The Economic and Social Boycott of the Banu Hashim (A.D. 616-619)
The year 6 of the Proclamation was drawing to a close. The pagans had already spent three years campaigning against Islam. They had generated much bitterness and hostility against the Muslims during these three years, but they had very little, if anything, to show for their efforts. They had used every weapon against the Muslims ranging from temptation to persuasion, to insults to jibes, and mockery to the threat of using force and the actual use of force, but to no avail. The strength of the faith of the Muslims had baffled them.
Their repeated failures compelled the Quraysh to reassess the situation vis-à-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 rootless and poverty-stricken Muslims in Makkah. The 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.
This success in “enemy identification” had the impact of revelation upon the leaders of Quraysh in their campaign against Islam, and enabled them to map out a new strategy.
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 clan, and they had hoped that they would either coax or bluff Abu Talib into waiving his support and protection of his nephew and of Islam. If they could isolate Muhammad from his clan, 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 whole clan of Banu Hashim behind him. The clan of Banu Hashim was monolithic in its support of Muhammad, and the leaders of the Quraysh found themselves powerless before it.
After long deliberation and debate, the Quraysh agreed that the “intractability” of Banu Hashim called for sterner measures, and they decided to isolate and ostracize not only Muhammad but all his protectors as well, viz., the clan of Banu Hashim.
It was inevitable that any attempt to ostracize Banu Hashim would lead to a polarization of the groupings in Makkah. Everyone in Makkah would have to declare himself for or against Banu Hashim. But it soon became obvious that in this confrontation, Banu Hashim would find the whole of Arabia ranged against itself.
Muhammad Husayn Haykal
It is nearly impossible for us to imagine the intensity and extent of the efforts which Quraysh spent 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 revile him with their sharpest wits and to direct their most caustic sting against his preaching. It inflicted injury and harm on his person and on the persons of his followers. It offered him bribes of money, of royalty and power, of all that which satisfies the most fastidious among men.
It not only Banushed and dispersed his followers from their own country but injured them in their trade and commerce while impoverishing them. It warned him and his followers that war with all its tragedies would befall upon 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 Quraysh met in a solemn conclave in the “town hall” of Makkah, and there, by consensus, they drafted and signed a document which stipulated that unless the clan of Banu Hashim surrendered Muhammad to them, it would be subjected to an economic and social boycott. They pledged themselves not to buy anything from, nor to sell anything to, the members of the Banu Hashim, and they placed intermarriage with them under proscription.
This covenant was sent to the other tribes for ratification. When they had ratified it, it was solemnly suspended on the wall of the Kaaba. The ratification of the covenant was a belligerent act!
Abu Talib could clearly see that a storm system was converging upon the Banu Hashim. The atmosphere in Makkah had become so explosive that Banu Hashim found itself in great peril. Abu Talib realized that it would not be prudent to live in the city where any moment, the enemy could set fire to their houses.
In the interests of the security of the clan, he, therefore, decided to leave Makkah, and to seek safety for it in a ravine near Makkah which later came to be known as Sh'ib Abu Talib. The ravine had some natural defenses, and it was in any case safer to live in it than to live in their houses in the city which were highly vulnerable to attack.
On the first day of the year 7 of the Proclamation, therefore, the two clans of Banu Hashim and Banu al-Muttalib moved out of Makkah and took abode in a ravine. The clans were in a state of siege.
It was going to be a long siege!
Muhammad Husayn Haykal
The pact into which the clans of Quraysh had entered for boycotting Muhammad and blockading the Muslims continued to be observed for three consecutive years. (The Life of Muhammad, Cairo, 1935)
For three years, the Prophet was shut up with all his kinsfolk in their stronghold which was situated in one of the gorges which run down to Mecca. (Introduction to the Translation of Holy Qur’an, 1975)
The story of the siege of Banu Hashim is a stirring chapter in the epic of Islam, and has been told by every historian of the subject, among them:
Sir William Muir
.....the Coreish entered into a confederacy against the Hashimites – that they would not marry their women, nor 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 attack, or of blows in the dark still more fatal, they retired into the secluded quarter of the city known as 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 Khuwalid, used, though the attempt was sometimes perilous, to carry supplies to his aunt Khadija. (The Life of Mohammed, London, 1877)
At the beginning of the siege, Ali was 16 years old, and he was charged with the difficult and dangerous duty of victualling the whole clan. 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 tribe.
Abu Talib himself didn't sleep at nights. For him the physical safety of his nephew took precedence over everything else. When Muhammad fell asleep, Abu Talib woke him up, and asked him to sleep in the bed of one of his four sons, and ordered his son to sleep in his (Muhammad's) bed. A little later, he would wake his nephew again, and ask him to go to the bed of another of his sons.
