The Beginning of the Prophetic Mission (Bi‘tha)
Compiled by: Ahmad Ahmadi Birjandi
Muhammad al-Amin (S) was engaged in worship and supplication to the Lord of the worlds in Hira’ before the night of Rajab 27, having true and dreams just like real world. His great soul was gradually getting ready to receive the Revelation. At that magnificent night, Gabriel, the angel of Revelation, was appointed to read some of the Qur’an to Muhammad (S) and to honor him with Prophethood.
Muhammad (S) was forty at this time, when, in silence and solitude and totally absorbed in the Beloved Creator of the world, was demanded by Gabriel to recite these verses: ﴾Read! In the name of your Lord, who created; created man from a clinging mass. Read, and your Lord is the Most Generous, Who taught by the pen, taught man what he did not know.﴿ Al-Qur’an, 96: 1-5.
Being unlettered, Muhammad (S) said: I am not able to read. The angel enforced him to read the Tablet. But to this he gave a similar response. The third time, he felt he could read the Tablet in Gabriel's hand. These verses commenced his arduous and toilsome mission. Gabriel had carried out his task as Muhammad (S) descended Mount Hira’ and went to Khadija's house. There, he related his story to his kind wife.
Khadija found out that Muhammad (S)'s great mission had started. She comforted and encouraged him. “Undoubtedly the compassionate God would not allow evil on you because you are kind to your family and relatives, you help the poor, and assist the oppressed”, she added.
Then Muhammad (S) said: “Cover me!” Khadija covered him. He fell asleep for a while.
Khadija went to her cousin, Waraqat b. Nawfal, who was one of the learned Arabs, and told him the incident. The man said: What has befallen Muhammad (S) is the beginning of his Prophethood and the great honor of the Message.
Khadija returned home, confidant and assured.
The First Muslims
The Prophet (S) started the call to Islam from his own home. First, his wife, Khadija, and his cousin, ‘Ali acknowledged their faith in Muhammad (S). The first calls were totally secret.
Muhammad (S) and several of his companions said their prayers in remote and secluded places out of people's sight. One day Sa‘d b. Abi Waqqas was saying prayers together with some other Muslims in a valley outside Mecca. A group of idolaters saw them venerating their Creator. They began to ridicule and persecute them. The Muslims, however, set to defend themselves.
After three years, during which the Muslims were engaged in worshipping and calling people to Islam along with their Holy Prophet, a Divine command descended: (So proclaim what you have been commanded, and turn away from the polytheists.﴿ Al-Qur’an, 15: 94.
Thus, the Prophet (S) was urged to reveal his call. For this purpose he was ordered to begin with his nearest kinsfolk and close relatives through this Divine command: ﴾Warn the nearest of your kinsfolk.﴿ Al-Qur’an, 26: 214.
When this command was given, the Prophet (S) ordered ‘Ali, who was around 15, to prepare a meal and invite the household of ‘Abd al-Muttalib so that the Prophet (S) would announce his call to them.
In this meeting about forty people, including Hamza, Abu Talib, and Abu Lahab, participated. Abu Lahab, whose heart was filled with hatred and jealousy, however, upset the gathering with his absurd and sarcastic remarks. The Prophet (S) deemed it advisable to repeat the call the next day.
When the people had their meals, the Holy Prophet began his words with the name of God, adoring Him and professing His Oneness: “…Verily no guide of a community tells lies to his kin. I swear by God Who is Unique and there is no god but Him that I am His Messenger to you and to the people of the world. My kinsmen! You die just as you go to sleep and as you wake up you are restored to life on the Day of Judgment and will see the outcome of your acts and deeds.
The everlasting paradise of God and eternal Hell are prepared respectively for the righteous and the wrongdoers. Nobody has ever brought better for their kin than what I have brought to you. I have brought to you the good of this world and the next. I am appointed by God to call you to Him. Anyone of you who supports me will be my brother, trustee (wasi) and successor”.
When the Prophet's words ended, silence prevailed over the whole session. Everybody was deep in thought. Finally, ‘Ali (as), then a fifteen-year-old youth, stood up and said: “O Prophet of God! I am ready to support you.” The Messenger of Allah beckoned him to sit down. He repeated his words three times, and each time ‘Ali (as) would stand up. Then, the Prophet (S) addressed his kinsmen and said: “This young man (‘Ali) is my brother, wasi, and successor among you. Listen to his words and follow him.”
When the meeting was over, Abu Lahab and some others told Abu Talib, ‘Ali's father: “You see! Muhammad ordered you to follow your own son. He chose him your superior!”
It was evident from the very beginning of the prophet (S)'s call that these high-ranking Divine positions, i.e. Prophethood and Imamate (wasaya and wilaya) were not separate; it was also evident that ‘Ali's spiritual power and his faith and knowledge of Prophethood were so high that he, unhesitatingly and regardless of all the problems, declared his support for the Prophet (S) in a session attended by Arab chieftains.
General Call to Islam
Three years had passed the Prophetic Mission when, after calling his kinsmen to Islam, the Prophet (S) declared his Prophethood to the public. One day he climbed up the mountain of Safa and called out loudly; Ya Sabaha! (An expression used for warning and summoning.) Some tribesmen hastened towards the Prophet (S). Then, the Prophet (S) addressed the people as follows: “O people! If I tell you that your enemies are lying in ambush behind this mountain aiming to assault on your lives and property, will you believe me?”
They all replied: “We haven't heard a lie from you so far.” “O people! Save yourselves from the Hell Fire,” he continued.
