Chapter2: The New Faith
"It is He who has sent His Messenger with Guidance and the Religion of Truth, to make it prevail over all religion,and Allah is sufficient as a witness."
A certain Arab would walk the streets of Makkah at night, lost in thought. He was a member, no longer wealthy, of the noble clan of Bani Hashim. A strikingly handsome man of medium height with broad, powerful shoulders, his hair ended in curls just below his ears. His large, dark eyes, fringed with long lashes, seemed pensive and sad.
There was much in the way of life of the Arabs that caused him pain. Everywhere around him he saw signs of decay-in the injustice done to the poor and helpless, in the unnecessary bloodshed, in the treatment of women who were considered as no better than domestic animals. He would be deeply anguished whenever he heard reports of the live burial of unwanted female children.
Certain clans of the Arabs had made a horrible ritual of the killing of infant daughters. The father would let the child grow up normally until she was five or six years old. He would then tell her that he would take her for a walk and dress her up as if for a party. He would take her out of the town or settlement to the site of a grave already dug for her. He would make the child stand on the edge of this grave and the child, quite unaware of her fate and believing that her father had brought her out for a picnic, would look eagerly at him, wondering when the fun would start. The father would then push her into the grave, and as the child cried to her father to help her out, he would hurl large stones at her, crushing the life out of her tender body. When all movement had ceased in the bruised and broken body of his poor victim, he would fill the grave with earth and return home. Sometimes he would brag about what he had done.
This custom was not, of course, very widespread in Arabia. Among the famous families of Makkah-the Bani Hashim, the Bani Umayyah and the Bani Makhzum-there is not a single instance on record of a female child being killed. This happened only among some desert tribes, and only in some clans. But even the exceptional occurrence of this revolting practice was sufficient to horrify and sicken the more intelligent and virtuous Arabs of the time.
Then there were the idols of Makkah. The Kabah had been built by the Prophet Ibrahim as the House of God, but had been defiled with gods of wood and stone. The Arabs would propitiate these gods with sacrificial offerings, believing that they would harm a man when angered and be bountiful when pleased. In and around the Kabah there were 360 idols, the most worshipped of whom were Hubal, Uzza and Lat. Hubal, the pride of the Arab pantheon, was the largest of these gods and was carved of red agate. When the inhabitants of Makkah had imported this idol from Syria it was without a right hand; so they fashioned a new hand of gold and stuck it on to its arm.
In the religion of the Arabs there was a curious mixture of polytheism and belief in Allah-the true God. They believed that Allah was Lord and Creator, but they also believed in the idols, regarding them as sons and daughters of Allah. The position of the deity in the Arab mind was like that of a divine council, God being the President of the council of which these other gods and goddesses were members, each having supernatural powers, though subservient to the President. The Arabs would swear by Hubal or by another god or goddess. They would also swear by Allah. They would name their sons Abdul Uzza, i.e. the Slave of Uzza. They would also name their sons Abdullah i.e. the Slave of Allah.
It would not be correct to suggest that everything was wrong with the Arab culture of the time. There was much in their way of life which was glorious and chivalrous. There were qualities in the Arab character which would be enviable today-courage, hospitality and a sense of personal and tribal honour. There was also an element of vindictiveness, in the blood feuds which were passed down from father to son, but this was understandable, and even necessary, in a tribal society where no central authority existed to enforce law and order. Violent tribal and personal retaliation was the only way to keep the peace and prevent lawlessness.
What was wrong with Arab culture lay in the fields of ethics and religion, and in these fields Arab life had hit an all-time low. This period became known in history as the Ignorance. During the Ignorance Arab actions were acts of ignorance; Arab beliefs were beliefs of ignorance. The Ignorance was thus not only an era but an entire way of life.
The Arab mentioned at the beginning of this chapter took to retiring to a cave in a hill not far from Makkah, for one month every year. In this cave he would spend his time in meditation and reflection, and he would wait-not knowing just what he was waiting for. Then one day, while he was meditating in the cave; he suddenly became conscious of a presence. He could see no one and there was no sound of movement, but he could feel that someone was there. Then a voice said, "Read!"
Alarmed by the phenomenon of the disembodied voice, the Arab exclaimed, "What shall I read?" The voice was louder as it repeated, "Read!" Again the Arab asked, "What shall I read?" The voice now seemed terrible as it called sternly, "Read!" Then the voice continued in a more gentle tone:
Read: in the name of your Lord who created,
Created man from a clot.
Read: and it is your Lord the Bountiful
Who taught by the pen;
Taught man that which he knew not. [Quran 95: 1-5]
This happened on a Monday in the month of August, 610 CE. The world would never be the same again, for Muhammad had received his first revelation. A new faith was born.
