It was a man from among themselves who was to lift the Arabs from their slough of ignorance and depravity into the light of faith and devotion to one God.
Because of its geographical position and connection by land and sea routes with the continents of Asia, Africa and Europe, Arabia had been powerfully influenced by the superstitious beliefs and evil ways prevailing in many parts of these continents. But once it forsook disbelief and unbecoming practices, it could, as a result of the same geographical position, easily become the center of enlightenment radiating guidance and knowledge to the entire world.
When Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) was 38 years of age, he spent most of his time in meditation and solitude. The cave of the mount Hira was his favorite place. It is there that he used to retire with food and water and spend days and weeks in remembrance of Allah. Nobody was allowed to go there except Khadijah and 'Ali. He used to spend the whole month of Ramadhan therein.
The period of waiting had come to a close. His forty years of life had varied experiences, and from the world's point of view, he had developed a maturity of mind and judgement, although in reality he was the embodiment of perfection from the very beginning. He has said: "I was a prophet when Adam was between water and clay." His heart was overflowing with profound compassion for mankind and a pressing urge to eradicate wrong beliefs, social evils, cruelty and injustice. The moment had arrived when he was to be allowed to declare his prophethood. One day, when he was in the cave of Hira, Jibril (Gabriel) came to him and conveyed to him the following message of Allah:
Read in the name of thy Lord Who created, created man from a clot (of congealed blood): Read and thy Lord is most Bountiful, no taught with the pen, taught man that which he knew not. (Qur'an, 96:1-5)
These were the first ayats to be revealed, and the date was the 27th of Rajab, 40th year of elephant (610 C.E.).
The flow of the Divine message which continued for the next twenty-three years had begun, and the Prophet had arisen to proclaim the Unity of God and the Unity of Mankind, to demolish the edifice of superstition, ignorance, and disbelief, to set up a noble conception of life, and to lead mankind to the light of faith and celestial bliss.
The task was stupendous. The Prophet, therefore, started his mission cautiously, confining it initially to his own close relatives and friends. He was met with immediate success. His wife Khadijah testified to his truth as soon as she heard the news of the revelation from God. Then his cousin 'Ali, and his liberated slave and adopted son Zaid, readily accepted the new faith, Islam, "submission to the Will of God." The fourth was Abu Bala.
Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani in his book Al-Isabah, and 'Abdul Malik ibn Hisham in his book As-Sirah have written that:
"Ali was the first to accept Islam and pray (offer salat), and that he accepted whatever was revealed to the Messenger by the Lord. At that time, 'Ali was only ten years old. After 'Ali, Zaid ibn Harithah accepted the Islamic creed and prayed and then Abu Bakr embraced Islam. The companions of the Holy Prophet, Muhammad ibn Ka'b al-Qarzi, Salman the Persian, Abu Dharr, Miqdad, Khabbab, Abu Sa'eed al-Khudri and Zaid ibn al-Arqam testify that 'Ali was the first to proclaim Islam. These celebrated companions have given'Ali preference over others."
Justice Ameer Ali writes in his Spirit of Islam:
"It is a noble feature in the history of the Prophet of Arabia, and one which strongly attests the sincerity of his character, the purity of his teachings and the intensity of his faith in God, that his nearest relations, his wife, beloved cousin and intimate friends, were most thoroughly imbued with the truth of his mission and convinced of his inspiration. Those who knew him best, closest relations and dearest friends, people who lived with him and noted all his movements, were his sincere and most devoted followers."
John Davenport writes in his Apology for Mohammed and the Koran:
"It is strongly corroborative of Mohammed's sincerity that the earliest converts to Islam were his bosom friends and the people of his household, who, all intimately acquainted with his private life, could not fail to have detected those discrepancies which more or less invariably exist between the pretensions of the hypocritical deceiver and his actions at home."
Slowly the message spread. During the first three years, he gained only thirty followers. In spite of the caution and care exercised, the Quraish were well posted with what was going on. At first they did not take much note and only jeered at the Prophet and the plight of his followers. They doubted his sanity and thought him crazed and possessed. But the time had come for proclaiming the will of God in public.
After three years, the call came from Allah:
And warn thy near relations (Qur'an, 26:214)
This ayat (verse) ended the period of secret preaching and heralded the open proclamation of Islam.
Abu Muhammad Husain al-Baghawi (in his Tafisir-Ma'alim ut-Tanzil), Shaikh 'Ala'uddin 'Ali ibn Muhammad al-Baghdadi, known as Khazin al-Baghdadi, in his Lubab-ut-Ta'wil, best known as Tafsir Khazin, Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn Husain al-Bayhaqi (in his Dalail-un-Nubuwwah), Jalaluddin as-Suyuti (in his Jam'ul Jawami), 'Ala'uddin 'Ali Muttaqi (in Kanz-ul-'Ummal), Abu JaTer Muhammad ibn Jarir at-Tabari (in Tarikh-ur-Rusul-wal-Muluk), Abu Sa'adat Mubarak ibn Athir al-Jazari (in Tarikh-ul-Kamil) and Isma'il Abul Fida (in his history, Kitab-ul-Mukhtasar fi Akhbar-il-Bashar) have quoted 'Ali as saying:
"When the verse Wa andhir 'Ashiratakal-aqrabin was revealed, the noble Messenger called me and ordered me, 'O 'Ali! The Creator of the world has made me warn my people about their doom, but in view of the condition of the people and knowing that when I will give them the words of Allah, they will misbehave, I felt depressed and weakened and therefore I kept quiet until Gabriel came again and informed me that there should be no more delay.
Therefore, O 'Ali, take a measure of food grain, a leg of a goat and a big bowl of milk and arrange for a feast, then call the sons of 'Abdul Muttalib unto me, so that I may deliver to them the words of Allah.' I did what the Prophet had told me to do and the sons of 'Abdul Muttalib, who were about forty in number gathered together. Among them were the uncles of the Prophet: Abu Talib, Hamza, 'Abbas and Abu Lahab.
When the food was brought, the Prophet lifted a piece of meat and tore it into small morsels with his own teeth and scattered the pieces on the tray and said, 'Start eating in the name of Allah,' All people present there had the food to their fill although the milk and the food were just sufficient for one man. Then he intended to speak to them, but Abu Lahab interfered and said, `Verily, your comrade has entranced you.' Having heard this, all of them dispersed and the Messenger did not get a chance to speak to them.
On the next day, the Messenger, of the Lord again said to me: 'O 'Ali? Make arrangements again for a feast as you had done yesterday, and invite the sons of 'Abdul Muttalib'. I arranged for the feast and gathered the guests as I was asked to do by the Prophet. Once they had finished the food, the Messenger addressed them thus: 'O sons of 'AbdulMuttalib, I have brought for you the best blessings of this world and of the next, and I am appointed by the Lord to call you unto Him. Therefore, who amongst you will help me in this cause in order that he should be my brother, my successor and my caliph?'
Nobody responded. But I, although the youngest of the congregation, said, 'O Messenger of Allah, I am here to be your helper in this task.' The Prophet then patted my neck very kindly and said, 'O my people! This 'Ali is my brother, my successor and my caliph amongst you. Listen to him and obey him.' Having heard it from the Prophet, they all burst into laughter and said to Abu Talib, 'Hearken! You are ordered to obey and follow your own son! "'
This event has also been recorded by Thomas Carlyle in Heroes and Hero Worship, by Gibbon in Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Davenport in Apology for Muhammad and The Koran and by Washington Irving in Muhammad And His Successors, with all its details.
