At the beginning of his mission, Mohammed, (hereinafter called the Prophet), opened his soul only to those who were attached to him and tried to free them from the gross practices of their forefathers. After Khadija, Ali his cousin, was the next disciple. The Prophet used often to go into the desert around Mecca with his wife and young cousin, that they might together offer their heart-felt thanks to the God of all nations for His manifold blessings. Once they were surprised by Abu Talib, the father of Ali. And he said to the Prophet: “O son of my brother, what is this religion thou art following?” “It is the religion of God, of His Angels, of His Apostles and our ancestor Abraham,” answered the Prophet. “God has sent me to His servants, to direct them towards the truth and thou, O my uncle, art the most worthy of all. It is meet that I should thus call upon thee and it is meet that thou shouldst accept the truth and help in spreading it.” “Son of my brother,” replied Abu Talib, I cannot abjure the religion of my fathers; but by the Supreme God, whilst I am alive, non shall dare to injure thee.” Then turning towards Ali, his son, the venerable chief asked what religion was his. “O father,” answered Ali, “I believed in God and His Prophet and go with him.” “Well my son” said Abu Talib, “He will not call thee to aught, save what is good, wherefore thou art free to cling to him.”
After Ali Zaid, Mohammed’s adopted son, become a convert to the new faith. He was followed by Abu Bakr, a leading member of the Koreish tribe and an honest wealthy merchant who enjoyed great consideration among his compatriots. He was but two years younger than the Prophet. His adoption of the new faith was of great moral effect. Soon after, five notables presented themselves before the Prophet and accepted Islam. Several proselytes also came from lower classes of the Arabs to adopt the new religion. For three weary long years, the Prophet laboured very quietly to deliver his people from the worship of idols. Polytheism was deeply rooted among the people. It offered attractions, which the new faith in its purity did not possess. The Korieshites had personal material interests in the old worship; and their prestige was dependent upon its maintenance; the Prophet had to control with the idolatrous worship of its followers and to oppose the ruling oligarchy, which governed its destinies.
After three years of constant but quiet struggle, only thirty followers were secured. An important change now occurred in the relations of the Prophet with the citizens of Mecca. His compatriots had begun to doubt his sanity, thought him crazy or possessed by an evil spirit. Hitherto he had preached quietly and unobtrusively. He now determined to appeal publicly to the Meccans to abandon their idolatry. For this he arranged a gathering on a neighbouring hill, and there spoke to them of their folly in the sight of God, in offering worship to pieces of stone which they called their gods. He invited them to abandon their old impious worship and adopt the faith of love and truth and purity. He warned them of the fate that had overtaken in the past, races who had not heeded the preaching of former prophets. But the gathering had departed without listening to the warning given to them by the Prophet. Having thus failed to induce his fellow-citizens to listen to him, he turned his attention to the strangers arriving at the city on commerce or pilgrimage. But the Koreishites made attempts to frustrate his efforts. They hastened themselves to first meet the strangers on the different routes, to warn them against holding any communication with the Prophet whom they represented as a dangerous magician. When the pilgrims or traders returned to their homes, they carried with them the news of the advent of the bold preacher who was inviting the Arabians loudly – at the risk of his own life – to abandon the worship of their dear idols. Now the Prophet and his followers became subject to some persecution and indignity. The hostile Koreishites prevented the Prophet from offering his prayers at the sacred temple of the Kaaba; they pursued him wherever he went; they covered him and his disciples with dirt and filth, when engaged in their devotions. They scattered thorns in the places which he frequented for devotion and meditation. Amidst all these trials the Prophet did not waver. He was full of confidence in his mission. On several occasions he was put in imminent danger of losing his life. At this time Hamza, the youngest son of Abdul Muttalib adopted Islam. Hamza was a man of distinguished bravery, an intrepid warrior, generous and true, whose heroism earned for him the title of the “Lion of God.” He became a devoted adherent of Islam and eventually laid down his life in the cause.
The Prophet continued his preachings to the Arabs in a most gentle and reasonable manner. He called the nation, so accustomed to iniquity and wrong doings, to abandon their abominations. In burning words, which excited the hearts of his hearers, he warned them of the punishment, which God had inflicted upon the ancient tribes of Aad and Thamud who obstinately disobeyed the teachings of His messengers to them. He adjured them by the wonderful sights of nature, by the noon day brightness, by the night when it spreads her veil, by the day when it appears in glory, to listen to his warning before a similar destruction befell them. He spoke to the day of reckoning, when their deeds in this world shall be weighed before the Eternal Judge, when the children who had been buried alive shall be asked, for what crime they were put to death.
