Instructions to Warn the Quraysh
The tolerance towards the Prophet (sws) by the Quraysh was only a temporary phase. As soon as the Qur’an began to criticize the trustees of the Baytullah and their wrongdoings were publicized, they started to openly condemn his teachings and create barriers to further his work. The Qur’an instructed the Prophet (sws) to warn his relatives and other members of his tribe. This meant that he was to ask them to give up their previous ways and accept the teachings of Islam, or else be ready to face the consequences. Close members of the family were not just the Banu Hashim but all the families who were in charge of the management of the Baytullah, including its security and religious arrangements. This, in fact, covered all the tribes of the Quraysh. The purpose of this warning was to enable the trustees of the Baytullah to take benefit from it, correct their ways and pave the way for other Arabs too to accept Islam because they were deemed to be the religious leaders in the region. When they accepted a religious invitation, others followed soon. And until they did, they continued to create confusion and chaos among others through negative propaganda.
We must remember that Abraham (sws) had built the Baytullah as the centre for the worship of one God, and assigned responsibility for prayers, a‘tikaf,hajj and animal sacrifice as well as care of pilgrims to his children. The situation now was that his progeny had stood up to protect polytheism and crush the voice for the oneness of God within the same Baytullah. Had these people accepted the invitation from the Prophet (sws), the Baytullah would have been reverted to the same condition that Abraham (sws) had desired and prayed for with such fervour.
The Prophet (sws) adopted all possible ways to obey the above instruction in the Qur’an, including one that was very commonly used among the Arabs. It was a custom amongst them to appoint a guard who would stand on a hill and keep a lookout for any approach from enemies. If he sensed a hostile approach, he would give a loud shout: ya sabaha! that meant the oncoming of danger. Hearing this, people would run out from their homes, ask the guard what was amiss and what the nature of the danger was. If an attack was imminent, they would prepare for it accordingly. One morning, when the Prophet (sws) stood on the mountain of Safa’ and called out, ya sabaha! everyone wondered who was warning them. When they found out, they gathered around Safa’. The Prophet (sws), addressing them, said “I am giving you a warning. I am similar to a guard who keeps a watch out for the enemy, and when he sees that the enemy is near, calls out the warning. I am warning you against a fearful repercussion. O’ Banu Ka‘b, save yourselves from Hell; O’ Banu Murrah ibn Ka‘b save yourselves from Hell; O’Banu ibn ‘Abd Shams, save yourselves from Hell; O Banu ‘Abd Munaf, save yourselves from hell; O’ Banu ‘Abd al-Muttalib, save yourselves from hell; I have no powers with God about you but I am related to you and I shall continue to fulfil my obligations to you.” The voice that was raised against him was that of Abu Lahab, who said, “May you perish. Was this why you called us?”1
The second time he warned them was when he invited them all to a meal. When they had finished, he tried to address them but Abu Lahab intervened and said that he was trying to cast his spell over them. He stood up to leave and others also stood up with him. The Prophet (sws) did not get the opportunity to present his invitation. However, from then onwards, he started to discuss the warning in public and this disturbed the leaders of the Quraysh considerably.
The Nervousness of Quraysh and their Repression of Muslims
The Phase of Torture on Muslims
The leaders of the Quraysh saw that the message being presented by Muhammad (sws) was extremely appealing; it was linguistically unique and held great wisdom. It brought forth new requirements for thought and fresh demands for reflection, and soon began to strike at the roots of the polytheist way of life. People were beginning to listen to these teachings and were being influenced by them, and the leaders were afraid that there could be a general rebellion against them in the society. The quickest way to prevent this was to inflict hardships on people and make life difficult for them. However, the barrier to this was the tribal system itself that did not allow any individual to harm anyone from another tribe. The decision was taken, therefore, for each leader to discipline those who had been influenced from within their own families. In this, the first targets were the slaves. When one reads of what Yasir (rta), his wife Sumayyah (rta), ‘Ammar ibn Yasir (rta), Bilal (rta), Khabab ibn Art (rta), ‘A%mir ibn Fahīrah (rta), Abu Fakīh (rta), Lubaynah (rta), Zunayrah (rta) had to go through, one shudders with the sheer inhumanity of the torture inflicted on them. They were kept hungry and thirsty, standing in the blazing sun for hours on end, made to lie on the burning desert sand and beaten mercilessly. But the light of faith that had been kindled in their heart could not be extinguished. Yasir (rta) and his wife Sumayyah (rta) died in this torture, and Abu Bakr (rta) purchased many slaves and gave them their freedom, thus taking on his father Abu Qihafah’s displeasure.
