In spite of his noble standing among the Quraysh, Abu Talib, an uncle
of the Prophet, was quite poor. He had a large family and did not have
enough means to support them adequately. His poverty-stricken situation
became much worse when a severe drought hit the Arabian peninsula. The
drought destroyed vegetation and livestock and, it is said, people were
driven to eat bones in the struggle for survival.
It was during this time of drought, before his call to prophethood, that
Muhammad said to his uncle, al Abbas: "Your brother, Abu Talib, has a
large family. People as you see have been afflicted by this severe drought
and are facing starvation. Let us go to Abu Talib and take over responsibility
for some of his family. It will take one of his sons and you can taken
another and we will look after them."
"What you suggest is certainly righteous and commendable," replied al-Abbas,
and together they went to Abu Talib and said to him: "We want to ease
some of the burden of your family until such time as this distressing
period has gone." Abu Talib agreed.
"If you allow me to keep Aqeel (one of his sons older than Ali), then
you may do whatever you like ," he said.
It was in this way that Muhammad took Ali into his household and al-Abbas
took Jafar into his. Jafar had a very close resemblance to the Prophet.
It is said there were five men from the Hashim clan who resembled the
Prophet so much, they were often mistaken for him. They were: Abu Sufyan
ibn al-Harith and Qutham ibn al-Abbas both of whom were cousins of his.
As-Saib ibn Ubayd, the grandfather of Imam ash Shafi: al-Hasan ibn Ali,
the grandson of the Prophet, who resembled him most of all; and Jafar
ibn Abi Talib.
Jafar stayed with his uncle, al-Abbas, until he was a young man. Then
he married Asma bint Umays, a sister of Maymunah who was later to become
a wife of the Prophet. After his marriage, Jafar went to live on his own.
He and his wife were among the first persons to accept Islam. He became
a Muslim at the hands of Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, may God be pleased with him.
The young Jafar and his wife were devoted followers of Islam. They bore
the harsh treatment and the persecution of the Quraysh with patience and
steadfastness because they both realized that the road to Paradise was
strewn with thorns and paved with pain and hardship.
The Quraysh made life intolerable for them both and for their brethren
in faith. They tried to obstruct them from observing or performing the
duties and rites of Islam. They prevented them from tasting the full sweetness
of worship undisturbed. The Quraysh waylaid them at every turn and severely
restricted their freedom of movement.
Jafar eventually went to the Prophet, peace be upon him, and sought permission
for himself and a small group of the Sahabah, including his wife, to make
hijrah to the land of Abyssinia. With great sadness, the Prophet gave
his permission. It pained him that these pure and righteous souls should
be forced to leave their homes and the familiar and cherished scenes and
memories of their childhood and youth, not for any crime but only because
they said, "Our Lord is One. Allah is our Lord."
The group of Muhajirin left Makkah bound for the land of Abyssinia. Leading
them was Jafar ibn Abi Talib. Soon they settled down in this new land
under the care and protection of the Negus, the just and righteous ruler
of Abyssinia. For the first time since they became Muslims, they savoured
the taste of freedom and security and enjoyed the sweetness of worship
When the Quraysh learnt of the departure of the small group of Muslims
and the peaceful life they enjoyed under the protection of the Negus,
they made plans to secure their extradition and their return to the great
prison that was Makkah. They sent two of their most formidable men, Amr
ibn al-Aas and Abdullah ibn Abi Rabiah, to accomplish this task and loaded
them with valuable and much sought after presents for the Negus and his
In Abyssinia, the two Quraysh emissaries first presented their girls
to the bishops and to each of them they said: "There are some wicked young
people moving about freely in the King's land. They have attacked the
religion of their forefathers and caused disunity among their people.
When we speak to the King about them, advise him to surrender them to
us without his asking them about their religion. The respected leaders
of their own people are more aware of them and know better what they believe."
The bishops agreed.
Amr and Abdullah then went to the Negus himself and presented him with
gifts which he greatly admired. They said to him: "O King, there is a
group of evil persons from among our youth who have escaped to your kingdom.
They practice a religion which neither we nor you know. They have forsaken
our religion and have not entered into your religion. The respected leaders
of their people - from among their own parents and uncles and from their
own clans - have sent us to you to request you to return them. They know
best what trouble they have caused."
