Although this period of inhumane treatment and the boycott had ended, there was still more sadness to be experienced. Maybe Allah the Almighty was turning His beloved servants’ eyes completely towards the Hereafter, directing their attention to their real “homeland” with various troubles that the believers had to face. The fact that now after the lifting of the boycott they could enter Mecca did not mean that the oppression and torture would end. The Meccan polytheists who had lost the battle of the front yesterday were opening new fronts everywhere today, thereby looking to recuperate their losses. The Muslims had left their three years of exile behind, but these years had left a great impact on them; the cries of the hungry children were now haunting the parents in their sleep. Disease was rife and was decimating the community. Two important pillars such as Abu Talib and Khadija had had their share of the disease. It was not so easy to start in Mecca anew, and Mecca was bent on living in its previous state of debauchery.
The exhaustion of all his years was now upon Abu Talib, he had come to a point where he found it difficult to even walk. He had one foot in the grave, so to speak. He had carried the burden of his whole tribe, not only his own. He had stood up for his nephew even though everyone had opposed him. It was clear that he was no longer in a state where he could carry such weight. It was the month of Ramadan. Abu Talib was ill and it looked like he would pass away to eternity from this disease. The news of his illness spread through Mecca, and the numbers of people who came to visit him increased day by day.
On the other hand the front of denial was not sitting idle. They knew of his situation and around twenty five people from the leading men of Quraysh came together, including Utba and Shayba, Ibn Rabia, Abu Jahl, Umayya ibn Khalaf and Abu Sufyan. They came to speak to Abu Talib one last time. They discussed their situation before they went to Abu Talib: “Hamza and Umar have become Muslim; we lost them. The cause of Muhammad is spreading among the tribes. Come, let us go to Abu Talib, and let us ask him to hand the son of his brother to us! It seems we will not be able to overcome this difficulty otherwise,” said one of them.
“Truth be told, I fear this old man as well; I fear as he dies he will say what Muhammad says and then we will never be able to stop the chattering mouths of the Arabs!” explained another.
“Best is if you wait now; tomorrow when his uncle dies you can finish him!” told the other.
They were forwarding such ideas, but the prevailing sentiment was that they should go visit Abu Talib in his death bed. They went to him with the following offer: “O Abu Talib! No doubt you know our situation and what has befallen us! What we fear is clear! What we experienced with your nephew is no secret; it’s all out in the open! Tell him to stay away from us, and we shall stay away from him! Tell him to leave us to our religion and understanding so that we may leave him in peace.”
For Abu Talib the issue seemed to have softened.
If everyone lived according to their own understanding, then nobody would be hurt and his nephew would be safe from harm. He called to his side the Messenger of Allah with such thoughts in mind: “O son of my brother! Look, these are leading men of your tribe. They have come here and they assure you that they will not harass you anymore,” he said.
“I want just one word from them; with it, they will be sovereign over all the Arabs and with this word the Persians will also come to live like them.”
Abu Jahl misconstrued the words of Muhammad to mean that he had accepted their offer and came to the fore: “One word? Of course, you will get your word; I swear by the memory of your father that we will give you not one, but ten words.”
Things had to be made clearer and so the Messenger of Allah said: “You will say ‘There is no deity but Allah’ and you will leave aside everything you worship except Him.”
This was what he had demanded from them at every opportunity, so naturally, it displeased them. They started to clap in protest and then said with sour faces: “You mean to say that you want to make one God out of all the gods?”
Another one of them came to the fore and said: “I swear that this man will not give you anything you want! You should continue what you want to do and do not leave your ancestors’ religion till this issue between you and him is resolved.”
Soon, the traces of revelation were upon him and the Truthful Gabriel was bringing a new message:
They deem it strange that a warner from among them has come to them, and the unbelievers say: ‘This man is but a sorcerer, a fraud (who makes fabrications in attribution to Allah). What! has he made all the deities into One Allah. This is a very strange thing, indeed!’ (Sad 38:4–5)
This clearly showed that each of their steps was being watched. Everything they thought they hid in their inner worlds was being revealed to them out in the open, right before their eyes. The rest of the verse stated:
The leaders among them went about inciting one another: “Move on, and remain constant to your deities. Surely that (to which this man calls) is the very thing that is certainly intended (deliberately plotted by him and those who follow him). We have not heard of this in recent ways of faith. This is surely nothing but a concoction. From among all of us has the Reminder been sent down on him?” No! Rather, (on account of their self-glory) they are lost in doubts concerning My Reminder. No indeed! They have not yet tasted My punishment (so that they might abandon their arrogance and recognize the truth). (Sad 38:6–8)
Everyone would taste it, everything had its moment. The old and dying Abu Talib turned to the representatives of the Quraysh and said the following:
“O people of Quraysh! You are among the chosen ones from Allah’s creation, and you hold a most central place among the Arabs. The masters that are to be obeyed, valiant people who care nothing for danger and generous men have always come from among you. You should know that you have been preferred among the Arabs and have been brought to a special position. When it comes to your honor; you live by it! Then it falls upon you to share with others these gifts you have, and people will have to seek different ways to partake in this bounty.
Now people are against you and there is a war between you. I would advise you to respect this constitution, for in it is the contentment of your Lord, ease of sustenance and consolidation of your position! Look after your relatives and never stop visiting them, for visiting relatives eases the sadness of your bereavement and it also means strength in numbers, and you will have someone there for you.
Stay away from excess and rebellion, for in both these you will find the causes of the perishing of centuries, and you know the histories of those before you.
Help those who seek help from you and never send away anyone who comes to you with an opened hand, for in these two you will find the honor of life and death.
