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The Hegira (Arabicالهجرة‎) is a medieval Latin transliteration of the Arabic word meaning meaning “departure” or “migration,” among other definitions. Alternative transliterations of the word include Hijra or Hijrah.[1] The word is commonly used to refer to the journey of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina in the year 622.[2][3] The Hijrah is also identified as the epoch of the Islamic calendar, which is also known as the Hijri calendar, set to 16 July 622 in the Julian calendar or 19 July 622 in the Gregorian calendar.

Early in Muhammad’s preaching of Islam, his followers only included his close friends and relatives. Following the spread of his religion, Muhammad and his small faction of Muslims faced several challenges including a boycott of Muhammad’s clan, torture, killing and other forms of religious persecution by the Meccans. In 615, Muhammad instructed his companions to emigrate to Aksum (modern-day Ethiopia), to seek refuge under the protection of the Negus of AksumAshamah al-Negashi.

In May 622, after having convened twice with members of the Medinan tribes of Aws and Khazraj at al-‘Aqabah near Mina, Muhammad secretly left his home in Mecca to emigrate to the city, along with his friend, father-in-law and companion Abu Bakr.[4] Muhammad’s arrival at Medina resulted in the renaming of the city from Yathrib to Madīnat an-Nabī (Arabicمَدينة النّبي‎, lit. ‘City of the Prophet’), but the grammatic object an-Nabī was dropped after Muhammad’s death, rendering the current name, Medina (Arabicالمدينة‎; lit. ‘the City’).[5]

While the word is commonly used to explicitly refer to Muhammad’s Hegira, it may be used to refer to any of the three major migrations that were undertaken during Muhammad’s lifetime, the other two being the First migration to Abyssinia and the Second migration to Abyssinia.


The word is a medieval Latin transliteration of the Arabic noun هجرة meaning departure, derived from the verb هجر meaning emigrate.[6] The first recorded use of the word is in the late 15th-century;[6] while the first usage of the word to refer to an exodus was in 1753.[7]

Abyssinian Hegira[edit]

The First Hegira, dated to 615, was an episode of emigration in the early days of the Islamic faith. Muhammad, seeing the brutal extortion and persecution of his followers, instructed them to emigrate to Abyssinia and seek protection under the just king of AksumAshama ibn Abjar al-Negashi.[8][9] Muslims believe Muhammad did not emigrate himself because he had not received divine direction to do so.

Depiction of ‘Amr ibn al-‘As and Abdullah ibn Rabi’ah in the court of the Negus in Rashid ad-Din Sinan‘s “World History.

The Quraysh also sent ‘Amr ibn al-‘As and Abdullah bin Rabiah with gifts for the king and his generals as emissaries to Ethiopia with a request to surrender the refugees, however, the Negus refused to send them back.[10] The Meccans argued that the new religion was a fabrication unlike anything the Meccans or Abyssinians had heard of and that their relatives were asking for their return. The king granted both sides audience, but refused to accept any until he had heard both. Ja‘far ibn Abī Tālib, who spoke as the leader of the Muslims in the court of the Negus, described the details of Muhammad’s message of Islam and the persecution of the Muslims at the hands of the Meccans. The king then asked Ja’far to read of what was revealed to Muhammad, and Ja’far recited a passage from Surah 19 of the QuranMaryam, following which he affirmed the protection of the Muslims in Abyssinia.

The following day, ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, returned to al-Negashi and told him that the Muslims had spoken negatively of Jesus. al-Negashi summoned the Muslims and questioned them about their view of Jesus, to which Ja’far replied with saying that they held Jesus to be “God’s servant, His prophet, His spirit, and His word which He cast upon the virgin Mary.” The Negus declared the Muslims free and safe in Aksum, and asked the envoys of the Quraysh to return with their gifts. Modern historians have confirmed that al-Negashi and Negus Armah of Aksum are the same individual.

