21 – Quraysh Make Offers and Demands

From that day Hamzah faithfully maintained his Islam and followed all the Prophet’s behests. Nor did his conversion fail to have its effect upon Quraysh, who were now more hesitant to harass the Prophet directly, knowing that Hamzah would protect him. On the other hand, this totally unexpected event made them all the more conscious of what they considered to be the gravity of the situation; and it increased their sense of the need to find a solution and to stop a movement which, so it seemed to them, could only end in the ruin of their high standing among the Arabs. In view of this danger they agreed to change their tactics and to follow a suggestion which was now made in the assembly by one of the leading men of ‘Abdu Shams, ‘Utbah ibn Rabi’ah. “Why should i not go to Muhammad,” he said, “and make certain offers to him, some of which he might accept? And what he accepteth, that will we give him, on condition that leave us in peace.” Word now came that the Prophet was sitting alone beside the Ka’bah, so ‘Utbah left the assembly forthwith and went to the Mosque. He had proposed himself for this task partly because he was a grandson of ‘Abdu Shams, the brother of Hashim; and though the clans named after these two sons of ‘Abdu manaf, son of the great Qusayy, had drifted apart, their differences could easily be sunk in virtue of their common ancestor. Moreover, ‘Utbah was of a less violent and more conciliatory nature than most of Quraysh; and he was also more intelligent.

“Son of my brother,” he said to the Prophet, “thou art as thou knowest a noble of the tribe and thy lineage assureth thee of a place of honor. And now thou hast brought to thy people a matter of grave concern, whereby thou hast rifted their community, declared their way of life to be foolish, spoken shamefully of their gods and their religion, and called their forefathers infidels. So hear what I propose, and see if any of it be acceptable of thee. If it be wealth thou seekest, we will put together a fortune for thee from our various properties that thou mayst be the richest man amongst us. If it be honor thou seekest, we will make thee our overlord and take no decision without thy consent; and if thou wouldst have kingship, we will make thee our king; and if thyself thou canst not rid of thee of this sprite that appeareth unto thee, we will find thee a physician and spend our wealth until they cure be complete.” When he had finished speaking, the Prophet said to him: “Now hear thou me, O Father of Walid.” “I will,” said ‘Utbah, whereupon the Prophet recited to him part of a Revelation which he had recently received.

‘Utbah was prepared to make at least a semblance of heeding, out of policy towards a man he hoped to win, but after a few sentences all such thoughts had changed to wonderment at the words themselves. He sat there with his hands behind his back, leaning upon them as he listened, amazed at the beauty of the language that flowed into his ears. The signs[1] that were recited spoke of the Revelation itself, and of the creation of the earth and the firmament. Then it told of the Prophets and of the peoples of old who, having resisted them, had been destroyed and doomed to Hell. Then came a passage which spoke of the believers, promising them the protection of the Angels in this life and the satisfaction of every desire in the Hereafter. The Prophet ended his recitation with the words: And of His signs are the night and the day and the sun and the moon. Bow not down in adoration unto the sun nor unto the moon, but bow down in adoration unto God their Creator, if Him indeed ye worship[2] -whereupon he placed his forehead on the ground in prostration. Then he said: “Thou hast heard what thou hast heard, O Abu l-Walid, and all is now between thee and that.”

When ‘Utbah returned to his companions they were so struck bye the change of expression on his face that they exclaimed: “What hath befallen thee, O Abu l-Walid?” He answered them saying: “I have heard an utterance the like of which I have never yet heard. It is not poetry, but God, neither is it sorcery nor soothsaying. Men of Quraysh, hearken unto me, and do as I say. Come not between this man and what he is about, but let him be, for by God the words that I have heard from him will be received as great tidings. If the Arabs strike him down ye will be rid of him at the hands of others, and if he overcome the Arabs, then his sovereignty will be your sovereignty and his might will be your might, and ye will be the most fortunate of men.” But they mocked at him saying: “He hath bewitched thee with his tongue.” “I have given you my opinion,” he answered, “so do what ye think is best.” He opposed them no further, nor was the impact made on him by the Qur’anic verses more than a fleeting impression. Meantime, since he had not brought back an answer to any of the questions he had put, one of the others said: “Let us send for Muhammad and talk to him and argue with him, so that we cannot be blamed for having left any way unattempted.” So they sent for him saying: “The nobles of thy people are gathered together that they may speak with thee,” and he went to them with all speed, thinking that they must have been prevailed upon to change their attitude. He longed to guide them to the truth, but his hopes faded as soon as they began repeating the offers already made to him. When they had finished he said to them: “I am not possessed, neither seek I honor amongst you, nor kingship over you. But God hath sent me to you as a messenger and revealed to me a book and commanded me that I should be for you a teller of good tidings and a warner. Even so have I conveyed to you the message of my Lord, and I have given you good counsel. If ye accept from me what I have brought you, that is your good fortune in this world and the next; but if ye reject what I have brought, then will I patiently await God’s judgement between us.”[3]

