Muhammad was now approaching his fortieth year. Always pensive, he had of late become even more thoughtful and retiring. Contemplation and reflection engaged his mind, and the moral debasement of his people pressed heavily on him. His soul was perplexed with uncertainty as to what was the right path to follow. Thus burdened, he frequently retired to seek relief in meditation amongst the solitary valleys and rocks near Mecca. His favourite resort was a cave in Mount Hira, a lofty conical hill two or three miles north of Mecca. Thither he would retire for days at a time, and Khadija sometimes accompanied him.
During this period he began to see dreams, which were fulfilled according to their true import. This was an indication that he had now come up to the standard mentioned in 20:41 with reference to Moses. It was on a Monday in the last ten days of the blessed month of Ramadhan when he was occupied in worship in the cave that he suddenly perceived an unfamiliar presence before him. It addressed him and said, ‘Recite’, to which he replied: ‘I am not able to recite’. Thereupon the presence seized him and, clasping him to its bosom, squeezed him hard and then, releasing him, directed him again, ‘Recite’, and received the same reply as the first time. This was repeated once more, as if the embrace had been intended each time to influence Muhammad’s heart and to prepare him for the message that was to be delivered to him. After the third embrace, the presence released Muhammad and directed him: ‘Recite in the name of thy Lord Who created. He created man from a clot of blood. Recite, for thy Lord is Most Beneficent, Who has taught by the pen, taught man that which he knew not’ (96:2-6).
Thereafter the presence disappeared, leaving Muhammad much agitated and perplexed. His heart was beating fast and he did not understand the import of what had happened and what it portended. In that condition he left the cave and returned home all atremble and said to Khadija: ‘Cover me up, cover me up.’ Khadija, witnessing his agitation, became anxious and quickly covered him up. After a while, when his agitation had somewhat subsided, Muhammad related the whole of the incident to Khadija and said, ‘I am afraid for myself’, to which Khadija responded: ‘Nay, be of good cheer. Surely, Allah will not humiliate thee. Thou dost carry out the obligations of kinship, thou art truthful, thou relieve people’s burdens, thou possessest high moral qualities which have become rare, thou honourest thy guests and thou dost succour the distressed.’
This was Muhammad’s first experience of verbal revelation. The import of the words revealed to him puts it absolutely beyond doubt that it was true revelation from God Almighty. The direction of the presence to Muhammad to ‘recite’ can also mean that he should read, and his response in that case could have meant ‘I am unable to read’. It is a fact that Muhammad was unlettered and was not able to read or write. This is testified to by the Holy Quran, which has affirmed: ‘Thou didst not recite any book before the revelation of the Quran, nor didst thou write one with thy right hand in that case, those who reject it as a fabrication would have had further cause for doubt’ (29:49).
But the direction ‘Recite’ conveyed to Muhammad that he was called upon to undertake a particular enterprise which would require him to convey a message to mankind, and his response was that he was not able to do so. The purpose of the repeated embraces was to influence and strengthen his heart so that he should be prepared to undertake the responsibility that God was about to place upon his shoulders.
Khadija took Muhammad to her cousin, Waraqa bin Naufal, who had discarded paganism and had become a Christian and had some knowledge of the Scriptures. He was now old and almost blind. Khadija asked him to hear what Muhammad had to say. Having heard him, he said, ‘The angel who used to descend upon Moses has descended upon thee. Would that I were stronger and could survive till thy people will expel thee from thy home.’ Muhammad was surprised and exclaimed, ‘Will they indeed expel me?’ Waraqa replied, ‘There has been no messenger who has not been opposed by his people. If I survive till that time, I shall help thee with all my strength.’ But he lived only a short time thereafter.
After his first experience of revelation, Muhammad received no further revelation for about six weeks. He passed this period in great perplexity and restlessness. He did not completely understand what had happened and what it might portend. Was it indeed a message from God or was it a secret urging of his own mind? This was a period of great anxiety for him. In the middle of this struggle in which his mind and soul were involved, he was one day walking from Hira to his home when he suddenly heard a voice, as if someone was speaking to him. He looked around him in all directions, but observed no one. He raised his eyes towards heaven and he beheld a grand chair suspended between heaven and earth on which was seated the same presence whom he had seen in the cave. He was greatly upset and hurried home, and arrived there he asked Khadija to cover him up, which she did. As soon as he lay down, he heard a majestic voice addressing him in the following words: ‘O thou standing ready, wearing thy mantle, up and warn; and magnify thy Lord; and purify those around thee; and stamp out idolatry’ (74:2-6).
Thereafter he began to receive revelation continuously. He had now been comforted, and he realized that he had been commissioned by God to call people to his Lord. Accordingly, he began to call people to the Unity of God and to condemn idol-worship. But he did not, at that stage, make any public announcement. He worked silently and confined his message only to those who were his close associates.
Did these two experiences of Muhammad constitute in truth his being commissioned by God, or were they in the nature of hallucinations, or the result of his imagination, or his invention? They could not possibly have been his invention, deliberate or unconscious, for if that had been so, he would not have behaved as he did immediately after his first experience in the cave and during the period of six weeks when there was a cessation of all revelation. He would have determined in his own mind what course he would follow after pretending that he had gone through the experience, which he mentioned to his wife on reaching home from Hira. Nor would he have been perplexed and agitated during the period of the cessation of revelation.
