THE FLIGHT FROM MECCA
FROM what has been written in the previous chapter, the reader will gather that, up to this point, Muhammad's mission at Mecca had been a very partial success. In fact, comparatively few of the Quraish had believed in him, and of those who had, many were from the humbler classes. These facts weighed heavily upon the prophet's mind, and at last, sad at heart, he began to seek for some other means of winning the faith and confidence of his tribesmen. The opportunity, when it came, brought with it the temptation to compromise. The prophet's ‘fall’ as it has been rightly called, happened thus. One day, we are told, Muhammad entered the Ka’ba at Mecca and began to recite Qur’an An-Najm 53:19-20. Then, when he came to the words ‘Do ye see al-Lat and al-‘Uzza and Manat the third (idol) besides?’ He added, with the hope of reconciling the Quraish, 22 the following words
تلك الغرانيق العلى وإن شفاعتهن لترتجى.
‘These are the exalted females, and verily their intercession is to be hoped for.’ 23 The Quraish were delighted, and joined the prophet in worship, saying as they did so, ‘Now we know that it is the Lord alone that giveth life and taketh away; that createth and supporteth. These our goddesses ask intercession for us with Him, and as thou hast conceded unto them a position we are content to follow thee.’ But the compromise had cost the prophet dear. He was ill at heart, and soon repented of his mistake by repeating the words which now stand in place of those quoted above, ‘What! shall ye have male progeny and God female? This were indeed an unfair partition. These are mere names: ye and your fathers named them thus. God hath not sent down any warranty in their regard’ Qur’an An-Najm 53:21-23.
Such behaviour was well calculated to estrange his followers, and so deep were the murmurings occasioned by his words that the prophet was constrained to offer an explanation. The devil, he told his friends, was responsible for the whole incident. He it was who had placed the offending words upon his lips even as he had done with prophets before him; and so the oracle is made to say,
وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن قَبْلِكَ مِن رَّسُولٍ وَلاَ نَبِيٍّ إِلاَ إِذَا تَمَنَّى أَلْقَى الشَّيْطَانُ فِي أُمْنِيَّتِهِ فَيَنسَخُ اللَّهُ مَا يُلْقِي الشَّيْطَانُ.
‘We have not sent any apostle or prophet before thee, but when he recited, Satan injected some (wrong) desire. But God shall bring to nought that which Satan had suggested’ Qur’an Al-Hajj 22:52. The inference intended to be conveyed by these words was that Satan had, in like manner, placed the praises of the Meccan idols upon the lips of Muhammad.
The incident related above is such a grave one, and casts such an indelible stain upon the character of Muhammad that we quote at some length in order to show that its historicity is vouched for by the highest authority. We quote, therefore, below, the account of the incident given by Mu'alim:
قالَ ابْنُ عَبَّاسٍ وَمُحَمَّدُ بْنُ كَعْبٍ الْقُرَظِيُّ وَغَيْرُهُمَا مِنَ الْمُفَسِّرِينَ: لَمَّا رَأَى رَسُولُ اللَّهِ تَوَلِّي قَوْمِهِ عَنْهُ وَشَقَّ عَلَيْهِ مَا رَأَى مِنْ مُبَاعَدَتِهِمْ عَمَّا جَاءَهُمْ بِهِ مِنَ اللَّهِ تَمَنَّى فِي نَفْسِهِ أَنْ يَأْتِيَهُ مِنَ اللَّهِ مَا يُقَارِبُ بَيْنَهُ وَبَيْنَ قَوْمِهِ لِحِرْصِهِ عَلَى إِيمَانِهِمْ ، فَكَانَ يَوْمًا فِي مَجْلِسِ قُرَيْشٍ فَأَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى سُورَةَ النَّجْمِ فَقَرَأَهَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ حَتَّى بَلَغَ قَوْلَهُ: «أَفَرَأَيْتُمُ اللَّاتَ وَالْعُزَّى وَمَنَاةَ الثَّالِثَةَ الْأُخْرَى» أَلْقَى الشَّيْطَانُ عَلَى لِسَانِهِ بِمَا كَانَ يُحَدِّثُ بِهِ نَفْسَهُ وَيَتَمَنَّاهُ : «تِلْكَ الْغَرَانِيقُ الْعُلَى وَإِنَّ شَفَاعَتَهُنَّ لِتُرْتَجَى»، فَلَمَّا سَمِعَتْ قُرَيْشٌ ذَلِكَ فَرِحُوا بِهِ
‘It is related by Ibn ‘Abbas and Muhammad bin Ka’bu'l-Qarzi, and other commentators besides, that when Muhammad saw that his people retired from him and opposed him, and rejected that (Qur'an) which he had brought them from God, he wished in his heart that such word would come to him from God by which friendship might be established between him and his people, and an inducement held out to them to believe. And it came to pass that one day he was in the temple of the Quraish when God sent down Qur’an An-Najm (53:19-20). Then the prophet recited it, and when he arrived at the words, “Do ye see al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat the third (idol) besides?” Satan placed upon his lips what he had longed for in his heart: “These are the exalted females, and verily their intercession is to be hoped for.” And when the Quraish heard this they rejoiced at it.’
