Preface: This is only a summary of the life of Jaafar ibn Abi Talib (RA) and does not cover all the points of his life story. It is not intended to be a biography, but rather a glimpse of the main incidents of his life so that we can get an idea of his character. For ease of reading, we have not inserted “May Allah be pleased with him (RA)” each time his name or the name of each Companion is mentioned, but please take it that the salutations apply to all of them, may Allah be pleased with them all.
Notice his majestic youth and blooming vigour, patience, compassion, piety, modesty, and devoutness. Notice his fearlessness, generosity, purity, chastity, honesty, and trustworthiness. Notice his magnificent nature, virtue, and greatness. Do not let the fact that all these excelling traits were found in one man astonish you, for you are looking at a man who resembled the Prophet in his looks and conduct. The Prophet gave him the epithet ‘Father of the Poor’ and the agnomen ‘The Two Winged’. You are about to meet the twittering heavenly sparrow, Jaafar Ibn Abi Talib, one of the great Muslims who contributed much to shaping the conscience of life.
He embraced Islam and was raised to a high station among the early believers. On the same day, his wife, Asmaa’ bint Umais, submitted herself to Islam. They had their share of abuse and oppression, which they withstood with courage and joy. When the Prophet SAW advised his Companions to emigrate to Abyssinia, Jaafar and his wife were among those who acted upon his advice. There, they settled for a number of years, during which they had three children: Muhammad, Abd Allah and Awf.
In Abyssinia, Jaafar Ibn Abi Talib was the eloquent Companion who won through in the way of Allah and His prophet, for among Allah’s graces bestowed on him were his noble heart, alert mind, sagacious spirit, and fluent speech. The Battle of Mu’tah, in which he was martyred, was his most magnificent, glorious and immortal feat. Yet the Day of Al-Mujaawarah, which he executed before An-Najaashi in Abyssinia, was not less in magnificence glory and grace. In fact, it was a singular battle of words and an impressive scene.
Now, the Muslim emigration to Abyssinia did not set the fears of the Quraish to rest nor lessen their grudges and spite against the Muslims. On the contrary, the Quraish were afraid lest the Muslims should gain momentum there and increase in number and power. If that did not happen, the Quraish’s haughtiness and arrogance could not accept the fact that those fugitives had fled their tyranny and ruthlessness and had settled in another country which the Prophet SAW saw as a promising land for Islam. Therefore, the Quraish leaders decided to send delegates to An-Najaashi with expensive gifts and the hope that he would expel those fugitives from his country. The two chosen delegates were Abd Allah lbn Abu Rabii’ah and Amr Ibn Al-Aas before they had embraced Islam.
An-Najaashi, or Negus, the emperor of Abyssinia, was an enlightened believer. Deep inside he embraced a rational and pure Christianity, void of deviation, fanaticism, and narrow-mindedness. He was renowned and highly admired for his justice. Hence, the Prophet SAW chose his country for his Companions’ immigration. Now, the Quraish were afraid lest they should not be able to convince him of their viewpoint. Therefore, their two delegates carried many expensive gifts for the bishops and archbishops of the church and were advised not to meet An-Najaashi until they had given those presents to the bishops and convinced them of their viewpoint so that they would support them before An-Najaashi.
As soon as the two delegates arrived in Abyssinia, they met the spiritual leaders and lavished the gifts on them. Then they sent An-Najaashi his presents. Afterwards, they began to incite the priests and bishops against the Muslim immigrants and asked them to support them in their plea to An-Najaashi to expel them. A day was set for the Muslims to meet An-Najaashi and confront, before his eyes, their spiteful and mischievous enemies.
On the appointed day, An-Najaashi sat on the throne in awesome dignity, surrounded by the bishops and his retinue. Right in front of him in the vast hall sat the Muslim immigrants, enveloped by Allah’s calmness, tranquillity, and mercy which He had sent down upon them. The two Quraish delegates stood to reiterate their accusation which they had presented before An-Najaashi in a private meeting right before this huge audience.
They said, “Your Majesty, you well know that a group of fools have turned renegade and have taken asylum in your country. They did not embrace your religion, but rather invented their own religion that neither of us knows. We are people of high rank who are related to their fathers, uncles, and tribes, so that you would surrender those wretched renegades to us.”