It is equally utterly impossible that those experiences were the result of hallucination. Both messages are replete with wisdom and good sense and could not possibly have been induced by hallucination. Reflect for a moment on the grand prophecy contained in the very first word of the first message: ‘Recite’, or convey repeatedly. This was a clear indication that God intended to convey to him, through verbal revelation, that which would need to be repeatedly recited and to be conveyed far and wide. The fulfilment of this prophecy is conclusive proof that the experience was not the result of hallucination. Consider also the further grand disclosure that mankind was about to be admitted to profound and great truths which would be propagated widely through the agency of the pen; that the pen would become the instrument of spreading knowledge of every description widely among mankind. Is there any trace of hallucination in this? The matchless wisdom comprised in the revelations that were continuously vouchsafed to him thereafter also constitutes conclusive proof of the utter sanity and perfect sincerity of the recipient of those revelations.
The same considerations prove that the Holy Prophet, for such he was now, peace be on him, had not merely imagined those two experiences. The very fact that, throughout the rest of his life, he continued to be the constant recipient of revelation which comprised grand verities, knowledge of the unseen, assurances of help and success, which was completely carried out, prophecies that were fulfilled to the letter and have continued to be fulfilled ever after, excludes any possibility that the revelation that the Holy Prophet claimed was constantly vouchsafed to him was only the product of his too lively imagination. We must, therefore, conclude that these experiences were the beginning of his prophethood, in which, from that moment onwards, he believed with the utmost sincerity, which belief continued to be strengthened and fostered every moment of his life till its end.
What was his mission? Briefly, it was the propagation of Islam, which means utter submission to God Almighty. The central pillar of Islam is the Unity of God, that is to say, that the Creator and Master of the universe is God, Who is One in His being and His attributes and has no associate. He is Eternal, Ever-Living. All that is in heaven or on earth is His creation and exists only through His support; therefore, all worship is due to Him and all deities beside Him that are worshipped by people are fiction and falsehood.
The Holy Prophet, peace be on him, taught further, that God Almighty had created the universe with the purpose that mankind should recognize Him and, become the manifestations of His attributes, should provide for their eternal welfare. For this purpose, God had divided human life into two parts, one the life of this world which is the period of action, and second, the life hereafter, which is, the unending period of recompense. He appointed death as the dividing line between these two parts. He also stressed that God Almighty raises messengers and prophets for the guidance of mankind on the basis of knowledge vouchsafed to them by God. Such messengers and prophets had appeared among all people, in all regions and in all ages; and he too was a messenger of God.
These teachings were supplemented and expounded as the Holy Quran continued to be revealed till the whole structure of the faith was perfected. As his message was for all people and for all time, and he was endowed to perfection with all the excellences, which had been bestowed in various degrees on previous prophets, he was appointed, by God Almighty, the Seal of the Prophets.
The first to believe in him was his wife, Khadija, who accepted him as true without any hesitation. Ali, who was at the time but ten years of age, and Zaid bin Haritha, the freedman of the Holy Prophet, were both members of his family. They also believed in him the moment he announced his mission. No express affirmation on their part was needed. Outside his family, Hazrat Abu Bakr, who was his most intimate friend, believed in him without question the moment he learnt of his claim.
Abu Bakr had long been associated with the Holy Prophet. He lived in the same quarter of the city as Khadija and thus the intimacy between him and the Holy Prophet was close and his attachment to him was now riveted by his implicit faith in the Holy Prophet, who said of him, on a later occasion, ‘I never invited anyone to the faith who displayed not hesitation and perplexity excepting only Abu Bakr; who, when I had propounded Islam to him, tarried not, neither was perplexed.’
Abu Bakr was about two years younger than the Holy Prophet; short in stature, and of a small spare frame; the eyes deeply seated under a high projecting forehead. His complexion was fair, and face comely but thin, so that one could see the veins upon it. His nature was mild and sympathetic, but not incapable of firm purpose when important interests required. Impulse and passion rarely prompted his actions; he was guided by reason and calm conviction. Faithful and unvarying in his attachment to the Holy Prophet, he was known as Siddiq, the True.
Abu Bakr had a tender and compassionate heart. He was a diligent and successful merchant, and, being frugal and simple in his habits, possessed at the time of his conversion to Islam a capital of about 40,000 silver pieces. His generosity was rare and his charity unwearying. The greater part of his fortune was now devoted to the purchase of such unfortunate slaves as were persecuted for their attachment to the new faith; so that but 5,000 pieces were left when, twelve years later, he emigrated with the Holy Prophet to Medina. He was unusually familiar with the history of Quraish, who often referred to him for genealogical information. His judgment was sound and impartial, his conversation agreeable, and his demeanour affable and engaging. His society and advice were much sought after by Quraish, and he was popular throughout the city.
It is strong proof of the Holy Prophet’s truth and sincerity that the earliest converts to Islam were not only of upright character, but his own bosom friends and people of his household; who, intimately acquainted with his private life, could not otherwise have failed to detect those discrepancies which have ever more or less existed between the professions of the hypocritical deceiver abroad and his actions at home. Abu Bakr’s adherence to the Holy Prophet and his attachment to him were a source of comfort and strength for him. His influence was freely employed in the cause of Islam, and five of the earliest converts believed as the result of his persuasion and example.
Three of them were but striplings. Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas was in his sixteenth or seventeenth year. He was a nephew of Amina, mother of the Holy Prophet. Zubair, the nephew of Khadija and the son of the Holy Prophet’s aunt, Safiya, was even younger; about the same age as Talha, a relative of Abu Bakr and a renowned warrior in later days.
