In the next month Mahomet sent six of his followers to Mecca, probably as spies, but they were not allowed to reach their goal in safety. At Raja they fell in with a party of the Beni Lahyan proceeding the same way. The men were armed, and Mahomet’s followers were glad to accompany them, because of the additional security. At the oasis the party encamped for the night, and the Muslim prepared unsuspectingly for sleep. At dead of night they were surrounded by their professed friends, who were resolved on revenge for the murder of their chief. Four were killed, and two, Zeid and Khubeib, taken bound to Mecca, whose citizens gloated over their prey. Legends in plenty group themselves around these two figures—the first real martyrs for Islam, and one of the most profound testimonies to the love which Mahomet inspired in his followers is given traditionally in a few significant sentences dealing with the episode.
The prisoners were kept a month before being led to the inevitable torture. Abu Sofian, the scoffer, came to Zeid as he was preparing to face his death.
“Wouldst thou not, O Zeid,” he asked, “that thou wert once more with thy family, and that Mahomet suffered in thy place?”
“By Allah! I would not that Mahomet should suffer the smallest prick from a thorn; no, not even if by that means I could be safe once more among my kindred.”
Then the enemy of Islam marvelled at his words and said: “Never have I seen among men such love as Mahomet’s followers bear towards him.”
And after that Zeid was put to death. Mahomet was powerless to retaliate, and was obliged to suffer from afar the murder of his fellow-believers.
The fate of these six Muslim gave courage to Mahomet’s enemies everywhere, and prompted even his friends to treachery. The Beni Aamir, a branch of the great Hawazin tribe dwelling between the Beni Asad and the Beni Lahyan, were friendly towards Medina, and sent Mahomet gifts as a guarantee. These Mahomet refused to receive unless the tribe became converts to Islam. He knew the danger of compromise—his Meccan experiences had not faded from his mind; moreover, he recognised that in his present weakened position firmness was essential. He could not open the gates of his fortress even a chink without letting in a flood before which it must topple into ruin.
But their chief would not be so coerced, neither would he give up his ancestral faith without due examination of that offered in its stead. He demanded that a party of Muslim should accompany him back to his own people and strive by reasoning and eloquence to convert them to Islam. After much deliberation, for he was chary of sending any of his chosen to what would be swift death in the event of treachery, Mahomet consented, and gave orders for a party of men skilled in their faith to accompany Abu Bera back to his people. The men were received in all honour, and were escorted as befitted their position as far as Bir Mauna, where