Abul-Fida, in Kitabul-Mukhtasar fi Akhbaril-Bashar states that some of the verses composed by Abu Talib prove the fact that he had accepted the Prophethood of the Prophet from the core of his heart. A translation of a few poetic verses is given here:
You have called me (to Islam) and I believe that you are truthful, straightforward and trustworthy.
And there is no doubt in my belief that the religion of Muhammad is the best of all the religions of the world.
By God! As far as I am alive, not a single person from among the Quraish can harm you.
Then one after another came the Divine commands:
Disclose what has been ordained to thee. (Qur'an, 15.94)
O thou wrapped (in thy mantle!) Arise and warn, and thy Lord do magna. And thy raiment do purify. And uncleanness do shun. And show not favor seeking gain! And for the sake of thy Lord be patient. " (Qur'an, 74:1-7)
The method to be employed was:
Call to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and dispute with them in the best way. (Qur'an, 16:125)
The Prophet proclaimed the Oneness of God in the Ka'bah. The Quraish were aghast. Till then, they had held the Prophet and his followers in contemptuous disdain, but now they were genuinely alarmed. The new movement amounted to a denunciation of their forefathers. It meant the termination, in one stroke, of their authority and privilege as the guardians of the Ka'bah.
The Quraish retaliated violently. A life and death struggle for-Islam ensued. The Prophet was not allowed to worship in the Ka'bah, thorns were strewn in his way, dirt and filth were thrown at him while he was engaged in prayers, and street urchins were incited to follow him, shouting and clapping their hands in derision. He and his followers were subjected to all types of calumnies and humiliation. They were taunted and insulted.
Oppression and relentless persecution were let loose. In an effort to force believers to renounce the new faith and to go back to the old cults, they were subjected to extremes of physical torture. They were mercilessly beaten, made to lie on burning sand while heavy blocks of stones were placed on their chests, or nooses were put around their necks and their bodies dragged.
One of the faithful, Yasir by name, succumbed to these tortures and, when his wife Sumayyah, an African, protested, her legs were tied to two camels, and the animals were driven to opposite directions, tearing her body in halves. These were the first martydoms in the cause of Islam. The believers, under the inspiration of their great Teacher, were, however, fired with holy zeal. They braved all persecutions and danger and bore up against all agonies and tortures.
When endurance was reaching its limits and persecution became unbearable, the Prophet advised a group of his followers to migrate to Abyssinia where a benign Christian king reigned. This was the first Hijrah (Migration) in Islam and fifteen people took part in it:
And those who become fugitives for Allah's sake after they are oppressed, verily We shall give them good abode in the world and surely the reward of the Hereafter is greater, if they only knew. (Qur'an, 16:41)
And what was all this tyranny and persecution for? Just for believing in one God and for leading a chaste and pious life! Further migration of some people led to intensified persecution of those left behind. The Prophet advised a second Hijrah to Abyssinia, and this time about a hundred people, including Jafar, the elder brother of 'Ali, went away.
The Quraish sent a deputation with 'Amr ibn al-'As and 'Ammara ibn Rabi'ah to Negus (Nijashi, in Arabic), the king of Abyssinia, to demand the deportation of the emigrants back to Mecca to be punished by death. Having won the favor of the clergy, the deputation tried to prejudice the king against the fugitives. Asked to explain the position, Jafar delivered a speech, which is a brilliant summary of the fundamentals of Islam and all that it stands for:
"O king! We were plunged in the depth of ignorance and barbarism; we adored idols; we lived in unchastity; we ate dead animals, and we spoke abomination. We disregarded every feeling of humanity, and the duties of hospitality and neighborhood. We knew no law but that of the strong. At that time, God raised from among us a man of whose birth, truthfulness, honesty and purity we were aware, and he called us to the Unity of God and taught us not to associate anything with Him.
He forbade us to worship idols and enjoined us to speak the truth, to be faithful to our trusts, to be merciful, and to regard the rights of neighbors. He forbade us to speak ill of women and to eat the substance of orphans. He ordered us to flee from vices, to abstain from evil, to offer prayers, to render alms, and to observe the fast. We have believed in him; we have accepted his teachings and injunctions to worship God, and not to associate anything with Him. For this reason, our people have risen against us and persecuted us in order to make us forego the worship of God and return to the worship of idols of wood and stone and other abominations. They have tortured us and injured us. Having found no safety among them, we have come to thy country and hope thou wilt protect us from their oppression."
The king refused to oblige the deputation, and the latter had to return disappointed. Muslim traditions indicate that the king later on secretly converted to Islam.
Some European critics, with the object of assigning some ulterior motive for the migration, go to the length of saying that persecution was only slight and at worst confined to slaves and the poorer people who could find no clans to protect them. There is a mass of historical data recorded in original sources about the names and numbers of persons put to physical torture, the names of their tormentors and the manner of their physical torture and persecution.
Although these critics admit that even Abu Bakr had to undergo the indignity of being bound to a clansman and to solicit the protection of a nomadic chief, they would still suggest that the persecution was limited to persons who had no clans to support them. Such people had, no doubt, the worst of the treatment, but when people of a clan were oppressing their fellow clansmen for accepting Islam, clan protection could not help the victims. What protection could be expected from the clan when a father chained his son, a brother tortured his sister, or a husband injured his wife?
Furthermore, the slaves and the poor people constituted the bulk of the disciples at that stage. A Western historian surmises that the migration was caused either by a rift in the Muslim ranks, as some Muslims might not have liked the attitude of the Prophet towards Meccan opposition, or was undertaken with the object of making Abyssinia a base of attacking Meccan trade or to solicit military help to enable the Prophet to seize control of Mecca. Even Encyclopedia Britannica tries to water down the persecution (Macro. Vol. 12. p. 607):
"There was little physical violence, and that almost always within the family. Muhammad suffered from minor annoyances, such as having filth deposited outside his door."
About the emigration to Ethiopia it suggests:
"... but they may have been seeking opportunities for trade or military support for Muhammad."
If such fantastic conjectures can be made when the Muslims were yet a handful and survival was the only consideration before them, when all along they stood solidly behind the Prophet, when no Meccan caravan was ever attacked from Abyssinia, when that country never provided any military help to the Muslims, and when the Prophet did not seize control of Mecca even when it lay at his feet, what fairness in exposition and presentation can be expected from such historians?
Now we have reached the sixth year after the Declaration of Prophethood. In spite of the persecution and exodus of some people, the Prophet was laboring quietly but incessantly to wean away his people from the worship of idols. His mission gained considerable momentum by the conversion of his uncle Hamza the Valiant.
Once, at the suggestion of Abu Bakr, the Holy Prophet came into Masjid-ul-Haram and Abu Bakr started a lecture. The Quraish violently stopped him and the Holy Prophet had to take refuge in the house of al-Arqam near the hill of Safa. (Now, that house has been included into the extension of Masjid-ul-Haram). 'Umar ibn al-Khattab accepted Islam in those days.
Because of the prestige of Abu Talib, Quraish did not dare to kill the Holy Prophet. But they were making him suffer as much affliction as possible, no less was the heartache caused to him by the sufferings of the helpless Muslims. He himself said: "No prophet was ever made to suffer such afflictions as I was."
