The Year of Sorrow

The end of the Boycott was in the 10th year of the dawah, however almost immediately after it ended three calamities fell upon the Muslims which were so great in their magnitude that the entire year came to be known as the Year of Sorrow.

Barely 6 weeks after the boycott had ended, in the month of Sha’ban, Abu Talib fell ill and passed away. And we have covered this story before, but just to recap: the prophet came to Abu Talib when he was on his deathbed and begged him to say just one kalimah so that he would be able to pray for him to Allah. However Abu Jahal and Ummayah ibn Khalaf were also present, and when Abu Jahal saw Abu Talib’s mouth open to say the kalimah he asked him, ‘Are you going to leave the religion of your father?’ And as we know, the father of Abu Talib was Abdul Muttalib, who was a legend for the Arabs. And so the pride that Abu Talib felt for being the son of Abdul Muttalib, and the prestige he felt he had to live up to led him to close his mouth, and it was then that the Angel of Death came and took his life away. And so Abu Talib, the father figure for Muhammad for most of his life and the person who had sacrificed everything in the Boycott to look after him, died a mushrik, and because of this the prophet was very sad. So sad in fact, that despite the fact that Abu Talib was a non-Muslim, he declared that he would make du’a for him until Allah told him to stop. And so Allah revealed gently in the Quran that it was not appropriate to pray for those who had died as non-Muslims, and in Surah Qasas he reminded the prophet, ‘Indeed, you guide not whom you like, but Allah guides whom He wills.’

Now, the death of Abu Talib was a very politically difficult time for the prophet Muhammad . Abu Talib had been his protection from the rest of the sub-tribes who had wanted to kill him, and so when he died it left the prophet in a very precarious situation. Because of this, the persecution of the Quraish increased like never before, and in fact, because we do not have a solid chronology for many of the incidents of the Meccan period, the incident when Uqbah ibn Abi Mu’ayt threw the dead carcass of a camel on the head of the prophet when he was in sajood, may have happened now after the death of Abu Talib. And indeed, this is possibly a more logical placement of the incident, as now the prophet no longer had the protection of his uncle and so they were free to do this evil.

However, before this there is a very interesting story involving Abu Lahab which shows the strength of the tribal kinship of that time. What happened was someone from another sub-tribe severely cursed the prophet, and Abu Lahab – who was now the leader of the Banu Hashim – seemed to soften, and he went to Muhammad and said,’ O Muhammad, go and do as you used to do in the time of Abu Talib, for as long as I am alive you shall live in the same manner.’ Now this protection did not come out of love for the prophet, but out of the sense of responsibly for the wellbeing of his people as the new chieftain of the Banu Hashim. However this soon changed, as a rumour spread that Abu Lahab had accepted Islam. And so Abu Jahal and Uqbah ibn Abi Mu’ayt hatched a plot to remove the protection of Abu Lahab. And they went to him and said, ‘Why don’t you ask your nephew about the fate of your father Abdul Muttalib?’ And so Abu Lahab went to the prophet and asked him this, to which he got the response, ‘He is with his people.’ And so Abu Lahab was sated, and went back to Abu Jahal with this answer. Of course, this did not mean what Abu Lahab thought it meant, and so Abu Jahal told him, ‘You fool! Where are his people according to your nephew except in the fire of hell?’ And so Abu Lahab became enraged, and withdrew his protection within a week of giving it to the prophet.

Not 40 days had gone before Khadijah (RA) also passed away, on the 10th of Ramadan. The funeral salah had not yet been revealed and so was not prayed over her, but despite this the prophet took charge of her burial and lowered her into the grave with his own two hands. It is reported that after this the sahaba did not see Muhammad smile for months, because of how devastating this loss was to him. Later on in Yathrib, Khadijah’s sister Hala (RA) would visit Muhammad , and Aisha (RA) narrates that when Hala knocked on the door, the prophet – who had been half asleep – jumped because her voice and footsteps were so similar to that of her sister that he thought it was Khadijah. And because of this, Aisha became very jealous, and out of turn told the prophet to forget Khadijah (RA) because Allah had given him someone better than her. And it was at this phrase that the prophet became irritated, and said, ‘By Allah, he has not given me someone better than her. She supported me when no one else supported me – you do not have that blessing Aisha – and she spent upon me in the Boycott when no one else spent upon me – you do not have that blessing Aisha – and she comforted me when the world gave me grief – you do not have that blessing Aisha – and Allah gave me children through her when Allah deprived all of my other wives this blessing.’ And Aisha (RA) narrates, ‘After that time I never once opened my mouth about Khadijah.’

Now these incidents were an incredibly traumatic time for the prophet, but what do we learn from them? The first thing this shows us is that indeed, Allah is the one in control, as the prophet was not able to guide his beloved uncle Abu Talib to Islam despite all that he had done for the Muslims, but instead Allah guides who he wishes. And another thing that this shows us that imaan is more than just belief and affirmation, but in fact submission. And that is what the word Islam literally translates to. Abu Talib knew what his nephew was saying was true, but he did not submit out of his own pride, and so he did not become a Muslim. And indeed, it is true to say that faith is only one part of imaan.


Dr.Yasir Qadhi’s Seerah of The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) 019