18 – Quraysh Take Action

In these early days of Islam the Companions of the Prophet would often go out together in groups to the glens outside Mecca where they could pray the ritual prayer together without being seen. But one day a number of idolaters came upon them while they were praying and rudely interrupted them with ridicule. Finally they came to blows, and Sa’d of Zuhrah struck one of the disbelievers with the jawbone of a camel and wounded him. This was the first blood shed in Islam. But after that they decided to refrain from violence until God should decide otherwise, for the Revelation continually enjoined patience upon the Prophet and therefore upon them. Bear with patience what they say, and part from them with a courteous farewell,[1] and also Deal gently with disbelievers, give them respite for a while.[2]

This case of violence had been something of an exception on both sides, for Qurasyh as a whole were disposed to tolerate the new religion, even after the Prophet had openly proclaimed it, until they saw that it was directed against their gods, their principles and their inveterate practices. Once they had realized this, however, some of their leading men went in a body to Abu Talib, to insist that he should restrain his nephew’s activities. He put them off with a conciliatory answer; but when they saw that he had done nothing they came to him again and said: “O Abu Talib, thine is a high and honorable position amongst us, and we have asked thee to hold in check thy brother’s son, but thou hast not done so. By God, we will not suffer our fathers to be insulted, our ways scoffed at, and our gods reviled. Either make him desist, or we will fight you both.” Then they left him, and in great distress he sent for his nephew, and having told him what they had threatened, he said: “O son of my brother, spare me and spare thyself. Lay not upon me a burden greater than I can bear.” But the Prophet answered him saying: “I swear by God, if they put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left on condition that I abandon this course before He hath made it victorious, I have perished therein, I would not abandon it.”[3] Then, with tears in his eyes, he rose to his feet and turned to go, but his uncle called him back: “Son of my brother,” he said, “go thou and say what thou wilt, for by God I will never forsake thee on any account.”

When they found that their words had achieved nothing with Abu Talib, Quraysh still hesitated to attack his nephew directly, for, as a chief of clan, Abu Talib had power to grant inviolate protection, and it was in the interests of every other chief of clan in Mecca to see that the rights of chieftaincy were duly respected. So they confined themselves for the moment to organizing a widespread persecution of all those adherents of the new religion who had no one to protect them.

meantime they consulted together in an attempt to form a common policy about the cause of their trouble. The situation was exceedingly grave: the time of the Pilgrimage would soon be upon them and Arabs would come to Mecca from all over Arabia. They, Quraysh, had a high reputation for hospitality, not only as regards food and drink but also because they made every man welcome, both him and his gods. But this year pilgrims would hear their gods insulted by Muhammad and his followers, and they would be urged to forsake the religion of their forefathers and to adopt a new religion which appeared to have numerous disadvantages. No doubt many of them would not come to Mecca again, which would not only be bad for trade but would also diminish the honor in which the guardians of the Sanctuary were not held. At the worst, the Arabs might league together to drive them out of Mecca and to establish another tribe or group of tribes in their place -as they themselves had previously done with Khuza’ah, and as Khuza’ah had done with Jurhum. It was therefore imperative that the visiting Arabs should be told that Muhammad in no way represented Quraysh. But although it was easy to deny his prophethood, that was merely to express an opinion and indirectly to invite others to listen to his claims and judge for themselves. Something else needed to be said in addition; and here lay their weakness, for some had taken to saying that he was a soothsayer, others that he was possessed, others that was a poet, yet others that he was a sorcerer. They consulted Walid the son of Mughirah, probably the most influential man of the tribe at that time, as to which of these accusations would be best likely to convince, and he rejected them all as wide of the mark; but on second thoughts he decided that although the man in question was certainly not a sorcerer, he had at least one thing in common with sorcerers: he had the power to separate a man from his father or from his brother or from his wife or from his family in general. He advised them therefore to let their unanimous accusation be along those lines, namely that Muhammad was a dangerous sorcerer, to be avoided at all costs. Having readily agreed to follow his advice, they decided that outside the town all the roads by which Mecca was approached must be manned, and that visitors must be warned in advance to be on their guard against Muhammad, for they knew from their own experience how winning he could be. Had he not been, before he began preaching, one of the best loved men in Mecca? Nor had his tongue lost any of its eloquence, nor his presence anything of its compelling majesty.