All along, Islam was gaining adherents not only from Quraish but also from the neighboring tribes. The oligarchy of Mecca was now desperately trying to. stem the movement.
The forbearance of the Holy Prophet was making the Quraish wonder as to why a man should put himself in such a precarious situation. Their outlook was materialistic; their ideals were wealth, beauty and power. They, naturally, ascribed the same motives to the Holy Prophet.
'Utbah ibn Rabi'ah, father-in-law of Abu Sufyan, was sent to him to convey the message of Quraish:
"Muhammad! If you want power and prestige, we will make you the overlord of Mecca. Or do you want marriage in a big family? You may have the hand of the fairest maiden in the land. Do you want hoards of silver and gold? We can provide you with all these and even more. But you should forsake this nefarious preaching which implies that our forefathers, who were worshipping these deities of ours, were fools."
The Quraish were almost certain that Muhammad would respond favorably to this offer. However, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) recited Sura 41 in reply, which, inter alia, contained the following warning:
But if they turn away, then say: 1 have warned you of a thunderbolt like the thunderbolt of the 'Ad and the Thamud. (Qur'an, 41:13).
`Utbah was overwhelmed with this ringing warning. He did not accept Islam but advised the Quraish to leave Muhammad alone and to see how he fares with other tribes. Quraish said that he, too, was bewitched by Muhammad.
Then a deputation was sent to Abu Talib. They demanded that Abu Talib should either persuade his nephew to desist from his mission or hand him over to suffer the extreme penalty or be prepared to fight the whole tribe. Finding the odds too heavy against him, Abu Talib said to the Holy Prophet:
"O son! Do not put such a burden on my shoulders which I am unable to bear."
The Prophet's reply to his uncle gives an indication of his indomitable will, his profound trust in God and confidence in his Mission. Said he:
"O uncle! If they placed the sun on my right hand and the moon on my left to persuade me to renounce my work, verily I would not desist there from till God makes manifest His cause or I perish in the attempt."
Saying this, he was overwhelmed with grief. Abu Talib was moved by this reply and said:
"By Allah, the Quraish can never reach thee in spite of their great number till I am buried in the earth. Therefore, pronounce what order thou hast; nobody can do any harm to you; be happy with this (promise) and keep thy eyes cool (i.e. be consoled)."
In their final attempt, they took a young man, 'Ammarah ibn al-Walid, to Abu Talib and offered to exchange him with Muhammad. They said to him:
"This young man is a well-known poet of the tribe; he is also very handsome and wise. You better exchange Muhammad with him. You may adopt him as your son: he will be a good helper to you. And give us your Muhammad; we will-kill him. Thus, you will not suffer any loss because you will have 'Ammarah in place of Muhammad, and by eliminating Muhammad, all this strife and friction in the tribe will come to an end."
Abu Talib was extremely furious on hearing this outrageous proposal. His voice was raised in wrath. He said:
"What a worst bargain have you proposed! Why, you want me to give you my son, so that you may kill him, and are giving me your son so that I should feed him and look after him? Go away! This bargain is nothing if not foolishness."
Frustrated, the idolaters decided to ostracize the whole clans of Hashim and Muttalib and thus destroy them completely. An agreement was signed to boycott these two clans. It was written by Mansur ibn 'Ikrimah and was hung in the Ka'bah. The agreement stated:
"they would neither take the daughters of these two clans nor will they give them their daughters in marriage; they would neither sell anything to them nor buy anything from them. Not only that, they would not have any contact with them nor even allow any food or drink to reach them.This boycott would continue till these clans agree to hand over Muhammad to Quraish."
Abu Talib had no alternative but to take these two clans (who had always stood together) into the mountain trail called Shi'b Abi Talib. It was adjacent to Jannatu '1-Ma'la. Now it is difficult to locate, because the Sa'udis are destroying all historical sites in the name of development. It was a place in Mount Hajun, which belonged to Abu Talib. There were 40 adults in the clans. For three long years, they were beleaguered.
It had begun in Muharram, 7th year of Bi'that (Declaration of Prophethood) and continued up to the beginning of the 10th year. They were made to undergo the most acute hardships and privations, so much so that at times they had nothing but tree leaves to sustain them. Only twice a year did they dare to come out: in the months of Rajab and Dhul-Hijjah, when every type of violence was taboo according to the Arabian custom. If any relative sent them any food, and the news leaked out, that relative was publicly insulted and put to shame. The Quraishites used to express their pleasure on hearing the cries of the hungry children.
During all these years of sufferings, Abu Talib had only one worry: how to keep the Holy Prophet out of the harm's way. Historians unanimously say that it was the habit of Abu Talib to awaken the Holy Prophet after all people had gone to sleep and to take him to another place and order one of his own sons or brothers to sleep in the bed of the Holy Prophet. This was done so that if an enemy had seen where Muhammad was sleeping, and if an attack was made on him at night, his own son or brother would be killed while the Holy Prophet would be saved.
All of them suffered these hardships and did their utmost to save the life of the Holy Prophet. History is unable to produce another example of such devotion and loyalty. And imagine that this continued not for one or two days or weeks, but for three long years.
One day the Holy Prophet said to Abu Talib:
"I have been informed by Allah that the agreement of the Quraish has been eaten up by insects, and no writing has been left therein except the name of Allah."
And as the historians write, Abu Talib never had any doubt about any saying of the Holy Prophet.
Thus he came out of his place at once and went to Masjidul-Haram where Quraish had gathered. As luck would have it, the subject of discussion was the same boycott. Hisham, son of 'Amr, Zubayr, and a few others who were related to Khadijah and the clans of Hashim and Muttalib and whose houses were near the Shi'b of Abu Talib used to hear the cries of the children day and night. They had decided to persuade the Quraish to abrogate the infamous agreement. The arguments became very heated and reached a climax when they saw Abu Talib approaching. Abu Jahl and others who opposed the idea of abrogating the boycott, said:
"Abu Talib is coming! It seems that now he is tired and wants to hand over Muhammad to us. Thus, the boycott would end to the satisfaction of us all. Let us keep silent and hear what he wants to say."
But Abu Talib had gone there not to surrender but to challenge them. He stood before the gathering and said:
"My son says that the agreement which you had written has been eaten up by insects, and that nothing remains therein except the name of Allah. Now look at that paper. If the news given by my son is correct, then you must end your injustice and high-handedness, and if the news is wrong then we will admit that you were right and we were wrong."
The agreement was taken out and opened, and lo, there was nothing left of it except the name of Allah in one place.
Now Abu Talib's voice thundered on as he condemned them for their tyranny. Those who wanted that boycott ended said that now there was no agreement at all to adhere to. Abu Jahl and others tried to outwit them but failed and the boycott ended with a total moral victory for Islam over the infidels.
The sufferings and privations of those three years took their toll. Within nine months, Abu Talib died and after him Khadijah also left this world. With the disappearance of their protecting influence, the Meccans had a free-hand and redoubled their persecution. These two deaths, at a time when the Holy Prophet was in dire need of both, left a very deep impression on him. He was so grieved that he called that year "'Amul-Huzn" (The Year of Sorrow). How valuable their support was may be judged from the fact that Allah has counted them as two of His highest Graces and Favors upon the Holy Prophet.
