The Tabuk expedition is one of the major campaigns of the Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam), and the last one in which he personally took part. When he received the news that the Caesar (of Rome) had mustered a large force to crush the power of Islam and was on his way (through Syria) to invade Madinah, he decided to lead the Sahabah to check him on his way. On Thursday the 5th of Rajab, 9 A.H., the devoted band marched out of Madinah. As the weather was hot and the fighting was expected to be very tough, the Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) made an open declaration that the Muslims should gather in strength and prepare fully to face the forces of the Roman Empire. He also exhorted them to contribute towards the equipment of the expedition. It was on this occasion that Hadhrat Abu Bakr (Radhiyallaho anho) contributed all his belongings. When he was questioned by the Prophet (Sal-lallaho alaihe wasallam) as to what he had left for his family, he replied:
"I have left Allah and His Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) for them."
Hadhrat Umar (Radhiyallaho anho) contributed half of his belongings and Hadhrat 'Usman (Radhiyallaho anho) provided for the equipment of one-third of the whole army. Although everybody, contributed beyond his means, yet the equipment fell far short of the requirements. Only one camel was available for each group of ten persons, who were to ride it in turn. This is why this campaign is known as: "The campaign of hardship."
The journey was long and the weather hot and dry. The orchards were laden with ripe dates (the staple crop of Madi-nah) and it was just the time for harvesting, when all of a sudden the Sahabah were required to start on this campaign. It was really an acid test of their Imaan. They visualised the long and arduous journey, the scorching heat, the formidable enemy opposed to them and, to top all, the prospective loss of the year's crop, but they could not even dream of evading the call to arms, and that solely on account of the deep-rooted fear of Allah in their hearts. Except the women, children (who were excusable), those who were ordered to stay behind by the Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) himself, and the munafiqin, nearly everybody joined the expedition. Also among those left behind were such persons as could neither arrange conveyance for themselves, nor was the Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) able to provide them with any. It is about such people that Allah says in his Book:
"They turned back with eyes flowing with tears in sorrow that they could not find means to spend." (IX: 92)
Of the true believers, those who stayed behind without any excuse whatsoever were three in number. Their story would be presently related. On their way to Syria when the expedition reached the habitation of Thamud, the Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) covered his face with his shirt and quickened the pace of his camel. He also instructed the Sahabah to do the same, since that was the scene of Tha-mud's destruction. They were advised to pass there weeping and fearing lest Allah should punish them as he had punished the Thamud.
The dearest and the most beloved Prophet of Allah and his privileged companions pass by the ruins of the punished people in fear and tears, lest they meet the same fate; on the other hand today, if any place is struck with an earthquake, it becomes a place of sightseeing for us and, if we come across any ruins, our eyes remain dry and our hearts unaffected. What a change of attitude!