24 – Family Divisions

Talib and ‘Aqil, the elder sons of Abu Talib, had not followed the example of their younger brothers Ja’far and ‘Ali, but had remained like their father unconverted yet tolerant/ Very different was the attitude of Abu Lahab: since the recent confrontation with the leaders of Quraysh he had become openly hostile; and his wife Umm Jamil, the sister of the Shamsite leader Abu Sufyan, had conceived a hatred for the Prophet. Between them they compelled their two sons to repudiate Ruqayyah and Um Kulthum -it is not certain whether the marriages had already taken place, or whether they were still only betrothed. But Umm Jamil’s satisfaction at this rupture was diminished when she heard that her wealthy Umayyad cousin, ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, had asked for the hand of Ruqayyah and had married her. This marriage was most pleasing to the Prophet and Khadijah. Their daughter was happy and their new son-in-law was devoted to her and to them. There was also another consideration which impelled them to give thanks: Ruqayyah was the most beautiful of their daughters and one of the most beautiful women of her generation throughout all Mecca; and ‘Uthman was remarkably handsome man. To see the two of them together was in itself a reason for rejoicing. “God is Beautiful and He loveth beauty”.[1] Not long after their marriage, when they were both absent from Mecca, the Prophet sent them a messenger, who returned considerably later than he was expected. When he began to proffer his excuses the Prophet cut him short, saying: “I will tell thee, if thou wilt, what hath kept thee: thou didst stand there gazing at ‘Uthman and Ruqayyah and marveling at their beauty.”[2]

The Prophet’s aunt Arwa now made up her mind to enter Islam. The immediate cause of her decision was her son Tulayb, a youth of fifteen, who had recently made his profession of faith in the house of Arqam. When he told his mother she said:” If we could do what men can do, we would protect our brother’s son.” But Tulayb refused to accept such vagueness. “What preventeth thee,” he said, “from entering Islam and following him? Thy brother Hamzah hat done so.” And when she made her usual excuse about waiting for her sisters he cut her short, saying: “I beg thee by God to go and greet him and say thou believest in him and testify that There is no god but God.” She did what he had said; and, having done so, she took courage, and rebuked her brother Abu Lahab for his treatment of their nephew.

As to Khadijah’s relatives, no sooner had Islam become known in Mecca than her half brother Nawfal became one of its worst and most violent enemies. This did not, however, prevent his son Aswad from entering the religion which was for Khadijah a compensation for Nawfal’s enmity. But it was a disappointment that her favorite nephew, the Shamsite Abu l-‘As, already for some years her son-in-law, had not entered Islam as his wife Zaynab had done; and great pressure was now being put upon him by the leaders of his clan and others to divorce her. They went so far as to suggest that he should look for the richest, best-connected and most beautiful bride available in Mecca, and they promised, on condition of his divorce, that they would unite their efforts towards arranging the marriage in question. But Zaynab and Abu l-‘As loved each other deeply: she always hoped and prayed that he would join her in Islam; and he, for his part, firmly told his clansmen that he already had a wife of his choice and that he wanted none other. Hakim, another of Khadijah’s nephews -her brother Hizam’s son who nearly twenty years previously had made her a present of Zayd- retained like Abu l-‘As his affection for his aunt and her household without renouncing the gods of Quraysh; but Hakim’s brother Khalid entered Islam.

Verily thou guidest not whom thou lovest, but God guideth whom He will.[3] The truth expressed in this verse is repeated continually through the Qur’an. But if such Revelations helped to ease the weight of the Prophet’s sense of responsibility, they did not prevent him from being sad at the averseness of his Makhzumite cousin ‘Abd Allah; and another such case, which perhaps caused him even more sadness was that of his uncle Harith’s son, Abu Sufyan, his foster-brother, cousin and one-time friend. He had hoped that he would respond to his message, whereas on the contrary the message made a rift between them, and Abu Sufyan’s aloofness and coldness increased as time went on, perhaps through the influence of their uncle Abu lahab. Others also were made to feel the truth of the above-quoted verse: Abu Bakr had been followed into Islam by his wife Umm Ruman, and by ‘Abd Allah and Asma’, his son and daughter by another wife presumably now dead. Umm Ruman had just borne him a second daughter whom they named ‘A’ishah and who was, like Zayd’s son Usamah, one of the first children to be born into Islam. But although Abu Bakr had been responsible for so many conversions he was unable to convert his own eldest son, ‘Abd al-Ka’bah, who resisted all the attempts of his father and his mother -he was Umm Ruman’s son- to persuade him to enter their religion.