He says in Sura 93:
Did He not find thee an orphan and give thee shelter, and He found thee lost (in thy tribe) and guided (them towards thee), and found thee in need and made thee free from want? (Qur'an, 93:6-8)
All the commentators of the Qur'an say that the first ayat means: "Did He not find thee an orphan and give thee shelter with Abu Talib?", and the last ayat means: "He found thee poor and made thee rich through Khadijah." If we think about the early history of Islam, without the prestigious influence of Abu Talib, we cannot see how the life of the Holy Prophet could have been saved. And if we were to take out the wealth of Khadijah, we cannot think how the poor Muslims could have been sustained, and how the two Hijrats of Abyssinia could have been financed.
It is not the place here to fully explain the share of Abu Talib in the foundation of Islam. The best tribute, therefore, would be to quote some of his poetry lines which overflow with love of, and devotion to, the Holy Prophet. Abu Talib has said these poetic lines:
And you have called me and I know that you are truthful
and, in fact, you were truthful and trustworthy from the beginning.
And I certainly know that the religion of Muhammad is the best of all the religions of the world ....
Also he said in another poem:
Did you not know that we have found Muhammad the Prophet the same as was Musa (Moses)? It is written so in the scriptures.
Compare this poetry with this ayat of the Qur'an:
Verily, We have sent you a Messenger to be a witness over you, as We had sent a Messenger to Pharaoh.(Qur'an, 73:15)
Somewhere else Abu Talib says these poetic lines:
And the Lord of the world has strengthened him with His help,
and has proclaimed the religion which is true, not false. Do not they know that our son is not doubted
by us and that we do not care about the false sayings (of his enemies)?
Once Abu Talib asked 'Ali:
"What is this religion which you are following?"
"I believe in Allah and His Messenger, and I pray with him."
Abu Talib said:
"Surely Muhammad will not call us but to a good thing. Never leave Muhammad; follow him faithfully."
Once he saw the Holy Prophet praying, with Khadijah and 'Ali behind him. Ja'far was with Abu Talib. Abu Talib told Jafar to go ahead and join them in their prayer.
When Hamza accepted Islam in the sixth year of bi'that (Declaration of the Prophethood), Abu Talib was overjoyed and said these poetic lines:
Be patient, O Abu Ya'li (Hamza) on account of the religion of Ahmad. And proclaim the religion with courage, may Allah help you. I was glad when you said that you were mumin (believer). So help the Messenger of Allah in the cause of Allah. And announce to the Quraish your decision, and tell them that Ahmad was never a sorcerer.
It was the policy of Abu Talib to keep the Quraish in suspense about his true belief: Had he announced that he had accepted the religion of Muhammad, his position as a respected leader of the tribe would have been undermined. And then he could not extend his protection to the Holy Prophet. Thus, while always declaring his firm belief that Muhammad could not tell anything but the truth, exhorting his children and brothers to follow the religion of Muhammad, he assiduously refrained from declaring in so many words that he himself was a Muslim. Thus he maintained his position with the hierarchy of Quraish and protected the Prophet through his influence.
Even on his death-bed, while there was still a chance that he might recover, he very diplomatically announced his faith in such a way that the Quraish could not understand what he meant. When they asked him on which religion he was dying, he replied:
"On the religion of my forefathers."
As it has already been explained before, that 'Abdul-Muttalib and all his ancestors were followers of the Divine religion, one cannot but admire the prudence and wisdom of Abu Talib in that difficult situation.
During the last moments of his life, the Holy Prophet advised him to recite the Kalimah loudly (as is the custom of the Muslims). 'Abbas, who had not accepted Islam yet, saw the lips of Abu Talib moving. He put his ears near Abu Talib, and then said to the Holy Prophet:
"O my nephew! Abu Talib is saying what you wanted him to say!"
'Allamah Ibn Abil-Hadid, the Mu'tazilite, has truly said the following poetic lines:
If it were not for Abu Talib and his son ('Ali),
religion of Islam could not take any shape, nor could it find its feet.
Thus, Abu Talib in Mecca gave shelter and protected
(him), and 'Ali in Medina rubbed shoulders with death.
Abu Talib died at the age of 85 in the middle of Shawwal or Dhul-Qa'dah, 10 Bi'that.
Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (a.s.) said:
"The ancestors of the Holy Prophet will be in Paradise and 'Abdul-Muttalib will enter Paradise having upon him the light of the Prophets and the dignity of kings, and Abu Talib will be in the same group."
Hazrat Khadijah was respected so much that the Meccans called her Tahirah (the pure one). All the children of the Holy Prophet were born from Khadijah except Ibrahim who was born of Maria the Copt.
She was the first person to testify to the truth of the Holy Prophet. She spent all her wealth in the cause of Islam. And she was a source of comfort and consolation to the Holy Prophet.
The Holy Prophet said:
"Four women are the supreme-most amongst the women of Paradise: Maryam mother of 'Isa (Jesus) (a.s.), Asiyah wife of Pharaoh, Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, and Fatimah hint Muhammad."
"I never envied any woman as much as I envied Khadijah. The Holy Prophet always remembered her. Whenever any sheep or goat was slaughtered, the choicest parts were sent to Khadijah's relatives and friends. I used to say, 'It appears that Khadijah was the only woman in the world.' Hearing this, the Holy Prophet was very much annoyed and said: 'Khadijah had many virtues, which others do not have. "'
She also said:
"Once the Holy Prophet remembered her and I said, 'How long will you go on remembering a woman so old that she had no teeth in her mouth? Allah has given you a woman better than her (meaning herself).' The Holy Prophet was so angry that the hair of his head was raised. He said: 'By Allah, I do not have better than Khadijah. She believed in me when others were steeped into infidelity. She testified to my truth when others rejected my claim. She helped me with her wealth when others deprived me. And Allah gave me children by her." 'Ayishah says that from then on she decided not to say any unkind word about Khadijah. (Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 3).
She was 65 years old when she died, and she was buried at Hajun. Her grave was demolished in 1925 like those of 'AbdulMuttalib, Abu Talib and others.
After the death of Abu Talib and Khadijah , finding that the Meccans had turned a deaf ear to his preaching, the Prophet decided to go to Taif, perhaps its people would be more responsive. But a big disappointment was in store for him. Muhammad spent a month at Taif only to be scoffed and laughed at. When he persisted in his preaching, the people of Taif drove him out of their city pelting stones at him. In this desperate situation he prayed to God thus:
"O Allah! I make my complaint unto You regarding the feebleness of my strength, the insignificance of my devices, and my humiliation in the sight of people. O You, the Most Merciful One! You are the Lord of the oppressed, You are my Lord. To whom would You entrust my affairs? To a stranger who would scowl at me? Or to an enemy who would control me? If you are not displeased with me, then I do not care (about any hardship), but an ease bestowed by You will be more accommodating to me. I seek refuge in the light of Your countenance (by which all darkness is dispersed and all affairs of this world and the hereafter are kept straight) from pouncing of Your anger or the coming of Your wrath. I seek your pardon in order that you may be pleased with me. There is no power nor strength except in You"
Grief-stricken, the Prophet returned to Mecca.
All these disappointments and persecutions notwithstanding, Islam was spreading in other tribes too, although very slowly and not on a grand scale. Its simplicity and rationality were such that it only needed to reach the ears of the people to stir their souls. For thirteen years, the Quraish did their very best to stifle the new religion, but their opposition itself provided the necessary publicity. Tribes from all corners of Arabia flocked to Mecca at the time of the annual pilgrimage.
