Towards Muhammad’s forty-fourth year he clearly and unequivocally asserted that he was ordained a prophet with a commission to the people of Arabia, reciting his warnings and exhortations as messages that emanated direct from Allah, and himself implicitly believing (to all outward appearance) the inspiration and mission to be divine. We find him already surrounded by a little band of followers, all animated by ardent devotion to his person and earnest belief in Allah as his guide and inspirer.
It is strongly corroborative of Muhammad’s sincerity that the earliest converts to Islam were his bosom friends and the people of his household; who, intimately acquainted with his private life, could not fail otherwise to have detected those discrepancies which more or less invariably exist between the professions of the hypocritical deceiver abroad and his actions at home.
Khadijah: the faithful Khadijah was probably the first convert to his doctrines. This lightened the burden of Muhammad for when he heard nothing but rejection by the people, he had recourse unto her, and she comforted, reassured, and supported him.’
Zaid: the former slave and now a free man was the adopted son and intimate friend of Muhammad. It is probable that he lived in close connection with his family, if not actually a member of it. He, too, was one of the earliest believers.
Ali: his cousin was now thirteen or fourteen years of age and had already given tokens of the wisdom and judgement which distinguished him later. Though possessed with great courage, he was meditative and reserved, and lacked the stirring energy which would have rendered him an effective propagator of Islam. He grew up from a child in the faith of Muhammad, and his earliest associations strengthened the convictions of maturer years. It is said that as Muhammad was once engaged with the lad in prayer, in a glen near Mecca where they had retired to avoid the jeers of their neighbours, Abu Talib chanced to pass by, and said:’ My nephew! What is this new faith I see thee following? ‘O my Uncle’ replied Muhammad, ‘this is the religion of Allah, and of his angels, and of his prophets; the religion of Abraham. The Lord hath sent me as an Apostle unto his servants ; and thou, my uncle, art the most worthy of all that I should address my invitation unto, and the most worthy to assist the Prophet of the Lord.’ Abu Talib replied: ‘I am not able, my nephew, to separate from the religion and the customs of my fore-fathers, but I swear that so long as I live no one shall dare to trouble thee.’ Then, turning to his son, the little Ali, who professed a similar faith and the resolution to follow Muhammad, he said: ‘Well, my son he will not call thee to aught but that which is good; wherefore thou art free to cleave unto him.’
Waraqa: to the family group it is hardly necessary to add the aged cousin of Khadijah, Waraqa, whose profession of Christianity and support of Muhammad are recorded in tradition. It is generally agreed that he died before Muhammad entered upon his public ministry.
Abu Bakr: In the little circle there was one belonging to another branch of the Qurraish, who, after Khadijah, may claim precedence in the profession of Islam. Abu Bakr had long been the friend of Muhammad and with him probably lamented the gross darkness of Mecca, and sought after a better faith. He lived in the same quarter of the city as Khadijah. When Muhammad moved into the area their friendship became stronger. Ayesha his daughter (born about this period, and destined while yet a girl to be the Prophet’s bride) could not remember the time when both her parents were not true believers and when Muhammad did not daily visit her father’s house morning and evening. The character and appearance of this chief of Islam demands detailed description. Abu Bakr was about two years younger than Muhammad; short in stature, and of a small frame. Shrewd and intelligent, yet he lacked the originality of genius; his nature was mild and sympathetic but not incapable of firm purpose when important interests required. Impulse and passion rarely prompted his actions; he was guided by reason and calm conviction. Faithful and unvarying in his attachment to the Prophet, he was known as Al Siddiq, ’the True’. (His proper name was Abdallah son of Othman Abu Cahafa). It is not clear when he obtained the name of Abu Bakr. If, as appears probable, it was given him because his daughter Ayesha was Muhammad’s only virgin bride, then it must have been after the emigration to Medina. He was also styled ‘the Sighing,’ from his tender and compassionate heart. Abu Bakr was a diligent and successful merchant, and being frugal and simple in his habits, possessed at his conversion about 40,000 dirhems. The greater part of his fortune was now devoted to the purchase of unfortunate slaves who were persecuted for their attachment to the new faith; so that but 5,000 dirhems were left when, ten or twelve years after, he emigrated with the Prophet to Medina. Abu Bakr was unusually familiar with the history of the Qurraish, and was often referred to for genealogical information and he was popular throughout the city.
