SIR101 A Man With Wings; Jafar bin Abi Talib ra by Amal Al-Sibai
As Muslims, we love anyone whom Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) loved. There is much to love about Jafar bin Abi Talib, the Prophet’s cousin and Ali’s brother (may Allah be pleased with them). Jafar was very close to the Prophet (peace be upon him), not only in blood relations, but also in character.
Jafar and Ali are the sons of the Prophet’s uncle Abu Talib, who cared for the Prophet (peace be upon him) when he was an orphan boy. Abu Talib tried his best to protect Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) from the persecution of Quraysh when he received revelation and called people to the belief in Allah.
It has been narrated that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said to Jafar bin Abi Talib, “Your appearance is similar to my appearance and your character is similar to my character, for you are of me and of my [family] tree.”
This closeness, brotherhood, and open love between the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his cousins teaches us to maintain good relationships with our cousins and relatives.
Jafar and his wife, Asmaa bint Umays, were among the earliest people to believe in Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), obey the teachings of Islam, and support its cause.
When the persecution against the early Muslims of Makkah became too intense to bear, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave permission to the Muslims to migrate to Abyssinia, which was ruled by a just king. Jafar was among those first immigrants to leave Arabia for the first time in their lives and travel across the sea to a new land in order to worship Allah without fear of physical and psychological abuse, which they had been suffering at the hands of the disbelievers of Quraysh.
After the treacherous sea journey, the Muslims’ happiness upon landing safely in Abyssinia did not last very long. In a matter of days, Quraysh had sent a delegation to convince the King of Abyssinia that the Muslims in his land were troublemakers and that they should be handed over to the Qurayshi delegation and forcibly returned to Makkah.
Just as Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had said, the King of Abyssinia, the Negus, was indeed a just ruler. He insisted on hearing the Muslims’ side of the story and giving them the chance to defend themselves in the face of these accusations.
Who would the Muslims choose as their spokesperson and representative to speak to the Negus in the presence of his royal court?
Jafar bin Abi Talib rose to the challenge to speak about the beauty of the message of Islam and to show the truth, despite the lies that the enemies of Islam had been spewing.
If Jafar was scared or nervous, he did not show it; he spoke with confidence, strength, and eloquence. Although he knew he was on the side of the truth, he remained polite, respectful, and humble. He praised the Negus and spoke respectfully. His remaining calm and well-spoken in this tense situation was one of the key reasons that the Negus actually listened so attentively to what Jafar had to say. I believe that Jafar’s wisdom in handling this situation played a large role in keeping the Negus receptive, open minded, and open-hearted. We can learn from Jafar to not let our emotions overcome us or become defensive, loud, or rude, but to speak up while remaining calm and respectful.
What Jafar said was just as important as how he said it. Jafar showed the Negus what their lives had been like in Arabia before Islam: idol worshipping, oppressing the weak, indecency, stealing, and breaking the ties of kinship. God chose a Messenger from among the Arabs, he told the Negus, to correct our ways and to lead us to the worship of the one true God, Allah. Our Prophet called us to pray, feed the poor, help our neighbors, defend the weak, speak the truth, be kind to our families, and worship Allah alone.
Jafar concluded by saying, “When they proceeded in oppressing us and trying to make us leave our religion, we immigrated to your land. We chose you over other leaders and hoped to be by your side and to not be oppressed, O King.”
Jafar recited the first few verses of Surah Maryam, and the entire court was filled with tranquility and serenity. The Negus wept until his beard was wet with tears. I can only imagine how beautiful Jafar’s recitation must have been, to the extent that it moved the Negus to tears. This shows that when our hearts are alive with Eman, our faith and love of Allah will be reflected in our recitation of the Holy Qur’an. When we read the Qur’an with reflection, deep thought, love of Allah, and belief in His words, our reading will then have a powerful impact on the hearts of others. When we are amazed by the Qur’an and this amazement resonates in our voices as we read the Quran, our reading could even move mountains. And that is what happened when Jafar read Surah Maryam; the Negus promised to protect the Muslims in his land.
However, the men from Quraysh would not give in, and they tried once more to smear the Muslims’ reputation in the eyes of the Negus. They knew that the Negus and his people were Christian, so they tried to fuel doubt and hatred by saying to them, “O King! These Muslims say troubling words about Jesus, the son of Mary, send for them to come and ask them about this matter.”
