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Chapter 11: The Siege of Bani Hashim

The year 6 of the Proclamation was drawing to a close. The pagans of Makka had already spent three years campaigning against Islam. They had succeeded in generating much bitterness and hostility against the Muslims, but they had nothing to show for it. Against the Muslims, they had used every weapon in their arsenal ranging from attempts to dissuade to seduce to tempt to insult and to ridicule. They had threatened to use force and they had actually used force to blot out Islam, or, at least, to contain it, but all their efforts had failed. The Muslims had withstood all their attacks. The strength of the faith of the Muslims had baffled their persecutors.

These repeated failures compelled the Quraysh, particularly the members of its Umayyad clan, to reassess the situation vis-a-vis Muhammad and Islam, and some of them tried to see their problem from a new angle. In their search for a solution to the vexatious problem, it slowly began to dawn upon them that their enemy was not the group of poverty-stricken Muslims in Makka. Their real enemy - the enemy of the idolaters and the polytheists - they realized, was Abu Talib! After all it was Abu Talib who was protecting Muhammad and Islam so consistently and tenaciously. The Muslims on the other hand, had no power to protect Muhammad. In fact, they were themselves in desperate need of protection.

The long and bitter experience of the Quraysh left no doubt in their minds that the author of their frustrations in their war on Islam, was Abu Talib and no one else. Therefore, they concluded that they would never break the impasse facing them, by hunting or persecuting the group of indigent Muslims in Makka while their real enemy - Abu Talib - was free to swagger in their midst, scoffing, as if, at them.

The Quraysh had at last succeeded in identifying their real enemy.

This success in "enemy identification" had the impact of revelation upon the leaders of the Quraysh, and they decided to map out a new strategy in their war against Muhammad and Islam.

'Abd-al-Rahman 'Azzam

"Finally, the Makkan oligarchy decided in desperation to take steps against Abu Talib. In their opinion, he was the real protector of the blasphemy, although still a revered upholder of Makkan institutions and unconverted to Muhammad's faith (sic). They agreed to send him an ultimatum..."

(The Eternal Message of Muhammad, London, 1964)

In the past, the Quraysh had made many attempts to "isolate" Muhammad from his tribe, and they had hoped that they would either coax or bluff Abu Talib into waiving his support to and protection of his nephew and of Islam. If they could "isolate" Muhammad from the Bani Hashim, they were convinced, they would be able to solve the complex and thorny problem by the simple process of "liquidating" him.

But Abu Talib did not let the Quraysh "isolate" Muhammad. Not only he was himself protecting his nephew, he had also rallied the clans of Bani Hashim and Bani al-Muttalib behind him. These two clans were monolithic in their support of Muhammad, and the infidels found themselves powerless before them.

After long debate and deliberation, the Quraysh agreed that the "intractability" and the "intransigence" of the Bani Hashim called for sterner measures against them, and they decided to isolate and to ostracize not only Muhammad but his protector, Abu Talib, and the clans of Bani Hashim and Bani al-Muttalib as well.

It would be quite logical to assume that any attempt to ostracize Bani Hashim would lead to a polarization of the groupings in Makka. Everyone in Makka would have to declare himself for or against the Bani Hashim. But it soon became obvious that in this confrontation, the Bani Hashim would find the whole of Arabia ranged against them.

Muhammad Husayn Haykal

It is nearly impossible for us to imagine the intensity and extent of the efforts which Quraysh expended in its struggle against Muhammad, or its perseverance during many long years of that struggle. The Quraysh threatened Muhammad and his relatives, especially his uncles. It ridiculed him and his message, and it insulted him as well as his followers. It commissioned its poets to parody him with their sharp wits and to direct their most caustic stings against his teachings. It inflicted harm and injury on him and on his followers. It offered him bribes of money, of kingdom and power; in fact, of all that which satisfied the most fastidious of men. It impoverished the Muslims by destroying their commerce and trade, and it banished and dispersed them from their own country. It warned Muhammad and them that war with all its horrors would befall them. As a last resort, it began a boycott of them designed to starve them.