Lest they should be influenced by the message of Mohammed, the Quraish used to post themselves outside the city and warn the pilgrims: "An infidel has been born in our city who dishonors our idols; he even speaks ill of Lat and Uzza; do not listen to him." People naturally got curious and wanted to know more about this man. A disciple of the Prophet, recalling his earlier days, stated: "When I was young, I used to hear from the people going to Mecca that a person claiming Prophethood had been born there." When the news spread, most people laughed and jeered at Mohammed, yet there were a few seekers of the truth who listened to his message and who were influenced by it. Hafiz ibn Hajar, in his book al-Isabah, mentions the names of several companions who had come from Yemen and other distant places and, after secretly accepting Islam, had gone back to work among their tribes. The clan of Abu Musa al-Ash'ari in Yemen accepted Islam in this manner.
Tufail ibn 'Amr, of the tribe of Daws, was a poet of repute who could by his poetic fervor sway the feelings and attitudes of the Arabs. He had come into contact with the Prophet and was so enthralled by the marvelous diction of the Qur'an recited to him that he accepted Islam instantly. He was able to win some converts in his tribe, but in general the tribe did not listen to him. He came back to the Prophet and requested him to curse the Daws but the Prophet prayed thus: "O God! Guide the Daws and send them to me (as Muslims)." Soon after, the entire tribe accepted Islam.
Dhamad ibn Tha'labah was a chief of Azd and a friend of the Prophet in his early years. He came to Mecca and was told that Mohammed had gone mad. He approached the Prophet and said that he could cure him. The Prophet replied,
"All praise be to God; I praise Him and seek His forgiveness. If God were to guide anyone, he cannot go astray, and if He leaves anyone to stray, nothing can guide him. I declare that there is no god but Allah. He is one and has no partner, and further (I declare) that Mohammed is His Servant and Messenger."
It is almost impossible to reproduce the vibrating force and captivating charm of the Arabic text which so much impressed Dhamad that he accepted Islam immediately and through him his whole tribe submitted to it.
Abu Dharr of the tribe of Ghifar was one of those who were disgusted with idol-worship. When:be heard about the Prophet, he went to Mecca and incidentally met 'Ali with whom he stayed for three days. 'Ali introduced him to the Prophet and Abu Dharr accepted Islam. The Prophet advised him to go back home, but in his zeal he publicly announced in the Ka'bah: "There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is His Prophet." He was given a sound thrashing by the Quraish and was rescued by 'Abbas. Returning to his tribe, he invited it to accept Islam. About half of his tribesmen, accepted Islam and the rest followed suit when the Prophet migrated to Medina.
As the Ghifars were on very friendly terms with the tribe of Aslam, the latter were influenced by the former and also accepted Islam.
Quite a number of persons had incidentally heard the Qur'an being recited and were captivated by it. Jubayr ibn Mut'im had come to Medina to pay ransom for the prisoners of war of Badr. He happened to hear the Prophet reciting the following verses:
Or were they created out of naught? Or are they the creators? Or did they create the heavens and the Earth? Nay, but they have no certainty. (Qur'an, 52:35-36)
Jubayr stated that when he heard these verses, he felt that his heart was about to soar.
As the Meccans refused to listen to him, the Prophet used to preach to strangers and pilgrims visiting the Ka'bah. As described above, the news that a Prophet had arisen was spreading. A deputation of about twenty Christians from Nazareth came to meet him and embraced Islam. Similarly, another group of six persons from Yathrib accepted Islam. The next year, at the time of the annual pilgrimage, twelve Yathribites came and undertook a pledge known as the First Pledge of 'Aqabah (Mountain-pass), so named because it was done in an out of the way mountain-pass outside Mecca. The pledge was:
Not associate anything with God;
Neither steal nor commit adultery nor fornication;
Will not kill our children;
Will abstain from calumny and slander;
Obey the Prophet in everything, and we will be faithful to him in weal and sorrow.
The period between the First and the Second Pledges was one of anxious waiting. The Meccans were sternly adamant, the people of Taif had rejected Muhammad, and the mission was making a slow progress. Yet hope had been engendered by its diffusion to the distant city of Yathrib. The conviction was very much there that the truth would ultimately prevail. Describing this period, Muir says:
"Mahomet, thus holding his people at bay, waiting, in the still expectation of victory, to outward appearance defenseless, and with his little band, as it were, in the lion's mouth, yet trusting in his Almighty's power whose messenger he believed himself to be, resolute and unmoved, presents a spectacle of sublimity paralleled only in the sacred records by such scenes as that of the prophet of Israel, when he complained to his Master, 'I, even I only, am left."
It was at such a time that God Almighty, in His infinite Mercy and Benevolence, bestowed upon the Prophet the unique distinction of being lifted to the furthest limit of heavens and of being shown the gorgeous splendor of the heavens and the universe:
Glory to (Him) Who took His servant for a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Furthest Mosque whose precincts We have blessed, in order that We might show him some of Our signs, for He is the Hearer and the Seer. (Qur'an, 17:1)
There has been a good deal of controversy over the question whether the Ascension (Mi'raj) was only a vision or an actual bodily journey. The majority of the traditionalists agree that it was a real physical journey, much like the bodily ascension of Jesus to heaven and the descent of Adam to earth.
The fact is that this controversy was created by Banu Umayyah whose interest in Islam was based not on faith but on politics and who did not like the idea of any miracle of the Holy Prophet gaining ground in the Muslims' minds. Their department of forgery obliged them in this respect also.
Two "traditions" from that department are repeatedly described by the Christians, the Ahmadis, and a group of the Sunnis; these are:
• 'Ayishah, wife of the Holy Prophet, is alleged to have said that during the whole night of the Ascension, the body of the Holy Prophet was on the bed.
• Mu'awiyah said that The Mi'raj was a "true dream."
Now the fact is that the Mi'raj (whatever its interpretation) took place in Mecca one or three years before the Hijrah. Bibi 'Ayishah did not enter the house of the Holy Prophet till one year after Hijrah. How could she say that she did not miss the body of the Holy Prophet at that time?
There is only one possible explanation: This "tradition" was forged by someone who did not know the sequence of Islamic history. Otherwise, he could not have attributed this "tradition" to 'Ayishah.
Mu'awiyah was such an enemy of the Holy Prophet that when 8 years after the Hijrah, Mecca was conquered without bloodshed and Abu Sufyan (father of Mu'awiyah), seeing no alternative, accepted Islam, Mu'awiyah fled to Bahrain and wrote a nasty letter to his father condemning him for his acceptance of Islam. It was not till the 9th year of Hijrah that he brought himself to profess Islam. And the Mi'raj took place 10 or 12 years before that time. How could he know what the facts of the Mi'raj were?! He does not mention his source of information, and the inference is that there was no such source.
If you want to witness how politics controlled the version of Islam professed by the Umayyads, read one more 'tradition' invented in their factory:
The king on the throne of Damascus is 'Abdul-Malik ibn Marwan. Iraq and Hijaz are in the hands of 'Abdullah ibn Zubayr. 'Abdul-Malik does not like the idea of the pilgrims of his domain being obliged to go to Mecca (which is in the enemy's hands); so, he wants to enhance the prestige of Baitul Maqdis, which lies within his domain and plans to establish "hajj" to Baitul Maqdis. As part of that plan, all previous declarations that the Mi'raj was a dream are forgotten, and a tradition is forged that the final destination of the journey of the Mi'raj was Baitul Maqdis.