At this critical point, anyone else could have made a mistake. When one is so desperate to win someone over to the true religion of Islam, one could make a mistake of changing some of our fundamental beliefs or sprinkling something extra on, that is not in our religion, just to make it appealing and acceptable to others. This would be a grave mistake, because even if we have good intentions of making Islam more appealing to non-Muslims, it is never right to change or compromise the foundations of our religion.
When the Negus questioned Jafar about what Muslims say about Jesus, Jafar did not make Jesus into anything more than what he truly is. Jafar explained that Jesus is the servant of God, His Messenger, and the Holy Spirit cast into Virgin Mary. I wish we had the same strength Jafar had in his convictions and beliefs. Some Muslims today have gone as far as to change fundamentals in our religion just to appeal to Western thinking, such as falsely stating that hijab is not obligatory or accepting homosexuality. There are certain tenets in our religion that completely forbid certain behaviors and practices, and we cannot change them just to be “politically correct.”
After Jafar bin Abi Talib clarified what Islam says about Prophet Jesus, the Negus said, “Go, for you are safe and protected in my land. Whoever insults you will be punished.”
Jafar remained in Abyssinia with his wife Asmaa, and they started a small family there. They practiced their religion freely, just as the Negus had promised them. They lived there for 9 years, all the while inviting people to Islam and educating people about Islam.
Jafar was such an impressive man, father, warrior, teacher, and spokesperson. He learned the African language but he did not forget Arabic, and he made sure his three sons learned and spoke Arabic as well. Rather than being influenced by the culture he was living in, he was an influencer. Rather than being changed by the majority, he changed the people around him. He taught scores of Abyssinians about Islam. A group of 20 Christians decided to travel to Makkah to meet face-to-face with the Prophet that Jafar had told them so much about. When they arrived in Makkah, they went to the Kabah and saw Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) there reciting the Qur’an, and they immediately accepted Islam. With Allah’s help, Jafar was able to spread Islam in Africa. I cannot help but wonder what our communities would be like if all Muslim immigrants in non-Muslim countries were as proactive, energetic, intelligent, productive, and confident as Jafar bin Abi Talib; he truly was a game changer.
After being away for so long, the Muslims in Abyssinia received instructions from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to join him and the growing Muslim community in Madinah. The Prophet (peace be upon him) rejoiced and greeted them with much fervor and love when they arrived in Madinah.
A year later, the Prophet (peace be upon him) assembled an army to fight the Byzantines, and Jafar was among one of the valiant warriors to fight for the sake of Allah and His religion. Jafar had spread Islam in Africa with his words, and now it was time to spread Islam towards the Sham region with his sword. After Zaid bin Haritha was martyred carrying the Muslim army’s flag, Jafar carried the flag, and continued to fight with the valor of a true mujahid. Jafar fought on his horse, and after he was struck down by the enemy, he fought on foot. Sword lashes from the enemy came at him from every direction, yet he held on to the flag until he let out his last breath. He fell to the ground a martyr, with both arms cut off.
After the battle was over, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) informed his companions and family that Allah had promised to replace Jafar’s severed arms with wings, so that he may fly in Paradise with the angels. There are so many lessons we can learn in Jafar’s life and after his death. What I learned from the story of his death is that in the akhira you will be compensated and rewarded in accordance with your deeds and actions in this dunya. For those who recite the Qur’an ceaselessly in dunya, the verses of the Qur’an will elevate their levels in Paradise. For those who regularly fast extra, voluntary fasts for the sake of Allah, they will enjoy in Paradise the most delicious fruits and delicacies. Whoever conceals the faults of his/her fellow Muslims in this dunya, Allah will conceal that person’s faults on the Day of Judgment.
Jafar bin Abi Talib was 33 years old when he was killed in the Battle of Mu`ta. Again, I find questions forming in my head, “How could a man of 33 have accomplished so much? How do you become a Muslim legend at the age of 33?”
The Prophet’s eyes welled up with tears as he relayed the news of Jafar’s death. Everyone in Madinah mourned his death, and people cried for three days straight. The poor and destitute also wept over Jafar, who had helped them and taken care of their needs. In Jafar’s death, I ask myself, “Have you done anything worthwhile for people to miss you after your death and offer you a prayer for mercy?”
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