The fourth convert was Uthman, son of Affan, who succeeded Umar as Khalifa; though he was of the Umayyad stock, on his mother’s side he was the grandson of Abdul Muttalib. At this time Uthman was about thirty-five years of age. The Holy Prophet’s daughter, Ruqayya, being now free from her connection with Utba, son of Abu Lahab, the Holy Prophet gave her in marriage to Uthman, and on her death some twelve years later, he gave his third daughter, Um Kulthum, in marriage to Uthman.
The fifth convert was Abdul Rahman, ten years younger than the Holy Prophet, a man of wealth and character. Abdul Rahman, Uthman, and Talha were, like Abu Bakr, merchants. On his first visit to the Holy Prophet, Abdul Rahman was accompanied by four companions who embraced Islam at the same time: Ubaidah, son of the Holy Prophet’s uncle, Harith; Abu Salama; Abu Obaida, subsequently a warrior of note; and Uthman, son of Maz’un. The latter had already given up the drinking of liquor, and was with difficulty persuaded by the Holy Prophet to renounce the austerities of an ascetic life. His family was well inclined towards Islam, for two of his brothers; a son and some other relatives of his were among the early believers.
Other early converts included Abu Huzaifah bin Utbah of Banu Umayya, who became a martyr in the battle of Yamamah, fighting against Musailamah; Saeed bin Zaid of Banu Adi, brother-in-law of Umar, who died in the time of Muawiyah; and Arqam of Banu Makhzoom, in whose house the Holy Prophet later used to meet the Muslims and any visitors.
Then there were the two brothers, Abdullah and Ubaidullah, sons of Jahsh, who were cousins of the Holy Prophet, their mother being the sister of the Holy Prophet’s father. They were not of Quraish. Zainab, who married the Holy Prophet later after her divorce by Zaid, was their sister. Ubaidullah was married to Um Habeebah, daughter of Abu Sufyan, who married the Holy Prophet after she became a widow.
Another notable Muslim of this period was Abdullah bin Masood. He was not of Quraish and belonged to Hudhail. He was a very poor man and after he became a Muslim he spent most of his time in the company of the Holy Prophet. He became a great scholar and jurist.
Then there was Abu Dhar Ghaffari. When he heard of the claim of the Holy Prophet he sent his brother to make enquiries. Not being satisfied with his report, he went to Mecca himself and, on meeting the Holy Prophet, embraced Islam. He was a man of great piety and of simple habits. He believed that it was not permissible to collect wealth, and this doctrine of his sometimes became the subject of controversy between him and the other Companions of the Holy Prophet.
Of the slaves and freedmen who believed in Islam at this stage, the most outstanding was Bilal bin Rabah, owned by Umayya bin Khalf who, on Bilal’s becoming a Muslim, used to persecute him savagely.
He would take him out during the noon-day heat and make him lie down on the burning sand, would put hot pieces of stone on his chest and urge him to deny the Unity of God; but Bilal would continue to repeat ‘Ahad, Ahad’ (‘One, One’). Abu Bakr took pity on him and purchased his freedom from Umayya. After the Migration to Medina, he was appointed the first muezzin by the Holy Prophet. After the latter’s death Bilal gave up calling the Azan as it reminded him too poignantly of the beloved Prophet. After the fall of Damascus in the time of Hazrat Umar Bilal was persuaded to call the Azan once more, which he did and which plunged everyone present into a paroxysm of grief. Umar held him in such high esteem that when Bilal died Umar observed, ‘Today the Muslims have been bereaved of their chief.’
Aamir bin Fuhairah was another slave whose freedom was procured by Abu Bakr and who became his servant. Khabbab bin Arat was a freedman who worked as a blacksmith in Mecca and had become an early convert to Islam.
The wives and children of these early believers were generally included along with them among the Muslims. Those who have been specially mentioned in this context are Asmaa, daughter of Abu Bakr; Fatima, daughter of Khattab, wife of Saeed bin Zaid; and Um Fazal, wife of Abbas, uncle of the Holy Prophet. Curiously, Abbas himself had not so far become a Muslim.
Of these early converts, Abu Bakr was the only one who possessed a standing and influence among Quraish. Leaving aside the slaves and freedmen, most of the Muslims were poor and of little account. Some of them, no doubt, were connected with respected families of Quraish, but a majority was youths who possessed no influence among their families. Those who were of ripe age were too poor to be held of any account. Thus the general impression among Quraish was that only the weak and the indigent had believed in Muhammad. This is another indication of the truth of Muhammad, as, in the beginning, a prophet is acknowledged only by the weak and the poor.
In the beginning, for about three years, the Holy Prophet carried on the propagation of his faith only privately. There was, during that time, no central place where the Muslims could meet together. The Holy Prophet received such seekers after truth that sought him out, in his own house or at some place outside the town. Not all the Muslims of that period knew each other intimately. At that time, Quraish generally confined their opposition to the new creed to derision and ridicule.
