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Persecution of Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) by Quraysh

By: Ayatullah Ja'far Subhani
One of the most tragic periods of the life of the Holy Prophet began on the day on which he broke the seal of silence and the elders of Quraysh lost all hope of his accepting their offers in view of his well-known words: "By Allah! Even if you place the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left hand so that I may abandon my call, I will not rest until Allah makes my religion prevail or I lay down my life for its sake". Till that time Quraysh had, during all their encounters with him, preserved his respect, but when they saw that all their conciliation offers had failed they were compelled to change the course of their thinking and to forestall the expansion of Islam at all costs and to utilize all means for this purpose. Hence the council of Quraysh decided unanimously to practice ridicule, torture and intimidation to restrain the Prophet from pursuing his object.
It is evident that a reformer who is anxious to guide the people of the whole world must observe patience and fortitude in the face of inconveniences, intimidations, dastardly attacks and corporal and mental blows, so that by and by he should be able to overcome difficulties, and this has been the policy of other reformers as well. We give below an account of some of the persecutions and tortures of Quraysh so that the extent of the Holy Prophet's patience and fortitude may become manifest.
Besides the mental and spiritual factor (faith, steadfastness and fortitude) which helped him internally the Prophet also possessed an external factor which ensured safety and support for him, and that was the support of Bani Hashim with Abu Talib at their head, because when Abu Talib came to know that Quraysh had taken a final and irrevocable decision to persecute his nephew, he called all the members of Bani Hashim and asked them to protect Muhammad. Some of them undertook to support and protect him on account of their faith and others agreed to do so in view of the bond of kinship. Out of them only three (namely Abu Lahab and two others whose names will be mentioned later along with other enemies of the Prophet refrained from endorsing his decision. However, in spite of this, these defensive measures could not protect him from some unpleasant incidents and as and when the enemies found him alone they did not desist from doing him all sorts of harm. Here is an example of the tortures inflicted by Quraysh:
1. One day Abu Jahl saw the Prophet in Safa and abused and grieved him. The Prophet did not speak to him at all and went away to his house. Abu Jahl also went to join Quraysh who had assembled by the side of the Ka'bah. Hamzah, who was the uncle and foster-brother of the Prophet, also returned on that day from hunting and was carrying his bow on his shoulder. It was customary with him that after returning to Makkah and before seeing his children and relatives, he went to the Ka'bah and performed 'tawaf' (circumambulation) and then went over to the different groups of Quraysh who gathered round the Ka'bah and exchanged greetings with them.
On that day, after performing these ceremonies, he went to his house. By chance a slave-girl of Abdullah Jad'an, who had witnessed the aforesaid incident, came forward and said "O Abu 'Ammarah, (the patronymic of Hamzah) I wish that you had been here a few minutes earlier and had seen the incident which I have seen! Then you would have learnt how Abu Jahl has abused and persecuted your nephew". The words of the slave-girl made a strange impression on Hamzah and he decided to avenge his nephew's insult upon Abu Jahl before doing anything else. He, therefore, returned and saw Abu Jahl sitting amongst a group of Quraysh. Without speaking to anyone he raised his hunting bow and struck it on the head of Abu Jahl and his skull was injured. Then he said to him: "You abuse him (the Prophet) and I have embraced his religion and am treading the same path which he treads. If you possess any strength, come on and fight with me".
A group of persons belonging to the family of Makhzum then stood up to support Abu Jahl. However, as he was a clever and diplomatic person, he avoided every sort of quarrel and defence and said "I misbehaved with Muhammad, and Hamzah is entitled to feel uneasy about it". [151]
This admitted historical fact shows that Hamzah, who later became one of the greatest commanders of Islam was a highly influential and brave personality. He did all he could to protect and defend the Holy Prophet and strengthen the group of Muslims. As Ibn Athir says,[152] Quraysh considered the Islam of Hamzah to be one of the greatest factors for the advancement and strength of the Muslims and they, therefore, resorted to other plans which will be mentioned later.
Some Sunni historians like Ibn Kathir Shami insist that
: "The effect of the Islam of Abu Bakr and Umar was no lesser than the effect of the Islam of Hamzah, and the Islam of these two great caliphs became the means of the glory, strength and freedom of the Muslims''.[153] Of course, there is no doubt about the fact that every person contributed to the strength and expansion of Islam, but, in spite of this, it can never be said that the effect of the Islam of these two caliphs was at par with the effect of the Islam of Hamzah. The reason for this conclusion is that Hamzah was the man who, on hearing that an elder of Quraysh had abused the Holy Prophet, went in quest of the culprit without informing anybody of his intention and took a very hard revenge on him. And none had the courage to oppose him or to fight with him. On the other hand Ibn Hisham, the great biographer of Islam, narrates an incident with regard to Abu Bakr which shows that when he joined the circle of the Muslims he did not possess the requisite strength to defend either himself or the Holy Prophet. [154] The details of the incident are given below:
One day the Prophet was passing by a group of Quraysh. Suddenly those people encircled him and everyone of them began repeating, by way of ridicule, his words about the idols and the Day of Judgement and said: "Do you say this?" The Prophet replied to them: "Yes. I am the person who says this".
As Quraysh saw that there was none to defend the Holy Prophet they decided to kill him. A man, therefore, came forward and held the ends of his dress. Abu Bakr happened to be there by the side of the Prophet. With tears in his eyes he stood up to support the Prophet and said: "Is it proper that you should kill a man who believes in monotheism?" Later (for some reasons) those people desisted from maltreating the Prophet and he went his own way, whereas Abu Bakr proceeded to his own house with an injured head.
Although this incident may be an evidence of the Caliph's sentiments for and interest in the Prophet it is, first of all, a firm evidence of his weakness and fear. It shows that at that time he did not possess either strength or an appreciable social status. And as a practical step by Quraysh against the Prophet might have entailed evil consequences, they left him alone and directed the severity of their action towards his companion and broke his head. If you place the incident of Hamzah which clearly shows his valour and bravery side by side with this episode you can very well decide as to whose Islam had a greater effect in the early days of Islam on the honour, strength and fear of the unbelievers.
You will soon read about the Islam of Umar. His Islam also, like that of his old friend, did not strengthen the defensive power of the Muslims. But for 'As bin Wai'l it was possible that the blood of the Caliph might have been shed on the day he embraced Islam, because he ('As bin Wai'l) came and addressed the group, who wanted to kill Umar, in these words: "What do you want from a man who has adopted a faith for himself? Do you think that the family of Adi will surrender him easily?" This sentence shows that it was the fear of his family which made others spare him and defence by the families of those who belonged to them was something natural and usual and there was no difference in this regard between the low and the high.
Yes! The base of defence of the Muslims was the house of Bani Hashim and the heavy burden of the task lay on the shoulders of Abu Talib and his family, for, as regards other persons who joined the Muslims they did not possess the requisite strength even to defend themselves, and the question of their Islam becoming the source of the dignity and exaltation of the Muslims did not, therefore, arise.

