Islamic traditions record at length the persecution and ill-treatment which Muhammad and his followers suffered at the hands of his opponents. These descriptions are undoubtedly much exaggerated, for their object was to glorify the self-sacrifice of the Muslims and put the old patrician families of Mecca in an unfavourable light. However, it is equally certain there is some foundation in these stories.
In his treatment of his opponents there is cause for alarm. The record of the incidents were Muhammad was involved in the murder of his opponents, when in Medina, involved deceit and usually took place at night. On each occasion the assassins did everything they could to keep their identity hidden and their actions concealed. Muslim writers often argue that Muhammad’s actions were typical of those practised by most military leaders in wartime. This leads however, to a key question. Is the Prophet of Islam to be judged (and acquitted) purely by the standards of his own time or, having boldly claimed to be the greatest of all divinely commissioned men throughout all human history, is he to be assessed by the absolute standards set forth by the human figure of Jesus Christ who preceded him?
Opponents in Mecca
He was an uncle of Muhammad and his real pagan name was ‘Abd al-Uzza. He along with his wife, was violently opposed to Islam and they did everything in their power to oppose its progress so much so that Muhammad surnamed Abd al-Uzza, Abu Lahab “father of the flame” – man of Hell. His wife was the sister of Abu Sufyan who was the most prominent of Muhammad’s opponents in Mecca up to 8A.H.
Abu Lahab is depicted as a wealthy, large corpulent man who quickly became angry. His son, ‘Utba, had married one of Muhammad’s daughters before Islam was preached, but when Muhammad announced that he was a prophet, he divorced her and according to some was said to have embraced Christianity.
The background to this incident which is related in the Quran is as follows: “Muhammad called the Qurraish chiefs together for a meeting on the hill Safa. Here, he addressed his relatives in the following way, ‘If I announced to you an approaching enemy would you not believe me? ‘Yes’, they answered. ’Well’, he said, I caution you against a great punishment!’ At this, Abu Lahab approached Muhammad and said ’Mayest thou perish! Hast thou called us together for this?’ Then came the heavenly response: “Perish the hands of the Father of Flame! Perish he! No profit to him from all his wealth, and all his gains! Burnt soon will he be in a Fire of Blazing Flame!” (Al Masadd 111: 1-3)
Tradition relates that Abu Lahab was prevented from going to the battlefield at Badr and when he heard of the defeat he fell into such a rage that he behaved violently towards the news-bearer. According to Ibn Hisham, seven days later he died of smallpox. His sons were said to have feared to touch the corpse so it was left to putrefy but was eventually buried in an undignified way.
Abu Lahab and Zaid are the only relatives or friends mentioned in the Quran.
The wife of Abu Lahab
Abu Lahab’s wife was called Umm Jamil the daughter of Harb and the sister of Abu Sufyan. In her opposition to Muhammad Al-Beidawi and Jallalo’ddin state that she carried a bundle of thorns and brambles and threw them by night in the prophet’s way. For this, her punishment was that she must carry wood for fuel in hell: “His wife shall carry the (crackling) wood as fuel! A twisted rope of palm-leaf fibre round her (own) neck!” (Al Masadd 111: 3-5)
Abu Sufyan was a rich and respected merchant who repeatedly led the great Meccan caravans but was hostile to Muhammad. He had been personally affected by the influence of Muhammad as his own daughter Umm Habiba had married a follower of Muhammad and emigrated with him when they escaped for safety to Abyssinia. His oldest son Hanzala was killed at the battle of Badr (622) while another son ‘Amr was taken prisoner but was later exchanged with a Muslim prisoner. Following the battle of Badr and the death of a number of Qurraish leaders Abu Sufyan took complete command of the Meccans and defeated Muhammad at the battle of Uhud (625). He failed to take real advantage of his position and according to Ibn Hisham it is related that Muhammad sent assassins from Medina to Mecca to kill him.
In 627 during the campaign of ‘the ditch’ he led one part of the great army that advanced against Medina but failed to take it. Following the broken Treaty of Hudaibiyya (628) made between the Meccans and the Muslims, it became clear that Muhammad was going to advance on Mecca. He therefore, went to see Muhammad to try and negotiate an agreement but returned back empty handed; this may explain why when Mecca was taken, those who took refuge in the house of Abu Sufyan received immunity. His wife Hind openly accused her husband of outright weakness in his surrender to Muhammad.
Abu Sufyan later accompanied Muhammad on his campaign against the Hawazin tribe and for his support he received a very generous share of the booty. Abu Bakr made him governor of Najran and the Hijaz and died at the age of 88.
