When the sufferings and tribulations of the Muslims at the hands of Quraish reached their limit, the Holy Prophet directed that those of them who could afford it should migrate to Abyssinia across the Red Sea. He observed that the ruler of Abyssinia was just and did not permit anyone being wronged in his dominions. The title of the ruler of Abyssinia was Najashi. The capital of the country was Axum, which was close to modern Adowa. The Najashi of the time, whose name was As-hama, was a just, intelligent and powerful ruler. He was a Christian by faith and ruled over a vast domain. Under the direction of the Holy Prophet, eleven men and four women from among the Muslims migrated to Abyssinia. The better-known ones of them were: Usman bin Affan and his wife Ruqayya, daughter of the Holy Prophet; Abdul Rahman bin Auf; Zubair bin Awam; Abu Huzaifah bin Utba; Uthman bin Maz’un; Musa’b bin Umair; Abu Salama bin Abdul Asad and his wife Um Salama. All these were connected with powerful tribes of Quraish, which is an indication that even such people were not secure against the persecution of Quraish; and also that the weaker ones among the Muslims were so helpless that they could not undertake the journey.
‘When these emigrants arrived at the nearest port, they were fortunate in finding a trading vessel ready to leave for Abyssinia. They were all taken on board and the vessel set sail. When Quraish came to know of their migration they were much upset and sent some men after them in pursuit, but by the time they arrived at the coast the vessel had sailed away and they returned to Mecca frustrated. The Muslims, having arrived in Abyssinia, settled down in peace and in gratitude to God for having delivered them from the tyranny of Quraish.
It is related that they had been settled in their new home for only a short while when a rumour reached them that Quraish had all embraced Islam and that there was peace and quiet in Mecca. Hearing this, it is said, a majority of them set out on the return journey to Mecca. When they approached Mecca they discovered that the rumour had been without foundation. They were so perplexed that they did not know what to do. Some of them retraced their steps and went back to Abyssinia, and others entered Mecca secretly or under the protection of some influential powerful person. The migration and the alleged return took place in the fifth year of the prophet hood of the Holy Prophet.
A careful appraisal of all the circumstances makes it very doubtful whether any such rumour had reached the migrants in Abyssinia and whether any of them had undertaken the return journey to Mecca. This incident has somehow been thought to be connected with another incident which is related in some ahadith, Bokhari’s version of which is: ‘On one occasion, the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, recited the verses of Sura Najm (Chapter 53) in the courtyard of the Ka’aba at a time when several of the chieftains of Quraish were also present and so were some Muslims. When he finished the recitation of the Sura, he fell down in prostration and all the Muslims and the disbelievers who were present also prostrated themselves.’ The hadith does not mention why the disbelievers fell into prostration, but it appears that when the Holy Prophet recited, in a moving voice, the verses of the Sura which stressed the Unity of God and His Power and Might and His bounties and concluded with the warning: ‘The Hour of Judgment is approaching, none but Allah can avert it. Do you then wonder at this announcement, and laugh at it, and do not weep, and continue preoccupied with vanities? Arise, and prostrate yourselves before Allah, and worship Him’, the Holy Prophet and the Muslims immediately fell into prostration and Quraish were so moved by the scene and the whole atmosphere that they too, involuntarily, fell into prostration. This was nothing to be wondered at. Quraish were not atheists and acknowledged the existence of God. Thus, when, on the recitation of these majestic and glorious words, the Holy Prophet and the Muslims all went into prostration, Quraish were so overcome that they too went into prostration. But this was only a momentary reaction. After the prostration, Quraish were the same idol worshippers as they had been before.
It is possible the Quraish, who were anxious to secure the return of the emigrants to Abyssinia, taking advantage of this involuntary action of theirs, may have started the rumour that Quraish had all embraced Islam and that Mecca had become a place of peace and security for the Muslims. It is also possible that when this rumour reached the Muslims in Abyssinia, they were greatly comforted and some of them immediately set out on the return journey to Mecca, but when they arrived near Mecca, they were undeceived and became perplexed.
Even if some of them had returned from Abyssinia, the greater number of these immediately went back. As the persecution of Muslims by Quraish was daily mounting, other Muslims, under the direction of the Holy Prophet, began to prepare secretly to follow them and joined them one by one. Thus the total number of emigrants to Abyssinia reached a hundred, of whom eighteen were women. Very few Muslims were left with the Holy Prophet in Mecca. This additional migration to Abyssinia is sometimes described as the second migration.
