Immediately after Muhammad ﷺ declared his prophethood on Mount Saffa, he was met with opposition from the Quraish. This came in many different forms:
The first thing the Quraish did was appeal to the highest authority that they could. Now there was no one ruler in Mecca, but there was a council called the Daar An-Nadwah which was comprised of the chieftains all of the sub-tribes, and the chieftain of the Banu Hashim was Abu Talib. At first a few people came to him complaining about his nephew’s new religion, but he simply sent them away with some reassurances. However, as more people began converting to Islam, the Quraish began to get more and more worried and so started increasing the pressure on Abu Talib. They tried to threaten and bribe him, and brought slander and exaggerations about the prophet’s actions to him in an attempt to get him to stop Islam from spreading. Then finally they came to Abu Talib with a choice: either stop your nephew from preaching or hand him over to us. Now according to the law of the Arabs the Quraish could not do anything to the prophet, as they were not allowed to harm their own tribesmen whatsoever unless the leader of his sub-tribe permitted it. But of course, Muhammad ﷺ was Abu Talib’s beloved nephew, and so he did not hand him over but instead went to talk to him.
So he went to the prophet and said to him, ‘O my nephew, my people have come to me and said such and such. So be merciful to yourself and also me, do not place me in a situation I cannot bear.’ Now this was emotional blackmail at its finest, and was one of the most difficult encounters for the prophet – remember that Abu Talib had raised Muhammad ﷺ as a son when Abdul Muttalib died. So this was when the prophet famously said, ‘O my uncle, by Allah, even if they me give the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left hand I cannot give up this message, until I succeed what I am doing or die preaching what I am preaching.’
When Abu Talib saw this persistence and sincerity he could only say, ‘Do what you will, my nephew, by Allah I will never come to you again and stop what you are doing.’ And indeed, he stayed true to this word until the very end, even when he was the only non-Muslim who was forced to abandon his livelihood and live with the Muslims in the boycott.
When the people heard that Abu Talib had tried to convince Muhammad ﷺ and failed, they returned to him but this time with a delegation of the whole Quraish. They said to him, ‘We have a proposition: we have chosen the most noble young man in Mecca – the son of Al-Walid ibn Al-Mughira (who was the chieftain of the Banu Makhzum and so Abu Talib’s peer) – and as one son for one son, we'll hand over Al Ammarah to you and he will become your son, and in return you hand over your nephew to us.’
At this Abu Talib became very angry and said, ‘What an evil, foolish bargain – what is this? I take care of one of yours and you kill one of mine?’
Now at this point Mut'im ibn 'Adi, who was the most senior of the delegation and the closest thing the Quraish had to a chief, stood up and said, ‘O Abu Talib, I think your people have done as much as they humanly can. You must accept one of their offers.’ For Mut’im ibn ‘Adi to take a side was a big deal, so now it was essentially the entirety of the Quraish against Abu Talib. And yet despite this, Abu Talib took on a bravery that was unbelievable and said to Mut’im directly, ‘O Mut'im, this is a plot that you have hatched; to stand up at this time and publically take sides, you had this planned from before. Do as you please, I will not budge from my position.’ Now, he had absolutely no support here other than his honour and prestige against the entirety of the Quraish, and yet he still showed such bravery and persistence in the face of adversity that Allah willed for them to back down. Abu Talib later also wrote a set of poems chastising the actions of his relatives here, and it must be noted that Abu Talib was in fact one of the greatest poets of Mecca at the time. Some people even said that his poetry was better than that of the ‘7 hanging poems’ in the Kahbah, which were in themselves considered legendary.
A quick side note about Mut’im ibn ‘Adi: this incident was probably the worst thing that he did for Islam. After this, he did many positive things for the Muslims and helped them on many difficult occasions. And indeed, after the battle of Badr when the prophet was faced with 72 prisoners of war, he said, ‘If Mut'im ibn 'Adi were alive right now and he said to me one word about these 72 prisoners, I would have freed them all for his sake.’ This was one of the highest praises the prophet has ever said about any kuffar, and he said it for Mut'im ibn 'Adi.
Abu Talib was the one man the prophet loved the most, and he did so much for the Muslims and yet never became one himself. Even on his deathbed, when the prophet was 53 years old and begging him, ‘Say one kalima and I will be able to argue in front of Allah to save you,’ Abu Talib was about to say it because he knew – in his heart – that this religion was the truth, and he knew the character of his nephew and he knew that he could not tell a lie. And yet there was one thing he loved more than Muhammad ﷺ and that was his father – Abdul Muttalib. So when Abu Jahal saw his mouth open to say the kalima, he got scared and asked, ‘Are you going to leave the religion of your father?’ At this, Abu Talib closed his mouth, and that was when the Angel of Death came. The prophet was so emotional at this time that he said, ‘I will ask Allah for your forgiveness even if I don’t have permission,’ until Allah revealed multiple verses in the Quran. One such, ‘It is not befitting for a prophet and his believers to ask forgiveness for a pagan, even if they are close relatives,’ and ‘You are not able to guide those whom you love, but Allah guides those whom He pleases.’
What wisdom can we glean from this? As we can see, Abu Talib and Mut’im ibn ‘Adi were both kuffar till they died, and yet one was the most beloved father figure to the prophet Muhammad ﷺ and the other was very highly respected by him. Both helped out the Muslims on many occasions in their times of need, not because they followed them but because they believed in justice and upheld those values. And this shows us that the viewpoint that every kuffar is evil in the eyes of Islam is one that is completely wrong, as there are many non-Muslims who are still good people and worthy of our respect and praise; for every Abu Lahab there is a Mut’im ibn ‘Adi. From the death of Abu Talib we can also learn another very important lesson: no-one can tell Allah what to do, not even the prophet himself because – despite his exulted rank – he is still a human. Not a god, not a demi-god or any other deity – simply a human. And thus, because Allah did not wish to guide Abu Talib to Islam, he did not become a Muslim. And this is the unquestionable power of the All Mighty.
Dr.Yasir Qadhi’s Seerah of The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) 012