It is narrated that the first signs of Muhammad's prophethood was a series of visions he would receive at night which would then come true exactly as he had envisioned them.
Fig. 9 The cave of Hira where Muhammad first became the prophet of Islam.
The story of the first visit of the angel Gabriel to Muhammad (pbuh) has been narrated in detail in section 6.2. Immediately after receiving this visit, Muhammad (pbuh) ran back home to his wife, trembling and in a state of terror crying "Cover me! Cover me!".
When he had had a chance to calm down, Khadeejah asked him what had happened and he told her the whole story. Muhammad's wife Khadeejah was very well acquainted with his character and when this story was narrated to her and she saw the terror in his eyes she said: "No, by Allah! God shall not disgrace you. You do good by your kin, carry the burdens of others, give to the needy, aid the weak, and assist in all good things." However, as she did not know exactly what to make of this matter, she decided to ask the advice of her Christian cousin, Waraka the son of Nawfal.
When Waraka heard what had happened he said: "By Him in who's hands my soul rests, you are the prophet of this nation, and the one who visited you is none other than the chief of the angels who visited Moses. Verily, your people shall call you a liar, abuse you, expel you, and wage war against you."
When Muhammad (pbuh) heard these words he was bewildered, for he knew of his noble standing with his people, their great respect and admiration for him, and how they called him "The Truthful, the Trustworthy," so he asked Waraka: "Will they expel me?." Waraka replied "Yes! Never has there come a man before you with similar to that which you have come with except his people fought him and waged war against him. If I were to live to that day, I shall stand by you and assist you mightily." However, Waraka died shortly thereafter.
The first people to believe in Muhammad (pbuh) were his closest of kin and some of his close friends. Among them were his wife Khadeejah, his cousin Ali ibn Abi-Talib, his close friend Abu Bakr Al-Siddik, and his adopted son Zaid ibn Haritha, as well as many of the poor and weak such as Bilal the Ethiopian, and Abdullah ibn Masood, among others. Some of those who accepted Muhammad's call were nobles and leaders in the tribe of Quraish, such as Uthman ibn Affan, Abdulrahman ibn Auf, Saad ibn Abi-Wakkas, and Talha ibn Ubaidallah. However, Muhammad's call to Islam continued in secret for a period of three years at which point the following verse was revealed to him:
"Therefore expound openly that which you are commanded, and be heedless of those who associate partners with God." (Qur'an 15:94)
Upon receiving this command, Muhammad (pbuh) climbed to the top of the hill of Al-Safa and shouted at the top of his lungs: "Ya sabaha!." This call was well known to be a call of dire distress and impending peril. It was usually reserved to warn of a siege by a hostile army.
Immediately the citizens clamored around him to learn what alarming news he had to reveal to them. When they had assembled around him he proclaimed:
"O children of Abdul-Muttalib, O children of Fihr, O children of Kaab, if I were to warn you that at the bottom of this hill are horses [of war] about to attack you, would you believe me? ."
The people replied: "Yes!."
Then Muhammad said: "Then [be notified that] I am a warner, before me is a terrible punishment."
Everyone fell silent and did not know what to say until one of the nobles, Muhammad's uncle Abu Lahab, blurted out: "Damn you the rest of the day! Is this why you assembled us?"
From that day forward, Muhammad (pbuh) called to Islam openly and without fear. With time, more and more people began to accept this call and became Muslims. Most of them, however, were of the poor, the weak, and the destitute of Quraish. In the beginning, the nobles did not pay him much heed until they learned that he was deriding their idols. This is when their animosity and their campaign of retribution began.
At first, the nobles tried to convince Muhammad's followers that he was a lunatic or a magician. However, when this method did not succeed they resorted to physical abuse and torture. Those of them who had no clan to protect them were subjected to the worst of this torture. Many were whipped, stoned, beaten, starved and burned. The nobles took great pains to come up with new and innovative ways to torture them. Among these was the method employed by Umayya against his slave Bilal the Ethiopian. He would take him out to the desert at the hottest time of day, lay him on his back under the scorching sun, then order that a large boulder be rolled onto his stomach. All the while Bilal remained resolute, repeating: "[God is] one, [God is] one."