The ever-increasing advancement of Islam had made Quraysh very much uneasy. Every day a report regarding the inclination (to Islam) of one member or another of their tribe reached them. On this account, therefore, their anger was flaming out. One day the Pharaoh of Makkah, Abu Jahl, said in the assembly of Quraysh: "O people of Quraysh! You can see how Muhammad considers our religion to be worthless and abuses the faith of our forefathers and their gods, and declares us to be ignorant. By God I will lie in ambush for him tomorrow and will place a stone by my side; and when Muhammad goes into sajdah (prostration) I will strike that stone on his head. On the following day the Holy Prophet arrived in Masjidul Haram to offer his prayers and stood between 'Rukn-i Yamani' and the 'Black Stone'. A group of Quraysh who were aware of the intention of Abu Jahl were wondering whether or not he would succeed in his campaign. The Holy Prophet went into sajdah and his old enemy came out of the ambush and approached him. However, it was not long before he was struck with awe and he returned to Quraysh, trembling, and aghast, with a countenance distracted. All of them ran forward and said "O Aba Hakam! what has happened?" He said with a very weak voice which betrayed his fear and disturbance of mind "There appeared before my eyes a scene which I had never seen before in my life. It was for this reason that I abandoned my plan".
It goes without saying that an unseen force had arisen by the command of Allah and had created a spectacle which protected the Prophet of Islam from harm by the enemies in accordance with the Divine promise: "We shall protect you from the mischief of those who mock".
Numerous instances of torture by Quraysh are recorded in the pages of history. Ibn Athir has allocated a chapter to this subject and has mentioned the names of the foremost enemies of the Prophet in Makkah and the atrocities perpetrated by them. [155] Whatever has been said above is only a specimen. The Prophet found himself faced every day by a new persecution. For example, one day 'Uqbah bin Abi Mu'it saw the Prophet performing 'Tawaf' and abused him. He twisted his turban round his neck and dragged him out of the Masjid. Some persons freed the Prophet from his hands on account of fear of Bani Hashim. [156]
The torture and persecution to which the Holy Prophet was subjected by his uncle, Abu Lahab and his wife, Umme Jamil was unprecedented. He happened to be a next-door neighbour of theirs. They did not refrain from throwing any sort of dirt on him, and one day they threw the entrails of a sheep on his head. Eventually Hamzah, with a view to take revenge, thrust the same on the head of Abu Lahab.
[146] Instead of ringing a bell of danger the Arabs use these words and generally begin alarming reports with them.
[147] Ibn Hisham has mentioned the names and particulars of these person in his 'Seerah'.
[148] Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol. X, page 265.
[149] Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol. I, pp. 265-266.
[150] Tarikh-i Tabari, vol. II, pp. 66,67; Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol. I. pp. 295,296
[151] Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol. I, p. 313 and Tarikh-i Tabari, vol. II, p. 72.
[152] Tarikh-i Kamil, vol. II, page 59.
[153] al-Bidayah wan Nihayah, vol. III, page 26.
[154] Seerah, page 311. Tabari has quoted the entire incident in his history vol. II page 72, except that the head of the Caliph was injured.
[155] Tarikh-i Kamil, vol. II, page 47.
[156] Biharul Anwar, vol. XVIII, page 204.

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