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The Sealed Nectar

 The Sealed Nectar by Shaykh Safi ur-Rahman

The revelations that came to the Prophet during the Makkan period dealt mainly with matters belief - the unity and exclusiveness of Allah, His absolute power and ability, and His mercy. It informed of the Judgement, the rewards and punishments of the Hereafter, and the personal responsibility of every soul. It taught morality, piety, patience, the spirit of sacrifice, and dependence upon Allah. It comforted the believers in hardship, giving examples of the difficulties faced by the earlier prophets in their struggle to re-establish the worship of Allah on earth. And finally, it reassured them that Allah in His wisdom always does what is best. The early chapters came in powerful language aimed at awakening the hearts of men who had long been unaware.

As a rule, any new concept on the rise in society will be met with a certain apprehensiveness, skepticism and often, disapproval and opposition. The wider the disparity between the traditional beliefs and customs and the newly proposed ideals, the greater the discord between the two. The message Muhammad brought, calling on people to reject false deities - stones, idols or anything else - and to worship Allah exclusively, was in clear contrast to the ways of those who were satisfied with their erroneous beliefs, irrational customs and moral corruption. The worship of Allah alone was clearly understood by all the Arabs to mean full obedience to the legislation he was sending down, not only in regard to religious rites, but in the establishment of comprehensive moral principles based on justice and benefit for all. For those in power it would mean some concession of authority and limitation of worldly advantages; hence the majority of them refused it outright.

Despite increasing problems, the Prophet never ceased to seek out and speak to any who would listen. The polytheistic traditionalists perceived a threat to their established way of life and to the authority which was derived from that social order. The reaction among the Quraysh in Makkah was first ridicule and then persecution of the growing group of Muslims. The Prophet was then directed: "So declare what you are commanded and turn away from the polytheists."[1] By so doing, believers would now be irrefutably distinguished from non-believers both in their creed and in their conduct. The declaration ordered by Allah was no less than an exposure of the ineffectiveness of idolatry and superstition supported by clear proofs and indications.

Unable to deal with such pronouncements coming from the man they had always referred to as "the Trustworthy", the Quraysh convened and called upon the Prophet's uncle and guardian, Abu Talib, to convince his nephew to cease these menacing activities. But Abu Talib, while advising him, continued to treat Muhammad benevolently and to protect him. Nothing could persuade him to abandon the nephew he loved like his own sons. Impatient to end the disruption of their established social order, the influential chiefs of Makkah attempted to dissuade the Prophet by offering him wealth and authority in return for the abandonment of his call to worship one God and the criticism of their traditions, in particular, idol worship.

Finally, they gave Abu Talib an ultimatum: he must either prevent his nephew from speaking out or allow them to deal with him themselves. But even if his uncle should no longer be willing to shield him, the Messenger of Allah had no option but to continue in his mission. He told him, "O uncle, by Allah, if they were to place the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left for me to give up this matter, I would not give it up until Allah makes it successful or else I perish in the effort." Abu Talib could only say, "Go where you will and say what you will. By Allah, I will never deliver you to your enemies."

Criticism of traditions long held sacred and open denunciation of paganism generated intense enmity among those firmly attached to their ancestral beliefs. Their resentment provoked them to violence against weak members of the society who had accepted Islam. The leaders of Quraysh persuaded other tribes to take similar measures against the defenseless and vulnerable Muslims among them. The attitude of the Quraysh strongly influenced other Arabs who respected them as caretakers of the Ka`bah. Many believers were compelled to endure beatings, shackles and imprisonment with denial of food and water. Some were stretched on burning sands with heavy rocks placed on their chests and some were burned with red hot irons. Several died as a result of torture, but not one would renounce his faith.

All attempts to seduce the companions away from Islam had ended in failure, as did their efforts to stop the Prophet from preaching the religion so fearlessly. As the hostility of the persecutors increased, so did the number of the Prophet’s followers. The polytheistic establishment then decided that people visiting Makkah had to be kept away from the Prophet lest they hear his words and be convinced by them. They lashed out against him personally, calling him a liar, a sorcerer and a poet. They insulted, harassed and abused him in every manner, disregarding the traditional ties of kinship and all humanitarian concerns.

Persecution increased to an alarming degree, but the Prophet restrained his followers from striking back and counseled patience and forbearance in the face of hardship until such a time as Allah would show them the way. Complete trust in the divine promise and compensation of the Hereafter disciplined the Muslims and strengthened their will. Finally, in the fifth year of prophethood, Allah's Messenger gave permission for his followers to seek refuge in Abyssinia, where they were received sympathetically by the Negus, a Christian king who proved to be just and benevolent. It was there the Muslims found an agreeable environment where they could reside until the situation at home improved. A total of eighty-three persons are reported to have migrated to Abyssinia, some alone and others accompanied by their families.

