Madinah: “The Watered Land, Rich in Date Palms”

{jcomments on}Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia

The first phase of the Prophet Muhammad’s mission took place in Makkah, his birthplace. It lasted about 13 years and was not as fruitful as coveted. Having almost given up his hopes of making any further progress in Makkah, under the existing circumstances and by applying the current preaching methods, the Prophet (pbuh) started to mull over the prospect of shifting to another locality which will be more responsive and conducive than Makkah and, as such, will serve as a base for his arduous tasks as a prophet. He gave his thoughts to more than one urban settlement. However, it could be deduced that some heavenly elements presided over determining the place of the Hijrah (migration), as once disclosed by the Prophet (pbuh) to his companions before the Hijrah had even been planned. He told them: “I have been shown the place of your emigration: I saw a well watered land, rich in date palms, between two tracts of black stones.”[1]

It is worth taking note that in the said account, the exact name of the future center of Islam, as well as its geographical location, were withheld. Instead, its natural affluence and potentials for a wholesome and comfortable living were revealed. It stands to reason that this hadith, almost certainly, was uttered before the content of the following hadith was made known to the Prophet (pbuh): “I was ordered to (migrate to) a town which will eat up towns. They used to say, Yathrib, but it is Madinah…”[2].

 What the Prophet (pbuh) had been shown, and informed of, as regards the underlying character of the home of the Hijrah, in it, the spiritual and civilizational potentials of the Madinah (then Yathrib) populace was perhaps metaphorically implied. It might have been implied, additionally, that by the advent of their brethren from Makkah, and by the full integration of the latter with the former, such a potential will considerably increase and will be brought to fruition. The Prophet’s refraining from letting anybody know anymore about the subject, not even for some encouragement and glad tidings purposes, may suggest that even he at that particular point actually knew no more about the subject matter.

When the Prophet’s companion Abu Dharr al-Ghifari came all the way from his tribe Banu Ghifar, lying on the Hijaz trading route to Syria, to meet the Prophet (pbuh) and embrace Islam, the Prophet (pbuh) asked him to go back to where he had come from and invite his people to Islam, since Makkah was not really safe for anyone and the migration place was yet to be fully determined. The Prophet (pbuh) further told him that the Hijrah destination would be a land abounding in date palms, and even though he had not been absolutely sure, he was of the opinion that it could be none other than Yathrib (Madinah).[3]

Moreover, what the Prophet (pbuh) had been informed of about Madinah, by and large accounted for some basic elements and ingredients which were needed for the establishment of an urban community: firstly, water for both men and animals whereby convenience, hygiene and health could be upheld; secondly, good pastures for the livestock of the people, since each household needed domestic animals for breeding, for food and for riding; thirdly, fields suitable for cultivation, as grain and dates were the basic food sources in the area; fourthly, wood used for firewood, building and for many other domestic needs for which it was employed.[4] One of the names given to Madinah, therefore, was Dhat al-Nakhl (that which has many date-palms).[5] For the same reasons, it was also dubbed as Tabah and Tajjibah, both of which denote a thing which is good, pleasant and nice.[6]

In ahadith mentioned by Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, in his commentary of al-Bukhari’s “Sahih”, a wolf caught a sheep that belonged to a man called Ahban b. Aws. The man shouted at the wolf, attempting to rescue the sheep. Thereupon, the wolf stopped, sat on its tail and said unto the man that it was not his right to forbid the provision which Allah has provided for it, i.e., for the wolf. At this, the man clapped his hands saying: “By Allah, I have never seen anything more curious and wonderful than this.” But the wolf told him that there was something more extraordinary and beautiful; that is, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) inviting the people to Islam. This incident occurred during the Madinah phase of the Prophet’s mission, and the wolf identified the seat of the amazing goings-on – in all likelihood somehow pointing towards its direction – as “in those palm trees”.[7] Then the man went to the Prophet (pbuh), informed him about what had happened, and embraced Islam.

Furthermore, it is held by some scholars that the Jews had arrived and settled themselves in Madinah because in their Holy Books they possessed a detailed exposition as to the name of the final Prophet (pbuh), his qualities and features, his struggles, and the land of his origin and refuge. The Qur’an says to this effect: “Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (Scriptures), – in the Taurat and the Gospel… “ (al-A’raf 157)

In the chapters al-Baqarah, verse 146, and al-An’am, verse 20, the People of the Book are charged with distorting and concealing the facts about the last Prophet (pbuh), even though they know him from their Scriptures as well as they know their own sons. With reference to the description of Madinah in the same Books, it was stated even there – before it was taken out, of course – that it is “a country rich in date palms, between two tracts of black stones.” So, some sections of the Jews, at an appropriate time, set off, most probably, from Syria (Sham) in quest for the clearly described piece of land, finding it eventually in Hijaz, i.e., in Yathrib (Madinah), which they then inhabited and waited for the emergence of the final Messenger of God.[8]

That some clear hints in respect of Madinah and its natural disposition and qualities were available in the Scriptures of the People of the Book can be further substantiated by the companion Salman al-Farisi’s journey to Islam. Salman was a wealthy Persian who worshipped fire, a religious conviction which he never felt comfortable with. One day, he accidentally made a contact with Christianity, instantly becoming captivated by its origin and teachings. Having become a Christian, he consequently and on his own request, found himself in Syria, moving from one Christian cleric to another, trying to consolidate his Christian faith. The last cleric whom Salman met told him – after the former was about to die – that it looked as though an epoch in which there will appear a prophet in the pure creed of Ibrahim (Abraham) was their epoch. So Salman was counseled to set out to search for that prophet, and to go about it nowhere else but in the land of palm trees where his migration would in the end be. Several other manifest signs, as found in the Holy Scriptures, Salman was notified of by the cleric. Salman took the priest’s words seriously, and with an Arab caravan arrived firstly in Wadi al-Qura which resembled the description given, but it was not the one. In Wadi al-Qura, Salman was wronged by the Arabs who sold him to a Jew who happened to be from Madinah. Thus, Salman landed in Madinah which was yet to welcome Islam and its last Messenger. Salman narrated that he had hardly seen the city when he knew that it was the land described to him by the cleric. When the Prophet (pbuh) migrated, it was not hard for Salman to authenticate the rest of the evidences disclosed to him. He then, in next to no time, exuberantly declared that he has finally found that which he had been looking for for a long time, and in the search of which he had to traverse many lands abandoning his native Persia and everything that he had possessed there.[9]




[1]Lings Martin (Abu Bakr Siraj al-Din), Muhammad, (Kuala Lumpur: A.S. Noordeen, 1983), p. 107.

[2]Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Kitab Fada’il al-Madinah, Hadith No. 1871.

[3] Ibid., Kitab Fada’il al-Sahabah, Hadith No. 4520. 

[4] Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah, translated from Arabic by Franz Rosenthal, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967), vol. 2 p. 247.

[5] Al-Samahudi, Wafa’ al-Wafa, (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1997), vol. 1 p. 15.

[6]Al-‘Asqalani Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, (Cairo: Maktabah al-Kulliyyat al-Azhariyyah, 1978), vol. 8 p. 218.

[7]Ibid., vol. 14 p. 159.

[8] Al-Hamwi Yaqut, Mu’jam al-Buldan, (Beirut: Dar Sadir, 1984), vol. 5 p. 84.

[9] Khalid Khalid Muhammad, Men Around the Messenger, translated into English by Shaykh Muhammad Mustafa Gemeiah, (n.pp: al-Manarah, n.d.), p. 34-37. 

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