When the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad ibn Abdullah, and his early followers were faced with immense persecution in the city of Mecca, Muhammad instructed his followers to escape from this persecution rather than continue to suffer under it. Under the Prophet’s instruction, his followers migrated from Mecca to Medina in AD 622, thus leaving the birthplace of the Prophet and of the religion of Islam. The Prophet was soon to follow, traveling under the cover of darkness and hiding along the way in a cave to protect himself from the Meccan enemies who pursued him. After the migration to Medina, Muhammad ultimately signed a compromising treaty with the Meccans to promote peace and safety for the Muslims. Thus, the concepts of migration in order to escape persecution, re-establishment of communities, and compromise for peace were all central to the Prophet’s life and to the experience of the early Muslim community. Furthermore, the migration of the early Muslims from Mecca to Medina in order to escape persecution provides a strong precedent that modern-day Muslims facing oppression can follow in order to maintain liberty, dignity and progress.
Today, there are millions of Muslims facing persecution as they struggle to survive in war zones and refugee camps such as those in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Somalia, Sudan, and many other areas. This article will make the case that, firstly, Muslims under oppression should migrate to other locations as part of their Islamic faith; secondly, Muslims must be willing to compromise in order to achieve their strategic goals; and thirdly, countries should come together to establish safe havens so refugees of any faith can escape persecution. It should be noted that the third point is especially relevant for Muslim countries since Muslims constitute the majority of persecuted populations worldwide. I refer to this concept of providing refuge for those escaping persecution as “Medina Safe Havens.” This article calls on both world leaders and oppressed populations to support the creation of Medina Safe Havens across the globe so that there may be sanctuaries like the one Medina provided the Muslims fourteen hundred years ago.
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Migration as an Act of Islamic Faith
The religion of Islam encourages Muslims to migrate from their homelands in order to escape persecution and oppression. This migration is considered a sacrifice for the sake of God and is a form of peaceful struggle.
Muslims revere Prophet Muhammad’s life and his teachings as an explanation of the Qur’anic text, and they strive to replicate his footsteps by adhering to the hadith, or traditions, of the Prophet. Thus, it is significant that some of the most notable events in the Prophet’s life involved his migration to escape persecution. After he started openly preaching Islam in Mecca in AD 610, the city’s leaders became increasingly hostile towards the converts to the new religion and resorted to torture and harassment in an effort to stop its spread. To protect early Muslims from this persecution, Muhammad initially ordered their migration to Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), where he sought their protection from its Christian king. Some Muslims migrated to Abyssinia in AD 615, but Muhammad and the converts who remained in Mecca faced escalating torture and violence against them. In AD 622, the Prophet negotiated an agreement with the neighboring city of Yathrib (now Medina) and ordered Muslims to migrate. Ultimately, the Prophet’s own life was threatened in Mecca; in fact, the night he escaped to Yathrib with his friend Abu-Bakr was the night for which his assassination was planned. The Prophet was still being pursued by his enemies after he escaped from Mecca, so he had to hide in a cave for a couple days before taking an alternate route to Yathrib. This migration, known in Arabic as the Hijra, is extremely significant in the history of Islam, and it marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar, AH (for “After Hijra” or “Anno Hegirae” in Latin)  which is still in use today.
The significance of migration in Islam has not only been highlighted by the physical activities of the Prophet and his followers in Abyssinia and Medina; the subject of migration has also been addressed multiple times in the Qur’an. For example, in Sura An-Nisa (the Chapter on the Women), the Qur’an says that when angels ask the people who die while committing sin what was wrong with them, they will claim to have been oppressed. The angels will reply by asking if the earth was not large enough for them to have migrated away from the evil and stating that if anyone has the ability to move to another place in order to escape oppression but does not do so, Hell will be his destination (Qur’an 4:97). The following ayas (verses of the Qur’an), 4:98 and 4:99, state that only the feeble who cannot move or migrate will be forgiven for not trying to flee from oppression, and 4:100 says that the people who do migrate will be rewarded by God. Overall, Sura An-Nisa is focused on describing the rights of women and children; thus, the role of migration for the purpose of escaping oppression is presented as key to the fulfillment of these rights.
In Sura Ash-Shuara (the Chapter on the Poets), God commands Moses to lead the Jews at night from Egypt (Qur’an 26:52). This and many other Qur’anic ayas refer to God’s commandments to the Jews to migrate in order to escape persecution. In Sura Al-Ankaboot (the Chapter on the Spider), one is reminded that there is plenty of space on this earth for everyone, as God’s land is vast and abundant (Qur’an 29:56). Subsequent verses of this chapter, while noting the shortness of this life, also state that God provides sustenance and safe transport and, thus, urge man not to fear moving from one location to another.
