29 – The Ban and Its Annulment

It was not tolerable to ‘Umar that Quraysh should worship their gods openly at the Ka’bah, while the believers worshipped God in secret. So he used to pray in front of the Ka’bah and he would encourage other Muslims to pray with him. SOmetimes he and Hamzah would go with a large body of the faithful to the sanctuary, and on such occasions the leaders of Quraysh kept away. It would have been a loss of dignity for them to stand by and let this happen, yet if they resisted they knew that ‘Umar would stop at nothing. They were none the less determined not to allow this young man to imagine that he had defeated them, and under pressure from Abu Jahl they decided that the best solution would be to place an interdiction on the whole clan of Hashim who, with the exception of Abu Lahab, were resolved to protect their kinsman whether they believed him to be a Prophet or not. A document was drawn up according to which it was undertaken that no one would marry a woman of Hashim or give his daughter in marriage to a man of Hashim; and no one was to sell anything to them, or buy anything from them. This was to continue until the clan of Hashim themselves outlawed Muhammad, or until he renounced his claim to prophethood. No less than forty leaders of Quraysh set their seal to this agreement though not all of them were equally in favor of it, and some of them had to be won over. The clan of Muttalib refused to forsake their Hashimite cousins, and they were included in the ban. The document was solemnly placed inside the Ka’bah.

For the sake of mutual security the Bani Hashim gathered round Abu Talib in that quarter of the hollow of Mecca where he and most of the clan lived. At the arrival of the Prophet and Khadijah with their household, Abu Lahab and his wife moved away and went to live in a house which he owned elsewhere, to demonstrate their solidarity with Quraysh as a whole.

The ban was not always rigorously enforced, nor was it possible to close all the loopholes owing to the fact that a woman was still a member of her own family after marrying into another clan. Abu Jahl was continually on the watch, but he could not always impose his will. One day he met Khadijah’s nephew Hakim with a slave carrying a bag of flour, and they appeared to be making for the dwellings of the Bani Hashim. He accused them of taking food to the enemy and threatened to denounce Hakim before Quraysh. While they were arguing, Abu l-Bakhtari, another man of Asad, came and asked what was the matter, and when it was explained to him he said to Abu Jahl: “It is his aunt’s flour and she hath sent to him for it. Let the man go on his way.” Neither Hakim nor Abu l-Bakhtari were Muslims, but the passing of this bag of flour from one member of the clan of Asad to another could concern no one outside that clan. The interference of the Makhzumite was outrageous and intolerable; and when Abu Jahl persisted Abu l-Bakhtari picked up a came’s jawbone and brought it down on his head with such force that he was half stunned and fell to the ground, whereupon they trampled him heavily underfoot, to the gratification of Hamzah who happened to come by at that moment.

Hakim was within his rights, but others simply defied the ban out of sympathy for its victims. Hisham ibn ‘Amr of ‘Amir had no Hashimite blood, but his family had close marriage connections with the clan; and under cover of the night he would often bring a came laden with food to the entrace to Abu Talib’s quarter. Then he would take off its halter and strike it a blow on the flank so that it would go past their houses; and another night he would load it with clothes and other gifts.

Apart from such help from unbelievers, the Muslims themselves of the other clans, especially Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, contrived various ways of thwarting the interdiction. When two years had passed, Abu Bakr could no longer be counted as a wealthy man. But despite such help there was perpetual shortage of food amongst the two victimized clans, and sometimes the shortage bordered on famine.

