It is the 9th year after Hijrah. Madinah, the place that witnessed the occurrence of this story, sits under the glaring sun. The season is an extremely hot one, when the palms are about to bear their fruits, and the shade is in abundance.
But the leader of this city has plans far more meritorious than reclining beneath the shade. He is setting out on a military expedition headed for Tabuk, a city north of Madinah, over 600 km away. The journey was one of extreme heat, thirst and lengthy distances over hot sands. The true believers prepare themselves to go out with their leader , except for around 80 men, who remain engulfed by the darkness of hypocrisy. They preferred to stay beneath the shade and care for their ripening dates over responding to the call of Allah and His Messenger.
Besides them, there were three who stayed behind, but were among the sincere and true believers: Hilal ibn Umayyah, Mirarah ibn Alrabee’ and the narrator of the story behind the subject of our discussion; Ka’b ibn Malik . Through his eloquent narration, one can almost feel his emotions of regret, truthfulness, pain, sorrow and at last, extreme joy. He says as narrated by his son, Abdullah:
I did not remain behind Allah’s Apostle in any Ghazwa (battle) that he fought except the Battle of Tabuk, and I failed to take part in the Battle of Badr, but Allah did not admonish anyone who had not participated in it, for in fact, Allah’s Apostle had gone out in search of the caravan of Quraish till Allah made them (i.e. the Muslims) and their enemy meet without any appointment. I witnessed the night of Al-‘Aqaba (pledge) with Allah’s Apostle when we pledged for Islam, and I would not exchange it for the battle of Badr although the battle of Badr is more popular amongst the people than it (i.e. Al-‘Aqaba pledge). As for my news (in this battle of Tabuk), I had never been stronger or wealthier than I was when I remained behind the Prophet in that battle.
By Allah, never had I two she-camels before, but I had then at the time of this battle. Whenever Allah’s Apostle wanted to make a Ghazwa, he used to hide his intention by apparently referring to different battle till it was the time of that Ghazwa (of Tabuk) which Allah’s Apostle fought in severe heat, facing, a long journey, desert, and the great number of enemy. So the Prophet announced to the Muslims clearly (their destination) so that they might get prepared for their battle. So he informed them clearly of the destination he was going to. Allah’s Apostle was accompanied by a large number of Muslims who could not be listed in a book namely, a register.” Ka’b added, “Any man who intended to be absent would think that the matter would remain hidden unless Allah revealed it through Divine Revelation.
He then describes that his situation at the time was not one that permitted excuses to stay behind and not be with the Muslims for this battle, for he even had 2 camels, instead of one. In addition, he emphasizes his point by stating that the Prophet was very clear on his mission, and was not vague, contrary to the case of other expeditions where being unclear was used as a military tactic.
It is clear that Ka’b tells his story only to pass on the great lessons he acquired from this incident that profoundly affected his life forever. Likewise, if a mistake in our life led to a lesson-filled experience, we may share it with others with intentions of desiring good for them and hope that they will not fall victims to the same error.
So if Ka’b faced no obstacles in terms of health and provisions, what then held him back for proceeding with the army?
Let’s reflect for a moment on our own lives and consider our situation when we have the necessary means to do something and a will to do it, yet we are not doing it. There is usually one reason; we have put it ‘on-hold’. When there is no other excuse in our path, procrastination becomes a leading factor that pulls us away from superior goals and hinders productivity. Nothing held Ka’b from joining the Muslims at the time but this deceptive force. He continues, saying:
So Allah’s Apostle fought that battle at the time when the fruits had ripened and the shade looked pleasant. Allah’s Apostle and his companions prepared for the battle and I started to go out in order to get myself ready along with them, but I returned without doing anything. I would say to myself, ‘I can do that.’ So I kept on delaying it every now and then till the people got ready and Allah’s Apostle and the Muslims along with him departed, and I had not prepared anything for my departure, and I said, I will prepare myself (for departure) one or two days after him, and then join them.’ In the morning following their departure, I went out to get myself ready but returned having done nothing. Then again in the next morning, I went out to get ready but returned without doing anything.
Such was the case with me till they hurried away and the battle was missed (by me). Even then I intended to depart to take them over. I wish I had done so! But it was not in my luck (qadar). So, after the departure of Allah’s Apostle, whenever I went out and walked amongst the people (i.e, the remaining persons), it grieved me that I could see none around me, but one accused of hypocrisy or one of those weak men whom Allah had excused.
Indeed, ‘I wish I had done so!‘; a line of regret, familiar to our ears, our tongues and sometimes hidden away in our hearts. Its bitterness is more tasted so when it is related to the matters of the Hereafter.
And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteous. (Aal-‘Imran 3:133).
The best example in hastening to do good is that of our Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam).
Uqbah bin Al-Harith [rabhu] narrates: “Once I performed the ‘Asr prayer in Al-Madinah behind the Prophet . He got up quickly after finishing the prayer with taslim, and stepping over the people, went to one of the rooms of his wives. The people were startled at his haste, and when he came out and saw their astonishment at his urgency he said, “I recalled that there was left with me some gold which was meant for charity; I did not like to keep it any longer, so I gave orders that it should be distributed” (Bukhari). In another narration, the Messenger of Allah said, “I had left some gold for Sadaqah in the house, and did not wish to keep it overnight.”