When Muhammad (SAWS) received this revelation, Khalid was 24 years old.
For three years the Prophet remained silent, receiving guidance through the Angel Jibril. Then he was ordered to start expounding the religion of Allah, and he started with his own family and clan. Most of them, however, scorned his teaching and made fun of the new faith.
One day the Prophet decided to collect his closer relatives and give them a good meal at his house. This would give him an opportunity to get them together and put them in a situation where they would have to listen to him. The meal was duly arranged and heartily eaten by the guests. The Prophet then addressed the assembled guests and said, "O Bani Abdul Muttalib! By Allah, I do not know of any man among the Arabs who has come to you with anything better than I have brought you. I bring you the best of this world and the next. I have been ordered by Allah to call you to Him. Who will help me in this work and be my brother and deputy?"
The response of the entire gathering was silence. No one replied, each watching the others to see if anyone would get up to support this man. And then a thin, under-sized boy with skinny legs, in his early teens, sprang up and piped in a voice which had not yet broken, "I, O Prophet of Allah, will be your helper!"
There was a roar of laughter from the guests at what appeared at the time to be a ridiculous sight-rude and contemptuous laughter-as they stood up and began to walkaway. But the boy was impervious to such rudeness, for the next instant he had been clasped by the Prophet in a loving embrace. The Prophet declared, "This is my brother and deputy."1 The boy was the Prophet's cousin-Ali, son of Abu Talib. He was the first male to accept Islam at the hands of the Prophet .2
Gradually the truth began to spread; and a few individuals, mostly youths or weak, helpless people, accepted the new faith. Their number was small but their courage was high. And the Prophet's sphere of activity widened. In spite of the rebuffs and insults which were hurled at him by the Quraish, he continued to accost people at street corners and in the market place and to warn them of the Fire which awaited the evil-doer. He would deride their idols of wood and stone and call them to the worship of the true God. As his activities increased, the opposition of the Quraish became harder and more vicious. This opposition was directed mainly by four men: Abu Sufyan (whose personal name was Sakhr bin Harb, and who was the leader of the Bani Umayyah), Al Waleed (father of Khalid), Abu Lahab (uncle of the Prophet) and Abul Hakam. Of the first and the last we will hear a lot more in this story.
Abu Sufyan and Al Waleed were men of dignity and self-respect. While they directed the opposition against the Prophet, they did not demean themselves by resorting to violence or abuse. Al Waleed's initial reaction was one of ruffled dignity. "Is the prophethood to be bestowed on Muhammad," he exploded, "while I, the greatest of the Quraish and their elder, am to get nothing? And there is Abu Masud, the chief of the Saqeef. Surely he and I are the greatest of the two towns."3 This grand old man lived in a world of his own where everything depended on nobility of birth and rank. He was, of course, being unfair to the Prophet, for the line of Muhammad joined his own six generations back, and the family of Muhammad was no less noble than his own. In fact, in recent history the Prophet's family had acquired greater prominence than any other family in Makkah. The Prophet's grandfather, Abdul Muttalib, had been the chief of all the Quraish in Makkah.
Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 63; Ibn Sad: Vol. 1, p. 171.
2. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 1, p. 245; Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 56. Masudi: Muruj; Vol. 2, p. 283.
3. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 1, p. 361.Quran 95:1-5
According to Ibn Hisham, it was in connection with this statement of Al Waleed that the Quranic verse was revealed: And they say: If only this Quran had been revealed to some man from the, two great towns! [Quran 43:31]. The two towns were Makkah and Taif. And another Quranic revelation believed to have referred to Al Waleed who, as we have stated in the preceding chapter, was known by the title of Al Waheed (the Unique), reads: Leave Me (to deal) with him whom I created Waheed; and bestowed upon him ample means; and sons abiding in his presence; and made (life) smooth for him. Yet he desires that I should give more. Nay, for lo, he has been stubborn about Our revelations. On him I shall impose a fearful doom…Then he looked; then he frowned and showed displeasure; then he turned away in pride and said: This is nothing but magic from of old; this is nothing but the speech of a man. Him shall I fling into the fire: [Quran 74: 11-17 and 21-26]
The most blood-thirsty and vindictive of these leaders was Abul Hakam-cousin and friend of Khalid. As a result of his violent opposition to Islam he was given by the Muslims the nickname of Abu Jahl, the Ignorant One, and it is by this name that posterity was to know him. A small, tough and wiry man with a squint, he has been described by a contemporary as: "a man with a face of iron, a look of iron and a tongue of iron."1 And Abu Jahl could not forget that in their younger days, in a fierce wrestling match, Muhammad had thrown him badly, gashing his knee, the scar of which was to remain until his death.2
These prominent men of the Quraish, and some others, finding it impossible to stop the Prophet by either threat or inducement, decided to approach the aged and venerable Abu Talib, uncle of the Prophet and leader of the Bani Hashim. They would have killed the Prophet but for the strong sense of tribal and family unity which protected the Prophet. His killing would have led to a violent blood feud with the Bani Hashim, who would undoubtedly have taken revenge by killing the killer or a member of the killer's family.