Speak the truth and keep safe what is entrusted to you, for in both these there is a special kind of love and greatness.
Lastly I advise being graceful towards Muhammad, for he is the most trustworthy person in Quraysh, the most upright man among all Arabs, the most virtuous man that embodies all that I have just enumerated. He has come to you with such a thing that although the heart recognizes it, the tongue denies it for fear of being censured! I swear, I almost see the Arabs come running, I see good people from around coming, coming and following him and their hearts thus finding solace.
If things continue this way, while these strangers will benefit from him, leaders of Quraysh will be left behind, their stars will wane. The weak of today will become the mighty of tomorrow; the proudest of you will become the most needy, and those who are distant to him today will be closest to him in the future! Look, the Arabs have already opened their arms to him, they have run to his help; they have opened their hearts to him and have made him the crown over their heads.
O Quraysh! Take care to recognize this value that has risen from among you! Be his helpers and protectors of his cause! I swear by Allah that whoever follows his path he will reach maturity, and whoever takes what he had brought as his guide, becomes the happiest of men! I wish my life were a little longer, and my death was a little delayed, I wish I could help him fight the difficulties he faces!”
This advice that everyone needed to heed would have made sense only to those who were ready to receive them. It was clear that the polytheists had not liked what he had said at all. No doubt they too had other plans in order to further their stance in denial, and they would put these plans into action, digging a bigger whole for themselves. Once again they complained, lifted their heads in arrogance, and left Abu Talib’s presence.
When the leading men of Quraysh left Abu Talib’s side, he turned to his nephew and said with the experience of his years: “I swear, O son of my brother, you have not asked them to do an impossible thing.”
This was a statement that heartened the Messenger of Allah. At last his uncle was showing signs of accepting Islam, for he had set his door ajar for faith. The affectionate Messenger who wanted to make use of every opportunity turned towards him with great hope; he just couldn’t accept his beloved and protective uncle leaving him without having taken any steps towards faith: “O uncle! Then you say that word so that with it I may be able to vouch for you on the Day of Judgment.”
This was a great opportunity for a soul who had devoted himself to saving other people’s faiths; he wanted his uncle to believe so much! But faith was a matter of destiny, for even if one was a Prophet, no one was able to hold another fast to the right path as long as Allah did not will it, he could not make this route easier to get on to for people he wanted. Revelations said the same thing: “You cannot guide to truth whomever you like but Allah guides whomever He wills. He knows best who are guided (and amenable to guidance)” (al-Qasas 28:56).
The Messenger’s strife was the result of his love for his uncle, but it did not yield any results. This last push had been a new and last hope. When he saw that his nephew had such high hopes, Abu Talib said: “O son of my brother,” even this address had the tone that said “Do not have such high hopes.” Then after a pause he continued: “Had I not feared that people after me may attribute senility to the son of their forefathers, or the Quraysh saying that I said these words because I feared death, I would have said those words. But I can say them to make you happy.”
Our noble Prophet would still try to make something of each moment and would try to make his uncle give him a definite response.
The leading men of denial once again came to the side of his uncle. The Messenger of Allah started to walk towards his uncle Abu Talib in his sick bed. Another uncle made for the bed as well and sat where the Messenger of Allah had meant to sit. His aim was to prevent the Messenger of Allah from influencing Abu Talib in his last moments and from inviting him to Islam. Even at a moment when Abu Talib was in his death throes, denial kept up its stern front; it did not want to allow any steps that might lead to belief. They couldn’t even tolerate the Messenger looking at his uncle’s eyes with affection. On top of that, the Messenger of Allah was trying to invite him to faith at every opportunity. Even in these last moments, the struggle between faith and denial was being played out to the full. Abu Talib was asked: “O Abu Talib! Are you now giving up the religion of Abdul Muttalib?”
“No. I am staying on the religion of Abdul Muttalib,” he answered.
He was now closer to death. Sitting closer to him was his brother Abbas. He was trying to see the movement of his lips, and then the greatest patron of our noble Prophet closed his eyes to life.
However, the Messenger of Allah would not stop praying and seeking forgiveness for Abu Talib who had been prevented by the pressure of denial to come to the path of faith: “And me, I will continue to ask forgiveness from Allah for you as long as I am not prohibited to do so.”
This statement of the noble Prophet was going to be validated by the good news brought by Gabriel. The verse that came first spoke of the situation which made the scene eternal. Then it gave an example from his ancestors thereby showing the correct attitude to be taken under such circumstances:
It is not for the Prophet and those who believe to ask Allah for the forgiveness of those who associate partners with Allah even though they be near of kin, after it has become clear to them that they (died polytheists and therefore) are condemned to the Blazing Flame. The prayer of Abraham for the forgiveness of his father was only because of a promise which he had made to him. But when it became clear to him that he was an enemy of Allah, he (Abraham) dissociated himself from him. Abraham was most tender-hearted, most clement. (at-Tawbah 9:113–114)
After the burial, Abbas ibn Abdul Muttalib approached the Messenger of Allah and said to his bereaved nephew: “O son of my brother! I swear by Allah that Abu Talib said the word you wanted him to say at his last moment.”
The Messenger of Allah wasn’t thinking the same way.
“I didn’t hear it,” he said. Upon that Abbas approached his nephew and said that he needed to be softer and more balanced towards his uncle. He was a man of balance anyway; he was the representative of the straight path, and everyone needed to take him as an example. That is why he said to his uncle: “I hope that my vouching for him on the Judgment Day will help him, and that his torment in Hell will ease and that the whole process will be made lighter for him.”
Kesmez, Umit. “The Luminous Life of Prophet Muhammad (SAW)” Tughra Books Press. December 2014.
- February 20, 2014
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