An-Najaashi addressed the Muslims saying, “What is that religion that made you abandon your people’s religion and refuse to embrace our religion?” Jaafar stood to perform the task for which he had been chosen by mutual consultation immediately before this meeting. Jaafar stood up slowly and gracefully, looked with appreciation at the hospitable king and said, “O your Majesty, we used to be a people of ignorance. We worshipped idols, ate dead animals, committed great sin, severed family relations, and acted according to the law of the jungle. We used to believe that survival was only for the fittest until Allah sent from among us a Prophet SAW who was known for his noble descent, honesty, trustworthiness, and chastity. He invited us to worship Allah alone and abstain from worshipping stones and idols. He ordered us to speak nothing but the truth and to render back our trusts to those whom they are due. Moreover, he ordered us to keep our ties of kinship intact, be good to our neighbours, and abstain from what is forbidden. He also ordered us not to commit evil, nor to say false statements, nor to eat up the property of orphans, nor to accuse chaste women of wrong-doing without proof or witness. Hence, we believed in him and in Allah’s message to him. We worshipped Allah alone. We rejected that which we used to associate with Him as His partners. We allowed as lawful what is halal and prohibited as unlawful what is haram. Consequently, we were harassed and abused by our people, who tried to turn us away from what Allah had sent down to the Prophet SAW so that we may return to idol worshiping and the evil and unlawful deeds we used to do. We were oppressed, abused and straitened in a way that prevented us from the proper worship of Allah. They even tried to force us to turn apostate. Therefore, we fled to your country and asked for asylum to escape oppression and tyranny.”
When Jaafar finished his glorious words which were as clear as daylight, An-Najaashi was gripped by compassion and grace. He addressed Jaafar saying, “Do you have a scroll on which you have written the words of your Prophet?” Jaafar replied, “Yes.” An-Najaashi ordered, “Read it aloud.” Jaafar recited a number of verses from Surat Maryam in such a slow, sweet, subdued, and captivating voice that it made An-Najaashi and all his bishops cry.
When he wiped his tears he swiftly said to the Quraish delegates, “These words, of what had descended on Isa AS, come from the very same source as that of Isa AS. You are free men in a free land. By Allah, I will never surrender you to them.”
The meeting was over. Allah had helped the Muslims and made their feet firm; whereas the Quraish delegates were bitterly defeated. Yet Amr Ibn Al-Aas was a resourceful, crafty man who could neither accept defeat nor despair easily. Therefore, no sooner had he returned to their residence than he sat turning the matter over in his mind. Then he addressed his comrade saying, “By Allah, I will go to An-Najaashi tomorrow and I will pluck the Muslims out from this land once and for all.” His comrade replied, “You must not do that, for despite their disobedience, they are still related to us.” Amr said, “By Allah, I will tell An-Najaashi that they claim that Isa Ibn Maryam is a slave like the rest of Allah’s slaves.” Thus the web was spun by the shrewd delegate so as to lead the Muslims unawares right into the trap. The Muslims were put in a fight corner, for if they said that Isa AS was Allah’s slave, they would incite the king and bishops against them, and if they denied the fact that he was human, then they would turn from their religion.
On the following day, Amr hastened to meet the king and said, “Your Majesty, those Muslims utter an awful saying against Isa AS.” At once, the bishops were agitated by this short but fatal sentence. They asked the Muslims once again to meet the king so as to clarify their religious standpoint concerning Isa AS.
When the Muslims found out about the new plot, they discussed the possibilities, then agreed to say nothing but the truth as said by the Prophet SAW, regardless of the consequences. Once again, the audience was held and An-Najaashi started it by asking Jaafar, “What does your religion say about Isa?” Jaafar, stood once again like a gleaming lighthouse and said, “We say what has descended on our Prophet SAW: he is Allah’s slave, Messenger, His word which He bestowed, and a spirit created by Him. An-Najaashi cried out in assent and said that the same words had been said by Isa to describe himself, but the lines of bishops roared in disapproval. Nevertheless, the enlightened, believing An-Najaashi declared, “You are free to go now. My land is your sanctuary. Anyone who dares to abuse or mistreat you in any way will be severely punished.” He addressed his retinue and pointed towards the Quraish delegation declaring, “Give them back their presents, for I do not want them. By Allah, Allah did not take a bribe from me when He restored my kingdom; therefore, I will not be bribed against Him!”
After the Quraish delegates had been utterly disgraced, they headed back to Makkah. The Muslims headed by Jaafar went on with their secure life in Abyssinia. They settled in the ‘most hospitable land of the most hospitable people’ until Allah gave them permission to return to their Prophet SAW, who was celebrating with the Muslims the conquest of Khaibar when Jaafar and the rest of the emigrants to Abyssinia arrived. The Prophet’s SAW heart was filled with joy, happiness, and optimism.
The Prophet SAW hugged him and said, “I do not know which makes me feel happier, Khaibar’s conquest or Jaafar’s arrival.” The Prophet SAW and his Companions travelled to Makkah to perform the Umrah to make up for the missed Umrah. Then they returned to Medina. Jaafar was overjoyed with the news he heard concerning the heroism and valour of his believing brothers who had fought side by side with the Prophet SAW in the Battles of Badr, Uhud and others. His eyes filled with tears over the Companions who had been true to their covenant with Allah and had fulfilled their obligations as obedient martyrs. Jaafar craved Paradise more than anything in the world. He waited impatiently the glorious moment in which he would win martyrdom.
