by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Biographies of the Prophet usually treat their subject as if he were a person endowed with great magical powers, one who by mysterious means brought the whole of Arabia under his wing. These books read like fairy tales; even events, which have no miraculous content, have been given a fanciful, miraculous interpretation. Take the case of Suhaib Ibn Senan’s migration from Mecca to Medina. When some Quraysh youths blocked his path, Suhaib pleaded with them: “If I let you have all my property, will you let me go?” They said that they would. Suhaib had a few ounces of silver with him. He gave it all to them and carried on to Medina. According to a tradition in Baihaqi, Suhaib said that when the Prophet saw him in Medina he told Suhaib that his trading, that is, his handing over of his property to the Quraysh, had been very profitable. Suhaib, according to the tradition, was astounded, for no one had arrived in Medina before him who could have brought the news. “It must have been Gabriel who told you,” he said to the Prophet.


But the same event has been related by Marduya and Ibn Sa‘ad. According to them, Suhaib told his own story in these words:

“I carried on until I reached Medina. When the Prophet heard about my handing over my property to the Quraysh he said: ‘Suhaib’s trading has profited! Suhaib’s trading has profited!”

The entire life of the Prophet was, in fact, a simple human event, that is why it serves as an example to us. He was a human being like any other, but his life was a perfect pattern for others. According to Bukhari, he stumbled on the road and was hurt like anyone else. Indeed, the reason that his congregation refused to believe that he was the receiver of divine revelation was the very fact that, to all appearances, the Prophet appeared just like any normal human being:

“You may transactions in the town. You see a livelihood just as we do.” (Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah)

The truth is that the greatness of the Prophet’s life lies in its being a human event rather than a far-fetched tale of inimitable miraculous actions. The Prophet was God’s humble and very human servant, and, having been chosen by God to spread His message, he was helped by Him at every critical hour. In this sense his success was miraculous, but the Prophet himself was in no way endowed with superhuman powers. It is rather the human aspect of his life, which emerges from a study of the Qur’an.

The beginning of Da’wah

When, at the age of forty, the Prophet of Islam received his first revelation, he reacted as any normal human being would in such a situation. He was meditating in the Cave of Hira at the time. Petrified, he returned home, where his wife Khadija was waiting for him. Being an impartial judge, she was in a position to view the situation objectively. She was able to see that the Prophet’s experience, far from being a bad dream, must have been a sign that he had been chosen by God. “It cannot be,” she said. “God will surely never humiliate you. You are kind to your relatives; you always give the weak a helping hand; you help those who are out of work to stand on their own feet again; you honor guests. When people are in trouble you give them assistance.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

The Prophet went about his task in a manner befitting one who was to preach a new message in a society attached to traditional beliefs and customs. He proceeded cautiously, following an entirely natural sequence. At first he had to work in secret. This is how the historian Ibn Kathir describes an incident that occurred at the beginning of the Prophet’s mission:

“Ali, son of Abi Talib and cousin of the Prophet, came into the Prophet’s house while he and Khadija were praying. He asked his cousin what they were about. The Prophet told him that this was God’s religion, the path that God had chosen Himself. It was to call people to this path that He had sent His prophets to the world. ‘Believe in One God,’ the Prophet said. ‘He has no partner. Worship Him alone. Forsake the idols Lat and Uzza.’ ‘I have heard nothing of this nature before today,’ Ali replied. ‘I cannot make a decision until I have talked the matter over with my father, Abu Talib.’ But the Prophet did not want anyone to know about his secret until the time had come for it to be made public. ‘Ali,’ he said, ‘if you are ready to become a Muslim, keep the matter to yourself.’ Ali waited for one night, and then God made his heart incline towards Islam. He went back to the Prophet early in the morning. ‘What was it that you were telling me yesterday’ he asked. ‘Bear witness that there is none worthy of being served save God. He is One. He has no partner. Forsake Lat and Uzza, and disown all those who are set up as equals with God.’ Ali did this and became a Muslim. Then, in fear of Abu Talib, he used to come and see the Prophet secretly. Ali kept his Islam a secret; he did not tell anyone about it.” (Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, vol. III, p. 24)

Even later, when the first Muslims among the tribes of Aus and Khazraj returned to Medina, they followed the same policy. According to the historian Tabrani, “They returned to their people and invited them, secretly, to embrace Islam.

Throughout his entire public mission, the Prophet was very careful not to take any initiative until he was quite sure that he possessed the necessary resources. Aishah, wife of the Prophet and daughter of Abu Bakr, tells how, when the Prophet had gathered 38 followers around him, Abu Bakr urged him to publicize his mission. Abu Bakr was of the opinion that the Prophet and his companions should go out into the open, and publicly preach Islam. But the Prophet said to him: “No, Abu Bakr, we are too few.” The same thing happened in the sixth year of the Prophet’s mission, when Umar accepted Islam. He protested to the Prophet: “Why should we keep our Islam a secret, when we are in the right? And why should others be allowed to publicize their faith, when they are in the wrong?” The Prophet gave Umar the same reply that he had given Abu Bakr several years earlier: “We are too few, Umar.” As long as the Prophet remained in Mecca, he adopted this cautious posture. With the coordination and centralization of the Islamic movement that came with the emigration to Medina, he changed key. Permission was even given to combat the Quraysh by force of arms when they attacked Medina. The first battle fought between the Muslims and their antagonists was the Battle of Badr. “Whoever is successful on this day,” the Prophet said as the battle began, “will be successful in times to come.” The meaning of the Prophet’s remark was that the time for Muslims to take positive initiatives was when they were in a position to fashion a new future for Islam. If their actions were not likely to produce such results, it was better for them to be patient.

One thing is quite clear from biographies of the Prophet. When the task of public preaching devolved upon him, he became very conscious of the greatness of this task, realizing that it would require his complete and single-minded attention. He hoped that his family would look after him financially so that freed from having to look for a livelihood; he would be able to concentrate on his preaching work. He called Abdul Muttalib’s family together in his own house. There were about thirty family members at that time. The Prophet told them what his true mission in life of God, and the whole doctrine of the reason for his life and now was. He asked for their support, so that he would be free to discharge his prophetic duties. This is how Imam Ahmad describes the incident, on the authority of Aisha:

“‘Bani Muttalib,’ the Prophet said, ‘I have been sent to you in particular, and to the whole of mankind in general. Who will swear allegiance to me and become my brother and companion? Who will fulfill my debts and my promises on my behalf? Who will look after my family affairs for me? He will be with me in heaven.’ Someone spoke up: ‘Muhammad, you are an ocean. Who can come forward and accept such responsibility?”

The Prophet’s own family was not ready to accept responsibility for him. Abbas Ibn Abdul Muttalib, the Prophet’s uncle, was financially in a position to look after his nephew. Yet even he remained silent, for fear that this responsibility would devour his wealth. God, however, helped His prophet, first through the Prophet’s wife, Khadija bint Khuwailid, and later on through Abu Bakr, whose wealth saw the Prophet through the years in Medina.

The Prophet displayed boyish enthusiasm in his efforts to communicate the faith to others. The historian Ibn Jarir tells, on the authority of Abdullah ibn Abbas, how the nobles of the Quraysh had gathered around the Kabah one day, and called for the Prophet. He came quickly, thinking that they might be feeling some leanings towards Islam. He was always eager that his people should accept the guidance of Islam. The thought of their doomed was a great distress to him.

It transpired, however, that they had just wanted to pick a quarrel. Acceptance of Islam was the last thing on their minds. The Prophet talked to them at length, and then went away in distress. According to Ibn Hisham,

“The Prophet returned to his home sad and disillusioned, for the hopes that he had for his people when they called him had been dashed. He had seen how far people were from accepting his message.” (Tahzeeb Seerat ibn Hisham, p. 68)

When the Prophet’s uncle, Abu Talib, lay dying, people came to him and asked him to settle matters between his nephew and themselves before he died. “Take an undertaking from him on our behalf, and one from us on his behalf, so that he should have nothing to do with us, nor us with him,” they said. Abu Talib called his nephew, and asked him what he wanted of the people. The Prophet replied that he just wanted them to testify that there was none worthy of being served save God, and forsake all other objects of worship. His people, however, were unwilling to accept this. When everyone went away, Abu Talib said to his nephew: “You know, I don’t think it was anything very difficult that you asked of them.” On hearing his uncle’s words, the Prophet’s hope soared that perhaps he would accept Islam. “Uncle,” he said, “then why don’t you testify to the oneness of God, so that I may be able to intercede for you on the Day of Judgment.” (Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah). The Prophet was sorely disappointed that his uncle never accepted Islam.

The dedication with which the Prophet applied himself to his task was total, all his mental and physical energy being channeled into it. Not only his time, but his property as well, went into the furtherance of the Islamic cause. Before the start of his mission, the Prophet had become quite rich by virtue of his marriage to the wealthy Khadijah. At the beginning of the Meccan period, the Quraysh sent ‘Utbah ibn Rabiyah to talk to the Prophet. As Ibn Kathir explains, he soon found himself being won over, an event, which was unfortunately misinterpreted by his kinsmen as being due to the love of the Prophet’s wealth:

“Afterwards Utbah stayed at home and did not go out to see anybody. ‘Fellow Quraysh, ‘Abu Jahl said, ‘It seems to me that ‘Utbah has become attracted towards Muhammad. He must have been taken by the food that Muhammad offered him. This can only be due to some need of his. Let’s go and see him.’ So off they went. ‘Utbah,’ Abu Jahl said, ‘we have come to see you because we are sure that you have taken a liking to Muhammad and his religion. Look, if you want, we can accumulate enough money to ensure that you will not have to go to him to be fed.’ ‘Utbah became angry, and swore that he would never speak to Muhammad again!” (Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah)

Similarly, Walid ibn Mughira once came to see the Prophet. The Prophet, then, was financially very well placed when he commenced his mission. But when, after 13 years, he immigrated to Medina, it was a very different story. He had nothing left, and had to borrow some money from Abu Bakr for the journey.

