, left their homeland and settled in adjacent countries. (Very few graves of the Companions are to be found in either Mecca or Medina, because they died and were buried in the lands to which they had emigrated.) There, and wherever else they went, they engaged in da'wah work, and that is why there are now more than one billion Muslims spread across the globe. They intensified their missionary activities to such an extent that they were able to transform entire societies. Eventually whole nations changed their faith, their culture and even their languages. Before the coming of Islam, the Egyptians spoke the Coptic language, but now their mother tongue is Arabic.

In Syria, Syriac was the lingua franca, but this has been replaced by Arabic which has become the first language. The same happened in the case of the Berber language in Libya. In Palestine, Hebrew was commonly spoken, but with the great changes which took place there, the entire populace of Palestine began to speak in Arabic (i.e. up until 1958). It was this Hijra of the Companions after the Prophet’s death which brought into existence this vast Islamic domain, now commonly referred to as the Arab world. This process of da‘wah, of which there are many outstanding examples, took place everywhere. This brings us to the third example, that of Spain. After the collapse of Muslim rule in Spain, there was much hostility towards and oppression of the Muslims. As a result, they had to flee to the adjacent lands of North Africa. It is this Hijra from Spain which led to the Islamization of North Africa. If North Africa is now an Islamic territory, the credit must go to those Muslims who migrated from Spain. The fourth example is that of the Indian subcontinent, to which, as is well known, there came many Muslims who had left their own countries -- Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, etc. Once there, they engaged themselves, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, in da‘wah work. It is thanks to their great efforts that approximately half of the total world Muslim population lives on the subcontinent. There is a fifth example of Hijra, i.e. the exodus from most of the Muslim countries to the U.S.A., Australia and the European countries. It has been estimated that there are at present about 20 million Muslim migrants. A whole new phase in da‘wah work has been started by this universal migration. Access has been gained to Western countries by the large-scale settlement of Muslims there. Thousands and thousands of new mosques and Islamic centres are being built by these migrant Muslims. Every day there are meetings and conferences on Islamic subjects. There is widespread interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims, so that wittingly or unwittingly, Islam is being introduced into these non-Muslim host countries. The results of this Hijra are visible everywhere, and the local people -- both blacks and whites -- are embracing Islam day in and day out.

All that remains to be done is to accelerate this process by engaging in da‘wah work in a disciplined manner. In the early days of Islam, the Companions of the Prophet adopted a single and natural formula -- one man, two missions. On the one hand, they earned their livelihood, and the other hand, they undertook da‘wah work. This “one man, two missions” formula has to be acted upon with equal zeal by present-day Muslim migrants, so that history may repeat itself and Islam may once again be accorded a position of glory in the modern world. One further point must be made in this discussion. The Muslims of the early period had to face the difficulties and hardships created for them by their contemporaries, both at the individual and the national level. At that time, in addition to other kinds of adversity, religious persecution was rife. But present day Muslims are living in an age of religious freedom in which there is no hint of religious persecution. Moreover, there have been many favourable developments, like the revolution in technology, which has so speeded up communications that it is now possible to reach a much vaster audience than ever before. Now there is nothing to hinder them from doing da‘wah work: the facilities are there for the asking, the ambience is perfect and the opportunities are endless.

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