(The Life of Muhammad, Cairo, 1935)

A few days before the beginning of the year 7, the leaders of the various clans of the Quraysh met in a solemn conclave in the "town hall" of Makka, and, they drafted and signed a document which stipulated that unless the clan of Bani Hashim surrendered Muhammad to them, they would subject it to an economic and social boycott. They pledged themselves not to buy anything from, nor to sell anything to, the members of the Bani Hashim, and they placed intermarriage with them under proscription.

This agreement or covenant was sent to the other tribes for ratification, and when they had ratified it, it was solemnly suspended on the wall of the Kaaba.

The ratification of this covenant by the tribes was an act of belligerence!

Abu Talib had to size up the new situation. He could clearly see that a storm system was converging upon the Bani Hashim. After the tribal endorsement of the covenant to boycott the Bani Hashim, the atmosphere in Makka changed palpably; it became so explosive that they found themselves in dire straits. Abu Talib realized that it would be extremely perilous for the clan to live in the city where any moment, the enemy could set fire to its houses. In the interests of the security of the clan, therefore, he decided to leave Makka, and to seek safety for it in a ravine at the edge of the city. The ravine had some natural defenses, and it was, in any case, safer for the Bani Hashim to live in it, than to live in their houses which were very much vulnerable to attack.

On the first day of the year 7 of the Call or Proclamation, the two clans of Bani Hashim and Bani AI-Muttalib, moved out of the city, and took abode in a ravine which later came to be known as Shi'b Abu Talib. They were now in a state of siege!

It was going to be a long siege.

Muhammad Husayn Haykal

The pact into which the clans of Quraysh entered for boycotting Muhammad and blockading the Muslims continued to be observed for three consecutive years.

(The Life of Muhammad, Cairo, 1935)

Marmaduke Pickthall

For three years, the Prophet was shut up with all his kinsfolk in their stronghold which was situated in one of the gorges that run down to Mecca.

(Introduction to the Translation of Holy Quran, 1975)

The story of the siege of the Bani Hashim is a stirring chapter in the epic of Islam, and has been depicted by every historian of the subject, among them Muir and Margoliouth:

Sir William Muir

"...the Coreish entered into a confederacy against the Hashimites - that they would not marry their women, nor would give their own in marriage to them; that they would sell nothing to them, nor buy aught from them; and that dealings with them of every kind should cease.

The ban was carefully committed to writing, and sealed with three seals. When all had bound themselves by it, the record was hung up in the Kaaba, and religious sanction thus given to its provisions.

The Hashimites were unable to withstand the tide of public opinion which set in thus violently against them, and apprehensive perhaps that it might be only the prelude of open attacks, or of blows in the dark still more fatal, they retired into the secluded quarter of the city, known as the Sheb of Abu Talib. It was formed by one of the defiles or indentations of the mountains, where the projecting rocks of Abu Cobeis pressed upon the eastern outskirts of Mecca. It was entered on the cityside by a low gateway, through which a camel passed with difficulty. On all other sides it was detached from the town by cliffs and buildings.

On the first night of the first month of the seventh year of the mission of Mohammed, the Hashimites, including the Prophet and his family, retired into the quarter of Abu Talib; and with them followed also the descendants of Al-Muttalib, the brother of Hashim. The ban of separation was put rigorously in force. The Hashimites soon found themselves cut off from their supplies of corn and other necessities of life; and a great scarcity ensued... the failing stock of the Hashimites replenished only by occasional and surreptitious ventures, reduced them to want and distress. The citizens could hear the wailing of the famished children within the Sheb ... among the relatives of the isolated band, were found some who ventured, in spite of threats of the Coreish, to introduce from time to time provisions by stealth at night, into the quarter of Abu Talib. Hakim, grandson of Khuwaylid, used, though the attempt was sometimes perilous, to carry supplies to his aunt Khadija."

(The Life of Mohammed, London, 1877)

D. S. Margoliouth

A process known to the pagan Arabs was excommunication; a purpose for which special confederacies were established. Rolls would seem to have been in common use at this time in Mecca; a solemn league and covenant was made, written on a roll, and suspended in the Kaaba, by which the heads of the Meccan households pledged themselves to exclude the Bani Hashim and the Bani Muttalib from these rights, until, we may presume, Mohammed was declared outlawed, and handed up to vengeance.