The practice of Islam in those days was confined to Prayer, which had not yet been established as regular Salat to be performed five times daily at appointed hours. The Muslims carried on worship in their own homes, or two or three or four of them together in one of the neighbouring defiles outside Mecca. It is related that, on one occasion, the Holy Prophet was engaged in worship along with Ali in a defile when Abu Talib came upon them. He had not so far heard of Islam. He watched the two together engaged in this new form of worship, and when they had finished he inquired from the Holy Prophet, ‘Son of my brother, what is this new creed that you have taken up?’ The Holy Prophet replied, ‘Uncle, this is the religion of God which was the faith of Abraham,’ and he invited Abu Talib to accept Islam. Abu Talib put him off, saying, ‘I cannot give up the religion of my fathers.’ But he told Ali, ‘Son, adhere to Muhammad, for I am sure that he will not invite you to anything but good.’
About the same time, on one occasion, Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas and some Muslims were engaged in worship in a defile when some Quraish, happening to pass by them, admonished them against indulging in a new form of worship, which led to some controversy, but did not bring on a confrontation.
In the beginning of the fourth year of his ministry, the Holy Prophet received the revelation ‘Declare openly that which thou art commanded to proclaim’ (15:95), and shortly after was revealed the verse ‘Warn thy nearest kinsmen’ (26:125). In compliance with these directives, the Holy Prophet ascended to a height and called every one of the tribes of Quraish by its name. When they had collected: together, he addressed them as follows: ‘O Quraish, were I to tell you that a large host has collected together on the other side of this height and is preparing to attack you, would you believe me?’ They responded: ‘Surely, we would believe you as we have always found you truthful.’ Upon this, he said: ‘Then listen; I warn you that God’s chastisement is approaching. Believe in God so that you may be safeguarded against it.’ Hearing this, they burst out laughing. Abu Lahab said: ‘Ruin seizes thee. Didst thou call us only for this?’ They then went their way laughing and joking.
The Holy Prophet then directed Ali to have a meal prepared and to invite the descendants of Abdul Muttalib to partake of it, so that the occasion might be utilized for conveying the divine message to them. About forty persons responded to the invitation. At the end of the meal, the Holy Prophet wanted to say something but again Abu Lahab made some observation, which caused the guests to disperse.
Shortly after, the Holy Prophet directed Ali to prepare another meal and invited his relatives to it. On this occasion, he addressed them as follows: ‘Descendants of Abdul Muttalib, I have brought you something, better than which no one has brought for his people. I call you to God. If you respond to my call, you will become the recipients of the best bounties of this life and the next. Which of you will be my helper in this enterprise?’ There was dead silence, when suddenly Ali stood up and said: though I am the weakest and the youngest of all those who are present here, I shall support you.’ Thereupon, the Holy Prophet, addressing his guests, said: ‘If you will hear and follow what this young one has said, you would do well.’ On this there was general laughter and Abu Lahab said to his elder brother, Abu Talib: ‘Now Muhammad directs you to follow your son.’ The guests departed deriding and laughing at the Holy Prophet.
About this time the Holy Prophet felt the need of some place where the Muslims could gather together without hindrance, join together in divine worship and convey the message of Islam to whoever might come to them to learn about it. For this purpose, he chose the house of Arqam, an early convert to Islam, which was situated a short distance from the Holy Prophet’s own dwelling, upon the gentle rise of Safa. Fronting the Ka’aba to the east, it was situated in a frequented position and pilgrims, in the prescribed course, must needed to pass often by it. Thither were conducted any who exhibited an interest in Islam and there the Holy Prophet expounded to them his way more perfectly. On this account it became known among Muslims as the House of Islam. The Holy Prophet used this house as his centre for nearly three years. Umar was the last one to embrace Islam in this house. His adherence to Islam brought great strength to the Muslims, and thereafter they began to propagate their faith openly.
Of those who embraced Islam in Arqam’s house, the better-known ones were the following.
1 Musa’b bin Umair, of Banu Abdud Dar. He was a handsome young man well beloved by the other members of his family. He was sent to Medina as the missionary of Islam before Hijra.
2 Zaid bin Khattab, elder brother of Umar. He became a martyr in the battle of Yamamah. Umar was deeply grieved over his death. When he was Khalifa someone recited before him a very moving elegy that he had composed in memory of his own brother. Umar was deeply affected and observed, ‘If I had possessed the faculty of composing such verses, I too would have composed a similar elegy in memory of my brother.’ Upon this, the composer of the elegy submitted, ‘Commander of the Faithful, had my brother died the blessed death of your brother, I would neither have mourned him nor composed an elegy in his memory.’ Umar appreciated this observation deeply and said, ‘No one has comforted me so well over my brother’s death than you have by what you have said.’ Thereafter, he ceased exhibiting his grief over his brother’s death.
3 Abdullah bin Um Maktum, who was blind. He was related to Khadija, but was at the moment of little consideration. Yet he was a man of parts. He became remarkable for his knowledge of the Quran, and at Medina was repeatedly placed in positions of command.
4 Jafar bin Abi Talib, Ali’s brother, and a cousin of the Holy Prophet. It is reported that he resembled the Holy Prophet greatly, both in his features and in his moral qualities.
5-7 Ammar bin Yassar, his father and his mother, who belonged to the tribe of Mazhaj.
