The Pioneer Groups in Acceptance of Islam
Among the social groups of those days, two groups pioneered in accepting Islam:
A) The youth
A cursory look at the list of the early Muslims indicates that most of them were youth. Elderly people were conservative; idolatry was deeply rooted in them. Due to their bright minds, the youth were more ready to accept the new faith—a fact applying to religious revelations.
On the basis of a historical report, during the early days of the secret invitation to Islam, there were groups of youth and destitute people who joined Islam.[^37] When the Holy Prophet started his public invitation and when his followers increased in number, people of Quraysh complained to Abu-talib about Muhammad, saying, “We have come to you several times to ask you to ask your nephew to stop cursing our ancestors and idols and seducing our children, men, women, and servants into the new faith...”[^38]
On the Holy Prophet's journey to ta’if for the propagation of Islam, the noblemen refused to accept Islam for fear that their youth might follow Muhammad.[^39] After the migration to Abyssinia, representatives of Quraysh went to the royal court of the Abyssinian king, al-Najashi, to force these Muslims to return home. In that court, there were some complaints regarding the spread of Islam among the youth of Mecca.[^40]
A man from the Hudhayl tribe entered Mecca and the Holy Prophet invited him to Islam. Abu-Jahl warned him, saying, “Never listen to Muhammad; this man considers us stupid and says that our dead parents would go to hell. Besides, he utters nonsense.” The man asked, “How come you don’t expel him from your city?” Abu-Jahl replied, “If he is expelled, our youth will go after him and listen to his flowery speech and then they will attack us.”[^41]
`Utbah, a dignitary of Quraysh, complained to Asad ibn Zurarah, a nobleman from the Khazraj tribe in Yathrib, about the inclinations of the youth towards the Holy Prophet.[^42]
An investigation of the list of the early Muslims shows that most of them were under thirty years of age. For instance, Sa`d ibn Abi-Waqqas was either seventeen[^43] or nineteen[^44] years old; al-Zubayr ibn al-`Awwam was fifteen[^45] or sixteen;[^46] `Abd al-Rahman ibn `Awf was thirty; he was born ten years after the Elephant Year.[^47] Mus`ab ibn `Umayr was nearly twenty-five years old; at the time of his martyrdom at the Battle of Uhud that took place at the third year after Hegira, he was nearly forty years old.[^48] Arqam, who submitted his house to the Prophet, was between twenty and thirty years old; when he died in 55 AH, he was eighty years old.[^49]
B) The Deprived and the Oppressed
By these two expressions, so prevalent in the Islamic sources, is meant the freed slaved who, despite superficial freedom, had some relationships with their previous owners. They were called mawla meaning made free. Another group of these oppressed ones was the strangers who had come to Mecca from other places to live. Since they lacked tribal associations, they had to be under the protection of a certain tribe in order for them to be secured. They did not enjoy the same rights that members of Quraysh had. They were socially disadvantaged.
This group, who had no tribe in Mecca to be affiliated with and who lacked power, represented the pioneers in the acceptance of Islam.[^50] Their conversion to Islam was not tolerated by the infidels, according to a narration; whenever the Holy Prophet (s) sat in the Holy Precinct with his oppressed followers—such as `Ammar ibn Yasir, Khabbab ibn al-Aratt, suhayb ibn Sinan, Bilal, Abu-Fukayhah and Amir ibn Fuhayrah—they were ridiculed by people of Quraysh who sarcastically remarked, “Look at his companions! God has chosen from among us these bare-footed individuals who have adopted Islam!”[^51]
The chiefs of Quraysh, once, passed by a gathering which the Holy Prophet had held with suhayb, Khabbab, Bilal, `Ammar and some others. Observing this, they addressed the Holy Prophet, saying, “Muhammad! Have you selected only this few from among your nation and you are happy with them? Should we follow this group? Has God only guided this group? If you dismiss this group, we might then be your followers.” At this time, the following Qur'anic verses were revealed:
And do not drive away those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, they desire only His favor; neither are you answerable for any reckoning of theirs, nor are they answerable for any reckoning of yours, so that you should drive them away and thus be of the unjust.
