33.3 Those Who Stayed Behind
The rich were called to spend of their money for Allah's sake. All those who could provide war array for themselves were called to go and fight for His sake. Once again the Muslims were being tried. To fight the famous Roman legions was a daunting prospect at a time when the Roman Empire was the dominant power in the world. Moreover it was late summer, in a part of the world, amid burning rocks and waterless deserts, where the climate could kill without the aid of any Romans. Mohamed decided to lead this expedition himself.
Those of true faith came out of their own accord, to offer their lives to Allah. They were willing to go anywhere the Prophet went, even if it meant they would die of heat or thirst. They were willing to endure anything for the sake of their religion. Communications were very difficult in the vast tracts of the northern deserts and they knew they would have to travel for many, many days before they could reach any source of water or food.
The hypocrites, those whose hearts faith had not touched, and the mercenary, those who had entered into Islam for material considerations, began to whisper to each other,
"Do not go out to war in this heat," whereupon the holy verses were revealed to say:
Those who stayed behind after the Messenger of Allah, rejoiced in it,
and hated to struggle for Allah's sake with their money and themselves.
And they said, 'Do not go out to war in this heat.'
Say the fire of Jahannam is of greater heat,
if they could only understand.
Let them laugh a little; let them cry much,
in requital for what they used to do. (9:81-82)
Some of them did not only stay behind, but were active in persuading others to stay behind. They used to have meetings in the house of a Jew called Suwaylim. Not to answer the call of duty was bad enough, but to try to corrupt others was unforgivable. Mohamed sent Talha ibn Ubaydullah to burn down the house where they met and put an end to these meetings.
Many of the rich offered generously, and many of the poor went to the Messenger to beg for war gear to fight for Allah's sake. He had to apologize to some of them, saying he had no means of transport for them. They returned with tears in their eyes because they were unable to fight for their Lord.
A mighty army was finally gathered, thirty thousand men. The cavalry were ten thousand and went in front, while the rest followed on camel back. The Prophet went at the head of the army after leaving a deputy over Medina. Those who were ready to meet the worst for their faith marched forward; those who preferred a life of ease, cool shade, and safety remained in Medina.
The sight of this army going out in manly courage to cross hundreds of miles of treacherous terrain in deadly weather to meet an enemy many times their number, not knowing whether they would ever return to their homeland again, moved many of those who had decided to stay behind.
One of them, Abu Khaythama, returned after watching the army leave the city to find that each of his wives had prepared food, water, and cool shade for him. He looked at them, appalled, and said,
"The Messenger of Allah is in the noonday heat and Abu Khaythama in cool shade with food, drink, and beautiful women. Never! Prepare provisions for me, so that I can catch up with the Messenger of Allah."