The news that Muslims had found peace in Abyssinia reached Makkah, making the pagan establishment all the more angry and frustrated. Their agents soon arrived at the king's court bearing gifts and requesting surrender of the refugees. But the Negus deemed it highly improper to hand over those who had sought his asylum. When the envoys of the Quraysh persisted in their demand, presenting him with a negative portrayal of the religion they professed, he summoned the Muslims to his court in the presence of his bishops, and asked: "What is this religion for which you have forsaken your people?"

Ja`far, a son of Abu Talib and cousin of the Prophet, arose on behalf of the Muslims and addressed the ruler, saying, “O King, we were a people absorbed in ignorance. We worshipped idols, ate dead animals, committed immoralities, broke ties of relationship, mistreated our neighbors and exploited the weak. But then God sent a prophet from among us whose honesty, truthfulness and trustworthiness we knew. He invited us to acknowledge the oneness of God, to worship Him alone and to renounce the stones and idols we and our forefathers used to worship. He enjoined us to speak the truth, to fulfill our trusts and to observe the rights of our relatives and neighbors. He ordered us to refrain from everything unlawful and from bloodshed. He forbade us from immoralities, telling lies, taking the property of orphans and from speaking ill of chaste women. He ordered us to worship God alone, without any associate, to perform prayer, give the poor-due and observe fasting. We believed in him and followed him in what he brought us from the religion of God, so we worshipped God alone without associating anything with Him. We considered unlawful what he prohibited and accepted what he permitted. Hence, our people made enemies of us and tormented us; they tried to prevent us from our faith and return us to the worship of idols after we had worshipped God, and return us to unlawful practices. So when they oppressed, tortured, restricted and prevented us from the practice of our religion, we fled to your country, having chosen you over all others. We have come seeking your protection and expect we will not be treated unjustly with you, O King.”

The Negus listened carefully to the words of Ja`far who had spoken truthfully and frankly, well aware that Christian beliefs differed somewhat from those he had expressed. He knew that his words could affect the outcome of this critical meeting. The king inquired of Ja`far if he could recite anything that had been conveyed from God to his prophet, so he recited from the Qur'an the opening verses of the chapter called Maryam, in which Allah describes the birth of Prophet John and the virgin birth of Prophet Jesus to Mary. The Negus wept as did his bishops. He exclaimed, "Indeed, this [recitation] and that which Jesus brought came from a single [source of] light." And he granted asylum to the Muslims.

The departure of Muslims from Makkah resulted in additional persecution for those who remained behind. Frustration at their failure to stop them led the Quraysh to increase pressure on Abu Talib to surrender his nephew. The position of the Quraysh strongly influenced the other Arab tribes to oppose the Muslims. The pagan chiefs sent an ultimatum to the clan of the Prophet, demanding that he should be declared an outlaw and delivered to them for execution. Every member, including the polytheists among them, rejected the demand. Thereupon the chiefs determined to boycott the extended family of Muhammad and any who supported them. The Prophet's uncle, Abu Lahab, left his kinsmen and participated in the boycott in support of the enemies of Islam.

Men, women and children were deprived of food and supplies for nearly three years and endured extreme hardship. They were reduced to eating the leaves of bushes and suffered terrible misery. Many of them died, but no one would defect or betray the Prophet. For his part, the Prophet never ceased reciting the revelations from Allah and teaching the religion at every opportunity.[2] Finally, a group of non-Muslims from different tribes moved by humanitarian sentiment denounced the unjust and oppressive boycott. Concurrently, a document declaring the boycott, which had been hung on the Ka`bah, was devoured by white ants, leaving only the words "In Your name, O Allah." Thus the boycott was finally lifted, and many of those who had been in Abyssinia returned, only to face renewed persecution later on.

Owing to the long period of suffering, the Prophet's wife, Khadijah and his protecting uncle and chief of the tribe, Abu Talib, passed away soon after the boycott ended. Their death was not only a great personal loss, but signaled the beginning of another difficult period for the Prophet of Allah. Abu Lahab, the ardent enemy of Islam, now succeeded to leadership of the tribe.

