at the beginning of the fourth year of the call, and for a period of some months, the polytheists confined their harassment tactics to the above-mentioned ones. but on realizing the futility of these procedures, they decided to organize a full-scale opposition campaign. they called for a general meeting and elected a committee of twenty-five men of quraish notables with abu lahab, the prophet’s uncle, as a chairman. following some lengthy deliberations, they reached a decisive decision to take measures deemed to stop the tidal wave of islam through different channels. they were determined to spare no effort, in combatting the new faith. they decided to malign the messenger of allâh [pbuh] and put the new converts to different sorts of torture using all available resources. it was easy to put the resolutions relating to the new converts who were deemed weak into effect. as for the prophet [pbuh] , it was not easy to malign him because he had such gravity, magnanimity and matchless perfection of character that deterred even his enemies from committing any act of folly against him. he had, as well, abu talib, his uncle, who came from a noble descent and had an awe-inspiring clan to support him. this situation was a source of great worry to the infidels, but they felt that they could no longer exercise patience or show any tolerance before a formidable power marching steadily to annul their religious office and temporal authority.
abu lahab himself took the initiative in the new series of persecutions, and started to mete out countless aspects of harmful deeds, hatred and spite against muhammad [pbuh] . starting with flinging stones at him, forcing his two sons to divorce their wives ruqaiya and umm kulthum, the prophet’s daughters [fi zilal al-qur'an 30/282; tafheem-ul-qur'an 6/522], gloating over him on his second son’s death calling him ‘the man cut off with offspring’, and then shadowing his step during the pilgrimage and forums seasons to belie him and entice the bedouins against him and his call [at-tirmidhi]. his wife, umm jameel bint harb, the sister of abu sufyan had also her share in this ruthless campaign. she proved that she was not less than her husband in the enmity and hatred she harboured for the prophet [pbuh] . she used to tie bundles of thorns with ropes of twisted palm-leaf fibre and strew them about in the paths which the prophet [pbuh] was expected to take, in order to cause him bodily injury. she was a real shrew, bad-tempered with abusive language, highly skilled in the art of hatching intrigues, and enkindling the fire of discord and sedition. she was deservedly stained as ‘the carrier of firewood’ in the noble qur’ân. on receiving this news, she directly proceeded to the mosque with a handful of pebbles to hurl at the prophet [pbuh] . allâh, the great, took away her sight and she saw only abu bakr who was sitting immediately next to the prophet [pbuh]. she then addressed abu bakr most audaciously threatening to break his companion’s mouth with her handful of pebbles, and recited a line of verse pregnant with impudent defiance: "we have disobeyed the dispraised one, rejected his call, and alienated ourselves from his religion." when she had left, abu bakr turned to the prophet [pbuh] and inquired about the matter. the prophet [pbuh] assured him that she did not see him because allâh had taken away her sight.[ibn hisham 1/335]
abu lahab and his household used to inflict those shameful examples of torture and harassment in spite of the blood relation that tied them for he was the prophet’s uncle and both lived in two contiguous houses. actually, few of the prophet’s neighbours abstained from maligning him. they even threw the entrails of a goat on his back while he was performing his prayers. he always used to complain about that unbecoming neighbourliness but to no avail for they were deeply indulged in error.
al-bukhari, on the authority of ibn mas‘ud, narrated that once when the prophet [pbuh] was prostrating himself while praying in al-ka‘bah, abu jahl asked his companions to bring the dirty foetus of a she-camel and place it on his back. ‘uqbah bin abi mu‘ait was the unfortunate man who hastened to do this ignoble act. a peal of laughter rose amongst the infidels. in the meanwhile, fatimah, the daughter of the prophet [pbuh], happened to pass that way. she removed the filth from her father’s back. the prophet [pbuh] invoked the wrath of allâh upon them, especially upon abu jahl, ‘utbah bin rabi‘a, shaibah bin rabi‘a, al-waleed bin ‘utbah, omaiyah bin khalaf and ‘uqbah bin mu‘ait. it is recorded that all of them were killed in the battle of badr. [bukhari 1/37]
scandal-mongering and backbiting were also amongst the means of oppression that the chiefs of makkah, in general, and omaiyah bin khalaf, in particular, resorted to in their overall process of evil-doing. in this regard, allâh says:
"woe to every slanderer and backbiter." [al-qur'an 104:1]
‘uqbah bin al-mu‘ait once attended an audience of the prophet [pbuh] and listened to him preaching islam. a close friend of his, ubai bin khalaf, heard of this. he could not tolerate any act of this sort, so he reproached ‘uqbah and ordered him to spit in the prophet’s holy face, and he shamelessly did it. ubai did not spare any thinkable way to malign the prophet [pbuh] ; he even ground old decomposed bones and blew the powder on him. al-akhnas bin shuraique ath-thaqafi used to detract from the character of the prophet [pbuh] in season and out of season. the noble qur’ân, in direct reference to this man’s ignominious deeds, attached to him nine abominable traits:
"and obey not everyone who swears much, — and is considered worthless, a slanderer, going about with calumnies, hinderer of the good, transgressor, sinful, cruel — after all that base-born (of illegitimate birth)." [al-qur'an 68:10-13] [ibn hisham 1/356]
abu jahl’s arrogance and haughtiness blocked all avenues that could produce the least light of belief in his heart:
"so he (the disbeliever) neither believed (in this qur’ân, in the message of muhammad [pbuh]) nor prayed!" [al-qur'an 75:31]
he, moreover, wanted to debar the prophet [pbuh] from the noble sanctuary. it happened once that the prophet [pbuh] was praying within the precinct of the sacred house, when abu jahl proceeded threateningly and uttering abusive language. the prophet [pbuh] chided him severely to which abu jahl answered back defiantly claiming that he was the mightiest in makkah; allâh then revealed:
"then, let him call upon his council (of helpers)." [al-qur'an 96:17]
in another version of the same incident, the prophet [pbuh] took abu jahl by his neck, rocked him severely saying:
"woe to you [o man (disbeliever)]! and then (again) woe to you! again, woe to you [o man (disbeliever)]! and then (again) woe to you!" [al-qur'an 75:34, 35].