The Language (presentation) of Da’wah

Looked at from a logical point of view, the Islamic call consists basically of certain constant, recurrent factors. It is the same points—the oneness of god, the importance and inevitability of the life after death, the need for man to understand his position as God’s servant, and live as such according to the prophetic pattern—which are stressed again and again. When these points come from the tongue of the preacher of God’s word, however, they take on the hue of the preacher’s own person; this adds an element of individuality to what are basically constant themes. This addition means that the message of Islam, far from being a repetition of set texts, is expressed with irresistible vitality and spontaneity. One in meaning, it becomes diverse in the forms it takes to the point of its being impossible to compile a rigid list of them.

The heart of the preacher of God’s word is full of fear of God; it is his ardent desire to bring his audience on to the path of right guidance. He knows that if he can bring God’s servants close to God, God will be pleased with him. These factors spur him on in his task. They ensure that his words, far from being repetitive and monotonous, have an inspired air about them. Despite being one in theme, his message becomes varied in tone. The preacher of God’s word thinks first and foremost of his congregation. More than anything, he wants them to find right guidance. This means that he makes allowances for the needs of every individual that he is addressing, and casts his words in a mould that will be understandable to them.

No one followed this pattern more completely than the Prophet of Islam. Night and day, he was busy preaching the word of God. But his preaching was far from a bland repetition of certain set speeches. He used to take into consideration the nature of his congregation in formulating his message.

On one occasion, in the early days in Mecca, the Prophet preached Islam to Abu Sufyan and his wife Hind. This is how he framed his address:

“Abu Sufyan Ibn Harb, Hind bint ‘Utbah. You are going to die, and then you will be raised up. The good will then be admitted into heaven, and the wicked will enter hell. I am telling you the truth.”

The historian Ibn Khuzaima has recorded the following conversation between a member of the Meccan nobility, Haseen, and the Prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace. “Tell me, Haseen,” the Prophet said, “How many gods do you worship?” “Seven on earth and one in heaven,” Haseen replied. “Whom do you call on when you are in trouble?” the Prophet asked. “The one in heaven,” Haseen answered. “And whom do you call on when you have suffered loss of wealth?” the Prophet asked again. “The one in heaven,” came the same reply. “He alone answers your prayers,” the Prophet said, “Then why do you set up others as History of Prophethood (Bukhari).’ According to some Commentators,

Imam Ahmad recounts, on the authority of Abu Umama that a man from a certain tribe came to the Prophet, and asked him what teachings he had brought from God. “That relationships should be strengthened and wrongful killing avoided. Roads should be left open. Idols should be broken. Only one God should be served; no others should be set up with Him as His equals,” was the Prophet’s reply.

After he had reached Medina, however, when he sent a formal invitation to the people of Najran, he presented his message in yet a different manner:

“I command you to serve God rather than men, and to acknowledge the sovereign power of God rather than that of men.”

The Qur’an itself provided a constant and important basis of the Prophet’s preaching work. Whenever the Prophet met anybody, he would recite a passage of the Qur’an to him. Often phrases like, “He made mention of Islam, and read some of the Qur’an to them,” or “He presented the message of Islam before them, and recited to them a passage of the Qur’an,” recurred in traditions concerning the Prophet’s preaching mission. The Qur’an possessed extraordinary magnetism for the Arabs. Even some of the direst enemies of Islam used to steal up to the Prophet’s house at night, put their ears to the wall, and listen to him reciting the Qur’an. The sublime style of the Qur’an used to have the most profound impact on the Prophet’s people. Take the case of Waleed ibn Mughira, who once came to the Prophet on behalf of the Quraysh. When the Prophet read him a passage of the Qur’an, Waleed was so impressed that he went back to the Quraysh and told them that the Qur’an was a literary work of such unsurpassable excellence that it overshadowed everything else.

Recitation of the Qur’an was, in those days, a common method of preaching Islam. When Mus‘ab ibn Zubair was sent to Medina as a preacher, he used to “talk to people, and recite a passage of the Qur’an to them.” That was why people came to know him as “Al-Muqri,” the reciter of the Qur’an.

During his time in Mecca the Prophet’s preaching was always conducted on a refined, intellectual level. It was dominated by the lofty literary standard set by the Qur’an. The Prophet’s opponents, on the other hand, could offer only abuse and opprobrium in reply. Sensible people in Mecca could not help but come to the conclusion that Muhammad’s opponents had nothing concrete to offer in support of their case. According to Ibn Jarir, it came to the point where some of the nobles of the Quraysh even planned to call a meeting to talk to the Prophets, their intention being “to excuse themselves as far as he was concerned.” That is, to assure him that they had nothing to do with the base tactics employed by the Prophet’s direst enemies.

The aptitude of the Arabs

Now we come to the factors that produce the reaction that Islamic preaching evokes. However untiring the efforts of the preacher, and no matter how accurately he presents the true message of Islam, it is more the disposition of his audience that determines whether his call is accepted or not. The character of the Arabs was a valuable factor, which contributed towards their acceptance of Islam. They were children of nature, brought up in simple, natural surroundings. Despite their seeming ignorance and stubbornness, they reflected the qualities of their environment. Thirty million square kilometers of desert, the hot, bare, hard country in which they lived, was the ideal breeding ground for the most lofty human values. The average Arab had just one source of income—his camel. But, if he had guests, he would sacrifice this invaluable beast in order to provide them with food. If a victim of oppression took refuge with an Arab in his tent, he knew he had a friend who would give his own life in defense of the wronged. Even plunderers did their looting in a chivalrous manner. If they wanted to steal clothes and jewelry from a tribe’s women folk, they would not snatch off the women’s bodies with their own hands: instead, they would tell the women to hand over their valuables, which they themselves would look in the opposite direction.

It would be misleading to think of the desert Arabs as simpletons. They were a highly alter people, of penetrating intelligence.

Seven Muslim converts came to the Prophet from a certain tribe. They told him that they had learnt five things during the time of ignorance that preceded Islam. They would adhere to these principles, they said, unless the Prophet gave them other instructions. The Prophet then asked them what these principles that they had inherited from the time of ignorance were. “Thankfulness in times of affluence,” they answered, “and patience in times of difficulty. Steadfastness on the field of battle and resignation to fate. We learnt not to rejoice over anther’s setbacks, even if it was one’s own enemy that was afflicted.” “These people are intellectuals, men of letters,” the Prophet said when he heard this. “They are cast in the mould of prophets. How wonderful their words.” (Kanz al-Ummal, vol. I, p. 69)

Dhamad, a practicing exorcist belonging to the tribe of Banu Azdashanawa once came to Mecca. People there told him about the Prophet. “He is possessed by an evil spirit,” they said. Dhamad went to see the Prophet, thinking that he might be able to cure him. But when he heard the Prophet’s words, his attitude changed. “I have heard soothsayers and conjurors,” he said. “I have seen the works of poets. But I have never come across anything of this nature. Give me your hand,” he said to the Prophet. “Let me swear allegiance to you.” As was his custom, the Prophet did not give a long talk on this occasion. Actually this was all he said:

“Praise be to God. We praise Him and seek help from Him. One whom God guides, no one can send astray, and one whom God sends astray, no one can guide. I bear witness that there is none worthy of being served save God. He has no equal.” (Muslim)

In these few words Dhamad found a wealth of meaning. “Say that again,” he requested the Prophet. “Your words are as deep as the ocean.” (Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, vol. III, p. 36)

For an Arab there was no question of any discrepancy between words and deeds. He himself was true to his word, and he expected others to be the same. As soon as he comprehended the truth of a matter, he accepted it. According to the Prophet’s biographer, Ibn Ishaq, the Banu Sa‘ad tribe sent Dhaman ibn Tha‘alaba to the Prophet on their behalf. He arrived in Medina, set his camel down near the gate of the mosque and tied it up. Then he went inside. The Prophet was sitting there with his companions. Dhamam was a brave and intelligent man. He stood in front of the gathering and asked: “Who among you is the son of Abdul Muttalib?” “I am,” the Prophet replied. “Muhammad,” Dhamam said, “I am going to ask you a few questions, and am going to be quite severe in my questioning. I hope you won’t mind.” “Not at all,” the Prophet replied. “You can ask what you like.” “Will you swear to me by the name of your God and the God of those before you, and the God of those who will come after you that God has sent you as His prophet?” “By God, yes,” the Prophet replied. “Will you swear to me,” Dhamam continued, “by the name of your God, and the God of those before you, and the God of those who will come after you, that God has told you to exhort us to worship Him alone and ascribe no partners to Him; that He has rd, but a sequential phase in the divine scheme of things: ‘We commanded you to tell us to forsake idol-worship, and all the things that our forefathers used to worship?” “By God, yes,” the Prophet replied. “I ask you to swear to me,” Dhamam said once again, “by the name of your God and the God of those before you, and the God of those who will come after you that has God commanded that we should pray five times a day.” Dhamam then asked about Zakat (The Poor-due), Fasting, Hajj (Pilgrimage), and all the other injunctions of Islam, framing each question in the same manner. When he had finished his questioning, and the Prophet had given him the same simple answer to every question, Dhamam spoke these words:

“I bear witness that there is none worthy of being served save God, and Muhammad is the Prophet of God. I shall discharge these obligations, and I shall avoid the things you have prohibited. I shall do no more and no less.” (Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, vol. V)

He mounted his camel and rode away. When he reached his people, he told them what had happened. Before a single day had passed, all the men and women who had been awaiting his homecoming had accepted Islam.

There was not a trace of hypocrisy in these people. They knew only acceptance or denial—nothing in between. When they made a promise, they fulfilled it, come what way. No threat of loss of life or property could prevent them from converting their words into actions. Such was the nature of the Arab temperament. Historians have described the speeches of both the Aus and Khazraj—the two tribes of Medina—on the occasion of the Second Oath of Allegiance as having the entire luster which distinguished their race. Abbas ibn ‘Ubaida had this to say:

“People of Khazraj, do you know what you are committing yourselves to, swearing allegiance to this man? You are committing yourselves to war with men of all races. Think about this. If, when you incur loss of life and property, you are going to send him back to his people, then it is better that you do so now. If you do so later on, it will mean humiliation for you in both this world and the next. But if you think you will be able to keep your promises, however much loss you incur, and however many of your leaders are killed, then take him with you to Medina. This will be better for you in both this world and the next.”