In this context, it is necessary to draw attention to an utterly unlikely and unfounded story that is related as the basis of the rumour, which resulted in the return of some of the original migrants to Abyssinia. It is alleged that as the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, was eager that he might be vouchsafed some revelation which should prove effective in attracting Quraish to Islam and in removing their hostility towards it, when, during the course of his recitation of Sura Najm, he arrived at the verses ‘Now, tell me about your goddesses, Lot and Uzza, and the third one, Manat, another of them’, Satan, taking advantage of his eagerness, caused the following words to issue from his mouth: ‘These are exalted personages and their intercession may be hoped for.’ It is said that Quraish were greatly pleased on hearing such exaltation of their goddesses by the Holy Prophet, so that when he and the Muslims prostrated them at the end of the recitation of the Sura, they also prostrated along with them and thus an accord was established between the two sides. But that soon thereafter the Holy Prophet was made aware of his lapse and the offending verses were abrogated, and Quraish were disgruntled. As news of the accord had, however, been widely published, it reached Abyssinia also, and, learning of it, some of the migrants returned to Mecca.
This preposterous story is utterly, without any foundation. According to the historians, the first migration to Abyssinia took place in the month of Rajjab of the fifth year of the prophet hood, and the incident of the prostration took place in Ramadhan of that year and the return of some of the emigrants happened in Shawal of that year. Thus, there was only an interval of two or three months between the beginning of the migration and the return of some of the migrants, and the interval between the incident of the prostration and the return of the migrants was only a month. In the conditions that prevailed at that time, it was utterly impossible that the three journeys involved, that of the migrants from Mecca to Axum, that of someone who carried the news of the incident from Mecca to Axum and that of the migrants who, on learning of the alleged accord between Quraish and the Muslims returned to Mecca, could have been accomplished within the brief period that elapsed between the start of the migration and the return of some of the migrants.
Further, the six authoritative compilations of hadith, namely, those of Bokhari, Muslim, Ibn Majah, Tirmidhi, Nasai, and Abu Daud, though they mention the recitation of Sura Najm and the prostration of Quraish, make no mention of the offending verses, nor do they make any reference to them in any other context. The great Imams of hadith like Allamah Aini, Qazi Ayadh and Allamah Novi, have rejected this story after discussing it in detail. Allamah Aini has concluded, ‘There is no basis for it in fact or in reason.’ Qazi Ayadh has observed, ‘The story finds no support in the reports of cautious and intelligent narrators and is open to every type of criticism. None of its narrators has carried it to the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, or to any of his Companions.’ Allamah Novi has written, ‘Not a word of it is true on the basis of fact or from the angle of reason.’
Outstanding commentators like Imam Razi have described the story as false and nonsense. The most perceptive of the Sufis, Mohyuddin ibn Arabi, has said: ‘There is not the least basis for it.’ Tabari, the most authoritative biographer of the Holy Prophet, makes no mention of the offending verses.
A study of the Sura Najm itself is enough to refute the whole story. The offending verses do not fit in anywhere with the rest of it.
Above all, it is utterly inconsistent with the whole concept of Prophethood, and indeed with the righteousness of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, that he could have been influenced by any Satanic incitement at any time. Reason rebels against the suggestion that a person who had in the whole of his previous life never bowed to an idol, who was emphatically commanded by God Almighty to condemn idol-worship unsparingly and to call mankind to the worship of the One True God, the very foundation stone of whose faith was the Unity of God, in support of which he was in constant conflict with his people, should have leaned towards idol-worship in order to please Quraish. Does the minutest study of his life reveal that he was ever inclined to make a compromise on doctrine with the disbelievers? He was expressly commanded (68:8-10):
Surely, thy Lord knows best those who go astray from His way, and He knows best those who are rightly guided; so comply not with the wishes of those who reject the truth. They wish that thou should be a little accommodating so that they may also be accommodating.
The Holy Quran excludes emphatically any idea of Satan being capable of influencing any righteous person, let alone a prophet or a messenger. For instance, it is said (16:40-4): Satan boasted:
Lord, since Thou hast judged me as lost, I will make error appear attractive to them in this life and I will lead them all astray, excepting Thy chosen servants from among them. Allah said to him: This is the path which leads straight to Me. Surely, thou shalt have no power over My true servants, barring those erring ones who choose to follow thee; and, surely hell is the rendezvous for them all.