(Mohammed and the Rise of Islam, London, 1931)

The total number of the members of the two clans of Hashim and al-Muttalib, and their clients and slaves who left their homes in Makka to seek sanctuary in the mountain hideout, was four hundred. Once they "settled" in their hideout, and surveyed the landforms around them, they could see that they were confronted with a challenge of superlative complexity and magnitude. Whereas in the past they had to contend only with the hostility of man, now they had to contend with the hostility of nature also. They also noted that their new abode didn't come equipped with what might be called a viable life-support system. They, therefore, realized from the very first day that it would take all their grit, skill, resourcefulness and resolution to adapt themselves to the new surroundings. They knew that their survival would hinge upon their ability to come to terms with an environment which could not be more forbidding.

Khadija was born in an aristocratic family, and was bred in the lap of luxury. She was, therefore, an absolute stranger to a life of austerity and privation. But when, in an exigency, she was called upon to abandon her spacious residence in the city to go into, and to live in a flinty ravine, she did so willingly and cheerfully. The ravine was so desolate that it shrivelled up the soul of an observer at first glance but she didn't show any sign of consternation upon entering it. As inhospitable as the new surroundings were, she rapidly adjusted to them. She focused on the ordeal ahead, gathering her strength, her courage and her resources. The resilience of her spirit was truly astonishing.

At the beginning of the siege, Ali was sixteen years old. He was charged with the difficult and the dangerous duty of victualling the two clans. He discharged this duty at great risk to his life, and brought water and grain whenever he could find any. For one goatskin of water, he had to pay one piece of gold, and he considered himself lucky if he succeeded in bringing it to the ravine. His efforts, however, brought only partial relief to the beleaguered clans.

Abu Talib himself didn't sleep at nights. For him the physical safety of Muhammad took precedence over every other duty. When Muhammad fell asleep, Abu Talib lifted him, and put him in the bed of one of his four sons, and ordered his son to sleep in his (Muhammad's) bed. A little later, he lifted his nephew again, and put him in the bed of another of his sons. He spent the whole night lifting Muhammad out of one bed and putting him in another. He had no illusions about his enemies; he knew that they were tenacious, treacherous, vicious and vindictive. He, therefore, did not make the mistake of underestimating them. If one of them crept into the ravine with the intention of killing Muhammad, he would most probably, kill one of the sons of Abu Talib, taking him for the Prophet. Abu Talib and his wife were ever ready to sacrifice their children for Muhammad. In fact, they would have been very happy to sacrifice their own lives for him, if it were necessary. Not only they themselves protected him; they also made every adult in the ravine responsible for his safety.

There were times when Ali, notwithstanding all his daring and resourcefulness, was unable to find any provisions; or if he found any, he could not bring it into the ravine, being unable to circumvent Qurayshi vigilance. On such occasions the children (and the adults) had to go thirsty and hungry. But going thirsty and hungry was a norm in the ravine. When water was available, mothers boiled leaves and bark of trees in it to comfort children crying from hunger. The cry of hungry children could be heard outside the ravine, and the Quraysh responded to it with derisive laughter. They gloated over their "triumph" in making the children of Bani Hashim cry for water and food.

The Quraysh were determined to make the blockade effective!

The most precious gift for the besieged clans during these three years, was water. They and their clients and slaves received it from Khadija. She gave Ali the pieces of gold with which he bought water. Her concern for those around her manifested itself in many ways. She sought audience from Allah to invoke His mercy upon them. Prayer was a vital activity for her, and it was her "strategy" for handling adversity. She soon found out that it was a simple but effective strategy.

Prayer enabled Khadija to meet the inevitable challenges she encountered during the siege almost every day, and she surmounted them. She was the guardian-angel of the tribe, and everyone in it felt the positive character of her presence, and the support and the power of her vibrant spirit.

O ye who believe! Seek help with patient perseverance and prayer: for Allah is with those who patiently persevere. (Chapter 2; verse 153)

Khadija sought the help of Allah with patient perseverance and prayer. When she prayed, she found not only help but also courage, strength, peace, tranquillity and satisfaction.

Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah; for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction.
For those who believe and work righteousness, is (every) blessedness, and a beautiful place of (final) return. (Chapter 13; verses 28, 29)

A. Yusuf Ali has explained "blessedness" as follows:

"Blessedness: an internal state of satisfaction, an inward joy which reflects itself in the life of a good person, through good and ill fortune. And then, there is always the final goal to which his or her eyes are turned, the beautiful Home of rest in the Hereafter, after this life's struggles are over. The goal is Allah Himself."

In the remembrance of Allah, Khadija, His devout slave, found satisfaction and blessedness.

Occasionally, the few friends that the members of Bani Hashim had in Makka, tried to smuggle food into the ravine, but if the pagans caught them, they seized it.

One of the friends of Bani Hashim in Makka was Hisham bin Amr al-Aamiri. He brought food and water for them as often as he could. He knew that bringing provisions to the ravine had to be a covert operation - discreet, precise, and nonviolent. Therefore, the time he had chosen to deliver food and water to the besieged, was a few hours before daybreak. But a time came when the infidels caught him, and threatened to kill him if he persisted in bringing his loaded camels to the ravine for the Bani Hashim.

Another friend of the Bani Hashim in Makka was Hakim bin Hizam, the nephew of Khadija. He and a friend of his, Abul Bukhtari, brought essential supplies to the Bani Hashim. Once both of them were driving a camel loaded with food, water and clothing to the ravine when Abu Jahl surprised them, and told them that he was going to confiscate the camel and the provisions. At first, Abul Bukhtari tried to conciliate him but he didn't want to hear anything. He barred their access to the ravine, and refused to let them pass. Abu Bukhtari tried to force his way past him. This led to a violent fist fight between them. Brawls like this erupted very frequently near the ravine but the friends of Bani Hashim in Makka did not lose heart, and did everything they could to bring succor to it.

Hisham bin Amr al-Aamiri, Hakim bin Hizam, and Abul Bukhtari, were not Muslims but they did not want to see any child or even a slave of Bani Hashim perish from hunger or thirst, and they risked their own lives time and again in carrying victuals to the Shi'b Abu Talib. They were also very happy to pay the bill for such relief operations for three years, and all they sought in return was the safety of the besieged clans.

It should be pointed out here that on this particular occasion, the anger and the hatred of the Umayyad clan of the Quraysh was directed, not against the Muslims, but against the clan of Bani Hashim. Their aim was to destroy Islam. But they could not destroy Islam without killing Muhammad. They made repeated attempts to kill him but they failed because they could not reach him. He was safe and comfortable behind the "shield" of his clan - the Bani Hashim.

As noted before, the Umayyads rightly pinpointed Abu Talib, the chief of Bani Hashim, as responsible for all their failures in their insensate war against Allah and His Messenger, Muhammad. They never condoned him for the part he played in the struggle.

As for the Muslims who did not belong to the clan of Bani Hashim, there were many, and they were all living in the city. Some among them are touted to have been influential, powerful and rich, and all of them claimed that they loved their Prophet. But curiously, no one among them ever came to see him much less to bring any aid to him. They enjoyed the comfort and security of their homes for three years while their Prophet, Muhammad Mustafa, lived, with his loved ones, teetering, as it were, on the edge of a sword, surrounded by enemies who were thirsting for his and their blood.

It might appear that Khadija's little family, consisting of her husband, Muhammad Mustafa; her little daughter, Fatima Zahra; and her adopted son, Ali ibn Abi Talib, lived, throughout the siege, like the rest of the clan, in a state of non-stop and unmitigated suspense, never knowing what terrors the next day or the night might bring for it. Every day was crammed with perils. But she was never at a loss to find new reserves, in her own Faith and Character, to strengthen it as an entity. She discovered that there was nothing that she wanted more than feeling and being close to Allah. By feeling and being close to Allah, she was able to banish suspense.

For Khadija, the source of the greatest anxiety was the hunger and thirst of the children. Whenever Ali or Hakim bin Hizam or Hisham bin Amr brought provisions into the ravine, she took charge of them. The children gathered around her, and she gave them food and water. They looked at her with delight and wonder. She put their needs ahead of the needs of their parents, and she put the needs of the parents ahead of her own needs. She had a flair for extending the family outward to the whole tribe.