Everyone said in unison that they would take the Prophet with them, no matter what loss of life and property they incurred. “What will we have in return if we keep our word?” they asked the Prophet. “Paradise,” he replied. “Hold out-your hand to us,” they cried out. He extended his hand and accepted their allegiance.

These were not mere words on the part of the Ansaar; they were words borne out by actions. Even when the Muslims became dominant, they did not demand any political compensation for the sacrifices they had made. They were quite willing to let the Caliphate remain in the hands of the Meccans. They did not seek reward in this world, but were content to leave this world to others and, to look forward to their reward in the next world from God.

The All-Pervasiveness of the Prophet’s Message

The Prophet’s biographer, Ibn Ishaq, tells how the Quraysh nobility once gathered at the house of Abu Talib, the Prophet’s uncle. Among those present were ‘Utbah Ibn Rabiyah, Shaiba ibn Rabiah, Abu Jahl ibn Hisham, Umayya ibn Khalf and Abu Sufyan ibn Harb, all outstanding leaders of the Quraysh. Through Abu Talib, they asked the Prophet what it was he wanted of them. “Just one thing,” the Prophet replied. “If you accept it, you will become lords over the Arabs. Even the people of Asia will capitulate to you.” (Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, vol. II, p. 123)

Monotheism is more than just a doctrine. It is the secret of all forms of human success. To believe in one God is to give true expression to human nature. That is why this faith lodges itself in the depths of the human psyche. It even finds a place in the hearts of one’s enemies. Khalid ibn Walid became a Muslim just before the conquest of Mecca, but he had been conscious for quite some time before that of the truth of the message of Islam. Later on, he told of his early conviction that Muhammad, not the Quraysh, was in the right, and that he should join forces with the Prophet of Islam. “I participated in every battle against Muhammad,” he said. “But there was not one battle from which I did not go away with the feeling that I was fighting on the wrong side.” (Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, Vol. IV)

Many people are reported to have had inclinations towards Islam long before they accepted the faith. Some even had dreams about Islam. One such person was Khalid ibn Sa‘id Ibn-ul Aas. He saw himself in a dream standing on the edge of an enormous pit of fire. Someone was trying to push him in. The Prophet Muhammad came and rescued him from the pit of doom.

Da’wah activity appears to have no relation with economics. Yet indirectly it is a great economic activity as well. When a person becomes a Muslim, all his resources are automatically put at the disposal of the Islamic cause. The first person to provide the Islamic movement with financial assistance was Khadija, the Prophet’s wife. Then Abu Bakr, who had accumulated 40,000 dirhams from his trading, put all his capital into the service of Islam. When he and the Prophet emigrated from Mecca to Medina, he took 6000 dirhams with him—enough to finance the entire expenses of the journey, Uthman also donated 10,000 dinars towards the expedition of Tabuk in 9 a.h. On one occasion alone, Abdul Rahman ibn Auf gave 500 horses, to be used in the service of the Islamic cause. So it was with others who accepted Islam. Just as they themselves entered the Islamic fold, so did their properties become part of the Islamic treasury.

Belief in on God is the only creed, which does not allow for any social distinction or racial prejudice. For this reason the masses flock to join any movement which rises on the basis of this creed. They realize that under the banner of monotheism all men become equal in the real sense. As humble servants of one great God, they all become true human beings with a right to human dignity. By finding their true place in the world, they achieve the greatest position that man can aspire to. When Mughirah ibn Shu’bah entered the court of the Iranian warrior, Rustam, he made a speech to the courtiers gathered there. As Ibn Jarir explains, his words had a devastating effect on all who heard them:

“The lower classes said: ‘By God, this Arabian has spoken the truth.’ As for the upper classes: they said, ‘By God, he has attacked us with words, which our slaves will find irresistible. God damn our predecessors. How stupid they were to think lightly of this community.’” (Tarikh al-Tabari, vol. III, p. 36)

When, in the thirteenth year, his mission, the Prophet arrived in Medina with Abu Bakr, about 500 people came to meet him. They greeted the newcomers with these words:

“Welcome! You are both safe with us. We accept you as our leaders.” (Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, vol. III)

It was the Prophet’s preaching alone which had made him leader of the people of Medina. The first inhabitant of Medina to whom the Prophet preached Islam was probably Sowayd ibn Samit al-Khazraji. When the Prophet had given him an outline of the teachings of Islam, Sowayd said: “It seems that you message is the same as mine.” “What’s your message?” the Prophet asked. “The wisdom of Luqman,” Sowayd replied. When the Prophet asked him to explain the wisdom of Luqman, Sowayd recited a few poems. “I have the Qur’an,” the Prophet said, “which is far superior to this.” He then recited a few verses of the Qur’an, and Sowayd immediately accepted Islam. He went back to Medina and preached the message of Islam to his own tribe, but they killed him. (Tarikh al-Tabari, p. 234)

After this, a chieftain of Medina, Abul Haisam Anas ibn Rafe’, came to Mecca. With him was a group of youths of the Banu Abdul Ashhal tribe. They had come to Mecca to make an alliance with the Quraysh on behalf of the Khazraj, one of the main tribes of Medina who were embroiled in a conflict with the other main tribe, the Aus. In hearing that they were in Mecca, the Prophet went to see them and said: “Shall I tell you about something even better than what you have come for?” He then went on to explain to them the meaning of belief in One God. There was a youth among them called Ayas ibn Mu‘az, who told his people that what the Prophet had told them was much better than what they had come for. The delegation, however, did not agree. “Leave us alone,” they said, “we are here on other business.” They returned to Medina. Soon afterwards the vicious and devastating battle of Bu‘ath was waged between the Aus and Khazraj.

According to Khubaib ibn Abdul Rahman, two people from Medina, Sa‘ad ibn Zarara and Zakwan Ibn Qais, came to Mecca and stayed with ‘Utba ibn Rabi‘ya. When they heard about the Prophet, they went to see him. The Prophet called on them both to accept Islam and recited to them a passage of the Qur’an. They accepted the Prophet’s invitation, and became Muslim. Rather than return to the house of their host, ‘Utba, they went straight back to Medina after seeing the Prophet. They were the first to communicate the message of Islam to the Medina. This was in the tenth year of the Prophet’s mission, three years before the emigration to Medina.

In the following year, six people from the Khazraj tribe came to Mecca for Hajj. They became Muslim, swore allegiance to the Prophet, and then returned to Medina to propagate Islam there. Then, in the twelfth year of the Prophet’s mission, twelve people came to swear allegiance to the Prophet. The oath that they took, at Aqba near Mecca, is famous in Islamic history as the First Oath of Aqba. There followed another pact, in the same place, the next year, in which 75 people participated.

Contrary to what happened in Mecca, the most eminent people in the city of Medina accepted Islam at the very outset. According to tribal custom, people in those days used to follow the religion of their leaders. Islam, then, spread quickly in Medina. Soon there was not a single home into which Islam had not entered. It was only natural that, as the Muslims achieved a majority in Medina, they should become the dominant force in the city’s affairs. And so it was that, as Tabari has reported, “the Muslims were the most influential people in the city.”

Factors working in favor of Da’wah

There are always some who resist the corruption of the world they live in, and remain attached to their own true, primordial, natures. This is true of every day and age, but it was especially true of the Arabs when the Prophet commenced his mission. Besides the simple way of life to which they were accustomed, there was the legacy of the religion of Abraham, which made many inclined to seek out the truth, and turn away from idol-worship. Such people were commonly known as Hanif, or upright. Qus ibn Saida and Waraqa ibn Naufal were among these “Hunafa”. So was Jandub ibn ‘Amr ad-Dausi. During the period of ignorance that preceded Islam, he was known to have said:

“I know that there must be a Creator of all this creation, but I do not know who He is.”

When he heard about the Prophet, he came with 75 of his fellow tribesmen and accepted Islam. Abu Dharr Ghefari was another such person. As soon as he heard about the Prophet, he sent his brother to Mecca to find out more about him. One sentence of the report that Abu Dharr’s brother later submitted ran as follows:

“I saw a man whom people call irreligious. I have never seen anyone who more resembles you.” (Muslim)

People such as these had no trouble in understanding the truth of the Prophet’s message.

The preacher of God’s word is like a planter who goes out to sow seeds. If sometimes his seeds fall on barren ground, there are other times when they fall in places, which produce a good yield, without the planter even knowing it.

Certain people took a considerable time to accept Islam. This does not mean that the truth of Islam finally dawned on them all of a sudden. The Prophet lived a life of the highest moral caliber. Moreover, he spent his whole time preaching the word of God. Even the opposition to the Prophet proved to be a factor in his favor: it meant that his personality and his message were topics of conversation. All these things had contributed to planting the seed of Islam in the minds of many Arabs.

Adherence to tribal tradition, and ancestor worship were still extant, which sometimes made it appear that there was stiff opposition to Islam, but, in fact, in people’s hearts the seed of Islam was silently growing. It is generally thought that Umar’s acceptance of Islam, for instance, came all of a sudden, under the influence of a certain event. It would be more accurate, however, to say that it was this event, which put the final seal on his faith, which had been developing for some time within his soul.

Well before Umar accepted Islam, when he appeared to be in the forefront of the opposition to the Prophet’s mission, some Muslims immigrated to Abyssinia, Umm Abdullah bint Abu Hathma was one of them. She tells her story in these words:

“We were setting off for Abyssinia, My husband, ‘Amir, had gone to collect some of his belongings. All of a sudden ‘Umar ibn Khattab, a man who had subject us to untold suffering and torment, came and stood next to me. He had not up to that point accepted Islam. ‘Umm Abdullah,’ he said to me, ‘are you going away somewhere?’ ‘We are,’ I replied, ‘for you people inflict such suffering upon us, and torment us so, that we must go and seek a place for ourselves in God’s land. We will keep going until God releases us from our affliction.’ ‘May God go with you,’ Umar said, and tear were running down his face as he was talking. I had never seen him act like this before. Then he went on his way, and he was certainly very sad to see us leave Mecca.” (Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, Vol. III, p. 79)

In every day and age some ideas take root in the popular psyche. Unless these ideas banished, no new message, however rational it may be, can become acceptable. The opposition, which the Arabs first presented to the message of Islam, was not just the result of stubbornness or expediency on their part. Rather, it was genuinely difficult for them to understand how any religion, which differed from that of the patrons of the Holy Kabah, could be the true religion. Arab tribes living in the vicinity of Jewish areas were generally free of such restrictive creeds. They had often heard from the Jews that it was written in their scriptures that a prophet would come among the Arabs. As the historian Tabarani explains, that was why it was easier for the people of Medina to see the truth of Islam:

“When the Ansar1 heard the teachings of the Prophet, they remained silent. Their hearts were satisfied that what he preached was true. They had heard from the people of the Book2 what the Final Prophet would be like. They recognized the truth of his message. They confirmed his teachings, and believed in him.”