The Negus looked towards his bishops who said: "They speak the truth,
O King. Their own people know them better and are better acquainted with
what they have done. Send them back so that they themselves might judge
The Negus was quite angry with this suggestion and said: "No. By God,
I won't surrender them to anyone until I myself call them and question
them about what they have been accused. If what these two men have said
is true, then I will hand them over to you. If however it is not so, then
I shall protect them so long as they desire to remain under my protection."
The Negus then summoned the Muslims to meet him. Before going, they consulted
with one another as a group and agreed that Jafar ibn Abi Talib and no
one else should speak on their behalf.
In the court of the Negus, the bishops, dressed in green surplises and
impressive headgear, were seated on his right and on his left. The Qurayshite
emissaries were also seated when the Muslims entered and took their seats.
The Negus turned to them and asked:
"What is this religion which you have introduced for yourself and which
has served to cut you off from the religion of your people? You also did
not enter my religion nor the religion of any other community."
Jafar ibn Abi Talib then advanced and made a speech that was moving and
eloquent and which is still one of the most compelling descriptions of
Islam, the appeal of the noble Prophet and the condition of Makkan society
at the time. He said: "O King, we were a people in a state of ignorance
and immorality, worshipping idols and eating the flesh of dead animals,
committing all sorts of abomination and shameful deeds, breaking the ties
of kinship, treating guests badly and the strong among us exploited the
weak. "We remained in this state until Allah sent us a Prophet, one of
our own people whose lineage, truthfulness, trustworthiness and integrity
were well-known to us. "He called us to worship Allah alone and to renounce
the stones and the idols which we and our ancestors used to worship besides
"He commanded us to speak the truth, to honor our promises, to be kind
to our relations, to be helpful to our neighbors, to cease all forbidden
acts, to abstain from bloodshed, to avoid obscenities and false witness,
not to appropriate an orphan's property nor slander chaste women.
"He ordered us to worship Allah alone and not to associate anything with
him, to uphold Salat, to give Zakat and fast in the month of Ramadan.
"We believed in him and what he brought to us from Allah and we follow
him in what he has asked us to do and we keep away from what he forbade
us from doing.
"Thereupon, O King, our people attacked us, visited the severest punishment
on us to make us renounce our religion and take us back to the old immorality
and the worship of idols.
"They oppressed us, made life intolerable for us and obstructed us from
observing our religion. So we left for your country, choosing you before
anyone else, desiring your protection and hoping to live in Justice and
in peace m your midst."
The Negus was impressed and was eager to hear more. He asked Jafar: "Do
you have with you something of what your
Prophet brought concerning God?" "Yes," replied Jafar.
"Then read it to me," requested the Negus. Jafar, in his rich, melodious
voice recited for him the first portion of Surah Maryam which deals with
the story of Jesus and his mother Mary.
On hearing the words of the Quran, the Negus was moved to tears. To the
Muslims, he said: "The message of your Prophet and that of Jesus came
from the same source..." To Amr and his companion, he said:" Go. For,
by God, I will never surrender them to you." That, however, was not the
end of the matter. The wily Amr made up his mind to go to the King the
following day "to mention something about the Muslims belief which will
certainly fill his heart with anger and make him detest them" On the morrow,
Amr went to the Negus and said:
"O King, these people to whom you have given refuge and whom you protect
say something terrible about Jesus the son of Mary (that he is a slave).
Send for them and ask them what they say about him."
The Negus summoned the Muslims once more and Jafar acted as their spokesman.
The Negus put the question: "What do you say about Jesus, the son of Mary?"
"Regarding him, we only say what has been revealed to our Prophet ,"
replied Jaffar. "And what is that?" enquired the Negus.
"Our Prophet says that Jesus is the servant of God and His Prophet. His
spirit and His word which He cast into Mary the Virgin."
The Negus was obviously excited by this reply and exclaimed: "By God,
Jesus the son of Mary was exactly as your Prophet has described him"
The bishops around the Negus grunted in disgust at what they had heard
and were reprimanded by the Negus. He turned to the Muslims and said:
"Go, for you are safe and secure. Whoever obstructs you will pay for
it and whoever opposes you will be punished. For, by God, I would rather
not have a mountain of gold than that anyone of you should come to any
Turning to Amr and his companion, he instructed his attendants: "Return
their gifts to these two men. I have no need of them." Amr and his companion
left broken and frustrated. The Muslims stayed on in the land of the Negus
who proved to be most generous and kind to his guests.