Those who wish for the (things of) the hereafter, and strive therefore with all due striving and have faith, - they are the ones whose striving is acceptable (to Allah). (Chapter 17; verse 19)

The safety and security of the clans in the ravine were threatened not only by the Umayyads, and not only by the specters of hunger and thirst but also by excessive heat and excessive cold. In the long days of summer, the sky spewed forth flames onto the earth, and the cliffs and the rocks of the ravine bounced them back, making it a furnace. Khadija gave water to the thirsty as often as she could. In winter, the long nights became intolerably cold. Mothers made most desperate efforts to protect their children from the ravages of cold. Khadija distributed clothes and firewood to them.

The long siege had inevitably disrupted the rhythm of life of all members of the clans of Hashim and al-Muttalib. Every day brought a grim ordeal or a new menace to them. But they were never dismayed by them. In fact, they were happy. The presence of Muhammad, the beloved of Allah, in their midst was enough to make them forget all their anxieties, and to keep them happy. They knew that Allah had chosen them to defend Muhammad, His messenger, from his enemies. It was an honor they would not barter even for an empire. Khadija inspired them with her example. The majesty and power of her Faith gave them momentum, and they rode through the storms of the years in exile with dignity and aplomb.

Khadija was buoyant from the beginning of the siege to its end. The spirit of Truth and Benevolence was the invisible magic of her personality. She knew that the tribe was under the protection of Allah, and was, therefore, safe. The secret of her serenity is to be found in the following verses of Quran Majid:

1. Whosoever follows My guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
(Chapter 2; verse 38)

2. Behold! Verily on the friends of Allah there is no fear, nor shall they grieve.
(Chapter 10; verse 62)

3. Verily those who say, "our Lord is Allah," and remain firm (on that way), - on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
(Chapter 46; verse 13)

Translator's Note

The devotion and service to Allah result in the soul being made free from all fear and sorrow, as regards the past, present and the future, if we may take an analogy from the Time for a timeless state. Such devotion and service are shown by (1) believing in the Signs of Allah, which means understanding and accepting His Will, and (2) by merging our will completely in His universal Will, which means being in tune with the Infinite, and acting in all things to further His Kingdom. (A. Yusuf Ali)

On Khadija there was no fear and no sorrow. She exemplified God's Message in her workaday life!

Khadija's faith, kindness and charity were well-known to everyone. What no one had seen until she began to live as an exile, was her patience under suffering, and her will-to-fight. She endured suffering like a stoic, and she fought against despair and despondency, and she defeated them. Intertwined in the texture of her life was hope. Hope would seem dramatically out of context in the surroundings in which Khadija was living. But not for her. Her hope was invincible, and it was contagious. She buoyed up the sinking hearts.

They glory in the grace and the bounty from Allah, and in the fact that Allah suffereth not the reward of the faithful to be lost (in the least). (Chapter 3; verse 171)

Khadija gloried in the Grace and Bounty from Allah. She was blessed with them abundantly.

Foregoing is a rough outline, pieced together from various sources, of the story of Muhammad Mustafa and Khadija, and the Bani Hashim and Bani al-Muttalib, when they were in a state of siege in the Shi'b Abu Talib from 616 to 619. Many important details are missing. But it is hoped that research by dedicated historians and scholars will uncover new facts. These new facts will enable the future historian(s) of Islam to present a more complete and coherent story of the years when Islam was in a state of siege!

The siege of Bani Hashim and Bani al-Muttalib lasted until A.D. 619. In that year the clans returned to the city. Their siege by the Quraysh had failed to produce the intended result. The members of the Bani Hashim were defiant as ever, and their morale was high. It was just as unthinkable for them, at the end of the siege, as it had been at the beginning, to surrender Muhammad - their darling - to his enemies.