Many hadith of the Prophet refer indirectly to the concept of migration to save one’s life. Muhammad is quoted as having said, “The blood of a Muslim is worth more than the Kaaba [the most holy site in Islam] and all its surroundings” . The priority is clear. Islamic faith and tradition clearly command Muslims to escape from persecution. God says in the Qur’an that people who migrate for His sake will be promised a place in Paradise (Qur’an 4:100). In fact, in many ways, a migrant is seen as being very similar to a one who gives his life for the sake of God, sacrificing his worldly possessions in exchange for God’s reward.
Strategic Compromise as an Act of Following the Hadith
During the period of hostility between Mecca and Medina, the Prophet and his followers tried to return to Mecca for a brief visit; however, the Quraish stopped the Muslim caravan and forbade their entrance. As the Muslims had hoped the Quraish tribe of Mecca would allow them to peacefully enter their city to perform religious rituals at the Kaaba, Muhammad strategically suggested a treaty to bring peace to the region and allow Muslims back into Mecca once a year for the specific purpose of visiting the Kaaba. The outline of this treaty, known as the Treaty of Hudaybiyya, is translated as follows:
In the name of almighty God, these are the conditions of peace between Muhammad, son of Abdullah, and Suhayl ibn Amr, the envoy of Mecca. There will be no fighting for ten years. Anyone who wishes to join Muhammad and to enter into any agreement with him is free to do so. Anyone who wishes to join the Quraish and to enter into any agreement with them is free to do so. A young man, or one whose father is alive, if he goes to Muhammad without permission from his father or guardian, will be returned to his father or guardian. But if anyone goes to the Quraish, he will not be returned. This year Muhammad will go back without entering Mecca. But next year he and his followers can enter Mecca, spend three days, and perform the circuit. During these three days, the Quraish will withdraw to the surrounding hills. When Muhammad and his followers enter into Mecca, they will be unarmed except for sheathed swords, which wayfarers in Arabia always have with them.
The Treaty of Hudaybiyya is significant as it set the precedent for Muslims to make strategic compromises in order to achieve their primary objective of worshipping God, which was represented in this case by visiting the Kaaba. Originally, the treaty referred to Muhammad with the title “Messenger of God,” which was unacceptable to the Quraish. While the companions of the Prophet were not willing to remove this title, Muhammad edited the treaty himself and agreed to compromise and sign without his God-given title . After the signing of the treaty, there was discontent among the Muslims because they did not like its one-sided stipulations, such as the agreement to return those who left the Quraish for the Muslims to their fathers or guardians but not do the same for those who left the Muslims for the Quraish, but the strategic compromise ultimately paid off for the Muslims in the long run by occupying and controlling Mecca in a non-violent fashion.
The Need for a New Medina
Today, migration as a result of persecution or armed conflict has generated over fourteen million refugees, and based on UNHCR figures published in June 2009, the majority of these refugees originate from Muslim majority countries1. According to the Durable Solutions UNHCR report from 2003 , the “durable solutions” to refugee populations are voluntary repatriation to the country of origin, local integration into the country of asylum, and resettlement to a third country.
With the majority of refugees being Muslim, it makes sense for stable Muslim countries to serve as the “third country” for these refugees to resettle in. Furthermore, given that Muslims are commanded by their religion both to migrate in order to escape persecution and to believe God will provide sustenance for all of His creation (Qur’an 6:151), and given that hosting refugees is an integral part of Islamic tradition, this article calls upon today’s Muslim countries and populations to create safe havens that will accept refugees from anywhere in the world. The idea is simple—Muslim countries should lend a portion of their uninhabited lands to refugee populations, thus creating Medina Safe Havens communities all around the world.
There are many models to follow for the implementation of safe havens for refugees that do not place major burdens on the host countries. I will outline one proposal that I see as not only practical for the refugees but also beneficial to them and their host countries.
I suggest host countries allocate unused areas of land to refugees and allow anyone of any faith or ethnicity to migrate to those areas. These countries would simply provide each refugee family enough land to establish a self-sustainable farm. Together these farms would encourage a lifestyle similar to that of the early Israeli Kibbutz or the nineteenth century American countryside experience and would not require any infrastructure like electricity, sewers, or roads. Needless to say, refugee families would be free to use any prior savings or resources of their own to purchase tents, beds, prefabricated homes, solar panels, electric vehicles, farming aids, or any other products that could serve as a means of improving their lifestyles. Homeschooling for children can be encouraged, thus allowing them to stay home to help on the family farm, and health care can be provided nearby, via mobile clinics. Compared to their current living conditions, having a parcel of land, security, healthcare, education, and the opportunity to work hard and earn a living would surely be seen as a luxury to the modern-day camp ridden refugees in Africa, Palestine, Afghanistan, and other areas of the world.
