Persecution The Companions of the Holy Prophet (sa)

The Life & Character of the Seal of the Prophets(saw) – Part 9

Continued serialisation of the English rendering of Hadhrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad(ra)’s outstanding biography, ‘Seerat Khatamun Nabiyyin’, on the life and character of the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw). This section of the series provides accounts of the hair-raising incidents of torture, cruelty and oppression the early Muslims faced at the hands of the Makkans, all for the ‘crime’ of accepting God as One.

Translated from the Urdu by Ayyaz Mahmood Khan

An Illustration of Muslim Suffering

The actual extent of the suffering that befell the Muslims during these days could fully be comprehended only by those compelled to endure these afflictions. However, the extents to which history has vouchsafed these instances (which are much less than the actual cases at hand) are mentioned below.

Hadhrat ‘Uthman(ra) was from the Banu Umaiyyah [tribe]. He was a man of relatively mature age and was well-off. However, after the issuance of the above mentioned verdict, his paternal uncle, Hakam bin Abil-‘As, tied him with ropes and beat him, yet this helpless soul did not say a word.1 Zubair bin Al-‘Awwam(ra) was from the Asad tribe and was a gallant young man, but his ruthless paternal uncle would wrap him within a mat and force him to inhale the smoke from fire, so that he should forsake Islam. However, he delightfully accepted this difficulty and would say, “I cannot reject the truth once I have recognised it.”2 Sa‘id bin Zaid(ra), who was the brother-in-law of Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra), was from the Banu ‘Adiyy and was honoured among his people. When ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab was informed of his acceptance of Islam, he threw him down and sat upon his chest and also wounded his own sister during this tussle.3 ‘Abdullah bin Mas‘ud(ra), from the Hudhail tribe, was brutally beaten by the Quraish in the courtyard of the Ka‘bah itself, until he was disoriented.4 Abu Dharr Ghifari(ra) was beaten by the Quraish to the extent that he was nearly killed. He was beaten almost to death, but ‘Abbas bin ‘Abdul-Muttalib saved him from the Quraish by saying, “Do you not know that this man is from the Banu Ghifar, which controls your Syrian trade route? If they find out, they shall stop your passage.”5

This was the violence perpetrated against the people of powerful tribes, but to read the state of slaves and other weaker factions of society is terrifying. The examples mentioned below are but glimpses of the cruelties of the Quraish.

Bilal bin Ribah(ra) was the Abyssinian slave of Umaiyyah bin Khalf. In the scorching heat of the afternoon, when the rocky ground of Makkah burned like a furnace, Umaiyyah would take him out and strip him of his clothes. He would lie him down then place very large burning rocks on his breast and say, “Worship Lat and ‘Uzza, and abandon Muhammad, or I shall punish you to death.” Bilal knew little Arabic. He would only respond saying: “Ahad, Ahad”, meaning, “Allah is one, Allah is one.” This response would further infuriate Umaiyyah, who would tie a rope around Bilal(ra)’s neck and hand him over to the miscreants of Makkah, who would drag him through the stony streets of the city until his body was drenched in blood. Yet no word except “Ahad, Ahad” would emanate from his tongue. When Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) saw the persecution of this slave, he purchased him for a hefty price and set him free. Abu Fukaih(ra) was the slave of Safwan bin Umaiyyah. In the same manner, these people would force him to the burning ground and place such heavy stones upon him that his tongue would come out. ‘Amir bin Fuhairah(ra) was also a slave. He was also tortured greatly on account of his acceptance of Islam. Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) purchased him and employed him to tend his sheep. Labinah was a bondmaid of the Banu ‘Adi. Prior to his acceptance of Islam, ‘Umar would continuously beat her until fatigue would overtake him. After catching his breath he would begin to beat her again. She would only respond saying, “O ‘Umar! If you do not accept Islam, Allah shall not leave this cruelty without retribution.” Zanirah(ra) was a concubine of the Banu Makhzum. Abu Jahl beat her so mercilessly that she lost her sight. Abu Jahl would point to her and tauntingly say, “If Islam was true, would it be that she received it, while we were left deprived?” Suhaib bin Sinan Rumi(ra), though he was no longer a slave and was relatively well-off, was beaten by the Quraish to the extent that he would lose his senses. This is the same Suhaib(ra) who was appointed Imamus-Salat [the Imam or leader who leads the prayer in congregation] by Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra) after he was wounded, and it is he who led the funeral prayer of Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra).6 Khabbab bin Al-Arat was now, no longer a slave, but was a free man and a blacksmith. Once, the Quraish took hold of him and placed him on the sizzling coal of his very own furnace while someone stood upon his breast so that he could not turn over. He was stood upon until the burning coal was smothered beneath him. Khabbab(ra) mentioned this occurrence to Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra) a long time thereafter, and showed his back to him, which was completely white with the scars of his injuries. There is another narration regarding Khabbab(ra) that once, a chieftain of Makkah, As bin Wa’il had some swords made by him, and when Khabbab(ra) asked for his payment, he refused to pay him saying:

“You people claim that man shall receive all kinds of wealth, gold and silver, etc., in paradise, as per their desire. So you may acquire your payment from me in paradise. By Allah, if one like yourself expects entrance to paradise, then I should expect entrance with far greater certainty.”7

The details of the afflictions inflicted upon ‘Ammar(ra), his father Yasir(ra) and mother Samiyyah(ra), who were once kept as slaves of the Bani Makhzum, are spine-chilling. Once, when these devotees of Islam were being victimised by physical torment, the Holy Prophet(saw) passed by coincidentally. The Holy Prophet(saw) looked towards them and compassionately said, “Be steadfast, O family of Yasir! For Allah has prepared paradise for you in recompense for these very hardships.” Ultimately, Yasir(ra) met his demise from this torture, and as for the elderly Samiyyah(ra), the cruel Abu Jahl struck a spear into her thigh so mercilessly that piercing her body it reached her private area, and this innocent lady gave her life tossing in pain at that very place. Now, only ‘Ammar(ra) was left. He was also subjected to extreme torture and anguish, and it was said to him, “Until you deny Muhammad(saw), we shall continue torturing you.” In extreme frustration, ‘Ammar(ra) said certain inappropriate words, upon which the Quraish released him. However, quickly thereafter, ‘Ammar(ra) presented himself before the Holy Prophet(saw) and began to weep bitterly. The Holy Prophet(saw) asked, “Why ‘Ammar, what is the matter?” He responded, “O Messenger of Allah, I have been ruined! These tyrants gave me so much grief that I uttered some inappropriate words about you.” The Holy Prophet(saw) responded, “How do you find your heart?” He responded, “O Messenger of Allah, my heart is still a believer and is satiated in the love of Allah and His messenger.” The Holy Prophet(saw) said, “Then all is well. May Allah forgive your mistake.”

Anguish Inflicted upon the Holy Prophet(saw)

In comparison to these hardships inflicted upon the Muslims, the personal state of the Holy Prophet(saw) in this storm of dishonour was not well either. No doubt, after the decision of the Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib, although the Holy Prophet(saw) commanded the general support of his dear ones and relatives, and in intertribal politics, this support held significant weight, yet first and foremost, because of the disloyalty and betrayal of the Holy Prophet’s(saw) paternal uncle, Abu Lahab, the strength of this decision was weakened. Secondly, the Quraish had also threatened that if the Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib did not refrain from backing and protecting the Holy Prophet(saw), they would fight them all. Until now, although they had not given this threat a practical form, they were engaged in its preparation. However, through reproach and slander, and by mockery, whilst safeguarding themselves they would instigate physical confrontations as well. The first thing they did was to organise a meeting and deliberated upon the issue that with the season of Hajj in the offing, Islam would definitely find popularity among the pilgrims and people will flock to them to inquire about this new prophet, and what he claims. For this reason, through mutual consultation, they deliberated that they should concoct an answer, so that their inter-discrepancy does not give a negative impression to the pilgrims. Therefore, all the chieftains of the Quraish gathered at the home of Walid bin Mughirah. Walid delivered an inaugural speech and elucidated the entire issue. He explained:

“Now the time for Hajj has arrived and word of Muhammad(saw)’s claim has reached out, and the people who shall come for Hajj shall most definitely question us about him. Therefore, by consultation, we should agree upon a compelling answer, so that we do not negate one another and thus lessen the influence of our plan.”

Pilgrims in Makkah during the Hajj. The chiefs of the Quraish were worried that the pilgrims arriving for the Hajj would heed the Prophet Muhammad(saw)’s message.

At this, one person suggested, “Our answer is simple: This man is a soothsayer. And through his soothsaying, he has gathered a few people around him.” Walid said: “How can we call him a soothsayer, when none of his qualities correspond to this? He does not sing like a soothsayer, nor does he possess the precise exposition of a soothsayer.” Another person said, “Then we can say that Muhammad(saw) is mad and tends to speak in the vehemence of his madness.” Walid said: “Who will believe us? And what symptoms of insanity can we possibly justify in Muhammad [peace and blessings of Allah be upon him]? There is no anxiety in him, no restlessness, nor does he possess the necessary distraction of mind that is found in an insane man. Who will believe our claim?” A third person said, “We can say that this person is a poet, and is pulling people towards himself through his enchantingly persuasive couplets.” Walid responded “By calling him a poet, how shall we display examples of poetic style such as Rajaz, Hazaj, Qarid, Maqbud and Mabsut8 in his poetry.” Upon this, a fourth person said, “We should project him as a magician.” Walid said, “Then how shall we show him as one who casts spells and performs tricks.” People said, “O ‘Abdu Shams, then you ought to tell us what we should do.” Walid responded: “In this regard, I am myself perplexed as to the proper course of action. Whatever we suggest does not seem to apply to Muhammad [peace and blessings of Allah be upon him] and to make a statement that the people do not accept shall make us the target of laughter.”