Again, it is said: ‘Shall I inform you on whom do Satans descend? They descend on every lying sinner’ (26:222, 223).
In view of all this, is it possible to imagine that the Holy Prophet was liable, in any circumstances, to be influenced by Satan? Indeed, if such incitement of a prophet were at all possible, all prophet hood and revelation would become doubtful and no reliance whatsoever could be placed on them, and the surest means of the guidance of mankind provided by God, of His grace and mercy, would be rendered futile.
Then, it may be asked, how did the story originate at all? Allamah Qastalani and Allamah Zarqani have offered an explanation that is supported by many research scholars. They have drawn attention to the fact that the disbelievers from among Quraish were in the habit of indulging in noisy interruptions of the recitation of the Holy Quran and tried to create confusion concerning its text, hoping thereby to frustrate and perplex the Muslims, as is said: ‘The disbelievers say: “Listen not to this Quran, and interrupt its recital with noise creating confusion, perchance you may thus have the upper hand”’ (41:27). On this occasion also they made a similar attempt, and when the Holy Prophet mentioned the names of their goddesses, someone of them called out, ‘These are exalted personages, whose intercession may be hoped for, so that some people may have been confused whether the Holy Prophet had himself uttered these words. This explanation is supported by the fact that Quraish, when performing a circuit of the Ka’aba, used to repeat the very formula ‘These are exalted personages’. This explanation is supported by Mohyuddin ibn Arabi, Qazi Ayadh, Ibn Jarir, Imam Razi, and Hafiz ibn Hajar.
When Quraish found that the Muslims had found safe asylum in Abyssinia, they were much perturbed and cast about for means to have them expelled from that country. In the end, they selected two of their prominent men, Amr bin Aas and Abdullah bin Rabiyyah, to go as a delegation to Abyssinia for the achievement of their purpose. They prepared valuable gifts for Najashi and all his courtiers, which comprised mainly of articles made from leather for which Arabia was then famous, and handed them over to their delegates. Arrived in Axum, Amr and Abdullah first established contact with the courtiers of Najashi and presented their gifts to them and by this means they gained access to Najashi, and, after presenting their gifts to him, submitted: ‘Mighty King, some of our foolish people have abandoned their ancestral religion and have adopted a new faith which is opposed to your religion also. These people have created great disorder in our country, and now some of them have fled from our country and have taken refuge here. We request that you may be pleased to direct that they should be sent back to us.’ Some of the courtiers supported their request, but Najashi, who was an intelligent ruler, refused to act unilaterally and said: ‘These people have sought my protection. I will not decide anything without hearing them.’ Thus the Muslim migrants were summoned and Najashi asked them what they had to say and what was the religion they had adopted. Jafar bin Abi Talib replied on behalf of the Muslims: ‘Gracious King, we were an ignorant people, given to idol-worship, the eating of carrion, and to all manner of vices. We had no regard for ties of kinship, we misbehaved towards our neighbours, and the strong among us suppressed the weak. In this situation, God raised among us His Messenger whose noble descent; truth and integrity were well known to all of us. He called us to the worship of the One True God, forbade idol-worship, inculcated truth, honesty and beneficence towards kindred. He urged us to behave well towards neighbours, forbade vice, falsehood, bloodshed, and devouring the substance of the orphan. We believed in him and followed him, on account of which our people turned against us, persecuted us, afflicted us and tormented us in diverse ways. They tried to wean us away from our faith by force. Thus, we were compelled to leave our home and to seek asylum in your country. We hope that under you we shall be safeguarded against tyranny.’
Najashi was impressed by what Jafar had said and asked him to recite to him somewhat of the revelation in which they had believed. Thereupon, Jafar recited the opening verses of Sura Maryam, hearing which Najashi was deeply moved and, with tears in his eyes, said: ‘I perceive that these words and the words of Jesus have proceeded from the same Source of Light.’ He told the delegation of Quraish to go back, and that he would not send the Muslims with them. He also returned their presents to them.