Regardless of the fact that stepping over the people in the mosque is disliked according the majority opinion, the Prophet deemed it very important that he should not delay giving the charity that remained in his house.
Redirecting our attention to the story of Ka’b, we notice evidence therein pointing to the fact that the Muslim society at the time was accustomed to being quick in responding to do good. A walk through the streets of the city would lead Ka’b to find none left except “one accused of hypocrisy or one of those weak men whom Allah had excused.” It is clear that they understood that striving and working for this Religion was a duty upon them all; not the duty of the youth or a specific group of society alone. From the same segment, it is derived that if we do not hasten to befriend the righteous and be in their company, it is likely that we may find ourselves surrounded by their opposites.
The Prophet taught us in the hadeeth narrated by Abu Hurayrah:
“Hasten to do good deeds before you are overtaken by one of the seven afflictions.” Then (giving a warning) he said, “Are you waiting for such poverty which will make you unmindful of devotion; or prosperity which will make you corrupt, or disease as will disable you, or such senility as will make you mentally unstable, or sudden death, or Ad-Dajjal who is the worst expected absent, or the Hour, and the Hour will be most grievous and most bitter.” (Tirmidhi).
Abiding by such a principle in our lives would surely lead to a significant leap in terms of good deeds, as well as faith.
Hastening to do Good when Called to it
When Allah opens for us a door of mercy and virtue, our immediate reaction should be to enter it. Otherwise, it is very possible that the when such opportunities are ignored, we may find that the door has been shut on us, while we thought it would remain open forever. Whether it is adhering to proper hijab, seeking knowledge or attending congregational prayer, the short 3 letter word sawfa (سَوفَ meaning, ‘I shall’ or ‘I will’) should be viewed as barrier, preventing us from the good we desire.
The greatest challenge in doing good is to have firm resolution in the face of chances and not fall prey to incapability. The determined one of us is he who when he hears an inspiring talk or reads an informative article, seeks to apply at once. Not the next morning, because perhaps the door may have been closed by then.
Ka’b ibn Malik was a companion of the Prophet; meaning, a member of the best generation of this nation, yet he was still tested greatly and lost in the reward of fighting in the way of Allah with the army of the Prophet because of this one mistake: delaying his preparations. Our state should then be a more fearful one.
Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri narrated that the Prophet saw some of his companions falling back (in the rows for prayer) and said to them: “Come forward and follow me (in prayer), and let those who come after you follow you. People will persist in falling back until Allah puts them back.” (Muslim). If we continuously allow ourselves to fall back or be late for worship, then Allah may punish us by causing us to be late.
Hastening to Accept the Truth after Knowing it
Inclusive in the discussion of hastening towards good, is accepting the Truth after knowing it. Failing to accept the Truth when it is clear to us may result in one being afflicted with lack of understanding and deviation of the heart from the Straight Path. Allah says,
And We shall turn their hearts and their eyes away (from guidance), as they refused to believe therein for the first time, and We shall leave them in their trespass to wander blindly. (al-An’aam 6:110)
In another ayah:
So when they turned away (from the Path of Allah), Allah turned their hearts away (from the Right Path). And Allah guides not the people who are Fasiqoon (rebellious, disobedient to Allah). (al-Saff 61:5)
These verses clearly show us that the heart may return to falsehood, before it sees the light because of refusing to accept the Truth from the beginning. They also portray our weakness and that it is Allah who will guide us to do good or prevent us from it.
Allah commands the believers:
O you who have believed, respond to Allah and to the Messenger when he calls you to that which gives you life. And know that Allah intervenes between a man and his heart and that to Him you will be gathered. (al-Anfaal 8:24).
Al-Suddi commented on this verse saying, “Prevents oneself from his own heart, so he will neither believe nor disbelieve except by His leave.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir 4:287).
Thus, it is upon us to realize that being late in doing good, even if our hearts desired it, may eventually lead to being prevented from it altogether.
Hastening to Patience in the Face of a Calamity
Anas ibn Malik narrated , “The Prophet passed by a woman who was weeping beside a grave. He told her to fear Allah and be patient. She said to him, “Go away, for you have not been afflicted with a calamity like mine.” And she did not recognize him. Then she was informed that he was the Prophet. So she went to the house of the Prophet and there she did not find any guard. Then she said to him, “I did not recognize you.” He said, “Verily, the patience is at the first stroke of a calamity.” (Bukhari)
Even in patience, we are taught that the reward is for those hasten to it in the face of trials.
From only this short portion of the hadeeth of Ka’b we have learned the decisive factor that ultimately lead to the occurrence of this lesson laden story. We previously read that he said, “I wish I had done so!” But, he also added, “But it was not in my luck (qadar).”
Perhaps Allah willed for him to go through this experience so that generations after him would take heed and respond to the words of Allah;
“So hasten towards all that is good.” (al-Baqarah 2:148).