In this way, discussions continued and it was ultimately decided that since nothing else came to mind, the suggestion of declaring him a magician seemed to hold more weight amongst the suggestions presented in the meeting. Hence, it was decided that on the occasion of Hajj, everyone would tell the people coming from outside that Muhammad(saw) was a magician who, through his secret magic was separating son and father, brother and brother, and husband and wife from one another. Therefore, on the occasion of Hajj, the talk of the town was that Muhammad(saw) was a magician who sowed the seed of separation and divergence in every home that he entered. Moreover, this propaganda spurred a dangerous uproar throughout the tribes of Arabia against the Holy Prophet(saw).9 The Quraish did not rest at this, but instigated the vagabond and wilful people of Makkah to continue teasing the Holy Prophet(saw). Therefore, caught up in this instigation, vagabonds would talk nonsense about the Holy Prophet(saw) right before him, as well as behind his back. The purpose of this was none other than through provocation, to cause grief and to raise tumult. The routine of the people who lived as neighbours to the Holy Prophet(saw) was that they would throw rocks into the home of the Holy Prophet(saw) and place thorns at the front of his door. They would place filthy and foul-smelling things in his home. Whenever their actions caused suffering to the Holy Prophet(saw), they would be pleased and would chuckle and burst into laughter. One time, someone placed a very filthy and putrid thing in the Holy Prophet(saw)’s home. The Holy Prophet(saw) picked it up himself, and brought it outside, and said, “O Banu Abdu Manaf! Is this how you fulfil the right of your neighbour?”10 But the ears, to which this cry reached, were completely deaf to an appeal of decency.

In those days, the Quraish also decided that the Holy Prophet(saw) would be called upon by the name ‘Mudhammam’, meaning ignominious and scornful, instead of Muhammad. As such, this name found great popularity in Makkah for some time and the Quraish were not even shameful enough to realise that this was the same person who they used to call ‘Amin’ [the trustworthy] prior to his claim to prophethood. When the Holy Prophet(saw) found out about this, he smiled and said, “My name is Muhammad – how can someone who is Muhammad be called Mudhammam? Look how God protects me from their cursing.”11 But in this time also, the torture of the Quraish was not confined to verbal abuse alone. At times, in their fury or finding an opportunity, they would not think much of causing the Holy Prophet(saw) practical harm or inflicting bodily pain upon him as well. Therefore, there is an incident, perhaps during the same era, that once when the Holy Prophet(saw) was offering his Salat [formal Prayer] near the Ka‘bah, ‘Uqbah bin Abi Mu‘it stood up in rage and began to strangle the Holy Prophet(saw)  with a cloth until he began to cease breathing. When Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) was informed of this, he came running and saved the Holy Prophet(saw) from the evil of this wretched man and addressed the Quraish, saying: “My Lord is Allah”12

At another instance, when the Holy Prophet(saw) proclaimed the Unity of God in the courtyard of the Ka‘bah, the Quraish gathered around the Holy Prophet(saw) raging, and raised an uproar. When the stepson of the Holy Prophet(saw) (Harith bin Abi Halah, the son of Hadhrat Khadijah(ra)) was informed, he came running, and noticing this state of danger, and tried to save the Holy Prophet(saw) from the Quraish. But the state of rage rampant among the young men of the Quraish was such as led an evil man to slay Harith by his sword at the scene.13

Due to the noise and turmoil at the time, it could not be ascertained as to who was responsible for this.

Teachings for the Muslims of Steadfastness to Suffering

Therefore, this was a very sensitive time for Islam and the Muslims. The Holy Prophet(saw) did not care for his own personal suffering, but was most definitely worried on account of the hardships of the Muslims, especially the weaker Muslims. But on the other hand, the Holy Prophet(saw) also knew well that nations were moulded by trials and tribulations. Therefore, from this vantage point, the Holy Prophet(saw) considered these hardships a means of training for the Muslims and would impart to his Companions teachings of patience and forbearance. He would mention the hardships of the past Prophets and their followers, and would tell them that it had always been customary that the prophets of Allah and their followers are given grief, but ultimately victory lies with the believers. As such, there is a narration that once, the Holy Prophet(saw) was reclining near the Ka‘bah, when Khabbab bin Al-Arat and various other Companions presented themselves before the Holy Prophet(saw) and said, “O Messenger of Allah! The Muslims are receiving countless grievances from the Quraish, why does the Holy Prophet(saw) not pray against them?” Upon hearing this, the Holy Prophet(saw) immediately sat up. His face turned red and he said:

“Look here! There were a people before you, whose flesh was stripped of their bones, with iron prongs, but they did not waver in their faith. And such a people have passed, who were cut into two pieces by saws run upon their heads but their steps faltered not. Look here, God shall indeed fulfill this mission, such as one shall travel on the back of a camel from San‘a’ (in Syria) to Hadra Maut, and shall fear none save God. But you are being impatient.”14

At another instance Hadhrat ‘Abdur-Rahman bin ‘Auf(ra), along with a few other Companions, presented themselves before the Holy Prophet(saw) and said:

“O Messenger of Allah, when we were idolaters, we were revered and none dared lay a sight upon us. But after we have become Muslim, we have become weak and powerless and we must bear persecution at the hands of the Quraish in disgrace. O Messenger of Allah! Permit us to fight these disbelievers.”

The Holy Prophet(saw) responded, “I have been ordered by Allah to pardon. I cannot give you permission to fight.”15 The Companions of the Holy Prophet(saw) fully submitted before every word of the Holy Prophet(saw). They exhibited a model of steadfastness and tolerance the likes of which history is unable to present.

Continues in the next edition with the start of Chapter VII – ‘Days of Struggle’


1. At-Tabaqatul-Kubra, by Muhammad bin Sa‘d, Vol.3, p.31, Babu Dhikri Islami ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan(ra), Daru Ihya’it-Turathil-‘Arabi, Beirut, Lebanon, First Edition (1996)

2. Sharhul-‘Allamatiz-Zarqani                  ‘alal-Mawahibil-Ladunniyyah, by Muhammad bin ‘Abdul-Baqi Az-Zarqani, Vol.1, p.457, Babu Awwalu man Amana billahi wa Rasulihi(saw), Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, Lebanon, First Edition (1996)

3. As-Siratun-Nabawiyyah, by Abu Muhammad ‘Abdul-Malik bin Hisham, pp.251-252, Babu Islami ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab(ra), Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, Lebanon, First Edition (2001)

4. Usdul-Ghabah, Vol.3, pp.280-281, Babu ‘Abdullah bin Mas‘ud(ra), Darul-Fikr, Beirut (2003)

5. Sahih Bukhari, Kitabu Manaqibil-Ansar, Babu Islami Abi Dharr Ghifari(ra), Hadith No. 3861

6. * Usdul-Ghabah, Vol.2, p.436, Babu Suhaib bin Sinan(ra), Darul-Fikr, Beirut (2003)

* Al-Kamilu fit-Tarikh, by Imam ‘Izz-ud-Din ibnil-Athir, Vol.4, p. 665, Babu Dhikri Ta‘dhibil Mustad‘afina minal-Muslimin, Darul-Kutubil-‘Arabi, Beirut, First Edition (1998)

7. * Talkhisus-Sihah

* ‘Umdatul-Qari Sharhu Sahihil-Bukhari, Kitabul-Buyu‘, Babu Dhikril-Qaini wal-Haddadi, Hadith No. 2091, Vol.11, p.309, Beirut (2003)

8. These were terms for the poets of Arabia.

9. As-Siratun-Nabawiyyah, by Abu Muhammad ‘Abdul-Malik bin Hisham, pp.203-204, Babu Tahayyuril-Walid-ibnil-Mughkirati fima Yasifu bihil-Qur’n, Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, Lebanon, First Edition (2001)

10. Tarikhut-Tabari, by Abu Ja‘far Muhammad bin Al-Jarir Tabari, Vol.2, p. 241, Babu Dhikril-Khabri ‘amma kana min Amri Nabiyyillahi(saw) ‘inda Ibtida’illahi Ta‘ala……, Darul-Fikr, Beirut, Lebanon, Second Edition (2002)

11. Sahih Bukhari, Kitabul-Manaqib, Babu Ma Ja’a fi Asma’i Rusulillah(saw), Hadith No. 3533

12. Sahih Bukhari, Kitabu Manaqibil-Ansar, Babu Ma Laqiyan-Nabiyyu(saw) wa Ashabahu minal-Mushrikina

bi-Makkah, Hadith No. 3856

13. Al-Isabatu fi Tamizis-Sahabah, Vol. 1, p. 696, Al-Harith bin Abi Halah, Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah,

Third Edition (2005)

14. Sahih Bukhari, Kitabu Manaqibil-Anṣar, Babu Ma Laqiyan-Nabiyyu(saw) wa Ashabahu minal-Mushrikina

bi-Makkah, Hadith No. 3852

15. * Talkhisus-Sihah

* Sunan Nasa’i, Kitabul-Jihad, Babu Wujubil-Jihad, Hadith 3086