Now there were a few more ways that the Quraish opposed Islam, the first of which was by testing the prophet:
Prophethood was not an Arab phenomenon: of course they had had Ibrahim (AS) and Ismail (AS), but that had been 2000+ years before and the legacy of the prophets had died out. However, it was a Jewish and Christian phenomenon; and so the Quraish sent emissaries to Yathrib, where the closest Jews were at the time, and asked them for something that they could quiz Muhammad (SAW) with that only a prophet could know. And so the People of the Book told them, ‘Ask him about Jacob and Yusuf.’ Now, the Quraish did not know who these people were, but they nevertheless went back to Muhammad (SAW) and asked him. And so Allah revealed Surah Yusuf, answering in detail their question. And yet the Quraish did not accept.
Another famous incident took place when the Quraish sent another delegation. This time the Jews responded with three questions that they claimed that no-one except a prophet would know the answer to. And they were:
1. The story of the young men who entered a cave and slept a long time – only a prophet would know the details.
2. A man who travelled the world from the east to west.
3. The ru'h and what it is made of.
The prophet responded, ‘Come back tomorrow and I will answer them,’ however he did not say inshallah, and so as a reminder Allah did not give revelation until 2 weeks later. The prophet became very worried in this time, and the Quraish began to mock him, however in the end Allah revealed Surah Kahf to answer the questions. The Surah tells the story of the young men in detail, but there is also mention of the traveller Dhul Qarnayn who famously built the wall blocking the tribes of Yajuj and Majuj away from the rest of the world. For the question of the ru’h, only Allah knows the answer. And indeed, the question itself was a trick, as the Jews knew that no-one could have knowledge of the ru’h as it is one of the secrets of Allah. And so once again Muhammad (SAW) proved that he must have been the rasul.
The other way the Quraish fought the spread of Islam was by outright torture. Most of the early converts were slaves or freedmen, so when it was found out that they had converted to Islam their masters would torture them to get them to stop believing. And the main instigator of this persecution was Abu Jahal, who as we know was the worst enemy of Islam. Not even Abu Lahab was worse than him, and the prophet even labelled him the ‘Phirown of the Ummah’.
One of the most famous stories of torture of early Muslims was that of Bilal ibn Rabah (RA). Now, the Quraish would round up all of the lower class Muslims and torture them in many ways – such as by putting iron on their bodies and leaving them out in the hot sand. Eventually, they would all give up and say that words of kuffar just to get the torture to stop (this is allowed in Islam), but Bilal (RA) never broke. He considered his life worth nothing in front of Allah and refused to say anything they wanted him to, and so the torturers focussed their efforts on him. And it did not help that his master was Ummayah ibn Khalaf, one of the worst of the Quraish. And so they did to him what they did to no-one else. He was given to a gang of youths in Mecca, who tied a rope around his neck and dragged him through the streets. Ummayah himself would even get slaves to put a large, heavy rock on his chest as he was laid out in the desert sun, and then leave him pinned there with no food or water under the boiling heat. Amr ibn Al-Aas even said, ‘I passed by Bilal when he was being punished, and the rocks were so hot that if I had put raw meat on them, eventually they would have cooked and I could have eaten them.’ And throughout all of these sadistic tortures and punishments, Bilal would never say what the Quraish wanted him to say, and he would always shout, ‘Ahad, ahad!’ meaning one God. And because of this Allah rewarded him immensely, and just as he had been calling the unity of Allah all alone in the desert, he would also then be the first muezzin of the Ummah chosen by Muhammad (SAW) to call the unity of Allah from the top of the Kahbah. And so he had one of the most prestigious roles in Islamic history and will be rewarded immensely in the hereafter.
Another disgusting story of torture and persecution was that of the family of Yasir. Yasir ibn Amar, his wife Sumaya, and their two sons Muhammad and Ammar were a whole family of slaves tortured in front of one another. The prophet once had to pass helplessly by this family as they were tortured, and all he could do was say, ‘Be patient, o family of Yasir. Indeed the place that has been appointed by Allah is Jannah.’ In fact, Yasir became the first martyr in Islam, when he was killed while being tortured. Sumaya was the second, when Abu Jahl came to persecute her and she rebuked him. He then took a spear and impaled her up through her private part, killing her. The torturers then turned on Muhammad and killed him, before finally coming to Ammar. Now he was only around 15, and had seen his father, mother and brother killed before him – and so at this point he just gave in and said what they wanted him to. As soon as he was released, he ran to the prophet and began crying to him that he had just uttered words of shirk – subhanallah this was a bigger concern to him than his family’s murder – but the prophet told him, ‘Where do you find your faith? In your heart. And so if they return and do again what they did, you also do again what you did.’ On top of this Allah revealed Surah Nahl, which states that whoever says words of kuffar in a state of torture will be forgiven. And in fact, Ammar became one of the most famous sahabi, and the prophet said of him, ‘Iman has been filled in his heart up till his neck,’ showing that there was no weakness in his faith.