notwithstanding this reproach, abu jahl would never wake up to himself nor did he realize his foolish practices. on the contrary, he was determined to go to extremes, and swore he would dust the messenger’s face and tread on his neck. no sooner had he proceeded to fulfill his wicked intention than he was seen turning back shielding himself with his hands (as if something horrible in his pursuit). his companions asked him what the matter was. he said: "i perceived a ditch of burning fire and some wings flying." later on, the messenger commented saying, "if he had proceeded further, the angels would have plucked off his limbs one after another." [fi zilal al-qur'an 29/312; muslim]
such was the disgraceful treatment meted out to the prophet [pbuh], the great man, respected as he was by his compatriots, with an influential man, his uncle abu talib, at his back to support him. if the matters were so with the prophet [pbuh], what about those people deemed weak with no clan to support them? let us consider their situation in some detail. whenever abu jahl heard of the conversion of a man of high birth with powerful friends, he would degrade his prudence and intellect, undermine his judgement; and threaten him with dire consequences if he was a merchant. if the new convert was socially weak, he would beat him ruthlessly and put him to unspeakable tortures. [ibn hisham 1/320]
the uncle of ‘uthman bin ‘affan used to wrap ‘uthman in a mat of palm leaves, and set fire under him. when umm mus‘ab bin ‘umair heard of her son’s conversion, she put him to starvation and then expelled him from her house. he used to enjoy full luxurious easy life, but in the aftermath of the tortures he sustained, his skin got wizened, and he assumed a horrible physical appearance. [rahmat-ul-lil'alameen 1/57; talqeeh ahl-al-athar p.60]
bilal, the slave of omaiyah bin khalaf, was severely beaten by his master when the latter came to know of his conversion to islam. sometimes a rope was put around his neck and street boys were made to drag him through the streets and even across the hillocks of makkah. at times he was subjected to prolonged deprivation of food and drink; at others he was bound up, made to lie down on the burning sand and under the crushing burden of heavy stones. similar other measures were resorted to in order to force him to recant. all this proved in vain. he persisted in his belief in the oneness of allâh. on one such occasion, abu bakr was passing by; moved by pity, he purchased and emancipated him from slavery. [ibn hisham 1/317-318; rahmat-ul-lil'alameen 1/57]
another victim of the highhandedness of quraish was ‘ammar bin yasir, a freed slave of bani makhzoum. he, along with his mother and father, embraced islam in its early phase. they were repeatedly made to lie on the burning sand and were beaten severely. ‘ammar was at times tossed up on embers. the prophet [pbuh] was greatly moved by the atrocities which were being perpetrated upon ‘ammar and his family. he always comforted them and raised his hand in prayer and said: "be patient, you will verily find your abode in the paradise." yasir, the father, died because of repeated tortures. sumaiyah, ‘ammar’s mother was bayoneted to death by abu jahl himself, and thus merited the title of the first woman martyr in islam. ‘ammar himself was subjected to various modes of torture and was always threatened to sustain severe suffering unless he abused muhammad [pbuh] and recanted to al-lat and ‘uzza. in a weak moment, he uttered a word construed as recantation though his heart never wavered and he came back once to the prophet [pbuh] , who consoled him for his pain and confirmed his faith. immediately afterwards the following verse was revealed:
"whoever disbelieved in allâh after his belief, except him who is forced thereto and whose heart is at rest with faith —." [al-qur'an 16:106]
abu fakeeh, aflah, a freed slave of bani ‘abd ad-dar was the third of those helpless victims. the oppressors used to fasten his feet with a rope and drag him in the streets of makkah. [eijaz at-tanzil p.53]
khabbab bin al-aratt was also an easy victim to similar outrages on every possible occasion. he experienced exemplary torture and maltreatment. the makkan polytheists used to pull his hair and twist his neck, and made him lie on burning coal with a big rock on his chest to prevent him from escaping. some muslims of rank and position were wrapped in the raw skins of camels and thrown away, and others were put in armours and cast on burning sand in the scorching sun of arabia. [talqeeh fuhoom ahl-al-athar p.60; rahmat-ul-lil'alameen 1/57]
even the women converts were not spared, and the list is too long to include all of them. zanirah, an-nahdiyah and her daughter, umm ‘ubais and many others had their full share of persecution at the hand of the oppressors — ‘umar bin al-khattab included — of course before his conversion to islam. [ibn hisham 1/319]
abu bakr, a wealthy believer, purchased and freed some of those she-slaves, just as he did with regard to bilal and ‘amir bin fuheirah.