From a study of the ages of those who accepted Islam in the early days, it seems that the young were mostly influenced through the Prophet’s teachings. He himself was 40 years old when he was called to prophethood. Abu Bakr (rta) was three years younger, but was known as an elder among the Muslims. This means that the other Muslims must have been younger. When leaders of the Quraysh warned the heads of families to control their youngsters who were keeping company with Muhammad (sws), the force of their anger was turned towards these young people too. History names ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan (rta), Zubayr ibn ‘Awwam (rta), Mus‘ab ibn ‘Umayr (rta), Khalid ibn Sa‘īd ibn al-‘A%ss (rta). They were tortured so heavily that they could no longer bear it. Others were also subjected to similar treatment. Even the soft spoken, kind and compassionate Abu Bakr (ra) was not spared and he too was wounded.
It was impossible for the Muslims to fight the situation with force. The only factor that could help them in their resistance was their faith in God, belief in rewards to follow if they remained true to their religion and belief in the Day of Judgment. Several verses were revealed in the context of these circumstances. Human beings learn from the example of others, hence these early Muslims were given the examples of how some young men of Israelites had supported Moses (sws) despite fear of being tortured by the Pharaoh. When they complained to him about the Pharaoh’s excesses, he asked them to remain steadfast in their belief in God and to pray to him for help:
فَمَا آمَنَ لِمُوسَىٰ إِلَّا ذُرِّيَّةٌ مِّن قَوْمِهِ عَلَىٰ خَوْفٍ مِّن فِرْعَوْنَ وَمَلَئِهِمْ أَن يَفْتِنَهُمْ وَإِنَّ فِرْعَوْنَ لَعَالٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَإِنَّهُ لَمِنَ الْمُسْرِفِينَ. وَقَالَ مُوسَىٰ يَا قَوْمِ إِن كُنتُمْ آمَنتُم بِاللَّهِ فَعَلَيْهِ تَوَكَّلُوا إِن كُنتُم مُّسْلِمِينَ فَقَالُوا عَلَى اللَّهِ تَوَكَّلْنَا رَبَّنَا لَا تَجْعَلْنَا فِتْنَةً لِّلْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ. وَنَجِّنَا بِرَحْمَتِكَ مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الْكَافِرِينَ وَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَىٰ مُوسَىٰ وَأَخِيهِ أَن تَبَوَّآ لِقَوْمِكُمَا بِمِصْرَ بُيُوتًا وَاجْعَلُوا بُيُوتَكُمْ قِبْلَةً وَأَقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَبَشِّرِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ. (١٠: ٨٣-٨٧)
But no one believed Moses, except [some] youths among his people, for fear of the Pharaoh and his establishment that they would persecute them. And indeed, the Pharaoh was haughty within the land, and indeed, he was of the transgressors. And Moses said: “O my people, if you have believed in Allah, then rely upon Him, if you should be Muslims.” So they said: “Upon Allah do we rely. Our Lord, make us not [objects of] trial for the wrongdoing people. And save us by Your mercy from the disbelieving people.” And We inspired to Moses and his brother: “Settle your people in Egypt in houses and make your houses [facing the] qiblah and establish prayers and give good tidings to the believers.” (10:83-87)
It seems that in the light of this instruction to designate a few houses for prayer, the Prophet (sws) had selected the home of Arqam ibn ‘Abd Munaf (rta), where all Muslims would gather, perform collective prayers, learn the Qur’an and seek strength and guidance from the Prophet’s teachings. Thus the house of Arqam became the first teaching centre of the People of the Faith.
