Was Muhammad Persecuted in Mecca?
Introduction: It is a fact that Muhammad faced harassment in Mecca. There are incidents in Islamic history books testifying to this fact. Muslims take such narrative to claim that Muhammad and his followers were treated with cruelty; so they had to “flee” to Medina. The prophet was lucky to be able to escape.
Such a narrative of the Meccan’s cruel persecution of Muhammad and his community does not hold up in light of the facts cited in Islamic historical documents.
Islamic literature lists many facts to support such a claim. In fact, Muhammad left Mecca pretty much on his own timing and wish. We need to remember that Muhammad had sent a group of his disciples to Ethiopia 7-8 years earlier for surveying a possibility of moving there. He also went to Ta’ef 3 years before his Hijra (immigration) to Medina seeking to find a new home there. At Ta’ef, he asked the people to abandon their religion in favor of Islam and also tried to arouse their enmity against the Meccans. The people of Ta’ef found both proposals unacceptable. Apparently they did not like his attitude toward his own kinfolks. They evicted him from Ta’ef after his 10 days of stay there.
Going back to the question at hand: Was Muhammad persecuted in Mecca?
Well, there are certainly hostile incidents. But one must analyze those incidents carefully to determine if it were the Meccans to blame, or Muhammad and his followers. Fair enough!
We will have to rely exclusively on Muslim sources for analyzing the truth. So any conclusion we arrive at from this analysis will be biased toward the Muslim camp. Despite that pro-Muslim bias, let us see what conclusions we can arrive at after investigating the reasons behind the incidents of the Meccan’s hostility toward Muhammad as described in Islamic sources. I will use a quotes, and narrations from Sirat Ibn Hisham (“The Prophet’s Biography” by Ibn Hisham, translated by Mohammad Mahdi Al-Sharif, Dar al-kotob Al-Ilmiyah, Lebanon 2006)
About an incident of the Meccan’s persecution of Muhammad, the “Sirat” says:
… One time, while Saad Ibn Abu’waqqas with many of the Messenger’s companions were praying in a defile as such, some men of Quraish saw them. They insulted and satirized them to the point of irritation, which led to fight. Saad hit one of them with camel’s jawbone and head wended him. That was the first bloodshed in Islam. However, the unbelievers did not insult Muhammad (Allah’s blessing and peace be upon him) himself before he started badly remembering and satirizing their gods, though they did never let him entirely be going to spread the new religion. All of Quraishis quarreled him, gibed his religion and hurt his companions,.. (page 46)
Analysis: This incident clearly says that some of the Quraishis made fun of Muslims’ manner of praying. It also makes it clear that the Quraishis were not the first to mock Muhammad; instead it was Muhammad who first started insulting the gods of the Meccans. The Meccans quarreled with him and mocked his religion only after that—at best as a tit for tat.
Now who first initiated physical violence over religious quarrel and mockery in Mecca. It was clearly started by a Muslim – Saad Ibn Abu’waqqas – against a Pagan Quraishi with the latter never striking him back in revenge.
So the mockery of religion as well as violence and blood-shedding in Mecca were both initiated by Muhammad and his followers. When it comes to violence and blood-shedding, the Quraishis never hit back.
In sum, it was Muhammad who first gravely insulted the Quaishis’ religion and gods. The Quraishis mocked Muhammad’s religion only as a natural response.
Muhammad’s uncle Abu Talib, was a man of high status in Mecca. He acted as the protector of Muhammad. However, when Muhammad kept insulting the Quraishis’ gods, Abu Talib did nothing to stop him from doing that. So, many of the Meccan nobles went to Abu Talib and asked him to request his nephew, Muhammad, not to insult their gods. Abu Talib, a non-Muslim, was a man of fair judgment, and promised to talk to Muhammad.
Muhammad probably disregarded Abu Talib’s appeal not to insult the gods of the Quraishis as Muhammad’s insult of their gods continued. As a result, animosity between the Muslim camp and Quraishis kept growing. The Quraishis, unable to bear Muhammad’s continued insult of their gods, went to Abu Talib a second time. They were more forceful this time in their warning against Muhammad’s increasing insult of their gods, his discrediting of their customs and dishonoring of their forefathers. They demanded that Abu Talib put an end to Muhammad’s arrogant behavior and language. Abu Talib promised them to talk to his nephew again. Muhammad refused to listen to Abu Talib’s emotional appeal for not to insult the Meccans’ gods and traditions.
When Muhammad refused to stop insulting the Quraishi gods, Abu Talib anticipated that they may harm Muhammad. So, in order to preempt any possible hostile action of the Quraish against his nephew, Abu Talib asked some lineages of Quraish (Banu Hashem, and Banul Muttalib) to join him in protecting Muhammad. All responded positively except for one man that Muslims call Abu Lahab. They went to the Ka’ba with Abu Taleb, where he threatened to kill the Meccans to the last one should any harm befall Muhammad.
Abu Lahab was the immediate uncle of Muhammad. He had a dignified name, “Abd Al Uzza”. The word “Uzza” in Arabic signifies high status. However, Muslims changed the names of such decent persons to something horrible, just because they did not agree with the message of Islam.
When Abu Talib—Muhammad’s unwavering protector despite being a Pagan—died in 619 AD, Abd Al-Uzza took the mantle of leadership of the family of Abd Al Muttalib, including as protector of Muhammad. Later on, he heard that Muhammad was consigning all of his dead Pagan forefathers to eternal hellfire. When Abd Al-Uzza asked Muhammad about it, Muhammad affirmed the same. This infuriated Abd Al-Uzza and revoked his protection of Muhammad. Nonetheless, Muhammad continued living in Mecca for 2-3 more years until he emigrated to Medina in June 622 AD.
Muhammad was a very vindictive man, and never forgot anyone who took a decision against him, however justified. Muslims follow suit. Muhammad changed this great man’s name to “the father of flame”, indicating that he is hell-bound. Another great wise man of Mecca, whose name was changed by Muhammad, in such insulting manner, was Abul Hakam. He was an honorable wise man, and people fondly called him Abul Hakam, meaning “Father of Wisdom”. But because he was the wisest person, therefore a potent critic of Muhammad’s religious message and ideas, Muhammad gave this wise man the name Abu Jahl, which means “Father of Ignorance”. Muslims to this day know him by this insulting name only.
Conclusion: Contrary to the Muslim belief and propaganda, Islam’s very own and most reliable historical documents prove that it was Muhammad who started insulting the Pagan Quraishis’ gods and religions in Mecca, which aroused them to mock and criticize Muhammad and his Islam in expected retaliation. It was Muhammad’s followers, who first shed blood in response to the Quraishis’ criticism and mocking of Islam. And there is no evidence that the Quraishis engaged in violence against Muhammad and his followers even in revenge.
Author’s Note: For a thorough discussion of the hostile events between Muhammad and his disciples and the Meccans, one is advised to read the first few sections of chapter III of M. A. Khan’s book, Islamic Jihad.