At the same time, the tribe of Makhzoom would take the family of Yasir, the father the mother and the son, out to the desert during the heat and torture them severely. While this was going on, Muhammad (pbuh) would pass by them and say: "Have patience family of Yasir. Your appointment is with heaven."
Khabbab ibn Al-Art narrated that:
"They used to take me out, light a fire, and then roast me over it. A man then came and placed his foot on my chest extinguishing the fire with my back."
It was well known in the Arabian peninsula that one does not attack or abuse members of a strong clan or tribe for fear that that tribe might seek retribution. Those who did not belong to such a tribe would enter into a pact of protection with a noble of a strong clan or tribe. In such a manner people would protect their families and wealth from the aggression of their neighbors.
When Quraish first began it's campaign of persecution of Muhammad (pbuh) and his companions many of them sought protection by allying themselves with non-Muslims in this manner. For example, Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq had allied himself with ibn Al-Daghnah, and Uthman ibn Madhgoon allied himself with Al-Waleed ibn al-Mugeerah. Muhammad (pbuh) himself was under the protection of his uncle Abu-Talib. This protection by no means protected them from all abuse, however, it did afford them a measure of protection against the severest torture or murder. It is worth mentioning though that both Abu-Bakr and Uthman both felt such protection by non-Muslims inappropriate and later renounced that protection in favor of the protection of Allah Almighty.
Because of the continuous and unrelenting persecution of Quraish towards the Muslims, it was next to impossible for any among them to publicly declare his acceptance of the faith much less call others to Islam. One day the companions of Muhammad (pbuh) gathered together and said to one another "By Allah, Quraish has yet to hear this Qur'an recited to them out loud, so who among you shall recite it to them?" Abdullah the son of Masood volunteered: "I shall do it." They objected: "We are afraid that they might attack you, we want someone who has a strong tribe or clan to protect him if they decide to harm him." Abdullah replied: "Let me be the one, God shall protect me."
At day break, Abdullah set out to their gathering place next to the Kaaba and in a loud voice he began to recite the Qur'an. He read:
"In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful. The Most Compassionate! [He] has taught the Qur'an. He created man. He taught him eloquent speech ..." (Qur'an 55:1-4)
As Abdullah continued to recite the Qur'an the nobles of Quraish asked one another "What is he saying?" Then one of them said "He is reading part of that which Muhammad has brought!" So they all sprang up and began to strike him about his face, all the while he continued to recite this chapter to them until he felt that they had heard enough.
When Abdullah returned to the Muslims and they saw the marks which the beating had left on his face they said: "This is what we feared would happen to you." Abdullah replied: "The enemies of Allah have never been more impotent against me than they were today, and if you wish I shall return and recite before them it's equivalent tomorrow!" They responded: "No, that is enough. You have spoken to them words which they hate [to hear]"
However, if this was the situation of the followers of Muhammad (pbuh) then how was Muhammad himself treated by these people?
The nobles of Quraish consolidated all of their resources in an effort to stamp out Muhammad's message. They told everyone he was a liar, a magician, a poet, and a lunatic. They sat in the streets and did their utmost to terrify the people of Muhammad and bar them from speaking to him. They tortured his friends and did their best to constantly abuse him. They would throw thorns and sharp objects in his path, dump camel entrails on his head while he prayed to God, curse and swear at him whenever they saw him, starve him and his companions, and even attempted to kill him. With time the nobles of Quraish even chose to change Muhammad's name from Muhammad (the praised one) to Muthammam (The reviled one). Thus, whenever they would speak of him they would say: "Cursed be the reviled one" etc. For this reason, Muhammad (pbuh) used to say to his Companions: "Do you not marvel at how Allah has even deflected their curses from me? They curse Muthammam and I am Muhammad"
When this continued for a long while the nobles of Quraish went to Muhammad's uncle Abu-Talib and attempted to bribe him to renounce his protection of Muhammad (pbuh). When this did not succeed, they went to Muhammad directly and attempted to bribe him with wealth, leadership, nobility, and to appoint him as their leader if he would but renounce his message. He refused.
When the torture of Quraish became unbearable, Muhammad (pbuh) authorized his companions to emigrate to Ethiopia (Abyssinia). At this point eighty three Muslims fled Makkah and traveled to Ethiopia. When Quraish received news of their emigration they sent a delegation to Negus (Al-Najashi) the Christian king of Ethiopia with many gifts in the hope that they might persuade him to return the emigrants to them. A famous exchange occurred between the three parties with the outcome being the refusal of the king to deliver the Muslims back into the hands of Quraish. This could be deemed the first strategic victory of the Muslims against their persecutors, so let us hear this story.
