The Makkan caravans passing through Madinah were so strongly guarded that the Muslim allied tribes were not strong enough to intercept them on their way. Every caravan was escorted by nearly two thousand soldiers.

It was in the month of November of the year 623 AD when the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) selected eight Muslims led by Abdullah bin Hajjash for a mission. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) gave a letter to Abdullah bin Hajjash and instructed him to leave for Najad. He (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) further instructed that on reaching the well he should feed the camels and then open the letter and act upon what was written in it.

Abdullah bin Hajjash followed the orders of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). He kept walking west for two days and reached the well. He took his camels to the water and afterwards opened the letter to read it. He was directed in the letter to keep vigilance on Quraysh and report back to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) any movements made by Quraysh against Muslims.

He and his companions, after covering a two weeks journey, reached Nakhla on the last day of Rajab.

Nakhla is the same place where IbrahimR.A hurled stones at Satan to fend him off. During the Prophet’s (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) time, one of the famous idols of Arab, the idol of Manaat was fixed here. It is also the same place where the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), after leaving Ta’if had recited the Quranic verses, in a heart rending voice before crack of the dawn. Those verses were so effective that a party of Jinns entered the fold of Islam. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was in the position of "Khal", i.e. a person expelled from the tribe on that day.

Only six men led by Abdullah bin Hajjash reached Nakhla, as two of them were lost in the desert. The men lost were, Sa’ad bin Abbi Waqas and Utbah bin Ghazwan. Rajab was one of the sacred months for the Arabs. The months of Haram were not the same all over Arabia. These months were set according to the need of the areas. In Makkah, the eleventh and twelfth months of the year, i.e. Ziqa’d, and Zilhaj and the first and seventh month i.e. Muharram and Rajab were the sacred months. Rajab was also the month of minor Hajj (Umrah). The pilgrims to Makkah used to perform their rites of pilgrimage without fear during the month of Rajab.

One day before the month of Rajab had ended, Abdullah bin Hajjash and his team reached Nakhla. The same day a caravan headed for Makkah carrying hides and raisins reached Nakhla. The people of the caravan, after taking a short break, decided to continue with their journey. They wanted to reach Makkah before the end of Rajab in order to avail the concessions of the sacred month.

Abdullah bin Hajjash was enraged on seeing the caravan. He recalled the blood-cuddling scenes of oppression and tyranny launched by the Quraysh.. If he attacked the caravan, he would violate the sacred month of Haram, as scuffle was completely forbidden in the sacred months of Ziqa’d, Zilhaj, Muharram and Rajab. He remained indecisive for a moment and did not attack the caravan.

At the same moment he thought that intercepting the caravan would be a service to Islam because the elders of Makkah had laid Madinah under economic siege. The Quraysh had wanted to terrify and repress the Muslims through pangs of hunger; whereas the Muslims were not in a position to face them. He finally decided to attack the caravan with his companions. The caravan included four people of the Quraysh. One of, which was killed by Waqeed bin Abdullah, two were captured and the fourth was able to flee. The Muslims took possession of the wealth and cattle of the caravan. Waqeed was the first Muslim to kill a Kafir (idolater) in the way of Allah. Islamic historians also mention the name of the first idolater killed by a Muslim as Umro bin Hazrami.

Meanwhile a fugitive reached Makkah and narrated the incidence of attack on the caravan to the Quraysh. The Makkans tried to chase the Muslims but could not reach them in time. The Muslims along with the booty reached Madinah safely.

The Makkans raised cries of protest at this incident. They were joined by the Jews in the criticism. They accused the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and Muslims for not observing the sanctity of the sacred months. They said the Muslims had violated the ancient laws of sanctity by attacking the Makkan caravan.

The sacred months were acknowledged with great reverence in various parts of Arabia including Makkah and Madinah. Even bandits did not loot any caravan or its members during this period. These laws were followed strictly all over Arabia. The Bedouins could not have survived in those lands, unless these laws were strictly followed.