If Abu Jahl and the Umayyads abandoned the siege, it was not because of any "change of heart" on their part; they were infidels unreconstructed with a commitment to destroy Islam. They tried to prolong the blockade, and to compass the ruin of Bani Hashim. But they were compelled to abandon the siege because there were other forces at work against it. Following is the account given in the earliest extant authority, the biography of the Prophet by Muhammad ibn Ishaq, of the events which culminated in the return to Makka of the clans of Bani Hashim and Bani al-Muttalib from the Shi'b Abu Talib, after three years of exile:

Quote:

The Annulling of the Boycott of the Bani Hashim

The Bani Hashim and the Bani al-Muttalib were in the Shi'b (=mountain hideout) as the Quraysh had made a covenant to ostracize them. Then some members of the Quraysh itself took steps to challenge that covenant. None tried harder in this matter than HISHAM BIN AMR because he was the son of a brother of Nadla b. Hashim b. Abd Manaf on the side of his mother, and was closely attached to the Bani Hashim. He was highly esteemed by his people. When these two clans were in the Shi'b, he used to bring a camel laden with food by night, and then when he arrived at the mouth of the alley, he took off its halter, gave it a whack on the side, and sent it running into the alley to them. He did the same thing another time, bringing clothes to them.

Hisham went to see his friend, ZUHAYR B. ABU UMAYYA B. AL-MUGHIRA whose mother was Atika, the daughter of Abdul Muttalib, and said: "Are you content to eat food and wear good clothes while you know the condition in which your uncles are living? They cannot buy or sell or intermarry.

By God, if they were the uncles of Abu'1-Hakam b. Hisham (Abu Jahl), and you asked him to do what he has asked you to do, he would never do it."

He (Zuhayr) said: "Confound you, Hisham, what can I do? I am only one man. By God if I had another man to back me, I would soon annul it." He said: "I have found a man for you - myself." "Find another," said Zuhayr. So Hisham went to AL-MUTIM B. ADIY, and said to him: "Are you content that the two clans of Bani Abd Manaf should perish while you look on consenting to follow the Quraysh? You will find that they will soon do the same with you." He (Mutim) gave the same answer as Zuhayr had, and demanded a fourth man.

Hisham then went to ABU'L BUKHTARI B. HISHAM, and he asked for a fifth man, and then to ZAMA'A B. AL-ASWAD B. AL-MUTTALIB B. ASAD, and reminded him of their kinship and duties. He asked whether others were willing to cooperate in this task, and he gave him the names of the others. They all said that they would meet at night near Hujun above Makka, and when they did, they agreed to consider the matter of the document, and to secure its annulment.

On the following day, when people got together, Zuhayr put on a robe, and made the seven circuits of the Kaaba.

Then he faced the crowd, and said: "O people of Makka, are we to eat and dress while the Bani Hashim perish, unable to buy or to sell? By God, I shall not rest until this evil boycotting document is destroyed."

Abu Jahl shouted: "You are wrong. It shall never be destroyed."

Zama'a shouted back at him: "You are the one who is wrong. This document of iniquity will be destroyed. We didn't want it even when it was first drafted and signed."

Abu'l Bukhtari said: "Zama'a is right. We did not like this document when it was written, and we do not like it now."

Al-Mutim added: Both Zuhayr and Zama'a are right, and anyone who says otherwise, is wrong. We make Allah our Witness that we dissociate ourselves from the whole idea, and what is written in the document. Hisham also spoke, and he supported his friends.

Then AI-Mutim went up to the document to take it down and to tear it into pieces. He found that worms had eaten most of it except the words: "In Thy Name O Allah." This was the customary formula of the Quraysh to begin their writing. The writer of the document was Mansur b. Ikrima.

Unquote.

AL-MUTIM BIN ADIY tore the infamous document of the Quraysh into pieces. Those pieces were blown away by the wind, and no vestige was left of them. It was an act that called for conviction and courage - conviction that the Bani Hashim were the innocent victims of iniquity; and courage to defy the Quraysh. His resolute action was the signal that the siege of the Bani Hashim was over, and that its members could now return to the city. Mutim himself and the young warriors of his clan rode in full battle-dress to the ravine, and escorted Muhammad Mustafa, Khadija, and all members of the two clans of Bani Hashim and Bani al-Muttalib, back into Makka, and into their homes.

Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah writes on page 10 of his book, Introduction to Islam, published by the International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations, Salimiah, Kuwait (1977):

"After three years, four or five non-Muslims, more humane than the rest, and belonging to different clans, proclaimed publicly their denunciation of the unjust boycott."

