First, the fact that both Hamza and Umar had become a Muslim meant two great defeats for the Quraysh. Second, the envoys they had sent to Abyssinia with great gifts had returned empty handed. Naturally, the Meccans had become enraged and the men were already sharpening their swords. On top of all this, they were receiving news of people who were migrating to Abyssinia and this was dispiriting them. It seemed that before long, things were going to get completely out of their hands and carried to another untouchable platform. On the one hand there was the protection of the families of Hisham and Abdul Muttalib and so they could not do anything permanent concerning the Messenger of Allah, for people had united to protect Muhammad the Trustworthy, peace and blessings be upon him, with their lives. On the other hand each day someone from the deniers’ side was crossing over to them and Mecca was experiencing dissolution of its front. They had to find an immediate and effective solution to this problem.
One night they met at a pre-arranged place and made a decision that was worse than death. They decided that they would sever all ties with the families of Hashim and Abdul Muttalib and banish them from Mecca until they handed Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, to them. They would cut all their routes, they would not marry their children with them, and they would dry up all their sources for food and drink. Since Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, did not seem to give up, the innocent would be punished along with the culprits. This decision meant that the Quraysh was going to starve the people whose only crime was to have submitted in faith to Allah. They were going to leave these people to die in the difficult conditions of the desert, thus solving the problem without having given cause to blood feuds that could possibly continue for centuries. This was similar to what one imagines concentration camps to be like today… Ultimately, this was a boycott in which the Meccans would wait for them to perish in the open field, in the silence of the mornings and loneliness of the nights, under the scorching sun and the suffocation of the desert. They also wanted their act to be sanctified so they wrote their decision item by item on a page and hung it on the wall of the Ka’ba in mutual agreement. The man who wrote these articles on paper was a man named Mansur ibn Iqrima.
What Waraqa had warned the people about was now coming to pass. Seven years after the coming of the first revelation, on a night in the month of Muharram, the Muslims left Mecca and the Meccans despite the deprivation this would cause them!
Abu Talib was again there to help. They set up tent outside Mecca, in the place of Shi’b-i Abi Talib, with meager means. Tents were made up of patchwork fabric hanging tentatively on sticks. Abu Talib’s efforts were a sight to see even though he wasn’t a Muslim. In order to prevent something bad happening to his nephew, he was devising ingenious ways to protect him, sometimes even making his own sons sleep in his bed instead.
Shi’b-i Abi Talib was a piece of bare land outside Mecca. This state of exclusion continued for three years. The troubles kept multiplying and each day saw the cries of someone in some tent. The encampment was hit by disease and the wailings from the camp were echoing into Mecca.
These were hard times indeed. The person who felt the brunt of these troubles was the most beloved of Allah’s servants, the Messenger of Allah. But whatever the circumstances, he had to continue his mission of tabligh and he had to feed the people with Divine messages. Such a whirlwind of troubles could only be overcome with a strong faith and this faith had become the banner of the community that had gathered around our noble Prophet. The traces of this faith could even be seen in those who had not accepted Islam but yet had chosen to be on his side. His followers were also showing great steadfastness in the face of all the hardship.
The tabligh had to reach other people as well. The Messenger of Allah was trying to meet people from the outside as much as possible, and was trying to communicate the Word of Allah to those he came in contact with, especially during the haram months, the months of prohibition. The same effort went for the Muslims who carried the excitement of faith in their hearts and they were putting their faith into action without cease.
Three long years of fighting hunger, aridity and disease!