He spent the whole night shifting Muhammad out of one bed and putting him in another. He had no illusions about his enemies; they were tenacious, treacherous, vicious and vindictive. He, therefore, did not underestimate 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. Abu Talib and his wife were ever ready to sacrifice their sons for Muhammad.
There were times when Ali, notwithstanding his daring and his resourcefulness, was unable to find any provision, and the children (and the adults) went hungry. But going hungry and thirsty was a norm in the ravine. When water was available, mothers boiled dead leaves in it to comfort their crying children. The cry of hungry children could be heard outside the ravine, and Abu Jahl and the Umayyads responded to it with derisive laughter. They gloated over their “triumph” in making the children of Banu Hashim cry for water and food.
The most precious gift for the besieged clans during these three years, was water. Water was the gift of life, and the two clans 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 various ways. She prayed to God and invoked His mercy upon the besieged. Prayer was her “strategy” for handling adversity. It was, she found, a simple buteffective strategy.
Occasionally, the few friends that the members of Banu Hashim had in Makkah, tried to smuggle food into the ravine, but if the pagans caught it, they seized it.
One of the friends of Banu Hashim in Makkah was Hisham ibn Amr al-Aamiri. He brought food and water for them as often as he could. The time he had chosen to deliver the provisions into the ravine, was a few hours before daybreak; but eventually the Quraysh caught him, and they threatened to kill him if he persisted in bringing his loaded camels to the ravine for Banu Hashim.
Another secret friend of Banu Hashim was Hakim ibn Hizam, the nephew of Khadija. He and his slave carried food and water to Khadija which she immediately gave to the children.
Abul Bukhtari was one of the friends of Hakim. He too brought essential supplies to Banu Hashim. One night he and Hakim were driving a camel to the ravine when they were surprised by Abu Jahl. He told them that he was going to confiscate the provisions and the camel. At first, Abul Bukhtari tried to conciliate him with words but he didn't want to hear anything. He barred the access to the ravine and refused to let them pass.
Abul Bukhtari tried to force his way past Abu Jahl, and this led to a violent fist fight between them. Brawls like this erupted quite frequently near the ravine but the few friends that the clan of Banu Hashim had in the city, 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 Banu Hashim perish from hunger, and they risked their own lives time and again in bringing food and water to the Sh'ib 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 the hatred and anger of the Umayyad clan of Quraysh was directed not against the Muslims but against the clan of Banu Hashim. Their aim was to destroy Islam. But they could not destroy Islam without killing Muhammad. They made numerous attempts to kill him but they failed because he was beyond their reach. He was safe and comfortable in the “fortress” which Abu Talib and the Banu Hashim had built for him.
The Umayyads rightly pinpointed the Banu Hashim as responsible for all their failures and frustrations in their war on Islam, and never condoned it for checkmating them in their long and bitter struggle against it.
As for the Muslims who did not belong to the clan of Banu Hashim, there were many, and they were all in Makkah. They did not go to Sh'ib Abu Talib with the Banu Hashim. Some among them are said to have been rich, powerful and influential, and all of them claimed that they loved their Prophet; but curiously, not one of them ever came to see him much less bring any aid to him, during the three years of siege.
They enjoyed the comfort and security of their homes in the city for three years while their Prophet, Muhammad Mustafa, lived on the edge of a sword, surrounded by enemies thirsting for his blood, and in a state of unmitigated suspense never knowing what terrors the next day or the next night might bring to him and to his clan.
The siege of Banu Hashim was raised three years later in A.D. 619, and the clan returned to the city. Ten years had passed since Muhammad, may God bless him and his Ahlul-Bait, had first proclaimed his mission. The boycott of the Quraysh had failed to produce the intended result. The members of Banu Hashim were defiant, 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.
Banu Hashim and Banu al-Muttalib returned to their homes in Makkah after three years. During these three years, the vast fortunes of Khadija and Abu Talib had run out. They had to make, as it were, a new beginning in life, by putting their blocks into place – one by one.
If the leaders of the Quraysh abandoned the siege, it was not because there was any “change of heart” on their part. They abandoned 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 of Islam by Muhammad ibn Ishaq, of the events which culminated in the return to Makkah of the clans of Banu Hashim and Banu al-Muttalib from Sh'ib Abu Talib, after three years of exile.
“The Banu Hashim and the Banu 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 annul the boycott against them. None took more trouble in this than Hisham Bin Amr ... for the reason that he was the son of a brother to Nadla b. Hashim b. Abd Manaf by his mother and was closely attached to the Banu Hashim. He was highly esteemed by his people.
I have heard that when these two clans were in their Shi'b, he used to bring a camel laden with food by night and then, when he had got it to 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 would do the same thing another time, bringing clothes for them.