If the believers had disappointments, their opponents had the vexation of feeling themselves face to face with a new and incalculable presence in Mecca which threatened to disrupt their way of life and frustrate all their projects for the future, especially those which related to planning the marriages of their children. The Bani Makhzum had been gratified when their clansmen ‘Abd Allah had so sharply opposed his cousin Muhammad in the Assemby. ‘Abd Allah’s brother Zuhayr, though somewhat less hostile to the new religion, had also refused to enter it. Like ‘Abd Allah, he was the son of ‘Atikah, the daughter of ‘Abd al-Muttalib, but their now dead father had had a second wife also named ‘Atikah, who had borne him a daughter. Hind, for so she was named, was a woman of great beauty, now in her nineteenth year, and she had not long been married to the cousin of her two half-brothers, Abu Salamah of the other branch of Makhzum. The whole clan was pleased at this link between their two branches. Great, therefore, was their dismay when Abu Salamah’s Islam became known; and this dismay was doubled when Hind -or Umm Salamah, as she is always called- instead of leaving her husband became like him one of the most devoted followers of the Prophet.

On the death of Abu Salamah’s father, his mother Barrah had married a man of the Quraysh clan of ‘Amir by whom she had had a second son, known as Abu Sabrah. Suhayl, the chief of ‘Amir, had recently given Abu Sabrah his daughter Umm Kulthum in marriage. Barrah, unlike her sister Arwa, had not yet entered Islam; but Abu Sabrah was subject to its influence not only through his half-brother Abu Salamah but also through his stepmother, his father’s second wife Maymunah. It was to Maymunah and her three sisters, the wives of ‘Abbas, Hamzah and Ja’far, that the Prophet referred when he said: “Verily the sisters are true believers”;[4] and Maymunah’s marriage brought to the clan of ‘Amir a powerful presence of her faith.

Suhayl had another daughter, Sahlah, whom he had given to Abu Hudhayfah, the son of the Shamsite leader ‘Utbah.’Amir had of late been rapidly increasing in power, and this marriage was thought to be an advantageous one by both the clans concerned. Not long afterwards, however, the couple entered Islam; they were followed, or preceded, by the other couple, Abu Sabrah and Umm Kulthum. Suhay thus lost two daughters to the new religion, and two carefully chosen sons-in-law. He likewise lost his three brothers, Hatib, Salit and Sakran, and Sakran’s wife, their cousin Sawdah. But, worst of all from Suhaly’s point of view, his eldest son, ‘Abd Allah, also became a devout follower of the Prophet. ‘Abd Allah had hopes that his father might one day join them, and these hopes were shared by the Prophet himself, for Suhayl was a man of more piety and intelligence than most of the other leaders, and had even been known to make spiritual retreats. But as yet he showed himself hostile to the new faith, not violently but none the less resolutely, and his children’s disobedience seemed to have a hardening effect upon him.

In ‘Abdu Shams, Abu Hudhayfah was not the only son of a leader to defy parental authority. Khalid, who had dreamed of the Prophet saving him from the fire, had kept his Islam secret, but his father heard of it and ordered him to renounce it. Khalid said: “I will die sooner than forsake the religion of Muhammad”,[5] whereupon he was beaten unmercifully and imprison in a room without food or drink. But after three days he escaped, and his father disowned him without taking further action. ‘Utbah was characteristically less violent and more patient with Abu Hudhayfah, who for his part was attached to his father and hoped that he would come to see the errors of idolatry.