8 Suhaib bin Sanan, who is generally known as Suhaib Rumi (Byzantine). In fact he was not a Byzantine, but at a time when his father was the administrator of a certain region under the Iranian government he had been captured by the Byzantines and spent some time among them as their slave. He was later purchased and set free by Abdullah bin Jad’an Qarshi, who was a chieftain of Mecca. When he became a Muslim, the Holy Prophet observed, ‘Suhaib is our first fruit from Byzantium.’ At the time of Hijra Quraish would not let him depart for Medina. He had come to Mecca as a poor slave and was now well to do. He offered Quraish the whole of his property, which was considerable, if they would let him go. They agreed and he left for Medina. When the Holy Prophet learnt of this, he observed, ‘Suhaib made a very profitable bargain.’ He was close to Hazrat Umar when the latter was wounded fatally while leading the Salat and Umar directed him to lead the Salat in his place. He also led the funeral prayer over Umar.
9 Abu Musa Ashari from Yemen. He recited the Holy Quran beautifully.
10 Umar bin Khattab, who later became the Second Successor of the Holy Prophet. His brother and some other members of his family had embraced Islam before him. He was one of those who felt that Muhammad’s doctrine had become the source of great trouble among Quraish. He brooded over this and decided that the best way of dealing with this schism was to put an end to Muhammad. He set out with this design, but while he was on the way he learnt that his sister and his brother-in-law had embraced Islam. He proceeded to their house and arrived at a time when they were listening to a recitation of some verses of the Holy Quran by a Muslim. He was greatly upset and, drawing his sword, advanced upon his brother-in-law to make an end of him. His sister interposed herself between Umar and her husband and received an injury at the hands of Umar, which drew blood. This made Umar pause, and in his mood of remorse over having accidentally wounded his sister, he asked to be shown the text of the verses which were being recited at the time of his arrival at the house. His sister told him that he should wash and purify himself before he could be allowed to peruse the text of the verses. He complied and, on reading the verses, was so deeply moved that he decided to go immediately and make his submission to the Holy Prophet, which he did. His conversion brought great satisfaction to the Holy Prophet and much cheered and encouraged the Muslims.
Now Islam began to be propagated openly in Mecca, at which Quraish were much perturbed and began to consider measures the adoption of which should arrest its further progress. The opposition of Quraish to Islam was nothing surprising. At the emergence of every divine movement, opposition to it is always the normal reaction of those who are sought to be influenced by the movement. Indeed, a prophet is raised only when people have turned away from the straight path, which God Almighty desires that they should follow. The prophet urges them to revert to that path, but their attachment to the ways to which they have become accustomed stands in the way, and they put themselves in opposition to the doctrine and teaching of the prophet. As the Holy Quran has said: ‘Alas for My creatures! Whenever a Messenger comes to them, they deride him and make fun of him’ (36:31).
It is a curious feature of such opposition that it is the more prominent people who are the most bitter in their opposition to a prophet. As the Holy Quran has said: ‘Thus have We oriented the leading offenders of every town, with the result that they devise plots against Allah’s Messengers’ (6:124). The more exalted is the mission of a prophet, the greater is the opposition to him; as the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, was raised at a time when the world was sunk in the deepest spiritual darkness, he was bound to encounter greater opposition than any other prophet. The following were the principal causes of the opposition of Quraish to the Holy Prophet.
- Quraish were devoted idol-worshippers and they held their idols in such honour that they could not endure to hear a single derogatory word about them. The Ka’aba, which had originally been built for the worship of the One True God, had, in the course of time, become studded with idols. As against this, the Unity of God Almighty was the basic doctrine of Islam. As the Holy Quran has admonished: ‘Prostrate not yourselves before the sun, nor before the moon, but prostrate yourselves before Allah, Who created them’ (41:38). Not only this, but their idols and their gods and their goddesses were described in the Holy Quran as the fuel of hell: ‘Surely, you and that which you worship beside Allah are destined to be the fuel of hell’ (21:99). Such severe condemnation had greatly provoked Quraish who were united in their determination to wipe out Islam.
- Aside from idol-worship, the customs and habits of the Arabs were sunk low. Adultery, liquor, gambling, plunder, murder and all sorts of illicit practices were rife among them. These were all condemned by Islam, and embracing Islam meant discarding all of them and adopting a new mode of life. Quraish were not at all ready to do that.
- The Arabs were very sensitive with regard to the good name of their fathers and took pride in following in their footsteps, right or wrong. As is said in the Holy Quran: ‘When it is said to them: Follow that which Allah has sent down; their response is: Indeed not. We shall follow in the way of our fathers. But what if their fathers had no sense and were not rightly guided?’ (2:171)
- Quraish were proud, arrogant people and did not consider anyone else his or her equal. Slaves were particularly looked down upon and were harshly treated. On the other hand, Islam sought to iron out all distinctions and to establish a universal brotherhood. It placed the master and the slave at the same levelvis-a-visGod. This was anathema to the chieftains of Quraish.
- There were a large number of wealthy and influential people among Quraish. The Holy Prophet, though he belonged to one of the principal families among Quraish, was neither wealthy nor was he counted among the leading personalities. The chiefs of Mecca were not prepared to follow someone who was not of equal status with them. That is why they said: ‘Why has not this Quran been sent down to some great man of the two cities, Mecca or Taif?’ (43:32)
- The different tribes of Quraish were very jealous of each other, and, therefore, the tribes other than Banu Hashim resented that Banu Hashim should acquire prestige over them. Banu Umayya and Banu Makhzoom were particularly hostile towards Banu Hashim and that is why these two opposed Islam more bitterly than the rest of Quraish.
