A test of truth; the Messenger of Allāh (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) was about to listen to the excuse of Ka'b bin Malik (radhiAllahu anhu) for staying behind from the battle. As Ka'b approached him, he studied his expression, describing it as a smile; but not his typical smile.
Then I came to him, and when I greeted him, he smiled a smile of an angry person and then said, 'Come on.' So I came walking till I sat before him.
To explain that the expression of a smile may sometimes be one of displeasure, Ibn Al-Qayyim quotes a line of poetry:
If you see the fangs of the lion revealed Think not that the lion has smiled
The Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) taught us skills in effective speaking, when he told Ka'b to come near. Speaking while one is close to a person is much more effective than speaking from a farther distance.
Then, the Messenger of Allāh (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) asked the question that has been worrying Ka'b for days:
He said to me, 'What stopped you from joining us. Had you not purchased an animal for carrying you?'
With the confidence that comes with a truthful tongue, Ka'b (radhiAllahu anhu) replies:
I answered, “Yes, O Messenger of Allāh! But by Allāh, if I were sitting before any person from among the people of the world other than you, I would have avoided his anger with an excuse. By Allāh, I have been bestowed with the power of speaking fluently and eloquently, but by Allāh, I knew well that if today I tell you a lie to seek your favor, Allāh would surely make you angry with me in the near future, but if I tell you the truth, though you will get angry because of it, I hope for Allāh's Forgiveness.
Deep faith with no strains of uncertainty: he knew that nothing would save him that day except the truth, even if it meant that he would go through a period of trial.
Ka'b was a man who could debate and argue, he possessed eloquence in this regard. But his taqwa and fear of Allāh prevented him from lying. He knew his skill, but also knew his limits, that there was a time and place for everything. His consciousness of the Creator led him to understand that he could not utilize his skills in that which leads to the displeasure of The One who bestowed it upon him.
He continued with the words that seemingly were the beginning of a big test, but in fact were the first steps towards forgiveness and relief:
Really, by Allāh, there was no excuse for me. By Allāh, I had never been stronger or wealthier than I was when I remained behind you.'
They were words of truth, released from the lips of a man who feared none but Allāh. When he sat in front of the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) he put aside any false excuses that could have previously come to mind, and his tongue spoke only the truth.
Here, we see the mercy of Allāh and how He may bless the believer and protect him from falling into sin, when He knows a good intention of sincerity and truthfulness from his heart. It was only Allāh who protected him from telling a lie that day, when many others were not saved from such a trial. It was guidance and success from Allāh for Ka'b and the other two Companions that He led them to truthfulness, thus avoiding eternal punishment in the Hereafter.
So, Ka'b told the truth. But what was the reaction of the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam)? Was he displeased with him for being so blunt, blaming him for lack of shame in that he had no excuse? Did he reprimand him with a long lecture? Rather, his only reply at the time was;
Then the Messenger of Allāh said,
أما هذا فقد صدق فقم حتى يقضي الله فيك
'As regards this man, he has surely told the truth. So get up till Allāh decides your case.'
This testimony of the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) to his truthfulness is an honor for Ka'b. After all, what a great honor to have the Messenger of Allāh, the Best of Creation testify in such a testing time, that your speech was truthful. To really appreciate this, reflect on your feelings if highly respected and loved individuals in your community testified to your uprightness in a challenging situation.
Ka'b got up, leaving his affair to Allāh, for whatever Allāh willed will occur and whatever He did not will, will not occur. But, his heart remains constricted; he had chosen the right way, but the matter remained unsettled. What would be decided about him from Allāh and His Messenger and when? He did not know.
I got up, and many men of Banu Salama followed me and said to me. 'By Allāh, we never witnessed you doing any sin before this. Surely, you failed to offer excuse to Allāh's Messenger as the others who did not join him, have offered. The prayer of Allāh's Messenger to Allāh to forgive you would have been sufficient for you.' By Allāh, they continued blaming me so much that I intended to return (to the Prophet) and accuse myself of having told a lie, but I said to them, 'Is there anybody else who has met the same fate as I have?' They replied, 'Yes, there are two men who have said the same thing as you have, and to both of them was given the same order as given to you.' I said, 'Who are they?' They replied, Murara bin Ar-Rabi Al-Amri and Hilal bin Umaiya Al-Waqifi.' By that they mentioned to me two pious men who had attended the Battle of Badr, and in whom there was an example for me. So I did not change my mind when they mentioned them to me.
Once again, we see how Allāh (subhanahu wata'ala) protected Ka'b from falling into sin when he thought about returning to the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) to change his words.
He then sought to console himself by questioning whether anyone else faced the same trial. When he heard that there were two other righteous companions in his situation, his heart seemed to be a bit at ease and he remained steadfast in his position.