Soon thereafter, 'Abdullah ibn Zubayr is defeated and Hijaz comes under Syrian control; otherwise, we would surely have seen two centers of hajj in the Muslim world!
On their return to Yathrib, the converts to the faith spread the doctrines of Islam and a large number of Yathribites became adherents to the faith. In the following year, seventy people from Yathrib, including the twelve who took the first pledge, came to the Prophet to accept Islam and to invite him to their city. They swore allegiance to him. This pledge is known as the Second Pledge of 'Aqabah. 'Abbas, uncle of the Holy Prophet, although not a Muslim yet, was present on that occasion and exhorted the Yathribites to protect the Holy Prophet.
When the Meccans learned that Islam had struck roots in Yathrib and was fast spreading there, their animosity knew no bounds. Their chiefs, such as Abu Jahl, Abu Lahab, Abu Sufyan, and 'Utbah gathered at Dar-un-Nadwa and, after rejecting suggestions to imprison or banish Muhammad, they planned to assassinate him.
And remember when the unbelievers plotted against you to imprison you, or to kill you, or to drive you out, they plotted and planned and Allah, too, planned. (Qur'an, 8:30)
In order to escape the vendetta of Banu Hashim, it was decided that every clan should provide one man, and that they should collectively assault the Prophet as soon as he came out of his house. But God had apprised His Prophet of this plan well in advance and he informed 'Ali of it, ordering him to sleep in his (Prophet's) bed. The Holy Prophet covered 'Ali with his own green sheet. When 'Ali heard that his life was to be the ransom for the Holy Prophet's, he at once prostrated before Allah to thank Him for this unique honor. It was the first sajdah of "shukr" (a prostration of gratitude) in Islam. Thus, 'Ali slept soundly on the Holy Prophet's bed as the Prophet walked out of the house under the infidels' very noses.
Coming out of the house, he recited the first few verses of the Surat Ya-Sin and threw a handful of dust over their heads. None of the enemies saw him going out.
The Holy Prophet had also ordered 'Ali to return the things which people had entrusted to him to their respective owners.
The polytheists of the Quraishite clans all the time thought that it was the Prophet who was sleeping and were anxiously waiting to kill him.
According to Usudul Ghabah of Ibn Athir Jazari, Ihya' ul 'Uloom (of Ghazali) and Tarikhul Khamis of Qadi Husain al Diyarbakri, it is learnt that when 'Ali slept in Muhammad's bed, God said to Gabriel and Michael:
"I establish brotherhood between you two and increase the life of one of you over that of the other. Having done so, I ask which of you is prepared to sacrifice his life for his brother?"
Both Gabriel and Michael heard this address from the Lord but each held his life dearer than the other's and was not prepared to help his brother by sacrificing his own life. God then addressed them again,
"Can you not be like 'Ali ibn Abi Talib? See, I created brotherhood between Muhammad and 'Ali, and now 'Ali is sleeping in Muhammad's bed determined to sacrifice his own life for his brother. Now you both go to earth and guard 'Ali from the mischief of the enemies."
Then the two nearest-to-God angels came down and took their positions near the head and the feet of 'Ali. Gabriel said:
"Hail to thee! Hail to thee! Who can be like thee, O son of Abu Talib, so that the Lord is proud of thee and exalts thy virtue before the angels?"
And so it happened. When the Prophet was on his way to Medina, God revealed to him the following verse in praise of 'Ali:
And amongst men there is one who sells his life seeking the pleasure of Allah. And Allah is most benevolent to His slaves. (Qur'an, 2:207)
The Holy Prophet went to the mountain of Thawr accompanied by Abu Bakr and hid in a cave near its summit. This place is about 5 miles from Mecca.
There are two versions as to how Abu Bakr came to accompany the Holy Prophet. One narrative says that the Holy Prophet himself went to the house of Abu Bakr and told him to accompany him.
The other narrative says that when the Holy Prophet went away, Abu Bakr came there and asked 'Ali as to where the Holy Prophet was. 'Ali told him that he had already left for Medina. Abu Bakr went out looking for the Holy Prophet. The night was dark; therefore, when he came nearer, the Holy Prophet thought that some infidel was pursuing him. He started going faster and faster, till his shoe-lace was broken and his toes were badly wounded. Then Abu Bakr called him. Recognizing his voice, the Prophet stopped. Abu Bakr caught up with him and asked permission to accompany him. Thus, they went together till they reached Thawr.
At dawn, the infidels entered the house. They were flabbergasted upon finding 'Ali in the bed instead of the Holy Prophet. At once they started looking for him, tracking him right up to the mouth of the cave. Still, they never thought of looking into the cave. Why?
As soon as the fugitives entered the cave, a spider wove cobweb at the entrance and a pair of pigeons built their nest at the mouth of the very cave in the darkness of the night and laid eggs at once. It was that cobweb and the nest with the eggs that made the blood-thirsty enemies believe that Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) could not be in that cave; otherwise, the cobweb would have been destroyed and the nest and the eggs broken! It was at this moment that they got so near to the cave that Abu Bakr started weeping, being afraid of the possible discovery. But the Prophet consoled him saying,
Grieve not; surely Allah is with us (Qur'an, 9:40).
They left Mecca on the first night of Rabi'-ul-Awwal, (corresponding to 15 or 16 July, 622 C.E.) reaching the cave of Thawr before dawn and remaining therein up to 4th of Rabi'-ul-Awwal. On the 5th, they started their journey to Medina. 'Abdullah ibn Urayqit al-Daylami was hired to show them the way. Abu Bakr offered one of his she-camels to the Holy Prophet for the journey. The Holy Prophet accepted it on the condition that Abu Bakr accepted its price. Thus, Abu Bakr sold one she-camel to the Holy Prophet for 900 dirhams.
Journeying by unfrequented routes, they safely reached Quba (2 miles south of Yathrib) on the 8th of Rabi'-ul-Awwal.
There, the Holy Prophet laid the foundation of the mosque of Quba which has been mentioned in the Qur'an as "the Mosque founded on piety." After a few days, 'Ali joined them there and they proceeded to Yathrib, entering it on Friday the 16th of Rabi' ul-Awwal with a group of followers who had come from Yathrib to welcome the Prophet. This was the Hijrah from which dates the Islamic calendar, the Hijri year.
The Prophet of Islam and his devoted band of followers had patiently endured untold hardship, tyranny and oppression for thirteen years and ultimately had to abandon their hearths and homes, sacrificing whatever worldly possessions they had. They had not wanted any worldly gains, nor had they aspired for any position of worldly eminence or share in the administration. The Prophet had unequivocally told the Meccans:
"I desire neither riches nor eminence nor dominion. I am sent by God Who has ordered me to announce glad tidings to you. I convey to you the words of my Lord. I admonish you. If you accept the message I bring you, God will be favorable to you both in this world and in the next. If you reject my admonition, I shall be patient and leave God to judge between you and me."