The reason to select the house of Arqam seems to be that it was located towards the mount of Safa’ from the Baytullah, in the south. While praying inside the house, it was possible to face both the Baytullah (the Abrahamic qiblah) and the Bayt al-Maqdas simultaneously. No instructions about theqiblah had yet been revealed and the Prophet (sws) adopted the Bayt al-Maqdas in consultation with others. He was loath to leave the Abrahamic qiblahtoo, and so he gathered the two together. He adopted the same approach inside the Baytullah as well, where he faced the wall between the Rukn Yamanī and Hajr-i Aswad while saying his prayers so that the two qiblahs would come together.
The Qur’an states at another place:
قُتِلَ أَصْحَابُ الْأُخْدُودِ. النَّارِ ذَاتِ الْوَقُودِ. إِذْ هُمْ عَلَيْهَا قُعُودٌ. وَهُمْ عَلَىٰ مَا يَفْعَلُونَ بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ شُهُودٌ. وَمَا نَقَمُوا مِنْهُمْ إِلَّا أَن يُؤْمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ الْعَزِيزِ الْحَمِيدِ. الَّذِي لَهُ مُلْكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ شَهِيدٌ. إِنَّ الَّذِينَ فَتَنُوا الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَتُوبُوا فَلَهُمْ عَذَابُ جَهَنَّمَ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابُ الْحَرِيقِ. (٨٥: ٤-١٠)
Cursed were the companions of the trench. [containing] the fire full of fuel, when they were sitting near it and they, to what they were doing against the believers, were witnesses. And they resented them not except because they believed in Allah, the Exalted in Might, the Praiseworthy, To whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. And Allah, over all things, is Witness. Indeed, those who have tortured believing men and believing women and then have not repented will have the punishment of Hell, and they will have the punishment of the Burning Fire. (85:4-10)
When young people were forced by their fathers to renounce the religion of Muhammad (sws), the Qur’an gave clear instructions to the effect that while God wishes human beings to be kind and well mannered to their parents, this does not mean that they can force them to accept polytheism. People did not need to obey their parents in these situations. The elders would also claim that they knew what is good and bad, right or wrong better than the youngsters, and hence they should follow their guidance. The Qur’an said:
وَوَصَّيْنَا الْإِنسَانَ بِوَالِدَيْهِ حُسْنًا وَإِن جَاهَدَاكَ لِتُشْرِكَ بِي مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ فَلَا تُطِعْهُمَا إِلَيَّ مَرْجِعُكُمْ فَأُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ. وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ لَنُدْخِلَنَّهُمْ فِي الصَّالِحِينَ. (٢٩: ٨-٩)
And We have enjoined upon man goodness to parents. But if they endeavor to make you associate with Me that of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them. To Me is your return and I will inform you about what you used to do. And those who believe and do righteous deeds - We will surely admit them among the righteous [into Paradise]. (29:8-9)
The followers of Islam not only had to bear the torture of the Quraysh, but also underhand dealings by them. Those who were traders were barred from selling their produce in the market; others who earned through labour were not given their wages. For example, Khabab (rta) made arrows and spears. The Quraysh leader ‘As ibn Wa’il owed him payment but he kept it back. When Khabab (rta) asked for it, he refused to pay until he refuted Muhammad (sws)’s teachings. Khabab answered that he would never do that, even until the time when ‘A%s died, or when he would be raised again, to which the latter replied: “Leave me then; until I die, then am raised and am rewarded. When that happens, I shall pay you back.”2
When the Prophet (sws) presented the argument from the Qur’an that polytheism is a man made system that carries no background either in the religion of Abraham (sws) or any intellectual basis, and that it is merely an ignorant belief that has been adopted by people in the past, the Quraysh were very upset. They thought that if such a concept were to spread among common people, their entire power base would be lost. They decided that if they remained silent while Muhammad (sws) continued his teachings, their cause could be damaged beyond repair, and agreed to take effective steps to stop him.
