The following account is narrated in Al Mustazarf, Hajjatullah `alal-Alamīn’ and in Tārīkh ibne Asākir and translated from an article by Abū Nūr Mohammad Bashīr.
Once the King of Yemen, Tab’a Awwal Hamirī, about 2,500 years ago, went on tour of his country and those surrounding it. He was a very rich King indeed. In his entourage he had 12,000 `ulama, physicians and learned men in addition to his army of 114,000 soldiers. Wherever they went, the procession of these men and soldiers which marched in much pomp and ceremony that people lined the roadside to watch them, gathered wherever they went and welcomed them.
When the entourage reached the outskirts of Makkah, no one came to see them or welcome them to the town. This greatly surprised the King. He asked his Chief Minister, “Wherever we have gone people have gathered in droves to see and welcome us. But not here. What is the reason?”
The Chief Minister replied, “Your Highness! There is a House in this town. It is called Baitullāh. The people of this town and its Khādim have a great respect for it. Our entourage has no comparison to it. People in large numbers from places near and far come for Pilgrimage to this House. In this town no one will heed you or give you any importance. They respect the holy House more than kings.”
Hearing this, the King was furious. In his anger, he swore and declared, “I will raze this House to the ground and have the people of this town killed.” No sooner had the King uttered these words that blood began spurting from his mouth, nose and eyes. The blood was so foul smelling that his companions moved away from him and no one would come near him. He called upon his Physicians and doctors for treatment, but no one could help or treat him any way. His condition got worse. He could not sleep at night and kept on tossing and turning. He wanted to get treated by any means and at any cost.
Amongst his entourage there was a physician who was a God-fearing scholar as well. He came to the King, inspected him, took his pulse and said, “O King! Your illness is spiritual. Medicines will not work on you. Did you intend to do anything bad or evil, your Highness? If you did, He will pardon you and relieve you of your misery and illness if He wishes should you repent.”
Taking the Physician’s advice, the King immediately changed his evil plans to destroy the Ka’ba and to kill the people of Makkah. No sooner had he repented that the foul smelling blood stopped spurting from his mouth, nose, and eyes. He was completely cured. He was very happy for his recovery. He ordered a silk ghīlāf for the Ka’ba to be made and a gift of 7 gold sovereigns and 7 pieces of silk clothing for each of the residents of Makkah.
Having recovered, the King of Yemen then continued with his tour. His entourage next arrived in Medina al-munawwara. The `ulama in his group had studied the Books that had been revealed to the Prophets who had come before them. They took the soil of Medina and smelled it and looked at the features of the place. The signs of the place where the last Prophet of Allah (s) would make his Hijra to, as indicated in these Books, were all present here. These `ulama were overjoyed and made a commitment to stay put in this town. They wished to live in Medina and stated that if they were fortunate, one day they would meet the Prophet (s). But if they didn’t, the dust from the Holy Prophet’s (s) sandals would land on their graves. This at least, they thought, would bring blessings and be their salvation.
The King, having heard the `ulama and Counsellors, agreed to build four hundred homes for them as well as a big house for our Prophet (s). He left instructions that when the Prophet (s) came to Medina, he should stay in comfort in that house. He also left enough money to provide for the needs of the four hundred `ulama for a long time. The King then dictated a letter to his Chief scholar and requested him to present it to Prophet (s) when he came to Medina. He further requested of him that should he die before meeting the Prophet (s), the letter be treasured and passed on to his children and their descendants and presented to the Prophet (s) whenever he came to the town. Having made these arrangements, the King left for Yemen.
The letter was passed down from the Chief Alim to his descendants. After more than 1,000 years, the number of children from the four hundred `ulama had increased greatly and comprised a large percentage of the inhabitants of Medina. The letter after this long time came to be in the hands of Hazrat Abū Aiyūb Ansārī (ra), who had given it to his chief slave, Abū Laila, for safe-keeping.
When he people of Medina heard that Prophet Muhammad (s) was coming to Medina from Makkah on his Hijra, they started making preparations to welcome him. The inhabitants decorated their houses and cleaned the streets. Each of them wanted Prophet (s) to be welcomed into and grace his house. The Prophet (s), to overcome this problem, came up with a proposal that he would let loose the reins of his camel. He would stay at the house outside which the camel would come to a halt and sit down.
The camel was let loose. It went down the streets and stopped outside the house which the King of Yemen had built for Prophet Muhammad (s). Prophet (s) and the people came to this house. Abū Laila was then asked to bring the letter which he had for safe-keeping. Abū Laila appeared before Prophet (s) with the letter which had been passed down from generation to generation over a thousand years from King Tab’a Awwal Hamirī.
Prophet Muhammad (s), seeing Abū Laila approaching him, asked him, “Are you Abū Laila?” Abū Laila was stunned, having his name mentioned by the Holy Prophet (s). He was surprised that the Holy Prophet (s) had just arrived from Makkah but knew his name. Prophet Muhammad (s) then said, “I am Muhammad Rasūl Allah (s). I will have the King of Yemen’s letter that you have for me.” Prophet Muhammad (s) then looked at the letter and said, “Congratulations to my pious servant Tab’a Awwal Hamirī.”
The letter from King Hamirī stated, “O Prophet of Allah, I pledge my faith in you and in the Book that will be revealed to you and I follow the path of your religion. If I am fortunate to see you, it will be with great pleasure. However, if this is not possible, I would request that you intercede for me and not to forget me on the Day of Judgment. I believe in your Prophethood. I seek your ba`yat (pledge of allegiance) in advance of your arrival. I swear that there is only one Allah and Muhammad (s) is his true Prophet.” (Mīzānul Adyān)
Note: The mention of the Prophet Muhammad (s), dhikr and gatherings in a majlis have been held in the past and will continue in the future. The fortunate have been able to receive the blessings of such gatherings (fā’id). This article shows the Prophet (s) had knowledge of the past as well as of the future.
It is worth noting that the King had made Prophet (s) a wasīla and looked forward to intercession from the Prophet (s) on the Day of Judgment and the Prophet (s) congratulated him for his faith.
We also learn that to decorate houses and celebrate his birth is the Sunnah of the Sahabas and to have processions, decorate houses and streets as we do today is not a bid’a.