When the nobles of Quraish saw that the Muslims had found a reprieve from their torture and abuse in Abyssinia and that they were allowed to practice their religion freely there, these nobles decided to send a delegation to the King of Abyssinia consisting of Abdullah the son of Rabia and Amr the son of Al-Aas, and with them they sent many gifts for the king and his generals.
When this delegation arrived in Abyssinia, they first presented their gifts to the king's generals and received passage to speak to the king. When they stood before the king they said:
"There has come to your land a scrapping lot of our most ignorant juveniles. They have departed from the religion of their fathers and have not accepted your religion, rather, they have invented a completely new religion which neither we nor you have heard of before. The nobles among their people, their fathers, their uncles, and their clan have sent to you to return them to them, for they are best acquainted with them and closer in bond to them." The king's officers then spoke up saying: "They have spoken the truth O king so let us return them to their people."
Upon hearing this the king became very angry and refused to accept their words or to return those who had sought sanctuary with him to this delegation. He then commanded that the Muslims be assembled before him as well as his Bishops. When they had all assembled before him he asked the Muslims:
"What is this religion which has caused you to relinquish the religion of your fathers and not to accept our religion nor any of these other faiths?" Ja'far the son of Abu-Talib, the cousin of Muhammad (pbuh) then arose and said: "O King of Abyssinia, We used to be a people of ignorance, worshipping idols, eating dead animals, performing indecencies, casting off family bonds, doing evil to our neighbors, and the strong among us would eat the weak. This remained our common trait until God sent to us a messenger. We knew his ancestry, his truthfulness, his trustworthiness, and his chastity. He called us to Allah that we might worship Him alone and forsake all that which we had been worshipping other than Him of these stones and idols. He commanded us to be truthful in speech, to keep our trusts, to strengthen our family bonds, to be good to our neighbors, to avoid the prohibitions and blood, and to avoid all indecencies, lying, theft of the orphan's money, and the slander of chaste women. He further commanded us to worship Allah alone, not associating anything in worship with Him. He commanded us to pray, pay charity, and fast (and he listed for him the requirements of Islam). So we believed him, accepted his message, and followed him in that which he received from Allah, worshipping Allah alone, not associating any partners with Him, refraining from all prohibitions, and accepting all that which was made permissible for us. For this our people greeted us with animosity and vindication. They tortured us and persecuted us in our religion in the hope that they might turn us from the worship of Allah to the worship of idols, and that we might accept that which we had accepted of old of our evil deeds. So when they overcame us, dealt unjustly with us, restricted us, and bared us from our religion, we fled to your land and chose you above all others, hoping for your sanctuary, and hoping that we would not fear injustice in your presence. "
The King listened to Ja'far's words patiently and quietly then he said: "Do you have with you any of that which your companion has brought to you?" Ja'far replied "Yes." The King said: "Then recite it before me." So Ja'far recited to him the verses of the chapter of Maryam (chapter 19). It reads:
"Kaf, Ha, Ya, Ain, Saad. [This is a] recital of the mercy of your Lord to His slave Zachariah. When he called unto his Lord a call in secret. Saying: 'My Lord, indeed my bones have grown feeble, and my head glistens with gray hair, and I have never been unblessed in my supplication unto you my Lord. And verily, I fear [what] my relatives [shall do] after me, and my wife is barren, so grant me from Yourself an heir. Who shall inherit me, and inherit from the family of Jacob, and make him O Lord one in whom You are well pleased.' [Allah said:] O Zachariah! Verily We give you glad tidings of a son whose name is Yahya(John). We have granted this name to none before him. He said: 'My Lord, whence can I have a son when my wife is barren, and I have grown quite decrepit in old age?' He said: 'So has your Lord said. It is trivial upon Me. [Indeed,] I had created you previously when you were nothing..."