And thus, so We try some of them by others so that they say: Are these they upon whom Allah has conferred benefit from among us? Does not Allah best know the grateful? (6:52-53)
During the first years of his mission, people of Quraysh dispatched some representatives to ask about the Holy Prophet. They went to the Jews: “We have come here to seek your advice regarding the event that is taking place in our town. A young orphan thinks that he has been sent by Rahman (the All-beneficent God); and we do not know any person by this name except for one living in Yamamah.” The Jew asked for the characteristics of the Holy Prophet: “Who are his followers?” They replied, “The lowliest persons!” The great Jewish scholar replied smilingly, “This is the same Prophet whose signs are predicted in our Holy Book. His nation will be his worst enemies.”[^52]
Of course, the rapid inclinations of the oppressed towards Islam did not mean securing the interests or benefits of special social classes; rather, they implied the negation of the worldly domination of man over man; they implied the adoption of Allah's government and domination—an immediate threat to the power of the aggressors and oppressors that excited their severe opposition. This matter had happened with the previous prophets as well:
But the chiefs of those who disbelieved from among his people said: We consider you but a mortal like ourselves, and we do not see who have followed you but those who are the meanest of us at first thought and we do not see in you any excellence over us; nay, we deem you liars. (11:27)
The chief of those who behaved proudly among his people said to those considered weak to those who believed from among them: Do you know that salih is sent by his Lord? They said: Surely, we are believers in what he has been sent with. (7:75-76)
Inviting His Relatives to the New Religion
After three years of his mission, the Holy Prophet received an order from Allah to invite his relatives to his faith:
And warn your nearest relations, and be kind to him who follows you of the believers. But if they disobey you, then say: Surely, I am clear of what you do. (26:214-216)
Having received this revelation, the Holy Prophet ordered Imam `Ali to prepare some food and invite the sons of `Abd al-Muttalib to hear God's revelation. Imam `Ali (s) carried out the order. Nearly forty people showed up. Among them were Abu-talib, Hamzah and Abu-Lahab. The food seemed insufficiently little; however, every body was able to eat their fill.
Abu-Lahab declared, “This man has hypnotized you.” This statement caused the Holy Prophet to abandon his propagation of the faith on that day and the meeting came to an end with no result. Next day, `Ali (s) once again prepared some food and invited the same group. This time, the Holy Prophet, after dinner remarked, I do not know of anybody among Arabs who has brought to his people anything better than what I am bringing to you. I am bringing to you the good of this world and the Other World. God has ordered me to guide you all to Him. Now, who is ready among you to help me and he will be my brother and successor?”[^53]
Nobody answered. `Ali (s), who was the youngest among them, said, “O Messenger of God; I will help you.” Then, the Holy Prophet replied, “This is my brother, my representative and my successor. Listen to obey him.”
p This event leads us to the basic fact that the issues of prophethood and Imamate are inseparable; during the first years of his prophethood and on the first day of his mission, the Holy Prophet brought up the topic of Imamate and the future leadership of Muslims.
On the other hand, it should not be assumed that the Holy Prophet, up to his death and during the event of Ghadir Khumm, brought up `Ali's Imamate. Later on, he brought up the same issue on other occasions, such as in the famous hadith al-manzilah (Narration of Position).[^54] However, the event of Ghadir Khumm was the most significant for the announcement of `Ali's successorship due to the fact that there were so many witnesses present.
With regards to the sequence of the surahs (chapters of the Holy Qur'an), it could be understood that the invitation of the relatives could have happened prior to the public invitation to the new faith.[^55]
Chapter Two : The Public Propagation and the Start of Oppositions
The Start of the Public Invitation
Having made the public invitation for some time, the Holy Prophet received an order from God to make his propagation public and not to be afraid of the infidels:
Therefore, declare openly what you are bidden and turn aside from the polytheists. Surely, We will suffice you against the scoffers. (15:94-95)
Having received this revelation, the Holy Prophet rose up in the Abtah[^56] and declared:
I am God's apostle. I invite you to my new faith to worship the One and Only God. Stop worshipping idols which are neither useful nor can they create, nor provide you with sustenance, nor give you life, nor cause you to die.[^57]
From then on, the Prophet's invitation entered a new stage as he was engaged in the propagation of his faith in social gatherings, at the Hajj ceremonies, at Mina, and among the tribes living in the outskirts of Mecca.
Struggle with Quraysh
People of Quraysh did not show any severe reactions during the early stages of the propagation for Islam. However, as soon as the Holy Prophet started explicitly negating their idols, calling them senseless and useless entities, they became exasperated; they started animosity against him.[^58] With regards to the tribal system which existed in Mecca, attacking Muhammad (s) would entail revenge-taking of Banu-Hashim.
Therefore, the chiefs of Quraysh, after much deliberation, came to the conclusion that they would better make use of his uncle, Abu-talib, and talk to him is such a way so that he could discourage his nephew from the way he was following. To this end, they arranged for several meetings with Abu-talib during which they reminded him of his dignity and high social status.
