Let us read the full story of these People:
And Allah has forgiven the Three whose case had been put off. When the earth with all its vastness seemed to have become narrow for them, and their own souls were a burden on them, and they realized that there was no refuge for them except in the mercy of Allah Himself, Allah turned to them with kindness so that they should turn to Him. Surely, He is Forgiving and Compassionate. (9:118)
These three were among those who came to the Prophet Muhammad to present their excuses for staying behind. More than eighty of them were hypocrites, who put forward lame excuses and the Prophet accepted these and let them go.
Then came the turn of these three, who were true Believers, and they confessed their fault plainly. Therefore the Prophet postponed the decision of their case and ordered the Muslims not to have any social relations with them till the decision of their cast came from Allah. This verse was sent down to decide their case.
The three whose condition has been described in this verse, were Ka’b bin Malik, Hilal bin Umayyah and Murarah bin Rubai. They were sincere Believers, and had made many sacrifices and given proofs of their sincerity before this.
The last two had taken part in the battle of Badr also, and therefore their Faith was above every kind of suspicion. Though Ka’ab had not taken part in the battle of Badr, he had accompanied the Prophet in every other expedition.
But in spite of all these services, they were severely punished for the negligence they had shown on the critical occasion of the Tabuk Expedition.
When the Prophet Muhammad came back from Tabuk, he ordered the Muslims to break away completely from them; so much so that they should not even respond to their greetings.
After forty days of this boycott their wives also were ordered to have nothing to do with them.
The story of the above-mentioned boycott has been described in detail by Ka’b bin Malik, who was one of the Three. This story is an excellent lesson for all, read it by Ka’b’s own words.
Lessons Learned from this Story
The first and foremost lesson we learn from this story is that the matter of the conflict between Islam and disbelief is so important and delicate that we should take the greatest possible care to be on our guard in regard to this.
The second thing, which is as important as the first, is that one should never consider lightly any negligence in the performance of a duty, for this often misleads one to commit an offense that is counted among heinous sins. The fact that they did not commit the offense with any evil intention cannot save one from punishment.
Lastly, this story presents the true spirit of the society that had been evolved out under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad. On the one side there were the hypocrites whose treacherous deeds were quite well known to all. They offered lame excuses which were accepted without demur for nothing better could be expected from them.
On the other side, let us take the case of Ka’b bin Malik, who was a tried Believer, and whose sacrifices were above every kind of suspicion. He did not invent any false story to justify himself but confessed his fault quite plainly and clearly.
But in contrast to the hypocrites, a severe chastisement was inflicted on him, not because there was any suspicion about his faith but because a sincere Believer like him had behaved in a way in which only a hypocrite could behave.
There is another noteworthy side of the matter. The part played by the leader and the follower and the Muslim society in this incident is unique. The leader inflicts the most severe punishment but with the feelings of affection and without any tinge of anger or hatred in it.
It is like the punishment which a father gives to his son. It is always understood that the punishment is given for the good of the son, who knows that as soon as he mends his ways, he will regain the fatherly love.
And the follower sets an excellent example of obedience under very trying circumstances. He suffers hard from the severity of the chastisement but never thinks of rebelling against the leader because of any false personal or clannish pride; nay, he does not cherish in his heart any complaint against his beloved leader, but begins to love him even more than before.
During this saddest period of his life the only thing he yearns for is a look of affection from his leader. For he is like a famine-stricken farmer whose only hope is the piece of cloud which he sees floating in the sky.
Muslim Society – Strong Bond
Now let us have a glimpse of the Muslim society, which displayed the greatest discipline and the highest moral spirit that had ever been shown by any society. No sooner does the leader order the boycott than the whole community becomes a stranger to the follower not only in public but also in private.
So much so that his nearest relatives and closest friends do not even speak to him; nay, his own wife leaves him alone. He implores them on oath to tell him if they suspected his sincerity, but even his lifelong companions make a point-blank refusal, saying that he should ask Allah and His Messenger for that testimony.
But in spite of the show of this strict discipline, the moral spirit of the community is so high and so pure that not a single person tries to take advantage of the position of the fallen brother by adding insult to his injury; nay, every one feels sorry for his brother in disgrace, and is impatient to embrace him as soon as he is forgiven. That is why the people run in haste to tell him the good news.
The above is the model of the righteous community that the Quran aims.
A Lesson to Learn
This background makes it plain why Allah not only forgave them but also manifested His Kindness, Gentleness, and Compassion in His Forgiveness to these people.
It was because of their sincerity which they proved during the fifty days of their chastisement. Had they shown arrogance after the commission of their offense?
On the contrary, they took a different way, as has been seen, and proved that God-worship had destroyed every idol that might have remained hidden in their hearts.
That they had dedicated themselves entirely to the exertion in the way of Allah. And that while joining the Islamic community they had burnt their boats to make it impossible for themselves to go back anywhere.
They would put up with every kind of treatment but would remain in the community and die as a member of it and would scornfully reject any offer of an honorable place outside it; and would rather bear disgrace in it.
That was why they were again taken in the community with the same honor as before. This is the explanation of the kind words of forgiveness: “Allah turned to them with kindness so that they should turn to Him.”
In these concise words, the Quran has depicted the true picture of the matter. The Master had at first turned away His attention from His three servants but when He saw that they had not left His door but had remained there with broken hearts, He again turned to them in appreciation of their fidelity so as to bring them back into the fold.