Muhammad’s Hegira[edit]


In Mecca, at the pilgrimage season of 620, Muhammad met six men of the Banu Khazraj from Medina, propounded to them the doctrines of Islam, and recited portions of the Quran.[11][12] Impressed by this, the six embraced Islam,[13] and at the Pilgrimage of 621, five of them brought seven others with them. These twelve informed Muhammad of the beginning of gradual development of Islam in Medina, and took a formal pledge of allegiance at Muhammad’s hand, promising to accept him as a prophet, to worship none but one God, and to renounce sins including theft, adultery, and murder. This is known as the “First Pledge of al-Aqaba”.[14][15][16] At their request, Muhammad sent with them Mus‘ab ibn ‘Umair to teach them the instructions of Islam. Biographers [17][who?]have recorded the considerable success of Mus`ab ibn `Umair in preaching the message of Islam and bringing people under the umbrella of Islam in Medina.

The next year, at the pilgrimage of 622, a delegation of around 75 Muslims of the Banu Aws and Khazraj from Medina came, and in addition to restating the formal promises, they also assured Muhammad of their full support and protection if the latter would migrate to their land. They invited him to come to Medina as an arbitrator to reconcile among the hostile tribes.[18] This is known as the “second pledge at al-Aqabah“,[19][20] and was a ‘politico-religious’ success that paved the way for him and his followers’ immigration to Medina.[21] Following the pledges, Muhammad encouraged his followers to migrate to Medina, and in a span of two months, nearly all the Muslims of Mecca migrated to Medina.

During the early seventh century, Medina was inhabited by two types of population: Jewish and pagan Arabs. The Jews there had three principal clans – Banu QaynuqaBanu Nadir, and Banu Qurayza. The Arab pagans had two tribes – the Banu Aws and Khazraj. At that time, the Jews there had the upper hand with their large settlement and huge property.[13] Before the encounter between Muhammad and the six men from Medina in 620, there was a battle between Aws and Khazraj, known as the Battle of Buath, in which many leading people of both the sides died, leaving Yathrib in a disordered state.[22] Traditional rules for maintaining law and order became dysfunctional, and, without a neutral man with considerable authority over things, stability seemed unlikely.[23] As the pagan Arabs of Medina lived in close proximity to the Jews, they had gained some knowledge about their scriptures, and had heard the Jews awaiting the arrival of a future prophet. It is because of this knowledge, taken together with their need for an adjudicator, that the six men who met Muhammad at the pilgrimage season of 620 readily accepted his message, lest the Jews should steal a march over them.[13][19]

The migration[edit]

According to Muslim tradition, after receiving divine direction to depart Mecca, Muhammad began taking preparation and informed Abu Bakr of his plan. On the night of his departure, Muhammad’s house was besieged by men of the Quraysh who planned to kill him in the morning. At the time, Muhammad possessed various properties of the Quraysh given to him in trust; so he handed them over to ‘Ali and directed him to return them to their owners, and asked him to lie down on his bed assuring him of God’s protection. Ibn Kathīr narrates that when Muhammad emerged from his house, he recited the ninth verse of surah Ya Sin of the Quran and threw a handful of dust at the direction of the besiegers, rendering the besiegers unable to see him.[24][25] Soon, Muhammad joined Abu Bakr, left the city, and the two took shelter in a cave outside the city. Next morning, the besiegers were frustrated to find Ali on Muhammad’s bed. Fooled and thwarted by Muhammad’s plan, they searched the city for him,[26] and some of them eventually reached the threshold of the cave, but success eluded them. When the Quraysh came to know of Muhammad’s escape, they announced heavy reward for bringing Muhammad back to them, alive or dead. Unable to resist this temptation, pursuers scattered in all directions. After staying for three days, Muhammad and Abu Bakr resumed their journey and were pursued by Suraqa bin Malik. But each time he neared Muhammad’s party, his horse stumbled and he finally abandoned his desire of capturing Muhammad.[27] After eight days’ journey, Muhammad entered the outskirts of Medina on 24 May 622,[2] but did not enter the city directly. He stopped at a place called Quba‘, a place some miles from the main city, and established a mosque there.

After a four-day stay at Quba’, Muhammad along with Abu Bakr continued to Medina, participated in their first Friday prayer on the way, and upon reaching the city, were greeted cordially by its people.

Dates of events[edit]

The Muslim year during which the Hijrah occurred was designated the first year of the Islamic calendar by Umar in 638 or AH 17 (anno hegirae = “in the year of the Hijrah”).[5] The following table lists the dates of various events of Muhammad’s Hijrah as mentioned by Muhammad Hamidullah, F. A. Shamsi and Fazlur Rehman Shaikh in their works. Fazlur Rehman has listed other dates for the arrival of Muhammad in Quba’ in his work, as proposed by modern scholars, ranging from 31 May 622 to 22 November 622.