The delegation of the Quraish now approached Abu Talib and said "O Abu Talib! You are our leader and the best among us. You have seen what the son of your brother is doing to our religion. He abuses our gods. He vilifies our faith and the faith of our fathers. You are one of us in our faith. Either stop Muhammad from such activities or permit us to deal with him as we wish." 3
Abu Talib spoke gently to them, said that he would look into the matter, and dismissed them with courtesy. But beyond informing the Prophet of what the Quraish had said, he did nothing to stop him from spreading the new faith. Abu Talib was a poet. Whenever anything of this sort happened, he would compose a long poem and pour all his troubles into it.
In the house of Al Waleed, the actions of the Prophet became the most popular topic of conversation. In the evening Al Waleed would sit with his sons and other relatives and recount the actions of the day and all that the Quraish were doing to counter the movement of Muhammad. Khalid and his brothers heard their father describe the entire proceedings of the first delegation to Abu Talib. Some weeks later, they listened to him tell all about the second delegation to Abu Talib, which had no more effect than the first. The Prophet continued with his mission.
Then Al Waleed took a bold step. He decided to offer his own son, Ammarah, to Abu Talib in return for the person of Muhammad. Ammarah was a fine, strapping youth in whom men and women saw all the virtues and graces of young manhood. The Quraish delegation approached Abu Talib with Ammarah in tow. "O Abu Talib" said the delegates. "Here is Ammarah, son of Al Waleed. He is the finest of youths among the Quraish, and the handsomest and noblest of all. Take him as your son. He will help you and be yours as any son could be. In return give us the son of your brother-the one who has turned against your faith and the faith of your fathers and has caused dissension in our tribe. We shall kill him. Is that not fair-a man for a man?"
Abu Talib was shocked by the offer. "I do not think that it is fair at all," he replied. "You give me your son to feed and bring up while you want mine to kill. By Allah, this shall not be."4 The mission failed. We do not know how Ammarah reacted to the failure of the mission-with disappointment or relief!
1. Waqidi: Maghazi, p.20; Ibn Rusta p. 223.
2. Tabari: Vol. 1, p. 265; Ibn Sad: p. 186.
3. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 1, p. 265; Ibn Sad: p. 186.
4. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 1, p. 267; Ibn Sad: p. 186.
Now seeing no hope of persuading Abu Talib to stop the Prophet and despairing of persuading him themselves, the Quraish decided to make the life of Muhammad and his followers so wretched that they would be forced to submit to the wishes of the Quraish. They set the vagabonds of Makkah against him. These hooligans would shout and jeer at the Prophet wherever he passed, would throw dust into his face and spread thorns in his path. They would fling filth into his house, and in this activity they were joined by Abu Lahab and Abu Jahl. This ill treatment was soon to enter a more violent phase.
As the persecution of the Muslims gathered momentum, it also increased in variety of method. One man got the bright idea that he would hurt Muhammad's cause by challenging him to a wrestling match, and thus belittle and humiliate him in a public contest. This man was an unbelieving uncle of the Prophet by the name of Rukkana bin Abd Yazid, a champion wrestler who was proud of his strength and skill. No one in Makkah had ever thrown him. "O son of my brother!" he accosted the Prophet. "I believe that you are a man. And I believe that you are not a liar. Come and wrestle with me. If you throw me I shall acknowledge you as a true prophet." The man was delighted with himself at having thought up this unusual way of lowering the stock of Muhammad in the eyes of the Makkans. Muhammad would either decline, and thus look small, or accept and get the thrashing of a lifetime. But that is what he thought. His challenge was accepted, and in the wrestling match that ensued the Prophet threw him three times! But the scoundrel went back on his word.1
The Prophet himself was reasonably safe from physical harm, partly because of the protection of his clan and partly because he could give better than he took in a fight. But there were other Muslims who were in a vulnerable position-those who were not connected with powerful families or were physically weak. They included slaves and slave girls. There was one slave girl the news of whose conversion so infuriated Umar that he beat her. He continued to beat the poor girl until he was too tired to beat her any more. And Umar was a very strong man!