Jafar and his wife Asma spent about ten years in Abyssinia which became
a second home for them. There, Asma gave birth to three children whom
they named Abdullah, Muhammad and Awn. Their second child was possibly
the first child in the history of the Muslim Ummah to be given the name
Muhammad after the noble Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace.
In the seventh year of the hijrah, Jafar and his family left Abyssinia
with a group of Muslims and headed for Madinah. When they arrived the
Prophet was just returning from the successful conquest of Khaybar. He
was so overjoyed at meeting Jafar that he said: "I do not know what fills
me with more happiness, the conquest of Khaybar or the coming of Jafar."
Muslims in general and the poor among them especially were just as happy
with the return of Jafar as the Prophet was. Jafar quickly became known
as a person who was much concerned for the welfare of the poor and indigent.
For this he was nicknamed, the "Father of the Poor". Abu Hurayrah said
of him: "The best of men towards us indigent folk was Jafar ibn Abi Talib.
He would pass by us on his way home and give us whatever food he had.
Even if his own food had run out, he would send us a pot in which he had
placed some butterfat and nothing more. We would open it and lick it clean..."
Jafar's stay in Madinah was not long. At the beginning of the eighth
year of the hijrah, the Prophet mobilized an army to confront Byzantine
forces in Syria because one of his emissaries who had gone in peace had
been treacherously killed by a Byzantine governor. He appointed Zayd ibn
Harithah as commander of the army and gave the following instructions:
"If Zayd is wounded or killed, Jafar ibn Abi Talib would take over the
command. If Jafar is killed or wounded, then your commander would be Abdullah
ibn Rawahah. If Abdullah ibn Rawahah is killed, then let the Muslims choose
for themselves a commander."
The Prophet had never given such instructions to an army before and the
Muslims took this as an indication that he expected the battle to be tough
and that they would even suffer major losses.
When the Muslim army reached Mutah, a small village situated among hills
in Jordan, they discovered that the Byzantines had amassed a hundred thousand
men backed up by a massive number of Christian Arabs from the tribes of
Lakhm, Judham, Qudaah and others. The Muslim army only numbered three
Despite the great odds against them, the Muslim forces engaged the Byzantines
in battle. Zayd ibn al-Harithah, the beloved companion of the Prophet,
was among the first to fall. Jafar ibn Abi Talib then assumed command.
Mounted on his ruddy-complexioned horse, he penetrated deep into the Byzantine
ranks. As he spurred his horse on, he called out: "How wonderful is Paradise
as it draws near! How pleasant and cool is its drink! Punishment for the
Byzantines is not far away!" Jafar continued to fight vigorously but was
eventually slain. The third in command, Abdullah ibn Rawahah, also fell.
Khalid ibn al-Walid, the inveterate fighter who had recently accepted
Islam, was then chosen as the commander. He made a tactical withdrawal,
redeployed the Muslims and renewed the attack from several directions.
Eventually, the bulk of the Byzantine forces fled in disarray.
The news of the death of his three commanders reached the Prophet in
Madinah. The pain and grief he felt was intense. He went to Jafar's house
and met his wife Asma. She was getting ready to receive her absent husband.
She had prepared dough and bathed and clothed the children. Asma said:
"When the Messenger of God approached us, I saw a veil of sadness shrouding
his noble face and I became very apprehensive. But I did not dare ask
him about Jafar for fear that I would hear some unpleasant news. He greeted
and asked, 'Where are Jaffar's children?' I called them for him and they
came and crowded around him happily, each one wanting to claim him for
himself. He leaned over and hugged them while tears flowed from his eyes.
'O Messenger of God,' I asked, 'why do you cry? Have you heard anything
about Jafar and his two companions?'
'Yes,' he replied. 'They have attained martyrdom.' The smiles and the
laughter vanished from the faces of the little children when they heard
their mother crying and wailing. Women came and gathered around Asma.
"O Asma," said the Prophet, "don't say anything objectionable and don't
beat your breast." He then prayed to God to protect and sustain the family
of Jafar and assured them that he had attained Paradise.
The Prophet left Asma's house and went to his daughter Fatimah who was
also weeping. To her, he said: "For such as Jafar, you can (easily) cry
yourself to death. Prepare food for Jafar's family for today they are
beside themselves with grief."