Historicity (the quality of being part of recorded history) is usually a late development in the historical journey of a nation. It may take decades before communities recognize the importance of recording their actions and achievements. Interestingly, it did not take long for the first Muslim community to realize the significance of the changes they were going through and record them.
Omar, the second Caliph, came up with the idea of a new calendar for the newly born Umma and selected the event of the Prophet’s hijrah to be its birthday. Indeed, the first Muslim community with its new values emerged from the experience of their hijrah to Medina.
Bedouin Arabs were accustomed to the nomadic lifestyle, moving from one place to another searching for water and food. But hijrah was different. It was a qualitative type of movement that had a clear purpose and a clear direction. The concept of hijrah would evolve and constitute a crucial element of the believers’ world view. Hijrah became the method for the believers to continuously liberate themselves from every position they reach as they move in their journey towards Allah. “I will leave home for the sake of my Lord.” [29:26]
“He who leaves his home in the cause of Allah finds in the earth many a refuge, wide and spacious.” [4:100]
As you can see, the concept of hijrah has been universalized. It signals to the continuous movement from the state of being to the state of becoming. The twentieth century intellectual, Ali Shariati, universalized hijrah into the idea of man as “a choice, a struggle, a constant becoming. He is an infinite migration within himself, from clay to God; he is a migrant within his soul.”
The Prophet’s hijrah took place in 622 C.E. This date came from historical recordings and was confirmed recently from inscriptions and archeological evidence. Quran does not present time as dates but as events and happenings. Although Quran alluded to the Prophet and his companion, Abu Bakr, in the cave during their hijrah, the verse was not revealed immediately after hijrah but years later when the Muslim community was facing tremendous hardship and harsh conditions and needed a reminder.
The prophet and his companions were preparing for a campaign to protect Medina from an impending attack. It was called the “campaign of hardship” because of the limitation of provisions in the face of harsh weather conditions. This “campaign of hardship” became a campaign by the believers to overcome hardship and support the Prophet at this critical moment of his mission. Indeed, until they thought well of themselves, how could the believers go forth to encounter the rest of the world? At this critical moment, Quran would remind the community that Allah would help them the same way He helped their Prophet at the time of hijrah.
“If you help him not, Allah did indeed help him and give him victory, when the unbelievers drove him out: he had no more than one companion: The two were in the cave, and he said to his companion: Have no fear for Allah is with us.” [9:40]
It is evident how Quran utilizes the historical event and transforms it into a sign (Aya) and a lesson (Ibra) in order for the believers to see a new option and new hope for change when everything else seems to fail.
Quran is presenting us with a new meaning of victory or success. Victory takes place when the values that emanate from the Beautiful Names of Allah prevail “The word of Allah is exalted”- when the value of justice prevails over injustice; when the value of tawheed, as a vision to unite people, prevails over dividing them along tribal, regional, ethnic, religious, or sectarian lines. You can’t talk about success when a company, for example, makes a huge profit and pays its upper management huge bonuses while laying-off hundreds and thousands of its employees and throwing them into the street.
Quran goes beyond that and reminds us how the believers should behave at the time of victory, and not to let the victory blind them from adhering to higher values. “Those who, if We establish them on earth, establish prayer and give charity, enjoin the right and forbid wrong.” [22:41]
Quran changed the way history is recorded. According to Quran, history is not about chronology but goes beyond that to answer the question of why such historical events happened. Indeed, we are dealing here with philosophy of history rather than history.
A contemporary Historian made an interesting comment about Quran. He said: There is an implicit philosophy of history in Quran. It requires special and advanced tools and skills to uncover it.
In conclusion, hijrah is the vision that enables the believers to position themselves in time and space and decide where they are going. The legacy of Hijrah is renewal and rebirth. Hijrah is the hope and the aspiration for a better future.
By Dr Walid Khayr