Abu Sufyan’s son Mu’awiya became the founder of the Umayyad dynasty, the first Muslim dynasty which ruled the Islamic world for a century, from 661 to 750.
Utbah ibn Rabi’ah
Utbah was one of the prominent leaders of the Qurraish during the era of Muhammad. Utba’s father was Rabi’ah ibn Abd Shams. Utba’s daughter, Hind bint Utbah, married Abu Sufyan ibn Harb. Utba had two sons, Abu Hudhayfah ibn Utbah and Walid ibn Utba, and a brother.
‘Utbah ibn Rabi’ah was sent to Muhammad to convey a message of the Qurraish (this was following the conversion of Hamza.) “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 favourably to this offer. However, Muhammad recited Sura Fussilat 41 in reply: “But if they turn away, then say: I have warned you of a thunderbolt like the thunderbolt of the ‘Ad and the Thamud.” `Utbah was said to have been overwhelmed with this ringing warning but did not accept Islam. Rather, he advised the Qurraish to leave Muhammad alone and to see how he fared with other tribes; the Qurraish said that he was bewitched by Muhammad.
Utba was killed in the battle of Badr, as narrated in the hadith collection of Sunan Abi Da’ud: “(at the battle of Badr) Utbah ibn Rabi’ah came forward followed by his son and his brother and cried out: “Who will be engaged in a single combat?” Some young men of the Helpers responded to his call. He asked: “Who are you?” They told him they were some young men from the Ansars. He responded: “You are brave indeed. However, We do not want you; we, in fact, want only our cousins.” Muhammad said, “Get up Hamzah. Get up Ali. Get up Ubaydah ibn al-Harith.” Hamzah went forward to Utbah. After few blows, Utbah was lying on the ground.”
Uqba ibn Abu Mu’ayt
Uqba ibn Abu Mu’ayt (died 624) was a member of the Qurraish tribe. He had two children, both becoming Muslims: Walid ibn Uqba and Umm Kulthum bint Uqba. Uqba assaulted Muhammad because he was preaching monotheism He also constantly ridiculed Muhammad when the latter was preaching in Mecca. On one occasion, Uqba spat on Muhammad’s face at the incitement of his friend Ubay ibn Khalaf. Islamic tradition says: “He did lead me astray from the Message (of Allah after it had come to me! Ah! the Evil One is but a traitor to man!” (25:29) Uqbah was executed on the order of Muhammad by Asim bin Thaabit after the Battle of Badr.
The execution of Uqba is said to be justified because he was a person who once tried to strangle Muhammad and was a constant and continuous threat. This was a deadly serious threat which was further confirmed by the fact that he also joined the army against the Muslims at the Battle of Badr. His attempt to kill the Prophet is found in Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Number 339.
Abu Jahl – “Father of Ignorance
Amr ibn Hisham (died 624) was one of the Meccan polytheist leaders known for his hostility against Muhammad. He is often referred as Abu Jahl by Muslims. It has been asserted that Amr ibn Hisham often put heavy stones on the backs of his slaves and servant if they made a mistake.
Often called “Abu al-Hakam”, (“Father of Wisdom”), he was considered a wise man amongst the Qurraish. He was a member of the Banu Makhzum clan of the Qurraish. He had a son, Ikrimah ibn Abi-Jahl, who later converted to Islam. Because he opposed the early spread of Islam, Muslims came to refer to him as Abu Jahl (“Father of Ignorance”).
Ibn Hisham reports of an incident when the nobles of the Quarraish called Muhammad where they disputed over Muhammad’s claims: After Muhammad left, Abu Jahl said “As you can see Muhammad wants nothing else than to denigrate our religion and forefathers, call us fools and mock our gods. Therefore, with Allah as my witness, I will go to the Ka’aba tomorrow with a rock that I can carry in my hand. When Muhammad prostrates himself to pray. I will smash his head with it.” Afterwards, you can protect me yourselves or deliver me to the sons of Abd Manaf (great-grand father of Muhammad), so they can deal with me as they wish.” The Quarraish answered, “We will never turn you over! Do what is necessary.”