1.             The Ansaar were the people from Medina who helped the Prophet and his companions and their             emigration.

2.             The Jews and Christians.

When the Prophet went to the fair of ‘Ukaz and, entering the tent of the Banu Kanda, explained his teachings, this is what one youth had to say in reply:

“My people, let us hurry and be the first to follow this man, for, by God, the People of the Book used to tell us that a prophet would arise from the Sacred Territory, and that his time has drawn nigh.”

The Aus and Khazraj had become intellectually prepared, then, for the coming of an Arab Prophet. When he came, it was comparatively easy for them to accept him. But as far as the people of Mecca were concerned, and most of their compatriots along with them, the truth could only be seen in terms of two controlled the Kabah, the House of God in Mecca. In ancient Arab tradition, the Kabah was thought of as a King’s crown. In fact, its symbolism was of a higher order even than that of a crown, for the latter brings with it only political power, whereas one who held sway over the Kabah was heir to a wealth of spiritual tradition as well. The following conversation between Dhu’l Jaushan Al-Dhubbai and the Prophet shows, the simplicity of the Arabs’ thinking:

“‘Why don’t you accept Islam,’ the Prophet said to Dhu’l Jaushan, ‘so that you may be counted among the first to have done so?’ Dhu’l Jaushan said that he would not. The Prophet asked why. ‘I have heard that your people are after your blood,’ Dhu’l Jaushan said. ‘Have you not heard about their defeat at Badr?’ asked the Prophet. Dhu’l Jaushan said that he had. ‘We are only showing you the path of guidance,’ said the Prophet. Dhu’l Jaushan said that he would not accept Islam, until the Prophet had conquered Mecca, and won control of the Kabah. ‘If you live, you will see this happen,’ said the Prophet. Dhu’l Jaushan says that later he was with his family in Ghaur when a rider came up. Dhu’l Jaushan asked him what was afoot. ‘Muhammad has conquered Mecca and taken control of the Sacred Territory,’ he said. ‘Woe betide me,’ said Dhu’l Jaushan. ‘If only I had accepted Islam on that day: if I had asked Muhammad for an emerald he would have given it to me.” (Tabarani)

Reaction to the message of Islam

When the Prophet of Islam commenced his preaching mission, he met with exactly the reaction one would expect from a society hearing a new message. People were at a loss to grasp the meaning of his teachings. Once the Quraysh nobility sent ‘Utba ibn Rabi‘ya as their representative to the Prophet. He embarked on a long denunciation of the Prophet and his teachings. When he had had his say, the Prophet asked him: “Have you finished?” ‘Utba said that he had. ‘In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful,’ the Prophet began, and then went on to recite the first thirteen verses of Surah forty-one of the Qur’an entitled ‘Ha Mim As-Sajdah.’ ‘Don’t you have anything else to say?’ ‘Utba asked indignantly. The Prophet said that he did not. When he returned to the Quraysh, they asked him what had happened, ‘I said whatever you would have wanted me to say,’ replied ‘Utba. They asked whether Muhammad had given any answer. ‘Utba said that he had, but that the proofs he offered were incomprehensible. All that he had gathered was that he was warning them of a thunderbolt like that, which had overtaken Thamud and Aad. ‘What has become of you?’ the Quraysh asked. ‘How is it that a person speaks to you in Arabic, and you do not understand what he says?’ ‘Really, I didn’t understand anything,’ ‘Utba insisted. ‘All I gathered was that he mentioned a thunderbolt.’ (Baihaqi)

Some people were only familiar with religion in a particular, conventional form. To them, the message of Islam just appeared to be an indictment of their elders. Damad once came to Mecca to perform ‘Umra (the lesser pilgrimage). He had occasion to sit in a gathering along with Abu Jahal, ‘Utba Ibn Rabi‘ya and Umayya ibn Khalf, where the following exchanges took place: ‘He (Muhammad) has caused a split in our community,’ Abu Jahal declared. ‘He thinks we are all fools, and considers our ancestors woefully astray. He insults our idols.’ ‘He is insane, without doubt,’ Umayya added. (Al-Asaba, vol. II, p. 210)

When ‘Amr ibn Murra al-Junani preached Islam among his own tribe, the Juhaina, one of them spoke up: ‘May God make you taste the bitterness of life, ‘Amr. Do you want us to forsake our idols, disunite our people, and contradict the religion of our righteous ancestors? The religion that this Qurayshi from Tahama preaches has no affection, no graciousness, to it.’ (Al-Bidayah wa an-Nihaya, vol. II) He then went on to recite three verses, the last of which went like this:

‘He seeks to prove that our forefathers were fools. One who acts thus can never prosper.’

Some people were prevented by jealousy from accepting the message of Islam. The Prophet made no secret of the fact that he was sent by God; he proclaimed the fact to all and sundry. But people always find it very difficult to accept the fact that someone else has been given the knowledge of reality that they themselves have been denied. Baihaqi has related, on the authority of Mughirah ibn Shu‘bah, now Abu Jahal once took the Prophet aside and said to him, ‘By God, I know full well that what you say is true, but one thing stops me from believing. The Bani Qussay says that they are the gatekeepers of the Kabah, and I agree with them. They say that it is their job to bear water for pilgrims, and again I agree. They claim a place in the Darun Nadwa, and I agree that they have every right to it. They say that it is their responsibility to carry the standard in battle, and again I agree. They claim a place in the Darun Nadwa, and I agree that they have every right to it. They say that it is their responsibility to carry the standard in battle, and again I agree. Now they say that there is a prophet among them. This I cannot accept.” (Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, vol. III).

For some people it was the threat of financial loss, which prevented them from accepting the message of Islam. The House of God at Mecca had been turned into a house of idol worship before the coming of the Prophet. People of every religion had placed their idols there. There were even statues of Jesus and Mary within the walls of the Kabah, which had thus become a place of pilgrimage for people of all denominations. This was why four months had been made sacred—so that people would be free to visit the Kabah during that time, without fear of being harmed or attacked on the way. During the four months that people used to flock to Mecca, Meccan traders did exceptionally good business. Were the idols to be removed from the Kabah, people would stop visiting the city, and its inhabitants would suffer immense losses. So there were many people with a vested interest in the continuance of polytheistic practices. They feared that if monotheism were to spread in the land, Mecca would suffer drastically; the area would be reduced to the uncultivable valley that it basically was.

Moreover, as patrons of the Kabah, the Quraysh had come to assume a position of dominance over tribes far and wide. Their caravans used to travel east and west, far beyond the boundaries of the peninsula. In accordance with long-standing pacts, they had been doing business with tribes as far as Persia, Abyssinia and the Byzantine Empire. The Quraysh now thought that their accepting Muhammad as a prophet could only result in neighboring tribes—in fact all the polytheists of Arabia—breaking off the commercial agreements they had made with them. That would spell economic ruin for the people of Mecca; it would also be the end of their hegemony over the Arabs. Hence the verse in the Surah of he Qur’an entitled, “Al-Wadi‘ah” (‘The Event’): ‘And you have made it your livelihood that you should declare it false’ (56:82). The allusion is to the Quraysh’s notion that, by denying the Prophet Muhammad, and the monotheistic religion he taught, they thought they were saving themselves from financial ruin.

Once the Prophet started to preach his message, his person became the subject of general curiosity. According to the historian Abu Ya‘ala, people who saw him used to ask one another: ‘Is this the man?’ He might be traveling among a large number of people in a caravan, but he would be singled out for mention. Anyone who came to Mecca would, among other things, take back news of the Prophet. ‘Muhammad, the son of Abdullah, has laid claim to Prophethood and the son of Abu Qahafa has become his follower,’ they would say. The Quraysh used to call the Prophet Muzammam, meaning blameworthy, instead of Muhammad, meaning praiseworthy, and accused him of insulting their ancestors. Once, as the Prophet’s biographer Ibn Hisham has related, when the Prophet noticed the litter which his fellow Quraysh had put in the street on which he was passing, he said in dismay: ‘What bad neighbors the Banu Abd Manaf are.’ (Tahzeeb Seerat Ibn Hisham, p. 86)

While the Prophet’s uncle, Abu Talib, was alive, his enemies were unable to take any action against him, for, according to tribal custom; aggression against the Prophet would have amounted to aggression against his whole tribe—the Banu Hashim. Before the accepted Islam, Umar Ibn Khattab once set off which the intention of killing Muhammad, on whom be peace. It was only sufficient for someone to say to him, ‘How are you going to live with the Banu Hashim if you kill Muhammad?’ for Umar to change his mind. The same question faced anyone, in fact, who sought to harm the Prophet. Persecution in Mecca was mostly directed against slaves who had become Muslim, —people who had no tribe to protect them. According to the Prophet’s close companion, Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud, in the early days in Mecca only seven people publicly declared themselves to be Muslim: the Prophet himself, Abu Bakr, Ammar, Sa'id, Suhaib, Bilal and Miqdad. ‘As for the Prophet, God protected him through his uncle. As for Abu Bakr, his tribe looked after him. The rest would be seized by the idolaters who would put coats of armor on them, and lay them out in the boiling sun.’ (Ahmad)

When the chief of the Banu Hashim, the Prophet’s uncle, Abu Talib, died, an uncouth member of the Quraysh threw dirt at the Prophet and it stuck to him. When the latter reached home, one of his daughters brushed the dirt off him. ‘The Quraysh did nothing nasty to me like this before,’ the Prophet commented. It was only after the death of Abu Talib that they committed mean aggressive acts of this nature. As the Prophet’s companion, Abu Hurayra, has pointed out, “the Quraysh used to treat the Prophet very harshly after the death of his uncle. ‘Uncle, how quickly I have felt your loss’ the Prophet once lamented.” The Quraysh even started planning to do away with the Prophet. It was during this period that Abu Jahal threw the intestines of an animal on to the Prophet’s head, and ‘Uqba ibn Muait tied a sheet around his neck and pulled it tight in what fortunately proved an abortive attempt to strangulate him. Now that Abu Talib was dead, it seemed as if there was nothing to stop vicious attacks on the Prophet’s person. The only thing that held people back was that nothing of this nature had ever happened before in Arabia; for a member of the Banu Hashim to be attacked and killed by his own fellow Quraysh would have been an action without precedent. Moreover, there were still people among the idolaters whose consciences pricked them, who in their heart of hearts supported the Prophet. The first time that Abu Jahal made a murderous attack upon the Prophet, Abu’l Buhtari heard about it. He took a whip and went to the Kabah, where Abu Jahal was sitting triumphantly with his associates. Abu’l Buhtari first made sure that Abu Jahal had really attacked the Prophet in this way, and, when it turned out that he had, he took his whip and struck Abu Jahal so hard on the head that the latter roared with pain.

