Kaleef K. Karim
The Muslims in Makkah lived in harsh times. Apostating from the religion of their forefathers was a taboo in the 7th-century Arabia. Prophet Muhammad’s (p) following increased day by day. The Quraysh seen this as a threat. Instead of challenging Prophet Muhammed’s beliefs, they were busy persecuting his people. The early converts of Islam were tortured, and murdered cold bloodily. The early converts did not have a easy time by the Qurayshi polytheists. Historical sources attest to this.
Contemporary critics of Islam try to paint a different picture to what history tells us. Not being able to argue the fact that Qurayshi polytheists did indeed persecute and murder Muslims in the Makkan period, they justify it by saying that the Muslims were the first aggressors. According to them, the Muslims deserved whatever the Quraysh did to them. What evidence do they have for this? It is the story of Sa’d b. Abu Waqas. The story goes, one day the Prophet’s companions went at a distance of Makkah to pray. They prayed at a place where they thought they wouldn’t be seen by the polytheists. Suddenly, while they were praying a group of polytheists harshly came over and interrupted the Muslims in their prayer. They discouraged the Muslims from praying. This led to a clash from both sides . Ibn Ishaq reports,
“When the apostle’s companions prayed they went to the glens so that their people could not see them praying, and while Sa’d b. Abu Waqqas was with a number of the Prophet’s companions in one of the glens of Mecca, a band of polytheists came upon them while they were praying and rudely interrupted them. They blamed them for what they were doing until they came to blows, and it was on that occasion that Sa’d smote a polytheist with the jawbone of a camel and wounded him. This was the first blood to be shed in Islam.”(Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah – The Life of Muhammad Translated by A. Guillaume, [Oxford University Press – Seventeenth Impression 2004], page 118)
al-Tabari (838 – 923 AD) has a similar account:
“When the Messenger of God’s Companions, prayed they went to the ravines and concealed themselves from their fellow tribes-men. Once while Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas and a number of the Messenger of God’s Companions were in one of the ravines of Mecca, a group of polytheists suddenly appeared before them as they were praying, expressed their disapproval and reproached the believers for what they were doing. Finally, they came to blows and Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas struck one of the polytheists with a camel’s jawbone and split his head open. This was the first blood shed in the time of Islam.” (The History of Al-Tabari: Muhammad at Mecca – (“Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-Muluk”) – [Translated by W. Montgomery Watt – State University of New York Press, 1988], volume VI (6), page 88 – 89)
Reading these reports we see that the antagonisers were the Makkan Qurayshis when they went over and disturbed the Muslims in their prayer. The text nowhere alludes to the Muslims starting this trouble. It just states that the two went in blows. Which shows no proof that the Muslims attacked first. In fact, given that the Quraysh went over and antagonised the Muslims, it shows that they were the aggressors and the hostile ones.
Hungarian scholar Ignaz Goldziher (1850 – 1921) notes that Prophet Muhammed’s companions had to keep their prayer “secret”:
“The first companions and disciples of the Prophet had to keep their prayers more secret from their pagan brethren than any other tenet of their faith. Muslim prayer existed in the community even before the official institution of the rite. It is said that they hid in mountain gorges near Mecca in order to pray, and once when they were surprised in their worship a bloody quarrel ensued. The pious Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas took up the jaw-bone of a camel and with it beat one of the unbelievers who advanced against them till blood flowed. This was – concludes our source – the first blood shed about Islam.” (Muslim Studies, [State University Of New York Press, Albany – George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1966], by Ignaz Goldziher volume 1, page 42)
Why did the early Muslims pray in secret? In early stages of Makkan period all the way up until the Muslims were forcefully exiled, many were persecuted and or tortured for praying. There is the incident of the Prophet praying. Uqba Ibn Abi Mu’ait had tried to choke the Prophet Muhammed (p) to death whilst he was praying. Other reports note that Uqba put his foot on top of the Prophet’s neck. Uqba put so much pressure on the Prophet’s neck, he was about to pass out. Sahih al-Bukhari (820 – 870 AD):
“What was the worst thing the pagans did to Allah’s Messenger ?” He said, “I saw Uqba bin Abi Mu’ait coming to the Prophet while he was praying.’ Uqba put his sheet round the Prophet’s neck and squeezed it very severely. Abu Bakr came and pulled Uqba away from the Prophet and said, “Do you intend to kill a man just because he says: ‘My Lord is Allah, and he has brought forth to you the Evident Signs from your Lord?” (Sahih al-Bukhari volume 5, Book 57, Hadith 27, https://sunnah.com/bukhari/62/28)
