As Islam gradually spread in Makka, the attitudes of the Makkan polytheists towards the Muslims became even harsher and their verbal opposition was now joined with physical intervention. Experiencing utmost anguish and sorrow at the oppression and torture that his Companions suffered, but being unable to prevent these, the Prophet advised the Muslims to emigrate to Abyssinia where they could freely practice their religion and where they would be safe and secure. The Christian king of Abyssinia, the Negus Asham, was a just ruler who treated his subjects well. Indicating as such, the Prophet said: “Go to Abyssinia if you wish. For, therein is a ruler in whose land no one is oppressed. That land is one of fairness and justice. Stay there until God grants ease.” Upon this advice, a convoy of Muslims comprising eleven men and four women set out for Abyssinia from the port of Shuayba in the year 615. Included in the convoy were important names in Islamic history such as ‘Uthman and his wife, the Prophet’s daughter Ruqayya, Zubayr ibn ‘Awwam, Mus'ab ibn 'Umayr, 'Abd al-Rahman ibn al-'Awf, and Abu Salama and his wife Umm Salama. This incident, which bears importance as the first hijra, or emigration in Islam, also enabled Prophet Muhammad to make contact with Africa in the first years of his Prophethood. It became clear, from the reports of ‘Uthman who returned to Makka one year later that the Muslims had been well received there. For this reason, a second larger convoy emigrated to Abyssinia, under the leadership of Ja'far ibn Abi Talib. With this convoy, the number of people who emigrated to Abyssinia reached 108. In response to the increasing number of Muslim emigrants, the Quraysh sent a delegation to Abyssinia to request the return of the Makkans who had emigrated there. The Negus called representatives from the Muslims also, in order to hear claims from both sides.
Ja'far ibn Abi Talib spoke on behalf of the Abyssinian emigrants. His words are significant in terms of exemplifying the great transformation that Islam brought about in its first addressees. Ja’far told the Negus: “O King, we were a people in a state of ignorance and immorality, worshipping idols and eating carrion, committing all sorts of abomination and shameful deeds, breaking the ties of kinship, mistreating guests, and the strong among us exploited the weak. We remained in this state until God sent us a Prophet, one of our own people, whose lineage, truthfulness, trustworthiness, and integrity were well-known to us. He called us to worship God alone, and to renounce the stones and the idols which we and our ancestors used to worship besides God. He commanded us to speak the truth, to honor our promises, to be kind to our relations, to be helpful to our neighbors, to cease all forbidden acts, to abstain from bloodshed, to avoid obscenities and false witness, and not to appropriate an orphan’s property nor slander chaste women. We believed in him and what he brought to us from God.” After hearing both sides, the Negus refused the request of the Quraysh that the Muslims be returned.
The Muslims stayed in Ethiopia for quite some time. Thirty-three people from the Abyssinian emigrants returned to Makka in 620 after the end of the boycott which will be described later. Some of the remaining emigrants willingly left Abyssinia for Madina after the Emigration (Hijra), while the last group returned in the 7th year following the Emigration (628). In the meantime, while the Quraysh sent another delegation after the Battle of Badr to again request the return of the Muslims, the Negus once again rejected their demands.