Starting a Medina Safe Havens
Starting a Medina Safe Haven is not as daunting a project as many potential host countries may initially think. I urge countries with large areas of available land to give a good look at the cost of starting Medina Safe Haven communities. Due diligence will show that supporting a simple agriculture-based economy only requires allocation of unused land and access to very small amount of water. Based on information from the meetings of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a lot of only 700 square meters (7535 square feet) is required for one person to support his own vegetarian diet, an extremely small space compared to the approximately 16,000 square meters (172,222 square feet) required to produce the food in a typical Western diet.
Based on new agricultural techniques such as Dry Area Agriculture and Biointesive® farming, it is estimated that only 3500 square feet of land and between 250 and 1000 liters of water per day are required for one person to survive. Furthermore, only 2 to 4 liters of that water needs to filtered for potable use. Green technologies, like wind turbines, solar panels, rechargeable batteries, and LED lighting, will allow these new communities to quickly increase their standard of living and, at the same time, become practical models for functional, low-impact, sustainable living. I am also confident that each host country will experience an influx of assistance from international charities and volunteer organizations that will help refugees set up their farms and sustainable lifestyles. Additionally, the safety of and easy access to Medina Safe Haven communities will most likely make them the preferred target for charity organizations looking to optimize their humanitarian relief efforts.
A Worthy Dream
In conclusion, it is my dream to see a world in which large countries establish multiple Medina Safe Haven communities for refugees and wealthy nations of all sizes fund the relocation and administration expenses associated with the establishment of these communities. Specifically for Muslims, I dream that area-abundant countries, such as Libya, Algeria, Sudan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey, will make a point to follow the early tradition of Islam and support refugees through the creation of Medina Safe Haven communities. I also dream that oppressed Muslim populations will follow in the footsteps of their beloved Prophet Muhammad and migrate as commanded by God; and I dream that, in due time, these refugees will dedicate themselves to adopting their new home or winning back their homeland through nonviolent treaties and means of influence, like Muhammad won over both Medina and Mecca.
 a b Watt, W. Montgomery. \”Hidjra\”. in P.J. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Encyclopaedia of Islam Online. Brill Academic Publishers. ISSN 1573-3912.Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_calendar#cite_note-WH-0
 Sunan IbnMajah; Silsilah El Saheehah: hadith #3420; Saheeh El Targheeb wal Tarheeb: hadith #2441
 Narrated Al-Bara bin ‘Azib Sahih al-Bukhari 3:49:62 link: http://www.usc.edu/schools/college/crcc/engagement/resources/texts/muslim/hadith/bukhari/049.sbt.html, Sahih Muslim 19:4404
 UNHCR Statistical Online Population Database, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Data extracted Nov 23, 2010. Refugees, Asylum-seekers, Returnees, Internally Displaced and Stateless Persons, 16 June 2010. Excel file download
 Framework for Durable Solutions for Refugees and Other Persons of Concern, UNHCR Core Group on Durable Solutions, May 2003, p. 5 – Wikipedia link Ref. 4 .PDF Download
 International Development Research Center. Link: http://www.idrc.ca/en/ev-30610-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html
 International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas. Link: http://www.icarda.org/
 Grow Biointensive® website: http://www.growbiointensive.org/index.html
 Mayo Clinic. Link: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/water/NU00283
Feedback from J. Hashmi (Muslim Matters Senior Associate):
First, thank you for writing this article; although I have some major disagreements with what you have stated (which I shall discuss shortly), I do appreciate your willingness to express your views on the issue. It’s commendable how you’re thinking out of the box, challenging what passes for conventional wisdom amongst us Muslims. Secondly, I appreciate your desire and love for peaceful resolutions, a very nice change from the aggressive and emotional rhetoric we constantly hear from the “religious right” of Islam.
Having said all of that, it seems that you are implying that the Palestinian refugees ought to be relocated to what you call the “Medina 2010” centers. (Correct me if I am wrong.) I myself disagree wholeheartedly with those who can envision no peace with Israel under any circumstances whatsoever, i.e. the “drive the Jews out to the sea” option. (I support a two state solution along the 1967 borders, something which the global community and the Palestinians support–but which the Israelis refuse to accept.) Nonetheless, it seems that you are going from one extreme to the other: advocating that Palestinian refugees up and leave seems akin to asking them to roll over and die.