Another form of the story is given in the Mawahibu'l-Luduniyyah as follows:
قرأ رسول الله صلعم بمكة النجم فلما بلغ أفريتم اللات والعزى ومناة الثالثة الأخرى ألقى الشيطان على لسانه تِلْكَ الْغَرَانِيقُ الْعُلَى وَإِنَّ شَفَاعَتَهُنَّ لِتُرْتَجَى. فقال المشركون ما ذكر آلهتنا بخير قبل اليوم فسجد وسجدوا فنزلت هذه الآية: وما أرسلنا من قبلك من رسول ولا نبي إلا إذ تمنى ألقى الشيطان في أمنيته.
‘The prophet was reading Qur’an An-Najm 53:19-20 in Mecca, and when he came to the words, “Do ye see al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat the third (idol) besides?” Satan cast upon his lips the words “these are the exalted females, and verily their intercession is to be hoped for.” And the idolaters said, “he hath spoken well of our goddesses.” And he worshipped and they worshipped; and then was sent down this verse, “We have not sent any apostle or prophet before thee, but when he recited Satan injected some (wrong) desire.”’ Baidawi gives substantially the same story on page 447 of his commentary, and there is no reason whatever for doubting its genuineness. Ibn Athir, one of the early biographers of the prophet, tells us that it was owing to a rumour that the Quraish had embraced Islam which reached the Muslim refugees in Abyssinia, which led to their early return to Mecca. But if Muhammad's association with Allah of the Meccan deities pleased the Quraish, his subsequent repudiation of that act goaded them to madness, and they now resolved, at all costs, to crush the new cult ere it could do them further injury. To effect this they resolved to excommunicate the Muslim community and refuse all dealings with them. Not only did this ban of excommunication apply to Muhammad and his immediate followers, but the whole clan of the Bani Hisham was included. These latter now withdrew to a secluded quarter of the city, and for a period of from two to three years suffered the severest privations. At length, however, their enemies relented, and once more resumed business relations with Muhammad's party.
Muhammad now redoubled his efforts to win the Quraish to an acceptance of his message. He particularly aimed, it would seem, at the conversion of their leaders, and a story has come down to us of his persistency in preaching which throws a flood of light upon his character. The story as told by Baidawi (p. 784) is as follows. One day Muhammad was seated before a group of the leaders of the Quraish earnestly pressing upon them the claims of the new Faith, when a poor blind man named ‘Abdu'llah bin Umm-Maktum drew near, exclaiming as he did so,
يا رسول الله علمني مما علمك الله.
‘O apostle of God, do thou teach me something of that which God has taught thee.’ But the prophet, intent upon gaining the ears of the Quraish leaders, and vexed at the interruption, frowned and turned away. Later on, being reprehended by God for his impatience, so the story goes, the prophet repented of his action and, seeking out the blind supplicant, loaded him with honours, and even, later on, made him governor of Madina! The historian further relates that such was the prophet's sorrow for his sin that whenever he met ‘Abdu'llah he was wont to say,
مرحبا بمن عاتبني فيه ربي.