The early Muslims were harassed and persecuted simply because they believed in God, the Lord of the universe, and worshipped Him without ascribing to Him any partner or colleague. They had not exercised any compulsion, for the Qur'an had said:
There is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error; therefore, whoever disbelieves in the rebels (i.e. false deities) and believes in Allah, he indeed has laid hold of the strongest handle which shall not break off. (Qur'an, 2:256)
The Qur'an only appealed to the inner consciousness of man, to his reason and intellect. Nevertheless, the new religion was in sharp contrast with the cults practiced by the Quraish, which ages of observance and belief had sanctified for them. The Prophet preached equality of man and stressed the point that in righteousness alone lay the superiority of one over the other. The Quraish saw in this leveling of distinctions the end of their authority and privileges as the guardians of the Ka'bah, of their political and social hegemony, and of their vested interests at large.
The new religion placed restraints upon the promiscuous and unbridled license indulged in social intercourse. It heralded the end of licentious ways, of sensual pleasure and drunken orgies to which the Quraish were, by and large, espoused. It imposed spiritual discipline in the form of prayers, fasting and continence and frowned upon avarice, greed, slander, falsehood, indecency and other vices with which society was permeated. In short, it meant the giving up of old ways and the taking to a new life of austere piety and chastity.
The opposition of the Meccans was, therefore, sharp and violent. They relentlessly persecuted the followers of the new faith and made life so difficult for them that ultimately the Prophet and his followers had to abandon their hearths and homes for more congenial surroundings. The Prophet did not even invoke the wrath of God on them. When once he was requested by Khabbab son of Arrat to curse the Quraish, the Holy Prophet pulled him up by saying:
"People have gone by who were sawn and torn to pieces in the cause of God, but they did not desist from their duties. God will accomplish His plan till a rider will go from Sinai to Hadramaut fearing none except God."
How true was the prophecy!
Living in contact with the Jews, the Aws and the Khazraj were not foreign to the idea of the unity of God. They had heard from the Jews that a Prophet was to come. Some of their people had come into contact with the Prophet at Mecca and had been deeply impressed by Him. The deputation they had sent to Mecca had returned entirely satisfied and had accepted Islam. The disciples who had preceded the Prophet were spreading the message of Islam throughout Yathrib. Unlike the Meccans, the Yathribites had no vested interest standing in the way of their accepting the new religion. Islam had already taken roots in Yathrib thus before the Prophet arrived there on the invitation of the people of Aws and Khazraj. No wonder they gave the Prophet a tumultuous welcome at Yathrib.
The name of the city was then changed to Madinat-un-Nabi, the City of the Prophet. Islam effaced the age-long enmity between the tribes of Aws and Khazraj.and they were given the honorific designation of "Ansar" (helpers or supporters). The emigrants, forty-five in number, were called "Muhajirun" (exiles). The construction of a mosque, Masjid-un-Nabi (mosque of the Prophet), was now underway, and the Prophet worked at it like any other laborer. Soon, a simple, unostentatious mosque with walls of unbaked bricks, with trunks of palm trees as pillars, and a thatch of palm leaves was built with a few adjoining rooms of similar material. On the completion of these rooms, the Prophet, who meanwhile was living with Abu Ayyub, moved into one of them.
The doors of the houses of some of the companions opened into the mosque (Masjid-un-Nabi). The Prophet ordered the doors of all of them except that of 'Ali to be closed. The companions raised some objections against this order. The Prophet, thereupon, stood up and addressed them. Having praised Allah, he said:
"In accordance with the decree of Allah, I ordered you to close the doors and 'Ali to keep his open. Your wrangling is undesirable. Neither did I open nor close any door of my own accord. I only acted as I was ordered by Allah."
The Muhajirun needed some meaningful relief. To ensure their economic security and also to establish brotherly ties between them and the Ansar, the Prophet joined each Muhajir with an Ansar in a tie of "Brotherhood" that became even more precious and enduring than the bond of blood relationship. The Ansar volunteered to share half and half with their contractual brothers everything they earned or possessed. It is to this unification of interests that the Qur'an refers in the following passage:
Surely those who believed and migrated and strived hard in the way of Allah with their property and souls, and those who sheltered and helped them, these are indeed friends (and protectors) of one another. (Qur'an, 8:72)
The Muhajirun were anxious not to remain a burden on their brothers. Soon, many of them settled down to trade and do business. In the course of time, they were rehabilitated, and within a few years, they were no longer in need of any financial support. It was then that the following verse was revealed:
And the possessors of relationships are nearer to each other. (Qur'an, 8:75)
In Medina, Islam had at first to face serious difficulties. Danger threatened it from all sides, and it had to fight against great odds for mere survival. Some of the battles forced on it were inspired by political motives, others were the result of direct opposition to the new faith and the desperate efforts which its enemies exerted to put it down before it firmly established itself. Other difficulties were added by the predatory and warlike habits of the nomadic tribes hovering round the city and the insecurity and lawlessness prevailing in the country at large. It may be a good idea, therefore, to analyze and understand the political conditions of Arabia at this time.
The Arabs belonged to one ethnic race, but history does not record that they were ever united as one nation. They were divided into tribes and clans, each having its own chief or chieftain. They, no doubt, spoke the same language, but each tribe followed a different dialectal variation. Indeed, even religion was not a binding force. Almost every house had its own god; tribes had their own supreme deities.
In the south were the small principalities of Himyar, Awza and Aqyal. In the middle and northern Arabia lived the tribes of Bakr, Taghlib, Shaiban, Azd, Qudha'ah, Khandaf, Lakhm, Juzam, Banu Hanifa, Tay, Asad, Hawazin, Ghatfan, and Aws, Khazraj, Thaqif, Quraish and others; they were frequently engaged in intensive warfare. Bakr and Taghlib had been fighting each other for forty years.
Blood engagements had ruined many a tribe of Hadhramaut. Aws and Khazraj had exhausted themselves through a protracted war, and the Battle of Fijar between the Banu Qais and Quraish had not yet ended. If any member of a tribe was killed, the tribe considered itself duty bound to seek revenge not merely upon the murderer but also on the tribe to which he belonged. Since there was no effective machinery to settle such disputes, this invariably touched off furious wars, which lasted for generations.
Tribal might, dash and alacrity, were the only guarantee of a precarious security. The desert and the hills were the home of fierce nomadic tribes who lived largely on plunder and depredation, but trade was also a major source of livelihood for them. Only a few months of the year were regarded as sacred. It was only then that bloodshed was stopped in order to facilitate the performance of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca or to do trade at Ukaz. But even this convention was at times relaxed to suit the convenience of individual tribes. Only the precincts of the Ka'bah were considered sacred and were free from bloodshed. It is to this state of affairs that the Qur'an has drawn attention:
Do they not see that we have made a sacred territory secure for them, while men are carried off by force all around them? (Qur'an, 29:67)
The conditions in the country were so insecure that even till 5 A.H., the powerful tribe of Abdul-Qais of Bahrain could not think of going to Hijaz outside the sacred months. Even the caravans going to or returning from Syria were sometimes plundered in open daylight.
Muslims' pasturelands were at times raided. Although conditions had considerably improved by then, the route to Mecca from Medina was not altogether safe until the fall of Mecca.
While the country was so strife-ridden internally, dangers from outside were no less. The Roman and Persian empires had extended their domain to the fertile provinces of Yemen, Oman and Bahrain and had established their sovereignty over them. The Romans had occupied Syria. Ghassan and some other Arab tribes, who had embraced Christianity, had been set up as the latter's feudatories.