As the number of believers increased and the cause of the Prophet was strengthened by the conversion of many powerful citizens, the Prophet’s preaching aroused a serious revolutionary movement. He condemned the idols the Arabs worshipped and taught the unity of God. The Koreishites were now alarmed. Their power and prestige were at stake. They were the custodians of the idols, which the Prophet had threatened to destroy; they were the ministers of the worship which he denounced; in fact their existence and living wholly depended upon the maintenance of the old institutions. Again the tone of the Prophet in his teachings was intensely democratic. He taught that in the sight of his Lord all beings were equal, the only distinction, recongnised among them being the weight of their piety. The Koreishites would have non-of this leveling of distinctions, as it reflected upon their long inherited privileges. Accordingly, they organized a system of persecution in order to suppress the movement before it became firmly established. They decided that each family should take upon itself the task of stamping out the new faith on the spot. Each household tortured its own members or adherents or slaves who were supposed to have connected themselves with the new religion. With the exception of the Prophet who was protected by Abu Talib and his kinsmen, Abu Bakr and a few others who were either distinguished by their rank or possessed some influence among the Koreishites, all other proselytes were subjected to different sorts of torture. Some of them were thrown into prison, starved and then flogged. The hill of Ramada the place called Bata became thus scenes of cruel torture.
One day the Koreishites sought to approach the Prophet to induce him to discontinue his teachings of the new religion, which had sown discord among their people. Otba, son of Rabia, was delegated to see the Prophet and speak to him. “O son of my brother,” said Otba on meeting the Prophet, “You are distinguished by your qualities; yet you have sown discord among our people and cast dissension in our families; you denounced our gods and goddesses and you charge our ancestors with impiety. Now we are come to make a proposition to you and ask you to think well before you reject it.” “I am listening to you, O father of Walid” said the Prophet, “O son of my brother”, began Otba, If by this affair you intend to acquire riches, honour and dignity, we are willing to collect for you a fortune larger than is possessed by any one of us; we shall make you our chief and will do naught without you; if you desire dominion we shall make you our king, and if the demon which possesses you cannot be subdued, we will bring you doctors and give them riches till they cure you. “When Otba had finished his discourse, the Prophet said: “Now listen to me, O father of Walid.” “I listen,” he replied. The Prophet recited to him the first eight verses of the Koran which may be interpreted as follows: “In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful; Here is a revelation from the Merciful, a book, the verses whereof are distinctly; an Arabic Koran, for the instruction of a people who understand, it is a herald of good tidings and a Warner, but most of those who hear it, turn aside, so that they hear not, and they say (to the Prophet): our hearts are veiled from the doctrine to which thou invitest us; and there is a heaviness in our ears and a curtain hangs between us and thee; wherefore act thou as thou shalt think fit, for we shall act according to our own sentiments. Say, verily I am only a mortal like you. It is revealed unto me, that your God is One God; therefore, take the right way to Him, and ask His forgiveness, and woe be to the idolaters, who give not the appointed alms and believe not in the life to come. But as to those who believe and do good, they shall receive an everlasting reward.”
When the Prophet had finished his recitation, he said to Otba: “This is my reply to you proposition; now take what course you find best.”
Persecution by the Koreishites grew fiercer and fiercer every day and the sufferings of the Prophet’s disciples became unbearable. He had heard of the righteousness, tolerance and hospitality of the neighbouring Christian king of Abyssiania. He recommended such of his disciples who were without protection, to seek refuge in the kingdom of that pious king, Al Nagashi (Negus). Some of the unprotected adherents of Islam, to the number of 15, promptly availed themselves of the advice and sailed to Abyssinia. Here they met with a very kind reception from the Negus. This is called the first flight in the history of Islam and occurred in the 5th year of the Prophet Mohammed’s mission (615 A.C). These emigrants were soon followed by many more of their fellow sufferers, until the number reached eighty-three men and eighteen women.
The hostile Koreishites, furious at the escape of their victims, sent deputies to the king of Abyssinia to request him to deliver the refugees, that they might be put to death, as they had abjured their old religion and embraced a new one. The king summoned the poor fugitives and enquired of them what was the religion, which they had adopted, in preference to their old faith. Jaafar son of Aby Talib and brother of Ali acted as spokesman for the exiles. He spoke thus: “O king, we were plunged in the depth of ignorance and barbarism, we adored idols, we lived in unchastely, we ate dead bodies and we spoke abominations; we disregarded every feeling of humanity and any sense of duty towards our neighbours, and we knew no law, but that of the strong, when God raised among us a man, of whose birth, truthfulness, honesty and purity we were aware, and he called us to profess the unity of God and taught us to associated nothing with him; he forbade us the worship of idols and enjoined us to speak the truth, to be faithful to our trusts, to be merciful and to regard the rights of neighbourhood, he forbade us to speak evil of women, or to eat the substance of orphans, he ordered us to fly from vice and to abstain from evil, to offer prayers, to gave alms, to observe the fast. We have believed in him, we have accepted his teachings and his injunctions to worship God alone and to associated naught with Him. Hence our people have persecuted us, trying to make us to forego the worship of God and return to the worship of idols of wood and stone and other abominations. They have tortured us and injured us until, finding no safety among them, we have come to your kingdom; trusting you will give us protection against their persecution.