What oppression was this that it knew of no respite even when it came to women, the elderly, the children, and the sick! The cries of the hungry children were echoing in the mountains of Paran…
When the Messenger of Allah performed his Prayer in the company of his Lord, he would always hear the cries of the children and the sighs of the mothers, and this pierced his heart. The enmity and rancor of the Quraysh had reached such proportions that even the Muslims’ presence seemed an affront to them, they did not want to live in the same city with them. Mecca was oppressing them with all its might and they did not give the believers the space to even breathe. The mastermind behind this oppression was again, the Pharaoh of his community, Abu Jahl. They were now only allowed to go down to Mecca in the prohibited months and they could only buy a few provisions with their meager means. The Quraysh was meeting the caravans that came to Mecca before they came into town, trying to persuade them not to sell their wares to the Muslims. Sometimes, although they did not need it all, the Quraysh would buy everything that came with caravans, leaving no options to the people in need outside Mecca. The Muslim camp had nothing left. They had endured such hardship that they were making use of anything and everything. For example, Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas who had gone to a remote place to see to his needs noticed a piece of leather. He had taken it, washed it and then cooked it on the fire to eat it. This aliment had enabled him to walk without having to bend over double from hunger for three days, and he had thanked his Lord for this easing of the pain. Such was the dedication of the followers of the Messenger of Allah. Many of them were trying to stay alive by eating leaves and tree bark and their excrement had become like that of sheep.
In this difficult period, Khadija was one of the people who gave people a degree a comfort. She wasn’t of a nature to watch what was happening and do nothing. The means she had were dwindling fast, but she knew about the market and by using her nephew Hakim ibn Hizam as middle man, she was having him send what she had secretly to Shi’b-i Abi Talib, providing some respite for the hungry. On such a day, Hakim had set out in the dark of the night and was bringing a handful of grain to his aunt. This did not escape the attention of Abu Jahl and he stopped him. How could an individual stand up against the machinated authority of ignorance? Even though he was his brother, Abu Jahl had no tolerance for different voices. He first displayed a very tough attitude: “Bringing food to the sons of Hashim are we?! I swear that you will not be able to escape me and I will not allow you to bring them food. You will see; I will shame you in front of the whole of Mecca.”
Upon them came Abu’l Bakhtari. He was from the family of Hashim. He had not submitted in faith but he had a heart. He first wanted to learn the cause of the quarrel: “What is happening between you two?” he asked. Abu Jahl answered: “He was attempting to take food to the sons of Hashim.”
“And so you’re trying to prevent him to take food to his aunt?” reacted Abu’l Bakhtari.
“Get away from the path of this man,” he continued, trying to put an end to Abu Jahl’s oppression, but a fight between him and Abu Jahl ensued. It came to a point where Abu’l Bakhtari was about to break Abu Jahl’s head with a jaw bone he had found on the ground.
Meanwhile, Hamza was watching this scene from afar. This act of Abu’l Bakhtari would hearten people who thought like him, and prepare the ground for the process that ended up with the lifting of the page of articles that hung on the wall of the Ka’ba and the ending of the boycott.
In the meantime, the Messenger of Allah went to his uncle Abu Talib and said: “O uncle! It is true that my Lord Allah the Almighty has sent a little worm to the page of articles they hung on the wall of the Ka’ba, and the little worm has eaten up all the oppression, boycott and slander inscribed there except for His own Exalted Name.”
Abu Talib was surprised to hear this. He knew that his nephew would not have been able to go to the Ka’ba and see this page, for he would not be allowed anywhere near that page. There was only one explanation: “Has your Lord given you this news?” Abu Talib asked.
“Yes,” said the Messenger of Allah.
He had not seen or heard his nephew lie even once. Hearing him say it was enough to believe it. But he had a different plan now. He went and informed his brothers at once. A period of oppression was about to end. This excitement could not stay within the bounds of Shibi Abi Talib, and before long they made their way to the Ka’ba. Everyone who saw them coming could see that Mecca was pregnant with a new development and people were eagerly watching the events unfold.
Abu Talib called out to the Meccans and said, based on his trust of what his nephew had told him and the trust that he had for the news that the Gracious Lord had given, the following:
“The son of my brother Muhammad says that your paper has been eaten up by a worm sent by Allah, and he never lies. He says that everything to do with oppression, extremism, cutting family ties and transgression has been cleansed and that only the Name of Allah remains. Here’s your opportunity; if what my nephew says turns out to be true, then you will change this bad attitude of yours; and if it turns out to be false then I will hand my nephew over to you and you can choose to kill him or let him live.”
The Quraysh were unaware of the real dimensions of the matter and so they were overjoyed. Abu Talib was offering his nephew just at a time when they had thought he had gone completely out of control. So there was nothing to be worried about. They said: “Alright, you have done what mercy complies one to do.”