“The next day, Abu Jahl took a heavy stone with him, to the mosque and waited for Muhammad, who arrived in the morning as was his custom. Whenever Muhammad was in Mecca, he prayed with his face towards Syria, between the black stone and the southern pillar, so that the Kaa’ba was between himself and Syria. All the Quarraish were gathered to see what Abu Jahl would do. Muhammad bowed down, and Abu Jahl approached him with the rock. But as he neared Muhammad, Abu Jahl suddenly turned and fled. His face was totally contorted and filled with horror. Holding the rock, his hand shook until he tossed it away. The Qurraish went to him and asked what was the matter. He said “I wanted to carry out what I shared with you yesterday. But when I approached Muhammad, I saw a camel between him and me with a head and teeth like I have never seen before on a camel. It looked like it wanted to devour me.”
Ibn Hisham also reports “It was the wicked Abu Jahl that roused the Qurraish against the believers. When he heard that a strong and respected man had converted to Islam, he reprimanded and shamed him by saying, ‘You have left the faith of your father, who was a better man than you. We will declare you a fool and an idiot, and we will ruin your good reputation.’ If he was a merchant, he said, ‘By Allah, we will no longer buy your goods and reduce you to poverty!’ If he was poor and weak, he beat him and roused others against him.”
Amr (Abu Jahl) was wounded in the battle of Badr by Muawwaz ibn Amr and Muaaz ibn Amr, and was finally killed by Abdullah ibn Mas’ud.
Al-Nadr bin al-Harith
Before Muhammad’s Hijrah to Medina in 622, he used to sit in the assembly and invite the Meccans to Allah, citing the Quran and warning them of God’s punishment for mocking his prophets. Al-Nadr would then follow him and speak about heroes and kings of Persia, saying, “By God, Muhammad cannot tell a better story than I, and his talk is only of old fables which he has copied as I have.” Al-Nadr is referring to legends and opaque histories about Arabs of long ago and possibly to Bible stories about such figures as Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, which Muhammad told, but according to his own inaccurate versions. On other days al-Nadr would interrupt Muhammad until the prophet silenced him. It is thought that Sura Al-Mutaffifin 83:13 is in reply to al-Nadr’s harassment: “When Our signs are rehearsed to him, he says, “Tales of the ancients!”
Muhammad did not take revenge on him – not yet – even though the verses in Sura Al-Mutaffifin promise a dismal eternal future for mockers, but Muhammad’s revenge was not long coming. It was al-Nadr’s bad fortune to join the Mecca’s army, riding north to protect their caravan, which Muhammad attacked at the Battle of Badr in AD 624. The story-telling polytheist was captured, and on Muhammad’s return journey back to Medina, Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law, at Muhammad’s order, beheaded him, instead of getting some possible ransom money. He was one of two prisoners who were executed and not allowed to be ransomed by their clans – all because they wrote poems and told stories critiquing Muhammad.
A different picture is painted by Ibn Hisham in ‘Life of Muhammad’ who wrote: “‘Al-Nadr bin al-Harith rose and said, “O Qurraishites, by Allah something has come upon you that you cannot be rid of with mere human trickery. When Muhammad was a boy, he was loved. You considered him the most truthful and loyal among you until as a man he brought upon you what you well know. So you called him a sorcerer. But, by Allah, he is no sorcerer. He does not blow or make knots, as is the custom of sorcerers. Then you said he is a seer. But he is not a seer. He does not speak in rhymes nor speak foolishness, as is the custom of the seers. You claimed also that he is a poet. But is no poet. We are familiar with the different forms of verse, and his speech does not resemble any of them. You have also accused him of being possessed. But, by Allah, he does not murmur or moan like one demon possessed. So consider carefully this whole issue, for you are now in a very difficult situation.’
Opponents in Medina
The Jew, Ka’b ibn Ashraf, who had long been a nuisance by composing satirical verses against Muhammad gradually became a real threat. After the battle of Badr, Ka’b stirred up the Qurraish to take up a reprisal raid against the Muslims to prevent their increasing influence in Medina. He composed poems lamenting the slain of the Qurraish and for this reason Muhammad bin Maslama, from the Aws tribe, asked and received permission from Muhammad to kill Ka’b
Narrated Jabir bin ‘Abdullah: The Prophet said, “Who is ready to kill Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf who has really hurt Allah and His Apostle?” Muhammad bin Maslama said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Do you like me to kill him?” He replied in the affirmative. (Bukhari Volume 4 Book 52 Number 270 c/f Volume 5, Book 59, Number 369; Muslim Book 19 Number 4436).