They carried out their plans with zeal and thoroughness. In at least one particular case, however, they were doomed to failure from the outset. A man of the Bani Ghifar named Abu Dharr -his tribe lived to the north-west of Mecca, not far from the red sea- had already heard of the Prophet and of the opposition to him. Like most of his tribesmen, Abu Dharr was a highwayman; but unlike them he was a firm believer in the Oneness of God, and he refused to pay any respect to idols. His brother Unays went to Mecca for some reason, and on his return he told Abu Dharr that there was a man of Quraysh who claimed to be a Prophet and who said there is no god but God, and his people had disowned him in consequence. Abu Dharr immediately set off for Mecca, in the certainty that here was a true Prophet, and on his arrival those of the Quraysh who manned the approaches told him all he wished to know before the had time to ask. Without difficulty he found his way to the Prophet’s house. The Prophet was lying asleep on a bench in the courtyard, with his face covered by a fold of his cloak. Abu Dharr woke up and wished him good morning. “On thee be Peace!” said the Prophet. “Declaim unto me thine utterances,” said the Bedouin. “I am no poet,” said the Prophet, “but what I utter is the Qur’an, and it is not I who speak but God who speaketh.” “Recite for me,” said Abu Dharr, and he recited to him a surah, whereupon Abu Dharr said: “I testify that there is no god but God, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” “Who are thy people?” said the Prophet, and at the man’s answer he looked him up and down in amazement and said: “Verily God guideth whom He will.”[4] It was well known that the Bani Ghifar were mostly robbers. Having instructed him in Islam the Prophet told him to return to his people and await his orders. So he returned to the Bani Ghifar, many of whom entered Islam through him. Meantime he continued his calling as highwayman, with special attention to the caravans of Quraysh. But when he had despoiled a caravan he would offer to give back what he had taken on condition that they would testify to the Oneness of God and the prophethood of Muhammad.

Another encounter with the Prophet had the result of bringing Islam to the Bani Daws, who were also, like Ghifar, an outlying western tribe. Tufayl, a man of Daws, told afterwards how he had been warned on his arrival in Mecca against speaking to the sorcerer Muhammad or even listening to him lest he should find himself separated from his people. Tufayl was a poet and a man of considerable standing in his tribe. Quraysh were therefore especially insistent in their warning, and they made him so afraid of being bewitched that before going into the Mosque he stuffed his ears with cotton wool. The Prophet was there, having just taken up his stance for prayer between the Yemeni Corner and the Black Stone as was his wont, facing towards Jerusalem, with the south-east wall of the Ka’bah immediately in front of him. His recitation of Qur’anic verses was not very loud, but some of it none the less penetrated Tufayl’s ears. “God would not have it,” he said, “but that He should make me hear something of what was recited, and I heard beautiful words. So I said to myself: I am a man of insight, a poet, and not ignorant of the difference between the fair and the foul. Why then should I not hear what this man is saying? If it be fair I will accept it, and if foul, reject it. I stayed until the Prophet went away, whereupon I followed him and when he entered his house I entered it upon his heels and said: ‘O Muhammad thy people told me this and that and they so frightened me about thy state that I stuffed mine ears lest I should hear thy speech. But God would not have it but that He should make me hear thee. So tell me thou the truth of what thou art.'”

The Prophet explained Islam to him and recited the Qur’an, and Tufayl made his profession of faith. Then he returned to his people, determined to convert them. His father and his wife followed him into Islam, but the rest of Daws held back, and he returned to Mecca in great disappointment and anger, demanding that the Prophet should put a curse on them. But instead the Prophet prayed for their guidance and said to Tufayl: “Return to thy people, call them to Islam, and deal gently with them.”[5] These instructions he faithfully followed, and as the years passed more and more families of Daws were converted.

Before meeting the Prophet, Tufayl had only met his enemies; but other pilgrims met also his followers who told them a stoy very different from what the enemies told them, and each believed what his nature prompted him to believe. As a result the new religion was spoken of, well or ill, throughout all Arabia; but nowhere was it more a theme of talk than in the oasis of Yathrib.


[1] Qur’an 73 : 10
[2] Qur’an 86 : 17
[3] I.I. 168
[4] I.S. IV, 164
[5] I.I. 252 – 254

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