As to the Umayyad branch of ‘Abdu Shams, in addition to the Islam of ‘Uthman and his marriage to Ruqayyah, there were other serious losses. Many of their confederates of the Bani Asad ibn Khuzaymah had likewise professed their faith in the new religion, fourteen in number including the Jahsh family who, as cousins of the Prophet, were no doubt the leaders. With these valued confederates Abu Sufyan the Umayyad chief lost also his own daughter, Umm Habibah, whom he had married to ‘Ubayd Allah ibn Jahsh, the younger brother of ‘Abd Allah.

In the clan of ‘Adi, in one of its chief families, the power of the tie of truth to break lesser ties had been prefigured in the last generation. Nufayl had had two sons, Khattab and ‘Amr, by two different wives; and on the death of Nufayl the mother of Khattab married her stepson ‘Amr and bore him a son whom they named Zayd. Khattab and Zayd were thus half-brothers on their mother’s side. Zayd was one of the few men who, like Waraqah, saw the idolatrous practices of Quraysh for what they were; and not only did he refuse to take part in them himself, but he even refused to eat anything that had been sacrificed to idols. He proclaimed that he worshipped the God of Abraham, and he did not hesitate to rebuke his people in public. Khattab, on the other hand, was a staunch adherent of the inveterate practices of Quraysh and he was scandalized by Zayd’s disrespect for the gods and goddesses that they worshipped. So he persecuted him to the point of forcing him to leave the hollow of Mecca and to live in the hills above it; and he even organized a band of young men whom he instructed not to allow Zayd to approach the Sanctuary. The outcast thereupon left the Hijaz and went as far as Mosul in the north of Iraq and from there south-west into Syria, always questioning monks and rabbis about the religion of Abraham, until finally he met a monk who told him that the time was now near when there would come forth, in the very country he had left, a Prophet who would preach the religion he was seeking. Zayd then retraced his steps, but on his way through the territory of Lakhm on the southern border of Syria he was attacked and killed. When Waraqah heard of his death, he wrote an elegy in praise of him. The Prophet also praised him and said that on the day of the Resurrection “he will be raised as having, in himself alone, the worth of a whole people.”[6]

Many years had now passed since Zayd’s death: Khattab was also dead, and his son ‘Umar was on good terms with Zayd’s son Sa’id, who had married ‘Umar’s sister Fatimah. The rift between the two branches of the family had closed. But with the coming of Islam Sa’id was one of the first to join it, whereas ‘Umar, whose mother was the sister of Abu Jahl, became one of its fiercest opponents. Fatimah followed her husband, but they did not dare to tell her brother, knowing his violent nature. ‘Umar was beset on Islam by Islam on another side also: his wife Zaynab was the sister of ‘Uthman the son of Ma’zun of the clan of Jumah; and this ‘Uthman was by nature an ascetic and had had tendencies towards monotheism before the descent of the Revelation. He and his two brothers were among the first to respond it; and they and Zaynab had also three nephews who had entered Islam. Of Zaynab herself, ‘Umar’s wife, nothing is recorded at this stage, no doubt because, whereas her sympathies lay, she had powerful reasons for keeping them a secret. Her brother ‘Uthman was even more uncompromising than ‘Umar, though he was less violent.

Zaynab and her brothers were younger cousins of the chief of their clan, Umayyah ibn Khalaf, who was one of the most implacable enemies of Islam, as were his immediate family. It was his brother Ubayy who one day took a decayed bone to the Prophet and said: “Claimest though, Muhammad, that God can bring this to life?” Then with a disdainful smile he crumbled the bone in his hand and blew the fragments into the face of the Messenger, who said: “Even so, that do I claim: He will raise it, and thee too when thou art as that now is; then will He enter thee into the fire.”[7] It is to Ubayy that the following Revelation refers: He forgot his own createdness and said: Who will give life to bones when the are rotten? Say: He who gave them being the first time will give them life again.[8]


[1] Saying of the Prophet, A.H. IV, 133 – 134
[2] S. 205
[3] Qur’an 28 : 56
[4] I.S. VIII, 203
[5] I.S. IV 1, 68
[6] I.I. 145
[7] I.I. 239
[8] Qur’an 36 : 78

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