Hijrah- on the season of migration and defections – Part 1
If you do not help the Prophet, it does not matter: the Almighty did help him when the unbelievers drove him out of his town, the second of the two, while the two were in the cave and (the enemy came to the opening of the cave) he said to his companion (Abu Bakr, later the first of the rightly-guided caliphs), “Do not worry, the Almighty is with us…” (Quran 9: 40)must begin this sermon today with an apology. I must offer an apology for collocating the sacred with the profane, for collimating the eternal with the ephemeral. I must tender a plea for this ‘infraction’ which finds expression in the space that I have yielded for those transacting in the business of the here and now with those immaculate characters and personages whose conduct and candour eventuated that season in which the Hijrah took place a thousand four hundred and forty years ago.
But what could have warranted this infraction? One response would be the attention I paid to the literal meanings of the words migration and defection. This is what I meant – today is the fourth of Muharram, 1440 after the Hijrah- the migration of Prophet Muhammad from Makkah to Madinah. This event was celebrated all around the world only four days ago. Now before that event fell due, the political space in this country had been held in the jugular by politicians who were defecting from one party to the other. Thus my intellectual world has of late been involved in making sense of these two categories namely migration and defection.
You and I know what the word migrate means. To migrate is ‘to move from one region or habitat to another according to the seasons. In the Islamic parlance, however, the word hijrah refers to the migration of Prophet Muhammad together with his companions from Makkah to Madinah in defense of Islam. To defect, on the other hand, is to abandon a position or association, often to join an opposing group”. Thus whereas migration is pacifist, irenic and homeric, the word defection is boorish, churlish and swinish. Since these two words or concepts are clearly antipodal and discordant, collocating the two within this hallowed space of Friday Sermon ordinarily becomes, with the reference to the former, irreverent.
But an apology may not be urgent after all. This is because one of the reasons for this season is the necessity for Muslims to remember the never-ending war between truth and falsehood. The hijrah is celebrated every year to remind Muslims of their glorious past which should not be seen to be past-perfect but ‘past-present’; it is meant to call their attention afresh to the sacrifices made by heroes of Islam in order that they might be partakers of the Islamic commonwealth today; it is meant to re-insert and assert the Islamic identity into the slippery terrain and politics of modernity. In the latter, the significance of hijrah, the Islamic calendar, becomes clear- that Islam and Muslims made the world in the past; that Islam and Muslims could and indeed should re-make the world once again in the present.
Dear Sister, Muslims celebrate the beginning of the Islamic calendar every year in order to remember those who stood to defend Islam while others were sitting; those who were outstanding while others were standing. Those were the Muslims – they who shone brightest simply by virtue of the deepness of their minds and the thickness of their thoughts. Those were the Muslims- they who trekked and walked on sharp and hot pebbles on the rigid and tortuous pathways between Makkah and Madinah. They were the believers- Muslim who side-stepped illusory encampments of the world with their faith in order to rescue humanity from the abyss of self-destruction.
We celebrate the hijrah in order to remember those Muslims who were Muslims first and last; not Yoruba Muslims, not Hausa Muslims, not Igbo Muslims. We celebrate the hijrah in order to remember the emergence of a group from within the class of the oppressed, the down trodden. They were born at the centre of power to the oppressed not to the rich. They were born in the backwater of the cities, to the down-trodden, the unknown, the un-sung, in order that they may have their names and memories etched permanently in our memories. They left Makkah for Madinah in order to come back to Makkah. They departed Bakkah for Madinah as refugees in order to come back to Makkah as faithful princes and honourable servants of the Almighty, not kings.
We remember them today and always. We remember Umar b. al-Khattab. He it was, who began to date the undated in Muslim history; he it was who first started the usage of the date of emigration of Muslims from Makkah to Madinah in administering the affairs of the Islamic state. We remember that important event whose stories is told in two verses of the Qur’an. The first reads, partly, thus: “And we have put a barrier before them and a barrier behind them and we have covered them up such that they cannot see” (Q36:8). The second verse goes thus: “when the unbelievers drove him out with his closest associate and he and his second were in the cave, he assured him (his second): grief not because the Almighty is with us and He caused his peace to descend into his heart and aided him with warriors unseen thus did he utterly humble the scheming of the unbelievers…” (Q9:40).
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