(For the rest of this chapter please obtain one of the acceptable English translations of the Qur'an as outlined in the book list at the end of this book)
When the king heard these verses he wept till he soaked his beard, and with him his Bishops also wept. The king then said: "Verily, this and that which was brought by Jesus have indeed come from the same burning light." He then turned to the emissaries of Quraish and said to them:
"Return to your people, for I shall never deliver them to you"
Then next morning, Amr the son of Al-Aas returned to the king and said:
"They say a most monstrous thing regarding Jesus the son of Mary." At this the king summoned the Muslims again and asked them: "What do you have to say regarding Jesus the son of Mary?"
Ja'far the son of Abu-Talib replied: "We say in his regard that which our prophet says: That he was the servant of God and his messenger, a spirit from Him, and His Word which He bestowed upon Mary the chaste, the pure."
Upon hearing this the king struck the ground with his hand and lifted up a stick. He then said "Verily, Jesus the son of Mary did not surpass what you have just said even so much as this stick." The king granted the Muslims sanctuary and the emissaries of Quraish returned with empty hands.
This king of Ethiopia later passed away during the lifetime of Muhammad (pbuh). When Muhammad learned of his death, he commanded the Muslims to assemble for a congregational "prayer upon the deceased" (funeral prayers) on the king's behalf.
While all of this was going on in Ethiopia, Muhammad (pbuh) and his companions who had chosen to remain behind in Makkah continued to endure the punishment and torture of Quraish. However, their numbers continued to increase with every passing day in spite of the best efforts of Quraish. Many of those who converted to Islam were nobles among them such as Umar ibn al-Khattab.
In the seventh year of Muhammad's (pbuh) message, the nobles of Quraish became desperate to stop the growth of Islam in their city, so they all met together and wrote the "Sanction of Hashim and Banu Muttalib." In this pact, the nobles all agreed to neither buy the goods of the sons of Hashim and Banu Muttalib (the tribe of Muhammad), nor to sell to them. They further agreed not to marry from them nor to allow them to marry from their tribes. This document was then hung inside the Kaaba. This sanction continued for three years. During this period, the children of Hashim and AbdulMuttalib suffered severely until they were reduced to eating the leaves off of the trees. They could neither buy nor sell goods from Quraish and Quraish prevented all other merchants from dealing with them except at exorbitantly high prices.
Although the Arabs of this time period had become steeped in many evil traits, nevertheless, they were also known for a number of good ones as well. Among these was a limited sense of honor and justice prevalent among many of them. It was this trait which finally drove a number of people of Quraish, among them Amr ibn Rabeea, to collect a number of like-minded people in order to pressure the nobles who had signed the sanction into nullify it. When the people then rose to tear up the document they found that the insects had eaten it except for the following words at it's top: "In your name O Lord..."
In the tenth year of the message, Muhammad's uncle Abu-Talib and his wife Khadeejah both died With their death the abuse of Quraish multiplied greatly. Of those few people who were allowed to hear the Qur'an many became Muslims. However, the continuous and unrelenting torture of Quraish towards the Muslims drove Muhammad (pbuh) to seek an ally for them to protect them against Quraish and allow the people to hear the message of Islam. So he traveled to Al-Taif* in search of the protection of the tribe of Thaqeef and with the hope that they might accept his message. He presented his message to Ibn Abd-Yalayl ibn Abdu Kulal and the nobles of Al-Taif. They, however, met him with curses and abuse. They then roused the citizens and enflamed their passions against him till they stoned him out of their city and he fled from them into a farm belonging to Utba and Shaiba the sons of Rabeea. These two watched him from a distance as he sat below one of their grape arbors and supplicated to Allah.