Sa’d: was converted through the influence and example of Abu Bakr. He was the son of Abu Waqqas and converted in his sixteenth or seventeenth year. He was the nephew of Amina, the mother of Muhammad. He pursued the trade of manufacturing arrows and is renowned as the first who shot an arrow on the side of Islam.
Zubair: was probably younger than Sa’d and was the nephew of Khadijah, and the son of Muhammad’s aunt Safia. He was a butcher and his father a grain merchant or as others have it, a tailor. He became a distinguished leader and warrior. He too was influenced by Abu Bakr.
Talha: another youth became a renowned warrior and was related to Abu Bakr.
Uthman son of Affan: successor of Umar in the Caliphate though of the Umayyad stock, was on his mother’s side a grandson of Abd al Muttalib. Muhammad gave his daughter Rockeya in marriage, after she was free from her connection with Otba (son of the hostile Abu Lahab), and she continued to be his wife until her death some ten or twelve years afterwards. Uthman was at this period between thirty and forty years of age.
Abd al Rahman: was ten years younger than Muhammad and was a of man of wealth and character. Like Uthman, Talha and Abu Bakr they were merchants.
Converted slaves: of the slaves ransomed by Abu Bakr from persecution, the foremost is Bilal, the son of an Abyssinian slave-girl. He was tall, dark, and gaunt, with Negro features and bushy hair. Muhammad distinguished him as ‘the first fruits of Abyssinia’; and to this day he is known throughout the Muslim world as the first Muazzin, or crier to prayer. Amir ibn Fahira, after being released from severe trial, was employed by Abu Bakr in tending his flocks. Abdallah ibn Masud, ‘small in body, but weighty in faith,’ was the constant attendant who waited upon Muhammad at Medina; and Khobab, a blacksmith, were also converted at this time. The slaves of Mecca were peculiarly accessible to the solicitations of the Prophet. As foreigners they were generally familiar either with Judaism or Christianity. Isolated from the influences of hostile partisanship, persecution had alienated them from the Qurraish, and misfortune made their hearts susceptible to spiritual impressions.
In addition to those now mentioned, tradition enumerates at least thirteen others as having believed ‘before the entry of the Prophet into the house of Arkam; besides this little group of thirty-three individuals, the wives and daughters are mentioned as faithful and earnest professors of Islam.
Persecution caused by attachment to national idolatry and weakness of Muhammad’s position
An important change now occurred in the relations of Muhammad with the citizens of Mecca. Their hostility was aroused, and believers were subjected to persecution and indignity. The main ground of this opposition was a deep-seated attachment to the ancestral idolatry of the Ka’aba. Their was a strong hereditary affection for practices associated from infancy with the daily life of every inhabitant of Mecca, and patriotic devotion to a system which made his city the foremost in Arabia. Amidst the declaration and rhetoric of the Arabian Prophet no proof whatever (excepting his own conviction) was advanced in support of the divine commission. Idolatry might be wrong, but what guarantee had the idolater that Islam was right? This was without, doubt the sincere objection of the Qurraish; and the conviction, though mingled with hatred and jealousy, and degenerating often into intolerance and cruel spite was the real spring of their long sustained opposition.
Advantages of opposition
Persecution though it may sometimes have deterred the timid from joining his ranks, was eventually of unquestionable service for Muhammad. It furnished a plausible excuse for casting aside the garment of toleration; for opposing force with force against those who ‘obstructed the ways of the Lord;‘ and last of all for the compulsory conversion of unbelievers. Even before the Hegira it drove the adherents of the Prophet in self-defence into a closer union, and made them stand forth with more resolute aim and a bolder front. The severity and injustice of the Qurraish, overshooting the mark, aroused personal and family sympathies; unbelievers sought to avert or to mitigate the sufferings of the followers of the Prophet; and in so doing they were sometimes themselves gained over to his side.
It was not, however, till three or four years of his ministry had elapsed, that any general opposition to Muhammad was organised. Even after he had begun publicly to preach, and his followers had multiplied, the people did not gainsay his doctrine. They would only point at him slighting as he passed by, but when the prophet began to abuse their idols, and to assert the perdition of their ancestors who had all died in unbelief, then they became displeased and began to insult him. Hostility, once excited, soon showed itself in acts of violence. Sa’d, it is related, having retired for prayer with a group of believers to a valley near Mecca became involved with some of his neighbours who passed by unexpectedly. A sharp contention arose between them, followed by blows. Sa’d struck one of his opponents with a camel goad: and this was ‘the first blood shed in Islam.’