The Messenger then decided to make a journey to the neighboring city of Ta'if for the purpose of inviting its people to Allah. There he met the chiefs and leaders, calling upon them to worship God alone, but the chiefs were rude and insolent. They incited gangs of youths to harass and throw stones at him and drive him out of the city. Exhausted and injured, his only fear was that Allah might be displeased because he had somehow failed in his duty. During his return while disheartened and depressed, Gabriel appeared with an angel who offered to crush the unbelievers of Makkah between two mountains, but the Prophet replied, “Rather, I hope that Allah will bring forth from their loins those who will worship Him alone without associating anything with Him.”[3]

In order to encourage and show favor upon Prophet Muhammad after the severe trials he had endured, his Lord honored him through the miraculous night journey (israa') to Jerusalem and ascension (mi`raaj). It is mentioned thus in the Qur'an: "Exalted is He who took His servant by night from the Sacred Mosque [in Makkah] to the Farthest Mosque [in Jerusalem], whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs."[4]

From Jerusalem the Prophet was raised through the seven heavens during the same night. There he met several of the former prophets and was shown some of the greatest signs of God. It was there, as well, that Allah made five daily prayers obligatory. Details of the journey were related to the people the following morning. Muhammad was asked by the disbelievers to describe Jerusalem as proof to them, which he did accurately, additionally informing them of a caravan on its way to Makkah, which arrived at the predicted time. But in spite of that evidence, most of them refused to ­believe. The believers, however, had no doubt about this event, certain of the Prophet’s truthfulness.

The Messenger of Allah continued to approach various tribes during their visits to Makkah and to the Ka`bah, asking them to acknowledge that God alone was worthy to be worshipped. He would say, “O people, declare that there is no god other than Allah and you will attain success.” But Abu Lahab would follow him, appearing wherever people assembled around him and shout, “He is misguided and a liar. He wants you to abandon your gods and goddesses. Do not let him lure you away from your religion and the religion of your forefathers.” The Prophet would sometimes inquire of those present, “Would any man take me among his people since the Quraysh have prevented me from conveying the words of my Lord, the Mighty and Majestic?”[5]

Then, by the will of God, came the turning point for Islam. During the pilgrimage season some men from the northern city of Yathrib heard the Prophet speaking, accepted the truth of what he said and swore allegiance to him. They returned with the message to their city, where more people entered the faith. Islam spread in Yathrib, and the following year a delegation was sent to invite the Messenger to their city and pledge that they would defend him as they would their own families.

The pagan establishment would never allow Muslims the freedom to practice their faith. Those who had endured unbearable conditions in Makkah were at last given permission to migrate to Yathrib. They moved quietly in order to avoid confrontation as much as possible, most being forced to abandon everything they owned. They left their homeland, their kinsmen and their properties, all for the cause of God, to uphold and spread the principles of His religion. But the Prophet himself remained behind, awaiting a divine command at the appropriate time, for the primary concern was to insure continuation of his mission.

The Quraysh, dismayed at the turn of events and the escape of so many Muslims from under their jurisdiction, convened once again, determined to end the challenge to their authority once and for all. About the same time that Allah directed His Messenger to emigrate from Makkah, the Quraysh were plotting his assassination. A member of each clan was to take part in the collaborated murder in order to avoid retribution by the heirs against any one of them. However, Allah inspired His Messenger with perception of the conspiracy, enabling him to elude his enemies and leave the city with his close companion, Abu Bakr.

It was only their stubbornness and attachment to influence and supremacy which prevented the unbelieving Quraysh from accepting Muhammad's message of reform. Strangely enough, they had entrusted some of their valuables to the care of the Prophet, evidence that they were well aware of his integrity. In fact, they had trusted him with their possessions even while they were opposing him and plotting his death. Before his departure from Makkah with his life in danger, the Messenger of Allah instructed that everything entrusted to his care by them be returned to the owners.

The Prophet's migration from Makkah to Yathrib is called the Hijrah.[6] All attempts of the Makkan polytheists to overtake him and prevent it ended in failure. There are authentic accounts of several incidents during the journey when the Prophet and his companion faced grave danger but Allah protected them miraculously from harm.

Yathrib had been chosen by God to shelter His Messenger and to serve as a focal point for the universal call of Islam. Following the Hijrah, it came to be known as "Madinat ar-Rasul" (City of the Messenger), or simply, Madinah. Various cultures, religions and communities flourished in this city in contrast to Makkah, which was dominated by a single faith and cultural pattern.

 

 

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[1] Qur'an - 5:94.

[2] This is a historical refutation of the false claim that Muhammad was an advocate of nationalism who represented the hopes and aspirations of the Arabs at that time. It shows that bonds of faith and common objective are stronger than those of blood or nationality.

[3] Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim.

[4] Qur'an - 17:1

[5] Narrated by Ahmad.

[6] This event was later designated as the beginning of the Islamic calendar.

 

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