The Romans had expelled the Jews from Syria and Palestine in the second Century B.C. These Jews had migrated to Medina and its suburbs and built strong fortresses at Medina, Khaibar, Taima, Fadak and other places. Prospering themselves, the Jews were extremely jealous of prosperity in other races and strongly resented rivalry in trade business. They believed themselves to be God's "chosen people" and their conduct was characterized by pride and arrogance intensified by the feeling of being secure inside their formidable fortresses.
It was during such times that the Prophet started his great Mission. For preparing the ground and the proper climate, the first step that he took was to unite the Ansar and the Muhajirun.
The Holy Prophet not only welded the Ansar and the Muhajirun into one Brotherhood, but he set himself to the task of establishing a stable society, a commonwealth based on equality of rights and on the concept of universal humanity. Granting equality of status and rights as well as full freedom of religion and of conscience to the Jews, he invited them to enter into a pact with the Muslims. He drew up a charter, which has been reproduced by the historian Ibn Hisham thus:
In the name of the Most Merciful and the Compassionate God. Granted by Mohammed, the Prophet, to the Believers, whether of Quraish or of Yathrib, and all individuals of whatever origin who have made common cause with them, all these shall constitute one nation.
Then, after regulating the payment of the diyah (blood money) by the various clans and fixing some wise rules regarding the private duties of Muslims among themselves, the document proceeds thus:
The state of peace and war shall be common to all Muslims; none among them shall have the right of concluding peace with, or declaring war against, the enemies of his co-religionists. The Jews who enter into this covenant shall be protected from all insults and vexations; they shall have an equal right with our own people to our assistance and good offices. The Jews of the various branches of 'Awf, Najjar, Harith, Jashm, Tha'labah, Aws, and all others domiciled in Yathrib shall form with the Muslims one composite nation.
They shall practice their religion as freely as the Muslims. The clients and allies of the Jews shall enjoy the same security and freedom. The guilty shall be pursued and punished. The Jews shall join the Muslims in defending Yathrib (Medina) against all enemies. The interior of Yathrib shall be a sacred place for all those who accept this Charter. The clients and allies of the Muslims and of the Jews shall be as respected as the principals. All Muslims shall hold in abhorrence anyone found guilty of a crime, injustice, or disorder. None shall uphold the culpable, even if he may be his nearest in kinship.
Then, after some other provisions regarding the internal management of the State, this extraordinary document concluded thus:
All future disputes between those who accept this Charter shall be finally referred, after God, to the Prophet.
The Jews of Medina accepted this Pact. After some time, the neighboring Jewish tribes of Banu Nadhir and Banu Quraizah joined it, too. But, as later events proved, it was only expediency that had dictated this course of action to the Jews. There was no change of heart on their part and they secretly nursed the same hostile feelings against the Aws and the Khazraj as before and viewed the growing confederation of the Muslims with grave concern and animosity. In the course of time, they started taunting and abusing the Muslims, frequently quarrelling with them and resorting to treachery and sedition. Some people of the Aws and the Khazraj who had become lukewarm converts assisted them: the Munafiqun (hypocrites). These were headed by 'Abdullah ibn Ubay who had his own designs to become the ruler of Medina and, together with the Jews, they became a constant source of danger to the newborn religion and to its adherents.
The Jews, who had business connections with the Quraish of Mecca, conspired with them to eradicate the infant religion before it assumed formidable proportions. As the head of the religion, and "a general in a time of almost continual warfare," Muhammad was the guardian of the lives and liberty of the people. The very existence of the nascent religion was in serious peril. Islam preaches the brotherhood of mankind; it insists upon toleration of all religions and creeds; it enjoins kindness and compassion, but it does not preach monasticism, nor does it permit its followers to submit to the forces of disintegration.
Being in league with the Jews and the Munafiqun, the Meccans started harassing the Muslims. Under the leadership of Karz ibn Jabir al-Fahri, they started raiding up to the very outskirts of Medina, destroying fruit-bearing trees and carrying away flocks. News began pouring into Medina that the Meccans were allying with other tribes to launch a massive attack against the Muslims. Muhammad sent out small missions to these tribes to contract alliances and treaties. One of them entered into a treaty with the Banu Zamra. The terms of the treaty were as follows:
This is the document of Muhammad, Messenger of God, for Banu Zamra. Their lives and property are safe. If they are attacked by anyone, they will be assisted except when they themselves fight against the religion. In return, they will come to the help of the Prophet when called upon by him.
A similar pact was made with the Banu Madlaj at Dhul'Ashirah. The Quraish had sent a threatening letter to 'Abdullah ibn Ubay who was the chief of his tribe before the arrival of the Prophet:
"You have given shelter to our man (Muhammad). You should either kill him or turn him out of Medina or else we swear that we will attack you and, killing all the males, we will capture and enjoy your women."
The attack was considered so imminent, and the small band of Muslims was in such peril, that the Prophet used to remain awake throughout the night. Al-Darmi and al-Hakim have recorded that: "When the Prophet and his companions came to Medina and the Ansars sheltered them, the Arabs decided to attack them. The Prophet's companions used to sleep holding to their weapons."
The Quraishites were extremely furious about Muhammad (s.a.w.) slipping away from their hands, having made all preparations to kill him. The news that Islam was rapidly gaining hold in Medina did nothing to pacify their rage and enmity. Several times news reached Medina that they were planning to attack the Muslims. As a result, the Holy Prophet had to send out reconnoitering parties now and then to find out the designs and movements of the Quraish and to watch the routes to prevent any sudden attack.
Once, thirty Muslims (under the command of Hamza, the Holy Prophet's uncle) met a party of 300 riders (under the command of Abu Jahl) at Saiful-Bahr. The Meccans were eager to massacre the small group; of thirty, but Majd ibn 'Amr al-Juhni (who had a covenant with both groups) prevailed upon both groups and convinced them to go back to their respective places. Thus, a battle was averted.
Some time later, a patrolling party of 60 or 80 Muslims, under the command of 'Ubaidah ibn Harith (a cousin of the Holy Prophet) reached Rabigh and found 200 riders of Quraish under the command of 'Ikrimah ibn Abu Jahl or Mukriz ibn Hafs. The Quraishites started the battle with their bows and arrows. Then, someone thought that the Muslims could not come with such a small force to face a group of warriors so superior in number unless they had a great army hidden somewhere. This idea spread, and they fled away.
A small party of twelve persons under the command of 'Abdullah ibn Jahsh (a cousin of the Prophet) was dispatched to Nakhlah, a spot between Taif and Mecca, with sealed orders to be opened after two days' journey a precaution against espionage which was rife. The letter, as quoted by al-Tabari on page 1275 of his Tarikh, stated:
"Stay at Nakhlah; gather information about the designs of Quraish and communicate."
It was only incidentally that the party met some Meccan traders and that one of them, 'Amr ibn al-Hadhrami, was killed at the hands of 'Abdullah. History has not recorded what altercation ensued between the two parties and which provoked the other. Whatever the immediate cause might have been, 'Abdullah had acted beyond his instructions, and this incident aggravated the situation. Except for this isolated incident, in none of the numerous expeditions listed by Arab historians as saraya was there any skirmish or a question of looting and plundering. They were sent out either to make alliances with neighboring tribes, or they were reconnaissance patrols, for news was reaching Medina that, the Meccans might strike any day.