I alarm you of God's painful punishment. Like a sentinel seeing the enemy in the distance and warning his folks of the danger, I too warn you of the hazards of the Judgment Day torments.”
People became more aware of the Prophet's (S) great mission. Here again, however, Abu Lahab responded light-mindedly to the critical issue of Prophetic Mission.
As soon as the Prophetic Mission was publicly announced, many people's stance towards Muhammad (S) changed. Those who had pretended to like him began to persecute and harass him.
Those who were pioneers in accepting his call to Islam were the ones who knew him well, and believed in righteousness of his deeds and words. Apart from Khadija, ‘Ali, and Zayd (Haratha's son) – who was a liberated slave by the Holy Prophet (S) – others who were pioneers in faith like Ja‘far (Abu Talib's son), Abu Dhar Gaffari, ‘Amr b. ‘Abasa, Khalid b. Sa‘id, Abu Bakr, etc., would spare no time in making the youth of Mecca aware and encouraging them to become Muslims. Balal, Yasir and his wife (Sumayya), Khabab, Arqam, Talha, Zubayr, Othman, Sa‘d, etc., were among the early Muslims. Altogether, the number of Muhammad (S)'s followers within the first three years amounted to twenty people.
Persecution by the Opponents
Little by little the differences deepened. Those who had converted to Islam tried to summon idolaters to the One God. On the other hand, idolaters who saw their interests and their dominance over a bunch of people who were more ignorant than themselves as jeopardized attempted to persecute Muslims, forcing them to give up their new religion. Muslims, and above all the Holy Prophet (S) himself, were harassed by the idolaters.
Once, as the Prophet (S) was saying prayers in Ka'ba holding down his head, Abu Jahl – a stubborn enemy of Islam – emptied the content of a sacrificed camel's tripe over the Holy Prophet (S)'s neck. Since the Prophet (S) used to leave his house very early for morning prayers, some people put thorny bushes on his way to scratch his feet in the dark.
Sometimes, the infidels would throw dust and stones at him. One day, a number of Quraysh nobles assaulted the Prophet (S) and one of them called ‘Aqabat b. Abi Mu‘it threw a piece of cloth around the neck of the Prophet (S) and tied it so tight that the Prophet (S) was about to pass away. Such persecutions took place time and again.
As Islam became more and more widespread among people, the idolaters intensified their harassment and plotting. Muslim youth were persecuted by their infidel fathers and brothers. The truth-seeking youth who had abandoned their fathers' false and superstitious beliefs and had converted to Islam were thrown into jails, and even their own parents refused to give them food.
These faithful Muslims, however, went on worshipping God even though their lips were parched due to hunger and thirst, and their eyes were sunken and tearful. The infidels clothed the slaves in coats of mail and threw them on the hot sand in the scorching sunshine to burn their skin. They burned some of them with a hot iron bar, and tied a rope on some other's legs and pulled them on the burning pebbles.
Balal was an Abyssinian slave, whose master would in the burning heat of the midday sun throw him on the ground and put large boulders on his chest. Balal, however, would tolerate those persecutions. Repeatedly saying the One, the One, and remembering the One God.
Yasir, ‘Ammar's father, was tied with rope to two strong camels moving in opposite directions till his body was torn apart. Sumayya, ‘Ammar's mother, too was very painfully martyred. But, in spite of all the tortures, the pure-minded Muslims lovingly risked their lives almost to death, and didn't give up their faith in the One God.
Idolater's Confrontation with Muhammad (SAWA)
Failing to achieve their goals through persecutions, the infidels started by way of threatening and allurement, since Muhammad (S) became more and more popular with all the tribes and people of the land, and found more and more followers.
The infidels first decided to have a meeting with Abu Talib, Muhammad (S)'s uncle, and his only supporter. At the meeting, they addressed him and said: “Abu Talib! You are superior to us by nobility and age. Your nephew insults our gods and speaks ill about us and our fathers’ religion and regards our beliefs as mean and worthless. Tell him to stop doing such things, not insulting our idols. Otherwise, leave him to us and withdraw your protection from him”.
When the Quraysh infidels felt that Islam was penetrating into tribes and among people, and the verses of the Qur’an were winning people's hearts and influencing them, they were more and more alarmed. Hence, to prevent that danger, they visited Abu Talib, the head of the Quraysh and the chief of Banu Hashim now and again, and each time Abu Talib talked to them gently and considerately, and promised to report their message to his nephew. Nevertheless, the Great Prophet of Islam replied to his uncle: “Dear uncle, I swear by God if they placed the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left hand to make me give up the religion of God and its propagation, I would not accept. I should either achieve my goal, i.e., the spread of Islam, or sacrifice myself for it.”
Abu Talib said to his nephew: “By God, I will not withdraw my support from you. Go on and carry out your mission.”
Finally, the haughty Meccans in their illusions came up with allurement sending a message that they were ready to provide Muhammad (S) with whatever he wished, like wealth, kingship, and beautiful women, provided that he abandoned his new religion and gave up affronting their idols.
The Prophet (S), however, ignored their proposals which originated from thoughts worthy of themselves, and asked them to believe in Allah to attain mastery over Arabs and non-Arabs.
Being narrow-minded, they failed to accept worshipping the One God instead of 360 idols.
Thenceforth as mentioned before, Abu Jahl and others began to maltreat and persecute the Holy Prophet (S) and other Muslims, using whatever they had at their disposal to ridicule and harass the Prophet (S) and the believers in Islam.