20 – Abu Jahl and Hamzah

In Mecca the steady increase in the number of believers brought with it a corresponding increase in the hostility of the disbelievers; and one day when some of the chief men of Quraysh were gathered together in the Hijr, bitterly stirring up each others’ anger against the Prophet, it so happened that the Prophet himself entered the Sanctuary. Going to the east corner of the Ka’bah, he kissed the Black Stone and began to make the seven rounds. As he passed the Hijr they raised their voices in slanderous calumny against him, and it was clear from his face that he had heard what they said. He passed them again on his second round, and again they slandered him. But when they did the same as he was passing them the third time he stopped and said: “O Quraysh, will hear me? Verily by Him who holdeth my soul in His Hand, I bring you slaughter!”[1] This word and the way he said it seemed to bind them as by a spell. Noe one of them moved or spoke, until the silence was finally broken by one of those who had been most violent, saying in all gentleness: “Go thy way, O Abu l-Qasim, for by God thou art not an ignorant fool.” But the respite did not last long, for they soon began to blame themselves for having been so unaccountably overawed, and they vowed that in the future they would make amends for this momentary weakness.

One of the worst enemies of Islam was a man of Makhzum named ‘Amr and known to his family and friends as Abu l-Hakam, which the Muslims were not slow to change into Abu Jahl, “the father of ignorance”. He was a grandson of Mughirah and nephew of the now elderly Walid who was chief of the clan. Abu Jahl felt sure of succeeding his uncle, and he had already established for himself a certain position in Mecca through his wealth and his ostentatious hospitality, and partly also through making himself feared on account of his ruthlessness and his readiness to take revenge on anyone who opposed him. He had been the most indefatigable of all those men who had manned the approaches to Mecca during the recent Pilgrimage, and the most vociferous in his denunciation of the Prophet as a dangerous sorcerer. He was also the most active in persecuting the more helpless believers of his own clan, and in urging other clans to do the same. But one day, despite himself, he indirectly did the new religion a great service.

The Prophet was sitting outside the Mosque near the Safa Gate, so named because the pilgrims go out through it to perform the rite of passing seven times between the hill of Safa which is near the gate and the hill of Marwah some 450 yards to the north. A rock near the foot of Safa marks the starting point of the ancient rite, and the Prophet was alone at this hallowed place when Abu Jahl came past. Here was an opportunity for the Makhzumite to show that he at least was not overawed; and standing in front of the Prophet he proceeded to revile him with all the abuse he could muster. The Prophet merely looked at him, but spoke no word; and finally, having heaped upon him the worst insults he could think of, Abu Jahl entered the Mosque to join those of Quraysh who were assembled in the Hijr. The Prophet sadly rose to his feet and returned to his home.

Scarcely had he gone than Hamzah came in sight from the opposite direction on his way from the chase, with his bow slung over his shoulder. It was his custom, whenever he came back from hunting, to do honor to the Holy House before he joined his family. Seeing him approach, a woman came out of her house near the Safa Gate and addressed him. She was a freedwoman of the household of the now dead ‘Abd Allah ibn Jud’an of Taym, the man who twenty years previously had been one of the chief inaugurators of the chivlaric pact, Hilf al-Fudul. The Jud’an family were cousins of Abu Bakr, and she herself, being well disposed to the Prophet and his religion, had been outraged by Abu Jahl’s insults, every word of which she had overheard. “Abu ‘Umarah,”[2] she said to Hamzah, “if only thou hadst seen how Muhammad, thy brother’s son, was treated even now by Abu l-Hakam, the son of Hisham. He found him sitting here, and most odiously reviled him and abused him. Then he left him” -she pointed towards the Mosque to indicate where he had gone- “and Muhammad answered not a word.” Hamzah was of a friendly nature and an easy disposition. He was none the less the most stalwart man of Quraysh, and when roused he was the most formidable and the most unyielding. His mighty frame now shook with anger such as he had never felt, and his anger set free something in his soul, and brought to completion an already half formed resolve. Striding into the Mosque he made straight for Abu Jahl; and, standing over him, he raised his bow and brought it down with all his force on his back. “Wilt thou insult him,” he said “now that I am of his religion, and now that I avouch what he avouchesth? Strike me blow for blow, if thou canst.” Abu Jahl was not lacking in courage, but on this occasion he evidently felt that it was better that the incident should be closed. So when some of the Makhzumites present rose to their feet as if to help him he motioned them to be seated, saying: “Let Abu ‘Umarah be, for by God I reviled his brother’s son with a right ugly reviling.”


[1] I.I. 183
[2] ‘Umarah was Hamzah’s daughter. The politest form of address among the Arabs is to name a man “Father (Abu) of so-and-so” and a woman “Mother (Umm) of so-and-so”.

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