During the sacred months, when they could leave their retreat and go about freely without fear of being molested, the Prophet frequently went to the Sanctuary, and the leaders of Quraysh took advantage of his presence there to insult him and to satirize him. Sometimes when he recited Revelations warning Quraysh of what had happened to former peoples, Nadr of ‘Abd ad-Dar would rise to his feet and say: “By God, Muhammad sis no better as a speaker than I am. His talk is but tales of the men of old. They have been written out for him even as mine have been written out for me.” Then he would tell them the tales of Rustum and Isfandiyar and the kings of Persia. In this connection was revealed one of the many verses which refer to the heart as the faculty by which man has sight of supernatural realities. The eye of the heart, though closed in fallen man, is able to take in a glimmering of light and this is faith. But an evil way of living causes a covering like rust to accumulate over the heart so that it cannot sense the Divine origin of God’s Message: When Our Revelations are recited unto him, he saith: Tales of the men of old. Nay, but their earnings are even as rust over their hearts.[1] As to the opposite state of this, the supreme possibility of insight, the Prophet affirmed of himself on more than one occasion that the eye of his heart was open even in sleep: “Mine eye sleepeth, but my heart is awake.”[2]

Another Revelation, one of the very few that mentions by name any contemporary of the Prophet, had now come affirming that Abu Lahab and his wife were destined for hell.[3] Umm Jamil heard of this, and she went to the Mosque with a stone pestle in her hand in search of the Prophet, who was sitting with Abu Bakr. She came up to Abu Bakr and said to him: “Where is thy companion?” He knew that she meant the Prophet who was there in front of her, and he was too amazed to speak. “I have heard,” she said, “that he hath lampooned me, and by God, if I had found him I would have shattered his mouth with this pestle.” Then she said: “As for me, I am a poetess indeed,” and she uttered a rhyme about the Prophet:

“We disobey the reprobate,
Flout the commands he doth dictate,
And his religion hate.”

When she had gone, Abu Bakr asked the Prophet if she had not seen him. “She saw me not,” he said. “God took away her sight from me.” As to “Reprobate” -in Arabic mudhammam, blamed, the exact opposite of muhammad, praised, glorified- some of Quraysh had taken to calling him that by way of revilement. He would say to his companions: “Is it not wondrous how God turneth away from me the injuries of Quraysh? They revile Mudhammam, whereas I am Muhammad.”[4]

The ban on Hashim and Muttalib had lasted two years or more and showed no signs of having any of the desired effects. It had moreover the undesired and unforeseen effect of drawing further attention to the Prophet and of causing the new religion to be talked of more than ever throughout Arabia. But independently of these considerations, many of Quraysh began to have second thoughts about the ban, especially those who had close relatives amongst its victims. The time had come for a change of mind to take place, and the first man to act was that same Hisham who had so often sent his camel with food and clothes for the Hashimites. But he knew that he could achieve nothing by himself, so he went to the Makhzumite Zuhayr, one of the two sons of the Prophet’s aunt ‘Atikah, and said to him: “Art thou content to eat food and wear clothes and marry women when thou knowest how it is with thy mother’s kinsmen. They can neither buy nor sell, neither marry nor give in marriage; and I swear by God that if they were the brethren of the mother of Abu l-Hakam” -he meant Abu Jahl- “and thou hadst called upon him to do what he hath called on thee to do, he would never have done it.” “Confound thee, Hisham,” said Zuhayr. “What can I do? I am but a single man. If I had with me another man, I would not rest until I had annulled it.” “I have found a man,” said Hisham. “Who is he?” “Myself.” “Find us a third,” said Zuhayr. So Hisham went to Mut’im ibn ‘Adi, one of the leading men of the clan of Nawfal -a grandson of Nawfal himself, brother of Hashim and Muttalib. “Is it thy will,” he said, “that two of the sons of ‘Abdu Manaf should perish whilst thou lookest on in approval of Quraysh? By God, if ye enable them to do this ye will soon find them doing the like to you.” Mut’im asked for a fourth man, so Hisham went to Abu l-Bakhtari of Asad, the man who had struck Abu Jahl on account of Khadijah’s bag of flour, and when he asked for a fifth man Hisham went to another Asadite, Zam’ah ibn al-Aswad, who agreed to be the fifth without asking for a sixth. They all undertook to meet that night at the soutskirts of Hajun, above Mecca, and there they agreed on their plan of action and bound themselves not to let drop the matter of the document until they had had it annulled. “I am the most nearly concerned,” said Zuhayr, “so I will be the first to speak.”