The leading opponents of Islam among Quraish were of three types. There were those who were not inspired by rancour and wished to behave well, but were not willing to follow the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, out of a sense of prestige, and also because they felt that Islam threatened their ancestral faith, habits and customs. Of the principal ones among them was Mut’am bin Adi of Banu Naufal. He was a confirmed pagan but generally behaved well towards the Holy Prophet. We shall see later that he took a leading part in terminating the boycott by Quraish of the Holy Prophet and the entire Banu Hashim; also on the return of the Holy Prophet from Taif, he very courageously extended his guarantee of protection to him so as to enable him to re-enter Mecca. Another one of the same type was Abul Bakhtari who was of Banu Asad; and a third one was Zubair bin Abu Umayya, brother of Um Salama, who later married the Holy Prophet.
In the second category were those leading men of Mecca whose opposition to Islam was characterized by a certain degree of mischief, though they did not enter upon active persecution. Of them was Utba bin Rabi’a of Banu Abd Shams. He was very wealthy and possessed great influence. In the battle of Badr when the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, espied him mounted on his red camel in the front of the enemy, he observed, ‘If anyone from the enemy possesses some nobility of character, it is that rider of the red camel.’ His brother Shaiba was of the same type. Both were killed in the battle of Badr by Hamzah and Ali. Another was Waleed bin Mughirah, father of Khalid who subsequently won renown as a great Muslim general. He was the leading chieftain of Quraish, who esteemed him as their father. He died three months after Hijra by being accidentally pierced by an arrow. Another was Aas bin Wail Sahmi, the father of Amr bin Aas. He was also very rich and influential. He died a few weeks after Hijra in great agony from swollen feet.
The third type were bitter enemies of Islam and were bent upon wiping it out by every available means. They were in the majority and the bulk of Quraish were under their influence. The leading ones from among them who died infidels were, first, Umr bin Hisham of Banu Makhzoom. He was the bitterest and most rancorous enemy of Islam and the Muslims. He occupied a position of distinction among Quraish who referred to him as Abul Hikam (‘father of wisdom’); but the Muslims retorted with naming him Abu Jahl (‘father of stupidity’). He was killed in the battle of Badr by two Ansari striplings. Another one of the same ilk was Abu Lahab bin Abdul Muttalib, uncle of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him. He was Abu JahI’s match in his bitter enmity towards the Muslims and in their persecution. He did not march with Quraish to the battle of Badr, but sent a substitute. He fell ill and died shortly after. A third one was Uqbah bin Abi Mueet of Banu Umayya. He was extremely vicious and ill natured. He was killed in the battle of Badr. Another one was Umayya bin Khalf of Banu Jamah, who was a rival of Abu Jahl in his persecution of the Muslims. He was killed in the battle of Badr. His brother, Ubayy bin Khalf, was of the same type. He died of an injury he received at the hands of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, in the battle of Uhud. Then there was Nadhar bin Harith of Banu Abdud Dar, who was particularly bitter towards the Holy Prophet. He was captured in the battle of Badr and was executed on account of his previous crimes.
There were several others of the same type who subsequently embraced Islam, some of whom will be mentioned later on, on account of their zeal and devotion.
Once the hostility of Quraish was aroused, the Muslims were subjected to all manner of indignities, molestations and persecutions. Quraish were determined that the new doctrine must be crushed, and its followers forced to abandon it. By degrees the persecution grew hot. Those who were citizens for the most part escaped serious injuries, being protected as a point of honour by their families, though some of them were persecuted by the senior members of their own families. But the slaves and freedmen, who had no support, were exposed too much suffering.
In their opposition to the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, Quraish were hampered by the fact that he enjoyed the protection of his uncle Abu Talib, and so long as that continued they could not raise their hands against him without the risk of arousing inter-tribal conflict. Therefore, their first design was to deprive the Holy Prophet of the support and protection of Abu Talib. For this purpose, they sent a delegation to Abu Talib to persuade him in a friendly manner to forbid his nephew carrying on propagation of Islam. The delegation was composed of, among others, Waleed bin Mughirah, Aas bin Wail, Utba bin Rabi’a, Abu Jahl and Abu Sufyan. They said to Abu Talib: ‘You are honoured among us and we have come to request you to stop your nephew from carrying on with the propagation of his new doctrine. Should you be unable to do this, we would suggest that you should withdraw your guarantee of protection from him, and leave us to deal with him.’ Abu Talib spoke to them very gently, and tried to reduce their sense of indignation against his nephew, and sent them back without giving them any kind of assurance.
As the cause of their indignation and anger continued to mount and their polytheism continued to be condemned in the Holy Quran in severe terms, they came back to Abu Talib, after a brief interval, and said to him: ‘We are being castigated in ever harsher terms by Muhammad. We are described as foul, as an abomination, as the worst of mankind, as foolish and the progeny of Satan; our deities are condemned as the fuel of hell and our fathers are described as bereft of understanding. We cannot sit idle under such condemnation and cannot endure it any further. If you will not withdraw your guarantee of his protection, we would be left no choice but to stand up in opposition to you till one of the two parties is vanquished.’ Abu Talib was much agitated and immediately sent for Muhammad. When he came, he spoke to him as follows: ‘Son of my brother, my people have been gravely provoked by thy propaganda, and are bent upon thy destruction and also of mine. Thou hast called their wise ones foolish, have dubbed their fathers as the worst of mankind, have described their honoured deities as the fuel of hell, and have castigated the people as foul and an abomination. I counsel thee, as thy well-wisher, to stop this vilification and restrain thy tongue, for I have not the strength to oppose the whole of my people.’ The Holy Prophet realized that Abu Talib’s firmness in his support had been shaken and that he was likely to be deprived of this principal means of worldly support, but he exhibited no sign of anxiety and responded calmly: ‘Uncle, this is not vilification, but appropriate description of fact; this is what I have been sent to do, that is to say, to call people to the straight path by exposing their errors. If I must face death in this cause, I am ready to submit to it gladly. My life is devoted to this cause and I cannot restrain myself from declaring the truth out of fear of death. Uncle, if you apprehend trouble on my account, you may withdraw your protection from me, but I shall not stop the propagation of that which is revealed to me. If these people were to place the sun on my right, and the moon on my left, I would not desist from doing my duty. I shall persist in it till God enables me to discharge it fully, or till I perish in the attempt.’