The House of Arkam
It was probably about this time the fourth year of his mission – that in order to prosecute his endeavours peaceably and without interruption, Muhammad took possession of the house of Arkam (a convert), situated a short distance from his own dwelling. Fronting the Ka’aba to the east, it was in a frequented position; and pilgrims, following the prescribed course between Safa and Marwa, needed to pass before it regularly. Anyone who showed any leaning towards Islam was taken there and Muhammad expounded to them his way more perfectly. It is recorded that a number became believers after entering into the house of Arkam and it became so famous as the birthplace of believers that it was in after times styled the House of Islam. There is nothing to show on what footing Muhammad occupied this building; whether continuously with his family or officially and only as a place of retreat from observation and annoyance. Umar, at the close of sixth year of Muhammad’s mission is said to have been the last converted in the house for his influence enabled them to dispense with secrecy.
Persecution of converted slaves
The jealousy and enmity of the Qurraish were aggravated by the continued success of the new faith, which now numbered more than fifty followers. The brunt of their wrath fell upon the converted slaves and the citizens of the lower classes who had no patron or protector. These were seized and imprisoned; or they were exposed, in the glare of the mid-day sun, upon the scorching gravel of the valley. The torment was enhanced by intolerable thirst, until the wretched sufferers hardly knew what they said. If under their torture they reviled Muhammad and acknowledged the idols of Mecca, they were refreshed by water, and then taken to their homes. Bilal alone escaped the shame of recantation. In the depth of his anguish, the persecutors could force from him but one expression ‘One, one, only God!’ On such an occasion, Abu Bakr passed by, and secured liberty of conscience to the faithful slave by purchasing his freedom. Some of the others retained the scars, sores and wounds inflicted to the end of their lives. Later, Khobab and Ammar used to exhibit with pride and exultation the marks of their suffering to a wondering generation, in which fortune and glory had well-nigh effaced the very thought of persecution as a possible condition of Islam.
To those in trying circumstances, Muhammad showed much commiseration and even encouraged them to conceal their faith in the words found in the Quran: “Whoever denied Allah after that he hath believed (excepting him who is forcibly thereto, his heart remaining steadfast in the faith) on such resteth the wrath of God.” Muhammad himself was safe under the influence of the venerable Abu Talib, who, although unconvinced by the Prophet, scrupulously acknowledged the claims of kinsmanship, and withstood resolutely every approach, of the Qurraish to detach him from his guardianship.
Personal indignities sustained by Muhammad
Though the tendency of tradition is to magnify the insults of the Qurrash, yet, apart from invective and abuse, we hardly read of any personal injury or suffering sustained by Muhammad himself. A few of the inveterate enemies of Islam who lived close by his house, used spitefully to throw unclean and offensive things at the Prophet. Once they flung into his house the entrails of a goat, which Muhammad putting upon a stick, carried to the door and called aloud: ‘Ye children of Abd Menaf! What sort of good neighbourhood is this?’ Then he threw it into the street.
Emigration and flight to Abyssina A.D 615 -616
To escape these indignities Muhammad now recommended such of his followers as were without protection, to seek an asylum in Abyssinia. There were two waves of emigration. In the first among the emigrants were Uthman son of Affan with his wife Rockeya, the Prophet’s daughter. The youths Zubair and Mus’ab were also of the number. Othman son of Matzun was the leader. The period of exile was passed in peace and in comfort but they returned after only two months. A second wave occurred about the sixth year of the mission consisting of about one-hundred, eighty-three were men. They too returned but at intervals and in small groups.
The fears of the Qurraish
The episode of the emigrations to Abyssinia had cause the Quarraish alarm. They had been disquieted by the hospitable reception of the refugees at the Abyssinian court. Tradition relates that an embassy of two chief men from Mecca, laden with costly presents had been sent to the Christian Negus and argued that certain fools amongst their own people had left their ancestral faith; they had not joined Christianity, but had set up a new religion of their own. They had therefore been sent to bring them back. The king said that he would look further into the matter in the presence of the accused. Now the refugees agreed that they would not garble their doctrine, but come what may say nothing more nor less than the teaching of their Prophet. So on the morrow they were summoned before the king and also his bishops with their books open before them. Jafar (Muhammad’s uncle) was the spokesman. He said ’that they used to worship images, eat the dead, commit lewdness, disregard family ties and the duties of neighbourhood and hospitality, until Muhammad arose as a prophet’; he concluded by describing his system and the persecutions which had forced them to flee to Abyssinia.