The Battle of Mu’tah, as we have already mentioned, was imminent. Jaafar realized that this battle was his lifetime chance to either achieve a glorious victory for Allah’s religion or win martyrdom in the way of Allah. Therefore, he pleaded with the Prophet SAW to let him fight in this battle. Jaafar knew beyond doubt that this battle was neither a picnic nor a limited war, but rather an unprecedented crucial war, for it was against the armies of a vast and powerful empire that excelled the Arabs and Muslims in numbers, equipment, expertise, and finance. He yearned to have a role in it.
Thus, he was the second of the three commanders. The two armies met in combat on a distressful day. Jaafar would have been excused if he had been gripped by terror when he saw the 200,000 warriors. Instead, he was gripped by overflowing exaltation, for he felt urged by the pride of the noble believer and the self-confidence of the hero to fight with his equals.
Again, hardly had the standard touched the sand as it slipped from Zaid lbn Haarithah’s right hand, when Jaafar darted and picked it up and broke through the line of the enemy with incredible fearlessness. It was the fearlessness of a man who was not so much craving victory as martyrdom. When the Roman warriors closed in upon him in an encircling move, his horse restricted his movement, so he dismounted and thrust his sword into his enemies. Then he saw one of them approaching his horse so as to mount it. He did not want this impure disbeliever on his horse’s back, so he thrust his sword into it and killed it.
He immediately broke through the encircled Roman warriors like a hurricane and recited these vehement lines of poetry:
How wonderful Paradise is. I can see it approaching with its sweet and cool drink. The time for the punishment of the Romans is drawing near. Those unbelievers are not related to us in blood. I must fight the Romans whenever I see one of their warriors.
The Roman soldiers were stunned by this warrior who fought like a full-armoured army. Confounded by his fearlessness, they closed in upon him in a way that left him no escape, for they were determined to slay him. Instantly, they struck with their swords and cut off his right hand. Swiftly he caught the standard with his left hand before it reached the ground. When they struck off his left hand, he caught the standard with his upper arms. At the moment, the only thing that really mattered to him was not to let the standard of the Prophet SAW touch the ground as long as he was alive. Although his pure body was struck down, his upper arm still hugged the standard. The sounds of its fluttering seemed to have summoned Abd Allah Ibn Rawaahah, who darted swiftly and gripped it then galloped towards his great destiny!
Thus, Jaafar died an honourable death. He met Allah, the Most Great, the Most High, enveloped in self-sacrifice and heroism.
When Allah the All-Knower, the All-Aware, inspired His Prophet SAW with the outcome of the battle and Jaafar’s martyrdom, his tears flowed as he placed his spirit in Allah’s hands. Then he went to his late cousin’s house and called his children. He hugged and kissed them while his tears flowed. Then he went back to his meeting surrounded by the Companions. Hassan lbn Thaabit, the poet laureate of Islam, lamented the death of Jaafar and his Companions saying.
At daybreak a man of a blessed nature and graceful face Commanded the believers to death. His face was as bright as the moon. He was a proud man who descended from Al Hashim.
He was a valiant man who rushed to help the oppressed.
He fought until he was martyred. And his reward was Paradise where there are lush. green gardens.
Jaafar was loyal and obedient to Muhammad. If Islam lost one of Al-Hashim, There are still honourable and pious men of them. Who are the support and pride of Islam.
After Hassan finished reciting his poem, Ka’b Ibn Malik recited. I am grief-stricken over the group. Who were struck down in succession in the Battle of Mu’tah. They strived and fought fiercely and didn’t turn their back.
Allah sent His blessings on them. For they were pious and loyal men. Allah made the heavy rains water their bone. They stood firm before death in Mu’tah in obedience to Allah. And for fear of His punishment.
They were guided by Jaafar’s flag. He was the best Commander. He broke through the line of the enemy and was struck down. Owing to the fierce and ruthless fight. Instantly, the bright moon darkened.
And the sun eclipsed to lament his death.
At the end, all the poor wept bitterly over the loss of their father, for Jaafar was the ‘father of the poor’. Abu Hurairah said, “The most generous man towards the poor was Jaafar Ibn Abi Talib.” Indeed, when he was about to die, he wanted to be the most generous, self- denying and devoted martyr. Abd Allah Ibn Umar said, “I was with Jaafar in the Battle of Mu’tah and we looked around for him. We found that the enemy had sprayed his body with more than ninety stabs and strikes!”
But those killers did not scratch his invulnerable spirit. No, their swords and spears were the bridge which this glorious martyr crossed to be near Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most High. He was raised to a high station in heaven. His worn-out body was covered all over with the medals of war, namely, the wounds. Now, let us hear what the Prophet SAW said about him: “I have seen him in Paradise. His head and wings – upper arms – were covered with blood!”
Source: Khalid, Khalid Muhammad, Men Around the Messenger, Islamic Book Service, 2004