The Holy Prophet delivered himself of these sentiments with such sincerity and emotion that his face appeared to be shining. Having said his say he turned away, but Abu Talib called him back and, with tears in his eyes, said to him: ‘Son of my brother, continue with the discharge of thy function; I shall support thee to the limit of my power so long as I am alive.’
Then Quraish had recourse to another stratagem. They again approached Abu Talib and brought with them a bright youth, Ammarah bin Waleed, who belonged to a noble family of Quraish, and said to Abu Talib: ‘We have brought you Ammarah bin Waleed and you know that he is one of the best young men of Quraish. We propose that we shall hand over this youth to you and you may derive such benefit from him as you may wish. You may adopt him as your son, if you like; we are ready to surrender to you all our rights in him. We desire that in his place you may hand over Muhammad to us who has created great disorder among us by his attacks against our inherited faith, so that we might deal with him as we may wish. In this manner, a life will be rendered in place of a life and you will have no grievance.’ Abu Talib responded to them: ‘It is a preposterous proposal that I should adopt as my son one of your youths and should bring him up and provide for him, and in return I should hand over my son to you that you may kill him. I would never be a party to such an exchange.’ On this Mut’am bin Adi said to Abu Talib: ‘Your people have made every effort to settle this matter without giving rise to a conflict, but you do not seem inclined to accept any of their proposals.’ To this Abu Talib retorted: ‘I am not receiving fair treatment. Mut’am, I perceive that you are also inclined to support your people and to behave unfaithfully towards me. If your people persist in being unreasonable, I have nothing to say. “You can do whatever you like.”
The leaders of Quraish then took counsel together and agreed that each tribe should coerce such of its members as had embraced Islam to repudiate it. They imagined that if this device proved successful Muhammad would be deserted by his companions, and, being left alone, would not be able to carry on his mission. When Abu Talib came to know of this, he too called together Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib and, having apprised them of what he had learnt, proposed that they, on their side, should resolve to safeguard Muhammad in every respect. To this all present indicated their agreement, with the exception of Abu Lahab, who had become a determined and inveterate enemy of Islam. This device of Quraish obviated any inter-tribal conflict, but exposed individual Muslims to all manner of persecution at the hands of their respective fellow tribesmen. Attention may be drawn to some instances by way of illustration.
Uthman bin Affan was of Banu Umayya, and was a person of ripe age in easy circumstances. Yet, in pursuance of the measure resolved upon by Quraish, his uncle, Hakam bin Abil Aas, tied him up with ropes and administered a severe beating to him, which he bore with equanimity, without the least protest.
Zubair bin Awam belonged to Banu Asad and was a man of courage and determination. His uncle would roll him up inside a length of matting and would torture him with smoke in his efforts to persuade him to renounce Islam. He endured the torture cheerfully and continued to affirm that having recognized the truth, he would not denounce it.
Saeed bin Zaid, brother-in-law of Umar, was of Banu Adi and was respected in his circle. When Umar learnt that he had embraced Islam, he attacked him violently, and, in the process, caused injury to his own sister, which drew blood.
Abdullah bin Masood belonged to Hudhail. He was beaten up severely in the courtyard of the Ka’aba.
Abu Dhar Ghaffari was beaten up mercilessly and might have been killed if Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib had not intervened and rescued him from his assailants by reminding them that their victim was of Banu Ghaffar, who were settled along the Syrian trade route, and could block their trade caravans proceeding north.
These were instances of persons who were members of powerful tribes and to whom a certain degree of consideration was due. But the weak and those held in bondage were persecuted brutally and savagely. We have mentioned the case of Bilal bin Rabah, who was owned by Umayya bin Khalf and endured severe torture at his hands because he would not desert the Holy Prophet and persisted in his belief in the Unity of God. Abu Fakeeh was a slave of Safwan bin Umayya. He was mercilessly mistreated in the same way as Bilal; and so was Aamir bin Fuhairah, another slave, who was eventually purchased by Abu Bakr and set free. Thereafter Abu Bakr employed him in grazing his goats.
Labeenah was a female slave of Banu Adi who had embraced Islam. Before his own conversion to Islam Umar would beat her mercilessly, and when he became tired of beating her he would take breath and start beating her again. All she said in protest was, ‘Umar, if you do not embrace Islam, God will not overlook your cruelty to me.’
Zunairah was a female slave of Banu Makhzoom. Abu Jahl beat her so cruelly that she lost her eyesight. He used to point to her and say, ‘Had Islam been true, how could she have embraced it while we have failed to recognize its truth?’
Suhaib bin Sanan Rumi was no longer a slave and was comparatively well off, but he was often beaten mercilessly by Quraish.