There was another sahaba that was always mentioned with Bilal and Ammar, and that was Suhayb Ar-Rumi (RA). These three were notoriously close friends. Now Suhayb was an arab from Iraq, but he was captured by the Byzantines when he was young and grew up in Rome. When he was older, he sold himself to an Arab and eventually ended up as the slave of Abdullah ibn Judan. Ibn Judan was a more merciful slave owner, so the torture of Suhayb was not as bad, however other masters such as Abu Jahal made sure that he was still persecuted. Ibn Judan actually made him his business manager as he had grown up in Rome and was literate, and when he died he also set him free in his will. Suhayb then decided to emigrate to Yathrib during the Hijra, but on hearing about this the Quraish stopped him on the outskirts of Mecca and approached him from behind. Suhayb then took out his bow and turned around and said, ‘You know I am the best marksman amongst you, and I promise that none of you will be able to touch me until every arrow in my quiver has touched human flesh and my sword is bent upon your bones and blood.’ Fearing him, the Quraish did not attack, but simply surrounded and threatened him. Eventually, they declared, ‘Suhayb, you came to us penniless, and now you’re leaving us as a rich man taking our wealth. Give us back all of this money and then we will let you go. We want all of it, even the camel that you are riding.’ Now, you can’t leave a man in the desert without a camel, but despite that Suhayb agreed and gave them all of his possessions; and thus he became the only sahabi that we know of that performed the Hijra on foot. He was literally crawling on all fours by the time he arrived at Quba, where he met the prophet who told him, ‘Your business transaction has been the most successful, O Suhayb.’ And Suhayb, shocked, responded, ‘No one could have told you about this o rasul Allah, except Jibrael.’
Another notable story of torture is that of Khabbab ibn Al-Aratt (RA). He was of the first 10 converts and a sword maker, and his master was a lady by the name of Umme Anmaar. When she heard the rumours that her slave had converted, she gathered a gang and told them to beat Khabbab at his workplace. And he narrated, ‘I came back and I saw a whole group of the Quraish. And they ridiculed me and harassed me until I confessed I was a Muslim. And when I confessed, they began hitting me so much that the next thing I woke up and I was bloodied and bruised.’ As well as this, Umme Anmaar would often come to Khabbab while he was working, and she would take the iron that he had just pulled out of the fire and use it to burn his back. Khabbab could not even do anything about this, as if he retaliated he would die. And this was the worst and most painful type of torture, and in fact, we are actually prohibited to kill using fire in Islam. The prophet narrated, ‘No one is allowed to kill or punish with the fire except the creator of the fire.’ And so when the prophet passed by the workshop of Khabbab while he was screaming and Umme Anmaar was doing this to him, he made a du’a, ‘O Allah, please help Khabbab against his enemy.’ And that was it; a few days later Umme Anmaar woke up and had a disease that made her act like a rabid dog. The doctors of Mecca could only think of one cure to this, and that was cauterisation. And so they burned the skin on her back and her head, and she died of these horrific wounds.
From these stories of torture we can see many things. First, in both the story of Bilal and Khabbab (RA) we see one of the main principles of Islam, and that is that: as you do so shall it be done to you. For Bilal, as he was tortured he would call the name of Allah alone, and so his reward was to become the muezzin of the prophet. And Khabbab’s master Umme Anmmar was killed in the same way that she used to torture him, and that was by the fire. As well as this, we see the depths of the hatred the Quraish had for the Muslims, and we also glimpse their racism and discrimination in their torture and dehumanization of Bilal, who was black and from Abyssinia. But it was the determination and imaan of these early believers who suffered that led to the spread of Islam, which removed this system of caste based on lineage and race, and led to truth and justice for all.
Dr.Yasir Qadhi’s Seerah of The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) 014