One can see from the history of various religions how, even a creed, polytheism has always been super-sensitive to criticism against itself. But in ancient times polytheism was more than just a creed; it provided the very foundation of the structure of social orders. There were political reasons too, then, for the people’s fanatical attachment to polytheism. This was the situation in Mecca, and it was for this reason that the Prophet’s time there was such a supreme test of patience. Only a handful of people believed in him during the first three years of his mission. The town of Mecca was as devoid of supporters who would help the Prophet as it was of shade-giving trees. Only four people managed to remain close to him—Ali, Zayd, Abu Bakr and Khadija—five if one includes the first person that was born a Muslim, daughter of Abu Bakr.

So the situation remained for three full years. When the Prophet left his house, he was greeted with derisive jeers in the street, as if he were a madman. One day—at the instigation of Abu Jahal—a group of people started abusing the Prophet. A passer-by was unable to put up with the sight of a person from a noble Quraysh family being treated in this manner. He went straight to the Prophet’s uncle, Hamza. ‘Have you lost all sense of honor?’ he said. ‘You are sitting back while people are disgracing your nephew.’ This was enough to ignite Hamza’s sense of Arab pride. He had an iron bow, which he took with him and went to see Abu Jahal. Striking the Prophet’s tormentor, he said: ‘I have adopted Muhammad’s religion as my own. If you have it in you, do something about it.’ (Tabarani)

Hamza was famed as a fighter all over Arabia. After he took this action, people gained new courage and the number of Muslims went up to thirty. At this time there were two highly influential people in Mecca—Umar ibn Khattab and Abu Jahal ibn Hisham. The Prophet offered a prayer to God: ‘Lord, strengthen Islam by means of Umar ibn Khattab or Abu Jahal ibn Hisham.’ this prayer was accepted in the former’s case. In the sixth year of the Prophet’s mission, Umar ibn Khattab accepted Islam. Along with him, several other people converted, and the number of Muslims increased to forty. During this period the Muslims had a hideout in Dar Arqam. According to the historian, Ibn Kathir, thirty-nine people used to gather there. But such a small number could not combat the might of the conventional system, which in numbers and resources was far stronger. It was not long before oppression of the Muslims started again. The Prophet was subjected to every form persecution, but all attempts to kill him failed. The tribal system was still protective to the Prophet. No one could dare to take his life, for to do so would have been to declare war on the whole of the Prophet’s tribe. He was not the only prophet to be defended in this way. The Prophet Su‘ayb’s people also refrained from killing him for the same reason, despite their desire to do so:

“They said: ‘O Shu‘ayb, we do not understand much of what you say to us. And we see you weak among us. But for your tribe, we would have stoned you. You are not dear to us.’” (Qur’an, 11:91)

The Quraysh once presented a demand to the chief of the Banu Hashim, the Prophet’s uncle, Abu Talib, that he should expel his nephew from the tribe. Only then would they be able to slay the Prophet. Abu Talib’s honor prevented him from taking this step. When Abu Talib, at the Quraysh’s behest, asked his nephew to stop criticizing their gods, the Prophet became concerned that his uncle was going to hand him over to the Quraysh. But Abu Talib immediately put his nephew’s mind at rest. ‘By God, I will never hand you over to anyone,’ he told him. (Tahzeeb Seerat Ibn Hisham, p. 60)

When all else failed, the Quraysh decided, in the seventh year of the Prophet’s mission, to ostracize the Banu Hashim. Abut Talib took his nephew, and the whole of his family, out of Mecca, and they took up their abode in a ravine known as Subh‘ab Abu Talib. Except for a few wild trees, there was nothing in this mountain pass. For three years Abu Talib’s family lived on the leaves and roots of these trees. Their only respite was during the four sacred months, when the Banu Hashim used to come to Mecca. They would take back animals of sacrifice and live for a few months on the dried meat that they prepared.

After three years, in the tenth year of the Prophet’s mission, the pact that the Quraysh had made among themselves to ostracize him came to an end. The Banu Hashim were now able to return to Mecca. But the strain of the time in exile had been too much for Abu Talib, and he died in the same year (620 a.d.). Abdul Uzza, otherwise known as Abu Lahab, became chief of the Banu Hashim. He was an implacable opponent of the Prophet, and took the decision that Abu Talib had held back from: he expelled the Prophet from his tribe.


To expel an Arab from his tribe in those days was like putting him among a pack of wolves. There was no government in those days, responsible for the safety of its citizens. There was only the tribal system, and one could only live under the protection of a tribe. In the pilgrims’ tents in Mina the Prophet once preached his message to a certain tribe, but they refused to accept it. Still, one can tell from what one of their number, Maisira ibn Masrooq al-Abbasi, had to say, that the Prophet’s word had made an impact on him. Ibn Kathir explains how the Prophet’s hopes were raised with regard to Maisisra. ‘How well you have spoken, and how enlightening your words are. But my tribe do not agree with me, and one cannot go against one’s tribe.’ That was how much a tribe meant to a person. What a grave matter it must have been, then, to be expelled from one’s tribe. The Prophet now had nowhere to go in his own land. There was no other option but to seek the protection of some other tribe. To make his first attempt in this direction he journeyed to Taib. Later on he explained the whole episode to his wife Aishah, saying that he had ‘presented himself before ‘Ibn Abd Yaleel.’ In the words of Urwa ibn Zubay, ‘When Abu Talib died, and the Prophet’s affliction became more intense, he took himself to the Thaqeef tribe1 in the hope that they would grant him asylum and support.’ But one can judge what savage treatment the Prophet received at their hands from this prayer that he made on his return to Mecca:

1.             The Thaqeef were the tribe that inhabited Taif.

“Lord, I complain to You of my weakness and helplessness. How vulnerable I am among men, most Merciful One!”

After his return to Mecca, the Prophet commented that it was just as well that the people of Mecca had not heard about the treatment meted out to him in Taif. If they had, it would have made them even more audacious. The Prophet, unable to live within the city, stayed outside, and sent messages to various people, asking them to take him under their personal protection so that he could return to the city. Eventually Mut’im ibn Adi agreed to extend protection to the Prophet, who, shielded by the swords of Mut’im’s sons, once again entered the city walls.

Fairs, attended by tribes from all over Arabia, used to be held in various places in those days. The Prophet would attend these and speak to different tribes, in the hope that one of them would agree to extend him protection. He explained his plight to his uncle Abbas. “I am not safe here with you and your relatives. Will you take me to the fair tomorrow, so that we can visit people in their tents and talk to them?”

The Prophet would then go into people’s tents and presenting himself before them, would enquire what protection they could afford him. He would tell them that his people had rejected him and expelled him from their midst. ‘Protect me and grant me refuge so that I can continue to preach the faith that God has revealed to me.’ Historians have mentioned the names of fifteen tribes that the Prophet approached individually, only to meet with one refusal after another. Although it was considered shameful matter for someone to seek refuge of a tribe, and his request not be granted—in fact, this was the first notable example in Arab history of a person spending several years looking for a tribe to take him in—no one was prepared to shoulder this responsibility in the case of the Prophet. When a group from one tribe felt inclined to take pity upon the Prophet, one of their elders rebuked them: “His own tribe has expelled him and you intend to grant him protection. What do you want to do? Wage war upon the whole of the Arab nation?” He knew that to offer refuge to a person who had been disowned by his own tribe was to declare war against that tribe.

It was the Quraysh that had expelled him, and the Quraysh were masters of the entire Arab peninsula. To grant asylum to men expelled by them was to declare war on every Arab tribe on everyone who looked up to the Quraysh as their leaders and guardians of the Holy Kabah. That was why, when the Ansaar were swearing allegiance to the Prophet, Abul Haitham ibn al-Tayhan warned them: “If you take him with you the whole Arab nation will descend upon you with one accord.” (Tabarani)

Added to this there was the fact that Arab border tribes had made pacts with neighboring foreign powers. These tribes were afraid of repercussions if they took a controversial personality like the Prophet with them. As Ibn Kathir has explained in Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah the Prophet once went into the tent of the Banu Shayban ibn Tha‘alaba in Mecca, and talked with their elders. They were impressed by the Prophet’s words but finally decided that their position, on the border of Persia, was too precarious for them to take responsibility for the Prophet. As their spokesman, Hani Ibn Qubaisa, put it, they had made pacts with the Persian emperor, and ‘it might be that kings will not take kindly to the message that you preach.’

The Prophet was desperate to find a tribe that would afford him protection, at-TirmidhÏ) and that ‘people shall be thrown face down in, for there was no other way that he could continue his mission. Once he went to see a tribe, which went by the name of Banu Abdullah. After the Prophet had as usual, called them to Islam and presented himself to them, in the hope that they would grant him asylum, he said: ‘Banu Abdullah, what a beautiful name your forefather had.’ But they were untouched by his evident good will and rejected his proposals.