This set-back did not discourage the delegation of Quraish, who requested another audience of Najashi and on being granted it, submitted to him that the Muslims did not look upon Jesus with respect and were thus guilty of blasphemy. Najashi sent for them and asked them what was their belief concerning Jesus. Jafar replied that they believed that Jesus was a servant of Allah, and not God, but an exalted messenger of God, and was born of the Word of God, which He had sent down upon Mary. On hearing this, Najashi picked up a straw from the floor and said, ‘I do not regard Jesus greater than what you have told me even by the weight of this straw.’ His remark upset the Christian clerics, who were present, but Najashi did not pay any attention to them and the delegation of Quraish had to return disappointed.
While the migrants were still in Abyssinia, Najashi was involved in a battle with a rival. The migrants sent Zubair bin Awam across the Nile, to where the battle was being fought, to check up on the situation and to report back to them whether their help might be needed in any way; and in the meantime, they occupied themselves with prayers for the victory of Najashi. Zubair returned within a few days and told them that Najashi had been victorious.
The migrants continued to live in peace in Abyssinia for a long while. A majority of them returned to Mecca about the time of the Migration to Medina, and the rest returned to Medina at the time when the Holy Prophet returned after his campaign against Khaibar.
When the Muslims migrated to Abyssinia, Abu Bakr also left Mecca, intending to migrate, and headed towards the south. When he arrived at Barkal Ghamad he met by chance Ibn Daghna, chief of Qarah, who inquired from him whither he was bent. Abu Bakr replied that his people had expelled him from Mecca and he intended to settle at some place where he could worship God freely. Ibn Daghna said to him, ‘One like you should not be expelled, nor should he himself wish to migrate. Come back to Mecca with me and worship God freely in Mecca. I shall extend my protection to you.’ Thus Abu Bakr was persuaded to return to Mecca. Ibn Daghna reproved the leaders of Quraish on making it difficult for people like Abu Bakr to live in Mecca in freedom. Thereafter, Abu Bakr built a small mosque in the courtyard of his house in which he performed his worship and recited the Holy Quran. His recitation was made in a very moving tone and his devotions began to interest and attract women, children and simple-minded people. On this, Quraish complained to Ibn Daghna that as Abu Bakr recited the Quran aloud, their women and children and the weaker section of their people were attracted to his faith. He should, therefore, tell Abu Bakr to stop making his recitation in an audible voice. Ibn Daghna mentioned this to Abu Bakr, who told him that he would not change his method, but that if Ibn Daghna was being inconvenienced over it, he did not desire to continue under his protection. God was sufficient for him as Protector. Thereafter Abu Bakr was persecuted in diverse ways, but he remained steadfast as a rock.
About the same time Islam and the Muslims were supported and strengthened in Mecca by the adherence of two outstanding personalities, namely Hamzah bin Abdul Muttalib and Umar bin Khattab, to Islam. We have mentioned earlier the conversion of the latter.
Hamzah was an uncle of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, and was very fond of him. He was accustomed to spending his day in hunting. On returning to Mecca in the late afternoon he would perform a circuit of the Ka’aba and would look in at the small parties of Quraish who generally met in the courtyard of the Ka’aba at that time of the day, and then return home. One day, on his return from hunting, one of his maids said to him, ‘Abul Hikam (Abu Jahl) has just been reviling your nephew Muhammad, who did not say a word in reply.’ Hamzah was greatly agitated on hearing this and, after performing a circuit of the Ka’aba, he advanced towards the party among whom Abu Jahl was seated, struck him with force on the head with his bow and said: ‘I have just heard that you have been reviling Muhammad. Now, listen. I also follow the religion of Muhammad, and say the same as he says. If you consider yourself a brave man, now is the time for you to speak up boldly.’ The companions of Abu Jahl stood up in his support and some grave incident might have ensued, but Abu Jahl was affected by the bravery and daring of Hamzah and restrained his companions, saying, ‘There is reason for Hamzah to be upset, for I have indeed been at fault.’ Thus the matter went no further.
In his agitation, Hamzah had uttered the words ‘I too follow Muhammad’s religion’ but when he reached home and his agitation subsided, he began to reflect upon the situation with which he was now faced. In the end, he decided to renounce paganism, and so he went to the Holy Prophet and formally embraced Islam. On the same day Abu Bakr proclaimed the Unity of God in the courtyard of the Ka’aba openly. The Holy Prophet and some Muslims were also present on the occasion. Quraish were greatly perturbed over the daring of Abu Bakr and set upon him fiercely, and maltreated him so mercilessly that when his fellow tribesmen intervened and carried him to his house he was quite unconscious and his face was swollen. On regaining consciousness his first words were directed towards discovering whether the Holy Prophet had been molested in any way.