Muhammed Ibn Jarir al-Tabari (838 – 923 AD) reports a similar account :
“I said to ‘Abdallah b. ‘Amr, “Tell the worst thing which you saw the polytheists do to the Messenger of God.” He said, “Uqbah b. Abi Mu’ayt came up while the Messenger of God was by the Ka’bah, twisted his robe round his neck, and throttled him violently. Abu Bakr stood behind him, put his hand on his shoulder, and pushed him away from the Messenger of God. Then he said, ‘People, would you kill a man because he says, My Lord is God? … ‘ to the words ‘God guides not one who is prodigal, a liar?”‘ ((The History of Al-Tabari: Muhammad at Mecca – (“Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-Muluk”) – [Translated by W. Montgomery Watt – State University of New York Press, 1988], volume VI (6), page 102 – 103)
Uqba was not alone in attempting to kill the Prophet in prayer. Abu Jahl was another arch enemy of Prophet Muhammed and his Message  . While the Prophet was in prayer, Abu Jahl attempted to lift a massive stone and crush his head,
“…the leading men of every clan of Quraysh – Utba b. Rabi’a, and Shayba his brother, and Abu Sufyan b. Harb, and al-Nadr b. al-Harith, brother of the Banu Abd’l-Dar, and Abu’-l-Bakhtari b. Hisham, and al-Aswad b. al-Muttalib b. Asad and Zama’a b. al-Asad, and al-Walid b. al-Mughira, and Abu Jahl b. Hisham, and Abdullah b. Abu Umaya, and al-As b. Wa’il, and Nubayh and Munabbih, the sons of al-Hajjaj, both of Sahm, and Umayya b. Khalaf and possibly others – gathered together after sunset outside the Ka’ba. They decided to send for Muhammad and to negotiate and argue with him so that they could not be held to blame on his account in the future. When they sent for him the apostle came quickly because he thought that what he had said to them had made an impression, for he was most zealous for their welfare, and their wicked wat of life pained him. … When the apostle had gone Abu Jahl spoke, making the usual charges against him, and saying, ‘I call God to witness that I will wait for him tomorrow with a stone which I can hardly lift,’ or words to that effect, ‘and when he prostrates himself in prayer I will split his skull with it. Betray me or defend me, let the Banu Abdu Manaf do what they like after that.’ They said that they would never betray him on any account, and he could carry on with his project. When morning came Abu Jahl took a stone and sat in wait for the apostle, who behaved as usual that morning. While he was in Mecca he faced Syria in prayer, and when he prayed, he prayed, he prayed between the southern corner and the black stone, putting the Ka’ba between himself and Syria. The apostle rose to pray while Quraysh sat in their meeting, waiting for what Abu Jahl was to do. When the apostle prostrated himself, Abu Jahl took up the Stone and went towards him, until when he got near him, he turned back in flight, pale with terror, and his hand had withered upon the stone, so that he cast the stone from his hand.” (Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah – The Life of Muhammad Translated by A. Guillaume, [Oxford University Press – Seventeenth Impression 2004], page 133 – 135)
The Prophet was not alone enduring this. Arqam Ibn Abi Arqam, who was a close companion of the Prophet, was seen one day praying. Uthman Ibn talha saw him and reported it to his mother. His mother and those in his clan ended up capturing and jailing him. Arqam managed to escape to Abyssinia to find safe haven. Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir – Ibn Sa’d (784 – 845 AD) reports:
“Mus’ab heard that the Prophet was inviting people to Islam in the house of Arqam Ibn Abi Arqam, he went to the house where he accepted Islam and believed in the Prophet. After leaving the house, he kept his conversion a secret for fear of his mother and his family. He frequently visited the Prophet in secret but Uthman Ibn Talha once saw him performing Salah (prayer) and informed his mother and family about it. They therefore captured him and kept him jailed until he finally managed to migrate to Abyssinia with the first group of Muslim immigrants. He later returned to Makkah with the other Muslims but his condition had changed because he lived a difficult life. His mother then stopped rebuking him.” (Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, by Ibn Sa’d, volume 3, page 82)
We get a better understanding as to why some of the Muslims may have taken upon themselves to clash with those whom threatened their lives. Reading the reports in whole we get a better picture. Which rejects the claim that the Muslims were the antagonisers or the aggressors. We see that the trouble makers were the pagan Quraysh whom started the whole scuffle. They were the antagonisers. The disciples of the Prophet were quietly praying when they were suddenly come upon. A quarrel started and one of the Muslims, Sa’d Ibn Abu Waqqas hit one of the Qurayshi polytheist’s in self-defence.