‘Welcome to the man for whose sake my Lord hath reprimanded me.’ This event was of sufficient importance to claim notice in the Qur'an, where it is alluded to in these words, ‘He frowned and turned his back, because the blind man came to him! But what assured thee that he would not he cleansed (by the faith) or be warned and the warning profit him? As to him who is wealthy, to him thou wast all attention. Yet it is not thy concern if he is not cleansed. But as to him who cometh to thee in earnest and full of fears, him dost thou neglect.’ Qur’an ‘Abasa 80:1-10.
Somewhere about this time Muhammad's wife Khadija died. This occasioned the prophet great grief, and, until the day of his death, he ceased not to speak of her devotion and faithfulness. Misfortunes now followed one another in quick succession, for following shortly upon the death of his wife came the decease of his faithful protector and guardian Abu Ta’if. This was a severe blow to the prophet, who was not slow to perceive that without the powerful protection of his uncle a further stay in Mecca would he attended with the utmost difficulty and danger. Weighed down by these losses, and hopeless of further success in Mecca itself, Muhammad now resolved to preach his doctrines in the town of Ta’if situated some seventy miles to the east of Mecca. But the people of Ta’if were as strongly devoted to their idols as those of Mecca; consequently after some ten days of futile endeavour to gain a hearing in Ta’if the prophet, insulted and wounded, was compelled to once again turn his weary steps towards his native city. We pass over the fabulous story of his preaching to and converting some genii on the way, merely remarking in passing that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan merely describes them as a band of uncivilized Arabs.
Muhammad soon consoled himself for the loss of his first wife by marrying, a little later, Sauda the widow of one of the Abyssinian refugees. This marriage was soon followed by another, the bride this time being the seven-year-old daughter of Abu Bakr named ‘Ayesha. Meanwhile opposition to the prophet increased, and Muhammad found himself obliged to restrict his preaching very largely to the strangers from other parts of Arabia who made the annual pilgrimage to Mecca or attended the numerous fairs which were held from time to time in various parts of the country. Several of these strangers from Madina eventually accepted the prophet's teaching, and these, upon their return to Madina, so successfully propagated the new faith there that, two years later, a band of over seventy persons made their way to Mecca and there pledged themselves to support the prophet's cause. This success soon suggested to Muhammad the wisdom of a change of sphere, and a little later we find him advising his Meccan followers to migrate en masse to Madina. This was eventually done, and a little later Muhammad himself, accompanied by his faithful companion Abu Bakr, left behind him the insults and persecution of the Quraish and repaired to the northern city where an enthusiastic welcome awaited him from his devoted followers.
The Meccans were dumbfounded at the sudden departure of Muhammad and his people, and made a determined though ineffectual attempt to intercept the former before he could reach his new asylum. Thus in the year A.D. 622, after thirteen years of almost fruitless effort in his native city, Muhammad turned his back upon the companions of his youth and made the Hijra or flight to Madina. It is from this event that the current Muhammadan era is counted.
22. Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, trans. by Alfred Guillaume, Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, 1955, 17th impression 2005, Mas Printers, Karachi, Pakistan, p. 166. “Then the people dispersed and Quraysh went out, delighted at what had been said about their gods, saying, ‘Muhammad has spoken of our gods in splendid fashion. He alleged in what he read that they are the exalted Gharaniq whose intercession is approved.’”
23. Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Qur’an Al-Hajj 22:52, “Satan casting them onto his tongue without his [the Prophet’s] being aware of it, [the following words]: ‘those are the high-flying cranes (al-gharānīq al-‘ulā) and indeed their intercession is to be hoped for’, and so they [the men of Quraysh] were thereby delighted.”
Ibn Sa'd, Kitab al Tabaqat al Kabir, trans. by S. Moinul Haq, pub. by Pakistan Historical Society, vol. 1, p. 237, “Satan made him repeat these two phrases: These idols are high and their intercession is expected. The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, repeated them, and went on reciting the whole surah and then fell in prostration, and the people also fell in prostration with him.”