Day Julian[28] and Islamic dates
by Muhammad Hamidullah[29]
Julian and Islamic dates
by F. A. Shamsi[5]
Julian and Islamic dates
by Fazlur Rehman Shaikh[2]
Not supported by sources – see commentary below
Day 1
13 May 622
26 Safar AH 1
9 September 622
26 Safar AH 1
17 June 622
1 Rabi’ al-Awwal AH 1
Conference of the Quraysh leaders and Muhammad’s departure from his house
Day 5
17 May 622
1 Rabi’ al-Awwal
13 September 622
1 Rabi’ al-Awwal
21 June 622
5 Rabi’ al-Awwal
Departure from the Cave of Thawr
Day 12
24 May 622
8 Rabi’ al-Awwal
20 September 622
8 Rabi’ al-Awwal
28 June 622
12 Rabi’ al-Awwal
Arrival in Quba’
Day 16
28 May 622
12 Rabi’ al-Awwal
24 September
12 Rabi’ al-Awwal
2 July
16 Rabi’ al-Awwal
Entry into Yathrib (Medina)
Day 26
4 October
22 Rabi’ al-Awwal
Settles in Medina

Burnaby[30] states that

Historians in general assert that Muhammad fled from Mecca at the commencement of the third month of the Arabian year, Rabi ‘u-l-avval. They do not agree as to the precise day. According to Ibn-Ishak it was on the first or second day of the month;

A more precise determination can be made from the dates of the surrounding events. The meeting at which the Quraysh agreed to kill Muhammad occurred on Thursday, 26 Safar. Muhammad left his house the same night and spent three nights, Friday, Saturday and Sunday in a cave. He left Mecca on Monday, 1 Rabi’ I. The journey to Medina took a week and he arrived at Quba’ on Monday, 8 Rabi’ I. He stayed there for four days and entered Medina on Friday, 12 Rabi’ I.

These dates are discussed by Al-Biruni, Alvi, Ibn Sa’d, Abu Ja’far and Ibn Hisham.[31] The hypothetical dates in the retro-calculated Islamic calendar extended back in time differ from the actual dates as they were on the Julian calendar. Annual celebration of the Hijrah has long been assigned to 1 Muharram, the first day of the Muslim year, causing many writers to confuse the first day of the year of the Hijrah with the Hijrah itself, erroneously stating that the Hijrah occurred on 1 Muharram AH 1[5] (which would be 19 April 622 in Fazlur Rehman Shaikh’s system) or even the hypothetical Gregorian date from retro-calculating 26 Rabi’ I in AH 1 to 16 July 622 (not to be confused with Julian 16 July 622, the retro-calculated start date for of the regular Hijri calendar system) even though the first visit to Medina for Friday prayers actually occurred on 12 Rabi’ I (i.e., 28 May 622).

When the tabular Islamic calendar invented by Muslim astronomers is extended back in time it changes all these dates by about 118 days or four lunar months as the first day of the year during which the Hijrah occurred, 1 Muharram AH 1, would be mistaken from Friday 19 March 622 to Friday 16 July 622. The Muslim dates of the Hijrah are those recorded in an original lunisolar Arabic calendar that were never converted into the purely lunar calendar to account for the four intercalary months inserted during the next nine years until intercalary months were prohibited during the year of Muhammad’s last Hajj (AH 10).


Muhammad’s followers suffered from poverty after fleeing persecution in Mecca and migrating with Muhammad to Medina. Their Meccan persecutors seized their wealth and belongings left behind in Mecca.[32]

Beginning in January 623, some of the Muslims resorted to the tradition of raiding the Meccan caravans that traveled along the eastern coast of the Red Sea from Mecca to Syria.[citation needed] Communal life was essential for survival in desert conditions, as people needed support against the harsh environment and lifestyle. The tribal grouping was thus encouraged by the need to act as a unit. This unity was based on the bond of kinship by blood.[clarification needed].[33] People of Arabia were either nomadic or sedentary, the former constantly traveling from one place to another seeking water and pasture for their flocks, while the latter settled and focused on trade and agriculture. The survival of nomads was also partially dependent on raiding caravans or oases, thus they saw this as no crime.[32][34]

See also[edit]


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