Fazal Masood Malik, Canada
Adversity is one of the most powerful forces in life. It can bring out your best or your worst. The life of our beloved Holy Prophet of Islam, Muhammad Mustafa, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, is full of examples that signify the importance of steadfastness in face of adversity. His life is an excellent example of how we can turn the perceived roadblocks of life into a springboard of greatness.
The Holy Prophetsa was raised as an orphan in a city that was merciless. Meccans knew no empathy, and sympathy was scarce. Although known for his honesty, he was considered an odd person because of the strength of his moral character.
When Allah spoke to him and he started preaching the word of God, the dark elements of society started becoming darker. As the preaching of the Holy Prophetsa progressed and Islam started to spread across the Arabian Peninsula, the persecution of the Quraish increased. When this persecution became unbearable, he advised some of his followers to migrate to Axum (Ethiopia), a Christian kingdom whose king was known as a just ruler.
The identity of the king is a subject of current research. It is likely that Armah was the king of Axum at the time of migration; however, historians have found recent evidence that presents the possibility that King Armah’s father – Ella-Tsaham – was the king who received the Muslim refugees from Mecca.
Shortly after the migration, Hazrat Hamzara and Hazrat Umarra accepted Islam, further fueling the anger of the Quraish. They decided to boycott the Holy Prophetsa and his followers, as well as the two tribes that supported and protected him, being Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib.
A pact was drawn up that prohibited the Quraish to marry anyone from the two tribes and it forbade all others from conducting any financial transaction. The pact was ratified and came into force once hung on the wall of the Ka‘bah. This was done to ensure that all tribes in Mecca were mindful of the enforced pact.
Fearing retaliation and loss of life for their members, Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib consulted with Abu Talib and decided that it was safer for them to move out of Mecca. The two tribes sought refuge in a steep valley (Shi‘b) that belonged to Abu Talib; this is known as Shi‘b Abu Talib. The valley was peculiar in nature as it had only one entry and had steep sides, much like a gorge. This complicated the matters further as the believers and the non-believers, for the most part, became captives in the valley.
The boycott started in 616 AD; the prediction of Waraqa bin Nawfal had come true. Waraqa bin Nawfal, cousin of Hazrat Khadijahra had accepted Christianity in the period of Jahiliyya and used to translate the Gospels from Hebrew into Arabic. When the Holy Prophetsa had narrated the incident that occurred at the Cave of Hira in 610 AD, Waraqa forewarned the Prophetsa that a time would come when his tribesmen would oppose him and compel him to leave his home town.
The intention of the Quraish was to compel the Muslims and their helpers to death, at the mercy of the scorching heat with no expectation of help from anyone.
Despite the secret help of many righteous people, scarcity of food forced them to eat leaves and tree barks. The hungry cries of children could be heard outside the valley and they would soften the hearts of many, who would come to supply the people living in Shi‘b Abu Talib with food, under the cover of night.
The cries of the children and women would shatter the heart of the Holy Prophetsa, who could do nothing to alleviate the suffering of the people; so, he counselled them patience and continue to pray.
Despite the horrendous conditions, the people stood by their support of the Holy Prophetsa who held fast the hand of Allah. He would often say, “Is it not wondrous how God turns away from me the injuries of the Quraish?” This reflected his complete trust in Allah and strengthened his followers and non-followers alike.
Eventually, by 619 AD, many chiefs had started to raise their voices against the injustice and, through an amazing turn of events, the boycott came to an end. Three years into the siege, one day the Holy Prophetsa informed his uncle, Abu Talib, that God had informed him that apart from where God’s name was mentioned on the pact, the rest was eaten by insects. Abu Talib went to the Quraish, mentioned this and commented that if such was the case, then the agreement must end. Upon checking, they found this to be exactly true. On this, some chiefs among the Quraish tore the remainder of the document and proceeded to the Shi‘b Abu Talib with drawn swords, informing the besieged that the boycott was over and that they could return to their homes under the protection of these chiefs.
The harsh living conditions, long periods of starvation and thirst and utter hopelessness is perhaps a mild description of the situation. The besieged people suffered much loss; the Holy Prophetsa himself suffered the loss of his beloved wife, Hazrat Khadijara and his uncle Abu Talibra. Yet, against all odds, despite the horrendous conditions, the Muslims survived these years. In response to the intense suffering, the Holy Prophetsa humbled himself before God and taught us that the proper response to great suffering is humility and steadfastness.
Throughout the entire episode of Shi‘b Abu Talib, the Holy Prophetsa never stopped inviting people to Allah; the zeal and intensity increased after their return to Mecca, after 3 very long years. Having met with disappointment and frustration in every direction, he decided to proceed to Ta‘if and invite its people to Islam. Ta‘if was a well-known city, with an abundance of affluent population, located about 80 kilometres (2019 measurement) southeast of Mecca.