When Umar’s adherence to Islam became generally known, Quraish were deeply agitated and encircled Umar’s house. When Umar emerged, he was surrounded by a large crowd, some of whom might have offered violence to him, but just at that time, Aas bin Wail, one of the great chiefs of Mecca, arrived on the scene and inquired what had happened. He was told that Umar had become a Muslim, upon which he observed, ‘Even so, it is not necessary to raise a tumult over it. I extend my protection to Umar.’ The crowd then dispersed. On account of the guarantee of Aas bin Wail, Umar was left in peace, but he did not feel happy in this situation. So, after a few days, he went to Aas bin Wail and told him that he did not need his protection any longer. Thereafter he was often beaten and maltreated.
About the same time, Abdullah, son of Umar, who was quite young, also became a Muslim. He grew up to be a great divine.
Quraish were alarmed at the adherence of Hamzah and Umar to Islam. They took counsel together and sent Utba bin Rabi’a to talk to the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, and to try to persuade him to stop the propagation of Islam. Utba returned from his mission and reported his failure, and Quraish felt that far from persuading the Holy Prophet, he himself had been affected and influenced in his favour. Shortly after, they met in the precincts of the Ka’aba and resolved that some of their chiefs should speak to the Holy Prophet. Accordingly, Waleed bin Mughirah, Aas bin Wail, Abu Jahl, Umayya bin Khalf, Utba, Shaiba, Abu Sufyan, Aswad bin Muttalib, Nadhar bin Harith, Abul Bakhtari and some others met together in the courtyard of the Ka’aba and sent a message to the Holy Prophet that they were anxious to speak to him and he might come and hear what they had to say. He arrived immediately, and the substance of what they said to him was: ‘Muhammad, you have been the cause of creating serious differences between sections of the people. You have condemned their ancestral religion, have reproved the leaders of the people, have described them as bereft of understanding, and have reviled their honoured gods. Thus, you have greatly humiliated and insulted the people. We are at a loss to decide how to deal with you. We do not know what you are seeking through all this propaganda. If your purpose is to gather wealth, we are willing to bestow upon you so much that you may be the wealthiest of us all. If you are seeking honour and status, we are willing to make you our chief. If you hanker after ruling power, we are even prepared to acknowledge you as our king. If all your agitation is due to some disease or disorder, we are prepared to provide for your proper treatment at our expense. If you can be made happy by marriage with a young woman, we can provide you with the best maiden among the Arabs.’
The Holy Prophet, peace be on him, listened patiently to their discourse, and when they had finished, said to them: ‘Chiefs of Quraish, I desire none of these things and suffer from no disease or disorder. I am a messenger of God and have brought you His message. My heart is full of sympathy for you. If you listen to me and follow what I say, it will be entirely to your benefit, both here and hereafter. If you reject my message, I shall await the judgment of God with patience and steadfastness.’
The chiefs of Quraish then started a new line and said: ‘If you insist upon our accepting you as a divine messenger, then let us come to some understanding about that. You know that our country is mostly desert and all that one observes in it are dry rocks and interminable sand dunes. If you are truly a messenger of God, supplicate Him that there should be streams of water running in this country as they run in Syria and Iraq, and let these hillocks and dunes be levelled and become fertile arable land. If you can bring this about, we shall acknowledge you a messenger of God.’ To this, the Holy Prophet responded: ‘I am a messenger of God and my function is only to point out the way of truth and falsehood to you and to expound to you that which would benefit you and that which would do you harm. I do affirm, however, that if you will respond to the call of God, He will, in due course, make you heirs of the bounties of this life as well as of the hereafter.’
Quraish retorted: ‘If you are unable to do that which we have suggested, we would yet have believed in you if we had seen an angel descend upon you, or if you had dwelt in a palace and had at your disposal heaps of gold and silver. But you have none of these things available to you. We observe that you go about in the streets like us and seek your livelihood in the same manner as we do. Then what is that on account of which we might acknowledge you as a Messenger of God?’ The Holy Prophet explained once more: ‘I do not claim these things in the way that you desire. I can only repeat that if you will believe in me, then, according to the eternal way of God, you will surely partake of the bounties of this life and the next.’