And then they went to the wall of the Ka’ba in order to see the situation. When they opened the case in which they had placed the paper, a case they had sealed threefold, they saw that it was just as Abu Talib had described. They froze in astonishment. With the droop of their heads the case they were holding fell to the ground along with the eaten up piece of paper. They were experiencing yet another great defeat. Now it was Abu Talib’s turn to speak: “Since everything has been revealed, there is no point in this imprisonment and siege,” and lifting the cover of the Ka’ba, he entered it, and this is how he started to pray: “O Allah, help us against those who oppress us, who forbid us to meet with people, who attack us with no right and who do injustice to us.”
Then they all left and went to the place where they had experienced the greatest hardship for three years. But nothing would be the same from now on, for the prayers spoken at the Ka’ba had been accepted and had set people with conscience into action. This had been the last drop and it seemed the journey would be rough until the conclusion was reached.
On the other hand, Hisham, our noble Prophet’s, peace and blessings be upon him, cousin, was saying the following to Zuhayr: “O Zuhayr! Although you have heard what situation your uncles are in, you are eating and drinking here in peace. You are having a good time with your family and kids, dressed in the best clothes. How can your heart be content with this? They, on the other hand, can neither buy anything, nor have a moment’s peace with their family. I swear that had they been the uncles of Abul Hakam, and had I called him for that, he would have listened to me and have run to the help of his uncles.”
Zuhayr had understood what was meant by these words but still asked: “O Hisham! What do you mean to say? What can I do as a man on his own? Had there been another man with me, I swear I would go and rip that text apart.”
“But you are not alone! You have another man with you,” said Hisham.
“And who is that?” asked Zuhayr.
“Me,” answered Hisham.
“Then come, let us find a third man,” said Zuhayr.
Without losing any time they went to Mut’im ibn Adiyy and said similar words to him. They were growing fast like an avalanche. They looked for the fourth man. Abu’l-Bakhtari was waiting for them. Before long, Zam’a ibn Aswad joined them as the fifth man. Then these five donned their weapons against the hatred and rancor of years and made for the Ka’ba with the men from the families of Hashim and Abdul Muttalib following them, with a view to ending the issue. There was not much the Quraysh, who saw them coming, could do.
As soon as they came to the Ka’ba, they circumambulated it seven times and as planned, Zuhayr spoke: “O people of Mecca! We cannot allow the sons of Hashim perish without a chance to buy anything, all their ties to the external world cut while we eat in peace and strut about in good clothes. I swear that I will not leave without tearing that piece of paper upon which the conditions of the boycott is written.”
Abu Jahl was watching what was happening from the side with great attention. He shouted out: “You lie! I swear you will not be able to do anything to this paper.”
In response to his reaction, Zam’a said: “It is you who lies! We weren’t happy with it in the first place. You had it written.”
And then the Ka’ba witnessed the support of Abu’l-Bakhtari: “Zam’a tells the truth, we cannot stay silent anymore in the face of what is happening.”
Mut’im ibn Adiyy and Hisham were supporting their friends: “Of course, they are telling the truth; you are the liar! We seek refuge from Allah from what has been written here and the treatment they have caused!”
All of a sudden the Ka’ba had seen the Meccans’ much longed-for reaction and was now overwhelmed in joy with this long-overdue act.
This was a moment when denial was experiencing one of its defeats. Abu Jahl was enraged: “This is a conspiracy that was planned during the night.”
Abu Talib and his friends had now come back to the Ka’ba and were watching what was taking place with great curiosity. For them, what the crowd would witness at the end was not going to come as a surprise. But they wanted to see their astonishment with their own eyes.
The defenses of denial were falling one by one! Then Mut’im ibn Adiyy, made for the case in order to put an end to this inhumane treatment that had lasted for three years. But what did he find? Only a little slip of paper with the words “In the Name of Allah” had remained and beside it was a little worm whose work this seemed.
Thus a period of oppression that had lasted three years was ending, and with the destroyed paper, the boycott itself was lifted.
Kesmez, Umit. “The Luminous Life of Prophet Muhammad (SAW)” Tughra Books Press. December 2014.
- February 20, 2014
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