When Muhammad (pbuh) saw that the people of Thaqeef had left him alone and returned to their daily lives, with a heavy heart he lifted his hands towards the heavens and prayed:
"O my Lord, unto you I bewail my weakness, inability, and disregard of mankind towards me. O Most Merciful of the merciful, you are the Lord of the weak and my Lord. Unto whom shall you deliver me?. Unto one who is distant and shall glower at me, or unto an enemy whom you have given authority over me? If you are not angry against me then I do not care [what befalls me], but your [gifts of] well being are more commodious for me. I seek refuge in the light of your face that has overcome all darkness, and through which all matters of this life and the hereafter have been established in justice, that your retribution should fall upon me, or your disdain should befall me. Unto you is [all] appeasement until you are appeased, and no one has power or ability except in You"
As Utba and Shaiba watched Muhammad (pbuh) they felt pity on him and sent to him their slave boy, Addas, to collect a bowl of grapes and take it to him. Addas collected the grapes and took them to Muhammad placing them in his hand. He then said: "Eat." As Muhammad was about to eat he began with the words "In the name of Allah" (which all Muslims say before eating or drinking). Addas was a Christian and when he heard these words he said to Muhammad "Verily, these are not the words of the people of this land." Muhammad asked him from which land he came and Addas replied "From 'Ninwa'." Muhammad said: "From the land of the pious man Jonah the son of Amittai." Addas marveled: "And how do you know Jonah the son of Amittai?" Muhammad (pbuh) responded: "He is my brother. He was a messenger and I am a messenger" Upon hearing these words Addas took to kissing the hands, head and feet of prophet Muhammad
When Urwa and Shaiba saw this they said to one another: "Verily, he has quite corrupted our slave boy." When Addas returned to them they said to him: "Fie upon you Addas! Why did you kiss the man's head, hands and feet?" Addas replied: "O masters, there is nothing in this earth better than this matter. He has told me of a matter which is only known to a messenger" They rebuked him saying: "Fie unto you Addas! Do not allow him to divert you from your religion. Your religion is far better than his!"
Muhammad (pbuh) then departed and returned home practically overwhelmed with excessive sorrow. On his way home he stopped in Qarn ath-Tha'alib, as he looked up, he saw a cloud shadowing him and he saw angel Gabriel in it. Angel Gabriel then addressed him saying: "Allah has heard what your people said to you, and how they have replied to you. Allah has sent the Angel of the Mountains to you so that you may order him to do whatever you wish to these people." The Angel of the Mountains then called out greeting him and then said, "O Muhammad! Order what you wish. If you like, I shall cause al-Akhshabayn (two mountains surrounding Al-Taif) to fall upon them." The Prophet (pbuh), replied "No, for I hope that there shall be among their children those who will worship Allah alone, and will worship none besides Him." He then returned to Makkah and to the abuse of it's people.
Shortly thereafter, Allah Almighty sent for Muhammad (pbuh) who was taken to the "Furthest Mosque" ('Temple mount' in Palestine) and then up into the heavens where he met the prophets of God, saw many of the signs of God, and then the five prescribed daily prayers were prescribed upon him and all Muslims. All of this happened in one night which was later called the night of "Israa and Miraj" (travel by night and ascension).
Muhammad (pbuh) continued to call the surrounding tribes to Islam and to the aid of the Muslims at every possible opportunity. During the trading season when the surrounding tribes would all convene in Makkah, Muhammad (pbuh) would go out, speak to them and encourage them to accept Islam. All the while his uncle, Abu-Lahab, would follow him around. Whenever he spoke to a tribe or invited them to Islam, Abu-Lahab would stand in his way and do his best to dissuade them.
When Muhammad (pbuh) would speak to one of these tribes, he would tell them that he was the messenger of God and that he had been sent to guide them out of their ignorance and out of the worship of idols into the light of God and the worship of one single God, the Creator and Sustainer of all creation. He would then recite to them the Qur'an and encourage them to accept Islam. One of the tribes who eventually met Muhammad in this manner was the tribe of Al-Kazraj of the city of Al-Madinah Al-Munawara (called Yethrib at that time). When they heard Muhammad's claims they began to remember the prophesies of the Jews in their city and how the Jews were continually threatening them with the impending arrival of their "final prophet" who would lead them to a great victory over them and establish the kingdom of God on earth.
When they heard the words of Muhammad (pbuh) and the Qur'an they began to say among themselves: "This is indeed the prophet that the Jews have been threatening you with, so do not allow them to beat you to him." So they believed in him and accepted his message. Most of the Jews, on the other hand rejected Muhammad For this reason, we read in the Qur'an
"And when there came to them (the Jews) a Book from God, confirming that which is with them,- although before that they were praying for victory against those who disbelieved,- so when there came to them that which they recognized, they refused to believe in it. So [let] the curse of Allah [fall] on those who disbelieve." (Qur'an 2:89)
The citizens of Al-Madinah then returned home and spread the word. The next year, twelve of them returned and gave Muhammad (pbuh) their pledge of submission and acceptance of his message. This was called "The first pledge of Al-Aqaba"
When this delegation left to return to their people, Muhammad (pbuh) sent with them teachers who taught the people of their city the Qur'an and the religion of Islam. This continued for one year until there was hardly a house in Al-Madinah except there were people in it who had accepted Islam. At the end of the year the people sent another delegation to Muhammad (pbuh) consisting of seventy five representatives. They gave Muhammad the famous second pledge of Al-Aqaba, the "pledge of war." In it they pledged to protect Muhammad and his companions within their city with their wealth and their might no matter what the cost to themselves and their families, and to protect them as they would protect their own wives and children. Upon receiving this pledge, Muhammad (pbuh) authorized his followers to emigrate to Al-Madinah (for more see section 6.4).