A select elite group from the leaders went to the leader of Banu Hashim, Abu Talib and complained to him of his nephew’s activities. The charges were that he abused their gods; declared their religion to be false; considered their ancestors to have been misguided and conveyed these views openly. Abu Talib, they demanded, should either keep him under control, or allow them to stop him and not interfere in whatever they did to him. Abu Talib managed to calm them down without making any firm promises.
When the Prophet (sws)’s preaching continued with the same fervor, the Quraysh came again to Abu Talib, this time warning him that if Muhammad (sws) (sws) did not stop, they would think that Abu Talib too was his companion, and threatened him with dire consequences. Abu Talib was considerably worried by this ultimatum and placed the issue before his nephew. He implored him to burden him only to the extent that he was able to bear it. The Prophet (sws) realised that his uncle was weakening, but expressed his resolve, saying that he could not abrogate this responsibility: he would either carry it through until he gained success, or would die in the process. When his uncle saw this determination, he asked him to go ahead and do what he must, promising to stand by him, come what may.
The Quraysh also offered to Abu Talib to give Muhammad (sws) to them in exchange for a person from one of theirs, to do what they would with him. In other words, they would kill the Prophet (sws) and offered one of their people to be killed. Mut‘am ibn ‘Adī, who was from the tribe of the Banu Nawfil, the same as of ‘Abd Munaf, agreed on this with the Quraysh. Abu Talib, however, found the idea repugnant and insulting, that of relinquishing the best person from Banu Hashim to the Quraysh to be killed by them. He refused to do so. Thus the sons of Banu Munaf were also divided. Only Banu Hashim (except for Abu Lahab) and Banu Muttalib remained with the Prophet (sws).
Even under the fear and repression thus created by the Quraysh, the slaves and the young men and women who had accepted Islam remained true to their new faith, and Muhammad (sws) continued to propound new facets of his religion. This situation caused increasing worry for the Quraysh leaders. They deliberated long and hard, but could not find a way to address this problem. Each individual would make an attempt but fail to make any impact. Such an effort was also made by one of the more important leaders, ‘Utbah ibn Rabī‘ah. He asked his friends to allow him to go and talk to the Prophet (sws) and make him some offers. Perhaps he might agree and desist from his struggle. They gave him permission and he went to see the Prophet (sws).
He made a strong appeal: “Nephew, you are well aware of the respect and status you carry within our tribe, but you have caused much grief to your people. You have created disunity amongst them, and clouded their wisdom by questioning their belief on their gods and their faith. You call their ancestors kafir. If you require wealth, we shall collect as much wealth as you need and give it to you; if you need status, we will designate you as our leader: we will not take any decision without your permission. If you want a throne, we will make you our king. If you are under the spell of someone, we will summon someone to exorcise you.” The Prophet (sws) listened to him in silence, then recited Surah Sajadah (32) and said: “Do you mean, this teaching?” ‘Utbah returned to his friends and told them that what he had heard from Muhammad (sws) had no parallel. “It is not poetry, not magic, not a story. O’Quraysh, if you would listen to me, leave this man to his devices. This text will reach a great climax. If the Arabs create a problem for Muhammad (sws), your ends would be achieved without participating in this activity. If he overcomes them, his power will be your power and his status will be yours.” Hearing this, the Quraysh reprimanded him, saying: “ O’ Abu al-Walīd, this man has cast his spell over you through his recitation.” ‘Utbah said: “I have given you my opinion. Do what you wish.”
