Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Beginning of the Public Invitation

The public invitation to Islam started in Mecca after the fourth year of the prophethood. The first and most important respondents to Prophet Muhammad were the Quraishis. The Quraihis had placed their idols inside and around the Kaaba and directed the practices of both the hajj and umra pilgrimages, practices which had been continuing since the time of Abraham and Ismael; it was for this reason that the Quraishis had power and eminence among the other tribes.

They had erected idols of various tribes around the Kaaba in order to attain full benefit from those who visited the Kaaba. Difficult times were about to come for Prophet Muhammad, who had invited his family members and close friends to Islam. This was because he was now asked to openly convey the truths that were revealed to him without keeping his activities secret from the idolaters (Al-Hijr 15/94) and he was commanded to warn everyone of the revelations, beginning with the people around him (Ash-Shuaraa 26/214). The Prophet began this difficult task by inviting his close friends to a feast; the invitation to Islam was to continue for nearly twenty-one years, starting from this time until the conquest of Mecca. About forty-five people, members of the Hashemite and Muttalibi branches of the Quraish, attended this feast. However, after the feast, without giving the Prophet a chance to talk, his uncle Abu Lahab said; "I have never seen a person who has brought such a bad thing to his tribe" and the guests left the feast. Saddened by this result, Prophet Muhammad organized a new meeting a few days later. During his speech at the meeting he stated that Allah was one, that He had no equal; Prophet Muhammad went on to say that he trusted in Allah and added that he would never lie to his guests. He finished up his speech with the following phrases: "I am the messenger of Allah who has been sent specifically to you and to all of mankind. I take an oath before Allah that you will die like you fall into sleep and become resurrected like you awake; you will be held liable for your deeds, you will gain goodness for your good deeds and be punished for your bad deeds. Heaven and Hell are eternal. You are the first people that I have warned." Abu Talib, the uncle of the Prophet told him that his words were beautiful and that he would support him, but went on to say that he would not abandon the religion of his ancestors. His other uncle, Abu Lahab, on the other hand told his relatives to prevent Muhammad, saying that they would fall into vileness if they accept his invitation and that they would be killed if they protected him. Upon this Abu Talib announced that as long as he was alive he would protect his nephew.  Abu Lahab and his wife had always been opposed to the Prophet and displayed animosity against him; they personally persecuted him after he gave a speech to people who came from outside Mecca. They said that his words were not true and told everyone that Muhammad was a wizard who was causing conflict in the tribe. It is probably for this reason that there is a chapter of the Quran in which Abu Lahab's name is mentioned, stating that he and his wife would perish in hell. (Al-Lahab 111/1-5). Although statements, deeds and even intentions of people who showed animosity to the Prophet and the Muslims are mentioned in the Quran, no other names are mentioned.
One day Prophet Muhammad decided to go up to the Safa Hill and inform all the people of Mecca about Islam. To the people who were gathered there he said: "O Quraishis! Would you believe me if I told you that there is an enemy squad behind that mountain?" The Quraishis responded, "Yes, we have never witnessed a time when you have lied" and the Prophet continued: "Then, I inform you that you will be subjected to great agony... Allah commanded me to warn my closest relatives. Unless you accept that ‘There is no God but Allah' you will not gain any benefit from me in this world or in the afterlife..."
The leading figures of the Quraish opposed Prophet Muhammad's invitation to Islam. When the Prophet began to read revelations which criticize idolatry and announce that the idolaters would go to hell, those people understood that his message was a great risk to their way of life, and began to act with animosity, doing anything they could to prevent him. Moreover, the possibility that this monotheistic faith could prevail, leading to the abolishment of the idols made them concerned for the loss of  their duties and benefits which ensured their superiority over the other Arabian tribes. On the other hand, the Quraish, who  possessed a traditional culture that entailed tribal rigidity, attached high values to the traditions inherited from their ancestors. They saw idolatry almost as a cult that needed to be preserved, and thus frequently reiterated this point, announcing that they would never forsake the beliefs and practices of their ancestors. The morality of the Quraish was not at a level that would have made it easy for them to accept the invitation of the last prophet. Within the society of Mecca, where the mentality of the Era of Ignorance was prevalent, there were many bad habits, such as indulging in alcohol, gambling, adultery and lying; there also existed support for illicit gains, exploitation and suppression of people, fueled by the perception of their tribal superiority. The Holy Quran criticized these attitudes and announced that superiority among people could only be acquired through affection towards the Creator and compassion towards the mankind (Al-Hujurat 49/13); it went on to state that people who exhibited attitudes contrary to these would be subject to punishment in the afterlife.