After hearing the above speech, the hospitable king ordered the deputies to return to their people in safety and not to interfere with their fugitives. Thus the emigrants passed the period of exile in peace and comfort. Whilst the followers of the Prophet sought safety in foreign lands against the persecution of their people, he continued his warnings to the Koreishites more strenuously than ever. Again they came to him with offers of riches and honour which he firmly and utterly refused. “I am neither,” said the Prophet, “desirous of riches nor ambitious of dignity or dominion. I am a messenger of God to give you good tidings and to admonish you. If you accept the message I bring you, God will be favourable to you, both in this world and in the next; if you reject my admonitions, I shall be patient and will let God judge between us”. But they mocked at him and urged him for miracles to prove his mission. “God has not sent me” he used to answer, “to work wonders, he has sent me to preach to you”. Thus disclaiming all power of wonder – working the Prophet ever rested the truth of his divine mission upon his wise teachings. He addressed himself to the inner consciousness of man to his common sense and to his own better judgment. “ Listen”, he used to address them; “I bring you a revelation from the Beneficent, the Merciful God: a book of which the verses are made plain, an Arabic Koran for a people who under-stand: a herald of good news and a warner; but most of you turn aside, so you hear not”. On other occasions he used to address the polytheists thus: “I am only mortal like you; it is revealed to me that your Deity is one therefore worship Him alone and ask His forgiveness; and woe to those who associate false deities with the True God.” (Koran 4: IX)
Despite all the exhortations of the Prophet, the Koreishities persisted in asking him for a sign. They insisted that unless some sign be sent down to him from his Lord, they would not believe. “Why,” the infidels used to ask, “Had not Mohammed been sent with miracles, like previous prophets?” “Because”, replied the Prophet, “miracles had proved inadequate to convince. Noah had been sent with signs, and with what effect? Where was the lost tribe of Thamud? They had refused to receive the preaching of the Prophet Saleh, unless he showed them a sign and caused the rock to bring forth a living camel. He did what they asked. In scorn they had cut the camel’s feet and then daring the prophet to fulfill his threats of judgment, were found dead in their beds next morning, stricken by the angel of the Lord.” There are some seventeen places in the Koran, in which the Arabian Prophet is challenged to work a sign and he answers them all to the same or similar effect: “God has the power of working miracles, and had not been believed; he who could not know even himself adequately could not know what God had hidden; that there were greater miracles in nature than any which could be wrought outside of it; that the Koran itself was a great, everlasting miracle”. The Koran, the Prophet used to assert to the infidels, is a book whose blessings shall be intercepted, a warning for the whole world; it is a collection of all that is best in any other religion and all that is best in sacred books, it is a complete guidance and explains everything necessary; it is a reminder of what is imprinted on human nature and is free from every discrepancy and from error and falsehood. It is a book of true guidance and light to all. Again when the Prophet was urged for a sign, he used to address the idolaters thus; “O men, you are they who stand in need of Allah, and Allah is He Who is Self-sufficient, the Praised One; If He please, He will take you off and bring a new generation. And this is not difficult for Him to do. A burdened soul cannot bear the burden of another.” In another instance the Prophet used to appeal to the unbelievers’ sense of judgment by reciting to them other passages of the Word of God. “Surely Allah is the knower of what is unseen in the heavens and the earth; surely He is Congnisant of what is in all hearts. He, it is who made you free creatures of the earth, therefore whoever disbelieves will bear the risk of his unbelief. “Those who remain unbelievers will gain nothing by their obstinacy, except the hatred of their Lord. Have you considered your false deities whom you worship beside God? Show me what thing on earth they have created; or have they any share in the heaven? Surely I am sent to you with truth, to bear you good news and give you warning; and there is not a people, but a warner from God was sent to them. If you give the lie to my message, it is no wonder that you do so; other nations before you have also given the lie to their respective apostles, though they brought them clear arguments, scripture and illuminating books.” “As to Allah, the True God, know ye that it is He Who made for you the night, that you may rest therein, and the day to see; most surely Allah is Gracious to men but most men, are ungrateful. Allah, your Lord is the Creator of every thing; there is no Deity but He; why are you then turned away? Allah is He who made the earth a resting-place for you and the heaven and horizon, and He formed you, then made goodly your forms, and He furnished you with wholesome provisions; that is Allah, your Lord; blessed then is Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. I am forbidden to worship those idols whom you adore besides God, because clear arguments have come to me from my Lord, and I am commanded to submit to Him alone, the Lord of the Universe. He, it is Who created you from dust, then from a minute life germ, then from a clot, then He brings you forth as a child, then He causes you to attain maturity and some of you may get old and some are caused to die young, so that all of you will reach a pre-appointed age. Do you now understand? Allah is He Who gives life and brings death, so when He decrees an affair, He only says to it, Be and it is.”