The last three years of the Prophet’s time in Mecca were spent among various tribes, looking for one, which would grant his asylum. Yet despite his untiring efforts, not a single tribe was ready to take him in. Some of the people he approached used to taunt him, saying, ‘Isn’t it high time that you despaired of us?’ Eventually God gave the tribes of Aus and Khazraj, which hailed from Medina, the courage to extend their support to the Prophet. There was one special, psychological reason for their decision. There were Jewish tribes living in their vicinity—the Jews of Khaybar, who had possession of the most fertile land in the area; they also had control of the region’s commerce. A large proportion of the Aus and Khazraj made a living for themselves working for these Jews. (After the emigration to Medina, the Prophet and his companions constructed the Prophet’s Mosque with their own hands. According to Ibn Kathir this is what the Prophet said at the time:

‘This is not the labor of Khaybar this is much more worthwhile and honest work.”

i.e. hard work, which they did for the Jews of Khaybar with barely adequate recompense, almost like the drudgery of slaves.

The Jews’ economic domination, and their exploitation of those beneath them, meant that they were often involved in wars with the Aus and Khazraj. The Jews used to tell these Medinan tribes that soon a prophet would come among the Arabs. When he came, they would repeat, they would join forces with him, and eliminate the Aus and Khazraj completely. This warning of the Jews is referred to in a verse of the Qur’an:

“From of old they had prayed for victory against those without faith” (2:89).

When the Aus and Khazraj heard the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, they recognized him as the prophet the Jews had mentioned, and made haste to accept him, before the Jews did so. Besides this, there were other historical and social reasons, which made it comparatively easier for the Aus and Khazraj to understand the message of the Prophet Muhammad, and believe in him, than it was for other tribes. It did not take much deliberation before they swore allegiance to him.

So the time, which for years the Prophet had been awaiting, finally came. He had found a place in which, under tribal protection, he would be able to continue his struggle effectively. The Muslims of Mecca and the surrounding territories would be gathered together in one center. The fact that the majority of the people of Medina accepted Islam made it easier for the Muslims’ scattered resources to be brought together in one place, and used more effectively for the furtherance of the Islamic cause. When the Aus and Khazraj swore allegiance, the Prophet quickly returned to his companions. “Praise God,” he told them, “for today Rabia’s offspring have a good as overcome the Persians.” (The Prophet saw how Islam had been strengthened by the Ansaar taking the Muslims in. He realized that it would now only be a matter of time before the Muslims conquered mighty Persia.)

The Prophet began to make preparations for emigration to Medina. He was to take six months after the conversion of the Aus and Khazraj to do this. All this while he attempted to maintain the utmost secrecy, but still the idolaters, the Quraysh, learnt of his plans to leave. They heard about the refuge granted to him in Medina, and the protection extended to him by the Ansaar. They learnt also of the Ansaar’s acceptance of Islam. The fact that the Muslims were gathering in Medina, plotting against the Prophet, they decided to take him captive at the moment of his departure and then either kill him or keep him prisoner. But their plans came to nothing. When all his arrangements were complete, he succeeded in slipping away quietly for his new abode. (Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah vol. 3, p. 145)


The assistance given by the tribes of Medina to the Prophet is one of the most extraordinary events of history. Because of this, they came to be known as the Ansaar—the Helpers. Usually when people give something, it is in return for some favor, or it is in order to ingratiate themselves with someone. There are also those who give offerings to ‘holy men,’ because they think that to do so will cause blessings to descend on their families and possessions. But the emigration of the Prophet is perhaps the sole example in the annals of history of people opening their doors to destitute and forlorn refugees when they themselves had nothing to gain and probably a great deal to lose by doing so. The action of the Ansaar was based entirely on their dedicated commitment to the cause of Islam. Not only did they accommodate the emigrants in their homes; hey treated them as brothers and sisters, and shared their possessions with them. And they did all this, fully conscious of the fact that their action involved much more than economic sacrifice. They knew full well that what they were doing would arouse the hostility of the most powerful factions in both Arabia and Persia. There are no words more fitting than those of Ali to describe them: “They were true to their word, steadfast in adversity.”

When the Muhajirun forsook their own country for Medina, every one of the Ansaar was eager to extend hospitality to them. They drew lots among themselves for the privilege of being able to entertain such noble guests, and even went to the extent of handing over the better part of their properties to them. And all this despite the fact that, in the oath of allegiance they took, it was specifically laid down that others would be given priority over them. Though they had made the most extreme sacrifices in the path of Islam, they did not show the slightest disapproval of this clause. (Seerat Ibn Hisham, vol. I, p. 111)

Despite all the assistance that was afforded him, the Prophet’s life in Medina was not an easy one. Apprehensions that the whole of Arabia would unite against the Muslims proved only too true. This is how Ubayy ibn Kaab, a companion of the Prophet, describes the situation:

“When the Prophet and his companions arrived in Medina and the Ansaar gave them asylum, the Arabs united against them. The Muslims used to remain in their armor, night and day.” (Kanzul Ummal, vol. I, p. 259)

The Quraysh declared economic sanctions against the people of Medina. All Arab tribes, following the Quraysh’s lead, severed links with the city. Internal resources ran far short of providing for the considerably increased population of Medina, and the expense of defending the city pushed the economy to its very limit.

Umar says that the Prophet was restless with hunger all day in Medina. There were not even enough rejected dates for him to eat his fill. In later years someone asked Aishah if they had a lantern. “If we had had oil to burn in a lantern,” she said, “we would have drunk it.” The Muslims used to go out on expeditions he made with the Prophet. “There was only one camel between six of us. We used to take turns to ride on it. The skin began peeling off our feom of Saudi Arabia. Everything required can be purchased there from incessant walking, and we used to bind them with rags. That was why the expedition came to be known as Zatul-Riqa‘ah, riqa‘ah meaning rags or patches.” Food rations ran so low that people would suck dates rather than eat them. Acacia leaves and locusts would make up the rest of their diet. Added to this the Muhajirun had to contend with a drastic change of diet. In Mecca they had been used to consuming meat and milk. In Medina dates constituted the major portion of their diet. One day, according to Tabarani, when the Prophet came to take the Friday congregational prayer. A Meccan Muslim called out to him: “Prophet of God, these dates have burnt our intestines.”

The emigration to Medina was a watershed in Islamic history. From a practical point of view, Islam emerged from a purely missionary phase and entered a period of active confrontation. During the period when he was solely concerned with preaching, the Prophet used to work according to one hard-and-fast principle. He used to steer clear of all controversial political, economic and tribal issues and concentrate entirely on giving good news of the joys of paradise, and warning of the punishment of hell. When he preached the message of Islam to the Bani ‘Amir Ibn Sasa‘a tribe in the fair of Ukaz, he assured them at the same time that all he would do was pursue his preaching work in a peaceful manner; he would not raise any extraneous issue. “I am God’s prophet,” he said. {If I come amongst you, will you protect me so that I can continue to communicate my message? I will not force you on any matter.” (Abu Na‘eem, Dala’il Al-Nubuwwah, p. 100)

In Medina preaching work still remained the basic purpose of the Prophet’s mission. But the spectrum had broadened, and now Islam had to take account of social issues as well. The policy adopted by the Prophet at this juncture was aimed at softening people’s hearts towards Islam, so that the purpose of his mission could be achieved without conflict. (“I have been assisted by the feelings of awe which I inspire—this has been the equivalent of one month’s journey,” he once said.) Usually his missions were carried through to success by sheer force of personality.

There were two complementary aspects to this method: one was based on overawing the opponents of Islam, while the other was aimed at planting in them the seed of love. The first meant accumulating strength; awesome enough to convince the enemies of Islam that they could not conquer it and that that being so, they had been convert to it.

“Muster against them all the men and cavalry at your disposal, so that you may strike terror into the enemies of God and your enemy, and others besides them whom you do not know but God does. All that you give for the cause of God shall be repaid you. You shall not be wronged.” (Qur’an, 8:60)

The second way in which people were brought closer to the faith was by charity to those “attracted to the faith.” (Qur’an, 9:60) The generosity that the Prophet showed to win people over to his cause was without parallel. No one before or after him can lay claim to such boundless munificence. After the Muslim conquest of Mecca, Safwan ibn Umayya, a noble of Mecca, went and hid himself in a mountain ravine. The Prophet extended an amnesty to him, and asked to see him. After the Hawazin* had been subdued, at the battle of Hunain, A.H. 8, prophet was overseeing the distribution of spoils at Jir‘ana, and Safwan ibn Umayya was with him. As yet he had not accepted Islam. Standing on the side of a gully, he gazed in wonderment at the goats and camels swarming beneath him. “Abu Wahab,” the Prophet enquired on seeing him, “would you like all these cattle?” Safwan said that he would. “They are all yours,” the Prophet told him. “No one but a prophet could be so generous,” Safwan, replied. He immediately accepted Islam, and testified that there was no one worthy of being served save God, and that Muhammad was His slave and prophet. (Kanzul Ummal, vol. V, p. 294).

*              A great and warlike tribe of Arabia.

The Prophet’s numerous were also part of his policy of gentleness in approach to the issue of conversion. The prime importance attached in the tribal system to relationships through marriage, explains the rationale behind the marriages entered into by the Prophet after his emigration to Medina. Through them bonds were established with countless people, whose hearts then mellowed towards his mission. The Prophet’s first marriage was with Khadija, a widow almost twice his age. Except for that one alliance his other marriages were entered into for the political and missionary advantages that accrued to Islam from them.

The year after the Peace of Hudaibiyya (628 a.d.), the Prophet—along with 2000 Muslims—went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Kabah. During his three-day stay in Mecca, he married a widow by the name of Maymuna bint al-Harith. She had eight sisters, all of whom were married into distinguished Meccan families. By marrying her, the Prophet became related to all these eight families. Khalid ibn Walid was Maymuna’s nephew, whom she had brought up as a son. So Khalid, the Quraysh’s greatest warrior, became the Prophet’s stepson. After this Khalid did not join in any hostilities against the Muslims, and before long he himself entered the fold of Islam. After his marriage to Maymuna the Prophet had arranged a wedding reception for the people of Mecca, but the Quraysh reminded him that—according to the terms of the Treaty of Hudaibiyah—he was only allowed to remain in Mecca for three days. His period was up and he would have to leave the city immediately. The wedding reception, which was aimed at softening the hearts of the people, could not take place. Khalid ibn Walid and ‘Amr ibn al-‘As became Muslim together. Someone who saw them on their arrival in Medina exclaimed: “With these two in the bag, Mecca has been tamed.”