In this, there is a lesson: it is possible to lighten upon ourselves the heat of a calamity or trial by turning our attention to those who are similarly tested. It is part of the nature of man to feel a sense of relief in their heart when they know that others are facing what they are facing.
It may have been a mercy from Allāh, so he would remain steadfast in the testing days coming ahead.
Allāh (subhanahu wata'ala) tells the believers;
وَلَا تَهِنُوا فِي ابْتِغَاءِ الْقَوْمِ ۖ إِن تَكُونُوا تَأْلَمُونَ فَإِنَّهُمْ يَأْلَمُونَ كَمَا تَأْلَمُونَ ۖ وَتَرْجُونَ مِنَ اللَّهِ مَا لَا يَرْجُونَ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا
And do not weaken in pursuit of the enemy. If you should be suffering – so are they suffering as you are suffering, but you expect from Allāh that which they expect not. And Allāh is ever Knowing and Wise. (Al-Nisaa 4:104)
In a hadith, narrated by Abu Hurayrah, the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) said,
“Look at those who stand at a lower level than you but don't look at those who stand at a higher level than you, for this would make the favors (conferred upon you by Allāh) insignificant (in your eyes).” Abu Mu'awiya said: 'Upon you.' (Muslim)
But even in the case where we may find solace in the fact that we are not alone in a trial, we should keep in mind that in the Hereafter, sharing a punishment will not be of comfort or benefit, as Allāh says,
And never will it benefit you that Day, when you have wronged, that you are [all] sharing in the punishment.(Al-Zukhruf 43:39).
Although Ka'b and his two companions chose the truthful way, they were still tested greatly. He continues saying,
Allāh's Messenger forbade all the Muslims to talk to us, the three aforesaid persons out of all those who had remained behind in that battle. So we kept away from the people and they changed their attitude towards us till the very land (where I lived) appeared strange to me as if I did not know it. We remained in that condition for fifty nights. As regards my two fellows, they remained in their houses and kept on weeping, but I was the youngest of them and the firmest of them, so I used to go out and witness the prayers along with the Muslims and roam about in the markets, but none would talk to me
There is no doubt that being cut off by the Muslims is a test that brings about feelings of extreme pain, in this case, so extreme that Ka'b felt that even the earth on which he walked was strange.
Ibn Al-Qayyim (rahimahullah) explains that this feeling of strangeness from the one who is in a state of grief, fear or worry because of sins is due to them possessing a living heart. Their heart feels that even the non-living things around them are strange and is filled with mixed feelings of isolation and dreariness (wahsha). This is the reaction of a living heart to sins.
As for the hypocrites, then this strangeness and feeling that their surroundings deny them is even greater. But ailments have overcome their hearts and numbed the pain of sins; a sign of misery and wretchedness. The sins of the true believer make his living heart full of worry and fear. Abdullah bin Mas'ud (radhiAllahu anhu) said: “The believer sees his sins as if he is sitting at the foot of a mountain fearing that it might fall on him, while the sinner (fajir) sees his sins as a fly that lands on his nose, he just waves it away.” (Bukhāri).
As for the good deeds of a believer, they result in a feeling of security and a tranquil, blissful heart.
“Say, “In the bounty of Allāh and in His mercy – in that let them rejoice.” (Yunus 10:58).
The Messenger of Allāh (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) said: “If your good deeds make you happy and your bad deeds make you sad, then you are a believer.” (Ahmad, Ibn Majah).
The order from the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) for the Muslims to boycott them is evidence of their truthfulness in contrast to those who presented false excuses. Because Allāh wanted more good for them, He tested them with a life-changing lesson. A question may arise as to why those who lied seemed to have it easy? To answer this, it is noted that the crime of hypocrisy is much greater than to be met with being cut off by the Muslims. Hypocrisy is a disease of the heart and boycotting will not be of benefit to it.
It is from Allāh's Wisdom that He reprimands His righteous slaves for their misdeeds in this life, before the Hereafter. This makes the believer alert and conscious of their deeds. Anas reported that the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) said, “When Allāh intends good for His slave, He punishes him in this world, but when He intends an evil for His slave, He does not hasten to take him to task but calls him to account on the Day of Resurrection.” (Al-Tirmidhi).
Ibn Al-Qayyim says (paraphrased): As for one who is not loved by Allāh, then He leaves him between himself and his sins. In fact, he may even be granted bounties of this life after sinning. But the one who is heedless of his Creator and full of himself, he assumes that he is especially deserving of such provisions. He does not realize that this is a type of degradation for him, consequently leading to a punishment postponed for the Hereafter. (Zad al-Ma'aad).
50 days; Ka'b and his 2 companions remained cut off. The pain is greater when the society is an honorable one instituted in the best generations of this entire Muslim nation. The truthful ones experienced some pain in this life, but the successful end was in their favor. It may that sweetness in the beginning results in a bitter end, and a bitter beginning results in a sweet end.