They asked him to discourage his nephew from cursing their idols, humiliating their customs and belittling their ancestors. They used threats at times and tried to bribe him by offering wealth and social ranks. Receiving no positive feedback from him, they offered to exchange Muhammad with `Imarah ibn al-Walid ibn al-Mughirah, the young, powerful, and handsome poet. Abu-talib did not accept either. Once, when Abu-talib and his nephew were threatened with death, the Holy Prophet had the following reaction:
“If they put the sun in my right hand and the moon in the left, I would not stop my way. I have two options, either God will help me or I will be destroyed.”[^59]
Abu-talib's Announcement of Assistance
Upon these threats, Abu-talib announced his support to Muhammad (s) and mobilized the members of Banu-Hashim, both Muslims and non-Muslims, to protect Muhammad (s). He warned the chiefs of Quraysh against a bloody revenge by Banu-Hashim in case anything would happen to his nephew.[^60] Since tribal wars were hazardous and their consequences unpredictable; and due to the fact that the chiefs of Quraysh lacked the capacity for such a war, they could not carry out their threats; rather, they became disillusioned. Out of Banu-Hashim, only Abu-Lahab joined the enemy front.
Motives of Quraysh's Oppositions
A question is raised here as to why the Quraysh did not show animosity toward Muhammad (s) in the first years of his propagations during which not many verses of the Holy Qur'an were revealed to him yet. What kind of threats did they feel in the first verses revealed during the early days of prophethood? Did they oppose him because of their insistence on their idolatry or were there other reasons?
Of course, we are talking about the motives of the chiefs of Quraysh, because the general publics were simple and naive followers of those chiefs; and to mobilize them against the new religion was not a hard job. This is because they were not strong believers of their sect and customs anyhow.
Considering Quraysh's influence and high social status in Mecca, we could easily find the reasons behind their opposition. This is because, as we have seen above, Quraysh had monopolized some social privileges related to Mecca, such as social and economic power; they would not tolerate any rival. They used to receive tribute and toll from other tribes by force and imposed their own policies over other tribes related to the pilgrims.
Thus, it was natural for them not to tolerate Muhammad (s), because they found out very early in Muhammad's propagations that the new faith was in conflict with their ideology. They could also anticipate that one day, the Holy Prophet would become famous and this was in conflict with their pride.
However, an investigation of the content of some surahs and verses revealed to the Holy Prophet at Mecca, we could pinpoint some of the most significant motives for the opposition of Quraysh to the Holy Prophet during the first years of propagations:
(1) Worry over the disintegration of the social order
Concerning the tribal system dominating the social order in Mecca and due to Quraysh’s special prerogatives, a form of aristocratic government was prevailing there. The chiefs of Quraysh were accustomed to this system; they did not expect any blow to be leveled against it. This was the social condition while the first followers of Muhammad (s) were the youths, the impoverished, the deprived and the slaves. Muhammad (s) did not belong to the nobility. From his childhood, he was an orphan; and during his youth, he was poor belonging to the second class inside Quraysh. His uncle, Abu-talib, despite his ancestral prestige and dignity, was insolvent.
All these were warnings to the tribal system of Quraysh that the very basis of their social order would be shaken. Having noticed that, they worried about the youth and the deprived for their inclinations towards the new faith. The envoy of Quraysh to Abyssinia to bring back the Muslim migrants introduced themselves to the king as the special envoy of the Meccan nobility.
The Holy Qur'an reveals the Quraysh's aristocratic attitude in their objection to the idea of prophethood not being offered to one of the noblemen of either Mecca or ta’if:
And they say: Why has not the Qur'an been revealed to a man of importance in the two towns? (43:31)
According to an interpretation, by men of importance is meant Walid Ibn Mughirah, the head of Banu-Makhzum in Mecca, and `Urwah ibn Mas`ud al-Thaqafi, the well-known wealthy man of ta’if.[^61] The reason behind the revelation of this verse is said to be the following event:
Once, Walid said, “Why should the Qur'an be revealed to Muhammad and not to me while I am the head of Quraysh?”[^62] Thus, the Quraysh showed their animosity to Muhammad (s) because his faith was a real threat to their social order.