Umm Habiba, the daughter of Abu Sufyan, a prominent member of the Quraysh, and her husband Ubaidullah ibn Jahsh accepted Islam and immigrated to Abyssinia. There, however, the husband became a Christian. Not long after that he died. Hearing of this, the Prophet made arrangements to marry Umm Habiba by proxy. After the death of Abu Jahal on the field of Badr, Abu Sufyan had become the most prominent leader of the Quraysh. The Prophet would now be his son-in-law. The marriage had to be completed by proxy, for it was feared that if Umm Habiba returned to Mecca, her father would not allow the marriage. Najashi, king of Abyssinia, then conducted the ceremony and the bride left immediately of Medina. With this relationship now established, Abu Sufyan could no longer be at enmity with the Prophet, and he converted to Islam one day before the Conquest of Mecca.

The other aspect of this policy was that of “striking terror” into the hearts of the enemies of Islam. This consisted of mustering up enough strength and making such a show of it that there would be no need to use it.

The defeat of the Muslims at Uhud (3 a.h.) could have turned into a rout if Abu Sufyan had followed up his victory with another attack, instead of turning back to Mecca. Indeed, when he reached Roha, he realized his mistake, and made to turn once again on the Muslim’s stronghold. But even at this time of utter disarray, the Prophet’s information system was still working effectively. He heard about Abu Sufyan’s intention and decided to go out to meet him. Immediately he reassembled his shaken army and set off towards Mecca. Contrary to his normal practice, which was to maintain a veil of the utmost secrecy over military maneuvers, this expedition was given a fanfare of publicity. When the Muslims reached Hamra al-Asad, eight miles from Medina, Abu Sufyan heard of the pursuit. Thinking that fresh reinforcements must have arrived, he gave up his idea of attacking Medina and returned to Mecca. The Prophet turned back to Medina once he was sure of the withdrawal of Abu Sufyan’s army.

One year after the Battle of Mutah, which occurred in the month of Jumad al-Awwal, 8 a.h. the Byzantine emperor started gathering his forces on the Syrian border. The Ghassanids, along with other Roman allies among Arab tribe in the region, followed the emperor’s lead. In response, the Prophet advanced to Tabuk with an army of 30,000. The expedition to Tabuk was really a military maneuver, a pre-emptive strike designed to terrified the enemy, so that they would lose heart and abandon their hostile intentions. When the Prophet reached Tabuk, he heard that Caesar was not advancing to meet the Muslims but, instead, was beginning to withdraw his forces from the frontier. There was now no question of a battle, and Caesar’s very withdrawal had assured the Prophet of a moral victory, which he decided to turn to his own political advantage. During his 20-day stay in Tabuk, he established contact with the neighboring Arab tribes, who were at that time under Roman influence. The Christian chieftain of Daumat al-Jandal, Ukaidir ibn Abdul Malik Kindi, Yohanna ibn Ruya from Ayla, along with Christians of Maqna, Jarba and Azruh, agreed to pay jizya, a tax levied on non-Muslims living under the protection of a Muslim government, which guarantees the safety of their lives and property, and free exercise of their religion.

The same reason lay behind the expedition under Usama, undertaken soon after the death of the Prophet. Except for the tribes of Medina the whole of Arabia had risen in revolt when the Prophet died, Suddenly the Muslims found themselves at odds with all their Arab countrymen. It appeared expedient at the time to preserve all strength in Medina, in order to counter the enemy within. But rather than do this, Abu Bakr acted on a decision taken by the Prophet. A force of 700 men was sent to the Roman front under Usama. Abu Hurayra explains the impact that this expedition had on the rebellious Arab tribes:

“When Usama’s force passed those tribes by that were on the verge of apostasy, they would exclaim: ‘If the Muslims did not have great reserves of strength, they would never have dispatched a force like this. Let us leave them to fight against the Roman.’ The Muslims fought against the Romans and defeated them, returning safely after doing battle with them. Seeing this, those who had been thinking of apostasy became firm in Islam.” (Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, vol. VI, p. 305)

When the Prophet reached Medina there were, besides a small minority of idolaters, two main communities living there—the Jews and the Muslims. These two communities were split up into several small groups. Neither was able to present a united front. People were just waiting for someone who would organize and unite them. When the Prophet realized that this was what people wanted, he issued a decree in which Jews and Muslims were recognized as communities in their own right. “The Jews are a community along with the Muslims... They shall have their religion and the Muslims theirs.” No encroachment was made on the customary rights and responsibilities of either Jews or Muslims, and acceptable concessions were made to the sentiments of both communities. A clause was added, however, which read as follows:

“Whenever there is a disagreement about something, the matter should be referred to God Almighty and to Muhammad.” (Tahzeeb Seerat ibn Hisham, p. 129)

This decree amounted to a political initiative, which, in the most tactful and ingenious manner, introduced Islamic constitutional government to the city of Medina.

The Prophet’s departure to Medina, instead of appeasing the Quraysh, aroused their anger to new levels of intensity. They saw that the Muslims were all gathering in one place, and becoming stronger in the process. Only two years elapsed before the Prophet had to decide whether to meet the Quraysh army outside the city, or allow them to enter Medina and cast the newly built nest of Islam into disarray. The Quraysh had 950 men in their army, while the Muslims numbered only 313. But the Prophet’s insight told him that the Quraysh were moved by solely negative impulses. Hatred of the Muslims, and jealousy of the Prophet, lay behind their aggression. The Muslims, on the other hand, were moved by the most positive and noble instincts. They had faith in God to spur them on, as well as the certainty that they were fighting for a true cause. The Muslims, then, were immeasurably more strongly motivated than their foes. Besides this, Arab warfare was an individual affair. Every warrior sought to make a name for himself by exhibiting his own bravery. Faith in God had removed this weakness from the Muslims. The Prophet was the first person in Arab history to command his forces to pursue a united course of action, and fight in ranks. He stressed the importance of fighting, not as individuals, but as a unit. The believers were urged to destroy the Quraysh’s individual strength with the strength of solidarity:

“God loves those who fight for His cause in ranks as if they were a solid cemented edifice.” (61:51).

It was faith and the Muslims’ ability to fight as one that brought about the first victory of Islamic history—the Battle of Badr

Victory of Islam

Defeat at Badr had the effect of further provoking the Quraysh and several battles, notably those of Uhud (3 a.h.), ensued within the space of a few years. The Muslims ran into severe difficulties during these campaigns. The 800 who participated in the Battle of the Trench had to suffer extreme cold, hunger and exhaustion. So much so that when the Prophet asked for someone to volunteer for a spying foray into the enemy camp, no one stood up. Eventually the Prophet personally delegated this task to Huzaifa.

There were also recurrent problems with the Jews of Medina who, in alliance with the Quraysh, were always conspiring against the Muslims. After the twenty-day siege of Medina (the Battle of the Trench), which ended, when the Quraysh were forced by a violent sandstorm to return to Mecca, local Jews with the Quraysh were exposed. Theirs being a case of treason, the Prophet chose this time to rid the Muslims of the Jewish menace. This meant that Jewish tribes in and around Medina—the Banu Nadir, the Banu Qaynqa and the Banu Qurayzah were rounded up and banished as traitors according to their own Judaic law, immediately after the Battle of Trench. The threat that they had posed to the Muslims in Medina was thus permanently eliminated.

Then there was the problem of Khaybar. Six years after the Prophet’s emigration, Medina was an island of Islam between the Quraysh in Mecca, 400 kilometers to the south, and the Jews in Khaybar, 200 kilometers to the north. The Quraysh and the Jews were united in their enmity towards Islam but neither being strong enough to take the Muslims on alone, they had entered into negotiations aimed at setting out a plan of joint action against the Muslims. The latter, for their part, were not in a position either to take on both enemies at the same time.

It was against this background that the Prophet, acting under divine inspiration, set out for Mecca in the year 6 a.h. along with 1300 companions. He made it absolutely clear that the Muslims had no intention of fighting anybody, and was going for Umra (the lesser pilgrimage). The sacrificial camels, which the Muslims took along with them, provided further proof of their peaceful intentions. The camels were even given t the sacrificial emblem (qalada), so that the people of Mecca could be quite sure that they were meant for sacrifice. This journey was also aimed at allaying the fears of the Quraysh that the Muslims intended to destroy the Kabah’s religious and commercial status.

As expected, the Quraysh advanced to prevent the Muslims from entering Mecca. The two parties met at Hudaibiyah, some eleven kilometers from Mecca. Anxious to avoid hostilities, the Prophet set up camp then and there. Then having impressed it upon his envoys that they had not come to fight anybody, he sent a message to the Quraysh, suggesting a peace treaty between the two sides. “We have come as pilgrim. War has weakened the Quraysh and caused them to suffer great losses. If they wish, I am willing to make a truce with them: they shall not come in between the people1 and myself during that time. If I emerge supreme, and they so wish, they can accept the religion, which other shaves accepted. If I do not emerge supreme, they will have the right to do as they please. If the Quraysh refuse this offer, I will fight with them in support of my cause, even at the risk of losing my life, and what god wishes will come to pass.” (Bukhari)

1.             Other tribes in and around Mecca at that time.

The theme of this message shows that the Prophet was appealing to a soft spot in the Quraysh’s own psyche.

Actually, during the early period of Islam, when the Prophet first commenced his public mission in Mecca, ‘Utba ibn Rabiyah once came to him on behalf of the Quraysh. When he returned to his people, this is what he had to say to them:

“Leave this fellow to carry on with his work for, God knows, he is never going to give it up. Do not prevent him from preaching to the Arabs. If he wins them over, then his honor will be your own. If they prevail over him, then, thanks to others, you will be free of him.” (Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah)

The Prophet’s appeal couched in terms, which were consistent with the Quraysh’s own, thinking, brought him supporters for his peace initiative within the enemy camp.