Quraish began to lose patience, and challenged the Holy Prophet: ‘If you can do none of these things, then bring upon us the chastisement with which you threaten us. Let a piece of heaven fall upon us; or let an angelic host confront us under the banner of God. It seems to us, indeed, that we cannot exist at the same time with you and your followers; either we shall survive, or you will survive.’
The Holy Prophet then withdrew with a sorrowful heart. On his departure, Abu Jahl announced in a passion: ‘Chiefs of Quraish, you have seen that Muhammad has scornfully rejected all your suggestions and he is determined to continue in his turbulent course. I, therefore, swear that I shall not rest till I crush the head of Muhammad, and then let Banu Abd Manaf deal with me as they may wish.’ The only ones of Banu Abd Manaf who were present on the occasion were those who did not belong to Banu Hashim or Banu Muttalib. Their response to Abu Jahl’s challenge was: ‘We have no objection. You can deal with Muhammad as you like.’ Next day Abu Jahl took up his station on one side of the courtyard of the Ka’aba, having provided himself with a large piece of stone, and began to await the Holy Prophet, but when he arrived he was so overawed that he dared not make a move.
Some of Quraish announced that they were not unduly perturbed at the tumult that Muhammad had raised, as he had no surviving male issue and, after his death, his movement would peter out automatically. Thereupon, the Holy Prophet received the revelation (108:2-4):
Surely, We have bestowed upon thee abundance of every kind of good. So be grateful to God, and as a token of thy gratitude, continue to spend thyself and all that belongs to thee in His cause. God Almighty will surely destroy all the progeny of thy enemies.
The pages of history bear eloquent witness to the glorious fulfilment of that part of the prophecy, which related to the Holy Prophet, and the terrible chastisement that was imposed upon his enemies. The progeny of those who had predicted that his movement would peter out automatically all became the devoted followers of the Holy Prophet, and thus set their seal to the truth that the only one, out of not merely Quraish but all the tribes of Arabia, whose progeny has survived and flourished through the ages is Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, on whom be peace.
Quraish were a prey to great agitation and did not know how to deal with the situation. In this state of uncertainty, Waleed bin Mughirah, Aas bin Wail and Umayya bin Khalf, having agreed upon a plan, approached the Holy Prophet and said to him, ‘Our differences are widening and the strain between us is increasing. Is there no way of arriving at a settlement?’ He inquired, ‘Have you anything in mind?’ They responded with, ‘Let us adopt a common mode of worship. You should worship our idols along with God, and we shall worship God along with our idols. One benefit that might result from this accord is that the truth and righteousness of one side will affect the other side also.’ The Holy Prophet smiled and observed, ‘Your plan is utterly unacceptable. Believing in the Unity of God, how can I worship your idols also; and how can you, while worshipping your idols, worship the One True God also? These inconsistencies cannot be reconciled together.’ A few days later, the Holy Prophet received the revelation (109:2-7):
Proclaim: Hearken ye who disbelieve! I cannot worship those that you worship, nor can you worshipping them, worship the One True God. Thus it is not possible that I should at any time worship your idols, as it is also not possible that, worshipping your idols, you should worship the One True God; that is because you follow one religion and I follow another.
Having met with nothing but frustration, Quraish were much incensed, and at last resolved upon a complete boycott of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, all Muslims, and all Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib, unless the latter should renounce their guarantee of protection of the Holy Prophet. Accordingly, in Muharram of the seventh year of prophethood, an agreement was drawn up prohibiting intermarriage between Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib on one side and the rest of Quraish on the other, forbidding any transaction between them and forbidding the supply of all provisions to them, till they should denounce Muhammad and hand him over to them. This agreement, to which Banu Kananah were also a party, having been reduced to writing, the chiefs of Quraish and Banu Kananah put their signatures or marks to it and it was suspended from one of the walls of the Ka’aba, as a great national pact. In pursuance of this pact, the Holy Prophet and all Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib, with the sole exception of Abu Lahab, and all the Muslims, were compelled to retire to the quarter of Abu Talib in a narrow valley. The ban was put rigorously in force. The Hashimites soon found themselves cut off from all supply of corn and other necessaries of life. Quraish would sell them nothing; they were not strong enough to send forth a caravan of their own; if foreign merchants came, Quraish made them withhold their commodities from the besieged; and thus a great scarcity ensued which imposed terrible sufferings, particularly on women, children and old people. No one could venture forth from the Shi’b except in the season of pilgrimage, when, all enmities being hushed, the besieged were at liberty to join freely in the ceremonies. The failing stock of the Hashimites, replenished only by occasional and surreptitious ventures, reduced them to misery and distress. The wailing of the famished children within the Shi’b was audible outside. Many hearts were moved at the sight of such hardship, and mourned over the hostilities that gave them rise. Among these, and among the relatives of the isolated band, were some who ventured, in spite of threats, to introduce from time to time small quantities of provisions by stealth at night. Hakim, grandson of Khuweilid, used also, though the attempt was sometimes perilous, to carry supplies to his aunt, Khadija.
