Heroes of Islam: Thumama Ibn Uthal
In the sixth year after his migration to Madina, the Prophet (peace be upon him) sent eight letters to rulers in the Arabian Peninsula and surrounding areas inviting them to Islam. One of these rulers was Thumama ibn Uthal, one of the most powerful Arab rulers in pre-Islamic times. He was a chieftain of the Banu Hanifa and one of the rulers of al-Yamama, whose word no one dared to challenge or disobey.
When Thumama received the Prophet's letter, he was consumed by anger and rejected it. He felt so insulted, he resolved to kill the Prophet (peace be upon him) and waited for the opportune time to do so. One day, Thumama encountered a group of the Prophet's companions and killed many of them. Not long afterwards, Thumama decided to go to Makkah and pay homage to the idols there. But to reach Makkah he needed to pass near Madinah. A group of Muslims came upon Thumama and captured him and took him to Madinah. The Prophet (peace be upon him) knew it was Thumama, the same person who murdered many of the Companions. The Prophet then returned home to his family and said, "Get what food you can and send it to Thumama." All this was done before he met Thumama or had spoken to him.
The Prophet then approached Thumama. "What do you have to say for yourself?" he asked. "If you want to kill me in reprisal," Thumama replied, "you can have someone of noble blood to kill. If, out of your bounty, you want to forgive, I shall be grateful. If you want money in compensation, I shall give you whatever amount you ask."
The Prophet then left him for two days, but still personally sent him food and drink. The Prophet went back to him and asked, "What do you have to say for yourself?" Thumama repeated what he had said the day before. The Prophet then left and came back to him the following day. "What do you have to say for yourself?" he asked again and Thumama repeated what he had said once more. Then the Prophet turned to his companions and said, "Set him free."
Thumama left the mosque of the Prophet and rode until he came to a palm grove on the outskirts of Madinah. He watered his camel and washed himself well. Then he turned back and made his way to the Prophet's mosque. There, he stood before a congregation of Muslims and said: "I bear witness that there is no god but God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and His messenger." He then went to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said: "O Muhammad, by God, there was never on this earth a face more detestable to me than yours. Now, yours is the dearest face of all to me. I have killed some of your men. I am at your mercy. What will you have done to me?"
"There is now no blame on you, Thumama," replied the Prophet (peace be upon him). "Faith obliterates past actions and marks a new beginning."
Thumama's face showed joy, and he vowed, "By God, I shall place my whole self at your service and at the service of your religion. When your horsemen captured me I was on my way to Makkah for worship. What do you think I should do now?"
"Go ahead and perform your rites," replied the Prophet, "but perform it according to the laws of God and His messenger." The Prophet then taught him how to perform Umrah (lesser pilgrimage) according to sacred law.
Thumama left to fulfill his intention. When he reached the valley of Makkah, he began shouting in a loud, resonant voice: "Here I am at Your command, O Lord, Here I am. Here I am. No partner have You. Here I am. Praise, bounty and Dominion belong to You. No partner have You." He was thus the first Muslim on the face of the earth to enter Makkah reciting these words, known as the talbiyah.
The Quraysh heard the sound of the talbiyah and felt both anger and alarm. With drawn swords, they set out towards the voice to punish him. As they came closer to him, Thumama raised his voice even higher while reciting the talbiyah and looked upon them with pride and defiance. One of the Quraysh young men was particularly incensed and was about to shoot Thumama with an arrow when the others grabbed his hand and shouted: "Woe to you! Do you know who this is? He is Thumama ruler of al-Yamama. By God, if you should harm him, his people would cut our supplies, with dire consequences for us."
Swords were replaced in their scabbards as the Quraysh went up to Thumama and said, "What's wrong with you, Thumama? Have you given in and abandoned your religion and the religion of your forefathers?"
"I have not given in," he replied, "but I have decided to follow the best religion. I follow the religion of Muhammad. I swear to you by the Lord of this House that after my return to al-Yamama, no grain of wheat or any of its produce shall reach you until you follow Muhammad."
Under the watchful eyes of the Quraysh, Thumama performed the Umrah as the Prophet (peace be upon him) had instructed him. Thumama returned to his land and ordered his people to withhold supplies from the Quraysh. The boycott gradually began to have effect and became more and more stringent. Prices began to rise. Hunger began to bite, and there was even fear of death among the Quraysh. Thereupon, they wrote to the Prophet, saying: "Our agreement with you [the treaty of Hudaybiyyah] is that you should maintain the bonds of kinship but you have gone against that. You have cut the bonds of kinship. You have caused us hunger. Thumama ibn Uthal has cut our supplies and inflicted harm on us. Perhaps you would see fit to instruct him to resume sending us what we need."
The Prophet immediately sent a messenger instructing Thumama to lift the boycott and resume supplies to the Quraysh. This Thumama did.
Thumama spent the rest of his life in the service of his religion, abiding by the undertaking he had given to the Prophet. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) died, Musaylamah, the impostor, began calling the Banu Hanifa to believe in him as a Prophet. Thumama confronted him and said to his people:
"O Banu Hanifa, beware of this grievous matter. There is no light or guidance in it. By God, it will only bring distress and suffering to whoever joins this movement and misfortune even to those who do not join. O Banu Hanifa, two prophets do not come at the same time and there shall be no Prophet after Muhammad and no Prophet to share in his mission." He then read out to them the following verses of the Quran: Ha Mim. The revelation of this Book is from God the Almighty, the Knowing. He forgives sins and accepts repentance. He is severe in punishment and has a long reach. There is no god except Him. To Him is the journey's end (40:1-3).
"Can you compare these words of God with the uttering of Musaylama?" he asked. Thumama remained a fierce defender of the God's religion, though he started out as one of its most violent opponents.
By Abdul Wahid Hamid