Many of the men and women were tortured by the Quraish, The most famous of these sufferers, of whom history speaks in glowing terms, was Bilal bin Hamamah-a tall, gaunt Abyssinian slave who was tortured by his own master, Umayyah bin Khalf. In the afternoon, during the intense heat of the Arabian summer, when the sun would dry up and bake everything exposed to it, Bilal would be stretched out on the burning sand with a large rock on his chest and left to the tender mercies of the sun. Every now and then his master would come to him, would look at his suffering, tormented face, his dry lips and his swollen tongue, and would say, "Renounce Muhammad and return to the worship of Lat and Uzza." But the faith of Bilal remained unshaken. Little did Umayyah bin Khalf know, while he was torturing Bilal, that he and his son would one day face his erstwhile slave in the Battle of Badr, and that Bilal would be his executioner and the executioner of his son.
Bilal and several other slaves, all victims of torture, were purchased by Abu Bakr, who was a wealthy man. Whenever Abu Bakr came to know of a Muslim slave being tortured, he would buy and free him.
In spite of all this persecution, the Prophet remained gentle and merciful towards his enemies; He would pray: "O Lord! Strengthen me with Umar and Abul Hakam." His prayer was answered in so far as it concerned Umar, who became the fortieth person to embrace Islam 2; but Abu Jahl remained an unbeliever and died in his unbelief.
In 619, ten years after the first revelation, Abu Talib died 3. The Prophet's position now became more delicate. The hostility of the Quraish increased, and so did the danger to the life of Muslims. The Prophet remained surrounded by a few faithful companions to whom he continued to preach, and among these companions were 10 who were especially close to him. These men became known as The Blessed Ten, and were held in especial esteem and affection by the Muslims as long as they lived.4
1. According to Ibn Hisham (Vol. 1, p. 390) the Prophet himself challenged Rukkana, but I have narrated Ibn-ul-Asir's version (Vol. 2, pp. 27-28), as the event is more likely to have happened this way.
2. This is Ibn Qutaibah's placing (p. 180). Tabari, however, places Umar as the 67th Muslim (Vol. 3, p. 270).
3. Ten years reckoning by the lunar year, which is, at an average, 11 days shorter that the solar year.
4. For the names of these 10 men, see the Companions page or Note 1 in Appendix B.
The Prophet remained in Makkah, bearing up against what became increasingly more unbearable. Then some men of Madinah (at the time known as Yathrib) met the Prophet and accepted Islam. Knowing the danger to which the Prophet was exposed, they invited him to migrate to their settlements and make his home with them. With this invitation came Allah's permission for the Muslims to migrate, and the Prophet sent most of them to Madinah.
In September 622, the Quraish finally made up their minds to assassinate Muhammad. On the eve of the planned assassination, during the night, the Prophet left his house and, accompanied by Abu Bakr, a slave and a guide, migrated to Yathrib. With his safe arrival at Yathrib, Madinah (as the place was now to be called) became the seat and centre of the Muslim faith and the capital of the new Muslim State. The era of persecution was over.
Three months after the Prophet's departure from Makkah, Al Waleed called his sons to his death bed, He knew that he was dying. "O my sons!" he said. "There are three tasks that I bequeath you. See that you do-not foil in carrying them out. The first is my blood feud with the Khuza'a. See that you take revenge. By Allah, I know that they are not guilty, but I fear that you will be blamed after this day. The second is my money, accruing from interest due to me, with the Saqeef, See that you get it back. Thirdly, I am due compensation or blood from Abu Uzeihar."1 This bad man married the daughter of Al Waleed and then put her away from him without returning her to her father's home.
Having made these bequests, Al Waleed died. He was buried with all the honour due to a great chief, a respected elder and a noble son of the Quraish.
The first of the problems was settled without too much difficulty; the Khuza'a paid blood money, and the matter was closed without violence. The second matter remained pending for many yeays, and was then shelved as unsettled. As for the third problem, i.e. the feud with the son-in-law of Al Waleed, Khalid's brother, Hisham, decided that he would be content with nothing less than the blood of Abu Uzeihar. He waited more than a year before he got his chance. Then he killed his man. The matter assumed an ugly aspect, and there was danger of further bloodshed between the two families; but Abu Sufyan intervened and made peace. No more blood was shed.
During the years following his father's death, Khalid lived peacefully in Makkah, enjoying the good life which his wealth made possible. He even travelled to Syria with a trade caravan, to a large town called Busra, which he was to approach many years later as a military objective.
We do not know how many wives or children he had at this time, but we know of two sons: the elder was called Sulaiman, the younger, Abdur-Rahman. The latter was born about six years before the death of Al Waleed, and was to achieve fame in later decades as a commander in Syria. But according to Arab custom, it was Sulaiman by whose name Khalid became known. Thus he was called variously: Khalid, his own name; Ibn Al Waleed, i.e. the son of Al Waleed; and Abu Sulaiman, i.e. the father of Sulaiman. Most people addressed him as Abu Sulaiman.
1. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 1, pp. 410-411.