It is clear from these ahadith that Muhammad not only sanctioned the murder of his opponent but also permitted his followers to use deception to achieve their purposes. The offending Jew was killed under the cover of darkness (Muslim Book 19 No 4436). Muhammad’s companion persuaded Ka’b to leave the security of his own home by deceiving him into thinking that his group were disillusioned by Muhammad’s intention to financially burden the Muslims
Ibn Sa’d Kitab al Tabaqat al-Kabir Vol 2 page 36 and 37 agree with the above and then confirm Muhammad’s approval of the matter: “When they reached the Apostle of Allah, Allah bless him; he said (your) faces be lucky. They said: yours too, O Apostle of Allah! They cast his head before him. He (the Prophet) praised Allah on his being slain. When it was morning, he said: Kill every Jew whom you come across. The Jews were frightened, so none of them came out, nor did they speak. They were afraid that they would be suddenly attacked as Ibn Ashraf was attacked in the night.”
Abu Rafi’ ibn Abi Al-Huqaiq
In 624 the Jew, Abu Rafi’ was assassinated for mocking Muhammad with his poetry and for helping the troops of the Confederates by providing them with money and supplies. He was exiled from Medina and moved to Khaibar in the north and the following is what happened to him: “Salam bin Abi Al-Huqaiq (Abu Rafi‘) was a terrible Jew criminal, who had mustered the troops of the Confederates and provided them with a lot of wealth and supplies, on the one hand (Fath Al-Bari 7/343), and used to malign the Prophet on the other. When the Muslims had settled their affair with Banu Quraiza; Al-Khazraj tribe, a rival of the Al-Aws tribe, asked from the Prophet’s permission to kill that criminal in order to merit a virtue equal to that of Al-Aws who had killed another criminal of the Jews, Ka‘b bin Al-Ashraf. The Prophet gave them his permission provided that no women or children be killed. (Bukhari 2/577) / Volume 5, Book 59, Number 371 and c/f Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 264 also Ibn Hisham & Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah and Tabari, Volume 7, The foundation of the community.
A group of five people with ‘Abdullah bin ‘Ateeq at their head, headed for Khaibar where ‘Abu Rafi‘’s fort was situated. When they approached the place, ‘Abdullah advised his men to stay a little behind, while he went ahead disguised himself in his cloak as if he had been relieving himself. When the people of the fort went in, the gate-keeper called him to enter thinking he was one of them. ‘Abdullah went in and lurked inside. He then began to unbolt the doors leading to Salam’s room. There it was absolutely dark but he managed to put him to the sword, and then leave in safety. On his way back, his leg broke so he wrapped it up in a band, and hid in a secret place until morning when someone stood on the wall and announced the death of Salam bin Abi Al-Huqaiq officially. On hearing the glad news he left and went to see the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), who listened to the whole story, and then asked ‘Abdullah to stretch his leg, which he wiped and the fracture healed on the spot.
He was a Jewish poet and a significant political enemy of Muhammad who was assassinated in 624. As an elderly man he wrote a politically charged poem against Muhammad and his followers that is preserved in the Sira. Muslim scholars argue that as there is no isnad for these stories and therefore, it cannot be counted as authentic. The primary source however, is a translation of Isḥaq’s Sīrat rasūl Allāh, and Ibn Sa’d Kitab al-tabaqat al-kabir, Volume 2, Pakistan Historical Society p. 31 1967.
A quotation is given from the text as follows: “Al-Harith bin Suwayd al-Ansari had been murdered at the instigation of Muhammad and Abu Afak annoyed by the incident composed a satire defending the ancestors of those who were disaffected at the Prophet which prompted Muhammad to say “Who will deal with this rascal for me?” at which another of his companions Salim ibn ‘Umayr, went forth and slaughtered him” (Ibn Ishaq Sirat Rasulullah page 65) This led on to the killing of ’Asma bint Marwan.
‘Asma’ bint Marwan
Following the murders of Harith bin Suwayd al-Ansari and Abu Afak, ‘Asma, who lived in Medina, became disenchanted with Islam. She composed her satire and called on her fellow-townsfolk, the Aws and the Khazraj, “You obey a stranger who is none of yours …. Is there no man of pride who would attack him by surprise and cut off the hopes of those who expect ought from him?” When Muhammad heard this he said ”Who will rid me of Marwan’s daughter ?” At which Umair ibn ’Adiy al-Khatmi immediately crept into her house and murdered her. On his return he confirmed that he had killed her at which Muhammad was greatly pleased and said to him “You have greatly helped God and his apostle. O Umair!” (Ibn Ishaq Sirat Rasulullah page 676)
Sources for this article are from the Shorted Encyclopaedia of Islam (London, Luzac and Co and Muhammad The Prophet of Islam by John Gilchrist