The sympathies of many were thus aroused by the sufferings of the besieged, but the cause of Islam did not make much progress during the period of this weary seclusion, which had its expected effect in cutting off the city from the personal influence of the Holy Prophet and his fellow Muslims. His efforts were of necessity confined to the members of his own clan, who, though not believing in his mission, were resolved to defend his person; and to strengthening the faith of those who believed in him.
The exemplary bearing of the Holy Prophet and his Companions under these trying circumstances, and the spirit of clanship that knit together all who had shut themselves up with him, must have secured in some degree the general countenance of the Hashimites, and may have added some few followers from their ranks. But the weary years of confinement dragged on with no important result. The time of pilgrimage alone afforded the Holy Prophet a wide field. That interval of universal amnesty was turned, as it had been before, to careful account in visiting and exhorting the various tribes that flocked to Mecca and the adjacent fairs. Thus the Holy Prophet visited the great assemblages at Okaz and other places, as well as the pilgrim encampments at Mecca and Mina. On these occasions he warned his countrymen against idolatry, invited them to worship and service of the One True God, and promised them prosperity and divine bounties here and hereafter if they would believe. No one responded to his call. Abu Lahab would dog his steps, proclaiming, ‘Believe him not, he is a lying renegade.’
When the period of confinement had lengthened to nearly three years, the Holy Prophet said one day to Abu Talib that God had revealed to him that the agreement to which Quraish had subscribed against them had been so severely damaged by ants that of the writing only the name of Allah had remained legible. Thereupon Abu Talib went to the Ka’aba, where several Quraish were in conclave, and addressed them as follows: ‘How long will you continue to conform to the conditions of your brutal agreement? My nephew has told me that God has wiped out the whole of the agreement except His own name. Let us examine the agreement to discover whether what my nephew has said is correct.’ Some of those present endorsed what he had said and the original of the agreement was fetched and on examination it was found that with the exception of the name of God with which it began, the rest of the writing had become undecipherable. In consequence of this significant discovery, some of the chiefs of Quraish, Hisham bin Amr, Zaheer bin Abu Umayya, Mut’am bin Adi, Abul Bakhtari and Zamaa bin Aswad; felt that this cruel and unnatural agreement should be terminated. They went to other Quraish chiefs and one of them said to them: ‘Chiefs of Quraish, do you consider it right that you should pass your days in comfort and your brethren should suffer misery and distress? Your pact is tyrannical and should now be terminated.’ His companions supported him, but Abu Jahl protested, ‘This pact will continue and no one can touch it.’ Someone retorted, ‘Oh no, it cannot continue. Even when it was written, we were not agreeable to it.’ While this exchange was going on, Mut’am bin Adi seized the document and tore it up. Thereafter he and his companions proceeded to Shi’b Abu Talib with drawn swords and delivered the besieged.
It was during this period of confinement that a group of disbelievers of Mecca, on one of those occasions when the besieged were at liberty to move about, gathered round the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, and insisted on being shown some sign. It was night and the moon was full. The Holy Prophet pointed with his finger at the moon, and it appeared to those who were present that the moon had been split, so that half of it was visible on one side of the mountain and the other half on the other side of it. This event is described in the Holy Quran thus (54:2-4):
The Hour [of the ruin of Arab power] has drawn nigh and the moon is rent asunder. When they see a Sign they turn away and say, ‘A powerful feat of magic!’ They have rejected the truth and have followed their own fancies; but every divine decree will certainly be fulfilled.