On the king asking him to repeat some part of the Prophet’s teaching, he recited Sura Maryam (regarding the births of John and Jesus, with mention of Abraham and Moses); whereupon the king wept until his beard became moist; and the bishops also wept so that their tears ran down upon their books, saying: ‘Verily, this revelation and that of Moses proceed from one and the same source.’ And the Negus said to the refugees ‘Depart in peace for I will never give you up.’ Next day the envoys endeavoured to entrap the refugees into a declaration deprecatory of Jesus, and therefore offensive to the king. But the king fully concurred in their doctrine, that Jesus was nothing more than ‘a servant of God, and his Apostle; his Spirit and his word, placed in the womb of Mary, the immaculate Virgin.’ So the Qurraish embassy departed.
The above story is no doubt a mere amplification of certain passages in the Quran to the effect that Jews and Christians wept for joy on hearing the Quran because of its correspondence with their own Scriptures. A similar tale has been invented of the bishops of Najran; and also regarding an embassy of Christians from Abyssinia, who are said to have visited Muhammad at Mecca, so that not much reliance can be placed on this part of the narrative. Muhammad is said to have regarded the Negus as a convert to Islam, and to have prayed for him as such at his death; a light is also related to have issued from his tomb. There is probably a basis of truth for the general outline given in this note; but it would be difficult to draw a probable line between the real and the fictitious parts of it. Had the leaning towards Islam been as great as is here represented, we should have heard more of its inhabitants in the troublesome times immediately following Muhammad’s death.
The Ban – Muslim supporters cut off
The Qurraish sought to stop the progress of secession from their ranks, by utterly severing the party of Muhammad from social and friendly communication with themselves. Thus the religious struggle merged for a time into a civil feud between the Hashimites and the rest of the Qurraish; and there also remained long-rooted political associations to add to the bitterness and strife. To secure their objective, the Qurraish entered into a confederacy against the Hashimites that they would not marry their women, nor give their own in marriage to them; that they would sell nothing to them, nor buy aught from them; and that dealings with them of every kind should cease. The Ban was carefully committed to writing and the record was hung up in the Ka’aba and religious sanction was given to its provisions.
The Ban’s unfavourable affect on the cause of Muhammad
For two or three years the attitude of both parties remained unaltered, and the Hashimites were reduced to want and distress. Though the sympathies of many were expressed because of the sufferings of the Hashimites, the cause of Islam itself did not advance during the period of this weary seclusion; for that seclusion had its full and expected effect in cutting off the mass of the people from the personal influence of Muhammad and his converts. The efforts of the Prophet were by necessity confined to the members of his own noble clan who, though unbelievers in his mission, had resolved to defend his person; and to the strengthening of his earlier converts. Accordingly we find in the portions of the Quran delivered at this time directions from God to retire from the unbelievers and confine his preaching to his kinsmen and the faithful:
“So turn away from them: not thine is the blame. But teach (thy message) for teaching benefits the believers.” (Adh-Dhariyat 51:54,55)
“And admonish thy nearest kinsmen, And lower thy wing to the believers who follow thee.” (Ash-Sh’ara 26: 214, 215)
The exemplary bearing of Muhammad under these trying circumstances and the spirit of clan-ship that knit them together may perhaps have influenced a few to join their ranks. But the weary years of confinement dragged on with no more important results.
Muhammad visits the fairs and places of pilgrimage
After the amnesty Muhammad used to visit and exhort the various tribes that flocked to Mecca and the adjacent fairs. The Prophet visited the great assemblages at Okatz, Mecca and Mina. On these occasions he warned his countrymen against idolatry and invited them to the worship of the one God. He promised them not only Paradise hereafter, but prosperity and dominion upon earth if they would believe. No one responded to his call. Abu Lahab would dog his steps crying aloud: “Believe him not he is a lying renegade!”
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