Khabbab bin Arat was a freedman who practised as a blacksmith. On one occasion he was seized and was forcibly held down on his back upon the burning charcoal of his own forge till the fire went out. He related this incident many years later to Hazrat Umar and exhibited his back that was studded with white patches left by his injuries.
Ammar, his father Yassar and his mother Samayyah, were most mercilessly and savagely tortured by Banu Makhzoom. On one occasion when they were being tormented the Holy Prophet happened to pass by, and, observing their pitiful condition, tried to comfort them with, ‘Continue steadfast, family of Yassar, as your final resort is paradise.’ In the end Yassar succumbed to his torture. His aged wife was so mercilessly wounded by Abu Jahl with a spear that she died on the spot. Ammar was also repeatedly tortured but survived.
The Holy Prophet himself, peace be on him, was to a large degree protected by the guarantee of Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib to which reference has already been made. This guarantee was to some degree weakened by the bitter hostility of Abu Lahab and Quraish were contemplating measures against Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib, though they had not yet taken any practical steps in that direction. They confined themselves to taunts, derision and molestation. On the approach of the annual pilgrimage, they gathered together in the house of Waleed bin Mughirah and put their heads together to decide how they should answer any inquirers after Muhammad and his doctrine on the occasion of the pilgrimage. Should they say that he was a soothsayer, or that he was insane, or that he was a misguided poet who was influencing people through his verses, or that he was a magician who was misleading people through the exercise of his magic? Waleed pointed out that none of these descriptions fitted Muhammad and that, therefore, their designation of him as belonging to any of these categories would not carry conviction. In the end, however, they agreed to represent him as a sorcerer who, through the influence of his sorcery, was breaking up families, separating sons from their fathers, brothers from their brothers, wives from their husbands. They started this propaganda in the pilgrimage season, directing it towards all the Arab tribes that resorted to Mecca in that season, and thus provoked great agitation against the Holy Prophet, peace be on him.
Quraish did not stop there. They constantly incited the mischievous elements among them to molest the Holy Prophet in every possible way. They followed him about and gave free rein to their tongues in uttering derisive and provocative slogans and phrases. His neighbours threw stones into his house, scattered thorns outside his door and put foul and evil-smelling substances inside the walls of his dwelling.
On one occasion, someone threw the entrails of a goat into his house. He carried them out and exclaimed, ‘Banu Abd Manaf, this is’ not the way of good neighbourliness.’ On one occasion, when the Holy Prophet was engaged in Prayer and was in prostration in the courtyard of the Ka’aba, someone, at the instigation of Abu Jahl, placed the entrails of a camel over his shoulders. On hearing of this, one of his daughters came and removed them so that he should be able to get up.
About that time Quraish began calling him Mudhammam (‘the reviled one’) instead of Muhammad (‘the praised one’). Someone mentioned this to the Holy Prophet, who smiled and observed, ‘My name is Muhammad, and he who is Muhammad cannot be Mudhammam. Take note how God safeguards me against their abuse.’
On another occasion, when he was engaged in Prayer near the Ka’aba, Utba bin Abi Mueet stepped up to him and, winding a piece of cloth round his neck, began to squeeze it, whereby it became difficult for him to breathe. Abu Bakr, being apprised of this, came up running and rescued him, exclaiming: ‘Would you kill a person for saying “Allah is my Lord”?’
On another occasion, when the Holy Prophet affirmed the Unity of God in the courtyard of the Ka’aba, some Quraish collected around him in a threatening attitude. His stepson, Harith bin Abi Hallah, came up running, seeking to guard him against any mischief that might be intended by Quraish. Someone from among Quraish drew his sword and killed Harith on the spot. In the confusion that ensued, it could not be determined who the assassin was.
The Muslims in Mecca were at this time facing great difficulties. The Holy Prophet did not mind being molested himself, but was anxious about the persecution to which the Muslims, particularly the weaker ones among them, were being subjected. He was well aware that this was a stage through which all those who adhered to the truth had to pass, and that such persecution served as a means of training them in the virtues of endurance and steadfastness. He told them that this had been the eternal way of God and it was the believers who triumphed in the end. On one occasion when he was sitting near the Ka’aba, Khabbab bin Arat and some other Muslims came to him and inquired: ‘Messenger of Allah, seeing how the Muslims are persecuted by Quraish, why do you not call down the wrath of God upon Quraish?’ Hearing this, the Holy Prophet was much agitated and admonished them: ‘There were people before you who endured much greater hardships for the sake of their faith than those you have to endure. There were those whose flesh was wrenched away with iron pincers, so that their bones were exposed, but they remained steadfast. There were those whose bodies were sawn through, but they did not resile from their faith. Be certain that God will fulfil His design. A time is coming when a camel rider will journey from Syria to Hadharmaut having no fear in his heart, save the fear of God. But you are impatient.’
On another occasion, Abdul Rahman bin Auf and some other Muslims came to him and submitted: ‘Messenger of Allah, when we were pagans we were respected, and no one dared to raise hostile eyes at us. But since we have become Muslims, we have become weak and helpless and are held of no account. We have to endure the persecutions of the unbelievers in humility. Messenger of Allah, we would beg you to permit us to stand up to them.’ To this he made answer: ‘I have been commanded to forbear. I cannot permit you to fight your enemies.’ With this they had to be content and to endure all persecution steadfastly.