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 Sa’d Bin Abi Waqqas said: “I was among the first men who spilled blood in Allah’s cause, and I was among the first men to shoot an arrow in Allah’s cause. I saw battles with troops of the Companions of Muhammad (s.a.w). We had nothing to eat except leaves of trees and Al-Hublah, such that one of us would leave droppings like the droppings of sheep and camels. Now Banu Asad have appeared wanting to instruct me in religion, ( then) I would be a loser and have wasted my efforts.” (Jami` at-Tirmidhi: volume 4, Book 10, Hadith 2365 (Eng. tran), https://sunnah.com/tirmidhi/36/62)
 Dalaa’il – Abu Nu’aym (d. 1038):
“Amr Ibn al-Aas narrates that he had never seen the Quraysh try to assassinate the Prophet except one one occasion when a group of them were sitting together and discussing while the Prophet was performing prayer (Salaah) near the Maqaam of Ibrahim. Uqba Ibn Abi Mu’eet then stood before the Prophet and wrapping his shawl around the Prophet’s neck, he pulled it so hard (throttled the Prophet) that the Prophet fell to his knees. The people started shouting and thought that the Prophet had been killed. Abu Bakr came running and from the back he grabbed hold of the Pophet under his armpits. He then said, ‘Will you kill a man for saying, ‘Allah is my LORD.’” (Kanzul Ummaal volume 2, page 327; Haythami volume 6, page 16; See also Abu Nu’aym in Dalaa’il, page 67)
 Even public recitations of Quranic verses inside or around the Ka’bah house was not tolerated by the Quraysh polytheists. Before the incident of Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas, Ibn Mas’ud was attacked and beaten by a number of Quraysh polytheists for merely reciting a Quranic verse. Ibn Ishaq (704 – 768 AD) reports this incident in detail:
“THE FIRST ONE WHO PRONOUNCED THE QURAN LOUDLY
Yahya b. Urwa b. al-Zubayr told me as from his father that the first man to speak the Quran loudly in Mecca after the apostle was Abdullah b. Mas’ud. The prophet’s companions came together one day and remarked that Quraysh had never heard the Quran distinctly read to them, and who was there who would make them listen to it? When Abdullah said that he would, they replied that they were afraid on his behalf and they wanted only a man of good family who would protect him from the populace if they attacked him. He replied, ‘Let me alone, for God will protect me.’ So in the morning he went to the sanctuary while Quraysh were in their conferences, and when he arrived at the Maqam, he read, ‘In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,’ raising his voice as he did so, ‘the Compassionate who taught the Quran.’ Then he turned towards them as he read so that they noticed him, and they said, ‘What on earth is this son of a slave-woman saying? And when they realized that he was reading some of what Muhammad prayed, they got up and began to hit him in the face; but he continued to read so far as God willed that he should read. Then he went to his companions with the marks of their blows on his face. They said, ‘This is just what we feared would happen to you.’ He said, ‘God’s enemies were never more contemptible in my sight than they are now, and if you like I will go and do the same thing before them tomorrow.’ They said, ‘No, you have done enough, you have made them listen to what they don’t want to hear.’” (Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah – The Life of Muhammad Translated by A. Guillaume, [Oxford University Press – Seventeenth Impression 2004], page 141 – 143)
For more details on this, see the following article, https://discover-the-truth.com/2018/01/17/quraysh-polytheists-beat-abdullah-ibn-masud-for-reciting-the-quran/
 Other times, Muslims and non-Muslims were punished by the Quraysh leaders for merely listening to the Quranic recitation. Many avoided listening to the Quranic recitation fearing punishment from the Quraysh polytheists,
“If anyone of them wanted to hear what he was reciting as he prayed, he had to listen stealthily for fear of Quraysh; and if he saw that they knew that he was listening to it, he went away for fear of punishment and listened no more. If the apostle lowered his voice, then the man who was listening thought that they would not listen to any part of the reading, while he himself heard something which they could not hear, by giving all his attention to the words. (Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah – The Life of Muhammad Translated by A. Guillaume, [Oxford University Press – Seventeenth Impression 2004], page 141)