When Hashsham ibn Walīd’s brother Walīd ibn al-Walīd accepted Islam, some people from Banu Makhzum went to Hashsham to ask for al-Walīd to be handed over to them so that they could punish him and show him as an example to other young men of their families such as Salamah ibn Hisham, ‘Ayyash ibn Abī Rabī‘ah who had also converted. Hashsham told them that they could take him, but they should protect him at all costs. He said: “As Allah is my witness, if you kill him, I will kill someone of a higher status from within your elite families.” On hearing this, the Banu Makhzum group turned back.3
So far, the Quraysh used to torment the Muslims, but now they started to target the Prophet (sws) himself. When he advised people to say: “There is no God but One God,” they abused him and threw dust at him. Once when he was praying in the Baytullah, one of leaders ‘Uqbah ibn Abī Mu‘īt put a cloth around his neck and tightened it so that he could hardly breathe. Abu Bakr (rta) saw this and pulled ‘Uqbah away. Once when the Prophet (sws) was circumambulating the Baytullah, ‘Uqbah ibn Abī Mu‘īt, Abu Jahal and Ummayah ibn Khalaf were sitting in the hatīm. Whenever he passed them they would call him names. After three times, he paused and asked them to fear God’s retribution, at which they were stunned into silence.
Hamzah (rta)’s Acceptance of Islam
Once Abu Jahal picked up a quarrel with the Prophet (sws) close to the mount Safa’. He abused him verbally and called him names. The Prophet (sws) remained silent and did not answer. Abu Jahal went inside and sat among the other leaders. One of the freed slave girls of ‘Abdullah ibn Jud‘an saw the whole incident and, as the Prophet’s uncle Hamzah bin ‘Abd al-Muttalib entered, carrying a bow, intending to perform circumambulation, related it to him. He was enraged at this indecent treatment of his beloved nephew, went to Abu Jahal, and hitting him on the head with his bow, said: “you have abused my nephew; I am also of his faith. I say what he says. If you are brave enough, come and fight with me.” The Banu Makhzum stepped in and prevented the situation from accelerating any further. But Hamzah (rta) proved to be a great follower of Islam who gave his life for his faith. This proved to be also an unusually severe disappointment for the Quraysh for Hamzah (rta) was an exceptionally brave and fearless warrior.
One day Abu Jahal boasted to his companions that he would assault the Prophet (sws) during his prayers. When he went to the mosque, he would throw a large stone at his head. He would not care whatever Banu Munaf would do to him afterwards. The next day he took a large stone inside the mosque and waited for the Prophet (sws) to arrive. As he did and stood to offer his prayers, the Quraysh were all keenly observing, eager to see what happened next. As the Prophet (sws) prostrated, Abu Jahal got up and carrying the stone, went up to him. He was just a few steps away when he suddenly turned back, white in the face and dropped the stone. The Quraysh leaders ran to support him and asked what had happened. He explained that as soon as he went close to Muhammad (sws), a huge camel came between them. He had never seen as big a camel as this one, with a hump, teeth and neck of such huge proportions. The camel came towards him as if to devour him and he was terrified. Another narrative describes a pit of fire instead of a camel. Whether a camel or a pit of fire, it was clearly something that prevented Abu Jahal from approaching the Prophet (sws) and harming him, and was thus a God sent arrangement to protect him.
Once ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud (rta) decided to go to the Baytullah to recite the Qur’an loudly. Fellow Muslims asked him not to, but he was adamant. He went and began to recite Surah Rahman. The polytheists started to beat him up. He was badly wounded but did not stop.
As the prophet’s message gained acceptance, there were many among the general public who were interested in hearing him, in addition to his initial followers. Those who had been searching for the truth did not find anything strange in this call. In fact, it appealed to their hearts, they accepted it gladly and protected their faith with all their strength, even if they had to sacrifice everything they held dear in life. Those who sought logic and reason reflected on the arguments presented by the prophet, deliberated on his past and present life and thought about the consequences of accepting his message before they took a decision. When they did finally decide, they abided by their decision. There was a third category of people who may have come near the prophet due to external influences, but were really unaware of the demands that his message imposed on them. They did not know how the situation may change in the future; whether society had the capacity to accept the truth or not and to what conditions the people who were accepting Islam at that time may be subjected and how they were likely to respond to the same.
