KA’B IBN MALIK [radhiallaahu anhu]
He made a mistake, the repentance from which, turned out to be a major test of his faith.
Ka’b was the son of Malik, a great poet of the tribe of Khazraj of adinah, composer of heroic poems during the wars between the city’s two famous tribes, al-Aws and al-Khazraj, which were frequent before the advent of Islam. Ka’b inherited this talent from his father and became known for it.
Ka’b was among those who hastened to embrace Islam in Madinah. He was among the forty who gathered for salatul-Jumuah for the first time, before even the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, made Hijrah. He was also among the seventy-three men who traveled from Madinah to Makkah to pledge allegiance to the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam.
Ka’b was not only famous for his eloquence in poetry, but also he and his household were known for their knowledge, and their narration of hadeeth. He narrated eighty ahadeeth from the Prophet himself, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, as did his children and his wife Khayrah. He was considered among the most knowledgeable of his people. His son Abdurrahman was one of the Muftis in Madinah after the sahabah.
Ka’b participated in all the battles with the Prophet except two. The first was the battle of Badr. He was not alone in staying behind for many did not anticipate any fighting, because the original purpose of the expedition was to get back the goods that the pagan Makkans had confiscated from the Muslims.
But his failure to join in the second battle, the battle of Tabuk, was another story. Usually, when the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, decides to prepare for a battle, he would keep his destination secret. But the battle of Tabuk was not like any battle. The heat was extreme, a great distance was to be traveled and the Muslims were to face a huge army. The Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, made clear to the Muslims both the destination and the difficulties ahead so that they make good preparations. What made the matters worse was that the Muslims had to leave at a time of harvest when the fruits were ripe and the dates were hanging from palm trees waiting to be picked. O how sweet it was to linger under the shade of the palm trees savoring the cool breeze and the sweet fruits! Many hypocrites asked permission to stay behind, presenting different excuses. The Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, accepted their excuses leaving their inner intention to Allah. Some others were too old, too weak, or too poor to participate and the Prophet allowed them to stay. Ka’b was neither of those. He was young, strong, and wealthy, and had the mount and the equipment. “I can get ready in a wink,” he said to himself. Therefore he went on to his usual business. He kept procrastinating until he saw that people were getting really serious about the matter and the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, was coming and going among them. “I still can do it tomorrow or after tomorrow,” he said to himself. But many days went by and still he did nothing, until one day he found that the army had left. He thought about hurrying up to prepare his provisions, and get his mount to join them, but he hesitated seeing that they were quite a distance ahead. When he at last got ready and decided to leave, he realized that there was no way to reach them in time, and so he stayed back in Madinah. “I would walk in the streets of Madinah after the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, had left, and I would see only a hypocrite or a weak man who was excused. So I would wish that I had joined the Prophet,” he later said, reproaching himself for not promptly answering the call to jihad. The days passed by slow and heavy and he could think of nothing but how to face the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, when he would come back, and what to say to him. “When I heard that the Prophet was coming back, my worries came back to me,” Ka’b said. “I thought about lying, to avoid his wrath. When he arrived to Madinah, he went straight to the masjid, prayed two rak’ahs and sat down listening to the people. More than eighty men came to him apologizing for not participating in the battle, presenting different excuses. The Prophet accepted from them, asked forgiveness for them, and left their inner intentions to Allah. When I came to him and greeted him, he smiled an angry smile, and said: ‘Come!’ I sat before him. ‘What kept you behind?’ he asked. ‘By Allah,’ I said, ‘if I were talking to other than you I would be saved from his wrath by giving an excuse and I am an eloquent convincing man, but if I were to tell you a thing that will make you content with me, I surely know that Allah will make you soon angry at me, and I hope by telling you the truth that Allah will forgive me. By Allah I have no excuse! And by Allah I was never stronger nor wealthier than when I stayed back.’ ‘As for this man, he has told the truth’ he said, then turning to me, he said ‘Get up and await Allah’s decree’.
Some men from Banu Salamah reproached me for not bringing an excuse to the Prophet so that he would ask forgiveness for me. ‘Is there anyone who is experiencing the same thing as I?’ I asked. ‘Yes, two men who said the same as you did, and so they too are told to wait.’ They mentioned two pious men who witnessed Badr, so I found consolation in that.”
The Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, forbade any Muslim to talk to Ka’b and the two others. “As for the two men,” said Ka’b, “they stayed in their houses, crying and supplicating, and as for me, being a young tough man, I would go for salah with the Muslims and roam the market streets, and nobody would talk to me. I would greet the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, and wait in vain for his lips to move. I would pray near him, and so when I would start my salah he would look at me and when I would turn towards him he would turn away. I felt so miserable. One day I climbed the wall of Abu Qutadah, my cousin and best friend, and greeted him with salam. He did not return my greeting. I Asked him: ‘By Allah, do you know that I love Allah and His Messenger?’ ‘Allah knows best,’ he replied. My eyes filled up with tears as I descended the wall and went to my house. Another day when I was wandering in the market streets, I heard a merchant from ash-Sham asking people about me. They pointed to my direction, and so he came to me and gave me a letter. I opened it. It was from the king of the Ghassanids, a Christian Arab tribe. It says: ‘We got news that your friend has deserted you. Allah did not intend for you to be humiliated, so join us, we will comfort you.’ I said to myself: ‘This is a test from Allah.’ and I thrust the letter into the fire and watched it burn.”
Forty days have passed and people were still shunning Ka’b, until he felt the earth was closing on him. The Prophet sallallahu alayhe wasallam sent him orders that he should keep away from his wife. “Should I divorce her?” He asked. “No, but isolate yourself, and do not touch her,” he was told. The two other men who received the same order, sent back to the Prophet asking him to let their wives stay near them to tend for their needs, but Ka’b insisted on carrying the Prophet’s order to the letter, and so he sent his wife to her parents.
Fifty days have now passed since the incident. Then finally he heard the news, “while I was praying Fajr that morning on the rooftop of my house,” he said, “I heard a man shouting on the top of Mount Sala’: ‘O Ka’b ibn Malik, rejoice!’ I fell prostrate, and I knew that relief had come. The Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, had announced my forgiveness during salatul Fajr. People came on horse back to bring me the news, but the man’s voice on the mount has reached me first. So when I saw that man I gave him my garment as a way to thank him, and I had only one garment. I hurried to the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam. People came in groups to welcome me. I went right into the masjid and found the Prophet sitting with a group of the companions. Talhah ibn Ubaydallah stood up and came hurrying toward me. He embraced me and congratulated me. By Allah no man from the Muhajireen came to me except him. By Allah I will always be thankful to him for it. When I greeted the Prophet, I saw his face shining from happiness, ‘Rejoice for this is the best day in your life since your mother had you!’ ‘Is it from you O Messenger of Allah or from Allah?â€™ ‘No but it is from Allahâ€™ he said.”
Allah has sent revelation concerning the three companions who missed the battle: “Allah has forgiven the Prophet, the Muhajireen, and the Ansar who followed him in the time of distress, after the hearts of a party of them had nearly deviated, but He accepted their repentance. Certainly, He is unto them full of Kindness, Most Merciful. And He did forgive also the three whom the Prophet left (i.e., did not decide in their case), till for them the earth, vast as it is, was strained and their own selves were strained to them, and they perceived that there is no fleeing from Allah, and no refuge but with Him. Then He accepted their repentance, that they might repent unto Him. Verily, Allah is the One Who accepts repentance, Most Merciful.” [9:117-118]
Ka’b said to the Messenger: “O Messenger of Allah, I would like to give all my wealth as a proof of my repentance and my gratitude to Allah.” “It is better that you keep your wealth,” replied the Prophet. “Then I will only keep my part of booty from the battle of Khaybar,” replied Ka’b. “Verily Allah has saved me because of my truthfulness, so I will make it part of my repentance to speak only the truth as long as I live.” Ka’b later said: “Since that day I never willfully said a lie, and I hope that Allah will guard me from doing it until I die.”
This story reveals the deep faith of Ka’b who was truthful to his deen, and though he did stumble once, he did not sway from the straight path. He preferred to stay among the Muslims in spite of the harsh punishment, over the comforting life the Christian Ghassanids were offering him.