This was a grand sign, which had some resemblance to a sign shown by Moses, but was much more awe-inspiring. The sign of Moses is mentioned in the Holy Quran as follows: ‘We directed Moses, “Cast down thy rod,” and lo, it appeared to swallow up all that the magicians had fabricated’ (7:118).
Bokhari and Muslim have both described this event in their compilations as follows. The Meccans demanded that the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, should show them a sign. He showed them the moon divided into two sectors between which Mount Hira was visible.
This sign predicted that the ruin of Arab tribal power was approaching. The Arabs well understood that if a person saw the moon in his dream it signified Arab power, Arab rule or an Arab ruler. For instance, it is related in a well-known hadith that Aisha saw in a dream that three moons had, one after the other, fallen into her chamber. This dream was fulfilled in that the Holy Prophet, and after him Abu Bakr, and after him Umar, were each in their turn, when they died, buried in the chamber of Aisha.
Another significance of this event was that at the time of the display of this divine sign the fortunes of Islam, in the estimation of the worldly, were at the lowest ebb. The Holy Prophet and his small band of followers were shut up in a narrow valley where they were exposed to extreme privation and distress. They were helpless and, except during the pilgrimage season, they enjoyed no contact with the citizens of Mecca or anyone else. In this situation, God Almighty assured them that the time of the ruin of the power of their enemies was approaching, and that soon Islam would triumph.
Shortly after their deliverance from the Shi’b the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, suffered two grievous bereavements in the deaths of his wife Khadija and his uncle Abu Talib. There can be no doubt that these were hastened by their sufferings during their prolonged confinement in the Shi’b.
Abu Talib had been in the position of father to Muhammad, of whom he was very fond. The Holy Prophet also loved him deeply. In his last illness he visited him regularly and, when he perceived his uncle’s end was approaching, tried to persuade him to subscribe to Islam. Abu Jahl and the others who were present entreated Abu Talib to not to depart from the religion of his father, Abdul Muttalib. Thus his last words were, ‘I die in the religion of Abdul Muttalib.’ Abu Talib was more than eighty years of age when he died. The sacrifices to which he had exposed himself and his family for the sake of his nephew while yet incredulous of his mission stamp his character as singularly noble and unselfish. They afford at the same time strong proof of the truth and sincerity of the Holy Prophet. Abu Talib would not have acted thus for an interested deceiver and he had ample means of scrutiny. When he had felt that life was ebbing he had summoned his brethren, the sons of Abdul Muttalib, around his bed and had commended his nephew to their care. Relieved of this trust, he died in peace. For forty years he had been Muhammad’s faithful friend, the prop of his childhood, the guardian of his youth and, in later life, a very tower of defence. His unbelief had only made his influence the stronger. So long as he survived, his nephew needed not to fear violence or attack. There was no strong hand now to protect him from his foes.
The death of his faithful and devoted wife was a grievous loss for the Holy Prophet, peace be on him. For five and twenty years she had been his counsellor and support, and now his heart and home were desolate. His family, however, no longer needed maternal care. His three eldest daughters had all left him for their husbands’ homes and the youngest, Fatima, was approaching womanhood. But for the Holy Prophet himself the loss of Khadija was hard to bear. Throughout the rest of his life he cherished her memory tenderly and often recalled her loyalty and devotion to him. She was sixty-five years of age when she died and was buried at Hujun. The Holy Prophet himself descended into her grave and smoothed out the resting place of her body. No funeral service was held, as a funeral service had not yet been established in Islam.
After the loss of these two devoted friends and companions the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, was exposed to severer molestation at the hands of Quraish. He was frequently affronted and insulted. On one occasion someone poured a quantity of dirt over his head when he was passing. On his arrival home one of his daughters, on observing his condition, quickly brought water and washed his head, sobbing bitterly while she did this. He comforted her with, ‘Do not weep, dear daughter. Allah will safeguard thy father and all these troubles will be ended.’ It was at this time that, at the instigation of Abu Jahl, Uqbah bin Abi Mueet heaped the entrails of a camel that had just been killed over his shoulders while he was in prostration in the courtyard of the Ka’aba. It was not till his daughter, Fatima, on learning of the incident, ran up to him and removed the foul burden from his shoulders that he was able to get up.