When the Prophet (sws)’s message spread across Makkah, several young men who did not really understand the associated responsibilities were also influenced. When they accepted Islam, initially they faced no problems, but when confronted with resistance from relatives, they became nervous. Parents counselled them, asking them to leave the new religion. Doing so would cause no harm. If it was a sin, the parents would be harmed. If the children did not listen, parents would torture them and beat them. ‘Uthman (rta) was a married man and independent, but his uncle tied him with ropes and beat him. Zubayr ibn al-‘Awwam (rta)’s uncle wrapped him in a mat of reed and put smoke up his nose. When young people were subjected to such pain and agony, their raw minds were assailed with doubts: if we have adopted the right path of God, why is it proving to be so difficult? Why are our lives in danger because we believe in the Prophet of God? It is clear that such questions arose because of ignorance of what seekers of truth must go through. Hence the Qur’an explained in great detail that God has always taken his believers through severe trials. If people fear the pain and torment given by other human beings in the same way that they should fear retribution from God, they should realize that the pain in this life is but for a few days. But if they gave up their faith and obedience to God for fear of this temporary trial, eternal torment will await them. They should remember that God will differentiate between those who have faith from those who were hypocrites:
وَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ. (١١:٢٩)
And Allah will surely make evident those who believe, and He will surely make evident the hypocrites. (29:11)
The Qur’an has said at another place about the same people with weak faith that when things are going well, they remain with the faithful. Whenever any trial comes, they stagger, lose faith in God and start worshipping others. However, in the hard life of Makkah, this divisiveness among the faithful did not become prominent. The Qur’anic style is such that it warns people of the longer term consequences of their potential attitudes so that they are able to protect themselves against all evils. Here also, it made the fact obvious that such attitudes are adopted by hypocrites.
New schemes by the Quraysh
When the Quraysh were unsuccessful in convincing the Banu Hashim in providing support to the Prophet (sws), Abu Talib, as head of the tribe, remained his key supporter, his brothers who, although did not accept Islam, continued to protect their nephew and the young people who had promised allegiance to the Prophet (sws) remained true to their new faith despite the difficulties and the torture inflicted on them, the Quraysh began to think of other measures to meet the challenges. Muslims were becoming stronger by the day, and were increasing in number. Most households in Makkah now had a few members, father, son, brother, husband, wife who had forsaken the religion of their ancestors and accepted Islam. Every house had started a debate which it was no longer possible to ignore.
One way out from the situation created by the message of the Prophet (sws) and the steadfastness of his followers was for the Quraysh to analyze the real demands of their status, their own weaknesses and their attitudes, and accept the need for reform. They should have then looked at the mismanagement of the Baytullah and what needed to be done to address the problems. They should have changed their system that was both unnatural and immoral and that had created dissatisfaction among the common people. But this was not the way of the Quraysh and did not conform to their arrogant style. This would have hurt their ego and affected their material benefits. Hence they did not adopt this measure.
Another way could have been to find different methods to oppose the Prophet’s message. And this is what they did. After analyzing the situation, they concluded that people were accepting Islam because of two reasons: one, because there was an unusually strong appeal in the message; anyone who listened was attracted towards it. He became so attached to it that no amount of pain or other attraction could influence him away from it. Muhammad (sws) called it divine revelation, and people were further impressed by this statement.
The second reason for accepting Islam was that people were influenced by Muhammad (sws)’s claim that he was a representative of God and had been designated by Him to communicate His message to them. The Quraysh thought that in order to dilute the influence of both, they should show that the message was not to be believed and was unacceptable, so that people would think that it was not from a divine source but had been made up by the Prophet (sws) himself. Secondly, they should declare his claim to prophethood to be false. If people started thinking of him to be just like one of them, they might stop being impressed by him.
(Translated from Hayat-i Rasul Ummī by Nikhat Sattar)
1. Muslim, Al-Jami‘al-Sahih, vol. 1, 193 (no. 208).
2. Bukhari, Al-Jami‘al-Sahih, vol. 2, 736 (no. 1985).
3. Ibn Hisham, Al Sirah al-nabawiyyah, vol.1, 321.