Although I strongly believe that our religion enjoins peace, surely you can recognize the right of an indigenous population to fight off the occupier? You analogize the situation of the Palestinian refugees to that of the early Muslim community in Mecca, and seem to argue that based on this it would be a religious obligation to flee Palestine. Yet, such analogies are always problematic, because they are never exact. We often see the other side of the spectrum abusing such analogies themselves, and then arguing that the Muslims of today must do such-and-such. But the situation then is not the same exact one now! Although we learn important lessons from the travails of the early Muslim community, we recognize the changed circumstances now and act accordingly.
In fact, the Israelis from the very beginning desired to drive out the Palestinian population, arguing–exactly as you do–that the Arabs and Muslims have plenty of land elsewhere; the idea was that the Arabs and Muslims outside of the region would “absorb” the Palestinians, thereby ridding Israel of its Palestinian problem. This was–and is–Israel’s “population transfer” policy, a euphemism for the ethnic cleansing of the land of Palestine. It is for this reason that Israeli apologists point to the vast Islamic lands compared to the small sliver of land that Israel occupies, as if to argue: is there really not enough room for the Palestinians in the Islamic world?
Yet, the issue is not about space. It is about the national identity of the Palestinians and their existence as a people–and their right to the land that their ancestors have tilled for hundreds of years. It is about the sanctity of international law; it is about freedom and liberty. It is about what makes us men. Lastly, and most importantly, it is about upholding a covenant in our religion, which is to defend against oppression in the land.
You mention hijra. But do not forget that there is also jihad. The Muslim community of Mecca was commanded to do hijra, but the community of Medina was commanded to engage in jihad. So it is up to the Muslims today–the Palestinians in specific–to decide whether or not their situation calls for hijra or jihad. Let me be perfectly clear: I am not calling for terrorism or aggression. Jihad is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the West, perhaps because even in the Muslim world it has a disputed meaning. Here, I am simply using the term ‘jihad’ to refer to the right of a native population to fight off those who occupy and oppress them, a right recognized by international law and by God Himself; that is what jihad is. As God says in the Quran:
Permission to fight is given to those upon whom war is made because they are oppressed–and most surely God is well able to assist them–those who have been expelled from their homes without a just cause. (Quran, 22:39-40)
Of course, this is not a blanket justification for war. It must be understood that the goal is to ward off oppression and aggression; God declares:
But if the enemy inclines towards peace, you also incline towards peace–and trust in God. (Quran, 8:61)
So I do share your love for peace–I think it is what the Quran itself enjoins repeatedly. But, as Martin Luther King famously said: “Without justice, there can be no peace.”
It seems to me that your proposition would be admitting to the end of the Palestinian dream of having a national homeland. After all, is this not the reason that the neighboring Arab countries deny Palestinians the right to citizenship, because it would result in the loss of Palestinian identity? Such a move may come across as insensitive, but it is similar to that of the American Jews during the Holocaust who refused to “absorb” Jewish refugees–for it was thought that they ought not to go anywhere but Palestine, which they saw as the only permanent solution to the problem. (Of course, the two situations are not at all comparable in the sense that the American Jews were sending the Jews to a land that was not rightfully Jewish, whereas the Arabs today are ensuring that the Palestinians do not give up land that has been theirs for hundreds of years.)
There may well come a time when the situation in Palestine becomes completely unbearable such that it would be inhumane for the greater Islamic world not to take in Palestinian refugees en masse. The goal of the Israelis is of course to reduce the natives of Palestine to the situation of the natives of America. Yet I do not think we have reached that point yet–and most importantly, I do not think that the Palestinian people themselves think they have reached that place yet.
That leads me to my last point: I think we should listen to what the Palestinian people want. Do they, as a people, want to abandon their national dream? I do not think they would be as receptive to the Medina 2010 proposal as they would be to Arab and Muslim countries simply providing financial assistance to the refugees in the West Bank and Gaza. Instead of having the refugees come to us, why shouldn’t we go to the refugees? Surely that would be a lot more beneficial to the Palestinian dream.
Furthermore, I think such an approach would be far more realistic and practical than what you have proposed. The Medina 2010 initiative seems overly simplistic, if not outright quixotic. It is not easy to absorb such a large diaspora population–especially for third world countries. In fact, it would lead to the destabilization of the neighboring Arab countries, which the Israelis recognized as another benefit of “population transfer.” Basically, I completely disagree with your statement here:
I will outline one proposal that I see as not only practical for the refugees but also beneficial to them and their host countries.
Your proposal sounds neither practical nor beneficial for the host countries. And it is of questionable benefit to the Palestinian people. To conclude: I disagree with your article, but I’m glad you wrote it so that we could at least have this conversation. Keep in mind that I am the one who put your article up in the first place, which I would not have done if I thought your article was completely useless. I think that you raised some interesting points, gave another perspective, and now we have something to think and talk about. And for that, I say: cheers!
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