Early the next day they joined the gathering of the people in the Mosque and Zuhayr, clad in a long robe, went round the Ka’bah seven times. Then he turned to face the assembly and said: “O people of Mecca, are we to eat food and wear clothes, while the sons of Hashim perish, unable to buy and to unable to sell? By God, I will not be seated until this iniquitous ban be torn up.” “Thou liest!” said his cousin Abu Jahl. “It shall not be torn up.” “Thou art the better liar,” said Zam’ah. “We were not in favor of its being written, when it was written.” “Zam’ah is right,” said Abu l-Bakhtari. “We are not in favor of what is written in it, neither do we hold with it.” “Ye are both right,” said Mut’im, “and he that saith no is a liar. We call God to witness our innocence of it and of what is written in it.” Hisham said much the same, and when Abu Jahl began to accuse them of having plotted it all overnight, Mut’im cut him short by going into the Ka’bah to fetch the document. He came out in triumph with a small piece of vellum in his hand: the worms had eaten the ban, all but the opening words “In Thy Name, O God”.

Most of Quraysh had been virtually won over already, and this unquestionable omen was a final and altogether decisive argument. Abu Jahl and one or two like-minded men knew that it would be vain to resist. The ban was formally revoked, and a body of Quraysh went to give the good news to the Bani Hashim and the Bani l-Muttalib.

There was much relief in Mecca after the ban was lifted, and for the moment hostilities against the Muslims were relaxed. Exaggerated reports of this soon reached Abyssinia, whereupon some of the exiles immediately set about making preparations to return to Mecca while others, Ja’far amongst them, decided to remain for a while where they were.

Meantime the leaders of Quraysh concentrated their efforts on trying to persuade the Prophet to agree to a compromise. This was the nearest approach they had yet made to him. Walid and other chiefs proposed that they should all practice both religions. The Prophet was saved the trouble of formulating his refusal by an immediate answer which came directly from Heaven in a surah of six verses:

Say: O disbelievers, I shall not worship that which ye worship, nor will ye worship that which I worship, nor have I worshipped that which ye worship, nor have ye worshipped that which I worship. For you your religion and for me mine.[5]

As a result, the momentary good will had already much diminished by the time the returning exiles reached the edge of the sacred precinct.

Except for Ja’far and ‘Ubayd Allah ibn Jahsh, all the Prophet’s cousins returned. With them came also ‘Uthman and Ruqayyah. Another Shamsite who returned with ‘Uthman was Abu Hudhayfah. He could rely on his father ‘Utbah to protect him. But Abu Salamah and Umm Salamah could hope for nothing but persecution from their own clan, so before they entered Mecca Abu Salamah sent word to his Hashimite uncle Abu Talib, asking for his protection which he agreed to give, much to the indignation of Makhzum. “Thou hast protected from us thy nephew Muhammad,” they said, “but why art thou protecting our own clansman?” “He is my sister’s son,” said Abu Talib. “If I did not protect my sister’s son, I could not protect my brother’s son.” They had no choice but to allow him his rights of chieftaincy. Moreover, on this occasion Abu Lahab supported his brother, and Makhzum knew that he was one of their most powerful allies against the Prophet, so they did not wish to offend him. For his part, he perhaps regretted having manifested so clearly, at the time of the ban, the implacable hatred which he felt for his nephew. Not that his hatred was diminished in any sense; but he wished to be on better terms with his family for the reason that after his elder brother’s death he might normally hope to take his place as chief of the clan; and it may be that he now saw in Abu Talib signs that he had not much longer to live.


[1] Qur’an 83 : 13 – 14
[2] I.I. 375; B. 16, etc
[3] Qur’an 91
[4] I.I. 234
[5] Qur’an 109

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