The Quraishi began to humiliate and insult Prophet Muhammad when they saw that he was gaining support with his criticism of their beliefs and attitudes; after a certain time they did not abstain from resorting to violence. The sources sometimes provide details related to the ruthless torment inflicted by the idolaters on the Muslims. In particular, torture inflicted by notorious idolaters such as Abu Jahil, Abu Sufyan, Abu Lahab, Umayya ibn Khalaf, Valîd ibn Mughira, Uqba ibn Abu Mu‘ayt and Hakam ibn Abu'l-As are a stain on the name of humanity. The people who were most affected by this torture were the slaves, concubines and people who came from outside the Mecca. These people were subject to torture. They were left hungry, laid out on the hot sand with rocks being piled upon them. The Yasir family experienced the harshest of these tortures. Yasir, who came to Mecca to look for his lost brother, came under the protection of Abu Huzaifa from the Banu Mahzum tribe and married his concubine Sumayya. The famous Companion Ammar ibn Yasir was the child of this marriage. Yasir, Sumayya and Ammar were among the first Muslims and responded to the tortures of idolaters with patience. As a result, Sumayya died from the brutal tortures of Abu Jahil and gained the title of the first martyr in Islamic history. Yasir was also martyred on the same day. Ammar, who survived, was forced to speak in favor of Lat and Uzza and against the Prophet as he could no longer bear the harsh torture. As soon as he escaped from the idolaters, he went to Prophet Muhammad and told him about the situation. The Prophet, seeing that Ammar was greatly distressed, asked him what he had felt while he was saying those words. Amman replied that there was no change in his faithful heart. Upon this, the Prophet told him that as long as he kept his faith it was not wrong to act in such a way, and advised him to act the same if he were subjected to the same treatment again. (See also An-Nahl 16/106).
Slaves such as Bilal Habashi, Suhayb-i Rumi, Habbab ibn Arat and Abu Fukayha and concubines such as Zinnire, Umm Ubays, Nahdiya and Lubayna also faced great difficulties for the sake of their beliefs. Among the slaves, Bilal Habashi, the first person to accept Islam after Khadija, became subject to severe tortures by his master Umayya ibn Halaf. A rope was put around his neck and he was pulled through the streets of Mecca by the children. At noon, Umayya ibn Halaf laid him out on hot sands, put huge scorching stones on his chest and ask him to abandon belief in Allah and to have faith in the idols Lat and Uzza. Despite all these hardships, Bilal, who could hardly breathe, remained firm in his faith, saying "Ahad!" "Ahad" (Allah is one). On the other hand, wealthy Muslims were also exposed to various torments and tortures. For instance, Uthman's uncle, Hakam ibn Abu'l-As, exerted pressure on him by cutting off his financial support and tried to reconvert him in this way. Sa‘d ibn Abu Vaqqas faced the resistance of his mother. A revelation was even imparted for this reason, and it ordered that obedience to mothers and fathers was not required if they urged their children to deny Allah (Al-Luqman 31/15). After becoming a Muslim, Abu Ubayda ibn Jerrah faced great animosity from his father. Because Abdullah ibn Mas'ud publicly recited the revelations of Allah, he was beaten in the yard of the Kaaba. As a result, he was covered with blood and fainted. Mus‘ab ibn Umayr, a son of a rich family who grew up in prosperity, became a Muslim and faced a strong reaction from his family; his financial needs were not met and even his clothes were taken from him. When Abu Dhar from the Ghifar tribe announced that he had become Muslim, he was beaten until he passed out. Since reciting or reading the Quran in public was forbidden by the Quraish, Abu Bakr, who had a good reputation in Mecca, built a masjid in the garden of his house. The garden was protected by thick walls and he was able to carry out his Islamic practices there.
In addition to the behavior listed above, people threw filth and thorns on the road used by Prophet Muhammad, they threw stones at his house and they even attempted to strangle him when he was praying. In particular his uncle Abu Lahab and his wife Ummu Jamil, the sister of Abu Sufyan, exhibited great cruelty to Muhammad. Ummu Jamil forced her two sons to divorce their wives, both of whom were Muhammad's daughters. Upon this, the following surah was imparted: "The hands of Abu Lahab will perish, and they will! His wealth and gains will not exempt him. He will be plunged in flaming Fire. And his wife, the wood-carrier will have upon her neck a halter of palm-fibre." (Al-Lahab 111/1-5)
The torture, threats, unjust treatments and cruelty exhibited by the idolaters did not turn the Muslims to other religions; instead these actions strengthened their faith. The hardships that were experienced by the Muslims in the name of Allah increased their determination to struggle and showed people that faith was a precious treasure. Unable to decide what to do in response to the impressiveness of the Quran which addressed the minds and hearts of humans, the Quraish started to speak against it. They claimed that Prophet Muhammad was a clairvoyant, madman or a poet, that he had learned the Quran from a Christian, and that this book was a spell or tales of ancient times. However, the false claims that were continuously made against the revelations and divine messages sent to the Prophet were always confuted.
The Quraish met with Abu Talib, the uncle of the Holy Prophet, three times to try to prevent Prophet Muhammad inviting others to Islam. Abu Talib deflected the first request with calming and kind words. When the Quraish used threatening words at the second meeting, Abu Talib called Prophet Muhammad and said that he could not resist his tribe anymore. Thinking that his uncle would no longer protect him, the Prophet said: "O uncle, if they were to put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left hand to stop me from preaching Islam, I would never stop. I will keep preaching until Allah makes Islam prevail or I die." Upon hearing these words, Abu Talib comforted Muhammad with the following words: "Say whatever you please; for by Allah I shall not ever desert you." When the Quraish met with Abu Talib for the third time, they proposed "Give us your nephew, and we will give Umarah, son of Al-Walid ibn Al-Mughirah, as a son." Abu Talib refused this offer. In the meantime, some of the Quraish met with the Prophet and tried to dissuade him from his mission. For instance, Utba ibn Rabia said to the Holy Prophet: "...if your intention is to become rich, we will give you goods and property. If you ask for a position and prestige, we will make you our ruler." He even went as far as to say: "If you are acting like that as a result of mental illness, we will cure you." After Utba completed his speech, the Prophet read the first verses of Surah Fussilat (41/1-6) and told him that he was a prophet appointed by Allah. Although Utba was influenced by the verses and the words of the Holy Prophet, he did not accept Islam.

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