The Prophet sent the Quraysh this message, and at the same time took various steps to influence them. For example, when the Prophet heard that one of the Banu Kinanah was on his way from Mecca to Hudaibiyah to ascertain the Muslims’ intention, he told his followers of the Banu Kinanah’s reverence for sacrificial camels, and directed them to take these camels with them when they went out to meet him. They did so, at the same time chanting the prayer of pilgrimage—“We are here at your service, Lord…” The Quraysh’s envoy was extremely impressed. On his return to Mecca, he told the Quraysh that he was quite sure that the Muslims had come on a pilgrimage and for no other reason, and should be allowed to carry on.

The very spectacle of 1500 Muslims displaying their faith in God also made a deep impact on the Quraysh. When one of their envoys came into the Muslim camp, he found the Muslims all praying in ranks, lined up behind the Prophet. He was highly impressed by the organization and discipline of the worshippers.

When he returned to the Quraysh, he told them that the Muslims worked in unison: when Muhammad made a move, all his followers did likewise. Another envoy saw that when the Prophet performed his ablutions, the Muslims rushed to catch the water he had used in their hands before it could touch the ground. He noticed the hush, which descended upon them when the Prophet was speaking, the reverence which prevented them from looking him straight in the eye. When this envoy reported back to the Quraysh, they were deeply impressed by his description of the Muslims’ loyalty and affection for their leader. ‘Urwah ibn Mas‘ud asked them: “Are you not as my fathers and sons?” The people told him that they were indeed. “Are you suspicious of me in any way?” he asked them. They said not. “Well,” ‘Urwa continued, “this man (Muhammad) has made a fine proposal to you. Agree to it, and let me go to confer with him.” (Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah)

The Prophet made clear his intention to accept any demand the Quraysh made, as long as it did not contradict the law of God. The Quraysh displayed all manner of bigotry while the treaty was being compiled. They removed the words, ‘Muhammad, Prophet of God,’ from the draft and inserted “Muhammad, son of Abdullah,” instead. Taking offence at the words, “In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful,” they insisted on “In Your Name, O God,” being written. They added a clause saying that any Qurayshi who joined the Muslims would have to be returned. The Quraysh, on the other hand, would not have to do the same with any Muslim who came to them. They also refused the Muslims permission to enter Mecca for their pilgrimage that year. These clauses were more than the Companions could bear. ‘Urwah ibn Mas‘ud even commented that those whom the Prophet had gathered around himself were about to desert him. ‘Urwah’s remark was too much for the normally placid Abu Bakr. “Go and suck the penis of your idol Lat,” he said. “So you think that we will leave the Prophet on his own?” But the Prophet himself refused to be provoked. He accepted all the Quraysh’s demands, and completed a ten-year truce with them. As long as the truce lasted, the Quraysh were prevented directly or indirectly—from participating in any hostilities against the Muslims.

This treaty weighed so heavily on the Muslims that, after it had been completed, no one responded to repeated calls by the Prophet for sacrifice of the camels they had brought with them. It was with heavy hearts that finally the rose to make the sacrifice. So deep was their sorrow, that when they shaved their heads afterwards, it seemed as if they were going to cut one another’s throats. But this truce, the terms of which appeared so unfavorable to the Muslims, was destined to reap incalculable benefits for them later.

At the time of the truce two main enemies confronted the Muslims—the Jews of Khaybar and the Quraysh of Mecca. The Muslims were not yet strong enough to rid themselves of both enemies simultaneously. To attack one would have been to provide the other with a golden opportunity to attack Medina from the rear, thus demolishing the Muslims’ stronghold. Now the Prophet, by accepting all the Quraysh’s demands, had consolidated a ten-year truce with one of his enemies. No longer could they conduct forays against the Muslims. With the Quraysh out of his way, the Prophet was now able to turn his attention to the Jews of Khaybar. The attack on Khaybar (Muharram 7 a.h.) followed the quick succession after the Treaty of Hudaibiyah (Zul Qa’ada, 6 a.h.)

Twenty thousand armed men were holding out in the eight might fortresses of Khaybar. The fortresses were also equipped with highly sophisticated defenses. The story of the sacking of this fortified city is a long one, in which methods of extraordinary military ingenuity were used. The gate of the city was broken with a massive tree trunk, wielded by about fifty men. A few strong blows were enough to break the gate, allowing the Muslims to enter amidst a hail of arrows and stones. Four fortresses were captured in this manner. The defenders of the other fortresses took fright, opened their gates, and surrendered to the Muslim army.

The Quraysh remained to be subdued. The Prophet’s intuition told him to wait until they broke the treaty before doing battle with them. Knowing the negative sentiments that spurred the Quraysh on in their fight against the Muslims—jealousy, hate, greed and arrogance—the Prophet reckoned that they would stop short of no immoral or unreasonable action in pursuit of their aims. His estimate proved correct. In Sha‘aban 8 a.h. fighting erupted between the tribes of Khaza‘a and Banu Bakr. The Banu Bakr were allied to the Quraysh and the Khuza‘ah to the Muslims. In blatant contradiction of the terms of the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, they Quraysh provided their allies with clandestine support, thus enabling them to attack the Khuza‘ah. This incident occurred just two years after the Treaty of Hudaibiyah. During this time the number of people with the Prophet had risen from 1500 to 10,000. Along with them, the Prophet secretly set out for Mecca. So wise and diplomatic was his strategy that Mecca was conquered with next to no bloodsheds:

“God has promised you many against which you will acquire, and thus He has given you this beforehand, and He has restrained the hands of men from you.” (Qur’an, 48:20)

At the time, the Treaty of Hudaibiyah was signed, the Prophet had been preaching for twenty years and the message of Islam had spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula. In every tribe, there were people in whose hearts the Prophet’s religion had found a place. But they still looked up to the Quraysh as their leaders, and, for fear of arousing their ire; many who realized the truth of Islam were unable to proclaim their faith. They knew that their public acceptance of Islam would have amounted to a declaration of war against the mightiest tribe in Arabia. Now they heard that the Muslims and the Quraysh had agreed to curtail hostilities for ten years. The Quraysh would no longer be able to take reprisals against people becoming Muslims. There was nothing now to stop people from accepting Islam. It was as if a large crowd had gathered at its gates. With the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, those goates were thrown open and the crowds flocked in. As Ibn Sahib al-Zahri and others have pointed out, the Muslims gained more from the Treaty of Hudaibiyah that from any of their campaigns. The Prophet returned to Mecca two years later with 10,000 men, whereas, previously, the Muslims had number no more than 3,000. This was the direct outcome of the greatest obstacle to acceptance of Islam—the anger and hostility of the Quraysh, which would result from such conversions. Bara’a was one of the Muslims present at Hudaibiyah. Bukhari has related how he used to say to latter-day people, who considered the Conquest of Mecca to be the great victory of Islam, that the Companions of the Prophet considered its most outstanding achievement to be the Treaty of Hudaibiyah.

The economic blockade of Medina was now lifted. Caravans from that city were now permitted to pass freely through Mecca. But Abu Jandal, Abu Basee, and others who had accepted Islam, had to be returned to the Quraysh under the terms of the treaty before long, however, they escaped and took refuge in Zu’l-Marwa. So many Muslim converts assembled in that place that it became a new, flourishing center of Islam. From there they used to play havoc with the Quraysh’s trading caravans. Finally the Quraysh were forced to give up insisting that anyone deserting the Quraysh for the Muslim camp would have to be returned to them.

The great lesson of Hudaibiyah is that one should avoid impatience and should not judge solely by appearances. The outwardly unfavorable Treaty of Hudaibiyah held great opportunities for the Muslims, which only people of insight could perceive. Abu Bakr commenting on the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, observed: “It was the greatest Islamic victory, though on that day people were too shortsighted to realize the secrets between Muhammad and his Lord. People are impatient but God is not. He lets matters take their course, until they reach the stage that He intends.’ (Recorded by Ibn ‘Asakir) It is realism, which brings success in this world; but people want instant success, and are unwilling to go through the lengthy stages it takes to achieve it.

After subjugating the Jews of Khaybar, the Prophet began to make preparations for another campaign. The target he kept secret even from Abu Bakr. Only in Ramadan 8 a.h. when the Muslim army was actually directed to set out towards Mecca, did people realize where they were heading. So stealthy and discreet was their advance that they reached Murr‘uz-Zahran without the Quraysh knowing that the Muslims were upon them. The Prophet had prayed before he set out that “the spies and informers of the Quraysh” should be restrained until the Muslims entered the city of Mecca.

The Prophet went to amazing lengths to keep preparations for the advance on Mecca secret. He gave orders that Medina should be cut off from the rest of Arabia: no one was to be allowed to enter or leave the city. A party, of which Ali was in charge, was sent to guard the roads leading to Medina. It was they who arrested Hatib ibn Abi Balta’s messenger, who was taking a letter to the Meccans to warn them of the danger to their city. As Tabarani reported on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas, Every tribe provided manpower and weaponry in full measure.” No one was left behind. The army of 10,000 was divided into groups of several hundred men. Each division marched in ranks, led by a commander bearing a standard. The Prophet asked his uncle ‘Abbas to let an old opponent of his, Abu Sufyan, witness the Muslims’ march. Abu Sufyan watched from beside a narrow mountain pass as, row upon row, the Muslim army filed past. He could hardly believe his eyes. “Who has the power to confront this army?” he exclaimed. “I have never seen anything like it!” The Prophet thus went to great lengths to impress Abu Sufyan. At the same time he announced that anyone entering Abu Sufyan’s house would be safe. The result was that Abu Sufyan himself appealed to the people of Mecca to capitulate to Muhammad, for on one was strong enough to fight him. Events, which followed the conquest of the city, prove conclusively that the extensive preparations had not been aimed at causing bloodshed: their purpose was to frighten the Meccans into submission, so that the city could be captured for Islam without any need for fighting. As the Muslim army neared Mecca, one of its leaders, Sa‘ad Ibn ‘Ubada, called out: “Today is the day of battle!” The Prophet told him that is was not; it was the day of mercy. Sa‘d was then told to step down and the standard was handed over to his son instead.

There were some engagements after the Conquest of Mecca, bringing the total number of military expeditions conducted by the Prophet up to eighty. But now that the Muslims had gained control of the capital of Arabia, it took only some minor skirmishes for all Arabia to capitulate, and accept the Prophet as their leader.

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