Dr. Hamidullah has attributed the failure of the boycott to the humanity of "four or five non-Muslims." They were, he says, "more humane than the rest." He is right. They were more humane than the rest of the non-Muslims in Makka. But were they more humane even than the Muslims who were living in Makka?

Astoundingly, incredibly, history's answer to this uncomfortable question is in the affirmative. The situation abounds in irony. After all, apart from these five paladins - all non-Muslims -humanity did not impel anyone else in Makka - non-Muslim or Muslim - to defy the Quraysh, and to act in defence of the Bani Hashim!

There is one more question, viz., why did Zuhayr consider himself alone?

When Hisham broached to his friend, Zuhayr, the subject of annulling the Agreement of the pagans to boycott the Bani Hashim, taunted him for being insensitive to their sufferings, and reproached him for his failure to act to bring that suffering to an end; the latter said: "Confound you, Hisham, what can I do? I am but one man. By God, if I had another man to back me, I would soon annul it."

Zuhayr's answer is cryptic. Why did he consider himself a minority of one? Didn't he know that there were many Muslims in Makka? Why didn't he try to enlist their support to bring the siege of Bani Hashim to an end? He ought to have solicited their support. Even if they had withheld it, it would not have done any harm to anyone.

According to the historians, some of the Muslims in Makka, were men of rank and substance, and had considerable clout with the Quraysh. But for some mysterious reason, it did not occur either to Zuhayr himself or to any of his friends, to mobilize them (the Muslims). They decided to ignore the Muslims. They went ahead, and took unilateral action to bring the siege of Bani Hashim to an end.

Zuhayr and his friends were successful in their efforts to bring the Bani Hashim back into the city. Muhammad Mustafa, Khadija, Ali, Abu Talib and all other members of the Bani Hashim and Bani al-Muttalib, returned to their homes. But by their action, Zuhayr and his companions had demonstrated that the Muslims living in Makka, were not "indispensable" for Muhammad and/or for Islam.

It is one of the supreme paradoxes of the history of Islam that the hand that reached out to the wall of the Kaaba; took down the covenant of the Quraysh to ostracize the Bani Hashim; and tore it into shreds, belonged, not to a "believer," but to an "unbeliever," - Mutim ibn Adiy! Neither Mutim nor any of his four friends, viz., Hisham bin Amr, Zuhayr ibn Abu Umayya, Abu'1 Bukhtari bin Hisham and Zama'a bin al-Aswad, was a Muslim. But all five of them were high-minded paladins, who did not acquiesce in the injustice being done to the Bani Hashim. They did not rest until they had restored justice in Makka.

Technically, these five paladins were not Muslims as noted above. But they and they alone had the grit and the gumption to uphold a principle that is Islamic, viz., the Principle of Justice. They upheld justice, and by their heroic deed, won immortality for themselves in the saga of Islam.

The Muslims, on the other hand, not only did not act; they did not even protest against the cynicism and the highhandedness of the Quraysh. They maintained, for three years, a discreet detachment and an unconvincing silence. They were all men of prudence. Therefore, all that they did, was to temporize, and to watch the drift of events.

The siege of the Bani Hashim lasted for more than a thousand days. What is most amazing in the epic of that siege, is that the "monolith" of the clans of Hashim and al-Muttalib did not show any "cracks" in it even though it was subject to non-stop stress and tension from the beginning to the end. The Quraysh could not find any traitor in the clans, not even a slave who was willing to betray his masters; nor could they find any sign of faintheartedness, not even in a child.

There were four hundred men, women and children in the Shi'b Abu Talib. They were sharing with Muhammad and Khadija the experience of living in exile, and no one out of them ever became a "deserter," either to save his life, or to gratify the pangs of hunger and thirst, or to escape from the extremes of heat and cold, or to escape from confinement without end. They had no way of knowing how and when, if ever, the siege would end, and if they would ever return to their homes. Days in exile passed into weeks; weeks into months; and months into years. There was absolutely nothing to sustain hope. And yet hope was one thing that sustained them from beginning to end.

