After the conversion of both Umar and Hamza (RA), and the migration of the Muslims to Abyssinia, the Quraish felt thoroughly disgraced. And so in the 7th year of the dawah, the sub-tribes came together and decided that they needed to get rid of the prophet Muhammad . And so once more they went to Abu Talib, and this time with an ultimatum: either hand over his nephew, or they would cut him off from the rest of the tribe.

Now this was absolutely unprecedented – you couldn’t just cut off family, especially when they lived right next to you. And the respect given to the leaders of the sub-tribes was unchallenged, so for the rest of the Quraish to threaten Abu Talib like this was completely dire. And so he became absolutely furious, and decided that if his own people would turn against him, then he and the rest of the Banu Hashim and the Banu Al-Muttalib (Al-Muttalib was a brother of Hashim) would leave Mecca, and instead live in a valley that they owned which became known as the Sh’ib Abi Talib. Of course, this excluded Abu Lahab, who said he had nothing to do with the Banu Hashim and so did not go with them.

Now, this boycott was then written into a contract which stated that no one from the Quraish could trade with, marry into or have social relations with any members of the Banu Hashim and Banu Al-Muttalib. And this contract was hung up in the Kahbah. Now, this shows the absolute hate that the enemies of Islam had for the prophet, that they would exile two of their own sub-tribes in order to harm Muhammad . And so the fact that Abu Talib moved the two tribes out of Mecca was a clever move on his part, as the boycott had shown how desperate the enemies of Islam had gotten, such that it was no longer safe for them to live so close that the enemy were able burn their houses down at night.

The boycott was incredibly difficult for the Banu Hashim and Al-Muttalib. It lasted for around 2 and a half years, and in that time food was scarce. The people would often go so hungry and thirsty that mothers would boil leaves to feed to their children, and the cries of babies could be heard all the way to the city of Mecca. The main sources of food actually came from non-Muslims in Mecca who would take pity on the tribes under boycott, and so would secretly supply the valley with food. Most notable of these was Hisham ibn Amr and Mut’im ibn Adi who would every few weeks in the middle of the night bring loaded camels to the mouth of the valley, before driving them into the Sh’ib and giving them to the starving tribes. As well as them there was also Hakim ibn Hizam, who was the nephew of Khadija (RA), and he would often bring food to the tribes as well.

Now these were dangerous times for the prophet, as he had enemies in Mecca who wanted him dead. So Abu Talib scarcely slept at night; he would make Muhammad sleep in his bed first, before waking him up later and moving him to one of his four sons’ beds. A little later, he would wake him up again to move him to the bed of another one of his sons. And this shows the love and dedication that Abu Talib had for his nephew despite not being a Muslim himself – that he was willing for one of his own sons to be killed, in place of the prophet Muhammad .

So how did the boycott end? There were a few events that led to it, the first of which was brought on by the sympathetic non-Muslims who did not want to see any child of the Banu Hashim die because of this boycott. And these included the ones who would secretly supply the tribes with food as well. So Hisham ibn Amr, Zuhair ibn Abu Umayyah, Mut’im ibn Adi, Abdul Buktari ibn Hisham and a few others decided that they were no longer comfortable with the boycott, and decided to speak out against it. So the next day when everyone gathered, Zuhair stood up and said, ’O people of Mecca, are we to eat and clothe ourselves while the Banu Hashim perish, unable to buy or sell? By God, I will not rest until this evil boycotting document is torn up!’ Now at this, Abu Jahal became furious and stood up and began shouting in defence of the boycott, claiming that everyone had agreed to it. But then another person from the group that had been assembled the previous day, who was planted somewhere in the crowd also stood up and began to lament against the treaty. And this carried on until everyone from the sympathetic group had stood against Abu Jahal, and it looked as if the public opinion had turned against him. And it was then that Abu Jahal said, ‘This is certainly a plan you have all hatched,’ but despite this they did not confess.

However, the final thing which fully broke the boycott was this: the prophet came to Abu Talib in the Sh’ib and told him that the entirety of the boycott treaty had been eaten up by ants, and that only the word ‘Bismillah,’ remained. And so Abu Talib staked his whole case on this. And he took a non-Muslim delegation of the Banu Hashim, and they marched onto the Haram where Abu Talib declared out loud the claim that Muhammad had made to him. And so Mutim ibn ‘Adi brought out the document, and indeed it had all been eaten up as Abu Talib had told to the Quraish, except for the word ‘Bismillah’. And so from then the boycott was annulled, and the Banu Hashim and the Banu Al-Muttalib were allowed to return to Mecca.

This incident is another example of hardship in the life of the prophet. He was forced out from his home, and had to live in a valley outside of the city of Mecca with little food and water. He was living on a knife’s edge, with enemies in the city who hated him and wanted him dead. But another thing that the incident of the boycott shows us is the nobility of some of the non-Muslims living in Mecca. First of all, the kinship that the members of the Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib felt for one of their own, as well as the love that Abu Talib felt for his nephew led them to follow the prophet out of the city of Mecca in order to protect him, despite the fact that many of them were still non-Muslims. And as well as this, it was the non-Muslims who felt sympathetic to the plight of the tribes that provided food for them, and they were also the ones who came together to help break the treaty. And so this is an important lesson, that although a person may not be a Muslim, it is still possible for them to be kind and honourable people, and to benefit Islam out of their own sense of moral justice.


Dr.Yasir Qadhi’s Seerah of The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) 018,