Their only reply was to go back to where they had left off, and to say that if he would not accept their offers, then let him do something which would prove to them that he was a messenger from God, and which would at the same time make life easier for them. “Ask thy Lord to remove from us these mountains which hem us round and to flatten for us our land and to make rivers flow through it even as the rivers of Syria and Iraq; and to raise for us some of our forefathers, Qusayy amongst them, that we may ask them if what thou sayest be true or false. Or if thou wilt not do these things for us, then ask favors for thyself. Ask God to send with thee an Angel who shall confirm thy words and give us the lie. And ask Him to bestow on thee gardens and palaces and treasures of gold and silver, that we may know how well thou standest with thy Lord.” The Prophet answered them, saying: “I am not one to ask of his Lord the like of such things, nor was I sent for that, but God hath sent me to warn and give good tidings.” Refusing to listen, they said: “Then make fall the sky in pieces on our heads,” in scornful reference to the already revealed verse: If We will, We shall make the earth gape and swallow them, or make fall the firmament in pieces upon them.[4] “That is for God to decide,” he said. “If He will, He will do it.”

Without answering, except by mutual glances of derision, they went to another point. For them, one of the most puzzling features of the Revelation was the constant recurrence of the strange name Rahmãn,[5] apparently related to the source of the Prophet’s inspiration. One of the Revelations began with the words The infinitely Good (ar-Rahmãn) taught the Qur’an,[6] and because it pleased them to accept the rumor that Muhammad was taught his utterances by a man in Yamamah, their final retort on this occasion was to say: “We have heard that all this is taught thee by a man in Yamamah called Rahmãn, and in Rahmãn will we never believe!” The Prophet remained silent, and they continued: “We have now justified ourselves before thee, Muhammad; and we swear by God that we will not leave thee in peace nor desist from our present treatment of thee until we destroy thee or until thou destroy us.” And one of them added: “We will not believe in thee until thou bring us God and the Angels as a warrant.” At these words the Prophet rose to his feet, and as he was about to leave them ‘Abd Allah, the son of Abu Umayyah of Makhzum, also rose and said to him: “I will not believe in thee ever, nay, not until thou takest a ladder and I see thee mount on it up to heaven, and until thou bringest four Angels to testify that thou art what thou claimest to be; and even then I think I would not believe thee.” Now this ‘Abd Allah, on his father’s side, was first cousin to Abu Jahl; but his mother was ‘Atikah, daughter of ‘Abd al-Muttalib, and she had named her son after her brother, the Prophet’s father. So the Prophet went home with the sadness at hearing such words from so near a kinsman added to his general sorrow at the great distance which now lay between himself and the leaders of his people.

Yet from the clan of Makhzum, where so much hatred seemed to be concentrated, he had at least the devotion of Abu Salamah, the son of his aunt Barrah; and now from that direction there came an unexpected help and strength for the new religion. Abu Salamah had a rich cousin on his father’s side named Arqam -their Makhzumite grandfathers were brothers- and Arqam came to the Prophet and pronounced the two testifications la ilaha illa Llah, there is no god but God, and Muhammadun rasulu Llah, Muhammad is the Messenger of God. Then he placed his large house near the  foot of Mount Safa at the service of Islam. From henceforth the believers had a refuge in the very center of Mecca where they could meet and pray together without fear of being seen or disturbed.

[1] Each verse of the Qur’an is called a ‘sign’ that is, a miracle, in view of its direct revelation.
[2] Qur’an 41 : 37
[3] I.I. 188
[4] Qur’an 34 : 9
[5] See chapter 16
[6] Qur’an 55 : 1

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