the call to islam goes public
for three years, or perhaps a little longer, prophet muhammad continued his efforts to propagate islam, maintaining secrecy as he was commanded by god, but it was now time to move into a new phase. he was given the order to go public.
this order is mentioned in the quran: [and say: i am indeed the plain warner.] ( al-hijr 15:89)
[proclaim openly all that you have been bidden with god.] ( al hijr 15:94)
he was also told: [warn your immediate kinsfolk and spread the wings of your tenderness over all the believers who may follow you.] (ash-shu`araa’ 26:214-15)
these were plain orders and his response was soon forthcoming.
as he was to show throughout his years of prophethood, muhammad (peace be upon him) was never to hesitate in carrying out, in letter and in spirit, every commandment he received from god. he therefore stood on al-safa, a small hill in the center of makkah, close to the kabah, and called out as loudly as he could every arab clan of makkah mentioning them by name and asking them to come over to him.
at that particular time and in that particular city, this was the surest way of getting the news to everyone. in no time, the word spread all over makkah that muhammad had something important to announce. people were rushing to him from all quarters of the city.
when they gathered around the hill, muhammad put to them this question: "if i were to tell you that armed horsemen are beyond this valley heading towards makkah to attack you, would you believe me?"
"you are trustworthy and we have never known you to tell lies," they answered.
"well, then," he said, "i am sent to you to warn you against grievous suffering."
shaykh abu al hassan nadwi says that the arabs' first answer in makkah was evidence of their realistic and practical approach. they were responding to a man whom they had known to be honest and truthful and always to give sincere advice.
he was standing on top of a hill where he could see what was beyond. in their position, they could not see anything beyond what was in their valley. they had no reason not to believe him, whatever he said.
this was a natural opening which secured a testimony from the audience- in other words; it established muhammad's credentials which were well known to his audience.
the prophet continued his warning, addressing each clan of the quraysh by name and said, "god has ordered me to warn my immediate kinsfolk. it is not in my power to secure any benefit for you in this life, or any blessing in the life to come, unless you believe in the oneness of god.
"people of quraysh, save yourselves from hell because i cannot be of any help to you. my position is like one who, seeing the enemy, ran to warn his people before they were taken by surprise, shouting as he ran: "beware! beware!"
the people of makkah were taken back. they did not expect such a direct and clear warning. it was left, however, to the prophet's own uncle, abu lahab to give him a most hostile and harsh reply. "confound you!" he said. "is this what you called us here for?"
this encouraged others to adopt a hostile attitude. some dismissed the prophet's warning as insincere, while others were quick with their insults. no single voice was raised in approval as they began to disperse.
a forthright challenge
one can imagine how distressing this incident was to the prophet. as the people left, he stood alone on the hill, realizing that he now faced the whole world with no human support a part from the three dozen or so people who had responded favorably to the new call.
he realized that the path ahead was an uphill struggle which might involve a conflict with his nearest and dearest.
taken in the context of the tribal arabian society at the time, this must have been very hard for muhammad (peace be upon him). he realized, however, that an advocate of a great message must not look for friendships or social ties if he is to put his message, as he must, above all considerations and above all human values.
yet what happened in those few moments at the hill al-safa was a historic event with great significance. it should be remembered that although the prophet was making his first public announcement of his mission, the people of makkah were aware that a new philosophy was being propagated in their midst.
they were not, however, aware of the aims and intentions of the prophet and his early followers.
the declaration on the hill of al-safa brought home to them the scope of the new call. the aim was to bring about a total change in the life of arab society: its values and standards, its sense of purpose, its practices and its whole direction.
the prophet, in effect, told his townspeople that they would have to change the whole set-up of their society if they wished to win god's pleasure. that is why the opposition which met his declaration was so fierce.
it takes great courage to challenge an established idea or a social tradition. people normally do not like to be told that they are wrong, especially when it comes to long established habits and traditions.
hence any call for a change is bound to be met, at least initially, with opposition. it is for this reason that many of those who call for social change find it judicious to make the change they advocate appear moderate and gradual.
yet here was the prophet standing on the hill, calling all people, warning them and asking them to accept a total and comprehensive change which embraced all aspects of human life, practices, values, ideology.