The attempts by the companions / hypocrites to undermine Islam and the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) is a constant in Islamic history. We saw this in several well-documented incidents over the lifetime of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.). These attempts gained momentum in the last couple of years of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) life – with the incident of Aqabah in particular highlighted by historians in vivid detail.
Incident of Aqabah as recorded by historians
The incident of Aqabah is likely the biggest evidence of the conspiracy to eliminate the Prophet (s.a.w.a.).
The event unfolded during the Tabuk expedition in 9 A.H. when the Prophet (s.a.wa.) had to pass by Aqabah, Arabic for a steep valley.
Two groups of hypocrites lay in hiding on either side of the pass to frighten the Prophet’s camel. The Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was saved by Jibrail’s warning and the plot as also the plotters stood exposed.
Huzaifah Ibn Yaman who was driving the Prophet’s camel from behind was also informed about it. And according to some narrations Ammar Ibn Yasir who directed the camel from the front also knew their names. Only difference is while Huzaifah was sworn to secrecy by the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), Ammar faced no such restriction.
According to varying reports the number of hypocrites ranged from twelve to twenty-four. They included the usual suspects – five companions of the contract (to kill the Prophet s.a.w.a. and divide caliphate amongst themselves), five members of the Shura and Muawiyah and Amr Ibn Aas.
As part of a larger plot, there was a separate attempt on the life of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) in Medina by another group of hypocrites.
Allah saved both the personalities from the evil designs of the hypocrites.
- Tafseer al-Qummi under the exegesis of Surah Ale Imran (5): 67
- Tafseer of Imam Hasan Askari (a.s.) p 387-389
- Kitab al-Sulaim v 1 p 429, 729
- Khesal vol. 2 p. 499 under chapter of twenty-four traits
The incident of Aqabah is not a Shiite fabrication which is the first line of defense for anything even remotely uncomfortable to the Muslim majority. It is well-documented in the most reliable books of the Ahle Tasannun including the Sihaah:
- Sahih Muslim p 1,282 trad 2,879
- Tarikh Ibn Kathir vol. 4 p. 181-182
- Al-Seerah al-Halabiyya v 3 p 121
- Matalib al-Alia of Ibn Hajar vol. 14 p. 272
Why did the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) not expose the hypocrites of Aqabah?
When Prophet (s.a.w.a.) informed Huzaifah and Ammar about those two hypocrites who tried to kill him in Aqabah, they advised the Prophet (s.a.w.a.):
Then why don’t you order to finish them. When the people come to you, (inform them about it) and strike off their heads.
Prophet (s.a.w.a.): I don’t like people to say – first Muhammad places his hand in the hands of companions, then names them as conspirators.
- Majma al-Bayan v 5 p 68 under Tafseer of Surah Tauba (9): 74
- Dalail al-Nobuwwah of Baihaqi v 5 p 259
- Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah v 5 p 20
In the Sermon of Ghadeer, the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) elaborates his policy on the hypocrites:
Had I wished to name those who have mocked me, or to point them out, or to indicate their signs, I would have done so. But by Allah, I have indeed dealt with them magnanimously.
- Al-Ehtejaaj v 2 p 56-66
Rulers of the Muslim nation and incident of Aqabah
Muslim rulers who grabbed the caliphate after the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) martyrdom benefited immensely from the Aqabah conspirators. In fact, without support from the Aqabah conspirators, they would never have ascended to caliphate.
The first ruler in the initial stage, faced resistance from Muslims who openly challenged his qualification to lead the Muslims.
Twelve companions including Salman, Abu Zarr, Miqdad, Ammar Ibn Yasir (who was privy to the Aqabah conspirators) delivered stirring speeches in the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) mosque against the first one.
This left such an impact on him that he got down from the pulpit and locked himself inside the house for three days.
The Aqabah conspirators went to his house on the third day, brought him out and hoisted him on the pulpit. They drew their swords and warned the Muslims that if they dared to speak in that manner again they would slay them.
- Al-Khesal chapter of 12 traits, trad 4
The second ruler forever remained in fear of being exposed by Huzaifah. He never missed an opportunity to probe him on whether their names were among the hypocrites of Aqabah.
- Al-Tamheed p 196
- Bahjah al-Nufoos v 4 p 48
- Al-Ghadeer v 6 p 340
The second ruler formed a Shura committee with the Aqabah conspirators giving them the clear mandate to appoint Usman as ruler and deprive Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) of caliphate as per the original plan.
Usman didn’t seem to care much about being exposed because he had firmly established himself as ruler, with the top positions being filled by his clan members from Bani Umayyah.
He was particularly harsh on Ammar, as also Abu Zarr. They had challenged Usman’s caliphate on many occasions and called him out for being unfit to rule the Muslims. Usman had Ammar beaten up grievously, while he exiled Abu Zarr, which led to his death eventually.
How Muawiyah used the Aqabah incident to his advantage
Muawiyah like Usman also did not care much about being identified as an Aqabah co-conspirator since he was firmly established in Syria and saw no danger from any quarter. When Ammar’s killing did Muawiyah no damage despite a clear prophetic narration condemning Ammar’s killer, then a secret plot like Aqabah which was over 30 years old could hardly endanger his hold on caliphate.
In fact Muawiyah used the Aqabah conspiracy against Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) as this report shows:
Umar Ibn Thabit, Muawiyah’s agent, used to travel to the villages of Syria, where he used to gather the villagers and tell them: O people! Ali Ibn Abi Talib was a hypocrite (Allah forbid). He wanted to cut the nerve of the Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.a.) at the night of Aqabah, so, curse him. The people did as they were told. Then he would move to another village, where he would repeat the same story. This was during the reign of Muawiyah.
- Al-Gharat v 2 p 397, v 2 p 581
- Mustadrak al-Wasail v 7 p 547
Clearly the incident of Aqabah was a key event in Islamic history which showed that hypocrites were very much a threat to Islam and Muslims and it was as recent as 9th Hijri.
The Aqabah conspiracy laid the foundation for the usurping of caliphate from its rightful heirs for three tenures.
The conspiracy also exposes the lie of those who claim that the attack on Hazrat Fatima Zahra’s (s.a.) house is a Shiite fabrication. The obvious point that they have ignored is that if the hypocrites can attempt to eliminate the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) in 9th Hijri, what is to stop them from attempting another daring attempt on his daughter – Hazrat Fatima Zahra (s.a.) two years later, especially when they got away the first time. In fact, such an attack should be expected from the hypocrites.
When the Aqabah conspirators saw that Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) had become caliph contrary to their original plan, they challenged him on one pretext or the other in two battles and set the foundation for the third one.