A Muslim by the name of Salamah the son of Salamah the son of Waksh, a citizen of Al-Madinah, once narrated:
"We used to have a Jewish neighbor from the tribe of Abd-Alash'hal. One day he left his house and came out to talk to some members of the tribe of Abd-Alash'hal. At that time I was the youngest among them. I was wearing a mantle of mine and laying on it in my family's yard. He (the neighbor) then began to make mention of Judgment Day, the resurrection of all mankind, judgment, the scales, Paradise, and Hell. He was saying all of this to a tribe of polytheist, followers of idols, people who did not believe in an afterlife or a resurrection after death. For this reason they replied to him: 'Do you really believe that all of this shall come to pass? Do you really believe that mankind shall be resurrected after their death to a place where there is a Paradise and a Fire to be rewarded for their deeds?' He replied, 'Yes, by He in whom we testify!.' He continued that he would prefer to be roasted in the most tremendous furnace in this earthly life rather than have to endure the fire of Hell in the hereafter. The others then replied: 'What then is your proof of what you say?' He replied 'A prophet who shall come from that vicinity' and he pointed in the general direction of Makkah and Yemen (South). They replied 'And when shall we see him?' He looked at me, a young child, and answered 'If this child reaches his prime he shall see him'" Salamah then continued "By Allah!, night and day did not pass but Muhammad had become the messenger, and he was alive among us. We then believed in him and accepted him but he disbelieved in him and rejected him out of transgression and envy. We then said to him one day '[what is the matter with you?] Are you not the same one who previously told us so much about him?' He replied 'Yes! but he is not the one.'"
Asim the son of Omar the son of Qutadah narrated that an elder from the Jewish tribe of Bani-Quraidah said to him:
"Do you know the story of how Thalaba the son of Sa'iah, Usaid the son of Sa'iah, and Asab the son of Ubaid, the children of the tribe of Hadal the brethren of Bani-Quraidah, became Muslims?" He said "I replied: No I do not." He said: "There was once a man from the children of Israel who came to us from the land of Al-Sham (Babylon, Palestine, etc.). His name was Ibn-Alhai'iban. He came to us two years prior to the beginning of Islam. As he lived among us we never before saw a man better or more devout in his daily worship than he. Whenever rain would be withheld from us we would go to him and say to him: Go out O Ibn-Alhai'iban and pray to God to grant us rain. He would reply: I shall not do so unless you agree to pay out of your harvest a charity [to the needy]. We would ask him, how much? And he would reply a 'Saa' (weight) of dates or two 'Muud' (weights) of wheat. He said: So we would pay this charity and he would accompany us out to the edge of town and beseech God on our behalf. Before he would rise to leave a cloud would overshadow us and the rain would begin to pour. He did this for us not once, or twice, or even three times [but more]. When he was on his death bed and he knew that he was about to pass away, he said: O children of Israel, what do you think drove me to leave the land of wine and leavened bread to come to the land of wretchedness and hunger?. They replied: 'You know best' He said: Then know that I only came to this land in anticipation of a prophet of God whose time has drawn near, and this land is the destination of his emigration (see chapter 6). I had hoped that his time might come so that I might follow him. So do not allow anyone to beat you to him O children of Israel for he shall be sent to spill blood and to take as spoils the women and children of those who oppose him. Therefore do not allow that to prevent you from him. When Muhammad was sent, and when he surrounded Bani-Quraidah, these young men who had attended his speech told their people: 'By Allah!, this is indeed the prophet which Ibn-Alhai'iban told you of.' They replied: 'It is not him.' They returned: 'But it is!, and it is his description.' So these [three] young men left their people and accepted Islam."