In some parts of Arabia, even an earthen bowl was considered wealth. If it was stolen, it was very difficult to compensate for its loss. That is why the punishment for a thief was the amputation of hand. And if such was not done, no one would have been safe from bandits and thieves.

The existence of the law for sacred months was also compatible with the living conditions of the Arabs. A major chunk of Arabia including Makkah was barren and unfit for cultivation. The inhabitants of this area were bound to import food from the agricultural areas in exchange for their products. Trade was only possible when the caravans had freedom of movement in a peaceful environment.

The desert tribes were usually hunger stricken and such caravans were a source of easy sustenance to them. They were not brave men, therefore, they looted the merchants mercilessly. The Arabs devised a law prohibiting killing and looting for the sacred months of the year and all Bedouins vowed to it.

Abiding by this law was so strict that even two blood-thirsty enemies would put their swords away to worship together side by side in Holy Ka’bah. At the end of the month they would restart their battles against each other.

In Makkah, some old and respectable men kept an account of these months and as soon as the month of Ziqa’d began, their chief would enter the Holy Ka’bah and make an announcement about the sacred period.

"O people! Beware! The month of Haram has started and the period of truce begun. So from today there should be no brawl and all the enmities and differences be put aside for the time being". At the end of this month, the same person used to announce again in Holy Ka’bah, that the sacred period had ended and they could reopen their issues and conflicts.

It is also important to note that contrary to our belief, the Arabs did not totally depend on lunar dates but utilised solar calendar as well. They divided their year into thirteen months every three years i.e. their two consecutive years were of twelve months while the third was of thirteen months. And this thirteenth month was called as "The month of Sa’far" or the empty month.

This month was not included in the rest of the twelve months. In those days there were two months which were called Muharram. One was called Muharram-al-Haram, and the other was Muharram-al-Halal. Gradually the month of Sa’far took the place of Muharram-al-Halal.

However, when Abdullah bin Hajjash arrived in Madinah with the gains, the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and other Muslims were saddened to know that the attack had been made in the month of Rajab. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) ordered that all the possessions be accumulated at one place and not be disturbed till a decision about them was made.

At that time the following verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace);


They ask thee
Concerning fighting
In the Prohibited Month.
Say: "Fighting therein
Is a grave (offence);
But graver is it
In the sight of Allah
To prevent access
To the path of Allah,
To deny Him,
To prevent access
To the Sacred Mosque,
And drive out its members". Tumult and oppression
Are worse than slaughter.
Nor will they cease
Fighting you until
They turn you back
From your faith
If they can.
And if any of you
Turn back from their faith
And die in unbelief,
Their works will bear no fruit
In this life
And in the Hereafter;
They will be
Companions of the Fire
And will abide therein.
(Surah Baqarah; V-217)

The above verse is quite elaborate of the fact that it was a graver sin to prevent the Messenger of Islam and his disciples from visiting Makkah and laying foundations of tumult and oppression against them than it was to breach the custom about prohibited months. The word Fitnah carries many meanings, but here it is meant to explain the "forced banishment".

The above verse at once relieved the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace)’s anxiety and he came to know that violation of the law of mutarka was not displeasing to Allah. To implement Allah’s Decree and to propagate Islam, any period of the year, could be used for necessary measures.

After some days, a delegation from Makkah paid a visit to Madinah to negotiate terms for the freedom of prisoners and recovery of the camels and other valuables. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) did not return the wares and camels, but freed both the prisoners for one thousand and six hundred Dirhams as Fidyah and divided this money among the Muslims. One of these two prisoners refused to return to Makkah and embraced Islam. This brought great pleasure to the Muslims.

In Islamic history the prisoner who accepted Islam was Hukam bin Kaisan and the other who returned to Makkah was Uthman bin Abdullah. It is said that these two were the first prisoners of the Muslims. As for the wares of the caravan, there is a difference among the Muslim historians. Some say that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) did not accept the booty but instead paid blood-money to the Quraysh, where some others hold that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) divided the possessions and accepted Khums for himself.