He went to Zuhayr B. Abu Umayya B. Al-Mughira whose mother was Atika daughter of Abdul Muttalib, and said: ‘Are you content to eat food and wear clothes while you know of the condition of your maternal uncles? They cannot buy or sell or inter-marry. By God, if they were the uncles of Abu'l-Hakam b. Hisham (Abu Jahl), and you asked him to do what he has asked you to do, he would never agree to 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 – myself.' ‘Find another,' said he.
So Hisham went to Al-Mutim B. Adiy and said, ‘Are you content that two clans of Banu Abd Manaf should perish while you look on consenting to follow Quraysh? You will find that they will soon do the same with you.'
He (Mutim) made the same reply as Zuhayr and demanded a fourth man.
So Hisham went to Abu’l Bukhtari B. Hisham who asked for a fifth man, and then to Zama’a B. Al-Aswad B. Al-Muttalib, who asked for a sixth man, and reminded him of their kinship and duties. He asked whether others were willing to cooperate in this task. He gave him the names of the others. They all agreed to meet at night near Hujun, above Makkah, and when they did, they bound themselves to take up the question of the document until they had secured its annulment.
On the following day, when people got together, Zuhayr put on a robe, went round the Kaaba seven times; then came forward and said: ‘O people of Mecca, are we to eat and clothe ourselves while the Banu Hashim perish, unable to buy or sell? By God, I will not rest until this evil boycotting document is torn up!
Abu Jahl shouted: ‘You lie. It shall not be torn up.'
Zama'a said: “You are a greater liar; we did not want this document even when it was first drafted and signed. Abu'l Bukhtari said, ‘Zama'a is right. We were not satisfied with this document when it was written, and we are not satisfied with it now.'
Al-Mutim added: “You are both right, and anyone who says otherwise, is a liar. We take Allah to witness that we dissociate ourselves from the whole idea and what is written in the document.” Hisham spoke in the same sense, and supported his friends.
Then al-Mutim went up to the document to tear it in pieces. He found that worms had already eaten 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 deed was Mansur b. Ikrima.”
Mutim ibn 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 Banu Hashim were the innocent victims of iniquity, hostility and attrition; and courage to defy the Quraysh. His resolute act was the signal that the siege of Banu 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 into the ravine and escorted Muhammad Mustafa and all members of the two clans of Banu Hashim and Banu al-Muttalib, back into Makkah and into their homes.
Dr. Muhamed 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. But were they more humane even than the Muslims who were living in Makkah?
Astoundingly, incredibly, the answer to this uncomfortable question is in the affirmative. After all, apart from these five paladins – all non-Muslims – humanity did not impel anyone else in Makkah – non-Muslim or Muslim – to defy the Quraysh and to act in defense of the Banu Hashim.
There is one more question, viz., why did Zuhayr consider himself alone?
When Hisham first broached the subject of annulling the Agreement of the polytheists to boycott the Banu Hashim, to his friend, Zuhayr, and taunted him for being insensitive to the sufferings of Banu Hashim, and for his failure to act to bring that suffering to an end, the latter 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.”
Zuhayr's answer is cryptic. Why did he consider himself alone? Why did he not make any attempt to enlist the support of the Muslims of whom there were many in Makkah? According to the historians, some of the Muslims in Makkah were men of rank and substance, and had considerable clout with the polytheists. But for some mysterious reason, it did not occur either to Zuhayr himself or to any of his friends, to recruit these Muslims into the “team” which brought the long siege of Banu Hashim to an end.
Zuhayr and his friends were successful in their efforts to bring the Banu Hashim back into the city. But by their action, they had demonstrated that the Muslims who were living in Makkah, were not “indispensable” for Muhammad or for Islam.
It is one of the supreme paradoxes of the history of Islam that the hand that reached out and tore into shreds, the covenant of the infidels to isolate and to ostracize the clan of Banu Hashim, belonged, not to a “believer” but to an “unbeliever” Mutim ibn Adiy! Neither Mutim nor any of his four friends, viz., Hisham ibn Amr, Zuhayr b. Abu Umayya, Abu'l Bukhtari b. Hisham, and Zama'a b. Al-Aswad, was a Muslim. But all five of them were high-minded paladins, and they did not acquiesce in the injustice being done to the Banu Hashim. They did not rest until they had restored justice in Makkah.
Technically, these five paladins were not Muslims. 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 highhandedness of the Quraysh in Banushing the Banu Hashim from Makkah. They maintained, for three years, a discreet detachment and an unconvincing silence.Their deeds, apparently, were governed by prudence. Therefore, all that they did, was to temporize, and to watch the drift of events, like disinterested observers.