It appears that the collective but unspoken resolution of the heroic "Four Hundred" was to "sink or swim" - with Muhammad. They would rather be "prisoners" with Muhammad than be free citizens without him. For them, life without Muhammad was not worth living at all.

Abu Talib and the other members of the Bani Hashim and Bani al-Muttalib considered the siege a "test" of their love for Muhammad. The siege was also a test of their morale, their physical courage and their moral courage, their steadfastness, their perseverance, their patience under suffering, and their strength. They passed in each of these tests. Allah had entrusted the personal safety of Muhammad Mustafa - His Messenger - to them. They had a commitment to protect him, and they brought glory and honor to their commitment.

In three years of exile, Khadija's vast fortune ran out. She had spent most of it on buying water. She was happy that her wealth was the means through which Allah had saved the most precious lives in all Creation - the lives of Muhammad Mustafa and his Ahlul-Bayt - and she was grateful to Him for bestowing this honor upon her.

In the midst of convulsions and upheaval all around her, Khadija's faith remained a constant, and it remained a source of unfailing strength to her and to those around her. Her faith was sustained by prayer, as noted before.

Khadija's faith was something almost "visible" and "tangible." She was constantly in touch with Allah - the Source of Faith -through prayer. Prayer was also the secret of her quiet courage. Her tranquil manner and her serene presence, didn't let the morale of the tribe languish at any time during the siege. She was an "anchor" for the whole tribe in all the years of turbulence and tribulation.

The failure of the siege of Bani Hashim and Bani al-Muttalib by the pagans of Makka, and the return of the two clans to their homes, was a watershed in the history of Islam. It was proof of the resilience and strength of the new creed.

At the beginning of the siege, the pagans had felt confident that they had at last "cornered" Islam, and that it was at their mercy. Their efforts to obliterate Islam were not half-hearted or sporadic, and they had left nothing to chance. They dangled the specter of starvation before the besieged clans. They had assumed that in the face of the two scourges of constant hunger and thirst, and a constant state of subjective alarm, the resistance of the besieged clans would break down, and they would be compelled to surrender Muhammad to them (to the pagans).

Without a doubt, human endurance has its limits, and interminable hunger and thirst can break a man's spirit, no matter how heroic he may be. But the pagans didn't know that the Faith of the Bani Hashim in Allah, and their loyalty to Muhammad, were stronger than the fear of hunger-and-thirst, and were, in fact, stronger than the fear of death itself.

The members of the clan of Bani Hashim had no fear of death.

When Muhammad Mustafa planted the Banner of Tawhid and lighted the Lamp of Faith in Arabia, he was at once challenged by the champions of the idols. The idol-worshippers hated to see the Banner of Tawhid fluttering on the horizon, and they sent their serried legions to eradicate it. But those legions found the Banner surrounded and protected by the children of Bani Hashim. The latter had rallied around it to protect it; and to protect it they had to defy death every moment! The legions made fierce and repeated charges upon the Banner but were repulsed each time. The children of Bani Hashim defeated and routed the Legions of Misbelief.

The Lamp of Faith lighted by Muhammad Mustafa was threatened by the hurricanes of paganism and polytheism. But the children of Bani Hashim successfully defended that Lamp. The hurricanes spent all their force and fury to put it out and failed.

In defending the Banner of Tawhid and the Lamp of Faith, many children of Bani Hashim were killed. But as noted above, death held no terrors for them. Tawhid and Faith were far more precious to them than their own lives. They were proud of dying in defence of Tawhid and Faith. They believed that both the Banner and the Lamp were their most precious heritage, and it was their sacred duty to protect them, and they did.

Abu Jahl and the Umayyads made countless attempts to extinguish the Flame of Islam. But they were unsuccessful. The Flame of Islam burned ever brighter. How could they extinguish it when it had both visible and Invisible protectors? If Bani Hashim were the visible protectors of the Flame of Islam, Allah was its Invisible Protector, as we read in the following verses of Quran Majid:

Fain would they extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah will not allow but that His light should be perfected, even though the unbelievers may detest (it).
It is He who has sent His apostle with guidance and the religion of truth, to proclaim it over all religion, even though the pagans may detest (it).
(Chapter 9; verses 32, 33)

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