In Shawwal of 619 AD the Holy Prophetsa journeyed to Ta‘if with Hazrat Zaidra bin Harithah. During the ten days stay in Ta‘if, the Holy Prophetsa met many chiefs but the people of Ta‘if refused to accept his message. At last, the Holy Prophetsa approached the grand chief named Abdu Yalail and invited him to Islam, but he also refused, mockingly observing, “If you are true, I dare not converse with you; if you are false, it is no use talking with you.” Concerned that the youngsters of the city may become influenced by the Holy Prophetsa, he advised him to leave the city because nobody was willing to listen to the message of Islam.
To ensure his exit, Abdu Yalail enticed the mischief mongers of the city to pelt the Holy Prophetsa with stones, due to which the entire body of the Holy Prophetsa became drenched in blood. Hazrat Zaidra bin Harithah would try to come in between the rocks and the Holy Prophetsa as they made their way to the city limits.
With his ruthless enemies retreated to Ta‘if, wounded and drenched in blood, the Holy Prophetsa and Hazrat Zaidra stopped at an orchard about three miles from Ta‘if. It belonged to a Meccan, Utbah bin Rabi‘ah who recognised the duo and offered sanctuary. The Holy Prophetsa took refuge in this orchard.
It is easy to lose your way when you are being battered about, but the man of God, standing in the orchard, prayed before Allah, “O My Lord, I complain to you of my helplessness, and my inability, and my helplessness before the people. O My God, You are the most merciful, for You are the guardian and protector of the feeble and helpless – You are my Lord. I seek refuge in the light of Your countenance. It is You who dispels all darkness and it is You who bestows the inheritance of favour in this world and in the next.”
An orchard worker, a Christian named Addas brought a tray of grapes as a gift from the owners of the orchard. The Holy Prophetsa accepted the gesture and addressed Addas, “Where are you from, and which religion do you follow?” “I am from Nineveh,” responded Addas, “and a Christian.” The Holy Prophetsa enquired, “The same Nineveh, which was home to the righteous servant of God, Jonahas, son of Matthew?” “Yes,” responded Addas, “but how are you aware of Jonahas?” “He was my brother,” said the Holy Prophetsa, “for he was a prophet of Allah, and I am also a prophet of Allah.” Then the Holy Prophetsa preached the message of Islam to him, which moved him greatly. In his passion of sincerity, he moved forward and kissed the hands of the Holy Prophetsa. The Holy Prophetsa rested in this orchard for some time before continuing his journey home.
Dealing with constant storms can wear down even the most resilient person. The life of our Holy Prophetsa is full of storms that came in full force, attempting to wipe out the few who took the name of God and stood by His messenger. The Battle of Badr, one of the first battles forced upon Muslims who had migrated to Medina, is a classic example that determination in the face of adversity can lead to prayers that move the heavens in favour of the supplicant.
Camped on the dry, solid grounds of Badr, away from the stream that flowed in a mystic rhythm, the Meccan’s were in an excellent position to fight the Muslims. The Holy Prophet Muhammadsa advanced towards the stream, camping for the night. The land adjacent to the stream was all sand and unsuitable for battle.
On one side stood over 1,000 skilled Meccan warriors, while on the other, 313 mostly unskilled and untrained Muslims who were suddenly thrust into a dangerous battle. The anxiety among the Muslims was palpable. The Holy Prophet Muhammadsa also shared this anxiety. It was the most vulnerable moment for Muslims in the history of Islam. Nothing less than the survival of Islam was at stake.
The Holy Prophetsa retreated to his tent and began his supplications. As the night progressed, his powerful supplications could be heard across the camps. “O my Allah,” cried the messenger, “over the entire face of the earth at this moment, there are only these 300 men who are devoted to you and determined to establish your worship. O my Allah, if these 300 men die today at the hands of their enemy in this battle, who will be left behind to glorify Your name?”
Muslims gained their strength through the constant supplications of the Holy Prophetsa. By dawn, came the verdict from Allah. “The hosts will soon be routed and turn their backs in flight” declared the Prophetsa. Before the sunset on 17 Ramadhan 2 AH, Al-Mujeeb, our Lord, our Allah had answered the prayers of His humble servant and the battle which presented defeating odds to Muslims was won in a matter of hours. Not only was Islam saved from extinction, but this battle placed fear at the heart of opponents.
Our beloved Prophetsa is a model of compassion, of extreme sympathy and forgiveness and a mountain in face of adversity. Sometimes, he looms larger than life in our imaginations. Most events from his life can seem intimidating, but his life has lessons for all of us; lessons that are there to make us better human beings, better husbands, fathers and sons.
A review of any event from his life shows us that prayers and full reliance in Allah kept him and his followers right in the centre of God’s Will. It is only by praying and holding the rope of Allah, that we can shine in the darkest of nights.