(2) Economic Worries
Some recent researchers have considered the economic factor among the motives for Quraysh’s opposition to Islam. This is because a series of Meccan verses of the Holy Qur'an[^63] severely reprimand the hoarders and money-mongers of those days. The great Meccan wealthy men, who had earned their huge wealth in the trades and through the supervision over the Kaaba, felt a great danger when they heard these verses. The progress of Islam would jeopardize their benefits badly. Here are some samples of such verses:
Leave Me and him whom I created alone, and give him vast riches, and sons dwelling in his presence, And I adjusted affairs for him adjustably; and yet he desires that I should add more, By no means! Surely, he offers opposition to our communications. (74:11-16)
I will cast him into hell. And what will make you realize what hell is? It leaves naught nor does spare naught. It scorches the mortal. (74:26)[^64]
Perdition overtake both hands of Abu-Lahab, and he will perish. Neither his wealth nor what he earns will avail him. He shall soon burn in fire that flames, and his wife, the bearer of fuel. (111:1-4)[^65]
Woe to every slanderer, defamer, who amasses wealth and considers it a provision against mishap; He thinks that his wealth will make him immortal. Nay! He shall most certainly be hurled into the crushing disaster, and what will make you realize what the crushing disaster is? It is the fire kindled by Allah, which rises above the hearts. Surely, it shall be closed over upon them, in extended columns. (104:1-7)
Then as for him who gives away and guards against evil, and accepts the best, We will facilitate for him the easy end. And as for him who is niggardly and considers himself from need of Allah, and rejects the best, we will facilitate for him the difficult end. And his wealth will not avail him when he perishes. (92:4:11)[^66]
A careful observation of the content of these surahs reveals that they were revealed to the Holy Prophet after Quraysh’s opposition. The increase in number of opponents might have been the reason for the revelation of these verses. However, the toughest opponents of the Holy Prophet were the traders and the wealthy.
In accordance with a historical report, when the Messenger of God started guiding his people towards the light of the Religion, they at first did not go away from him; rather, they were about to accept his ideology. Then he started insulting their idols and the wealthy people from ta’if.[^67] These people did not like his statements; they began struggling against him and invoking their followers against him. Then, the mass offended and deserted him.[^68]
(3) Fear of the Neighboring Power
The Holy Qur'an refers to their fear of the neighboring states and powers and finds this worry baseless:
And they say: If we follow the guidance with you, we shall be carried off from our country. What! Have We not settled them in a safe, sacred territory to which fruits of every kind shall be drawn? Sustenance from Us; but most of them do not know. (28:57)
Once, Harith ibn Nawfal ibn `Abd-Manaf said to the Holy Prophet, “We know that what you say is right; but if we believe in you, we fear that the Arabs might throw us out of our land and we are not strong enough to confront them.[^69]
From their statements, worry could be observed and fear of the Iranian kings and Roman emperors[^70] could be identified; this was the Arabs’ weak point towards the neighboring political powers.
This fear could be seen in the following event: The Holy Prophet had invited some of the great Arab personalities and read them some of the verses of the Holy Qur'an which dealt with ethical training. All of them were highly impressed and each one of them started admiring them. However, their leader, Muthanna, said, “We are caught between two waters:
on one side are the Arab waters and shores, and on the other side there lie Iran and Khosrow rivers. Khosrow has ordered us not to use any turmoil and not to shelter any wrongdoer. The acceptance of your faith by us is not palatable for the kings. If we do anything wrong here in our land, it might be excused. However, such an error around Iran is not pardonable by their king.”[^71]
(4) Tribal Competition and Jealousy
Tribal competitions and false pride were prevalent among the Arab tribes and communities. Since the Holy Prophet belonged to Banu-Hashim, the chiefs of the other tribes—due to their jealousy—could not accept his faith, which was in the long run a sign of dignity for Banu-Hashim. Abu-Jahl, who was from Banu-Makhzum tribe and one of the most influential and wealthy people of Quraysh, frankly revealed his secret, “We struggled against the children of `Abd-Manaf over the attainment of dignity. They fed the needy; so did we.
They gave horses to the needy; so did we. They provided the needy with money; so did we. Then we were neck to neck. But, then, they say that they have a prophet among themselves who gets revelation from God. Now how can we ever get equal to them? By God, we shall never believe in what he says nor shall we ever confirm him.”[^72]
Umayyah ibn Abi-salt, a nobleman and great poet of ta’if, did not believe in Islam for the same reason. For years, he waited for the arrival of the Promised Prophet and at the same time, he wished that he himself would be that Prophet. When he heard about the prophethood of Muhammad (s), he abstained from following him and the reason he offered for his denial was the following:
“How could I tell the women of ta’if that another person had obtained the status of prophethood? I have always told them that I would be the promised prophet. Now how could I endure this shame on my side to follow the young man of `Abd-Manaf?”[^73]